The sound of the brightly-colored church bus chugging to a halt at an aging trailer park draws a dozen or more youngsters every Wednesday from their homes not far from West Heights Baptist Church, where David Hamilton is pastor.
After retrofitting the now-seatless interior, one of five rotating groups of members takes the bus each week to the trailer park to provide a Backyard Bible Club experience for young children who otherwise might not have any contact with God or His people.
“I just like to see folks saved,” Hamilton said. “I still believe the Lord saves, and we’ve got to tell people that.”
West Heights members spread throughout Pontotoc, Mississippi, North America, and world-wide to tell people of God’s love, first by giving 13 percent of their offering to missions through the Cooperative Program—the way Southern Baptist churches work together through state conventions for theological education, cultural impact, and global missions.
“The whole idea of the Cooperative Program is that we can do more together,” Hamilton said. “If we’re going to be Great Commission Baptists and do what Jesus said—go into all the world—then I think we’ve got to pull out all the stops so we can accomplish more for the Kingdom.
“I just think God isn’t through with Southern Baptists or the Cooperative Program,” the pastor continued. “By pooling our resources and our talents with all the other Southern Baptist churches, we can do so much more than what we could do on our own.”
Hamilton leads West Heights to work with and through other Southern Baptist entities as well as the local Baptist association. He’s evangelism director of the Pontotoc Baptist Association, with fifty churches; president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, with more than 2,100 churches; and is in his third year as a member of the SBC Executive Committee.
“I’ve been able to see what the Cooperative Program is doing across Mississippi and around the world,” Hamilton said. Among examples: Disaster Relief after “a devastating tornado” in 2001, support from the state convention for an evangelistic witness at county fairs, and students at the state’s three Baptist colleges “being equipped and encouraged to impact the world for Christ,” all as a result of Mississippians giving through the Cooperative Program.
“Our state executive, Dr. Jim Futral, says, ‘The Cooperative Program is the cog that brings all the missional drive and the energy of millions of Southern Baptists together to reach a world for Christ,’” Hamilton said. “He says, ‘It makes a difference right at your doorstep, and at every step all the way to the ends of the earth.’”
As a member of the SBC Executive Committee, Hamilton said, he’s heard for himself reports of what God is doing through Southern Baptists across North America, through the North American Mission Board’s partnership with local churches, and globally, through the International Mission Board. “One thing I know is that the Cooperative Program works!”
What West Heights does on its own—starting with its mobile backyard Bible club—and in partnership with other churches in the community, and with other churches in Pontotoc Baptist Association, is a twice-weekly food pantry, monthly food distribution, nursing home ministry at three locations, Disaster Relief, annual block party, and Upward Basketball.
“This year we had the block party the Saturday before Vacation Bible School started, and registered a lot of kids for it that we probably would not have without it,” Hamilton said. In all, 325 children enrolled for West Heights’ VBS. “We partner with First Baptist [Pontotoc] for Upward Basketball. We finished our ninth season in February and had over 600 kids involved—kids from probably 90 churches and kids who don’t go to church.”
Missions interest further afield over the years includes Honduras, Ukraine, and Peru. A new partnership with a West Virginia church is in the works.
“When you get people involved in doing missions, not only does it help the people there, it helps the [sending] church grow,” Hamilton said. “It gives the people a vision. They say, ‘I can do that at home!’ So missions strengthens our own local work as well as mission work.”
West Heights, with Anglo, Black, Hispanic, and Asian members, is a multicultural congregation of about six hundred people. The church meets in the family life center while renovations are made to the worship center. The church also sponsors a Spanish-language ministry that meets in a building on West Heights’ property.
“Our folks say God doesn’t see color, so we shouldn’t see color,” Hamilton said. “I really do believe our best days are ahead of us. There seems to be a unity among our folks. They seem to be excited at church, and after church people hang around. That’s a good sign.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message and Dakota Baptist Connections, and is a member of Kingsville Baptist Church in Pineville, Louisiana.