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Team launches new church’s focus on missions in trip to South Dakota

JEFFERSON, S.D. (BP)–Three Southern Baptist congregations in a predominantly Catholic area of South Dakota received a helping hand from eight teenagers and four adults from a new church start in Kansas City, Mo., carrying out its commitment to “a high level of missions support, involvement and training” when it formulated its purpose statement a little more than a year ago.
Traveling just over the Iowa border to the town of Jefferson, S.D., the team from Trinity North Baptist Church, Kansas City, began by ripping out boards from the porch of the century-old two-story house being used by Faith Baptist Church. They then laid a new foundation, painted windows and doors and stripped paint from a former bedroom where children are taught on Sunday mornings.
Teams also fanned out into the neighborhood to publicize the upcoming Vacation Bible School. As Jefferson’s 700 residents celebrated the town’s official 140-year anniversary with a parade, carnival and beer-drinking festivities, the Kansas City teenagers were often turned away from homes they visited.
After their initial prayer walk in the city park, the youth group extended their intercession by midweek to take in all of Main Street, walking past the Catholic facilities that tower above the town and praying for opportunities to share the gospel.
“It’s been a community for over 150 years of only Catholic people,” said Sandy Tradeau as she explained the church-planting assignment she and her husband, Tom, have in Jefferson. “It’s been difficult for the people to understand a Southern Baptist group coming in, what we are and what we believe in.”
After three trips before the city council to seek permission to hold worship services in their home, the Tradeaus were limited to 18 people on the premises of their house church. “We desperately need a church building,” she added, sharing her hope that a nearby gas station garage can be utilized once the church raises $20,000 in funding.
With temperatures approaching 100 degrees and little else to do in the middle of the summer, the children of Jefferson soon learned of the VBS program being offered in the city park each morning. The 15 workers outnumbered the dozen or so kids who showed up the first day, drawing from the nearby towns of Elk Point, McComb, Westfield and Sioux City.
By Friday, enrollment hit 55, with 41 children participating on the final day. “The Vacation Bible School was a blessing to the children who attended and it was a revival to Tom and me,” Sandy Tradeau said. The couple moved to Jefferson last year after being contacted by Harold Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church, Elk Point, S.D., which was seeking to plant a church in the nearby town.
As Mission Service Corps volunteers who moved to Elk Point in 1993 after retiring from more than 30 years of pastoring in east Texas, Smith and his wife, Dorothy, knew the first few years of starting the Jefferson church would be hard.
“There’s no difference in what we’re doing today and what Paul and Silas and Barnabas did,” Smith reflected. “We’re in a place that can be a hostile environment. You’re not accepted, especially with the salvation that we bring.” Smith said most of the residents were confirmed in the Catholic Church or baptized as infants.
“You’ve got to have a commitment when you come because the first two or three years you’re not going to do much. You’ll wish you could just load up and go home. But God will reward.”
The Smiths arrived at Elk Point during the Flood of ’93 and immediately set out to minister to people who had lost their homes and all their possessions.
And while many adults were resistant to the gospel, the Smiths soon developed a vital ministry among the children. “Some shut the doors in our faces and refused, but the children were real receptive,” Dorothy Smith said. “So we decided maybe through our children’s program we could reach some parents, and God has blessed.”
The Missouri missions group adopted Smith’s strategy by investing in the lives of children who came to VBS from Catholic homes or unchurched families. After spending 15 hours teaching Bible stories, learning songs about Jesus and creating crafts that pointed to God’s creation, many of the kids returned home to ask their parents if they could attend Faith Baptist Church on Sunday.
Fifteen-year-old Chesed Coppenger of Kansas City said the experience had taught her to appreciate “how God blesses people with different things.” While Trinity North Baptist meets in the rented facilities of Renner Elementary School in north Kansas City, she said it was more than adequate when compared to the limited space available to Faith Baptist Church in Jefferson, S.D.
“It’s just having the right spirit to use what God’s given you,” the teen said. “They had eight people at church when we attended. They’re struggling, but they’re not giving up by having perseverance for what God has led them to do.”
The Kansas City teens were encouraged after returning home to learn from an e-mailed report from the Tradeaus that three new adults joined them for worship on Sunday and two of the kids from VBS attended Sunday school. Also present that afternoon for a church picnic and baptismal service was a teenage boy who was the object of much prayer by the Kansas City group.
The 14-year-old assigned by police to do trash clean-up in the park responded to offers of lemonade from the teenagers conducting VBS. After several invitations, he returned to attend and listened to a gospel presentation. On Sunday he brought his mother with him to the picnic and expressed a willingness to return to the church.
One girl accepted Christ as Savior at the close of VBS after “having all the answers for every Bible story,” related 18-year old Mandy Rogers. Drawing on Native American mythology which pervades South Dakota culture, the girl told of a legend about the crows taking a person’s spirit to the land of the living or dead. “She compared that to heaven and hell,” Mandy explained. “We had to work through a lot of that and then she shared that she had been baptized at a children’s camp, but knew she hadn’t been saved.”
Fourteen-year-old Alysha Vaughan told of inviting a boy who was hearing-impaired and autistic to VBS. “When we told his mother it would be fine for him to come, she was so happy because he wasn’t allowed to go to the Catholic camp.”
As the children reenacted the biblical account of a blind man coming to Jesus, the young boy guided a blindfolded teenager around the park. “He was so happy because he actually got to do something with people,” Alysha related. “I truly believe God sent us to South Dakota so we could show Brendon that God still loves him.”
During the evenings, the Kansas City group participated in Homecoming ’99, a youth rally sponsored by Grace Baptist Church of Vermillion, S.D., where youth minister Cory Gony and his wife, Carla, led the group of 32 students through a study of Colossians. “By the end of the week people were eager to learn about Jesus,” stated 14-year old Lisa Tomlinson of Kansas City. “They had a lot of questions and it was neat to see God working in all their lives.”
As he shared a Bible study with the teenagers, Gonyo encouraged the group to let the gospel overflow from their lives to others. “We can never assume they’ve heard. There are people around us who do not know Jesus is in our lives.”
Trinity North youth leader Sandra English is a recent Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate who is seeking appointment with the International Mission Board to serve in Africa. She told the teenagers, “You can be involved in missions right where you are, on this trip, at school, in your town. You have the opportunity because you’re surrounded by a lot of people. Every step you take and every word that comes out of your mouth is a witness.”
In addition to leading VBS and assisting with the youth rally, the group helped remodel the balcony of the Elk Point church, removing pews to put in theater seats. Mission trip leader Dean Nuhn of Kansas City led a revival for the church as well as drawing on his carpentry experience to wall in a basement that will house a clothes closet.
The teenagers returned to streets of Jefferson at the end of the week to distribute bags of microwave popcorn to each of the 160 households and handful of businesses. By sharing that gift, they were better able to distribute information about Faith Baptist Church.
“We had two people who said they’d been looking for a Baptist church in the area and were unaware one had been started,” related 16-year-old Doug Ledbetter of Kansas City. He and Alysha Vaughan ventured into a tavern that afternoon to share their faith with a Catholic lady who was preparing to open her business. In spite of what she described as “seeing things from different angles,” the woman accepted the gospel tract and listened attentively.
“If we’re going to win this part of the country for God, the churches in the South have got to understand they have to support the pastors up here,” Elk Point’s Harold Smith added. “Someday, I believe the Dakotas will pay dividends back to the Southern Baptist Convention.”

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  • Tammi Ledbetter