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Rural church’s windfall plowed into missions

EDITOR’S NOTE: Each Easter season, the Southern Baptist Convention observed an annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions in conjunction with the 2011 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, with a goal of $70 million to help pay the salaries and ministry support of 5,000-plus missionaries serving in North America under the SBC’s North American Mission Board. For more information, go to www.anniearmstrong.com.

COUSHATTA, La. (BP)–A look at an oil shale map of Louisiana shows that rural Coushatta is on the southeast edge of one of the largest discoveries of natural gas in the history of the Ark-La-Tex, the region connecting Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.

Landowners’ mineral rights for the Haynesville Shale discovery have been sold at successively higher prices to wildcatting companies since word leaked out in 2008, and Fairview Baptist Church near Coushatta has received the tithes and offerings of people who want to bless the Lord as He has blessed them, pastor Matt Endris said.

With this financial windfall, Fairview gave $106,090 to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions in 2009, making it the largest giver to the offering in Louisiana. At $558.36 given for each of the 190 people who regularly participate in Fairview’s Sunday morning worship, it is largest per-capita AAEO giving in the nation.

Endris said he wasn’t comfortable talking about Fairview’s giving but was willing to do so to encourage other churches to give as generously as possible to the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board and other mission causes.

“We have a conviction: We know there needs to be more churches and different kinds of churches planted in North America in order to continue to spread the Gospel, to continue to fulfill that part of the Great Commission,” Endris said. “America is changing and we need to be ready to change with it. We want to be a conduit to keep God’s resources moving forward in the right direction.

“There are a lot of other ministries the North American Mission Board also does that are very vital and important,” the pastor said. “We want to support the work of NAMB. I think there’s value in all they’ve been doing, as well as church planting.

“With various ministries like disaster relief, resort ministry, inner-city ministry, interfaith ministry, etc., you’re touching the lives of people you’d never reach otherwise,” Endris said. “We need to establish congregations that will take in some of the people reached through these ministries who wouldn’t be reached by traditional churches.

“I really believe there’s a crossover between what we’ve been doing and where we’re headed. The established ministries that are there, already in place, will reap fruit. There will be people won to Christ through them who might not connect with an established traditional church, but they might find in a new church body a church home.”

That’s one reason Fairview contributed to the development of the Cowboy Life New Testament after Endris met Jim Ballard, a director of missions in eastern Idaho who spoke at last year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.

“He said in his talk they wanted to do a Cowboy Bible, and that just kind of hit me. I felt the Lord was saying, ‘Talk with him about it.’

“The reason we supported this project was that there is a cowboy church in Red River Parish. We see them as a sister church. We want to help them and were excited to see that church get started. By getting involved with the Cowboy Life New Testament, we can help even more cowboy churches,” Endris said.

Fairview starts its missions outreach with the 12 percent of its offerings that goes through the Cooperative Program for Southern Baptist work in Louisiana, North America and around the world. Another 6 percent goes to regional missions, and at least 35 percent is for other mission projects, which leaves 47 percent for congregational needs.

Fairview’s mission endeavors include a local food pantry and providing schoolchildren with backpacks filled with supplies. Through Fairview’s involvement in last year’s “Across North America” evangelistic initiative spearheaded by NAMB, a family came to Christ and become a part of the church. Regionally, Fairview provides financial support and volunteers for the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Northwestern State University, Clara Springs Baptist Encampment and the Toledo Bend Resort Ministry.

Casting a broader net, Fairview is helping support a church plant on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain in southern Louisiana and cowboy churches in Idaho while exploring possible ties to a biker church in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Fairview also is actively involved with a ministry at Louisiana’s prison for women in St. Gabriel and a youth correctional facility in Red River Parish. Its international focus is on Brazil and East Asia, plus a ministry to international students at Louisiana Tech University.

“It’s crossing boundaries and breaking barriers to reach people,” Endris said. “We’re literally going to other cultures. The great confidence we have is that He is there with us.

“It’s a process,” Endris said. “He’s moving us from a confession of faith to an understanding of His Great Commandment to love Him and love our neighbors. Then, He motivates us in His Great Commission to see His Kingdom come as we obey. Finally, God gives us His great confidence in His Holy Spirit to empower us in His work.”

Only the oil companies know how long the Haynesville Shale field will last, Endris said.

“We’re following Christ’s command of ‘trust and obey.’ We want to be a conduit for His resources — to be hands and feet for His work. We know if we sit on His resources, we’ll become a stagnant cesspool. This is a Kingdom investment we’re making. We realize we’re part of the Kingdom. Our prayer is ‘Lord, where do you want us to be physically involved?’ We’re trying to give, pray and go.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana Baptist.