PHOENIX (BP)–Even as Southern Baptist Convention messengers considered a set of recommendations to increase the ethnic diversity of the convention’s leadership, they faced the choice between an African American pastor from Louisiana and a Chinese-American layperson from Phoenix for first vice president of the SBC.
Fred Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, was elected first vice president over Rick Ong, a member of First Chinese Baptist Church in Phoenix.
Of the 2,012 ballots cast June 14 in Phoenix, Luter received 1,558 or 77 percent of the votes while Ong received 441 or 22 percent of the votes; 13 votes were disallowed.
Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. nominated Luter, calling him “one of Southern Baptists’ most popular and beloved preachers. He’s in constant demand in schools, colleges, seminaries and conferences all across our nation.”
Ong was nominated by Phoenix-area pastor, Billy VanCamp of HeartCry Church in Queen Creek, who said Ong “invests, influences and inspires” others as he “invites people to Christ.”
Akin, in his nomination, reminded messengers that Luter, in 2001, was the first African-American to preach the SBC convention sermon. He also has served as an SBC second vice president.
In August 2005, Luter lost his home and church to the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina. “Because of the love for his church members,” Akin said, the pastor traveled across the nation to minister to his displaced members while living temporarily in Birmingham, Ala.
The congregation “seized the moment,” Akin said, and started churches in Baton Rouge and Houston, Texas.
In spite of losing half of the New Orleans congregation — and numerous invitations to move to a new pastorate — Luter stayed with his people, Akin said, and was asked to serve on the mayor’s Bring Back New Orleans Commission.
Since Katrina, the revived Franklin Avenue congregation has grown to 7,000 members.
Akin said Luter also “set the example” in Cooperative Program giving after Katrina. The congregation “stepped out on faith,” giving $44,000 through the Cooperative Program in 2007, increasing their CP giving to $205,000 in 2008, $250,000 in 2009 and $260,000 in 2010.
“He’s a champion for Christ and a wonderful servant to Southern Baptists,” Akin said.
Akin recounted that Luter was born and raised in New Orleans’ historic Lower Ninth Ward and was led to Christ in 1977 at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church.
“Immediately he began to do the work of an evangelist, which has characterized his life ever since,” Akin said. Every Saturday, the young believer “would go out and share his faith on different street corners on the Lower Ninth Ward.”
After being called as pastor of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in 1986, Luter led the small struggling mission church from 65 members to 8,000 members by 2005, “making it the largest Southern Baptist church in the state of Louisiana,” Akin said, “and a church that regularly leads the state in baptisms.”
Under Luter’s leadership, the church started 15 missions, Akin said.
Luter is “widely known for his passion for preaching and teaching the Word of God,” Akin said, “especially for reaching men and developing men. In fact one of his favorite sayings is ‘If you save the man, the man will save his family.'”
In 2010 according to Southern Baptists’ Annual Church Profile, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church reported primary worship attendance of 4,000; undesignated receipts of $4,407,217; Cooperative Program contributions of $261,798; a Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions gift of $35; an Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions gift of $1,323; and $479,540 in total missions expenditures.
Luter and his wife Elizabeth have two children: Kimberly Ann and Fred “Chip” Luter, III.
In nominating Ong, VanCamp said Ong was 12 years old when he “received Christ as his Lord and Savior.”
“I love the way Rick Ong invests in people. He’s an investor of people, not only as people, but as a layman in his church.” First Chinese is a state leader in Cooperative Program giving, VanCamp said.
As a person of “influence,” Ong was the Asian emphasis director for the Crossover 2011 evangelistic outreach prior to the SBC. Under his leadership, 2,600 people attended one of the block parties, “mostly kids that were Asian,” VanCamp said.
Ong served on the 2008-09 SBC Committee on Nominations and has served as an evangelism conference speaker, VanCamp said.
At First Chinese Baptist Church, Ong served as the Chinese Youth for Christ president, deacon, Sunday School teacher and director, men’s director and on the church council.
“Rick has explored God’s Word. Rick has experienced God’s power, Rick expresses God’s love,” VanCamp concluded.
Ong and his wife Roxanne have two children.
In 2010, First Chinese Baptist Church in Phoenix reported primary worship attendance of 130; undesignated receipts of $420,178; Cooperative Program contributions of $41,488; a Lottie Moon Christmas Offering gift for international Missions of $8,793; an Annie Armstrong Easter Offering gift for North American missions of $4,825; and $74,512 in total missions expenditures.
Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.