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Brotherhood leaders eye future, salute agency’s achievements

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)–State convention Brotherhood leaders paid tribute to the prominent “markers” in almost 90 years of Brotherhood Commission history during the final Brotherhood Leadership Conference Jan. 30-Feb. 1 in Memphis, Tenn.

The leaders, meanwhile, discussed the future of their work in a Southern Baptist Convention that, by the end of June, no longer will have Brotherhood as a separate agency.

Brotherhood President James D. Williams told the state workers, “… it’s time to complete the ‘grief work’ over the dissolution of the Brotherhood Commission,” exhorting them to “let your allegiance to Christ, through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, give you a spirit of adaptation and change to the new SBC organization.”

The next step, Williams continued, is to “hold the North American Mission Board accountable for being a servant to you and the churches, and to demonstrate the kind of cooperative spirit that enables us to build on the strengths of the past, but claims the potential of a
God-sized future.”

“Without question, the major functions of our work will go on, and hopefully strengthened and enlarged.”

The North American Mission Board will be formed in a merger of Brotherhood, the Home Mission Board and the Radio and Television Commission under the SBC-wide restructuring, “Covenant for a New Century,” approved by messengers at the 1995 and 1996 SBC annual meetings.

The state Brotherhood leaders, many of whom have or soon will face organizational change in their own conventions, seemed most concerned about the availability of missions education materials now produced by Brotherhood, and Williams assured them “there will be orderly continuity.”

Specifically, the leaders learned that Lad and Crusader magazines for Royal Ambassadors will continue for the immediate future, as will Challenge magazine for young men in grades seven through 12.

However, Missions Today, the agency’s flagship monthly magazine for Baptist men, will fold with the June 1997 issue and be replaced by a new publication from NAMB. All other men’s ministries materials currently offered are now under evaluation, according to Mike Day, Brotherhood’s executive vice president.

“Nothing else has been decided as to which materials will be produced for men by either the North American Mission Board or the Sunday School Board,” Day said.

A new catalog containing materials certain to be offered for the 1997-98 church year will be available June 1.

The state leaders combined their concerns about the future with a final look back at the “historical markers” that, according to Bob Dixon of Texas Baptist Men, helped them “see exactly where the father has brought us, and celebrate what God has invited us to be a part of.”

The “markers” took the form of significant personalities as well as the beginnings of the agency’s best-known ministries.

Cameron Byler of Tennessee, one of 20 former state leaders at the conference, recalled his role in building the first mobile unit for disaster relief in Texas and the unit’s first use, a 1973 response to victims of Hurricane Fifi in Honduras.

“We drove it all the way … and got stuck in an underpass in Mexico City. We were the biggest thing to hit town since Cortes,” Byler said. “But that response in Honduras, once we got there, really stretched us, and we realized that God was in this all the way, and we realized what a platform for evangelism disaster relief could be.”

The volunteers pitched a tent alongside the disaster unit where 4,000 prayed to receive Jesus Christ in a month’s time, and the event spawned other tent revivals across the country.

Day recalled the first World Changers project in 1991, with “130 participants, two staffers and anyone else we could pick up along the way.” World Changers now involves some 10,000 youth, collegians and senior adults each year and Day said it has “redefined missions education for youth and opened the door for new missions education organizations.”

Andy Morris, current World Changers director, said God’s plan for World Changers “didn’t fit my limited vision for it when I first came to the Brotherhood Commission. We didn’t anticipate having 50 cities vying for World Changers crews in 1998.”

Tribute was also paid to Brotherhood leaders now deceased, including former Executive Secretary Glendon McCullough; former Vice President Norman Godfrey; former Alabama state leader Jim Bethea; and Frank Black, who created the Campcraft program and earned the title “Mr. Royal Ambassador” during his years of service on the Memphis staff.

“We know that missions education is vital to our convention,” said former staffer Kenny Rains in his salute to Black, “and we know that it will continue, although we don’t know exactly what the delivery system will look like. So we should do what Frank Black would have done — keep on pedaling.”

An emotional Jack Childs, the agency’s vice president of support services, presented “A Memorial To Our Departed Colleagues” prepared by John Whitman, retired Illinois Brotherhood director.

“We stand together for a final testimonial to the men who once stood where we stand, those who once sat where we sit, walked where we walk and sowed where we now sow and reap,” the memorial stated. “Despite all that has been accomplished, the work they began is not finished. We rejoice that our Father through his Spirit will keep calling out men until the Son himself returns … . (W)e will honor their memory by working on. Amen.”

The state leaders on hand seemed resolved to “working on” though the uncertainty of the moment.

“Before I came, I made a comment in our office that I felt as if I were going to a funeral,” said Ken Belflower of Arizona. “And in some ways it has been, with the Brotherhood Commission going out of existence. But it has been more of a celebration and more informative than I expected. I’m pleasantly surprised about that.”

Rob Carr of Illinois, a former co-convenor of the group, said “the intention of us doing missions work is still going to be paramount, and men and boys’ work, which is gaining momentum in our state, is going to continue to develop. I’m very encouraged because our numbers are looking good. We’re going to continue on.”

“The tributes have been made, the thank yous and the appreciations have been extended,” Carr added, “and now it’s time to move ahead to the North American Mission Board and to … use our creative energies to get that under way. I’m encouraged and want to see it happen.”

In other action, the state leaders:

— welcomed new leaders Kenneth Chadwick of Alaska, Fritz Wilson of Florida and Jim Richardson of Georgia.

— honored retiring state Brotherhood director Ben Connell of South Carolina.

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  • Steve Barber