Celebrity greetings highlight birthday bash for Southern Baptists' Cooperative Program

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)--Grammy-winning musical artist Larnelle Harris and syndicated talk show host Dennis Swanberg headlined a June 13 celebration of the 75th anniversary of Southern Baptists' Cooperative Program.

Hosted by Swanberg, the celebration was part of the opening session of the June 13-14 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

The Cooperative Program is the channel by which Southern Baptists finance missions and ministry endeavors of Baptist state conventions and national and international outreach efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee, presented the inaugural M.E. Dodd award to Jim Henry, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla., and his wife, Jeanette.

"The Dodd award is for lifetime achievement to a person or congregation who has demonstrated continuous excellence in giving to the Cooperative Program," Chapman said.

Dodd, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church, Shreveport, La., chaired the committee that in 1925 recommended creation of the Cooperative Program. Dodd's granddaughter, Virginia Joyner, great granddaughter, Emilane Watson, and great-great grandchildren, Jared Watson and Alaena Watson were present for the ceremony.

Responding, Henry said, "This is for Dr. Dodd and our spiritual forefathers who had heart and vision to fulfill what God had for the Southern Baptist Convention in diagramming the most magnificent way to reach the world for Christ."

Since 1925, more than $1.6 billion has been given through the Cooperative Program. A total of 6,181,393 international baptisms have been recorded and more than 13,000 missionaries have been sent around the world. On the home front, the Cooperative Program has supported 6,683 missionaries, helping Baptists record 24 million baptisms.

The celebration also included videotaped greetings from Christian entertainers Sandi Patti and Rebecca St. James, actor Kirk Cameron, Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes, author and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, Christian television personality Pat Robertson, former Seattle Seahawks football player Ken Hutcherson and Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher.

After a litany of humorous impersonations including former President Ronald Reagan and the late John Wayne, Swanberg introduced a moving video presentation in memory of slain missionary Mavis Pate. A native of Louisiana, Pate was a missionary nurse who was shot and killed by Arab terrorists in 1972.

"The real stars, the real heroes, are those who left family, friends, to follow the call of God," Swanberg said.

Larnelle Harris, a deacon at Maple Grove Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., brought more than 12,000 messengers to their feet with several musical selections. Later, he signed autographs and met messengers at the Cooperative Program booth in the exhibit hall.

Harris began his musical career at Western Kentucky Unviersity in Bowling Green, Ky., where he earned a degree in classical music and theory. Since recording his first solo album in 1975, Harris has collected five Grammy Awards and 11 Dove awards.

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