The church, which runs about 85 in worship each Sunday, gave $59.85 per person in 2010 through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering -- and a total of $5,087.06. Per-person giving to Annie across the Southern Baptist Convention is $14.78, according to the North American Mission Board.
"We give to Annie to support family and friends who are like family," pastor Thomas Chandler said. "It's purely by the grace of God that people have responded so well in an area that's been so hard-hit by the economy.
"We give to Annie Armstrong to impact people eternally," Chandler continued. Referencing 1 John 1:3-4, he added, "The greatest joy we know is seeing others find the same joy. It's a joy made complete in seeing others come to find the joy in Jesus we have found."
First Baptist's story shows the interconnectedness of Southern Baptists, and how Southern Baptist missions commitment strengthens individuals, churches, state conventions, North American and international missions and the SBC at large.
Chandler has a "treasure box" in his office given to him shortly after he became pastor five years ago by one of the church's longtime members. In that box is a rolled-up piece of paper -- a list of missionaries the church was praying for on their birthdays. The first name on that list: "Thomas Chandler (Jennifer), Anglo church planting, West Virginia."
"I was blown away when I read that," Chandler said. "Long before I came here, this church was praying for me. And when I went to seminary, I went to Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, where the associate pastor was Mike Holton, who I now know was a former member of this church. I was in his Sunday School class. He was teaching me. The ministry of this church was affecting me even then, preparing me to pastor them now."
Chandler said he has been "blessed by the Lord" to see "how a few pieces of the puzzle fit together of how Southern Baptists cooperate in missions, how we support missions and mobilize churches to pray, give and go.
"When I was a church planter in West Virginia, I also was a campus minister. I led one young woman to the Lord and later married her to a young man I was discipling," Chandler recounted. "I took them on their first-ever mission trip to Utah, going door-to-door witnessing in an area that was 90 percent LDS . It was a life-changing week for them that has had a ripple effect that continues to this day. Today, they're serving in an ultra-sensitive position through the International Mission Board."
While that couple and about 10,000 other missionaries are serving across North America and throughout the world, First Baptist Carson City continues to pray for them, gives to support them in God's Kingdom work and serves like them at the local level.
First Baptist's local outreach includes a pregnancy care center, food and other provisions for the needy, nursing home ministry, grief support and conflict resolution.
All the while, Nevada, which leads the nation in the number of foreclosures in addition to suffering amid the nation's gambling addiction. People who used to travel to Reno or Las Vegas can now find a "gaming" establishment within an hour or two of their homes. And, as a result of decreased tourism and gambling, Nevada had a 13.9 percent unemployment rate this spring, the highest in the nation, according to Bloomberg's Businessweek.com.
Despite the economy and the fact that several church members are government employees with an increasingly uncertain tenure, First Baptist Carson City has a longstanding commitment to giving, in part because they understand the need for and the blessing of giving to missions, Chandler said.
"I have been used by God to refine their conviction," Chandler said. "Some people were already giving. Some folks were looking for an opportunity to be directed and taught. Teaching on tithing was strengthened, missions and the needs were explained, and they heard about a better vehicle for their giving," he said, referring to the Annie offering.
"I led the church to see the benefits of instituting a united missions offering," the pastor continued. "We emphasize the four offerings in their seasons -- Annie for North American missions, state missions, world hunger and Lottie for international missions. We emphasize missions weekly."
Each worship service begins with a missions video.
'SEASONS THE NATION'
"We have tried to teach folks that you give through -- not to -- the Cooperative Program," Chandler said. "It's that channel of giving through which you support 10,000 missionaries around the world."
First Baptist's "Great Commission Giving" offering has been taken up weekly since 2006, Chandler said, explaining that giving weekly to missions is an idea he got from Paul Jones, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Billings, Mont.
"When we started the offering, we looked at our giving the previous five years and used those percentages as the percentages for Great Commission Giving," Chandler said. "We found there was 15 percent going to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, for example, so Annie now gets 15 percent of Great Commission Giving.
"The vision God has placed on my heart is that we become a church that increasingly reflects God's attributes," Chandler said. "God is the most generous giver in the universe. He did not give us just enough grace to get by. He is not stingy with His mercy."
Chandler's commitment to missions giving through the SBC's Cooperative Program is strong because he has seen it in action. It helped provide his education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. CP and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions provided him with a salary as a church planter in Michigan and West Virginia. He continues to have friends and family members who benefit from Southern Baptists' missions giving.
"The United States is not a Christian nation," Chandler stated. "I've seen a lot of surveys, and I would work out that the most generous number is that 20 percent of Americans are Christian. But even at that level, if 20 percent of your food was salt, you should be able to taste it.
"That's it! Annie Armstrong seasons the nation," the pastor said. "Annie Armstrong is a primary tool we have as Southern Baptists to mobilize the salt out of the shaker -- evangelizing and planting churches."
During his five years as First Baptist's pastor, Chandler said he has focused on unifying the congregation so it can be as strong as possible as it reaches out locally, nationally and internationally.
"In these economic times, there has never been a discussion about decreasing our missions giving," Chandler said. "We want our giving to reflect who He is. We should give in a manner that makes much of who He is and what He has done for us."
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana Baptist.
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