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Arms wide open

South Georgia churches combine to reach Valdosta area


Valdosta Baptist Association

Nearly 5,000 people attended Community Day April 8, sponsored by Valdosta Baptist Association. The event was typical of the call from First Baptist Woodstock pastor and SBC president Johnny Hunt for churches to embrace and meet the needs of their neighbors and surrounding area.

VALDOSTA — “He is just a country boy, but he loves the Lord more than anyone I know.”

That is how Mike Broadwater, Valdosta Associational Missionary, describes Jay Watkins, pastor of Redland Baptist Church.

Watkins once drove emergency medical vehicles and served as a paramedic, but God called him to be a pastor and he now serves the church where he first met the Lord, Redland Baptist Church near Valdosta.

Redland Baptist Church, under the leadership of their pastor, has been taking mission trips to Mexico for several years. Plans for another missions expedition south of the border failed to materialize this year so consideration was given for a missionary endeavor in Guatemala. Those plans also failed to come to fruition.

Watkins reported, “We had a conference in the fall of last year and Mike Broadwater spoke to our people. Following that conference Jim Vaughn, our youth pastor, came to me and said, ‘I think God wants us to do something at home.’”

The decision was made to have a “Community Day” at the park in nearby Clyattville. The Redland pastor decided he could do his own version of First Baptist Church Woodstock’s “LoveLoud” project in RFD South Georgia.

Watkins commented, “We started meeting and praying for God to show us what to do. Clyattville has a large group of people in need. The week before our Community Day the area experienced some severe flooding. God knew when and where He wanted us to work.”

Broadwater stated, “Clyattville is an area where Valdosta Baptist Association has about four churches and is heavily depressed economically. When Jay came to me I volunteered to get the VBA involved, help with some of the expense, and work to involve other churches. The event was held on Saturday, April 18.

The thousands who entered the park on Community Day walked through an entrance covered with an arch of hundreds of balloons. Under the arch was a banner reading, “The Valdosta Baptist Association Welcomes You.”

“First, we had fun. We had five inflatable houses and slides for the children,” Broadwater added. “We had everything from trains rides and face painting to fishing booths. We also had a tent set up like a scene from the Bible and characters in full dress told stories of Jesus throughout the day. Balloons were everywhere.”

Community Day was designed to meet the medical needs of the people. Six doctors, along with numerous nurses and support staff, were on hand to give free medical care to the people. A full operational pharmacy complete with pharmacists was set up to dispense medicine according to the prescriptions issued by the physicians on duty.

There were two dentists available on Community Day to provide free dental screenings.

Valdosta Baptist Association

More than 350 volunteers from churches in the Valdosta Association and area Baptist Collegiate Ministries made up the muscle for Community Day. The event was sparked by Redland Baptist Church in Valdosta.

Watkins added, “Everyone who saw a doctor or dentist also had a person that prayed with them in either English or Spanish. Translators were strategically positioned throughout the park.

“We also had a free no-sale yard sale,” Watkins explained. “The sale took place under a pavilion. It was set up like shopping at Wal-Mart.

“Clothing was separated according to size and gender. We had clothes for all ages.

“We also had a houseware section with everything from lamps to mattresses. All of the merchandise had to pass a quality inspection before made available to those who came into the pavilion, but everything was free. We did, however, limit the number of items a family could take.

“We wanted the people to know that they had neighbors and friends who cared about them and that all that was being done for them was because of the love of Christ.”

Food was in abundant supply on Community Day. Watkins stated, “We ordered numerous pallets of food from the food bank to give away.

“Two separate vision centers from Valdosta came out to offer free vision screenings. We also ordered 600 pair of eyeglasses and gave them out for free.”

The people who came were also fed on the spot. Several thousand hamburgers and hotdogs along with soft drinks and popcorn were given to the four or five thousand people who visited Clyattville Park on Community Day.

The park was also filled with songs of praise on this spring day in South Georgia. Watkins, the Redand pastor, remarked, “We had three groups performing. First was a contemporary-style group called Oceans Floor. The second group was more of a Christian rock group called Jawbone. Thirdly, we had Jubilee, a southern gospel quartet. It provided a great blend of music for the day.”


Community effort

Watkins was quick to declare that the success of Community Day was the result of a joint effort of many Baptist churches and more than 350 volunteers. Also giving their support to the effort was the Baptist Collegiate Ministries at Valdosta State, the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes), the pregnancy support center, the Moody K-9 unit, and local fire and law enforcement personnel. He avowed, “To give the glory to our church or any other church or ministry would take the glory from God. He accomplished much, however, through a willing people.”

As a result of Community Day in Clyattsville 3,000 Bibles were distributed, 144 prayed to receive Christ, and many others were served and prayed for during the course of the day.

Has their been a residual affect from the effort?

Watkins says, “It has affected our church greatly. The attendance is up. The spirit is up. It has even helped with the racial barriers that are in some churches. We have had visitors from all ethnic backgrounds.

“In the local school they were so thankful for the help and the encouragement this effort gave the community. The migrant community also benefited greatly from it.”

The theme verse for Community Day was Habakkuk 1:5: “Look among the nations and watch. Be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you.”

At the conclusion of Community Day one lady remarked, “I have never been to a place where everybody was smiling [like they are here]. From the time my family and I got here I have felt the presence of God. Thank you for doing this.”

Watkins declared, “We are planning to do this again. However, we are going to move this event around to meet the needs of other communities. We are planning to go to Cook County next April 24, 2010. We can’t wait to see what God will do that day.”

Watkins final word was, “If you write this story make sure God gets the glory.”