By Jean Bihn

bike1YUMA, Ariz. (BP) — Eight men. Sixteen wheels. 182 miles. One objective — to draw attention to the Cooperative Program’s vital work.

Decked out in matching blue and white cycling jerseys, on Nov. 9 an eight-man crew began a grueling three-day, 182-mile bicycle ride from the site of the 2016 Arizona Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, Palm Vista Baptist Church in the Phoenix suburb of Surprise.

Their destination? Stone Ridge Baptist Church in Yuma and the 2015 AZSBC annual meeting to be held Nov. 13. AZSBC Executive Director David W. Johnson, an experienced cyclist, came up with the idea for the trek.

The eight riders represented organizations that benefit from or give through the Cooperative Program: the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, Arizona Baptist Children’s Services, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, the North American Mission Board and Arizona churches.

For most of the year — save the scorching summer months that overlap into September — weather in the Valley of the Sun is ideal for cycling, and this day was no different. In the first leg of the ride, the men pedaled to Gila Bend, approximately 60 miles.

But the following two days proved to be challenging.bike2

“I learned a lot on this ride, not just about the guys I was riding with but about working together as a team,” Johnson told Arizona Southern Baptists gathered for the annual meeting. “There is no way that I would have made it to Yuma without the team, and I think just about everybody on the team would say the same thing. … We depended on each other.”

On the second day — which was the longest, with 88 miles to cover — the team battled 18-mile-an-hour headwinds.

“The only way that you can do that is if you’re working together and you help each other as you’re going along the way,” Johnson said. “It’s a beautiful illustration of the Cooperative Program. You can do far more together. You can go farther, you can go faster when you’re working together.”

Pointing to Scripture printed on the jersey he wore on the ride, Johnson explained, “This was kind of a play off the movie The 3:10 to Yuma. … Ephesians 3:10 says, ‘…so that the manifold wisdom of God might be made known through the church.’ That’s the purpose of the church. That’s why we work together. That’s what we are trying to accomplish.”

Johnson invited the cycling team to join him on the platform and share their involvement with the Cooperative Program.

Pastor Victor Berrelez said when he was called to lead Mission Drive Baptist Church in Phoenix, the church was not giving through the Cooperative Program.

“I challenged the people that if we’re going to be partners with someone, we should be partners all the way,” Berrelez said. “When it comes from the heart of the people to give to the Cooperative Program, it’s a blessing. We want to be a part of missions. The Cooperative Program does that. Even though we’re home and [missionaries] are out in the mission field, we take part in that blessing as well, and we pray for them.”

Lucas BassLucas Bass, an assistant director of parent aide for Arizona Baptist Children’s Services, said the agency’s mission is to provide care for hurting children and families through Christ-centered ministries.

“The problem is in the state of Arizona, we are facing an epidemic of hurting and broken families. It is bigger than any one organization,” Bass said. “It is only through partnerships that we have through the Cooperative Program that pool all of us together that we are able to reach some of those families with the hope that we know can only be found in Christ Jesus.”

Monty Patton, North American Mission Board Send City coordinator for Phoenix-Tucson and lead pastor of Mountain Ridge Church in Glendale, Ariz., spoke of the importance of the Cooperative Program to church planting.

If it weren’t for the Cooperative Program, church planters would not be funded, resourced, encouraged, trained or sent out as they are at the current rate, he said. If Arizona Southern Baptists are to fulfill their Centennial Vision of starting 52 churches a year through 2028, “we need all of us to contribute to the Cooperative Program, working together to see our state come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” he said.

Dallas Bivins, director of the Arizona Campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, said five of the eight cyclists attended Golden Gate.

“About one-third of the churches in the state have a Golden Gate seminary student or a Golden Gate graduate or former student, and your Cooperative Program dollars made that possible,” Bivins said.bike3

AZSBC messengers approved a 2016 Cooperative Program budget that raises the percentage sent to the Southern Baptist Convention for national and international missions and ministries for the second straight year. Twenty-nine percent — an increase of 1.5 percentage points — will be sent to the SBC in 2016.
The 2016 Cooperative Program budget is also an increase of $50,000 to $3,230,000, the first increase in five years.
“Last year was the best year we have had since 2009 in giving to the Cooperative Program, and this year we are already $67,000 ahead of last year’s pace,” Johnson said. “I cannot imagine why anyone would not want to give and give more to the Cooperative Program. There is so much that is accomplished through the Cooperative Program that could not be done any other way.”
The cycling team also included Bruce Ford, director of missions for Central Association of Southern Baptists; John Lake, pastor of Church on Randall Place in Pine, Ariz., and Golden Gate Seminary adjunct faculty member; and Robert Waldron, pastor of Christ Community, a young church plant in Sierra Vista, Ariz.

Jean Bihn is a freelance writer for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention.