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WORLDVIEW: Will ‘donor fatigue’ hurt Lottie Moon?

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Michael, age 7, couldn’t stop thinking about what the white-haired missionary said.

“For just 50 cents of your Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, you can place a copy of the Good News in the hand of a lost person in Bangladesh,” retired missionary Tom Thurman told folks at Michael’s church –- one of several congregations Thurman and his wife, Gloria, have visited recently on behalf of international missions.

The Thurmans, who shared the Good News with thousands in Bangladesh as Southern Baptist missionaries for some 30 years, moved on to other topics as they spoke at the church. But Michael kept thinking about putting the Gospel in hungry hands.

“That one sentence struck a chord in Michael’s heart,” Mrs. Thurman said. “He responded by bringing his savings the next night -– seven $1 bills.”

As he gave all he had, Michael said, “Please send this to Bangladesh for Bibles.”

Michael’s generosity prompted his buddy, Brice, to bring money, too.

“We’ve been challenged by so many people and their testimonies,” Mrs. Thurman said of the churches they’ve visited this year.

Young Michael’s act of love and obedience, though, tops her list.

Sure, a 7-year-old kid doesn’t have the financial obligations many of us shoulder. But plenty of adult Southern Baptists have given sacrificially in recent years to the Lottie Moon offering –- which supports more than 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries overseas and finances more than half of the International Mission Board’s total budget. Lottie Moon giving shattered records in 2003 as Southern Baptists gave $136 million for international missions. Last year they gave almost $134 million.

This year, however, has brought a series of natural disasters like no other 12 months in recent memory. Before 2005 even began, a towering tsunami devastated Asian coastlines, killing more than 200,000 people. Americans responded by giving $1.3 billion in private donations for tsunami relief. Southern Baptists have given nearly $17 million for tsunami-related aid this year through the International Mission Board alone.

Then came Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst disasters in American history. Once again, average folks stepped up and gave an estimated $2 billion to help victims recover. Then came two other hurricanes -– Rita and Wilma -– bringing more destruction and misery to the Gulf Coast. Finally, an earthquake killed more than 40,000 people in Pakistan’s Kashmir region –- and threatens to kill thousands more who still lack shelter and medical care as winter approaches.

The relatively small total of private U.S. donations to aid survivors of the Pakistan quake -– about $73 million so far, according to one estimate -– has prompted concern among charities. Some observers worry that Americans are coming down with a bad case of “donor fatigue” just as the holiday giving season gears up.

There’s no solid evidence -– yet -– of a major downturn in charitable giving. By the end of 2005, Americans are expected to have given more than $250 billion to churches, charities and other causes -– a new record.

“Charity is like love,” said Henry Goldstein, chairman of the Giving USA Foundation, in an interview with The Washington Times. “It is not something you can contain. The people talking about donor fatigue are wrong.”

The foundation, which tracks U.S. charitable giving, notes that annual private donations have hovered at about 2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product for the last 50 years. Still, newspapers and TV stations around the country are reporting that some local charities feeling the pinch of decreased gifts are cutting services or even laying off workers.

“Are we tapped out?” asked The Richmond Times-Dispatch in a front-page report Nov. 27. The coverage featured a profile of Marian Haynes, an 87-year-old retirement home resident who already has received 260 requests for holiday contributions. She tithes at church and gives to charity, but feels overwhelmed with all the holiday appeals.

“They say the Lord loves a cheerful giver, but this giver’s becoming less cheerful,” she told a reporter.

If you’re like many average Americans, you’re also struggling with job security (or unemployment), gasoline prices, energy bills, medical coverage costs, retirement savings concerns, Iraq war worries.

And if you’re like me, you haven’t even started Christmas shopping.

The Week of Prayer for International Missions beginning Dec. 4 kicks off the season of giving to the Lottie Moon offering. The national goal is $150 million, every penny of which will be used to send missionaries and support their ministries. This year, about 800 new IMB missionaries are joining co-workers already on the field in more than 180 countries. Last year, Southern Baptists took the Gospel to 137 previously unengaged people groups –- and planted the first evangelical Baptist churches among 14 of those groups.

What about 2006?

It’s been a tough year, but here’s hoping we step up for the Lottie Moon offering like 7-year-old Michael. He wants to see the Good News placed in the hands of lost Bangladeshis who may never receive it without his $7 gift -– and he’s putting his money where his heart is.

Giving to missions is an act of faith. Faith that God will meet our own needs as we give. Faith that He will use our gifts to advance His kingdom. Faith that He will multiply our offerings –- like the loaves and fishes another young boy gave Jesus long ago.

Thanks, Michael, for showing the way!
Erich Bridges is senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board whose column appears twice each month in Baptist Press.

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  • Erich Bridges