FROM THE STATES: Ala., Okla. and Ariz. evangelism/missions news; 'It's God at work right before your eyes'

Today's From the States features items from:

The Alabama Baptist

The Baptist Messenger (Oklahoma)

Portraits (Arizona)

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Ala. church celebrates

50 years of ESL ministry

By Grace Thornton

HUNSTVILLE, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- Sylvia Bailey remembers clearly the day that out of the clear blue one of her students asked her if she was a Christian.

"He was from Iran and he started quizzing me on my beliefs and why I believed them," Bailey said. "Finally I said, 'Some of the things I believe I have accepted by faith because I have experienced God's love in so many ways that I can't help but believe He's real in my life.'"

The man told Bailey that he found that interesting and the conversation ended. She saw him a few more times in class but eventually he stopped coming.

Then months later she ran into him when she was in the cafeteria at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville.

Success stories

"His eyes were glistening and so hopeful," Bailey said. "And he said, 'Mrs. Sylvia, I want you to know I have become a believer.'"

It was these types of stories that filled Bailey's mind as she spoke Feb. 15 at a celebration held at First Baptist Church, Huntsville, to honor the 50th anniversary of the church's ESL (English as a Second Language) ministry.

'So blessed'

"I was reminded of the words to 'Great Is Thy Faithfulness' -- 'Blessings all mine with 10,000 beside,'" said Bailey, who has been a part of the ministry since it began in 1968. "That's how I feel about the English classes because I've been so blessed by the internationals I've known and will continue to know. It is a blessing to be a part of."

When Floy Rawls started the first class 50 years ago, 15 students from a handful of countries gathered, said Ann Smith, co-director of the ESL ministry.

At that point, most of the students were from Germany, wives of the men who worked at the missile school at Redstone Arsenal.

The next week, the number doubled.

And now, half a century later, the church has seen more than 6,000 students from 120 countries walk through its doors to attend English classes.

"This year alone, we've got 197 students from 38 countries," Smith said. "It's just a wonderful outreach ministry where you can meet people from all over the world."

In addition to the Feb. 15 celebration, the church marked the ministry's milestone with special Sunday services Feb. 18. People like Bailey who had been involved with the ministry across the decades — several even from the very beginning — gathered to celebrate what God has done, Smith said.

They aren't the oldest ESL ministry in the state — one started first in Birmingham, Smith said. But the one at First, Huntsville, is the longest-running one that still exists in Alabama.

"I've just felt like God has brought the world to Huntsville," Smith said. "It's a blessing to get to meet people from other cultures."

Many students have basic needs like learning to shop, learning to drive and learning to communicate in the U.S., she said. Others need help preparing for the U.S. citizenship test or the TOEFL, an English-proficiency test used as a gauge for college admission.

"The teachers help with those things, but they also pray for their students and invite them into their homes for meals or holidays," Smith said.

Hosting celebrations

The ministry also hosts celebrations like baby showers and end-of-the-year parties.

On many occasions, the teachers are seed planters, such as with the man from Iran, Bailey said. "That is often our role, and we are thankful for that opportunity."

But on other occasions they get to see the fruit of what God is doing, she said.

"We had a student from Japan once and he was ready to accept Christ. He wanted to be baptized before he left to go back to Japan," Bailey said.

At that point, it was already December and the church had its living Christmas tree already assembled over the baptistery.

"Some of the staff made arrangements for us to go to another church close by and we all gathered there for his baptism -- many of his fellow students attended too," she said. "It was a wonderful experience."

He and Bailey have kept in touch since he returned to Japan. He's married a fellow believer, had a baby and is sharing his faith actively in his home country.

"To be a part of something like that is amazing," Bailey said. "It's God at work right before your eyes."

One family's story

Svetlana Stuchlik said she never intended to stay long in Huntsville.

When she, her husband and 10-year-old son moved there in 2001 for his job, she thought they would only be there a couple of years at most.

"I thought, 'English might be a good thing for me to learn while we're here,'" she said with a laugh. "Seventeen years later, we are still here."

And the English as a Second Language (ESL) ministry at First Baptist Church, Huntsville, changed her life, she said.

"I hope you understand I appreciate this program exists. You are saving us. You are helping us a lot," Stuchlik told the congregation gathered for morning services Feb. 18 at First, Huntsville, the day the church celebrated its ESL ministry's 50th anniversary.

Stuchlik said the Thursday morning classes became the place where she and her son could make friends, socialize and feel safe. "I was very excited every Thursday. It was a wonderful experience."

Her son, Robbie, grew up in the program and even though he was quiet it was a place where he could feel cherished and confident, Stuchlik said. "I'm very grateful for that because for him, it is the world." (TAB)


This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Grace Thornton is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.

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Okla. church plant's solid

foundation, bright future

By Chris Forbes

EDMOND, Okla. (The Baptist Messenger) -- It's almost 10:30 on Sunday morning, Jan. 14. Already a gathering of early arrivers has assembled in the worship area. Many already have taken their seats. A line of cars file into the parking lot, unloading families, couples and singles of all ages who also make their way inside.

In the lobby area, small clusters of people are standing around chatting as they enjoy coffee and donuts. Parents check their children into their classes, getting security tags for their kids and greeting their teachers. At 10:30 a.m. sharp in the sanctuary, the band strikes up, signaling that worship is about to begin with more than 250 souls present for the church service.

This scene isn't unusual for a Sunday morning in the North Oklahoma City Metro. What is unusual is that a majority of the 250 people have never before assembled as a church. This is the launch day of Grove Community Church, now meeting weekly on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. at Heartland Middle School.

Grove Community Church in Edmond, Okla., isn't an overnight success, a long road led to this church launch. Church Planter, Jonathan Baker explained, "I wrestled through the call to start a church for about seven years. For every valid excuse I had to not start a church, God not only challenged its veracity, but filled the doubtful corners of my mind with the reminder that obedience to God, glorifies Him, not ourselves."

"Starting a new church is a spiritual endeavor," said Alan Quigley, Mobilization Team leader for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO). "It takes prayer and seeking God's face. It requires a fervent heart for evangelism in the planter.

"Planting a healthy church is hard work, and it involves the partnership between the planter and his wife. It impacts the entire family. Jonathan and Sarah came to the BGCO at a time of transition in our church planting strategy. The Lord led our team to reshape our process to help insure we plant healthy, sustainable and reproducing churches.

"We are pleased to see how the Lord has moved to confirm His will, by working through Grove Community leaders in this new launch. Our prayer is we can repeat similar successes many times and in areas all around the state. "

The new Church Planting Group process described by Quigley, now requires church planting candidates to participate in a four-day Church Planting Assessment Center (CPAC). At CPAC, church planter candidates present their vision of church planting and demonstrate their aptitude and readiness for church planting in various exercises that are observed by a panel of experienced assessors.

In this case, 25 assessors considered the Bakers and eight other church planter couples and individuals at a CPAC at Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center last year. At the end of the process, the Bakers received a recommendation to plant the church they proposed to start in the Northwest Oklahoma City area. They were then connected with training, coaching and strategic counsel from experienced church planters, with funding starting in September.

"The Church Planting Group helped our church plant by introducing me to leaders who are experienced with launching a large church plant," Baker said. "We were blessed to have counsel from church planting strategist Steven Earp of Moore, Elevate, and our coach, Rusty Gunn of Sand Springs, Church That Matters.

"In addition, the BGCO facilitated our relationship with strategic training for large church launches provided through the Association of Related Churches (ARC). I am very grateful for all three of those relationships!"

BGCO Church Planting Group Specialist Jimmy Kinnaird said the goal is to set up the new church for success from the start. "The Bakers sensed the Lord calling them to an area of the Oklahoma City metro that is experiencing high growth where large launches are possible," Kinnaird said. "This type of plant takes place on the growing edge of suburbs. Its unique appeal is that many people who are moving into these areas, churched and unchurched, are new and, therefore, open to new relationships, routines and opportunities.

"The East Deer Creek/West Edmond area is growing at 8.2 percent, more than double the state's average. We gladly affirmed the strategic plan created by the Grove Community leadership team and look forward to seeing a healthy, growing and multiplying church there."

Baker credits the initial success of the church plant to the cooperative ministry of many partners. "We are not planting this church alone," he said. "We are thankful for the Cooperative Program, the Oklahoma State Mission Offering, the BGCO Church Planting Group, along with our church multiplication sponsors and partners, Edmond, Waterloo Road; Mustang, Chisholm Heights and Capital Association. They provide continued financial, prayer and other support during our planting phase."

The hard work of the plant also was shared by a large team of volunteers. "Our Launch Team essentially went through two phases or seasons," Baker said. "It began with a small group of people to help establish the vision and plan. We referred to this group as our Leadership Team in the early days. We knew God was behind this through how He was developing this team. Each person came with an incredible story of how God drew them to this journey and with a primary gifting that was essential to our mission.

"This team worked hard to build the foundation of what Grove Community would become. We then began to reach out to others who sensed the call to make up our Launch Team.

"God continued to affirm us by adding to our group some incredible people. We ended up with 30 people on our Launch Team and wouldn't be able to accomplish what took place on Launch Sunday without each and every one of them. We truly are blessed with some of the best people I have ever met serving alongside us."

On Jan. 21, the new church continued to meet, as the launch team expected. "With the large launch strategy, it is expected to have a 50 percent drop in attendance after launch Sunday," Baker said. "Many people show up that first week because they love you and want to support you. Some people come to try it, and it's not the right fit for them. But then you steadily grow from there. We had that drop. The next week we were down from 250 to 120. However, we all were encouraged because we felt like this was a better representation of what our church actually is becoming.

"The community component of the next week was awesome as people were talking and getting to know each other more. The worship was dynamic and intentional. Then the response/invitation was powerful and freeing. We handed out cards for people to write down sins or excuses of why they were not currently fully devoted to Christ, and we saw most of our people bringing them forward to place at the altar or coming to the back to pray with someone.

"We got to see people no longer trying to appear perfect, but simply embrace their brokenness, cling to the cross, and experience freedom therein. It was special.

"We'd like to see this continue for 2018. Our prayer is that we be a part of something that is unexplainable yet undeniable resulting in God alone receiving all the glory and praise. We hope to see Sunday after Sunday people walking away from encountering God saying, 'We have never seen anything like this before. What can't our God do?"

To learn more about church planting in Oklahoma, visit OklahomaChurchPlanting.com.


This article appeared in the Baptist Messenger (baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO). Chris Forbes is a church planting strategist for the BGCO.

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Ariz. pastor multiplies

disciples through relationship

By Dave Arden

TEMPE, Ariz. (Portraits) -- Pastor Abraham Lee has a proven track record for developing leaders. He started his first church plant in 1982 and has been planting churches ever since.

Two years ago, in 2016, he became pastor of the Global Mission Church in Tempe when it was about to disband. Since then, the group of 14 people has flourished and now has about 50 people.

Over the past four decades, Pastor Lee has developed 10 leaders who have become pastors or missionaries.

How has the Lord used him to accomplish this?

Without taking any shortcuts, his approach is to spend quality time with men to build close relationships. In spending time with them over the years, he has played tennis, enjoyed meals and walked alongside them even in early mornings sharing their "quiet times."

"I have tried to fit myself to them as a brother, to build a strong personal relationship, even a tighter relationship than a biological brother," Lee says.

Once he has a close relationship, Lee has developed an intensive approach to teaching the Bible.

The faithful pastor teaches through books of the Bible (specifically Genesis, John, Acts and Romans) at such a level that he expects his people to be able to teach others themselves.

"I really want people to become disciplined, and by being discipled, get a solid foundation," he says.

As he develops relationships, he is then able to understand the gifts of the leaders and help guide them into their best use of their strengths.

What's the biggest challenge in making disciples of Jesus?

"To motivate them," Lee says. "Not many people want to be disciplined. So I have to motivate them to be disciplined. Once they are motivated, they want to follow."

Pastor Abraham has planted churches in numerous areas: Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Atlanta, Athens (Ga.) and Anaheim. Plus, he started one church plant in Korea and several house churches in China.

What values does Pastor Lee bring to his lifestyle of ministry?

He values service and also sacrifice.

He calls attention to Jesus' words, "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:11). More than just preaching this message, Abraham Lee's lifestyle carries out the very example of Christ.

Serving others also is a high priority for this pastor who was willing to come to Arizona without the promise of a paycheck.

One of his favorite Scripture verses is, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).

"I enjoy serving the Lord and serving people," he affirms.

At the same time he is serving them, Lee challenges them to dive deep into the Word. Specifically, his teaching style when going through the book of Genesis, for example, is to divide the book into seven sections. And for each section, he gives homework and asks the people to write an essay sharing what they have learned. He wants them to make sure they understand what they have studied.

While only arriving in Arizona a little over two years ago, Lee also sets his sights on raising up leaders here in Phoenix.

He estimates the Korean population in metro Phoenix to be around 20,000 people.

When asked about whether he would raise up a future pastor from Arizona, he remarked, "I don't know yet. I know the longer that I am here, the more possibility there is to raise up someone ..."

He and his wife Sarah have worked diligently not only to raise up pastors, but they have also raised up a missionary to Mongolia.

Because of his investment in new leaders, Lee's influence has had a far-reaching impact. From leaders now in Georgia to new leaders in California and all the way to China, he has multiplied himself many times over.

With the Lord's help and through great sacrifice, his guiding fatherhood has inspired many to follow their Lord and enter a life of ministry service.

If the past is any type of predictor, there are blessed days on the horizon.

Dave Arden, a freelance writer living in Surprise, is a North American Mission Board church planting catalyst serving in the West Valley.

N. John Keller, a freelance photographer living in Phoenix, is a member of First Southern Baptist Church, Phoenix.

Get involved:

--Pray for the Korean community in Arizona that they come to know Christ.

--Focus on developing men in your church who are potential leaders and be intentional in coming alongside them to equip them to shepherd the family and the church.

--Consider what one-on-one discipleship opportunities for women would look like in your church.

--Don't just sit there. Go help plant a church. For information, contact Ken Belflower, Arizona Southern Baptist Convention church planting facilitator, kbelflower@azsbc.org, or Monty Patton, North American Mission Board Send City missionary for Phoenix-Tucson, mpatton@namb.net.


This article appeared in Portraits (portraits.azsbc.org), newsmagazine of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention. Dave Arden is a freelance writer and church planter catalyst for the North American Mission Board in Phoenix.

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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 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.

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