News Articles

New Iberia to Brazil, church reaches the world

NEW IBERIA, La. (BP)–It’s the people, not the location, that are important to Highland Baptist Church in New Iberia, La.

Within the past year church members have taken the Gospel to the streets of Brazil, shared the love of Christ in a Louisiana prison, and helped clean up and rebuild homes in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. Where they can’t make a personal connection, they count on the Cooperative Program to go in their stead.

“We’re committed to the Acts 1:8 strategy of impacting our world with the Gospel,” said David Denton, pastor of Highland Baptist, which has about 450 people at its Sunday morning services. “The Cooperative Program is a big part of helping us fulfill that strategy.”

The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptist’s method of supporting the missions and ministries of state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention.

“Supporting the work of missions through personal involvement is one way we can be involved in reaching people for Christ,” Denton said. “But we can’t go everywhere and the need is so great. The Cooperative Program enables us to partner with others in expanding our geographical reach.

“I can’t think of a better way to do missions than partnering with others across our state and our country,” Denton added. “When we pool our resources in support of our state conventions, the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board we can do so much more than any one of our churches could ever do on its own.”

Highland Baptist is a warm and loving church that has a missions heart, said Keith White, a deacon there since 1991. The church gives 11 percent of its undesignated gifts to missions through the Cooperative Program. In total, about 20 percent of its operating budget is spent on missions.

Although the church has numerous targeted ministries — among them, a Beth Moore Bible study for women and a wild game banquet for men — it’s in working together in missions that bonds people most closely together, Denton said.

“Our purpose as a church is very simple: love God, love others, and serve the World,” the pastor said. “It has been a pure joy to watch church members work together to reach others for Christ. The result is a deeper love for God and others and a broader perspective on the way God works in and through us to accomplish His purposes.

“Fulfilling our commitment to the Acts 1:8 model means that we are making an effort to engage the world beginning in our Jerusalem … at the same time we’re reaching out to our Judea, our state, our nation and across the world.”

The church’s youth engage in acts of kindness once each month: passing out water, mowing yards, doing odd jobs for those in the community. Adults help out once a month by providing a hot meal for the poor and homeless in the mid-sized town.

For the last two years the church has ministered on the grounds of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Last year Highland members hosted a block party for prison employees and their families, drawing in people to a day-long event that featured fun, food and fellowship along with prayer and a Gospel witness.

“The work we did helped lay the groundwork for a new chapel built this spring by Samaritan’s Purse,” Denton said. More workers live on the grounds of the prison than at any other correctional facility in the nation, according to a news release by Samaritan’s Purse.

Highland Baptist also ministers in New Orleans, where youth and adults assist Operation Noah Rebuild construction crews in cleaning up, mowing grass, cutting weeds and washing windows. Operation Noah Rebuild is a three-year partnership project between New Orleans churches and associations, the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and the North American Mission Board to help New Orleans rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“There’s still so much to be done in New Orleans,” Denton said. “Southern Baptists have done so much to get the city back to where it is today. But the greatest need remains to help these people rebuild spiritually.”

“The opportunity for evangelism is overwhelming,” he continued. “With so many congregations affected or eliminated by Katrina, there is a tremendous need for partnerships with remaining New Orleans churches to reach the city for Christ.”

For the last seven summers, Highland Baptist has brought in about a dozen pre-teens and teens each year for a six-week stay with church members. They’re from Belarus, a nation in Eastern Europe that received about 60 percent of the radiation fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986.

While in New Iberia, the host parents outfit the children in new clothes, buy them things they may need when they return home, and often follow up with additional packages later in the year. Physicians and dentists in New Iberia take care of the children’s medical needs. Highland Baptist pays for the airfare and also provides spiritual instruction.

The church connects with the children through the American/Belarussian Relief Organization, which was founded in part by Bill Bangham, a photographer with the SBC’s International Mission Board.

“It’s been great for our church,” White said. “We love these kids, and to know we’re adding years to their lives -– that’s a pretty good feeling.”

For the last two years, the church has sent mission teams to Belo Horizonte, Brazil, as part of a multi-state group that does multiple ministries in this area of about 4.5 million people.

This year, 14 people from the church participated in the trip. Some were involved with sports, Vacation Bible School, construction, home visitation, street, drama or jump rope ministries; others with medical/dental/eye clinics.

“We love the people,” said White, who ministered as part of a sports team that went into prisons. “We love the fact that we see God work. The people seem hungry for God.”

By week’s end, 174 inmates in the Brazil prison made professions of faith. Denton was part of the team that used drama to draw a crowd and share a Gospel witness. Nearly 600 people had made professions of faith with that outreach.

“Why should we go on mission trips? Because we can,” Denton said. “Compared to the rest of the world we enjoy such a high standard of living. We are accountable to God for what we do with our time and resources.

“These are great days for the Gospel and it’s a thrill to be caught up in the adventure of God’s redemptive plan. God has uniquely positioned us in this day at this time to make a difference. The Cooperative Program is a big part of helping us do that.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message (baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.