FROM THE STATES: Ala., Fla., Ky. evangelism/missions news; 'I realized that I really needed to be saved'
Today's From the States features items from:
The Alabama Baptist
Florida Baptist Witness
Western Recorder (Kentucky)
Ala. Judgment House brings
2,000 people to Christ
By Grace Thornton
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- The crew at the River Region Judgment House was getting ready to shut down for the night when young Annye Bennett walked through the door that day in 2012.
"We were closing up, but we talked about it and got things together so that she could go through," said Brian Gay, minister of missions at First Baptist Church, Montgomery.
Annye's friend, Mary Olivia, was an actor in the judgment house -- that's how she got there.
"I had no idea what a judgment house was, I just knew she worked there, so my dad took me to see her," Annye said.
Groups who walk through the judgment house follow the story of two teenagers killed in an accident who are faced with the fate of judgment and then heaven or hell.
Gay said the point of the production isn't to scare people, even though there may be some scariness involved. It is intended to help people see their need for a Savior and then set them on the path of discipleship, he said.
That's exactly what happened for Annye, now a ninth grader.
"As I went through it, especially the hell scene, I realized that I really needed to be saved," she said.
Beyond the event
First, Montgomery, got her plugged in, and she got baptized and began to be discipled in her new faith.
The next year, she was an actress in the judgment house, and she convinced her two brothers to come.
They both got saved.
And about a month ago, thanks to the family's involvement, her mom became involved in church too and gave her life to Christ.
"It's amazing," Gay said. "There have been so many amazing stories out of this event."
River Region House
And that's why five years after Annye came -- the first year of the River Region Judgment House -- the production is still going strong.
"The judgment house concept has been around for more than 30 years, and there used to be one in Montgomery, but they took a break for a while," Gay said. "A few years ago, some guys said, 'Let's restart this in the area.'"
And so they did -- with a partnership that's now grown to more than 20 area churches of different denominations.
"It's really cool seeing the whole body of Christ come together for this," Gay said.
Since they reopened in 2012, nearly 2,000 people have made decisions either to follow Christ for the first time or rededicate their life, he said.
About 500 visitors come through on any given night. And from parking and security to set design and registration, it takes a couple hundred volunteers to run the production.
"We also have a prayer room with people constantly praying," Gay said. "Prayer is not part of our strategy -- it is our strategy."
The judgment house has been an effective tool to share the Gospel with neighbors like Annye, he said. "Bottom line, it's about seeing lives changed and lost people come to Christ."
In 2015 one man who was driving by saw the sign and decided to stop by with his kid, Gay said.
"He got saved, ended up joining the church and got baptized," he said. "And then when the pastor went out to visit him and follow up, he met the man's brother, and his brother received Christ too."
A week later, that brother passed away.
Hearing the gospel
"Just because that man came to the Judgment House, his brother heard the Gospel. And that's just one story of the hundreds and hundreds who come through the judgment house," Gay said.
It really works, he said.
"It's not just a flash in the pan where people raise their hands. We're doing our very best to follow up with people and make sure they get plugged in and become real disciples of Christ," Gay said. "It's an amazing ministry that has seen amazing fruit."
Reed DePace, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Montgomery, said his church has chosen to partner with First, Montgomery, and other churches to put on the Judgment House because it builds up the body of Christ in the church and community.
Taking the next step
"It's a phenomenal ministry," he said. "It encourages the people in our church to share the Gospel, and it presents that message in a very clear way for the community."
At the end of the Judgment House walk through, every visitor who raises his or her hand and asks to learn more, that's an easy witnessing opportunity, DePace said. "This event is a good way to get back to the basics -- the reality of judgment, the reality of hell and the reality of Jesus as the solution."
The River Region Judgment House will be open 6–9 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays beginning Oct. 12. Starting Oct. 26, it will run every night through Oct. 31.
It is located at 4003 Eastern Boulevard in Montgomery.
For more information or to register a group, visit www.judgmenthouse.org.
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Grace Thornton is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.
Fla. food ministry gets $10,000
grant from Publix Charities
By Keila Diaz
ISLAMORADA, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness) -- Community Ministries of First Baptist Church Islamorada recently received a $10,000 grant from Publix Super Markets Charities.
The ministry, which started in 2000, has expanded from being a small food bank to providing 10 pounds of canned goods and fresh produce weekly to 100-200 families and a hot meal once a week to more than 70 people, in addition to clothes and haircuts. The ministry serves about 7,000 people per year.
Jonathan Elwing, who has been pastoring in the Florida Keys since 2012, says that through the ministry the church has become well-known in the Islamorada community and that people who are not members of the church consider him their pastor and see the church as a refuge.
The ministry has an annual budget of approximately $8,000.
In addition to paying for costs of the ministry such as electricity and water, the Publix grant money will go toward projects that have been on hold.
"The money will help us complete projects that have been sitting on the table just lacking the funds to do them," said Elwing.
Some of those projects include buying a new stove to continue to provide hot meals once a week -- volunteers have been using a broken stove to do the job for the past couple of years.
Publix Super Markets Charities' donation to FBC Islamorada is part of a $5 million donation to the Feeding America network, which includes 28 member food banks and 38 local partners nationwide.
Donations to 21 Florida-based food ministries ranged from $10,000 to $26,500, totaling $366,500.
Elwing says the grant is approximately $2,000 more than the church applied for.
According to the press release issued by Publix Super Markets Charities, Community Ministries was the only Southern Baptist-affiliated food ministry in Florida that received funding.
Most of the people the Islamorada food pantry serves are working several jobs to make ends meet, says Elwing.
"We don't deal strictly with homeless people. By and large the majority of people are folks who are working three to four jobs trying to make ends meet in the hospitality industry, and they can't survive on the wages that they make."
He remembers the case of a man who visited the pantry recently for the first time.
"... He was broken because he had moved into the area not very long ago and between all the families' bills they had not enough money for their groceries. We were able to help them carry through the week."
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are more than 48 million Americans living in food insecure households, which means that they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food for a healthy life.
"The statistics are alarming, especially as it pertains to our children," said Carol Jenkins Barnett, president of Publix Super Markets Charities.
"As we prepare for a new school year, many families are left grappling with the reality that they are food insecure. We continue to hear about the need for fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy from Feeding America. Our $5 million donation will help Feeding America member food banks and their local partner agencies with the procurement, collection, transportation and distribution of even more wholesome, perishable foods to children and families. Our foundation is dedicated to giving the gift of nourishment and hope to our communities."
Elwing is very thankful for the Publix Super Markets Charities grant, which will allow FBC Islamorada to continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus in its community.
This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Keila Diaz is a reporter for the Florida Baptist Witness.
Ky. church now known more
for Gospel than catfish
By Todd Gray
HARDIN, Ky. (Western Recorder) -- Thirty-three years ago, no one would have dreamed that Hardin Baptist Church would be what it is today.
When the church extended a call to Pastor Ricky Cunningham, who was in his early 20s at the time, the congregation averaged about 60 people in attendance and met in a building that would accommodate 120. Today, the church has relocated to a more visible location and ministers to about 1,250 people each Sunday.
Recently, Pastor Cunningham shared what he felt the Lord used to grow the church in this unusual degree. His answers are helpful to others who are laboring and praying to see a church become more effective in its mission.
The people were willing to follow their pastor. When he came as pastor, Cunningham said, there was a sense of desperation among church members. They knew they were stagnant and needed to do something to move forward, but they did not know what.
"I like to say the church was hungry to do what God wanted them to do as a church because they recognized that at their current pace, if they didn't change things, their future was not good," he said.
For a church to move forward, there must be an agreement between pastor and congregation that the status quo is no longer working and something has to change. Cunningham shared, "They told me that if I would lead them, they would follow -- and, buddy, they did."
They remodeled their sanctuary. The old facility -- the one they were using 33 years ago -- needed repair and updating. "A church building says something about the way you feel about the things of God," Cunningham asserted.
The way a church takes care of its facility communicates to outsiders, he observed. Churches that fix items that need to be repaired, work hard at cleanliness, and keep the lawn and parking lot neat make a statement to those who pass by their building. It is often the case that a church that has experienced turn-around did exactly what Hardin Baptist did.
They started a second service. While the church agreed that a second service was needed due to new people coming, the service itself was considered a failure. Cunningham explained, "Hardin Baptist was a family church. All the young people started coming to the early service, which was negatively affecting its family culture."
The church voted to return to one service, and instead built a building that would accommodate the growth God was sending. After Cunningham had been there four years, the church constructed a sanctuary that would seat 330 people.
"We thought that would hold us until Jesus came," he said. It didn't.
The church could not afford to hire a contractor, so they borrowed money for materials and used skilled laborers in the church. They have since relocated about a mile from their original site and built a facility to accommodate 675 people in worship. They now have three services and average between 1,200 and 1,300 people.
"They had such a good experience building the other building with volunteer labor that they built this one the same way," Cunningham said.
They became intentionally evangelistic. Cunningham went through "Continued Witness Training" because he knew how to share his faith, but he did not have a good plan for equipping others to witness.
As a result of the CWT process, church leaders began equipping people to the point that when Hardin reached 200 in church, 100 of them were equipped through CWT.
"The first 13 weeks we went out sharing our faith, we had 13 people receive Christ, and they all got baptized at another church," he recalled.
This did not discourage the folks at Hardin Baptist, as they saw personal evangelism as Kingdom work. "Training those people to share gave us a culture of intentional evangelism, winning people to Christ," Cunningham noted.
The culture of the church became so evangelistic that when it came time to do a church directory, those in charge would not let the pastor be photographed sitting behind a desk. Instead, they had him go and knock on someone's door because that was closer to the nature of his leadership.
The pastor focused on preaching. For most of the 33 years that he has been at Hardin, Cunningham has worked bi-vocationally as a farmer. He and his family farm several hundred acres of land in West Kentucky. As a pastor, he puts his ministry efforts into the preparation and practice of preaching.
"When I came to Hardin, the people decided that we were going to preach 'The Book,'" he said. "We decided that I would preach through books of the Bible and deal biblically with every topic that came up. They remain committed to the Bible."
While every church will not follow the path taken by Hardin Baptist Church. There are experiences here that others can learn from. They have made a commitment to the Gospel, to the community and to reach the lost, and the Lord has honored their commitment.
"Thirty-three years ago, Hardin was famous for catfish and a local restaurant had a particularly strong reputation. In my trial sermon, I said that I hoped one day that Hardin was more known for the Gospel than for catfish," he recalled.
The restaurant has since relocated to a neighboring town, but the Gospel is still being proclaimed loud and clear.
This article appeared in the Western Recorder, newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Todd Gray leads the Kentucky Baptist Convention's Evangelism and Church Planting Team.
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.