“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” said Charles Dickens in his great novel A Tale of Two Cities. Set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, resurrection is a dominant theme of the book, especially the latter part. There is even an understanding that death, which is the worst, is necessary to experiencing resurrection, which is the best.
Those who have never read Dickens seem to know those opening words, perhaps because they speak to the reality of life as it always is – the best and the worst, existing together, sometimes comingled together, as an ever-present reality. On March 22 the Northwest experienced the worst natural disaster in our history when a mudslide near Oso, WA took the lives of 43 people. The total destruction of homes and lives and families breaks the heart. But in the aftermath of the disaster, Northwest Baptists were there, ministering in the midst of great sadness. Pastors Gary Ray and Michael Duncan, serving churches on the opposite sides of the slide, and dealing with their own grief in the loss of neighbors and friends, ministered Jesus to their communities. Joined by Northwest Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers, these men and their churches, fed the hungry, prayed with the grieving, and led many of the hopeless to Jesus where they found life eternal. The best came from the worst, resurrection life was quickened in those immersed in death.
This story has been told in hundreds of our churches this year, as you have delivered the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who were sinking into the mud pit that had become their life, or who were simply seeking answers to life’s big questions. This is the work of the NWBC and our growing network of more than 450 Gospel outposts, each doing the hard but joyous labor of Jesus, forever strengthened by His certain presence.
Much of the recent news in our country has centered on death, violent death, with the expectation that there is more to come. This is as it has always been. The world is always ablaze, often much worse than at present. But in the midst of national and individual difficulty, our churches have shined a bright light. New churches have been planted. Missionaries have been sent. Boys and girls have been baptized and many adults too. Young couples have covenanted to love each other in marriage until death parts them. Pastors and parents have been on their knees in prayer. Families have been saved. And with open Bibles the Word has been taught and proclaimed by those whose hearts are aflame for Christ. God bless you, each of you, for your persevering, hope-filled, life-giving ministry.
In our cooperative work we are experiencing significant progress. Through the first 11 months of 2014 giving through the Cooperative Program is up nine percent over the previous year. We are not yet where we need to be as our CP giving has declined significantly from the peak in 2007, but we are heading in the right direction. Also, for the first time in over 50 years we are debt free! In September we made the final payment on our convention building in Vancouver. This puts us in a good position to accelerate our efforts to start churches, train leaders, provide evangelism resources, and communicate what God is doing through our churches.
Regarding church planting, we have seen new churches planted among Bhutanese, Romanian, Vietnamese, Filipino, Hispanic, Korean, and English speaking peoples. At least 122 of our churches worship in a language other than English! Twenty-two new churches were voted into the NWBC at our annual meeting in November. You might not realize this, but the NWBC is the most diverse convention of churches in the Northwest. This reason for this is that we believe in the need to convert and cooperate. We believe every person needs to experience a spiritual conversion to faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of their language, culture, or religious background. And, we believe that by cooperating together we can more effectively penetrate the cultures and languages present in the Northwest. We are intentional about planting churches that reach the all the peoples present among us.
Regarding the training of leaders, an additional arrow in our quiver is a partnership with Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary to expand Contextualized Leadership Development (CLD). It will take us time to grow this ministry, but through it we will offer practical training for pastors in the areas of preaching, pastoral ministry, and Bible. CLD is designed for pastors unable to obtain a seminary degree, or for those for whom a full seminary degree is not practical or feasible. Our first expansion of CLD begins this January in the Portland area with a class on preaching. The likelihood is that we will develop on-line, web-based classes that will make training available to every household.
MY316 evangelism resources have been well-received by our churches, approximately 50 of whom have trained their people to share the Gospel and pray for the lost. In early December many of the pastors and leaders of our Korean language churches were trained to use MY316, which is now available in Korean. Also, we now have some MY316 resources available in Spanish.
On the communication front, we were pleased to begin printing the Witness in a new magazine format. Already we are mailing it, without charge, to more than 7,000 addresses. If your church is not yet receiving the Witness, please forward the addresses of your members and we will mail them a copy. In 2015 we will have at least 6 editions produced. Also, early in 2015 we expect to have a new NWBC website and a new convention logo. It’s looking great and we look forward to rolling it out in the next month or two.
One final cooperative ministry highlight concerns our new partnership with International Mission Board (IMB) personnel in East Asia. This is a first-ever partnership for the NWBC. We have been asked to come alongside our missionaries who are targeting unreached peoples in East Asia. For example, one of these people groups has 6.5 million people and there is not one church, of any kind, among them. Imagine God using you and your church to help lead the first of these people to Jesus and to help start the first church among them. Imagine praying daily for a people who have literally never heard the name “Jesus” in their lives. This is the opportunity afforded us by this partnership.
It is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest, especially during these times in which we are reminded daily that we live in a violent, hell-bent world. But the fields are ripe unto harvest. The hour is later than before. Let us be about the Father’s business. Thank you for allowing me to serve with you as together we serve the One “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” (Eph. 3:20f).