News Articles

FROM THE STATES: Okla., Ariz. and Fla. evangelism/missions news; ‘If we don’t show the love of God … who will?’

Today’s From the States features items from:
The Baptist Messenger (Oklahoma)
Portraits (Arizona)
Florida Baptist Witness


Okla. pastor shines light
on Asian ‘hidden harvest’

By Chris Forbes

LAWTON, Okla. (The Baptist Messenger) — It’s 6:30 a.m., Monday. Chunhai Li is loading up his car with Bibles, Christian literature, song sheets and heading out with a few faithful members of Oklahoma City-area Chinese churches toward Lawton. Chunhai is a worker in Oklahoma’s Chinese Hidden Harvest, one among several of Oklahoma’s underserved, overlooked people groups or population segments.

Li is pastor of the Northwest Mandarin Church in Oklahoma City, but every other week he is leading a church planting ministry in southwest Oklahoma. The idea for this ministry began unexpectedly.

“In the summer of 2015, an opportunity came up for me to translate for a Chinese chef at a hospital in Lawton,” Pastor Li said. “His eyes were injured, and (he) needed to visit his eye doctor. After the translation, I visited two church friends. They brought me to a local Chinese restaurant, Asian Buffet. Once there, I was pleasantly surprised to find three Chinese Christian women working in the restaurant.”

“We feel so thirsty and hungry spiritually,” the ladies told Li. “Last night, we asked God to send a pastor to come here and visit us, and now you are here. You are an answer to our prayers.”

“Yes, I believe I must be,” Pastor Li beamed. “Ever since then, our church has come down to Lawton to have fellowship with them, encouraging the Christians and reaching out to those who do not yet know Christ.”

In August 2016, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) began supporting the ministry as a church plant. First Chinese Church in Lawton, Okla., is still building and discipling their core group. In less than a year, the group has grown to 15 people who are active with another 15-20 prospective contacts from Lawton’s Asian population of 3,268.

“Most of our active members own or work in Chinese restaurants,” Li said. “They are very busy, so it works out better for them if we meet in their restaurants. We rotate our meeting location between two restaurants, Hibachi Sushi & Buffet and Asian Buffet. We have a bi-weekly worship service at 8:30 a.m. on Mondays before the restaurants open.”

After a time of worship, Pastor Li leads a small group to do outreach to workers in all the Chinese restaurants.

“A little while after we began, I realized that a group of overlooked people needed our ministry, the women who work in Lawton’s massage parlors,” Li said. “I spoke to my wife about this need, and she said, ‘If we don’t show the love of God to these women, who will?'”

Each week, Pastor Li and his group of faithful witnesses can be seen traipsing from restaurant to restaurant, and massage parlor to massage parlor to meet with, witness to and pray with workers there. Sometimes the team visits the same location a few times as other workers to whom they minister are arriving for work.

“We also make home visits with people who contact me via social media,” he explained.

The harvest work continues. Pastor Li is praying that God will raise up some faithful local leaders.

“We also are praying that God will lead some of our faithful Chinese Christian families to move to Lawton for two or three years to help us win and disciple new believers who can become leaders in this new church. And they can continue to spread the Gospel for His Kingdom,” he said.
This article appeared in The Baptist Messenger, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Chris Forbes is the church planting strategist for the BGCO.


Navajo Nation ‘little white
church’ lives again in Ariz.

By Jean Bihn

TUBA CITY, Ariz. (Portraits) — A small white church off a newly-paved road is heated by a wood stove and lit by sunlight coming through its few windows. Worship music is led by a Navajo couple — the husband sings as well as strums his guitar.

The pastor, Jesse Billy, grew up in the Navajo Nation, where his grandfather was a medicine man.

“My mother was born into a very traditional Navajo home and, at times, depended on medicine men,” Billy says. “But then my aunt was saved, and she led my mother to the Lord.”

Witnessing did not stop there — Billy’s mother led him to Christ when he was nine.

Jesse Billy eventually moved his young family to southern California, specifically East Los Angeles, so he could study at The Master’s University. In 1992, they decided to return to the Navajo Nation.

“We moved back because our roots are here,” says Billy, who was a high school science teacher.

After renewing his relationship with the Lord in 2004, Billy began teaching Sunday School at First Southern Baptist Church of Tuba City.

Then, he was asked to provide pulpit supply for Kayenta Bible Church and was later called as pastor of First Southern, Tuba City.

From the beginning of his Tuba City pastorate, he dreamed of the little white church about 40 minutes away. It had been the home of Coppermine Baptist Church, where his mother had been a member, before it disbanded. He had a vision for restarting the church.

Today, as he continues as pastor of the Tuba City church, he also leads the group that meets in the little white church, now known as First Windmill Baptist Church. Billy says he hesitates to use the name “First Windmill Baptist Church,” as he wants its members — in what he calls a sign of ownership — to determine a name for the new work.

As a church planter, Billy’s salary is supported by the North American Mission Board through the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, which means it comes from the giving of Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. A few additional organizations and churches in the state also contribute to his support.

Billy recently helped First Southern, Tuba City, establish a Bible institute “to train men to serve in churches that have been planted and carry on the work,” he says. Tuition is kept at a minimum, he adds.

A few churches have been known to mix some traditional Navajo philosophies with Christian worship, Billy says. “Some church pastors haven’t studied the Bible and don’t know where to draw the line.”

But this self-described “Rez preacher” clearly separates the two: “This is not the god of the trees, or the god of the wind or the god of the mountains,” Billy preached recently. “The God of the Bible is God! He comes as light into the world.”
This article appeared in Portraits (portraits.azsbc.org), newsjournal of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention. Jean Bihn, a freelance writer and photographer, is a member of Mountain Ridge Baptist Church, Glendale.


Fla. church’s ‘Come to the
Cross’ emphasis bears fruit

By Michael Smith

BRANDON, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness) — Mary had tried to share the Gospel message with her stepfather Peter for several years, but he never seemed interested in hearing about the things of God.

So, earlier this year, when Bell Shoals Baptist Church Senior Pastor Stephen Rummage shared during a worship service about the opportunity for the congregation to “Come to the Cross” to pray for unsaved friends and family members, Peter’s name came to mind for Mary and her family.

During the four-week emphasis on the church’s five campuses and at Bell Shoals Baptist Academy, believers wrote down the names of lost family and friends on a piece of paper and “nailed” the paper to large wooden crosses. They also committed to pray for and witness to the people whose name they wrote down.

When George Thomasson, pastor of multisite development at Bell Shoals, had visited Mary’s stepfather in the hospital last August before his surgery for a tumor on his bladder, Peter saw no need for God in his life.

Following that surgery Peter found out that a second surgery would be necessary. Pastor Thomasson again visited him in the hospital, but he still wasn’t interested in being prayed for.

Mary didn’t give up on him. She continued to pray for him and with him — always making sure to share the Gospel in her prayer — while he was in the hospital for several weeks and after he was able to come home.

Mary continued to visit her stepfather in his home, and even after he moved to Tennessee earlier this year. Slowly, he started to become more open to her praying with him.

A few days before Peter’s birthday, Mary found out that his cancer had spread to his brain. When Mary called Peter on his birthday she prayed with him, and after the prayer he said, “I do believe, Mary.” He told her he wanted to pray to receive Christ as his Savior.

That week Peter had to be hospitalized again and doctors discovered that the cancer had spread into his blood and the tumors in his brain had grown. While in the hospital he slipped in to a coma and he passed away at age 76.

The Sunday before Peter passed away, Mary and her family were able to place yellow and red ribbons on his name on the cross at Bell Shoals, signifying that he had heard the Gospel and received Christ as his Savior.

Mary offers this encouragement to people who are praying for friends and family members to be saved: “Never, ever give up.”
This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Michael Smith is a freelance writer living in the Tampa area.


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.

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