Coronavirus could cause missionary relocations, IMB chief says

Tamiko Jones. (right), executive director-treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union of Texas, and David Mahfouz (2nd from right), pastor of First Baptist Church in Warren, join other Baptists from Texas in praying for Paul Chitwood, president of the International Mission Board, during a Feb. 27 chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. (Photo / Ken Camp)


FORT WORTH—The Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board is monitoring the spread of the coronavirus and has offered personnel options for redeployment, IMB President Paul Chitwood told a gathering in Fort Worth.

Chitwood preached in chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on Feb. 27 and spoke at an on-campus luncheon.

During a question-and-answer period following his presentation at the lunch meeting, a person in the audience asked Chitwood how the mission board is responding to the coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19.

The IMB has a crisis response team in place that is monitoring the situation closely on a day-to-day basis, Chitwood said.

“For missionaries who are at the epicenter of the virus, in places where the risk is high and also where interaction with other human beings has almost been totally shut down, what we have said to them is, ‘If you have small children or health issues, we want you somewhere else quickly,’” Chitwood said.

“To others, we have said, ‘We will put the option to you, but we do have other places in the world where we could be using you for a season, where you could actually be interacting with people a lot more than in areas where the virus is active.’ So, some of them have chosen to go, and others have chosen to stay.”

‘Dramatic effect’ on travel

The spread of the virus is having a “dramatic effect” on missionary travel and access to certain areas, he noted.

“We are all-hands-on-deck monitoring it,” he said.

The U.S. State Department elevated the travel advisory for South Korea to Level 3 after the government there reported cases within the country and upgraded its response level to “grave,” he noted.

Sign up for our weekly edition and get all our headlines in your inbox on Thursdays

On Jan. 30, the director-general of the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of COVID-19 constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Chitwood requested prayer for missionary personnel in affected areas. He particularly asked Baptists to pray for Chinese Christians—both those in affected areas and those living in other parts of the world who have family members in areas where the virus is active.

‘Much Great Commission work to be done’

In his chapel sermon, Chitwood pointed seminary students and guests to consider the heavenly vision recorded in Revelation 7:9-10, in which a “vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language” is gathered before God’s throne, worshipping the Lamb who was slain for their salvation.

Christ has delayed his return and left his followers on Earth so that the vision can be accomplished, Chitwood said.

“Why would the Lord, who loves his sons and daughters, whom he has adopted into his family, not bring us home to be with him? Because there are others,” he said. “The Lord has left us here for them.”

Chitwood challenged his audience to remember a significant number—155,252. He asserted that is how many people will die on any given day and enter eternity spiritually lost.

“There is still much Great Commission work to be done,” Chitwood said. “And that’s why you’re here.”

Five-year goals outlined

At the luncheon following the chapel service, Chitwood spoke to a crowd that included representatives of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Woman’s Missionary Union of Texas, Texas Baptist Men and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Emphasizing the IMB’s desire to “reconnect with Southern Baptists,” Chitwood outlined the board’s five-year plan:

  • Send out an additional 500 fully funded international missionaries and mobilize 500 global partners.
  • Engage 75 global cities in comprehensive missions strategies. About 80 percent of the world’s population will live in urban centers by the end of the century, he noted.
  • Involve 75 percent of Southern Baptist churches in praying for missionaries and giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Currently, about half of the churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention give to the offering, he reported.
  • Increase gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering 6 percent annually, which would amount to $10 million to $12 million per year.

We seek to connect God’s story and God’s people around the world. To learn more about God’s story, click here.

Send comments and feedback to Eric Black, our editor. For comments to be published, please specify “letter to the editor.” Maximum length for publication is 300 words.

More from Baptist Standard