FROM THE STATES: Calif., Ill., Ala. evangelism/missions news; 'It is an amazing story that most Americans have no clue is happening'

Today's From the States features items from:

California Southern Baptist

Illinois Baptist

The Alabama Baptist

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Calif. seafarers' ministry

touches the world

by Karen L. Willoughby

LONG BEACH, Calif. (California Southern Baptist) -- About 2,000 ships that can be as long as four football fields each, and carry 9,000 or more 40-foot containers, enter the Port of Long Beach every year, each vessel with fewer than 25 crew members.

The crew, who have been 15 to 20 days crossing the Pacific from Asia, are in port less than 24 hours, and without visas or a chaperone trusted by the government, they must stay aboard ship.

While their families fend for themselves in the Philippines, India, East Asia or Ukraine, the crews bounce from port to port without ever touching dry land or seeing their families for nine months or more at a time. It can get lonely, and working relationships -- and families -- can fray.

However, Sung Lee and his team from the Pacific Seafarers Mission (PSM) manage to get aboard about 250 of the container ships each year. Lee, a member of Seafarers Church in Pasadena, is the Port's self-appointed chaplain, a ministry he's been doing for 13 of the 20 years he's been in America; he was a pastor the other seven years. Lee focuses on container ships because, he says, they return regularly to Long Beach and he can build relationships over time.

"Visiting foreign ships is like visiting their country and visiting their homes," Lee told the California Southern Baptist. "But when I visit them many times, they know me well and ... wait for me to visit."

Attesting to the difficulty of the ministry, Southern Baptists at present have no other formalized seafarer's ministry at the other six container-size ports on the West Coast. Long Beach is the nation's second-largest container port, after Los Angeles.

"Reverend Lee's ministry serves the men (and a very few women) who bring to our country the goods that everyone of us use in our homes, businesses and organizations," said Richard Graham, director of missions for Long Beach Harbor Southern Baptist Association. "Everything from cars, refrigerators, TVs, clothes, fuels, grain, other foods, etc.

"These crew members work 6-18 months onboard, 20-25 crew members per ship, and are often not allowed to get off their ships at all during their sign-up periods," Graham continued. "They also have very little contact with their families back wherever home is. Many send their pay back to their families, and at times have then discovered that family members have been unfaithful to their trust.

"It is an amazing story that most Americans have no clue is happening."

Six Chinese, two East Indians and two Koreans work with Lee -- who was born in Korea -- through Pacific Seafarers Mission. One East Indian and Lee are the only full-time employees; the others are volunteers. They gather with the crew in the Day Room of the ship for lunch and conversation; 15 minutes of music comes next, followed by prayer and a short message.

"All crew members are officially speaking English on board," Lee said. "If we encounter sailors who do not speak English, we will obtain and deliver Christian books or Bibles in their native language."

Favorite songs (with Lee accompanying on guitar) include "Amazing Grace," "God is so Good," "Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart" and "You Are My Sunshine."

Favorite Bible stories? "The Creator God, Genesis 1:1 and Hebrews 3:4; Jesus Christ who fulfilled the ministry of atonement on the cross; Jonah story; Rich man and Lazarus; Jesus walking on the water; Jesus who healed the paralytic are some themes," Lee said.

"There are currently 27 piers in Long Beach Harbor," he continued. "Only about 20 of them can be reached by missionaries, but if we train 20 missionaries and send them to visit the ship ... the Gospel from Long Beach will spread to the ports of the world."

The Ultra Lascar is a case in point.

Lee visited the ship on Aug. 7, where 15 crew members participated in what Lee calls a Gospel Meeting.

"They all enjoyed the gospel songs and pop songs," Lee wrote on his Facebook page. "My gospel preaching shake their mind and all accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. Hallelujah!"

Not all the decisions bear fruit, Lee acknowledged, but it gives the crew something to think about -- and someone to pray to -- as seven days a week each week they tighten container holds, battle the weather, monitor, fix or repaint everything that touches the corrosive salt air, and drill for potential emergencies.

"At the ships' Gospel Meeting I led ... approximately 1,200 crew members through the 'acceptance prayer' last year," Lee said. "But I am not saying that they are all saved. However, many sailors met with the Lord through the acceptance prayer and were saved."

He gives new converts Christian materials -- books, CDs, DVDs -- to read during their voyages.

"Because I have not been able to fellowship with them for long I try to grow their faith through faith books. So we need a lot of faith books in PSM," Lee said.

Among those who over time exhibit a genuine Christian faith are men Lee has trained as "ship shepherds."

He appoints those "who identify with the faithful, who will be able to preach the gospel on the ship in the future," Lee explained. He uses e-mail and Facebook to stay in touch with the ship shepherds, though Internet access isn't always available during trans-Pacific crossings.

"But more important than all of this, I think, is to support them in prayer," Lee said. "I have all the photos when they received the ship's shepherd appointment, and I often pray while watching their pictures."

He also prays for more volunteers to minister onboard ships, for 100 men to be trained in time as shepherds, and for a ministry center and vehicle in Long Beach, where he can take men for a few hours so they can feel solid ground under their feet, relax, check the Internet or do some shopping.

People donate to PSM, not just money for Lee's income, but also gifts for the crews -- everything from knit or crocheted caps to toiletries to Bibles.

"Please remember there are many foreign sailors coming into the Port of Long Beach," Lee stressed. "They are the lost souls who need to hear the gospel and be saved. The harbor mission is a golden fishery."

For more information about Pacific Seafarers Mission or to help, see facebook.com/lsjinjc, e-mail lsjinjc@gmail.com, call 323-383-1715 or write to 1164 N. Lake Avenue, Pasadena 91104.


This article appeared in the California Southern Baptist, newsjournal of the California Southern Baptist Convention (csbc.com). Karen L. Willoughby is a writer in Utah.

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For Ill. doctor, medicine

opens doors to the Gospel

By Andrew Woodrow

METROPOLIS, Ill. (Illinois Baptist) -- For 23 years, Randy Oliver worked exclusively in the United States as a family physician. But a medical missions conference changed the course of his life. Over the past decade, the Illinois doctor has gone on multiple mission trips to treat patients and share the Gospel, including trips to Ukraine and Uganda this year.

Oliver had dismissed the notion of attending the MedAdvance conference three times before finally deciding to attend the three-day meeting hosted by the International Mission Board in 2007. Once there, it didn't take long for Oliver to feel the weight of the images he saw and the stories he heard.

"I must not have been there for more than a couple hours before seeing, wholly and fully, the importance and mandatory need for missions," he said. "For me, medical missions was no longer optional."

Since that conference, Oliver has traveled to Nepal, Brazil, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Mali, and Niger with several different mission teams, including his church, First Baptist Church of Metropolis. He even has a saying: "Once I finish a trip, I start planning for the next one."

"When God began to mobilize our church toward international missions, he used Dr. Oliver to do it," said Cliff Easter, associate pastor at the Metropolis church. "Since then, there aren't many places in the world God hasn't used Randy and his medical skills to spread the Gospel."

On a recent trip, Oliver joined forces with Baptist Global Response (BGR) in eastern Ukraine, where the war in Donbass is still in a smoldering phase. BGR partners with the International Mission Board to deliver aid to people and places in great need.

"The economy in eastern Ukraine is not so great," Oliver said. "Because of the current and past crises, many people are displaced from their natural homes and living in more poverty than they otherwise would."

The medical conditions plaguing people in Ukraine are similar to those in the West, but are often untreated and ignored. "Many of the illnesses we dealt with were chronic," Oliver said, "such as diabetes and hypertension."

But while doctors and medications are readily available in the U.S., they aren't in eastern Ukraine. Oliver's team, consisting of five healthcare professionals and an IMB worker, saw patients, prescribed medications, and shared about Jesus. After their 5-day trip, Oliver said, "It's really up to the missionaries to water what we've sown."

Global opportunity

Medical missions can gain a foot in the door where other international missions efforts can't, Oliver said. In some countries, the need for healthcare opens doors that were previously closed. "Medical personnel and supplies taken on mission trips are a bait for spreading the Gospel," he said.

Oliver fears there may come a time when even medical missions can't cross barriers imposed by government or culture. But that day isn't here yet, he said. "And we as Christians need to grab that and seize the opportunity now and make it happen as much as we can."

Over the last five years, Oliver's goal for medical missions has grown. He wants others to catch the same vision he has, and to get involved. The doctor has connected with a group of churches in southern Illinois and western Kentucky that are working together to develop medical missions initiatives and strategies.

"God has used Randy's medical skills to spread the Gospel," Easter said. "But when he's here, he is constantly challenging our church people to use whatever talents and skills they have to serve the Lord in missions."

Even people who aren't equipped to participate in a medical mission trip directly can help by supporting teams that go, Oliver said. "Christ himself used medical missions as one of his tools to spread the Gospel," he said. "The Bible is so full of Christ's instructions to preach and heal. It's a message that doesn't get old-fashioned."

The doctor described the enormity of gratitude and appreciation the patients feel for their treatments. "You give them the second-best thing they could ever ask for: a return to physical health," Oliver said. "And once you've given them the physical, it's an easier transition to give them the spiritual."

After every trip, Oliver said he comes home feeling more blessed than he could ever bless someone else. The smiles from the people and their gratitude for the medical care is touching and so different than practicing medicine in America, Oliver said. "To know that maybe something was said or done and that a church will be built, or a soul will come to Christ," he said, "what more can you want?"


This article appeared in the Illinois Baptist (illinoisbaptist.org), newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Andrew Woodrow writes for the Illinois Baptist.

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Ala. church sees souls

saved 17 weeks in a row

By Grace Thornton

NORTHPORT, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- Kevin Morrison says he's not sure what made him ask God for a sign, but in 2017 he did -- twice.

"I was comfortable at the church where I was, but I felt God leading us away from there," he said. "And I said, 'God, if you want me to leave, please show my wife too.'"

The next Sunday was Easter, and as they pulled into the parking lot, his wife looked at him and said, "This is between you and God, but I was just wondering -- have you ever felt like God was calling you to go somewhere else?"

Morrison was floored.

"I started crying," he said. "The following Sunday, I stood in front of the church and I told them that I felt God was leading me to go somewhere else."

The deacons told him if a church called him to fill in, even if it was before his notice was up, he should follow God there.

"I had no idea where God was leading us," he said. "But that Thursday I got a call from a church."

That church -- Bethabara Baptist in Northport, Ala., -- asked if he could fill in the next Sunday. He did, and the next one too, and the next several after that.

"Once they got us there, they kept us," he said. "And on the first Sunday in July, they were going to vote for us to stay and for me to become their pastor. I asked God for confirmation -- to see a soul saved that morning. I don't know why I did that."

But when Morrison gave the invitation that day, a man came to the altar and gave his life to Jesus.

That same thing happened for the next 16 Sundays.

"For 17 Sundays in a row, we had somebody get saved," Morrison said.

The church building holds about 300, but at that time they were running about 40 in attendance on Sundays.

"One of the guys at the church said, 'I've never seen this happen, 17 weeks in a row where somebody was going forward and pouring out their heart to God at the altar,'" Morrison said.

In November 2017 they baptized all 17. Now they're running 90 on Sunday mornings, and just recently on Sept. 23 they baptized six more.

"The church members are amazing -- people are just answering the call," Morrison said. "It's awesome to see how different ministries have grown and how people have stepped up and are going out into the community. I give God the credit."

'On fire'

He said it's exciting to go to church each week and see what God's going to do.

Gary Bonner, associational missionary/director of missions for Sipsey Baptist Association, said the church has had "a great, great year."

"Kevin is a bivocational pastor, and he's had a tremendous time in ministry there," he said. "It's a church that's on fire."


This article appeared in the Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Grace Thornton writes for the Alabama Baptist Convention.

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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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