TUPELO • As the missions minister at one of Tupelo’s largest congregations, John Gordon of Harrisburg Baptist Church plans and oversees short-term mission trips throughout the year in far-flung places like Malawi, Haiti and Honduras.
But the 46-year-old Jackson native says the mission field starts in our own backyard.
“Jesus gave us pretty clear directions,” Gordon said. “We are to make disciples both globally and locally. I get to be the guy that thinks through how that will look for our congregation.”
Gordon and five other Harrisburg members recently returned from a week-long trip to the small Mississippi Delta town of Jonestown, where Gordon said opportunities for ministry are great.
“My takeaway is that Jonestown is a great place to build relationships and really impact an area that needs a hand,” he said. “The Delta is just a hard place, where schools haven’t done great and communities struggle. Most people in the Delta struggle economically, and a little help and support goes a long way.”
Gordon said the Harrisburg group collaborated in Jonestown with “But God Ministries” (BGM), a Jackson-based ministry organized in 2010 by former Hattiesburg attorney and pastor Stan Buckley.
Before establishing a presence in the Delta, Buckley and BGM began working in Haiti in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in 2010. The group has since built two self-sustaining communities that provide medical care, nutrition, clean water, education and spiritual care for their residents.
In 2016, BGM began working in Jonestown, and in 2017 the group completed construction of its 6,000-square-foot “Hope Center,” complete with dental, medical and legal clinics, as well as a Montessori school and an adult diploma program.
Gordon said teaming up with BGM in Jonestown was a natural fit.
“We know they are a trustworthy, gospel-centered ministry,” he said. “And we know they are interested in reproducing new ministries as well. The math of the Lord is multiplication, not addition, so if we find sustainable ministries that are multiplying and sharing the gospel, we want to be in community with them, working together.”
Gordon said while he applauds all humanitarian efforts in difficult places, both locally and internationally, his own motivation for service to others is rooted in his understanding of the gospel.
“I would never criticize anyone for wanting to just be a good moral person,” he said. “But the fact is, according to scripture, we’re all morally bankrupt, and Jesus had to die to pay the price for our sins. If there’s only one way to be reconciled to God, I don’t want to cloak that message in anything else.”
Gordon said all of Harrisburg’s mission efforts are unapologetically unified around a single goal.
“We are called to minister to widows and orphans,” he said. “But the head of the needle – the mission God has called us to – is making disciples. And you can’t have a disciple without a conversion. So all our activities need to be drenched in opportunities to share the gospel.”
Gordon said his job description at Harrisburg dovetails with what he sees as the central mandate of scripture.
“It’s my job to help people be on the mission Jesus put us on,” he said. “He said, ‘Go and make disciples.’ He didn’t say, ‘Go make church members.’ He said, ‘I’ll build my church; you spend your time sharing the gospel.’ The rest is up to him.”
From his vantage point, Gordon said he sees even the church-saturated American South losing ground in an increasingly secular society.
“Even though no one wants to admit it, the South is post-Christian,” he said. “It’s hard to believe, but even in the heavily churched South, we’ve passed the tipping point where the fastest-growing demographic is the ‘nones’ – people who self-identify as having no religious affiliation.”
Gordon observed that while American Christianity is in decline, he is encouraged that many younger believers are more robustly devout than in past decades.
“Believe it or not, in the millennial ranks there are many who are way more visibly committed to the mission of Christ than we’ve seen in a long time. Their numbers may be smaller, but it’s refreshing to see those in their 20s with such a deep commitment. You can see a holiness.”
Gordon said the ultimate goal of Harrisburg’s many mission trips transcends a temporary “feel-good” for those involved.
“We don’t want to do trips to make us feel better,” he said. “We want to do trips to spread the message and make disciples. One of the themes at Harrisburg is we want to have our people on mission where we live, work and play. We’re going to do that, and we’re going to help others do it where they are.”