FERGUSON, Mo. (BP)—A metro St. Louis church reintroduced itself to a couple thousand of its neighbors prior to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.
“One of our primary goals was to tell the community, ‘We are here for you,’” said Joe Costephens, pastor of First Baptist Church of Ferguson, a primary partner in the launch of the North American Mission Board’s Send Relief initiative. “This is a community-building effort. We wanted to show that we care and want to serve our local neighborhood.
Launch of Send Relief
“To see this day, with the launch of Send Relief, with a demonstration of the Cooperative Program in action, with volunteers from churches from Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Texas and Missouri—it was incredible.”
More than 2,000 Ferguson, Mo., residents visited the Ferguson church’s campus for a block party and other events that marked the debut of Send Relief, a North American Mission Board initiative to help churches connect better with their communities. The church held the events as part of Crossover St. Louis 2016, an evangelistic emphasis scheduled each year prior to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.
Ferguson resident Melvin Simmons brought his two granddaughters and said he was impressed by the event.
“I saw the signs and wondered what it was all about,” Simmons said. “This was nice of the church to do for the community. It is a great event. And I was glad they invited me to a Bible study.”
Partnership with American Red Cross and fire department
Events at the Ferguson church also included the public launch of Send Relief’s mobile medical and dental clinics, as well as the Home Fire Campaign, an initiative with the American Red Cross and the Ferguson Fire Department to install smoke detectors in homes.
“In partnerships, you bring resources to the game to see the mission accomplished,” said Earl Brown, national partner relations manager for the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C. “That is what Southern Baptists bring—a network of volunteers from thousands of churches.
“Our goal … in this partnership with the church and local fire department is to see that this church is reconnected to the local community. When we are gone and Send Relief volunteers are gone, we want the church to be able to continue to connect to the neighborhood.”
Twenty four-person teams canvassed the neighborhoods surrounding the church, installing smoke detectors and sharing information about the church.
Four students from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary—Jeremiah Akintunde, a Nigerian; Yuri Matsuura, a native of Japan; Luis Oliva, a native of Mexico; and native Texan Sheree Williams—comprised one team.
“When you give back to the community, it is awesome,” said Jazeel, a Ferguson resident who received three smoke detectors from the team. “What you are doing is amazing.”
During the Send Relief launch, more than 250 volunteers made at least 200 gospel presentations, with at least 20 professions of faith in Christ.
‘Let them know we are here to serve’
Two church members, Chris Wilder, a native of Ferguson who has been a member for about a year, and 40-year member Bob Oesch, both were pleased with the response of the community to the event.
“This was an excellent idea,” said Wilder, who received a dental screening. “I love the block party. We are getting to know the community and let them know we are here to serve.”
Oesch hoped people would realize the church is there to love and serve them.
“I am incredibly thankful and humbled by what we experienced today—volunteers coming from churches from Florida to Texas, serving sacrificially,” said David Melber, NAMB vice president for Send Relief. “An incredible host church and partners helped make this a reality. The cooperative nature of the SBC and spirit of the volunteers to meet physical needs and help share the gospel brought true hope to the community.”
The one-day event represented “a big push for us to rewrite peoples’ mental picture of what this church is,” Costephens said.
“To see all of the different cultures and economic backgrounds here, it is an amazing picture of people coming together,” he said. “We want to bring hope to this community. We want to bring restoration.”
The church ran out of registration cards during the events, he added.
“That means there are more contacts to follow up on than we can handle,” he said.
The project has even deeper meaning because the pastor grew up at the church before leaving Ferguson. Costephens returned a few years ago to plant a new church, Passage. Passage and First Baptist have merged, forging a new future as a church replant, and Costephens saw the Send Relief debut as a major step in the church’s journey.