FROM THE STATES: Calif., Tenn., Ga. evangelism/missions news; Church aims to 'overwhelm Oakland with love'
Today's From the States features items from:
California Southern Baptist
Baptist & Reflector (Tennessee)
The Christian Index (Georgia)
The Movement aims
to 'overwhelm Oakland'
By Amanda Phifer
OAKLAND, Calif. (California Southern Baptist) -- There are all kinds of movements afoot -- there always have been. But for a core of people in Oakland these days, the movement uppermost in their minds is their young church: The Movement of Oakland.
The unique name is intentional.
"We knew it was a buzzword -- everybody wants to be a part of a movement these days," said lead church planter Edward Paz. "But we see what Jesus started 2,000 years ago as a movement based off of the resurrection. And we have a vision of wanting to see a movement of people coming to faith and extending His love."
Furthermore, Paz added, "I wanted a name that would hold us accountable. Every time I look at that name I have to ask, 'How are we leading in such a way that results in movement, not just a community that's inward-focused?'"
The Movement launched in September 2013, led by Paz, Josh Hoag and a planting team primarily from Crossroads Church in Fremont. Paz had served as youth and young adult minister there for two-and-a-half years, much of it, with the church's and pastor's blessing, simultaneously preparing for a church planting venture.
From the beginning, Paz said, he was conflicted about which course of strategy to pursue: the "organic, small, meet-in-homes-and-grow-by-word-of-mouth" approach to church planting, or the "go big and all in from the beginning" approach.
"We knew from the beginning we wanted to be a church that planted other churches," the South San Francisco native said. "We didn't want to go down a track that couldn't be replicated. So we went with the more attractional model of church planting.
"But what helped clinch the decision was, in February of 2013 I was able to share our vision with 40 mega-church pastors, mostly from the South, as part of (the North American Mission Board's) Send North America emphasis. From that we raised over $200,000 in cash, and another $300,000 in commitments. That was a miracle for us. It really breathed life into our team and was encouraging to what we were doing."
He concluded with a dry rhetorical question: "I mean, how easy is it not to raise $200,000?"
The Movement has as its mission to "overwhelm Oakland with love." Paz said the church wants to reach what he calls the "unchurched, de-churched and over-churched."
Owen Yee, who was baptized at the launch service, fell into the first category -- a young tech professional with no church background other than a nominally Catholic middle school. Invited to a preview service by a friend, Owen heard the gospel and followed up with a meeting with Paz.
"We talked, I shared the gospel with him personally, and he said he would give it some thought and he'd text me when he'd come to a decision," Paz recalled. "Well, that was fine but we just kept talking, and 15 minutes later he said he was ready to give his life to Christ. Well, I just lost it, right there at Starbucks, so thrilled just to see God reach down and open his eyes."
Yee is now sharing his faith at work, growing in his faith and leading one of The Movement's small groups.
To Rich Johnstone, a church member who also is a NAMB Send City missionary, the story of Owen's coming to faith and growing as a Christian is a highlight of the 18-month-old church plant experience.
"It was refreshing to see him come to faith, and then to see him grow, to hunger after the Word. It's really encouraging to see his influence at work, at church, even within his family."
Paz also shared the story of Clarissa, a single mom who grew up in the faith but fell away after the death of an uncle. One of the pastors' wives met Clarissa, invited her to The Movement, and, after several weeks of attending, "The Lord led her to open up her heart, just a little at first, then she gave her heart to the Lord," as Paz put it. Clarissa, too, now serves and is sharing her faith; an old friend who moved to Oakland has become a believer through her influence.
As an example of an "over-churched" person, Paz told of Jake, from North Carolina, who grew up in "a pretty religious household, where it was all about, 'You've got to work and earn it.'" Jake was never baptized because he felt he wasn't "at the right 'level' yet." But after hearing the gospel at The Movement, he recently was baptized.
Paz said teaching at The Movement is almost tunnel-vision focused on the specific Good News of the gospel God already provided through Jesus.
"Everything we do is about reinforcing something God has already done," Paz said. "It's all about what God did for us through Jesus. It seems obvious, but oftentimes the obvious message of the gospel is not interwoven through all the teaching and activities of the church. And we're finding that as being the thing that draws these three groups in."
And it's not just for the unchurched, de-churched or over-churched, to borrow from The Movement's strategy language. Paz said one of the amazing aspects of this journey for him personally is how often he finds himself looking in the mirror while he teaches.
"I've been amazed at just how much I've had to preach the very same thing to myself, grow deeper in my understanding, find my identity not in what I do but in what God has done on my behalf. It's a one-to-one ratio so often, what I'm preaching to our folks, and what I'm preaching to myself.
"The gospel isn't a growth strategy — it is my lifeline," Paz said, "and then I just preach that. I'm having the same 'a-has!' as the people I'm preaching to, having deeper freedom just like them."
"The Movement offers a great combination of two things," Johnstone added. "It's gospel-focused and gospel-centered, but at the same time very accessible, very welcoming; dialogues with people at various stages of their faith. That's been a joy to see."
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.
Mission Jackson reaches teens,
children where they live
By Lonnie Wilkey
JACKSON, Tenn. (Baptist & Reflector) -- A ministry that started 10 years ago with one site to reach neighborhood children has mushroomed into as many as 11 sites across the city reaching as many as 350 children weekly.
Misson Jackson "takes the church" away from its four walls throughout the community, said Robert McBroom, local missions pastor for Englewood Baptist Church here.
"We are going into the neighborhoods. Our goal is not to take them out of their context and bring them into Englewood," said McBroom who has been actively involved in the ministry for about three years.
He noted, however, that as relationships have developed some families have begun attending Englewood and have been warmly received into the fellowship.
Most every Sunday about 100 of the 150 weekly volunteers from Englewood Baptist gather at the church to get their supplies and materials and pray together before heading off to one of the current sites. The number of sites varies. They have had as many as 11 but are currently in nine locations. Due to the transiency of the children some sites close until more children move into the neighborhood, McBroom said.
Sites include apartment complexes, housing developments, a mobile home community, and a city park.
Because the Sunday ministries are held outside they occasionally miss a few weeks due to weather, but when possible they bring the children to a church facility.
"Rarely do we not meet," McBroom said.
"In the communities where we minister, consistency is vital," he stressed.
"It would be a big mistake to make a short-term commitment," he continued.
"When we commit to a community we are there to stay unless the need goes away," McBroom said.
Volunteers use a Backyard Kids Club format at each of the sites. There are games and activities followed by Bible study and prayer, and, of course, snacks.
McBroom said the goal is to reach as many of the neighborhood kids as possible in order to get to know the children and teenagers.
Randy and Dawn Nicholas lead one of the newer sites and they agree that getting to know those who attend is very important.
"We have had some good response," Randy Nicholas said. "We are just building relationships."
An offshoot of the ministry has been a ministry on Thursdays held on the Englewood campus that focuses more on discipleship, mentoring, and tutoring," McBroom said, noting that the Thursday ministry is not for everyone. "It's for the kids who want to know more about Jesus," he observed.
Activities on Thursdays include some fun activities, but an emphasis is placed on tutoring and discipleship. The discipling process includes an in-depth, age-appropriate Bible study, McBroom said.
Through the Thursday evening ministry, 12 students accepted Christ last semester and were baptized, he shared. Several more students have made decisions for Christ over the past decade, McBroom continued.
He cautioned, however, that churches or those interested in a similar ministry understand that salvation decisions normally are not immediate.
"It took seven years before we saw our first baptism," he said.
He stressed that "pews won't suddenly be filled up" with urban families but they will come. "It takes time for relationships to be developed and for trust to be earned," he stressed.
As families do come into the church, more opportunities arise to minister to them, McBroom continued.
"We have seen so many lives changed because of this group of people who take the church to the people."
McBroom is appreciative of all the volunteers who are involved with the ministry.
He acknowledged that finding enough volunteers is always a challenge.
"Volunteers for any ministry can be a struggle," he acknowledged. "The same is true for Mission Jackson. We are in the elements. It can be cold or hot and sometimes it is perceived as dangerous because of the neighborhoods we are in," he explained.
"But if I can get somebody to go that first time, they almost always stick," McBroom said.
"They see the reality of the lives of these children and they want to make an impact."
He is especially grateful for a number of Union University students who participate in Mission Jackson.
"The students (and the other volunteers) have a passion to see this city changed," he observed.
Joann Pittman is a site leader who has a heart and passion for Mission Jackson.
Pittman, who has been to Nicaragua five times, said Mission Jackson is an opportunity to "serve Him when I can't go far away."
She recalled that on her last trip to Nicaragua she did not want to return. As she was struggling with her emotions, she said God told her, "You have Nicaragua all around you. Why don't you serve where you are? That's why I'm here," she said.
McBroom agreed. "Mission Jackson is definitely our Jerusalem."
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.
Partnerships help to launch
Ga.'s newest Arabic church
By Jim Burton
SUWANEE, Ga. (The Christian Index) -- When up to 20 people gather on Sunday evenings for Christian worship, they are multi-national but able to speak the same language, which binds these immigrant families. The common greeting is salaam, which means peace.
Arabic is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world as it serves about 27 nations as the official or co-official spoken language. For 206 million people, Arabic is their native language. Another 24 million people speak it as a second language. Only English, Spanish, Hindi, and Mandarin Chinese have more speakers.
These Georgia churchgoers represent a minority back home where their neighbors were predominantly Muslim. When Mokhles Bekhet grew up in a Christian home in Alexandria, Egypt, he was among only 15% of the population there. And living his faith wasn't easy.
"Every Christian in Egypt experiences some persecution," Bekhet said.
His family nurtured him in the Christian faith until he made a profession of faith at age 11. As an adult, he migrated to California where he lived until a brother moved to Georgia. Bekhet soon learned that there were "too many Arabic-speaking people here but only two Arabic churches in Atlanta," and he moved his young family here.
Georgia has the nation's 14th largest Arab-American population, according to the Arab American Institute Foundation. An estimated 27,057 Arab-speaking people live in 89 of Georgia's 159 counties. Egyptians represent 51%, followed by Moroccans at 20%. The majority live in Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb, and DeKalb counties.
Meeting a church-planting need
When Bekhet and his wife, Nivine, moved here with their two sons, he did what came natural. An accomplished worship leader, he invited friends and family to his apartment for worship and Bible study.
"I felt when I moved here there was a need for other ministries (churches)," said
Bekhet when he learned of only two Arabic-speaking Southern Baptist congregations in the state.
He's since learned enough to draw this conclusion, "We need over 50 churches to serve the Arabic community in Atlanta."
Bekhet estimates there are about 100 mosques in Atlanta.
When Michael O'Neal, the minister of evangelism and missions at First Baptist Church of Cumming, met Bekhet he could see much potential in the young Arab American.
"I saw some serious maturity there even at 26 when I met him," O'Neal recalled. "And then I saw his availability to be used by God.
"The first thing he said was, 'I just want to serve God.' He said that with humility."
Cumming's First Baptist is a Sending Church that cooperates with the North American Mission Board's church-planting initiatives. They currently sponsor three church plants – an Anglo church in Cumming, an Iranian church in Alpharetta, and now this Arabic church in Suwanee.
Bekhet was a Send North America intern assigned to O'Neal for mentoring. While Bekhet continued to meet with what would become a core group, he also worked diligently to build relationships at this north metro Atlanta church. Soon, additional assistance emerged from the congregation as many wanted to help and encourage him.
Following his internship, the time came to launch. But first, the new church would need a venue. Sugarloaf Korean Baptist Church (SKBC) in Suwanee volunteered and became the host church for the Arabic Baptist Church of Suwanee.
"Thank God for SKBC, they opened the door for us," Bekhet said after looking six months for a location. "They are very nice people."
The church launched Sept. 27, 2014, with about 25 in attendance. The weekly average attendance is between 15 and 20.
Bekhet is grateful for the Cooperative Program and Mission Georgia, which allow the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) to provide a monthly stipend for this young church planter. GBC's partnership with First Cumming and NAMB have accounted for additional assistance.
While the new Arabic Baptist Church benefits from these sources, O'Neal contends that the relationship is equally beneficial for First Baptist of Cumming.
"First Baptist Cumming is located in the suburbs and is predominantly Anglo," O'Neal said. "For us to be involved in an Arabic-speaking church as a sending church is advantageous for us because it teaches us about how to reach cross culturally and connects us with the world right here."
This article appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming, Ga.
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.