I remember vividly my dad talking about the final hours he spent with his mother, my grandma, in the hospital before she died. Grandma was a devoted Christian and churchwoman, a member for more than 60 years of First Baptist Church of Murray, which played a key role in the birth of the Cooperative Program in 1925.
As she was coming to the end of her life and was only semi-conscious, Dad said grandma would occasionally rise up out of her hospital bed and say over and over, “What are we going to do? What are we going to do? What are we going to do?”
Then he said she would relax back into her pillow with these words: “I guess we’ll just trust the Lord.”
For devoted Southern Baptists, recent news from the International Mission Board that as many as 600 to 800 missionaries soon need to return from the mission field leads us to that same urgent question. What are we going to do?
In summary, the IMB has been drawing down on financial reserves and selling properties for years in order to keep as many missionaries on the field as possible. It has been an unsustainable situation that IMB leadership reports must now be corrected.
What are we going to do? I submit that trusting the Lord is still the best and right answer. Let me suggest five specific ways we can do that.
First, we should pray. We should intercede for those in leadership at IMB as they make decisions, and for those missionaries and others who are affected by those decisions. We should pray for solutions, and for generosity from givers and churches, and for the Lord to send laborers into the harvest fields, even as it seems the opposite may be happening.
Second, we should trust the IMB trustees and executive staff to do their jobs. More than once over the years I have thought to myself that I would do things differently if I were in charge of some organization. Sometimes time proves me right, and sometimes time proves me wrong. But in our autonomous, cooperative family of churches we elect trustees to give oversight to the gifted and called leaders of our entities. They are closer to the facts, finances and circumstances than any of us. And the Bible says that one of the ways we trust the Lord is to trust the leaders He providentially allows to have positions of authority.
Third, we should renew and increase our churches’ commitment to missions through the Cooperative Program. Even the higher levels of giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering over the past decade apparently have not been enough to prevent this downsizing of the missionary force. But 10 percent giving through the Cooperative Program would have. Nationally, CP giving from Southern Baptist churches has dropped from an average of 10 percent in 1989 to 5.5 percent in 2014. If churches’ CP giving had continued to average at least 10 percent over those years, the number of international missionaries would have grown dramatically, along with the rest of our cooperative missions and ministries.
Fourth, we should of course consider giving our most generous gifts ever through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. IMB says that will not change the need for many of the missionaries to return home. But it may speed the rate at which they can be replaced.
Finally, as churches, associations, state conventions and individual Christians, we should look for ways to directly assist the missionaries who will be returning stateside. Temporary housing, transportation, job placement and personal encouragement will be needed by returning missionary families.
Many of us were surprised at the need for these missionaries to return home. But God is not. And so let us answer that urgent question with one or all of these very tangible actions that demonstrate we are trusting the Lord.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.