First Baptist of Marietta, Georgia, began seven years ago a mission titled First Connection, which has received more than $1 million with the focus on home repair for senior adults and “those who fall in the cracks.”
Working with the local Community Development Block Grant program to know who is in need has enabled us to focus on reroofing homes, building handicap ramps, painting and siding homes and repairing plumbing and landscaping, to name a few projects.
My first experience with First Connection was the summer of 2008 standing on a roof that needed to be repaired with seven high school students. There were at least two “ah ha” moments for me.
The first was realizing I had no clue about what needed to be done when the volunteer supervisor could not make it the first day.
One of the girls, who had reroofed houses for the past two summers, said, “Pastor, you think we can go ahead and take these old shingles off, check to see if the boards underneath are sturdy enough to hold a new roof?”
She went on to explain that we could nail some two by fours on the roof to keep us from sliding off.
The next “ah ha” was when the county building inspector appeared and asked for our permit.
I had no clue if we had one, where it would be, or if we should have applied for a permit. He gave me that stern look as if to imply we were going to be shut down.
I said, “Well, I am with the group from First Baptist Church Marietta and we are doing Mission Marietta this week, with our First Connection ministry.”
“Oh, you are with those guys, no problem, sorry to bother you,” he replied. “You are from the church that is seeking to make a difference in the community.”
I realized we were not only the presence of Christ with people who were being helped, but also with leaders, government agencies, vendors and many others in the community.
First Baptist Marietta is also involved globally with Pure Water Church through a relationship with the India Baptist Convention and India Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS).
As students from IBTS have graduated, I have been concerned about how they will survive when they return to their villages in Manipur, Nagaland, Assam and Myanmar.
One year we asked seven graduates if they had any need for pure water in their villages. All seven sent proposals for their village churches to dig wells or build water cisterns followed by another 37 requests from other locations.
Within two years, First Baptist Marietta and the nonprofit Pure Water Initiative of Georgia have raised more than $300,000 for wells and water projects for churches and villages in India.
In the past five years, we have built wells in Zambia, Senegal, Myanmar, southeast Asia and India through the relationships we have with IBTS, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship mission personnel living in those countries, and Pure Water Initiative.
Jesus teaches us we will find God when we worship, learn and pray together and when we reach out to those who are hungry, thirsty, poor, naked and in prison.
No wonder the suburban church is in trouble–we rarely find any former prisoners, addicts and homeless there and do not seek to reach them.
We worship relevance and find emptiness. We idolize children and compete with travel sports and professional theatre.
We preach commitment to Christ and are afraid to ask families to give up time and money. We seek a God who will serve us and find a business that offers the best service.
I had the experience of a lifetime in 2013 through a Lilly Grant, which helped me travel to the Chin State of Myanmar, where few Americans have the opportunity to go.
I met Ngo Kho at IBTS and asked if I could see the water projects First Baptist Marietta had funded in the Chin State of Myanmar.
Ngo and I traveled with government guides from Yangon by bus, taxi and trail bike for three days to the Tabeau Village to see a cistern built to allow everyone in the village to have better access to pure water.
My three-day journey paled in comparison to the three days the people walked to pick up the concrete bags, corrugated roofing, two by fours and PVC piping and hand carried them back to their village.
As we celebrated the water cistern, the words of the village leader still echoes in my ear: “With the time we have saved in obtaining water now that the cistern is here, we can now educate our children and continue to improve the life of each person.”
It’s all about relationships, listening to the needs around us and responding to the voice of God within us.
Bill Ross is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Marietta, Georgia.
Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of articles on local churches bringing social capital to their communities. An article by Taylor Sandlin, pastor of Southland Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas, will appear on Wednesday.
Previous articles in the series are:
Bill Ross is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church Marietta, Georgia, and the Executive Director of Pure Water Initiative, Inc.