04/26/06 — Free Will Baptists establish foundation

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Free Will Baptists establish foundation

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Published in News on April 26, 2006 1:50 PM

Leaders of the Original Free Will Baptist denomination have announced the establishment of a foundation that they believe could equal Mount Olive College in importance.

It is called the North Carolina Foundation for Christian Ministries. It will be an apparatus for funding ministries within the denomination and other charities or movements that are Christian in nature.

The organizers held a banquet Tuesday night at the Hull Road Original Free Will Baptist Church near Snow Hill to introduce the foundation to pastors and other church leaders and to announce the initial gift -- $1,218,000.

The donors were Mr. and Mrs. Donnie E. Lassiter of Selma. They established the Donnie E. and Linda Vann Lassiter Family Endowment. The fund will provide scholarships for a variety of educational institutions, including Mount Olive College, East Carolina University and Johnston Community College. It also will finance the education of ministerial students, home-schooled children and students at North Johnston High School who wish to advance their education.

It will not be restricted to Original Free Will Baptists, but most of it will be for students in the denomination. "I have been a Free Will Baptist since I was old enough for my mother to put me in the car and take me to church," Donnie Lassiter said Tuesday night.

The Lassiters are Johnston County natives. Donnie Lassiter is the co-founder of Heartland Payment Systems Inc., a company that processes credit cards and payrolls for more than 100,000 merchants.

Another donor, Donald Ribeiro, a minister and physician who lives in Maury, has established a million-dollar estate gift to the foundation through life insurance.

Dr. Michael R. Pelt, former chairman of the religion department at Mount Olive College, became the first person honored with an endowment through the foundation.

Dr. W. Burkette Raper, who presided at the banquet, announced that a $10,000 endowed scholarship fund had been established in Pelt's name to benefit divinity students.

Pelt was one of the first members of the Mount Olive College faculty. He worked there from 1957 to 1994 and since then has been involved in other church activities, including writing a history of the denomination.

The North Carolina Foundation for Christian Ministries was conceived by Raper, who retired after serving 50 years as president of Mount Olive College. The seven-member board of directors elected Raper as president of the foundation.

The other board members are Donnie Lassiter, Ribeiro; lawyer Charles "Sonny" McLawhorn Jr. of Greenville; the Rev. Ronnie V. Hobgood, pastor of the First Free Will Baptist Church of Greenville; Walter Reynolds of Greene County, president of the Church Finance Association, and Judy H. Thaanum of Vandemere, president of the Bayboro Dehydration Co.

"What we are doing tonight is equal in significance to the future of our church as the founding of the college," Raper said.

Like a community foundation, the new foundation will allow donors to give amounts of any size with proceeds distributed as they wish to charities that are tax-exempt. It will be a reservoir for a large number of donations, giving the foundation the leverage of a large sum of money, which can yield greater returns through interest and dividends than small amounts.

Lassiter, who spoke on the fiscal aspects of the foundation, said he expects that proceeds will be distributed at the annual rate of 5 percent of the principle of the funds.

The foundation has received $1,270,055 so far from 41 donors.

Eligible beneficiaries under the foundation's charter are:

*Ministries affiliated with the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists.

*Local Free Will Baptist churches.

*And other educational, charitable, humanitarian and literary purposes consistent with the Christian faith.

The president of the Original Free Will Baptists, the Rev. Fred Baker of Sampson County, said the announcement was "one of the most exciting things of my lifetime."

Raper closed the meeting by declaring: "We are going to make ignorance a choice, not a necessity."


Special to the News-Argus