WENTZVILLE — North American Mission Board missionary Vivian McCaughan enters Hidden Valley Estates in Wentzville and thanks God for the changes.
Vivian points out the new community center, the tidy landscaping and the covered pavilion built on the dusty spot where outdoor baptisms once took place in a rented cattle tank.
But mostly, she thanks God for transformed lives. She remembers back almost 20 years ago when she first saw the 200-unit apartment community as a suffering mass of humanity. In those days, the complex was infested with drugs and crime.
McCaughan got behind the work begun in 1990 by pastor Dan Hite and 45 members of Christian Family Fellowship, which began its ministry by serving a Thanksgiving meal to 230 residents. The Twin Rivers Baptist Association had targeted the complex as a strategic focus area. In those early days, McCaughan taught children and women and helped connect churches and resources. “She became our greatest cheerleader,” Hite said.
By the following Thanksgiving, the new church served 350. It also hosted a weeklong Life Fair ministry, holding life skills workshops for adults, Vacation Bible School for children and ending the week with a Christian concert. Hite said management noticed a significant drop in the number of complaint calls to the police and to the complex’s office that week — from 40 to just two. That week, the church saw 123 professions of faith.
The church now meets in a community center that serves 600 residents, offering daycare, an after-school program, GED and pre-college tutoring, mentoring, cooking classes and fragile family counseling.
Serving as the North American Mission Board’s multihousing/church planting missionary to Missouri and as the Missouri Baptist Convention’s missions/evangelism team leader, McCaughan sees a huge mission field in multihousing communities.
One of about 5,300 missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter OfferingÆ for North American Missions, McCaughan is among missionaries featured in the annual Week of Prayer, March 7-14.
This year’s theme is “Live with Urgency: Share God’s Transforming Power,” and the offering goal is $70 million, 100 percent of which benefits NAMB missionaries.
Thirty-seven percent of Missouri’s 5.9 million people lives in multihousing units. Every county has some type of multihousing facility — an apartment or condominium complex, an inner-city housing project, a mobile home park, cluster homes, duplexes or blocks of subdivided homes. About 97 percent of residents who live in multihousing units are unchurched, according to a national NAMB study.
Studies show that generally 40 percent of unchurched residents will go to a Bible study or worship experience on the property, but that only three or four percent of residents will attend a church off the grounds, McCaughan said.
After ministries are launched, the ultimate goal is to remain for the long-term. “The long-term presence on the property is a body of believers. It may not have a church-looking facility, but having that body of believers who come together on that property is our goal, ” she said.
“The biggest fallacy in multihousing/church planting is that people think it can happen overnight, and they are willing to jump in and go into a community for a week, two weeks, maybe even for a year,” she added.
McCaughan stressed that missions is all about building relationships over time.
“In some instances, it may take five or 10 years for a church plant to take hold so that the residents see it as their church and their mission field. It’s a long-time process.”
McCaughan has always had a passion for reaching people where they are. Though appointed as a missionary in 1988 by the former Home Mission Board, NAMB’s predecessor, McCaughan had already done multihousing missions.
As an elementary school teacher, she realized many of her students had no church affiliation. Because some students lived in a trailer home park, she decided to hold backyard Bible clubs for three consecutive summers. The first summer, 87 children came, and 27 received Christ.
Today, McCaughan works with leaders and volunteers in 20 year-round multihousing ministries, and with 30 or so properties with seasonal ministries.
Encouraging churches and leaders in the state’s 63 associations to see their opportunities to serve and to support them with resources for multihousing/church planting is one of McCaughan’s main responsibilities.
Her other assignments include serving as coordinator for Woman’s Missionary Union/ Women’s Missions and Ministry, Heartcall Evangelism and World Hunger. And she leads a ministry for wives of pastors and the state’s 56 directors of missions.
Her long “to-do” list usually rests on the console of her car — her “office” — as she logs about 3,000 miles monthly, roaming the state from her MBC office in Jefferson City and from her home in St. Charles.
McCaughan’s missionary plate is full, but all the work fits together and does not deter her, even though at times she admits to being overwhelmed. Then in 2007, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After surgery and radiation, she completed two years of chemotherapy. But she’s grateful that tiredness is the main side effect from treatment, still allowing her to work her busy schedule, she said.
Missions is what McCaughan was made for — it’s in her DNA, she said. After all, her father, Billy Hargrove, was a pastor widely known in Missouri for his missions heart.
Before receiving her call to missions at 13, McCaughan traveled the state’s highways and back roads, accompanying her father when he served on the state’s missions staff and as a pastor.
Letting people know she cares is important to McCaughan. A waitress at a local restaurant recently told the missionary how she has always appreciated the couple’s encouragement and friendliness, and thanked her for the notes and Christian pamphlets they usually leave with their tip.
One business card they left simply said, “Introducing Jesus to you is the best way I know to say thank you.”