The trustees of the International Mission Board gathered Monday at Ridgecrest Conference Center outside of Ashville, North Carolina for the September 2007 Board Meeting. There are over 1,000 retired missionaries who are at Ridgecrest for what many of them told me was "the biggest family reunion in the world." Rachelle and I enjoyed visiting with several missionaries at supper and around the grounds. Some of these men and women are in their 80's and 90's and have made their way to North Carolina to see friends, former colleagues, and other Southern Baptists who have served the Lord overseas. The IMB sets aside a week where we honor these retired missionaries once every five years. At supper, we sat next to a couple who spent forty years in Paraguay, two widows who have a combined service of seventy- five years on the continent of Africa, and a gentlemen who served many years in Russia. The highlight of the evening was when one of the missionaries, his voice choked with emotion, stated, "The hardest part is not deciding to go, but making the decision to leave." As I looked around the table of eight missionaries there was not a dry eye as heads nodded in agreement. Very moving.
The IMB trustees had a closed door forum this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. It has been said often here on this blog that whatever is said behind closed doors at the IMB is confidential in nature - and I am careful to follow this guideline. However, I am not a fan of trustee forums. I believe every item of discussion conducted by an SBC agency should be done in the public eye for all Southern Baptists to see. The only exception to this rule are those things that require secrecy for the protection of level three security missionaries or SBC employees overseas. However, anything that would require the revelation of specific names or locations of these men and women in dangerous regions of the world is rare and can be covered in closed door committee meetings. All other matters, including discussion, debate and dialogue is best conducted in plenary sessions for all Southern Baptists to hear and observe. The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tennessee has set the example for us all by having only a couple of closed door forums in the last several decades. The IMB has a closed door forum every board meeting.
The trustees of the International Mission Board are men and women who desire what is best for the SBC and the kingdom of Christ. Any of us, however, is capable of acting one way in public and another way in private - or saying one thing when people are listening and another when they are not. I am of the opinion that the SBC is a better convention when trustees and leaders say publicly what they feel free to say privately. I don't know if the practice of closed door forums will ever change at the IMB, but it is a goal of mine to see that it does before I am off the board. By the way, I happen to believe the same principle of transparency applies to the state, associational and church level as well.
The rest of the day was filled with the interviewing prospective missionaries. The plenary sessions of the IMB will take place on Wednesday morning and Wednesday afternoon at Ridgecrest. The appointment service will be Wednesday night. The trustees of the IMB are assigned to different regional committees (i.e. Pacific Rim, North Africa and Middle East (NAME), Western Europe, Central Asia, etc.). Regional committee meetings will meet tomorrow. I plan on visiting with some great missionaries who have served the SBC for decades. They have a great deal to teach me.
I will write again of the trustee plenary sessions late Wednesday night and post early Thursday morning.
In His Grace,