IMB personnel accept VRI, continue serving
    November 30 2015 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor

    Missionaries considering the voluntary retirement incentive (VRI) from the International Mission Board (IMB) need prayers. Marty and Melissa Childers and Isaiah* and Josie Gabdon*, who have opted to take the VRI, have requested fellow believers surround those who made the decision in prayer.


    BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle
    Marty and Melissa Childers are praying about what God has for them next.

    “Many of them don’t have any idea what they’re going to go to,” Isaiah said.
    Both couples feel fortunate to have been in the United States when the VRI was announced in September. The IMB has not revealed how many have agreed to take the VRI, which was announced in September. An early goal the IMB set was 600-800 people.

    North Carolina roots

    Melissa and Marty are natives of North Carolina. She grew up in Durham while he was raised in Hildebran. They met at Gardner-Webb University.
    When he graduated and started a master of divinity degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in Wake Forest, she transferred to University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to finish her degree.
    They were first called to missions at a Fort Caswell event, where they had taken youth for a weeklong retreat.
    Melissa recounts a missionary couple from Chile who were retiring. The woman shared, “We know we can retire because we know God is calling out more people.”
    When they contacted the Foreign Mission Board (now IMB), they only accepted career missionaries 25 and older. The Childers were told to “grow up” and get some pastoral experience. She was 21; he was 23.
    A few weeks after their decision at camp, Marty and Melissa prayed for the willingness to do whatever God called them to, even pastoral ministry.
    The next day he received a call from a small church in Virginia looking for a pastor. Two weeks later, he preached at the church. In another two weeks, the church offered him the job. He served as pastor four and a half years.
    They had two sons, Jeremy and Caleb, and in 1988 were appointed. By the end of the year, they were in Costa Rica for language school.
    While they started as church planters in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, their ministry was varied over the years.
    Marty realized the need to equip nationals and began pouring himself into training in the mid-1990s. In the early 2000s, Melissa had a vision to start a Christian coffee house, which led to a Bible study with eight young men in their home. Those men began to bring their girlfriends, parents and even grandparents until 45 people were meeting in their home. “It was a lot of work,” she said. “We were busy all the time.”
    When the IMB started narrowing their focus to the 10/40 window – a term used to describe regions of the eastern and western hemisphere between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator with little to no Christian population – the Childers prayed about several places they might serve, but each time they felt God telling them to stay.
    In 2007, ministry was booming. Marty said churches were being planted and the coffee house had grown. Someone asked what the hardest thing would be for the Childers. They both said, “Go back to the United States.”
    They were asked to become a personalizer for South America. That role would bring them to the U.S. to develop partnerships with churches. They lived in Hillsborough from 2007 to 2010. In July 2010 IMB asked them to remain in the same role but in September requested they cluster developing partnerships on the field.
    Their heart for unreached peoples led them to Mexico. Marty supervised 65 missionaries in 14 countries and traveled about 150 days a year.
    About a year ago, IMB asked the Childers to return to a personalizer role in the United States. What they thought was going to be a three-year position turned into a one-year position with the possibility of extending.
    “You’ve got all these employees,” Marty said. “You’ve only got so many, and you can only put them in so many places. Our calling hasn’t changed. The location of living out that calling is going to change.”
    Since David Platt, IMB’s president, asked the missionaries to pray about staying or leaving, Marty said the decision has not been easy.
    “In fact, we’ve been through the gamut of emotions,” he said.
    IMB’s decision wasn’t unexpected. For several years the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has fallen short of its goal. IMB leaders tried to supplement the needed revenue by selling properties.
    Marty stressed support for Platt. “This was not an easy decision for him,” he said.
    Soon, Melissa will finish her degree at SEBTS (master of arts in biblical counseling). Their son, Caleb, lives in Carrboro with his wife. Jeremy, their oldest child, resides in Riverside, Calif., with his wife and two children. Melissa’s father is 83 and lives in Durham. His health issues have been a concern and were part of the decision to stay in the U.S.
    At age 54, Marty is learning how to make a résumé. While he doesn’t feel God is calling him to be a senior pastor, they are trying to remain open to God’s plan for them, he said. They feel they would like to serve at a church, perhaps in the role of missions pastor.
    They are staying at Durham Memorial Baptist Church’s mission house as long as they need it. “We’re not going to be homeless,” Marty said. “Their support has been amazing.”
    In talking about the VRI, Marty used the pruning analogy from scripture.
    “Sometimes you have to cut things off in order for it to bear fruit,” Marty said. “I just feel like we’re going to look back and be amazed at what God was doing through this.”
    One of the pastors Marty encountered shortly after the VRI was announced said the decision was really more a statement about the conditions of our churches.
    “It goes beyond the IMB,” Marty said. “Our desire is that our Southern Baptist churches will wake up and make [missions] a priority. I hope we’ll look back in 10-15 years and say, ‘Wow, look what God was doing.’”

    Missionaries to South Asia

    Isaiah and Josie were raised overseas. Isaiah’s parents served in Latin America, and Josie’s were in East Africa. She was in Africa from age 9 through high school. The Gabdons met at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
    “When we were at [Southwestern] we felt together that the Lord was calling us to serve overseas,” Isaiah said. “We had both felt a strong call from Him, but He really affirmed that together.”
    Their call to the international mission field was delayed when their first son had a brain hemorrhage that led to cerebral palsy. Their second son was extremely healthy when born, but was diagnosed with cancer as a baby. “God just really grew us a lot, and we really see how He has led us and grown us through different chapters in our lives,” Isaiah said.
    Isaiah and Josie worked mainly with Muslim peoples in rural settings.
    “The peoples that we worked with really had no access to not only the gospel but to health care,” Josie said. “I really believe that God called me to be a nurse so that I could help people with their whole health, not just their physical health but their spiritual health as well.”
    They developed resources in local languages like Bible stories and radio programs.
    The Gabdons also adopted their daughter from the country where they served. They credited the children with opening many doors to share the gospel.
    When the boys finished high school, Isaiah and Josie were mobilizing churches to be involved in South Asia from the United States. When they returned to South Asia, they moved to a more urban setting where Josie was training IMB personnel and national partners in using health strategies throughout the region.
    About a year and a half ago, the couple was asked to return stateside to assume roles of interviewing candidates.
    They thought they would be doing that for one term (three years) and by then, their daughter would be graduated from high school and settled in college before the couple would return overseas.
    Their plans did not include a VRI announcement.
    “I think one of the really difficult things has been that we didn’t want some of the positive and the real benefits of being in the U.S. – to be near family, to be with our daughter when she goes into college instead of having to leave her and go across the world again – we didn’t want those kinds of things to be confused with having a ‘sense of peace’ you know?” Isaiah said. “But on the other hand we didn’t want the grief that we felt to be confused with a sense of unsettledness or a check in our spirit.”
    He shared about their Imago Dei Church family in Raleigh and their support. The couple had not planned to retire for another 10-15 years, so “we really had to step back and really pray and really ask God ‘What are you doing now?’” Josie said.
    They asked advice of elders in their current church as well as friends and people who have walked with them in ministry through the years.
    The Gabdons refer to the VRI as the Voluntary Redeployment Incentive. They both stressed the IMB’s generosity during this uncertain time.
    The Childers and Gabdons both have benefited from being in the States at the time of the announcement. That has made the transition easier. Because of their work with nationals in South Asia, the Gabdons have been helping their church as well as others reach internationals in the Raleigh-Durham area.
    “We want to help in any way we can,” Isaiah said. “We’re not walking away from that call. We want to be using this here and the ways in which He has ordained.”
    Josie has accepted a position using her nursing and ministry skills.

    How can people pray?

    The job load for the remaining missionaries is changing. Melissa requested prayers for those missionaries. They are losing family, and some might feel overwhelmed with taking on more responsibility.
    Missionaries returning to the States will also be battling the feeling of abandoning nationals.
    Some of the people returning have spent a majority of their adult lives overseas. Many returning missionaries haven’t prepared a resume in quite a while.
    Isaiah encouraged churches and individuals who have job opportunities as well as housing or vehicle options available to contact the IMB transition team:
    *Name changed.
    (EDITOR’S NOTE – K. Allan Blume, BR editor, contributed to this story.) 

    11/30/2015 2:13:24 PM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor | with 3 comments
    Filed under: IMB, international missions, VRI

Brent Hobbs
These stories are multiplied many times over. I'm so thankful for the work our IMB personnel have invested over the years. Let's all pray for transitions like these, for increased giving, and for realistic, sustainable future growth so we don't have to see this kind of thing again.

I believe the IMB is setting us on that course now, and that a dramatic course correction would have been nearly impossible until now, with the financial downturn in 2007 coming at the end of Rankin's tenure and seeming like a temporary situation at that time. And I don't think Tom Elliff felt the freedom to take drastic steps like these for several reasons, along with the fact there was still the hope that giving and income might return to a place where the number of missionaries (considering natural attrition and lower appointment rates) could be sustained.

Platt should be commended for his courage and determination to get us back to a place where we're living 'within our means' in the current financial reality.

I'm glad we were able to keep as many personnel on the field as long as we did. They were at work and God was at work through them all through that time. Imagine if we had made some kind of dramatic drawdown around 2010 and the economy had picked back up and giving had increased noticeably. A year or two later we would have realized it was a mistake to bring home so many people.

The only disappointment we should feel now is that so many workers who are so valuable in their contexts are having to come home now. And let's come together and give sacrificially so we can sustain and grow our overseas presence from this point forward.
12/2/2015 9:42:31 AM

Don Smith
Praise God for those who serve Him as missionaries at home and abroad! Thank you BR for this informative and well written story. We ALL need to pray for guidance in how the Lord would have us assist there in their new redeployment.
12/2/2015 7:59:56 AM

Faye Downs
I am so thankful the these precious people who have given their lives to serve the Lord across the world. I pray for our churches to wake up to the need of our IMB. I pray for God's leading in the lives of these precious couples.
12/2/2015 7:58:15 AM

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