The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship raised $175,000 for its rural poverty initiative in a two-day offering at the group’s General Assembly last week in Charlotte, N.C.

Partners in Hope, launched two years ago as a 20-year commitment to improve life in 20 of the nation’s poorest counties, was the featured ministry for offerings at the June 26-28 gathering. Fellowship leaders reported collecting $175,210 in gifts and pledges for the project.

Retired pastor and seminary president Randall Lolley announced a total of $128,210 from a first offering Thursday night and issued a challenge prompting another $47,000 on Friday.

The offering far exceeded a $100,000 goal, meaning Partners in Hope will be fully funded this year, said Tom Prevost, coordinator of the initiative. The poverty initiative currently has active work in Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi and Kentucky, with future projects planned in Louisiana and South Dakota.

A total of 4,357 people registered for this year’s General Assembly, held June 26-28 at Charlotte Convention Center, CBF officials said.

Also at the meeting, leaders of CBF signed a partnership agreement with the 1,200-church Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas, which approved the pact a week earlier in its annual gathering.

The eight-year partnership calls for starting 400 new Hispanic churches around the nation.

“The future of Christianity lies with southern Baptists,” CBF Networking Coordinator Bill Bruster said in describing the covenant, “… the Baptists of South America, Southeast Asia, Southern Africa and south of the border.”

Bruster cited recent U.S. census figures that half of all immigrants to the United States the last two years have been Hispanic.

The assembly elected Bob Setzer, pastor of First Baptist Church in Macon, Ga., as moderator-elect. He will preside in 2004-2005. Cynthia Holmes, an attorney from St. Louis, takes over as the CBF’s top elected officer in the coming year. She succeeds Phill Martin of Dallas, whose term as moderator ended at the close of the General Assembly. Susan Crumpler, an engineer from Cincinnati, was elected recorder.

The General Assembly approved a 2003-04 budget of $19.7 million, projecting income of $17 million in undesignated and $2.6 million in designated gifts. It earmarks $11.6 million in designated and undesignated funds for global missions, $2.3 million for administration, $2.1 million for leadership development and $1 million for communications and marketing. Other budget items include $984,579 for building community and networking, $663,063 for faith formation and $375,000 for next year’s General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala.

In an address to the General Assembly, CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal challenged participants to “be the presence of Christ” in the world.

“If someone asks you what kind of people are Cooperative Baptist Fellowship people, you tell them we are a Jesus people,” Vestal told a Friday morning session of the annual meeting. “We live our lives in obedience to Jesus. We imitate Jesus. We believe Jesus is the Savior of the world. And with all our hearts we want to be a continuation of his life and ministry.”

Vestal said differing traditions and practices of Christians around the world all combine to present a full picture of Christ, and he believes CBF is one stream flowing into a “river that brings healing and renewal” in the name of God.

“CBF celebrates the contemplative and the evangelical, holiness and social action, the charismatic and the sacramental,” he said. “We are a Fellowship that equally values faith and freedom, mind and heart, the person and the social.”

Author and preacher Tony Campolo delivered a wide-ranging sermon at the assembly’s opening session Thursday night, touching on issues including homosexuality, poverty, the Middle East and poor theology in the “Left Behind” novel series.

Campolo’s sharpest remarks took aim at the Southern Baptist Convention, which he alluded to only as “another group,” and its view that women serving as pastors is unbiblical, which he characterized as “evil.”

“It’s one thing to be wrong, but that isn’t wrong, that’s sinful,” he said. “The Bible says, ‘Neglect not the gift that is in you,’ and when women are gifted with the gift of preaching, anybody who frustrates that gift is an instrument of the devil.”

Campolo tweaked the CBF for being “too white” and called on Christians to stand up for civil rights for homosexuals. “I’m not asking you to be conservative or liberal, I’m asking you to be loving,” he said. “I’m asking you to show love and compassion to people who have had their teeth kicked in by the church for far too many years.”

Eighteen new global missionaries were introduced at a commissioning service Friday night. They will serve among “most-neglected” people groups in China, Greece, Southeast Asia, Canada, North Africa, Los Angeles and Brooklyn, N.Y.

Vestal noted that the CBF couldn’t afford to send the new missionaries without an anonymous gift from a single donor. About 150 prospective missionaries are exploring service in the Fellowship, but there aren’t currently enough funds to support them. “We have more who are willing to serve,” Vestal said. “It is up to us to give.”

Worship services featured Presbyterian author and minister Marjorie Thompson, who led participants in “focused prayer,” and music by Kate Campbell, a recording artist from Nashville, Tenn.

The meeting closed with seven simultaneous worship services Saturday morning, followed by communion.

“(B)efore we can be the presence of Christ in the world, we must have the presence of Christ in us,” Jack Causey, a retired pastor from Statesville, N.C., said in presiding over the communion service. “Come to this table and feel the presence of the Lord in you so that you may go and be the presence of Christ in the world.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of This story is compiled from reporting by Sue Poss, Craig Bird and Lance Wallace from the CBF newsroom staff. It also includes information from Baptist Press and Associated Baptist Press.

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