Today's From the States features items from:
The Christian Index (Georgia)
Western Recorder (Kentucky)
Baptist & Reflector (Tennessee)
Jerry Spencer issues
By Joe Westbury
LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. (Christian Index)--Several hundred Georgia Baptists gathered at North Metro First Baptist Church on Nov. 13 to rededicate themselves to sharing their faith with lost friends and acquaintances.
Those attending the service, many who would be messengers at the GBC annual meeting being held at the church for the next two days, heard evangelist Jerry Spencer challenge them to be better witnesses for Christ. Spencer, of Dothan, Ala., is father of outgoing GBC president Dan Spencer of First Thomasville.
The elder Spencer shared stories of a world in need of a savior and waiting for someone to come tell them the story of redemption - from prison inmates in the Bible Belt to warring Hutu and Tutsi tribesmen in Africa.
"We cannot save everyone but we can confront everyone God brings across our paths," he told the Sunday evening crowd.
Spencer said the Apostle Paul's passion for the lost was rooted in the passion that Christ had for him. Christians are to surrender their lives in sacrifice to Christ as His witnesses to a lost word, he added.
The longtime Southern Baptist evangelist, who has a worldwide ministry and will soon be leading his 50th preaching trip to India, reminded those in attendance that broken heartedness over lost friends results in the shedding of tears -- and that the tears of the saints "don't come until we get holy, hate iniquity, and love righteousness."
Spencer, now 72, captivated the audience with stories of personal sacrifice -- including the loss of their own lives -- of Christians around the world who refused to take their faith for granted. Their tears - and, in some instances, their bloodshed - resulted in untold conversions of their lost countrymen.
He urged Georgia Baptists to not forget the lostness of their own state as they cast their eyes on a lost world. He shared personal stories of ministering in friend's living rooms and county prisons where the lost were waiting to learn about the love of a savior.
His sermon set the tone for the 190th annual meeting of the state convention with its "Georgia NOW! Our mission starts here" evangelistic theme.
Leading up to Spencer's sermon, GBC executive director J. Robert White told of the generosity of Georgia Baptists that must be rekindled if the state is going to be reached for Christ.
Basing his comments on "The Power of 1," White told of personal commitment that will result in more laborers going into the harvest along with a greater commitment to greater levels of tithing.
Citing the commitment of the state convention to walk alongside churches and associations in shared partnership, White explained that Georgia Baptist state missionaries had been directly involved in leading 4,148 individuals to Christ this year, as well as helping 808 respond to a call to ministry or missions. An additional 628 other decisions were also registered by the individuals.
Attendees then watched a short video on the same "Power of 1" theme that explained how Southern Baptist's national gift of $500 million to state, North American and international missions would increase by $100 million next year if every individual, and in turn every church, increased their giving by just one percent.
This article originally appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index.
'Engage' opens doors
to global gospel impact
By Kristie Randolph
CAVE CITY, Ky. (Western Recorder)--In a time of global unrest and turmoil, laughter and friendship between hundreds of international students from different countries might seem impossible.
Yet for the past 57 years, that is what has taken place at the Cave City Convention Center during the Engage International Student Conference, hosted by the Kentucky Baptist Convention's Baptist Collegiate Ministry.
More than 400 students from 35 countries attended this year's event, held earlier this month. While Engage primarily is a cultural conference for Kentucky's international students, it also is a strategic piece of BCM's efforts to reach international students for Christ alongside local churches.
"As campus ministers who take American students abroad to share the gospel, we've realized they are here at our door," said Cindy Pelphrey, campus minister for Owensboro area schools and the event's coordinator. "We're trying to engage them while they are here. The world is becoming very small."
Event coordinators seek ways to share the gospel and plant seeds for ongoing conversations, she said.
Three years ago, Pelphrey befriended Chinese student Sunny Lu. As a college freshman, Lu was eager to attend the event. Now a graduating senior at Kentucky Wesleyan College, Lu just attended her final conference, and credits the event for many positive memories, experiences and friends.
"I was interested in it at first because, as a freshman, I was interested in everything," Lu said. Engage "was amazing. Everyone loves Engage. They are always very excited and they always want to stay there longer."
Lu does not claim to be a Christian, but said Engage helped her understand Christianity better and to see the positive impact it has on believers.
"They would talk to us about Christianity and would help us understand more about the Bible," she said. "Another girl from China that I met said she is a Christian now. She wants to go back to China and introduce other Chinese people to Christianity."
According to Pelphrey, respect for the culture of each student is a key theme throughout the entire weekend.
Each year, students represent their home countries by wearing traditional dress during the Saturday night parade of nations and cultural fashion show. A talent show allows students to incorporate their traditions and languages into performances, and "family groups" serve to encourage questions and sharing about faith and culture.
The positive atmosphere created at Engage is critical to the weekend's success. One might anticipate conflict with so many cultures represented, Pelphrey said, but instead there always has been a sense of excitement and community.
"We can come together and be unified for three days. We love each other and talk openly about our faith," she said. "For some, it's the first time they have ever heard about Jesus.
"We ask them to come to a worship service on Sunday as an optional part of the conference. We tell them we respect their culture and faith, but that we would like them to come experience something new," Pelfrey added.
Professions of faith often are made at the event, she said, "but many times it happens in the weeks following when the conversations really can take place."
With record numbers of international students on Kentucky's campuses, Engage is just one of the many ways campus ministers are seeking to reach them for Christ.
According to the Institute of International Education's Open Doors Data report, 723,277 international students have studied at colleges and universities in the U.S. during the past year. More than 4,800 of those students are pursuing degrees at a college or university in Kentucky.
Just 10 years ago, the report accounted for 547,867 international students in the U.S. In 1950, only 29,813 international students were recorded.
Lizzi-beth Spence, collegiate ministry specialist for the KBC, said international student outreach is a key piece of BCM's strategy to reach college campuses.
"We have an ongoing presence on most of our major campuses that focuses on reaching international students," she said. "We have five semester missionaries partially funded by the KBC and the North American Mission Board who target this demographic."
Other outreach programs include teaching English as a Second Language courses, language partners, Bible studies, fellowship meals and more.
"The fulcrum of society is the university campus. We have access to students from all over the world, including places where we cannot place missionaries," Spence pointed out. "The goal is to share the gospel with them and help them grow in their faith so when they go back home, they can reach their families and people groups."
Kentucky Woman's Missionary Union has long been a partner with BCM in international-student ministry. The majority of the funding for Engage comes from the Eliza Broadus Offering, granted through WMU, Pelphrey said.
"WMU gives a large amount to international ministry, not just to the Engage Conference, but also for things like interns on college campuses," she said.
Maryann Lee, WMU youth and college consultant, said sponsoring the event is one way WMU can be involved in campus ministry.
"Engage provides a chance for them to hear about spiritual things and hear from other Christians in a non-threatening way," she added. "I think God was at work the whole weekend."
This article originally appeared in the Western Recorder (westernrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Kristie Randolph is a freelance writer for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Bus Ministry Transforms Church
By Connie Bushey
COVINGTON, Tenn. (Baptist & Reflector)--This past year for Western Valley Baptist Church has been monumental, said Clay Gilbreath, pastor.
In short, last year Scott Braun, new bivocational youth pastor, started picking up children for church activities in his personal vehicle.
But his van quickly filled up as he picked up students in a certain community. He asked Gilbreath's wife to help and she started picking up children too. One Sunday she had to leave some children crying because she didn't have room to transport them to church. She arranged for a parent to drive them. Soon the congregation realized that Western Valley Baptist needed a vehicle.
Gilbreath said the church began praying for an answer that very night and within a week a used bus was donated to the church by a local business.
Soon the bus and several vehicles of members were filled and still more children wanted to go to church. The congregation began praying about the need and considering their budget. Then a van was donated to Western Valley Baptist by nearby Oak Grove Baptist Church.
More students and adults were picked up by church members. Amazingly, the bus, van and several vehicles all filled up with folks wanting to come to church.
Now the church needs a third vehicle, said Gilbreath. "We probably could pick up twice as many as we do if we had another vehicle."
This is "we will be talking about this the rest of our lives kind of stuff," said Gilbreath.
"We've just been on cloud nine, thanking God," he added. "God's just poured out blessing after blessing."
Recently, 109 people gathered at Western Valley Baptist on a Wednesday night. Before the start of the bus ministry, about 40 was the average attendance, said Gilbreath.
The bus ministry brings the biggest crowds on Wednesday night, explained the pastor, partly because riders — mostly students — have a hard time waking up without parental help in time to be picked up on Sunday mornings.
Some more facts
About 35 people have made professions of faith as a result of the bus ministry, reported Gilbreath. Some of those are adults. In fact, this past summer, Western Valley held its first Vacation Bible School in a long time. Several participants including some parents of participants made professions of faith at that time, he added.
Thankfully, local churches donated the needed VBS materials to Western Valley, said Gilbreath, because of its small budget.
Gilbreath, Braun and other leaders of the church said they have seen many students not only learn about God and Jesus for the first time but change their lives for the good as a result of coming to Western Valley.
Church members, all of whom basically have become church leaders because of the many students who need leaders, also have "pulling your hair out moments," said Gilbreath, when the challenges seem great.
The church has had to fund the expenses related to the bus ministry as well as recruit Baptists who attend other churches to help with Wednesday night activities. They also have to deal with children who are often without their parents and don't know how to conduct themselves in a church. For instance, some will move around during the worship service, said Gilbreath.
The congregation was ready for success which often comes following hardship, he explained. After a period of struggle, "our people were ready to go where God led," he said. For instance, during the prior church year the church baptized no one, said Gilbreath, who has served the church for five years.
He credits the church for calling Braun when it didn't really have the budget for it. Gilbreath credits Braun, who also is a soccer coach, for befriending children who didn't go to church and then beginning to pick them up for church activities. He also credits the company and church for donating the vehicles.
The news has been so good at the church that Sam Gilbreath, Clay's nephew who is a student and developer of Fresh Films, made a video about the church which can be seen on the online Baptist and Reflector and from the church's website at www.westernvalley.info.
In the film, Gilbreath said, "You don't have to go to Africa to find kids that don't know anything about God, don't know anything about Jesus, don't own a Bible, just totally, totally lost."
Braun in the video said he was seeing revival among the youth unlike he had ever seen and that is what the church needs.
He encouraged churches to consider a bus ministry, though it comes with costs and challenges.
Will Yarbrough, 19, said in the video he used to hang around a "lot of bad people and do a lot of bad things and now since I'm around Christian people I got off that track. … This actually has changed me a lot."
To see the video, go to www.baptistandreflector.org and click on the virtual paper edition.
This article originally appeared in the Baptist & Reflector (http://tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Connie Bushey is news editor of the Baptist & Reflector.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net