FLOMATON, Ala. (BP)–For many Southern Baptists involved in disaster relief, the importance of supporting the Cooperative Program and associational missions comes to life in fresh new ways.
Jeff Howard, pastor of the Little Escambia Baptist Church in Flomaton, Ala., said his congregation gained a new appreciation for the Cooperative Program in the wake of Hurricane Ivan last September which savaged Alabama much more than this July’s Hurricane Dennis.
“Our congregation last year saw the mobilization of volunteers after Ivan, realizing 90 percent of the help people received was from Southern Baptists -– every bit of that supported through the Cooperative Program and disaster relief,” Howard said. “It was an eye-opener for our people to see that we send all this money and now we see in a very practical way just what this ministry means to people in a time of crisis.”
The Little Escambia church served as a staging area for disaster relief operations in the days following Hurricane Dennis’ July 10 onslaught.
Pat Andrews, director of missions for the Escambia Baptist Association, said the influx of Southern Baptists for the Ivan relief effort inspired the county’s churches to form their own disaster relief ministry.
“We’ve started our own disaster relief team,” Andrews said. “We’ve got a big 14-foot trailer, nine chainsaws and about 83 people trained. A lot of our team responded immediately by helping their neighbors with fallen trees and other tasks.”
Dewey Bondurant Jr., a member of the First Baptist Church in Flomaton, Ala., and mayor of the town, admitted his own thinking about missions giving was transformed by a recent trip to Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
He accompanied a team from Hillcrest Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., to help with relief efforts related to last December’s catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami.
“I talked with a lot of [career] missionaries over there and am more supportive of the Cooperative Program than I ever have been,” Bondurant said. “I know where those dollars go. I used to not feel that strongly about the CP, but I sure have a different outlook now.”
Southern Baptists who wonder if their contributions through the Cooperative Program really have an impact should visit a site of disaster relief operations, suggested Bob Oldham, a spokesman for Oklahoma Baptist Men and a member of the Hodgen Baptist Church in Heavener, Okla.
“I think people who have questions about the Cooperative Program need to come and see this in action,” said Oldham, referring to the site at First Baptist Church in Atmore, Ala., where Oklahoma Baptist volunteers prepared and gave hot food to area residents affected by hurricane-caused power outages.
Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch echoed a similar sentiment: “If you want to see Cooperative Program money jumping up and down and doing good for the glory of God and the sake of souls, look around in one of these areas. This equipment and ministry here is provided by Cooperative Program money.”
Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said he regularly urges his professional staff -– known as state missionaries –- to promote both giving through the Cooperative Program and associational missions.
“We see directors of missions as colleagues in Great Commission ministries,” Lance noted. “If we expect associational leaders to promote the CP, I think we need to regularly affirm the importance of gifts to associational missions as well.”
Keith Hinson is state missionary in communications services with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.