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Rural church is missions ‘greenhouse’

RICEVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Eastanallee Baptist Church is a “green” church, incoming pastor Ralph Jenkins says of the rural congregation that numbers about 350 in Sunday morning worship.

In this case, Jenkins is not talking about the 40 percent of its “green” the church gives to missions. He’s talking about the spiritual growth steadily taking place among the outward-focused members of the 186-year-old church in Riceville, Tenn.

“We pray you will discover you have a place in this ‘lighthouse’ for the lost and ‘greenhouse’ for the saved,” Jenkins writes on the church’s website, www.eastanallee.com. “Our desire is, that as you visit us, you will find Eastanallee is not about us or about buildings. It’s about Jesus!”

Jenkins, who was called to the church in December 2008, is the fourth in a line of pastors who have led the congregation to a steadfast commitment to reach people throughout Tennessee and around the world through the Cooperative Program.

“The Cooperative Program allows us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and to do missions the New Testament way –together,” said Mickey Basham, Eastanalle’s most-recent pastor who shared in a transitional role with Jenkins during December. “I just believe that the Cooperative Program reflects back to the New Testament concept of working together. [The Apostle] Paul called on them to give and cooperate together. When we cooperate together we can do much more and on a much larger scale than we could begin to do by ourselves.

“And the Great Commission itself,” Basham continued. “When you read it, it’s a cooperative thing: We cooperate with God.”

Eastanallee commits 30 percent of its undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program, 5 percent through the McMinn-Meigs Baptist Association and at least 5 percent to other mission causes. In addition, the church sends out as many as 60 members on mission trips a year.

It wasn’t always that way.

“What I remember very vividly was that I took a typewriter …,” said Jack Bryant, Eastanallee’s pastor from 1962-63. “I guesstimated about what the income of the church would be if people tithed. I developed a budget based on what the income could be, and gave it to the finance committee. ‘Let’s give half to missions and half to operate the church,’ I told them.

“The committee took that very seriously,” Bryant recounted. “‘We need to do that,’ they said, but we can’t right now.’ Let’s start by increasing a little bit year by year.'”

Until then the church had been giving a dollar amount through the Cooperative Program, but that year they voted to give 10 percent and add a percent a year until it got to 20 percent.

D. Oran Creasman was leading the singing, recapping tires for a living and going to college that year. By the time the 10 percent had become 20 percent, he was Eastanallee’s pastor.

“When we reached 20 percent we decided to keep going,” Creasman said. “We leveled it off at 30 percent to expand our efforts in associational work and other missions.

“In 1975 we built a total new facility and the first decision we made — and we then were a congregation of about 90 to 100 in regular attendance –- was that we would not allow anything to get in the way of our missions giving,” Creasman said. “We paid off that building within three years and were able to continue increasing our giving to missions through the Cooperative Program at the same time.”

God began magnifying His blessing of the church when Eastanallee made its decision not to let anything come before its missions giving, Creasman said.

“We started growing in number, experiencing more evangelistic results, expanding programs in the church, and we felt all this has come about because we have been faithful in missions giving,” Creasman said. “We felt our being faithful has brought about God’s greater blessings in all areas of our church.

“One year in the late 1970s or early ’80s, for every dollar spent in church, we spent the same amount on missions,” Creasman said. “To this day, the missions giving generally runs 42-43 percent, and the total dollars have gone up every year.”

Giving to missions globally through the Cooperative Program led Eastanalle to a greater awareness of the needs locally, the pastors said. The church today helps support local ministries for men and women in recovery from alcohol and/or drug abuse, women escaping abuse and unwed mothers. An AWANA children program takes place Sunday evenings; Team Kid missions meetings are on Wednesday evenings.

Men of the church build handicap ramps and do minor home repairs for shut-ins throughout the county, in cooperation with McMinn-Meigs Baptist Association. Women are involved in ministries at several local nursing homes.

“When I retired we were running 220 to 230 in Sunday School,” said Creasman, who led the church for 35 years, most of that time while serving as principal of the largest high school in the county. “Never once was it suggested that we cut back on any mission effort…. It is our responsibility to share as God has blessed us.

“As we respond to God’s blessings, He continues to bless us,” Creasman continued. “It certainly reinforced my faith. As we accept the challenge of doing His work, He’s going to take care of our needs and give us opportunities to serve…. We’ve got such a wonderful congregation of people who are committed to doing what we do as a church: winning souls and sharing the Gospel around the world with our missions efforts.”

Creasman, who remains a member of Eastanalle Baptist, was followed by Basham as pastor.

“We both agree God has His hand on Eastanalle,” Basham said, including Creasman in his statement. “In 1977 we built a new facility, and in 2006-07 we moved across the road and built another new facility, and again, there has been no mention or consideration of cutting the Cooperative Program back in the midst of that. That’s a tangible expression of Eastanalle’s commitment to missions, but it’s much deeper than that.”

The church sends out 60 or more mission volunteers a year, most in the United States and Mexico, often to do ministry in construction and Vacation Bible School.

“VBS is big at Eastanalle,” Basham said. “They pull out all the stops, whatever the theme is. This summer they built a waterfall in the choir — with running water! They take VBS pretty seriously.”

Though many of the sets are too elaborate to transport any distance, Eastanalle VBS workers have taken what they can to mission settings across the nation, including Kentucky, Iowa, Montana and Mexico in recent years, Basham said.

“The hand of the Lord is on the church, and I believe a lot of that is because they look outside themselves and are committed to missions,” Basham said. “You can’t outgive God. That’s true in your personal life and in your church’s life.

“People are drawn to Eastanalle because of the spirit of worship, and the love and openness to people that is evident,” Basham continued. “We have experienced God move in ways that cannot be humanly explained, and because of that, the Lord is lifted up and glorified here, and people are drawn to that. There is a hunger in the hearts of people to be in a church that’s really being a church, that’s being what we read about in the New Testament.”

During his seven years as pastor, Basham preached occasionally about the Cooperative Program; it also was taught in missions groups and in the reports of people returning from mission trips, the outgoing pastor said.

“You can look at the fact that Eastanalle gets by on 60 percent of its income, and from a worldly perspective say, how can you do that? The hand of God is on the church; that’s how you do it,” Basham said. “The Bible says God loves a cheerful giver, and they cheerfully give. They do it from their hearts and God blesses that. They benefit by just knowing they are serving and honoring God, and God in turn blesses them not necessarily in tangible ways that you can see -– though yes, there are those -– but in a blessed life.”

Jenkins, Eastanalle’s new pastor, knows about blessed lives and what happens when people get involved in going on and giving to missions.

“We just have the same heartbeat for missions, that’s what drew me to Eastanallee,” Jenkins said. “I’ve been to Romania twice on mission, Jamaica twice, Hurricane Katrina recovery five times and Hugo recovery twice in the early ’90s.

“Everyone who has gone on these missions with me, they have grown in their faith,” Jenkins said. “They have had to learn to trust the Lord, and they’ve seen God do things they can’t explain….

“God will always bless your giving to missions,” Jenkins said. “When you give to missions, it’s all about God, and I think that’s the reason God blesses it.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.