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FIRST-PERSON: Southern Baptists in a week

The message "Jesus is Lord" remains fully intact on a wall at Texoma Southern Baptist Church in Kingston, Okla., after a March 21 tornado caused major damage to the church’s building.

There’s a lot going on in the world right now. The headlines of war, tragedy, suffering, famine and more are all so common that we can become numb to them. But in almost every instance of hardship and darkness you can find Southern Baptists stepping in to offer hope and light.

The work of our churches and pastors often doesn’t get headlines, but it does change lives. It’s often behind the scenes, but in the middle of tragedy and heartache, Oklahoma Baptists and the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention continue cooperating together to take the Gospel across the street and across the world.

Events in my community gave me a front row seat to see how Baptists work together to bring hope and healing in the midst of hardship. In just over a week’s time, I saw Southern Baptists come together in amazing ways.

I saw Baptists mobilizing Disaster Relief teams after storms hit our area. They served meals, cleaned up debris and trash, shared the Gospel with all who came and did it all with a smile on their face and love in their hearts.

These Disaster Relief teams cleaned limbs, ran chainsaws, cleared debris, put tarps on roofs, patched holes and so much more. All of this skilled work was done free of charge, as a ministry of Oklahoma Baptists that is organized to help anyone who is in need.

While that was going on, I saw other Baptists come together to support a pastor who lost his home and a church that suffered great damage in those storms. They came together to help cover insurance deductibles, worked with SBC entities to ensure coverage continued, took up offerings and helped the church get back on its feet. On top of all that, the ministry of their presence reminded everyone that no matter what we face we are not in it alone.

Another church served as a distribution hub for resources like water, food, soap, toiletries and warm meals, all staffed and served by Southern Baptist church members. They opened up the doors of the church for anyone who needed a place to come. They used their own resources and those provided by other Baptists to minister to those affected by the storms.

Another church in a rural area did the same, opening up its doors and providing meals, refuge and more to everyone who needed help. When interviewed on TV about why they were doing all of this work, this pastor was quick to point people toward Jesus and the cross.

While all that was going on, in just the next county over, I received messages from countless Baptist pastors across the state and country who called, texted, emailed and messaged support after a tragic accident in our community that took the lives of six high school girls. In an extremely dark day in our community, the calls, prayers and support from friends and even complete strangers were a light that kept the darkness from being overwhelming.

While my director of missions was helping with the chainsaw crews in the next county, he kept reaching out to me, along with state executives and lay people who serve as state elected officials, all offering support and prayers. Many of them didn’t just call once but over and over, making sure we knew that we had their full prayers and support.

A church two hours away with no connection to our community provided supplies for us to lead a candlelight vigil for the community after that tragic accident. An Oklahoma Baptist state leader drove four hours round trip to deliver them, just so we could have them in time. Through that service, we were able to share the hope of the Gospel with our entire community and help the hurting see the love of God.

Another state pastor who is three hours away, again with no connection to my community, offered to help. Doing more than just offering, he regularly called, texted and checked in, serving as a sounding board and listening ear, as well as giving guidance and support. In a season where there is no manual for ministry, having other pastors and leaders to talk to and get advice from was invaluable.

Closer to home, I saw several local pastors get together to help a church in need of replanting in a town of 500. They gave time, prayers, support and more, not for their benefit but just to ensure the light of the Gospel stays in that community.

All around me I saw local Baptist churches reach out to families in great tragedy, not because they knew them or attended their church but because it was the right thing to do and to simply offer the light of the Gospel in great darkness. These churches and members called, gave hugs, cooked meals, sent flowers, and more, all to let others know that those families are loved by both them and Christ.

In the midst of this, I saw many of the everyday things that church members do. Our own church was in the middle of a renovation project, and members continued to step up, giving hundreds of volunteer hours to keep things going and allow us to focus our budgets on serving those in need. Another small church in our association fed our local Baptist collegiate ministry (BCM), and our BCM Director reached out to college students. Other members at our church brought meals to teachers and students at the high school the day after their terrible loss. They showed their love and support through their presence and kindness.

There were many tears on Sunday as we gathered for the first time after the accident. But members put their arms around each other, helping and holding each other through a difficult time. This was in addition to all that they normally do on Sundays, volunteering to teach, serve, play, lead and so much more. Each Sunday in my association, volunteers give thousands of hours to play, teach, greet, lead, preach and more so that the Gospel can be shared with a hurting world.

I saw all this and too much more to describe in just a week’s time. Southern Baptists aren’t perfect, but we can accomplish great things together.

While all that happened that week in my community, the work of missionaries, planters and seminaries continued, supported through the Cooperative Program. Send Relief is giving help in Ukraine. Missionaries are taking the Gospel to hard places, and chaplains are ministering in jails and prisons. Other churches run food pantries, shelters or job programs, and others work to protect the unborn.

The number of volunteer hours given each Sunday in our churches is impossible to count but essential to the spread of the Gospel across Oklahoma and the world.

I saw all that with my own eyes. With all of the headlines in the world today vying for our attention, I challenge you to look for the good that is going on through our churches. What have you seen Southern Baptists do this week?

Luke Holmes is pastor of First Baptist Church Tishomingo, Okla. This article originally appeared in the Baptist Messenger.

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  • Luke Holmes