God’s Work in the Northwest
The following is a message that I will bring to Southern Baptist disaster relief leaders from across the United States, and even internationally. They are meeting in the Portland area this week. Because the message helps them understand some of the history of God’s work in the Northwest, I thought it beneficial for you. Also, there is an important biblical message toward the end of the address.
Message for the Disaster Relief Round Table (Jan. 28, 2015)
I read this weekend about an elite club called the Adventurers Club. Membership is capped at 200. And to gain admittance to the Adventurers Club you have to be a world class adventurer. One member flew nonstop around the world, in an airplane, in 9 days. Dick Rutan had a partner in the adventure. And when they finally landed 9 days later they had 1.5% of their fuel left. It’s a man’s only club of world class mountain climbers and divers, explorers and adventurers of different sorts. When they get together they swap stories. Amazing stories.
When I read about them, I thought about you. A unique and elite group of men and women, adventurers of sorts. Adventurers for Jesus. Your adventures center on stories of fires and flood, tornadoes and tsunamis and earthquakes and the people broken by these things. There is almost no disaster that happens anywhere in the world, that those in this room haven’t experienced. From flooding in Myanmar to earthquakes in China and Haiti, hurricanes and tornadoes and wars and terrorists attacks. You get the picture. And on behalf of Northwest Baptists I want to thank you for what you do. I especially want to thank you for what you have done for us in the Northwest. This past year teams from California, Colorado and Oklahoma, Utah/Idaho, joined our D.R. volunteers in ministering in the NW. So thank you.
Many of you probably don’t know much about the Northwest. I was watching an old Seinfeld episode this weekend, and Newman, the obese postman, climbed a tree like a squirrel. And Kramer said, “Where did you learn to climb a tree like that?” And Newman hollered, “In the Pacific Northwest.” That’s the image some of you have and it’s not far off. I’m the first in 4 generations whose career wasn’t in the sawmill or logging industry.
I want to give you a little bit of our history. The first churches planted in the Northwest were in the 1830s. And here’s how it happened. In 1831, 4 Native Americans, 3 Nez Perce and a Flathead, travelled to St. Louis to see General William Clark – yes of the famed Louis and Clark Expedition. These Indians asked Gen. Clark for the “white man’s book of heaven,” and wanted to learn about Christianity. 3 of the 4 Indians died before they made it back to the Northwest, and the other died shortly after his return in a Blackfoot Indian raid. But their journey had far-reaching results.
On April 28, 1834 Jason Lee, a Methodist, left St. Louis and arrived right here at Fort Vancouver on Sept. 15, 1834. In October he established the first church in the Northwest south of here in Keizer, OR, on the Willamette River, near Salem. And as it is on all new mission fields, to this very day, Jason Lee and the first missionaries to come here suffered greatly. It wasn’t long before his wife died, and his little baby. He remarried, but his second wife was dead in less than two years. If that wasn’t enough, problems developed in the church and Jason Lee was sent packing. He died at age 41 in 1845.
Two years after Jason Lee came, Dr. Marcus Whiteman and Henry Spalding came to Fort Vancouver. They were Presbyterian. Dr. Whitman and his family established a mission near Walla Walla, WA and Henry Spalding started a mission in Lapwai, Idaho, the Nez Perce headquarters. It was Dr. Whitman that led the first large wagon train across the Oregon Trail in 1843. But in 1847 Dr. Whitman and his wife Narcissa, together with 11 others, were massacred by Indians who blamed Whitman for the deaths of 200 Indians in a measles epidemic. It was a tough time to do ministry in the Northwest.
When the Whitman’s were massacred, Henry Spalding fled the Nez Perce, but stayed in Oregon Territory, finally returning to Lapwai in 1859. Now, get this, the first two people Spalding baptized were Old Chief Joseph and Chief Timothy. Chief Joseph and his wife were then married in a Christian ceremony, took their Christian names, and Young Chief Joseph was born in 1840. Young Chief Joseph spent much of his early life in that Presbyterian mission of Henry Spalding. The tragedy of the mission work among the Nez Perce was that the U.S. government broke the treaty of 1855 and the Nez Perce had much of their land taken from them. Old Chief Joseph grew so angry that he took the Bible that Henry Spalding gave him and he shredded it. He wanted nothing more to do with white men. However, there are still several hundred Presbyterian Nez Perce to this day, thanks to the early work of those early missionaries.
Baptists first came to the Northwest in the great migration of 1843. David Lenox, a layman, started a prayer meeting in his cabin. On May 25, 1844, about 14 miles West of Portland, the Union Baptist Church was founded in David Lenox’s cabin. They had no deacons and no pastor. The nearest Baptist church was 2,000 miles away and thus they had no help from them. The first Baptist pastor in the Northwest came a year later. He was Vincent Snelling from Kentucky, and he became the pastor of the Union Baptist Church in 1845. By 1848 there were 8 Baptist churches with 87 members. In 1856 there were 26 or 28 churches with about 800 members.
Now, some of you remember that churches outside the south were not admitted into the Southern Baptist Convention until the 1940s. Northern and Southern Baptists developed agreements called Comity Agreements that kept the Northerners in the North and West and the SBC in the South, with no convention west of Texas. Those Comity Agreements resulted in a couple of things. First, the north and the west was not well evangelized by Baptists because Northern Baptists splintered into several denominations and they didn’t cooperate like Southern Baptists did in order to build the work. Secondly, as Southerners moved north and west, they didn’t like the Baptist churches they found, and they began starting their own churches and petitioning the SBC for admittance. By the 1890s there were those in the Northwest who wanted to join the SBC. Finally, the NWBC was founded in 1948 with 8 churches.
Now, here’s what I want you to know. We began with 8 churches 67 years ago. Today we have over 450 churches, about 125 of which worship in a language other than English. In 2014, 22 new churches affiliated us. Southern Baptists, in the Northwest, are the most linguistically diverse denomination in the Northwest, and we are planting more churches than any other denomination in the Northwest.
I’ve been thinking about why this is true, and I think that there are three things, when taken together, are unique among Southern Baptists and explain our growth. Those three things are: conversion, starting churches, and cooperation.
First, Southern Baptists believe in conversion. We believe people need to be converted and that every person can be converted. We believe in heaven and we believe in hell. And your eternal destination depends on whether you’ve been born again and converted to faith in Jesus Christ. The emphasis on conversion was a huge factor in the success of Southern Baptists.
Second, Southern Baptists believe in the local church as God’s means to grow His Kingdom and make disciples. Furthermore, we believe anyone can start a church. You don’t have to be educated or ordained to start a church or lead a church. And we believe that whoever has the most churches wins. Whoever has the most churches will reach the most people. There’s been a lot of talk about church planting in the last few years, but Southern Baptists have been planting churches for a long time, and it is vital to our success.
Third, we believe in the cooperation of our churches for the cause of missions and evangelism and leadership training. It is cooperation that enables us to start churches among multiple language groups. It is cooperation that enables us to send and sustain missionaries, and educate our missionaries and pastors in universities and seminaries. And, it is cooperation that enables even a smaller state convention, like the Northwest, to have a highly trained and quality Disaster Relief ministry of more than 650 strong.
For the average layperson in Baptist life, there is no better example of what cooperation can produce that Disaster Relief. As a matter of fact, I would say that Disaster Relief does ministry in much the same way as Jesus did.
You focus on hurting people, suffering people.
You speak to people words of Jesus and you pray with them, but you also touch them. You combine speech and touch, as Jesus always did.
Something else, you serve one person at a time. One home, one family, one person. That’s what Jesus did. Nearly every story of Jesus in the Gospel He is dealing with an individual and only occasionally preaching to the masses.
And, fourthly, you deploy ordinary people in the service of Christ.
In Matthew 4:23-25 sets up what Jesus did throughout Matthew’s Gospel. Note: Everyone came to Jesus with pre-existing conditions. You come to Jesus with pre-existing issues. And the people we serve have pre-existing conditions.
In Matthew 5-7 Jesus teaches on the way the Kingdom of God works, and when He finished His teaching we read the of the people’s response in Matthew 7:28-29. Then, immediately after that we read that this happened in Matthew 8:2-3. And shortly after that we read in Matthew 8:5-10. This is incredible. Shocking! Jesus did what you never do – He touched a leper. You don’t do that if you’re a religious person, or any person. And then, Jesus commended a Roman centurion, a Gentile dog, for his great faith. Jesus said, “There’s no priest or prophet or Pharisee in Israel with such great faith as this Gentile dog” (paraphrase).
Now, what was it about Jesus’ teaching that astonished the people? It was the authority with which He spoke. The clarity and forthrightness of Jesus speech was authoritative. But more than that, Jesus’ authority flowed from the fact that His speech was matched by His touch. That’s what you do in Disaster Relief. You speak, yes. But your touch, that’s key. Our firstborn son was premature and spent 22 days in the hospital. He was so tiny. But the nurses told us, “You can hold him. And you can speak to him. He needs to connect your voice with your touch.”
Folks, that’s what the world needs. That’s what the lost world needs. They need to connect our voice with our touch, and that’s what you do in disaster relief. And like Jesus, you do it person to person. In D.R. you’re not making pronouncements from pulpits, as helpful as that can be. But no. You’re taking people with pre-existing conditions, broken by disaster, and you’re bringing the touch of Jesus to them personally.
One more thing – In Matthew 28:16-20 we find the Great Commission. But note in verse 17 to whom it was that Jesus gave the greatest charge in all the world. He gave it to believer-doubters. Jesus entrusted the work of the Kingdom to 11, no longer 12, but to 11 believer-doubters. Even after 3 plus years, they weren’t all that strong. But Jesus empowered them by entrusting to them the greatest commission anyone has ever received.
What do we learn from this? For one, Jesus will use the real person you actually are. Many live in fear of not measuring up. Maybe you do. Certainly your volunteers do. But never forget, always remember, the Work has always been done by those willing to do, even as they struggled to believe that God could it through them.
Thank you again for all that you do. No one represents Jesus better than you. No one represents Southern Baptists better than you. And whatever you do as you visit the Northwest, don’t eat the salmon. Because if you eat the salmon, you’ll all want to move here!