FROM THE STATES: Ala., Tenn., Calif. evangelism/missions news; Ala.: 'It's just a joy to be a part of this ministry.'

Today's From the States features items from: The Alabama Baptist; Baptist and Reflector (Tennessee); California Southern Baptist.

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A couple from an Alabama church invests decades praying for, flying people in need

By Grace Thornton

MONROEVILLE, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- One day Tommy Lee looked out the window and decided it was perfect plane-washing weather. He got the hose out and pulled the plane out of the hangar, but before he could do anything else, his phone rang.

A man in Florida needed an organ transplant and someone had called and said that the organ was available. He needed a flight to the city where it was.

Tommy Lee asked how fast the patient could get to his local airport -- 25 minutes.

He told them he would be there waiting for them with the plane.

Ready for takeoff

"I was only a 20-minute flight from them and God already had me out and the plane out," he said. "Thirty seconds after I got the call, I was in the air. You can't plan stuff like that. Only God can do it."

It's for moments like those that Tommy Lee and his wife, Lindy, dedicate their time to the work of Pilots for Christ, an organization that provides free flights for people in need. They started the Monroeville chapter of the national organization 24 years ago when another pilot handed Tommy Lee one of the ministry's brochures.

He read it and thought it seemed like a great way to invest his time. He had flown some in the Army, so he knew he could be the pilot. The only problem was he didn't have a plane.

But he called the number on the brochure anyway and asked what he needed to do.

"They told me I needed a plane, a pilot and 10 chapter members," said Tommy Lee, a member of First Baptist Church, Monroeville, in Bethlehem Baptist Association. "So I called the first 10 people I could think of and they all said yes. And one of them said we could use his plane too."

In less than a day, the Southeast had a Pilots for Christ chapter all set up and ready to go. And in the years since, they've flown about 2,500 families, all for free, thanks to financial supporters who give to the ministry. The plane flies almost every day. It is always ready to go.

Some flights are routine ones -- to take patients to places like Mayo Clinic, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and MD Anderson Cancer Center for regular treatments. Other flights are in response to urgent calls, like the man's organ transplant in Florida.

Never once has the plane flown without being covered in prayer. The Lees and their prayer team have prayed over families as they've been healed and as they've grieved.

Lindy Lee said to her it's an amazing privilege.

'Real blessing'

"The main thing we love to do is really pray for our people going through hard times and the people taking care of them," she said. "We try to form a relationship with people over time and that's a real blessing. It's just a joy to be a part of this ministry."

Micah Gandy, pastor of First, Monroeville, said the Lees' ministry is a "tremendous extension and example of the compassion and mercy of God."

"In a way, Pilots for Christ fulfills the command of Jesus to minister to the least of our brothers and sisters," Gandy said. "They literally care for others when they are at their least -- needy, sick, hurting, grieving, even dying."

Every Tuesday, local pastors from different denominations meet at the Pilots for Christ hangar to pray for the ministry. And every Thursday night, Lindy Lee leads a women's Bible study there at the building.

Living their life and ministry out at the airport makes sense, Tommy Lee said.

"My granddaddy started the airport here in Monroeville, so I've been in aviation my whole life," he said. "And Lindy's dad was a Methodist missionary who flew in Africa, so it's in her blood."

The ministry also recently got a new plane, something Lindy Lee says is a direct answer to prayer.

"The Lord has just taken care of everything and provided and we're so thankful," she said.

For more information about Pilots for Christ, call 251-282-9100 or visit www.pilotsforchrist.net.


This article appeared in the Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Grace Thornton writes for the Alabama Baptist Convention.

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City Reach Nashville: building relationships

By David Dawson

NASHVILLE (Baptist and Reflector) -- Kim Margrave, volunteer missions specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, is a strong believer in the concept, "You don't need a passport to do missions work."

Margrave's motto is ringing true time and time again this summer for those who are involved in City Reach Nashville.

"This is my very first missions trip — and I love it," said Morgan Giordano, a rising high school senior from Cumming, Ga., who came to Nashville to serve as a counselor for a Backyard Bible Club at Parkwood Villa Apartments. "I love being able to talk to different people about the Lord."

City Reach Nashville is part of a five-city missions initiative designed and implemented by the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. First envisioned by TBMB executive director and president Randy C. Davis, the ministry involves a missions partnership with the five metro associations in Tennessee -- Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, and Clarksville -- and was created as a means of reaching Tennessee for Christ by concentrating on those five major cities.

City Reach Nashville, which launched in January, is the second "stop" on the five-city itinerary. The theme of the initiative is "churches helping churches." And that's exactly what's happening.

The youth group from Bell Road Baptist Church in Nashville, for instance, traveled across town to lead the praise and worship time during Vacation Bible School at Covenant Baptist Church.

"We really needed help with our VBS, and God used the City Reach mission to meet our needs so that we could have all the volunteers we needed to put on a great summer missions event for our community," said Jen Harvey, the VBS director at Covenant Baptist. "The (Bell Road Baptist) youth were energetic and enthusiastic. They took their role as worship leaders seriously and practiced diligently. I am grateful for their help and their willingness to model leadership to our kids and youth."

Harvey said her church "personally experienced the City Reach mission to connect Tennessee Baptist Churches together for Jesus Christ's mission to reach everyone in our state with the gospel," and said relationships were formed during VBS that will continue to help spread the good news of Christ in the weeks and months ahead.

"We are excited to partner further with this church youth group (from Bell Road) that is going to do a one-day Backyard Bible Club in a local international apartment complex with refugee children from Nepal, Burma, Iraq and El Salvador," she said.

This month, City Reach Nashville has teamed up with "World Changers" to provide manpower to churches in the metro area that need help staffing their outreach projects (such as VBS or other children's ministries) and to perform other requests and service projects.

City Reach Nashville coordinator Mark Harvey said he has heard glowing reports from the volunteers thus far, and said he hopes the movement will continue to make a major impact.

City Reach organizers recently sent a team to New Season Church in north Nashville to help the church with several projects, including moving a wheelchair ramp from the front of the church to a side entrance. The group -- comprised primarily of youth-aged World Changers volunteers -- is also providing staff for the Backyard Bible Clubs that New Season Church is hosting at multiple sites.

New Season pastor Dwayne Lewis said the efforts of those involved in City Reach has enhanced his church's outreach and, more importantly, has enabled the church to show its love for those who live in the neighborhoods near the church.

"This has been really great for our church because it has given us a chance to reach the community and do some things that we are not able to do with our congregation," said Lewis. "To see these guys and girls (with City Reach and World Changers) come in here, with the heart that they have and the passion that they have for Jesus -- it's just been outstanding. It's helping us make an impact in our community."

Jordan Kennedy, who served as crew chief for the group that helped move the wheelchair ramp, said he was honored to be using his talents (he has been involved in construction work for 20 years) to do Kingdom work.

"We all have a calling; we all have that one thing we are supposed to do," said Kennedy. "My dad started a construction company before I was born, and I recently took over the company. And so, there's a reason I learned this. Everything we learn, whether we realize it or not, is for the glory of God."

Kennedy said he and his team are excited about working with New Season Church and other churches. "We do whatever needs to be done," he said. "Whatever the Lord puts in our path."

The City Reach project is helping build new relationships among believers.

"We came to worship yesterday at New Season, and we got to meet the pastor, Pastor Lewis," said Morgan Kelly, who was a member of the team assigned to the renovation work at New Season. "They were a very welcoming congregation. It was a great morning for us."

Scott Gilbert, senior pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Cumming, Ga., came to Nashville with a team of almost 40 volunteers -- mostly from the youth group -- to serve with City Reach through World Changers. The group is providing community outreach for New Season Church.

"We are here to be the hands and feet of New Season Church," said Gilbert. "We are representing their church, and we are also representing Christ in this community.

"It's a chance for our youth to sit down with these kids (from the community) and build some relationships with them," he added. "I told my youth: 'I want you on the forefront. You're going to teach the Bible studies, you're going to run the games, and I want you to get to know these kids and their life stories. And then take that opportunity to show them what Christ has done in your life.'"

Gilbert said he believes the members of the youth group are creating life-long memories during their time in Nashville.

"I told our youth that, when we leave on Wednesday, if you've got tears in your eyes because you've grown to love these kids, then we've been successful," he said. "We will have done what God sent us here to do."


This article appeared in Baptist and Reflector (baptistandreflector.org), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. David Dawson writes for the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

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Calif. churches baptize hundreds

By Carrie Blackaby Camp

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (California Southern Baptist) -- Each weekend, Sandals Church attracts some 10,000 people to its eight campuses, and 7,000 more tune in to the services online.

"The vision of Sandals Church is to be real with ourselves, others and God," said Matt Brown, lead pastor of Sandals Church. "And the only way you can be real with God is through Jesus. We unapologetically teach the Gospel. Jesus is the only way, and we explain that."

Throughout the 20 years Brown has served as lead pastor of Sandals, he has witnessed countless attendees experience radical life transformation. The church recently baptized 539 people in one weekend.

"I mean, that's crazy," Brown said. "We'll do two more baptism (events) this year."

Before starting Sandals, Brown served as a youth pastor in an older, more established congregation. But after seeing the excitement Rick Warren was generating at Saddleback Church, Brown left that position to try something new.

The adjustment was difficult at first, especially since Brown, at 26 years old, had big ideas and plenty of enthusiasm but no prior church planting experience.

"I went from a successful church with multiple staff, buildings and resources to it literally just being my wife and me and our one-year-old daughter," he said. "I think the hardest moment was at the end of our first year. I'd been working so hard, and we only had three people come to church. But I just kept pressing through, and God has been really amazing."

After a slow start, the church began to grow rapidly, attracting people with its modern vibe and commitment to authenticity. But the quick expansion led to a new problem: finding a facility large enough to accommodate the growing congregation.

Every time the church found a place to meet, the congregation quickly outgrew it. The church moved 13 times in the first four years before partnering with California Baptist University in Riverside, where it swelled from 500 to 3,000 attendees in a decade.

The church finally secured property of its own in 2009, but Brown knew developing satellite campuses was the only long-term solution.

Nine years later, the church owns seven properties, and its eighth campus will move into a Sandals-owned building in September.

"At first (adjusting to being a multi-campus church) was really hard," Brown admitted. "But it's far more economical."

Because attendees are spread across eight locations, Brown and his ministry team have worked hard to maintain a sense of unity among church members.

"I think (unity) is a struggle in any large church," Brown said. "The way you connect at Sandals Church is through small groups and serving on a team or in a specific ministry. That's the connection base."

Though some people struggle to adjust to the satellite campus model, Brown said most people who visit Sandals are spiritual seekers with no church background and zero expectations. They are simply looking for truth.

"I tell our church that God is not afraid of the truth," Brown said. "So we can press in and ask deep questions."

Brown does not shy away from taking a biblical stance on challenging or controversial issues.

"The number one thing I hear from skeptical Christians when they visit is that they're expecting 'church lite,'" Brown said. "And I think they're pleasantly surprised that we're pretty deep too. I think you can be both deep and wide, and that's what we try to do."

As Sandals continues to grow, Brown said his job is to remain faithful to the calling God gave him to reach the people of California for Christ.

"We're not going to reach everybody, and that's okay," Brown said. "We're going to reach the ones we can reach."


This article appeared in the California Southern Baptist (csbc.com/csb), newsjournal of the California Southern Baptist Convention. Carrie Blackaby Camp writes for the California Southern Baptist Convention.

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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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