North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell set aside part of a recent staff-wide meeting to celebrate long-time NAMB leader Carlos Ferrer, who is semi-retiring after 30 years of service at the mission board.
“I never ever want to forget the ones whose shoulders you are standing on,” Ezell told the NAMB team on Jan. 12. “The reason NAMB is what it is today is because God used Carlos in a strategic way.”
Ferrer’s story includes being a refugee from Cuba whose family fled the rise of Fidel Castro’s regime. It’s the story of a man who became a servant of the convention of churches that helped him resettle in the United States.
Ferrer was born in Cuba in the early 1950s, a decade of intense conflict and upheaval for the Caribbean nation.
“At night, it was common for our family to hear gunfire and bombs going off in the distance,” Ferrer wrote in an article for Christianity Today in 2019. “These were the beginning years of Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution.”
The revolution appeared to Ferrer, as a young boy, like it might bring peace and stability, but the communist regime began taking over land, businesses and property, including the private school that Ferrer’s family operated.
Courage to escape
Suddenly left with nothing, the Ferrers made a harrowing escape, first traveling to Mexico to be with family and renting an apartment there before legally immigrating to the United States.
“I think about the courage that my grandfather, that my parents had, in taking the risk to go at night and take off, without any money, without any bags, without anything, just to leave to pursue liberty and freedom,” Ferrer recalled. “The more I live, the more I appreciate the decision they made because it was a decision for us, not so much for them, but for us to have a future.”
Their journey in the U.S. began in Miami where Ferrer’s father discovered that a Baptist group was sponsoring families to go to California. After their application was processed, the First Baptist Church Santa Barbara, California, welcomed their family, lined up a job for Ferrer’s father and paid for the first few months of their rent.
The church invited the family to a service, and Ferrer’s parents gave their lives to Christ a year later. For Ferrer, the gospel message did not sink in until he was a student at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. Believers shared the gospel with him, and Ferrer repented and believed the good news about Christ.
“Soon thereafter, I thought back to the people of that Baptist church in California,” Ferrer wrote, “and a light bulb came on in my brain. Why had they helped us? Now it made perfect sense: Their actions sprang from their faith.”
After graduating from the University of Texas, Ferrer entered the workforce and became a certified public accountant. He encountered success but could not find fulfillment using his gifts in the secular arena.
So, he left the corporate world to serve the business side of a Spanish-speaking Southern Baptist affiliated seminary in San Antonio. Ferrer’s gifts as an administrator were noticed by what was then the Home Mission Board, now the North American Mission Board, and in 1992, Ferrer moved his wife, Cindy, and his kids, Al and Drew, to Atlanta.
“After taking the job, I heard that my new employer had been involved in helping resettle Cuban refugees in the 1960s,” Ferrer said. “I asked if, by chance, the organization had worked with any churches in California.”
‘Only God could do that’
A few days later, his coworker returned with a folder that contained the file for the church that had sponsored his family.
“Only God could do that, the whole circle of coming here and finding out that this is the entity that helped my family get a fresh start,” said Ferrer in a recent Stories of Hope podcast. “I’m so thankful and grateful that I’ve been here this long and to be a part of something that’s affected my life and my family’s life. You can’t make that up. It’s unbelievable.”
Ferrer became a leader who would help guide the work of the HMB and NAMB over the course of the next three decades. One of the greatest challenges arose when the Southern Baptist Convention voted in 1995 to combine a pair of other entities with the HMB to form NAMB.
“Everything was different about the three agencies, and we had to merge those together into one agency,” said Ernest Kelley, who served as interim president during the transition after nearly 20 years with the entity. “Carlos took the lead, and he created the budget and the financial procedures for a new agency. He did extremely well, and I complement him yet today.”
During his tenure, Ferrer has been a steady hand that has helped steer NAMB through various transitions, including navigating the entity toward its current strategy of focusing on church planting, compassion ministry and evangelism. He served in leadership roles as chief financial officer and executive vice president.
He also provided leadership in Puerto Rico over the last few years as the island became a major focus area for NAMB’s efforts in church planting and compassion ministry.
“The characteristic that I love, admire and respect the most is the humility of this wonderful man of God,” said Johnny Hunt, NAMB’s senior vice president of evangelism and leadership and longtime pastor to Ferrer and his family, addressing NAMB staff.
In semi-retirement, Ferrer will continue serving NAMB in a part-time role as special assistant to the president.