"These are the greatest days of opportunity ever faced by the Christian church in its 2,000-year history," Elliff said. "That opportunity comes because hearts across the world are plowed up by need -- physical need, emotional need, social need. God is at work stirring hearts; He is changing lives. It would be a tragedy if we did not effectively take the seed of the Gospel and sow that seed into the furrows of troubled hearts all over the world -- hearts that would eagerly embrace the Gospel if they could only hear it.
"That's why I'm extremely grateful for Southern Baptists' faithful giving and praying to undergird the thousands of missionaries they've sent from their churches, through IMB, to the farthest corners of the earth. And all for a single, eternal purpose -- making disciples in the name of Jesus."
When the first Lottie Moon offering was collected in 1888 (though it was not yet known by that name), the $3,315 raised by Southern Baptist churches was enough to send three more single female missionaries to help Moon in China. The 2011 Lottie Moon offering totaled $146,828,116.05. Today, in conjunction with the Cooperative Program, it helps support a network of nearly 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries serving around the globe, providing salaries, housing, medical care and children's education. The cost averages about $49,800 per year for each missionary.
"Missions offerings represent one of the unique aspects in Southern Baptist life," said Wanda Lee, executive director/treasurer of Woman's Missionary Union (WMU). "As a former missionary, it was a great comfort to my husband and me knowing we could truly focus on the ministry God had called us to without concern about financially supporting our family. As Southern Baptists, it is our collective responsibility and privilege to remember those who have committed their lives to following the Great Commission so that the Gospel may be proclaimed among all people.
"The faithfulness of Southern Baptists to give more to support international missions through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering as compared to last year is to be commended. WMU is grateful for churches that continue to keep missions education and involvement at the forefront and for members who understand we have been called to sacrificially give of our resources so that all may know the true source of hope and peace."
According to IMB's most recent statistical report, that support enabled missionaries and their national partners to present the Gospel to more than 2.2 million people, baptize 333,823 new believers and start 28,873 new churches.
"I think that when people look at these statistics, Southern Baptists have every reason to rejoice," Elliff said. "And it ought to be a sign that we could certainly accomplish much, much more if more was given. We could send out more missionaries, we could partner with more nationals -- there definitely would be a direct impact in terms of evangelism and church planting."
Though short of the $175 million goal, the 2011 offering is a $1.1 million increase over the $145.6 million Southern Baptists gave in 2010. The largest Lottie Moon offering in history was given in 2007, totaling $150.4 million, shortly before the 2008 global economic recession.
"Southern Baptists continue to show that they have a heart for the world," said David Steverson, IMB vice president of finance. "In an economic environment where unemployment remains high, our economy continues to drag, our stock market experiences broad swings and there is unrest in all of our financial markets, Southern Baptists continue to respond to the Great Commission through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. We are grateful for this increase of almost 1 percent, which represents the fourth-largest offering in our history."
"That tells me that Southern Baptists still see missions as a priority," Elliff said. "It also tells me that Southern Baptists are keenly aware that there are still billions of people who desperately need to hear the Gospel, and they are eager to get that message to them."
THE TASK REMAINS
Elliff pointed out that 3,328 of the world's 11,000-plus people groups are both unengaged and unreached by the Gospel. An unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG) means that evangelical Christians make up less than 2 percent of the people group's population and that there are no current evangelical church-planting efforts among them. Those 3,328 UUPGs represent more than 266 million people who may know little or nothing about Jesus.
In addition to Lottie Moon gifts, Elliff also thanked churches for their response to IMB's Embrace challenge. Currently, 1,280 churches and Southern Baptist Convention organizations have indicated their willingness to explore a long-term commitment to evangelize a UUPG. IMB's goal is to ensure there are no remaining UUPGs on the planet.
"Surely, among the 45,000 Southern Baptist churches, there must be at least 3,328 churches and pastors who have the world on their heart and a passion for fulfilling the Great Commission," Elliff said.
"In 2 Corinthians 8:5, the Bible says of the churches in Galatia that they 'first gave themselves to the Lord.' The motivation behind any of our giving is essentially our love for the Lord and our understanding of the responsibilities He has assigned us in the Great Commission. Our gifts will be in direct relationship to our surrender to the Lord."
Don Graham is the International Mission Board's senior writer.
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