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Evangelist Jim Ponder, dead at 67, led Fla. Baptists to record baptisms

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Evangelist Jim Ponder, who served as director of evangelism for the Florida Baptist Convention from 1970-81, died Wednesday, Jan. 17, in Orlando after a lengthy illness. He was 67.

During his 11 years of service with the convention, Ponder led Florida Baptists to a record high in baptisms during that era — 31,117 in 1972, a number not surpassed until 1990. Under his leadership, annual baptisms for the state averaged 28,059.

Ponder directed the witness training and preaching activities of the 1980 Korea Major Cities Evangelization projects sponsored by the Florida Baptist Convention. More than 244 Florida Baptists participated in the projects, which resulted in 21,473 Christian decisions.

“To many of us he was not only a great preacher and evangelist, but was a dear, dear friend,” said layperson Bo Mitchell of Winter Haven, who serves as an evangelism equipper for the Florida Baptist Convention. “I remember those great years we worked together. … It was not even like work. It was just fun. There was Jamaica four times; Korea twice; and Florida from top to bottom and across also.

“When God first moved on my heart to try to be a witness, the Lord placed Jim in my path. How patient he was. And in later years whenever I was in a service where he preached, he always recognized me and said such generous and kind things.”

Cecil Seagle, director of the convention’s missions division, followed Ponder as evangelism director. “He was effective, creative and had a world perspective,” Seagle recalled. “He led the Florida Baptist Convention in a strong commitment to reach Korea with the gospel. His impact of vision and leadership continues to be felt in Florida Baptist life.”

Jerry Passmore, director of the state’s evangelism division, said Ponder was a “gifted administrator, motivator and preacher. He had a heart for the unsaved in other countries as he tirelessly made trips to the Ukraine in his later years.” Passmore credited Ponder with introducing the concept of CWT (Continuing Witness Training) to Florida Baptist churches. “That method of evangelism was effective in this state because of Jim’s influence,” Passmore added.

A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Ponder received the bachelor of arts degree from Baylor University in Waco and the bachelor of ministry and master of religious education degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

He served as pastor of churches in Corsicana, Highlands and Fort Worth, Texas, and Carmi, Ill., before becoming director of evangelism for the Illinois Baptist State Association from 1967-70 and then the Florida Baptist Convention.

A member of First Baptist Church of Orlando, Ponder finished his ministry as an evangelist, leading revivals across the nation and throughout the world. He devoted much of his time to taking the gospel to the Ukraine, purchasing time on television stations in Kiev for “just pennies,” Mitchell said. “The response was astounding.” At one point he preached to the highest-ranking government officials, distributing to each of them a Russian Bible, Mitchell recalled.

Ponder is survived by his wife, Joyce; a daughter, Keli Clayton of Orlando; a son, Ken Ponder of Chicago; a brother and sister; and two grandchildren.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: JIM PONDER.

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  • Barbara Denman

    Barbara Denman is communications editor for the Florida Baptist Convention. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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