The North American Mission Board's Send Luncheon at the 2016 Pastors' Conference drew 3,000 participants to experience the debut of Send Relief, the mission board's compassion ministry initiative. On display were the mobile medical and dental units used for ministry on Saturday at First Baptist Ferguson in metro St. Louis. The units are the first in what is hoped will be a fleet, which are available for use by churches, associations and state conventions for Send Relief outreach. (Photo courtesy John Swain)

ST. LOUIS, MO (BP) – A capacity audience of 3,000 at The Dome in St. Louis experienced the launch of Send Relief at the 2016 Send Luncheon on Monday, part of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors' Conference. In keeping with the Send Relief theme -- bringing practical help with lasting hope -- the North American Mission Board (NAMB) presented Plymouth Baptist Church with a Send Relief trailer to augment the compassion ministry the church of 100 already accomplishes to reach the people of Plymouth, Ind. Pastor Clark Harless, his wife Raechelle and their daughter, Kennedy, joined NAMB president Kevin Ezell on stage. Ezell said Harless and his church epitomize what Send Relief can mean for a community. "Every church can do this," Ezell said. "Every pastor can. Clark is an example of a pastor helping his church to engage their community where they are. That is what Send Relief is about, every church taking its next step on mission. We must be engaging people. We must be having Gospel conversations."

NAMB ambassador and pastor of Hope Church, Las Vegas, Vance Pitman opened the event. Pitman shared his enthusiasm for what the future holds. "I've been around the SBC all my life," Pitman said. "I have never been more excited about being a Southern Baptist than I am now." Pitman introduced a video celebrating this year's 50th anniversary of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. The audience recognized more than 20 state Disaster Relief leaders and volunteers in attendance. "We are never better than when we work together," Ezell said. "Nothing expresses that more than the cooperation of our state conventions and their leadership in disaster relief. For the five years following the first Send Luncheon, we tried to bring focus to our work. We have gone from 13 percent of our budget devoted to church planting to now more than 53 percent."

Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), visits with David Platt, president of the International Mission Board, after NAMB's Send Relief Luncheon Monday, June 13 in St. Louis. The luncheon marked the launch of Send Relief, NAMB's new compassion ministry. (Photo courtesy Chris Carter)

But Ezell said church planting is just one part of what NAMB wants to help Southern Baptists accomplish. There are just over 3,000 sending and supporting churches working with church plants in the SBC. "We want to plant churches in Denver. And David (Platt) and the IMB (International Mission Board) want to reach Dubai. We want to plant churches in New York and in Nepal, but we have to start with our neighbors. Churches must be on mission in their own communities. There are so many needs in the shadows of our steeples."

Ezell said NAMB did not invent compassion ministry, it has been part of the church for centuries, but that churches need to continue to push to reach people in the neighborhoods that surround them. Following a video overview, Ezell invited David Melber, NAMB vice president for Send Relief, to the stage. Melber, his team and volunteers from across the nation partnered with First Baptist Ferguson, Mo., to hold the public launch of Send Relief ministry on Crossover Saturday (June 11). "We see hurt and pain on the television every day," Melber said. "There is pain and heartbreak and hopelessness in front of us. How can we live intentionally on mission every day? That is the heart of Send Relief."

Melber highlighted the day of ministry with First Baptist Ferguson and the volunteers, which included Send Relief mobile medical and dental clinics, both on display at the lunch, and available for tours during the SBC. The units are the first in what is hoped will be a fleet, which are available for use by churches, associations and state conventions for Send Relief outreach. Saturday's Send Relief launch included food distribution, a block party and smoke detector installations in the homes surrounding the church. "We saw dozens of professions of faith in Christ," Melber said. "One of the most encouraging things to me was to hear our volunteers talk about how they will engage their communities with Send Relief through their churches when they return home."

Crosspoint Church co-elder Brandon Doyle is encouraged by the sense of community and brotherhood through the North American Mission Board's Send Network. Doyle and his family attended the Send Luncheon during the Pastors' Conference, prior to the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. The event was hosted at The Dome in St. Louis, host city for the 2016 SBC. Crosspoint, a church plant in Richmond, Ind., launched on May 1. (Photo courtesy John Swain)

Brandon Doyle, a member of the Crosspoint Church planting team in Richmond, Ind., said he was encouraged by the fellowship and sense of community at the luncheon. Crosspoint launched on May 1. "We love the Send Network and NAMB," Doyle said. "That is why we are here. On May 2, the day after our launch, a team member from NAMB called to ask how our launch went and asked how he could pray for us. That is amazing support." Finding connecting points and ideas to lead his youth group to engage their community intrigued Jerusalem Ona most about Send Relief. Ona, from Randolph, N.J., was ready to see how his students would respond. "This was great," Ona said. "It was even better than last year. We want to help our youth to focus on the community and help them meet the needs of the people, not just physical, but spiritual. We are already working to help people recovering from addictions. I think Send Relief can help us lead the youth to engage our community."

The final presentation came when Ezell told the Harless family that through the generosity of private donors and the administration of Cedarville University, Kennedy's remaining tuition expenses, not already covered by her grants and scholarships, will be paid. Clark Harless suffers from multiple sclerosis, and is presently in relapse with the disease. "I may have multiple sclerosis, but it does not have me," Harless said. "Through this Christ has been glorified. It has opened doors for our staff and members to minister. Those opportunities may not have been there had I not faced this." Harless said he is convinced that what churches experience as a lack of effective ministry "is not from a lack of opportunity, but from a lack of opportunists."

For more information about Send Relief, including reservation of the mobile clinics, visit www.namb.net/SendRelief. To learn more about NAMB and mission opportunities, subscribe to On Mission Today at www.onmissiontoday.com.


Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.