I recently learned of the passing of Mary Lou Cameron at age 99. Mary Lou was the widow of Harold Cameron, who was state missions director and a church planting leader at IBSA for many years.
I didn’t know Mary Lou personally, but her passing reminded me of the only time I remember meeting her husband, Harold, probably in the late 1970’s. He came to speak in the St. Charles church where I was a youth minister, and shared passionately about the need for new churches in Illinois. In doing so, he told story after story of the challenges and opposition he and others faced in getting new Baptist churches established in northern Illinois, including ours.
At that time, our church had well over 200 weekly attenders, several vibrant ministries, and was baptizing new believers regularly. So it was hard for me as a 20-year-old youth minister to imagine a day just 25 years earlier, when our church didn’t exist.
During his one opportunity to do so, Harold convinced me that Illinois is a mission field, that church planting is the missionary task most needed here, that it is not easy, but that it is extremely worthwhile. His transparent heart cared not only for the lost, but for the lost of tomorrow. He knew that he couldn’t personally share Christ with all those lost people, but he could start churches that would. In that moment, I remember being personally grateful to him for starting our church.
Now let me fast forward to today, when I am almost the age Harold was then, and when I ask you to join me in giving generously to the annual Mission Illinois Offering, preferably through your church, or at IBSA.org. Church planting is one of the primary ministries supported by that offering, and church planting is still desperately needed in Illinois. In fact, IBSA church planting staff have identified at least 200 places or people groups in Illinois where a new, Bible-believing church is needed, today.
With current leaders and resources, IBSA is seeing about 20 new churches started each year. But your generous offering can help accelerate the pace at which a New Testament church is established, in or near every community in Illinois.
Someone planted your church, and mine, whether it was 25 years ago or 200 years ago. The question for us today is how generously we will continue to pay our gratitude forward, and establish new churches for both new communities and new generations.
Reading Mary Lou’s obituary reminded me that Harold retired in 1981, just a couple of years after I met him as a young man. Men like my father and other church planting and associational leaders, and women like Mary Lou and my mom, then continued to champion that church planting legacy for their generation. In fact, they helped me plant a church in that same northern Illinois region in 1994, before I moved on to help church planting nationwide at the North American Mission Board. Now I stand on their shoulders, and without reservation ask us to continue planting new churches here in Illinois.
It probably won’t surprise you that Mary Lou Cameron designated any memorial contributions to either the scholarship fund of the Baptist Foundation, or to Illinois Baptist State Missions, or in other words, the Mission Illinois Offering. Mary Lou and Harold clearly had hearts for tomorrow, hearts for church planting, and hearts for tomorrow’s lost in Illinois. Our gifts through the Mission Illinois Offering this year can both honor their lives and echo their hearts.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.