When the South Gate Baptist Church Girls in Action (GA) group decided to focus on Mission:Dignity for their Christmas in August project, most of the members had never heard of the ministry that helps retired Southern Baptist ministers, workers and their wives or widows.
Photo by Jon Tyson
South Gate is located in rural southeast Georgia where small churches dot the landscape. Congregations were historically held together with part-time or even quarter-time pastors who worked for little to nothing to fulfill their sacred calling.
Now in their sunset years, these pastors struggle to pay the bills while maintaining that calling, even as their health fades.
“I remember pastors from my younger days who struggled to get by and feed their family, but they never complained. They always believed the Lord would supply their needs, and He did,” Carol Colley, South Gate’s pastor’s wife, remembers.
“But that [Mission:Dignity] DVD told their story in stark yet caring terms that pulled at our heartstrings. It brought back so many memories to many of us, and it educated our GAs of the struggles of faithful servants.”
That’s how the small church – which averages only about 70 in Sunday worship and 50 in Sunday school – got behind this year’s missions emphasis. And “small” does not stop with attendance. South Gate’s GA group has only three girls: Mary, Maylee and Molli. But they were up to the challenge!
GA leader Peggy Duvall worked with the girls to put a plan into action. They placed a Christmas tree in the church foyer, laden with 50 sealed envelopes. Each envelope had a challenge amount from $1 to $25, and those who chose one or several were asked to return it with as close to the suggested amount as the Lord provided.
It was designed as a spiritual lesson not only for the church but also for the young girls.
Peggy recalls her 36 years in small churches and still identifies with their struggles, “I remember the annual ‘pounding’ for the pastor and his family that kept them going throughout the year. The pastors gave their lives to the church because they were faithful to their calling and received very little in return.
“I get teary-eyed just thinking about it now. Those memories are still very real to me. Many pastors could not afford to pay into Social Security and certainly nothing into a retirement program like GuideStone.
“My pastor and his wife were faithful, long-suffering servants who met our every need. But they really struggled to make ends meet,” she says in retrospect.
Peggy, Carol and others – along with the girls – rolled up their sleeves and took the Mission:Dignity challenge.
“We hoped to raise $200 and felt it was a good goal for our three girls. But when it was over we realized we were aiming pretty low and God said that was not enough. Our people responded in a way that outdid anything we imagined,” Peggy says.
“A lot of people in our church obviously remembered similar pastors from their younger years and had no problem identifying with their needs.”
As the envelopes began to be returned, it was obvious the $200 goal would be easily met. A full 85 percent were returned with more than the suggested amount. If everyone gave just the amount they were challenged to give, the total would have been an astronomical $650.
The total amount came in at $1,085.
“I never had anyone say we were asking for too much, even though we also support the Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon offerings. We are just a giving church, small though we may be. I was constantly being asked how close we were to the goal,” Peggy adds.
It’s a lesson that the girls will carry forward into their adult years when they begin to mentor the next generation of GAs. The lesson is that you just can’t out give God.
Mission:Dignity Sunday is June 24. It’s a day to remember and honor retired ministers, workers and their widows living on low retirement incomes. It’s also a time to give generously to help the nearly 1,800 individuals and couples assisted by the ministry. More than $7 million is distributed annually, with most of the funding coming from the direct gifts of individuals, Sunday school classes and churches. One hundred percent of gifts provides well-deserved monthly grants with nothing used for operating expenses.
GuideStone has free bulletin inserts, promotional posters and a DVD with several brief testimonies of people assisted by Mission:Dignity. The materials are undated and can be used anytime. Order online and find additional resources at MDSunday.org.
“We want to bring up our girls to look beyond themselves and see the needs of others around them. We want them to know that life is not all about them and their needs,” Carol says.
“Our goal is to train up the next generation of women who believe in missions and become missions advocates. We are teaching them that there are opportunities to serve if they just develop that sensitivity. But you have to have the vision, and Mission:Dignity gave us that vision.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index and wrote this story on assignment for Mission:Dignity. Used by permission.)