From Brownwood to Bolivia, church has global goals
But a lot of children at the Austin Avenue Church of Christ know just where it is, nestled in a valley between high mountains in central Bolivia.
“Our kids definitely have a different perspective on the world,” said church member Tracie Chesser. Children pray for missionaries traveling to the South American city and collect change for the church’s annual missions contribution.
February 1, 2006
On Jan. 9, the450-member church in this small, central Texastown sent five missionary couples to Cochabamba,a city of 500,000 people in landlocked Bolivia.
John and CharleneWallace drove from Colleyville, Texas, to say goodbye to theirdaughter and son-in-law, Laura and Gary Bull, and their new grandson, Nathan.John Wallace led a prayer for the team, asking God to “keep them strong,emotionally, physically and spiritually” and to give them “divine moments” toshare Jesus in their new home.
IN THE HEART OF TEXAS
Austin Avenue provides half of each couple’s support for thechurch-planting mission, projected for about 10 years. Churches and membersfrom more than 20 states help with the rest.
The 750-memberWestside church, Round Rock, Texas,helps support the Bulls. Deacons Scott Click and David Holley visited Brownwood for thesend-off.
Austin Avenue’s financial sacrifice “just blew us away,” Click said, “andwe think we can learn from that. (We’re) impressed that a congregation of thissize is launching out in something this big.”
It’s the firstfull-time missionary assignment for all but one of the families — Butch andPatricia Sandoval. The couple previously served in Argentinaand Chile,where the Austin Avenuechurch began supporting their work.
“We’ve been with themfor eight years now,” Butch Sandoval said. “The moment we started beingsponsored, the way I felt was like … no more worries. People in this church sharea vision of missions.”
The send-off cameafter nearly five years of preparation and training, said Roland Bowen, Austin Avenue’seducation minister. Instructors coached the team on subjects from team strategyto conflict resolution. Abilene, Texas-based Continent of Great Cities assistedwith a workshop on urban missions.
“I’ve never preparedfor anything as much as I’ve prepared for this,” Sandoval said. “Truth is, I’mtired of getting ready.”
FROM PERSONAL TOFINANCIAL INVESTMENT
“We’re going to havea big hole in our congregation when these folks leave,” said Morris Horton, alongtime member at Austin Avenue.
All five couplesmoved to Brownwood,a city of about 20,000 people, andworked as interns with Austin Avenue.
The church hasn’talways shared close ties with its missionaries, said Grover Beakley, one of thechurch’s nine elders. In the early 1970s the church supported work in South Africaand occasionally made one-time contributions for special needs, but most churchmembers didn’t feel personally invested in the work.
Then the church begansupporting Bob Waldron and later Bill Richardson, both missionaries in theCentral American country of Guatemala.The missionaries made regular visits, and church members felt a closerattachment to the work, Beakley said.
That sense ofpersonal investment led to increased financial investment. Today Austin Avenuespends 40 percent of its contribution on missions, said Ernest Covey, a deaconand member of the church’s missions committee.
Much of that comesfrom annual missions contributions, which date back to 1982. Originallydesigned to make up for shortfalls in the missions budget, today theone-timecontributions account for the bulk of the church’s mission dollars,Beakleysaid. The most recent offering, held in November while the entireCochabamba team was in Brownwood, netted a record $201,000, Coveysaid.
The church with anunusual knack for raising missions money took an unusual approach to launchingits latest mission. Instead of hearing proposals from prospective or currentmissionaries, Austin Avenue’sleaders picked where they wanted to send a team, then picked the team itself.
“We needed to step upto the next level, (to) have a whole team take on a foreign city the size of Cochabamba,” said elderJim Bailey.
Richardson, now anassociate professor at Harding University, Searcy, Ark., assisted thechurch in selecting Cochabamba from a list of “unreached cities”in the late 1990s.
The church advertisedfor missionaries, eventually selecting the Sandovals, the Bulls, Drew and JamieCuster, Jeff and Katie Forbess and Joshua and Julie Marcum. Only a few kneweach other before they joined the team.
“We refer to it as anarranged marriage,” Butch Sandoval said.
As a veteranmissionary, he knows that conflicts and complications on the field areinevitable. Nonetheless, “God has blessed this team with tremendous talent,” hesaid.
Bo Shero, Austin Avenue’spulpit minister, continued the marriage theme during a Jan. 8 farewell service.The missionaries and church members recited vows of commitment to each other.
“The real work ofmarriage begins after the wedding is over,” Shero told the congregation.
After a lunch ofbarbecue brisket and prayers with the elders, church members said tearfulgoodbyes.
“There’s a healthysense of indebtedness … feeling the enormity of the calling that we’ve beengiven,” said Joshua Marcum, the son of missionaries in Ecuador.
Butthat sense of responsibility doesn’t overwhelm him, Marcum said, because “it’snot all up to us.”