— Jake Grece* sits at his computer in Africa answering
email from a missionary couple. They have a question about their finances and
Grece is their man — an International Mission Board (IMB) missionary working as
Today Grece is in the office processing
financial reports, sorting expense claims and punching numbers into a database,
but tomorrow he and a local pastor will hold an outdoor evangelism service
where they will share the gospel with nationals.
Accountants may not be the first image that pops into people’s heads when
talking about missionaries, but that’s exactly how Grece, a Nebraska
native, answered his call to missions. He uses his financial skills in the office
while also focusing on ministering to those around him — whether it’s frazzled
missionaries or local villagers.
They are a “missionary first with an assignment to do financial support,” said
Lynn Burton, associate vice president for the IMB’s office
of finance. “That’s the one thing to always focus on. (On) our job description,
the very first line is ‘witnessing and participating in Christian life.’”
IMB missionaries serve as accountants in four financial support centers overseas,
taking care of personnel in the Americas,
Eurasia, Asia and Africa.
Currently, all the centers need more missionaries with the skills to do
financial work plus a heart to reach others with the gospel.
The position requires standard duties of a finance worker: reviewing and
reimbursing personnel spending, transferring funds, processing expense reports
and communicating with personnel who have financial questions or issues.
Burton, who works in the board’s Richmond,
served for almost 20 years as a missionary in Africa.
Though he worked in financial support and administration, he also started two
churches, conducted marriage enrichment seminars and taught Bible studies.
“Financial stewardship (enabled me to live) in some of the countries,” he said.
Missionary accountants in Africa try to get out of the office
at least one day each week to minister to their people groups. While Grece and
a local pastor lead a Bible study in a poverty-stricken shantytown, other
missionaries work in an AIDS orphanage, teach the Bible through storytelling
and volunteer with local churches.
Grece said he enjoys his duties of handling expenses and accounting — a
ministry in itself. He likes to help people with their finances, which “takes a
lot of stress off their plates, where many live in high-stress areas and
ministries already,” he said.
Jeff Whitlow,* an IMB missionary and a New York
native, has served in both types of missionary work: strategy and support.
After working for two years in South Asia as a strategy
coordinator for an unengaged, unreached people group, he moved to Southeast
Asia to work in the financial support office. Whitlow also teaches
classes at a local seminary twice a week, eating lunch with his students and
staying after class to talk with them and answer questions.
Whitlow still has a heart for South Asian people, so in between working and
teaching he spends time ministering to Indians who live nearby. He is grateful
that his work schedule allows him to be involved in a variety of ministries.
“Even though a lot of people might feel like their predominant role is
accounting, there’s still plenty of opportunities to be able to look for
opportunities to share, and you have that flexibility to pick and choose what
area in particular you want to focus on,” Whitlow said.
Burton said he advises accountants to not only work with other missionaries but
also to develop relationships with them, minister to them and serve as an
encouragement. Whitlow implements this by asking missionaries to send him their
update letters and prayer requests.
“When we were on the field and I had a problem, or I needed money for some
emergency right away, or I wasn’t clear about something, I knew that I could
just call the (financial) office. I knew most
of them by name…,” Whitlow said.
Burton likens the different roles
of missionaries to the body of Christ: a variety of gifts and a diversity of
spirit. “It’s a smorgasbord of gifts but with a holistic focus of using these
to impact the countries where they are (living) with Jesus Christ,” he said.
Individuals interested in pursuing missionary service may call IMB’s office
of global personnel toll-free at (800) 999-3113 or visit going.imb.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Fielding is a summer intern writer with the International