WALTERS—Richard Stillwell, pastor of Walters, First has been on many mission trips—most notably to Nicaragua and Brazil—but he is most excited about an upcoming mission trip in September, one he’ll only have to cross the street to participate in.
Mission: Walters, Sept. 16-18, culminates months of planning and will involve not only members of Walters, First, but also the congregations of Bartlesville, First; Claremore, First; Edmond, First; Marlow, First; Pink; Tipton, First and hopefully, some others.
“When you come back home after an overseas mission trip, you begin to ask, ‘Why aren’t we doing this at home?’ Or you realize there are certain things that you could do at home. So, that’s where this idea came from,” Stillwell said.
“Last year because of a scheduling conflict, I thought at first I wasn’t going to be able to go to Brazil. I really didn’t think too much about it at first, but then I was surprised by the sense of sadness that overcame me from not being able to go.
“So, I began to think about what we could do in Walters. One day, I was staring out a window, and looked out over the nearby backyards, and I thought the view wasn’t much different from what I saw in Nicaragua and Brazil. Walters is a pretty impoverished place; we are the second poorest school district in the state, and there is a lot of poverty. So there are a lot of opportunities for ministry there.
“The thought came to mind, what if we did a mission effort like what we do in other countries, but we did it here? I began to pray about that, and did some research. I met with some of my pastor friends with other churches who also sponsor medical clinics frequently, and it looked like it might be feasible.”
From those visits was birthed the concept of Mission: Walters, which will consist of a two-day medical/dental clinic, Fri.-Sat., Sept. 16-17, at Walters, First, followed on Sun., Sept. 18, with a celebratory worship service.
“On Friday and Saturday we’ll have the medical and dental clinics, depending on the specialized medical personnel we have participate,” Stillwell said. “Also, in our Fellowship Hall we’ll have clothing and food for people to come in and pick up free of charge. Of course, we’ll share the Gospel with the people who come.”
But the event is going to extend well beyond the walls of the church into the neighborhoods of this town of 2,700 people, where only 700 or so attend church on a regular basis, the pastor said.
“What’s going to make this a little more unique is we’re going to combine what is happening on campus with a number of service projects around town,” he explained. “Work such as mowing yards, clearing out overgrown brush, picking up trash, painting houses and those sorts of things We realize a lot of projects, such as replacing roofs or more involved repairs, will take longer than two days to accomplish, so we’re going to begin those earlier so they culminate on Sept. 16-17.”
Such an effort will take a lot of coordination and organization, which is why Stillwell and others began preparations for Mission: Walters in March.
“What we’re doing in preparation leading up to this, and this is exciting to me, because it reveals more opportunities for transformation, is carefully setting the stage,” he said. “For example, during Spring Break, our youth and the youth from Tipton, First canvassed the whole town. We knocked on every door in Walters, and asked residents if there was any need they had, and if there was anything we could pray with them about.
“We wrapped up those conversations by saying, ‘We’re really just trying to be what the church should be in the community.’ We found people were very receptive, and often opened up and shared the needs they had. We had an opportunity to minister to them at that time.
“But that was only an initial start of the project. Now, we’re into our second phase. We got a map of the City of Walters and numbered every block. We discovered our door-to-door canvassing was a good way to organize, and so one of the things we’re going to do now is go back into the community and have our members adopt certain blocks.
“They will meet their neighbors. Identify people on their block that they sense God is working in their life and drawing them to salvation. They will begin developing relationships with them that will provide an opportunity to share the Gospel and have a discipling relationship with them, too.
“But, in the context of that, they will be discovering physical needs that will allow us to organize these service projects as well, so we’ll have everything lined up when September gets here.
“From that information, we’ll list the opportunities that are available. One of the things we want to do in September is to see a swarm of Southern Baptists from all over the state descend on Walters and overwhelm our community with the love of Christ, doing these acts of service, and through these acts of service, having multiple opportunities to share the Gospel.”
Stillwell is, of course, excited about the benefits he can see for his church, which has about 300 members—and the local community through this ministry, but he sees benefits for the other churches participating as well.
“There are wins for the other churches involved, too,” he said. “Churches have members who would like to be involved in short-term mission projects, but maybe they have no idea what that looks like. The thought of going terrifies them. So, this provides them an opportunity to get their toe in the water without even leaving the state. They can come—whether they are an hour away or a couple of hours down the road—and get a taste of what it is going to look and feel like.
“Hopefully, that will stimulate a hunger for missions in those churches when they go back home. Also, when they see what we’re doing, they will go back home and want to do something similar in their home town.
“One of my ultimate hopes is that this transforms the way we do ministry back into the model Jesus gave and the model we see introduced in the early New Testament church where we are actually the church penetrating the community, rather than . . . hoping people come to us in our fancy facilities.
“Jesus left the glory of Heaven for us, and we need to go out and come alongside people who are hurting and lost and show them the love of Jesus and model that as we communicate the message of the Gospel.
“This isn’t something we just dreamed up and asked the Lord to bless. It’s something the Lord is pressing upon us to join Him in, and it’s been confirmed more and more along the way.”
Other churches interested in participating in Mission: Walters may contact Walters, First at its web site, fbcwalters.com, or by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.