Richard Brunson has seen major changes in the way North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM) does ministry over the 39-year life of the organization. But the basic purpose remains: “Every Christian is a missionary; all Christians are called, gifted and sent; and our job is to help churches involve their members in missions,” he said.
He did not say, “involve MEN in missions.” He said “members.” And more than 20,000 Baptist volunteers accepted the invitation to serve last year.
Brunson, executive director of NCBM since 1992, said, “We want to challenge all men, women and students to be involved in missions. We provide opportunities for them because we think it changes their lives, and it changes the church.”
For that reason the organization’s title has confused some. Incorporated as North Carolina Baptist Men in 1976, the legal name is unchanged. But in the last 15 years they have used the name Baptists on Mission because, “it helps churches realize our purpose is to be on mission,” Brunson said. “It’s not just men. It’s men, women and students – this better communicates who we are, and that there is a place for everybody.”
Baptists on Mission is the title of their newsletter, promoted on the ministry’s website and emphasized in other materials.
The nucleus of NCBM began in 1959 when Clyde Davis served as the first full-time director of North Carolina’s Brotherhood organization. Every church had a Brotherhood, and every church had Royal Ambassadors in those days, according to Brunson.
Ed Bullock followed Clyde Davis as the leader of Brotherhood, which was organizationally part of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. “It was during Ed’s time the idea of N.C. Baptist Men as a separate organization began,” Brunson explained.
“We existed as a separate entity to support Brotherhood and Royal Ambassadors in those days,” he said. “That’s how we did missions, was through Brotherhood.”
At that time churches did not typically do hands-on missions. Missions was done through programs and organizations like WMU and Brotherhood. The focus was on missions education, not on doing missions.
That’s where the greatest changes have happened. “In the last 40 years we have moved from just supporting the programs to helping churches involve their members in missions,” he said.
People didn’t seem to think they could be a missionary, he said. “They thought, ‘we’re praying, we’re giving, that’s all we can do.’ Missions has changed and I think a lot of that is because people see they can be a missionary. They can go and do something – not just pray and give.”
Missions involvement rises
Baptists who were just sitting in church on Sunday began to get involved in NCBM disaster projects like Katrina, Floyd and Sandy. When they returned home, they gave, prayed and impacted the church by telling their story. “There are so many people – men, women, students – who want to get involved in missions. So a long time ago we realized that our future is with men, women and students.” The focus shifted from missions education to missions involvement.
Although known mostly for disaster relief projects, the ministries of NCBM have exploded to include national and international partnerships, aviation ministry, medical and dental clinics, prison outreach, construction projects, agriculture, mission camps, training, summer camps at Caraway Conference Center and Camp, Deep Impact, Operation Inasmuch and a host of other hands-on mission resources.
Disaster relief has expanded to more than 15 unique ministries that include construction, clean-outs, chaplaincy, childcare, food preparation, food service, laundry and water purification. “There have been some amazing changes in how we do missions. I couldn’t have imagined 20 years ago that we would be involved in so many different ways of doing missions,” said Brunson.
NCBM operates Southern Baptists’ largest disaster relief operation and has pioneered many innovations. More than 50 service units are used to respond to needs, according to Gaylon Moss, disaster relief coordinator for NCBM.
Five mobile kitchens feed thousands of people. The largest unit can serve up to 30,000 daily meals. There are three generators mounted on trailers, four tool trailers, two recovery units filled with tools, five sleeper trailers, three laundry units, five RV motor homes, seven shower units, four road tractors, seven pickup trucks, two water tankers, a command unit, mini-excavator and other service equipment. Each piece of equipment is born out of a specific need. Six sleeper units were built during the hurricane Katrina response. Used horse trailers were purchased and volunteers did most of the up-fitting. Brunson estimates the value of the equipment at 10 times NCBM’s investment. Another unit is being built by volunteers in the eastern part of the state. “Pastor Richard Weeks is a carpenter who has built all of the cabinetry in the unit. Each bunk has a shelf where you can charge your phone, curtains and earplugs so you can get a good night of sleep. That’s a big need when you are working hard all day on location,” he added.
The first laundry units were built in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on New York’s Twin Towers. NCBM set up in the old Navy shipyard in Brooklyn, providing lodging and food for volunteers from many states. We washed clothes for the volunteers and rescue workers, then wrote scripture verses on the plastic bags with the clean laundry,” Brunson said.
One of the best ways NCBM helps churches is by providing managed projects. Smaller churches benefit from this ministry says Brunson. “Right now we have an on-site coordinator in Seaside Heights, N.J. A church can go there, and our coordinator will have building material ready with food and lodging. We can help make it a meaningful mission trip for them. And for some that will be their first mission trip.”
When a disaster strikes, Brunson’s staff works with churches in the region. Last spring tornados struck in eastern N.C. NCBM sent an on-site coordinator to Elizabeth City, and Corinth Baptist Church continues to provide space for volunteers to serve locals.
“Internationally we are developing a camp in Honduras,” Brunson added. “Mike and Ginger Green are there year round. Volunteers are building facilities with a mission camp model. We’ll be able to house volunteers, serve people in the community and offer many services to the community. The churches in Honduras will be able to use it for a retreat facility, also.”
North Carolina Baptist Men is not just an organization for men but for women and students as well. The organization has a multitude of ways for people to get involved in missions.
What are the mission camps?
NCBM operates two mission camps in North Carolina. Facilities in Shelby and Red Springs are equipped to house and feed more than 200 volunteers at a time, with on-site coordinators in both locations. They function year-round, but fill up with volunteers in the summer. Mission camps were born out of the disaster relief ministry. In the Katrina project some volunteers built over 700 homes. Other volunteers set up and serviced kitchens and sleeper units.
Brunson said, “We realized that people really want to be involved and churches really want to help, but they don’t know what to do logistically. There are so many things that have to be managed in a disaster and limited resources in the area of the disaster. So we thought about having mission camps in N.C. in areas where there is a lot of need. This helps churches get involved in missions in our own state; it keeps people involved and it trains them.”
Also, there was a lot of equipment left over when projects were completed. “The mayor of Gulfport, Miss. had no further need for the kitchen equipment we installed there, so he asked us to take it,” Brunson said. “So we took it to our first mission camp in Red Springs.”
Red Springs is a 52,000 square-foot facility on 15 acres with a large fenced parking lot in Robeson County. The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) was able to purchase it for less than $300,000. Larry and Teresa Osborne are on-site coordinators. There are many needs in the area. Volunteers work with the battered women’s shelter, help churches with Backyard Bible Clubs, work with schools, hold eye glass clinics and lead events in cooperation with the local association.
Brunson calls the Shelby camp another “God story.” The town’s mayor helped NCBM and BSC locate 40 undeveloped acres for $170,000. Metal buildings serve as a dormitory, dining area, auditorium and warehouse. Ministries for volunteers include wheelchair ramps, working in the homeless shelter and the potato project. Sweet potatoes are grown on-site, harvested and shared with needy families. David and Janet Brown serve as coordinators.
Medical Dental Bus
Medical personnel across the state birthed the idea of a medical dental bus. “When we started providing that as a way to get people involved in missions, more people got involved and more churches saw the needs in their communities,” Brunson said.
Today there are three medical dental buses. Two are mobile, and one has become stationary in the Truett Baptist Association. The association manages it, staffs it and coordinates appointments. The two mobile buses see over 4,000 patients each year in 170 locations.
How is NCBM funded?
The organization’s budget is funded entirely by the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO). Some support comes from Cooperative Program resources, such as rent in the Baptist Building and employee benefits. But all program expenses and salaries come through NCMO. Brunson said the offering is essential to the ministry. When there is a disaster, many churches respond with an offering and send designated gifts to NCBM. The funds are used immediately to pay for meals, lodging and other direct expenses related to the disaster.
A lesser known, but important part of NCBM is the aviation ministry. More than 200 pilots are involved that either own or have access to an aircraft. Working with Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic, they offer medical mercy flights. “About every other day, they are flying somebody for medical care. Sometimes they are taking an N.C. patient out of state and sometimes they are flying an out-of-state patient to one of our fine hospitals in North Carolina,” Brunson said.
Other disaster relief organizations
NCBM understands the importance of good relationships with other disaster relief organizations. “We have good relationships with other partners and with government,” Brunson emphasized. “Government can be in a position to stop what you are doing or to enhance what you are doing. We especially have a great relationship with N.C. Emergency management. We see ourselves as partners with them.”
Strong bonds are established with the Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse and Salvation Army, among others. In some disasters Salvation Army asks NCBM to assist them. “There are other situations where we are serving in the same location with Samaritan’s Purse. We coordinate our work so we are not competing. We are there to serve those in need,” he said.
In Haiti Samaritan’s Purse (SP) and NCBM worked out of the same facility. SP provided the building materials and NCBM volunteers built more than 800 houses.
The Southern Baptist Convention has an agreement with Red Cross in every state. Red Cross provides the food and the state Baptist disaster teams provide whatever it takes to prepare food including cooking units, propane and volunteers.
Annual missions conference
The annual missions conference is a major event for the ministry. The purpose is to encourage the men, women, and students who are already involved, thank them, provide ministry updates, expand training and boost the challenge of missions. The meeting features prominent speakers, testimonies and popular Christian musicians. It has become a reunion for many volunteers.
This year’s conference is April 10-11 at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. Visit baptistsonmission.org.