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Richmond’s First Baptist Church pledges $230,000 to IMB project

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Richmond’s historic First Baptist Church has given the largest donation to date toward the International Mission Board’s $23 million expansion of its Missionary Learning Center in Rockville, Va.

The $230,000 gift — the first from a congregation — represents 1 percent of total cost of the project, which will enable the missions agency to train the burgeoning number of Southern Baptists coming forward to volunteer for overseas service.

“This gift continues and adds another chapter to the long history of partnership between First Baptist Church and the International Mission Board,” said Don Kammerdiener, the IMB’s executive vice president.

That relationship began with the board’s founding in 1845, when First Baptist provided a home for the fledgling agency’s first offices. The board’s first president, Jeremiah Bell Jeter, was pastor of First Baptist Church.

In the ensuing years, many of the board’s staff members and chief executive officers have been members of the church, including the couple after whom the Missionary Learning Center is named: Baker James Cauthen — IMB executive director from 1954 to 1979 — and his wife, Eloise Glass Cauthen.

Kammerdiener praised the congregation for their unflagging support of the worldwide missions cause. In the past five years, the 3,800-member church has given more than $1 million to the Cooperative Program (the Southern Baptist Convention’s unified giving system) and $246,410 to the convention’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.

“First Baptist Church has been a leader in maintaining a missionary focus on the whole world and has contributed very significantly to the strength and work of this board,” he said. “The fact that this one congregation would give 1 percent of the $23 million and that they would be the first congregation to do that are very significant.”

First Baptist Church’s pastor, Peter James Flamming, echoed Kammerdiener’s sentiments.

“I am delighted at the gift that First Baptist, through its endowment fund, is able to make toward expanding the Missionary Learning Center,” he said. “Since 1845, we have been committed to training missionaries for their calling. In our global village, cross-cultural training in sharing the gospel is crucial.

“The Cauthens, for whom the center is named, were both part of our congregation. I think they, too, would be pleased.”

The International Mission Board broke ground on the expansion May 18, following a seventh straight year of record missionary appointments to Southern Baptists’ overseas team.

Rapid growth in the number of Southern Baptists coming forward to volunteer for overseas service has caused serious space shortages at MLC. Studies show the number of IMB missionaries could climb above 7,000 over the next five years and might top 17,000 by 2005.

The construction project will add living quarters, expand the dining facilities and build a larger educational complex.

Missionaries participate in a five-week program at the Missionary Learning Center that helps them prepare personally and professionally for the challenges of living in and sharing the good news of God’s love in a different culture.

A total of 4,919 adults — including 1,318 new missionaries — plus 1,144 children, participated in programs at MLC in 1999. More than 8,000 new missionaries have trained on the 238-acre campus west of Richmond since it opened in 1984.

As of May 21, the IMB had 4,902 missionaries focusing on 154 countries. Forty-three new missionaries were appointed May 21 in a service at First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va.

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