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Vermont’s 251 townships get NEBC’s attentiveness

BENNINGTON, Vt. (BP) — “I’ve never seen anything like that before!” a man with two friends exclaimed. While students from Northeastern Baptist College washed their car, the men watched as Mark Ballard, NEBC’s founding president, used an EvangeCube to share the Gospel.

Using the small cube’s pictorial storytelling, Ballard explained Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. As the conversation unfolded, Ballard realized that the man had never heard the Gospel.

The conversation occurred in a typical Vermont town in mid-September. Ironically, the town is just five miles north of the “Haystack Prayer Meeting” site where, in the midst of a rainstorm and a citywide spiritual awakening in 1806, five college students birthed the American foreign missions movement.

Today, Vermont is one of the least churched states in the U.S. where many adults have never heard a simple Gospel presentation.

For Northeastern Baptist College, the car wash was part of its 251 Club outreach to Vermonters.

College librarian Jim Mancuso explained, “Vermont has 251 townships. One can join Vermont’s 251 Club and receive a certificate after visiting all 251 towns.” Mancuso and Ballard each have earned 251 Club certificates.

When Northeastern Baptist College launched in 2013, the college formed its own 251 Club. “From the first chapel service onward, we highlighted a different town,” Ballard recounted. “We checked websites and made phone calls. We discovered whether or not the towns had any Gospel-preaching churches. Many towns had none. Upon finding a Gospel-preaching church, we prayed for its witness. In five years we prayed through the entire state, one town per chapel.”

With the 2018 fall semester, NEBC has expanded its 251 Club initiative” — “we’re adding shoe leather to our prayers,” Ballard said.

Each week, he said, “We learn about a town’s history, something interesting in the town, and we pray for the salvation of the lost and the revival of the saved. Each Friday afternoon, some NEBC students, staff and faculty visit the town.”

Lee Williams, NEBC academic vice president, said, “When there’s a Great Commission church, we help with an outreach project — for example, a free car wash. While some wash cars, others make friends and start conversations.”

When washing cars, they refuse all donations. “Most are surprised,” admissions director Joe Ferguson said. “We say, ‘We’re illustrating a fact: The greatest thing in life is free. May I tell you about it?’ If they agree, we share the Gospel. It’s fun. Most are willing to listen.”

A team of 11 from NEBC went to a town of just over 800 in early September. “We were unable to identify a Gospel-preaching church,” Ballard said. “We couldn’t assist with an outreach project, but we could prayerwalk through three neighborhoods. After our prayerwalks, we gathered at the town’s general store. An employee gave a short talk about the town’s history and answered questions. The conversation led into a Gospel presentation. Curious workers and customers paused to listen; two listened the entire time. Other Gospel conversations developed naturally.”

“The 251 Club is one way NEBC helps students integrate classroom learning with life experience,” Timothy K. Christian, professor of theology and director of communications, noted in an NEBC news release. “In the classroom, students develop a ‘Scholar’s Mind.’ Through special events like 251 Club evangelism projects, they cultivate a ‘Shepherd’s Heart.’ Ultimately, they gain a ‘Soldier’s Perseverance,'” he said, citing the college’s key aims.

Northeastern Baptist College in Bennington, Vt., now has an enrollment of 45 students, having earned Vermont accreditation and degree-granting authority from the State Board of Education in a unanimous vote in 2014. The college offers four bachelor’s degrees — in biblical studies, music, Christian counseling and business — and three associate’s degrees.