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From a jail cell to Haiti, church spreads faith

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
RAWLINS, Wyo. (BP)--Mikey knows prison life. Now in his mid-30s, he's been behind bars since he was 13 for one reason or another, now serving three life terms without parole for murder.

"Mikey has a reputation for being a tough guy and the other prisoners give him great respect," said Dave Stillie, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, a 50-year old congregation on the windswept high plains of southeastern Wyoming some 150 miles west of Cheyenne. Stillie and other members of First Southern minister at the Wyoming State Penitentiary where Mikey is incarcerated.

Stillie enjoys watching the Lord work in the lives of prison inmates. Wyoming's only maximum security state prison has 650 inmates. First Southern's ministry there involves a combination of worship services, Christian counseling and support after release.

"Mikey started a Bible study a year ago for skinheads, Aryan Nations types. He could reach those people I never could," Stillie said. "He regularly comes into my service and regularly says, 'Pastor Dave, I'd like you to meet my friend who just met Jesus this week.' Those kinds of things make the ministry worthwhile.

It would be wrong "to be pastor of a church in Rawlins and not have a prison ministry," Stillie said. "Rawlins has the only maximum security prison in Wyoming."

Just as Stillie knows First Southern must serve locally, he feels just as strongly about its global outreach through Southern Baptists' Cooperative Program channel of support for missions and ministry.

"We're out and about doing whatever ministry God leads us to locally," the pastor said. "The Cooperative Program allows us to be just as involved globally."



Stillie, a past president of the Wyoming Southern Baptist Convention, said he appreciates the fellowship that comes from being part of a cooperating group focused on the Great Commandment and Great Commission.

"By working together, we accomplish so much more for God's Kingdom work than any of us could do on our own," Stillie said. "Working together in disaster relief, financially supporting missions across the world through the Cooperative Program, being a part of all God is doing through Southern Baptists, it's like we're multiplying our efforts, and I think that pleases God."

First Southern gives 13 percent of its offerings through the Cooperative Program and 5.5 percent to associational missions, Stillie said. The congregation's total missions giving is 25 to 30 percent each year -- out of a $180,000 annual operating budget.

About 80 people participate in Sunday morning worship at First Southern. During its 57-year history, it planted a church in Bairoil, the nearest town, which is 40 miles away; was instrumental in starting an oil field ministry in Wamsutter, 40 miles in the other direction; and is in the process of establishing a new Hispanic work in Rawlins.

Mark Porter, church planting catalyst (formerly director of missions) the last 11 years for Energy Basin Baptist Association, gives Stillie credit for encouraging First Southern's involvement in associational missions and ministries.


Porter said Stillie "does whatever he can to support the association. ... He does anything and everything for us."

Personal involvement in missions fuels First Southern's missions giving, Porter said, and the missions giving fuels the missions going.

"We've gone to Mexico on associational mission trips and Canada," Porter said, "and of course Rawlins is the church most of the missions volunteers came from."

First Southern also has been a strong supporter of the association's oilfield ministry in Wamsutter, Porter said.

"This church has given faithfully to the association and is one of the strongest churches in giving to the Cooperative Program."

First Southern's international ministry isn't limited to giving through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Members also participate in short-term missions trips, such as a 10-day foray to Haiti in February -- Stillie's second mission trip to Haiti in less than a year.

With so few Southern Baptist churches in Wyoming, Stillie feels the international involvements help his congregation feel connected to other SBC churches

"Many of our church members are new to Southern Baptist life," Stillie said. "They don't have a clue who Southern Baptists are when they join the church, so we participate in Cooperative Program activities and support the special missions offerings as a way of uniting with other Southern Baptists across the nation."


In addition to ministries at the Wyoming State Penitentiary and Carbon County Jail, First Southern ministers locally in several ways.

A chapel at the nearby TA Truck Stop serves travelers on Interstate 80. Ministries for senior adults, youth and children take place weekly. Several boxes of food are given each month to needy families. Free Christian counseling is offered, including court-ordered counseling, marriage and pre-marital counseling, to those in need. The church also helps with emergency financial needs of people in the community, such as medicine, transportation and utilities. Transients receive shelter, gas or bus tickets and food, as needed.

There's more: Several lay-led off-site Bible studies are ongoing throughout the year. Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts meet at the church, with some First Southern Rawlins in leadership roles. Bibles and Christian tracts are distributed at public events, such as fairs and bazaars, along with lemonade or hot chocolate, while relationships are built that, with the Holy Spirit's guidance, lead to evangelistic encounters.

Stillie, whose background is in counseling, also serves as a Rawlins police chaplain. He spends time each month with officers and staff, while church members provide plates of cookies and other goodies each month for all Rawlins-area law enforcement agencies and for the local fire department.

Stillie also leads trauma counseling training for local law enforcement and the staff of Memorial Hospital, as well as to individuals. He fills out his schedule as the Wyoming Southern Baptist Convention's disaster relief coordinator.


Stillie, who also has served as a pastor in Boulder, Colo., said Rawlins historically was an original "Wild West" outlaw town.

"Law enforcement wouldn't pursue criminals this far. Even our high school mascot is 'The Outlaws,'" Stillie said. "The town ... today is small enough that it doesn't even have a Walmart. But one of the benefits of a small town is a sense of community. As I minister outside the church walls, people know me and trust me, making it easier to share the love of Jesus."

Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message (, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana Baptist, newsjournals of their respective state conventions.

Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press


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