Our Proactive Response Matters

The first week in December is a special time with the International Mission Study, prayer experiences during the Week of Prayer for International Missions, and giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering as highlights of the Christmas season for many of us.

This year, however, comes with a note of sadness. For the first time in many years, missionaries over the age of 50 with five years’ experience are being asked to consider voluntary retirement due to a financial shortage at the International Mission Board. This situation did not happen overnight. I’ve read many explanations and possible solutions such as a special offering or increased Cooperative Program giving so we can avoid bringing missionaries home. While both suggestions are good, it’s too late; retirement offers have been made and missionaries are making their decisions. The problem has existed for too long to find a quick solution. Ironically, the conclusion of the missionaries’ service will happen during December, the time we are all praying in earnest for them and the people they serve. It certainly adds a new dimension to our praying this year.

If it’s too late to prevent this from happening, what should our response be? First, prayer is more important than ever, for those coming home and for those who remain on the field. Many will return with a sense of loss and grief over leaving the field earlier than planned. Some will elect to stay and find ways to live out their calling through self-funding. Some will come home with disappointment, feeling we failed them as Southern Baptists by not keeping our commitments to support them. We must pray fervently for all our missionaries.

Secondly, we must surround our missionaries with love and tangible support. If they are coming home, give them a safe place to share their emotions. As they seek a place to live, offer to help. Direct them to WMU, where we maintain the database of missionary houses and make it available to them through the IMB secure website. If you have a missionary home at your church, make the house warm and welcoming with flowers on the table and food in the pantry to get them started. Help them have access to a car while they process where they will live or work in the months ahead. Be present with them in whatever way they desire.

And lastly, we must prepare for the future with a commitment to never let this happen again. It begins with educating our current generation of children and youth about missions and working cooperatively to share Christ with a lost world. We abandoned today’s adults when they were children when we chose to entertain instead of teach, to adopt popular non–Southern Baptist programs rather than missions education, and when we gave in to the pressure of sports over discipleship. Today, many in church leadership do not understand the significance of praying and giving so our missionaries can serve.

Annie Armstrong said, “After the study of God’s word comes study of the fields, then people pray, then they give.” Let’s not sacrifice another generation by neglecting our Great Commission mandate or we will continue to face shortages of funds and servants.

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