News Articles

FROM THE STATES: Ga., N.C., Ariz. evangelism/missions news; ‘… I began to see them with my heart’

Today’s From the States features items from:
The Christian Index (Georgia)
Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)
Portraits (Arizona)


Ga. church members provide
real help for city’s homeless
By J. Gerald Harris

DAHLONEGA, Ga. (The Christian Index) — Homelessness in America has been described as a “revolving door” crisis. Many people exit homelessness quickly, but many more individuals and families become homeless every day. It is estimated that on any given day that there are 800,000 people who are homeless in the United States. Other statistics indicate that at least 2.3 million people experience homelessness at some time during an average year.

Dahlonega is not a large city, but not without its homeless citizens. The school system in Lumpkin County has reported there are 67 children in the county who are considered homeless — some may be sleeping in the homes of relatives or friends, but they have no place they can cite as “their” home.

Jimmy Faulkner, a layman at Dahlonega Baptist Church, explained, “There is another way of reporting the number of homeless people in the county. By our best accounting measures we have determined that in the first quarter of 2015 there are 46 families or individuals we encountered who can be considered unduplicated homeless units.

“The condition of the homeless in Dahlonega began to be a matter of concern for some of the men in the community. Some said there were no homeless and I agreed until I began to see them with my heart.

“For more than three decades the Cooper-Green Prayer Group had been meeting to pray for the community, but in November 2013 there were ten men in that prayer group who felt God was leading them to put their faith to work. From that group the North Georgia Interfaith Ministries, Inc. was organized.”

Becoming aware

The primary concern the group decided to address was the homelessness in the community. Starting in early 2014 the newly-organized group began having community-wide meetings to make the people aware of the need they intended to address.

On Thanksgiving Eve Faulkner had a call from a couple who had been attending the meetings. They felt God was leading them to commit a matching gift of $25,000 to the ministry. For every dollar donated they promised to give another dollar up to $25,000.

The University of North Georgia donated four duplexes that had been used by faculty to assist in meeting the objective. One of Dahlonega’s benevolent citizens agreed to donate $60,000 to pay for the duplexes to be moved to some acreage outside the city that had also been given to the ministry.

Hearing, answering

Faulkner reported, “About the same time the Leadership Lumpkin Class of 2015 chose to support our ministry and sponsored a spaghetti supper that raised another $20,000.

“In February 2015 I approached the Branch Bank and Trust Company Foundation, where I serve as a corporate director of BB&T Financial Cooperation, and requested a donation of $100,000, which we received in April. To date the ministry has received gifts of $270,000 and the duplexes are ready to be occupied.”

Faulkner added, “The first group of ten men who heard the initial calling of God are all members of Dahlonega Baptist Church. Four of the current members of the Board of Directors are members of Dahlonega Baptist Church and one of the original board members, who served as the original treasurer, was the spouse of a retired Baptist pastor.”

The duplexes were structurally sound, but in need of refurbishing and repair, so a sufficient amount of work has been done to get the dwellings suitable for occupancy. The renovation has been accomplished through a joint effort of people from eight Baptist churches, one Methodist church, one Lutheran church, and one Catholic church. RefrigiWear, a Dahlonega company that manufactures insulated industrial work wear, closed down its company of 120 employees for one day and sent their workforce all over the city to assist non-profit ministries in various service projects — 35 were sent to paint the eight duplexes.

Bill Hutcheson, pastor of Dahlonega Baptist Church, remarked, “Our town and county is incredibly open to churches, businesses, schools, and civic organizations working together.”

Hutcheson urges his congregation to each give a dollar a week to benevolent causes and generally receives $40,000 to $50,000 a year to assist those in need.

Faulkner commented, “We decided that we didn’t want to provide some kind of band aid solution or give the homeless families a quick fix, so we set a comprehensive plan in place.

“We will screen potential residents by requiring criminal background checks and drug tests. Those selected to become residents of these transitional homes will live there for 90 days with free rent, utilities, and food, much of which is being donated by the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association through Chestatee Ford and one of the local church’s food bank.”

During those 90 days the families will be receiving counseling, guidance, and help in securing jobs with the requirement that they save 30 percent of their income so they can save enough money to move into traditional housing after that first year.

Carl Gibson, his wife Penny, and daughter Angel, members of Dahlonega Baptist Church, will become residents of one of the duplexes to counsel and mentor the other seven families.

Gibson, a deacon and leader in the Summit Youth Ministry at DBC, stated, “I had problems with drugs and alcohol in my younger adult life, but God saved me and I am seeking to walk with Him. I want the people who live in these duplexes to know they are not alone; and they need to know that somebody cares.

“I intend to start a small Bible study group in the complex,” Gibson stated. “I have also asked the pastor if I can drive the church van to the complex on Saturday night in order to drive the residents to the church of their choice on Sunday morning. If they don’t have a strong preference I will happily take them to my church.

“A lot of good things will come out of this. I am privileged to be able to serve,” Gibson added.
This article appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. J. Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index.


N.C. team hatches plan
to care for Kenyan orphans

By Seth Brown

CARY, N.C. (Biblical Recorder) — “If you give a man a fish,” says the well-worn proverb, “you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”

But what happens when you train a Kenyan village to manage a fish hatchery? The answer to that question is what a group of Southern Baptists hope to discover.

On Oct. 1 a team of five people set out to take a hybrid form of agriculture called aquaponics to western Kenya.

The system is designed to grow fish and plants together in an integrated system; it also happens to be a great way for under-resourced orphan and widow care ministries in Africa to provide food for the needy and financially sustain their outreach efforts at the same time.

Drew Raynor, pastor of Harvest Church in Cary, N.C. (formerly North Cary Baptist Church), said the idea for the project was the result of many prayers and a heavy dose of God’s providence.

A providential connection

The story began with Jeremy Wixson, a former fish hatcheries project manager for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Wixson has a master’s degree in fisheries management and worked in the field for more than a decade. Yet, he had a persistent feeling that his skills could be used in other ways for God’s Kingdom.

He sat down with his Sunday School teacher at Arbor Baptist Church in Fitzgerald, Ga., to express his longing. The teacher, Tim Raynor — who is Drew’s father — agreed to pray for Wixson and help him determine how he could serve God with his skills.

While visiting his son in Cary, Tim mentioned the longstanding desire Wixson had to use fish farming as a ministry that he had been praying about. The comment gave Raynor an idea. He knew someone who might know of opportunities to use such a specific skill set. So, he sent a message to Sara Beth Fentress, founder of 127 Worldwide, a non-profit orphan and widow care ministry based in Raleigh, N.C., that helps churches tangibly live out James 1:27.

Fentress immediately sent back a “laser-focused, God-orchestrated response,” said Raynor. She told him about a prayer request from Rose Bugusu, a children’s home director near Malava, Kenya.

Bugusu had seen a fish hatchery on a recent trip to the U.S., and she wanted someone to teach her how to do the same. She saw great potential for feeding orphans while also providing a sustainable source of income for the children’s home and schools in her village.

Fentress said 127 Worldwide’s job is to play matchmaker, connecting local churches in the U.S. with ministries around the world, helping American Christians use their various skills and interests to serve orphans and widows internationally.

The Raynors, Wixson and Fentress were all ecstatic. A few weeks later, accompanied by Shannon Meadors, children’s minister at First Baptist Nashville, Tenn., the team was on its way to Kenya.

Fish farming and more

The aquaponics project wasn’t the only item on the travel itinerary. The group spent two days in Nairobi before heading northwest to Malava and Siaya, home to a local church, medical clinic and school.

The team made home visits into slums and distributed shoes to needy children. Raynor and Meadors also taught sessions for Kenyan pastors on expository preaching and children’s ministry.

Once they arrived in Siaya, they began gathering supplies from local hardware stores, including large barrels, heavy-duty hoses, liners and fittings.

The goal was to build a prototype aquaponics system to test for viability while at the same time training local ministry leaders how to set up and maintain similar projects. “The people are very hungry for this technology and this information,” said Wixson.

The integrated system has three components: a gravel-bed garden, a clean water tank and a fish tank. A small pump and natural siphoning keeps the water system circulating on its own.

Water containing fish waste is drained from the tank and fed into the vegetable garden as fertilizer; waste-water then goes through a natural filtering process as it seeps through the gravel bed before it circulates into the clean water tank; then clean water is pumped back into the fish tank for the process to begin again.

Minimal ongoing maintenance is needed to keep fish tank water levels regulated and healthy plants growing.

The team was able to build their first prototype system in about a day, while locals and ministry leaders took pictures and notes. The next day they did it all over again in nearby Malava.

Spawning future plans

Each of the initial systems uses a 250-liter tank (approximately 66 gallons) for the fish, sustaining a harvest of about 50 fish per month and supporting a small garden. If the prototypes are successful, the team plans to return in the summer of 2016 to install much larger aquaponics systems able to produce up to 500 fish per month.

Fish sells at a premium in the marketplace, and several hundred fish per month would allow the ministries to provide food for themselves plus sell up to 80 percent of the product, creating a sustainable financial situation for ongoing — and possibly expanded — ministry. “The options are just so endless in terms of what God could do with it,” said Drew.

“At that point, you’re not just talking about supporting a child for a month. You’re talking about, ‘Let’s change a whole village.’ … It almost can’t be overstated the tangible and spiritual ramifications for what God could do through [the aquaponics system] being implemented there.”

Fentress wants to see other churches begin to think creatively about how they can use their skills to care for international orphans and widows. She recently led a similar trip where N.C. Baptists trained pig farmers in Kenya. “There are different avenues for ministry. If you are passionate about medical, or passionate about teaching children; if you’re passionate about construction … Whatever God has gifted you to do there are opportunities for you to partner with local leaders.”

Visit 127worldwide.org to learn more about how churches can connect to international orphan and widow care ministries.
This article appeared in the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Seth Brown is content editor for the Biblical Recorder.


Ariz. VBS
goes global

By Irene Harkleroad

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (Portraits) — Smiles, laughs and hugs were in abundance when members of Arizona Southern Baptists’ VBS team ministered in Maputo, Mozambique, in July. The mission trip forever affected the lives of hundreds in Mozambique and nine Vacation Bible School leaders in the United States. The goal: introduce VBS and train local church leaders in the importance of sharing the Gospel with children and discipling them. But there were unexpected blessings on the trip.

At the request of the International Mission Board (IMB), Cheri Dempsay, state VBS team leader, led the team of eight women and one man to assist Steve and Karla Jackson, IMB missionaries in Maputo. They settled in and took their traveling VBS to churches in Marracuene, Hulene and Boane — three districts of Maputo. Of the 1.2 million people in Maputo, a large percentage are under the age of 18. Most of the Baptist churches in the Maputo area do not have VBS programs for children. The team wanted to change that.

“Those kids were so hungry for a touch,” Dempsay says. “They loved being hugged and told ‘Jesus loves you.'”

In Mozambican culture, children are often overlooked by adults, which made the love shown by the team even more meaningful.

“One of the goals of the team was to help moms and church leaders see that God has a plan for each of those children that were so easily disregarded — those same children who were so hungry for everything we shared with them,” Dempsay says. “Which of them would be the next … young leaders in their churches?”

In seven days, the team ministered to more than 250 children plus adults through simple songs, Scripture memory verses, crafts and games.

“In Hulene, we had 80 kids the first day and 140 the next day,” says Jackie Flood, from Blue Ridge Community Church in Happy Jack. “It was total chaos but exciting and fun.”

Little fingers made Gospel bracelets. British Bulldog became the new favorite game. Running back and forth without getting tagged has a strange appeal to children. They loved spoon and rock relays and human wheelbarrow races.

“We couldn’t stop them,” says K.J. Kennell, minister to students at First Southern Baptist Church at Sahuaro Ranch, Glendale. “We had to let them run until they were done.”

Worship at First Baptist Church in Boane proved to be a highlight of the trip.

“This was my first experience of dancing, praising, singing and preaching in the same service,” Kennell says. “It was neat to see a group of men free to dance and pray together. It was exciting to be a part of it.”

“They worship the Lord with all their heart, their soul, their might,” Dempsay says. “It was intentional worship. Talk about worshipping God with everything you’ve got! Everything they did, they did as worship.”

And unexpectedly, the VBS team members found themselves on the receiving end.

“We believe, as Americans, we are equipped to help these precious people, but they ended up helping us. Their children play with old tires and pieces of glass, yet they gave us their very best. Do we do that?”
This article appeared in Portraits, newsmagazine of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention (http://www.azsbc.org/). Irene A. Harkleroad is a freelance writer in Carefree, Ariz.


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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