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Small, rural church gives 30% through CP

ALMYRA, Ark. (BP) — Some might say trusting God comes easily for the farming families who make up the majority of the members of Almyra First Baptist Church.

They watch rice emerge from flooded fields, soybeans grow in carefully weeded rows, and cotton blossoms nearby. They know from this that God gives the increase in His time, when they’re obedient to do His work, says Doug Hibbard, who has served as pastor of First Baptist in Almyra, Ark., the past four years. The congregation averages about 55 in Sunday morning worship.

“These are people who want to hear the Word, and want to do what they can do to serve,” Hibbard said. “Because of what they do for a living, many of them can’t go [on mission trips,] but they want to be supportive of what Southern Baptists are doing around the world.”

Almyra First Baptist has given 30 percent of undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program for about 60 years.

“The Cooperative Program is the most efficient way to keep missions funding going,” Hibbard said. “I am married to the daughter of CP-funded missionaries. She grew up on the field and we know the stories [of non-Southern Baptist missionaries.] We like the fact that through the Cooperative Program we let missionaries be missionaries and not have to stress about going back home and raising money so they can stay on the field.”

The congregation is intentional in keeping Cooperative Program giving at 30 percent, the pastor said.

“Here in a rural environment it can take years for us to really see a lot of fruit,” Hibbard said. “We have to think long-term. That’s why, when it comes to our missions giving, we don’t need immediate results. We can’t say, ‘We didn’t see fruit so let’s try some place else.’

“That’s part of what we are as a church, and that’s one of the benefits I see in the Cooperative Program,” Hibbard said. “We give to support missionaries who are faithfully serving the Lord wherever they are, even when they’re not in man’s eyes being highly fruitful.”

About 500 people live within a five-mile radius of Almyra First Baptist Church, 319 in the town itself. The square-plotted rural village of 12 blocks began in 1891 as a railroad stop and farming village. A Baptist church was organized in 1896.

“There’s not a lot of community growth and change,” Hibbard said. “We’re creeping up, hoping for 60 [in worship attendance] in the coming year.

“We’re doing a whole lot of prayer, doing what’s in front of us, strengthening our children’s programs and keeping them strong,” he said, “because parents who won’t come to church want to send their kids to church.”

Wednesday evening activities are one way Almyra First reaches the local community. A church-wide meal follows the children’s Bible study, and plates are delivered to the homebound.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to serve kids and serve adults,” Hibbard said. “It’s great for relationships in the church; people can sit around and talk.”

In other local outreaches, church members volunteer for a month each year at a food bank in nearby DeWitt, Ark.; the congregation worships at Thanksgiving and Easter with the local Methodist congregation, and the church conducts outreach ministry to an elementary school in Dewitt.

“A lot of it is, ‘Here’s an opportunity; let’s grab hold of it,'” Hibbard said. “That’s what we do.”

Hibbard’s personal blog and his occasional presence on SBCVoices.com stretch and expand the church’s ministry, as do his sermon audio podcasts and videos of services posted to YouTube.com.

“To have 35 to 50 audio downloads of a sermon is gratifying,” Hibbard said.

Hibbard is also called upon regularly to minister to community members who do not attend his congregation, and two years ago was named associational team leader for the Centennial Baptist Association, which covers about 1,000 square miles of southeastern Arkansas.

Several hundred members from the association’s 15 congregations participated in a major evangelistic block party, home repair, yard work and door-to-door visitation in 2013 in the southern part of Arkansas County, and a similar event in 2014 in the northern part of the county.

“I’m hoping to do something similar in 2015,” Hibbard said. “It’s strengthening the fellowship in the association, and [has] involved two churches that previously hadn’t seen the need to be part of the association.”

Jonathan Hillman, the church’s deacon chairman, is the only member who has taken a short-term mission trip in recent years. In partnership with First Baptist Church of nearby Stuttgart, Ark., Hillman traveled to a church near the Ural Mountains in Russia.

“It’s a place the International Mission Board doesn’t have a presence,” Hibbard said. “It’s been a good opportunity for us to have someone involved internationally.”

While Almyra First Baptist members may be able to take a mission trip in the future, the church will continue to serve the Lord, understanding His presence in their everyday lives, Hibbard said.

“This is how we define faith,” he said. “It’s obeying God and trusting Him with the outcome. That’s really what we do; we obey and trust God. It may seem like it’s not the easiest way to do something, but it’s the best way.”