Combat veteran Chad Hesler uses his military training as he pastors Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church, where about one hundred people participate in Sunday morning worship.
As a result, up to four hundred people a day use the church’s facilities; the pastor has been asked to pray for the state legislature and individually with several legislators; a church member has shared his testimony—giving full credit to Jesus Christ—at two area high schools without adverse reaction; and the church gives 25 percent of undesignated income to missions, 15 percent through the Cooperative Program.
“It’s been amazing to watch how God is working and moving and allowing us to expand, even with our missions giving,” Hesler told SBC LIFE. “We’re a church that believes in being purpose-driven and mission-minded.
“We take that very seriously, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them the commandments God has given us,” the pastor continued. “We’ve looked at things and asked, ‘What do we want to be known as?’ and I think the congregation wants to be known as a giving church, a planting church, a disciple-making congregation not only locally but nationally and globally.”
The Cooperative Program opens the congregation to seeing the “big picture of God working” in Helena, in Montana, across the nation, and throughout the world, Hesler said. The rest of its missions giving is more up-close and personal: individual support of missionaries in Helena, Latvia, and India; and locally of a Christian school, students on short-term missions, and benevolence.
“Through the Cooperative Program we’re able to make a world-wide impact,” the pastor continued. “We want to reach our valley and beyond with the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.”
Hesler learned military strategy and tactics during eleven years in the Air Force as a vehicle mechanic, deploying four times, three to eight months at a time, to the Middle East war zone. He utilizes that experience at Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church.
“Tactics is people; strategy is what people do,” Hesler explained.
Even before giving to missions, the church’s strategy starts with prayer, the pastor said.
“As a congregation we’ve gotten together; we sat and prayed,” Hesler said. “We have a lot of veterans here, and [discussion about] politics, government, just comes with the territory. So we started praying that way.”
That led to prayer for the church’s—and the community’s—youth, who are “on the front lines” of Satanic attack, Hesler said, and after they prayed, the congregation asked, “What can we do?” They added a youth pastor to the staff.
The youth now minister at a local skate park, where they build relationships, pray, and share the Gospel. They also help with children’s activities at the church, such as a recent pinewood derby, and at a mega sports camp sponsored by another Helena church.
“We find places where we might not be able to lead but we are willing to follow,” Hesler said. Helena Christian School, which has about two hundred students pre-K–12, uses the church’s facilities, as do other civic and charitable organizations.
Walter Deege is a recent member whose family history includes a father who died in a concentration camp in Europe during World War II. Deege gave his testimony at church; a teacher heard about it and asked him to bring his testimony to an area high school, where the Holocaust was being studied.
At least four hundred students were gathered in an assembly when Deege spoke.
“He got to a point where he held up his Bible and read Isaiah 12, his father’s favorite passage,” Hesler said. “There was no mocking, no ridiculing. The students were quiet; they were listening. He spoke of how God got him through that particular time in his life, and how Isaiah 12 impacted his family, and the students took his message.”
Deege later was asked to speak at Helena High School, with a near-identical message and results.
Hesler spoke of the church’s benevolence fund, which receives 2.5 percent of the 10 percent of undesignated offerings allocated for missions, which last year was about $10,000. This 10 percent is in addition to the 15 percent allocated for the Cooperative Program.
“We didn’t start off with a whole lot of money,” Hesler said. But someone needed money for surgery. That money spent, more came in. “We found out there are some things we are able to do and encouraged to do.”
Someone needed a motel room for a night. A business owner called, having heard about the motel stay, and asked if someone might need a job.
“All of a sudden we’re getting an influx of people who are looking for jobs,” Hesler said. “It just started blossoming. Pretty soon we had the Social Security office calling: ‘Do you fix cars? Do you pay a medical bill?’
“What’s been amazingly interesting is that it’s not been the person we help, but the person receiving the payment for their debt who are surprised and grateful,” the pastor continued. “They’re trying to figure out why somebody is going to pay the debt for somebody else. That gives us the opportunity to share the Gospel with them. We tell them, ‘We believe Jesus Christ paid our debt and we’d like to pay this.’ Wow. The faces. They can’t believe we’re doing this.”
Canyon Ferry Road Church recently built a soccer field for the community on 2.5 acres of the church’s ten-acre church property. Its next plan—though without funds at the moment to bring the plan to fruition—is to build a gym for the community that would be large enough to seat 1,500 spectators and provide for state tournaments.
East Helena does not have a community gymnasium and does not have the resources to build one, the pastor said.
“I want to show the congregation, the youth, the people of the community what God does,” the pastor continued. “I want people to see God.”
Karen L. Willoughby is national correspondent with SBC LIFE and Baptist Press and is a member of First Baptist Church in Pleasant Grove, Utah.