ABSC agencies and institutions report to messengers

LITTLE ROCK – Seven agencies or institutions of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) presented annual reports during the 166th annual meeting of the ABSC Oct. 22-23 at Geyer Springs First Baptist Church, Little Rock. Following are the highlights of their reports.


J.D. “Sonny” Tucker, executive director of the ABSC, presented Derek Brown, executive director of Arkansas Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries (ABCHomes), a plaque to show appreciation and congratulate Brown and the ministry of ABCHomes for 125 years of service.

Pat Durmon, an Arkansas Baptist Children’s Home alumnus, shared her story with messengers.

“We came with secrets, shame and worries,” she said. “We were scared, sad and scarred. The Baptist Home gave us hot meals, beds, a routine, sponsors, education, a church and a sense of security. This place grew on me and others. It became our home.

“We needed a home. We needed people who showed us caring and Jesus. We were starving in so many ways – for love and for goodness,” Durmon continued. “We needed exactly what we found there.”

From the Baptist Home, Durmon’s physical, emotional and mental needs were met.

“We alumni are thankful for the Baptist Homes and those adults who helped us feel sure-footed,” she said. “These people by the grace of God helped us believe in ourselves, made us think we were lovable and capable. None of us know what exactly would have happened to us if the emergency shelters and the Arkansas Baptist Children’s Homes would not have intervened for us.”

Durmon became an English teacher, mental health counselor, poet and writer.

Brown stated that Durmon’s story is like the stories of tens of thousands of children who have come through the Baptist Homes over the past 125 years.

He said that ABCHomes is dedicated to one thing: taking children who need families and putting them in families.

The mission of ABCHomes is to “build, strengthen and restore Arkansas families for God’s glory,” reported Brown. ABCHomes has four ministries where it seeks to accomplish that mission: campus care ministry in Harrison and Monticello, foster care ministry, family care ministry for single mothers and counseling ministry.

Arkansas Baptist Foundation

Bobby Thomas, president and CEO of Arkansas Baptist Foundation (ABF), presented the Foundation’s report.

Thomas said that ABF was celebrating 70 years of service during the annual meeting and that the ABF was established to carry out the directions of the convention.

More than $441 million have been distributed for God’s work in Arkansas and around the world during its 70 years of service, Thomas reported. Since 2015, ABF has distributed more than $134 million to ministry, and a majority of that money has stayed in Arkansas.

He stated that scholarships are now available online for the 2020-21 school year.

Thomas said that ABF offers estate planning, and the estate planning is free for any Arkansas Baptist working in denominational service. In 2019 only, ABF has prepared estate plans totaling more than $86 million.

He shared how Arkansas Baptists who are trained in areas of legal, accounting and finance are fulfilling their calls by working at ABF. He highlighted ABF staff during his presentation, including Curt Tucker, stewardship coordinator; Barri Bridges, executive assistant; Jacqueline Bolding, finance coordinator; Abigail Brizuela, legal assistant; and Dillon McClain, vice president and attorney.

Arkansas Baptist News

Read the Arkansas Baptist News (ABN) report by Tim Yarbrough, editor/executive director of the ABN, here.

Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council

Larry Page, executive director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, presented a legislative report.

Page introduced Cecile Bledsoe, an Arkansas state senator from Rogers and member of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, who encouraged Arkansas Baptist pastors, ministers and laypeople to stand against current efforts to place measures to legalize recreational marijuana on the ballot in Arkansas.

Bledsoe told messengers to: 1) Politely refuse to sign petitions regarding recreational marijuana; 2) Encourage those in their circle of influence to do the same, and 3) Explain to them why it is so important to stand against the measures.

Camp Siloam

Jason Wilkie, executive director of Camp Siloam, greeted messengers wearing a cowboy hat – highlighting the camp’s Wild West theme for 2020.

“We had a great year of camp ministry this summer,” said Wilkie. “The reason camp ministry is so powerful is because of Jesus working through college students who come to Camp Siloam. And we have great partners in Williams Baptist University and Ouachita Baptist University and our Baptist collegiate ministers that are on campuses across Arkansas.”

Wilkie highlighted Ralph Iweriebor, a student at the University of Arkansas, Monticello, and former ABCHomes resident, who became a Christian while a camper at Camp Siloam. This past summer he participated as a leader at Camp Siloam.

Iweriebor had the opportunity to share Christ with multiple campers this summer and saw many come to salvation.

Kelly Jones, campus director of ABCHomes’ children’s home in Monticello, shared how ABCHomes partners with Camp Siloam to minister to children and youth.

Jones said 12 decisions were made by residents this past summer, with nine making professions of faith.

“Last summer we had almost 6,000 campers; we had 5,809 campers and 786 decisions,” said Wilkie. “If you wonder if camp ministry is worth it, I’m going to tell you it is because (more than) half of those were decisions for Christ – 436 decisions for Christ.”

In addition, Wilkie said Camp Siloam saw 189 campers rededicate their lives, 105 interested in baptism and 56 called to missions or full-time ministry.

Ouachita Baptist University

Ben Sells, president of Ouachita Baptist University (OBU), shared the six strategic directions OBU is focusing on during 2018-22: 1) Sustain Christ-centered identity; 2) Advance faculty/staff support; 3) Ensure transformative learning; 4) Grow residential enrollment; 5) Diversify educational offerings, and 6) Strengthen key partnerships.

Sells told messengers that OBU has a significant focus on health programs. Fall 2019 was the first semester OBU enrolled the first class in the new nursing program in partnership with Baptist Health. Sells also stated that OBU is one of the few Christian universities in America to offer a degree in dietetics. OBU is planning on launching a graduate internship in dietetics in fall 2020, Sells said. There are only two programs in Arkansas that offer the graduate internship, which is needed to become a registered dietician.

He announced a new master’s degree in applied behavior analysis, which will be the first in Arkansas. The graduate program will better prepare students to help children with autism.

Sells reported that the residential enrollment grew for the third time to more than 1,500 students, the highest enrollment since 2012. Sixty-five percent of students are from Arkansas; 75 percent are Baptist; 25 percent are first-generation college students, and 26 percent feel called to ministry. Another 100 students are enrolled at OBU through online programs and concurrent classes.

He stated that 99 percent of OBU graduates had a job or were in graduate school within six months of graduation; the national average is 84 percent.

Sells announced that OBU received four recognitions this fall. Niche ranked OBU as the number one Best Value College in Arkansas and the number one Most Conservative College in Arkansas. US News & World Report ranked OBU as the No. 2 Regional College in the South. College Consensus ranked Ouachita as number one in Student Satisfaction in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.

He reported that OBU partners with ABSC to host five life-changing events throughout the year, including Called to Ministry, Super Summer, JoyWorks/PraiseWorks, Pastors’ Conference and Counseling Conference.

Sells introduced Anna Rosenthal, OBU alumnus and assistant director of campus ministries, and Robert Pilcher, senior Spanish and music double major and Christian studies minor. Rosenthal remembered how the faculty and staff at OBU impacted her spiritually. Pilcher stated that his time at Ouachita allowed him to find community easily and that he has grown academically and spiritually.

Williams Baptist University

Stan Norman, president of Williams Baptist University (WBU), announced a record-breaking freshman class for 2019, saying that enrollment grew by double digits. WBU is the only university in Arkansas to experience that high of enrollment growth.

Norman stated that many students have come to faith in Christ during their time at WBU, happening at a pace that WBU has not seen in several years.

Norman announced the new WilliamsWorks program designed to keep Christian higher education affordable and to allow students to graduate debt-free. He said that WBU started this new program because of the state of higher education in this country. Allowing Christian higher education to be affordable will allow more students to be trained in a Christian context and be leaders and light in the secular world, said Norman. Norman also said that WilliamsWorks will also teach students how to have a good work ethic.

Following the reports, Tucker conducted a Q-and-A with Sells and Norman on Christian higher education in Arkansas.

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