BENNINGTON, Vt. (BP) -- Encouraging pastors in one of America's most unreached areas and preaching at the region's new Baptist college were on Fred Luter's agenda when he visited Vermont this month.
Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, spent two days at Northeastern Baptist College in Bennington and met with local Green Mountain Baptist Association pastors. After touring the college's main campus and library facilities, Luter gathered with the executive team and learned about NEBC's vision for preparing students to evangelize the world, especially New England and the rest of the northeast U.S.
NEBC President Mark Ballard said the school was "blessed beyond measure" by Luter's visit.
"He encouraged our students, faculty, staff and local pastors," Ballard said. "What a joy to have this wonderful man of God visit the college in our inaugural year of operation. Fred's leadership as president of the SBC has been great. He is the man for the hour."
NEBC opened last August and now has more than 40 students in its second semester of operation. The college -- which has established a partnership with the Baptist Convention of New England and the Green Mountain Association -- represents the culmination of Ballard's longtime vision of establishing a Southern Baptist-related college in a region of America that did not have one previously. NEBC's statement of faith is the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.
Located in southern Vermont, Bennington is at the geographic center of the Northeast in Southern Baptist North American Mission Board strategy. According to NAMB, 67 million people live in the region, which stretches from southern Maryland to the northern tip of Maine, and an estimated 82 percent do not know Christ. One church exists for every 37,000 people in the Northeast.
Southern Baptist teams from at least nine states outside the Northeast helped prepare NEBC's facilities for use. The college shares a former Ramada Inn and Conference Center building with an elementary and secondary Christian school. NEBC uses the third and fourth floors of the building while Grace Christian School is housed on the first two floors.
During his visit, Luter preached in NEBC chapel on "The Ultimate Battle" from John 10:9-11. Acknowledging life's many battles, he said "the greatest battle is between good and evil, between the Lord and Lucifer, between the Savior and Satan, between the divine and the devil ... and the battle is for your soul."
In that battle, Christians have "the Shepherd's provision" of a real relationship with Jesus, Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, said April 22. "The serpent's plan" is to steal, kill and destroy but believers can walk in victory because of "the Shepherd's promise" to give abundant life through the death and resurrection of Jesus, Luter said.
Following chapel, Luter attended a lunch with several pastors from the Green Mountain Baptist Association. Pastor Jerry Frye of Faith Christian Church in Pownal, Vt., said he was "truly blessed by a brother who has literally been through the storm," referencing Luter's experience when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. "The source of his powerful preaching is no secret: He is in fellowship with God."
Tim Groos, a student at NEBC, said, "I have never experienced preaching like that. I felt ... with each word he spoke like a child on Christmas morning waiting for the next present to open."
Pastor Phil Steadman of Capstone Baptist Church in North Bennington, Vt., said Luter "personally embodies hope for the future of our convention. From street preacher to a pastor of thousands, he came with a message about Jesus and delivered it passionately, persuasively and powerfully. As a pastor and father I am personally grateful for his leadership as our president. What a privilege to have him come to our front-line region and encourage us."
Luter said his visit to the new college left him committed to place Ballard, the faculty and the students on his daily prayer list.
"After visiting and preaching at this college and hearing about the number of lost people in the Vermont area, and after seeing the hunger for God's Word, I want to challenge every Southern Baptist that is serious about missions to consider visiting, praying for and supporting this school," Luter said. "In this area of New England, the Scripture comes true, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.'"
NEBC offers two bachelor's degrees -- one in biblical studies with four tracks, including a church planting/entrepreneurial leadership emphasis, and one in music ministry with three concentrations. The school plans to introduce bachelor's degrees in education, business and biblical counseling in the future.
To learn more about NEBC, visits its website at www.nebcvt.org.
Compiled by David Roach, Baptist Press' chief national correspondent. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress
) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp