FROM THE STATES: N.C., Texas, Ill. evangelism/missions news; 'Jesus loves you. Jesus cares about you. We care about you.'
Today's From the States features items from:
Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)
Southern Baptist TEXAN
N.C. church planter
gets to 'The Bottoms'
By Mike Creswell
CONCORD, N.C. (Biblical Recorder) -- Drive past Charlotte's jagged skyline.
Head north up I-85 a ways, past the big speedway and the shopping mall.
Wander towards downtown. At some unmarked point not on a map, you pass into an area some locals call "The Bottoms."
It once was a thriving mill village, but the mill closed. Jobs evaporated. Better stores closed or moved away. What's worse: At least eight churches closed or moved away.
Three were Southern Baptist.
Poverty, crime, drugs, prostitution and gangs -- violent gangs like highly publicized MS-13 -- moved in.
Concord is a great city with many nice neighborhoods, one former policeman wrote in a published report. Just avoid The Bottoms, he cautioned people moving to town.
But Wilson and Tessa Moore did move in, two years ago. They knew the area, but came anyway. This is also a pocket of lostness -- an area in which many people have no relationship with Christ.
They are planting a new church, partnering with Crosspointe Baptist Church, whose building sits a few miles away just off I-85, and with the Baptist State Convention's Church Planting Team.
The Moores gathered a core group and started meeting in their small, third-floor, walk-up apartment -- a hard fit for 20+ people in the early days. They moved on to a rented church building and then more recently have been considering moving to an empty school building.
They call it Crosspointe West Church.
Moore is a graduate of Fruitland Baptist Bible College, located in what Moore respectfully calls God's Country, but most people call Hendersonville, N.C. He says when he steps behind the pulpit every Sunday, Bible in hand, there's a reflection of his Fruitland training.
He worked in a grocery store and ministered bivocationally for 23 years. He believes the Bible teaches to serve where you are, so he led Bible studies beside the produce stand.
Moore is quick to say problems are not everywhere in Concord, and not even in The Bottoms. "Ninety percent of the people here are just average folks," he said, "but there's a criminal element."
He said that small element essentially casts a long, dark shadow beyond itself.
Moore's Crosspointe West Church is still small, but he's proud of his sturdy members who are willing to work hard and hang tough as they follow their faith.
Trust hereabouts is as scarce as hundred dollar bills. Sharing the gospel here requires having people trust you, and that takes time, Moore said.
"The good part is that people here are open to the gospel. Door-to-door visits still work here. People want hope," he explained.
Reaching people here requires an investment of shoe leather. "We visited 1,700 homes last year," Moore said. "We share a basic message: Jesus loves you. Jesus cares about you. We care about you."
He is quick to say a single visit is not enough: "We continue to go back to visit people." At first he was not allowed inside the front door of homes, so he did a lot of front porch visitation.
Moore will talk for hours sometimes. "We'll sit on the front porch and talk about life. I always tell them about Jesus. I'll say, 'You remember that conversation I had with you about Jesus? Well, none of that has ever changed. If you want to talk about it, you know where I am.'"
At first people just asked him for money. They told Moore he would leave them soon; he wouldn't stay.
"Now they say, 'My daughter is in the hospital. Will you go see her?' It has taken a while to gain the confidence of the people," Moore said.
"It's a hard place to be able to minister -- I'm not going to lie to you. It's not a place where people go to plant churches," he said.
But sit with Moore a while and he bubbles over with life stories.
He'll tell you about the soul-sick veteran. "He looked at me two weeks ago and said, 'Do you understand what I've done, Preacher? I've had to kill people. Can your God forgive me for that?' I was like, 'Yes He can! I shared the gospel with him.'"
Moore can tell you about rescuing a child left in a hot car by a mother gone to score drugs. He can tell you about risking the ire of pimps when they go out evenings and witness to prostitutes.
Now, more people greet him as pastor. "I guess you'd call me the community pastor, because I'm the only one they know," Moore said.
Some new members have come from drugs, others from cults and being followers of Satan.
There are so many interesting life change stories they plan to start posting video testimonies online.
Moore was excited to find his old friend, Bob Merrill, who he knew as a fellow Fruitland student. Bob was one of the first people to visit the new church. At first Moore thought he had just come to wish him well. Turned out Bob lives nearby. Now he's Moore's right-hand associate and helps with media and other matters.
"It's amazing to see what God is doing. This is nothing Wilson Moore has done. This is what God has done, Brother, and it's just amazing to be a part of it. I love every minute of it," he said.
This article appeared in the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Mike Creswell is the Cooperative Program consultant for N.C. Baptists.
Texas church helps
neighbors get back to school
By Ed Huber
SPRING, Texas (Southern Baptist TEXAN) -- North Oaks Baptist Church of Spring in suburban north Houston believes its duty is to serve God in the community, with an aim to take the gospel into every interaction and event.
So on Aug. 10, for the fourth straight year, the church hosted a back-to-school outreach as 22 church members distributed 800 door hangers in two low-income trailer communities a few miles from the church campus and shared the gospel with residents. The hangers announced the upcoming Operation BackPack the following Saturday, Aug. 17, featuring free backpacks, school supplies, haircuts, food and entertainment at the church.
"It is important for our church to go out and serve the community," said NOBC Pastor Caleb Fleming. "Operation BackPack is a project that offers witnessing opportunities, reaps professions of faith and results in new members." He said since the project was initiated by the church, attendance has grown steadily.
Leading up to the event, coordinator Beverly Jones organized volunteer collection efforts for supplies and backpacks for 350 students -- 100 more than the previous year. She said most of the items were donated by church members and a participating store. Volunteers worked the night before and that morning to set up the school supply stations, a food truck, two bounce houses, tables, chairs, and stations for free haircuts, food, cotton candy and snow cone stations.
About 9:30 a.m., parents, and excited children started to arrive at the sign-in station, and from there were directed to backpacks and school supplies. After filling those needs, families exited to another room where they were offered New Testaments and gospel tracts; free haircuts from Salvation Stylists; free family pictures; lunch and outdoor attractions, including a fire truck manned by Klein fire department volunteers.
Erin Taylor, who brought her daughter, a niece and some neighborhood children to the event, said she recently moved to one of the trailer communities, received a door hanger, and is happy she attended the event. "We would be struggling to provide school supplies for our children without the support of the church," she said. "My daughter is having a great time, and now we are ready to start the school year." Prior to leaving, Taylor spoke to Fleming about her faith in Christ, and she promised to visit the church again.
Deacon Venkat Koripalli said the communities served this year for Operation BackPack are mostly Hispanic, move often and are economically challenged, so kids without the assistance of NOBC or other community resources enter the classroom without a backpack, and school supplies, creating the hardship of a negative stigma for the rest of the school year. He said the annual event has become a "labor of love for the church, done in obedience to Christ."
Gary Schill, another deacon, noted that the church provided about 100 volunteers for the event. "I think the church demonstrated what it means to be Christian," he said. "More than 200 kids received supplies, had haircuts, ate and played games. It went very well."
NOBC's sphere of influence was extended into the community as families departed with needs being met.
"My heart is full this afternoon," Fleming reflected. "It is such a joy to serve the people of North Oaks Baptist, and the people of our community. Today, people's physical needs were met and the gospel planted to satisfy eternal needs. God is good."
This article appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Ed Huber is a correspondent for the TEXAN.
Partnerships breathe new life
into northern Ill. community
By Meredith Flynn
WOODSTOCK, Ill. (Illinois Baptist) -- The year after Redemption City Church closed its doors, a new church is preparing to use its building as a hub for outreach and ministry in this community 60 miles northwest of Chicago.
Gospel Grace, a church plant headed by Nate Praytor, has spent the summer meeting neighbors and gathering in two Bible study groups: one for the church's core group of leaders, and one for people with little to no church experience. They also held a carnival for kids at a nearby apartment complex.
The little church is growing, said Praytor, whose family moved to Woodstock from northern California earlier this year.
"God has been so gracious," he said. Praytor recounted the response he got after deciding to postpone evening Bible study to prepare for outreach the next day. "We've had people ask, 'Can't we just do a little Bible study?'"
In June, Illinois Campers on Mission spent several days in Woodstock helping Praytor and the new church renovate their building in preparation for the church's official launch date, which is still to be determined. The campers, who volunteer multiple weeks every year, completed several projects in Woodstock. They stayed in their campers in the church parking lot and fought rain every day, Dick and Karen Mowers reported in the group's newsletter.
"Amazingly though, we had a good time and even better fellowship. We were blessed by the hearts of the people there with a vision for the church."
Investing in the future
The original Woodstock church is part of the Baptist Foundation of Illinois' Church Legacy Program, meaning that its remaining assets were entrusted to BFI to support several missions causes. One of those is Embassy Church, a 5-year-old church in nearby Palatine. Embassy pastor Phill Howell put out the call for a church planter needed in Woodstock, and Praytor responded.
He had served in pastoral ministry for several years, but felt pulled toward church planting -- specifically, church planting in Woodstock.
"One of the major reasons we felt the Lord was calling us to church planting is that we knew we'd need a major focus on outreach and evangelism -- making disciples and making Christ known." He and his wife, Amanda, had sensed that for years, Praytor said. The couple and their three daughters have been in Woodstock since March.
When a church sets up a fund through BFI's Church Legacy Program, the Foundation works with church planting resources, including IBSA, to get a new church going in the old location. Gospel Grace is the beneficiary not only of resources given by Embassy Church through Redemption City, but also from a fund set up by Glenfield Baptist Church in Glen Ellyn, which disbanded in 2013 but continues to support church planting in Chicagoland. Plus, generous gifts from donors, said BFI Executive Director Doug Morrow.
Morrow calls it a "confluence of generosity," noting several sources have given toward the Gospel Grace project, including Campers on Mission.
"It would be impossible for any secular strategy to get this done," Morrow said. "There is the miraculous all over this thing."
From lost coast to hard soil
Praytor acknowledged the multiple partners working together to bring Gospel Grace to Woodstock. Howell and Embassy Church provide coaching and ministry oversight, and Praytor and many of his core leaders are currently members of that congregation. BFI paid off the mortgage for the building and parsonage, and serves as manager of the property. And the North American Mission Board's Send Network has also contributed to support the new church.
Praytor's family moved from an isolated region of California known as "lost coast." They thought northern Illinois would be similar, and it is, in some ways. There aren't a lot of churches, and even fewer evangelical ones, Praytor said. But there is still some "residual church" in the culture, he noted.
"So, you can ask people about church, and most people my age, or older, or even a little younger, seem to have some church experience," the church planter said.
"It's actually been a blessing for us, because it makes it a lot easier to jump into gospel conversations."
Woodstock has a population of 25,000, with another 5,000-10,000 in the surrounding areas. The small handful of evangelical churches in the region may represent around 250 people, Praytor said. A thriving Buddhist temple meets in what used to be a church just off the town square. Woodstock seems to be "hard soil," Praytor said, which is why his church is so excited about the outreach traction they've gotten.
"We're just sitting back watching what God's doing and reacting to it," he said. "There's nothing unique or special about us at all. God has just been gracious to us."
EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, typically 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.