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Isolation is just one of Mich. church’s challenges

MENOMINEE, Mich. (BP)–Fourteen years after this Southern Baptist church was organized in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the three remaining members met to consider disbanding.

Instead, they called Thomas Mackay as pastor, and later the Menominee church was renamed Bay Area Community Church.

“They said, ‘No, we feel God wants us to do a work here,’” Mackay recounted of the decision six years ago. “We’ve got 45 coming on Sunday now. It’s been a long road, hard work, but we’re seeing people come to know Christ –- about 45 since I’ve been here.”

The first convert was a sister of one of the three remaining members.

“After we had been here three months, Sandy Nason came to know Christ,” the pastor said. “She’s still coming. I’ve seen her becoming interested in ministry -– she’s a teacher for our children’s ministry, she changes the marquee sign weekly, and she’s our clerk.”

Bay Area Community Church was stop No. 36 Sept. 26 on SBC President Bobby Welch’s bus tour of Southern Baptist churches across the nation to kick off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

The challenges of ministry in Menominee stem from its remote location, the rampant abuse of drugs and alcohol and the predominance of Roman Catholicism, the pastor said. The town of about 9,000 people is in what formerly was an isolated mining and lumber area where alcohol was the main tool used for entertainment.

The effect of that is all too apparent, Mackay said.

“I have a lady who came to Christ on Easter, who came from an alcoholic background,” the pastor said. “One of my leaders came from that background.

“So there are some breakthroughs, but compared to other places I’ve been, it’s slow-going,” Mackay added. “I keep trying to remind myself that God called me here, and He’s certainly well-equipped to deal with it…. I have to continue to remind myself, ‘In God’s Time,’ and let Him open doors. Don’t try to hit the doors in; that doesn’t usually pay off.”

Children’s ministry is an important component of Bay Area Community’s outreach. Adults unwilling to cross a Baptist threshold let their children attend Vacation Bible School and other fun events, the pastor said.

“This area is probably 70 percent Catholic,” Mackay said. “It poses a real problem for us: Everyone with Catholicism in their background is very afraid to step through the doors. ‘If I did, my grandmother would turn over in her grave,’ they say. That’s one of the reasons we changed the name from First Baptist to Bay Area Community church.

“Baptist is kind of a scary thing for a lot of the people here,” the pastor continued. “They think we are a different or weird people because we oppose Catholicism. But many are happy to let you take their kids at least for special things like VBS. The challenge comes with the follow-up.”

About 40 youngsters attended the church’s VBS in early August; 15 made a decision for Christ.

“We have about 10 kids in children’s ministry regularly, and we’re still doing follow-up from the VBS,” said Mackay, who is in his first senior pastorate. Previously he was an associate pastor in Conyers, Ga.

A pastor in the northern part of the nation has to deal with isolation and lack of fellowship, said Mackey, who has regularly attended the monthly meetings of the Upper Peninsula Baptist Association and is now serving as moderator. Bay Area Community is one of seven Southern Baptist congregations on the Upper Peninsula. The nearest is in Escanaba, 60 miles east.

He’s Southern Baptist by God’s direction, Mackay said. He made a profession of faith when he was 16 and spent the next 20 years in an independent Baptist church. He and his family moved from Grand Haven, Mich., to Conyers, Ga., in 1998, to find a time of healing after a tragedy, the pastor said.

The Baptist church they chose to attend was Mount Olive Baptist, a Southern Baptist congregation. He and his wife were called into fulltime ministry there, Mackay said.

“We felt God leading us to the North, where we would have an opportunity to share the grace and freedom in Christ with saved people, and the gift of Christ with the unsaved,” the pastor said. “We sent our resume to directors of missions in several states, but felt the Upper Peninsula on our hearts the strongest.”

Though it was a natural progression to serve under the church’s denominational umbrella, he is a Southern Baptist by conviction, the pastor said.

“I believe the beliefs are scriptural,” Mackay said. “We are to preach, teach and baptize in all areas of the world, beginning where we are. We are to disciple new believers and prepare them to serve the Lord.

“And I do especially like the Cooperative Program method of reaching the lost,” the pastor continued. “What I like about it is that growing up an independent Baptist, I saw everyone coming out of seminary and spending five years trying to drum up support to go on the field. I like the Cooperative Program in that when they come out of seminary and know God has called them to an area, they can get right to it.”