FROM THE STATES: S.C., Okla. and La. evangelism/missions news; '... [A]ll deserve to know someone loves them'
Today's From the States features items from:
Baptist Courier (South Carolina)
Baptist Messenger (Oklahoma)
Baptist Message (Louisiana)
S.C. Baptists enter 5th decade
prisoner packet distribution
By Julia Bell
COLUMBIA, S.C. (Baptist Courier) -- South Carolina Baptists provided 25,266 prisoner packets this holiday season -- enough to reach every inmate in the state.
On Dec. 4, at St. Andrews Church in Columbia, about 130 volunteers and inmates processed and bagged the packets for delivery. They were distributed the following day to adult inmates in the South Carolina Department of Corrections and the Department of Mental Health, and 460 packets were given to youth and students in the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Now in its 41st year, the project supports the South Carolina Baptist Convention's priority to serve the lost and share the hope of the Gospel with every life in South Carolina and beyond. Churches and associations compile and collect the packets, each of which contains a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, washcloth, mints, pad of paper, pen, and pre-stamped envelopes. On assembly day, other items -- including devotional and prayer books, Christmas cards, and Christian literature -- are added to each plastic zippered bag.
According to Tim R., SCBC missions mobilization team leader, the packets offer support to inmates and plant seeds for the time when they return to society. "It raises awareness for our churches concerning the needs of incarcerated individuals and their families and provides a simple way to give and serve," he said.
Larry Epps, senior chaplain at Perry Correctional Institution and a member of Rock Springs Baptist Church in Easley, said that as he delivers the packets to his inmates, he makes a point to say it's from South Carolina Baptists, including those from their hometowns. "The packets are an outward expression of the love I have for these men," Epps said. "They enhance the morale of the institution and give chaplains the opportunity to share the Gospel."
This was the 11th year one of the female inmates served at the packet assembly, an exercise she calls a "treat." "It brings me joy to know that people on the outside have not forgotten us and still care," she said.
Tracy Sutton, of Riverland Hills Baptist Church in Irmo, said she is in regular contact with the inmate population as part of her work with an attorney, but she volunteered on assembly day in order to be a part of something good. "Some are incarcerated for bad mistakes, but all deserve to know someone loves them," Sutton said.
Tim Jones has seen the packets donated through his church, Fellowship Baptist in Lexington, for years. Now, as a chaplain with Broad River Correctional Institution, he sees where those packets go. "It is a testimony of 'you visited me in prison,'" Jones said, "and to fulfill that personally is awesome."
For senior chaplain Steven Hendricks, also at Broad River, the packet ministry represents for him why he is a chaplain. "It provides hope to the hopeless inmate," he said. "Some of my guys don't even have access to soap or a new toothbrush until this time each year."
An inmate helping on assembly day said the packet lasts him about a month, and it "gives a sense of freedom to have a better choice in the products we have access to." He added that he knows many inmates who don't receive anything else during the holidays and sees how much the items are appreciated by them.
Dianne Cagle drove three and a half hours from her home in North Carolina to be a part of the assembly process this year because of the spiritual impact it has on inmates. "These packets contain basic needs but show that God is also important," said Cagle, who first participated in the prisoner packet ministry while serving as a short-term missionary with Lexington Baptist Association.
"The volunteers enjoy serving alongside inmates and chaplains processing the packets. I get to hear them laugh, sing, and share their stories with one another at the tables as they are working. Southern Baptists are strongest when we partner together to serve our neighbor and share the good news of Jesus," said Tim R.
As Steve Miller, chaplain with Kershaw Correctional Institution and pastor of Team Church in Kershaw, put it, the packets simply "make people feel human, that they matter, that Jesus loves them, and that His church does, too."
This article appeared in the Baptist Courier (baptistcourier.com), newsmagazine of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Julia Bell writes for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
Okla. church reaches
By Karen Kinnaird
OKLAHOMA CITY (Baptist Messenger) -- One does not have to drive far in Oklahoma City to notice the city's homeless population. People are wandering in search of food and shelter and posted at many major intersections seeking help. Trinity Baptist Church in Oklahoma City is committed to helping them.
On a cold Sunday morning in December, Trinity members loaded donations of clothing and set out in search of an empty lot in the downtown area, where many of the homeless find a place to sleep. A hot breakfast was served and a worship service was conducted with Christmas carols and an encouraging message.
An invitation was offered, and eight people responded, asking for prayer and making professions of faith. After the service, people could choose from a selection of winter clothes, coats, gloves and hats that were laid out on tarps on the ground.
The vision for the ministry began more than three years ago with Mani Hagood, a long-time member of Trinity. "I sat in my Sunday school class year after year taking in, and it was time for us to get out of the classroom and serve," Hagood said.
The Sunday School outreach has grown to a quarterly event and now involves the whole church. The church was initially given basic instruction and training in how to engage people. The sharing of food opens up opportunities to not only hear the life stories of community members but also share stories of faith and trust in Christ. At least one Trinity member is asked to share the Gospel to the group at large each time they go out.
It is Hagood's goal to improve the outreach each quarter by adding something to it. This quarter, each person who responded to the message was prayed over individually. Hagood emphasized that the primary purpose is to see people come to Christ.
"Trinity's outreach ministry to our Oklahoma City homeless community has been, and will continue to be, an integral part of our 'DNA'" said Pastor Tobin Jackson of Oklahoma City, Trinity. "God continues to provide opportunity to show love and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ each and every time we join together in this kingdom work. I'm truly thankful for all of our members who give of their time and energy toward this ministry."
The Oklahoma City Planning Department's Housing and Community Development Division reported, "In January 2017, there were 1,368 people identified as literally homeless in Oklahoma City. It is estimated that a community's annual number is four to five times its one-night census, in this case between 5,472 and 6,840 people in a year."
According to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report in Dec. 2017, the state's homeless population has grown in the calendar year, mostly due to the sharp increase in homeless families with children. Oklahoma has increased efforts to house veterans and chronically homeless which includes those with disabilities, who have been homeless for more than a year or have had four or more episodes of homelessness in a year.
It's Hagood's hope that other Sunday School classes will catch the vision to reach outside their walls and put into action what they have been learning about year after year.
Velvon Madison, who shared the message at that cold December event, said of the serving experience, "When participating in something like this, you actually get blessed more than those you are blessing. But if you never do it, you'll never know it."
This article appeared in the Baptist Messenger (baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Karen Kinnaird writes for the Baptist Messenger.
La. Cajun Baptists share faith,
hope, love with Haitian Creoles
By Will Hall
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Baptist Message) -- After 14 years of peacekeeping duties in the country, the United Nations stood down its 2,300 military forces Oct. 15, giving hope of a return to political stability for the people of Haiti, a poverty-stricken nation of more than 10 million citizens.
Meanwhile, the arrival of a 44-member team of Louisiana Baptists, Oct. 14, launched a week of compassionate aid and spiritual ministry to hundreds of residents of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, offering hope in the form of medical and dental services, construction work, safe drinking water filter installations and upkeep, and, the sharing of the Gospel as part of these compassion efforts, Vacation Bible School, and door-to-door community evangelism.
Sharing the Word
Ray Swift, administrative pastor, First Baptist Church in Lafayette, Jason Cole, pastor, First Baptist Church in Simsboro, and Wayne Sheppard, partnership missions strategist for Louisiana Baptists preached in local churches the Sunday after landing in Port-au-Prince: Swift spoke in the rudimentary structure of a rural evangelical church in Monet; Sheppard shared the Word at an established Baptist church in Croix-des-Bouquets and presided over a baby dedication there; and, Cole brought the morning message to a congregation "under construction" in Canaan.
But each joined the other 41 mission team members for the rest of the week to share the Gospel in and around the capital city -- in large crowds, small groups, and one-on-one evangelistic opportunities.
Go & tell; Come & see
The events with the largest draws were the Vacation Bible Schools and medical/dental clinics. But the community evangelism team, construction team and water filter team had large impacts, too.
The VBS and healthcare teams alternated working separately at two churches over four days, attracting large numbers of youth to the VBS sessions and pulling in crowds of adults, some with children, for free medical care.
Sheppard joined VBS team leader Shelley Hamilton, a member of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in West Monroe, to conduct VBS for two days at Croix-des-Bouquets Baptist Church and another two days at Canaan Baptist Church.
Attendance was moderate the first day at the larger facilities in Croix-des-Bouquets, but the next morning, a school holiday, there were nearly 300 children eager to attend VBS, including about 100 teens who observed from the balcony.
Hamilton told the Baptist Message, "28 girls and 25 boys declared Christ as Lord" at the end of that two-day program.
The Baptist Message observed that about 60 children enrolled in the Canaan congregation's school, plus another 30 children from the surrounding neighborhood, attended VBS the first day on that campus. On the second day, 25 young ones sought salvation, according to Hamilton, asking God to forgive their sins, surrendering their hearts to Christ and promising to live for Him.
At both locations the children were just like U.S. youngsters: enthusiastic to sing, "ye ye ye ye yes to va va va VBS;" fully engaged when it came to crafts; and, welcoming to the Good News.
Cole started with the construction team, but shifted to the healthcare effort the last day when several members of the medical team became ill.
Ultimately, he served with the team leader, pharmacist Steve Yellott, a member of Istrouma Baptist Church, Baton Rouge, in a makeshift dispensary which issued critical antibiotics, blood pressure drugs and other medications recommended by the general practitioner, DeSha Folgar, and the dentist, Steven Ripple, also members of Istrouma Baptist Church, who were volunteers with the team.
Yellott said the team "saw over 600 sick and injured Haitians and filled more than 2,200 medicine requests over the four days" with only one physician, four nurses and the crews manning the dispensary and a check in/triage station.
Guests also were treated to dental care.
In the case of Croix-des-Bouquets, Ripple set up the dental "office" under a mango tree and treated about 30-50 people each day, pulling teeth, sewing up gums, and other procedures.
But the clinic also included a spiritual health check, with a group presentation of the Gospel given when the doors opened each morning; and, with a member of the evangelism team sharing one-on-one with each person as he or she or the family waited to receive medicine.
Medical/dental team members shared about a number of special ministry encounters, including: the salvation experience of an older man who earnestly asked to be set free from VooDoo; a young boy who sweetly asked Christ to forgive him and to help him share the Gospel "with all of Haiti"; and, the 34-year-old daughter of a recently deceased pastor, who realized she had been living in his faith and not hers (and made things spiritually right that day).
Swift paired up with Reed Adams, also a member of First Lafayette, as one of two evangelism units under the leadership of Matt Saterfield, a member of Mount Vernon Baptist Church, West Monroe. Sonja Nowell, also of Mount Vernon, rounded out the four-person team that went door-to-door in multiple neighborhoods each day, enduring 97 degree heat, and at times some hostile crowds.
The two pairs had a number of unique experiences -- witnessing the salvation of some and suffering the rejection by others.
Furthermore, they were able to create a prospect list in each of four villages for local ministers, including Pastor Pierre Eliacin, who is paralyzed from the waist down and limited in his ability, even by wheelchair, to navigate the narrow, winding dirt paths of the wooded rural area that is home to his small congregation at the Baptist Church of Monet.
Saterfield had one of the most unusual encounters, engaging a group of a dozen or so young men who had formed a tribe of sorts. They shared meals together, daily, out of a common bowl under a large lush tree, using the frame of wooden beams of an antique flatbed trailer as a kind of community "lounge."
The founder of the group was a seminary dropout who twisted Scripture to argue against Saterfield and to make a case for his own religious philosophy (composed largely of the tired old ideas of universalism and "good works"). But Saterfield persisted, correcting the young man's biblical misrepresentations.
Then, in one final effort, he used a length of cord to make a point about eternity.
Pinching about an inch of the several-feet-long strand, Saterfield said "this represents the length of our lives on earth"
and pulling the remainder of the twine through his hand, then motioning on and on without any string, he told them "and this is eternity."
Having set the context, he went on to share the Gospel, but all of the young men were keenly aware of the leader and kept looking at each other for reactions, and in the end none of them responded.
However, a young man had been listening from the periphery; and, when Saterfield ended his spiritual plea and the evangelism team was walking to their van, this outsider ran to one of the interpreters for the Louisiana group and exclaimed, "I need the Gospel, please have someone explain it to me!"
Introducing himself as Watson, he listened intently to the Gospel and then he prayed for forgiveness and salvation.
The next day the team found out how truly transformed he really was.
Watson showed up, having shorn his dreadlocks, telling the team he wanted the community "to see that I am a Christian;" and, he accompanied the team around the neighborhood, helping to identify homes where the lost lived.
The team felt so moved by his obvious transformed heart that when he expressed concern about not having proper clothes to attend church, they met his need.
Construction, Water Filters
The construction team spent a good part of the week on a number of projects at Canaan Baptist Church, wiring the church school to install lights and outlets; building multi-person wooden bench/desk combos for students; and, overseeing the drilling of a well on the campus (which produced 200 gallons of good water per hour when finished).
They were led by Darrin Badon, who serves as the director of facilities with Istrouma Baptist Church, but he and others said they were inspired by 83-year-old Billy Nutt, a member of First Baptist Church in Arcadia, whom they agreed "is still going as if he was 60."
Meanwhile the water filter team installed a number of new purifying units (basically a gravity system of sand and gravel), and performed maintenance on others that had been installed in previous years.
They also prayed for families, engaged in evangelism, and, at one point, prayer walked around the house of a known witch doctor.
After a day of follow-up visits, Jeremey Pretto, a member of Sunrise Baptist Church in Midland, Mich., and leader of the team, shared happily with the entire Louisiana Baptist team about the multiple reports he received from families who said that because of the water filters, "illnesses are going away,"
In their own words
Each night the 44-member mission team shared personal accounts with each other about the special ministry opportunities they experienced and the salvation moments that stood out most in their minds, including:
-- Nutt said he was taken aback by an incident on the way home in the team van one day. He said Badon asked the driver to make a stop at a home he had visited on a previous trip – to ask a man if he was finally ready to let Jesus live in his heart. "He did and, praise God, another soul was saved that day!" Nutt exclaimed. Badon offered that the man was so excited that he asked for prayers to be "filled with the Holy Spirit and can be an example to my family and friends."
-- Bobby Moffett, a member of Cheniere Baptist Church in West Monroe, one of Nutt's colleagues on the construction team, remembered his nervousness in witnessing to a Haitian volunteer (because Moffett was without his Bible which was marked to easily share key Scriptures). "I'm not a preacher," he offered, adding that he had "not done anything like this through an interpreter." Still, Moffett pushed through his hesitance and realized, "wow, this suddenly got easy." The man received Moffett's "relayed" presentation of the Gospel and prayed to ask God's forgiveness and to surrender his heart to Christ.
-- Sheppard, also the executive assistant to the executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, shared about a special encounter at Canaan Baptist Church. As he entered the door to set up for VBS, a young boy looked at him with a huge smile. "While I was still going through the door, he ran and leapt into my arms, giving me a strong hug, making my day and a great start for VBS."
-- Hamilton recalled a reunion with a young girl she met in Canaan the previous year. "Esta had a mean spirit then, and I wrote her name in my Bible and prayed over her every day. This year when I walked in, she ran up and hugged me beaming!" Moreover, when the invitation was given, Esta was the first one to come forward. "We made immediate eye contact and began to cry," Hamilton continued. "God won the war in this beautiful child's life!"
-- Christiann Bayne shared about a four-day VBS miracle that she related to Jesus multiplying the five small barley loaves and two small fish. Each day, about mid-afternoon, the team served a hot meal of rice and beans to the children:
Day 1, they had prepared for an initial low turnout the first day at Croix-des Bouquets Baptist Church, but had to respond to a near-doubling of the crowd by the end of the day, which they did, making "Day 1 a success," she declared.
Day 2, the number of children nearly tripled from the day before, catching them unprepared in supplies. But, with the refrain of "You're a good, good Father" playing, God made the food sufficient to serve everyone there, Bayne said.
By Day 3, at Canaan Baptist Church, she shared, the Christian contemporary tune "had become our anthem" and we began to sing it "louder and louder" while plating meals.
Despite the challenges of the previous days, they had not imagined the challenge they would face on Day 4. "I looked at my team members and we all had similar thoughts…'We are feeding the 5,000.' Even our Haitian friend, helping to serve the food, looked up at the crowd and shook her head in disbelief as if to say, 'We're not going to make it.' But we continued to sing and pray," Bayne recalled. "'Thirty more plates!' we heard. Then, 'four more plates.' By the end, to our complete surprise, everyone was fed, including the Haitian workers who helped us. And there was one plate left over," she said. "God reminded us He is a good Father, making sure that His children had all they needed, and more!"
Two families represented on the mission trip also updated the Baptist Message about "adopted" family members still in Haiti.
Terry & Shelly Hamilton
Hamilton and her husband Terry have been engaged in a two-year process to bring home a young girl they first met during her visit to a Louisiana Baptist medical clinic in 2015. Selena came seeking help for a badly burned leg, and had to return a second day because she was in an even worse condition. Ultimately the team rushed her to a local hospital, and eventually she recovered.
The Hamiltons discovered they could not get over the love they had developed for her and, after talks with Selena, they began to pursue adoption of her.
They told the Baptist Message, they are "waiting for her immigration to be finalized" so they can "begin a two-week socialization period" for bonding. Even then, it still will take three to six months to complete the administrative process of obtaining a passport, visa and exit letter for Selena, Shelly explained, and a previous Christmas 2017 timeline for bringing her home has been lost because of a strike by Haiti's judges this summer.
"It's been tough," she said of the two-year effort, "but we have stayed the course. We've been able to be faithful knowing that without a doubt this is a calling on our lives."
A miracle confirmed their calling, Terry shared: In a three-day period about a year and a half ago, they were able to track down the mother in the Dominican Republic and the father in Haiti and obtained their permission to adopt Selena; and, they found Selena's birth certificate and an orphanage that would take her (a government condition for starting the adoption process).
Now they are hoping the entire process will be completed by April 2018. So are their 13-year-old son Ryder, and 10-year-old daughter Hattie.
The Hamiltons said that when they first stated thinking about being part of an overseas mission trip, they asked God to make it "life-changing," adding that in meeting Selena, "He has changed us forever."
Badon shared how he and his wife Julie came to unofficially adopt a young man, Beoda -- and with their other children becoming a long distance family of five for the Haitian orphan.
Badon said he first came to Haiti for a five-day mission trip in 2010 after a 7.3 magnitude earthquake -- that killed more than 220,000 people and injured another 300,000, according to Haitian government records. The five-man team was part of Global Orphan Project, and came "just to love on the children" living in a dozen or so orphanages, Badon said, offering the insight that it was common at each of the visits for the children to "choose" an adult to spend time with during that day.
A 10-year-old boy chose Badon during one of the visits, and having no common language they simply spent time playing soccer or drawing tic-tac-toe in the dirt, he said. "This started a long, deep relationship [with Beoda] that changed me."
Badon continued to visit Haiti on mission trips, always seeking out Beoda. Then in 2014, he was surprised to learn the youngster had been moved to another orphanage -- where widespread negligence was evident. He managed to have Beoda transferred to a Global Orphan Project facility, where he quickly recovered from the mistreatment inflicted at his former residence.
"When I went to see him (in his new residence), he had made a cardboard sign that read, 'I love you Daddy!'"
Darrin said he and Julie have made a commitment to contribute to Beoda's transportation and education, hoping he soon will graduate from high school, and then "continue his studies, making a difference in Haiti for the Lord."
Completing the vision
Sheppard said the most impacting event for him was the team's visit to the recently enclosed portion of the future compound Louisiana Baptists are constructing to establish a permanent foothold in Haiti.
The project is a collective effort among Louisiana Baptist churches, Louisiana Baptists' Children's Home and Family Ministries and the Haiti Baptist Convention -- a ministry focus that first developed as a vision after the devastating 2010 earthquake left 4,000 more children as orphans. A non-profit foundation, Louisiana Reach Haiti, subsequently was formed to promote Louisiana Baptists' evangelization and church planting work in Haiti, and to raise funds for specific projects there, like the children's village and mission center.
Now with a wall, gate and tower built, and a well drilled, construction will begin on a children's village and a pastor training center, Sheppard said.
"Working with Pastor Jean Louis Odvald and the New Evangelical Baptist Church of Haiti, Louisiana Baptists will establish an orphanage that raises up Daniels and Esthers," he told the Baptist Message. "We will plant multiplying churches that share the Gospel and make disciples across Haiti."
He also shared about the work Louisiana Baptists completed in Canaan to establish another foothold in Haiti.
"We have helped build a worship center, school and medical clinic, and put in a pure water well, strengthening the Canaan Baptist Church to change the spiritual lives of the 1.5 million people living there."
Sheppard said his heart "was greatly moved" when the team began to prayer walk the enclosed grounds of the future children's village and mission center.
"I thought about the hundreds of boys and girls who will one day be living, learning, running, playing, loving and being loved, and, importantly, coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ," he said. "I thought about the many pastors and church leaders who will be trained there and sent out to spiritually impact Haiti.
"I thanked God for what He is doing, and, for the opportunity to be part of His work in that land!"
This article appeared in the Baptist Message (baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Will Hall is editor of 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, security issues, formatting and grammatical changes, the items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.