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FIRST-PERSON: Cooperative Program, post-Katrina

JACKSON, Miss. (BP)–In August 2005, Mississippi Baptists were experiencing the best year of Cooperative Program gifts that we had known in many years. In fact, prior to Aug. 29 and the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, we were a million dollars ahead of budget — and then the storm hit.

We had experienced hurricanes before but within days we were aware of the fact that this was no usual storm. The greatest natural or manmade disaster in our country’s history had come to the shores of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. The immediate response was one of disaster relief and coordination of efforts to try to help those who had been so devastated by the storm.

After some time, we began to wonder how the storm would affect our people, our churches and our mission giving. Following Katrina through the remainder of 2005, Cooperative Program flat-lined in Mississippi. While we were ahead of budget by a million dollars before Katrina, we remained there through the rest of the year. In fact, at the conclusion of 2005 we were just over a million dollars over our Cooperative Program budget. Of our 2,100 churches, we had about 200 churches that had severe damage or total destruction. Yet from churches all across our state and from many of those who were meeting now in schools or other places, the support for missions continued.

Approaching 2006, we called our budget committee back together and proposed to the Mississippi convention in October that we adopt the same budget for 2006 that we had in 2005. There was absolutely no way for us to know or evaluate the impact of the storm because there had never been a storm of this magnitude — but through September 2006, we are just over 10.35 percent ahead of budget.

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For years now, Mississippi has led the nation in per capita giving to benevolent and charitable causes — and that is in light of the fact that our state also has the lowest per capita income in the nation. It seems as though we struggle with trying to know how to make money but are blessed with the grace of giving money. If faced with a choice between the two, I would rather be among folks with a gracious heart.

Looking at the future, what do we anticipate? While progress is being made, the recovery from the gigantic storm will be taking place far beyond most of our lifetimes. The destruction caused by Katrina in one day will certainly take decades to repair but, recognizing that we are still in a period of adjustment, the 2007 Cooperative Program budget to be proposed to Mississippi Baptist Convention messengers in October is 5.99 percent over 2006.

It is because of the Cooperative Program that we have been able to respond immediately and continually to the needs of our churches and individuals across the coast, and at the same time continue to support Southern Baptist missions around the world with no reductions at all. While I have heard people refer to the Cooperative Program as archaic and even speak of it as a dinosaur in an aging religious denomination, I can tell you, both for us and from us, it was a channel of hope, strength and opportunity to continue doing Kingdom work in the face of a storm and at the same time around the globe.
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Jim Futral is executive director-treasurer of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

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