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Seminarians travel for hours to put studies into action

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Spending nine hours in a van is not an appealing prospect, but several students from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary travel from Kentucky every weekend for church- starting ministry in Michigan.

Although the van trip and weekend of ministry take time from family and seminary studies, students in the cooperative effort between Southern Seminary and the Baptist State Convention of Michigan find the Michigan Van Program a blessing well worth the time and effort.

Keith Williams serves as mission pastor of New Life Baptist Church, Chelsea, Mich. Along with his wife, Tammy, and their son, Isaac, Williams began traveling to Michigan last November.

“I heard about the van program at a time when I was open to doing that,” said Williams, whose family is joined by one or two other students each week. “We went to check it out and felt God leading us there. It’s been an incredible opportunity.”

Chelsea is a town with an exploding population as people move to the suburbs from Detroit, according to Williams, a master of divinity student from Stafford, Va. “A very large portion of those people are unchurched,” he noted.

Sponsored by a Immanuel Baptist Church, Pinckney, Mich., the Williamses are seeing more people become involved in the mission church through community events, telephone surveys, advertisements in the newspaper and visitation. From no base at all, the church now averages 15 to 20 people on Sundays.

“God has shown me a lot of ministry lessons through our work there. I’ve learned that I’m totally inadequate to accomplish anything in this work. Nothing is going to happen unless God is in it,” Williams said.

After graduating from Southern, Williams is planning to go to Michigan and plant his family in the Chelsea community.

Master of divinity student Dee McCardle from Brandon, Miss., meanwhile, is working with a ministry-based church start in Mt. Clements, almost nine hours from Louisville.

“When I first started assessing the needs of the people there, I was expecting the key ministry to be to single mothers,” she said. “Instead, it turned out the ministry was with ex-felons, recovering addicts and their families.

“It’s amazing how the Lord just keeps bringing people our way. We keep meeting them in the strangest situations,” McCardle recounted. “We meet one person who has been coming to the group when I was looking for an apartment to rent, and I met another over the phone when he called friends that I was house-sitting for.”

Saturday evenings are spent in Bible study and fellowship with the group. On Sundays, McCardle attends churches in the Mt. Carmel area and other Southern Baptist churches in the association.

“I’ve had a good response from the people that I’ve talked to in surrounding churches,” McCardle said. “Hopefully churches will refer people to our group when they find people who have that type of need.”

The Bible studies address the “basics of salvation,” McCardle said.

“All of this is totally new to a lot of them. We’ve had three people accept Christ as their Savior during the meetings. It’s such a neat thing when you’re helping someone understand how they can become a Christian and they make that decision right then.”

Through a similar partnership with the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, Southern students are shuttled to various parts of the state for weekend ministry opportunities.

In New Albany, an inner-city project ministry is led by Cyril Mills, a master of divinity student from Clearwater, Fla. Mills has worked at the mission in New Albany more than three years.

“People are being reached for the Lord and it is exciting to see the difference he makes in people’s lives,” Mills said.

The mission is located in the housing projects of New Albany, which makes the congregation very transitional, he noted.

“It’s good to see people get up by the Word of God and find ways to help themselves out of the projects and into better homes and better jobs,” Mills said.

Through the cooperation of area churches, Mills is able to offer the people resources like job training and housing that he would not be able to provide otherwise. “It’s amazing how people come together to do purposeful missions,” Mills said. “We can do the work we do because of the cooperation that exists between brothers and sisters in Christ.”

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  • Heather Oldfield