News Articles

FROM THE STATES: Ga., La., Fla. evangelism/missions news; ‘… desperate for revival, desperate to see God move’

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


Ga. county gets serious
about prayer, revival

By J. Gerald Harris

DOUGLAS, Ga. (The Christian Index) — Twenty years ago Christopher Lasch, professor at the University of Rochester, author, and critic of liberalism, was using phrases like “spiritual malaise,” “spiritual disrepair,” “spiritual desiccation,” “spiritual torpor,” “moral and cultural disorder,” and “moral collapse” to describe the moral and spiritual condition of America.

A growing number of pastors and Christian laypersons are beginning to have an acute awareness of the desperate spiritual condition of our churches and nation. It has been well stated that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.

Shep Johnson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Douglas, is aware of the spiritual condition in both his county, state, and country and has a heartfelt desire to do something about it.

Johnson recently explained, “There have been a group of people in our church and community who have been praying for revival for over 15 years. For the past ten years I have been praying passionately for revival. I don’t know of anything else we can do. If there is not a movement of God, I don’t have a great deal of confidence in the future of the church in America.”

Henry Blackaby once explained, “All revival begins and continues in the prayer meeting. Some have also called prayer the ‘great fruit of revival.’ In times of revival, thousands may be found on their knees for hours, lifting up their heartfelt cries, with thanksgiving, to heaven.”

John Butler, associate pastor at First Baptist Douglas, reflected on the Aug. 10 candlelight prayer walk at the Coffee County Courthouse when 1,500 people gathered to pray. He recalled, “Coffee County was well represented at the prayer vigil, but we also had people from Warner Robins, Conyers, Waycross, Valdosta, and other places across Georgia. We realized then that there were many people who were desperate for revival, desperate to see God move.

“Then in September at a Coffee High School reunion God did something that is really difficult to explain, because that reunion was somehow transformed into a prayer meeting. Willie Williams, Kell and Janet Phelps, Willie Carter, and others began to talk about how the Court House Candlelight Prayer Walk impacted their lives and they prayed at the reunion and took up an offering to provide ‘seed money’ for a country-wide revival meeting.”

In October the Douglas Prayer Walk was transported to Atlanta to Liberty Plaza across from the Gold Dome where people prayed, sang, read Scripture, and then prayer-walked around the Georgia Capitol.

Spiritual leaders in Ben-Hill County are planning a similar prayer event in Fitzgerald on Dec. 28 at the county courthouse. Johnson expressed a fervent desire to see someone in each of the 159 Georgia counties get a vision to mobilize the people to pray. He exclaimed, “If you can inspire people to pray in each county, then when there is a need to muster the people to take a stand on some moral, civic, or spiritual issue you have a band of people who are battle-ready and prepared to move into action.”

Johnson and Butler and those who are working with them to inspire the people of Coffee County and Georgia to pray have developed a website: www.standandpraygeorgia.com.

Johnson declared, “Today the church, the institution of marriage, and the traditional family lie in the crosshairs of a misguided and immoral secular culture. It is imperative that Christians across our state put on the full armor of God as we are instructed in Ephesians 6:11 and push back so that we can stand firm against the schemes of the devil and this fallen world.”

The Douglas pastor then added, “Freedom unguarded is a freedom lost.”

United, not divided

In January the spiritual leaders in Coffee County have scheduled the “Rend Our Hearts” countywide revival services at the Coffee Middle School Auditorium. The services will begin on Sunday evening, Jan. 3 and continue through Friday, Jan. 8. The theme of the meeting is based on Joel 2:12-13 where the Old Testament prophet urges the people of Israel to “rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord, your God.”

Johnson indicated that so far approximately 30 churches from five denominations are involved in praying as well as planning the meeting in January. He explained, “We are crossing both denominational and racial lines to unite in a time of seeking God for the revival of His church in Coffee County. We have seen barriers broken down and the people of the community come together in love and cooperation.”

One of the Coffee County prayer brochures states, “We are united in Christ. We will not be divided by denominations, race, or even politics. Our desire is to see God move once again in our country. We believe that God will honor the prayer of His people. We are united in prayer, and are bound together by five core commitments: declaring Jesus is our only hope; seeking revival in America’s churches; defending Biblical marriage; building Biblical families; and protecting our First Amendment rights.”

In the conversation with Johnson and Butler their passion for prayer and revival was obvious. Their heart-cry for a spiritual awakening was gloriously apparent. Johnson’s parting word was, “We are nobodies and we want to stay nobodies, but we want to see God move in such a way that only He can get the glory.”

Stay tuned for more news from Douglas and Coffee County. There is some kindling wood there that God could use to start the fires of revival in Georgia and beyond.
This article appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. J. Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index.


La. church gaining
inroads in community

By Brian Blackwell

MARRERO, La. (Baptist Message) — Made new is a common phrase these days for many at West Bank Baptist Church.

Since moving to be nearer the community where the church ministers, the small but growing congregation has seen multiple decisions for Christ and baptisms.

They have grown from just Pastor Ryan Melson and a handful of others meeting in his home in July 2014 to nearly 40 who now gather for worship at a local elementary school.

Some may say it’s a strategic vision.

Melson attributes that vision to the hand of God.

“We prayed when we came to Marrero that God show us where to go, where You are moving,” said Melson, who moved from north Alabama to plant West Bank Baptist Church. “Now that we have an open door with the school, we do ministry with the school.

“As God opens doors in different parts of the city, we go through them,” he continued. “It’s been cool to really to see God move.”

One key part of the growth has been establishing relationships early on with “persons of peace” -– those whom God would use to help Melson make inroads with others in the community. He found one in Ernest Houston, a resident in a neighborhood not far from Miller Wall Elementary School, where the church worships Sundays.

He first met Houston after learning from Crossroads NOLA, a ministry of First Baptist Church in New Orleans, that his family needed “adopting” for Christmas.

Melson and his family delivered presents and Christmas gifts to Houston and his three sons.

The more the Melsons visited with Houston, the more they discovered that he truly had a heart for reaching his neighborhood and city for Christ.

The Melsons transported Houston and his sons to church every Sunday, and he continued to grow deeper in his walk with Christ. He developed a yearning to share the Gospel with whomever he came in contact.

Melson eventually built a relationship with the manager of Houston’s apartment complex, and the man granted them permission to hold block parties and other events.

Even though Houston was a Christian, he had not taken that step of believer’s baptism –- that is until Melson announced a special baptism service would take place Sept. 20.

A few hours later, on the way back to his apartment, Houston declared it was time to get baptized.

“When he came out of the water, the reaction was unbelievable,” Melson said. “Ernest jumped out of the baptistry like it’s a new man coming up. There was so much laughter that day.”

Houston said taking that important step was something he wanted to do for his sons, one of whom became a Christian Oct. 18.

“I wanted to set a good example for my boys,” Houston said. “I don’t want them out in the world doing worldly things. I want them to understand they have a spiritual life to live and baptism showed them that it was an important part of the Christian life.”

Three others were baptized Sept. 20 and another followed a month later, Oct. 25.

Melson said the newly baptized members has translated their excitement into zeal for sharing the Gospel with others.

He also said they are eagerly being discipled one-on-one by other church members.

“We tell a person who just came to Christ to pray for one person who doesn’t know Christ, invite them to church and share with them what Christ has done for them,” Melson said. “We’re teaching them baby steps how to evangelize. We give them one card to reach one person.

“We also tell them to start reading through the gospel of John and assign a team member to disciple them,” he said. “We’re trying to build in that discipleship lifestyle where they’re knowing and growing.”

Melson said he’s thankful for believers like Houston who have helped West Bank Baptist Church — which is one of the many churches planted through the Send North America: New Orleans initiative – reach Marrero for Christ.

“God used Ernest as a catalyst for us,” Melson said. “We had no idea he would be a ‘person of peace.’ Back when we first moved we looked for any way to reach into the community, being outsiders.

“Ernest said since that day we delivered food and presents to him in the apartment, he took that as a divine appointment that ‘God, you’ve got me and now it’s time to step out,'” Melson said. “He has been the most faithful evangelist and has been going to parts of the city we haven’t gotten to. Please continue to pray that we’ll reach many more for Christ.”
This article appeared in the Baptist Message (baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Brian Blackwell is a staff writer for the Baptist Message.


Pastors bringing church
to NFL fans in Jacksonville

BY Nicole Kalil

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness) — Each Sunday during the fall, Christians all over America wrestle with this dilemma: Is it OK to miss church to go to the football game?

The struggle is real, but not for much longer in the Jacksonville metropolitan area.

On Dec. 13 at 11 a.m., tailgaters and ticket holders will be able to enjoy a new worship experience called GameDay Church in the parking lot adjacent to Old St. Andrews Church before the Jacksonville Jaguars host the Indianapolis Colts at 1 p.m.

David Tarkington, lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Orange Park, said the idea to plant a church in the St. Andrews facility initially came to him several years ago, and his interest was renewed every time he attended a sporting event and saw the historic church.

This year, Tarkington reached out to the Jacksonville Historical Society, which maintains the facility and rents it out for events.

Josh Dryer, pastor of church planting at FBC Orange Park, is working with Tarkington to make GameDay Church a reality. Dryer said as he and Tarkington began to dream up ways to further the Kingdom in Jacksonville, the vision for GameDay Church began to crystallize.

“The Lord is opening doors all around us for the expansion of the Kingdom in places that we don’t normally look,” Dryer said. “We need to be available to be used by Him to reach those places.”

It hasn’t been an obstacle-free journey from concept to execution. When Tarkington spoke to the director of the historical society, he was told he could rent the facility any time except during Jaguars home games.

“I told her that was the only time I really wanted it,” Tarkington said.

As he began to share his vision for the church, the director became intrigued and said she would work to accommodate his request.

The next challenge was picking the date.

Unable to pull everything together quickly enough to have the event during a November home game, the next opportunity was the Dec. 13 game against the Colts. However, the church was booked for that day. Undeterred, Tarkington and Dryer continued to negotiate with the historical society and were able to arrange to hold GameDay Church in a high-traffic area adjacent to St. Andrews.

Tarkington said the Jaguars’ organization has been agreeable to the GameDay Church concept as part of its faith and family emphasis. The team also has allowed GameDay Church to sell Jaguars tickets through a link on the church’s website.

“We may be the only church selling Jags tickets on our website,” he joked.

If the concept is successful, the Jaguars have indicated that GameDay Church could be a staple at all of next year’s home games.

“Jags leaders know there are many church attenders in our community,” Tarkington said.

He and Dryer hope to attract not only church attenders, but their friends who might not be willing to go to a more traditional worship service.

“Some may already be believers who need a time to worship, and there may be those who love football, but might not love Jesus yet,” Dryer said.

Tarkington said it will be less like a typical church service and more like a “tailgate under a tent.” The “high-energy” service will feature music by Ascension Worship and a brief message by Tarkington, in addition to games and free food. People will be encouraged to use the church’s app to leave contact information or to register a profession of faith. As part of the Jacksonville Baptist Association’s network of 200 churches, Tarkington said they will be able to connect people to churches near them no matter where they live.

“Over 63,000 people are gathering six to eight times a year at EverBank Field, and we couldn’t find a Gospel witness in that area among that group of people,” Dryer said. “That’s a medium-sized city, gathered on a regular basis that’s not currently being reached by an evangelical church.”

Tarkington wants to take the Gospel to where people are gathered.

“We often try to create crowds at our churches,” he said. “We’re going where the crowd already exists.”

And Tarkington is fully prepared for this group to look a little different than the typical church crowd.

“If we’re going to the crowd, we need to be prepared to meet the crowd,” he said. “We don’t expect our fish to be clean before we catch them.”

If GameDay Church is successful, Tarkington and Dryer would like to see it not only continue in Jacksonville, but in other cities as well. Both men are committed to partnering with like-minded churches in other markets that want to capitalize on the many fans who gather for football, baseball and soccer games all around the state and even the country.

“We’re a sports-crazy society,” Tarkington said. “I’d love to see other churches engaging people where they are and presenting the Gospel in a clear way.”
This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com). Nicole Kalil is a reporter for the Florida Baptist Witness.


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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