FROM THE STATES: Ala., Ind., Fla. evangelism/missions news;
Today's From the States features items from:
The Alabama Baptist
Florida Baptist Witness
Hueytown church gives Thanksgiving surprise
to neighborhood in need, sees walls fall
By Grace Thornton
HUEYTOWN, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) –- Judy McGhee said she's got a lot to be thankful for this year, after Jesus and a new friend pursued her family by way of a big red truck.
McGhee, who lives in an area of Hueytown, Ala., riddled with drugs, gangs and prostitution, said it was her daughter who first spotted the big red truck driving through their neighborhood.
It belonged to Mike Gordon, minister of outreach and evangelism for Valley Creek Baptist Church in Hueytown. Gordon had been driving through the neighborhood for more than a year, praying over each house.
Slowly he and other church members began to engage the people who lived there -- many of whom wondered why he drove through there so much.
Friendships started. Gordon began picking people up for church on Sundays in his big red truck. And Valley Creek Baptist families began going over every third Saturday to have a cookout for the neighborhood, talk to residents and play with the kids.
"We just wanted to tell them that someone cares about them, that someone loves them," Gordon said.
That sentiment made a connection with McGhee's granddaughter, who struggled with a drug addiction.
"He met her first," McGhee said. "He started coming to the house and checking on her, and we became good friends."
And, she said, he always invited them to church.
Finally one day, she went, along with her 9-year-old grandson.
"I loved it so much, that's all I talked about," McGhee said. "I kept telling my family, 'Y'all will love this church, you've just got to go.'"
Her oldest daughter finally gave in, and after she went, she joined the church.
And on Feb. 17, five members of the family were baptized.
"We love it. We love the church, and Bro. Mike has been really special to us. It's been a godsend," McGhee said.
She's not the only one in her neighborhood who feels that way.
This year for the second time, Valley Creek Baptist members packed a bag with a Thanksgiving meal for every family in the neighborhood — 121 bags in total, Gordon said.
Church families adopt a family, then go buy all the items on the list for their bag.
"They have things in them like potatoes, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, dry milk, pumpkin pie and muffin mix," Gordon said.
On Nov. 20, Valley Creek members of all ages packed the bags in assembly-line fashion, then the church members who donated each bag signed the bag and prayed for the family who would receive it.
Last year, when the families opened the door and saw what was being done for them, several of them burst into tears, Gordon said.
"God could take care of those people without our help, but He chose to use us to go -- we're just the hands and feet," he said. "The whole thing is about servanthood. Jesus just asked us to trust Him, and He said, 'If you lift Me up I will draw them unto Myself.'"
Gordon has seen it happen. Two young men who immediately come to mind are Jeremy and Tim, who "got radically saved," he said.
"It's incredible," Gordon said, noting that one day both of the men came to church and began confessing their sins as people at Valley Creek prayed over them.
"When it was over, Jeremy said, 'I feel so much lighter,'" he said. "Only God can do that."
Gordon challenges his church members to connect on a personal level with members of the community when they go to distribute the bags of food, or when they go for a third Saturday cookout.
It's a challenge they've accepted wholeheartedly.
"God has been opening our eyes to the people of that community," Gordon said.
All kinds of stereotypes can hinder relationships in areas like the one they invest in, but "we're seeing past that," he said. "We're not afraid of the element that's there -- we see the people who are there."
Since they've been praying over the community, the drug dealers have gotten to know "Bro. Mike" by name, and one drug house has already been shut down, he said.
"There are prayers being answered ... but Satan rears his head there, too. It's a constant fight in there," Gordon said.
He's burdened for the people there, he said. "They're my sheep."
It's personal for him and for the rest of Valley Creek.
Church members "are completely encouraged when they see these families come in and they get saved and join our church," Gordon said.
God has opened their hearts to love unconditionally, no matter what people wear or need when they come through the doors of the church, he said.
"It's not about the addiction issues, the ripped jeans, the worn shoes," Gordon said. "It's about showing the love of Christ and His peace, joy and hope."
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Grace Thornton is assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist.
around the world
Partnering to reach the "M" people
In 2012 the Executive Board of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana formed a "Reach the Nations" Committee to investigate how our convention could partner to embrace an unreached people group. Prayerful research led them to focus on the Amazon River Valley in Brazil. Committee Chair Rick Hillard and members Gary Yochum, Bryan Hillard and Steve Blanchard made an initial visit to the area in March of 2013. They met with IMB missionaries and learned about the "M" people, who live in villages up and down the waterways near Manaus. After sharing with the Executive Board and more prayer, Rick Hillard and Steve Blanchard returned in June 2013, to set up the formal agreement with an IMB couple, which was approved by the convention in the SCBI annual meeting in October. Due to the sensitive nature of ministering to an indigenous people group, the missionaries are careful to work in harmony with the Brazilian government. While they have approval to provide services to the people group, they only refer to them as the "M" people in publications name in order to protect the people group's status. The names of our IMB missionaries are also not published.
The "M" people are an indigenous people group in Brazil, located along the western tributaries of the Amazon River. They are primarily fishermen, but also keep stock animals and raise a few vegetables. They typically suffer from a lack of clean water and variety in their diet. Less than 2% are evangelical Christian and most have never heard the Gospel of Jesus. Many are animistic, so they believe in a spirit world, that things in nature have a soul and there is a supernatural force that one must deal with in life. They believe in the power of shamans and often call on spirits to intervene in their lives to assist them.
The primary need for the "M" people is prayer. Specifically pray: against the dark powers, for Gospel witness, for new believers, developing leaders and for planting indigenous churches. Small partnership mission teams are needed to travel to Manaus, Amazonas in Brazil to work with IMB missionaries who are beginning a church within the "M" people group.
To find out more about the partnership with Brazil or about being part of a mission team visit our website at www.scbi.org/brazil.
God Commands Us to Go ...to All Nations!
Eastside Community Baptist Church in Indianapolis took a team to Mexico in September to work alongside IMB missionaries Rich and Jody Fleming and church planters Antonio and Antonia in Queretaro, Mexico. They joined with house churches, doing community outreach, prayerwalking, leading a ladies Bible study, sharing biblical counsel about finances, and visiting struggling individuals in their homes to offer encouragement.
The team witnessed God at work. Three new believers were baptized, one being from the team's church in Indiana. A husband and wife also asked Jesus into their hearts and life during a home visit. Team members were delighted to have opportunities to share personal testimonies and connect with the people.
Equipping Christians in Liberia
After helping a Bible school president in Carmel, Ind., with repairs on his laptop, Bob Henninger found himself on a trajectory to be used in God's plan to reach people in West Africa. The man that Bob met had connections with Liberian International Christian College (LICC) in Ganta, Liberia. He asked Bob to pray about going to set up a network for their computer lab. Bob first made the trip in 2010 for a four-month stay and again in 2012 for ten weeks.
This year he went from February 16 to June 16, coinciding with the college's semester. Bob continued his work setting up and repairing computers, but he also taught students to use and to repair computers. Bob, a member of Northside Baptist Church in Indianapolis, is a Bible scholar and he taught a New Testament Survey classes to over 80 students. The experience is rich with communication challenges, unusual methods of travel to reach remote African villages and bouts of health disruptions. However, because of his willingness to step out of his comfort zone, Bob saw God move. He shared, "On this trip the demands and pressures were greater and the challenges more unique, but I am convinced that the real purpose is helping prepare the young laborers there in the spiritual harvest to do the work of their Lord in that part of His world. And I did get to know some special young men whose commitment and eagerness was clearly the work of the Holy Spirit working in and through them."
The above items appeared in the Indiana Baptist, newsmagazine of the State Convention of Indiana Baptists (scbi.org).
Meals & memories: Sharing
Thanksgiving with neighbors
By Caroln Nichols
APOPKA, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness) -- Churches and organizations across Florida shared traditional Thanksgiving meals with their communities these past few weeks as they thanked God for their own blessings. Whether a shared meal or a meal delivered to workplaces, menus of turkey, dressing and all the trimmings reminded recipients of the rich history of Thanksgiving in America.
First Baptist Church, Apopka
For 30 years, First Baptist Church in Apopka has invited its neighbors to eat Thanksgiving Dinner at its house. Every year hundreds crowd into the church building to eat together and to hear the Gospel story.
Former pastor Allen Higginbotham began the tradition, and the first community dinner in 1983 had 40-50 guests. Loren Sauers, who has called First Baptist his home church 46 years, has served since May as associate pastor of the central Florida congregation. He said the Thanksgiving lunch grew to have around 750 guests for several years before other community organizations also began to offer the holiday lunch. The church served around 450 in 2012.
"This is always such a blessing for the church. It brings out the real flavor of Thanksgiving in America," Sauers said.
Along the way, 19 community organizations, including service clubs and Meals on Wheels, joined the effort. The logistics and preparations for feeding a crowd have become "pretty automatic" after so many years, he said. Volunteers spend all day on Wednesday cooking cornbread for 30 pounds of stuffing, peeling and slicing hundreds of potatoes to mash, and roasting 40 turkeys—"everything that can go in the refrigerator overnight," he said.
Thanksgiving Day begins early for volunteers from First Baptist and its partnering organizations. By 6 a.m., final preparations are underway. The final five hours before guests arrive at 11 a.m. is a time "when a lot can happen," Sauers said.
"The Macy's Parade is playing on TV, and every once in a while a group will break out singing with the Parade. There is laughter, and then you can see little groups of people praying together. It is a lot of busyness," he said.
This year the first seating of 300 began at 11 a.m., and a steady stream of diners filled the room until 2 p.m. Youth Pastor Kevin Kozial prayed and lead a short time of worship. Those present "come from every walk of life imaginable," Sauers said. "Our primary concern is that they are fed spiritually."
For some of the First Baptist volunteers, including the Sauers whose daughter and granddaughters were not with them on the holiday, the meal at church was their only Thanksgiving celebration. Other volunteers shared the holiday with extended family later in the day.
"This is what we consider our Thanksgiving meal," he said.
Friends of Internationals, Florida State University
Friends of internationals, an arm of Baptist Campus Ministries in Tallahassee, annually uses Thanksgiving to introduce international students to the history and the hospitality of the American holiday.
For about 10 years FOI served a meal on Thanksgiving Day, but FOI Director Chris Craighead and BCM Director Lance Beauchamp decided in 2012 to move the meal to the Monday before the holiday. Attendance doubled, and other events were added on the weekend before Thanksgiving.
For the second year, a mission team of 35 Louisiana Tech University students and five sponsors from Temple Baptist Church in Ruston, La., traveled to Tallahassee to help in the effort. Craighead was a college intern at the church while a student. In the midst of a two-week quarter break, the Louisiana students spent five days interacting with FSU internationals—and preparing a Thanksgiving meal.
"It is kind of a flip-flop," Craighead said. "I asked the Louisiana Tech students to come here to get the international students involved, and I've asked our international students to greet the visitors from Louisiana and make them feel welcome."
The FOI events with the Louisiana students began Nov. 22 with a "Taste of Louisiana" lunch. For $4, students feasted on Louisiana specialties prepared by cook Glenda Robbins, who majored in home economics at Louisiana Tech, Craighead said.
Prior to the FSU-Idaho game Nov. 23, American and international students took turns teaching their favorite sports. European and Indian students instructed their American counterparts in playing cricket, and American students taught football plays and rules. The Garnet and Gold Guys, well-known in Tallahassee for attending FSU games in paint and glitter, were on hand for photos with the students.
More than 200 attended the Thanksgiving lunch Nov. 25. Students from around the world feasted on turkey, ham, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls, and banana pudding. A side of jambalaya and vegetarian options completed the menu.
A history of American Thanksgiving was presented by leaders of InternatioNOLE, another campus organization of international students, and FOI leaders told what Christians believe about Thanksgiving. Casey Casady, college pastor of Temple Baptist, presented the Gospel.
Around the tables, questions from international students included "How does God bless you?" and "How does God know what you need?"
"Some we reached this week we would never be able to reach otherwise. I think it's because of all the extra manpower," Craighead said.
A large wall in the BCM building became the "Wall of Thanksgiving" on which students wrote things for which they are thankful. Since Craighead and his wife, Gaelin, could not travel to Louisiana for the holiday, he said they are very thankful "for people from home spending their holiday with us."
First Baptist Church, Blountstown
A Thanksgiving feast on the Sunday before Thanksgiving has been a long-standing tradition at First Baptist Church in Blountstown. This year church members delivered meals to community helpers and others in their Panhandle hometown instead of sitting down to eat with fellow church members.
"I felt led to make that change," said Tim Rhoads, who has served as pastor of First Baptist one year. "A more biblical way to show gratitude to God is to share the meal with others. God blesses us so we can be a blessing for others."
The Hospitality Committee prepared 200 meals that were delivered to hospital personnel, law enforcement officers, convenience store clerks, nursing homes, homebound and widows. Hospitality Committee co-chairs Bobbie Wyrick and Jackie Jordan worked with dozens of volunteers Nov. 22-24 to ready the food for delivery. Doris Taylor, 91, is traditionally in charge of making the dressing, Wyrick said.
Friday's chores included making cornbread and slicing and sautéing onions for the dressing, and making broth for gravy. More preparations followed Saturday, and then final touches on Sunday afternoon. The menu included smoked turkey breast, sweet potato casserole with nut topping, green beans, yeast rolls and carrot cake with homemade icing.
When her pastor told her about the plan for delivering meals in the community, "my heart leapt for joy," Wyrick said.
"This is the kind of thing that I just love to do," she said.
Each boxed meal contained a card thanking the recipient for his service to the community and a short Gospel presentation. The size of Blountstown —2,500 residents—simplified the logistics of meal delivery, Rhoades said. The evening worship service was cancelled so that several 15-20 teams could deliver 10-15 meals.
"We are excited about this possibility. Something resonates in sharing with our community instead of sitting up here behind our walls," he said.
This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Carolyn Nichols is a writer for the Florida Baptist Witness.
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.