Baptists in Nazareth upset by IMB plan

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    Associated Baptist Press

    May 6, 2005

    Baptists in Nazareth upset by IMB plan to sell building now used by churches

    By Greg Warner

    NAZARETH, Israel (ABP) -- Baptists in Nazareth, Israel, are upset with plans of the International Mission Board to sell a 50-year-old stone building which a local Baptist church uses for worship and other churches use for various ministries.

    The two-story building, valued at $400,000 by the IMB, was built in the 1950s by the IMB, the Southern Baptist Convention's foreign missions agency, for use as a residence for missionaries. Now that IMB missionaries are no longer assigned to Nazareth, the building will be sold and the profits used for missionary residences elsewhere in the world, the IMB told Associated Baptist Press.

    Bader Mansour, a lay leader and treasurer of the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel, said the top floor served as a missionary residence until several years ago. The bottom floor has long been used as meeting space for local churches and for ministries to residents of Nazareth and nearby Galilee, he told ABP in an e-mail.

    "In the mid-1990s, the IMB adopted a policy of disengaging from supporting or cooperating with local Baptist churches," Mansour said in an article on the website comeandsee.com, published by a group of Arab Christians in Israel. "The Baptists in Israel maintain that Southern Baptists through the decades have given their tithes and offerings for purchasing property in Israel. In their view, selling this property is not only not ethical but poor stewardship as well. They say the IMB should be protecting their investment in the land, not selling off properties in order to raise money for projects elsewhere."

    The IMB has given local Baptists until May 15 to purchase the building before placing it on the market, Mansour said.

    Anita Bowden, a spokesperson for the International Mission Board, said the proposed sale is consistent with IMB policy for use of buildings originally built as missionary residences. Proceeds go into a global capital fund for missionary housing. "This is simply a normal procedure for us when a building is not needed for a residence anymore," she said.

    In this case, however, the local Baptists "don't want us to sell; they want us to give it to them," she added.

    On the other hand, IMB-owned properties that were "purchased for ministry" are routinely "turned over to responsible Baptist entities overseas," IMB president Jerry Rankin said in a recent statement to employees. "We could never provide enough capital funds for housing the growing numbers of new missionaries going to new frontier assignments if we didn't utilize resources from missionary housing that is no longer needed," Rankin added. "It's a matter of stewardship."

    The IMB is asking $400,000 for the building. Mansour said the "spacious villa" is worth $600,000. It was built with locally mined limestone and offers "an incomparable view of the city of Nazareth," he added.

    "Odd as this may sound, when it comes to Christian-owned property, the phrase 'property for sale' is simply unheard of in the Jewish state of Israel," Mansour wrote in the website article. "Once property is sold, it is lost to the Christian community and can no longer be used for [God's] purposes. Nazareth is a unique location, of course, because Jesus grew up here. And it is therefore our position that it is of strategic importance that the Christian and Baptist witness be maintained in this city by saving the property that belongs to a Christian evangelical institution."
     

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