Pastor Travis Hyde didn’t exactly get the reaction he’d hoped for. He saw dropped jaws and looks of disbelief; one woman appeared to almost fall out of her pew.
In 2006, when Hyde became pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in War, W.Va., about 15 people were in the pews on Sundays. As the Christmas season approached, Hyde challenged the congregation to set a goal of $500 for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. “It was obvious from the look on some folks’ faces that they thought that was an impossible kind of task,” Hyde said. “The most they had given in the past wasn’t much more than $150.”
In this small coal-mining town of about 700 people, giving money can be a sensitive topic.
There are few stores in War. Many buildings are abandoned or closed for business. The local post office does not deliver mail, and cell phone coverage is unreliable unless the town’s only cell phone provider is used. In the 1950s, when more coal mining jobs were available, the town’s population neared 3,000. Today, many of those jobs and the people who lived there are gone.
“I tell people that War is one of the closest places you’ll come to in the United States to a third-world country,” Hyde said. “The economic struggles here in War are tough,” Hyde’s wife Cathy added. “There are a lot of people who are unemployed. There are a lot of people who are on disability. We see people who struggle to pay heating bills, power bills, to buy groceries.”
When Hyde announced the $500 Lottie Moon goal in 2006, Juanita Stress, a retiree who has attended Calvary since the eighth grade, was shocked and a little aggravated. “On the way home from church, I told my husband if this character thinks he’s going to see that kind of money from us, he’ll be whistling Dixie,” she said.
Hyde pressed forward with the goal.
He preached on the needs of those who do not have access to the Gospel. He also shared how the offering supports missionaries serving around the world.
That year, the congregation gave $1,350. The next year, they gave $1,500. The year after that, the offering reached $4,400.
In 2009, Calvary Baptist collected more than $7,000 for international missions. Hyde and Stress still joke about her “whistling Dixie” comment.
“I was wrong,” Stress said. “I admitted it.” For this year’s offering, Hyde decided not to set a goal. He simply asked the congregation, now about 45 people, to pray about what they should give. “Our people have come to realize over these last few years that God knows no limits,” Hyde said. “He has no restrictions other than those we put on Him.”
“I’ve told our people for several years that our task is not defined by the size of our congregation,” he added. “It is defined by the size of our God.” The members of Calvary Baptist take that seriously. One member uses the money she’d spend on Christmas gifts for her grandchildren to give to the offering. Others won’t spend more money on Christmas gifts than they plan to give to the offering.
The Hyde’s contend that the congregation connects – at least in a small way – with the struggles of those who live in other countries. “Most of the people in our church have had hard times,” Cathy said. “They know what it’s like to do without a meal, to not have heat in the wintertime, to not have warm clothing. I think because of their past experiences, they can relate to people in other countries who are suffering.”
Right now, there are 6,426 unreached people groups in the world. This year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering theme – “Are we there yet?” – considers the sacrifice it will take to reach those remaining people groups.
“Most of the time we think of evangelism in terms of trying to meet some kind of physical need,” Hyde said. “But no matter how many meals we feed the people, we’ve got to get the Gospel to them. To me that’s the essence of what this offering is about.”
There are plenty of struggles in War, but Hyde remains confident about the future. Though nearly all of the adults in the congregation are either retired or over the age of 50, a third of the congregation consists of teens or children. The church provides rides for many of them each Sunday.
“Most of the parents won’t come to church for anything,” Hyde said. “We’re basically missing the parent generation. Probably between 80 and 90 percent of the people in War are un-churched. The best success we’ve had is in reaching the kids and young people.”
Little Girl with a big heart: For the past three years, 10-year-old Kaylan Lockhart has collected spare change to give each year to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering at Calvary Baptist Church in War, W.Va. This year, she gave $202 to the offering.
The Kaylan Factor
One of those successes is 10-year-old Kaylan Lockhart. Kaylan travels 45 minutes from her home in a nearby town to her grandmother’s house in War so she can attend Calvary on Sundays.
On Dec. 5, Kaylan drew a crowd as she carried a cardboard box into church. She was all smiles as she opened the box. Inside was $202 in bills and change – and every bit of it went to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. For the past three years, Kaylan has collected about $200 a year. One year she reached $240.
Even at 10, Kaylan seems to understand sacrifice.
“If my mom gives me snack money, and I don’t use it all, I bring it over to my grandma’s house and I put it in our little jar,” she said. “Sometimes I do not buy the stuff that I usually want … purses, coloring books, crayons.”
For Kaylan, giving to international missions is more important. “It’s not fair that we only get to learn about God. Other people should be able to,” she said. “If you really want other people to learn about God, you should put at least a few dollars into the offering so we’re not the only one’s learning about Him.”
“If everybody was as committed as Kaylan is, we would be there,” said Cathy, referring to this year’s “Are we there yet?” theme.
Travis Hyde does not believe God is finished working in the town or that Calvary Baptist has reached its potential. “We only have 45 members, but the same God that works in a church of 5,000 works in our church,” the pastor said. “I think they are convinced of that now.”
“I’ve told our people for several years that our task is not defined by the size of our congregation…”
Alan James is a writer for the International Mission Board.