RICHMOND, Va. (BP) - International Mission Board trustees approved the appointment of 24 new fulltime, fully funded personnel to take the Gospel to unreached people and places during their Sept. 25-26 meeting near Richmond, Virginia.
The meeting also included an update on an external report regarding IMB's prevention and response to abuse and harassment; the approval of a balanced budget for 2019-20; and orientation for 23 new trustees.
The trustee board appointed 24 new missionaries during a special Sending Celebration, which recognized both the new personnel and the churches sending them to take the Gospel to the nations. The celebration, hosted by Swift Creek Baptist Church, Midlothian, Virginia, featured testimonies from each of the appointees. Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, challenged the new missionaries and brought greetings to the trustees during their plenary session.
IMB President Paul Chitwood reported spending significant time with Affinity Group Leaders who serve around the world. "These couples represent a good blend of seasoned veterans and new, energetic leaders," Chitwood said. "They are also incredibly gifted missiologists, highly effective administrators, and deeply passionate soul winners. They are leading their teams to meet the challenges of urbanization and globalization head-on. And, they have not lost courage - even in the face of staggering lostness, growing persecution or dwindling resources."
"I've been especially pleased to see how they have embraced the growing need of every member of the IMB family. ... [They want] to do all that we can to help mobilize Southern Baptists to pray, give, go and send," he said. "These leaders know best of all the unprecedented opportunities that are before us around the world, opportunities that will require more laborers for the harvest."
Chitwood said that over the past ten months, he has met with approximately 2,300 of IMB's overseas personnel and more than 1,600 of their missionary kids. "I can tell you that the Affinity Leaders represent the spirit of all 3,700 of your missionaries," he said.
He also reported how Southern Baptists and their 3,700 missionaries had been part of God at work on the international mission field in the past year.
- 562,865 people heard the Gospel this past year.
- 77,605 people became new believers, and 52,586 believers were baptized.
- Missionaries planted 13,898 new churches.
- 28,213 people received advanced theological training, a 48% increase over the prior year.
"The only thing that prevents an even greater harvest is lack of more laborers in the Lord's fields," Chitwood said. He noted that IMB's senior leaders had set a goal of growing its missionary force by 500 new missionaries by 2025. "That would take our total headcount to 4,200, which we believe is the minimum number of missionaries we need to make the maximum impact.
"We have a significant opportunity to engage the 23,000 Southern Baptist churches that gave nothing to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering last year, while we say a heartfelt thank you to the 21,000 churches that did give. And, we plan to do both," he said, offering gratitude for those who faithfully give sacrificially. He also noted, "We hope to see thousands more churches come alongside our missionaries as partners both in prayer and with their presence on the field."
In May, the board received recommendations from the corporate law firm Gray Plant Mooty concerning the IMB's handling of past matters and current policies and practices related to the prevention of and response to allegations of child abuse and sexual harassment (including sexual assault). Chitwood reported to trustees that the firm's work has continued in conjunction with senior leadership and a trustee officer. "Let me assure you ... that IMB absolutely remains committed to making changes necessary to better prevent instances of child abuse and sexual harassment (including sexual assault), and to do all we can to better care for victims while holding perpetrators accountable," he said.
Chitwood said IMB leadership is methodically implementing every recommendation presented by Gray Plant Mooty. He said the organization is diligently moving toward the highest standards in abuse prevention and response, including providing compassionate care.
Chitwood's update noted that:
-- IMB has reported every known incident of alleged child abuse by IMB personnel or others affiliated with IMB that it had not previously reported. Also, IMB has taken steps to encourage people to notify authorities and the IMB of incidents of abuse.
-- IMB has adopted protocols for consistently reporting allegations of child abuse committed by IMB personnel, or others affiliated with IMB, to U.S. government authorities - even when there is not a legal duty to do so. IMB has also adopted protocols for reporting allegations of child abuse to foreign government authorities.
-- IMB finalized a job description for a full-time, senior-level position to oversee prevention and response efforts of the IMB concerning child abuse and sexual harassment. Throughout the summer, IMB has actively sought to fill the critical role, committed to finding the best candidate "who can lead us toward excellence in this area," he said. "We welcome any candidates to apply who can lead us toward excellence in this area. If you think this is you or someone you know, we encourage you to review the job description posted on IMB.org."
Chitwood reported that IMB continues to work closely with GPM to implement the recommendations it has provided and values their independent expertise. Since giving its update in May, GPM has continued its examination by reviewing past cases involving allegations of child abuse or sexual harassment and determining whether any additional actions are needed. Out of respect for victims' privacy, GPM will not provide updates on individual cases.
Also, GPM has informed IMB that it does not have any additional recommendations for changes to IMB's current policies and practices to share at this time. If GPM later has further recommendations beyond those discussed in the detailed public statement they provided in May, it will provide an updated statement.
"We are fully committed to the ongoing nature of this task as a part of IMB's work now and in the future," Chitwood said. "We will report progress to IMB's full board of trustees on implementing GPM's recommendations, as applicable, during future regularly scheduled board meetings."
IMB encourages anyone who has been a victim of abuse by IMB personnel to report it to authorities. IMB invites any victims to contact its confidential hotline at (866) 292-0181 or email firstname.lastname@example.org so IMB can provide care to that victim and take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of others.
IMB noted it is committed to providing accurate, informed references on every former IMB employee. The organization encourages any organization or employer, who is considering a former IMB employee as a worker, to contact IMB for a reference. IMB asks people to email email@example.com "so we can do our part to help you make wise and informed hiring decisions."
Chitwood and Rodney Freeman, vice president of support services and IMB treasurer, introduced the 2019-20 proposed budget, balanced with receipts and expenses both projected at $267.4 million. "We must prioritize reconnecting with Southern Baptists," Chitwood told trustees. "A look back over the last decade of LMCO receipts reveals that 10 percent fewer churches contributed in the past five years than in the five years prior."
"Should that trend continue over the next decade, our future as a sending organization is bleak," he said. Reconnecting with Southern Baptists is "an investment at home with returns that will bless the nations," he added. He also noted that IMB also must prioritize mobilizing Southern Baptists to pray, give, go, and send to the nations.
Freeman reported that the budget allows for IMB to send up to 50 more Journeymen beyond IMB's regular Journeyman class of approximately 100. IMB Journeymen are recent college graduates under the age of 30 who are sent by their churches as missionaries for a two-year term through the IMB. A Journeyman's primary responsibility is to engage in the missionary task by sharing the Gospel, making disciples, and helping plant churches. They are a vital part of IMB missionary teams all over the world. Serving as a Journeyman allows young adults to be on mission and explore the possibility of lifelong service as a missionary. IMB fully funds Journeymen.
The week included orientation for 23 new trustees elected in June during the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Birmingham, Alabama. "Knowing that our board now has representatives from each of our 41 state conventions is an encouragement," Chitwood noted. "It encourages all of us at the IMB to know we have you, our board members, as a direct channel of relationship, communication, and accountability to all of our SBC churches."
The next IMB trustee meeting will be Jan. 29-30, 2020, in Riverside, California.