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Ministry offers hope to drug-infested community

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (BP)–In an area of St. Petersburg where drugs and drive-by shootings are all too common, Henry Payne, pastor of Southside Tabernacle Baptist Church, is constantly searching for a way to bring hope into the lives of those living in that low-income neighborhood.

He now believes he’s found a method that has the potential of being an agent for change.

Recently, Payne and members of his church participated in an intensive five-day training of Inner City Evangelism (ICE), an effort designed and sponsored nationally by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Leaders from Suncoast Baptist Association, three inner city churches and four partnering churches worked alongside Payne in the effort held in St. Petersburg.

The ICE effort begins with intensive soul-winning training. While the material is being introduced to new persons involved in the five-day effort, members of a national ICE team, experienced in the process, go out onto the streets and aggressively witness to the persons in the inner city community. After the trainees are taken through the process in the morning, they are paired with the experienced witnesses and sent out on the streets in the afternoon for on-the-job training.

As a result of the two-fold effort in St. Petersburg, 652 persons professed faith in Jesus Christ.

The ICE process has put a new fire in his soul for witnessing, Payne said.
“The fear of rejection leaves you. You become daring, bold, aggressive and excited about presenting the gospel to others. It puts a new fire in you.”

Payne is also excited that the ICE method does more than share the gospel to the people on the streets. “The persons trained in the process are taught to probe into a person’s life and discuss their sins.”

Payne contends the new convert, “grasps the meaning of what it means to be saved. You can see the life-changing process take place.”

But the ICE process is not completed when new converts are won on the streets. Names, addresses and phone numbers are secured for follow up. Now, members of Payne’s church are calling, visiting and writing to the new believers. In the first weeks following ICE, several of the new converts are visiting Southside Tabernacle Church. One woman joined the congregation.

Another aspect of the ICE process is training the soul winners in discipleship. The ICE effort is paired with a discipleship/Bible study emphasis called SAFE-an acronym for “Setting Addicts Free Eternally.”

As he participated in the witnessing effort, Ed Gilman, director of missions for Suncoast Baptist Association, said the pairing of evangelism and discipleship won him over to the process.

“It’s unbelievable. I’ve never seen this kind of results . . . witnessing, seeing people’s lives changed in these needy areas,” said Gilman. “And there is great balance. The ‘Journey to Spiritual Freedom’ (SAFE) training with its great biblical teaching drew everything together so that these down-and-out people who were led to the Lord can truly be different as our local churches follow up and disciple the converts.”

Four inner city churches participated in the effort-Southside Tabernacle, Ebenezer Community Baptist Church, Lake Maggoire Baptist Church and The Community Church in Largo. They are being paired with Anglo churches in the association that will help in the follow up and discipleship process.

First Baptist Church in Seminole is one of the four Anglo churches that will partner with the inner city churches. Pastor Michael Mott said he was impressed with the SAFE discipleship material. “There is no doubt, the SAFE material rescues people with deep emotional baggage. I plan to teach it in my Sunday night services. There are tremendous truths, clearly taught in this concept.”

Joan Di Rierzo and Bertha Boone, members of Community Church, both led persons to the Lord during the ICE training.

Di Rierzo found that the biblically based discipleship training touched her own life. “It dealt with the real me, some of my problems on a biblical basis,” Di Rierzo said. “And it helped with my anger and gave me fresh new hope.”

Boone applauded the effort. “ICE and SAFE reaffirms that the Word of God is the way to go. This is a confirmation of what the Word will do. I can truly be free in Christ.”

Bo Mitchell of Winter Haven is a member of the National ICE team, sponsored by NAMB. He said results similar to those in St. Petersburg have been garnered in other cities where ICE events have been held. Thousands have come to know Christ in Detroit, Oakland-San Francisco, San Diego, Phoenix, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Dallas, Shreveport and Portland, said Mitchell.

Payne first became acquainted with ICE in Orlando, during Crossover Orlando held in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention last June. In that event 1,700 persons came to know Christ. Payne said he wanted to bring that same vision to the Tampa Bay area.

“I brought this fire back in me,” Payne said. “I learned I could bypass the fear within me and change people’s lives. That’s what is needed in my neighborhood — a way to change lives.”

    About the Author

  • Barbara Denman

    Barbara Denman is communications editor for the Florida Baptist Convention. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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