This past weekend, I participated in the second Engage KY vision trip. While this tour’s focus was on seeing various ministry sites and discovering outreach opportunities in northern Kentucky, perhaps the greatest benefits of the tours will turn out to be the connections made with associational leaders, area pastors and ministry leaders and a greater understanding of their unique regional challenges.
Jim Woolums, director of missions for Northern Kentucky Baptist Association since last April, pointed out that more than 576,000 people reside within a 10-mile radius of its building. With Cincinnati just across the river, it’s a densely populated, bustling area with great human needs and tremendous ministry opportunities. Woolums introduced NKBA’s new Hispanic ministries catalyst, Pavel Urruchi—only days on the job—who exudes a passion for reaching the 5,600 Hispanics who live within a few miles of Erlanger Baptist Church.
Boone is among the fastest growing counties, according to the North American Mission Board’s research, and 68 percent of its residents are not connected to an evangelical church, Woolums noted. Yet, the number is significantly higher in Campbell and Kenton counties, he added. “That percentage creates a sense of urgency in my heart, and I hope it does in yours,” Woolums said. He later showed us Bethesda, a house church on a beautiful acreage with a pond close to Independence. The congregation has rapidly outgrown its space and needs teams of skilled volunteers to build a sanctuary. Our route also included prayer for the outreach efforts of Erlanger, Elsmere, Ashland Avenue, Ludlow First and Newport First churches.
We visited Northern Kentucky University and its Baptist Collegiate Ministry Center, where we had dinner with international students and saw firsthand a ministry opportunity to over 16,000 students. Campus missionary Josh Skipper especially has a heart for reaching out to NKU’s 600 international students, many of whom are from Saudi Arabia, India, Japan and Korea. “The vast majority have never heard the gospel,” he said, “and the greatest burden on my heart is that many will leave without hearing it.” Churches can help by offering ESL classes, inviting students into their homes for dinner; conducting soccer or basketball camps; planning camping trips or day excursions, and hosting cookouts. The key, he emphasized, is building relationships.
Bob Young, DOM for Whites Run Baptists and a NASCAR chaplain, and Doug Eldridge, a chaplain at the Turfway Race Track, one of five horse tracks across the state, suggested ways for reaching out to race fans. RaceWay Ministries works in five campgrounds during the Sprint, Infinity and truck races, distributing Scripture and tracts at various activities for children and adults. Our group drove by Turfway, where we prayed for the 150 Hispanic, Irish and Russian workers who live year-round in dormitories on the backside. A weekly chapel service draws about 40, and the ministry offers game nights, faith-based movies and breakfasts.
Our group also visited Moore Activity Center of South Side Church, where its director, Amy Wilhelmus, related how a former pastor, Harold Pike, prayed for 30 years to purchase a bar, “The Salty Dog,” that stood next door. Today, the bar has been converted into a community center that offers Bible studies and activities for children and youth, tutoring, computers, clothes, Thanksgiving meals and Christmas toys. Recently, backpacks filled with school supplies were given to about 200 kids, she noted. A house on the other side of the church is being renovated to provide accommodations for youth mission teams.
At Ninth Street Baptist Church, Pastor Richard Fowler told our group about the work of OASIS, a non-profit organization located directly behind the church. The agency provides a link to community resources for food, clothing, rent or utility supplements, employment opportunities, adult education, youth programs, housing, alcohol and addiction recovery, holiday assistance and family issues.
“We need to take gospel throughout North America, but we can’t forget our own state,” urged Doug Williams, KBC’s missions strategist. Engage Kentucky vision trips have three important objectives: 1) to raise awareness of Kentucky’s lostness and its great human needs; 2) to stir affections toward partnering with area churches; and 3) to encourage churches to prayerfully consider sending missions teams. The next vision tour will be in Lexington on May 18-19. Pastors and directors of missions should make a point to bring deacons, youth ministers, WMU directors and other church leaders to what can best be described as an “eye-opening” experience.