Missions was a way of life at Friendly Avenue Baptist Church of Greensboro, where the service projects list fills a page. Then, a nation showed up at their doorstep.
Refugees from war-torn Burma, known as Myanmar, are being relocated to the Greensboro area. Known as the Karen people, the refugees fled first into Thailand to escape political persecution and a country ravaged by last year’s deadly cyclone.
“The nations came to us,” said pastor Pat Cronin.
The church’s ministry to the Karen began when it “adopted” one family a little over a year ago. Recently, four Karen young adults were baptized.
“We never thought we would see this happen,” Cronin said, thrilled by the commitments of faith.
Cronin said the Karen church plant is a daily reminder of the ministry of the Cooperative Program (CP) around the world and fits well with the church’s mission statement to bring “all people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Resources were in place to begin the growing ministry, thanks in part to the church’s commitment to putting love in action through the Cooperative Program.
Ron and Evelyn Hill, church members and retired International Mission Board missionaries trained in the Thai language, provided a first contact with the group. They received their linguistic abilities as part of their missionary training provided by CP gifts from the more than 44,000 Southern Baptist congregations.
The Cooperative Program is the way state conventions in the Southern Baptist Convention work together the Acts 1:8 way — supporting local, regional, national and international missions and ministries.
Fulfilling the Great Commission is why the church supports missions through the Cooperative Program. Currently 15 percent of the church’s undesignated offerings are committed to reaching people through the Cooperative Program.
Giving makes sense, Cronin said.
“When you hear the name ‘Southern Baptist,’ you think missions,” Cronin said. “How can you not tap into the resources that make us effective?”
Volunteers greet newcomers at the airport with food and basic necessities and help them settle into their new homes and surroundings.
The Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) and the church’s missions education programs provide baby gifts, Christmas gifts and other items. Proceeds from a church-organized golf tournament help cover the Karen’s financial, food and housing needs.
Early 19th century missionary Adoniram Judson served in Burma among the Karen people. Ethnic cleansings and a decades-long civil war have kept the country in turmoil.
Brian Presson, church planter with the Karen mission, said that Buddhists and Animists — the predominant religions of the Karen — attend services.
“Acts of service open hearts,” Presson said. “Community draws people.”
Presson told of a woman who burst into tears when members greeted her at the airport, amazed that foreigners would care for her.
ESL (English as a Second Language) classes use Sunday School literature to teach the Karen. The church has contact with about 100 Karen. Services average 50.
Presson, with his wife, worked several years with the Karen overseas through another Christian organization.
“We went to the nations and then God brought us back home,” Presson said. “Then God brought the nations to us.”
Church members experience first-hand the impact of the Cooperative Program through mission trips to places such as the Sudan, Ecuador and Kenya and Vermont.
Youth work with World-Changers, a CP-supported endeavor of the North American Mission Board providing labor for community construction projects.
Cronin credits the church’s long history of mission service and giving through the Cooperative Program to a strong WMU and missions education program, and to being grounded on God’s Word.
“When you are biblically grounded, you have a Kingdom mindset, not just a local mindset,” Cronin said. “You are called to serve and give. Everyone wins.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Stewart is a writer with the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s communications office.)