On a Barnabas Journey of service
Ed and Vickie Bass, who have served Churches of Christ from Kentucky to Texas — plus Hawaii and New Zealand — have a heart for the oft-overlooked mission field of small-town USA. They founded The Barnabas Journey to help remote congregations, including those without full- or part-time ministers. They named the ministry after the original “son of encouragement,” described in the book of Acts as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”
The Basses spend up to a month at a time with each church they serve. They preach, teach and do whatever needs to be done — at no cost to the congregation. Most importantly, they encourage small churches to dream big as they reach out to their communities.
Their base is Wyoming, the least-populous state in the U.S., home to 32 Churches of Christ with a combined membership of about 1,800. Many churches have fewer than 30 souls in pews on Sundays, Ed Bass said, and many are at least 70 miles away from another Church of Christ. Ed Bass, a graduate of Abilene Christian University in Texas, has preached for churches in Lander and Dubois.
Vickie Bass has spent most of her life in Lander. For 36 years she served as a dietary manager at a special-needs facility. She hunts, snowmobiles and once served as a cook for an outfitter that took groups through the majestic mountains near Yellowstone National Park.
Their son, Kevin, lives in Maui, Hawaii. Their daughter, Laura Jo, and her husband, Pablo Sanchez, serve as missionaries in Santiago, Chile.
Explain the need you see for The Barnabas Journey.Churches sometimes need encouragement to develop a vision for what is possible. It has been well documented that many of our smaller congregations are closing their doors and disappearing from the landscape. Though the Barnabas Journey does not always prevent that from happening, there are congregations where a little help can make a big difference.
One of the goals of The Barnabas Journey is to provide smaller churches — and those who serve them — an opportunity to catch their breath and renew their spirit. For instance, when asked, I will do the Sunday morning preaching and teaching of Bible classes during our stay. Vickie may teach a children’s Bible classes, a ladies’ class or even assist with a ladies’ retreat.
For those men who carry the preaching-teaching responsibilities, it can be a refreshing break having someone fill in for them for a while.
Full- or part-time ministers may enjoy having a coworker serve alongside them. Ministers of smaller churches work alone. They rarely, if ever, have a secretary. Also, having someone to share their responsibilities may finally allow ministers and their families to take a well-deserved vacation.
What do you do for the churches you serve?We have been with five congregations so far. Each church presents different opportunities and responsibilities. A lot of what we do with a church is planned ahead of time. But what is most rewarding is discovering vital ways to help after we arrive.
Some of the congregations have a minister; others do not. At times I have done all of the preaching and teaching and other times not as much. This has been much more appreciated than we realized.
Members of one congregation, with no full-time minister, even told me they felt we were over-thinking what this ministry could or should do. They wanted me to know what a blessing just having someone to fill the teaching and preaching responsibilities was to them.
We have conducted a Vacation Bible School for teens, assisted with numerous church activities, made lots of visits, shared in discussions about vision and growing, put together 60 new chairs, done janitorial duties, counseling and other cool stuff. But the most important thing we do is listen and encourage.
Is there anything you won’t do for a church?Our ministry does not focus on conflict resolution. There are brethren who do that and do it well. We avoid, as much as possible, focusing on what is wrong, or who did or said what. We are a ministry of encouragement. That does not mean we are afraid of difficult situations, but we prefer to encourage and look forward.
Why did you decide to launch The Barnabas Journey?That is easy. Having ministered in Wyoming, we saw the great need for encouragement to churches.
Wyoming has some wonderful congregations — Casper, Laramie, Cheyenne, Lander, Gillette, Cody and more. But like many of the Western and Mountain West states, there are also many smaller congregations.
In 2010, Vickie and I had the opportunity to come to Dubois, Wyo., where I was blessed to serve as the full-time minister. Dubois at different times in its history had some growth, but by the time we arrived they had just a few members.
Another influence in my life was a man I never met, Stanley Shipp. My wife, Vickie, and her family knew him. Some of the first converts in Dubois resulted because of him. Some of the churches that were planted in Wyoming were because of him.
Men such as Stanley Ship are why many churches in the West came into existence in the 1960’s and 70’s.
Some of these churches grew and have done well. Others have not — sometimes because of the economy. The Dubois church is blessed to have other churches support them. That’s not always the case. Some churches struggle because of their location. They have been forgotten, grown smaller. Some have closed their doors.
While in Dubois, Vickie and I had opportunity to help and encourage a few other small churches. One day Vickie looked at me and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do something like that full-time?”
Well, two years later, after talking with some folks, lots of prayers and God opening countless doors (we keep a list of those doors, by the way) that is exactly what we are doing.
What is the hardest part of the ministry?Raising money!
The Cody Church of Christ, our sponsoring congregation, has about 65 members and four elders. It is a wonderful church. We have been blessed to have other congregations partner with them to help support The Barnabas Journey. We especially appreciate what the Jackson Heights Church of Christ in Florence, Ala., has done to help this ministry. We are blessed to have other individuals and congregations assisting as well.
But it is not easy to raise funds — especially when we try to describe to others what kind of ministry this is and why it’s needed. This is a ministry you appreciate most if you are a small, remote congregation. It also seems to be harder to raise money for mission work in the U.S. than for ministries that serve overseas.
What has been the greatest blessing to you from this ministry? Very simply, being with these churches and working alongside their members. Their response has been as much or more of an encouragement to us than any encouragement we have given them.
We have congregations booked well into 2017, and we have enough requests to take us through most of 2018. We live in our RV and work in northern states during the warmer months and in the southern states in the colder months. We have to consider our route so we are not bouncing all over the place.
We want to work with congregations who believe they could benefit from some encouragement and assistance — and will allow us to love on them where they live.