FROM THE STATES: Ala., Ky., Mo. evangelism/missions news; 'You've got to wear them shoes before you can really know what's going on with people'

Today's From the States features items from:

The Alabama Baptist

Western Recorder (Kentucky)

The Pathway (Missouri)

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Ala. church feeds

Birmingham homeless

By Lanell Downs Smith

iStock
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- Ron Muir can rattle off a dozen reasons why he feels called to serve the homeless of downtown Birmingham. Topping the list — he and his wife Jolene were once homeless themselves.

"That's where I come from. I was saved off drugs in 1988," Muir said. "You've got to wear them shoes before you can really know what's going on with people."

Muir and a team of volunteers from Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Warrior, Ala., provide lunch for the homeless every Monday as part of a ministry known as Under the Bridge. The group meets at Linn Park in Birmingham where they share a gospel message, sing hymns, distribute sack lunches and pray with or just listen to anyone who shows up, offering a hug and the opportunity to talk with someone.

"We always deliver the Word first," said Muir, who alternates with other volunteers to deliver the message. "God has always been there before us. He's already prepared the way for us before we get there."

The church budgets funds for food, but much of it is donated by volunteers, church members and community friends.

Bibles, shoes, socks, blankets, clothing and hygiene products are distributed during the gatherings. Each week 60 to 70 sack lunches and 25 to 30 packages of hygiene products are distributed. Most items are donated and some are purchased by the volunteers.

Occasionally people request specific items.

"One man asked for a backpack and a pair of size 10 shoes," volunteer Ray Stubblefield said. "The next day a lady brought in two brand new pairs of size 10 shoes. Her husband had died and never had the chance to wear them."

At a local thrift store "Papa Stubbs," as he is affectionately called, found a like-new backpack. Fulfilling special requests is important, Muir said, because it provides an opportunity for people to witness God at work.

The ministry began under a bridge of Interstate 20 in 2013 as Muir realized the call to reach the lost by serving the homeless. Muir and his wife tried serving in other areas of ministry before God refined their calling. The Muirs volunteered with homeless ministries in other areas and when they moved back to Warrior and their home church, Smoke Rise, they approached the church about beginning a mission.

"I know where I've come from. I could have died out there on the streets if I did not know the Lord," Muir recalled. "People ask me why I want to help the homeless. If no one had reached out to me I would be in hell right now. Not everyone understands. It's a calling."

Muir and his team serve a diverse population. Many of those served by Under the Bridge draw disability or Social Security checks but are unable to afford permanent housing. Others possess a criminal record that hinders their ability to find work. Some have been homeless their entire lives.

"We don't discriminate. He (Christ) tells us to go to all nations," Muir said.

Often a distrust among members of the homeless community exists because many have been hurt by those offering aid.

"Everyone has given up on them," Muir said. "It's like they are in a war zone. They are in the drop zone behind enemy lines."

By meeting a physical need volunteers open a door to share the good news of the gospel, offering hope to the hopeless. They extend a listening ear, meeting the homeless on "common ground." Muir shows up with a three-day beard, wearing street clothes and speaking with common language to build rapport with the those who need to know the volunteers understand their situation.

"I'm just like they are," Muir said. "We have our own demons that draw us away from God. It's a choice you have to make. I'm not a pastor. I'm just being used by God."

Some homeless are Christians who share the gospel with their friends. Numerous salvations have occurred but volunteers don't always see the fruit of the seeds sown.

"We get to know them and then sometimes we don't see them again," said volunteer Mary Stubblefield. "They're just people," she added. "It could be me or you."

Churches or individuals desiring to help with the ministry can contact Smoke Rise Baptist Church. Under the Bridge hopes to partner with other churches to make a greater impact and are available to coach groups who seek to begin a similar ministry.


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

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Ky. pastor guides church

to have outward focus

By Chip Hutcheson

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. (Western Recorder) -- Denver Copeland candidly says he is an "out of the box" pastor. His track record in almost three years shepherding Stithton Baptist Church gives evidence to that perspective.

"One of the biggest problems is that people don't want to change," said Copeland, who has pastored the church since November 2016 after pastoring churches in Hawaii, Alaska, Missouri, Colorado, Germany and Nevada.

"We don't change the message, but we do what it takes to be outward focused. The reason many are dying is they are inward focused."

No one can accuse Stithton Baptist of lacking an outward focus. The church has seen the abundant ways that God has worked in activities and ministries that include:

-- The church purchased an adjoining piece of property and uses it for a clothing and food ministry called Esther's Closet. It's open twice weekly and serves an average of 100 families a year. The ministry benefits low-income and homeless people in the county.

-- Free Christian counseling is offered by a licensed marriage and family therapist and a certified alcohol and drug counselor. Some of the common issues addressed in those counseling sessions include marital or relationship problems, parenting guidance, mental illness, grief and loss, self-esteem issues, enrichment of one's faith and connection to God, personal goal setting and development as well as substance abuse and addiction.

-- Musical concerts occur on a regular basis. Since May, the church has hosted Dallas Holm, the Isaacs, Jason Crabb, NeVaeh and the Hollingsworth Family.

-- In July, Stithton offered a basketball camp for grades 1-6.

-- Hooray for Heroes was not a church event, but Stithton hosted the activity in its parking lot, distributing Bibles and other information during the activity.

-- At various community events, especially sporting events, the church will have a booth and distribute information.

-- The church has determined to have a presence at any school-related or community event.

-- Stithton also is working with a local non-profit, Mission Hope for Kids, proactively investing in the lives of at-risk children.

-- More than 400 children in the county are considered homeless, and Stithton has helped provide food for many of them over weekends.

-- In June, it hosted World Changers. Last year more than 100 workers came into the Hardin County area, and Stithton raised $20,000 to pay for materials to help with home improvements for area residents. This year there are 300 people scheduled to arrive in Elizabethtown, so there will be an even greater need for funds to buy materials. "We will work in 25-30 homes and a few churches," Copeland said.

-- The church has hosted Power for Life teams, drawing people to see "the world's greatest exhibition of power, strength, speed, motivation and inspiration," according to a promotional poster.

-- It has partnered with governmental entities to promote adoption and foster care as well as helped low-income residents obtain housing loans. It is involved with the state's Uniting Kentucky effort, and had Kentucky First Lady Glenna Bevin speak there on foster care. Uniting Kentucky brings churches and community partners together to support more than 9,500 children in the state who are in out-of-home care. The church is diligent in informing people about single family housing repair loans and grants through USDA Rural Development.

"The Lord has blessed us -- we've had TV and newspaper coverage," Copeland said. "We've met with mayors in the area on low-income housing."

Testimony to the results of Stithton's varied efforts can be seen in the church's statistics. Since Copeland's arrival, worship attendance is growing at a 20 percent rate each year. Giving is up 40 percent. This year the giving is up more than $150,000 than what it was three years ago. Giving to the Cooperative Program has increased significantly -- even higher today than years ago when the church had a significantly higher membership. Total missions giving is up 4 1/2 times what it was three years ago. AWANA involvement has doubled and children's area space has doubled. When Copeland arrived, the church had indebtedness of about $400,000. Today that is down to about $250,000.

"We try to reach the community in any way we can," said Copeland. "If a school calls with a need, our answer is always yes -- and then we figure out how to do it. People have to realize you care -- if not, you won't get them in the doors of the church."

He's realistic to know that not all activities and ministries yield equal results. "If you do 100 different things, you may get one person for each thing. There is no get rich quick -- if there was, we would have done it years ago.

"I really believe in true transparency in ministry and reaching out in the community. I believe people want to help people. We don't have committees meeting and voting on what the Bible has told us to do. We're going to do it -- and people will give to it. We adjust our budget when we need to. We let people know what we are doing."

Copeland's wake-up call

"God worked me over when I was 40," he recalls. "I had been out of the ministry for three years, then God threw me back into the ministry (in the mid-1990s). I said that He would have to put me back, I can't do it -- I could only do it by following His Word. I said, 'If it's in Your Word, I'm going to follow it to a T.' My wife and I went to the altar, and God said to 'do it My (God's) way, be transparent, be real. Younger people want you to be real -- they can spot fakes. I've tried to do everything God told me to do in the church. It's amazing what happens when you finally let go and let God. If God breaks your heart enough, you'll figure it out."

In 1996 he was serving part-time as an associate pastor while operating his own business. In a book he wrote reflecting on that time, he said his business had lost tens of thousands of dollars. He said a clear voice from God said to him, "I never told you to go into this business." And as he prayed, Copeland said God told him to "get out of the business, but not to sell it."

He and his wife did sell the inventory, but they were left with a debt of more than $600,000. Their only option was to liquidate everything they could, so they sold houses, inventory and his truck -- leaving them with household furniture and a car. With three young children, they loaded a U-Haul and headed for Anchorage, Alaska, moving into a three-bedroom apartment. He was asked to fill the pulpit at North Kenai Baptist Church in Nikiski, Ak., and soon was called to be its pastor.

A year later he was faced with discouragement, realizing that only four visitors had attended in that past year. He was burdened that the church was not reaching any new, unsaved members of the community. He asked the Lord how to reach the community, and it was that experience that has guided his ministry to this day.

A pivotal moment in his ministry at the Alaskan church came when he preached a sermon "No Fishing in the Parking Lot." He related how people buy the best fishing equipment, the best fishing pole, the best lures, the best boat, everything they need to fish successfully. "How foolish it would be then to sit in the parking lot and try to catch fish," he told the congregation, giving illustrations on where they as Christians could put their nets to be fishers of men.

The next Sunday he arrived at the church to see a sign in the sanctuary that said "No Fishing in the Parking Lot." That fueled the desire in that church and extends to today at Stithton to reach out into the community as a means to tell people about Jesus.

"We don't do feeding, clothing, ministering because we like it. We are doing ministry for Jesus," he writes in his book. "We don't try to knock them over the head and tell them about Jesus; we meet their needs. When their needs are met, we are able to tell them about how much God loves them.

"Do they all come to Christ? No, but I know of no other program where everyone comes to know Him. We don't catch every fish in the ocean, but when we start fishing we will catch some."

One distinctive about Stithton is the scarcity of committees.

"We don't have many committees any more. You have to ask … how many are saved because of the committee; how many grow (as a Christian) because of the committee? Stithton Baptist Church is being the church God created her to be. We as Christians have to become the Christians that Christ created us to be in Him."

Web presence

One of Copeland's first initiatives at Stithton was to revamp the website (www.stithton.org), using that not only to communicate with members, but to promote activities and ministries to the community. By early June, the website had recorded more than 169,000 visits. In May it had more than 7,000 visits for the month. In the last 12 months it has had 75,000 visits. In addition it maintains a Facebook page that reaches as many as 32,000 people.

"People go to our website for information. We want it to be a place they can go," Copeland said. "And we work hard on social media."

Fishing tips

In Copeland's book, he has several observations related to being fishers of men. They include:

-- We must be anchored to the Rock, but geared to the times.

-- You may have the greatest visitation program in the world, but if people aren't coming to your church, it isn't working.

-- A point about fishing is not to fish in another person's fishing hole … if you are just attempting to catch a fish from someone else's pond and release it in your pond, that is not healthy or ethical.

-- Leaving the church in a better position to minister when you leave than it was when you arrived is a great gift to (a) congregation.

-- No one will have to go out and 'beat your church's drum' to tell what you are doing; everybody will see what your church is doing and what it stands for.

-- I believe Sunday School is where you put all your best effort. If Sunday School grows, all the rest of your services will grow.

-- Sometimes we stop the Spirit's work because of the way we think things 'ought to be done.' Allow God to do a new work in a new way. The message can NEVER change but the methods can.

-- Until we stepped out in faith, we didn't see God's hand at work. When we stepped out in faith we saw God working in ways we never could have imagined.


This article appeared in the Western Recorder (westernrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Chip Hutcheson is interim managing editor of the Western Recorder.

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Rural Mo. church's

VBS program a success

By Vicki Stamps

OWENSVILLE, Mo. -- After a schedule trial and error method, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church outside of Owensville discovered a winning and unusual time for Vacation Bible School.

"We started VBS on Wednesday night," Dennis Spurgeon, pastor, said, "then, Thursday and Friday nights. On Saturday morning, we met 9-11:30 with our last session on Sunday morning."

"This schedule just clicked for us," Donna Spurgeon, VBS director and pastor's wife, said. "We are a small country church 13 miles south of Owensville, out in the middle of nowhere."

"Many people asked us," she continued, "where all these kids came from. But we were diligent in promoting. Many of the church members brought children in and word of mouth really worked for us. We increased enrollment with each session."

On Sunday morning, the church turned their service into Family Day. "We were very excited about this celebration service," Dennis said. "We gave the children their awards, used them in skits, songs and showed the video of the week. We had 90-100 people there. Last year, for Family Day, we only had 70-80 people."

"Our mission project was Operation Christmas Child," Dennis continued, "so we showed a Samaritan's Purse video to show the parents where their gifts were going. They brought so many nice gifts that we will be able to increase our shoeboxes this year."

After the service, the church invited the children and their families to a tailgate party. "It was just like an old fashioned VBS out under the oak tree," Dennis continued. "We grilled burgers, brats and hot dogs," he said. "We had the church members bring some side dishes and we asked the others to just be there."

According to Dennis, one of the highlights for the children after the tailgate lunch was the water balloons. "Tim Jenkins, our recreation leader," Dennis chuckled, "worked all the kids up to throw water balloons at the pastor. So, I had 2-300 water balloons thrown at me. They loved that."

Mount Pleasant used the "Game On" theme from a previous LifeWay year. "We get the VBS curriculum from FBC Owensville after they use it," Donna said. "Each year, after they have VBS, I go to their church and pick up the items for use the following year. I sometimes go to two churches to get the materials to make sure that I have everything for the following year. We keep them in a storage locker until the following spring."

"It is so wonderful for the churches to cooperate and work together," Dennis said. "We are a small country church and we can't afford all of the great VBS materials. When they pass on what they have used, it saves us an expense."

Both Spurgeons enjoyed using the "Game On" theme. "The kids loved to focus on sports and Team Jesus," Dennis said, "Every classroom shared teaching about Jesus."

"The children seemed to do even better on the Bible verses this year," Donna said. "Usually they have some trouble, but they worked hard and knew the whole verse this year."

One of the boys in the fourth-sixth grade class accepted Christ on Sunday. "I asked his dad if he knew that his son was going to come forward," Dennis said. "He said, 'I didn't know, but he has been asking me a lot of questions after VBS.'"

Both Dennis and the boy's father agreed that the young man's decision was the best Father's Day gift ever.


This story appeared in The Pathway (mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Vicki Stamps is a contributing writer for The Pathway.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, typically 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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