By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
MOUNT JULIET – Jennie and Peter Stillman, 35-year career missionaries with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, were preparing to leave for Tennessee for stateside assignment in September when they received notice in late August that the IMB was going to have to reduce its missionary/staff personnel by 600-800 people.
The first wave of cuts was slated to come from voluntary retirement incentives for missionaries/staff over the age of 50 who have been with the IMB for at least five years.
Since returning to the states the Stillmans have discovered that many Southern Baptists were unaware of the IMB’s financial plight.
Though “stunned” by the official notice, they were not really surprised. “Those of us serving saw our budgets cut year after year,” Peter Stillman said.
Though they had no idea what they would do when they left Southeast Asia for stateside assignment, Jennie Stillman left “not knowing if we’d go back.”
Missionaries had until Nov. 2 to accept the voluntary retirement incentive package offered by the board.
As it was for hundreds of missionaries, it was not an easy decision for the couple who has given their lives to ministering among the lost in Asia.
The Stillmans made the difficult choice of accepting the retirement option a week ago. It was hard because they said they had hoped “to stay on the field for another five to 10 years.”
A number of things factored into the Stillmans’ decision, especially the needs of their family.
Tennessee is home for both of them. Jennie Stillman was reared in Lebanon and was a member of First Baptist Church there while her husband lived in Knoxville and was a member of South Knoxville Baptist Church. They are currently living in the missionary house on the property of the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s Missions Mobilization Center in Mount Juliet.
“We have a sense that the Lord is saying that He has something different for us, but we don’t know what it is. Our calling is to follow Christ wherever He leads and to reach the lost cross-culturally. We have discovered that Muslims are open to hearing about Jesus Christ, and many are becoming His followers too,” she said.
“We are open to whatever the Lord has for us,” her husband agreed, noting he would be open to serving as a pastor in an ethnic neighborhood.
The Stillmans will leave the IMB at the end of December with no bitterness. “How can we be bitter?” Jennie Stillman said. “Southern Baptists have supported us for years. We are very grateful to Southern Baptists.”
Peter Stillman said he hopes Southern Baptists will respond to the IMB decision to cut staff by giving more than ever so that a downsizing like this never has to happen again. He also expressed a desire that Southern Baptists reexamine their purpose. “One of the primary goals in cooperating (through the Cooperative Program) is to work together for missions,” he said.
The couple will continue to work through the remainder of the year promoting the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program in churches.
After the first of the year they will return to southeast Asia and pack up their belongings and say goodbye to the “family and friends” they will be leaving behind there.
Jennie Stillman said it is a blessing to be back in Tennessee but “we will truly miss and grieve over leaving our family and life there in Southeast Asia.”