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FROM THE STATES: La., Ala., N.M. evangelism/missions news; ‘We are overwhelmed by God’s grace’

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Today’s From the States features items from:
Baptist Message (Lousiana)
The Alabama Baptist
Baptist New Mexican

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Unity leads to growth for
black, white La. churches

By Brian Blackwell

BATON ROUGE, La. (Baptist Message) — Manuel Pigee boldly prayed in 2015, asking God to lead United Believers Baptist Church to a rebirth at a new property.

After three years of fasting and praying, God presented the steadily growing African American congregation in Baton Rouge with the opportunity to move into a facility utilized by Oakcrest Baptist Church, a predominantly Anglo congregation whose Sunday morning worship attendance was in steady decline.

Since United Believers Baptist Church said, “Yes,” in January to sharing the campus, the congregation has seen God move in more ways than they ever imagined.

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“When I became pastor of the church, I said to them I want you to know I am praying God would do something no one could take credit for — that God would get the glory,” Pigee said. “The way He opened the door and solidified this partnership has generated a great spirit of joy and peace. We are overwhelmed by God’s grace.”

Background

United Believers Baptist Church was formed after Hurricane Katrina forced Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans to meet at three separate locations, including the Baton Rouge campus.

Within a year, many members of the Franklin Avenue congregation returned to New Orleans but a remnant of around 100 stayed behind, growing to 136 in 2017.

In 2011, Pigee was called as pastor of the church, which was still a campus of Franklin Avenue.

Four years later, on April 15, 2015, the congregation voted to rename itself United Believers Baptist Church, adopting Psalm 133:1 as its mission — “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.”

Praying and waiting

During their three-year search for a new home, the congregation was introduced to Oakcrest Baptist.

At one time, that congregation had as many as 600 participating in Sunday morning worship, but as the demographics around the neighborhood changed, attendance steadily declined, with fewer than 20 attending last year.

After a meeting among representatives of the two churches in June and then another in October, Oakcrest Baptist leaders told Pigee that God was leading them to allow United Believers Baptist to share the space.

“They told us we were the church that could reach the community for years to come, and they wanted to work out an agreement with us to gracefully phase out,” Pigee said. “I said to my people this is a great privilege the Lord has allowed us to walk alongside this aging congregation. With the racial divide that is happening in America, it’s amazing to see an aging Anglo church willing to partner with an African American plant as God allows us to escort them to glory.”

Charles Bennett, pastor of Oakcrest, said the relationship between his church and United Believers Baptist has been pleasant.

“We felt we had a choice,” Bennett said. “We could let the buildings not being used to deteriorate or we could look for a group we felt good about coming in to use the facilities; and, we wanted a Southern Baptist group in here. Our people are very open and appreciative by the way they have come in and made a difference for Christ.”

Tommy Middleton, director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge, applauds the members of Oakcrest for seeing the need for ministry in its facility for generations to come.

“To the credit of Oakcrest and the leadership and sensitivity of United Believers, it’s turned out to be almost a textbook of how it’s supposed to be in terms of support, cooperation and love,” he said. ”

“In many churches throughout our state and national conventions, churches go through seasons of great growth and then that season passes,” he continued. “If there is not a renewal and a shift to address cultural changes in the neighborhood, that trend continues downward. When they recognize how to correct it or change it over to another church, it allows for a vibrant Gospel witness to continue in that area. Sometimes we hang out with stubbornness — you’ve got to let it go.”

Moving forward

Since moving into the new building, United Believers Baptist has spent most of its time upgrading the property and building relationships with residents of the neighborhood.

Members have spruced up the landscaping, restriped the parking lot, installed lights in the parking lot, and placed monitors and additional lighting inside the worship center.

Ministry efforts at its new campus have included a spring revival featuring Middleton and Franklin Avenue Baptist pastor Fred Luter, a Mother’s Day tea and door-to-door visitation. Future ministry plans include a class to prepare young boys and girls for adulthood and after-school tutoring on Wednesdays.

“One piece of feedback from the community is they want a place for children to go for spiritual enrichment and learn practical life skills,” Pigee said. “We want to do social ministry as a way to create bridges and bring people to the Kingdom through a life-changing relationship with Christ.

“I anticipate us really impacting the community and touching the lives of families and youth through our social outreach programs,” he said. “We are integrating ourselves more into the community. More than anything we want to be a lighthouse where people’s faith is being shaped and they are being taught to practice it.”
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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.

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Ala. churches help teachers
‘jumpstart’ new school year

By Carrie Brown McWhorter

RUSSELL COUNTY, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) — Teachers in three Alabama school systems began the academic year with a little boost thanks to Russell Baptist Association churches.

More than 800 teachers in Russell County, Phenix City and Smiths Station received personalized bags filled with various classroom necessities in an effort coordinated by the association’s Missions Development Team.

The vision of the project was two-fold, said Russell Association director of missions Marty Holley, who took the helm at the association about 18 months ago.

“First, we wanted to build unity between our churches by doing a project together as sister churches,” Holley said. “A lot of our churches do great ministries but have become independently minded rather than pulling together as an association.”

Association leaders also wanted to open the door for better relationships between churches and area schools so teachers and administrators would feel they could reach out when they have spiritual and physical needs.

So the association sent a letter and a survey to area schools and asked teachers to give them a wish list of their top three classroom supplies. The missions team compiled the lists, and 28 of 34 associational churches donated items like hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, colored copy paper and dry erase markers.

On July 26 volunteers set up at three churches — Smiths Station, Summerville and Ladonia — to pray for the teachers and to pack more than 800 bags with each teacher’s top three choices. The personalized bags had a printed message of appreciation to teachers. They also included a card with a special email address and an invitation to use that email to request prayer and share needs throughout the school year.

Sharing needs

“The teachers see their students every day and know those that have the greatest needs,” Holley said. “Our vision is that teachers will begin to use that email address to share those needs with us so we can help.”

Holley envisions associational churches providing shoes, coats or other essentials for students in their area as the school year progresses. The teachers don’t have to share the student’s private information — just the need. The association will do the rest.

On Aug. 5 the three churches served as pickup stations for teachers to get their bags and enjoy a few refreshments as they met church members and other teachers.

Summerville pastor Robert Goodman said the teachers who picked up supplies at his church expressed appreciation and even awe at the gifts, especially the fact that each one got exactly the three items they requested.

“One teacher who has been teaching for 25 years said it was the nicest thing that had ever been done for her,” Goodman said. “She was very excited not just about the supplies but about the opportunity to have a vehicle by which she could share prayer requests. We are praying this is the beginning of building a bridge and bringing the church into the lives of the teachers.”

The thank you notes sent to Goodman already show the vision is taking hold. One teacher wrote to say she would “love to have someone come to my room once a month or so to visit for a few minutes with my students.” Another wrote that the expression of love and support was a “great way to start off the new school year.”

Holley said it’s widely known that many teachers take money out of their own pockets during the school year to meet their classroom needs. He called the bags a “jumpstart” and an “excellent way for us to represent our Lord Jesus Christ and show His love by showing appreciation to our teachers.”
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Carrie Brown McWhorter is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist, newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist State Convention.

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N.M. churches
‘Love’ city together

By Kevin Parker

PORTALES, N.M. (Baptist New Mexican) — Five Portales-area Baptist Convention of New Mexico churches and one other Portales church planned a “We Love Portales” day to create opportunities to build relationships and share the Gospel. The “day” was actually a series of activities spread over three days, July 19-21.

Dave McFadden, pastor of First Baptist Church, Portales, spearheaded the project, but many others were involved in the planning and implementation of the multifaceted project. Calvary Baptist Church; University Baptist Church; First Baptist, Portales; First Baptist Church, Floyd; and First Baptist Church, Dora, represented the BCNM. Central Christian Church, Portales, also participated.

The event began on Thursday evening with training in the four fields strategy for evangelism, disciple-making and church planting. Three hundred fifty people attended the training from the various churches.

The first of the four fields, called “Entry,” advocates relational ministry to “break ground” with people before launching Gospel sharing efforts. That philosophy drove the selection of events for the day of “loving Portales.” McFadden said activities were chosen with the hope that church members would interact with people.

Activities included handing out free water, free donuts, and free light bulbs. Along with the free giveaways, called “blessings,” volunteers gave recipients a card with information about the effort and contact information if they had spiritual needs or questions.

Other “blessings” included teams that offered McDonald’s customers $5 toward their meal, with no obligation. Organizers said the gifts generated several conversations with volunteers. Another team offered a similar gift to people at a Laundromat. There, team members offered stacks of quarters to people doing laundry. In each case, team members handed out the information cards with the gift. Team members’ activities were arranged with local business in advance.

Three other events were arranged specifically to coincide with “We Love Portales” Day. The city moved its community movie night to Friday night of the event. “We Love Portales” volunteers collected large cardboard boxes and helped children make small cars that they sat in while they watched the movie. All of the supplies were offered at no cost. “We Love Portales” also offered attendees free concessions for the movie.

The local Ministerial Alliance moved its food distribution day to coincide with “We Love Portales,” and a fun run for the local Recreation Center was scheduled for the same day, too.

As a wrap-up for the event, McFadden invited a comedian to put on a program at the local Yam Theater — two shows, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. The event required paid tickets. To make it a “blessing,” church members were encouraged to purchase tickets for themselves and a friend and to invite the friend to attend. Again, McFadden said, the intent was to relationally connect with people to create spiritual opportunities. The ticket price was aimed at cost recovery, he said, not to raise money.

The 2018 “We Love Portales” event was the second time McFadden has put the event together. He said it started in 2017 when a mission team from Albuquerque came to the New Mexico Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services, located in Portales. The home is a ministry of the BCNM. The home did not have enough activities to fill the mission team’s schedule, so NMBCH Director Randy Rankin, reached out to McFadden and First Baptist, Portales, for ideas and options.

McFadden welcomed the team and quickly planned some opportunities for the team to help the church connect with its community. The activities were successful, prompting another special day of ministry this year. McFadden said he is already thinking about next year. He and other organizers are continuing to refine the “blessings” to ensure church members have the best chance of interacting with community members.
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This article appeared in the Baptist New Mexican (bcnm.com/bnm), newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. Kevin Parker is editor of the Baptist New Mexican.

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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 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. Except for minor style, security, formatting and grammatical changes, the items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.