Interim Sunrise president appointed
Suttles, who was appointed during a special called trustee meeting Nov. 26, joined the Sunrise staff in January 2012 after a 25-year career with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass, during which he advanced from case support manager to regional director, director of development and chief executive officer.
Suttles was introduced to members of the Kentucky Baptist Convention's Mission Board Dec. 10, with KBC Executive Director Paul Chitwood noting that Suttles has "a track record" of turning around organizations that were at a point of challenge or crisis.
In response to a question from a Mission Board member about Bill Smithwick's status as Sunrise president, Chitwood said he was not at liberty to comment at the time. Other sources have confirmed, however, that Smithwick is on administrative leave.
Smithwick received a vote of no confidence Nov. 12 from messengers during the Kentucky Baptist Convention's Annual Meeting in Paducah. The vote followed weeks of controversy stemming from Smithwick's recommendation to allow homosexual employees at the Baptist-affiliated child care agency. Sunrise's trustees, however, rejected his recommendation Nov. 8, refusing to compromise biblical values by changing the agency's hiring practices.
Suttles, in addressing the KBC Mission Board, said, "This time of year [Christmas] is about rebirth; it's about revival." He told the board, "Honestly, I think there is a reason I'm here [at Sunrise] at this time."
Suttles said he approaches life in "a very basic" manner, explaining, "I try to love God and love people."
Recalling his "grassroots upbringing" in the small northeast Kentucky town of Olive Hill at a time when people would look out for one another's kids, Suttles said, "That's how I know people are important in the lives of kids."
Suttles shared with the Mission Board how being the parent of a special needs child had given him a heart for helping hurting children. He related how he and his wife had struggled at first in adjusting and caring for an adopted son, who had been abused as a child and was severely developmentally delayed.
"There is a reason I am here," Suttles affirmed again. "I want to take this organization and I want to make it better because my Matthew is a Sunrise kid," he said, recounting how his son was later diagnosed with Aspergers and had faced many of the same emotional challenges as some of the children at Sunrise.
"If you could take a tour through some of the facilities [at Sunrise] and hear some of their stories, and then if you could see the outcome, it is so amazing," Suttles said, reminding the board, "[There are] a lot of good people there, doing a lot of good work."
Suttles said he recently had encouraged Sunrise's employees: "We could get where we want to go if we go hand in hand with the Baptist community."
"We are going to come back bigger and stronger than ever," Suttles assured. "But we can't do it without [Kentucky Baptists]," he said, "and we won't do it without [the Mission Board]."
Chitwood then spoke three assurances to Kentucky Baptists: Sunrise has the right people leading the agency for this season; its board of trustees is committed to being an organization that reflects biblical values and a Gospel witness; and Sunrise will remain committed to being Baptist and an agency of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Picking up on a comment by Suttles that receipts were down in November for Sunrise's annual Thanksgiving Offering, Chitwood urged Mission Board members, "Go back to your church and give them the assurances you received today" and ask them to make a sacrificial gift to Sunrise.
In a Dec. 9 letter to pastors, Sunrise board chairman William Hurley also sought to reassure Kentucky Baptists: "If recent headlines have your congregation wondering whether or not they should continue their support of Sunrise, let me assure there should be no cause for concern. Rest assured that if you and your church continue to support Sunrise financially, we will never forget our responsibility to the children extends not just to their physical well-being, but to their spiritual well-being also.
"We will not knowingly expose any child in Sunrise's care to un-biblical influences. We dare not do anything to lead any of these little ones astray," Hurley stated. "We as a Board have asked and are continuing to ask God for His wisdom and discernment in all Sunrise business affairs, to sustain us and to sustain the children in our care."
Chitwood, in his overall report to the Mission Board, said Kentucky Baptists' 176-year history continues to be characterized by "resilience, unity and Kingdom legacy." Speaking from 1 Chronicles 16:23-29, he exhorted Kentucky Baptists to "ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name."
"I could not be more pleased with where we are today," Chitwood said in regard to progress made since the mission board's staff restructuring that began two years ago toward sending more Cooperative Program support to missions.
Chitwood predicted that opposition to a biblical worldview will continue growing and sweep across the nation as the culture becomes increasingly secular, and that culturally-minded Christians soon may abandon pews because they are unwilling to pay the price.
"God has called on us not in a time when it is easy and getting easier; He has called on us in a time when it is challenging, and it's going to get downright hard," Chitwood said.
Yet, "God must think a lot of you," he encouraged Kentucky pastors, emphasizing that God has entrusted them to do His work at such a time.
Todd Deaton is editor of the Western Recorder (www.westernrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.