Trinity Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C., hasn’t let a pandemic get in the way of deepening its commitment to missions.
The congregation is leaning into its Encourager Church relationship with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel Scarlette Jasper in Kentucky and Rick Burnette in Florida. Both are part of CBF’s Together for Hope rural poverty initiative.
“Even in the pandemic, our people are thinking about how we can better support both of them,” said Tony Vincent, associate minister at Trinity Baptist Church. “Everybody is thinking, ‘What can I do right now to help them?’”
Similar questions are drawing congregations to CBF’s Encourager Church ministry, said Ellen Sechrest, manager of global missions engagement for CBF.
The program pairs congregations with one or more field personnel in the U.S. or abroad — or both, depending on a congregation’s interests. Churches often select field personnel with whom they share a missions focus. Others select based on areas of outreach they want to move into.
Churches provide financial, material and spiritual support to their field personnel and may send mission teams, where and when practical. Congregations also may be assured they are not supporting toxic charity practices, she said. “Our field personnel do a great job of helping people see we are not about vacation missions here and that we are really looking for long-term involvement.”
The missionaries often reciprocate with guidance for local ministries on immigration, poverty, food scarcity, literacy or rural development. “These visits make churches feel even more of a partner in the relationship,” she said.
About 15 congregations are scheduled to formally become Encourager churches in September and October, Sechrest added. “Churches are trying to get into deeper relationships with missions even in this time of remoteness.”
Field personnel are feeling that remoteness, too.
“Checks are great, but having you come spend your time and your talents and your abilities is really helpful and inspiring to us,” said Anna Anderson, CBF field personnel and Together for Hope team member in Rocky Mount, N.C.
The absence of those visits would be especially difficult without the emotional and spiritual support provided by First Baptist Church in Ahoskie, N.C., and the other half-dozen Encourager churches that support this ministry.
“We are considered their missionaries,” she said of the congregations located in the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee.
Anderson and her husband, LaCount, run the Conetoe Family Life Center, which serves some of the nation’s poorest residents. Without the usual amount of volunteer labor coming by, the funds, prayer cards and notes are especially important, he said. “We strongly feel the prayers of these people. We need that, and we are looking for more churches to partner with.”
Due to its proximity, the Andersons visit First Baptist Ahoskie once a week to run its benevolence ministry. They hand out food vouchers and operate the food pantry.
“It’s a mutually beneficial program,” Anna Anderson said. “But we could not do our ministry without them.”
In South Carolina, when Trinity Baptist entered its Encourager Church relationships in December, members were drawn to Jasper’s ministry around payday lending, domestic violence and homelessness and to Burnette’s service to farmworker families in Southwest Florida.
The connection was that similar groups live in and around Seneca, Vincent said. “We are in an area that has a migrant population, so we want to hear from Rick about how we can be better neighbors to those folks.”
Jasper offers powerful expertise on payday lending and poverty issues that plague many of Trinity Baptist’s neighbors. Vincent explained: “It’s about what can we learn from these partnerships as well as what we can offer them to better the church in our own community.”
Planned trips to Kentucky and Florida had to be postponed due to the coronavirus. But that hasn’t stopped church members from offering clothing and other donations to their adopted field personnel, he reported: “Multiple times since December, I have had church members say, ‘I want to help Rick’ or ‘could Scarlette use this?’”