ANAHEIM, Calif. (BP) – “In the last 12 months, if the polls are right, half the pastors in this room have seriously considered quitting,” said the opening video for the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send Luncheon at the Pastor’s Conference preceding the SBC Annual meeting.
With more than 4,000 pastors, ministry wives and pastors’ kids in attendance, half is a high number.
NAMB president Kevin Ezell hosted the room full of ministry families with the goal of providing a time of refuge, respite and encouragement.
“These last few years have been very difficult. My word, these last few weeks have been difficult,” Ezell said. “This luncheon is for you. It is a small way for NAMB to thank you for the big role you play in sharing the Gospel all over North America.”
Ezell was joined onstage by Vance Pitman – the new leader of NAMB’s church planting division, Send Network – who encouraged attendees that through the hardships, the mission is still moving forward.
“Over the last 10 years, there have been more than 9,400 churches planted,” Pitman said, showing a map of North America with a dot showing the location of each church plant.
“Every one of those dots represents a city, a community, a town, where the Gospel is being planted, the community is being transformed, the church is being multiplied, the kingdom is being expanded,” Pitman said.
Ezell and Pitman encouraged attendees to use the gift in their seat – an Amazon Echo “dot” – to remind them to pray for the work that God has done and will do in North America and that in 10 years, even more “dots” would be represented on the map.
Ezell then introduced comedian Tim Hawkins who entertained the audience through jokes and in song about experiences and stereotypes within the church. He poked at “every head bowed, every eye closed,” “joining hands across the congregation” and “hedges of protection,” among other well-known church standbys.
After Hawkins’ set, Ezell shifted the conversation to reaching the next generation by introducing a video story about Dallas Baptist University student, Shelby Houston.
In December of last year, Houston’s police officer father was killed in the line of duty. Shelby eulogized her father at his memorial service, and the news footage of her statement went viral.
“There has been anger, sadness, grief and confusion. And part of me wishes I could despise the man who did this to my father, but I can’t give any part of my heart to hate him. All that I can find is myself hoping and praying for this man to truly know Jesus,” Houston said in her eulogy. “My prayer is that someday down the road, I’ll get to spend some time with the man who shot my father – not to scream at him, not to yell at him, not to scold him – simply to tell him about Jesus.”
“Often when you hear about Generation Z, you hear negative things. But this is Generation Z,” said NAMB Director of Next Gen Ministry, Shane Pruitt as Houston came to the stage to a standing ovation.
Houston recognized the importance of both her natural family and her faith family in discipling her into the kind of spiritual maturity it takes to preemptively forgive and seek salvation for her father’s killer. She noted the significance of her parents, her youth group and her pastor and his wife saying, “My church has been the biggest blessing to me.”
Another story told was that of Dalia Valencia—a pastor’s wife from San Jose, Calif.
Dalia’s husband, José, was starting to plant a church in 2020 when he fell ill with COVID-19 and died two months later. Six months after his death, Dalia’s oldest daughter passed away in an accidental overdose. The day her daughter died, Dalia learned she had stage-4 cancer.
In the face of all these hardships, Valencia still said, “I want my kids to see how God is blessing us through all of this. I pray with them every morning, so with all of this, we continue looking for the Lord because God is good. God is good.”
Valencia continues to serve in ministry with pastor Juan Castellón of Iglesia Bautista Bethel de Soledad. She participates in his outreach to migrant workers and other compassion ministry projects.
In honor of the vital work they are performing, Send Relief awarded Castellón’s ministry with a $25,000 grant to further their impact in the community.
Alongside Pete Ramirez, the executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention, Ezell also surprised Valencia with the gift of one year’s mortgage payments. Ronald Ellis, president of California Baptist University, presented Valencia with scholarships for her 16-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter.
And in a final surprise, Ezell asked Valencia about her husband’s prize possession, a Dodge Challenger, which she recently had to sell to cover expenses. Ezell revealed that the buyer was a friend of his from Alabama who was gifting the vehicle back to the family.
“The beautiful thing about Southern Baptists is we are a family,” Ezell said. “I’m so thankful to be part of this family.”
- Faith Morgan Wroten is content manager for the North American Mission Board.