ORLANDO, Fla.–Barbecue, baked beans, coleslaw and encouragement were on the menu for the “Stay at It” luncheon sponsored by the Florida Baptist Convention (FBC), North American Mission Board (NAMB) and Florida Baptist Financial Services on Monday, Nov. 11, during the 2019 Florida Pastors’ Conference.
As more than 900 people gathered around tables at First Baptist Church in Orlando, Tommy Green, Florida Baptists’ executive director-treasurer, commended pastors and churches affected by Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 hurricane that made landfall on Florida’s Panhandle in October 2018. They are a “testimony to what it means to ‘Stay at It,’” the theme of the Pastors’ Conference, he said. While progress has been made in hurricane recovery efforts, much remains to be done.
Green recognized pastors of three churches in the storm’s path of devastation: Steven Kyle, senior pastor, Hiland Park Baptist Church, Panama City; Boyd Evans, senior pastor, First Baptist Church in Port St. Joe; and Matt Basford, pastor, First Baptist Church in Bristol.
Each pastor shared his gratitude for Florida Baptists’ assistance and response following the hurricane.
Kyle shared that because of Florida Baptists’ help, community residents now “know what Baptists are ‘for,’” rather than what Baptists are ‘against.’ … We are celebrating what God is getting ready to do” as a result of the disaster.
Hurricane recovery is a “journey,” said Evans, adding, “It is slower than we ever imagined. … Thank you for not forgetting us.” The Port St. Joe church facility was destroyed but has not yet been demolished.
“You don’t know how much it means for Florida Baptists and Southern Baptists from other state conventions to “help us out,” said Basford.
In addition to practical hurricane recovery, the Florida convention provided sponsorship for nearly 50 pastors affected by Hurricane Michael to attend the Pastors’ Conference and annual meeting. The sponsorship consisted of three nights in a hotel and a $100 gift card for travel expenses, along with various meals being provided during sessions.
“The pastors and churches impacted by Hurricane Michael continue in the process of restoration,” said Green. “It is important to honor these individuals because of their faithful resolve to be a source of strength and healing to their communities and cities.
“We are a family of churches in Florida, and we desire to encourage those who continue serving under very challenging circumstances.”
Jason Harris, newly ordained pastor of Greenwood Baptist Church, and his wife Linnette were grateful for the sponsorship. Forty percent of the homes in his community were destroyed by the hurricane. As he ministered to those affected in the storm’s immediate aftermath, Harris was asked to serve as interim pastor of the church, Florida Baptists’ third oldest church. Soon that interim position became an ongoing bivocational pastorate for Harris.
“There was no possible way we could have left town” to attend the meetings without Florida Baptists’ financial sponsorship, he said. His church, which runs in the high thirties in attendance each Sunday, simply “couldn’t afford it,” he said. Coming to his first meeting has been a refreshing “break” from some still-stressful situations back home.
“It’s great to be a part of being loved,” Harris said. “To reach out and care for your churches—that’s important.”
Green invited all attendees representing churches affected by Hurricane Michael, as well as those who have served in partnership roles with those churches, to stand as their fellow Florida Baptists prayed aloud for them. He closed the corporate time of prayer by exhorting those who were in the hurricane’s destructive path, “We love you. ‘Stay at It’ because we are with you in this journey.”
The luncheon concluded with Joel Southerland, executive director of evangelism, NAMB, providing information about Crossover Florida, a statewide evangelistic initiative to be carried out in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Orlando, June 9-10, 2020. Florida Baptist churches are encouraged to participate in a Who’s Your One? Sunday, on June 7, 2020, by preaching the gospel, giving an invitation and reporting results to NAMB. Southerland stated that Crossover Florida may be the “greatest Crossover in the history of the SBC.” Pastors can register for Crossover Florida by visiting namb.net/crossover.