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Committed duo helps church minister outside its walls

McKEE, Ky. (BP)–It took a dynamic ministry duo to move McKee (Ky.) Baptist Church from planning to do ministry to doing it.
While the church had a theme of “Beyond These Walls” for the 1996-97 church year, members had not yet decided how to venture into the community with the gospel until Rhonda Bowling and Jennifer Daugherty found their ministry niche, said former interim pastor Tim Searcy.
Now, six months after the two young women began a Saturday morning Bible class in a laundry room in a low-income housing complex, McKee Baptist Church is well on its way to sponsoring a full-fledged apartment ministry wholeheartedly endorsed by the church, said Searcy, who led the church for more than a year.
The two young women couldn’t be more pleased. “It’s no longer just a ‘Rhonda and Jennifer thing,'” Bowling said.
While the seeds for the church’s new direction were planted by Searcy, it was a multi-housing ministry conference at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville, Ky., that “lit the fire” under the two women, Bowling said.
After attending the conference last fall, they returned to McKee determined to flesh out the new approach to ministry they had learned.
“Instead of bringing people to church, we were taught how to take the church to the people,” Bowling said.
It was a concept Daugherty understood very well. As a newlywed, she had lived two years in the Jackson Valley apartment complex. From personal experience she knew people in low-income apartments generally don’t feel welcome in county-seat churches such as McKee because “most people there own their own homes.” Even though she had been a member of McKee Baptist since age 10, Daugherty said she fought the feeling that she “didn’t fit in” during the years she lived in the apartments. “I was in low-income housing and everybody knew it.” During those years, she said, she would have welcomed the opportunity to attend a Bible study in the complex.
So the two women took on the Jackson Valley apartments.
In October, they began making five or six visits each week to apartment residents, asking residents what they were interested in, working to build relationships and offering adult craft classes. But the emphasis on adults didn’t work, Bowling said. So they shifted their focus to children.
And they got the church involved.
At Christmastime, church families filled more than 40 stockings for children in the apartments.
Mission Friends and their leaders threw a baby shower to stockpile gifts for new mothers living in the apartment complex.
Members of Women on Mission turned a room in the church building into a food and toiletries pantry. They filled the pantry with items Bowling and Daugherty could distribute.
In January, Bowling and Daugherty began the laundry room Bible class. About 20 children attended.
Things went smoothly until vandals hit the laundry room and the owners closed it during weekends.
“We tried to meet outside, but that didn’t work,” Bowling said. Some church members thought Bowling and Daugherty should just bring the children to the church, but the two women convinced members that would destroy the ministry. “We had to teach them the concept of taking the church to the people,” Bowling said.
So, the church purchased a metal building and the Baptist Men’s group set it up on a lot across the creek from the apartment complex. They constructed a footbridge to ford the creek.
And the kids from Jackson Valley helped paint the exterior of the building. “Now they say it is their church,” Bowling said.
Since then, two women volunteered to help Bowling and Daugherty with Saturday activities. And while Bowling and Daugherty cannot predict the direction the ministry may take in the future, they already have seen lasting results. Recently, seven children and youth made professions of faith, Bowling said.
That is more than enough to keep them going.
“At first, I thought, ‘Oh, no, I don’t want to give my Saturdays,'” Bowling said. “But now I couldn’t stand it to miss. I look forward to it all week long.”
“When I’m there, it is like I am in a different world,” Daugherty said. “I have a sense that I am doing what God has called me to do — to be among those that initially don’t fit into the normal church group.”

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  • Joyce Sweeney Martin