More than 2,000 people flooded the 35th annual North Carolina Baptist Missions Conference in Charlotte March 20-21 to learn the power inherent in their individual lives.
“The Power of One” conference at Hickory Grove Baptist Church featured dozens of breakout sessions at which leaders of North Carolina Baptist Men’s (NCBM) various ministries explained how the practical application of human touch during times of need can lead people to trust Christ.
Leaders of several international partnerships told about their challenges and how Baptist Men are helping to meet them.
Terry Rae, whose “Africa for Christ” efforts through the South African Baptist Mission has started more than 1,000 churches, brought two messages on the “power of one” to make a difference. Preaching from Ezekiel 22 he said the Church today is similar to that in the prophet’s day when God was looking for someone to “stand in the gap” before Him on behalf of the land.
In America, Rae said, there is a violent crime every 30 seconds, a rape every 15 minutes and a murder every 90 minutes — and it is worse in South Africa. The four bad characteristics God accused the Israelites of having are as true today, he said.
Rae said the church had become “dross,” or the waste left over after refining precious metals; the people had become “dry,” with “thunder from the pulpit but no shower of blessing from the Lord;” the church had become “desecrated” with no sense of the “divine;” and it had become “deceitful.”
Rae told of watching in a South African game reserve a lion crouched in the tall grass while a wildebeest approached. He watched for more than 90 minutes anticipating a dramatic kill until the wildebeest spooked and ran. The long moments seemed like an instant because he was anticipating something dramatic.
“When did you last anticipate meeting God in church?” he asked.
Cheryl Allen, founder of Door of Hope that rescues babies through an anonymous door in the church wall, said her life was changed by a photograph of a discarded baby. Since her life change, more than 800 babies have been saved, including Georgina Smith, today a teenager who was present to introduce Allen.
Georgina represents “all babies, their pain and potential,” Allen said. It is a harsh world in which every 50 seconds a child is orphaned by AIDS and every three seconds a child dies.
Biju Thomas, founder of Transformation India Movement (TIM), detailed the progress of planting churches in villages where Christians have dug a deep water well. N.C. Baptist Men has partnered with TIM the past two years and helped to find sponsors to adopt more than 50 villages and dig wells in more than 150 others.
“So many villages have heard the name of Jesus for the first time because of the bore wells,” Thomas said. He told of village fights over wells and of 70 percent of government sponsored wells no longer functioning in his adopted state of Bihar.
“Indians are extremely happy that Christians have come to help them,” he said. His hope is that the wells “are a place where people find Jesus in a way they never expected.”
Pastor Janos, speaking through an interpreter, said the involvement of N.C. Baptists with gypsy ministry in the Ukraine is opening many doors because locals “don’t understand why Americans come to help gypsies.”
People who are “just wondering what is going on here” see the "hand of God" and feel "the grace of God" through the ministry.
For the first time, “the city is paying attention to us, a cast out and rejected nation,” Janos said of his gypsy people. He said he has been invited to lunch with the city’s mayor, an “impossible” idea until recently when no government official would be disposed to meet with a gypsy.
He told of gypsy Christians “kneeling in the mud together and we were rejoicing” at the developments in their city of Munkacs. “God gave us not only grace, but favor,” he said.
The central element of the Ukrainian project is a large, square brick building that previous Russian occupiers used as a KGB listening station. It is being converted into a community center with many elements, including housing, food and clothing distribution, tutoring and facilities for a church.
Learning ‘how to’
Participants streamed to “How To” missions action conferences in morning and afternoon of the second day. They included sessions on each of the N.C. Baptist Men partnerships and ministries, such as handyman, agricultural, disaster relief, aviation, medical/dental and others.
Chuck Register, Baptist State Convention executive leader for church planting and missions development, led a session for churches looking for a way to meet rising economic needs in their communities and among their congregations. People who could not crowd into the room stood in the hallways at both doors.
“Helping people who are experiencing economic pain is not an option for the church,” said Register, who last year was pastor of First Baptist Church, Gulfport, Miss., whose facility and city was decimated by Hurricane Katrina. “It is a direct command from the lips of Jesus. The church cannot ignore the second commandment, ‘…love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Register discussed a new economic ministry website launched and being developed by N.C. Baptist Men in partnership with the BSC to help churches and individuals with answers and practical ministry plans. The site is designed, he said, “to provide North Carolina Baptists with a biblical foundation for economic ministry through the four-week sermon and Bible studies series and an electronic network for the sharing of practical ‘how to ministries’ with churches all across the world wide web.”
Jimmy Joseph, chaplain at Pender Correctional Institution, provided some practical perspectives for those who would heed Jesus’ admonition to visit prisoners. There are two ways to approach the same idea, he said, and both are not correct.
It would be counterproductive to declare on a visit that “all Muslims are going to hell,” he said. Instead, a Christian who says, “Faith in Jesus is necessary for salvation,” is giving appropriate witness and will find a much more receptive audience.
“Don’t be afraid to testify to your faith,” he said to those who would visit. “You’re a religious volunteer. That’s what we expect. But do it in a positive manner.”
Lee Witherspoon said outdoor ministry in the local church is trying to reach two kinds of men: the “marginal man” who shows up on some Sundays, and the non-believer.
“If you try to get this guy to church on Sunday morning, good luck,” said Witherspoon. “Let’s go to him, get him in his territory and seek him that way.”
That means outdoor ministry is more than an annual wild game dinner, Witherspoon said. Active Christians who enjoy hunting, fishing, boating, biking and four-wheeling need to consciously schedule and conduct events to which they can invite and embrace non-Christian friends.
Bill Martin, leading a handyman ministry session, said the power of one conference theme is demonstrated in “one bush hog, one chain saw, one deck built.”
“If we’re ever going to change this world, we’ve got to work with each other,” he said.