CONYERS, Ga. (BP)–Maxine Harris had no idea cancer was forming in her body when, miles away, pastors in the Stone Mountain Baptist Association were meeting to talk about evangelism strategy.
The pastors wanted to reach out to communities within a five-mile radius of their churches in helping to pilot Southern Baptists’ new evangelism initiative, God’s Plan for Sharing (GPS).
Harris’ neighborhood was in the plans that the pastors formulated last February as one of four pilot efforts in conjunction with the North American Mission Board for the initial year’s emphasis, named GPS: Across North America.
Harris wasn’t home the day members of Emmanuel Community Church came knocking at her home in Conyers, Ga., but she was intrigued by the materials left by the group — a flier with information about the church and about how she could find hope in Christ. When she was diagnosed this year with cancer, hope was something she was having a hard time finding.
As part of their plan to reach the Stone Mountain area this spring, more than 50 churches joined the GPS effort, visiting neighborhoods like Harris’ in communities stretching from Conyers to Decatur. The Georgia churches were part of the pilot effort also involving Baptist associations in Lubbock, Texas; Philadelphia, Pa.; and Riverside, Calif, in tilling the soil for GPS: Across North America, which is scheduled for launch in spring 2010. Forty-two Baptist state conventions have joined the initiative.
Scattering and planting seeds is a key component of biblical evangelism, and it bore fruit with Maxine Harris who was invited to church in the summer by one of the people who visited her house during the spring.
“I started chemo recently,” Harris said, trying to talk as she wipes away tears. “With everything going on, I knew I needed something.”
At church one Sunday, she realized what she needed was Jesus Christ in her life.
Dressed in a swimmer’s cap and casual clothes, Harris was first in line when Emmanuel Community associate pastor Gary Favors joined more than 20 other pastors from the area on Sunday, Sept. 27, in a corporate baptism of 39 new believers in the parking lot of First Baptist Church in Conyers.
From elementary to middle age, new believers were baptized in two small pools as family and friends looked on, cameras flashed to capture the moment and smoke curled from a nearby barbecue tent.
“God’s plan for sharing has been around for a long time; now we’re just intentionally putting it into action through these cooperative efforts,” said Sean Nix, pastor of Oxford Baptist Church in Oxford, Ga. “Over the course of this year we’ve seen more people come to Christ than in previous years combined. We’ve had 23 professions of faith over the past few months [at Oxford Baptist].”
“There’s no way we would have come together without an initiative to unite us,” said Jeff Myers, pastor of First Baptist Conyers. “For this work to reach our community we have to work together, and what GPS has done is it’s given us a clearer vision and a Kingdom focus.”
Sunday night’s baptism was “an outgrowth of our GPS strategy,” said Larry Cheek, associational director of missions for the Stone Mountain Baptist Association. “Before we left that night we had a tentative date for next spring’s baptism. As an associational missionary, this has been the easiest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve not had to beg people. I’ve had more participation in GPS than anything we’ve ever done together.”
Adam Miller is associate editor of On Mission magazine and social media consultant for the North American Mission Board.