North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell addresses trustees at a Monday night dinner on the eve of their Oct. 6 meeting in Alpharetta. ALEXANDRA TOY/NAMB
By Mike Ebert
ALPHARETTA – Trustees of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) gathered Oct. 5-6 to celebrate God’s provision and Southern Baptist faithfulness during a year marked by a pandemic, economic uncertainty and social unrest. Most trustees attended the meeting in person with social distancing at NAMB’s building in Alpharetta while some participated online.
At the group’s Monday evening celebration dinner, NAMB president Kevin Ezell noted that after the COVID-19 virus sent the United States into a lockdown just as most churches normally would raise funds for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, NAMB stopped promoting giving to the offering. But giving continued nonetheless as churches found creative ways to continue to promote and collect the offering.
“But 2020 was the greatest Annie Armstrong Offering in the history of the North American Mission Board,” Ezell said. “It was not the largest. But it was the greatest.”
Reporting a total of $49.3 million given, Ezell said, “The faithfulness of Southern Baptists is absolutely incredible and to me, never demonstrated better than giving almost $50 million in the midst of an unpromoted Annie Armstrong offering in the midst of a pandemic.”
In Tuesday’s full board meeting trustees unanimously passed a $99.8 million operating budget for fiscal year 2021, heard reports from each of the board’s committee chairpersons and recognized outgoing trustees.
The budget is almost 20 percent below last year’s budget of $124,230,000. Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, NAMB instituted budgetary freezes and cutbacks designed to keep missionaries on the field.
Jay Watkins, pastor of Redland Baptist Church in Valdosta, was recognized for his eight years of service. Ezell thanked Watkins especially for the ministry his church has to children in foster care and their families.
Larry Robertson, pastor of Hilldale Baptist Church in Clarksville, Tenn., was recognized for his 10 years of service as a NAMB trustee. Robertson was one of the first missionaries appointed by the newly formed North American Mission Board in the fall of 1997 and served with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions and the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board before becoming pastor of Hilldale.
In his president’s report, Ezell outlined three areas of priority focus for NAMB in 2021: Collegiate Evangelism, Hispanic church planting, and Send Relief national mission trips.
Ezell told trustees that with more than 21 million college students in North America and more than 5,300 college campuses, college students are among the top 10 unreached people groups in North America.
“We asked several Baptist Campus Ministry directors who they thought would be a good leader for collegiate evangelism and the person we chose was on every list, and typically he was the first on the list,” Ezell said. NAMB’s collegiate evangelism director will be named later in October.
Ezell outlined for trustees the projected growth of America’s Hispanic population over the next 40 years. In 2016 the Hispanic population in the United States was 57 million. By 2030 it is expected to jump to 74 million and then 111 million by 2060, far outpacing the growth of any other ethnic group.
“We are very excited about putting a good deal of emphasis on our Hispanic church planting, and the reason we are doing it is the demographic projections,” Ezell said. “We are trying to get ahead of the growth.”
Ezell also shared plans for Send Relief national mission trips which will take place each month in different cities throughout North America beginning in the fall of 2021.
“One of the things people love each year at our SBC luncheon is how we always bless someone who has a need,” Ezell said. “We want to take that spirit on the road by hosting a national mission trip once a month.”
The goal of the mission events is to bring hundreds of volunteers to a city to focus on meeting needs and sharing Christ in communities, schools, and churches. Send Relief will work with state Baptist conventions, local associations and churches to coordinate the events.
Monday evening’s dinner included a time of recognizing Ezell on the 10th anniversary of his becoming NAMB president. Ezell was elected by NAMB trustees Sept. 14, 2010, at a point of significant uncertainty for NAMB after it had seen two presidents leave within a span of three years.
“He came at a time when NAMB was floundering about its purpose and mission,” NAMB trustee chairman Danny de Armas said. “One of the most important responsibilities for a leader is being able to define reality, and Kevin did so. He then laid out a vision for what we could be, and his vision was not small. It was big, and it was compelling.”
Articulating many of the accomplishments of the past 10 years, de Armas, senior associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., outlined how Ezell’s leadership has had an impact across the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Kevin helped us make church planting the tip of the spear for Southern Baptists,” de Armas said. “I am so proud, Kevin, of your work and so thankful for your leadership. You have done an incredible job.”