News Articles

FROM THE STATES: Ala., S.C., Okla. evangelism/missions news

EDITOR’S NOTE: From the States, published weekly 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.

Today’s From the States features items from:
The Alabama Baptist — two stories
The Baptist Courier (South Carolina)
The Baptist Messenger (Oklahoma)

FBC Montgomery adopts Ejamat
people in Senegal, Africa
By Debby Faught

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) — Clapping and cheering erupt from the crowd gathered as an elderly woman with gray hair emerges from the muddy waters of the Casamance River, displaying to the Ejamat people her new identity as a believer in Jesus Christ. “I am old, but I too will follow Jesus,” she said.

First Baptist Church, Montgomery, has “embraced the Ejamat people in Senegal, Africa, and are committed to be the missionaries to them,” said Brian Gay, the church’s minister of missions.

A total of “19 precious people turned their backs on centuries of dark animism to boldly proclaim their faith in Christ,” said Senior Pastor Jay Wolf.

“When [they] stood publicly and unashamedly to declare they were following the ‘Jesus Way,’ our hearts flooded with joy and heaven must have erupted with fireworks. Each new Christ-follower shared their testimony. It was electrifying to see Christ’s Kingdom expanding and the darkness shattering by God’s liberating love and light.”

Members of First, Montgomery, have taken two trips since their initial prayer meeting in February 2011.

“We felt God leading us to embrace the Ejamat people group,” remarked Gay, noting First, Montgomery, partners with Southern Baptist representatives in the Senegal area and has embraced the Ejamat group through the International Mission Board’s Unengaged, Unreached People Groups emphasis. “We plan to send teams as often as we can, every six to eight weeks. [With God’s help, we want to] multiply churches where they can continue to grow through oral chronological Bible stories, and slowly but surely we can aid them in reaching out into their community as we move on to more unreached, unengaged people groups.”

However, members of First, Montgomery, were not the first to start praying for the Ejamat people. Karfar became a believer in a neighboring village prior to the arrival of the First, Montgomery, teams; he then moved back home and prayed fervently for 15 years for his people group. Gay described him as a modern-day Andrew. “He is a main leader among the Ejamats and opens up his home for Bible studies.”

When asked how Alabama Baptist churches could pray for this mission Gay simply responded, “Pray for the Ejamat people.” He also encouraged all churches to engage an unengaged people group. According to Operation World, there are 57 people groups in Senegal and 47 percent of them remain unreached.

“Prayer is our strategy. [If you] cannot go, pray,” Gay said. Out of about 3,000 Ejamat people, 35 have received Christ and 21 have been baptized.
This article originally appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org) newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention State Board of Missions. Debby Faught is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.
FBC Cullman adopts Northern
Conchucos Quechua people in Peru
By Maggie Walsh

CULLMAN, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) — When International Mission Board (IMB) President Tom Elliff challenged churches to adopt an unreached and unengaged people group at the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, First Baptist Church, Cullman, took the message to heart.

Since that time, Pastor Edwin Hayes has been urging the First, Cullman, congregation to pray about which of the 3,500 people groups to adopt. Its decision to adopt the Northern Conchucos Quechua people in the Yanama Valley of Ancash, Peru, is a direct result of that prayer.

Members of First, Cullman, voted unanimously to adopt this group in a church conference June 24. The church also reached out to First Baptist Church, Athens, and Crosshaven Baptist Church, Hanceville, to partner in this ministry.

Crosshaven Baptist’s congregation has approved the adoption and partnership. First, Athens, will bring the pending partnership before its congregation in August. Edwin Jenkins, pastor of First, Athens, said the church is “definitely planning on lending a hand and giving support,” but that it was too early to determine the depth of its involvement.

“It’s just thrilling,” said Jim O’Dillon, minister of education and outreach at First, Cullman, on adopting the Northern Conchucos Quechua people group. “God has opened our eyes. Our people have seen the need.”

On its own, First, Cullman, could not adopt a people group, O’Dillon said. By partnering together, the West Cullman Baptist Association churches will be able to make this ministry to one of the poorest areas in Peru tangible.

Crosshaven Baptist Pastor Jason Murphree said the partnership was a “natural fit” since he and his brother, Josh, have connections to both churches. First, Cullman, is the men’s home church and Josh Murphree was a staff intern at First, Athens, before becoming a Southern Baptist representative in Peru.

Jason Murphree said Crosshaven’s decision to adopt a people group was simultaneous with Elliff’s challenge. The church, which was formed in 2004, determined it was time to stop focusing inward and start reaching outward. Crosshaven has sent many teams to Peru in past years because of its change in focus.

In addition to adopting this people group, O’Dillon said First, Cullman, will have one of its own, Taylor Novara, serving in the Yanama Valley as a journeyman with IMB in this area for two years after he completes eight months of training and language school.

Novara was a member of the vision team sent to Peru on April 27 to May 6 to “get a sense of God’s purpose” for the ministry, said Phillip McAfee, deacon and chairman of the missions committee at First, Cullman. McAfee, Brian Witcher and Lee Underwood, all of First, Cullman, were also members of the vision team. Witcher is the minister of music and Underwood is a deacon.

The trip was educational, McAfee said, but he noted it was also difficult because of Yanama Valley’s altitude of 13,000 feet. Despite the rough conditions, the team was able to travel across the valley and see the natives’ needs.

“We felt an immediate connection with the people in that area,” McAfee said. “I felt a great desire to minister to them and lead them to the Lord.”

Less than 2 percent of the Yanama Valley population — estimated to be about 60,000 to 100,000 people — are Christians.

McAfee said the team was well received despite their status as outsiders. “We found everyone to be friendly and hospitable,” he said. “It’s hard not to fall in love with them.”

The network of churches plans to send a team to Peru every six to eight weeks once the paperwork and training have been completed, O’Dillon said. When asked about funding this ministry, O’Dillon recited the old hymn “Trust and Obey.”

“God will provide the funding,” he said.

“I don’t need to worry — He’s taking care of it.”
This article originally appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org) newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention State Board of Missions. Maggie Walsh in an intern at The Alabama Baptist.
Church will seek
to ‘Awaken’ Charleston
By Butch Blume

CHARLESON, S.C. (The Baptist Courier) — In 2000, while a student at the College of Charleston, Brandon Bowers experienced Christ for the first time and committed himself to serving wherever God might use him.

Church planters Brandon and Ashley Bowers (with Brailey, 6, Brinkley, 2, and Bryson, 4) hope to reach young adult couples in the growing West Ashley area of Charleston.

“My story in Christ starts in Charleston,” said Bowers, and his story will soon continue in Charleston. Drawn back to “the very place where God changed [his] life forever,” Bowers, on Aug. 1, will leave behind a thriving ministry at an established church in Spartanburg to plant a new church in Charleston’s West Ashley area.

Along with his wife, Ashley, and their three young children, plus nine young adults from Spartanburg’s First Baptist Church, Bowers will lay the groundwork this fall for the launch of Awaken Church early next year.

Bowers, 33, said the need is “immense” for a stronger evangelical presence in Charleston. There are 650,000 people in the metropolitan area, yet 84 percent of them claim no church affiliation, he said. Also, in a five-mile circle surrounding Roper St. Francis Hospital in West Ashley, there are upwards of 140,000 residents, only 3,000-4,000 of whom are in a Southern Baptist church on any given Sunday, he said.

“It is an area that is incredibly lost and disconnected from most of the spiritual activity that happens in our state,” he said.

However, the “vast need” of Charleston is about more than cold statistics for Bowers, who grew up in nearby Summerville, as did his wife. For the couple, it is personal. Charleston is “a place we’ve been burdened about,” he said. “It is the city I was lost in [but] where God used a ministry there to find me. I really want to plant a church that does the same thing [for others] in that city. I’m in it for the long haul.”

Bowers will not be going at it alone. Nine young adults from Spartanburg First Baptist Church — where Bowers has served since 2008 as minister to college students and young adults — will be joining him and his family. They include a physical therapist, an elementary school teacher, a computer science major with a calling to student ministry, and a married couple finishing up course work at New Orleans Seminary, among others.

“It’s an interesting dynamic,” said Bowers. “I asked the Lord to send me a Caleb — someone else who believes in what he is calling me to do. It’s exciting to be able to go and start a church with some of our closest friends.”

Bowers envisions Awaken Church reaching young families in a section of Charleston that is experiencing an economic rebound in the midst of a national recession. Many young adults in the area work in medicine, engineering and education, and jobs are plentiful at the Boeing airliner assembly plant in North Charleston. The population in the West Ashley area is expected to double in the next five years, Bowers said.

“We’re targeting 30-to-35-year-old married couples with one or two kids, middle class, with jobs, but in debt,” he said. “They grew up in church, but they’ve been out of church for a few years.”

Awaken Church will start with a “core team,” meeting in homes during the fall, to “build the DNA of discipleship into our church,” Bowers said. Sunday night meetings will begin in January 2013, with Sunday morning services scheduled to launch in March. “We’re praying God gives us a facility,” he said.

Spartanburg First Baptist Church will commission Bowers on July 22 and has agreed to be a sponsoring church for the Charleston plant. Awaken Church is the first of 10 churches that Spartanburg First Baptist will help plant over the next decade as part of its “10 by 10” initiative.

“We are committed to staying in this with Brandon until his church is up and running and replicating,” said Steve Wise, Spartanburg First’s minister of missions. “We want to be with them as they plant their first church.”

Under the “10 by 10” plan, Wise said, Spartanburg First Baptist will plant 10 new churches in 10 years, sending out at least 10 families with each new plant; partner with 10 other churches in each plant (with each church committing at least $10,000 in support for three years); call out 10 church planters from within the congregation; and begin 10 mission “outposts” in Spartanburg, targeting areas of “great physical need and spiritual darkness.”

Wise said Spartanburg First will plant churches in Spartanburg and in other areas of South Carolina, as well as in North America, Africa and Asia.

Bowers is grateful for the support from Spartanburg First Baptist, but recognizes he will be stepping out on faith — and without a salary. “It’s scary to step away from that and start from scratch,” he said. “It’s got to be a call from the Lord.”

“We’re trusting the Lord’s provision in this,” he said, adding that he will get an outside job to “bridge the income as needed” until Awaken Church is established.

He hopes Spartanburg’s “10 by 10” church-starting model will help “bring understanding as to how strong, traditional Southern Baptist churches can support church plants.”

“How do churches get behind the call to plant churches like we see in the New Testament?” Bowers asked. “What will our state look like 20 years from now if we don’t? We want to be a conduit to help some of that communication happen.”

For more information about Awaken Church, visit AwakenCharleston.com.
This article originally appeared in The Baptist Courier (baptistcourier.com), newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Butch Blume is managing editor of The Baptist Courier.
Partnership missions: Spreading
the Gospel in Antigua
By Jennifer Hill

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (The Baptist Messenger) — I always try to save enough vacation time at work so I can go on a mission trip each summer. Last fall, I began looking at opportunities available through International Commission (IC) to go tell people about the love of God. There was a trip to Madagascar, and another one to South Korea planned for summer, but both of those would take a lot of vacation days. I continued to pray about it, and a shorter trip to Antigua came to my attention. Ultimately, this is the place God clearly directed me to go.

When people heard where I was going, they gave me a hard time about going “on mission” to a place where many people vacation at resorts. Had they gone on the trip, they would have seen that for most of the island, it is anything but a vacation. Staying in a place without air-conditioning and only cold showers with a view of humble homes on a dirt road was not what the people back home had in mind! There are a lot of hard-working people in Antigua who don’t have much income. There are a lot of lost people, rich and poor alike, who need to hear how much God loves them, and I was ready to go tell them.

Our team of nine Americans, ranging in age from 15 to 72, worked with four local pastors and church members from five churches. Evangelism, telling as many people as we could about what Christ did for them and giving them an opportunity to begin that relationship, was our sole purpose in going. We used Evangecubes, cubes that unfold to show the gospel story in pictures, as a tool. We also had our personal testimonies printed along with some Scripture verses and questions to hand out. As we went out, we trusted God to lead us, and the results were up to Him.

Some visits were scheduled with church members who had participated in Operation Andrew, meaning they had been praying for 10 of their lost friends, and then we went with them to visit those individuals and share the Gospel. Some visits seemed random, but were always God-directed. We went door to door in several areas. Sadly, the rich area saw no harvest between the three teams we divided into one evening. They had a comfortable life and did not see their need for God. Walking along the dirt roads filled with potholes and through “dog alley” to talk to the average and lower income locals, however, we experienced many divine appointments. This was an area where the people did recognize their need for God and Someone to love them no matter what.

On one of these streets, after sharing the Gospel with Charlene, she asked us to come into her home. We sat in her very small, humble living room and listened to some of her story. She told us about the hard things she was going through and that she knew she needed to make some changes. She said, “There is no way the enemy brought you here. God brought you here.” She found the Truth; she accepted Christ! Several kids I talked to in the street who did accept Christ said they were excited and would go to school the next day and tell their friends that God loves them. That would be many more seeds planted than we could reach.

One morning, our team went to the market. I ended up walking through an area with vendors lined up one after another, selling their goods to tourists. Talk about easy ground! They saw this white, American girl and said, “Hey, lady, come here!” So I went and shared the Good News and then barely turned around when another said, “Hey, lady, come here!” I talked to one vendor who had a lot of attitude and did not believe in Heaven or Hell. I could tell she wasn’t going to listen to anything, so I left her with a copy of my testimony. I found out from one of the other vendors that this lady was a Rastafarian. This is a group of people who worship an earlier Emperor of Ethiopia as God incarnate and is seen more as a philosophy than a religion. There are many Rastas in Antigua, and though they are hard to talk to, they are not impossible for God to reach. Several seeds were planted among them, and we pray they will see the Truth.

On the last afternoon, two of us went with a church member to share the Gospel with her hairdresser at her salon. God had cleared the customers out, so she could listen uninterrupted. This was not the first time she had heard the Gospel. She was willing to listen, but it was clearly evident that the enemy was working. After 15 minutes of discussion, her final answer was “Not now.” My heart breaks for her, and I pray she will soon change her mind.

Afterward, we decided to go back to the market and talk to more people. We were to meet our ride at a certain time on a street corner that just so happened to have an ice cream shop we had already been to twice that week. Since it was so hot, we of course had to have an ice cream cone while we waited. After ordering the cones, I started to turn and walk out, but conviction hit. I had been in there three times now, and I was going to leave and not let the man behind the counter know what Christ did for him. I turned back and asked if he knew how much God loved him. “No,” he replied. I asked if I could share with him, and he smiled in agreement. Ice cream cone in one hand and ecube in the other, I began to share with him what Christ did for him on the cross. My ice cream started melting halfway through, but I continued with the story and then asked if he would like to pray. He smiled and gave an enthusiastic “Yes!” then added, “But not now.” I quickly explained that now was definitely the best time, and we should go ahead and pray. He agreed! The smile on his face when he was done said enough . . . and I was off to eat my partially melted treat, now in a cup with a spoon, but it was the best ice cream cone I had ever had!

At times our group went to schools when they were letting out and talked to as many kids as we could on the street corners. My favorite was when one of the uniformed school girls prayed and then immediately said, “I feel different!” A few times we were invited to speak to all the kids at schools during assembly times and share the Gospel with hundreds at a time.

For a week that started out with a choppy, half-filled schedule, God certainly opened doors and filled it up. At the end of the week, 1,924 people indicated they prayed and accepted Christ as Savior; 1,650 of those were students. Many of these people gave us their contact information so we could connect them with a local church. The churches were trained to do follow-up and were given resources to help with the process. In handing out testimonies and talking to people who did not want to pray, there were at least 1,052 other seeds sown.

I am not an “evangelist.” Evangelism is not one of my spiritual gifts. Going on these trips with IC to share Christ is always hard, because it is so uncomfortable, and I am so inadequate. The gift of eternal life is much too great a gift to keep to ourselves, though. Printed on a small box of raisins I had taken as snacks, there was the phrase, “Don’t let someone else ask your question.” God reminded me of that throughout the week. I can’t wait for someone else to ask the people in my path if they know how much God loves them, because it may not happen. As a Christian, it is my responsibility to open my mouth and share His love. Christ has commissioned all of His followers to go and tell. I’ve learned it’s OK to be uncomfortable, because it greatly increases my dependency on Him. It’s not OK to be disobedient. Will you go and tell? Christ wants you to!
This article originally appeared in The Baptist Messenger (baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Jennifer Hill is a church planting ministry assistant for the convention.

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