RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- Southern Baptists gave an unprecedented $154 million to the 2013 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, breaking the record for the largest total in the offering's 125-year history.
The 2013 offering, finalized June 5, reached $154,057,852.36. The total represents an increase of nearly $4.8 million over 2012, or 3.2 percent. It tops the previous record, $150.4 million in 2007, by more than $3.6 million, and marks the fourth increase since 2008.
"This gives us an opportunity to reflect on the incredible generosity of Southern Baptists over many years," IMB President Tom Elliff said. "The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering represents well over half of our budget each year, so those who give sacrificially and out of concern for the lost can be assured that an enormous portion of all that happens overseas can be directly tied to their support.
"It's estimated that close to 1 billion people living now are very likely to go through life without ever hearing the Gospel in such a fashion that they can understand it and respond to it in faith," Elliff said. "Our missionaries are 'chasers after darkness.' We're looking for those dark corners of the world where the light of the Gospel has yet to be shed so we can get the message of Christ into the hearts of people who need so desperately to hear about it."
Wanda Lee, executive director/treasurer of Woman's Missionary Union (WMU), which promotes the offering in partnership with IMB, also expressed gratitude:
"How exciting that Southern Baptists would give the largest amount ever to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering on the 125th anniversary of both the first offering for international missions and WMU!" Lee said. "In 1888, when WMU was founded, it was for the purpose of 'stimulating the missionary spirit' and 'collecting funds' to support the work of missionaries around the globe. We are grateful for the response of our churches as they embrace both personal missions involvement and sacrificial giving so the story of Jesus may be shared with all who have yet to hear."
While the total fell short of the $175 million goal, the new record is good news for more than 4,800 Southern Baptist missionaries worldwide who depend on the offering to fund their efforts to spread the Gospel. Named for Southern Baptists' most famous missionary, the Lottie Moon offering -- and Southern Baptists' regular giving through the Cooperative Program (CP) -- funds missionary salaries, housing, medical care, children's education, field transportation and other expenses. Supporting one missionary overseas costs an average of $140 per day. Every penny of the Lottie Moon offering goes to the IMB overseas budget, which directly supports missionaries and their work.
The offering does far more than pay for basic needs, however. It provides the "resources that enable us to chase the darkness," Elliff said.
That means helping missionaries and their national partners go into areas untouched by the Gospel, engage people groups with no believers or Scriptures, start churches and make disciples. Missionaries and their ministry partners communicated the Gospel to more than 1.6 million people, led more than 235,000 people to faith in Christ, baptized more than 114,000 new believers and started thousands of churches and believer groups that will become churches, according to IMB's 2013 annual statistical report (reflecting 2012 year-end statistics). Beyond that, trained disciples among 235 people groups engaged their own people inside their countries. Disciples among 56 people groups engaged different groups or cities within their countries -- and workers representing 20 peoples went out from their own countries to reach different groups. In other words, they became cross-cultural missionaries.
Jon Gerwig,* an IMB worker in East Asia, serves among the Iron Pea* people, who number more than 3 million and long had no known churches. For years, progress was agonizingly slow without Gospel resources in their "heart language." But Lottie Moon support helped Gerwig and his co-workers develop "Scripture planting" to reach minority peoples like the Iron Pea people with the Good News of Jesus. Scripture planting integrates Bible translation with real-time church planting, evangelism and discipleship. It provides quicker access to Scripture so Christian workers can develop resources like worship songs, recorded testimonies and oral Bible stories.
In 2006, Gerwig saw his first believer follow Christ. By 2007, there were nine more in the same village. A few months later, 80 from his village and 60 from another had put their faith in Jesus. Gerwig and his team trained these new believers in a basic discipleship plan, and in late 2007 the first church among the Iron Pea people was started. Since then, the Gospel has spread throughout Iron Pea communities. Today, there are 28 churches and approximately 3,000 believers (see the story at http://vimeo.com/95998183
"There's still hundreds of thousands of Iron Pea people who have never heard the Gospel," Gerwig said. "But I want to thank all of you back home. Everything that you contribute gives us traction, which gives us more time to meet with these local brothers and sisters as they're going out to share, that every Iron Pea person will have a chance to hear and respond to the Gospel."
In postmodern, post-Christian Sweden, meanwhile, leading people to Christ can be harder than in places where the Gospel faces heavy restrictions or persecution. But Lottie Moon support enabled IMB worker Anissa Haney to be there when a young Swedish woman, Linda Hamfors, was ready to hear the truth. Hamfors, who was struggling with addiction and spiritual questions, approached Haney after a musical performance and asked if they could talk more. Today, she is a follower of Jesus.(see their story at http://vimeo.com/95759661
"It's a very dark place spiritually, very lost, very godless," Haney said of Sweden. "It's just so vital to have people here being light amid the darkness."
The task ahead for Southern Baptists and other mission-hearted Christians is huge. Of the world's 11,000-plus distinct people groups, more than 6,500 are considered unreached (fewer than 2 percent of the population identifying as evangelical Christian). They include more than half the world's population. More than 3,000 of those unreached people groups are also unengaged, having no church-planting strategy among them at all.
"Southern Baptists are a generous people and are concerned about the world," David Steverson, IMB vice president for finance, said. "The Lord is in control. He knows what we need and when we need it. We just need to be on mission with Him in all we do.
"Southern Baptists determine how many missionaries they will send. Your IMB is fully committed to being a good steward of every penny that Southern Baptists entrust to us for the support of their missionaries."
In addition to the sacrificial gifts given through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Cooperative Program, Elliff emphasized that "we must continue to explore new avenues that God is placing before Southern Baptists to send more and more missionaries to the field." Read Elliff's full May 14 report
to IMB trustees.
And he remains convinced even greater Lottie Moon giving is on the horizon, too -- especially in light of this year's increase.
"It is my feeling that as long as there are Southern Baptists, every person in this world should have a legitimate reason to believe that if they can just hang on a little longer, we will get there with the Gospel," Elliff said. "To that end, it is important for each Southern Baptist to know just how grateful we are for their giving."
*Names changed. Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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