Editor: I saw this on Don Dent’s Facebook site and asked his permission to publish it here.
Last Thursday in a global online meeting, IMB missionaries were told that those over the age of 50 would receive a voluntary retirement incentive offer yesterday. Each has been told they must pray and consider whether it is time to retire early. They must decide what to do in the next 45 days, but they know this is only the first step towards the IMB downsizing by at least 600, but preferably 800, personnel worldwide. This is an excruciatingly painful day for our missionaries and support office staff.
In these 5 days I have prayed with one couple, heard and corresponded with multiple others, and looked into the pained face of several others. Their pain and sense of abandonment is understandable. They are the most experienced and expert mission force Southern Baptists have to impact the nations and now we are telling them that many must come home.
Over the past week I have reflected night and day on this tragedy and I have considered a variety of responses. Obviously, the most important thing that I, and anyone else, can do is pray. So, I am offering some thoughts about how the rest of us can pray for our valuable sent ones. I hope that Southern Baptists will pray for them as individual prayer warriors as well as in prayer groups, prayer meetings, and Sunday worship services.
1. They need to hear from their Shepherd/Sender. The missionaries have been told this is a voluntary offer to retire, but they also know that hundreds have to stop their ministry. Many are feeling helpless, because if they stay someone else will have to leave. It is an excruciating dilemma. The greatest need of these missionaries is to hear from God. It was God who called and authorized their mission to the nations, although Southern Baptists confirmed and have supported them until now. Since God called them to this task and has strengthened them for years to persevere, it is really only God who can release them from their vocation. This is absolutely essential! They must not quit out of frustration, although that is certainly a temptation. They need to stay or come home based on the personal guidance they receive now from God. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” Paul got specific “directions” from God 3 times within a few days in Acts 16:6-9. Pray intensely that God will speak clearly to our missionaries, and that they will be able to hear his voice in spite of the emotional flood they are presently experiencing. They need to spend time seeking His presence and not just looking for quick answers. Whether He says come home or stay in place, they need to have confidence that they continue to walk according to His will for their lives. They need to hear his voice declare, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”
2. They need comfort and encouragement. I have heard from many missionaries in recent weeks and most are hurt, confused, and feeling abandoned. They have sacrificially worked to take the gospel to the nations, often in difficult and sometimes dangerous places. They thought Southern Baptists were behind and supportive of them. Now they know that is not completely true.
In addition to their grief at the loss of financial support and the necessity to downsize IMB personnel, they grieve the loss of witness and ministry to peoples they love who desperately need the gospel and churches.
Sadly, official press releases have tried to reaffirm Southern Baptists, but have inadvertently trivialized the ministry of these missionaries. This is not just a reset for a better future and it will result in a loss of gospel witness. If sending courageous missionaries into the unengaged, unreached places on earth is celebrated by Southern Baptists as gospel advance, how can recalling those missionaries be anything but a retreat to be mourned??
For the abandoned, there is a Companion who walks with them. For those who are broken-hearted, there is a Comforter who heals hearts. For the discouraged, there is an Encourager who offers his strength. Jesus himself promised to be with them “all the days” so ask the Lord to be especially close to these brothers and sisters and pray that they will sense his presence in the storm.
3. Pray for the younger missionaries. Some of the most heart-rending messages I have read are from younger missionaries who will not receive this offer to retire. They grieve the loss of colleagues, the loss of expertise, the loss of leadership, the loss of hard-fought ground on the field. They also grieve the loss of confidence that the churches are faithful in their support of missions. Don’t forget the younger missionaries, they need encouragement also. There are young apprentices who may lose their veteran leaders. Who will encourage them and show them the ropes of practical ministry in their new home? Pray that all these missionaries “will not grow weary in doing good.”
4. Pray for those who decide to retire early. I am happy for those who need to come home and this VMI offers some help to do so. That is not true of most of those who received the retirement offer yesterday. Transitioning to the US will not be easy for many who head home soon. Most will have daily moments of overwhelming grief. Today I heard an adult missionary kid reflect on his parents who were forced by war to leave their adopted country after decades of effective service. They returned to America at age 62, but never found any ministry that used their gifting. Most of these retiring missionaries need to find employment and that is not always easy or automatic in our economy. Frankly, most churches do not know what to do with an effective returned missionary. This is going to happen quickly without the usual period for preparation. They will need places to stay, cars, and meaningful ministry. Yes, many will find wonderful opportunities but some may not. Missionary couples who have served for years as a 24/7 ministry team will lose that when both have to seek employment. For those of us who know the truth, the women coming home have amazing skills and experience, but many view them as someone married to a missionary. Please pray that God will open a door for the ongoing ministry for these hundreds of capable men and women.
5. Ask God to show Southern Baptists what we should do. The IMB says it is too late to help the 800 coming home this year. However, we should be concerned about what happens next. By the end of the year, the IMB will have lost about 1700 personnel since 2009! If we don’t change what we are doing, the losses will continue. We should mourn this tragedy and rethink our priorities. No, we should repent and realign our lives with the revealed priorities of God!
We are about to enter the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering season and we could turn this around quickly. Last year Southern Baptists gave about $10 each to reach the world. Really, we call ourselves a mission people?
- One Baptist is advocating every Southern Baptist giving $1 more each month. Yes, that would turn this downward trend around.
- If half of Southern Baptists gave an extra cost of a Big Mac Meal to Lottie Moon, we could increase our mission force.
- The average Southern Baptist will spend about $800 on Christmas this year. We could change this trend by giving only 5% of that amount to Jesus. We could send more missionaries if we just gave more to Lottie Moon than the next most expensive Christmas present. How did we turn the birth of Jesus into an opportunity to give everyone else gifts?
- In many cases, we do not even need to sacrifice, although I praise the Lord for those who do. Southern Baptists have the needed resources in their pockets. Churches have the resources in their congregations. We just need to give more to taking the gospel through our cooperative efforts.
Call or write your missionary friends. Send them an unexpected care package. Pray for them in these painful days. Get together with a friend and buy a retiring missionary a used vehicle. And ask God how He would rearrange our personal and church budgets. Friends, “How can they preach unless they are sent?”