OLYMPIA, Wash. — Pastor Dan Panter’s awareness of the effectiveness of the Cooperative Program dates to his 24 years in the U.S. Navy. An active Southern Baptist who rose from being an enlisted man to Lieutenant Commander, Panter would look up which missionaries were near where his deployments would be taking him.
“I got to see how the Cooperative Program enabled them to do their ministry,” Panter said. “CP provided for them, their housing, food, education for their kids. [The missionaries] were able to do home Bible studies, teach theology, minister in various ways in the rural areas and in the cities.
“It was really awesome to see CP in action. They were there, doing the business they were there to do, discipling new believers, and also taking us out, showing us some of what God was doing in the Philippines, in East Asia and elsewhere. I believe in the effectiveness of the Cooperative Program, and the way it brings us together with the singular focus of sharing the gospel at home and throughout the world.”
Panter has pastored McKenzie Road Baptist Church for 18 years. Being a regional church has exacerbated the difficulties of ministering during the COVID-19 pandemic, but McKenzie Road has accepted the challenge. Located in a semi-rural part of Thurston County, the church draws parishioners from the state capital, Olympia, as well as Lacey, Tumwater, Yelm and even further afield.
But while maintaining its generous commitment to global missions through the Cooperative Program, members form a bond that also leads to participation in local, regional and national missions and ministry.
“The Cooperative Program brings all Southern Baptists together,” said Dan Panter, McKenzie Road’s pastor for 18 years.
The church, which averaged about 80 people for Sunday morning worship before the COVID-19 pandemic, is in its fifth year of giving 17 percent of undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program.
“We believe in the Cooperative Program,” Panter said. “We preach it, teach it, talk it up on a regular basis. Even during the economic downturn of 2008 our folks voted to maintain and not reduce our level of CP giving even though giving to the church had started to wane.
“We just trusted God to be faithful if we remained faithful, and as always, He faithfully provided for our needs and giving began to increase again. I’ve seen firsthand what the Cooperative Program does. It does MUCH good.”
Through CP, the church has partnered with Southern Baptists in Olympic Baptist Association, Puget Sound Baptist Association (Seattle is 60 miles northwest of Olympia) and the (Pacific) Northwest Baptist Convention. It’s a true partnership — McKenzie Road gives financial support, and in return receives training, resources and help with Sunday School and Vacation Bible School.
Church leaders even received help to take services online — something they had never done — when COVID-19 restrictions prevented the church from meeting.
“We dug into it, found out what it takes to do it,” Panter said, crediting “Olympic Association, state convention, pastor friends, NAMB, IMB and outside entities; we’ve had a lot of input from various sources.”
McKenzie Road Baptist has sent teams twice to Thailand, once for tsunami relief and once for missions support, to Singapore to provide Vacation Bible School and child care for the children of missionaries attending a conference, and to East Asia, where doors opened for ministry among a people group the church had been praying for.
In the U.S., several of the church’s trained Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers went to Louisiana after hurricanes, New York after 9/11, Colorado for mountainside erosion control after wildfires, across Washington, Oregon and Northern California for fire and flood clean-up, and elsewhere.
Regionally, McKenzie Road Baptist has partnered with Set Free Rehabilitative Ministries in Elma and Chehalis, Union Gospel Mission in Olympia, Youth With A Mission’s food bank for homeless children, and the elementary school a half-mile from the church.
They provided the school with backpacks stuffed with school supplies and, at the onset of the pandemic, provided the principal with several $25 Safeway gift cards for the school to give to needy families. The principal even agreed to let those families know that the cards were donated by the church.
For the last 18 years, the church has taken Vacation Bible School to the Colville Indian Reservation in north-central Washington, a tradition that was paused this year due to the pandemic.
The rioting in Seattle for the most part has not reached the state’s capital, Panter said. But of course, the COVID-19 crisis has reached everywhere. And what the church scrambled to do has resulted in new opportunities, he said.
“We’ve been seeking the Lord, finding more effective ways to reach the community around us,” the pastor said regarding the church’s response to the pandemic. “We’ve been praying and trying a few things. We’re very spread out, trying to lead people from all kinds of cities to focus on needs right around the church. God planted this church here, so we need to reach out more effectively here as well as our scattered [church families’] neighborhoods.”
With church members telling friends, neighbors and coworkers about the services online on Facebook and YouTube, attendance grew to nearly double the congregation’s pre-COVID numbers so, “We’re keeping it going and buying the right kind of equipment,” the pastor said.
McKenzie Road Baptist now is back to meeting in its building, with caveats. Half the chairs have been removed. The remainder have been positioned for single, double and triple sets, with generous space between each set. The congregation signs up for either a 9 a.m. or 11 a.m. service, and neither has more than 30 in attendance, though with services also still online, the small numbers are misleading.
Everyone in the worship center wears masks. Those who struggle with the masks can sit in the foyer, where they can be distanced and still feel part of the gathering.
“It’s been quite a challenge, but by God’s grace we’re making it work,” Panter said. “When you’re faithful with what He gives you, He blesses. Keep your eyes and your heart on Jesus. That’s what I preach and teach. God is in control. None of this caught Him off guard.”