FROM THE STATES: Calif., Tenn., N.C. evangelism/missions news; 'God loves you. He always has. He always will.'
Today's From the States features items from:
California Southern Baptist
Baptist & Reflector (Tennessee)
The Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)
Juvenile Hall ministry
celebrates 40 years
By Amanda Phifer
FRESNO, Calif. (California Southern Baptist) -- Of course there are children and youth around the world who have no personal experience with "Christmas" --- that season of parties, gifts, shopping, travel and family gatherings.
You just don't expect to find them in too many corners of the Golden State.
But for volunteers at Christmas parties for children and youth at the Fresno County Juvenile Justice Campus, this is a sad but frequent lesson.
"We've had so many kids who said they didn't know what Christmas was until we came and did the party for them," said Carol Climer, whose husband Ron began ministry at Juvenile Hall 40 years ago after he became a Christian. He started with volunteers from Sierra Heights Baptist Church, where the Climers were then members, and it has grown every year.
Here are the basics: each year, nearly two dozen churches in Mid-Valley Southern Baptist Association provide funds and volunteers for Christmas parties for all the youth at Fresno's Juvenile Hall. They assemble a bag of gifts for every youth and staff member on a Thursday night in early December, then hold a party for each unit at the facility the following Monday and Tuesday nights. They include games, food (much of it homemade), gift bags, the Christmas story, an invitation to make a decision for Christ, and brief but immediate one-on-one follow-up from volunteers, including an opportunity to share prayer requests.
Gift bags for youth -- they all receive the same, facility-approved items -- contain useful things such as socks, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, a wristband that says, "God loves you. He always has. He always will" -- and a deck of cards.
Why the playing cards?
Carol explains: "We play a song at the party about a soldier who went to church and didn't have a Bible but had a deck of cards, and he used every number and face card to represent elements of the Gospel. We want the kids, the next time they see a deck of cards, to think of this song and the Gospel."
They are listening, apparently. Out of the 289 youth who attended parties this year, 108 made professions of faith; another 72 pledged to rededicate their lives to Christ; another 126 asked to follow up with a chaplain.
"It's such a heartbreaking place to minister," Carol said. "Some of these kids are only eight years old." (The age range goes up to 18.) "Far too many of the girls are already mothers, and too many of the boys are already fathers to one or more children.
"And it's not like it used to be. It used to be kids got sent to detention centers for something as simple as running away. No more. If you're here now, it's because you've been arrested for an actual crime, and more of them are serious than in the past."
There is the question of how California Southern Baptist volunteers can go into such a facility and so blatantly share the Gospel of Jesus. In short, attendance at the parties is completely voluntary; no youth are compelled. Additionally, if any of the youth request subsequent conversation with a leader of another faith - Catholic or Mormon, to use two actual examples - Ron Climer, as chaplain for the facility, provides for that.
"Kids in these campuses get treated educationally - they go to school year-round - physically, of course, and spiritually," Carol said.
Youth from different units are not allowed to interact due to age or gender differences, or different reasons for their detention. This year that meant 13 separate parties, though all of them follow the same 90-minute schedule.
In this 40th year of the ministry, 21 churches from Mid-Valley Association provided 366 volunteers for the two nights of parties. The ministry requires approximately $7,000, all given by churches and individuals, as it is not included in the association budget.
"You just can't help but have such a precious feeling about your volunteers," Carol said. "Some of them have been in this ministry for 38 years. And some of them are former Juvenile Hall youth. That is extremely rewarding, knowing kids come out of the system and are eager to volunteer with us, wanting to give back."
In a thank-you e-mail to volunteers, Carol wrote, "Thousands of youth have come to the feet of Jesus over the last 40 years because of what you do during the two nights.
"You have donated over $400,000 for gifts and food for the kids and staff over the years. Never forget - you left your handprints in the hearts of each youth you left behind."
This article appeared in the California Southern Baptist (csbc.com/csb), newsjournal of the California Southern Baptist Convention. Amanda Phifer is a writer for the California Southern Baptist.
draws 1,000; 29 baptized
By Connie Davis Bushey
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Baptist & Reflector) -- "It's not about the Dodgeball Tournament. It's [about] using it as a tool for hundreds of students to hear about Jesus," said Bobby Thompson, student pastor at Grace Baptist Church here.
Though an unusual outreach event, the annual tournament has become the church's largest and most effective outreach event for middle school and high school students, explained Thompson, who recently saw 42 students make professions of faith at the event. Two weeks later on Nov. 13 at a Baptism Party, also held on Wednesday night, 29 students were baptized.
The Dodgeball Tournament drew about 800 students from about 22 schools and a total of about 1,000 people including parents and volunteers, he added.
That response is up from last year, the first year it was held, which saw about 500 participate in the tournament, 10 students make professions of faith, and 21 be baptized.
"It has really taken off," said Thompson. Grace Baptist Church draws about 2,800 to Sunday morning activities. Grace Christian Academy for Kindergarten to 12th grade has about 950 students.
Last year the number of students who were baptized was more than those who made professions of faith because each year the Wednesday night after the tournament "the essentials of our faith" are taught so more students can make decisions and so students who made decisions can understand what their commitments mean, explained Thompson.
The Dodgeball Tournament is successful mainly because of the regular participants of the Grace Student Ministry, explained Thompson. The ministry draws about 350 middle school and high schools students to activities.
He said he teaches them for weeks prior to the event about missions and challenges them to use the tournament as a way to share their faith.
To emphasize that focus of the tournament, one rule is that each seven-member team has to have at least one member who doesn't regularly attend church, said Thompson, who got the idea for the event from a minister friend in Texas.
The church assists the students in inviting their friends by providing T-shirts for the students to wear, posters to place on their lockers, and invitation cards.
The event is held on the Wednesday before Halloween and includes a presentation of door prizes and then praise and worship by the Grace Student Ministry praise and worship band. This year Nathan Smith, an evangelist of North Carolina, presented the gospel and asked students to make spiritual decisions.
Then Thompson transitioned the event to the tournament, which is held on an athletic field of the school in four fenced off courts. The entire event lasts about four hours, he reported.
The dodgeball part involves games which either have three rounds or last up to five minutes. The brackets are made up of middle school and high school teams. To win a round, a team member has to hit everyone on the other team without allowing them to catch the ball which eliminates them. The two winning teams win cash prizes. Finally, one team which wins the best uniform contest receives a month of free meals from a local Chick-fil-A restaurant.
During the two weeks following the Dodgeball Tournament Thompson and a team "dedicated to following up" contacts those students who made spiritual decisions. They receive a phone call and letter. If they go to another church, they are encouraged to attend that church, he added. "This is not about taking other churches' kids," said Thompson.
On the Wednesday night following the tournament the students can learn more about making a commitment to God and can make a commitment then also.
The next week, the Baptism Party is held, said Thompson.
He is thankful for the great response this year, he said.
Grace Baptist funded most of the event but several businesses in addition to Chick-fil-A helped with the expenses. One expense involves renting fencing to form the dodgeball courts, said Thompson.
Ron Stewart, senior pastor of Grace, said the Dodgeball Tournament is one way for the church to "reach teenagers in the 21st century with the gospel" by following the Apostle Paul's directive to Christians from I Corinthians 9:22 — to "become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some."
This article appeared in the Baptist & Reflector (tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Connie Davis Bushey is news editor of the Baptist & Reflector.
Asian churches take Thanksgiving
to Charlotte refugees
By Mike Creswell, BSC Communications
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Biblical Recorder) -- Fourteen Asian Baptist churches teamed up to deliver 500 meals to Asian refugees in an apartment complex near downtown Charlotte on Nov. 23 in a pre-Thanksgiving blitz to both provide food and get acquainted with the newcomers.
Ralph Garay, Asian church planting consultant with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina,helped organize the project, with help from the participating pastors. Metrolina Baptist Association alsogave support; Bob Lowman, director of missions, took part.
Lunchboxes including baked chicken, noodles and bread were prepared at West Cabarrus Baptist Church in Concord, then delivered by church teams in trucks, vans and cars to the apartment complex located just east of downtown Charlotte within sight of the city skyline.
Scores of Asian children played on the apartment grounds and on one porch an elderly woman stirred a pot of rice. Women carried babies on their backs with cloth wraps. Garay said most Asians living here are from Nepal, Bhutan, Vietnam and a handful of other countries.
Volunteers went door to door to offer food, which was readily received. As word spread about the arrival of food, residents gathered around vehicles where Baptists handed out the lunchboxes and bottles of water.
One girl grabbed a box and immediately started eating.
Garay said most Asian immigrants struggle with learning English, dealing with the culture and getting work to sustain themselves. Many struggle financially at first. "That's why giving out food is helpful," he said.
Garay, his wife and two boys came from the Philippines to the United States years ago. Garay was a pastor in California before working with the Baptist State Convention to start new Asian churches. He currently works with some 60 Asian language groups/nationalities in planting new churches.
"Take time to visit with folks and get to know them. Share the gospel if the opportunity presents itself," Garay told the pastors and lay members who participated.
Lowman visited with Baptist layman Paul Subba, who is from Bhutan but came to the United States after spending time in Nepal, including time in a refugee camp. Subba is an active member of a Charlotte Nepali church.
They drank Nepali tea, which includes spices, salt, pepper and butter along with the tea. The two men discussed the differences in the mountains of Bhutan and Nepal, the world's highest, with the more gentle, forested ones of western North Carolina.
Metrolina Association workers have counted 180 language/people groups in the Charlotte area, Lowman said, but estimate a more accurate figure would be between 200 and 250. "We're still finding new ones," he said.
It's doubtful many of these immigrants have grasped the idea of Thanksgiving as celebrated by Americans. But as newcomers adapting to a strange land and thankfully enjoying an unexpected meal, the day surely captured the essence of that first celebration back in 1621.
This article appeared in the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Mike Creswell is a senior consultant for the convention.
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.