ODESSA, Texas – “It’s about one soul coming to know Jesus – that’s why we do what we do.” These words, from Ruben Hernandez, director of missions and evangelism for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, stood as a rallying cry for Texas Baptists in West Texas on Feb. 9. “We should pray, we should work, we should testify, we should preach expecting souls to be saved,” he said. This was the goal of the SBTC’s regional evangelism rally, held for the fourth year at Sherwood Baptist Church of Odessa.
About 15 churches from Odessa and surrounding towns brought approximately 325 adults, 160 youth and 40 children to Sherwood Baptist for a night of worship and preaching anticipated yearly by Baptists in the community. Because the conference included a separate meeting for each of the three age groups, entire families received encouragement to win others to Christ.
Jerry Dennis, pastor of Bible Way Family Baptist Church in Athens, spoke to adults, calling pastors to be both morally and doctrinally pure despite great pressure to conform to the world’s standards
“Don’t go along to get along with the world,” he urged the audience, which included about fifteen pastors. He then encouraged church members to follow their pastors as they stand for truth in their churches.
Because of its prophetic tone, Dennis called his message “The Sermon I Didn’t Want to Preach.” However, Tom Hiser, pastor of host church Sherwood Baptist, felt the message was right on target, especially for him and his fellow ministers. He said that Dennis encouraged reaching out to the community but still drawing the line on sin. “I thought it was an excellent presentation,” Hiser noted.
The next featured speaker was Stan Coffey, pastor of San Jacinto Baptist Church in Amarillo and who served as the first president of the SBTC in 1989. Coffey gave an expository message from Revelation 1, describing in detail the significance of John’s vision of Jesus. When one really gets a clear view of Christ, Coffey claimed, he will always want to share him.
Hiser described this message as “right on point, because he spoke right where we are. He just gave us an insightful view into who Jesus really is.”
Coffey ended his message with a challenge to the congregation. He asked to see the hands of all those pledging “to lead somebody to Jesus in 2003.” Hundreds of hands went up across the auditorium, a testimony to God’s work through the conference.
If each person there led one person to Christ, hundreds of new souls would be added to the Kingdom, said Hiser who was astounded at the power of this commitment
Throughout the course of the adult conference, Don Thornton led the congregation in three praise and worship sessions. Thornton, a fulltime music evangelist from Fairfield, mixed well-known hymns with praise choruses and performed solos as well.
The main message of the night was highlighted by one young man at the close of the service. The man, who for a time had been homeless, was led to Christ by one of the church’s evangelism teams the previous Monday. After finding him at an apartment complex, the members presented the gospel to him and purchased food for the man. At the conference, the group surrounded the young man as he professed his new faith.
While adults participated in the conference in the church’s auditorium, the youth piled into the gym. Nationally-known speaker Bill Gravell presented an evangelistic message that included humor to the large crowd and several personal experiences. He called students to be sure of their salvation. Knowing that many in the crowd may be depending on a false “aisle walking” experience in the past, he urged the students to make sure they had made Jesus their own. He also targeted those brought by other youth who may have never heard the gospel at all.
Worship band Destination Known led the youth in contemporary worship, but they also included a hymn portion in their music set. Sherwood Baptist Youth Minister Dennis Houston appreciated this mix and felt that the band led into Gravell’s teaching with great skill. “After that, the students were willing to hear anything,” he said.
Houston noted that the youth portion of the annual conference is also highly anticipated in Odessa and the surrounding communities. “It’s growing more and more every year,” he said. “We had good participation from other churches, including Spanish Baptist churches.” Sherwood’s own youth group brought 50 to the conference as well. “The kids liked it,” Houston said. “Those are messages and songs that everyone that can hear should hear.”
Houston rejoiced over the decisions made by youth at their portion of the evangelism conference. At the end of the night, five students made decisions – four of which were professions of faith.
A new addition to the annual conference was the children’s event, held in the church’s FAITH evangelism program training room. Jon Merryman spoke to the children about his own testimony and encouraged them to trust in God in all circumstances. Merryman had experienced a plane crash earlier in life, and his story of the experience grabbed the kids’ attention
Cara Nelson, a Sherwood Baptist fourth grader, hoped to have the same level of trust in God. “His experience was scary,” she remembered. “So he kept asking God to save him.” When friends ask her about the evangelism conference at school, she hopes to tell them about Jesus if they don’t already know, she said.
“Jon Merryman really impressed our people,” Pastor Hiser said. “He should be dead, but he survived and is helping other people.”
This year’s evangelism conference at Sherwood Baptist was the biggest yet. Hiser has enjoyed facilitating the conference for the past four years at his church, but he also looks forward to visiting other congregations in the community in future years.
“It’s like having a family reunion, and the main event is Jesus at our reunion,” he said. “We were thrilled to death to be the host church, but we’re looking forward to going to other churches so we can participate with them. It’s not an ‘us and them’ deal; it’s a ‘we’ deal.”