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Missions, ‘hand of God’ seen in Welch’s hometown church

FORT PAYNE, Ala. (BP)–A 70-year-old man said he got tired of running from the Lord. He and his teenage son were baptized the same day earlier this year at First Baptist Church in Fort Payne, Ala.

Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch predated him by about 40 years. First Baptist was stop No. 23 on Welch’s national bus tour to bolster the cause of evangelism in SBC churches by kicking off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

Baptisms are no small matter at First Fort Payne. R. Pat McFadden, the church’s pastor for the past 17 years, spoke of a family from England who were befriended and led to the Lord by the Steve Manning family and baptized by the church.

When the Mannings returned from business in the Dominican Republic, they brought a young woman with them. She, like the family from England, made a profession of faith. The pastor, a former missionary to the Dominican Republic, spoke in Spanish when he baptized her.

“That surprised and touched her and was interesting to the congregation,” McFadden said. “She’s now helping with music and youth.”

The Mannings aren’t the only family in the church leading people to the Lord, the pastor said.

“We have a great group of senior adults and a tremendous group of youth and young-age couples who really want to serve, who want to do something outside the walls of the church,” McFadden said. “It starts with worship for us and flows from there.

“There’s a general deepening of commitment here, and a greater involvement of people in the church and its ministries,” the pastor continued. “It’s the hand of God.”

Missions is an important facet of First Fort Payne’s ministry locally as well as globally.

“A tremendous number of Hispanics are moving into Fort Payne,” McFadden said. “We do Spanish backyard Bible clubs and Vacation Bible Schools with them. We have a fairly active benevolence ministry as well.”

Medical and construction mission teams go to the Philippines every summer, and youth do sports ministry in Bolivia. In the United States this summer, First Fort Payne participated in a MissionsFest on an Indian reservation in Nebraska and ministered in inner-city Omaha through Woman’s Missionary Union.

Stewardship also is a strength at First Fort Payne, the pastor said. The church gives 14.5 percent of undesignated gifts to Cooperative Program (CP) Missions and 3.6 percent to its local association. About 450 attend Sunday morning worship; about 350 attend Sunday School. The church has baptized 20 people so far this year.

“We usually give more than $20,000 to the Lottie Moon offering [for international missions], and $8,000 to the Annie Armstrong offering [for North American missions],” McFadden said. “We exceed the Kathleen Mallory state offering goal too.”

The pastor listed three major challenges for the church: its families, the Hispanic community and an uncertain economic future.

“It’s a challenge in ministering, caring for and encouraging families,” McFadden said. “They’re so stressed, so busy, so many family breakups. Every semester in discipleship training we address that.”

Concerning ministry to Hispanics, McFadden noted that the local Hispanic community is mushrooming and, thus, the need for added ministries.

Concerning the economy, the pastor noted, “Fort Payne is the sock capital of the world. There are probably 90 to 100 sock mill operations in this area. Several are big companies and many are small family mill operations.”

The small firms do contract work for the large firms, and there’s a growing concern in the area that because of the possibility of cheaper wages overseas, the big companies could close their local operations, and the small firms would fold.

“These challenges at the same time present opportunities for ministry and for a word of hope,” McFadden said. “Our church is well-known in the area; there’s always an opportunity to share the Gospel and minister in the community and we feel like we have pretty much of a listening ear whether they come to the church or not.

“The church cares for the community,” the pastor said. “I tell them, ‘Let’s just be faithful. Don’t be weary in well-doing.’”