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FROM THE STATES: Mo., Ga. & Tenn. evangelism/missions news

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.

Today’s From the States features items from:
The Pathway (Missouri)
The Christian Index (Georgia)
Baptist & Reflector (Tennessee)

The miracle of the
El Salvador symphony
By Allen Palmeri
The Pathway

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador–The emergence in El Salvador of a national orchestra playing Christian music was something Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Associate Executive Director Jerry Field witnessed with his own two eyes in late August but could scarcely believe.

Three years ago he began to train a local maestro, Mauricio Solis, whose father, Benjamin, was director of the national symphony, but neither he nor the younger Solis could have ever imagined such a glorious outcome. Field offered two phrases—”God working,” and “God has a man,” referring to Solis.

It all started in 2008 when Field and former MBC Worship Specialist John Francis were invited to work with employees of the Ministry of Culture, the National Center for the Arts, and the National Symphony. On that trip they also spent daily workshop time with music craftsmen, symphony orchestra players, and advanced students (ages 15-22) from the national arts center. A return visit in 2009 followed a similar pattern with connections being made with the National Youth Orchestra and two other schools of music.

The MBC was already involved in a church-to-church partnership with El Salvador, but what made Field’s work so unique was that the government sought to pay his expenses. As a trained luthier (a repairer of violins), his skill was in demand, and his ability to train Solis was seen to be a crucial component of what the government was trying to accomplish in music. Francis also brought value to the arrangement with his certification as a piano tuning technician.

“Out of the clear blue it felt like this crazy suggestion—how about you come at the invitation of the government?” Field said.

The culmination of the three-year process came Aug. 27-28, when Field flew to the capital city for a pair of concerts that were designed to launch he El Salvador Christian Symphony Orchestra. A special promotional DVD was even made to explain the vision. Before the first concert, which was held in a public theater, Field was given the task of delivering a motivational talk.

“I told them how completely honored and somewhat overwhelmed I was to have the opportunity to be with them this week,” he said. “It was the fulfillment of a dream, and (I told them) that what they were about to do was historic and that they needed to follow the challenge of the vision of their leader, Maestro Mauricio Solis, and that is not just to be a Christian symphonic orchestra in El Salvador but to have the opportunity to perform internationally in order to take the Gospel there.

“So the vision is just huge, and it’s mind-boggling.”

The second concert was at a church. That was when a woman made a profession of faith.

Solis has already told his musicians to get their passports in order in anticipation of traveling abroad. His platform is already expanding, Field said.

“Mauricio is now doing very well as a luthier and has established a business where he’s the go-to guy for all of the arts community as far as stringed instruments,” Field said. “So he’s established his credibility there, and now particularly after the experience (of the two opening concerts) he had already by Monday noon had phone calls from three different places asking to schedule concerts.”

On the promotional DVD, Solis explains that the slogan for the musicians is “Supreme Worship,” with a goal to render that to “the King of kings and Lord of lords.”

Several government officials and other dignitaries from El Salvador were in attendance for the opening concerts, with Field being interviewed by a news service the first night.

Though the MBC’s official partnership with El Salvador will end Dec. 31, Field is sensing that his symphony work there is only just beginning.

“It’s about the expansion of the Kingdom of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “This has offered the opportunity to reach into that culture.”?
This article first appeared in The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention (mbcpathway.org). Allen Palmeri is associate editor of The Pathway.
South of the border,
down Mexico way
By J. Gerald Harris
The Christian Index

TIJUANA, Mexico—Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr wrote a popular song describing a trip to Mexico called “South of the Border” for a movie of the same name. The love song was published in 1939 and sung by cowboy star Gene Autry. The song portrays a “senorita” in sweet sentimental hues.

That 70-year-old song doesn’t seem to characterize the Mexico we read about today.

The headlines coming out of this sprawling border metropolis in the last few months are alarming. Consider some of the more recent ones: “Border Strife Escalating in Tijuana,” “15 Dead in Tijuana Shootout,” “Under Violent Siege, Tijuana’s Elite Flee,” “12 Bodies Dumped Near Tijuana School,” “Marines Warned Tijuana Too Dangerous for R&R,” and “4 Americans Strangled, Stabbed in Tijuana.”

Tijuana, located just south of San Diego across the U.S. border, is the largest city on the Baja California peninsula. Its 3.2-million population in the greater metropolitan area places it as the nation’s fourth largest city.

Forty percent of those who could work are unemployed and the average worker earns approximately $80 a week. Therefore, the poverty of the masses is obvious and the physical, material, emotional and spiritual needs of the people are immediate.

In huge sections of the city there is filth and squalor. The polluted Tijuana River emits a stench for miles. Many homes are little more than makeshift dwellings with dirt floors and no running water or electricity. Many of the streets are ill-kept dirt roads with potholes big enough to bury a Volkswagen.

Tijuana is a city filled with beautiful bright-eyed children, aspiring teenagers, and adults who long for a better life. In the poor neighborhoods of Tijuana there are people who no longer remember how long they have lived in such suffocating misery. Many of them age while going from one bit of hope to the next.

It is little wonder that thousands of Mexicans risk their very existence to “coyotes” to whom they pay exorbitant fees for smuggling them across the border. These smugglers often cram dozens of people into secret panels in trucks or trunks of cars where they often suffocate or suffer injuries.

The conditions of Tijuanans offer the perfect challenge for the partnership between California and Georgia Baptists.

Dwight Simpson, director of missions for San Diego Baptist Association, has invested much of his life in helping the people in Tijuana. He also partners with a team of pastors and church planters who are dedicated to pointing them to Jesus.

Simpson related, “Through the years evangelistic churches and ministries came to Mexico to win the lost, but they came as gunslingers prepared to carve notches in their belts for each one who prayed to receive Christ.

“They would put on puppet shows, have face paintings, dramas and vocal bands, and then they would have someone preach a sermon. During the invitation they would ask people to pray for salvation and raise their hands to indicate they had prayed ‘the sinner’s prayer,’ but there was no follow-up and no apparent continuing interest in the ongoing needs of the people.

“Indeed, there are spiritual needs in Tijuana but there are also humanitarian needs.”

Simpson explained, “A man by the name of Fernando Martinez heard God’s calling and left his teaching profession to start Centro Shalom, a ministry for children and broken families. During the past 20 years this ministry has impacted thousands by providing for both the physical needs – food, clothing, clean water – and spiritual needs.”

Martinez has also mentored young men in order to prepare them for the Gospel ministry. Salvador Suazo met Martinez when he was an 11-year-old boy and grew up under the ministry of the great pastor and church planter. Suazo began to serve under Martinez’s leadership at Alamar Baptist Church and today is the pastor of this formidable fellowship.

Centro Shalom and Alamar Church share the same campus. On Sundays the church provides spiritual instruction and worship opportunities for 250 children, 70-80 teenagers and more then 200 adults; and during the week Centro Shalom feeds the hungry, clothes the needy, provides medical and dental services and distributes as many as 250 bags of food to neighboring families.

Georgia Baptist churches, including First Baptist and Mount Olive Baptist Churches in Moultrie, New Armuchee Baptist in Armuchee, and Smoke Rise Baptist in Stone Mountain, have invested both finances and volunteer mission teams in Tijuana. These churches have provided food, clothing, vans and buses, medical supplies, and work teams that have built houses and ministered in a multitude of ways.

In one year 17 houses were built for the poverty stricken people of Tijuana. The cost for materials for building a modest 20-by-20-foot home in Tijuana is $3,600. An additional $650 will provide the materials necessary for plumbing and electricity. On many occasions Georgia Baptist churches have provided the financial support and the work teams necessary for the construction of the homes, which can typically be built in one week or less.

Moultrie’s Mount Olive Baptist Church has sent multiple teams to Tijuana for various mission projects. During the Christmas season the congregation delivers hundreds of shoeboxes filled with needed supplies to Tijuana.

Megan Stalvey started going with the Mount Olive team five years ago and on the first visit got to know Suazo, the Alamar pastor. On the second visit, the Tijuana pastor and the southern belle from Moultrie spent some time getting to know each other. On the third visit the relationship deepened. On the fourth visit, Suazo proposed marriage to Megan and they were married on the first day of this year.

Salvador and Megan live in Tijuana, but Megan drives north across the border every day to teach school in San Diego. The newlyweds are devoted to each other and to the ministry of the Alamar Church.

Gonzalez’s Macedonian call

Juvenal Gonzalez was born in a village in Guerrero. At age 17 he migrated to Clinton, NC, where he began working in the tobacco fields. One day he began vomiting blood and was taken to the hospital where, he says, “I was informed that I had tuberculosis and had only eight months to live. My lungs were partially destroyed.

“I looked to the ceiling and said, ‘Lord, if you are real I will serve you and give you the rest of my life.’ I wasn’t expecting mercy. I was just letting God know that for the next eight months I would serve Him.

“One day the doctors came and took me to the X-ray room, and they took me in and out that day about two or three times. Then they told me that I no longer had any sign of tuberculosis. I don’t know what happened, but God did something in my body. I was healed.

“When I got out of the hospital I went to church, made a profession of faith and got baptized. I started going to seminary one day a week, but I wanted more. I left North Carolina and went to the Hispanic Baptist Theological Seminary (now University of the Americas) in San Antonio, TX.

“While I was in the seminary I met Maria de Jesus Perez Rodriguez, a young woman who won my heart. I found in Maria a woman who loved God and wanted to serve Him with all her heart.

“I remained in the seminary for two years and got my associate degree. I then accepted an invitation from Robeson Baptist Association in Lumberton, NC, to come and plant a church. In October 1992 I started Iglesia Bautista Hispana Bet-et. Two months later Maria and I were married and she joined me in North Carolina.”

Juvenal and Maria served the church in Lumberton for 13 years. During that time they also planted two other Hispanic churches in the state that continue to do well.

In February 2004, Maria attended a WMU conference in Shocco Springs, AL, and met Kristi Carr, who emphasized the need for a missionary in Tijuana. Carr asked Maria if she and Juvenal would consider serving the Lord in Tijuana and asked permission to share their names with Simpson.

When Maria returned to Lumberton, she asked Juvenal, “Have you ever thought about going to Tijuana to start a church?’

“No!” he replied.

“Would you be willing to pray about it?” Maria inquired.

“No!” Juvenal retorted.

In 2005 the Gonzalez family participated in FamilyFest, (a WMU sponsored mission trip for families) in the San Diego and Tijuana area. Kristi Carr provided leadership for the event and during that time God began to warm Juvenal’s heart toward heeding God’s call to ministering in Tijuana.

The Hispanic church planter admitted, “God began to change my heart. All the barriers were broken down. I had a great time with Dwight Simpson and we committed to follow God’s leadership.”

Over a period of several months the Gonzalez family began to sense God’s call to go to Tijuana to plant churches. Maria testified, “The call was very strong and our children confirmed that this was God’s plan.”

Gonzalez resigned his church in North Carolina, thinking that Simpson was going to be able to raise the necessary funds to assist in their move and ministry: but in November of 2005 he received a call from the association indicating that sufficient funds had not been raised.

Gonzalez responded, “God has called us and God will provide.” Juvenal, Maria and their children, Sarai, Neftali, and Ishmael, moved to Tijuana and God began to provide for their needs immediately.

Today Gonzalez serves as a church planter, pastor, mentor to other pastors, and is a major influencer for the cause of Christ in Tijuana. Maria, who is a registered nurse, teaches Vacation Bible Schools, teaches a weekly Bible study for women, and does family counseling.

Sarai recently left Tijuana to enroll in Liberty University in Lynchburg VA. Neftali and Ishmael interpret sermons, teach children, and do whatever is necessary to meet the needs of the people in their father’s congregations.

Tijuana, with its 3.2 million people, has almost 600 Protestant churches but less than four percent of the population is identified with any evangelical church. In recent years Georgia Baptists have helped plant 40 churches in the area, but the needs are indescribable.

Therefore, pray about your church sending mission teams to this modern day “Macedonia” or providing financial assistance for Centro Shalom or the work Juvenal Gonzalez is doing. There are hundreds of thousands of people in Tijuana in need of housing and some of life’s bare necessities, and at least 3,072,000 people in need of an evangelical witness.
This article first appeared in The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. J. Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index.
Tennessee Baptists want unified evangelistic,
discipleship effort, says Welch
By Lonnie Wilkey,
Baptist and Reflector

BRENTWOOD, Tenn.–Since joining the staff of the Tennessee Baptist Convention as associate executive director in May, Bobby Welch has been busy.

“In these few months, I’ve gone all out to personally connect with pastors and directors of missions anywhere and everywhere I possibly could,” Welch said.

His goal is to find out what needs exist in the state and what the TBC staff can do to help meet those needs.

“Everyone I heard from, with no exception, has said the same thing,” Welch said.

Tennessee Baptists “need a sustained, unified, evangelistic, discipleship effort for all size churches (and including the youth) that would help them reach and baptize more people.”

Baptisms in the state have remained at basically the same level or below since 1950 when there were more than 35,500 baptisms.

In 1950, however, there were three million people in the state. Now, there are more than six million people living in Tennessee.

“We must be urgent, intentional and passionate soul winners,” Welch stressed.

In addition to personal contacts, Welch also sent out a survey to all pastors and DOMs in the state in late August to get as much input as possible.

Now, Welch wants input from all Tennessee Baptists. The survey will be available online this week at www.tnbaptist.org.

“We want people to let us know how they feel about their state and the Great Commission,” stressed Welch, former pastor of First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla., and a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

More insight is desired from a broad range of Tennessee Baptists, Welch stressed. “We want to ascertain the feelings of Tennessee Baptists, from the pew to the pulpit,” he said.

Welch is taking his new role of helping TBC churches increase awareness and efforts for evangelism, discipleship and baptisms seriously.

“My assignment is to help churches increase their baptisms as a result of lives that are transformed and committed in churches that are empowered and healthy,” he said.

Welch is pleased with the initial survey responses.

“I have been happy to find out there is no critical tone in these surveys. All are talking in positive language with an eye to the future,” he observed.

The survey includes both general and specific questions.

One of those questions is, “How do you feel about a major unified convention-wide effort to do more in discipleship, evangelism and baptism?”

Welch said, without exception, that everyone surveyed “liked the idea of a unified, statewide effort.”

The evangelism and discipleship leader noted that many Tennessee Baptists have been involved in GPS (God’s Plan for Salvation), an evangelistic effort of the North American Mission Board. The unified, statewide strategy that is developed will incorporate GPS, he said, adding that GPS is a vital part of the strategy in Tennessee. “What we need to do will be something that causes GPS efforts to be better. And, in turn, GPS will make these other things we do better as well.”

The goal is to blend whatever statewide effort that is developed with GPS so they work together, he added.

Another question asked, “If you want your church to double its baptisms next year, what are the things you would need most to help you and the church?”

Welch said the three most popular answers to date are: an unusual work of the Holy Spirit across the state, pastoral leadership and materials.

Plans are in the works for materials, including a gospel tract, that could be adapted to “any and all size churches and circumstances,” he said.

Welch appealed to pastors who have not yet completed their surveys to do so and again encouraged every Tennessee Baptist to participate.
This article first appeared in the Baptist & Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist & Reflector.

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