By Jeff Brumley
A lot of names are cropping up as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida spends 2015 celebrating its 25th anniversary.
They include Pat and Carolyn Anderson, the first and second coordinators of the organization formed in 1990.
They also include names like Touching Miami with Love, an inner-city ministry formed in 1995 to be Christ among the poorest of the poor in Miami-Dade County.
But one name that will certainly come up, again and again, is Andrew.
As in Hurricane Andrew — the storm that devastated most of South Florida in 1992.
It sure did during CBF Florida’s 25th annual Spring Celebration, held May 15-16 at First Baptist Church in Tallahassee.
From doctrine to missions
The hurricane is central to the organization’s history because it was the event that propelled CBF Florida out of the Southern Baptist Convention battles that gave birth to it, Pat Anderson said.
“Andrew gave us a reason to be that was beyond denominational struggles,” Anderson told Baptist News Global during the celebration in Tallahassee.
People ceased arguing and started working on disaster response and relief in South Florida, he said.
“Our attention was turned from doctrinal issues to active missions involvement that gave us a lot more joy and purpose,” he said.
That focus and presence in South Florida had unexpected benefits, including the founding of Touching Miami with Love, which became a blessing for the poorest of the poor in that city and a base of missions operations for churches throughout the state and all of CBF, said Anderson, who served as coordinator from 1990 to 2002.
Ever since that event in August 1992, CBF Florida has found its purpose in a missions focus in South Florida, which in turn has branched out into the Caribbean, including Cuba and the Bahamas.
The organization is also working extensively with Latino and Hispanic populations in Florida, which has led to an involvement in Latin America, say Ray Johnson the current coordinator since 2007.
“We are able to help train and equip churches wherever they are,” he said.
The next 25 years will likely see a continuation of those ministries as well as a new nonprofit, similar to Touching Miami with Love, being launched in St. Petersburg, Johnson said.
‘Compassion and camaraderie’
The focus on missions and disaster response has impacted the entire Fellowship, said Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator of CBF.
“Touching Miami with Love— churches from every state go there,” Paynter said.
Andrew’s destruction gave CBF Florida — and through it churches from around the country — something important to do early in the Fellowship’s existence, Paynter said.
“The fact is we needed one another,” she said. “Instead of just searching for identity out of division, it was a message of compassion and camaraderie” that defined CBF.
The Fellowship-wide impact is continuing as CBF Florida has reached out in the Bahamas, Cuba and Latin America, she said.
Sending teachers, teaching pastors
Being on the receiving end of that service work has been a huge benefit to Fellowship churches in the Bahamas, said Bishop John McIntosh.
CBF Florida introduced Bahamian Baptists to missions work so that they must not only be the receivers of it, said McIntosh, the pastor of New Hope Baptist Church on Abaco Island and coordinator of CBF of the Bahamas.
The organization sent groups for weeklong visits to teach how to send missionaries and how to provide disaster relief in the U.S. when storms or other calamities strike there, he said.
Bahamian Baptists have already been putting those lessons into practice. They have sent missions teams for short-term projects in the U.S.
“Prior to meeting them, we never did mission trips and disaster aid,” McIntosh said.
CBF Florida also spearheaded an ongoing academy to provide theological education and pastoral training to Bahamian pastors, most of whom have no seminary education at all, he said.
A leader in diversity
For those who’ve been ministered to by CBF Florida, the feeling is one of family.
Ruben Ortiz said the experience of encountering CBF in Florida has been like joining a family — or familia, as the native Cuban put it.
“In our culture this applies to relatives but also for people around you that are improving your way of living,” said Ortiz, a Deltona pastor and past moderator of CBF Florida.
“For me, being an immigrant (from Cuba), CBF Florida has been family,” he said.
The organization has also been a major ally to his Hispanic congregation.
Ortiz said he believes the diversity of people and churches in CBF Florida will lead the larger Fellowship to embrace ethnic diversity. That may happen as the state body continues its reach into Latin America – bringing CBF churches and organizations from around the country with it.
CBF Florida’s partnership with TML has been equally transformative, said Angel Pittman, the ministry’s assistant director.
“They own our building,” Pittman said, adding they also own the building that housed Open House Ministries, which merger with TML in January.
That means rent or mortgage payments.
CBF Florida also covers the ministry’s utilities, which enables TML to approach donors with promises that contributions are used for programs and people, not overhead, Pittman said.
The state organization also helps by sending churches from Florida and other CBF states for short-term missions.
“These churches from CBF Florida have always stayed such strong supporters,” she said.
A new generation
Anderson said he’s confident CBF Florida has another strong quarter century ahead of it.
The tipoff to that, he said, is the current leadership and the leadership and participation to come. That’s visible in the cadre of young Baptists who are already heavily involved in the organization and its ministries.
“The reality is that out of those early years has come an organization that is attractive to a new generation,” Anderson said. “That’s very affirming.”