Today's From the States features items from:
Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)
California Southern Baptist
Baptist New Mexican
Church's partnership leads
to close encounter with Africa
By Dianna L. Cagle
WASHINGTON, N.C. (Biblical Recorder) -- When the idea of attempting the church's own Vacation Bible School (VBS) was first proposed, Joy Stallings rolled her eyes and walked away.
She knew the amount of work it would take.
"It did take a lot of extra work, it was all for a good reason," said Stallings, director of children and outreach for First Baptist Church in Washington. "Before I knew it we had a list of people who could handle ."
First Baptist's 16-year partnership with Swaziland, Africa, played a central role in this summer's VBS.
Because more than 75 members have gone to the country since the partnership began in the mid-1990s, members could share first-hand experiences about what it's like while showing off pictures and authentic mementoes from their trips. One member built a hut - complete with noisy chickens and goats.
"I think it may have been more real," Stallings said. "You felt like you had been taken to another place."
The display also included people who told stories about Peter, his calling and how God spoke to him.
In 2011, the church was going through renovations and had to cancel its plans to hold its own VBS.
The church was meeting in a confined space while the renovations took place. Before the cancellation last year, the church averaged 150 children at Vacation Bible School.
This year, the average was up slightly with 170 children registered.
"FBC has been known for its Bible school," Stallings said. "It hurt to skip it. We just didn't have enough space. It wasn't going to be safe for the kids."
Every Sunday night for a year, five women, who made up the VBS planning team, met to discuss progress of the school.
"We just have a lot of talent in the church who are willing to give their time and talent," said Tammy Condrey, the church's youth minister until 2007. Stallings credits Condrey, who teaches high school math, with spearheading "this homegrown VBS."
Condrey, along with several others, wrote the curriculum. Others pitched in to write words for a theme song. They decided to use a commonly known song from a children's movie and inserted new words.
"We had a Swazi museum curator there every day," Stallings said.
"It was different for the kids and the workers and it was nice."
The volunteers tried to emphasize how Swazi children live without phones and iPods and other technological devices and modern amenities.
"A large number of people have been to Swaziland … and it's where a lot of our heart is for our church," Condrey said.
The VBS offering for the week was to help a medical mission team from their church go to Swaziland in February 2013.
"We've never raised over $500 for a Bible School," Stallings said, but this year, they raised more than $1,000.
"It'll be neat to see what they'll use that money for," she said.
Even some of the older youth helped with leading groups.
"That meant a lot to me that a teenage boy was able to reach out to my son," Stallings said about her nine-year-old.
Stallings had advice for others planning VBS.
"Don't make plan anything," she said.
Instead she asked for volunteers mainly to help with crowd control and leading groups to their next station. That cut down on the amount of volunteers needed for leading the main segments of VBS. "The easier you make it for them the more volunteers you get," she said.
Since the girls won the fundraiser during Vacation Bible School some of the male leaders received pies in the face to reward them for raising money for medical missions in Swaziland, Africa. First Baptist Church in Washington has had a partnership with the country since the mid-1990s.
Swazi Safari was created by members of First Baptist Church in Washington as its Vacation Bible School (VBS) this summer. They had record attendance and raised the most they have ever raised in VBS to help with medical missions in Swaziland, Africa.
This article originally appeared in the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Dianna L. Cagle is assistant managing editor of the Biblical Recorder.
"Bug in the ear" turns to reality
with Hispanic church plant
By Amanda Phifer
MOJAVE, Calif. (California Southern Baptist) -- Those metaphorical "bugs in the ear": who can know how God will use them to work and move and grow His Kingdom in a particular time or place?
Rocky Vermillion, pastor of First Baptist Church in Mojave, started this one.
"I put a little bug in our director of missions' ear: 'I would love to have a Spanish-speaking person come to Mojave and help me go around and get a church started here.' And I left it at that."
Three years later, the dream is becoming a reality. Early this summer, Luis and Carmen Hernandez, members of the Spanish-speaking mission of Immanuel Baptist Church in Ridgecrest, relocated to Mojave - an unincorporated town of about 2,300 some 53 miles east of Bakersfield - to plant a Hispanic church.
What happened? Nothing less, or more, than God working in hearts and bringing churches together to plant a church: one pastor seeing the need, a lay leader with a desire to minister, another pastor realizing his church's responsibility to start churches, and other churches partnering for the task.
"When I heard the need for a Spanish-speaking church here in Mojave," said Hernandez, the church planter, "I felt the call in my heart to give to my people what God had already given to me."
"For years, I thought, it's the High Desert Association, the California state convention and the North American Mission Board who are responsible for planting churches," noted Bill Logan, pastor of Immanuel in Ridgecrest. "But God just brought it to my attention, very clearly, that it's not their responsibility, it is mine."
In January, Immanuel members were in the midst of a congregation-wide "Experiencing God" study. "We were looking for God's activity around us, and we realized Luis was available and Rocky had a need, and it was obvious God wanted us to participate in some way," Logan explained.
Through a letter in the California Southern Baptist, and in the High Desert Baptist Association newsletter, Logan challenged other churches in the association to join Immanuel in planting a Hispanic congregation. Seven churches came on board, and were joined by California Southern Baptist Convention and NAMB. Funds from the California Mission Offering play a key role in the church plant.
"Individually, it's pretty expensive to plant a church," Logan explained, "but participating with others makes this very do-able."
A Hispanic church plant in the Mojave area would have to be the financial doing of such a coalition. Mojave is surrounded by equally small and poor towns, and most churches in the area do well to support a full-time pastor. Vermillion served as pastor pro bono for several years.
"When you come to Mojave it has to be a calling," he said cheerfully. "Our church has had 17 pastors; I'm the longest at 12 years. The difficulty in pastoring here is we're so spread out, and the finances aren't there. You're not gonna make a big pastor salary out here."
So when Luis and Carmen Hernandez began the search for a place to relocate, they weren't optimistic. But a deacon at First Baptist in Mojave, Joey Biggs, "just happened" to have a house he was trying to rent. Biggs came to Vermillion and said the Hernandezes could live in the house, rent-free, as long as they needed.
"It was just another way the Lord's provided," Vermillion said.
The finances are the easy part. For years First Baptist has successfully reached out to the Hispanic children in the area through Vacation Bible School and AWANA programs, but hit a wall when they tried to reach the parents. It wasn't simply the language barrier, though that was the most significant obstacle.
"We're in a poverty-stricken desert," Vermillion said bluntly. "A lot of our people, the children who come, live with aunts or uncles because the parents are in jail. The children we reach come from very broken backgrounds, more than 75 percent of them. Most residents are illegal, and we're just trying to reach them and let them know Christ takes them just as they are."
For his part, Vermillion is thrilled to see Hispanic adults coming to First Baptist for the Sunday evening service. The highlight so far? A "sweet 16" ceremony for a Hispanic youth.
"We all sat down in my office, planning this event, the young lady, her parents, Luis and Carmen, and me. They're all speaking in Spanish, and I was just overwhelmed," Vermillion said. "At the ceremony Luis spoke in Spanish and I spoke in English - neither of us was interpreting for the other, we just were sharing - and we were able to witness to the people there.
"It's awesome to see God's work," he added. "It's always in His perfect time. Sometimes we want it now, like the three-year-old, but God always brings it at the right time."
This article originally appeared in the California Southern Baptist (csbc.com/csb), newsjournal of the California Southern Baptist Convention. Amanda Phifer is a freelancer for the California Southern Baptist.
planted in Las Cruces
LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Baptist New Mexican) -- A new church has been planted in the Last Cruces area that is being sponsored by five churches of Rio Grande Baptist Association. Located west of the Rio Grande River, the area is home to more than 4,000 Hispanic families.
The concern for bilingual work among the area's population created the vision for this effort. The churches that are partnering with the association, which is led by Director of Missions James Underwood, are Fairacres Baptist Church, Hill Baptist Church, Hatch First Baptist Church, Mesquite Baptist Church and Primera Iglesia Bautista de Las Cruces. Fairacres agreed to be the lead church and to provide a facility and utilities for the new work.
Last December Betty and Thomas Eason, retired missionaries from the North American Mission Board and the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, felt the call to assist in the formation of a core group, and God did not allow discouragement, Tom Eason said.
"In February, God doubled the congregation from two members to four!" Eason exclaimed. "A precious lady from Mexico came seeking to know about Jesus. She asked many questions about Jesus and then prayed to receive him into her life. Her family expressed shock at the change in her life. She and her daughter began to attend the Bible study each week."
Growth has been slow, Eason acknowledged, but God is calling leaders and they are responding. Attendance is growing as is a vision for reaching the people in the community.
Various outreach methods are being used. Celebrations and meals on Mother's Day and Father's Day attracted three additional families.
The small group also wanted to reach out to the community through Vacation Bible School. A prayerwalk was planned for the community, and teams went to designated areas to pray for families and to distribute publicity about VBS.
Fifty children were registered in the VBS. While they enjoyed the Bible study, music and games, the adults were involved in Bible study and ministry.
"Some of the adults asked questions about the many different churches and beliefs," Eason said. "As a result one lady in the Bible study has begun to attend the services."
God has sent several families who have committed to be part of the new work and are serving as the core group leaders. The high attendance since beginning the work was 23, a tenfold increase in just six months. "Prayers for this work are requested and valued," Eason said.
This article originally appeared in the Baptist New Mexican, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico (bcnm.com).
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