Are Southern Baptists about to miss one of the greatest harvests for Christ the world has seen? International Mission Board President Tom Elliff asked these questions in his report during IMB trustees' Nov. 15-16 meeting in Springfield, Mo.
"This is harvest time, folks. … It is no time for us to be asleep in the harvest," he said, drawing from John 4:35, which says "the fields are white unto harvest" and Proverbs 10:5, "He who gathers in summer is a son who acts wisely, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who acts shamefully". (NASB).
The world "is filled with people who desperately need to hear the Gospel," Elliff continued, and IMB's assignment is to assist fellow Southern Baptists to bring the Light of the Gospel to the world.
Despite this crucial need, Southern Baptists no longer are giving through the Cooperative Program (CP) as they used to give, Elliff said. CP has been in decline for the past five years.
Elliff called this a "tragedy" because CP and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions are the two "lifelines" that support Southern Baptist missionaries.
"We don't determine how many missionaries -- Southern Baptists by their giving tell us how many people have on the field," Elliff said. "Now that's just the plain, unvarnished truth.
"I don't want to be a son who acts shamefully. … Southern Baptists don't want to be sons and daughters who act shamefully, but we will be if we sleep in the harvest," Elliff continued. "You need to pray with me that God will stir among Southern Baptists.
"When we think about the way doors have opened … in corners of this world that have been so dark and so closed for so many years, it is unthinkable … that Southern Baptists would not provide more missionaries, more laborers for the harvest," he said.
Annual statistical report & UUPGs
Evidence of the harvest work around the world was shown through highlights of the 2012 Annual Statistical Report (ASR) presented by Stuart Bell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Centerton, Ark., and IMB trustee chairman for the strategy committee. The ASR summarizes the work of Southern Baptist missionaries and their overseas ministry partners in 2011.
More than 1.4 million people heard a Gospel witness; of those, more than 337,000 became believers. More than 266,000 people were baptized. Missionaries and local believers with whom they partner started 24,000 new churches.
Gordon Fort, vice president for IMB's global strategy office, reported that there are currently 3,133 unengaged, unreached people groups (UUPGs) -- those with an evangelical Christian population of less than 2 percent and with no evangelical church-planting methodology currently under way among them.
"We need to make up our mind that these last remaining unengaged, unreached people groups will have their witness before we die," Fort said. "When we get to heaven one day, we can say, 'Lord, we were there on that day when every language, every people, every tribe, every nation, were engaged with the Good News of Jesus Christ.' "
Trustees approved IMB's 2013 budget of $323.8 million, of which $175 million is expected to come through this year's Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
Blake Withers and Bill Milewski, chairman and vice chairman for IMB trustees' finance committee, presented details of the budget.
It was "painfully difficult" to balance, said Withers, a member of Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif. Milewski, a member of First Baptist Church in Soldotna, Alaska, noted that the budget is down by a half million dollars from the past year and will become increasingly difficult to balance in the future.
"We know that we're relying upon God to do this," Milewski said, "and as our president explained, if the Cooperative Program would increase and also the Lottie Moon … that's where it all lies. … We just ask that the Lord would move upon the heart of each and every individual.
"We as Southern Baptists have no excuse, in my humble opinion, that we should not have a tremendous footprint on the mission field."
Trustees approved the election of Gordon Fort to the new position of senior vice president for prayer mobilization and training, effective immediately. A major part of Fort's new role will be leading the School of Prayer for All Nations initiative Elliff announced during the September trustee meeting.
Fort was born in Sanyati, Zimbabwe, where his parents served as missionaries. He and his wife Leigh Ann were appointed missionaries to Botswana in 1985. He served in a leadership role for southern Africa from 1997 to 2004 when he joined the IMB home office staff as vice president of the office of overseas operations. In 2009, he became vice president of the office of global strategy.
Trustees also approved John Brady, current affinity global strategy leader for northern Africa and the Mideast(NAME) peoples, to become the new vice president of office of global strategy, effective Jan. 15.
Brady was born in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., and grew up in Guyana as the son of Southern Baptist missionaries. He and his wife Jenny were appointed by IMB in 1993 to serve in NAME. He served as strategy coordinator, strategy associate and regional leader before moving to his current position in 2009.
Trustees also appointed 84 missionaries in a service Nov. 15 at Springfield's Second Baptist Church, raising the IMB missionary force to 4,908.
The next IMB trustee meeting is scheduled for Feb. 26-27 in Las Vegas, with a missionary appointment Feb. 27 at Hope Baptist Church there.
Laura Fielding is a writer for IMB. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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