COOPERATIVE PROGRAM: Friends sharing life-giving faith

EDITOR'S NOTE: October is Cooperative Program Emphasis month in the Southern Baptist Convention. Learn more about CP here.

NASHVILLE (BP) -- "Let me introduce you to a friend," folks say.

Every Southern Baptist has innumerable friends who are sharing the Gospel in unique ways and in unique settings.

You may not know any of these friends personally, but they share a bond with all Southern Baptists who support their outreach through the Cooperative Program.

CP is the channel by which Southern Baptists, through their churches, provide the financial means necessary for state, national and international missions and ministry to lead people to the wholesomeness of faith in Christ.

BP has asked the four CP catalysts of the SBC Executive Committee -- Chad Keck, Matt Crawford, Curtis Cook and Nate Millican -- to introduce some of their CP friends. From U.S. urban contexts to Asia, here are their stories:

Chad Keck, CP catalyst for the Midwest region and pastor of First Baptist Church in Kettering, Ohio

Let me introduce you to my CP friends Tony and Beth Loseto, church planters in Cleveland with the North American Mission Board's SEND network. Cleveland is a city where only 8.5 percent of the people claim an evangelical faith and almost half the population claims no religious affiliation at all. Tony grew up in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood of Cleveland and in 2013 he and his wife returned there to plant Gateway Church.

Tony and Beth Loseto
 
The primary focus of Gateway church is to serve the community in Jesus' name and to evangelize the lost with the Gospel of Jesus. They desire to take the Gospel outside the church and into the hurting lives of those in their city.

Tony shares one example of how God has been working in the life of his neighbor Jerry.

"Jerry had been saved many years ago but had never become involved in any church. After several attempts Jerry finally agreed to come to one of our home Bible studies. Through that small group, Jerry grew in his faith. That deepening walk with Jesus created a desire for him to share the Gospel with his own family. His adult daughter began attending our church with her own family and heard the Gospel with clarity in a way she had not heard it before. Jerry's daughter recently put her faith in Christ and has been baptized as a follower of Him. We are praising God for His work through the Gospel in a multi-generational way through the ministry of Gateway."

Tony first learned about the Cooperative Program as a member of Parma Baptist Church (now Pleasant Valley Church) in the Cleveland area. His understanding and appreciation was deepened as a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's Boyce College.

Tony talks about CP as being like "scaffolding" for their church plant. For Gateway Church it provided the early support needed for the work to build up to capacity. It has allowed him to be fully devoted to the work of ministry, sharing the Gospel, and developing relationships with the community and believers in the church. CP has made a vital impact on the work of reaching Old Brooklyn with the Gospel.

When Tony thinks about the people and churches who give faithfully through the Cooperative Program, he thinks of the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians: "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now" (Philippians 1:3-5).

Church planting with the SBC has reflected the truths of Scripture through partnership from the very beginning that demonstrates a belief that resourcing efforts to see the Gospel reach the lost is always worth it.

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Matt Crawford, CP catalyst for the South region and East Campus pastor for City Church Tallahassee

Byron Cutrer II is pastor of Faith Baptist Church in New Orleans. I've known Byron for nearly 20 years. It's been incredible to witness God use him and his family in ministry.

Byron Cutrer II
 
While Byron was a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, he was called to lead Faith Baptist Church, with about 25 attendees in uptown New Orleans. This elderly congregation -- who joked that their youth group was in their 60s -- had a strong spiritual heritage but their numbers had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

About a year ago, Faith Baptist called Byron as a transitional pastor to help them make critical decisions about their future. Under his leadership, the church has engaged in NAMB's Replant program. Faith Baptist has stepped out in faith, hiring a children's ministry coordinator in order to actively pursue the next generation for the sake of the Gospel.

According to Byron, "Specifically, we pray for baptisms.... God has already answered that prayer. We had one baptism a few weeks ago and we will probably have a couple more in a month or so." And after beginning Henry Blackaby's "Experiencing God" curriculum, Sunday School attendance has doubled.

Through NAMB's Replant program, Faith Baptist has benefited from Cooperative Program funding. "We're really grateful," Byron said. "Where we're at in our context is so unique; we're on the front lines of charging the gates of hell.... For our people [in the SBC] to know that there are some hard-to-reach places, that they're being represented there -- it's making a difference."

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Curtis Cook, CP catalyst for the Northeast region and pastor of Hope Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Mass.

Dane Helsing is a church planter in Belmont, Mass., who, along with a team, started Beacon Community Church nearly three years ago. From the beginning, the plant has been supported by Cooperative Program funding through the Send Network of the North American Mission Board.

Dane Helsing
 
In the fall of 2017, a visiting professor from China named Michelle saw a flier about the church. When she walked through the doors that Sunday, the first thing she shared was, "My English teacher in China from the U.S. once told me about Jesus. Is this a place where I can learn more about Jesus?" Dane replied that she had come to the right place!

Over the next nine months, several members of the church invested time sharing the Gospel and answering questions, and eventually Michelle placed her faith in Jesus Christ. On Father's Day, she stood before her church family and spoke of her faith in Jesus Christ before she was baptized. As she shared, "The more degrees and money I earned, the emptier I became." But now, Michelle's deepest longings have been filled and she has found lasting satisfaction in Jesus Christ.

As Beacon Community Church prepares to celebrate its third birthday, Dane spoke of how they have been blessed by the Cooperative Program. "Our church exists because of the thousands of dollars that the Send Network and numerous Southern Baptist churches who have so generously partnered with us. We couldn't do what we are doing in reaching out to people like Michelle without this partnership. We are so thankful."

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Nate Millican, CP catalyst for the West and pastor of Foothills Baptist Church in Phoenix

I've asked my friend David York* to share about his work with a Muslim people group in Asia.

David York: In our part of the world, I get to oversee a mentoring program for new personnel Southern Baptists are sending to the lost world. This program lasts for the duration of their first term, and through it we traverse a vast array of challenging territory: language and culture acquisition, adjusting to life overseas, strategies for engaging the lost in a cross-cultural ministry setting, abiding in Christ as we're going and growing into Christ-likeness.

When I have the privilege of getting face time with these new families, it doesn't take long to realize Southern Baptists are sending us some of their best! These are faithful brothers and sisters who long to put down deep roots spreading out to the farthest corners of global lostness so that Christ may be known and cherished among the nations, especially among those who've never heard the Gospel before.

Recently our team received one of these precious new families you've entrusted to us. They were affirmed and sent out by their home church. After a season of stateside preparation and orientation, and then a year of language study in what we call a landing city, they arrived in the province of our focus people group just under two months ago. Tom Callahan*, the husband/father of this family, has been eagerly connecting with established churches to cast vision and mobilize new partners as he continues studying the language diligently. His wife Cara* just started homeschooling their three adorable children again after a one-year hiatus in an international school.

Their arrival has been tremendously encouraging to the rest of our team, and we're getting caught up in their zeal as they stand on the front end of a new career centered on engaging the lost with the Gospel, making disciples of Jesus, and planting churches who will catch the same vision. There are few things in this life that brighten their eyes more than getting to put their hands to what Jesus called the "Greater Works" (John 14:12), the nuts and bolts of the Great Commission.

A few weeks ago, Tom and I went out sharing the Gospel in the streets together. After having modeled an approach for him a few times, I let him take the lead as we settled in next to a group of four students at a roadside food stall. It was getting dark outside, the street lights were buzzing, the traffic wasn't slowing down, the street musicians were making their rounds and the grilled chicken was tender and spicy. The students were enthusiastically anticipating the beginning of their freshman year at the university. They were all from different parts of this country, but each hailed from the same majority faith.

It took Tom a few minutes to get his bearings, but he soon began to navigate skillfully and intentionally through an interactive "get-to-know-you" stage of the conversation that he ultimately steered toward more important, eternal and epic truths. Within about 40 minutes he'd landed on the Gospel and shared our life-changing, soul-saving message with a young man who'd never heard it before.

Tom met with him again, and the young man professed faith in Jesus, saying, "What should I do now?" What Tom did was simply put into practice some very basic evangelism patterns and principles we observe Jesus using in His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the Well of Jacob in John 4. Like Jesus, Tom was being intentional in an informal setting through an interactive conversation in which he was taking the initiative to introduce Jesus, the Messiah. (Those are the five "I's of our basic method of evangelism.)

It is difficult to put into words the joy and gratitude I felt in that moment. But I'll try. I prayed and worshipped the Lord Jesus while Tom leaned in with everlasting truth. Consider just how profound and majestic the Father's ways are! God is orchestrating what we couldn't even imagine through His Spirit working in and through us to glorify His Son, Jesus the Messiah! Through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists are affirming and entrusting; we're receiving and equipping; the lost are hearing and believing; and Jesus' name is becoming increasingly famous on the other side of the world. That's the fruit of our partnership in the Gospel.

Thank you for sending people like the Callahans to the lost world. Thank you for supporting them and us by acknowledging God's call and the priorities of Great Commission obedience.

*Names changed.

Compiled by Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston.
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