News Articles

California Baptists can’t wait for ‘family’ to return

Francis Chung welcomes guests at the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, Calif. (BP Photo by Luc Stringer)

ANAHEIM, Calif. (BP) – Victor Chayasirisobhon’s first Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting came in 2010 in Orlando. It’s one he can’t forget.

“People kept cutting in front of me to register until I was the last one in the room. Someone noticed me standing there and let me register.”

It wasn’t the best introduction, “but I got over it, hung out and made friends,” he said.

The pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Anaheim and newly-elected first vice president stayed involved. Over the years he attended annual meetings in Nashville, Dallas, Phoenix and Orlando, mostly as a representative of Gateway Seminary.

The experience of Southern Baptists arriving in his city, mingling with his people, was everything he prayed it to be. For visitors, especially those escaping a brutal heat wave in the South, it didn’t hurt for nighttime temperatures to dip into the 50s and daytime temps to struggle to get past 80.

“It was great to have the family in town!” he told Baptist Press. “We had many from the church attending and volunteering all over the place, from driving shuttles for volunteers to working at the Lifeway registers, registration, ushering, and helping in booths in the exhibit hall.

“My dad even attended and everyone was impressed by the sheer amount of people there, the number of exhibits in the exhibit hall and how friendly everyone was.”

Not since 1981 had Californians hosted a Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, when it occurred in Los Angeles. Only three times this century has it taken place in “close” proximity, with each of those requiring a 5 ½-hour drive, in June, across the Mojave and Sonoran deserts to Phoenix from the site of this year’s gathering in Anaheim.

California Baptists led the way toward 4,000 more messengers and guests taking part recently than in Phoenix in 2017. And with the state already showing itself as an indicator of the Convention’s growth in numbers and diversity, leaders say that will spur greater involvement in the SBC.

“The annual meeting was a win for California,” said Pete Ramirez, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention. “For many of our messengers, this was their first opportunity to attend a national convention. California Baptists got to experience what it means to feel connected to the greater family, as well as a sense of joy to be able to host the whole family in our state.” 

Tito Villegas, pastor of Rise Church in Fresno, was one of those first-time attendees. He echoed Chayasirisobhon’s connection of “family” to the annual meeting, both in terms of Southern Baptists arriving from around the country and his own family.

“It was an opportunity, since it was local, for us to be able to take some of our kids to experience it,” said Villegas. “It was great to conduct our business and experience that with our children. I had been to our state meeting, but this was my first on the national level, and I wasn’t going to miss it.”

Discussion and even disagreement go along with annual meetings. Villegas realized that, but felt another expression was more prominent.

“There was a lot of different issues talked about and we have our different opinions, but we’re able to come together and discuss those to show the country that we can come together and be a family. We love each other regardless and keep the main thing the main thing – Jesus.”

Chayasirisobhon agreed.

“I am so honored to get to meet so many family members I didn’t know I had this side of heaven,” he said. “I’m excited to see them again at future conventions but hopefully as they come back to California to plant churches here or bring the annual meeting back here for a future convention in our neck of the woods!”