Thursday, December 25, 2008

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IMB reports cautionary finance news going into 2009
December 1, 2008
By Don Graham

Joyce Stevens of Illinois joins other International Mission Board trustees as they sign their names on a large globe during their Nov. 10-11 meeting in Houston, in what IMB President Jerry Rankin described as an act symbolizing trustees' commitment to help complete the Great Commission. BP photo

While celebrating the largest number of missionaries under appointment in recent years, trustees of the International Mission Board also heard some cautionary finance reports during their Nov. 10-11 meeting in Houston.

The potential effects of investment losses, a weakened dollar and flattened giving to the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering could have a significant impact on the board's work next year.

These economic pressures forced board members to approve a budget for 2009 that includes no room to exceed the total number of missionaries currently under appointment. Attrition in the missionary force (completions, retirements, resignations and deaths) creates the need to appoint new missionaries each year, but IMB President Jerry Rankin said the ability to expand the missionary force beyond current levels rests in the hands of Southern Baptists.

"God has always proved His faithfulness through the giving of His people that His mission might be carried out around the world," Rankin said. "Even in these austere economic times we must press forward in our vision to reach a lost world and be obedient to our Great Commission task.

"God continues to call missionaries from Southern Baptist churches, and we pray Southern Baptists will not be deterred from providing the support needed in spite of the personal sacrifice that might entail."

The $319.8 million budget approved by trustees marks a $15 million increase over 2008 expenditures, $10 million of which will be used to offset the rising cost of support for missionaries already on the field.

On Nov. 11, trustees appointed 105 new missionaries at Houston's First Baptist Church, bringing the current number of field personnel to 5,541. The Houston group is the third-largest number appointed since at least 1980. Trustee chairman Paul Chitwood, assistant professor of evangelism and church growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, acknowledged that this feat, in spite of a tough economy, is much to the credit of Southern Baptists and God's eternal glory.

"The question facing us now as we look to the future is: Will we again experience a setback?" asked Chitwood, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Mt. Washington, Ky. "Southern Baptists will decide the answer to that question as they give their gifts through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering this year."

Despite a gloomy economic forecast, there is some good news. The percentage of the budget used for stateside administration and promotion dropped nearly
1 percent, from 15.44 to 14.56 percent.

The dollar also is making a recovery in the world marketplace, gaining as much as 20 percent over some foreign currencies in the past four months. Though the gain has not yet achieved parity with the dollar's buying power prior to the decline, another 20 percent increase would put the dollar on a one-to-one exchange rate with the euro the currency of the European Union. Gains like these are beneficial because nearly 85 percent of the IMB's budget is spent overseas.

David Steverson, IMB treasurer and vice president for finance, added that the IMB's well-diversified portfolio helped minimize investment losses during the market crash, falling about 19 percent compared to an average market drop of 40 percent.

Southern Baptists gave a record $150.4 million to the Lottie Moon offering in 2007; the goal for 2008 is $170 million about a 16 percent increase.

Chitwood called on trustees to make Southern Baptist churches aware of the need to give and challenged them to "dig deeply" into their own pockets for the Lottie Moon offering.

"I pray our generosity would match that of the Macedonian churches who gave as much as they were able, and [the Apostle] Paul says, gave even beyond their ability
to do so," Chitwood said. "I know these are challenging days they're challenging days in my church. They're challenging days for all Southern Baptist churches.

"But by God's grace, and through our sacrifice, if we give beyond what we're able to give, I trust God will honor that by both meeting the needs in our homes and churches and meeting the needs on the mission field." (BP)

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