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FIRST-PERSON: The best missions catalyst at your church

Ms. Jewell (left) and Ms. Betty, shown with a life-size portrait of Lottie Moon, have 100 years of Sunday school teaching experience between them.

Editor’s note: James Kerr is pastor of Clough Pike Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The world population has eclipsed 8,000,000,000 people. There is more lostness in the world today than ever before. Jesus is the answer to the lostness of the world. He’s the only hope for the 8,000,000,000 souls today. And it just may be a Sunday school teacher who can make the biggest impact on the world’s lostness.

You read that right, I didn’t say pastor or missionary but children’s Sunday school teacher.

Kids who have passed through Ms. Jewell’s Sunday school class have gone on to serve the Lord all over the world.

I need you to know three sets of people – a single man, a married couple and two widows. These five people have had a dramatic impact on missions, and you probably do not know their names.

The first teacher is Edward Kimball. He’s the oldest, and so his story is further along. Kimball was a Sunday school teacher in Massachusetts in the mid-1800s. He had many different people in his Sunday school class, but the most famous was Dwight L. Moody. Moody came to faith when Kimball visited him at his job at Hilton’s shoe store and shared Christ with him. Moody went on to preach all over the world and started a worldwide ministry that’s still around today.

Moody also discipled many people. One of those was Wilbur Chapman, whose preaching the Lord used in the life of Billy Sunday. Sunday went from a professional baseball player to an evangelist who one day preached to a young man named Mordecai Ham. Ham became a powerful Gospel preacher who went to North Carolina and preached a revival message where Billy Graham met Jesus. Billy Graham, well, you know him but did you know it was all because someone named Edward Kimball was faithful to teach Sunday school?

The couple you need to know is Dale and Karen Cooey, who teach Sunday school in Pensacola, Fla. If you meet the Cooeys, you might learn that they like to read and travel. You may even learn of their love for baseball and maybe you’d get to see Dale’s award-winning wood carvings. But if you travel around Pensacola and the Gulf Coast, you’ll meet people who know the Cooeys. You’ll meet pastors, missionaries, associational leaders, authors, deacons, church leaders and faithful Christians all because the Cooeys are just like Edward Kimball. Dale has taught middle school boys Sunday school for more than 35 years. His wife Karen has taught elementary Sunday school at East Brent Baptist Church for a couple of years longer than him.

I’m not sure the Cooeys can be outdone, but if they can it is by Ms. Betty and Ms. Jewell. Betty Howard and Jewell Shearer grew up in mining camps in Kentucky before moving to Cincinnati, where they began teaching preschool Sunday school. Ms. Betty and Ms. Jewell have taught Sunday school at Clough Pike Baptist Church, where I am now the pastor, for 50 years. They have taught preschool Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, and those who have passed through their classes have gone on to serve the Lord all over the world.

Ms. Betty lets the children in her preschool Sunday school class choose her hair color each week. It’s a tradition she started during the COVID lockdown as she was trying to find a way to connect with the kids online.

Just the other day, a pastor who grew up in this church asked me how it was going and asked me about Ms. Betty and Ms. Jewell. He’s been a pastor for over a decade and has kids in college.

During the pandemic lockdown, Ms. Betty felt the burden to engage her preschool class regularly. She devised a plan to have short video interactions with her students, and as a means of engaging them, she let them choose her hair color. Yep, she began to dye her hair different colors weekly. Now kids know the color of the week, and they will wear clothes that match Ms. Betty’s hair all because she didn’t want preschool kids to be disconnected during COVID.

The Cooeys have taught a total of 77 years. Ms. Betty and Ms. Jewell have collectively taught for 100 years. Two years ago, the IMB put out its 175-year history. These four faithful teachers have taught as long as the existence of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Everyone isn’t Billy Graham, but maybe you could be an Edward Kimball. Maybe you have a Dale or Karen Cooey or a Ms. Betty or Ms. Jewell in your church. Their stories are still being written as is yours.

Remember when Jesus called His disciples to make disciples of all nations, He left them with the promise that He will be with us always, until the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20). He’s with the missionaries. He’s with the pastors, and He’s with the Sunday school teachers.

You may want to change the title in your church – from Sunday school teacher to lostness-eroding, world-changing, Jesus-exalting missions catalyst.

    About the Author

  • James Kerr