FROM THE STATES: Ala., Okla., Texas evangelism/missions news; 'We want to make healthy disciples who make healthy disciples'

Today's From the States features items from:

The Alabama Baptist

The Baptist Messenger (Oklahoma)

Southern Baptist TEXAN

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Ala. men's ministry events

bring cultural shift

By Grace Thornton

ATHENS, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- It wasn't a pep rally and they didn't swap gravy recipes for brotherhood breakfasts.

But Larry Hyche, who leads men's spiritual development for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said what happened recently in Limestone Baptist Association is the kind of thing that's changing the climate of men's ministry in the state.

About 750 men gathered Aug. 3 at First Baptist Church, Athens, for an associational men's conference called "How to Be a Man" led by radio personality Rick Burgess. Preaching from Acts 4, Burgess challenged the men to live on the right side of Pentecost -- to be bold, unwavering disciple makers.

The Friday night gathering drew a crowd not for a comedy show but for a serious look at how men can become disciplers of other men, said Kevin Ward, director of missions for Limestone Association.

"There was a very genuine feeling in the building," Ward said. "It was about how Jesus has called us to be more than just a good guy — He's called us to be faithful disciples who make other disciples."

The event built a lot of momentum with men wanting to take what they learned and do something about it, and two men were baptized, he said.

"There's a stir right now that we need a culture change -- we're not producing disciples, that we're not producing people who have victory over sin and are surrendered to the work of the ministry," Ward said. "Something's got to give and that's what we talked about that night. It was a really good experience."

Hyche said he's seeing more and more churches wanting to implement a stronger focus on discipleship and evangelism in the men's ministry.

"There are a lot of churches that are seeing that the kind of men's ministry we've 'always done' isn't as effective now as it used to be," Hyche said. "It says a lot when you have 750 men get together to hear about how to be a disciple maker."

The same weekend, another group of several hundred men also gathered for a similar men's conference in Andalusia.

"Men's ministry is so important, but it has to have a strategy," Hyche said. "More and more men are showing they're hungry for that kind of focus."

Churches need a way to cultivate an atmosphere conducive to growing mature disciples who make other disciples, he said -- that's how they're going to win new men and younger men to Christ.

The Monday after the event with Burgess, about 30 men gathered for some practical training with Hyche on how to strengthen their men's ministry and return to biblical discipleship.

"We talked about the big picture," Hyche said. "I didn't have a three-step plan for them to make their men's events better. We talked about the atmosphere of making disciples in their church. We want to make healthy disciples who make healthy disciples."


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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Okla. churches host

Foster Family Retreat

By Brian Hobbs

TALIHINA, Okla. (The Baptist Messenger) -- While the foster care needs in Oklahoma remain great, Oklahoma Baptists are finding creative ways to minister and meet the needs of foster families.

One such example comes from southeast Oklahoma, in LeFlore Association, where the Foster Family Retreat at Kiamichi Baptist Assembly took place, July 28-29.

"Through our contact with DHS, we discovered one of the needs of foster parents is the ability to get their 12 hours of required annual training," said Neil O'Donnell, director of missions (DOM) in LeFlore Association.

"It is difficult to work your busy schedule around, in order to be able to take off work, or find a certified training during your free time. Mainly because foster parents are so busy that they don't have any free time," he said.

With all that in mind, O'Donnell and others came up with the Foster Family Retreat. The retreat was aided by Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children's (OBHC) One Such Child foster care ministry.

Participants in the camp were able to obtain six of the 12 hours needed, plus have a memorable experience, including a mix of Vacation Bible School and camp-style activities for the children.

"It was a Saturday and Sunday event where the families enjoyed all the fun things that church campers get to enjoy while their parents are getting their training," O'Donnell said. "And the training was in the mornings so the parents can spend time with the kids having fun the entire afternoon. On Saturday evening, there was a time of worship and preaching at the event followed by a Christian movie."

People from the region and other parts of the state registered for the camp. "We have folks from practically every part of the state signed up," said O'Donnell. Ultimately, the camp drew 79 adults, 165 children, 27 DHS workers/volunteers and 65 VBS/childcare workers.

According to O'Donnell, 12 people made professions of faith in Christ at the event.

Teri Blanton, OBHC's One Such Child foster care coordinator said, "OBHC was honored to provide the LeFlore Baptist Association the assistance they requested in promoting the event and getting the training approved for statewide acceptance through DHS."

"After visiting with Randy, and investigating the ministry, we were able to see the opportunity this ministry holds for reaching a great number of lost souls. In the LeFlore Baptist Association alone we have between 100 and 110 foster families, many of which are unchurched families," he said.

Beyond this camp, Oklahoma Baptists of all ages and volunteer levels can find ways to share Christ's love, connected to foster care, O'Donnell believes.

"We have volunteer coordinators who work with churches to come alongside foster families in their area and 'adopt' the family," O'Donnell said. "It might be a Sunday School class or an entire church, but a person, or persons, in the church become the local contacts who work to love-on and pray for the family they have adopted. It might even be a set of grandparents who are not officially in the foster care system, but need help as well."

To discover more about foster care ministry opportunities, churches or individuals can contact Blanton at 405/972-7901 or teri.blanton@obhc.org.

As more people step up to serve, like those who helped at the Foster Family Retreat, foster care children and foster families will increasingly feel Christ's love through caring Oklahoma Baptists.

Children in need of foster homes range in age from infants to teenagers. They may have an emotional or behavioral challenge, have been neglected, abused or abandoned, or have experienced a breakdown in the family.

The children are of different races and religions. They identify with their own culture and need help with maintaining their identities, staying connected to their birth families and learning how to be capable, worthwhile and responsible.

Some of the children are older, have medical, emotional or special need requirements, or are part of a sibling group that needs to be placed together. The important thing to remember is that all children deserve a family.

For more info on your role in Foster Care and adoption, visit obhc.org!

Blanton added, "LeFlore Association, under the leadership of DOM Neil O'Donnell, cast a huge vision to minister to foster and adoptive families in need of encouragement and support. They executed their plan with the support of DHS workers, Oklahoma Disaster Relief Workers, and local church members. It truly was a blessing to see children and youth having fun, while their foster parents received DHS re-certification training."

O'Donnell credits a fellow director of missions with helping him see foster care as a great opportunity to share Christ's love.

"We have followed the lead of one of our sister associations, Atoka-Coal, and its director of missions, Randy Hurt," said O'Donnell.


This article appeared in The Baptist Messenger (baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Brian Hobbs is editor of The Baptist Messenger.

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Texas church's long-term

commitment aids Czech church

By Bonnie Pritchett

PLZEN, Czech Republic (Southern Baptist TEXAN) -- Soaring 333 feet into the sky, higher than any other cathedral in the Czech Republic, the spire of the 13th-century St. Bartholomew Cathedral draws residents and visitors to the Pilsen town square where the city's forefathers laid the church's and the city's foundations in 1295. But the city's Catholic footing has slipped as time, war, Communism and growing secularism have left Pilsen's residents with no firm faith foundation.

But 1.4 miles southeast of the historic square, in a rented space off a busy street, Mozaika, a small Baptist congregation, flourishes. After a 10-year partnership with First Baptist Church Forney, which ended this summer, Southern Baptist mission workers Larry and Melissa Lewis see their congregation following the Texans' example of stepping out in obedience to share the Gospel and make disciples.

"These young believers are growing in their faith, encouraging each other and reaching out to their communities," Melissa said in an email to the TEXAN. "We are looking beyond Plzen and working and praying to start new churches in surrounding communities."

Plzen, Czech for Pilsen, is home to 200,000 people and the world-renowned Pilsner brewery. Like much of Europe, Pilsen's residents have grown indifferent to their Christian roots.

"Many people say it's an atheist country. In our experience that's wrong," said Rod Cushing who, along with his wife, Marnie, traveled several times to Pilsen with FBC Forney. "We have seen the vestiges of Christianity throughout their culture."

The FBC Forney mission trips predate the Lewis' arrival by a year or two and laid the groundwork on which the mission workers and the fledgling Christian community would build. The Texans committed themselves to 10 years of short-term mission trips to the city in the western Czech Republic.

Before committing to a years-long mission effort, FBC Forney inventories the skills its volunteers offer. By matching the teams' abilities with the needs of a prospective area, the church has learned how to most effectively use their time and resources to the benefit of the community they hope to engage.

In Pilsen that meant sending one team a year to help the Lewises facilitate gospel-infused English camps, a popular event the community has come to anticipate each summer. The camps have grown from 69 students -- children through adults -- to 250. Some of the FBC Forney members, like the Cushings, have visited more frequently.

Eventually, the stranger-wary Czechs began to warm to their Texas visitors.

"The churches who are willing to invest their time and money again and again speaks volumes to Czechs," Melissa Lewis said. "It is very hard to gain the trust of a Czech."

By investing in the life of Pilsen, the Lewises and their three children Laini, 16, Larissa, 22, and Zachary, 24, and his wife, Hana, who is Czech, earned their trust. Larry coaches the Pilsen Patriots American Football team and teaches English and archery. Melissa has taught English at a local high school for nine years. That school, with historically Christian roots, has hosted the English camps for a decade.

The Lewis children have played an integral role in the ministry by serving in the church and witnessing to their peers. Like the cathedral spire, Christian hospitality has drawn neighbors and the spiritually curious to the Lewis home for Bible study, children's clubs, babysitting, and one-on-one language lessons and discipleship.

The summer partnership with FBC Forney allowed the Lewises to expand the English camp far beyond the means of the 40-member Mozaika church. The week-long program creates an environment that forces people -- Americans and Czech -- to do something they might not be inclined to do: converse with a stranger who speaks a different language.

The English teachers use songs and Bible stories for reading and speaking practice. Participants, most with no church upbringing, are told this at the outset yet still register themselves and their children.

And faith conversations extend beyond the camps. Melissa intentionally arranges housing in order to place the Texans in the homes of non-believers who graciously welcome the strangers. Rod and Marnie Cushing have cherished those stays and the faith conversations they have had in those homes.

The Forney teams have done more than expand the Lewises' ministry opportunities for one week out of the year.

"They have befriended our family, loved on our kids, brought us surprises from the states, sent packages to our son in college," Melissa said. "The list goes on and on. We love the church family at FBC Forney and count them as dear friends. This relationship has been priceless to us."

Each subsequent visit from the Texans has nurtured trust and friendships with the Czechs. Faith conversations flow from those relationships --conversations the Texans entrust to the local Christians when they leave.

This summer FBC Forney said their final good-byes. The church committed to 10 years of service and that time has expired. They began their work in Pilsen with little more than the conviction God wanted them there. They leave grateful to have been a part of his handiwork.

No new cathedral fills the city square. Instead, a growing congregation of 40 faithful Christians meets regularly in rented space blocks from the city's famous landmark. Czech pastor Daniel Kuc shepherds the church.

Because of the work done during the camps the Gospel has been heard throughout the year in the school that has hosted the event and where Melissa Lewis teaches.

"We are very happy that you are here teaching English, but we are most excited that you have given everyone a Bible and for what you are sharing," the principal told Larry Lewis after the first camp.

And Forney's relationship with the school continues this fall as Rod Cushing returns to teach English for the year.

Most significantly, the church planted by the Lewises and watered by FBC Forney is bearing fruit. While the Lewises and the members of Mozaika will miss their Texas friends, the congregation stands ready to emulate their work.

The day Larry announced FBC Forney would not return, a young mother approached Melissa and told her God had been urging her to offer Christian day camps to the children in her neighborhood. She had resisted, not wanting to duplicate the English camps. Then she heard the teams would not return.

In one month, she offered two Bible camps.

"Both camps were full almost immediately. The children loved the camps and were excited each day for the Bible stories and songs," Melissa said.

The Lewises hope to partner long-term with another American church to engage churches and evangelize in Czech cities where no such work is being done. But the relationship will be from a different vantage point, Larry Lewis noted.

"The advantage at this point is that now there is a 'mother church' in Plzen, so mission teams coming can have valuable input and leadership from Czech believers," he said. "American mission teams still can very much bring their gifting, excitement, encouragement, etc., in ways that are invaluable to the Czech church."


This article appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the TEXAN.

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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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