DULUTH – Sometimes you find the greatest treasures in your own backyard. That is what Russell Conwell discovered and articulated in his inspirational lecture and essay, Acres of Diamonds.
Conwell was an American Baptist minister, philanthropist, lawyer, writer, and founder and first president of Temple University in Philadelphia. In his famous lecture, which he reportedly delivered more than 6,100 times, he begins with a compelling anecdote about a man who wanted diamonds so badly that he sold his property and went off in a futile search for the coveted jewels.
Interestingly, the new owner of his home soon discovered that a rich diamond mine was located right there on the property he had purchased. So often, we think trekking across the globe as soldiers of fortune will result in us finding some amazing treasure, when what we really needed was in our own backyard.
The Baptist Health Care Ministry Board could have traveled the globe to find the next president and CEO of their entity, but such extensive travel was unnecessary, because the very best and most qualified man to do the job was in the same building and ready, available and qualified for the new challenge.
The search team for the Foundation, led by Pastor Grady Caldwell of New Mercy Baptist Church in Griffin, met at the Marriott Evergreen Hotel in Stone Mountain on Friday, October 12 where they agreed to extend the call to J. Robert White, the retiring, but physically and mentally nimble leader of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board for the past 26-years.
Caldwell stated, “God’s providence is amazing. We believe God has equipped Dr. White with too many gifts and talents to allow them to go unused for His Kingdom. His retirement as the Executive Director from the Georgia Baptist Mission Board happened to be at a time when we needed a new president and CEO.
“There is no one more qualified, more knowledgeable, more committed to the Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation than the one God used in such a strategic way at its inception back in 2006. We are so thankful to God that Dr. White has accepted our offer to lead us. He brings to us the same level of commitment he has used for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, and we are excited about our direction for the future under his leadership. The vote for Dr. White was unanimous, and he will begin his new role on January 1, 2019.”
In the mid-1990s, the Georgia Baptist Hospital was faced with same growing healthcare costs and increasing liability issues that caused many healthcare facilities to face insurmountable financial obstacles. Numerous hospitals were seeking to survive by joining with other hospitals to create health care systems in order to have a stronger financial base and spread the liability. Efforts to join other hospitals were unsuccessful due to the refusal of other hospitals to adopt the Georgia Baptist’s “no abortion” policy.
A decision was made to develop a system of small community hospitals around the state, thus bringing a higher standard of health care to underserved communities. However, it was difficult to make the new effort successful. It was then that White knew that some difficult decisions had to be made.
The Board of Directors met in Waynesville, N.C. for a retreat to find a solution to their growing concerns. White called for the Board to get on their knees in prayer to seek the wisdom of God for the future of the Georgia Baptist healing ministry. Following that season of fervent prayer, it became evident that the hospital should be sold, and the resources placed in a Georgia Baptist Healthcare Foundation to provide a healing ministry until Jesus returns.
Frank Upchurch was asked to be the first Chief Executive Officer. He was the one who began referring to the ministry as a “hospital without walls.”
When Upchurch went to heaven, he was succeeded by Will Bacon, who retired earlier this year. However, J. Robert White was the trailblazer who led the “board” to make the decision to become a ministering foundation and a “hospital without walls.” Since its founding the Foundation has awarded more than 600 grants totaling over $45 million, has involved nearly 65,000 volunteers touched almost 3.5 million lives and seen more than 17,000 people accept Christ.
In accepting the position, White commented, “One of the greatest joys I have had in my position has been serving on the Georgia Baptist Health Care System Board. I was amazed at the ministry of our hospitals, but when operating the hospitals became impossible for us financially, I asked for the retreat in North Carolina where through prayer the decision was made to begin the Georgia Baptist Heath Care Ministry Foundation.
“Now, twelve years after the Foundation was begun we have seen amazing growth in resources and the distribution of over $45 million in grants to healing ministries. Without a doubt, God was in this from the beginning. I cannot recall anything in my ministry that has been more gratifying.”
White continued, “Now, having been asked by the board to serve as president and CEO, I am excited to see all the wondrous things God will do through this ministry in the years ahead. As far as I know, Georgia Baptists have been singularly blessed to have such a foundation, and we need to give Him the glory and rejoice every day over this unique opportunity to bless people and share Jesus.”