FROM THE STATES: S.C., Md. & Calif. evangelism/missions news
Today's From the States features items from:
The Baptist Courier (South Carolina)
California Southern Baptist
Churches 'Come Closer' in effort
to reach Spartanburg for Christ
By Norman Cannada
SPARTANBURG, S.C. (The Baptist Courier) -- While news outlets were focusing in January on a NeighborhoodScout.com report that Spartanburg was listed as the 12th-most dangerous city in the U.S., a coalition of nearly a dozen churches and ministries was telling a different story.
Pastors and members of Spartanburg-area churches packed Oak Grove Baptist Church Jan. 13 to worship and celebrate almost two years of partnerships sharing the love of Jesus in their city.
Come Closer Spartanburg started as a partnership of two South Carolina Baptist churches — The Journey, and Hope Point Community Church — in 2011. Today, 10 churches across racial and denominational divides are committed to working together to reach Spartanburg for Christ, and more are coming on board.
"I don't think there is anything better than the spirit of unity, crossing racial and cultural lines and mobilizing God's people to live out the mission," said Chris Pollard, pastor of The Journey. "God is doing some exciting things in the hearts of people."
Come Closer began to take off in the summer of 2011 when students and parents were encouraged to take a mission trip to their own city. That mission trip started an outreach in several downtown apartment complexes that has continued with ministries to the children and outreaches to single moms.
Since 2011, churches have come together to do ongoing outreach efforts with children in four Spartanburg apartment complexes, two Upward basketball leagues, free car washes, and Bible studies for women. Last summer, as more churches and ministries joined, Come Closer organized an effort to buy laundry detergent, cleaning supplies and hygiene products for single moms. Bags of those items were delivered to about 800 households in the inner city. Pollard said that effort is continuing.
In addition to pastors working together, there has also been a movement in the business community where money was provided for the purchase of a van as well as other needs. There is also a partnership with a prayer network where people are praying around the clock.
"We had to get outside the box and … let God do what he wanted to do," said Todd Nethery, administrative pastor at Hope Point. "Our youth led the way into the city of Spartanburg. As leadership, we try to keep a calendar that is not over-programmed, and we encouraged our people to go and be involved and embrace the city and the world."
Hub Blankenship, pastor of Milestones Church, said God began preparing his heart to be a part of Come Closer through a conference he attended in April 2011.
"The Lord showed me the local church was not to be the center of my universe," Blankenship said. "Chris [Pollard] invited me to lunch a week or so later. I was ready."
Blankenship said Milestones has done 16 "Power of One" offerings, where they have asked each person in the congregation to give one dollar to help someone in need outside of their church. The 16 offerings have provided $11,703.
Ron Henderson, pastor of Mt. Nebo Baptist Church, said he got involved in Come Closer because he "wanted to make a difference in the community."
In addition to being a part of the outreach efforts, Henderson said Mt. Nebo has also been on the receiving end of Come Closer, with other churches coming to work on Mt. Nebo's youth center.
Lee Clamp, director of evangelism for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, said Come Closer is one of several ministries where congregations are working together to reach people for Christ. Similar efforts are going on in Columbia, Charleston and Gaffney.
Clamp said efforts like Come Closer work across denominations without compromising Baptist doctrine.
"Southern Baptists have a heritage that we don't want to bend or waiver on doctrine, but I think there is a trend to work with others where we can be a blessing to the city … getting to share the name of Jesus and engaging pockets of lostness."
Pollard said the recent negative media reports about Spartanburg have not provided any extra motivation for Come Closer volunteers' efforts to reach the city for Christ.
"I'm not sure we need a bigger motivator than the Spirit of God moving the people of God to carry out the mission of God," Pollard said. "When there are no more people who are unreached, no more disciples to be made, and no one else needed to be taught how to obey Jesus, maybe then we will look for extra motivation."
This article appeared in The Baptist Courier (baptistcourier.com), newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
Loving People of Other Faiths: Grace
Place ministers to Sikhs in Dundalk
By Sharon Mager
DUNDALK, Md. (BaptistLIFE) -- International ministry can be as close as your backyard, or in the case of Grace Place, across the parking lot. Troy McDaniel, pastor of Grace Place began ministering at the church a year ago. Just before he officially began his work at Grace Place he discovered a Sikh Temple adjacent to the church's parking lot. He watched as men with turbans came and went. McDaniel was intrigued, and began praying about how God wanted him to minister to these unique neighbors. He discovered that barriers had to be torn down before he could form any relationships with the Sikhs.
McDaniel tried to make contact waving and sending over food, but the response was nonexistent as the Sikhs would look away. Some of the church's congregation had grown to distrust the Sikhs, believing them to be associated with Muslim extremists. There were even rumors of the Sikhs praying against the church.
"Their attitude toward us was a result of our attitude toward them," McDaniel said. In the past, years before McDaniel became pastor, the church put up "no parking" signs in their lot and even called the police to tow the Sikhs and others who disobeyed the signs.
"It sent a contrary message to what we, as Christians, are really about: 'We don't want you here.'"
Now, the church welcomes the Sikhs and others to park in their lot, and they're intentionally opening their arms to others in their neighborhood. Change came unexpectedly. McDaniel was in the parking lot the same evening as the Sikh priest and was amazed when, after months of avoidance, the priest waved, and the two met face-to-face at the border of their property lines. He looked McDaniel in the eye and told him, "We are Sikh. We are not Islam."
McDaniel told the priest he was sorry for how his people had been treated in the past and that "Our book tells us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We want to serve you and be your friends."
McDaniel said the corner of the priest's mouth turned up slightly in a small smile. McDaniel mirrored the priest, shook hands, and remained reserved. He laughs as he said afterwards he walked in the church and jumped up and down with excitement while thanking God.
Slowly, the two leaders began to talk, chatting about their families and friends and everyday life stuff. McDaniel prayed for God to open doors.
The real turn came when McDaniel spoke with Lisa Mele. Mele leads the South Asian Fellowship in partnership with the North American Mission Board and the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. NAMB Missionary Aslam Masih encouraged Mele to find partners and build relationships.
"Aslam challenged Lisa to find a Sikh temple in Baltimore that NAMB could visit and conduct a Vision Tour. At the same time, I had been in the church parking lot for six or seven months trying to connect with the Sikh priest," McDaniel said.
In a three way conversation between Masih, McDaniel and the priest, Masih asked the priest if McDaniel and Mele could bring a few from their churches to visit the temple and learn about the Sikh religion. The priest immediately accepted.
In August, Grace Place hosted a Sikh Temple Vision tour. Masih led a brief introductory session, before leading the group of about 20 across the lot to the temple. Participants hesitantly entered the Gurdwara. The Sikhs provided head coverings for everyone before entering the worship area - a large open room with sheet type floor covering on each side. Women sat on one side, men on the other. Masih translated as the priest shared Sikh beliefs and answered questions. Afterwards, the Sikhs provided light refreshment and Indian tea.
Last year's shooting in the Wisconsin Sikh temple offered another opportunity for Grace Place to reach out to the Sikhs, offering prayer and support.
"We extended our condolences for their people and explained how that action, in no way represents what we're about as we offered our support," McDaniel said, noting the Sikhs were very appreciative.
On Dec. 23, the Sikhs initiated and attended a joint prayer service at Grace Place to pray for the victims and families of the Connecticut shooting.
The next joint event is a dinner Grace Place has planned for Sikh Temple leaders. Lisa Mele and volunteers from her church, Maple View Baptist, where her husband Craig is the pastor, will work with Grace Place members to host the event. The dinner will be catered, prepared according to Sikh dietary requirements as the atmosphere will be established with the Sikh's customary Indian music. The two groups will fellowship and share ideas for continuing to build the relationship.
"I want to erase any previously erected walls," McDaniel said, adding that his next step is to bring the congregations together. "I believe they want to do the same thing now. Then, I want to work on evangelizing and bringing souls to Christ."
This article appeared in BaptistLIFE (baptistlifeonline.org), newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. Sharon Mager is a correspondent for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.
Ignition takes off in
Southern and Northern California
By Terry Barone
FRESNO, Calif. (California Southern Baptist) -- About 1,600 junior high and high school students and their leaders were challenged to define, defend and deepen their faith at two Ignition Student Conferences, Dec. 27-29 in San Diego and Santa Clara.
This was the first year the annual student conference, sponsored by California Southern Baptist Convention, under the new moniker of Ignition, was held in two locations (the event previously was called Tsunami).
Daryl Watts, CSBC student and family specialist and leader of the team that orchestrates the event, said the lagging economy was the primary impetus for the new format of a two-day - instead of three-day - event in two locations.
The switch, according to Watts, was planned "to keep costs down" so participants wouldn't have to spend two nights in a hotel and pay for meals because of an additional day.
"With the two-day schedule, we didn't think it fair for groups to travel across the state for a shortened event."
Watts added the planning team hoped to attract churches that might not attend the traditional three-day schedule in another part of the state.
In spite of the conference's shortened length, Watts said Ignition included the addition of "community groups" for participants to interact with other groups from the same geographic area. "For many churches SYC (state youth conference) is a great 'shot in the arm' for youth ministries which propel them into the future. However, for many groups the event does not provide a great deal of sustainability for the ministry."
Watts noted the community group idea was to help connect youth groups in geographical areas to forge connections and cooperation.
"We are finding that most Southern Baptist youth groups don't normally get together. Most churches have little contact with other churches in their area. So by putting these groups together, we are hoping to facilitate longer-lasting connections among students," Watts explained.
He said at least three areas have reported connections between youth groups since the conferences concluded.
The same schedule would be repeated in 2013, Watts noted, because "we believe it worked well and will work even better based on what was learned in 2012. Also, with Christmas falling on Wednesday, it would be difficult to plan a three-day event without going over to Sunday."
"A core value of the student conference is that we not impact local church ministry. Since student ministry, for the most part, takes place in the local church, we don't want to do anything to take away from the church's ongoing ministry."
Watts said he believes the Ignition events were "some of the smoothest running we've ever executed."
He said evaluations were "in line" with previous years.
"We'll make adjustments and improvements based on the evaluations in order to better serve our churches, youth ministers and leaders, and students," Watts said.
Bart Shifter, a youth worker from New Hope Community Church in Chula Vista, attended with 12 students.
"This was the first time we had been in several years," Shifter said. "It was an added bonus that the event was in San Diego, but that would not have necessarily stopped us from attending."
He noted the conference is a "time for workers and students to get to know each other, to have fun and form bonds that will only strengthen the group in the long run."
Shifter added, "The kids loved it, they had a great time because the conference featured great music and great messages."
Speaker Sammy Lopez, lead pastor of Mighty Fortress Christian Fellowship in San Antonio, encouraged youth and their leaders to hold on to three things: the knowledge that Jesus is coming quickly, their Christian testimony and the Word of God.
"Many of our testimonies are 'jacked' to the point that even our friends don't know if we are Christians or not because of the way we act and talk," Lopez told the students. "In reality, we should be changing other people's lives by our actions."
He exhorted the audiences that there be "no more compromise" so the students "would have clean testimonies for the Lord."
Lopez also said it is important in today's world to "hold on to the Word of God. You need scriptures in you."
"How can you have victory in Christ if we don't read and know the Word of God?" he asked.
Noting that by age 12 many children of other faiths can quote huge portions of their religious texts, Lopez said, "Today's Christian can't get past John 3:16."
He added many professing Christian students today probably know more lyrics to songs by Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry than know "who the 12 disciples are or what scriptures to use to lead someone to Jesus."
Jeff Wallace, youth pastor from Peace Baptist Church in Atlanta, also challenged the youth and their leaders to be mature Christians.
"Youth ministry," according to Wallace, is the "health, depth and longevity of every church. Every church depends on the strength of its youth ministry and the students to become fully devoted followers of Christ.
"If not, the church as we know it will be extinct."
Wallace exhorted those attending, "The Christian climate and culture of Christianity is in your hands today," adding that the youth of today must "define their faith Ö by believing what is true and giving your life to what you believe."
He said it is "time for you to ignite the fire within you and take the walk God has for you to go deeper... take the faith journey...and trust God no matter what happens."
But Wallace added that it isn't enough just to define one's faith.
"We must be able to defend our faith because we know where we stand. In reality, we are too many times motivated by people or situations instead of the passion God has placed in our hearts."
Wallace said it is through "defining and defending our faith that we learn to deepen our faith by developing deep roots...that are weighted and grounded in Jesus, Who will always hold us upright."
During the two events, 72 made professions of faith in Christ and 106 rededicated their faith.
Through offerings taken at both locations, some $3,600 was given for use in summer missions ministry.
Travis Ryan led worship for the Southern California Ignition, while Carlos Whittaker served as worship leader in Northern California.
Breakout sessions were provided for students, parents and leaders, as well as ministry projects for student groups.
Next year's conferences will be held on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 27-28, again in San Diego and Santa Clara.
This article appeared in the California Southern Baptist (csbc.com/csb), newsjournal of the California Southern Baptist Convention. Terry Barone is editor of the California Southern Baptist.