Five African-American Baptist conventions have started a historic and ambitious collaborative effort to raise $50 million to help rebuild Haiti after January’s devastating earthquake.
Involved in this unprecedented alliance are the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention, the National Baptist Convention of America, the National Baptist Convention, USA, the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, and the Progressive National Baptist Convention. Together the conventions represent over 40,000 congregations with 10 million members nationwide.
Leaders from the conventions are scheduled to announce plans for this effort Tuesday afternoon at the New Covenant Baptist Church in Chicago. It represents the first time the five bodies have united for a missions effort. Together, the groups constitute the newly formed African-American Baptist Mission Collaboration, which will lead the effort to raise Haitian rebuilding monies from congregations in the five conventions.
Sam Tolbert, pastor of Greater Saint Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Lake Charles, La., and general secretary of the National Baptist Convention of America, expressed his hope that the initiative being announced today will spark a new level of cooperation between the five conventions.
“We’re going to really challenge the member churches to give and leverage these gifts with foundations and groups,” Tolbert told EthicsDaily.com. “I’m excited about the opportunity for historically African-American conventions that have been separate entities for decades to come together to make a positive impact on the people of Haiti by using our resources of people and finances.”
The Haiti rebuilding effort will focus on four key areas: creating five health clinics, 50 schools, 500 reconstructed churches, and 5,000 homes. The group will also work to provide clean water, energy supplies, groceries and grants to those in need. The African-American Baptist Mission Collaboration has already begun deploying medical professionals to Haiti, and is currently feeding hundreds of people per day in Port-au-Prince and Saint-Marc.
David Goatley, executive secretary-treasurer of Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention and coordinator for the African-American Baptist Mission Collaboration, noted the historical significance of this cooperative effort.
“This is a significant historical moment when our five communities have committed to linking resources to respond to the suffering of people in Haiti,” Goatley told EthicsDaily.com in an e-mail. “Unusual events have called for unusual response, and it is exciting to see the spirit of compassion and the spirit of collaboration together in this unprecedented way.”
Goatley, who also serves as the president of the North American Baptist Fellowship, a regional body of the Baptist World Alliance, placed this new initiative in the context of other recent unity efforts.
“The two joint winter board meetings … in 2004 and 2008 have helped prepare the way for this collaboration,” Goatley explained. “Beyond that, however, our churches work together in their localities regularly, so that knowledge and relationship is critical for large-scale collective work. Finally, the leadership of the five presidents has been inspirational. They keep before them and all of us who are supporting them the priority of our faith witness to Christ and our opportunity to make an impact for good.”
The 2008 meeting occurred immediately prior to the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, which united the African-American Baptist conventions with other Baptist groups from across North America. William J. Shaw, pastor of White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia and then-president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, was one of the plenary speakers at the Celebration. Goatley was one of the plenary speakers at the regional New Baptist Covenant gathering held last year in Kansas City.
Julius R. Scruggs, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, urged African-American Baptists to unite to help Haitians in the rebuilding process.
“We realize that members of our churches across America are deeply affected by the damage that this earthquake has wreaked on families and individuals in Haiti,” he said in a press release about the new effort. “This is a way that our members can give of their personal time and resources to help our brothers and sisters recover in Haiti.”
Stephen John Thurston, president of the National Baptist Convention of America and senior pastor of the New Covenant Baptist Church, noted that this new effort would build on previous relief and rebuilding efforts.
“Having existing working relationships with established churches in the country enabled us to move swiftly to provide food, water, temporary shelter and pastoral care,” he said in a press release. “This is reminiscent of the immediate support that churches gave to people in our own country in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in 2005.”
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.