News Articles

FROM THE STATES: Ala., La., Fla. evangelism/missions news; RAs/GAs experience ‘Ethiopian village’

Today’s From the States features items from:
The Alabama Baptist
Baptist Message (Louisiana)
Florida Baptist Witness

Ala. church creates Ethiopian
village for RA/GA campout
By Anna Keller

ENTERPRISE, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) — Hillcrest Baptist Church in Enterprise, Ala., is a missions-focused congregation that sends several members on international trips each year. They go to places like Costa Rica, Belize and Ethiopia to minister, share God’s love, offer medical assistance and more.

Those who participate in these trips come back invigorated to do missions work and are more aware of how much Americans have in comparison to people in other countries, church leaders explained.

A group that recently traveled to Ethiopia started brainstorming some unconventional ways to share their trip with the younger members of their church family.

Understanding Ethiopian life

Annette Whitton, director of children’s ministries at Hillcrest Baptist, has been to Ethiopia several times and always comes home changed.

“We’ve done talks and slide presentations and it’s all been good, but we started wondering if there was something else we could do to make them understand what life is like there and how blessed we are in America,” Whitton said. “We started thinking that maybe we could build a village right there at our church.”

A Royal Ambassador (RA) teacher who went on the Ethiopia trip also is an accomplished craftsman, and he offered to build the actual village structure. The idea was that the team would keep this endeavor a secret and only reveal it to the kids when they arrived to the church for a special event. The church always hosts a campout event for their Girls in Action (GAs) and RAs, and so this melded nicely into that annual tradition.

Though initially the event was going to take place in September or October, there were some conflicts that pushed it back to November and the event actually occurred Nov. 14–15.

Despite it being extremely cold that night, requiring the group to sleep indoors because temperatures were below freezing, GA director Jennifer Amlong said the timing worked out really well.

“It’s kind of better because it was just before Thanksgiving so we were able to remind the kids how blessed we are,” she said. “We could remind them that there are people in the world who don’t have the things we take for granted.”

The children showed up to the church — overnight bags in hand — not knowing what to expect. They were led into a side courtyard area of the church where the village had been set up.

The church’s “village” consisted of four huts, a campfire, a trash area and an outhouse. For those who had actually traveled to Ethiopia, everything felt very familiar and authentic.

They separated the kids into four “families” and each family had a hut. Because about 23 first- to sixth-graders were at the event the huts became cozy quickly and the leaders explained that in Ethiopia families had to share these small spaces.

When it came time for dinner the children were served a meal much like one people in Ethiopia would eat including a version of “injera” (a bread-like food Ethiopians use in place of flatware while eating) and meat flavored with an Ethiopian spice called “berbere.”

Digging through trash

Whitton said, “Some kids complained about not having enough at dinner, so we told those kids that in Ethiopia when people want extra food, they go through the trash to find some. We’d hidden hot dogs in plastic bags in our ‘dump’ area of the village, and so the children had to dig through the trash to find hot dogs to grill if they wanted extra food.”

After dinner the leaders took some time to talk to the children about Ethiopia and about missions work in general.

Amlong said, “It really made them think. In GAs we talk about missions every Wednesday night, but this way they got to experience it. You can talk about a child having to go to a dump to find food but when they experience that on their own it really sticks.”

Hillcrest has left its Ethiopian village intact and plans to offer it as a resource to other churches that want to come by and see it and learn more about the lives of people in that country.
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Anna Keller is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.
La. church obtains publishing
rights to Experiencing God in Bulgaria
By Brian Blackwell

WEST MONROE, La. (Baptist Message) — A Louisiana Baptist church has obtained the exclusive publishing rights to the Experiencing God book in the nation of Bulgaria.

And by doing so, Cedar Crest Baptist Church in West Monroe hopes this is just the beginning of many changed lives in this East European country.

Cedar Crest has been working in partnership with the Baptist Union of Bulgaria and the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention since 2009.

The church has taken teams to Bulgaria to conduct pastor training and leadership development, VBS style events for children and sports camps for all ages.

The idea to translate Experiencing God into Bulgarian began in 2010 when Cedar Crest hosted a Fresh Encounter conference on spiritual awakening. The conference was led by Henry Blackaby, co-author of Experiencing God, and his son Richard, now President of Blackaby Ministries International. At the conference, Richard Blackaby discussed with church leadership the possibility of obtaining the publishing rights, although BMI does not handle the actual distribution of those rights.

“Experiencing God has had such a significant impact on our church here that when we began working with pastors and leaders in Bulgaria, it was just a natural thought to incorporate this material into the process,” said Greg Clark, senior pastor of Cedar Crest.

The church immediately began attempts through Lifeway Publishing to obtain the rights, only to find out that those rights had been purchased by another organization. Attempts over the next year and a half to contact this organization proved unsuccessful.

In early 2012, Lynn Wilson, Cedar Crest’s administrative pastor, once again contacted Lifeway about the Experiencing God material. Only this time, he was informed that the publishing rights formerly held by the other organization had expired and were in fact available for purchase.

“I told them as of right now those rights are no longer available to anyone else because we want them,” Wilson recalled.

By that summer, Cedar Crest began to have discussions with a Bulgarian translator, Vlady Raichinov, about the possibility of having the book translated into their language. The process of translation took almost an entire year to accomplish and when completed was 330 pages in length. Wilson said that since most Bulgarians they have encountered do not use the workbook style material commonly used in the United States, the actual book was used in the translation.

In the meantime, Cedar Crest had begun discussions with the Baptist Union of Bulgaria in hopes of sponsoring a national Baptist pastors conference in the capital city of Sofia. David Moreland, missions pastor at Cedar Crest, added that developing good relationships with the pastors and leaders in Bulgaria was key in getting the Bulgarian leadership to the point where they would be comfortable in accepting the gift of Experiencing God in their native language.

“During the first three years of the work there, we were able to establish a good working relationship with the BBU,” Moreland said. “They don’t just open their arms and welcome people in, so it was quite a moment for us when we realized that they accepted us.

“We have tried to be very prayerful in seeing what God would have us to do there and He’s been very faithful in doing just that,” he continued. “As God opens doors, we have tried to be faithful and obey.”

Ultimately, the BBU agreed to work with Cedar Crest in holding a national conference for Baptist pastors. It seemed to be a natural fit to use the Experiencing God material as the theme for the conference.

Cedar Crest contacted Blackaby Ministries and soon had both Richard Blackaby and his brother Tom Blackaby committed to leading the teaching sessions for the conference.

All the praying and planning finally came to fruition, when in October of 2013, 127 pastors and leaders from all across the country of Bulgaria came together for a 3 day period of teaching, worshipping and fellowship. At the conclusion of the conference, approximately 300 copies of the Experiencing God book were distributed free of charge to Bulgarian pastors and leaders.

“Because of economic reasons they cannot come together as a group, so to see the pastors and leaders together in fellowship was an incredible experience for us to be a part of,” Wilson said. “It also has now provided some legitimacy for Cedar Crest and what God is leading us to do over there.”

Moreland added that the exciting thing is that until now the church mission teams have been primarily going to the northwest region of Bulgaria but now God has opened the opportunity for them to go other places in the country.

“We have been getting invitations from other churches to do the same kinds of things in their regions,” he said. “What began as a small work in one particular location has now blossomed out so that we now have the ability to go throughout the whole country and minister.”

Clark stated the whole process of working in Bulgaria is a slow one, so one must get accustomed to that slow process.

“We felt like God had opened this door for us and it didn’t matter how long it took or what the process was, we were just going to hang in there until something happened,” he said.

A team from Cedar Crest traveled back in Bulgaria at the end of March, conducting more teaching with pastors and encouraging congregations in this very difficult environment. Discussions are currently on-going for the next national conference that will be held in April 2015.

The effort by Cedar Crest to reach the Bulgarian people reflects a larger mission to fulfill Acts 1:8 and is a part of the church’s Global Mission Strategy.

Its local missions efforts include a Cowboy Church that meets every Tuesday in the church’s fellowship hall, participation in a ministry to the homeless in Ouachita Parish, support of a local church plant and weekly mentoring of at-risk children at a local elementary school.

Statewide, Cedar Crest has partnered with a church plant, One Life Baptist Church in Port Vincent and with Chad Thibodeaux of Vatican Baptist Church and will begin working with Ryan Melson, a church planter in New Orleans beginning in January of 2015.

Nationally, the church has just concluded a 3-year partnership with Connect Church in Atlanta, Ga, conducting summer sports camps for children in inner city Atlanta.

Cedar Crest will begin a new church plant partnership with Passion Church in mid-town Atlanta sometime early in 2015.
This article appeared in the Baptsit Message (baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Brian Blackwell is a staff writer for the Baptist Message.
House of Hope strives to
be ‘His hands and feet’
By Barbara Denman

MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness) — In the pre-dawn hours before the sun rises over the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds of needy people stand in line at the House of Hope waiting for groceries, coffee and donuts, clothes and a little hope to help them make it through the week.

They are greeted by volunteers with big smiles on their faces, warm welcomes in their voices and hearts steeped in prayer. The volunteers are God’s hands and feet, many having arrived at 4:30 a.m. to prepare for the day.

Within four hours, 1,000 “clients,” will have walked through the doors of the former post office building to receive a box of groceries filled with canned food, baked goods, fresh meat, vegetables and fruits. They have been able to visit with chaplains to share specific needs, sign up for food stamps, ask VFW representatives about benefits, take a shower if needed, and pick out five articles of clothing.

And when they have completed their walk through, volunteers— affectionately called “mules” — with wheel barrows will carry the client’s box of food to their cars; or give them a ride in a golf cart to the city bus stop.

By the morning’s end after their clients have left, the workers will prepare to do it all again on the next Monday.

House of Hope is a ministry of First Baptist Church of Merritt Island, and is operated strictly by volunteers, mostly church members, as well as representatives from other churches and the community. No one, not even director Steve Young, who has led the ministry for the past ten years, receives a salary.

“You couldn’t pay us to do this,” Young said simply. Instead, he added, “it’s about transformation.”

“We believe transformation comes from Jesus Christ and we are working for that,” Young said.

One of the biggest issues “with the poor and homeless is drugs and alcoholism,” explained Young. “It’s a huge problem. Many are chemically dependent.”

Each week, between 10 and 15 House of Hope’s clients pray to receive Christ as their Savior, right on the parking lot, resulting in more than 1,000 professions of faiths made each year.

Men who express a desire for permanent life change can apply to live in the transitional housing located on the property, a blessing that enables them to transition from homeless to the workforce.

Others who demonstrate a deeper commitment to being clean and sober can be sent to an out-of-state rehab facility for chemical dependency.

Four of the men who have gone through this process are now serving in ministry. That is the transformation driving Young.

Having worked with the needy in Merritt Island for more than 15 years, the staff at House of Hope runs like a well-oiled machine and has initiated ministries to meet specific needs.

Because bicycles are the primary mode of transportation for the poor, Young explained, the ministry has a bicycle shop where volunteers repair used bikes for the needy. More than 600 bikes received as contributions to the ministry are made travel worthy each year and distributed to those in need.

Even in tropical Florida, temperatures drop below 40 degrees. House of Hope offers shelter on these nights with hot meals, Bible studies and showers.

The ministry also provides weekly Bible study, job assistance with Job Link and basic wellness checks by medical staff.

Each year, House of Hope hosts the Florida Baptist Convention mobile dental unit and enlists volunteer dentists from the community to provide dental care to clients with immediate needs, including fillings and extractions.

Chaplains, trained through the Florida Baptist Convention’s volunteer chaplaincy program, mingle throughout the crowds standing in line to discover needs, provide resources and guide conversations into spiritual directions.

While Mondays are the organization’s prime food distribution days, volunteers work throughout the week to collect food from grocery stores, restaurants, Second Harvest and other sources. Two refrigerated food trucks are used in the food collections. Perishables which cannot be used immediately are given to other ministries, including First Baptist which uses the food to feed the homeless a hot meal on Wednesday night.

Throughout the process the food is inspected and deemed worthy for distribution, explained Chaplain Betty Hubert. “Everything is quality because we represent Jesus Christ.”

Those coming to the House of Hope reflect all walks of life and backgrounds—young, old, people with special needs, some with small children tagging along, others with walkers, and still some dragging suitcases filled with their only worldly possessions.

According to House of Hope statistics, about five percent of their clients are homeless; 20 percent are single parents; and 25 percent are senior adults. Veterans and the disabled each comprise five percent.

Overall the majority of those in line — 40 percent — are unemployed, many affected when NASA’s shuttle program ended and 8,000 workers lost their jobs. Young said for every one NASA job lost, two or three jobs in the Space Coast community also ended.

At age 65, Cassions, who asked not to use his full name, is one of those who lost his job and has gone back to school to retool his skills. He comes each week to House of Hope with two retired neighbors to get the food that will help them make it through the week with their limited income.

“We love this place,” he said. “It’s like a little community. They give us all we need and the people are so nice. It’s a place of joy.”

And for our 1,000 persons each week, it’s a place of hope — and grace.
This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.
EDITOR’S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board’s call to embrace the world’s 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board’s call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.

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