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TRUSTEES: ‘Let us be found faithful,’ Chitwood tells IMB trustees

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)—Paul Chitwood knelt with six other believers in an overseas province where all of the nearly 100 million inhabitants know little or nothing about salvation through Jesus Christ. They prayed God would send Southern Baptist workers to tell the people there about the Good News.

“Yet I flew back to America knowing how unlikely it would be that God would send an IMB missionary there because we are in the process of reducing our mission force by several hundred people,” Chitwood told trustees of the International Mission Board (IMB) during their March 3 business session in Memphis, Tenn.

His voice filled with emotion, Chitwood, chairman of the board of trustees and pastor of First Baptist Church in Mt. Washington, Ky., challenged his fellow board members to be passionate advocates for the Great Commission cause of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

“To most of the world, how to know God is still a mystery. But we know the mystery has been solved,” Chitwood told the trustees, who were about to appoint 61 new missionaries in a service at nearby Bellevue Baptist Church. “Some have heard and not yet believed, but over a billion have not yet heard. Our labors and our struggles are so that all may hear. Thank God for those who are willing to go and share their lives among the nations that all may hear.

“God has given us a small piece of the greatest endeavor He has undertaken,” Chitwood added. “Let us be found faithful, doing our part.”

Chitwood’s impassioned plea closed out a two-day meeting in which trustees also heard an update on Southern Baptist relief efforts in Haiti and Chile, received an “over and above” check from a group of Texas Baptist churches and recognized the leadership of Lloyd Atkinson, who served in South America in the 1970s before having various leadership roles in the IMB’s personnel office.


Atkinson, a senior consultant who served as the IMB’s vice president for mission personnel from 1999-2009, retires March 31.

“Lloyd and his staff have led in an era of growth beyond what anyone would have dared imagine a few years ago,” IMB President Jerry Rankin said. “Lloyd has demonstrated not only superb leadership skills as a team builder but also conscientious commitment to the values and policies of this board.” Speaking directly to Atkinson and his wife, Sue, Rankin added: “It has been a wonderful journey. You have been an inspiration and a blessing.”

“I am so optimistic about the future. God’s hand, I believe, is on this board,” Atkinson told the group. “God called all of us a long time ago to carry out the Great Commission and that Great Commission is still in our hearts. I’m looking forward to the days ahead even being greater than they are now.”


The trustee board also received an “over and above” check from Bryon McWilliams, pastor of First Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas, and president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. That state convention sends 55 percent of its Cooperative Program missions receipts to national and international missions causes — a percentage well above that of most state Baptist conventions. It also was the SBTC that presented an “over and above” check for $100,000 to the IMB during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., in June 2009.

“I am thrilled to be part of a state convention that is so missionally minded,” McWilliams told the trustees. “Today it is my pleasure to represent the more than 2,000 Southern Baptist of Texas Convention churches and give another check for $100,000 … to the IMB.”


Terry Lassiter, IMB strategist for the American peoples, reported on the entity’s relief efforts following major earthquakes in both Haiti and Chile. In Haiti, joint relief efforts with Baptist Global Response, Haitian Baptists, Florida Baptists and the North American Mission Board are focusing on food, shelter and medical needs, especially in areas being missed by the larger international relief effort, Lassiter said. A total of $1.8 million has been donated to the IMB for Haiti relief and $475,000 of that already has been targeted for specific projects.

In Chile, Southern Baptist missionaries in the country deployed only minutes after the Feb. 27 earthquake to begin assessing needs and ministering to survivors, Lassiter reported. Two missionary assessment teams are converging on Concepcion, the city most affected by the quake, to bring badly needed food, water and medicine. An initial release of $50,000 has been approved to launch that effort, which will be conducted in partnership with Chilean Baptist churches and Baptist Global Response.


A project in a major North American city is helping Southern Baptist missionaries better understand how to evangelize the megacities in which they will be serving overseas, said Gordon Fort, the IMB’s vice president of global strategy.

The purpose of the project is to help new missionaries, many of whom grew up in relatively small communities, understand how to share the Gospel in the post-modern environment of an ethnically diverse megacity, Fort said.

The program, which completed its second four-month cycle in January, challenged its 13 participants to learn how to live in an apartment-dwelling, mass transportation environment and required them to engage the people they encountered with the Gospel, Fort said. Over the four months, 41 percent of the people engaged indicated they were not interested, yet three salvations were recorded, five home or Bible study groups were started and one church was planted.

It was exciting that “in a city like this — post-modern, with its ethnic diversity, many people as hardened to the Gospel as any place in the world — your missionaries in those four months found responsiveness that we will continue to build on … ,” Fort said. “These excited, enthusiastic new missionaries were coming in, struggling with the city, trying to learn how to live in a city, adjusting themselves to the city, but coming to love the city.”


Dramatic changes in IMB structure have occurred in recent months and people ask board leaders how the reorganization has affected morale among the missionaries, said a key leader for missions work among Central Asian peoples.

“By and large, the average worker on the frontlines is hardly aware that anything has happened. They are simply continuing to do what God called them to do,” said the leader, whose name is being withheld for security reasons. “Reorganization is not what affects the morale of our leadership team and keeps us awake at night. What affects us is lostness.

“We have overwhelming lostness facing us and we are being told we are going to have to address that lostness with fewer workers. That’s what keeps me awake at night,” the leader said. “What keeps me awake at night is getting calls from churches … that have qualified people in the pipeline [to become missionaries] … and having to tell them, ‘Slow down. We can’t take you this year. Maybe we can’t take you next year. We don’t know.'”

Deciding how to allocate scarce missionary resources among vast numbers of lost people is extremely difficult, the mission leader said.

“I’ve got somebody ready to go to that place, but I’m going to have to say no because we don’t have the money to send them,” he said. “How do we prioritize? It’s like asking which of your children you are going to save. … That’s what breaks my heart.”

In other business, trustees:

— Adopted a resolution of appreciation for Robert E. Brown, a Masters missionary to sub-Saharan African peoples since 2004, who died of a heart attack Jan. 7 while on family leave in the United States.

— Heard a request from the chairman of the board’s presidential search committee that Southern Baptists set aside March 13 as a day of prayer and fasting to ask God to direct their path.

— Listened to the first reading of a temporary bylaws change that would save money by eliminating the January and July 2011 trustee meetings. Trustees will vote on the proposal during their May meeting in Chicago.

— Received a report about a medical missions mobilization summit set for July 8-10 at Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga.

— The next meeting of the trustees will be held May 4-5 in Chicago. Two appointment services will be held in conjunction with this board meeting. The first appointment service will be May 5 at Broadview Baptist Church, Chicago. The second appointment service will be held May 6 at First Baptist Church, Jackson, Miss.
Mark Kelly wrote this story on behalf of the IMB.

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