BURKEVILLE, Texas (BP)–Ten miles west of the southern half of the Texas and Louisiana border sits Burkeville, a small Texas community where big things are happening for the Kingdom of God.
About 500 people call Burkeville home, a town with no traffic lights and only one four-way stop sign. One resident laughingly remarked, “The most excitement we get happens when a delivery truck pulls into the Texaco Food Mart to unload.”
The homes are widely scattered on country roads in the piney woods of southeast Texas. Burkeville residents who are not self-employed may work in the logging industry or commute to industrial plants in the area. Also, nearby Toledo Bend Lake draws a number of retirees, some of whom have chosen Burkeville Baptist Church as their church home.
Ed Thibodeaux has pastored the congregation for the past three years. Prior to his move to Burkeville, Thibodeaux taught at Arizona College of the Bible. When the college merged with another school, Thibodeaux was nearing retirement and decided to return to Texas. He spent a while working construction until the Burkeville congregation obtained his resume and called him as pastor.
Thibodeaux said the church had maintained an average Sunday School attendance of 45 to 50. One member commented they sometimes went a whole year without seeing anyone saved or baptized. But in 2002, attendance nearly doubled and now runs consistently in the 80s. In the past year, they witnessed 56 decisions for Christ — about one-tenth of Burkeville’s population. Of the 56, 41 have joined the church and 33 have been baptized.
The difference, Thibodeaux said, has come about through “a major Sunday School push.” In January, they implemented the FAITH Sunday School evangelism strategy promoted by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
FAITH is a strategy combining evangelism and Sunday School which originated at First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., and has been introduced to Southern Baptists by LifeWay. FAITH also is endorsed by the North American Mission Board.
“Every time we enter a home, we’re enrolling people in Sunday School, and the auditorium gets the spillover,” he said in reference to the worship service.
The church is completing its second semester of FAITH. About 18 church members have participated each semester, meeting from 6-9 p.m. on Monday nights for an hour of instruction, an hour of home visits and an hour of celebration. Church members submit names of friends and family members who need a church home or who need to hear the gospel. Some members pre-arrange appointments for the FAITH teams. Each team has one to three people who support the team with prayer during their home visits each Monday. The team members gratefully acknowledge those prayer warriors as keys to the positive results they’ve experienced.
“When we go into a home, we introduce ourselves and tell them the reason we are there — visiting for our Sunday School,” FAITH team member Larry Sumrall recounted. “We look for interest and involvement and ask about their church background. Then one of our team members gives a Sunday School testimony. …
“Another team member offers an evangelistic testimony, opening the door to discuss spiritual things,” Sumrall continued. Following the FAITH outline, they ask, “In your opinion, what does it take to get into heaven?” If anything other than a faith answer is given, a team member will ask permission to share what the Bible has to say in answer to that question.
“I’ve been a Christian for 35 years,” Sumrall said, “and I finally had the opportunity to lead two people to Christ this semester. I wondered why it took so long, then I realized I didn’t have the tools. It’s lots of fun, but it takes faith and courage. I’m glad I stepped forward.”
Reid Smith, a deacon, Sunday School teacher and leader of one of the FAITH teams, is remembered for being less than enthusiastic about starting the FAITH program at the church. He recalled a three-day crash course he attended with five other men from the church to learn material that normally takes 16 weeks to cover. “There was so much stuff they were throwing at us, it was kind of discouraging,” he said. “Then they said there was going to be a test. It was kind of a three-ring circus. I was so aggravated.”
Some of the men prayed with him one night as they waited for their dinner to be served. “But,” Smith said, “I was still aggravated.” They asked him if he just wanted to go home. He did want to go home, but decided to stay anyway and go out on the visitation.
“I went with a lady I’d just met, and another guy,” Smith said. “I didn’t know what we would do. But every place we visited was a real blessing.”
During their first gospel presentation to a young lady, Smith’s team member read from a card. Smith was supposed to be praying at the time, but confessed he was thinking, “We don’t know what we’re doing.” Then the lady prayed to receive Christ.
“It was a real eye-opener, that the Lord would take that presentation and turn it around,” Smith said. “The thing that amazes me most — it doesn’t matter how feeble the effort is.”
After two semesters of experience, Smith is sold on FAITH. He told several stories about how God seemed to do the work before his team ever got to a home. The second time they went through the presentation, Smith shared the gospel with the husband of a young lady who attends the church.
“I’m sure I didn’t do that good of a job with it, but you could tell he couldn’t wait until I got through,” Smith said. “He was ready. What you realize is, you have very little to do with it. You just show up to handle the Lord’s paperwork for him.”
Connie Cropper spoke for several of the FAITH team members when she said, “Some Mondays I dread going.” Many of the team members drive 15 miles or more to the church, only to drive the country roads again to make their home visits. Another team member stated, “The devil shows up every Monday night saying, ‘Ya’ll don’t need to do this.'” But, as Cropper said, “I’ve never failed to come back from a visit and not be blessed.”
Cropper has been involved in church since she was 8 but had never been a part of an evangelism strategy. “I had this thing about going to a stranger’s house.” She described Burkeville as “a little community. People live in the country — some even deep in the woods — but the people are warm.” She enjoys sharing her testimony and caring for any children that might be in the homes. Her husband, Kenny, would like to visit, but because of a heart condition is unable to go out. He prays for the teams and looks forward to hearing Connie’s report when she comes home.
The teams also perform ministry visits to members who are in need, or who haven’t been recently active. J.C. Avant, the church’s deacon chairman, is one FAITH leader who has persistently reached out to inactive members. “They give me the hard ones,” he said. He visits one elderly man who is a member but won’t attend because of some letdowns in his past with the church and church members. The man tells Avant, “One of these days I’ll surprise you and come.” To which Avant replies, “No, you won’t, because I know you’re coming!”
Avant credits Thibodeaux with the program’s success. “He is the catalyst and an encourager. He taught us the Word. He wasn’t pushy, but you just can’t help but feel his interest — he kept us going.”
In his first semester, Avant’s team did not see a conversion. “We’d visit. If we saw they needed help, we’d try to help. Then another team might visit behind us, and they would accept Christ. Some plant, some water and some reap the harvest.” Like many of the team members, Avant is returning a third time to help lead Burkeville Baptist’s next semester of FAITH.