Backed-up rain gutters overflowed into the building, allowing a steady stream of water to run through the decaying structure. Collapsed ceiling tiles dangled with pink insulation, filling the air with the scent of mildew. Residents of Whitesburg, Ky., saw a slowly decaying building in the shadow of the courthouse. Once a bowling alley, then a grocery store, now a chair factory, the structure had clearly seen better days.
But Keith Joseph saw more. He envisioned a church start that would reach out into the Appalachian towns and hollows of Letcher County and bring individuals to faith in Christ. That would come, in time — after the handful of members spent three months renovating the building so it could be used.
Now, after nearly four years, North Fork Baptist Church has grown from twelve to 100 members and has a new sanctuary that seats 300. Last year it ranked second in baptisms in the association and has baptized sixty people since its founding — twenty-seven of those this year.
Such growth is no surprise to the congregation. Founded on a settled commitment to evangelism, the church has outgrown meeting places three times — a member's home, a conference room at an oil company, and the cramped room it first renovated at its current location. Now that it's occupying its first sanctuary, it already has its eyes set on another location across town where it can put down roots. At least for a while.
North Fork is the first church start for Joseph. Whitesburg wasn't his choice of location; he gives that credit to God. "I didn't want to come here because of the community's resistance to anything new. But I believe that it's always easier to start a new work than raise a dead one," he says, so he set out to do just that.
Joseph links the church's growth to a steady diet of evangelism. He's not shy about his faith and expects the members of his church not to be, either. "There are 27,000 people in our county and in three years we have visited at least two-thirds of them. We go door to door up and down the hollows, people sharing Jesus. You wear out a lot of shoes in that amount of time.
"The only mission we have is to be evangelistic. That's why God leaves us here after salvation, to tell others about Him. We don't have any pew warmers in our church," he says.
One reason for no pew warmers is because of the emphasis on teaching members how to have an evangelistic lifestyle. Joseph credits People Sharing Jesus, a process for personal evangelism from the Home Mission Board, with much of the success for the church's growth.
Lisa Collins, a member for barely a year, helped lead another woman to faith in Christ after completing the course. That was a life-changing experience, she says.
"I never had a feeling like I had after helping lead that woman to the Lord. It's something that touches your heart like nothing else. I began to wonder why more Christians are not involved in witnessing but realized it is a matter of commitment."
Vera Hale agrees. "Now I look at everyone and wonder if they know Jesus. Before the class I would have been scared to ask someone about their relationship to Christ, but now I don't mind. I carry my Bible with me most of the time and leave witnessing booklets along with the tip whenever I eat in a restaurant.
"It seems like everyone is looking for answers to life's questions. I tell them if they would just get into God's Word and find a Bible-believing church, they could find the answers." And she knows just the church.
People Sharing Jesus has empowered her, she says. "I see myself as a much bolder witness now. Before I took the class I thought witnessing was just a man's job, that they were the ones who were supposed to go out witnessing and the women were to sit back and listen. But now I witness wherever I go."
Joseph believes people come to church because they have a need and are searching for answers to life's questions. "You'll find them everywhere calling out for help," he says. "If you give them enough meat, they'll come and eat and return for more. Most people are products of fifty years of liberalism in society," he continues. "Many messages from the pulpit are no longer geared to surrender and commitment but to three points and a poem. The church has become just a social institution."
One of those persons searching for answers was businessman Dock Frazier. And one of the persons who helped reach him for Christ was member Howard Cornett.
"I knew Dock was basically a good man but I also knew he was lost and needed the Lord," says Cornett, who has only been a Christian for five years. "I worked with him a long time and a lot of us prayed for him on a regular basis."
Their prayer of faith paid high dividends for Frazier. "I was raised totally outside the church, so I didn't know much about it. All I knew was that in the last few years the emptiness in my life became a large hole. I started looking for something to fill it with. I put Howard off for a while, but I eventually went to church with him. Thank God I stumbled my way down the aisle one Sunday and accepted Christ. I wasn't sure exactly what I was walking into, but I felt the Lord tugging on my heart to do it. As I look back, it was the greatest step of my life."
Now, Frazier wants others to know what he has found. "I wasted a lot of years not knowing the Lord, not having that solid rock in my life. I want some of our young people who have so much promise to know Him before they waste their years like I did. It's so good to have the Lord to turn to during life's storms. If you don't have Him, you don't have anything."
Joseph plans on sharing that message with any residents who stop to listen. And he plans to do it with laypeople who have been trained to witness. "We've just begun an emphasis to visit every home in our county within a year. We want to be part of Celebrate Jesus 2000 with the goal of reaching our world for Christ. It's a big goal, but we won't reach it if we don't try.
"When I first came here they said I was a dreamer. Now they say North Fork is visionary. We plan to be here only four more years until we outgrow this facility." Future plans call for adding a second morning service as the congregation grows, and possibly adding a Monday evening service for the many residents who regularly leave town for the weekend.
"By the year 2000, we hope to be in a new sanctuary on the bypass that will seat 1,500," he says. "We are growing because our church is committed to evangelism and God's Word. There are plenty of lost people to go around for everyone."
Lottie Moon Receipts Post Third Straight Record
Southern Baptists in 1995 handed the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering its third straight gain, giving just shy of $90 million. The record offering of $89,019,719.75 represented an increase over 1994 of more than $3.1 million, or 3.59 percent.
The offering will provide about $3.66 million in 1996 for capital spending needs such as new construction and vehicles.
"The Lottie Moon receipts, paired with record levels of giving to the Cooperative Program, will enable us to continue to send out and support unprecedented levels of missionary personnel," said FMB President Jerry Rankin.
Rankin noted that the largest percentage increases in Lottie Moon giving "came from smaller state conventions and fellowships which have so many needs in their own churches and programs." He lauded them for recognizing "we are compelled to reach the uttermost parts of the earth as well as our own Jerusalem and Judea."
He praised "the diligent work and faithful support of the Woman's Missionary Union, Brotherhood Commission, and Baptist Men's organizations for keeping missions a high priority and responding to the needs of missionaries serving through the Foreign Mission Board."
The goal for the 1996 Lottie Moon offering is $100 million, a 12.3 percent increase over 1995's receipts.