RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Jake Grece* sits at his computer in Africa answering email from a missionary couple. They have a question about their finances and Grece is their man — an IMB missionary working as an accountant.
Today Grece is in the office processing financial reports, sorting expense claims and punching numbers into a database, but tomorrow he and a local pastor will hold an outdoor evangelism service where they will share the Gospel with nationals.
Accountants may not be the first image that pops into people’s heads when talking about missionaries, but that’s exactly how Grece, a Nebraska native, answered his call to missions. He uses his financial skills in the office while also focusing on ministering to those around him — whether it’s frazzled missionaries or local villagers.
They are a “missionary first with an assignment to do financial support,” said Lynn Burton, associate vice president for the International Mission Board’s office of finance. “That’s the one thing to always focus on. [On] our job description, the very first line is ‘witnessing and participating in Christian life.'”
IMB missionaries serve as accountants in four financial support centers overseas, taking care of personnel in the Americas, Eurasia, Asia and Africa. Currently, all the centers need more missionaries with the skills to do financial work plus a heart to reach others with the Gospel.
The position requires standard duties of a finance worker: reviewing and reimbursing personnel spending, transferring funds, processing expense reports and communicating with personnel who have financial questions or issues.
Burton, who works in the board’s Richmond, Va., office, served for almost 20 years as a missionary in Africa. Though he worked in financial support and administration, he also started two churches, conducted marriage enrichment seminars and taught Bible studies.
“Financial stewardship [enabled me to live] in some of the countries,” he said.
Missionary accountants in Africa try to get out of the office at least one day each week to minister to their people groups. While Grece and a local pastor lead a Bible study in a poverty-stricken shantytown, other missionaries work in an AIDS orphanage, teach the Bible through storytelling and volunteer with local churches.
Grece said he enjoys his duties of handling expenses and accounting — a ministry in itself. He likes to help people with their finances, which “takes a lot of stress off their plates, where many live in high-stress areas and ministries already,” he said.
Jeff Whitlow,* an International Mission Board missionary and a New York native, has served in both types of missionary work: strategy and support. After working for two years in South Asia as a strategy coordinator for an unengaged, unreached people group, he moved to Southeast Asia to work in the financial support office. Whitlow also teaches classes at a local seminary twice a week, eating lunch with his students and staying after class to talk with them and answer questions.
Whitlow still has a heart for South Asian people, so in between working and teaching he spends time ministering to Indians who live nearby. He is grateful that his work schedule allows him to be involved in a variety of ministries.
“Even though a lot of people might feel like their predominant role is accounting, there’s still plenty of opportunities to be able to look for opportunities to share, and you have that flexibility to pick and choose what area in particular you want to focus on,” Whitlow said.
Burton said he advises accountants to not only work with other missionaries but also to develop relationships with them, minister to them and serve as an encouragement. Whitlow implements this by asking missionaries to send him their update letters and prayer requests.
“When we were on the field and I had a problem, or I needed money for some emergency right away, or I wasn’t clear about something, I knew that I could just call the (financial) office. I knew most of them by name…,” Whitlow said.
Burton likens the different roles of missionaries to the body of Christ: a variety of gifts and a diversity of spirit. “It’s a smorgasbord of gifts but with a holistic focus of using these to impact the countries where they are [living] with Jesus Christ,” he said.
Individuals interested in pursuing missionary service may call IMB’s office of global personnel toll-free at (800) 999-3113 or visit www.going.imb.org.
Laura Fielding is a summer intern writer with the International Mission Board.