By Meg Lacy Vega
Many of us remember singing the refrain of the hymn “Deep and Wide” at the top of our kid-sized lungs, in Sunday school or at Vacation Bible School. The 20th century hymn by Sidney Cox is about living water that flows from the wounds of Christ, becoming “a fountain flowing dqeep and wide, deep and wide!” But these words could also be used to describe the mission efforts of Second Baptist Church in Liberty, Missouri. The church’s commitment to sharing God’s love with the world is both intensely relational and strategically vast—it is deep, and it is wide, a fountain of God’s liberating love flowing through the world.
“Our church’s mission statement begins with a commitment to foster meaningful Christ-centered community,” said pastor Jason Edwards. “That is not just community within the walls of the church. It is very much our approach to mission as well.”
Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the long-term relationships Second Baptist has built with the people of Bridger, South Dakota. This partnership began in 2001 as a part of CBF’s Together for Hope initiative, to serve the financially poorest counties in the nation. In 2021, Second Baptist celebrated 20 years of faithful ministry with the people of Bridger and recommitted to an additional five years.
Mike Lassiter was the associate pastor at Second Baptist when the partnership began, and he was among the first group of church members that traveled to Bridger to meet with a group of local Lakota ministers. “Even that meeting was a huge step,” Mike recalled, “because of the complex history of white Christian missionaries among native communities. These pastors took a chance on us, a chance to trust again.”
One pastor they met that day was Byron Buffalo, and his wife Toni. Byron and Toni were receptive to the members of Second Baptist and a ministry friendship began to form. Second Baptist started sending church groups each summer to serve alongside Pastor Byron’s ministry of “church outdoors” in which he worked with youth and young adults on the reservation, teaching life skills and the love of Jesus through horseback riding.
Through these trips, Second Baptist learned of other needs, and a number of community development initiatives took shape, including construction projects, rummage sales, teaching assistant roles at the local school, and helping to furnish a community center. But to hear the members of Second Baptist tell it, the most significant impact of their ministry in Bridger is the friendships they have built which have transformed both communities.
“We’ve learned a ton over the years,” Lassiter said. “We didn’t always know exactly what we would do when we visited; so we learned to slow down, submit ourselves to the culture, and surrender to their process and needs. We realized we needed be good listeners and to accept the give-and-take that is a part of the Lakota culture. Anytime we did something for them, they would find a way to do something for us.”
These experiences, along with reflection and study, eventually grew into what the Second Baptist calls the “Four Rs” of mission: Relationship, Reciprocity, Respect and Reconciliation. The congregation has learned that it is only through a deep commitment to relationships marked by respect and reciprocity that reconciliation can occur.
Over two decades of ministry together, the relationships formed in this place have changed both the people of Bridger and the people of Second Baptist. As church members have gained trust with the Lakota, they have been invited into sacred tribal moments: talking circles and pow-wows, sweat lodge ceremonies and intentional advocacy for the land and its people.
“There is a deep well of spirituality in Bridger,” Lassiter explained. “And it has enlarged the spiritual practices of Second Baptist.” He recalled a “Wiping the Tears” ceremony Pastor Byron performed for a visiting church group from Georgia, having just lost a beloved church member. It was a sacred moment of blessing and healing for all involved—and a powerful symbol of how relationships of reciprocity and respect can contribute to the ongoing work of reconciliation among us.
In Jerusalem…And to the Ends of the Earth
The remarkable length of Second Baptist’s partnership with Bridger may be unique, but the church’s commitment to relationally-focused, long-term ministry is not. Karen Rogers, a decades-long member of Second Baptist and interim missions coordinator, described the church’s process of discernment as thoughtful and intentional.
“We prayerfully pay attention to where people are investing their time and resources, and we have a path for missional partnerships to follow,” Rogers said.
Over a series of years, partnerships move from the initial phases of “listening” and “blessing” to the more advanced stages of “missions funding” and “ongoing support.” One example is the church’s partnership in Haiti. Second Baptist first sent a team to Haiti to help with relief efforts and medical needs in various locations across the island nation in the years following the 2010 earthquake. Some years later, after the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship commissioned field personnel Jenny Jenkins to serve in the country long-term, Second Baptist began working closely with her on special projects and occasional trips, and the partnership began moving through the stages of discernment.
In 2017, the church’s commitment to Haiti was formalized as a partnership with “ongoing support.” While visits have been impossible during the pandemic, Second Baptist is walking alongside Jenkins in the creation of the Magandou Medical Clinic, which will serve remote villages that currently have little access to medical care.
Rogers also speaks to the breadth of Second Baptist’s partnerships: “As a church, we seek to reflect the diversity of mission present in Acts 1:8.” In this verse, Jesus tells the disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” For Second Baptist, this means a commitment to their local context, in Liberty, Mo., and Greater Kansas City (Jerusalem), their partnership in Bridger, S.D. (Judea), and two international partnerships, one in Haiti (Samaria) and the other with the Upland Holistic Development Project in Thailand (ends of the earth). Many of these partnerships have looked different during the pandemic, but the church has worked hard to keep members connected through blogs and video updates from partners near and far.
Second Baptist works to make local connections which complement each of its international partnerships. For years in the past, the church has shared some activities with the people of the Haitian Baptist Church of Kansas City, and with the Karen Grace Baptist Church, most of whose members came to the U.S. as emigres from Thailand and Myanmar. Although the pandemic has prevented recent travel to Haiti and Thailand and has made local connection with other churches more difficult, Second Baptist still looks for opportunities to renew and expand these connections.
During summer 2021, the congregation gathered for a picnic called “Haiti at the Lake,” an opportunity to learn about Haitian culture through games and play. The church’s annual Christmas Store, a major local event, shifted to a drive-through approach to keep everyone safe. And the Many Hands Fair Trade store, which Second Baptist opened in 2016, continues to sell goods from artisans around the world to the local community in Liberty, even expanding their hours this year with the recent purchase of an HVAC unit for the store.
It is clear that “missions” is not something Second Baptist does—it is a way of life for the congregation. The church’s commitment to long-term, sustainable investment allows their impact to have both depth and breadth. It is centered in transformational relationships, and expands around the globe, as they embody the love of Christ, “to the ends of the earth,” like a fountain flowing…deep and wide.