Stories past, present, and future for 2018 are waiting for you

Index Staff SLDR
Index Editor J. Gerald Harris, left, Managing Editor Joe Westbury, in orange shirt, Advertising Coordinator and Editor’s Administrative Assistant Donna Ward, in black; and Web Content Editor Scott Barkley, right, look forward to serving you in 2018. Former Circulation Coordinator Lonette Godwin, peeking from behind Editor Harris, joined the Communications Team last January. INDEX PHOTO

Somehow the first week of a new year just seems like a fresh start. There is a slight air of excitement, a sense of freshness that I just can’t quite put my finger on.

This morning began with an almost empty drive down Pleasant Hill Road to I-85 North for the eight-mile drive to the Baptist Missions and Ministry Center. Gwinnett County schools are still closed until Thursday so traffic was virtually non-existent.

On that commute I was greeted by a massive Super Moon which hung in a totally clear sky brought to us by virtue of a cold front. The temperature was 11 degrees.

As I drove I began to reflect on what the New Year will bring. There is a lot going on in Georgia Baptist life that I am looking forward to seeing unfold. Three weeks  ago I received an email from good friend Jim Haskell, who lives in the very heart of downtown Atlanta.

For much of the past decade Jim has served as the humble genius of church planting in metropolitan Atlanta. As what I might call – affectionately –  the Godfather of Atlanta church planting, Jim has helped recruit growing numbers of young and not-so-young men and their families to plant their lives in inner city neighborhoods long abandoned by churches of all faiths.

In his email Jim announced that he was leaving his role with the North American Mission Board as lead church planter strategist for Send: Atlanta to accept the pastorate of Clairmont Hills, one of Georgia Baptists’ few remaining churches inside the I-285 Perimeter.

Jim will be a great asset to the aging congregation as it sets its sights on reaching a newer generation that knows little about church and, most importantly, about Christ. The church has long partnered with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board in holding workshops for church planters and helping them realize the vision for reaching the city that God has placed on their heart.

Reaching the inner city will not be accomplished by planters who drive in to neighborhoods they want to reach. They will never be accepted as part of the community without investing their lives in the community they want to serve. That means moving their families to neighborhoods that, in many cases, are marginally safe – or incredibly expensive – and living on faith with severely limited funds cobbled together from a variety of sources. Jim has helped pioneer that new church planting model for Atlanta.

Be waiting for my interview with Jim in the coming weeks as he shares his ongoing commitment to the inner city. Part of that story will include an update from Urban Atlanta Church Planting, a network including the Atlanta Association of Southern Baptist Churches, Atlanta Metro Baptist Association, Southwest Atlanta Baptist Association, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, South Carolina Baptist Convention, and North American Mission Board as they pool resources to expand the Kingdom.

Recent statistics reveal that 57 percent of all people in North America reside in multi-housing – apartments, expensive high-rises, mobile home parks, and condominiums. An estimated 95 percent of them are lost without Christ.

The story of how Georgia Baptists are reaching that vast field in Atlanta is daunting and encouraging.

In South Georgia, far from the high rises of inner city Atlanta, Memorial Baptist Church in Moultrie is serving well on a more rural mission field. The congregation is eagerly waiting for Congress to reform the nation’s immigration laws, a highly charged topic it refuses to address and keeps kicking down the road. At stake is the future of 24,000 Georgia undocumented residents who were brought here as children but could be taken from their families and deported, alone, to countries where they never lived. Revisit my October coverage to familiarize yourself with this church if you missed the story the

Memorial has done an admirable job of ministering to these children and their families in the name of Christ through the Georgia Baptist Literacy Missions ministry. In the story we introduced you to volunteers Brenda and Mike Arnold, who lead the ministry.

In early October I provided coverage of how the church, working legally through our nation’s laws, has seen many professions of faith. Reaching the lost, especially children, should never be a partisan battle. I will be providing an update on how the church’s evangelistic outreach will fare as Congress takes action … or not.

As I walked into the breakroom this morning I was greeted with a broad smile from Bill Barker, who transitioned from NAMB to the Georgia Baptist Mission Board as our newest state missionary. Bill will be taking the helm of our incredibly popular outreach into Appalachia and seeking to involve churches in even greater soul winning opportunities.

Get ready for many positive stories that will inspire and inform you about Bill’s work and how you can join the team. I have worked with Bill for more than 35 years, beginning with his foundational work with the Mississippi River Ministry through the Home Mission Study books I produced while at that agency.

Bill is always good for stirring, highly uplifting accounts of lives being changed for eternity.

I lost many friends last year through death or retirement. It is always a solemn moment at the annual Convention meeting where messengers sit and silently read the list of ministers who passed away as their names scroll across the screen in the sanctuary. We will be publishing that list soon as a way of remembering those saints who served well and served selflessly.

One friend in the building who retired on Dec. 31, Diana Brown, will be missed as she looks forward to spending more time with her husband, Charles, in Jasper. We will miss her and I will be sharing an upcoming story about their years as volunteers with the Baptist Mobile Health Ministry. Diana, who retired as administrative assistant for the ministry, admits she will miss her friends in the Missions and Ministry Building but not the up-to-two-hour commute from the beautiful North Georgia mountains.

Diana is one of those silently private, demure heroes among state missionaries who labor behind the scenes to help provide a witness through health care to under-insured residents. In addition to her retirement story, there will be a story on her able replacement, longtime state missionary Ted Kandler.

Another retiree we are already missing in the building is Jerry Baker, who oversaw the growth of language missions/intercultural church planting for the past 40 years. On July 31 – his retirement date – we provided retirement coverage on his transition, as well as welcoming his successor and fellow state missionary Dennis Rivera.

In 2018 we will also bring you human interest stories of folks sitting in the pew next to you, such as Betty Jean Garner. Just three days ago on New Year’s Eve, Sunday, Dec. 31, this spry 91-year-old retired as church secretary after 31 years at First Baptist Church of Sandersville.

I am grateful for staff members such as Senior Associate Pastor Scott McDade, who brought this to my attention. Stand by for her story later this week.

I could go on and on but you get the gist of what I am reflecting on in this first working day of 2018. It may have warmed up from 11 degrees to a now balmy 25 since I began writing, but I can assure you the stories you will read from Editor Gerald Harris, Web Content Editor Scott Barkley, and myself will keep you warm all winter and throughout 2018.

You can read about all of these wonderful folks who I mentioned, in stories past and future, anywhere from any device at The website is always there, being constantly updated to keep you informed. You can also receive free weekly email updates by filling in the form on the right-hand-corner of our home page to be sure you don’t miss a thing.

Happy New Year as we labor together as partners in reaching the world through Mission Georgia.

P.S. After writing this story I was reminded by former staffer Lonette Godwin why today seemed strangely special. Today starts my 20th year at The Index, dating back to 1998. As a personal note, I appreciate your support for the past 19 years and for the many fine notes of encouragement I have received. Georgia Baptists truly are the best!