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Gold miner’s turn to faith still stirs his son

EDITOR’S NOTE: October is Cooperative Program Emphasis Month in the Southern Baptist Convention.

RENO, Nevada (BP) — LaVern Inzer, a missionary in the 1960s supported by Southern Baptists, led a gold miner to Christ in Nevada — a moment that continues to change peoples’ lives.

Kevin White — the son of the gold miner Inzer led to the Lord in 1968 — is executive director of the Nevada Baptist Convention, which has increased its Cooperative Program giving for Southern Baptist missions and ministry from 35 percent to 50 percent of CP gifts from its approximately 200 churches.

“The Cooperative Program is doing the same thing today as it did when I was a kid,” White said. “It’s reaching people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ who wouldn’t be reached otherwise.

“The Cooperative Program means something to me personally because it’s directly related to the salvation of not only me, but my mother and my father and my brother and my sister,” White said. “I believe if more leaders — pastors — within our convention had been reached through Cooperative Program missionary efforts as my family was, they would see the value of CP and strive to lead their church to participate wholeheartedly.”

White’s CP journey reflects the decades-long missions impact of the way Southern Baptists work together to expand God’s Kingdom in their states and across the world.

White’s journey started before he was born, when Inzer in 1959 was sent by Southern Baptists as a “mountain missionary” to start churches in northern Nevada. Inzer ministered to people as he found them, in gambling towns, Indian reservations and open desert lands.

Inzer found Tom White in a gold-mining town and nurtured a relationship in which the grizzled gold miner opened up to the missionary when cancer was diagnosed in White’s firstborn son.

Tom White, who had heard of God when he was a child in Colorado, but nothing since, prayed for God to take him and not his 7-year-old son. No response. He bargained: If God would heal his son, he’d serve God. No response. Bolstered by his continuing friendship with Inzer and broken by his need, White surrendered: Whether his son lived or died, he would serve God forever, he told God in 1968.

Rusty White lived cancer-free for the next 38 years, but as a result of the heavy medication he received as a child to fight the cancer, his blood vessels began to collapse, causing strokes at the age of 38. He was 41 when he died.

Tom White, discipled by Inzer, was called to the Gospel ministry and planted at least five churches in the last three decades of the 20th century. Each of those churches remain solid supporters of the Cooperative Program stemming from what they were taught by the former gold miner, who in time had received some CP assistance to help in a ministry he was undertaking to Native Americans in Nevada.

“It wasn’t much, but it helped put food on the table,” Kevin White recalled. “The value of the Cooperative Program is that it keeps us from thinking just about ourselves and our little projects. I’ve never been to China, but I’m helping someone in China.”

Kevin White’s CP journey illustrates the outward-stretching effects of giving to missions through the Cooperative Program.

He saw the change in his dad, who could “cuss the wallpaper off the wall,” who became a self-taught church planter with an extensive Christian library. He learned from and later followed in the footsteps of his dad, becoming a bivocational gold miner who planted two churches, both of which also remain solid supporters of the Cooperative Program, as a young Kevin White taught them.

“My dad was so grateful for the Cooperative Program reaching us,” Kevin White said. A month after the younger White launched into an outreach on an Indian reservation, his father asked, “How much are you giving to CP? If you don’t start day one, they won’t know the value of others giving to Christ.”

“My dad really believed in the CP system,” Kevin White continued. “It was an honor to him to be able to give. … All of that has patterned my conviction to give to missions through the Cooperative Program.”

Kevin White’s call to the pastorate had come when he was 18. His dad had sent him to a preaching point one Sunday, and “I preached the worst sermon in the history of the earth. I read a Sunday School quarterly to the 10 people who were there and I was scared to death.

“At the end, a man came up and said, ‘I want to give my life to Jesus Christ,'” White recounted. “While driving home on a 55-mile dirt road, I remember saying to God, ‘If You can take that kind of message and use it to reach somebody for salvation, sign me up. Whatever You want me to do, I’m surrendering.”

For three years — 1986-89 — Kevin and DeeEdrah White drove 260 miles one way each weekend to start and grow Owyhee (Nev.) Baptist Church on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation near the Idaho border.

“We slept in the double-wide trailer we used for the church,” White said. “No water, no electricity, two kids potty trained in an outhouse, and we slept around an old potbellied stove. … We just knew God wanted us to go there.”

They followed that with five years restarting First Baptist Church in Fernley, Nev., before taking the established First Baptist Church in Longview, Wash., so White could receive seminary training at the Pacific Northwest campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. The Longview church increased its CP giving to 17 percent during his 18-year tenure there.

Kevin White’s firstborn son, as a missionary with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, now helps Baptist believers in southern Asia plant churches. When on stateside assignment, he speaks in churches, encouraging them to increase their CP giving so people across the world can give their lives to God’s Kingdom work.

“We need to give [to missions through the Cooperative Program] so the next Kevin White and Tom White can hear about Jesus Christ,” the Nevada executive director said.

“I can picture some skinny little kid somewhere, here in the States and in Africa and Asia, taking to heart what some CP-supported missionary says, giving their lives to Jesus, and 10 to 20 years from now they’ll be starting churches that bring more people to Christ.”