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Across 40,000 square miles, missionary nurtures 28 churches

HELENA, Montana (BP)–Dave Howeth rolls on down the two-lane highway in his blue Buick. While the terrain in front of him is flat for miles and miles, always off in the distance are the snow-covered mountains of southwest Montana.

Howeth is director of missions and church planter strategist for the Treasure State Baptist Association, encompassing 28 churches in 11 counties covering nearly 40,000 square miles of Montana, including Yellowstone National Park. The ministry includes three collegiate ministries and several resort ministries.

“As a church planter strategist for the North American Mission Board, I’m a catalyst in getting new churches started. We build the strategy from the ground up -– including the need for the new church, what kind of church, etc.,” Howeth said.

“In the last 16 months, we’ve started five new churches,” Howeth said, “one on the campus of Montana State University.” That campus church -– called Higher Definition –- drew 50 students for their first Sunday service. Howeth estimates that 95 percent of the 12,000 college students at Montana State are lost and without Christ.

Dave and Debbie Howeth are among the 5,300-plus missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. Dave is one of eight missionaries who were highlighted as part of the annual Week of Prayer, March 5-12. The 2006 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering’s goal is $56 million, 100 percent of which is used for missionaries like the Howeths.

“Without the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, my role in our association would not be possible,” Howeth said. “Even though we’ve grown to 28 churches, they still can’t fully support a director of missions and church planter strategist. So that support is priceless and necessary. It allows me to work with churches when they’re pastorless and to recruit more church planters.”

In Helena, population 30,000, Howeth recently started Capital Baptist Fellowship Church on the western side of the city. Capital and existing Calvary Baptist are the only two Southern Baptist churches in all of Helena.

Only 1,500 Southern Baptist church members live in southwest Montana, a region encompassing 240,000 people, 80 percent of whom, by Howeth’s estimates, don’t know the Lord. Major revival has never come to the state, he added.

Howeth says the people of Montana are tough, independent, self-sufficient folk, who trust mainly in themselves.

“Trying to get them to place their faith in the one true Savior, the one true God, is a huge issue of surrender for them.

“It’s not that the people of Montana are all atheists,” Howeth said. “They’re good, moral people. They believe in God and they know about Jesus Christ. But they don’t understand the personal implications of the Gospel. Southern Baptists first came to Montana in 1952 and even with the great work we’re doing today, we still have reached only 1 percent of the population.”

A native of Missoula, Mont., Howeth did not come from a Christian home, but accepted Christ in 1978 as the age of 22. He and wife Debbie are what he calls “first-generation Christians.” Dave shared the Gospel with her on their honeymoon.

Today, Debbie serves as secretary and office manager for the association. They have three grown children, two of them in college.

“It is my job to serve those who serve others,” he said. “My role is very simple. It’s to know what the pastor’s vision is, to know what his heart is and to support that vision with resources, prayer and encouragement. My greatest joys are being able to encourage and work with pastors and to help churches rediscover their mission and return to the harvest field.”

He spends much of his time mentoring and coaching pastors and church planters — some over the phone. More often, though, he’s steering his blue Buick down a lonely stretch of Montana road to personally meet with his network of pastors.

What does Howeth love most about his job?

“What I really love to watch is a church that’s really humming for the Lord. I love to see a healthy church, a healthy pastor — with a heart for the harvest. When they’re doing servant evangelism, and stepping outside their church walls, and leading people to Christ, and discipling people, and assimilating them into the life of the church, and the church is growing and reproducing … boy, what synergy, what energy!”

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  • Mickey Noah