FROM THE STATES: Tenn., Calif., Ill. evangelism/missions news; 'It is easy to see that it is God doing all of this'

Today's From the States features items from:

Baptist & Reflector (Tennessee)

California Southern Baptist

Illinois Baptist

Team sees 9,695

Filipino professions of faith

By Connie Davis Bushey

SOMERVILLE, Tenn. (Baptist & Reflector) -- A Super Typhoon rocked the central islands of the Philippines in November, leaving massive devastation in its path. Due to the destruction, the Filipino people are even more aware of how precious life is, said Charles Pratt after spending some time with them recently. Southern Baptist relief efforts by Baptist Global Response teams are underway, he added.

Pratt led a team of 12 volunteers from West Tennessee to the Philippines where members conducted two weeks of evangelistic crusades.

As a result 9,695 people decided to receive Jesus as their Savior with over 400 people making other decisions. The team served with about 24 churches in three different Baptist associations on Luzon Island.

Pratt, director of missions for the Fayette Baptist Association based in Somerville, and president of Cross Partners Ministry, Inc., said the team was one of the first evangelism teams to minister there in the past two months. He credits the powerful experience to the prayers of prayer partners on both sides of the globe. Cross Partners Ministry produced a Prayer Guide of 24 specific prayer concerns to direct about 400 prayer partners.

Pratt, who has been leading volunteers for the past 25 years to five different continents, said the team experienced the work of the Holy Spirit from the very onset. The team saw people give their lives to Jesus on airplanes, in taxi cabs, stores, and restaurants because the volunteers had determined that the Lord would have full use of their lives to see what He could do with some ordinary believers, explained Pratt.

"Perhaps, the most amazing personal experience for me happened while I was preaching in a church on the last Sunday morning" reported Pratt. When he extended the invitation for salvation, a group of over 100, mostly adults, came forward to receive Jesus as their Savior. This was in a four-year-old church mission which was meeting in a newly completed building. 

The funds for the building were given to Cross Partners Ministry by New Mitchell Grove Baptist, Halls. This was the fifth church building that New Mitchell Grove has provided for in the Philippines by giving money for the building materials, added Pratt.

"It is unusual to see so many adults making professions of faith at a church service. That really seems to be a rarity in American churches, however, it occurred in the Philippines that morning" stated Pratt. 

Volunteer Loren Stephens, pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Dyersburg, said he "was thrilled to return to work with the Filipino people. ... People ask me why I continue to go to this country and I tell them that God is at work among the Filipino people in schools, colleges, prisons, and every community. It is easy to see that it is God doing all of this through us and rewarding our efforts." 

Volunteer Mike Hopper, a member of Zion Baptist Church near Brownsville, observed that "the glory of the Lord fell all around us on this journey, bestowing a multitude of blessings upon us. We witnessed the power of God in action. It was so unbelievable to see so many people coming to Jesus as we did in the Philippines. We want to see our Lord do some similar things in Tennessee."

Willie Pounds, another team member who is pastor of Saint Paul's Baptist Church in Kenton, summed up his thoughts by stating, "the Holy Spirit ministered as never before saving so many souls with a powerful work of Jesus." Pounds, who was on his sixth trip to the Philippines, concluded, "This was the most rewarding mission experience that I have ever had. The people were so open to the gospel and hearing our story about Jesus. I thank God that I was a part of the Cross Partners Ministry team."

"It was exciting to see God working through our team, as well as in the lives of the Filipinos," said Tony Michael, pastor, Jolley Springs Baptist, Dresden.

Team members were Randy Boals, pastor of Hopewell Baptist, Lavinia; Ed Bone, member, Jolley Springs Baptist; Jimmy Breedlove, a pastor in Mississippi; D.C. Melton, member of Lakeview Baptist, Selmer; Randy Crews, pastor of Springhill Baptist, Dyersburg; Donald Williams, member of Beech Grove Baptist near Halls; John Hayes, pastor of Shaw's Chapel Baptist Church, Brownsville, and physician; Stephens; Pounds; Hopper; Michael; and Pratt. B&R


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.

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Basic training helps prepare church

planters for work in the trenches

By Amanda Phifer

BENICIA, Calif. (California Southern Baptist) -- It's as true for church planters as everyone else: you don't even know what you don't know. Hence, Basic Training.

Basic Training for church planting teams is a two-weekend crash course in church planting offered by California Southern Baptist Convention several times a year, in several locations and languages. It is an intense focus on vision, strategy and the nuts-and-bolts that are so often like a foreign language to the visionary, entrepreneurial types who chiefly comprise the ranks of church planters.

California saw the planting of 103 new congregations last year, 126 in 2012.

"Especially for those without formal training, there is almost no other place to learn the steps to church planting," explained Howard Burkhart, CSBC church planting catalyst who coordinates the trainings.

"Most people who take this course have a calling or a desire, or are considering planting, but they don't have much of an idea of how to get started or what to do. Sometimes a planter and his team come out of an existing church and are underestimating the fact they have nothing to build upon."

And so Basic Training covers the "big picture stuff" - biblical foundations, worship, evangelism, discipleship and stewardship strategy - and a surprising amount of the nitty-gritty - registering as a non-profit, writing a constitution and bylaws, setting up a checking account, establishing a child care policy, getting a post office box, and more.

"Most people don't know they have to do these things, much less how to do it, and yet these things need to be done," Burkhart said.

Church planting teams, therefore, leave the second weekend with a poster-sized sticky-note covered in smaller sticky-notes - their "mileposts."

"This is basically the team's 'to do' list," Burkhart explained. "It's laid out clearly and sequentially. So the church planter can cross off items as they're done: decided on a name, check; got a P.O. box, check; registered as a 501(c)(3), check. We consistently hear feedback that this is an extremely helpful tool."

For an extra measure of both accountability and encouragement, at the end of the training each team schedules an appointment with a local church planting strategist four to six weeks after the training. And in the next 18 to 24 months, as the church grows, the planter and the strategist can continue to refer to the strategies and mileposts they established at Basic Training.

It's not all administrative, of course. Basic Training helps the church planting team -- often a planter and his spouse plus one or two others -- craft more lofty strategy.

"We talk about gathering - how do you gather people, a network, clusters?" Burkhart said. "Think like a salesman. Can you coach your kid's soccer team? That's 15 families you'll get to know. And the person you led to Christ - who do they know?"

Church planters develop outreach, discipleship and stewardship strategy at Basic Training, all of it, ideally, consistent with their overall focus.

"We tell them, if you want to focus on relationships, then structure your outreach and events relationally. Don't put flyers on car hoods. If you want to have diversity, have it. Have it on your worship team, among your leadership, among your volunteers. If you value inclusiveness, get the newest people plugged in as soon as you can. Everything's got to be integrated."

The training provides time for groups to learn what they need to do, then develop their own strategies. They go home with a working draft of each of these components.

Basic Training is offered every 9-12 months in San Diego and the Bay Area in English. It's offered in Spanish once a year in the north and south; and in Korean, Russian and Chinese as requested.

The training is Friday-Saturday, two consecutive weekends, to allow both for planters who are bivocational and others who have to work during the day. The cost for basic training is $50 per person, $150 for a team of three to five people. The fee includes all materials and two meals. It is significantly supported by Cooperative Program funds.

"There's a lot of 'Oh, I never thought about this or that!'" Burkhart said. "They walk away saying it was hugely helpful."


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.

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Into Africa: Five stories of

going where the Gospel hasn't

By Meredith Flynn

EDITOR'S NOTE: Five Illinois volunteers traveled to Guinea earlier this year to tell stories from the Bible to people who do not yet know Christ.

GUINEA (Illinois Baptist) -- "What took you so long to come back?"

The question came from someone Ron P. had never met before. But the man, a spiritual leader in his village, had met people like him before.

"That affirmed to us the need to be there," said the Illinois pastor. At 64, he was labeled the "omum" (old man) of the group by the Guineans, who showed him respect because of his age. His American teammates also called him by the title occasionally, he said.

The group had been trained by International Mission Board personnel to learn a specific set of Bible stories leading up to their trip. Ron had even woven the stories into his church's Christmas program. But standing on a bridge with his interpreter, he had an unexpected opportunity to improvise. Looking down below at people swimming and fishing in the water, the interpreter asked him to tell a story about Jesus and Peter to passersby on the bridge.

"I was caught off guard, but I said, 'Why not?' Ron told how Jesus encouraged Peter to let down the nets, resulting in a windfall catch of fish.

"It was not one of the stories they asked us to bring, but it worked."

Like Peter, Ron and his fellow volunteers had to have faith that their stories have a purpose, even if they didn't see immediate results. He says the purpose of his trip was to begin to engage a people group so that he and others can go back to share again with the Guineans.

"Maybe one day the stories we tell will be the stories they tell to their people."

Only a move of God

The Baga Manduri people in Guinea are less than 10,000, with no written language. The interpreter traveling with Kevin C., Ron P. and Bob E. spoke several languages, but none that would be well understood by the Baga Manduri.

"How are we going to communicate?" Kevin remembers wondering. But in each of the three villages they visited, God provided someone who spoke another language their interpreter did know. The Americans told Bible stories in English, which were translated into Pular, and then interpreted again into the heart language of the people listening.

The chief of one village gave the group a unique opening. "I'm an old man," he said. "It's about time for me to step aside."

Kevin said, "I know a story about an old man. God had promised him descendants, but he didn't have any children."

As the chief listened along with the village imam and an elder, Kevin told the story of Abraham and Isaac. And he pointed them to Christ: Just as God provided a ram instead of requiring Abraham to sacrifice his son, He also provided a Lamb, Jesus, to pay our price.

"I finished the story, and they said thank you, and they all got up and left," Kevin remembers. He thought he had offended them. "I knew it could be a lightning rod story." What if they got run out of the village?

But they came back, carrying a bowl of oranges as thanks for the story. Before leaving the village, the Americans prayed that the people would have water during the current dry season. The chief, emotional, offered to give them money. The group's guide said he'd never seen that before.

In Guinea, Kevin said, only God can advance the Gospel. On previous international trips, he worked with local leaders and churches that had a plan for reaching their community. "But that's not the case in Guinea, because there is no local church, no local believers … it can only be a move of God.

Do you know Carol?

Mark E. had spent several hours on a boat looking for the Mbotini people group. It was getting late, and the group would eventually have to turn around. But Mark had a good reason to find the Mbotini.

They were Carol's people.

Before his trip Mark talked to Carol, a member of an Illinois Baptist church, about the people group she and her church adopted several years ago. Carol had visited Africa's west coast. But still, it was surprising how many times Mark heard the question:

"Do you know Carol?"

From two missionaries and a local pastor, on the other side of the world.

"This Illinois Baptist is known in Guinea because she went there in representation of her church," Mark said.

He's hoping others will follow her example. The Southern Baptist International Mission Board is calling congregations to be "engaging churches" who will adopt an unreached, unengaged people group (UUPG) and send small teams several times a year.

Reaching unreached people groups will require a long-term investment. "This was my first mission trip I'd ever participated in that we didn't win anyone to the Lord," Mark said of his time in Guinea. Referencing William Carey, he said, "We forget that these hall of fame missionaries of the past spent years before they saw anyone come to the Lord."

When he joined the Illinois Baptist State Association's missions team, Mark said he had a goal to get as many Illinois Baptists to the mission field as possible. Now, "I'm thinking we need to get the Gospel where it's not."

'Truly, the workers are few'

One day, Bob E.'s group told Bible stories in the shade of a marketplace hut. It wasn't market day, but a group of men stopped to hear, asking why the Americans were there.

"We came to share God's Word."

One man seemed especially interested in the stories. Bob still remembers him because the man wore pink pants. He accompanied the group to their next two villages, riding in the front seat of their all-terrain vehicle.

Bob, who helps coordinate short-term mission trips, had noticed the phenomenon in other places they'd been: "At each village, there seemed to be one person that paid a bit more attention to the stories than the others."

The man in the pink pants could be a "man of peace," Bob said, someone who could be a first convert in this unreached, unengaged people group. The concept is an ancient one: In Luke 10, Jesus told the 70 disciples he sent out, "Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this household.' If a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you."

Sharing the Gospel here is precarious. There are many things you can't say on a first meeting, like "Jesus is the Son of God." Any talk of the Trinity likely would alienate their listeners, who believe in one God. But the people's appreciation for stories opened doors for the Illinois volunteers.

They didn't encounter any hostility, Bob said. And the villagers, who practice folk Islam, found common ground with the Americans when they told stories about God. They didn't even seem to mind hearing stories about Jesus.

But with the barriers between Christianity and Islam, can the storying method really work in Guinea among these people? Bob said yes, but the burden is on engaging churches to be committed to the process.

"Otherwise, it's not gonna get done. Truly, the workers are few."

And those who go must remember that God's Word is the most valuable thing they can share. "You must take it slow," Bob said of engaging people groups with the Gospel. "Be real and consistent in sharing God's Word.

"You can't promise anything you can't do, and can't start anything that can't be continued when you're gone."

Friends in high places

When you ask Harold B. what he's still thinking about several weeks after getting home, he tells the story of a village chief.

Guinean villages may have several layers of governance, including a chief, elders, and a religious leader, or imam. The particular chief was part of the Bijola, some of the friendliest and most hospitable people he had ever run across, said Harold, who was making his fifth trip to Africa.

"The chief was very open to us from the beginning. He definitely is a person of peace."

He graciously hosted the American visitors, even to the point of getting into trouble with his boss, the district chief, Harold said. Their host had decided to accompany the Americans as they told Bible stories one day. But he had been ordered to investigate a possible elephant sighting in another village.

When the district chief showed up to find out why he hadn't followed orders, the village chief could have been thrown in jail, Harold said. The group's interpreter helped to sort things out, and apologies were accepted.

"I just have to believe that the Lord is working in his spirit," Harold said of the chief. "He really put himself on the line for us."

The chief is what we in contemporary church culture would consider a seeker, Harold said. The group told around a dozen Bible stories, and the chief heard most of them. "I don't think he would have done the things he did if he were not curious and interested."

But what will capture his heart? It's people going back on a regular basis, and not just for the chief. His people are on the line, too, Harold said.

"If the village chief would ever accept the Lord, that just opens the door so much wider for the other people in the village."

And the harvest is plentiful.

"We told Bible stories in four different villages, and every one of them asked us to come back," Harold said. "And in two cases, the person that asked us to come back and tell more stories was the imam."


This article appeared in the Illinois Baptist (ibonline.IBSA.org), newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist.

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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.

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