FROM THE STATES: Ala., La., Tenn. evangelism/missions news; 'It helps them see the face of God in other people'

Today's From the States features items from:

The Alabama Baptist (also North Carolina and Georgia)

Baptist Message (Louisiana)

Baptist and Reflector (Tennessee)

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Ala., N.C. Baptists

reach refugees in Ga.

By Mark Kelly

iStock
CLARKSTON, Ga. (The Alabama Baptist) -- Ten-year-old "Lily" was born in a refugee camp half a world away. When her parents were granted asylum in the United States, she was excited and curious about what life would be like. The camp had no schools and Lily knew education would change the course of her life.

The family was placed in Clarkston, Ga., an eastern suburb of Atlanta home to immigrants from more than 60 countries. Lily speaks no English and the 100-plus languages spoken in Clarkston confused her even more -- but school was about to start and her excitement knew no bounds.

But this refugee girl with no schooling, who could speak no English, was going to be placed in fifth grade. On top of that her parents were handed a list of required school supplies costing more than $100.

Even working multiple jobs how could they begin to afford that for their five children? And the entire family was only beginning to learn English so how could they help her with homework?

The best news of all arrived when an Alabama Baptist volunteer knocked on Lily's door. Elizabeth Beavers of Crossroads Baptist Church, Warrior, Ala., was distributing flyers advertising a back-to-school event the next day, Aug. 3, at nearby Clarkston International Bible Church (CIBC). The flyer announced the church's ministry center would be providing backpacks filled with all the needed supplies -- for free -- and there would be registration tables for English classes and tutoring, as well as a host of other necessities such as free shoes, reading glasses and health screenings.

As many as 3,500 people came to the ministry center at CIBC, according to David Creswell, a Send Relief missionary with the North American Mission Board.

In addition to a warm welcome, each family was offered a New Testament and about 160 volunteers -- many of them from Alabama -- had opportunities to explain the good news of God's love to a multitude who had never even heard of Jesus.

Gospel witness

The 2,166 backpacks filled with more than 35,000 school supplies were provided by the 2018 "Christmas in August" campaign of national Woman's Missionary Union, Creswell said.

But the event not only provided desperately needed resources and a gospel witness to refugee and immigrant families, it also gave the Lord an opportunity to speak to volunteers' hearts about how He has brought the lost nations of the world to their own backyard.

Connection point

For Craig Walston, youth pastor at New Life Community Church, Asheville, N.C., the backpack distribution helped his students understand the world is bigger and much different than they realize.

"It helps them see the face of God in other people and gain a broader understanding that everybody needs to hear about Jesus," Walston said. "CIBC trains them to be missionaries when they go home."

Preconceptions about refugees and immigrants also are challenged in Clarkston, Beavers said.

"When you get here you learn who the refugee really is -- the struggle they have been through," she said. "You discover they really just need someone to connect with. And you learn there are places here in the United States where you can actually reach the nations with the Gospel."

The experience in Clarkston helps team members view their own communities through different eyes, said Jase Vann, a member of Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Birmingham. Vann, cofounder of 5:9 Ministries (five-nine.org), is sharing the love of Christ among Muslims in Birmingham through an ongoing series of "lunch and learn" gatherings.

What's happening in Clarkston shows what is possible when followers of Christ reach across cultural and religious boundaries.

"This connects us to the fact those nations are right here in the U.S.," Vann said. "Yeah that was in Georgia but look at what's around us here in Birmingham."

For more information about WMU's Christmas in August missions project, go to www.wmu.com/christmasinaugust.


This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Mark Kelly is a freelance writer.

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La. ministry offers hope for

homeless mothers and children

By Staff

MONROE, La. (Baptist Message) -- Sarah Pierce spent nearly 15 years seeking freedom from alcoholism, but just a few months into 2017 she found deliverance in Christ when she entered HomePlace, the Louisiana Baptist Children's Home and Family Ministries program for homeless children and their mothers.

Through HomePlace, Pierce received spiritual support from fellow mothers in the program and LBCHFM staff members, who encouraged her to share her testimony of salvation publicly, through baptism.

On Aug. 18 she took that step of obedience with another HomePlace resident as they were baptized during a worship service at the North Monroe Baptist Church in Monroe.

The women are two of five HomePlace residents (out of 13 women currently in the program) baptized this year, and among numerous others in the program who have been plunged beneath baptistery waters since HomePlace began in 2010.

Susan Clark, LBCHFM director of family care ministries, said she has been blessed to witness the life change in Pierce and many other women, who participate in daily personal devotional times, weekly small group Bible studies and monthly large group gatherings, featuring a speaker and testimonies, at the ministry's Monroe campus.

"We give them Jesus, every day, here," Clark said. "It's amazing to see the turnaround in these women's lives, especially when they accept Christ. Their lives were spiraling out of control when they got here, so it's a precious thing to see them come to the heart of God."

LBCHFM President and CEO Perry Hancock said he is thankful for how this ministry is reaching so many women in a region that has a high rate of domestic violence.

"HomePlace is one of the most incredible ministries I have ever seen," Hancock said. "When these mothers find their true worth in a relationship with Jesus, everything changes for them. They have a new sense of purpose and direction. They are determined to make a better life for themselves and their children. They know that with the Lord's help, they can break the cycles of dependency and poverty that have controlled their lives. They know that they have a future and a hope in Christ. We are just so grateful that the Lord has allowed us to be a part of this life-changing work."

HomePlace provides homeless women and their children a place to stay for six to 12 months at no cost to the residents, and their stay can be extended. More than 300 women and their children have participated in the program since its inception. While there, the women may work toward their high school equivalency and receive life and employment skills training through the Christian Women Job Corps.

More than 80 percent of the women who have participated in HomePlace have successfully earned a degree and completed necessary training to land a job outside the campus.


This article appeared in the Baptist Message (baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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Tenn. church finding

ways to reach gamers

By Ashley Perham

MEMPHIS (Baptist and Reflector) -- Level Up Church, Memphis, like many churches, was started to reach the unreached in a region. However, pastor Jacob McAnally had a vision for more than just the city of Memphis. He had a vision for gamers.

McAnally said God gave him the vision for the church while he was virtually attending BlizzCon, a convention held by Blizzard Entertainment to promote its gaming franchises. McAnally was impressed by how many people were attending the convention in person, between 20,000 and 30,000. Then, he realized that over eight million were tuning in online like he was.

"It just kind of hit me you know, they're lost," he said. "And it began to really weigh on me. Not only are these people lost, but most churches wouldn't have the first idea about how to reach them."

McAnally, associate pastor of Boulevard Baptist, Southaven, Miss. at the time, had already used his role as the host in an online game called World of Warcraft to pray for people and lead them to the Lord.

"I never really thought any more about it other than I'm a Christian. Everywhere I go, I take Jesus with me," he said. "But as I began praying and I began asking God, it was just weighing on me. Lord who's going to reach these people?"

The answer? "You can."

Level Up started with six people. Now, the average attendance is around 20, McAnally said. One challenge the church faces is regular attenders who have not gotten over the "hump" to become members.

However, the church has seen growth in other ways. People who have given up on the church often find a home at Level Up.

"They haven't necessarily given up on God, but they've given up on the church. And we're just so strange and different, they just come show up sometimes," McAnally said. "They're not necessarily involved in this (gaming) community, they're just glad to have something authentic and different and Christ-centered."

McAnally said there has also been a softening in the gaming community toward the church. About a month ago, one convention in Memphis gave the church a free booth and four free passes to promote their ministry.

"I wish I could tell you that 100 people have been saved," McAnally said. "But it's a hard road because these people are so skeptical of the church, and they've been harmed, in many cases, so deeply by the church.

Along with the general skepticism toward church, Level Up also deals with other challenges of reaching gamers, specifically their social awkwardness.

"(Gamers) tend to be socially awkward, one of the reasons they get into whether it's gaming or comic books or anime or cosplaying or whatever," McAnally said.

"One of the reasons they do it is because they don't fit in anywhere else," he said.

McAnally said he would invite people to the church, and they would show up seven months later.

"But sometimes that's how long it takes for them to get over their social anxiety to just give it a try," he said.

Lewis McMullen, church planting specialist with the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, said that more and more affinity-based churches like Level Up are starting to start in Tennessee.

"We now have several cowboy churches. We have several biker churches," McMullen said. "I actually have a church plant over in East Tennessee that focuses in on hunters and fishermen."

McAnally said a church targeted so specifically at a subculture is both a challenge and an advantage.

"Immediately, certain people are turned off, like that's not for me," he said. "But on the other hand, you know exactly who you're reaching and nobody else is doing it."

McMullen pointed out that the outreach for affinity-based churches looks different than the outreach for churches focused on a region or neighborhood.

"Your outreach is going to be more word-of-mouth, more event-oriented, more relational. Growth is not going to be as quick as you think it's going to be because it's going to be that relational building of relationships with people," he said.

McAnally has a vision to see more Level Up churches planted. The church has plans to possibly use an online ministry, although McAnally does not want people stuck in online membership indefinitely.

"It is our dream, and our vision, that this is the first Level Up Church, not the only one, and it is our dream to plant more Level Up churches in other cities," McAnally said.

"And God willing, even worldwide."


This article appeared in the Baptist and Reflector (baptistandreflector.com), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. Ashley Perham is an intern at the Baptist and Reflector.

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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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