The following is a transcript of the speech given by 17-year-old Ashley Johnson to win the Challengers 1996 National Missions Speak Out competition. Ashley is a member of First Baptist Church in Sevierville, Tennessee.
The Cooperative Program
• "I am a child in a rural area outside Calcutta, India. I need an operation and I am afraid. But I have met the missionary doctor who will help me. He has told me about Jesus. I'm glad he came to India. All people in India need to know about Jesus."
• "I live in a small village in Upper Volta. We did not have water near our home. A man helped us dig a well. He told me about Jesus. I am a new Christian. People in the Middle East where I live need to hear about Jesus. A missionary sent me a Bible with lessons about Jesus I learned He is my Savior. Now I have hope!"
• "The inner city life in New York can sometimes be very scary But a missionary placed here by the Home Mission Board has a safe place for me. We operate a soup kitchen and many African-Americans have come to know Jesus because of the kindness of this missionary"
• "In Burkino Faso, I am a farmer. At first I had only a few seeds and one short-handled hoe. But a missionary helped me find better seeds to make better crops. I have learned that planting grain sorghum and peanuts in the same field make better crops."
Voices from around the world — Southern Baptist churches coming together to fulfill the Great Commission — "And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying 'Al! authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20, NAS).
The Cooperative Program starts with YOU and your church. Let's take a journey back in time. Pretend we are in the Victorian Era of the late 1800's and you are an executive for Home Missions. A fellow Christian who holds a strong support for foreign missions in Spain is a compelling, passionate, and emotional speaker who gets the people involved. They, therefore, give a larger percentage of their money to foreign missions in Spain than to any home mission project.
Years pass and still the speaker who is able to generate the most emotions gets the most money Finally, it's 1925. We're present at the Southern Baptist Convention in Memphis, Tennessee. The date is May 13. A friend of yours, Dr. Len G. Broughton, has been preaching for one hour and fifteen minutes from Joshua 3:4-5 (KJV). "… ye have not passed this way heretofore … Sanctify yourselves: for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you."
Later, at the same convention, the Cooperative Program is officially adopted. It is no longer a
play on the emotions, but a fair division of the money coming into the Southern Baptist Convention. You were there as a messenger to the Southern Baptist Convention.
At breakfast this morning, you promised to take your young son fishing to celebrate the last day of school when you returned home. But you could not hide the excitement you were feeling about the meeting that day.
After you settled down with your young son on the bluff overlooking the river, baited your hook and dropped the line in the cool dark water, you begin a conversation that goes something like this.
"Today was a great day We voted to adopt a plan that's called the Cooperative Program." "What's that, Dad?"
"It's a way Southern Baptists can work together to spread the Gospel, son. In the past, our churches were filled with requests for money from all the different agencies and groups. The ones that had the best speaker would usually get the most money Now our money can be distributed in a fair manner."
"So, the money I give in church will help EVERYONE, both our home missionaries and foreign missionaries?"
"That's right, son. See that small creek? Well, hundreds of small creeks like that one can come together and create something big like the Mississippi River. Their combined waters nourish the land as the river flows along toward the Gulf of Mexico and will eventually reach foreign lands."
"I see what you're saying, Dad. Giving together is the best way!"
It is doubtful that Dr. Broughton or you realized the full potential of the Cooperative Program. After 70 years, Southern Baptists are still using that plan, virtually unchanged since that day.
Let's take a trip through the Cooperative Program dollar. The dollar you give in an offering joins other dollars given. You and other church members vote on the percentage of money to give to the Cooperative Program. This money is sent to the state conventions. Some of the money is kept for state missions, while the rest is sent to the Southern Baptist Convention. It is then distributed to the agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Cooperative Program provides financial support for more than 3,500 missionaries serving in more than 100 countries overseas and for more than 3,700 missionaries serving in the United States – all fifty states, Puerto Rico and American Samoa. This is our effort to satisfy God's instructions. "… and He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation" (Mark 16:15 NAS).
Because of my involvement in the older Challengers program at my church, I have become more aware of the importance of the Cooperative Program in our Southern Baptist churches. Every year in April, a special day is observed by our church and by other Southern Baptist churches throughout the nation.
This has given me a chance to learn about the Cooperative Program and how Southern Baptists support and strengthen their mission causes at home and around the world. This special day also gives me the opportunity to see my church, as well as myself, following Jesus' directive. "… and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8 NAS).
The Cooperative Program — providing a way for all Southern Baptists to support and undergird the Great Commission — your money fairly divided to support mission programs around the world.