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FROM THE STATES: Iowa/Missouri, N.C., S.C. evangelism/missions news; Baptists strategize to reach ‘vast groups of people’ in Midwest


Today’s From the States features items from:
Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist (reprinted from Missouri Pathway)
Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)
Baptist Courier (South Carolina)

HIS vision tour
reveals spiritual need
By Lee Warren

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist & The Pathway) — Participants of the Heartland Interstate Strategy (HIS) vision tour exited the bus on Prospect Hill and gazed into South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska. Dr. Leo Endel, a former pastor in the area and the current executive director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention provided a brief history of the region and then led them in prayer.

“Lord, You called us to a purpose -– to go and make disciples of all nations,” Endel said. “And there are vast groups of people west of us, just like 150 years ago, that do not know Your Son as their Savior and You have brought us to this place today, not by accident, but by calling.”

He was referring to three Presbyterian missionaries -– Sheldon Jackson, T.H. Cleland and J.C. Elliott — who, in 1869, looked across that same great expanse on that same hill and prayed for “the great unchurched areas,” as the monument on that hill that has been erected in their honor says.

The evangelical presence in the area has waned in recent decades, but HIS stood on the shoulders of these three missionaries from the 1800s, asking the Father to renew a passion among his people to bring the Gospel to a largely unreached people group right here in our own country.


That’s what this vision tour was all about -– making people aware of the vast need, and then presenting ways SBC churches in the south can partner with churches in the north.

The tour –- that included 40 plus people from Kentucky, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska -– started in Omaha, Nebraska on August 26 and made stops in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Sioux City, Iowa, before returning to Omaha on August 28.

Representatives from the five state conventions and one Canadian province that comprise HIS –- the task force that is focused on facilitating church plants up and down the I-29 corridor that stretches from Kansas City to Winnipeg, gave presentations about the work that is already being done in each respective area, while also presenting the great spiritual needs that are so prevalent along the corridor.

In Omaha, participants gathered at the Eastern Nebraska Baptist Association building and heard from a number of Omaha SBC pastors, including Lee Cordell from Redeemer Church, Dr. Steve Holdaway from LifeSpring Church and Craig Liscom from Changed Life Church. They also heard from Pastor Ricky Rohrig from Crossroads Community Church in Red Oak, Iowa, Rick Posey who plans to plant a church in Blair, Nebraska and representatives from St. Joseph, Missouri and the Flint Hills Baptist Association (churches in north central and northeast Kansas) – all of whom are facing challenges in one form or another, from reaching into multi-cultural neighborhoods, to spiritual darkness, to a culture that has little or no biblical understanding.

Endel closed the event in Omaha by presenting a history of the SBC and its positive evangelical influence in the upper Midwest in previous decades. He contrasted that with the current lack thereof, pointing toward a map that shows limited Southern Baptist witness north of Missouri.

“When you get up into northern Iowa, and then up into most of Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas, up the I-29 corridor, you’ll see no presence at all,” Endel told the group. “That means we have no churches in those areas, at all.

“At one point, there were approximately 402 counties in the entire United States without a Southern Baptist presence, at all, and I had 102 of them in Minnesota and Wisconsin. And if you look at the rest of the map, you’ll notice that the Dakotas and Nebraska are equal to the challenge.”

Given the lack of evangelical witness in the area, Endel pointed out the problem many unbelievers along the corridor face when they do attend a church.

“When you come to Minnesota and Wisconsin, the likelihood of you going to a church where you are going to hear the Gospel articulated in a way that you can understand it and respond is pretty remote,” he said.

Endel asked the attendees a question that has been on his mind for some time.

“What if we could take Missouri strength, and our southern partners from elsewhere, and press up north, and then east and west to reenter into all of these areas?” he said. “What could possibly happen? The needs are tremendous.”

The vision tour continued up I-29 to Sioux Falls, where it heard from Jonathan Land, who recently planted Connection Church in a public school in the area. He used nine block parties this summer to make contact with 2,200 people who registered for the events and he is seeing a slow but steady increase in attendance at his church. They have had as high as fifty attendees, but much work is left to be done.

Jon Merchant runs Next Door Ministries in Sioux Falls and he explained how his organization goes into mobile home parks to help renovate them while building relationships so they can share the G
ospel. Since many are skeptical about church, he said they won’t walk into one, so he’s taking the church to them – setting up a network of home churches right there in the mobile home community.

“Bible … they don’t know what that is,” Merchant said. “Church … they don’t know what that is. But they ask a lot of questions about God and spiritual things, so the door is open there.”

Pastor Brent McNeal spoke about starting a Bible study in 2012 in Moorhead, Minnesota, and how that eventually led to Sojourn Church – the only SBC church in the city. They have since baptized two people, one of whom shared the Gospel with two high school friends who placed their faith in Christ.

Pastor Tim Brown from Life Church in Fargo, N.D., spoke about the importance of his congregation embracing missionary status at work, school and play. The church is a year old. Brown says they are reaching the dechurched, the detached and the hurting, saying that’s a good description of the twenty-five people who already attend.

Pastor Rod Giesbrecht of Tabor Baptist Church in Winnipeg has about 20 attendees on a good Sunday, half of whom are elderly. The other half are international students with varying religious backgrounds. But even a small church like Tabor is making a difference.

They are working with a church planter who is reaching out to the 12,000 Punjabi Sikhs in the area. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion, with a blend of Buddhism and the Muslim faith. After offering eye clinics for the Sikh population as well as reaching out to them through an ESL program, they are beginning to be open to hearing about Jesus.

In Sioux City, the vision tour stopped at Southern Hills Baptist Church where attendees heard about plans to implement a program called Life Changers, a twist on Word Changers, that will be spearheaded in Sioux City next June with the hope of serving and engaging the community for Christ. And they learned about a new plant in town called Redemption Hill Church that is just about to launch.

The spiritual needs in the upper Midwest are great, but the underlying message of the tour was clear – we serve an even greater God, who can and does meet needs through his church. HIS wants to make those needs known so prospective partnering churches can get involved with prayer support, short-term mission teams and financial support. And, of course, they are praying for more plants along the corridor.

HIS coordinator Jeffrey Chavez summarized the historic cooperative effort this way.

“These pastors and church planters are similar to soldiers who are out there on the battle field,” Chavez told The Pathway. “They are fighting these battles at the forefront and we are going to be their support group.”
This article originally appeared in The Pathway (mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention, and was reprinted in the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist, newsjournal of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention (mwbc.org). Lee Warren is a contributing writer for The Pathway.
From addict to
urban missionary
By Rick Houston

GASTONIA, N.C. (Biblical Recorder) — The numbers are staggering.

According to The Dream Center of Gaston County’s website (dreamcentergastoncounty.com), more than 95 percent of students at Rhyne and Woodhill Elementary schools in the Highlands community receive free or reduced lunches. Only about half of those are able to function at an appropriate grade level. Thirty percent of Highlands households live in poverty.

Those are the cold and hard numbers, and the stories of life in Highlands are even more heartbreaking. Young toddlers are left untended.

Drugs and crime seem to be everywhere, and multiple shootings have happened in the last few months.

It’s into this kind of environment that urban missionary Jaron Moss and his teams willingly venture as often as possible. They are there through The Dream Center, a nonprofit effort organized by Bethlehem Baptist Church in Gastonia.

“We started walking in the community, praying for the community, seeing the needs,” said Moss, who is 26 and a full-time student at Belmont Abbey College in Belmont.

“As we’d walk around, you’d see people in the streets and on their porch. We’d just go up and talk to them.

“We weren’t trying to tell people about the church. We were trying to love the people, and share the hope they can have in God. We just started loving the people, and through a few months, God started building relationships with people.”

Moss’ is another in a long line of out-of-the-box ministries at Bethlehem, which hosts five weekend services at three campuses in the area. The Dream Center partners with local businesses every year to provide free services for weddings and proms.

There are support groups for single parents, sports programs, job fairs – name it, and there’s a pretty good chance it can be found at Bethlehem, The Dream Center or both.

The key to it all is this: None of the church’s efforts are necessarily designed to simply increase numbers, but instead to meet those in the community where they’re at, no matter what their circumstances might be. It’s about outreach in its simplest, purest form.

“We’re just focused on relationships with the people and connecting them with the Word of God, not just in church but in their home,” Moss continued.

“My whole life growing up, it was all about you invite people to church and tell the pastor to preach to them and teach them about God. I want these people to realize that God has equipped them to do that, to share God with their neighbors, friends and family.”

A native of nearby Kings Mountain, Moss’ backstory is not unlike those that play out every day in Highlands. At 17, he began smoking weed. It wasn’t long before he was not only popping pills, but selling drugs as well.

By 19, he was in rehab and charged with armed robbery.

Six months after getting out of rehab, he’d fallen right back into the trap. Life was one long, slippery spiral downward. At one point, he placed a pistol in his mouth ready to pull the trigger.

He didn’t and the next day his mother called and invited him to church.

“At the end of the service, this lady stood up and said, ‘God told me that there’s a man in here …’ and she began to say every thought that was running through my head,” Moss remembered. “She said, ‘You’re thinking life’s too long.’ She kept sharing things about me that she didn’t know.”

Moss made his way to the front of the church, and his life hasn’t been the same since.

“I wanted to sit in that seat, but I couldn’t,” Moss said. “I was up in the front before I even knew it, just lifting my hands to God, not saying any complicated prayer, but just saying, ‘Help me.’ I began to cry, tears [were] running down my face for fifteen minutes.

“I’ve never experienced the power of God like I did that day, ever. I walked back to my pew shivering. I left that day knowing something was different and changed. I felt as if someone had taken thousand-pound weights off of my shoulders.”

In the years since, Moss’ life has made a dramatic turnaround from addict to urban missionary, from living solely for that next fix to proposing to girlfriend Anna in a video that’s sure to go viral if it hasn’t already.

Drugs no longer matter to him. Even golf, a sport he loves, no longer holds quite the same attraction. What his old life does do, however, is give him an opening to serve the people in Highlands.

“People welcome me so easily in this community,” Moss concluded. “(His story) opens doors for me, because a lot of these guys struggle with drugs, addiction and depression.

“The life that I lived introduced me to all of those things, so when I go and start talking to them, I’m able to connect with them. God’s using my past mistakes for His good now.”
This article appeared in the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Rick Houston is a freelance writer living in Yadkinville, N.C.
God calls ‘all kinds
of people’ to missions
By Staff

COLUMBIA, S.C. (Baptist Courier) — In 1999, Jeff and Cyndi* were raising their family in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Jeff had worked for 20 years in corporate banking, and they were content. Then God called.

“I was working as a vice president at a local bank when I felt the call to missions,” Jeff said. “I struggled with the idea and even felt sick for a period of time. Once I finally surrendered, there was peace, and God continued to conform us more to his image.”

Tim Rice, director of missions mobilization for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, says people with different skill sets and work experiences are useful in the mission field. “God calls all kinds of people out of all kinds of careers into missions,” he said. “Missionaries are not just pastors.”

Jeff was born and raised in South Carolina, grew up in a sports-loving family, and became a Christian as a teenager. Cyndi’s father was in the Navy, so her childhood was spent moving from place to place. A Christian since her teens, Cyndi said she had her fill of traveling as a child and never felt a strong pull to full-time missions.

Initially, God used the family’s love of sports in calling them to missions. Their first assignment with the International Mission Board was to develop an international sports recreation company. Their children were 9, 11, and 13 when Jeff and Cyndi moved the family to the Middle East. They immersed themselves in the local community and started offering sports opportunities for men, women and children. Over the course of seven years, they built a recreation center, hosted sports camps and clinics, and took teams to tournaments in Europe.

“We were not known as missionaries,” said Jeff, “but as people who added value to the community. Once we developed relationships within the local community, we were able to freely share our faith. I remember one day when some children saw me praying, they asked me if I was like them. Because they asked me, I was then able to share.”

Their second IMB assignment took them to the Horn of Africa, where, for the next three years, Jeff helped missionaries serving in the region develop platforms to receive visas. Later, he developed a small business center in the community. Cyndi served in a women’s Bible-study fellowship class in the capital city. Today, Jeff marvels at how God is using their life experiences and skills as they work to serve and coordinate logistics for more than 700 IMB missionaries throughout the sub-Saharan region of Africa.

“The business experience I have has opened doors,” he said. “Without my background, it would be impossible to walk through the doors we are walking through today.”

One of those doors includes developing a strategic plan to share the Gospel with African truck drivers. The logistics coordinators have taken note of how trucks move goods throughout Africa on a limited transportation infrastructure — essentially, one main road in each country. Most African truck drivers cannot read or write. They make frequent visits to truck stops along the routes. Logistics coordinators link up local believers at truck stops to interact with the drivers. They have developed the art of oral Gospel “storying,” and they use memory cards embedded with Bible stories that the drivers can access with their cell phones.

“The Lord is blessing this ministry by calling local churches to get involved,” Jeff said. He said American and African churches are adopting truck stops and placing local leaders there to start a ministry. “It is not uncommon for up to 200 people to get saved at these truck-stop ministry meetings,” he said.

Cyndi also assists with a ministry guest house in the capital city, and she helps Somali women learn English. She talked about a faith-based conversation with a group of women that began with the question, “What makes you sad?”

“All of the ladies said the deaths of family members,” said Cyndi. “They asked me if I was afraid to die, and they were surprised when I said I wasn’t because I knew where I was going. They burst out laughing. When I asked why, one said, ‘Oh, Cyndi, nobody knows that.’ ”

How can South Carolina Baptists partner in Jeff and Cyndi’s work? They say their strongest support comes from prayer and financial giving through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. They also welcome partnerships with churches to further the truck-stop ministry; churches can adopt a truck stop or send short-term mission teams. French-speaking mission teams are especially needed in West Africa.
*Last name omitted. This article appeared in the Baptist Courier (baptistcourier.com), newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.