"I think they love the opportunity to serve missionaries around the world and even locally. To meet them firsthand, to know that their finances are helping take care of them on the field, that's a real blessing for our church."
To reinforce the heart for missions at the Lodi, Calif., church, Abdollahzadeh, an American-born Iranian, shares a vignette from the Missionary Moments prayer guide each Sunday. He also leads in the North American and international mission studies each year and promotes missions, the Cooperative Program and seasonal missions offerings regularly from the pulpit.
"When they hear names mentioned just before we take our offering, they make the connection that with this money we give, we're helping this missionary," said Abdollahzadeh, who has been the church's pastor for 10 years. "I like to get the names out there so they know where their giving goes."
The Cooperative Program is the Southern Baptist method of supporting missions and ministries in state conventions, nationally and around the world.
Closer to home, the churches of Lodi have a burden to reach the sizable contingent of Pakistanis who live in the area, but Abdollahzadeh said they have had little success.
"They have their own culture and way of life, so that's been a challenge," the pastor said.
By committing 10 percent of their undesignated gifts to missions through the Cooperative Program, Lodi Avenue Baptist Church supports Southern Baptist missionaries who serve in southern Asia. Abdollahzadeh said the congregation trusts that because of their faithfulness in spreading the Gospel through their CP gifts, in God's economy of time, people in southern Asia will be reached who will in turn reach out to their friends and relatives in Lodi.
"Missions and the Cooperative Program have always been at the forefront of what this church is about and desires to be, since I've been here and I'm sure before that," Abdollahzadeh said of the congregation with about 100 in worship on Sunday mornings. "If we as a church continue to be faithful and do the things we are doing, God will give us growth in His time and in His way."
In the same way that Lodi and a neighboring town, Stockton, Calif., serve as the nation's most inland deepwater port for international shipping and as a hub for railroads and interstate highway trucking, the church serves as a conduit for Southern Baptist global missions.
Started in 1950 by a couple from Arizona who moved to the area to plant a church where there was no Southern Baptist work, Lodi Avenue Baptist grew on the backs of transplants and came to thrive by reaching out to its community as well as across the globe.
Members volunteer at the Salvation Army food ministry, Lodi Pregnancy Center and Lodi House shelter for women and children. Several members are trained in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and minister several times a year in California and across the nation.
Twice a year Lodi Avenue Baptist Church members blitz their neighborhoods with information about the church, usually tied in with Christmas and Easter events. This year that included God's Plan for Sharing materials.
In addition to Sunday School and Sunday morning worship, Lodi Avenue Baptist's programming includes midweek Team Kid and prayer/Bible study. A women's group meets on Wednesday mornings, and the men's group is between leaders.
The church's youth/children's minister started WAKE last fall. It's a Sunday evening contemporary worship service for people between ages 18 and 40, designed as both outreach and in-reach. Another community outreach is the monthly gathering at the church of a group for family members of those with mental health issues.
"Our congregation believes wholeheartedly that we've been placed on the corner of Lodi Avenue to be a lighthouse to our community," Abdollahzadeh said. "The Lord is counting on us to spread His amazing love and grace to people we come in contact with. We have a purpose. It's to represent Christ in our neighborhoods and in our home and workplace. I try to challenge our people that it is important that we please our Lord through our obedience and commitment to carry out His worldwide agenda."
Lodi Avenue Baptist also works within the Delta Valley Baptist Association, where Jerry Yates, longtime director of missions, retired recently.
"They are the largest giver to the association," Yates said. "They're committed to missions through the Cooperative Program and local, worldwide missions.... I guess you'd say it's in their DNA."
Lodi Avenue Baptist participates each year when Delta Valley Baptist Association hosts a block party at a park in a Hispanic part of town. Food and clothing are distributed, a praise band and Gospel presentation provide spiritual sustenance, and games and "fun food" such as cotton candy and popcorn draw hundreds of youngsters and their families.
"This is a Kingdom effort," Abdollahzadeh said. "It's just one more way we can reach out to people who live in our community and share God's love with them."
Several members of the church participate regularly in short-term national and international mission trips, including the pastor.
"I've been to Brazil and Paraguay," Abdollahzadeh said. "My first-year experience as part of a team in Brazil was wonderful. The second year I went alone, to build relationships with pastors there and assist them.... The connections have gotten better and bigger.
"Like the Apostle Paul, I felt it was significant for me to continue the partnership with these believers," the pastor said. "God is able to use me in sharing His love with the people there and to be an encourager of the faith. I know how much it blesses my life when I go there. I trust it is a blessing to them as well."
The Lodi congregation as a whole is strengthened each time one of the members goes on a mission trip because when they return, they have much to share about what they experienced, the pastor said.
"It has a ripple effect," Abdollahzadeh said. "The testimonies of what the Lord is doing somewhere else touches the hearts of our people. They get excited and some even feel the conviction to go on a mission trip someday. The dynamics of our giving to the Cooperative Program and being a mission-minded church hits a whole new level when our people go on a mission trip, come back revived and share the good news with the entire congregation. It touches the heart of this Baptist preacher every time."
The purpose of Lodi Avenue Baptist is "to be an extension of Christ, sharing His amazing love with people, helping them see their own need for Christ and salvation," Abdollahzadeh said. "We're His hands, feet, ears, eyes.... We're being an example to the world of what Christ is."
Lodi Avenue Baptist is a family-style church, where members welcome newcomers and make them feel a part of what God is doing through the church, Abdollahzadeh said. It is that sense of family, connection and caring that spreads out to include people far from Lodi.
Discipleship of new believers is an important part of Lodi Avenue Baptist's ministry, the pastor added.
"We continue to help develop and train the new believer to grow spiritually, to be refreshed and rejuvenated so they can inspire those they have connections with -- family, friends, coworkers and others they come in contact with on a regular basis," Abdollahzadeh said.
"We have genuine love here for people and God's Word, and for extending God's Kingdom," he said. "We have our heart in the right place, with biblical consistency, for our church to continue to reach out and be an extension of Christ. That's what He's called us to do: to reflect His light and love in the world."
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message. Missionary Moments Prayer Guide contains brief vignettes that demonstrate the activity, and fruit, of Southern Baptists' efforts through the Cooperative Program. Guides are available through state convention offices, the national CP office and online, www.sbc.net/cp (click on Missionary Moments in the left column.) Missionary Moments Video Vignettes are also available for downloading at www.sbc.net/cp.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net