The chief executives of Southern Baptists' national entities stood across the stage behind New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley to show their support when he reported to Executive Committee members September 19 on the condition of the institution he leads.
The Great Commission Council, which is composed of these same entity heads, unanimously supported a recommendation by Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman that the Executive Committee use beyond-the-budget Cooperative Program contributions for SBC national causes, received for the 2004-05 fiscal year ending September 30 and during the first quarter of the new fiscal year, to support disaster relief efforts.
The overage normally would be apportioned for each of their entities. The Executive Committee voted to give 50 percent of the surplus to New Orleans Seminary, 25 percent to the North American Mission Board, and 25 percent to the state conventions of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana for relief and recovery. The action was described as a bold example of sacrifice and solidarity among brothers and sisters in Christ in days of extreme need.
Rob Zinn, chairman of the Executive Committee, said the surplus was at about $6.4 million and the amount could rise in the remaining days of the budget year.
"We believe that if we give Baptists an avenue, Southern Baptists will rise to the occasion and do whatever we need to do to take care of our seminary, our three state conventions, our churches, and our people," Zinn said.
The Executive Committee also voted to suspend a Convention bylaw that prevents one entity from making a financial contribution to another entity so that doors could be opened for unprecedented relief measures to proceed.
Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, told the committee the IMB trustees agreed during their September 13 meeting to allocate $2.5 million of their contingency reserve funds to disaster relief and recovery in the Gulf Coast.
"No one knows better than the International Mission Board and your missionary personnel of the faithfulness of Southern Baptists in responding to special needs," Rankin said, recalling how church members stepped up to provide an 18 percent increase in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering at a time when the board lacked funds to send people called to share the gospel abroad.
Rankin also recalled Southern Baptists' $16 million contribution for tsunami relief in the aftermath of the monstrous tragedy in Southeast Asia.
Though it may be risky to transfer funds meant to assist international missionaries in cases of emergency to assist in a domestic crisis, Rankin said the gift is given with the knowledge that a large portion of churches that gave that money through the Lottie Moon offering or Cooperative Program are those now in dire need.
"We ask that you will pray with us that the Lord will stay His hand on disasters overseas that we won't need those funds until they have recovered in our reserves," he said.
In another sign of solidarity, Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, presented a check worth $147,282 to Kelley and New Orleans Seminary for recovery efforts. The money was given by students and staff at Southeastern Seminary, many of whom struggle to manage on tight budgets anyway but sacrificed their resources so that their brothers and sisters in New Orleans could start to recover. Students at the other four Southern Baptist seminaries are doing the same.
James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources, told the committee that LifeWay trustees had set aside $6 million to be used by Southern Baptists for disaster relief in the Gulf Coast, and he reported that half of that amount had already been distributed to state conventions in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
Draper also said LifeWay was working to rebuild pastors' libraries by donating such basic books as the New American Commentary and the Holman Bible Dictionary.
"We will do that for every pastor, every minister on the Gulf Coast who has lost his library," Draper said.
LifeWay was also in the process of replacing Sunday School material lost in the hurricane across the Gulf Coast, he said, so that those churches who are able to locate people to teach will have the appropriate resources.
In addition, LifeWay will give New Orleans Seminary students $250 worth of textbooks and will work with professors to help them have the books they need to get the semester started, Draper said.
During what was likely his last report to the Executive Committee as LifeWay's president, Draper recounted his recent trip to view the devastation at New Orleans Seminary and surrounding areas. He said he was proud to be a Southern Baptist because of all the work that is being done in Jesus' name.
"We're all glad to be Southern Baptists because I don't see any of the ACLU or the extremists always crying racism out there passing out water and food, but Southern Baptists are there...and I am proud that we're a part of such a spirit of family and compassion," he said.
Robert E. (Bob) Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, told Executive Committee members more than five thousand Southern Baptist volunteers were on the ground in the disaster region and, if calculated, the labor of those folks would be worth more than $5.2 million. And through September 18, Southern Baptists had served more than 3.5 million meals, which exceeded the amount provided in all of 2004, he said.
Reccord also brought a message from President Bush who spoke to Reccord across the table at a recent meeting with eighteen leaders of disaster relief.
"During that meeting he made some incredibly affirming comments to the disaster relief work of Southern Baptists," Reccord shared. "He told me how he had seen them in multiple situations of 9/11, in Florida, and [in the Gulf Coast region], and his remarks were extremely gracious, supportive, and thankful for their contribution."
Wearing one of the trademark yellow Southern Baptist disaster relief shirts, Reccord reported that Southern Baptists were preparing and serving roughly 80 percent of the hot meals delivered by the Red Cross to hurricane victims. The yellow shirts were everywhere, he said.
"As Katrina was moving in on Saturday and Sunday, Southern Baptists were already preparing to move," he said. "When it hit on Sunday, they were mobilizing, and on Monday they were getting into place, and by Tuesday morning Southern Baptist were already providing food for those who didn't have any at all."
Such a broad and organized effort would not have been possible without the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists' unified giving plan since 1925, Reccord said.
"You will never have an opportunity to promote the importance of the Cooperative Program perhaps again in decades like you've got right now," he said. "Young leaders who look up to many of you need to hear you say why the Cooperative Program is important; that without the superstructure the Cooperative Program provided when this disaster hit, we couldn't have done squat. But because it exists, we could be there within forty-eight hours.
"And when Southern Baptists walked into the headquarters of American Red Cross, they got a standing ovation. I'm glad I'm a part of a people like that."