Today's From the States features items from:
The Baptist Courier (South Carolina)
The Alabama Baptist
The Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)
The Baptist New Mexican
In North Africa: South Carolinians leave 'God's fingerprint'
EDITOR'S NOTE: For security reasons, only first names are used in this story.
COLUMBIA, S.C. (The Baptist Courier)--"You have left your fingerprint upon our hearts" were the tearful words of one pastor's wife as she said goodbye. That sentiment is echoed by the 21 South Carolinians who recently partnered with their Christian brothers and sisters in North Africa. Most of the diverse group of pastors and laymen agree on two things: Their lives were changed forever, and they were surprised by God's call.
Pastor Larry heard about the urgent need for volunteers in North Africa and the uncertain window of opportunity associated with it. He prayed, "Lord help those people ... but don't send me." God spoke to his heart, substituting determination for his former reluctance.
Carole, a pastor's wife, experienced great hesitation at the invitation. Her husband, Paul, immediately felt God's calling to go, but North Africa was not even on her radar as a destination of choice. "I spent a lot of time in prayer," she said. "I realized that I needed to put wheels to my faith. I'm not afraid of death," she added with a smile, "but the part leading up to it concerns me." Several other team members felt the call but could not see how God would overcome the obstacles.
The ministry locations of the teams were as diverse as the volunteers. Some worked in established churches with a building, many ministered in house churches with changing locations, and some even ministered in garbage cities where the very beds people slept on were constructed out of garbage. Gene and Louie worked with a church whose brand new building had been closed down. The pastor and believers were warned never to return to the building or their families would suffer severe consequences. "We felt as if we stepped into the Book of Acts, living in the same conditions and culture as the early church," Gene said. "Despite the fear and uncertainty of their situation, the faith and resolve of the church is strong. They desire to start more house churches or even build another new church in a different location and start all over again. God's church is still moving forward, and the gates of hell are not prevailing against it," Gene said.
The power of God's presence among the churches, the warmth of the people, and the passion for the lost were experienced by the teams all over the region. "They are the most joyful people you will ever see," Paul said. "The depth and passion they have is impactful." Despite these qualities, the team members agreed that one of the greatest accomplishments of the week was encouragement. Christians in the region have experienced very real persecution, which has affected the churches and pastors. "We sensed that the pastor and believers have been beaten down due to the persecution. I felt led to bring a message on hope rather than what I had prepared before going to Egypt," Steve said. "I believe that our greatest contribution was in encouraging the pastor and the people."
The teams found themselves in situations unlike any they had experienced before. Pastors Rob and Larry spoke in many house churches. "We shared the gospel in one house, and 15 hands go up," Larry said. "The enemy was placing doubts in my mind, so I asked the interpreter to make sure they understood." The issue was not their lack of understanding, but the Spirit of God moving with such power, that it was overwhelming. "We went to another house where more people responded to the gospel but were told to go back to the first house because a man there was bound by a demon." Armed with a Scripture passage that God laid on their hearts, Larry and Rob returned to the house and a situation they had never before encountered. God moved in such a way that the man was transformed and proclaimed the name of Jesus Christ with tears in his eyes and obvious joy on his face. The end result of that day's ministry was that at least 31 people professed faith in Jesus Christ.
As one of only two women, Carole found herself with a unique ministry opportunity. She was invited to spend some time just with the women. "In a country where women are not routinely held in high esteem, I led in a study affirming that as a woman, each has value and purpose." They responded with a hunger to know how to serve God better in their respective roles.
Tony was impressed with the large numbers of young people and families in the church. In the airport before his return, he struck up a conversation with a young woman who was the clerk in a souvenir shop. He asked her if he could give her a little booklet about what it means to be a Christian. She seemed to accept it gladly. A short time later, Tony saw a security guard approaching him with the gospel tract in his hand. His fear melted away when the guard told him that the young lady wanted him to sign the tract and to deliver a gift to Tony. "Young people are searching," observed Marie (name changed), an International Mission Board employee. "They are open right now but could easily be led the other way."
One pastor who is the only minister in a community of 120,000 people has made a heartfelt request. "We need more people to come to our country and help serve because there is much work here that has been given by God and only one person to do it alone. We need much prayer and fasting because we believe that nothing can be done except by God's help."
The teams observed a level of prayer, fasting and zeal among the believers in North Africa that one rarely sees. "They are very passionate about calling out for God to save the Muslims and save their country," Paul recalled. Strong relationships have developed from this common faith and love for the Lord, leaving the team members changed. "My preaching has been different, and my dealings with other people have been different," Larry said. "We are challenged to live and have a more tangible and genuine faith ourselves," Carole said.
The team members from South Carolina have returned home, but the partnership mission is just beginning. Each church now has a greater vision for the need and a greater desire to make a difference. The fingerprint that was left upon the hearts of the North African believers was undoubtedly God's, and it is shared by those who experienced His power as they worked hand in hand to reach many who had never heard the life-changing message of salvation.
This article originally appeared in The Baptist Courier (baptistcourier.com), newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
Andalusia's Hopewell Baptist sends 40 members on 15 missions trips in 10 years
By Gary Hardin
ANDALUSIA, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist)--How did a small, rural church outside Andalusia send 40 members on 15 missions trips to 12 countries in the past 10 years?
Most folks at Hopewell Baptist Church would bring up Phyllis Walters' testimony.
Before 2001, no one at the Covington Baptist Association church had ever gone on a missions trip. But that year, Walters' uncle invited her to take part in a missions trip to Honduras. There she helped cook meals for a church construction crew from Georgia and Florida. The trip, and what she saw God do, set her on fire spiritually.
"When Phyllis returned, I asked her to share a testimony from her missions trip," Pastor Barry Wilkinson said. "Her testimony got people excited, and it also convicted other members to go on missions trips."
Not long after Walters gave her testimony, four church members participated in an Alabama Baptist partnership missions trip to Venezuela. They returned and shared their experiences. Soon other members signed up for missions trips. They shared their testimonies, which prompted more members to go.
In fact, in the past 10 years, Hopewell Baptist members have done short-term missions in Honduras, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Poland, China, Uganda, Zambia, Japan, Panama, Ukraine and Haiti. A group will return to Haiti in early 2012.
Jan Gager, a church member and nurse, went to Ecuador for the first time in 2003 on a medical missions trip. Since then, she has gone back three times, doing both medical and English as a Second Language ministries.
"God has given me a heart for the people of Ecuador," Gager said. "I am amazed how God has used me."
Tara Bulger stepped out of her comfort zone to go to Haiti, where she taught Bible studies to women. Before this trip, Bulger had never been away from her preschooler, flown on an airplane or been outside the United States.
"I'm quite the homebody," she explained. "A small-group study of the book 'Radical' made me aware I needed to do something for others. I prayed and prayed about going to Haiti, and God gave me the courage to go. And I didn't get homesick."
Glen Walters has participated in several missions trips to Honduras and Haiti to work on construction projects. He has helped build a Christian radio station, housing at a Christian camp, a missionary house and churches.
"On a trip to Honduras, I was a crew leader with one missions trip under my belt. We had no interpreter, no place to stay, and we endured a long bus ride to our work site. We really were operating by faith," he said. "But God provided everything we needed. Even the pilot of our plane helped us find a hotel to stay in."
So why do so many church members keep going on missions trips?
Longtime members Marcus and Joyce Godwin credit Wilkinson's leadership and, of course, God's direction.
"When I came to this church, I never imagined we would see God taking us in this direction," Joyce Godwin said.
Lori Foreman, who grew up in the church, said, "It's been incredible to see our church's missions journey. We now view ourselves as a missions control center."
This article originally appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Gary Hardin is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.
Church planting snapshots
EDITOR'S NOTE: In his travels across North Carolina, Mike Creswell, who is a senior consultant for the Baptist State Convention in Cary, N.C., visits churches who receive Cooperative Program money. Here is a look at four churches attempting to share the gospel with their communities.
Terry Hollifield is seeking unchurched people, but in a targeted way. Think of Paul addressing the Greeks of Athens.
The Paradigm Church Hollifield leads as pastor meets in the second floor of a strip shopping center near Asheville's Biltmore Square Mall; downstairs there's a sandwich shop and a martial arts center (paradigmasheville.org).
Hollifield says Paradigm is specifically seeking people who are unchurched or dechurched - especially those who have embraced other, non-Christian views. Paradigm's aim is to clearly present the Good News of Jesus Christ, but is being innovative in its approach.
He says he is actually targeting himself, as he once was, growing up in "the new Asheville," before the gospel changed his life and led him into ministry. He served as minister of education for six years at Pole Creek Baptist Church in nearby Candler; Pole Creek now supports his church-planting ministry.
"We invite people from all backgrounds, all belief systems, skeptics, you name it. We discuss things that really matter. We discuss the most important things in life like truth, the nature of God, and who God is, and has God spoken, and how do we know that?" he said.
Along with more traditional Bible studies, Hollifield seeks to answer such questions in small group meetings around the city. He wants to start a conversation about beliefs and answer questions from a biblical, Christian perspective, not just preach.
Many people in the Asheville area reject Christianity for New Age ideas or embrace spiritual truths from Eastern religions such as Hinduism or Buddhism, he said. "Asheville is interesting. People are asking the right questions here. Sadly, though, the church hasn't done a very good job of answering them, engaging them with the Bible, who Jesus is," Hollifield explained.
After a Sunday service, Hollifield throws the service open for questions and assures those present that any question is OK. An open atmosphere is needed for sharing Bible truths, he believes.
"Here, people are seeking, but they want to do so in an environment where I'm not going to shove truth down their throat. They want to talk about it. So we try to do that. It is a reflection of the culture here."
Since Paradigm launched Oct. 10, 2010, the church has grown steadily, mostly as people engaged in small groups eventually become confident enough to attend a Sunday service.
River of Leland
Mention "Thunder Alley" in relation to most churches and maybe you'd be talking about the pastor's preaching style.
But for River of Leland, a new church in Leland, near Wilmington, Thunder Alley is where they meet (riverofleland.com).
It's a 20,000-sq.-ft. bowling alley. When co-pastors John McIntyre and Travis Currin looked for meeting space, the new, modern and well-placed bowling alley looked promising.
Owners/operators Ricky and Ginger Roberts were delighted to be asked to host a new church. As Christians and longtime staffers with a Christian family ministry, they were already exploring how to help churches.
The name-emblazoned River of Leland van and trailer parked outside are reminders of the set-up duties that come every Sunday with such meeting locations. Still, the facility's lobby area has served well. The church is casual dress - who dresses up to go to a bowling alley? - and strong, contemporary music.
McIntyre grew up near Wilmington and served several churches, including Southside in Wilmington, before committing to starting a new church. Currin grew up in Angier.
The best problem the church faces now is that the seating space in the bowling alley is near capacity. Soon they'll need a bigger meeting space. They're hoping a new shopping area, delayed by the recession, will be completed when they're ready to move. Home groups, an important part of the church, have grown from three to eight just this year.
As Greater Wilmington continues to grow, McIntyre and Currin want River of Leland to grow as well, helping bring increasing numbers of people to faith in Christ and helping start multiple new churches.
Head out North Center Street in Hickory on a Sunday morning and you'll come to one of many strip shopping centers that dot the area.
Some of the Sunday morning traffic heads left to a gym for a physical workout. Even more people head to the right for the spiritual workout available in two Sunday morning services at Reflection Church (reflectionchurch.com). Lead pastor Ken Case and his staff recently contracted for more space in their former restaurant building by taking out a wall; steady growth was the reason.
Contemporary worship and casual dress do not obscure the truth delivered in Case's plain talk and Bible-based sermons, usually delivered verse-by-verse and organized in series.
Home groups, studies and other activities are designed to bring people to faith in Christ and then to reflect Him in their lives, hence the church's name.
Church planter Nathan Cline was living in South Carolina two years ago when God began to call him to start a new church. Over the next year he developed a core group of some 30 people who also wanted to "spark a revolution of life change through Jesus," hence the name, Revo Church (discoverrevo.com).
The church started Sunday services Feb. 27 with several hundred people present; already they are considering moving to another location.
But their first meeting place has been impressive — the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts in downtown Winston-Salem. Though actually a refurbished building, the center looks crisply new and modern. It opened September 2010 and is equipped with an auditorium.
The casual observer may question whether one more church is needed downtown; other church buildings are visible from the arts center.
But Cline answers that of young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 in the city, 83 percent are unchurched, unreached, unevangelized. That is their primary target group, he says.
This article originally appeared in the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
N.M. Church Tries Unique Outreach Tool
LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Baptist New Mexican)--The men of First Baptist Church in Las Cruces set in motion a unique tool for reaching out into the city this fall when they formed a committee to plan a Law Enforcement Appreciation Pig Roast that would be held on Friday, Nov. 11.
A relatively new church member, Greg Smith of the New Mexico State Police, had heard that his pastor, R. Maurice Hollingsworth, had a background in Tennessee whole-hog barbecue. Fascinated by the prospect, he wanted to learn more.
Smith, along with Las Cruces Police Chief Richard Williams and Las Cruces Police Gang Unit Leader Pat Doyle, met with the pastor to draw together a group that would plan such an event.
"Some people bait hooks with worms; we'll bait the hook with a 375-pound hog," Hollingsworth told one elderly church member.
Since it takes a good 20 hours to cook an animal of that size, it was prepared for the pit by 8 p.m. on Thursday. A good crowd of church members, 100-150, came to see the pig put on the fire, Hollingsworth told the Baptist New Mexican.
"It was a time of fun, food and fellowship," said Hollingsworth, who had just days earlier been elected to a second one-year term as president of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. "It was also a time to build bridges into the community among those who faithfully watch over the city."
Many came out of curiosity just to see what a whole hog barbecue looked like, and many of them stayed until midnight.
The pig was cooked the full 20 hours, and several men stayed with it all night long. Although a few ladies jumped in to help with the event, it was largely under the leadership of the men of the church.
A retired lady in the church had this to say about the event: "Many people will look at those pictures and think about a big pig being roasted. ... You know what I see? I see a group of men, deacons of my church, who were drawn together in a common cause, doing for others, and enjoying Jesus.
"In my mind, so much more was accomplished there than at a deacons' meeting," she said. "It was SO MUCH MORE THAN 'JUST' A PIG ROAST!" she emphasized.
On that Friday evening, the church fed more than 140 members of the Las Cruces Police Department, the Doña Ana County Sheriff's Department, the New Mexico State Police, the District Attorney's office and members of their families at the church.
"Of course, there were some New Mexico twists, with the addition of charro beans, hot salsa and homemade tortillas," Hollingsworth said. "It was a time to say 'thank you for service,' as well as build bridges into community—all to the glory of the Lord."
This article originally appeared in the Baptist New Mexican (bcnm.com), newsjournal of The Baptist Convention of New Mexico.
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net