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.
ALTO, Texas (BP)–God commands missions, but for First Baptist Church in tiny Alto, Texas, the outreach is driven as much by joy as obedience.
Joy is evident in the outreach of its members, exemplified by 71-year-old Jack and Beth Sheridan, who united with First Baptist 20 years ago. They have taken numerous national and overseas mission trips since their youth.
“It’s just a joy and a delight to see the expressions of the people,” said Beth Sheridan, recalling her and her husband’s most recent trip — to Ica, Peru, after an August 2007 earthquake.
“They would say, ‘Why are you doing this? You don’t even know us.’ We would say, ‘The Lord loves you,'” Sheridan said.
Gary Pridmore, First Baptist’s pastor, sees it as “a joy and a privilege to be able to share and sacrifice for the Lord’s work and for ministry to people in the world who have a whole lot less than we have and are in need of the Gospel.”
Such joy has encouraged the church to be a leader in giving through the Southern Baptist Convention’s mission-rich Cooperative Program, having committed nearly 19 percent of its undesignated offerings to the program last year, according to the 2008 Annual Church Profile.
First Baptist is located in Alto, Texas, with a population just under 1,200 and a median family income about half the national average, according to census figures.
“It’s a difficult time financially for many people. Like many churches, we have struggled somewhat during the recession,” Pridmore said. “But we have not gotten to the point that we would have to make any cutbacks in our giving.”
The church’s Cooperative Program giving has remained at the same percentage for the last two years, which Pridmore credits to past leadership, since he came to the church just under a year. He describes the church as being historically strong in mission outreach.
“That’s just a desire in the hearts of our people to support missions and spread the Gospel of Jesus to the whole world,” Pridmore said.
The Cooperative Program is the way state conventions in the Southern Baptist Convention work together the Acts 1:8 way — at the same time supporting local, regional, national and international missions and ministries.
First Baptist in Alto is active in its community, giving to the local food bank and participating in outreach activities of the interdenominational Alto Ministerial Alliance. The pastor said he would like to see First Baptist’s members become even more active in missions, as God calls them.
The pastor is enjoying the missions enthusiasm among the church’s youth. Church youth minister Ryan Mason has worked to involve the youth group in local community outreach, such as home repairs and yard work for the needy, and the church is working to involve youth in long-distance outreach, bolstered by the Sheridans.
“God says for us to go and I’ve been hearing that my whole life. I got it from my parents,” Beth Sheridan said. “They lived in Iran for seven years.”
Sheridan shares that her mission trip to Peru ended with a breast cancer diagnosis. As she and her husband were leaving Peru, a health screening revealed the growth. Once back in Texas, she underwent successful treatment, including a mastectomy.
“I didn’t have to have chemotherapy or radiation. I was blessed again,” Sheridan said.
Diana Chandler is a freelance writer and member of Irish Channel Christian Fellowship (Baptist Church) in New Orleans.