This post comes from the same missionary who authored the previous post that was read so widely. NOTE: I am aware of the author’s identity and made the decision that his reasons for anonymity were valid. Part One from this missionary can be found here.
I wrote anonymously earlier to draw attention away from who is writing to what is written. Do Southern Baptists know or care that the mission effort that inspired the cooperation of our churches is declining? I believe it matters to God that we are letting slip away the most effective way for Southern Baptists to impact the world. My wife and I are products of a Southern Baptist home, church, college, and seminary, but it was the leadership and mentoring we received as FMB/IMB missionaries that had the greatest impact on our ability to accomplish our mission task. When we arrived overseas I had ministry education and experience, but no idea how to plant churches in our new home. Nobody was assigned as our mentor, so we sought out the advice and experience of the veterans already there. We are so grateful for those who had gone before us and were patient with our constant questions. I do not know if we would have stayed long-term if it had not been for that mission family who loved us and encouraged us. The mission team has been the critical unit for reaching the world since the New Testament.
The broader American mission world needs the continued strong presence of the IMB. What is happening in the American mission community can be seen in the Evangelical Missiological Society. It reflects a trend in American “evangelical” circles to move away from boldly proclaiming Jesus as the only way and calling people to believe. The IMB and SBC have been a consistent voice against the trend that Bible translators in the Muslim world take out all references to “Son of God” because Muslims might object. We have spoken against a popular trend in many mission agencies that advocates adding Jesus to existing religious systems like Islam and Hinduism. Many consider it success when Muslims consider Jesus a prophet, which they already do, and Hindus consider Jesus a really neat god among all the others, which they already do. For example, not long ago a pastor acquaintance invited me to lunch to meet his mission partner, and I almost choked on my burger when I realized that this was the man who had caused great grief for my IMB colleagues working among Muslims where his Christian trainees had publicly converted to Islam and entered the local mosque in order to start an “insider movement.” Sadly, autonomous SBC churches are generous supporters of some of these agencies. In contrast, IMB missionaries share the gospel for the purpose of leading the lost to religious conversion with cultural continuity, which we know to be biblical contextualization. Postmodern relativism is creating havoc in some American mission circles where there is little confidence in the divine power of the gospel to call men and women to repentance and the miracle of new birth. If the IMB continues to decline for lack of support from SBC churches, then our light will dim in these circles as well.
A number of years ago, a major mission agency sent leaders to visit and learn from IMB staff in Richmond. Because one of them was a friend and partner from the field, I was curious to know their impressions of the IMB. When I asked what they had learned, there was a long pause before my friend said, “Until this visit we did not know how high the bar could be in terms of the number and quality of experts that could serve a mission organization.” I was so proud that day of the men and women who had served me and thousands of missionaries around the world with their expert ministry in the home office. Many of those valuable experts are no longer with the IMB, due in part to communication that their long-term experience was not valued.
A decade ago, about 100 IMB missionaries participated in a global consultation of numerous mission agencies working in the Muslim world. It became obvious that we not only had perhaps the largest contingent at the conference, our personnel had served longer and were more fluent in language than the average participant. The IMB actually only sent a small percentage of personnel due to the cost. It was also evident that our teams could report believers and churches in many of the places we served. Each day we met in mixed groups to share about different aspects of our work and each evening conference planners went over notes from the groups.
One evening a VP from another agency came from reviewing those group notes and told several of us there were some obvious qualities of IMB participants.
First, he said that many other agencies were shocked, but thrilled, that the IMB could bring so many veteran missionaries. He noted that no other mission agency in the world could have deployed and developed so many long-term missionaries in such a short time (after the 1997 IMB New Directions). In other words, our cooperative, fully-funded, and global strategy had placed us in a position to impact one of the largest concentrations of lostness on earth.
Second, he acknowledged that some were surprised that we were seeing fruit in so many places in spite of the fact we avoided more radical forms of contextualization.
Thirdly, he stated, “We see a consistent pattern that IMB missionaries rarely discuss the latest anthropological journal articles, but they constantly reference Scripture as their guide and inspiration.” I thanked him for giving us the greatest compliment possible, whether he meant it that way or not!
In August 2015 when the announcement went public about the IMB VRI, a missionary friend and partner from another agency sent me a note that included these words,
“For decades the FMB/IMB have trained and sustained workers that have probably directly or like NASA indirectly birthed more fruit for the KINGDOM than any other single mission agency. Being part of another like-minded agency I can’t say enough good about the strategic direction and leadership the SBC has continually provided during my 25+ years on the field. Whether it be via Creative Access, people group thinking, non-residential missionaries, strategy coordinator training, redeployment of personnel from reached to lesser reached areas, church planting movement research and training and making solid statistical data available to the greater mission world. I’m not wise enough to pronounce what God is up to, but I do hope the IMB is able to continue to lead the pack in strategic leadership for the KINGDOM. The greater mission community NEEDS a strong and vibrant IMB.”
I have given you several examples of other mission experts affirming the role that the IMB has played around the world. The question is whether Southern Baptists will value the treasure that God has given us, but that we have neglected. The cooperative sending of God-called, long-term missionaries to the nations has been the core business of the SBC since 1845. We emeriti are not asking if we can get back to the past, but will we support the missionaries who are serving faithfully now and will we facilitate the sending of the younger generation? Is the IMB too valuable to lose?
IMB Emeritus Missionary