FROM THE STATES: Texas, Ala., Ark. evangelism/missions news; 'The people are so religious, so devout. But for what?'
Today's From the States features items from:
Southern Baptist Texan
The Alabama Baptist
Arkansas Baptist News
Trip to India convinces SBTC team: More support needed
to enhance gospel work among largely unengaged region
By Bonnie Pritchett
GRAPEVINE, Texas (Southern Baptist Texan) -- Regardless of age, gender, race or stage of life, the impact of an overseas mission experience can be jarring, heartbreaking and life changing.
Jim Richards, 61-year-old executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and Ryann Mathews, a 22-year-old student and daughter of an SBTC pastor, were part of an SBTC group that traveled in March to India to labor alongside Southern Baptist workers and local pastors in witnessing and preaching among Hindus and Muslims. A veteran of more than a dozen mission trips around the world, Richards' experiences far exceed those of Mathews, who was traveling abroad for the first time. Despite the disparity, the Holy Spirit similarly moved them as the team grieved for the desperate physical and spiritual poverty of the Indian people and reflected on widespread shallowness in churches back home.
"It was absolutely heartbreaking to see the people blinded. It makes the pages of the Old Testament just leap to life," Richards said.
More must be done to reach the lost with the gospel, Richards and Mathews agreed, and to rouse American churches from indifference.
That goal may seem insurmountable in places like India, where the government forbids evangelism, Christian converts are ostracized by their families and Christians make up less than 2 percent of the population in a nation of 1.2 billion people.
The dark spiritual condition was profoundly evident in the deplorable living conditions of India's street people and their veneration of carved images in a Hindu temple ceremony. The SBTC team sadly watched as worshipers presented offerings to a lifeless statue while their fellow Hindus, living in squalor, begged in the streets for daily needs.
"The people are so religious, so devout. But for what?" Mathews asked. "It broke my heart. They have a god for everything. Jehovah God has everything!"
Yet amid the darkness shine small points of light -- namely, several International Mission Board workers and about 50 native church planting pastors. Answering the call by IMB President Tom Elliff to adopt Unreached and Unengaged People Groups (UUPGs), the SBTC joined hands with the missionary in southern India, partly due to the convention's relationship with a North Texas church plant reaching Indian immigrants.
This was the convention's second trip since adopting the IMB couple about four years ago. The team appraised the effectiveness of the partnership and provided resources in the form of preaching, mentoring and encouragement.
"A people group is unreached when the number of evangelical Christians is less than 2 percent of its population. It is further called unengaged when there is no church planting strategy consistent with evangelical faith and practice under way," according to the IMB website.
Richards said it is imperative that Texas churches and associations join the effort in engaging and reaching the lost overseas. While the IMB pays salaries and some ministry expenses, there are few financial reserves to fund specific projects the missionaries undertake.
The SBTC has helped fund projects through the India Baptist Society—including the construction of a multi-purpose facility used by the missionary and the pastors—and facilitated an ongoing connection with national workers. Richards spent two days in one region teaching pastors. Some traveled 8-10 hours and slept on the meeting room floor just for the opportunity of training and fellowship.
Mathews spent her week "just genuinely loving on" street children and their parents. Witnessing the nature of their existence was physically, emotionally and spiritually overwhelming, she said.
Fascinated with India since high school, Mathews said she believes her mission opportunity was divinely orchestrated. Her father, Tony Mathews, pastor of North Garland Baptist Fellowship and a seasoned mission-team volunteer, did not try to soften the reality his daughter would experience.
"Whatever preconceived ideas you have about missions, throw them out," Ryann Mathews said. "I was broken. Totally."
Richards said: "Observing people who have never been on a mission trip is like watching a light being turned on. A person's entire countenance changes when they see the lostness and needs of others in some very difficult places."
The team returned to the states with a renewed burden for the lost abroad and at home. Having fellowshipped with Christians whose lives and livelihoods are threatened if they heed the Great Commission, Richards said, "I see the shallowness of the church in America. It grieves my heart that we take Jesus flippantly."
Mathews said she has no shame or guilt for her material possessions as some do after witnessing dire poverty. Instead, she realized she had taken for granted something less tangible yet far more valuable—her freedom.
During her visit, Mathews had frequent opportunities to engage a young Muslim mother who made saris for the women on the SBTC team.
"I would tell her 'Jesus loves you' and 'He died for you,'" Mathews recounted.
At the end of the week the woman gave each team member a handmade bookmark on which she had written, in Arabic, "Jesus is Lord."
Mathews said she believes the woman wanted to profess Christ but was afraid of the repercussions.
The consequences of conversion, for Muslims and Hindus, can mean being ostracized from their families, losing their jobs, even death. Hindus, who believe in millions of manifestations of their one god Krishna, must fully process the concept of one God for all people before placing their trust in Christ.
When they do, Richards said, "They are repenting of all other gods and that Jesus Christ is the one and only true and living God."
Each trip supports Christians in the mission field, emboldens the volunteers' witness at home and sparks in them the desire to return to the field. Mathews said she knows she will go back but not when. On their last day of ministry in the streets, the mother of a toddler to whom Mathews grew especially attached asked Mathews when she would come back.
"I'll try in a year" was all Mathews could think to say.
Crestfallen, the mother replied, "That's too long."
This article appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the TEXAN.
Ukrainians glad to
see Ala. missions team
By Brian Harris
DNIPROPETROVSK, Ukraine (The Alabama Baptist) -- Ukraine's current political unrest may leave its people concerned about their future, but glimpses of God's love and provision are keeping many of them encouraged.
"We have had times of worries here, but we don't get depressed because we know the Lord is not going to leave us or forsake us," said Lydia Davienko, a member of the Church at Amur in Dnipropetrovsk, who helped with a recent medical missions clinic hosted by Alabama Baptists.
"I'm so happy to see our friends who come from abroad, who come here to support us physically and spiritually," she said. "I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart that you paid attention to us."
Medical missions to Dnipropetrovsk
An eight-member medical missions team out of Vaughn Forest Baptist Church, Montgomery, spent a week in Dnipropetrovsk, the nation's fourth largest city, in early May.
The group consisted of a doctor, nurse, pharmacist and five others, including the congregation's immediate former pastor, Lawrence Phipps, now the leader of It's Life Ministry.
"It's been amazing to talk to the people (in Ukraine) who absolutely can't believe we came," Phipps said. "They know that their country is in turmoil. They're doubly appreciative that we came in a time of crisis."
Working with Ukraine's IMB church planters
The team worked alongside International Mission Board (IMB) church planters as well as Linda and Mike Ray, the IMB team strategy leader for east central Ukraine.
"One of the greatest things about doing a medical clinic is that it's an immediate touch into people's lives," Linda Ray said. "I think so much about how Jesus healed, touched and did what He could as He would go. It's really an exciting project to be a part of."
One of the medical clinics was conducted in a former Soviet-era apartment building that will house Love of Christ Baptist Church, a new congregation being planted by Dnipropetrovsk's Central Baptist Church.
The clinic offered free checkups and reading glasses for those who needed them.
Dr. Lee Franklin, a Montgomery-area oncologist, said the IMB representatives have learned that medical clinics "are a great way to reach adults. They come for medical care, but on the way they get real medicine. They get to hear about Jesus."
As Dnipropetrovsk residents came to the clinic, Ukrainian church members gathered contact and medical information and engaged in conversation, including sharing the gospel. The team shared the gospel with more than 700 people and some among the group made salvation decisions.
Igor, the lead church planter for Love of Christ Baptist, said the team's visit and medical clinics helped the church become more familiar with its community. "We are really glad that God made this possible," Igor said. "Many of the people have never heard about Christ. It was very beautiful for us to see how their eyes were opened and ready to accept this good news."
Other locales for medical clinics included church buildings, an office building and the abandoned second floor of a town hall.
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Brian Harris is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.
during Master'Singers tour
By Jessica Vanderpool
WESTERN UKRAINE (Arkansas Baptist News) -- More than 4,400 people made decisions to "become serious followers of Christ" during the Arkansas Master'Singers choir tour in western Ukraine, April 21-May 2.
"I've been in ministry since I was 18 years old, and this is by far the most powerful thing I've ever gotten to be a part of," said Larry Grayson, Arkansas Baptist State Convention evangelism and church health team member.
Grayson, who serves as Master'Singers director, noted that "the intensity, the excitement, the feelings ... cannot be recreated with words."
The choir performed in eight evangelistic concerts, where the choir sang and international evangelist Michael Gott preached. In addition, Master'Singers members sang as part of three local church worship services.
More than 9,000 people attended the various events. Venues were so full that people often had to stand, Grayson said. He said some church members would invite people to the concerts, but they themselves would go to their churches to pray for audience members, which allowed them to leave more seats available for others to attend. One lady personally invited more than 200 people.
Gott also noted the turnout.
"We looked out to see crowded aisles and people standing in stairwells and along the walls, and we prayed for three things: that God would keep out the devil and the fire marshal! But, of course, we prayed that the Lord would be among us to empower our witness," Gott said.
Each word sung was translated and displayed on a large screen so audience members would understand the songs' messages. Grayson said local Ukrainian pastors estimate that 50-60 percent of those in attendance were nonbelievers. Local pastors are following up with people who made decisions.
"I never asked them to become a Christian -- to them that means little more than continuing to be religious. I asked them to come to realize that Jesus Christ was their only hope and for their relationship with Christ to be personal. I invited them to become a serious follower of Christ for life," said Gott.
"There's no way to know how many of those (decisions) were first-time salvations, but there's great confidence in many being that," said Grayson. "I'm confident that there will be thousands who are going to be in heaven with us now because of this."
"I have never before been a part of such a powerful movement of God's Spirit in the hearts of so many people," said Doug Moore, instrumental director for the Master'Singers and worship pastor at First Baptist Church, Jacksonville. "I am humbled that God would allow me to be used in this mission endeavor. I pray that I will never get over this experience."
Plans for the trip underwent a shift in March when pastors from eastern Ukraine notified Grayson that, due to the political situation, it would be best for the group not to come to that part of the country. Just a few days later, pastors from western Ukraine invited the group to tour in their area instead.
The entire trip was re-planned in about six weeks and went "flawlessly," Grayson said.
"It was as though that's where we had been planning to go all along, which bottom line is it's exactly where God wanted us – there is no doubt," he said.
He noted that the Ukrainian people thanked them for bringing encouragement and bringing God to Ukraine and for "risking" coming at this time in the nation's history.
"In my mind, I thought, 'We … did not risk anything. We have not felt any risk in what we've done,'" said Grayson, noting they never felt any danger or threat the whole time they were in Ukraine.
But it was not just the Ukrainian people who were affected by the trip.
"I love it that worship leaders here in the state will never be the same, and I believe that to be true," Grayson said, noting team members' responses regarding the trip.
"Since my return to the U.S., I have been overwhelmed by what we just experienced," wrote Tim Gunter, pastor of worship and discipleship at First Baptist Church, Camden, in an email to Grayson. "Several times during each day, tears will flood my eyes with the joy of the Lord, as they are now as I type. I think I have shed more tears in the past two-plus weeks than in all my life combined. My quiet times have been much more powerful. Our Sunday (morning) service was much more meaningful and worshipful, at least for me. I find myself running out of words to describe recent events. 'Praise God from whom all blessings flow!'"
Other team members shared their reflections as well.
Carleen Powers – whose husband, Phil Powers, serves as associate pastor of worship and education at Marshall Road Baptist Church, Jacksonville – served in a nonmusical role. She described how her life was touched through her experience as part of the prayer team.
"Night after night we cried out to God for the lost people of Ukraine. On one of the nights, someone had written 'mother and father' needed the Lord. When I read that, I sobbed and my heart broke for these families," wrote Powers.
She said God burdened her to "pray for the people of Ukraine."
"I would find myself praying as we drove from place to place, as I walked through the halls and churches, when I was awake and when I was asleep. The Lord would wake me up praying for the people. I now know what it means to 'pray without ceasing,'" she wrote. "For me, some of the most remarkable worship took place in the prayer room. … God has given me a greater desire to pray for the lost people around me."
Clay Doss, worship pastor at Cullendale First Baptist Church, Camden, shared his thoughts as well.
"God has used us to get the message of the gospel to the hearts of the Ukrainians," he wrote. "I praise God for using us and allowing us to be a small part of reaching Ukraine for Christ. I pray that God will take the changed lives and the seeds that have been planted in hearts and multiply them over and over again."
He concluded by quoting the lyrics to "Praise His Holy Name," the final song sung at each concert: "To God be the glory, now and forever, praise His holy name!"
This article appeared in the Arkansas Baptist News (arkansasbaptistnews.squarespace.com/), newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist Convention. Jessica Vanderpool is assistant editor of the Arkansas Baptist News.