By Karen L. Willoughby, Managing Editor
SULPHUR – It’s not just teenagers who are enjoying the new community basketball court at Nahodishgish, N.M. Little kids like it too. So do moms and dads.
[img_assist|nid=7345|title=Play Ball|desc=Members of a prep team from First Baptist Church Sulphur drove 2,200 miles round trip to prepare the ground for a concrete foundation for a basketball court on a Navajo reservation in northern New Mexico in mid-April.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=75]First Baptist Church of Sulphur, La., made it possible. David Holder is pastor.
“God amazingly provided the right experts in the field at the right time who became available to travel out there with us to donate their time and efforts to do the job with excellence,” said Tom Bruce, who celebrates 10 years with the church May 29. He was minister to youth and families for eight years, and minister of education, missions and outreach the last two.
God also provided a congregation where about 300 participate in Sunday morning worship to give, over and above their regular tithes and offerings, $30,000 over the course of a year – the initial goal was $12,000 – for construction of the court.
This is a story that began with First Sulphur’s participation in the 2010 simultaneous revivals among Native American Christian churches in New Mexico and other states. They bonded with the people they met, and entered into a long-term partnership, which includes repeat visits to the reservation town of Nahodishgish, and a Skype-based women’s weekly Bible study.
“When our small team of six adults arrived [last year], it didn’t take long for us to realize that the community was in deep despair and hopelessness, Bruce said. “Almost as quickly, we fell in love with the people there and God placed a tremendous burden on our hearts to bring the hope of the Gospel to the entire community.
“Now, almost our entire church family in Sulphur has felt that burden and are helping however they can, through prayer, participating, or financially,” Bruce added.
A seven-person prep-team – six adults; one teen – in mid-April drove a large tractor to the Navajo reservation, and prepared the ground for pouring the concrete foundation.
“It was less expensive to haul the church member’s tractor 2,200 miles round trip with diesel at more than $4 a gallon than to rent one there for the length of time we needed it,” Bruce explained. That team leveled the ground, bought construction and other materials, and installed the vertical bars for the basketball goals.
The other members of the 30-person team – eight teens, 4 children and 12 adults – joined the prep-team on the northern New Mexico community of about 1,500 four days later to complete the court, which sets on tribal land, and which was a request of the tribe.
“We asked community leaders what they perceived were the greatest needs within their community, and a basketball court suited the needs strategically,” Bruce said.
“The project was initially ball-park-estimated to cost about $12,000, but after investigating all that would be necessary for the project, and after considering the rising gas prices, we realized the project would cost more than $20,000.”
The church, community, and other area businesses and ministries pitched in to help, Bruce added.
“Even local New Mexico businesses provided their services with reduced prices and ‘extra-mile-treatment,’” the missions pastor said.
First Sulphur’s initial connection was with Jim Turnbo, regional missionary for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. Turnbo connected them with a Southern Baptist congregation that meets Sunday evenings in a church building owned by an independent Baptist church, with a pastor who also works as a truck driver.
“We are actually working directly with the Navajo Nation local leadership,” Bruce said. “We are also developing relationships with the two congregations meeting in this one building. We make badly-needed repairs to it when we go.
“Our desire is to strengthen and disciple both fellowships while we restore the base of operation from which we can all share the Gospel with the lost people of the community as we earn their trust and respect one relationship at a time,” Bruce continued. “This cannot be accomplished quickly. It will not be done with traditional means, the ‘white man’s way.’ While the Navajo people are learning to trust us, we are also learning their stories. Over time, we are becoming much more able to relate to their culture so that we can effectively share the greatest story ever told.”
First Sulphur also is on mission in Sulphur, Carey Baptist Association and southwestern Louisiana, but that’s a story for another day.