(MNN) — Sixty-nine missionary candidates were ready to leave their homes and serve the
Lord all over the world. They had sold
their homes, resigned from their jobs, and said goodbye to family and
July, they received an unthinkable phone call:
the International Mission Board does not have the funds to support their
ministry. Due to a $29 million shortfall
in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and reduced giving to the Cooperative
Program, their missionary appointments have been put on hold.
Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supplies over half of IMB's annual budget. It hoped to raise $170 million through the
2008 offering but received only $141 million – $9 million less than the 2007
offering. 100 percent of the offering
goes to support over 5,600 IMB missionaries who serve overseas.
organization has already turned away 350 candidates for short-term missionary
service this year. The latest
development comes in addition to that reduction, as well as an earlier decision
to severely limit the number of new missionaries commissioned in 2009.
Shepards (names changed for privacy) served on the mission field with IMB for
15 years before returning to Florida so their daughter could attend high school
in the U.S. When she began her college
years, they began the process of returning to the field in Asia.
Now, the family will not be able
to leave for Asia at least until spring of 2010. For now, they are staying in their church's
mission house. hey don't know where to
register their 8-year-old son for school because they're not sure where they
"You feel sort of directionless. We really don't know what to do now," said Audrey Shepard. "It's tragic that
money is holding back God's work around the world…There are people dying every
day who are not going to have the opportunity to hear about Jesus because so
many missionaries are being held up."
The Shepards don't know whether
they'll be able to go back to their previous jobs, because they didn't renew
their contracts. Audrey was a school
psychologist in Jacksonville, and Tim taught middle school math and
"We're ready to go to the field,"
Tim said. "My mind is already on ministry, and going back to secular jobs just
to pay the bills doesn't excite us too much."
In the meantime, a missionary
couple in Asia desperately needs the Shepards' help. They minister to 24 minority people groups,
including 18 that have never heard the Gospel. That's one couple with three young children trying to reach over a
million lost people.
The Shepards are needed to help with
training local Christians, discipling new believers, following up with seekers,
and ministry logistics. Sam (not his
real name) says it's time for Southern Baptists to reconsider their priorities.
"It's time for a gut check. Are
we serious about reaching the world or not?" he said. "I've got a list as long
as I am tall of things I need them (the Shepards) to be doing."
In the meantime, the Shepards are
dedicated to their calling. They are
considering the possibility of using their own funds to move to Asia, so they
can learn the language and be ready to start their ministry when the time
"Communism has destroyed souls of
the people; there's no hope," Audrey said. "We want to be a part of sharing
Christ where there are so many who are dying without Him."
In the meantime, she hopes her family's
situation will rouse people to understand the need to spread the message of the
Gospel to people who have no hope.
"I'm happy if that's what will
come of this–" Audrey said, "that people wake up and realize that they need to
give their money to support missions."
To support IMB missionaries, click here.