Archives For Missions

Families take an all-in approach to community transformation

Rodriguez Family

In one of their city’s most dangerous neighborhoods, the Rodriguez family is advancing the gospel by building relationships and trusting God to work.

On a family prayer walk, Edgar Rodriguez helped his children see their neighborhood in a new light. The pastor of New City Fellowship in Chicago’s Humboldt Park asked his kids what they saw as they walked.

“Our oldest said, ‘I see children,’” Edgar said. His response: “This is your mission right here.”

In the second-deadliest neighborhood in Chicago, Edgar and his wife, Sonia, are raising their seven children to play an integral role in transforming their community by sharing—and living— the gospel.

They’ve heard the questions about living in a dangerous place, Edgar said. “Why don’t you move out of there?”

“We believe that we have the solution to change their hearts, which is Jesus. Everything else is going to fall short,” said the church planter who launched New City Fellowship three years ago.

“We can’t leave.”

Sonia says, “If I’m giving my children the gospel, and they can give the gospel to another child, why wouldn’t I train them up for other people in the neighborhood to possibly know Christ?”

Life together
Edgar didn’t want to go back to his old neighborhood to plant a church. He was frustrated with the people—“his own people,” he said. Humboldt Park is undergoing gentrification, meaning coffee shops are popping up, along with more expensive housing. And a new demographic—hipsters—are joining large African-American and Hispanic populations.

Spiritually, though, religious tradition still had more influence than culture-impacting gospel ministry. But the couple sensed God was moving them back to the neighborhood where they both spent at least part of their childhoods.

“God, forgive me for being like Jonah,” Edgar remembers praying.

“We knew the mess that existed, but through prayer and counsel and things of that nature, we just kept telling one another that it makes sense. If the darkness in this neighborhood is what it is, and we’re light, it’s actually kind of foolish and cowardice to leave it like it is.”

Three years ago, the Rodriguezes started New City Fellowship in their apartment. Once they outgrew the space, they moved into the Humboldt Park headquarters of the Chicago Metro Baptist Association.

Planting a church in a tough neighborhood has its challenges, especially when you open your own home like the Rodriguezes have tried to do. They’ve invited drug addicts and dealers to share meals at their table. When a former friend reached out for help and a place to stay, they let him live with them for a while. That particular encounter resulted in Edgar sustaining a blow to the head when the man threw his phone at him in anger.

Months later, Edgar saw the man again. He walked up to him and reached out his arms. “Who would I be if I would not extend to you what Jesus extended to me?” the pastor explains now.

As they engage their neighbors, the couple exercises wisdom when it comes to protecting their children, but they say total security is an unreachable goal. They move forward holding out the gospel, and trusting God to work.

“Even at my best as a husband, as a father, as a protector, I can’t bullet-proof my family,” Edgar says. “When you look at Scripture, God didn’t avoid putting his people in the world. He gave his son knowing what he was going to face.”

New City Fellowship meets on Sunday for worship, but the church also gathers several times during the week for Bible study and meals together. It’s an approach they call “life on life,” which Edgar admits sounds a little cliché, even to them. But it’s a way to describe how they’re trying to integrate gospel-centered community into the everyday rhythms of life—eating, shopping, laundry, etc. What can their small group of Christians do together, so that the gospel goes forward as they disciple each other?

Some people would say it’s too much, Edgar says, and it could be, if you’re going out of your way. But the things their church does together, they’re already doing.
“It’s not a burden for us, and it’s not too much for us. And other families are starting to realize, ‘I need this.’”

The Marshes

The Marshes of Macon are renovating an old church building to create a gathering space for their neighbors.

Opening their doors
Marsh church renovationIn a small community three hours from Humboldt Park, Alan and Marie Marsh are creating a permanent space to welcome their neighbors. When the Marshes moved to Macon, just south of Decatur, they didn’t settle in a traditional house. Instead, they purchased a century-old church building they plan to transform into a community center.

“We believe that wherever the Lord puts us is where we need to reach out,” said Marie, who, as a baker and artist, has big plans for the former Presbyterian church that sits in a neighborhood of quaint homes.

The Marshes live in an office/classroom wing that was added to the original sanctuary, and the family uses the sanctuary to host a “life group” of people from their church, Tabernacle Baptist in Decatur. Eventually, the space could include a library, coffee shop, and other spaces for people in Macon to come together and, as Marie put it, take a little break from their world.

“One thing that I feel like I’ve learned throughout the years is that there are hurting people everywhere,” she says. People might not want to walk into a church they’re new to, but her family can offer their neighbors a place to sit and read and relax. “I look at that as kind of our ministry,” Marie says. “They can walk in the door and they’re going to be loved.”

The Marshes share the space with daughters Grace, 12, and KatieAnn, 22, both of whom are invested in their parents’ outreach to the community. KatieAnn “is the one that goes all in when there’s an outreach that I’m a part of,” Marie says, “like helping with Grace or making, decorating, and packaging 600 cupcakes for our church’s Easter outreach. She has a giving heart that doesn’t stop.”

Sixth grader Grace also plays a key role in building relationships. She was the Marshes first foster child placement, and the couple adopted her when she was three. “To her, there’s no such thing as a stranger,” Marie says of her daughter.

Because the Marshes have fostered several children during her lifetime, Grace is accustomed to people coming and going. “And now when children come into her life, they’re her immediate friends. She welcomes them,” Marie says. “Her role is just to be herself.”

Macon is a small community, and quiet—except on the school bus Marie drives, she jokes. When the Marshes moved to Illinois, she homeschooled Grace. Once she enrolled in public school last fall, Marie got her bus license and a job as a route driver. The job has given her an opportunity to meet families in town.

It’s Marie’s own history as a child in need of a home that motivates her and her family to reach out to others with similar needs.

“I looked at it as people opening up their home for me,” she says of her years as a foster kid, “so opening up my home to someone else is a way for me to give back to God.” Her voice breaks when she acknowledges, “You can’t repay, except to do unto others as it was done unto you in that sense.”

The Marshes are taking the long view of renovating their new home and future community gathering place. They envision family movie nights, craft sessions, and maybe a place for a church to hold a worship service again. For now, their mission is to be open to the possibilities.

“We invest in people’s lives,” Marie says. “And how we do that is just by opening up our lives and our doors to them.”

-Meredith Flynn

Growing up, letting go

ib2newseditor —  April 5, 2018

Growing up“I have to go to work.”

The 2-year-old in our house pushes her hair away from her face, shoulders a miniature pink backpack, and starts trudging to the back door.

“Don’t go!” we say. “Stay here with us. It’s almost time for dinner.”

She replies, dutifully, “No. I have to go.”

She’s growing up—fast. And she’s not the only one. Everywhere you look, young people are taking on big responsibilities previously reserved for people older than they are. High schoolers take college courses. Tweens have detailed social calendars, and the mobile devices to manage them. There is a 6-year-old who made $11 million last year marketing toys on YouTube.

Some kids are tackling the most pressing issues of our day, the most recent example being the Florida teens campaigning for an end to school violence like the shooting that devastated their community earlier this year.

As an adult, especially as a parent, it’s easy to want to lock the doors, pull down the shades, and resolve to just make life work inside our house for the next 15 years.

At Children’s Missions Day this month, I saw evidence that many parents aren’t parenting like that. Hundreds of mini-missionaries worked in 16 locations across Illinois, baking cookies, tending yards, delivering care packages, and visiting nursing homes—all in the name of sharing God’s love with people who might need to hear about it.

My 2-year-old went with me to take photos at one of the sites that day, and I watched her watch the older kids. On the way home, I heard her voice from the backseat: “When I get older and bigger, can I do projects?”

Her question begs an answer—and a commitment—from her parents. To let her grow up and exercise the faith we pray she’ll make her own one day. To trust that God has a plan for her life that may include going somewhere we’ve not been, and can’t go along.
In a scary world, it’s a heavy commitment. We have time to get used to the idea, but not as much as we once did. They’re growing up fast.

The Briefing

‘Great Commission’ lacks great understanding among churchgoers
51% of churchgoers say they haven’t heard of the Great Commission, according to new research from Barna that also shows only 17% say they know the meaning of the Scripture passage where Jesus tells his followers to make disciples of all nations. But the data doesn’t necessarily mean people aren’t sharing their faith, say the researchers.

“The data indicates that churches are using the phrase less, which may reveal a lack of prioritizing or focusing on the work of the Great Commission, but may also indicate that the phrase, rather than the scriptures or the labor, has simply fallen out of favor with some.”

FBC Sutherland Springs set to rebuild
The church massacred by a gunman’s attack last November will launch a new building project in May with the “primary goal…to lift Jesus up in the community,” said Frank Pomeroy, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The North American Mission Board, a missions agency of the Southern Baptist Convention, will accept donations for the project and cover any remaining costs for the construction of the church’s new worship center and education building, Baptist Press reports.

SBC Executive Committee calls meeting to address leadership transition
Following Frank Page’s exit as president of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, Baptist Press reports the entity’s chairman has called a special meeting April 17 whereExecutive Committee members will have the opportunity to discuss interim leadership matters and elect a presidential search committee. Page announced his retirement from active ministry March 27, citing a “personal failure.”

University event aims to combat ‘Christian Privilege’
Just four days after Easter, George Washington University will host a training session for students and faculty that teaches that Christians — especially white ones — “receive unmerited perks from institutions and systems all across our country.” The April 5 diversity workshop is titled “Christian Privilege: But Our Founding Fathers Were All Christian, Right?!”

Churches trending—slowly—toward diversity
The vast majority of Protestant pastors say their churches are still composed predominantly of one racial or ethnic group, according to data from LifeWay Research. But the percentage is lower than four years ago.

Sources: Barna Research, Baptist Press (2), The College Fix, LifeWay Research

 

 

 

PA-33C-3

By Eric Reed, Church Communication Team

Pioneering Spirit logoThank you for accepting the Pioneering Spirit challenge to “Make New Sacrifices.” This commitment is about doing whatever it takes to advance the gospel through missions. Specifically, it’s a commitment to increase missions giving through the Cooperative Program.

After signing up, one Illinois pastor shared the challenge with his church. In recent years the church had faced some financial difficulties, and the result had been cuts in CP giving. When he shared the challenge with them, the church agreed to double their CP giving from 3% of undesignated offerings to 6%, with a pledge to raise it by 1% each year until they reach 10%.

For churches on tight budgets (and aren’t we all!), that represents sacrifice. But when the pastor made need known, the church rose to the call.

April 8 is Cooperative Program Sunday. That Sunday, or any Sunday in April, will be a good time to start making the need known: 8 million or more people in Illinois do not know Jesus, 5 billion worldwide are lost. And Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program is the most effective channel for sending missionaries and sharing Christ.

Encouragers: As you get started “making new sacrifices,” consider these ways to encourage your church:

  • Awareness of the need
  • Ability to make a difference
  • Actual stories through personal testimony and videos
  • Aspiration to greater service.

We’ll cover these topics in future newsletters. In the meantime, please think about how you will bring the need for sacrificial giving through CP before your church monthly, starting in April. Call on me, if we can help.

And if your church hasn’t made this commitment, please pray about it. God blesses those who support missions (Phil. 4:19).

Downloadable resources:

Meet Southern Baptists

Mission Illinois Bulletin Insert

Annual Report video

CP Rant video 2

PS banner

Just three months into the new year, 115 churches have accepted the Pioneering Spirit Challenge. That’s more than halfway to IBSA’s 2018 goal of 200 or more churches. But for those churches—and for all of us—the work is just beginning.

The Pioneering Spirit Challenge, timed to coincide with Illinois’ bicentennial year, seeks to bring frontier fortitude to Baptist work today. Our forebears lived in trying times, meeting danger head-on, and forging a new state. Many of them brought solid Christian faith to the hard-won territory, and many of those first Illinoisans were Baptists.

If the concepts of wilderness, lostness, and battle seem familiar, it’s because they describe our spiritual frontier today—200 years later.

“It will take as much courage for today’s believers to bring the gospel to the millions in our cities, suburbs, and crossroads communities as it did for first founders to carve out those communities starting at the time of statehood,” said Van Kicklighter, IBSA’s associate executive director for church planting. “Winning over wilderness has gotten no easier in 200 years.”

“We have been encouraged by how many pastors and churches are taking this commitment—and the critical challenge to advance the gospel in our perilous times—seriously.”

Against the reality of at least 8 million lost people in Illinois, Pioneering Spirit engages IBSA churches in church planting, baptisms, missions giving, and leadership development.

Kicklighter and his team have identified 200 locations in Illinois in need of an evangelical church. So far, 82 churches have accepted the challenge to “Go new places,” praying for or partnering with a new church plant.

In addition, 111 churches have said they will “Engage new people,” taking steps to increase their church’s annual baptisms. The “One GRAND Sunday” emphasis on April 8, encourage 1,000 baptisms statewide, is one aspect of this “engagement.” It is led by Pat Pajak, associate executive director for evangelism.

Another 66 churches said they will “Make new sacrifices,” by increasing missions giving through the Cooperative Program. And 111 churches will “Develop new leaders,” preparing tomorrow’s pastors, missionaries, and church leaders to continue the work in the decades ahead.

In all, 115 churches accepted one or more of the challenges since the Pioneering Spirit initiative was announced at the IBSA Annual Meeting in November.

“We have been encouraged by how many pastors and churches are taking this commitment—and the critical challenge to advance the gospel in our perilous times—seriously,” said Kicklighter.

One example in the church planting area: Community Southern Baptist Church in Clay City has taken on the challenge of planting a church in Carroll County. That is one of 10 counties in Illinois with no Southern Baptist congregation. Pastor David Starr told Kicklighter that his church began praying about making the commitment after seeing IBSA’s “blue map” that illustrates lostness in the state.

To learn more about the four Pioneering Spirit challenges, and to register your own church’s commitment to one or more of them, visit PioneeringSpirit.org. Together, we will –

  • Go new places – praying for or partnering with a new church plant
  • Engage new people – taking steps to increase your church’s annual baptisms
  • Make new sacrifices – increasing missions giving through the Cooperative Program
  • Develop new leaders – preparing tomorrow’s pastors, missionaries, and church leaders

– Eric Reed

The Briefing

Moody Bible Institute affirms biblical inerrancy
In wake of allegations that not all its faculty affirm biblical inerrancy, the Moody Bible Institute (MBI) took a step to define and strengthen its position on inerrancy, and to hold its faculty accountable. In an e-mail to faculty and alumni, the institute announced it is adopting the Short Statement of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, as well as its Articles of Affirmation and Denial. The institute further stated that all faculty will be required to sign an affirmation of the Chicago Statement as a condition of employment beginning with the 2018-2019 academic year.

The end of international adoption?
New regulations and a $500 monitoring and oversight fee for adoptive families announced by the U.S. State Department in February could spell the end of intercountry adoptions in the United States, according to adoption advocates. Most agencies, or adoption service providers (ASPs), believe their costs to attain accreditation every four years will triple under the new schedule of fees. But the costs are not the main concern, according to Daniel Nehrbass, president of Nightlight Christian Adoptions. In requiring the new fees, he said, adoption agencies are being forced to buy the rope that will be used to hang them.

‘Pronouns matter’: Georgia college suggests ‘ne’ and ‘ve’ as gender-neutral words
The LGBT Resource Center at a Georgia college may want to pay a visit to the English department after a new controversial pamphlet lists several gender pronouns as “ne,” “ve,” and “ey.” The words are featured in a pamphlet titled “Pronouns Matter: A guide to using gender neutral pronouns” that administrators handed out in Kennesaw State University’s Student Center Tuesday, as reported by CampusReform.org.

LGBT advocates threaten to kill pastor over Bible workshop
A pastor of a Detroit-area church along with his family have received death threats, arson threats, and bomb threats from LGBT advocates after advertising a Bible-based workshop for teenage girls struggling with their sexual identity. The six-week workshop for girls 12-16 — which was canceled due to a planned protest by LGBT advocates — was promoted as “a safe place for teenage girls to learn what the Bible teaches about sexuality.” FORGE Ministries designed it “for those struggling with the thoughts that they are Trans – Bi – Gay – or other.”

IL couple featured in Annie Armstrong Week of Prayer
Kempton Turner and his wife, Caryn, have dedicated their lives to helping restore hope in East St. Louis, an area known for gangs, drugs, and staggeringly high murder rates. Their church plant, City of Joy Fellowship, focuses its ministry on the tough inner city where Kempton endured his own struggles growing up, including never knowing his biological mother.

Sources: Julie Roys, World Magazine, Fox News, Life Site News, Annie Armstrong

Kempton Turner

Former East St. Louis resident returns to plant a new church

Editor’s note: Kempton and Caryn Turner are two of the missionaries featured in the 2018 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and Week of Prayer for North American Missions. The annual offering, collected in many IBSA churches this spring, supports missionaries appointed by the North American Mission Board.

East St. Louis | Kempton Turner grew up on the same streets where he now serves as a church planting missionary and pastor.

“Because I was raised here, I’ve got a real heart for the people,” says Turner (pictured above left, with youth director Zach Chike). He launched City of Joy Fellowship in East St. Louis in September 2016. “It’s a small city. It’s a dangerous, poor place, 85% fatherlessness. The houses, the buildings, and the roads show the desperate place that East St. Louis is in. The people know struggle.”

In East St. Louis, buildings sit abandoned. The public library, the McDonald’s Turner visited as a child, family-owned restaurants—all closed now. Though the decline in population started more than 100 years ago with an infamous race riot, recent years have seen the numbers dwindle from around 60,000 to 26,000.

“Jobs and police officers have left this city,” says Turner. “Downtown is kind of like a ghost town, but it’s ripe for the gospel. The Lord hasn’t forgotten this city.”

Faith on the rise
It is 6 a.m. and a group of men from City of Joy Fellowship are up before the sun, worshiping with an acoustic guitar. Says Turner, “As the psalmist looked around at the tragic condition of the people in his city, it appeared as though God was unaware, inactive, or asleep. So, he prays, ‘Arise, O Lord.’  “Likewise, we cry out in one way or another every Wednesday morning.”

The prayers ring out over a people facing poverty, gang violence, environmental contamination, and continued decline. Turner, his wife, Caryn, and their five children believe that change is possible. They are working side by side with other believers to show their neighbors that love is real and hope is alive.

Recognizing that teenagers here are in need of community and a safe place to gather, Turner and the team at City of Joy host a youth night on Tuesdays where they train young people how to serve others and hold down a job. The church also goes to the places where youth already gather during the week—schools and community centers—to establish consistency. Their desire is to show teens that they care and are invested in their well-being and future.

Turner names a long list of men and women who have moved to the area to help with the youth: Matt and Hannah, who moved their young family from Missouri; Staricia, who came from Indiana to work in the school system; Lydia, a nurse who has a heart for young people; Joel, a skilled basketball player and coach who uses the sport to connect with the youth; and Zach, who started a Bible study for the youth in his home that has already outgrown the space. The list goes on and on.

“These precious believers are a picture of Jesus, coming out of comfortable suburbs, moving into the heart of a 99.9% African-American city with danger, poverty, and fatherlessness,” Turner says. “They’re moving because Jesus is sending them as a reflection of his heart for this city, and God is blessing their efforts. It’s amazing.”

Building the future
Home renovation is another practical way City of Joy is connecting with their community. Hammers and nails, primer and paint—these are the tools that are allowing believers to build a relationship with people who live near the church.

“All we need is a way to start a conversation,” says Turner. He is training the members to intersect with nonbelievers, meet needs, and share their personal stories of redemption.
Dubbed R3, the outreach ministry is focused on community development, house restoration, business restoration, and employment. The goal is to work corner by corner and house by house throughout the city until each square foot has been covered in both repairs and improvements, as well as prayer.

In their business revitalization program, they work on providing local businesses with the resources to launch or relaunch. They also strive to connect young men and women from the youth program with job opportunities in these local businesses as a way to benefit the local economy and foster a sense of community.

As more people come to know Christ, City of Joy is celebrating more baptisms. And it all started with a very special one that healed a broken relationship from the past. Turner says, “The first baptism at the church was my birth mother who did not raise me. Praise the Lord!”

Indeed, the church is appropriately named. With prayers, planning, and consistent efforts, they are working toward bringing that same kind of joy into every home in East St. Louis. They want people to not only remember this place but to invest in it.

“Some of the neediest places in America are in the inner city,” Turner says. “We’re excited to join the momentum of what God is already doing in this city with so much potential. Acts 8:8—that’s our hope and prayer for East St. Louis: that the Lord will fill the city with joy.”

Turner explains that they are praying for the Lord of the Harvest to send more laborers. The vision for change is great—and so is the need for ministry partners.

“Psalm 127 says, ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it,’” Turner noted. “And so, the Lord is the builder. The church is not about bricks and mortar and boards. He redeems his people and puts them in front of others in houses, on street corners, in Sunday school classes and in large- and small-group gatherings.

The Lord builds his people through the Word. And our vision is that the Word of God would so transform East St. Louis that multitudes of souls are saved and established in faith, families are restored, children can have a mom and dad in their house again, prevailing cultural brokenness—like drug addiction and gang violence—would be healed, and churches would be started near and far.

“Our house renovation ministry is just a small echo of the thunderclap of spiritual renovation that we see God doing,” Turner said, “one soul, one house, one block at a time in my hometown.”

– North American Mission Board

The official date for the annual Week of Prayer is the first Sunday in March through the second Sunday in March. Your church can choose this date or another time during the Easter season to participate. Learn more at www.AnnieArmstrong.com.