News Articles

FROM THE STATES: Md., Ala., Okla. evangelism/missions news; ‘We’re salt and light … ‘

Today’s From the States features items from: BaptistLIFE (Maryland); The Alabama Baptist; Baptist Messenger (Oklahoma)


Md. church planter ‘in the neighborhood
but not of the neighborhood’

By Shelley Mahoney

BALTIMORE, Md. (BaptistLIFE) — Joel Kurz, the planter and pastor of The Garden Church in Baltimore, saw the flashing blue-and-red lights illuminating the streets of his Upton neighborhood earlier this year, on a day when — unbeknownst to Kurz at the time — 14 male victims throughout Baltimore City were shot, leading to five fatalities. Many times over the years, Kurz has dropped what he was doing and ran towards the lights, hoping to help the hurting people in the neighborhood who might be affected by yet another tragedy.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been able to share the Gospel when I step into these kind of situations, when I’m there during the hard times,” Kurz said. “We’re salt and light to the community around us — not through programs, not through attractive seeker-sensitive services — but by being present when there is a crisis and showing Jesus to people who are hurting.”

On this chilly February evening, the crisis was a shooting that took place on the block of another pastor at The Garden Church, Montrel Haygood. Haygood was out the next morning talking with the young men affected, seizing an opportunity to minister to them and share truth even during the difficult situation. Kurz and Haygood are two members of The Garden Church who are purposefully present when the community faces challenges. They are not alone — more than half of the congregation lives within walking distance of one another as part of a strategic attempt to impact the community for Christ.

“We have members of our church who used to live in the suburbs and moved into the neighborhood,” said Kurz. “Others are from the city who could have moved out, but intentionally decided to stay. Living locally is a way to be the church among the people we’re trying to reach.”

Kurz knows this kind of sacrifice firsthand. Born and raised in Akron, Ohio, he and his wife graduated from college in Florida and moved to Maryland in 2003 where Joel worked as a youth pastor at Greensboro Baptist Church. During that time, Kurz felt drawn towards church planting, and he “fell in love with Baltimore City.” After much prayerful consideration, he and his wife decided to put down roots in the Upton neighborhood in 2008, a particularly impoverished part of Baltimore City. The Kurz family spent the next four years forming relationships, evangelizing, and gathering a core group. They officially formed as a church in 2012, and — although they have changed locations a few times — they always stay on the same block in the same neighborhood, ministering to the same people as well as newcomers.

Although faced with many challenges, Kurz said that his family — which now includes four kids, ranging from 18 months to 13 years old — has never doubted their calling to this area or become overly worried about their safety. They see the situations as opportunities to become the hands and feet of Christ in their community.

“It’s about being in the neighborhood, but not of the neighborhood,” said Kurz. “While our church has a little over a hundred people on Sunday, I feel like I’m a pastor to hundreds of others in the neighborhood to whom we’re regularly reaching out and seeking to love.”

This passion for on-the-ground neighborhood ministry has led to many exciting ministry opportunities and salvations, but, more recently, it has led The Garden Church to begin ONE HOPE — a church planting ministry of The Garden that exists to plant and strengthen churches in Baltimore and beyond.

“Inner city churches are usually under resourced, and there is often a major emphasis on serving the poor through church ministries, but not making disciples of the poor,” Kurz explains. “There’s a difference.”

The Garden Church seeks to work with other churches — both urban and suburban — to fund Gospel workers in urban communities who can focus on job training and working with teenagers and children, disciple new believers through a year-long church internship at The Garden Church, and train up new church pastors and planters who can revitalize struggling city churches and plant in new locations.

The short-term goal of ONE HOPE is to plant three inner-city churches in Baltimore in the next five years, then plant churches in more inner city areas in other regions.

“We want to recreate what we’ve done here in Upton, throughout Baltimore and elsewhere,” said Kurz. “We hope to establish ONE HOPE as a missions platform through The Garden Church to equip and resource inner city churches for the long haul.”

Kurz said the BCM/D has been one of the “biggest supporters” of the ministry so far. He said that support from the BCM/D, as well as partnerships with other like-minded churches, will allow ONE HOPE to expand their ministries and become more effective.

The work of the church and the intentionality of ministry has helped young men like Carde. After years of Kurz reaching out, Carde found himself in a difficult situation. He was on the streets and his future was not bright. He hit rock bottom and moved in with a couple from the church in the neighborhood. Eventually he joined the job program at The Garden Church, which is funded through ONE HOPE. He gave his life to Christ, served as a ONE HOPE intern and is now working a job, leading within the church, sharing the Gospel with others, and consistently growing in his walk with the Lord.

Kurz has seen many similar situations. He recalls a moment recently when a young man who “runs the streets,” in terms of drug culture, began attending the church. Although he has not yet professed Christ, he has continued to come off-and-on, and he told Kurz he was impressed by the attitudes he saw displayed.

“He came up to me and said he’s never seen people love one another the way we do here,” said Kurz. “It was one of the greatest compliments our church has received.” People like this young man, along with Carde and many others, are seeing the light of Jesus Christ shine into the darkness of their communities, their homes, and their hearts.

“We want to encourage this 24/7 living out of the Gospel, through living and serving the neighborhood where you are called, as well as through the gathered church and the preaching of the Word,” said Kurz.

Kurz said there are three ways to help the ministry: giving, coming to serve, and praying. Churches who are interested in partnering with ONE HOPE can find more information at onehope.gives.
Shelley Mahoney is a freelance writer and an adjunct professor of communication at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland.


Ala. ministry pairs pastor,
church in need of healing

By Grace Thornton

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) — David Fleming says that Frank Pruden and his family came to Montgomery with nothing but a U-Haul truck and a hope that God could use them again.

“When we receive people at the City of Refuge the person is usually coming to us following a termination and is very broken,” said Fleming, leadership director for Montgomery Baptist Association. 

City of Refuge, a Montgomery Association ministry, is modeled after the ministry by the same name at First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga. — a sanctuary that gives hurting pastors a place to go.

‘Put them together’

Pruden, a student pastor from Mississippi with Alabama ties, was one of those. In the months after he and his family arrived he received a new place to live, some counseling and leadership coaching and a new career in insurance. But over time he desired another type of boost too — a new opportunity at ministry. 

And as Neal Hughes, associational mission strategist for Montgomery Association, lay in bed a few months ago, he thought of someone else who needed a boost too — Cloverdale Baptist Church, a congregation in a changing community with mostly elderly members.

“Around 12:30, God just woke me up and said, ‘Put them together,'” Hughes said.

The next day he shared the idea with the Prudens and discovered something amazing — Pruden and his wife Paula had been up until 1 a.m. pleading with God for direction.

“God was putting together a man in need of restoration and a church in need of restoration,” Hughes said.

And in that moment all knew God was calling them to start something new — Operation Revitalization, a way for Montgomery Association to pair pastors with churches in need of healing.

“It was just one of those moments from heaven,” Hughes said.

Over at Cloverdale Baptist they received a sense of divine appointment too.

Deena Weston had felt God’s hand on the situation ever since she and her husband had searched for a church four years ago. 

As the couple began to look for next steps for their family she called Ken May, then director of missions, and asked if he knew of a congregation who could use a hand.

‘Lighthouse on a hill’

He pointed her to Cloverdale.

The big brick church sat on a hill surrounded by two colleges, a neighborhood growing in trendiness and a section of town with deep poverty. Weston was impressed by the opportunity — and the faithfulness of the Cloverdale Baptist members.

“There was just a scattering of a few members, and they were mostly over the age of 80,” said Weston, in her late 40s. “It was really just inspiring to me that over the years they had been faithful to keep the doors open, to keep that lighthouse on a hill.”

One way they’d been shining the light was through a weekday preschool with more than 100 children and 30 employees.

“That’s a missions field right there in our building — souls that can be loved,” Weston said. “And these precious church members served faithfully by opening their doors to these children.”

On Sundays you can find church members washing their hands in the bathroom while stepping around toddlers’ step stools, and they never complain about it or any other inconvenience, she said.

“And every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night they pray faithfully over a whole list of people,” Weston said. “They’re diligent about it. It would be easy to think this is a dying congregation, but it’s full of worker bees who all have a heart to serve.”

‘Burning desire’

One of them is Buster Rambo, a church member who is 90 and has “prayed so long for Cloverdale to be revived,” Weston said. “I think God’s going to let him see it.” 

Pruden hopes he’ll see it too.

Long before he knew he’d be paired with Cloverdale Baptist for Operation Revitalization he’d driven by the church and thought it would be the perfect place for God to start something new.

“I don’t think we would’ve been ready to take on this project before coming to the City of Refuge, but God has used different things to prepare us for it, and it’s been a burning desire and passion in my heart now for a while,” Pruden said.

And Weston says the church is excited to partner with Pruden for Operation Revitalization — basically a one-year lab where Pruden can get some experience as a senior pastor and be coached by Montgomery Association leadership. As part of the lab Pruden will help the church organize one major outreach per quarter. At the end of the year the church and Pruden can decide together if they would like to move forward.

Weston said she thought the idea was a perfect fit from the moment Hughes first mentioned it to her.

“He needed a place where he could work and learn and try things, and we had a place where he could serve,” she said. “Together we’re hoping we can all heal and grow to be more like Jesus.”

Their most recent outreach was April 20 — an event called Here’s Cloverdale: An Afternoon on the Green.

“We’re sowing the fields and doing outreach right now,” Pruden said.

Fleming said it’s a good thing for both Cloverdale Baptist and the surrounding neighborhoods.

“The church is learning again what it’s like to be a part of the community,” he said. “We’re seeing them become more and more ingrained. It’s revitalizing their mission.”

And Pruden and his family have bought into the vision 100 percent — he and his family have moved to a house about 100 yards from the church so they can be an active part of the community.

Weston said the church’s new vision is still in the infant stages, but she believes soon they will be taking a few steps. 

“I know God has a dream for us,” she said.
This article appeared in the Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Grace Thornton writes for the Alabama Baptist Convention.


Okla. men’s conference
focused on ‘The One’

By Chris Doyle

DAVIS, Okla. (Baptist Messenger) — Beautiful weather, multiple fellowship opportunities, quality studies during breakout sessions, powerful worship sessions and many activities that men enjoy were on the schedule of the 2019 Men’s Rewired, April 26-27, at Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center in Davis.

An attendance of 2,001 men gathered for the annual state men’s conference that had as its theme “The One.” Bubba Burcham, men’s ministry consultant for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, served as Men’s Rewired program director and was encouraged with the results of Men’s Rewired.

“The heart of Rewired is the men’s lives changed by the Gospel, lived out in the local church,” Burcham said. “I am one of those men. This year, we focused on ‘The One,’ which is based on Col. 1:15-23, as we want to see men follow the One Lord wholeheartedly. We want to see men going from the sidelines into the game, from the pew to the arena, and that was demonstrated at Rewired this year.

“There were men who gave their lives to Christ,” he continued, “men who rededicated their lives, who wanted to be better fathers and husbands. That’s why Rewired is such a great experience for men — to get away with other godly men and do business with God.”

Burcham credited Keith Burkhart, who started Men’s Rewired years ago, as well as the many volunteers who help every year, for making this year’s event a success. He said Burkhart, who is currently the pastor of Del City, First Southern, made the conference a “well-oiled machine. I’m just trying not to mess it up.”

Bowdens’ plea

The father-son coaching duo Bobby Bowden and Tommy Bowden were the final speakers at Men’s Rewired. During the last main session on Saturday, April 27, Tommy, former Clemson University football coach, introduced his father, sharing how they faced each other nine times, during Bobby’s 34-year tenure as the head coach at Florida State University.

Jokingly, Tommy described his matchups against his father’s squad. “When we played as two Christian, godly coaches, these games were cold-blooded, knock-down, drag-out,” he said. “There were late hits, illegal hits, cussing, trash-talking — I was very disappointed he couldn’t handle his team any better than that.” Many in attendance roared with laughter as Tommy spoke.

He also shared funny stories on the recruiting trail, as Tommy and his dad recruited the same players. But he also shared how important it is to be godly men today.

“Men, you’re about the last line of defense,” he said. “We need to draw a line in the sand, not be ashamed and not be embarrassed. We will be held accountable for the opportunities that we have here on earth.”

Before introducing his father, Tommy gave a final challenge with a Gospel plea.

“My father is coming out to share more, but whether you are someone who needs to give your life to Christ or a Christian whose life has become stale, he will challenge you,” he said.

Bobby was greeted with a standing ovation throughout the tabernacle, and he opened with a friendly yet humble remark.

“They love me in Oklahoma. It’s the only team I could never beat,” the elder Bowden said. “I keep getting invited back here. I wonder why.”

At 89 years old, Bobby had many stories to share, which had everyone’s attention and received numerous responses of laughter. He also gave a raving endorsement of Falls Creek.

“I’m so glad I got invited to come here,” he said. “I can’t believe this place. Every state in the union needs something like this. I don’t know if they can ever build it, but this place is amazing.”

He also knew who was to receive the credit for the building of Falls Creek. “It’s no doubt in my mind that God is in control here,” he said. “If I had one wish I could make right now, you know what I would wish? That every man in this room would accept Christ as his Savior.”

Bobby continued to share great stories, as well as his testimony and how he would share his faith with players he coached. He concluded with sharing how it’s never too late for anyone to make a profession of faith in Christ.

“It’s never too late,” Bobby pleaded. “I don’t care how bad you have been, you can still be saved.”

Harris’ story

Tommie Harris, former University of Oklahoma football standout and NFL Pro Bowl defensive lineman, was the featured speaker for the Friday evening, April 26, main session. Harris shared his confidence he has in God that “He will never leave me nor forsake me,” and his assurance was increased after a tragedy in his life.

Harris shared that his wife Ashley died during surgery. Harris retired after playing eight years in the NFL because of Ashley’s death.

“Ever since that day, I’ve been relying on the power of Jesus,” he said and shared how God could change other lives too. Many made public decisions of faith after Harris spoke.

Burton’s challenge

Evangelist David Burton was the featured speaker in the Friday afternoon session, and his presentation was interactive. He called on men in different stages and roles to stand at different points while he was speaking.

Burton called on college students to stand and shared how they could demonstrate their faith at school. He called on pastors to stand and challenged them to lead in their churches.

He concluded with a Gospel plea to those who were living like Christians but have not made a profession of faith in Christ. “There’s not a thing in your life that Jesus didn’t die for,” Burton said.

Joint offering

An offering total of $50,578.10 was collected during Men’s Rewired and the Oklahoma Baptist Women’s Spring Retreat, April 12-13. The offering will support Ministry Safe training, a resource that proactively helps prevent child sexual abuse in the church through training and background checks. Money collected at the women’s retreat totaled $32,721.14, and Men’s Rewired gave $17,856.96.

“I am blown away by the offering from the men and women’s retreats,” Burcham said. “To see them come together to make such a significant difference in the local church is encouraging.”

To learn more visit menrewired.com.
This article appeared in The Baptist Messenger (www.baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Chris Doyle is associate editor of The Baptist Messenger.


EDITOR’S NOTE: From the States, typically 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.

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