Tuesday night, my dad – Paul Fries, resigned his position as Director of Missions for the Holmes Baptist Association. No, he’s not resigning to take a cushy DoM position, nor is he leaving for a nice, laid-back opportunity to start to slow down as he gets older. Instead he has accepted an opportunity from the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention to plant a church in Richland County, Wisconsin which is about 1 hour NorthWest of Madison.
His resignation statement, delivered at their Associational Annual Meeting, tells his story better than I can. I’ve included it below.
I would like to use, for my text tonight, the words of Nehemiah found in chapter 1 verse 4, “And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven.
My ancestry, in America, begins in 1803 when my 4th great grandfather arrived in Baltimore from Germany. He traveled to Pennsylvania where he settled in York County. He became a pastor and is recorded in Pennsylvania history as the founderand pastor of a number of congregations in and around Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania.
His son, Henry Fries, migrated to Wisconsin around 1858 where he settled in Richland County. I am the 5th generation of Fries’ to be born in Richland County.
In my testimony, I always share that even though I was raised in a church(non-evangelical) and had friends that attended other churches, I never remember ever hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ until I was 20 years old serving with the Air Force in Omaha, Nebraska. From Omaha I moved to Arizona, where shortly after our announced engagement, Cheryl had moved with her family. While in Tucson, I joined with Cheryl’s family in attending a Southern Baptist Church, Twenty Second Street Baptist Church. It was there that I met Jesus Christ in 1974 just after my 21st birthday.
Almost from the time I was saved I have had a burden for the people of Richland County. As we began to grow in our faith Cheryl and I married, had children and continued in my Air Force career. In 1986 I was licensed as a minister of the Gospel. I retired from the AF in 1991 to follow a ministry call, which led me first to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina and then on to The Baptist College of Florida. Off and on I would think about Richland County and its lack of evangelical witness and every time we would travel back on vacation we would be reminded of this very fact. At times I even considered moving there and beginning some type of new work. However, this was not to be as we followed our Lord’s command. I first served as a pastor in Florida then Missouri and finally here as your director of missions. I remind you now that throughout my 32 year faith journey I have never stopped thinking of Richland County and even considered!
moving there.but it was never the right time.
Until now! You see the words of Nehemiah are our words, are our life right now. We are missionaries and I am a pastor with a deep heartfelt burden for the people of Richland County, Wisconsin. In front of you tonight is a thermos, like many you see on construction sites. I brought it along tonight as a reminder to you of your love for Holmes County. You see, every time we travel on a construction trip someone seems to bring one of these thermoses because they want to make sure there is some, “HOLMES COUNTY WATER” available. I am also reminded that every time I have traveled with the association and Tom Jenkins has been with us, sometime during the trip he will remind us that no matter how pretty, how nice, how hospitable the area we are in is, it doesn’t compare to Holmes County.
That is the heart I have for Richland County, Wisconsin. Let me share a little with you about Richland County. It is in many ways a mirror image of Holmes County. The population is approximately 18,000 people, mostly rural. They have one city of 5,000 people and 5 small communities of fewer than 1,000 inhabitants. It is an agricultural area with farms and apple orchards and yes a cheese factory or two! There is hunting, fishing, local sports just as here, but that is where the similarity changes. For you see while we have 27 Southern Baptist Churches in Holmes County there are none in Richland County. In fact the Central Baptist Association in Wisconsin is made up of 17 counties with a population of 1.2 million and only 14 Southern Baptist Churches. In Holmes County about 30% of the population is a member of one of our SBC churches; in Richland County less than 10% (9%) of the population is affiliated with any evangelical denomination! And the truth is nobody wants t!
o go there!
Tonight I stand before you and share with you that God is calling Cheryl and me home. No, not to our final resting place but to the place of my first birth in order that we might share our second birth. Cheryl and I have been progressing through a process of evaluation, first to see if we are equipped to be church planters and then approval of a local association like ours which was completed last week. While we still have to receive approval from the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board, I stand before you tonight and share my resignation as your director of missions, effective with your approval, in March/April 2007.
Why share this with you now with such a long period of time before we leave? A fair question for which there are a number of answers. First, I don’t like secrets and Cheryl and I need your prayers, just like any other Christian brother or sister, as we seek to determine and live out God’s will for our lives. Secondly, I would like to assist you, with your permission, in the transition from one director of missions to the next. Finally, I would like you to be a partner with us as we begin this journey and in order to be a partner I need to have the freedom to share the vision with you. It is our desire that we would not only have the approval of a churchplanting assessment process, the Central Baptist Association, the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board but also to be commissioned by the Holmes Baptist Association as your missionaries to Wisconsin!
Again, the words of Nehemiah, “And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven.
Our hearts do weep for those living in darkness in southwest Wisconsin and we feel deeply that God is calling us there to plant churches to bring light to that darkness.
Paul Fries, Director of Missions