FROM THE STATES: N.C., N.M., Miss. evangelism/missions news; 'Showing concern makes a big impact in our community'

Today's From the States features items from:

Baptist State Convention of North Carolina

Baptist New Mexican

The Baptist Record (Mississippi)

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N.C. coats help people

in N.Y. find Christ

By Mike Creswell

NEW YORK (Baptist State Convention of North Carolina) -- Last December, a 58-year-old man was baptized in New York City.

Any baptism is cause for celebration, but this Bangladeshi man had been Muslim until he came to faith in Jesus Christ late last year. It was a quiet baptism, performed in a bathtub.

North Carolina Baptists helped that happen, through their Coats for the City project last year. The coats project, done each year over the past four years in partnership with the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association, asks North Carolina Baptists to collect new or lightly used coats. Baptist State Convention of North Carolina staffers collect the thousands of coats and truck them to New York, where they are distributed by new churches in their local neighborhoods about the city.

Last November local Baptists set up tables in the Jamaica section of Queens, tables piled high with those coats from North Carolina. They also distributed hot tea as the local Baptists and North Carolina Baptist volunteers talked to the hundreds of people who gathered for coats.

Jamaica, like its more famous sister neighborhood, Jackson Heights, is an area in Queens where many people from Bangladesh and surrounding Asian countries have settled. Men wearing turbans sip chai at sidewalk cafés; women wearing Indian saris or Islamic burqas shop for Asian clothing among the many shops catering to them.

One local Christian man who handed out coats was another man from Bangladesh we'll call Russell.

When Russell helped the then-Muslim man from Bangladesh find a coat, the two talked.

Home visits and long discussions of faith followed. Russell was happy when the man decided to become a follower of Christ and followed in baptism. Since then Russell has been meeting with him for discipling.

That has gone well; that new baptized believer has already led a Muslim Bengali woman to faith in Christ. She was baptized in June this year.

Russell said the coats project is a great idea.

"The coats provide a bridge to local people," he said. "Showing concern makes a big impact in our community. Many people live here in poverty."

He smiled sadly as he said, "Even some of my own family who will not even talk to me (because he is Christian) nevertheless lined up to get coats," he said.

The new believer cannot be identified for security reasons. Russell's own background says much about the extreme persecution that can be directed at people who leave Islam to follow Jesus.

Like many others here, Russell was born in Bangladesh in an Islamic family and grew up Muslim. As he grew up in a heavily Muslim area of Bangladesh, he knew nothing of Christianity. He went to prayers as required of Muslims.

Outwardly his life seemed to be going well. He was able to study engineering in Denmark, where he learned English. He returned to Bangladesh when his mother became seriously ill with Addison's disease.

Russell noticed that his mother often read from a book with no cover; sometimes he found her weeping as she read. One day she handed him the book. "Read this book and be blessed," she told him.

He took the book from her, but it was two months before he got around to opening it. He was shocked to see that it was a Bible. "Mom, why did you give me this book?" Russell asked because he knew Muslims were forbidden to read it.

But, out of respect for his mother, Russell began reading the New Testament. At first he was confused at four different versions of the life of Jesus. His mother explained that the four Gospels were written by four different witnesses. "They say the same thing, therefore, it is true," she said simply.

Russell was shaken to his soul by the powerful truths he read. He struggled between the Islamic teachings he had grown up with and the Bible he now read. He focused his study on four people Islam's book, the Koran, calls prophets: Moses, Abraham, Jesus and Mohammed.

He quickly saw that Jesus was not a prophet; rather, he had a divine character and spoke with divine authority. "Even in the Koran, Jesus was portrayed as divine. The others were just flesh and bone," he concluded.

As a Muslim, he was carrying shame and guilt and was living a sinful life. He had seen peace neither in his own life nor in his Islamic culture, where he said hatred was the norm. But when he read the New Testament, he found Jesus urging His followers to love one's enemies. "That made a lot of sense in my heart," he recalled.

One day he was so spiritually oppressed, he opened the Bible and read the third and 14th chapters of John over and over. He was born again. "This time was so awesome! It was like speaking to me. I knelt down and I started praying to Jesus." Russell felt God welcome him into His family. The year was 2001.

He sought out other Christians to help him grow in his faith. Amazingly, some refused to help him. He finally found an evangelical pastor in Chittagong, the port city of Bangladesh, who welcomed him into a Bible study.

Being a follower of Jesus in a Muslim land is hard. He was afraid to leave his apartment building because of persecution. He recalls being so afraid his knees literally shook.

Russell was beaten more times than he could count. He points to scars on his hands and a scar on his head from attacks, then to a tooth that was broken when he was thrown to the ground and hit with a rock.

His future wife came to faith in Christ through a supernatural dream. Eventually the two were able to move to New York. They have a young son. Now Russell, 38, is intent on starting a new church in Jamaica, Queens.

"I'm passionate to reach my people for Christ," he said. And God has rewarded his zeal, for he has seen 27 Bangladeshis become Christians. Coats from North Carolina were a factor in several of these conversions.


This article appeared in the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Michael D. Creswell is senior consultant for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

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Food Pantry helps struggling

families in N.M.

By Sandy Montoya

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Baptist New Mexican) -- On Thursday, March 17, 2016, Ramon, age 78, arrived at East Mesa Baptist Church's food pantry on Hwy. 70 in northeast Las Cruces hoping to receive food for himself and his wife. Disabled, and with adult children living outside the area, Ramon and his wife struggle to make ends meet. They are grateful for the support the church's food pantry offers.

EMBC's food pantry is one of several outreach ministry efforts at the church, according to pastor James Pratt. For the past two years the church has opened its doors every Thursday at 9 a.m. to East Mesa area residents in need of food or other assistance. "Sometimes we have as many as 13 to 15 families seeking help, but the average is seven to eight families a week," Pratt said.

Families or individuals may request a food box once a month. Once a quarter they may request gas or utility bill assistance. Those making requests must provide a picture ID and a utility bill with a current address. These items verify that they they live in the local geographic area. Before the church established these guidelines, people throughout the area inundated the ministry with requests. The demand exceeded the church's resources. So, the congregation determined they could only assist families in the vicinity of the church, though they still make occasional exceptions.

The Southern Baptist Convention's Global Hunger Relief initiative (globalhungerrelief.com) funds the food pantry. GHR funds both domestic and international hunger programs. The SBC's North American Mission Board administers the domestic side of GHR activities. According to NAMB's website, its Hunger Relief Ministry "assists churches, associations and state conventions in the process of distributing food so the gospel can be shared with people in need." "In meeting a person's physical needs, opportunities are created to address his or her spiritual needs."

Because the generous Cooperative Program giving of local Southern Baptist churches and the participation of local partners like EMBC cover hunger relief overhead costs, 100 percent of GHR funds feed hungry people. According to NAMB, other humanitarian organizations spend 30-70 percent of donations on staff and other overhead to operate their operations.

Also, EMBC collects a benevolence offering once a month among church members. Those donations supplement the GHR dollars, allowing the ministry to also assist families with utility bills.

The pantry's food comes from several sources. Sometimes, individuals donate food directly to the pantry. But, most of the food is purchased from the Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico. The Roadrunner Food Bank secures food donations from national companies. Then, it distributes the food to soup kitchens and food pantries like the one at EMBC for a minimal cost. With a required $80 minimum order, EMBC selects food items from a weekly list of available products, which the food bank delivers to the church on Wednesdays, just in time to prepare for Thursday morning distribution.

The Las Cruces Gospel Rescue Mission also provides food for the pantry. EMBC supports the Rescue Mission through its monthly budget. Whenever available, the Rescue Mission donates its excess food to local church food pantries, including EMBC. An EMBC member picks up and delivers the Rescue Mission food donations every Thursday morning.

Since large donations of perishable bread and produce are donated to EMBC every week, the church donates unused perishable items to the local Butterfield Community Center, which is able to quickly distribute the leftover goods to neighborhood residents. No food items are wasted.

Bernice Sanchez, an EMBC member, leads the food pantry effort. Pastor Pratt recalls, after asking her to pray about taking over the ministry, that she was reluctant -- because she felt she was too shy and that her Spanish was not fluent enough. However, Bernice stepped into the role, leaning upon her faith. "Since Bernice took over, I have watched her grow tremendously, and the ministry has blossomed," Pratt said. "Bernice shows compassion to the families and individuals who seek help and often provides a listening ear to someone who just needs to know somebody cares about them." Other EMBC volunteers who assist with picking up and distributing food are Jerry and Pauline Wisdom, Jess Bethany, and Ray Criswell.


This article appeared in the Baptist New Mexican (resources.bcnm.com), newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. Sandy Montoya writes for the Baptist New Mexican.

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More than 80 TELL ME

evangelism rallies set for Miss.

By Tony Martin

JACKSON, Miss. (The Baptist Record) -- Over 80 locations across Mississippi have committed to host "TELL ME" rallies in 2017 as part of an evangelism strategy to reach the state's residents for Christ.

The rallies will take place at churches, city parks, courthouses, and other venues in a coordinated effort between the churches involved, local Baptist associations, and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board (MBCB).

The first rally will be held on January 17 at Cats's Cave in Forest (Scott Association). The final rally is scheduled for March 30 in Adams Association. In the weeks in between, rallies are planned for every county and association in the state.

"Please make an effort to join us at one or many of these events," said Jim Futral, MBCB executive director-treasurer. "What is a TELL ME rally? Believers will be gathering in every county seat for a brief time of worship and seeking a fresh word from God. Our prayer is that each event will be an encounter with Jesus that will be passed on to others. Choose a place you would like to attend. Pray and come expecting a blessing."

Steve Stone, rallies coordinator and MBCB associate executive director for church growth, said, "The focus of the rallies is to invite our church members to come and be challenged in their walk and witness with Christ. This is the TELL ME component of the 'Tell Someone' emphasis [an overall evangelism strategy for 2017].

The emphasis is designed to encourage people to learn how to engage in a Gospel conversation, invite people to church, and share their faith. Participants are encouraged to pray for their church to catch a passion to reach the lost, pray daily for at least three lost people by name, and attend a rally near them.

"After the Lord spoke to His people, He had someone with whom He wanted to connect them to hear about the saving grace of God," Stone said. "Our prayer is that this fall, churches will promote an evangelistic emphasis through Sunday School or their small group ministry and begin to build relationships with the unchurched.

"As those relationships mature, then our people may invite them to one of the TELL ME rallies to hear an inspiring message from Dr. Futral. The TELL ME rallies are not an end in themselves, but a step in the process to keep our people engaged in evangelism."

Dates, sites and times have been secured for the majority of the rallies. Information can be found at mbcb.org/tellsomeone/locations/. Information on certain rallies may be subject to change. Local associational missions directors can also be contacted for venue information.

"This is certainly one of those experiences where we can do more together than alone," said Stone.

For more information, contact Stone at P.O. Box 530, Jackson, MS 39205-0530, Telephone: (601) 292-3310 or toll-free outside Jackson (800) 748-1651, ext. 310. E-mail: sstone@mbcb.org.


This article appeared in The Baptist Record, newsjournal of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board (mbcb.org). Tony Martin is associate editor of The Baptist Record.

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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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