June 30, 2017
By Aaron Weaver and Carrie McGuffin
ATLANTA — The 2017 General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship concluded Friday evening with a service of commissioning and blessing for new field personnel, chaplains, pastoral counselors and church starters, and a celebration of communion.
Four individuals were commissioned to serve as CBF field personnel in locations in the United States and China. Lesley-Ann Hix Tommey will join Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City, and Brittany and Casey Ramirez will serve alongside the Christian church in Chengdu, China. Stephanie Vance will transition into a role as Area Coordinator for Mission Teams with CBF Global Missions, leading the Rural Americas Team and continuing her leadership responsibilities with Together for Hope, CBF’s rural poverty coalition. Watch an introduction video to these new field personnel here.
“You cannot do this work alone, and we cannot do it without you,” CBF Global Missions Coordinator Steven Porter told the new field personnel. “But make no mistake, this commissioning demands as much of us as it does for you. As a Fellowship, we have committed to support — to pray for, to pay for and to partner with field personnel who have planted their lives in some places most of us couldn’t find on a map.”
These places, Porter added, are exactly the places where Christ is compelling Cooperative Baptists to go. And as these field personnel go into places around the world, they go with the blessing of the Fellowship and the power of the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the love of God made visible in Christ,” he said.
But to support field personnel to go into these places, Porter said, the Fellowship must give sacrificially, emphasizing that the CBF Offering for Global Missions has suffered a decline in support in recent years.
“We suffer not from a lack of God-given opportunity,” he said, “but a shortage of sacrifice. We have prayed; we have partnered; but we haven’t paid the bills. But I know we can.”
The Assembly also commissioned 39 chaplains and pastoral counselors who received endorsement through CBF over the past year.
“The ministry of chaplaincy and pastoral counseling rarely involves visiting any famous places,” said Rachel Hunt Hill, a CBF-endorsed chaplain and chair of the CBF Council on Endorsement. “Chaplains and pastoral counselors daily go to the secret, private places — the dark and beautiful places that very few know about. The ministry of chaplaincy and pastoral counseling is seeing the hurt in the world, and joining God there….It is creating space, inviting people in and holding them up until they find their own feet again.”
Hill challenged the chaplains and pastoral counselors to listen, lead and follow with their whole selves, using their skills to “remind people of the beauty few know about.”
Six new church starters were also commissioned for service in five churches in five states.
“The commission of Jesus propels us forward into new ways of loving neighbor,” said Andy Hale of CBF’s New Church Starts Initiative. “One might find that the compassion of God calls you to start a new community in the post-church culture of Denver, Colorado, or Fort Walton Beach, Florida. From the depths of the soul, you might sense a calling to serve the physical and relational needs in Henrico County, Virginia, or in Hebron, Kentucky….God might call you to create a safe space of belonging and a foundational church community for refugees and immigrants resettling in Raleigh, North Carolina.”
“As you follow Jesus, continue to be revitalized by the profound compassion of God, both inwardly and outwardly,” said Harry Rowland, CBF’s director of missional congregations. “As you work day to day, continue to be formed by the Holy Spirit and be formed with others in this great calling of God.”
Watch an introduction video these new church starters here.
Cultivating beloved community
Ralph and Tammy Stocks, longtime CBF field personnel in Bucharest, Romania, shared the story of their long-term presence of more than 20 years in the Ferentari neighborhood, ministering to Romany children and families through the Ruth School and Project Ruth, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016.
“The Ruth School seeks to break the bonds of poverty shackling the Romany by providing educational opportunities denied in public schools simply due to the color of their skin,” Ralph Stocks said. “For desperately poor Romany families the school provides each child with kindergarten through 8th grade instruction, a hot meal daily, medical attention from a doctor, free textbooks and supplies, a backpack, new socks and shoes and an after-school program, so that parents can work full-time jobs.”
“This is the work of transformational development, which celebrates the image of God in every human life and the gifts of every community,” said Tammy Stocks.
The footprints of Romanian partners are evident in the wide array of ministries of the Ruth School, the Stocks noted, introducing their dear friend and friend of CBF, Oti Bunaciu — founder and president of Project Ruth.
“I am very grateful for CBF being a faithful and strategic partner around the world, but especially in Europe and Romania,” Bunaciu said. “I am here to thank God for being a part of Project Ruth’s story for 25 years and this way, part of the story of our congregation and of Baptists in our country. I want to thank Ralph and Tammy Stocks for being the hands and feet on the ground for CBF and for Romania….The journey continues as God continues to call us to seek his guidance, to serve the needs of the world and to bring healing and hope to a broken world. I pray that the Holy Spirit of God will continue to inspire us and the love of God will continue to draw us together.”
The Stocks offered their heartfelt thanks to Cooperative Baptists for supporting the couple as field personnel for 22 years and enabling a global partnership with Project Ruth, which officially is designated as an Engagement Partner of CBF Global Missions as the Stocks transition from the field back to the United States.
“Please support the Offering for Global Missions,” the Stocks urged the Assembly. “Support the Offering for Global Missions so that others have the freedom to follow God’s call wherever it leads. We could not have done it without you. God bless Project Ruth and God bless CBF.”
Product of Baptist mission
Caleb Oladipo, who serves as a professor of evangelism and missions at Campbell University Divinity School, a CBF partner, shared about his journey of faith in Christ as a product of Baptist mission.
“As I stand before you this evening, my heart is full of gratitude that you have been sending missionaries to plant churches in Nigeria since 1845,” said Oladipo, who chairs the CBF Missions Council. “I am a product of a longstanding presence of your ministry in Nigeria. The presence of Baptist missionaries in Nigeria has defined my life and my destiny.”
Oladipo recounted how his journey of faith in Christ began 45-years-ago in Lagos, Nigeria, when he visited Yaba Baptist Church, a congregation planted by Baptist missionaries.
“I found myself in a Sunday school class. I will never forget that day, as I saw Baptists who were talking openly about the word of God, and I was moved…I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior. It was the most significant event of my life.”
Oladipo reflected on his academic journey in the United States as a student and later as a professor of missions, noting fondly his experiences among Cooperative Baptists as a missionary from Nigeria to the United States.
“By inviting me into your homes, your churches, your Wednesday prayer meetings, weekend retreats and your life, CBF has demonstrated the prejudice is the handmaid of ignorance,” Oladipo said. “You resisted the urge to demonize those who are different, as a mark of your own authenticity as God’s children. You showed me without writing it on my forehead, that there is a stamp of God’s divine love in every human being.
“You demonstrated that mission is not to be understood as self-expansion efforts of the Church only, but also as a participation in the primary activity of God to redeem humanity through Jesus Christ,” Oladipo said. “You showed me that there is only one mission — singular — God’s mission, and that we as God’s people have been invited to participate in the mission of God for the world.”
Oladipo said CBF gave him the freedom to see Christianity as a channel through which he could make a full disclosure of his African heritage.
“You allowed me to tell my own stories of faith without domesticating them, and you allowed me to do this without evangelism, without anathema, and without excommunication,” he said. “You allow me to dance with Jesus Christ, the Lord of my salvation — the salvation that more closely resembles the flight of a butterfly than the flight of a bullet. As a result of your love and acceptance, I was free to say the name of Jesus Christ in America that only my life can say. I have not yet finished.”
The 2017 CBF General Assembly concluded with a celebration of communion led by former CBF Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal and Vestal Scholar Jenna Sullivan, and the singing of “Christ’s Love Compels Us,” a new anthem commissioned to celebrate the silver anniversary of the Fellowship (video here).
“What we’ve seen tonight, your support makes all this possible,” said CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter. “Just as we commission these missionaries, I’m commissioning you to be missionaries and advocates for CBF Global Missions in your own church. Love spreads in contagious ways. When you say ‘yes’ you welcome a refugee; you welcome someone home. You’ll share the Gospel, just by saying ‘yes.’”
CBF is a Christian network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.