From day one, Smoke Rise has been committed to missions. It has often been said that “a commitment to missions is in the DNA of Smoke Rise.” Our missions program today is an example of what an integral part missions is to our congregation.
When our church began more than 50 years ago and then for much of our existence afterward, we were part of the Southern Baptist Convention. But when the change in ideologies began to shift in the late 1970s and 1980s, we slowly began a new era in missions. For the next few years after that, we found it difficult to give up a lifetime of commitment to the home and foreign missions that so many of us grew up with and supported with prayers and dollars.
A New Era of Missions
Even before Smoke Rise became active in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, we launched a customized mission program just for Smoke Rise. While the large institutional sending agencies (like the old Foreign Mission Board) certainly have merit, Smoke Rise Missions adopted a different approach.
If I remember correctly, Honduras was our first mission partner. I was on that first trip to northern Honduras the year after Hurricane Mitch in 1999. We worked hard building houses, ate well and took showers in cold water because nobody was willing to risk attaching the wires of the inline hot water system while standing in water!
Honduras was our first international mission partner. The Lilburn Coop was our first local mission partner. And that was just the beginning.
Evolving Missions Programs and Practices
Over the years, missions at Smoke Rise has evolved to what it is today. Our former minister of missions, Tim Adcox, was the chief architect of the operating principles of Smoke Rise missions. The Missions Committee became a sounding board for new ideas.
These operating principles evolved over the years. Each mission partner—local, national or international—had to have a Smoke Rise “champion” who would carry the torch for the partnership, and even lead teams on trips if necessary.
Second, we would support the mission partner financially, but would also work only with partnerships who provided on-site opportunities for Smoke Rise members to serve. Short- term missions at Smoke Rise achieved great success.
Just a few years ago B.C. (i.e. “before Covid”), when we counted volunteers who participated in Smoke Rise missions—local, state, national and international—the total was over 300 in one year! Many of those were first- timers. In May of 2022, four of the men who participated in the God’s Appalachian Partnership (GAP) construction trip were first- timers.
Each mission partnership is also encouraged (but not required) to elect a Smoke Rise member to its board of directors. This pivotal step allows us to participate more fully in the mission of the partnership.
Vetting and Accountability
As Smoke Rise adopted new mission partners, the vetting process allowed us to take a snapshot of leadership, financial policies, religious or denominational affiliation, and operational policies. The accountability process continues with a periodic review of all our partnerships to assure our church community that we maintain the highest level of confidence and trust.
Partners for Life?
Once an organization or entity becomes a Smoke Rise partner, are they a partner for life? Situations and ministries change and mature. For example, we have partnered with the Edgewood Church for over 10 years; but over the next three years we will be reducing our support because they have reached a level of sustainability under the excellent leadership of founding pastors, Nathan and Carrie Dean. Current pastoral leadership is on board with this change.
The Deans have moved to north Georgia and are establishing a new ministry which is now in the vetting phase.
Our first mission partner, Honduras Outreach, while they have our love and some support (especially for the “Egg-a-Day” program), is now referred to as a “senior partner.” Since we can no longer travel to Honduras because of a U.S. State Department level three warning, we will have to take a wait-and-see approach.
Will we accept new mission partners? That always remains a possibility as God leads and the good people of our congregation respond accordingly. The demands of the world, nation and the state of Georgia and our own cities cry out to us daily. The needs are great.
Preparation of Team Members
We have trained hundreds of mission team members and have literally traveled all over our state, our nation and the world for the cause of missions. Prior to any mission trip, each team member goes through an information/preparation seminar. For our foreign travelers, this is quite necessary, even critical for a safe and successful trip.
All mission volunteers are reminded of common courtesies of serving those in need. We encourage giving up the idea that we are “helping poor people.” After all, we are all impoverished in some way and broken in others. The solid basis of our mission program is that we go to serve the needs of people, not to disseminate our own pre-programmed ideas about what those needs are. Our motto is, “What can we do to serve you?”
Another important tenant of our indoctrination process is learning about cultural intelligence. Becoming sensitive to local custom and culture is often hard for first-time American missionaries. The language barrier is huge; the cultural barrier is even larger. We attempt to prepare our mission teams both spiritually and culturally.
Costs and Expenses
Each mission team member bears the cost of his or her travel expenses, food, etc. The range is $300 for the trip to GAP in Kentucky to $2500 plus for the Uganda trip. Mission team involvement requires commitment of time, energy and money, all of which are indicative of the calling to missions. Scholarships are available for any who need financial assistance for all our mission trips.
Each year, the church finance committee gives the Missions Committee a figure to work with. In the recent past, the amount Smoke Rise designates for mission causes has been 8.5 percent of the church budget. Translated into dollars, that amounts to about $184,500 for the 2022-2023 budget year.
Budget monies are divided among our mission partners and help defray other mission expenses. No mission personnel expenses come from the mission budget.
The budgeted amount does not tell the whole story of our financial gifts to missions. First, the World Mission Offering each fall is generously supported by the congregation and has been averaging over $50,000 each year.
Just a few years ago, in the worse season of our national economy, we raised $280,000 for two of our mission partners who had opportunity to purchase property for expansion. These gifts literally changed the course of those mission ministries.
Special needs arise from time to time and Smoke Rise responds. A current example is our churchwide response to the Ukrainian humanitarian crises. To date, in 2022 we have given over $37,000 through the Cooperative Baptist Ukrainian Relief Fund.
Disaster relief, local benevolent causes, and the Smoke Rise Families in Need (FIN) program increase the scope of Smoke Rise missions.
Sunday school classes and individuals support mission efforts which are part of the larger picture but which go largely unrecognized and uncounted. Almost all phases of our church life are saturated in mission.
Honduras Outreach, Centro Shalom (Tijuana, Mexico), African Children’s Mission (Uganda), New York Partnership, GAP (Kentucky), Lilburn Coop, NETWorks Coop (Tucker), Edgewood Church (Atlanta), Friends of Refugees (Clarkston), and Family Heritage Foundation (Clarkston) constitute the heart of our program. But in addition, we support Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Global and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Georgia.
The Joseph Project (local construction projects), disaster relief, Development Disabilities Ministries, and Smoke Rise youth ministries also are supported. One of our newest mission efforts, the Family Missions Trip, gives families with children opportunities to do hands-on missions.
Even a casual reading of this report provides a clear picture of the depth of Smoke Rise Missions. As has been stated, missions is foundational to Smoke Rise, a vital part of our DNA!
– Page Fulgham, Missions Associate