Month: May 2024

God brought Larry Wheeler to nothing so He could introduce him to everything he ever wanted

Larry Wheeler can personally testify to the highs and lows life can bring. 

He didn’t have much growing up, he says, which motivated him to go straight to work in the oil fields after graduating high school. In those fields, he found hard work, long days, and eventually, a six-figure income. He drove $80,000 trucks—sometimes buying more than one in a year—and had enough money to give his family the life he envisioned.

A life of plenty. The high life.

Though his job paid well, it exacted a high cost in return. Larry often spent weeks at a time away in the fields—a hard fact of life for a new family with a young child. The distance in miles was matched by an emotional void that opened between him and his wife, Mary. Years of infidelity followed.

A sinkhole began to hollow Larry out from the inside, devouring not only the life he had worked so hard to build, but his soul. Looking to fill the emptiness, he spent faster than he could earn. He used alcohol and drugs to numb the painful darkness enveloping his heart and mind. 

Financial problems inevitably arrived. He was going to lose his house. He was going to lose his trucks. His family was floundering. He felt like everything was slipping away—and now, as he sat at home alone one night, thoughts of ending his own life entered his mind.

It was the lowest of the lows. 

“That was the moment I realized that as much as I tried to control everything, I didn’t have control of anything,” Larry said. “That was actually the night I was going to end it all. I came to the point of crying out—in the middle of the night—to God.” 

Having survived a restless night, Larry opened his eyes the next day not realizing God was about to respond to his cries for help. It started with a phone call.

Larry Wheeler, pictured on the left with his wife, Mary, and their two sons, Tripp (in hat) and Tuff, sought satisfaction in the wrong things until God got his attention. (At Right) Wheeler, left, is seen with Judd Frazier, who baptized him. SUBMITTED PHOTO

‘It was almost like God was telling me to do it’

It was April 2021 and Charles Wheeler woke up on a mission. No, he woke up with a burden. Easter Sunday was about a week away, so he picked up his phone and, one by one over the next 15 minutes, called each of his three adult children—all of whom were distant from the Lord. 

The conversations were short, stern, and to the point.

“I don’t ask much of you, and I’ve never tried to interfere with your life,” he said to his son, Larry. “But I’m not askin’—you need to be in church for Easter.”

“All right, whatever,” Larry responded.

End of call. 

The conversation caught Larry off guard. It felt random, out of nowhere, he thought, but was it? When Larry looked inside the church growing up, all he saw was a gathering of people he couldn’t relate to. But over the years, he recalled several encounters he felt God used to remind him of His presence. A couple years ago, Larry was completely unscathed after pulling a man out of a fully engulfed house fire. Several years before that, he had a spiritual conversation with a man he was buying a horse trailer from. 

“Do you go to church?” the man asked.

“No sir,” Larry replied, “I don’t need church.”

“Well, maybe that’s true,” the man said, “but who’s to say the church don’t need you?”

Those memories came flooding back after the phone call from his father.

“I think my dad telling me I needed to be at church made me realize, ‘OK, you need to quit being so hard-headed and just do it,’” Larry said. “Here I was the night before asking God to help me, so when my dad said it, it was almost like God was telling me to do it.”

Two days later, Mary came home after the couple’s latest separation.

“Hey,” Larry said to her, “we gotta be at church this Sunday.”

“I realized that as much as I tried to control everything, I didn’t have control of anything. That was actually the night I was going to end it all. I came to the point of crying out—in the middle of the night—to God.”

‘Are you Charlie’s son?’

Judd Frazier was having the kind of morning every pastor can relate to. The details, he says, don’t matter much now, but let’s just say it was a tough morning. Getting your heart and head right to deliver a sermon on those kinds of mornings is difficult enough; when they fall on Easter Sunday, the pressure can feel overwhelming. 

Even so, Frazier said knew he needed to be faithful to preach the gospel to all those who would gather that morning at First Baptist Church in Fruitvale. Among those expected in attendance was Larry Wheeler—a man for whom Frazier and Charles, one of the church’s deacons, had prayed many times.  

Sure enough, Larry and Mary walked in before the service and took a seat near Charles. Frazier proceeded to preach his passage from 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: “For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures ….”

When Frazier finished, he felt like his sermon didn’t connect. Once the invitation began, he sat down and began praying: “Lord, I butchered this. I’m so sorry.” When he opened his eyes and looked up, he was surprised: Larry was at the altar, doubled over on both knees and weeping uncontrollably.

Frazier shot up from his seat and knelt down next to Larry. 

“Are you Charlie’s son?” Frazier asked. Larry shook his head in the affirmative. 

“Larry, we’ve been praying for you by name for a couple of weeks,” Frazier continued. “Brother, you need to give your life to Jesus.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Larry sobbed, “but I know I need that because I don’t have what you just [preached] about. My life is a mess and I can’t fix it anymore.”

Larry surrendered his life to Jesus that day and was baptized the next month. Mary—who had made a profession of faith earlier in life before struggling in her faith—recommitted her life to the Lord, as well, and she and Larry began a process of healing and forgiveness that continues to this day. 

In the months that followed, Frazier and Larry would meet weekly, studying the Bible and talking about how Jesus can overcome any obstacle in the lives of His followers. It’s not a perfect life, Larry says, but an abundant one.

A life of plenty. The high life.

“My life, it’s been up and down, but man, I’ve just steadily been climbing up,” Larry said. “It’s like Jesus is slowly pulling me out of a pit, and I just give Him all the glory for that. His love is real. His grace—when He says, ‘My grace is sufficient’—it is.”

“My life, it’s been up and down, but man, I’ve just steadily been climbing up. It’s like Jesus is slowly pulling me out of a pit, and I just give Him all the glory for that.”

Man on fire

Frazier was at his home on a Friday night not too long ago when a pipe burst. A city employee arrived after hours with his wife to assess the damage, and the three eventually struck up a conversation. Before long, the city employee’s wife realized she recognized Frazier.

“Wait, are you Larry Wheeler’s pastor?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am, I am,” he said with a bemused chuckle, “but how do you know Larry?”

“Well, I work at a bank in Van, and he has come in and evangelized almost everybody in the lobby several times. He’s asked every one of us in the bank if we’re saved and about our testimonies. He shares the gospel with people every time he comes in there.”

A few weeks later, Frazier had just pulled into a drive thru for a late-night bite after church on a Wednesday when his phone rang. It was after 10 p.m., and the name on the caller ID was one he quickly recognized: Larry Wheeler.

These are the kinds of after-hours calls that can make a pastor’s heart skip a beat, and Frazier’s was no different. “Uh oh,” he thought. “I wonder what’s wrong.”

When Frazier answered, he was greeted by Wheeler’s voice, full of excitement. “Pastor, I just called you to let you know I just led someone to the Lord,” Wheeler said. 

“He was so excited,” Frazier recalled. “That man is just on fire for the Lord.”

God knows who you are, and so do we

You probably didn’t know Sue Barrett. 

She would flutter around Trinity Baptist Church in Amarillo lighting up every space her feet touched. An encouraging word here. A kind smile and a hug there.

But when Sue’s name came across my desk a couple of months ago, it wasn’t because of any of those things. I learned those things afterward. Sue passed away on April 11 at the age of 89. On the exact day of her homegoing, she marked her 66th year not only as a member of her church, but as the teacher of the church’s 3- and 4-year-olds.  

Sixty-six years. 

Though she had no formal teacher training, Sue was adept at finding creative ways to teach the Bible to children. In a world that can feel tall and intimidating to little ones, Sue was a warm, safe place. She would sing happy birthday to them and send cards home telling them they were missed when they didn’t make it to church. She would frequently tell the children she loved them.

Because of that, said Melissa Raleigh, Trinity’s children’s director the past eight years, children—one generation after the next—became easily attached to her. “She just made them feel very, very special,” Raleigh said. “She was that way for her church family, as well.”

Sue was also politely stubborn. She drove her car until the very end and, when inclement weather would sweep into Amarillo, church staff had to beg her not to try to drive in. “She was just one of those people who was going to be there every time the doors were open,” Raleigh said.

No, you probably didn’t know Sue Barrett, but chances are, there’s someone like Sue in your church. Those men or women are precious to your church and they are certainly precious to the kingdom of God. They often do things nobody else wants to do and exhibit a faithfulness that is equal parts convicting and inspiring. The Sue in your church makes you say things like, “If they can do that at that age, then surely I can do that, too.”

You may even be the Sue in your church. One of the great things about the Sue in your church is that she doesn’t even know she’s the Sue, doesn’t want to be recognized as the Sue, and would probably be embarrassed to be recognized as such. The Sue in your church doesn’t want glory. She doesn’t hang around 3-year-olds for the glamour of it and she doesn’t do it for recognition. She just goes about her business, slowly and steadily, week after week, for the glory of God.

My intent here is not to exalt Sue—though her service is worthy of recognition. It’s to remind us to appreciate, both in our prayers and in words of gratitude, the meek servants—the quiet and unassumingly strong servants—God has placed in our churches. Their faithfulness should be a reminder of His faithfulness to provide us with all we need to achieve His purposes.

Those purposes are always eternal—so that others may know Jesus, and so that we may all one day stand before our Lord and hear the words I know Sue heard on April 11:

“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Supporting the point, not making the point

Finding sermon illustrations can sometimes seem daunting. In my own process, finding an illustration is often the last task that keeps my sermon from being complete. Authors have made a boatload of money churning out books of illustrations, but a sermon illustration doesn’t have to be complicated to be great. It just needs to help your sermon transition from the exposition of the text to the application of the text.

Think of the illustration as the transmission of your car. The source of power for your car is the engine, but for your car to travel effectively and efficiently, you need something that will translate that power into energy that can be applied to the wheels in a way that is appropriate for the conditions you are traveling in. All things being equal, if you had two identical cars—same model, same engine, even the same driver, but one had a six-speed transmission and one had a three-speed transmission—the six-speed would be faster and more efficient. Why? The transmission would allow it to apply the engine’s power more effectively and consistently.

This is what a good illustration can do: provide the mental shift from understanding the text in abstraction to applying the power of the text in the life of the believer. A great sermon illustration helps make that transition.

Find the point of connection

Some think that for an illustration to be good, it must be a personal, powerful story, but almost anything can serve as an illustration: the workings of nature, history, current events—the list can go on. The key here is the illustration doesn’t have to be an incredibly powerful example, nor an allegory of the point. Instead, you just need to find the point of connection between the potential illustration and the point of your sermon. In fact, the closer the illustration and the point of the sermon are to one another, the more memorable and effective the message tends to be.

Keep your illustrations common

Illustrations should generally be familiar to your congregation. Since your illustration is meant to help your audience grasp the point, it doesn’t help if they have to work to understand your illustration. But if it is something they have experienced, they can immediately identify. Moreover, if you pick something common to their life, it can serve as a subtle reminder of the point.

To this day, I think about the resurrection every time I eat pancakes. Why? Because 14 years ago, a chapel speaker illustrated the logical chain that Paul built in 1 Corinthians 15:12–19 by comparing it to the steps necessary to be able to eat a pancake: If there was no visit to the store, then there would be no pancake batter in the pantry and, thus, no pancakes. In the same way, if there is no resurrection of the dead, then there was no resurrection of Christ, and thus no hope. It’s simple, familiar, and constantly reminds me of the centrality and necessity of the resurrection.

Keep illustrations in their proper role

When we illustrate, there are two pitfalls to be aware of. First, it is possible to let the illustration drive the sermon. Sometimes it comes from trying too hard to “work in” a specific illustration. Sometimes it happens without us even realizing it. But if we let the illustration start making the point instead of supporting the point, it could ultimately lead us into misreading the text and misleading our flock. So, when you are seeking an illustration, make sure the point you are making is crystal clear before you look for the illustration.

Second, if we use a personal story as an illustration, we run the risk of making someone other than Jesus the hero of our sermon. But if you keep Jesus as the hero, the text’s point as the sermon’s point, and you find an illustration that will help you transition to application, then your illustration will have served its purpose well.

Illustrations can be useful tools in our preaching ministries, but don’t go overboard. Preach the text of God’s Word and let illustrations be a support, not the main point.

5 minutes with Steve Ramirez

At age 33, Steve Ramirez walked into Immanuel Baptist Church Fort Stockton for the first time and, within a few months, accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. Later, he began helping teach an adult Sunday school class and became a deacon. He served as the church’s youth minister and eventually became the pastor, a position he has held the past 16 years. Ramirez also serves on the executive board of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. He and his wife, Becky, have three children and four granddaughters.

What is something you’ve been able to celebrate at Immanuel Baptist Church Fort Stockton recently? 

After COVID, attendance dropped and remained low for quite a long time. We wondered if things would get back to the way they were. Now, as many have made their way back, we have also been blessed to have many newcomers join us, which is very encouraging. But it’s just as encouraging to see the hunger for God and His Word and the love that is shown to God and to one another, and the unity within the church and with God. 

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your ministry lately?

As a bivocational pastor who works seven days a week, time has always been a challenge: making sure I have my time with my Lord in prayer, time to read His Word, time with family, time with work, and everything else in between. Trying to balance everything out is a challenge, but God is good and always makes it work out.

What is a lesson you’ve learned to this point in your ministry you know you’ll never forget?  

Staying in a close relationship with the Lord is the most important thing. There are always going to be challenges, problems, and different situations that come up in the ministry, but we need to stay focused and not forget what we are called to do. Keep the main thing, the main thing. Stay close to God with much prayer and listen to His guidance in all matters.

What is one thing you’d like to see God do specifically at your church this year?

This year and every year, my main desire is that everyone who walks into IBC who does not know the Lord would come to know Him. That we all be prepared to meet Him when that day comes. That we all may have an urgency to let others know about salvation through Christ, for without Him we have nothing. 

How can other churches of the SBTC be praying for you?

I ask for discernment to be able to hear the Lord clearly. For wisdom and courage to fulfill what He has called me to do. To be able to lead the beautiful people of IBC, that we all may become more and more like Christ. To God be the glory!

A celebration on earth and in heaven

The room was full, buzzing with excitement over a celebration about to take place at First Baptist Church in Malakoff.

Casey Perry—a retired pastor, longtime friend and supporter of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and FBC Malakoff member—slowly made his way down into the baptistry to kick off the celebration. Then, one by one, a line of his great-great-nieces and nephews—six total and ranging in age from eight to 13—stepped down into the water.

All six had recently made professions of faith and wanted to be baptized not only together, but by “Uncle Casey.” So, under the water they went: first Annie, then Peyton, Tatum, Jaxtyn, Levi, and finally, Gunnar. “For we are buried with Him in baptism,” Uncle Casey said each time, “and arise to walk in newness of life.”

Just a day earlier, a different room at the church was full and buzzing with excitement over a different kind of celebration—a party honoring Perry’s 90th birthday. Nearly 100 family and friends gathered in the church’s children’s building to honor a man who has faithfully continued to serve the Lord into his ninth decade of life. That’s what brought Perry’s great-great-nieces and nephews to town, traveling not only from the Dallas area, but from Lubbock and Colorado to get there. 

Perry said he was grateful for the birthday party and thrilled to have the opportunity to baptize his six young family members. “It was a great experience,” he said.

Quite a way to celebrate a 90th birthday, huh, Casey? 

“Well yeah,” Perry said affirmatively, “I guarantee it!”

After nearly fatal fall, pastor’s wife is taking advantage of every gospel opportunity

It was supposed to be a peaceful retreat, a time to begin seeking God’s plan for the next season of their lives.

After 50 years of full-time ministry—21 spent at First Baptist Church in Galena Park—Pastor Marcos Ramos and his wife, Irma, decided it was time to retire. So they planned a getaway to Holly Lake Ranch, located just north of Tyler, last December.

“Here’s the cabin,” Marcos said as he pulled the couple’s car into a parking space near Cabin 51.

As they were settling into their accommodations, Irma went back to the car to look for something. On her way back to the cabin, she climbed the first step and, in a confusing moment of panic, let out a deep cry before falling backward. 

That’s the last thing Irma remembers. 

Marcos, hearing his wife’s cry, rushed outside and found her lying on the ground. She was unconscious and bloody, having suffered a severe blow to the head on the concrete. 

Irma was rushed to the nearest hospital in Tyler and admitted into the intensive care unit. The doctor on duty was surprised she had not suffered a skull fracture considering how hard a blow she had taken to the head.

“Your wife’s brain is full of blood,” the doctor told Marcos.

Irma had suffered a potentially life-threatening brain bleed that would need to be drained as soon as possible. Failure to relieve the pressure on her brain could have left her with permanent brain damage or even caused death.

Three days after her accident, on Dec. 12, Irma regained consciousness. She could move and smile, but she was unable to speak or communicate. She did not know where she was or recognize any of the people around her—including family. Doctors feared she could suffer long-term memory loss, and they prepared the family for the possibility she might never recognize them again.

Irma Ramos (seen with her husband, Marcos, at top right) had scores of people praying for her—including members of her family, pictured in the three photographs to the right. God answered the family's prayers and Irma has experienced a recovery that she gladly shares with others. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

‘God is going to heal her’

But five days after the accident—five days bathed in desperate, pleading prayer from family and friends who loved Irma—something began to change. She began to speak short words. She recognized the people gathered around her, including her grandchildren, whose names she could recall and who had joined the chorus of prayer surrounding her. 

As encouraging as this was, doctors were not hopeful Irma would be able to fully recover. Family members were told she would likely see some improvement in her condition, but they were unsure if she would suffer from some form of long-term paralysis or memory loss.

“I have faith that my mom is going to be restored and she’s going to be fine,” her son, Sammy, said in response to the doctor’s cautious prognosis. “She’s going to walk and she’s going to be able to talk because God is going to heal her.”

“You have a lot of faith,” the doctor said to Sammy. “We hope so.”

Miraculously, just two days later, Irma improved enough to be transferred from intensive care to intermediate care. She began responding well to therapy and eating on her own, no longer requiring a feeding tube. 

All told, Irma spent 13 days in the hospital in Tyler. Those were days of waiting and uncertainty, but God showed the family they were not alone. Family members recall how they could feel His presence and see His divine provision through the waves of prayer and help being sent their way.

“She’s going to walk and she’s going to be able to talk because God is going to heal her.”

While she was hospitalized, financial assistance and in-kind help poured in from places including the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Lone Star Pastor Care Network. Friends and acquaintances brought her supplies, brothers and sisters from the churches Marcos pastored made the long trip from Houston to visit, and many called to let the family know they were continuing to pray. 

Irma improved so much that, just before Christmas, God allowed her and Marcos to return to Houston to celebrate the holiday in their city. She was admitted to a different hospital where she began a 14-day rehabilitation process. She was still struggling with cognitive abilities at this point, but upon arriving in Houston, another miracle occurred. 

It was Dec. 23, their first day at the rehab hospital. As Marcos sat in the room with his wife, he began to hear her voice speaking coherently and clearly as they began to have their first conversation in almost a month.

“Where are we?” Irma asked.

“In the hospital,” Marcos replied.

“Are you sick?” Irma responded, sounding puzzled.

“You are the sick one,” Marcos said.

He then began to explain everything that had happened. Her trip back to the car to look for something. Her scream. The mad dash to the hospital. The grueling hours of waiting, the doctors and nurses coming in and out of the room, the prayer … all of it.

Irma remembered none of it.

She remained at the rehab hospital until Jan. 5, when doctors finally cleared her to return home to continue her therapy. Having now started to recover most of her mental faculties, Irma continually shared the testimony of what God had done in her life with all the medical personnel tending to her. They were amazed to see how much she had progressed.

“I want to teach people what I have learned after 50 years of ministry about God’s sovereignty, His mercy, and testify to His greatness.”

A new assignment

“Now I take every opportunity to share my testimony,” Irma said. “I want to teach people what I have learned after 50 years of ministry about God’s sovereignty, His mercy, and testify to His greatness.”

One such instance happened in February at the Apoderados event held in conjunction with the SBTC’s annual Empower Conference. During the event, Irma met a woman who was a maintenance worker at the church hosting Apoderados. 

They began to talk. Irma explained what was happening at the conference. The woman shared that, although her son—a follower of Christ—had invited her to church often, she personally had not yet made the decision to follow Jesus. Seizing on the opportunity, Irma shared the gospel with the woman and invited her to give her life to Jesus right then and there. But the woman said she was not ready.

The next day, Irma saw the woman again. “Are you ready?” Irma asked. This time, the woman said she was and prayed to receive Christ. Irma then connected her with a pastor for follow-up. 

Six months after they retreated to the woods of East Texas to seek guidance for the next steps of their lives, God has granted Irma and Marcos an answer. They are starting a Hispanic ministry at Clay Road Baptist Church in Houston, offering English as a second language classes, visiting area homes, and providing community outreach to those in need. Clay Road recently held a community outreach on Easter Sunday where Marcos preached in English and Spanish. Irma is actively ministering to pastors’ wives through the Lone Star Pastor Care Network that ministered to her family during her recovery. 

“God’s mercy and love are always with us,” Marcos said, “so whenever you go through a trial, whenever you go through suffering, keep trusting in the Lord and keep your eyes on Jesus because He works all things for good.”

The God who heals

“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” —James 5:14

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n April 21, at both our church campuses, we had services asking for the Lord’s healing. You read that correctly. We obeyed James 5:13 and invited people to come forward during the time of invitation. We anointed many with oil and prayed for healing in Jesus’ name. The response was like I had never seen. Many lined up in the aisles patiently awaiting their turn to be anointed and prayed over. It was an intense and beautiful time in the Lord. We prayed in faith, asking God to heal bodies, minds, marriages, and homes. 

The need is great. People are struggling in every way you can imagine. We need churches that resemble hospitals more than hotels. Churches that have a battleship mentality and not a cruise ship approach to ministry. Satan has unleashed a violent surge of attacks all over the world. The only hope for this broken world is the body of Christ—His church—loving and ministering to others in Jesus’ name and by His power.

My text for the message that day was Exodus 15:22-27, and the title was “Jehovah Rophe—the LORD Who Heals.” The first time God reveals Himself as the LORD who heals is Exodus 15:26. It is a powerful and assuring truth in Scripture that God is the Great Physician who heals supernaturally. We may be suspicious of human healers, but not of God’s supernatural ability to heal those who are hurting and sick. 

"God is sovereign and He decides who will be healed. Our responsibility is to pray and trust in Him. Just as more people are saved when we witness, more people are healed when we pray."

There are two erroneous extremes that must be avoided when dealing with the subject of healing. One, we should not say God never heals. That is a statement of unbelief. God is the God who heals, as evidenced in the Bible. Many of you, like me, have seen God do the miraculous and heal the sick.  

The second extreme we must avoid is saying God always heals and that we simply must have faith. This is as equally untrue as saying God never heals. I have known people who loved God just as much as you and I and had as much faith or more and God chose not to heal. The apostle Paul, who I believe is the greatest Christian who ever lived, prayed and asked God to heal him three times and God said no (2 Corinthians 12:8).

God is sovereign and He decides who will be healed. Our responsibility is to pray and trust in Him. Just as more people are saved when we witness, more people are healed when we pray. Perhaps you are suffering and need healing from the Lord. God loves you and has the power to heal you. If He chooses not to answer in the way you think He should, rest assured, He has a plan and He is in control. Romans 8:28—offering the truth that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose–is still in the Bible. 

I am praying for you that whatever your need is, be it physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, marital, or anything else, that you would go to God in prayer. Also, consider what James teaches and ask the elders of your church to anoint you with oil and pray for you.  

Praise Jehovah Rophe, for He is the God who heals!

SBTC DR response to SE Texas storms mark ‘longest, most involved deployment’ since Hurricane Harvey

HOUSTON—As spring storms pummeled Southeast Texas, including the greater Houston area, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief volunteers, with help from Baptist DR teams from other states, launched and maintained a steady monthlong response to the emergency.

The response included serving survivors and first responders with logistical support, hot meals, showers, laundry services, chaplaincy assistance, and recovery operations.

“This has been the longest and most involved deployment since Hurricane Harvey,” SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice said. “It’s involved a series of smaller events spread out over the state. We’ve been there to help.”

SBTC DR volunteers responded to April storms that impacted Trinity, Polk, San Jacinto, Walker, Montgomery, Liberty, and East Harris counties in Southeast Texas. They also served survivors of a May storm event in Hardin County and, as of this writing, are on standby status to respond to a tornado that hit the Temple/Belton area in May.

The disasters keep coming.

On May 24, SBTC DR feeding volunteers using the kitchen at Flint Baptist Church fed 160 first responders and members of the public affected by a tornado in Palestine. That work continued on May 25.

“We’ve been busy, and we continue to be busy,” Stice said. “DR response can be a moving target.”

Helping Houston

The greater Houston area prompted the largest response of the spring to date. With their main base of operations set up at Spring Baptist Church in Spring, SBTC DR and Arkansas Baptist DR teams provided showers and did dozens of loads of laundry in addition to completing clean-up at 12 homes and chainsaw work.

Also in Houston, Clay Road Baptist Church continues to offer survivors shower and laundry services.

In North Houston, SBTC DR teams continued their groundbreaking partnership with the Salvation Army, staffing a mass-feeding kitchen site. Teams contributed 2,220 volunteer hours to prepare 20,235 meals distributed by Salvation Army personnel. In addition to mass-feeding operations from large field kitchens, SBTC quick-response mobile unit workers spent 320 volunteer hours preparing and serving 1,017 meals to Salvation Army and other SBTC DR volunteers.

SBTC DR volunteers prepared more than 20,000 hot meals distributed by the Salvation Army to Houston storm survivors, continuing the groundbreaking DR partnership between the two gospel-centered organizations. SBTC DR PHOTO

Outside the Bayou City

SBTC DR volunteers also supported the San Jacinto County Shelter, providing 997 showers and doing 236 loads of laundry until May 24.

Chainsaw and recovery teams from First Baptist Bellville responded to needs in their community, northwest of Houston, by completing 27 jobs, logging 18 heavy equipment hours, and contributing 240 volunteer hours.

SBTC DR equipment and teams additionally set up headquarters at Central Baptist Church in Livingston on May 12. Since then, more than 746 meals have been served, 268 showers provided, 92 loads of laundry done, and 56 home cleanup requests completed with 10 more pending. SBTC DR teams alone have clocked 3,820 volunteer hours at Livingston in a deployment which also involved Baptist DR teams from Oklahoma and Florida.

At the American Red Cross shelter set up at Cleveland ISD’s Pine Burr Elementary school, SBTC DR teams from the Top O’ Texas Association continue to staff a shower and laundry unit as they have since May 16.

“Pine Burr houses the largest Red Cross shelter at the moment,” Stice said. “Our volunteers have done a phenomenal job here as elsewhere … [with ] lots of ministry, lots of gospel conversations, lots of encouraging folks.”

Also in Cleveland, SBTC DR and other state Baptist volunteers based at Calvary Baptist Church began cleanup operations which were suspended on May 25 till floodwaters recede.

At Huntsville, an SBTC QRU and volunteers supported the shelter established at the H.E.A.R.T.S. Veterans Museum of Texas until May 6, while at Liberty County, an SBTC DR shower and laundry unit supported survivors from May 7-13.

Cleanup operations based at Coldspring in San Jacinto County, staffed by Baptist DR teams from Arizona and New Mexico, also took place, with operations closing on May 25.

Meanwhile, in Hardin County, SBTC DR teams served 30 volunteer hours, cleaning out three damaged homes.

“It has been a very busy spring,” Stice said, expressing thanks not only for SBTC DR volunteers who give so much but also for the out-of-state teams who came to help Texas survivors.

“We appreciate the prayer and financial support of SBTC churches through the Cooperative Program and Reach Texas giving,” Stice added.

 

A great opportunity to connect

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couple years ago when we announced we would be leading a group of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention pastors on a clergy familiarization trip to Israel, I knew it would be a life-changing experience for our group. I had personally been to Israel before and experienced that incredible journey myself. 

But on that trip, we saw God do exceedingly and abundantly more than we could have imagined. Not only did pastors and their wives get to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, but they connected with one another. Deep bonds were formed that remain strong today. We even saw one of our pastors lead someone to Jesus on the trip!

One of our pastors who went on the trip was interviewed by the Texan afterward and said this: “We’ve been desperate for [ministry] relationships. Spending that much time with people who understand what we’re going through—that was so needed. It helped us know we’re not alone. We’re so thankful for the relationships we made on the trip.”

There is no telling what God may do when we take our next group of SBTC pastors on our Experience the Holy Land Clergy Familiarization Trip in Israel later this year. The 10-day trip is scheduled for Dec. 26, 2024, through Jan. 4, 2025. It is available to senior pastors of SBTC-affiliated churches at a discounted price, which includes $1,300 in financial assistance provided by a generous grant from the SBTC Executive Board. Special pricing is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Senior pastors who wish to register must currently be pastoring an SBTC church. Their cost is $1,797 (after the grant has been applied). A second pastor from the same church may travel at the regular clergy price of $3,097, but only two pastors are allowed per church. Spouses can join the trip for $3,497.

You can visit sbtexas.com/israel for more information. Space is limited. 

I hope you will prayerfully consider joining us as we retrace the footsteps of Jesus and watch the Bible come alive before our very eyes. I also know you will be blessed by being in the company of other servants of the Lord who can relate to the joys and challenges of ministry. 

If there is anything I can do to personally encourage you, or if you have other questions, please feel free to reach out to me at nlorick@sbtexas.com.

I love you and I am honored to serve you!

Even in the face of fear and mystery, I will still trust the Lord

I was really close to my brother Gary. We were good friends in high school, roomed together in college, even were best man for each other’s weddings. We coached together and could argue with one another on the sidelines, and it’d be OK. Our dad died when we were young, and we went through that ordeal together. We worked with Fellowship of Christian Athletes and with our churches.  

We were very aware of Gary’s calling to missions throughout all those years. I was excited for him. We had taken mission trips together as college kids. He’d organize it and we’d go to Mexico with groups. He worked for 10 years to get everything in line with the International Mission Board. They’re very meticulous about who they put on the field because they want those people to stay.

Gary and his family had not been in Mexico as full-time missionaries for long at all when there was a terrible accident. In 1999, Gary was swimming in the ocean near Tapachula when a strong undercurrent carried him, his 10-year-old daughter Carla, and two summer missionaries out into deep water. They all drowned. 

"I’m learning to be careful with human plans and to plan with the mysterious plan of God in mind."

Well, I guess it’s the normal human response when somebody is taken away—especially when that somebody is taken before, what we call on Earth, “their time”—to think we would have more time with them. Having it happen so quickly after they got on the field—why would God do that? I wouldn’t have planned it that way—a career-minded missionary who’s spent 10 years trying to get there. But God knows. He sees before and after, so you just have to trust Him, even though you fear what can happen. I call it “fearfully awesome.” God’s plans are fearfully awesome, because He could just take anybody [at any time].

Gary’s death created some fear in me in the next five or six years after that, maybe even now. There are pictures in my mind of tragedies that could happen to me and my wife, my kids, that God could do anything. And if He does, then He’s still the Lord and you just have to keep on. 

So when my daughter planned to be married to my now son-in-law, I already knew he had a heart for missions. They grew into their relationship, got married, had kids, and they worked in the Houston area. I said, “Well, one of these days, [them getting called to the mission field is] probably going to happen.” And sure enough, it did. And all those feelings of fear resurfaced.

FBC Groesbeck’s South Asia missions team is pictured. Sloan can be seen second from right with Pastor Keith Collier (third from right) and Glyn Sloan (middle).

Just recently, I don’t know, a year-and-a-half ago, a retired coach that I’d worked with started putting together mission teams and he ended up in Tapachula, where Gary was. He sent me a picture with an older Mexican guy and asked, “Do you know this guy?” I didn’t, but he was one of Gary’s first converts and is now a pastor, and he’s still doing it 23 years later.

The day before the drowning, Gary had met with a few pastors and set out his vision for the whole Chiapas area. That vision is continuing today. There’s an institute for training, a seminary, and a group that was still meeting last I heard as of 2012 or 2013. Was Gary the guy that it’s all centered around, or did his passing cause that group to become stronger on their own? I don’t know. There we go again—the mysterious plan of God’s will.

Now my daughter, her husband, and their children are my church’s missionary family that we pray for and travel to help. We’ve been on two trips to their area and probably will do more. Our VBS offering goes to them and my daughter sends videos for each day. It’s been a great connection between our church here and our family in Southeast Asia.

Sloan visits with a shop owner in South Asia. Submitted Photos

We picked up an unreached people group in that area and we began to pray for them. We had gospel conversations on two trips [in the unreached people group] that we took there and are praying that one of those people will be at God’s throne with every race and every tribe.

I’m learning to be careful with human plans and to plan with the mysterious plan of God in mind. These [plans] are just thoughts that we’re going to act upon, but they may not happen. There’s got to be a trust in God there. 

I’ve been reading through Leviticus recently, and there are these little stanzas that end with, “I’m the Lord.” I’ve got them all underlined, about 20 of them. He is the Lord and His mysterious plan is going to come about. I think I’ve learned that even when I’ve got my own plans here, God may have another plan.

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