By Julie McGowan
RICHMOND, Va. — In a year when International Mission Board and Woman’s Missionary Union leaders expressed a compelling drive to fulfill the Great Commission, Southern Baptists responded to the charge with resounding support through the 2015 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
Finalized in early June, the 2015 Lottie Moon offering totaled $165.8 million — the highest total in the 127-year history of the offering. The offering surpassed the previous all-time record of $154 million in 2013 by $11.8 million. The 2014 Lottie Moon offering totaled just over $153 million.
“Southern Baptists have exhibited their commitment to God’s mission through these gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering,” said IMB President David Platt. “Especially after a year in which we have walked through many challenges together, the support Southern Baptists have shown through this offering will not only sustain but also encourage the thousands of missionaries sent from Southern Baptist churches who are spreading the gospel right now. As an IMB family, on behalf of unreached people around the world, we are deeply grateful for the generosity of Southern Baptists who have given for God’s glory among the nations.”
“In addition, we as an IMB and SBC family look forward to exploring in the days ahead how our cooperative giving can fuel an ever-increasing mission force taking the gospel to those who have never heard it,” Platt said. “Our times are too urgent, our opportunities are too great, and our gospel is too glorious to settle for anything less than wholehearted abandon as a convention of churches to seeing Christ proclaimed in every place and among every people group in the world.”
Wanda Lee, executive director/treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), which promotes the offering in partnership with IMB, expressed her gratitude for the gifts.
“With the inception of the first offering for international missions in 1888,” Lee said, “Southern Baptists were challenged to pray and give sacrificially so those who had not heard the gospel might have that opportunity. When Lottie Moon saw the depth of lostness in China and pled for help, churches responded with increased giving and prayer support. This year, we are grateful Southern Baptists responded once again at a critical time when increased resources are needed for our international outreach. How thankful we are for every person who gave and prayed, proving that together we can accomplish so much more than any one church or individual can alone.”
IMB leaders have deliberated and dreamed about the possibilities that lie before Southern Baptists to partner together to empower limitless missionary teams who are making disciples and multiplying churches among the unreached for the glory of God. That vision for the future includes “limitless” missionary teams, with the core of the IMB remaining “missionary teams” — healthy groups of “sent ones” who meet together regularly, care for each other selflessly, and partner with one another faithfully and fruitfully in the missionary task. The goal of each team is to make disciples and multiply churches. Ultimately, IMB’s work is focused on the unreached, “doing all of this because we love the glory of God more than our own lives,” Platt said.
Full-time missionaries are essential as leaders who continue to be the key strategic workers in some of the most difficult places on earth. More than 3,600 IMB missionaries depend on the Lottie Moon offering and regular missions giving by churches through the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program for missionary salaries, housing, medical care, children’s education, field transportation and other expenses. Supporting one fully funded missionary overseas costs an average of $141 per day, or about $51,000 per year.
Every penny of the Lottie Moon offering, named for one of Southern Baptists’ most famous missionaries, goes to the IMB overseas budget, which directly supports missionaries and their work. The 2015 offering will account for more than half of the total 2016 IMB budget of $278,755,000, said Rodney Freeman, IMB treasurer and vice president of support services.
Counting the cost
Through their 2015 Lottie Moon offering gifts, Southern Baptists have acknowledged that the cost of reaching the lost is great — but the idea of not doing their part to reach them is unfathomable. Of the world’s 11,000 people groups, more than half — billions of people — are unreached with the gospel. This means there are those among whom Christ is largely unknown and the church is relatively insufficient to make Him known in its broader population without outside help. More than 3,000 unreached peoples are also unengaged, which means there is no one working to share Christ or plant churches among them.
The Lottie Moon offering enables missionaries to make a difference.
Consider the refugee crisis in Northern Africa and the Middle East. It’s hard to imagine anything but a continued descending darkness closing in on Syrian and Iraqi refugees. While images and reports of beheadings, cruelty and pure evil continue to shadow refugees — numbering in the millions — from any light of hope, there is hope in the good news of Jesus Christ.
Only a loving God Who cares deeply for all who are fleeing violence can push back that darkness. Christian worker Peter Matheson* works tirelessly to bring God’s hope to refugees. But his work comes at great cost to the many he serves and to him, personally, as he ministers in the midst of tremendous suffering. Through the support of Southern Baptists, Matheson has been able to work along the Syrian border, distributing boxes of food and other critical necessities.
“We are able, through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, to focus 100 percent on the ministry that God has given us as workers … as laborers in the field,” Matheson said. “We’re able to give all of our attention to people who are hurting by ministering to their physical, emotional and, most importantly, their spiritual needs.”
Across the ocean, missionary Liesa Holeman found an unlikely inroad into difficult-to-access indigenous communities in Mexico right where she lives in the city of Oaxaca. During years of volunteering at the Casa Hogar children’s home in Oaxaca, Holeman has met dozens of families from indigenous villages that would have been too difficult for an outsider to access. Many of the families travel as many as 12 hours over steep, winding hills by bus to bring their children and sometimes adult family members to the children’s home for physical and emotional care.
Southern Baptists’ gifts enable Holeman to purchase the ministry supplies she uses at the children’s home, where partnering U.S. churches, including her home church, First Baptist Church of Oxford, Mississippi, send groups to share the gospel. There are still at least 10 unengaged, unreached people groups in Mexico alone, totaling more than 300,000 people who don’t have continual access to the gospel. And there are more than 30 unreached people groups in the country, representing nearly 1.5 million people.
The faithful service of these obedient servants, and thousands more, is sustained by Southern Baptists’ commitment to work together through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program. Millions — billions — of unreached lives are counting on it.
For more information about the missionaries supported by the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, additional financial information and other questions related to IMB, visit IMB.org/FAQ.
Julie McGowan is IMB public relations leader. Stories by Rolan Way and Kate Gregory contributed to this story.