Girls in rural church learn of minister retiree needs

by Joe Westbury, posted Friday, June 22, 2018 (one year ago)

EDITOR'S NOTE: June 24 is Mission:Dignity Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.

BLACKSHEAR, Ga. (BP) -- When Southgate Baptist Church's Girls in Action (GA) group decided to focus on Mission:Dignity for their Christmas in August project, most of the members had never heard of the ministry that helps retired Southern Baptist ministers, workers and their widows.

John Ambra, Mission:Dignity staff member, visits with Girls in Action leaders at Southgate Baptist Church in rural Georgia: (from left) GA leader Tanya Roberson; GAs Mary Johnson, Maylee Roberson and Molli McQuaig; and GA leader Peggy Duvall.
GuideStone photo
Southgate is located in rural southeast Georgia where small churches dot the landscape. Congregations were historically held together with part-time or even quarter-time pastors who worked for little to nothing to fulfill their sacred calling.

Now in their sunset years, these pastors struggle to pay the bills while maintaining that calling even as their health fades.

"I remember pastors from my younger days who struggled to get by and feed their family, but they never complained. They always believed the Lord would supply their needs, and He did," Carol Colley, Southgate's pastor's wife, remembers.

A Mission:Dignity DVD they received "told their story in stark yet caring terms that pulled at our heartstrings," Colley recounts. "It brought back so many memories to many of us, and it educated our GAs of the struggles of faithful servants."

That's how the small church -- which averages about 70 in Sunday worship and 50 in Sunday School -- got involved. And "small" does not stop with attendance. Southgate's GA group has only three girls: Mary, Maylee and Molli. But they were up to the challenge.

GA leader Peggy Duvall worked with the girls to put a plan in action. They placed a Christmas tree in the church foyer with 50 sealed envelopes. Each envelope had a challenge amount from $1 to $25, and those who chose one or several were asked to return it with as close to the suggested amount as the Lord provided.

Peggy recalls her 36 years in small churches and still identifies with their struggles. "I remember the annual 'pounding' for the pastor and his family that kept them going throughout the year. The pastors gave their lives to the church because they were faithful to their calling and received very little in return.

"I get teary-eyed just thinking about it now. Those memories are still very real to me. Many pastors could not afford to pay into Social Security and certainly nothing into a retirement program like GuideStone.

"My pastor and his wife were faithful longsuffering servants who met our every need. But they really struggled to make ends meet," Peggy says in retrospect.

(GuideStone Financial Resources is the Southern Baptist Convention's retirement and financial services entity and Mission:Dignity's sponsor.)

Peggy, Carol and others -- along with the girls -- rolled up their sleeves for the Mission:Dignity cause.

"We hoped to raise $200 and felt it was a good goal for our three girls. But when it was over we realized we were aiming pretty low and God said that was not enough," Peggy says.

"A lot of people in our church obviously remembered similar pastors from their younger years and had no problem identifying with their needs."

As the envelopes began to be returned, it was obvious the $200 goal would be easily met. More than 80 percent were returned with more than the suggested amount. If everyone gave just the amount they were challenged to give, the total would have been $650.

Yet the amount came to $1,085.

"I never had anyone say we were asking for too much, even though we also support the Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon offerings. We are just a giving church, small though we may be. I was constantly being asked how close we were to the goal," Peggy adds.

It's a lesson the girls will carry forward into their adult years when they begin to mentor the next generation of GAs. The lesson is that you just can't outgive God.

"Our people responded in a way that outdid anything we imagined," Peggy says.

Mission:Dignity Sunday is June 24. It's a day to remember and honor retired ministers, workers and their widows living on low retirement incomes. It's also a time to give generously to help the nearly 1,800 individuals and couples assisted by the ministry. More than $7 million is distributed annually, with most of the funding coming from the direct gifts of individuals, Sunday School classes and churches. One hundred percent of gifts provides well-deserved monthly grants with nothing used for operating expenses.

GuideStone has free bulletin inserts, promotional posters and a DVD with several brief testimonies of people assisted by Mission:Dignity. The materials are undated and can be used anytime. Order online and find additional resources at MDSunday.org.

"We want to bring up our girls to look beyond themselves and see the needs of others around them. We want them to know that life is not all about them and their needs," Carol says.

"Our goal is to train up the next generation of women who believe in missions and become missions advocates. We are teaching them that there are opportunities to serve if they just develop that sensitivity. But you have to have the vision, and Mission:Dignity gave us that vision."

Joe Westbury, managing editor of The Christian Index of the Georgia Baptist Convention, wrote this story on assignment for Mission:Dignity.
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