DALLAS (BP)--Joe Baker had been in their shoes. He and his wife Lois had served churches in Oklahoma and Illinois before they moved to Ohio. He knew many preachers who had led struggling congregations and had little or no retirement. It was the testimonies of these faithful pastors and their widows -- sharing what an extra check from Mission:Dignity meant in their lives -- that touched Baker's heart.
The Bakers were leading the Greater Dayton Association of Baptists where Joe was the director of missions and Lois was the associational secretary. Joe made a proposal to the association's budget committee to include Mission:Dignity in its 1985 budget. At the association's annual meeting, not a single negative question was raised and several people actually spoke for the proposal.
The proposal was unanimously approved and the first monthly Mission:Dignity check was mailed to GuideStone Financial Resources at the beginning of the year.
The checks have continued ever since, making the Greater Dayton Association the longest continuous contributor to Mission:Dignity among all of Baptist associations in the country. During the last 26 years, the association has shared more than $18,000 to help aged ministers or their widows in need.
Don McMurry, the association's current director of missions, came to the association after Baker retired in 1994, "and we've felt that this was an important ministry for us to continue. I myself have recommended several potential participants for the program.
"One in particular was from where I used to serve in Missouri in the 1980s," McMurry continued. "This pastor had retired after serving small churches, living in parsonages and having very small salaries and very minimal participation in GuideStone's retirement plan. He received probably less than $100 in an annuity benefit when he retired. Their children bought them a small house, and when they started receiving help from the program, they were greatly moved that Southern Baptists would help them in their time of need."
Otgher churches in the Greater Dayton Baptist Association also embraced Mission:Dignity.
"We have some outstanding churches and pastors that give leadership to their congregations," McMurry noted. "Some of these pastors have come to Ohio from southern states and done marvelous work for the Kingdom of God. A number of them have led their people to do the Mission:Dignity ministry and to focus beyond their own churches. It's a tribute to these pastors who see that, if it weren't for the grace of God putting them in churches that are strong and that participate in the annuity plan, it could easily be themselves who need assistance down the road."
McMurry encourages other Baptist associations to be involved in Mission:Dignity.
"Associations exist for fellowship and to expand the Kingdom of God through the establishment of new work. Like others, we have a large part of our budget that is assigned to planting churches and supporting church planters. But an association needs to have a mindset that they don't just exist to receive, but also to give. With the great needs that some of our retired pastors and their wives have, it should be a motivation that every association should see that as part of their ministry of giving out," McMurry said.
In the midst of challenging economic times, many churches and associations have scaled back their budgets. But Greater Dayton has kept its commitment to Mission:Dignity as a priority.
"Even though we have faced some serious financial shortfalls the last three years, there has never been any question that we would continue this ministry even though we have cut practically every other thing. This has remained untouched and we have even discussed increasing our participation at some point.
"Scripture says, 'Give, and it shall be given unto you; full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom.' I think one of the reasons that we have the strength that we do, financially, as an association is that we give out for mission purposes, for expansion of the Kingdom and, in the case of Mission:Dignity, we give out to help those in need. It's an attitude that has existed in our association for a long time and I've certainly sought to continue that and add to it, and I hope my successor will continue."
McMurry is grateful for a recognition from GuideStone of the association's long history of monthly gifts. He called Joe Baker to share the good news with him.
"Joe remembered how, from time to time after beginning its monthly gifts, the association would receive additional testimonies from the people being helped, and it was very gratifying to him and Lois that the association had done that and were meeting some very important needs in the lives of people who were among the neediest of those who served our churches across the country," McMurry recounted.
"When I asked Joe why they got involved in the first place, he simply said, 'We saw a need and tried to meet it.'"
John Ambra, as director of development for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, leads its Mission:Dignity ministry. To order free bulletin inserts and a DVD for use in worship services, Sunday School departments or mission-oriented organizations in conjunction with Mission:Dignity Sunday, visit www.MissionDignitySBC.org/ORDER or call 1-888-98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433).
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