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FROM THE STATES: Tenn. Evangelism/missions; North Carolina Church plant aims to reach sportsmen

This week’s “From the States” features articles from: Baptist and Reflector; Biblical Recorder

Layman comes to aid of fellow veterans
By Lonnie Wilkey/Baptist and Reflector editor

SHELBYVILLE,.Tenn. (BP) — A few years ago Air Force veteran Robert Woolbright had to spend three days in intensive care at the Veterans Administration hospital in Murfreesboro.

After being moved to his room, Woolbright discovered the room had no personal hygiene items such as toothpaste or shampoo. The only thing in the bathroom was a dispenser with liquid soap.

Woolbright learned during his stay there that the hospital had only a certain allotment of hygiene items and if they were used up, the hospital staff had to wait on the next allotment.

Woolbright called his wife who had gone home to rest and asked her to bring enough items for himself and the rest of his floor at the VA hospital.

“The Lord put it on my heart to provide hygiene items,” Woolbright said. And he has continued to do so for more than two years.

Shortly after he began the ministry, Woolbright had a lot of donations, especially from local businesses as word spread of what he was doing.

Over time, businesses cut back on what they were giving so Woolbright has picked up the slack with the help of members from New Bethel and others in the community.

He said one church member told his story on her Facebook page and he has received support from people who read about it there.

Woolbright takes the toiletries he collects each month to the VA hospital. He estimated that he took between $500-$800 worth of items last month.

He noted that when he arrived the nurses showed him the closet where the items are stored. “The cupboard was bare. We filled them up,” he said.

He noted that the nurses on the floor are most appreciative of his ministry. In the past they would buy items themselves, he said.

Woolbright said he has been told that others have done similar ministries for the veterans but his is the only one that has lasted over a period of time.

He noted that the ministry is his way of showing his gratitude to the veterans for the service they gave their country.

Jonathan Curry, pastor of New Bethel, praised Woolbright and his church for willing to go outside its four walls to meet a ministry need.

Curry noted the Lord often “lays things on the hearts of people and they don’t do them. The Lord laid this on his (Woolbright’s) heart and he began to do it.”

Woolbright noted there are veterans all across the state as well as VA hospitals in other regions.

He hopes other people will consider a similar ministry if a need exists in their area.

In the meantime he has no plans to slow down his efforts.

“It has not entered my mind to quit,” Woolbright affirmed.

For more information about the ministry contact him at 931-703-6984. 

Lonnie Wilkey is the editor of the Baptist and Reflector.


Church plant aims to reach sportsmen
By Mike Creswell, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina Communications

JOHNSON COUNTY, N.C. (BP) — Tell Josh Williamson he pastors a redneck church and you won’t hurt his feelings.

He’ll most likely grin and agree with you.

But he’s very serious when he explains The Refuge JoCo, a church in Johnston County where Williamson serves as pastor, is reaching people for Christ who could not be reached by traditional churches.

The sign out front promises a “different place to worship.” For now that is two units in a rural office park north of Benson, where the corporate neighbors are a roofing company, cable TV company and a firm that makes custom four-wheelers.

Enter Refuge’s modest set of rooms and you’ll see three mounted deer head trophies and stuffed fish on the meeting room walls. “What about the duck decoys?” you may ask. Those are offering plates that double as table decorations.

The “JoCo” that is part of the church name is shorthand for Johnston County, but also used to tag local culture, accent and outlook.

The dress code could be called “relaxed sportsman.” Williamson wears a camouflage shirt, shorts and flip-flops as he leads a Sunday night service, a recently added service to their normal Thursday night meeting schedule.

Williamson explains that, when he talks about area residents who hunt and fish, he’s not talking about people pursuing hobbies.

“This area is known for its country folks and their hunting and fishing,” Williamson says. “That’s just a way of life here, as natural as you can get. But it’s not just for fun. This is how people provide food for their family.”

A lot of the more traditional churches seem to have white-collar, business-type members who work in offices, he said. “But it just seems we don’t have a place. Folks like us have been overlooked or left out,” Williamson explained.

As a test, in 2013 he and seven other like-minded people began holding Bible studies, appropriately enough, in a local archery shop. Soon about 40 people were attending each week and they outgrew the shop. So they moved into the office park and Refuge was off and running.

The rooms do not have a baptistery. They baptize new believers in a nearby pond.

Refuge members focus on all outdoor activities, especially hunting and fishing, as outreach channels. Members are part of a local softball/baseball ministry that gives Williamson another venue to preach at least twice a month.

But sports-oriented does not mean old-fashioned. Williamson posts videos of his sermons and Bible studies online, where they attract upwards of 800 viewers each week.

He has even heard from people in other states who love the emphasis of sharing the gospel through a sports emphasis. Williamson has talked with the pastor of a church in Montana focused on people who love the outdoors and said, “They’re about 10 years ahead of where we hope to go. He has helped a lot with ministries that worked or failed.”

Williamson moved to Johnston County in 1996 so he could attend Campbell University. He loved the area so much he and his family stayed on after he earned a bachelor’s degree in religion and Christian ministry. He and his wife Joy, a Johnston County native, have three children.

Networking and partnering are important to Williamson.

“That’s the reason we have chosen to be part of the Johnston Baptist Association, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) and to support the Southern Baptist Convention’s two mission boards — the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board,” he said, highlighting the ministries Refuge supports through its Cooperative Program (CP) giving or directly through the Johnston Association.

“We’re big supporters of these, because we believe that we can do so much more together than we can by ourselves. Anybody can be a lone wolf, but if you don’t have a support group, you’re not going to be nearly as effective,” Williamson said.

Williamson is getting start-up support from the BSC Church Planting Team, which is in line with his approach to churches.

North Carolina Baptists support new churches like Refuge through their financial support of missions through CP and the annual North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO).

Each year, 28 percent of funds given to the NCMO go directly support the establishment of new congregations throughout North Carolina.

“Our biggest focus is Christian discipleship. We don’t want to build just one big church. We want to have discipled followers of Christ who will be ready and able to go out and help start new churches,” Williamson said.

Williamson thinks there are lots of sports-minded, rural folks like his way beyond Johnston County — across North Carolina and beyond. He wants to reach every one of them.

Michael D. Creswell is senior consultant for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

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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