News Articles

FROM THE STATES: Okla., Tenn., Ariz. evangelism/missions news; ‘The Lord gave us a way to breathe new life into His church’

Today’s From the States features items from:
The Baptist Messenger (Oklahoma)
Baptist & Reflector (Tennessee)
Portraits (Arizona)

Okla. church reaches children; then parents through wedding ministry
By Bob Nigh

CHICKASHA, Okla. (The Baptist Messenger) — Jeffrey Willoughby and his wife Amy drove by “them” one Sunday morning, and God revealed an open door of ministry they would soon walk through.

“Them” were many neighborhood children who had no church home; weren’t attending Sunday School; weren’t learning about Jesus; and weren’t having the opportunity to change their lives for eternity.

Willoughby, lay/bivocational music minister at Michigan Avenue Baptist in Chickasha, Okla., recently reflected on that experience of three years ago.

“It was a Sunday, a beautiful fall morning, and we noticed as we were driving to church, all the children playing in the yards along the street,” he said. “These kids were playing outside like kids used to do. Maybe it was because they didn’t have a video game or maybe there were other reasons, but so many of them were outside on a Sunday morning!

“Amy commented to me, ‘These kids need to be in Sunday School.'”

Willoughby said his spirit thought it was a great idea, but his human nature made him skeptical.

“The Lord always gives her great ideas, but the practical side of me usually says ‘good luck with that,'” he admitted.

However, his compassionate self was burdened with Luke 18:16: “But Jesus called them unto Him, and said, suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the Kingdom of God.” (KJV).

“It took three years, but we have had nine decisions for Christ and nine baptisms since summer camp last year!” Willoughby exclaimed. “That’s what I say to anyone who will listen to me about what is going on at Michigan Avenue Church. That’s great, but … it’s not really about the numbers.

“The church called me to be its bi-vocational music minister, but the Lord has placed children on our hearts. And, He was ready to give me another job. I don’t mean a job for income, but a job for Him, or as I like to say, ‘whatever job He puts in front of me.’

“Michigan Avenue is an old church — one which most people considered dying — in a poor area of town, with a small congregation. The Lord gave us a vision and a way to breathe new life into His church. We started a Wednesday night children’s ministry where we feed them and give a short lesson, usually about morality — the Ten Commandments or the ‘Be attitudes.’

“With this approach, we know we are meeting their needs. It is not quick or easy. The kids are unruly, with most mistrusting authority, and not understanding the need for God. It took us more than two years, but after the second year of (taking them to) Bertram Bobb Bible Camp, a low cost Choctaw Indian camp in Ringold where we have been volunteering for years, we finally got to use a baptistery that had not been used in years!”

And, even as the children’s ministry blossomed, God had more in store for Michigan Avenue.

“The funny thing about God is, if you’re paying attention, when you’ve had some success, He’ll give you another job,” Willoughby marveled.

“Amy, in looking for a venue for our engaged daughter to be married, discovered it was expensive! With this realization, the Lord laid another idea on her heart. We had done ‘no cost to you’ marriages for couples who could not afford it, and it was obvious that a ministry in this area was needed.

“What a great opportunity! We simply ask the parents of the kids we are ministering to, or others we might show benevolence to, ‘Is there a reason why you’re not married?’

“The most frequent response given is, ‘we can’t afford it.’ Talk about an open door! Not only are they admitting they need to be married, but they’re also understanding what is the ‘right thing’ to do. Then, by making them responsible for the cost of the marriage ceremony — $50 for non-counseled couples, and $5 for counseled couples — our pastor, Will Fitzwater, has a chance to present the Gospel!”

Since the new Michigan Avenue wedding ministry began six months ago, the pastor has performed about a half-dozen weddings, and one person has accepted Christ, Willoughby said.

“In these times of political correctness and maligning of our Christian faith, our churches, and we as Christians, may feel that everything and Satan is against us, but I’m here to tell you Jesus Christ is still at the right hand of the Father,” he exclaimed. “I’m sure there are a lot of other churches across Oklahoma and the nation just like Michigan Avenue where people need to know if the doors are still open, the Lord has ‘another job’ to bless you, your church and your community by spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“My question to my fellow Christians, pastors and lay people is, how often do you get the chance to really present the Gospel? My answer is, weekly — what a blessing!”
This article appeared in The Baptist Messenger (baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Bob Nigh is managing editor of The Baptist Messenger.
Tenn. pastor called ‘home’ to Colorado
By Lonnie Wilkey

ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (Baptist & Reflector) — Members of Oak Street Baptist Church are excited to see their pastor and his wife leave — sort of.

Members are sad they are leaving Elizabethton, Tenn., but excited about why they are heading west to Colorado.

Bruce Hendrich and his wife Lisa have been appointed by the North American Mission Board as church planters in Hendrich’s native state.

The couple will serve as church planters in Mead as part of NAMB’s SEND Denver Initiative.

The Tennessee Baptist Convention began a partnership with the SEND Denver Initiative this month.

The Hendrichs are not leaving Oak Street entirely. The church will continue to have ties with the couple. Members recently voted to give 5 percent of their undesignated receipts to help support the Hendrichs in their church planting ministry.

Hendrich is sad to leave the only pastorate he has had for 18 years but is excited about planting a church where the need is so great.

Hendrich said there is no Southern Baptist work in Mead, a town located about 30 miles north of Denver. What’s more there are only two churches in the town (a Catholic church and a Methodist congregation). “That’s what drew us there,” Hendrich recalled. “There are 11,000 people within a five-mile radius and only two churches in town.”

Whereas he is leaving Tennessee for familiar territory, wife Lisa is leaving the only place she has ever lived but she is equally excited.

“It’s been a faith marathon,” Lisa Hendrich said of the process of becoming church planters.

“Everything I clear out of the closet is a memory,” she said.

But, like her husband, she felt drawn to Mead because there is no Southern Baptist church there.

“We wanted to find that place where we were needed and where there was a great need for a church,” she said.

Mead fit the bill perfectly, the couple agreed.

For Hendrich, the move also draws him closer to his original call to be a missionary.

“I never envisioned being a pastor. I always wanted to be a missionary.”

Hendrich, in fact, trained to be a missionary pilot. After two years of Bible and missions training at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, he moved to Elizabethton in 1976 where Moody Aviation was then located. But instead of becoming a missionary pilot after graduation, he stayed with Moody Aviation as a flight instructor for 14 years.

During that time he served churches in a part-time role, primarily in music positions.

In 1992, Hendrich left Moody Aviation and joined Oak Street as minister of music and education, a role he held until he was called as pastor four years later.

About two years ago Hendrich returned to Colorado for a high school reunion. While talking with former high school classmates, he discovered they had a spiritual hunger that they did not have as teenagers. “They wanted to talk to me about spiritual matters,” he said.

Afterwards, while attending a church planting conference held at Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Hendrich visited with Don Pierson, a friend and former Tennessee Baptist Convention staff member who is now pastor of Stewarts Chapel Baptist Church, Flintville.

Pierson told Hendrich about SEND Denver and suggested he look into the possibility of church planting out there. Hendrich had attended the conference because Oak Street was exploring the possibility of planting an Indian church in Elizabethton.

Hendrich contacted Dave Howeth, leader of the SEND Denver Initiative and the couple began the process of becoming church planters.

He noted caution “flags” would rise throughout the application process. One hurdle was their age. Both in their 50s, church planters normally are much younger, he said.

Hendrich called the process “stressful and even painful” but noted that every time it appeared the door might close on the process, it never did.

“What it (the process) did was strengthen our calling, not weaken it,” he said. “Everyone wanted to make sure it was God calling us.”

During the process they visited the Denver area to visit potential church planting sites.

The couple visited “community after community” but never felt led to a site until they visited Mead.

While in Mead they visited the town hall and asked a lady in the office if the community needed a church. “She asked us to please come,” Hendrich said. They learned that she was a believer but was not attending any church. “We felt that was our Macedonian call,” he said.

That call was later confirmed when they contacted a realtor in town about housing. When she learned what they planned to do, she told them, “We need a church in Mead so bad.”

The Hendrichs have since developed a friendship with their realtor and have been in her home several times during visits to Mead.

“We see how the Lord has been preparing the way,” Hendrichs said, noting they have had several “divine appointments” with people since then who have expressed interest in attending Bible studies and eventually the church that will be established in Mead.

At the advice of missions leaders in Colorado, the Hendrichs do not yet have a name for their future church or a specific meeting place.

More than likely, they will hold Bible studies in local homes until the need for a larger space becomes necessary. “Church is not about a meeting place, it’s about a gathering of God’s people,” he said.

Their immediate concern is to build relationships and “make disciples who will make disciples.”

The couple knows they are just beginning a process that will take at least a year before they actually start a church, but they are excited because “there is an amazing missions field there.”

The couple is grateful for the support given to them throughout the process by members of Oak Street and for the fact they are their “sending church.”

“They are not losing us completely. We will still be members here but will be representing them in Colorado, planting a church there that is an offshoot of Oak Street,” Hendrich said.

“When they think of that, they get excited that their ministry is expanding even though they are losing their pastor,” he added.

Ron Berry, a deacon at Oak Street, acknowledged the church is sad about losing the Hendrichs but noted “we are excited to see what God will do in Colorado.”

There is a need there and God has led Bruce and Lisa to fill that need, Berry continued. “Oak Street sees that as a missions opportunity for us,” he added.

Church member Tom Stetler noted that Hendrich’s heart “is in missions work.”

He, too, noted the church will miss the couple. “We are sorry and sad to see them leave us, but we pray blessings on them as they go to do God’s work,” Stetler said.

Berry added that the members are excited that they are able to support the Hendrichs financially. “Everyone who contributes here will contribute to their ministry. That’s cool,” he said.

Hendrich also noted the church will be supporting their ministry through their gifts through the Cooperative Program as well. Oak Street currently gives 8 percent of its undesignated gifts through the Cooperative Program, the pastor said.

Hendrich’s last Sunday at Oak Street was Jan. 11 and they hope to be on their new field by the end of February. They continue to look for more prayer and financial “partners’ in their ministry as well as a handful of “supporting churches.”

For more information about their new ministry, visit www.makelovegrowco.com.
This article appeared in the Baptist & Reflector (tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist & Reflector.
N.C., Ariz. churches work together to plant churches
By Irene A. Harkleroad

PHOENIX (Portraits) — In July, 88 people from Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia, N.C., descended on Phoenix, swept over the Valley of the Sun and impacted the lives of hundreds. During the “Plant Phoenix” effort, relationships were forged. People who had been praying for each other became faces, then friends.

Led by Parkwood missions pastor Kem Lindsay, members come three times a year to serve however needed by their four partner churches. VBS, Bible clubs, kids and sports camps, construction and evangelism are all on the table.

“Several years ago, I met Dennis Conner (then pastor of CrossPointe Church in Buckeye, Ariz.) at our mission conference,” Lindsay says. “We were looking for pastors new to planting and churches we would match up well with.”

In 2007, Lindsay spent a week with Conner in Arizona, learned about the community and met Arizona Southern Baptist Convention staff members

“CrossPointe became our first partner in Arizona,” Lindsay says. “We have added three more, and two of those have sponsored new churches.”

Mike Bailey is now pastor of CrossPointe Church.

“Parkwood brings our families to Gastonia for their biannual Mission Impact Celebration to share what God is doing through their support and to build us up,” Bailey says. “They continually pray for us and keep reinforcing that what we do matters. This is so encouraging to our church and specifically to my family and me.”

CrossPointe members have planted a church in Birmingham, Ala.

“Even though in many ways we are still a mission and can’t underwrite a church plant, we can partner with others to help,” Bailey says. “We try to create a culture — we need to be about planting — to be in the habit. Our goal is to be givers — not just recipients.”

Parkwood is also working together with The Way Fellowship Church in Peoria.

“Parkwood came on board with us in year three,” says Scott Gourley, pastor of The Way. “Although we were supported by other Arizona churches, Parkwood gave us boots on the ground. Together, we prayerwalked, passed out fliers and held two massive block parties. This past summer, one of the teams rebuilt our bathrooms, painted the exterior of our building and completed roof repairs. They’ve helped us do things we couldn’t have done ourselves.”

The Way Fellowship now sponsors ClaireVista Church in Peoria.

“Most of our support in the early years came from First Baptist of Weddington, N.C., where I pastored for eight-and-a-half years,” says Joel Collette, pastor of ClaireVista. “But Parkwood sent a team to us the first month we were here. Now their teams come at least twice a year and do whatever is needed. Our congregation is amazed. They don’t personally know the people back home, but they do know they are part of a family. It builds their faith and leads them forward.”

For Collette, partners both far and near have been crucial. “If it weren’t for the support of North Carolina Baptists, we wouldn’t be here,” he says. “But I probably wouldn’t have stayed if it weren’t for the Arizona Baptists. The types of support we receive from partner churches make the difference.”

Keeping missionary families connected to their sponsors is a big deal.

“We bring six church planters and their families from Phoenix to North Carolina for our Mission Impact Celebration,” Lindsay says. Planters stay in the homes of Parkwood members — sharing meals, fellowship and stories of God’s faithfulness.

GracePointe, Goodyear, is the fourth partner, known as an enfolding, authentic sanctuary to those 55 and older. “We help [Pastor] Tom Holland financially, as well as with some necessary equipment and projects,” Lindsay says.

“Parkwood is invested in our churches,” says Gourley. “Money is fine (and necessary) — but it means so much more to know that we have people praying for us and we have actual people who come out and work with us.”
This article appeared in Portraits, newsmagazine of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention (http://www.azsobaptist.org/). Irene A. Harkleroad is a freelance writer in Carefree, Ariz.
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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