Month: May 2006

Students headed to Houston, Austin, coast




Several thousand teens will be partnering with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and other Southern Baptist Convention entities to do mission work around the state this summer. There will be ample opportunities to serve whether a group wants to travel around the world or just down the road, said SBTC Missions Mobilization Associate Tiffany Smith.

One of those opportunities will be assisting a “PowerPlant” missions effort in Port Arthur, located in Jefferson County in southeast Texas.

PowerPlant has been around about five years and is an endeavor of World Changers, an ministry of the SBC’s North American Mission Board (NAMB). World Changers gives students an opportunity for hands-on mission work by building houses. PowerPlant gives students hands-on mission tasks assisting church plants.

“PowerPlant comes alongside of church plants,” Smith said. This year’s PowerPlant project will be June 24-30.

The groups who take part in the PowerPlant project in Port Arthur and Port Neches will work with Brent Sorrels and his wife Savannah, NAMB missionaries in Port Arthur. There will be plenty of opportunity for groups to serve, she said.

Sorrels said the Port Arthur area is becoming quite diverse. Although whites comprise about 75 percent of Port Arthur, the Hispanic and African-American populations are at 12 percent each and the Asian population is at about 4 percent.

“One goal that we have for our ministry is to get the gospel into every house in greater Port Arthur,” Sorrels said. “So, they’ll be distributing gospels in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.” Sorrels said he and his wife have been missionaries for several years but this is their first year to work with PowerPlant.

In addition to gospel distribution, groups will participate in prayer walks around the community while others will pick up debris still left in the wake of Hurricane Rita that ravaged this area on the Texas Gulf Coast last year.

Another ministry area will be the capital city of Austin. Some groups will be traveling to the Austin area to participate in “Target Austin” July 17-24.

The “Target” ministry was started by a group of youth ministers from around the state who were looking for an inexpensive way to encourage young people to do mission work. The focus city this year is Austin. Last year the group did mission work in El Paso. Next year the group plans to move down I-35 to focus on the city of San Antonio.

“They pick a city each summer and I try to help them orchestrate the details,” Smith said. Smith and the missions mobilization team work on matching groups with ministry needs to groups that want to minister. Groups will do typical mission projects such as Vacation Bible School or do construction and remodeling work.

Once a group is matched with a local church, it is up to each youth group to plan the type of ministry that it will do during the week. “I’m really just a matchmaker,” Smith said. After the match is made, youth leaders will get with the local church to discuss needs and plan from there.

Near UT campus, new Austin pregnancy center saving babies and souls

AUSTIN–Lori DeVillez has done crisis pregnancy center work for almost 15 years. From 1997-2005 she directed The Heidi Group, which partnered with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Psalm 139 Project assisting pregnancy center boards with strategic planning.

But in recent years, God placed a burden on her heart for a specific kind of center–one that would emphasize building relationships with clients to facilitate the life-change that comes from knowing Christ.

And he burdened her for a specific place–the largest university in the nation: the University of Texas with 51,000 students (20,000 are international students) plus faculty members.

DeVillez, now the executive director of the one-year-old Austin Pregnancy Resource Center, gives God the glory for what she considers his miraculous provision since their first organizational meeting in October 2004. The center opened just three months later in January 2005, “the fastest opening I’ve ever seen,” DeVillez said.

Over that first year, the center saw 126 clients. “The miracles continue to take place at the Austin Pregnancy Resource Center,” she said. In 2006 they have already seen about 200 clients, one-third of which are college students. High school counselors and social workers refer many of the clients they see. “The word is getting out,” she said.

The APRC is located in the heart of the University of Texas community on the corner of 28th and Rio Grande St.–a neighborhood of UT sorority and fraternity houses. The leasing of that 3,000-square-foot facility was another miracle, DeVillez said.

“I had contacted a friend of mine in commercial realty. He pulled a lot of potential properties that might fit our budget and be in the location we wanted. We went through the entire list with nothing that seemed to fit.” But DeVillez and some others noticed the corner house with a “For Lease” sign. With its attractive landscaping that provided an air of confidentiality, the group had a sense that this was the place God would provide.

Coincidentally, the owner of the house had a desire that it be used as some sort of service for the college students. But the price was out of the range of the APRC’s budget.

DeVillez said, “He (the owner) ended up taking our offer over that of a group of attorneys who offered to pay full price. And now I have a man who has offered to pay half of the purchase price if we become able to buy it.”

Through various partnerships that have fallen into place over the past year, DeVillez said they are able to offer services she never would have initially pursued. They began by providing free pregnancy testing and counseling. They moved into offering sonograms when a partnership with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention provided grant money to purchase “a Mercedes of a sonogram machine at a Cadillac price,” she said.

Despite their yet small client base, the Travis County Health Department has partnered with the APRC to provide testing for sexually transmitted diseases. The APRC gathers the information on clients seeking STD testing, refers them to the county for the tests, and then follows up with clients to counsel them on the results. “This is exactly what we would want–we are able to build the relationships while someone else does the testing,” DeVillez said.

The APRC is currently working on licensure to handle adoptions, but a partnership with the Loving Alternatives adoption agency has already allowed them to become a field placement agency. DeVillez said, “Austin is very under-served in adoption. This is all God, because I would never have gone after either adoption or STD testing.”

For the APRC staff and volunteers, all of these services are more than opportunities to meet physical needs. Greater still, the services they offer open doors to share about Jesus and to address each client’s spiritual needs. Every worker is comfortable sharing the gospel and has completed LifeWay’s FAITH evangelism training program. They also keep evangelistic tools on hand such as the EVANG-Cube and gospel tracts.

Because the APRC receives no state funds, APRC workers may inquire about the religious beliefs of the clients and share about their own Christian faith. DeVilliz calls the APRC’s intake form a “conversation starter.” New clients are asked to complete a questionnaire with their names and addresses, how they found out about the APRC, their reasons for coming, and their religious backgrounds.

“We talk through their answers, and sometimes I can share right then,” DeVillez said. But most often the spiritual discussion takes place while a client is with DeVillez awaiting test results. DeVillez might inquire about the client’s understanding and then ask, “Would you mind if I share with you what the Bible says?” About half of their clients have responded to the gospel with first-time professions of faith, although DeVillez said, “it sometimes takes more than one touch.”

Another question on the intake form asks for permission to go to the client’s home at some point for a follow-up visit. DeVillez said clients have responded very positively to the idea of receiving a home visit. “They ask, ‘you would come visit me?’ and then when we really do they just say, ‘Wow’”
she said.

The visits take place each Monday, in conjunction with the weekly evangelistic outreach of Great Hills Baptist Church, DeVillez’ home church and a major supporter of the APRC. Since beginning the home visits in February, APRC representatives have been inside about 20 client’s homes. DeVillez recounted the story of a recent follow-up visit she made to the home of two clients who had come to the center together, each to receive a pregnancy test.

“Their tests were both negative,” said DeVillez, “but over the course of their visit to the center they both prayed to receive Christ.”

Upon arriving at the home for the follow-up visit, DeVillez and her visitation partner heard arguing going on inside. They questioned whether or not to go in, and decided to knock.

They were invited in, and as they began to visit learned that one of the women’s husbands had just been released from prison. Soon, two children came out of their rooms to say ‘hello.’ The 7-year-old little girl stayed in the room as DeVillez began her FAITH presentation.

“The little girl was very inquisitive and attentive to all that was being said. She shared that she was always afraid because of her parents fighting so much.” The little prayed to receive Christ that night. The four adults listening to the presentation agreed with what had been shared, and committed to become involved in a church. They ended their visit with a time of specific prayer.

DeVillez recalled, “The presence of the Lord was so sweet. The evening started with an argument and ended in peace. We need to encourage pregnancy centers to do home visits. We not only get to minister to the client that way, but we also have the chance to talk to the whole family.”

Believing that there is no life change without a heart change, DeVillez makes no apologies for the APRC’s bold Christian relationship-building approach, and desires to be a model for other Christian ministries. She has heard the concerns of others involved in pro-life ministries—that their approach might scare some women off, and keep them from saving a baby’s life.

She said, “We are not ashamed of [the gospel]—we play Christian music and have lots of Christian literature available.” She recounted the story of one woman who was at an abortion clinic, and a sidewalk counselor sent her to the APRC. They did a sonogram, and DeVillez apologized for the time it was taking her to complete it. The woman said, “I’m in no hurry. It’s so peaceful here. I love the music.”

DeVillez shared with the woman about how God was forming her baby. “In the middle of the sonogram, she prayed to receive Christ. And she had started that day at the abortion clinic!” DeVillez marveled.

The APRC also offers classes in childbirth, parenting, life skills, computer skills and Bible studies, including a new study called “Forgiven and Set Free” for women with an abortion in their past. DeVillez welcomes those interested in establishing pregnancy centers to visit the APRC. For more information about the APRC, visit www.austinprc.org.

 

Why we are ‘Convergent’ Christians




Every summer both of us spend much of our time involved in ministry to students. In these times of ministry we rub shoulders with a number of college students serving as staff, in the bands, or as participants in the events. Over and over last summer the conversations with these young leaders-in-training were the same?the emerging church.

The “emerging church movement,” or more simply, “emergent,” has actually been emerging for some time. Books either explicitly or implicitly related to this movement abound, with titles and authors including “A New Kind of Christian” and “A Generous Orthodoxy” by Brian McLaren, “The Emerging Church” by Dan Kimball, “Radical Reformission” by Mark Driscoll, and “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller, to name a few, along with websites like www.theooze.com and http://www.emergentys.com/.

The cultural engagement and authenticity of the emergents are attractive, but the danger of much of emergent thinking is in its tendency toward pendulum swings. A pendulum swings from one extreme to the other. Reacting to Calvinism, some swing to Arminianism. We swing from discipleship on one side to evangelism on the other, as if the New Testament would have us choose one of those.

We swing from emphasizing worship as intimate and free on the one side (focus: nearness of God) to worship as majestic and orderly on the other (focus: the transcendence of God).

The problem with reactions is that they tend to overreact to what they saw as overreactions in the first place. Almost always such swings lead to unintended consequences. And, one rarely finds anything original in a reaction.

The emerging church movement (or conversation) is a reaction to established ministries and typical church life, or what some of them call the “modern church.” In general, this movement focuses on the arts over dogma, community over conviction, and creativity over conformity, to name a few examples. As D.A. Carson stated in a recent critique of the movement, a distinguishing mark of the emerging church is an attitude of protest.

We would argue that there is in fact another way beyond reacting to the real or perceived failures of the so-called modern church. Nor is the picture so simple as to make it the good guys vs. the bad guys, whether you side with the emergents on the one hand or the modern church on the other.

We would argue another option is available. On the one hand we have what we will call the “Conventional” church?the solid, Bible-based, evangelical churches of the past generation, which have done much good but have honestly not won the day in American culture.

We have much affection for these churches. Personally, we are the children of the conservative resurgence. These churches would typically be seen in such traditions as the Southern Baptist Convention and others who unashamedly hold to the centrality of Scripture, the importance of truth, and of maintaining a heritage of faith. These are the best-known evangelical parachurch organizations, like Focus on the Family, the most popular preachers on the radio, and some of the best known American churches.

Many positive things can be said for these churches. They have held up a standard of morality in a depraved culture. They have proclaimed the gospel consistently. They have upheld the place of the local church and the ministry of preaching the Word.

Still, while these conventional churches have existed all across the nation (but mostly in the Red states from the map of the last presidential election), they have been more effective in upholding truth than in impacting the culture. While conventional churches have stood for truth, homosexuality has made much greater progress than the church in gaining a hearing in society, for example.

While megachurches are built, ministries flourish, and many are reached, poverty still permeates culture, secularization accelerates, and the numbers of children growing up in homes where Christ is honored diminishes each year. So, while much good has been done doctrinally by the conventionals, much ground has been lost culturally.

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