The Miracle of Five Loaves of Bread and Two Fish

RICHMOND, Va. -- Need a simple answer to a complicated problem? Just ask a child!

The International Mission Board began reporting in January that it was having to make serious budget adjustments because growing support from Southern Baptist churches was not keeping pace with the record numbers of new missionaries coming forward for service. Missions-minded people in all areas of Southern Baptist life began looking for ways to address the funding challenge.

But to a class of 8- and 9-year-old "missionary kids" at the IMB's Missionary Learning Center near Richmond, Va., the solution seemed simple: What if all 16 million Southern Baptist church members gave a dollar each?

The 19 second- and third-graders liked the idea so much that they not only started the collection themselves, but they also challenged other youngsters in the school to help as well.

The 63 students at the Missionary Learning Center raised more than $100 to help the International Mission Board send the missionaries who are being held up for lack of resources.

Kathy Eaton, the teacher for the second- and third-grade class, was touched by the children's sensitivity and understanding.

"Their idea really shows how aware they are of the need," said "Miss Kathy," who also grew up as a child of missionary parents. "The children didn't just want to take care of the shortfall. They were worried about the lack of missionaries going out and want to send even more missionaries with the surplus money that could be raised."

In June, the board announced limits on the number of new workers that will be sent overseas in 2003 and 2004 and eliminated 61 fulltime and part-time stateside staff positions. Both steps were taken after the 2002 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering fell almost $10 million short of its $125 million goal, complicating a financial situation already stressed by declining investment income and a rapidly increasing missionary force.

The IMB's missionary count grew 8.7 percent from 2000 to 2002, but combined income from the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering increased 1.5 percent during the same period.

Approximately 100 candidates who hoped to begin long-term missionary careers this year have been deferred to next year or put on hold. The number of new short-term personnel also will be reduced by 30 percent this year.

The children proved what has always been one of Southern Baptists' greatest strengths: cooperative giving that accomplishes what no one could do alone.

"This project has been a reminder that the smallest person can make an impact when their efforts are added together," Eaton said.