FROM THE STATES: Tenn., Mo. and Okla. evangelism/missions news; "... [T]hat's the type of thing that can change your life forever."
Today's From the States features items from:
Baptist and Reflector (Tennessee)
The Pathway (Missouri)
Baptist Messenger (Oklahoma)
Tenn. churches 'adopt'
high school players
By David Dawson
ATHENS, Tenn. (Baptist and Reflector) -- Continuing a well-established custom, several churches in the Athens area will be providing a meal for the McMinn County High football team on Friday afternoons this fall.
This year, however, there's a new twist on the tradition: It's become more personal.
"Basically, we wanted to put a face with the spaghetti," said Derrick Vestal, the offensive coordinator for the 6A McMinn County Cherokees.
"We didn't want people to just drop off some food and say 'see you later.' We wanted it to go deeper than that."
To foster those potential new relationships, the McMinn County coaching staff developed an "Adopt-A-Cherokee" program, which enables local church members to connect emotionally and spiritually with players on the football team.
Instead of simply supplying food for the weekly team meal, the families who are participating in the program are supporting their "adopted" player in numerous other ways, including:
-- Covering the $125 fee for their player to attend FCA camp in Cookeville this summer;
-- Sending messages of encouragement via e-mail, phone calls or social media throughout the week;
-- Praying persistently for their adopted player;
-- Inviting the player to church;
-- Making T-shirts, signs and/or banners with their player's name displayed for each home game.
Vestal, who served as the point man for the innovative program, said the McMinn County community immediately embraced the idea after it was introduced this summer.
"We started off by contacting the 10 churches that feed us, and we also promoted (the program) on the radio and on social media," said Vestal. "And people really began responding. I was getting all kinds of phone calls and messages from people saying, 'Hey, I want to be a part of this.' "
Like most towns in Tennessee, the Athens community is big on high school football, and Vestal said he has seen that passion displayed through the "Adopt-A-Cherokee" program.
"When this community gets behind something, boy, you don't have to worry about anything from that point on," said Vestal with a smile.
Clearwater Baptist Church, where Vestal is an active member and Sunday School teacher, is one of the cornerstone churches for the program.
Clearwater pastor Danny Singleton said the church's strategic missions team set a goal of adopting 20 players, and said that he had been "cheerleading from the pulpit" in terms of getting his congregation involved.
"We challenged our people to embrace their (adopted) young man by covering him in prayer and reaching out to him throughout the week," Singleton said.
The idea for the "Adopt-A-Cherokee" program first began to take shape after the McMinn County coaching staff decided that sending players to FCA camp, which is a voluntary function, would be a high priority.
"At our coaching clinic, we were talking about the things we need to do as a team," Vestal said. "And going to FCA camp was one of the things that we agreed we really needed to do."
Before that could happen, though, there was a financial hurdle that had to be cleared.
"It was going to be about $6,000 that we didn't have in the budget," said Vestal said. "So I began talking to some people and praying about what to do."
Soon, the "Adopt-A-Cherokee" program was developed and implemented. In no time, things begin falling into place.
A total of 65 players signed up to go to FCA camp, and all 65 were adopted by local families, who covered their payment for camp. (McMinn County has 91 players on the roster, but some were unable to attend FCA camp due to scheduling conflicts or other reasons).
Vestal said the camp had a deep impact on the team, and he noted that 25 players made decisions -- either first-time professions or rededications -- during the week.
"The kids are different now," he said with a proud smile. "I mean, it wasn't like we suddenly had better players (talent-wise) after camp. But there was a definite change. We've got guys now that are more encouraging. The language has changed. It's a different environment."
Vestal said he hopes those who are participating in the "Adopt" program will realize that providing the money for camp was only the beginning.
"Writing the check for camp -- that's the easy part," said Vestal. "The key is making sure the involvement in the player's lives continues."
Added Singleton: "We want our people to develop relationships (with the players) that go beyond sending them to camp."
The main lesson for the players, Vestal said, is to know that "God is good to us, whether we go 0-10 or go 15-0 (and win the state championship)."
Vestal noted that the challenges of the school year, such as peer pressure and the rigors of juggling athletics and academics, are what make the support of the adopted family so vital, especially for the players who come from tough circumstances.
"Some of these young men don't have a family and don't have that structure at home. They don't get hugs, they don't hear 'I love you' and they don't have someone in the stands cheering for them," he said.
"So for them to see this happen -- where strangers are suddenly taking an interest in them and coming to the games on Friday night to cheer for them -- that's the type of thing that can change your life forever," he said.
"And these families aren't just making an impact on these players for one Friday night," he said. "They are making an impact for all the Friday nights for the rest of their lives."
This article appeared in the Baptist and Reflector (baptistandreflector.org), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. David Dawson writes for the Baptist and Reflector.
Small Mo. church displays
heart for missions
By Brian Koonce
MOLDOVA (The Pathway) -- As one of the smaller former Soviet states, Moldova is an easy nation to overlook. Not for Lewis Scott of Brush Creek Mission Baptist Church in Puxico.
Scott will return for his fifth trip to tiny country wedged between Romania and Ukraine later this month as part of an IGO Missions health clinic trip.
Scott partners with a local Baptist congregation in a series strategic cities and towns. Each clinic is preceded by an evangelistic crusade where people sign up for a time slot at the clinic.
"They hear the Gospel before they even show up to the medical clinic, then while they're in line they're part of a Bible study and they hear the Gospel again a second time. Then there are people circulating sharing the Gospel so they come away hearing it at least three times."
The local Moldova churches have everyone's contact information and follow up with everyone after the clinic.
"The local churches do a great job preparing the road before we come and making sure everyone makes a connection after we leave," Scott said. "The next thing you know, there's a new church plant in that city."
Scott said that in the last four years, he's seen 650 come to faith in Christ during the crusades alone.
Like much of the former Soviet Union, Moldova is a dark place spiritually.
"The people know about God and it's filtered through the Russian Orthodox background," he said. "They know enough to believe in God and believe in hell, but they don't believe they can go to Heaven because they can't do good enough works to get them there. They haven't really heard the true gospel message. It's a big step when they get saved, baptized and join a evangelical church."
This article appeared in The Pathway (mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Brian Koonce is a staff writer for The Pathway.
Okla. church plant
offers food, hope
By Emily Howsden
OKLAHOMA CITY (Baptist Messenger) -- Roughly 20 percent of the population in Oklahoma is affected by food insecurity. What does that mean? "Food insecurity" is a term used to describe a situation in which a person does not know from where their next meal will come.
Through the Edna McMillan Oklahoma State Missions Offering (SMO) Hunger Fund, however, churches like Mission OKC in Oklahoma City are doing their best to change that number, one meal at a time.
Chad Clement, pastor of Mission OKC, a church plant, recognized the growing need of hunger among children in the city. Chad and his wife Anna are able to feed thousands of children who might otherwise go without a meal, using the SMO Hunger Fund as a springboard to share the Gospel.
"We work with families in low income apartment complexes across Oklahoma City. Our philosophy is that if you go out and meet the felt physical needs of people in poverty areas, they are open to the Gospel," Clement said.
In 2000, Clement, a former Marine and stockbroker, surrendered his life to serve the Lord in urban missions. He has been serving at Mission OKC for five years now, along with his wife Anna. They started the church plant in the living room of their low-income apartment.
"In a population where you have a lot of single mothers, they are really wondering 'Does anybody see me struggling?'" Anna said. "Their kids are hungry. Many of them were used to only one meal a day. So we were in a place where we were wondering, 'What is it going to take to reach this community?' Well, their kids are hungry."
Anna has served as an urban missionary and church planter in Texas and Oklahoma for 20 years. She now serves as a helper to her husband and director of education at Mission OKC.
The SMO Hunger Fund provides resources for food pantries through local churches or associations, helping provide things like backpacks for children, after-school hot meals for children and their families and more.
"Once people are fed, we are able to present the plan of salvation. It's like Jesus' example where he went to the top of the hill. He fed them, and then he taught them," said Don Williams, disaster relief/chaplaincy specialist at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
By meeting physical needs like hunger, church planters like the Clements and many others can address the spiritual needs. According to Williams, with funds received from the SMO last year, half a million meals were served, with an estimated 50,000 hearing the Good News.
"We want to focus on people that are in need of spiritual food as much as physical food because it's not going to do you any good as a church if you just continue to feed hungry people spiritually but not physically," Williams said.
"We're committed to be here and provide," Chad said, "but our Sunday offering one day was $1.50. As a new church plant, we contacted the BGCO and told them that we are feeding kids in the neighborhoods, and immediately we started receiving State Missions Offering Hunger Funds."
While the SMO provides added funds to churches and ministries that feed the hungry, Williams emphasized that volunteers are needed to keep programs running smoothly as well as support from the church itself, referencing that, biblically, the church is called to take care of widows and orphans in their time of need.
Those interested in giving to SMO can be sure their generous offering will be used directly by churches like Mission OKC. "The hunger funds go directly into providing hot meals to kids all year long," Chad said, "and it's been a tremendous help to us in being able to take the Gospel to these neighborhoods.
"We had close to 300 decisions to Christ in our first six years of ministry here at Mission OKC, and we see that continuing to grow exponentially as we partner with more churches and reach greater areas of our city."
One Scripture passage Williams cited as a reason to give to the SMO is Ephesians 4, "It says we are all called, and as Christians, we need to figure out what God has called us to do, and as far as we go, we need to be the hands and feet to the world."
"I hope people understand, when God impresses upon them to give to the SMO, He has missionaries waiting on that provision. And as you give generously, we're giving our best," said Anna.
For more information on the Oklahoma State Missions Offering, visit www.statemissionsok.org.
This article appeared in the Baptist Messenger (baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Emily Howsden is a staff writer for the Baptist Messenger.
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. Except for minor style, formatting and grammatical changes, the items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.