Today's From the States features items from:
Southern Baptist Texan
The Pathway (Missouri)
Florida Baptist Witness
The Alabama Baptist
God leads Watauga church to
consider needs of South Asia
By Tammi Reed Ledbetter
WATAUGA, Texas (Southern Baptist Texan)--Bangalore, India, was never really on the radar of First Baptist Church of Watauga in years past, although the congregation of about 300 members had made a successful transition to becoming an Acts 1:8-focused church. In the oft-cited Bible passage, the resurrected Jesus tells his disciples they would become Holy Spirit-led witnesses in "Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
As a long-term partnership with International Mission Board missionaries in Peru is winding down in 2012, Pastor Dennis Hester was eager to see where God would lead them next, but he'd be the first to admit he did not see South Asia as a future ministry focus.
After two women of the church returned from attending the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, where they heard the focus on the Great Commission, Hester was intrigued by an appeal from IMB President Tom Elliff and SBC President Bryant Wright to embrace an unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG).
"Let's just begin to pray about this," Hester told the staff. "My assumption was that it was going to be something in South America since we had connections down there. We prayed about it as a staff and asked our Wednesday night prayer meeting to do so for several months."
The pastor and two other members learned more about the Embrace strategy while attending a training event in Cedar Hill last fall. "The Lord began to confirm that we are supposed to do this," Hester said, while adding that he realized not every church is ready to embrace a UUPG. "We're not the largest church, but the Lord began to show me that we're healthy and we have a strong missions emphasis," he said.
So the next step of commitment seemed reasonable.
"The question was, 'Where are you going to lead us?' There are nine affinity groups and it could be anywhere."
Watauga's population of over 25,000 is very homogenous with a racial makeup that is 87 percent white—about 10 percent of the city being Hispanic or Latino, fewer than 3 percent African American, and the remainder drawn from other groups. So when a young mother walked in unannounced to inquire about job opportunities and said her family had just relocated from Bangalore, India, the staff was quick to help the new resident who seemed an unusual match for the area north of Fort Worth.
That was just the first of more than a dozen hints that Hester and the congregation began to notice as God directed their attention to South Asia.
The group that went through the Embrace training scattered out to each of the affinity group sessions to make sure they were exposed to all regions, while agreeing all of them would go to the South America session since that's where God had used them in the past. They were surprised to find their attention being re-directed.
"During that day we believed the Lord just drew our hearts to South Asia," Hester said, reflecting on several insights that pointed them toward an unfamiliar territory. In addition to the visit by the newcomer whom they never saw again, one member shared about meeting a new family at the school where he teaches that had relocated from Bangalore, India. A college student told the pastor that he found himself weeping over the lostness of India every time he heard the country mentioned. The associate pastor, a seminary student, introduced the church to a church planter attempting to reach the 40,000 first-generation Indians who live in Plano.
"Stuff like that happened in rapid succession as the Lord was giving us direction," Hester said, adding that he had accepted an invitation from Southern Baptists of Texas Convention missions director Terry Coy to participate in a vision trip to India in late January.
When Hester asked one of his prayer warriors—a woman he described as having "a heart for missions"—to pray intently about the Embrace vision, she asked whether Asia might be the place to which God was directing them. "I asked her where she got that idea and she told of spending time in the prayer room that Sunday morning. She felt like the Lord was pointing us in that direction."
Meanwhile, the pastor began making a 45-minute presentation to different groups about the Embrace strategy, seeking their support and prayer. He started with the five-member staff, wanting everyone to be on board with the concept. Then he met with the deacons and later the missions committee.
"Through our prayer time last year we felt the vision for the next year was to focus on prayer and missions, but I wasn't sure how that would flesh itself out." After becoming convinced First Baptist Church of Watauga was to embrace a UUPG, Hester said the congregation was driven to its knees even more, setting the framework for discovering which group to embrace.
Over a six-week period the congregation utilized inserts provided by the IMB at call2embrace.org, praying each Sunday morning and during a one-hour, mid-week prayer meeting Jan. 4, seeking to discern which group to embrace.
Hester will travel to India with Billy Hurst, a former IMB missionary who is studying at Southwestern while teaching Spanish at a local Christian school. During the two-week period they are gone, other members of the church will gather each night to continue praying for discernment.
Ten members from the church are being enlisted to participate in a March 27-28 focus on the IMB's work in South Asia that is scheduled at Gregg Baptist Association in Longview.
"We're asking God specifically to open our eyes to the unengaged, unreached people group we are to embrace," Hester said, hoping the trip to India will give him greater exposure to the culture of South Asia and clarity as to whether their UUPG will be in India or another country.
Coy wants to see the SBTC vision trip provide that clarity for the Watauga church. "Pastor Dennis has already expressed a passion for this region and for adopting a UUPG in or near the area we will be visiting. I know that he and the church have been intensely and intentionally praying for God's direction and for open doors," Coy said. "I pray that God will speak clearly to Dennis and Billy during this trip."
SBTC launched a series of Embrace SENT labs, which started with First Baptist Church of Euless on Jan. 14, then moving to Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston on Feb. 11, Castle Hills Baptist Church in San Antonio on Feb. 18, and Redbud Baptist Church in Lubbock on March 10.
The IMB is also offering Embrace equipping conferences at Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif., on March 24, First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., on March 29, and at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Oct. 25.
For more information on being a part of the SBTC challenge for 1,000 Southern Baptist churches in Texas to embrace an unengaged, unreached people group, call the convention office toll-free at 877-953-SBTC or visit sbtexas.com/embrace.
This article originally appeared in the Southern Baptist Texan (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist Texan.
'We Care' plan
launched in Chicago
By Kayla Rinker
SHOREWOOD, Ill. (The Pathway)--A staggering 2 million lost people live in the Three Rivers Baptist Association (TRBA) area of the Chicago suburbs. And Dan Eddington, director of missions for TRBA, cares deeply for all 2 million of them.
He cares about their lives, their families, their spiritual and physical needs and especially their eternal destinations. His concerns led Eddington to develop the "We Care Campaign," a ministry effort he hopes will demonstrate to nearby communities how much he, the association and God, cares for them. He said the Missouri Baptist Convention's (MBC) current partnership with Northern Illinois will likely be much of the driving force behind it.
"It's a church-starting campaign," Eddington said. "We are asking our partnered churches to go into unreached communities, say for example, one week out of the summer for two years, and do community projects and random acts of kindness, the specifics depending on the actual needs of the community."
Eddington said the key purpose of "We Care" is to reach out and connect with a community on a personal level long before a church planter ever steps onto the field.
"All the work a partnership mission team would be doing, whether it's cleaning a park or washing windows for the elderly, all of it would be under the 'We Care Campaign' premise, hopefully even done while wearing 'We Care' T-shirts," Eddington said. "If a team were to come two years in a row, it would show the community that we are a people of peace and promise and we would have good rapport with them so that, when a church planter comes in later with the same 'We Care' foundation, he would be able to build on what the mission teams have already done."
The campaign stems from the overall goal to revolve new church plants within a 10-mile radius of the association's established, healthy churches. TRBA has identified its healthy churches and the communities that are in need of churches; sending intentional mission teams to these areas is the next step.
"Missouri Baptists are instrumental in helping us connect the dots and reach the 102 communities that are in need of churches," Eddington said.
For more information on how to partner with Three Rivers Baptist Association in Northern Illinois, contact Rick Hedger at 573-636-0400 ext. 620 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in The Pathway (mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Kayla Rinker is a contributing writer for The Pathway.
Romanian pastor & Anglo church planter partner for ministry in S. Florida
Sojourn Church like 'a fish bowl ... in an ocean' pastor says
By Margaret Dempsey-Colson
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness)--Looking beyond the fishbowl of his local church into the vast ocean of spiritual lostness in South Florida, the experienced and visionary Romanian pastor tossed out a lifeline of support to a young, struggling Anglo American church planter being pummeled by wave upon wave of crises.
The day that Florin Vancea, pastor of New Life Romanian Baptist Church, first met church planter Matt Peavyhouse, he knew he "wanted to help this young man with whatever I can."
Peaveyhouse, his wife Amber and three children relocated from Brandon to South Florida in February 2010 with the vision to plant a church to reach the significantly unchurched population there. Vancea was the first pastor he met in South Florida.
The Romanian pastor, who immigrated to America in 1996 and moved to South Florida in 1999, "has a heart for church planting. He has a heart to see the ethnic church give to help others," said Peavyhouse, a "Nehemiah" church planter, which is a program jointly funded by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the Florida Baptist Convention.
Although he knew starting a church wouldn't be easy, little did Peavyhouse anticipate the onslaught of challenges he would face. With an October 2010 launch date, Sojourn Church quickly welcomed about 60 people in its upbeat worship services. Yet, circumstances would quickly take a turn for the worse.
The owner of the facility being rented for the church plant unexpectedly cancelled the rental agreement, forcing the infant congregation to move out immediately. A major financial supporter for the church plant unexpectedly cut its support. When Sojourn Church began to meet in a home, the local police responded to complaints of parking congestion on neighborhood streets. Sixty people dwindled to 20 in just a few devastating weeks, and the attendance numbers threatened to go even lower.
"We were floundering. Everything seemed to be going against us," recalled Peavyhouse.
"The connections we had made through advertising, block parties and other efforts were lost; they were gone."
Just when the days seemed their most bleak and Peavyhouse was tempted to give up, pastor Vancea stepped in with his spiritual and practical lifeline.
To Peavyhouse one truth is clear, "If it weren't for New Life Romanian Church and pastor Florin Vancea, our church may not even exist."
New Life Romanian Baptist Church is the recent result of a merger of two existing Romanian Baptist churches in the area—Bethel Romanian Baptist Church, where Vancea had served as pastor since 1999, and First Romanian Baptist Church.
The merger of the two Romanian churches meant that one entire church facility was left unoccupied.
What had originally started as an invitation for Sojourn Church to meet in the fellowship hall of Bethel Romanian Church on Saturday nights quickly became a generous gift of allowing the young church start to use the unoccupied church facility entirely rent-free.
"This partnership makes a strong statement in South Florida!" explained Daniel Egipciaco, NAMB urban church planting missionary in South Florida. "The key here is theKkingdom mindedness of the Romanian church and Pastor Florin."
On Palm Sunday of this year, both congregations had a rebirth of sorts. New Life Romanian Baptist Church held its first service as a merged congregation in the former First Romanian church facility. Just a few miles away, Sojourn Church held its first service in the facility of the former Bethel Romanian church.
Today Sojourn Church meets for corporate worship on Sundays in their new church facility. Then during the week church leaders fan out into the community to take the Gospel to where people are and to disciple those who have made professions of faith.
Because such a high percentage of those who live in South Florida are unchurched and many live lifestyles contrary to biblical teaching, Sojourn Church has learned to accept people "as they are, love them with grace, and pray that the Holy Spirit brings the change that only He can bring," said Peavyhouse.
The church planter has been inspired and encouraged by the generosity of Vancea, and he continues to learn much from the experienced pastor whenever the two interact. "Florin has a real heart to reach the lost," he said.
For Vancea, such assistance to a young Anglo church seems natural. "I wanted to be faithful to the Great Commission," he explained.
No one church can reach every person in a particular community, acknowledged Emanuel Roque who works with Florida Baptists' Leadership Ministries Team. "That is why He unites His churches to better serve their communities while fulfilling the Great Commission. By serving together there is a powerful testimony of God's love and grace.
"Where Jesus' love is actively working through His people in unity of heart, mind and purpose, people are attracted and the gospel is shared in word and deed," Roque explained.
An ethnic church, according to Vancea, is much like a fish bowl set down in an ocean. "The fish bowl has its own life but in many ways is isolated from the rest of the ocean. We can see the rest of the ocean but can't impact it."
One specific way for an ethnic church to impact the world beyond its own particular ethnic group is to partner with an Anglo church. Further, he said, "It's only fair that we help English-speaking churches because they have helped us."
With his feet firmly on the ground in South Florida, Peavyhouse also looks to Florida Baptists' Urban Impact Center for advice, training and encouragement. The Urban Impact Center was established in South Florida as a branch office of the Florida Baptist Convention in an effort to strengthen existing congregations to more effectively start new churches and evangelize their unique communities.
"The connections made through Urban Impact have been profound," he commented.
Far from the days when Peavyhouse was ready to give up on his vision to reach South Florida with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, today his dream continues to expand. "One day I'd like to be a part of helping plant churches up and down the I-95 corridor."
Along that corridor are three South Florida counties—Miami, Broward and Palm Beach—comprising one of the most challenging missions fields in the United States with an estimated population of seven million persons—a figure that includes undocumented foreign nationals—who represent more than 175 nationalities and dozens of languages.
Those individuals, said Peavyhouse, need desperately to hear the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ.
"The Gospel changes things," Peavyhouse said.
This article originally appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Margaret Dempsey-Colson writes for the Florida Baptist Convention.
FBC Guin couple continue
missions trips in their mid 80s
By Anna Keller
GUIN, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist)--Gilbert and Marguerite Butler are in their late 80s, but they certainly don't act like it. Not only are the Butlers extremely active in their church, First Baptist, Guin — Gil is a choir member and deacon, and Marge teaches Sunday School and participates in Vacation Bible School (VBS) each year — but they are also dedicated to missions work.
Marge was a student missionary for two years in college, but the Butlers were inspired to focus on missions as a family when a tornado hit Guin in 1974. Marge was teaching a Sunday School class at the time, and a class member's uninsured boat had been destroyed by the storm, and she was beside herself with grief.
"That night, I asked my husband if he would pray with me to teach our three children to do something with their time, money and energy that wouldn't be blown away by wind," she said. "The next morning, Gil asked me if it would be all right to call the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board) and see if there was a missionary somewhere who would like to use five pairs of hands."
The Butlers had found their calling.
Each year, they traded their family vacation for a missions trip to a new location to offer help. The emphasis on missions evidently affected the Butlers' children, because two daughters served as summer student missionaries in college and their oldest daughter spent two years in Paraguay as a journeyman.
The couple felt so called to missions work that they both elected to retire early to make more time for trips, and at that point, they began traveling overseas. In fact, 2011 was the first year in the last 20 years that they didn't travel abroad.
"We'd planned to go to Haiti over the summer, but Gil got dehydrated before the trip, and two of our granddaughters had to go in our stead," Marge said. "We ended up going to Illinois later that month for a missions trip and helped with VBS, youth groups and nursing home outreach there."
Through the years, the Butlers have visited every continent but Antarctica and, in addition to shorter trips, spent a year teaching in Africa and a year teaching in American Samoa. They've also been plugged in stateside, spending a Christmas with migrant workers in Orlando, Fla., and working with a Laotian ministry in Montgomery for seven months.
They even serve as volunteers in missions area consultants, focusing on Marion and Winston Baptist Associations, for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM).
Reggie Quimby, director of the SBOM office of global missions, has had the opportunity to travel with the couple.
"They traveled with me to Venezuela to work in a local church in Caracas," he said. "They prayer walked and witnessed, as well as shared their testimony in local church services."
According to Quimby, who has known the Butlers for 20 years, their dedication to missions has been an inspiration to others across their association and beyond.
"They have been a living example of what the Lord gave as His mandate in Acts 1:8," he said.
"They certainly have exemplified the Great Commission, not only to Alabama Baptists but to the ends of the earth."
When they aren't traveling, the Butlers can often be found speaking at churches and events about their passion for missions, and they enjoy sharing their testimonies and connecting with congregations and audiences.
"We're very much blessed that at our age, God gave us good health, and I don't think He gave it to us for nothing," Gil said. "When people ask us what our favorite place was, we usually tell them that they get better and better and it's usually the last place we've been to!"
This article originally appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Anna Keller is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net