Evansville Baptist Church will always hold a special place in my life. I have never been a member of Evansville, but that congregation had a significant impact on my understanding of the Cooperative Program. Evansville Baptist is in a very small community near Dyersburg in the northwest part of Tennessee. When I was a teenager who had been called to ministry, that church allowed me the privilege of leading my first Sunday morning worship service.
On the morning that I spoke at Evansville, fourteen people attended the service. When you consider that nine of those people were family and friends that had come because I was preaching, the math quickly tells you that only five church members were in attendance that day. I know that the definition of “small church” can be somewhat fluid, but five members in attendance certainly qualifies as small. We had a great time of worship that morning, including two people responding to the invitation. And while I always appreciate a service where forty percent of the membership responds to the invitation, something else in the service has remained with me for over twenty years.
In the middle of the service, one of the laymen at the church walked onto the platform to lead us through the time of the offering. As he encouraged the congregation to give, he said, “A part of what you give today will be used to tell people all over the world about Jesus.” I remember sitting on the front pew of that small, Baptist church and realizing that what he said was absolutely true. By themselves, those five church members might not have been able to do much in supporting missionaries all over the world. However, when thousands of churches like Evansville work together, they are part of the largest missionary sending partnership in the history of the world.
And it is not just that CP giving supports missionaries that we may never meet during our time on earth; CP also provides opportunities for us to go and join in the work being done around the world. My grandfather, Rex Edwards, was a store manager and truck driver who ended up at another small church around Dyersburg called Southside Baptist Church. He served as a deacon and as the Church Training Director at that church for several decades. He was also the first person I knew that participated in a short-term international mission trip.
As a partnership of local churches in the Dyer Baptist Association, my grandfather and several other men traveled to the Philippines to work with local pastors to evangelize their communities. When he returned, he brought gifts to each of his four grandchildren. My gift was a brightly colored Jeepney toy (a replica of the most popular form of travel in the Philippines). As he told me about the Jeepney, he talked about the trips he took around the village and the people with whom he shared the gospel. And while I was thankful for the gift that he gave to me, I was more impressed by the gift he left in the Philippines.
When my grandmother picked him up from the airport, she noticed that he had flown back from the Philippines without shoes. When she asked him what happened to his shoes, he simply told her that a Philippine pastor who had been walking miles every day to share the gospel did not own a pair of shoes. So, he gave him the shoes off his feet. That story was shared over and over again in our family. I thought about the story again many years later as I was putting a new pair of shoes on the feet of a little Brazilian boy who had also never owned a pair of shoes. And as I placed those shoes on his feet, I was sharing the gospel with his mom in the chair next to him. Both of those trips were made possible because of churches that were partnering with the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention.
That is the most beautiful part of being a Southern Baptist to me – the collective power of the Cooperative Program to impact the world. Every member of a church that gives to CP is participating in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. In my life as a Southern Baptist, I have been a member of churches with membership from a couple of hundred to thousands. And in each of those churches, my offering has supported the work of missionaries in some of the toughest areas of the world. Through partnership with CP, I have also been able to participate in trips from Kalamazoo, Michigan, to Los Angeles, CA, to the cities of Brazil. And for those reasons and many, many more, I will be forever grateful for the Cooperative Program.