By Bill Webb, Word&Way Editor
The program is called Swords Into Plowshares -- and it is no accident that the name has a decidedly agricultural sound to it. It is a program where limited investments in farm animals, farm implements and seeds continues to make a difference for families across Belarus.
Just ask Carol and Bill Gutshall, who co-chair the advisory committee for the program, Their exhibit is a mainstay at state conventions and gatherings of mission groups, and Carol will hand you a packet of "cow seeds" -- beans with dark spots on them -- for a chance to tell anyone about the ministry.
The Trenton couple are not the only members of the advisory committee, which includes Lucy Praisewater, Kansas City; Claude Eckert, also of Trenton; Herb Keith, Point Lookout; Anita Saathoff, Stockton; and David Geir, California.
But no one speaks more passionately about Swords Into Plowshares than the Gutshalls, especially Carol. She carries a collection of snapshots of individuals and families posing proudly with turkeys, geese, chickens, cows, horses, "walk-behind" tractors and other implements, as well as bags of seed.
One of the pictures shows a young pastor plowing his garden by hitching family members and neighbors to his plow. This year, the father of five boys is plowing his garden and the plots of his neighbors with a walk-behind plow, courtesy of Swords into Plowshares.
The program was started during Missouri Baptists' 10-year partnership with the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptist of Belarus, and it has continued beyond the end of the formal partnership. The advisory committee works "under the advisement and in cooperation with" Norm Howell, who heads the MBC partnership team, and North Grand River Baptist Association.
Pastor Vladimir Malinouski and his wife, Svetlana, coordinate the program in Belarus, Carol explained. They operate a successful farm themselves in Shklov, and he is senior pastor in the Mogilev Region, serving 46 churches.
Some of the Missouri Baptists who give to the program designate those funds for specific uses. Some of the Girls in Action groups around the state have raised enough money to purchase a milk cow for a Belarussian family, for instance.
The Adult 2 and 3 Departments at First Baptist Church of Ferguson launched "Operation Moo," a three-month emphasis to raise money to buy cows. When they finished, $870 had been raised, enough to buy cows for two families in Belarus. Non-designated gifts are used to meet priority needs in Belarus.
Cows purchased locally
Cows are purchased from collective farms in Belarus, another boost to the sluggish economy of the former Soviet republic.
Families and churches in Belarus submit applications to be considered for "love gifts" from the program. Applications are considered carefully, with an emphasis on stretching them as far as possible, making sure each gift will serve as many people as possible.
Each recipient must follow up with a thank-you letter to Missouri Baptists and a photograph if they receive a cow, horse, chickens, turkeys, goat, seeds or tractor. The advisory committee uses the photographs to promote the program in Missouri and to keep prayer reminders of the people there.
"A horse or small tractor is really a blessing," Bill Gutshall said.
Kobrin Camp, which serves hundreds of children each summer, is an annual recipient of seed and fertilizer as one means of helping support the camp and its strategic dental, medical, recreation and evangelistic ministry.
Seeds are purchased in bulk from a seed company in the capital of Minsk. Buying in bulk and repackaging for distribution stretches their value. The seed-sharing program cycles through each of the regions of Belarus, allowing the blessing to be shared with families across the country.
"We feel this is a ministry," said Bill, "and they share it with other people."
Carol obviously relishes their intense involvement in the program. "I feel like we have done a lot of good in Belarus." She has a simple description for Swords Into Plowshares: "It's real people doing real things for real people."
Popular English classes
That applies to the beginning English classes that have become very popular as a way to reach Belarussians and to share a Christian witness. The Gutshalls were part of a team of 16 who provided a 10-day school in Vitebsk to 300 people. The course was coordinated by the International Mission Board and local Belarussian believers.
Gifts that range from $35 to $396 will purchase livestock; $70 to $3,000, farm implements; and $4 and up, seeds. To make a contribution, make checks payable to Swords into Plowshares and mail to North Grand River Baptist Association, 1108 Main St., Trenton, MO 64683. (06-15-05)