BELFRY, Montana (BP)–Montana church planting pastor Willard Francis has caught the vision. “When they explained to me how the Cooperative Program [CP Missions] worked, I thought what a marvelous idea — cooperating churches all across the land and how we could do so much together than we could do on our own.
“That’s what caused me to fall in love with the Southern Baptist way of funding missions,” he said. “I have never all through the years heard of a better plan.”
Nudged by the Holy Spirit, Francis and his wife, Saundra, moved to Montana 10 years sooner than they had planned. Though called to church planting in the Rocky Mountain West, they arrived in July 1998 to accept an interim pastorate at Calvary Baptist Church in Laurel, in the Yellowstone Baptist Association.
At the same time, a couple in Red Lodge, Mont., Tom and Hazel McDowall, were thinking of moving to Belfry to live nearer to their son and his family and noticed the absence of an evangelical church in the area.
Director of missions Darwin Payton saw he had a pastor who wanted to start a church, a town without a church and a layman (pipefitter/rancher by trade) who wanted a church there in Belfry. He brought everyone together — including pastors of Bridger and Laurel churches — in November 1999.
At a second meeting in February 2000, plans for the Belfry outreach were finalized. The first service was April 2 in what had been the town’s post office.
“In Belfry we started with brand-new Southern Baptists, first generation,” Francis said. “They knew nothing about the cooperating part of doing missions. When they began to learn about it and see firsthand its benefits, they were absolutely amazed.
“Now, when I mention the Cooperative Program from the pulpit, they know what I’m talking about,” the pastor continued. “The membership here had never witnessed that before. They want for us to be like that — a church on as large a scale as we can.”
The church soon outgrew the old post office and the Lord opened the door for a new location — in an abandoned bar, across a parking lot from another bar.
“Look at it this way,” Francis said, “The building was available and it was affordable.”
After extensive renovation of the smoke-stained and dirty — but sizeable — building, Mountain View Baptist Church constituted in December in what had been the Silver Tip Bar. It’s located on one of two paved streets in this south-central Montana town, population 200, less than a dozen miles from the Wyoming border.
The Silver Tip’s main claim to fame was that it had one of the nation’s longest, seamless marble bar tops. The marble-topped piece of furniture, like the bar itself, had been in Belfry longer than anyone could remember. It was sold before Belfry Baptist bought the property for $25,000.
“That was a miracle,” Saundra Francis said. “When we started looking at property, the two sites we knew of that were available were $89,000 and $110,000. Then we thought of this building. It had been empty for a couple of years.
“We’d been given an anonymous gift of $20,000 and had raised $5,000 ourselves, and when we heard her price tag on the building was $25,000, we just about fainted,” she continued. “It’s a pretty solid building. We’re going to have to put a new roof on it, but it’s solid.”
Though jokes were made during the remodeling about fixing up a bar, and though Mountain View Baptist Church shares a parking lot with the Belfry Bar, the church has distanced itself from the building’s past, the pastor said. The surprisingly debt-free status of the building is just one in a long list of what Saundra Francis calls miracles that have come because of the congregation’s awareness of God’s leadership and their obedience.
“It was just like the Lord laid out stepping stones for us to follow and we’ve just stepped out,” the pastor’s wife said. “It’s absolutely been an amazing journey and we’re just starting on it. We have a building and we’re getting a good reputation in the community, so we know the Lord is just getting it all set up and ready for us to start reaching people.”
Ten families — about 30 people — are currently part of the Mountain View congregation.
From its inception, the church has given 10 percent of its undesignated offerings to CP Missions for global missions and 5 percent to associational missions — percentages that will increase over time, Willard Francis said.
“When I surrendered to preach in a small rural church where I was baptized, I was in my 30s and knew nothing about Southern Baptist life,” Francis explained. “There were three elderly pastors there that I asked to teach me.
“As a pastor what I’ve done in the past and what I do here in Belfry is just like teaching folks to give — teaching them about the Cooperative Program,” Francis said. “For someone who struggles with a commitment to tithe, it’s a good way to show the benefit of doing so. And it’s a good way for a church to be giving a large percentage of their monies to missions around the world and never missing it.”
CP Mission teams from North Carolina, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, Texas and Montana have helped with remodeling, a sports camp and a Vacation Bible School at Mountain View, plus financial and prayer support.
But though its vision is global, the church also keeps a local focus, with such initiatives as:
— A CP Missions team led in a basketball camp last summer that attracted 28 youngsters. A Vacation Bible School two weeks later drew in about the same number — out of the 50 registered in the Belfry School District’s kindergarten through eighth-grade classes.
— Mountain View provided a $250 scholarship for one of Belfry High School’s graduating seniors last year and plans to give two such scholarships this year.
— In the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy, someone came up with the idea of hosting a community-wide appreciation banquet for the volunteer fire department.
— Seeing the need in the community, the suggestion was made by a member to start a food pantry. When it was learned the local senior citizens group already had a structure in place, Mountain View joined with the center to revitalize the program.
“From the beginning we have been determined that we would give to this community,” the pastor said. “That’s what the Lord did when he was here. As he went through communities, he saw the needs of people who were hurting and needy and he had compassion on them.
“The Lord has shown us dozens and dozens of times that we’re doing what he wants us to do and he’s providing for us,” Saundra Francis said.
“Our emphasis is on following the commandment of Christ found in Matthew 28:18,” pastor Francis added. “We believe we have his authority to be his witnesses in our community, state and — through the Cooperative Program — around the world.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: RAISING THE BAR, CLEAR CHOICE and MOUNTAINVIEW MUSIC.