Today's From the States features items from:
The Alabama Baptist
Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)
Southern Baptist TEXAN
Gadsden's MeadowBrook hosts ongoing Bible
training conferences for South Sudan pastors
By Julie Payne
UGANDA (The Alabama Baptist) -- While previously working with South Sudan churches, Randy Gunter recognized an eye-opening need.
That need manifested itself in different forms — from the extremely limited resources to Bible training that was nearly nonexistent.
Aware these South Sudanese church leaders were both hungry to learn and extremely bright, Gunter, pastor of MeadowBrook Baptist Church in Gadsden, Ala., said his church decided to bring the Bible training directly to them so they could then multiply it to others.
The result of that vision is an ongoing conference for South Sudanese church leaders and church planters with the purpose of taking them through a one-year training in basic seminary courses.
Originally scheduled to be held in South Sudan, tribal fighting within the country pushed the conference to Uganda instead, Gunter explained.
The conference's first session, which focused on "Hermeneutics and Homiletics," took place Feb. 12–19 with approximately 25 eager South Sudanese church planters and pastors soaking up the material for eight to nine hours each day.
Gunter co-taught the sessions with Gary Cardwell, director of missions for Etowah Baptist Association. They used The Timothy Initiative training materials but rewrote the curriculum to make it interactive for their students, Gunter explained.
While having experience leading other conferences in the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, Gunter said this was his church's first attempt "to take a designated group of pastors and church planters through a series of trainings so they may be better equipped for their ministry."
In addition to the Bible training, he noted a team of four from MeadowBrook Baptist led Community Health Evangelism (CHE) Training of Trainers.
"CHE is an integral ministry strategy that seamlessly integrates evangelism, discipleship and church planting with community health and development," Gunter said. "Through CHE ministries, people become followers of Jesus and whole communities are lifted out of cycles of poverty and disease."
He added, "The training gave the church planters the necessary strategy to reach new communities and establish churches among new believers being discipled."
Cardwell, who noted it was his first trip to Uganda, said he went to be a blessing to the church planters and pastors but came back far more blessed as a result of the relationships that were made.
"Equipping them in sharpening their skills in order to communicate biblical truths, as well as applying those truths in the lives of those they minister to, was a great thrill for me," he shared. "I plan to be involved in future opportunities when possible."
Those future opportunities include five additional conferences over the next several months to both train and be in relationship with the pastors and church planters. Future sessions include topics such as "Church Planting and The Book of Acts," "New Testament Gospels" and "Major Bible Doctrines."
According to Gunter, all of the trainers for the future sessions will be from MeadowBrook or directly connected to the church. Gunter, who had visited both South Sudan and Uganda several times before the first conference session in February, also plans on returning to teach future sessions.
Gunter noted that in his role with the conference, building and having relationship with the South Sudanese is extremely rewarding.
"They are extremely hospitable and kind people," he noted. "All of our missions emphases seek to train and invest for multiplication. It is rewarding that most of the ministry and expansion takes place while we are not in country."
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Julie Payne is a news writer for The Alabama Baptist.
First Karenni pastor in U.S.
ordained in Winston-Salem
By K. Allan Blume
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Biblical Recorder) -- Five years ago a handful of Karenni refugees from Burma were relocated to Winston-Salem, N.C. On Sat., April 26, about 400 festively dressed Karenni people gathered at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem to celebrate the ordination of the first Karenni pastor in America.
Steve Hardy, associate pastor for missions at Calvary called it a significant event.
He said Khu Htoo Gay is the only resettled Karenni pastor teaching his congregation in Kayah, the mother tongue of the Kayah people. "This is also the first time that Calvary has ordained a pastor from another culture, so we had to figure out how to do that," he said.
With the help of two interpreters, an ordination council worked for more than a year to complete the process. The council included four Calvary pastors and three deacons. The pastors are senior pastor Rob Peters; associate pastor for deaf and multicultural ministries, Kent Oviatt; Hardy; and associate pastor for college and young adults, Steven Ackley.
The Karenni are a Burmese people group that were heavily persecuted by their government, according to Hardy. "The government of Burma is essentially trying to commit genocide of these people. They lived in the eastern part of Burma, also called Myanmar," he said. "Many of them fled across the border into Thailand where they were protected by the United Nations (U.N.) in refugee camps."
The U.N. works with World Relief, an evangelical organization, to resettle refugees in the U.S. Since N.C. was a target area for resettlement, World Relief contacted Rich and Barbara Warren* who were translating the Kayah New Testament. The Warrens are members of Calvary Baptist, so they asked the church to help with the relocation. Many pieces of a complex puzzle started coming together. God was working in the lives of another couple who would become instrumental in ministering to the Karennis.
Tim and Jodie Cross had just returned to their home church after 13 years as missionaries in Europe through the International Mission Board. Their work focused on the needs of international refugees in Brussels and London. They began to realize that they did not have to live in London or Brussels to work with refugees.
"God is bringing the world to us," Tim Cross said. "We began to ask, 'Why can't we do the same thing here that we've been doing in other parts of the world?'"
The Crosses decided to begin a ministry to refugees called "Open Arms Ministry," partially funded by Calvary.
"They essentially taught Calvary people how to minister to these people," Hardy said. "Keep in mind that the Karenni people have been living in bamboo huts with no electricity and no indoor plumbing at all."
They typically lived in a refugee camp in Thailand 15 to 20 years before coming to the U.S.
Hardy described the plight of the refugees. "Imagine that the U.N. puts you on an airplane, sends you to a country where you don't know the language, you don't know anybody," he said.
"You don't know what a light switch is, you don't know what a toilet is, you don't know what an electric stove is. You've been cooking over an open fire. You've been using torches for light at night. You have not lived in a safe place -– there's land mines all around where you live. Imagine coming from that environment to the United States."
He credits the Warrens and Crosses with helping the church understand the Karenni people and teaching them the basics of turning on a light switch and using a toilet. Hardy said, "Tim and Jodie literally spent hours upon hours upon hours just helping us navigate through the systems we have for immigration ... how to use the bus system in Winston-Salem, getting jobs and getting the children enrolled in school."
Refugee families have three months to find a job and become self-sustaining. The Crosses worked with employers in the area. Hotels hired some of the women for housekeeping. Many of the men work in chicken processing plants.
Young Karennis have not been overlooked. For the past four years the Crosses have taken them on summer mission trips to share the Gospel with Karenni refugees in other states. The seven- to 10-day youth mission trips have taken them to Atlanta, Ga., Jacksonville, Fla., Denver, Colo., Nashville, Tenn. and Indianapolis, Ind.
The teams conduct Vacation Bible Schools, Back Yard Bible Clubs and worship services in their native language. This has resulted in new church plants among the Karenni in most of those cities.
Cross said, "A Caucasian church in Denver welcomed about 10 Karenni as a result of one mission trip. Today they have 90 Karenni attending that church."
Htoo Gay's ministry is expanding rapidly. From 125 to 200 Karennis meet every Sunday morning for worship services in Calvary's facilities.
Calvary produces video recordings of pastor Htoo Gay and posts the video on the Internet to share with Karenni congregations across the country. Local churches have their own music celebration and show the video of Htoo Gay preaching.
Since there are no other ordained Karenni pastors in the United States, Calvary's vision is to send Htoo Gay to other states to help these fledgling congregations grow and learn discipleship. He is leading weekend trips throughout the year with a few teenagers and adults.
"One of the issues we are trying to figure out is how to fund it," Hardy said. "We have some money set aside in Calvary's budget to help with the expenses, but it is not nearly enough to do the ministry and pay him a salary. We're looking for some partners who will help us."
Htoo Gay is a product of Judson Baptist Bible College in Burma. The school is named for Adoniram Judson, one of the first Baptist missionaries and the father of the American Baptist missionary movement. Judson and his wife, Ann, served among a hostile Burmese people from 1812 to 1845, although Ann died in 1826. The fruit of their sacrifice lives 190 years later in Winston-Salem.
*Names withheld for security. This article appeared in the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. K. Allan Blume is editor of the Biblical Recorder.
Texas missionary shares Gospel
in Poland through English classes
By Susie Rain
LUBAWA, Poland (Southern Baptist TEXAN) -- At first, Bailey Hughes didn't want to go to Poland. She crossed it off her list of possible missionary destinations. She'd "been there, done that" as a tourist and wanted a new and challenging adventure.
Six years later, the Keller native said that God could not have found a more "personal" place of ministry for her than northeastern Poland. It was such a fit that, after serving there in short-term missions as a journeyman and an International Service Corps member through the International Mission Board, Hughes was appointed as a career missionary in February and returned to Poland.
"I understand their struggles in coming to faith," Hughes, a member of Fellowship of the Parks in Keller, said regarding her Polish friends.
"I didn't grow up in a Christian home. I remember the first time I heard the Word of God. I was in the fourth grade on the playground. I pretended to know but I had no idea who this 'God' person was. From that day on, I was intrigued.
"For me, coming into a personal relationship with my Savior was a process," the 29-year-old missionary said. "It was a process of asking questions, seeking answers, reading the Bible and figuring out for myself who Christ really was."
Hughes sees her Polish friends struggling as she did through a similar process in coming to know Christ. As she explained, it doesn't just happen overnight. For most, it takes years of working through questions.
Hughes explained that Catholicism is ingrained in every part of the Polish culture. Operation World estimates that around 90 percent of the population in Poland claims to be Catholic, while less than 1 percent is evangelical. Of the Polish people Hughes works with, 98 percent are Roman Catholic.
According to Hughes, statues of the Virgin Mary and other Catholic saints are found in towns and villages. People come from all over to pray at a special statue of Mary that sits at the end of a well-kept sidewalk in Lubawa, the town where Hughes lives. The statue depicts Mary stepping on a serpent with an apple in its mouth.
"It's a picture of how Mary is powerful and put on a pedestal," Hughes said. "It's the darkest oppression that I've come across in northeastern Poland. And it's one reason we wanted to extend our efforts in sharing Christ here ."
Hughes will spend the next few years in Lubawa helping to start new work. She'll continue teaching English, the same strategy she used with her team in the previous city, Olsztyn, to reach out to neighbors. The young missionary explains that offering English conversational classes has been an open door for meeting people and sharing the Gospel.
"In my last city, there was an older lady who wanted to learn English so she could visit her daughter in England. She's not a believer but she came to my class," Hughes said. "At one point, she wanted to know why I was there. I told her that I was working with Baptist churches, and that led into us talking about spiritual things.
"We do English conversation so we can share the Gospel. For example, one day we were practicing past tense words. So I told her my testimony," she recounted. "This lady now loves to hear people's testimonies. She is not a believer yet but I pray one day it will happen."
While Hughes lives in a country where she can openly talk about Jesus, it doesn't mean hundreds come to salvation each year. In fact, it was years before she even saw one person commit his life to Christ. Veteran missionaries warned her that it could take years to see fruit—if she sees any.
Hughes said this doesn't bother her, though. As she stated, she reminds herself that God calls some people to prepare the way for the harvest.
Her attitude doesn't surprise Shannon McMahon, children's director at Hughes' home church in Keller.
"I remember Bailey as a seventh-grader asking our women's group to pray for her mom to be baptized. She was influential in leading her entire family to Christ," McMahon said, remembering how Hughes never gave up on her family coming to faith. "She has always had a heart for following God and sharing his Word with others."
Hughes' goal for sharing the Gospel starts with being "intentional"—or keeping her eyes and heart open to meeting people God puts in her everyday life. She said she is asking Southern Baptists in Texas to join her by praying for people of peace to come along and progress in building relationships. Hughes explained that "people of peace" are those who are open to her team and can help them get established in the community. She also hopes fellow believers would pray for openness to the Gospel and that people would respond to the Holy Spirit -- a request her mother, Mary Hughes, said she hopes Southern Baptists in Texas would really take to heart.
Mary Hughes insists that a revival in Poland can take place and said she believes it will happen one person at a time -- just as it did in the Hughes family.
"I'm so excited that our Bailey is sharing the Gospel in Poland. They won't know how to break free in the Lord until someone tells them," Mary Hughes said. "Pray for the Holy Spirit to work. It's time to make a new chapter in history for Poland—one that involves a personal relationship with their Savior."
Susie Rain is a writer living in Kansas. This article appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
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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