FROM THE STATES: Ky., Tenn., Texas evangelism/missions news; '[L]et's take it to the streets'

Today's From the States features items from:

Western Recorder (Kentucky)

Baptist and Reflector (Tennessee)

Southern Baptist TEXAN

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Ky. church takes

VBS 'to the streets'

By Myriah Snyder

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Western Recorder) -- This year, Westport Road Baptist Church in Louisville took a new approach to LifeWay's "Game On" VBS theme. They "took it to the streets" by providing six backyard Bible club-style VBS events in neighborhoods throughout Louisville.

The neighborhoods included Westwood, Sycamore, Crosby Park, Hillcrest, Maples Park, Murray Hill and Portland. Events were held in public places such as the new Maples Park in Crestwood, Portland Promise Center in Portland, and even church member's backyards.

"We've been really trying to break down walls," Jeanne McClure, Westport Road's children minister, explained. "Rather than have the 'build it and they will come to you' philosophy, our thought was 'let's take it to the streets.'"

In January, Pastor Chip Pendleton preached a sermon series on the topic, and that was part of the inspiration for this new model, McClure said.

Each site had a host, whose main goal was to make connections with parents and families. A director headed up a mission team of no fewer than five members plus volunteers headed up the other various facets of VBS.

One big plus to this model was the "ownership" that the volunteers and mission teams took. "People took greater ownership, feeling like part of a mission team, just like they would if they were going to Haiti or Malta or wherever," McClure noticed. "It was a completely different sense from coming into the building and teaching in a traditional VBS setting."

It even provided a great opportunity for general outreach within the communities. In the Crestwood area, the host was David Atcher, Westport Road's minister of music and worship. Not only did his whole family, including children, get involved in passing out fliers and making connections, during the course of their visits they happened upon a Hispanic community. With the help of his bilingual wife and the pastor of Iglesia Baptista Gethsemane, connections were made into this community.

"For us to be able to go as a family, and for my kids to be able to experience what it's like reaching out to people, and we really had a great time with that," Atcher said. "It was a great experience getting out and even crossing some cultural and language boundaries."

With the around 100 children that came and the 80 members who volunteered their time and energy, McClure said that all the feedback she received was good. "Everything that we heard from the mission teams involved was positive in terms of feeling like they connected with the children more, feeling like they connected with the families more. It felt more personal than doing it here in the building."

She'd absolutely encourage any church to consider this model. "I would encourage them to do misisons of any type. And this felt like going out and doing missions, reaching people where they are, rather than just those that are willing to come meet you in the building. There are some that are going to come meet you in their neighbor's backyard that aren't going to walk into the building."

To hear more testimonies of how God worked throughout the week, visit, https://www.buzzsprout.com/48677. (WR)


This article appeared in the Western Recorder (westernrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Myriah Snyder is assistant editor for the Western Recorder.

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Tenn. church helps

students have 'strong start'

By David Dawson

GALLATIN, Tenn. (Baptist and Reflector) -- It's not easy to turn a church building into a shopping mall. But for one day each year, the members of First Baptist Church, Gallatin, make it happen.

Roughly five years ago, the church established the "Starting Strong" program -- a ministry that provides brand-new school clothes and accessories to children who come from tough economic situations.

Throughout the year, the members of the "Starting Strong" committee watch the sales papers at local retail stores, and continuously purchase items (shirts, jeans, shoes, hoodies, etc.) that will be given away. Then, on a designated Saturday just before school begins, financially-challenged families are invited to come to "shop" at the church.

At this year's event, the church was able to provide items for 284 children from the area.

"We use the Starting Strong program as a means to bless these kids and love on them in Jesus' name," said Travis Fleming, pastor at FBC. "We want to help them get off to a good start to the school year and not have to go back with their peers -- most of whom have new clothes and new shoes -- without having anything new of their own."

The ministry reached about 75 children the first year, and has steadily grown each year. Roughly 200 church members and volunteers help with the project, transforming the church into a temporary outlet mall.

"We have entire classrooms filled with boys' and girls' shoes," said Fleming, "and another room filled with shirts and another room filled with jeans. Our education building is just full of a ton of clothing items. It's really great."

The Starting Strong "team" works closely with the guidance counselors from the local schools to gather the names of children and families in need.

Jerry Blunkall, a deacon at FBC, is credited with creating the concept behind the ministry, although he is quick to deflect any praise.

"I was driving down the road one day, and the Lord put this idea in my head," he said. "I couldn't have thought of this on my own."

Soon, the ball started rolling.

"I went and talked to Greg Jackson (the church's executive pastor at the time) and it kind of started from there," Blunkall said. "We formed a committee (with Blunkall serving as chair) and got things going."

In addition to clothing, the church is also helping the families with their spiritual needs. Counseling areas and prayer rooms are available after they've completed their shopping. "We want to do more than just put clothes on their back," Fleming said.

Members of the church staff, including Fleming, serve as counselors, making themselves available to the families. "We asked questions like: Is there any way we can pray for you? Do you have a home church? And most importantly, do you know Christ?" said Fleming.

Elementary-aged children are given gospel materials to take with them, and older students -- in middle and high school -- are given a 30-day devotional.

Lunch is also provided for the participating families. Some years, the church has cooked hot dogs and hamburgers. This year, Hunt Brothers Pizza sent over two of its "trucks" and cooked pizzas in the church parking lot.

Originally, the idea of the ministry was to provide school supplies for the children. But at one of the early meetings of the Starting Strong committee — which includes a number of retired school teachers and administrators — it was determined that clothing, not school supplies, was the greatest need.

So, Blunkall began thinking about the possibilities.

"I told the members of the committee, 'We need three things: We need money, we need to be able to find out which children we can help, and then we need clothes,'" said Blunkall.

Collecting money to fund the project -- which, of course, is normally one of the biggest obstacles for any program -- turned out to be an easy assignment.

"I suggested that we go to the Sunday School classes and just ask for it," said Blunkall with a reflective laugh. "So, sure enough, we went to the Sunday School classes and told them what we're going to do and that we needed their help providing money. In just a couple of months, they provided us about $20,000."

That same spirit of generosity has been on display throughout the brief history of Starting Strong. Outside organizations, such as Soles4Souls, have become involved with the ministry, and have helped increase the inventory.

"We basically don't have to ask for money anymore. It just comes in," Blunkall said. "I think people understand the need for (this ministry), and they want to be a part of it."


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

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Texas Speakers' Tournament

yields lasting fruit

By Kaylan Preuss

ARLINGTON, Texas (Southern Baptist TEXAN) -- "The Speakers' Tournament has been a reality check for me. It holds me accountable. And after people have heard your speech -- the people who look up to you -- they expect you to live by it."

This account came from Kailyn Newsom, a recent high school graduate and member of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington.

The "reality check" she talks about is the Speakers' Tournament, an annual competition hosted by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention for students in grades 10-12 who deliver speeches four to six minutes long on biblical topics provided by the SBTC. This year's state competition was in mid-April.

The program exists so students can mature in their faith, share God's Word with others, become skilled and comfortable with public speaking and earn college scholarships (for those who place 1st, 2nd, and 3rd at the state levels).

Each fall, students begin the challenge by picking topics, developing outlines and writing their speeches. Over the winter, in the company of coaches, they refine, memorize and practice. By spring, they're ready to present to their churches and associations with the hopes of advancing to regional, state and even national competitions.

Mark Haire, a speakers' coach at Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, said students choose from a list of 10 topics per year.

"The idea is for them to pick something that's biblically related—usually having to do with spiritual disciplines or how to engage the culture—and drive them to wrestle with the verses they choose in order to formulate a coherent speech. It becomes life-impacting for them," Haire said.

In the past, topics have ranged from "Being Christian in a Pagan World" and "The Christian Life Is Not a Popularity Contest" to "Acting My Age" and "The Greatest Spiritual Lesson I've Learned So Far." Some students choose to take an inspirational approach, while others present in an argumentative format.

Haire said, "A lot of times students will select a historical figure—like a martyr, great missionary or notable speaker—and use that as their inspiration."

The whole experience is more than just memorizing a script; it's also practicing to make perfect a powerful delivery, refining the composition, working on vocal inflection and eliminating verbal tics.

"I tell our speakers that one of the most powerful things they can do in their culture is to become effective public speakers," Haire said. "The skill is rare, so it will set them apart. This program is a hard sell to this teenage culture, but it's impactful for those who do participate. They can go and have tremendous influence in their churches, jobs and families. My own kids have grown up to see the value in it."

Rickey Wilson, an elder and tournament preparation leader at Cornerstone in Arlington, assembles a team of up to 20 students each year. He's been involved with the ministry in his church for more than 20 years, since his own daughter was a speaker.

During that time, he's seen the age of social media emerge and spread among teenagers, causing a shortage of face-to-face and verbal communication. Being glued to a phone may seem like a hindrance, but Wilson says students are still interested in what the program is about.

"We try to connect with them and encourage them to have an encounter with God during the process," he said. "They gain a unique skill set. It prepares them for college presentations, but also to share the gospel with others. Our former kids come back and let us know how valuable it was for them."

According to Cornerstone's Newsom, the Speakers' Tournament was a spiritually transformative experience. She's done Bible Drill for years, but she says God used the speakers' competition to encourage her in very specific life lessons at the right times. "Every year, when it was time to pick a topic, the Holy Spirit said to me, 'That's the one.' Little did I know how it would impact me later," she said.

During her junior year, Newsom was a track star headed for the varsity team. Then she sustained a hip injury that doctors couldn't put a finger on. She said, "All I'd known was track. It's what people knew me for. When I stopped doing that, I didn't have a purpose."

That year, the topic she chose was "Having Peace in a Troubled World." Newsom found a new purpose in writing and speaking in front of people. As she waited for her hip to heal, she also began writing poetry, doing debate, and started a Christian club at her high school called Awaken.

This past year, she picked the topic "True Love Waits." She memorized the verses and dug deep into the topic so that it was engrained in her.

"I've never had a boyfriend before and didn't when I chose the topic, but I just recently started dating someone," she said. "I had heard about the struggle, but I didn't know the struggle was that real. I've been able to go back to what I wrote and learned, to call upon the verses in my speech and be encouraged toward purity."

Newsom says she's learned how to hide God's Word in her heart over the last few years because of the Speakers' competition. This fall, she's headed to the University of Texas in Austin to study communications, and where she hopes to use what she's gained thus far.

"Through this ministry and these speeches, Scripture gets into the hearts of these students," Wilson said. "They're not just saying words; their hearts are affected and they minister to others who need to hear God's Word."

Karen Kennemur, SBTC children's ministry associate, agrees that the Speaker's Tournament helps students prepare for college. "The time spent in speech preparation requires digging into the Scriptures and researching topics," she said. "It improves writing skills and enhances public speaking abilities."

In addition to giving students opportunities to compete for college scholarships at the state and national levels, she said the SBTC pays for the winning student and one parent to attend the national tournament.

Next year's regional competition occurs April 5-6 at First Baptist Church in Euless and April 12-13 at Spring Baptist Church near Houston and First Baptist Church in Odessa. Winners progress to state competition April 27 at the SBTC offices in Grapevine.


This article appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Kaylan Preuss is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN.

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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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