FROM THE STATES: Ala., Md. and Tenn. evangelism/missions news; '... We were able to very clearly articulate the gospel'

Today's From the States features items from:

The Alabama Baptist

BaptistLIFE (Maryland)

Baptist and Reflector (Tennessee)

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Ala. Baptists help start

state's first Mixtec church

By Grace Thornton

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- Lisa Rose remembers when the Mixtec people first began arriving at Montgomery-area ministry centers. Volunteers thought they were Hispanic but realized quickly that they were wrong -- they couldn't communicate in Spanish.

"We found out that what they spoke was called Mixteco," said Rose, director of compassion ministries for Montgomery Baptist Association. "I had never heard of that, so I started doing lots of research."

What she found was that the Mixtec people -- one of Mexico's indigenous people groups -- were the most unengaged unreached people group in the Americas. So she and volunteers from area churches began to do the hard work of building relationships and laying a foundation for the Gospel among the Mixtec.

Now, more than a decade later, a fledgling Bible study group among Alabama's Mixtec dedicated its new church facility Feb. 10. The group doesn't have a name yet, but it will be meeting in a building provided to them by Highland Gardens Baptist Church, Montgomery.

Active evangelism work

"It is phenomenal -- as it continues to grow, it will be the first Southern Baptist church among the Mixtec in Alabama," Rose said. "To my knowledge, there are only three more in the U.S. -- one in California, one in Virginia and one in North Carolina."

But because of the ministry to the Mixtec that local churches have done in all four of those states, the group has been moved from "unengaged, unreached" to "unreached" status, meaning there was now active evangelism work going on among them.

And though there's still much work to be done, that is something to celebrate, Rose said.

For about 10 years, as Montgomery-area Baptists served the Mixtec, they invested in the children and "got to know the people and the culture very well but we were just not able to reach out to the adults," Rose said.

It was a problem largely caused by the language barrier, she said. So they began to really pray and formed a task force.

And last year they had a breakthrough -- when the people faced heartache, they reached out to the Christian community that had been so kind to them for so long.

"Two people in the community died within a few months of each other and they asked us to perform the funerals," Rose said. "There were 200 to 300 people in one room together and we were able to very clearly articulate the Gospel."

Open doors

Some of the teenagers and young adults who spoke English served as translators, and with their interest piqued, it opened the door for Rose and others to begin to disciple them.

"That made us begin to consider starting a regular Bible study group," she said.

So they got training in Bible storying from Jack Day, an International Mission Board missionary, and in July 2017, they began two Bible studies -- one in the Chisholm neighborhood and one in the Forest Park neighborhood.

And people started coming.

"We consistently have five to seven families and it's growing," said Rose, noting they recently moved the combined study into the building at Highland Gardens Baptist. "We have supper together, have a Bible study and sing some worship songs. We talk about life issues and how the Bible guides us."

The Bible is new to the Mixtec, as is the Christian life, but they are "growing rapidly," Rose said.

One Mixtec young adult whom Rose is discipling got in the car with her one day and said someone had asked her over the weekend if she was a Christian. She responded that she went to church.

"She told me, 'I felt guilty all weekend; I feel like Peter in the Bible,'" Rose said. "I told her that was the Holy Spirit working in her, and she said from that day on, she planned to be bold."

And she has been, Rose said. The young woman serves as a translator for the people in the community who only speak Mixtec, boldly sharing her faith.

Other young women have been bold too, Rose said. One teenage girl, the only believer in her house, has risked the anger of her family as she's turned her back on the mysticism of the Mixtec people.

"It's a small group of believers but step by step they are becoming more bold and the group is growing," she said.

"We've seen the men in the community step up and be curious and want to come hear the story of God."

Rick Barnhart, interim pastor of Highland Gardens Baptist, said that being involved in ministry to the Mixtec has been an amazing thing for his transitional church.

"As part of the intentional look at how to be the best church God has called them to be, they voted to make that building available to the Mixtec community," he said.

That decision was an extension of their existing ministry to the people group. One set of 10 siblings had been coming to the church's children's ministry for some time, even though the parents weren't involved, Barnhart said.

"When the dad passed away recently, we were able to really minister to the family and assist them," he said. "We made the decision to expand the use of that annex building to the whole Mixtec community."

Praying for leaders

Currently the Sunday night Bible study is being led by John Halbrooks, a member of First Baptist Church, Montgomery, but Rose said they hope that as it grows into a church, it will eventually be Mixtec-led.

"We are praying that the young adults here will rise up and become the leaders of the church," she said. "And our hope is that one day if some of them go back to Mexico, they will take the Gospel with them."


This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Grace Thornton is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.

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'Hands & Feet of

Jesus' reach out in Md.

By Sharon Mager

GLEN BURNIE, Md. (BaptistLIFE) -- It was the first snow of the season, and temperatures were dropping when Faith Baptist Church, Glen Burnie, members Janet Hayes and Kathy Snow drove up to the little clearing in the back of Harundale Plaza to set up tables, food, and folding chairs. Several other women joined them to lend a hand. A line of men, women and children were waiting, some for an hour, many with shopping carts, several with canes. Some stepped out of line to unload cars and help with setup. It's a weekly occurrence. The ladies, in sun, wind, freezing cold, and even the snow, arrive faithfully to serve food to those in need.

"If we can get our cars there, we'll be there," Hayes said.

There's a short Bible reading and a time of prayer and blessing of the food before the line moves forward. Most of the heads bow, people are respectful. When the "Lord's Prayer" is recited, most join in.

Hayes began and leads the "Hands & Feet of Jesus" ministry, sponsored by Faith Baptist Church. FBC Member Kathy Snow is the co-leader. They've moved around a bit over the last decade, but the little spot they've settled on seems to be perfect, she said.

Hayes, Snow, and other volunteers prepare the food -- huge containers of chili, spaghetti, soup, and other hot foods. There is always bread, sometimes fresh fruit, and pies and cakes. Other volunteers help form a serving line.

As often occurs, what began as a tiny ministry has greatly expanded. At least six other churches now are involved, as well as several other community groups and individuals who just want to help. Josephine Rock, a member of Linthicum Baptist Church (LBC), began showing up soon after the women started meeting behind Harundale. Rock founded the non-profit, "Churches of Glen Burnie & Beyond." She and a few helpers bring clothing and housewares and set up across from the food line. Now, the two groups work closely together, with Rock bringing food and the food ministry volunteers giving her clothing. LBC helps, providing a coat bin, and members help by donating clothing.

"This is something I feel compelled to do," Rock said. "It's not mentally easy. A lot of people don't come out of that rut, but I have a passion for it."

Son Rise Fellowship Ministries, Jessup, arrives once a month with a large group to serve food. In warm weather, they bring tents, fry fish, give away lots of goodies, and crank up the music.

Another local group, BMore Caring (BMC), attends twice a month to bring hygiene kits, food, Bibles, blankets, and other items. There's even a van that shows up with free pet food and many quickly line up.

In addition to meeting the physical needs and sharing the Gospel, Hayes said there are friendships being made. She and the other volunteers have gotten to know the people who come to the ministry on a regular basis. Hayes rejoices when they get jobs, or homes, and she hurts for them when they're broken. She held and comforted a young man after he was attacked and waiting for an ambulance. She's left food for people she knows on the side of the road, near their tents. Recently there was a mourning as volunteers learned of a young woman's death as a result of being homeless and addicted. The girl used to come to the feeding ministry, and Janet would give her clothes since they were close in size.

In the midst of it all, there's joy in the spirit, as Hayes related, "I was talking to God while we were there on Saturday, and I just wanted to jump up and down. It had to be the joy of the Holy Spirit. I was so excited with happiness to be there with those people, just to see them getting hot food. They're standing in line and I'm here with them. I wish I had a bigger bowl for them. I wish I had more for them," she said.


This article appeared in BaptistLIFE (baptistlife.com), newsmagazine of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. Sharon Mager is communications specialist for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.

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Tenn. church built on

faithfulness, miracles

By David Dawson

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (Baptist and Reflector) -- Jeff Simmons wasn't so sure he wanted to start a church. He wasn't convinced that people would come, and he wasn't certain the church would ever get off the ground.

Then God brought something to his heart that completely changed his perspective.

"God reminded me that he hasn't called us to be successful," said Simmons. "He has called us to be faithful."

Clinging to that mantra, Simmons started a church plant in the fall of 2002 with about a dozen people gathering on Thursday nights at the Alara Farms apartment clubhouse.

With the support of its sending church, First Baptist Nashville, and the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, the fledgling church swiftly began to take root -- and God took over from there.

In the 15 years since then, it's been one miracle after the next for Rolling Hills Community Church, which has blossomed into one of the most dynamic and vibrant churches in Greater Nashville.

Now holding three services each Sunday at "The WareHouse" -- which sits amid a sprawling piece of property in Franklin -- Rolling Hills averaged 1,250 in worship in 2016 and baptized 70 new believers during the year. (Last year's numbers have not been finalized).

The church has since opened two additional campuses, one in Nolensville and another in Nashville.

"Rolling Hills is an example of a healthy church plant that started with strong sending-church support, and that enabled the church to grow to be a reproducing church," said TBMB church planting specialist Lewis McMullen. "Starting strong healthy church plants has come naturally for Rolling Hills. It's part of the DNA at the church. They are carrying on the example set by their sending church."

And it all started with Simmons' desire -- his calling -- to be faithful.

"I didn't know what God was going to do," Simmons said. "I mean, I really couldn't have dreamed this. A lot of people are like, gosh, is this what you expected? And, it's like, well, I didn't know what to expect."

Simmons breaks into a gentle laugh when he thinks about the doubts he had at the beginning of this journey. He admits that it took some very clear signal-calling from the Lord -- and some extra nudging and encouraging from his wife -- for him to be willing to accept the challenge.

"God finally convinced me by saying, 'Hey, I'm not telling you it's going to work; I'm just telling you that this is what I'm calling you to do,' " Simmons said.

Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the TBMB, said he is excited and encouraged to see that Rolling Hills is not only growing, but is multiplying with additional church starts.

"The Tennessee Baptist Convention has a vision to see 1,000 new churches planted or strategically engaged by 2024 -- and Rolling Hills Community Church is certainly representative of a thriving church plant," Davis said. "For 15 years, Rolling Hills has reflected the Great Commission values of the TBC to preach and share the Gospel while serving its community in practical ways. It's a joy to see a church having the kind of impact this one is having. Rolling Hills is a testimony to what Tennessee Baptists can do when we work cooperatively together."

The journey begins

Rolling Hills has been a growing church essentially from Day 1.

After just three months of meeting at the apartment clubhouse, the church moved to the Marriott Hotel in Cool Springs, and began meeting on Sundays in early 2003.

While there, the church found creative ways to conduct business. Baptisms were held in the indoor pool -- occasionally while some of the hotel's guests continued swimming in the deep end. The location of worship gatherings was very fluid, too, during that time.

"One week, they'd come to us and say, 'Hey, we've got an Amway convention next week, so you guys will have to go somewhere else,' " Simmons recalled with a laugh. "So, we'd meet in a barn or we'd meet in a bridal shop. The joke was, 'if you can find us, you can worship with us.' We just never knew where we were going to be, week to week."

The odyssey continued for the next year, and in the spring of 2004, Rolling Hills was on the move again, relocating to Carmike Theater in Cool Springs. The church had no official contract with Carmike, but God was in the details, and the church continued to grow.

During its five-year run in the theater, the church experienced -- appropriately enough -- some comedy, some drama and certainly some adventures.

"We did baptisms in the horse trough out in the lobby," said Simmons, "and they'd be popping popcorn behind us. It was fun."

Each Sunday, the Rolling Hills staff and volunteers would meet at Carmike at 6:30 a.m. to begin setting up for worship. The church would make use of 10 different theaters (one for the nursery, one for a coffee bar, etc.) throughout the morning.

During its tenure at the theater, the church started two other ministries -- a 3-on-3 basketball tournament in the parking lot, and a present-wrapping station at Cool Springs Mall during the Christmas season -- as means of outreach. Both ministries are still going strong today.

Permanent Place

The church continued to grow and flourish in the theater, and by the fall of 2007, it had outgrown the facility.

So, when Simmons learned that there was a building for sale in a prime location in the area, he began praying about a possible move.

There was only one small obstacle: His church was about one million dollars short of the one million dollars it needed to bid on the building. "At the time, we had a couple of hundred people coming to our church, but we had zero in terms of savings," Simmons said.

After much prayer, Simmons felt led to call the church to have a one-time offering. He remembered telling the members, "Hey, let's pray. Let's stretch. Dip into your savings, your retirement account. Let's see what we can do."

The congregation responded. And a miracle happened.

"Everybody came together," Simmons said. "Kids were bringing their piggy banks in and everybody was in on this. I mean, it was powerful."

Amazingly, the budding church, with an average age of 28 among its members, collected more than one million dollars.

"When our finance chair called and said, 'Jeff, the church just gave a million dollars' -- I thought he was lying," Simmons said. "I thought, 'there's no way he is serious.' But he was. It was just totally the miracle of the fish and the loaves."

"We were able to go back and talk with some banks and we ended up buying this giant building."

And yes, there's another amazing God story behind that, too.

"The guy who (previously owned the building) was a believer, and we were able to meet with him," Simmons said. "God ordained that. He put that together in His sovereignty."

Simmons recalled what the previous owner told him: "He said to me, you know, when I bought this (building), I really felt like God had a bigger plan for it and a purpose for it."

On Oct. 11, 2009, the church held its first worship service in its new church home: The WareHouse.

As it turned out, the 143,000-square foot building was actually bigger than the church needed. So, what happened next? Yes, another miracle.

"By God's grace, He allowed us to go out and get three tenants," Simmons said.

The three tenants are: the state of Tennessee, which leases 10,000 square feet; Comcast, which also leases 10,000 square feet; and Naxos (the nation's largest distributor of classical music), which rents 40,000 square feet.

"The tenants pay rent back to the church, so that helps off-set our mortgage," Simmons said. "It's allowed us to put money, our tithes and our offerings into ministry and missions, which has been real exciting.

"God's been so gracious to us," he said.

Looking ahead

Simmons believes the church has potential for more growth -- and not because of anything he or the staff is doing, but because people are seeking joy; seeking Jesus.

"I think today, more than ever, people are hungry for truth," Simmons said. "I think people are looking for answers. People's lives are empty. We all have that God-shaped hole in us, right? Christ is the answer.

"When you just share the love of Christ and you pray and you reach out to people and you see lives being changed -- it's contagious," he said.

So, where does the church go from here? Simmons said he leaves those decisions to the one who is really in charge.

"Every day I wake up and it's like, 'OK, God, what are you going to do today?'" Simmons said. "You just don't ever know. You can't script these things."


This article appeared in the Baptist and Reflector (baptistandreflector.org), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. David Dawson writes for the Baptist and Reflector.

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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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