"Knowing there are 318 million people in North America who need to know Jesus Christ stirs our passion as trustees," NAMB trustee chairman Tim Dowdy, senior pastor of Eagles Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga., told the messengers. "Last year, God led us to the right man, Kevin Ezell. We're starting down the right road. I can't wait to see what God does with us, together impacting the world for Jesus Christ."
Ezell told messengers the months since his election have been very challenging.
"I have learned a lot in the nine months since I accepted this role, and I appreciate your patience and prayers," Ezell said. "I hope to clearly communicate our direction in the midst of a very complex transition.... I am striving to bring a sense of strategic focus and efficiency to our North American missions."
After thanking Southern Baptists for their support of the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, Ezell noted: "Biblical stewardship calls us to the highest level of accountability with these funds. I am doing everything in my power to spend each dime wisely. We must put more missionaries and more new churches in North America's least-reached areas."
Ezell then outlined how NAMB's mission board's staff has been reduced by 38 percent through retirement and separation incentives, saving the mission board $6 million a year. He said the budget has been cut another $8 million, including slashing the travel budget by half.
"These savings will go to place more churches and more church planting missionaries where they are needed most in North America," Ezell said. "I believe you cannot judge the effectiveness of an organization by the size of its staff, but NAMB is not taking one step backwards. We intend to do more with less infrastructure."
SEND NORTH AMERICA
The new "big picture strategy" for church planting, called Send North America, will enable Baptists to penetrate lostness through a regional mobilization strategy, Ezell said.
"Already, 80 percent of NAMB's resources are invested through the state conventions to go to underserved areas -- even before Send North America. But this strategy will send even more in that direction."
The GPS -- God's Plan for Sharing -- initiative will continue to be one of the entity's top priorities under NAMB's new vice president for evangelism, Larry Wynn, Ezell said.
Ezell promised that, under his watch, future financial stewardship at NAMB will demand "accuracy, transparency, effectiveness and efficiency -- not smoke and mirrors." He then clarified and put into perspective some oft-quoted NAMB statistics -- for instance, that Southern Baptists planted 769 new churches in 2010, not the 1,400 to 1,500 a year usually reported in the past.
"When the old NAMB counted church plants, they didn't ask for church names or addresses or planter names. The new NAMB is asking and only counting 00c0hurches for which those details can be obtained," Ezell said. "The old NAMB had no system for consistently tracking new church plants across the 42 state conventions. We are working with the states on such a system.
"Also, the old NAMB had no definition of a church plant agreed upon by all of our state convention partners," Ezell added. "The new NAMB is working on that with state partners, to write a definition we all can adhere to."
Ezell generated laughs and applause when he said, "If Walmart can track how much toilet paper it sells every hour, we should be able to track how many churches are planted each year."
The mission entity president also spoke to the question of how many missionaries NAMB has.
"It's been said that NAMB has more than 5,100 missionaries serving in North America," Ezell said. He said 3,480 of NAMB's missionaries are jointly funded with the states; 1,839 are spouses, some with ministry assignments and some not; 1,616 are Mission Service Corps missionaries who receive no funding from NAMB; and 38 are national missionaries, who are paid 100 percent by NAMB. In addition, NAMB has 3,400 chaplains -- 1,350 of them military chaplains -- and 955 summer student missionaries on its rolls.
In the wake of this spring's rash of tornadoes, floods and wildfires around the United States, disaster relief continues to be a vital ministry in partnership with the states, Ezell said. So far in 2011, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief has responded to 40 separate incidents, including deadly tornadoes in Alabama and Joplin, Mo.
Ezell then introduced two of the 85,000 trained disaster relief volunteers in the SBC, "blue hat" Gary Hunley and his wife and Twyla of Joplin, who themselves lost their home in the Missouri city where 141 people were killed on May 22.
"I've got a whole new feeling now for disaster victims," Hunley said. "The tragedy, the loss they have, the confusion they feel and for the overwhelmingness of the whole thing. I can now say I've experienced it, and He helped me walk through it."
For the first time in several years, NAMB used the annual meeting to introduce and commission 20 new missionaries, chaplains and their spouses who will serve in 11 different locations throughout North America.
Jeff Christopherson, NAMB's vice president for Canada, and Jason McGibbon, a church planting missionary in Toronto, and told messengers how unreached Canada is.
"Canada is one of the most unreached areas in North America, with only one church for every 121,000 people," the Canadian-born Christopherson said. "You drive through Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, and you see a sea of houses but not one evangelical church. That's just not right."
Messengers also saw and heard the remarkable story of another NAMB church planting missionary, Shaun Pillay, a native of Durban, South Africa, who -- with his new wife -- sold most of their earthly possessions and moved to Norwich, Conn.
"I was amazed to find out there's only 2 percent evangelical Christians in Norwich, which broke my heart," Pillay said. In Norwich, he's planted Cornerstone International Church and led 67 people to faith in Christ so far. He said the church will baptize another 16 next month.
"I'm a testimony standing here today that Southern Baptists know how to care, how to love, how to pray and how to give," said Pillay, who introduced Derrick Shelby, a Christian barber in Norwich, and Matthew Mowrey, a 24-year-old ex-drug and alcohol addict Shelby recently won to Christ during a haircut in his barber shop -- one of the "proclamation points" Pillay has established in Norwich. The messengers gave the trio a long standing ovation.
Also receiving an extended ovation was Maj. Gen. Douglas Carver, who appeared at the convention for the final time as chief of chaplains for the U.S. Army. In 2007, Carver was the first Southern Baptist to be named the Army's chief of chaplains in 50 years. After a distinguished military career, Carver and wife Sunny will retire later this summer to Charlotte, N.C.
"It's been my honor to wear the nation's cloth for 38 years, supporting 2,900 chaplains of all faiths to 300,000 soldiers serving in 80 different countries, including during wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the Horn of Africa, defending us so we can serve God freely," the two-star general said. "When you send a Southern Baptist chaplain to the field, you can be assured we are bringing God to soldiers and soldiers to God."
Ezell ended the presentation by challenging individuals and churches to participate in the entity's Send North America Strategy. For more information, visit namb.net and click the "Mobilize Me" button.
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.
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