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Through life’s storms, Tennessee congregation ministers locally and through Cooperative Program (CP) Missions

WARTBURG, Tenn. (BP)–People usually think God speaks in a still small voice but this church hears him in the storms of life.

In hearing of the storms that people were facing, for example, hairdresser Mary Simpson realized there was something she could do personally to be on mission in her life and to help maximize what First Baptist Church in Wartburg, Tenn., was doing locally.

And it was in a blizzard that pastor Tom Mooty acquired a second ministry: radio show host.

“It seems like the more we give, the more we have,” Mooty said. He was talking about the church’s giving, but he could as well have been talking about his members’ gifts of time and talent to Kingdom work.

Last fall, First Baptist Church and the five surrounding counties in east Tennessee saw firsthand the benefit of Southern Baptists’ overarching cooperative mission endeavors. About 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 10, five devastating tornados in a single mega-storm struck various areas of Morgan County, killing seven people. More than 120 families were displaced or their homes damaged.

It was in the wake of the tornado’s devastation that church members realized the effectiveness of their preparation for disaster relief, including the eight members who had been trained as Southern Baptist “yellow cap” disaster relief volunteers.

In addition to a thriving food ministry and a four-hour-a-day radio ministry, First Wartburg’s outreach stretches worldwide via committed giving to Southern Baptist missions through the Cooperative Program.

First Wartburg has established a pattern of increasing its giving to CP Missions by one-half percent a year, with no end in sight. The Cooperative Program/CP Missions is the way Southern Baptists pool the funds needed for training, ministry and evangelism across North America and around the world. First Wartburg also has been increasing its giving through its local Baptist association.

The church’s finance committee voted recently to recommend First Wartburg increase its giving during the 2003-04 church year to 15 percent of undesignated income to CP Missions and 5 percent to Big Emory Baptist Association.

The church also supports two radio ministries, a deacon’s benevolence fund, and a “healthy” amount each month for ministries overseen by the church’s Woman’s Missionary Union.

Mooty, pastor at First Wartburg since 1987, waited until 1993 to begin edging the congregation toward his goal of at least 10 percent to CP Missions.

“I just think the church ought to tithe to something we can’t do ourselves,” Mooty said. “Two can do what one cannot. Two hundred can do a whole lot more than one can do, and on it goes.

“I don’t know of any other program that can support nearly 10,000 missionaries with a living wage, and support six seminaries besides,” Mooty continued. “There’s no way one church or a small group of churches could do that.

“There’s strength in numbers,” Mooty said. “One church can’t ride herd on every missionary and make sure they’re trained, educated, equipped and supplied, but our Cooperative Program takes care of that through its mission boards.”

Recalling the tornadoes’ onslaught last fall, Mooty reflected, “On a worldwide scale, we [the five counties] don’t make a ripple on the world’s headlines, but Southern Baptists have been here every way, in every meeting” of the county’s local preparedness committee, which Mooty chairs. “Southern Baptists brought in their [emergency response] trucks and helped us in every way. We don’t rank up there like 9/11, but they came in and treated us like we were the only ones with a need.”

Local folks noticed, Mooty said. His was one of 60 Southern Baptist churches in the area to reap the benefit of people seeking answers from God.

The eight yellow cap volunteers from First Wartburg are trained in food preparation/service/cleanup, childcare, mud-out and chain saw work. The chain saws still are used regularly as people continue to call for assistance in removing downed trees or cutting down dangerously leaning ones.

Of the church’s commitment to disaster relief, Mooty said, “That’s part of our mission as a church. We’re very missions-minded — around the world and across the street.”

Mary Simpson exemplifies the way church members find ways to serve in the community, Mooty said.

First Wartburg had started a food closet for members in the church, but it wasn’t being used and someone had a thought: Considering what time of year it was, why not prepare a Thanksgiving dinner for the community and give bags of groceries to those who came?

Six families in the church prepared a lavish turkey dinner with all the trimmings. About 120 people came for the meal, and each family took home enough groceries for a week.

That started calls coming in to the church from people needing food. Church members responded by generous donations to the food closet. Simpson, whose hair salon is a block from the church, became the point person.

“They know they can call me and I will get the food,” Simpson said. “They come to the hair salon and just stand there. I know what they’re there for, and for privacy bring them into the back room.”

Simpson then arranges a time to meet at the church, where the food is kept.

“We’ve even had people call from other counties because they know they can get the food right then, and no questions asked,” Simpson said. “We have never been taken advantage of; we don’t have families coming back again and again. This does what it says it does — provides emergency help.

“The [associational] mission center is open for food too, but they’re only open two days a week and there’s other days people need food,” Simpson continued.

“I feel so good for doing this,” she added. “People think we’re doing it for them but it makes me feel good. I grew up [in poverty] so I know how it is. This has been a real ministry to my heart.”

First Wartburg members grow closer to the Lord as they experience God at work through them whether in the food ministry, disaster relief or just bringing the light of God to community endeavors, Mooty said.

He knows that personally. The four-hour-a-day radio program he hosts provides a double portion of blessing to his ministry, the pastor said.

It started during the blizzard of 1993, when an operator could not get to the station.

“I just walked up there, began broadcasting, and I’ve been there ever since,” Mooty said. “It’s a good audience. There are no limits on what we can do. I bring a Gospel presentation as God leads, and seven people that I know of have been saved.”

It’s a Christian station, Mooty explained, one on which people buy time to air their programming. His voice links the programming and fills the space between programs.

“When we take prayer requests, people can call and know someone is there who can pray with them,” Mooty said. “I get to visit with my members every day, if they want to invite me [via radio] into their homes.”

First Wartburg, about 50 miles northwest of Knoxville, Tenn., was founded in 1892. Today the building a block from the county courthouse is prototypically Southern Baptist: red brick, colonial architecture, green copper steeple and, inside, white pews.

About 200 attend Sunday morning worship, which is what the building was designed to comfortably seat. Plans for a fellowship hall/family life center are in the offing.

“Our church is just logically the choice where people come,” Mooty said. “Our fellowship hall is used regularly by the community; the forestry service uses it; the local emergency planning committee, tornado rebuild committee and other meetings of all kinds.”

The community knows it can count on First Wartburg, the pastor said, and the congregation likes serving the community.

“To me it’s logical, it’s a no-brainer — let’s all work together and we can get a whole lot more done,” Mooty said. “That’s what the Cooperative Program is all about.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: VALUED VOLUNTEERS and THE BLESSING OF MISSIONS.