“Extremely grateful.” That’s what International Mission Board (IMB) President Tom Elliff is saying about Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, which reached $146.8 million last year — the fourth highest total in the offering’s 123-year history.
“I’m extremely grateful for Southern Baptists’ faithful giving and praying to undergird the thousands of missionaries they’ve sent from their churches, through IMB, to the farthest corners of the earth,” said Elliff.
“And all for a single, eternal purpose – making disciples in the name of Jesus.”
Though short of the $175 million goal, the 2011 offering is a $1.1 million increase – nearly 1 percent –over the $145.6 million Southern Baptists gave in 2010.
The largest Lottie Moon offering in history was given in 2007, totaling $150.4 million, shortly before the 2008 collapse of the U.S. housing market and the global economic recession.
“Southern Baptists continue to show that they have a heart for the world,” said David Steverson, IMB vice president of finance. “In an economic environment where unemployment remains high, our economy continues to drag, our stock market experiences broad swings and there is unrest in all of our financial markets, Southern Baptists continue to respond to the Great Commission through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. We are grateful for this increase of almost 1 percent, which represents the fourth largest offering in our history.”
IMB missionaries pray over a mother and child suffering through famine in the Horn of Africa. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering enables these missionaries – like Lottie herself 140 years ago – to live and work at the forefront of lostness, extending Southern Baptists’ witness through their full-time ministry.
‘Above and beyond’
When the first Lottie Moon offering was collected in 1888 (though it was not yet known by that name), the $3,315 raised by Southern Baptist churches was enough to send three more single female missionaries to help Moon in China. The 2011 Lottie Moon offering totaled $146,828,116.05. Today, in conjunction with the Cooperative Program, it helps support a network of nearly 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries serving around the globe, providing salaries, housing, medical care and children’s education. The cost averages about $49,800 per year for each missionary.
“[Southern Baptists] go above and beyond to take care of their personnel. … There is no complaining [here],” said Anthony, a newly appointed IMB missionary who grew up in Waynesville, N.C. He and his wife, April, will travel to Mozambique to work among a Muslim people group in July.
While the $175 million goal needed to support IMB’s missionary force might seem overwhelming to some, Anthony said, churches working together make reaching that amount a possibility.
“It seems so unattainable to the blue-collar American,” said Anthony, challenging smaller churches to partner together – even if that means raising just enough to send one missionary.
“Fifty thousand dollars is a much more manageable amount,” said Anthony, noting the average annual amount it takes to support one missionary. “We’re thinking millions, but let’s start thinking in the thousands.”
Walter* and his family – who have lived in western N.C. most of their lives – will travel to South Asia later this year. He, his wife and two children will share the love of Jesus in the slums of their assigned city among many who have had little to no access to the gospel.
“There are [more than] 3,000 people groups that haven’t [been] exposed to the gospel,” he said. “There’s a lot to be done.”
According to IMB’s most recent statistical report, the Lottie Moon offering has enabled missionaries and their national partners to present the gospel to more than 2.2 million people, baptize 333,823 new believers and start 28,873 new churches.
“That tells me that Southern Baptists still see missions as a priority,” Elliff said. “It also tells me that Southern Baptists are keenly aware that there are still billions of people who desperately need to hear the gospel, and they are eager to get that message to them.”
“I think that when people look at these statistics, Southern Baptists have every reason to rejoice,” Elliff said. “And it ought to be a sign that we could certainly accomplish much, much more if more was given. We could send out more missionaries, we could partner with more nationals – there definitely would be a direct impact in terms of evangelism and church planting.”
Missions offerings represent one of the unique aspects in Southern Baptist life, said Wanda Lee, executive director/treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU). “As a former missionary, it was a great comfort to my husband and me knowing we could truly focus on the ministry God had called us to without concern about financially supporting our family,” she said. “As Southern Baptists, it is our collective responsibility and privilege to remember those who have committed their lives to following the Great Commission so that the gospel may be proclaimed among all people.”
“The faithfulness of Southern Baptists to give more to support international missions through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering as compared to last year is to be commended. WMU is grateful for churches that continue to keep missions education and involvement at the forefront and for members who understand we have been called to sacrificially give of our resources so that all may know the true source of hope and peace.”
The task remains
Elliff pointed out that 3,328 of the world’s 11,000-plus people groups are both unengaged and unreached by the gospel. An unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG) means that evangelical Christians make up less than 2 percent of the people group’s population and that there are no current evangelical church-planting efforts among them. Those 3,328 UUPGs represent more than 266 million people who may know little or nothing about Jesus.
In addition to Lottie Moon gifts, Elliff also thanked churches for their response to IMB’s Embrace challenge. Currently, 1,280 churches and Southern Baptist Convention organizations have indicated their willingness to explore a long-term commitment to evangelize a UUPG. IMB’s goal is to ensure there are no remaining UUPGs on the planet.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham is IMB senior writer. Biblical Recorder staff contributed to this report.)