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February 2011 Issue

Among the hundreds of places North American Mission Board church planting missionaries work and minister across the United States and Canada, none is more dangerous than Laredo in south Texas, where Chuy and Maria Avila live and serve.

Laredo — with a population of 300,000 in the city proper — sits on the north bank of the Rio Grande, right across the river from Nuevo Laredo in Mexico. The Laredo-Nuevo Laredo metro area has a combined population of more than 700,000 American and Mexican citizens. It's a mecca of cold-blooded murder, drugs, and chaos.

Nuevo Laredo to Laredo is a thoroughfare for an estimated $20 billion drug market operated by drug cartels between Mexico and the U.S. With the drugs come unchecked violence and bloodshed. A recent local shootout between Mexican Federal Police officers and drug cartel members left a dozen dead and over twenty wounded. It's routine for Laredo citizens to hear gunfire echoing across the Rio Grande from the Nuev...

There are local Southern Baptist associations, and then there is Oregon Trail Baptist Association in Nebraska, where North American Mission Board missionary Doug Lee works to plant new churches. His association takes up the whole western half of Nebraska.

For the last twelve years, Doug — supported by his wife, Brenda — has served as director of missions for the vast association, based in North Platte, Nebraska. Geographically, the Oregon Trail Association is huge — spanning four hundred miles by two hundred miles.

In the east, there are farming communities. Ranching is king in the northwest — the Sandy Hills region-the western panhandle, and in the southwest corner of Nebraska.

North Platte, where the Lees are based, is the sixth largest city in Nebraska, but only has 24,000 people. The only other "major" cities in the Oregon Trail Association are Grand Isla...

Attending a beginning sign language course as part of the deaf ministry at 38th Avenue Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in 1979, Howard Burkhart liked his teacher so much he married her.

Because of Tina McMillan (Burkhart) and her attentive pupil, Howard — both students at the University of Southern Mississippi at the time — untold hundreds of the hearing and hearing-impaired from Mississippi to California have not only been taught how to communicate, but how to receive Christ as their Savior.

Today, the Burkharts' ministry — based in Benicia, California, just north of San Francisco — extends far beyond the deaf community, although that remains their first love. Howard, 52, is a church planting strategist in the San Francisco Bay and San Diego areas and a missionary for the North American Mission Board.

The Burkharts recognize that the Cooperative P...

College freshman Shemaiah Strickland suffered with horrible nightmares when she first came to Morgan State University in Baltimore.

Adjusting to being away from her home in Atlanta for the first time, she said she just wanted to belong. Strickland attended a university organization fair and met North American Mission Board missionary Vickie Stewart, who was staffing a booth with fellow campus chaplains for The University Memorial Chapel.

Strickland had prayed to God for help with her loneliness. "I asked God what to do, and He sent me to Vickie," she said.

Stewart gave Strickland her card and invited her to call whenever she wanted to talk. She made the call, and Stewart later led her to Christ.

Though Strickland had attended church off and on, she says she never felt she had a personal relationship with Jesus. She started going to Stewart's weekly on-campus B...

Robert Maul is the Indianapolis 2011 version of the widow best known for her "mite," whom Jesus described (Luke 21:1-4) as having put in more than all of them. For all these people have put in gifts out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.

A 62-year-old, tall, slender African American, Robert foraged the sidewalks, curbs, and streets of Indianapolis, pocketing lost coins — picking up a penny here, a nickel, or dime there. His painstaking work — all on foot — would add up to a sacrificial $25 contribution to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. By the way, Robert was homeless.

Poor in the pocketbook but not in spirit, Robert is a former heroin addict who liked to fight. He served five different sentences in an Indiana penitentiary. He slept under bridges and interstate overpasses. But through the ministry of North Ame...

In describing the spiritual condition of the people of Quebec, where he has been overseeing church planting since January 2009, North American Mission Board church planter Jacques Avakian calls to mind the boat crew in the story of Jonah.

"People in Quebec are spiritual and they're seeking something, but they're not seeking the right spirit," he says. "The people Jonah met on the boat were spiritual but they didn't know the right God because no one was sharing the truth with them."

Avakian's desire to share God's truth with others developed early in his life. An Armenian born in Lebanon, he was a teenager when his family fled to Cyprus in 1978 because of war. Avakian grew up in the Armenian Orthodox faith but had attended Catholic and Maronite schools in Lebanon and at the age of seven, he received Christ as his Savior after attending a Child Evangelism Fello...

Jason and Karla Johnson have a cool story. Literally. I met this new North American missionary couple last fall at NAMB's missionary commissioning celebration in Texas. Natives of Texas, the Johnsons obediently followed God's call to Duck Lake, a community located in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. A First Nations (the Canadian designation for Native American) community, there was no Southern Baptist church in Duck Lake. Indeed, there are only about a dozen Southern Baptist churches in the entire province of Saskatchewan, and those are small congregations. The Johnsons had first visited the community as part of a short-term mission trip with First Baptist Church, Odessa, Texas, where Jason was missions pastor. On the plane coming home from their last trip there, Karla looked at Jason and said, "God's calling us to be missionaries here, isn't He?" Jason simply said, "Yes, I believe H...

Six research interns arrived in Portland last summer to help shape the souls of city residents, but they realized toward its conclusion that the project dramatically shaped their own souls. "We learned how to invest in a community and how to bless a community rather than expecting people to come to a church," said Matt Jolley of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Jolley and his young adult counterparts were part of Parachute Project, a joint effort between the North American Mission Board and state conventions. The program takes its name from the way it "drops" students into strategic urban locations where they research the area and try to form small groups that have the potential to become new churches.

Northwest Baptist Convention regional church planting strategists Wes Hughes and Ken Harmon worked with NAMB leaders to recruit the six-member team and orient their summer ministry to Portland's diverse, urban vibe. Ministry...

Combined Efforts Lead to First Muslim Convert; Super Bowl Outreach Seeks to Bring Good News to 'Big Game' Visitors

IN ARKANSAS

"Because of the Cooperative Program, we get to be a part of everything," Melvin York, pastor of First Baptist Church in Des Arc, Arkansas, for seventeen years, said. "With the Cooperative Program, you get to support missions at every level in every area."

The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists' method for financially supporting state, national, and international missions and ministries.

"We practice missions," York said. "I don't have to preach it. My folks practice it ....

Rebuild Haiti: Building Homes, Healing Hearts by Alan James; Haiti Gaining Hope "One Life At A Time" by Barbara Denman; From Darkness to Light by Tristan Taylor

As the graphic below shows, the Cooperative Program is the heart of Southern Baptist missions and ministry; it is what "pumps" the resources to each area, making these possible on a national and international scale.

How the CP Heart Works

Churches in your state work together through your state convention to support a wide array of ministries and missions including: evangelism efforts, children's homes, volunteer missions, missions education, new churches, colleges and universities, collegiate ministries, camps, and much more. Each Baptist state convention also forwards a portion of its receipts to the SBC Executive Committee to fund missions and ministry on a larger scale.

Through the International Mission Board (www.imb.org), Southern Baptists support more than 5,100 missionaries who are engaging 950 people groups...

Devastated families in Hungary and Serbia have been the focus of relief efforts by Southern Baptist representatives and national partners after two disasters in those countries.

In Hungary, three villages were flooded when 185 million gallons of toxic red sludge burst from the reservoir of a refinery in Ajka. In less than an hour, the hot liquid killed at least eight people, injured more than one hundred, affected the lives of seven thousand residents, and left a lasting imprint on the ecological conditions of the area for decades to come.

The worst tragedy, however, is that there is no evangelical witness in this area, Christian workers said.

Peter Marki, a national church planter in southwest Hungary, has been doing relief work in Devescer, one of three villages affected by the toxic spill. Although the disaster occurred October 4, Marki said the hopelessne...

Three metaphors unfold the mystery of Christ's intimate relationship with His beloved church.

IN EGYPT

Christian protestors threw bottles and rocks at riot police in Alexandria, Egypt, January 3, two days after a bombing killed twenty-one people leaving a New Year's Eve service at the Church of the Two Saints, a Coptic Orthodox congregation.

Subsequent attacks on Muslims and a nearby mosque also revealed the deep frustration of Egyptian Christians who complain the government allows attacks to be carried out against the country's historic Christian community by Muslims who want Egypt to be completely Muslim.

"You want me to leave Egypt. I will not leave Egypt. Egypt is Coptic...

If you keep up with the news these days, you know about the persecution and killing of Christian pastors and laypeople all over the world. The situation seems to be escalating, but the more who are persecuted, the more the witness goes out, and the light shines brighter for Christ. Through the ages, God's people have proclaimed the Gospel despite the risks. Mexico sounds so close to us, yet there is an ongoing struggle to keep Christ before the people. Please read this testimony of what one person can do from a layman, Craig Younkers, who is a member of River Hills Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, Texas, where Bill Simmons is pastor.

My wife, Elizabeth, is from Mexico, and my focus turned to that area when I realized that my mother-in-law did not know Christ. After being involved in our church's evangelism program, my focus changed, and I became more aware of others' spiritual conditio...

A despondent man who was considering suicide contemplated every method that he knew. He could shoot himself, poison himself, hang himself, burn himself, or drown himself. To be absolutely sure he accomplished his goal, he tried all procedures at the same time. He climbed into a small boat and pushed it out onto the lake. He then put his head through a hangman's noose, which he hung from a limb that reached out over the lake. As he placed the loaded pistol to his head, he dowsed himself with gasoline and lit the match while drinking the poison. Suddenly, he slipped on the wet boat seat, which caused him to accidentally pull the trigger, which was aimed upward, thus severing the rope. He then fell into the water, which doused the fire. As he began to sink, he swallowed the dirty lake water, causing him to regurgitate the poison. He later said that if he hadn't been such a good swimmer, he would have drowned. Somet...

Confessions of a Former Racist by Jeremy R. Haskins; True Love Waits in Zambia, Baptist Press.