News Articles

FROM THE STATES: Ore., Ala., Fla. evangelism/missions news; Church opens ‘rest stop’ for first responders

This week’s news stories for FROM THE STATES come from Northwest Baptist Witness; The Alabama Baptist; Florida Baptist Witness.

Ore. church offers
respite for first responders

By Sheila Allen

PORTLAND, Ore. (Northwest Baptist Witness) — Nestled just off a main Oregon thoroughfare in an area brimming with needs, a compact yellow house owned by Solid Rock Baptist Church in Portland sits largely unused throughout the week. But an effort to meet the needs of law enforcement personnel has opened up the tidy property into a rest stop for those that serve the community. 
Pastor Randy Duckett has served as pastor at Solid Rock in Portland, Ore., for just one year, but an introduction to Steve Chadwick of Responder Life opened new ministry possibilities for a congregation that sits in the shadow of a major freeway and bustling business district. 
“I mentioned to an officer that we wanted to serve our police officers on Halloween because there is so much mischief on that night,” Duckett said. “I heard back from Steve Chadwick, who is a police chaplain and director of community and church partnerships for Responder Life. He told me about rest stops provided for first responders in the metropolitan area. 
“We prayed about it for a couple of months and our church wants to do things and not be stagnant,” he added. “Some in our church had been discouraged because of our location, as it is difficult to get to our campus, but we realized it is perfect for this ministry, as it is off the beaten path.” 
A recent open house to introduce the rest stop was held for all first responders, including firefighters, ambulance drivers and others, but the facility meets a special need for law enforcement personnel to take a break, use the restroom and write reports out of the eye of the general public. The church will offer cold drinks, snacks, wireless internet and television to those who make use of the church property. 
“Law enforcement is a mission field, as many won’t darken the doors of our church, but they will come here,” Duckett said. “Church members furnished the house with donated items and we installed a keypad entry so they don’t need a key. New people drawn to our church have been impressed by our community action.”
There is more and more paperwork required in modern police work, according to Chadwick. 
“A serious incident requires an hour of paperwork,” Chadwick said. “With this now open, they don’t have to sit in their car and do it, with a potential to be ambushed. A place off of the street and out of sight is valuable. Most will use it as a quick visit between stops and they want a place that is not political.”
Responder Life is unique to the Portland metro area and has been replicated in other areas. Churches sign an agreement confirming they don’t expect better services because of their efforts. But statistics show nearby residents will see the positive effect, with a 75 percent decrease in crime by just having police cars drive by. 
“This reconnects churches with their community,” Chadwick noted. “People tend to live miles away from their church, but this connects them with first responders in an accepted and positive way. This part of Southeast Portland is filled with drug addicts and criminals.” 
Clackamas County Sheriff reserve officer Alan Kaiser first heard of the rest stop at his morning briefing and stopped by to check it out. 
“This gets more officers on your property and just having a place to use the bathroom is positive,” said Kaiser, who also serves as a medic on a SWAT team. “I just work a couple shifts a month, but regular guys work four 10-hour shifts. It’s nice to have a place just for the cops.” 
The rest stop is not the only way Solid Rock members are reaching out, as they participate in Operation Nightwatch, a hospitality ministry to feed up to 75 street people once a month. 
“Jesus talked about not understanding the times,” Duckett said. “We want to respond to that, initiate conversations and love on groups that don’t receive this.”
This article appeared in the Northwest Baptist Witness (GoNBW.org), newsjournal of the Northwest Baptist Convention. Sheila Allen is managing editor of the Northwest Baptist Witness


Bible Reading Marathon stays
strong for more than a decade in Ala.

By Anna Keller

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) — In what has become a tradition in cities across Alabama, churches around the state came together to participate in the 2016 Bible Reading Marathon in early May. Leadership teams coordinated with area churches in each city to gather a long list of volunteers. Those volunteers took turns reading the Bible aloud in public venues, sharing the Word of God to gatherers and passersby in a meaningful and memorable way.

The marathons in Alabama were held in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, Troy and Ozark. The event kicked off May 1 and culminated on the National Day of Prayer on May 5.

“I think it’s a fabulous event — it’s a great comfort to all of us,” said Jessie Chestnut, a member of Bethel Baptist Church of Collegeville, Birmingham, and one of this year’s Birmingham Bible Marathon directors. “It’s a fantastic thing for people to do, both believers and nonbelievers, and it’s a great outreach and outlet.”

The Birmingham Bible Reading Marathon has been going strong for more than a decade and was held at the familiar Southside Baptist Church, Birmingham, attracting a diverse group of participants. About 80 area churches participated in the event in some capacity. Volunteers with no church affiliation also were included in the event. The marathon is an open event that invites churches of all denominations to participate.

‘To honor God’

Sheila Wright, a member of Liberty Park Baptist Church, Birmingham, served as co-chair of the Birmingham marathon this year. “Since the reading is without commentary, it is the only event that I know of where believers of different denominations, cultures, races and backgrounds can come together in perfect unity to honor and glorify God,” she said.

“And since we read outside instead of within the walls of the church, we have an opportunity to share God’s Word with those passing by who otherwise may not hear it.”

This year’s closing event in Birmingham was a special one, with the final hour of the marathon consisting of readings from Psalms. The readers were accompanied by a violinist and guitarist, and there also was a volunteer signing the Bible to the deaf as someone read aloud. To conclude the marathon, a “shofar” — an ancient horn used for Jewish religious ceremonies — was blown, and Scott Guffin, pastor of Liberty Park Baptist, led the group in a prayer.  

Meanwhile in Tuscaloosa, a much newer event was underway. It was their second year to participate in the Bible Reading Marathon, which was held in front of the First Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, chapel.

Greg Rogers, coordinator of the Greater Tuscaloosa Bible Reading Marathon and a member of Vineyard Community Church, Tuscaloosa, said, “About five years ago my son and his wife told me about the Bible Reading Marathon in Birmingham, and I was intrigued that they were able to coordinate a 90-hour public reading of the Bible. 

“I continued to find out information as to how to coordinate the event and we decided to start with the first one last year.”

The 2015 event in Tuscaloosa began without all the volunteer reading slots being filled, but by the end of the event, people from 40 congregations participated.

This year a new element of the marathon was a National Day of Prayer event held across the street from the Bible Reading Marathon location. As the Bible Reading Marathon concluded, prayer time at the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse began, creating a segue into the National Day of Prayer. 

Also in its second year, the Montgomery Bible Reading Marathon kicked off its 2016 event with a prayer breakfast May 5. During the meal, Mayor Todd Strange invited participants to make their way to the steps of the Capitol for the marathon.

The Montgomery event, which took place May 5–8, was organized by His Vessel Ministries, a local nondenominational group that provides Christ-centered teachings through events like Bible instruction, discipleship trainings and special events.

Humbling moment

Jo Hancock, director of His Vessel Ministries, said, “The Word of God is the most powerful thing of which we have access. Reading the Word aloud fills the atmosphere above us with this power and covers us with an ambiance of peace. As one reader from last year’s Bible Reading Marathon commented, ‘Hearing the spoken Word of God echoing down Dexter Avenue was a very humbling moment that I will remember forever.'”

Ozark’s Bible Reading Marathon has been taking place for more than a decade. Held on the grounds of the Dale County Courthouse, approximately 16 churches and religious organizations participated.

Kimberly Bartley, ministry assistant at Dale Baptist Association, said, “It is a chance for us to share the Word of God with our community, and we believe it is more important right now than ever before.”

Troy’s Bible Reading Marathon was in its 10th year and included a celebration of music with five groups and individuals singing. Nearly 400 readers from area churches, both Baptist and others, participated in the Troy marathon. The event concluded at noon on the National Day of Prayer with music by Sheila Jackson and a special address from Luke Lane, pastor of First Baptist Church, Troy.
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Anna Keller is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.


Fla. Baptists find creative ways to
minister to people with special needs

BY Keila Diaz

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Forida Baptist Witness) — In 2000, more than 3.2 million Floridians reported a disability, according to research conducted by the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics College of Public Health and Health Professions at the University of Florida.

A more recent statistical report by the Centers for Disease Control estimated there are 2.4 million Floridians with a disability, a number that does not account for children.

In the face of such need, more and more Southern Baptist churches in Florida are answering the call to serve both children and adults with special needs as well as their families. This story is designed to share some of those ministries through the eyes of churches such as North Jacksonville Baptist, St. Andrew Baptist in Panama City, Bell Shoals Baptist in Brandon and Idlewild Baptist in Lutz.

Meeting them one-on-one

Idlewild Baptist Church’s special needs ministry serves children and adults with autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries and those with emotional, intellectual and physical needs.

Given that each individual requires a different type of care, the special needs ministry volunteers must determine how best to serve that child or adult, and the best way to do that is to meet with that individual and their family one-on-one.

New students go through an in-take process during the week, says Deana Troyer, director of special needs ministry at Idlewild.

Sunday morning can be an overwhelming experience for some people with special needs, and Troyer tries to take some of that stress away by meeting with new special needs students and their families during the week when it’s quiet and she can get to know them without dozens of other people buzzing around.

During that meeting Troyer and the family can best determine the environment for the child or adult to thrive in and identify possible stressors in order to minimize their effect.

At St. Andrew Baptist Church, Marilyn Denecke, director of the special needs ministry, uses a questionnaire to determine how to serve people with special needs who come to the church.

The questionnaire asks basic questions along with deeper ones to determine the best way someone communicates, what sort of environments they do the best in and some of the things they struggle with.

While one of the goals of special needs ministries at the churches interviewed for this story is to give parents the opportunity to worship knowing that their children and family members are safe and well cared for, parents are sometimes asked to accompany their child the first time they attend class. It is one way that the ministry volunteers can see how best to care for that specific individual.

Integration vs. separation

For the most part, special needs ministries do not work in a bubble — but rather in partnership with the rest of the church.

At North Jacksonville Baptist Church, Kelley Pekarek, director of the special needs ministry there, assesses each special needs person to determine whether he or she can be part of a regular class or if that person needs to have some adjustments made.

“If they are able to blend, we incorporate them in our traditional Sunday School classes,” she says, “either with a special buddy just for that child, or I adjust the class size.”

At Idlewild, there are special accommodations in traditional children’s Sunday School to make it easier for children with special needs to integrate. The accommodations are things such as noise-reducing headphones for children who might not react positively to noise but can otherwise participate and interact in class.

A special needs suite at Idlewild was created to provide a space for children and adults who cannot otherwise integrate into traditional children’s or adult’s church. The suite is also a place for students with special needs who are able to integrate into traditional church but might feel that they need to take a sensory break.

The suite is made up of two classrooms and a sensory room, which is designed for free activity and relationship building.

“The sensory room can be anything that the person needs,” says Troyer. “It can be a bean bag, a swing that’s installed into the roof, a place to climb, textures to feel, special lights that are calming, like a lava lamp.”

The Buddy Break system is another way to integrate children into traditional children’s church. The system consists of a buddy who accompanies their special needs friend to their class — making that person feel safe and comfortable.

The HOPE (He Offers People Encouragement) ministry at Bell Shoals Baptist Church has a class designed for children who have social challenges, challenged communication skills, need systematic instruction with repetition and extended time for mastery of skills, need smaller settings with lower adult/child ratios, are sensitive to typical classroom noises and have eyehand coordination and/or mobility challenges, says HOPE Director Brenda Springer.

Special needs ministries tend to be flexible and creative, says Denecke.

She recalls a time when a second-grade student with special needs and her family started attending St. Andrew Baptist.

The young girl couldn’t attend traditional Sunday School, and to serve her the ministry volunteers designed a class just for her. Every Sunday two or three other second-graders would do Sunday School with her, and eventually they became friends.

When the time came for the girl and her classmates to move on to the next Sunday School class, the girl was able to integrate into traditional Sunday School because she already had created a relationship with two or three other second-graders, which made her feel comfortable.

At North Jacksonville, adults with special needs have their own classes specifically designed for their age group.

“Our special needs [adult] friends stay in that class during the worship hour, are joined by new volunteers, and watch our worship service through live video feed,” said Pekarek. There are some youth with special needs, she adds, but they participate in traditional church.

At Idlewild, the classrooms in the special needs suite are transformed to meet the needs of the students who are present on any particular Sunday. There are some adults with special needs in the church, says Troyer, who come to the suite during Sunday School hours but join their families for the worship service.

On Wednesday nights, adults participate in music and crafts while their family members attend the Wednesday night service. Troyer says that it is one of the most popular activities hosted by the special needs ministry.

The art and music created by the adults is then put on display at another churchwide event to showcase their talents.

North Jacksonville Baptist hosts a prom night once a year for students and adults in which other special needs people from the community also participate.

“Numerous special needs group homes attend the event each year,” said Pekarek. “At the event we not only minister to our special needs friends we offer a hospitality room for the caregivers.”

Serving the whole family

Denecke, mother of a 32- year-old son with special needs, says that at St. Andrew there is a Sunday School class for parents of special needs children.

While the lesson is exactly the same as the other classes, parents feel more comfortable talking about their needs, life experiences and requesting prayer because they are in the company of other parents with a similar life story.

About every six to eight weeks, Bell Shoals’ HOPE ministry volunteers give parents and caregivers of special needs persons three hours of respite care on a Saturday.

The church currently has 29 special needs people on its roster, so it divvies up the respites by 10 and younger and 11 and older. They have hosted a luau, wild west fun fest, Christmas workshop and sing-along, Valentine’s banquet, and fun and games—all with a biblical theme.

Springer says that during her time as director of HOPE she has encountered three main challenges to the ministry.

Environment and safety is the first of those challenges. When the ministry started in 2009 they met in a large music room with other adjoining rooms, and while the majority of the doors locked, volunteers had to guard the rest of the doors in case children ran out.

“Later, God blessed us with donations to renovate two portables totaling 2,000 square feet. They include two rooms, a quiet room, welcome foyer, two handicapped-accessible bathrooms, and a small kitchenette. We have been able to make the space suitable for our learners’ needs, including providing sensory items like a mini trampoline, bouncy balls, etc. It has been a huge blessing.”

The second challenge, she says, has been getting volunteers. Those trained in special education rarely sign up because they also need a break, and those who aren’t trained feel like they’re not capable of helping.

One way Bell Shoals has overcome this challenge has been by partnering with the senior high students in the church. The students commit to serve in the ministry once a month for a year. This year, 16 students have signed up to volunteer.

“Through this program we began seeing God do a work in a few of them. He touches their heart strings, and they may be willing to serve after their commitment is up,” she said.

The third challenge has been changing the culture of the church, she said.

“We are looking for ways to get our church to embrace these families and welcome them into the fabric of the church.”

Pekarek, at North Jacksonville Baptist, agrees that volunteers and changing church culture are the top challenges their special needs ministry faces.

“I have come across people who are apprehensive because they don’t know what to do, or they have never been around a special needs person,” she said.

“I encourage them not to worry, be patient and love them. When I check back with new volunteers a few weeks later, they always say they are blessed by the time they spend with our special needs friends.”
This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Keila Diaz 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 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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