RICHMOND, VA — Georgia trustees of the International Mission Board acknowledge that steps surrounding the organization’s efforts to become more viable financially are needed, though in the short-term extract a professional and personal toll.
On Wednesday IMB President David Platt announced a departure of 983 missionaries through the Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) and Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO) presented to missionaries and Richmond staff last fall in the initiation of a “reset” to the agency that had been long operating in the red financially. Total staff reductions now at 1,132 came following years of regularly increasing its Lottie Moon Offering goals despite not having met budget the previous year and the depletion of cash reserves to make up the difference.
Allen Hill, director of missions for Appalachee Baptist Association in Monroe, acknowledged that the long-term position for the IMB is better financially, though another measure of strength also comes into play.
“There was a reason for the VRI and HRO in the first place. But if you measure strength by the number of our missionary force overseas I believe we will have some rebuilding to do. As our new IMB leadership continues to set a new vision for the IMB for the future, our strength will be in how Southern Baptists respond to this vision and to their leadership.
“The excitement seems to be there as David Platt sets the course for the future and I pray that this will mean great days ahead for our International Mission Board,” noted Hill, who served with his wife Emily in the Philippines and Asia for several years as IMB missionaries.
First Baptist Statesboro Pastor John Waters joined Hill in acknowledging a tough present, though confident in a better future.
“The reset is progressing as expected, but it has required difficult decisions along the way. David Platt has both a heart and vision for the global glory of God, and the reset of the IMB will enable us to proclaim Jesus’ name among those who’ve never heard,” he said.
“I know it might sound strange to say yes,” admitted Roger Henderson, missions and mobilization pastor for Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, “but I do believe God was in control of the process and because of that, I do feel the IMB is in better shape for the future.”
Like other trustees, Henderson expressed appreciation for the work and dedication of missionaries returning from the international field and an expectation that those years of experience will find a new home.
“As in any situation with missionaries returning from the field, there is feeling of loss. Years of experience and knowledge leaving the field always leaves a void. But I feel that is not an end of their ministry, but perhaps a redirection and a new location.”
Morgan Kerr, lead pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Savannah, labeled the loss of missionaries as “bittersweet reality” but that the moves have placed the IMB in a better position financially.
“I have no doubt that the hard decisions made by David, the staff, and the board of trustees will in the end lead to a long-term solvency and strengthening of the IMB,” he said. “The future direction of the IMB and our ability to support missionaries on the field can only be enhanced by the wise stewardship Jesus exhibited.”
June Coleman, a member of Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, expressed confidence in the returning missionaries.
“I don’t feel their positions were lost because God did not take the position from them,” she said. “Their personal relationship with God to serve in the position as a missionary is ongoing. Once a missionary, always a missionary and God will use them accordingly.
“They are loyal and trusted servants of God and will be used on a field of His choosing. They were chosen for a new path in serving the Lord.”
Close to home
Kerr shared a story passed along by Platt at the meeting of one missionary couple with years of experience soon who will be among those leaving. Upon learning this, the indigenous people the couple had been ministering among for so many years decided to rise up and fill the void left by the couple. The story reminded Kerr of when Protestant missionary work in China flourished in the first half of the 20th century before those missionaries were expelled when that country’s communist government took over in 1949.
“It led to a multiplication of ministry no one knew about,” he expressed. “God understood there would be a huge movement that would affect that entire country and the world by removing our presence at that time. Ministry isn’t always dependent on us, but it’s always dependent on Him.”
Ultimately, felt Coleman, temporary cutbacks will lead to future growth.
“The challenges will be a spirit-filled uphill battle, but the changes will be fulfilling and all to the glory of the Lord as the future strategies of using more people to participate in global mission through numerous pathways and opportunities.”
Still, trustees have felt the changes personally. “We have several missionary families connected to our congregation who will be transitioning away from the IMB. Our missions pastor and former IMB missionary, Dave Parker, is part of the Toccoa Conference sponsored by the GBMB for returning missionaries,” expressed Waters, who attributes First Statesboro’s 50 percent increase in its Lottie Moon Offering this year as a response to the need.
“Some of those who took the VRI are personal friends and colleagues who have served with the IMB for 25 years or more,” stated Hill. “There have also been some personnel at the home office who were close friends as a result of our service with the IMB for many years in the Philippines.
“On a more positive note, each of those we have talked to or contacted personally have affirmed the moves made by the IMB to reduce personnel at this time even as it involved their own mission service. It has been evident to me that God has been at work even in the most difficult of decisions and circumstances.”
Note: Trustee Bill Ricketts, lead pastor of Prince Avenue Baptist Church in Athens, was unavailable for comment.