ReFRESH conf. goes West, emboldens pastors, leaders

by Karen L. Willoughby, posted Wednesday, March 09, 2016 (one year ago)

LAS VEGAS (BP) -- Erosion starts when hard-baked earth is scuffed by a worn boot or perhaps a random gust of wind. In time the indentation can become a gully, ditch, channel and valley. Eventually, it could grow to a deep canyon, noted award-winning National Geographic photographer Ken Jenkins.

"Destruction approaches slowly but it always leaves a trail," said Jenkins, who punctuated his presentation of spiritual erosion with some of his photography -- that included images of the Grand Canyon -- at the recent ReFRESH in the West Conference at Hope Church in Las Vegas. It was the first ReFRESH conference in the western U.S., an event expanding across the nation to come alongside pastors and church leaders, to help encourage them in their ministry.

The Feb. 22-23 event was led by Pastor Michael Catt of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., and hosted by the Nevada Baptist Convention, Utah/Idaho Southern Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board.

Though Sherwood Baptist Church is best known nationally for producing Christian movies such as "Flywheel," "Facing the Giants," "Fireproof" and "Courageous," these films are just one aspect of Sherwood's varied ministries under Catt's leadership.

ReFRESH, which started a dozen years ago as an outgrowth of a revival conference at Sherwood, spread to Pigeon Forge, Tenn.; Richmond, Va.; Branson, Mo.; Boston; and now Las Vegas.

ReFRESH was designed to encourage and strengthen ministry-weary men and their wives who often labor in isolation and without recognition, far from spiritual "watering holes" more accessible to pastors in the southern U.S., Catt said.

At least 138 pastors, leaders and wives from six western states -- California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Utah -- registered for the ReFRESH event.

Jim Ricks pastors Walker Baptist Church on the far eastern edge of California and is a member of the Sierra Baptist Association in Fernley, Nev. Ricks said he was eager for the fellowship he expected to find at the two-day event for pastors in Las Vegas.

"My heart is overflowing and I'm an emotional wreck," Ricks said, his voice cracking. "For me, to live is to minister, but what I've realized being here is that I need desperate prayer for a desperate faith, making sure I am putting Christ first."

Catt said in his opening remarks, "We have prayed for years to come to the West."

"We knew it had to be the right time, the right place and the right leadership, and we got that with Kevin White, executive director of the Nevada Baptist Convention, and Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Church," Catt said. "These men have a heart for revival and spiritual awakening."

He also credited Rob Lee, executive director of the Utah/Idaho Southern Baptist Convention, and the North American Mission Board, for their support.

"We want to encourage you and to strengthen you," Catt told those in attendance, "to put air in your tires and gas in your tank because we need you here in the West where there are so many people and so few churches."

Catt and three other men each spoke twice at ReFRESH: Jenkins, photographer with the National Geographic Society and a member of Zion Grove Baptist Church in Sevierville, Tenn.; Tom Elliff, retired president of the International Mission Board; and Pitman, who started Hope Church in 2001.

Among some of the topics: "The Life Worth Living," "Leaving a Legacy of Faith," "Spiritual Erosion," "Snares," and "The Problem Behind the Problem."

During one of his messages, Pitman spoke about the "miracle-unleashing of God's extraordinary power right in the middle of our everyday life." He said, "The presence of God changes everything."

Pitman spoke about the woman sick for a dozen years, who made her way to within inches of Jesus, somehow knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt, "If I can just touch Jesus, I will be healed."

The "Ignite" theme of ReFRESH was designed to build on the momentum seen in churches and Bible study across the West, with the prayer that those sparks would ignite fires of revival that could result in a multi-state, multi-cultural and multi-national spiritual awakening, said Ken Bevel, Sherwood's connections and events pastor.

Doug Vaughan, pastor of Crosspoint Community Church in Reno, said he came to ReFRESH mainly "to help support our state convention. I really feel a unity growing in our convention." But the Reno pastor acknowledged he left with a lot more.

"The preaching has been amazing," Vaughn said. "It's timely for us. I really feel refreshed for the long haul. To get that encouragement, just to know we're not alone, it means a lot."

Catt told Baptist Press during a break, "All revival is, is New Testament Christianity in action."

"We came here to shine encouragement," the Sherwood Baptist Church pastor said, "so people leave here with fire in their bellies."

Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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