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SBC DIGEST: Chitwood on ‘Road to New Orleans’; Kidnapped American Christian worker freed

Chitwood, Howe discuss IMB’s banner year in ‘Road to New Orleans’ installment

By BP Staff

NASHVILLE (BP) – In an interview with Jonathan Howe, International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood talked about the big year the IMB has had, including a new logo and branding, a record Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and a large number of missionaries ready to go to the nations. Chitwood was a guest on this week’s “Road to New Orleans,” a series of videos leading up to the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in that City.

“The Lord’s kindness and favor is clear,” Chitwood said. “The support of Southern Baptists is clear. We sent 301 new workers last year. We’re hoping and praying to send at least 400 this year. … That candidate pipeline has really ramped up coming out of the pandemic slump. The giving’s ramped up, so the provision is there. And we’re seeing more engagements by churches.”

Year over year, the IMB has more than doubled the number of churches directly engaged by IMB personnel, an initiative that Chitwood hopes inspires churches to pray, to give and to send more missionaries.

As the number of volunteers for short-term trips has rebounded since the pandemic, so has the number of would-be fulltime missionaries in the pipeline. That number stands around 1,100, Chitwood said, adding that he’d like for it to go even higher.

“That is where our missionaries come from,” he said. “With that growing, we’re able to see the lift coming. … All this is resulting of course from the Lord’s help, but [also] from deepening relationships with pastors and with churches, with Southern Baptists across the land.”

Chitwood went on to explain the reason a healthy pipeline is crucial to IMB’s future. Each year, missionaries retire or must leave the field for other reasons. It takes at least 300 new missionaries each year to maintain. Many of those in the pipeline will not make it all the way through the process to appointment as missionaries. In fact, only 30-35 percent end up becoming missionaries.

“That’s why we need a pipeline of 1,200-1,400,” Chitwood said. “… The pipeline is a huge deal for us.”

The two discuss the ways the IMB is unique in its low attrition rate. Primarily that’s because of the generosity of Southern Baptists, who not only provide an income for missionaries but a whole network of “holistic support.”

As usual, IMB is preparing to hold a missionary sending service at the annual meeting in New Orleans.

“When we come together at that annual meeting and send out every year dozens and dozens of new workers to the nations, it’s something to be proud of in a godly way,” Chitwood said. “It’s something to celebrate. …”

Chitwood also discusses his trips to eastern Europe in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Southern Baptist generosity in that effort, to the tune of $15 million, has “blown us away,” he said, adding: “The Lord is using these circumstances and turmoil around the world to advance His kingdom.”

Kidnapped Christian aid worker Woodke freed after six years in Niger

By Diana Chandler

NIGER (BP) – Christian aid worker Jeffery Woodke, a U.S. citizen from California, has been freed from six years captivity in Niger, the U.S. State Department announced March 20.

Woodke had been kidnapped Oct. 14, 2016, from his home in Abalak, Niger, by gunmen who killed his guard and housekeeper and were suspected to be affiliated with ISIS and working with Al Qaeda affiliates in neighboring Mali, NBC News reported.

The 62-year-old native of McKinleyville, Calif., worked with the Nigerian charity group JEMED and, before moving to Niger in 1992, had taught at the Redwood Coast School of Missions run by Arcata First Baptist Church in Arcata, Calif., a non-Southern Baptist congregation in Arcata.

His wife Els Woodke, who spoke to her husband by telephone hours after his release, welcomed the news.

“We didn’t have any idea this release was coming,” family spokesman Bob Klamser said in a press statement. “He was in great spirits and thrilled to be free. He is undergoing medical evaluation and will be working with his family and the U.S. government on plans for his return home and reunion with his family.”

Circumstances leading to his release were not apparent, but U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinkin said it resulted from “extraordinary cooperation of the Government of Niger, as well as the sustained efforts of countless organizations and individuals worldwide.”

“We welcome the release of U.S. citizen Jeffery Woodke, who was held hostage in West Africa for more than six years,” Blinkin said. “I spoke with Jeffery’s family today and am pleased they will be reunited soon. … I have no higher priority than bringing home U.S. nationals held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, and we will continue to work relentlessly to secure their freedom around the world.”


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