MUNFORDVILLE, Ky. (BP)–What started out as a pastor’s “routine” mission trip to Russia has turned into a life-changing experience for him, his family, his church and other churches in their Baptist association.
Pastor Gerald Murphy and his wife, Sheila, recently were commissioned as missionaries by the International Missions Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. They will move this spring, along with their 13-year-old daughter, Melissa, to Bryansk, Russia, where they will share their faith and start new churches.
Their move comes as a result of their participation in the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s recent partnership with Russian Baptists. The family’s experiences not only affect them and their church, Munfordville (Ky.) Baptist Church, but also other churches in the Lynn Baptist Association.
“Three years ago my church was like most other KBC churches in that our missions endeavors only consisted of Cooperative Program giving and special emphasis offerings,” said Murphy. “When I was a student, missions never occurred to me, but as a pastor I always encouraged my church to give.”
That all changed in the fall of 1994 when Murphy spotted an advertisement in the Western Recorder, the state’s Baptist newspaper, seeking pastors to teach at the pastor’s school in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“When I saw the ad, I said ‘That’s for me,’” Murphy said. He shared his feelings at a deacons meeting, and the deacons became enthusiastic supporters. They told him if he felt God was calling him to teach, the church would cover his expenses.
Murphy spent two weeks in February 1995 in St. Petersburg teaching Old Testament at the pastor’s school. After his return, excitement for the partnership continued to build in both his church and the association. The Lynn association sent two more people to Russia in the summer of 1995.
“I credit it with the genius of partnership missions, and personal involvement in missions,” Murphy said. “Whenever someone has gone off, they’ve come back changed.”
By 1996, another team of volunteers from the Lynn association was ready to go to Alexandrov, Russia. But in the early morning hours on the day the team was to depart, the team got a call from Ken Murphy, associate director of the KBC’s partnership missions department, telling them the trip would have to be canceled due to political unrest in the region.
Team members were transferred to other mission groups going to Russia that summer. That’s when Ken Murphy, who was coordinating the reassignments for the association, came across a request for a pastor and nurse on a medical missions trip to Bryansk. The trip seemed tailor-made for Gerald Murphy and his wife, Sheila, an ophthalmology nurse. The two soon were on their first trip to Russia together.
It was on this trip that the Murphys said they began thinking God might be calling them to serve in Russia full time. Murphy discussed returning on future mission trips with the pastor of the Bryansk church, and both decided to pray about the possibility. During their long journey back the United States, Gerald and Shelia Murphy likewise talked about Bryansk and returning on a future mission trip.
The Murphys are not the only ones at Munfordville Baptist Church deeply touched by their experiences with partnership missions. Two more couples and a young person are praying about calls to full-time mission service, Gerald Murphy said. One couple even has started preparing themselves financially by paying off debts and getting other affairs in order.
During the past two years, more than 60 members of Munfordville Baptist Church have been involved in state, national or international missions. These members have participated in mission trips through the church’s Antioch Mission Program and Fund, a program by which 5 percent of the church’s general offering is set aside to help members become personally involved in missions.
Lonnie Sheets, director of missions for the 22-church Lynn association and a member of Munfordville Baptist, said Kentucky Baptists’ recently completed five-year partnership has affected many people in the association.
“Our association has been revitalized because of the Russia partnership,” Sheets said. “There is an interest in missions — not so much in putting money in a pot as in doing missions work.”
Since 1994, 30 members, representing two-thirds of the churches in the Lynn association, have gone on mission trips to Russia. Two more traveled to the Ukraine, and one pastor led a revival in New England where Kentucky Baptists also have an ongoing partnership. Volunteers have participated in construction projects, provided medical care, taught seminary classes and preached.
Churches that previously had little interest in association activities now are inquiring about mission opportunities, Sheets said. One of the smallest churches in the association, Pikeview Baptist Church in Magnolia, pledged $500 to the KBC’s Poland and Tanzania partnerships which are just getting under way this year.
At the association’s annual meeting, messengers voted to extend partnership missions involvement to Poland and Tanzania. The Lynn association has pledged to send one pastor and two laypeople every year of the partnership.
Munfordville Baptist Church has seen growth, as well. In August 1997, the church was averaging 130 in Sunday school. Today, the average is closer to 160.
“Missions has blessed us spiritually and numerically,” Murphy said. He added with a laugh, “It has also rid this church of its pastor.”
Smith is a writer with the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s communications office.