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Rural churches find that missions energize people

Nurturing members’ inclination to engage in mission energizes First Presbyterian Church in Reardan to meet challenges. 

The 60-member congregation stepped up to the mission of supporting a full-time pastor and supporting a myriad of missions and ministries that revitalize them.
In five years, the church has increased from giving 4.1 percent of its budget for mission outside its walls and community to giving 11.5 percent, said the Rev. Bill Ward, who came in 1999. 

Audrey Wagner
Audrey Wagner talks about tutoring refugees in English.
Mission giving spills beyond the budget. The church understands that supporting a mission is about prayer and action, as much as donations.

“It’s not just about money,” he said, “it’s about stepping up to a challenge and stepping into a relationship, so mission education and interpretation are part of every worship service.

People easily accept the myth that a church in a little town can’t do much,” said Bill, “but by God’s grace we are able to do together what by God’s design we could never do alone."
Recently he and his wife, Lori, met with Audrey Wagner, Glenna Zwainz and Ruth Nelson of the church and gave an overview of their outreach.

• Eleven youth and two adults joined 32 from Wilbur and Davenport, and 103 others on a mission trip to build houses with AMOR ministries this summer in Mexico, drawing a new generation into global concern.

• Youth continue a 25-year tradition of teaching vacation Bible schools in both Reardan and another community, such as Washtucna, Waitsburg or for Hispanic children in Mattawa.

• Official mission partners include Tom and Judy Cosby, a local couple working with the Bible Study Fellowship in Jos, Nigeria, to take in children orphaned by AIDS; Teen Challenge Spokane Men’s Center and the Geiger jail chaplaincy.

• On fifth Saturdays, members prepare a meal for homeless teens at Crosswalk in Spokane with the local Lutheran, Methodist and Catholic churches. 

Reardan women
Reardan women review photos of mission projects.
Two years ago, the church remodeled its kitchen to be certified for Crosswalk.  However, they opted not to put in a dishwasher, because washing dishes is a time for socializing.

• Part of the mission is ecumenical relations among the churches, which worship together Thanksgiving Eve, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, World Day of Prayer, first Sundays of July and August in the park, and as part of their community’s Mule Days celebration.  There are also ecumenical Christmas and Easter cantatas.

The vacation Bible school, World Day of Prayer, Friday Prayer Breakfast for high school youth and other ecumenical gatherings rotate clockwise around the Reardan churches.

• Lincoln County churches sponsor a Marriage Excellence program, in which pastors covenant to provide pre-marital preparation and to nurture married couples.

Individuals provide personal contact with global concerns.

• Through Fred Fleming, a resident who attends Life Center in Spokane, some members support an International Assistance Program in Romania, helping Romanian farmers gain appropriate technology.

• The Sunday school “adopted” the ministry of Paul—a doctor—and Joan McLain, a couple from Davenport who are working at a clinic in Haiti.  With neighboring communities, classes have sent “care packages” and keep informed about their work.

• While women’s groups in many churches have declined, the 12 members of the Reardan Presbyterian Women are active in mission, ministry, prayer and study, supporting several missionaries and adopting children through Compassion International and World Vision. 

• Audrey, who is now in a five-generation farm family, came to the United States in 1954 from Australia.  She brings global awareness through tutoring immigrants and refugees from Korea, Romania, former Soviet republics, Vietnam and Thailand at Barton School in Spokane.  She has brought some to World Day of Prayer services, which are held in March.  She went to Romania with a former student and has kept friendships with many others.

Bill Ward
Bill Ward discusses mission.
• Bill shares concerns about Guatemala from the Inland Northwest Presbytery’s partnership there.  He also brings mission awareness through Perspectives on World Christian Mission, a clearinghouse that connects mission needs and activities.  Training sessions for that are set for Jan. 17 to May 2 in Spokane.

• Some support and learn from Sue Lani Madsen, a local architect who helped build an orphanage in Romania and clinic in Zimbabwe, where her husband Craig has also done range management.

• The church helps with community food drives for the local food bank, which is moving into an improved facility. Offerings from ecumenical services support a deacons’ fund, accessible to each church for aid and assistance.

Reardan teen in Mexico
Reardan teen hugs Mexican girl.
Just as teens who went to Mexico are more invested in the church, so are members who engage in the mission opportunities.

“Mission is about relationships,” Bill said.  “Discipleship is about introducing people to people.  They fall in love with those people.  As they relate to real people in real life, they understand causes.

“Prayer is not just for Sunday morning in church, but it’s about every day throughout the community,” he said.  “Worship is not a show.  It’s about life.”

Local clergy model that concept.  Father Pat McMahon of St. Michael’s Catholic, Mike Welch at Reardan United Methodist and—until he recently moved—Dave Kappus at Emmanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church meet at noon Wednesdays at the firehouse to pray and plan services.  The firehouse, which is centrally located, has a glass front, so their gathering is visible.

Along with “praying for Bessie’s bunions,” they pray what Bill calls “strategic prayer” that “the altars of offense—what offends God—be replaced by altars of invitation, so people live in community in ways that honor God.

“Our coming together shows that it’s important to be connected to the church and that there is one Church,” he said.  “We have respect and camaraderie, appropriate because many people in our churches are related.”

“Small churches integrate faith and life because of the small-town connectional nature,” Bill said.  “Global connections tie to skills of local people.”

Glenna, who is in a four-generation farm family, values global contacts that connect the church and the community with the world.  While not likely to go abroad, she learns from visiting missionaries, immigrants and community members, who go or come from abroad, about their parts of the world—China, Thailand, Guatemala, Romania, Zimbabwe, Korea and more.

These connections broaden our thoughts and perspectives, so we love other people and cultures,” said Glenna.

Her grandparents came in 1904 from South Dakota and joined the church, which was founded as a mission church in 1902. In 1952, it called its first full-time pastor.

Audrey’s grandchildren are interested in exploring family history and history of Reardan.
Balancing that, she commented that international contacts “keep us aware that Reardan is not the center of the world, nor is it the end of the world.  We are broad-minded and know more than many urban people do.”

Lori lived for 20 years with her now-pastor husband Bill in suburban King County while he worked in aerospace engineering and she worked on cancer research.  She finds Reardan “the best urban and rural life”— proximity to Spokane for access to some arts and culture, and opportunities to produce its own culture—from Mule Days to singing the Messiah.

We don’t just watch culture, we do it,” said Bill, who grew up Catholic but moved away from church during studies at the University of California in Davis.  His participation in mission through a small group in a Seattle church led him to attend Fuller Seminary Northwest in Vancouver and Seattle, graduating in 1998.

“As a new pastor and my first time in a rural context,” he said,  “I find small-town knowledge woven into the fabric of community assumptions—why there are four churches or why two people don’t talk to each other.

“The suburban commuter church we attended had a $4 million budget.  Donations went to faceless people and causes.  People shopped for a church to meet their needs.”

The small, familial church models the do-it-yourself cultural experiences.  It’s closely knit, so people know when members and neighbors are in need.  They don’t wait for someone else to help their family, friends and neighbors.

During the interview with Bill, Lori, Glenna and Audrey, an example of response to an immediate need arose.  The phone rang.  The transmission in a Reardan couple’s car had gone out enroute to Spokane.  So they called the church for help.

“It’s my runabout day,” said Glenna, offering her services for the spur-of-the moment mission.
 Bill said the church’s immediate mission field—shared with the 50- to 60-member Methodist, Lutheran and Catholic churches—is the school district, geographically one of the largest in the state.  There are 2,700 voters—30 percent in farm families—and 635 students in K-12.

Many people work Sundays and drop off children at church.  Some attend church in Spokane or nearby communities.  Young people leave for education, marry and often return to rear their families.

“The church is no longer at the center of American culture,” Bill said, “but that allows the church to be authentic and prophetic. We work and exist for peace and justice, but cannot legislate God’s shalom. In a broken world, we need to be prophetic against unjust structures,” Bill said.

“Growth in the mission and ministry of our churches will come as we throw off cultural and political overlay and entrapments, and return to the core mission of Christ, which is salvation.  Then we will see our faith is relevant in all cultures,” Bill said.

For information, call 796-2141.

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