Archives For Heartland

Family gatherings

ib2newseditor —  October 16, 2017 — 1 Comment

Postcard art

Not long ago, the pastor of an already growing church contacted me about “becoming Southern Baptist.” His church was starting to think about planting another church or campus, and had heard about the partnership and resources available through our North American Mission Board.

As I began explaining Southern Baptist polity and structure to him, I realized that those of us who “became” Southern Baptist when our parents enrolled us in the church nursery may sometimes take for granted the way our largest Protestant denomination in America operates and cooperates. In fact, many laypeople in our churches today might have trouble answering this pastor’s question.

Later I wished I had explained Southern Baptist life to him the way I truly think about it—like a family. A local church is like the immediate family you live with every day. You do life with them and know them intimately, in good times and bad, for better and worse.

A local Baptist association is like your family that lives nearby. You might see them every week, or maybe once a month, perhaps for dinner or to help with a project. They would help you move, or loan you their truck, or pick up your kids or grandkids in an emergency. They are your first line of support, and your first line of defense. You trust them, and you count on them, because they’re family, even if they don’t live at your house all the time.

Illinois Baptists will celebrate their annual ‘family reunion’ Nov. 7-9.

A state Baptist Association or Convention is like a more extended family. The distance between family members keeps you from seeing everyone in person very often. But you talk by phone, and you’re Facebook friends, and you’re aware of what each other is doing. When you’re in their town, you visit them. When their kids graduate or get married, or have a big life event, you’re there. And they’re there for you too.

When you are together with extended family, it’s still clear you’re related. The subtle family resemblances are there. Behaviors and preferences may be diverse, but values are largely the same. You know the same folklore. You celebrate the same heritage. You would still do anything for each other, even if Uncle Bill irritates you a little. You would never want to leave or lose this family, even if you’re grateful to get back in the car and go home.

Then there’s the national Southern Baptist Convention, which I might compare to a nationwide family reunion. I attended one of those once, for the Cunningham line of my family, which has gathered every Father’s Day weekend for decades in western Kentucky. We loved going, and met people we had never met before, and it didn’t take long to discover common threads, and certainly common values. I hope to go again someday. And if you ask me, “Are you a Cunningham?” I will proudly say yes, and eagerly help anyone from that family.

I know lots and lots of pastors and church members who have never been to a national Southern Baptist Convention, but who faithfully give to Southern Baptist missions, and who faithfully believe The Baptist Faith and Message. It’s a wonderful, diverse, large family.

And so, with a newfound warmth and enthusiasm for family, I invite you to come to Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur this November 7-9 for the IBSA Pastors’ Conference and IBSA Annual Meeting. In fact, bring someone with you who hasn’t been to this extended family gathering in a while. You won’t know everyone, but everyone you meet will be family. They believe what you believe, and they work together at doing the things you know are most important. And at least most of us would do anything for you.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Family blocks

The word “family” conjures up feelings of warmth, sentimentality, peace, and tranquility—the kinds of things we put on Christmas cards, said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Often, though, our families aren’t really like that. We’re not lying, Moore said, but there are so many things we leave unsaid. Those things—the challenges of parenting, the hard conversations, the fears that children won’t turn out like we want them to—were at the heart of the ERLC’s conference on “Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World.”

The podium at the Aug. 24-26 meeting was filled by family experts, church leaders, storytellers, and even a U.S. Senator (Ben Sasse of Nebraska). But the audience looked a lot like real parents. Strollers lined the walls of the auditorium as parents and children listened together. One speaker in a breakout for moms tweeted that it was highly appropriate to hear several crying babies in the session.

Over three days at Nashville’s Opryland Hotel, conference speakers drew on their experiences ministering and equipping families—and raising their own—to guide parents toward a gospel-centered view of the family. Along the way, they touched on some specific issues of our day—gender identity, racial division, sexuality, pornography, and the overwhelming influence of technology.

They also called Christian parents to an ideal that grows more and more radical as the culture around them changes. “Those who grow to know and serve God with everything they have do not blend in,” said author and speaker Jen Wilkin. “The goal of a Christian parent is to prepare their child to live in a world that is not their home.”

In his opening address, Moore said the unspoken challenges of parenting are part of the reason it can be so difficult. “…In our culture, parenting so often is about winning and displaying.” If something goes wrong in our family, he continued, we worry people are going to think something’s wrong with us. He quoted a friend who said he knew parenting would be humbling, but had no idea it would also be humiliating.

“Parenting matters. The stakes are high. That’s why it’s hard.”

– Russell Moore, president, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

The antidote to drowning in all the potential failures? A Christ-centered perspective, one that acknowledges parents are called to follow Christ’s example and take up a cross, Moore said.

“Parenting is a unique mixture of joy and terror, beauty and brokenness, happiness and disaster. Nothing is easier than loving your children, and nothing is harder than loving your children. We as Christians ought to be people who understand that dynamic.”

Alien children
It’s easy to blame kids for peer pressure—for exerting it on one another and for feeling it themselves. But it’s generally not children who fall victim to it, said Jen Wilkin. It’s parents who feel a strong pull to soothe their own memories of not fitting in by helping their kids fit in.

But Christian parents need to be looking instead for opportunities to help their children get comfortable with being different—even “alien” in our culture, Wilkin said. She gave five areas where Christian families and kids will look different, beginning with their activities.

“We have to be running these things through a different filter than other people,” she said. A filter that places a higher priority on the dynamic at home than allowing children to run themselves—and their parents—into the ground with an ever-increasing list of activities.

She read Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

“The author of Deuteronomy seems to think that there will actually be times when we sit in our house­—together,” Wilkin said. “Seems to think there will be times where we walk by the way­—together. When we lie down­—together, and when we rise up­—together.
“This passage assumes a natural rhythm of the home that is bringing the family together, versus spreading the family out.”

Jim Kerr is pastor of First Baptist Church in Fairview Heights. Wilkin’s talk on family activities resonated with him because he sees families in his church struggling to balance all the things they think they have to do. Churches can fall victim to the same kind of thinking, he said.

“The guilt of doing ministry sometimes overrides the benefit of the right amount of ministry and the right amount of time,” Kerr said. “Because we just wear ourselves out.” That’s why his church plans intentional seasons of break in certain activities and ministries, he said, “realizing that there’s so much going with our families and our children, we’re going to wear ourselves out from doing, while not really gaining the purposes we need.”

Wilkin talked about four other areas in which Christian families should be alien and strange: speech, possessions, entertainment, and friends. Look for more on counter-cultural families and how parents in Illinois are raising “alien” children in upcoming issues of the Illinois Baptist.

The role of the church
At least two speakers in Nashville quoted a study that found children are more likely to stick to their faith after high school if they’ve been invested in by adults other than their parents. Christ-centered parenting can’t be done in a vacuum. It calls parents to rely on others in their faith community, Russell Moore said. Christians are to bear one another’s burdens, including in parenting, he said.

“That is what is so dangerous about the church turning, in many cases, into silos filled with individual minivans full of families, coming to receive instruction and then to return home to their self-contained units.” Even more so in our rootless, hyper-mobile culture, Moore said, where children don’t see their extended families often and mothers and fathers fight feelings of isolation, parenting can be a lonely endeavor.

“We need each other, and we cannot be godly parents to our children if we are not brothers and sisters to each other.”

Moore recalled a woman who approached him after he preached at her church and leaned close to whisper a prayer request for her daughter, who was away at college and had decided she was an atheist. When Moore asked why she was whispering, she said, “I don’t want anybody to think, ‘There’s that lady with the atheist daughter.’”

Something’s terribly wrong with that picture, Moore said. “Here we are when every family in Scripture has prodigals, including God the Father. And we are scared to cry out to one another and say, ‘I feel like in my parenting I am drowning and I need help.’ That is what the church is for.”

If parenting in community means bearing one another’s burdens, it also involves having the courage to turn children loose to engage in God’s mission. In fact, that should be the goal of parenting, said North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear. Children are designed by God to be arrows, Greear said, referencing Psalm 127, not accessories.

Quoting family ministry expert Reggie Joiner, Greear said in our safety-obsessed culture, we forget the ultimate goal of parenting is to let go.

“The ultimate mission of the family is not to protect your children from all harm, but to mobilize them for the mission of God,” said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham.

And as they go, they’re sure to look different, having been shaped in a community in which the goal of the family is to glorify God and, through their example, to bring others to a saving knowledge of Christ.

“As Christian parents, the most hopeful thing we can do is lift up our own eyes and train the eyes of our children to behold our Savior, alien and strange,” Wilkin said. “He is coming on the clouds, and when he comes, may he find the family of God, and your family and my family, desperately hoping and yearning to look like him.”

For more from the ERLC’s National Conference on Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World, see upcoming issues of the Illinois Baptist, or go to ERLC.com to view conference sessions.

-Meredith Flynn, managing editor, Illinois Baptist

 

Somebody’s prayin’

ib2newseditor —  October 2, 2017

Pray button

After my dad’s mother died, I remember him saying that he physically felt the absence of her prayers. Dad had, in some ways, a challenging personality for pastoring. He was introverted, in many ways non-assertive, a quiet thinker and reader who scripted his sermons by hand so that he could deliver them effectively.

So, if you only knew my dad personally, you may have been surprised when you first saw him step into the pulpit, or witnessed him in some other pastoral role. He was wise, articulate, bold, insightful, truly helpful. As a pastor, he was supernaturally equipped for the role to which God had called him, in a way that eclipsed his natural limitations. And I believe this was supernaturally sustained by the devoted prayers of people who supported him over the years, his mother and my mother chief among them.

Our pastors need our sincere and earnest prayer. They need us to intercede spiritually for them, every bit as much as they need us to support them in leading the ministries of our church. Not all pastors face the same challenges that my dad did, but all of them face their own unique struggles and obstacles. If it is primarily those closest to them that sustain them in prayer, just think what could happen with an entire church earnestly praying.

Pastors need our sincere and earnest intercession.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. If this is not already your practice, let me encourage you to take the month of October to pray for your pastor, and perhaps other pastors you know, daily. At the IBSA.org website, there will be a daily prayer guide to assist you in that discipline.

You will not be alone. Throughout October, our IBSA staff will be praying for every IBSA church pastor, by name. We are also asking for specific prayer requests by e-mail, and personally calling more than 300 pastors for whom we don’t have a current e-mail address, to ask them how we can pray.

I hope many pastors will share specific prayer needs, perhaps some that are difficult to share with church members, and will allow us to pray for them personally in this way. For those from whom we don’t receive specific requests, we will simply use the prayer guide to pray for each pastor.

Many churches give gifts and other expressions of love to their pastors during October. Prayer, especially consistent, daily prayer, is one of the greatest appreciation gifts you can give. When something “appreciates,” it increases in value. And I believe that the sincere, consistent prayers of a congregation will “increase the value” of a pastor more than anything else. And by the way, that’s true even when you may personally struggle with your pastor!

In a recent IBSA chapel, we were talking about praying for pastors. Our state worship director, Steve Hamrick, shared about his dad, also a pastor, who prayed for him daily throughout his ministry. When his dad passed away a few years ago, his father-in-law noted at the funeral how special that prayer relationship was, and committed to him to take up the privilege of praying for Steve from that day forward.

During that same chapel, Steve led us in singing the old Ricky Skaggs song, “Somebody’s Prayin’.” The first two lines of that song are simply, “Somebody’s prayin’, I can feel it. Somebody’s prayin’ for me.”

IBSA pastors, I will be one of those somebodies praying for you throughout the month of October, along with every member of our staff. I hope you “feel” it in the same way that my dad did from his mom. And I hope you will feel it from many faithful church members as well.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Illinois commits to Texas aid

ib2newseditor —  September 25, 2017

Massive Florida storm stretches Baptist response

FBC Galatia flood recovery volunteers do mud-out work on a house in Vidor, Texas, near Beaumont.

FBC Galatia flood recovery volunteers do mud-out work on a house in Vidor, Texas, near Beaumont. They’re working with eight other teams from several states on a list of 200 area homes that continues to grow. Facebook photo courtesy Butch & Debbie Porter

Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief (IBDR) continues its marathon response in Texas doing flood recovery work in homes drying out after Hurricane Harvey, providing shower and laundry facilities, and preparing hot meals for relief workers and displaced Texans. And a team of childcare volunteers traveled more than a thousand miles to wipe tears away when the response began in early September.

No sooner had the work in Texas ramped up for IBDR when Hurricane Irma swept through Florida. Many wondered if teams would be deployed to the east. Dwayne Doyle, IBDR state director, notified volunteers, “We have made the decision to focus our ongoing work in Texas as a partner with the Southern Baptist Texas Convention Disaster Relief. Many of the Southeastern state Disaster Relief units are leaving Texas to go work with Hurricane Irma victims in Florida.

“We will continue to focus our efforts in Texas because this is where we have identified a specific and strategic need that IBDR can meet.”

Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, noted state Disaster Relief organizations have done “an absolutely incredible job” since the landfall of Harvey in Texas on Aug. 25, followed by Irma in Florida on Sept. 10.

“It’s going to be a long-term response in both places and we need help in the months to come….We have a desperate need for more volunteers in Florida and in Texas,” he said.
Mini Disaster Relief training events were hot tickets in Illinois in September. Nine were held across the state, where at least 150 people received flood recovery training.

Jan Kragness

Jan Kragness at the Dallas Convention Center. Facebook photo courtesy Kragness.

Help for hurting families
IBDR Chaplain Jan Kragness served on the 10-person childcare team that deployed to the Dallas Convention Center to work with some 2,500 Houston-area evacuees housed there. She shared glimpses of her experience on Facebook. On Sept. 2 Kragness shared, “It was a hard day. Many people were rescued by boat day before yesterday. They were brought in at 1:30 a.m. The children and parents were sad and tired. My arms were tired.”

Kragness told the story of one family with three young children. The younger brother “was so unhappy, he could not stand the separation anxiety of being away from Mommy. His 5-year-old sister came into his group area, and held him for comfort. He was almost as big as she was.”

Kragness took the younger brother and sister to their mother. “She loved on the children and tried explaining that she had to get the sister registered for school and there was a long line. But she would be back for them. The mommy looked exhausted.”

That was when the woman told Kragness what had happened. “She explained to me that their home had been broken into and the children assaulted and that was part of the separation anxiety. We had prayer with the mother…So when I took the children back to the childcare area, they were more comfortable but would not integrate with the others and could not let go of me.”

About an hour later, the older brother came to check on his siblings. He told Kragness, “Miss Jan, we’ve got trouble at our house. Big trouble.” She told him, “Well, if you would like to talk about it, I would be glad to listen.”

He shared, “Our house was broken into by a bad man. He knocked down my brother, and hurt my sister. Mommy is scared and Daddy is mad. Our house is scary and we have trouble.”

Kragness said, “I am so glad you shared with me. And I am so glad you are safe now. There really are lots of people who are watching over you, but the greatest of all is Jesus. Shall we pray and ask Jesus to care for you and your family and keep you safe?”

“Yes, please pray to Jesus for me,” he said.

She assured him Jesus was listening to him anytime and everywhere. He prayed, “Jesus, please keep my little brother and my sister safe and help Mommy and Daddy to not be so worried.”

Kragness wrote, “He looked so relieved. He hugged me and ran off to play football. My heart ached to follow him and hold him close. But I knew Jesus had that job handled.”

The response continues
More IBDR teams are on their way to Texas. Volunteers trained in mass feeding, shower/laundry, and flood recovery are needed. If you can go with one of these teams, contact the team leader:

September 26 – October 8
Unit # IL RC 005 – Greater Wabash Baptist Association
Team Leader: Donald Ile
Phone: (618) 599-4234
E-Maildonruthsawdust@gmail.com

October 2-8
Unit #IL25
 – Sullivan Baptist Church
Team Leader: Don Lusk
Phone: (217) 232-8880
E-Mail: pastordon@sullivansbc.org

October 7-15
Unit #27 – Harrisburg First Baptist Church.
Team Leader: Joe Jackson
Cell: (618) 841-5015
E-Mailjoeluj@frontier.com

Teams that have already served in the Beaumont area include:

– A 26-person mobile kitchen team based out of Living Faith Baptist in Sherman which prepared nearly 41,000 meals, along with Incident Command leadership and shower/laundry trailers from both Franklin and Macoupin Associations. It was mobilized with volunteers from across the state.
– A flood recovery team with members from central and Metro East Illinois.
– A team from FBC Galatia with members trained in flood recovery, mass feeding, and shower/laundry trailers.

To learn more about the callouts, training, and how to donate, visit IBSA.org/DR.

– Lisa Misner Sergent, with additional reporting by Baptist Press

Talking with kids…about race

ib2newseditor —  September 18, 2017

Parenting conference takes on serious discussions

parenting panel

Steven Harris (left) moderates a panel including the ERLC’s Trillia Newbell and Texas pastor Jason Paredes on how to help children view diversity like God does. Photo by Kelly Hunter

Is it ever too early to talk about race with your children? Panelists at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Aug. 24-26 conference on parenting said no, resoundingly.

“You should not wait,” said Rachel Metzger, an educator and mother of two. “Because waiting seems like a secret, or something you don’t want to talk about.” Metzger joined four other parents and church leaders for a panel discussion on how to raise children with a biblical view of racial unity.

Coming less than a month after deadly protests in Charlottesville, Va., the panelists addressed the topic at a time when America’s racial divides are glaringly apparent. But, “this is not just something that we need to be talking about because something in the culture happened,” said Trillia Newbell, director of community outreach for the ERLC. “It’s something the church needs to be on top of, ahead of, because it is ultimately a biblical topic.”

Newbell is the author “God’s Very Good Idea,” a new children’s book about the diversity inherent in God’s creation. The book calls families to celebrate differences because they are, after all, God’s doing.

“That’s what’s missing in our culture—we don’t celebrate our differences; we politicize them,” Newbell said during the panel. “And we should celebrate. This is God’s good plan. It’s his idea.”

With kids, celebrating differences means acknowledging them. Newbell told the audience in Nashville that her son identified early on the difference between his mom’s skin color and his own. As her children have gotten older, open conversations about skin color have evolved into discussions about the realities of racism, division, and ethnic pride.

“It is heartbreaking, but it’s something that we have to be talking about,” Newbell said. “But even with that, we are sharing the full picture of the gospel that unites.”

The panelists shared several suggestions for fostering in children a biblically-based appreciation for racial diversity and unity:

1. Educate yourself. Dive into what the Bible says about the nations and the image of God, said Byron Day, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel, Md., and president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention. “You need to know for yourself first of all what it is that you believe, and why you believe it, so that you can better then explain it to them.” Day noted two helpful Scripture passages: Genesis 10 and Revelation 7.

2. Point to real-life examples. Adoption is such a part of the culture on his church staff, said Pastor Jason Paredes, that if an outsider were to try to match parents with kids based on skin color, it would be impossible. In that environment, said the pastor of Fielder Church in Arlington, Texas, identity is based less on looks and more on family bonds, giving parents a real-life way to talk to their kids about God’s view of racial unity.

3. Lay a biblical foundation. Pastor Afshin Ziafat recalled seeing an interview with a white nationalist in the aftermath of protesting in Charlottesville. The man’s angst, Ziafat remembered, seemed ultimately to be about protecting himself.

The root of racism is the sin of self, said Ziafat, pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. “With our children, I want to teach them that all are made in God’s image, but I also want to make sure I’m teaching them that life isn’t about you. Philippians 2 is what I want to teach them: Count others more significant than yourselves; put the interest of others before yourself.”

4. Invite people in. Get to know your neighbors, Newbell advised. Ask God to give you eyes to see color and culture, and invite the people around you into your family’s life.

Ziafat said mission trips have motivated his church members to get to know the people around them. “As we’ve gone on mission trips and our people have gone to other cultures and come back home, I’ve seen them have a heart to now want to go meet my Indian neighbor who I’ve never even talked to, because I just got back from India. I think tharat’s been a huge thing for us too.”

5. Start now. Newbell acknowledged some listeners probably feel the guilt of not having had these kinds of conversations with their kids. “It’s never too late to talk about the glory of God and Imago Dei. If you’re listening and thinking, ‘Well, I didn’t do that,’ start today.”

The Illinois Baptist’s Meredith Flynn was there. Watch for more articles from Meredith from the conference.

Why evangelism is needed now

ib2newseditor —  September 11, 2017

The ‘blue map’ tells our story

The blue mapThis map is becoming familiar around the Illinois Baptist State Association. We call it ‘the blue map.’ With just a few brush strokes, it clearly illustrates the need for evangelism in Illinois.

The map shows the percentage of people in each county who self-identify as Southern Baptist.

Our strength as a denomination is in the southern half of the state, where in most counties at least 5% of the population is SBC. In some places, the percentage is higher than that, but with so little of this map shaded dark blue, it’s easy to understand why Southern Baptists—and evangelicals overall—are in the minority in Illinois.

The farther north we travel, the less ‘Baptist’ the state is, even as the population explodes. The gray circles show our most populous places. And in stark contrast, the white and lightest blue-shaded counties show places where there are few or no SBC churches.

The need is great all across Illinois, but especially in the cities and Northwest Illinois.

“In many parts of Illinois, Baptists are outnumbered by Muslims, Mormons, eastern religions, and people with no faith at all,” Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association said. “In fact, at least 8-million of our 13-million neighbors in Illinois do not know Jesus Christ.”

That’s why at IBSA, we often say, “Evangelism is the point of the plow.” As a ministry-support and missions-sending organization, IBSA’s missionaries and staff are engaged in many activities that assist local Baptist churches in Illinois.

The partnership we share with almost 1,000 churches, mission congregations, and church plants is vital to strengthening Baptist work in Illinois. But whatever the ministry activity, the reason behind it is equipping IBSA churches, leaders, and members to share the gospel with people who do not yet know Jesus as their personal savior.

The missionaries whose photos appear in this prayer guide each have different specialties. Church planting, age-graded discipleship, and missions mobilization are just a few. But their work has the same chief purpose: advancing the gospel.

For example, when Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief teams are cutting trees felled by storms and digging out mud-packed houses after floods, somewhere nearby a trained DR chaplain is sharing Jesus with a suffering homeowner. And many times, they find Christ in their crisis.

Who trained the chaplains? Who organized the volunteers?

You did.

By giving through the Mission Illinois Offering, you enable state missionaries to do their work in Illinois. You provide supplies for VBS training and children’s camps. You send expertise to churches in need of stronger leadership. You recruit and equip church planters to start congregations where they are desperately need. And the list goes on and on.

Your gifts through the Mission Illinois Offering stay here in Illinois: teaching students, equipping leaders, planting churches, and, at all times, advancing the gospel.

Won’t you give through the Mission Illinois Offering? Your partnership in advancing the gospel in Illinois is needed now, more than ever.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.

Marci Coble

Standing outside their Chicago condo, Marci is holding a photo of her grandparents. Her grandfather, Maurice Swinford, led church development for IBSA and ultimately served as executive director.

The strategy is simple. Lost people know lost people. They hang out with lost people. If you lead one lost person to faith in Christ, suddenly you have broken into a whole new circle of people who need Jesus. And the most effective witness to the gospel is someone whose life has been changed by salvation in Jesus Christ—especially if it’s happened recently.

That’s why the Illinois Baptist State Association continues to invest in church planting as an important and effective strategy for evangelism. There are lots of places in a state of 13 million people where there is little or no evangelical witness.

IBSA is identifying 200 places and peoples that need Jesus. With at least 8 million lost people living just next door, it won’t be hard to put those pins on the map. For Bryan and Marci Coble, that pin landed in the Irving Park area of Chicago, far away and far different from her small hometown in Chatham.

Marci Coble was raised near Springfield under a strong Baptist influence. Her grandfather, Maurice Swinford, was on IBSA’s staff 15 years and served as executive director from 1988 to 1993. “He was always making sure I knew who Jesus is,” Marci says with a tear in her eye. She was a GA and Acteen, and worked one summer at Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp.

“I was allotted a lot of opportunities and a lot of blessings that I probably wouldn’t have had without his influence and without being his granddaughter—even my call to missions.”

She is almost as emotional describing Chatham Baptist Church. “I grew up there, I was baptized there,” Marci says. “Bryan and I were married there. They shaped me and molded me and I’m blessed to call that my home.”

So when Marci’s husband, Bryan, suggested when he finished his seminary studies that they move to Portland, Ore., to plant a new church, Marci’s brows furrowed. She was willing to go wherever God led them—in fact, they visited the Pacific Northwest on a vision tour—but might God lead them to Chicago?

“Bryan had set up an appointment in Portland. And we received a note from my grandmother with an article from IBSA letting us know they need church planters in Illinois too.” Marci laughed. “And we were like, ‘Oh, that’s so sweet. I love Grandma.’” But the message stuck.

“I didn’t want to come to Chicago,” Bryan readily confesses. “I was raised 60 miles south of St. Louis and grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan. When we started to pray about Chicago, God actually told me—this may sound crazy,” he says as an aside, “to get a Chicago Cubs hat and wear it for 30 days.”

Bryan shifts the Cubs hat on his head, as if he’s adjusting to the fit.

“My heart started to change,” the Missouri transplant says as a smile breaks out. “My love for this city and my burden for this city started to grow. We love this city so much. We love the people of this city so much,” he says.

A similar feeling started growing back in Chatham, Marci’s home church in suburban Springfield. The town of 11,000 is one-seventh the size of the Cobles’ new neighborhood. And for the church members there, Chicago has seemed like someone else’s responsibility.

“To be honest with you, Chicago has always seemed very distant to us,” says Pastor Milton Bost. But having a hometown girl serving as a missionary in the big city has changed things.

“I think Bryan and Marci are kind of pioneers for us,” Bost says.

Chatham has become heavily involved in the Cobles’ planting work 200 miles away. “Folks from Chatham came up to help us do this,” Bryan says on a rainy Saturday morning in April. A children’s playground in the center of their neighborhood is also the epicenter of their planting work. “(We) hand out flyers, hand out cookies, talk to people, build relationships.” The park is covered in people wearing green T-shirts declaring their love for the area.

“We want the community to know that we love them, we’re here to invest in them first and foremost,” Marci says.

The couple moved their two boys there last year—in time for the Cubs’ World Series win. They began surveying the city and seeking God’s direction. In the spring the Cobles bought a small condo in a pre-war three-floor building, and started meeting the neighbors—Hispanics, Anglos, and some Asian people. Their goal is to launch a Bible study, then a church, in the recreation building at the park.

“Chicago is a world city. It has high influence not just within the state of Illinois, but in the world,” Bryan says. “We need to be able to reach these people with the gospel. We do it in love, so that they will hopefully come to know Christ and be changed by the gospel. And the world with them.”

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offer and Week of Prayer September 10-17 at www.MissionIllinois.org.

Watch the video, “A Heart for the City.”