Okla. Baptists mark 40 years of disaster relief
BROKEN ARROW, Okla. (BP) -- A sea of yellow shirts greeted those attending the opening session of the 107th annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma at First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow as the 40th anniversary of Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief was celebrated.
The celebration was marked with hundreds of disaster relief volunteers dressed in their trademark yellow shirts, vests and jackets on hand, with a portion of the BGCO's DR fleet of trucks and vehicles on display in the parking lot for the community to tour and see.
"The annual meeting is always a great opportunity for Oklahoma Baptists to come together and celebrate God's blessings and His vision for the year ahead," said Anthony Jordan, BGCO executive director. "This year is especially important as we celebrate 40 years of serving Oklahoma and the nation through our disaster relief efforts."
Since it was founded in 1973, Oklahoma Baptists' disaster relief operation has trained and mobilized more than 5,200 volunteers who have served in nearly every major disaster recovery effort, including a response to 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and most recently the Moore, Okla., tornadoes and Colorado floods.
BGCO Disaster Relief Director Sam Porter recognized all of the DR volunteers in attendance. Jordan presented service awards to BGCO disaster relief founder Laddie Adams, a member of Council Road Baptist Church in Bethany, and Gene Jones, a member of First Baptist Church in Anadarko, for 40 years of service.
Attendees viewed a video documentary on the first 40 years of disaster relief (viewable at www.bgco.org) and heard words of congratulations by video from notable leaders including Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating and Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, whose home was cleaned up by Oklahoma Baptists after Hurricane Katrina.
Six-hundred-forty-three messengers representing cooperating churches participated in the annual meeting Nov. 11-12. Presenters at the meeting included Jordan, Larry Nigh, pastor of Northeast Baptist Church in Ponca City, who delivered the annual sermon, and BGCO President Nick Garland, pastor of First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow.
Ron Fannin, BGCO senior associate executive director, was honored with a reception. Fannin will retire next year. The theme of the annual meeting was "Serve," based on Matthew 23:11, "The greatest among you will be your servant."
Jordan, in his annual address, used Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 to offer a "spiritual antibody" for many churches in the state that have "emptiness of soul" and have plateaued or declined.
Honing in on just two points, Jordan said that to serve others, believers must "love God with a whole heart. And to do that, I have to first understand how much God loves me.
"My prayer for Oklahoma Baptists is exactly what Paul prayed.... It is that God would pull the scales back from my own eyes and allow me to understand the depth of Your unconditional love, demonstrated to me not when I was wanting it ... but You came to me when I was unloving, You came to me when I was rebellious and when I was a sinner and You loved me with a whole love that overflows like a mighty rushing river, and I was washed away by Your love.... Help me comprehend the depth, the height, the width of Your amazing love."
Second, Jordan said, simply to "love everybody."
During his president's address, Garland said the greatest title a Christian could have is "servant." In his opening remarks, he said, "Jesus our master said these words to us: 'Don't be like those Pharisees. They do everything they do to be observed by men.'"
Speaking from Matthew 23:8-12, Garland gave historical descriptions of slavery and the humbling process a slave endured, and he connected that to what Jesus Christ came to Earth to do for His followers. He reminded those in attendance of the words the Lord will say in the last days of those who faithfully do the work of the Father: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
Nigh concluded the meeting with the annual sermon. He spoke from Acts 16 and applied the annual meeting theme of "Serve" by challenging messengers to go where the people are, target the hearts of all people and focus on making new disciples. He said churches should overcome the mentality that people will come to them. Instead, Nigh said, figure out how to go and serve people in the communities where churches are located.
Addressing a common statement of "thinking outside the box," as far as getting church members involved in reaching communities, Nigh said, "Some people don't know we 'have a box' let alone can't think outside of it."
"Kingdom growth is making new converts, not taking members from other churches," Nigh said. He emphasized the purpose of all church work should be based on a two-part question: "How can I serve you, and how can I tell you about Jesus Christ?"
Messengers conducted key business, including electing a slate of officers and approving 11 resolutions.
The Monday evening business session featured reports from the BGCO nominating and finance committees. Randall Kemp of First Baptist Church in Seminole, presented a motion to approve the 2014 financial plan, which had been previously approved by the BGCO board of directors, and his motion was unanimously approved.
Messengers approved a 2014 budget of $26.5 million, which is up 3.5 percent over the current year. Oklahoma Baptists will continue to forward 46 percent, or $10.6 million, to Southern Baptist national and international missions and ministries and will use 54 percent, or $12.4 million, for ministries in Oklahoma. The BGCO designates 13.2 percent of its budget, or $3.5 million, as shared expenses.
On Tuesday, Nick Garland was re-elected to a second term as BGCO president. Andy Taylor, pastor of First Baptist Church in Ponca City, was elected to a one-year term as BGCO first vice president, and Will Wilson Jr., pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Tecumseh, was elected to a one-year term as second vice president. Taylor preached a sermon at the 2013 Pastors' Conference on Monday.
One resolution expressed appreciation to the host church. Messengers also approved a resolution praising "past and present" disaster relief volunteers and offered words of congratulations on the 40th anniversary.
Messengers approved a resolution on small group ministry which stated, "We aim to reconnect Oklahoma Baptists with Sunday School and small group ministry. Sunday School/small group ministry continues to be the best, most proven means for organizing the church to reach the lost for Christ, caring for members and mobilizing for ministry."
Another resolution called for prayer and spiritual awakening, and another addressed immigration, stating that Oklahoma Baptists affirm that "all people are created in the image of God, [and] commit ourselves to treat all people with the love of Christ, ministering to their human needs and seeking to share the good news of Christ regardless of their legal status. We also commit ourselves to follow the biblical mandate to pray for our national leaders to find a wise, just and compassionate resolution to the immigration issue in the near future."
Messengers encouraged church members to help with foster care and adoption with a resolution and upheld the meaning of marriage in another resolution. "We ... recognize marriage is under attack from without and within the church. We recommit to taking no part in pornography, meanwhile actively seeking to curb divorce and cohabitation which threaten to weaken families within the church. Based on convictions from the Scriptures, we oppose any efforts to re-define marriage, recognizing it is the union of one man and one woman joined by God for life."
Also receiving unanimous support were resolutions on defending the sanctity of human life "at every stage" and calling on "the President of the United States and other policy makers not to hinder but instead actively defend" religious liberty. The final two resolutions praised past and present members of the United States Armed Forces and called for faithful church participation.
During the time for miscellaneous business, a motion was made by messenger Wayne Keeley, pastor of Rehoboth Baptist Church in Claremore, that read, "To establish a manner in which we are able to cooperate together to financially assist pastors who have faithfully served and have come to the end of their ministry years, having no place to live, no retirement, and little or no income; and to bring that recommendation to the 2014 convention." The motion was passed after discussion.
Next year's annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma will be Nov. 10-11 at Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.
Compiled by the staff of the Baptist Messenger, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.