Last Saturday I received three voicemail messages from the same number. I suspected it was a mistake or a telemarketer, because the number wasn’t familiar, and I recognized the area code as being from out of state.
Indeed, the first message sounded like an elderly lady, who simply apologized for possibly dialing the wrong number. But in the second and third messages, the same lady said that she was sorry for bothering me again, but she was trying to reach the “Illinois Baptist Convention.” She asked if I could call her back and at least let her know if she had reached the right number.
Though it was a Saturday evening, and I couldn’t imagine what this lady might need, the frequency and urgency of her messages led me to call her back. It was then that I met Miss Myra, a 95-year-old grandmother from Kentucky.
After a few minutes of conversation, I learned several things about Miss Myra. She had just moved into a new assisted living facility a month earlier. She was nearly blind due to macular degeneration. And years ago, she had served for a while on the board of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. That’s how she knew to call me.
But I learned all those things after Miss Myra told me the primary reason for her call. Her grandson Ben had recently moved to Chicago, and she was concerned that he wasn’t attending church in that new, big city. His parents had raised him in a different denomination, she said, but he hadn’t seemed to stay connected with that church. And she didn’t know anyone to call there anyway. But she knew Southern Baptists, and she knew that if she called “the state convention office,” someone there would help her find a nearby church for her grandson. And she knew that church would be Bible-believing and gospel-centered.
I probably receive 3-4 calls a year like Miss Myra’s, often from someone in the South whose family member or friend has moved to Illinois, usually the Chicago area. They frequently are afraid that Southern Baptist churches “up there” are few or non-existent, and that the city is huge, and probably dangerous.
With Ben’s address, I was able to go to our online database and quickly find several churches within a few miles of where he lived. I did need to filter the options, because some of the IBSA churches nearest him were Spanish-speaking, or Russian, or Vietnamese. After all, Chicago is an international mission field. But a large-print letter went out to Miss Myra the following Monday, with contact information for six churches and pastors, and my offer to contact them personally if she or Ben would like me to do that.
The calls and e-mails and letters I receive like that one from Miss Myra remind me why IBSA continuously plants churches, especially in population centers like Chicago. I didn’t need to find a Chinese, or Romanian, or Korean church this time. But I could have.
Miss Myra’s call also reminds me why we ask churches to collect a Mission Illinois Offering each year, and why we ask Illinois Baptist church members to give generously. That annual offering helps us plant new churches in places like Chicago, or in one of the 22 Illinois counties that still have one, or zero, Baptist churches.
At one point in our conversation, Miss Myra said to me, “You know, I’m 95 and almost blind. I can’t do much. But I can do this.” I will remember her words when I give my Mission Illinois Offering through my church this year. I hope you will too.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.