Seminarians seek 'high-velocity' church planting in Wyoming
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (BP) -- When looking at the numbers, some might consider Wyoming to be an odd place for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a Mississippi church to partner for church planting and evangelism.
With approximately 576,000 residents, Wyoming is the least populous state in the nation. Cheyenne, the state capital and largest city, boasts only 91,000 residents in its metro area. And the New Orleans seminary is known for preparing pastors for Southern churches and missionaries for urban areas throughout the world.
But those involved with the partnership contend God is moving in Wyoming. People there are coming to faith in Christ. When Brandon Baptist Church in Brandon, Miss., invited students from NOBTS to come and see how God is working in Wyoming, they jumped at the opportunity.
Partnering to share the Gospel in Wyoming
In 2011, Brandon Baptist began a partnership with Southern Baptist church planters in Wyoming. So far, members of that church and other churches in Brandon have traveled to Wyoming five times, canvassing neighborhoods in Casper, Cheyenne, Evansville and Torrington. Most of the Brandon Baptist volunteers walking through the neighborhoods of Wyoming are in their 60s.
The church has deep ties to the seminary, and one of the church's members is a longtime donor. The member, who wishes to remain anonymous, had an idea: Why not involve seminary students in Brandon Baptist's church planting and evangelism efforts in Wyoming?
Such a partnership would supply extra workers during mission trips, and the experience would provide hands-on training for church planting students outside the Bible Belt. Even better, the church raised enough money to provide these trips to NOBTS students free of charge.
In the fall of 2012, Brandon Baptist launched the NOBTS partnership by taking three students and a professor to Cheyenne to help pastor Zack Edwards and Life Point Church, which was about a year old at the time. NOBTS students and Brandon Baptist members canvassed the neighborhoods of Cheyenne, knocking on doors, sharing the Gospel, surveying residents and telling people about the church.
The students who went on the first trip were inspired by the tenacity and commitment of the older volunteers from Brandon Baptist. For the Brandon Baptist crew, interaction with the young seminary students offered hope for the future of the churches these ministers-in-training will one day lead. Together, the mission team led several people to faith in Christ and developed many contacts for the church.
Deepening the partnership
Brandon Baptist soon began dreaming of other ways to expand the NOBTS partnership to reach more people for Christ and help strengthen more churches in Wyoming.
Working with Don Whalen Jr., state missionary for church planting strategies for the Wyoming Southern Baptist Convention, the church developed a 10-week summer apprenticeship plan for seminary students. Six NOBTS students were selected for the first apprenticeship group in the summer of 2013.
"This high-velocity church planting experience provided NOBTS students with firsthand opportunities related to church planting on the mission field, as well as enabling these students to discover and develop their call to ministry and gain practical experience, confidence and skills in reaching new people groups with the Gospel," Whalen said.
Whalen designed the apprenticeship to make the most out of the summer, not only for the church planters who hosted NOBTS students but also for the students.
"It was a high priority in our planning that not only fruitful ministry take place but also that students would grow in their faith, confirm their call to ministry and grow in their church planting competency," he said.
As a result of their 10 weeks in Wyoming, the six students saw God impact many lives. That summer, 39 people accepted Christ through ministry opportunities in which the students were involved. The students also grew in their faith and boldness. For at least one student, Laura Clark, the summer was a confirmation of her call to be a church planting strategist.
God often put the right students in the right place at the right time to share the Gospel with someone who was ready to respond. One example happened on the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie.
Andrei and Helga Parvu, a young seminary couple from Romania, apprenticed with Sam Martin of Laramie Valley Chapel. The Parvus decided to reach out to the University of Wyoming international student office to find out if the school had students from their home country. Wyoming did have one Romanian student, a tennis player.
Andrei and Helga met with the student and discovered that she was an agnostic. After the Parvus shared their own experience of coming to Christ, the Romanian student committed her life to Christ.
The NOBTS summer apprentices were so successful in assisting the churches that Brandon Baptist and the Wyoming convention are planning to continue the program in the summer of 2014.
Last fall, 10 NOBTS students also went on a whirlwind mission trip to Cheyenne. The students knocked on hundreds of doors in the windswept city on the western plains. They shared the Gospel, conducted surveys and invited people to attend Life Point Church, a church plant located just miles from the state capitol building.
The task of knocking on doors was challenging at first. Some of the visits did not go well. But for the most part, the response was at least cordial, even if the residents were not open to the Gospel.
Corey Hicks and Nicole Powell, two of the NOBTS students on the trip, experienced what some might describe as a divine appointment on the first day at their first door.
As one group of four NOBTS students parked on the corner of a tree-lined street in Cheyenne, Hicks and Powell noticed a man shuffling by with a brown paper bag. They paid him little attention as they gathered church flyers, Gospel tracts and a stack of community surveys. One team of two would walk down one side of the street; the other two would take the other side of the street. Since they anticipated a long day of going door-to-door, they prayed and went to work.
When Corey and Nicole knocked on the first door on their side of the street, they immediately recognized the man at the door -- the guy with the brown paper bag. The man was very open to talk with them. He immediately confessed that he was an alcoholic and said he had been to the store that morning to buy a big can of beer, which he had with him in the bag.
The man said he wanted a way out of his addiction. Corey and Nicole shared the Gospel message, telling the man that nothing is beyond God's power. Through Jesus, they said, God would forgive him of his sins and change him. The man was overcome with conviction and made a commitment to Christ on the spot. Then he did something amazing. The man pulled the tab on the large beer he had purchased earlier and poured it out beside his porch.
The five-day trip proved to be a success. The seminary group, part of a team that included 17 volunteers from Baptist churches in Mississippi, handed out close to 3,000 flyers about the Life Point Church, shared the Gospel numerous times, collected 120 prospect cards and led at least seven people to faith in Christ.
God continues to move
Days after the team returned to New Orleans, Life Point Church began seeing results from the volunteer efforts. Twelve new people visited the church that first Sunday. The next week there were more visitors, and two people accepted Christ during the service. One who made a decision for Christ was a 10-year-old boy whose family came because of a flyer left on their door.
Gary D. Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).