That is the acronym that has dominated most of our thinking the past couple of months. VRI stands for Voluntary Retirement Incentive. It is the International Mission Board’s (IMB) solution to the growing gap we have had between our budget needs and the amount of money that has been coming in from Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (our two sources of income).
In short, it translates to about 600 to 800 missionaries being asked to retire early in order to allow us to be able to live within our budget. Over the last few years we as an organization have had about a $20 million shortfall each year in meeting our budget, and we have offset this with budget cuts and property sales. We are reaching the point where this is no longer sustainable and our leadership has decided that the best way to handle this is to retire 800 or our 4800 missionaries. In order to accomplish this, they actually lowered the retirement age to 50 and 5+ years of service. Needless to say we were all blown away and now everyone that qualifies (we don’t… we are 49 and hanging on J) is praying through whether God would have them take this. If they don’t have enough folks take this, then they will have a time of voluntary “hand raising” for those of us who are left, to see who would be willing to leave in order to get down to the number we can afford to keep on the field.
Suzie and I have no plans to leave and still feel like God has us here for a reason. However, we are all dealing with the fallout of this. Fewer missionaries on the field means less people reached and more work for the rest of us. Since they are starting with voluntary retirement it means we are losing lots of experienced people and it will make us the “old folks,” with everyone looking to us for direction. Already most of those who are in leadership above me have taken the VRI and now we are not sure what the structure will look like in the future. We have been through several “reorganizations” in our 18 years with the IMB, but this one is by far the biggest and the most drastic. It will take many months for the dust to settle and by the time it is all over it will be a very different organization.
Some things never change, though… Billions are still lost and need to hear the gospel… God is still calling people into his harvest… His Kingdom is advancing, and the urgency for us to stay faithful and for the church to rise up and go to the world is greater than it has ever been. What can you do in the midst of all of this upheaval and uncertainty? I would ask you to pray. Pray for us; pray that we will hang in there, that we will know how to lead in discouraging times, and that we will have wisdom from God on how to do more with less. I would ask you to give… and to promote giving with everyone you meet. We are entering into the Lottie Moon Christmas offering season and we need record giving. Pray with us that God would wake up His church and move them to action. We need you to join us. In these days of losing so many career missionaries, it is important for the church to fill that gap and explore ways in which they can partner with us to reach the world. We need our friends, family and prayer partners to have a focus that goes beyond their Jerusalem, but also sees it as their job to (in some way) go to the uttermost parts of the earth. We are here, waiting on you and ready to help as you step forward. Thank you all for all that you have done in the past, and we trust you, our prayer partners, to stand with us as we face the days ahead. This has been painful, but I am hopeful and believe that God is up to something big, and one day we will look back and see his sovereignty in everything.