As a primary partner in the launch of the North American Mission Board’s Send Relief initiative, a metro St. Louis church reintroduced itself June 11 to a couple thousand of its neighbors on a day that coincided with the evangelism effort Crossover St. Louis.
“One of our primary goals was to tell the community we are here for you,” said Joe Costephens, pastor of First Baptist Church of Ferguson. “This is a community building effort. We wanted to show that we care and want to serve our local neighborhood. To see this day, with the launch of Send Relief, with a demonstration of the Cooperation Program in action, with volunteers from churches from Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Texas and Missouri – it was incredible.”
Photo by Susan Whitley
More than 2,000 Ferguson, Mo., residents came to the campus of First Baptist Ferguson for the debut of Send Relief, the North American Mission Board’s initiative to help churches better connect with their communities. The day, which was a part of Crossover St. Louis 2016, included a block party. Crossover is an evangelistic event held each year prior to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting throughout the meeting’s host city.
Ferguson resident Melvin Simmons is one who is happy to see the conversation continue. He brought his two granddaughters and said he was impressed by the event.
“I saw the signs and wondered what it was all about,” Simmons said. “This was nice of the church to do for the community. It is a great event. And I was glad they invited me to a Bible study.”
The day included the public launch of Send Relief’s mobile medical and dental clinics, a block party hosted at the church and another debut event, the Home Fire Campaign, an initiative with the American Red Cross (ARC) and the Ferguson Fire Department to install smoke detectors in homes. That aspect of the event drew Earl Brown, national partner relations manager for ARC’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“In partnerships you bring resources to the game to see the mission accomplished,” Brown said. “That is what Southern Baptists bring – a network of volunteers from thousands of churches.”
Brown helped forge the Home Fire Campaign partnership with North American Mission Board (NAMB) leadership in a meeting hosted at ARC headquarters last year. In all, 20 four-person teams canvassed the neighborhoods surrounding the church, installing smoke detectors and sharing information about the church.
Team 14 was composed of Jeremiah Akintunde, a Nigerian, Yuri Matsuura, a native of Japan, Luis Oliva, a native of Mexico, and native Texan Sheree Williams. All four are seminary students volunteering in St. Louis for the week.
“When you give back to the community, it is awesome,” said Jazeel, a Ferguson resident of Olympia Street who received three smoke detectors from Team 14. “What you are doing is amazing.”
Home Fire Campaign volunteer coordinator Steve Shumake, a member of Grace Baptist Church in Sumter, S.C., epitomizes the partnership between ARC and NAMB. Shumake serves as an ARC volunteer, as well as a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer. Brown expressed appreciation for Shumake’s service and dual volunteer role.
“Our goal for today, in this partnership with the church and local fire department, is to see that this church is reconnected to the local community,” Brown said. “When we are gone, and Send Relief volunteers are gone, we want the church to be able to continue to connect to the neighborhood.”
Photo by John Swain
Rich Johnstone (left) prays with Ferguson, Mo., resident Jimmy at the Send Relief debut block party hosted by First Baptist Church of Ferguson. Johnstone serves as a North American Mission Board Send City Missionary for San Francisco and is a member of The Movement, a church plant in Oakland, Calif.
Since the initiative’s launch in 2014, Brown said, a total of 96 lives have been documented as saved by the installation of smoke detectors.
Preliminary numbers were still being reported, but at least 200 gospel presentations were made on the day with at least 20 professions of faith in Christ from among the more than 250 volunteers. Two church members, Chris Wilder, a native of Ferguson who has been a member for about a year, and 40-year member Bob Oesch, were both pleased with the response of the community to the event.
“This was an excellent idea,” said Wilder who received a dental screening. “I love the block party. We are getting to know the community and let them know we are here to serve.” Oesch said he hoped people would realize that the church is there to love and serve them.
David Melber shared the same reaction of enthusiasm for the day. Melber serves NAMB as vice president for Send Relief.
“I am incredibly thankful and humbled by what we experienced today -volunteers coming from churches from Florida to Texas, serving sacrificially,” Melber said. “An incredible host church and partners helped make this a reality. The cooperative nature of the SBC and spirit of the volunteers to meet physical needs and help share the gospel brought true hope to the community.”
Pastor Costephens noted, “This represents a big push for us to rewrite peoples’ mental picture of what this church is.”
“To see all of the different cultures and economic backgrounds here, it is an amazing picture of people coming together,” Costephens said. “We want to bring hope to this community. We want to bring restoration.”
“I’m excited by the response. We ran out of registration cards,” he said. “That means there are more contacts to follow up on than we can handle.” The project has even deeper meaning because the pastor grew up at the church before leaving Ferguson.
Costephens returned a few years ago to plant a new church, Passage. Now the church plant and First Baptist Ferguson have merged, forging a new future as a church replant. The Send Relief debut is being called a major step in the church’s journey.
Explore more about Send Relief, including how your church can host mobile medical and dental clinics, at namb.net/SendRelief.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Joe Conway serves as Marketing Content Coordinator for the North American Mission Board.