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Faith takes root as Ore. church ministers to community needs

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (BP)–Six years ago, seven young ladies -– ages 8 or 9 –- were baptized at Suburban Heights Baptist Church. All are still active in church.

“I remember hearing a comment from a pew: ‘… there’s another one!’” said Bill Swartz, pastor of the Klamath Falls, Ore., church. “But their decisions have stood the test of time.”

Not everyone has that much time. Swartz spoke of baptizing an 87-year-old man.

“We helped him into the baptistery, took off his oxygen mask, baptized him, and put his oxygen mask back on,” Swartz recounted. “His entire family was here. It was a real blessing, and not long after that, the Lord took him home.”

Suburban Heights was stop No. 52 Oct. 4 for SBC President Bobby Welch, who is making a bus tour of Southern Baptist churches across North America. In kicking off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign, Welch is urging heightened evangelistic efforts to “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

The faithfulness of an involved congregation that cares about its community makes a difference at Suburban Heights, the pastor said.

“We have seen so many answered prayers at the church,” Swartz said. “We’re able to do things that don’t make sense from a human perspective at all.”

Klamath Falls has an 8.1 percent unemployment rate, and one in three people have some form of disability. Suburban Heights responds with an active benevolence program.

“We always have enough, no matter how much need there is,” Swartz said. “It’s like the woman who gave the last of her bread to Elijah. From then on, her flour never ran out. Sometimes we’ll be down to nothing, and someone will bring in [the meat from] a whole cow. Once we were given so much salmon that we gave more than 250 pounds of it to the Klamath Falls Gospel Mission.”

God continues to provide not only for the needs of the community, but also the church, Swartz said.

“Sometimes we look at the bills at the end of the month and kind of wonder how we’re going to take care of them, but God always provides,” the pastor said. “It never rains here in June, but it did last year, and that’s how we got our new roof.”

Suburban Heights needed a roof; Walnut Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., had offered to put it on. The church took out a loan for the materials and tore off the rotted roofing material, which left the interior exposed to the unexpected rain that followed. Insurance made it possible to get a new ceiling and lighting system; church members responded by paying off the loan for the roof itself in record time.

“It’s just amazing what He does, every single day,” Swartz said. “We open every service with, ‘God is good.’ And the entire congregation says, ‘All the time.’ We firmly believe that.”

Suburban Heights hosted a block party this summer as part of an area-wide evangelistic blitz by the Baptist association to which it belongs; at least 500 people were fed; a free concert followed.

Among other ministries, church members work with a local group to provide quilts and other basic necessities for children at a group home and, this year, worked with a local crisis pregnancy center to provide newborn gifts for mothers who decide to keep their babies. And Suburban Heights is one of at least 10 churches jointly sponsoring an alternative to Halloween, which will take place at the fairgrounds in late October.

“We’re building a church based on corporate biblical values,” Swartz said. “It’s a personal passion with me that God needs to be at the center of everything the church does. If the church does it, God has to be at the center.”