RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--In my seventh year as a trustee of the International Mission Board, I continue to stand in awe of the incredible thing God has done by bringing together Southern Baptist churches.
The largest missionary-sending organization in the world is not our invention. It is an act of His grace. This work, however, has required the enthusiastic and sacrificial support of Southern Baptist churches from day one. With very few exceptions, Southern Baptists have provided all the resources needed for every called, qualified and willing Southern Baptist missionary candidate to be appointed.
The only recent exception to that fine record occurred about seven years ago. After 9/11, the downturn in our nation's economy and the resulting drop in charitable giving caused us to restrict the number of new missionary appointments. When Southern Baptists received that news they responded as never before. Within one year, all restrictions were lifted and workers once again began to flow to the harvest fields. Still, the fallout of that financial crisis continued for several years. What did we learn? Two lessons stand out.
First, we learned that restricting missionary appointments is not a temporary move with temporary consequences. It takes a long time to regain lost ground -- years. The seriousness of the decision to restrict appointments cannot be overstated. Every time a missionary is delayed, a witness among an unreached people group is delayed, new church starts are delayed, baptisms are delayed and salvations are delayed. For the sake of those dying without Christ, we cannot miss that lesson.
Second, we learned Southern Baptists respond to needs when they know about them. As reports of insufficient funding and delayed missionaries began to circulate among our churches, we witnessed an immediate and unprecedented response. Record gifts began to pour in from our churches. In one year's time, gifts received through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering increased by more than 18 percent!
Why do I share these lessons with you? Because we are on the verge of repeating history. With a record number of missionaries depending on Southern Baptists for financial support and the ongoing worldwide financial crisis, the 2009 IMB budget is now under strain to support growth in our missionary force.
I am sounding the alarm. If nothing changes, we will do well to support our current missionaries and replace those who complete their service and choose not to return to the field. Growth will be restricted as new missionary appointments are slowed for want of funding. This news comes at a time when we are seeing record numbers of missionary candidates attend candidate conferences to learn about opportunities to serve overseas.
In a step of faith, the IMB currently has placed no restrictions on new appointments. The dilemma is obvious. With more missionaries ready and willing to go than ever before, but no money readily available to send them, Southern Baptists have a decision. Either we will say no to the missionaries, no to the unreached, no to baptisms and salvations, or we will say yes to unprecedented, sacrificial giving to the 2008 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
The consequences of saying "No" are too great. Join me in saying "Yes!"
Paul Chitwood is pastor of First Baptist Church, Mt. Washington, Ky., and chairman of the board of trustees for the International Mission Board.