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Once-dying church renews mission

IONE, Wash. (BP) — Ione Baptist Church, in a rural village within minutes of both Canada and Idaho, dwindled to perhaps 20 members during the two years it was without a pastor.

Though the church had been organized by Southern Baptists in 1961, there was no Sunday School, no hands-on missions activity and no connection with the Inland Empire Baptist Association that serves the area when he accepted the church’s call, said Mike Smith, pastor at Ione since July 2013 and incoming moderator for the association.

“One of the first things we had to address was that [Ione Baptist Church] had no idea of Southern Baptist work and they were not giving to missions through the Cooperative Program,” Smith told Baptist Press. “The first thing we had to do was to educate them on what it meant to be Southern Baptist. We had several Sunday nights’ training on the Cooperative Program and what made us Southern Baptist: understanding the autonomy of the local church, missionary zeal and cooperative spirit.”

The Cooperative Program is the mechanism Southern Baptists churches use to support state, national and international ministries and missions.

“We cannot be missional if we are not obedient, and we cannot be obedient if we are not faithful in our stewardship and our giving,” Smith said. “That’s where the Cooperative Program comes in. That’s where we’re going to make our biggest impact. We can do more together than we can apart or individually.”

Under the leadership of Smith and his wife Audrey, an International Mission Board trustee who chairs the church missions committee, Ione Baptist Church now gives at least 10 percent of undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program, is an active part of its association, and has adopted an unreached people group in Africa, while continuing its work at home.

“We started Sunday School with video-driven curriculum — taught by Dr. Adrian Rogers — trained and staffed leaders, and now we have five classes up and running,” Smith said. “We also wanted to start encouraging the congregation to have a missions heart. We got here in July, started training [for a missions trip] in January, and took them last summer to Medford, Ore. We carried 21 there, from age 12 to 80, and we’re still hearing about it.”

For that trip, the Smiths received a “Faithful Sowers Award” in 2014 from the Northwest Baptist Convention. An upcoming mission trip to a church “east of Spokane” is to help that congregation become revitalized, Smith’s particular area of expertise.

The Ione Baptist congregation “has really adopted a missions heart; they’re really lit up about it,” Smith said. “We’re running to keep up with God.”

The members, who in two years have gone through three intensive studies on prayer, decided they wanted to build a “missions center” on the church property, and planned to spend the next two years raising construction funds. But last July, they were offered a house next door to the church to be used as a missions center called House of Hope.

They had prayed for construction money; God provided a house that needed no construction.

“We now have more ministries than I can count being led by our members serving their Lord,” Smith said. “Since last November the mission center has been utilized more than 2,000 hours, and 34 volunteers have been trained. It has really made an impact on the community.”

Among ministries are a home repair outreach, a food pantry, family counseling, tutoring, music lessons, and classes in such subjects as needlepoint, artwork and cooking.

“God has allowed us to set [Ione Baptist members] free,” Smith said. “We asked them, ‘What is it that you want to do, love to do, are gifted to do?’ and it’s them who came up with the outreaches. One said, ‘I love to paint;’ she is teaching adults and sharing the Gospel. A cooking class, with so many opportunities to help families learn to live within their income. And everyone who comes in the door leaves having been prayed over, and love expressed to them. It’s just outreach after outreach and all of them include sharing the Gospel.”

The cooking class plans to prepare the annual Christmas party for pastors and their wives in the Inland Empire association, and they have been asked by a struggling sister church to help them host a “thank you” dinner for the community’s first responders. Two nearby churches have asked Ione Baptist to teach them how to start, grow and minister through food pantries.

“With our giving to missions through the Cooperative Program, missions fund, mission trips and missions house, over half of everything that comes in the door goes out in missions,” Smith said. “That’s the heart of the people. They have a recognition of the darkness, and they have a passion to bring light to that darkness.

“… This valley [Ione, Wash.] has been so neglected for years with the Gospel it’s almost like a foreign mission field,” Smith said. “There is a very active wiccan and satanic group here. Our people are beginning to understand the spiritual warfare. The struggle is not only against the darkness, against the lostness, but also against the apathy and laziness of the status quo.”

The schools provide Ione Baptist’s major opportunity.

“We have many opportunities to tutor after school, provide family counseling for families coming out of the school, and we love to show our appreciation to the school staff for all they do for our community,” Smith said.

About 60 people now participate in Sunday morning worship; 31 have been baptized in the two years of Smith’s pastorate.

“One of the things we believe and instill in our people is that God saves us to use us,” Smith said. “That’s become the mantra here. We’ve also had people leave because you can’t just sit in our services and be a pew potato. Those who stay understand they’re going to be used; they’re going to serve.”

There’s no secret to revitalizing a church, Smith said.

“Beginning with yourself, you have to fall in love all over again with Jesus,” he said, citing Matthew 22:37-39, Deuteronomy 6 and Joshua 22:5 as the main scriptures he uses in church revitalization. “He must increase; we must decrease. That’s heaven’s math.

“… We are living proof of a loving God to a watching world. When we discover how to live out God’s dream, nothing is impossible.”