What the church is about is serving others, says B.J. Fennell.
And that’s how she and several other members of Immanuel Baptist Church in Greenwood spent their summer — serving those in need in Livingston, Montana, where a newly planted Southern Baptist church is located.
“When they plant a church, they go into the community, and they have to make themselves known,” said Fennell. “Because when they go in, they don’t know a soul there.”
The mission trip to Livingston included various community service projects in an effort to get the word out about the new church.
Expedition Church is one of five church plants under Legacy of Faith Ministries, a non-profit Christian organization based in Red Lodge, Montana. Legacy of Faith is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and North American Mission Board.
When a new church is planted, different Southern Baptist mission teams will each stay for a week throughout the summer to help get the church established in the community.
The Immanuel Baptist team’s weeklong mission trip was in June.
Attending were members Skooter and Misti Vaughn and their sons, Cohen and Turner Vaughn; Heather Garrard and her son, John Charles Garrard; brother and sister Sean Jones and Amber Jones; Fennell and her husband, Joe, and their grandsons, Rolin and Lawson Steed; and Carolyn Gore.
“We try to mention when we interact with other people that we are from the Mississippi Delta with Expedition Church doing community service projects,” said Fennell. “That helps put the church name out there. We ask them if they have any prayer needs. If they do, we’ll pray with them.”
Darryl and Veronica Brunson, formerly of Alabama, started Expedition Church, where Darryl serves as pastor.
During their week of service, the 13 members of the Immanuel Baptist mission team split up into three groups and worked in different areas of Livingston.
Some of the women worked on beautifying the city parks and the Boys and Girls Club by pulling weeds, tidying up overgrown landscaping and painting benches and doors. They also worked with the Livingston Food Pantry and served free meals to the community.
Some of the men worked at a rodeo fairgrounds that was in need of sprucing up. They painted picnic tables, doors and the parking lot and made repairs. Some of their work also included pressure washing, and cleaning and repainting the restrooms at the city parks.
A group of three — which included Amber Jones, Misti Vaughn and her son, Turner — went to Sleeping Giant Middle School to work at a cooking camp for students held by the Livingston Food Pantry.
“They were trying to teach the kids who are home alone a lot about good nutrition and how to cook for themselves,” said Jones.
The middle schoolers were also taught kitchen safety since most have to cook for themselves at home, Jones added.
The campers also learned table manners and how to set a table. After cooking, the participants and volunteers would all sit down and eat together.
On the last day of the cooking camp, the students invited their families for a sit-down meal that they prepared.
Spending time with the youth of Sleeping Giant Middle School was a special experience for the three volunteers from Greenwood.
“When we started, Brother Darryl had asked us not to go headstrong in talking to the kids about God and church and things like that; just try to connect with them,” said Jones. “And we did that.”
Toward the end of the week, Jones said the children began asking questions, which led to conversations about faith and Expedition Church.
“Not only are there a lot of people who are non-believers, Montana has the highest rate of teen suicide, and Livingston is the highest in the state,” she said.
Jones talked with a middle school teacher who was a cooking camp volunteer, and the teacher told her that just a couple of years ago Sleeping Giant Middle School lost three students back-to-back from suicide.
“That school has had a lot of trauma,” said Jones.
She said it meant a lot to her to be able to talk with the teacher and share her Christian faith.
The Expedition Church pastor talked to the Greenwood group about the religious demographics of the area — which are very different from the Deep South — and how it is mostly unchurched.
“He gave us the statistics and how many were Christians, and it was unreal the amount of lost people there,” said Heather Garrard.
Some of the Immanuel members even noticed how some of the Christian churches in Livingston were closed and no longer active.
Vaughn said everyone in the community — regardless of their religious beliefs — was thankful that a mission team from the Mississippi Delta had traveled to Livingston to volunteer.
“I can’t tell you how many times at the cooking camp I heard, ‘Thank you so much. We don’t know what we would have done without you,’” she said. “They were appreciative, and we just hope they see the Lord through what we did, and that encourages them to go to church and get involved.”
The work the Immanuel group is doing is making an impact in Montana.
For some, this summer marked their fourth mission trip to the state.
The first trip was to a church plant in Red Lodge. The church was trying to get established in the community.
They did similar work in Red Lodge for the first two years.
Four years ago, the Red Lodge church had about 40 members. Now, the church has more than 100.
“They have enough people coming now. The work has kind of settled down,” said Gore. “So they don’t really have any mission teams, except maybe one comes.”
This year was the group’s second trip to Livingston.
“Brother Darryl said for the first year when they were just getting started and had just gotten a building and formed as a church, they had 12 or 13 attending,” said Skooter Vaughn. “At the one-year anniversary, the church had about 21 charter members, and now it runs 25 or 30 attending.”
At Easter, the church had about 40 in attendance.
“It makes you feel good to see that you helped get that church to where it is now,” said Fennell.
Even after hard work, such as sitting on the ground for six hours pulling weeds, Gore said that the mission trip was just as much a blessing to the Immanuel members as it was to the community they served.
“It’s just a good feeling at the end of the day that you’ve done something, and people come by and thank you for pulling weeds or giving them a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” she said.
As the group helped a church plant grow, there were other seeds that were being sown.
“One of the really special parts of the trip to me was that our two grandsons went — an 11-year-old and soon-to-be 15-year-old,” said Fennell.
The group included five youth members, who all participated in the community service work.
“It just warmed my heart to see those teenage kids out there and having the best time,” said Fennell. “I’m hoping this will be the start of their mission work.”
• Contact Ruthie Robison at 581-7235 or email@example.com.