Published October 30, 2014
DUBLIN — Laurens Baptist Associational (LBA) Missionary Bobby Jones sure has gotten busy doing what he didn’t know how to do.
During pastorates in Georgia and the Carolinas, Jones had always supported associational missionaries. But once he sat in an associational missionary’s seat, that’s when it hit him.
“I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, so I just did what I thought was right,” Jones said.
In seven years, he has apparently gotten many things right in this rural association. Today, there are nine new churches, two ministry centers, a medical clinic, dental clinic, eye clinic, and engagement with an international unreached people group.
LBA has 52 churches as the landscape has changed during Jones’ tenure. When some established churches declined, they sacrificially gave their facilities to the association. This empowered and encouraged the association to engage further in church planting. At least two African-American church plants now occupy those facilities.
LBA has seen one Hispanic, four African American, and four Anglo church plants in the last seven years. Each received financial assistance from the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) through the Cooperative Program (CP).
That progress is aggressive by most associational standards, particularly in the rural South. The county has 50,000 residents, of which an estimated 80% have not professed faith in Christ.
Jones believes that the pervasiveness of lostness in America stretches well beyond the urban areas of this state. To penetrate lostness in his Jerusalem, Jones formed a strategy-planning team with help from the GBC and North American Mission Board (NAMB) consultants to determine the association’s priorities. He soon learned that the pastors and their churches shared his heart for evangelism and church planting.
With the cohesion that came from their inclusive process, not only did new churches emerge, but so did ministry centers.
Ministry and medical centers
When Jeanie Hayslip opens the doors to LBA’s Jesus Others Yourself (JOY) Medical Clinic, she sees familiar faces. The clinic averages 20 patients per week by appointment only.
The citizens served at JOY don’t come for emergencies. They just have a need for medical care while they work in mostly minimum-wage jobs.
“They are the working poor in Laurens County who cannot afford medical or dental insurance,” Hayslip said of the ones served.
JOY is a primary-health-care clinic, serving an estimated 200 patients. JOY has partnerships with area labs, clinics, and hospitals that offer assistance with everything from surgeries, chemo treatments, and dental work.
Besides JOY, LBA operates a separate dental and eye clinic. An alcohol rehab center will start soon.
Not far from JOY, Laurens Association leases an old school building to serve the community with clothing and food needs in a ministry served almost exclusively by LBA church volunteers. Each of the estimated 9,700 families served by the LBA Ministry Centers in Dublin and Cadwell receive counseling with their food and clothes. Already this year, 38 have prayed to receive Christ at the ministry and medical centers.
While LBA remains busy in their Jerusalem, they also sponsored 15 mission trips in 2014. As churches in the association began traveling and ministering together, the association became stronger, Jones said. Many across the association now share a vision for the work.
“It has changed people’s perspectives about lostness,” Jones said of the mission trips.
LBA has frequently sent teams to Mexico. On one trip to south Mexico, Jones met a Mayan pastor who invited them to go into the jungles the following year.
“They carried us through the ancient ceremonial grounds,” Jones said. “One chief accepted Christ along with some of the elders.
“They had tears streaming down their face. ‘This makes sense,’ the tribal leaders said. ‘We know your God is the one true God that we need to serve.’”
Jones believes empathically that increased missions involvement at home and beyond has contributed to increased associational and steady CP giving by LBA churches. When Jones arrived, the association’s budget was about $175,000. Today, LBA churches contribute an estimated $510,000 to the association and designated ministries. Meanwhile, CP giving from the LBA churches has remained steady even during the recent economic downturn.
LBA is able to stretch those dollars with an estimated 125 volunteers, including doctors, nurses, dentists, and pharmacists.
“If it wasn’t for volunteers, I couldn’t survive,” Jones said.
“The most satisfying thing is to be able to partner with our 52 churches and ministers working together as the body of Christ, reaching not only people in our community but people around the world.”
Not bad for a guy who learned on the job.
Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming.
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