SBC Life Articles




Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24 (ESV)

When I tell a story, I like for the sub-plots clearly to connect. Randomness is hard to follow and seldom makes a good point. So much for my norm! Let’s see if we can connect four seemingly random places and events in a way that speaks to the very essence of who we are as Southern Baptists.

Back in the 1960s, a small Southern Baptist mission began in the county seat town of Kentland, Indiana, with its population of 1,800. It was a struggling mission that was served by a tall, lanky Alabama preacher named Hank Smith. He labored there for a number of years, faithful to the task in a town that desperately needed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Eventually, over the years, many would come to know Christ through the ministry of this church—each having their own testimony of experiencing the power of God’s saving grace.

One such testimony involved a mother who had been saved in a Pentecostal revival. Upon arriving in Kentland, this mother told her husband that it was time that they began to raise their family in church—together. Reluctantly, this husband went with his wife to that Southern Baptist mission in Kentland. Every week it was as if preacher Hank knew every sin this man had committed the past week. He was certain his wife was telling on him, but it wasn’t the case. Eventually this husband and father was saved through the ministry of that small mission. This is just one example of the impact this church had on Kentland, Indiana.

Falls Creek, the largest student encampment in the world, is located in southern Oklahoma. Each year over fifty thousand students have their lives transformed through the preaching of the Gospel. Thousands have been saved and countless pastors and ministers have responded to God’s call to ministry at this encampment.

How special is this spot in God’s world? Leaders at the International Mission Board have said on numerous occasions that more of our missionaries trace their calling back to Falls Creek than any other location on the planet.

Canute, a small town of five hundred, is a unique spot in the Bible belt. While it is located in a state heavily populated by Baptists, Canute has a strong Catholic heritage. It is home to a small Southern Baptist church whose doors have remained open for over forty years, except for one Sunday in 1990 when the church closed down and reopened the next week as a mission. Despite its small numbers, the church remains a faithful witness in a unique setting.

This school of providence and prayer is also uniquely placed in the Bible belt. Here in the midst of a city full of lostness stands a Southern Baptist seminary faithfully training the next generation of pastors, ministers, and missionaries. The impact of this seminary is not limited merely to the churches where its graduates serve.The seminary’s impact can also be felt through its ministries on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, and in the Louisiana prison extension centers where the lives of inmates are being radically transformed through theological training.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24 (ESV)

These might seem to be a random collection of places and events at first glance, but if we look a little deeper, we can see what, or better yet, who, connects them. The who I am thinking of is one person in particular, even though she is representative of many people just like her. Her name is Della. She comes to my mind at this particular moment because the Lord called Della to her eternal home the week I was writing this story. Della represents a host of faithful men and women who have served together at the First Baptist Church of Lawton, Oklahoma, where I currently serve as pastor. Della had been a member since 1948. She was a deacon’s wife, and even in her latter years of declining health was faithful to her Savior and His church until she was physically unable to attend and serve.

On Sundays Della would fulfill in some way the principle that Jesus spoke of in John 12. Christ in this passage reminded His disciples that His singular death would be the source of eternal life for more people than you or I can fathom. His death would bear much fruit. If we willingly lose our own lives we will find a life far beyond anything we can imagine—eternal life. Singular sacrifice brings multiplied reward.

So it is with Della and every other faithful servant of God at First Baptist over the years. Every Sunday Della would sacrificially take money out of her pocketbook. She would let that seed die by dropping it into the offering plate. God in turn would use that seed to bear much fruit.

As Della gave her money in the 1960s through First Baptist, the Cooperative Program carried a portion of her gift to Kentland, Indiana, where at that time the Home Mission Board paid Hank Smith’s salary so he could pastor that small mission. The couple that began to attend, at the insistence of the wife, was my mom and dad. I wasn’t even born yet. But Dad was saved, surrendered to preach in that very church, and went on to plant Southern Baptist churches in multiple communities across northern Indiana.

As Della gave her money in the 1980s, the Cooperative Program carried a portion of her gift to the Falls Creek encampment. A few weeks after attending Falls Creek prior to my senior year in high school, having been under conviction in part through the work of the Spirit at that camp, I gave my life to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

As Della gave her money in the early 1990s, the Cooperative Program carried a portion of her gift to Canute, Oklahoma, through the mission department of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Her gift provided support to the small, recently reopened church where I had been called to serve in my first pastorate.

As Della gave her money in the late 1990s, the Cooperative Program carried a portion of her gift to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where I was attending. Her gift, coupled with thousands of other gifts like hers, ensured that my expenses, along with the expenses of every other student, were greatly reduced.

As Della gave her money to her local church, God used her faithfulness in giving, and through the Cooperative Program touched the life of her future pastor— a man whom she didn’t even know and in one instance hadn’t even been born yet!

But Della’s gifts went far beyond impacting just one person, or even the four places mentioned here. When a person lets a seed die through obedient, often sacrificial, gifts to their local church, God uses that gift to bear much fruit in places all over this planet. People are saved. Missionaries are called out to serve. Pastors are trained. You may rest assured that the seed will bear much fruit.

The Cooperative Program is the vehicle that allows Southern Baptists to carry the Gospel around the world—to places like Kentland, Falls Creek, Canute, and New Orleans. Through CP we are able to take the seeds of our giving and watch them bear fruit—the fruit of changed lives and of future pastors and missionaries, many of whom you will never meet. When you give, as Della did, the seed will die. But know this—it will bear much fruit today, tomorrow, and for eternity to come.


    About the Author

  • Shane Hall