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Together in service Print E-mail
By Vicki Brown, Word&Way Associate Editor   
Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mission efforts can bring believers together to make a difference in the world and for God’s kingdom. Three national ministries focus on serving, meeting needs and sharing Jesus’ story.

Together for Hope

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship works alongside local organizations and individuals in the 20 poorest counties in the United States. Now in its 13th year, Together for Hope is an assets-based approach to making systemic economic change.

Children enjoy "Stories on Wheels,\" a mobile library Together for Hope in Arkansas provides. (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship photo)

“We go in and ask people why they are still there and what good things are in the community,” Stephanie Vance, the national manager, explained.

As people share their stories, relationships develop and community stakeholders together determine development projects.

“One thing we realized — we’re not bringing Christ there…. We are plugging into the things that are working and helping start others,” she said.

Leaders draw upon the relationships that already exist within the area, including the faith community, and invite volunteers to come help.

The CBF commitment helps create long-term relationships. “We spend a lot of time hearing stories,” Vance said.

Together for Hope Arkansas concentrates on youth development and literacy in Phillips County. The group provides Stories on Wheels, a mobile library and community center that serves more than 500 children every year, according to Mollie Palmer, the program coordinator.

TFH Arkansas partners with groups in two small communities to provide a summer literacy program for each, and with the early childhood education program at Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas to provide pre-kindergarten literacy.

Youth development efforts focus on mentoring and services opportunities, including helping two youth go on a mission trip to Jamaica. One young man will spend July with CBF in Romania.

Many out-of-state churches send volunteers and support the work in other ways.

Most of those congregations are affiliated with CBF. Most of the denominational diversity TFH Arkansas sees occurs on the local level, including partnerships with Missionary Baptist, Episcopal, United Methodist, A.M.E. and non-denominational churches.

“Serving together is a great way to build relationships because you get to see…each person’s giftedness, and you have to rely on others to step up in areas that aren’t comfortable for you,” Palmer said.

Several congregations come together each summer for a two-week mission experience called the All Church Challenge. In July, more than 15 churches will lead swim camps and literacy camps and work on construction projects in Helena.

“We’ve been blown away to see the bond that occurs when churches from across the country serve the Lord and our community together,” Palmer said.

“One of our longtime volunteers recently compared it to Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches. He is the vine that connected branches in Texas, in Oklahoma, in North Carolina and Virginia and in Arkansas. It’s a beautiful thing to see!”

Halifax County, N.C., also is seeing denominations work together to benefit its citizens. Together for Hope there provides temporary housing for homeless women, through Room at the Inn in which area churches offer space in their facilities, Transformational Development Coordinator LaCount Anderson said.

TFH also works with Union Mission to provide meals and distribute food through six cooperatives. Volunteers work with local farmers to glean produce and set up gardens. They also work with homeless men.

The North Carolina organization is able to work alongside all Christian groups in the area, including CBF and Southern Baptist churches, Anderson said. Catholic, Episcopal, United Methodist, Presbyterian, several African-American Baptist and independent congregations actively participate.

Anderson credits “keeping the main thing the main thing” as key to uniting in service. “The main thing is to serve others in Christ’s name,” he said.

Refugee support

American Baptist Churches USA calls itself “one of the most diverse Christian denominations in the U.S.” One reason for that diversity is the commitment the group has made to ministry to refugees. The ABC has been instrumental in helping immigrants as they came into the United States since the 1800s.

Children play ringtoss at Bethel Neighborhood Center in Kansas City, Kan. The center offers several services and ministry to immigrants and refugees in the greater metro area. (Central Baptist Theological Seminary photo)

The ABC was one of 17 denominations that, in 1946, founded Church World Service, now a network of 36 denominations and communions and 34 refugee resettlement affiliates.

American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ Office of Immigration and Refugee Services works with local congregations to provide assistance to newcomers, primarily for how-to resources. To assist with refugee resettlement, congregations must go through an agency that has contracted with the U.S. State Department. CWS provides that opportunity for ABC-affiliated churches.

Depending upon the circumstances, Immigration and Refugee Services sometimes provides financial assistance directly to refugees or through a church on their behalf, according to National Coordinator Aundreia Alexander.

The office sometimes will provide direct assistance to congregations. “For example, we might give a church a grant for English as a Second Language classes or assistance to purchase a van for transporting refugees to appointments or to get groceries as a ministry in the community,” she explained.

In addition, the national office assists refugees and immigrants through neighborhood action centers, such as Bethel Neighborhood Center in downtown Kansas City, Kan., which serve individuals of all races and faith traditions. And volunteers from across denominational and faith lines work alongside staffers.

The centers provide hands-on ministry, such as ESL, transportation, documentation and other paperwork, food, activities and worship. Centers can apply for grants from the national office.

The ABC partners with other faith organizations to advocate for immigration reform at state and national levels.

WMU efforts

These clowns pause for a quick photo at FamilyFEST in Western Kentucky in 2013. Woman\'s Missionary Union, an auxiliary of the Southern Baptist Convention, sponsors mission opportunities across the country. (WMU photo)

Woman’s Missionary Union, an auxiliary of the Southern Baptist Convention, meets needs across denominations and faith traditions through its MissionsFEST, FamilyFEST, and Christian Women’s and Christian Men’s Job Corps.

CWJC and CMJC are faith-based, welfare-to-work ministries that involved about 15,000 people nationwide last year, according to WMU Adult Consultant Jean Roberson.

Each job corps program helps individuals rise out of poverty by assisting with job training, childcare, transportation and other needs. Volunteers mentor participants and study the Bible with them.

Through MissionsFEST and FamilyFEST, WMU provides opportunities for individuals, families and church groups to partner with others to minister in specific locations each year. Members of different Baptist affiliations participate in the ministry.

Churches and volunteers from several denominations sponsor and assist at CWJC/CMJC sites.

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