LONGVIEW, Wash. (BP)–“My father was a rough-necked miner who could cuss the wallpaper off the wall, and the next thing I know he gets saved and called to the ministry.”
Kevin White, pastor of First Baptist Church in Longview, Wash., credits the salvation of his entire family to God’s work through the Cooperative Program.
“I was born and raised in the western states,” White explained. “If it hadn’t been for a mountain missionary who came to the gold mining town of Crescent, Nev., who knows what my life would be like today? There was no church in the town where I lived -– not any church. This missionary came out every Thursday night and held worship services, and in the summers, Vacation Bible School.”
That missionary’s salary came from the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ channel of combining the efforts and resources of local churches to make a difference in the lives of people across the nation and around the world.
“The Cooperative Program means something to me personally because it’s directly related to the salvation of not only me, but my mother and my father and my brother and my sister,” White said. “I’m 43, and the Cooperative Program is doing the same thing today as it did when I was a kid -– it’s reaching people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ who wouldn’t be reached otherwise. I believe if more leaders -– pastors -– within our convention had been reached through Cooperative Program missionary efforts as my family was, they would see the value of CP and strive to lead their church to participate wholeheartedly.”
The Cooperative Program helps people serve as Jesus’ hands, feet and arms as they serve people in His name -– when, for example, White’s father received some Cooperative Program assistance to help in a ministry he was undertaking to Native Americans in Nevada.
“It wasn’t much, but it helped put food on the table,” White said. “The value of the Cooperative Program is that it keeps us from thinking just about ourselves and our little projects. I’ve never been to China, but I’m helping someone in China.”
In Longview, First Baptist is holding strong to giving 10 percent of its offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program despite the demands of a relocation and costly building program.
“This church was started by Leonard Siegle, who started so many churches in Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada,” White said. “From its first days of being one of the charter Southern Baptist churches in the Northwest, First Baptist was taught to give to missions through the Cooperative Program for the Kingdom work of God, so that people would get the opportunity to know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, and so that churches could start –- which would reach still more people.”
White, First Baptist’s pastor since 1994, has led his congregation to expand their involvement in God’s kingdom work, as several from the church have gone into short- and long-term missions -– in South America, India, Dominican Republic, Russia and Haiti.
“I lead it; I go with them,” White said of the short-term trips. “I preach that God is only going to bless First Baptist Church as much as our eyes are not on First Baptist Church. If all our eyes [focus on] us and our building, we won’t really see the God who is out there. God is a lot larger than First Baptist Church.”
A recent missions venture to Haiti proved his point, White said. More than $2,000 in medications carried by a First Baptist volunteer team to help a local physician was confiscated by the government.
“We went into a nine-hour prayer meeting,” White recounted. “We decided we’d do medical missions as long as we had medications. Every day, the doctor would come out and say, ‘I have enough medications for one more day.’ It was almost like the five loaves and fishes. For seven days we had enough each morning for that one day, and 58 people got saved.”
White encourages First Baptist members to go on mission trips so they can experience God at work in ways they sometimes don’t notice at home.
“Youth have said they feel more rewarded doing a mission trip; they seem to get more out of it than just camp,” the pastor said.
Men and youth recently returned from a week of construction missions on the Duck Valley Reservation in Owyhee, Nev., a church White and his then-new wife DeeEdrah planted in 1987. It was First Baptist’s third time to go to the reservation after two earlier VBS mission trips.
“We put the flooring down, pulled wires, hung doors and windows, and walls in Sunday School classrooms,” White said. “We’re going back later this summer for VBS.”
The youth also have participated in construction missions in Casper, Wyo., and Bremerton, Wash., through the North American Mission Board’s World Changers program.
First Baptist is one of the larger churches in the Pacific Northwest; about 400 people participate in Sunday morning worship. After struggling for at least seven years with being landlocked and having insufficient parking space, the church voted to relocate to an 8.9-acre site at the west edge of town and build.
“We’re a classic textbook Southern Baptist church,” the pastor said. “You can only run 80 percent of your building capacity for so long before you start losing people…. Our building was built in the 1950s; renovation was going to be more expensive than building, and that wouldn’t take care of the parking problem.”
They paid cash for the land, and in two capital campaigns and the sale of the current building raised $5 million of the $7 million needed to build a one-level facility with a worship center and education space.
FAITH, an evangelistic strategy for growing a ministering Sunday School, has been a major component of the church’s outreach since 1999. About 160 members are FAITH-trained; as many as 80 have gone out on a weekly basis. As a result, First Baptist has baptized an average of 30 people a year since White has been pastor.
First Baptist’s ministries include FISH, in which six area churches, one each week, distributes food to low-income families.
“We go to COSTCO and to other stores for donated food,” White said. “We get as much donated as possible and the rest comes from our benevolence offerings. We give about 60 families groceries for a week or more.”
For the last four years, First Baptist has offered weekly Celebrate Recovery sessions, a ministry started by Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. A professional counselor also offers free counseling through the church to people who can’t afford counseling.
Other local ministries include packaging items for low-income moms of newborns and delivering them to the hospital and making care packages during the Christmas season for AIDs victims. Some Sunday School classes prepare meals once a month at the community house for homeless and low-income Longview residents.
First Baptist had 25 small groups participate last fall in a “40 Days of Community” initiative developed by Saddleback pastor Rick Warren. The groups took on various ministry projects in the community, many of which continue, such as building wheelchair ramps for area residents and preparing meals for Habitat for Humanity workers.
First Baptist’s youth, meanwhile, plan to have evening Bible studies at the park this summer, including music and other activities to draw a crowd.
“Our challenge is keeping people focused,” White said. “Focused on the Kingdom. The building is not the end-all. It’s a tool to do the Kingdom work of God. It’s not built for us who are here. It’s built for those who are yet to come. I think the only way to keep people focused is to keep them realizing the value we have in Jesus. When we don’t value Him, we don’t value worship and we don’t value ministry.
“When we start taking God for granted, we fail,” White said. “I want to keep them saying, ‘Wow, it’s a privilege to be a Christian.'”