First Baptist Church in Aurora may have fewer than three dozen regular attendees but the church is making an impact in other countries as it sends participants on mission teams with Atlantic Baptist Association (ABA).
In 1992 when pastor Mike Huffman first raised the idea of helping to send a mission team to Poland from ABA, the church said, “We have the money, why don’t we send you?”
So Huffman went and has led teams large and small from the church and association on at least 13 other overseas trips since then, mostly doing construction for churches.
“Having the money” for missions is one advantage of leading a bi-vocational church, says Huffman, pastor at Aurora since 1987. Because he is a computer systems operator at Weyerhaeuser in New Bern the small church near the edge of the earth need not bear the weight of supporting a pastor and family.
With two families, or nearly one-third of his regular attendees, leaving this month because of disruptions to their families, Aurora could never support a full-time pastor.
Huffman, 56, came to Aurora almost by accident. Recently called to preach he had been supplying pulpits in the area when Aurora’s 80-year-old pastor needed a leave of absence to attend to his wife’s medical issue. He asked Huffman to fill in for two or three months.
The old pastor never reclaimed the pulpit. In fact, the church has never officially called Huffman as pastor. “They just keep letting me come back every Sunday,” he said.
Aurora is very active and operates Royal Ambassador and Girls in Action programs, and a Baptist Men’s chapter. Since Baptist Men started meeting the women want a group of their own.
Aurora is at the end of the map in eastern North Carolina. You won’t get there on your way to somewhere else. The church was founded in 1898. Its new building went up in 1973 or 1974 and sits on a grassy lot on 5th Street. The parking lot is covered with “rejects” from the potash mine and the grass grows through it, making for a puzzling image to a visitor as the brick church sits in a grassy field.
“When we first started doing this it kind of pulled us together as a church,” Huffman says of the mission trips. “We were struggling.”
Members were so excited about sending their pastor, and often members Hartford Honeycutt and Etles Henries, that they would gather at the New Bern airport to send them off and to welcome them home.
Church teams have worked on the Baptist seminary in Poland, built a children’s camp in Ukraine, surveyed in South Africa and worked on facilities for the Door of Hope baby rescue shelter there, built a church in Swaziland and even made a trip to build an outhouse for a church.
Huffman recognizes that it is not financially sound to spend $10,000 to travel to Africa to build an outhouse when local labor could be engaged for a couple hundred dollars. But money is not the issue, he says.
“From a logistics and financial point of view only, no way it makes sense,” Huffman says. “In fact, it’s stupid. But if you look at it in the larger picture, from the e-mails you get back, in keeping up with the missionaries etc., you realize it’s not about money.”
He quotes Raymond Earp, an active layman from Calvary Baptist Church in Beaufort, who said, “If you don’t get one block laid, or one board nailed up, as long as you’ve made a friend and touched someone’s life, that’s what important.”
“We could send the money, but those people’s lives are not going to be the same and our lives are not going to be the same,” Huffman said. “If we do it the missions team way, lives will be dramatically different.”
Virtually any African sees any American as “filthy rich,” Huffman said. So for people who have “absolutely nothing” to see people they consider rich kneel and dig next to them “just because we love them and care for them” means far more than simply sending money to do the job could ever mean.
“That a rich person cares about them in their poverty really impresses them,” he said.
Huffman said he loves to raise money for missions with a heart touched by being on the field and working side by side with Christians overseas who struggle to feed their families and to simply survive until sundown.
Huffman, who has worked 35 years at Weyerhaeuser in New Bern and has worn out three cars in his 40-minute drive to the church, is a strong proponent of bi-vocational pastorates. Aurora does not struggle financially because it does not have a “salary burden,” he says.
Fifty-five percent of North Carolina Baptist churches report Sunday morning attendance of 100 or less and Huffman said it is often pride that keeps small churches struggling to maintain a full-time pastor.
To call a bivocational pastor or to share a pastor with another church would ease the financial burden and struggle, he says. When a small church pastor “ends up being the CEO” and has to make the organization work financially, “people get tired of hearing him preach about money,” Huffman said.
Aurora and Huffman enjoy their relationship because it helps a tiny church on the edge of the
map be involved in missions worldwide.