January 22nd, 2013 at 6:00 am
LITTLEFIELD – A lot can be derived about a town simply by driving through it, and this town is no different. A quick perusal of the area reveals a largely empty and aging downtown. Significant pockets of homes resemble colonia-style dwellings along the Texas-Mexico border, including several that are so dilapidated that on-lookers can see through cracks in the siding to dimly-lit rooms.
But driving through the streets and examining structures doesn’t reveal the true nature of this Pandhandle town. That can only be discovered by visiting with its greatest resource – its people. Especially those at First Baptist Church.
There, people who care about the community come together to worship, to grow in their faith and – thanks to a recent initiative – to make a large difference in the lives of those living near them. In short, it’s where visitors find the town’s heart.
Though its had its share of struggles as recently as two years ago, the church is seeking to begin a new chapter in its history by helping its town do the same. In the past 18 months, the congregation has become united and now is setting out to serve people in its community.
Pastor Brian Hill believes God is calling the congregation to meet the needs of people and share the gospel throughout the city.
In determining how to best serve Littlefield, the church is utilizing a new resource created by a partnership between Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and Woman’s Missionary Union of Texas made possible by gifts to missions through the Cooperative Program and the Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas Missions. Called a needs assessment tool, the social work-based survey pushes church members into their community to uncover what organizations are providing what services, how a church might help them in their respective missions and see what needs are not being met that may create avenues for ministry.
“We came across the community needs assessment tool that’s offered through the Christian Life Commission,” Hill said. “I looked at it and I thought this can’t be the answer, it won’t solve all our problems but it’ll be a tool to help us to truly define and discern God’s direction for our church in this community.”
Church members went through all the needs and gaps in service they discovered by using the needs assessment tool. During the Sunday School hour, congregants discussed the strengths and resources of the church and how those align with unmet needs.
People became excited by the possibilities of helping their struggling town. Many of the members have deep roots in Littlefield and would like to see the community thrive. If that means helping it move toward that goal one person at a time, so be it.
“If we can let one person know that they’re loved and that God loves them and that no matter what’s going on in their life that they can go from way over here in the deepest darkest of despair to the light that God shines and they know that they know they’re loved, that they have a future and that there are people in this town that love them, support them, help them, then we’ve accomplish a whole lot,” Donna Neinast said. “And the angels will be singing because one more has been brought to Christ.”
This month, the church is narrowing its focus to the work it believes it can do well. The congregation is committed to changing Littlefield for the better, and wants to use its resources as wisely as possible.
Teri Ussery, missions and ministry consultant working for WMU of Texas and Texas Baptists, praised First Baptist Church’s desire to share the gospel in Littlefield. Throughout the needs assessment process, the congregation has been enthusiastic and has desired to pour itself into the town.
“The heart of Christ in this church is real,” she said. “God is working in powerful ways through the compassion and Christ-likeness of His people to bring transformation to an entire community.”
Plenty of hard work is ahead, but the excitement about the possibilities is palpable, several church members said. Nearly every member of the church participated in the Sunday School hour discussions. God-given passions are stirring in people’s hearts. The body is ready to serve.
“We have to move past the point of sitting in the pew and being a consumer,” Shawn Mason said. “It’s time to go out and do more not only for us personally, for us, for our community, see if we can lead more people to Christ through our actions.”
Ussery looks forward to seeing how God uses First Baptist Church for His purposes.
“It doesn’t take a vast army to do God’s work,” she said. “The Bible stories we remember as children remind us that God would rather use the willing heart than the strong back. His armies were usually small and weak compared to their enemies, but when their hearts were yielded to God’s power, victory was the outcome. First Baptist Church in Littlefield is just such an army. Perhaps considered small by some, it is an army yielded to the power of God. As they embark on a journey to bring restoration and hope into their community, they will no doubt experience the power of God.”
Hill senses the church is “on a precipice and know there’s needs. Our community is filled with a staggering amount of needs but our church is poised and ready to make an impact. We can’t address every one of them, but we can address some of them.”
This is the first in a series of articles documenting First Baptist Church in Littlefield’s journey under God’s guidance.