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Retired couple helps spearhead Strategic Focus church plant

OTTAWA, Ill. (BP)–Lewis Clarkson has a passion for seeing people come to faith in Christ. “I’ve always loved to witness and win souls,” said the 80-year-old retiree. “I’ve been doing that for years and years.”

And with the help of the Strategic Focus Cities/Celebrate Jesus 2000 effort focused on nearby Chicago, Clarkson’s passion is being used to help plant a new Southern Baptist mission in his hometown of Ottawa.

Each Monday night since October, Clarkson and his wife, Lucy, have hosted a Bible study in their home, an effort that thus far has resulted in several professions of faith in Christ and about 50 prospective members for the town’s only Southern Baptist congregation.

The Clarksons are among about 275 individuals involved in “Calling out the Called,” a strategy for mobilizing laity for church planting in the Three Rivers Baptist Association located southwest of Chicago.

Through Strategic Focus Cities — coordinated by the North American Mission Board in cooperation with local churches and associations — Southern Baptists are directing resources and volunteer efforts toward church planting and evangelism in two major cities yearly, beginning this year in Chicago and Phoenix.

In Calling out the Called, groups of churches in the association work together to sponsor new works.

Since the challenge was placed before churches last year, volunteers have been organized into teams responsible for coordinating areas of work such as door-to-door surveying and Bible study leadership.

The Clarksons got involved when the challenge was placed before them at their home church, Erven Avenue Baptist Church in Streator about 20 miles away. The church recently has experienced renewed passion for evangelism through participation in FAITH evangelism training.

“Things really were moving, and the church was just ready to go and do something,” said Don Evans, pastor of the congregation, which serves as the “mentoring church” for the mission in Ottawa.

The Clarksons were an ideal choice to host the Bible study, which meets in the family room of their small 1940’s-era home.

Calling out the Called “is asking people to develop the ministry that God has called them to do, or to discover the ministry God has for them,” Evans said. “And I felt like Brother Lewis has already discovered his ministry — and it is soul-winning.”

The Ottawa mission got a jump-start last summer when a group of about 20 youth from Gainesville, Texas, helped by knocking on 1,500 doors surveying residents about their interest in a new church or Bible study.

One of those visits was to the home of a young woman who had accepted Christ in a Southern Baptist church years ago and begun attending the study. Over the course of several visits, Clarkson was able to lead her boyfriend to Christ.

Recently a mission pastor, Steve Griswald, was brought on the field to continue to lead the Bible study and build the group into a congregation. As many as 17 have attended the study, and there are 75 families who are prospects for the new church.

The Clarksons recently decided they would not be able to continue to host the study because of Lucy’s health, and the mission now is meeting at the local YMCA. But their efforts served as a catalyst for continued growth under Griswald and the volunteer teams scheduled for this summer.

Ray Fuller, the director of missions for Three Rivers association, said Strategic Focus Cities is providing the same sort of catalyst for local church efforts. Churches and their members are energized by the outside support and become more committed themselves.

Evans added, “When you get the wagon rolling, a lot of people see it and say, ‘We want to put our money where something is happening — and that has been a blessing to us.”

    About the Author

  • James Dotson