RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — These are difficult days for the International Mission Board family.
IMB President David Platt recently announced a plan to reduce missionaries and home office staff by 600 to 800 people over the next six months due to years of financial shortfalls. It will be painful, he acknowledged. It’s already painful, in fact. Missionaries and staff age 50 and over with at least five years of IMB service have begun praying about whether to accept a voluntary retirement package being offered during the first phase of the personnel cutback. A second phase will extend a voluntary departure incentive to all IMB workers, regardless of age.
Hundreds of people who have sensed a call to international missions — and followed it, some of them for many years — must now decide if they will keep at it, or if God is leading them to a different place of service. That’s a tough choice for them, for their families, for their co-workers and for the churches that send and support them. They need your prayers for wisdom, faith and obedience.
As Platt wrote in a Sept. 4 letter to Southern Baptists, “‘600’ and ‘800’ are not just figures on a page; they are people around the world. For many of you, they are your family, friends and fellow church members. They are brothers and sisters whom I love, and brothers and sisters whom I want to serve and support. I not only want as many of them as possible to stay on the field; I want multitudes more to join them on the field. But in order to even have a conversation about how to mobilize more people in the future, IMB must get to a healthy financial place in the present.”
In the meantime, he has appealed to all of us connected with IMB to keep a spiritual “blank check” on the table — and let God fill in the amount, the date and the “to the order of” line. Most of all, he has reminded us that our ultimate calling is not to a position, or to a place, or even to missions, but to God Himself.
As I pray about my own decision, the words of Paul David Tripp, a wise pastor and author, have helped me. Tripp recently wrote:
“I wish I wasn’t restless before bed, but there are nights when I can’t fall asleep because I’m concerned with what tomorrow will hold. … I wish I didn’t struggle with God’s sovereignty, but there are moments when I wish I could rewind time or rewrite the script to my life. Here’s the strange thing: I spent many years in seminary discovering what the Bible had to say about those issues. From a doctrinal standpoint, I have all the answers I need to believe in the power, presence and promises of God. … And yet, I still find myself fearful and doubting. … So once more today, I will remind myself of the truths of the Bible, not because my brain needs to be taught a new concept, but because my wandering heart needs to be ushered back into the throne room of grace.
“The Bible tells me that Jesus is Immanuel, which means, ‘God with [insert your name here]’ in every moment of every day. The Bible tells me that I’m never first to arrive in a situation, location or relationship. God was there before me, so I don’t have to fear the unpredictable. The Bible tells me that everything I’ll ever need to thrive will be supplied by God, in just the right quantity at just the right time. The Bible tells me that God has never fallen asleep at the wheel, and that everything I’ve been through in life was purposeful and under His control. Whatever you’re doing right now, stop and pray for the grace to remember today. Your Savior never gets weary of your requests. He loves to hear and answer.”
The Lord also has reminded me once again that being comes before doing. Our first and highest calling is to love Him and worship Him. Only then can we serve Him with power, regardless of our particular location.
In Luke 10, we read about busy Martha who was angry that her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha rushed around preparing to serve the crowd gathered in her home to listen to the Master. “But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her'” (Luke 10:38-42, NASB).
Only one thing is necessary: to love and obey the Lord. He will do the rest. So let’s pray for one another, that we will be and do the one thing most necessary to glorify God.
A young mission volunteer I know has her priorities straight in these uncertain days. She hopes to serve on an overseas field one day soon. She is preparing for it, studying for it and anticipating it. But all that comes as an overflow of her first love: Christ.
“When I surrendered my life to Jesus I left no area that was off limits to Him,” she said. “I see my life and the purpose of my life in a new way. I desire to see the nations reached for Christ, and if that requires me to step out of my comfort zone and sacrifice everything — which is not really sacrificing anything compared to what Jesus sacrificed for me — then that is what I will do.”
If God still moves in young hearts and lives like hers, He will make a way for them to go.