I received a letter in December from one of our International Mission Board missionaries who is taking the early retirement offer from the IMB but desires to return to the field. Without support from the IMB, the missionary is hoping to raise his own support from his network of relationships with pastors, associational directors of missions, and laypeople who might donate to his cause.
Knowing all of the challenges that accompany “faith-funded” mission work, I felt great sympathy for this dear brother. Instead of remaining on the field, he is taking precious time away from the Gospel work in order to raise financial support and will live with the stress of knowing his work is always in jeopardy if the pledges of support aren’t kept.
As much as my heart went out to this faithful brother, the letter also reminded me of my calling and how grateful I am for the churches and pastors who support Great Commission work through the Cooperative Program. Why am I so thankful? Four reasons rise to the top among many.
First, CP mission dollars go farther. Just as a gallon of milk is cheaper at Walmart than at the minimart service station, the evidence suggests that a dollar invested in the strategic focus and expertise of the largest overseas missionary sending agency in the history of missions (the IMB) can get more boots on the ground among the world’s unreached, even with the current reset, than a dollar given to support an independent missionary.
Second, CP mission dollars have high accountability. At home and abroad, bureaucracy in Southern Baptist missions has been deeply cut, resulting in much leaner support and accountability structures. But those structures still exist and are very effective at providing appropriate oversight and accountability to frontline missionaries to safeguard the work.
Third, CP mission dollars are focused. Instead of every missionary taking time from the harvest field for extensive travel to do fundraising, the Southern Baptist system provides for a limited number of people to promote the work among the churches and keeps thousands of missionaries in the field.
Fourth, CP mission dollars facilitate a Great Commission strategy at every level and in all places. CP funds are used to evangelize in Eastern Kentucky as well as East Asia. CP funds not only support missionaries overseas, those same funds help prepare and equip them as college and seminary students before they go overseas. CP funds care for the orphaned child in McCreary County and in Malawi. And CP funds help strengthen churches here at home so they can be effective at reaching Kentucky and the world for Christ.
Reading about the work of this missionary and how he longed to return to it, I realized anew the privilege God has given me. When I accepted my current ministry assignment from the Kentucky Baptist Convention Mission Board, I told the board members that I would consider being “Cooperative Program Fundraiser-in-Chief” as one of my primary responsibilities. Why? Because I see how the Cooperative Program is accomplishing God’s Great Commission “program.” And I am grateful to have the privilege of serving in a role that allows me to constantly encourage our churches to remain committed to that cooperative work so missionaries on the frontlines in Kentucky and around the world can stay on the frontlines.
While I hope the brother who sent the letter finds his way back to the field, my greatest hope is that every cooperating church will grow in their giving through CP so no more missionaries have to come home from the field.
Paul Chitwood is executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and is a member of Mercy Hill Baptist Church in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. This article is used with permission of the Western Recorder, newspaper of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.