FROM THE STATES: Va., Ill. and Tenn. evangelism/missions news; 'Go do God's Work'
Today's From the States features items from:
The Proclaimer (Virginia)
Baptist and Reflector (Tennessee)
Va. church reaching its
'Jerusalem' in nearby neighborhood
By Darrell Webb
FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (The Proclaimer) -- Cornerstone is a small but growing church in Fredericksburg, Va. It is an Acts 1:8 church seeking to reach its Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth with the Gospel. Through Disaster Relief, English as a Second Language (ESL), and orality training opportunities with the SBC of Virginia, their love for the peoples of the world has grown. Of 150 people in the congregation, 40 percent have been on short-term mission trips through Cornerstone Baptist Church. While the Lord has expanded their reach to places like El Salvador (where they have a missions partnership), He is also using them to reach 13 people groups just miles from the church doors.
Dan Olson: "I was driving my wife (a teacher in the local elementary school) to her student's home to deliver an assignment when we turned a corner into a tucked-away neighborhood in South Stafford, Va., just a few miles from our church. We knew the area by reputation but had never visited. In a moment, we had crossed a line from our comfortable suburban world into a small, densely populated neighborhood with visible signs of need. This community had a high percentage of families living below the poverty level. There was a large population of immigrants and refugees from Asia, Central America and Africa. We felt like strangers in a world we didn't know, but the fear and awkwardness were accompanied by an immediate burden and stirring we both felt in our hearts.
"In the following weeks, our family visited the neighborhood as often as we could. Because most of the children recognized my wife from school, we were immediately welcomed by the neighborhood kids and their parents. We didn't realize then how much God would use my wife's position to open doors and break down barriers. As our visits continued, we researched and prayed about how we could get our church involved in ministering to this troubled neighborhood. We learned that over the past several years, many area churches had tried to reach the community. Some tried busing children to church or Vacation Bible School. Others held one-time evangelistic events in the local park. But those efforts weren't reaching the adults. We felt that the key to reaching the neighborhood was to establish a permanent presence inside the neighborhood from which we could build lasting relationships with the adults. We knew this approach would take a long-term commitment, but we were prepared for the long haul.
"We learned early on that when God gives you a burden, He will not leave you to do it all yourself. He will bring others alongside you with the same burden. When we shared with our congregation our desire to establish a presence in the neighborhood, many stepped forward to help.
"We decided to start a 'Party in the Park' with snacks, games, crafts and Bible stories every Wednesday evening in the summer.
“To kick it off, we held a three-day Vacation Bible School in the park. It was a huge success. We had more than 40 kids (and even some parents) attend. On the last day, we told the kids we would see them every Wednesday evening in the park for the rest of the summer. We thought we were off to a great start. We had no idea our plans would come to a screeching halt.
Chris Brown, senior pastor of Cornerstone, testifies, "When we first began reaching out to our local community, I would have never imagined the impact it would have on our entire church. It began with just a few people going out on a Wednesday evening during the summer to repair children's bicycles. We developed friendships with the children and their families through this ministry. There was an excitement within each person who served, as they came back and were able to tell their stories of the opportunities they had to share the love of Jesus Christ through their words and actions. More and more people began to join in this outreach each week."
"The day after the VBS in the park, our church received an angry phone call from the leaders of the community homeowners' association. We were told that the park was private property and we did not obtain the approvals we needed from the community leaders.
"As much as we tried to apologize for the oversight, we were told in no uncertain terms that we were not welcome in the neighborhood. It was a crushing blow. Our last words to the kids at VBS were that we would see them every Wednesday and now, like the churches before us, we, too, had vanished from the neighborhood. It was especially troubling to think of the kids who, at such a young age had already experienced so much disappointment from adults who didn't keep their word. We prayed that God would open the door again, but the community leaders would not yield.
"I began studying the book of Acts to see how the early church dealt with such failures. What I learned was astonishing. God often called the early missionaries to cities where they were ultimately rejected, beaten or imprisoned. 'Why would God call His faithful to failure?' I asked. I learned that God seeks our obedience, not our success. Success or failure in mission work is for Him to decide. We are to stay focused on doing His will, regardless of the outcome.
The door opens
"We continued to pray through the summer and into the fall that God would open a way back into the neighborhood. In mid-December, God reopened the door in a mighty way. Some Christian brothers contacted our church to ask if we knew of any families in need that Christmas. They explained that each year, a group of families join together to prepare 40 stockings for children but had not found anyone in need this year. Recognizing that God was giving us another way into the community, we asked if it were possible to prepare 10 times that amount of stockings.
"We called the same community leaders who had expelled us from the neighborhood the previous summer and asked if they would allow us to deliver Christmas stockings to every home in the neighborhood. Despite their previous rejections, this time they accepted our offer. Over the next three days, our church scrambled to prepare 400 Christmas stockings. On Christmas Eve, church members went door to door throughout the neighborhood and were welcomed at every house. Some newly arrived Muslim refugees from the Middle East were so excited to receive their first Christmas gifts, they took photos of the delivery team to share with their families back home. The neighborhood leaders were so touched by our generosity, they gave us total neighborhood access from that point forward!
Party in the park
"With full access to the neighborhood once again, we jumped full force into our plan to use the park as our community contact zone. Over the next few summers, God blessed the Party in the Park Wednesday evenings. We built relationships with neighborhood adults and children through a variety of activities, such as bike repair, arts and crafts, food distribution, and Bible stories in English and Spanish. God continued to add ministry partners. We connected with Christians who lived in the neighborhood and worked hand in hand with area churches that wanted to help. Slowly, one person at a time, we began to see lives change. But we were still limited in what we could do at the park. Every fall, as the weather changed and the days grew shorter, we would say goodbye until the following spring. We began praying that God would provide a way to work in the community year-round.
'Go do God's work'
"The idea of renting a home in the neighborhood had been discussed, but all of the houses were individually owned and rental prices were abnormally high. We would have to find a house for free. We began praying for a miracle. Right across the street from the park was a vacant house. It was in the ideal location, but the house was in very poor condition. After mobilizing our church to pray, we set up a meeting with the owner to see the house. The place was in shambles. Carpet, floors, plumbing, and appliances were all in need of replacement. Knowing we were from a church and expecting we would ask to rent the home at a reduced rate, the owner asked us to make an offer. 'We have nothing to offer,' I replied. Then the owner asked an interesting question: 'What did God tell you to ask for?' I prayed silently as I began to explain how we felt God was leading: 'God told us to ask for a deal so outrageous that no good businessman would accept it -- so we would know that it is a miracle of God.' The owner was quiet for a moment as I prayed silently, waiting for his response. 'Well, I guess I'm not a very good businessman.' He handed me the keys and said, 'Go do God's work.'
"The housing unit by the park, or Hub, as it became known, was now the new center point for our work in the community. Church members and neighbors converged on the Hub to make repairs. With no budget for the work, donations poured in to cover expenses. Within weeks, the home was in sufficient condition to start an English-language Bible study. In the months that followed, a Spanish Bible study, after-school tutoring, English language classes and a garden ministry were added. The Hub also served as the base for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter outreach events as well as a free community yard sale and health clinic.
The ministry continues
"God's miraculous provision of the Hub had a profound impact. Even the Muslim English students who meet at the Hub weekly have heard the story of how God provided a place to do His work. In the year since the Hub opened, we have had the joy of watching neighborhood residents changed by Christ. But in truth, mission work is about people, not a place. It has now been seven years since that first drive into the neighborhood, but the plan for how to reach the community has stayed the same: Christians obedient to God's calling, establishing a long-term presence in the neighborhood from which to show love, build relationships and proclaim the Gospel. It can happen in a house, it can happen in a park, but it is unlikely to happen within the walls of a church. Christians must be willing to get out of the church building and into the world, however God leads.
"God's faithfulness to use His obedient people at Cornerstone Baptist Church on His mission has brought many other open doors for missions, from local youth football teams to a burden to support mission efforts in Kenya, Africa."
Pastor Chris exclaims, "One of the most exciting aspects of these mission outreaches is the fact that we are not a large church! I believe the Lord has used us as a small church in order that He alone will get the glory for all that has been done. We agree with the psalmist when he said, 'The Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy!'" (Psalm 126:3)
This article appeared in The Proclaimer, newsmagazine of the SBC of Virginia (sbcv.org). Darrell Webb is a regional missionary for the SBC of Virginia.
Ill. Baptists meet
people by meeting needs
By Eric Reed
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Illinois Baptist) -- The strategy is simple. Lost people know lost people. They hang out with lost people. If you lead one lost person to faith in Christ, suddenly you have broken into a whole new circle of people who need Jesus. And the most effective witness to the Gospel is someone whose life has been changed by salvation in Jesus Christ -- especially if it's happened recently.
That's why the Illinois Baptist State Association continues to invest in church planting as an important and effective strategy for evangelism. There are lots of places in a state of 13 million people where there is little or no evangelical witness.
IBSA is identifying 200 places and peoples that need Jesus. With at least 8 million lost people living just next door, it won't be hard to put those pins on the map.
For Bryan and Marci Coble, that pin landed in the Irving Park area of Chicago, far away and far different from her small hometown in Chatham. For Derrick and Ailee Taylor, that pin was right next door in their own rural community of Staunton. Here are their stories.
Story #1: Far and away
Marci Coble was raised near Springfield under a strong Baptist influence. Her grandfather, Maurice Swinford, was on IBSA's staff 15 years and served as executive director from 1988 to 1993. "He was always making sure I knew who Jesus is," Marci says with a tear in her eye. She was a GA and Acteen and worked one summer at Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp.
"I was allotted a lot of opportunities and a lot of blessings that I probably wouldn't have had without his influence and without being his granddaughter -- even my call to missions."
She is almost as emotional describing Chatham Baptist Church. "I grew up there, I was baptized there," Marci says. "Bryan and I were married there. They shaped me and molded me and I'm blessed to call that my home."
So when Marci's husband Bryan suggested when he finished his seminary studies that they move to Portland, Ore., to plant a new church, Marci's brows furrowed. She was willing to go wherever God led them -- in fact, they visited the Pacific Northwest on a vision tour -- but might God lead them to Chicago?
"Bryan had set up an appointment in Portland. And we received a note from my grandmother with an article from IBSA letting us know they need church planters in Illinois too." Marci laughed. "And we were like, 'Oh, that's so sweet. I love Grandma.'" But the message stuck.
"I didn't want to come to Chicago," Bryan readily confesses. "I was raised 60 miles south of St. Louis and grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan. When we started to pray about Chicago, God actually told me -- this may sound crazy," he says as an aside, "to get a Chicago Cubs hat and wear it for 30 days."
Bryan shifts the Cubs hat on his head as if he's adjusting to the fit.
"My heart started to change," the Missouri transplant says as a smile breaks out. "My love for this city and my burden for this city started to grow. We love this city so much. We love the people of this city so much," he says.
A similar feeling started growing back in Chatham, Marci's home church in suburban Springfield. The town of 11,000 is one-seventh the size of the Cobles' new neighborhood. And for the church members there, Chicago has seemed like someone else's responsibility.
"To be honest with you, Chicago has always seemed very distant to us," says pastor Milton Bost. But having a hometown girl serving as a missionary in the big city has changed things.
"I think Bryan and Marci are kind of pioneers for us," Bost says.
Chatham has become heavily involved in the Cobles' planting work 200 miles away. "Folks from Chatham came up to help us do this," Bryan says on a rainy Saturday morning in April. A children's playground in the center of their neighborhood is also the epicenter of their planting work. "(We) hand out flyers, hand out cookies, talk to people, build relationships." The park is covered in people wearing green T-shirts declaring their love for the area.
"We want the community to know that we love them, we're here to invest in them first and foremost," Marci says.
The couple moved their two boys there last year -- in time for the Cubs' World Series win. They began surveying the city and seeking God's direction. In the spring the Cobles bought a small condo in a pre-war three-floor building and started meeting the neighbors -- Hispanics, Anglos and some Asian people. Their goal is to launch a Bible study, then a church, in the recreation building at the park.
"Chicago is a world city. It has high influence not just within the state of Illinois, but in the world," Bryan says. "We need to be able to reach these people with the Gospel. We do it in love, so that they will hopefully come to know Christ and be changed by the Gospel. And the world with them."
Story #2: Right here, right now
Derrick and Ailee Taylor didn't have to move across the state to their mission field. Their surrender was a different kind, a surrender of the heart and a willingness to trust. "I lost sleep over it," Derrick says. "I wrestled with it."
The police officer in Staunton, Ill., (population 5,000) calls himself "a regular joe." Definitely not a pastor.
"I was telling God, 'Hey, if you bring the pastor, I'll help plant it.'"
No pastor came. Instead, God sent Derrick a message. The messenger was IBSA's Eddie Pullen.
"He just looked me straight in the eyes," Derrick recalls. "He said, 'Derrick, you're it. No one else is coming. It's you.'" Pullen is one of eight church planting catalysts who are presently equipping more than 80 church planters in the state. Their work is supported in part by the Mission Illinois Offering.
Receiving Pullen's message, Derrick got to work planting a church. Net Community Church launched in 2016, and in just under a year 29 people have been baptized.
"Our heart is for rural communities that cannot often sustain a new church plant," says Derrick's wife and ministry partner Ailee. "We're bivocational -- that's the key. Church planting is something that we're very, very passionate about because these people need Jesus just as much as people (in large cities)."
That passion has been proven in Staunton as the Taylors and Net Community Church members have invested time in the local food bank. "The Helping Hands Center is a place where people can come and see Christ lived out," Derrick says. Working with other churches and local firefighters, the Taylors led the relocation and renovation of the center, which is now open two days a week, feeding hungry people in a town many miles from the usual compassion ministries.
"We felt it would be an excellent way to reach the unchurched that are clearly living at times without hope," Derrick says. "(God) has confirmed my call over and over again, when I see the addict set free, a marriage healed, people giving their life to Christ (and) being baptized."
"We've been able to be a light to new people," Ailee adds. "We just had to have faith. That's all we needed."
This article appeared in the Illinois Baptist (ibsa.org/illinoisbaptist), newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Eric Reed is associate executive director of church communications for the Illinois Baptist States Association.
Tenn. church translates
relationships to baptisms
By Lonnie Wilkey
MARTIN, Tenn. (Baptist and Reflector) -- First Baptist Church in Martin did not have a large crusade or revival this past year. Nor did the church rely on the latest, greatest witnessing tool to come down the pike.
Yet, for the first time in its 141-year history, First Baptist baptized 50 people in a 12-month period. The church's previous high in a single year had been 49, according to Pastor Mike Sams.
What's more, the baptisms came from every age group in the church -- from young children all the way to an 85-year-old man who was baptized earlier this summer, Sams said.
"We have baptized people from every generation that makes up our church," he said. "That's been really neat."
The record number of baptisms has come from "a steady flow of ministry," the pastor observed.
"We remind our members that they are all ministers and that they minister in different places whether it be in an office, at a school or in a hospital. Wherever you're planted, that's your missions field," Sams said.
He is a firm believer in "Gospel conversations." God puts people in places where they can engage with other people in spiritual conversations, Sams said. That enables individuals to engage in conversations which may result in inviting people to church or a life group or Sunday School class, he added.
The pastor noted that First Baptist members have "connections and relationships I do not have. When they are being Christ to those people and are loving them, it opens the doors to Gospel conversations."
And, the results of those conversations have been evident at First Baptist this past year, the pastor said. "People are bringing people to church and they hear the Gospel. The Holy Spirit is using it to bring people to Christ."
The decisions that have been made are not the result of a "big thing or event." They are being made as conversations are held and relationships are built, Sams emphasized.
"It's becoming part of who we are as a church."
Sams also noted that the expansion of the church's ministry staff has played a key role. When he became pastor nearly nine years ago, the church had a combination youth/children's minister. The church now has a staff minister for each of the ministries.
"That has allowed us to put a lot of energy into our children's ministry," Sams said, noting that the church now has a large number of younger families with children.
In addition to the youth ministry, the church also has a part-time college pastor. First Baptist is strategically located to the University of Tennessee-Martin. The church has a special ministry on Wednesday nights to reach college students and Sams takes an active role in that ministry. He and the college pastor work hard to build relationships with the students and that leads to Gospel conversations with them, Sams said.
In addition to college students coming to know Christ, he has seen college students who were already Christians desire to grow in their relationship with Christ.
"It's so good to see God work in their lives," Sams said.
All of this has taken place during the year Sams has served as chair of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board's board of directors. He has had an up close look at the convention-adopted Five Objectives which includes a major emphasis on evangelism and discipleship.
Serving as chair "sharpened my focus," Sams acknowledged. He noted that serving as chair also "exposed me to people who have a heart for Tennessee. These people have made me a better minister and given me a new resolve to reach both the world and Tennessee with the Gospel."
Sams observed that culture has changed over the last few years and "we see the lostness in our state and the world. There is an urgent cry for the church to be about the ministry of Christ."
Sams does not expect the emphasis on Gospel conversations to end now. First Baptist has started its new church year and already has about four baptisms scheduled to take place in October.
"People are looking for relationships and community —--something that is real and genuine," he said. "When they get around Christians it begins to have an impact. That's what we've seen."
Sams gives all the credit and glory to God. "The Lord has been gracious and good to us this past year."
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.
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.