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FIRST-PERSON: The aroma of peace

FORT SMITH, Ark. (BP) — “Why did you come here tonight?” I inquired. “The man says he does not know,” the translator said after a brief exchange with the trembling Muslim man.

No longer able to suppress both tears and a smile, he explained that the three-block walk from his office to the parking lot in this Middle Eastern country took him by the front of the building each week. And each time he passed by there was an overwhelming sense of peace.

“It is like when one passes by a home where great aromatic food is being prepared, and you pause on the street to take it in for a moment,” he explained. “But this I do not smell with my nose, I feel it in my soul!” he exclaimed through tears while pressing his hands on his belly and chest. His short suppressed sobs echoed in the back of the old cathedral.

“I had to get closer — I had to come see,” he said. Looking him in the eye, I placed my hand on his shoulder and whispered, “The Lord is good.”

Two men lovingly directed him to a seat near their families while I made my way to the front row, thanking the Lord for the rare opportunity to proclaim His Word in the first and only government-sanctioned Baptist church in this entire country. Strategically placed by God’s hand in a city five times the population of the state of Arkansas, this church is less than a year old yet runs about 120 in attendance and has baptized more than 60 since January.

Though sanctioned by the government, they face the possibility of Islamic terrorist activity. No doubt, their rapid growth is drawing attention. Nobody alive today remembers when the 300-year-old Anglican cathedral had this many people sitting on the old wooden pews.

Following a half-hour of passionate prayer, singing and Scripture reading, I preached for 30 minutes. The altar call invitation lasted another 30 minutes as believers knelt and prayed throughout the entire room. One Muslim man (not the one I met prior to the service) professed faith in Jesus Christ. Dozens lined down the aisle waiting for the pastor or a church leader to pray for them.

When the service ended, everyone stayed for hot tea and cookies; for another hour, believers encouraged one another, prayed for one another, laughed, cried and shared personal stories about how Jesus was working in their lives.

This church has no programs to promote. There are no church shirts, coffee mugs or keychains. The church does not have a website, Facebook or Instagram page or a blog. Not even a church sign.

They are devouring God’s Word, passionately worshiping Him, praying for one another, experiencing true Holy Spirit-united fellowship and boldly living out their faith in a hostile environment. And passersby can sense the aroma of true peace. Oh, what we can learn!

    About the Author

  • Eric W. Ramsey

    Eric W. Ramsey is an evangelism and mission strategist serving as associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Fort Smith, Ark. He is a former president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists. This column first appeared in the Arkansas Baptist News (www.arkansasbaptist.org/news), newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

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