A Lottie Moon Testimony from South Asia

The Missions at Southeastern blog has just posted an encouraging video from two of our students serving in South Asia. We would encourage you to go their website and watch the video.

 

These students are supported by the Cooperative Program and by the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Our national goal for the LMCO this year is $175 million. We would urge all Southern Baptists to give sacrificially to the LMCO during this Christmas season. 100% of your money goes toward supporting missionaries like Matt and Heather who are making Jesus famous among unreached and underserved people groups all over the globe.

If you want to learn more about our master of divinity in international church planting, where students spend two years at SEBTS and then finish their degree while laboring in a foreign mission field, then check out this FAQ page or email the staff at the Center for Great Commission Studies.

 

More Christmas in August @ SEBTS

At Southeastern we continually challenge our students not to ask ,”should I go to the nations who have never heard the gospel?” Rather our consistent encouragement is, “why should I stay?” With almost 3.5 billion people with either no or very limited access to the gospel, the reason we raise the latter question is clear. It is the one we should be asking as Southern Baptists. It is the question we should be asking as devoted followers of Jesus.

Now we have a new challenge staring us in the face. We have brothers and sisters willing to go but we lack the sufficient funds to send them. You will find an article below that tells the tragic story of a Southeastern family ready to go to an unreached people group with a short window of opportunity to get into this country. They have been put on “missionary hold” because the financial resources are not available. Their story could be multiplied dozens of times. This is simply unacceptable. I fear it may be sinful. So a new question is before us. It is not, “should I give to reach the nations?” No, the question is, “how much should I give to reach the nations?” Next week Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary will be observing a special “Christmas in August.” We will be taking this offering to help make up the shortfall this year in the Lottie Moon offering. I want to urge you with all of my heart to pray and ask God what He would have you do. As you do, let me encourage you to reflect on two particular text of Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:9 and 9:15. Meditate on these and then give as our Lord leads. God will honor the intent of our hearts. He will bless our faithfulness. He will delight in our passion for the nations that His precious Son shed his blood to redeem!

Danny Akin

Missed opportunity? Giving shortfall risks chance to re-engage closed Asian country

Posted on Aug 20, 2009 | by Don Graham

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–A rare opportunity to place missionaries in a highly restricted Central Asian country may slip through Southern Baptists’ fingers due to a serious shortfall in missions giving.

The country — which can’t be named without risking missionaries’ chances of obtaining a visa — is home to several million people, mostly Muslim. Only about 2,000 are believed to be evangelical Christians.

Shane and Melanie Johnson* were on track to become the first Southern Baptist personnel to serve inside the country in nearly a decade. But now that plan is in jeopardy.

On July 10, the Johnsons received word from the International Mission Board that their missionary appointment had been put on hold.

“It hurts,” Melanie said. “It’s really sad that in times of crisis [giving to] the church and charities is the first thing to go.”

“We want to go to one of those places on the map of lostness …,” Shane said. “We know the Bible is clear about the Great Commission. We are to make sure that someone from every tribe, tongue and nation bows before the throne of God and praises His name.”

The Johnsons are among 69 long-term missionary candidates who have been delayed because of a lack of funds to send them to the field. That’s in addition to an estimated 350 short-term candidates who also are on hold.

In May, the International Mission Board announced it would severely limit the number of missionaries sent in 2009 due to reduced giving through the Cooperative Program and a $29-million shortfall in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. More than half of IMB’s annual budget to support the 5,600-plus Southern Baptist missionaries overseas comes from the Lottie Moon offering. The goal for the 2008 offering (which funds the 2009 budget) was $170 million, but only $141 million was received, $9 million less than last year.

But even if there were no shortfall, getting the Johnsons inside that Central Asian country won’t be easy.

Southern Baptist missionaries began spreading the Gospel there for the first time in 1993 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. But by the year 2000 all missionaries had been asked to leave. That left behind 500 new Christians and a young church struggling to survive under intense persecution.

Since that time, missionaries have been painstakingly training and discipling national believers by flying them in and out of the country. Though that strategy has seen success, it’s also slow, cumbersome and expensive, which is why the IMB wants personnel living in country again.

WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY

Kris Plummer* leads Southern Baptists’ efforts to spread the Gospel in this area of Central Asia, including the country where the Johnsons want to serve. Once inside, he said their goal will be to lay the groundwork for the IMB to re-establish a presence there.

Before they were delayed, the Johnsons planned to arrive in early 2010. But due to the financial shortfall, it isn’t likely to happen until that summer — at least a six-month delay.

“Right now we have a window of opportunity to try and place them in [the country],” Plummer said. “But we don’t know how long that window’s going to be open…. We’re ready to take advantage of this opportunity, but if this delay stretches out too long the window may close on us.

“It’s a disappointment because we’ve been trying to get back into [the country] for so long…. When we got the word the Johnsons were delayed, it’s just one more barrier to cross. And it’s a barrier that really shouldn’t be there.

“It’s not a question of Southern Baptists having money — even in this financial crisis Southern Baptists have money,” Plummer said. “It’s more of a question of what’s their priority for spending that money.”

Maybe even rarer than the window to enter the country, Plummer said, are missionaries willing to restart the work there — alone.

“Like most things in Central Asia, you never know until you try, and even when things look very wide open they can slam shut very quickly,” Plummer said. “The glorious thing is we’ve got somebody like the Johnsons who are willing to try. Those kind of people don’t come around every day, and I want to take advantage of their heart and desire.”

PERSONAL HARDSHIP

Besides risking their chance to enter the country, the Johnsons say the delay is causing them significant personal hardships as well.

They’ve both just graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and were planning to transition straight to the mission field. But now, without jobs, they’ll have to live with Melanie’s family in order to save money.

“Because of the delay we’ve rescheduled our whole plan for the next eight or nine months,” Shane said. “It was tough to come to terms with, but it’s water under the bridge at this point.”

Adding to their stress is the impact the delay will have on their growing family. Midway through the application process the Johnsons found out they were expecting their first child. They were counting on IMB salary and medical benefits by the time the baby arrived, but the delay makes that impossible. They have some health insurance available through GuideStone Financial Resources, but the rest will have to come from Medicaid and their savings.

“The bottom line is that God has always provided for us,” Shane said. “We’re not in debt at all; we’ve made it through seminary…. He’s going to take care of us just like He always has.”

TRUE COST OF DELAY

The greatest impact from the delay, the Johnsons said, will be on the peoples of Central Asia that God has asked them to serve.

“We’ll never know what the time we missed overseas might have resulted in as far as yields for the Gospel,” Shane said. “Even one believer can multiply exponentially and have a tremendous impact for the Gospel…. That’s the true cost [of the financial shortfall], and we’ll never really know what that is.”
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*Names changed. Don Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.

© Copyright 2009 Baptist Press. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use.

Christmas in August @ SEBTS

Dear SEBTS Family,

Words are not adequate to express my excitement as we look forward to the fall 2009 semester. I am so excited about so many things that will take place this semester, some of which we will experience as unexpected surprises from our great God! I want to remind you that in chapel on both August 25 and 27 we will be taking our “Christmas in August” offering for the International Mission Board. Amazingly, not everyone in the SBC thinks this is a good idea. This genuinely breaks my heart. However, I think heaven is pleased when God’s people give sacrificially to reach the nations with the gospel, regardless of when they do it! How urgent is the need? Just read the August 14th IMB press release below and decide for yourself. 1.6 billion people have yet to hear. We must pray. We must go. We must give. The worship of King Jesus demands it. The heart cry of the nations requires it. I love you and count it an honor to serve you at this Great Commission seminary.

Danny Akin

Lottie Moon shortfall limits Gospel access, leaves missionaries on hold

8/14/2009

By Don Graham

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–They had said goodbyes to their neighbors, friends and church family. They had sold their home and furniture. They had resigned from their jobs. They had even given away the family dog, a miniature collie named Q-tip.

When Tim and Audrey Shepard* decided to answer God’s call to share Jesus in Asia as Southern Baptist missionaries, they knew there could be obstacles. But the couple never expected that the obstacle would be lack of funds from Southern Baptists.

The Shepards are two of the 69 candidates in the pipeline to serve as long-term missionaries through IMB (International Mission Board) who have been told they can’t be sent to the field at this time. That’s in addition to an estimated 350 short-term candidates who also have been turned away from missionary service this year.

In May IMB announced it would severely limit the number of missionaries sent in 2009 due to reduced giving through the Cooperative Program and a $29 million dollar shortfall in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. More than half of IMB’s annual budget comes from the Lottie Moon offering, 100 percent of which is used to send and sustain the more than 5,600 Southern Baptist missionaries serving overseas. The goal for the 2008 offering (which funds the 2009 budget) was $170 million, but only $141 million was received, $9 million less than received for the 2007 offering.

The Shepards previously served 15 years with IMB but left the field in 2004 and moved to Jacksonville, Fla., so their daughter, Nora,* could attend high school in the United States. They planned to return to the mission field when she entered college and began that process in the fall of 2008. They were on track to arrive in Asia by the end of 2009 to partner with another IMB missionary couple working to spread the Gospel among some of Asia’s minority people groups.

But all that came to a screeching halt July 27 when an IMB representative called the Shepards to explain that their missionary appointment had been put on hold because there wasn’t enough money to send them.

Audrey says the news has left the family discouraged and confused.

“You feel sort of directionless – we really don’t know what to do now,” she says. “It’s tragic that money is holding back God’s work around the world. … There are people dying every day that are not going to have the opportunity to hear about Jesus because so many missionaries are being held up.”

So far the Shepards haven’t been given a firm date when they will head to the mission field. Spring 2010 has been mentioned, but no promises have been made. That means the Shepards will be on hold for at least six months. Right now they don’t know where they’ll live or what they’ll do. They’ve decided to stay temporarily in their church’s mission house. They’re not even sure where to register their 8-year-old son, Eric,* for school this fall because that depends on where they’ll live.

There’s a chance Tim and Audrey will be able to keep their jobs in Jacksonville, but since they didn’t renew their contracts, there’s no guarantee. Tim taught middle school math and science; Audrey was a school psychologist.

“We’re ready to go to the field,” Tim says. “My mind is already on ministry and going back to secular jobs just to pay the bills doesn’t excite us too much.”

The Shepards’ delay also is having serious repercussions in Asia, at least for the team they were set to join.

Sam and Elizabeth Hughes* are Southern Baptist missionaries on the edge of exhaustion. They run a handful of ministries focusing on 24 minority people groups, 18 of which are untouched by the Gospel. Without the Shepards, that’s more than a million lost people divided between one husband-and-wife team with three young children at home.

Sam was counting on the Shepards’ arrival to provide some much-needed relief – helping with ministry logistics, training national partners and following up with new believers or those who’ve expressed an interest in learning more about Jesus. God has blessed the work to the point where it is more than Sam can handle alone. He says news of the Shepards’ delay – and of the Lottie Moon offering shortfall – hurts morale.

“It’s time for a gut check. Are we serious about reaching the world or not?” he says. “I’ve got a list as long as I am tall of things I need them (the Shepards) to be doing.”

Though it’s a serious inconvenience and fraught with logistical nightmares, the Shepards say the delay hasn’t subdued their passion for reaching Asia. In fact, they’re so committed to their calling to be Southern Baptist missionaries they’re considering moving to Asia on their own dime so they can start learning the language and be more prepared when they begin their assignment.

“Communism has destroyed souls of the people – there’s no hope,” Audrey says. “We want to be a part of sharing Christ where there are so many who are dying without Him.”

The Shepards say that if their delay, and the delay of 67 others in going to the mission field, helps Southern Baptists realize the importance of lost souls overseas, “so be it.

“I’m happy if that’s what will come of this,” Audrey says. “That people wake up and realize that they need to give their money to support missions.”

*Names changed

Don Graham is a writer with IMB.

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