NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (BP)–In rural western Nebraska, miles and miles sometimes separate people and towns. Getting from one community to another can be exhausting. Spreading the gospel message is hard work, but enjoyable when God calls to the task.
Doug Lee grew up in Nebraska. He heard the gospel message and asked Jesus into his heart in Nebraska. God called him to fulltime service in Nebraska. Today, he continues to serve in his native state.
Retaining ministers in pioneer convention states like Nebraska has always been difficult. But when native sons and daughters decide to stay and tell their peers about Jesus, most find the work to be a labor of love, with the emphases on love, not labor.
Growing up in Valentine, Neb., a small town in north-central Nebraska on the South Dakota border, Lee has pleasant memories of his childhood and the area he calls home. Today, Lee, his wife Brenda and their two sons, Andrew and Adam, live almost due south of Valentine in North Platte, where his present ministry as director of missions for Oregon Trail Baptist Association is headquartered.
“I see myself coordinating the work of the association and facilitating new church starts, providing resources to pastors and churches to be on mission for Christ,” he said of his associational work the past four years. “Hopefully I am an encourager to pastors, their helper.”
This simple job description is a humble account from a man who likes to give credit to others and not really talk about the number of miles he travels to start and encourage churches.
The Oregon Trail Baptist Association borders Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and eastern Nebraska. Lee jokes when he throws in the part about bordering eastern Nebraska, saying his area is unique and diverse, another reason he loves living and working in this corner of the state.
Lee drives an average of 3,000 miles a month. Centrally located, he still drives 170 miles to the east and 175 miles to the west to reach both sides of his association.
People think of Nebraska as all the same, but it is very different, Lee said. For example, the city of Grand Island, with a population of 40,000, is home to 12 different language groups. Where many would see this as an obstacle, Lee sees it as a unique opportunity to share the gospel.
“The missions aspect of the job is what really excites me,” the soft-spoken Lee said. “But then again, missions has always been a strong part of my life.”
Like many North American Mission Board missionaries, Lee is able to start new churches and facilitate other areas of his work because of Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program — “CP Missions” — and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.
The support of Southern Baptists, Lee said, “makes it possible for me to minister to the churches and facilitate ministry opportunities within the association and hopefully will enable us to start a number of indigenous works in the future.”
Lee’s personal vision is to start two to three new associations in this wide western expanse to strengthen churches to better serve their communities.
Regardless of the direction one travels in the Oregon Trail Association, new ministries are being started and established ministries are growing. Home Bible studies in Paxton and Lodge Pole as well as one in Chaldron are going well and growing.
A campus ministry at the University of Nebraska in Kearney now has its own minister and is establishing itself as a resource to the university students in this growing town.
A newly formed Interstate 80 Cooperative will see new churches planted in the towns that line this highway corridor that has seen tremendous growth in the past few years due to new businesses being opened. From North Platte to the Wyoming border, evangelistic efforts are reaching out to a growing variety of language groups who are now calling Nebraska home. The new cooperative hopes to start a Heartland Learning Center in order to train lay pastors and church leaders to reach their own communities.
“Our strategy is to reach people where they are so they will go out and reach the indigenous population in Nebraska,” Lee said. “We are reaching people by building relationships. We are doing a lot of listening to the needs of the people and meeting those needs and sharing Christ.”
Achord is a staff writer for The Baptist Digest, the newsjournal for Kansas and Nebraska Southern Baptists. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: DOUG LEE.