Vaccination against COVID-19 is no longer a board-wide policy for missionary personnel or for stateside-based staff, International Mission Board leaders announced on Wednesday (June 8).
The announcement comes in response to senior leaders’ continual evaluation of the pandemic’s impact on IMB’s work around the world since the beginning of 2020.
Effective immediately, the COVID–19 vaccine is no longer required for IMB overseas personnel except in countries only accessible to fully vaccinated workers. Moreover, a vaccine requirement will no longer exist for any stateside personnel nor for visitors to the IMB’s learning center in the Richmond area.
IMB leaders noted they will continue to monitor the situation but hope no further updates will be necessary.
The goal: health maintained on the field
Desiring to help its team members maintain access to unreached peoples and places and remain healthy as they seek to take the gospel to all nations, the IMB previously announced an updated policy last September for field personnel and staff members related to COVID-19 vaccinations.
The policy addressed the challenges of overseas life and travel requirements for IMB missionary personnel and IMB staff members who travel overseas.
“As I noted last summer, our considerations regarding extremely difficult constraints caused by the pandemic were founded strongly in our assigned mission to serve Southern Baptists in carrying out the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations,” said IMB President Paul Chitwood.
“And like other global companies and organizations, the IMB faced the daunting task of determining how we press forward with our task — to share the gospel — even in the midst of the shifting parameters of the ongoing global pandemic,” he said. “At one point, vaccine requirements for entry into various countries would have left more than 2 billion souls inaccessible to our missionaries.”
Keeping up with changes overseas
Chitwood said leaders have continually evaluated the status of COVID-related impacts on entry to and travel through countries around the world, while they also have tracked the status of the impacts on missionaries’ health and overall wellness.
IMB risk analysts consistently track detailed information about every area of the globe and the impacts of that information on the more than 3,500 global missionaries and their families — including weekly changes to individual countries’ own shifting policies on COVID-19 mandates regarding vaccinations, testing, quarantines and isolation.
Those factors have been constantly shifting since the first COVID–19 cases caught the world’s attention in early 2020.
“We continue to grieve the deaths and other long-term health impacts of some of our own colleagues who have succumbed to the worst possible outcomes due to COVID–19, and we grieve the interruptions our field personnel have endured to their planned ministries,” Chitwood said.
“At the same time, we praise the Lord that we have seen dramatic improvements in how many people’s health is holding strong against COVID-19 exposure,” he said. “And logistically, we’re thankful that many countries’ borders are now open without impacts that would severely limit our personnel’s movements or provide unsustainable financial impacts to our work.”
Flexibility and diligence key
Chitwood also expressed appreciation for IMB’s missionaries and staff who have remained flexible and diligent in their tasks in the ever-changing global landscape created by COVID–19.
“Time and again, we’ve had missionaries report how the Lord has continued to be at work — and allowed Southern Baptists to remain part of that work — around the world during these difficult months,” Chitwood said.
“We’ve seen missionaries and their partners embrace innovative digital strategies for gospel advance in Asia and the Pacific Rim,” he noted. “We’ve seen doors open where our Send Relief personnel have provided compassionate care for South Africans. We’ve seen missionaries’ children greeting their neighbors with bright, personal messages of encouragement in South America. And the list goes on and on.”
“Southern Baptists, I hope you will join me in your gratitude for missionaries who are willing to put themselves in difficult places to do a hard job,” Chitwood added.
“And I also hope you will recommit to undergirding these personnel in daily prayer and generous support as they faithfully continue fording the rivers to access the hard-to-reach places,” he said, “climbing the stairs of the vast urban apartment complexes, and building the one-on-one relationships that bring the good news to some of the 157,690 people around the globe who die daily without Christ.”
For more information about IMB’s part in global gospel advance, visit IMB.org.
EDITOR’S NOTE–This story was originally written by Julie McGowan and published by the International Mission Board.