RICHMOND, Virginia (BP) - International Mission Board senior leaders have directed IMB missionary personnel around the world to postpone hosting any ministry volunteer groups through June 30, leaders announced Wednesday, March 25. Consideration of missionaries hosting volunteer teams beyond June 30 will be reviewed on May 1, they reported.
“We’re instructing our personnel to postpone all volunteer efforts at this time due to the uncertainty of health and travel for those traveling internationally, and also to comply with the State Department’s guidance,” said IMB President Paul Chitwood. “We strongly recommend that Southern Baptist volunteer teams postpone any travel during this time, particularly overseas travel.” Chitwood said several factors complicate setting a parameter about volunteer teams. Those factors included the virus’ global nature, its impact on the United States and movement becoming more restricted everywhere.
“We highly value all our field personnel and their partners—our long-term personnel; our mid-term personnel, including journeymen; and the faithful mission volunteers,” Chitwood said. “Throughout this situation, we are continually assessing local situations in the context of the global crisis and doing our best - at both the local and global levels - to make good decisions for our personnel’s health and safety and for those who desire to serve alongside us as volunteers for a shorter time.”
Chitwood also assured Southern Baptists, “Ministry overseas, however, hasn’t stopped as many of our missionaries are making the same efforts to move to online discipleship training and other types of meetings to ensure that Southern Baptists’ work and witness among the nations remains strong.”
Every Southern Baptist and other partners can still support missions, even with travel restrict ions, Chitwood said, by committing to a concerted time of prayer. “We believe that prayer not only paves the way for the Lord to work, but following Jesus’ example, we know that prayer itself is, in fact, part of that vital work,” he explained. “What an incredible opportunity to step into the gap for millions of unreached people while our eyes are on the condition of the world.”
The postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics also affected Southern Baptists who had planned to share the gospel and serve other ways through the international event in Japan. “We want you to know that the IMB and our partners here in Japan are still committed to the Tokyo Olympics [when they take place],” said Daniel Rice, who is coordinating IMB’s 2020 Olympic ministries.
Between now and then, Rice said, “Our team will continue working hard to keep things moving forward in order to bring the good news of the gospel to the Japanese. We will make the necessary adjustments to continue our [ministry] plan when the Olympics take place. Our hope is that many of you will be able to join us.” Rice also asked Southern Baptist to pray for the Japanese people and for discouraged athletes worldwide.
IMB leaders have received questions about the status of field personnel who live full time overseas: long-term personnel and mid-term personnel, including journeymen.
Missionary personnel around the world have been affected, like everyone else, the IMB said. In most cases, field leaders have determined that missionaries remaining at their current location is the best option for their health and safety. In specific cases of need, IMB has offered temporary relocation to areas with better medical care.
Because IMB’s long-term and mid-term field personnel, including journeymen, live overseas, the missionaries are following the State Department’s guidance for them to “shelter in place.” Families of IMB personnel should communicate directly with their field personnel for the most up-to-date information about family members, IMB said.
“We remain committed to our mission to serve Southern Baptists in carrying out the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations,” Chitwood said. “While this global crisis raises many uncertainties, we remain steadfast in our belief that the Lord will fulfill the vision of a multitude from every language, people, tribe and nation knowing and worshiping our Lord Jesus Christ.”