Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.”

For more than a decade, I have had the privilege of calling Suzii Paynter a friend and colleague.

Over the years, Suzii’s keen ability to shine light into darkness and embrace others with compassion has left more than a few footprints in all of our hearts.

Before being chosen to lead the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 2013, Suzii was the director of the Christian Life Commission for Texas Baptists.

Lawmakers in the Lone Star State praised her determination and grace, as she roamed the halls of the Texas capitol making her case for the latest issue.

As a young pastor cutting my teeth in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, I admired Suzii’s conviction and knowledge of critical issues facing Texas Baptists.

However, even as a policy expert, Suzii had, and has, a presence about her that welcomes the youngest minister with a loving embrace and warm smile.

When Suzii was elected as the executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, she brought along all of those wonderful attributes, plus a wisdom outside the realm of internal church culture.

Before feeling a call to ministry, Suzii was a school teacher. Those skills refined in the classroom would serve her well over the years at CBF.

As the leader of CBF, Suzii brought rejuvenated energy to the fellowship. As CBF’s first female executive, she inspired thousands of young ministers to keep the faith as they sought places to serve.

Even though the Fellowship has long-affirmed God’s calling on women to serve in any role in the local church, only a few have been called by CBF-affiliated churches to serve as senior pastors.

Suzii’s election as executive coordinator helped break the glass ceiling for other female ministers to fulfill their divine calling for their lives.

Over her five years as executive coordinator, Suzii has accomplished significant goals and engaged in thorny issues.

At CBF’s 25th anniversary, she began a successful campaign to raise $12.5 million.

It was an essential moment in the life of the Fellowship as many denominations were struggling after a decade-long recession.

However, what impressed me more than anything regarding Suzii’s tenure was her willingness to promote LGBTQ inclusion.

After a decade-long prohibition on hiring LGBTQ employees, the governing board of the Fellowship voted to rescind that policy and replace it with a more inclusive one.

Granted, there were problems with the “implementation procedure” that was not “adopted” but “received” by the governing board.

Nevertheless, my interactions with Suzii regarding this topic were always met with a concern for justice and integrity.

Her compassion for the entirety of the Fellowship shone through, while at the same time bending the arc of the moral universe a little closer to justice.

Therefore, as she hands the baton to the next executive coordinator, the Fellowship is on firm ground to launch a new era of ministry and missions.

CBF is free to dream big. CBF is open to foster new partnerships. CBF is empowered to develop creative strategies for the future.

In other words, the footprints left by my dear friend, Suzii Paynter, are leading to a brighter future.

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