As I near the first anniversary of being elected president of the International Mission Board, I am incredibly encouraged about so many aspects of the Great Commission work of Southern Baptists.
At the top of the list are our missionaries. Over these months, my wife Michelle and I have met with more than half of our 3,700 Southern Baptist missionaries and their 2,880 children.
I recently received a message from one of them that communicates the sentiments I’ve found in all of them. The missionary wrote:
“Dr. Chitwood, I am leaving language class and am so humbled as I type this. There are so many people who allow me the opportunity to study at the seminary, serve, and now share the gospel here in this country. I am so appreciative of the SBC faithful who sacrifice so I can follow Jesus here. ‘Thank You’ for being a mouthpiece for the gospel so faithfully and stressing the importance of CP & LMCO [Lottie Moon Christmas Offering] giving so [unbelievers] can hear the Good News. I love you and I am forever grateful to be a Southern Baptist. To God Be the Glory!”
Not only does this missionary’s message communicate the deep appreciation of all of our IMB personnel, it also communicates how the Cooperative Program provides for a holistic Great Commission effort.
For example, this brother mentions language class. Language learning is essential for the effectiveness of most cross-cultural mission efforts. So are things like a place to live, a means of transportation, a ministry budget and immunizations – all provided by the generosity of Southern Baptists who give their tithes and offerings to the Lord in a local church that is committed to cooperative missions.
The missionary also mentions the privilege of studying “at the seminary.” By God-given wisdom, Southern Baptists not only have established six seminaries delivering the highest quality of theological education and ministry training, but they also have supplemented each seminary budget with Cooperative Program scholarship dollars.
This generous investment by Southern Baptists keeps the cost of tuition low enough even for students hailing from lower socio-economic backgrounds to have access to a seminary degree without accumulating a mountain of debt that would, at the end of the day, prevent them from going to the mission field. Though not a cross-cultural overseas missionary, I’ve personally benefited from three degrees paid for, in part, by “the SBC faithful who sacrifice so I can follow Jesus” where He calls me to serve and lead.
What I also know about this particular missionary is that he went out from a healthy church where he served under a pastor whose ministry was blessed and strengthened by state convention staff members. The ministries of the state convention, funded by the Cooperative Program, helped equip and encourage the pastor, his staff and the church family as they sought to be effective witnesses in their Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
No wonder he’s grateful to be a Southern Baptist. And so am I. To God be the glory … among the nations!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Paul Chitwood is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board. October is Cooperative Program Emphasis month in the Southern Baptist Convention. Learn more about CP here.)