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‘Little ol’ country church’ has big CP role

DES ARC, Ark. (BP)–“Because of the Cooperative Program, we get to be a part of everything,” Melvin York, pastor of First Baptist Church in Des Arc, Ark., for 17 years, said. “With the Cooperative Program, you get to support missions at every level in every area.”

The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ method for financially supporting state, national and international missions and ministries.

“We practice missions,” York said. “I don’t have to preach it. My folks practice it…. Last year we marked $1.5 million to missions since I’ve been here, this little ol’ country church, and $1.1 million of that has been through the Cooperative Program.”

About 250 people participate in Sunday morning worship at First Baptist. The church, across from the post office, has been expanded and renovated over the years to accommodate the growing congregation.

Once, they knocked out the back wall of the church to add 70 seats in the worship center. Another time they built an 11-room activity center in an educational annex across the street from the church. But never has money been taken from the Cooperative Program for construction.

“Whenever any [building project] is presented, it is not voted on but just verbally stated that we’re not cutting back on missions,” York said. “That’s just who we are as followers of Jesus.

“God had one Son and sent Him as a missionary. I read that somewhere, but it’s a good quote. We’re just carrying on the family business.”

First Baptist was giving 20 percent of undesignated receipts to missions through the Cooperative Program when York was called as pastor in 1993. He led them to increase it to 24 percent, where it has remained the past 15 years.

“We’re a declining [Mississippi] Delta town,” the pastor said. “The population is decreasing, the median age is going up. We’ve lost most of the industry over the last 16 years. We’re drying up as a community.

“But God has really blessed us in the circumstances,” York said. “It just makes it that much more phenomenal what God has led us to be a part of.”

As the town declined, the church doubled in size.

“In my early years at Des Arc we had explosive growth numerically and financially,” York said. “We baptized 136 in my first three years. The church was in a state of real revival and it just came up that we needed to invest the increased offerings into missions. Everybody was in total agreement, so we raised the CP giving to 24 percent.”

The community of about 2,000 residents in a county seat town is about 60 miles northeast of Little Rock. It was started in the late 1700s as a French fur trading outpost. The name Des Arc means “Little Bend” in the White River. First Baptist Church was started in 1848, the year the town was plotted.

Early church records have been lost, but First Baptist was giving 20 percent to missions through the Cooperative Program at least 20 years ago, the pastor said.

“The church had been taught well even before I came,” York said. “We have expanded what we were already doing. They always have either a building project or a mission project they’re working on.

“We keep ’em busy,” the pastor added with a laugh. “That way they don’t get discontented.”

Beyond CP, other missions causes bring the church’s total missions giving to 31 percent of its annual budget. But its generous giving to missions is only part of First Baptist’s missions outreach.

Locally, the women of the church have jail and nursing home ministries as well as in-depth video Bible studies. The men of the church do light construction, yard cleanup, minor repairs and home maintenance for the elderly and needy in Des Arc. A recent residential handicap ramp was the fifth they’ve built in the last couple of years. And an ongoing weekly Mother’s Day Out program involves about 40 preschoolers each Tuesday.

First Baptist regionally supports the work of the Hope Migrant Center in Hope, Ark., a ministry of the Arkansas Baptist Convention. Teams go there twice a year to do maintenance and light construction. The church also supports the ministry financially each month.

Nationally, the church has made short-term mission trips to seven states in the past 17 years, including disaster relief trips to New York City after 9/11 in 2001 and to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Internationally, the church sends out two or three short-term mission teams each year, to 10 nations in all, though the church has zeroed in on Guatemala twice a year for the past several years. Two members of the church have served as Journeymen missionaries with the International Mission Board.

One of the joys York sees as a long-term pastor is watching young people grow up, marry, have families and continue the missions focus their parents had when he arrived. For example, a girl who was a second-grader when York was called as pastor went on a mission trip to Iowa a few years later “and the spark of missions just ignited,” York said. Today she is serving in a security-sensitive part of the world.

“I have a very strong young couples department,” the pastor said. “Out of the 12 we’re sending to Guatemala in February, 10 are under 30…. I’ve seen my young couples grow up. They see missions, hear about missions, participate in missions from the very beginning. It’s passed on to the next generation. That’s why they’re so committed. It’s always before them or in front of them.

“God has blessed this church, and I believe it’s because we’re so missions-minded,” York added. “We keep focused on getting the Gospel out to every avenue.”

One avenue takes the church to the high school football field and basketball court.

“We get very involved in the school,” the pastor said. “We bring Gatorade to practices — gallons and gallons over the years — and our young people pass it out [to the players]. We have a very high profile with that. It’s another way our young people get involved in hands-on doing something.”

First Baptist has been doing its Gatorade ministry for 15 years, he said.

“We always have a share time when we come back” from a missions trip, York said. “There’s always a new level of excitement and vision generated by this. When you’re actively involved in missions, obviously the Holy Spirit blesses and energizes, and you don’t become stagnant. I’ve said from the pulpit, ‘If you just kind of sit, you’re going to sour.'”

He illustrates that by saying the Sea of Galilee is vibrantly alive because it has streams flowing in and out of it, but the Dead Sea, without an outlet, is dying.

“God has blessed us, this little ol’ country church,” York said. “We’re touching the world from Des Arc.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal for Southern Baptists in Louisiana.