SBC Life Articles

Vibrant Because “We Give Freely!”

There is vibrant growth and ministry in rural southeast Missouri — you'll find it at New Bethel Baptist Church, where about 110 people gather for worship each Sunday.

This rural church, where oaks and poplars tower over the red brick building's steeple, gives 25 percent of its offerings through Cooperative Program (CP) Missions and another 7 percent to the Cape Girardeau Baptist Association.

"One of the greatest tools we have is working together," said John Rhodes, New Bethel's pastor since 2000. "The way we cooperate and work together has allowed us to do far more than we ever could on our own."

In addition to its financial support of Southern Baptist missions causes, the church, founded in 1873, gives of itself locally and throughout Missouri's hill country. Furthermore, two years ago, the church gave $5,000 to a church in Belarus in Eastern Europe for a new building and furnishings.

"I believe one reason our church is financially blessed is because we give freely — from the heart," said Rhodes, "You can't out-give God."

The Cooperative Program, he said, "helps people unite in ministry — to have a common goal, a common task. It keeps us from playing tug-o-war; we're all pulling in the same direction."

Children's ministries are a major focus of the church; so is disaster relief. And fourteen small groups — including one that meets Monday mornings at a bowling alley — meet weekly for Bible study.

Eddie Craft has led children's church at New Bethel for twenty-eight years. A church fellowship committee plans monthly activities for youngsters, and two members started a media library and summer reading club about two years ago.

"One of the things we've got to do is start educating our kids about the gospel and Christian morals," Rhodes said. "With this summer reading club, we have kids who seldom picked up a book now reading ten or more Christian books over the summer."

This summer's theme was "Dinosaurs and the Bible." The children's church supported the Summer Reading Club by leading a six-week study of creation and dinosaurs, using materials from the Answers in Genesis organization.

"Our goal is to work together to educate our children so they can defend their faith," the pastor said.

In disaster relief, New Bethel is a shelter site, and several members are trained in food preparation and chainsaw assistance. Rhodes, regional disaster relief coordinator for southeast Missouri, started by promoting the ministry opportunity of disaster relief to churches in Cape Girardeau Baptist Association, which now has a feeding unit.

Since then, Rhodes has spread out the benefit of disaster relief ministries to eight associations in southeast Missouri, with a chainsaw unit now sponsored by the Cane Creek Stoddard Baptist Association.

Rhodes also led the church in the last two years to try something new: evangelistic and relationship-building ministry at the East Perry County Fair in Altenburg, a Lutheran community without a Baptist witness.

Face-painting and balloon animals complement the evangelistic witness of a three-door wooden visual aid that reads "3 things God can't do." Behind the doors are the answers: God can't lie; God can't change; and God can't let anyone into heaven who's not born again.

Six people made professions of faith at the fair, the pastor said. New Bethel is signed up for this September's fair, he added, and leading up to it, the church has been scheduled to lead Backyard Bible Clubs in Altenburg.

Rhodes also is in charge of the Monticello House Residential Care and Nursing Home ministry that he put together with six other churches.

"We haven't missed a Sunday in four years," Rhodes said. "The residents often bless us more than we do them. We really enjoy worshiping with them."

Other major ministries include the church's connection with the SBC's Christian Activities Center in East St. Louis and with area campuses' Baptist Student Ministries.

All year long, WMU members and others collect items for Christian Activity Center. They also hand-make at least 120 quilts — 123 last year — to be given to each child for Christmas, along with large bags filled with shoes, clothing, and school supplies. For some youngsters, it's the only Christmas they receive.

WMU members also plant flowers at the VA nursing home and help raise money for the March of Dimes. Each year the women of the church donate a handmade quilt to the Missouri Baptist Children's Home for its fund-raiser auction.

To unwind, the pastor bowls, but he's never really off-duty, he said. He was telling "the guys" down at the bowling alley about the church's study of Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Life and five of them wanted to go through the study. The only place available? The bar in the bowling alley, an hour before opening time.

"We're praying they will convert it into a soda fountain," Rhodes said with a grin. "You never know where God may open a door."

New Bethel is seventeen miles north of Cape Girardeau and four miles west of the Mississippi River. Though it claims a "Jackson, Missouri" mailing address, it's four miles outside Pocahontas, a town of about 100 people.

Last year, church members completed an acre-and-a-half picnic area for the community that includes picnic tables, sand volleyball, swing sets, horseshoe pits, a jungle gym, and a bridge built over a creek to extend a hiking trail.

"If we define New Bethel, it would be a country church with a heart and passion for reaching souls for Jesus Christ," Rhodes said. "We start in our community and with the Cooperative Program reach out around the world."