FROM THE STATES: Ga., Tenn., Ark. evangelism/missions news; '... Either they pay their mortgage or their children eat'
Today's From the States features items from:
The Christian Index (Georgia)
Baptist & Reflector (Tennessee)
Arkansas Baptist News
The Good Samaritan helps
families in tough economy
By Jim Burton
GAINESVILLE, Ga. (The Christian Index) -- As a third grader in south Hall County, Alvin Bagwell was eating an apple at recess. Another child approached him and asked, "What are you going to do with that core when you get through with it? I've never had an apple before."
Bagwell immediately tossed the apple to his classmate.
"It was an eye opener for me at that age," Bagwell said of his early encounter with hunger in his home county in Georgia.
The playground event also planted a seed of compassion in Bagwell, something that has stayed with him all these years.
Like the proverbial apple that doesn't fall far from the tree, Bagwell has lived his entire life in Georgia, mostly around Gainesville, working vocationally in what he calls "the helping field." Even a successful career building $20 million aggregate plants could not keep him away.
"God gave me uneasiness in what I was doing," Bagwell said of his stint in construction.
Maximizing his bachelor's degree in social work, Bagwell then worked for Georgia's Department of Family and Child Services and Juvenile Justice. Later, Bagwell and his wife, Glenda, also started volunteering at the Good Samaritan, a food bank ministry of the Chattahoochee Baptist Association (CBA).
Before long, CBA missionary Jojo White recruited Bagwell to serve one day a week as the Good Samaritan's volunteer administrator. Bagwell was soon giving overall direction in what the association classifies as a part-time position.
Good Samaritan serves residents of nine counties. Most are Anglo, though African-Americans and Hispanics also seek assistance.
"Everything is so borderline with these people," Bagwell said of the hard choices that families often have to make. "If something goes amiss, either they pay their mortgage or their children eat."
Consequently, Bagwell believes that the Good Samaritan is keeping many of these families in their home as it relieves financial pressure that allows them to make rent or mortgage payments. The culprit for most families has been a slow economic recovery. Jobs that have emerged are typically part time.
When John McDougald recently visited the Good Samaritan, he was still looking for a job. During the past 12 years, he had lost his mother, father, marriage, and job. He also had been homeless, living under a bridge. Then, he found something permanent.
"I found God," McDougald said with tears running down his cheeks. Within the last six months, a local Baptist church has assisted him with lodging.
"Last job I lost was making $24.50 per hour. It's hard to go from that to nothing," McDougald said.
"They want to work," said volunteer Jack Hurt, a member of Central Baptist Church in Gainesville. "The people who come just can't find work."
The foothills of Appalachia's Blue Ridge Mountains form Hall County, which includes much of Lake Sidney Lanier. According to a 2013 Community Health Needs Study of Hall County, 12% of its estimated 180,000 residents live in poverty.
"Children will come home from school for the weekend and put ketchup and crackers in their pocket to make ketchup soup to have something to eat," Bagwell said.
Last year, the Good Samaritan provided groceries for 30,000 people, of which one-third were children. Bagwell estimates that the ministry will assist 45,000 this year, many of whom return every 60 days when they are eligible for more groceries. Others return more frequently for bread and sweets. Nationally, food bank distribution is increasing about 30% a year. For long-time volunteer Pat Carroll, the greatest need of the people they serve may not be food.
"The biggest need that I see is for compassion and forgiveness," said Carroll, a Central Baptist Church member. "When you get the Lord in your heart and you have that compassion and love, then your hurt sort of sinks back to the back row. Other people's hurt comes up front.
"I get ministered to, too," Carroll said of her interaction with the community.
In 2013, the ministry recorded 74 professions of faith. Already in 2014, there have been 39.
"The majority who come in are not in churches," Bagwell said. "We share the Gospel with each person. That doesn't count the hundreds that we implant the seed of the Word into."
The Good Samaritan receives financial support through the Cooperative Program (CP).
"The Church and Community Ministries of the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) is a great picture of CP," said Georgia Baptist Convention state missionary Ricky Thrasher. "A church gives a portion of their offering to CP and GBC retains a portion of that in Georgia.
"We're able to help all size churches with CP empowering people to share the Gospel."
This article appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming, Ga.
Music overcomes race,
By Lonnie Wilkey
NASHVILLE (Baptist & Reflector) -- For at least one week in Nashville, barriers caused by race and religion were torn down as 117 children of diverse backgrounds came together to sing and learn musical skills.
At least 10 countries were represented at the International Music School held June 16-20 at Tusculum Hills Baptist Church in Nashville.
Children at the event, which was sponsored by several Nashville-area churches, launched the Children's Freedom Choir and presented their first concert at the conclusion of their week-long school. The choir included children of Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and other or no religious backgrounds.
Organizers of the Children's Freedom Choir are optimistic that the choir will continue to meet and sing throughout the year.
"The world has come to us," said Terry Taylor, a member of Forest Hills Baptist Church and a former interim minister of music at Tusculum Hills.
Tusculum Hills is in the middle of a five-mile stretch along Nolensville Road in South Nashville which is home to thousands of internationals.
"Nashville had the fastest growing immigrant population in 2012 of any U.S. city," said Paul Gunn, pastor of Tusculum Hills. He noted that 1,200 refugees resettle in Nashville each year and many of them are within a five-mile radius of the church.
At Tusculum Elementary School, located just across the street from the church, 26 languages are spoken and the number is rising, according to Alison McMahan, school principal.
"This Nolensville Road corridor is not something we can neglect," Gunn said.
"We cannot miss this opportunity to reach these people for Christ," the pastor continued.
"Tusculum Hills is in the heart of a foreign mission field," he added.
Though children at the music school spoke multiple languages, music is the international language, group organizers observed.
That was one reason a music school was chosen as the event, said Terry Taylor.
Music is universal and it bridges language, Gunn agreed.
Taylor noted that while serving at Tusculum Hills he spoke with Gunn about the possibility of a children's choir and using it as a way to reach the community.
Taylor, a member of Forest Hills Baptist Church, knew that his church had a ministry to internationals (Wings) in the Nolensville Road area.
Gathering people he knew who had a passion for sharing the gospel in that area, plans were launched to hold a music school and to begin the Children's Freedom Choir. The choir will be based out of Tusculum Hills with the goal of reaching people of all nationalities, Taylor said.
Through various contacts, Taylor found other churches that were interested in the concept of using a children's choir to reach a community with the gospel.
Gunn observed that because music is universal parents are less "suspicious" of an event held in a church. "Who wouldn't want to send their kids to a free music school where they would also get two meals?" he asked.
In addition to Forest Hills and THBC, First Baptist Church, Nashville, was a prime contributor to the event, supplying both funds and volunteers. Tusculum Hills provided the facility along with several volunteers including Gunn. The People's Church in Franklin provided several volunteers.
Taylor, who is managing editor of Growing in Grace Children's Music Curriculum based in Franklin, noted that the school utilized more than 70 volunteers from 10 different churches. "There has been a spirit of cooperation among the churches," he said.
Taylor noted that the leadership was united in their desire "to reach kids from all ethnic origins in the area."
The plan is already working. Included among the participants were five Muslim children who recently escaped the violence in their home country of Iraq where their grandfather was killed.
The language barrier was a problem until someone contacted Arabic Baptist Church in Murfreesboro who immediately sent over a volunteer (Maged Boles) to help translate and communicate with the children.
Boles noted that the international music school provided an excellent means to reach the Muslim students with the gospel.
Boles observed that though Christians cannot go to witness in Muslim countries, "God brings them to us. Here, you can talk to them about Jesus."
Seeds are being planted, he added. In addition, some seeds have already produced fruit as there were two salvation decisions made during the week.
God continued sending international children to the school throughout the week. On the third day of the school, a Hindu child came with parental permission to participate.
While the kids were at the school, an intentional effort was made to learn "their stories," Taylor said. Kids were divided into smaller groups with a "tour guide" who worked to learn their names and something about each of the children and their families.
"The choir is the tip of the iceberg," Taylor observed. "We want to have an infrastructure in place to minister to these children and their families and to meet their needs," Taylor said.
Helping refugees is what led Jennifer Dial of Forest Hills Baptist Church to serve as camp director for the week.
Dial works with the Wings ministry at Forest Hills and enjoys working with refugees. "It is unbelievable what the refugee community goes through," Dial said.
She observed it has been a blessing to get to know the refugees and to hear their stories and hear their hearts. "Many of them fled their countries because they are Christians," she said.
In addition to providing training in music, the school provided another benefit for those who attended — two hot meals each day.
Taylor and Gunn both noted that some of the kids would have gone hungry had it not been for the food provided each day.
"Little kids are eating large plates of food," Gunn observed.
He noted special care was taken to provide food they would eat. In checking with McMahan at the local elementary school, Gunn learned that "hot dogs and hamburgers were out."
Instead, the Tusculum Hills kitchen volunteers provided meals with chicken, fish, fresh vegetables, and fruit, Gunn said.
Gunn noted that though the church is an older congregation in a transitional community they have been open to reaching their community with the gospel.
"They grew up in churches where Southern Baptist missionaries would come and share about their work. They have gone on mission trips over the years. Now, those people groups are coming to our church.
"They see it as a natural progression," Gunn said.
Music as ministry
Paul Clark, music/worship specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, was excited when he learned what the churches were doing last week at Tusculum Hills.
"I was immediately drawn to get involved for a number of reasons. A primary one was that several TBC churches were involved in the effort using music as ministry," Clark said.
He observed that the style of worship music of these congregations "is quite different one church from another, so I was attracted to the spirit of cooperation that overcomes stylistic differences in order to serve the purpose of Great Commission ministry.
"It is the heart of what we experience among our Tennessee Baptist Ladies Chorus and Mens Chorale and I wanted to see that spirit at work among those leading children in music from the inside, close up."
Clark praised the efforts of all the volunteers who "have been phenomenal at demonstrating the love of Jesus even as the children have learned songs and motions, and heard the gospel story."
Ministry can be replicated
Leaders involved with last week's International Music School are hopeful that other churches will replicate it in their communities.
The effort at Tusculum Hills "is a model that other churches can replicate," Taylor affirmed.
"From the beginning I felt this could be a model for other churches and communities in our state," Clark said. He noted that sharing resources and getting at the mission where God has brought the world to us needs to be a big priority for Tennessee Baptists, including music ministry.
"Based on years of experience and observation I am convinced that music can have a powerful effect, and that has certainly been demonstrated in dramatic fashion this week," Clark said.
This article appeared in the Baptist & Reflector (tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist & Reflector.
Rugged Cross cowboy church
experiences God's faithfulness
By Jessica Vanderpool
MAGNOLIA, Ark. (Arkansas Baptist News) -- What began as a vision of 15-20 people has grown into a thriving cowboy church – known as Rugged Cross Cowboy Church – with an average of 185 in worship service.
The journey between these two points has been filled with steps of faith and signs of God's faithfulness – and Mike Launius, pastor of Rugged Cross Cowboy Church, has witnessed it all firsthand.
Launius remembers the first interest meetings held to discuss starting a Bible study. He agreed to help with the Bible study, which launched in fall 2010, and soon afterward, the group decided to become a church.
Launius was trained as a church planter through the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC); and Rugged Cross Cowboy Church was constituted in 2011, holding its first service as a constituted church on Easter Sunday.
The church reaches out to nontraditional people who love the Western heritage and don't feel comfortable in a traditional church, explained Launius.
He said he thinks the reason cowboy churches reach people that other churches don't has to due with the propensity of cowboy churches to truly accept people just as they are.
"And it's nothing against the traditional church by no means," Launius said, "but we've got people (who) come in from turkey hunting with their camouflage on. We've got people (who) come in from rodeos at 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning and they come on to church and got their spurs and boots on and they have mud on their boots. ... We truly accept people as they are. … We've got people in our church who haven't been to church in 15-20 years and sure wouldn't have ever thought about singing in church or being a leader in the church, and now they're leaders of the church and they're singing and taking a leadership role. And that wasn't going on three years ago in their life."
Launius knows about the cowboy lifestyle from personal experience. He was a rodeo clown for about five years and also started a saddle business. Though he surrendered to preach in 1994, he quit going to church for a time and became focused on money – until he lost all he had and God drew him back to Himself in 2009. At that time, Launius began work at the Walmart in Nashville, eventually transferring to the Magnolia store.
As the Bible study took off, he lived part-time in Magnolia and part-time in Nashville, traveling 75 miles between the two.
As he got to know those to whom he was ministering and heard their stories, he knew he needed to move his family to Magnolia so he could serve more effectively. His wife, Tisha, quit her job to become a stay-at-home mother and pastor's wife, and they moved their four children – Cody, Cason, Kaleigh and Cord – to Magnolia.
Through the ABSC, Liberty Baptist Association, Rugged Cross Cowboy Church and the Dixie Jackson Arkansas Missions Offering, Launius received a stipend during the first two years of his pastorate, which helped him support his family since his wife had resigned from her job. In addition, the church received a startup grant and land grant, which were provided through the Dixie Jackson offering.
"We're very thankful for people giving to the Dixie Jackson (offering) because that helps us," Launius said.
Another key supporter for whom Launius is grateful is Liberty Baptist Association and their associational missionary, Gary Glasgow.
"Rugged Cross is really reaching so many people who have been out of church for a long time, or had no relationship with Christ at all," said Glasgow. "It has been awesome to see how God has been working there."
As Rugged Cross continued to grow, so did Launius' thought that he needed to offer more to the church.
"In November of last year, ... I just felt (that with) the needs of the church and the way the church was growing and issues people were having in their lives ... that I couldn't do Walmart and church and I needed to put all my efforts into the ministry," he said.
So he quit his job at Walmart, sold his jeep for extra money and dove into full-time ministry.
"Things just keep getting bigger and better, and the church is growing. I'm able to enjoy meeting people and their needs and serve them and witness to them," he said.
The church recently built and dedicated a 12,800-square-foot metal barn-style building, complete with a sanctuary, kitchen, offices, nurseries, bathrooms, balcony seating and classrooms.
Much of the skill, time and resources that went into the building came from volunteers – both church members and those who are not church members.
"The Lord has incredibly blessed them with special donations in order to buy their land and to begin construction on their new building. God has just done an amazing work there," said Roger Gaunt, ABSC church planting team member and church planter strategist.
Donations ranged from $25 to thousands of dollars, Launius said. Somebody donated money for almost 24 acres of land, on which the new building sits. Many people donated toward the building fund. One person donated lumber for the building; another bought all kitchen appliances. A local restaurant held fish fries to raise funds. An auction was held to supplement the building fund, with church and community members donating items to be auctioned.
Church members did a lot of the carpentry work themselves, sometimes working four or five hours in the evenings after their day jobs. Contractors and businesses often discounted labor and products or donated a portion of the money they charged back to the church. Launius noted people saw the difference the church was making in community members' lives and wanted to support it.
And in the meantime, lives have been changed. The church has baptized 30-plus people in total, nine of whom have been baptized since the first church service was held in the new building in May.
Launius said they hope to start building an arena in the next month or so. Though they have already held some arena events and trail rides and plan to hold more in the future, their decision to wait to hold the majority of these events has been strategic.
"A lot of cowboy churches, they've built their folks on the arena events and different things like that. We went at it at a different angle," Launius explained. "We wanted to be a church 20 years from now. We want to make sure people's lives are straight with Jesus. We want to make sure we're discipling people. And we went six months before we ever did anything in the arena. … We wanted to build the church first."
He said he thinks this commitment to the Great Commission is why God has blessed their church so much.
Launius praises God for all that has happened with the church.
"We give it all to God," he said. "It's a God thing. It's nothing we've done. It's all Him. All the blessings are truly from Him."
The church gives 5 percent a month through the Cooperative Program and 3 percent a month through their local association, in addition to giving to the Dixie Jackson offering, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.
"I'm just blessed that God has allowed me to be a part of this," Launius said, explaining it's not just his vision, but rather the vision of the group of believers who have become Rugged Cross Cowboy Church.
"We've got some (people) from every walk of life and every background. And so it takes all of us to make it work, and I think everybody just caught the vision, and I'm just honored to be a part of it."
This article appeared in the Arkansas Baptist News (arkansasbaptist.org), newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist Convention. Jessica Vanderpool is assistant editor of 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.