Often church members feel hurt when a pastor leaves, but when Jeff Copeland, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Robertsdale, resigned March 27 after nearly 23 years, he had his congregation’s support.
Copeland resigned to be the full-time leader of Kingdom Bridges, an international ministry providing crisis support and relief in Jesus’ name. For the past few weeks, Kingdom Bridges has been organizing and supporting a huge Ukrainian refugee relief ministry in Moldova as part of a 20-year partnership with a Baptist church there. They are housing, feeding and providing food and other essentials for nearly 3,000 Ukrainians.
Copeland said when he was young he “felt God call me into the ministry to serve as a pastor. Just like that first call, I now feel God calling me to be a bridge — to connect churches in America with those around the world.”
Copeland said he didn’t feel he could handle both positions like he wanted to, and he felt led to transition to full-time missions work.
“Kingdom Bridges had outgrown my ability to pastor my church,” he said. “FBC Robertsdale had partnered with the UK and Moldova as a missions field, [and in] the last 20 years, I have made 30 trips to support our Baptist churches over there. Fortunately, our staff at Robertsdale took excellent care of our people during my absence.”
“My wife and I will continue to make our home in the United States. However, I will travel to Ukraine and other places around the world where there is a need,” he said.
Friend, church member and longtime newspaper reporter and editor Craig Myers understands Copeland’s decision.
“In a time when pastors are leaving the ministry for negative reasons, he has left with the church’s full support to work full-time in a new calling,” Myers said. “Jeff was already planning to do this, but God moved up the timetable.”
Copeland said the first “bridge” is “Serve Ukraine.” Since Russia invaded the country Feb. 24, he has made two trips to the region. His work will consist of building partnerships with churches, nonprofits and organizations that raise funds to help the thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing their homeland.
Finding sources that will deliver food and medical supplies to war-torn areas is a small part of the work. Most importantly he hopes to find shelters to house the thousands of refugees.
“No one is safe,” Copeland said. “If Russian forces are en route to a city, every life is in danger.”
Starting a nonprofit can be stressful, with many questions and decisions to be made.
“Kingdom Bridges is a nonprofit entity,” Copeland said. “We must raise our own funds to support the many needs of the Ukrainian people. How will we feed the thousands that come across the border? Where is a safe place for them to sleep? After a long and difficult journey, many need medical care. Nighttime temperatures range in the 20s. How can we care for health needs?”
Since the beginning, people have asked how they can help, Copeland said. He asked that people pray for Kingdom Bridges and volunteer to meet humanitarian needs of the Ukrainian people. Giving is certainly essential, he added, and churches and individuals can make a one-time donation or monthly pledge to Kingdom Bridges. All proceeds go directly to ministry.