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S.C. Baptists launch ambitious 3-year assignment to S. Asia

COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP)–In quiet but efficient fashion, messengers to the 184th annual session of the South Carolina Baptist Convention elected a veteran pastor as president and launched the convention’s most ambitious international missions partnership ever.

The meeting was held Nov. 16-17 at First Baptist Church in Columbia, with 1,117 messengers registered.

As was the case with all the new officers, Jerry White, pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Greer, S.C. was elected by acclamation as president. White has been a pastor for 33 years, 25 of them in South Carolina. He is a former president of the South Carolina Baptist Pastor’s Conference.

Other officers elected were first vice-president James Merritt, the former second vice-president who is a member of Rock Springs Baptist Church in Easley; second vice-president Richard Porter, pastor of Branchville Baptist Church; recording secretary Brenda Barnes, a member of Poplar Springs Baptist Church in Walhalla; and registration secretary Brad Whitt, pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Simpsonville.

Messengers approved a budget of $32,150,000, which includes gifts of $31,825,000 through the Cooperative Program and $325,000 from the Cooperative Gifts category. Sixty percent of the budget is earmarked for ministry within South Carolina, with 40 percent destined for the Southern Baptist Convention.

South Carolina Baptists have carried out mission partnerships in Rio de Janeiro, Kenya, Romania and Taiwan, but had not taken on an entire region of the world — until now. In 2005, the SCBC’s three-year assignment will be South Asia, which includes Bhutan, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Pakistan.

Sixteen teams of volunteers from South Carolina are lined up to go during the first year of the partnership to South Asia, which, according to volunteer missions coordinator Debbie McDowell, is “the greatest concentration of lostness in the world.”

Messengers viewed a video featuring Southside Baptist Church in Spartanburg, which sent an 11-member prayerwalk team to South Asia in advance of the official partnership launch. In the video, David Blanton, minister of missions at Southside, challenged all South Carolina Baptists to pray that God would “break down the darkness” in South Asia and cause the people there to be “open to the light of Jesus Christ.”

“Join us in the task of sharing the Good News with South Asia,” Blanton said.

In a signing ceremony to make the partnership official, Carlisle Driggers, the convention’s executive director-treasurer, said South Carolina Baptists are making a commitment to people “who need to hear of the love of Jesus Christ.”

“Those who know the Good News are called to tell the message of redemption to the world,” he said.

Driggers told of William Carey’s pioneering missionary work in India in the late 1700s and how First Baptist Church in Charleston, under the leadership of Richard Furman, made what is believed to be the first contribution of money by an American congregation to overseas missions, and how the new partnership brings South Carolina’s involvement in South Asia “full circle.”

Of the partnership, he said, “This is kingdom thinking and we dare not miss this opportunity.”

Resolutions approved by messengers included support for South Carolina Baptist involvement in education and for prayer at public gatherings, and opposition to the trafficking and exploitation of human beings smuggled into the country. Messengers also approved resolutions opposing gambling and supporting citizens having a greater opportunity for input in the selection of judges.

Another resolution asked that the Woman’s Missionary Union, at the state and national levels, “consider their relationship with the Baptist World Alliance and its Women’s Department.” The resolution affirmed South Carolina’s WMU for its “longstanding decision not to forward or channel any financial or other support” to the Women’s Department of the BWA.

In his president’s address, Wayne Dickard, pastor of Northbrook Baptist Church in Boiling Springs, told messengers, “Baptist work across the state is strong. Giving is good, but it could be better. Evangelism and missions are going forward.”

Underscoring his belief that “preaching is the greatest tool in the history of man for winning people to Christ,” Dickard said that Christians in America are involved in a “cultural war,” and declared, “If we lose that war, the reason will be silent pulpits.”

“It is not our word we preach, but God’s Word,” he told the audience of mostly ministers. “That word originated with God, not with us.”

In his charge to South Carolina Baptists, he said, “Preach the word and pray that God will blow His breath — the breath of the Holy Spirit — on our churches so that where there is death, there will be life. Can a dead church live again? Yes, it can have life through the God of heaven. God can breathe life into a dead church — and into a dead soul.”

Kennneth Hemphill, national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth, which became a Southern Baptist Convention initiative in 2002, was the first non-South Carolina minister to give the convention sermon at the annual meeting.

He praised South Carolina as “the birthplace of Empowering Kingdom Growth,” and told messengers, “You have encouraged our Southern Baptist denomination.”

Hemphill said that Southern Baptists, as Israel of old, have been blessed in order to be a blessing to others.

“We have been redeemed for the purpose of mission, for fulfilling the Great Commission,” he said.

Hemphill, the former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said that there is a generation of Christians willing to go to the mission fields “if we’re willing to send them.” What is lacking now, he said, is “a passion among our people to reach the world.”

The 2005 convention is set for Nov. 15-16 at First Baptist Church in Columbia. Jim Goodroe, director of missions for the Spartanburg County Baptist Network, is scheduled to give the convention sermon. The alternate is Rudy Gray, pastor of Utica Baptist Church in Seneca.

First Baptist Church in Taylors, will host the 2006 state convention, with the 2007 meeting scheduled for Florence.

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  • Don Kirkland