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Tale of two cities

I’ve visited Phoenix a few times over the years, but attending the Southern Baptist Convention there recently reminded me again how much it differs from cities here in the Midwest. Of course, it’s a city in the desert, a reality that’s evident even from the sky as one’s plane lands. That difference is even more noticeable as you first breathe the dry air, touch the hot pavement or sand, or simply realize that, at least in the summertime, the brown of Arizona bears little resemblance to the green of Illinois.

In the short walk from my hotel to the convention center each day, I also noticed many different cultural influences, from Native American and Hispanic to the Old West. I saw colorful jewelry, pottery, and clothing in the store windows, and pragmatic architecture spread low across the skyline, all reflecting the unique beauty of the desert.

It wasn’t long, however, before I also began seeing similarities between Phoenix and cities like Chicago. For example, there is great wealth alongside great poverty. There are busy freeways, and constant traffic, and countless people in a hurry. There are many faces that seem sad, or angry, or just empty as they go about their routines. And there are relatively few Baptist churches, or visible evidence of Christian hope.

I’m taking time to paint this picture of Phoenix because I hope that by the time our IBSA Annual Meeting rolls around this November, we may be ready to invite many Illinois Baptists to return there. Discussions with Arizona Baptist leaders during the convention revealed several opportunities for partnership.

For example, there are currently only three African American Southern Baptist churches in the Phoenix association, while Chicago has dozens. On the other hand, Arizona Southern Baptists have been particularly effective in suburban church planting, an area of great need in Chicagoland. We began to see that a complementary partnership between churches in our states, focused especially on church planting in these two “Send Cities” of North America, could give each of them a needed boost in reaching people with the gospel and establishing new Baptist churches.

We also discovered that there are numerous natural connections between the mission field residents of Chicago and Phoenix. For example, according to recent census data, Chicagoans move to Phoenix more than any other metropolitan area except Champaign, Illinois. In fact, more move to Phoenix than to New York, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Atlanta, or even Indianapolis, which round out the list of top relocation destinations. And while Phoenix is a much smaller city, more than half the number of people that move from Chicago to Phoenix each year also move the other way, from Phoenix to Chicago.

Many Chicagoans “snowbird” in Phoenix. And the fact that both the Cubs and White Sox hold their baseball spring training camps in the Phoenix area is just one factor that keeps the airports full of tourists as well as business travelers. In fact, one travel writer recently referred to Phoenix as “Chicago West,” and commented on the numerous pockets of Chicago culture that can now be found in the desert city.

So, the tale of these two cities isn’t over with the conclusion of this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, at least as far as Illinois Baptists and Arizona Baptists are concerned. We are discussing a more formal partnership, with vision trips in early 2018, facilitated mission trip opportunities next year, and the matchmaking of several church-to-church partnerships. If all goes as planned, our desert partners may even provide Illinois Baptists with a welcome, new experience—the winter mission trip.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at

Sandy WM outdoors

Sandy Wisdom-Martin during her tenure as IBSA’s women’s missions and ministries director.

The news spread quickly among Illinois Southern Baptists that one of their own daughters was named to serve as executive director/treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union, SBC. Sandy Wisdom-Martin, an Illinois native who grew up near the small southern Illinois town of Marissa, was unanimously elected by the WMU executive board at a special-called meeting July 29-30 in Birmingham, Ala.

“My commitment has always been to walk where God leads,” Wisdom-Martin said in a press release from National WMU, “yet this has been a difficult process because I am in a very good place. I love the assignment God has given us (in Texas). This certainly caught my family by surprise and was not a part of our plan, but we believe God is sovereign and all the details of our lives are in His hands. I trust Him completely for the future.”

In the release she said what excites her most about this opportunity is to put total trust in the Father, serve Him with reckless abandon and see where the adventure leads.

“I don’t do what I do because of my employment,” Wisdom-Martin continued “I do what I do because I believe in the restoration of brokenness through hope in Christ. Through WMU, the only reason we do what we do is because he is risen and we must tell the good news.”

Evelyn Tully, IBSA WMU Director from 1985-2000, told the Illinois Baptist, “I am thrilled beyond words in Sandy’s selection as Executive Director of WMU, SBC.  Her missions commitment, her ministry lifestyle, and her exemplary relationships have uniquely prepared her for this tremendous responsibility.  I know Illinois missions-minded women will be her strong prayer supporters.”

Wisdom-Martin was the first recipient of the Darla Lovell Scholarship from Illinois WMU while studying at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. While growing up she also served served on the state Acteens Panel, lead five Acteens Activator Teams, and was a seminary intern.

Wisdom-Martin served as IBSA women’s missions and ministries director from 2001-2010 before becoming executive director of WMU of Texas in 2010 through the present. While at IBSA she also served as president of Mississippi River Ministries and led the first international WMU Habitat for Humanity Team, which traveled to Ghana to build houses.

She and her husband Frank, who grew up in Sandwich, IL, are the parents of daughter Hannah.

Prior to coming to IBSA, she served as a Cooperative Program Missionary with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention from 1991-2001.

– Lisa Sergent with additional reporting from National WMU

Students at Youth Encounter 2014 huddle for prayer after a main session of the annual evangelism conference. Photo by Brooke Kicklighter

Students at Youth Encounter 2014 huddle for prayer after a main session of the annual evangelism conference. Photo by Brooke Kicklighter

HEARTLAND | Youth Encounter, the annual evangelism conference for junior high and high school students sponsored by the Illinois Baptist State Association, has a new look in 2015. Instead of one location, it’s in three. And the traditional post-Christmas date has been moved to October 11.

Changing patterns in youth culture and a decreasing number of attenders in recent years necessitated a re-launch of the Youth Encounter strategy, said Mark Emerson, IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Resources Team. Noting the event’s rich heritage among Illinois Baptists, he said, “We are working to allow more students to have access to this event, while at the same time renewing its evangelistic purpose.

“Youth Encounter is more than just a concert; it is an event where pastors and student leaders can bring lost students to hear the gospel presented with the opportunity to respond to Christ. Not only are we praying that more churches will be involved with Youth Encounter this year, we are praying that hundreds of students will give their lives to Jesus.”

YE 2015 will take place in three cities: Country Club Hills in Chicagoland, Decatur and Mt. Vernon. The conferences share a purpose—inspiring students toward deeper devotion to Christ—but will welcome different speakers and musical guests:

North | Hillcrest Baptist, Country Club Hills
Hip-hop artist and St. Louis native FLAME will return to Youth Encounter after making his YE debut in 2014. Joining him at the Chicagoland site are singer/songwriter V.Rose and performance artist Marc Eckel. IBSA pastors from the area will lead in teaching at the northern location.

Central | Tabernacle Baptist, Decatur
Evangelist Clayton King is the featured speaker in Central Illinois. Bands Seventh Time Down and Remedy Drive will lead students in worship, along with artist Andy Raines.

South | Another YE returning guest, 321 Improv, will bring their comedy act to the southern location, joined by worship artists Jordan and Jessa Anderson, Shuree Rivera and The Great Romance. Evangelist and Liberty University Senior Vice President David Nasser is the guest speaker.

Each YE conference is 3-10 p.m., with dinner included. Until October 9, the cost is $25 per participant for churches affiliated with IBSA, and $30 for all others. Cost is $30 at the door.

For more information about Youth Encounter or to register, go to

HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

Many Illinois Baptists know by now that Melissa Phillips, who was Associate Executive Director of IBSA’s Church Cooperation (Business) Team, went home to be with the Lord on July 2, almost a year after her initial cancer diagnosis.

Melissa was strong and determined, and she managed her initial months of chemo and radiation treatments so amazingly well that we all grew optimistic. And of course we were praying, diligently and daily (often wearing “Team Melissa” buttons). So her rapid health decline in June and then her passing have seemed sudden, especially to those who only saw her occasionally. For those of you just joining us in that grief, I am truly sorry for your loss, too.

Nate_Adams_July20Near the end of the movie, “The Last Samurai,” Tom Cruise’s character, Nathan Algren, travels to Tokyo to present the emperor with the sword of Samurai Lord Katsoumoto, who has just heroically given his life in battle. Somberly, the emperor says to Captain Algren, “Tell me how he died.” And with great respect and tear-filled eyes, Algren instead replies, “I will tell you how he lived.”

So let me write just a few words here about how Melissa Phillips lived. Melissa was one of the most loving, serving, capable professionals I have ever known. She was intelligent, intuitive, poised and articulate. I trusted her completely, and she brought the highest integrity and work ethic to every decision she made and every task she performed. She was often the first person at her desk in the morning, and the last to leave at night.

Melissa was 18 when she started at IBSA. It was just a few days after graduating from high school, and marrying her sweetheart Doug. As I said during her funeral service, in her 35 years at IBSA she not only trained a husband and two daughters, she trained six different executive directors. I am privileged to have been the most recent, and now the last.

Melissa was a reluctant executive, preferring to serve others and work behind the scenes for the good of IBSA, its churches and leaders. Yet she led well, and was strong and decisive when she needed to be, or when I needed her to be. Her moral compass and her wisdom were rooted deeply in her relationship to Jesus Christ and her understanding of God’s Word and his ways.

A few years ago, our son Caleb and Melissa’s daughter Laura got reacquainted at the annual IBSA family picnic. Talking led
to writing, and writing led to visits, and then a courtship led to marriage. So while Melissa has now gone on to be with the Lord, our families continue to be lovingly intertwined. And so in addition to all she gave me personally as a friend and staff member, through God’s providence she and Doug also gave us a daughter, one who seems to me to grow more like her mother every day.

As I watched hundreds of people patiently file through during the funeral visitation, and then pack every square foot of Springfield Southern Baptist Church for Melissa’s home-going service the next day, it became evident to me how many people loved and respected Melissa. The sentiment many expressed could be summed up by the question, “How can we go
on without her?”

This of course is the question Jesus’ disciples were asking themselves after his seemingly sudden death. Yet because Jesus then conquered death, and because he sent his Spirit to be present with us, and help us continue his example and his mission to the world, we find joy and purpose in moving forward, longing eagerly to see him again. How like Melissa to follow Jesus’ example, and leave those of us who loved and depended on her so much with that same wonderful assurance and hope.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Disaster Relief volunteers clean up tornado damage at Woodhaven Lakes Camping Resort in Sublette.

Disaster Relief volunteers clean up tornado damage at Woodhaven Lakes Camping Resort in Sublette.

HEARTLAND | IBSA Disaster Relief volunteers are busy serving and ministering at home in Illinois and on the east coast in July.

Disaster Relief chainsaw teams will continue their work next week at Woodhaven Lakes Camping Resort. On June 22 an EF-2 tornado tore through the private camping resort in Sublette, a community two hours west of Chicago.

Hundreds of downed trees and limbs still need to be cleared and removed from several properties.

Many residents don’t have insurance and those who do, have found the damage is not covered by their policy. “People were really overwhelmed,” shared Debbie Porter, a member of the FBC Galatia Chainsaw Team that served there from July 6-11. “They’ve greeted us with open arms and embraced us. They can’t believe we came to help for free.”

The FBC Galatia team was joined by chainsaw teams from Greater Wabash, Salem South, Sinnissippi, Three Rivers and Williamson Associations. The 50 volunteers completed 65 jobs while in Sublette.

Teams from Salem South and Three Rivers Associations will join with teams from FBC Harrisburg and Sullivan Southern July 20-25 to finish the work the previous teams started.

“Once you start a response it is always an extra blessing if you can finish it,” shared Rex Alexander, Illinois State Disaster Relief Coordinator. “We anticipate about 120 volunteers working together to bring help, healing, and hope to this community.” Alexander estimates at least 150 jobs remain to be completed.

Teams from Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee will bring bucket trucks, shower trailers and chainsaws next week to assist the Illinois teams. Lodging for volunteers will be provided by Northside Baptist in Dixon, Victory Baptist in Mendota, and FBC La Moille.

Alexander said the Illinois teams still need additional trained volunteers to help. “We could use some additional individuals to fill out some of our chainsaw teams, serve as chaplains, and serve as assessors,” he noted. “We could also use one or two more tractors and operators. Most jobs at Woodhaven involve cutting huge trees (sometimes on top of structures or tangled together). Moving these trees to the curb after they are cut up involves a significant amount of human labor. Teams with tractors, bobcats, or skid steers can accomplish the work much faster than teams without this heavy equipment.”

Meanwhile, IBSA Disaster Relief feeding teams are serving this week and next in Long Island, NY in support of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuild Ministry. Fifteen volunteers are feeding mission teams there to rebuild homes damaged by the hurricane, which devastated parts of New Jersey and New York in October 2012. The volunteers from churches around the state will serve through July 26.

If you are a trained IBSA Disaster Relief volunteer and would like to help at Woodhaven Lake Camping Resort in Sublette, e-mail Alexander at or call (217) 391-134.

Disaster relief call-outs are expensive with many teams coming from the southern part of the state and Alexander said any monetary donations would be appreciated. To donate online go to and click on the “Donate” link. Checks may be mailed to IBSA Disaster Relief, P.O. Box 19247, Springfield, IL 62794-6247.

If you would like to become an IBSA Disaster Relief volunteer, the next training opportunity is October 9-10 at Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp. Visit or call (217) 391-142 for more information.

Illinois Disaster Relief volunteers help clean a home in Colorado.

Illinois Disaster Relief volunteers help clean a home in Colorado.

HEARTLAND | Morgan Jackson

After severe storms swept across Northern Illinois June 22, several of the state’s Disaster Relief teams moved quickly to respond. By June 24, four volunteers were in Coal City to meet with homeowners and assess damage. More than 50 volunteers on chainsaw teams from Salem South, Capital City and Three Rivers Associations worked over the next few days while staying at First Baptist Church, Coal City.

On June 30, IBSA’s Disaster Relief Coordinator Rex Alexander got word of a new need in the community of Sublette, which was hit by a tornado on the same evening as Coal City.

“This area has been closed off to volunteers due to safety issues of gas leaks and electrical wires being down,” Alexander reported. “They are now opening up this area and requesting assistance for a large number of chainsaw jobs…” Alexander also was working to recruit assessors and chaplains to work in the area. The response was expected to begin Monday, July 6.

Outside Illinois, recent flooding in Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma  caused severe water damage in many communities. The first of several waves of ministry teams from Illinois arrived in Colorado June 15.

Don Ile, from Greater Wabash Association, was supposed to lead his team to Colorado Springs. But storm-related issues and a tornado forced them to Berthoud, about 50 miles from Denver.

Another Illinois team from Williamson Association, led by Jerry Cruse, was delayed in arrival. But after staying overnight in Kansas, they were able to get to Colorado and start work.

Before arriving, Ile said they didn’t know what to expect. “We’ve been told there are major water problems; they’ve had at least a couple tornadoes…possibly some chainsaw work and tree situations, but more flooding than anything. People are happy we’re coming. We just hope to accomplish what some of their needs are right now.”

After a couple days on the job, Cruse said, “Our team draws closer to God all the time as we’re helping people. We just pray others grow close to him too through seeing us work and our interactions.”

While taking a break, Ile described his current view: beautiful, snowcapped mountains to the west, sunshine, perfect weather. But a booming thunderstorm the night before was a poignant reminder to the team why they were there, despite the picturesque landscape.

Their first task involved moving a large amount of a homeowner’s belongings in order to strip all carpet on the lower level. They faced a number of problems: no dumpster, stopping the spread of mold, not being able to power wash.
Ile sounded in good spirits, though. “Every house has its own challenges, but we’re doing good, we’re getting there.”
Both teams said God was certainly good to them during their travels, and that their goal was to help as many families as possible during their time in Colorado.

For more information about Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief, go to

One of the first stops for Cassidy Winters and three other Transplant student mobilizers was an orientation session in the courtyard of a Chicago pie shop.

One of the first stops for Cassidy Winters and three other Transplant student mobilizers was an orientation session in the courtyard of a Chicago pie shop. Photo by Charles Campbell

HEARTLAND | Two groups of interns will work in Chicago this summer to assist church planters already on the ground, and to help outline the demographics of other neighborhoods in need of new churches.

Transplant, a summer initiative for students sponsored by IBSA, placed four “mobilizers” in various parts of Chicagoland in June, each paired with a church planter reaching out to people in the city or suburbs. Cassidy Winters said the mobilizers’ goal is to give their planters “more arms” to reach out in the community.

The college freshman from Edwardsville is serving alongside Dave and Kirsten Andreson, who are planting Resurrection City Church in Avondale on the city’s North Side. This is Winters’ second summer in Chicago. Last year, she admits, she didn’t know much about church planting. Shortly after her arrival, she remembers texting her mother something along the lines of, “I’m starting a church, Mom!”

This summer, Winters is helping the Andresons as they plant a church in a community of 40,000—and little evangelical presence. Growing up in her Christian home, Winters said, she “kind of got stuck in a Christian bubble…just not ever thinking about people who don’t love Jesus.” But in Chicago, there is a lot of hurt, and a lot of love is needed. Winters is helping the Andresons identify the projects they’ll tackle during ChicaGO Week, when teens from around the state come to Chicago for a week-long church planting practicum.

Cody Wilson is another student serving in the city this summer, along with a group a mobilizers recruited by the North American Mission Board for the Generation Send program. Instead of spending most of their time working with existing church plants, Gen Send-ers will develop a prospectus for a future planter who will start something new in a specific community.

Wilson, a student at Middle Tennessee State University, is serving in the Lakeview neighborhood and looking for what he calls “third spaces.” These are the coffeeshops, gyms, and arts programs where people hang out, and where a church planter might go to build relationships.

He had met a lot of people after just over two weeks in the city. “But it’s still obvious that in one of the busiest cities in the world…people are incredibly lonely and have very high walls and don’t let people in.”

In mid-June, team members joined Wilson, Winters and their fellow mobilizers to help further develop their prospectuses and projects. Their teams bring the total number of college students serving in Chicagoland through IBSA and NAMB to around 55 for the summer.

Look for more updates from Transplant and Generation Send interns, and a full report from ChicaGO Week, in the July and August issues of the Illinois Baptist.

HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

My work has always involved a fair amount of travel. And so early on, I discovered the value of joining various reward programs, where the airline or hotel chain or rental car company gives you a certain number of reward points each time you use their services. Those reward points can then be redeemed for free flights or stays or rentals.

Nate_Adams_June8I know many travelers actually choose the company with which they travel based on the reward points they are seeking to accumulate. That’s exactly the kind of loyalty the company is seeking to achieve with its program.

However, I’ve always felt that I should try to choose the least expensive option, whether using my employer’s travel funds or my own. So over the years, I’ve ended up joining multiple rewards programs, hoping to earn at least a few points, no matter what hotel or airline happens to be least expensive.

I think that’s why a certain television commercial caught my attention a few days ago. It was advertising a new rewards program, one that multiple companies of all different types were cooperating to sponsor. There were nationwide chains of supermarkets, gas stations, retailers, and insurance companies, as well as the option of earning points through online ordering. And not only could you earn points in these multiple ways, you could spend them in multiple places!

Now I’m not mentioning this program to endorse it or encourage anyone to try it. But I have to admit it was very attractive to someone like me, who wants to choose the best option for my employer or me, regardless of which company is providing the service. These individual companies had chosen to work together to provide rewards in ways that were more beneficial to me, their shared customer.

It then occurred to me that this is actually one of the reasons that I find our Southern Baptist Cooperative Program so attractive and compelling. What if individual SBC mission boards or ministries chose to compete with one another for my loyalty and support? What if I had to choose between state missions, North American missions, and international missions?
What if my missions dollar only “earned points” with one “service provider,” to the exclusion of the others?

Part of the genius and effectiveness of Cooperative Program missions is that it allows me to “earn points” in multiple mission fields and ministries, along with every other faithful giver in my church. A portion of each dollar I give through my church is set aside for the larger cause of SBC missions and ministries. And as those points are accumulated with the gifts of other
churches, they grow and can be “redeemed” through multiple service providers, not just one.

How many “points” for missions does your weekly giving through your church earn? If you don’t know, that’s a good question to ask your missions or finance committee, or your pastor. My home church designates 10% of its undesignated offerings for Cooperative Program missions. That means a dime out of every dollar I give each week earns multiple “rewards,” through the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, our six world-class seminaries, and, of course, right here in Illinois through IBSA.

I really like the title of that rewards program I saw on that TV commercial. They simply call it “Plenti.” The idea, I think, is that there are plenty of points to be earned, and plenty of service providers to provide plenty of benefits to plenty of customers. It’s not competition and scarcity, but rather cooperation and generosity that lead to plenty. It’s a truth that we as God’s people should model, especially through our missions giving. Cooperation is the pathway to plenty.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Letty and Luis Olmos of Iglesia Principe de Paz, Springfield, worship alongside other New Awakening Evangelism Conference attenders in Decatur.

Letty and Luis Olmos of Iglesia Principe de Paz, Springfield, worship
alongside other New Awakening Evangelism Conference attenders in Decatur.

Decatur, Ill. |
“I’ve seen God move,” said Baptist evangelism specialist Joel Southerland, “but I haven’t seen a movement of God in my lifetime.”

Spiritual revival and awakening—the kind of movement only God can bring—was the focus of IBSA’s New Awakening Evangelism Conference March 27-28 at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur.

At a time when baptisms and worship attendance are in decline in many churches, and culture seems to be moving farther from God, the need for awakening is real. A church—the Church—cannot revive itself, speakers emphasized during the conference. But some responsibility for revival does fall on Christians—to prepare for a movement of God, to be desperate for it, and to provide a verbal witness for the hope they have in him.

“Revival changes God’s people,” said Southeastern Seminary professor Alvin Reid. “When God shows up you are not the same.”

Evangelism_speakersOne of the major issues New Awakening speakers addressed is the declining number of young people Southern Baptist churches are reaching with the gospel. In 1972, there were 137,000 youth baptisms in Baptist churches, Reid said in a breakout on next generation ministry. Today, there are 70,000 or fewer per year.

“The real problem with that is that there are more teens today on the planet than there were in 1972,” said IBSA Evangelism Director Tim Sadler. “So, we’re reaching less, and there’s more of them.”

We haven’t seen a movement that touched young people since the “Jesus people” movement of the early 1970s, Reid said at the conference. That period of awakening was characterized by the Holy Spirit’s activity in and among churches—he was the main character in revival, just as he was in the Book of Acts.

“What about your ministry can only be explained as a Holy Spirit movement?” Reid asked. One man in the audience replied, “Yeah, git ‘er done!”

The same Holy Spirit that drew people in Acts 2 and in 1972 still draws people to God today, Sadler said. The gospel is the same, and the vehicle for communicating the message—the church—is the same. The issue is like someone once said, Sadler told the Illinois Baptist: “We don’t have a strategy problem, we have a sharing problem.”

But sharing the gospel is the calling of every Christian. “If you really know Jesus and He’s really changed you, try not to witness for ten years,” Reid challenged his breakout session audience in Decatur. “If you’re successful, come back and tell me what kind of Jesus you know.”

Make us desperate, Lord
If Christians haven’t seen a movement of God in their lifetimes, will they recognize it when it happens? In other words, when we talk about revival and awakening, what are looking for?

Sadler defines it this way:

“For me, a movement of God would be an extended period where the people of God are so moved by the presence and power of God, that they leave the confines of the church building, and they impact the city in such a way that God’s Spirit draws unbelievers to faith.”

It’s pervasive, he added, a turning of the spiritual tide. Undeniable. So why haven’t we seen it? Speakers at the New Awakening Conference outlined two possible reasons: “skill fade” in the area of evangelism, and a lack of desperation for revival.

Joel Southerland compared many church members and leaders to pilots who have lost their skills after relying too heavily for too long on autopilot. “Pilots are accustomed to watching things happen and reacting, instead of becoming proactive,” said Southerland, executive director for evangelism strategies at the North American Mission Board.

The church has fallen victim to the same phenomenon. “We have put our churches on autopilot” when it comes to evangelism, he said.

Dennis Nunn, founder of Every Believer a Witness Ministries, differentiated between the “come and see” evangelism model of the Old Testament, and the “go and tell” model in the New Testament.

“I believe we have come to accept what our church members will not do in evangelism because we have accepted the Old Testament approach,” said Nunn. Our witness will become less and less effective, he continued, because we think simply inviting people to church is evangelism.

And then there’s the matter of how much we want revival. The reason the Great Commission probably won’t be realized in our lifetime, Pastor Johnny Hunt said during the conference, is because we live for pleasure, not for the Word of God.

“Lord, forgive us,” said a conference attender from the Chicago suburbs, in response to Hunt’s words.

He continued, referencing Isaiah’s encounter in the temple: “It is not until you see God for who he is that you will see yourself for who you are and others for who they are,” and thus their need for God.

“We don’t witness because we haven’t seen God,” Hunt said. “We have not experienced revival because the church is not even close to desperate.”

Lord, forgive us.

God’s people are desperate for revival, Sadler said, when nothing but God will do; when we stop compartmentalizing our lives into church and work and family and hobbies, and let God be God over all of it.

“We need God to superintend every aspect of our lives,” he said. “It’s like Ephesians 3, where Paul prays that they would experience the fullness of Christ [and] be filled with his presence, so that it spills over into every aspect of our lives. So that we see our neighborhood differently.

“It’s our mission field.”

Reported by Lisa Sergent and Eric Reed for the Illinois Baptist newspaper

Haiti, at last

Meredith Flynn —  April 24, 2015

Texas youngster visits the school she —and Illinois mission teams—helped build

After four years of prayer and giving, it was all hugs and smiles as Mackenzie (right) visited a community school in Bigarade that her missions giving helped build.

After four years of prayer and giving, it was all hugs and smiles as Mackenzie (right) visited a community school in Bigarade that her missions giving helped build. Photo by Bob Elmore

Bigarade, Haiti | Several years ago, this community in Port-au-Prince was just a flood plain. Now, more than a hundred
homes dot the landscape, and children run down the dirt roads to their very own school.

Recently, there was a new face at the school, though one who’s very familiar with its story. At nine years old, Mackenzie Howell has been working to renew hope in Haiti since 2011, when she saw a documentary about the devastating earthquake that rocked the country the previous year.

Four years after she started raising money to help kids and families there, Mackenzie visited Bigarade and the school she helped build. “Seeing the kids” was what she looked forward to most before the trip, and was also her favorite part of being in Haiti, she told the Illinois Baptist.

“She really does care about this,” said Mackenzie’s mom, Alison, who also went along on the trip led by IBSA’s Bob Elmore. The Howells, who are from Nederland, Texas, met Elmore through International Mission Board missionaries working in Haiti
after the earthquake. Mackenzie sent her first donation—$1,400 raised through a coin drive at her preschool and a bake sale at church—to the missionaries to help with construction projects. They connected her with Elmore, who facilitates IBSA’s short-term mission teams in Haiti.

First she had a bake sale. Then, in 2013, the Texas girl wrote a book to help children in Haiti. File photo

In 2013, Mackenzie wrote a book to help children in Haiti. File photo

Since her first project, Mackenzie has raised more money with several other initiatives, including sales of “Leila’s Big Difference,” the book she wrote and published in 2013. Elmore, several teams of volunteers, and Haitian workers have turned Mackenzie’s gifts, along with other donations and resources, into a school for more than 100 children in Bigarade.

Instant community
The school property was vacant in November of 2011, when Elmore first saw it. “It was a goat field then…we just kind of wrote it off,” he said.

When he returned the next spring, a local Christian man named Thomas had gotten permission to put up a tarp and bamboo school on the site. People on Elmore’s mission team were asking, “What can we do?”

That fall, after receiving an anonymous donation to purchase the land, Elmore took a team to Bigarade to start construction on the school. At least eight Illinois churches and associations helped with the project. The facility now doubles as Gosen Church.

Bigarade is an “instant community,” Elmore said, a product of the earthquake that drove people from where they were and forced them into new living situations. Before the school was built, kids were either walking to another community or not going to school at all.

Mackenzie's mission team prepared lunch for kids at the school in Bigarade.

Mackenzie’s mission team prepared lunch for kids at the school in Bigarade.

Working in the school was one of the main objectives for Mackenzie and her team. They came prepared to do a two-hour
lesson each day with crafts, and to provide lunch for the kids on three days.

“Our ultimate goal is to start a feeding program where the kids can have lunch every day,” Alison said a few days before her
team left for Haiti. It just seems like something God would want them to do, she said, to feed his children. The team took with them enough money to start construction on a kitchen for the school, and also a classroom for the youngest students.

Thomas, who put the early school on the property, is now headmaster, and students arrive every morning in blue and white uniforms. Once a goat pasture, the school now employs seven teachers, and has 114 students. The feeding program will employ two or three cooks and purchase food from local sources, Elmore said.

On a recent mission trip to Haiti, Mackenzie Howell, 9, worshiped in the church she helped build after a massive earthquake.

On a recent mission trip to Haiti, Mackenzie Howell, 9, worshiped in the church she helped build after a massive earthquake. Photo by Mary Russell

Complete God
“Why don’t we dance at church, Mom?” That was Mackenzie’s question after her first Haitian church service, where lively singing and dancing was a big part of the worship experience. (Alison’s response: “I don’t know; why don’t you talk to the pastor about that one?”)

“…It was such a blessing to watch her,” Alison said of her daughter during the trip. “She really grew throughout the week.” And Mackenzie’s not finished with Haiti, not by a long shot. She wants to go back—soon. And she’s planning a second book.

“It’s going to be about Leila [meeting] a white girl that came from the U.S. to visit her school and help out with the school and do crafts and stuff, kind of like how I did.”

Recently, she shared about Haiti with kids in her church’s Awana program. Mackenzie’s grandmother, who also was part of the March trip, came out of the room crying, Alison remembered.

“Whatever you do, don’t practice with her,” was the grandmother’s advice for Mackenzie’s future speaking engagements. “…She had them laughing and crying,” Alison said. “It’s because it really does come from her heart.”

In Haiti, Mackenzie taught her new friends a dance she had choreographed in honor of their country to a song with special meaning there, “I Am Not Forgotten.” Watching, Alison said, “It was just such a beautiful picture of how complete God is.”

“So many times, we give to missions or do this and that…but we don’t always get to see the fruits. I just continuously thank God that’s he’s allowed us to see so much of the fruit of his work.”

Reported by Meredith Flynn for the Illinois Baptist newspaper, online at

Click through the slideshow below for more photos from Mackenzie’s trip to Haiti. Photos are by Bob Elmore and Mary Russell, Mackenzie’s grandmother.

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