FROM THE STATES: Ala., Tenn., Okla. evangelism/missions news; '... [T]hey ... are going to spend eternity either in heaven or hell'

Today's From the States features items from:

The Alabama Baptist

Baptist and Reflector (Tennessee)

Baptist Messenger (Oklahoma)

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Ala. laymen build

bridges with Muslims

By The Alabama Baptist Staff

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- When Rob Bensinger was at the North American Mission Board's SEND Conference three years ago God struck him with a realization.

He didn't know any Muslims.

That realization came after Bensinger, a member of Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Vestavia Hills, heard two things at the conference that changed the trajectory of his thoughts.

"One is that God has brought the nations to us -- you don't have to go on an international trip to find them," Bensinger said.

The second was that if you're waiting on your ministry to start when you go overseas, there's nothing magical about a plane ride -- intentional gospel sharing starts right here where we are.

So with that in mind he and fellow church member Jase Vann did some Google searches and found that an Islamic society was really close to where they lived. They reached out through a contact form on the website.

"I wrote that it seems we have some common moral beliefs, maybe we can build on that to unite the communities," Bensinger said.

The imam wrote them back soon after saying he loved the idea.

In the time since Bensinger and Vann, who both have day jobs in finance, have formed strong relationships with the men at the Islamic center. They invite each other into their homes. And every quarter they do a "lunch and learn" where they get together and talk about some shared moral value or belief from each other's perspective.

For example, if the topic is "service to others" or "sacrifice," the leaders at the Islamic center will share why Muslims believe those things are important, then Bensinger or Vann will share why Christians do.

Building friendships

"It's meant to get the two groups to talk to each other and let us share truth," Bensinger said. "But it's also meant to allow Christians to get to know their Muslim neighbors. When you walk away it's like a guard has been let down."

You get to hear what they believe and get to know them better, he said. And you get to see how God is working in Christians' hearts toward Muslims.

Vann said his ultimate desire is for Muslims to know Christ, but their friendship doesn't hinge on that. The whole point is to build relationships -- that's why they call what they do 5:9 Ministries. It's based off Matthew 5:9 -- "Blessed are the peacemakers."

"We can't share at all if our cultures are so separate that we never see each other or touch each other," Vann said.

Vann said another thing it has done is to put an urgency in him that wasn't there before.

"People are no longer groups of people to me -- they are individuals with souls who are going to spend eternity either in heaven or hell," he said.

Bensinger agreed. "It's created a love in my heart for people who weren't on my radar three years ago."

He said it's kind of like how a guy who is shopping for a red convertible suddenly notices all the red convertibles on the road -- now Bensinger frequently notices the Muslims around him.

"It's brought a new awareness to me. I'm always looking and wanting to see who else can I meet, who else can I befriend," he said. "I have a desire to see and be aware of the nations here around me."

Through 5:9 Ministries, Bensinger and Vann are also training churches on how they can better build bridges with Muslims and talk to them about Jesus. He and Vann have a tool they use to help church members find the Muslim community around them.

"We can train your church, equip them and assign you a territory to go out and share the Gospel very strategically with Muslims in your area," Bensinger said.

Vann said their heart is to get as many churches trained as possible.

"We want to partner with churches across the state in order to connect with the community around them and track the progress of the Gospel," he said. (TAB)

For more information, visit five-nine.org or facebook.com/fivenineministries.


This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention.

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'House of Hope' helps one of

Tenn.'s poorest counties

By Lonnie Wilkey

PIKEVILLE, Tenn. (Baptist and Reflector) -- A small rural Tennessee Baptist church is doing its best to show the love of Christ in one of the most impoverished areas of the state.

According to statistical data, Bledsoe County is one of the poorest counties in Tennessee. In 2010, Bledsoe County was ranked 94th among 95 counties in the state with a per capita income of $12,907.

In order to aid the community, Lee Station Baptist Church in Pikeville, located in Bledsoe County, has provided its "House of Hope" for the past five years.

Lee Station's House of Hope offers food, clothing and furniture (when available) year-round not only to residents of Pikeville and Bledsoe County, but approximately seven other surrounding counties as well, said Pastor Bill Wolfe. "We attract poor people," he acknowledged.

Church member and volunteer Phil Colvard agreed. "Hungry people need to be fed. People don't realize how many residents in the surrounding area don't have enough income to get by. That's why we do what we do," Colvard said.

The small congregation of about 50 people helps between 700 and 800 families monthly, reaching between two and three thousand people, Wolfe added.

"It's so awesome to see how God works," said Wolfe, a bivocational pastor who has been at Lee Station Baptist for 16 years.

Even before the church opened its House of Hope, the congregation sponsored a food bank, the pastor noted.

The ministry is funded by the church and private gifts from individuals, business, other churches and organizations. "We get donations almost every day from people who know about the ministry and want to help," he said. In addition, the church has received hunger funds from Global Hunger Relief.

"That has been a blessing," Wolfe stressed. "We put those missions dollars to excellent use," he added.

Joe Sorah, compassion ministries specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, noted that because "Tennessee Baptists give through Global Hunger Relief, we are able to assist churches and ministries with needed funds to buy food to feed hungry people in Tennessee."

Sorah observed that Tennessee's poverty rate is 15 percent and 20.9 percent of Tennessee's children live in poverty. Ten percent of Tennesseans live in extreme poverty, which is below half of the poverty line, he added (source for stats: talkpoverty.org).

"Almost 13 percent (12.9) of Tennesseans live with food deficiency, meaning that at some point in the year they experienced difficulty providing enough food due to a lack of money or resources," Sorah said. "There is no shortage of people in need in Tennessee. Meeting hunger needs opens the door for gospel sharing. As we help to feed hungry people, the doors open to share the Bread of Life. Hunger ministries do more than give out food. They meet the immediate need in order to address the greatest need.

"Lee Station Baptist Church has seen the need, heeded the call to help and is making an eternal difference in many lives," Sorah said.

The church uses the donations to buy about 15,000 pounds of food each month from the Chattanooga Area Food Bank.

Lee Station's ministry goes far beyond food. "God has opened up so many doors of ministry through the House of Hope," Wolfe observed.

The house and property on which it's located was given to the church several years ago. The facility, which is managed by volunteer Rebecca Daughtrey, is open five days a week and is manned by volunteers from Lee Station and other area churches.

"If they have a need, we have people who will meet with them, pray with them and see what we can do to meet those needs," he added.

Even more important than the physical help provided, the House of Hope meets spiritual needs as well, the pastor said, noting that volunteers are available to answer spiritual questions.

"We have seen people come to the Lord through the House of Hope and its ministry," Wolfe observed.

The Pikeville pastor is not only grateful for the financial assistance the church receives but also for the men and women from other churches who volunteer their time at the ministry site.

Laura Arner, a member of the Pikeville Seventh Day Adventist Church, is one of those volunteers. She observed that though Lee Station is a small church, "they do a wonderful work and help so many people."

Noting that her church does not have a similar ministry, Arner said "it's nice to be involved in their ministry. It's a blessing for me to come and help them. It's wonderful what this church does for the community. They are a blessing to everybody."

Richard Lewelling, director of missions for Sequatchie Valley Baptist Association, noted that the House of Hope "meets physical, emotional and spiritual needs in Jesus' name.

"When Lee Station Baptist Church saw the needs of their community and the facility that now houses the House of Hope became available, they saw this as an opportunity to reach out to their community with the love of Jesus," he observed.

For more information on the House of Hope, call 423-667-2287. B&R


This article appeared in the Baptist and Reflector (tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector.

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CarePoint ministry

empowers Okla. community

By Emily Howsden

JENKS, Okla. (Baptist Messenger) -- A little more than a year ago, an elementary school in the Jenks school district contacted First Oklahoma Bank in the community, asking if they could help find clothes for children and their families that were in need.

The bank owners then reached out to Baptist churches in Jenks and Tulsa as well as a local cleaning business to sponsor Jenks CarePoint, a Christian-based ministry that primarily provides clothing and shoes to families in need, free of charge. Disposable diapers and other family items are also distributed through CarePoint.

"Between those four entities, they partnered up, began to plan, found a site to house the ministry and developed from there. We have a board of directors and have been incredibly blessed with the support of the community and of the churches. The donations are constant," said Kara Lee, director of CarePoint.

"Our mission is to serve the students and families of Jenks Public Schools and the community by providing resources and programs to meet physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs as we share the love and hope that is found in Christ," Lee said.

According to Lee, the community that surrounds CarePoint is heavily populated with Burmese refugees. Lee said they fled their home country due to the violent war and persecution of their Christian faith. "I was stunned to learn of this need in Jenks, a community with a lot of wealth. But the need is there, and we're going to fulfill it," Lee said.

In addition to offering clothing to these families, CarePoint offers sewing classes and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. The ESL classes and sewing classes are taught to help equip individuals with knowledge and skills to improve their social, financial, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Currently, more than 40 people are taking ESL and sewing classes at CarePoint. After they finish a semester of classes, they can purchase a sewing machine at a reduced cost to them.

"With everything we've done, it's been very gratifying to hear them talk about how much of a difference it has made," Lee said. "Whether it's the clothing that they can't afford for their families, or if they've done both English and sewing classes, they talk about how they came to this community not knowing anything or anybody. Through CarePoint, it has given them opportunity to provide for their families but also to fit in."

CarePoint has been open for 10 weeks. In that time, they have distributed clothing to an estimated 1,200 people. Lee says there are future plans to develop additional ministries and services as other needs that exist within the community are determined.

Other ways CarePoint has been able to serve the community are through leaders in the churches reaching out to young mothers and stepping in to help them understand motherhood, the culture and community.

"They are new mothers and don't have their mom to be around and help them. So we take them on outings and help them learn to navigate in our country, where everything is new to them," Lee said.

Jenks CarePoint is open to the public Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 9-11 a.m. every third Saturday. It is located at 2914 East 91st Street. CarePoint accepts all sizes of men's and women's clothing, children's clothing, new underwear and socks, shoes, coats, disposable diapers, blankets, sheets and towels. For more information, visit www.JenksCarepoint.org.


This article appeared in the Baptist Messenger (baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Emily Howsden is a staff writer for the Baptist Messenger.

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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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