ONEIDA, Tenn. (BP)–Times are tough all over the country, especially in places like Oneida, Tenn., where the unemployment rate hovers between 20 and 22 percent. But when a volunteer team from First Baptist Church ventured to southeast Missouri, the firsthand experience prompted the church to enlarge its missions commitment.
“We had a team come back from a mission trip and report,” said First Baptist member Dale Smith, a retiree who was baptized at the church as a teenager. “They talked about the needs they saw and how we need to do something, but nothing was decided. I said to a deacon — he happens to be on the finance committee — that we ought to increase our giving to the Cooperative Program.”
The finance committee agreed and proposed a 1 percent increase, to 11 percent, of CP giving in 2010, and the congregation unanimously approved.
“The Cooperative Program makes it possible for the missionaries to go out and do what God has called them to do, and we’re all blessed by our support of it,” Smith continued. “I felt like because we were out there and saw the need, we needed to respond in some degree to it. We hadn’t increased our [percentage] giving in quite some time and I know the Lord can take a little and make a lot of it.”
“I believe in the Cooperative Program,” Smith said, because it supports both the ministries of state Baptist conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention as compared to designated giving.
“The Cooperative Program all works together to give honor to God.”
Doug White, who has led the church since 2001, shared how the church has sought to be obedient even in these tough times.
“As we have done things, we have not allowed unemployment to affect us,” White said. “We want to do what God instructs us. We want to do what the Lord would have us do.
“Giving is an act of worship,” the pastor noted. “As we give, we reflect our trust and our dependence on God. As His children, we want to walk in that obedience, want to lean on Him, trust Him, take Him at His word.”
The finance committee also suggested a $200 per month increase to missions giving in 2011 through its association, the New River McCreary Baptist Association, while continuing the 11 percent for the Cooperative Program. That also passed without discussion or dissent.
About 375 people participate in Sunday morning worship at First Baptist, a multi-generational congregation that White said reflects its community — professionals, blue collar workers and unemployed. Oneida is the largest town in Scott County, with about 5,000 of the county’s 22,000 residents.
According to U.S. Census Bureau, 19.5 percent of the families — and 23.7 percent of individuals — in Scott County live below the poverty level, while neighboring McCreary County, Ky., is one of that state’s poorest counties, thus giving First Baptist ample opportunities to be the hands, arms, feet and heart of Jesus, White said.
“Some of our people have stepped up and hired people,” White said. “We’re always looking to see if we know of a family hurting or in need.
“These are the most cooperative-spirited, loving people I have ever known,” the pastor continued. “They’ll say ‘so-and-so lost his job and they’re struggling; how can we help?’ and everyone will pitch in and do what they can.”
Locally First Oneida blitzes its community with visitation twice a year; while not wanting to wear out their welcome, White noted it’s important to remind people that the church and God are here for them.
“The community isn’t growing because there aren’t any jobs,” he said. “We have some logging here, and we have a lot of little companies.” For example, the utility trailer manufacturer Great Dane employs 80 people in the county.
First Baptist keeps a food pantry stocked for people in the community. For a local children’s center, the church provides snacks and other supplies for children seeing counselors. And it provides financial support to the center as well as a local women’s shelter.
“We also are involved with providing meals for seniors, and with volunteers to deliver the meals,” White said.
Regionally, First Baptist helps smaller churches in its association host Vacation Bible Schools and other outreach ministries. They’ve helped put roofs on church buildings, and some members are trained as disaster relief volunteers.
First Baptist takes a four-day family missions trip every year to somewhere within a day’s drive of the church in order to maximize the time spent directly on missions.
“We have 40 to 50 people who go,” White said. “It’s really a family-building activity as much as it is a mission project. We’ll do light construction, maintenance work, backyard Bible clubs, block parties — whatever they need us to do. One year we did two services at the Flying J Truck Stop in South Carolina….
“We started this about nine years ago,” the pastor said. “I wanted our people to learn that they can help other people, encourage them, plus I was wanting to strengthen our church family in missions.”
The Cooperative Program is an essential part of the missions program of churches like First Baptist because “it lets all size churches be a part,” White said. “It’s great to see God’s people working together to fulfill the Great Commission.”
Perhaps because of its emphasis on missions education — RA and GA groups both meet at the church — filling shoeboxes for the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child ministry is a major endeavor each year. Last year 200 shoeboxes were sent on for distribution around the world, White said, recounting that the shoeboxes were spread out throughout the worship center and individually prayed over for God to use them to spread His love.
In addition, some members of the church have gone on international missions trips — to Romania, Nicaragua and elsewhere in Latin America.
First Baptist’s primary international missions endeavor, however, is through its regular Cooperative Program giving, and its annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Last year the church gave $5,105.74 for the offering; its goal this year is $7,000.
The church’s international impact increased in the last year when church members Sam and Kristen Cooper hosted foreign exchange high school students Maylene Johansen from Norway and Vanessa Burre from Germany.
Both girls made professions of faith before they left, White said.
“Two girls from Europe have gone back to their community with the Lord in their life,” the pastor said. “God is unlimited. He can take a church in the middle of Scott County, Tenn., and can use it to impact the world. God can use us. Sure He can. To touch a world? Sure he can!”
The major challenge in a county with such a high unemployment rate is “to not allow the enemy to make us fearful,” White said. “When you have high unemployment you can become fearful quickly…. But if God calls you to do something, God will always provide.
“We’re seeking to fulfill the Great Commission,” the pastor said. “I think people being involved strengthens them in the cause of sharing Christ. The more involved, the stronger their commitment to be obedient to the Great Commission.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal for Southern Baptists in Louisiana.