This is the fourth of a dozen stories highlighting the upcoming Nov. 14-15 annual meeting of the Georgia Baptist Convention in Savannah. The stories, which will be published on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday through Nov. 11, will include both Convention-related content and a look at how the Savannah Baptist Association is making a Kingdom impact in Coastal Georgia.
SAVANNAH – When Buddy Wasson grew up in the Savannah suburb of Richmond Hill, the City of Savannah seemed far away and more of a large town than a bustling city.
But as the saying goes, that was then and this is now. The world has grown and with it increased social problems such as crime and homelessness. The Savannah port, always a hub of seafaring business, has become the nation’s fourth largest container shipping port.
And those challenges and opportunities are reflected in the stories in the daily news accounts of drug deals gone bad, poverty, unemployment and homelessness. But Wasson reads the paper as more of marching orders for churches with a mission.
The Southeast Georgia native coordinates the ministry of 66 churches and missions in Savannah Baptist Association as they pool resources to bring a biblical solution to the daily headlines.
“The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 estimated population of the Savannah metropolitan area, defined as Bryan, Chatham, and Effingham counties, was 379,199. If 70% of those are unchurched, which is the commonly accepted percentage, there is a mission field here of at least 265,439 individuals,” Wasson said.
“Clearly, evangelism is our primary need. We are like a mini-version of Atlanta with our percentage share of crime, homelessness, and hopelessness. Our role as an Association is to help our churches catch that vision and facilitate their outreach into their own communities.”
Wasson would like to see the city divided into four quadrants with all churches focusing on a quadrant for three or four months, then rotate to another quadrant.
He is not opposed to “stand alone” crusades and sees their potential, but he would like for churches to first become a presence in a quadrant, meeting needs and earning a right to share the Gospel. Then a large evangelistic meeting “on the backend” could undergird the relationships that were built.
“We are open to just about any evangelistic approach out there,” he added.
Building unity among chuches
The Association is already involved in building unity among its churches and challenging them to see the lostness of the area.
“Many times the churches come together for a united emphasis to reach the city for Christ, other times I encourage them in their individual work of missions and evangelism. We try to be the face and hands of Christ to people who, even in the Deep South, have never experienced His love and grace.”
Those churches, in turn, support a patchwork quilt of ministries that extend their presence far beyond the boundaries of their own congregations. Among those ministries:
This ministry was founded in 1843, a full 21 years before Gen. Sherman gave the bustling but warn-worn city to President Abraham Lincoln as a Christmas present. Today it serves seafarers from
around the world who dock their massive container ships for as few as 19 hours as they off-load their wares and take on new containers.
During that brief time of shore leave – if they pass Homeland Security clearance – the men leave ship for a needed change of scenery. That’s when volunteer Everett Tumblin, a Georgia Baptist among volunteers from four other denominations, ministers with one eye on their spiritual and physical needs and the other eye on the clock.
The brief visitors, under the careful watch care of Tumblin, make trips to area malls and shopping centers for badly needed necessities or for Christmas presents for family and friends on the other
side of the world. Every individual gets a personal hygiene bag of items such as toothbrush and paste, shaving cream, washcloths and body wash. A church-based ministry group known as Woman’s Missionary Union, many in the Savannah area, assemble the bags for the seafarers.
Savannah Baptist Assembly
A retreat center in Pineora, near Guyton, provides a quiet retreat for large groups of Savannah residents to unplug from the work-a-day world. Churches of all denominations from around Southeast Georgia use the facility for marriage retreats, dinner-on-the-grounds fellowships, and staff retreats.
Savannah Baptist Assembly is especially popular with summer youth groups, many who camp in the woods for a more rustic experience.
The heart of the campus is the Big House, an old farmhouse the sits in the midst of a 12-acre pecan grove … a peaceful Southern scene that is fast vanishing. Eight acres are set aside for wilderness camping popular with Royal Ambassador (a church program for young men) and other groups preferring an outdoor experience. And 24-acres, in open field known as the hay field, is used by farmers in seasonal crop rotation.
The Big House is known for its porch rocking chairs that are popular with those of all ages.
“The draw of the Assembly is what happens between meetings or events. You would be surprised what happens in those easy chairs … conversations that have been building for years between individuals but never happened until they came here, found time on their hands, and began to converse,” Assembly Director Kevin Alley notes.
The Assembly has four cabins that sleep eight, a larger residential cabin, the Big House that accommodates 23, and the Lodge which houses up to 18. The 75 beds are supplemented by four RV hook-ups.
For more information on the Savannah Baptist Assembly visit sbassembly.org or call (912) 772-3368. The Assembly is located at 930 Honey Ridge Road, Guyton, GA 31312.
College students statewide have an opportunity to grow spiritually and academically while at Armstrong State University. A Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) program overseen by the Association provides a variety of programming for those 7,000 students as well as for the 4,000 at the College of Coastal Georgia in Brunswick.
For 22 years this Fall, Tony Branham has overseen the BCM at Armstrong State as he seeks to create leaders in society, both spiritually and socially. The ministry is also involved in a variety of community service programs.
The heart of the campus ministry is a network of small groups that gather for Bible study in coffee shops or dorm rooms, others in the BCM building or campus commons areas. There are male and female, and others based on just male or female attendees.
Out of those groups grow commitments to take their faith outside the BCM and into the lives of others. Opportunities such as community ministry or Send Me Now summer missions, take students across town or around the world.
“We always have good participation through our Spring Break mission trips which are largely in Georgia, experiences such as working in the resort ministry at Helen First Baptist Church or in other varied setting statewide. There is variety so students have different experiences each year.
Last year our students raised $5,800, above their $5,500 goal, for Send Me Now. Those funds are combined with those from all other BCM groups and are used to provide for all expenses for students who apply for a summer mission trip. All of that is coordinated out of the Collegiate Ministries department at the Georgia Baptist Mission Board headquarters up in Atlanta,” Branham explains.
Savannah Baptist Center
While Savannah Baptists minister among college students, international seafarers, local residents and churches, it also has a strong presence among the area’s homeless population.
Four days a week the Savannah Baptist Center opens its doors to society’s less fortunate to help them once again become productive citizens. The long-standing ministry has been serving the Chatham County area for the past 60 years.
Missionary and Director Stephanie Carr is celebrating her third anniversary with the non-profit this month and has overseen a reworking of its goals and objectives.
That updating includes fine-tuning its purpose to meet both short-term and long-term needs by helping clients develop life skills that break the cycle of poverty.
Through an extensive network of about 75 faith-based volunteers scattered across the denominational spectrum, the Baptist Center provided 15,891 services ranging from clothing to food to spiritual assistance last year. And with supervision from only two full-time staff.
“Chatham County and Savannah residents are a caring and loving people with a big heart; this ministry provides them an opportunity to share their Christian commitment in a real and tangible way,” Carr noted. “It’s not unusual for some of our volunteers, after being trained in our approach, return to their communities to start similar ministries on a smaller scale.”
The Center could not be in a more perfectly located part of Savannah, ringed as it is by government housing and the Robert Hitch Village Redevelopment. The public housing complex, known for high drug use and crime rate toward the end of its 55-year history, was demolished in 2010 and will be resurrected as a mixed-income community of more than 600 homes. It is expected to give a financial boost to the Wheaton Street Corridor.
The Baptist Center is located in the complex housing the Savannah Baptist Association at 704 Wheaton St. and is adjacent to the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless. If offers a food pantry, clothes closet, laundry and shower facility for male and female use on alternate days, sewing classes, a children’s ministry, and Bible studies.
The Center will have a booth at the Georgia Baptist Convention meeting Nov. 14-15 at Calvary Baptist Temple for individuals seeking additional information. For more information visit savbaptistcenter.org.
Health Care Ministry Foundation
While not organizationally a part of the Savannah Association, the Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation provides financial assistance to several Savannah health-related ministries. The Foundation works through the Association to qualify recipients according to grant guidelines.
Since 2008 Georgia Baptist churches, through the health care ministry, have awarded $307,450 to a variety of medical entities serving the Savannah area.
The J.C. Lewis Primary Health Care Center received $100,000; the Oasis Ministry of the Savannah Baptist Center, a ministry of the Association, received $100,000 to provide assistance for the homeless; the Living Vine Christian Maternity Home received $72,450 in three grants between 2008 and 2014; and the Primary Care Center in Rincon received $35,000 in two grants – the most recent in 2015.
The Savannah Baptist Association will host the Georgia Baptist Convention at Calvary Baptist Temple on Nov. 14-15. An inspirational rally will be held the previous evening at the church beginning at 6 p.m.
For more information on the gathering visit www.gabaptist.org.