Baptist mission battle
The saying that the Internet is written in ink is meant to describe the permanent status of web content, and for the Independent Baptist Mission for Asians, that reality has resulted in a nearly two-year legal battle to keep its organization’s reputation intact.
Located on Masonic Park Road in Devola, the IMBA is an international nonprofit based in Marietta that serves as a clearinghouse for hundreds of baptist missionaries. They work to build churches in the Philippines, taking in funding from churches and donors across America and distributing funds from about 4,000 checks per year.
For the past two years, the organization has been battling what administrators think is a disgruntled ex-missionary who has been distributing and posting a document full of a series of accusations against the mission and its leaders.
“It’s a lot of misconstrued stuff, and this person has been taking details and twisting them, and none of it is true,” said Philip Fair, who serves as IBMA’s communications director. “We’ve had an attorney trying to help us narrow down where it’s coming from and is trying to get it taken down.”
The document has been posted on a few unnamed blogs and public forums accusing leaders of a range of “immoral” activities, from adultery to withholding donations for personal gain to taking tuition money from Marietta Bible College students, with which IBMA works closely.
“This guy, whoever he is, has been creating all types of emails that aren’t attached to our guys but have their names to it,” Fair said.
Church leaders became suspicious when they first caught wind of the document because the given sources of the information are always names of real missionaries who are also accused later on in the document.
“Why would someone accuse themselves of doing all of these things?” Fair said. “But the fake email addresses have our missionaries’ names in them, so they look real.”
Fair said for about a year and a half, IBMA has had a lawyer on the case trying to attach a name or location to the blog postings, and besides finding a few ex-missionaries who have claimed to have no part in it, IBMA has had no luck stopping it.
In 1984, IBMA founder and Filipino native Emmanuel Quizon came to the U.S. looking to build churches when he met Myron Guiler, the pastor of the Marietta Bible Center, while traveling.
“Our first meeting was held in his office, and we made (Guiler) the president,” said Fair, who also served on the original board for IBMA. “We only had three families at the time and everything was run out of a briefcase.”
The goal was to start a base out of Marietta so that local churches, like the Marietta Bible Center, which is still an active partner, could support missionaries who wanted to build churches in the Philippines.
“It’s an accountability station, so when people give, their money can be distributed,” Fair said.
The IBMA, which is housed in what used to be a Christian school, contains its own chapel, dorm rooms, kitchen, bathrooms and recreational areas.
“While missionaries are here in America, they have a place to stay,” Fair said.
Through a computer-based accounting system, IBMA processes some 4,000 checks that come in from all over in increments as small as $25 and as much as several thousand dollars, and tracks and distributes the money to missionaries to build churches. It takes about a 10 percent fee, or none if the amount is $250 or less, to help maintain its facilities.
“It’s their money, not ours,” Fair said, as the IBMA currently has about 400 missionary families that have built more than 1,000 churches since its founding.
Leftover money is put into the Nehemiah Project, a separate fund missionaries can tap into to build an extra church where they see fit.
Along with its 400 missionary families, the IBMA’s presence has helped contribute to the nearly 60 percent proportion of Filipino students that enroll at Marietta Bible College, where they are trained and eventually can be sent back through IBMA for work overseas.
“My three siblings are all missionaries too, and I’m the youngest,” said Roxanne Espinosa, 20, a Filipino student at the bible college who also volunteers at IBMA. “When I go back I’m going to be a teacher in the Philippines for small children.”
Filipino missionary Leonardo Mallari has been involved with IBMA for nearly 20 years.
“Before I came here I was already involved as a national pastor, but once I got here I have helped build about 10 churches,” he said. “Then, we train young people to duplicate what we’re doing, and IBMA has helped us plant all of these churches.”
Mallari’s experience and dedication has allowed him to gain about $1,000 a month in support as a missionary, while Fair said the cost to build a small concrete church in the Philippines is approximately $7,000.
Mallari said the goal of IBMA is to serve as a sort of accountant so that missionaries can focus on their primary goals.
“This way, we can concentrate on the ministry fully,” he said. “We’re able to spread the money and the ministry support from this country to build these churches.”