No rain, storm or gloom of night could stop the Gospel during St. Louis Project
First Baptist, Ferguson serves as headquarters, ‘an island of electricity’
FERGUSON – During a normal week for “The Project,” where the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and Global Encounter Ministries promote partnerships in field training students through evangelism and discipleship, Missouri Baptist youth conduct Vacation Bible Schools.
July 14-22 in St. Louis was anything but normal. A storm July 19 damaged many of the ministry sites to the point where VBS could not take place the final two days of The Project. Almost half of these churches were without electricity and water.
Coordinator Doug Bischoff said the weather conditions were the worst he had seen since Global Encounter, which began in 1992, had been involved in this type of ministry. That meant that youth pastors, volunteer adults and student missionaries had to do things on the field that they never planned on doing.
Brad Russell, 23-year-old youth pastor of New Salem Baptist Church in Marble Hill, led a group of 28 Thursday morning to their mission site at Jewel Baptist Church in inner-city St. Louis. They saw that a tree had damaged the roof of the church, so they started to clean up the water damage inside the structure. Finishing their VBS work was out of the question.
“All we could think of to do was to just go out in the neighborhood and say, “Hey, can we help move some of your stuff? Can we give you a free lunch today?’” Russell said. “And by doing that we were able to see 13 people saved Thursday.”
The same pattern Friday resulted in five more conversions as New Salem and two other church groups ministering at Jewel adapted to the adverse conditions.
“I led to the Lord a 26-year-old mother who said that she’s been searching for God,” Russell said. “When she was walking home from work the storm hit, and she wrote in her journal that she was afraid. God said, ‘This is OK, this is part of My plan.’ I told her that, ‘Do you think that this could be all of God’s plan for us to be here from two hours away to come tell you how you can fill the void in your life?’ She got tears in her eyes and said, ‘Yes, I think that would not be weird.’ And she accepted Christ right there on her doorstep.”
Bischoff said it was miraculous that God allowed The Project headquarters site of First Baptist Church, Ferguson, to be “an island of electricity” Wednesday evening and all day Thursday and Friday as power went out all around them. It was dark all around, as close as one block away, but the church remained an oasis where light bulbs and air conditioning kept right on working. That made it easier for students to go forth and minister.
Bischoff told students during the final worship time July 21 that God’s mysterious ways to cut short normal VBS activity so that missionaries could go where they were not planning to go in the final two days of the outreach were beautiful. As a result, many adults who would not have been reached had VBS gone on as scheduled became Christians.
“I hope this shows you that storms can be purposeful,” he said. “Storms can be a blessing. And God can use those storms to make incredible changes in people’s lives.”
There were about 125 decisions during The Project. Four students who came as missionaries indicated that they, too, were saved during the week. A total of 16 churches went to 9 ministry sites in the outreach.
“It’s been a great week,” said Ron Cathcart, MBC church planting strategist from the St. Louis area who was brought in to be the final speaker. “It’s been awesome. But the truth of what really happened here this week is about to be found out as you go back to your own mission fields.”
God uses The Project to call some into the ministry. Bryan McDonald, a sophomore at Southwest Baptist University, had that happen to him last year at First Ferguson. He served at a large church this summer as assistant youth minister for Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City, where he worked with the youth and college students. Returning to The Project in 2006 was a powerful experience.
“It just kind of reaffirmed what I’m supposed to be doing with my life,” McDonald said. “Coming back and seeing all these kids and what they went through, and remembering back to what I went through, just kind of refreshes that call.”