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Leaders from 2 hard-hit states voice thanks to Southern Baptists

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Words of deep appreciation to the nation’s Southern Baptists were voiced by Baptist leaders from two states struck by hard blows: New York and Arizona.

J.B. Graham of New York and Steve Bass of Arizona, in Feb. 19 comments to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, underscored the help Baptists in their states have received from the “family” of Southern Baptists across the country.

Graham is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist Convention of New York, which, along with all New Yorkers, reeled from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Bass is executive director-treasurer of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, which suffered an unthinkable breech of trust when the Baptist Foundation of Arizona was shut down by federal regulators in 1999 and retirees and other average investors lost millions of dollars.

Graham, wanting “to simply thank all Southern Baptists everywhere for the response they gave to our beloved convention,” recounted that the state convention office in Syracuse began receiving telephone calls from across the country and abroad almost immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist onslaught, followed by an influx of e-mails.

One of the telephone calls was from Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, asking what needs he could help meet.

“By then we were swamped with phone calls,” Graham said, “and our staff was going absolutely berserk trying to receive all those calls.” Jordan arranged for a secretary, Jodi Gonzales, to assist in the New York convention office for an entire week. The young woman flew from Oklahoma City to Syracuse, Graham noted, at a time “when businessmen and corporate executives refused to fly.”

“It’s this kind of bravery and dedication that I come to thank you for,” Graham told the SBC Executive Committee.

His personal feelings after the Sept. 11 tragedy, Graham said, include being “traumatized by actually seeing the impact of the second jet” on TV as it hit the World Trade Center — and seeing people “jumping from 110 floors to the pavement below.” And, there’s an “overwhelming sense of failure, knowing that many of those who died went into eternity without knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” he said.

“I’ve always been able to attack a problem and either fix it, or find somebody who could, or find some group who could work at it and come to a solution.

“This could not be fixed,” Graham said.

Southern Baptists sent countless disaster relief volunteers to New York; and the state convention has received $1,075,164.50 in funds to meet victims’ needs, Graham said.

“I’m at once humbled and proud to be a Southern Baptist. You are my family. You came to our rescue when we needed the help of a family. …

“God, out of all this tragedy, has been able to break through into many lives,” Graham said. “People are hungry to know the truth of the Savior who can give them eternal peace. … Keep on praying for us, will you?”

Bass had told the Executive Committee in a previous session, “On behalf of Arizona Southern Baptists, I want to express my sincere and deep appreciation for you and your prayers for the pilgrimage that we’ve been through.”

The Baptist Foundation of Arizona was issued a cease-and-desist order from the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1999 and subsequently filed for bankruptcy, putting a stunned state Baptist convention through “some very difficult times,” Bass recounted.

Eight individuals now face criminal charges over the foundation’s multi-million-dollar irregularities in an investigation that remains ongoing, Bass said, while a civil case filed by the state attorney general against the Arthur Andersen accounting firm is slated to begin March 4 over its alleged role in the foundation’s collapse.

Amid the deep losses, Bass said, “our God shows up for work every day” in Arizona. “He’s been there. And we have seen him work in the lives of his people.”

Bass continued, “I have been so amazed at Southern Baptists and the help and support we have received in Arizona.

“Two [examples] in particular. California Baptists have stood by us. I am so thankful that when everyone was scattering, … they came and stood with us,” Bass said, referencing the aid of the California Baptist Foundation.

“Also I’m thankful for Golden Gate Seminary … to continue to come and to help us train leaders. [O]ne of our SBC agencies has come along beside us and has stood with us. I want to say to you that has meant so much.”

Bass also noted “that I am proud of Arizona Southern Baptists because, in the midst of all of this turmoil, last November they voted to increase their giving through the SBC Executive Committee to the Cooperative Program by 5 percent. It is the largest increase in the convention’s history for Southern Baptist Convention causes.

“We’re proud to be kingdom people,” Bass said. “We’re proud to be a part of your family.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: APPRECIATIVE NEW YORKER.