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80-year-old’s conversion reflects these country churches’ renew

SULPHUR SPRINGS, Texas (BP)–Some seeds take longer than others to sprout. Avon Friddle was given a “Soul Winner’s New Testament” by a pastor who came to his door to visit 27 years ago. Friddle said he picked up the book from time to time but never took a lot of interest in it. But he didn’t throw it out either.
One Sunday morning last November, Friddle, now 80, began to read that Bible again as he waited for his wife to return home from South Liberty Baptist Church in Sulphur Springs, Texas. That morning he committed his life to Jesus Christ.
The next Tuesday, he asked his wife to call her pastor, Robert Burns, because he wanted to talk with him. “He told me he had been a sinner for 80 years, and he didn’t want to be one anymore,” Burns recounted. “By the time he called me, he had already prayed to accept Christ, and now he wanted to be baptized.”
Friddle was a little apprehensive about joining the church, however.
“He’s had hip surgery and knee surgery and has heart problems, but his walking the aisle and baptism went just fine,” Burns reported.
“It’s kind of amazing how the seed was planted 27 years ago, and how God brought it all to pass.” Burns said.
The story of Friddle’s conversion “has really energized our people,” said Montie Martin, director of missions for Rehoboth Baptist Association. “They have seen the Word of God does not return void. They are seeing that if they are willing to go out, God will bless.”
And according to Martin and others, God is blessing the East Texas association of churches in various ways.
Steve Smith, a bivocational pastor at Center Grove Baptist Church in Satillo, witnessed to a co-worker at his secular job and saw that man, Big John, profess faith in Christ and share his testimony at a crusade earlier this year.
Greenwood Baptist Church in Satillo expected such a large Easter crowd that a closed-circuit television feed was shown in the fellowship hall for the overflow crow. Purley Baptist Church in Mount Vernon also prepared for a standing-room-only crowd Easter morning, Martin said.
“These are just small, country churches that for years were all but dead, but now there is an excitement and growth is happening everywhere,” Martin explained.
New Hope Baptist Church in Scroggins is a good example of that growth. “Every Sunday, we’re having visitors who are prospects,” pastor Jim Boyte said. “We haven’t done that in the past. We would have visitors one week, and then not have any for two weeks.”
New Hope had been averaging about three baptisms a year for the past 15 years, while averaging about 50 in Sunday school attendance.
The church began a bold campaign to knock on the doors around their church last year, however, and things began to change. New Hope baptized 32 new believers in 1998 and now averages more than 100 in worship attendance.
“So far this year, we haven’t seen as many baptisms, but God is blessing us in a lot of different ways,” Boyte said. “People are so excited about the way God is bringing so many new people to our church. They see what God is doing and are so filled with the Spirit they want to go knock on doors.”
Members are leaving their comfort zones and trying new things, Boyte said. “I have people who are 55, 60 and 70 years old who have never gone visiting before in their lives [but are] active in visitation now. I have people who tell me, ‘Pastor, I can’t go visit at a specific time, but give me some names and addresses and I will get it done,’” he said.
Other senior adults are physically unable to knock on doors but are calling people on the telephone to invite them to church. The church has grown to the point that a part-time youth and education position was approved recently, the church’s first staff position other than pastor.
Boyte has seen God’s work in a very personal way as well.
“My 15-year-old daughter was saved, and I thought she already was,” he said. “I’m amazed at what God’s doing. I’m just thankful he’s allowed me to be here.”
Van Patton, pastor at Mission Mount Vernon, a mission of First Baptist Church in that city, echoed that sentiment.
Patton started the mission about a year ago in a small room across from the Housing Authority in Mount Vernon. For three weeks, Patton and his wife were the only ones to attend, but now the mission congregation has outgrown two buildings and has its own building close to where the mission started.
“God has brought us full circle, back to the community where we started. He’s also brought us a lot of different types of people. We have the folks who don’t have a lot to give, the children with no daddies around, and we have people with money coming who support the ministry financially,” Patton said. The mission now has about 35 members and about 50 in attendance each Sunday.
“It’s just awesome what God is doing, and I am simply amazed that God is using me,” Patton said. “We just preach the Word, love people, try to meet their needs and invite them to church.
“If there is one thing I’ve learned in this life, it’s that people won’t come to your house if you don’t invite them,” he said.
Rehoboth Association churches also are being creative in their efforts to reach out to their communities.
While South Liberty Baptist Church usually has only about 75 people in attendance, they have built a family life center, something normally seen in only in much larger congregations. Burns said the facility was built to give the young families of the area a place their children could go.
First Baptist Church in Como is one of the lead churches in organizing an area-wide interdenominational tent crusade. People from Baptist Missionary Alliance, Methodist, Assembly of God and independent Baptist congregations are promoting the crusade.
In preparation for the crusade, the congregations have distributed more than 700 “Jesus” videos and have shared the response cards from those visits. Those indicating Baptist backgrounds have been directed to Baptist churches and likewise for the other denominations involved.
“We’re calling it a ‘God thing’ because there really is no other explanation for it,” said John Pangle, pastor of First Baptist Church in Como.
The communities have noticed the spirit of cooperation as well. “One of the things that has impressed the people of the community is the way we’ve been able to work together on this. We’re crossing racial and denominational lines. In these communities, wherever you go people are talking about it,” Pangle said.
“We believe this is something God has initiated, something God has moved along to this point, and we fully expect the end result to be great as a result of continued movement,” he said.

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  • George Henson