Morningside Baptist Church had fallen on hard times. On paper, Morningside's budget called for 10 percent of church members' gifts to be channeled through the Cooperative Program, but often that check wasn't written. Each month's local expenses — water, electricity, telephone, mortgage, and the like — were maxing out its income.
During one church business meeting, which was held in the fellowship hall to save money by not air conditioning the larger worship center in midweek, longtime church member Gladys Armbruster challenged the Yuma, Arizona, congregation.
"Until the church puts missions giving first — like God wants us to tithe first — God is not going to bless the church financially," Armbruster said.
The church heeded her words and began sending in its Cooperative Program check first each week.
"Our treasurer still does that today," said pastor Gilbert Taeger of the church's turning point that pre-dated his arrival in 1994. "The mission checks are written Monday from Sunday's receipts."
Morningside budgets a full 20 percent of its offerings to missions, starting with 12 percent through the Cooperative Program.
"We simply believe in the cooperative effort of missions," Taeger said. "When we all cooperate and give as much as we can, it makes the world effort for the Great Commission happen."
Morningside, which averages one hundred and seventy in Sunday morning worship, spreads a net of caring from the church to the local community and, through the Cooperative Program and its own missions volunteers, across Arizona and the nation and around the world.
"I believe the rest of the world needs some help, and that's why we give through the Cooperative Program," Taeger said. "It's humbling, how God has blessed us. But we weren't able to do what we're doing today until we got our priorities straight."
In addition to the Cooperative Program — which was raised a year after Taeger's arrival to 11 percent and to 12 percent the year after that — Morningside gives 3 percent to the Yuma Southern Baptist Association. It also helps fund Crossroads homeless shelter for people dealing with drug and alcohol issues; New Life Pregnancy Center, which provides abortion alternatives; and Arizona Baptist Children's Services in Yuma County. Morningside also has connected directly with three missionaries sent out by the International Mission Board.
At least ten Spanish-speaking families are in the church; some meet in an Hispanic Sunday School class, the pastor said. Situated twenty-five miles from the Arizona/Mexico border, the church sponsored a mission congregation on the border. As that group grew stronger and more stable about four years ago, Morningside was able to divert funds to other mission projects.
Morningside adopted a church in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and has twice traveled there for mission trips. The church also has bought tickets for the New Orleans pastor and his family to visit the Yuma church.
"The challenge is just for us to find out where God is working and join Him," Taeger said. Morningside responded to Katrina by sending $4,300 for disaster relief and hunger needs and organizing other churches to help meet the needs. They are one of six churches assigned to First United Baptist, which, along with the parsonage, sat in ten feet of salt water for nearly three weeks after levees breached in the wake of Katrina's onslaught of New Orleans.
Members filled out pledge cards totaling $1,000 each month for the New Orleans church in addition to their regular giving. When it was learned that First United owed a $9,000 debt they couldn't pay because their seventy active members had scattered, Morningside connected with three of the New Orleans church's other adoptive partners and paid off the debt within three months.
The first of Morningside's mission trips to New Orleans involved reconstruction; the second was evangelistic.
"It was overwhelming," Taeger said. "My estimation is that only 25 percent of the houses were being worked on; the other 75 percent were just like they were when the water receded a year ago."
His team walked through First United's neighborhood, talking with people and passing out flyers to a block party.
"Ninety-five percent of the people were open to telling their story," Taeger said. "Then they listened to us share the Gospel with the Eternal Life tract from the North American Mission Board."
Ten people made professions of faith. The following Sunday one person joined First United and two people were baptized. The church also has a list of forty-three contacts for follow-up.
"The few members of the church were so gracious and kind," Taeger said of First United. "For people who had lost everything, to have such great spirit — I was humbled."
"Now we have a few people in our church who would like to be trained in disaster relief," the pastor added.
Having recently tallied Morningside's numbers for the Annual Church Profile, Taeger reported, "Last October (2005) we struggled to meet our budget, but for the church year we gave $105,724.60 to mission causes. That's far beyond what we've done in twenty years. For us, that's a phenomenal miracle that comes from us joining God in what He's doing.... We want God to get all the glory."
Help your church members see the difference they are making through the Cooperative Program. Free resources are available through most state convention offices or for a nominal charge through the national office. To contact the national CP office call 1-800-722-9407 or log on to www.sbc.net/cp
Exemplary Cooperative Program Support
Carlisle Driggers Receives the M.E. Dodd Award
Carlisle Driggers, executive director-treasurer of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, was recognized as the 2006 recipient of the M.E. Dodd Cooperative Program Award during the state convention's November 14-15 annual meeting at First Baptist Church in Taylors.
The award, from the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, recognizes individuals who have demonstrated continuous excellence in supporting missions at home and abroad through the Cooperative Program.
"That's what the Cooperative Program is: Never forget that the Cooperative Program is missions. It's not money; it's missions," Morris H. Chapman, president and CEO of the Executive Committee, said in making the presentation. Chapman commended Driggers and South Carolina Baptists for sending "a thirteenth check" from the budget overage stemming from the churches' gifts through the Cooperative Program.
Quoting Psalm 1:1-3, Chapman expressed Southern Baptists' appreciation for Driggers' positive convictions about the Cooperative Program over the course of his tenure. Driggers retires in February.
"I've come to thank God for his heart. He has a heart for God, for Southern Baptists, and the Cooperative Program," Chapman said of Driggers.
Recounting the birth of the Cooperative Program more than eighty years ago, Chapman emphasized that Southern Baptists "traditionally, by heritage, by conviction have been cooperating conservatives" since 1925. "It is a part of the strength of the fabric of who Southern Baptists are," he said.
"I believe the Cooperative Program is a gift from God," Chapman said in noting how SBC missionaries are "able to go overseas and know that Southern Baptists are not only praying for them, but also caring for them financially." He also expressed gratefulness to Southern Baptists for providing for theological training of their ministers through the Cooperative Program.
The Cooperative Program led Southern Baptists to expand their vision beyond an inward focus upon mission endeavors, Chapman said, adding that more than ever Southern Baptists became a "giving people," cooperatively working together, rather than a "getting people" working independently.
"I pray we never lose this deeply convictional love for missions," Chapman said, noting the historic Cooperative Program giving by SBC churches in thirteen of the last fourteen years.
Chapman also praised Southern Baptists for exceeding the $200 million mark in CP giving for the first time during this past fiscal year, which ended September 30.
The M.E. Dodd Cooperative Program Award, a bronze sculpture of a sower scattering seed around the world, is named after the chairman of the Southern Baptist commission that in 1925 recommended creation of the Cooperative Program.
Adapted for Baptist Press from reporting by Todd Deaton of the Baptist Courier.