November 19, 2002
JEFFERSON CITY – A trio of ministers have been named Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Church Planters of the Year.
Jesse Robards of Golden Harvest Baptist Church, Springfield (Southwest Region); Mike Parry of Fruitland Community Church, Jackson (Southeast Region); and Efrain Baeza, regional Hispanic pastor for the West Central Region garnered the awards at the MBC’s annual meeting Oct. 28-30 in Springfield.
A bi-vocational pastor for 27 years, Robards and his wife, Charlotte, sensed a call from the Lord to plant a church in July 2000. Sponsored by Springhill Baptist Church, Springfield, the church plant quickly grew from a home Bible study group to a congregation of more than 50.
"The steady, faithful leadership that Jess has exhibited as a bi-vocational church planter has resulted in the Lord blessing the church with a zeal to reach out both close at hand and to places far away," according to Robards’ nomination letter.
There is now a Sunday School with seven classes and this past summer the church held five Backyard Bible Clubs in surrounding communities. Golden Harvest has begun a bus ministry utilizing a vehicle donated by Springhill Baptist Church. Several members have served in mission opportunities in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Mexico, Belarus, and England. Future trips are planned for Malaysia and Cambodia.
Parry is the founding pastor of Fruitland, described in his nomination letter as "a purpose-driven, contemporary worship congregation." Parry was called to church planting while serving as the Baptist Student Union director at Southeast Missouri State University and continued in that role through the first two years of development for the church plant on the outskirts of Jackson.
After securing full-time funding, Parry began the new work in September 1999 under the sponsorship of Lynwood Baptist Church, Cape Girardeau. The Fruitland congregation moved into its first facility, constructed by volunteer Southern Baptist builders from across the country, in 2001. Motorists driving by the construction site came to recognize the church for the outdoor sign its members posted: "God is able."
"This expression of faith in God is characteristic of the approach to ministry by Parry and the Fruitland congregation," the nomination states. "There are many testimonies of how God has acted according to their faith and provided wonderful blessings to the new church family. In return, Fruitland continues its missions’ spirit by offering Bible study and discipleship in homes, by taking part in evangelistic missions in its community and by keeping fresh the kingdom vision for their church. Fruitland is considering becoming a ‘reproducing’ church by in turn planting other new churches."
Baeza, his wife, and two children, came to Missouri to work with the growing Hispanic communities of the West Central Association, beginning his new work in January 1999.
He helped develop the church plant at First Baptist Church, Knob Noster, and soon discovered growing communities in LaMonte and Dresden. The Harmony Baptist Association, which co-sponsored Baeza with the West Central Association, discovered many new Hispanic families moving into the Sedalia area as well and outreach began.
An accomplished pianist, Baeza has seen the congregants from Knob Noster and Sedalia grow to where more than 150 attend weekly services at each location. Plans call for the Knob Noster congregation to buy property and build a church facility. This summer he teamed with Lighthouse Hispanic Ministries of Dover to reach the migrant communities of Lexington and Waverly.
Baeza led groups from Knob Noster and Sedalia to participate in Crossover St. Louis during the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in June. They conducted door-to-door visitation, and assisted the Hispanic National Fellowship with special music, ushers, and ministry. During September, the Sedalia and Knob Noster Missions hosted the Missouri Baptist Hispanic Fellowship for a two-day Bible study on the family in which more than 400 persons attended.
Baeza was named Planter of the Year at the National Hispanic meeting in St. Louis.