By Dawn Zurmiller
CALIFORNIA—The members of First Baptist Church here clearly see themselves as participants in a church without borders in that they are willing to go wherever the Holy Spirit leads them.
Pastor Greg Morrow tells his congregation, “We are two hours away from anywhere in the world, because if we can get to Kansas City or St. Louis, we can go anywhere.”
Since Morrow came to First California, the first mission trip was to Mexico in 1997 where 69 professions of faith were made. However, it was the trip to Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002 for the Winter Olympics that Morrow marks as the pivotal time in their missions program. That was when the church really began to see the world, as well as other believers, in new ways.
“Out of that experience,” Morrow said, “our church began to say, ‘We would like from this point forward to take a new route where we engage in partnerships, so we can establish ourselves with something that is ongoing.’”
First California has three distinct and diverse partnerships. In Puerto Rico, its sister congregation is the Evangelical Church of the Word, where the congregation is predominantly middle class, young professionals. It is the prayer of First California that they can assist the people in Puerto Rico to be an influence across the island.
St. Bernard Baptist Church in New Orleans is also a partner church. First California was instrumental in helping this inner city church rebuild after Katrina. They are also partners with The Jula People Group in West Africa where they are surrounded by poverty and work to improve conditions in orphanages and villages. Although this congregation recognizes the significance in walking by faith, they also enjoy the constant contact and being able to see the fruit of their labor with their partners after they have returned home from their mission field.
This year First California had members of their congregation in three different parts of the world simultaneously. On June 11-18, 10 members conducted a Vacation Bible School in Puerto Rico, one young adult traveled to West Africa, and two high school students went to El Salvador with Sports Crusaders. On July 2-3, three more members joined the one already in West Africa, and they all came home July 13.
The church also worked with the North American Mission Board in Vancouver, Canada, during the Winter Olympics.
Each mission trip is first approved by the First California Missions Council, who also allocates funds, and is in charge of any special fund-raisers the church may hold for the missions program. A team leader is also chosen for each trip, and training is given to participants in various areas, such as language, cultural, spiritual or practical training on the project that is to be done during the actual trip. Much prayer is put into each trip as it takes several months of planning.
Even though this church takes on the responsibility of the Great Commission in Matthew 28 as it goes into various parts of the world, it also takes that responsibility very seriously in its own community. The church initiated a new language work in California to reach out to the growing Latino population, and has recently called an interim pastor, Daniel Puerto, for this effort. Morrow also explained that the youth program is conducted with a missions flavor to really reach out to the youth in the community. In fact, the entire church is very missions-minded in that it engages in participatory missions (learning by doing).
Morrow hopes to move people away from doing something to get something, but rather to do something merely because it is the right thing to do.
“I believe God blesses people to be a blessing,” he said. “The blessing our people receive is the pleasure of the Lord which comes to a heart of a person who inherently knows they have been obedient.”