PARIS — First Baptist Church, Paris, is situated within a city block of a town numbering a little more than 10,000 people. Within a one-mile radius of this small town in the heart of the Bible Belt, less than half attend church regularly.
The streets of Paris surrounding the church are economically depressed and spiritually dark, said Garrett Veazey, the church’s student minister.
The congregation of FBC, Paris, hopes to change that.
Veazey recently established Mission Mondays. The goal of the ministry is to lead students at FBC, Paris, to serve the community in various ways.
Over the past several months, students have reached out to various organizations, offering service and support to thrift stores, the animal shelter, and the fire department.
Then, through a demographic report he requested from the North American Mission Board, God gave Veazey a burden for lostness in the community and a vision to address it.
“God placed on our hearts the community in the backyard of our church on the northside,” Veazey said. “We had a desire to reach out to them, to get to know their names and their stories.”
The student ministry set aside four Mondays in July to reach out to the community north of the church to build relationships for sharing the gospel.
And that’s where Vacation Bible School comes in, said Angela James, the church’s director of children’s ministries.
“Every Spring, we try to connect with a concrete mission activity of some sort for the children to donate towards (at VBS),” James said. “This year, we decided to join Garrett’s community outreach.”
To promote the effort, Todd Henson, executive pastor, designed a “Missionopoly” board with local streets and businesses as properties, James said. During VBS, children gave an offering to support the outreach, and each morning during worship, the team revealed how much had been collected. At the end of the week, the VBS offering totaled $2,887.93, donated by about 100 kids from 4 years old through fifth grade.
“That’s the money we are using to fund these different outreaches,” James said.
The first week the team went out into the community and distributed popsicles and Fourth of July goody bags. The effort was well received.
“We are very excited about how we were received,” James said. “Several said thank you.”
“Some offered to share prayer requests with us,” Veazey said. “They were hoping we had something in the parking lot that day. Everybody had a big smile when we finished the loop.”
The team planned popcorn, drinks and games in the church parking lot for the second week.
They took a week off until the last two weeks of July, when they provided pizza and drinks and a snow cone truck. All these activities are designed to build relationships, James and Veazey agreed.
James and Veazey also acknowledged that the effort is not without challenges.
“The demographics between the two areas might be a challenge,” Veazey said. “It’s a bit of a culture shock for the typical member of our church” to interact with a member of this community. “It’s a different way of living.”
For James, the challenges lie in the unknown.
“We make plans, but we don’t know what the participation will be,” James said. “We are stepping out in faith every week.”
Still, the benefits far outweigh the challenges, and the team believes they are following Jesus’ example.
“We want to continue to be present,” James said. To let the community know, “we do care. … Once we become neighbors that know one another, we hope they will become part of the church,” James said.
An added benefit of the outreach effort is the level of participation James and Veazey have seen from the congregation. The events have drawn a variety of ages from the church from children to retirees.
“(The events) generate a lot of excitement,” James said. “And it’s catching.” B&R — Lovell has written about Baptist work for more than 20 years. She is a member of the Church at Station Hill in Spring Hill.