La. Baptists launch 'Peace of Jesus'

NEW ORLEANS (BP)--The peace of God seemed to permeate the 161st annual meeting of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, which took place at First Baptist Church in New Orleans, and the pastors' conference that preceded it in Leavell Chapel on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

It was a peace that was palpable, several pastors said, in part because of the words of Chuck Kelley, the seminary's president, who was the first speaker at the pastors' conference and the Bible study leader at the annual meeting.

"Trouble's on its way," Kelley said. "But God's got you in his grip and He's not letting go.... We will always have trouble in our lives, but we will never have a trouble that God will not redeem."

The annual meeting's business sessions were sandwiched between the words of two New Orleans pastors: David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist New Orleans, who brought the convention sermon, and Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, who brought the closing message.

The annual meeting was the first major LBC event in New Orleans since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. At least 300 volunteers joined in the weekend's Crossover New Orleans, a block party mix of activities that led to 175 professions of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, according to Keith Manuel, LBC evangelism associate.

About 250 men and women participated in the LBC Pastors' Conference, and 558 messengers registered for the annual meeting. "Trusting the Unchanging Word in an Ever-Changing World" was the theme of the pastors' conference and "Second Wind: Sharing the Peace of Jesus with New Orleans" was the theme for the annual meeting.

"Second wind refers to the renewed burst of energy athletes get as they approach a goal line," David Hankins, the convention's executive director, said during the opening session of the annual meeting.

Southern Baptists from Louisiana and across the nation continue to pour themselves into disaster relief and recovery ministries, which started within 48 hours of Katrina making landfall. Innumerable seeds of kindness have been sown over the last three years; now it's time for a second wind of blessing, Hankins said.

"We have the opportunity to shine the powerful light of hope and genuine peace in the hearts of people," Hankins said, later adding, "Let's pray the peace of Jesus will blow across New Orleans for the glory of the Lord."

During the meeting, the convention launched a new "Peace of Jesus" initiative to share His peace with New Orleans and eventually with every household in the state by 2020 in a cooperative effort by Louisiana churches to put faith into action.

Louisiana Baptists in partnership with other Southern Baptist congregations across North America have been a major recognizable force in rebuilding neighborhoods and lives in the New Orleans area. Along with the ongoing rebuilding ministries, the initiative will seek to help people discover the sense of peace found through faith in Jesus Christ, as New Orleans churches reach out to their respective neighborhoods in the metro area.

During the convention sermon, Crosby emphasized the value of combining the message of the Gospel with a ministry of hands-on help.

"You can't carry the freight of the Gospel on words alone," Crosby said. "This generation must be shown love, not just words."

Crosby's leadership has been instrumental in the Baptist Crossroads project to build homes in the blighted areas of New Orleans. Thirty homes were completed in the summer and fall of 2006 and 10 more were completed last year to complete the pre-Katrina vision of the original calling to build 40 homes in order to help lift families out of poverty through home ownership.

Eight more homes have been completed since that time and another 17 are in various stages of completion. Yet, according to Crosby, demographers report there are more than 12,000 homeless people in New Orleans.

In other business, messengers unanimously re-elected Mike Holloway, pastor of Cook Baptist Church in Ruston, as president. Tim Johnson, vice president for institutional advancement at Louisiana College, was elected first vice president, and Charles Marceaux, pastor of Broussard Grove Baptist Church in Prairieville, second vice president, both by acclamation.

A budget of $22,519,311 was approved for 2009, a $1,348,485 increase from the 2008 budget, including $8,095,692 in Cooperative Program giving from Louisiana's 1,592 Southern Baptist congregations for national and international missions and ministries -- or 35.95 percent of the budget, up .45 percent over 2008.

"As a result of the mission heart of Louisiana Baptists and their generous spirit, we are able to make greater advance with our cooperative ministries," John Yeats, director of LBC communications, said. "Cooperation is a core value for independent, autonomous Southern Baptist churches. The economy may be sour and a pair of hurricanes hit our state again this year, but God's people called Louisiana Baptists have a passion for reaching people with the Gospel message."

Messengers approved six resolutions without discussion: expression of appreciation to the host church and others involved in the annual meeting; support for the Louisiana Moral and Civic Foundation; on sexual purity for pastors, church and convention leaders; on affirmation of elected officials; on religious liberty; and on the peace of Jesus.

The Louisiana Baptist Convention encompasses 1,592 congregations.

Next year's annual meeting will be Nov. 9-10 at Summer Grove Baptist Church in Shreveport.

Based on reporting by Karen L. Willoughby, managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, and the Louisiana Baptist Convention's communications staff. To watch a video of the Crossover New Orleans outreach preceding the Louisiana Baptist Convention's annual meeting, click here.

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