Category Archives: missions

A National Missionary Worthy of Your Support: Yaovi Kpogno, Hillsdale’s Missionary Appointee to Togo

Dear Heart of a Shepherd Reader,

Greetings from Hillsdale Baptist Church!  I have enjoyed a reprieve from the pressure of writing daily devotional posts in recent months.  During this season of rest, I am enjoying an in-depth study of the Gospel of John as I prepare for my Sunday morning series, “Reflections on Compassion and Grace”.  I plan to begin regular posts in the near future and once again enjoy the privilege of ministering to saints around the world.

The purpose of this letter is to introduce you to a young man Hillsdale Baptist Church has come to love and appreciate.  Mr. Yaovi Kpogno is a national of Togo, West Africa.  I had the opportunity of meeting and interviewing Yaovi a year ago and my heart was touched and challenged as I listened to his testimony of salvation and God’s calling on his life to return to Togo as a church-planting missionary pastor.

Yaovi was born in a small village in Togo and raised by his mother in a hut where she continues to live today.  In fact, one of Yaovi’s goals when he returns to Togo in July, 2018 is to build a small concrete home for his mother.  

Yaovi accepted Christ as His Savior in August 1996 and publicly dedicated his life to serve the Lord in 2002.  Yaovi moved to Lome’, the capital of Togo, in 2005 to begin his formal education and ministered in Bible Baptist Church of Adakpame until he came to the United States to attend Bible College.

 Yaovi has earned four college degrees from The Crown College of the Bible while working full-time and paying his way through Bible college.  His hard work and dedication has paid off and his long-awaited return to Togo as a church-planting missionary has arrived.  Yaovi has purchased tickets to return to Togo this July 2018 and will begin his ministry in Lome’.

That brings me to the purpose of this letter.  Unlike American missionaries who travel for 3-5 years raising support, go to language school for another year, and require thousands of dollars in support each month, Yaovi is returning to Togo determined to live by faith, believing God will meet his financial needs through the giving of His people.

After completing four months of his five months missions internship, Hillsdale Baptist Church voted this past Sunday to be Yaovi’s supporting and stateside sending church.  We have estimated Yaovi needs a minimum monthly support of $2,500.  This amount includes not only his personal support funds, but also ministry funds to support his evangelistic endeavors and eventually rent a meeting place for his church.   It is Hillsdale’s missions policy to commit to 20% of a missionary’s support when we are the “sending church”.  In keeping with our policy, Hillsdale will be supporting Yaovi for $500\month, leaving a balance of $2,000\month needed for support.

We estimate Yaovi will need at least $20,000-25,000 to fully fund his ministry as he returns to Togo.   This amount includes $15,000 to purchase a used truck to carry equipment for public evangelistic campaigns and to transport children for summer Vacation Bible Schools and Sunday School programs.

Yaovi will eventually have a means for support dollars to be designated to him through a missions agency; however, until that time you can make designations for “Yaovi Kpogno” to Hillsdale Baptist Church  and our Deacons will insure 100% of the designated funds will go for Yaovi’s ministry in Togo.  It is my prayer many who read this letter will take the initiative to support a young man who loves the LORD and returns to Togo determined to reach the souls of his countrymen with the Gospel.

Please note that Hillsdale and this pastor will serve as Yaovi’s accountability partners.  If you have questions, please contact me directly at pastorsmith@HillsdaleBaptist.org.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

Senior Pastor

“Harden Not Your Hearts”

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Acts 23-24

Paul, after declaring his testimony of conversion in Acts 22 and how he who was once persecutor of Christ and the church (22:1-8) became an apostle and preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles (22:9-21), faced an uprising of the Jews led by members of the Jewish Sanhedrin (22:22-23).

Led away from the tumult, a Roman commandant ordered soldiers to question Paul by first scourging him (22:24).  However, the order for scourging was withdrawn when Paul revealed he was a Roman citizen, knowing scourging without conviction was a violation of his civil rights (22:25-29).

On the next day, the commandant summoned the Jewish Sanhedrin (22:30) and Paul continued his defense before them (23:1).

Paul’s courage in confronting the Jewish leaders is admirable (23:2-9).  Never one to cower, he declared the hypocrisy of the high priest Ananias who, on one hand pretended to judge him according to the law, but on the other acted in contradiction to the law (23:2-5).

Knowing two factions of the Sanhedrin were bitterly divided over the doctrine of the resurrection (23:6), Paul introduced the question of the resurrection leading to an uprising and forcing Roman soldiers to remove Paul less he be slain by the Jews (23:7-10).

We know Paul as a great preacher of the Gospel, fearless in his demeanor; however, the LORD, knowing his servant better, came to him at night and encouraged him, revealing he would be His witness in Rome (23:11).  Foiling a plot by the Jews to kill Paul (23:12-22), the captain of the guard ordered Paul be provided with an escort of two hundred Roman soldiers (23:23-32).  Conveying Paul safely to Antipatris (23:31), a town thirty-five miles from Jerusalem, the soldiers returned to Jerusalem (23:32).

Far from the volatility of Jerusalem, Felix, governor of that province who resided in Caesarea and was the Roman commandant’s superior, determined to hear the matter that caused such an uproar among the Jews in Jerusalem (23:35).  Acts 24 continues Paul’s trial, this time before Felix (24:1-27).

Five days later, Ananias the high priest and members of the Sanhedrin gathered in Caesarea and put forward “a certain orator named Tertullus” (24:1) who accused Paul of sedition, a crime that would demand his death (24:2-9).

Paul sat in silence as false accusers brought charges against him; and when beckoned to answer them, Paul addressed the Roman governor with diplomacy and discretion deserving of Felix’s office as his civilian authority.  We read,

Acts 24:10 – Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak, answered, Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself [i.e. make his defense]:

Pauls’ defense answered the accusations brought against him by the Jewish Sanhedrin (24:11-20) proving the only dissension between him and the Jewish leaders was not that he had provoked sedition, but he had challenged them on the doctrine of the resurrection (24:21).   After all, it was the fact of Christ’s resurrection from the dead that was the central doctrine of the church…that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, crucified for the sins of the world, buried and raised from the dead on the third day!

In his letter to believer’s in Corinth, Paul writes of Christ’s resurrection from the dead:

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 – For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4  And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

1 Corinthians 15:20-22 – But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.21  For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Acts 24 concludes with Felix retaining Paul in prison, though giving him liberty to have guests (24:22-24).  Having heard Paul, Felix and his wife Drusilla, “which was a Jewess”, came to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ (24:24).  For two years (24:27), Paul had opportunity to converse with the Roman governor regarding the matter of man’s sin, Christ’s righteousness and God’s judgment (24:25).  Though Felix trembled at the thought of God’s judgment (24:25), he delayed his decision to accept Christ as Savior, waiting until it was too late and he was reassigned elsewhere, leaving Paul bound in prison (24:27).

I close with a few brief observations. Paul’s passion and boldness in declaring the gospel is one of the many things I admire in the man; however, we should also note his tact, prudence, and patience in preaching Christ to those who will listen.

Too many 21st century Christians go to extremes in the matter of their witness.  Some are simply silent; when opportunity arises to give testimony of their faith in Christ they mute their lips and allow an opportunity to share Christ to pass that might never come again.

Others witness for Christ, but do so in a manner that is often crude and petulant.  Having spoken before several government bodies over the years, including City Councils, County Commissioners, School Boards, and State Hearings, I am often embarrassed by professing Christians who are rude and offensive in their words and demeanor.

While Paul was bold in addressing the hypocrisy of Jewish religious leaders, he was wise, discerning and patient when speaking to the Roman commandant in Jerusalem and Felix, the governor.

Rather than offensive, those who witness for Christ should be inviting and passionate for men’s souls.

Hebrews 3:7-8 – Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice, 8  Harden not your hearts…”

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

The Call to Ministry and Missions

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Acts 13-14

My apologies to those following our “Read-Thru the Bible” in a year schedule.  In my diligence to prepare for Hillsdale’s Sunday worship services, I overlooked the need to post today’s scripture reading.

Today’s passage from the Book of Acts, particularly Acts 13:1-3, has been a joy and challenge to this pastor’s heart over the years.  I am blessed to pastor a church with a legacy of supporting and sending missionaries.   I draw your attention to four simple, central principles of ministry and missions found in Acts 13:1-3. 

The first, God calls to ministry those who are already serving Him (Acts 13:1).  The men and women God calls to ministry are not idle spectators or pew warmers.  When God called Barnabas and Saul (i.e. Paul), we find them numbered among “certain prophets and teachers” serving “in the church that was at Antioch” (13:1).

The second principle of ministry is, God’s call is specific.  We read, “the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (13:2).

Many were serving in the church at Antioch (3:1); however, the Holy Spirit explicitly called Barnabas and Saul to a specific work: “for the work whereunto I have called them” (3:2b).

The third principle of ministry and missions is separation (13:2-3).  The call to ministry and missions separates a man from home, friends and aspirations of wealth.  Oceans, faraway lands, hardships and adversaries would separate Barnabas and Saul from their families, friends and earthly comforts.

The fourth principle of ministry and missions is the church and its leaders sanctioned and confirmed Gods call on Barnabas and Saul.

We read, “when they [the church and its leaders] had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:3).

I sorrow so few are answering God’s call to ministry and missions in our day.

Looking back on the four principles I noted, it seems the failure rests upon us all.  There are too many spectators and not enough servants in the 21st century church.  Some resist God’s call and others refuse to separate from family, friends and comforts to serve where God has called.  Finally, I believe there are churches that resist ordaining their best and finest for the work of ministry and missions.

Romans 10:14-15 – “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
15  And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

An Answer to the Irrelevancy of the 21st Century Church

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Psalms 125-127

Psalms 125-127 continues a section of songs in the Book of Psalms known as “A Song of Degrees”.  As a reminder, though there is some debate regarding the word “degrees”, many suggest pilgrims sang this collection of psalms as they ascended to Jerusalem and the Temple for a feast day.  The mention of Mount Zion in Psalms 125 and 126 support that theory.

We live in a sin-cursed, fallen world where the wicked often seem advantaged in the course of our journey; however, Psalm 125 exhorts us to put our faith in the LORD for our life and fate is in His hands.  Unlike the challenges of this vacillating, ever-changing world, the saints who “trust in the LORD” are stable (125:1), not moved by fear or given to flight.

Built upon the mountains of Zion, Jerusalem provided the people of that city a natural, fortified protection from their enemies.  Sitting upon the mount, Jerusalem was an impressive site from a distance and the deep ravines that cut through the mount were formidable.  As the mountains of Zion provided safety and security to Jerusalem, the LORD provides the same to His people whose trust is in Him.

Psalm 126 records the joy of the Jews as they returned from Babylonian captivity to Mount Zion.  For the Jews, it was a long-awaited prophecy fulfilled, a dream come true for the nation (126:1).   The people returned with their mouths “filled with laughter” and their tongues “with singing” (126:2a).

The heathen of the land marveled that Israel, after nearly seventy years in exile, was returning to her land (126:2) and testified, “The LORD hath done great things for them” (126:2b).  The Jews echoed the same saying, “The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad” (126:3).

Returning to the land after captivity was fraught with challenges for the Jews.  Jerusalem was in ruins; heathen people took possession of their lands and houses in their absence and, after seven decades, thorns and thistles had reclaimed the land.  The people faced the challenge of rebuilding their cities and walls and the hardship of clearing the land; however, the law of nature promised, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy” (126:5).

Having the privilege of growing up on a small farm, I remember well clearing the land of rocks, pulling up briars and weeds, and breaking the ground in anticipation of planting seed.  As a child, I did not appreciate the labor and hardships necessary to plant seed; however, I enjoyed the fruit (i.e. vegetables) of my labor…sweet corn, green beans, yellow squash, juicy tomatoes, and cucumbers!

The principle for “sowing and reaping” is applicable to our spiritual lives (126:6). 

While the farmer’s plow clears the land of briars and thorns, the toil of reading, studying and meditating in God’s Word pulls up briars of worldliness and clears thistles of lusts from our hearts, preparing our souls for precious truths and sowing in our hearts principles that strengthen our character, shape our thoughts and mature us.

Psalm 126:5-6 gives us a principle that is applicable to sharing the Gospel and the work of the Great Commission.   We are promised, tears precede joy (126:5) and sowing “precious seed” promises a harvest of fruit (126:6).

Were there more tears and toil on our part in sharing the Gospel, would there not be more reason for rejoicing?  Were we to show more compassion for lost souls and hurting hearts, would we not have greater cause for joy?

I am afraid the majority of believers are cocooned in selfish pursuits and content to toil away their time, talents and life isolated from hurting hearts and lost souls.  No wonder the 21st century church finds itself irrelevant; we are entertaining the masses or huddled in our Bible studies, to the neglect of going forth weeping for lost souls and “bearing precious seed” (126:6)!

Galatians 6:7-9 – Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
8  For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
9  And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

“Go Ye…Preach the Gospel” – Missions Conference 2017

Hillsdale family and Heart of a Shepherd Followers,

October is Hillsdale’s Missions Emphasis Month and we are enjoying having some of our own missionaries reporting and introducing missionaries new to our church family.  Our missionary to Lebanon, Fady Maalouf was with us Sunday, October 8 and this past Sunday we enjoyed having missionary pilot Dave Spangler and his wife Sharon present their ministry in the Caribbean and his aviation work with Operation Renewed Hope (he flew Hillsdale’s relief team to Houston after Hurricane Harvey).

I am looking forward to having missionaries to Ecuador, South America and Togo, West Africa with us this Sunday, October 22, 2017.  Hillsdale has supported Raymond and Anita Bradley, missionaries to Ecuador for over two decades. The Bradleys are involved in church planting and teaching and reaching the deaf for Christ.   Bro. Bradley will be teaching a combined Adult Bible Fellowship Class in the auditorium for our 9:15 AM service and preaching in the 10:30 AM service after I share a lesson on Faith Promise Missions Giving.

I am especially looking forward to Hillsdale meeting Mr. Yaovi Kpogno, a national from Togo who upon finishing his Masters of Divinity Degree will be returning to Togo to begin a ministry of evangelism, church planting and eventually a Christian school.  Bro. Yaovi will be teaching our Teens in the 9:15 AM hour.

This Sunday night, 6:00 PM, Hillsdale will celebrate our annual Missions Conference Banquet with an African theme in the Friendship Hall.  Bro. Yaovi will share his testimony, calling and give us an introduction to his native Togo, West Africa.

With a shepherd’s heart,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

God orders the starts and stops, not man!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Jonah 1-4

Today’s devotional commentary focuses on the Book of Jonah.  Only four chapters long, the drama in this small prophetic book is intriguing because it imparts to us the LORD’s love and compassion for sinners and His patience with a reluctant, rebellious servant.  Needless to say, there is much to take from today’s scripture reading!

Have you ever wanted to run away?  Some reading this commentary might remember demanding your way as a child, threatening to take your little red wagon and run from home if you did not get it.  To your chagrin, your parents pretended to take you up on your threat, and offered to help you pack!  If you were strong-willed, you might have followed through with your threat; however, when you are young, minutes seem like hours and a hundred yards like a mile.  When you returned home from your self-willed excursion, your mom may have greeted you, “Well, you’re back home!  Wash your hands and get ready for dinner!”

Two lessons should have come from your childhood tantrum.  The first, “What is best for you is not always what you think is best.”  The second lesson, one you might not have known until years later; although you could not see him, your father was lovingly watching and never took his eyes off you!

2800 years ago, Jonah, a passionate, patriotic and popular preacher in Israel received God’s command: “Arise, go to Nineveh…” (1:2).  Nineveh was a great city with a population of 120,000 souls (Jonah 4:11).  Nineveh was also a wicked city, the capital of the Assyrian empire, and the adversary of Israel!

Perhaps fearing the enemy or the rejection of His own people, Jonah refused to go and preach against Nineveh, later confessing he feared the LORD might spare that city from destruction!  Jonah resigned his calling as God’s prophet (Jonah 1:3), paid his fare, and took a ship for Tarshish, a city on the western most edge of the known world in his day (1:3).

In his flight from the LORD, Jonah soon found himself caught in a great storm and the sea threatening to take the ship, him and his fellow passengers to a watery grave (1:4-6).  Evidencing the callousness of a backslidden sinner, Jonah slept in the bottom of the ship.  Learning Jonah was God’s prophet and the storm was from the LORD to chastise him, the sailors cast him into the sea where a great fish swallowed him.

Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly” (Jonah 2:1), confessed his sin and we read, “He heard me” (2:2).  The prophet understood his miserable state was a watery grave unless the LORD delivered him (2:9-10).  The LORD mercifully answered Jonah’s prayer, “spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land” (2:10).

Jonah obeyed the LORD, went to Nineveh and began warning that great city, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4).  Incredibly, the people of Nineveh believed the word of that reluctant prophet and repented (3:5-9).  Hearing Nineveh’s cry of repentance, the LORD, moved with compassion and set aside His judgment.

Jonah 3:10 – “And God saw [looked;; beheld; perceived] their works [behavior; deeds], that they turned [turned back] from their evil [sinful; wicked] way; and God repented [reckoned; moved with compassion] of the evil [destruction; bad—not sin], that he had said that he would do [make; wrought; perform; accomplish] unto them; and he did it not.”

Had the life of Jonah ended on that point of revival, a city of 120,000 souls repenting, we would number him among the great preachers and prophets of all time.  Jonah, however, did not rejoice in the LORD’s compassion and the saving of the city. We read of Jonah:

Jonah 4:1-2 – “But it displeased [so angry with God he trembled] Jonah exceedingly [he was overcome and afflicted with anger], and he was very angry [he was incensed; burned with anger]. 2 And he prayed unto the LORD [Jehovah; Eternal God] , and said [charged], I pray thee [lit. “Ah, now!”], O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country [northern Israel]? Therefore I fled [ran away; bolted] before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious [showing favor] God, and merciful  [full of compassion], slow [patient; longsuffering] to anger, and of great [many; abundant] kindness [mercy], and repentest [moved with compassion] thee of the evil [judgment].”

Jonah was angry with God for sparing a city that was the enemy of Israel.  Abandoning his place of ministry, a second time, Jonah left Nineveh, built a temporary dwelling outside the city, sat down and waited to see if God would destroy the city (Jonah 4:5).

Here we find another characteristic of men who abandon their calling…they are more interested in temporal comforts than they are in lost souls

Jonah 4:6 – “And the LORD God prepared [appointed; told] a gourd, and made it to come up [ascend; mount up] over Jonah, that it might be a shadow [shade] over his head, to deliver [preserve; recover; escape] him from his grief [lit. sin; evil; wickedness; distress; misery]. So Jonah was exceeding glad [rejoicing; joyful; cheered up] of the gourd.”

Jonah became angry and despaired of life when God destroyed the gourd and its leafy vine.  “And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry [incensed; burn with anger] for the gourd? And he said, I do well [good; please; better] to be angry, even unto death” (Jonah 4:9).

God challenged Jonah to consider his priorities and his foolish, self-centered attitude.

Jonah 4:10 – “Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity [to regard; have compassion] on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored [ie. severe, hard work], neither madest it grow [to nourish; promote growth]; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:”

Jonah’s biography ends with a question:

Jonah 4:11 “And should not I spare [show compassion; regard; pity] Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand [120,000] persons that cannot discern [know; understand] between their right hand and their left hand; and also much [plenty; great] cattle?”

Many reading this simple pastor’s commentary either are or have known men and women who once professed a call to ministry, but quit and took a ship to Tarshish.  Times got hard, people were difficult and you took what appeared an easy way out…you quit and contented yourself with your own gourd; however, in light of eternity it is temporal and comes at the sacrifice of the best part…the will of the LORD.

After 38 years of ministry, I understand the temptation to run from pressures, people, problems and pain.  My wife and I celebrated the beginning of our 33rd year of ministry at Hillsdale Baptist Church, October 1, 2017.  We never intended to be at this ministry so many years and there were many times I was tempted to “cut and run”; however, I am glad we pressed on through the pain and problems.

Take a lesson from the life of Jonah: God orders the starts and stops, not man! 

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

“Ye are the light of the world”…An Exhortation For Puerto Rico, Dominica, Florida Keys and Houston

Dear Hillsdale family, friends and Heart of a Shepherd followers,

Puerto Rico in ruins

I have found the non-stop news coverage of natural disasters in the past six weeks has a desensitizing effect on my thoughts and emotions when it comes to the suffering of others in our hemisphere.

The earthquake in Mexico, the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Hurricane Irma’s strike on the Florida Keys, and the destructive swath of Hurricane Maria’s winds over Dominica and Puerto Rico is almost incomprehensible.

Indeed, I am afraid the church and its members are in danger of becoming much like America’s media…racing from one headline disaster to the next, with little pause or thought given to the human suffering left in the wake of each calamity.

Appliances delivered to Marathon

The human toll of recent natural disasters is nearly overwhelming, so much so we risk doing nothing, tacitly rationalizing what difference can our small effort or contribution make when so much has been lost and so many are suffering.

It is in such hours the church can and must make a difference.  In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ taught His followers, “Ye are the light of the world…Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14,16).  We have a mandate to reflect the love of Christ through our “good works” and by our giving, sacrifice, and service turn the thoughts and hearts of men to our “Father which is in heaven”.

Helping hearts after Hurricane Irma

As you enjoy the comfort of your home, remember to pray for thousands left homeless, hungry and unemployed.  Pray for Houston, the Florida Keys, Dominica, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands devastated by recent hurricanes.   Pray for our nation’s leaders and military as they give aid on a massive scale beyond our ability as a church or individuals.

Finally, “Let your light so shine” and give financially to Operation Renewed Hope or to church ministries like Hillsdale Baptist Church that will ensure your sacrifice goes to ministries  on the frontline of giving aid and showing compassion (Hillsdale’s financial support for Houston, the Florida Keys, Dominica and Puerto Rico in the past six weeks is nearly $20,000).

“And of some have compassion, making a difference” (Jude 1:22).

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

 

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith