By Jim L. Wilson
On a typical Sunday, around 50 people gather at First Baptist Church of
Beverly Hills to worship and shine the light of the gospel in a tough mission
field. The community surrounding the church is mostly Jewish, highly transient
and a few blocks from the home of the annual Gay Pride Parade. Over the years,
First Baptist has partnered with the North American Mission Board and mission
groups from Southern Baptist churches across the country to bring the gospel to
But times have changed.
No, they haven't stopped spreading the
gospel in their area, and occasionally a church will take a mission trip to
their location. But they've stopped viewing themselves as merely a place for
missions and have become a base for mission work across California and the rest
of the country.
One of the their greatest mission efforts has been in the farming
communities in California's San Jaoquin Valley. First Baptist Beverly Hills has
been working the fields near Los Angeles, not picking crops, but harvesting
A few years ago, pastor Tom Stringfellow was reading an article in the Los
Angeles Times about the poverty among California migrant workers. Since migrant
workers started many of the early Southern Baptist Churches in the state during
the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, Stringfellow thought it was a natural fit for
his church's next mission project.
Just like the families who left Oklahoma,
Missouri and other Western states seven decades ago, today's migrant workers
are searching for a better life for their families. Migrants are hard working
laborers who spend day-in and day-out in the fields trying to feed and support
In 2002, the Beverly Hills church collaborated with Trinity Baptist Church
and Primeria Iglesia Bautista of Vacaville, California, to minister in a
state-owned Migrant Center-something that had never been done by other churches
because of the general wariness of the California government toward religious
groups. That first summer of ministry, they clothed 200 children and gave away
3,000 pounds of food. With each pair of shoes and every ounce of food they
shared the gospel, and 37 people accepted Christ as their Savior.
The next summer Ken Crawford, director of the Migrant Centers for the State
of California, asked Stringfellow if First Baptist Beverly Hills could do the
same thing for 23 additional migrant center locations. It took Stringfellow
about two seconds to say yes.
No doubt, the initial mission trip was a miracle, but now the church needed
God to super-size that miracle in order for them to meet this new challenge. It
would take more than a couple of churches to provide for so many people-they
needed mass support. So Stringfellow turned to Southern Baptists for help.
Working in partnership with the Ministry Resource Center of the California
Southern Baptist Convention, he recruited 114 other churches to partner with
them and minister in all 24 locations. The coalition of churches distributed
200,000 pounds of food and taught more than 1,200 children in Vacation Bible
School. For many of the children, VBS was their first opportunity to hear about
Jesus and the difference He can make in their lives. Through gifts to the
Cooperative Program and the California Mission Offering, Southern Baptists
provided the funds for this ministry, helping to purchase supplies and
materials. That second summer of ministry 1,294 people made first time
decisions for Christ.
In 2005 and 2006, Stringfellow served as president of the California
Southern Baptist Convention (CSBC), and he used that platform to motivate all
churches, large and small, to get involved in hands-on missions. He challenged
the CSBC Executive Board to increase their $315,000 State Mission Offering by
$1 million. With the increased mission offering dollars they were able to
purchase a mobile medical and dental clinic. In 2006 California churches
committed to target 22 migrant centers and 30 other communities-a total of 52
The churches aren't doing this alone. They turned to the Healthy Church
Group of the CSBC and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to help with
funds for food distribution. Also the Evangelicals for Social Action and Love
INC worked with the Christian Medical and Dental Association of Fresno to
enlist volunteer medical and dental personnel for the summer project. Volunteer
medical professionals provided a variety of medical and dental treatments for
the migrant families.
"The Central Valley is one of the five poorest regions in the United States.
We have 450 churches in Fresno and Clovis, but still have desperate needs
within a 30- to 60-minute drive that aren't being met," says Alan Doswald,
Executive Director of Love INC. "When we heard what Tom was doing, we wanted to
help. Together with Southern Baptists we went in to love the whole person and
bring good news to those who live in bad news situations."
For several years, the CSBC has had a mission partnership with the Georgia
Baptist Convention, so when Executive Director Dr. Robert White heard about the
previous projects, he asked how they could help. Georgia Baptists paid the
insurance and fuel for the Mobile Medical Unit and provided Spanish Bibles for
distribution to the migrant workers.
Partnerships like these are what make Feeding Those Who Feed Us so
successful. And it's not just the migrant workers who benefit.
"Churches who get involved in ministries like Feeding Those Who Feed Us get a
triple hit," Stringfellow says. "First, they fulfill Matthew 25 in feeding the
hungry and clothing the naked; second, their members get an opportunity to be
involved in hands-on ministry fulfilling their call to ministry; and third, the
blessing boomerangs back to them. A church on mission can't miss being
While projects like Feeding Those Who Feed Us are tremendous opportunities
for spreading the gospel, cultivating the spiritual fields in a migrant
community has its own set of challenges. NAMB missionary Oscar Sanchez, who has
the task of helping churches minister to the 30,000 migrants and seasonal farm
workers in the state, believes there is an urgency to reaching migrants and
especially their children with the gospel. If they can reach them while they
are young, they have a better chance of receiving the gospel and accepting
Christ as Savior. As they grow older, many follow the paths of their parents
falling into the migrant worker cycle. Many times their hearts are hardened by
the hopelessness of their situation. Sanchez and the pastors he works with hope
to help break the cycle of hopelessness and see the life-changing effects of
While working the fertile fields and seeing people come to Christ is a
joyful experience, serving as pastor of a migrant church can be discouraging.
Church members are too poor to fully financially support their pastor. Churches
ministering to predominately migrant families rarely will be financially
independent. The poorly paid migrants have little money to give to their
church, despite working extremely long hours in strenuous conditions. Also,
migrant pastors face disappointment and discouragement, realizing that after
evangelizing and discipling migrant families, they will move when the picking
season is over.
Nonetheless they are committed to sharing with others that their lives can
be changed through the gospel. "These pastors feel called by God to work
through these challenges and minister to migrants," says Sanchez. The help they
receive from volunteers and Southern Baptist churches like First Baptist
Beverly Hills is essential to their ministry. The gospel can be spread further
and faster when Southern Baptists work together.
Charles McClung, the ministry evangelism specialist for the Healthy Church
Group of the CSBC reports that during the 2006 project, around 1,100 volunteers
served 13,000 migrant workers and their families. More than 3,000 households
were given 10 pounds of rice, beans, flour and five pounds each of corn meal
In addition, they served 315 patients with the new Medical Mobile Unit,
distributed 4,169 New Testaments, witnessed using 5,935 witness tracks and
enrolled 2,289 in Vacation Bible Schools in 40 different locations. More than
1,700 people made decisions for Christ.
"For the first time in history, we worked in cities where migrants live,"
says Oscar Sanchez. "As a result of this ministry we were able to start three
We've been getting letters from the seasonal workers who've now moved on to
other states like Texas, Washington and Oregon. They're telling us how they're
sharing the gospel with family members and with migrant workers they meet along
the way. It's like we are sending missionaries out to migrant centers across
the country. The gospel just keeps on spreading."
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC