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Cooperative Program, foster care link church & heaven

MOORCROFT, Wyo. (BP) — Mike Ellis is a homeschooling dad who serves bivocationally in rural Wyoming as pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Moorcroft.

His wife Tera is a full-time teacher of gifted and talented youngsters.

“It’s like the Cooperative Program,” Ellis said of their family — Christian, 13, adoptive brothers Joshua, 9, and Thomas, 6, and foster sister Dolly, 5, until more join.

“Different people, coming from different places,” he said, “working together as one family to do something for the Kingdom of God.”

First Southern gives 10 percent of its undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ longstanding method of providing for God’s work in the United States and throughout the world.

“I believe 10 percent is the least we can do,” Ellis said. “We recognize all we have is a gift from God. It’s what we do with our personal finances, so it seems right for us as a church to do the same.

“The northeast corner of Wyoming is an unchurched area when it comes to Southern Baptist churches,” the pastor said. “We have a lot of really small communities — Moorcroft has just over a thousand people and Sundance [the county seat] has just over 1,200 — and when we give to the Cooperative Program it gives the opportunity for more work to be done in this corner of the state as well as around the world.”

The church’s own outreach includes connecting with local schools and community events, a clothing exchange, food drives throughout the year, an annual harvest festival each October, filling shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child — this year members filled 32 — the annual Christmas program involving youngsters, teens and adults, and Vacation Bible School, which Ellis describes as “the big outreach.”

“We just completed Financial Peace University a couple of weeks ago,” Ellis added. “Discipleship is the reason why we do ministry…. If we don’t bring the Gospel into the teaching of God, we’re just doing fruitless work.”

While First Southern Moorcroft has a website and Facebook presence, “our biggest influence is in the people we know,” the pastor noted. “It’s word of mouth more than anything.”

That’s locally. Internationally, “being one of the smaller churches, which are the majority, I understand, of Southern Baptist churches, with the Cooperative Program we have an opportunity to do things on a scale only God can accomplish,” Ellis said. “I know in our little church, we’re actually affecting people all over the world, and without the Cooperative Program that absolutely would not be possible.

“If not for CP, our focus would not be on Africa, China or the Middle East. With the Cooperative Program we support the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board, and bringing all that together is actually a picture of what the Great Commission is all about, a picture we will see in its entirety when we are in heaven.”

His family is another picture of what people can expect in heaven, recounting a journey that began in 2011 when he and his wife and their son moved from Idaho to Wyoming to do youth ministry at a Baptist church where his father-in-law Philip Clay was pastor.

His secular employment as a heavy equipment mechanic took the family three years later to Gillette, Wyo., where an attempt to start a collegiate ministry struggled in part because of time constraints. So Ellis began supply preaching even as he was working and studying through Wyoming’s Contextualized Leadership Development Center, affiliated with Gateway Seminary.

To date Ellis has completed the diploma in Christian ministries and anticipates completing the diploma in theology in the spring of 2020.

His supply preaching led to his first pastorate, First Southern in Moorcroft.

Fostering a family

It was not so much obedience but a desire to share the love of family that led Mike and Tera Ellis to turn to foster parenting when no babies followed the birth of their son. They discussed the possibility for six years, with Mike reticent because of the pain that could come when foster children would, in time, leave their home.

But after four years, he has learned “the love we can share now is worth the pain later.”

“We foster because we have the opportunity to bring God into the middle of the children’s lives and their parents’ lives,” Ellis said. “We do this through the way we live out our lives and the way we speak into others. Our words match how we live.

“We talk about love,” he continued. “We talk about brokenness. We talk about how Jesus uses our brokenness to heal us.”

Asked what counsel he would give prospective foster parents, Ellis responded, “Love them as if they were your own. Know in the back of your mind and in your heart that they are broken. They need help being put back together and the only way to fix the brokenness is through God.”

Their first foster daughter stayed less than four months before relatives were found who would provide her a home. Two brothers came about six weeks later and were adopted by the Ellis family last October, the same month Dolly, 5, became their newest foster daughter.

“It is a lot of work but we’re going to keep going,” Ellis said. “We’re probably going to adopt more as God opens the doors. So many kids need homes; if we’re able to provide one we would like to do so.

“We’ve been asked by others how can we do it the way that we do,” he continued. “We try and extend that same love God gives us, that unconditional love that we see in His sacrifice for us.”

The church extends that same love with its five-acre property on the north side of town. There’s a volleyball pit, basketball court and playground equipment for the community to use long before it occurs to them that maybe they should check out the church as well.

“Mike Ellis is doing a great job,” regional area missionary Fred Creason said. “He’s a good preacher and teacher, with a heart to reach out to young couples, children and teens, and attendance has grown.”

Statistics tell the tale. “We’ve baptized eight this year,” Ellis said in late 2018. “Some were from families that had been attending but were not baptized, while others were new believers…. I preach on baptism as following the commands of Christ; it’s part of our obedience to Christ.”

“I love pastoring,” Ellis said. “It is challenging but it is such a blessing to be used by God. I cannot think of anything that is better than knowing that I am being used by God.

“Lately He’s been putting on my heart this idea that everything in life is being focused toward Him,” the pastor reflected. “I think God’s been giving me a new understanding of why I do what I do. It’s all done to give God the glory, with my family, the kids we foster and their families, the church and the community. It’s to share His message, to help grow the Kingdom as much as is possible in this area and around the world.”