God didn't put us here just to occupy space," says ninety-year-old Hazel Amerson of Sisters Baptist Church in Sandersville, Georgia. "He put us here to help other people.
"When I see somebody in need, I feel like we should meet it, and the Cooperative Program helps meet those needs," Amerson, WMU director of the church, added. "We wouldn't keep giving to it if it didn't."
Sisters Baptist Church gives 15 percent of its offerings through the Cooperative Program and is equally as generous elsewhere in its financial and hands-on support of missions. The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists' method of supporting missions and ministries of state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention.
"I think there's such a great need; so many people need to know the Lord," Amerson said. "We do what we can; the Cooperative Program takes it from there."
Two sisters in the early 1820s got tired of walking ten miles one way to church, so they set up a "Sisters meeting house" that in 1849 became Sisters Baptist Church.
Members of the church have a long history of reaching out to people in prison and the children's state hospital, and for at least fifteen years they've stuffed shoeboxes with items for children, which are sent on to Samaritan's Purse, a ministry of evangelist Franklin Graham.
"Every time we [WMU] meet, we each bring a bag of groceries and take them all to the [church's] Christian life center," Amerson said. "Jars for Jesus, Coats for Christ, birthday parties at the nursing homes — that's what we do.
"We make Christmas stockings for the children's state hospital and take them to them filled with fruit and what else goes inside," the longtime member added. "We always help support every project that we can."
Sisters Baptist Church's building is red brick with white columns and resides in a county seat town two hours southeast of Atlanta. About two hundred people attend Sunday morning services at the church, where Burt Parker has been pastor for the last six months. It's his first pastorate; he was in youth ministry and Christian education for the previous twelve years.
Most members are in their 50s or older, Parker said. He's encouraging them to reach out in a variety of new ways: One group ministers to teachers in Sandersville by giving them candy, cookies, and a note of appreciation from the church.
The congregation provides some of the funding for special projects in local schools and incentives to learning. It also provides school supplies for children in financially-strapped homes.
Another group in the church builds ramps and stairs for the disabled. That group also planned to participate in September in a three-day quick-build of a church in Locust Grove, Georgia.
Parker said he sees a need for more men to be involved in the church and its ministries; he's pondering a strategy to reach them.
"I'm a strong believer in that if we reach the men, the women will gladly follow — if the men are truly men of faith and the spiritual leaders God has called them to be," he said. "I believe in reaching people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, reaching people all over the world who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that's what the Cooperative Program means to me."
Sisters Baptist Church also gives 2 percent of its offerings to the Washington Baptist Association, where David Self is director of missions.
Youth mission trips, youth camp, equipment that can be loaned, and health fairs in two cities are among the association's ministries.
"When churches give through the Cooperative Program, they can know they're being more mission-minded as they carry out the concept of healthy Kingdom churches," Self said. "For me, the Cooperative Program is an opportunity to work with other ministers in our state as well as the nation and world. The Cooperative Program is a great system for partnering."