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SMO funds chaplaincy; fair effort in 25th year

One of the ministry areas supported by the Oklahoma State Missions Offering is chaplaincy.

“Chaplaincy is the most effective means of reaching secular society because chaplaincy provides many opportunities to extend the ministry of the local church beyond the ‘four walls’ of the church facility,” stressed Paul Bettis, Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma chaplaincy specialist.

There are seven major areas of ministry in chaplaincy: healthcare, pastoral counseling, law enforcement, corrections, military, corporate/industry and disaster relief.

“Each of these areas of chaplaincy provides opportunities for full-time, part-time and volunteer participation of ministry oriented persons,” Bettis added. “Each category also provides an opportunity for the local church and its staff to extend their ministry into the community that may otherwise be closed to them.”

One special opportunity for chaplains occurs around this time each year during the State Fair of Oklahoma. The 106th Annual State Fair runs Sept. 13-23.

This year marks the 25th year for the Chaplain’s Corner and the extended chaplain ministry, which was started in 1988 at the fair.

Bettis described how the ministry began:

“One day, Joe Williams (Former BGCO chaplaincy specialist) was driving up May Ave. and he looked over at the fairgrounds and he thought, ‘in a short period of time, there are going to be thousands and thousands of people going through the state fair out here.’

“So he approached the people at the fair and said, ‘I have something that will make you look good and won’t cost you anything.’

“And with that, he presented to them the opportunity to bring chaplaincy into the State Fair. They agreed, and it has continued every year since. He brought Jack and Phyllis Poe, members at Bethany, Tulakes, on board with him, and they now coordinate it.”

Bettis said every aspect of ministry has been done there, with the exception of a funeral, including weddings and baptisms.

The Chaplain’s Corner is a popular place to serve—last year 88 volunteers served during the Sept. 15-25 fair, which attracted 900,000 visitors to State Fair Park on NW 10th St. in Oklahoma City between I-44 and May Ave.

Rick Belicek, pastor of Oklahoma City, Britton, and his wife, Sissy, lead a ministry to the “carneys,” those workers who travel with the midway shows and operate the game booths and rides.

“They drive a golf cart to visit the carneys and deliver packets of toiletries to them,” Bettis said. “Then, they go back either later that day or the next and visit with them.

“The carneys tell us that they love to come to Oklahoma because they are treated nice,” Bettis said. “In a lot of states they go into they are not treated very well, but they like coming to Oklahoma because our chaplains come around and treat them nice and then also come back and visit with them.

“The chaplains build relationships with those people, and many of them come back every year, and they look forward to seeing our chaplains when they return to Oklahoma.”

The other chaplains go out by pairs into the buildings, mostly visiting with vendors, but also possibly visiting with those attending the fair.

Those serving in the Chaplain’s Corner minister to the EMTs and law enforcement personnel coming in and out of the Safety Building, providing them with snacks and water.

Bettis said the most difficult aspect of working as a chaplain at the fair is making death notifications.

“We have had to do some of those,” he rued. “A couple of years ago, we had a worker die out on one of the gates. We had to go around to the people working with him and who knew him to tell them. Death notifications are always the hardest, but you don’t think about chaplaincy being hard, you think of it as being a calling and very enjoyable ministering to people. But there are those times, those rare occasions, when you have to do something like that.”

By comparison, the satisfying times, Bettis said, are “Bringing people to the Lord, or bringing them back to the Lord. Just doing chaplaincy. Having that opportunity to be out there to do ministry among the people.

“We have chaplains who enjoy going in the buildings and talking with the vendors. When you go into the same building consistently, you’re building relationships with people. Chaplaincy is relationship building.

“This is a great opportunity, because you’re dealing with a lot of people,” he concluded. “Thousands of people go through the fair every year. Just sitting down next to someone may change their life. You may sit down next to someone who is depressed, or suicidal, or is thinking about quitting their job or leaving their wife and family; just providing a listening ear can change their attitude or life direction.”

The theme for the Edna McMillan Oklahoma State Missions Offering is “We are Oklahoma missions,” based on Eph. 5:30: “Since we are members of His Body.”

The offering supports more than 20 vital ministries that have a direct impact on Oklahoma, including youth evangelism, hunger relief, associational camps, chaplaincy and church planting. The state goal is $1.05 million.

Promotional packets about the SMO, including a DVD with videos, have been mailed to each church. For additional information, visit www.bgco.org/smo or call 405/942-3000, ext. 4335.

Bob Nigh

Author: Bob Nigh

View more articles by Bob Nigh.

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