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Cooperative missions fuels Wyo. church

WORLAND, Wyo. (BP)–Through its missions giving, this Southern Baptist congregation in Wyoming has helped carry out the Great Commission since its founding in 1954.

“As believers we’re called to cooperate,” Kevin LeBoeuf, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Worland, said of the national and international workers supported by Southern Baptists. “Unless we’re supporting mission work through the Cooperative Program, how are they going to go?”

First Southern Worland has a history of strength, stability, starting churches, sending out its members on mission and joining with Southern Baptist churches across the country to provide the resources for making a difference in people’s lives worldwide through the Cooperative Program.

“As a church we’ve always been strongly supportive of the Cooperative Program,” LeBoeuf said. “It would be difficult to not support it. If we didn’t give through the Cooperative Program, we wouldn’t be cooperating, would we?”

A group of seven families of oilfield workers started First Southern Worland. They didn’t remain in Worland very long, but the work they started prospered with the determination and resilience of people who had tamed the desert area between the Shoshone and Big Horn mountains by tapping the Big Horn River for irrigation.

Today, Washakie County is a leading producer of sugar beets, corn, small grains, alfalfa hay and beans -– and of Cooperative Program gifts for worldwide mission causes. When Benny Delmar, one of Southern Baptists’ most prolific church planters, helped Worland residents start First Southern, he led them to give 10 percent to missions through the Cooperative Program and 5 percent through their association.

First Southern members, realizing the global need and God’s blessings in their lives, soon increased their commitment to reaching people through the Cooperative Program to 12 percent, and added as God gave the increase so that today about 20 percent of their members’ offerings are earmarked for missions work.

But giving is only part of the equation for the congregation of 70 people, the pastor said. First Southern Worland also sends out its members, and supports them financially through seminary as well, so they are as equipped as possible when they arrive on the mission field.

Close to home, First Southern sent out Steve Farris about 10 years ago to start a church in Ten Sleep -– named, local lore has it, either for the “10 sleeps” it was from Fort Laramie (or some other unknown location), or for 10 Sioux who were ambushed by Arapahoe as they slept, or for the 10 nights one group of Shoshone stayed there during a blizzard.

Farris continues to pastor the congregation of about 30 people in Ten Sleep, about 25 miles from Worland.

Some First Southern members, meanwhile, have gone great distances in responding to the Great Commission. One family now ministers in Indonesia as Bible translators and seminary educators. Over the years, several pastors, missionaries and ministry leaders have been raised up from the congregation and gone to the places where God has called them.

“The church celebrated its 50th anniversary the first year I was here, in 2004,” LeBoeuf said. “It was so interesting [during the celebration] to see the past work and all the people who have gone on to ministry from this work. It was just amazing.”

Cooperative Program gifts from local churches help reduce the cost of a seminary education; First Southern’s pastor is a recipient of that benefit as most of the church’s previous seven pastors have been.

“I am very grateful to Southern Baptists for my seminary education,” LeBoeuf said. “And I’m grateful to my church in Louisiana -– Pine Grove in Livingston –- who believed it was their calling to send students through the seminary at New Orleans. We’re passing that on here.”

First Southern provides a stipend to its members while they are in seminary.

The church also helps support the local ministerial association’s benevolence ministries, the local food bank and crisis pregnancy center.

One member is a public health nurse who goes out into the community, where she is free to share her faith, LeBoeuf said, pointing out, “A young couple getting baptized Sunday is a result of her work, going into homes and witnessing.”

“We do Meals on Wheels when the need arises, and we have quite a senior ministry,” the pastor added. “We’re in the process of building a new sanctuary or multipurpose building because many of our older folks don’t come for fellowships because of the stairs.”

First Southern’s heart still is in missions, however, the pastor said. That’s why they continue to give generously -– to stay strong as an Acts 1:8 missions hub reaching out locally, across the state, nation and world.

Southern Baptists’ annual World Changers missions projects have drawn keen interest among First Southern’s members. Their first year was to Casper, about a three-hour drive. Last year they drove more than 1,000 miles, to Gallup, N.M., where even the pastor’s wife, Karen, got out of her comfort zone.

“Karen knows how to do roofs now, because this is where God put her,” LeBoeuf said. “A mission trip takes you out of your comfort zone and puts you in God’s zone -– on mission for the Great Commission.”

This year’s trip is to be to Moberly, Mo.

“Wherever God wants us to go, that’s where we’re willing to go, and that’s where I want the church to be,” LeBoeuf said. “God has blessed this church and we want to be a blessing to others. That’s why we give; that’s why we go.”