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FROM THE STATES: Miss. evangelism/missions news; Fla.’s smallest churches make big impact

Today’s From the States features items from: The Baptist Record;
Florida Baptist Witness.

Hands UP Outreach of Rankin County receives CWJC award from WMU Foundation

By Tony Martin/The Baptist Record Associate editor

RANKIN COUNTY, Miss. (BP) — The WMU Foundation recognized Hands UP Outreach of Rankin County as the recipient of the Christian Women’s Job Corp (CWJC) site award and a $2500 grant to help fund a project or special need. The site will use the grant to provide access to a GED training program, allowing students to study for the test and increase their scores. Hands UP participants pass their GED tests around 75 percent of the time, and the grant makes it possible for participants to complete online study programs.

“I’m excited to say that Hands UP Outreach is a multi-purpose ministry of Rankin Baptists,” said Mary Callahan, co-director, Hands UP Outreach, Christian Women’s Job Corps and Christian Men’s Job Corps (CMJC) of Rankin County. “We are striving to model the love of Jesus Christ and to meet the needs of the broken, wounded, and discouraged of Mississippi.”

Hands UP provides life and job skills, GED support, and spiritual development to two separate groups: those in need in the community, and those in prison.

“Our community outreach reaches men and women facing life challenges needing encouragement, nurture and support,” said Roy Callahan, co-director.

“We teach life skills and job skills to the offenders inside the prisons so that when they return to the community they will be prepared,” said Mary.

“This program includes literacy and GED tutoring,” Roy said. “Most important of all, we provide Bible study to help them in their spiritual life, and we include a mentor and encourager to help them face life challenges they come in contact with every day.

“Our theme is ‘reaching up, reaching out,’ Roy continued. “Meaning, reaching up with the word of God and reaching out in our community. We’re always in need of prayer and volunteers. We need GED tutors, teachers, encouragers, mentors, prayer warriors, and financial support.”

Allen Stephens, Rankin County’s associational director of missions, stressed how important the ministry is in Mississippi.

“Many Mississippians need a diploma or GED to go on to college or to get a good job,” Stephens said. “This ministry is committed to restoring the whole person.”

Funds from the Margaret Lackey State Missions Offering help support the work of the ministry.(Baptist Press contributed to this story.)
Tony Martin is the associate editor of The Baptist Record.


Two of Florida’s smallest churches make big impact

By Nicole Kalil/Florida Baptist Witness reporter

EASTPOINT, Fla. (BP) — Even small Florida churches can make a big difference when it comes to meeting the needs of their communities.

Through strategic partnerships and good community relations, two small Florida Baptist churches are able to give away thousands of pounds of food to people in need in their respective communities.

Eastpoint is a town of about 2,300 people that occupies just more than seven square miles in Franklin County in the Panhandle. Nearly half of the people there are employed by the oyster industry, which has been in dire straits in recent years. As their main source of income flounders, so does their livelihood — 22.6 percent of Eastpoint residents live below the poverty level.

First Baptist Church in Eastpoint is well-acquainted with the hardships of the people in its community. For the past 22 years, the church has been feeding those in need around them.

“This is a very, very low-income community,” said Sonny Crosby, director of the feeding program at FBC Eastpoint.

At the other end of the state, First Baptist Church in Islamorada, located in Monroe County, also is giving residents of its community a hot meal and inviting them to visit their food pantry every Tuesday.

Islamorada, with roughly the same landmass as Eastpoint, has almost three times the population. Located in the upper Keys and known as the fishing capital of the world, the tourism industry is a driving force in the area. And while the number of Islamorada residents living below the poverty level is lower than Eastpoint’s –11.5 percent — there is still a demographic of people that is food insecure.

FBC Islamorada Pastor Jonathan Elwing said that he’s seen a shift in the types of people requiring assistance lately.

“Now we’re seeing less unemployed and homeless people and more families struggling and working two to three jobs to make ends meet in the service industry,” Elwing said.

Both churches rely on partnerships to accomplish their ministry goals.

Crosby at Eastpoint said the nonprofit Farm Share has helped the church by delivering between 7,000 and 8,000 pounds of food each month free of charge. Farm Share sorts, packages and delivers surplus food from area farmers that are unable to take the harvest to market. Through Farm Share, Eastpoint has been able to give out fresh fruit and vegetables.

Crosby said they also buy food from America’s Second Harvest of the Big Bend food bank in Tallahassee, adding canned and dry goods and meats to the variety of foods they can offer.

Through these partnerships, FBC Eastpoint gives out an average of 40 pounds of food to 110-125 families each week.

Almost as remarkable as the amount of food they distribute is the number of people who now are regularly attending the church.

FBC Eastpoint has an average attendance of 50, up from 15, according to Pastor Doug Boucher in an email response. He credits the church’s revival to its work in the community.

Crosby agreed, saying that the feeding ministry has “planted the seed for growth here at church.”

In Islamorada, Elwing has partnered with area restaurants to provide a hot meal to families each week.

One five-star restaurant in the area caters an entire meal for 100 people at no charge every month.

Elwing said what started as a small outreach to the community 15 years ago has turned into a major means for not only meeting hunger needs in Islamorada, but spiritual needs as well.

“We do a Bible study and a short Gospel presentation every Tuesday night before we start the meal,” he said. “So many of the people who come have to work, and we recognize that we’re not going to get them back on Sunday.”

Elwing said that by looking at themselves as more than just a food ministry, their regular Tuesday night guests consider FBC Islamorada their church home.

“When I see them in the community, they introduce me as their pastor,” he said.

But officially, Elwing said, the church only has 16 members, despite having 42 in attendance one Sunday last month.

Elwing estimates that FBC Islamorada feeds 75-100 people a hot meal on Tuesday nights and gives out approximately 1,200 pounds of food from its food pantry each week.

In addition to the feeding ministry, FBC Islamorada hosts the Florida Baptist Convention Mobile Dental Unit, partners with the Monroe County Health Department to provide free flu and pneumonia shots and makes sure people are getting the medical attention they need.

“Baptist Health has a free health clinic in Tavernier, and we work hand in hand with them, making sure families that come through have access to it,” Elwing said, adding that sometimes that means picking up prescriptions or taking people to appointments.

Elwing said small churches can fall into a trap of feeling like they are too small to do anything.

“We’ve really worked hard to change the idea that our church falls into this window and we will always be the same,” he said. “It’s so not true! God will do whatever He wants to do. He can do anything.”

But for Elwing and Crosby, while the growth is a welcome blessing, it’s not the reason they do what they do.

“It’s more important to see souls in the Kingdom of Heaven than people in our building,” Elwing said.
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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