Local pastor takes home message for the community after trip from South Africa

Pastor Mark Thompson in South Africa (Photo: Mark Thompson)
Pastor Mark Thompson in South Africa (Photo: Mark Thompson)

BRAZIL, Ind. (WTHI) – At First Baptist Church, giving back to others is the norm.

“One of the best ways to change the community is through the local church and the local church pastor,” said Mark Thompson.

Thompson is the pastor of the church. Monday night, he showed News 10 around as volunteers were preparing food for the church’s community Thanksgiving dinner. It’s one of the church’s many projects focused on giving back and helping those in need in the community.

“Often times pastors anymore aren’t looked to be the leaders of the community the way they once were,” he said.

However, that’s not true for Thompson, who just returned from South Africa. During the two-week trip, which was sponsored by Wabash College and funded by the Lilly Foundation, Thompson was joined by 15 other pastors from different denominations throughout the state. There, the pastors flew into Capetown and spent majority of their time around parliament, local churches and leaders and communities.

Thompson recalls learning a lot from his trip from the culture, the history of apartheid, to the understanding of riots and protests.

“I can remember the Rodney King riots from years ago thinking to myself at that time ‘I don’t understand why people would riot their own communities’, just could not understand the motivation behind that,” he said, “In South Africa, all of the problems in the United States seem to be present in South Africa, just magnified by 100. They become a lot easier to see, more apparent.”

“As I was listening to people who protest, in a culture where protest is the norm, people protest every day throughout the whole country,” he said, “and when protests become the norm, nobody listens to the protests anymore and so your voice isn’t really heard even though you protest. It’s not until it seems people riot that becomes the teeth to the protests, and now it makes news, and it makes headlines, even if it’s in your own community.”

“I’m not by any means advocating riots, I just have a better understanding of why they happen,” he said, “In South Africa as they happen and in the United States as they happen, often they seem motivated by race, poverty or whatever the case may be. I feel that if people aren’t heard, riots can become more than just something that happens in big cities or on university campuses. They can become the norm for any socioeconomic background.”

For Thompson, issues within both South Africa and the United States are very similar such as inequalities and poverty. In spite of these issues, Thompson also learned its the church that plays a significant role in bringing people together in both areas. When it comes to relieving the communities of these issues, it takes everyone to open their eyes in order to see and address what’s happening where they live.

“The reality is there are several people in our own community who don’t have adequate housing and there are homeless people, and that does include children, despite the reason behind that, they’re still homeless and something could be done,” he said, “That’s one of the first things that has to happen is that people have to be honest and aware of what is going on in our backyard because most people have that not in my backyard feeling. Little by little, church by church, organization by organization, eyes are becoming open to what is going on in our backyard.”

When eyes are open, hands can extend to help others who need it. Specifically, Thompson credits the work of the Brazil community and the lengths they’ve gone to help their community.

“There is a lot of work that is accomplished through the local church, especially when local churches and organizations work together, just as I saw the churches and organizations working together in South Africa to bring transformation to a community,” he said,”I see similar things in this community where one church might be the hub of many churches and organizations coming together to do a greater good, and together, working as a team, we’re able to do far more than what any one church or organization can do by themselves and that is happening on a large scale here in Brazil.”

First Baptist Church often provides and collaborates with other organizations to offer services and resources for those in need. This includes the CRADLES program that helps parents of young children, Kids Klothes Kloset that provides new and gently-used clothing for children, as well as the Clay County Youth Food Program that provides children with proper food and nutrition after school and during holiday breaks, and a host of other programs.

While the church has been, and continues to be, involved in a lot, Thompson says it’s just a small step toward solving the overall problem.

“This is not just an easy, quick fix, but adaptive changes where we have to take a very real look at what’s going on,” he said, “Currently looking at the community, we’re working on the problems, the symptoms and trying to do what we can there while we’re trying to identify the many factors that go in that causes the problems. Then, that process is a lot slower to bring those types of changes, but they’re coming.”

For details on resources and services at First Baptist Church (812 448-8112), or if you would like to learn more about Pastor Thompson’s South Africa trip, you can reach him by phone: 812-887-2161.