'Annie' givers receive NAMB’s thanks
PHOENIX (BP)--The North American Mission Board honored more than 160 representatives of small and large churches who were among the top givers to the 2010 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions during a luncheon at the Southern Baptist Convention.
NAMB invited the top givers in each Southern Baptist association, in terms of both total and per capita giving.
"One of the great blessings of being the president of the North American Mission Board this past year is the opportunity to go to different states and see our missionaries," NAMB President Kevin Ezell told the luncheon guests June 14 at the Phoenix Convention Center.
"My eyes have been opened to their impact. You have every reason to be very proud of the missionaries you support," Ezell said. "They are sacrificially serving. We know they are doing it on the Lord's behalf, but it's an incredible testimony to your faithfulness."
First Baptist Church in Cary, N.C., whose pastor, Jay Huddleston, attended the luncheon, demonstrated that faithfulness by surpassing their offering goal by $20,000.
"We are an Acts 1:8 church," Huddleston said. "We believe in not only reaching the area where God has planted us -- but Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. … [W]e know that our nation needs the Gospel. That's why we put such an emphasis on the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering."
Also among the pastors whose churches were honored by NAMB was a bivocational pastor whose missions roots go back to his own conversion as a young "military kid." Steve Thompson, pastor of Birmingham Baptist Church in Birmingham, Mo., was saved through the ministry of a Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) missionary in the Philippines.
"Missionaries -- whether they're international or North American -- have always been special to me," Thompson said. "Although I'm a product of IMB's ministry, that bleeds over into support for missions in general."
The luncheon attendees were introduced to two of NAMB's church planting missionaries in challenging assignments in North America.
Through both video and live testimony, missionary Jacques Avakian shared the story of a young man in Montreal whom Avakian led to Christ and is discipling.
"The first time he walked into our church he was shaking," Avakian said. "He came to see me after the service and literally was trembling. I put my arm around his shoulder and I asked, 'What's wrong?' He said, 'I'm afraid no one will love me.' I said, 'Don't worry. We'll love you here just the way you are.'"
Avakian serves as a church planter and church-planter strategist in the most unreached area of North America, the Canadian province of Quebec. He told luncheon attendees that the highly connected mix of language and religion makes reaching Quebecois particularly difficult. When a Quebecois becomes a follower of Jesus Christ, they're often seen as a traitor to the French-speaking people of Canada.
Avakian's wife Martine shared the story of her French-speaking Quebecois family who came to Christ while she was young. Her grandfather disinherited her father after the family's decision.
"I want to thank you on behalf of the Francophones you are reaching through [NAMB missionaries] because I am one of them who got saved because someone shared the Gospel," Martine Avakian said.
Then NAMB missionary Shaun Pillay told of his journey from South Africa to Connecticut to start a church. Pillay had been in a 2005 conference in England when the speaker told the African delegation about the great spiritual needs in Europe and North America.
Shortly after getting married the next year, he and his wife Deshni packed their belongings into a couple of suitcases and left to start a church in Norwich, Conn., where less than 2 percent of the population are evangelicals.
The first person Pillay led to Christ was an inner-city Norwich drug dealer named David Holland. His conversion made such a stir in Norwich that police officers noted -- nine months after he turned his life over to Christ -- the changed life they'd seen in Holland. "If your God can change your life, please pray that your God can clean up our city from drugs," a police officer told Holland.
"I want to thank those who gave [to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering] and made it possible for people like my pastor, Shaun, to come and plant churches and take people like me out of the darkness and bring us into the light," said Holland, whom Pillay brought onto the stage at the end of the luncheon to a roar of applause from the audience.
The missionary stories seemed to make their mark on many of the pastors in attendance, bringing some to tears.
"I've been to many, many luncheons and banquets, but this one I think has blessed me more than any," Huddleston said. "This isn't theoretical. This is real life. These are testimonies of lives that have been touched and changed."
Southern Baptists gave more than $54.3 million to the 2010 Annie Armstrong offering. Ezell announced that Alabama churches had once again given more than any other state to the offering. North Carolina churches gave the second most to the offering.
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.