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AAEO Day 8 — Winning souls in Arizona
Mickey Noah, North American Mission Board
March 14, 2010
8 MIN READ TIME

AAEO Day 8 — Winning souls in Arizona

AAEO Day 8 — Winning souls in Arizona
Mickey Noah, North American Mission Board
March 14, 2010

As a Southern Baptist pastor

for the last 30 years — and as a North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary

for the past six — Louis Spears has conducted many a funeral. But none of

them prepared him for the long, lonely walk behind his wife’s casket almost two

years ago.

A native of Guthrie, Okla.,

Spears and his wife, Shelley, had been married for 32 years — ever since they

were both 20-year-old church planters in Oklahoma. But in May 2008, she

succumbed to a pancreas-related illness only 11 days after its sudden onset.

“Shelley was an incredible

person, a woman of many talents,” says Spears. “The main thing I miss

about Shelley — other than just being together as not only my spouse but also

my best friend — is the amount of prayer-time she spent on my

ministry. She was really my partner in ministry. It’s a huge loss and

huge gap in my life.”

Spears’ strong,

tried-and-true personal faith prevented him from caving in to the temptation of

chucking his whole ministry and blaming God in the process.

Photo by Greg Schneider

Garden Place House Church meets on Monday nights at Garden Place Apartments in Mesa, Ariz. Shown here, NAMB Week of Prayer missionary and church planter Louis Spears leads a youth Bible study. See video.

“I never thought about

blaming God. I was not mad at God. The worst thing was being totally

cut off from Shelley, missing her encouragement and positive reinforcement.”

Still after almost two

years, the 54-year-old missionary said the grief is still “like big ocean waves

that just swell up over you and you can’t fight them, but you know the Lord is

the Lord, that He is supreme, and that in His design, He had a purpose for it.

“I can’t see it and I don’t

understand it but I really don’t argue with Him about it. I really tried

during Shelley’s 11-day crisis and through the last year to live my life

without regrets. I didn’t leave anything undone or unsaid,” said Spears,

who has a 24-year-old daughter, Amy, one grandchild and another on the way.

Spears is one of some 5,300

missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by

the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® for North American Missions. He is

among the North American Mission Board missionaries featured as part of the

annual Week of Prayer, March 7-14, 2010. This year’s theme is “Live with

Urgency: Share God’s Transforming Power.” The 2010 Annie Armstrong Easter

Offering’s goal is $70 million, 100 percent of which benefits missionaries like

Spears.

While no one or nothing can

ever replace the vacuum in his life caused by Shelley’s death, Spears depends

on his challenging missionary work in Arizona to take up some of the slack,

ease the pain and bring new victories.

With an estimated 71 percent

of Arizona residents as unbelievers, Spears, a church planting strategist with

the Valley Rim Baptist Association, faces a huge challenge. In addition to

Mesa, the association serves 50 churches and missions in the Tempe, Scottsdale,

Chandler and Gilbert areas of metro Phoenix.

Because land and buildings

are so expensive in the greater Phoenix area, Spears focuses on planting

“tactical” churches instead of brick-and-mortar churches, which can financially

strap a congregation with huge indebtedness in its infancy and make survival

more difficult.

“Tactical churches are

collections of people who have not been reached before,” Spears

explains. “We try to target an area where the Kingdom of God hasn’t been

before. Some may be apartment complexes, mobile home parks, house churches

or just a gathering of people at a Starbuck’s.”

According to Spears, the

Phoenix area is the 12th largest metro area in the United States.

“We’re in a

vast multicultural setting. We have a lot of unchurched, unsaved

individuals.

“We’re way behind on the

number of churches we need in order to impact these individuals’ lives. We have

only one church for every 23,000 people in Arizona. Since we don’t have many

churches that run 23,000 every week, it’s vital for us to have funds to do

evangelistic outreach, buy Bibles and other resources to help posture the

churches we do have.”

Photo by Greg Schneider

North American Mission Board Week of Prayer missionary Louis Spears, Mesa, Ariz., did not let the tragic, sudden death in 2008 of his wife of 32 years, Shelley, sidetrack his ministry to multihousing residents and “gypsies” in the greater Phoenix, Ariz., area. See video.

Evangelical Christians — of

which Southern Baptists represent the largest group — only represent two

percent of the state’s population, trailing Catholics and Mormons.

“We have some churches that

are in senior adult communities. We have multi-ethnic churches like Native

American, Filipino and African-American churches. We have a large Spanish-speaking

population. Over 35 percent of the people in Arizona speak Spanish.”

On top of the diversity, the

uncertainty in the Phoenix area housing market is driving people to

multihousing developments — whether apartments, townhouses, condominium

communities or mobile home parks.

“Statistics show that only a

small percentage of those people will ever come out and go to anyone’s church,

so we believe it’s important to take church to them,” says Spears.

Spears begins by meeting a

multihousing development’s property managers — to get in from the ground up and

establish good working relationships.

“We begin by asking the

managers what their needs are,” he said. “We try not to assume that we know the

industry better than the people who work in it. Most apartment communities

know how to evict people, know how to charge the rent, know how to handle air

conditioning problems and pest control. But what they don’t understand is the

human element.

“They lose money every time

somebody moves so by building a ministry and a partnership with them, it helps

to build a sense of community. The people are more likely to stay,” Spears

said.

To assist both the property

managers and the tenants themselves, Spears and his team do things like forming

kid’s clubs in the afternoon to give them a place to go and something

meaningful to do. They often provide lunch to latch-key children, who are on a

break from school and whose parents work. Afternoon soccer games are offered.

Summer sports camps via mobile trailers can be deployed to various multihousing

communities.

An offshoot of Spears work

with multihousing communities was his introduction to the Travelers, the

substantial “gypsy” culture and population of Arizona.

Spears says outsiders like

him are usually not successful at trying to approach and penetrate the closed

gypsy culture. “American gypsies actually discovered me and began to attend our

church in Mesa,” he explains. “Eventually, I was accepted into their

fascinating culture.”

The gypsy mission field is a

natural extension of Spears’ missions work in multihousing since so many

gypsies travel in RVs and live in mobile home parks throughout southern Arizona

because of the area’s warmer winters.

“People who give through the

Annie Armstrong Easter Offering help supply a base of church planters and allow

them to have a living while they’re beginning to build new congregations,” said

Spears.

“Without the Annie Armstrong

offering, I would be able to devote only a fraction of the time to tactical

church plants, and even less to reaching the Travelers (gypsies) population.

But because of the offering, in addition to my salary, I receive training,

materials for evaluation and training, demographics for new and existing church

areas, and am able to network with other church planters across the country.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a

writer for the North American Mission Board.)

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AAEO Day 1: Mtn. Survivor now cowboy preacher

AAEO Day 2: Reaching students at Syracuse U.

AAEO Day 3: Multihousing as a mission

AAEO Day 4: Blazing an Appalachian Trail

Macon Assn. lends hand, heart

AAEO Day 5: Reaching a vast wilderness

AAEO Day 6: Reaching out in word and deed

AAEO Day 7: Expanding God’s work in Puerto Rico

AAEO Day 8: Winning souls in Arizona