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CBF expands anti-poverty initiative, launches process to determine group’s future

MEMPHIS, Tenn.— An update on how the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is helping achieve the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals—a commitment the organization’s decision-making body made last fall—topped the agenda of the CBF’s annual general assembly June 19-20.

During the two-day meeting, almost 2,000 Baptists—including 256 from Texas—also launched a process to discern CBF’s future direction.

Millennium Development Goals

At its general assembly last year, the CBF asked its Coordinating Council to endorse the Millennium Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations in 2000 to address extreme poverty worldwide.

“The Coordinating Council and staff have found this call to be the very thing we are eager to do,” said Jack Glasgow of Zebulon, N.C., who chaired a task force to explore ways to help meet the goals. Those goals are:

• Eradicate extreme hunger.

• Ensure access to primary schooling for all children.

• Promote gender equality and empower women.

• Reduce child mortality.

• Improve maternal health.

• Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

• Ensure environmental sustainability.

• Create a global partnership for development, which involved trade, aid and debt.

Following the right path

“This is the right path for missional churches,” said Glasgow, who became CBF moderator—the group’s top elected official—at the end of this year’s General Assembly. “Our focus on the (goals)… has energized us as we move to the future.”

Glasgow said CBF field personnel around the world are engaged in more than 100 projects that collectively address the eight goals. Among those is Water for Hope, a new initiative that “builds on the assets of communities and on partnerships with churches and other groups to overcome the water crisis in places like Ethiopia, Southeast Asia, Thailand and Uganda,” Glasgow said.

In addition, the Coordinating Council has approved a two-year partnership with the Micah Challenge USA, which aims to deepen Christian engagement with impoverished and marginalized communities and to influence world leaders to fulfill their promise to achieve the goals.

“This joins CBF with other evangelical groups in America who support the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and want to assist congregations in their own awareness and support of the goals,” said Glasgow.

Fighting global poverty and hunger

The CBF Foundation will soon invest in sustainable economic development by offering small loans to the poor who have no collateral and lack access to capital. These micro enterprise loans will assist churches and partner organizations in alleviating global poverty, Glasgow said.

Another key component of the CBF’s commitment to the goals lies in its 19 state and regional fellowships, most of whom have endorsed the goals or are engaged in ministries that help achieve them, he added.

One CBF partner—Bread for the World, a hunger relief advocacy group—asked all participants at the general assembly to write letters to U.S. senators, encouraging them to vote for the Global Poverty Act (S.2433), a bipartisan bill that engages the United States in reducing poverty. A companion bill passed the House of Representatives last fall. Displays throughout the Memphis Cook Convention Center offered details about the bill, addresses of senators and congressmen, envelopes and collection bags.

Looking to the future

In looking to the future, the CBF is eager to involve all its constituents, said CBF Executive Coordinator Dan Vestal. “Discernment together is more than voting on a strategic plan or projecting goals or trying to reach consensus. It is a spiritual exercise looking at the past, present and future.”

“Whatever the CBF becomes will be determined by Providence,” Vestal said. “But my understanding of Providence is that we are asked to make decisions that have real consequences.”

Though the 17-year-old Fellowship—which receives contributions from about 1,800 congregations—is “young in historical perspective and small in global perspective,” Vestal said the CBF is “significant and strategic within the Baptist family and within the Body of Christ.”

“The congregations and institutions that partner within this Fellowship have great influence and impact in the world,” he said. “And our future is as bright as the promises of God.”

Following his comments participants met in state and regional groups to pray and discuss a survey which asks a variety of questions related to broadening the CBF community; training and development; resource utilization; missional engagement; honoring race, gender and generations; and interacting with the world community. It also asks respondents to rank the six categories in order of importance.

What’s next?

“Now we have come to a time in the life of this movement when we are healthy and strong enough to step back and ask, what is God preparing for us now?” said outgoing moderator Harriet Harral of Fort Worth, Texas. “In what new and improved ways are we now being called to step out on faith to follow Christ and serve God better?”

“We do not yet have answers, but we are excited about the questions we are bringing to this General Assembly for you to pray over so that together we can seek God’s answers,” said Harral.

The next day groups completed the surveys and presented them during a worship session. “These surveys really represent not only your insights and passions and convictions, but also something of an offering to the Lord,” said Vestal. “We are going to offer our best insights and deepest convictions to God as a sort of prayer.”

The responses will be used by leaders as they evaluate the CBF’s future. Ben McDade, coordinator of Fellowship advancement, said he expected the CBF’s Coordinating Council to have a proposal to consider at its October meeting.

The survey will be available on line through June 24 (www.thefellowship.info/discernment).

Taking care of business

In other business, the CBF approved a 2008-2009 budget of $16.5 million, a slight increase over the current budget of $16,480,000. More than $13 million of the total is allocated for global missions.

Participants also endorsed a slate of nominees for top offices and for the Coordinating Council, including a new moderator-elect—Hal Bass, a professor at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark.

The also contributed more than $10,000 to the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Offering for Religious Liberty and Human Rights. About one-third of the receipts from the four-year-old offering will be sent to the Baptist World Alliance’s human rights and religious liberty initiatives. Also receiving funds will be the European Baptist Federation, which includes Baptist constituencies in the Middle East and North Africa.
 
 
 
 
 
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