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Virgin Islands pastor: Baptists’ concern ‘genuine’

ST THOMAS, U.S.V.I. (BP) — The “genuine” love and concern of fellow Southern Baptists are what U.S. Virgin Islands pastor Lawrence Turnbull cites as perhaps his greatest appreciation while recovering from two devastating hurricanes of 2017.

“There’s a love and a concern … the folks show that are genuine,” Turnbull told Baptist Press after attending an appreciation dinner Southern Baptist leaders hosted for pastors on the islands Jan. 27.

“One of the things that I really appreciate about the Southern Baptist Convention, and the people that are there as representatives of SBC, is their concern and love, and their genuine concern for the people of the Virgin Islands,” said Turnbull, pastor of the St. Paul Baptist Church on St. Thomas and one of about 10 Southern Baptist pastors among the three islands.

“Those guys for the most part, especially Dr. (Ken) Weathersby [SBC Executive Committee vice president for convention advancement], if he promises something, he’s going to make it work, make it happen,” Turnbull said.

Southern Baptist leaders from the SBC Executive Committee, the North American Mission Board (NAMB), the Florida Baptist Convention (FBC) and LifeWay Christian Resources hosted the dinner at a St. Thomas restaurant for the pastors and wives.

Mark Croston, LifeWay Christian Resources national director of black church partnerships, gifted pastors with educational and leadership resources. Dennis Mitchell, executive director of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC, also attended.

Frank Page, SBC Executive Committee CEO and president, initiated the EC’s participation in the dinner, Weathersby said.

“Dr. Page and the EC wanted to assure the pastors and people of the U.S. Virgin Islands that Southern Baptists have not forgotten about their needs,” Weathersby told BP. “We are also grateful for the Florida Baptist Convention, NAMB, and members of the Southern Baptist Convention for responding to the pastors’ needs.”

Jeffery Singletary, an FBC regional catalyst, told pastors the FBC is “right beside” them, echoing the FBC motto. The U.S. Virgin Island churches comprise the Baptist Association of the Virgin Islands and are cooperating churches of the FBC.

“This dinner is to celebrate and appreciate the good work, hard work and noble work these pastors are doing throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Singletary said. “We want to honor them and their wives in a tangible way. Love is a verb, therefore we want to demonstrate our love for them in words, actions and deeds.”

Myles Dowdy, who oversees the FBC relationship with the pastors, told BC the FBC is “excited and blessed” to have Virgin Island churches as members of the Florida Baptist family.

“As a family, we are present for the celebrations and also the hardships that occur in life and ministry. I believe we have been able to come alongside the churches in the Virgin Islands and give a word of encouragement and hope,” Dowdy said. “We also have been able to give a helping hand in coming beside churches as they have ministered to their communities following the hurricanes.”

At first glance, the islands have largely recovered from the devastation of the 2017 hurricane season, Turnbull told BP today (Jan. 29). Electricity has been restored to as much as 97 percent of the island, homes are patched with blue tarp awaiting permanent repairs, the government is working, hospitals are open and commerce is active, Turnbull said.

He and his wife Evette are staying in one of four bedrooms he maintains at his church for mission outreaches, he said, while his home is being repaired.

God has used the hurricanes to help spread the Gospel, Turnbull said, noting baptisms and salvations in his congregation of about 100 worshipers on an average Sunday.

As evidence of Southern Baptists’ genuine love, Turnbull pointed to packs of supplies NAMB sent to pastors there this fall.

“It was a package that contained basically everything that we would need to make life kind of normal, and it was really honestly appreciated,” Turnbull said, noting generators, chainsaws, extension cords, food and cooking supplies that enabled the leaders to help their congregations as well as community members.

“And we look at the appreciation dinner that was held last weekend, we are really grateful,” Turnbull told BP. “They showed us their appreciation, but we honestly appreciate what NAMB, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Florida Baptist Convention and all the folks have done for us.”