"Without missions, a church is just a social club. Without missions, there is nothing you can justify to members. Without missions, there is nothing to give to the church. Without missions, it's just about you."
Samuel Rozolem, pastor of Nations United Baptist Church, is unwavering: "I believe that's the only reason a church exists, to do missions."
To Rozolem, the Cooperative Program is a vital missions channel for the multi-national Nations United in Silver Spring, Maryland, less than twenty miles from the White House.
"I support the Cooperative Program. It was of great help for us when we started as a church," Rozolem said.
But Rozolem goes deeper in his CP commitment: "I believe in the visionary leadership of the Cooperative Program. That's why I am very committed to supporting it …. I believe in the work Southern Baptists do."
Rozolem added, "Everybody here [at the church] says the same thing. This is what I teach them in the new members classes."
Nations United commits 10 percent of the offerings it receives to reaching people nationally and internationally through the Cooperative Program and 2 percent for local missions/ministries.
Nations United was started in 1995 by Jerry DeOliveira at the request of Brazilians in government, military, and health care work in metro Washington, D.C. DeOliveira had moved from California to Richmond, Virginia, where he worked in personnel recruitment for the International Mission Board. He drove 150 miles each way, each week, to establish Nations United. Rozolem has led the church since 2005.
Today, of approximately 250 people who participate in Sunday morning worship at Nations United, about 80 percent are Brazilian, 10 percent other Hispanic, and 10 percent Anglo and other ethnic groups. Internationals include people from Turkey, Portugal, and various Latin American and African nations.
The focus of the church is to educate the members about missions, equip them to do missions, and then send them out on mission, Rozolem said.
"Jesus told us to do this," he said. "He gave us the Great Commission, to reach out to all people."
At an early summer service, fifteen people were baptized as Nations United celebrated "The Great Commission Day" with a parade of the national flags of every nation represented in the church family.
"It was a total of twelve flags! Then we read the Great Commission passage in the different languages," Rozolem said. "It was a powerful moment in our church. The whole church shouted praises to God in that service, as we felt a deep sense of purpose being accomplished.
"A church should be made up of people from all nations and all races and all colors and all tongues. It's what the Bible says," the pastor continued. "When this church started, it started with this vision, to have people from everywhere to go to people everywhere.
Nations United's vibrant music ministry includes singing in different languages and styles during services. Rozolem's wife Andrea, meanwhile, leads a children's ministry that engages youngsters from an array of cultures.
"I believe it's very easy to just give money and say, 'Go, do the job,'" Rozolem said. "So we decided to not only give the money but give hands-on in missions also."
Missions starts in the community, with the deacons using the 2 percent of the church's offerings to meet immediate needs of people, such as paying for rent, utility bills, prescriptions, or food.
The greatest immediate need for everyone in the church family — in addition to having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ — is to be connected with people who know and care about them, Rozolem said. For that reason, a meal is provided after every Sunday and Wednesday service, with rotating groups — families, Sunday School classes, the youth — doing the cooking in what is known as the church's kitchen ministry.
"You can't believe how important this is," Rozolem said. "When we fellowship, we get to know people. This is true with the cooking and with the eating. We have time together with each other, and we minister with each other. To bond in fellowship, it's really important."
In mid-September each year, Nations United hosts a "Festa Country" on its 1.6 acres of land in a residential area just west of U.S. 29, also known as Columbia Pike, a major artery into downtown Washington. "It's a huge campus we have, with many trees; it's beautiful," Rozolem said.
Festa Country this year included a mechanical bull for adults and a variety of inflatables for youngsters. "We do cookouts, all types of typical Brazilian food," Rozolem said. "We do music. Our church has quite a few musicians, so we have music all day long. We do drama. We do competition games. And we invite the whole community to come."
Every year the Brazilian General Consulate sets up an itinerant office at Festa Country so people can renew their Brazilian passport or secure a Brazilian visa or any other document or information relating to Brazil.
"We had more than five hundred people come to the church today for this," the pastor said on September 18. "They get to know the church, to see the church environment, and see who we are and get to know us. They watch the drama. They listen to music. There are ushers all over the place, greeting them and getting their names. Then we call them, thanking them for coming to the event."
Calling people is a significant part of Rozolem's ministry, and he encourages all the church's deacons and pastoral assistants to do the same. A bivocational pastor, he works in the mornings at the salvage yard he owns. Afternoons and late into the evenings are spent in Bible study and on the telephone since most of his congregation works during the day.
Calls are placed to visitors to thank them for coming to Nations United and to engage them in conversation that might result in a return visit — or to Holy Spirit-directed "divine appointments" that would lead them to Christ.
Rozolem and the pastoral team also call people who weren't in church on Sunday to check on them. Having grown the church from about 135 people to its present 250 in worship on Sunday, Rozolem and the pastoral team notices who's there and who's not.
And he calls people he meets during the course of his daily activities, at his salvage yard or at the grocery store or other business. He makes friends, he says, and lets the Holy Spirit do the rest.
"The best part of the Christian life to me is to be able to have this intimate relationship with Jesus Christ," Rozolem said. "To have this ability to feel His presence, to see Him personally involved with your life, to me this is the best part.
"There are some experiences we go through in life that you cannot have without being a Christian," the pastor continued. "When we go through difficult times or discouragement, when we feel defeated, nothing is working, no one is paying attention, what can happen? Most likely, nothing good if you're not a Christian. But if you are a Christian, suddenly we see things happen, we see He's present, that He's watching and that He cares. To me, that is the most precious thing, to have this personal involvement of Jesus Christ in my life. Knowing anybody can have this relationship with Jesus, that's what I tell people about."
Rozolem's — and the church's — next challenge is the construction of a new worship center. They've been meeting in a converted house and the house next door they later purchased, but they have outgrown the space. There's enough land to build, but the $3 million cost is daunting.
"Someone called me from Boston a couple months ago, when the economy was really going south," Rozolem said. "He was telling me all this, and then asked, 'How's business in Maryland?' 'It's booming,' I told him. 'There's a lot of people who need Jesus in this town.' … I believe if we build a larger place, we can reach more people for Christ and disciple more people and do more missions for the Kingdom."
Times are tough all over the country, especially in places like Oneida, Tennessee, where the unemployment rate hovers between 20 and 22 percent. But when a volunteer team from First Baptist Church ventured to southeast Missouri, the firsthand experience prompted the church to enlarge its missions commitment.
"We had a team come back from a mission trip and report," said First Baptist member Dale Smith, a retiree who was baptized at the church as a teenager. "They talked about the needs they saw and how we need to do something, but nothing was decided. I said to a deacon — he happens to be on the finance committee — that we ought to increase our giving to the Cooperative Program."
The finance committee agreed and proposed a 1 percent increase, to 11 percent, of CP giving in 2010, and the congregation unanimously approved.
"The Cooperative Program makes it possible for the missionaries to go out and do what God has called them to do, and we're all blessed by our support of it," Smith continued. "I felt like because we were out there and saw the need, we needed to respond in some degree to it. We hadn't increased our [percentage] giving in quite some time, and I know the Lord can take a little and make a lot of it."
"I believe in the Cooperative Program," Smith said, because it supports both the ministries of state Baptist conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention as compared to designated giving.
"The Cooperative Program all works together to give honor to God."
Doug White, who has led the church since 2001, shared how the church has sought to be obedient even in these tough times.
"As we have done things, we have not allowed unemployment to affect us," White said. "We want to do what God instructs us. We want to do what the Lord would have us do."
The finance committee also suggested a $200 per month increase to missions giving in 2011 through its association, the New River/ McCreary County Association, while continuing the 11 percent for the Cooperative Program. That also passed without discussion or dissent.
About 375 people participate in Sunday morning worship at First Baptist, a multi-generational congregation that White said reflects its community — professionals, blue collar workers, and unemployed. Oneida is the largest town in Scott County, with about five thousand of the county's twenty-two thousand residents.
"Some of our people have stepped up and hired people," White said. "We're always looking to see if we know of a family hurting or in need."
Locally, First Oneida blitzes its community with visitation twice a year; while not wanting to wear out their welcome, White noted that it's important to remind people the church and God are there for them.
First Baptist keeps a food pantry stocked for people in the community. The church provides snacks and other supplies for children seeing counselors at a local children's center. It provides financial support to the center as well as to a local women's shelter.
"We also are involved with providing meals for seniors, and with volunteers to deliver the meals," White said.
Regionally, First Baptist helps smaller churches in its association host Vacation Bible Schools and other outreach ministries. They've helped put roofs on church buildings, and some members are trained as disaster relief volunteers.
First Baptist takes a four-day family missions trip every year to somewhere within a day's drive of the church in order to maximize the time spent directly on missions.
"We have forty to fifty people who go," White said. "It's really a family-building activity as much as it is a mission project. We'll do light construction, maintenance work, backyard Bible clubs, block parties — whatever they need us to do. One year we did two services at the Flying J Truck Stop in South Carolina."
In addition, some members of the church have gone on international mission trips to Romania, Nicaragua, and Latin America.
First Baptist's primary international missions endeavor, however, is through its regular Cooperative Program giving and its annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Last year the church gave $5,105.74 for the offering; its goal this year is $7,000.
The church's international impact increased in the last year when church members Sam and Kristen Cooper hosted foreign exchange high school students Maylene Johansen from Norway and Vanessa Burre from Germany.
Both girls made professions of faith before they left, White said.
"Two girls from Europe have gone back to their community with the Lord in their life," the pastor said. "God is unlimited. He can take a church in the middle of Scott County, Tennessee, and can use it to impact the world. God can use us. Sure He can. To touch a world? Sure He can!"
The major challenge in a county with such a high unemployment rate is to "not allow the enemy to make us fearful," White said. "When you have high unemployment you can become fearful quickly…. But if God calls you to do something, God will always provide.
"We're seeking to fulfill the Great Commission," the pastor said. "I think people being involved strengthens them in the cause of sharing Christ. The more involved, the stronger their commitment to be obedient to the Great Commission."
Funston Baptist Church is located on a rural highway in a small town in southwest Georgia. Its influence and impact for the Kingdom of God, however, reaches across the world. Ronald Shiver, pastor at Funston for sixteen years, describes this local body of Christ as a "healthy church with a heart to occupy the land until Jesus comes." Its stated purpose can be found in the church's mission statement: Exalt the Savior, Equip the Saints, and Evangelize Sinners.
Shiver describes himself as a local boy who has the privilege of serving in the area where he grew up. He shared that his ministry at Funston is built upon a strong foundation laid by those who served before him at the church. One such man was Bob Zbinden, who was called from his pastorate at the church to serve with the International Mission Board. Each of the pastors before him was a champion for the Cooperative Program. As a result, the church has had a long and consistent history of strong support for missions and ministry through the Cooperative Program.
Shiver's interest in support for the Cooperative Program has some deep personal connections as well. His sister, Janet, and her husband Calvin Bobo, along with their son Adam, are currently serving with the International Mission Board in the Ukraine. Their family and ministry are a constant reminder to Ron and his church that our missionaries are in some challenging places and need prayer and financial support through our mission offerings. When he voices the need to stay connected to our missionaries through the Cooperative Program, he speaks from the heart.
Funston Baptist Church knows what it means to cooperate with their Baptist partners to accomplish the Great Commission. The church gives 13 percent of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program and 3.5 percent through the Colquitt County Baptist Association. They are consistently involved with the state convention and the local association in ministry and outreach that impacts both their local community and far beyond.
Shiver expressed deep appreciation for the ministry of their associational missionary, Terrell Ruis, who has been a great help to him personally and to the church. He also expressed appreciation for the ministry of Harris Malcom, regional state missionary, and others from the Georgia Baptist Convention who have made a difference by their availability and ministry to the church.
"This is what keeps our commitment to cooperation strong and consistent — a high level of trust in the leadership and ministries of both the local association and the state convention. Trust is essential if we are to cooperate in ministry and keep missions giving at a high level. Who can we trust more than our missionaries?"
Asked what he might say to a fellow pastor who is considering reducing gifts through the Cooperative Program, Shiver responded, "How are you going to accomplish the Great Commission without a mission strategy like the Cooperative Program? If not through the Cooperative Program — how are you going to do it?"
This seems to be the issue of the day in Baptist life. Is there a better way to fund missions and ministry and to accomplish the Great Commission? We have a great heritage as Southern Baptists, and this heritage stands strong and firm in churches like Funston Baptist Church. There have been many changes through the years, and change is something we will always have to deal with. But we must not forget the strengths of our past and the foundation upon which we all stand. The Cooperative Program is that firm foundation that allows us to do what the members of Funston Baptist Church are committed to doing — "Exalt the Savior, Equip the Saints, Evangelize Sinners."
Reprinted with permission from the Georgia Baptist Convention