FROM THE STATES: Texas, Ill. and Ark. evangelism/missions news; Ministering to Ecuador's 'marginalized and disenfranchised'

Today's From the States features items from:

Southern Baptist TEXAN

The Illinois Baptist

Arkansas Baptist News

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Texas churches build wall in

Ecuador, break down barriers

By Jane Rodgers

LARGATO, Ecuador (Southern Baptist TEXAN) -- The impoverished parish of Lagarto, nestled near the coast in the province of Esmeraldas, Ecuador, is changing, thanks in part to a dozen Texas Southern Baptist churches that discovered that to break down barriers, you sometimes need to build a wall.

The Ecuadorian partnership was connected to the International Mission Board's emphasis on reaching unreached people groups and primarily involved churches in the Dallas Baptist Association.

The churches -- including 10 predominantly African American congregations -- sent teams to Lagarto for the past four years under the coordination of Barry Calhoun, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention mobilization director and church planting associate.

The black Texans ministered to black Ecuadorians, the bulk of Lagarto's population and a group Calhoun called historically "marginalized and disenfranchised."

Calhoun said that one translator from Quito helping his groups even announced, in tears, that she had "never been around black people before."

"And she was Ecuadorian," he exclaimed.

During the first two years of the partnership, teams focused on providing English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at the local high school. Attended by students and teachers, the classes provided rare English instruction in the town where schools did not offer the subject, although Quito schools had taught English for decades.

This has changed, as Lagarto public schools now include English.

In recent years, missions teams emphasized discipleship instead of ESL, hosting VBS programs and Bible training for adults.

They also built a wall.

For decades, the middle school Unidad Educativa Aurelia Becerra de Quiñonez, surrounded by red brick walls on only three sides, remained vulnerable to vandals and transients who stole from both school and teachers.

"As a project last year, we decided to the finish the wall," Calhoun said.

Little did they know the significance of this gesture, which provided needed security for the schoolchildren.

So important was the wall, that townspeople, frustrated by the government and school system's repeated failure to complete it, had boycotted the major local festival in protest earlier that year.

"That tells you how big a deal the wall was to them," Calhoun said. "When we put the wall up, they were ecstatic."

Last fall, when groups returned to dedicate the wall, Calhoun expected a short ceremony. Instead, some 800 students, plus teachers and administrators, poured into the schoolyard for a three-hour celebration featuring special foods and cultural dances.

"It was their celebration of thanksgiving to us," Calhoun explained. "It was really special for us to see this."

Rather than a plaque, a bench inscribed with the school's name formalizes the building of the wall by the African American churches of the SBTC for the people of Lagarto and the children of the school.

While the formal Ecuadorian partnership is ending after its planned four-year run, relationships between the African American churches and the Afro-Ecuadorians will continue.

At the request of Hilda Alvarez, vice-president of the board of trustees of the parish of Lagarto, Calhoun and teams have agreed to return next year to participate in the Life Transformation Conference, scheduled for Oct. 23-29, 2018, addressing community concerns such as drug and alcohol abuse and teenage sexual promiscuity.

"It was impossible to say no. Their teen pregnancy rate is epidemic, even sub-teen rates are up," Calhoun said, adding that incidences of 10-year-old girls becoming pregnant had even occurred.

The outdoor event will include from 1,500 to 2,000 kids and adults. Calhoun plans to use the "True Love Waits" curriculum from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and other resources.

"We'll do some teaching. We'll also try to reach the parents. We've got to change the culture of the parents before we can change the culture of the kids," he said, adding that a logo had already been sent to organizers in Lagarto to show Ecuadorians that "the American churches are coming to help."

Calhoun summed up the Lagarto experience with one word: "hope," noting that discussions were in progress with a young local man who had expressed a desire to become a pastor.

While the Ecuadorian partnership is formally ending, work is just beginning in Havana, Cuba.

"We are still in conversations with a number of people [about Cuba]," said Calhoun, alluding to church planting goals still in the early stages.

SBTC staff attended the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention annual meeting this November, Calhoun added, noting that both stewardship and revitalization summits are planned for at least two islands, possibly more, in 2018.

In the continental United States, revitalization efforts in Montana continue, Calhoun said. Near El Paso, Texas borderlands strategies also remain effective, as does the Reach Houston effort, where the Bi-Stone Baptist Association of churches recently agreed to send teams, starting next year, to assist church planters.


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.

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Ill. refugee simulation

shines light on global crisis

By Andrew Woodrow

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (The Illinois Baptist) -- The lights in the room dimmed. Suddenly, there were loud, wailing sirens and the sounds of hovering aircraft and explosions. Shouts could be heard from each corner of the room as the girls yelled out, eagerly looking to find the rest of their lost family members.

The IBSA Building was transformed into a refugee camp Nov. 5 for the annual AWSOM conference for young women (AWSOM stands for "Amazing Women Serving Our Maker"). Through an intensive, simulated overnight experience, this year's AWSOM focused on helping the 222 students in attendance understand the plight of the refugee, and how they can help. Attenders also heard the stories of Christians who have lived with persecution.

After the simulated war broke out, the students, grouped in "families" of five, were instructed to find refuge in a neighboring country. They could only travel with limited items, however, and had to leave the rest of their belongings behind.

When the girls reached their temporary shelter, a setup of makeshift tents representing a refugee camp, they were given minimal supplies. Current and former missionaries dressed as border guards spoke only the language of the countries they served, to represent the foreign atmosphere to which refugees must adapt.

In the end, the family had to make the decision either to return home to their war-torn country, navigating elements such as land mines, or to apply for citizenship in the new country in hopes of building a new life.

The crisis is real

Prior to the simulation, International Mission Board missionary Christopher Mauger showed a brief aerial video clip documenting the plight of the Rohingya Muslims as they fled from Myanmar, formerly called Burma.

Mauger, who serves in Southeast Asia, described the situation as "desperate" and "unbelievable," and as a crisis that "needs prayer." "If they have to go down [to Bangladesh] for refuge, it's really bad," he said. "There's nothing there."

Mauger explained how "hundreds of thousands" of Rohingya Muslims have been exiting the country as a result of persecution from Myanmar's government, which is Buddhist.

"For those who have a place to live, they are living in camps with plastic for roofing," Mauger said. "They are crowded in small areas, food is scarce, and they don't have any hygienic necessities."

Mauger described how easy it is to get distracted with a situation like this by blaming the evil in this world. But by changing their perspective, he said, Christians can help. "We can tell these people about God," he said, "by giving and supporting the Christian organizations that are helping in that area."

Becki McNeely, a leader from Lakeland Baptist Church, said AWSOM "opened the students' eyes to an increased awareness of the state of refugees."

Several students echoed McNeely. One young woman described how it "must be hard to live in a persecuted country" after hearing the accounts of the speakers. Several more expressed their increased awareness of the refugee crises and were "saddened" at its reality.

Carmen Halsey, director of women's ministry and missions, said IBSA is securing resources to inform churches about refugee issues. She added that she hoped the experience helped students to be able to "feel the psychological anguish caused by separation and flight" and to "see what forces people into refugee situations," as well as adopting a more welcoming attitude towards refugees in their own country.

Go to vimeo.com/IBSA to view video from this year's AWSOM conference.


This article appeared in The Illinois Baptist (illinoisbaptist.org), newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Andrew Woodrow is a multimedia journalist with the Illinois Baptist State Association.

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Ark.'s City Center Conversations

aim to tackle the big questions

By Caleb Yarbrough

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Baptist News) -- In a day marked by distractions and confirmation bias, a new ministry is attempting to create a space for exploring big questions from faith-based perspectives.

City Center Conversations is an event series started by members of Immanuel Baptist Church, Little Rock, and hosted by Steven Smith, the church's pastor.

According to its website, the organization's "strategy is to host nationally known speakers, who are living out their faith in the public square to Little Rock, to have open conversations about faith and tackle some of the biggest questions of the day."

According to Smith, many churches don't do a great job at "influencing the influencers and reaching the intellectual community."

"I have talked about this with Robert Lewis, a member of Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock. He said, 'You have to understand that the influencers are the underserved in our city. They are just the intellectually underserved and spiritually underserved.'"

Smith said that this concept of Little Rock's influencers and intellectuals being underserved resonated with him and with multiple laymen at Immanuel Baptist. The laymen were excited to employ their interest in "conversations that stimulate the left brain" as a way to engage similarly wired believers and non-believers alike in meaningful interactions.

"The great thing about Little Rock is that if you can arrest the attention of a few, you can arrest the attention of a lot. You are only two or three conversations away from reaching a big part of the city," said Smith.

The first City Center Conversations event was held Dec. 12 at Robinson Center in downtown Little Rock. More than 500 people attended the sold-out event. Guests included Christian church leaders from multiple denominations, local businessmen and women and state and local politicians.

"It has really resonated with people in the city. I think they have wanted something like this, a venue where they can have these types of conversations," Smith said. "Say you work downtown and you are a doctor or you are at a big law firm, what are you going to invite your buddy to at church? There are not many things (that allow for this).

"It (City Center Conversations) allows you to come into a non-threatening environment. It is fun and it's relaxed," Smith said. "It isn't evangelism. It is more pre-evangelism. But it is an entre to the Gospel."

The second event will be held Feb. 20 at the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock. The special guest for the event will be Lee Strobel, author of multiple best-selling books, including "The Case for Christ," which was recently adapted into a film of the same name.

In addition to authors like Eric Metaxas and Strobel, Smith said that future events will feature guests who specialize in myriad areas, including apologetics, science and entertainment. Smith will continue to serve as host of each City Center Conversations event.

According to Smith, the goal is to hold three to four City Center Conversations events each year.

One of the overarching aims of City Center Conversations is to have conversations about faith. And while members of Immanuel Baptist started the organization, the hope is that theological, political and/or cultural differences would not hinder open, honest and fruitful discussion.

"Honestly, one of the reasons I love this is because I want to bring in people to this who I may not have in my pulpit," Smith said.

"There are guys that I would not have in my pulpit, not because they were unbelievers or pagans but because I have a narrow understanding of the calling of a pastor in that role.

"With this (City Center Conversations), however, I feel a tremendous amount of freedom," he said.

"If a guy was a different political or theological affiliation from me, I don't have to make that clear in that environment because it's probably already assumed that we are different," Smith said.

"It's an environment where we can think about the right things without having to affirm the differences."


This article appeared in the Arkansas Baptist News (http://www.arkansasbaptist.org/), newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Caleb Yarbrough is assistant editor at the Arkansas Baptist News.

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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. Except for minor style, security, formatting and grammatical changes, the items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.

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