Alaska Baptists celebrate outreach to highways, hedges
KETCHIKAN, Alaska (BP) -- Alaska Baptists celebrated baptisms, new pastors to their state convention, progress in areas without a Gospel witness, and heard other encouraging ministry reports during its 72nd annual meeting, Sept. 25-27, held in Ketchikan.
"We shortened things to three sessions this year because of travel in and out of Ketchikan," Randy Covington, executive director of the Alaska Baptist Convention (ABC), told Baptist Press. "Everyone had to fly out Wednesday evening.
"We did all business and reports at the first session Tuesday afternoon," Covington noted. "Tuesday evening we focused on missions nationally and internationally. Wednesday morning was missions in Alaska."
In addition to nine pastors new to the ABC during the last year, the state's annual meeting celebrated Unalaska Reformed Church in Dutch Harbor, which recently chose to affiliate with Southern Baptists in Alaska.
Under a scriptural watchword of Luke 10:23-24, and a theme of "Longing to see ... Longing to hear," the annual meeting of the far-north state convention celebrated its dependence on God to accomplish what He wants done in the state -- one where reportedly only one-third of its land mass can be reached by something other than boat, plane, snow machine or dog-sled.
"We recognize while it's easy to hit the highway system, it's difficult to get off the grid," Covington said. "Many villages don't have any gospel witness whatsoever.... The responsibility to meet 'the hedges' really starts with our highway churches. It's our responsibility as Alaska Baptists to reach the people in our state."
The new budget reflects $700,965 from Alaska churches; $139,000 from the North American Mission Board; and $60,000 from LifeWay Christian Resources, plus $17,493 from other sources. NAMB also has allocated $450,000 for church planting in Alaska, $45,000 for church planting development, $4,000 for church planting evangelism strategies and $36,000 for existing church evangelism.
Alaska Baptists maintained their 37 percent of Alaska Cooperative Program receipts from their churches for national and international Southern Baptist causes, for a total of $235,130 anticipated leaving Alaska during the 2018 budget year.
"One of the things I emphasized at the annual meeting was the fact that Alaska Baptists work best when they work together," Covington said. "The Cooperative Program is one of the ways we work best together. We see CP as a lifeline for missions work around the world."
Bryan Myers was re-elected to a second, one-year term as president. He is pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Fairbanks. As president, he also serves as chairman of the state convention's Executive Board.
Tracy Simmons, pastor of Christ Community Church in Anchorage, was elected first vice president. Cliff Day, pastor of First Baptist Church in Anchorage, was elected second vice president. Donna Fleury, a member of First Native Baptist Church in Anchorage, was re-elected for a second year as recording secretary.
Charles Worthy, pastor of First Baptist Church in Willow, is in his third year as ABC's representative on the SBC Executive Committee.
Guest speakers included missionaries who serve in a security-sensitive area with the International Mission Board; Rick Curtis, regional mobilizer for the West with the NAMB; Ashley Clayton, vice president for the Cooperative Program and stewardship development with the SBC's Executive Committee; John Montgomery from California Baptist University; Mark Bradley, dean of the Northwest Campus in Portland, Ore., for Gateway Seminary; Warren Haynes, director of the Contextualized Leadership Development (CLD) School of Theology at Gateway Seminary's Ontario, Calif., campus; and Jeff Anderson, professor of religion for 16 years at the Anchorage campus of Wayland Baptist University.
Worship was led by Ben Edwards, associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Ketchikan, and by Tyler Wolfe, worship pastor at True North Church in Anchorage.
"This annual meeting was very uplifting and encouraging," Covington said.
"In keeping with our theme, we shared stories of what God is doing across the state of Alaska. The spirit was excellent; everyone enjoyed the time together."
Special prayer for Jimmy Stewart
The state convention's book of reports was dedicated to Jimmy and his wife Kathryn Stewart.
Despite still recovering from a July 2016 gas explosion at his cabin near Talkeetna that burned more than 77 percent of his body, Stewart continues to serve Alaska Baptists as director of evangelism and church development.
"We had special prayer for him, a prayer of thanksgiving and for continued healing," Covington said. "He's pretty much done with the burn treatments. Now it's cosmetic surgery. Doctors plan to rebuild his ears and nose, and to smooth out the scarring.... They had to amputate several of his fingertips at the first knuckle."
Nonetheless, Covington added, Stewart played his bass guitar at First Ketchikan the Sunday before the annual meeting. It was the first time he'd played in public since the accident. "It was great, seeing him up there."
Among reports, the state convention reported 346 baptisms; 27 church planters, of whom 13 are funded by ABC/NAMB; and the number of native villages without a gospel witness has been reduced from 100 to 88. No resolutions were presented.
In new business, "We focused on changes that will be coming to the convention," Covington said. He called for a task force last year to focus on restructuring, reformatting and rebranding the Alaska Baptist Convention.
"We're still in the data gathering phase," Covington said. "The task force will continue to do that for the next two months, and then pass on their findings to the Executive Board."
Covington said he expects the Executive Board -- 16 at-large members and convention officers -- will bring its recommendations to messengers attending the state's 2018 annual meeting.
Next year's meeting is set for Sept. 24-26 at Muldoon Road Baptist Church in Anchorage.