FROM THE STATES: Ala., Calif. and N.C. evangelism/missions news; 'They became the people of my heart'

Today's From the States features items from: The Alabama Baptist; California Southern Baptist; Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)


Ala. church members bring hope of

Christ to Amazon River basin

By Grace Thornton

BOAZ, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- When Alabama Baptist Ty Harris went on a missions trip to the Amazon River Basin several years ago, one thing quickly became clear to him. People there were hungry for Jesus.

And the more people who could go share with them, the more people who could hear.

"When I went the first time to the Amazon River, I just fell in love with the people of Brazil," said Harris, a member of Sardis Baptist Church, Boaz. "I just wanted to keep going back."

But the cost of a trip like Harris' was high and he knew he wouldn't be able to go as often as he wanted with a price tag like that. He figured there might be others in the same boat.

"So God put it on my heart to start an organization," Harris said.

His solution? To get everybody in a different boat.

"We bought our own boat so that way we wouldn't have to rent one every time," he said. "That's really kept our costs down."

And as a nonprofit organization -- Amazon Hope -- Harris and others have employed a group of Brazilian men to serve as boat captains, river guides, cooks and missionaries.

Follow up

"During the year they travel and scout out the people along the river and then in the summer we go back and follow up with those people and take teams to evangelize them," Harris said. "We don't just go in and leave -- it's a long-term effort and we partner with Brazilian pastors who go back in and do discipleship after we're gone."

Four million people live in as many as 33,000 unreached villages along the Amazon River and its tributaries. A number of those villages are indigenous people totally isolated from outside contact, nestled deep in the jungle.

But others are reachable by several days on the boat and open their arms to welcome teams from Amazon Hope.

The boat can sleep 30 people in cabins and an additional 20 people in hammocks. Groups sail down the Amazon on six- to nine-day trips, stopping along the way and investing in villages, doing door-to-door evangelism and showing the "JESUS" film.

"So many times when people come on trips, they want to come back and bring more people with them," Harris said. "It's so contagious on the river."

That's what happened to Harris--— and what happened to Zac Goforth, who led Harris on that first trip several years ago.

'People of my heart'

"It just kind of caught my heart," said Goforth, associate pastor of students and family life at Sardis Baptist.

"I'd been on trips before but this one was just different."

Harris agreed. "They became the people of my heart."

The villages are right along the river and they live "very poor subsistence lifestyles," Goforth said.

But, he said, they're wealthy by their standards -- they have food and they have a roof over their heads.

Harris agreed. "They think they are the richest people in the world," he said. "The only thing they hunger for is the Gospel."

Churches interested in bringing teams on a trip with Amazon Hope can book the entire boat with 15 or more people or they can combine smaller groups with other churches.

"Individuals are welcome too," Harris said. "You don't have to have a church group to come on a trip."

In addition to door-to-door evangelism, opportunities for ministry on the trips range from peacock bass fishing to medical work to construction.

"It's a huge blessing every time," Harris said. "God pours into us so much on each and every trip."

For more information, call Harris at 256-458-4427 or visit

This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (, newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Grace Thornton is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.


Calif. Baptist association

reaches to Philippines

By Karen L. Willoughby

LANCASTER, Calif. (California Southern Baptist) -- Not content to be the largest association geographically in California, High Desert Baptist Association has stretched its boundaries to include the Philippines.

Director of Missions Don Parker, who visits High Desert churches every week, happened to be at Lancaster's First Filipino Baptist Church the Sunday pastor Abner Abanes told the congregation the latest news of their church plant in Bataan, west of Manila on the Bataan peninsula of the Philippine Islands. Abanes' plea was for financial help to assist in building a facility to house the growing work and disciple new believers.

"I heard him, and I was compelled to follow up on his request," Parker told the California Southern Baptist. "To do the work they're doing requires sister churches to help."

But the Philippines? More than 7,500 miles away?

"It doesn't matter where it is," Parker declared. "That's the heart of churches in our association."

Under the leadership of now-retired pastor Wayne Stockstill and current pastor Richard Spring, First Baptist Church in Hesperia has planted several churches near Tarma, Peru. First Baptist Church in California City sent six people in April to assist a church in Glenrothes, Scotland.

Randy Howard, senior pastor of The Gate Church in Victorville and his executive pastor, Charles Speelman, "are all over the world, helping to train pastors and to plant churches," Parker said. The church also has built orphanages in India and Kenya, as well as helping sponsor new work in High Desert Association.

But this is the first time the association itself has partnered to plant a church in a different nation.

"In Southern Baptist life, churches start churches," Parker said. "In this case, it is the association's churches working cooperatively, as Southern Baptists do."

"'You have not because you ask not,'" Parker explained when asked why the Philippines rather than any other nation on earth. "And as I look back it clearly was the Spirit of God directing us."

Abanes has proven to have the skills and commitment to start a church, Parker noted. Under Abanes' leadership over the last 18 years, First Filipino has doubled in size, from 50 to 100 in Sunday morning worship. Over the last 10 years, some 60 people have been baptized.

Finances have not kept pace with growth and ministries, however, and starting a church plant in the Philippines has further taxed the congregation's available resources.

"He's led the church to become a strong work," Parker said of Abanes. "He has a great missions heart."

Abanes also has a heart for his homeland and his hometown. When he saw there was no evangelical witness in Bataan, he felt led to start a church, with himself leading it until God-called men come to the Lord and are discipled and trained as pastors.

He goes "at great personal sacrifice," Parker noted, for three- to four-month stints in Bataan, leaving his wife Lolit and six daughters in Lancaster. He leaves First Filipino in the hands of a pastor he imports temporarily from the Philippines.

The Bataan church often has 90 or more in Sunday morning worship, and about 60 in Sunday School. Ninety gather at three locations for midweek prayer services, and each afternoon during the week Abanes hosts a discipleship training seminar attended by 25 men and women.

"He does an extensive amount of equipping people and discipling people, so the foundation he's laying for that church plant is a secure situation," Parker said. "It's a tremendous opportunity to reach people with the Gospel."

As of early March, 15 people were scheduled to be baptized on April 1. That number grew to 20 by late March. With similar evidence of God at work, High Desert's missions committee led the association as of January to support the Bataan church plant with prayer and with a $300 check each month for up to three years.

"It's helping Abner lay the foundation for purchasing property and building a building," Parker explained. "The dream is to send people as well as financial support."

While its pastor is in Bataan and a substitute pastor is in Lancaster, First Filipino continues local ministry efforts including plans to start a church approximately 65 miles away in the Victor Valley area.

This article appeared in the California Southern Baptist (, newsjournal of the California Southern Baptist Convention. Karen Willoughby is a freelance writer in Mapleton, Utah.


N.C. Baptist association to purchase

safe house for trafficking victims

By Liz Tablazon

HIGH POINT, N.C. (Biblical Recorder) -- North Carolina was among the top 10 states with the highest number of human trafficking cases reported in the United States, according to a 2016 report by the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Female victims made up 83 percent of reported cases of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation in the state; 31 percent involved minors; and 29 percent involved foreign nationals who were not U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

These victims need "a place to restructure their lives and find true freedom in Christ," said Sandra Johnson, founder of Triad Ladder of Hope in High Point. So, the nonprofit organization is taking steps toward offering a new resource for women rescued from sex trafficking: a safe house where they can begin the process of healing and restoration.

For 12 years Ladder of Hope has raised awareness locally about human trafficking.

The organization educates surrounding communities on how to recognize victims. The team also works directly with several human trafficking agencies, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, local law enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to help rescue victims and meet immediate and long-term needs.

Johnson, a mission service corps missionary with the North American Mission Board, said in an interview with the Biblical Recorder that Ladder of Hope has raised enough funds to purchase a house.

They are actively searching for property and a location that will meet their needs and provide safety and protection for rescued victims.

"We want a place that will help promote quiet for healing, as well as a place that allows the development of a family relationship with each other and us," said Johnson.

The safe house will provide resources such as medical care, trauma counseling, job skills training and, if necessary, legal aid. Before Ladder of Hope can open the safe house to victims, they will need furniture and other household items, as well as supplies and a security system.

Johnson said monthly utility bills should resemble a typical household, including electricity, water, internet and food. "If you need it at your house, we will need it too," she said.

Recognizing victims

When Ladder of Hope gives educational presentations at churches or organizations, staff members teach groups how to identify victims of trafficking. Common signs and red flags include lack of personal documentation, passport or visa; evidence of physical or psychological abuse; odd or long working hours; lack of knowledge of local community; and fear of law enforcement or local authority.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, traffickers often isolate victims from their families and ethnic and religious communities; threaten violence toward them and their families; and deceive them to believe they will be imprisoned or deported if they contact authorities.

Such tactics instill fear especially in victims who do not speak English and are from countries that fear corrupt law enforcement.

Ladder of Hope encourages people to call the Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline at (888) 373-7888 if they think they have encountered a victim. Johnson and her team often receive referrals and victims' information from the hotline.

Johnson said, in addition to financial support, the Ladder of Hope staff needs prayer to continue to do their job effectively.

"Unless we are healing from our own personal trauma and growing in the Lord, we have no hope of having an effective part of the girls' healing," she said.

For more resources and information about human trafficking, or to make a donation, visit Donations or pledges may be specified for safe house maintenance and can be mailed to P.O. Box 3051, Salisbury, NC 28145 or P.O. Box 470, High Point, NC 27261.

This article appeared in the Biblical Recorder (, newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Liz Tablazon is a staff writer for the Biblical Recorder


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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