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She searches for ‘unsung heroes’ for array of evangelistic efforts

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (BP)–For John (not his real name), riding around town with friends seemed like a good idea. The night started innocently, but soon the buzz from the alcohol and the influence of the wrong crowd kicked in. Riding around town was not quite enough for the thrill-seeking teens. A few beers led to a robbery, which led to a high-speed police chase and ended with John behind bars facing the possibility of prison as an adult.

A month later, John found himself with eight other youth sitting in the Bob Johnson Youth Center in Hutchinson, Kan., watching a video about Jesus and listening to the testimonies of Steve, Cheri and Eric, members of Westbrook Baptist Church in Hutchinson.

Each Tuesday, church members visit the youth center, show a copy of the Jesus video, share their testimonies and, over cookies, talk one-on-one with the young offenders.

This is one of several ministry efforts to share Jesus in the Hutchinson area established by the church’s minister of missions, Lee Ann Penick.

John’s rugged good looks, long sideburns, wire-rimmed oval-shaped glasses, and bright eyes would cause him to blend into any teenage crowd. It’s the gray coveralls and the orange T-shirt peeking from the collar of the coveralls which label John as a resident of the juvenile facility. His heart and gentle words reveal the remorse he feels for making wrong choices a few weeks earlier.

“All I want to do now is get back to my family and friends and try and make it up to the ones I’ve let down,” John said. “It angers me how many people were affected by my actions.”

While awaiting a court appearance to determine if he should be tried as an adult or as a juvenile, John reflects on his circumstances and what he would do differently if given the chance for redemption.

“I have strong feelings about being a teacher, perhaps keep someone from making the same mistakes I have made. Keep them from choosing the wrong paths that I have chosen — believe me, I have chosen some of the roughest ones,” John confesses.

For Penick and others, helping people like John choose the correct path is a priority and is being done in several ways. But why Lee Ann Penick does what she does is best explained in knowing more about her.

The love of sports for Penick was not something she acquired, but rather something she inherited from her sports-minded parents and grandparents. It was difficult to avoid such things when your father and grandfather were both professional golfers. Thanks to the coaching from her grandfather, many of today’s professional golfers are competing each week in tournaments around the world.

She slightly disappointed her parents when she chose a basketball scholarship to the University of Texas rather than play golf.

Excelling on the basketball court helped mend any disappointment her parents may have felt. Following college, a promising career as a certified public accountant was a natural progression for the smart woman who seemed to make friends and money easily with her contagious smile and strong work ethic.

But the void she felt was hard to push aside. Following much prayer and counsel from friends, Lee Ann enrolled in seminary and began pursuing a different path, away from the corporate world. The road would eventually lead her to Kansas where each day she is creating new ways to be intentional about evangelism that will lead others to discovering Jesus Christ.

Penick lives by her watch and her calendar. Her days start early, run on schedule and, in most cases, end late. Of course she wears many hats, each one for different occasions, but all for the purpose of changing lives. The reason she does what she does and works the way she does is simply done for one reason — evangelism.

“There is a common thread to all of our ministries. Everything we do here at Westbrook has the goal of the gospel seed being planted,” Penick explained. “God opens the door for a relationship at some time or another. I am constantly praying for that opportunity to share the gospel.”

In every situation, the ministry teams find one thing to be certain, she said: “Folks are hurting and they want to know someone cares.”

“I live by the word ‘intentional,'” Penick said. “We can have great ideas, facts and plans, but few people will come to us.

“We do significant kingdom work when we cultivate the relationships and make the connection. We need to get out to where the people are and not expect them to come to us.”

Penick’s speech is littered with the words “we” and “us” and “our.” She is quick to explain hers is not a one-person ministry. The lessons she learned at an early age from her grandfather about being a team player have carried over to her ministry as well.

“My job is to help people succeed with the calling God has given them,” she said. “I want to give them the resources and skills they need to express their calling.

“We pray for God to call out the unsung heroes. Those people who want to be involved but don’t know how,” Penick said.

“Our ‘on mission’ team prays for missions at Westbrook and our prayer is to have a burden for lost souls and call up people with a passion from God to tell people about Jesus,” she said.

Penick’s title is minister of missions, a simpler designation from the half dozen or so titles she had collected since 1996 when she joined the staff of Westbrook Baptist Church. She is a licensed professional counselor handling 14 to 15 clients per week and works part-time for the church and the association.

The multi-faceted ministries of Westbrook stretch from one end of the city to another and cross all racial and economic settings. On some mornings, Penick meets a group of women in a downtown bank building at 7 a.m. for breakfast and Bible study. By 9 a.m. she is in the middle of the first of several counseling sessions at church. At 1:30 p.m. she is in a neighborhood apartment complex knocking on doors asking residents what their prayer needs are for the week, and by 3:30 p.m. she arrives at an elementary school for a weekly literacy program.

Her downtown Bible study is sprinkled with women who first met Penick on the golf course and later accepted Christ and began attending a special golf Sunday school class.

“We can’t do evangelism without building relationships,” she said. “It’s not always a bed of roses, but God blesses with a step of faith when we are obedient. God is going to let us touch the lives of hurting people. We never know until we get to heaven of the seeds that were planted. We just need to be obedient to the Great Commission and let the Holy Spirit complete it.”

    About the Author

  • Steve Achord