FROM THE STATES: Wash., Texas and La. evangelism/missions news; 'I never thought of children's ministry as my thing'
Today's From the States features items from: Northwest Baptist Witness (Washington); Southern Baptist TEXAN; Baptist Message (Louisiana).
Wash. church kids
ministry on target
By Sheila Allen
KENNEWICK, Wash. (Northwest Baptist Witness) -- Scott Gentry moved to the Tri-Cities region of central Washington looking for a large church where he could just remain uninvolved in the background. Instead, he found Hillview Baptist Church in Kennewick, a smaller congregation that allowed his leadership skills to flourish.
A skilled hunter, fisherman and bow hunter, Gentry heard about an archery program called Centershot Ministries (CsM), an outreach program aimed at sharing the Gospel message using the life-skill of archery with children and teenagers. It piqued his interest.
After researching the nondenominational program, Gentry first believed the $3,000 set-up costs for all the equipment would be prohibitive for a small church. But former pastor Ron Stricklan urged Gentry to stay open and they agreed to pray without fear over the cost control them.
Unexpectedly, Stricklan received a call from a donor in Texas who was seeking ways he might fund youth outreach. The new ministry was on.
"This is not our doing," Gentry said. "When I saw that God's hand was in fully funding this, I had to get involved. The Centershot motto is 'Make Christ the target of their lives,' and that is our goal."
Each week, volunteers gather children and teenagers ages 7 to 18 and spend time on archery skills and a Bible study to teach and disciple their young charges, although they focus on pre-teens. Gentry has seen men rally around the ministry in remarkable ways.
"Usually you find all women leading Vacation Bible School and other children's programs," Gentry stated. "This draws men to participate in something they already have a passion for from our church and community. I am a certified trainer and I can train others to be certified as well. We use this as an outreach for the Kingdom of God."
Gentry and other leaders see value in planting Gospel seeds among the 20 to 30 students who gather each week. The program operates on an eight lesson cycle, with a ninth week included for a family fun night and other games that draw the families together and encourages them to bring friends.
"We see huge potential for this ministry and it has been wonderful for our church," Gentry said. "We do charge for the classes, but offer scholarships to those who are unable to pay. There is a minimal cost after the first larger expense, but we do have to maintain our bows."
Archery ministry leaders deem it a sport that doesn't require traditional athleticism to enjoy.
"A 16-year-old girl is now outshooting me," Gentry noted. "She is the future of our program and we're bringing her into discipleship. I've been talking to our youth leader to see if more of the youth of our church could get involved."
Archery was a strong component of Vacation Bible School at Hillview under the theme of "Shoot for the Stars," which included a space theme and was held in the evening to allow working men and women to lead.
As director of transportation management for the Pasco (WA) School District, Gentry occasionally drives a school bus and sees the children he ministers to on the route.
"This has helped me see the rewards," the 38-year-old said. "I remember when I didn't want to be personally involved and just focused on my career, but now I am also on the finance committee and involved in maintaining our building. We have hopes of using archery on the nearby Umatilla Indian Reservation as another means of outreach.
"I never thought of children's ministry as my thing, but the Centershot kids flock to me," Gentry said. "This has helped me grow as a Christian and been a wonderful experience."
This article appeared in the Northwest Baptist Witness (nwbaptist.org), newsjournal of the Northwest Baptist Convention. Sheila Allen is managing editor of the Northwest Baptist Witness.
Texas African American youth
group ministers to Navajo Nation
By Jane Rodgers
MESQUITE, Texas (Southern Baptist TEXAN) -- Sixteen middle school and high school youth and eight adults from Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church wondered how they would be received at the Navajo Nation Reservation in Arizona on a recent mission trip.
The July 30–Aug. 4 outreach was part of the church's "Look Like Heaven" emphasis in July, said pastor Terry Turner.
"Initially we were a bit apprehensive, a predominantly African American church going into a Native American situation," said Caleb Turner, Mesquite Friendship's equipping pastor, adding he believed the group was the first African American team to work in the area.
Their concerns proved unfounded.
"The love of the community was absolutely amazing," Turner said.
"We were so warmly received. They were so welcoming," said Barbara Allen, who sponsors the youth group with her husband Kenneth, also on the trip.
Work centered on the small communities of Many Farms and Chinle, Ariz. After doubling the congregation of Many Farms Baptist Church for Sunday morning worship, the volunteers split into three teams to do three days of special projects.
One team demolished a small house in Chinle.
"We tore it down. It sounds like the opposite of what you should do on a mission trip," Turner said, explaining that only three to five Walmarts serve a reservation the size of West Virginia, making supplies and equipment hard to get.
The group salvaged two-by-fours, sheetrock and nails to be reused. The homeowners, whose primary residence was nearby, made the salvaged supplies available to the community.
Turner said some of the youth tutored the homeowners' two young children during the demo project.
A second Mesquite group painted the interior of the home of a woman named Nellie, who attended Many Farms Baptist Church, where the team was housed.
"Miss Nellie didn't have running water in her house," Barbara Allen recalled. "In my house, water runs freely all the time. She was struggling with that."
Allen called the experience both "heartwarming," referring to the warm welcome the group received, and "heart-wrenching," referring to the grinding poverty they saw.
"Our kids discovered you don't have to go out of the country to see people who live in poverty," Caleb Turner said. "Most of the youth probably worked harder than they've worked in a long time," he added.
The kids learned "they take a lot of things for granted that other people long for," added volunteer Fullisha Pickrom.
A third group visited the Navajoland nursing home near Chinle, celebrating birthdays of residents and playing games with them. Some, like 17-year-old Precious Smith, worked jigsaw puzzles with quieter residents, prompting tears of gratitude from one older Navajo gentleman.
In the evenings, Many Farms Baptist Church hosted area children for games and stories. Although promoted as a parents' night out, many mothers brought their children and stayed. The Mesquite ladies invited the women to join them in Bible study.
The local women were eager. One said she was rededicating her life to God.
Turner said Mesquite Friendship plans to send teams to the Navajo Nation for four more years, expanding the outreach.
"We are interested in finding young Native American men interested in teaching the Bible," Turner said. "We want to offer classes (and) give them the tools they need to present the Gospel themselves in their own communities."
"They are a people who are hurting. Alcoholism, drug addiction, extreme poverty are rampant. We want to go out there and show Jesus.... We want to help people and establish relationships.
"It felt like the beginning of something great that God's going to do through us."
This article appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN.
La. church finds purpose
By Brian Blackwell
DENHAM SPRINGS, La. (Baptist Message) -- Courtney Miley did not imagine she would ever enter the worship center of Genesis Church when she first met pastor Jeff Smith while he was reaching out to families at the community soccer complex in 2014.
She and her husband Shaun were believers but had lapsed in their fellowship with the body of Christ.
However, God providentially used the historic 1,000-year flood of August 2016 to draw her and him back to Him through her involvement with disaster relief efforts at the church plant.
Moreover, their repentance and obedience resulted in a special gift neither expected.
In August of this year, they witnessed the baptism of their four children, all who accepted Christ within a four-month period leading up to the special worship service.
The Miley children were among 17 converts baptized that day from among 87 people who attended, both high marks during one service for the church plant.
"It was very surreal to see each of them baptized in a place that we have worked so hard in the past year and seen so much change," Courtney Miley told the Baptist Message. "For us, it was like God was confirming to us of His fullness and reaffirming that we had made the right decision when we decided to help minister to the community after the flood.
"I made it a point not to be involved with anything church-wise when we first met Jeff and resisted a lot whenever the topic of church came up," Miley continued. "My husband thought I was a little crazy when I got involved with the church when the flood came, but as soon as he got involved, he saw real quickly this was something he wanted to be a part of. What I saw during the disaster was the people being the church to a devastated community. That is what kept my family there and brought all four of my children to Christ."
Perseverance through disaster
For Smith, the record number of baptisms for Genesis Church was also a celebration of how God helped the church persevere through a time of slow growth and disaster.
Genesis Church began in June 2014, after Smith graduated from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. By April 2015, the church had grown from a home Bible study to a congregation of 15 when they launched their first service in an area school.
For several months, they continued meeting in the school until Agape Church -- a congregation Smith previously led when he first moved to the area -- voted in October 2015 to disband and hand over its building after membership had declined to fewer than 10 people.
Genesis Church continued to grow, reaching an average attendance of 40 by the summer of 2016.
Then, disaster hit the community in the form of the August 2016 flood.
Though the church facilities escaped major damage, a number of its members were not so fortunate and attendance dropped by half.
Nonetheless, Smith and the remaining members sprang into action, with the assistance of the Mileys and two other soccer families the church had been trying to reach for three years.
"That was the one thing that carried me through that time," Smith recalled. "Those families we had been trying to reach decided to be a part of our disaster relief ministry. They eventually developed into our core leadership.
"I saw the work we poured into, that we hadn't seen results from yet, [take root] during the past few years on the soccer field," he continued. "Those results became evident during the flood."
Rebirth through recovery
For three months, the fellowship hall became a distribution center. Six days a week volunteers would distribute cleaning supplies, clothing, food and other supplies to those in need.
They also held block parties, handed out Thanksgiving meals and delivered bags of school supplies to children who lost all they had in the flood.
Meanwhile, average attendance was climbing, reaching pre-flood levels just as the distribution effort was ebbing.
Even more than a year after the flood, Genesis members continue to see the fruit of their outreach.
Smith said half of his congregation is 15 years of age and younger now, and the rest range in age from 30 to 70 years old.
Because of that demographic shift, the congregation had made a change to their Wednesday evening schedule, he explained. Previously, there was a fellowship meal followed by Bible studies grouped by age. Now, Wednesday night is dedicated to an all-student Bible study, with adult age groups meeting on other nights to hold Bible studies.
"Discipleship has been a big thing delayed because of the issues we have had since August of last year," Smith said. "Now we are beginning to concentrate on that.
"Our students will be better equipped to reach their schools and neighborhoods for Christ," he said. "And our adults will have the opportunity to disciple a younger person. What a great opportunity and a win-win for everyone."
Smith said waiting on the Lord was not easy, but that he counts it pure joy now seeing the rebirth of his church and community.
"As a church planter who has had slow growth, it was much needed for me to see so many people baptized and changed as a result of the flood," he said. "It was a psychological boost for myself to remind me that what we are doing is working.
"Patience is not the easiest thing when you are a church planter," he continued. "But I have been shown and continue to be reminded that God's at work. Whether it's with Genesis Church or even another believer's life, this experience has taught me that we just need to be patient and trust God for our future."
This article appeared in the Baptist Message (baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Brian Blackwell is a staff writer for the Baptist Message.
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.