EKRON, Ky. (KT) – Ekron Baptist Church has long been mission-minded and a supporter of special offerings.
They have a strong Woman’s Missionary Union presence, including one member who is on the state finance committee for WMU, so giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is nothing new to the church. They understand the importance of the offering that goes to support missionaries around the world.
However, what they witnessed this year will not be soon forgotten. While there were a few differences in how everything unfolded from typical LMCO campaigns, this year was atypical and not just because of the coronavirus.
“God showed up” was how one member described it and there may be no better explanation.
“We could get explanations for stuff – our interim pastor is a big supporter (of missions), our budget is lower, expenses through COVID are down and at the end of the year, our offerings exceeded what we needed – but I still think it just goes back to God,” said Belinda Cross, who is on the church finance team. “He is working some kind of plan with our church. I hope that they are feeling God’s presence and movement. Finances aren’t all of it. It’s a sign from the heart.”
Here’s what happened. Robin Warren, who is on the finance committee of the state WMU, was trying to establish a goal for the church’s Lottie Moon giving in the fall. They had given $8,200 in 2019, surpassing a goal of $6,500. But she was hesitant about raising it too much because of COVID and decided to put the bar at $8,500.
Interim pastor Tom Curry encouraged the church to meet the goal, and the church began watching the emotion-tugging videos from the International Mission Board. Warren would speak briefly after each video about the importance of the offering.
“The IMB videos are totally awesome,” Warren said. “I try to speak after those videos for a little bit to emphasize prayer or giving. Whatever I say, he (Curry) enhances it and it’s from the heart. He’s so mission-minded.”
A church tradition that goes back years involves a Sunday evening cantata where afterward members come forward and put donations in a manger for the Lottie Moon offering. Due to COVID, they decided to move that program to Sunday morning because of attendance.
“That was the best thing to happen to Ekron Baptist Church,” Curry said. “I think that was a great move. We broke out of our traditional representation.”
The IMB videos and a homemade one developed by worship leader Melissa McRae and her husband Paul that featured missionaries connected to the church who are serving in Central Asia, the added emphasis about the offering from the pulpit and the moving of the traditional program to the better-attended morning service was creating the perfect storm.
One of the moving donations came from a 7-year-old girl who had earlier given money she had saved to an Angel Tree project so a child her age could have a happy Christmas morning. Her grandfather had rewarded her for that act and she decided to bring what he gave her – about $100 – to the Lottie Moon offering in another selfless act. The church responded with tears and applause and her heart may have opened other hearts, the pastor said.
The atmosphere was different on the day of the program, Curry said. Church members gave on that Sunday morning after the program, and while the donations were being added up, the church had an ugly Christmas sweater contest that made the mood light and fun. They determined the winner with a phone app applause meter and gave candy to first, second and third place.
“When we got through with the ugly sweater contest, they brought me the total,” Curry said.
But before he had received the total, Cross had called Warren, who was home in quarantine because of COVID restrictions, to tell her what was collected. Warren was watching the service on Facebook.
“She was so calm and said, ‘I wanted to tell you how much we collected. It was sixteen … ‘ and I thought, ‘Why is she calling me to tell me it was only $1,600?’ and then she said ‘… thousand.’ I was in shock. It was $16,000!”
Cross said it was such a tremendous moment being in that service when the pastor told the congregation how much had been donated.
“Several people in the congregation had the same feeling (as Warren),” Cross said. “It was like, ‘I think he said that wrong. Did he really say $16,000?’ It was touching. I was beside my mother and she started crying. It was a celebration.”
Cross had given a piece of paper with the total to the pastor who looked back at her inquisitively and mouthed, "Is this right?" It was a moment of panic for Cross, who began questioning the total herself. But they had added it up correctly and the goal had been doubled. The total has since grown to $19,200 with a new goal of $20,000.
Cross's father, Charles Blanche, was the pastor of the church for 42 years. He died about a year ago, his daughter said. Her mother turned 90 last week. It was under his leadership that they started the program with the cantata and where the Lottie Moon offering was described as a “gift to Jesus.”
“It was so moving seeing all the families come down and put a gift in the manger,” Cross said. “A lot of times the children will wrap their money.” When asked how her father may have responded, Cross said, “He would be crying like my mother.”
The offering to Lottie Moon may just be touching the surface, Cross said. The church is in the process of adding a Sunday School wing and the giving to that project has been strong, too, she said.
“God has big plans for our church to do lots of ministry,” Warren said. “I think people are reaching for God after this year. As Christians, we should always do that.”
When asked where Warren would put the goal for the Lottie Moon offering in December, she laughed, “Don’t think I haven’t already been asking myself that already. I don’t think we should ever doubt what God can do.”