FROM THE STATES: Ill., Tenn., La. evangelism/missions news; 'Yes, tell them. They are thirsty'

Today's From the States features items from: Illinois Baptist, Baptist and Reflector (Tennessee), Baptist Message (Louisiana)

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Ill. women see lives

changed in South Asia

EDITOR'S NOTE: In April, a team of women from Illinois traveled to South Asia to share gospel stories and witness how believers there are working to push back spiritual darkness. Lindsay McDonald, a pastor's wife from First Baptist Church in Casey, Ill., wrote about their experiences.

SOUTH ASIA (Illinois Baptist) – “Okay, you can start," Mim* says, leaning towards Gail Faulkner, who sits on the chair beside her. Having practiced the "Creation to Christ" story for months now, today is Gail's opportunity to tell the gospel story that her team traveled nearly 8,000 miles to share.

"So, I should go ahead and start the story?" Gail confirms with Mim, a believer working to reach others in her country. About 20 women are gathered, clustered together on handcrafted floor mats.

A local woman offered her simple, empty home for today's story. The room is dark and still.

The women look expectantly at the visiting Americans and their translators and ministry partners -- women from this country who have converted to Christianity.

"Yes, tell them. They are thirsty," Mim responds with urgency.

Gail, a pastor's wife from Bethalto, Ill., joined this mission team even when this part of the world wasn't on her radar. She says God made it clear to her that it was her time to be on the team, and cleared her path of any financial obstacles to traveling thousands of miles from home.

Joining her on the team were six other women from Illinois and three from the Carolinas. They came from a variety of life stages: young mothers, grandmothers, retirees, professionals. All prepared and trained for months to bring the message of hope Isaiah prophesied to the Israelites thousands of years earlier: a perfect sacrifice, Jesus.

The Illinois volunteers came to partner with two missionaries serving in this densely populated country, and three national believers who served as their guides and interpreters. These Christians focus primarily on evangelism to women, who they can encounter more freely because of the culture here. The nation's oral tradition is built on conversations and storytelling. Much like the story about to begin in this dark house.

Out of darkness

Life in South Asia is hard.

"Oppression is real and hope seems distant," says Amy Neibel, a mission team member from First Baptist Church in Carmi. In this country in South Asia, 80 percent of the people live on less than $2 a day, and 40 percent live on less than $1.

Poverty is real.

It bombards all of your senses -- the smell of waste in the street, as adults and children sift through it, looking for items to recycle and sell. Cars honk in the dense traffic, and rickshaw drivers pedal passengers to and fro for a minimal wage.

Darkness is prevalent.

"It is a place where you not only sense it, but also see the spiritual darkness on the faces of the people," Amy says. The country is 98 percent Muslim and many haven't heard about salvation through Jesus.

Almost 16 million people hear the Muslim call to prayer five times a day; some stop and pray and others proceed with their day.

"Though you can sense the darkness, they are just like us -- they are hurting," team leader Kimberly Sowell says during a morning devotional. Sowell's ministry supports job training for women and girls, offering them a way out of the hopelessness that is so prevalent.

"All of God's people are called to be used of Him but why do some not go?" Kimberly asks the team. They answer, We're comfortable where we are. The missions call is for "other people." There's plenty of spiritual need at home.

Most of all, this place is hard.

"God is working here. That's why there is persecution, if God wasn't moving there would be no persecution," says Mim.

Kimberly challenges the team to accept the Lord's invitation to sacrifice for the sake of their sisters on the other side of the world.

Into the light

Walking is a part of the daily routine here. While out one day in the capital city and a nearby port city, Gail says, "I noticed there was no life. The faces of the women passing me were stoic. No expression. The lack of hearing the voices of children crushed my grandma's heart. I've never been to an area where the noise of children playing, yelling, running and crying could not be heard."

Stepping into the Light of Life and Light of Hope Learning Centers is a different story. Within these walls, there is life! Young smiles greet the team as they enter. They play Twister, Phase Ten, and Old Maid with the girls to teach them colors, animals, numbers, and occupations.

The ministry Sowell began in 2013 supports efforts to provide nutrition, hygiene, education and vocational training to young women. Here, they also hear the Gospel, so they can find faith and freedom in Jesus Christ.

"The Light of Hope Learning Center is an amazing place full of laughter and love," says Connie Lang, a volunteer from First Baptist of Casey, on her first international mission trip. "It is run by an amazing missionary, Susan Kirker,* who loves the girls and their mothers.

"As we built relationships with the girls, I loved hearing them recite the Bible story that was being taught to them," Connie says. "This trip has been life-changing. I have grown closer to the Lord and have seen the power of prayer at work.

"I would love to go back again."

Both centers are funded by the International Mission Board, but they are run independently from one another, with different directors and school formats. Light of Life, located in the capital, has a school for at-risk girls during the day and brings in women in the afternoons for sewing lessons.

Light of Hope offers similar activities. Girls have the opportunity to sew in the mornings while earning a daily wage, and then attend school in the afternoon.

Both centers give hope to hopeless lives of the girls living in the city slums. "Yet it is even more than that," Gail says. "The girls are offered a daily clean shower, two meals for the day, an education, sewing skills, Bible teaching and love."

Walking in new life

Back in the dark village house, women listen to the "Creation to Christ" story and then take turns repeating it, trying to commit it to memory. Since they live in an oral culture, many do not know how to read or write. Messages must be verbally transmitted in speech or song among friends and family, and then passed down through generations.

More than 30 women accept Christ after hearing the stories the team shared. Several who believe set up a time to be baptized -- a big step of obedience in a place where the decision to follow Christ could bring persecution.

"God showed himself mightily to the South Asians and our team," says Niece Edwards from First Baptist Carmi, Ill. "I was stretched as never before and learned more about God's sustaining power."

"Walking through this South Asian country during this season of my life, really displayed how I need to walk beside my husband with the purpose of harvest," says team member Kathy Fullerton. "We need to be intentional with neighbors, strangers, friends, and family because the Gospel can permeate cultural bounds. Jesus died for those in burkas and overalls alike."


*Names changed.

This article appeared in the Illinois Baptist (ibsa.org/illinoisbaptist), newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

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Tenn. missions clinic serves

a host of nationalities

By Connie Davis Bushey

MEMPHIS (Baptist and Reflector) -- The dental clinic being held could have been set in another country.

The people lined up for treatment were not Anglos. They waited patiently queued outside like the very needy will though it was cold that Saturday morning. The clinic was being held in a gritty, older apartment complex in a very large city.

The sunlight may not have warmed the area but it did provide good light for the dental students as they began to screen patients. A generator droned on by the treatment area marked by three chairs. Dental equipment on nearby tables was managed by other clinic staff.

The people who came for help represented several different countries -- Cuba, Nepal, Bhutan via Nepal, Iraq, Somalia via Kenya, Sudan, and Afghanistan. Some lived in the apartment complex where the clinic was held and others traveled there to be treated.

The clinic staff were from the Baptist Collegiate Ministries of the nearby University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, which includes a dental school.

Most of the clinic staff had conducted a dental clinic before, but they usually traveled to another country to do it. A BCM team operates a dental clinic each year while on their annual missions trip and hopes soon to provide a medical clinic involving students in other schools of UT-HSC.

In just a few months many of these students will minister in Ecuador, reported Benjie Shaw, BCM director for UT-HSC. In the past several years BCMers have served in Guatemala, Mexico, Indonesia, and Ecuador.

The BCMers do this though they have busy schedules, explained Shaw. The dental students attend classes year-round with only two weeks off. Each year they also conduct one at-home missions project -- they visit a high school which has needy students where they make mouthguards for the football players to cut down on concussions.

The BCMers who are dental students decided to investigate holding a clinic at home and it came together on April 9 involving 13 dental students with help from area Baptists who hold strategic roles, reported Shaw.

Those Baptists included Dr. Vernon Pennington, assistant professor of pediatric dentistry at UT-HSC, dentist in Southaven, Miss., and member of Whitehaven Baptist Church, Memphis. He supervised the dental students.

Ed Reed, missions strategist, Kirby Woods Baptist Church, Memphis, who is on the BCM board, put Shaw and other BCM leaders in contact with Nathan Elliott, intern for Kirby Woods. Elliott ministers to immigrants by living in an apartment complex where World Relief places many immigrants. Through Elliott, Shaw and the BCM leaders got to know Thi Mitsamphanh, a church mobilizer for World Relief Memphis who also is a fellow Baptist. Mitsamphanh, pastor of the First International Baptist Church, Memphis, and member of the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, was glad to help.

World Relief and Elliott helped the BCM arrange for the clinic.

Shaw reported the BCMers screened about 45 patients who had serious dental needs similar to those they see in third world countries. They plan to return to treat them.

"This was just a way for us to fulfill a need," said Shaw. He added that he is proud that so many dental students served despite their tight schedules and in the somewhat demanding setting.

Mitsamphanh said this event is "about connecting the church with the refugee community." About 200 refugees are settled in Memphis each year, he reported.

"There is a constant need for churches and Christian organizations to engage these people," he added.

Elliott said he is so glad the BCM chose to work in the apartment complex where he and his wife and Kirby Woods Baptist members minister. He is a student at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Cordova.

They welcome any effort to help them gain a "platform to share the gospel" and "get to know the families," said Elliott. "It's like being in another country here. It's so foreign here but we enjoy it."

Thomas Jenkins, third year student who is BCM president and a Sunday School teacher at Germantown Baptist Church, Germantown, said he is proud to be a part of the effort. Though they had to meet regulations and carry a lot of equipment to be able to hold the clinic, the students were glad to do it, he added.

"I'm a Christian that just so happens to be a dentist rather than a dentist that so happens to be a Christian," he stated. "I wanted to become a dentist to do missions."

He and several other BCMers also serve needy people in Tennessee through the Remote Area Medical clinics based in Knoxville.

Pennington said he was glad to be involved. He has served on overseas missions trips for 25 years, he said.

"This is missions. … This is what God has led me to do. It is simply doing the Great Commission."

A couple from Cuba came to the clinic because both of them have had health problems which have kept them from working, they said in Spanish to Tucker Hunley, a student from Knoxville.

"We came because we have pain and we don't have money," said the man in Spanish which was translated by Hunley.


This article appeared in the Baptist and Reflector (http://tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Connie Davis Bushey is news editor of the Baptist and Reflector.

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Fourteen make decisions for

Christ at La. RA Congress

By Brian Blackwell

WOODWORTH, La. (Baptist Message) -- The recent RA Congress concluded with truly a Holy Spirit moment during the Saturday morning session according to Gibbie McMillan, state director for Royal Ambassadors.

After offering an invitation to come forward and accept Christ, McMillan watched as 14 young men made their way to the front of the Tall Timbers Conference Center activities building. Only the Holy Spirit could have orchestrated that moment, McMillan believes.

"We had a very great opportunity right there to see those boys come to Christ," McMillan said. "It's a moment where we present the Gospel to them and they respond in a way of the Holy Spirit drawing them to a point of decision.

"It's always an exciting time to see the Holy Spirit move in this way," he said. "Seeing the boys come forward to make a decision is why we do ministry."

McMillan said the decisions resulted from seeds being intentionally planted, cultivated and harvested.

"That's the end result," McMillan said. "This is an example of why it's vitally important the Gospel be presented at every opportunity."

Dustin Lee, children's minister at First Baptist Lafayette, was able to lead one of the boys in his group to Christ at RA Congress. Lee said the weekly RA meetings at the church played a part in the young man making a decision to accept Jesus as his personal Savior and Lord.

"Leading one of my kids to Christ is my favorite part of being a children's minister," Lee said. "It's also incredible when you get to disciple the new believer and family and have the privilege to baptize them."

Held April 8-9, RA Congress drew 200 RAs from 12 churches. Seven more churches had registered but were unable to come because of the recent flooding.

The two-day conference featured competitions such as archery, BB guns, obstacle course, rope craft and log-sawing, as well as the opportunity to launch a rocket as part of the "Take Flight" theme or the event, based on Psalm 104:4.

RA Congress also included Pinewood Derby and Soap Box car races.

For both competition, participants competed in a series of heats to determine a first place winner for each grade level. These victors advanced to the finals to determine the top three overall champions.

Pinewood Derby Champions:

First Place – Asher Jones, First Baptist Lafayette

Second Place – James Basco, Kingsville Baptist, Pineville

Third Place – Thomas Garbarino, First Baptist Lafayette

Soap Box Derby Champions:

Fastest Crusader – Caleb Savoie, First Baptist Lafayette

Fastest Lad – Ethan Savoie, First Baptist Lafayette

The weekend also featured breakout sessions led by missionaries, including Randy Hales, director of missions for Bienville & Webster-Claiborne Baptist Associations and Philip Vandercook, director of Global Maritime Ministries in New Orleans.

The annual Louisiana Baptist event allows the boys to experience activities they normally might not participate in, said RA consultant Mike Collie.

"Seeing dads get so excited about their sons doing things out here is always a highlight," Collie said. "This camp out allows the boys to be a part of something that will hopefully stay with them for many years to come."

Watching the race cars come down the lane "at super, fast speeds" was a highlight for Jackson Stafford. His dad, Logan, said spending time with his son was a highlight of his weekend.

"Coming out here to spend time with the boys and getting them engaged with missionaries was worth it," said Stafford, a member at First Baptist Pineville. "RA Congress reminds them of the need to learn about cultures and spreading the message of Christ to other parts of the world."

Robert Vicknir, an RA leader from First Baptist Ponchatoula, said RA Congress leaves the boys with an excitement and passion to learn more about Christ and what missionaries do.

"This gives them a jumpstart in the real world, which is important," he said. "Events like this also allow the boys to get around other believers and make friends that can be a positive influence on them."


This article appeared in the Baptist Message (baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Brian Blackwell is a staff writer for the Baptist Message.

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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 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.

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