SWBTS teams reach thousands of homes to aid Ohio church plant

BEXLEY, Ohio—Matt Skiles of St. Augustine had been praying that at least one person would come to faith in Christ during a week of door-to-door visitation on behalf of Paramount Church in Bexley, a town near Columbus. A young mother with whom he shared the gospel “finally understood” after he presented truth from Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 6:23, putting into practice the training he’d received at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Fifty students from the Fort Worth-based seminary and the College at Southwestern assisted the relatively new church plant launched as a part of the North American Mission Board’s SEND cities initiative. Skiles began by inviting Nancy to a block party then asked where she went to church.

A professing Catholic, the young woman believed she would get to heaven by going to church and doing the right things, Skiles said, recalling how he used Scripture to help her see that salvation is found through faith in Christ alone. The M.Div. student is a member of Cana Baptist Church in Burleson and prepared for Crossover Columbus through classes in which students from all six Southern Baptist seminaries participated.

“We went from my asking, ‘Who is Jesus?’ to going through the gospel and how we are messed up and need God to save us,” Skiles recalled. “After she finally understood, she prayed to receive Christ.”

Paramount Church Pastor Rush Witt has already begun sending out teams to follow up on the 309 homes where Southwestern students had gospel-related conversations, particularly with the 46 people who professed faith in Christ.

“They were clearly trained to be wise and strategic, yet really bold,” Witt said of the college and seminary students. “It’s important to have people who are mature and aware of where they are because this is not Texas and this is not Georgia.”

The Kentucky native lived in Cleveland for five years before moving to Florida and later South Carolina. Witt, who earned his M.Div. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, had maintained a friendship with his counseling professor Frank Catanzaro, who later joined the faculty of Southwestern and encouraged the school to help Paramount during Crossover Columbus.

“This location is unique in that there is a great need for another healthy, gospel-centered church. Our community is thirty-five percent Jewish—most of whom are Orthodox. We have great respect for our neighbors and much of what they believe,” Witt said, “but obviously we want to share the gospel with them—to do what we read about in the New Testament—reach both Jews and Gentiles. That is a great part of what this community is all about.”

Two other students, Reynier Carballosa of Havana, Cuba, and Arelie Urbina, a Kansan by birth who later moved to Houston, joined a van-load of nine other students they dubbed “Team Worldwide,” carrying students from Nigeria, Germany and other countries. They spread out to visit 200 to 300 homes each day with the entire group distributing gospel materials to 7,643 homes.

One self-identified atheist invited Carballosa and Urbina to sit with him under a tree to share their convictions. “We got to have a conversation with him for over an hour,” Urbina said. “He was the most hospitable person I’ve ever met, pulling out lawn chairs for us and offering us water. I was thinking, ‘We’re sharing the living water and you don’t even know it.’”

While that man did not accept Christ during their visit, two teenagers in the same neighborhood listened attentively as Carballosa and Urbina turned the conversation to share their own testimonies.

Carballosa, a MACE student whose parents were communists, came to faith in Christ as a 14-year old attending Catholic school. A friend shared the gospel and helped him apply the Bible to his daily life. Urbina, a humanities major at the College at Southwestern, learned of Jesus from an eighth grade math teacher who was sensitive to her Catholic upbringing.

Those experiences helped them relate to the young Catholic kids they met in Bexley.

“When you relate your story about how you came to faith it definitely takes the conversation to a more personal level rather than just trying to sell them on church,” Urbina said. “When I first told the good news, it finally hit them that they could have purpose in this life.”

A member of Wedgwood Baptist in Fort Worth, she credits the interest of people who had been praying for months for Crossover Columbus to set the stage for such divine encounters. Carballosa is a member of Travis Avenue Baptist, also in Fort Worth, and hopes to return to Cuba to minister there after graduating with a music concentration.

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention partnered with Southwestern to supply funding for students to travel to Columbus. Witt is grateful for the partnerships across the convention.

“The Cooperative Program has made everything we do every day more possible. We have been the recipients of a great inheritance,” he said. “It’s not just the finances—though that’s important,” he added, referring to local church support, the North American Mission Board and partners like Southwestern and SBTC who support the students.

“Churches can be encouraging in other ways that are not financial if they can’t do that—coaching, sharing wisdom, caution—you can’t put a price on that.”

Because churches plant churches, Witt encourages every local Southern Baptist church to discover a way to be involved with church planting through prayer, financial support, encouraging letters or face-to-face contact.

Paramount Church drew encouragement from the pocketful of cards students presented each day after the visits to neighborhoods, Witt said. “They haven’t been going door to door carelessly. They come back with cards telling what happened and who is interested in knowing more. That really is a test of faithfulness of the group.”

Leaving the work of salvation in the hands of God, Witt said, “We can’t control whether people at the door come to Christ, but these students have definitely been in control of how they share the gospel and give us the opportunity to have a long-range relationship with these people.”

He prays the students will learn from the experience of serving somewhere they’ve not been before and see the gospel as the answer no matter where God calls them to minister in the future.

“We don’t have to change the gospel,” Witt said. “We need to make sure we protect the gospel as it is and make it understandable to people wherever we go.”

More information on the evangelism strategy and booklets utilized by Southwestern students is available from Matt Queen by emailing everydayevangelism@swbts.edu.

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