GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–“Is anybody else coming?” Clyde Meador, interim president of the International Mission Board, posed the question to trustees during their Nov. 10 meeting in Greensboro, N.C.
The IMB encounters this question more and more as it treks through an ailing economy and reduces its overseas missionary force through attrition from a high of 5,600 to a goal of 5,000.
“All around the world, millions of lost people are asking the question, ‘Is anyone else coming to tell us the message of hope?'” said Meador, who shared a story about a former missionary couple who encountered this question among the South Asian people group they were working with before they retired.
Trustees adopted a 2011 budget of $308.5 million, $9.1 million less than 2010’s budget. While many missionary positions remain unfilled, IMB trustees appointed 57 new missionaries. Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., hosted an appointment service Nov. 10, and some of the new appointees will participate in a Nov. 16 commissioning service at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee.
“We are still sending new personnel, contrary to rumors that we sometimes hear,” said Meador, noting that the missionary force has been reduced solely by sending fewer replacement personnel when there are retirements, resignations or completed terms.
“We look forward to a day when financial support reaches the point when we can increase the number of new personnel being sent to the field each year,” Meador said.
Trustees also heard reports of spiritual victories led by Southern Baptist missionaries and Baptist partners on the field.
In 2009, IMB missionaries reported 360,876 baptisms, 29,237 new churches and 96 newly engaged people groups. These new numbers, Meador noted, usher in a more focused approach to reporting the IMB’s missionary work.
The organization’s annual report is now separated into two reports, with the numbers cited by Meador reflecting work by IMB missionaries and those with whom they directly relate.
Trustees also received a report from 133 overseas Baptist conventions that listed 136,422 baptisms and 2,151 new churches. This report could show some overlap with the IMB report.
“We are focusing more than ever on the work done specifically by our personnel and those with whom they work most closely,” Meador said, “which will enable us to better understand how God is using us and how we can better serve.”
For the third consecutive year, IMB trustees adopted a decreased budget from the previous year’s budget.
Though the IMB pulled $7.5 million from its reserves to balance the budget last year, the trustee finance committee was committed to not repeating that move.
“We continue to face very difficult economic times as a nation,” said Charles Fowler, a Tennessee trustee who chairs the finance committee.
“We’re grateful for Southern Baptist support of the Lord’s work that’s being accomplished around the world,” Fowler added. “It truly is an amazing story of the grace of God at work.”
According to IMB officials, the mission board is sending about 30 percent fewer long-term personnel than would be sent if there were no financial constraints. The IMB still anticipates sending 300 new long-term personnel and 200 to 250 new short-term personnel in 2011.
As Cooperative Program dollars continue to slip, trustees focused on ways they also could cut costs in the stateside budget, which accounts for a little less than 15 percent of the overall budget, Fowler said.
The IMB recently offered qualifying staff members in Richmond, Va., a voluntary retirement incentive to take effect by the end of 2010.
In other business, trustees heard a report of $2,063,474.46 released for hunger and general relief projects, including funds used by Baptist Global Response, a relief and development organization that partners with the IMB. The funds were used in many places such as earthquake recovery needs in Haiti and helping peoples in Central and South Asia.
During the meeting, trustees also were encouraged to continue praying for the presidential search committee.
A RENEWED HOPE
As missionaries continue their efforts overseas, Meador said Southern Baptist churches also are answering the question he posed during his report — “Is anybody else coming?”
Trustees heard several stories of churches, students and state convention leaders who are making sacrifices to help send and support missionaries.
One of these stories is Calvary Baptist Church in War, W.Va. The church averages about 45 people each Sunday in a poverty-stricken coal-mining community, Meador said. A third of those attendees are children.
“Only eight or nine members of the church have a paying job,” he added.
Five years ago the church gave $140 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The next year they gave $1,300. Last year they gave more than $7,500.
“They expect to give even more this year,” Meador said. “They are answering the question.”
The next trustee meeting will be March 15-16 in Dallas, with an appointment service slated March 16 at First Baptist Church in Dallas.
Alan James is a writer for the International Mission Board.