Since 1845, the people known as Southern Baptists have been gathering in an annual meeting to worship, do the Lord’s business, and renew friendships. The attendance number has bounced from a few thousand to over 40,000 and back again. Many highlights have occurred, such as the adoption of the Cooperative Program in 1925 in Memphis, Tennessee (this writer’s fair city). Some years have seen high drama, such as the 1859 Southern Baptist Convention (will the real First Baptist Church of Nashville please stand up?) or the 1985 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas (the Battle for the Bible–Note: The Bible 1–Liberals 0). No matter the location, through the years the annual meeting has bounded back and forth from high drama to community theater (not that there is anything wrong with community theater).
For me, the best moments of each annual SBC, as we call it, involve people. Some come to the meeting and choose to engage in rhetoric and heated debate and drink lattes late into the night evaluating the day’s events. Each motion in the business sessions is parsed for the hidden agendas. Some choose to remain silent, clamoring in the corners for clarity. However, I take a nobler, higher road. I wander the halls and exhibit areas taking selfies with the best people on the planet. Judge me if you want, just include me in the picture.
Special Mention: Watching Monte eat.
Monte is my best friend and fellow honorary Romanian. #MABTSforever
Golden Halo Awards: Mid-America Forever
The most unique event at the Southern Baptist Convention is the Mid-America Luncheon. The speeches are short, and the food is great. The highlight is being among 180 people and hearing from alumni and friends as we share witnessing testimonies – just like we did when we where in school. The stories ranged from children saved at Vacation Bible School to Muslim friends who finally understood the true claims of Jesus. Hallelujah! We are the ONLY seminary to require all students to share the Gospel, with the Word of God, in a genuine attempt to lead someone to Christ, the entire time you are in school. #MABTSforever
The Rising Superstar Award: Dr. Lee Brand
The Big Announcement this year was Dr. Lee Brand joining MABTS as our new Vice President and Dean of the Seminary. Dr. Brand is a two-time graduate of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary and joins us after pastoring the same church for 17 years (and seeing dramatic growth in numbers). He has also impacted the nearby campus of Mississippi State University while serving his church, mentoring and investing in numerous students through the years. Lee Brand is a rockstar.
A Couple with True Grit
Jeff Singerman and I were classmates at Mid-America. More than that, we were both student pastors at churches in the same association. Sometimes we would combine our student groups for events like Broomball, which is playing ice hockey in tennis shoes with brooms and a round ball. You know, just another day in the (church) office. After school, Jeff and his wife Barbara made their way to Africa with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
I went to see Jeff and Barbara in Benin, West Africa years ago. By this time, they had already been kidnapped, released, come back to the USA, and then returned to Benin. I had a great time with Jeff, and he even arranged for me to share the Gospel at a Voodoo funeral (he translated) where we saw 12 people pray to receive Christ. Since it was my first time to speak at a Voodoo funeral, I told Jeff I was not sure what to say. He told me, “I would talk about Jesus, and speak about twenty minutes.” Which I did.
Several years ago, the International Mission Board offered a number of missionaries a chance to retire early (the Voluntary Retirement Initiative–VRI). Jeff and Barbara prayed and decided they were not released from the call, so they stayed. They have now served about 25 years in Africa.
In March of 2018, the Singermans experienced a truly traumatic event. This week was the first time I have been able to talk with Jeff in detail about the events of fourteen months ago. I had followed on Facebook, but looking into his eyes while he told me his story made an indelible impression on me.
Setting: The Congo
Whatever you think you know about the Wild West of the USA compares in no way to the contemporary Congo. Human chaos on a biblical scale is the fabric of daily life. No picture can do it justice because the sounds and smells are missing. Jeff and Barbara were riding with another missionary couple when their vehicle, and their lives, overturned.
Jeff awoke from the daze of the car wreck, still in shock, to see that the skin was hanging off of one arm like a sheet. While staring at it in wonder a passerby jumped from their vehicle, took a pillow out of the pillowcase, and wrapped the cloth around his arm. Both Jeff and Barbara were seriously injured and, unfortunately, the other couple did not survive the accident.
An ambulance arrived but the driver told them they did not have money for gas. Jeff remembers fumbling with his one working arm to find money in his pocket to buy gas for his ambulance ride (“It’s the Congo,” Jeff said). Arriving at a jungle clinic the medical staff began to work on Jeff’s arm–by flashlight. Jeff remembers them using only a bottle of water to pouring it on his wounds and clean them before being stitched up. As they braced his arm to pull the stitches tight, his broken shoulder screamed in protest. No painkillers were given in this clinic.
Jeff thought he was about to be delivered from the madness when his medivac flight arrived only to learn they would not take him because he had a collapsed lung. A wave of disappointment was eventually assuaged when he was treated enough to fly to South Africa and then back to the USA.
Seven surgeries later, Jeff has received some new treatments and some of the best medical care. Muscle and skin from different parts of his body have been used to repair his arm, and he has a new titanium shoulder. Barbara has fully mended from her broken bones. Their losses are grievous, but their countenances are fresh and glowing.
Jeff and Barabara are headed back to Africa in a few weeks. Jeff is about to be 65 years old, but he has no plans to stop (you know, the “Call” and all that). Their assignment is incredibly complex, and the territory they are ministering in is massive.
The Southern Baptist Convention has many challenges today, as it always has. I must see through the haze of distractions and focus on the goal: Take the Gospel to the Nations. It’s very fashionable now to criticize the past and point out the flaws of those who started the International Mission Board. I get it. We know what we think of them, and when we get to Heaven, we’ll know what they think of us.
As long as the Lord raises up heroes with true grit like Jeff and Barbara Singerman, I’m in. I won’t let them down whatever the cost.
“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” John Wayne
“We will never accomplish the Great Commission in our spare time and with our spare change.” Michael Spradlin