By Leslie Peacock Caldwell
IMB news office
RICHMOND — International Mission Board senior leaders are urging Southern Baptists to use extreme caution if they are considering overseas missions travel for the remainder of 2020. As many countries continue to require quarantines or have not yet opened their borders, travelers could face unexpected circumstances, including quarantines upon re-entering the U.S. The future threat and spread of COVID-19 also remains an unknown factor.
The IMB decision also impacts volunteer missions through the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. “Obviously we as the TBMB share the precautions the IMB is taking to protect volunteers,” said Steve Holt, church services director for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
“As a state mission board we have a continued commitment to missions and supporting our overseas partnerships,” Holt continued. “We look forward to a day in the future where we can once again send our church teams to the nations, and specifically to our partners.”
The TBMB was one of the first state conventions to become involved in partnership missions in the early 1980s and currently is involved in international partnerships in Germany and Guatemala.
“Partnership/volunteer missions has been a hallmark of Tennessee Baptist Convention churches for decades and we pledge our continued commitment to missions and our overseas partnerships,” Holt said.
IMB personnel on the field are continually monitoring their local situations and government’s restrictions. Many missionaries will not be able to host groups for the foreseeable future due to government-imposed travel bans and other factors related to the pandemic. Churches with long-standing partnerships and plans to travel soon should remain in close contact with their field contact for guidance. They should also continue to check travel restrictions and re-entry to the U.S. guidelines, which could change day to day.
“The work of Southern Baptists’ missionaries has and will continue. Not a day has passed in the midst of this pandemic, or over the course of the past 175 years, that Southern Baptists have been without a witness among the nations,” said IMB President Paul Chitwood.
“In making decisions about hosting volunteer teams during this unusual season, however, we must consider the well-being of locals in the host countries, our field workers and our faithful volunteers.”
While also deeply affected by COVID-19 and government regulations, missionaries have had new gospel opportunities and Southern Baptist relief work related to the coronavirus has been significant. Send Relief reports more than 300 projects in progress or completed in 78 countries. These efforts are projected to help more than 900,000 people worldwide and have provided food packages, personal protection equipment (PPE), handwashing stations, sanitation supplies and education materials.
IMB staff and missionaries encourage churches to support relief work and to seek other ways to stay engaged in missions, even when travel is not advised.
- • Some affinities, like South Asia, are offering virtual mission trips for participants to connect with missionaries, learn about people groups and join in prayer. The IMB student team has also announced online opportunities through the Stateside Summer Initiative.
- • Missionaries rely daily on the prayers of supporters. Churches can find daily prayer requests at imb.org/pray and can still join the 175 Days of Prayer for the nations.
- • Consider connecting your church or small group with missionaries on temporary assignments in the U.S. and also to explore partnership opportunities.
- • Stay in close contact with field personnel you know and spend time encouraging them and worshiping with them, whether they are currently overseas or back in the U.S.
- • Ask missionary partners how you can find and minister to representatives of their people groups in the U.S. or on the internet. These doors to sharing the gospel remain open.
- • IMB cannot continue our work without the support of prayers and gifts. Consider a mid-year financial gift to the Cooperative Program or the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
Chitwood remains thankful and conveys the thanks of missionaries for the support they have received. As Southern Baptists pray for IMB missionaries, IMB missionaries continue to pray for Southern Baptists and for SBC churches across the U.S.
“Thank you for continuing to give, even as you are navigating these unexpected challenges. Your commitment is making a difference.” B&R — This article includes reporting from the staff of the Baptist and Reflector.