Editor’s note: This article written by Paul Chitwood, International Mission Board president, was published by Baptist Press. October is Cooperative Program Emphasis Month in the SBC.
What do you wake up thinking about? What about when it’s 3 a.m. and you can’t go back to sleep, what keeps you awake?
I almost always think first about work. For me it’s the work of the International Mission Board. Thoughts about that work are accompanied by the reality of the 173,451 people who die separated from God every day. Headed to a hopeless eternity. Each is bound by the world’s greatest problem: lostness.
I think about the solution to lostness: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This life-giving news is one of the first Bible lessons you and I ever learned: that God so loved the world, He gave His Son, that whosoever believes shall not perish but have everlasting life. It’s news that never gets old, and news that the nations are waiting to hear.
I think about your more than 3,500 international missionaries who have answered God’s call to the nations. For 178 years, the IMB has been Southern Baptists’ mechanism for getting the Gospel to those who’ve never heard it. The presence of these missionaries cultivates Gospel access, Gospel belief, and church planting and multiplication.
I think about how Southern Baptists have ensured that the constant flow of missionaries to the nations never goes unsupported due to your persistent commitments. Missionaries are undergirded first and foremost through your faithful prayer; and, for nearly 100 years, through your Cooperative Program gifts, and even before that, through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
Day and night, those thoughts renew my resolve to ensure that the IMB is vision driven, church centric, organizationally strong, and mission focused on reaching the lost. With all Southern Baptists, I remain committed that IMB follows the Holy Spirit to the least-reached people groups on the planet.
At the same time, I must confess, there are nights that I feel a bit like Nehemiah surveying the broken walls of Jerusalem as he walked in the night, especially when I think about the current trends we’re facing in the SBC. One of those troubling trends is Cooperative Program giving. More than 50 percent of the Cooperative Program gifts forwarded by your state convention come to the IMB. Those CP gifts make up about 30 percent of IMB’s already lean budget. Factoring in inflation, current CP giving aligns with CP giving from the 1980s.
Today, 8.1 billion people live on Earth. In the 1980s, the population was about half that figure. In the simplest of terms, Southern Baptists are giving equivalent funds today as we did in the ’80s to reach nearly double – literally billions more – the number of people with the Gospel.
At the same time, we hear of churches withholding their CP giving because of a concern they have with a specific recipient entity, ministry or individual. We hear of churches escrowing or even reducing their normal CP contributions out of frustration or disagreement.
But I think about those who are on the other side of this equation:
I think about Jaime and Myrna Pagán, who serve as IMB missionaries in México City. The Pagáns have invested their lives among the millions who live there, steeped in cultural Catholicism and animism, so they can share about a personal, saving relationship with Christ. They pray for U.S. churches to send more short-term and long-term laborers to join them at work.
I think about Shanti, a Himalayan woman who followed the Hindu religion. Her small people group of 6,000 was found through a partnership between IMB missionaries Mike and Beth McKenzie and national believers named Lalita and Sandeep. From them, Shanti heard the Gospel and accepted Christ. About six months after she was baptized, Shanti’s body succumbed to cancer. As far as we know, she was the first of her people group to die in Christ.
I think about Ézéchiel, a lanky teenager in Togo who, though Deaf, could sense that a group of Americans he saw in his community, and the local pastors they were working with, were Christians. He wrote for them the words “my family” in French, the official language of Togo, then motioned for them to follow. When the visitors caught up and stopped outside a house, Ézéchiel pointed at his cross pendant and nudged IMB Journeyman Brooke Tipton toward the door. He wanted them to share the Gospel with his family members, who each accepted Christ that day.
All these lives — and countless more over the past 99 years — have been directly impacted for eternity through faithful Cooperative Program giving.
A final thought. Brothers and sisters, let us not grow weary in this work of pushing back darkness. Let us not abandon this blessed partnership to undergird that work with our faithful Cooperative Program giving. Let us not forget that one bright, new day we will be among a great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. And some of them will be there because God used Southern Baptists and our commitment to work together to get the Gospel to those who had never heard.