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.
CROWNSVILLE, Md. (BP)–Pastor Russ Rathier keeps a world map on the wall of his study at South Shore Baptist Church, with push pins designating states and countries where the congregation is supporting missions.
Pinpointed are Southeast Asia, Pakistan, the Ukraine and Nigeria abroad and various locations in America, not counting the countless missions initiatives supported through South Shores’ commitment to reaching people through the Cooperative Program. Currently the congregation commits 17 percent of its undesignated offerings through CP.
Not all of us are able to go somewhere, so we support through our tithing,” Rathier said. “When we’re asked to give, we give.”
Rathier said the church also supports missions by giving 5 percent of its offerings to the Baptist Association of Maryland/Delaware and love offerings to individuals engaged in missions endeavors.
“We feel we continually get blessed by that,” Rathier said. “God always meets our goal and exceeds it. God at times has almost doubled what we’ve set as a goal.”
Rathier, a retired U.S. Navy officer, was himself drawn to ministry while on a month-long mission trip to Nigeria in 1999, where he ministered to youth in a community for the blind.
“That was the thing that God used to turn my life,” he said. “I’ve been able to draw on that for years now.”
That mission experience led Rathier to spend the last eight years of his Navy career studying part-time to earn a seminary degree. South Shore is the first church where he is senior pastor.
Rathier is leading the church to be ministry-driven, working as God leads.
“God will send people here who need ‘X’ and we have people God has put it on their heart to give ‘X,'” Rathier said. “God made us all different. He gave us different skill sets.”
In the year and a half Rathier has led South Shore, the church has taken the first missions trip in its 50-year history, a five-day youth trip to Louisville with the Kentucky Heartland Outreach at Campbellsville University.
The youth renovated homes of the needy in Louisville, keeping schedules tight with work, worship services, Bible study and prayer.
“I watched two of the youth completely give their life to Christ. They knew about Jesus, but I saw it click,” Rathier said. “They realized how blessed they were.”
Not only that, but an adult chaperone on the trip was inspired to start a construction ministry in Crownsville.
“He came back and started a construction program right here,” Rather said, referring to the member as Rick and describing him as shy and preferring to work behind the scenes. The master electrician approached former clients and employers for money and/or materials and is using the donations to renovate homes and complete small construction projects for the needy in Anne Arundale County. In his first project, he built a storage shed for a young widow with two adolescent boys.
“It’s a shed that probably would cost about $4,000 if you went out and bought it,” Rathier said.
Rathier describes his congregation as “a very honest, country-loving sort of church” that loves to give.
“We’ll feed 100 people at the drop of a dime, just wrap our arms around people,” he said.
The Woman’s Missionary Union runs a thrift shop in the church’s former chapel and regularly donates prepared meals to a battered women’s shelter. The church also operates a food pantry and will prepare Thanksgiving dinner for the women’s shelter this year, Rathier said.
The church’s youth participated in a 30-hour famine to prepare to minister to the homeless. Under the leadership of youth pastor Caleb Horton, the group planned to fast from noon Friday, Oct. 24, through 6 p.m. the next day, sleep on the church grounds in a makeshift homeless community made of cardboard, and feed sandwiches to the homeless before ending the fast.
The experience will allow youth “to feel those hunger pangs that our brothers and sisters are feeling every day,” Rathier said. “Instead of criticizing people, look at where they are and try to realize how they feel.”
Diana Chandler is a freelance writer and member of Irish Channel Christian Fellowship in New Orleans.