Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Ministry Update - Spring 2017

I love spring.  Everything awakens and is beautiful and just plain lovely.  We've had a rainy, but busy spring here in eastern Kentucky.

March 2017

During January and February, our WMU group collected gently-used purses and filled them with hygiene products for a local domestic violence shelter.  The first of March, we delivered those purses.  James, Hudson, and I went with three other church members.  We collected 61 filled-purses which was awesome!  We delivered the purses, toured the facility, talked and prayed with the facility's director, then ate a delicious lunch in Prestonsburg, KY.

The first Sunday in March was Youth Sunday.  I don't know if MBC has ever had a Youth Sunday before, but if so it had been in many years so this was definitely a new thing.  We utilized all the children, preschool and up.  Students taught the preschool and primary Sunday School classes, acted as greeters, took up offering, sang special music, counted people and offering as Sunday School director, and engineered the sound booth.  One of the best ways to learn is to just do it.  Our hope in Youth Sunday is that when these sweet boys and girls become adults and are asked to serve, they will be more than willing as they will feel confident in doing so, having done so as a child.

First meeting of Gathered: Moms in Prayer.  It had been on my mind since Hudson started school that our school needed a prayer emphasis.  I turned to Moms in Touch, which is now Moms in Prayer, that I remembered from when I taught school.  After some research, prayer, talking with a few other moms, and getting permission from the Principal - Gathered: Moms in Prayer began.  I named it Gathered in honor of the scripture M that says "where two or three are gathered, so am I." Our first meeting was on a Wednesday afternoon, about an hour before dismissal.  We had four ladies, including myself.  I'm super excited to see where the Lord takes this ministry. 

Oneida Baptist Institute is a private school in south-eastern Kentucky that is a part of the ministry of Kentucky Baptists.  Their president was the speaker and choir the special music at our homecoming in November.  At that time, their president and James exchanged information and James was asked to speak in their chapel.  James spoke from 2 Kings, the story of Namaan and the little servant girl who led him to Elijah for not only healing of his leprosy, but of his pride as well.  One of our church members, Dwight, joined us on the drive there and back.

It's not often that Christian concerts come to eastern KY.  When we heard that Casting Crowns was coming, we jumped at organizing a group to attend.  Our church had 20 to go!  (Disclaimer, 5 of them actually attend a different church though they live near our community.)  It was a wonderful time of worship.  For three of our group, it was their first concert ever!


James had the blessing of baptizing 4 men during April.  Technically 2 men and 2 boys.  It was the first time James had baptized a male - all of those he baptized while in MO were female.  The 2 men are both new husbands and are starting their marriages out in obedience to Jesus, which is such a blessing.  The two sweet boys both come from a Christian family so it wasn't a surprise that they professed faith at a young age.  It is exciting to think that they have their whole lives to serve Jesus!

April 2017

We had a new ladies' Bible Study begin in April.  A group of 7 ladies signed up to study True Womanhood 101.  We're almost finished, which makes me sad. 

Back when we started at MBC, I was told that our church desperately needed a church directory. 
Fast forward to the beginning of April and LifeTouch came to take photos to create a church directory for us.  Now, I could have easily done a church directory on Microsoft Word or Excel.  But we used the portrait event as a community outreach.  We had 33 families photographed, 1 of whom attend another church, and 12 of whom are unchurched.  Simply getting an unchurched family in the doors of the church where we can be friendly and kind to them was a big win!  The photos were quickly delivered (each family photographed received a complimentary 8x10) and now we wait for the directory proof!

The Saturday before Easter, we held an event just for the kids at church.  It was aptly named, One Day Youth Event. Haha!  It was basically a crash-course in what it means to be a Christian.  We had worship, three bible studies focusing on bible study, obedience, and the gospel, a prayer walk/scavenger hunt, lunch, and an escape room!  7 children attended.  I had hoped for 12, but was glad with our 7.   The day couldn't have been more perfect - the kids got along, there was a spirit of peace at the event, and everyone said they want to do another one.

Easter came - Jesus is alive!  We had a good-size group of about 80 at church.  We had an egg hunt afterwards which was enjoyable for everyone.

On a whim, we scheduled a Family Movie Night.  4 families, 12 people total came to enjoy the faith-based film, The Lost Medallion, and popcorn.  It's something we plan to do again, especially in the winter.

One of our church members had felt the Lord lead her to organize a Free Yard Sale at church. Church members donated clothing, books, toys, furnishings, etc... to be given away to anyone who wanted/needed them.  We held it on Saturday the 22nd of April which was a good date as the community center across the road was giving food away.  However, it was raining cats and dogs!  So icky outside.  But the Lord blessed and we had 27 people walk through the yard sale, only 4 of whom are currently in church.   Yay for prospets!

That following Sunday, we had a church potluck dinner after morning worship service.  Hotdogs and Hamburgers were grilled outside and church members brought many sides and desserts to share.

After the church potluck, we had a Sunday School Teacher brainstorming session.  Our Sunday School program is not strong.  Less than half who attend on Sunday morning worship attend Sunday School.  This meeting was to brainstorm ideas on how to boost growth - both numerical and spiritual. 

Second meeting of Gathered also occurred in April.  We had four again, but it was a completely different group of ladies (other than myself, of course).  We are now breaking until June where we hope to continue our Gathered prayer meetings at a local park so kids can play while mamas pray.

May 2017

Mothers' Day is always a bittersweet day during May.  So many grieve the loss of their mother or their motherhood.  But our church did a wonderful job at being sensitive to all women, emphasizing the ability of all women to be a spiritual mother to someone.

May marked the end of school for our community. H graduated preschool and is now a kindergartener!  Eek!  Two of our kids graduated 8th grade.  It's always fun to go to these events.

MOVE stands for Monthly Outreach Visitation (and) Evangelism.  James felt that after 8 months here, it was time to intentionally mobilize the church into the community.  Since February, on Wednesdays nights, James has been teaching about preparing and sharing your salvation testimony, how to share a gospel tract, and other outreach practicalities.  Our focus for our first MOVE was to publicize VBS coming up the first week of June.  To be honest, we had a super low turn out.  Only our family and one other person.  That was quite disappointing, but we have no where to go but up from there!  We are praying it was scheduling conflicts and not apathy that kept people home.

Back in February, we had our first Girls' Day Out where we studied the book of Ruth and ate at a local cafĂ©.  This time, we headed to Huntington Mall to do a modesty scavenger hunt and eat at Olive Garden! 

Whew, it's been a busy spring. And the best part of all this busyness is that the community is starting to take notice.  One day at school, while picking up H, a teacher stopped me in the hallway.  I knew her face, but not her name.  She stopped me to say, "you guys are doing a great job!"  I was confused.  She went on to say how she keeps hearing about all the things our church is doing lately.  Then she hugged me and ran off after her little class.  That was super encouraging to know that someone is noticing what we're up to. :)

*New believers from this past quarter
*At our One Day Youth Event, I had 2 girls express that she felt ready to follow Jesus.  We are working slowly with them since they are young, but they are learning and growing.
*A spring full of lots of serving Jesus!

Prayer Requests:
*Summer plans: VBS, LoveLoud, Mini-Mission Trip to Love Packages, Camp, etc...
* So many lost and hurting in our community: TO, R&MC, B&CD, JLL, SN, JF, etc...
* James as he continues to lead and share the gospel in the community
* Next MOVE (June 17th) that more people will participate

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Me and Jesus

We have lived in eastern Kentucky for going on 9 months now.  That's 3/4 of a year, if anyone is counting.  During this time, when talking to old friends, I have been asked the same question multiple times: "What's the spiritual climate like there?"  (You must remember that many of my friends are seminary nerds like us - so these are normal conversations - haha!)

That's a hard question to answer; it is often difficult to make such a generalization.  Everyone is an individual, after all.  However, I have found that my answer came rather easily:  "Jesus and Me have my own thing going on."

If you are familiar with country music at all, you may remember Tom T. Hall's song "Me and Jesus."

The basic worldview of the song can be found in the chorus and bridge:

Me and Jesus got our own thing going.
Me and Jesus got it all worked out.
Me and Jesus got our own thing going.
We don't need anybody to tell us what it's all about.
We can't afford any fancy preaching.
We can't afford any fancy church. We can't afford any fancy singing.

After almost 9 months of knocking on doors, having gospel conversations, answering faith-based questions, etc... I have come to see that this is the major worldview here as far as spirituality - me and Jesus got our own thing.

We have found that those our age (mid-30s) and older, there is a church background.  At one point, they attended church.  Often, at one point they made a profession of faith.  But now, they are dechurched (fancy word being one is no longer in a church).  The families in this area struggle with many things: alcohol and drug abuse are rampant, domestic violence is common, few are married but rather choose to live together as if married, etc...  However, when you try to reconcile their lifestyle and behavior with any faith you get the "Me and Jesus got our own thing going" answer. 

Now, before you accuse me of throwing stones.  Yes - one can be a believer and struggle with those sins.  We are not a perfect people.  However, scripture makes it clear that the one who obeys Christ's commands loves him.  That means, the key is the struggle against the sin.  Struggle against substance abuse.  Struggle against desire for sex outside of marriage. Struggle against prioritizing work or pleasure over church.  One who is willfully living in those circumstances is not struggling against them - but has resigned to them.  That person may not be a true believer. 

Each time James or I have tried to talk to someone about their faith in contrast to how they are living - you hear the "I'm okay, I know Jesus loves me.  I'm baptized, I'm forgiven." Me and Jesus got our own thing going.  There is a disconnect between what is a person's spiritual condition and their present life.  It's like the two aren't connected. Like one's spiritual beliefs don't impact their day-to-day living. I'm sure some of my philosophy-minded friends can word that better. Add this disconnect to the Appalachian strong streak of independence and man, it is hard to convince someone that they need Jesus.

Faith in Jesus is a personal thing.  It is a Me and Jesus thing.  However, the Christian life isn't lived that way.  We live in obedience.  Jesus tells us how to live in his word.  We live in community.  He places other Christians and the church in our life to help us toward that end.  So while you and Jesus may have your own thing going, it may not be the thing you think/hope it is. 

So pray for James as he shares the gospel with those in our church and community.  Pray for our association here in this county.  Pike is the largest country in Kentucky and it's one of the most lost (percentage-wise).  There is a lot of work done to bring somebody and Jesus together in an authentic relationship.