Heartbroken. Discouraged. Forgotten.
“That’s how I feel today,” wrote one of our missionaries upon learning of the International Mission Board’s announcement that 600-800 of her co-laborers were being asked to voluntarily retire by December. This should come as no surprise. Within the past decade, Southern Baptists have lost one-third of their global missionary force which, if anything, is devastating.
Yet church planting movements, according to an extensive IMB study, are breaking out in every “house” of the Islamic world. Historically missionary-receiving nations like China, Nigeria and Brazil are now sending their own to advance the Great Commission. And even amidst one of the greatest movement of refugees since World War II, countless are coming to faith while countless more are dying for Christ.
Malcolm Gladwell, journalist and bestselling author, calls it a tipping point where everything converges toward this moment of critical mass. Why then is the IMB recalling so many missionaries when the lost world seemingly needs them most?
“The only reason for this massive recall of missionaries from around the world is that Southern Baptist individuals and churches would rather spend the massive resources God has entrusted to them on other things than the most effective proven means of taking the Good News of Jesus to the nations,” wrote Dr. Don Dent, veteran IMB missionary and current director of Golden Gate Seminary’s missions school.
Annual declines in giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering forced the IMB to reduce US-based staff, sell overseas properties and dip into emergency reserves to make ends meet.
The new plan involves telling missionaries, who have given up their entire lives, that we can no longer support them as promised. We are asking the most experienced in language, culture and ministry to clear the bench because we cannot afford it. And in some of the hardest to reach places, the light they represent will be extinguished until we give enough to replace them. One day.
“This is a terrible time for many of us. We feel that our [SBC] family is not really a family...The bottom line is that we are really numbers and nothing more than that,” laments one IMB missionary. “It is with great anguish and deep sorrow that our family seeks help from you today. Please pray for us. Is our time done? A week ago I would have never imagined it. It is all very surreal. No home. No car. No jobs. Nothing. We are trusting in God to provide,” writes another missionary.
Faced with extermination thousands of years ago, the fate of the Jewish people laid in the hands of Queen Esther who was seemingly divinely placed to petition the king. Instead she made excuses. Her cousin responded: “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14)?
In this passage, we learn that God will take care of and rescue His people because nothing will disrupt His plans. But God providing does not absolve us of responsibility. Disobedience has its consequences. Queen Esther was Jewish herself, and would have been exterminated had she not done something. So what if God is also positioning you and all of your gifts, skills, talents and resources for such a time as this?
Brothers and sisters, please give more than ever before to God’s global work. Jesus’ teachings command us to go. The lost world is telling us to come. Christians are saying here I am, send me. We are nearing the tipping point; and all this boulder needs is a push over the edge. But just as important, please pray for our laborers and their families, for the work to continue among the lost and for Southern Baptists to finally awaken to their eternal responsibilities.