Sluggish world economy affecting missions
Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press
December 31, 2009

Sluggish world economy affecting missions

Sluggish world economy affecting missions
Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press
December 31, 2009

Jodi Nichols cries when she talks about it. Her husband

Kevin says he would rather be hit with a baseball bat.

The couple from Wheeler, Miss., committed their lives to

missions nearly two years ago. They planned to move to Russia with their four

children in January. But in the midst of a rocky economy and shortfalls in

missions giving, they won’t be going anytime soon.

“It hurt,” says Kevin of the day he, his wife and about 200

others also called to missions learned that Southern Baptists’ International

Mission Board (IMB) did not have the funds to send them.

“Today it still doesn’t feel real … I know what God has

called us to … (but) it takes money,” he says.

For now, the Nicholses are uncertain when — or if — they

will be able to go to the mission field. By the time the economy rebounds,

their oldest child may be 15 or 16, and IMB discourages the appointment of

families with children that old.

BP photo

Kevin and Jodi Nichols of Wheeler, Miss., had planned to be in Russia this year sharing the gospel as IMB missionaries. But reduced missions giving put their plan on hold indefinitely. They and their four children moved into a mobile home to ride out the transition.

The Nichols family’s situation is a snapshot of how a

struggling economy impacts lives — both here and around the globe. Because the

Nicholses can’t go, someone in Russia may not hear the gospel.

A global problem

In Asian countries such as South Korea, a sluggish U.S.

economy means fewer sales and less money for local goods. It also means that in

one of the largest missionary-sending countries in the world, fewer South

Korean missionaries will have enough funds.

“The South Korean market kind of mirrors the U.S. market,

but double the effects,” says John*, a missionary who handled finances in South

Korea for four years before recently moving with his family to Thailand.

“As the U.S. market kind of tanked, (South Korea) lost about

half of (its) buying power,” he adds. “They are extremely dependent upon the

U.S. imports of their Asian goods.”

South Koreans also are heavily involved in missions — with

more than 17,000 Korean Protestant missionaries currently serving worldwide.

“They’re probably our biggest (missions) ally worldwide,”

John notes. “The weakening of the Korean won (currency) has impacted their

ability to function outside Korea. As a missionary-sending country, they are

really feeling it.”

Other countries around the globe are “feeling it” as well.

The U.S. unemployment rate stands at more than 10 percent

and is continuing to climb. As staggering as that seems, unemployment in

Zimbabwe hovers around 90 percent.

Statistics from the International Labor Organization show

the number of unemployed could jump to 239 million internationally by the end

of 2009.

There also is the issue of the dollar.

Last year, it took $1.62 to equal 1 euro.

This month, the value is around $1.49 after improving

briefly to $1.25 earlier this year.

“The dollar has gained some strength,” IMB treasurer David

Steverson says. “But while we are better off than we were a year ago, we are

not nearly as good as we were (as recently as several months ago).”

‘Difficult to live’

IMB missionaries Mike and Jan Bennett have worked in

Venezuela for more than 10 years. Even doing simple things, they say, can be a

major expense. When inflation rose to 26 percent, two combo meals at McDonald’s

cost $35.

“The economic crisis is affecting every country in the

world,” Bennett says. “It makes it very difficult to live on the field when the

prices continue to go up.”

In past years, Bennett says, missionaries have been unhappy

about the lack of funds to buy Bibles or other ministry materials.

“But the truth of the matter is that this is a far more

serious problem,” he says. “The critical need is just having (missionaries)

here to do the work.”

The lack of workers also is jeopardizing the future of a

significant ministry in Europe. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims who live and

work in Europe board ferries every summer to return home to North Africa to

visit family.

However, an effort that puts Bibles and ministry materials

into the immigrants’ hands as their cars pass through a European city’s port

gates may fall by the wayside.

Approximately 200 Southern Baptists help with the ministry

each summer. Because of last year’s shortfall in Southern Baptists’ Lottie Moon

Christmas Offering for International Missions, many short-term missionaries who

coordinate the efforts will not be able to extend their terms.

One missionary says the program won’t be able to continue

without them — or replacements.

“The project is in danger if we are not able to replace

personnel,” says Dave Webber*, who leads the effort in the European country,

where there are believed to be more than 5 million Muslims.

Last year, teams distributed 26,000 gospel packets at the

port gates.

“That means 26,000 families received the gospel,” he says.

“What if we’re not there at the gates? You can’t print this stuff in many parts

in Algeria” where distributing Bibles is illegal.

“I think about this (economic) slowdown and the tough things

that are going on around the world financially and in the United States … but

what if we’re not there at the opportunities the Lord has given us?”

‘Hard times’ back home

Parkridge Baptist Church in Coral Springs, Fla., has sent

teams in the past to help with the outreach in the European country. But like

many churches and ministries worldwide, they also are experiencing their share

of financial challenges.

“It’s a hard time,” says pastor Eddie Bevill, who started

the church 17 years ago.

“Our offerings haven’t grown much in the last year,” he

says. “We raised our mission challenge but reduced our general operating

budget. No one got raises — but we didn’t have to let anybody go.”

As the housing market continues to struggle and people are

laid off from jobs, many turn to their church for help.

“It used to always be people outside of our church,” Bevill says. “Now more and

more, it’s (church members) who need financial assistance.

“People call me now saying, ‘I’ve never asked for help in my

life. I can’t believe I’m calling.’”

To avoid staff layoffs, the church reduced its Cooperative

Program (CP) giving to a month-by-month basis. Nearly half the funding for

missions comes through CP, which supports state efforts as well as

international and national missions.

“If it comes we’ll give it,” Bevill says. “If it doesn’t

come we can’t … and that’s a terrible way to support the Cooperative Program.

“Older pastors around the country would kick me, I’m sure,

for doing that.”

This year the church began what it calls the “Great

Connection Offering.” It’s a year-round offering that collects funds for

Southern Baptists’ state, national and international mission entities.

“We have challenged people to give on a weekly basis to

missions,” Bevill says. The church set a goal of $60,000.

“Right now we’re ahead of (schedule), but if we hit that

goal, we will be giving more to those entities than we’ve given in the last

three years.”

Bevill, whose church received CP dollars when it formed,

knows the importance of giving to other ministries.

“But I can read a spreadsheet, too,” he says. “I can see

what’s coming in the offering plate. These are tough decisions for everybody.”

*Names changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hendricks is a writer for the

International Mission Board.)

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