July 2009

A Worthy Investment

July 27 2009 by Milton A. Hollifield Jr., BSC Executive Director-Treasurer

The Convention strives to fulfill the vision that God has laid before us. Our Seven Pillars for Ministry identify the key concepts that guide our efforts. Increasing our work among international communities is one of the pillars. In the story I’m about to share, please notice the numerous ways that ministries of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) have touched the life of an individual and how God glorifies Himself through the life of this person.

Your support through the Cooperative Program and the N.C. Missions Offering made this worthy investment possible.

Jairo Contreras is a Hispanic pastor living near Forest City. Growing up in Colombia, South America, and working as a hotel chef, Contreras never thought he would end up in North Carolina as a church planter training other planters. In his early 20s, he received Jesus Christ as his Savior and served with Campus Crusade for Christ in South American countries for 10 years.

He moved to Miami, Fla., and then in 1993, he and his wife, Gloria, moved to Asheville, where he worked as a chef for Grove Park Inn. In 1995 Jairo enrolled in Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute (FBBI). He then earned his bachelor’s degree from Gardner-Webb University and will graduate in December with a master’s degree in pastoral care, also from Gardner-Webb.

While living in Asheville, Jairo worked with Merrimon Avenue Baptist Church to start the first Hispanic Baptist church in the area. Then, he began working with the BSC. With support from the BSC, Green River and Sandy Run associations, Pastor Contreras started the Cristo Vive Baptist church in Rutherfordton.

He has ministered among Hispanics in western North Carolina for 12 years. His toughest challenge remains helping those addicted to drugs and alcohol. Contreras is not intimidated because he’s been there. He knows all about their struggles. As he lives in a way that brings glory to Jesus Christ, God continues turning those in the Hispanic community to Himself.

When he first moved to the area, only five or six Hispanic families lived in Rutherfordton. Now, more than 3,000 Hispanics live in the county.

Contreras formed relationships with both the Hispanic community and Anglo communities and is respected in both. When a Hispanic family moves to town, people are quick to connect them with Contreras.

He established a one-year training program at Cristo Vive that is both theological and practical.
Cristo Vive disciples and involves every member in ministry.

This is a congregation that regularly has 12-15 church members attending classes at FBBI.

They have sent three pastors to start new churches and three more are almost ready to go. Each of these church planters were led to Jesus Christ upon meeting Contreras and coming to Cristo Vive. In addition to this work in his own community, Contreras maintains his passion for overseas mission work, having recently returned from a mission trip to Kenya.

This has been a worthy investment of mission dollars.

7/27/2009 8:05:00 AM by Milton A. Hollifield Jr., BSC Executive Director-Treasurer | with 0 comments

COMMENTARY: Wanting more, settling for less

July 15 2009 by Tom Ehrich

NEW YORK (RNS) -- I arrived at church in high spirits, heard a great sermon, but left feeling strangely deflated.

My 35-minute walk across Central Park on my way to church had left me tingling. So much beauty, so much life. But entering a dimly lighted sanctuary and joining scattered strangers waiting patiently for something to happen smothered the tingling.

Building on his experience of growing up black in segregated Mississippi, the preacher spoke powerfully about not letting other people tell you who you are. For me, his words were an "Aha!" for a decision I face.

I could tell the preacher was working hard to pump air into the room; the problem was I couldn't tell if anyone else was responding.

I spoke to people seated near me and sensed some warmth, yet I wish the Sunday timetable allowed for more engagement. As it was, I arrived alone and eager, and left alone and deflated.

I have had so many church experiences like this that I put it quickly behind me and enjoyed a lovely walk home among happy people. But the next day, after reading Sunday's Gospel about Jesus gathering his disciples and listening to "all that they had done and taught," one word came to mind: "Enough!"

I spend my week living into my faith identity; I think we all do, whether or not we call it that. As father, husband, writer, consultant, dreamer and citizen, I act out my faith. Sometimes overtly in activities readily labeled "religious," sometimes in the acts of just being.

When I gather with other Christians, I am willing to settle into audience mode for a short time, and I am willing to receive sacraments in which an institution that doesn't know me tells me who I am. But I need more.

I need to tell who I am. I need to tell "all that I have done and taught." I need someone to ask me, "What did you see of God in your writing this week? What difference did you make in the hours you poured out and in the lives you touched? What more did you want to do?"

I need what Jesus gave his disciples. I don't need to read about delegates at a church convention who are having a great time, or angry Christians pummeling each other over issues that matter to only a few.

What I need is to enter a Christian gathering and have someone express a deep interest in who I am and what I do. I want to give that gift to others. I don't need to be out the door in 65 minutes. Maybe others do. If we can't fit it in on Sunday, can't we do it another day?

But I know this: I am no longer willing to settle for less. Nor should any of us settle for less.

It isn't enough to gather in muted assemblies in handsome buildings.

It isn't enough to sit politely while earnest people who don't know me tell me who I am and what I ought to care about.

Faith is an intensely personal experience. The individual decides whether to pray, whether to gather, whether to make moral decisions, and whether to turn one's life over to God.

The church can help individuals make faithful decisions, but not by the easy work of solemn assemblies. We must sit with people, listen to their stories and honor their needs, one person at a time.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of "Just Wondering, Jesus," and the founder of the Church Wellness Project,
www.churchwellness.com. His Web site is www.morningwalkmedia.com.)


7/15/2009 1:32:00 AM by Tom Ehrich | with 0 comments