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ATLANTA (BP) -- Leaders representing various language and ethnic groups told Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, they would like to be "incorporated" into the totality of Southern Baptist life, not merely "assimilated" as objects of ministry.
"We want to be a mission force more than a mission field," Lennox Zamore, pastor of Ebenezer Memorial Baptist Church in Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands, said during introductions at the newly-appointed Multi-Ethnic Advisory Council.
Zamore’s comment drew numerous "Amens" from around the table and was restated by several other leaders representing African, Belarusian, Caribbean, Deaf, Ghanaian, Haitian, Intercultural, Jamaican, Messianic, Multi-Ethnic, Native American, Romanian and Russian Baptist fellowships across the United States.
The council is the fourth and final ethnic advisory council appointed to help the SBC Executive Committee, NAMB and other SBC entity leaders more fully understand and appreciate the perspectives ethnic churches and church leaders bring to the common task of reaching the nation and all nations with the Gospel.
Page, in his opening remarks during the March 27–28 meeting in Atlanta, pointed to a great mandate (the Great Commission), a great method (that ministry is most effective when we do it together) and a great message (the doctrine of God's amazing grace as revealed through the atonement of Jesus Christ) as three things upon which church leaders of every ethnicity, race and language can and should agree.
"We don't have time to waste in this life," Page said. "Our unity in diversity is not about 'looking good' culturally; it is about reaching every man and woman and boy and girl with the Gospel."
Speaking of his own conversion as a child, Page said, "I was not raised in a Christian home. ... But, someone knocked on our door and invited me to church." Reaching other children and families such as his own is the common bond we have in Christ, he said.
Portique Wilburn, pastor of Rock Harbor Christian Fellowship Church in San Pablo, Calif., agreed. "The SBC is at a crossroads of opportunity," he said. "The lostness of those men and women and boys and girls is the crossroad." People need to see the SBC's unity on this issue, Wilburn said.
In an open forum during the closing session, council members weighed in on some of the more pressing needs they see in their communities. These included:
-- "Quality, Gospel-centered (not merely moralistic) Bible study resources" in their respective languages.
-- "Entry-level theological training for God-called ministers" that will be transferable to accredited programs as their pastors pursue additional academic studies.
-- Assistance in finding places to establish language congregations with a view toward the churches moving beyond "mission" status to becoming autonomous congregations.
-- Developing an "online library of language-specific resources" that can be used by churches in different parts of the country.
-- Discovering, developing and promoting what Joseph Gaston, president of the Haitian Baptist Fellowship, called "extendables" -- resources for language churches being planted in the United States that can be "extended" for use in new and existing churches in their native countries.
For example, with more than 7 million Russian-speaking people in the United States and Canada, Andrew Ryzhkov, pastor of Byelorussian Missions, Inc., in Cumming, Ga., suggested using innovative resources, such as a popular Russian-language comic-book-style "Good and Evil Bible" that is making an impact among Russian Jews in Israel.
Ben Mishin, pastor of Life Way Baptist Church in Philadelphia, added that while providing Russian-language resources may not be financially practical if looking only at stateside demand, when the worldwide Russian-speaking population is taken into account, it makes distribution issues less daunting.
Aric Randolph, Deaf pastor at Brentwood (Tenn.) Baptist Church, summarized networking, training and resources as the most pressing needs identified by all participants.
Reiterating the "missions force, not mission field" motif, Randolph urged Page to let convention leaders know that ministries such as the deaf congregation he leads want to be "empowered," not merely "enabled." Noting that most deaf people only read English at a fourth-grade level, he urged consideration of more deaf-centric education, including seminary training, that makes use of visual and video resources so that deaf people can "see it in their heart language."
Church planting at home and abroad dominated the last part of the meeting as leaders explored ways to link their ethnic church planting efforts in the United States with the current NAMB church planting strategy and internationally with IMB church planting efforts.
Page has appointed Tim Chavis, pastor, Bear Swamp Baptist Church in Pembroke, North Carolina, as chairman of the council. Other members participating in the Atlanta meeting were Jerry Baker, intercultural church planting and missions ministries, Georgia Baptist Convention; Mark Hobafcovich, NAMB, member of Cross Pointe Church, Duluth, Ga.; Matei Istudor, pastor, Gwinnett Romanian Baptist Church, Buford, Ga.; Charles Locklear, pastor, Calvary Way Baptist Church, Pembroke, N.C.; Pierre A. Marc, pastor, First Haitian Baptist Church, Burlington, N.J.; Wilner Maxy, pastor, Emmanuel Haitian Baptist Church, Miami; Ledtkey (Lit) McIntosh, pastor, Glorieta Baptist Church, Oklahoma City; Samuel Opoku, pastor, Abundant Life Baptist Church, Bronx, N.Y.; Delroy Reid-Salmon, pastor, Grace Baptist Chapel, Bronx, N.Y.; Joseph Ruberintwari, senior pastor, International Evangelical Church, Abilene, Texas; Rodney Webb, retired, NAMB, member, Briarlake Baptist Church, Decatur, Ga.; Ric Worshill, president, SBC Messianic Fellowship, Lindenhurst, Ill. Members not in attendance were Jamal Bishara and Anatoly Moshkovshy.
Roger S. Oldham is vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee. This article first appeared in SBC LIFE (www.SBCLIFE.net), the Executive Committee’s journal.