World hunger offering conveys church's 'hope'
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- IMB President Tom Elliff rarely is surprised. But one pastor has managed to surprise him not once, but three times.
In September, Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church, the Georgia church known for producing the films "Courageous," "Facing the Giants" and "Fireproof," presented a check for $100,000 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions at IMB's annual staff retreat.
"We were totally surprised three years ago when Sherwood presented a $100,000 check," Elliff said. "We invited them back, never thinking they would give us another $100,000 gift."
Then, Elliff learned that the gifts are part of Sherwood's 10-year commitment to give $1 million to international missions, above and beyond their annual missions offering. As a result, Elliff wasn't as surprised when Catt presented a third check for $100,000 at this year's retreat.
Instead, the surprise came in the form of a $17,000 check to Global Hunger Relief, formerly the World Hunger Fund.
In light of everything the church already is doing to support missions, Elliff said Sherwood's gift to world hunger is "indicative of the truth that you can't 'outgive' the Lord," Elliff said.
Ministering in one of the poorest cities in the nation according to financial analysts, Catt understands the scope of human need. The pastor sees it every day in the faces of his community, where the church has established a number of ministries, including a sports park, a school, a pregnancy center and a counseling center. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the scope of human need locally, gratitude spurs Catt's vision "to touch the world from Albany, Ga."
"Grateful people are generous people," Catt said. "Sherwood understands that much has been given to us and much will be required of us."
Although Sherwood designates 5 percent of its annual missions gifts to world hunger, this gift was the result of a special offering during a live concert in September, Catt explained. As part of the concert, the church released its latest CD project, "Jesus, Hope of the World," featuring the church choir and produced by Sherwood worship pastor Mark Willard.
"Human needs locally and globally are real, and they are urgent," Catt said. "We had not done a targeted offering of this type in the past. We thought what better way to send the message that Jesus truly is the hope of all the world."
For Elliff, Sherwood's gift is significant because "world hunger is on their radar," he said, adding that every Southern Baptist church should work to meet this ongoing need.
"World hunger is a reality, and it is an open door through which we can minister the Gospel," Elliff said.
Noting that 100 percent of gifts to Global Hunger Relief are used to feed hungry people around the world, Elliff said the opportunity to link hungry, hurting people to long-term relationships with Southern Baptist workers is significant.
"Other organizations go in, meet the need ... and go out," Elliff said. "We realize that we can meet the [physical] need for a few days, but unless there is a heart change, we haven't really helped anyone."
Instead, Elliff believes that human needs ministries with a long-term Gospel focus are key to developing healthy individuals and sustainable communities.
"The idea is not to have more poor people so we can give more money," Elliff said. "The idea is to interrelate with people so they can become fulfilled, productive members of society."
Tess Rivers is a writer for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).