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CP aids Arab, Ala. church’s global focus

[SLIDESHOW=38839,38838,38840,38842]ARAB, Ala. (BP) — The small town of Arab, Ala. has no connection to the 22 nations of the Arab League, other than the missionary interests of the pastor of Gilliam Springs Baptist Church located there.

Pastor Jamey Pruett and his wife Ashleigh served one tour as missionaries to the Middle East through the International Mission Board before moving to Arab three years ago.

“I have a sensitivity to the Middle East,” Pruett said. “I learned [while serving there] that Arabs in general are beautiful people and they have as much right to hear the Gospel as anyone, and I learned Jesus died for Muslims as well.”

Pruett is focused on bringing people to Christ wherever they may be found, and the Cooperative Program allows him to extend the reach of the church beyond its northern Alabama hometown of about 8,000 people. The church gives 10 percent of its undesignated receipts to the CP.

“The Cooperative Program is a wonderful tool Southern Baptists have for funding missions and ministry,” Pruett said. “We could be spending that money [elsewhere] but we give it through CP because of what it accomplishes. It seems as though the Lord has us focused much more outward than inward. We have chosen to invest our money in missions.”

The church ministers locally and globally, teaching its children to do the same, said children’s minister Theresa Mayo, who coordinates the children’s outreach with the work of youth and missions minister Will Harbison.

“The strategy is to teach them they can be missionaries right now,” Mayo said. “Our children need to learn they can be on mission here now with their friends, and when they get bigger, they can go out like the youth do now.”

Because the children are trained to invite their friends, vacation Bible school regularly draws more people than the 500 typical of Sunday worship. A three-night VBS stretching out over three weeks at the Amber Woods Apartments grew out of the VBS at the church, Mayo said.

“We fed the children and their parents, and about 75 to 100 of our people went, so there was a lot of interaction,” Mayo continued. “Adults could do the crafts, and they were in the large group sessions. It was basically a ministry to anyone who wanted to come outside their door and be a part.”

Building relationships with the apartment residents and management will lead in God’s timing to evangelistic opportunities, Pruett said.

Other youth outreaches include a feeding ministry to disadvantaged school students. Each Friday of the past four years, the church has provided 150 students with backpacks stuffed with food for the weekend. Also locally, the church has operated jail ministries for male and female prisoners, and has for five years led Upward Basketball and Upward Cheerleading for youth.

Six times a year, Gilliam Springs members drive three hours east of town to minister through Reach the Nations Church in Clarkston, Ga., where 50 languages are spoken within one square mile. There, Gilliam Springs participates in block parties, backyard Bible clubs, home visits and other outreaches.

“This gives our people a good chance to step into other people’s culture for the moment, to love on them and share the Gospel with them,” Pruett said. “It’s our international mission trip that doesn’t take us overseas.”

Elsewhere across the United States, Gilliam Springs is helping with a church plant in Franklin, Tenn., as many as three church plants in the Metro Baptist Association of New York; and a church plant in Kemmerer, Wyo.

“[We’re] being faithful to the Great Commission,” Pruett said. “I think that’s the purpose of the church, to bring people to Christ.”

Internationally, Gilliam Springs is in the third of a five-year commitment to a church plant in Sao Simao, Brazil and in the second year of ministry in Jacmal, Haiti. Gilliam Springs is starting a partnership with a missionary in Germany and exploring options in Africa and Southeast Asia, Pruett said.

Pivotal to Gilliam Springs’ outreach is the church’s annual Engage Missions Conference which “has really helped our church catch a vision for missions, local and global,” Pruett said. “[The conference] was our attempt to increase effectiveness; it put a better face on what missions is.”

As a result, Gilliam Springs gave more than $100,000 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions last year, and for the last two years has been among the top 200 givers to Lottie Moon in Alabama.

“When I came here, I sensed our folks had been a sleeping giant for some time,” Pruett said. “We went places, we did things, but there was no intentionality, no strategy. With Engage, we’re just trying to bring focus to the Great Commission.”