Utah missionaries' 600-mile weeks fueled, nurtured by CP Missions

by Karen L. Willoughby, posted Monday, June 04, 2001 (16 years ago)

BLANDING, Utah (BP)--For associational catalytic missionaries Don and Minne Giddens, it's all about the bottom line.

"People get saved because of the Cooperative Program, and they want [to find] a church because of it," Don Giddens noted.

"And people work together to make that happen," he continued, "because with the Cooperative Program we're all together in this."

The Cooperative Program (CP Missions) helps the Giddenses keep a grueling, six-day, 600-mile schedule each week as they minister to the Navajo, Ute, Hispanic and Anglo people groups who live in the scenic open spaces of southern Utah.

"I think they've done fantastic in the number of people they've reached by taking the Bible studies to these areas," said Gideon Baptist Association director of missions John McClung. "It is hard work, but you do get to see some rewards and you get to encounter some blessings. [The Giddenses] appreciate the Cooperative Program because they know the benefit of it."

Giddens is pastor at First Baptist Church in Blanding, Utah, and he leads Bible studies at five other locations, stretching from Lake Powell to the Four Corners area, where the borders of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah join. He also preaches once a week on a regional Mormon radio station. Both Native American religion and Mormonism are very strong in southern Utah, Giddens said.

While the Bible studies are strongly evangelistic, Giddens and his wife also teach the doctrine of giving. First Baptist, Blanding, (counting the offerings from the Bible studies) gives 12 percent of its receipts to CP Missions, 2 percent to the Utah/Idaho Southern Baptist Convention and 2 percent to Gideon Baptist Association.

"The reason we give is the Lord said, 'Give and it shall be given unto you,'" Giddens said. "You can't outgive God. He has always supplied our needs abundantly."

CP Missions and gifts from other supporters of God's work through the Giddenses in southern Utah will provide a block party for the thousand or so people expected to be in the Toda, Utah, area of the Navajo Nation on July 4. Mission teams from Fort Worth, Texas, Athens, Ga., and Carrollton, Ala., will lead other events during the summer. An anonymous donor from Tennessee said he would bring out a work crew to erect a steel church building in Toda when Navajo leaders give their approval for the construction.

"God just brought all this together," Giddens said during an interview on his day off. "This is what the Cooperative Program is all about. It enables missionaries to preach the gospel all over the world and right here in this desert area."

Three years ago the Giddenses were called by Gideon Baptist Association to restart work in Blanding. The last remaining member of the church started by oilfield workers from Oklahoma and Texas in 1957 had moved away. The Giddenses combed the community time after time and now about 35 people participate in Sunday morning worship.

"This town is 80 percent Mormon," Giddens said. "But you don't have 20 percent prospects. There's 15 percent that have been stifled by Mormons and won't have anything to do with religion. So you're really working with a small percentage of receptive people.

"Without Cooperative Program support, churches in a lot of these towns like Blanding would close down," Giddens continued. "In most of these little towns the only evangelical witness is a Baptist church. Where would the people go if the church closed down? That's why the Cooperative Program is so important. It's just as important in Utah as it is on the foreign mission field."

On Sunday mornings at First Baptist, Minnie Giddens -- armed with a boom box and crate of supplies -- leads in "Super Sunday School," which mainly involves Native American youngsters. Don Giddens leads Sunday morning worship for Anglo and Native Americans. The evening service is a Native American children's church "because that's what we always ended up having, so we decided to make a service for them," Giddens said.

Mondays are office days. Tuesdays alternate between Lake Powell or Halchita and Bluff. Wednesdays, Little Water and Toda, or Blanding. Thursday is the day Giddens preaches on the regional Mormon radio station. Friday is their day off. Saturday is church visitation for First Baptist, Blanding.

In addition to SBC CP Missions support, several churches and individuals contribute directly to the work in southern Utah. Calvary Baptist Church, Idaho Falls, Idaho, gave a 62-passenger bus to the ministry.

"We started having Sunday school on that bus, or something like it," Giddens said. "Something between a riot and Sunday school. It's always just Minnie and me and sometimes we get overloaded."

The Giddenses drive 135 miles southwest, one way, every other Tuesday to help with a Bible study at Lake Powell led now by a woman they led to the Lord three years ago. About 15 youngsters of workers at the Lake Powell national recreation area participate in the study, which has been going on for about two years at a local public school.

On alternate Tuesdays, the Giddenses drive 75 miles south, one way, to Halchita, a Navajo reservation town near the Arizona border. This work was started more than two years ago, when a Navajo member of the Blanding church took the Giddenses with him to the far side of Monument Valley in Arizona to witness to his relatives. Two relatives and a neighbor who'd dropped by were led to the Lord. The Giddenses happened to run into that neighbor a couple of months later in Halchita. They had been looking for a year in Halchita for an open door to start work. Johnny Gray let them use his back yard.

That Bible study for about 15 youngsters now takes place on a baseball diamond. They sing three or four songs, memorize Scripture, have prayer, eat snacks and play a game.

On their way from the Bible study in Halchita, the Giddenses stop in Bluff, Utah to lead a Bible study for adults. Fran Nelson, a retired motel manager, contacted the SBC North American Mission Board via its website -- www.namb.net -- when she found no evangelical church after moving to Bluff. NAMB contacted the Giddenses.

"She's just one Southern Baptist lady in [a Mormon] town," Giddens said. "Didn't have any Christian fellowship, but she told NAMB that if someone would come to lead a Bible study, she'd make sure two or three others would be there too."

The work every other Wednesday in Toda -- 55 miles south -- started because First Baptist member Rita Stash said her mother wanted a church in that rural part of the Navajo Nation and invited the Giddenses to her mom's home.

"Her eyes got all watery when she realized what we were there for," Giddens said of the mother. "She talked solid to us all the time in Navajo, as if we could understand her saying she'd been praying for a church, and then she took us outside and told us we could meet in her shade house, which some people might call a rustic brush arbor.

"We filled that up real quick," Giddens recounted. "She took us out to her property -- what they call 'grazing rights' -- and showed us where she wanted a church. Out there there's no church, not even LDS," Latter-day Saints (or Mormon). Tribal rulers at press time had had not yet given permission for Grandmother Stash to give five of her many acres to Southern Baptists for a church, but a ruling is expected soon.

It takes an hour every other Wednesday for the Giddenses to drive the 55 miles to the Toda area, and 90 minutes to drive around Toda and the adjoining Little Water rural areas to pick up youngsters for the onboard Bible study, now that they've outgrown the shade house. Each session the Giddenses park in a different place in the desert and let the children run and play; then try to corral them back into the bus.

"We just have 15 minutes of Scripture memorization, a little Bible study and a few songs," Giddens said. "Then, while we're taking 'em home, we try to get 'em to sing the same songs ... . By the time we get them to where they're going, everybody knows the verses -- John 3:16, John 3:36, Romans 8:28 and Philippians 4:13, in that order.

"They're really good at rote memorization," Giddens continued. "They really hollar it back. They're good at songs too. They love to sing 'My God is an Awesome God,' 'Jesus Loves Me,' 'Jesus Loves the Little Children.' We play a tape and they all sing along with it."

About six months ago the Toda/Little Water youngsters, about 30 in all, were given a pocket New Testament.

"One little boy as he was getting off the bus, he wanted to know what page John 3:16 was on," Giddens said. "I told him and he kept his finger on that page as he was getting off the bus. That's one sign God is blessing what is being done here. The Lord is really opening things up."

On Thursdays Don Giddens preaches a sermon broadcast on the Mormon station which has a hundred-square-mile listening area in southern Utah.

"I don't preach to Christians," Giddens said. "I preach for lost people and pray on the program for people to be saved and come into the church. Been doing that about eight months now, and it's free time, 45 minutes. I play gospel music and teach through the New Testament for 18 minutes. Right now I'm in Ephesians."

For fun on their Friday day off, the Giddenses often go to Wal-Mart in nearby (by Utah standards) Cortez, Colo. -- two hours away. "We're a heartbreak away from Texas," said Giddens, whose six children and nine grandchildren live in Texas. "It kills you when your grandkids are way down yonder."

Saturday is reserved for Blanding contacts and ministry-related chores. "I'm not a mechanic but I have to fix everything," Giddens said. "I recommend that all seminaries have mechanics as a required class."

When they arrived in Blanding in 1998, the Giddenses had no contacts, no people known as Southern Baptists. By 2000, the average weekly attendance at all services and Bible studies was 93.

"We love the people here," Giddens said. "We're reaching who we can reach. This is a mission field. None of these little towns have ever had a Baptist church in them, and the people? I'd call 'em responsive. They're receptive. Just that they let their children go means a lot."

Like her husband, Minnie Giddens sees the difference Christ makes in a child's life.

"When we first start working with them they're pretty unruly," she said. "They don't accept you at first. But then as you're around them and you realize they're beginning to trust you a bit and as they learn a little more about the Bible, especially when they accept the Lord, that's the greatest blessing. Some in Blanding we've had for a year and you can tell a lot of difference in their attitude and how they behave and the questions they ask."

CP Missions makes that difference possible, Don Giddens said. "We wouldn't be here if it were not for churches giving to missions. People are being led to the Lord because of the Cooperative Program and the giving spirit God gives to his people."


(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: HIGH MILEAGE MINISTRY, CHURCH SITE and MISSIONS IN UTAH.

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