FROM THE STATES: N.C., Ala. & Texas evangelism/missions news
Today's From the States features items from:
Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)
The Alabama Baptist
Southern Baptist Texan
for the Gospel
By Melissa Lilley
RALEIGH, N.C. (Biblical Recorder) -- Although Renee* lives in Raleigh, she often feels like she is living in a different country. Her friends speak different languages and come from different religious backgrounds. Some did not attend her wedding because the ceremony was in a Christian church. They are nervous to have their cars seen in a church parking lot.
When she visits in the homes of her friends she sometimes has to be careful what she says about Jesus; if someone from the mosque drops by unannounced that kind of conversation could get her friends in trouble.
Among Renee's friends are Muslims from the Horn of Africa, atheists and agnostics from Central and Eastern Europe, and Buddhists from Southeast Asia.
Being a Christian in their homelands or even converting while living in the United States could mean death or being completely ostracized by family and friends, said Renee, a church planting missionary catalyst with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).
Renee's friends are curious about her faith, but not yet hungry to really know more.
They accept her and love her, and therefore will listen when she shares her faith, but earning the right to do that took time.
Really, life isn't much different for Renee here than it was while living overseas as a missionary with the International Mission Board (IMB). She is still trying to reach unreached people with the Gospel.
She is still facing a long road ahead because conventional methods such as inviting people to church or outreach events don't work.
She builds relationships with people in order to earn their respect, their trust, and hopefully a willingness to hear the Gospel. "They invite me to birthday parties, graduation parties, and to the hospital for a baby's birth. They treat me like family," Renee said. "Whatever they need, they know they can call."
They know to call because Renee has made it clear that she cares about them and wants to invest in their lives.
As a church planting missionary, Renee is receiving financial support from the BSC just as other BSC-funded church planters, but she is not serving in a preaching or teaching role.
Rather, Renee works alongside a team of volunteers to help facilitate the planting of new churches among unreached people groups, explore areas for possible church plants and develop strategies for planters to use when initiating new church plants.
"What I do is not possible without God's provision of help from my team and the support of the Convention, association and churches," she said.
The ministry is challenging, Renee said. Many people she builds a relationship with strongly object to the Gospel. Some think she is arrogant to say that faith in Jesus is the only way to salvation. Others believe doing good works is what religion is about.
"There's a lot of spiritual warfare with this type of work. It's continual; there's always something. But you have to keep going. Hebrews 12 tells us not to lose heart," Renee said.
Renee is not giving up. The theme verse for her and the team is 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, which reminds them that Christ's love compels them to continue reaching out, to continue sharing their faith.
"If you are a disciple, you are a disciple 24/7. You should be ready in season and out of season," Renee said.
"Always be watching to see who Jesus wants you to love and where you can truly invest."
Long road home
Renee knew she needed to leave the mission field in Central Europe in order to attend seminary, but her plan was to return as soon as possible.
"I came kicking and screaming off the mission field. Southeastern was the closest seminary to my family and friends in South Carolina. I prayed, 'Lord, get me out of here as fast as I can so I can go back,'" Renee said.
It wasn't long before Renee learned God had not brought her away from the mission field, but brought her closer to it. In her own neighborhood she met people from Central Europe, from the very people she once worked with.
After seminary Renee thought about getting a full time "regular" job, but "that didn't sit right at all," she said.
As she began building relationships and serving people in various ways, such as leading English as a Second Language classes in homes, she knew God was calling her to remain in North Carolina to help share the Gospel and facilitate new church plants.
"I'm praying that they will develop a hunger for the Gospel, and not just have a curiosity about it, so that they can carry the truth of the Gospel to their community" Renee said.
Renee has learned that ministering and serving the people God has called her to serve is going to be a long process with fruit coming slowly. "If you push and push, you will lose the relationships," she said.
"But they know who I love and who I serve. Whenever I am talking with them, I'm imparting the Word to them. God's Word does not return void."
Renee is committed to doing what it takes to be faithful to serve among those who need to know Jesus Christ.
"It's about dying to yourself daily for the cause of the Gospel, and serving the needs of others, not just yourself," Renee said. "It's about being a Christ-centered, missional disciple all the time."
To learn more about Renee's ministry efforts, or about BSC church planting efforts and how you can get involved, visit ncbaptist.org/churchplanting.
*Name changed. This article originally appeared in the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Melissa Lilley is the research/communications coordinator for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
New church plant has
'pretty big missions field'
By Grace Thornton
WESTOVER, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- David Wilson was a businessman, not a church planter. At least that's what he thought.
But Wilson, owner of central Alabama's six Servpro franchises, kept feeling the prodding of the Lord, especially every time he passed that large empty building at his Servpro headquarters.
"The Lord laid it on David's heart to start a church in his training building, which he was only using about four times a year," said Danny Lovett, Wilson's friend and former pastor. "He called me and said, 'I want you to come down here and talk to me about starting a church.'"
So Lovett did.
And in August, after a long career as a Baptist pastor and 20 years in higher academics, Lovett became pastor of the new Church at Chelsea Westover.
"As a retirement-age pastor, this has re-energized me," Lovett said. "Church planting is perfect for seasoned pastors looking to start new work -- they have a financial base from their retirement and they have a career of experience to pull from."
And they can take the plunge, follow Christ and start from scratch, Lovett said.
After taking a class with Shelby Baptist Association he recruited some interns, and they hit the pavements knocking on doors and getting to know the community. By the end of October the church had grown from three couples to more than 80 people attending, he said.
Many of those have been baptized at Chelsea Westover.
"Our vision is to love God and love people, at home and abroad," he said. "We're here to reach the lost, the unchurched and the unfulfilled."
Lovett said he hopes what Wilson started at Servpro can become a model for businessmen all over Alabama.
"If we can get some businessmen to catch this vision, we can jump-start church plants all over the place," Lovett said. "We don't have to build buildings -- the buildings are already there. And if new churches have places to meet without having a lot of overhead, they can put the funds they have toward helping people and serving the community."
Bob Brown, church planting strategist for Shelby Baptist Association, said not having a mortgage also frees up money to "multiply the Kingdom" by hiring interns to help lead the new church plant.
"Those interns can then learn how to start more churches," he said.
"It's a blessing that comes from using a building already owned by a business, a business that opens its doors to bless others."
Meeting at a neutral location can also make people feel more comfortable giving church a try, Lovett said.
"We want to do our best to reach the people around us," he said. "There are 15,000 people in a seven- or eight-mile radius around us, and statistics say that roughly 80 percent of those are not in church. I'd say that's a pretty big missions field."
Lovett said the church planting class offered by Shelby Association helped him and others draw up a vision statement for Chelsea Westover and begin to flesh out its purpose at Servpro.
"It was phenomenal," he said. "This is pioneer country for us. We are learning as we go, and it was great having a solid place to start."
Brown and others travel all over the state helping churches and associations train church planters. To learn more about church planting or to schedule a class, email Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 205-602-7218.
For more information about the Church at Chelsea Westover, visit thechurchatcw.com.
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Grace Thornton is assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist.
Corpus Christi woman finds 'fun'
ministry among international students
By Bonnie Pritchett
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (Southern Baptist Texan) -- Michelle Woods laughs at the idea that her Saturday outings are a "ministry."
"I just spent the day shopping with a bunch of girls. That was fun," she exclaimed.
Ministry, after all, is presumed sacrificial in Woods' mind. Woods, a member of Padre Island Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, contends ministry is not shopping and lunching with a gaggle of college girls on a bright, brisk Saturday afternoon. Where's the sacrifice in that, she asked?
Woods lives on Padre Island, just across the John F. Kennedy Memorial Causeway from Ward Island, home to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Just over 10,000 students are enrolled, including 480 internationals from 67 countries. Most of the international students do not have cars and are at the mercy of a bus system that does not serve them well, Woods said. Providing transportation to these students gives her the opportunity to fill a need and engage them in spiritual conversation.
It had been a month since Woods last saw the students when she pulled up to their dorms and apartments one Saturday early in November to ferry them around town. Her daughter's homecoming activities and the unexpected death of her father-in-law took the family in different directions throughout October. Woods said she missed her time with the young adults she has come to consider friends.
Their few hours together that day -- trying new dishes at the Asian Fusion Bistro and perusing the aisles of the Asian Market and H.E.B. -- were filled with laughter, encouragement and timely insertions of the Gospel.
Woods is a latecomer to an international student outreach initiated by a woman who knew many of the students at the TAMU Corpus Christi campus. The woman suggested, in order to have a richer cultural experience while in the United States, the students should visit a church. Woods' sister, Marlene Mills, picks up the willing students on Sunday mornings and takes them to a local church, The Summit, with a large international student ministry.
Transportation services extended throughout the weekend, ferrying the co-eds to local shops not on any bus route. During the summer break from her job as a dyslexia facilitator at Seashore Charter Schools, Woods took on the role of Saturday driver at the request of her sister. She had the free time and thought it would be fun, assuming it would only last until she went back to work in the fall.
But then she was hooked.
About a dozen students, primarily Chinese, take up Woods' offer of taxi driver and escape from campus for a few hours. Though the number of students varies each week there is a core group of three to four female students who regularly accompany Woods. That Saturday, after the month-long hiatus, four young women piled into the car excited to see Woods and each other. Their conversation slipped from English to Chinese and back, punctuated often with laughter. Behind the wheel Woods listened to the exchange and beamed, happy to be the catalyst for the encounter.
Ma Dai Xi, "Daisie," is Nebraska-born of Chinese parents. Although her father's oil industry job kept the family moving around the U.S., Daisie's upbringing was so deeply rooted in Chinese culture she is most at home with the international students on the campus. In fact, 200 Chinese students attend the school.
Nancy Chang, 31, of Taiwan and Yanqing Kong, 32, known as "Echo," are MBA graduate students. Daisie, 19, and Yonglin Chen, 20, known as "Annie," are studying marketing.
Daisie and Nancy are Christians grateful for the fellowship of the new church home and the small Bible study group on campus that brought them all together. Echo and Annie (many international students take on Anglo-sounding names) are not believers but their introduction to the Christian church and its people has been positive.
"In China I heard about church but I never go inside," Echo explained. "I saw church as old people and old buildings."
A gregarious resident of Shanghai and the only one married among the four, Echo is amazed by the kindness and openness of the people in her new smaller and slower-paced environment. And it is here where she first heard about Jesus.
And though she does not yet have a clear understanding of the Gospel message—she said she believes all religions are basically the same—she recognizes a unique characteristic of Christians.
"Religion is just religion but I think Christian is much better," Echo said. "The way they treat us is different."
Annie agreed to attend church in Corpus Christi though she presumed it would be boring. Raised to be self-reliant, her family does not claim any faith nor did they ever venture into the one church in her hometown. But her misgivings proved unwarranted as she enjoyed the worship music and found the sermon unexpectedly touching.
The pastor spoke from 2 Timothy 1:7. Though her new environment did not make her fearful, Annie admitted she missed her family. Learning God gives his people a strong spirit was encouraging, she said. Being invited to a Bible study and spending her Saturday afternoons with Woods has made Annie realize she just may have an extended family in Texas.
Like a mother, Woods' feelings for her international friends swing between concern and joy as she frets over their wellbeing and the choices they make while watching them take baby steps toward understanding the Christian faith.
Woods said she now realizes she does not have to go to China to share the Gospel. The students from there are aware their government keeps things from them, especially notions about religion. So they are curious and receptive to the message Woods and others have to share. Their Saturday afternoons together, though not exhausting or gritty, provide the perfect forum for a free-flowing conversation about all that matters to the students from the trivial to the profound to the eternal.
"My father told me, 'Nobody will ever listen to you if you don't meet their basic needs,'" Woods said. "Because I am meeting that need they are willing to listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
This article appeared in the Southern Baptist Texan (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Texan.