By Marvin Garrison
Handling snakes, dining on ethnic foods, playing driveway basketball with 50-year missionary veterans, learning to eat with chopsticks, meeting people from faraway places, spending time one-on-one with missionary warriors . . . These are only a few of the adventures Doug experienced through the Hi-Plains School of Missions. Doug’s parents were intimately involved in the ministry of the School of Missions, and as an elementary student he experienced the exciting adventure of sharing his home with many missionaries. His mother observes, “Hosting many missionaries in our home has been a blessing.”
Each October several congregations in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas join forces in a venture that is impacting local churches and the world for the kingdom of God. That exciting venture, the Hi-Plains School of Missions, is “providing information, instruction, and inspiration for becoming world Christians,” as our mission statement says.
The Hi-Plains School of Missions began in 1984, having its roots in the Southwest Kansas School of Missions. That year 35 churches participated in the two-week Southwest Kansas School. Following the gentle urging of Walter Birney, who for 43 years served as the director of the National Missionary Convention (now International Conference on Missions), five churches from northwest Oklahoma and the Oklahoma panhandle bonded together to form the Hi-Plains School of Missions.
Within a short time other congregations came on board and we held our first weeklong school. The next year additional churches joined and the program expanded to two weeks. Marvin Garrison, currently the preaching minister with First Christian Church in Laverne, Oklahoma, served as the organizing chairman. Marvin continues in that role today.
The Hi-Plains School of Missions provides an opportunity for smaller and midsize rural churches to cooperate in a kingdom adventure that has revived and revitalized congregations. Scott DeVore from Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, writes, “Our people are always pumped up and encouraged by the event.”
Planning with a Purpose
The Hi-Plains School of Missions is committed to providing churches with one week of inspiration, instruction, information, and motivation emphasizing the church’s mission of reaching the lost with the gospel. Equally important is the opportunity for missionaries to expand awareness of their particular works.
Early in the calendar year the cochairman sends a letter of invitation to churches in our geographical area. Interested churches submit a $100 participation fee, used for promotional purposes.
In the meantime, the chairman has been at work throughout the year, enlisting missionaries for the two-week event. Following the April enrollment deadline, the planning committee (made up of representatives from the enrolled churches) holds its first planning meeting. At this initial meeting, planning revolves around confirming participating churches, identifying missionaries, and determining assignments for publicity.
A second planning meeting is held in early August. At this meeting the speaking assignments for each participating missionary are confirmed, and the missionary’s biographical information is distributed to participating churches. Prior to this meeting the chairman has determined the circuit of churches for each week. Each church selects a Sunday morning missionary speaker. Following a set rotation, each church will host six missionaries from Sunday morning through Thursday evening. Each missionary will have the opportunity to speak in 12 churches during the two-week event.
Approximately two weeks after this planning session, a work day is held to assemble an information packet for each missionary and church. The missionary packet contains contact information for each church, community maps, driving directions from church to church, evaluation forms, and tourist information for the area. The church packet contains biographical information, a description of the media needs of each missionary, a schedule of speakers, letters to the minister and treasurer, an evaluation form, and publicity materials.
On Friday prior to the school’s beginning, the visiting missionaries and the planning team gather for a two-day orientation. This is a sweet time of fellowship and bonding. An evaluation meeting is held at the end of October, and leaders for the next year’s school are selected.
Program with a Purpose
Churches are encouraged to feature the missionary on Sunday morning in a way that will maximize exposure to the mission and to the school. For evening programs, churches are urged to allow missionaries ample time (45 to 50 minutes) to present their work and answer questions.
Many churches will provide a meal and festive decorations to enhance the experience. Almost without exception, churches will conclude the evening by gathering around the missionary for a time of prayer and encouragement. Quite often a church will bless the missionary with a gift unique to the community or a gift of cash or a full gas tank.
Each church that participates in the School of Missions takes up an offering and mails it to the School of Missions treasurer. The offerings from the churches are pooled together and shared equally with the missionaries. No part of the offerings is used for expenses.
Results have taken many forms. A nurse from Buffalo, Oklahoma committed to a four-year term of service in Africa. The Driftwood Christian Church (a rural church outside Cherokee, Oklahoma) now operates the Northwest Oklahoma Center for Kids Against Hunger. Organized by the church in Shattuck, Oklahoma, Operation Care has led some 40 short-term mission trips into Mexico. An area minister testifies that he has been inspired and encouraged during low times of ministry. The church in Seiling, Oklahoma now matches the offering for missionaries, dollar-for-dollar, during the school. Mark Kinkel of Freedom, Oklahoma says the “School of Missions is a yearly spiritual vaccination” for their church. Darwin Hedges of Seiling, Oklahoma adds, “Our church has become a giving church. At present we are supporting 12–13 ministries monthly. This is a direct response to the School of Missions influence.”
Jim Cunningham reports that the church in Elkhart, Kansas was critically weak regarding missions. About 10 years ago they enrolled in the School of Missions. Since then the church has experienced a 180-degree turnaround spiritually and is now giving more than 30 percent of its offerings to missions. Jim says, “The blessings from the School of Missions are beyond explanation.”
The financial results have been astounding. In 2010 the total offering was more than $44,000 from 16 churches (average attendance from 15 to 150). That amount soared to nearly $55,000 in 2011 from 15 churches. In 2012, those 15 churches gave more than $59,000. From its inception the Hi-Plains School of Missions has touched lives in 27 congregations and given more than $515,000 to world missions.
Sam and Brittany Gill minister in Pakistan. In 2011 they had a desperate need to improve and expand a school. Brittany tells the story.
We prayed about this, and God answered our prayers by bringing Marvin Garrison to our booth at the NACC. He invited us to come to the School of Missions. The gift we received was enough to advance our school and move it to a building that had more classrooms. Now we have three teachers and a principal. That was the launch that got our school moving forward. We really had an awesome, soul-touching experience being a part of the School of Missions.
Stephanie Freed writes,
The Hi-Plains School of Missions has been a great experience for Rapha House. It opened the doors of prayer and financial partnership with churches who otherwise would not have known about our ministry or the issues of child slavery. One evening, in the panhandle of Oklahoma, an elderly man stood to close the service. His voice broke as he prayed, “God, please forgive our apathy. We just didn’t know this was happening. Show us what we can do to protect your children and let them know there is hope in you.”
Troy Meeder of Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch writes, “Thank you for allowing me to participate and interact with some really neat servants of the Lord.”
Elaine Sander, School of Missions secretary from Seiling, writes, “I can’t put into words all the ways the School of Missions impacts my life.” Margaret Cole of Alva, Oklahoma, describes the event as “a blessing just getting to know the missionaries.” Her husband, Paul, says the school “challenges me to serve God with a greater passion and love.”
Christy Wilkerson (MAOZ Israel) summed it up: “What a privilege!”
The heartbeat of the Hi-Plains School of Missions is found in these simple lines from an unknown source:
The very heart of our Father
The bottom line of his Word
The purpose of the church
The reason he sent his Son . . .world missions.
Marvin Garrison is the preaching minister of First Christian Church in Laverne, Oklahoma.
Learn More About Schools of Missions
Hi-Plains School of Missions
Northwest Schools of Mission