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TRUSTEES: IMB appoints missionaries, hears abuse prevention update

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — International Mission Board trustees approved the appointment of 24 new fulltime, fully funded personnel to take the Gospel to unreached people and places during their Sept. 25-26 meeting near Richmond, Va.

The meeting also included an update on an external report regarding IMB’s prevention and response to abuse and harassment; the approval of a balanced budget for 2019-20; and orientation for 23 new trustees. Seth Polk, trustee chairman and senior pastor of Cross Lanes Baptist Church in Cross Lanes, W.Va., presided over the meeting.

The 24 new missionaries were appointed during a special Sending Celebration, which recognized both the new personnel and the churches sending them to take the Gospel to the nations. The celebration, hosted by Swift Creek Baptist Church in Midlothian, Va., featured testimonies from each of the appointees. Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, gave the new missionaries a Scriptural charge, and he brought greetings to the trustees during the plenary session.

‘Committed to making changes’

In May, the board received recommendations from Gray Plant Mooty concerning the IMB’s handling of past matters and current policies and practices related to the prevention of and response to allegations of child abuse and sexual harassment (including sexual assault). Chitwood reported to trustees that GPM’s work has continued in conjunction with senior leadership and a trustee officer. See related Baptist Press report.

“Let me assure you, as I stated in May, that IMB absolutely remains committed to making changes necessary to better prevent instances of child abuse and sexual harassment (including sexual assault), and to do all we can to better care for victims while holding perpetrators accountable,” he said.

Chitwood said IMB leadership is methodically implementing every recommendation presented by Gray Plant Mooty, diligently moving toward the highest standards in abuse prevention and response, including providing compassionate care.

Chitwood’s update noted that:

— IMB has reported every known incident of alleged child abuse by IMB personnel or others affiliated with IMB that had not previously been reported. In addition, IMB has taken steps to encourage people to notify authorities and the IMB of incidents of abuse.

— IMB has adopted protocols for consistently reporting allegations of child abuse committed by IMB personnel or others affiliated with IMB to U.S. government authorities, even when there is not a legal duty to do so. IMB has also adopted protocols for reporting allegations of child abuse to foreign government authorities.

— IMB finalized a job description for a full-time, senior-level position to oversee prevention and response efforts of the IMB in relation to child abuse and sexual harassment. Throughout the summer, IMB has actively sought to fill the critical role, committed to finding the best candidate “who can lead us toward excellence in this area,” he said. “We welcome any candidates to apply who can lead us toward excellence in this area. If you think this is you or someone you know, we encourage you to review the job description posted on IMB.org.” See related report.

Chitwood reported that IMB continues to work closely with GPM to implement the recommendations they have provided and values their independent expertise. Since providing an update in May, GPM has continued their examination, including reviewing individual past cases involving allegations of child abuse or sexual harassment and determining whether any additional actions are needed in regard to those individual matters. Out of respect for victims’ privacy, GPM will not be providing updates on individual cases. In addition, GPM has informed IMB that they do not have any additional recommendations for changes to IMB’s current policies and practices to share at this time. If GPM later has additional recommendations beyond those discussed in the detailed public statement they provided in May, GPM will provide an updated statement.

“We are fully committed to the ongoing nature of this task as a part of IMB’s work now and in the future,” Chitwood said. “We will report progress to IMB’s full board of trustees on implementing GPM’s recommendations, as applicable, during future regularly scheduled board meetings.”

IMB encourages anyone who has been a victim of abuse by IMB personnel to report it to authorities. In addition, IMB invites any victims to contact its confidential hotline at (866) 292-0181 or email [email protected] so IMB can provide care to that victim and take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of others.

IMB noted it is committed to providing accurate, informed references on every former IMB employee. The organization encourages any church, entity, or other employer who is considering working or partnering with a former IMB personnel to contact IMB to obtain a reference on that individual. IMB asks people to email [email protected] “so we can do our part to help you make wise and informed hiring decisions.”

‘Unprecedented opportunities’

In his plenary address, IMB President Paul Chitwood reported he has spent significant time in recent weeks meeting with the board’s Affinity Group Leaders (AGLs) from around the world.

“These couples represent a good blend of seasoned veterans and new, energetic leaders,” Chitwood said. “They are also incredibly gifted missiologists, highly effective administrators, and deeply passionate soul winners. They are leading their teams to meet the challenges of urbanization and globalization head on. And they have not lost courage even in the face of staggering lostness, growing persecution or dwindling resources.”

“I’ve been especially pleased to see how they have embraced the growing need of every member of the IMB family, including our field missionaries, to do all that we can to help mobilize Southern Baptists to pray, give, go and send,” he said. “These leaders know best of all the unprecedented opportunities that are before us around the world, opportunities that will require more laborers for the harvest.”

Chitwood said that over the past 10 months, he has met with approximately 2,300 of IMB’s overseas personnel and more than 1,600 of their missionary kids.

“I can tell you that the Affinity Leaders represent the spirit of all 3,700 of your missionaries who carry the banner of Christ among the nations where, for 174 uninterrupted years, Southern Baptists have had witness,” he said.

He also reported how Southern Baptists have been part of God at work on the international mission field in the past year, and the missionaries’ commitment to the task. Chitwood said:

— “562,865 people hearing the Gospel this past year means that 3,700 missionaries shared and trained and led and invested so that over half a million people could hear.

— “77,605 new believers and 52,586 baptisms means that those missionaries remained persistent in their praying and witnessing, planting seeds, and watering those seeds, until such a time as the Spirit of God gave an eternal harvest.

— “13,898 new churches planted is a number that represents thousands of Southern Baptists who have stepped into their calling and have given their lives to share the Gospel, disciple new believers, and then do the all-consuming work of pulling those new believers together in such a way and for such a time that a church is birthed.

— “28,213 people receiving advanced theological training, a number that increased 48 percent over the prior year, means that men and women studied to show themselves approved, to such an extent that they have not only been entrusted with truth but have been found qualified to teach others, and teach others they have.”

A call to churches

“As we celebrate these victories, we are mindful that the only thing that prevents an even greater harvest is lack of more laborers in the Lord’s fields,” Chitwood said, noting IMB’s senior leaders have set a goal of growing the Southern Baptist international missionary force by 500 new missionaries by 2025. “That would take our total headcount to 4,200, which we believe is the minimum number of missionaries we need to make the maximum impact.

“The vision of a great, innumerable multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb demands more of each of us and of every Southern Baptist,” he said.

“I believe we have a significant opportunity to engage the 23,000 Southern Baptist churches that last year gave nothing to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering while we say a heart-felt thank you to the 21,000 churches that did give. And we plan to do both,” he said, offering gratitude for those who faithfully give sacrificially.

Chitwood noted, “We hope to see thousands more churches come alongside our missionaries as partners both in prayer and with their presence on the field.”

Faithful stewardship

Chitwood and Rodney Freeman, vice president of support services and IMB treasurer, introduced the 2019-20 proposed budget, balanced with receipts and expenses both projected at $267.4 million.

“We must prioritize re-connecting with Southern Baptists,” Chitwood told trustees. “A look back over the last decade of LMCO receipts reveals that 10 percent fewer churches contributed in the past five years than in the five years prior.”

“Should that trend continue over the next decade, our future as a sending organization is bleak,” he said, noting an investment in reconnecting with Southern Baptists is “an investment at home with returns that will bless the nations.” He added that IMB also must prioritize mobilizing Southern Baptists to pray, give, go, and send to the nations.

Freeman reported that the budget allows for up to 50 more Journeymen to be sent above and beyond IMB’s normal Journeyman class of approximately 100. IMB Journeymen are recent college graduates under the age of 30 who are sent by their churches as missionaries for a two-year term through the IMB. A Journeyman’s primary responsibility is to engage in the missionary task by sharing the Gospel, making disciples, and helping plant churches. They are a vital part of IMB missionary teams all over the world. Serving as a Journeyman allows young adults to both be on mission and explore the possibility of lifelong service as a missionary. Journeymen are fully funded by the IMB.

The IMB budgeting process follows six core principles:

— Develop a budget that focuses on spreading the Gospel to unreached peoples and places.

— Use realistic to conservative projections for receipts from the Cooperative Program, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and other receipts (projecting Cooperative Program receipts at $99.1 million and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® receipts at $155 million for 2019-20);

— Maintain contingency reserves at an appropriate level (set at 5.5 months, which falls within SBC Executive Committee guidelines);

— Exclude property sales from budget receipts or expenses;

— Spend 100 percent of LMCO receipts on the mission field; and

— Present a balanced budget for approval each year ($267.4 million for 2019-20).

Faithful service

Trustees recognized the service of missionary LaVerne Brown, who died Sept. 12, 2019, at age 48. Brown had shared the gospel among Sub-Saharan African Affinity Peoples in Africa and Europe since 2003. (See related story.)

They also recognized the service of fellow trustee John Gray, a member of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., who died Aug. 23, 2019, at age 76. Gray served on the board of trustees since 2016.

The week included orientation for 23 new trustees elected in June during the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Birmingham, Ala. See full list of new trustees in IMB’s full report.

Chitwood noted, “Knowing that our board now has representatives from each of our 41 state conventions is an encouragement not only to states like Alaska and Hawaii and Iowa and Utah, that for the past several years had no representation, it encourages all of us at the IMB to know we have you, our board members, as a direct channel of relationship, communication, and accountability to all of our SBC churches,” Chitwood said.

The official launch date for the 2019-20 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is Oct. 1. For more information and resources, go to IMB.org/LMCO.

The next Sending Celebration for new IMB missionaries will be Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at Quail Springs Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

The next IMB trustee meeting will be Jan. 29-30, 2020, in Riverside, Calif.

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