The Southern Baptist Convention’s international missions entity announced this week that it will require its missionaries to be vaccinated against COVID-19, saying it is necessary in order to take the gospel around the world during a global pandemic.
The International Mission Board, which has more than 3,600 field personnel, said the new policy will require IMB missionaries and any children ages 16 and over to be vaccinated before attending “field personnel orientation” before serving internationally. Missionaries returning to the U.S. also must be vaccinated prior to attending a “stateside conference.” Attendance at the orientation and the conference is mandatory for missionaries.
Further, IMB staff who interact with missionaries at the orientation and the conference must be vaccinated.
The International Mission Board said a “growing number of the countries” where missionaries serve “are requiring proof of a COVID-19 vaccine to enter, remain in or exit the country.” In some countries, proof of vaccination is required before traveling on a subway or airplane, or even before entering a mall or restaurant, IMB said.
The new policy, the IMB said, is necessary to “maintain access to unreached peoples and places” and to “advance the gospel.”
The CDC last month approved the Pfizer vaccine for people ages 16 and older.
The IMB already had a policy requiring vaccines for other diseases and illnesses. Since the 1980s – when that policy was implemented – the “number of vaccine-preventable illnesses have significantly decreased among IMB field personnel and their families,” the IMB reported.
“The International Mission Board exists to serve Southern Baptists in carrying out the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations – even to those people in the overpopulated urban cities, even to those in the hardest-to-reach jungles and plains,” said IMB President Paul Chitwood. “And the IMB is pressing forward to share the gospel even in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic that is no respecter of geographical boundaries or human demographics.”
“We must make every wise decision, even when a decision is exceptionally difficult, that maintains our team members’ access to the growing number of unreached peoples and places around the world where vaccines are required for entry,” Chitwood added. “We also want to do all we can to undergird our team members’ spiritual and physical health to maximize our effectiveness as we serve Southern Baptists in our global gospel endeavors.”
More than 200 million Americans – including 75 percent of adults – have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.