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W.Va. Baptists’ CP Missions spotlights ‘something far more important than us’

BLUE, W.Va. (BP)-Even though West Virginia Southern Baptists celebrated their 30th anniversary last year, “the people got caught up in something far more important than us,” said David Jicka of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists staff.

The state convention joined in the 75th anniversary celebration of Southern Baptists’ national Cooperative Program, supporting the CP Missions theme at the church level by passing on resource materials from the Southern Baptist Convention about Baptist work internationally and across North America and by promoting the Cooperative Program at state meetings and in the state paper.

“The majority of our churches are very small, with an average attendance in Sunday school of 50 or fewer,” Jicka said. “Yet our gifts to the Cooperative Program increased $84,000 last year because churches in West Virginia participated in and understood the importance of being Partners in the Harvest and gave sacrificially.”

That $84,000 pushed the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists to the $1 million mark in CP Missions giving for the first time in their 30-year history.

The $1,006,660 given by the convention’s 200 congregations marked a 9.2 percent increase over their 1999 gifts of $921,846.

“We understood the obligation and privilege we have in being Partners in the Harvest,” Jicka reiterated.

Jicka and others also credit the leadership of Jere Phillips, who recently left the convention’s executive director’s post to teach at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tenn.

“I strongly believe in the Abraham principle, that as the Lord blesses we need to be a blessing throughout the world,” Phillips said. “I began to share that principle with the convention staff and in the churches after I came [to the state] in 1995.”

The state convention’s budget for 1996 was already set, with 29 percent of the state’s Cooperative Program receipts designed for Southern Baptist global causes. Phillips challenged West Virginians to see themselves not only as a new work mission field, but also as missionaries. He led them to bump CP giving to 35 percent of the budget in 1997 and a half-percent every year since.

“Not only did we still have enough for local needs, we were able to make record gains in giving to worldwide missions,” Phillips said. No programs were downsized; no budgets were cut. “We didn’t say to the churches, ‘Give more,’ but rather modeled for them the spirit of missions giving.

“And I think they also saw their convention committed to their churches,” Phillips added. “Everything we did in our convention programming was designed to strengthen the local church and fulfill the Great Commission more effectively.”

The state convention went out on faith and added Jicka to the staff in church and pastoral relations, such as mediating growth-stifling conflict. This addition resulted in trimming the number of pastor-less churches from half to less than a quarter in just one year.

“As we invested in our churches, we had more churches involved in missions,” Phillips said. “God just blessed that.”

West Virginians use Cooperative Program dollars effectively within the state through such innovative initiatives as the development of a ministry resource for small churches, evangelistic initiatives such as an outreach to hunters during deer season and ministry initiatives such as the invaluable assistance of helping people dig out after a flood.

The West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists will send $37 to the SBC Cooperative Program from every $100 received from its 200 affiliated congregations. The state convention is on an 20/80 split, meanwhile, with the SBC’s North American Mission Board, which means that for every $20 the state convention puts into NAMB-related ministry in West Virginia, NAMB puts in $80, which the agency first received from the SBC Cooperative Program.

“We are very grateful to Southern Baptists for the Cooperative Program,” said Bobby Thomas, pastor at Indian Creek Baptist Church in Blue, a hamlet of 10 homes in Tyler, the state’s largest and most rural county.

“Without the Cooperative Program, this work would be very limited and the things that have happened might not have happened.”

The three-year-old congregation used $200 in Cooperative Program assistance to pay for the use of 39 trophy whitetail deer racks, which included one of the 10 most non-typical racks in the nation. The racks were displayed in the local fire hall during the first two days of deer season, in an exhibit called “Big Bucks for Christ.”

Tracts, pamphlets, Bibles and the “Jesus” video were given out. “We would just go up and start talking to them,” said Thomas’ wife, Shannon. “We’d say, ‘If you don’t have a church home we’d like to invite them to ours, but more importantly we’d like to know if you have a relationship with Jesus Christ.’ Most of them didn’t.”

Church women prepared an evening meal for the hunters and anyone else in the area who wanted to come, and about 200 people showed up for the trophy-studded evangelistic/church planting outreach.

“We let them know God loved them, and left it to the Holy Spirit to begin to work in their lives,” pastor Thomas said. “The greatest thing that happened through that is that an entire family got saved.”

Indian Creek Baptist Church is an example of God raising up someone from the community who can minister with in-depth understanding, said Leon White, the state convention’s missions minister.

“We have a ministry concept in West Virginia [that] has encouraged the churches and pastors to become partners with what God is doing through Southern Baptists in our state,” White said, “and that too has helped our Cooperative Program giving.”

Thomas was a non-seminary-trained layman when he felt called by God to the ministry. Mentored and trained by associational director mf Missions Olen Phillips, Thomas went back to his home community and planted a church, White said. Fifteen people came to Indian Creek’s first prayer meeting in 1998; 30 to the first worship service. Now more than 50 participate in Sunday morning worship.

“How God began to grow the church is prayer,” Thomas said. “We have someone pray every night at the church.” Ministry opportunities include regular “singings” headlined by out-of-town gospel groups; “game days” in the summer for children and youth; and light construction projects such as the porches that will be built this summer.

Cooperative Program dollars help pay for much of it; the congregation stretches to pay its share.

“The Cooperative Program is our lifeline,” Missions Minister White said. “There is no way we could exist without it.”

Cooperative Program dollars are helping to pay for a statewide ministry resource, which started with a needs assessment led last year by Maxine Bumgarner, the state convention’s director of church and community ministries.

Children and youth, the elderly and other family issues surfaced as key needs as a result of community needs assessments that included conversations with people across the state in the fields of social services, education, medicine, finance, law and employment.

“We learned, for example, in interviewing some of the legal people around the state that 10-year-old children go to court and face the judge by themselves most likely because the parents cannot get off work without losing a day’s pay or even their jobs,” Bumgarner said. “As a result of these needs assessments, we realized Southern Baptists do not have resources to help a church with fewer than 50 or maybe 20 people to do ministry in a rural setting.”

Now, with the help of Cooperative Program dollars, the West Virginia state convention is developing just such a resource.

“We’re in the process of writing this now,” Bumgarner said. “We’ll field test it in the fall and next spring, edit it in the summer and be ready to publish it for widespread use in Appalachia by next fall.” The mountainous Appalachian region in the eastern United States sprawls across 13 states, though West Virginia is the only state that is entirely within Appalachia. In addition, other parts of the nation will be able to adapt the resource to their needs, the CCM director said.

Mud ministers are another significant use of Cooperative Program dollars in West Virginia.

Tug Valley Baptist Association in the southwestern part of the state formalized its flood-relief ministry in 1985 into a recognized SBC disaster relief mud-out unit. The concept spread statewide and today more than 200 volunteers have been trained, and two associations have acquired mud-out units that they’ve raised additional funds for.

Last year 162 mud-minister volunteers were called 18 times, for a total of nine full weeks of disaster relief. They helped 36 families in West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina by pumping water out of basements or wherever, shoveling mud out of homes, and completely cleaning out the home of each family to a foot above the water level, including stripping out soggy sheet rock and insulation.

“If you find a man like we found in South Carolina two years ago, you’d do this too,” said J. “Pat” Garland Sr., a West Virginia SBC disaster relief team leader. “He had just had bypass surgery and his wife was ill too. We found him sitting under a tree, looking lost and so worried.

“I said, ‘Jesus sent us to help you,’ and he cried,” Garland continued. “There were about 16-17 of us. Later he said he couldn’t believe we’d come all the way from West Virginia to help him, and I said Jesus came all the way from Calvary to help him.”

West Virginia got into mud-out units rather than the feeding units that get more publicity for SBC disaster relief because flash flooding is a major problem in the state, and West Virginia Southern Baptists wanted to minister first of all to local needs, Garland said.

“People in need, need the light of Christ,” he explained. “They need something to say, ‘This will be all right.’ You give them a little ray of hope and then you work your heart out because that’s what Christ wants you to do.

“The smiles come when we hear later that they got into Bible study because we helped them get back into their home,” Garland said. “When we hear the stories, even the team — who have already given all they have physically, — want to go back to their churches and give more to the Cooperative Program.

“That CP dollar is like a snowball,” the team leader continued. “When you get it going, it multiplies itself because of the ministry happening because of it. When you get the idea going that your gift to the Cooperative Program is helping us put the heavy duty pumps on the van, which is helping us help the man with no hope to repair his house — that’s the snowball. It gets bigger and bigger and therefore you can do more.”