I’ve come across an increasing number of comments in recent years regarding the absence of IMB missionaries from average churches across the SBC. Of course, this might be simply because I’m old and I’ve had more time to note these items; as well, this perspective might flow from chronological myopia.
To review, IMB missionaries live internationally for at least 22 months and up to 5 years before returning the US for what they now call stateside assignment (see also “furlough”). How long they remain in the States depends both on personal preference and the length of their most recent term. During their time in the US, one of their duties is to speak at churches, conventions, and camps about the IMB and missions in general. The complaint we’re examining centers on a perceived lack of presence in SBC churches by furloughing IMB workers.
Let us suppose these complaints ring with a certain validity, and theorize about some rather mundane causes before I introduce you to my brilliant solutions for which you all breathlessly wait.
Your church is not SBC
If your church lacks a formal affiliation with the SBC, please do not fret; your salvation is just as assured as it would be if you joined us. However, lacking affiliation likely means you’re not on anyone’s radar, and spontaneous arrival of SBC missionaries should not be something you anticipate.
Would you like to hear from an IMB missionary? All you have to do is ask.
Your church does not use English as its primary language.
If your people are not English-speakers then they likely lack access into the English-using IMB and its primarily English materials. Of course, that’s not to say no one will come to your church, but the language differences usually result in no one even considering the possibility. Thankfully, the IMB has people around the world, using all sorts of languages to spread the gospel. More than likely, they’ve got someone temporarily in the USA who can communicate with your church properly. Just send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and see what can happen; it can’t hurt to ask.
Your church hasn’t asked.
This is the Big Enchilada, the Main Event, the Mother of All Reasons.
IMB missionaries don’t start at one end of the convention (the Chick-Fil-A nearest IMB offices in Richmond) and hit every church they see on their way to the other end (Texas?). They need a destination, a place where people have a slot reserved for them. They need a little money, because the organization doesn’t provide a travel budget. Most importantly, they need an invitation.
How can you invite someone from the IMB? All you have to do is ask. The online form has 21 questions, mostly about what you need and where you are.
If you can’t afford to pay for airfare, then check the box that says “Local Driving Distance.” If you want someone from your state, or a guy who speaks a specific language, or only women, or someone who can bring the entire family, put that information in there.
“But,” you say, “I asked for a missionary in ’87 and no one got back with me.” Of this, I have no doubt. Like all big organizations, the IMB sometimes gets it wrong; no, they won’t fire me for admitting this. In the wake of your frustration, I would ask that you try the newest speaker request form. If that form does generate a response, try the more generic contact request. If that fails, send a note to email@example.com. If that is ineffective, tweet the IMB account (@IMB_SBC). If you’re a phone guy, call them at 1800-999-3113 and ask for Mobilization. And if all that fails, contact me on Twitter (@EthanGMoore). I’m serious – contact me.*
*No, this is not an attempt to boost my Twitter stats.
“Yeah, I want a different path, something creative.” I hear your cry.
If you want to do the legwork yourself, that’s no problem. The WMU maintains a non-comprehensive list of churches who provide housing for missionaries on stateside assignment. Their list covers 32 states; as a result, you have a 64% chance of living in a state where churches provide housing for missionaries. That means they’re local! Call around. Ask the WMU if they know of someone living nearby. Call your associational office and see if they know of someone in the area who works for the IMB, someone staying in a mission house.
Look at it this way: the organization has roughly 3,500 international workers who remain in place anywhere from 2 to 5 years before returning to the US. This pattern of movement means that on the average, between 15% and 30% of that 3,500 is in the United States at any given moment, and they all need places to speak.* As well, it’s an ever-changing group, with people coming and going monthly; weekly, even.
*Feel free to check my math on this, but I already got a really smart young guy to examine all this; an actuary, to be precise.
I looked at the most recent speaking opportunity list from the IMB, the one they provide to their workers. It’s a 22-page spreadsheet, and of those many requests, only 15 are from churches. Conventions, camps, and associational gatherings filled out the rest of the list. And – this is very important – all those churches had to do to qualify for the list was to ask to be placed there. That’s all it takes.
See? Brilliant suggestions. You’re welcome.
Next time, we’ll talk about what to do with your missionary request.