FROM THE STATES: Fla., Ill., N.C. evangelism/missions news; 'It's very clear that the people here don't have a clear understanding of what the Gospel is'

Baptist Press
Posted: Sep 09, 2014 5:22 PM
Today's From the States features items from:

Illinois Baptist

Florida Baptist Witness

Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)

A family's vision for

their not-so-nearby neighbors

By Staff

DAVIS JUNCTION, Ill. (Illinois Baptist) -- Two young boys are standing by the door of a small metal building, formerly an electrician's workshop, handing out bulletins. Their older sister, age 8, is inside in the children's classroom playing with several preschoolers who live nearby. Their mom slices a spice cake in the kitchenette, while their dad tunes his guitar before he leads worship.

They are the Pittman family.

Each Saturday evening, they drive about 45 minutes from their home in Ashton to Davis Junction, a mix of farms, mobile homes, and newer houses.

This area is beginning to grow. Some people who live here work in Rockford or the far west suburbs of Chicago. Yet, until recently, there was only one small church to serve over 3,000 people in the immediate area.

"It's very clear that the people here don't have a clear understanding of what the Gospel is," said planter Brad Pittman, "that we need a relationship with Jesus Christ."

This is the third location for Grace Fellowship. After 13 years as a member of the Ashton location, Pittman eventually joined the staff with pastors Jeremy Horton and Brian McWethy, and he joined in their vision.

"The Lord really laid on our hearts -- first to plant in Amboy, and he has really blessed there with people being baptized—and then in Davis Junction," Pittman said. "We want to be an Acts 1:8 church that not only plants here locally, but we're going into our state, that we're going into our nation, we're also going into our world."

The Pittmans' commitment involves the whole family. Brad's wife, Jennifer, went back to work full-time so he could serve full-time as a church planter and pastor. They also found ministry partners in Illinois Baptists. "IBSA was super-supportive in what we're doing, because that's what they're all about as well," Pittman said.

"Because of Illinois Baptist's faithful commitment to missions giving, the IBSA Church Planting Team is able to partner with smaller rural churches," John Mattingly said. "We presently have 13 ongoing new works in Northwest Illinois." This is a region where active church involvement is not part of the fabric of life.

So the need is great. So is the potential.

"This is a part of the state where Southern Baptists have had little presence," said Van Kicklighter, head of IBSA's Church Planting Team. "When Baptists moved from the south, they settled primarily in the metropolitan areas of the north to work in industry. They did not come to Illinois to buy farms ... so we have few churches in these kinds of settings.

There are about 8,000 multi-site churches in the U.S. now, mostly in cities. As a multi-site congregation, Grace Fellowship is taking the strategy to rural areas. "There are over four million people living in the non-urban context in Illinois," Mattingly said. "I believe God has prepared many more churches like Grace Fellowship to step out in faith and do something remarkable."

"This is not the typical multi-site church plant," said Kicklighter, "but a commitment to reproduction and, even more importantly, sending people who will impact another place with the Gospel."

For the Pittmans, it's worth the drive. Every Sunday, Jennifer said, "the kids ask, 'Are we going to Amboy, Ashton, or our church?' I say, 'We're going to our church!'"

Playing with new friends in the little metal church building, it's clear they wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

This article appeared in the Illinois Baptist (, newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association.


Winter Park carpenter is building

churches, relationships in Brazil

By Carolyn Nichols

WINTER PARK, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness) -- John Hemphill, a layman at First Baptist Church in Winter Park, went on his first mission trip 31 years ago, and he has traveled dozens of times across the Western Hemisphere to build churches and to encourage fellow believers. He also is passing on a love of missions to his son and grandson.

Hemphill began traveling with construction mission teams from his church when he was working as a senior accountant with Sprint. He retired in 1997 when the company moved to Kansas City, but worked another 12 years with MFI, a company assuring quality control of pharmaceuticals.

"Now I am very retired," he said. "I'm just a wood nut now."

His retirement allows him more time to travel the world on mission. His favorite destination is Brazil, where his relationship with Brazilian Baptist churches continues to flourish. Hemphill, on one of his first mission trips, was part of a mission team to Quirinopolis that handed the pastor the key to a new church after a week of construction. He returned to Winter Park with a newfound purpose.

"I went there because I love the Lord and I wanted to do something more than what I was doing then," he said. "At the end of the week I said, 'Gee, we've got to get back to this.' "

Over the years he has learned the intricacies of building In Brazil's varying climates. Construction in Florianopolis, a city near the equator, was very different from the farming country of Quirinopolis, where wooden pre-fab buildings were the norm. The same buildings would rot quickly in equatorial Brazil, so cement is the construction material of choice in a humid climate. The cost of building also jumps from $12,000 to $22,000, he said.

The church in coastal Brusque tripled in size over three years and outgrew its church building that First Baptist teams built in 1987. Members prayed for more meeting space on its landlocked location, since few members had vehicles to travel elsewhere. Deacons constructed a prayer room in the church's facility that is still used 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Their prayers were answered when the city offered the church a vacant lot near its location, Hemphill said.

"Wherever we go in Brazil, Brusque church members join us there," he said.

His Brazilian brothers and sisters in Brusque prayed for Hemphill while he underwent treatment for lymphoma. After two years, he said he "let chemo slide for a week" so he could return to Brazil to build another church building. He served on a First Baptist Church mission team in May in Brusque with his grandson James and son Robert, who is minister to students at First Baptist. Robert Hemphill said going on mission with his father and his son "meant the world to me."

"Having his leadership and experience with us was great. He could point out things that a tour guide wouldn't know," he said.

The younger Hemphill helped to build the original church building in Brusque as a 19-year-old on his first mission trip and returned after seminary to preach in the church building. The May 2014 trip with his youth group focused on evangelism through sports. The group led basketball clinics in schools and they rented the town square for a "Main Event" of basketball tournaments and a testimony by Taylor Price, who came to the Lord through the First Baptist youth group. As a student at University of West Florida, he now leads a youth group in a Pensacola church, Robert Hemphill said proudly. He and Price are discipling converts from the trip through social media.

"When I first went to Brazil, the only way to keep up with people you met was through letters. Now we text and are on Facebook," Robert Hemphill said.

"It is a tremendous effort to take youth on mission trips -- to Brazil or Belize and other places, but it's always worth it. They are already asking to go again next year," John Hemphill said. "I think I have passed missions on to our son and grandson, and now they are passing it on to others."

John Hemphill learned carpentry from his father, who was superintendent of construction with U.S. Sugar in Clewiston. As the only son with three sisters, he watched and helped his father with projects in the family home that "was never finished as long as I lived there." He left home to attend Central Florida Community College in Ocala and joined the Army in 1955. The Floridian served in Alaska for three years, scanning the skies for unidentified aircraft crossing the territory's border.

"That was one of the neatest experiences of my life because that was back when Alaska was fun. Every day was an exploration," he said.

He returned to the Sunshine State to attend Central Florida Community College and to marry Barbara, his wife of 53 years. While married and working, he finished his degree at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. Hemphill, who grew up in a United Methodist Church in Lake Harbor, became a Baptist "when I married a Baptist," he said. Together, the Hemphills minister through "Unto Him," a puppetry ministry.

The 78-year-old carpenter also is active in disaster relief. He served in Jamaica twice after hurricanes and for three weeks in South Florida after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Hemphill travels mostly with groups from his own congregation, but also with groups from Woodmont Baptist Church in northeast Alabama.

IMB missionaries Ron and Lana Greenwich, who Hemphill has worked with many times during their 30 years in Brazil, are retiring and moving to Arkansas. The couple has already committed to speaking at a missions conference at First Baptist in 2015.

"These are great friends there. I don't want to give them up," he said. "I'll keep going as long as I can."

This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (, newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Carolyn Nichols is a writer for the Florida Baptist Witness.


N.C. youth send

millionth meal to Haiti

By Mike Creswell

CARY, N.C. (Biblical Recorder) -- Baptist youth participating in the 2014 Baptist State Convention's summer youth program at Caswell met a major milestone regarding efforts to provide meals in Haiti.

During the closing hours of July 30, participants of Youth Week 7, the last week of summer camp, packaged the one-millionth meal.

This was the fourth summer youth attending the summer camp sessions have packed the meals; they packed 300,000 meals this summer alone. The four-year total came to 1,000,225 meals.

A total of 6,573 young people – more than 1,000 youth and leaders most weeks – attended seven one-week sessions this year during the summer, part of the BeDoTell ministry led by Baptist State Convention of North Carolina staffer, Merrie Johnson.

Campers came from 264 churches.

The summer youth weeks have long been one of the convention's most successful ministries offering blended Bible-based discipleship teaching, personal quiet times, innovative worship/celebration times and contemporary Christian music along with sports, beach activities and other recreation unique to the N.C. Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell on Oak Island.

Of the 6,573 attending, 487 professed faith in Christ for the first time and 3,267 rededicated their lives to Christ.

Young people cheered and balloons rained down during the closing Wednesday night worship session of the final week when Johnson told them about the millionth meal.

Buying the food to fill 300,000 packets called for $75,000 to be raised over the summer through offerings received during the camps, plus several more thousand to ship it to Haiti and pay import fees and other costs, and the total amount raised over the summer came to $86,066.66.

"Pretty cool to see how much impact it has had," said Russell McBride, a BeDoTell staff member. McBride recently graduated from the University of Tennessee and is studying at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest.

In each packing room large posters headed with "Millionth Meal Summer" were autographed by thousands of Baptist youth who helped pack the meals.

Periodically youth leader Doug Bryant of Providence Baptist Church in Hickory, signaled his youth for quiet as they gathered round a box of food they just packed and prayed for those who would receive it.

Along with the printed word, "Hope," each box carried the handwritten words, "Jezi renmen ou" (Jesus loves you) and "priye pou ou" (praying for you).

As Change This World staffers counted off the boxes that afternoon, excitement grew among the packers. "Just 30 boxes to go," one announced. As the final packet and box were packed, Johnson gathered her summer staff around to pose for photos and then to have a prayer. She asked for God to let the Haitians know that, "... yes, You will provide for their physical needs, but also for their spiritual needs."

Johnson said it was four years ago that she began looking for a way to involve youth in some kind of ministry that would both meet physical needs and help the gospel be proclaimed.

Then at a missions conference she heard about a ministry called Change This World, headquartered in Altamonte Springs, Fla., near Orlando, which is based around packing food on location. She talked with the ministry's representatives, telling them, "The only way we'll do it is if God will be honored and the gospel would be presented as well."

Two weeks later, they called her to say an opportunity in Haiti had just been found: the House of Abraham, an orphanage in Jacmel, Haiti, a city about three hours from Port-au-Prince. The food will be distributed among 300 orphanages and schools in and around Jacmel.

Change This World staffer Andrew Neal said the organization stresses they do not just distribute food, but want to use food as a way to bring hope and the gospel to people. He said they work with groups across the country to collect funds, buy food and get it shipped to Haiti, Honduras or Burundi – their three partner countries.

"Food changes everything. It changes opportunities," Neal said. "Parents who have never sent their kids to school will send them if food is provided," he said.

Each food packet contains rice, soy, dried vegetables and vitamins, said Cogan Blackmon, a Change This World summer intern from Anderson, Ind.

Because of the food partnership, One of the two summer interns with Change This Word was Murphy Johnson, Merrie Johnson's son.

Murphy has worked with the summer program for years. He said he concentrated on tracking the numbers of packets and filling the shipping containers.

Often the kids at Caswell at first were less than happy about taking an hour from their week to pack food parcels, Murphy said. But as they learned more about the program through video and talking to staffers like him, their attitudes changed.

"By the end it's cool to see them with a smile on their face and knowing they've done something bigger than themselves," he said. And the work has not gotten tiresome for him, he said.

That's partly because he was able to visit Jacmel, Haiti, and see the food packed at Caswell actually given to hungry kids. During one prayer time, he saw one of the Haitian kids lift his plate of food up to the sky as he gave thanks.

"I'd see kids eat four bites and say they were taking the rest to their mom because she hasn't eaten in a week. It's humbling to see how much Americans take for granted," he said.

This article appeared in the Biblical Recorder (, newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Mike Creswell is a senior consultant for the 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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