By Blake Tommey
CBF Encourager Churches are a crucial component to the work of CBF field personnel around the world. Such relationships invite churches into a unique and intimate role in missions and unite churches with CBF’s ongoing mission work. A congregation becomes an Encourager Church when it formalizes its relationship with specific field personnel. Encourager Churches seek to deepen relationships, cultivate mutual transformation, bear a consistent witness and focus on financial stewardship, engaging with field personnel in ways such as prayer support, program support, short-term engagement and financial support.
“To encourage someone is to put courage into them,” said Tanya Parks, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel.
“That, for me, is what Encourager Churches are all about. There are days when I think, ‘Can I really do this?’ It’s hard to believe in yourself sometimes. But then I think of our six Encourager Churches, representing hundreds of people that truly believe I can. So, by God’s grace, I can.”
Since 2012, Jon and Tanya Parks have served as CBF field personnel among the Roma community of Košice, Slovakia, where they teach English and empower children with life skills that help lift them out of poverty. Yet, for each of those seven years, the Parks have done so with the help and care of Encourager Churches, who commit to prayer, short-term mission partnership and financial support for specific CBF field personnel units.
In fact, Jon explained, their Encourager Churches, including Huguenot Road Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., not only sustain their courage and ministry budget but also made it possible for the Parks to first build community with Roma families in Košice. There, the Parks began hosting day camps for Roma children, who endure widespread discrimination and thus remain in cycles of poverty and poor education. Huguenot Road was a vital part of making that project happen, he explained.
“Huguenot Road was looking to connect with a specific field personnel unit, and we didn’t even know them very well,” Jon said. “But a friend-of-a-friend suggested they take us to lunch, and now we have a deep relationship with that congregation. They agreed to support us financially as we were preparing to come on the field. But they were also the first mission team we hosted in Slovakia, and they’ve sent five different teams since to support our work through
Last summer, an additional Roma community invited the Parks to host a children’s camp during the first week of summer vacation. Jon and Tanya, however, couldn’t pull it off alone. That’s when Rachel Jones, a member of Huguenot Road, as well as Les and Dani Jones, friends from Alabama, flew to Košice and helped provide music, Bible study and crafts, including toy boats donated by HRBC that the children decorated and raced for prizes. On the last day of camp, the group even hosted the children’s families for a barbecue lunch to build deeper connections.
But that’s only half the story, Tanya explained. Throughout their eight-year relationship with HRBC, the Parks have enriched the life of the congregation by preaching in worship, hosting a Sunday morning study and providing a missions station for the church’s Vacation Bible School. The Parks even Skyped in to one of HRBC’s missional thinking series to discuss the importance of mutuality and empowerment in missions. “It’s not just about churches serving us,” Tanya said, “but our learning how to serve them as well.”
“Our relationship with churches is just as much about helping them do missions better, helping them know how to reach out to vulnerable members of their community,” she added. “We want our partner churches to better understand God’s kingdom in their own community because of their relationship with us and Roma communities here.”
Ultimately, Tanya said, the surprising reality of Encourager Church relationships is that no single act of support is purely for one or the other, church or field personnel. The Parks learned that early in their support-raising, when she picked up the phone and contacted the pastor of a nearby partner congregation, Ash Camp Baptist Church in Keysville, Va. As Tanya proceeded to offer a Sunday morning missions message—in hopes of eventually garnering their support, she explained—the pastor interjected with a startling response: “You are an answer to a prayer I’ve been praying for about five years!” he said emphatically.
Tanya was floored. Ash Camp was already looking to connect more deeply with a missionary. “Here I am calling him, thinking he’s going to be supporting me,” she said, “and here he is saying, ‘You are an answer to my prayer.’ That was really powerful. In that moment, we not only formed a relationship in which we would work together, but I was encouraged that what we were doing had value and that our support-raising was vital. It was spiritual.”
Ash Camp Baptist Church, now one of the Parks’ six Encourager Churches, not only supports them with a percentage of their monthly missions budget but also sends Christmas gifts each year to the Parks’ two daughters, Abigail and Kaitlyn. Like Huguenot Road, Ash Camp is one more example of the richness and care that the Encourager Church model provides for both congregation and field personnel, Jon said. Of course, Encourager Church relationships give support and courage to field personnel, he explained, but field personnel also give energy and life to congregations who, in the end, share the work of missions with them.
“Ash Camp already knew how to give to missionaries and engage their stories; but now they know what it means to serve through us and to love the people we love,” Jon said.
“Our relationship with them infuses the church with new energy. Serving together in a mission project brings a community of faith together in a way that meeting on Sundays alone cannot. By serving us and serving with us, they’re serving the people that we serve. That gives energy to churches and it gives energy to us.”
This article appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of fellowship! magazine, the quarterly publication of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Read online here and subscribe for free to fellowship! and CBF’s weekly e-newsletter fellowship! weekly at www.cbf.net/subscribe.
Become an Encourager Church and share the love of Christ around the world in partnership with CBF field personnel. For more information visit www.cbf.net/encourager-church or contact Ellen Sechrest at firstname.lastname@example.org or 770.220.1611.