FERGUSON – Long before a police shooting, protests and a grand jury decision put Ferguson in the national spotlight, the First Baptist Church here had been sharing Christ’s love by serving the community.
“God has opened door after door for ministry,” Ron Becker, associate pastor, said. “We have forged partnerships with many groups in the community over the years.”
FBC Ferguson is known in the area for programming for children.
“We average about 80 children on Wednesday night for AWANA,” Ruth Kotlarczyk, director of preschool and children ministries. “I have 35 Sparks and we’ve never had that many before,” she said. “I’ve looked at the addresses of the children and most are from Ferguson. Parents find out about the program by networking, and they want a safe place for their children to have fun and learn. They know we offer that.”
Since Ferguson has offered the AWANA program for more than 20 years, Tony Jones, FBC Ferguson youth minister, said AWANA has contributed to the youth group at the church. “On Wednesday night, we have about 30 youth coming who graduated from AWANA and loved it, or they have siblings they are bringing now.”
“We are connecting with these kids,” Jones said. “We’ve developed a Bible study for them. We’ve also started feeding them, and that is drawing the teens. One of our church members, Clay Riddlesperger, fixes the meal for them each week.”
Jones is also a rap artist and a member of Surrender2Him, a Christ-centered music group.
“Our group partnered with FBC Ferguson to present ‘Take It to the Streets,’” he said. “We planned to do it on Aug. 16, but it rained that day, so we postponed it to September. We did hand out backpacks with school supplies on the August date. Then, on Sept. 6, we had live music and free barbeque on the church parking lot. We had games, and I arranged to have barbers give free haircuts. A lot of our church members donated desserts for the event.”
According to Jones, many people thought that “Take It to the Streets” was planned in response to the tensions in Ferguson.
“We planned it a long time in advance. We wanted to pour out love on the community,” Jones said. “We are always looking for ways to reach out to the youth, that’s what is on my heart. We want to get out of the walls of the church.”
Kotlarczyk and Beckner both mentioned the impact that “Trunk or Treat” has also had as an outreach to the community.
“We wanted to give families a safe place to ‘Trick or Treat,’” Kotlarczyk said, “and to let them see a piece of what we are like.”
FBC Ferguson has also been conducting “Trunk or Treat” for several years. “We’ve developed a system,” Kotlarczyk said, “to handle the large number of people. We bring in 50 at a time to watch the puppet ministry present Scripture. Then we take them out the back to visit our church members and the trunks. We had 1,000 visit our church. We had more fathers join us this year, and many were in costume.”
Beckner is part of the “system” for moving the families through “Trunk or Treat.” “I stand out in front of the church and talk to the people as they wait to go in,” he said. “We laughed and engaged. They all so appreciated that we held it this year.”
According to Kotlarczyk, two of the church’s community neighbors, Aldi Supermarket and Negwer Building Materials, gave financial donations to purchase some of the candy for the event. Most of the treats were donated by the congregation in the weeks before.
FBC Ferguson cooperates with many businesses and groups in the community. “We have one of the largest venues in Ferguson,” Beckner said. “God has blessed us with this wonderful facility and we can offer a lot of flexibility with large groups and breakout sessions.”
Beckner said calls come in all the time because the community understands our willingness to partner with like-minded people. “We got a call from the Christian Hospital to host a Christmas Party for 75 families with health issues,” he said. “The Hospital will staff the party, supply the food and provide Christmas gifts. They will hold it in our fellowship hall and all they asked was for custodial help and technical support. I checked with our staff before I accepted and they were willing and able to help.”
Beckner said that the positive attitude of the staff has promoted much of the cooperation with community. “We get in on lots of good things in the community because they are willing and able to serve.”
In discussing the recent turmoil in Ferguson, Beckner highlighted the directive for FBC Ferguson: “We are not to pray for Him to shield us. He knows we are serving in a broken, fallen world. We are to serve in the midst of chaos and bring Him the honor and glory.”