Southern Baptist Mission Board to Cut as Many as Eight Hundred Positions

Image via International Mission Board / RNS

The Southern Baptist Convention will cut as many as 800 employees from its overseas missions agency to make up for significant shortfalls in revenue, officials announced Aug. 27.

The International Mission Board anticipates an annual budget shortfall of $21 million this year, following several consecutive years of shortfalls.

The developments are particularly painful for a denomination that was founded as a missionary-sending organization and that prides itself on making Christian converts across the globe.

An Open Letter to Missionaries

Bible and boots, Paul Matthew Photography / Shutterstock.com

Bible and boots, Paul Matthew Photography / Shutterstock.com

Dear Missionaries,

I like to tell people I’m a missionary convert, because I wear this genesis of my faith journey proudly, like a badge of honor. I heard the story of Jesus from your lips, sang the songs of worship in your language, and prayed for the concerns in your heart. You taught me how to be Christian.

I learned from your lavish generosity and boundless love and affection. I also learned how to do Christmas. One day in my freshman year of high school, I asked my Chinese parents if we could find a Christmas tree. This was before Christmas became commercialized in Taiwan, so all I could find was a tacky, tiny, plastic tree, which I set up delightfully in the corner of our living room. I arranged neatly wrapped fake presents under my wannabe tree and meticulously set up some lights. I longed for that warm feeling I felt in your homes, the atmosphere I saw in American movies. I wanted to be like you; if only I could have convinced my parents to do Christmas like you did, with gifts, candles, and prayers.

Little did I know your celebrations were crippled by your overseas living because, like me, you also could only find dinky little plastic trees. When I visited your home country, I saw the full potential of CHRISTMAS unleashed, with real trees as tall as houses and white lights, icicle lights, flashing lights, lights shaped like reindeer, elaborate nativity sets, and ridiculous amounts of presents and candy. I thought, wow, is this how the Christians do Christmas?

U.S. Ebola Survivor Donates His Blood to Another Stricken Missionary

Physician Richard Sacra, who is being treated at the Nebraska Medical Center. Photo via UMass Medical School/RNS.

An American physician who contracted Ebola while working in a West African hospital has received a blood transfusion from another American missionary doctor who survived the disease, hospital officials confirmed Thursday.

Physician Richard Sacra, who is being treated at the Nebraska Medical Center’s special biocontainment unit, received the blood donation from doctor Kent Brantly, who was treated for Ebola and released from an Atlanta hospital last month. Both men contracted Ebola while caring for patients in Monrovia, Liberia, while working for missionary groups.

Sacra, 51, also received an experimental therapy. Doctors have not revealed its name.

Sacra is recovering well, his wife, Debbie, and his doctor, Phil Smith, medical director of the biocontainment unit, said at a news conference Sept. 11.

Mormon Missionaries Find Work, Meaning in Community Service

Sister Moody (Left) and Sister Ray speak with a Kansas City, Mo., resident on Sept. 10, 2013. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

In Northern California, the image of Mormon missionaries in dark suits and white shirts, knocking on doors at inconvenient times, is being replaced by the sight of these name-tag-wearing twosomes in blue jeans and T-shirts, hoeing gardens, scrubbing off graffiti, dishing out food in homeless shelters, and reading with refugees.

It’s part of the LDS Church’s recognition that its long-held practice of “tracting,” going door to door handing out church materials and delivering religious messages, is no longer effective. Now few people are home during the late morning and early afternoon, and those who are may not want to be disturbed.

“The world has changed,” LDS apostle L. Tom Perry said in June 2013. “The nature of missionary work must change if the Lord will accomplish his work.”

War on Poverty Anniversary Recalls Religion's Role in Appalachia

RNS photo by Don Rutledge

A mountain home with teenagers involved in work at the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board. RNS photo by Don Rutledge

HOT SPRINGS, N.C. — The 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s launch of the War on Poverty, which falls today, reminds us how intractable that effort can be, despite the hope and determined idealism when the legislation was signed.

Appalachia was one of the targets for the newly established Office of Economic Opportunity, utilizing programs such as Head Start and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). The anniversary also recalls how religion has motivated, shaped and sustained this effort, in many ways prefiguring the campaign, in both its successes and failures.

For more than two centuries, these Southern mountains have been a magnet for missionaries, both religious and secular, all determined to wipe out poverty, hunger, and ignorance — whether the region’s benighted folk wanted them to or not. Their too-common failing, local people say, is that the erstwhile do-gooders have not respected the strong beliefs and culture that already existed.

With the best intentions, altruists and uninvited agents of uplift have come with their social gospel of “fixing” local people. That is to wean them from violence and the debilitating use of alcohol, while bringing their brand of faith, along with education, nutrition, and improved living standards. Invariably well-meaning, these efforts have typically ended in disappointment and failure in places such as Madison County, N.C.

Southern Baptists Push for More Black Missionaries

Photo courtesy International Mission Board

Fred Luter, left, visits with villagers in Uganda on May 28. Photo courtesy International Mission Board

Fred Luter had a lot of firsts in the last year: first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention; first time chairing the denomination’s annual meeting, this week, in Houston; and recently, first-time missionary.

“It was inspirational, but also very humbling in a lot of instances, just to see how some people are living,” Luter said, days after returning from Ethiopia and Uganda.

Struck by the poor living without running water and by missionaries willing to “leave the comforts that we have here in America,” Luter wants more members ofhis New Orleans congregation — as well as more of the nation’s 16 million Southern Baptists — to take overseas missions seriously.

In particular, he wants more of his denomination’s relatively small black population to serve as missionaries.

To Tell the Truth: The Courage to Speak Out Against Respected Men

Close-up of intimidating man, JPagetRFPhotos / Shutterstock.com

Close-up of intimidating man, JPagetRFPhotos / Shutterstock.com

Editor’s Note: As we continue reporting on the important topic of sexual abuse and violence, Sojourners has opened up the Sexual Violence and the Church blog series for submissions. This piece is one such submission. If you are interested in submitting a post for the series, please email the Web Editor HERE.

I know now, what I wish I knew then. Only after speaking up, did I learn how common stories like mine are to women across the globe. I know the warning signs and have a clearer picture of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. I long for each of us to wrestle with the truth that we are never to blame — no matter how we dress, what we look like, or how much we’ve had to drink.

We never, ever deserve to have our bodies treated as objects of shame.


Urban Legends: Rethinking Inner-City Ministry

Chicago skyline,  rSnapshotPhotos / Shutterstock.com

Chicago skyline, rSnapshotPhotos / Shutterstock.com

I used to lead and organize inner-city mission trips. Churches, youth groups, non-profit organizations, and well-intentioned philanthropists would excitedly arrive within the diverse and fast-paced world of Chicago and enthusiastically dive into whatever tasks we gave them. The work they volunteered for made a huge difference in people’s lives, but more importantly, it dramatically challenged — and changed — their own way of thinking about urban ministry.

For years “The City” has been the pet project of Christians throughout America. Billions of mission trips have been made to homeless shelters, food pantries, and poor neighborhoods, all in an effort to “clean up,” “rehabilitate” and “evangelize” in Christ’s name. Unfortunately, the inner-city isn’t as stereotypical as we want it to be, and our missionary zeal can often cause more harm than good.

Here is the most common myth that Christians mistakenly apply to urban areas: The Inner-City is Morally Bankrupt.

Mormon Missionary Applications Soar: Up By 471 Percent

Mormon missionaries

Mormon missionaries

SALT LAKE CITY -- Mormon apostle Jeffrey R. Holland predicted that lowering the age limits for young Mormon missionaries would trigger a “dramatic” uptick in their numbers.

Turns out, "dramatic" was an understatement. Try a 471 percent jump in applications — so far.

Just two weeks since Mormon President Thomas S. Monson announced that young men could go on full-time missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age 18 (down from 19) and young women could go at 19 (down from 21), the Utah-based church has seen applications skyrocket from an average of 700 a week to 4,000 a week.