Shepherds tend to the faithful

Staff reporter

"For we walk by faith, not by sight." 2 Corinthians 5:7.

The Biblical verse is how Plato and Ann Shepherd live their lives — by faith.

Anyone driving on South Main Street in Hillsboro in recent months has noticed the transformation of the former Bartel Insurance Office at 315 S. Main. A small, white sign indicates that the building is now a house of God — Cottonwood Valley Independent Baptist Church.

What seemed to be a church that popped up overnight, actually has been in the works for a while.

The Rev. Shepherd and his wife, Ann, are church planters. Their missionary work is to follow their faith to a community that might be interested in an independent Baptist church.

They do their homework. When visiting a community they stop at the local chamber of commerce office and talk with residents.

For the Shepherds, their journey began July 4, 1990. Pastor Shepherd had been a pastor at Vision Baptist Church in Millers Creek, N.C., a church he started and pastored for 10 years. He actually began his vocation in 1974 as a Baptist minister.

"We heard an evangelist tell about the lack of good Bible-believing churches, especially Baptist churches, in the Midwest like there were in the Bible belt," he said. Up until that point, the Shepherds had no intention of ever leaving North Carolina but when the couple had heard the message that night, on the way home Ann said, "What in the world are we going to do?"

The couple had lived in the family home for 22 years, near where Shepherd was born.

"God used that message for us to become church planters in the Midwest," Pastor Shepherd said.

One of the basic concepts of the church is to self-propagate which means to reach others with the Gospel. When that occurs, the number of independent Baptist churches will increase.

To fulfill that commitment, the Shepherds believed God was calling them to do his work in the Midwest.

Areas that are considered for "planting" a church are those without independent Baptist churches.

"I was doing a 15-minute Sunday morning radio program in Clay Center," Pastor Shepherd said, and an individual called and asked him to consider building a church in the area where the individual lived. The pastor knew that that was the indication he needed regarding the direction to build.

They looked at Washington County, as a starting point but knew it would be a difficult fete to start a church in a smaller, lower economic income area.

"We came from a county with 63,000 people. However, most of them were in the rural areas," Pastor Shepherd said. So Washington County was somewhat of a culture shock because it had a total population of 6,500 people.

After seeing the extent of their mission, the Shepherds returned to North Carolina for the next two years to raise funds to start in the northern Kansas county.

In May 1993, they returned to Washington County, specifically the town of Washington, and began their work. After six years there, the couple knew it was time to move on to another area to build another church.

Their next church planting was in Lindsborg. After six years in that community, the pair knew it was time to move on to the next location.

When the couple left both locations, they left the churches with a building and a pastor. At this time, neither church has any indebtedness.

The Shepherds had taken excursions to Hillsboro and Marion on numerous occasions while living in Lindsborg. They knew their next church was going to be in one of the two communities.

Two of the first people they met in Marion County were Gib and Elaine Suderman of Hillsboro. The Hillsboro couple wanted to be a part of the new church as did Larry and Sherry Jost of rural Hillsboro.

The Josts had been driving to Hesston every Sunday for church services and wanted an independent Baptist church closer to home.

So on Mother's Day 2006, seven people attended the first church service in downtown Hillsboro — the Sudermans and a granddaughter, the Josts, and the Shepherds.

Later, a decision was made to purchase a building for a permanent church home. It was determined that a mortgage payment, even with improvements, would be less than a lease payment. So the church was moved to the current location in the former insurance office.

As church planters, the Shepherds do not draw a specific salary for their work. Again, faith plays a role in providing for their needs.

"God will take care of our needs," Pastor Shepherd said.

In May 2008, church services were held for the first time at the new location.

Renovations to the existing building were provided by volunteers. An addition has been constructed with interior finishing work to come in time.

Carpet was purchased with the hope of finding church pews to match with faith playing a vital role.

Pastor Shepherd said there is a ministry that assists smaller churches with furnishings, Rescue America Baptist Missions, Inc. of Wilkes County, N.C. He informed the group that the Hillsboro church was seeking pews.

Another church recently had purchased pews for its choir loft only to find that they didn't fit as well as desired. The Hillsboro church was wanting 14, 10-foot pews. These pews from North Carolina were 10, 10-foot and three nine-foot pews but worked out fine.

"The fabric of the pews matches well with the carpet. They're brand new solid wood pews and they were free," Pastor Shepherd said.

The Hillsboro church also acquired a new piano from Pastor Shepherd's nephew who was trying to sell the piano but decided to give the instrument to the church.

Another sign of faith.

A steeple will be erected as part of the remodeling project.

When the Shepherds leave this church, and at some point in time they will, the church will be self-governing, self-supporting, and will self-propagate.

Pastor Shepherd said each independent Baptist church is more conservative than some Christian churches and governed from within the individual church but the Bible is final authority.

"The main purpose of the church is to preach the Gospel which is the death, burial, and rising of Our Lord Jesus Christ," Pastor Shepherd said. "When churches fail to preach the doctrines of the Word of God, it becomes a social gathering instead of a church."

Cottonwood Valley Independent Baptist Church has nearly 50 people attending at times, which includes Tabor College students. Right now there are around 40 with visitors at most services.

Currently, Jason and Ruby Kruse, a rural Marion County couple, lead the church's program for youth, teaching Sunday school at 9:30 a.m. and Sunday evening Bible club at 6 p.m. Tabor College football coach Ed King and wife Lora offer a college and career class at 9:30 a.m. Sundays. Pastor Shepherd teaches adult Sunday school classes.

The Shepherds welcome visitors to Sunday worship services at 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.