Michael Loftis has concluded his service as president of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, according to an announcement by the ABWE board on June 7.

“The board unanimously decided it would be best to seek a new president,” said board chairman Ron Berrus in the official statement. “We want to assure you that these decisions were not spontaneous or rushed. They were made after much prayer, deep discussion, careful analysis and a unanimous conclusion that was fully affirmed by Dr. Loftis, with his complete support and confidence in the board.”

The board statement expressed appreciation to Dr. Loftis and his wife, Jo Beth, for their 13 years as missionaries in Eastern Europe and 10 years in leading the mission, commending his “unquestioned moral and financial integrity, giftedness, and a great passion for the cause of Christ worldwide.”

Dr. Al Cockrell has been named as interim executive administrator for the mission, resigning from his former role as trustee to take the interim position. Formerly a church planter, Cockrell was a senior consultant with Injoy, John Maxwell’s church leadership training organization.

Ron Berrus says the board is assembling a transition team to search for a new president, a process that he estimates could take 18 months or longer. The committee will include board representatives, emeritus board members, missionary representatives, and staff from the ABWE home office leadership.

ABWE Ministries does not have any formal organizational ties to the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches. However, many of its missionaries are sent and supported by GARBC churches.

At the same time the ABWE board is moving through a leadership transition, it is also addressing a tragedy that was reported in the media. On May 19 the ABWE board announced its agreement with a nonprofit advocacy group that investigates child abuse in ministry organizations. Known as GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), the group will investigate reports from several Bangladesh missionary children who were abused at Memorial Christian Hospital, Malumghat, Bangladesh. Donn Ketcham, a missionary doctor with ABWE, was terminated from missionary service in 1989 after he confessed to sexual abuse of a 14-year old girl. He later admitted to sexual affairs and inappropriate relationships with missionary nurses. These incidents, which were not fully reported to his supporting churches, occurred before Dr. Loftis became president of ABWE. The mission agency offered a formal apology in March for the way it handled the situation.

“It is obvious that our leadership was greatly concerned for sparing Donn Ketcham’s family any additional public disgrace, but such concern came at the high cost of ignoring the needs of the innocent MKs and others who had suffered at his hands,” the board said in its apology.

Berrus said the GRACE investigation is expected to take eighteen months, and that the ABWE board will not make formal statements during the ongoing process. “I’m very concerned that we care appropriately for the MKs and not do anything that would potentially cause harm to them or our relationship to them,” Berrus says.

The Loftis transition was not the result of the ongoing abuse investigation, Berrus told the Baptist Bulletin, adding that no other ABWE staff members are included in the board’s action.

The presidential transition statement called the decisions “some of the most difficult we have faced as a board.” While the board did not specify a reason for the transition, it said “the response of Dr. Loftis has been Christ-like, humble, and affirming. We are all confident that God has led us in this decision.”

Berrus repeated this in his later interview, saying, “We want churches to know that we love and appreciate Dr. Loftis and JoBeth. There is no question about their moral, spiritual, or financial integrity. We deeply appreciate their ministry.”

The board is now searching for a new president “who has the same vision and passion as Dr. Loftis,” Berrus says. “ABWE’s worldwide ministry will continue to be what we have always been—emphasizing evangelism, church planting, and leadership training.”