Texas and Missions
J. B. Gambrell, D.D.
From Our Home Field Journal 1902
I see, in a very kind notice of our late Texas Convention, you suggest that Texas ought now to ask the Home Board to discontinue its help to our State work. The same thought is in the minds of some of our brethren. My personal feeling is that the Home Board should consider the whole field of its operations and place the money where most needed, or where it will do the most good. If all help were withdrawn from this Slate, we would go on increasing our contributions to the Home Board. Our people are planted firmly on the principles of missions and cannot be moved by the smaller subsidiary questions.
It looks very much that a State that can raise $50,000 for State Missions ought to go it alone and maybe it ought. But before we make a final decision. we ought to look at the field. I invite a brief survey of the situation, as it is right now. No attempt will be made to be accurate in all things down to hair lines, but rather to give a serviceable view of the situation.
Consider the area of our operations. It is as far across Texas, cither of two ways, as from New Orleans to Chicago, and the State is somewhat square. We have a district association with churches as far apart as from Savannah, Ga., to Chattanooga, Tenn. and the delegates attend. From Brownsville to El Paso, following the Rio Grande, is, roundly speaking, 1,000 miles. This is one continuous mission line, with not a self- supporting church between the two extreme points. The Southern coast, 600 miles, is mission ground all along, with not twenty-five self-supporting churches in a territory approximately as large as Tennessee. The Panhandle section is as large as South Carolina, and not ten churches able to take care of themselves. There is a double frontier, one along the Rio Grande and one several hundred miles this side, each extending hundreds of miles, fully as far as from Memphis, Tenn, to Norfolk. Va. Nor are these frontiers hard, well defined lines, but rather a broad frazzled edge of the population of the more thickly settled portions of the country. Over these vast areas are little settlements, constantly thickening up by accretions from every part of the world. Our popuIation is cosmopolitan. In a few months, one hundred and fifty people were received into the First church, Dallas, and eighteen States and territories were represented. It is like that over the State.
East Texas is the old, first settled part of tile State. Baptists are strong numerically. Here is the great timber and oil development. Railroads are building in every direction. New towns are springing up like magic. Frequently in Texas, in a month after a railroad strikes a town, it has one thousand people, in two months, two thousand. Things ace done in Texas on a tremendous scale, and with great rapidity. One man was talking about his little ranch. "How large is it"' I asked. Oh, only sixty-five square miles." Well, how large is your big one?" "Two hundred and forty square miles," Some of the ranches are being divided for settlement, and the people light on them like flocks of birds, one hundred families in a month. Over a large part of the thickly settled portions of the State is a great moving, renting population, many of whom never go to church, and have no Bibles or Testaments. The towns and cities are growing at a rate to astound any one in Georgia. Dallas built 1,200 dwelling houses the first four months of this year, and the work goes steadily on. We have four churches and will shortly need ten. Dallas is hardly an exception among the scores of cities in Texas. There are more than 600,000 foreigners in Texas, speaking mainly three languages. The railroad officials tell us that, for months, 25,000 have been coming to Texas each month. The development of the Slate has just begun. The Washington Post, a very conservative paper, gives data to show that Texas can support the entire population of the United States and do a good export business.
I do not deal in futures further than to say that the present conditions, which I cannot particularize, compel the belief that the tide of progress will swell for long years to come. It is the sober judgment of every man among us that the urgency for missionary expansion is now greater than it has ever been in our history. With all our progress in recent years, we have not kept pace with the growing demand.
We have indeed massed a great mission force, but we confront an unparalleled field of opportunity. Texas is something like five times as large as an average American Stale and, compared with Virginia or South Carolina, the demands for mission work are, in my judgment, fifty times as great. Only this morning, in my mail, comes a letter telling of a church, with six members, organized in the West, and that they expect four hundred people to settle in that community in a few days. Last year our work, was laid out on a basis of fifty thousand dollars. We spent $51,800. We had 203 missionaries, and they baptized in round numbers, 3,000 people, organized eighty-three churches and brought into church relationship the rise of 6,000 people. It would take five hundred missionaries to occupy the field for Baptists as well as South Carolina is occupied. It is my deliberate judgment that nowhere on the American continent is there a field where missionary effort will pay as large dividends in as short a time. We are here to stay and put the stamp of God’s Truth on this great plastic State as fast as we can.
What adds seriously to our burden is the fact that, of the three thousand churches in the State, not over half of them have houses of worship. Your readers can understand the disadvantage of this situation. I make these statements for the denomination because the brethren in the East, who are putting their money here, ought to know about the field. The statement is not as full as I wish it, but it is full of suggestions. I say now again, if the Home Board feels that there is a better place to put money than in Texas, there will be no grumbling on this side of the river, but a cheerful acquiescence in the judgment of the Board. But if it is believed that this is a good field for the Board, we stand ready to do our best, not only to make this a Baptist State, but to train every church in it to be a missionary church, beginning at Jerusalem and going to the uttermost parts of the earth.
[From The Christian Index, in Our Home Field Journal 1902, January, p. 1; via SBHL&A. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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