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African American students hear of SBC opportunities for service

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Clarence Landry recently decided to plant churches in African American communities in the United States, and the need for students just like him is overwhelming: In Louisiana alone, none of the 38 requests for church plants in African American communities have been filled.
The need is greater still on the international mission field. Of 4,850 Southern Baptist missionaries in the field, only 22 are African American, said David Cornelius, an International Mission Board staff member who works to encourage African Americans to consider careers in international missions.
“There is a cry from the field to have more African Americans on the mission field,” Cornelius said. “I’m often asked, ‘Why don’t we see black missionaries?’ When I went to Nigeria [as a missionary], it took some time to convince them that I was a black missionary from America. They’d never seen a black missionary.”
Cornelius and five other leaders from Southern Baptist Convention agencies visited New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Nov. 9 as part of a vocational ministry conference to inform both African American and international students about the ministry opportunities through the SBC. African American leaders from IMB, the North American Mission Board, Woman’s Missionary Union, LifeWay Christian Resources, Woman’s Missionary Union and the Louisiana Baptist Convention were on hand to encourage almost 100 of these students in their ministry.
“We have a lot of students come through our seminary for a theological education who don’t know what ministry opportunities are out there,” said Ken Weathersby, director of the Cecil B. Day Center (Nehemiah Project) for Church Planting and the first African American professor to join the NOBTS faculty. “They didn’t know we had these people in the SBC. It’s important for these students to see national leaders of their descent to encourage them.”
Robert Wilson of the North American Mission Board addressed students on the history of African American involvement within the SBC, as well as the SBC’s structure after its reorganization in 1997. Wilson also reported that since the SBC “became intentional” about planting black churches in 1989, it has planted more than 1,700. These churches, which have a 20-to-1 baptismal ratio, are among the fastest-growing in the convention.
“You can be very instrumental in helping the SBC be what it needs to be and do what it needs to do,” Wilson said.
Tuesday night’s program included presentations by Leroy Fountain of the Annuity Board, who addressed students about financial security in their ministry; Jay Wells of LifeWay Christian Resources, who spoke on the benefits of the small-group experience and the LifeWay resources available to ministers; Ken Ellis of NAMB, who urged students to join the chaplaincy; Deborah Berry of Woman’s Missionary Union, who informed students about the Sisters Who Care program and other programs offered by the WMU; representatives Larry Black and James Jenkins from the Louisiana Baptist Convention, who informed students of present needs in the state; and Weathersby, who reviewed church-planting opportunities through the Nehemiah Project.
Clarence Landry, NOBTS student and pastor of His Sanctuary Ministries Southern Baptist Mission, said the conference enlightened him to ministry opportunities about which he never would have known otherwise. After the conference, he said he would be directing his studies toward the master of divinity degree in church planting.
“I didn’t even know the SBC had African American leaders at the national level,” Landry said. “That was very encouraging to me.
“The need for planting churches is unbelievable, and the SBC has the vehicle to do it. They have the support, retirement — all the things that would make it attractive. With the SBC you could really reach the world.”
Weathersby said the conference will not be an isolated event, voicing hope for another like it next year. He said the conference springs not only from a passion for students of all color, but from his passion to see churches planted in North America.
“There is a need for church planters nationally from all ethnic groups,” Weathersby said. “We just want to hook up those across the country who know with those who may not know.”

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