By Suzanne Rhodes
Union University news office
JACKSON — Union University has named Jeff Palmer, founder and former CEO of Baptist Global Response, as the 2021 M.E. Dodd Award recipient, the highest denominational service award given by the university.
Union President Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver presented Palmer with the award June 15 at First Baptist Church in Nashville during Union’s alumni and friends dinner as part of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.
“Through his work as an international missionary, as the director of a global relief organization and now as a transitional pastor for a local church, Jeff’s ministry has been faithful and compassionate and has touched literally millions around the world,” said Todd Brady, vice president for university ministries at Union.
“Union University and Southern Baptists are grateful for God’s work through Jeff Palmer,” he said.
Attaining a bachelor’s degree in biology at Union and a master’s degree in agriculture at Murray State University, Palmer has used his education to serve as an International Mission Board missionary in Southeast Asia for over 20 years. In 2006, Palmer and his wife, Regina, were asked to head the formation of Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist international relief and development organization.
He later returned to Nashville and continued in local missions. Palmer helped direct, facilitate and fund compassion ministries in over 70 countries throughout his years of service with BGR.
The M.E. Dodd Denominational Service Award was established 18 years ago in honor of M.E. Dodd, a Union alumnus who served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention pastor’s conference. Dodd was also known as the father of the Cooperative Program.
“Knowing that award is set up to honor those in denominational service and also knowing that M.E. Dodd was one of the founders for the Cooperative Program means a lot because we have seen how much of a blessing [the Cooperative Program] has been to our family and ministry throughout the years,” Palmer said.
The award, voted on by Union trustees, is given to a leader within the Southern Baptist Convention who displays excellence and leadership in Southern Baptist life, as well as friendship and commitment to Union University. Past recipients include leaders such as Jimmy Draper, Adrian Rogers, Steve Gaines, Randy C. Davis, Paul Chitwood and others.
“There are really wonderful people in the group who have received this award, and I feel honored and humbled to be a part of it,” Palmer said.
Ray Van Neste, dean for the School of Theology and Missions at Union University, said he is delighted for Palmer to be this year’s recipient.
“Jeff did amazing work leading relief and development work of Southern Baptists around the world, demonstrating the love of Jesus by meeting so many needs,” Van Neste said. “We are proud of Jeff as a Union alumnus, and I have been blessed by his regular engagement and updates with my home church, First Baptist Church in Jackson, over the years.”
Palmer has written several books on international community development. His last two, “Community Development for Kingdom Impact” and “So You Want to Dig a Well in Africa,” are currently used to train IMB field personnel and churches wanting to take part in cross-cultural compassion ministries.
Palmer retired with IMB emeritus status in 2020 and moved to Jackson where he currently serves as the transitional pastor of East Union Baptist Church as well as the director of community outreach for the Madison-Chester and Crockett Baptist Associations. He is currently enrolled in the master of Christian studies program at Union.
“It’s obvious Union means quite a bit to me to be here for undergraduate years ago and now in the graduate program,” Palmer said. “To know the legacy Union has had through the years — training pastors, leaders, our educators and our missionaries around the world — it’s a real honor to be considered for this award.” B&R