Two books motivate church planter
May 4 2001 by Craig Bird , BR Correspondent

Two books motivate church planter | Friday, May 4, 2001

Friday, May 4, 2001

Two books motivate church planter

By Craig Bird BR Correspondent SPRUCE PINE - The first book, understandably, is the Bible. It is a burning desire to share the truth and freedom of the gospel in the mountains of western North Carolina that fueled Randy Bonner's move from a comfortable life in Alabama to a live-by-faith-without-regular-paychecks adventure in Spruce Pine. The second is a 1965 book by then-Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Garland A. Hendricks called The Appalachian Shepherd: A Story of Religion in the Southern Appalachians.

In just more than a year-and-a-half Bonner has established three viable congregations and has another Bible study maturing toward church status.

Quite a successful start, especially considering Spruce Pine wasn't on anyone's funding/planning list when Bonner and his wife, Michelle, decided it was time to put a U-Haul to their longtime call.

"My parents read us a chapter from the Bible every night and prayed "God, please use our children," Bonner said. "I can never stress too strongly the impact of God's word and their words."

But it was the exploration of his preacher-father's library, as a young college student, that focused his heart on the mountains. "Dad (Victor Bonner, now a pastor in Tuscaloosa, Ala.) was a church planter for the Home Mission Board, so he probably got a copy of Hendrick's book. But I found it, read it and never quit dreaming of the Appalachians."

He even attended Southeastern Seminary "because it was the closest Southern Baptist seminary to where I wanted to serve."

Sometimes the dreams have turned, if only briefly, into nightmares. There have been several death threats, erratic income and the Bonner's youngest child is battling recurrent heart problems.

More often the dreams are visions of miracles as God re-confirms they are in the right place at the right time.

No doors opened after graduation from Southeastern in 1993, so the young couple returned to Alabama. By 1999 they had two children, their first "real" home and Bonner was associate pastor in the fast-growing Cropwell Baptist Church in Pell City.

The North American Mission Board didn't have any requests for church planters in their area of interest, so they began contacting associations, one by one. Mitchell County Association was the only one of 10 to show interest and they didn't have any money.

But if Spruce Pine wasn't on the budget radar, others were beginning to dream dreams too.

In 1998, Daniel Whetsteine, director of missions for Mitchell and Avery associations invited Pam Mungo, Baptist State Convention church planting strategist, to look at the Walnut Avenue apartments as a potential ministry site.

"We had just started the pilot apartment ministry project in Asheboro and I saw Walnut Avenue as the same type situation, a place where the manager wanted us there and it had lots of potential," Mungo said. "So I told Daniel we'd run the Asheboro program then duplicate it in Spruce Pine."

But before that happened the Bonners wrote, and visited and called.

"I was so impressed with Randy," Mungo said. "He knew what he wanted to do and how he wanted to do it."

Mungo said Bonner had 'the call' and indicated in a nice way he was going to start churches in Spruce Pine whether anyone helped him or not.

So he took a "step of faith" and brought his young family to North Carolina to live in government housing - the Walnut Street apartments.

Michelle fought back tears as she filled out the application, especially when, in response to "husband's income," Randy said "we don't have any."

Inwardly, as the mother of two pre-schoolers and pregnant with a third child, she informed God, "I will minister in this place but I won't live here." Only to hear the Lord say, "if you are serious about following me, you will." Her silent-counter proposal: "Can You at least give us a place in the better section and on the end so we won't have but one neighbor," was accepted.

Their new courtyard neighbor, 72-year-old Inez Pendley, welcomed the Bonners with the news "I have prayed several times a day for three years for someone to start a church in this place."

She also was on hand to assure Michelle "things will be okay" when five-year-old Caleb found a used needle on the playground.

Meanwhile, Bonner set out to knock on doors. The first visit was to 21-year-old Adam Wheeler, an avid outdoorsman, who invited his new neighbor to go trout fishing the next morning, promising "we'll catch the big fish."

That night, Randy asked God to allow him to lead Adam to salvation and went to sleep thinking, "yes, we'll catch the big fish all right, Adam."

Without prompting the next day, Adam began talking about how something was not right in his life, how he was having trouble sleeping, thinking about what would happen to him if he died. After praying to receive Christ, he announced he was through fishing for the day, he had people to tell what had happened to him.

The following day, Sunday, was the first day for the Walnut Avenue Baptist Church to meet. To the Bonners' joyful amazement almost 50 people were present.

Almost half of them were Adam's relatives. At the invitation, Adam's mother, father, two brothers, one sister, two nephews and his brother-in-law made professions of faith.

In the first three months, Bonner baptized 27 people and another 16 during the next year.

Adam was baptized in the North Toe River, downstream from where he and Bonner went fishing. He is now the mission leader for Walnut Avenue Baptist Church, preaching every Sunday after he and Bonner spend Thursdays preparing.

Advised he needed a key church to provide manpower and financial resources to undergird his dreams of starting 50 mountain churches in 25 years, Bonner enlisted three professional couples (one of them owned the laundry where the Bonners washed their clothes) for a six-month Bible study.

In August 2000, Western Carolina Baptist Church opened in an old movie theater. A crowd of 140 attended the first service, including 80 volunteers from Westwood Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., who arrived hours after Bonner had signed the lease for the building. The Westwood volunteers cleaned, gutted and got the building ready for the Sunday morning worship.

"Randy did some things backwards, but he came here determined to start a church whether anyone helped him or not," Mungo said. "You don't meet for church the first Sunday and have all those conversions. You don't start a couple of churches and then look for another church, but he did - and Western Carolina Baptist Church is sold on the vision of continually giving of themselves and their resources to help start new congregations."

You can do it that way, she points out, if you are firm in your call and commitment.

"A lot of us say we depend on God for our needs, but we really don't," she said. "But Randy and Michelle literally depend on God for every bite of food that goes into their mouths. The funding they now get from the North Carolina convention and the NAMB covers their house payment (they no longer live in the apartment project) and that's it.

"They pay a price emotionally because they don't know how God is going to provide, but they also never waiver in their trust that their needs will be met. They are just one of those couples who honestly believe that if they go out and do what God has called them to do, it will happen the way He promised."

That's why, Mungo said flatly, "If I had 10 more like them we could change the spiritual face of western North Carolina. No, more than that, we could change the spiritual face of the entire state."

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5/4/2001 12:00:00 AM by Craig Bird , BR Correspondent | with 0 comments
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