Today's From the States features items from:
California Southern Baptist
Oklahoma Baptist University
Epic Church thriving
in San Francisco's SoMa district
By Amanda Phifer
SAN FRANCISCO (California Southern Baptist) -- The marathon challenge of planting a church in San Francisco is the stuff of church planter legend. You'd be crazy to take another stab at it, lots of people told Ben and Shauna Pilgreen.
"Sure, there were lots of fears embarking on this," the Louisiana native, Ben, acknowledged. "But our greatest fear -- the one that overrode all the other concerns, especially about raising our three boys in the San Francisco public school system -- was that maybe this was the call of God upon our life, and we might miss it. Our greatest fear was that we'd get to the end of our lives and regret that we never went for it.
"And really, we've been just blown away so far."
Considering the uphill struggle so many new churches face in the fabled City by the Bay, "mind-blowing" might be a good description. Epic Church, as it's called, began two years ago when the Pilgreens plus three other couples relocated from Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida to the south of Market (SoMa) area of San Francisco.
Why a team? Pilgreen explained: "More important to me than the geographical call was doing life and ministry and this church start with people we knew and loved and could trust, and who were also gifted with a calling. It was amazing that when we visited these friends, people we'd known for five, eight or 14 years, and shared our hope and vision, they all said yes."
The families moved to San Francisco, and on Oct. 10, 2010, held their first preview service at the W Hotel in the heart of SoMa. Epic was one of more than 40 new churches that were either started or held a significant event as part of California Southern Baptist Convention's 10-10-10 initiative.
The SoMa area of San Francisco is in a fast-revitalizing district of the city, awash in artists, techies and corporate executives (think Apple, Facebook and the "next big thing" you haven't heard about yet). They live and work in a zoning mash-up of businesses and residences, much of it new and on the same block.
While he expected the young professional demographic, Pilgreen said he's been happily surprised at the ethnic and age diversity the church has attracted.
"We have people in our church from 30 different countries!" he said, sounding like he still finds it hard to believe himself. "And it's more multi-generational than I thought it would be, too -- we have all ages from babies to 70-year-olds."
The culture shock of moving from student and pastoral ministry in Louisiana, Alabama and Missouri to church planting in downtown San Francisco?
"We love the city," he said, without guile. "It's a very neat place, with a lot of community, and a lot of brokenness at the same time. We have people in our church with just all kinds of worldviews and beliefs, and it really keeps us praying a lot and on our toes - and those are good things."
Additionally, as their sons are in public elementary school, "We've found we have a great chance to really disciple our boys with things they might not have faced until a lot later in life," Pilgreen said. "There's a lot to evaluate and debrief with them, and honestly I think it's great for them to really learn what we believe, and why, at their young ages."
Epic's church planting team is financially supported from several quarters: 19 churches from around the country, including two in the greater Bay Area; monthly assistance from CSBC, partly courtesy of the California Mission Offering. Also, Executive Pastor Tim Milner is a Nehemiah church planter supported both by the state convention and the North American Mission Board.
"It's been great having support from all around the country, not just financially but all the prayer support, and especially the chance for me to be mentored by some really great pastors from across the nation," Pilgreen said. "And having the guidance of Linda Bergquist was really invaluable - she helped us understand the Bay Area, see the SoMa community, and imagine what a church here could become."
The two Bay Area churches that have provided financial support - South Bay Church in San Jose, itself only about two years older than Epic; and Crossroads Church in Fremont - have also pitched in in other ways.
"South Bay being just ahead of us on the time frame, they've been a huge example for us, sharing coaching and their experience," Pilgreen said. "Both churches, when we were first starting and having preview and early services, sent people to help with greeting, nursery, worship band members. They were just really generous."
There is in fact quite a chain at work: what CSBC new church starting strategist Berquist calls "intentional multi-generational church planting." BayMarin Church in San Rafael started Crossroads Church in Fremont; Crossroads planted South Bay Church in San Jose; and now both South Bay and Crossroads are pouring into Epic.
"And all of this because people in churches give - through the Cooperative Program, through the California Mission Offering," Pilgreen said. "People give, and one generation after another of churches are planted, and the Kingdom grows."
Epic Church is spreading the blessing, too. They have had a partnership with Bessie Carmichael Elementary & Middle School, in the SoMa district, since the church began. The congregation also partners with A Woman's Place, the only gender-specific emergency and transitional shelter of its type in San Francisco. And in the second half of June, a team of 14 from Epic traveled to Uganda to minister to the 38 children the church has sponsored through Compassion International, as well as providing start-up and training for a sustainable micro-financing project for nearly two dozen caregivers.
"Ben and his team are ministering in an area of the city that's full of people who want to change the world," elaborated Bergquist, who has helped them develop strategy for reaching the SoMa area, "and Epic Church provides opportunities to do that starting right where they are."
"The most positive thing, I think, is the church is not just surviving but also thriving," Pilgreen added. "And that God provided a building for us only six months after we started looking for one, when we thought a building was years out, was also great. Now we've gone to three services. It's really been mind-blowing."
One great challenge, as Epic is now facing, is the "incredibly" transient nature of the San Francisco population.
"We're losing 15 of our strongest families this summer," Pilgreen explained. "That's challenging, but God's also bringing new people."
"This is an increasing city phenomenon that's always been true of San Francisco," Bergquist noted. "The city renews itself annually. People move out. The faith factor is: God will replace them. The city is a sending base into the rest of the world, where people come in, get transformed by the power of Christ and go out as missionaries. Leaders have to say, 'God, bring us more people to grow.'"
It's no doubt a prayer of faith God likes to honor: "God, bring us more people to grow."
OBU students encounter
'People of Peace' in South Asia
SOUTH ASIA (Oklahoma Baptist University) -- The coastal area of South Asia boasts a vibrant array of cultures, languages and religions. The region - 9,500 miles from Shawnee, Okla. -- was the destination for a team of students from Oklahoma Baptist University sent on mission from the Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach May 22-June 13.
In the area where the team served, 70 percent of the people follow Buddhism. Others, whose ancestors have lived in the region for centuries, generally follow Hinduism. Minorities include Christians, Muslims and other religions. The OBU team of seven students and one faculty sponsor joined Southern Baptist representatives who work among the Moors (Tamil-speaking) Muslims, a people group which has little, if any, access to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The goal of the trip was simple, yet powerful: The team walked through neighborhoods, praying for the people and asking God to provide "houses of peace" where they could share the good news of Jesus Christ. The concept is based on Jesus' direction to his followers in Matthew 10 and Luke 10.
Jesus commanded, "When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him. ... Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you. … Tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you,'" (Luke 10:5-9, NIV).
"Our purpose was that simple!" said Dr. Bruce Carlton, professor of cross-cultural ministry at OBU. Carlton also serves as director of the Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach.
"The students discovered that this is a very simplistic, yet intentional, way to find people who are open to the Gospel," he said.
While team members endured blistering tropical heat -- more than 100 degrees with high humidity each day -- they also discovered people who were welcoming and open to talking to the strangers from America. The beautiful country, generous people, spicy food and amazing scenery left a positive impression on the students.
"There were beaches everywhere!" said Abby Fuller, a junior nursing major from Gainesville, Texas, who grew up on the mission field in Africa. "It was some of the best sunrises and sunsets I have seen. You would walk into a person's house, and the first thing they would do is sit you in the best seats, run to the store to get some food, and serve you the entire time."
God provided both dramatic and commonplace experiences to allow the students to share their personal faith among the people of the region.
"We would get off of a bus, and walk around town praying that God would open up doors for us, and almost every time someone would invite us in to their house," Fuller said. "We would stay there, eat what they gave us (harder than you think), and share our personal testimonies with them. If they were still curious, we would share Creation to Christ with them. We were not looking for them to make a quick jump to Christianity, but rather to establish a bond so the missionaries and nationals could go in behind us and start a lasting ministry."
"Creation to Christ" is a method the students learned to use in sharing their personal faith with others. The method conveys the stories of God's relationship with humanity from Genesis through the life of Jesus Christ.
Carlton said every day, the team was invited into Muslim homes where they were able to share the Gospel freely. Every home he was in, Carlton said people listened to the team share their faith. At least one Muslim man came to faith in Jesus, and several others expressed genuine interest in hearing more and learning more.
"Seeing the students become more bold as each day went by was also very encouraging and rewarding," he said. "I believe God broke down some stereotypes about Muslims on this trip."
Team members helped Southern Baptist workers lead seminars to train local pastors and other church members how to share the Gospel with Muslims. The women on the team also participated in "henna ministry," a concept where they put henna on their own hands (and sometimes others') that told a Bible story. The art - popular in South Asia - became a bridge to tell people about the Gospel.
Even on their "day off," when the students traveled to visit a lighthouse on a beach, they prayed God would provide them opportunities to have conversations with the indigenous people. Walking down the beach, they saw a group gathered at the water's edge and realized a father had saved his daughter from drowning. OBU student Kyle Motsenbocker is a lifeguard in America, but his local Christian friend translated to the crowd that he was a doctor. The crowd parted, and Motsenbocker performed the Heimlich maneuver on the girl when he realized she had swallowed too much water.
"After that everybody wanted to know why we were there and what we were doing," said Motsenbocker, a sophomore nursing major from Callisburg, Texas. "God allowed us to share with up to 40 people that day. He definitely was working the hearts of those that were there that amazing evening.
"I never thought I'd be using the skills I learned as a lifeguard and a nursing student in another country. God really does work in mysterious way."
Like any cross-cultural experience, the trip presented challenges and opportunities for growth. Each day was a test of faith in God's care and provision, Carlton said, noting the potential of physical persecution and opposition. But God demonstrated his faithfulness, his protection and his sovereignty every day, Carlton testified.
"The most challenging part of the trip was trying to find a way for the team as a whole to best overcome the shock of living in a new culture," said Joshua Caudill, a team leader from Winfield, Kan. "Every person on the team hit some bumps and had moments where we weren't sure what we were doing or were unsure if we were going to be able to handle the cultural differences, but in the end, we were all able to grow a lot."
Fuller said she found it challenging to be a woman in a male-dominated culture, especially in the Muslim areas. But the experience also created an appreciation for the women who live in South Asia.
"(The) women are some of the most amazing people I have met," she said. "They raise their families, cook meals and do so many things without complaint. Many wear Muslim garb in the hottest temperatures. I fell in love with these women because they are beautiful on the inside and out."
OBU's mission compels students to integrate faith with all areas of knowledge and to engage a diverse world. More than 60 OBU students, faculty and staff have embarked on Global Outreach (GO) Trips during the summer 2012 semester, sharing their faith around the globe under the leadership of Dr. Joy Turner, director of global mobilization.
"I think that the GO experience is invaluable to OBU students," said Caudill, a junior biblical languages major who plans to work overseas one day translating Scripture in areas that do not have Bibles. "For many students, these experiences can open their eyes and their hearts to the reality that God is calling them to go, perhaps more long-term, and to serve.
"And even for those God is not necessarily calling to live overseas, the experience of acclimating to a new culture is incredible, and there is no replacement for seeing first-hand what God is doing among the nations."
Located in Shawnee, Okla., OBU offers 10 bachelor's degrees with 84 fields of study. The Christian liberal arts university has an overall enrollment of 1,871, with students from 37 states and 27 other countries. OBU has been rated as one of the top 10 comprehensive colleges in the West by U.S. News and World Report for 20 consecutive years and has been Oklahoma's highest rated comprehensive college in the U.S. News rankings for 18 consecutive years. For 2011-12, Forbes.com ranked OBU as the top university in Oklahoma.
China trip opens
doors for C-N
By Mark Brown
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. (Carson-Newman College) -- Carson-Newman College President Randall O'Brien's recent trip to South Korea and China granted him several opportunities to celebrate personal and institutional friendships while laying the foundation for continued growth with partners in both countries.
The first fruits of the venture include a new scholarship fund and plans for a motion picture which will feature C-N's campus.
O'Brien traveled with his wife Kay, Danny Hinson, C-N's dean of Global Education, and Hinson's wife Jan, an instructor in C-N's English Language Institute (ELI). The group began their outreach in South Korea where they were hosted by Billy Kim, pastor emeritus of the 15,000-member Suwon Central Baptist Church and former president of the Baptist World Alliance.
It became quickly evident that the most important part of the trip "was showing up," said O'Brien.
"It just meant everything to them that we had come. Everyone (there) wants to come to the States, and those with the means do, but for Americans to visit them is not as common. It conveyed supreme honor that we'd come to thank them in-person for entrusting us with their students and for allowing them to study with us."
While C-N has had covenant agreements with Namseoul University and Sungkyul University for several years, Hinson said he thinks "the non-stop trip" may well lead to "opportunities we just haven't had before." Some mornings began as early as 4:50 a.m. to prepare for a 6:00 prayer breakfast where O'Brien was able to talk about C-N and share a devotional message with some 3,000 people.
"There were several opportunities we do not normally have during a trip like this," said the dean.
"The relationship Dr. O'Brien has with Billy Kim opened opportunities that will serve us as we seek to serve more students in the near future."
In his role as chairman of Korea's Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC), Kim invited O'Brien and company to attend the Far East Forum, where U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Sung Kim (no relation) spoke, and to attend the thanksgiving service for and inaugural broadcast of FEBC's Gwangju station.
O'Brien first met Kim when he had the chance to host the internationally known pastor during his tenure as Baylor University's executive vice president and provost. Beyond campus engagements, O'Brien invited Kim to preach at the church he served as interim pastor.
"He is a great evangelist and highly respected across the country, and here as well," O'Brien said.
It was not long after his appointment as C-N's president four years ago that O'Brien heard from the Baptist statesman with an invitation to travel to South Korea. Like most American evangelicals, O'Brien knew of Kim's billing as "the Billy Graham of Korea," but says the trip offered him a much greater understanding of his friend's kingdom impact.
FEBC is a 65-year-old Christian radio operation that ministers to listeners in 50 countries through some 130 languages. O'Brien said FEBC's slogan — "Making Christ known to the world by radio" — is closer to reality than some might think, given that three billion people, almost half the world's population, live within reach of the network's signals.
The Korean stations also advertised information sessions where the president and dean talked about what C-N offers, including its Center for Global Education and ELI. Events include a Central Christian Academy event, hosted by Joseph Kim, son of the noted pastor. Some of the daytime sessions drew as many as 200 moms, given that their children were in school and their husbands at work.
"They had lined me up to speak at breakfasts, lunches and dinners with leading businessmen and women, and school officials; there were presidents, principals, pastors and church leaders. Every meal was important," said O'Brien, who chairs the Consortium for Global Education. The 40-institution group facilitates and supports education at domestic and international colleges and universities.
Between the two of them, O'Brien and Hinson preached eight times and were able to meet scores of businessmen interested in helping students grow through American educational opportunities.
"It's the Great Commission — doing what the Bible says do" said O'Brien.
During one gathering, O'Brien surprised his friend by announcing the establishment of the Billy Kim Scholarship Fund, whereby Korean students will have assistance to study on the Jefferson City campus. Hinson said the news created a sense of excitement he believes will result in donations and ultimately even more students. The dean said since returning to East Tennessee on June 1 he has heard from two students seeking information in hopes of fall admission.
The couples made a quick trip to China before heading home, traveling through Beijing to Yantai University, located near the Yellow Sea in the city for which it is named. O'Brien signed documents that will continue C-N's partnership with the 28,000-student institution by establishing a "two-for-two" faculty exchange program that Hinson says could begin as soon as January. He further expects C-N students will have the availability of summer study programs there by next year.
Hinson said they learned that a Chinese film producer has in the works a screenplay based around a courtship and subsequent marriage that began at Carson-Newman several years ago. The producer hopes to grant authenticity to the story with location shooting on campus during the fall term. Hinson said those behind the idea hope for a large release in that country and that he and O'Brien expect to learn more as the summer progresses.
"It was a busy, busy trip, but an important one for us to make," Hinson said.
"The Korean economy is booming at this point and we were able to make some very important connections that moved Carson-Newman up to the next level. China opens possibilities that we could not have imagined not too long ago. The more we learn there, the more it can help our students and serve our mission in the future," Hinson said.
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net