FREDERICK—It’s the only rural church in Tillman County. Its building, although well-maintained, is old and not well-insulated. Heating bills in January and February amount to around $1,100 a month. The church is being hassled by the Department of Environmental Quality to tie onto the Frederick water supply. That will cost somewhere between $10,000-12,000. With 63 members, Sunday School attendance averages 32 with around 35-45 in worship each Sunday.
Yet, Frederick, Bethel consistently gives 25 percent of its undesignated funds to the Cooperative Program, ranking it among the top three churches in the state in per capita giving at the 25 percent rate.
“As far as I’m concerned, we would never cut contributions to the Cooperative Program,” said Pastor Roland Behnke, who has served the congregation for the past 10 years. “And if we felt the Lord leading in that direction, and we were prayerfully motivated to do it, we would increase CP giving.”
Behnke’s passion for mission giving started shortly after he was called to preach while working for a major oil company in Houston. He and his wife helped to start a church in a mobile home park, along with the pastor who had served 30 years as a missionary on the Ivory Coast in Africa.
“It was as a result of his influence on my life that I always wanted to participate in missions one way or another,” said Behnke.
Before going to Bethel, the Behnkes spent 21 years on the western slope of Colorado as North American Mission Board appointed missionary associates. The first 10 years were spent starting and developing churches, and the last 11 working in those churches.
At one time, the mission church they were in restarted its sponsoring church.
“There was no heat in the building, there was a $13,400 balloon note due and pink slip on the door from the utility company,” recalled Behnke. “We were able to persuade the Baptist General Convention of Colorado to send us $2,000, and we had a fund-raising contest between the men and women to raise money.”
They raised enough money to put heat in the building, and with 11 people, revived the church, which eventually started a Spanish-speaking ministry and today has three Hispanic groups meeting in the building.
Behnke noted that it is so easy for a church to become introverted, but people need to understand the importance of the local church.
“Without the local church, there would be no mission giving, but the church has to look beyond itself,” he said.
Behnke explained that he does a little “church 101” for newcomers, pointing out that the priority of the church is the Great Commission.
“I try to help them see that, while we can’t all be on the mission field, we can participate indirectly through giving,” he said. “We also try to emphasize unity—that we work as one in the church, and we cooperate with other churches because we can do more with others than we can by ourselves. We encourage the people to persevere even in hard times and just trust God to provide the resources for Kingdom work.
Behnke said he pays attention to all promotional material he receives.
“Not long ago, we received a poster showing how money is divided, beginning with the local church, then into the convention and on to the various entities,” he said. “We also show the videos we receive promoting the CP. They let people see how missionaries are doing and how our church, even though we are small, can support missions, not only by praying, but also financially through our missions giving. Anytime we get missions information or publicity, we use it.”
Behnke said in researching the history of the church’s CP giving, he discovered in 1970, the church was giving 24 percent to CP, and in 1981, moved to 25 percent.
“However, for the last few years, we’ve been sending 10 percent of that total directly to the International Mission Board,” he said. “We also give 5 percent to Tillman Association and usually receive certificates for being among the top in per capita giving to the special missions offerings,” said Behnke. He noted also that the church recently sent a $955 disaster relief offering.
“Sometimes, keeping our heads above water is a real challenge,” he commented. “We are six miles from Frederick and six miles from Tipton, so you have to want to go to church to come to Bethel and worship. But Bethel’s mission giving and commitment to the Cooperative Program goes all the way back to 1970. I just try to maintain it and encourage the people to keep giving.”