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Church on the upswing by placing missions first

ELLENSBURG, Wash. (BP)–Chestnut Street Baptist Church caught the vision, made the commitment and saw God move.

At the time, Chestnut Street was a small, struggling group who were giving to missions out of their excess, and too often there was no excess.

As pastor Frank Johnson tells the story, “They [the church] made a decision: We’re going to honor God with our world missions commitment. We’re going to take him at his word: ‘Give and it will be given to you.’ They gave to missions first and began to see God begin to work.”

The church’s commitment to CP Missions dates back 20 years or more. When Johnson was called as pastor in 1992, Chestnut Street was giving 11 percent regularly through the Cooperative Program for Southern Baptists’ global missions causes. This year Chestnut Street is giving 14.25 percent.

The church today reflects God’s continuing blessing. At least 175 people gather in two Sunday morning services. Ministry to college students thrives. A longtime commitment to ministry through English as a Second Language recently was re-energized. The church is in the second of a four-year commitment to ministry to immigrant groups in Paris, France. Church members work in tandem with other Christian groups in community ministry. The mission church it started at the other end of the county is poised to become the state’s first full-fledged resort ministry. And Chestnut Street’s $196,000 budget reflects its continuing commitment to missions: A full 35 percent or more is designated for missions causes.

But always its ministry comes down to the individual level, such as the Sunday School class to accommodate the special-needs adults who started coming to church.

“They weren’t making a real connection in other classes so with some gentle care we invited them to help us start a new class to reach some of their friends and people they knew,” Johnson said. “That has worked out really well. It’s pretty cool. The folk who come attend very regularly and seem to get a lot out of it.”

Ellensburg is a county seat town nestled in a wide valley halfway between Seattle and Spokane. The town’s population is about 15,000 including about 7,500 students at Central Washington University. Perhaps 350 students are from Asia.

Ellensburg’s economy is based on the university, hay farming, and vegetable packing, which draws in about 1,000 seasonal workers for six months a year, primarily Hispanics from south Texas.

“We feel some compulsion to reach out to those God has placed in our area,” Johnson said. “They’re here and they have needs and not too much is being done to meet them. It’s a kind of missions-in-your-backyard kind of opportunity.”

For international students, Chestnut Street’s “Welcome to America parties” are in addition to ESL classes. The church offers ESL Sunday School with materials produced by the SBC’s North American Mission Board, along with midweek language-training classes. “It’s kind of a nifty curriculum,” Johnson said. “It takes them slowly through the Gospel of Mark. They read a passage in their own Bible and then read it in English, so they’re practicing English but also reading it in their own language in case they don’t get the point in English.”

The church keeps Bibles in English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Korean available for students who don’t have their own yet.

Chestnut Street provides a half-time salary for Keith Bradford, who serves as associate pastor for student ministries and the local university as Baptist Collegiate Ministries director. He undergirds an intensive discipleship program with hands-on involvement in community ministry as well as NAMB and International Mission Board summer missions opportunities.

Through former BCM students, now married and students at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Chestnut Street became involved with Tsilent Tsunami, a strategy adopted in recent years by the IMB to reach immigrant groups.

“Our adopted city is Paris, France,” Johnson said. “Two million people there have immigrated from somewhere else, and 900,000 of them from China.”

Fourteen people from Chestnut Street were assigned to ‘Discovery Prayer Walking’ in Paris last year. Three went during spring break this year and six to eight are expected to go this summer.

“We prayed and took copious notes of who we saw and their ethnic connections,” Johnson said. “We walked miles and miles, and we became the hands and feet and eyes of the missionaries — identifying where ethnic food stores are, shops, mosques, and where ethnics congregate. It was intense work, and all the while getting by in another language. But the missionaries told us it saved them several months of work, and that made it worthwhile.”

Closer to home, Chestnut Street has been involved in starting a church in a resort area, helping start a crisis pregnancy center, and spearheading an effort to distribute the “Jesus” film throughout the county. In each instance, God has chosen to multiply Chestnut Street’s on-mission efforts, just as he does through the Cooperative Program.

“We have a heartfelt conviction that our convention stands for an array of missions projects that a church our size could never participate in apart from the Cooperative Program,” Johnson said.

“We’re approaching that vision in the Book of Revelation where every tongue and tribe and people and language are worshiping before the throne, uniting with one voice to glorify God,” the pastor continued. “We are created to enjoy God, to know him and enjoy him forever — and that is together, not individually. The Cooperative Program gives us an opportunity to put that into practice in the here and now.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: MISSIONS FOCUSED and CHESTNUT STREET BAPTIST CHURCH.