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Gustavo Suárez elected as Northwest convention exec

VANCOUVER, Wash. (BP)–Northwest Baptist Convention messengers voted by acclamation March 9 to elect Gustavo Suárez as NWBC executive director-treasurer during a special meeting at Northside Baptist Church in Vancouver, Wash.

Suárez, who has led the Baptist Convention of New Mexico’s missions division since 1997, will begin his new duties April 16. He becomes the eighth executive director in the Northwest convention’s 57-year history and succeeds Jeff Iorg, who resigned last year to become president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in California.

The 50-year-old native of Cuba told messengers he wants to unify the convention’s congregations around five key areas: developing intentional evangelism strategies to share the Gospel among the diverse cultures of the Northwest; starting healthy, reproducible churches; strengthening existing churches; increasing the use of volunteers in ministry; and providing quality leadership opportunities for all God’s people.

Nearly 270 messengers were registered at the beginning of the 75-minute business session. The convention comprises approximately 440 congregations in Washington, Oregon and northern Idaho.

Bill Moffitt, chairman of the search committee which initially recommended Suárez to the NWBC executive board, told messengers about the extensive process involved in interviewing and finally recommending Suárez.

“Our job was not to select the candidate, but to find God’s selection,” said Moffit, a member of Richland (Wash.) Baptist Church. He said the 10-member search committee determined not to recommend anyone unless it had unanimous agreement.

Suárez recounted for messengers his life story as a boy growing up in dictator-led Cuba until age 9, then living in Nicaragua and several other countries and finally immigrating to the United States at age 13.

“God was preparing me and using the circumstances of my life to mold me for the cross-cultural ministry he would give me in the future,” Suárez told messengers. “He was preparing me for work in his Kingdom.”

Soon after Suárez shared his spiritual pilgrimage and ministry experiences — after it appeared none of the messengers wanted to ask any questions of Suárez or the executive board — Oregon pastor Bert Newton of Creekside Baptist Church in Scappoose, moved that convention “receive Dr. Suarez by unanimous consent” following an extended time of prayer.

Not wanting to limit discussion, however, convention President Stanley Hughes, pastor of Richland Baptist — and Suarez himself — sought to ensure messengers had ample opportunity to ask questions.

Three messengers then asked the candidate about reaching minorities with the Gospel, emphasizing discipleship in Great Commission efforts, and his wife Diana’s own sense of call.

Following Suárez’ responses, former NWBC Executive Director Cecil Sims, a messenger from Creekside Bible Church in Wilsonville, Ore., and a volunteer stewardship strategist for the convention, rose to echo Newton’s earlier motion and urged messengers to elect Suárez by acclamation.

With a verbal “I agree,” and no one voicing opposition, messengers elected Suárez to the leadership post.

Although many participants expected an overwhelming affirmation of Suárez, they did express surprise at the short length of the meeting and the unanimous vote.

“I think it speaks well about the health of our convention in general,” said Mark Bradley, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pullman, Wash. “We’re just not willing to be fragmented or fractious when it comes to the need for sharing the Gospel and reaching people. On that, we are committed.”

Other observers also credited the work of the search committee.

“I’m thankful for the spirit of the meeting,” said Keith Evans, pastor of Greater Gresham (Ore.) Baptist Church. “I think a lot of that had to do with confidence in the committee. They were very open and really showed God’s spirit in the process.”

Convention President Hughes, who attended search committee meetings as an ex officio member, also praised the spiritual maturity of the committee members.

“I think they did such a thorough job and communicated so effectively in advance,” Hughes said. “There was just an extraordinary sense of God’s leadership dealing with the committee.”

Hughes said he believes the convention is ready to follow Suárez’ leadership in facing ministry challenges ahead, especially in the area of church planting.

“I think Gus will lead in starting healthy new churches and we need to get behind him in that,” Hughes said. “There are over 400 churches in our convention — wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could double that in the next 10 years?”

Before becoming director of the New Mexico convention’s missions division, Suárez had served as language missions director for five years. He served seven years before that as a Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) language catalytic missionary for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware and as an ethnic leadership development instructor at Boyce Bible School (now Boyce College) with Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Suarez also served as an associate pastor in Memphis, Tenn., and a pastor/church planter in New York.

Last year Suarez was appointed by North American Mission Board President Robert E. (Bob) Reccord as vice chairman of a 15-member task force formed to help Southern Baptists reach Hispanics.

Suarez has been a teacher and director of the Contextual Leadership Development Center in New Mexico for Golden Gate Seminary and a chaplain for the Albuquerque Isotopes minor league baseball team. From 1988-99, he served as a chaplain in the Army Reserves.

Becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1975, Suárez earned a doctor of ministry from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in 1997, a master of divinity from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Tennessee in 1982 and a bachelor of science from the University of Maryland in 1978. He has written for various Southern Baptist publications and authored “Connections: Linking People and Principles for Dynamic Church Multiplication.”

Suarez was recommended to the Northwest Search Committee by Claude Cone, who until his retirement March 1 was BCNM executive director.

Cone listed “outstanding accomplishments” by Suarez during his years of ministry in New Mexico, which include:

— creation of “a new culture and climate for church planting in the state” that resulted in the start of 85 new congregations since 1997 with a survival rate of 70.6 percent.

— raising awareness for Hispanic work in the state and across the Southern Baptist Convention.

— development of a greater awareness of other language and culture groups in the state.

— creation of a solid partnership with Golden Gate Seminary.

— facilitation of the involvement of volunteers in various ministries, including church construction and the BCNM’s new disaster-relief ministry.

— development of a visionary planning process for associations and churches.

Suárez and his wife, Diana, have two sons, Phillip, 17, and Matthew, 14.
Cameron Crabtree is editor of the Northwest Baptist Witness newsjournal. John Loudat, editor of the Baptist New Mexican newsjournal, contributed to this article.

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