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FROM THE STATES: Ga., Ala., Tenn. evangelism/missions news

Church planting in Atlanta …
not a minute too soon
By Joe Westbury

ATLANTA (The Christian Index) — To Matt Dye, Atlanta was the last place he wanted to begin his church-planting ministry. A senior pastor for a rural Kentucky church, Dye wanted a “real challenge” where he felt he could make a difference for the Kingdom.

His ideal mission field was filled with lostness, an indifference to the Gospel. It was a place where there were few churches and residents didn’t see any need to be involved. In short, he didn’t want to spend his time sharing the Gospel with people who had already heard the Good News but showed little interest.

He wanted to plow new ground, so to speak.

He first considered the international mission field, as it contained all of those challenges. All of that changed when he toured Atlanta with then-Urban Atlanta Church Planting coordinator Jim Haskell. That’s when he met some Atlanta church planters who shared their successes along with their struggles.

It was a challenge he couldn’t resist.

It’s not that the Bible Belt wasn’t at the top of Dye’s list; it wasn’t even on the list. He didn’t want to minister somewhere that the Gospel already had an established presence, as is the historical perception of the Deep South. Starting churches in Atlanta is, to some, like carrying coals to New Castle -– a British idiom describing a pointless action.

A different kind of Atlanta

“I was shocked at what I saw. This was Atlanta, the heart of the South, and there were so many needs for churches. I couldn’t believe my eyes at the number of churches that were struggling or had already closed their doors,” he says.

Today Dye and his family live in the heart of the city among those who they are trying to reach. His new mission field -– a church plant named M28 -– doesn’t have a membership and is somewhat hobbled by not being able to afford a sign out front of the nondescript building where it meets. But it does have interested visitors who are telling their friends about the new church.

And that’s a start.

Dye has many of the challenges he would have on a distant field, including being away from extended family, but he feels he made the right decision when he and his wife, Teresa and their four children followed the call to Atlanta.

“I met a man recently who has lived here for 35 years. I asked him if he knew any churches in the area and he couldn’t name one. I had trouble believing that but I suppose it’s possible that no church came to mind when he was pressed for a referral.

“It’s not that people here are hostile to the church or the Gospel, they simply don’t care about it. That’s what we hope to change,” he says.

That’s the new face of Atlanta, which many longtime Georgians who have not spent much time Inside the Perimeter, or ITP as it has become known, do not realize has occurred.

For decades Southern Baptist pastors and evangelists, in calling America to repentance, have pointed to the empty and repurposed churches in Europe as a foretelling of where the nation -– a once-great spiritual bulwark -– was heading. In more recent years, as they took mission trips to New England, laypersons saw firsthand the increasing number of former sanctuaries serving as community centers or bed and breakfasts.

Closed, merged, or moved

Today Georgia Baptists need look no farther than their own backyard to see the void left by more than 100 churches in the state capital – the virtual buckle of the Bible Belt –- that have closed, merged, or moved outside the Perimeter.

For middle class Anglos the era of mass exodus was known as White Flight, a term used in hushed tones to describe avoidance of the change in the racial mix of the neighborhoods. For middle class African-Americans it was escape from historically solid communities that were experiencing inroads made by drugs and criminal activity.

But the biggest common denominator was that churches turned their backs on their communities, withdrew into their four walls, and lost their transformational presence and vision to be salt and light. They competed more on programs to keep members driving 20 miles or more from the suburbs to attend worship –- programs that had little relevance to the needs of those in the immediate neighborhoods.

It was sort of like playing classical music to an audience raised on rock and roll.

Many congregations grew so small they could no longer maintain the brick-and-mortar overhead and decided to close their doors, such as Baptist Tabernacle, once one of the crown jewels in Georgia Baptists’ crown. By 1991 the 100-member congregation sold the 4,000-seat sanctuary with its 3,000 capacity Sunday School facility to a developer who transformed it into a popular music venue for the 1996 Olympics.

Other churches have not fared as well. Fourteenth Street Baptist Church, where homeless now sleep at its front door, serves as a comedy club and bar. Many others stand empty, boarded up, and left to the elements.

Steady decline in number of churches

In 1965 there were 166 Georgia Baptist churches ITP; today only 38 remain; 25 average less than 100 in attendance. That is a 77% decline in just a half century.

That’s where the Urban Atlanta Church Planting group has moved in to enlist pastors with a vision for redeeming the city. UACP was founded by Lester Cooper, Atlanta Association of Southern Baptists (now Greater Atlanta Baptist Network) associational missionary, and Joel Harrison, Atlanta Metro Baptist Association of Churches lead missionary. They were later joined by inner city pastor Tim Wolfe of 1027 Church, and Fred Pitts, pastor of Clairmont Hills Baptist Church.

The team has since expanded to include the Georgia Baptist Convention, the North American Mission Board (which eventually named Atlanta as one of its focus Send cities); the South Carolina Baptist Convention; and Southwest Atlanta Baptist Association.

In recent years with the election of Kevin Ezell as president, NAMB adopted a more aggressive church planting emphasis. Within two years of his election Ezell had named 32 of its eventual 50 U.S. and Canadian cities as the focus of its evangelism and church planting emphasis.

The stage is now set is for volunteers, both laity and church planters, to catch the vision and plant their life on the mission field known as Atlanta.
This article appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index.
Alabama Baptist churches minister to
those affected by unexpected winter storm
By Neisha Fuson

HOOVER, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) — Restrooms and free coffee. For some, those words posted on a sign outside Green Valley Baptist Church, Hoover, were the first glimmer of hope. 

Typically the forecast of snow in Alabama brings happiness and hope for a flurry or two but Jan. 28 brought much more than what meteorologists, or any Alabamian, bargained for. 

Anywhere from one to four inches of snow fell between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. throughout the state — surprising central Alabama. Many areas like Birmingham were only expecting a “dusting of snow and no travel complications,” so schools and businesses were on a normal schedule. 

The ability to deal with the unexpected weather issues was hampered because most of the heavy snow equipment for highways had been moved south to Montgomery where the largest amount of snowfall was expected.

Gov. Robert Bentley had even declared a state of emergency Jan. 28 at 6 a.m. and activated the Alabama National Guard to be on stand-by, but no one was expecting what happened that day. 

Unprepared and in a hurry to beat icy roads, thousands tried to make their way to pick up their children or travel home to safety, but that only led to gridlocked roads and thousands of cars stranded on interstates, major thorough fairs and side roads. 

But in the midst of the chaos, Alabama Baptists stepped up to help.

Churches across the state opened their doors to offer warmth, food, clothing, a place to stay and fellowship. 

Pastor Jeff Fuller, who serves Rockford Baptist Church and is a chaplain for the Coosa County Sherriff’s Office, said his wife, Tina, is his hero. When the snow began to fall and a church deacon called to say there were a dozen stranded truckers near the church, Tina Fuller “did whatever she could” to help. 

Grocery stores were inaccessible and many were closed so the Fullers asked church members Emojean and Mable Austin for whatever food they could spare from their refrigerator and freezer. Tina Fuller gathered and organized the donated food to make a meal for those stranded, which by the end of the night totaled 25. 

For 48 hours the Fullers and a team of nine volunteers from the Central Baptist Association church housed and fed the displaced commuters. Jeff Fuller said they worked in collaboration with law enforcement to help as many people as possible.

Mel Johnson, disaster relief strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said Rockford Baptist was a good example of a rural church becoming the “most significant source of support during a crisis for communities equipped with few emergency response resources.”

Jeff Fuller said, “We’ve done what we’re supposed to do. We’ve ministered to the people. … And we’ll do this again if needed and we’ll always do it again because God has called the Church to act and when we say we love somebody, we have to put that into action.”

Even though society can be called godless at times, godly community can emerge when difficult circumstances occur, Fuller added. 

“This is what it’s all about. People who brought water and walked through traffic and delivered food. Sometimes it takes a crisis to act … but that’s God’s will.” 

Another “godly” community surfacing during the chaos was the membership of North Valley Baptist Church, Odenville.

The church’s Early Learning Center teachers spent the night and took care of the children whose parents were not able to pick them up, according to pastor Chris Crain. The nearly 30 children and teachers slept in a safe and secure area while at least 20 people walked in off the street to seek shelter.

The St. Clair Baptist Association church partnered with Margaret Elementary School officials who shared extra cafeteria food. Church members went to pick up the supplies at the school on four-wheelers and the church served dinner and then breakfast and lunch Jan. 29.

“Everyone was safe and we made a lot of good friends. It was fun,” Crain said. 

He even met a fellow Alabama Baptist pastor, Billy Little, who serves at Lister Memorial Baptist Church, Pell City. Little was stranded and made his way by foot to North Valley for shelter.

The situation reminded Crain that the staff and ministry team is “integral to the church’s mission.” 

“This was one opportunity to demonstrate what it’s like to be a missionary in the Margaret area,” Crain said. 

Nearby NorthPark Baptist Church, Trussville, also housed children from the church’s Noah’s Park weekday child-care ministry. Noah’s Park workers and several church staff members stayed with the children, prepared meals and turned the event into a spontaneous church lock-in experience complete with games and fun activities. 

Pastor Bill Wilks posted photos and updates on his Facebook page throughout the afternoon, night and following day to assure concerned parents of their children’s safety.

First Baptist Church, Hayden, also opened its doors to help. Pastor Jeremy Powell said the Friendship Baptist Association church partnered with the Red Cross. 

In the Sylacauga area Larry Morrison, minister of education and administration for First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, said hotels were full so the church opened its doors and partnered with the City of Sylacauga, Coosa Valley Ministerial Association and EMA, who provided blankets and cots. 

When First, Sylacauga, opened its doors Jan. 28 at 2 p.m., seven people came in for shelter within 30 minutes, Morrison said. 

Nic Seaborn serves as the associate pastor of Raleigh Avenue Baptist Church, Homewood, and is pursuing a master of divinity degree from Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham. The Homewood Police Department asked if the church would open its doors as a warming station for a few hours. Seaborn and other church member volunteers realized they would need to provide a place for people to stay the night. Twelve motorists stayed at the church and church members nearby donated blankets, sleeping bags, pillows and toiletries. Church members also donated food items and made meals of spaghetti and soup for lunch and dinner Jan. 29.

“Because of the love of this church family — that all comes through Jesus Christ — we could (serve those in need),” Seaborn said.

A few staff and church members of First Baptist Church, Birmingham, ended up stranded near the church and made their way there for shelter. They invited others stranded in the area in for coffee and use of the restrooms. As the day went on church members realized there were many people that were not going to be able to get home.

Matt Snow, a deacon at First, Birmingham, explained how Angela Evans, who works daily in the church’s kitchen as a part of ChefBob.com, Inc., also was stranded at the church and began cooking meals. Nathan Lyon, the church’s pianist, helped organize and implement ways to feed and house the stranded commuters. “Before we knew it we had served meals to 200 people,” Snow said. “We gave shelter overnight to more than 300 people. Then we were able to feed them breakfast the next morning.”

The crowd dwindled down to 30 people on Wednesday, some with disabilities and senior citizens, but by that night another 10 joined. “We were happy to have them stay another night,” Snow said. 

“You don’t know what’s going to happen until it happens in ministry,” Snow said, “but it was a blessing for us and a blessing for folks that needed the security of a warm place to stay.”

Pastor Jeff James said Green Valley Baptist had a unique opportunity to serve during the storm. 

At first the Birmingham Baptist Association church opened its doors and put out a sign that read “restrooms and free coffee,” but as the snow began to get heavier and the roads icier the church staff realized people were going to need a place to stay the night. 

The City of Hoover requested that Green Valley Baptist serve as a temporary emergency room and triage unit for travelers who could not make it to area hospitals. By late afternoon an area in the gym was set up, and Michael Kurz, a UAB Hospital doctor, was there to serve patients. Some church members who are nurses came to help as well. The temporary medical unit saw 18 patients, three of which had serious enough injuries to merit more care at a hospital.

Church members and staff cooked meals and the City of Hoover assisted “in everything we needed,” James said, noting that the church would request groceries or other items and within 30 minutes the items would show up. City officials also brought 30 cots and 200-plus blankets.

Around 140 people spent Tuesday night in the church, some of that number included children enrolled in the church’s preschool program.

“Our (church) family members did everything they could to refresh others. It was a unique situation but people were so nice and so thankful. Some people (we helped) were saying, ‘We’ll be here on Sunday,'” James said. 

“We made some new friends and some new contacts and hopefully made a tough situation a little better for some people.”

Countless other churches helped serve their areas including Hunter Street Baptist Church, Hoover; Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham; West Mobile Baptist Church, Mobile; Greenbrier Road Baptist Church, Anniston; Point Mallard Parkway Baptist Church, Decatur; The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham; Eden Westside Baptist Church, Pell City; First Baptist Church, Trussville; and Pumpkin Center Baptist Church, Quinton. 

But churches were not the only places helping those in need. Samford University responded to the needs of several hundred commuting students and employees who were stranded on campus. 

An emergency shelter was set up in the gym in Seibert Hall with mattresses provided by the residence life office and meals provided by Samford’s food service vendor.

Harry B. Brock III, Samford’s vice president, said, “Under the circumstances I think we can be proud of the way the campus has responded.” 

Students and staff also ventured out to help those stranded in their cars along Lakeshore Drive delivering snacks and water. 

Many businesses also offered food, shelter and warmth to those in need.

On Highway 280 in Birmingham, Chick-fil-A owner Mark Meadows, a member of Hunter Street Baptist, and his staff handed out more than 300 chicken sandwiches to those stuck in traffic Jan. 28. Then they prepared and delivered more than 1,000 chicken biscuits the next morning for those still stranded.

Hamburger Heaven on Highway 280 also had workers stranded at their restaurant. They found out around 60 staff members at national Woman’s Missionary Union up the hill were stranded without food so even though they were closed they made an exception and prepared dinner.

Judson College in Marion canceled classes Jan. 28–30, as did Samford, and the University of Mobile canceled classes Jan. 28 and day classes Jan. 29 and had a delayed opening on Jan. 30.

Of course, it was the elementary, middle and high schools that had the most difficulties. An estimated 11,375 students spent the night in central Alabama schools Jan. 28 with teachers and school staff staying to take care of them. 

Ice, sleet and rain did eventually hit southern parts of the state Jan. 28, shutting down interstates, bridges, schools and businesses, but many places closed their doors in advance of the frigid weather. Despite that precaution, countless vehicles were left in ditches and multiple accidents still occurred. 

At press time, there were seven reported deaths and 23 injuries associated with the storm statewide.

By mid-day Jan. 30 most roads began to clear and people were able to make their way home with many stories of their own from what has been called by some “Snowpocalypse 2014.” 
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Neisha Fuson is a writer for The Alabama Baptist.
Students minister
on day off
By Connie Davis Bushey 

DYERSBURG, Tenn. (Baptist & Reflector) — Martin Luther King Day for most students is a vacation day from school. For students here, MLK Day was a day to serve.

About 300 students grades 6-12 ministered in various ways in their community on the federal holiday day which was Jan. 20. They also worshiped, heard a speaker, and had fellowship as part of the two-day Jerusalem Project of Dyer Baptist Association, based in Dyersburg.

The students were from about 16 churches in the association. Jerusalem Project has been held for 13 years.

“I think it is fitting that we do missions and service projects on Martin Luther King Weekend,” explained Stan Cavness, youth ministry coordinator for the association.

He added that leaders also were motivated by Acts 1:8, which states, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Cavness also is Baptist Collegiate Ministries director, Dyersburg State Community College, Dyersburg; and pastor, Enon Baptist Church, Halls.

Joe Wright, director of missions, Dyer Association, came up with the original idea for Jerusalem Project to take advantage of the school vacation day.

Wright noted that Jerusalem Project “has become one of the best opportunities for young people to be involved in missions of all types within our association. We have had numerous youth over the years grow up and become youth leaders for the next generation of believers, ministers, and missionaries.

“We are excited to see what God will do through this generation of young people and the impact they will have on their world around them,” observed Wright.

13 years ago

Jerusalem Project started off the first year with 86 students from about five churches and it was just held on Monday. Though Dyer Association has 44 churches, explained Cavness, many are very small and have few students.

“It was really good the first time and so we have continued it,” he noted.

“We have expanded it and improved it over the years,” added Cavness. “It’s not always the same.”

His leadership at DSCC helps with Jerusalem Project because the Baptist Collegiate Ministries participants help staff the event with help from adult church members. He and Wright also plan ahead to help involve churches and their youth.

They start promoting Jerusalem Project at the annual meeting of the association in October where they include the schedule and needed forms in the Book of Reports which is distributed at the meeting. The schedule and forms also are posted on the association’s website for downloading.

Additional facts

This year Jerusalem Project saw about 30 students make professions of faith or other spiritual decisions following Sunday worship which featured Kent Shingleton of the Tennessee Baptist Convention staff, who spoke. Shingleton also is pastor/church planter, Hope Fellowship Church, LaVergne.

This year’s theme was “Engage,” added Cavness, to help students “learn how to engage and share their faith with others,” he explained.

The Sunday event, which began at 4 p.m., at First Baptist Church, Newbern, also included break out sessions. One session included helps for students on how to mark their Bibles to guide them in leading a person to understand how to make a profession of faith in God. The students also were directed to the “More Life” App, which was developed by the TBC and is a guide which can be used on a smart phone for leading a person to make a commitment to God.

Additionally students learned how to share their testimonies and heard six of their peers share their testimonies in the large group session for all 300 youth, reported Cavness.

Besides Shingleton, a local praise band led the main session. A meal was provided by the men’s and women’s ministries of the association. Then students returned to their churches to spend the night and the next day participating in the projects planned by the churches.

The projects included cleaning houses for residents, renovation/repair of houses and churches, raking leaves for residents, building wheelchair ramps, and working in the clothing ministry of a church.
This article appeared in the Baptist & Reflector (tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Connie Davis Bushey news editor of the Baptist & Reflector.
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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