Today's From the States features items from:
The Christian Index (Georgia)
Baptist Life (Maryland)
Western Recorder (Kentucky)
GUATEMALA: Opening pockets of light
By J.Gerald Harris
The Christian Index
FAYETTEVILLE, Ga.--Flat Creek Baptist Church in Fayetteville has been involved in missions endeavors in Central America since 1998. When the International Mission Board launched their Operation Gospel Outreach in 2001, Flat Creek was one of the first churches to get involved and started sending Operation GO teams once or twice a year to Mexico, Costa Rica and Guatemala.
After several years of sending Operation GO teams throughout Central America the decision was made to focus on one area or town, plant a church and do follow-up. Pastor Jerry Cross invited some key church leaders to accompany him to Leon, Mexico, for the purpose of attending a Strategy Church Training Conference.
After visiting four different locations, the FCBC Vision Team decided in December of 2009 to focus their attention on Samayac, Guatemala. Samayac is in the Suchitepequez Department, or in the Southwestern region of the country, and not far from the Pacific Ocean.
Flat Creek sent three mission teams to Samayac in 2010. The first of three teams scheduled to go in 2011 has already returned with inspiring reports of what God is doing in the city of Samayac.
Operation Gospel Outreach involves prayer walking in an area and then going door to door to present the Gospel, praying for the needs of the people and giving each family the Gospel of Luke or the Gospel of John in their language.
Gary and Joyce Pearson, who are significantly involved in Flat Creek's missions ministry, explained, "We claim the promise in Isaiah 55:11: '... So shall My Word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please.'"
The Pearsons continued, "Prayer before going to individuals prepares both our hearts and the hearts of the people and opens the doors to our sharing the Gospel. We only take the printed Word where we have prayer walked. Operation GO enables us to share the truth of Jesus with many who have never heard."
Samayac is a place in desperate need of the Gospel, because it is known as the center of witchcraft in Guatemala (and perhaps all of Central America). The Pearsons have indicated that people from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and other Central American countries visit Samayac in hope of finding healing and inner strength from witch doctors and spiritualists.
Martin Mijanyo, a Guatemalan Christian, identifies his own country as a place where "there is a great fight against the devil where there is a lot of witchcraft practiced."
The U.S. State Department has even issued a statement citing that "witchcraft" and "devil worship" are among the traditional religious practices of Guatemala.
In Samayac many people worship the Virgin of Conception in the Catholic Church, but a chapel has been added and connected to the back of the church for the indigenous population to have a place to worship their idols.
Joyce Pearson explained the influence of witchcraft in Samayac by saying, "One believer asked some of the members of our team to pray for her since her neighbor (who is a witch doctor) was tormenting her and her family because they believed in Jesus Christ. While our people prayed for this woman in her doorway, the witchdoctor came out and began cursing the woman and our team members. He screamed and made loud noises in order to draw a crowd and to create confusion.
"A national pastor who is working in Samayac asked us to pray for a young girl who had made a decision for Christ, because a member of her family is a witch doctor and she is being persecuted and is afraid.
"As we go to homes, the people are reluctant to let us pray outside the home because they don't want to be seen with Christians who are praying. Sometimes they ask us to come inside their homes to pray. We assume that they are afraid of repercussions from those who practice witchcraft.
Pearson lamented, "When we encounter the few believers who live in Samayac, they beg us to continue working and say that the city is so evil that they are afraid. One new believer in the city encouraged us to continue to pray that God will push back the darkness and open pockets of light through which His love will shine.
"Flat Creek has had difficulty locating a pastor who will agree to move his family into the city due to the evil. Currently a national pastor is working three days a week in Samayac."
The unflappable mission teams from Flat Creek are determined to make an impact for Christ in Samayac. In addition to prayer walking and saturating the area with the Gospel they have shown the "Jesus" film in the City Municipal Building with a national pastor giving a Gospel presentation.
On two occasions the missionaries from Flat Creek have visited in two schools where they were allowed to tell Bible stories, sing Christian songs, play games and share Jesus with the children.
They also conducted Vacation Bible School in one of the schools where both children and adults attended. Pearson stated, "One woman made a profession of faith during the Bible study for adults and now participates in the church plant activities."
Several adults and young people have prayed to receive Christ on each of the church's visits to Samayac and these people have provided the core group for the establishment of a church in this troubled city. The national pastor from a nearby city meets with these new believers in a rented building to conduct regular worship services and Bible studies.
Pearson says, "We pray for a time when this group will become a church plant, but there is much discipleship and training yet to be done. We will return and work, trusting God to grow His church."
IMB missionaries Larry and Sara Plyler have helped Flat Creek connect with the city of Samayac. Pearson added, "They know that there are not enough missionaries to work in the unreached locations, so they encourage churches in the states to take responsibility for bringing the Gospel to some of these needy areas. That is what Flat Creek is committed to do in Samayac."
The entire Flat Creek church has gotten involved by providing funds for the mission teams to go to Guatemala. They have also had virtual prayer walks, collected items for the VBS, and purchased copies of the Gospel to be given to the citizens of this Guatemalan city dominated by witchcraft.
But the truth is that Flat Creek is pushing back the darkness and opening pockets of light in a place that has been one of the devil's strongholds for centuries.
This article first appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. J. Gerald Harris is editor of the Christian Index.
New wave of church planters brings excitement to Maryland's Eastern Shore
By Sharon Mager
SALISBURY, Md.--The laid back Eastern Shore of Maryland is bursting with new life -- new church life. Anglo and language church planters are seeing tremendous growth.
"The only way to describe it is reformation. The Lord is doing a new work here. We're glad to be a part of that. It's certainly exciting," Reid Sterrett, Eastern Association director of missions and pastor of Soul Discovery Church, Salisbury, said.
Each plant uses various methods and they're drawing diverse groups. "Churches are like people, they're all unique," Sterrett said.
One of the biggest new plants causing quite a buzz is Bayside Community Church in Pocomoke, near the Maryland/Virginia state line. The church officially launched in November and nearly 150 people attended and they had one profession of faith. At Easter, 480 people made the auditorium almost standing room only.
John Woods, pastor of Bayside Community Church, said on Easter morning he and several leaders went in the back to pray a half hour before the service.
"It was just amazing. At 9:30, there was a handful of people. When I came out, it was almost full," Woods said.
Bayside began with ten couples in a small group. They partnered with a local YWCA and other local businesses to offer Upward Basketball and cheerleading and used those activities to launch the church.
Bayside's mission is simple: "Share life, love and liberty found in Jesus."
Woods said the church doesn't compromise on the mission. "If someone comes up with a program and it does not fit our purpose, we don't waste time looking at it. We'd rather do four or five things really good ... than 10 or 12 halfway. We're staying focused on our mission and our plan. Of course, God has been behind it all. We can't do it without Him."
North of Pocomoke, Ryan Weaver, pastor of Remedy Church, Salisbury, said his church intentionally used a slower growth model focusing on community, serving and a holistic ministry approach. They had their public launch in January 2010 with 82 in attendance. Since then they've maintained around 80 and small groups average about 60.
The church meets at a movie theater and focuses on young families. They attract visitors through "relational marketing."
Weaver said Remedy was "missional from the beginning." The church focuses on sustainable ministry. Remedy recently worked with partners in Haiti to fund the digging of a well. Weaver and his Senior Pastor, Wayne Witzke, recently travelled with a team to Haiti to monitor the progress of the project and to meet with Haitian leaders to begin learning how Remedy might better engage the problem of orphan and child trafficking in the country.
Locally, they're working to assess and meet the needs of those living in poverty in Salisbury's urban areas.
Weaver is especially interested in partnering with local nonprofits and other churches in the area. He is currently seeking a nonprofit organization that may be willing to partner with the church to plant a community garden in a nearby urban neighborhood.
"Remedy Church's approach to ministry is relational and missional. We believe that the Gospel is best expressed by ordinary Christ-followers living in relationship to God, and their neighbors. Our vision is 'Go. Be. Do.' from Matthew 28:19," Weaver said.
Hispanic Church planter Jose Nater, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Cambridge, is preparing for a third Hispanic church plant within five years.
Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Cambridge will celebrate their fifth anniversary in October and they're in the process of gathering information to possibly buy their own property by that time. Currently, their facility is small, holding just 70. With about 50 regular attendees, the church is quickly outgrowing its facility.
Nater and the Cambridge congregation launched a new plant in Easton last year, Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Easton, and the church is now averaging about 80 each week.
Nater hopes to start another plant in Seaford, Del., by the end of this year.
"Church planting is what's in my heart. It's my passion," Nater said. The excited planter trusts God to provide the right leadership for the plants at the right time. More people have already been stepping up to help.
Nater's passion is shared by other Eastern shore planters. They've got boundless enthusiasm and seemingly endless energy.
"There's a fire starting ... by people who are really passionate about lost people. Something has to be done. We need to partner with God and get it done. That's what I'm seeing happen with church planters young and old," John Woods said.
Woods said established churches are taking notice of the new plants and some are encouraged and are examining themselves to see how they can be more relevant.
Reid Sterrett, who planted Soul Discovery nine years ago, is thrilled with how God is blessing the new works and bringing a wave of revival.
"The soil is fertile on the shore right now," said Sterrett. Plants include Anglo, Hispanic, Haitian and Brazilian. There are discussions about a new Chinese plant in Salisbury.
Sterrett said the new plants are vibrant, exciting and culturally relevant. Church planters are boldly proclaiming the Gospel.
Eastern Shore has evolved and has become more diverse over the past decade.
"The poultry industry brings a lot of immigrants," Sterrett said. "It used to be seasonal, but now it's less transient and there is more permanency with the immigrants." In addition, Sterrett explained, people of all nationalities are discovering that the shore is a great place to raise a family.
"What you're seeing is the culture as a melting pot of diversity. The twenty-first century church must adapt and be effective in reaching this culture pocket," Sterrett said.
Sterrett's church, Soul Discovery, began meeting in a minor league Baltimore Orioles affiliate stadium. They now meet in a banquet facility in Salisbury. The church is multi-ethnic with Koreans, Hispanics, African Americans and Anglos.
Sterrett said it's like a model from Revelation 7:9, "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb...."
Soul Discovery is geographically right between Allen, Oak Ridge and Remedy Churches, but Sterrett said each is unique.
Sterrett said church planting can sometimes cause jealousy and fear of "sheep stealing." It's unfounded, he said. "There are enough unchurched people for every evangelical church on the map to fill the churches and still not reach people for Christ."
Ryan Weaver acknowledges that today's planters are indebted to those who went before them.
"I stand on the shoulders of older planters and pastors, especially in this area. They are my heroes," Weaver said, mentioning Andy Ehlers, pastor of HighTide Church, parent church of Remedy; Daryl McCready, pastor of SonRise Church, Reid Sterrett and William Warren, pastor of Allen Memorial Church.
This article first appeared in Baptist LIFE, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. Sharon Mager is a correspondent for the convention.
Go! Africa summits to be
offered at Super Saturdays
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Western Recorder)--Under the leadership of the Kentucky Baptist Convention's partnership missions department, Kentucky Baptists are embarking on a new season of ministry overseas -- this one in the four African nations of Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
"Go! Africa" is a one-year initiative to share Christ, disciple those who already have accepted the gospel, and provide hands-on assistance to residents of the coastal region in southeastern Africa.
Informational sessions about Go! Africa will be offered at each of the upcoming Super Saturday leadership development events. Super Saturdays will be held Aug. 27, Sept. 10 and Sept. 17 at various locations throughout the state.
"At the 'Go! Africa' sessions, we will share about the exciting, challenging opportunities for Kentucky Baptists to answer their personal call to fulfill the Great Commission," said Scott Pittman, the KBC's partnership missions director.
"Those opportunities include evangelism, discipleship, training, disaster relief and construction projects in these African nations," he explained.
Each session will be held during the 2 p.m. class sessions at the Super Saturday events in Elizabethtown, Lexington, Paducah, Owensboro and Prestonsburg. Find out more about Super Saturday at www.KyBaptist.org/SuperSaturday.
An additional component to Go! Africa is the ongoing effort to renovate Sanyati Baptist Hospital in Zimbabwe. Volunteers with Kentucky Baptist disaster relief, working with Baptist Global Response, helped launch the five-year effort in May.
According to Coy Webb, the KBC's disaster relief associate, the medical care that the facility provides is just one aspect of its importance to the people of the area.
"The hospital plays a strategic role in evangelism and church planting in Zimbabwe," noted Webb, who was among the team serving in Sanyati in May.
"The hospital has planted 150 churches in its over-50-year history, and has a goal of planting 15 new churches during this makeover," he explained.
Volunteers are needed to replace roofs, make electrical repairs, build new cabinets and undertake many other major repairs of the facility.
"The purpose of 'Go! Africa' is two-fold," Pittman said, "first, to meet immediate needs in these areas, and second, to develop ongoing relationships between participating churches and African Baptists."
This article first appeared in the Western Recorder (westernrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
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