Month: November 2022

SBTC announces ministry partnership with Convention of Southern Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico

CORPUS CHRISTI—Puerto Rico is an island of 3.3 million people that has been ravaged by poverty and the nearly annual recurrence of tropical storms and hurricanes that leave death and destruction in their wake.

Even so, faithful Southern Baptist pastors in the territory continue to take the hope of the gospel on a daily basis to those who need it most.

On Wednesday, Nov. 16, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Board voted unanimously to enter into a multiyear ministry partnership with the Puerto Rico Southern Baptist Convention (PRSBC) in an effort to support their pastors and churches. The ministry partnership will provide financial resources ($25,000 to be disbursed each year for three years with an option for another $25,000 to be given during the fourth year, and an additional $25,000 to help fund a pastors conference/retreat), as well as access to other resources aimed at strengthening existing churches, planting new ones, and raising up a new generation of pastors and leaders to reach the lost.

“Puerto Rico is a small convention … but the need is phenomenal,” SBTC Executive Director Nathan Lorick said to the board. “God is doing a very unique thing in Puerto Rico.”

In a September letter to the SBTC, PRSBC Executive Director Luis R. Soto said the ministry partnership with the SBTC will help his convention and its 52 affiliated churches “better equip pastors and churches on the island for the work of evangelism, discipleship, developing leaders, and pastoral care while revitalizing and planting churches.”

Said Soto: “We are extremely grateful for the interest the SBTC has shown to associate with our [convention].”

Ninety percent of the PRSBC’s pastors are bivocational, and many are nearing retirement age without a pipeline to equip the next generation of pastors, Soto said. At the same time, the PRSBC has worked with the North American Mission Board’s Send Puerto Rico initiative to plant 22 new churches over the past three years.

The Puerto Rico ministry partnership is part of a larger effort to support the ministries of smaller Southern Baptist state conventions. In August, the SBTC announced it would enter into a similar relationship with the Nevada Baptist Convention for the purposes of strengthening churches, planting new ones, reaching the lost, and developing leaders in the nation’s fifth-fastest growing state.



The 5: A different way to think about your 2023 goals

It’s that time of year when we begin thinking about goals for the next year. Too often, these goals are not related to our walk with God. More than simply setting “New Year’s resolutions” we might break quickly next year, I hope one or more of these goals will become part of your Christian walk in 2023:


Tell somebody something about the goodness of God each day.
It’s never difficult to think about God’s blessings, but we usually have to intentionally decide to talk about them. Even if you’re talking with only believers, don’t let a day go by without saying something about God and His grace. You’ll find that you’re more likely to talk with non-believers if you’re already in the practice of speaking about God every day—and your obedience will bring you joy. 


Pray with somebody daily.
If you’re married, pray with your spouse every day. If you’re single, be intentional to find someone to pray with. The prayers need not be long, and you’ll likely need to fit them into your busy schedule—but praying with others should be a priority in our lives. Taking this step is an admission that we need God’s presence guiding us and others walking beside us (and most of us, I fear, could use more of this prayerful humility).


Memorize at least two scriptures per month.
I wish I didn’t view this goal as a unique one, but I recognize the struggle with this discipline. At the same time, the godliest men I know—without exception—know the Word so well that it naturally drips off their lips. Here’s a suggestion if memorization is not already your practice: choose two of your favorite chapters in the Bible and memorize them throughout the next year. 


Get to know a missionary family and ministry this year.
We Southern Baptists are privileged to give through the Cooperative Program that supports thousands of missionaries on the field—but they’re too often only distant, unnamed friends to our churches. We don’t really know them, and we miss the blessing of hearing what God’s doing in their lives. Church leaders, I challenge you to correct this issue this year by connecting with missionaries through the IMB or NAMB. 


Decide today, and every day that stretches ahead of you in the next year, that you will finish 2023 well.
I realize we’re not even in the new year yet, but I also know that nobody finishes a year well by accident. Faithful church leaders who endure well to the end do so because they commit to finishing each day well. Indeed, I am praying as I write that anyone who reads these words will reject the enemy’s lures over the next year. In God’s grace, you’re included in that prayer. 

Chuck Lawless is dean of doctoral studies and vice president of spiritual formation and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. For more from Lawless, visit

Pleading for revival

For the past two years, our church has been praying together weekly, asking God to bring revival to our church, our city, and the churches of our convention. We have been desperate for God to pour out His Spirit in a fresh way, but we reached a place where we needed to step back and understand why we have been praying for revival.

In Isaiah 64, Isaiah recognizes the physical ruins in Jerusalem as reflecting the spiritual ruins of God’s people. The temple in Zion, the city of God, is the place where God’s manifest presence would dwell, but it now lies in ruin. It’s as if they do not even belong to God because His presence and power have been removed. The enemy has completely destroyed them. Can you imagine Isaiah’s agony as he remembers his encounter with God a few chapters earlier (Isaiah 6)? He saw God in His temple, full of power and holiness, but now it is a pile of rubble. The physical devastation revealed the spiritual destruction. We, too, must recognize the real spiritual ruins of our churches today.

We are the covenant people of God and the dwelling place of God. We are to gather weekly to encounter His presence and be transformed by His power. We are to be filled with the Holy Spirit and display the glory of Jesus. We are to share and show the gospel daily, pushing back the darkness. But is this what we are seeing in our churches today?

“When we are filled with the Spirit, the church prays, the gospel is preached, worship is authentic, sinners are radically saved, disciples are made, people are healed, marriages are restored, communities are transformed, unity is enjoyed, and Jesus is the hero!”

We have become a people who see gathering with God’s people as optional, and many attend with no intention of encountering God. Church members are present but the Holy Spirit is absent. We have innovation but no manifestation. We have programs but no power. This is not about guilt, shame, or poor sinful me—this is about the recognition of reality. But the goal here is not recognition for the sake of depression. It is recognition that leads to desperation. We need to be desperate for God!

Revival is about rescue. Isaiah’s response is not an indictment, but a prayer for intervention. This is the heart of revival prayer. It is coming to the end of ourselves and calling on the name of the Lord. We need a glimpse of Jesus and His glory that leads us to a moment of recognition that leads us to a desperation, allowing for a visitation and resulting in a transformation. 

When we are filled with the Spirit, the church prays, the gospel is preached, worship is authentic, sinners are radically saved, disciples are made, people are healed, marriages are restored, communities are transformed, unity is enjoyed, and Jesus is the hero! 

As we were challenged at our annual meeting in November, let us become a convention that pursues the presence of God by leading our churches in corporate prayer. 

Una fe contagiosa

En medio de la pandemia, iglesia ve un crecimiento masivo por medio de una mesera que aceptó a Cristo y comenzó a invitar a sus vecinos y compañeros de trabajo

Cuando se trata de la labor evangelística que realizan las iglesias, el COVID no discrimina. Presentó desafíos tanto a las mega iglesias como a las pequeñas congregaciones, a las iglesias urbanas y rurales, a las iglesias establecidas y a las recién plantadas, como la Iglesia Vida Victoriosa. 

Un año después de la fundación de Vida Victoriosa, el plan del pastor Over Ochoa de conectar con la gente de Tioga—una comunidad de unos 1,200 habitantes en el condado de Grayson, a menos de una hora en automóvil de la frontera entre Texas y Oklahoma—se vio obstaculizado por la pandemia mundial. Las puertas a las que querían tocar estaban cerradas. Las conversaciones sobre Jesús que él y su esposa, Cristina, querían tener fueron, hasta cierto punto, silenciadas, ya que la gente limitó su exposición a cualquier persona fuera de su hogar.

“La pandemia creó todos los desafíos que se pueden imaginar para un plantador de iglesias,” dijo Ochoa.

Fue una experiencia frustrante para los Ochoa, que anteriormente habían visto al Señor hacer un trabajo rápido en lo que a menudo parecían circunstancias imposibles. Después de sentir el llamado del Señor a plantar una iglesia hispana en Estados Unidos mientras servía al Señor en su país natal, Colombia, Ochoa sabía que podría tomar años el proceso de obtener la residencia en Estados Unidos. 

En lugar de muchos años, tardó uno. 

La familia acabó aterrizando en McKinney y empezó a celebrar reuniones de oración en su apartamento. Poco después, empezaron a realizar un culto los domingos hasta que llegó tanta gente que el espacio se les quedó pequeño. 

Aun así, el Señor ya estaba trabajando. Uno de los hombres que había estado asistiendo a la iglesia en el apartamento también cortaba la yarda en la Primera Iglesia Bautista (PIB) de Prosper. Un día, el pastor de la iglesia le dijo que la PIB de Prosper quería llegar al creciente número de hispanos en las comunidades alrededor de la iglesia, pero que no podían hacerlo porque nadie en la iglesia hablaba español con fluidez. El trabajador decidió poner a Ochoa en contacto con el pastor, quien, a su vez, puso a Ochoa en contacto con la Convención de los Bautistas del Sur de Texas para recibir formación y apoyo. 

La colaboración dio como resultado la plantación de la Iglesia Vida Victoriosa en Prosper, que actualmente cuenta con unos 75 miembros y asistentes.  

The Ochoas have grown close not only to Juanita, but many of the people she has guided to the church through her own faith journey.

“A veces nos enfocamos en predicar a las multitudes. ero con sólo una persona que venga a Cristo, podemos ver multitudes venir a Dios porque esa persona puede traer a muchas más.”

Soñando un nuevo sueño

Unos años después, Dios comenzó a poner en el corazón de Ochoa la visión de comenzar otra obra hispana. Una vez más, comenzaron a orar y a pedir la provisión y dirección del Señor. En poco tiempo, Ochoa recibió una llamada que consideró una respuesta milagrosa a sus oraciones. La llamada era de la Asociación Bautista de Denton, ofreciendo el uso de un templo abandonado para plantar la primera iglesia hispana en Tioga. 

Parecía que el Señor había despejado todos los obstáculos para que la visión se hiciera realidad. 

Y entonces el COVID dio un golpe, cerrando fuertemente todas esas puertas que los Ochoa habían planeado tocar. De rodillas, clamaron para que Dios les diera alguna oportunidad de hacer conexiones con los hispanos del pueblo. Se enteraron de que en el pueblo de al lado había un restaurante italiano que no había cerrado durante la pandemia y que empleaba a muchos hispanos. Así que fueron intencionalmente, buscando en oración oportunidades para compartir el evangelio.  

Allí fue donde conocieron a Juanita López, una mesera que, según Ochoa, “tenía un ligero interés en conocer el evangelio.” Con ese pequeño rayo de esperanza, él y su esposa decidieron frecuentar el restaurante para almorzar y así poder hacerse amigos de Juanita y hablarle más de Jesús. 

Durante dos años, compartieron intencionalmente el amor de Cristo con Juanita, hasta que un día ella aceptó a Cristo como su Salvador. En poco tiempo, Juanita estaba asistiendo a Vida Victoriosa e invitando a sus compañeros de trabajo a venir también.

“Llegó al punto en que todos los empleados aceptaron a Cristo en sus vidas y el dueño decidió cerrar los domingos porque todos querían asistir a la Iglesia Vida Victoriosa,” dijo Ochoa.

Hoy en día, alrededor de 45 personas asisten a la iglesia -muchos de ellos son compañeros de trabajo y vecinos de Juanita a los que comparte el evangelio de forma intencional y regular. Todos los sábados organiza barbacoas en su comunidad para invitar a los vecinos a la iglesia y, poco a poco, sus vecinos siguen sumándose a la familia de la fe.

“A veces nos enfocamos en predicar a las multitudes,” dijo Ochoa, “pero con sólo una persona que venga a Cristo, podemos ver multitudes venir a Dios porque esa persona puede traer a muchas más.”

Contagious faith

In the midst of pandemic, church sees massive growth after waitress comes to Christ, begins inviting neighbors and co-workers

When it came to the gospel work being done by churches, COVID did not discriminate. It presented challenges to megachurches and tiny congregations alike, to churches urban and rural, to established churches and newly planted ones—like Vida Victoriosa in Tioga. 

Within a year of Vida Victoriosa’s founding, pastor Over Ochoa’s plan of connecting with people in Tioga—a community of about 1,200 people in Grayson County, less than an hour’s drive from the Texas-Oklahoma border—was stymied by the global pandemic. The doors they wanted to knock on were closed. The gospel conversations he and his wife, Cristina, wanted to have were, to some degree, silenced as people limited their exposure to anyone outside their household.

“The pandemic created all the challenges you can imagine for a church planter,” Ochoa said.

It was a frustrating experience for the Ochoas, who had previously seen the Lord make quick work of what often seemed like impossible circumstances. 

After sensing the Lord’s call to plant a Hispanic church in America while serving the Lord in his home country of Colombia, Ochoa knew it could take years to work through the process of being granted residency in the U.S. 

Instead of many years, it took one. 

The family, which includes their daughter, Lina, ultimately landed in McKinney and began holding prayer meetings in their apartment. Soon after, they began having a church service on Sundays until so many people were coming, they began to outgrow the space. 

Even so, the Lord was already at work. One of the men who had been attending church at the apartment also mowed the property at the First Baptist Church of Prosper. One day, the pastor there told him FBC Prosper wanted to reach the growing number of Hispanics in the neighborhoods around the church, but were hindered from doing so because nobody in the church spoke fluent Spanish. The worker decided to connect Ochoa with the pastor, who, in turn, connected Ochoa to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention for training and support. 

The collaboration resulted in the planting of Iglesia Vida Victoriosa in Prosper, which currently has about 75 members and attendees.  

The Ochoas have grown close not only to Juanita, but many of the people she has guided to the church through her own faith journey.

“Sometimes we get too focused with preaching to crowds. but with just one person coming to Christ, we can see multitudes come to God because that one person can bring many more.”

Dreaming a new dream

A few years later, God began to put on Ochoa’s heart the vision of starting another Hispanic work. Once again, his family began to pray and ask for the Lord’s provision and direction. Before long, Ochoa received a call that he considered a miraculous answer to his prayers. The call was from the Denton Baptist Association, offering use of an abandoned church to plant the first Hispanic church in Tioga. 

It seemed the Lord had cleared all the obstacles for the vision to become a reality. And then COVID hit, closing tightly all those doors the Ochoas had planned to knock on. 

On their knees, they cried out for God to give them some opportunity to make connections with the Hispanics in town. They heard that in the next town over, there was an Italian restaurant that had not closed during the pandemic and that employed many Hispanic people. So they intentionally went, prayerfully looking for opportunities to share the gospel.  

That’s where they met Juanita Lopez, a waitress who Ochoa says “had a slight interest in learning about the gospel.” With that small glimmer of hope, he and his wife decided to frequent the restaurant for lunch so they could befriend Juanita and tell her more about Jesus. 

For two years, they intentionally shared the love of Christ with Juanita, until one day she accepted Christ as her Savior. Before long, Juanita was attending Vida Victoriosa in Tioga and inviting her co-workers to come as well.

“It got to the point where all the employees accepted Christ in their lives and the owner decided to close on Sundays because everyone wanted to go to Vida Victoriosa,” Ochoa said.

Today, around 45 people attend the church—many of them are Juanita’s co-workers and neighbors with whom she intentionally and regularly shares the gospel. She hosts barbecues every Saturday in her community to invite neighbors to church and, little by little, her neighbors continue to be added to the family of faith.

“Sometimes we get too focused with preaching to crowds,” Ochoa said, “but with just one person coming to Christ, we can see multitudes come to God because that one person can bring many more.”

Lone Star Scoop • November 2022

SBTC DR responds to Florida In wake of Hurricane Ian
FORT MYERS, Fla. After Hurricane Ian tore through Florida, killing 105 people and resulting in billions of dollars in property damage, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief volunteers quickly joined first responders in serving the survivors in early October.  SBTC DR teams arrived in Fort Myers Oct. 2-3 to set up a mass feeding kitchen from Lufkin staffed with volunteers from across Texas. The Lufkin unit, stationed at McGregor Baptist Church in Fort Myers, supported the feeding efforts of the Texas division of the Salvation Army there. On Oct. 4, feeding volunteers prepared 5,100 meals in the unit’s first operational day. A second SBTC DR feeding unit from Pflugerville also established operations at Riverside Baptist in Fort Myers, assisting the American Red Cross there. Additionally, SBTC DR chaplains, assessors, communications, incident management personnel, and a quick response kitchen were sent to Florida. —Jane Rodgers
Annie Armstrong giving reaches all-time high, NAMB says
Alpharetta, Ga. Southern Baptists gave a record $68.9 million to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering in 2022, breaking the giving record for a second year in a row. Giving to the offering has exceeded records in five of the last six years. “This is incredible news for our missionaries,” said North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell, “and it is an incredible testimony to God’s faithfulness and to the generosity of Southern Baptists.”  The Annie offering accounts for half of NAMB’s budget, and every dollar of it goes directly to the mission field in the year the money is given. The offering’s total is tallied based on giving during the fiscal year, October 2021 through September 2022. The giving increases have allowed NAMB to expand missionary efforts and increase care for missionaries. In February 2022, NAMB announced that it would provide health care benefits and establish retirement accounts for first-year church planting missionaries through a partnership with Guidestone Financial Services. —Baptist Press
Pomeroy preaches farewell message at Sutherland Springs
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS Frank Pomeroy, who pastored at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs for two decades, preached his final sermon at the church on Sunday, September 25.  Pomeroy, who announced his intent to retire earlier this year, preached about Paul’s farewell message to the elders at Ephesus in Acts 20. “As I stand here this morning, I think about how God has had me standing here before you for 20-plus years,” Pomeroy said to the congregation. “We’ve had a lot of really great times, and we’ve had some really, really hard times together—times of laughter, tears, and great mourning. We’ve done all this together, with Christ at the forefront.” In November 2017, a gunman opened fire inside the church, killing 26 people and injuring 20 more. Pomeroy’s 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, was among those killed in the shooting. —Jayson Larson
SWBTS accepts gift of $250,000 from SBTC

FORT WORTH Nathan Lorick, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, presented a $250,000 gift to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on October 3.

The gift was accepted by O.S. Hawkins and David S. Dockery, who were appointed to interim leadership positions at the seminary following the late-September resignation of president Adam Greenway.

“It’s our honor and joy to partner with you, Southwestern, and to present to you a check for $250,000 to help with the expenses, and to come alongside your faculty during this time of transition,” Lorick said in presenting the gift. “The SBTC stands with you and we’re for you, and we love our partnership alongside you.”

Hawkins, who acknowledged that the seminary is facing “serious financial challenges,” said the gift would be used to “free up much-needed funds as another step in reestablishing our school on sound financial footing.”


Metroplex Chinese house church network models worship for those who may one day return to native country

Chinese believers who accept Christ while living in the U.S. might not be able to find an American-style church if they return to China. That’s part of the reason why Eugene Zhang is leading a house church movement in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as a model for what to expect if such a transition occurs.

Most Chinese believers who return to China never join a church there, Zhang said, because they cannot find one like they’ve known in America. “If you start a Chinese house church and they worship just like a house church in China, when they go back, it’s easier for them to fit in the culture there,” he said.

Zhang grew up in a house church in China and briefly served as a missionary in Russia before immigrating to the United States, where his primary employment has been as a truck driver. He and his wife, Lily, attended Hillcrest Baptist Church in Cedar Hill, and along the way they began ministering to Chinese students at Dallas Baptist University (DBU).

The couple learned the students often were uncertain about the future and were looking for purpose in life, so as an outreach, they started providing opportunities to engage with American culture in activities such as horseback riding, target shooting, and fishing. 

“Food always makes good friends, especially in Chinese culture,” Zhang said, noting that providing homemade Chinese food reminded the students of home. “We started to talk about Jesus. Some believed, and we had a Bible study. Later on, we bought a home not far from DBU because we want to continually share the gospel with Chinese students.”

The first week of 2020, Zhang’s group formed a house church in Grand Prairie, hosting not only a Bible study but worship services and weekly evangelism training. During the pandemic, two more house churches started, and now the number is up to six throughout the Metroplex. 

Homemade Chinese food comforts Chinese students who are far from home, and it’s part of every house church meeting, pastor Eugene Zhang said.

“This ministry could potentially reach into the hardest-to-reach places on earth.”

Using the name Hillcrest Chinese Church Network, Zhang partners with Hillcrest Baptist Church, the North American Mission Board, and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to reach not only Chinese students, but Chinese of any age or station in life. “God has really blessed the ministry, and I am very happy with that,” he said.

Zhang explained that some house churches in China can accommodate a thousand people if the home has a large yard or appropriate facility, but generally house churches have 50 to 100 people. In the Hillcrest network, each church has around 20 people—although the original Grand Prairie location has grown to 40.

“Every meeting we have a meal, just like the early church did,” Zhang said. 

One of his main challenges now is training leaders to care for each of the house churches, he said. He has handed four of them over to others, and he is leading two of them. 

Church planting is important, Zhang said, because he sees Chinese unbelievers but doesn’t see people sharing Jesus with them. “God loves everyone and wants them to be saved … [This is] about eternal death or eternal life. It’s very serious,” he said. 

The house churches in the Hillcrest network allocate at least 5% of tithes and offerings to the Cooperative Program, and Zhang emphasizes that all future churches he hopes to plant—even throughout the U.S.—will be encouraged to participate in CP. 

Zhang envisions that many of the Chinese in the house church network in Texas will return to China well-equipped to start or serve similar churches there. 

Research shows 80% of Chinese students will return to China, Zhang said, and a student trained and experienced in house church ministry is equipped to replicate the ministry in China, perhaps impacting generations. 

“This ministry could potentially reach into the hardest-to-reach places on earth,” Zhang said.

A call to prayer

On a Monday night 25 years ago, something happened to me that changed the trajectory of my life and calling. I was 17 and attending a night of worship with our student ministry. It was on that night in that worship service that the Lord began dealing with my heart about becoming a person of passionate prayer. Immediately after the service, I asked our student minister if I could begin a student-led prayer gathering each week. 

Every Tuesday evening, students would gather and cry out to God for our families, friends, and schools. We didn’t exactly have the manual on how to pray, nor did we have a highly organized prayer service. We simply had a heart for God to move among us, and we believed one of the keys to that was to be on our knees together praying.

As I transitioned to college, I wanted to serve. I approached our campus ministry and asked where they needed someone to serve or lead. As you can imagine, there was no one to lead the prayer ministry. I was elated to give new leadership to this group of college students in praying. 

My love and passion for prayer transitioned with me into the pastorate. In my last church, we took prayer seriously. The turning point for our church came when we had a prayer summit that became a launching pad for our people to make prayer a priority. We would have people fill out prayer requests and leave them on the altar anytime during the service.

I told our church we would never end the invitation until every card was picked up and someone committed to pray for that request for the next seven days. We never had to wait, and our church became such a praying church that as soon as we opened the invitation, prayer warriors would rush down and pick up the cards.

“In my last church, we took prayer seriously. The turning point for our church came when we had a prayer summit that became a launching pad for our people to make prayer a priority.”

At our annual meeting in November, I challenged Southern Baptists of Texas Convention churches to begin a prayer gathering at every church. While I am no longer a pastor of a church, I still have a burning desire to see God move among us. One of the ways I firmly believe this can happen is if we are praying.

If you are at a church that doesn’t hold some type of consistent prayer gathering, can I encourage you to commit to starting one in 2023? Our team at the SBTC would be happy to walk with you as you design what that prayer gathering could look like for your church. While I certainly challenge all 2,700-plus SBTC churches to begin prayer gatherings, wouldn’t it be incredible if we had even 500 of our churches with consistent prayer gatherings calling out to God to move among them?

If you already have a prayer gathering at your church, I praise God for that! I would love to know about it. Would you please email me at and let me know what church you are a part of and when your prayer gathering is? I want to pray for you as you call out to the Lord together. 

If you currently do not have a prayer gathering but will commit to beginning one in 2023, I would love to know so I can pray for you as well. Again, please email me and let me know of your commitment to begin. We want to come alongside you and be a resource as you pray. 

I am so excited about what God is doing through the churches of the SBTC. Let’s lead the way for other states and be a network known for our passion for prayer. I believe God will bless our efforts. I am thankful for you. I am honored to serve you. I am in your corner. I am praying for you!

O Little Town of Montalba

Thousands have heard gospel through rural church’s ‘Walk Through Bethlehem’ event

One woman’s vision has resulted in a small EastTexas church reaching thousands with the message of Christ.

Wayne Frazier had only been pastor of Montalba Baptist Church a few years when longtime member Carolyn Bledsoe, whose husband, Charles, chaired the deacons, made an unexpected request. 

“I had a dream that we turned our little property here into Bethlehem,” Bledsoe told Frazier. 

That vision became a reality, resulting in gospel presentations to more than 10,000 people since 2008 through an annual Christmas event—
A Walk Through Bethlehem—that continues to attract visitors from across the state and nation.

The property to which Bledsoe referred was a corner tract of 10 acres, mostly pastureland, beside the main church building. The house that once stood on the property had long been moved, with only the black-topped driveway leading into a pecan grove remaining.

Where most saw an empty lot, Bledsoe envisioned the Holy Land. It would take nearly the entire congregation of 40-50 in the unincorporated Anderson County community of fewer than 1,000 to pull it off, but they were “full on board” from the beginning, Frazier said. 

Mrs. Bledsoe directed the first three years of the event before turning over the reins to volunteer Susan Shelton.

How the walk works

Held Friday to Sunday during the second weekend of December, the walk is a literal walk rather than a drive-through, although it starts with an old-fashioned hayride. Guests park at the church, enter the fellowship hall, where they enjoy cookies and cocoa and receive goodie bags filled such items as gospel tracts, a Christmas ornament, and Christmas crafts for the kids—all with an emphasis on the nativity.

Church volunteers greet guests and help load each group of 20-25 on a hay trailer.

“Then we take them through the ‘time tunnel,’” Frazier said, describing it as an archway of lights. The hayride takes guests past shepherds watching sheep and stops at the Bethlehem city gates, where passengers disembark and are led by a costumed guide through an East Texas version of the streets of the town of Jesus’ birth.

Shops and attractions change from year to year. All actors stay in character inside the town walls. Children are apt to receive a silver coin from a money changer. Guests may view a local potter’s wares or pass a shop “selling” doves for sacrifice. Actual sheep, goats, and donkeys provide further realism.

The walk culminates with a stop before the stable, where guests sit in a small amphitheater, also recently added, and view the nativity. Either Frazier or his son Judson, pastor of First Baptist Fruitvale, will give a brief message about the real meaning of Christmas, always presenting the gospel.

Since Wayne and his wife, Jennifer, have 10 children, some years a Frazier baby might portray the baby Jesus. But with December weather often unpredictable, the church purchased a lifelike doll for the nativity, Shelton said.

With 500-700 visitors per year, a conservative estimate says the walk has been used to present the gospel to more than 10,000 people, making it a massive outreach for a small congregation.

“We want to invest in people so that when they go back to Fairfield, Crockett, Dallas, or wherever, they impact their communities.”

The gospel

The heart of the walk is the sharing of the gospel, Frazier said.

“Our church hasn’t grown a lot physically, but its outreach has grown exponentially,” he said, explaining that Montalba Baptist’s location in a primarily retirement-aged community with no school nearby precludes some traditional outreaches. Still, Montalba’s people desire to be kingdom-focused, and the walk provides an opportunity to do just that, as does the church’s annual Fourth of July community picnic and fireworks show. 

Both events are part of the church budget and offered free of charge to attendees.

“We try to do all we can,” Frazier said. “We want to invest in people so that when they go back to Fairfield, Crockett, Dallas, or wherever, they impact their communities.”

The day before the 2021 walk opened, Carolyn Bledsoe was laid to rest in South Texas. Frazier preached the funeral service and rushed back to Montalba in time for the first guests. 

He knew “Miss Carolyn” would have wanted it no other way.

The 2022 Walk through Bethlehem is scheduled for December 9-11 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

SBTC AM22: Kaunitz elected to second term as SBTC president

CORPUS CHRISTI—Todd Kaunitz, pastor of New Beginnings Baptist Church of Longview, was elected to a second term as president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention by messengers at the 2022 annual meeting Nov. 15 at the American Bank Center.

A second term is customary for SBTC presidents.

In nominating Kaunitz, Caleb Turner, co-pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church, called his friend a man of humility: “intentional” in prayer, leadership, and discipleship; “irrefutable” in character; “impactful” in ministry; and “insufficient” in that Kaunitz realizes he “cannot do it on his own.”

“He will seek the Father first and foremost in everything he does as he leads this convention as he has done this past year,” Turner said.

Richard Lewis, SBTC vice president and pastor of Unity Baptist Church in Copperas Cove, called for further nominations for the office. None were submitted and Kaunitz was elected by acclamation.

During the president’s message Monday night, Kaunitz called on the Lord to “spark a passion in our heart for His presence like never before.” Kaunitz said revival is the “only hope for the church in America,” noting such a movement of God only comes through “desperate prayer.” He preached from Jeremiah 29:11 (the foundational verse on which this year’s annual theme, “Pursuing Presence,” is rooted) and led the time of corporate prayer at the close of the general session.

Following his unanimous election Tuesday morning, he expressed gratitude to messengers and asked for prayer.