FROM THE STATES: Tenn., Md. and La. evangelism/missions news; 'It's in our DNA to start churches'

Today's From the States features items from:

Baptist and Reflector (Tennessee)

BaptistLIFE (Maryland)

Baptist Message (Louisiana)

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Tenn. church displays

kingdom vision

By Lonnie Wilkey

COVINGTON, Tenn. (Baptist and Reflector) -- The handwriting has been on the wall for years at Rialto Baptist Church in Covington.

The almost 100-year-old church once was a vibrant congregation with more than 200 members. But as the community transitioned, many members moved away. Many of those who stayed have since died.

As of Jan. 15, Rialto Baptist had about five members plus pastor Carl Funderburk and his wife Jane. Funderburk, 79, has been pastor of Rialto for 14 years. In 2005 Funderburk led his then congregation of 13 members to make plans should the church eventually have to close its doors.

Church members voted to give its facility to Big Hatchie Baptist Association and any money left in its account to the Cooperative Program should the church cease to exist.

Though the church had a limited membership, the people gave faithfully. In the last two years Rialto Baptist sustained major damage from storms and flooding. Both the sanctuary and the fellowship hall were completely remodeled. In addition, both air conditioning units have gone out recently and have been replaced.

"The Lord has gotten things ready for somebody to come here," Funderburk observed.

Recently Funderburk began having a conversation with Thomas Bester, pastor of Forerunner Baptist Church, an African-American congregation in Ripley. For several years Bester had been considering starting a mission/campus in Covington but things had not worked out.

Funderburk took the idea to the members of Rialto and they were "overwhelmingly supportive," he said. Rialto members eventually will consolidate with Forerunner, the pastor added. He noted the remaining members did not want to disband and go to another church. "They want to keep coming here," he stressed.

Church member Carolyn Harper, who will be 74 on Jan. 27, has attended Rialto all of her life. "God has kept our doors open for a reason," she observed, adding that there are a lot of churches with less members than Rialto that have closed.

As for leaving the only church she had known, that's not an option. "I'm here until God takes me home or I can't come," she pledged. "I have never had a desire to go anywhere else."

Bester is grateful for the "saints of Rialto" for allowing Forerunner to establish the Forerunner Covington Campus at Rialto to "do the work of God in this place."

During a joint worship service on Jan. 15, Bester told Rialto members "God is using you to be a blessing to us and a blessing to this community." He thanked the congregation for their desire to see the gospel spread in their community. "We want to carry on the spirit of Rialto in this place," he stressed.

Like Funderburk, Bester has seen God's hand at work in this transition for both churches.

Since he began Forerunner as a new church start in 2002, Bester said his passion and desire has been to start other African-American churches throughout West Tennessee. The church currently has a campus in Brownsville. He has a strong desire to train church planters to help lead the work in rural West Tennessee counties.

"It's in our DNA to start churches," he said.

Bester said initially Forerunner will have services at the Covington campus every other week, from 8:30-10 a.m. Bester will be assisted on the Covington campus by pastor Terrence Henning.

"We have a lot on the table," Bester noted. "This is our opportunity to further carry the vision God gave me when we started Forerunner."

Bester observed that the new work in Covington is an example of both church planting and church revitalization (two of the Five Objectives that are goals of the Tennessee Baptist Convention). "God is doing these things right here," Bester said, adding that the congregation is praying "that the people of Rialto will be revitalized and that we will all worship together."

Funderburk agreed. "We don't want to see our church building not being used. The Lord has a purpose for it," he affirmed.

Clay Gilbreath, director of missions for Big Hatchie Baptist Association said he is "so thankful for the vision of two sister churches to come together like this for the glory of God. I hope many other churches are inspired to work together to impact their communities and world," he said.

The DOM observed that in a world filled with strife and competition, "these two pastors and churches are modeling for the rest of us how we should seek the kingdom of God as one body in Christ.

"It is a privilege to serve with them," he added.


This article appeared in the Baptist and Reflector (tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector.

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Md. church ministers

to the homeless

By Sharon Mager

ESSEX, Md. (BaptistLIFE) -- First Baptist Church of Essex (FBCE) is partnering with "Churches for Streets of Hope," a coalition of at least 30 other local churches from various denominations, to minister to the needs of the homeless.

FBCE opened their doors in November for one week to provide overnight shelter to 16 homeless men. Each evening the guests arrived at 6 pm and left the next day at 6 am. Members from various churches brought hot dinners.

"We've wanted to be more involved in the community and we're blessed with this property. The fellowship hall is self-contained, and we had facilities not being used, including showers," said FBCE Pastor Kevin Gift.

In an effort to be good neighbors, and let the community know FBCE cares, Gift visited several neighbors to make sure they were aware of what the church was doing. Most were very supportive.

Gift said he and several others spent time with the men, getting to know them. A few began regularly attending the church. Unfortunately, one man died in December of an overdose. Gift said that's a sad reality in the area. "Baltimore County has had 500 overdoses over the past year and most of them have been in the Eastern part of the county," he said.

Another man is striving to work his way out of homelessness. Gift said he comes to the church in the morning to take a shower, then goes to Alcoholic Anonymous meetings.

"Two thirds of the men choose to be homeless, they don't want to settle down. But there are others who want to get their life together.

"We want to hear their stories," Gift said. One man was a truck driver who had a heart attack on the road and wrecked his truck. He lost his CDL licensee and his truck. That was his home."

In addition to hosting the men, about a dozen FBCE members, including several youth, help prepare and serve the food at the other churches taking a turn providing winter shelter.

Church members Al and Amber Potts brought the ministry to the attention of Pastor Kevin Gift. The local couple had visited a friend, Dan Hopple, at Dundalk Presbyterian and saw how the shelter operates. They knew FBCE is in a strategic location with great facilities to help the homeless, and they knew it would benefit the church family.

Gift has also participated with the Essex police in an outreach program to help the homeless community. The initiative, led by Captain Andre Davis, is designed to reach out to the homeless and connect them with local shelters, and resources, including churches. Davis sent out requests for community resource representatives and clergy to join him. Gift responded and was the lone clergyman as they visited homeless camps and areas where homeless people congregate, giving them personal supplies. Gift offered prayer.

FBCE wants to get more involved, Gift said, and he is prayerfully leading members to step out and volunteer in a continual effort to let the community know the church is there, ready to love them, and to reach them for the Jesus.

They're looking forward to do more. Longtime church member Mabel Fritch is already crocheting hats so she'll have plenty to give to the men when the men return for the shelter next winter.


This article appeared in BaptistLIFE (baptistlifeonline.org), newsjournal of the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network. Sharon Mager is a correspondent for the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network.

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La. Hispanic Evangelism Conference

touts strategies for growth

By Will Hall

RUSTON, La. (Baptist Message) -- Speaking to a full crowd in the chapel of Temple Baptist Church, Ruston, Jan. 21, featured speaker Mateo Lopez encouraged the audience of pastors and laymen to be intentional in preparing to reap a harvest through evangelism, and, he emphasized going back to the growth "secrets" of the early church in order to expand the Gospel to the world.

Referencing 2 Timothy 4:5, Lopez, a pastor, church planter and teacher at the Indigenous Education Center in Veracruz, Mexico, said believers must be serious about "doing the work of the evangelist."

He said this life emphasis starts with "a personal transformation," and he implored the crowd to seek the Word and pursue "an attitude of obedience."

Lopez concluded the first general session by referencing Isaiah 6:8 which asks "Who shall we send?" and elicits the response, "Here I am. Send me."

Revisiting this passage with the Baptist Message, Lopez said too often readers think "international missions" when reading this text. But he said it actually reflects the Great Commission's charge that "as we go" we are to evangelize, baptize and disciple (Mathew 28:18-20). Furthermore, he said, "Acts 1:8 shows the correct order of priority in missions: Our home, our Jerusalem, then expanding outward as God sends us."

During the second general session, Lopez focused on the Book of Acts to reveal the secrets for church growth.

In particular, Lopez cited Acts 2:47 and the phrase "finding favor with all the people."

He said it is critical for the church to know the needs of the community and to meet those needs in order to "find favor" in sharing the Gospel.

"I don't mean 'social work,'" Lopez explained to the Baptist Message, afterward. "I'm talking about a dual track – physical and spiritual ministry -- where we become carriers of the Gospel in practical ways."

Carlos Schmidt, Louisiana Baptists' Hispanic church planting strategist and organizer of the program, told the Baptist Message he was pleased with the turnout and the response, and that he was particularly happy with the participation in the breakout sessions.

He described these as "four skill-building workshops" developed to impart practical knowledge and to share resources which directly apply to soul-winning:

-- A Southern Baptist missionary who is assigned to Portugal used three overlapping circles to represent evangelism, making the point that every believer should be able to tell three stories as an evangelism approach: the story of a broken world; a personal story of salvation; and, God's story of love for the world.

-- Guillermo Mangieri, Hispanic campus pastor for Istrouma Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, highlighted the importance of telling a story in sermons, emphasizing how Jesus used parables, or narratives, that people could remember in order to convey his teachings. He featured the use of the stories from "Creation to Christ" for effective evangelism.

-- Juan Puente, Spanish pastor with Summer Grove Baptist Church in Shreveport and dean of Hispanic Studies at Louisiana Baptist University, also in that city, led a seminar in "Can we talk?" on how to engage the lost in a conversation that leads to sharing the Gospel.

-- Lopez led a workshop on how to develop an intentional strategy for evangelism.

Schmidt said possibly the best part of the conference was the opportunity to introduce these Louisiana Baptist pastors to the Harvest initiative – a two-year effort to "pray for every home and share the Gospel with every person in Louisiana."

By the end of the conference, 10 pastors had committed to participate with their congregations in the Harvest initiative, he said.

"We passed along important strategies and practical skills for evangelism," Schmidt said, "and we made the case they should use these soul-winning tools as part of our joint effort as Louisiana Baptists to win the state for Christ!"?


This article appeared in the Baptist Message (baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Will Hall is editor of 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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