JACKSON, Tenn. – March 8, 2004 – As a child, Gene Fant shared his family home with a mission church in Fredonia, N.Y. His Sunday School class met in his bedroom, professions of faith were made in the living room and baptisms took place in the baptistry in the garage. Why was there a baptistry in the garage?
“Because my parents answered the call to missions and moved us from Mississippi to New York,” he said. “They believed the people of Western New York needed to hear the good news of Christ. Southern Baptists funneled a part of their tithes and offerings into a massive pool of resources called the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program put that baptistry in our garage, which means the Father of the Cooperative Program, M.E. Dodd, helped to put it there.”
Fant, who is associate professor of English and chair of the department, spoke to a homecoming audience at Union University during a Founders’ Day program Feb. 20 on the topic “Missions, Education and the Cooperative Program, or How M. E. Dodd helped to put a baptistry in my family’s garage and helped to pay your Union tuition.”
Fant said the idea behind Union’s annual Founder’s Day emphasis is to “study the great persons who have been our forerunners in order to lift up our eyes and to see the potential toward which we ourselves can strive.” M. E. Dodd and his wife Emma were both graduates of Union.
Dodd would have been content to be a farmer, Fant said, if it were not for a Union student, Forest Smith, who spoke at Poplar Grove Baptist Church one Sunday. Dodd went forward to give his life to Jesus and soon felt called into the ministry. That calling led him to Union, where he met his wife, the daughter of former Union President George Savage. After graduation, the couple began a life of ministry, serving in churches in Fulton, Paducah and Louisville, Ky. and then at First Baptist Church, Shreveport, La.
As the church grew in prominence, Dodd served in Southern Baptist Convention leadership positions. At that time, the SBC was “loosely knit, poorly financed and enduring theological crises,” said Fant.
“Dodd understood something valuable,” he pointed out. “The solution to a convention-wide theological crisis could be found in a renewed, sacrificial focus on missions. In 1925, Dodd’s vision for a passionate support of missions, education and benevolence articulated itself in what we now call the Cooperative Program.”
Since that time, Southern Baptists have given more than $10 billion to Cooperative Program causes and now support more than 10,000 missionaries at home and overseas, assist 15,000 seminary students, operate disaster relief ministries that are second only to the Red Cross, aid needy children through SBC children’s villages and operate a ministerial annuity program almost without peer, according to Fant.
“The beauty of the Cooperative Program in Southen Baptist life has been the way that it has compelled us to fulfill the Great Commandment,” he said. “By participating sacrificially in Cooperative Program giving, we work together to changes lives through Christ’s redeeming power.”
Fant said Dodd knew that our resources should flow in the praise of God and in the service of others.
“Our stewardship of resources is an overflow of our spiritual state,” he said. “It’s not about financial responsibility; it’s about spiritual discipline.”
President David S. Dockery, who praised Fant’s address, said “it is vital for us to re-educate a new generation regarding the importance of the Cooperative Program for supporting Baptist higher education and missions.”
by Kathie Chute