FROM THE STATES: Ariz., Miss., Texas evangelism/missions news; 'There is an awakening across Native American land'

Baptist Press
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Posted: Jul 22, 2014 4:22 PM
Today's From the States features items from:

Portraits (Arizona)

The Baptist Record (Mississippi)

Southern Baptist Texan

Missionary work bearing fruit

in Native American communities

By Irene A. Harkleroad

SACATON, Ariz. (Portraits) -- "There is an awakening across Native American land," says Eric Gibbs. "It's like God has been preparing for the harvest and it's here."

As the missionary pastor of the 89-year-old First Pima Baptist Church in Sacaton, the oldest Native American Southern Baptist church in Arizona, Gibbs has been making disciples in both the Gila River Indian Community and the second largest reservation in the country — the Tohono O'odham Nation.

"We've baptized 20 people since October 2013," Gibbs says. "In the previous two-and-a-half years we baptized five or six." The church's attendance has grown from 15-18 per Sunday to 75-100.

"The biggest advantage is living here," Gibbs says. "After three-and-a-half years, we are a solid part of the community and a consistent gospel presence. ... They know this is our home, that God called us here. Even the people far from God know and respect us for being here."

In 2009 Gibbs, a Kentucky youth pastor, was asked by his mentor, James Cecil, to join a mission team to Hickiwan village on the Tohono O'odham Nation. A calling was born.

In January 2011, the Gibbs family moved to First Pima Baptist and focused their ministry on teens.

"Life as a teenager on the reservation is borderline impossible," Gibbs says. "Everything they know is broken -- marriages, families, individuals. They live in a society of gang violence, teen suicide, alcoholism, drug use and teen pregnancy. Arrests and prison are like rites of passage. Teens exist day to day without hope. We offer them eternal hope and acceptance in Jesus."

Lives are being changed.

Once the object of mission efforts, Gibbs says, "now they are learning that the Great Commission is for them, not just to them. God is raising up a generation of men learning to love and invest in their families, their church and their communities."

Church members recently met the substantial needs of a family of Congolese refugees in Phoenix.

The Gibbs family is evidence of making disciples of all peoples. Eric and his wife, Brittany, have a biological son and daughter, a daughter adopted from the Republic of Congo and two adopted Native American sons. They model a consistent family life and solid parenting — something many have never seen.

First Indian Baptist Church in Phoenix, Heart of Mesa and the Baptist Indian Fellowship partner with the ministry. And the Gibbses are part of a close-knit group of Mission Service Corps missionaries who raise their own support to serve on the reservations. Eddie and Candy Ware, Joshua and Deidra Hodges, and Ken and Thurleen Bain are part of that family.

"We are the only ones who understand each other," says Brittany. "We know the challenges, disappointments and triumphs. We are here for each other."

The Gibbs, Doug Jones (Eric's right-hand man at the church) and the Hodges visit Cockleburr on Tuesday evenings for Bible study, worship and games.

"We prayed that God would give us this village," Gibbs says. "Tribal leaders chased us off, but when they saw how we were helping, they asked us to work with them to clean up the village. They brought tractors and 100 employees and tribal members, and we worked side by side."

One woman trusted Christ. Later, her husband and his brother trusted and became the first men ever baptized in Cockleburr.

The Gibbses and their team have planted churches in Kohatk and Chuichu villages and take mission teams to Hickiwan.

"To see the way God is moving is unbelievable," says Gibbs. "I have truly realized that God takes broken people, restores them and uses them. Then He puts them all together and makes them a family and they serve Him. This is the ultimate story of mercy and redemption."

Get Involved

-- To learn more about the Gibbses and their missionary journey check out their blog.

-- Pray for the Gibbses and their work on the reservations. Resistance is strong in many areas. Pray for their safety as they travel through the reservations.

-- Arizona is home to two of the three largest Native American reservations in the U.S. — the Navajo Nation and Tohono O'odham Nation — plus a number of smaller reservations. Find out how your church can participate in ministry opportunities in southern Arizona by contacting Felix Juan, chairman of the Baptist Indian Fellowship, at 602-400-3237; in northeastern Arizona, by contacting Jon Hoyt, Fourcorners Association director of evangelism/missions, at fulflled@yahoo.com; and in northwestern Arizona, by contacting Tommy Thomas, associational missionary, River Valley Mission Network, 928-753-9262 or rvba@citlink.net. For opportunities with Eric Gibbs, contact him at liveloveaz@gmail.com.

This article appeared in Portraits, newsmagazine of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention (http://www.azsobaptist.org/). Irene A. Harkleroad is a freelance writer in Carefree, Ariz.

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End of an era

in men's ministry

By William H. Perkins Jr.

JACKSON, Miss. (The Baptist Record) -- Jim Didlake will close out a 32-year career in the Men's Ministry Department of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board when he walks out of his office for the final time on July 31.

"The thing I will miss the most are the people, the volunteers who in the name of Jesus always come to the rescue of anyone who needs their help, literally across the world. They are part of my family. Mississippi Baptists are the greatest folks anywhere," he said.

As Didlake departs, he leaves a department with greatly expanded responsibilities compared to his beginnings there all those years ago, and he is confident his right-hand man for the past ten years, department consultant Don Gann, will continue to move the ministry forward as he moves up to the director position.

"I'm excited for Don," Didlake said. "He has a real heart for this work. He was my associate at Central Hills Retreat many years ago. He was a volunteer before he accepted the full-time consultant position in the Men's Ministry Department. I'm confident he will take the program to greater heights than we ever thought possible."

Didlake, a Crystal Springs native, holds an undergraduate degree in chemistry ('66) from Mississippi State University in Starkville and a master's degree in religious education ('68) from New Orleans Seminary.

His first place of service after seminary was First Church in Russellville, Ky., as minister of education, youth, and administration. From there, he went to First Church, Brandon, as minister of education and administration. When Paul Harrell, then the Brotherhood Director for the convention board, called about serving in that department, Didlake responded affirmatively.

That was 32 years ago. "The department has diversified. We didn't handle as much back then. The name was changed to Men's Ministry to reflect the expanded responsibilities," Didlake recounted.

Among the major ministries currently overseen by the Men's Ministry Department are Disaster Relief, Central Hills Retreat, Royal Ambassadors, Criminal Justice, and Chaplaincy. In addition, Didlake and the department took on the task of writing the department's ministry materials after the Southern Baptist Convention's Brotherhood Commission was disbanded in 1997 and folded into the newly-created North American Mission Board.

The most visible function of the department is likely Disaster Relief, which has gone from a simple feeding operation at the beginning of Didlake's tenure to the massive operation that it is today -- including a feeding unit that has grown to a capability of 20,000 meals per day and the initiation of cleanup and recovery operations.

Didlake is widely viewed among his peers as the dean of Disaster Relief in the Southern Baptist Convention. That work has taken him around the world, and into areas so dangerous that his mission and whereabouts had to be kept secret until he returned home.

"Rusty Griffin, who was the consultant in the Brotherhood department at the time, started Disaster Relief under Paul Harrell. I came to the Brotherhood department after Rusty went to the SBC Brotherhood Commission.

"Disaster Relief started with a few pots and burners. Now, we have all commercial equipment and a self-sustaining eighteen-wheeler with potable water and its own generator. Volunteers have grown from about 40 people to several thousand today," he said.

The most demanding Disaster Relief operation, in Didlake's mind, was Hurricane Katrina, a five-year effort that began mere hours after the record-setting storm hit and continued until the Mississippi Gulf Coast was on the path to recovery.

"That's also the disaster that will stick with me the longest. I remember making my way to Pass Christian the day after the storm and thinking, 'How long will this recovery take? Can we even do it?'"

Katrina also holds positive memories for him. "There was so much donated to that cause. There were over 100,000 volunteers. Baptist disaster teams came from all 50 states to help."

The most satisfying response for Didlake? The 9/11 response, when Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers flooded New York City from September to June in response to the devastating terrorist attack.

"I believe that was really when Southern Baptists gained respect as a national Disaster Relief organization, and Mississippi Baptists were very much a part of that," he said.

Didlake and his wife of 44 years, Marlene, a retired elementary educator, are moving to Spring City, Tn., to be near their daughter Elizabeth and her son. They've already built a house there.

"I look forward to helping raise my grandson -- and I can assure that will include some disaster relief training," Didlake said.

Didlake can be reached until July 31 at P.O. Box 530, Jackson, MS 39205-0530. E-mail: jdidlake@mbcb.org.

This article appeared in The Baptist Record, newsjournal of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board (mbcb.org). William Perkins is editor of The Baptist Record.

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First Baptist Rio Vista

experiences growth through outreach

By Jane Rodgers

RIO VISTA, Texas (Southern Baptist Texan) -- First Baptist Church of Rio Vista has become what Pastor Neale Oliver calls a "Great Commission church," but the church's overnight transformation has actually taken four years.

Rio Vista is a rural community of 1,000 in Johnson County, south of Fort Worth, with a Class 2A high school and many low-income families.

Oliver came to Rio Vista in 2010 following the resignation of Rio Vista's longtime pastor. Under the former pastor's ministry, the church experienced significant growth but progress had stalled, Oliver said.

"My call in ministry is church revitalization," he said. "God has allowed me to go into churches that have had good times and, for a variety of reasons, are kind of down. They need a head coach, somebody to turn the team around."

The area and church have proved to be a good fit for Oliver and his family, who moved from Austin where his children, used to smaller communities, had struggled in the big city environment.

A key to revitalization is change, Oliver said.

"When you come into a church that needs to be revitalized, that means the church needs to change in certain areas," Oliver said. "Revitalization is a process."

After talking at length with the former pastor, Oliver understood the challenges facing Rio Vista.

"We stepped in. I didn't really do anything for a year. We just observed, evaluated, and built relationships," Oliver said. "You have to win the people's hearts before you ask for their hands."

After a year, Oliver, who is certified as a church consultant, recommended to the deacons that the church undergo a consulting process beginning with a church survey concerning the areas of ministry, fellowship, evangelism, outreach, worship, prayer and discipleship.

After the survey results were in, Rio Vista formed a strategic leadership team containing a cross section of members to evaluate the surveys and make recommendations to the deacons and church.

"I let them make the recommendations; it wasn't me," Oliver noted.

"They made two or three recommendations per area and we put it together in a report," Oliver recalled. It was October 2012, but the church was not yet ready to implement all the recommendations.

"So we put things on hold awhile," Oliver said. Growth remained slow.

"In January 2014, we turned a corner," he said. "At that point we had been seven years in decline. If we continued at this rate, in eight years we would close the doors and the church would cease to exist."

Church leadership emerged from a January 2014 meeting fully supportive of Oliver and the original recommendations.

Change began immediately, and it began with prayer.

In February, the church conducted 28 days of prayer from 6 a.m. to midnight.

"We asked people to come to the church to pray. We provided notebooks, prayer requests and guides in a designated prayer room that had been built when the church sanctuary was constructed," Oliver said. Each week people signed up for slots. Oliver usually took the last slot and closed up the church each evening.

"Prayer was a key to revitalization. You must be a church that prays—for the community, the church, lost people. It's part of the process of being a revitalized church. Prayer is an absolute necessity," said Oliver, who noted that the church is continuing its prayer emphasis.

After the 28 days of prayer, Oliver felt that developing an outreach ministry was next in helping Rio Vista become a Great Commission church.

"Jesus tells us to go. We really weren't doing anything to go back into our community to minister," Oliver said. "One reason a church declines is a lack of evangelism."

Oliver introduced the GROW outreach program developed in the 1990s by Jerry Tidwell to Rio Vista.

"The basis of GROW is that a church fields four teams; each team meets once a month," Oliver explained. The teams are led by captains and assistant captains.

"The premise is that not everyone is comfortable visiting, but some like to write letters or make phone calls. GROW allows you to do what you feel comfortable doing."

Since May 2014, four teams of 15 adults and a team of students have met at the church one Sunday evening per month. The G team meets the first Sunday, the R team the second, and so on. Some of the 15 team members make visits in the community; others will write notes or letters to shut ins or visitors. Others will make phone calls to members who have been absent from church.

"We have gone from making no contacts, having no outreach, to averaging 150 contacts per week. Letters are going out of our church into the families of our community," Oliver said. Families whose children attended VBS or the church's Easter egg hunt will be contacted, for example.

"All that is required is to devote 90 minutes one night per month to the program," said Oliver, who added that for a variety of reasons, Rio Vista decided to suspend traditional Sunday night church services and implement the outreach program then.

"In our community, Sunday night is the night to do it. You don't compete with Friday night football, Monday night volleyball, and so on," Oliver said. "On Sunday nights, most families are home, preparing for school or work the next week."

Visitation, letter writing and phone calling are conducted each Sunday from 7–8, then team members reassemble at the church to report. Team members are home by 8:30, according to Oliver.

"It's one night a month, and you become a Great Commission Christian," Oliver said.

"Rio Vista has bought into it. We went from doing nothing to doing GROW."

People have been saved; baptisms of new believers have increased significantly. Approximately two dozen families have been ministered to and some have started attending Rio Vista.

"We've baptized new believers six out of the last eight weeks," Oliver said in June.

The church was even able to minister to the family of a local high school student killed in a car wreck, holding the funeral and reaching out to the young man's mother and brother.

"We average 100 in Sunday School; 60 are involved in GROW," said Oliver, who predicted that Rio Vista would not see the usual summer downturn in attendance this year.

Pastors of larger churches in Joshua and Cedar Hill have expressed interest in Rio Vista's story and implementation of the GROW outreach program.

GROW books and manuals are available through LifeWay stores.

"Any church can do GROW effectively," Oliver said. "I cannot imagine the impact this is going to have on our church and community."

This article appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the TEXAN.

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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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