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FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–I have just returned from the Gulf Coast. I am overwhelmed by what I have seen — the devastating destruction, yes, but more than that. I am overwhelmed by the work of God in His people. It will take more than one article to share my heart about the heroic, New Testament Christ-followers I met and the hurting people they are reaching.

I spent one day recently with Ronnie Floyd, the pastor of the great First Baptist Church of Springdale, Ark., and several from his staff, visiting the area. We were hosted by Craig Miller, who leads a ministry called Global Impact. Craig came to Christ at FBC Springdale and later sold all he owned to start this ministry. He has an amazing ability to be where God is at work.

Miller took us to Shore Line Park Baptist Church in Bay St. Louis, Miss. Can you imagine a church that had flooded up to its steeple? There were fish in the parking lot. We gathered around the church’s pastor, Ed Murphy, to pray. Murphy told us that his people will meet under a tree until they can get a tent. He is ready to lead his people forward to reach his community in ways never before possible. I believe they will do it!

At First Baptist Church in Bay St. Louis, the first thing you see is a sign that says “We R Still on the Map!” And they are. Ninety-five percent of their members are homeless, but they are standing strong. Pastor Al Green will show you the historic Bible from the early days of the church that was found on the floor after the flood waters receded –- bone dry! Church members heard God tell them that His word will stand, and they are taking it to their hurting community. As we prayed with him, he told us that his members met and decided that “we will have no more inreach ministries. Outreach is now all we do.” I wonder what would happen if every church in America tried that for one month?

We saw hundreds of people being ministered to at First Baptist Church in Slidell, La., where Southern Baptists have rallied to be good news to one of the most devastated areas of all. We saw the beautiful First Baptist Church of Gulfport, Miss., now almost destroyed, but we heard from Pastor Chuck Register, who will lead them forward to their greatest days. All day long, I was surprised at what I did not see. I did not see despair or bitterness. I saw sacrifice, love, hope and even joy in the midst of disaster. And I heard over and over the deeply felt conviction that God is up to something in this -– that another flood is nearing -– a flood of His spirit to wash over our nation again. And all this was just my first day! There is more to tell you later.

But one more thing. Thousands have been displaced by this disaster. They are scattering across our country. You can register to help them through Houses of Hope at www.namb.net. We have all see the possibilities of providing a loving witness to the victims who do not know Christ. But something else could also be happening here. Act 8:1 says, “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” This scattering led to the greatest movement of evangelism in history! Could that be happening again?

On one Sunday I preached at New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga., where I served as pastor for 8 years. At the end of the service I met a wonderful woman who had relocated from New Orleans. She had lost everything but her faith. She said to me with tears, “If you see my pastor, Fred Luter, from Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, tell him that we are not gone. We are just scattered. And we are taking all he taught us everywhere we go. Tell him!” Fred, you’ve done well, brother. I’m telling you! And now we all have the chance to join hands with scattered believers and even in the darkness of disaster, make evangelism good news again.
John Avant is vice president for evangelization at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.

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  • John Avant