FROM THE STATES: Tenn., Calif. and Ill. evangelism/missions news; 'I realized I had to find a way to impact my Jerusalem'

Today's From the States features items from:

Baptist and Reflector (Tennessee)

California Southern Baptist

Illinois Baptist

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Tenn. Backyard Kids

Clubs extend VBS' reach

By Lonnie Wilkey

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (Baptist and Reflector) -- For those who think Vacation Bible School is outdated and no longer works, think again.

National statistics show that 25 percent of all baptisms reported by Southern Baptist Convention churches are a result of Vacation Bible School, said Vicki Hulsey, childhood specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.

"That's very strong evidence that Vacation Bible School still works and that it's one of the strongest, if not the strongest, evangelistic arms of the church," she said.

Churches all across Tennessee will be conducting Vacation Bible School this summer. Some will be of the traditional variety, but many churches are finding that the "day of putting a sign up in the yard" inviting kids to VBS doesn't work anymore, said Donna Blaydes, preschool and Bible drill specialist for the TBMB.

Blaydes observed that Backyard Kids Clubs are changing the way some churches approach VBS. A Backyard Kids Club takes VBS outside the walls of the church into communities, she said, noting that larger numbers of unchurched children attend as a result.

Like VBS, Backyard Kids Club is not a new concept. It has been around for years, Hulsey said, but was used more as a one-time only event in mobile home parks or apartment complexes. As a result, no lasting relationships were built, she observed.

Churches that use Backyard Kids Club as a Vacation Bible School normally go into the same neighborhoods year after year, Hulsey said. "We see a difference when you go back to the same location over and over again." In addition, you are reaching your own communities, she emphasized.

Hulsey, a member of Hermitage Hills Baptist Church, Hermitage, speaks from experience. Several years ago HHBC thought they were doing a great job with VBS only to discover through some investigation that there were "thousands of kids in our community that not only did not go to our VBS, but they weren't going to any other VBS either.”

"We realized we could not continue doing it the way we were doing it." As a result the church held several Backyard Kids Clubs that year including one at her own house. "I realized I had to find a way to impact my Jerusalem." Nine years later, she is still doing them.

And, it does not have to be VBS or Backyard Kids Club, added Blaydes, who also serves as children's minister for New Hopewell Baptist Church in Knoxville. It can be both. She said New Hopewell Baptist offers a traditional VBS at the church and conducts Backyard Kids Club in the community.

Taking VBS into the communities through the clubs helps build relationships that lead to other witnessing and ministry opportunities, the two women agreed. "Kids will come ring my doorbell to introduce me to a new kid in the neighborhood," Hulsey said.

Through the years Hulsey began to realize that though she had built relationships with the children and their parents, it was still difficult to get them to attend the church for even special events like a fall festival. So she began to plan other special events throughout the year such as a cookout and holiday parties. Relationships that are built in these settings lead the people to contact her when they have prayer needs. That, in turn, can lead to ministry and witnessing opportunities, Hulsey said.

Regardless of whether a church does traditional VBS, Backyard Kids Club or a combination of both, followup is imperative, both women agreed.

Blaydes said that at her church followup actually begins at registration. When the children register, parents also register, she said. "We need to make sure that we have the information we need to be able to get back in contact with these parents.

"We can begin to build relationships. Having their children in VBS for a week opens the door to that home," Blaydes said.

Followup has to be intentional, she added. "Contacting and building relationships with those parents has to be part of your process to the extent that you plan and you enlist workers to greet them in the parking lot and take them to the registration table or classroom," Blaydes said.

"We can't forget them. We have to develop that relationship because that's what's going to help us continue their connection with our church," she added.

For more information about VBS or Backyard Kids Club and training opportunities, contact Hulsey at vhulsey@tnbaptist.org or 615-417-7015 or Blaydes at dblaydes@tnbaptist.org or 865-850-0455.


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

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Calif. Middle Eastern conference

offers opportunities for evangelism

By Staff

AZUSA, Calif. (California Southern Baptist) -- The following is taken from an application for a grant from California Southern Baptist Convention. It presents information about the Middle Eastern Southern Baptist Conference held every year over the July 4 holiday, at Azusa Pacific University.

What was the approximate number in attendance in 2016?

The morning sessions typically have between 200 and 400 in attendance, depending on the day; weekends have the most. The evening sessions usually have approximately 600 in attendance. There are different people who come to the sessions, so it's not necessarily the same 200-600.

How many salvation decisions were made there?

Approximately 150 came forward to ask for salvation; however, many others have renewed their commitment one-on-one with pastors who are present.

What are some significant results from the conference?

The impact is significant because it is a family-oriented event. That means that children who have no exposure to the Bible might hear about Jesus Christ and salvation for the first time. The conference gives children an opportunity to ask questions about the Bible and be surrounded by believers who lead by example. Many of the children who were saved in our conference years ago are now missionaries, lead their own churches and have witnessed to many.

Also, the conference gives the chance for a Christian to bring their non-Christian spouse to hear about salvation, and often we've seen that result in the non-Christian spouse accepting Christ. We believe this is important because a two-parent Christian family is important for their children as they navigate through life and try to find the meaning of life.

The conference has also played a beautiful role in reuniting families and estranged spouses. There are various sessions that address issues such as forgiveness, loving one another and reconciliation, that help estranged family members see that Jesus is the common denominator for their progress. Also, there is informal support through pastors who are present to address individual needs.

Although it is very difficult to convert a Muslim, there are always a few Muslims present at the conference to hear the Word of God. This is significant because of the cultural and religious ramification of their attendance if discovered by their families. To help those who have an open heart, we've asked converted Muslims to share stories of their salvation to attendees who are Muslims, Christians and non-Christians.

Portions of the sessions are directed to help Christians strengthen their faith and understanding of the Bible's teachings. There are many new Middle Eastern churches that may or may not emphasize basic principles and teachings of the Bible that are foundational to the Christian walk. We try to help bridge that gap by offering such sessions.

The conference programs are also designed to indirectly help Christians and non-Christians understand the American life so they are better citizens who can uphold our principles. The majority of participants are Coptic, Orthodox or Catholic. They are often persecuted in their home countries for their religion and therefore have learned to stay silent and afraid about sharing their cultural and religious identity. This conference helps teach them about the freedoms given to us in our country, and helps inspire them to break away from their fears of such persecution in order to witness to others. Teaching them the American way is important in this regard -- they are taught that it is not only politically and socially acceptable to profess their salvation and to witness to others, but a mandate from the Bible to witness to others.

We believe the conference has had the most impact on giving Middle Easterners exposure to Southern Baptists. This conference (and 2016 in particular) enjoys the largest attendance as compared to those of other denominations. We invite speakers from the Convention to come every year (last year Randy McWhorter and Phil Kell spoke) to teach about the Bible but also to talk about what they do for the Convention and what the Convention does for the community at large.

Conference history

We started in 1978 with 75 attendees of Middle Eastern descent. The conference has grown significantly since then with the largest attendance in 2013 with around 1,000 people (at Biola University). The largest attendance was generally attributable to the central location of the conference, but we've moved to Asuza since then to lower our costs, and have stabilized our attendance at 600.

Our Middle Eastern conference has had a tremendous influence in our communities. Although the largest attendance comes from those living in Southern California, we have many who come from out of state. We are honored to host Middle Easterners (and neighbors of the Middle East) from a variety of nations including Egypt, Syria, Libya, Sudan, the Palestinian region, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Tunisia and Armenia.


This article appeared in the California Southern Baptist (csbc.com/news), newsjournal of the California Southern Baptist Convention.

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Ill. churches serve neighbors

in 'Missions Spectacular'

By Staff

ST. LOUIS (Illinois Baptist) -- Summer is an excellent season for invigorating a missions spirit in a congregation, as 200 members of several IBSA churches learned on June 4. IBSA's annual Missions Spectacular put church members to work on projects at several locations nearby, with the intent of fueling more missionary outreach in more distant places.

"Missions Spectacular is a first-time event that gets people contagious for missions," said IBSA's Mark Emerson. "Church groups come and have an a-ha! moment. They think, we could do this in our own community." It's part of IBSA's larger missions strategy patterned on the verse Acts 1:8.

As associate executive director for the church resources team, Emerson spearheads missions mobilization along with directors Carmen Halsey and Dwayne Doyle. In 2016, 22,000 members of IBSA churches reported being active in their mission fields, ranging for those closest to home, to mission trips on the far side of the globe.

The Acts 1:8 strategy encourages commitment on four fields, drawing on the geographic missions description Jesus gave the disciples just before His ascension: Jerusalem (local missions), Judea (nearby regions, such as the state), Samaria (national), and the ends of the earth (international).

This year, the projects focused on two areas on the Illinois side of the St. Louis metro area. One work group continued the renovation work at Christian Activity Center in East St. Louis. For more than 30 years, the center has provided tutoring, recreation and after-school care for children in their impoverished neighborhood, with the intent of getting kids off the streets and away from gangs, drugs and crime.

Many Illinois churches have supported the CAC with finances and volunteers. Three years ago, CAC started a multi-million-dollar refurbishing of the facilities that includes the purchase of abandoned properties nearby and installation of gardens and playgrounds. The well-kept green space is remarkable in East St. Louis, and the CAC is often cited as a leader in efforts to revitalize the decayed community.

Members of Emmanuel Baptist in Carlinville were on scene tilling the mulch bed on the new playground and planting hardy hostas in the beds under the trees.

In Staunton, a new congregation called The NET Church is leading a revitalization of the community food bank. Members of Bethel Baptist Church in Troy assisted sorting and stocking the shelves at an expanded storefront facility that opened in April. The food bank has provided an open door for ministry in the Staunton community, and The NET Church is involved with other churches and with the local fire department in operating the ministry.

"It's amazing to see the effects of mission service in a place not too far from home," Emerson said. "When the group gets back home, they see their community differently. They start making lists of things to do. And people get excited about missions that demonstrate the love of Jesus."


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

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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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