Organized events bring missionaries up close, personalcomment (0)
May 10, 2012
By Sondra Washington
Finding new, exciting ways to introduce and connect Christians to God’s work around the world has long been a passion for many Alabama Baptist leaders. It is this mindset that sparked missions celebrations across the state years ago. Over time, an increasing number of churches and associations began organizing these sometimes weeklong events by bringing local, national and international missionaries to people who might never have access to them otherwise. Although some leaders have found it necessary to adjust the way they organize these celebrations, the desire to lead the church in reaching the world for Christ remains at the forefront of their plans.
For years, Baldwin Baptist Association divided the total number of participating missionaries into three groups and held three different missions celebrations around the county. But this February, the association leadership placed all 60 participating missionaries under one roof.
“It was super,” said Susan Bartholomew, Woman’s Missionary Union director for the association and member of Pleasant View Baptist Church, Foley. “We had well over 350 folks that came to that missions fair.”
In addition to adjusting its plans and hosting a much larger event, Bartholomew said the association has had to institute stricter safeguards to protect participating missionaries and their families who serve in more secured areas across the globe.
“There is a level of secrecy that has not been there in the past,” she said. “We would use their first name and have an area where they (attendees) would not be able to take pictures. … We’ve had to say, ‘There will be no Facebooking of pictures.’ Social networking is so quickly moving us into communication levels that we don’t even anticipate.”
Still, Bartholomew said the changes are not affecting the effectiveness of the association’s missions celebrations.
“There is more of a hunger for ‘how can I tie in with what you are doing?’” she said. “People are making connections that, 15 to 20 years ago, people felt could not be made. Being in a more mobile society, people see that they can send a group of five people over (to a foreign country). … Churches of less than 100 are sending teams now. Whereas 20 years ago, they wouldn’t have thought of it.”
Linda Adams, administrative assistant and celebration coordinator for Salem-Troy Baptist Association, said Salem-Troy Association has made changes to its on-mission celebration during the last 30 years to save money and spend more wisely. For example, the event, which is held every five years, has been shortened from one week to one weekend and missionaries stay in homes instead of hotels.
“These celebrations are very costly with travel expenses and housing expenses,” Adams said. “We did not have as much money to put money in our on-mission celebration this year as we have had in the past. So we had to look at cutting corners, while maintaining the quality of the event, and this was a great option.”
Instead of diminishing the event’s success, Adams believes the changes made it more effective.
“It helped develop more relationships and friendships than it has been in the past,” she said. “Having these missionaries in our houses, it’s not just someone we read about in a periodical or in a prayer request. It makes them a real-life person. … We already have two missions trips (planned) with some of our missionaries that came in — one in Helen, Ga., and one in Argentina.”
Although many missions celebrations are geared toward adults, Lamar Baptist Association hosts an annual event for children.
Janet Estis established the first celebration and has coordinated every one since then.
“I grew up in the association in Lamar as a little girl, and I remembered my love for missions started through that association,” said Estis, who now is a member of Mineral Springs Baptist Church, McShan, in Pickens Baptist Association. “They did children’s missions events when I was a kid. … I wanted the children growing up there now to have the same opportunity.”
The celebration is similar to most others across the state, except it allows the children to meet local, national and international missionaries, do hands-on ministry projects and raise funds for missions work.
This year and last year, the children were able to Skype a missionary, Estis said.
“We had a great day,” Estis said. “It’s just exciting for me to see children get excited about missions just like I did at their age. … I think it is important to begin learning at a young age, not just when you are an adult. I think God speaks to children’s hearts just as much as He does adults. We just need to give them the venue where they can hear Him speaking.”
Ben Chandler, director of missions for St. Clair Baptist Association, echoed the sentiments. It is his hope that the association’s missions celebration will inspire children, teens and adults to pursue a life of missions.
In fact, as a result of a previous celebration, a pastor surrendered to missions, Chandler said.
The association holds the missions fest every five years. The event was to begin in late April 2011. However, on April 27, devastating tornadoes struck much of the state — St. Clair County included — causing the event to be postponed until 2012.
This year’s celebration featured 30 state, North American and international missionaries. They spoke in 30 churches during the five-day event, that began on a Saturday with a missions fair and rally.
By meeting missionaries and hearing their life stories, individuals gain a better understanding of what missionaries do, what the Cooperative Program is and how those funds are used, Chandler said. Also the missions event helps churches to see they are all linked together in the common goal of supporting missionaries around the world.
“Missionaries are special people to be able to go and do what they do,” Chandler said.
(Leigh Pritchett contributed)