Several members of Ponca City, Northeast clean up the yard of a local residence.

Southern Baptist churches in Ponca City and Norman recently shared the love of Christ with their communities through hands-on service projects.

Sun., April 14 was “Great Day” in Ponca City as nine local churches joined forces to conduct the second annual “Great Day of Service” to the community. Three of the nine groups participating were Southern Baptist congregations at First, Longwood and Northeast churches.

Meanwhile, eight days earlier on April 6, Norman, Bethel participated in that community’s “To Norman With Love” outreach day.

In Ponca City, projects consisted of doing basic yard work, tree and brush removal, minor repairs and hauling trash and unwanted furniture. The City of Ponca City worked with the local churches in providing for the removal of all the garbage, trash and debris free of charge.

The “Burch Team” in Ponca City lays decorative cement blocks in a garden. From left are Emma Burch, Allison Burch, Joanna Ware and Kellie Burch. Laura Marshall is in the background.

“It was a ‘great day’ in that the churches who worked together on the project were from different denominations,” said Larry Nigh, pastor at Northeast. “A tremendous spirit of unity, love and fellowship was evident from the early stages of planning and preparation to the day of carrying out the project.

“It was a ‘great day’ in that more than 1,100 people all wearing the same yellow T-shirts with the ‘Great Day of Service’ logo on them flooded the designated work area in the west part of Ponca City. More than 100 homes, businesses and schools were swarmed by an army of willing and dedicated workers who tried to make a difference for Christ.

“It was a ‘great day’ in that the home owners whose property was being worked on saw Jesus in the smiling faces of the workers. They were overwhelmed, not only by the hard work done on their property,  but also by the spirit of those willing to serve.”

Nigh said the testimonial stories were many.

“One homeowner questioned, ‘I don’t understand why you are doing this. I am an unbeliever, and you are willing to work in my yard?’”

An elderly blind woman in her eighties said, “Thank you for what you have done. I may not be able to see what you have done, but you are truly a God-send.”

The Ponca City, Northeast “Nigh Team” prays for the occupants of a home before working on the yard. From left are Caleb Free, Kitty Free, Sandy Nigh, Kate Free, Pastor Larry Nigh, Bill Gibson, Phyllis Luton (barely visible) John Free, and Richard Thomasson (Director of Missions for Kay Association).

“Another lady who was a member of the local Jehovah’s Witnesses church was touched by the willingness of our people to reach out to her and her family,” Nigh continued. “One man said, ‘I have a brain tumor, and it is difficult for me to work in the yard. Thank you so much for coming.’ He also said he wasn’t going to church anywhere, but now he was going to start looking for one.”

Each team participating in the Great Day of Service had a designated “encourager,” who engaged the home owner with love, respect and encouragement for them and their families. Spiritual tracts and Bibles were given out and, when the opportunity arose, the plan of salvation was shared with them.

“It was a ‘great day’ because lives were touched in the name of Jesus Christ,” Nigh stressed.

Members of the participating churches met early for worship in their local churches before heading off to do the work. The time of worship was designed as a rallying point for the church members before they marched out to undertake the work to be done.

“It was truly an amazing sight for anyone driving by the church parking lot at Northeast Baptist,” Nigh exclaimed. “Instead of seeing a parking lot full of mini-vans and sedans, they saw pickup trucks with beds full of lawn mowers, weed eaters, yard tools, chain saws and ladders.

“What made April 14 a ‘great day’ was the fact that the churches met their goal of fulfilling the second greatest commandment: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Nigh said he began this year with a challenge for his congregation.

Brooke Brandon, Tiffany Clark and Cash Clark of Norman, Bethel plant flowers at Health for Friends.

“In January, I challenged our church with the following theme for the New Year: ‘Building My Church . . . Reaching My City.’ Without a doubt,  both goals were met in the ‘Great Day of Service.’”

“Our congregation was built up and strengthened through the willingness of our people to work together. I challenged our church to have 200 workers, but the Lord blessed us with 340 workers, (90 percent of our average Sunday School attendance) who made a commitment to be a part of this great project. We literally modeled what the church is supposed to be and do. We ministered outside the box by stepping out of the four walls of our church on a Sunday morning to go out and give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name.”

He said Northeast also “took one giant step forward in meeting our goal of reaching our city for Christ. Only eternity will tell what difference this project made in the lives of the people of Ponca City who allowed us to come and serve them in Jesus’ name. But I do know this; that as our teams loaded up their equipment to leave, many of the homeowners were praising Jesus and were so thankful for the work done. Yes, it was a great day in Ponca City on April 14.”

In Norman, Andy Peck, associate pastor—missions, community ministries and contemporary worship at Norman, Bethel, said his church, “decided nearly a year ago to participate in the ‘To Norman With Love’ outreach. A combined effort with more than five congregations involved, this day is meant to be a practical way for churches in Norman to show love to our neighbors and community. Since we had not participated before, we didn’t know what sort of response to expect, but traditionally, our church is very generous and willing to serve.“

Ross Pruitt, associate pastor of education, senior adults and outreach, voiced his support early on and sent an email to all the Sunday School teachers saying, “I think this is an excellent opportunity for us to be about the Father’s business in a tangible way.  Let’s pray about this, talk it up in Sunday School and see if we can get a service team up from every class.”

Pruitt’s support and the support of the Sunday School teachers was instrumental in getting the 100 people who eventually served during “To Norman With Love,“ the pastor said.

“Our church served at nine locations throughout our community,” Peck revealed.  “Youngsters helped their parents beautify the grounds of a local free health clinic, youth painted three apartments at a transitional living facility, two groups that included seniors helped deliver 20 routes of Meals on Wheels and two groups cleaned up the yards of two of our church members who needed assistance.

Ethan Kennedy and Daniel Dobson from Norman, Bethel bag lawn debris at Health for Friends.

“Also, one group cleaned and prepared a new food pantry called Sparrow House for operation, college students joined others at Habitat for Humanity, young professionals played with children and encouraged the staff at a center for developmentally disabled children, and three groups did repairs, landscaping and cleaning at Mission Norman, a Gospel-centered food pantry and utility assistance center!”

Peck added, “One of the neatest things is that multiple groups had opportunities to share the Gospel with people during the work projects. When you make yourself available, God uses you. And we saw that to be true during ‘To Norman With Love.’

“We hope to mobilize even more of our church family through the avenue of Sunday School, not only for projects like this in the future, but also days that are more directly focused on evangelism and inviting people to our church.

“In the parable of the dinner in Luke 14:16-24, the master says to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.’ 

“We must leave the four walls of the church and compel people to come to Jesus      . . . and when they trust Christ,  they will naturally desire fellowship and need discipleship. I believe many Christians desire to witness regularly, but there is a reason Jesus sent His disciples out two-by-two—there is strength in numbers and power in taking dedicated time to serve and evangelize. We praise God for the ‘To Norman With Love’ project, and look forward to future opportunities.”