Rodney Hammer is a former IMB missionary is now a DOM in the Kansas City area.
Dear IMB and Southern Baptist Family,
While one of the most extensive, tragic refugee flows in history presents massive need and provides great gospel and humanitarian opportunity, human trafficking is overtaking drug trafficking as #1 global crime, and over 1 billion people have yet to hear the gospel…we Southern Baptists have sent Voluntary Retirement Incentive notices to 1500 or so IMB missionaries.
I support our International Mission Board and our beloved missionaries, but I do not believe we are going about the “reset” of IMB correctly. One, there was no vote of the IMB Trustee Board to approve this. There should be for a move of this magnitude and a reconsideration of approach could precede that vote. Two, I believe there are better approaches to address the budget shortfall that better reflect what our purpose and stated priorities are. Third, I do not believe we can rightly offer “incentives” to our personnel to retire and then spiritualize it by asking them to determine if God is calling them away. It is the budget shortfall that we are seeking to address and it is unfair to ask for a “blank check on the table” from missionaries who already surrendered all to follow God’s calling. It places the burden of bailing out the Board’s budget shortfall on the shoulders of our veteran missionaries who should be our most prized priorities.
I do understand the agony of such decisions and feel for, as well as pray for, friends in leadership, on the trustee board, and on the field. I understand there are only difficult options available in this current situation. However, the current reset approach is not our only option. The IMB’s unrestricted net assets, which include contingency reserve funds, went from more than $256 million in 2007 to $98 million in 2014, with a low of $56 million in 2011, according to audited IMB financial statements as reported in SBC Annuals. This means that unrestricted net assets bounced back from $56 million to $98 million with restricted appointments and other budgetary adjustments without asking personnel to leave the field. We can certainly exhaust other approaches, perhaps some suggested below, before taking such action as incentivizing personnel departure from overseas.
I would like to offer these suggestions for addressing budget shortfalls at IMB and plead with Trustees to consider or reconsider these prior to accepting any “Voluntary Retirements”. We could still choose to do this differently if we value our veteran missionaries most highly.
With all due respect to current leadership, recognizing they have considered much, here are my suggestions:
- Make all stateside reorganization, global support streamlining, and staff related budget cuts before asking any missionaries to come home. This would include selling the Richmond properties and perhaps moving the stateside support operation to Alpharetta to share space with NAMB or another smaller, more cost effective and size appropriate setting, in Richmond or elsewhere. In my opinion, it is entirely necessary to take these actions prior to any missionary personnel being incentivized, much less required, to return home.
- Freeze new missionary appointments for three years. We lose far more from veteran missionaries departing the field than we lose from three brief years of delaying new missionary appointments. If financial support improves sufficiently to shorten this timeframe then praise the Lord.
- Allow field/affinity group leadership input and involvement into what personnel needs to look like in their respective areas. They know best what priorities for personnel deployment would be most strategic for their affinity and context. It is not a strategic, forward looking “reset” to have the remaining missionary force and deployment in an affinity cluster determined solely by “voluntary” retirements. Particular regions or affinities could be decimated by loss of leadership and veteran church planters or trainers while others not. There is also no regard for relative priorities, needs or strategies of different parts of the world.
- Challenge all Southern Baptists to double their gifts to the Lottie Moon Missions Offering and all State Conventions to adjust their Cooperative Program split in 2016 to a true 45% kept in state and 55% split forwarded to SBC missions. The Great Commission Resurgence should have resulted in far greater prioritization of international missions. It is not a question of whether North America and our states have lost people too. It is a question of relative access to the gospel and a true commitment to all peoples/nations.
I am a friend and contributor to our Southern Baptist and Missouri Baptist family. I support each level of Southern Baptist life. I believe we each have a role to play in serving our churches and sharing the gospel at home and around the world through the Cooperative Program and designated giving and mission offerings. I served on the Great Commission Resurgence-inspired “Organizational Study Group (OSG)” for Missouri Baptists. Refocusing and downsizing and streamlining have occurred in our state. I applaud our Executive Director Dr. John Yeats leadership in that regard. But I still believe that the majority of missions monies forwarded through the Cooperative Program ought to be forwarded to national and international missions.
Finally, let us consider how our missionaries feel about the “Voluntary Retirement Incentive” sent to around 1,500 personnel and this approach to an IMB “reset”.
Don Dent, retired IMB Missionary and former Regional Leader, currently on faculty at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, “Most of these retiring missionaries need to find employment and that is not easy or automatic in our economy. Frankly, most churches do not know what to do with an effective, returned missionary. Most will have daily moments of overwhelming grief. The younger ones grieve the loss of their veteran colleagues as well.”
Sample IMB’ers receiving the “Voluntary Retirement Incentive”:
“This is a terrible time for many of us. We feel that our family is not really a family. Why are they letting go experienced people and starting out with 300 new with no language and everything else? Their plans are not making sense to any of us on the field. The bottom line is that we are really numbers and nothing more than that.”
“It is with great anguish and deep sorrow that our family seeks help from you today. Please pray for us. Is our time done? A week ago I would have never imagined it. It is all very surreal. No home. No car. No jobs. Nothing. We are trusting in God to provide. We are overwhelmed with thoughts…decide to stay only to be cut later? Decide to leave which will unleash a financial and logistical nightmare upon our family in a short period of time? So please pray for our family.”
“I’m both too young to consider early retirement and too poor. No house, no car, no place in America to go to. Too old to find a job with the financial/economic situation in America the way it is. Worried if I don’t take the VRI then they’ll come back and fire us later when not enough people leave voluntarily.”
Please reconsider. We can do this differently. Even if we have to say, “800 missionaries will have to leave the field by the end of 2016 if we don’t take in $200 million in this year’s Lottie Moon Offering.” Let’s downsize stateside, streamline operations, and give like we’ve never given before…and leave our veteran missionaries where God has already called them.