Author: Russell Lightner

El Paso church has a heart to plant, reach city’s exploding population with the gospel

Sowing Gospel Seeds

It’s common to hear about English-speaking churches planting Spanish-speaking churches. But what Jezreel Dios Siembra Church is doing in this burgeoning West Texas border city is not so common.

Daniel Moreno, Jezreel’s pastor, believes his Hispanic church is the first in El Paso—and possibly in the surrounding area—to plant an English-speaking church. Though it is estimated that nearly 82% of the city’s 550,000 residents are Hispanic, Jezreel began to discover what other Hispanic churches are finding: households with family members who speak predominantly English or predominantly Spanish living under the same roof. 

So after 17 years of sharing the gospel in their city, Jezreel reached out to Send Network SBTC—the church planting partnership between the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the North American Mission Board—for counsel and to help train a pastor to lead the English-speaking campus.

Moreno said Jezreel was motivated by a strong desire to unite mixed-language families that want to worship together.

“There were people who preferred English as their primary language but who were married to [Spanish-speaking] people from our congregation,” Moreno said. “To fill that need for [those families] to come together, we decided to start an English work.”

Moreno has led Jezreel to plant six churches so far, with plans to begin training more planters soon. He recently began serving as a planting catalyst for the SBTC, sharing the planting and evangelism knowledge God has given him during 30 years of ministry with other planters. Planting is hard-wired into this heart. 

Jezreel Dios Siembra Church Pastor Daniel Moreno (pictured with his family) is leading the growing church to minister to the needs of people in El Paso, which is opening doors to share the gospel. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

Starting young

Moreno grew up in a Christian home that was very active in missions and evangelism. He was born in El Paso but grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico, where his family returned to minister. His father, Fernando, was one of the planting leaders of a church in Chihuahua, also called Jezreel, which he led for 12 years as an ordained deacon while it searched for a pastor. From this church, nine missions were born between 1978 to 1980, some of them under Fernando’s leadership.

Moreno said his father encouraged giving the church’s children and youth opportunities to serve. That included providing Moreno—beginning at age 11—with opportunities to preach in the church and teach Bible classes to children. By age 16, he was helping lead missions initiatives and becoming more familiar with church planting.

However, Moreno’s life took an unexpected turn when he turned 17. Fernando—mistakenly believing anyone born in the U.S. was required to serve in the military—sent his son back to El Paso to enlist. Moreno arrived in the U.S. to learn he was not required to enlist, leaving him without a place to live. He sought refuge from a local church—not yet knowing how God would use the experience to open a door back into ministry.

The church not only sheltered Moreno, but offered him a chance to serve after leaders there learned about his extensive ministry background. It was a good fit, allowing Moreno to assist the church’s pastor—a new believer with no ministry experience. Moreno began working with the church’s youth and, while there, met his wife, Margarita.

He later accepted an offer to be the full-time youth pastor at another church in El Paso, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work at New Mexico State University during that time. When he finished his studies, the church ordained him as a pastor and immediately invited him to start a Hispanic church in El Paso. Accepting the challenge, Moreno began this work in a family’s home. Eventually, the church outgrew the house, and members were able to move into an abandoned building that was donated to them.

“In all these years, we have seen that God does not abandon us but fights our battles and takes care of His church.”

‘God takes care of His church’

Jezreel—named in honor of his father’s church in Mexico—is a healthy and growing congregation that, desite challenges, continues to believe God is the one sustaining its work. 

One of those challenges is El Paso’s transient population. According to Moreno, his church—along with many others in the city—loses about 20% of its membership each year as families come and go looking for work or opportunities to better their lives.  

“The churches in this city have to grow constantly to survive,” Moreno said, “because if they do not, [they] will be empty in a few years.”

Sharing the gospel, then, becomes that much more urgent. Once a month, Jezreel members visit an alley where many homeless people and addicts live. The most beautiful thing, Moreno said, is that some of the church members making the visits once lived in that alley themselves before Christ transformed them. On other occasions, church members bring food and clothing to the more than 200 migrants who have settled in the downtown area.

Like his father, Moreno has a passion for evangelism and believes in providing opportunities for children and youth to grow. The church has two worship groups made up mostly of young adults, and every Sunday the service includes a brief time when children share a biblical message with the church. It’s part of the reason, Moreno said, the church is thriving.

Which brings another challenge: space. With a Sunday attendance around 220, Jezreel sometimes has to hold services in its parking lot so nobody is left out. Church leaders are now looking for ways to fund construction for a new building.

“In all these years, we have seen that God does not abandon us,” Moreno said, “but fights our battles and takes care of His church.”

A message of hope

Mental health and wholeness are important topics to me. God has helped me so much and used people in my life to lift me from anxiety and depression, and I love to help others come out of their doldrums. So many in our world are depressed and in desperate need of hope.

Some of the hopelessness in our world has its origins in macro issues like the wars in Ukraine and Israel and in other tragic stories we read about in places like Haiti and Sudan. There is a more existential, personal hopelessness that pervades the lives of so many even in our great state of Texas. Many have turned away from the God of the Bible and His foundational teachings regarding how to live as people of faith. 

But I have good news: there is hope! One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Romans 15:13. God has used this verse powerfully in my life and I believe He will bless you as you meditate on it as well: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” 

“Here is my definition of hope: the confident assurance that all will be well because God is with us.”

The Greek word translated “hope” is “elpis,” and interestingly, the Lexham Bible Dictionary says, “The word appears in the New Testament only as a verb or noun, never as an adverb or adjective. That is likely because the emphasis is not on the subjective states of mind we have when we say ‘hopefully’ or ‘hopeful.’ Rather, hope in the New Testament has an objective focus.”

Here is my definition of hope: the confident assurance that all will be well because God is with us. The key to living in hope is we must believe. Ephesians 1:19 states, “And what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power.” When we believe, God causes us to abound in hope. It is the match that ignites the fire of the Holy Spirit. Belief or trust is the key that unlocks the treasuries of God’s multitude of blessings upon our lives. 

I want to encourage you to live out the Christian life the way you began, and that is by faith.  Three times the Bible says those who know the Lord will live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, and Galatians 3:11.)

Believe God for great days. He has a wonderful plan for your life filled with hope, peace, and joy. Trust God and enjoy a life of wonderful hope, the assurance that God is in control and all will be well. 

Hope has a name: Jesus!

What’s your story? I’m not a mystery, I’m a miracle

In the fall of 2022, I went to the hospital for something I thought was minor. I had no major symptoms or anything like that, but my husband, Rafael, insisted I go to the emergency room. They told me that I’d had two heart attacks and needed open heart surgery.

Apparently, I was born with a defect in my heart. Like I said, I never thought it was anything major, but they told me that I was not able to go home until I could have surgery. It was a miracle that a very experienced heart surgeon ordered a series of tests until he understood what was going on with my heart. 

I was in the heart hospital a week after having open heart surgery—that was on Nov. 21. After that,
everything went wrong. Everything. According to the doctors, my heart and all my organs, everything, stopped for over an hour. 

All the organs—kidneys, lungs, liver—just stopped. They declared me dead. They told Rafael there was nothing else they could do and that he needed to be prepared. He went to the funeral home and made arrangements because once they disconnected the machines, it was over.

But the Lord said no and my heart started working. When my heart started working, they gave me this medication to help my brain and all my organs get oxygen. That medication burned my hands and my feet. I ended up getting my right hand amputated. Some of my left-hand fingers, the tips of my fingers, were amputated, and a third of my right foot. I also lost all the toes on my left foot, but I’m alive.

Then they told my husband that if he did not disconnect me from the machines, I was going to be brain dead or brain damaged for the rest of my life because I was without oxygen for so long. I was in a coma for over three weeks. When I woke up the middle of December, I thought it was the next day after the surgery. I was alert and they started asking me questions.

"Just the joy to have the Lord, and for the Lord to bless me and to use me, that’s more than enough for me."

The doctor who did my heart surgery has been a doctor for over 50 years. When I asked him, “Doctor, how long was my heart and everything stopped?” He just looked at me and said, “For over an hour.” He said, “You are a mystery to us.”

I told him, “No, I’m not a mystery—I’m a miracle.” They don’t understand. Medically speaking, it is almost impossible. My family doctor told me that I should be grateful that I’m not hooked to an oxygen machine in a nursing home for the rest of my life.

But my brain is perfectly fine, and I am OK except where my hands and feet were burned. Other than that, I’m fine. My brain is better than ever because now I have to be more creative. I crochet, I cook, I clean, I do laundry.
I still serve in my church, working on the computer. I mean, it is a little more difficult than before. It takes me a little more time, but I am walking without a cane, without a walker, and I’m doing OK.

I’m enjoying life and I’m serving the Lord. I’m telling other people what happened to me, whether they believe it or not. That’s my story.

Since I became a Christian 35 years ago, it’s been my desire and my passion to serve God. I have served in missions, I was one of the assistants in the office [at our previous church]. I mean, you name it, I’ve done it all. Right now, I’m serving in the benevolence ministry distributing food. I make the bulletin in my church [First Sunnyvale Español]. I’m also currently working with our missions committee. I’m working with the cell group leaders. I’m working with the greeters committee. I’m involved in everything I can be.

There’s not one day that I have asked the Lord, “Why?” Now, I’m looking for other ways to encourage people who have gone through something similar, through amputations, people who are giving up. This is just physical. That’s what I always tell them. From the spiritual point of view, your body is just physical—it’s going to pass. Just the joy to have the Lord, and for the Lord to bless me and to use me, that’s more than enough for me.

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Not just business as usual

Entrepreneurial couple’s new beginning in East Texas paves way for massive evangelistic event

The pandemic propelled Anthony and Missy McElroy to change states—and focus—as they found ways to use their business skills to win teens to Christ with the help of New Beginnings Baptist Church.

Anthony, formerly an account manager in recruiting, and his wife, Missy, owner of an events company involved in the Nashville music industry, found an unexpected opportunity during COVID. With Anthony working remotely and the performances upon which Missy’s business depended shut down, the couple decided to relocate from Tennessee to East Texas, where they would be closer to Missy’s family.

The McElroys, with their two young sons, settled in Missy’s hometown of Hallsville, near Longview, in July 2020. 

“It’s good to have roots back home,” Missy said. Even so, it wasn’t fun “church hopping” with young children. Eventually they began to hear about a nearby church, New Beginnings.

“We heard about miraculous things the Lord was doing at New Beginnings and visited,” Anthony said. “The sermon was fantastic.” 

People they barely knew invited them to lunch. “If people are reaching out to the community like they are to us, this is the place we want to be,” Anthony recalled thinking.

They soon joined New Beginnings. Other changes followed. Anthony accepted a job with a national insurance company, while Missy began exploring ways to resume creating events.

“With my music industry background, I was itching to do something. But we couldn’t do a lot. It was the middle of COVID,” she said.

After talking to city and county officials in their area, Missy approached the Rhett Walker Band to do an outdoor Christmas concert in Hallsville produced by Stories and Songs, the limited liability corporation the McElroys founded after arriving in East Texas. With some corporate assistance, the event was a success, encouraging the community in a time of uncertainty.

Stories and Songs continued to produce regional concerts and benefits, but the McElroys longed to do more by creating events geared toward helping kids in the community. They wanted to make an impact, and in 2023 the IMPACT event—an evangelistic outreach to teens—was born.

At IMPACT, New Beginnings Lead Pastor Todd Kaunitz interviewed Dan Orlovsky, the ESPN NFL analyst who prayed live on national television for the recovery of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin last year.

Dreaming big

The McElroys found the featured speaker for the first IMPACT event when ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky prayed live on national television, interceding for Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, on Jan. 3, 2023. The previous evening, during a Monday Night Football NFL game, Hamlin suffered a major on-field cardiac event and collapsed.

“He could have lost his job,” Anthony said of Orlovsky. “The circumstances gave Orlovsky an opportunity he took. What a lesson to be learned.”

Anthony attempted to contact Orlovsky, finally sending a general email to the sportscaster’s agency. Within a week, the agent responded and Orlovsky agreed to come to Longview.

“The evidence where God showed Himself through this process is undeniable,” Anthony said.

“I dream big. Anthony keeps me realistic,” Missy said, “In this instance, the roles felt reversed. I wondered how we were going to get this guy [Orlovsky], but if you feel like the Lord is calling you, who are we not to try?”

Not only did Orlovsky agree immediately to come, but sponsors fell into place as 14 of 15 approached said yes, easing the financial burden Stories and Songs had assumed from the start. New Beginnings offered use of its staff, volunteers, and worship center.

Anthony followed the advice of his dad, who suggested contacting local football coaches to help determine the date of the free event, settling on July 26, 2023. With publicity help from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and coaches, area teams committed to come. Soon, all spots were filled. 

“It was yes after yes,” Anthony recalled. Thirteen schools agreed to bring football teams—around 750-800 kids and coaches.

Teams from Longview, Lindale, Carthage, Marshall, and other towns arrived in buses and received boxed meals and drinks provided by local restaurants. One coach called the return trip the “best bus ride” his team had ever had, noting that some players became believers that evening.

“He could have lost his job. The circumstances gave Orlovsky an opportunity he took. What a lesson to be learned.”

The main event began with regional sportscasters Harlen the Sports Guy and Pigskin Bob from KKYX’s Friday Night Scoreboard doing a routine and emceeing a game of “Football Jeopardy,” pitting three coaches against one another. These coaches were then honored with an IMPACT award for their contributions.

New Beginnings Lead Pastor Todd Kaunitz conducted an onstage interview with Orlovsky, who gave his testimony.

“Making Jesus the center of my life made me so much less aware of worrying about what other people thought about me and so much more aware of what Jesus thought of me,” the NFL analyst said.

Kaunitz followed with a presentation of the gospel. Ten percent of the athletes stood to indicate they had responded in faith.

“Seats hitting the seatbacks [as the athletes stood] … sounded like a helicopter over us. It was a sound I will never forget,” Anthony said.

Encouragers from the church were available to counsel kids and a 50-person team prayed throughout the evening in a separate area. Follow-up has occurred with the coaches and local churches, including New Beginnings.

Members of the 2023 4A Division 2 state champion Gilmer Buckeyes football team pose with coach Alan Metzel and Orlovsky at IMPACT.

“It was amazing to see this family leverage their influence, gifts, and resources to bring students to Jesus.”

“Without New Beginnings, this doesn’t happen,” Anthony said. “The sponsors, the volunteers, the Lord. The infrastructure of the event is relatively simple. I felt even in January that it was already going to happen, and we just needed to be part of it. I felt like God asked for my attendance.”

The McElroys hope to expand the outreach, with Orlovsky speaking at future IMPACT events across the state and even nationwide. 

“The McElroys’ vision for IMPACT was a huge blessing to New Beginnings and Northeast Texas,” Kaunitz said. “It was amazing to see this family leverage their influence, gifts, and resources to bring students to Jesus. … I am convinced that the next big movement of God in our country is going to be through people like the McElroys, who recognize their calling and use their skill sets in practical ways for evangelism.”

For more information, email the McElroys at StoriesandSongsEvents@gmail.com.

Experiencing revitalization through clarity, alignment

Iarrived at First Baptist Church in Three Rivers in October 2020, both terrified and excited to step into my first pastorate. I knew right away this was a small-town church in need of revitalization, so I reached out to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Church Health & Leadership department right away.

Shortly after my arrival, the SBTC began a new program called Regenesis that aims to help churches walk through a revitalization process. As I sat in on an informational call, I knew this was the direction our church needed to go. I was hoping and praying there would be others in our church willing to join me as we plunged into the unknown. God sent those people and, with a team assembled, we jumped in and began the process.

FBC Three Rivers had suffered from declining attendance over the past 20 years. The church lost its pastor in 2019, and three months later, the COVID-19 pandemic left the church wondering where it was going and if there was any hope of moving forward. Regenesis helped us address those questions. Here are just a few lessons our church has learned by walking through this process:

Clarify your target.

Zig Ziglar said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” He was exactly right. Our church was struggling because it had lost sight of the target. If you want to see your church revitalized, you must clarify your target. What is unique about your church? What are the demographics of the area? What are the opportunities? How has God uniquely wired your church to make disciples and advance the kingdom of Christ? Clarifying your target is the first step in church revitalization.

Clarify your process.

What is a disciple? How do you know you are making disciples? What is the path of discipleship for someone who joins your church? These are all questions every church must wrestle with. It was vital that we wrestle with this because we did not have an answer. By defining a disciple and crafting a pathway for discipleship, we have begun to gain clarity on a process for existing members and newcomers alike to enter. Our process is designed to develop the disciple we defined.

Align your leadership.

Pastor, you already know you cannot do this work alone. You were never meant to. You need people around you who will share the vision and be committed to that vison. This is not easy to do, but I’m confident God has placed you in a congregation with people who are willing to help. I asked the Lord for five people. I got all five. We did not all agree when we came to the table the first time, but now there is unity among the team.

The Church Health & Leadership team will tell you Regenesis is not a silver bullet. FBC Three Rivers has not arrived. We are still working, refining, and clarifying. I can tell you it gave us the platform to have discussions that would have taken years to do otherwise. The sense of urgency compelled us to act and we followed God’s lead. Now we’re watching Him take us in amazing places.

Waiting on God

Editor’s note: Each month, the Texan features a column written by the president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. This is the first of those columns written by Danny Forshee, who was elected SBTC president at last November’s SBTC Annual Meeting.

Wait on the LORD, and keep His way, and He shall exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you shall see it.

Psalm 37:34

S

ome of you are waiting on God for big things in your life. You have prayed and you are ready for the answer to come. You may be waiting on God for the person He wants you to marry. Some are waiting for a breakthrough in a relationship, or perhaps in your church. Others are waiting on God for a job or a promotion. There are numerous things for which you may be waiting on the Lord to help you and come through for you. You have been faithfully praying; however, the answer has not come yet. 

At this point, you have a few options:

1. Continue to be patient and wait on God, knowing He has a plan and will come through for you when the timing is right.

2. Grow impatient with God and become bitter and angry with Him.

3. Make things happen on your own. In this instance, you take matters in your own hands, telling God He is taking too long and that you can handle it from here on out. Let me encourage you to not do that. It never—and I mean never—ends well.

Psalm 37:34 offers an example in Scripture where God commands us to wait. Notice that He also gives us a promise to bless. When we choose to wait on God, obey Him, and trust Him, we position ourselves to be very blessed by Him. I like the way the psalmist states the promise of blessing: “And He shall exalt you to inherit the land.” Focus on the two words “exalt” and “inherit.” These are words of blessing. Your reward for waiting on God may not be a literal piece of property (although it may be), but whatever you are praying about and waiting on God for, know that He will come through and He will bless you far more than you can imagine.

Psalm 37:34 was Pastor Charles Stanley’s favorite verse in the Bible about waiting on God. In preaching on this subject of waiting on God, he shares many helpful truths with the child of God: “People may criticize you for waiting on the Lord. It does not matter what others think. Someone might say, ‘But if I were you …,’ but they are not you. Do not listen to those who would discourage you from waiting on the Lord. Resist the tempting voices that would say, ‘Hey, you have waited long enough; it is time for you to get going and make things happen.’ Keep on waiting in faith. When you wait on His timing, you are waiting on God’s very best. He will not give you what is less than best.” 

I am praying for all our 2,700-plus churches in the SBTC. May God richly bless you as you seek Him and wait on His perfect timing. Great days are ahead!

Pastors, let’s lead by example when it comes to discipleship

Pastors, if we don’t personally practice discipleship outside our pulpits, we’re working against our call to be disciple-makers. Truthfully—many people pay more attention to our example than our sermons or mission statements. 

Although many pastors are not in a discipleship group of any kind for various reasons, you can and should change that in 2024. Here are four ways to jump in: 

1

Join an existing small group.

Whether your church calls it a Sunday school class, a small group, a D-group, or whatever, you and your staff need to literally live out the disciple-making strategy of your church.  

Are you and your spouse currently connected to a group of any kind? It’s important to involve your wife in the selection of a group because these are the people who will help both of you through life’s greatest challenges. They will also be among the first to celebrate life’s greatest milestones and help you grow spiritually. Joining a small group is much more than having your name on a roll; it’s living life together.  

Will there be an initial awkwardness when a group you join sees you as the expert instead of the teacher? Perhaps at first, but it won’t be a problem for long as you become a regular within the group

2

Kickstart a new group. 

Since the lead pastor is often the most influential person in the church, you can leverage that influence by helping kickstart a new group. Make sure you have a succession plan or a completion date for the group so it will not depend on you as a teacher long term. Our calling as pastors is to equip others for the work of the ministry. 

One pastor friend of mine led a class focused on reaching church members who did not attend any class. The average church has approximately a third of its worship attendees not participating in a Bible study group, which makes them the greatest prospects for a new class.

3

Teach a hot topic group. 

Start a group that would attract those who gravitate toward a particular topic such as finances, parenting, marriage, prophecy, or apologetics. Prepare these classes for high attendance times of the year and offer them for 8-10 weeks for people who prefer making short-term commitments. Have a co-teacher prepared to continue the class after you finish your study.  

4

Co-lead a life stage group. 

Are there certain people in your church for whom there is no group? Consider starting a group for single adults, single moms, empty nesters, parents of teenagers, newlyweds, or new parents. In my last church, my wife, Janet, and I started a new small group for non-college singles under 30. They were a blast! We trained four of the young adult members to be the teaching team and transitioned to become a mentor couple. Again, have someone ready to take over the class before you start for the purpose of equipping other leaders.

Since our discipleship influence flows more out of what we practice than what we preach, consider starting or joining a small group in 2024. You might surprise yourself with how you and your wife will be blessed, as well as become a blessing to others.

What’s your story? God is the hero of my story

During the past 45 years, after the Lord called me to preach, I have pastored two churches and spent five years in full-time evangelism. My first pastorate saw about one person a week baptized over the course of 15 years. My current church, a church plant that began in my home with nine people, has grown to about 2,500 people. But before that happened, the Lord took me down to zero. 

My path to ministry was unusual. As a young man, I was in sales, a director of marketing for a large grocery company. I was also offered an opportunity that could have made me wealthy. That didn’t happen because I knew the Lord was calling me to preach. My pastor at the time was a former Folgers coffee salesman. He and another preacher gave me good advice, and they both came to the same conclusion. Reverend Neil, the former salesman, said, “You do anything you can to keep from preaching. If God won’t leave you alone, you’ll know that He’s in it.” The other man said, “Who has God not used that was willing?” The Lord used them to stir my heart toward letting go and letting God have His way.

The transition had its challenges, of course. Over the course of a week, our income was reduced by two-thirds as I moved into my first church as pastor. After 15 years in that church, I felt like I could reach more people if I was in full-time evangelism. I didn’t think I was going to be the next Billy Graham, but I thought the Lord was going to use me. Looking back, I see that all the money I had left was spent [trying] to stay in evangelism. That’s probably been the most important thing the Lord has done—teaching us to trust Him in every area of the ministry and finding out that He’s sufficient. So, The Country Church [in Marion, located about 30 miles northeast of San Antonio] is a result of failure on my part.

I grew up in Marion. I was lost—and I mean good and lost. This was the last place in the world I wanted to plant a church. But as my wife, Joan, and I prayed about it, we knew God wanted us to plant a church in Marion. So even though I’m still living down what took place before I was saved 60 years ago in some cases, the Lord is still blessing in spite of me.

"That’s probably been the most important thing the Lord has done—teaching us to trust Him in every area of the ministry and finding out that He’s sufficient."

The Country Church uses its 42,000-square-foot rodeo arena to host outreach events like its Harvest Festival. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Good, long tenures have taught me a couple of things. You have to establish a bond of trust. It takes a while for the people to trust you …. I think over the years, I’ve established trust that isn’t built overnight. It doesn’t matter how great the preacher is, it takes some time to build that up.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that there’s not been a good time to leave my church. When things were difficult, I didn’t want to leave the church on that note, and so I weathered through it. When things were good, there’s no way in the world I wanted to leave. Either way, up or down, I have stayed.

And look what God has done here over the past 25 years! It’s really a small town, a little more than 1,000 people, but He’s provided for our church’s ministry: 80,000 square feet of buildings, 16 acres, a 42,000-square-foot covered arena, and no debt. [We spent] $250,000 to build a building to provide food and clothing to the poor … and our people support it. We buy groceries direct from a wholesaler and buy the bargains, and then we provide food and clothing to between 150 and 250 families in Guadalupe County. We reach a little over 100 people a year through the ministry. We also have counseling through The Attic, our benevolence ministry. It’s just a miracle. Maybe it sounds like a cliché, but everything here is a miracle. 

So, what’s my story? Well, every pastor ought to have a ministry verse or a ministry passage, and mine is 1 Corinthians 1:27: “That He’s taken the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” When people look at The Country Church, they can’t say it’s because of my superior education or this and that. They have to give the Lord the glory that He deserves.

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Lone Star Scoop • January 2024

SWBTS sees record number of Hispanic graduates

FORT WORTH  Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary celebrated a milestone in December when 124 of the 336 students who graduated at the fall commencement were Hispanic. The trend underscores Southwestern’s goal of becoming the premiere theological training institution for Hispanics worldwide. 

The historic number of Hispanic graduates was preceded by a celebration banquet the night before which gathered Hispanic leaders, many of whom are also students, from all over the country and world, including Puerto Rico, South America, Mexico, and Brazil.

“The work for the Spanish program is very important for the vision of the future at Southwestern,” Southwestern President David Dockery said to the students. “Southwestern is committed to you and we ask for you to renew your commitment to Southwestern. We want you to think of this seminary as your seminary … a place providing Spanish language education not only in Texas but across this country and around the world.”

— Clara Molina

Longview church breaks ground on Hope Road Counseling Center

LONGVIEW  Mobberly Baptist Church held a groundbreaking ceremony in December at the location where a building will house its Hope Road Counseling Center. 

The counseling center was established in October 2018 and operates out of office spaces in Longview and Marshall, according to its website. Its mission is to “provide gospel-centered professional therapeutic care for all of East Texas.” Hope Road currently offers counseling for individuals and couples, as well as premarital counseling and spiritual formation counseling.

A post on Mobberly’s Facebook page, which included photos of the groundbreaking ceremony, stated, “What a joy and honor it was to break ground on the new Hope Road Counseling Center! We are praying that God will continue to use this ministry as a place of healing and restoration.” 

— Texan staff

SBTC DR director praises work with Salvation Army

ARLINGTON A working model developed between Texas Salvation Army Disaster Services and Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief is being evaluated for its national potential, said Scottie Stice, SBTC DR director.  

“SBTC DR has long worked closely with the Texas division of the Salvation Army Disaster Services during mass feeding deployments,” Stice said. “Our teamwork has been so good because both organizations are faith-based. Our relationship is mutually complementary and supportive. The gospel first, that’s the big thing.”

Seamless, shared deployments between SBTC DR and Texas Salvation Army workers to Gonzales, La., and Fort Myers, Fla., caught the attention of other state Baptist DR teams and Salvation Army crews alike, Stice said, adding that a meeting in Arlington just before Thanksgiving 2023 with personnel from both organizations featured preliminary discussions of standard operating procedures should the teams mutually deploy.

— Jane Rodgers

Georgia Baptist leader Called to lead Sagemont

SUWANEE, Ga.  Georgia preacher Levi Skipper will be heading west to serve as lead pastor of a Texas megachurch. Sagemont Church, a Southern Baptist congregation with some 16,000 members in Houston, announced Dec. 10 that Skipper had been called as lead pastor. Skipper, with 17 years of experience as a senior pastor, has led the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s  church strengthening and evangelism teams since 2019. Skipper has been a regular speaker at evangelism conferences and revivals and has held numerous evangelistic crusades overseas. He also was instrumental in founding a theological school that has equipped more than 300 pastors in Ethiopia. Georgia Baptist Mission Board Executive Director W. Thomas Hammond Jr. said Sagemont is getting one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s most gifted preachers, a loving pastor, and a strong administrator. “His evangelistic zeal will lead Sagemont to new heights,” Hammond said. The Skippers have four children: Garrison, 20; Mattie, 18; Gavin, 16; and Marlee, 14. — Baptist Press

Jesus is writing your story

While I hope you read the Texan from cover to cover every time it hits your mailbox, there’s a particular story in this month’s issue I don’t want you to miss.

I won’t steal all its thunder here, but within these pages you’ll find an article about South Euless Baptist Church, located in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. It’s not a large church (most of our Southern Baptists of Texas Convention churches, in fact, are not), but this church has a huge heart for telling people about Jesus. Most Sundays after church, when many of us are hurrying home to watch football or racing to restaurants to beat the “church crowd,” a group of South Euless members rushes out to local parks and other locations to evangelize.

That fact alone, though encouraging, may not move the needle for you. But here’s what should: during one of those Sunday park visits last year, one of the church’s members–the pastor’s wife, as a matter of fact—shared the gospel with a homeless woman who decided to turn her life over to Christ on the spot. 

A few weeks later, that homeless woman died. 

So many thoughts ran through my mind when I first read this article: 

What would have happened had this church not been so committed to sharing the gospel?

"This magazine’s mandate in 2024 is the same: we’re going to continue to tell the stories of what God is doing in and through the lives of His people in SBTC churches."

What an impactful ministry this church is engaged in!

What a great God we serve, who would allow these two women to meet at the right place at the right time!

What a story. 

Days later, I was still thinking about the homeless woman. I found myself wanting to know more about her. I wondered about the circumstances that brought her to the park that day. I wondered if she had ever heard about Jesus before that moment. I wondered if she ever thought she’d escape the tormenting cycle of poverty that traps so many. 

Regardless of the answers to those questions, this I know: she’s never been better than she is today, living in the eternal and perfect presence of our God and Creator. 

From the time this woman opened her eyes at birth, Jesus was writing her story. That story included incredibly difficult chapters, but surely it included some good ones, too. At the same time, Jesus was writing the story of the pastor’s wife. I’d venture to say she will always remember the day God introduced her to that woman in the park. It will always be a significant point on the timeline of her life.

Jesus is writing your story today. You may be in the middle of one of those tough chapters, but He is still there, offering to guide you through it. You may be in the middle of season of celebration. You may be in a season of doubt, of wonder, of purpose. 

This magazine’s mandate in 2024 is the same: we’re going to continue to tell the stories of what God is doing in and through the lives of His people in SBTC churches. Throughout the year, you’ll find articles featuring people who are willing to share how Jesus is writing their story. 

As He writes your story, or as you reflect on some of your previous chapters that illustrate His goodness, we’d love to hear from you and share those stories with our readers. When we do that, we will not only encourage and equip one another, but we will shine a light on the One whose story the whole world needs to hear.

Happy New Year!