May 20th, 2013 at 10:35 am
While many churches have moved to more contemporary-styled worship services, meeting in gyms or storefronts with praise bands and non-traditional worship practices, other churches still have pipe organs and choir robes. Although balloons falling from the ceiling, Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” blasting and a pastor moon walking at 11:30 on a Sunday morning might be commonplace in some churches, it was new to First Baptist Abilene this past Sunday. And the reason for such an exciting celebration…MISSIONS!
On May 5, 2013, First Baptist Church in Abilene celebrated the end to a three-year capital campaign, which collected more than $3.6 million. But this campaign was as non-traditional as its celebration. Entitled “Faces and Places,” FBC’s capital campaign was not gathered for a new building; it was designated specifically for the missional endeavors of the congregation.
First Baptist’s Sunday morning celebration highlighted the many ways in which the church has been able to expand its mission efforts over that last three years thanks to the campaign. The three global missionary couples supported by Faces and Places were represented in the service Sunday. The service was opened by Jimmy and Anjani Cole who have recently completed their three-year commitment as missionaries in Spain. Testimony also was heard from Peter Norton, father of Caroline Smith who serves in South Africa along with her husband Josh, and also from Alicia Lee who ministers alongside her husband Jeff in Macedonia.
Lee told the congregation the story of Rinor, an 8-year-old boy who has benefited from the mission efforts of First Baptist. On the day she first met Rinor, Lee described how he had just returned from the market. Rinor had the responsibility that day of coming home with dinner for his family, which included his parents, grandparents and four brothers and sisters. Rinor had returned home that day carrying only a small packet of soup about half the size of a packet of taco seasoning. When the Lees opened the trunk of their car with enough groceries to sustain the family for the last few months of the harsh Macedonian winter, she said their eyes and faces were overwhelmed with gratitude and relief. As Rinor’s mother embraced her, Lee felt the sincerity of the words spoken in her ear, “Zoti ju bekoftë!” (“God bless you!”). Lee relayed those words to the First Baptist congregation and lifted her new friend’s blessing across the globe to meet its true owners.
When FBC Pastor Phil Christopher addressed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s General Assembly last summer, he spoke about the impact of such a missional focus in his church.
“Jimmy Cole grew up in First Baptist Abilene, and when we started talking about what it means to be a missional church, he took what we were saying seriously,” Christopher said. “He resigned as a successful pharmaceutical salesperson, sold his home and said, ‘Here am I, send me.’ Can you imagine? If we are going to talk missions in our churches, if we are going to commission field personnel, if we are going to tell the ‘old, old story,’ our churches have a responsibility to make sure the resources are available when people like the Coles, the Smiths and the Lees are called to go and tell the story of Jesus and his love.”
In addition to the campaign’s global impact, Faces and Places also included local mission efforts. During the Sunday celebration Family Life Center Director Keith Post expressed thanks for the renewed impact the center has been able to have due to the renovations made from the campaign. Local Friendship House Director Janet Mendenhall shared how lives continue to be impacted in First Baptist’s own neighborhood thanks to the church’s faithful support.
But the mission work of First Baptist Abilene and the Faces and Places campaign is not over. Evidence from around the church Sunday demonstrated that the work has only just begun. During the Sunday School hour before the church’s celebration, classes across the church wrote words and verses of blessing and encouragement on two-by-fours, which will be used in the Habitat for Humanity house the church is building over the next couple of months. Representatives of each class carried the decorated boards into the sanctuary at the opening of the service to dedicate the house and its mission to the Lord’s service.
Norton, Christopher and Bob Ellis, who served as the Faces and Places campaign chair, all challenged the church to continue giving to this campaign. The goal of the campaign was initially $5 million, which included a sizeable endowment for sustained missions support. The church hopes to collect the remaining $1.3 million for the endowment over the course of the next year, and is providing opportunity for new and renewed commitments to give.
But while there is always work to be done, that did not stop the church from celebrating the amazing ministry that God has already accomplished through the Faces and Places campaign on Sunday. From their own neighborhood to across the globe, lives have been touched and changed by the faithfulness of one church to share the hope and presence of Jesus Christ, which is reason enough for this church to “celebrate good times, come on!”