FROM THE STATES: Okla., Minn. and N.C./Vermont evangelism/missions news; 'It is not the size of the church ... it is the size of the heart of the church ...'
Today's From the States features items from:
The Baptist Messenger (Oklahoma)
Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist (Minnesota)
Biblical Recorder (North Carolina and Vermont)
Okla. assoc. shares
Gospel in the 'Hot Lands'
By Katie Gilbert
ATOKA, Okla. (The Baptist Messenger) -- Tierra Caliente, otherwise known as "the Hot Lands" is a region in Guerrero, Mexico, a city where the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) has a partnership mission connection. Atoka-Coal Association has made it their mission to help church plants in Tierra Caliente share the Gospel.
The partnership began in 2015 when Randy Hurt, director of missions in Atoka-Coal, visited Guerrero for the first time.
"The BGCO asked churches to adopt a region, and my association took Tierra Caliente, which is in the far north side of Guerrero," Hurt said.
"The goal was planting four churches in a four-year period. Within a year, we had accomplished that."
One way Atoka-Coal helped create opportunities to connect with the people of Tierra Caliente is through medical caravans.
"We had a medical caravan to help treat different medical needs. Many people are there for glasses, and we also treat people with different injuries. Dental needs are usually the biggest need," Hurt said.
They also place an emphasis on evangelism with the desire to create connections for the resident missionaries who are working to establish themselves and the name of Jesus in the community.
"One of my pastors got to go with me, and he is bilingual. He was able to work on the evangelism team, and he personally was able to lead about 20 people to receive Christ," Hurt said.
In total, there were 117 professions of faith in Christ, and 476 people received medical treatment.
"This was the fourth medical caravan, and all of them have (witnessed) around 100 salvations (each)," Hurt said. "The medical caravans have really helped our missionaries to make connections with people and establish their church."
Mike Hand, BGCO Partnership Missions strategist believes the partnership has revitalized Atoka-Coal Association and is an example of how partnership missions helps churches obey the Great Commission.
"We have 15 churches and associations that are now partnering with Guerrero; that is up from nine partnerships last year," Hand said.
Hand believes that partnerships like Atoka-Coal and Tierra Caliente of Guerrero help churches to see that, through God, anything is possible, regardless of a church's Sunday attendance.
"It is not the size of the church that makes a difference, but it is the size of the heart of the church," Hand said. "God can take the heart of the church and enable them to do far more than they ever imagined they could do.
"Because of the people I have taken to Guerrero there have been countless ministries birthed because of their heart for missions once they return," Hurt said.
Hurt hopes that the story of AtokaCoal Association will encourage other churches and associations to take the step in obedience to live scripturally through a mission partnership.
"We haven't been an association that has had a lot of money," Hurt said, "but since we started going to Guerrero and being on mission, we have seen the Lord bless us at home with resources to be able to continue. To me, it's the biblical example that God blesses our association when we are going, and when we are doing missions."
This article appeared in The Baptist Messenger (www.baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Bapgist General Convention of Oklahoma. Katie Gilbert is a BGCO multimedia technician.
Minn. assoc. unites
to serve Puerto Rico
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist) -- When Southtown Baptist Church's pastor Chris Reinertson learned that one of his church members was from Puerto Rico and had parents serving there as church planters, it seemed a naturally divine connection for a mission partnership.
That connection expanded to include the 55-church Twin Cities Metro Baptist Association, which Reinertson also serves as director of missions.
This month 34 people from seven TCMBA churches served Iglesia Bautista Cristo La Roca in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
It all started a couple of years ago when Reinertson learned that Lydselle Barreto, a church member from Puerto Rico, was the daughter of church planters in Puerto Rico.
He began casting a vision of Southtown partnering with SBC Iglesia Bautista Cristo La Roca and Pastor Roberto and Nellie Barreto.
Last August, Reinertson and his student ministry director, Nico Bonanni, went to San Juan to meet the Barretos and find out what needs of their church Southtown could best meet.
They decided to do a sports camp/vacation Bible school, serve a community meal, and help the church renovate their new meeting space.
A few weeks later, the first of two hurricanes came through and devastated the country of Puerto Rico.
While keeping with the original plan of doing a sports camp and serving a meal for the neighborhood, the group also helped the church with clean-up and teaming with the North American Mission Board for other disaster relief projects on the island.
As with any mission project, the fluctuating needs made for fluctuating plans.
After learning of the bigger needs, Reinertson opened the trip up to invite all of the 55 churches in the Twin Cities Metro Baptist Association to participate.
The trip grew to 34 people, representing seven different churches.
The group held three training sessions together and brought supplies for the camp with them.
They had great hopes for the sports camp because the church building is across the street from a multi complex apartment building with 5,000 residents.
The complex includes sports fields, a basketball court and a kitchen. Church members of Iglelsia Bautista Cristo La Roca committed to go door to door the first two weeks of February to distribute invitations to the sports camp/VBS and hand out bags of potato chips.
Southtown Church has made a commitment to do this once a year for three years.
The goal is to have TCMBA churches and church plants partner with a SBC church in Puerto Rico.
"There is a negative spiritual cloud hovering over Puerto Rico," Reinertson said. "Pray for God to shine His face upon the island and bring His fresh wave of hope to every Christian Puerto Rican. Pray that the God of Hope will personally impact each person we connect with and serve."
This article appeared in the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist, newsjournal of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention (mwbc.org).
N.C. Baptists make a
difference in Vermont
By Mike Creswell
BARRE, Vt. (Biblical Recorder) -- Mention Vermont and most Americans think pleasant things like maple syrup, bright fall foliage and winter skiing.
But to missions-minded Baptists, Vermont is one of the most challenging mission fields in the country. The state has proportionately fewer Bible-believing churches and Christians than any other state.
Scores of villages in Vermont have had no Bible-believing church for decades. Thousands of families have had no Christian members in five generations.
Vermont is not just lost; it is hardcore lost and gospel-resistant. The state presents an unusual missions challenge, surrounded by other New England states that have similar degrees of lostness.
The population is about 625,000 people, fewer than Charlotte, N.C. Vermont is one of the nation's most rural states, with vast areas of woodlands crossed by mostly two-lane roads.
A 2017 Gallup poll showed Vermont is America's least religious state. That is changing.
In 2016, Vermont churches counted 246 baptisms. That is not enough to say a great revival is under way, but it means Vermont led Southern Baptist baptisms in all other New England states.
Further, it only took 11 Vermont Baptists for each baptism. If N.C. Baptists had a similar ratio, all of the state's 5.8 million lost people would follow Christ in months.
The progress is encouraging. Vermont now has more healthy, growing Southern Baptist churches than ever. New churches are being planted. More pastors and church planters are considering ministry in Vermont.
It's too early to celebrate, but North Carolina Baptists should feel very good about the progress in Vermont and the important role they have played in part of this new work.
As Sanford, N.C. native Chris Autry put it, "North Carolina Baptists have fingerprints all over the state of Vermont." Autry now serves as a pastor in Barre (rhymes with Barry), Vt.
A long-term partnership
N.C. Baptist Men (NCBM), also known as Baptists on Mission, set up a partnership with the Green Mountain Baptist Association of Vermont in 2005 and coordinated the flow of thousands of N.C. volunteers into the state.
Partnership means N.C. Baptists ask Vermont Baptists how they can help, rather than trying to dictate a plan, said Mark Abernathy, who oversees partnership programs for NCBM in New England.
"We don't go in with an agenda. We ask, 'How can we assist you?'” Abernathy said. "We don't fill all the requests, but we have a pretty good track record on it."
Because Baptists are sparse in the region, there is one convention, the Baptist Convention of New England (BCNE), incorporating seven associations of approximately 370 churches sprinkled across Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.
"We've sent an average of 400 to 550 volunteers a year to Vermont," said volunteer coordinator Steve Carter, who works with NCBM. "Of course, many of the volunteers go back year after year."
During 2017, NCBM sent 418 volunteers in 30 teams to serve across Vermont. Volunteer requests may be for construction, Vacation Bible Schools, sports ministries or other projects.
Every spring, Carter and his wife Nellene pack up their camper trailer and pull it from their home in Lincolnton, N.C., for the two-day trip to Vermont. They stay until fall. During those months, they plan service opportunities for volunteers and encourage local pastors and church planters.
The Carters first went to Vermont as volunteers in 2005, and in 2008 began staying five or six warm-weather months each year to coordinate mission projects.
"The big challenge in Vermont is the culture," Carter said. "Down South, everybody has heard about Jesus and church ... We're in the Bible Belt. If people are not saved, they at least kind-of know a Bible story and who Jesus is. But [in Vermont], 98 percent of the people don't have a clue about any of that."
That has slowly begun to change in the past 12 years, Carter said.
"We have 51 churches in Vermont now and expect to have several more by the end of 2018," he said. That almost doubles the state's 27 churches in 2005.
Some Vermont Baptist churches are struggling, Carter acknowledged, but others are doing well. In fact, several Baptist churches now claim several hundred members –- virtual megachurches in Vermont where churches feel successful with 25 people present on Sunday.
There are other hints that things are changing.
Carter tells of a sports banquet held in Vermont in late summer in which 34 Vermonters accepted Christ as Savior -- a rare response.
North Carolina native Lyandon Warren is working to start a new church in Castleton, Vt., with support from the North American Mission Board (NAMB).
"North Carolina has really shouldered a lot of God's work in Vermont," Warren said. "North Carolina Baptists need to know that and I think be proud of that.... God has used them to impact this state in such a great way."
Becky Pellegrini, who serves on the board of directors of the BCNE, said she is thankful for the partnership with N.C. Baptists.
Pellegrini works with the youth of Faith Community Church in Barre, Vt., where she and her husband John, are members.
"North Carolina has helped me personally put on camps for our youth, and they have done physical work to our church building, our parsonage and our mission house," Pellegrini said. "It has been a great thing."
Vermont Baptists sent a team of volunteers to work in the Lumberton, N.C., area in 2017 to repair hurricane damage, she said.
Buncombe Baptist Association, in Asheville, N.C., has sent teams to Vermont for years, said Perry Brindley, director of missions. That includes sending 40 volunteers during the summer of 2017.
Beyond the volunteers, Brindley speaks with pride about how some of the key leaders in Vermont are from western North Carolina.
Starting strong in Rutland
Some shopping mall stores in Rutland, Vt., are not doing well. But that has enabled Mission City Church to rent space in the mall. Unlike the stores, Mission City is going great, with three Sunday services and more than 400 members. By Vermont church standards, this is a hugely successful, out-of-the-park home run of a church plant. The church now has 12 on staff, including four who are full-time and some who are volunteers.
The Tar Heel roots include Lead Pastor Tim Owens who grew up in Canton, N.C., and served seven years as associate pastor of Pinnacle Church.
In 2014, he moved his family to Rutland along with seven other adults and six children to start a church in his living room.
"We moved six times in six months," Owens recalled with a smile. The last move was to the shopping center.
The church became Mission City in 2016 after it launched a second campus at Castleton, a university town 14 miles west of Rutland and home of Castleton University. The Castleton church began meeting in a classroom building and has grown steadily.
Lyandon Warren wears many hats as NAMB's Vermont church planting catalyst. One of those includes serving as a volunteer campus pastor in Castleton.
Warren is from Waynesville, N.C., grew up in the Crabtree/Clyde area and worked as a tool and die maker before he surrendered to full-time ministry in 2001. He graduated from North Greenville University in upstate South Carolina in 2006 and moved to Vermont soon after graduation.
"We're a church that believes in partnering in church plants," Owens said. "Our vision is to make disciples and plant churches. We don't just say it -- we do it."
Along with a strong effort to plant churches in Nepal and helping get churches started in Maine and Georgia, they are also backing several church plants in Vermont.
Mission City helped train others involved in church planting, such as Hayden Swanger. He will lead worship and music at Crosspoint Church, a new plant by Todd West in Williston, Vt. Mission City is also helping Crosspoint with its website. Owens and West are old friends from their western North Carolina days.
Ricky Vest, one of Mission City's associate pastors, also has N.C. connections. He grew up in Georgia but spent five years in western North Carolina working in camp ministry before enrolling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., in 2011. He graduated and moved to Vermont in 2015 for church planting.
He lives with his family in Pittsford, a 15-minute drive north of Rutland, and says he likes living in Vermont.
"God has given us the opportunity to build lots of relationships," Vest said, and adds they have had to buy more winter clothes.
A campus connection in Castleton
Many North Carolina church planters would see the trailer pull up beside a classroom building at Castleton University and perhaps have a twinge of backache.
Those weekly setups of sound systems, signs, screens, coffee pots and materials -- then the tear down and moving it afterward -- are part of the hard work required to have church in a borrowed or rented facility. For now, it's part of the schedule for Mission City Church's Castleton campus.
Lyandon Warren preaches but rotates Sunday services with associates so he can pursue his wider church planting ministry across Vermont and beyond. He and his wife Kim greet members and visitors in the outer lobby before the contemporary service starts.
Many attendees are university students, but some are older adults. Warren's own parents moved to Vermont from Waynesville, N.C., to help the new church get started.
At a table with balloons, discipleship pastor Tyler Ray signs up members for home groups. Ray is unusual -- he grew up in a Baptist family in Maine, where Baptists are scarce. Called to full-time Christian service, he is attending Northeastern Baptist College, a Baptist school founded in 2013 in Bennington, Vt., to train people for Christian ministry in the region. This school is considered by Vermont Baptists to be a huge asset to Baptist outreach in Vermont and New England. Many New England Baptists who are called into ministry head to Baptist schools in the south; many wind up staying south. Clearly New England Baptists must begin training and equipping their own people to minister and serve here, and Northeastern is an indication that is beginning to happen.
Collin Terenzini, 25, is unusual for another reason. He is a Rutland, Vt., native who accepted Christ as Savior in 2010. He then moved to North Carolina so he could attend Fruitland Baptist Bible College. He graduated in 2013, continued his studies at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., then served as student pastor at Laurel Springs Baptist Church near Boone, N.C.
The unusual part is that Terenzini then moved back to Vermont, where he came to have high regard for the church planting ministry of Tim Owens, so he became part of the Castleton work.
"God is really working in Vermont," Terenzini said. "He is working to change the least religious place in America to having a thriving Christian influence."
This article appeared in the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Michael D. Creswell is senior consultant for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
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 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. Except for minor style, security, formatting and grammatical changes, the items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.