Pastor heads out of the country as church's mission gifts soar

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--This time last year, Midway Baptist Church was struggling to reach a $2,000 goal for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. As of Nov. 18, the church's 145 regular attenders have given more than $10,600 to this year's offering.

The difference? Pastor Jim Malone recently resigned -- to serve as a full-time international missionary in Brazil.

When Malone announced that he and his wife, Linda, were leaving to serve as missionaries with the International Mission Board, members of the Cookeville, Tenn., congregation wanted to honor them.

Mona Neal, Women's Missionary Union director, felt a prompting to set a $10,000 Lottie Moon offering goal, which was announced on Malone's last day at the church.

"From there it has been like a snowball," she said.

For every $1,000 raised, the church lights a candle. "We're going to be able to roast marshmallows if we have to continue lighting these candles," said associate pastor Joe Morgan.

It wasn't just their pastor's call to missions that stimulated the generosity. During the last couple of years, church members have begun experiencing missions for themselves.

"The people's response to missions is more hands-on because they've seen it firsthand," Malone said. "That's one of the reasons why they're reaching the $10,000 goal. They know -- they've seen, they've heard personally."

The church's new journey into missions started more than four years ago when Malone worked on a missions project in Brazil as part of a Tennessee Baptist Convention partnership.

"God captured my heart for missions after that first trip -- just being there and sharing Jesus with people and then listening and responding to Jesus Christ. I left part of my heart in Brazil," he said. "They have a word in Portuguese, 'saudade,' which means 'a very deep feeling' that I had at that very first experience. A longing, yearning, homesickness."

Malone transmitted some of that deep feeling to his congregation, and the church saw Lottie Moon giving climb from $350 in 1995 to $2,100 in 2000. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering provides nearly half the support of more than 5,100 missionaries serving 1,125 people groups in 185 countries. Every dollar given to the offering is used 100 percent for overseas witness and ministry.

In 2000, church members started working with Malone on international missions projects.

"You've already been given instructions by Jesus Christ to go," Malone told his congregation. "It's just a matter of whether you're going to be obedient or not."

For international missions to impact a church, "it has to get on the pastor's heart," said Jerry Daniel, director of church services at the International Mission Board. "Then the pastor must take laypeople to work with him so they can see the need in the harvest and catch the vision."

Russell Swallows is one of those members who recently went to Brazil. He learned that being comfortable with a personal faith is not enough.

"You have to get out and do things for others. There are people out there who are hurting, who need the vision we have," he said.

As individuals have become involved in missions projects, other church members have rallied to support them. When a few people could not pay their way to Brazil, the church voted to set aside $5,000 for those individuals. One Sunday the church raised $1,800 through a baked goods and craft items auction to pay for one member's expenses.

As the church's giving to international missions grew, its local membership grew too -- from about 50 on a Sunday to as many as 145. And they still are growing.

"So many times when a preacher leaves, we go in different directions, but this has been drawing us together," Neal said. "We're excited about the Lord's work. We're excited that even though Brother Jim and Linda are not here, people have been saved and been baptized and joined the church. It's because of the seeds that he planted. Those seeds are continuing to grow."

As church members reach out to their own community, they are planting new seeds -- and putting into practice their mission statement: "Sharing the love of Christ."

Swallows, who works with his wife as a barber, uses his business as a platform for sharing the gospel. The church also has a bus ministry, which brings neighborhood children to the church every Sunday.

Daniel noted that such work is typical of a mature ministry -- sharing the gospel in its own community as a result of international experiences.

"The individual church members sense God can use them," he said. "They come back with a sense of significance and of being part of the work and are revitalized about their own community."

Neal agreed. "Once we leave the door of our church, we go out into a mission field," she said. "If we do not continue to work in missions and win people to the Lord and feed people, then our churches will dry up and die. That's what we were called to do."


-- Learn how churches promote missions and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering: http://www.imb.org/ime.

-- Free resources for this year's International Missions Emphasis: http://www.imb.org/ime/order.htm.

-- Video: Lottie Moon's journey of faith: http://real.imb.org:8080/ramgen/Media/1200222_hi.rm.

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