The Rev. Paul Gibson introduces the Rev. Sharon Koh at the Great Rivers Region mission banquet.
In an act of sacrificial generosity, the American Baptist Churches of the Great Rivers Region (GRR) in Missouri and Illinois earmarked more than $600,000 for the global mission and church planting work of American Baptist International Ministries (IM). This unexpected action was taken at the September 23 and 24, 2016, meeting of the GRR.
The Rev. Sharon Koh, CEO of IM, called the gift “radical kingdom generosity.” Koh stated that she is unaware of any similar decision made by any other affiliated region of the American Baptist Churches USA. Though final distributions have yet to be determined, the bulk of this gift will be invested in the ministries and personalized support of about a dozen IM global servants who have ties to Missouri and Illinois.
“We are deeply grateful for the ABC Great Rivers Region’s response to God’s call and this transformational gift that will have long-lasting impact for those served through IM and our partners,” commented Koh.
By making this gift to IM, the GRR changed its original plan of keeping 90% and giving away 10%. The Rev. Paul Gibson, executive director of the GRR, explained, “It all started a little bit before the World Mission Conference at Green Lake. After listening to missionary after missionary and hearing stories of great need, opportunity and challenge, God started me thinking a little bit differently.
“I felt God telling us to keep the tithe and give Him the 90%, all of it going to missions. I tried to work out something else, but each time I felt God saying, ‘you keep 10% and give me 90%.’” The GRR board agreed. Gibson continued, “This is a bold step of faith by our regional board. They are unanimous and excited about their decision!”
GRR board president for 2016–17 the Rev. Elaine Bolen enthusiastically supports this decision. “It is a great privilege to serve as president of GRR at this exciting time. To see the regional support for the board’s decisions regarding the use of the great gifts the Lord has blessed us with is very uplifting,” she said. “May we be the region that starts a revival in our support of our missionaries worldwide!”
“The Planning and Review Board of the GRR is pleased to support the contribution to IM to be used for the needs of missionaries who have ties to the region,” commented the Rev. Wally Holt, vice president of planning and review. “It is time for American Baptists of the GRR to unite and reach out to the world. We are praising God for the special gifts He has sent us and want to honor Him by sharing with our friends around the world.”
Former president of the GRR board Dr. Bill Steger comments, “What a joy it has been to serve as president of the GRR during a time of great transition and renewal. God has had His hand on us in sending Paul Gibson to lead us, as well as in this act of outrageous generosity.”
The funds are coming from two sources, according to a report released by the region.
An estate that had been in limbo for several years was finally settled in the summer of 2016 and a check arrived in the Springfield, Illinois, resource center to be used at the discretion of the GRR board. After much discussion and an analysis of local and international opportunities, the decision was made to keep only 10% for use in Illinois and Missouri and send 90% to invest in IM’s missionaries, the World Mission Offering and American Baptist Churches USA’s One Great Hour of Sharing.
In a parallel decision, the GRR will soon receive additional funds earmarked for church planting from the sale of church property in Belleview, Illinois. The GRR board decided to send approximately $350,000 to IM for church planting around the world. According to the Rev. Gibson, “We made the decision that, for every dollar that is set aside for church planting here, we would invest a dollar for church planting with IM. So in a couple of months we will have approximately $700,000 in our church planting fund, and half of that will go to IM for planting churches.”