Missouri Baptists bring love to Houston’s inner city
By Allen Palmeri
February 17, 2004
HOUSTON, Texas – Katherine, a self-described recovering crack addict and ex-prostitute, walks up to Pastor Sam Daniels and Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Evangelism Director Bob Caldwell. She begins to sing a beautiful song about the Lord who redeemed her.
It is a scene not seen near enough in the fourth largest city in the U.S., a place with a far different setting than the Ozark Mountains, but one in need of a Savior just as badly. Welcome to yet another world of ministry opportunities for Missouri Baptists, world with more than its share of gambling, drugs, prostitution and violent crime.
“This symbolizes what the neighborhood is about," said Daniels, pastor of On Track Community Church, located downtown. As he speaks, Daniels motions to a painting on a wall depicting the aforementioned sins.
“These kids (the artists) drew what they saw," he said.
Two girls walk by the church.
“Are they prostitutes?" asked Caldwell, who was in Houston Jan. 24 to complete plans for 500 short-term missionaries from Missouri coming July 9-17 to Houston.
“Yeah," Daniels said.
Caldwell’s heart is broken for these people.
“You just can’t be out-blessed," he said. “You think you’re going to come down and be a blessing to these people and God just pours it on to where you receive the blessing. It happens time after time after time."
As the two continue to examine the painting, Daniels points out how the images on the right side are things of God, things one can do to overcome sin, poverty and despair.
“This represents the Bible, the church," Daniels said, excitedly talking about specific images. “You can paint, you can go to school, you can get a diploma and you can play sports. We need to get lined up with the Word, with the church, and do something positive with our lives."
At E.J. Simon Baptist Church, 72-year-old pastor Melvin Hall welcomes Caldwell with open arms. Much like Daniels, Hall is in a part of the city where Satan’s influence is strong and welcomes all the help he can get – especially when its Caldwell.
“For Brother Bob to come out on a constant, yearly basis, it’s reassuring," Hall said. “I don’t have to worry about who’s going to conduct the Vacation Bible School for the next year."
The ministry founded by Caldwell, Global Encounter, entered into a formal partnership in field training with Houston’s First Baptist Church in 1998. Missouri Baptist youth come to Houston every year to conduct Vacation Bible School at churches like E.J. Simon. The outreach has grown to a point where 500 student workers will be manning 25 sites this summer, Caldwell said.
First Baptist deploys 600-700 adults during that time to join forces with Caldwell and the students. Those missionaries, as part of an effort that has come to be known as “The Houston Project," are then able to keep in touch with the inner-city pastors throughout the year.
“The Houston Project’s really been huge in terms of mobilizing the members of our church for mission," said David Self, associate pastor for First Houston, noting that the close friendship between William Taylor, the church’s minister of missions, and Caldwell has made this happen.
“It’s a win-win. It’s probably more relational than theoretical or instructional."
For Caldwell , the goal is to the flood Houston – and other cities — with as many student evangelists as possible. In addition to the 500 earmarked for Houston this summer, 800 will minister in St. Louis, while another 200 visit Kansas City.
“If you want to see a believer grow by absolute leaps and bounds, get them in a setting where they’re not only being fed but where they’re doing the feeding," Caldwell said. “I’m convinced short-term missions are an agent of change in the hearts and lives of Christian after Christian after Christian."
Elmo Johnson is a beacon of light in Houston’s Fourth Ward, where he pastors the Rose of Sharon Baptist Church, a congregation of believers who also use their facility as a community center. Johnson, with his warm, perpetual smile, looks and sounds remarkably a bit like Houston boxer George Foreman.
Caldwell is his friend and the warm feelings between the two men are obvious.
“What these kids need more than anything is just somebody to love them, and your people do that well," Johnson said to Caldwell. “A lot of the kids have parents who are on drugs. When you’re on drugs, you’re in and out. You don’t really have a lot of care for your children, so you need a lot of love, and that’s what they get when the (Missouri) churches come down."
For Johnson, who once had a year when he did 14 funerals for youth aged 20 and younger, the Missouri Baptist short-term missionaries represent an opportunity for his church family to be stretched and grow.
“It allows us to minister to people that we ordinarily wouldn’t get a chance to minister to," he said. “When you give out clothes and food and toys for the kids, you have a great impact."
For more information on The Houston Project and the overall MBC emphasis on missions, contact Luanne Yarnell at 800-736-6227, ext. 655 or email her at email@example.com.