Today’s From the States features items from:
The Pathway (Missouri)
The Alabama Baptist
The Christian Index (Georgia)
Bright Futures partners
churches, schools nation-wide
By Brian Koonce
JOPLIN, Mo. (The Pathway) — Church and public schools don’t mix? Don’t tell that to Joplin Public Schools.
Churches have been partnering with students and schools with dramatic results since 2010. The program is called Bright Futures and its simple mission is to connect the community to its schools. Local churches of all faiths are just one aspect of Bright Futures, which also invites businesses, parents, and social services to benefit the local schools.
“It’s been a very positive inroad for churches to get into the schools,” said Steve Patterson, director of missions for Spring River Association. He is also chairman of the board and president of Bright Futures USA, the parent corporation that supports the program in affiliate communities across the country.
Though Bright Futures began with a relatively small focus, zeroing in on Joplin and its graduate rate, its openness to the church and the subsequent success is helping spread the program to surrounding districts, states and the rest of the country.
“As other communities saw what was happening, they began asking our superintendent and it just kept growing from there,” Patterson said.
The idea is to meet students’ needs before they come to the classroom, so they can focus on academics. Bright Futures meets material and physical needs, but also matches mentors with students and brings in “lunch pals” to spend 20 minutes a week with student at lunch time. In Joplin, physical needs have ranged from a pair of shoes to beds to a hot water heater.
“They had 15 lunch buddies before we were asked to bring in the churches, and we we joined in it went to 150,” Patterson said. “They had nine [mentors] for 7,000 students and it went to 90.”
Bright Futures posts the needs on Facebook and gets responses almost immediately.
“Our goal is to see every need met within 24 hours,” Patterson said. “Thus far, we’ve been able to do that in all but one case where they needed a Mandarin Chinese interpreter and that took us a few weeks. Our quickest time to meet a need was 11 seconds, but it usually takes two or three hours.
Though it’s far from a direct evangelistic outreach, the relationships built naturally led to conversations of the gospel.
“The churches are able to come at the request of schools and be a partner for whatever the school needs,” Patterson said. “They can’t do direct evangelism, but they can build relationships that will be fruitful later on. What we’ve seen in 40 affiliate communities in seven states is that the greatest number of volunteers comes from the churches. We won’t let a community become a Bright Futures community without that faith-based support.
“It’s the perfect opportunity to get out of the pews and into the community,” he said. “It’s a very non-threatening, easy thing to do. Even the most timid person in your church can go and be a part of this. As they do, they build relationships that later can lead to a bridge to the gospel.
For more information, go to brightfuturesusa.org.
This article appeared in The Pathway (mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Brian Koonce is a staff writer for The Pathway.
Ala. Baptists help bring Bible
classes to high school students
By Grace Thornton
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) — Stan Davis faced three major medical issues last year. They kept him at home in front of the TV for four weeks.
And those four weeks changed his life.
And maybe the lives of a bunch of others too.
“I watched too much news during those weeks,” said Davis, a member of Valleydale Church, Birmingham, noting that everything he saw was “full of lawlessness and godlessness.”
“And the one thing that hit me during that time was that I can no longer say ‘somebody has to do something.’ I’m going to find something that I can do that I can make a difference,” he said.
A couple of weeks later, his pastor, Jason Dees, mentioned a new ministry that was trying to get its feet underneath it in Alabama — a program that would bring Bible classes to public high school students.
“God had been preparing me to be willing to really hear what Jason was saying,” Davis said.
And it seems he’d been preparing others too. Because School Ministries of Birmingham is starting its first class for students at Spain Park High School in Hoover this January.
The way it works is that students who opt to take the classes will be “released” from school for that hour to take the class at a nearby church as an optional elective.
It’s an idea that has seen hundreds of lives changed in South Carolina.
And Paige Dees, wife of Jason Dees and secretary of School Ministries of Birmingham, hopes the same will happen in Alabama.
“This could radically change the public school system,” she said. “When students who are not Christians come with their Christian friends to learn about how God’s Word can apply to their lives today, it’s changing their whole life and then their parents are seeing their lives look different and parents are coming to Christ too.”
And movements happen, she said.
Starting with Spain Park is “a huge foot in the door, and with Spain Park being one of the top schools in Alabama, we hope this will give us credibility to get into other public schools,” Paige Dees said. “Our plan is to have such an excellent program that a few years from now, public schools from all around the area will be knocking on our door asking us to please have this program at their school.”
A few other places — such as Sylvania Baptist Church and Ruhama Baptist Church, Fort Payne, in north Alabama — have successfully run this type of ministry in the state for years already.
Dees, Davis and others are hoping that more people will come forward and spearhead similar efforts in their own communities as part of School Ministries of Birmingham.
The ministry is looking for financial partners, but they also are looking for volunteers who have a vision for using the classes to attract students to their churches.
“If a student in our program is not connected to a local church and they start building relationships with the volunteers, it makes an easier transition for the student and hopefully their family to start coming to church,” Dees said.
Davis agreed that the classes are great inroads to a spiritual harvest.
“We envision groups of people and other churches and cities being touched like we were to start something like this in their own community,” Davis said. “It’s so compelling. And God’s putting all the pieces together.”
For more information about School Ministries of Birmingham, contact Paige Dees at [email protected] or visit www.schoolministriesbham.org.
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Grace Thornton is assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist.
Ga. IMB missionary reaches
at-risk Russian teens with sports
By Jim Burton
GAINESVILLE, Ga. (The Christian Index) — Native Georgian Mike Campbell doesn’t like cold weather and snow.
He doesn’t have a college education.
He’s a single, never-married, adult male.
He makes no claims of athleticism.
So why was he living in Siberia as an International Mission Board (IMB) career missionary using sports to reach at-risk teens?
“I’m not your typical missionary,” said Campbell, who is 55.
Campbell once was an exceptional church member at Blackshear Place Baptist Church in Oakwood and later at Hopewell Baptist in Gainesville. He volunteered with middle school students, helped with the singles ministries, and taught computer-assisted drawing at Eagle Ranch in Chestnut Mountain, a ministry to troubled, at-risk teenagers.
Campbell knows about at-risk teens because he once was one. Russia has many.
Campbell first visited Russia’s third largest city in 2002 on a short-term mission trip and served in a special-needs orphanage. His translator wrote the names of each child so that he could pray for them by name back in Georgia. He prayed that God would send someone to show them His love. Campbell didn’t understand that he would be the answer to that prayer.
When God began to call him to Russia it was tough battle. He was working for a power tools company in what he called his dream job and fully anticipated retiring there. Campbell was enjoying his work at Eagle Ranch. So if God were calling him to Russia, it would have to be obvious.
A short time later, the company announced they were downsizing and eliminating his job. He was in his early 40s.
He launched into the IMB missionary application process and went to his candidate conference with another assignment in mind. Then he discovered a job request in Novosibirsk, where he had once volunteered.
“I felt God’s spirit saying this is where you need to be,” Campbell said.
Shortly after arriving, a soccer ball helped him discover that Russian youth were much like him. One day he kicked the ball to two teen-aged boys. Within a month, 30 kids were regularly coming to play.
Soccer and later baseball became the entrée to his passion, mentoring and discipling at-risk youth, and training others to be their mentors.
A church from Nashville, Tenn., introduced Campbell to baseball outreach. He admits knowing little about the game. But he had motivated teens and young adults who also needed to hear the Gospel.
“Russians like new things, especially in the summer,” Campbell said. “If you do a baseball camp, you’re going to draw a crowd.”
As his relationship grew with the athletes, he noticed something missing. No one mentioned their father.
“The main cause for at-risk children in Russia is the lack of fathers in their lives,” Campbell said.
As a Georgia youth growing up in College Park and Riverdale, Campbell’s late alcoholic father was emotionally detached during the week and gone on weekends. When Campbell turned 15, his father became a Christian.
“I saw a complete transformation,” Campbell said. “He immediately quit drinking.”
Working with Russian youth who don’t have fathers active in their life is personal for Campbell.
“When I see kids who are suffering like that, it reminds me of my own childhood,” he said. “They sense there is a common bond there.”
During his 11 years in Russia, Campbell is most satisfied with his mentoring and the mentor-training plan he developed to teach Russians how to work with orphans and at-risk teens. He used Jesus’ relationship with His disciples as the training’s framework.
Currently on stateside assignment, Campbell passed off the baseball league he had developed to Novosibirsk Baptist Church where several players regularly attend.
Campbell adjusted to the hardships of Siberia in a city he calls very relaxed and non-political. The city’s central hot-water system piped boiling water into his apartment’s radiators. There was no thermostat, just an on or off option. He regularly kept a window open until the temperature dipped below -40F.
Recent financial challenges at IMB have caused Campbell to reevaluate his future. Whether or not he becomes one of the 400-600 missionaries to take a retirement package, he will remain grateful to Southern Baptists for their Cooperative Program (CP) and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering support.
“Georgia Baptists are doing a good job with their CP giving,” Campbell said. “In the present situation the IMB is in, if they could increase their funding that would be wonderful.”
This article appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming, Ga.
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. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.