By Bill Webb, Word&Way Editor
Kirkwood — Meeting under the theme of "Famished Lands...The Bread of Life," the general assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri at Kirkwood Baptist Church April 28-29 had a definite missions focus.
The general assembly was marked by fellowship as participants gathered in breakout sessions, conducted business at breakfast, watched a film, enjoyed a concert and took the Lord's Supper before parting.
But the overarching emphasis was upon taking the Bread of Life to others through mission endeavors.
Members were encouraged to do their part to make a difference in the lives of AIDS orphans in Kenya. The state organization is teaming with the All Africa Baptist Fellowship (a regional branch of the Baptist World Alliance) and Buckner Orphan Care International to confront the massive AIDS epidemic.
"KidsHeart Africa" already has captured hearts among Missouri CBFers. Missouri will try to raise $70,000 over the next three years to build and staff one of five child development centers in a Kenya town or village.
Five churches will work with each center to provide services to 400 children per year.
Chuck Arney, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Lee's Summit, heads up the KidsHeart emphasis. He told attendees that the need is enormous.
"Kenya has 650,000 AIDS orphans," he said.
Kevin and Naomi Scantlan were to have left on May 3 to represent CBF of Missouri on a vision trip to Kenya in conjunction with the project. Another trip will be conducted for a group in 2007, Arney said.
The plight of the children is serious, Arney told a breakout group. "There is a stigma surrounding the children. They are denied education. And families don't take them in.
"The pastors are overwhelmed," he said. "Their homes are overcrowded with children."
The children who participate in the program will have an encouraging future, he said. "Ultimately, the children will be placed in foster care or adopted."
Arney said the state organization is looking for 20 churches that will commit $3,000 over the next three years, guaranteeing most of the needed $70,000 will be secured.
It might surprise people to know that giving up a single fast-foot value meal per month and donating it would adequately feed one of the Kenyan children.
The program is all about turning the whole ship around," Arney said.
"The biggest thing we can do is learn about AIDS," the project coordinator said.
"A child born to an HIV mother will have natural antibodies and will not have AIDS.
"But if that child is breastfed by that mother, it could contract HIV."
General assembly participants also heard brief updates on various other missions projects, including ongoing work with four of the 20 poorest counties in America, on Indian reservations in South Dakota.
"Together for Hope" volunteers have provided dental services and other ministries on those South Dakota reservations.
CBF's commitment to the 20 poorest counties is for 20 years of ministry.
Other breakout sessions including dealing with stress, Hispanic culture, BWA, church stewardship, Missouri chaplains, sabbaticals, campus ministry, church-state challenges, prayer retreats, endowments, disaster relief, leadership and missions education.
The general assembly was preceded by a daylong leadership seminar conducted by Diana Butler Bass, titled "The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church," also the subject of one of her books.
Bass is senior research fellow and director of the Project on Congregations of Intentional Practice, a study of mainline Protestant vitality at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Va.
The assembly offered a showing of the film, "Theologians Under Hitler," describing the support three German theologians gave to Hitler and the Third Reich during World War II.
In addition, concert pianist Joseph Martin entertained his audience with a variety of arrangements and recollections of his own upbringing as the son of a Baptist minister.
In the concluding worship service, Emmanuel McCall, moderator-elect of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and vice president of the Baptist World Alliance, recounted Jesus' feeding of the 5,000 and told worshipers: "I want to lead us to re-think our own spiritual needs."
Early followers who experienced the miracle tried to make Jesus a king who would continue to meet their earthly needs.
"We make kings of those whom we decide can meet our needs," McCall said. "That's what they did."
"'I came to bring you bread from heaven,' he said, 'not bread from earth. I didn't come to give you things. You can't "thing-matize" the kingdom of heaven."
Then the crowd left Jesus, McCall said.
"Bread of heaven, feed us till we want no more."
The assembly concluded with the sharing of communion. (05-04-06)