Author: Russell Lightner

Does God have your full attention when you pray?

Ihad the privilege of interviewing Bill Elliff for a Q&A that is featured in this month’s issue of the Texan. If you don’t know him, Elliff is an Arkansas pastor, an author, and a lifelong student of historic revivals and spiritual awakenings. He will talk about these things as the guest speaker at the President’s Lunch at this month’s Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Annual Meeting in Corpus Christi.

I not only enjoyed our conversation, but the Lord used it to guide me to reevaluate some of my own personal spiritual disciplines—including prayer. Elliff and I talked quite a bit about the role prayer plays in revival and spiritual awakening. A couple of years ago, he wrote a book called “Simply Prayer,” which I began reading shortly after our interview. 

Prayer can be a struggle for me. It’s too easy for me to close my eyes and hastily string together a series of religious-sounding words that feel more like I’m reading them off a shopping list than the tablet of my heart. My mind during prayer is prone to wander (Lord, I feel it!), lining up the day’s troubles and tasks while simultaneously offering a modicum of my attention to the King of kings.

"When I pray, does the Creator of all existence have my full attention?"

“Simply Prayer” has challenged me in many ways, none more impactful than my lack of focus when I pray. “We charge into prayer,” Elliff writes, “and quickly reel off a laundry list of things we want God to do. Failing to realize who we’re approaching, we never really engage God’s presence consciously.”

Ouch. Yeah, that can be me sometimes. Those last words have stuck with me: engaging in God’s presence consciously. When I pray, does the Creator of all existence have my full attention? Can I really get singularly locked in with Him and navigate Dallas traffic at the same time? Do I ever stop to listen to the Author of all things, or am I just narrating the way I want my story to play out? 

One of the practices Elliff offers in “Simply Prayer” is called “entering in,” which is to say that we don’t start speaking to the Lord until His Holy Spirit has carried our minds into the throne room of His presence. There’s nothing complicated or mystical about this; for me it has meant closing my eyes (so you know I’m not praying in Dallas traffic), mentally picturing myself entering the throne room, and kneeling directly in front of my Lord. It’s been a continual battle of swatting a swarm of thoughts away, but I feel like the practice has already benefitted my prayer life. 

I hope and pray you’re blessed by what Elliff has to say in this month’s issue. More than that, I pray that we will all take more seriously the privilege and honor of having a heavenly Father who doesn’t demand our attention, but who wants it as a perfect and loving Father would. 

We are fond in our Christian culture of saying things such as, “He is worthy!” Surely our full attention is one of the things of which He is worthy.

Revival bursts out at East Texas church after pastor’s wife gets saved

Jaclyn Horine missed a trip to the Holy Land a few years ago when she started a new job. Now,  unexpectedly, she has seen Jerusalem through the eyes of a new believer. 

Her coming to faith as an adult—and as a pastor’s wife— has stirred the congregation of Friendship Baptist Church in Blackfoot, where her husband, Jerry, serves as senior pastor. Since her decision to truly follow Jesus, baptisms at the church have multiplied.

“I thought for years that I knew God,” said Jaclyn, a self-described preacher’s kid from Indiana. Both she and Jerry believed she was a Christian. Jerry remembered an occasion when Jaclyn had some trouble articulating her testimony, but she had been raised in the church and surely knew Jesus.

Except she did not.

“Her hope wasn’t in Christ. It was in her religion and herself,” Jerry said.

“My religion was me,” Jaclyn said.

When a professor from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where Jaclyn is pursuing a master’s degree in counseling, suggested that she might be building a foundation on her family background rather than Christ, Jaclyn initially disagreed. Yes, the move away from family in Indiana to Texas had been difficult, but she had been involved in church all her life, hadn’t she?

Then the truth dawned on her on Sunday, March 6, as Jerry preached from Romans 3 at Friendship. Jaclyn had recently been studying Romans 3:21-25 for a seminary hermeneutics class, and suddenly, in the middle of her husband’s sermon, it all made sense.

“My husband is preaching on the hope we have in Christ. I basically realized I didn’t have that hope,” Jaclyn said. Admitting she “just felt broken” as Jerry issued an invitation at the close of the sermon, Jaclyn recalled, “God just picked me up and took me to the altar. It was a beautiful moment.”

Both husband and wife could tell the Spirit of God was moving. Women from the church surrounded her at the altar. Jaclyn felt embarrassed at the thought of the other women hearing her admit she had sinned and needed a Savior.

Jaclyn’s baptism has helped spark revival at Friendship Baptist Church in the small community of Blackfoot. Photos Submitted

“As I was praying to God for a new heart, I heard people praying for me.”

“God gave her a new heart. Salvation was just so real that day,” he added.

Since then, the church has experienced nothing short of a revival, with 32 people baptized since Easter. The church is rejoicing about all those baptisms, but number 31, on Sept. 11, was extra special, Horine said. A local young man whom “everyone had written off” as “too far gone” in substance abuse came forward for baptism. 

“Now he comes to our prayer services and he is starting to lead his circle of influence to Christ,” the pastor said, adding that he believes more conversions and baptisms would follow this young man’s actions.

An ongoing revival

Growth continues at Friendship. The historic church, founded in 1860, had about 60 members when Jerry, formerly a church planter in Indiana, was called there five years ago at age 23 after attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Now some 200 attend the church and every children’s class is “busting at the seams,” Jaclyn said, noting that the congregation had prayed for children to come. The couple’s four-year-old foster daughter was recently overheard “baptizing” her Barbie doll, now that baptisms are a regular event at Friendship.

The growth is all the more remarkable when one realizes that Blackfoot, an unincorporated community of 33 according to the 2000 census, is nestled on a back road seven miles off the two-lane highway that connects Corsicana and Palestine. It’s not a place one will just happen upon.

Jaclyn’s profession of faith has inspired many of the baptisms that are a part of the growth.

“God is opening eyes. It’s beautiful,” she said.

“It’s an ongoing revival,” Jerry added.

“Well, if you came to know Jesus, Lord knows I need to come to know Jesus,” one older lady told Jaclyn. Jerry had been praying for the woman’s husband, and both came to faith during lunch with the pastor one day.

Jerry and Jaclyn Horine renewed their vows at the Sea of Galilee during the recent SBTC-sponsored trip to the Holy Land. The exchange of vows symbolizes the renewal of their marriage after Jaclyn’s salvation. 

Renewal of vows in Israel

As for the journey to Israel in 2022—a trip sponsored for pastors and their wives by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention this past July—Jaclyn is thankful she could go and even grateful that she was not able to accompany Jerry on his original trip in 2017.

“The Lord opened my eyes to so much in Israel,” she said, admitting that her initial expectations of experiencing the places where Jesus walked had been replaced by a sense of mission to Israel. 

Now she has a heart for the lost for whom Jesus wept: “We should be weeping for those people [over] the things that made Jesus weep.” She also understands the legalism and tradition enveloping many in Israel.

“I had been following tradition in religion all my life,” Jaclyn said. “I assumed if the letter of the law was intact, the Spirit would follow.”

Her salvation has brought renewal to their marriage as well, the Horines said.

“I am still super thankful for the quick sanctifying that showed me things in my married life, like pride. It really changed things in our marriage,” Jaclyn said.

Along the Sea of Galilee, the couple renewed their vows as Matthew Timmons, pastor of Norwood Heights Baptist Church in Palestine, officiated.

The ceremony was Jerry’s idea: “After her salvation, the Lord laid it on my heart to renew those vows.”

They rebraided the cord of three strands that they had braided in their original wedding.

“This shows there are truly three in our marriage,” Jaclyn explained, referring to the fact that mutual faith in Christ now characterized their union. 

Said Jerry: “It’s God’s providence, knowing that she just came to Christ and got to experience that.”

The 5: Celebrating Thanksgiving with a focus on others

We are just days away from Thanksgiving 2022. We have so much to be grateful for—much, I fear, that we take for granted. This Thanksgiving, I challenge you to turn your attention to the spiritual needs of others. Here are five ways to do that: 

1

Invite an unchurched family to
join you for your Thanksgiving meal
Many of us invite family members to join us on this holiday. Some extend an invitation to other believers who attend their church. In my experience, it’s not often we intentionally invite an unchurched family to join us—and we miss an opportunity to show the love of Christ. Think about your co-workers and your neighbors. Pray for them and open your home to them on Thanksgiving. 

2

Serve at a homeless shelter or
local ministry on Thanksgiving Day
Out of gratitude for God’s goodness to you, serve a meal at a homeless shelter that day. Doing so doesn’t preclude having your family meal, but it does turn your focus outward toward those less fortunate than you. Ask the Lord to give you opportunities to tell others about God’s gift of life to you while you serve them. 

3

Take time on Thanksgiving to thank God for getting the gospel to you—and pray throughout the day for an unreached people group somewhere in the world
Go to www.peoplegroups.info and learn about the thousands of people groups that still have no sustained Christian witness among them. Tell your family about the needs of the group. When you say grace over a meal on Thanksgiving Day, pray God will send witnesses to that people group.  

4

Invite an international student or family from another ethnic group or world faith to join you for Thanksgiving and ask them to prepare a dish from their culture
The Lord is bringing the world to North America—many from countries unreceptive to missionaries—and we have opportunity this holiday to get to know some of these folks. Learn about them. Listen to them. Love them. Lift them up in prayer. Look for ways to show Christ’s love to them.

5

Fast for one day during Thanksgiving week
and cry out to the Lord on behalf of a non-believer
I realize “fasting” and “Thanksgiving” hardly go together, but that’s the point: we ought to long for our friends and loved ones to know Jesus more than we long to eat. Fasting on behalf of a non-believer during Thanksgiving week says, “Lord, I desperately want (name) to experience the grace You’ve given me—and for which I am so grateful this Thanksgiving season.”

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

Q&A: Annual meeting speaker believes conditions are right for next great revival

‘I just think it’s coming’

Bill Elliff is a pastor (The Summit Church in North Little Rock, Ark.) and author who has pursued revival since experiencing the Jesus Movement on the campus of Ouachita Baptist University in 1970. On Nov. 15, he will be the President’s Lunch guest speaker at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Annual Meeting. Elliff recently spoke with Texan editor Jayson Larson about what revival is, what it isn’t, and why he is more hopeful than ever that the next great movement of God could be just over the horizon.

Revival is a word that is often used and spoken about in our churches,
but what is revival?

BILL ELLIFF: Well, I love Richard Owen Roberts’ definition that I’ve used for years—revival is the extraordinary work of the Spirit of God among His people that produces extraordinary results. In other words, there’s the ordinary movement of God that’s happening all the time … but then there’s the extraordinary movement of God, those seasons in a life or a church or even a region or nation when God seems to open the heavens and come down and manifest Himself, what we talk about as the manifest presence of God—clear, visible, unmistakable. It’s when God’s people come back to life again.

We use the term spiritual awakening to refer to something that happens after revival. That is when lost people begin to just wake up, by the grace of God and the activity of His Spirit, and come to Christ in amazing, record numbers. We often tie revival and spiritual awakening together, but they’re two separate components of the same activity of God—one in the church and one in the world.

If that is what revival is, what is revival not?
In other words, what is misunderstood about revival?

BE: It’s certainly not a series of meetings. That’s what we often think of. We think, “Well, we’re having a revival tonight” or “we’re having a revival this week.” That word has lost its meaning to so many because the idea for some people is, we’re going to have a series of meetings when we set aside some time to seek God. That may result in real revival or it may not, but revival is a God word. It’s when God chooses to revive His people. So it’s not humanistic. It’s not man-made. It’s not orchestrated by us. It’s divinely orchestrated, but we cooperate. In order to see that, we need to cooperate with God in what He’s doing.

"We are primed and ready for the next great revival. Apart from prayer and apart from us coming to the end of ourselves and calling on the name of Lord, we will not see revival and we will not see that awakening."

What is the anatomy of a revival? What commonalities have you found among the revivals that have been recorded in history?

BE: Well, it’s really fascinating. First, there is always what I call the preparatory work of God in revival. R.B. Jones, who was a pastor in the Welsh Revival and wrote a book 20 years after that, said revival is never of sudden origin. In other words, it doesn’t just happen in a moment. When you study the five nationwide revivals in America, you can very clearly look at the eight to 10 years prior to that revival and see certain identifiable marks. 

I like to think of how John the Baptist came [prior to] the manifest presence of Christ. He was a voice crying in the wilderness. So when revivals come, God starts raising up voices, which is exactly what He is doing right now, and there’s a message of repentance and coming judgment and the hope of Christ. There is desperation—an urgent, desperate cry begins to come from God’s people, crying out to Him to do something that they can’t seem to do. Then you start hearing of these little outbreaks of the movement of God, just these extraordinary mercy drops. We’re seeing exactly that right now.

You can’t find revival in the Bible or history, and certainly not in our American history, where real revival is not preceded by desperate, increasing levels of unified prayer. When people start calling us to pray, they’re not just telling us we ought to pray. No! God is showing us our need, bringing us to desperation and turning us to the one place where that can be resolved. 

When revival comes in the church, there’s always repentance, because the thing that’s pulled us away and made us unrevived and distant and calloused is our sin. God reveals our sin, and there’s always repentance and a return to Christ. Real revival is always Christ-centered. The emphasis is not on revival. The emphasis is on Christ and coming back to Him.

Then a final result of revival is testimony—people start witnessing and telling. People can’t stop telling what they’ve seen and heard. That leads to spiritual awakening among lost people. This is why every great missions movement in history has come out of seasons of revival. That’s provable. 

What are you seeing in our world today that leads you to believe we could be ready to experience the next revival?

BE: I’ve been studying it for 50 years, ever since the Jesus Movement. I am more hopeful right now than I’ve ever been. The reasons are, number one, the condition of our nation and world. Revival doesn’t come when everything’s great. It comes when everything is dark. God’s people get desperate and they cry out. This decade reminds me so much of the 60s. There was a spirit of anarchy, there was rioting, there was a whole new level of sexual perversion that was happening. There was real discontent on the campuses … and that’s exactly the season we’re in right now. [The circumstances of the 1960s] resulted in the Jesus Movement in the early 70s, which was the last significant movement of revival and awakening that we’ve had in our nation.

Number two, I see God raising up voices all across America. Fifteen years ago, you couldn’t scare up a conversation about revival. Now, every thinking pastor I know is talking about revival and awakening and prayer. God is raising up voices. That’s what He has always done. There’s a call to repentance about the coming judgment of God if we don’t repent. The role of the Holy Spirit and the role of prayer, that has by and large been lost, is being returned. That really encourages me. The desperation that is happening, I think, is a sign. The extraordinary prayer that’s going on [is a sign]. The National Prayer Committee chairman, Dave Butts, said to me not too long ago that they believe more people are praying right now in America than any time in American history.

So I think the signs are right. This is completely subjective, but I’m telling you, I feel it in my spirit so deeply and I’m so moved when I talk about these things, I get overcome. I’ve had seasons where that was not the case. I just think it’s coming.

Connecting, expecting, and encouraging!

Ialways say it: fall is my favorite time of year. It brings some of my favorite things like cooler weather, Thanksgiving, football, and the annual gathering of our Southern Baptists of Texas Convention family. It truly is a great time of year.

This year, our SBTC Annual Meeting is being held Nov. 14-15 in Corpus Christi. It is going to be a great time of gathering together for worship, prayer, preaching, and hearing how God is using SBTC churches to advance the Great Commission across Texas and the world. I can’t wait to be with our SBTC family. 

Annual meetings are important in the life of a convention. They are certainly a time of reconnecting with friends from across the state. They are also a time to reengage the mission of reaching Texas and impacting the world together. There are a lot of activities and yes, some business, but the overall purpose of gathering is to realign our hearts together. 

One of the greatest ways we do this is to pray. At the conclusion of Monday evening, we will have a prayer service. There is nothing that compares to followers of Jesus getting on our knees together. I am so excited for this prayer time. As you prepare to come to the annual meeting, may I suggest a few things?

"Anytime we gather together, it is our hope to experience a movement of God."

Come expectant

Anytime we gather together, it is our hope to experience a movement of God. Through our time of worship, preaching, and praying, we desire for the Lord to meet with us in a powerful way. I know many of you will come weary and burdened. However, I pray the Lord will refresh our hearts together.

Come excited

This meeting should be a great celebration. Though some time will be given to necessary business, even the business time should be exciting since it is giving us the road map to be on mission together. At the meeting, you will hear stories and reports of how God is using your church to advance His kingdom through the SBTC network. These are exciting opportunities for us to celebrate together. 

Leave encouraged

When the final session is complete, it is our desire that you leave encouraged. You will have been around some of the greatest pastors and leaders anywhere and reconnected with friends. You will have also heard about what God is doing across Texas. You will have spent time worshipping the Lord, praying together, and feasting on His Word. I am praying that when you start your journey home, your heart will be encouraged to be a part of the SBTC family of churches. 

I can’t wait to see you there. I am anticipating two wonderful days together. I am looking forward to connecting with you once again. I love you and am humbled to serve the wonderful churches of the SBTC!

Pastor se mudó de una gran ciudad viendo al Señor moverse en área rural

“Yo sé que Dios tiene grandes cosas para estos pueblos pequeños”

E

n medio de la planificación de su jubilación y de viajes para disfrutar con su familia, José Luis Hernández nunca imaginó que recibiría un llamado de Dios que literalmente cambiaría el curso de su vida.  

Dios comenzó a preparar el camino para este cambio cuando Hernández y su familia decidieron mudarse a un pequeño pueblo rural, llevándolo de la vida de ciudad, donde amaba vivir y ministrar, a un entorno rural por primera vez en su vida.  

“Siempre me ha gustado estar rodeado de gente y el bullicio de la ciudad”, dijo Hernández, “pero hoy amo este lugar”.

Hernández y su familia se mudaron a Itasca y están plantando una iglesia a una hora de camino en Mexia, una ciudad con una población de poco menos de 7,000 habitantes situada a unas 40 millas al este de Waco y a una hora y media al sur del Metroplex de Dallas-Fort Worth. 

Antes de plantar en Mexia, Hernández recibió una oferta para pastorear una iglesia en Fort Worth. Ese mismo día, buscó dirección en oración para saber cuál era el plan de Dios para él y su familia. 

“Una hora después de orar, recibí una llamada del líder de una asociación de iglesias afiliadas a la Convención de los Bautistas del Sur de Texas diciéndome que le gustaría que los apoyara en Mexia”, dijo Hernández. 

Esa llamada telefónica llevó a Hernández a plantar la Iglesia Bautista Alcance Hispano. Esta plantación de iglesia es parte de una visión más amplia que pretende plantar más iglesias hispanas entre las 22 iglesias anglosajonas de los pueblos pequeños limítrofes a Mexia.  

Hernández dice que nunca había trabajado en una zona rural, pero después de platicar la idea con su esposa por 31 años y sus hijos (que van desde adultos hasta adolescentes) y continuar orando sobre esta oportunidad, sintió el llamado de Dios y aceptó el desafío.

“No conocíamos a nadie”, dijo Hernández. “Sólo nos dijeron que empezáramos a trabajar y a conocer a la gente de la zona”. 

Comenzaron en enero de 2022 y durante dos meses se dedicaron a recorrer las calles de Mexia, orando y declarando la Palabra de Dios por el pueblo. Todos los domingos visitaban diferentes iglesias de la ciudad y de los pueblos aledaños para hacer conexiones y darles a conocer la nueva obra que estaban comenzando.  

Chuy Ávila, asociado principal de SBTC en español, animó a la familia Hernández a buscar formas intencionales de conocer e interactuar con la gente de Mexia.  

“Al principio fue difícil para mí, pero mirando la vida del Apóstol Pablo, vemos que él intencionalmente iba y platicaba con la gente y se quedó con ellos”, dijo Hernández. “La gente conoció al apóstol Pablo hasta que pudo enseñarles el evangelio, aceptaron a Jesús y luego hicieron lo que él les había enseñado”.

“Esto no es fácil. Hay mucho trabajo, lágrimas y alegrías, pero estamos muy emocionados por lo que Dios está haciendo. Yo sé que Dios tiene grandes cosas para estos pueblos pequeños”.

A partir de marzo, Hernández y su familia comenzaron a repartir tratados en gasolineras, lavanderías y fuera de las tiendas del pueblo por varios meses. En otras ocasiones, la familia ponía música en un estacionamiento y se ofrecían a orar por los que pasaban.

No pasó mucho tiempo antes de que comenzaran a ver a Dios moverse.

“Personas comenzaron a aceptar a Jesús y preguntaban dónde estaba nuestra iglesia, pero todavía no teníamos un lugar donde reunirnos”, dijo.   

Comenzaron a orar para que Dios les proporcionara un lugar mientras podían seguir haciendo la labor evangelística, hasta que un día tuvieron un encuentro especial con cuatro jóvenes en un estacionamiento de Walmart. Como había estado haciendo durante meses, Hernández se acercó a los jóvenes para darles un tratado y orar por ellos. 

Esta vez, algo diferente sucedió. Uno de los jóvenes le preguntó a Hernández si estaba dispuesto a dirigir un estudio bíblico en su apartamento. Hernández aceptó con gusto, y en ese apartamento se plantaron las raíces de lo que se conocerá como Iglesia Bautista Alcance Hispano.

Más tarde, ya con la necesidad urgente de tener un lugar para congregarse antes de realizar una fiesta en la cuadra, Hernández estableció contacto con Nic Collins, el ministro de jóvenes y educación de la Primera Iglesia Bautista de Mexia. A través de ese contacto y de una reunión posterior con el ministerio de misiones de la iglesia, la PIB de Mexia proporcionó una casa que podría ser utilizada como lugar de reunión para la plantación de la iglesia. 

Alcance Hispano celebra reuniones de oración los viernes y servicios de adoración los domingos. La iglesia ya cuenta con unas 25 personas, muchas de ellas de diferentes países, que han pasado de la muerte a la vida al aceptar a Cristo, reuniéndose cada semana, creciendo en la fe y alcanzando a otros hispanos.  

“Esto no es fácil. Hay mucho trabajo, lágrimas y alegrías”, dijo Hernández, “pero estamos muy emocionados por lo que Dios está haciendo. Yo sé que Dios tiene grandes cosas para estos pueblos pequeños”.

Pastor who moved from big city seeing the Lord move in rural area

‘I know God has great things for these little towns’

In the midst of planning his retirement and trips to enjoy with his family, Jose Luis Hernandez never imagined he would receive a call from God that would change the course of his life.  

God began to prepare the way for this change when Hernandez and his family decided to move to a small, rural town—taking him from a life in the city that he loved to living and ministering in a rural setting for the first time in his life.  

“I always liked to be surrounded by people and the hustle and bustle of the city,” Hernandez said, “but today I love this place.”

Hernandez and his family moved to Itasca and are planting a church about an hour’s drive away in Mexia, a town with a population just shy of 7,000 people located about 40 miles east of Waco. 

Before planting in Mexia, Hernandez received an offer to pastor a church in Fort Worth. That same day, he sought direction in prayer to find God’s plan for his family and him. 

An hour after praying, Hernandez received a call from the leader of an association of churches affiliated with the SBTC expressing interest in starting a Mexia church plant.

That phone call led Hernandez to plant Iglesia Bautista Alcance Hispano (Hispanic Outreach Baptist Church). The church plant is part of a larger vision that aims to plant more Hispanic churches among the 22 Anglo churches in the small towns bordering Mexia.  

Hernandez says he had never worked in a rural area before, but after discussing the idea with his wife and their children (who range in age from adults to teenagers) and continuing to pray about the opportunity, he felt God’s call and accepted the challenge.

Chuy Avila, SBTC en Español’s lead associate, encouraged the Hernandez family to look for intentional ways to meet and interact with the people of Mexia.  

“We didn’t know anyone,” he said. “We were just told to start working and get to know the people in the area.” 

They started in January 2022 and for two months dedicated themselves to driving around the streets of Mexia, praying and declaring the Word of God around town. Every Sunday, they visited different churches in the city and surrounding towns to make connections and let them know about the new church they would be planting.  

“This is not easy. There is a lot of work, tears, and joys, but we are very excited about what God is doing. I know that God has great things for these little towns.”

“At first it was hard for me, but looking at the life of the apostle Paul, we see that he intentionally went and talked with the people and stayed with them,” Hernandez said. “The people got to know him until he could teach them the gospel, they accepted Jesus, and then they did what Paul had taught them.”

Beginning in March, Hernandez and his family handed out evangelism tracts at gas stations, laundromats, and outside stores for several months. On other occasions, the family would play music in parking lots where people were gathered and offer to pray for those who passed by.

It wasn’t long before they began to see God move.

“People began to accept Jesus and were asking where our church is, but we still had no place to meet,” he said.   

They began to pray for God to provide a place while they continued to do evangelistic work, until one day they had a special meeting with four young men at a Walmart parking lot. As he had been doing for months, Hernandez approached the young men to give them a tract and to pray for them. 

This time, something different happened. One of the young men asked Hernandez if he would be willing to lead a Bible study at his apartment. Hernandez happily agreed, and in that apartment, the seeds of what could be known as Iglesia Bautista Alcance Hispano were planted.

Later, already in urgent need of a place to congregate before holding a block party, Hernandez established contact with Nic Collins, the minister of youth and education at First Baptist Church of Mexia. Through that contact, and a subsequent meeting with the church’s missions ministry, FBC Mexia provided a house that could be used as a meeting location for the church plant. 

Alcance Hispano holds prayer meetings on Fridays and worship services on Sundays. The church already has about 25 people, many from different countries, who have gone from death to life by accepting Christ, meeting every week, growing in faith, and reaching other Hispanics.  

“This is not easy. There is a lot of work, tears, and joys,” Hernandez said, “but we are very excited about what God is doing. I know that God has great things for these little towns.”

Movement of God in Northeast Houston church fueled by heart for gospel, vibrant ESL ministry

‘We’re just there to share Jesus’

Abilingual church plant is reaching a Latino population in Northeast Houston troubled by gang activity, drug cartels, and human trafficking—proving through door-to-door evangelism and a robust English as a Second Language program that gospel hope is available to all.

Del Traffanstedt left corporate America to become a missions pastor at Northeast Houston Baptist Church, where he was mentored by the church’s former pastor, Nathan Lino. Traffanstedt later served as a pastor in Odessa for three years but couldn’t stop thinking about Houston—especially inside the beltway.

“The people caught my heart. It’s just a very inner-city, urban, heavily Latino area—just great, solid people who love their community, but there’s a lack of gospel-oriented churches,” Traffanstedt said of the area where he would eventually plant. “There’s plenty of churches here, just not a lot that are actually reaching the community and trying to engage the community.”

When Lino called Traffanstedt in Odessa in early 2021 and said Northeast Houston Baptist Church wanted to plant a church in that specific area of Houston, Traffanstedt was able to share with him a specific plan God had already given him for the task should the opportunity ever arise.

Traffanstedt moved back to Houston a few months later and partnered with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and several churches to plant Cross Community Church, meeting at the Northeast Houston Community Center (owned by Northeast Houston Baptist Church).

More than 10 churches helped the core team knock on doors in the six weeks leading up to the launch and for two weeks after the launch, Traffanstedt said. “The community responded. It was great. We ended up reaching in that first go-round around 5,000 homes.”

On launch Sunday in September of last year, Cross Community baptized a person who had accepted Christ during the door-to-door effort, and the plant baptized at least one person every week for the first 10 weeks, leading to 20 baptisms by its first anniversary. 

“We’ve had around 60 professions of faith, and several of those are still working through the baptism process of understanding what that is,” Traffanstedt said. “The community is heavily steeped in cultural Catholicism, so we have to do a lot of discipling [about] baptism.”

Cross Community baptized at least one person every week for its first 10 weeks, leading to 20 baptisms by its first anniversary.

"The people caught my heart. It’s just a very inner-city, urban, heavily Latino area—just great, solid people who love their community, but there’s a lack of gospel-oriented churches."

About 100 people attend Sunday services now, and roughly every other Sunday the worship songs are a blend of English and Spanish—the stanza in one language and the refrain in the other. A real-time translation of the sermon is available so that those who prefer can hear Spanish through an earpiece and connected device. 

The community is mainly second- and third-generation immigrants, and most of them are bilingual, Traffanstedt said. 

“Everything else in their lives is integrated, and we offer a worship experience that’s integrated as well, which is different than most of the churches around here. … That’s attractive to a lot of the unchurched young Latino couples that we’ve ministered to and baptized and are discipling,” the pastor said.

Cross Community is partnering with two local schools to show Christ’s love, primarily through giving teachers Starbucks and Amazon gift cards. They’ve bought uniforms for students, and—partially with the North American Mission Board’s help—distributed more than 600 backpacks, which include gospel tracts in English and Spanish. 

The church plant’s main community outreach is its ESL program, which at more than 30 members its first semester is among Houston’s largest. More than 15 family units from the program have visited the church, and school partners have asked Cross Community to start an ESL program for children.

Though they weren’t quite ready to support a full class for children, Cross Community hosted a weeklong ESL camp for kids before the start of school. 

“It looks maybe like a VBS, only with some intentional English instruction on basic classroom vocabulary,” Traffanstedt said. About 40 children attended, most of them in kindergarten through third grade. 

Traffanstedt is half Salvadorian, he said, though he didn’t grow up with his first-generation immigrant father. “I have studied Spanish, but I’m not conversational. I do understand it very well, and I can communicate at a basic level.” 

When he needs to communicate evangelistically with someone from the 20 percent of non-English speakers in the surrounding community, Traffanstedt has five members of his core team who can translate. “Between me, my translator, the individual, and the Holy Spirit, we’re just able to work it out,” he said.

Traffanstedt can’t point to a bad experience the church has had going door-to-door in the community. People there are more receptive to a gospel witness than people in suburbs, he has found, and though crime is high, his groups are careful and have earned a good reputation. 

“We don’t try to be the police,” he said. “We’re just there to share Jesus.”

Lone Star Scoop • October 2022

SBTC DR responds to Florida In wake of Hurricane Ian

FORT MYERS, Fla. After Hurricane Ian tore through Florida, killing 105 people and resulting in billions of dollars in property damage, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief volunteers quickly joined first responders in serving the survivors in early October. 

SBTC DR teams arrived in Fort Myers Oct. 2-3 to set up a mass feeding kitchen from Lufkin staffed with volunteers from across Texas. The Lufkin unit, stationed at McGregor Baptist Church in Fort Myers, supported the feeding efforts of the Texas division of the Salvation Army there. On Oct. 4, feeding volunteers prepared 5,100 meals in the unit’s first operational day.

A second SBTC DR feeding unit from Pflugerville also established operations at Riverside Baptist in Fort Myers, assisting the American Red Cross there. Additionally, SBTC DR chaplains, assessors, communications, incident management personnel, and a quick response kitchen were sent to Florida.

—Jane Rodgers

Annie Armstrong giving reaches all-time high, NAMB says
Alpharetta, Ga. Southern Baptists gave a record $68.9 million to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering in 2022, breaking the giving record for a second year in a row. Giving to the offering has exceeded records in five of the last six years. “This is incredible news for our missionaries,” said North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell, “and it is an incredible testimony to God’s faithfulness and to the generosity of Southern Baptists.”  The Annie offering accounts for half of NAMB’s budget, and every dollar of it goes directly to the mission field in the year the money is given. The offering’s total is tallied based on giving during the fiscal year, October 2021 through September 2022. The giving increases have allowed NAMB to expand missionary efforts and increase care for missionaries. In February 2022, NAMB announced that it would provide health care benefits and establish retirement accounts for first-year church planting missionaries through a partnership with Guidestone Financial Services. —Baptist Press
Pomeroy preaches farewell message at Sutherland Springs
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS Frank Pomeroy, who pastored at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs for two decades, preached his final sermon at the church on Sunday, September 25.  Pomeroy, who announced his intent to retire earlier this year, preached about Paul’s farewell message to the elders at Ephesus in Acts 20. “As I stand here this morning, I think about how God has had me standing here before you for 20-plus years,” Pomeroy said to the congregation. “We’ve had a lot of really great times, and we’ve had some really, really hard times together—times of laughter, tears, and great mourning. We’ve done all this together, with Christ at the forefront.” In November 2017, a gunman opened fire inside the church, killing 26 people and injuring 20 more. Pomeroy’s 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, was among those killed in the shooting. —Jayson Larson

The satisfaction of sharing

In John 4, we see a woman whose life has been marked by one broken relationship after another in an attempt to find something to satisfy the thirst of her soul. She is desperately seeking something to satisfy her soul but has come up empty time and time again. Yet, through a divine encounter with Jesus, she discovers that what she has been looking for is ultimately found in Him. She drinks the “living water” and is never the same again. What an amazing story of life change through the power of the gospel!

What makes this moment in her life possible is simple—Jesus cared enough about her to take the time to share with her the hope that is found in Himself. You may think, “It’s Jesus—of course He’s going to share with her.” What I love about this passage is that Jesus is described in a way that highlights His humanity. He is exhausted, thirsty, hungry, and sitting by the well resting his weary legs for a few moments. Despite the fatigue of His travels and the busyness of His ministry, Jesus recognized the spiritual condition of this woman and was willing to share the gospel with her. 

In this story, we see that the singular focus of Jesus was to proclaim the “good news” of who He is and what He came to do with those who desperately need Him. In v. 31-34, Jesus reveals to us both the urgency of evangelism and the satisfaction that comes when we engage in it. The disciples know Jesus is tired and hungry, so they offer Him food. Notice His reply: “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” In other words, “I’m already full, boys!” The disciples are confused and ask one another, “Who gave Jesus food?” They are clueless as to what Jesus is referencing.

"We must follow Jesus’ example. He did not let His fatigue or busyness cause Him to be distracted from His primary mission. Rather, He seized an ordinary moment and through a simple conversation changed a woman’s life forever.

Jesus goes on to tell them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.” What Jesus declares here is that the will of the Father and the work of the Father is for us to engage in personal evangelism. Don’t miss this: evangelism isn’t just a part of our calling as disciples—it’s primary. If we are not engaging in evangelism, we are not walking in the will or doing the work of the Father. 

There is a spiritual satisfaction that we experience when we share our faith. When we neglect the call to evangelize, we are subsequently missing out on the spiritual food that brings satisfaction to the soul. We must follow Jesus’ example. He did not let His fatigue or busyness cause Him to be distracted from His primary mission. Rather, He seized an ordinary moment and through a simple conversation changed a woman’s life forever. 

Since we are entrusted to shepherd and lead those in our churches, we must emphasize evangelism! We must lead by example, lead through equipping and training our people, and lead through celebrating when we see people bold in their evangelism. Imagine the kingdom impact if our collective body of believers truly embraced our everyday, woman-at-the-well moments. As we pray for revival in our churches, community, state, and beyond, we must recognize both the personal responsibility but also the exceeding joy that comes with connecting people to Jesus.