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Baptisms, outreach to military, draw church’s focus

LEESVILLE, La. (BP) — Sherry Slaydon gave her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren a priceless gift — the opportunity to celebrate her new life in Christ by being present at her baptism.

“I pray watching their grandma proclaim her love for God was an inspiration to them,” said Slaydon of her baptism that took place at East Leesville Baptist Church in Louisiana shortly before Christmas this past December. “I had people tell me I had a glow afterward … words can’t describe the feeling.”

Now, she is anxious to share the Good News that changed her heart with others, too.

Slaydon was among 77 people East Leesville Baptist Church baptized in 2016, adding up to a combined three-year total of 205. Rarely does a Sunday seem to pass when pastor Jeff Smart or another staff member is not baptizing someone.

“We are so used to baptisms every week that it’s something our church looks forward to every Sunday,” said Smart, noting baptisms reflect the heartbeat of the congregation — evangelism.

God even uses baptisms for still more evangelism, he said.

“I tell those who are getting baptized that they are telling their story of how Christ has changed their life,” Smart said. “Someone who isn’t saved sees that and they might accept Christ — which has happened numerous times.”

The church’s focus on evangelism in large part is paced by its military outreach. Located 10 miles from Fort Polk — a United States Army installation — East Leesville enjoys a “target-rich environment” for growth. In fact, the congregation attracts 60 percent of the 1,350 worshippers on campus each Sunday from there.

“Our proximity to Fort Polk really makes our church unique,” Smart said. “We have people from so many different backgrounds get saved while stepping inside our church during their time at Fort Polk.

“For us, the military is a field white unto the harvest,” he added.

That includes a number of children and teens, too.

More than 200 youth regularly participate in the church’s Sunday morning Bible studies and Wednesday evening discipleship activities; about 100 of them are involved in mission activities and summer camps; and, many take part in Friday evening gatherings, too.

“We really cater to the military families’ kids,” Smart said. “The parents come to us for the benefit of their kids, and in turn will start to worship with us and learn more about Jesus.

“They get under the influence of the Gospel,” he said. “The Gospel is saturated in everything we do.”

The church ministers to non-military personnel as well, through such outreach vehicles as Compassion In Action, disaster relief efforts and Beyond Our Walls (a joint effort with local schools to give reading help to students, distribute backpacks with supplies, and provide food for hungry children on weekends).

Sent into the fields

Newly baptized believers are immediately enrolled in a Bible study for discipleship, and, they are asked to complete a survey to find out how they are spiritually gifted for service.

Then they are trained to go out into the community, and beyond, to share Christ.

“We try to get the military families involved in all these ministries, especially” Smart said. “We disciple them, teach them, so they can serve at other churches.

“Whenever they leave, we want them to go to that next church eager to plug in, ready to use their spiritual gifts and continue growing in the Lord.”

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  • Brian Blackwell/Baptist Message