STARKE (FBW)—At Hope Baptist Church in Starke, a dozen ladies were inspired a year ago to knit and crochet items for orphanages in Romania and Moldova. That project was a catalyst in the organization of Women on Mission at the church. Now, mission groups for all ages are stimulating “inside spiritual growth” for the church, according to Pastor Larry Strickland.
“I tell our folks that you have to grow spiritually before you can grow numerically, and all the mission groups are helping do that. It is making us a praying church, and a praying church is a growing church,” he said.
Sue Russell, the church mission director, “has fired it up around here,” Strickland said. Her passion for missions “inside and outside of the church” is contagious, and her skills at delegating have created a team of leaders for the fledgling organizations, he said.
“We see people volunteering to lead mission groups who have never volunteered before,” he said.
Russell was inspired to become involved in missions when she heard Norma Bowlin, wife of Evangelist Gary Bowlin, speak about their ministries at orphanages in Romania and Moldova.
“A light went off when she was speaking, and I started asking myself, ‘How many ladies at our church can knit and crochet? Would they want to help these orphans?’” she said.
She gathered a group of 12 to make dozens of toboggan hats with matching scarves for children in two Romanian orphanages and one in Moldova where Bowlin has ministries. Ladies at Hope Baptist knitted the cold-weather gear in two colors for girls, some with scalloped edges and crocheted flowers. Boys and men’s scarves were one color and “not so frilly,” she said.
“I tell the ladies that the hats and scarves are a sign of love for the children. We’re not just keeping their heads warm, we are warming their hearts, too,” she said.
The ladies are now an official WOM organization and they continue to make hats, scarves and crocheted bookmarks while also studying missions. Through her contact with the Women’s Mission and Ministries Department of the Florida Baptist Convention, Russell discovered mission opportunities for youth and children, too.
“I wasn’t raised Baptist, so I had never heard of a World Changer or a GA or an RA. I’ve been a Baptist—100 percent Baptist—20 years. Why haven’t we done any of this?” she asked.
When she was tapped to be mission director of the church, Russell began gathering a team of leaders, and now seven ladies and three men lead mission groups. Fifteen youth from Hope Baptist are preparing to make a World Changers’ mission trip to Walterboro, South Carolina. It will be their second mission venture, having travelled with World Changers to Clarksville, Tennessee, last summer for “an awesome mission trip,” according to Russell.
In January the church launched GA and RA groups. Jimmy Saffold from Jacksonville, an RA leader at Fruit Cove Baptist Church, spent a day training the volunteer leaders. He was “patient” in teaching brand new leaders, Russell said.
With all the new organizations up and running, Russell keeps track of mission activities on a bulletin board at church. Using a cloth world map provided by the Convention as a backdrop, she posts “pictures of us in action” and the places and subjects of their studies and projects.
“I want our people to read all about our Baptist missionaries, and to know that they are missionaries, too,” she said.
The WOM ladies personally contact and keep up with Southern Baptist missionaries through the International Mission Board, making their mission studies “really personal,” Russell said. The group is now making 3-5 inch bags containing small toys for orphaned children in Moldova.
Russell said her job as mission director was “more involved than I ever thought it would be,” although she was “not frightened by it, just excited.”
“This is where my heart is,” she said. “I’m so proud of how our church is growing spiritually. It makes people care more. God did this, and I’m so proud of God.”
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