By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
ALEXANDRIA (LBM) – The popular Christian group Mercy Me broke into the contemporary Christian music scene in 2002 with their inspirational single “I Can Only Imagine.”
As Louisiana Baptists approach a season of focused prayer and giving for state missions and ministries, it may be appropriate to ask, “Can you imagine what Louisiana would be like without the Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering?”
The offering is the lifeblood of many ministries throughout the state including disaster relief, church planting and many more.
Without the state missions offering, 86 churches that benefitted from Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief during the 2016 and 2017 floods likely would have received much less help.
Without the offering, Louisiana Baptists might not have planted 200 churches since 2010 and would not have witnessed 11,000 new commitments to Christ, including 1,329 first-time decisions and 384 baptisms last year alone.
Without the offering, church plants might not have received $330,000 last year in funding.
Without the offering, Suburban Baptist Church in New Orleans might not have re-opened as soon as it did with the help of mission builders, six months after an EF-3 tornado devastated its facilities.
Without the offering, as many as 55 compassion ministry centers might not have received funding to help in the distribution of 2 million pounds of food for the “least of these.”
Without the offering, 960 children and adults might not have had the opportunity to attend Missions Jamboree (M-JAM) in 2016, resulting in 16 professions of faith.
And without the offering, 59 students and one African-American church planter would not have received Woman’s Mission Union Scholarships to attend Louisiana College or a Southern Baptist seminary.
Without question, it’s not hard to imagine the spiritual deficit that might exist without the impact of the state missions offering.
However, the silver lining is that year after year, Louisiana Baptists sacrificially give to support missions and ministries throughout the state and have set a goal of $1.7 million for 2017.
“The Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering is the only offering specifically for missions and ministries in Louisiana,” said David Hankins, Executive Director of Louisiana Baptists. “And what’s amazing is all of this is accomplished through the gifts of approximately two-thirds of our churches,” Hankins continued. “Imagine what could be accomplished in Louisiana for Kingdom purposes if all 1600 of our churches would share the story of what God is doing and participate in the offering.”
John Hebert, state missions and ministry director for Louisiana Baptists, said the giving by Louisiana Baptists help the countless ministries benefitting from the offering further grow God’s Kingdom.
“We would not be celebrating these numbers had Louisiana churches not stepped up and given so generously to the offering,” Hebert said. “While we get our biggest bang for the buck in church planting, the offering is vital in helping to fund Disaster Relief, our second biggest need. Gibbie [state director of Disaster Relief in Louisiana] is totally dependent on this offering for his entire budget.”
Last year, more than 1,200 Louisiana volunteers have answered the call and another 600 were trained. In addition to the man power, Disaster Relief provided thousands of gallons of the fungicide Shockwave for mold remediation, additional supplies, hot meals, as well as handing out Bibles, presenting the Gospel numerous times and seeing 207 individuals give their lives to Christ.
As is the case with the recent weather pattern, Hebert said giving is vital to helping Louisiana Baptists continue to respond when needed.
“As you well know it has been a very active two years for Louisiana with the floods, storms and tornadoes,” Hebert said. “When a disaster hits there is a real cost connected and only through this offering are the basic needs met. I am proud to say our DR response has been second to none.”
The offering is named after Georgia Barnette, the first elected and paid WMU executive director/treasurer in the state.
She would travel by boat, pirogue, horse and buggy and train from her home in New Orleans to other areas of Louisiana to visit state missionaries who were planting churches.
Church planting, compassion ministries, Woman’s Missionary Union Scholarships to Louisiana College, Disaster Relief operations, mission projects, radio outreach and Here for You, Louisiana Baptists new media evangelism strategy, are among the wide array of missions and ministries supported through the offering.
The theme for 2017 week is Why Wait “…for they are ready” based on John 4:35. Sept. 10-17 has been set aside as the Week of Prayer for state missions and ministries.
“It’s easy for us to read the words of Jesus and miss the promise,” Hankins noted. “He says ‘they are ready.’ That’s a fact, a reality, a promise. I like what Brandon Langley, one of our church planters in St Rose said, ‘It’s as if the people are waiting on us.’”
Resources, including videos, demonstrating the scope and impact of the Georgia Barnette Offering have been mailed to churches across the state. Additional resources are available online at www.GeorgiaBarnette.org.
Because of the generous giving, Louisiana Baptists are able to continue the vision of Georgia Barnette more than 100 years after she first led women to begin taking up an offering for state missionaries in 1907. The offering was named after her in 1937.
“Mission education, compassion ministry, mission builders, and camps not only impact people’s everyday lives but their eternal lives as well,” Hebert said. “When churches give, it is an affirmation they want to see our work continue.
“The Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering is the most important mission offering given for the ongoing work of missions in Louisiana,” he continued. “I can’t imagine what it would be like without the Georgia Barnette Offering.”