On brink of closing doors, Austin church now thriving
Pastor finds, “God didn”t call us cowboys; he called us shepherds”
DALLAS Rebecca Jowers, founder and executive director of Poiema Foundation, a Dallas-based anti-human trafficking ministry, has been a woman on a mission since graduating in 2012 from Dallas Theological Seminary with a master’s degree in Christian education.
That mission is to provide help for victims of human trafficking, defined by Jowers as modern slavery involving the control of a person through “force, fraud or coercion to exploit the victim for forced labor, sexual exploitation, or both.”
Often the targets of human trafficking are children.
Trafficking is the fastest-growing and second-largest criminal industry in the world, with an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 American children at risk for becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation, according to the Poiema Foundation website. The Department of Justice reported in 2009 that the average age a young person enters prostitution is 12 and that nearly 25 percent of victims are forced into trafficking by family members.
Jowers, a wife and mother of four, believes her work with DTS’s spiritual formation department, with its emphases on leadership and articulating one’s life story, prepared her for her current role in Poiema, the non-profit she founded in 2013 with the encouragement of Rod Vestal, then a pastor at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall.
During a conversation following a Lake Pointe mission trip to China in 2012, Vestal asked Jowers about her post-seminary plans.
“My big, hairy, audacious goal is to establish a safe house for women coming out of human trafficking,” Jowers replied. Until then, she had only shared this vision with the Lord and her husband, Raymond.
Months later, Vestal approached Jowers, saying he envisioned starting an anti-trafficking ministry at Lake Pointe. Jowers agreed to serve on the leadership team.
“It turns out, I was the team!” Jowers laughed.
For the next year, Jowers continued to research issues related to combatting human trafficking. She visited safe houses in Atlanta and Texas. She read volumes and attended conferences. With help from others, she developed an after-care program based on Scripture and sound counseling principles. She recruited volunteers and accepted speaking engagements at churches, schools and community groups. In 2013, Poiema Foundation was incorporated as a 501c3 non-profit entity.
“We knew if we were going to have a safe house, it would take the body of Christ, not just one church,” Jowers explained.
Though an independent ministry, Poiema retains ties to Lake Pointe, where Jowers has been a member for 23 years. The church provides meeting space at its Rockwall campus, and Tracy Tuttle, pastor of local mission mobilization, advises Jowers.
“We consider Poiema an alliance ministry,” Tuttle explained. “We have vetted it to ensure it aligns with our missions strategy. We encourage member involvement and provide support.”
Many volunteers and board members attend the church. Jowers addresses life groups and speaks at women’s events. Lake Pointe life groups have also held fundraisers for Poiema.
“Poiema is the only ministry we are connected to regarding human trafficking. The ministry provides an avenue for Lake Pointe members to become involved in serving to help others,” Tuttle added, noting that the church is considering ways to incorporate Poiema’s educational component into Lake Pointe’s student and family life ministries.
By 2013, Jowers had refined Poiema’s ministry target. Her research revealed major gaps in assistance for victims over 17 who have aged out of foster care and have nowhere to go. The idea for a safe house geared for girls ages 17 to 28 emerged.
“We felt called to step out in faith. God was calling us to establish a safe house,” Jowers recalled. Potential donors asked where the safe house would be located, but Poiema had no answer.
“We prayed someone would donate a house. But who donates a house?” Jowers added.
In April 2015, Jowers, volunteers and the organization’s board began planning fundraisers for a safe house. Halfway through the month, before any fundraisers were announced, gifts started coming in.
“Before I could even step out in faith, God affirmed our work,” Jowers said. “It was as if he said, ‘I’ve got this. This is my work. You just have to show up.’”
In June, fundraising took a surprising twist when Jowers was invited to speak at a women’s Sunday school class at a church in Frisco. Lunch at a restaurant afterward found Jowers at a table of eight with the friend who had invited her to speak. At lunch, Jowers answered questions about Poiema and the safe house idea.
As they left the restaurant, one of the ladies told Jowers, “I think you may be the answer to my prayers.” She had a home in Texas that she no longer needed and offered its use for free. The woman explained she had been in the church service asking God what to do with her house.
Jowers, dumbfounded, arranged to meet the woman at her Dallas-area home.
“It was in excellent condition: fully furnished, a safe place with washer, dryer, lawn mower and a refrigerator,” Jowers said.
At first, Jowers assumed the woman intended to sell or rent the home to Poiema. She was wrong.
“It’s going to be your house,” the woman replied. “I am giving it to Poiema.”
Jowers, shocked, realized that she had forgotten to ask the donor what the balance of the house note might be. She texted the lady, who texted back, “Paid in full. Don’t you love those words Jesus gave us?”
“The home is completely paid for,” Jowers said. The community has no homeowners association or restrictions. The city has no zoning or housing restrictions that might impede the safe house ministry.
The Poiema board voted to accept the house and launched fundraising efforts for staffing, house maintenance, operating expenses and property taxes. The legalities of deeding the house to Poiema were finalized in September, Jowers said. As added blessings, Caren Martin, a Lake Pointe member and insurance agent, volunteered to provide insurance for the house, and the ministry was gifted a car in October.
Eventually, the safe house will be home to young women involved in the Poiema Foundation aftercare program.
Meanwhile, since Labor Day, the safe house has been used as a transitional home for one woman who has completed a 14-month program.
“She is slowly integrating back into life outside a safe house,” Jowers explained. “We will provide housing, medical care, counseling, Bible study and mentorship for her for the next year until we officially open.”
Jowers hopes that the official opening date will be in late 2016. For more information, visit poiemafoundation.org or follow Poiema Foundation on Facebook.
Public dialogue took a weird turn in the wake to two violent attacks, one against a Colorado abortion clinic (yes, that’s what your local Planned Parenthood is) and a second at a community center in California. In the first attack, a professed Christian who beat his wives killed three people, including a pro-life lay preacher cop who responded to the alarm. The California murders were by a Muslim husband and wife who killed 14 people during a Christmas party at the husband’s workplace.
The responses to these events were very different, one because of the victims and the other because of who the killers were. First, the left has clamored to have the abortion clinic attack designated a terrorist attack because the murderer reportedly hated abortion. The same crew is being very careful to leave room for the possibility for the second attack—carefully planned and committed by a radicalized Muslim and his wife)—being workplace violence or possibly mental derangement. But the thing that caught my ear was the discussion of language that could incite such behavior. Some evangelicals are asking Christians to tone down the rhetoric about “murder” and other exaggerated language to describe abortionists and their work. One liberal writer said that if people really believed children were being murdered in abortion clinics, then it was understandable that some would want to stop it by any means possible—pro-lifers who talk that way but who also claim to reject a violent response are thus speaking out both sides of their mouths. He concluded that we should stop doing that, especially if pro-lifers are going to continue to hold Muslim clerics responsible for the actions of their adherents.
Was the Southern Baptist Convention wrong to describe abortion, though legal, as “murder” in a 2008 resolution? We were not. Speaking in our own context, theological, we were saying something true. Biblically, morally, abortion is the unrighteous killing of an innocent human, regardless of its legal status. Were we wrong in earlier resolutions to describe partial-birth abortion as “grisly” or similar to infanticide? Again, we were not. You’ll have to read elsewhere a description of the procedure; it is the very definition of grisly, and yes it does kill a child capable of living outside his mother’s womb … the killing of an infant. I do agree that we speak too quickly and even unfairly go to superlatives in characterizing those with whom we disagree. There is a power in careful and understated language that many no longer respect.
Is the comparison with our suspicion of Islam fair? It is to a degree. Not all Muslim leaders favor violence, and most of our Muslim neighbors find murder as an extension of ideological debate to be horrible. Our blanket suspicion of a whole race is obviously over the top. Is it fair to compare our condemnation of Muslim clerics who preach violence with pro-lifers who resort to hyperbole in their condemnation of abortion? I say it is not. Until you find 10 or even two pregnancy resource centers or truly evangelical churches who teach that their opponents should be killed or two leaders of pro-life groups whose followers are taught to wear bomb vests, the comparison is not fair. Even a paranoid fear of radical Islam has a source in something that happened. The killing at the Colorado clinic or the murder of abortionist George Tiller in 2009 or the murder of abortionist David Gunn in 1993 were tragic because they were murders, but they are not a trend or a wave. In the 22 years between Gunn and the Colorado killings, fewer abortionists have been murdered than were killed one night in San Bernardino. The comparison is strained and driven by the left’s infatuation with abortion.
So yes, I agree with the third chapter of James that we should work to govern our tongues. I also think that we are tempted toward slander when we are passionate in even a righteous cause. And I finally think that slander is a pretty good description of what leftist writers are doing when they accuse those with whom they disagree of inciting violence for merely saying something unpopular. We should be governed by our devotion to the God who created all life. Our professional adversaries should be governed by professionalism if nothing else. I don’t think they are.
Editor’s Note: The author has requested to remain anonymous.
I am the pastor of an average-sized Southern Baptist church in Texas. I love Jesus, and I find great joy in hearing and presenting the gospel. I love my congregation, and I passionately pray for our growing contentment in Christ.
I am also a “Calvinist” (at least in some sense of the designation), but I refuse to acknowledge such a thing in public. Some may accuse me of dishonesty because of this intentional unwillingness to label myself with any term related to “Calvinism.” Some have even accused me of subversion because of the “Calvinistic” indicators I have presumably displayed while remaining resolute in my refusal to wear the label. However, I believe that those in the SBC who embrace the label “Calvinist” and those who throw it like a hand-grenade do everyone a disservice.
There are many reasons I believe it is unhealthy and even unbiblical to use the label; here are four of them:
1) Most people have no idea what “Calvinism” actually is. When someone says the word “Calvinism,” most Southern Baptists are utterly clueless about its meaning. Many who think they know what it means experience hair-raising concerns over impending church division, but they cannot explain why. Just ask five of your fellow SBC church members what they think of Calvinism, and you are likely to experience a range of responses—from honest ignorance to ambiguous negativity. Simply put, if someone does not know what a label means, then the label itself only obstructs any hope for lucid dialogue.
2) “Calvinism” is a fairly broad system of theology. If one adheres to a Calvinistic view on theological matters, or if another rails against such views, neither of these individuals is likely to embrace or reject ALL that Calvin thought or taught. Even the most hostile person to Calvinism will likely be happy to affirm Calvin’s position on evangelism or missional activity. John Calvin, like all Protestant Reformers, believed that the gospel was the only message through which God would bring salvation to sinners. Therefore, Calvin was incredibly active in the arena of missions and evangelism. So, the label “Calvinism” is too broad to be particularly helpful in genuine dialogue between Christians who may or may not disagree on a host of issues.
3) Labels generally stifle productive conversation rather than encourage it. Think of a Democrat talking with a Republican. Can these two have a civil or even a friendly conversation? The answer to this question requires much more information: Are these two opposite political representatives willing to dialogue? Is either having a bad day? What are they talking about specifically? Labels can actually tell us little about the flesh-and-blood person we might have in front of us. No Arminian I know would want to be accused of advocating for a ‘non-sovereign’ God, and no Calvinist I know would argue that fallen humanity is not volitional. So, throwing a label-bomb on someone gets us nowhere.
4) There are some who seek to stir up trouble with scare tactics. I can only speak for myself here, but I have felt the strangest hostility from those who are most vocal about their worries concerning “Calvinists.” “Watch out for those Calvinists! Out them as fast as possible! How can we prevent them from ever tainting our churches again?” From where does such aggression come? It seems that some would love nothing more than to remove me from my pastoral role. Has love for my congregation earned this visceral retort? Has a clear articulation of the gospel made me a target? Have I impugned my character or defamed the name of Christ? No! I simply hold to a soteriology that closely aligns me with many shared Protestant heroes.
If you parade around under the banner of “Calvinism,” please stop. I would imagine Calvin would be sickened to see people claiming to follow him; and remember, he demanded to be buried in an unmarked grave for this very reason!
If you have shown distaste for “Calvinists” (whether quietly or otherwise), please stop making faces and actually look at what is on the plate. You may still walk away with some distaste for aspects of Calvin’s teaching, but at least you will know what it is. You might even discover you are capable of enjoying a meal with fellow Christians whose palates may differ from yours.
Remember the Apostle Paul’s admonition from Romans 12:16-18. “Live in harmony with one another. … If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Sindhupalchawk, NEPAL A fuel crisis precipitated by the closure of the main road between India and Nepal in response to protests over the new Nepali constitution hindered but did not halt Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief efforts in the Sindhupalchawk region.
The road serves as the main supply line into Nepal for food and fuel. Dozens of fuel trucks are stranded at the border, Caroline Anderson of Baptist Global Response reported Nov. 11.
Garry and Sherry McDugle, SBTC DR coordinators who deployed to Nepal in June 2015 and returned to the Texas in early November, recalled fuel lines that were many miles long. “People would often wait 24-36 hours in line, sometimes receiving no fuel,” Garry McDugle said. “It was crazy. Worse than the 1970s back home.”
Most of the vehicles used by SBTC volunteers required the more readily available diesel fuel, McDugle noted. “The diesel fuel was cut with kerosene and cost three times what it would in America, about $10 a gallon,” McDugle said. “Petrol or gasoline is as much as $30 a gallon.”
The fuel crisis hampered projects and halted construction on schools being rebuilt in the remote mountainous regions. “For the past few weeks now most relief efforts have been minimal due to the high cost and scarcity of fuel,” McDugle added.
Despite the obstacles, much fruit resulted from DR efforts as five teams rotated in to serve during the McDugles’ deployment. SBTC personnel worked with three BGR medical and relief teams as well.
McDugle reported three new Christian fellowships led by Nepali nationals. “At last count, [there were] 52 salvations, nine baptisms, with others waiting for a safe time after end of the Hindu celebrations.
“All this was already in motion and created by the Holy Spirit. We just got to come along for the ride,” McDugle said. “And, of course, this is the reason we do disaster relief work, to see the salvation of Jesus come alive in people’s lives!”
GRAPEVINE When it comes to missions giving, generous support of international missions comes in all sizes of churches.
First Baptist Church of Swan, near Tyler, is a small congregation with an average ACP reported attendance of 38. For the last three years, the church set an ambitious goal of giving $10,000 for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
“The amazing thing is that they have exceeded their goal each year,” said Wayne Livingston, SBTC field ministry strategist. “They also raised $5,000 at the same time for a missionary connected to the church.”
“It’s because of the hearts of our people for missions,” FBC Swan Pastor Bill Minson said, explaining his congregation’s generosity. “As in so many small country churches right now, we have a lot of seniors, not so many young people. We have several people who really have hearts for missions. The whole church does, across the congregation.
One couple has a son and daughter-in-law that are missionaries in Zambia. Another family has a son who was a missionary in Japan for 11 years. The church’s organist took many medical mission trips to Africa as a nurse.
“I preach that the Lord has told us to make disciples. Since most of our church is made up of those who are inactive in going based on their age, they feel that is a way they can fulfill the Great Commission,” Minson added. “I don’t push or preach hard. I just say pray about what God would have you give, and our people are faithful.”
On the other end of the spectrum in size is First Baptist Church of Rockwall with 1,850 in attendance and giving the largest amount of any SBTC congregation at $559,644 last year.
“Our people have bought into the fact that people really are lost without Jesus and have been willing to give sacrificially to see that others come to know him,” stated pastor Steve Swofford.
“In a day when the number of lost people in the world is growing larger, we dare not let the size of our missions force grow smaller,” he said, referring to the revenue shortfall that prompted the International Mission Board to encourage voluntary retirement of missionaries. “So this year we give more than ever before, not to send more missionaries, but to keep them from having to come home.”
Ferris Baptist Fellowship averages 58 people in attendance but gave $10,392 to LMCO last year. The Ferris congregation makes missions giving an emphasis, Pastor Bob Mashburn explained, crediting the church’s lack of debt for its ability to give generously.
“Our commitment has been that you can either pay debt service or you can pay missionaries. So we go that [missionaries] route,” Mashburn said, noting that the philosophy begins with church leadership.
“We’re getting ready to build another building, and we’ll build that one debt free, too, Lord willing. In the meantime we have no intention of letting go of our Lottie Moon commitment,” Mashburn affirmed. “We don’t have any rich people, by the way. No [one person] writes a check for that every year. We are all in.”
Commitment to missions at Ferris Baptist Fellowship is also enhanced by the active participation of church members in meaningful mission trips. The church has sponsored outreaches to China, Mexico, Thailand, Belize and Alaska, in addition to mission trips to Kansas and Tennessee in the continental United States. Next year, Ferris plans to send a group to Appalachia, Mashburn added.
“You’ve got to get your people involved in missions themselves,” Mashburn said. “And if you can’t go, helping others to go is vitally important.”
“We’re nobody special. We’re just out here in Ferris, Texas, trying to serve the Lord,” Mashburn said. “It’s humbling when a small church can give big. All we want to do is brag about what God did.”
SULPHUR SPRINGS—A small church in East Texas has made a big gift to the International Mission Board, even though doing so meant sacrificing funds that could have been used for a permanent building.
Two years ago, Journey Baptist Church sold its building, a facility that was poorly located, with little parking and no room for growth. A purchase of 10 acres as a future building site followed, but constructing a new structure proved cost prohibitive, so church leaders were content to meet in temporary facilities.
Upon hearing of the IMB’s 2015 decision to reduce the numbers of missionaries in the field, mission-minded Journey BC members set aside almost a month in earnest prayer, pastor Kyle Ray said.
“Our prayer focus was based on three truths or promises: 1) If we truly seek first God’s kingdom, not our own, then he will take care of all these other things. 2) Are we going to believe it is better to give than receive? 3) Will we love our neighbors more than ourselves?” Ray said.
“During our season of prayer, a local man desiring to build a Christian ministry around Sulphur Springs contacted us about our using that ministry’s building, [which is] expected to be completed within 18 months,” Ray said. Information about the man’s unsolicited offer was presented to the congregation at a meeting held in early October to determine the church’s response to the IMB funding issues.
Journey BC voted to give all of a special reserve fund, monies saved over and above operating funds, to the IMB—a sum of more than $29,000. Additionally, the church increased its Cooperative Program giving from 7 to 10 percent next year, with a commitment to increase it by one percent each year until they get to 15 percent.
While waiting on the new facility to became available, the church planned to continue meeting at a local hotel, but God provided a better option.
“That week we were contacted by the pastor of First Baptist Church of Sulphur Springs who asked us, out of the blue, if we would be interested in meeting on Sunday mornings in that church’s Recreation Outreach Center (ROC) facility,” Ray said, calling the ROC facility, “one of the nicest buildings in town.” The move to the FBC facility will save Journey BC a significant amount each month, and the building will be available for their use until they move to a permanent location.
“As we prayed about giving more to the IMB, the Lord has seemingly convinced our church family that we don’t need to spend $500,000 on a building when we can get along fine without one. He will take care of us and has proven to do so by providing two meeting locations (one temporary, one permanent) for way less than we are paying now and way less than a mortgage plus expenses would be to own a building,” Ray said. “It has been humbling to see God do so much.”
Journey BC became a Southern Baptists of Texas Convention church plant four years ago and called Ray to become its senior pastor in January 2012. From the beginning, the church has embraced international missions, particularly among unreached people groups.
“Within six months of beginning our work together, we went on our first international trip to East Asia to work with an unreached people group. We adopted that group and have since been back seven times, working with an IMB missionary there,” Ray said. From fewer than 20 believers, the area now has more than 200 believers and five churches.
A commitment to missions has led this small East Texas church of around 60 members to forego building a permanent facility and to give generously in order to sustain eternal work for the kingdom.