FROM THE STATES: Okla., Md., Ga. evangelism/missions news; 'People are excited and passionate about souls'

Today's From the States features items from:

Baptist Messenger (Oklahoma)

BaptistLIFE (Maryland)

Christian Index (Georgia)

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Okla. church renews focus,

baptizes 94 in one year

By Emily Howsden

DEL CITY, Okla. (Baptist Messenger) -- Over the course of a calendar year, a church that runs just under 300 on a Sunday morning has baptized 94 believers.

Pastor Danny Gandara, who has been at Del City, Sunnylane Southern for a calendar year, said the Lord's work has been mighty, and it's not because of anything that he has specifically done, rather pure obedience to the Lord's leading.

"At an evangelism tune up I heard the phrase 'in everything you do, a soul should be changed and a life should be saved,' so that's what we're all about," Gandara said.

Gandara said no matter the day or time of the service at Sunnylane, the Gospel is preached and an invitation time will follow. It has been that way since the day he came in view of a call, when eight professions of faith in Christ were made.

He talked about how, earlier in his life, he was someone who would go to church, and "did the church thing and wore a religious mask on Sundays." However, Gandara said it wasn't until later that he realized salvation is about a surrender. "You have to give up your rights," he said. "So that's been my heartbeat, and we really focus on God revealing that to a lot of people."

In terms of who has been baptized at Sunnlylane, there is no age limit. Gandara says many children have followed their profession of faith in Christ with believer's baptism, as well as people well into their 80s.

"First there were quite a few church members who had never taken that next step in their faith. From there, it kind of spread to a wide range of people," Gandara said. "People are excited and passionate about souls, so they started inviting their friends, and it's just been a multiplication process ever since."

Gandara said, at Sunnylane, there is a heavy emphasis on getting outside of the church walls and inviting people to hear the Gospel. There was a big push before Easter to invite as many people to come to church as possible.

"There's a lot of brokenness in the Del City community, but we really care about the community. We went out into the community and canvassed, knocking on doors and inviting people to church," Gandara said.

"Later that month we had a revival, and 22 people got saved. We prepared for that revival meeting through prayer. We embraced the brokenness of our community and accepted anybody, and lives have been changed because of it."

Sunnylane members have obediently adopted the "soul getting changed and life getting saved" focus encouraged through Gandara's preaching.

"From changing a diaper to answering a phone, it needs to be about the operation of our church focusing on a soul being changed and a life being saved. Anything that is not involved in that, we're not going to be a part of it," Gandara said.

Sunday School classes are now "Connect Groups." "We changed the name to Connect Groups because you connect with God, His Word and other people. We cast the vision of reaching, teaching and ministering through connect groups, and it has taken off," Gandara said.

Gandara said each Connect Group is like its own little church. In each group there is a care group leader, who organizes hospital visits and other miscellaneous care acts, and an outreach group leader, who connects with more people, and a teacher, who teaches lessons.

Once someone makes a profession of faith in Jesus Christ at Sunnylane, they are then directed towards two counseling opportunities. First, the team of encouragers, which is made of staff members, talks with the person.

Then, the person goes through a "Firm Foundations" class, which guides them through Scripture like the Romans Road and makes sure there is a thorough understanding of the decision they have made.

"Baptism is the next step that shows that you are not ashamed that Jesus is the Lord of your life now. It's a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, and symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection of your new life in Jesus," Gandara said.

One thing that Gandara made clear, however, is that nothing he has done is the reason why the church is experiencing so much life change. "God has done all the work, we've just gotten in on the plan and followed Him."


This article appeared in the Baptist Messenger (baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Emily Howsden is a staff writer for the Baptist Messenger.

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Md. church baptizes

13 on 25th anniversary

By Sharon Mager

GLEN BURNIE, Md. — Members of Bay Life Church (BLC), formerly North Arundel Church, celebrated their 25th anniversary on Sept. 22, baptizing 13 people at a "Community Day" outreach. It was a huge step of faith into the future for the church.

Bay Life Church has been in a state of transition for several years. The church rebranded in 2016, changing its name, selling the shopping center where the congregation previously met and moving into a shared space with Glen Burnie Baptist Church (GBBC), Maryland, where Bob Simpson serves as senior pastor. In June 2017, the church's founder and long-time pastor James Pope resigned. Brian Miller became senior pastor of BLC in January 2018. The congregation struggled through the changes, but God held them together, and they're growing.

Miller led the church in participating in the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware's(BCM/D) AWAKEN process, helping plateauing and declining churches to self-evaluate and move ahead in a Godly revitalization process.

With the sale of the building and moving to the new space, Miller said the church lost some of their drive for outreach. AWAKEN opened their eyes. "We knew the way to grow, the way we would survive and be revitalized is to think outside of the building," Miller said.

Bay Life Church used the Community Day as their AWAKEN project. It energized the church and they were thrilled with the response when over 170 people attended the event.

"We've always had a great worship experience. That's always been a part of the church, but we have a whole community that doesn't know Jesus," Miller said. "My goal is to think externally, to be mission-minded. That's what God honors."

Ministering alongside and with GBBC has also helped BLC through their transition and revitalization

Miller said the arrangement works well. "Bob and I have developed a good relationship and friendship. I have tremendous respect for him." It helps that both men, in addition to their pastoral callings, are also musicians.

The two churches cooperate and share. They combined children's ministries, share praise band members and leaders and meet for special events.

The children from both churches meet during the time between the two worship services and teachers from both churches work together to teach the kids. Also, BLC volunteers renovated the children's area, now called "Kidzone," to modernize it and make it more "kid-friendly."

The congregations come together at times for special events such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

"These are great opportunities for both churches to mingle and worship together," Miller said.

Glen Burnie Church has a long history of offering its facilities to diverse congregations. In addition to BLC, they have a Korean church and a Hispanic church that meet at various times in the building.

Working together on the special services is where Simpson and Miller began to bond and to share resources. "When I needed a worship leader, Brian would fill in," Simpson said. "They had a drummer, and we didn't, so their drummer would stay and play for us. They needed a keyboardist, so I would sit in and play keys," he said. Later, other musicians stepped up to help. The churches jointly hired a technician, who handles sound for both. Also, Simpson and Miller provide pulpit supply for one another.

Simpson initiated a task force with leaders from both churches — pastors, music leaders, children's leaders, custodians and others. Through that task force, they developed the idea of "Kidzone." In addition to meeting between services, the Kidzone ministry team oversees Vacation Bible School and movie nights.

In October, Kidzone leaders hosted a successful community "Trunk or Treat." "We had great participation from both churches and 200 people showed up," Miller said, excitedly. They're already planning for next year.

Simpson said the churches have developed a great model for sharing a facility and building a partnership.

"Though we're still two churches, sometimes we act like one big church just worshipping God," Miller said.

"We're very fortunate to be in the situation we're in," he said. "This gives both churches the opportunity to see their pastors working alongside each other. Everything is about the Kingdom, not Bay Life, not Glen Burnie Baptist. We're utilizing the space we have, and it's a beautiful space."


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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Ga. Baptists helping

kids learn to read

By Scott Barkley

CARTERSVILLE, Ga. (Christian Index) -- When, once again, his fingerprints didn't show up on the scanner, Tommy Harris wondered aloud how that could be when his wife's showed up fine.

"That's because she works with her hands more," replied the officer.

Harris, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Kingston and a former assistant principal, thought about that principle. He and his wife, Patsy, were among several volunteers taking part in the Bartow Baptist Association's Read to Grow program. The initiative, where one helps first graders in their reading comprehension, required a background check with fingerprinting. Additional training took place prior to the school year through the Bartow County Board of Education.

Since then, around a dozen members of Macedonia have traveled to nearby Kingston Elementary throughout the week. They sit with first graders and help with sight words and other reading comprehension skills. Volunteers will read to the children but mostly be read to. Flash cards and other teaching tools assist in the process.

Read to Grow's purpose actually points to the standardized test each of these children will take in third grade. That assessment is considered a benchmark as to a child's probable literacy level as a young adult and the likelihood he or she will finish school and even spend time in prison.

The connection from third grade to jail

The third grade benchmark is one oft-cited when it comes to education. A study by the City University of New York revealed that third graders not at their proficient level are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma. For the ones who haven't even mastered basic reading skills by third grade, that figure jumps to six times more likely. A 2009 study by Northeastern University showed that not having a high school diploma can make one 63 times more likely to spend time in a correctional institution when compared to those receiving a four-year degree.

Poverty compounds the problem. Overall, 22 percent of children from a lower economic background don't graduate from high school compared to six percent who have never been poor. And even among poor children who do reach the proficiency goal, 11 percent will still not graduate compared to third graders who don't reach the proficiency goal but have never been poor. In addition, the study said 31 percent of poor African American students who didn't reach third grade reading proficiency failed to graduate. That figure rose to 33 percent for Hispanic students.

However, the study indicated, racial and ethnic graduation gaps disappeared when students not living in poverty reached their third grade reading goals.

Fingerprints on the community

Like any preacher worth his salt, Harris thought about that concept of the fingerprints until an analogy developed.

"The more you work with your hands, the more your fingerprints can be noticed. They become more clear. If we serve the Lord they way we ought to, our fingerprints on the community become more noticeable," he pointed out.

Harris, 73, has a clearer perspective of the need than most. He's been a minister for 30 years but was also a 26-year veteran in public education. As an assistant principal and assistant coach (baseball, football, basketball) at Cass High, he was also the school's first athletic director. He finished his education career at Bartow County/Cartersville Crossroads Academy, an alternative school, before serving as headmaster for seven years at Excel Christian Academy in Cartersville.

In presenting Read to Grow to prospective volunteers prior to its launch, community profiles helped show the need for the program.

"In that profile a statement was made that I know set deeply with David [Franklin, Bartow Baptist Association missionary]," remembered Harris. "It was how the third grade reading level determines the future of the child. Bartow County's reading skills on the third grade level were very low, so we do our work with these first graders in anticipation of those third grade tests."

Powerful community support

Bartow Baptist Association has adopted 20 classrooms in four elementary schools of the Bartow County School System, Franklin told The Index. Around 140 volunteers, mainly senior adults, are providing the boots on the ground.

"Teachers are some of the most stressed-out people in our county and deal with much more than people realize," Franklin said. "With the volunteers, those teachers get to teach more while students needing extra help get it."

In 2017 Cloverleaf Elementary School's 32.4 percent reading proficiency reflected a ten percent jump from 2016, but still lagged behind the state average of 36.4. Principal Evie Barton, a 28-year educator, cites Read to Grow as something to keep those numbers trending up.

"This is the most support I've seen out of the community. The boys and girls are watching and waiting on the day 'Mr. David' (Franklin) or other volunteers are going to show up," she said. "Having that community support has been powerful for the school, especially the teachers. They feel the support because sometimes you can feel like you're out there by yourself."

Many of the students at Cloverleaf, a Title I school, live with relatives in nearby extended-stay hotels, Barge added. "We have a high level of students in poverty, living in the hotels with a single parent. This program gives them another adult at a different level to help them with their reading. It's a different relationship than with a teacher."

Harris notes how such a program lends itself to the schedule of retired or senior adults.

"We've got a lot of experience," he noted. "But the key isn't the academic knowledge you share, it's the spiritual knowledge. This program is about helping kids learn to read but also showing them there's something different about us."


This article appeared in the Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Scott Barkley is editor of the Christian Index.

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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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