News Articles

FROM THE STATES: Fla., Ga., Texas evangelism/missions news; ‘She put down that her husband was in prison’

Today’s From the States features items from:
Florida Baptist Witness
The Christian Index (Georgia)
Southern Baptist TEXAN

Lives changed through
Love in Action event
BY Keila Diaz

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness) — Marvin Coley walked an hour and 20 minutes earlier this month to get his teeth cleaned at a mobile dental unit set up at Lake Shore Baptist Church in Jacksonville.

By the time he was finished, the homeless man had received more than a clean mouth.

Coley was one of three people who became a believer in Christ as a result of the mobile dental unit ministry, which travels the state providing dental care and opportunities to share the Gospel, according to the Florida Baptist Convention website.

Eric Fowler, who also received Christ that week, was brought to tears while watching the movie “Facing the Giants.” The movie was playing in the choir room at Lake Shore Baptist, which was being used as a waiting area for patients.

Butch Jefferson, a member at Lake Shore Baptist, saw Fowler’s tears and led him into the hallway where the two talked and Fowler prayed to receive Christ.

Delvenia Mitchell also made a decision for Christ that week. Like all the other patients seen, she filled out a registration card that asked her to indicate any prayer needs she might have.

“She put down that her husband was in prison,” wrote Stella Mouzon in an email. “They have a 17-year-old son.” Mouzon and Anna L. Guy are co-directors of Lake Shore’s Love in Action event, which was Feb. 16-20.

Jefferson read the card, pulled Mitchell aside and talked. During that conversation, Mitchell prayed to receive Christ.

In tandem with the dental ministry, Lake Shore also hosted a myriad of other organizations to help the poor and elderly in the Lake Shore community, located seven miles from downtown Jacksonville.

Some of those organizations included:

— Vision is Priceless, a nonprofit organization that provided free vision screenings throughout the week

— AARP, which supplied free tax preparation for everyone on a walk-in basis

— Feeding Northeast Florida, a collaborative partnership between Feeding America and Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, donated meats and produce

— Elder’s Source, a local program of assistance to the elderly, provided information about the services for older adults and those who care for them

— Jacksonville’s Hearing and Speech Center performed screenings for patients to determine if a hearing aid is needed

— Gideons International distributed free New Testament Bibles throughout the week

— Food and Clothes Closet, a ministry of Lake Shore Baptist that usually opens on Tuesdays and Thursdays, donated food and clothes throughout the week

A total of 190 people were served through the food pantry, and 47 through the clothes closet, Mouzon wrote.

This year, 20 dentists volunteered their services, along with 19 dental assistants and 25 dental students from local colleges.

The turnout was significant.

“Two hundred and two people came through but some were not seen due to medical issues — elevated blood pressure or blood sugar,” Mouzon wrote. Last year, the unit received 177 patients.

Lake Shore Baptist had a team of 66 volunteers on site and another prayer team praying from their homes for all the volunteers who would serve throughout the week.

The event was a team effort, and everything was planned to intentionally share the Gospel with every patient who walked in.

“We will follow up with each person by letter, visit or phone call depending on where they live,” Mouzon wrote. “We had people [come] from as far as 70 miles away.”

Along with the three people that were saved that week, Mouzon says “many other seeds were planted.”
This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Keila Diaz is a reporter for the Florida Baptist Witness.


Samuel Ayala: The
GA church multiplier
By Jim Burton

DACULA, Ga. (The Christian Index) — Samuel Ayala arrives at Hebron Español barely on time and is late most Sundays. Most would agree that his punctuality is a bit abnormal for a pastor. But the praise team knows not to wait on him. They want him to drive safely from Winder after he preaches at Iglesia Viva Christiana and helps break down their temporary worship center.

Ayala is a church planting catalyst on the run. With two and soon three new Hispanic church plants currently in process, “passion and fire” fuel the entrepreneurial spirit he brings to Georgia Baptist missions.

Getting here was almost as hard as starting these new churches. The Puerto Rican had explored three church-ministry opportunities in Georgia before moving his family here from the Caribbean. Upon arrival, each opportunity fell through.

Ayala had studied church planting and multiplication in Puerto Rico. Despite the disappointments upon arrival, he felt called to Gwinnett County to plant churches. So he started a house church. When that gathering grew, he sought commercial space for their meetings.

A real estate agent introduced Ayala to his Southern Baptist pastor who in turned started making connections with other Baptist leaders at the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC), the North American Mission Board (NAMB), and the Gwinnett Metro Baptist Association (GMBA).

“When I started I was alone,” Ayala said. “Doing church planting without the support of an association is very uphill and lonely. But once you are with an association (local, state, and national support), there is so much networking and resourcing.”

Hispanic church planting needs

Statewide, Hispanics represent 9% of Georgia’s population according to Pew Research, or about 880,000 people. Twelve percent of the K-12 student population in Georgia is Hispanic. The median age of Hispanics is 25. Forty-one percent of Hispanics ages 17 and younger live in poverty.

GBC state missionary Moses Valdes consults with Hispanic churches. He said that Georgia currently has 111 Hispanic congregations.

“My experience tells me that the small churches are the ones growing fastest and by which Hispanics are reached more effectively with the Gospel,” said Valdes, who attributes his observation to Hispanic culture and their value of personal relationships.

In Gwinnett County, Ayala estimates that Lawrenceville is 22% Hispanic, 19% of which are not Christians. His next church plant will be there.

He projects that the county needs up to eight new Hispanic churches today. To meet the needs of first-generation Hispanics, Gwinnett County eventually needs an additional 25 churches, he said. Meanwhile, to reach second-generation Hispanics (bilingual and culturally assimilated), Ayala estimated the county needs 50-75 churches.

“Hispanics in Georgia do not need PhDs in evangelism, just people who have had new birth in Christ like Sam and his wife, Luz, have experienced, and who are willing to share and disciple others,” Valdes said.

Learning about CP

Georgia Baptist’s cooperative-missions method met Ayala’s enthusiasm at a critical time for his family. The encouragement and training support from Valdes and the GMBA coupled with the GBC and NAMB’s Send Atlanta financial assistance now help to sustain his family. He also serves part-time as an associate pastor at Hebron Baptist Church and leads Hebron Español. His wife, Luz, works at the GBC in Intercultural Church Planting and Missions Ministries.

Most of what Ayala has learned about the Cooperative Program (CP) has come from what he has experienced since coming to Georgia by faith. CP provided a safety net for his calling to church planting and multiplication.

The entrepreneurial church planter will continue running fast and hard to start churches with a goal of ten within five years. That growth is dependent upon identifying leaders within each church plant who show potential and a calling to be a pastor, a process that Ayala is committed to guide.

With each church becoming a “multiplier,” his vision is for new Hispanic churches not just in Gwinnett County, but also eventually across North America.
This article appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming, Ga.


TX and UT-ID partnership bears
fruit along Wasatch Front
By Jane Rodgers

SALT LAKE CITY (Southern Baptist TEXAN) — Nestled between the Wasatch mountains on the east and the Oquirrh range on the west, bordered by the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake at north and south, bisected by the Jordan River, lies the Wasatch Front, a narrow strip of land over 100 miles long in north-central Utah.

The Wasatch Front contains the state’s major metropolitan areas — Salt Lake City, Provo and Ogden — and is home to 2.8 million people, more than 80 percent of the population of Utah, 98 percent of whom do not know Jesus as savior.

NAMB Send Salt Lake missionary Travis Kerns and Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention (UISBC) Executive Director Rob Lee are determined to see the latter statistic changed.

Along the Wasatch Front, more than 50 Southern Baptist churches preach the gospel to predominately Mormon or unchurched populations. Some 15 Utah church plants are presently funded through the UISBC and NAMB’s Send Salt Lake initiative, with church planting interns and apprentices in training to begin more.

“We are trying to ramp up the number of church plants,” Lee told the TEXAN. “The [Southern Baptists of Texas Convention] has supported this ministry in Utah-Idaho. Because of their missions giving, we are able to do more work here than we could otherwise do.”

Utah-Idaho is one of three current partnerships SBTC has with the North American Mission Board. Several Wasatch Front church plants have SBTC ties.

“A big thank you goes to the SBTC for sending some of their best to plant churches,” Lee noted.

Lee’s work as executive director-treasurer of the UISBC assists the 168 SBC churches and entities in a territory just south of the Canadian border all the way down to northern Arizona. Vision 2020, the UISBC state strategy, has set the goal of establishing 300 SBC churches and reaching one percent of the region’s population by 2020.

“We have a long way to go,” Lee acknowledged.

Kerns arrived in the Salt Lake area in July 2013. The self-professed “Mormon nerd” was a professor of Christian worldview and apologetics at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., when NAMB President Kevin Ezell asked him to go to Salt Lake City as part of the Send City initiative.

“It was hard for us to be comfortable in Louisville, knowing that in Utah 54 people die every day, and 53 of those die lost,” Kerns explained. “It’s a hard place to do ministry, the most beautiful ‘ugly’ place we have ever lived. And we love it.”

Kerns describes his work as recruiting “planters and partners” and is quick to credit the SBTC’s involvement in securing both, noting his positive relationship with SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards.

“The SBTC has partnered with the UISBC for three years, sending planters, funds and mission teams,” Kerns said. “It’s been great to be able to call the SBTC when we need help. When we see Jim [Richards] and staff at conventions, they make us feel welcome, like part of the family.”

Among the SBTC churches supporting Utah church plants are StoneWater Church in Granbury, First Baptist Church in Keller, Redeemer Church in Fort Worth, Denman Avenue Baptist Church in Lufkin, Grace Community Church in Glen Rose and First Baptist Church in Petrolia.

“FBC Keller has been extremely supportive of Desert Ridge Baptist Church in St. George,” Lee said. Desert Ridge, in southwestern Utah, is in a heavily LDS retirement area 110 miles from Las Vegas. “Brigham Young sent settlers there and wintered there.”

Desert Ridge has experienced what Lee calls “slow and steady growth,” with pastor Michael Waldrop at the helm.

The fastest growing church plant in the history of the UISBC is Lifestone in Herriman, Utah, sponsored by Granbury’s StoneWater, Lee noted. Lifestone, founded in 2013, has quickly grown to nearly 100 members.

Morgan Grace Fellowship, a church plant supported by Denman Avenue Baptist in Lufkin, is the only non-Mormon church in 97 percent LDS Morgan County. The pastor, Jeff Hurlbut, like many church planters, is bi-vocational, working in the local school district while his wife is a planner for the city of Morgan.

Community involvement remains a key for SBC church planters whose evangelicalism is at odds with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“There’s no way to avoid the isolation except to get into the community and go to events. Put your kids in basketball or soccer leagues and get to know the people so they know you are not the weirdo next door, even though you are not into Mormonism,” Kerns advised. “Once Mormons get to know you as a human being, they will come around. It just takes time.”

The children of church planters are sometimes ostracized, especially in middle and high school, Kerns said, making Utah “a tough place to live.”

The region is changing in a continually expanding economy. Forbes magazine rated Utah as the “Best State for Business” in 2014, and the strong economy is attracting outsiders, noted Ben Helton, Lifestone pastor.

With the influx of new residents, Mormonism is slowly losing its grip in Utah’s largest cities, with more than a quarter of the population in the Wasatch Front identifying as religiously unaffiliated.

“Salt Lake City proper is not even 50 percent Mormon now,” Lee said.

Lee, who has been in Utah since 1987, noted that Mormonism remains strong in rural areas even outside Utah. “Some places in Idaho are even more Mormon than Utah,” Lee added.

“Utah Lake is fresh water. The Great Salt Lake has salt water. The Jordan River connects them,” Lee mused. In a region rife with biblical names and relatively little biblical knowledge, the area Mormons historically call Zion is poised for change.

SBC church planters are ready to help that change include a movement to Christ.
This article appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN.

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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