The Baptist Courier (South Carolina)
Arkansas Baptist News
Dying church finds new
vitality through missions
SPARTANBURG, S.C. (The Baptist Courier) -- Brown's Chapel Baptist Church, in the former mill town of Pacolet, S.C., just outside of Spartanburg, is sensing God at work -- breathing new life into the congregation through baptisms, new ministries and mission opportunities.
Four years ago, long after he was called as pastor to Brown's Chapel, Ralph Jett was painting a window and was struck by the community he saw through the pane -- a neglected place with junky yards and dilapidated houses. The once-bustling mill town where people took pride in their homes had become the opposite. Jett asked God about his own ministry there: "Why here, and why now?"
"God said I was there to love the people, to preach the Word and do ministry," Jett said. "I came down from the ladder realizing that nothing else seemed to be there, but God was." The church cleared off an area near the parsonage so people could see the church, "and so the church could see a community was there as well," he said.
It was a situation many smaller churches know well: A dying church reflects a dying community, where families move away to find work and begin worshipping elsewhere. What makes Brown's Chapel's story different is that excitement about what God is doing in the church is drawing people back to the community -- in some cases driving 12-15 miles to worship and to be a part of ministry there.
"God has shown up and done incredible things," Jett said. "It's been good to watch new people come in and to see the older members receive and welcome them."
Just a few years ago, Brown's Chapel had about 50 people in Sunday School and 70 regularly in worship. Now it averages 130 in Sunday School, and around 200 people attend worship. In the last four years, there have been 55 additions to the church through baptism. Currently, about a dozen families are going through a new member class.
So why are people drawn to this out-of-the-way church that is more than 100 years old? It is a church passionate about local and foreign missions, and members of all ages are actively involved, Jett said. He talked about a 96-year-old church member who participated in the church's partnership with North Spartan Baptist Association on a Haiti mission project a few years ago. She told him she'd been "coming to church and taking, but now wanted to serve and do something," so she used her sewing talent to make more than 100 pillowcase dresses for the project.
A former Brown's Chapel member, Brad Wall, is now a North American Mission Board missionary working with ethnic groups in New York City, and the church has sent mission groups there to work with Wall and do street evangelism. Brown's Chapel has partnered with a church in Nova Scotia through financial support and sent groups from the church to lead Vacation Bible School and sports camps there during the summers. Through the local association, church members have also been to Montana and Ohio, partnered with NAMB in urban Atlanta-area ministries, and supported a couple from North Spartan Association who are NAMB missionaries working with a cowboy church in Idaho.
Locally, the church reaches about 150 young people through a summer sports camp and partners with other churches to have a presence in a nearby school. A men's group volunteers to help neighbors in the community with minor home repairs and by building wheelchair ramps. The church has a family outreach event called "Making a Connection," which includes games and activities in a local park followed by an event at a nearby barn. More young families have been attending worship, so the church started a children's church that has grown from about five children to around 30.
Jett said church members are encouraged to respond when God places new ministry ideas on their hearts. One member began "Zone in on Pacolet," an outreach effort that breaks focus areas into zones. Groups of church members adopt zones of the community to prayerwalk the streets, engage neighbors, and provide basic supplies when needed. Church members are also encouraged to drive through the zone on their way to church instead of taking their usual route.
"God is raising up leaders throughout the church," Jett said. "It has been wonderful to watch the reproduction of the Lord in people's lives," Jett said.
Brown's Chapel is incorporating the idea of being intentional into how it goes about sharing, praying, going, and doing ministry. Jett said church members aren't interested in new programs, but in doing things in new and different ways. The Care Ministry, for example, is a new system of outreach and visitation that has organized groups of members to pray, write cards, make phone calls and do home visits.
Brown's Chapel, which maintained its facilities for about 40 years without any major improvements, has completely funded a recent capital campaign to do major renovations to respond to its growth in numbers and other ministry needs. Jett reports that there are also signs of revitalization in the town of Pacolet, and the church is excited about future ministry opportunities.
"The Lord says, 'I will build my church,' and if we will just listen and move when he tells us to, he will move," Jett said. "I believe God is looking for people and willing to work in situations no matter where. This is his deal, and God can use anyone."
This article appeared in The Baptist Courier (baptistcourier.com), newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
Ethnic churches gain
focus in Arkansas
By Jessica Vanderpool
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Baptist News) -- In an increasingly diverse world, the need for Christians to reach out to ethnicities other than their own has never been greater, and Arkansas Baptists are seeking to do just that.
The number of ethnic congregations affiliated with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) is growing, and among these are African American, Hispanic, Chinese, Hmong, Korean, Laotian, Marshallese and Vietnamese congregations.
The ABSC has placed a specific focus on African-American church planting.
"Our strategy is to develop networks of relationships as we work with churches, colleges and communities to identify potential planters for Little Rock and Delta regions," said Willie Jacobs, ABSC missions ministries team member and urban strategist for Little Rock and Delta region.
He explained that aspects of this strategy include "providing training for potential church planters through our eight-week urban institute, networking with churches that provide sponsorship for potential planters and networking with associational missionaries to assist them with strategies to reach their communities."
"The purpose of the strategy is to raise up and train African-American planters to expand the kingdom in Little Rock and Delta region," he said.
Although it is a three-stage strategy that will take several more years to complete, there have already been results.
According to Jacobs, results include five new churches planted in the last two years, more than 20 potential church planters trained through the urban institute, an increase in the number of sponsor churches, two college partnerships being developed and the potential for starting another five African-American churches this year.
"Churches can get involved by sponsoring new church plants in different ways in partnership with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and can be assisted with demographics and training to help them understand the communities they are targeting," Jacobs said.
Since 1998, the number of non-Anglo Southern Baptist (SBC) churches has increased more than 66 percent - from slightly more than 6,000 in 1998 to about 10,000 in 2011, a Baptist Press article reported.
The article added that the "largest jump in non-Anglo congregations within the SBC from 1998 to 2011 has predominantly come from an 82.7 percent increase in the number of African-American congregations."
"Non-Anglo congregations now account for nearly 20 percent of the SBC, compared to 13.4 percent in 1998," and about 5 percent in 1990, the article said.
This article originally appeared in the Arkansas Baptist News (arkansasbaptist.org), newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Jessica Vanderpool is assistant editor of the Arkansas Baptist News.
Doors open for South Asian
Fellowship and Activity Center
By Sharon Mager
ABINGDON, Md. (BaptistLIFE) -- Lisa Mele leads the South Asian Fellowship and Activity Center in partnership with Maple View Baptist Church, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware and with the North American Mission Board. She's also the wife of Craig Mele, pastor of Maple View Baptist Church, with a congregation of about 40 people reaching the world for Jesus.
The South Asian Fellowship is simple, it's small, but God is opening amazing doors. Maple View Baptist Church has rallied around the fellowship and the church's goal is to birth a South Asian church in the Abingdon area.
Lisa's passion began 20 years ago, before she and Craig were married. They both attended Bel Forest Baptist Church, and Lisa was searching for God's will.
"It was like a physical weight over me. I was shouting on the inside, 'God, what do you want me to do? Where do you want me to go?' When I went home that night, I turned the radio on to a station I don't normally listen to, and it was about a need for missionaries in India."
The next day, while she was working in an office, listening to music, Lisa received amazing confirmation that God was indeed speaking to her.
"The dial moved to a Christian radio station and it was a rebroadcast of what I heard the night before," she said. She wasn't sure what that ministry would look like. Was God calling her to go to India?
Shortly after that, a man from a local detention center called Lisa's office by accident, but he and Lisa talked. The man was from India and wanted Lisa to check on his family.
Their name was Singh. The family lived near Lisa's office. She visited with them and brought them to Bel Forest where the church helped with their needs.
"Pastor William Rivers (pastor of Bel Forest Baptist Church) and his wife, Betty Faye, were always very supportive of my burden for India and they were extremely missions minded," Mele said.
Twenty years went by and in that time, Craig and Lisa married and Craig started pastoring Maple View.
The desire to start a ministry to reach South Asians still burned in Lisa's heart. She shared that burden when she and Craig met with BCM/D's then planned giving consultant Conrad Burch, and his wife Doris for dinner. Conrad tossed one of Robert Kim's business cards on the table and told Lisa "that's the man you need to talk to." Kim is a BCM/D Asian church planting missionary. Lisa shared her vision with Kim and he became her coach. Kim referred Lisa to North American Mission Board Missionary Aslam Masih for more support. Masih encouraged the Meles to begin having regular fellowships.
"God has done amazing things, working through Conrad, Robert and Aslam," Lisa said.
Masih has been very supportive, coaching Lisa, coming to help lead the tours to a Sikh temple, in partnership with Grace Place Church in Dundalk, and at a local mosque.
Amazingly, at the Mosque, John Gauger, pastor of First Baptist Church, Perryville, who is very involved in ministering to Muslims, shared the Gospel with the Iman through a question and answer time.
"It was unbelievable. It was so natural. It was in the process of dialogue. It wasn't like someone was preaching," Lisa said.
Masih invited Lisa and Troy McDaniel, pastor of Grace Place Church, to share their testimonies and participate in a South Asian Ministry NAMB conference in Georgia, where they heard the stories from Hindus and Muslims who were miraculously transformed through the Holy Spirit working in amazing ways, from dreams to Christians sharing friendship in intentional everyday relationships
"Aslam has provides credibility," Mele said. Masih is Pakistani, and is a natural bridge to the local South Asian people groups, opening doors that are sometimes difficult to crack open.
The Meles followed Masih's advice and began hosting fellowships, inviting local South Asian families through mass mailings using a criss-cross directory and targeting families with Indian last names. They had visions of filling their fellowship hall with Indian families seeking support and spiritual guidance, but that didn't happen.
A few Christian Indian families attended, but mostly the fellowships drew Christians from other churches that had a similar passion. It wasn't what they envisioned, but it was how God was directing the ministry.
"We were developing a core group," Lisa said.
Now, rather than having fellowships, the group operates on a more one-on-one and Bible study format.
One of the most effective ministries has been a Bible study at a local Dunkin Donuts where Lisa and a friend, Mona, have built relationships with the restaurant staff.
"We just kept showing up, asking about their families and getting to know them. God would have them sit down and talk to us. Now, they invite us to their house for food, teach us to cook, and invite us to Hindu festivals in the area. We're the only non-South Asians there. We even became friends with a Mosque president."
Lisa began to intentionally work as an assistant teaching English as a Second Language Class at a local community college.
At first, Lisa was disappointed. There were no students from South Asia, but soon, a student from Bangladesh and one from the Indian state of Gujarat registered, and God allowed Lisa an immediate connection.
"Once again, we just had to wait on His timing," she said.
Now the ministry has changed. Instead of sending out invitations to a fellowship, the Meles send brochures offering spiritual counseling, Bible studies and scripture in Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, or any other South Asian language.
Lisa believes this is just the beginning. She knows God is going to move in a big way in this ministry and she's patiently waiting for Him to make the next move.
"We have met some fascinating people from this part of our world. The Lord has seen fit to allow us to build bridges and to share the Gospel with people of other faiths. Maple View is a church of about 40 members, but the Lord has put us in contact with over ten times that number of those in the South Asian community. We pray they come to Christ."
This article appeared in BaptistLIFE (baptistlifeonline.org), newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. Sharon Mager is a correspondent for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.
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