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‘Church in a womb’ inherits missions DNA

SUFFOLK, Va. (BP)–Nansemond River Baptist Church “birthed” Harvest Fellowship eight years ago.

“I had this bright idea of what I called ‘a church in the womb’ — start a church in a church and birth it,” said Tim Piland, pastor for the last 19 years at Nansemond River Baptist. “We called a mission pastor who became part of our church. Every invitation, he stood up there with me and a part of the invitation was to people who felt a call to be part of the mission. When they responded, their tithes went to the mission.”

When Harvest Fellowship started six months later with Randy Green as pastor and about 80 people from Nansemond River Baptist, both congregations were strong.

“You lose 75 to 80 core people — that’s going to have an effect,” Piland said. “But God replaced them. It’s so natural to start churches this way. Randy came in and he never stopped. He has built a great church.”

Nansemond River Baptist Church in Suffolk and Harvest Fellowship in Smithfield are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia. At least 160 of the state convention’s 500 churches commit at least 10 percent of their offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ method of supporting state and national ministries and missions.

According the SBCV’s founding, and now retired, executive director Doyle Chauncey, the group is an Acts 1:8 state convention with partnerships in each of its “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth” quadrants. Both churches — Nansemond River Baptist and Harvest Fellowship — also minister in their local communities, across the state, throughout the United States and globally.

“Jesus made a statement to 120 people on the Mount of Olives: Go into all the world and make disciples,'” Piland said. “Am I to think those 120 people really thought they could win the world to Jesus? He’s not just telling that to 120 people; He’s giving a mandate to the church. We have to cooperate together. I think the Cooperative Program is one of the best ways we have to do God’s work. It enables us to do a lot by everyone just doing their fair share. We’ve got to cooperate together or it won’t be done.

“I think every church ought to give 10 percent through the Cooperative Program, so we did a little bit more,” Piland continued. “It was just something I felt we needed to do, and the church voted to do it.”

At least 350 people gather each Sunday at Carrollton Elementary School to worship as Harvest Fellowship. They, like their mother church, commit 11 percent of their undesignated gifts to missions through the Cooperative Program.

“We give because we recognize Scripture says to be givers,” said Pastor Randy Green. “We’ve been a very strong giving church from Day One, and I think that’s because — Matthew 6:33 — we’ve not focused on building the church on the property but building God’s Kingdom.

“As we give to the Cooperative Program, we’re supporting church planting in Virginia and West Virginia and everywhere Southern Baptists work together,” Green added. “The Cooperative Program is a vehicle through which we’re able to do God’s work around the world.”

Piland believes God blesses Nansemond River because the congregation is faithful to do His work.

“I feel like the Lord is directing us in the way we do missions,” Piland said. “We’ve got a good balance: being faithful in giving and direct support of hands-on missions. That combination has had a real good influence here, from our support of the Cooperative Program to people going on a mission trip. It’s true discipleship.”

Nansemond River Baptist was started in the early 1960s by First Baptist of Suffolk, Va., which saw a need for a ministry in what then was a rural community. The population near the church has quadrupled in the past 10 years, Piland said, with a heavy influx of military and Gen-X families with preschoolers.

“Our church had to make some changes; that’s always a hard thing to do,” Piland said. “The key today is building relationships.”

Last fall, Nansemond River Baptist changed from a typical Sunday evening program to in-home Bible studies that help in building relationships, the pastor said.

“Today, we have teams going all over the world from our church,” Piland said. “The essence of the Great Commission is the strategy: it’s building relationships; it’s teaching the Word. We’re to go out and seek. The second thing is that we’re to go out and to make disciples of those people we’ve found through our seeking.”

In addition to the home groups, Nansemond River Baptist hosts support groups open to the community, such as Celebrate Recovery, cancer and military support groups. Once a month on Saturday for the past 18 years, the church hosts a foot-care ministry for seniors. In June, more than 60 people showed up to have their feet washed and toenails clipped by trained volunteers, the pastor said.

“You can’t push the church on people, but you can push love and reach out to them, and we’ve done that,” Piland said.

Church members also have ministered globally in New Zealand, where they pass out Bibles to Chinese tourists, Africa, Asia and South America, as well as places that can’t be named for security reasons. They also go nearly every year on a stateside assignment, including Iveydale, W.Va., where they help with an ongoing construction project and with providing backpacks filled with school supplies — 450 this past fall.

At least 70 percent of the church membership is involved in ministry, from set-up/tear-down on Sunday morning, to major community outreaches in the spring and fall, to a variety of responses to community needs.

“We’ve taught that to our people: God has blessed us so we can be a blessing to others,” Green said. “As we’ve sacrificed and as we’ve given, God has given to us. We tell people that everything we have is borrowed from God. He resources everything He calls us to do.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message (baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.