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Sun’s out, no doubt, but scorching heat doesn’t stop ministry

Members of the student ministry at Green Valley Baptist Church in Henderson, Nev., where temperatures have remained in the 110s, enjoy a pool party. Photo by Tatum Eckhardt

PHOENIX, Ariz. (BP) – It’s really hot in Phoenix these days.

How hot is it?

It’s so hot that even a brief conversation in the parking lot is enough to melt the shoes on a pastor’s wife.

That’s not a joke or hyperbole. Three times this summer Karla Cox has had to shop for new footwear following services at Mercy Hill Church. Such instances are a reminder of the need for local churches as a community resource while operating within the parameters summer in The Valley demands.

“You can imagine what happens if people get dehydrated and pass out on that [surface],” said Mercy Hill Pastor Anthony Cox about pavement temperatures than can reach 180 degrees. “We have a lot of burn cases from that.”

There are also the incidents when the heat turns deadly. On July 16, a 73-year-old man began walking to a local fire station after his bicycle got a flat tire. He never made it and was later found in the desert, dead from apparent heat-related causes.

On July 20 the Phoenix area marked 22 straight days of temperatures above 110 degrees. It has also now had 11 consecutive days of lows at or over 90 degrees.

In the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Green Valley Baptist Church takes a lot of the same precautions as Mercy Hill. Limit outside activity in the summer. Make sure bottled water is available. Stay in touch with people.

The daunting heat across the Southwest is several things, including dangerous and constant. It’s also what churches and residents in these areas expect, ministers told Baptist Press.

And while it affects ministry the same way cold does in Minnesota and wind does in Wyoming, it doesn’t prevent it.

“During the summer, we can’t plan outreach events like prayer walking,” said Green Valley Discipleship Pastor Jon Wellman. “There are significant health hazards to that. It really does come into play. We were planning an outdoor movie event for September, but couldn’t do it then because it’s still too hot.”

Most outreach events take place from October through May. These are the months when the weather in cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix is the envy of the rest of the country. 

Summer ministry continues, just most of it indoors. Both churches held Vacation Bible School in the morning and inside. Green Valley’s included brief outdoor time on a playground with canopy for shade. A weekly children’s Wednesday ministry event at the church is held in a multipurpose room.

At Mercy Hill in Phoenix, the church schedule is decentralized so there are more gatherings indoors at homes and other “third spaces,” said Cox, who grew up in Tampa, Fla., before living in the Carolinas.

A church outreach, Mercy Ministries, distributes food to as many as 350 families weekly but goes on hold during the summer due to the amount of time required outside. While the scale may be different, such efforts are encouraged among smaller groups in the church in those months.

“We never stop doing ministry,” Cox said. “We just empower our church members to be the church where they live, where they work, where they play, to minister to the needs around them.”

Cox has observed how the heat can affect people more than just physically.

“It exasperates any kind of mental illness or struggle with addiction. It’s hard to find shelter and respite,” he said. “Our fire departments are always going out and helping those who are struggling, getting them water and keeping them hydrated.”

He’s also noticed that people tend to make life-altering decisions during the summer, whether it’s a job change, moving or buying a new vehicle.

That can also lead to openness to spiritual changes.

“We’re physical, spiritual, emotional beings,” he said. “Holistically, when you’re facing challenges on the outside, that’s always putting pressure and unsettling you on the inside. There are great counseling opportunities to come alongside and serve others by offering God’s Word.”

Wellman moved from Kentucky to Henderson last year … in July.

“We had a lot of people helping,” he said. “They made quick work of it.”

The heat took some getting used to. Wellman and his wife live in a townhome community, and so he carries his dog – a shih tzu-poodle mix – to the spot where she goes to the bathroom so her paws don’t burn on the pavement.

The summer brings challenges, “but you just have to adapt your ministries, being mindful of what is safe for your folks to do, combined with the mission that is still there,” Wellman said. 

In other words, ministries may shift, but that doesn’t mean they become inconsistent.

“We want to remind people that we can find rest and refreshment in Christ any time,” said Cox. “No matter what the temperature is, we can always find that in Him.”