Stepping out in confidence

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September 1993

The weeks leading up to my arrival on the missions field in the early 1990s were filled with the normal activities of packing, researching the area where I was headed and saying goodbye to friends and family.

While it was only a two-year missions position, the decision to go was major for me. I had turned down several tempting job opportunities following graduation from the University of Alabama in May of that year and said yes to serving the English-speaking islands of the Caribbean.

The position definitely matched my training and educational experience in communications, but my exposure to the world outside the Southeast — and missions work in general — was pretty limited.

The internal battle was fierce. Fear of the unknown, moving outside my comfort zone, conceding to uncertain living conditions and a deep feeling of inadequacy in working alongside career missionaries surfaced daily.

But each time anxiety threatened to convince me to bail on the plan, the peace that drew me to the decision in the beginning returned and washed over the fears. Sometimes there isn’t a logical explanation, but when God calls, draws and directs, we know what we need to do.

And so I answered and many stood with me.IMG_20180929_212720

Churches raised money to assist with the needed resources and committed to pray as I served. My pastor, Sammy Taylor, and home church, Mountain View Baptist in Phil Campbell, prepared me for service and made sure I never forgot they were home holding the ropes while I was on the field.

My friends and family supported, prayed and stayed connected through the two years. My mom researched the types of clothes and other items I would need and made sure I had plenty of options. My dad put me to work with him on the farm between college graduation and leaving day — for a much-needed therapeutic mental break.

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My sweet peers on the missions field in the early 1990s. We all went in different directions after our terms ended but not before becoming lifelong friends.

When I left Phil Campbell 25 years ago this month (September 1993) I had no idea what would happen next. God taught me so much about life, others, missions and ministry. He certainly expanded my world and drew me to Him like I had never experienced before.

The years since then have brought a whole lot of life — good, bad and everything in between — and through it all God has been faithful, providing the peace, confidence and strength I needed at every point.

As I enter the next season of the journey with the coming new position at The Alabama Baptist, I step with excitement, anticipation and confidence not only because of the clarity of the call and a peace from the Lord but also because of the strength, support and encouragement of those surrounding me.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Returned citizens’ life changed because of ‘church ladies’ efforts

 

Charlene A. Ferniz, an active member of First Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, knows the struggle of becoming a returning citizen all too well.

After reading the recent article “Doing missions behind bars” in The Alabama Baptist (TAB), Ferniz shared her story with TAB.

“The Church needs to be in the prisons,” Ferniz said. “I know the impact that the Church has had on my life since I re-entered society.”

After being arrested for a crime she admittedly committed in 2010, Ferniz said she began reading the Bible for the first time. She also started attending Bible studies and met three women who came to the county jail — where she resided as she awaited trial — every Tuesday.

Found God

“They were called ‘church ladies,’” Ferniz said. “I grew up in the Catholic Church so I knew who God was but had no idea that I could have a personal relationship with Him. Or that God would even want a relationship with me.

“The more I read the more I wanted to know,” she noted.

Ferniz’s sentencing finally came down and she was transferred to Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka for three months to complete her sentence. She continued her Bible reading while there.

And when her sentence was completed, she returned to Tuscaloosa and reached out to “those church ladies,” she said. “They helped me with my immediate needs but more importantly they got me plugged into a church.

“These ladies are members of First Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, and so am I,” Ferniz said. “It is in this church I found unconditional love and acceptance. I found joy and peace above all understanding. No one asked questions. FBC became my rock, my beacon during dark times.”

Not only did Ferniz find Christ and a church family to help her transition back into society, but she also gives back by being part of the Kairos of Alabama Prison Ministry team and helps with ministries at the Federal Correctional Institution (for women) in Aliceville.

Turning prisons into missions fields

Is Ferniz’s story one that could be repeated over and over again if churches determined to see the closest prison facility or jail closest to them as a missions field?

Could the state’s prison system crisis be exactly what Alabama Baptist churches need to bolster relevancy within society and discipleship efforts among believers?

TAB staff is working to determine what the possibilities might be and will be developing content and providing resources during the next few weeks.

What are your suggestions?

Staff members would like to know about your prison ministry efforts as well as suggestions of inmates, returned citizens and prison ministry volunteers who would be an inspiration for readers to know. We also want to know your concerns and fears so we can ask the experts for advice in those areas.

Please pray about how you and your church might participate in making a positive difference in the Kingdom and the state by intentionally focusing on the prison population in some specific way.

Email your suggestions and/or information to jrash@thealabamabaptist.org. For more information on Kairos, visit http://www.kairos-al.org.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Holding the ropes

Katelyn stood before our church this past Sunday as we had a special time of prayeIMG_20150714_121448r for her before she leaves for a new season of life — life in another part of the world focused on missions.

In early June, Mallory also stood before our church as we prayed for her summer in Ecuador. A Sunday in late May, Bryce stood before his church in northwest Alabama as he prepared to leave for his summer missions work in Uganda.

And countless congregations across the state have held similar prayer moments recently as they sent out their young adults for a missions experience.

It is not only prayer for the summer missionary and the work he or she will do, but it also is prayer for his or her family. It is a prayer for peace as they release their child into the hands of missions and ministry teams in faraway places. Even a location across the state can seem faraway for parents sending their young adult child out for the first time.

A church “holding the ropes” for those serving in short-term and long-term missions experiences truly can make a difference for the missionary and his or her family.

No matter how strong your call to serve, there will be moments of loneliness and discouragement. And even the most excited of young adults are sometimes shocked to discover the difficulties and frustrations that come with adapting to a new culture, adjusting to the new area and feeling overwhelmed when they see the enormity of the work.

But knowing their church family is back home praying for them truly makes a difference when those weak moments surface.

Facetime and Skype had not been invented when I served a two-and-a-half-year term with the International Mission Board back in the mid-1990s, but a phone call here and there, an email on occasion and definitely cards in the mail became welcomed touches from home that kept my spirits lifted. I also remember the banner Pastor Sammy Taylor hung at Mountain View Baptist Church, Phil Campbell, that said “Mountain View holding the ropes for Jennifer.” I knew their prayers continued throughout my term and weren’t only spoken that Sunday I stood before the congregation to be sent out.

As special as the prayers prayed over you as you leave are, the ones that are consistently being  lifted during your missions service are the ones that sustain you.

Alabama Baptist students and young adults are serving in a variety of ways in Alabama, through ministries in many states across the nation and on missions fields around the world. They may not send back regular reports of their work while they are away, and it is easy to skip days and even weeks of praying for them without a consistent reminder.

Prayer cards, email notes and social media posts are good ways to keep the need in front of church members and others who would like to pray for those participating in summer missions. Posters, banners or other types of visuals in the church also are good reminders.

The Alabama Baptist regularly reports on students and young adults doing missions. When those stories appear, it is another good reminder to pray.

The prayers really do make a difference. I remember many times feeling a sense of strength, peace and focus I knew came from the prayers of those holding the ropes for me. I also remember the confidence and courage I felt with the love and support of family, friends and an amazing church. If someone inquired deeper about the experience, then my enthusiasm grew as I shared my story.

The privilege of praying for Katelyn, Mallory and Bryce provides an opportunity for me to give back by supporting the next generation of young adults following God’s call. Who will be your Katelyn, Mallory and Bryce?

Jennifer Davis Rash