[SLIDESHOW=49154,49159]EDITOR’S NOTE: October is Cooperative Program Emphasis month in the Southern Baptist Convention. Learn more about CP here.
EVANSVILLE, Ind. (BP) — Grace Baptist Church hosts a deaf congregation and a special needs ministry on its block-size campus each Sunday.
A nursing home ministry, an elementary school partnership, a food pantry and clothing bank and community recreation are among an array of initiatives for the church with about 250 in Sunday morning worship in Evansville, Ind.
Beyond Evansville, Grace Baptist also gives 11 percent of its undesignated offerings through the Cooperative Program for Southern Baptist national and international missions and ministry, part of a total missions outlay of more than 35 percent of undesignated and missions-specific giving.
“When God opens a door, you walk through it,” said Ray Deeter, who has led the church nearly 14 years in his first full-time pastorate during 40 years in ministry.
“I’m kind of a salesperson for the Cooperative Program,” he said. “I came out of a totally different system. Our [Southern Baptist] system is far more biblical, far more efficient and just a better way of doing things.”
When it comes to “accomplishing things for the Kingdom of God,” Deeter said, “we can do more together than we can apart.”
Grace Baptist cannot sponsor six seminaries, the pastor said, or send out several thousand missionaries, nor can it do all that the state convention does.
“We tithe back to the Southern Baptist Convention for the work across the convention,” Deeter said.
Grace Baptist started in 1922 when its first building was constructed. As the church has grown, four buildings have been added, and the church now is debt-free, which frees money for missions and ministries, the pastor said.
Members’ hearts were revived in 2009 when 68 people meeting in 12 groups studied the “Experiencing God” discipleship resource by Henry Blackaby, Deeter said.
“It got folks stirred up and excited that our church still had a lot of life left in it,” the pastor said. “That was a very good thing, rebirth, renewal. So many good things have happened since.”
A small group of non-hearing people were meeting in a downtown Evansville location when Deeter invited them to meet at Grace seven years ago. Since then, the deaf church has grown to about 20 people led by Mark Rice who meet in Grace’s original building, now renovated into a fellowship hall.
Rice’s wife Rebecca teaches American Sign Language to Grace members, some of whom are now at the fourth level of fluency, with five being the highest level.
A special needs group also meets in the renovated facility for a worship service, then separates into different corners for three ability-level Sunday School classes.
“It warms your heart to visit with them,” Deeter said of the volunteer-led ministry the church has been doing for 31 years. “[S]everal good solid families in the church are with us because of it.”
Grace is in a part of town where 85 percent of people rent their dwelling place, the pastor said in reference to the church’s food pantry, clothing bank and school outreach.
About 315 families — a number that keeps growing — receive a two-to-three-day supply of food each month at no cost.
The free clothing bank, open twice a week, starts with a devotion and is limited each day to 50 people. People may come back once a month.
Two blocks north of the church is Delaware Elementary School where subpar testing results had been normal until tutors from Grace Baptist became involved.
The big event of the year is a day camp that takes place during the week of spring break, originally designed to fill in the needs of working parents. This year — the fourth for the ministry — 156 students and 55 church volunteers gathered for five days that started with Bible study, included “a good lunch,” the pastor said, and fun activities in the afternoon. On the last day, a block party and cookout is held for all the families, which lets the community see the heart of Grace Baptist members.
Every year several professions of faith have been made by youngsters at the camp and, for the last four years, at least one adult.
“For a lot of our folks, it’s the most exciting event of the year,” Deeter said. “It’s great to see kids understand people care about them and want them to learn about Jesus.
“This church has always had a passion to see people come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior,” the pastor continued. “There’s not a life He can’t change.”
Grace Baptist’s other local ministries include Bible studies and worship at three area nursing homes, including one that started 40 years ago; building a basketball court for area youth and adults; setting up ramps on the church parking lot for a skateboarders’ event that included a devotional.
“God planted us here for a reason,” Deeter said. “We try to be involved in as many things in missions as we can. God commanded us to; it’s in our marching orders. We try to have a vision beyond Grace Baptist Church to grow the Kingdom of God and not just our kingdom.”
After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, Grace Baptist pulled together to help, but the right connections weren’t found, so the church decided to do in Indiana what it had planned to do in New Orleans. Every year since 2006, as HAIMP -– Hands Across Indiana Mission Project — they’ve done a mission project for another Southern Baptist church in Indiana, such as finishing a roof, repairing a sanctuary, painting a building, building a sound booth, and this year, helping a local church in northern Indiana lead a backyard Bible club for children of migrant workers.
Grace Baptist wants “the Lord to use us to bless congregations around Indiana that need help,” Deeter said. “We have seen how a little work, money and sweat have blessed congregations that we struggling, and how they reached people as a result.
“Partnerships are important to us,” he noted. “If you’re going to grow the whole Kingdom, you’re going to be involved in planting churches, encouraging churches, working together with other churches.
“The older I get, the more I trust Him,” the pastor said. “It’s not about me or Grace Church. He can do anything…. We’ve learned to think on a bigger scale because He’s a big God and He does big things.”