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Applewood: a church with missions in its makeup

WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. (BP)–Applewood Baptist is the kind of church that could change the world. Applewood presented a Lottie Moon Christmas Offering check of $180,885 to Tom Elliff, International Mission Board senior vice president for spiritual nurture and church relations, during the church’s recent annual World Missions Conference.

For the conference, 10 special guests and missionaries were enlisted from around the world to speak about the various ways Applewood members can minister to others. One of the speakers, Mark Edlund, executive director of the Colorado Baptist General Convention, noted Applewood’s previous four years of giving to the state convention, equaling $1,086,844 –- by far the largest amount from any Colorado congregation.

“My purpose right now is just to thank Applewood for the incredible missions heart this church has had from the very beginning,” Edlund said. “The basic problem I have is trying to figure out how to get the DNA that’s in this church in all of our churches throughout the state. If we could figure that out, Colorado could change the world.”

For Applewood, with about 800 people in worship each Sunday, giving isn’t their only contribution. Over the past 30 years, the Wheat Ridge, Colo., congregation has sent more than 1,000 volunteers to approximately 40 countries on mission trips to evangelize, disciple and minister to others. They have started seven churches in the Colorado area and dozens internationally.

“Missions is in the DNA of that church,” Elliff concurred, himself a former IMB missionary to Zimbabwe who served as Applewood’s pastor from 1983-85. “In addition to having strong pastoral leadership, the strength of missions is carried by the laypeople of the church. Applewood has always been a picture to me of a generous, gracious church that had the world on its heart.”

Current pastor Calvin Wittman also served as an IMB missionary to Spain. When considering the position at Applewood, church leaders told Wittman that if he became their pastor, they would send him on two all-expenses-paid overseas missions trips every year. The expectation in hiring other new church staff also includes involvement in missions.

“Every staff member, within the first two or three years, needs to go on a missions trip,” said James Wagstaff, the church’s education pastor. “It’s just an expectation. And the church, as a whole, expects to go on and lead missions.”

Last year, Applewood sent more than 50 people to seven different countries. This year, the church plans to take a dozen mission trips to places like Turkey, Peru, Brazil, Belarus, Kenya, Spain, India, England, Wales and Romania.

“The people who get the greatest blessings in life are those who are willing to go,” Wittman said. “I think God’s called every church member to missions.”

Applewood’s missions emphasis started in the early 1970s with pastor Luther Mann. Although he wanted to be a missionary, Mann was not appointed because of medical problems, but that did not stop him from reaching the nations.

In 1973, at a time when partnership missions was beginning to take root in Southern Baptist life, 20 Applewood volunteers went on their first missions trip to Korea where more than 600 Koreans made professions of faith in Jesus Christ.

“The results were amazing,” said Robert Oxford, Applewood’s director of missions. “[Partnership missions] was such a new idea we didn’t know laypeople could do this. We ended up going to Korea 13 years in a row.”

Since then, Robert and Peggy Oxford have been on more than 50 missions trips to 11 countries through Applewood’s international outreach.

And they aren’t the only Applewood members with a missions lifestyle. Lyle Thomas, a member of the church since 1980, has been on six missions trips to Kenya. Bob Kroening, a member since 1971, has been on more than 10 missions trips to five different continents.

Applewood’s emphasis “on the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, missions, reaching lost people -– it permeates the entire church,” Kroening said. “Once people go, it encourages others to go.”

In the early ’70s, Mann started the World Missions Conference as a Friday night event with a guest speaker. Since then it has blossomed into an all-weekend event with multiple guests and speakers. Just a few years ago, the church added a missions festival in place of its usual fall festival. Instead of decorating with animals or other wild themes, Applewood chose themes from countries around the world.

This year’s missions festival theme was “A World of Fun.” Children received 20 tickets, which allowed them to “travel” from country to country, playing games and earning candy. During their “travels,” children learned about the culture, language, food and missions opportunities in various countries.

“It was a beneficial educational process that resulted in fun and food,” said Jen Zebel, Applewood’s director of children’s ministries.

Applewood also operates the Luther Mann Fund, with more than $50,000 available for grants or loans for members to go on missions trips. Recently, Applewood gave its first grant to Deedee Mann, the daughter of Luther Mann, who went on a missions trip to Belarus.

Another $10,000 fund also is available to any missions trip participant who has raised half the amount but needs help collecting the rest. The church member can borrow from the fund and have one year to pay it back with no interest.

“The last thing, and least important, is funds,” Oxford said. “God has the resources. We believe anyone can go. Perhaps everyone should go, but funds are not the issue.”

Wittman agreed.

“People come to Applewood, and they get infected with missions,” the pastor said. “It gets in their blood. And then they go to other churches and spread it. It’s like a fire: it sparks, is lit and passed on.”

    About the Author

  • Michelle Pierce