FROM THE STATES: La., Ga., Ark. evangelism/missions news; 'That is love being demonstrated'
Today's From the States features items from:
Baptist Message (Louisiana)
The Christian Index (Georgia)
Arkansas Baptist News
Baptist men, Angola inmates
find joy at 18th annual revival
By Mark H. Hunter
ANGOLA, La. (Baptist Message) -- Ben Raney was walking through a large, crowded dormitory in the Main Camp of the Louisiana State Penitentiary when he noticed inmate Gabe McCkeel sitting alone on his bunk-bed.
The men chatted for a moment then Raney sat down next to McCkeel, gripped his hand and prayed for him. When Raney got up to leave, both men were smiling.
"He said he was a Christian but just needed some assurance," Raney said later. A member of Pedico Baptist Church, this was his fourth visit to Angola.
Altogether 180 Baptist men from 25 churches visited about 4,000 Angola inmates on April 4 and 5 for the 18th annual Louisiana Baptist Convention revival.
The men led 84 inmates to salvation and 98 other decisions and also distributed 3,020 personal hygiene kits that were collected over the winter by many of the state's Baptist churches, according to Wayne Jenkins, director of the LBC's Evangelism and Church Growth office.
"I get more joy coming here than any other work -- whether it be professional work or ministry work," Raney said. "And I get to see the joy on the faces of the men when they see us."
Raney said he'd led one inmate to the Lord the previous night when they visited several "lock-down" areas holding men who are too dangerous or unruly to be in the general population. "I really feel like I'm doing what God is asking me to do," Raney said.
They keep coming back
Inmate Kyle Hebert, 46, is in his 15th year of a 40-year sentence for attempted murder. Back then, he almost killed a man in a fight. Today he is one of Angola's most exuberant Christians and joyfully testifies about the impact Louisiana Baptists have here.
"We've got a saying -- 'how do we know the ones that are coming in love us?' Because they keep coming back," Hebert said. "These guys keep coming back. I see a true picture of love -- these guys could be anywhere else today but they chose to come to Angola."
Hebert is a 2007 graduate of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, an academic tutor, a mentor in re-entry programs and a leader in the AWANA Returning Hearts program that brings children to visit fathers.
"Not only have they poured their lives into our lives but they have poured into our education with the Bible college -- the seminary," Hebert said.
Hebert was especially enthusiastic that NOBTS President Chuck Kelley was preaching at the Main Camp noon chapel service. He met Kelley at the gate with a big hug that Kelley heartily returned.
Hope for the hopeless
Chaplain Robert Toney told the Baptist men that although Warden Burl Cain could not be here, he very much appreciates what they and the seminary are doing. He quoted Cain's life verse, Philippians 3:13, "Brothers and sisters I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it but one thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what is ahead."
"That is the verse he put into his life, forgetting the past and pressing toward what lies of us out there in the future," Toney said. "That's what God has done here in their lives. He's brought hope to the hopeless, men who were living in the bloodiest prison in America -- today it's the safest prison in the world!"
"We couldn't do what we do without the Louisiana Baptists and the seminary," Toney declared.
Statement from Warden Burl Cain
"The Baptists have been a real game changer in this prison. The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has reduced violence levels, saved souls, provided certified inmate instructors and mentors for the many re-entry programs in place," Warden Cain said in a statement for this story. "The seminary program is now being utilized in prisons across the country. The seminary gives hope in a place that had no hope. Thanks to the Baptists for their unending support in changing lives and making our community safer."
Fellowship with the men
Out behind the Main Camp dorms, Baptist men were visiting with inmates working in and around the wood shop.
Larry Emory, of Longstraw Baptist Church, said this was his third visit and he was especially glad to see inmate Jesse Swartz, a member of their church. "I enjoy the fellowship with the guys," he said.
"Over the years brother Larry has been coming in here and fellowshipping with me," Swartz said. "When I first fell he came into the parish and has kept visiting me. That's not love only in words -- that is love being demonstrated."
When we asked inmate pastors and chaplains to estimate the number of Christian inmates, the consensus was from 1,200 to 1,600, of the entire population of 6,300 inmates in all six camps. There are 28 church groups across the prison and dozens of other denominational groups regularly visit.
"There is not a person here at Angola that cannot say they have at least heard of who Jesus is," Swartz said.
Inmate Larry Sharp, 56, is into his 14th year of a life sentence for second degree murder. He is a 2010 seminary graduate, a writer/photographer for The Angolite magazine, and senior pastor of United Pentecostal Apostolic Fellowship.
"A lot of groups come in -- we call them 'one hitters' and they're gone - they just do that to say they have come to Angola and to be able to say 'I shared God in Angola' -- but God is already in Angola," Sharp said. "These guys love us and we can tell who really loves us -- inmates can tell."
This was the first visit for Tanner Daugereaux, 18, who attends Emmanuel Baptist in Vinton.
"It is a really cool experience," Daugereaux said. The inmates "were all, like, my age when they came here and now they are like my grandpa's age. It makes you feel for them but all you can do is try to get them to follow God."
Kelley preaches at revival service
At the noon service, LBC's Wayne Jenkins asked the more than 800 inmates packed into the Main Camp Chapel for a show of hands of seminary students. Several dozen men responded.
"I've discovered there are more New Orleans seminary graduates locked up in prison than any other seminary," Jenkins, a Southwestern Seminary grad, quipped to Dr. Kelley.
The seminary’s men's singing group, presented a selection of harmonious contemporary and traditional songs that the inmates often joined in.
God is a righteous judge, Kelley told the men.
"When the gavel came down and a judge sentenced you to Angola -- no-one stepped up and said, 'I will go in your place,'" Kelley preached. "But when you stand before the Almighty Court of God and the gavel is about to come down on the judgment of your life to determine where you spend eternity and God says 'guilty,' Jesus says, 'I will take his place.'"
A dozen men came forward including a blind, crippled inmate in a wheelchair who Scott Grady, of East Leesville Baptist prayed with.
"We're all enslaved until Christ sets us free whether its inside walls or outside -- the principles are all the same," Grady said afterward. "I got so much encouragement from the guys I came to minister to -- it's quite remarkable what God has done in Angola."
Chaplain Toney said afterward, "it was a tremendous two days. I'm eternally grateful for the work of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, their support for our prisons, their support for our Bible college. It was just icing on the cake to have Dr. Kelley here today and the singers from the New Orleans Baptist Theological and the Louisiana College singers -- God just gave us the best."
This article appeared in the Baptist Message (baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Mark H. Hunter is a regional reporter for the Baptist Message.
GBC builds bridges to
Korean Baptist churches
By Jim Burton
SUWANEE, Ga. (The Christian Index) -- When immigrants come to Georgia, they have much to learn. Vidalia onions, sweet tea, and a propensity to name streets after peach trees represent just a few of the cultural hurdles new Americans often face. If those immigrants land in an ethnic Southern Baptist church, there's one more challenge -– learning about the Cooperative Program (CP).
While CP has served Southern Baptists well since its inception in 1925, the sacrificial yet systematic approach to consistent missions support remains unique to the largest evangelical missionary-sending organization in the U.S. Even when Baptist pastors immigrate, they bring Baptist theology but rarely any orientation toward CP.
Missionary to America
Yong Nam Suh served as a pastor in Korea for 17 years before the Korean Baptist Convention commissioned him as a U.S. missionary to serve the growing Korean population here. In 1997, Suh became a home missionary through appointment by the North American Mission Board, and he continues to be a pastor in retirement, serving Korean Baptist Church in Buford, Ga. Suh also serves Georgia Baptists part time as the Korean Ministries state missionary in Intercultural Church Planting and Missions. Among Suh's challenges is teaching Georgia's Korean Baptist churches about CP.
"We're trying to bridge to the Korean churches in Georgia and let them support CP," Suh said.
In March 2014, the GBC sponsored a Korean Bridges weekend to grow and strengthen the relationship to metro Atlanta's Georgia Baptist Korean churches. Based on a format similar to World Mission Conferences, 25 Korean churches participated and hosted GBC state missionaries to preach in their services.
The GBC has been proactive to make that connection with the Korean Baptist churches. Jerry Baker, who has led the GBC's intercultural ministries for nearly 37 years, estimates that metro Atlanta has about 100,000 Korean Americans. Korean immigration has slowed nationally due to a South Korean economy that has been stronger in recent years than here. However, Korean Americans who are living within the U.S. continue to move to Atlanta, which could soon have the nation's fourth largest Korean population.
Georgia has about 60 Korean Baptist congregations, including churches in Macon, Columbus, Savannah, Augusta and elsewhere. Forty of the churches are in metro Atlanta, where local colleges also enroll about 2,000 students from Korea. Korean Baptist churches are multiplying in part due to the concentration of Koreans in Atlanta and the Korean studies program at the New Orleans Seminary's branch in Marietta, Baker said.
Both nationally and statewide, Korean Southern Baptists are well organized. Currently, Joe Kwon, pastor of Global Baptist Church of Norcross, serves as president of the Council of Korean Baptist Churches in Georgia. He considers the Korea Bridges event a success and another step in building the relationship between the GBC and Korean Baptist churches.
"We meet with Jerry Baker every two months," Kwon said of the growing connection to the GBC.
New Korean churches typically first intersect with the GBC when they're starting. That's when they learn that CP provides some initial financial support, which the church typically reciprocates with an ongoing CP commitment as it grows.
"Our churches and church members understand and are cooperating," Kwon said.
CP giving is a challenge for most of Georgia's Korean Baptist churches. The congregations are small, and their families often struggle financially while getting established here. As the children assimilate into American culture, Korean Baptists are experiencing similar dropout rates to Anglo churches.
"That is our next mission," Suh said of reclaiming the Korean's second-generation children.
Support and connections
The GBC will continue to partner with the council to support its initiatives. CP allows the GBC to fund an annual pastor and family retreat, a pastor's wives retreat, an annual summer youth retreat, and ongoing church-planting assistance and training.
About 100 people attended the Korean Bridges Saturday evening launch, hosted by Sugarloaf Korean Baptist Church in Suwanee, as pastors and state missionaries connected before their Sunday services. Bobby Boswell, GBC's assistant executive director, was the keynote speaker.
"The cooperation of Georgia Baptists and all Southern Baptists makes possible missions ministry and evangelism through the Cooperative Program," Boswell said. "CP makes possible that which we could not do alone. Cooperating together, with God's help, we can reach the people of this world."
This article appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming, Ga.
'Common Ground' service helps
churches break racial barriers
By Caleb Yarbrough
HUGHES, Ark. (Arkansas Baptist News) -- The Arkansas Delta, much like its more famous sister to the east, the Mississippi Delta, is one of the most impoverished and culturally traditional areas in the South.
In an area known for a history of racism and segregation, Christians –- both white and black -– came together united under Jesus Christ to worship as one during the Third Annual Common Ground Service at CROSSroads Baptist Church in Hughes, March 23.
Don Abbott, pastor of CROSSroads Baptist, and Chester Witherspoon, pastor of New Home Baptist Church in Crawfordsville, hosted the event, which brought together pastors, pastors' wives, members and visitors from churches throughout the area. In addition to Abbott and Witherspoon, pastors in attendance included: Edward Hampton of New Lehi Baptist Church in West Memphis; Johnny Boykins of Christ Tabernacle Church in Crawfordsville; G.B. Steele of Beautiful Zion MD Church in West Memphis, and others.
Abbott said the goal of the evening was to bring all people from the surrounding community, of every race, together to worship God as one body.
"Unfortunately, some of the most segregated times are between 9 o'clock or 10 o'clock on Sunday morning," said Abbott.
"But I can tell you this: When you start seeing Christians getting together with Christians regardless, and you do that right here in the South, you are going to start seeing changes being made," he said.
"We make a statement when we say to somebody that, 'He has a black church or a white church.' I can't accept that. I believe that if people want to worship God together, then this is the place to be," the pastor said to applause.
The service opened with a time of fellowship followed by a prayer that the church would be a place of common ground for all races and denominations. Witherspoon and Abbott introduced the various ministers and pastors in attendance and gave each a time to introduce themselves and speak to the group during the service.
Pastor Boykins of Christ Tabernacle Church was one of the men that spoke during this time.
"I thank God for what they are doing with this Common Ground service because if we can't get it together here, then how are we going to live in heaven together," said Boykins. "I can't see what the problem is because we are all descendants of those three sons of Noah. In actuality, we are all family folk.
"The Bible says in Genesis 2:7, 'The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.' Now we are all made of the dust of the ground, brothers, but there is all colors of dust," said Boykins. "What is the problem? We are just made from different dust.... We all have the love of God; God created all of us!"
Choirs and children's choirs from churches in attendance led the audience in worship, and church members sang requested solos before Witherspoon brought the evening's message, asking those in attendance to turn their Bibles to John 13 as his wife sang a song to open his message.
After reading John 13:34-35, the pastor asked the audience, "How is your love life?"
He said that the love that Christ is referring to in John 13 is not the love had between husband and wife, but "agape love."
"We are here today for common ground, to come together. And the only way we can come together is to start with what? Love," said Witherspoon. "There is something wrong with the way we are loving today. We don't really love one another because love hides a multitude of faults.... We have got to have the Christ-like love in our heart for one another!"
"He (Jesus) said, 'By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another,'" said Witherspoon, quoting John 13:35. "If you accepted Christ, you are His disciple, amen? So the only way folks are going to know who we are is by the love that we show for one another. If we don't show love, we don't show Christ!"
In closing, a representative from The Gideons International took an offering in order to facilitate the distribution of Bibles around the world and Abbott sang a verse of "Where He Leads Me" and gave an invitation, giving everyone in attendance the opportunity to accept Christ if they did not already know Him.
"My dream at CROSSroads is to truly see a church of people that are all mixed – blacks and Mexicans and whites and all of the other kinds," said Abbott. "I pray that one day I will live to see that. I know that it is possible. You keep us in your prayers here at CROSSroads."
This article appeared in the Arkansas Baptist News (arkansasbaptist.org), newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Caleb Yarbrough is a staff writer for 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.