Quilts, military outreach, VBS fortify church's CP
The Cooperative Program, meanwhile, is a vital part of keeping missions and ministry in other parts of Idaho -- and beyond -- on their hearts.
"It's our main support system for Southern Baptist work in the world [and] in the United States," pastor David Howell said.
In 1982 a small group of people saw a need for a Southern Baptist church near the Mountain Home Air Force Base. While meeting in an Oddfellows hall, they gave $201 that first year to missions through the Cooperative Program, or about 3 percent of the total $6,692 undesignated gifts received. Within 20 years, CP giving had grown to 6 percent of undesignated offerings. By 2016, 34 years after the church started, CP giving stood at 11.5 percent.
"This is an Air Force town and that has a lot to do with the nature of our church," said Howell, Emmanuel's pastor since 2009. "We're constantly losing and building members and leaders but, like the military, we don't like to give up ground we've taken."
Howell saw the effectiveness of the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, which helps undergird Southern Baptist work in North America, when he was called in 1989 to pastor First Southern Baptist Church in St. George, Utah. The year before, the church had started a mission 40 miles southwest in Mesquite, Nevada.
"There was a population of about 3,000 [in Mesquite] and we were the only thing in the whole valley that wasn't Mormon," Howell said, referring to Virgin Valley, named for the mountain range and river. "The work in Mesquite and Beaver Dam [in nearby northwestern Arizona] -- and all of Utah and Idaho, for that matter -- is definitely there because of Southern Baptists giving to the Cooperative Program and the North American Mission Board," which in the late 1980s was still named the Home Mission Board.
Initially, attendees of the Nevada mission were ex-Mormons, Howell continued. "The new NAMB [-supported] ex-Mormon pastor of the mission baptized a lot of them. Most of the half-dozen churches [of varying denominations] there now came out of that church."
For Howell, two treks to Montana as a summer missionary in the late 1970s gave him a heart for pioneer missions in the Rocky Mountain West, with his passion now focused on Emmanuel.
Today, about 50 people participate in Sunday morning worship at the Idaho church, with about a third having a Southern Baptist background, a third military and a third townspeople previously unaffiliated with a Southern Baptist church. It's a congregation with significant military-related turnover, the pastor said. "One year we lost seven families at once.
"One of the things I've learned is that in a missions-type area like we have in the West, you can only do the programs you have workers for," Howell said. "You have to have a plan and workers before you start ministry."
Quilting yields new believers
About three years ago women from the church started meeting each week to make quilts "for any babies we hear about," said Shirley Howell, the pastor's wife. "We keep them in our cars" for distribution. Baby quilts expanded to lap "fidget" quilts for dementia patients when that need became known, to a Bible study before the quilting starts and now to an exercise class before the Bible study.
They've made about 40 quilts to date, and two women have made professions of faith in Jesus, said Shirley Howell, who is among the dozen women who attend the Tuesday activity that can stretch to 2 p.m. or later.
"We were watching a video Bible study, and the speaker addressed some things they understood about salvation," Shirley Howell said. "One felt a light come on; another said she felt it from tip to toe." It was a Beth Moore study on Revelation.
A short worship service at least once a month at a local nursing home is the latest ministry to start at Emmanuel. Still in its infancy, the ministry started when church members realized the nursing home didn't have anything spiritual outreach to its residents.
Military ministry know-how
Emmanuel's most extensive ministry to the military. "That's what our people are good at," the pastor said. "Our older people, retired military, they've been there. They understand the need for those who are not near their families."
About 5,000 people live on the Mountain Home Air Force Base, including two wings of F-15 fighter jet personnel and a contingent of the Republic of Singapore air force trainees.
"Some of the families are struggling, especially when deployed," Howell said. "We check on them, take them out to eat, send them [those deployed] cards. … Sometimes when they come back they need help. We really try to help families when we can."
Emmanuel Baptist Church recognizes current and retired military on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Veteran's Day, including patriotic songs during the worship service. Monthly potluck dinners are another way of building relationships with the military families.
'Big believer' in VBS
The church's children's ministry, meanwhile, has expanded during the past four years to Team Kid, Missions Friends and Children's Church for youngsters from age 4 through the second grade.
Yet it's the church's Vacation Bible School that is best known. Six churches in Mountain Home send their youngsters there.
"I'm a big believer in Bible school," said Howell, who with his wife was part of the state VBS training team for seven years. "It still works if you do it right. We reach a lot of unchurched; maybe a third don't go [to church] anywhere and haven't heard about Jesus. …
"It's a way for us to concentrate on reaching children and youth," he continued. "We teach our youth. They get an hour's study and jump right in [for VBS]. They learn from what they learn [in class] to help children."
Another benefit of VBS is that planning for it starts in January, which builds friendships among the teachers. Emmanuel always uses curriculum from LifeWay Christian Resources and care goes into theme-related decorations, Howell said.
Family night is key to a successful VBS that connects people to the church, the pastor added. "You get the parents to come, see stuff and meet us, and it works.
"Other than Jesus, the main strength of our church is that our people are unified in the mission of trying to reach their world for Christ," Howell said. "We're basically a traditional church. We struggle with the concept of reaching our world, and yet we are."