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Alaskans make FAITH visits in sub-zero temperatures

NORTH POLE, Alaska (BP)–When nine adults and four youth from Moose Creek Baptist Church, North Pole, Alaska, journeyed south to Daytona Beach, Fla., a year ago, they gained more than a “southern exposure” in the dead of winter.
They were part of an Alaska contingent that attended a FAITH Sunday School evangelism clinic at First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach. They received training and returned home to implement the plan in their church.
For the winter semester beginning in January 1999, pastor Jeff Baxter led 36 of his church members in a semester of FAITH training that he adapted for their setting, the sparsely-populated Tanana Valley, home to 14 of the 67 Alaska Baptist Convention churches. Twelve leaders trained in Florida each mentored three others and took them visiting door to door each Tuesday night. After two months, the trainees took the lead in presenting the gospel to their neighbors.
The hardy Alaskans, many of whom are stationed on “overseas assignment” for a few years at nearby Eielson Air Force Base, met all winter despite experiencing blinding snowstorms and temperatures that dipped to 50 below zero. Despite the weather they missed only two nights of visitation in homes, a central element of FAITH.
When the group reconvened for their second semester of FAITH training that will conclude in mid-January (2000), Baxter challenged them to establish a perfect visiting record.
“We live in Alaska. It’s going to be cold. It’s going to be snowy. We’re going. Would you just plan on that?” the native of Niagara Falls, N.Y., said.
Now FAITH team members do not even ask about canceling visitation, Baxter said.
“I’m totally sold out on Sunday school. Since I’ve been a Southern Baptist, I’ve been taught that Sunday school is the evangelistic arm of the church. I’ve not necessarily seen that to be true until we adopted this FAITH evangelism strategy,” he said.
For Baxter, who was raised as an American Baptist and found salvation through Jesus Christ while watching Billy Graham on television at age 12, the FAITH strategy is not just another church program.
“It’s something church members can adopt for their lifestyles. It has helped them overcome the obstacle of fear.”
FAITH is “really down to earth and it speaks to lay people where they are. There’s a fallacy that you have to be gifted in evangelism to share your faith. In reality, every Christian has that same commission to go and tell. We tend to think there are people who are gifted in evangelism and (then say) ‘that’s not me, so I’m not going to go.'”
At Moose Creek, many who have participated in FAITH training now share their Christian experience in the workplace or at the gym where they work out, according to Baxter.
Although he admits limited exposure to other Southern Baptist evangelism strategies, Baxter said he has done some research and has concluded that FAITH training is the best method available.
“My sense from talking with other pastors and from my own observation is that this is the cream of the crop. FAITH takes the best elements of each program and puts it into one strategic process. This is the equipment that a new church needs to get into the community and get the gospel out.”
He also called FAITH “a strategy that has been proven in large churches. I’m in the process of proving it in small churches. It’s a perfect strategy for a church regardless of the size, whether you have a dozen people or a thousand.”
What has been the ultimate result of FAITH in this North Pole congregation?
Sunday school attendance has increased by about 30 percent, two more adult classes are being started, Sunday worship attendance is also increasing and a family life center is planned.
The FAITH Sunday School Evangelism Strategy is a project of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and endorsed by the North American Mission Board of the SBC.