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FROM THE STATES: Texas, Ala., Calif. evangelism/missions news; ‘The ultimate win is to be able to share the Gospel with these kids.’

Today’s From the States features items from:
Southern Baptist Texan
The Alabama Baptist
California Southern Baptist

Leaders in Training: preteens
serve inner-city San Antonio
By Jane Rodgers

SAN ANTONIO (Southern Baptist Texan) — The sullen teenager cracked a smile when an exuberant fifth grader handed him a nametag sporting a smiley face. At 14, he was too old for Kids Power Camp at San Antonio’s Riverside apartments, but he was tagging along with two friends, Theone (pronounced “the one”) and Angel, brothers who had recently started attending Genesis Baptist Church nearby.

The adult leader sent counselor-in-training Tommy to talk to the boys and begin building relationships. What happened as the week progressed is the stuff of miracles, which the adults and preteens involved in Hillcrest Baptist Church’s Leadership in Training (LIT) program are still processing.

In July, 89 preteens and adults from Cedar Hills’ Hillcrest, Retta Baptist Church of Burleson, First Baptist Church of Henderson and Great Hills Baptist Church of Austin trekked south to San Antonio to partner with Genesis Baptist to minister to the surrounding low-income community.

The kids were well-prepared to lead camps for children at six apartment complexes near Genesis, just minutes southeast of downtown. They had begun intensive training at Hillcrest in January.

“We teach them how to teach, how to evangelize, how to tell stories, how to explain the Gospel, how to play and lead games, how to help children memorize scripture,” said Karen Kennemur, assistant professor of childhood education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Hillcrest missions trainer, describing the LIT program developed by Clinton May.

“LIT helps kids identify who they are in Christ, helping them discover spiritual gifts and talents, empowering and equipping them to share the Gospel and to live out their faith,” said Keri Meek, Hillcrest children’s minister.

Following a semester of training, LIT preteens go on a mission trip to practice what they have learned. Adults accompany the group at a nearly one-to-one ratio, but the kids do the work.

“It is the practicum for what they have learned all spring,” Meek said, adding that Hillcrest has offered LIT for four years.

The July trip was their first to San Antonio’s Genesis.

It all started in 2013 with a conversation at an SBTC Texas One Day event between Kennemur, a presenter, and Lorena Beltran, wife of Genesis pastor Edward Beltran, who attended Kennemur’s sessions.

“I mentioned that I take fifth and sixth graders on mission trips, and she told me about their inner-city church in San Antonio,” Kennemur recalled.

That initial chat led to further conversations. Soon Meek was involved and made plans to send the preteens to the Alamo City in 2014.

On a Memorial Day 2014 preview trip, Meek identified several apartment complexes within walking distance of Genesis as targets for evangelism.

“We wanted to help the Beltrans reach their community,” Meek said. “That’s where their hearts were. They had been praying for years that God would help them reach the community he had placed them in.”

Meek and the Beltrans contacted apartment managers, asking permission to put on free kids’ programs including lunch for a week in July.

“It’s a win for the apartment because we are doing something with their kids. And it’s a win for the church as they connect with the community. The ultimate win is to be able to share the Gospel with these kids,” Meek said.

Contacts made, Meek found an area church willing to house the group in July.

Plans were made for ministry at five apartment sites; God had other ideas. After the first day of Kids Power Camp, teams were shifted, supplies shuffled and an additional site added.

“God always wanted that site,” Meek told the group. “I told them that sometimes what we have planned is not what God has planned.”

“Today I learned that change can be good,” an LIT sixth grade boy announced during the next evening’s sharing time. He had befriended a child at the new site.

Sixteen children came to camp at that site and several professed Christ, Meek said, adding that of the 250 children and adults crowding Genesis for Thursday night’s praise time, the newest housing complex was disproportionately represented.

The week’s schedule was rigorous for kids and adults alike. Mornings began with breakfast, worship and planning, including the packing of over 200 lunches daily for workers and kids at the sites.

“We coach the kids on testimonies and stories. We want them to be equipped before they go out,” Kennemur said.

Teams deployed to the sites from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. where they led Vacation Bible School-type activities. Afternoons were spent doing service projects, fun activities or unwinding at the host church. Days ended with dinner, worship and sharing.

“At Kids Power Camp, our kids welcome the kids, register the kids, play icebreaker games and lead music. The kids do everything. The adults are there to talk to the parents,” Kennemur explained, adding that many parents stayed to observe each day in San Antonio.

“A bilingual dad was saved the first day of camp after talking to some of the LIT adults. He came back every day and served as translator,” Meek said.

“Some of the kids spoke Spanish only. We did not take a translator with us. God knew the need, and he sent somebody,” she added.

“Not only was he saved the first day, but he was learning Bible stories and verses all week. God was discipling him as he was helping. He is now connected to Genesis,” Kennemur said.

The Hillcrest LIT teams will never forget their San Antonio experience. Plans are underway for a repeat visit next summer.

“Typically we go to a new place of ministry each summer. However, our experience with Genesis was unique. We feel a heart connection with the pastor and the church members. We look forward to working together in the future,” Kennemur said.

As for the once-recalcitrant teen who accompanied Theone and Angel? He has found a relationship with Jesus Christ, the true One, thanks to the friendship developed with Tommy. 

On Friday, as the Hillcrest vans pulled up to Genesis a final time with plans to clean the church, throngs of children, now new friends, ran to greet them. They will be back.

This article appeared in the Southern Baptist Texan (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the Texan.
Alabama Baptists adapt missions
efforts in Ukraine during unrest
By Jennifer Davis Rash

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) — When Ashley Ivey sees Ukraine in the news — the violence, the bombs, the downed aircraft — or overhears a conversation about it, she thinks of a place she almost called home for a while.

“My ears definitely perk up whenever I hear (the word) Ukraine,” she said. “I automatically tune in to that conversation or the news.

“Whenever you know the names and stories … it’s a new realization that there are people over there going through a really tough time.”

Ivey was within a week of moving to western Ukraine to serve in a missions position when everything changed. She had spent time studying about the country and the city of Rivney where she was supposed to live with a pastor’s family while she taught English as a Second Language (ESL) for a semester.

The fighting and unrest escalated in February, about the same time she had finally completed more than six months of paperwork and preparation to go. She had her ticket in hand, had transitioned out of her place of employment and had given up her apartment.

And then “we pulled the plug,” said Jim Bradley, chairman of the missions committee for First Baptist Church, Opp, the church that recruited Ivey, a member of South Coast Church, Mobile, for the ESL position.

“We felt we should not send her into that situation even though the western side of the country is not in turmoil,” Bradley said. “It was just too uncertain.”

A number of U.S. churches have postponed or canceled their plans to do ministry in Ukraine this year because of the unrest. But Christian workers in that region of the world say there is still much that churches “back home” can do.

Prayer needed

Tim Johnson, a Southern Baptist representative in Ukraine, said the U.S. Church has a “great role” in reaching out to Ukraine during these difficult times by creating awareness, continuing to pray and being a part of outreach efforts.

“Those are great ways for the Church to continue to support our Ukrainian brothers and sisters,” he said. Christians can pray for God to clear the way for the Spirit to move amid war, Johnson added.

“It’s just hard when you know that there’s church-planting efforts going on, there’s desire to see new work take place, but at the same time there’s that cloud of fear that hangs in the air,” he said. “So we pray for that to dissipate and that we could have a chance to move forward with clear skies.”

Bradley said that while First Baptist Opp has had to adapt its missions efforts in Ukraine this year, church members continue to stay informed about the country and stay in touch with their ministry partners in Rivney.

“We want to stay involved,” he said. “We have friends there and we don’t want to leave them. We want to continue supporting them.”

Noting he and other church leaders stay in touch with their contacts in Rivney through email, Bradley said, “They are very upbeat and are continuing to do the Lord’s work. They are keeping their wits about them and are going forward with their work.”

First Baptist Opp supports Rivney Baptist Association — which has 110 member churches — financially and by sending teams, Bradley said. “Our pastor Randy Breedlove is a big supporter of our missions efforts on all fronts and led our past two teams to Ukraine,” he noted.

The church launched its partnership efforts with Rivney Association around 2006 when the Alabama Baptist State Convention entered into a six-year partnership with national Baptists and Southern Baptist missionaries in Ukraine.

Larry Cummings, then director of missions (DOM) for Covington Baptist Association, encouraged the churches in the association to get involved, and First Baptist Opp was among the churches that found ministry opportunities there.

“When Otis Corbitt came as director of missions, he continued the partnership with Ukraine and is a big supporter of the missions work in the association, but the official partnership agreement has now expired,” Bradley said. Still a few churches in Covington Association and across the state have continued their partnership efforts.

“Mostly what we do is support church plants and provide monthly stipends for church planters,” Bradley explained. “We also send teams … sometimes to teach classes, sometimes to help with summer camps.”

One of the church plants First Baptist Opp members have invested in, Transformation Church, has grown to more than 50 members. “They held the summer camp we financially supported this year,” Bradley said. “We were supposed to send a team over, but we canceled that trip because of the unrest.”

Transformation Church uses the summer camp as an outreach tool, Bradley said, noting more than half of the 100-plus children in attendance are typically unchurched.

Reports also came to Bradley that some of the children impacted by the fighting in eastern Ukraine were sent to the camp.

While pleased with the results of the summer camp, Bradley noted there have been moments church members in Opp have “felt a bit guilty” for not being present in Ukraine.

“Some of us were willing to go, but it makes better sense not to,” he said.

So they continue to pray, watch the news with anticipation and eagerly await their next email update.

And the same thing is happening at the opposite end and corner of the state in Colbert-Lauderdale Baptist Association.

DOM Eddy Garner said, “The unrest in Ukraine has definitely adjusted our plans. … We were supposed to be in Ukraine about this time to work with Southern Baptist missionaries from Alabama Tim and Donna Akers.

“We adopted the Akerses through the Alabama Acts 1:8 Connections partnership and have sent teams the past two years, but with the unrest we decided to wait until things got a little more settled,” Garner said.

“We’ve been working with them to plant churches and send teams to help with Vacation Bible Schools and do medical missions,” he said. “We stay connected through email and Skype and are praying with them through the unrest.”

For more information on partnering with missionaries in Ukraine from Alabama, contact Reggie Quimby at the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions at 1-800-264-1225, ext. 239, or email [email protected].

To contribute to the work of Southern Baptist representatives who are helping repair homes and broken lives in Ukraine, email [email protected].

This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Jennifer Davis Rash is executive editor of The Alabama Baptist.
New America Singers see
hundreds come to Christ in Asia
By Ted Campbell

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (California Southern Baptist) — As I scroll through more than 1,000 photos from this year’s New America Singers (California’s Baptist student choir) mission tour, these pictures stick in my mind; it’s like the Lord is saying, “Share these thoughts with the people.”

School Assemblies. Dozens of pictures of high school, middle-school and primary school programs. Hundreds of students, laughing, listening intently, bowed in prayer or standing by the dozens, giving their lives to the Lord. School after school. Our Singers, talking one-on-one or in small groups to students eager to practice English, taking “selfies” or praying with students who need spiritual help. Walking outside and looking up at the 40-plus story apartment complexes where the students live. Thousands of such complexes … each filled with thousands of families … and most of them need Jesus.

Feeding the Hungry. Almost daily, we help pack, carry and hand out food, clothing and other useful articles to older people living on the ragged edge of life. We’ve come to love them, feel compassion for them … and some of the “repeats” greet us on the streets as if we were longtime friends. Many have mental or physical problems, but they come to our concerts. They are also people who will face the Lord soon … and they need Jesus. And many of them come to know Him.

Teaching English. Schools in both Hong Kong and Thailand are eager for us to visit classrooms, teach conversational English or just engage in conversation. Of course there are opportunities to teach Christian songs and turn the teaching to spiritual matters.

Prep Time. Each day we spend valuable time in Bible study, focusing on the essentials of Christian leadership, interpersonal relations and developing a servant heart. We spend time rehearsing, looking at our schedule of programs (in several languages), praying, learning how to handle complex situations better the next time.

The Children. Primary school children inhabit a different world than those in secondary school. In addition to a normal Gospel program and presentation, we play with them, teach them “action songs” and simplify the message. They are so earnest in their desire to have Jesus in their hearts. Nearly 600 pray to accept Christ. Oh that our people would come with their childlike faith, and with their attitude of, “Of course I want Jesus … who wouldn’t?” We don’t count most of those decisions, even though we know they mean it … because we assume they may have prayed similar prayers before in other Gospel programs. But we are humbled and challenged by their simple and profound faith.

People on the Streets. We sing in performing areas throughout the city. Hong Kong … 6 million-plus busy people, who never seem to sleep. Even in the middle of the night the streets are crowded. As we sing and dance, thousands stop to watch and listen to a Gospel message in their own language. We have handed out tens of thousands of tracts in Hong Kong, and the people stop and read them. Many ask questions. And some pray to accept Jesus right on the spot. They are working hard to achieve their economic dream, but they are also looking for answers that will make their lives worth living.

The Churches. We sing for churches, and for church retreats at the Youth for Christ building where we stay in Hong Kong. Some come for renewal, but all bring non-believers and those who need encouragement. Some are leaders from Mainland China, who come in for a week to study and train and fellowship without being persecuted by the Communist authorities. All of them soon become brothers in the faith, as we sing for them, mix and eat with them, and share ideas.

Children’s Homes. We help out in three children’s homes in Thailand. They don’t call them orphanages (although some of the children are orphans) – they call them “home” because that is their “safe place” where they go to school, live in a caring, Christ-centered environment, learn English, learn academic and job skills, and become prepared to live successfully as Christians in a totally Buddhist world. Some of their stories are heartbreaking, but we’ve never seen a more joyous, positive group of young people, some of whom have received scholarships to major universities and won national awards. And their worship, their joy and earnestness put us to shame. What a joy to help, work and play with them.

The American Club. Each July 4th, we are invited to share a patriotic program with the exclusive American Country Club. Rich people, good food and certainly a contrast with the very poor people and students with whom we mostly work. But they need Jesus, too. They are a long way from home, and enjoy our little bit of Americana. Some are believers, and doing their best to share their faith with fellow ex-patriots.

Thailand Schools. Thailand is not like Hong Kong. It is a Buddhist country and it is illegal for Christians to sing in public schools. We sing in Northern Thailand, where the administrators are so eager to have their students mix with, listen to and be taught English by Americans, they welcome us, year after year. While this is mostly “seed planting,” rather than the harvest we see in Hong Kong, they do allow us to sing and talk about Jesus, and wrap up with a short sermon by a local Thai minister. We distributed more than 4,000 Gospel books, and we pray that each book will be read by at least five family members. Lovely, welcoming people, with a growing number of believers and churches.

California and the Marines. Before beginning the June 21-July 21 tour we spent a few days singing for California churches, encouraging them to live the life and find a new zeal for reaching their communities for Jesus. We also had the privilege of once more singing for Marines at Camp Pendleton, where 60 young men prayed to receive Jesus.

Decisions. Mostly, these fall under the GOK (God Only Knows) category. We count very few children or older people as they make decisions; in many venues we are not allowed to give an altar call, and there are no altar calls in Thailand (one of their high schools had 2,200 students who were very attentive). We do have records of 1,650, mostly students, who prayed to receive Jesus. The Lord is at work in Asia, and is certainly raising up a new generation of committed young leaders.

This article appeared in the California Southern Baptist (csbc.com/csb), newsjournal of the California Southern Baptist Convention. Ted Campbell has directed the New America Singers for more than 30 years.

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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