By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
In the wake of tragedy came a glimpse of hope.
After the former home of First Missionary Baptist Church was destroyed by arson in June 1996, its pastor, the Rev. Alfred Baldwin Jr., had a vision.
“The Lord gave me a vision of a flower bed. And in that vision the flowers were white, black, brown, red, yellow,” said Baldwin, tapping his finger on a table to punctuate each color. “And when I came to myself the spirit of God said, ‘That’s what your church is going to be like.’”
And so it is. The church was rebuilt, and today, nearly 17 years after the blaze, First Missionary Baptist has a multi-ethnic congregation echoing the many-hued blooms of Baldwin’s long-ago vision.
“We started putting emphasis on evangelism and witnessing, inviting people to come,” Baldwin said. “We have all ethnic groups attending. I’m pleased and happy with that end of it. I still want to see more people coming, but we are fulfilling that part of the vision.”
Baldwin has been pastor at First Missionary Baptist Church since 1978. He preached his first sermon there on the fifth Sunday of January of that year, as a visiting pastor. At the end of that sermon he asked the congregation to pray for their pastor.
“Three ladies came up and said, ‘We’re going to pray for you,’” he said. “I said, ‘No, that’s not what I said.’ They said, ‘We’re going to pray for you,’ and I’ve been here ever since.”
His 35 years in the pulpit at First Missionary have been a mixed bag, he said.
“It’s been a joy. We’ve had some headaches, we’ve had some tears, we’ve had some smiles, we’ve had some frowns, but it’s been a rewarding ministry thus far,” he said.
When Baldwin first became its pastor, First Missionary Baptist was known by a far different name.
“The legal name was The First Baptist Church, Colored, of Enid, Okla.,” he said. “We sought to get rid of the stigma of being a black church. We wanted to be known as a church that entertains and will help all groups of people in many areas.”
Baldwin has five associate ministers working with him, just as he did when the church burned nearly 17 years ago. Four of those men have gone on to pastor their own churches. He hopes the five young men currently working under him will follow in the footsteps of their predecessors.
Baldwin once dreamed of moving on to pastor a large church in a big city, and had the opportunity to preach in some prominent churches in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
“At the time I thought to say yes to them, the Lord said, ‘Stay in Enid, remain in Enid and raise up leaders,’” he said. “That has been the gist of my ministry, raising up leaders and training them.”
Baldwin also serves as moderator over 26 churches in western Oklahoma and is state director and dean of Oklahoma Baptist State Congress of Christian Education. In addition, he is president of Southern Heights Ministerial Alliance and spent seven years as a member of the Oklahoma State Board of Health.
The illness of a volunteer coordinator has prompted the church to temporarily discontinue its Lord’s Kitchen ministry, but Baldwin said plans are to resume it. That involved serving meals to the indigent on Friday evenings.
“It didn’t matter who they were, we didn’t ask for any identification, you just come in and just sign a list saying that you wanted to eat,” he said.
The church also has a ministry that provides clothes for the needy. That involves the young adult women of the church collecting clothing from various sources to distribute to anyone needing it.
“When individuals need something, all they do is come in and pick out what they want and walk away with it,” Baldwin said.
The pastor said he is particularly proud of the church’s youth ministry, which includes some 40 to 50 young people. Last year 25 of them traveled to St. Louis for the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education.
First Missionary Baptist has more than 300 members, has a regular attendance of 200 to 225 and is growing.
“We’re not growing by leaps and bounds, but we are growing, and it is a kind of growth that will lead to further growth,” said Baldwin. “What we’re trying to prevent is coming in one door and going out the other door.
“I think when we first came here we had about 25 or 30 in regular attendance, so we are still growing,” he said. “I’d love to say we were growing much faster, but as long as you’re growing, that’s the important thing.”
Over the years, Baldwin said, First Missionary Baptist has played a role in a number of local issues, including the naming of Enid’s city hall for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the hiring of more minorities by Enid Public Schools, helping keep open and refurbish Longfellow Middle School and construction of a new Garfield Elementary School.
“Those are just some of the issues that we believe, over the years, we have been involved with and had some positive impact,” Baldwin said. “One of the things we’re trying to do now is to make our mark.”
Baldwin and his wife, Vicki, who heads First Missionary Baptist’s music program, are retired teachers, so it is no surprise education is an emphasis of their ministry.
“We encourage our kids to attend college and improve their grades,” he said. “We want to see as many individuals improve themselves educationally as possible.”
A scholarship program run by the Baldwins’ son, Alfred III, provided awards to students who improved grades, as well as small scholarships.
First Missionary doesn’t forget its older members, either. If any senior church members need something done around their home, volunteers will do it for them.
“We have various things that we think are mission-minded to help improve the conditions of our neighborhood and our city,” he said.
The church’s primary mission, Baldwin said, is evangelism, “To get out there and bring anyone and everyone we can to the church.”
First Missionary Baptist’s mission statement includes this promise: “To help First Missionary grow, first spiritually, numerically, financially and physically,” Baldwin said. “Everything we do is geared toward helping this church reach those goals.”