By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
RICHMOND – Trustees of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board were told Feb. 24 that 988 missionaries will be leaving the mission field along with 149 stateside staff members.
Last August IMB President David Platt announced that for financial reasons, the IMB needed to cut 600-800 missionary/staff positions. Over recent years the IMB consistently spent more money than it received – a combined $210 million more since 2010, leading to the critical need to balance the organization’s budget.
Missionaries and staff age 50 and above, with at least five years of employment, were given a Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI). Those not meeting that criterion were given the opportunity to retire through a Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO). Platt informed trustees that 702 missionaries and 109 staff members accepted the VRI while 281 missionaries and 40 stateside staff took the HRO. The numbers represent about 20 percent of the missionary staff and 33 percent of the stateside staff, Platt said.
Platt added the number who took the VRI and HRO surprised him, saying, “It was a much larger number than I anticipated.”
The IMB president said he processed the number with other leaders. “As we talked and prayed, we concluded that we had asked people to pray and seek the Lord in this decision. This many people sensed the Lord to lead them to transition.”
“Knowing that such a voluntary process would yield more imprecise and unpredictable results,” Platt explained. “We believed that we should trust God with this process and every individual within the IMB.”
Platt stressed that no IMB missionary “has been required to leave the field during this time. IMB missionaries have been encouraged to make a transition off of the field only if they sense the Lord leading them to do so.”
Platt did note that the number of those leaving could decrease because missionaries who took the HRO can rescind their decision by April if they choose to do so.
The immediate financial impact of nearly 1,000 missionaries returning home from the field was not addressed during the board meeting. Platt did tell trustees the board expects to operate a balanced budget for 2017 due to the changes made in the 2015-16 reset.
“IMB is now in a much healthier financial position,” Platt said, noting that giving from Southern Baptist churches, the Cooperative Program, and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is trending upward.