MOKANE – Martin Stukenborg doesn’t necessarily pray that the South Callaway High School Bull Dogs win on the ball field, but he thanks God that they’ve had good seasons in recent years.
“Their sports teams have been very successful,” he said. “That’s drawn the community together.”
Events that build unity are important for a community stretched across miles, comprised of several towns from Steadman, Portland and Tebbits to Mokane, Hams Prairie and Reform, as well as other rural settlements in between these towns.
This is especially important for Stukenborg, an associate pastor at First Baptist Church, Fulton. In January, Stukenborg and a core group from FBC Fulton launched South Callaway Community Church, which meets in the South Callaway High School cafeteria. The school, with 60 or 70 graduates each year, unifies South Callaway County’s widespread community.
“That’s what gives them an identity,” Stukenborg said. “So we’re able to reach out from there, from the heart of the community.”
Until now, South Callaway County has had very little gospel witness, according to Stukenborg, who could think of only one small independent church in another town that is really reaching people for Christ. He also named three Methodist churches that share one pastor, a Catholic church whose priest drives down from Fulton for services, and a Disciples of Christ church.
Otherwise, people in the region have had very little contact with a vibrant church intent on contributing to the community and reaching people for Jesus.
Few people leave the South Callaway community to attend churches outside of the region.
“Everybody wants to stay in their community,” Stukenborg said. Some are unable to drive as far as Fulton or Jefferson City. Many in the region simply have no interest in church.
“For most people in that area, when you say, ‘church,’ it doesn’t bring up any kind of a picture of something that they want to be a part of,” Stukenborg said. “They don’t want to sit for an hour on Sunday morning and feel like they wasted their time; they don’t want to meet with a bunch of folks their grandparent’s age and get nothing from it.
“I don’t think many of them are anti-Jesus, but they just haven’t seen really what He is about … (or) how that connects with what they’re doing on Sunday mornings.”
Stukenborg, who joined the staff at FBC Fulton in 2001, has felt a burden for the people of South Callaway County for several years and realized two years ago that God was calling him to reach out to them.
Now, he and members of South Callaway Community Church are working to break down people’s stereotypes about church by becoming involved with the community. They helped run a concession stand for a Lion’s Club event in Mokane last September, they join more than 100 residents of Tebbits at the community center for a monthly meal, and they’ve been working with a local committee to help plan a community wide picnic this summer. Stukenborg himself helped coach fifth and sixth grade basketball earlier this year, and he plans to do so again.
“Now they can see we’re here to serve. Now they know us. Now I think they feel that we are part of them,” Stukenborg said. And as the church is welcomed into the community, he hopes that people in the area see who Jesus really is and what church is really meant to be.