Published November 8, 2007
MARIETTA — John Stott, a British Christian statesman, said, “We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God.”
Pastor Bryant Wright and Johnson Ferry Baptist Church of Marietta have taken Stott’s admonition to heart and developed one of the most comprehensive missions ministries in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Ricky Wheeler, associate pastor for Global Ministries, explained, “We have structured our missions ministry on the Acts 1:8 model with both a domestic and international focus.”
Wheeler began his work on staff at Johnson Ferry twenty years ago as a student minister. He organized the first high school student mission trip in 1992 after observing years of students returning from spring break disinterested in church and youth activities. He explained, “We decided to offer an alternative to the typical high school spring break experience in East Cobb. So that year we took 30 students on a mission trip to Mexico where we served the poorest of the poor – building small one room homes, conducting door-to-door evangelism, and prayer walks. That was a transforming experience in the life of our student ministry and ultimately, our church family.”
“This year we have had 310 students and adult leaders in grades 9-11 go to Mexico and 96 twelfth grade students and adult leaders go to Peru on spring break mission trips. In fact, this year we will send out approximately 1,400 of our members on a total of 70 different mission trips. Next year we should have at least 1,500 people involved in some kind of short-term mission trip.”
The Marietta church is involved in hands-on missions projects in South America, Asia, Europe, and Africa as well as North America. They evangelize through church starts, medical clinics, sports outreach ministries, prayer walks, construction projects, food distribution, disaster relief, musical presentations, teaching, preaching, VBS, etc.
Interestingly, the church discourages people from sending out support letters for their mission trips, but pays up to one-half the cost for anyone who wants to participate in a short-term mission venture. Practically every Sunday people from Johnson Ferry are being commissioned for these volunteer mission trips.
Botswana is one of the countries that has attracted the attention of the Johnson Ferry leadership. Wheeler really began to glow as he shared some of the things happening through the church’s involvement in this south-central African nation dominated by the Kalahari Desert.
Botswana has had a rapidly growing economy for more than 30 years, but has been hit extremely hard by the AIDS epidemic. The average life expectancy in Botswana at birth has declined from 64 years in 1990 to less than 40 years in 2007.
Jeff Williams, the Johnson Ferry point man for Botswana, remarked, “The experts from the west, the United Nations, and the World Health Organization promoted a crusade for safe sex by passing out condoms. But condoms are only 85 percent effective. It’s like playing Russian roulette. So, we presented to the government what we called the ABCs of AIDS prevention – Abstain, Be faithful, Claim Christ.”
In an effort to work out a strategy to impact Botswana for the cause of Christ Williams started by asking the question: “How can we apply our church’s capabilities in this African nation?” He has been to Botswana six times himself, talked with pastors and government leaders, and developed a plan to plant churches and attack the AIDS epidemic in a positive and productive way.
Williams explained, “We started out helping small churches in the hinterland but very little was happening with that effort. We then got connected with Open Baptist Church in the capitol city of Garborone. They have a great new pastor, Norman Schaefer, who has a vision for reaching the whole nation for Christ. The church has grown from 300 in attendance to more than 1,000.”
Part of a powerful movement
“We modified our original plans and began to strategize to help Open Baptist Church reach more people and equip them do ministry more effectively. They developed a program two years ago called ‘Face the Nation’ – a planned tactic to stop the AIDS epidemic. We came alongside the church to assist them in formulating a plan to help them instill the concept of abstinence into the hearts of high school students in the spring of 2006. In five weeks of intensive training we prepared 27 University of Gaborone college students to teach True Love Waits in nearby high schools. Everyone loved the concept and the results were incredible.
“In May of this year we trained another 100 University of Gaborone college students and then sent them out to teach high school students the importance of sexual abstinence. They used music, puppetry, and drama to communicate the message to 40,000 students. The results were amazing as 15,000 signed abstinence cards and more than 10,000 made commitments to Christ.
“We were thrilled and surprised. We had underestimated the power of God. We wept for joy as God moved powerfully among the students.”
Williams reported that some of the high schools refused to welcome the abstinence program at first, but were soon begging for help when they heard about the results from the other schools. The government of Botswana has now fully endorsed the program and equipped college students can be sent into all the schools of the country to teach True Love Waits.
Williams testified, “I have never seen God’s hand move so mightily as I have seen it move in Botswana in the last 18 months. I am mesmerized by it. My faith has grown and grown through this experience. I think the country is on the verge of revival.”
However, the impact of Johnson Ferry’s mission ministry is not only being felt in countries like Botswana, Poland, Ecuador, France, Romania, and some of the nations in Central and East Asia; it is being felt in the heart of Atlanta. The East Cobb County church has a vital work going on in the heart of Georgia’s capital city called Eagle’s Nest Ministries. Larry and Genece Arnold are giving leadership to this inner-city ministry at 14 Hilliard Street. Approximately 10-12 JFBC volunteers serve with the Arnolds in the work on a weekly basis.
Eagle’s Nest Ministries seeks to make Christ’s love known by reaching across geographical, relational, racial, cultural, and class divides. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings breakfast is provided to between 100 and 200 inner city poor and homeless people. Between April and October Eagle’s Nest Ministries travels to different projects throughout the Atlanta area to set up activities for the children and provide lunch for 200-300 people. Always, in addition to a meal, the Word of God is preached by one of the Eagle’s Nest staff members.
On Wednesdays and Thursdays Eagle’s Nest opens its door to the homeless and provides them with the chance to bathe and shower. Shower kits are provided and people are given the opportunity to utilize the clothes closet and acquire a fresh change of clothing.
Partnering to provide
Eagle’s Nest partners with other churches and ministries in helping to provide music and live performances, testimonials, and speakers. The whole purpose of this ministry is to reconcile people to God and help them grow in their faith.
Genece emphasizes, “We have organized a church out of this ministry and have approximately 70 in attendance each Sunday. We minister to the homeless and the poor, but we also reach out into the suburbs of Atlanta.”
Johnson Ferry also has four ethnic churches meeting on their campus (Chinese, Indonesian, Korean, and Vietnamese) and they sponsor a fifth ethnic church, a Hispanic church, which currently meets at Johnson Ferry but will settle in the Sandy Springs area in the near future.
Johnson Ferry has started seven churches in the greater Atlanta area and in 2004 started a second campus, Cedarcrest where George Wright, Bryant Wright’s oldest son, is campus pastor. The Cedarcrest Church is ideally located to reach the people of West Cobb, East Paulding, and South Bartow counties for Christ.
Johnson Ferry Baptist Church is not only on the go with the gospel, they give to missions in an exemplary fashion. Twenty percent of the 2008 Johnson Ferry budget is devoted to global missions. The Marietta church will give ten percent of their total 2008 budget of $19,200,000 to Southern Baptist Mission causes with one half designated to the International Mission Board and one half designated to the Georgia Baptist Convention.
Additionally, Johnson Ferry receives $1.5 million given through designated gifts and a special Global Ministries offering. The total anticipated spending on mission trips, ministry partnerships, special projects, and church starts in 2008 is approximately $5.9 million.
Bryant Wright and his leadership team have established a vibrant church with a glowing missionary spirit. They have Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world on their hearts. They do missions well. They do it right. And they do it with a passion.
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