Today's From the States features items from:
Florida Baptist Witness
Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)
Suncoast Association hosts event
uniting 2 cities across the world
By Kristen Kitchen
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness)--Much like the city of St. Petersburg, Russia, The Two St. Petes Conference was a lesson in contradictions. Amidst the scent of authentic Russian cuisine and the swirling, celebratory moves of Russian dancers, stood the stark contrast of the harsh realities of life in the famous city across the world.
When the dancing ends and the celebration is over, however, many Russians remain locked in the chains of rampant drug and alcohol abuse. So rampant, in fact, that Clint Stewart, International Mission Board (IMB) team leader in Russia, said it's possible that upwards of 90 percent of Russian men suffer the ravages of alcohol addiction.
Brought face to face with this juxtaposition of great beauty and great depravity after a visit to Russia in 2010, Billy Mitchell, the church planting strategist for the Suncoast Baptist Association, and Jason Duskin, pastor of The Movement Church, were forever changed.
Returning home to St. Petersburg, Fla., the duo developed the website thetwostpetes.com and began brainstorming the Sept. 17 conference, which brought together more than 150 people who the organizers hope will catch the vision of bringing God's message of hope and restoration to the Russian city that shares their city's name.
Mitchell said he desires the Gospel to explode like a fire on the scene, changing St. Petersburg (Russia) first, and then fanning out to other regions, until all of Russia is reached.
"God, if there was a changed Russia, what would the world look like?" Mitchell prayed.
Inspired by Paul's words in Philippians 2:3-4, which exhort believers to put the interests of others above their own, Duskin and Mitchell set out to bless this sister city half a world away from home.
Mitchell told Florida Baptist Witness the Tampa Bay area is home to tens of thousands of Russian people, but only a few Russian churches. He dreams of an entire network of Russian churches springing up in the area within a few years, and said he is confident this conference will be the catalyst that makes that dream a reality.
Thanks to the generosity of the Suncoast Baptist Association and the conference's host church, both Stewart and Pavel Sennicov, church planting strategist for the Russian Baptist Union, attended the conference in person. But through the use of Skype, other church leaders in Russia participated.
For several hours, the Russian Baptists shared information about the plight of the Russian people and the way God's powerful message of salvation is bringing restoration.
Several times throughout these Skype sessions, attendees paused to pray with the Russian leaders, petitioning God to bless their work and bring His healing power to St. Petersburg and beyond.
Joining via Skype from Northwest Russia, Valeri Tolkachov, pastor of the Baptist Church of Vyborg, shared stories of how the church is reaching out to this devastated country which suffers, not only from astronomically high drug and alcohol addiction rates, but also one of the fastest-growing rates of HIV/AIDS cases in the world.
Russian government-sponsored rehabilitation facilities are rarely effective in helping people conquer their addictions. Tolkachov said it would not be unusual for a man to re-enter a government-based treatment facility upwards of 25 to 30 times, experiencing little or no improvement.
To combat this problem, Baptist churches in Russia began to offer their own rehabilitation programs. Churches bought small homes or reconfigured attics in their church buildings to house addicts seeking help. There are currently about 120 men and women enrolled in 25 church-led rehabilitation facilities operating throughout the St. Petersburg area. Tolkachov said the Russian people are so desperate for help that church members never have to seek out people for their programs. The bitter Russian winters also help fill the rehab centers, as the oft-homeless addicts seek to escape the elements.
Although the church-led rehab centers offer no medical intervention, the residents complete an eight-month program of intensive Scripture study and prayer. About two months into the program, the newly-sober participants go out into the community and find honest work. Often, they offer their services in exchange for food and supplies to be used at the rehab center. Their sobriety impresses employers who once considered these men unemployable or unreliable at best. Stewart said approximately 90 percent of men who complete the eight-month program stay off of drugs and alcohol permanently.
Often, these rehab facilities birth new churches. An estimated 30 to 35 percent of men who undergo treatment at the rehab centers make a profession of faith in Christ. Many of them are so ecstatic about the change in their lives that they decide to go into Christian ministry full-time, seeking to bring their fellow countrymen out of the darkness of addiction.
"Some of them have almost lost their lives in the first place. Then they turned to Christ, and He has returned their lives and left an abundance," Tolkachov said.
Stewart said it makes a big impression on the community to see the change in these men. Even the local government in St. Petersburg has acknowledged the effectiveness of the churches' rehab programs. In an almost unimaginable move, the government gave one local church a plot of land and requested the 45-member church build and run a women's rehab center, an orphanage and a retirement home there. The church is currently praying for God's provision of the resources necessary to meet those goals within the next two years.
Conference attendees representing several Florida Baptist churches, including Alethia Baptist of Tampa, The Movement Church, North East Park Baptist of St. Petersburg, Fla., Slavic Baptist of St. Petersburg, Salvation (Russian) Baptist in Orlando and The Church at Viera, laid hands on and prayed over the family of Marc and Kellye Hooks, IMB missionaries who will soon embark on a four-year church-planting assignment in Russia. Marc, a media producer by trade, is seeking 600 Southern Baptists to join him in Sochi, Russia, during the 2014 Winter Olympics. Hooks is planning a mass evangelism project using the popular Olympic tradition of trading lapel pins.
Noting that he will be responsible for areas across the Russian countryside spanning 11 times zones, Hooks said he could relate to the Psalmist's words, "You have set my feet in a large place" (Psalm 31:8). The weight of his responsibility makes him all the more appreciative of the prayers on his family's behalf.
Several conference speakers stressed the importance of building long-term relationships with Russian churches. First Baptist Church of Pensacola has sent church members to run baseball camps for children at a church in Russia for the past ten years. Stewart said it took about three years of regular visits from the Pensacola congregation before the local townspeople became active in the church on a regular basis.
Mitchell agreed the best strategy seems to be to find a place to serve, build relationships, and "camp out" there for a while.
Since his home city will likely be called St. Petersburg for a long time, Mitchell said it makes sense to him to continue to support its sister city indefinitely.
Mitchell acknowledged Florida's St. Petersburg suffers many of the same problems of homelessness and addiction as their namesake city. He asked the Russian church leaders to be in prayer for Florida's city that shares the same name.
After the conference, Mitchell received word from Sennicov that church leaders in St. Petersburg (Russia) have committed to pray for the specific needs of the Florida churches during two large, upcoming leadership gatherings.
"We are truly seeing the concept of 'putting the needs and interests of the other city ahead of ourselves' blossom both ways," Mitchell said via email.
This article originally appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (www.gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Kristen Kitchen is a correspondent for the Witness.
Urban Impact: Reaching
By Melissa Lilley
NEW YORK, N.Y. (Biblical Recorder)--A couple doors down from the Urban Impact office in Jackson Heights, Queens, are two Nepali/Tibetan restaurants and across the street is a Korean grocery store.
Just a few blocks away is an area known as Little India. Indian restaurants and stores with elaborate gold jewelry line the streets, and fortune-tellers and astrologers pass out their business cards. One store is filled with all kinds of statues of Hindu gods, such as Ganesha, known to Hindus as the Remover of Obstacles.
A little farther down is Little Bangladesh, where the population is largely Muslim and restaurants serve up traditional Bengali food.
Jackson Heights is home to many South Asians. In addition to Indians and Bengalis are people from Nepal, Tibet, and Pakistan.
Camille Samuel is director of Urban Impact's South Asian Center. "Some days I walk down the street and I don't hear any English at all," she said
Samuel, 26, came to Urban Impact after serving two years with the International Mission Board in India. Samuel said the work in Jackson Heights is hard, as people come and go and it takes awhile to build relationships, but she enjoys serving because she cares for the people.
Urban Impact seeks to reach immigrants and those from the "10/40 Window" (the rectangular area of North Africa, the Middle East and Asia between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north latitude that includes the majority of the world's Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists) who are living in New York City. Urban Impact does this through ministries such as Vacation Bible School, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and computer classes.
Urban Impact also has a center in Brooklyn to reach West African Muslims and a center in Woodhaven, Queens, to reach Yemenese Muslims.
Although many religions are represented in Jackson Heights such as Greek Orthodox, Sikh and Roman Catholic, Hinduism and Buddhism are what Samuel encounters most often at Urban Impact.
Although these immigrants now live in a country where they have freedom of religion, that does not mean converting to Christianity is easy. Samuel said some people come to New York with family and are pressured by family members not to convert.
But Samuel has already seen God at work during her first year in Queens. She has befriended an older Indian woman and been able to share the gospel.
She has seen a Bengali man, a Muslim, become open to reading the Bible and volunteering with ESL. Another Bengali man has prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.
Samuel wants people in Queens to know they can find peace in Jesus Christ. "People here are hungry for rest," she said.
Sometimes family members stay behind in their country while other family members come to New York City to try and make a living. When the time is right, the rest of the family makes the move overseas. Samuel met an Indian woman who was separated from her husband for 10 years in such a situation. Some of the ESL attendees are women who have never been to school of any kind. Others are women in their 50s with grown children who want to try something new. Yet other participants were professors in their country and now cannot get a job because they do not speak English.
A team from North Carolina recently spent a day serving alongside Samuel, prayer walking and helping with ESL registration. Ministry with Urban Impact was part of a mission trip sponsored by Embrace Women's Missions and Ministries of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. The team also worked with churches in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn.
Elmore prays for God to help make her aware of opportunities to be a witness for Him. "It doesn't come easy to me. It's easier to just be quiet. You have to trust the Lord," she said. "The more you share the more you know you have to trust Jesus."
Elmore said people were very surprised the ESL classes were free - another reminder that sometimes it's the small things that lead to the greatest opportunities to witness.
The team also spent time at the West African Center and prayed for the ministry to West African Muslims. They also prayed for Mike Flaschenriem, who began as director of the center only six weeks ago.
Flaschenriem, 29, is a former direct TV salesman from Tampa, Fla., who ran from the Lord. "I didn't want to do it," he said about his call to full-time ministry.
It took his brother's suicide to get his attention and turn him back to doing what he knew God had called him and his wife to do. Flaschenriem graduated from Word of Life Bible Institute in February and is ready to begin the work God has for him in Brooklyn.
Whether it is West African Muslims in Brooklyn or Hindus in Queens, laborers are needed in the fields ready for harvest. To learn how you can get involved in reaching the nations in New York City visit ncbaptist.org/gcp.
Visit embracenc.org for more information about Embrace opportunities.
This article originally appeared in the Biblical Recorder (www.biblicalrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Melissa Lilley works for the communications team for the convention.
Illinois Baptists serve
By Meredith Day
PITTSBURGH, Pa.--Dale Davenport might have left Pittsburgh, but part of his heart is still there. Davenport was an associate pastor in Pittsburgh for eight years before coming home to Illinois, where he serves as IBSA's Education and Leadership Development director.
For the past three years, he has returned to the Pennsylvania city, leading a team of Illinois Baptists to provide training based on the Churches of Strength conferences offered across Illinois. The mission trips are part of a multi-year partnership between IBSA and the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey.
Illinois and Pennsylvania have several things in common. They're similar in size, even closer in population, And both anchored by metropolitan areas near their borders.
But at least one thing is very different: Illinois is home to nearly 1,000 Southern Baptist churches, and Pennsylvania has approximately 400. Since 2008, Illinois Baptists have partnered with the Baptist Convention Of Pennsylvania/South Jersey to provide ministry resources and training so that more of Pennsylvania's 12. 6 million residents might hear and respond to the Gospel. The partnership will continue through 2012.
In September, a team including Davenport, fellow IBSA staff members Steve Hamrick, Sylvan Knobloch and Tim Sadler, and Al and Darlene Leatherwood from First Baptist Church, O'Fallon, traveled to Pennsylvania to serve in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
Working with the Pennsylvania/South Jersey state convention, the Illinois volunteers organized training sessions for groups of leaders in both cities, and also partnered with local churches to offer One-on-one consultations.
"They were really hungry for leadership training," Davenport said of the Pennsylvania leaders who attended his workshop on effective habits for small group facilitators. "They wanted to know how to be better leaders, so they can reach the people they're not yet reaching."
Knobloch shared church budgeting tips and answered questions about pastor salaries, administrative processes and legal issues.
"They had questions, and we gave them plenty of time to talk," Knobloch said. He added that his training time also included opportunities to talk about the Cooperative Program, and to encourage pastors to engage the SBC's method of supporting missions efforts of state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention.
In other sessions, Hamrick explored general trends in worship and music, as well as practical tips like how to prepare an order of worship. He also trained leaders in how to communicate with different audiences through social media.
Sadler taught several workshops on discipleship, including the New Testament picture of discipleship, emphasizing evangelism, and developing Leaders in that area.
Along with the IBSA staff members, Darlene Leatherwood, who directs children's ministry at First Baptist Church, O'Fallon, shared suggestions with children's and youth ministry leaders.
"She really helped them understand what needs to happen in those ministries to make the church stronger," Davenport said. "She gave them ideas about resources, safety and curriculum."
As they worked to enhance the efforts of a state convention staff that is smaller than Illinois' but tasked with covering nearly the same number of miles, the Illinois volunteers returned with a new appreciation for resources God has provided and the opportunity to partner with other Southern Baptists.
"It was Kingdom work, where we might not see a reward this side of heaven," Hamrick said. "It's still worth doing…it's investing in other people and trying to encourage them to hang onto their faith."
For more information about missions opportunities in Pennsylvania/ South Jersey, contact IBSA's missions team at (217) 391-3134 or e-mail RexAlexander@IBSA.org.
This article originally appeared in the Illinois Baptist (http://www.ibsa.org/), newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Meredith Day is a communication ministries specialist for the association.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net