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Lottie Moon, Cooperative Program giving central to 287-member church’s vibrancy

HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. (BP)–Whether kindled by the example of former pastor and missionary H.H. McMillan, or by members-turned-missionaries John and Doris McGee, or by former pastor N.A. Melton’s commitment to Cooperative Program giving, Fruitland Baptist Church has provided strong support for international missions since its beginnings.

In the past 15 years, members of the Hendersonville, N.C., congregation have nearly tripled their total Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and overall missions giving, sending $173,920 to the Southern Baptist Convention international missions offering during that span and $482,688 to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Cooperative Program, which includes support for SBC international missions and ministries.

Nestled in the mountains of western North Carolina, Fruitland Baptist Church is 125 years old and has 287 resident members.

Their annual offerings are the fourth-largest of Carolina Baptist Association’s nearly 60 member churches, behind First Baptist in Hendersonville with its more than 3,000 members, Mud Creek Baptist in Flat Rock with almost 2,000 members and French Broad Baptist in Hendersonville with about 400 members.

“Every pastor would want to serve a church that is so attuned to missions,” said Fruitland pastor Mike Smith.

One of the church’s first records of missions funding was for $1.75 given in the early 1900s. Fourth-generation church member Lucy Sitton enjoys telling the story of that offering recorded by the treasurer of Fruitland’s Woman’s Missionary Union.

That underscores the heritage of missions that has been passed down through the years, said the church’s current WMU president, Merle Pittillo.

During its early days, the church was led by McMillan and William Powell, powerful orators who came to Hendersonville by way of invitations to teach at nearby Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute. McMillan was a pastor-turned-missionary, while Powell often preached on the importance of missions, Smith said.

Following them was Melton, who led the church for nearly 50 years and led the church to a yearly one-half-percent-of-budget increase in missions giving until it reached 32 percent.

After reaching that mark in the late 1950s, Fruitland’s members decided to set 30 percent as their annual goal and it has stayed that way since, Smith said.

The reduction has not hurt giving.

“It has been our tradition or custom to give to missions,” Sitton said. “God has blessed us with leadership through all these years to continue to support his missions locally, nationally and to the uttermost part of the world.”

For more than 20 years, Fruitland Baptist Church benefited from accounts of the work of the McGees, who served as missionaries to Nigeria and encouraged missions giving as they explained how it helped the spread of the gospel. So influential was their witness that Fruitland’s annual Lottie Moon offering was renamed the John and Doris McGee Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions.

“Our heart for missions giving was made personal as … John and Doris McGee told us about how the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering met their needs on the foreign mission field,” WMU member Marjorie Marsh said.

Both the McGees died in the last couple of years, but Smith agreed, “John and Doris personalized foreign missions for us.”

Armed with the McGees’ stories and with International Mission Board materials for teaching about missions, church members enter the annual Week of Prayer for International Missions ready to focus on its meaning. It is a week of intent that has a great effect on church members.

“As a child I went to GA camps and felt the call to be a missionary,” said Pittillo. “I have always felt the need to share in giving.”

Sharing doesn’t come just in the way of funds, however.

“Our mission giving has promoted mission going,” Smith said. “It has helped motivate us to be on missions.” For the past nine years, Fruitland has sent missions teams of youth and adults, and many members have volunteered for short-term overseas missions. Meals on Wheels deliveries are made on the weekends and a “Block Blast” has helped members reach out to their community.

There were a few years in the early 1990s when Lottie Moon giving dropped although increases were posted for the Cooperative Program. But in the last six years, since hitting a low of $10,096 in 1991 for the Lottie Moon offering, missions giving has risen every year. In 1999 it reached $18,132; that year CP giving was $48,563.

Church members are proud of their commitment.

“Giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering lets me be a part of sharing the gospel all over the world,” Marsh said.

With a membership that pales against its missions-giving counterparts, there could be a concern that support for missions would overshadow Fruitland Baptist Church’s other needs. But Smith said that has never happened.

“In fact, we have extensively remodeled every area of our church, as well as landscaping the outside,” he said. “Amazingly we are debt-free!”

Fruitland’s members share great joy in knowing “that we, as a church, realize that we are part of something that is bigger than our little piece of turf,” Smith said. “We are part of the kingdom work.”
Barile is a staff writer with the Biblical Recorder, newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: MISSIONS GIVING.

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  • Suzy Barile