Today's From the States features items from:

Baptist & Reflector (Tennessee)

The Baptist Courier (South Carolina)

California Southern Baptist

189 teens make spiritual

commitments at TBC outreach

By Connie Davis Bushey

NASHVILLE (Baptist & Reflector) -- Last weekend 189 students made spiritual decisions, mostly professions of faith, at the Youth Evangelism Conference 2013.

Also most students attending Saturday sessions of YEC 2013 committed to a 20-day Bible study/Bible verse memorization effort.

A total of 9,170 attended the March 1-2 event despite some snow. Though a snow advisory was issued, little accumulation occurred in Nashville. The weather probably kept some away, YEC officials observed.

YEC was held at the Municipal Auditorium in Nashville.

Kent Shingleton, student evangelism specialist, Tennessee Baptist Convention, who directs the YEC, spoke in the first sessions calling teens to "Clear the Stage" of their life, referring to the YEC 2013 theme.

"Could it be that we have a bunch of junk in our life? Sometimes the stage just needs to be cleared," stated Shingleton.

"Sometimes we need to remove the idols in our life so Jesus can be on the stage of our life."

He noted that because God sent His son, Jesus, people can be forgiven and given a new life, "free from the bondage of sin. I'm asking God to transform your life this weekend," Shingleton concluded.

David Nasser

David Nasser was the main speaker of the YEC. He is an author, speaker and pastor of a church in Birmingham, Ala. Also scheduled to speak, Tony Nolan of Atlanta had to cancel due to unexpected complications from surgery on his ACL.

Nasser spoke on Friday night in the two duplicate sessions to allow for the crowd. He told the students about his journey from his native country of Iran and acceptance of Christianity although his family was Muslim.

He and his family fled Iran when David was 9 years old, fearing for their lives, he told the students. In fact fear was a main motivator of his life. He told how as a 9-year-old he was called in front of a school assembly where a soldier put a gun to his head and threatened to kill him. Without the intervention of a school leader, he might have been killed, Nasser said. He was targeted because his father was in the military. This was during the Iranian Revolution, he noted, which led to the death of many Iranians.

Nasser and his family did escape but only after leaving everything they owned behind and waiting in Europe to enter America for about nine months.

God helped them escape, Nasser said. For instance, his parents hid jewelry in a baby carriage which was not found by airport officials before they boarded an airplane to leave, he recalled.

"Before we knew God, God knew us," he stated.

Because of the American hostage crisis in Iran, it also is amazing that they were allowed into the United States. At one point, as they waited in Europe, his mom got the family together and suggested that they pray to America's God, Jesus. A week later, they were allowed to emigrate, said Nasser.

They settled in Texas where Nasser had a tough time fitting in because of being an Iranian and living in a "military town." So he developed "another kind of fear," said Nasser, and "blamed God for it all."

In high school he turned to clothes and cars, joking that he transformed himself into "the geek sheik," which brought him popularity. But he found that money and popularity didn't lead to happiness and he wasn't a good student. After high school he got involved with drugs.

Then a friend who also was involved with drugs invited him to a Baptist church. Nasser's father allowed him to go though he was a Muslim because members of the church had voluntarily served as waiters and other staff at the restaurant Nasser's father operated when he had some staff problems.

"Is that a coincidence or the righteous hand of God?" asked Nasser.

He went to some church activities. Then students from the church visited him once a week for eight weeks at his home explaining Christianity. He felt like he was, once again, being "terrorized by religion," he stated. He went back to the church but left annoyed. When he returned home he felt the presence of God and while there alone committed his life to God. After he was baptized his father asked him to leave the home telling Nasser that he was dead to him.

Nasser lived with some friends existing with help from friends. Five months later his sister called him and told him that she had become a Christian. Several months later his Mom and then his brother became Christians. About three years after he became a Christian Nasser's entire family had been saved.

His father, a self-made millionaire and a military man, made the commitment but that was not "half as tough" as a teen in America today making a commitment to God, said Nasser. Nasser's father faced a more "black and white" decision than teens who consider a lot of "shades of gray" concerning God and religion, observed Nasser.

He asked students to ask God for forgiveness of their sins and accept Jesus as the Son of God. Students moved to the stage in the two sessions to make the commitment.

Needham and Castillo

Also on Friday, Jimmy Needham, a recording artist from Houston, performed and spoke.

He said he had struggled with two idols in his life -- pornography which led to lust, and gluttony. He became involved with porn at age 9.

"I am 8 years outside of a porn addiction," he reported, and some years ago his weight dropped from 260 to 190 in six months.

"My issue was primarily about appetite," Needham said.

He began reading the Bible, he said, and from the Old Testament he learned his issues weren't that bad in comparison to the people featured. He said the Old Testament is full of "human train wrecks."

He learned instead of needing "a harder work ethic or better will power" that God wants to satisfy people.

"I sat with God daily and I feasted. … I became too full to eat the garbage of this world," Needham said.

Also students heard Joe Castillo, sand story artist from Richmond, Ky., and recent finalist on the TV show "America's Got Talent," speak before and after performances.

Castillo said God allowed him on the show despite his concern that his art wouldn't be appreciated. Then, despite directives, he was able to witness during the TV show by drawing Jesus.

He said, "I'd much rather be here than on America's Got Talent." Castillo also told the students that what happens on a reality show is not real but "what's real is what happens here today" and that the fame and glory associated with TV is "all smoke and mirrors."

Nasser on Saturday

David Nasser also spoke during Saturday sessions, asking the teens what they believe about the Bible.

He said it's one thing to clap to show that they agree that the Bible is the most important book ever published and another "to submit to this in the trenches of everyday life."

They may say that Tim Tebow should speak at First Baptist Church in Dallas, a "church that believes the Scripture." He referred to the fact that Tebow, an outspoken Christian and NFL football player, recently pulled out of a speaking engagement at the church because of what some have labeled as controversial statements by FBC's pastor.

They may say that they would "fight for the right" to have a Bible or do certain things with the Scripture, yet they don't read it and don't know Bible verses by memory, declared Nasser.

"You and I are a part of a small minority of people" who ... can actually show people what's in the Bible, said Nasser.

He asked the many Christians in the auditorium if they have memorized at least one Bible verse each year they have been a Christian.

They are not attending a sports camp, an Amway convention or a Justin Bieber concert, he observed. They should not glean their theology from the latest Chris Tomlin song or second-hand from a sermon, he continued.

Nasser also challenged the Christians here to begin discipling another person by meeting weekly for a while with them.

He noted that the students here are very intelligent about many things like football, hunting, music, video games, digital devices, Facebook, the Internet, and the person they are dating.

They want God to help them decide who to date, what school to attend, or whether to go out for football but they aren't looking in the Scripture to learn more about God, he added.

As they read the Bible and memorize Scripture they will become mature rather than emotionally-driven Christians, stated Nasser.

He challenged the students to participate in a "20-day spiritual journey" of Bible study and Scripture memorization 20-30 minutes a day.

He asked anyone who would commit to the 20-day study to stand. Most of the crowd in the auditorium stood.

The teens were encouraged to hold each other accountable since many in their youth group might be participating and recruit other teens to participate. Nasser also directed them to the twitter account — TNYECGR — on which they can encourage each other and report their experiences. The GR of the twitter address stands for Glory Revealed, the book by Nasser which is the guide for the study. It was distributed to each student as they left the session.

Nasser told the students they should be thankful that the TBC provided the book, making this "kind of investment in Bible study for you." The crowd applauded.

Other activities

Grace Bruner, winner of the TBC 2012 Youth Speakers Tournament from McConnell Baptist Church, South Fulton, presented her winning speech. Bruner, 18, spoke on tolerance, noting that "love does not mean tolerance." She warned against tolerance for the gay lifestyle, abortion, violence, premarital sex, and inappropriate language.

Additionally, an offering was taken for the 2014 Tennessee Student Missions Trip to Italy.

Participants

Colby McMillion, 18, of Unity Baptist Church, Henderson, said he was attending his first YEC and liked it. He learned about it from members of his church.

"I want to come back next year," he said.

Youth leader Andy Commuse of Bellevue Baptist Church, Nashville, was part of a 15-member group from the church.

He supports YEC because it helps students know that "someone loves them and they need to understand what God's purpose for their life is."

Jonathan Womack, pastor, Plain-view Baptist Church, Woodbury, said his church brought 22 people to YEC. He said he led the group to participate because he doesn't have to worry about what the youth from his church will hear at the YEC. "It'll be the true gospel … the truth," he stated.

Marty Estes, director of children and youth ministry, Sand Ridge Baptist Church, Lexington, was part of a 55-member group.

He said he supports YEC because "I want to see our teens know Christ, deepen their relationship with Him and … understand what it means to follow Scripture."

Estes, who has been to YEC four other years, said "Every time we come it seems God does something in the lives of the teenagers and it's exciting to go home and follow up...."

This article appeared in the Baptist & Reflector (tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Connie Davis Bushey is news editor of the Baptist & Reflector.

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Evangelism Conference

touts 'Power of One'

By Norman Cannada

EASLEY, S.C. (The Baptist Courier) -- For South Carolina Baptist Convention evangelism director Lee Clamp, the math is simple: One person building one relationship a year -- in order to share the Gospel -- could lead to all unchurched people in the state hearing the message of Christ in just 12 years.

"If the statistics are right, we would have 300,000 South Carolina Baptists today in a church on a Sunday morning, building a relationship to share the Gospel," Clamp said. "In 12 years, we would have 3.6 million who have heard the gospel. That is the exact number … not inside the walls of any Christian church on any given Sunday in the state of South Carolina."

"The Power of One," emphasizing one person focusing on reaching one other person with the message of Jesus Christ, was the theme of this year's State Evangelism Conference, held Feb. 19-21 at Rock Springs Baptist Church in Easley.

Bobby Welch, a former Southern Baptist Convention president who now works with the Tennessee Baptist Convention, promoted his "1-5-1" principle, wherein people start some type of discipleship group or church with five people, and that group branches out to start another group.

"There are laborers and a large amount of harvest," Welch said. "The farmer plants because he is a harvester. He's looking for the fruit. We cannot forget evangelism."

Welch encouraged those attending the conference to go outside the walls of the church to reach the lost.

"We need to get people to go from the church," he said. "You've got to get out of the building."

Brandon Blair, minister of students at Langston Baptist Church in Conway, talked about the power of remembering in the process of getting motivated to share Christ with others. He told his story of being wounded as a soldier in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2006.

"There is power in one who remembers," Blair said. "You don't have to beg me to evangelize and tell people about Jesus. I'm a different person. I'm changed. I don't have to be revived. All I have to do is remember where I was when I was lying on my back in Fallujah. There is nothing at all good about me except my God, and I will praise him. All we need to do is remember."

Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church, Spartanburg, told those at the conference they have an important role in reaching people with the gospel. Using a fishing analogy, Wilton called on them to get into the boat, engage the water, use the equipment, cast the net, feel the bite, draw the net and celebrate the catch.

"Only God can save," said Wilton. "Only the Holy Spirit can convict, and only fruit can testify."

Jerry Vines, who served as pastor of First Baptist Jacksonville, Fla., for nearly 25 years, closed the conference with a message about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in the midst of a nation and world of "bad news."

"We're living in a land that is filled with bad news," Vines said. "Before you can truly understand the good news, you have to understand the bad news. The bad news of the Bible is the bad news of the human race. The bad news of our world is the bad news of sin and death. Death is the bully on the block of life."

David Gallamore, pastor of the host church, Rock Springs, said the theme "challenged us to go out and reach one."

"The Power of One is very powerful," Gallamore said. "I believe we have kind of put it on the back burner, and we've missed out. The hope for our country, our convention and our community is each one reaching one."

Conference organizer Randall Jones said the challenge of every South Carolina Baptist reaching one person a year with the gospel has great potential.

"If we can succeed, we're going to literally change the face of South Carolina with each one one," Jones said. "The power is within the individual who is empowered by the Holy Spirit who lives within us."

This article appeared in The Baptist Courier (baptistcourier.com), newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

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Sacramento area churches

serve in diverse settings

By Joe Westbury

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (California Southern Baptist) -- To a certain degree, Sacramento is the stepchild to California's more glitzy, scenic and trend-setting cities.

Los Angeles has Hollywood, San Francisco the Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars, and Sacramento has ... well, its most important claim to fame is that it is the state capital, a fact that is lost on most Americans when asked trivia questions.

California Southern Baptists view it as another of the state's heavily unchurched metropolitan areas in need of a Gospel witness.

The needs are great, but the resources are greater when people arrive with volunteers and supplies equal to the task.

"The Sacramento Association of Southern Baptist Churches has 98 churches and missions spread across four counties. We have a lot to do," said director of missions Dennis Fredricks. "I tell each church, 'You have a field of 220,000 people -- go for it!'"

That means churches have to have a plan that reaches all residents, not isolated demographic groups. The area is very homogenous so churches need to think in those terms.

Years ago isolated communities of ethnic groups such as Korean, Chinese or Vietnamese were more common and required a tailored outreach. While those groups still exist, it is far more common for the races to blend together and create a homogenous mix.

"We do not have large isolated areas where just one ethnic group lives where you might have a church that caters to that demographic," Fredricks explained. "We are largely a mosaic of many groups living alongside each other.

"It's very unfortunate these days for a church to start without having a plan to be representative of its community. Now you begin by hiring a multicultural staff, then growing from there.

"Nearly 93 percent of Sacramento households speak English to one degree or another," Fredricks continued, "so it's never correct for a church to say it can't reach the language groups outside its doors."

For churches to grow, they have to have an active presence in the community. It's through those doors - literacy missions, after-school tutoring or Backyard Bible Clubs - that prospects are identified and relationships are built, Fredricks said.

New Hope Community Church is one such example. pastor Daniel Wong said a food closet and after-school program have "really powered our ministry here. We started with a half-dozen children but now have nearly 90."

While the school program's federal funding means the church can't address faith issues, it serves as a powerful way to bring children and their parents onto the church grounds. And that, Wong says with a smile, is where relationships are built.

As a result, the church continued the tutoring program in the summer when the government funding ended for the school year. The summer "bridge program," as it is called, registered 60 students - 18 of whom came to faith in Christ. The church used the C.S. Lewis classic "Chronicles of Narnia" as the reading curriculum.

"Because we came to know the children throughout the school year, they were comfortable with coming back to us in the summer. We then get to know them a little better and can be more involved in meeting their needs and those of the family," Wong explained.

Across town in unincorporated Del Paso Heights, a struggling Anglo congregation has opened its facility to a ministry that has created a strong presence in the rough neighborhood. It was once prosperous due to the good jobs offered at nearby McClellan Air Force Base - until it closed in 1995.

First Baptist Church, founded in 1945, mirrored much of the base's growth and started several other congregations during the boom years. But today it finds itself in a highly transitional neighborhood and has bars on all its windows.

Pastor Bob Richardson now oversees a loose-knit outreach through a partnership with an Hispanic church for which it provides space, and to a food and clothing ministry overseen by an African-American couple.

"To be honest, I wondered how an Anglo pastor could make a difference in a community that is largely African-American and Hispanic and marked by gangs such as the Bloods and Crips. But we felt we could provide our facilities to others who have a sense of calling but lack space to meet."

"Sistah Pat" Rivers as she is known, became the new face of the church when she brought For His Glory to the white cinder-block building. The clothes closet and feeding ministry has been a popular draw for area residents and gets them onto the church grounds.

On a recent Wednesday 30 adults lined up for lunch. They crowded the fellowship hall and kitchen as Rivers and her helpers dished up a hot spaghetti meal.

A woman walks in the door and signs in at the desk, quickly expressing her gratitude for the service.

"I just learned about this and it is so important for me right now," she says to Rivers who replies with her trademark smile and a big hug. "Thank you so much," the woman says. "This is so awesome."

Rivers thanks her for coming and says, "Welcome. We have a lot of fun here serving the Lord."

It's that kind of heartfelt thanks that makes the ministry worthwhile even with limited resources, the matriarch of the ministry explained.

"People out of nowhere donate clothes and that's one of our most popular ministries. It's a community closet but we call it the Lord's Closet. He is so good to us.

"Christ said, 'I was hungry and you fed me, I was naked and you clothed me.' We try to live as close to His teachings as possible."

Sacramento Association is a big partner in that outreach, donating the equivalent of 60 bags of groceries each month.

The food ministry provides a time for prayer, presenting the gospel and a devotion during meal times. It's a good example of social gospel at its finest -- believers sharing their faith and meeting needs to bring others to faith in Christ. In fact, Rivers said, it's exactly what Christ would do if He lived in Del Paso Heights.

She and her husband Ben founded the clothing ministry in their home and it eventually outgrew the location.

"The Lord then gave Ben the idea of adding a food ministry and that's when Pastor Bob offered space in his church five years ago," Rivers explained.

The outreach has now grown into reconciliation in the community through involvement in the Lifelines of Hope "Ceasefire" ministry. While a citywide effort involving clergy from across denominational lines, the Del Paso Heights community is coordinated through For His Glory.

"Every Friday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. as many as 14 volunteers from our and other churches walk the area to build relationships with gang members and leaders. There has been a good reduction in the amount of street violence in South Sacramento since the ministry began but we don't have any statistics on our area yet. We've just been doing this for two years," Rivers explained.

"I lost a niece and cousin to gang violence just by being innocent bystanders, so I know firsthand how traumatic it can be."

That's where volunteers could lend their resources, just like they could at New Hope Church with Daniel Wong.

"We just love to see people come to Christ. If I had some more help in our food and clothing ministry or on our Friday night walks we could have such a greater impact in Del Paso. I would love to see more folks accept Christ," Rivers said.

"Nobody deserves to go to Hell. I want to help as many people as possible avoid it and have a good life right here on Earth."

This article appeared in the California Southern Baptist (csbc.com/csb), newsjournal of the California Southern Baptist Convention. Joe Westbury is managing editor of the Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board's call to embrace the world's 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board's call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.

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