John David Smith of Conway will ride his bicycle 100 miles on Wednesday to celebrate his 50th birthday and support hundreds of missionaries at the same time.
Smith, executive director of the Baptist Missionary Association of America, is using the ride as a fundraiser for missionaries around the world. He’s calling his ride the ChangeMaker 100.
“I came up with this personal fitness challenge,” Smith said. “I like to ride my bike, so I always planned to do it for my birthday; I’m going to ride 100 miles.”
Smith said he will leave about 4 a.m. when it is cooler and ride U.S. Highway 64 to Russellville and back to Conway.
His birthday is Aug. 12, but he had a prior commitment.
However, as Smith talked about his plan with co-workers at his office in downtown Conway, the idea developed into a fundraiser for the association’s approximately 400 missionaries.
“I decided, after a couple of conversations, OK, I’m going to make my bike ride about them to increase awareness about the missionaries — they’re there, let’s not forget them,’” Smith said.
These missionaries, who are in Latin America, Africa, Asia, “really, the whole gamut,” are not American citizens, “but we do partner with them to do some amazing things.”
“We started calling them our changemaker missionaries. They have very specific things they do in the kingdom,” Smith said.
John Meriweather, director of development for Baptist Missionary Association of America, said Smith approached him about the fundraising idea.
“We are obviously excited,” Meriweather said. “It’s kind of interesting, because I’ve only been here with BMA of America about 2 1/2 years, but I’ve been in a BMA church most of my adult life. I realized how little I really knew about our missionary efforts, even as an active member,” he said.
Meriweather said his goal is “closing the gap of what we’re really doing with their [members’] support and what they really know,” he said. “We want to take missions from the pulpit to the pew.
“When I thought of missions, I just thought of people in the U.S. going to other countries to share the gospel, right? We have hundreds and hundreds of missionaries or church leaders in their own countries who are committed to planting churches” because of American missionaries’ efforts, he said. “The fruit they produce are these changemaker missionaries. Really, they are the heartbeat of missions.”
Smith said the ChangeMaker 100 has garnered a lot of support.
“Everybody has just gotten so excited about this idea. We rolled it out to our churches in an informal way just last week or the week before, and the response has just been kind of amazing,” he said. “It has just for some reason resonated with them.”
People can go online to bmamissions.org to donate.
Although Smith didn’t set a fundraising goal, he said he’s already raised about $10,000. He said creative co-workers shot and posted to Facebook video of him talking about the ride and showing him on his bicycle.
“The response is gaining momentum now,” he said. “I have a friend who has agreed to match every dollar I raise. Now that put a flame under me. People who want to give to a greater purpose, they can double their contributions. It’s a high-capacity individual. If I raise $100,000 , he would match it; he would.”
Smith said the money will be used for grants that the missionaries can apply for to help defray costs of projects.
“We truly partner with them, we always say — and this is a big deal for us — we partner to do things with them, not for them,” he said. “As Americans, we sometimes think we’ve got it all going on, ‘Let’s go help someone.’ We [Baptist Missionary Association] just want to come alongside it and be a partner.
“What we’ll do, as those changemaker missionaries have needs … ministries related to compassion stuff — to schools, orphanages, feeding programs, women’s ministries, dental clinics — every penny, every penny will go toward that. There’s no hidden agenda here, no administrative fees.”“They’ll write and say, ‘Hey, we have this we’re trying to accomplish; we will pay for half …. We don’t want to create dependence on us, but we do want to be a partner.”
Smith considers himself a novice cyclist. “That’s why this is an even bigger challenge,” he said. “I know there are a lot of avid cyclists that a century ride is like breathing for them; it’s not the case for me.”
A production crew will follow Smith, and he’ll stop along the way to talk about different missionaries, he said.
A few days later, when he turns 50, he will have the satisfaction that he achieved both his goals.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.