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Southern Baptist bus tour reaches halfway point


ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Talk about preaching to the choir -– Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch brought his message of reaching people for Christ and importance of the SBC Cooperative Program missions support to the North American Mission Board Sept. 16. Needless to say, he received a rousing welcome.

“Bobby Welch is God’s man to take Southern Baptists to the next level of evangelism and missions,” NAMB President Robert E. (Bob) Reccord said in introducing Welch during the chapel service held at First Baptist Church, Alpharetta, Ga., because national disaster relief operations have taken over NAMB’s auditorium.

Reccord expressed appreciation to Welch, who is at the halfway point in a national bus tour, for emphasizing priorities at the heart of NAMB’s work. “Thank you for bringing the focus of Southern Baptists on evangelism and on reaching North America and the world for Christ. Already you have brought this to a visible level nobody has done before,” Reccord said.

Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, agreed, saying, “What you have committed to do is amazing. Know that I and thousands of Georgia Baptists are praying for you daily as you travel across the country emphasizing the importance of witnessing, winning and baptizing 1 million people a year.”

White serves as chairman of the national What Now? Task Force which set goals several years ago that the convention would reach unprecedented numbers of baptisms, new Bible study units and new churches. “We prayed and dreamed a God-sized task and we’re thankful for a president doing his best to make that happen,” White said.

Welch conceived of a national bus tour rally to generate a sense of urgency about evangelism among Southern Baptists as a kickoff for “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

Welch gave NAMB staff and several area pastors in attendance a preview of his address to the SBC annual meeting in Nashville next June.

“I’m going to say, ladies and gentlemen, months ago I boarded a bus and went to every state in the nation and to Canada. And, every time I got off the bus, I claimed that land for Christ,” he said.

He explained that he intends to tell the convention, “There are giants in the land, but none that we cannot overcome with God’s help. And, there is fruit in the land — the unharvested fruit of millions and millions of people who are ready to come into the Kingdom. And, there are tens of thousands of people ready to go into the land.” Welch said he will display the thousands of commitment cards collected during the bus trip as evidence of those ready to reach the nation and world with the Gospel.

Welch told about receiving a phone call from a writer for Ladies Home Journal magazine preparing a story about a reported 29 million people who say they believe in God and the Bible but have no church home. The writer asked the SBC president if he knew why so many people haven’t found a church.

“I told him I knew the answer but didn’t want to tell him because it was very sad. It’s because we in the church have failed those millions of people,” Welch said. “The church has stopped building bridges to the lost world and taken to building fortresses we call churches. Those people are left to fend for themselves unless they come to one of our churches. We’ve got to get out of the fortress-building business and start building bridges so we can share the Gospel with them.”

The reporter asked what Welch thought the church in America would do. “I don’t know what all the churches will do,” Welch replied, “but I can promise you that Southern Baptists are about to do better than we’ve ever done before by getting back into the bridge-building business.”

Welch also received strong affirmation from his Cooperative Program-supported NAMB audience when he touted the strengths of the stewardship system that supports 11,000 SBC missionaries. “The Cooperative Program is a very big deal,” he said to loud amens and applause. “A church gets blessed when they share their blessings with their state, our nation and the world through the Cooperative Program.”

Welch used Southern Baptists’ extensive disaster relief network coordinated by the North American Mission Board as an example of cooperative ministries that reach people for Christ but confessed that he really hadn’t fully known how the system works.

“After Hurricane Charley came through Daytona and Florida, I went to some of the hardest-hit areas and saw Southern Baptist Disaster Relief for myself. I thought the Red Cross was feeding thousands of storm victims. But I saw Southern Baptist church members, using Southern Baptist kitchens, parked in Southern Baptist church parking lots, to cook in Southern Baptist pots, food that was placed in Red Cross vehicles to take to those who were hungry. I didn’t know that was all Southern Baptist efforts,” he explained.

“Then I saw when the Red Cross vehicles, some of which were driven by Southern Baptists, got to the where the victims were, it was Southern Baptists who took the food and distributed it to the people as they shared the Gospel with them! That’s what cooperation can do and that’s what the Cooperative Program can do! I like that.”

At the conclusion of his message, Reccord presented Welch with a statue of several figures in a boat rowing together as a symbol of Southern Baptists’ cooperation. Welch promised to display the statue at the SBC in Nashville next summer along with other memorabilia gathered during his bus trip across the country to promote evangelism.

The SBC president also promised that the 2005 convention will be different. “You will not want to miss what God is going to do in Nashville next year. Already busloads are coming from California, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Vermont and many more states,” he said. “It’s entirely likely that we will have 10,000 people there for Saturday’s CrossOver evangelism events alone. Years from now, you’ll want to be able to say, ‘I was there when Southern Baptists set out to reach 1 million people.’”

The service concluded with NAMB employees gathering around Welch for prayer as John Yarbrough, NAMB vice president of evangelism, prayed. “This is not about us or about Southern Baptists but it’s about You, Lord, and making You known,” Yarbrough prayed.

Welch left NAMB and boarded a plane for home -– for the first time since starting the tour three weeks earlier. He will be in Nashville for the SBC Executive Committee’s Sept. 20-21 meeting, then re-board the bus Thursday to begin the western swing of the trip which will conclude with a visit to Vancouver, British Columbia, Oct 5, Alaska the next day and Hawaii on Oct 7.
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