In a year dominated by economic uncertainty and major shifts in denominational focus, the overwhelming outpouring of love toward the people of Haiti by Oklahoma Baptists following the Jan. 12 earthquake was voted the top story of 2010 by the editorial staff of the Baptist Messenger.
The giving and going by state Baptists dominated headlines throughout the year as more than 30 disaster relief teams traveled to the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and environs to help build sturdy homes and provide potable water for desperate Haitians left homeless and almost hopeless by the 7.0 magnitude quake which hit the Caribbean nation, thanks to more than $600,000 given by Oklahoma Baptists to earthquake relief.
Rounding out the Top 10 stories were (2) approval of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) report by messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Orlando in June; (3) the report of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Mission Advance Team; (4) a reduced BGCO budget during the year; (5) the launch of the MY316 evangelism effort and an increase in state baptisms; (6) high tech advances personified in the evening worship services of Falls Creek youth weeks and the sessions of the BGCO Annual Meeting in November being live streamed over the Internet for the first time; (7) the 25th Anniversary of Hope Pregnancy Centers; (8) the Centennial of Oklahoma Baptist University highlighted by national NAIA basketball championship by the Bison men and an indoor track & field title by the Lady Bison; (9) the 20th Anniversary of the Singing ChurchWomen of Oklahoma and (10) the passing of two giants of the faith in the deaths of Avery T. Willis and Warren Hultgren.
More then 230,000—some estimates said as many as 300,000—people were killed when the devastating earthquake struck Haiti Jan. 12.
Originally working in conjunction with Florida Baptists, who had a 15-year partnership with Haitian Baptists, Oklahoma volunteers eventually centered their efforts on Carrefour, the epicenter of the quake. From conducting medical clinics to building concrete block homes with metal roofs, repairing/rebuilding churches and either digging wells or installing pumps for existing wells, Oklahoma volunteers numbering more than 230 traveled to Haiti during the year to share the love of Christ with earthquake victims.
Oklahoma Baptists—in a down economy—gave generously. More than $630,300, in fact, to earthquake relief.
Following a visit to Port-au-Prince late in the year, BGCO Executive Director-Treasurer Anthony L. Jordan said, “Oklahoma Baptists have done a remarkable work there. We have made a major impact, both in the physical lives of the people and the churches, but also an incredible impact spiritually.”
• (2) The much-anticipated GCRTF report was overwhelmingly approved June 15 by SBC messengers after it was amended twice to strengthen language it contained regarding the Cooperative Program (CP) the SBC’s historically unified channel of giving for 85 years. The report added a new category—Great Commission Giving—to the Annual Church Profile, while affirming the CP as the “most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach.”
The report’s components have led to major reorganizations on the national level, especially within the North American Mission Board. That agency has offered retirement incentives which has led to a reduction in staff of 99—81 of whom took advantage of the incentives to retire early—one-third of its staff.
The GCRTF components also shift some financial burdens to the state conventions over the next several years.
• (3) The 23-member BGCO Mission Advance Team (MAT) identified five areas that “deserve priority in ministry and in funding” and said in its report that it “believes that strategic and intentional effort in these areas will lead our convention to greater effectiveness and the bold advancement of the Kingdom of God in Oklahoma, our nation and our world.”
Those five areas included training pastors, making disciples of young adults, facilitating broader participation in partnership missions, planting churches and employing new technologies, all to “impact lostness and make disciples.”
The MAT also developed a new BGCO mission statement: “The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma is a partnership of churches serving together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ to impact lostness with the Gospel by making disciples of all peoples.”
The MAT’s report was approved unanimously by messengers to the BGCO Annual Meeting in November.
• (4) The BGCO’s Board of Directors approved a 2011 CP budget of $24.2 million Sept. 21, nearly $2 million less than originally projected in a preliminary budget presented to the Board in May. The move was further evidence of a sagging U.S. economy and declining CP receipts.
“This budget has been one of the most difficult I have been a part of in my 15 years here,” Jordan said at the time. “The reason is we have seen something in the last two years that we hadn’t seen since I came here. We had 15 consecutive years of higher receipts in CP giving than the prior year until 2009, when we began to see the recession taking its toll on us and on you and on our churches.”
As a result, Jordan said, “painful decisions” were made, including reducing BGCO staff by 22 positions over the past two years to help reduce costs.
• (5) On a brighter note, baptisms in Oklahoma jumped in 2009, it was reported in late January at the annual State Evangelism Conference, where a new MY316 evangelism strategy was announced. It was the first increase in baptisms since 2004, and the largest jump since 1999. The Convention’s partnership with associations across the state was credited with playing a major role in the increase. Meanwhile, MY316, an initiative to encourage every believer to share the Gospel, pray for the lost and serve the lost through Jesus’ love, was introduced at the SEC. Basically, MY 316 calls for someone to use John 3:16 and his or her personal story to share the Gospel.
• (6) The June 7 evening worship service at Falls Creek was an historic one as it was the first service live streamed via the Internet.
“Just think, we’ll now have Oklahoma missionaries around the world—who may have been called by God at Falls Creek—able to watch Falls Creek for the first time since they were young people,” said Scott Phillips, BGCO Church and Family Equipping Team leader, in announcing the technological breakthrough. That feat was continued during the BGCO Annual Meeting in November, when its sessions also were live streamed.
• (7) More than 7,800 babies have been born as a result of the efforts of Hope Pregnancy Centers, a ministry of Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children, it was announced Sept. 30 at the HPC 25th Anniversary celebration at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. More than 750 people gathered to celebrate a ministry that has seen almost 50,000 clients since they began. Almost 600 of those clients have prayed to receive Christ.
• (8) Oklahoma Baptist University observed its Centennial during 2010, and celebrated in a big way athletically. The Bison had one of their best seasons ever in the NAIA, winning the men’s national championship in basketball, as well as the women’s indoor track and field national title.
For the first time in 44 years, OBU was the crown jewel of the NAIA as winners of the national men’s basketball championship, 84-83, over Azusa Pacific March 23 in Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.
Head Coach Doug Tolin and his team held the big red banner at midcourt in a scene OBU hadn’t celebrated since Al Tucker and Coach Bob Bass defeated Georgia Southern in 1966.
Meanwhile, OBU won its third women’s indoor track and field national championship since 2005 on March 6 with a one-point win over Sooner Athletic Conference rival Wayland Baptist.
Two months later, the lady Bison narrowly missed winning the outdoor championship in May, finishing with 60 points to national champion Azusa Pacific’s 61.
• (9) In May, the Singing ChurchWomen of Oklahoma celebrated 20 years of ministry at their final concert of the year at the Oklahoma City Civic Center. Accompanied by the Oklahoma Baptist Symphony, the 310 women presented a 90-minute program of selections they have sung over the years. The audience was estimated at approximately 1,200. More than 1,000 women have participated in the group over the last two decades.
The group was formed in 1989 with 187 singers and has since grown to include more than 400, who are divided into two groups—East and West. An auditioned group, members include professional, vocational, volunteer and lay church musicians.
• (10) Oklahoma—and Southern Baptists everywhere—lost two giants of the faith in 2010, with the passing of Avery T. Willis, July 30, and Warren Hultgren, Nov. 14.
Willis, 76, for whom the Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach at OBU is named, was a renowned leader in global missions. He retired from the International Mission Board as senior vice president for overseas operations in 2004. An Arkansas native, Willis was a 1956 OBU graduate. He and his wife, Shirley, served as missionaries to Indonesia for 14 years before returning stateside in 1978.
Widely known for his work in creating the MasterLife discipleship materials, Willis headed adult discipleship programs for LifeWay Christian Resources before moving to the IMB’s administrative staff in 1993. After retirement, he moved to Bella Vista, Ark. and continued active work in missions, traveling internationally approximately 25 weeks per year.
He was diagnosed with leukemia in January.
Hultgren, 89, longtime pastor of Tulsa, First, served as BGCO president, vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention and on the executive committee of the Baptist World Alliance.
He was noted for a mixture of compassion, dedication and a knack for doing the unexpected. At Tulsa, First, Hultgren officiated at 780 weddings and 2,100 baptisms. He traveled to more than 70 countries representing Southern Baptists and the BWA Executive Committee. His awards and honors are too many to list; however, an editorial in the Oklahoma Observer in 1992 stated that Hultgren “may be one of the finer statesmen produced by the Southern Baptist Convention in this century.”