OWENSBORO, Ky. (BP) — Bellevue Baptist Church in Owensboro, Ky., takes literally the command to make disciples of all nations. Many times, the nations are in the neighborhood.
“For a while at Bellevue, we had five services with four different languages,” pastor Greg Faulls said.
Under Faulls’ leadership, Bellevue has become a multi-ethnic church, ministering to Hispanics as well as Burmese people, including people from the Chin and Kayin (Karen) tribes. Last October, the church’s culture was illustrated in an unusual incident.
A 20-year-old woman who was born in America but then moved to Mexico relocated to Owensboro for a job opportunity. She was befriended by a Burmese Christian who attends Bellevue. Although the Burmese woman was not proficient in English, she began to share Christ with the Mexican-American woman.
“She knew the Mexican-American woman would not be able to understand the language in our Burmese service, so she took her to the English-speaking service,” said Faulls, who ultimately led the visitor to the Lord. “So you had a Chin woman who knew very little English sharing Christ with someone proficient in Spanish and English, and a Caucasian English-speaking pastor led her to Christ.”
Experiences such as that fuel the desire of Bellevue to continue its desire for missional engagement of its members on a local, national and global scale.
“God really gave our people a vision for other ethnic groups,” Faulls said. The vision began in 2002.
“We had members who noticed a number of impoverished Hispanics in a nearby apartment complex,” Faulls recalled. “We started a ministry fair and we had people providing furniture and other items. But more than that, they showed much care and kindness. We began a Bible study for them, and at that time we were the only Protestant church in Owensboro doing any ministry to that ethnic group.”
The need to begin a worship service for the Hispanic population became evident. In the summer of 2003, Jesus Amaya and his wife and two children came from Texas to Owensboro where he served as a summer missionary for Bellevue.
Dozens of people were led to Christ. Amaya went back to Texas, and for two years Bellevue kept that service going. Then Amaya finished school and returned to Bellevue and has been on staff for 14 1/2 years.
“The attendance has fluctuated over the years,” Faulls said, “but lately it has been averaging about 90 people.” The fluctuation is the result of members constantly leaving to plant new churches.
With Bellevue’s growth came facility needs.
“We quickly realized we would grow out of our facility, so we were able to relocate to a 72,000-square-foot facility on an 86-acre tract in the fall of 2008.”
“We started seeing a lot of people go on short-term mission trips,” said Faulls, who is beginning his 23rd year at Bellevue. “Those trips gave us a real sense of missions — we might not have known how to speak to them (in their language), but we weren’t afraid of them.”
Two years later, a number of Burmese refugees began arriving, filling jobs at Tyson Foods and other industries in the area.
“The first couple that landed in Owensboro was a man who was a Christian and his Buddhist wife,” Faulls recalled. “Bellevue members were the first to meet them and invited them to church.” Faulls met them on Easter Sunday 2010. “The church decided to help them, just as we did for Hispanics.”
The reaction was immediate. “They said, ‘We know one place where they love us.'” Within eight months, there were 70 people attending a Burmese worship service at the Bellevue location, even though the language issue was a hindrance.
“It took months for us to find a person who’d be that (language) bridge for us,” Faulls said. “Many donations were given to help meet their needs — all those were by church members, nothing from the church budget.”
By 2011, two Burmese congregations (Chin and Kayin) were formed, each speaking a different dialect. In the past two years, the Kayin church was able to buy a building, launch and be given a ‘sending’ celebration by Bellevue. That church has an attendance of about 150 adults plus children.
The remaining Burmese congregation meets at Bellevue and recently called a pastor who begins his duties this month.