With all the negative press surrounding the Cooperative Program (CP) in recent days with this nonsense about campaigning, let me offer some positive words about the Southern Baptist Convention’s flagship program. First, allow me to introduce myself.
My name is Stephen Newell. Some of you may be familiar with me from social media, for which I am profoundly sorry! I am a graduate of Baptist institutions, a B.A. from Carson-Newman College (now University) in 1999 and an M.Div. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2006. I was born and raised in SBC churches and have never been a member of any other denomination. I am also Deaf. I have been in Deaf ministry for over 20 years now, over a decade of that as a pastor. I spent 14 years at Louisville Baptist Deaf Church (LBDC), 8 as their associate pastor, under a Deaf pastor who is nearing 40 years in ministry. In 2013 I was called to southwestern Virginia to plant a Deaf church, Overmountain Deaf Church (ODC) in Bristol, where we have spent the better part of the last five years.
Due to the influence of Tim Bender, my pastor in Louisville (himself Deaf and a graduate of Golden Gate, now Gateway Seminary), I learned early in my career how important the CP is to the mission of Southern Baptists. LBDC was (and still is) heavily involved with local and state associations both hearing and Deaf, and is to this day heavily involved in our national Deaf association, the Southern Baptist Conference of the Deaf (SBCD). LBDC gave 10%, sometimes more, of its budget to the CP through the local and state associations, and a few extra percent to SBCD. This is in addition to also funding its own mission work over the years, as they have in my time there attempted to plant churches in Kentucky, and had worked in several countries such as Colombia, Ecuador, and Russia; and before I was called to Virginia the church had voted to participate in the International Mission Board’s new “Embrace” program, choosing to “embrace” the nation of Argentina. They have since taken several trips to establish and continue mission work in Argentina. At every step of the way the CP has been front and center, not merely monetarily but in working together with local, state, and denominational employees to get resources, training, logistics, and many other things applied to the work of the Gospel.
This awareness and cooperative spirit has carried over into my work at ODC, where in the last five years I have directly benefit from and participated in CP dollars and CP hands-on work. ODC gives 10% of its budget to the CP through the state convention, Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV), and we are heavily involved in the Deaf network our state convention has organized. Please let me tell you a little bit about what your CP dollars mean to a Deaf pastor like me.
The CP is a direct investment into the future of Southern Baptist Deaf ministry work. Southern Baptist Deaf ministers can receive theological education, where they might otherwise skip Bible college and/or seminary due to the prohibitive cost. Many Deaf are poor, and many Deaf pastors are bi-vocational because most Deaf churches cannot afford to support a full-time pastor. Because of this inequality of income compared with our hearing brothers, many Deaf pastors also have no theological education. By providing tuition discounts to Southern Baptists at the seminaries, and scholarships for our Baptist colleges, the CP helps ease the financial burden of theological education, and makes it easier for Deaf ministers to be educated. Now if the CP would only remove the last remaining barrier by providing interpreters for the Deaf with its funding, there would be almost nothing barring the Deaf from theological education!
The CP directly funds Deaf church planting and international Deaf missions through the missions entities and state conventions. My church is a direct beneficiary of your CP giving as the SBCV provided support funding for me as a church planter for three years. They also provided technology support, being willing to purchase equipment as we have needed it, on our request. They have helped us to do home missions, helping us to locate mission grants and donors for our 2015 mission trip to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, where we were able to attempt to reach over 500 Deaf bikers. We are seriously considering going again in 2020. They have helped us to network with other church planters and established churches, hearing and Deaf, not only for support, but for meeting space and other resources such as children’s programs for the hearing children of our Deaf people. The greatest benefit we have experienced is the statewide network of Deaf churches in the SBCV, linking together not only pastors but church members, creating a statewide Deaf family of God. The ongoing training, networking, resources, and fellowship this has provided is something I believe has been one of the greatest blessings I have received!
The IMB has in recent years established a strong program of international Deaf mission work with actual Deaf missionaries rather than hearing people who have been taught sign language. These Deaf missionaries are able to benefit from the resources of the greatest mission sending agency on earth at this moment. Some of these Deaf missionaries are serving in high security areas and desperately need our prayers and the resources our giving provides.
I believe the CP is very much a biblical concept. It is the attempt of Southern Baptists to replicate what they see in the book of Acts with the early church, where the early church held all things in common and gave to all as there was need. With the CP, we attempt to do the same as it pertains to getting the Gospel to as many people around the world and at home as we can. And I’m here today to testify that the CP has done just that for me and my church. On behalf of Overmountain Deaf Church, I want to give you a heartfelt “thank you” for all the things your faithful giving has allowed us to both do and experience!