FROM THE STATES: Ky., Ga. & Ala. evangelism/missions news; making the Gospel known
Today's From the States features items from:
Kentucky Baptist Convention
The Christian Index (Georgia)
The Alabama Baptist
Building friendships a path
to Gospel for campus ministry
By Whitney Jones
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Kentucky Baptist Convention) -- The end of the school year brings many goodbyes for college students, especially for international students returning home. Many of those students will leave for the summer, or longer, with friendships built for eternity among students and leaders in Baptist Campus Ministry groups throughout Kentucky.
Brian Combs, collegiate evangelism strategist for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said about 6,000 students from China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and other nations are studying at Kentucky colleges each year. Some of their home countries are closed to Christianity and evangelical missionaries.
Since 2008, Riley Byers has ministered to international students through University of Louisville Baptist Campus Ministry. He has seen several students accept Christ as their Savior, but says, "International ministry is tricky.
"On the surface, international students are usually much more open to talking about religious things (than many U.S. students)." He noted that students from other countries often are enthusiastic to hear about Christianity or the Bible "because they don't want to offend people, so they'll politely listen to what you say and may even agree to do some kind of Bible study."
That enthusiasm does not always result in a salvation decision, Byers said, so BCM's focus is to build relationships between Christian and non-Christian students, and to try to get international students involved in a local church so they can experience the love of Christ.
Hannah Parker, a North American Mission Board-appointed intern at Murray State University's BCM, agrees that friendship paves the way to sharing the gospel with international students.
"Whenever you build that relationship with them, they get to know more of your heart," Parker said. "And so when you begin sharing about Jesus, and you begin talking to them about the Scriptures, it means more to them because you mean more to them."
Earlier this year, the Murray State and U of L BCM groups organized retreats for students from other countries and their peers who are strong Christians.
While in Gatlinburg, Tenn., Parker said students bridged culture gaps, had fun and deepened friendships.
In addition to hiking and other recreation, each night students cooked a meal from another culture, including Chinese and Korean cuisine.
Cong Tran is a Murray State senior from Vietnam who went on the Gatlinburg trip. He said he is involved with BCM because they approached him his freshman year and have been friendly ever since. That welcoming attitude is what has kept him coming back every year.
Tran, who graduates in December, noted that spending time with students at the BCM allowed him to more fully understand Christianity and rid himself of some of his previous prejudices about Christians.
U of L BCM also held a retreat in the Great Smoky Mountains for international students during spring break.
"It's a way to make the gospel known to people from all over the world," Byers said. "And a lot of the students (who) have come to study in the United States, particularly here at U of L, (are) from restricted-access countries. They come from places where the gospel's not able to be freely proclaimed."
Cindy Pelphrey, KBC campus missionary for a group of colleges in the Owensboro area, coordinates the annual "Engage" conference for international students. Funded in part by gifts to the Eliza Broadus State Missions Offering, "Engage" provides students from other countries an opportunity to share their culture with their peers through a "parade of nations," a talent show and other activities.
Nearing its 60th year, the conference concludes with a worship service where the gospel is presented. Pelphrey said some international students make professions of faith at that worship service, and many others ask questions about salvation in the days and weeks following.
Like Byers, Pelphrey said an openness to discuss the Bible does not always mean that a student from another culture will accept Christ as Savior.
"Our command is to share the gospel and to trust God with the eternal consequences of people's decisions," she said.
Learn more about Kentucky Baptist Campus Ministry at www.kybaptist.org/bcm and at www.facebook.com/kentuckybcm.
Whitney Jones is a freelancer for the Kentucky Baptist Convention (kybaptist.org).
Raceway Ministries Atlanta
in gear to serve
By J. Gerald Harris
HAMPTON, Ga. (The Christian Index) -- The Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton has been one of the movie locations for such films as Smokey and the Bandit and Stroker Ace. The 1.54-mile quad-oval track with a seating capacity of over 125,000 is one of the fastest tracks on the NASCAR circuit.
While the AMS is hosting events throughout the year the biggest event this year will be the AdvoCare 500 on Sunday, Sept. 1. However, many of the thousands of people who will gather for one of NASCAR's biggest events will likely be confronted with loving servants of Jesus Christ.
Raceway Ministries Atlanta utilizes a relationship-building service strategy to engage fans at Atlanta Motor Speedway (and other racing venues) with the message of salvation.
Connie Yancey, president of Raceway Ministries Atlanta and member of First Baptist Church in Hampton, explained, "We seek to advance the name of Jesus Christ by hosting events to demonstrate God's love and cultivate relationships between Christians and non-Christians so the Holy Spirit can use us for His work."
Indeed, there are two basic strategies when it comes to evangelism: (1) compete for attention or (2) meet needs. The RMA leadership believes that the strategy of competing for attention, especially in motor sports, can get very complicated very fast. Therefore, they have adopted the strategy of meeting needs.
Yancey avows, "When a person's need is met, they feel loved, appreciated, and accepted. That is an excellent foundation for a relationship; and relationships are important, because according to II Corinthians 5:20 we are Christ's ambassadors and God is making His appeal to the nations through us.
"We represent God in all we do. So, since God works in people's lives through relationships, doesn't it make sense that evangelism should be founded on relationships? Most people's first encounter with God is through one of His representatives, and you never get a second chance to make a good first impression."
Statistics will show that a microcosm of America comes to Atlanta Motor Speedway every year during Labor Day weekend. Yancey exclaimed, "We are praying for revival in America that will start among motorsports fans who encounter Christ and then take the Good News to their communities.
"For the NASCAR races, people not only fill the grandstands, but thousands camp on the track property during race weekend." Yancey explained, "We have learned that the vast majority of them camp in the same spot year after year, usually camping where their parents brought them as children, and bringing their own children and grandchildren with them. We've also learned that each campground has its own unique personality and needs.
"We make it our business to learn the needs of the campgrounds and to design tasks and recruit volunteers to meet those needs. We are literally running to keep up with God's activity at Atlanta Motor Speedway! In 2012, we had 876 volunteer slots to fill, and God was faithful to provide people and resources.
"We spend several years cultivating relationships and gaining trust, and now we are beginning to see the harvest. At last year's race, our volunteers were overwhelmed with the number of people who asked deep spiritual questions and requested personal prayer. In addition, a local Lifeway Christian Store donated about 300 beautiful Bibles to us that we gave away at two of our free breakfasts.
"After that, as we walked through the campground, people literally came out of their tents and asked for Bibles. This would not have happened just a few short years ago. But now we have a relationship with the campers and we've gained their trust.
"On a side note: some of the campers asked if we had Bibles for their children. Since we didn't have children's Bibles with us, we took the campers' addresses and purchased and shipped Children's Storybook Bibles to them after the race."
Yancey concluded, "When we see people behaving in a way that is contrary to God's ideal, we try to see them as valuable to God. This view is based on scriptural truth because 'while we were yet sinners' God paid the highest price for us. This is the central truth of Raceway Ministries. It's really easy to genuinely love people – no matter how they are behaving – when you view them as valuable to God."
RMA initiatives include Friday night drag races from April to September, weekly ministry to staff at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, and an extensive variety of services for the Labor Day race weekend.
Raceway Ministries Atlanta is a nonprofit, interdenominational organization of volunteers who have a passion for all people. RMA is seeking hundreds of volunteers to assist in this strategic ministry. They believe: "Where people's needs meet your gifts, relationships begin." To volunteer, go to www.rmatl.org.
RMA relies totally on individual donations. The ministry's budget is $25,000 per year. F.A.I.T.H. Riders hosted a fundraiser last year and is planning another one in the fall of 2013. RMA is also hosting a car and motorcycle show on Nov. 2 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in conjunction with the Georgia State Fair.
This article appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. J. Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index.
Alabama No. 3 in hunger nationwide;
Baptists can help practically, through advocacy
By Grace Thornton
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- As the "grocery clerk" for Washington Baptist Association, Mildred Butler said she hasn't always gotten a lot of thanks.
But that's changed over the past few years.
"Since the economy has gotten worse, people who come to us say the bag of food we give them makes the difference of whether or not they eat the last week of the month," said Butler, ministry assistant and food ministry director for the association.
Her office gives out food to nearly 300 families a month. The count has "steadily gone up as the economy's gotten worse," Butler said.
And it's not just Washington County. Statistics say the food insecurity problem found there spans the entire state.
In 2011, 18.2 percent of Alabama households struggled to put food on the table, compared to 14.9 percent of families nationwide, according to Bread for the World statistics. The year before, 26.7 percent of the state's children were at risk of hunger.
Add all that together, and experts say it means Alabama ranks No. 3 in hunger in the nation, according to Bread for the World.
Out of Alabama's counties, Wilcox, Winston, Conecuh, Monroe and Marion have the highest rate of food insecurity, which means at least one member of a household has had his or her eating patterns disrupted by lack of money.
Larry Barnes, director of missions for Fayette Baptist Association, said he sees the reality of food insecurity in his area all the time. The association's food bank is open four and a half days a week to people who have no food.
"Our churches contribute food items and money," he said. "They feel it is important because jobs are scarce and they know that those whom we are helping are very likely to be completely out of food."
Like Fayette Association, other Alabama Baptists statewide are working to meet hunger needs on a practical level, said Kristy Kennedy, an associate in the office of associational missions and church planting of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM). Twenty-three Alabama Baptist associations have food banks that received hunger funds from the SBOM, with 14 more food ministries added to that, she said.
"And these are just the ministries that ask us for hunger funds, so there are more groups than this" who do food ministry, Kennedy said.
Washington Association is one ministry that receives money from the World Hunger Fund through the SBOM to help run its food distribution project.
Butler said, "The things that used to help you stretch your dollar now have gotten more expensive — rice, potatoes, the 'fillers in,'" so people are having a harder time putting food on the table.
So over time, Washington Association moved from running a "small pantry" giving away 50 bags of food a month to a bigger operation that receives food from the regional center of the Alabama Food Bank Association (AFBA). The AFBA has eight locations in Alabama that provide goods to emergency food programs such as food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.
"In obedience to our Lord, we should all attempt to help those who have need," the Washington Association website states. Providing food for the hungry is a big part of that, it said.
For Barbour Baptist Association, many of their calls come from families in crisis by way of DHR.
Calls come "when clients there are applying for food stamps and don't have any food, but they won't get their card (for food stamps) for another seven days," said Donna Harrison, administrative ministry assistant for Barbour Association.
The association's food bank is on site and stocks "strictly canned foods donated from individuals and churches," Harrison said. "If we are running low, all our churches step up to the bat."
Requests for food come often but in spurts, she said. "One week, I'll have to fill bags for three or four families. Other times, we might go two weeks and not have any."
It's a good working partnership between the association and DHR to meet needs, Harrison said.
But Alabama Baptists can go one level greater when it comes to reaching out to government to meet hunger needs, said LaMarco Cable, deputy director of organizing and grassroots capacity building for Bread for the World.
"I believe ending hunger in the United States and around the world requires a partnership between community and government," he said. "Feeding programs do an excellent job of responding to immediate needs."
But the government "is able to respond immediately and create long-term solutions to ending hunger with input from church and community leaders," Cable said.
Advocacy, he said, tops the list of ways to respond to hunger needs.
"Critical decisions are being made in Congress that will impact poor and hungry people in Alabama and around the country," he said.
Cable said he strongly encouraged Alabamians to contact their senators and urge them not to cut programs for the poor and hungry.
"Also encourage them to work with their colleagues to set a goal and plan for ending hunger in the United States," he said.
For more information about Bread for the World and advocacy for the hungry, visit www.bread.org. For more information about Alabama Food Bank Association, visit www.alfoodbanks.org.
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Grace Thornton is assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist.