Today’s From the States features items from:
Florida Baptist Witness
Western Recorder (Kentucky)
The Christian Index (Georgia)
Miami church meets
in unique setting
By Anna Barlow
MIAMI (Florida Baptist Witness) — In today’s day and age, many evangelists are having to rethink their traditional approaches to spreading the Gospel.
Pastors have traded suits and ties for jeans and button ups, church meetings are held everywhere from barns to restaurants, and baptisms take place at the beach. There is no box in which to put how the Word of God can be presented, and there are no limitations to how incredible opportunities can pop up in the most unique ways.
Almost two years ago, one such unique approach began developing in the hearts of the congregation of Turning Point Baptist Church, a five-year-old church in the Kendall area of Miami-Dade County.
The call to plant another church was upon them, and though they did not know where, with whom, when or with what money they would be able to help make this plant, TPBC trusted that the Lord did. Soon after, a member of the congregation, Jaime Martinez, felt the call to ministry and began to earnestly pray and prepare for the future church. Shortly after that Noel Lozano, pastor of TPBC, received a call from North American Mission Board leaders in the region and was offered the chance to be shown a building project.
Located in downtown Miami and belonging to a Christian, two apartment buildings — 18 floors each — stand towering over the busy streets. One of the towers houses low-income individuals and families, and the other houses seniors 55 years and older.
“At that time, we understood that [the buildings] were the missing piece of the puzzle,” Lozano said. “We accepted the challenge and work began.
“First, we surveyed apartment by apartment [300 apartments total] to recognize the basic needs and characteristics of the people living there. We found that [overcoming] loneliness was one of the greatest needs, and distrust the greatest obstacle. The group, comprised of members from the congregation who carried out the surveying, was given the task of recreational activities and they gained the trust of residents.”
It has been roughly eight months since work started in the Miami buildings, and those eight months have been full of transformation and God’s grace. The building owners donated an apartment so a chaplain could live on-site and take care of the people in both buildings, and they also donated space to be used for meetings. This unique plant has been named Turning Point Little Havana, and they now have weekly worship meetings in the buildings.
It does not stop with weekly worship. Every Monday, about 100 bags of food are distributed to the neediest families in the complexes. Seven months ago, a weekly Bible study with 10 people began, and it has increased to 70 attendees. They hope to grow to 100 by the end of this year. The number of people in the buildings is unknown.
God has been hard at work transforming lives, and members have been rescued from drugs, Santeria (a syncretic religion of West Africa and Caribbean) and depression. “Just last week,” adds Lozano, “there were 12 decisions for Christ.” The church has also hosted Vacation Bible School for kids, and it was recognized by the mayor of Miami for its outstanding work in the community.
“TPLH is recognition of God’s faithfulness and the results of the layout and teamwork,” Lozano said. “As senior pastor of Turning Point, I am immensely grateful for the opportunity NAMB has given us in this ‘experiment,’ to the owners of the buildings, to the leaders of our convention and to those that with practically nothing responded to God’s call. TPLH is proof of the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father.”
Future plans for the church are to continue to grow and try to involve more people who do not necessarily live in the two buildings, but in the surrounding community.
“On behalf of Turning Point, we are open and ready for any opportunity that God might have to expand His work in this city of Miami that is in so much need of Him,” Lozano said. “We are a young church, but we serve an almighty God.”
This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com) newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Anna Barlow is an intern for the Florida Baptist Witness.
VBS funds church in
the Dominican Republic
By Myriah Snyder
HODGENVILLE, Ky. (Western Recorder) — Missions became a real experience for the Vacation Bible School children at First Baptist Church of Hodgenville.
The Kentucky church began ministering in the San Pedro area of the Dominican Republic by going house-to-house with an iPod and projector and showing the “Jesus Film” to individual families in the area, senior pastor Paul Richey said.
After the initial contact was made, the local church planter Miguel would set up weekly chronological Bible studies. “When this would happen, we started to see that people were really responding,” Richey said. As the numbers grew to about 50 adult believers, the need arose for a place to meet.
However, the new group of believers didn’t have the resources to build a church building, so First Baptist accepted the task to construct the structure. They estimated the cost would be about $5,000.
First Baptist began to raise funds to construct the building for these new believers by challenging their VBS kids to help raise the money.
“We didn’t think they would get it at all,” Richey said. “We thought they may bring in $1,200 or $1,400, so we decided to challenge them a little bit.”
First Baptist built a miniature model of the church that was going to be built in the Dominican Republic.
“With this model, we started to put a wall up for every $750 they raised,” Richey said. “Our thought was that we would get a wall or two up. Maybe the church would help us finish the structure, and the kids could watch the rest of it go up.”
On the last night of VBS, they were about $2,000 short of their goal. “The next thing we knew, we were counting money, and it was taking them almost an hour to count. I knew something wasn’t quite right,” Richey said.
By the end of the night, the children had raised $6,700 for this church plant. “The kids got all excited because their motto all week was, ‘We have to have a roof for the kids in the Dominican.’ They really bought into that and began to build and push toward that,” he said.
In July, a group of 14 men took the funds to build the new structure and evangelize in the evenings. In three days, they had erected the shell of the building and had done everything but the wiring and roof. In the evening, they continued the house-to-house missions.
The church plant held their first service without a roof. That service had 35 people in attendance. “That was just the start,” Richey said. “Every night after that they had 35, 40, 50 people. The next Sunday they had over 100 people, and they have been averaging over 100 people every single night to worship since then at this location.”
The kid’s contribution directly helped lead another young man to the Lord.
“We had a young man named Jeffrey who was a kid, probably about 12 years old, and he came out the first day and would just pick up wood and help us carry stuff. He was just a local who would hang out where we were working,” Richey said. “We started joking with him even though there was a language barrier. There were just some things we had fun doing.
“He would show up at night and walk with us when we would go home to home doing evangelism,” Richey recalled. So, the mission team assumed that he was part of the core church plant group.
“Through translators that last day he asked if we would show the movie in his house. When we showed the movie, he accepted Christ. It was just an amazing story of how we invested all week long and the impact that had,” Richey added.
Through the whole process, the church reminded the kids that they helped the mission team get there. Even Richey’s 6- year-old daughter was interested and aware of what was taking place in the Dominican Republic.
“I would Skype with her from the Dominican, and she would constantly ask me if I had the roof on that church yet for those kids so they could worship God too,” Richey said.
“Our kids are now asking about the kids in the Dominican — and about kids across the world — how we can make sure they know about Jesus. It has actually brought awareness to them beyond when we just teach them about international missions,” he added.
“They see the pictures, they hear the reports, and they are personally invested in it. That has made a huge difference because it has opened up their minds that people need to hear about Jesus,” he continued.
“I think it has not only alerted them to missions per say, but I think it has alerted them just to the need of Christ even by people in our own community,” he said.
“We challenged them to understand that we do this because Jesus’ name must be known,” Richey concluded.
This article appeared in the Western Recorder (westernrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Myriah Snyder, who recently completed a summer internship with Baptist Press, is a senior at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky.
Presenting the Gospel to
the Ghost Town gang
By J. Gerald Harris
BELIZE CITY, Belize (The Christian Index) — Many churches sponsor mission trips, but few go into gang-infested cities in foreign countries. First Baptist Church in Ellijay, Ga., dares to be different and is seeking to plant a church in the midst of the nation’s only major urban area.
Belize City does not exactly top the list of tourist destinations in Belize. In fact, many visitors choose to bypass the country’s historical capital. This may be because the nation’s main attractions are natural and nautical, rendering superfluous a prolonged visit to its only metropolis. An additional explanation is that the city has a bad reputation for poverty and crime.
The very things that repel most people provide an attraction to First Baptist Ellijay’s mission teams. Belize is a poor country, primarily Catholic, and has little industry other than tourism. Its geography, being immediately south of the Mexican southern border with over 150 miles of coastline, makes it a gateway for drug traffic into Mexico and ultimately the U.S.
ENCOUNTERING THE COMPLICATED
Belize City, primarily due to the poverty and drug trade, has become a haven for organized gang activity and is the sixth most likely place on earth to die from a gunshot. It’s per capita murder rates are among the highest in the world. Most murders are of young men and are the result of gang violence.
To complicate matters, the family structure in Belize City is one of absent fathers and unwed mothers with large families. There is a marked absence of godly male modeling, resulting in unruly male children and young women with very low self-worth.
Josh Moyers, youth pastor of the Ellijay church, had been to Belize as a freshman in high school and had a lack of peace about the dash-in-dash-out approach he had experienced. When he became the student pastor at First Baptist he had a vision to lead his students into missions with the intent of focusing on one particular neighborhood in Belize City – a place called “Ghost Town” where gang activity was commonplace.
Moyers’ passion to impact Ghost Town for Christ eventually began to permeate the entire Ellijay church. Jon Jones caught Moyers’ vision and soon both men were fully engaged in the Belize mission venture. For the past two years, Josh handed over the leadership of this mission focus to Jon and his wife, Debra, and their children, Tori and Taylor. Jon and Debra have since adopted a young Belizean daughter named Kiana. The adoption process involved Debra living in Belize for a year with Jon making visits as often as possible.
Jones recently reported, “When we were in Belize in the winter I noticed that God was softening the heart of Roger Anthony, a gang leader.
“Anthony, leader of the Ghost Town Crips, came to me and introduced himself as we were hanging out with our kids on our first day there.
“To put it simply, Roger had been watching us work with the kids, seeing us be deliberate, consistent, intentional, and unafraid to move freely about Ghost Town. He had asked the kids what we were teaching them. He had even noticed that most of our team members were coming back consistently.”
Jones continued, “After our introductory conversations, he asked, ‘What about us? What about the men? Do you ever do camps for men our age?’
‘RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE’
“He explained that he had kids of his own, a wife, had lost friends in gang shootings, and that he was excited about the prospect that things could be different in his neighborhood. He expressed guilt about the things he had done in his life, including two murders and nine prison sentences,” Jones said.
“But Roger also indicated that it was complicated. He said, ‘I am the leader of the second largest gang in the city and people have expectations of me. I am in a position I cannot just desert.”
Jones told Anthony, “God wants to use you right where you are.” During the week the two men stayed in contact and at their last meeting Roger Anthony prayed to receive Christ into his heart. The prayer took place under a gang house where they had found shelter from a torrential downpour of rain.
Anthony immediately asked Jones to make a special trip back to Belize to provide some kind of retreat for his fellow gang members so they could also hear about God’s plan for their lives.
In May Jones and nine other men went back to Belize for the purpose of providing a “Belize Community Leadership Retreat” for Anthony and his fellow gang members. There were 19 men who showed up.
Tim Harrison, one of the ten men on the mission in Belize, wrote, “I couldn’t wait to start loving on the ‘Ghost Town Crips’ in Jesus’ name. We pulled up into their neighborhood in a bus and watched as they piled on yelling to their neighbors out of the widows as we pulled away and headed into the safety of the rain forest.
“Soon after arriving at Hummingbird Lodge, a rustic hostel surrounded by mango and palm trees, we passed out Bibles to the men and divided them into small groups that had two leaders each.
“Over the course of the weekend we heard their stories. Six of the men in attendance had been wounded, some severely, from a grenade attack that killed one of their friends. Others shared their ongoing burden and regret of having taken someone’s life.
“In our sessions we took our time working our way through the Gospel, starting with God (and His holiness), and man (and his sinfulness). We introduced Jesus as the solution to our problem in session two, and focused on our response of repentance and faith in session three.
“On Saturday afternoon, after our discussion of faith and repentance, twin brothers who had been celebrity drug dealers in Belize drove out to share their testimonies of being rescued from their addiction to the highest level of the drug-dealer lifestyle. The men were completely engaged with their message of God’s miraculous deliverance and redemption.”
Jones announced, “God had prepared their hearts and 13 of the 19 men accepted Christ, took their first communion, and were baptized in a jungle river two hours outside of Belize City.”
Just weeks after the retreat, the men whose lives God had touched came under Satan’s attack by a rival gang – the Bloods. Roger Anthony was hosting a graduation party for his daughter when gang members opened fire on those in attendance. One of Anthony’s relatives was wounded in the gunfire. In fact, two of the men who accepted Christ received gunshot wounds in the Bloods’ attacks since the retreat.
Rafael Cruz was seriously wounded and Anthony took it upon himself to raise the money for his surgery, because in Belize physicians must have the money prior to performing operations.
Anthony was interviewed by a local television reporter and asked, “Does this mean war?”
He replied, “No, this doesn’t mean war.” Such an attack would generally prompt retaliation when a gang maliciously assaulted a rival gang, but Anthony’s newly found faith inspired him to return good for evil.
Anthony wrote Jones a letter explaining, “I know God has a purpose for me and I will fight to stay alive to try and fulfill His purpose, because I know as a leader I will be able to make a change in my ‘hood for better. I know God made me to serve Him and His Son and to help [lead] people to Him.”
As this article was being written Jones and 26 others were on their way back to Belize in hopes of securing land in the middle of Ghost Town for the planting of a church.
This article appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. J. Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index.