EDITOR’S NOTE: In recognition of the SBC’s October emphasis on the Cooperative Program, Baptist Press will provide readers with extra news and information detailing the scope and depth of the Cooperative Program and its impact for the Kingdom. Using vignettes and profiles of churches and individuals, as well as historical and ongoing accounts, our intent is to explain the Cooperative Program not just as a funding channel but as one of the critical ties that bind Southern Baptists in voluntary fellowship for cooperative ministries and missions.
OCHELATA, Okla. (BP)–Two bouts with cancer and several small strokes have not deterred 77-year-old Kenton White as pastor of a church that, as he puts it, loves missions and missionaries.
White refers to the Cooperative Program as a love offering and as the best way to undergird missions outreach, serving as a model in some cases to other denominations.
“It’s our way of helping somebody take the Gospel around the world when we can’t go ourselves,” said White, pastor of First Baptist Church in Ochelata, Okla. “God’s been good to us, so we share as much as possible.”
Located in a town of about 500 people next to the Osage Indian Reservation and 35 miles from Tulsa, First Baptist makes a point of giving 22.6 percent of its undesignated offerings through the Cooperative Program.
The Cooperative Program allows Southern Baptist congregations to put Acts 1:8 into action, contributing at least a tithe to support regional, national and international missions and ministries.
White and his 73-year-old wife Shirley are resolute in church ministry, even when weak in the body. White’s first bout with lymphoma in 1998 encouraged him to resign his pastorate at First Baptist Church in his hometown of Ramona, Okla., not wanting to be a burden. But First Baptist in Ochelata called him while he was still undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
“Ochelata asked me to come and preach if I felt like it and I said I felt like it. I didn’t have any hair at the time,” White recounted. “I went one time and preached and I liked it so well, I’ve prayed to God and asked Him to let me die in the pulpit.
“When you go into remission, you get back on the mission field.”
White said his church needs no motivation to give.
“They believe in it. They practice missions. They’re just so sweet about helping anybody that needs help as much as possible,” White said.
The congregation operates a food bank, a prayer blanket ministry, and women and youth ministries, and is developing a men’s ministry.
Through the blanket ministry, members make a blanket from two pieces of fleece, using the hand tacking method popular in quilting. They then hang the blanket in the church, allowing members to say individual prayers for the recipient while tying a knot in the tacking.
First Baptist’s youth ministry serves congregations around the country by renting out a cabin it owns with a 200-bed capacity at Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center, while the church recently took 62 children from the surrounding community there for a Bible camp.
Tears washed Shirley White’s eyes as she recalled the church’s contributions to victims of Hurricane Katrina, as part of a campaign organized by the local Baptist association.
“It’s such a blessing to be able to help when you need to,” she said. “You never know when the disaster’s going to be in your area.”
A few members of the congregation have been able to participate in overseas missions, including an outreach at an orphanage in Mexico and a medical mission trip to Nicaragua, both of which the church supported financially.
White encourages other churches to continue to give through the Cooperative Program, even as the economy is mired in hard times.
“Pray and give as God moves your heart,” the pastor said. “You’ve got to believe in [the Cooperative Program] and believe in spreading the Gospel around the world.”
White added, “We need to give what we can now, because the Lord will come any day now…. I want to be busy when the Lord comes.”
Diana Chandler is a freelance writer and a member of Irish Channel Christian Felllowship in New Orleans.