LAREDO, Texas (BP)–Many times in the darkest and most dangerous places the light of the Gospel shines even brighter. Such is the case in Laredo, Texas, stemming from the “GPS 2020” evangelism and church planting initiative of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
The darkness and danger are readily apparent in Laredo. The Mexican drug cartel and the violence attached to the $20 billion illegal enterprise cast an ominous shadow on the border town. Additionally, the satanic influence of “La Santa Muerte,” the Saint of Death, and its cult following continues to grow rapidly among the people of Laredo and beyond.
In this darkness, SBTC churches lifted high the torch of the Gospel. Jack Harris, associate for personal and event evangelism with the convention, led the charge. Working with churches from various regions of the state, Harris organized volunteers to prepare “Gospel Bags” to touch 50,000 homes with the hope of planting four churches from the effort.
“Biblically, you evangelize an area and then you start a church,” said Don Cass, SBTC evangelism director. “The way we do it, and I’m convinced it’s the proper way, is to go door-to-door with the Gospel, invite people to a big event, give a clear presentation of the Gospel with an invitation, and through the follow-up with all decisions, create a core group that will start a congregation.”
The strategy is built around the four biblical markers of GPS 2020: 1) praying, 2) equipping, 3) sowing and 4) harvesting.
First, teams of trained volunteers covered the Laredo area through organized prayerwalks, praying over the venues and the neighborhoods where the Gospel would be sown.
Second, volunteers were equipped to share the Gospel through hanging Gospel Bags on doors in the community while others were equipped to share the Gospel at a community event featuring Team Impact, a team of evangelists who use feats of strength as a bridge to share the Gospel. Third, volunteers sowed the Gospel in the neighborhoods with the Gospel Bags. The bags contained a Gospel witness in English and Spanish along with an invitation for 10 people to come to the Laredo Energy Arena to see Team Impact perform such feats as crushing bricks and breaking stacks of boards. At the Energy Arena, Team Impact presented the Gospel to 5,000 people at the community-wide harvest event. During the invitation, 727 people surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ.
Now, the churches are working to establish the new congregations. The 727 people who made decisions were immediately introduced to four church planters at the harvest event. The church planters and volunteers from participating Laredo churches are in the process of following up on every decision made.
Chuy Avila, a jointly funded missionary with the SBTC and the North American Mission Board, is assisting the church planters. Avila noted that three established congregations that helped with the event also are experiencing higher attendances in their worship services because of the initiative.
One of the new church plants, Impacto Juvenil, led by church planter Hervin Antonio, held their first service May 27. The aim of the ministry is to connect with the younger adults in their community, thus the name Youth Impact. The first meeting was attended by 40 people. The new plant continues to meet every Friday as a core group is developed.
“We are focused on reaching the lost generation of young adults that are not going to church,” Antonio said. “We are going to connect with them and make the church a place where they can come and encounter Christ in a contemporary way while hearing the Word preached.”
The next step for the church plant is to bring in strategic partners to help with the work, such as First Baptist Church in Mandeville, La. Cory Veuleman, First Baptist’s student family pastor, led his team in door-to-door evangelism, Vacation Bible School, prayerwalks and a block party to share the Gospel to help Impacto Juvenil develop relationships with their neighbors.
Laredo may have a dark and dangerous edge, but the light of Jesus is shining bright through the cooperative work of Southern Baptists.
Keith Manuel is an evangelism associate with the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s evangelism and church growth team.