On July 31, 2015 our family departed Oaxaca, Mexico to begin 10 months of Stateside Assignment (STAS). This was only our second time to have a STAS as we were finishing up our 8th year as cross-cultural missionaries. We ended our first missionary term back in 2011 weary and wounded from an intense three and a half years of service. However, as we approached this STAS we weren't at all ready to leave the field. We weren't worn out and we certainly weren't wounded. We had just finished up some of the most rewarding years of our ministry career. All was good! We could see fruit of our labor as so many doors were opening for the Gospel in southern Mexico. We departed for the USA hoping the days would pass quickly until we could get back to Oaxaca.
Then there was the day of the VRI (Voluntary Retirement Initiative) announcement. Our mission agency had stretched the dollars given by Southern Baptists as thin as they could go. Something was going to have to change and that change included the departure of 800 of our 4800 field personnel. Our mentors and heroes were offered an opportunity to 'retire' from their missionary jobs so that the mission agency as a whole could remain financially stable. That day was like a punch in the gut. But, unfortunately, the punches would continue during the months of September and October until today.
Day after day we checked the VRI list to see who was 'taking it.' We have cried more tears over this than all of the funerals we have endured in our lives. You see, it's not just our colleagues who are being called away from their assignments. It is about LOST PEOPLE. Millions of lost people in the Americas with less of a chance to hear about Jesus. Millions of lost people in the Americas with less of chance to be discipled in healthy ways. Millions of lost people in the Americas with less of chance to understand their opportunity to take the Gospel to their own people and to the ends of the earth. Day after day it was another series of punches to our hearts as we realized that there was nothing we could do to stop this.
Today, some of the hemorrhaging stopped. Today was the deadline for those 'taking the VRI.' Tomorrow there will be no surprises. We know tonight which of our colleagues are headed home to either retire or to raise funds and get back to their mission field. We also know who is left behind to pick up the pieces. In the Americas, we have lost 40% of our IMB missionaries. We have lost over 3,000 years of missionary experience. Most of my colleagues who were on my favorites list to call when I was facing a problem are in transition. In a way I have felt left behind. Lost. Empty. Tired. Up against a wall. My heroes are leaving.
But God is not surprised by all of this. He knew when we departed Oaxaca on July 31 that all of this was going to unfold before us. We had no clue but He has all of the clues. He has a plan. He is going to show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us. He is going to pick up the pieces and will lead us. He will teach us how to work through this disaster. He has taken us from death to life and He will take those who are left behind and accomplish His purposes.
Why? Because of LOST PEOPLE. God deserves to be worshipped by millions in the Americas who have yet to understand the Gospel. Lost people matter to our Father and He is in an unending pursuit of them and we are joining Him in that chase. We have significant challenges to work through but those who are leaving will be the biggest supporters for those of us left behind.
We will soon have 800 of the most intense prayer warrior heroes on the planet invading Southern Baptist churches in the USA. I bet they are going to be somewhat rambunctious. Our colleagues 'taking' the VRI might be in transition but they are certainly not in retreat. They are ready to make sure a VRI never, ever, ever happens again and that those of us who are left behind and those that are preparing to be sent are the most prayed for, best trained, and most empowered missionaries to ever answer the call. There is a vision of multiple pathways and limitless numbers of missionaries. If that is going to happen then our heroes are going to be used by God to make it happen. They are not going to relent. Why? Because of LOST PEOPLE.
Those of us left behind? It is time for us to step up to the plate and lead Southern Baptists to the ends of the earth. It is time for us to raise the bar beyond mission tourism and 'feel good' missions and take people in the pews by the hand and lead them to engage in the only task that matters and that is making sure our Father's name is famous in every city, in every village, in every tribe, and in every tongue. He is worthy. Our heroes are getting in position to support us. Let's get to work! There is a plentiful harvest that is waiting.