FROM THE STATES: Fla., Ga., Ky. evangelism/missions news; '[The Gospel] gives me hope for the first time in my life'

Baptist Press
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Posted: Nov 19, 2013 5:52 PM
Sharing the Gospel village

by village in Brazil

By Margaret Colson

BRAZIL (Florida Baptist Convention) -- At least eight decades of daily labor in a blistering sun etched in their faces, the man and woman sat on three-legged stools in the slivered shade offered by their shack of a home.

Accompanied by two Brazilian translators, Jeff Ray, pastor of Jones Road Baptist Church in Jacksonville, asked for permission to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Ray, on one of his first of numerous mission trips to Brazil, began to speak, pausing every few words for his translator to share God's message of redemption with the couple, who had already lived years longer than most others in this remote village. 

With each pause, he gazed at the couple. Tears welled in their eyes and began to track through the dust on their faces, spotting the dirt below.

"Do you understand what I have said?" Ray asked, with the translator echoing his question.

The man and woman nodded.

"Do you want to make a decision?"

The man spoke slowly. Ray awaited the translation.

"I am an old man, and I have never heard that story. For you to come here and tell me God loves me gives me hope for the first time in my life."

Each member of the small group went to their knees in the dirt and prayed as the two accepted God's gift of salvation.

"It was as if they had lived as long as they had just to hear that message," said Ray.

"That experience is one reason I've gone back to Brazil time and again. There are millions of people like that couple who need to hear the Gospel."

Since 2005 Florida Baptists, in cooperation with the International Mission Board and Convencao Batista Brasileira, have been on mission in Brazil. Through this partnership ministry, Florida Baptists provide evangelism, church planting and leadership assistance to Brazilian Baptists in three states located in the northwest corner of Brazil, including Amazonas, Acre and Roraima.

Florida Baptists' Maguire State Mission Offering provides $50,000 in financial resources to help make this ministry partnership possible.

"The funding from the Maguire State Mission Offering allows so many good things to happen in Brazil," according to Craig Culbreth, Florida Baptists' lead strategist for the missional support group.

Serving as a consultant to Florida Baptists' ministry partnership in Brazil, Ray notes that the large South American country currently has the largest number of groups in the world with no exposure to the Gospel. Many of these groups are small, live deep in the dense Brazilian jungles, speak their own language and are difficult to locate.

When the villages are located and relationships with the native people living there are established, a hunger for the Gospel is common, according to Elizabeth Ellison, a member of Jones Road Church, who went on her first mission trip to Brazil about eight years ago. On that first trip, she and her team traveled down the Amazon River to take God's love to some of the rural villages. The grandmother of 10 said she "went so deep in the jungle, I wasn't sure we would find our way out." 

Time and again, through interpreters, the Brazilians expressed a readiness to hear the Gospel. 

"They (the villagers) would say, 'It's about time you came; we've been waiting,'" explained Ellison.

As Ellison witnessed the lives of many Brazilians being changed as they responded to the Gospel, she found her life changed as well. She has since been back to Brazil on two additional mission trips, along with her husband, Bruce.

"Once you see and experience God's hand moving, you want to be a part of that," she said.     

Each time Ray takes another trip to Brazil, however, he notices that even small villages are becoming more westernized, with modern technology and conveniences seeming to harden peoples' hearts to the Gospel. He sees a shrinking "window of opportunity" in which Brazilians will be receptive to the Gospel. 

"An openness to the Gospel diminishes as people become more self-sufficient. Time is short," he said.  

Such urgency spurs him to work alongside other Florida Baptists to offer an annual leadership training event to train Brazilian leaders to evangelize, disciple and start churches indigenously. The training event, along with resources, such as Bibles and discipleship materials, for the leaders to take back to their place of service, is funded by the Maguire State Mission Offering, according to Culbreth.

"We have trained thousands of local leaders in Brazil who have been able to take this training, along with resources, back to others," he said.

The partnership, he said, has allowed hundreds of Florida Baptists to touch a part of the world that so few people ever get to see.

"There is no doubt that this side of heaven we will not know all we have done to impact the Kingdom through our mission partnership in Brazil," said Culbreth.

"But I expect to meet people in heaven who will say to me, 'I am here because a Florida Baptist came to my village and shared the Good News of Jesus Christ.'"

This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Margaret Dempsey-Colson is a writer for the Florida Baptist Convention.

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The crazy thing a pastor did to

engage Millennials: he talked to them

By Scott Barkley

AUSTELL, Ga. (Christian Index) -- Earlier this year, studies and resulting stories spread across the Internet about how the Millennial generation was rejecting organized religion in increasing numbers. They're less religious. They're spiritual, but have little interest in organized bodies of worship, much less denominations.

This article isn't about how to reach those born between the early 1980s to early 2000s, but it is about how one pastor's engagement of that group could become a model of discipleship.

I first contacted Michael Stovall, pastor at Ewing Road Baptist Church in Austell, during the summer for a follow-up article about the End It movement, which seeks to fight human trafficking and is primarily energized through the efforts of Millennials. Ewing Road was part of a large social media push on April 9 to inform the general public on the prevalence of modern-day slavery. The genesis for Stovall and Ewing Road's involvement, though, came the previous fall, and didn't necessarily focus on engaging Millennials.

"I had become concerned about our church's lack of leadership development," Stovall said. "I was deeply concerned about the lack of members taking leadership roles to develop, implement and lead ministries that impact the community and beyond."

To increase Kingdom influence, leadership development is essential, he reasoned. Stovall formed his thoughts into a blog post at MichaelStovall.com. A believer eager to serve is typically plugged into an existing ministry at the church, he wrote. What's missing is to ask him or her a key question: What are you passionate about?

Fast-forward a little more than two months. Stovall has bought lunch for a group of young people, most of them in their early 20s, and waiting to hear their answer to that very question.

"I thanked them for spending the time with me, promised to listen, and then sat back and enjoyed hearing from them. I engaged them with a few questions for clarification along the way, but mostly it was them talking. I had no agenda except to learn about them," he remembers.

Many in the group had just attended a conference in Atlanta that keyed on the spread of modern-day slavery. This was their passion and their fight.

"I told them I wanted to invest in them and help develop their leadership in the church to specifically address the issues that they were passionate about," Stovall says. "I gave them specific instructions/steps about what to do in the days and weeks after our lunch and how I would respond to work with them."

Two, in particular, took the challenge. Taylor Morris, 23, and his fiancé Wimberley Larkey, 22, contacted Stovall a few days later to schedule a meeting and go over their ideas. At that meeting the three decided to focus on building awareness of human trafficking and action steps for the church to take.

Being involved while staying out of the way was important for Stovall.

"I try to communicate a clear plan of action with a clear set of expectations and a clear list of my commitments to them," he wrote to The Index in an email exchange. "This way we are working from the same page.

"Taylor and Wimberley have been incredible in their pursuit of what God wanted them to do. And the church has bought into it as well. This has been a great source of encouragement to them and me that the church is looking to them as leaders and they are responding as leaders."

Meeting with the couple occasionally, a plan was drawn together to build awareness that started with two sermons from Stovall, the guest testimony of a director at a local rescue house during the worship service, an information table, donations to like-minded organizations, and a social media blitz.

The second step was involvement, as a dozen church members took part in the Wellspring Living 5K Run for One 5K in June. A couple of Sunday School classes also collected items for a local rescue house. The next step is a Disc Golf tournament Oct. 12 in Austell at the new course built specifically for such an outing. To keep the social media momentum going they've established a Facebook page and Twitter feed.

To build leaders, Stovall points out, you must define them. The formula for this is Gifts + Passions = Priorities.

"A leader at Ewing Road as a person who understands the church's mission and vision, has embraced it as their own, and is taking ownership/responsibility for leading ministry that moves the mission and vision forward. Not everyone will be this kind of a leader. I shared with the church at the first of this year that I believe God has already gifted our church with the spiritual gifts needed for the ministry He desires.

"My goal is not to try and come up with all the types of ministries we should endeavor to do. Rather, as pastor my desire is to learn what gifts and passions God has placed in the church and then work to develop leaders who will use their gifts and passions to lead in God's priorities."

This article appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Scott Barkley is production editor of The Christian Index.

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Evangelism events ignite

hearts in Western Ky. prisons

By Drew Nichter

PADUCAH, Ky. (Western Recorder) -- Following an altar call that saw 16 men stand and make decisions for Christ, one McCracken County Jail inmate just couldn't stand it any longer. He had to speak out.

"I believe something's happening in Paducah," he proclaimed. "I believe you all are fixing to have revival break out in this city."

The flames of that revival were fanned even further Nov. 1-2 through a pair of events at area prisons at the start of RISK: Paducah, a week of gospel outreach leading up to this week's Kentucky Baptist Convention annual meeting.

During RISK's opening weekend, some 230 people made decisions for Christ, 174 of whom were prisoners who attended worship services at the McCracken County Jail in Paducah and the Western Kentucky Correctional Complex in Fredonia.

The KBC outreach was coordinated through Freedom Forever Ministries, which has shared the gospel inside west Kentucky prison walls for 14 years now.

Lee Rust is the ministry's executive director. She agreed that revival is indeed taking hold among the region's penal population.

"The prayer team for this ministry has prayed for a year for revival," Rust said, "and we have watched it begin."

On Friday night, volunteers hosted a dinner for 40 of the McCracken County Jail's inmates who are due to be released soon.

Attendance for the worship service afterward was optional, but at least 20 of the men stayed to hear a gospel message from Chuck McAlister, KBC's evangelism and church planting team leader.

Rust said 16 of those men made decisions for Christ that night, a response that overwhelmed her -- even though she had prayed specifically for it.

"We knew exactly what we were praying for, but it still surprised us when we saw it," she recalled.

To see nearly all of an audience stand at once to make decisions for Christ is something Pastor Mike Moynahan has rarely seen, even after more than 40 years in the pulpit.

"It confirms that we have felt the Lord is very much at work—and we're giving Him the credit," said Moynahan, the bivocational pastor of Paducah's Schneidman Road Baptist Church.

With little sleep, the volunteers traveled Saturday morning to Fredonia and the Western Kentucky Correctional Complex, which houses upwards of 700 women. There, inmates were offered meals and an opportunity to participate in worship.

McAlister joined Chris Turpin, pastor of Donaldson Baptist Church in Princeton, to preach at six worship services throughout the day.

In all, 158 women made decisions for Christ, Rust said.

"There was a lot of enthusiasm for Christ and for the word and for worship," said Turpin, adding that most of the women who attended worship were eager to hear the gospel.

"I don't know if that's normal for that prison, but there were people there who definitely wanted to hear the word," he said.

As for the revival sweeping through those correctional facilities, Rust said it's primarily because the inmates are broken, humbled and repentant.

"Revival is not really about salvation," she said, "it's about repentance -- admitting our sins.

"When I look at that sea of inmates, they all have the same clothes on, and they no longer have any socioeconomic status," Rust explained. "They're just people who God loves—and I think that's the way God sees all of us."

And Rust said she believes if the same revival fires consuming the prisons are going to spread to area churches, Kentucky Baptists must focus less on earthly things such as their clothes, jobs, social status or the style of worship music played in their churches.

"I think if we didn't care so much about that and we cared more about our relationship with Christ and we would seek Him with a repentant heart, we would see revival break out in our churches across this state," Rust said.

Larry Brannin and Jay Parker of the Kentucky Baptist Convention contributed to this story. This article appeared in the Western Recorder (westernrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Drew Nichter is a former news director of the Western Recorder.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board's call to embrace the world's 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board's call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.

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