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Tsunami response praised, $6.8 million raised; Baptists asked to ‘close gap’ of reaching those who’ve never heard Gospel


RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Southern Baptists’ record giving to tsunami victims and their on-site relief efforts gave International Mission Board trustees plenty to applaud during their Jan. 24-27 meeting in Richmond, Va. But the growing death toll reminded them of unfinished work among people who have never heard the Gospel.

The board also appointed 54 new missionaries, approved alternatives in missionary education requirements and improvements in technology, clarified the definition of “church,” honored active and retired missionaries who died within the past year and said farewell to Larry Cox, former vice president for the IMB’s office of mobilization.

TREMENDOUS OUTPOURING OF GIVING

After the tsunami struck countries in South Asia and the Pacific Rim regions Dec. 26, Southern Baptists rapidly mobilized to help those in need. Since then, they have raised more than $6.8 million for relief efforts.

Through Feb. 1, the IMB had processed donations from more than 14,700 givers. Previously, the highest number of donors in a single month was 3,500. And more than $1.3 million dollars was raised through online giving.

“People around the world, including Southern Baptists, have responded in a tremendous outpouring,” said David Steverson, the IMB’s treasurer.

Steverson noted in his report that 100 percent of all donations sent to disaster relief will be spent for that purpose. This is made possible through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering through which Southern Baptists support missionaries on the field.

“We appreciate the support that Southern Baptists provide through their offerings that allow us to fulfill the vision the Lord has for us,” Steverson said.

Though response has been tremendous, Steverson said, there is one figure that stands out above them all — the 200,000 lives lost in the tsunami disaster. For him, that was the most “shocking statistic.”

“Some had heard the Gospel and rejected Him,” Steverson said. “But many others had never heard.”

URGENCY TO CLOSE THE GAP

In last November’s trustee meeting, the board focused on finding ways to close the gap of reaching those who have never heard the Gospel. In the wake of the tsunami disaster, that goal has never been more urgent.

As some areas affected by the tsunami open their borders to outsiders for the first time in years, Southern Baptists must not waste this opportunity, IMB President Jerry Rankin said.

“The media is saying ‘Where is God?’” Rankin said. “The question is, ‘Where were we?’ Where were we who allowed thousands to be swept into eternity” before hearing about Jesus?

Southern Baptists must act now before it is too late, he said.

“There is nothing we can do about the multitudes who lost their lives. We couldn’t have helped them in the disaster of a tsunami wave. But we stand accountable for the fact that they … never had an opportunity” to accept Jesus as their Savior, Rankin said.

AFFIRMING DEFINITION OF ‘CHURCH’

In other action, the board affirmed the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message definition of what constitutes a church and clarified how that definition is interpreted in IMB work around the world.

The recommendation was made to ensure that missionaries, seminaries and other supporting groups involved with Southern Baptist missions were on “the same page,” said IMB trustee Bob Pearle, “so that we are speaking the same language to our missionaries on the field and to those coming through [the IMB’s Missionary Learning Center].”

Trustees also approved recommendations to:

— provide options in formal education requirements of career missionaries assigned to church and home responsibilities. Those who do not have the required college hours must complete 15 semester hours of board-approved bachelor’s-level biblical, theological and missiological study.

— appropriate $4 million over a two-year period from operating reserves for improvements in the IMB’S office of information technology group. The money will go toward 27 different projects that include security, improved telephone systems and keeping computer hardware and software up to date.

REMEMBERING THOSE WHO DIED

Trustees recognized 34 emeritus missionaries, seven active missionaries and four missionary children who died in the past year. Among that number were the four missionaries who were killed in Iraq last spring. All were honored for their sacrifices on the field.

“One of these folks that we remember today served 42 years on the mission field,” said Clyde Meador, IMB executive vice president. “Many others served [35 years or more]. Some of these we remember today lived their entire young lives on the mission field and went to be with the Lord.

“Sharing [God’s] truth around this world is what matters,” he added. “And we honor not only these who we remember today, but we honor our Lord Jesus Christ when we proclaim His truth faithfully around this world.”

RECOGNIZING LARRY COX

Trustees honored Larry Cox, former vice president for the IMB’s office of mobilization, and his 22-year career on the field and with the board’s home office. Cox resigned in the fall to accept a position with WinShape Foundation in Rome, Ga.

Cox worked as a missionary in Burkina Faso, West Africa, from 1975-1987. He accepted various leadership roles on the mission field after being reappointed in 1994 and then joined the home office in 2000.

Trustee Randy Davis thanked Cox for his leadership of the office of mobilization during the last five years.

The next trustee meeting is scheduled for March 14-16 in Charlotte, N.C. An appointment service will be held March 15 at First Baptist Church there.
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  • Shawn Hendricks