A Soft Place to Land in a Hard, Hard World

Lee, Erica & Cheri

For the past 20 years women inmates across Kentucky have been shown the love of Jesus Christ through worship services and the Christ-centered teachings of Freedom Forever Ministries.  KY-MSC Missionary Lee Rust says they minister inside, behind the bars.  In addition to the worship services Lee and her volunteer team provides a 10-week Good Grief program and are reaching women who are often forgotten, with the Word of God.

“We see God transform lives right before our eyes,” Lee says.  “We get to know the women, share their heart and pain, and see God work through them.  We are His voice.  We are rewarded by seeing what He does, by seeing changed lives.”  Lee says it is not unusual to have women come up to her years later, ask if she remembers them and tell her how well they are now doing thanks to Freedom Forever Ministries.

Cheri, a former inmate who was incarcerated at the Western Kentucky Correctional Complex for three years, is more than happy to sing the praises of Freedom Forever Ministries.  She was very broken and really struggling while in prison, but said this ministry was “such a bright spot for the ladies in a really dark world we were living in.  They were such wonderful people, so loving and kind,” Cheri said.  “It encouraged my faith, kept me from lagging and from falling into the ways of prison life.  Once you came in, if you weren’t a believer I don’t know how you could go out and not be a believer, because you heard the Word in the message given by Lee each Wednesday, you heard the Word in the music and the seed was planted.  They were a soft place to land in a hard, hard world.  It was so nice to see a smiling face each week, to have somebody ask how you were doing, how your week was going.  They did their very best to take that extra minute here and there to be personal, interested and compassionate.  They were truly the hands and feet of Christ.”

Lee’s husband Eric and daughter Erica are also a part of the ministry.  Erica was not allowed to go into the prison until she turned 18.  Once she turned 18 however, Erica too joined in the ministry.  Cheri recalls Erica singing at the services, saying “she followed her parents’ servant hearts.”

Erica just recently married and, when choosing food for the wedding reception, reconnected with Cheri, who is now released from prison, has her life back together, and has her own business of making beer cheese.  Cheri said it was the first time she had seen this family since being released from prison and it was such an honor to meet on the “other side” and to “give back” to a family that had meant so much to her. 

Pray for Lee and Freedom Forever Ministries as they make a difference in the lives of many women when they are at their lowest.  To learn more about Freedom Forever Ministries go to https://freedomforeverministries.com/ or connect with them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/FreedomForeverMinistries/), where you will find a video of Cheri’s testimonial. 



The Power of Missions

If you or I were to write the script for the advancement of the gospel after Jesus’s death and resurrection, I dare say it would not unfold quite the same as it did in the book of Acts.  Perhaps we would have sent the disciples out on mission immediately after the resurrection or at least after Jesus’s ascension.  Jesus did not lay out a military strategy that called his early followers to “strike while the iron was hot.”  Rather, Jesus commanded them to wait until they were “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4, 8).  The advancement of the gospel would not rely upon the ingenuity of man, but upon the power of God.  In fact, Jesus promised the power of the Holy Spirit to carry the call of God to the world. 

As Bob Burton notes, “The book of Acts . . . begins with waiting and preparation.  For the first-century church, the measure of the effectiveness on the mission field was directly related to the measure of spiritual preparation—praying, waiting, and expecting” (The Spiritual DNA of a Church on Mission, 10).  He goes on to explain that the church does indeed explode with growth, but only after a time of preparation (10 days of prayer and fasting).  The urgency of the gospel moving mightily through Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the nations begins by preparation through prayer. By waiting and praying. 

Prayer is always instrumental in the expansion of the gospel in Acts.  Burton is correct that “there is always a direct connection between prayer and missions (The Spiritual DNA, 11).  For example, in Acts 3 Peter and John enter the temple area at the time of prayer and heal a man who is born lame.  As this event creates no small commotion, Peter uses it to preach the gospel to the gathered crowd.  This gathering then gains the attention of the religious leaders who arrest Peter and John for preaching Jesus.  In Acts 4 the apostles are threatened with death and then released with the understanding that they have been warned.  They immediately return to the church knowing what is at stake.

They report to the church what had happened and then begin to pray.  They pray not for deliverance from this threat or that Jesus would somehow ease their burden or change their calling.  No, they pray for God-given boldness (Acts 4:29).  As they pray, God physically shakes the room where they have gathered and fills them with the Holy Spirit. Thus, they continue speaking with boldness about the gospel of Jesus (Acts 4:31; 33). 

As we see, “preparation was the foundational missional principle for the church. It all began with a lifestyle of prayer, waiting, and expectation” (The Spiritual DNA, 11).  Oh, that the church would rediscover this principle.  What might God do with the church today that waits and prays?  What might He do with the church that pleads with God to move mightily in and through them by the filling of His Spirit?  He did it then; He can do it again.  If we can help your church in developing intentional prayer for the Great Commission, then please call on us at [email protected].     

Wise Instruction for a Leader

Good leaders are deciders. Leaders make decisions and move forward. They may not always be right, but they do not allow themselves to be paralyzed by indecision.

Great spiritual leadership recognizes the need for God to be integral in the process of decision-making. In Exodus 18: 19-21 Moses was given great leadership advice by his father-in-law Jethro, “Now listen to me; I will give you some advice, and God be with you. You be the one to represent the people before God and bring their cases to Him. Instruct them about the statutes and laws, and teach them the way to live and what they must do. But you should select from all the people able men, God-fearing, trustworthy, and hating bribes. Place them over the people as commanders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.”

This passage teaches us three great pastoral leadership principles:

  1. Bathe decisions in prayer. We should begin decision-making in prayer. If we are to lead God’s people effectively, we need to be a person of prayer. Our calling is to lead people to the place that God desires them to be, and to do that effectively we must stay close to God. Great leaders lead the people as they draw close to God and remain close to Him during the journey. Talk more to God about the church’s issues than you proclaim them from the pulpit.
  2. Base all you do on God’s truth. Godly leadership bases decisions on the truth, not personal opinions. We are called as spiritual leaders to teach the truth of God that He has revealed to us in His Holy Word. All we do should be based on the teachings of Scripture and our lives ought to seek to model these teachings. Any decision made that cannot find foundation in God’s Word will not stand the test of time and ultimately will fail.
  3. Share leadership with others whom God has gifted. Moses could not possibly do everything himself as he led the people of Israel, and neither can we. God does not call us to be Lone Ranger followers. Good leaders empower others to use their gifts and share leadership responsibilities with others. We can always do more together than any of us can do alone. Pastoral authority is not lessened in shared leadership, it is enhanced as we maximize the giftedness of the church and allow the followers of Christ opportunity to be used and to grow in their faith. Good leaders do not fear other mature believers having a voice in the decision-making process, and in wisdom welcome the input of others.

The called of God are to stand and lead. But that privilege only comes to those who have first followed. Therefore, speak after you have first sought a word from Him. Lead as you pursue His direction. Stand after spending time before His throne of grace. Be wise by seeking the input of other gifted followers of our God. And then issue the call to go boldly forward not by barking commands but by rallying the faithful to follow Our Commander and Lord.

Choose Obedience Over Safety

I talked with a pastor last week who was discouraged and hurting.  The reason he was discouraged might surprise you, because worship attendance wasn’t down and the church wasn’t behind in the budget.  It wasn’t because of internal fighting or dissatisfaction with his sermons.  Instead, this pastor was discouraged because members felt like conducting ministry in near-by apartments was too dangerous for the church. They didn’t want to go to that hard place because it could be un-safe for them. 

I remember a similar situation many years ago when I was serving as a student minister.  I had planned a mission trip to inner-city Chicago and some were questioning whether or not they should allow the trip to take place because it could be un-safe. We did go, and God blessed. 

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is our foundation for going and making disciples everywhere.  Everywhere, sometimes include unsafe or hard places.  I’m not suggesting that we face all danger with no regard for the safety of ourselves or others.  But, like Paul and Barnabas in the book of Acts, we are called to “risk” our lives for the cause of Christ (Acts 15:26).  Do we really want to remove our gospel witness from the hard places in the world where it is most needed?   Jesus doesn’t call us to safety, He calls us to GO!  If we always choose safety over obedience, we’ll never make disciples of all the world.    

The Great Commission commands us to go.  Here are three reminders found within The Great Commission that will help us as we seek to be true to the calling. 

1. The Great Commission reminds us of Jesus’ power over all things.  These are the words of the risen Christ, who had overcome death on the cross.  He claimed all authority and gave us the authority to represent Him in the world that we live in.    

2. The Great Commission reminds us of Jesus’ purpose for our ministries. Our mission is, that we are to make disciples of all the world as we go.  This mission is a call to reach all people groups.  We are called to share the gospel in our neighborhoods (even the un-safe ones) and in all the nations (even the hard ones). 

3. The Great Commission reminds us of Jesus’ promise to be with us always.  The promise that Jesus made should be meaningful and encouraging.  We live in a dangerous world, but His promise should bring us enormous comfort because He will always be with us. 

There are many Christians throughout history who have faithfully served the Lord at tremendous cost to their safety and security.  Our calling is to be found faithful with the gospel today, even in the unsafe and hard places.  Lord, may we choose obedience to you over our safety and security. 

WHY YOU SHOULD OPEN YOUR HOME THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

The end of the year is often marked by a seemingly endless barrage of family gatherings, cookie swaps, white elephant gift exchanges, office parties and more.

The holidays cause some to stress out and wonder if they can fit everything in. Others experience profound sadness as they reflect on the loss of a loved one or other disappointments in life.

The holiday season can be a welcome time of intentional hospitality. When Jesus shared meals with people, it gave him the opportunity to enter the lives of the people with whom he was eating. In fact, eating together is one of the most important and practical means for overcoming any barriers that separates us.

When considering how to love our neighbors and family this season, Jesus offers a way for us to use the gift of hospitality as means to share his grace. Here are three ways to enter the holidays with gospel intentionality:

1. Broaden your reflection.

As you begin to shift your thoughts toward the birth of Jesus, add this verse to your reflection: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Jesus said he will come to the table if you will let him. Incarnation was always about recapturing simple, intimate communion.

2. Open your table.

There is a familiar saying around our house when it comes to supper: “There’s always room for one more.” And there is. But what takes that from a stated fact to a shared reality is an intentional invitation. When we open our tables to our neighbors, we are offering more than a meal. We are offering an invitation into communion.

3. Ask good questions.

Around a table, the art of conversation is fostered. Try to avoid questions that lead to one-word answers. Instead ask open-ended questions like, “What are some of your greatest memories of the holidays growing up?” or “What is most difficult for you during the holidays?” These questions, when engaged honestly, can connect people at a deep level. Take time to listen. Really listen.

Focusing on these three things this holiday season can create space for intimate communion with family members, co-workers, neighbors, international students, or refugees. And who knows, because they are at your table, you might find yourself in a conversation with someone wondering how they can find a seat at Jesus’ table.

As Jesus says in Luke 10:2, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Lord, help us to open our homes this holiday season for glory of your name, and we pray that many will come to know you! The Mission Mobilization Team is here to serve you and your church, as you seek to faithfully fulfill the Great Commission. Email John Barnett, KBC mission Strategist, at [email protected] to discover new great commission opportunities or resources for you and your church. Merry Christmas. We are stronger together!

Thank you, Bill…

‘Tis the season.  The Christmas season.  The season when we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The season of giving. 

In our work it is also the season of filling and distributing Christmas backpacks for children, which began in 2001 when a group of GA’s (Girls in Action) in Georgia wanted to bless less-fortunate children in Appalachia who might not get a lot for Christmas.  The backpacks are filled with toys, clothes, hygiene items, food, a Bible, and a copy of “The Christmas Story.”  (In the early years gifts were placed in shoeboxes but transitioned to backpacks in 2012.) 

Bill Barker, then Appalachian Regional Ministry Director, started promoting this project and, eighteen years later, the Christmas Backpack Project is still going strong.  As a result of Bill’s efforts thousands of children have a better Christmas.  This year an estimated 75,000 backpacks will be filled by Southern Baptists, with a total estimated 390,000 shoeboxes and backpacks filled during the eighteen years. 

Bill Barker served as Director of Appalachian Regional Ministry (ARM) from the Spring of 2001 until December 2017 when he “retired” from that position.  In 2018 Georgia Baptist Convention launched Appalachian Mountain Ministry (AMM) with a similar purpose as ARM and covered the same geographical area.  So, the work continued. 

I was introduced to Bill on a July evening in 2001 during the Mountain Missions Conference at Oneida Baptist Institute and have worked closely with him since that time.  The Christmas Backpack Project is just one of many ways Bill has served in Appalachia. 

Well over a million mission volunteers have been mobilized through Bill’s efforts, partnerships between churches and associations have been developed, long-term missionaries have been called to the mission field, church buildings and homes have been built and repaired, resources of all kinds have been shared with ministries, tens of thousands of children have been fed and clothed, churches have been strengthened, and the list could go on and on.  But, the most important statistic, and the reason Bill spent the long hours doing what he loved, is that over 83,000 have prayed to receive Christ. 

As we come to the close of 2019 Bill will “retire” once again from AMM and is now back in the pastorate in Georgia.  The Lord has used him in mighty ways across Appalachia. 

Thank you, Bill, for your ministry.  Many men, women, boys and girls have been blessed because of it.  We will never know, this side of eternity, the huge impact you have made in eastern Kentucky and all of the Appalachian region. 

May the Lord continue to bless and use you and Arlene in His Kingdom work.  We love and appreciate you!!

What’s in Your Wallet?

Jesus commanded each of us as His disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

Our mandate as followers of Jesus Christ is to take the Gospel into all the world and to make the name of Christ known among all peoples. We are compelled to proclaim the Gospel, the only hope for billions who have not yet heard about the good news of Christ.

This mandate requires a sacrificial commitment. A sacrifice to go, and a sacrifice to send. Sacrificial giving by Southern Baptists enables us to place thousands of missionaries across the globe. The Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions remain the lifeline for countless missionary families, who have sacrificed to go to the farthest corners of our world.

As we enter this season that highlights the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, it should make each of as believers ask prayerfully, “What is in my wallet?”

Simply put, your giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions enables missionaries to be sent to share the Gospel, disciple those who come to Christ, and multiply churches among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God. Southern Baptists realized when they began this special offering in 1888 that we can do more when we cooperate together for the sake of Christ than any of us can do alone.

When you give to Lottie Moon:

  • 100% of your gifts directly support missionaries serving the unreached.
  • You are making a way for the 2.8 billion people who have little access to the Gospel to hear of Jesus.
  • You are helping to transform lives around the world.
  • You are part of reaching the nations for Christ.
  • You are playing a role in the Bible being translated into every tongue and language.
  • You are providing hot meals, blankets, and clean water for refugee families.
  • You are enabling us to be God’s hands of compassion following disasters across the globe.
  • You are providing medical leaders in hospitals in broken places.
  • You are providing training for church leaders and pastors.
  • You are fulfilling the Great Commission of our Lord.

Why give to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering?

Maybe, it would be better to ask, how as a follower of Christ, could I not give to this offering that is making the name of Christ known in every corner of our globe?

As Lottie Moon, missionary in China in 1887, said, “Why should we not…do something that will prove that we are really in earnest in claiming to be followers of him who, though He was rich, for our sake became poor?”

For I was hungry…

Tanya Parker is a new North American Mission Board Missionary serving as a Missions & Ministries Associate at God’s Appalachian Partnership in McDowell (Floyd County), KY.  However, she and her family are not new to GAP.  In 2001 Tanya and her husband Joe were living and working in Lexington, when they both lost their jobs within three months of each other.  Tanya was pregnant and did not go back to work.  The employment her husband was able to find was not the equivalent of what he previously had so they were struggling financially.  They moved back home to McDowell, KY and, during that time, turned to GAP for help.  “They helped us with food, clothing and encouragement in the name of Christ,” Tanya says.  “Every time I hear the scripture ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me…’ I think of GAP.”

Once back in McDowell Tanya and Joe both found employment and, with the help of family, friends, GAP and Dave Ramsey classes they took through their church, they gradually got “back on their feet.”  Tanya would volunteer at GAP every chance she got and prayed for God to guide and bless the ministry so they could continue to share Christ and meet the needs of the people. 

Around a year ago, when GAP was in need of staff, Tanya began praying for God to send missionaries to come alongside Directors John & Shaughanessy Morris and help carry out all that God had planned for the ministry.  In March 2019 she volunteered at the annual Easter Egg Hunt and says she remembers exactly where she was standing when she felt the Lord tell her, “this is it, this is where I want you.”  Tanya says she didn’t immediately obey, started second guessing herself and was becoming miserable.  She met with John and started asking questions about the missionary life.  “After a time of fasting and prayer,” Tanya says, “I confirmed that God truly was calling me to serve at GAP.

This was not an easy decision for Tanya.  She served as administrative assistant at Fitzpatrick Baptist Church and truly loved her ministry there, but GAP seemed to be just where the Lord was leading. 

Tanya’s pastor, Bro. Tommy Reed, was sad to see her leave, but had this to say: “If I were picking a team she’d be on it.  She is mature.  She loves Jesus.  She loves her family.  She loves her church.  I love her and will miss her immensely.”

GAP Director John Morris said, “For over two years my wife Shaughanessy and I have been praying that the Lord would send someone like Tanya Parker to GAP.  Who knew that He would send the one and only Tanya Parker.  Praise be to God!  We are so excited to welcome her to the Lords’ team here at GAP.  She brings a wealth of gifts, talents and experience to the staff.  She was raised here in the McDowell area so many already know her and/or her family, which makes building relationships for Christ easier.”

Tanya has come full-circle with GAP and God is using her in tremendous ways.  Just a few days ago she posted on her Facebook page (Tanya Parker – GAP MSC Life for me!):  “Today was a great day. I shared the Gospel today with a young lady and she made a decision to follow Jesus! Praise the LORD!”

Tanya has been married to Joseph (Joe) Parker for 21 years.  They have three daughters, Makayla (20), Grace (18) and Allison (16).  Joe is a deacon and Sunday School teacher at their church and the Lord has blessed him with a full time job at Prestonsburg City Utilities. 

You can follow Tanya’s ministry at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2757262984283862/.  Please pray for her as she serves at God’s Appalachian Partnership.

You are meant for so much more!

We have all asked the question, “Why did this tragic or hurtful situation occur?”  We have all experienced pain in life and have wondered why us.  But have we ever asked the question, “Why do blessings come our way?”  To ask it more personally, why am I blessed with what I have in life?  Psalm 67 is a prayer of blessing adapted from Numbers 6, where Old Testament priests would speak a word of blessing on the people of Israel. 

Psalm 67:1 prays, “God be gracious to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us—Selah” (all references NASB).  The Psalmist is praying for the grace, blessing, and favor of God.  But why is God gracious, and why does He bless and show us favor?  Verse 2 gives us the reason— “that your way may be known on the earth, your salvation among all nations.”   

God’s good gifts to His people are not meant to be horded by us, but to be heralded for Him.  We have what we have, and we are where we are in order that we might make God known among the nations.  In fact, Paul told the leading men of Athens, “And He (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26).  When we live and where we live are all determined by God’s good design—a design meant to be used to make Him famous around the world.    

Currently, there are 7,103 unreached people groups or 4.5 billion people unreached with the gospel of Jesus.  Unreached means that of the these 7,103 people groups less than 2 percent of the people follow Jesus.  According to the International Mission Board, a people group is the largest group through which the gospel can flow without encountering significant barriers of understanding and acceptance (www.peoplegroups.org). 

God’s desire, according to Psalm 67, is that the grace, blessing, and favor He gives us (v 1) is to be used to point all peoples to the salvation of our God (v 2).  How might each of us leverage our lives—the good gifts He has given us—to make much of Jesus where He is not known?  The goal God’s blessing to us and our proclamation of Him is so that “the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You” (v 3).      

God’s praise is meant to be global and He desires to use us for that aim.  Life is meant for more than daily schedules of work, school, running errands, and going to ball practice.  We have received educations, homes, cars, salaries, and retirements for more than our comforts.  “God, our God, blesses us.  God blesses us that all the ends of the earth may fear Him” (v 6b-7). You are meant for so much more.  How, then, will you use the blesses from God to impact the nations for His glory?     

Chosen to Go

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

As those redeemed by Christ, we have been chosen and called to proclaim the praises of our Savior into all the world.

So how can the church be a royal priesthood and fulfill the Great Commission given to us by God?

Six strategic principles can help the church to ensure that we do not turn from our primary calling to live on mission for Christ and to take the Gospel to every person across our globe:

  • Value the mission over methods. The Gospel and the Great Commission of our Lord are unchanging, but the methods utilized to reach our world can and often must change for us to be effective in our mission. It is always better to be missional than traditional.
  • Value people over programs. It is much more important to build relationships with people than it is fill calendars with programs. The church is not to just take up time in people’s lives, it is to disciple them to take the Gospel into the world.
  • Value risk over safety. To reach our world for Christ will involve risks. It may even mean at times that we suffer failures and setbacks and go to places that are less than safe. But great tasks and great missions are never accomplished by those who fear failure and who are unwilling to ever venture into the hard places. The Great Commission will always require steps of great faith.
  • Value super-teams over superstars. We are always stronger together than we are alone. The genius of the Cooperative Program is that it unites Southern Baptists to be more effective and efficient in reaching the world for Christ and in building His Kingdom not our own little sandcastles.
  • Value sending over maintaining. The church was not formed to gather us in. It was formed to empower us to go out. God is worthy of our worship, but real worship will always compel us to go forth from the walls of our church.
  • Value action over meetings. We can spend so much time trying to develop strategies and the perfect plan that we never actually accomplish the mission. Developing strategy and doing analysis has an important role in ministry, but we must always be careful that it does not paralyze us from action. Sometimes we just need to make a leap of faith and try something. If it does not work, stop it and try something else. Fulfilling the Great Commission of our Lord will require us to get up from the pew and to go out for the sake of Christ.

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).