From Mission Field to Mission Force
The Association grew in its ministries with the churches. Seminary Extension became an important training program for local ministers. Miss Anna Mae worked with the Association missionaries to strengthen Vacation Bible Schools and missions awareness in the churches. Rev. Dawley Maynor, a local Lumbee, came to Burnt Swamp Association in 1958 and led the Association as its missionary for ten years. He enjoyed good relationships with Baptist State Convention leaders and strengthened Burnt Swamp Association’s ties with the Baptist State Convention. Supported greatly by Home Mission Board funding, Rev. Tony Brewington assumed leadership as Director of Missions upon Rev. Dawley Maynor’s departure. Rev. Brewington was seminary educated, visionary and energetic.
Having no central office location, he led the Burnt Swamp churches to construct a modern Association office building in 1974. The Association’s involvement in missions outreach beyond itself concentrated on Indian reservations in the west. Rev. Brewington introduced the Association to mission projects in Oklahoma, Mississippi, New Mexico and South Dakota. He maintained a Seminary Extension curriculum for ministers and provided church leader training for deacons and other church leaders.
During his years, some churches began to provide their pastors with full time support. That number has never exceeded more than twenty percent of the churches. He devoted part of his time to promoting missions on behalf of the Home Mission Board as well. His seventeen years of leadership brought growth in the churches’ understanding of mission involvement and mission support. He also prepared the Association for its next step of development in its organization life. Burnt Swamp Association had to become self-supporting, responsible for fully funding its staff and ministries. Ethnic pride was an obvious theme running throughout the Association’s history and the Association prepared to prove to Southern Baptists that the years of Home Mission Board support was not in vain.
The perception of Burnt Swamp Association as the mission field for Southern Baptists was changing. They were destined to become full partners as a missionary force in evangelism and missions of the denomination.
A MISSIONARY FORCE
Understanding of the partnership between Burnt Swamp Association churches and the larger Southern Baptist Convention improved. Rev. Cummings served as a Baptist State Convention of North Carolina leader when elected to serve as the Convention president in 1999, the first Indian ever elected to that office. Burnt Swamp Baptists saw themselves as full partners in the work of Southern Baptists as never before. The Southern Baptist denomination reflects a growing diversity of racial and ethnic people in America, and so does Burnt Swamp Association. Indian communities are growing in eastern North Carolina but the neighborhoods also include people of other backgrounds. Indian churches are not nearly as homogeneous as merely twenty-five years ago. Indigenous leaders in Burnt Swamp churches, both lay and clergy continue to oversee the life of the congregations. Two pastors among the seventy are Anglo.
The neighboring Robeson Association (White) now has two pastors that are Indians originally from Burnt Swamp Association background. After nearly one hundred and thirty years as a fellowship of Indian Baptist churches, Burnt Swamp Association may hold distinction as the oldest organization of Baptist churches for Indians. The Association struggled to organize but grew as an organization exclusively for Indian churches and Indian people. It grows more apparent that while a uniform "Indian only" experience portrays the past, growing multicultural diversity lies in the future for Burnt Swamp Association churches.
Rev. Mike Cummings
Rev. Mike Cummings accepted the call to the Association as Missions Director in 1988, a position fully funded by the Association churches apart from any Home Mission Board support. His wife had been employed by the Association as office secretary for ten years prior to his coming. Additional staff during the 1990’s assisted with Christian community ministries and church development. He continued to build upon the Association’s commitment to mission work among Indian reservation communities in the mid-west and western United States. Mission teams from the churches multiplied. An increasing number of ministers from the Association churches sought seminary training. Churches’ involvement in the affairs of the Baptist State Convention increased.