FROM THE STATES: Fla., Tenn., Ark. evangelism/missions news; 'Church at Gate 5'
Today's From the States features items from:
Florida Baptist Witness
Baptist & Reflector (Tennessee)
Arkansas Baptist News
Carnival workers, fairgoers
seek 'Church at Gate 5'
By Barbara Denman
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Florida Baptist Convention) -- Just beyond the kaleidoscopic lights of the midway, tucked snugly behind the Ferris wheel, Magnum and Enterprise rides and other attractions at the South Florida Fair lies a church.
There is no steeple, no pews or even walls. And it exists for only three weeks a year. But to the carnival workers at the West Palm Beach fair, the "Church at Gate 5" offers grace, redemption and an outpouring of love as physical and spiritual needs are met.
"Without them, a lot of people would go hungry; a lot of people would have no clothes to wear," said carnival worker Ivy Banks.
"If you don't believe in God, when you meet these people, I guarantee you will when you leave," said worker Don Brown. "They are very beautiful people."
"I came here with no money," said carnie Jimmie Thompson, "and needed food and clothing. They gave it all to me. This is the best I've seen. They pray for you every time you come back here, they are really, loving people who will get a blessing one day in their life."
For 25 years, Florida Baptist churches in the Palm Beach area have partnered together to be the Light of Christ to the carnival workers at the South Florida fair. The event is held annually for three weeks in January and February.
From one truck initially providing coffee and muffins, the Church at Gate 5 has grown to a contingent of vehicles parked at one of the entrances leading into the fairgrounds. From that location, the Baptist volunteers offer snacks, drinks and baked goods throughout the day in the "Grace Wagon," as well as clothes, birthday celebrations, blankets, personal hygiene items, haircuts and countless pairs of black jeans and tennis shoes, a dress requirement for fair employees.
Volunteers also lead Bible studies, "popcorn" prayers and times of discipleship and mentoring. A huge barrel sits in the middle of the church with a sign beckoning believers to express their salvation. Last year, the waters of this baptismal pool were stirred three times.
Each year Campers on Missions park their recreational vehicles on the property of the makeshift church for the three weeks, meeting unexpected needs, making emergency hospital visits and responding to family crises.
Routinely called "carnies," the fair workers endure a life "one step a little above the homeless," contends Ann Lemos. For the past 19 years Lemos, a member of Grace Fellowship in West Palm Beach, has coordinated the ministry that involves 28 Florida Baptist churches, Campers on Missions and the Florida Baptist mobile dental unit.
The fair season in Florida begins each year in January and continues through mid-November. Because the South Florida fair is the first of the season, many workers arrive having spent that little nest egg they saved from the year before and often find their personal belongings have been stolen or lost. So they begin the season in a deficit with little money or means until their first paycheck arrives.
They sleep in one of three locations—under 18 wheelers, in the back of trucks or in bunk houses about as "big as a closet," said Lemos. All rent—as well as food and drinks consumed by workers on the fairgrounds—are deducted from their accrued wages, she explained.
Not only are they victims of questionable payroll deductions by their employers, but often find other carnival workers and even friends will steal from them, Lemos said.
She tells the story of Jill, one of the carnies Lemos befriended in the past, who crushed her ankle in an accident. While in the hospital, Lemos was asked to gather the young woman's belongings. Agreeing to the request, the Lemos asked where to find the clothes. "They were located under an 18-wheeler. This young woman was sleeping under an 18-wheeler," she said in disbelief. Throughout Jill's six month stay in rehab, Lemos remained by the young woman's side, continually ministering to her.
"They are a cross section of people," said Lemos. "Some are very educated, some are not. Some just can't get that traditional job so they are here. Some truly love what they do making kids laugh."
Gerald Teague is one of those. Every morning he comes to the Church at Gate 5 for morning coffee and to be around fellow Christians. He admits working as a carnie "is a hard life. Living conditions are about the worse," he said. But working the "Hanky Panky" game from 1 p.m.-11 p.m. and until midnight on the weekend, "making kids smile and making them happy" makes his job worthwhile.
He has been to other fairs that have similar ministries, but said the Palm Beach Network's effort is the best by far. At the Plant City (Fla.) Strawberry Festival, he has dental work done by the dentists staffing the Convention's Mobile Dental Unit, relieving him from long time of pain.
Since 1991 volunteer Jamie Gregory has parked her recreational vehicle on the grounds of Church at Gate 5, living there "24/7 in case Jesus happens to knock at any time day or night. We never know when we might have to do a hospital run or run to the Greyhound station or airport," she said.
One night, a man began throwing rocks at the window because "he was so thirsty. We gave him a drink of water. That's why we are here 24/7," Gregory recalled.
She coordinates the delivery of hot meals from local churches to feed workers each night. Youth groups prepare sack lunches and distribute them to the carnival workers while they are staffing the games and rides on the midway. Each of the bags contains a Bible verse and reminder that God loves them, she said.
This year, Gregory and members from her church, First Baptist in Royal Palm, conducted one-on-one discipleship meeting with workers.
Another church member took another worker to an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting. The Royal Palm congregation is actively involved in the fair ministry, sending many volunteers and resources.
"When I go into my camper at night, I cry because my heart is broken," Gregory shared. "You can never meet every single one of their needs. You can't make enough sandwiches, you can't make enough meals, you can't get enough clothing, you can't always be there for every one of them."
"But you can make a difference. You can touch one, you can change one life, and you can encourage one."
By the end of the third week, many of the volunteers have developed relationships with the carnival workers.
"We build up their confidence," recalls Gregory. "We call them by name and tell them that they are a child of the King and He knows their name... and He will never forsake them."
Despite all the illuminations radiating from the attractions on the midway, for three weeks in West Palm Beach none shine brighter than the Light guiding the Church at Gate 5.
This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.
FBC, Erwin, moves
off life support
By Lonnie Wilkey
ERWIN, Tenn. (Baptist & Reflector) -- When Macil Duncan arrived as pastor of First Baptist Church here nearly a year ago (the first Sunday in August), the church's attendance had dwindled to about 33 in Sunday School and less than 50 in worship.
Not good numbers for a historic East Tennessee church which drew 800-900 people weekly in its heyday, with attendance topping 1,000 for special events. The church also had planted five churches along the way.
"They were a model church for so long," Duncan observed.
Lester Bailey, a deacon and chairman of the search committee which called Duncan, was honest about the condition of the church he has attended most of his life.
"We were in survival mode. If we didn't grow we were going to die," Bailey said, adding that "in another five years we wouldn't be here."
Under Duncan's leadership, the church is showing signs of life once again. In the past 11 months 53 people have joined the church and 27 people have been baptized, he reported.
In addition, the church's offerings have doubled and worship attendance has climbed to an average of nearly 130 each week with a recent high of 180.
Duncan, a native of Tennessee, had been living in North Carolina where he was a former pastor and head of a church planting and relaunch ministry.
He admitted he had dealt with some personal struggles about the time FBC called him. "We shared our weaknesses and burdens with each other," Duncan recalled, who said he relies on Proverbs 3:5-6 as his life verse.
He noted that at that time he and his wife had been praying for "a church that was broken spiritually and wanted to do something for God."
A year on the field now, Duncan said that "it has been a match made in heaven."
In his previous pastorate and during his 18 years as a youth pastor, Duncan believed strongly in Sunday School and small groups.
After hearing about the 1-5-1 Harvest Plants strategy of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, Duncan knew it was a fit for First Baptist Church.
Harvest Plants refers to off-campus efforts at gathering lost people for the purpose of sharing the gospel and a "plant" can consist of branches (extensions of existing on-campus Bible studies); groups (similar to branches but not connected to any other program of the church); or churches (a new work that will carry out all the functions of a church).
In less than a year the church has begun six Harvest Plants, including a motorcycle group which Duncan leads himself. Other groups have been targeted to high school and middle school students, parents of teenagers, and college students.
He stressed that in his discussions with the search committee "we had an honest talk."
The pastor said leadership at First Baptist had an open spirit and a sense of desperation.
"If a church is truly desperate and wants to grow again, they can. To do so, they must pray and seek God's favor," Duncan said, adding that First Baptist has done just that.
In reaching out to people, Duncan and the church have committed to doing what it takes to accept people and to show them the love of Christ.
"I do not see color when I witness. I see souls. We take people as they are," he added.
That last phrase, along with the word "love" have become the key factors in the church's recent growth.
It's all about loving God and loving people, Duncan stressed. The church developed a new logo which states "Living the Love in Erwin."
In doing so the church has been willing to get out of their comfort zone.
Bailey, who is 80 years old, told Duncan to quit wearing a tie when he preaches. As a result the church is more casual in dress now than in years past. "We dress to make others feel comfortable. We want to win souls," Duncan said.
At the same time, however, "we don't want to take away our heritage and what makes us First Baptist Church, Erwin," he added.
Duncan also related that the relaxed atmosphere does not mean a contemporary worship style. "Our worship leans traditional. We have a choir, an organ, and a piano," he said.
Duncan emphasized that worship is not about the individual. "It's about Him.
"Whether we sing a hymn or a chorus, we ask the congregation to focus on the Lord."
In the past few months the church has been intentional in reaching out to the community and the homebound of the church.
Prior to coming to FBC, Duncan came to Erwin and in visits around town he would casually mention he was moving to the town. He asked people to recommend a church and no one mentioned FBC, Duncan recalled.
"The community had accepted the fact FBC was going down," Duncan said.
Now, through service projects and an intentionality, people in the community know the church is on the rebound, he observed. "If you go out and love folks and meet needs, they will remember you."
What has happened during his first year has been amazing, Duncan said. "God has blessed us.
"Our hope is that we will stay out of the way and let God continue to do His thing and we will give Him all the glory."
This article appeared in the Baptist & Reflector (tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist & Reflector.
400 vols reach thousands
at Mission Hot Springs
By Jessica Vanderpool
Arkansas Baptist News
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (Arkansas Baptist News) -- More than 400 volunteers spent the hot days of June on mission. But their missions event didn't require them to have a passport, board a plane or pack their bags for a week out of country. Instead, they stayed right in their own community.
This was the second year for the local missions event, dubbed Mission Hot Springs, which is a ministry of Hot Springs Baptist Church. The event seeks to minister to the city of Hot Springs and surrounding areas and is completely led, supported and driven by volunteers.
Together, the participants, many of whom were members of Hot Springs Baptist, took part in yard work, community Bible clubs, block parties and evangelism June 24-28. They made 385 personal, one-on-one presentations of the gospel, and about 70 people accepted Christ. In addition, they distributed about 3,000 tracts and 1,000 Bibles, and they served about 4,000 meals.
Manley Beasley Jr., senior pastor of Hot Springs Baptist since 2006, said the idea for Mission Hot Springs stemmed from a conversation between him and a fellow staff member following a mission trip to Nebraska a couple years ago. They noticed the "phenomenal" results of the mission trip – more than 30 salvations and many people learning how to "impact a community for Christ" -– so they began discussing why they did not see that locally. Beasley said they realized it was because they didn't do mission trip-type ministry locally.
So they began talking about implementing the elements of a mission trip –- such as strategy and organization -– locally and seeing if they could achieve a "similar impact," Beasley said, adding that it was also a way to get more people involved.
Their goal for the first year was to have 200 volunteers. Instead, they had 400 volunteers participating.
He said they knew the event needed to be led by laypeople so its continuation would not be dependent on who was in leadership. Before they had time to think through whom to enlist, God raised up leadership in the form of two laypeople -– church members David Smith and Sharon Plyler.
Beasley said God had put it on Smith's heart to help get the event off the ground. In addition, Beasley said that several years prior, Plyler had worked on a strategy for a local missions emphasis, meaning she had much of what they needed "already laid out."
"So God just pieced it all together. ... When He puts the pieces together, then it just works," Beasley said.
He said he considers this year's Mission Hot Springs to be the church's "most successful local outreach endeavor" since he has been pastor. He explained this is for two reasons – one being the number of salvations and the other being the number of church members who were able to gain missions training and experience.
He said they hold extensive training for volunteers before the event. Then, the volunteers get to put that knowledge into practice during the event.
As a result of Mission Hot Springs, the church now has more than 400 members who have been trained and are prepared to take part in other missions endeavors.
Katrina Robertson, Hot Springs Baptist member and wife of Shane Robertson, church pastor of discipleship/assimilation, was one of those trained. In addition to taking part in the missions projects, she served as a volunteer on the event's advertising team.
"The whole idea is there is something for everyone" she said, explaining those who had fewer physical capabilities could volunteer on a prayer walking team or an encouragement team.
Even child care was provided for volunteers with children in order to make the missions opportunity available to everyone.
For Robertson, last year's Mission Hot Springs was the first time she had taken part in an outreach endeavor like this.
"Sharing the gospel isn't that scary of a thing," she concluded, adding, "Anybody can do it."
"It really kind of … fires the church up about our calling to minister to and reach our Jerusalem," she said. "The whole week of missions at Hot Springs – it's exhausting but yet it gets everybody excited and revitalized to what it is we're really supposed to be doing."
Smith explained that Mission Hot Springs is a "chance to encourage those people who normally don't participate in mission projects to realize that they can be a part of something greater and bigger than themselves."
"Beginning with the city of Hot Springs, people can see and understand that God is calling them to spread His message of salvation to all the nations of the world," he said. "We want the people of Hot Springs to know that we love and care about them, and even more important, that Jesus loves and cares for them."
He said they are still doing follow-up ministry and seeing fruit from the event.
"Our goal is that this isn't just about a one-week effort, but that it becomes a lifestyle for our church," Smith said.
This article appeared in the Arkansas Baptist News (arkansasbaptistnews.squarespace.com/), newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist Convention. Jessica Vanderpool is assistant editor of the Arkansas Baptist News.
EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board's call to embrace the world's 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board's call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.