RICHMOND, Va. – Like most Southern Baptists throughout the United States, the missionaries they support through the Cooperative Program are also adjusting to government lockdowns and other difficulties caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet many of them continue to labor for the gospel, even as International Mission Board (IMB) leaders in the United States adapt to new financial realities brought on by the coronavirus.
Steve Hagen, an IMB missionary and Missouri native said, efforts to “flatten the curve” in the Philippines appear to have been effective, but the impact of that nation’s lockdown – which began for them on March 15 – continues.
“Lockdown was originally for one month, but has so far been extended twice until May 15, and good chance of it going even more so,” Hagen told The Pathway in an April 30th email. “They originally started fairly lenient on the quarantine, but when they found people were still cramming onto public transportation to try to get to work, or to find work, they shut down the public transportation system entirely and went to a one quarantine pass per household to allow people out to get food.”
In the midst of the lockdown, however, Hagen has heard reports of an increased openness to the gospel, and his family has helped to organize relief efforts sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Send Relief program. As a result, Southern Baptists were able to help an unreached people group in the region. “This past week, 400 families (in this unreached people group) received a week’s worth of food,” Hagen said. “The gospel was shared with them, and they were encouraged and prayed for.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, another Missouri native is serving in Chile. Jason Frealy told The Pathway that, despite business closures and government restrictions, he and his wife Kelli have used online resources to teach English classes that include a Bible story or song. “At the end of the last class,” Frealy said, “we shared a Bible narrative from the Gospel of Luke with adult students, eight of whom do not know the Lord.”
Additionally, they have been leading 10 people in a weekly online personal evangelism training course, as well as being involved in online church worship services. He asked, also, that Missouri Baptists pray for their neighbors who need to hear the gospel, that they would be open to joining online church meetings.
Yet not all IMB missionaries have been able to continue work in their region of service. Some have been forced to relocate because of “expiring visas, closed borders and special health or family circumstances,” IMB President Paul Chitwood said, according to a May 6th report in the Southern Baptist TEXAN.
Moreover, Chitwood told The Pathway that the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to appear.
“The impact of COVID-19, however, upon local churches — and, thus, the impact upon the IMB — is quickly becoming evident,” Chitwood said. “Our revenue totals for March and April have dipped $2 million below budget. Moreover, we have made a significant investment in evacuating and relocating IMB personnel from certain places around the globe for a host of reasons related to the pandemic. These were unbudgeted expenses that are coming in at about $2 million. That amount includes getting our missionaries back to the field or, in some cases, getting them established in new places. Some of our missionaries were required to leave everything behind and will need to start life anew in another harvest field.
“We are accounting for this combined negative impact of $4 million by cuts to spending and a hiring freeze for most stateside staff positions. Because of the past generosity of Southern Baptists, we are in a solid financial position, but we will need help staying there.”
Chitwood expressed gratitude to Southern Baptists for supporting the missionary efforts of the IMB through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and he encouraged them to remain committed to the work not only financially, but also in prayer. Southern Baptists, he said, can visit www.imb.org/pray to learn how they can pray as God continues to work through IMB missionaries across the globe.