By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
As the Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering approaches, reaching Louisiana continues to be a challenge – not only because of the changing culture, but also due to the changes coming from the North American Mission Board.
Under a new agreement with NAMB, money normally given to Louisiana for various missions causes will be redirected to efforts primarily in new-work areas. Specifically this means Louisiana will redirect $50,000 annually for the next seven years for a total of $350,000.
What does this mean for missions in Louisiana?
“As we redirect NAMB cooperative funds to places outside of Louisiana, these Louisiana mission gifts from Georgia Barnette become increasingly important,” said LBC Executive Director David Hankins.
Ministries benefiting from the Georgia Barnette Offering include church planting, missions camps, resort missions, disaster relief, Baptist Builders, Christian vocational service scholarships for Louisiana College, purchasing property for mission churches and a new media outreach, Operation Highways & Hedges.
Fellowship Church in Ascension Parish is one of many specific examples where Georgia Barnette gifts are bearing fruit.
Since its start in January 2013, the congregation has reached the local community college, fire department, schools, neighborhoods and businesses.
Fellowship Pastor Todd Blount understands building relationships takes time but the church has seen some fruit materialize. Attendance has increased from 90 to 120 in mid-August, though some of the original group has since returned to the Prairieville campus. Other fruit has included baptism of three people and helping form a Baptist Campus Ministry chapter at River Parishes Community College in Sorrento.
“I am of the opinion that it is going to take some longevity in the community – time and trust, essentially – to begin to see the fruit of our investment,” Blount said. “This is a community that has long been difficult to reach into, for various reasons.
“But with time and consistent investment, I believe God is going to work in a big way,” he continued. “We have to be faithful, intentional, and take the long view toward “success.”
While Fellowship Church received support from its parent church and its own members, the Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering played a role in the church’s ability to effectively minister to the Ascension Parish community.
“The Georgia Barnette Offering helps provide supplemental funding to us for various purposes, including equipment purchases, community outreach events, and savings toward future facility needs,” Blount said. “Additionally, the personal and prayer support from across the state has been invaluable to us as we begin to reach out in this difficult community.”
Named after Louisiana Baptist missionary Georgia Barnette who had a passion for the lost, the state missions offering has supported ministries in the state since offering receipts were first recorded in 1878. The offering was named after Georgia Barnette in 1936.
The first time the offering surpassed the $1 million mark was in 1998. This year’s offering goal is the second highest ever, with $1,850,000.
“We have to advance the Georgia Barnette Offering because this missions offering makes a difference in what we are giving up each year,” said John Hebert, LBC director of the missions and ministry team. “We have to have the funds to replace that or it will affect many of our ministries.”
This year the $50,000 will be directed to New Orleans, which is one of 32 cities NAMB has identified as a SEND North America city. These cities will have a special emphasis on receiving more church plants.
In 2014, funds likely will be given to Canadian Southern Baptist causes.
“Canada is an area where there are many people but not many churches,” Hebert said. “Things change each year and we will make a decision about where to send the money after New Orleans and then after Canada.”
Hebert said that despite the reduction in funding over the next seven years he is optimistic that Louisiana Baptists will respond.
He cited a recent trend in giving, with the highest amounts of giving in Georgia Barnette history was two of the past three years.
“The Georgia Barnette Offering is the lifeblood of missions for the Louisiana Baptist Convention,” Hebert said. “Without the GBO we wouldn’t be able to do a number of ministries effectively that we do.”
Hankins echoed the thought.
“We encourage every LBC congregation to receive an offering for GBO,” Hankins said. “It is one of the most effective channels for a comprehensive gospel witness by Southern Baptists across Louisiana and allows every church to be a partner.”
Georgia Barnette resources have been mailed to every church. Additional resources are available online at www.GeorgiaBarnette.org.