By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
JENA (LBM)—Anthony Paul became a babe in Christ a mere three days after turning 14 years old, but he was not alone in becoming a part of the family of God. He was blessed to have his mother April join him in celebrating the transformation that had taken place in both their hearts.
The mother and son joined four others for the special baptism service Aug. 12 at the First Mount Nebo Baptist Church in Jena.
“There are no words to describe the joy I felt as I watched him get baptized and then I followed,” April Paul recalled. “This day was on the level of excitement that I felt when he was born, and that experience helped make real to me the concept of rebirth that we were declaring publicly to my family and friends.”
Paul credited her son’s example of stepping forward in faith with her being obedient in being baptized.
She told the Baptist Message she had accepted Christ a decade earlier but had not followed through with baptism because she did not fully comprehend its importance.
“When I came out of the water, I was excited that I was following through with obedience that I had been putting off for 10 years,” Paul said. “I got past the discouragement Satan was trying to throw at me of thinking I shouldn’t go through with baptism because I waited so long after my decision. God used my son as that little push to finally follow through with God’s will for me.”
A GROWING FAMILY
Paul and her son are among 25 people baptized during the last seven months of 2017 for a congregation that saw just two baptized in 2016, according to church records. The trend has continued in 2018, with five participating in baptism through the end of January.
The church has seen its weekly gathering grow as well.
In January 2017, the church averaged 70 on Sunday mornings. By the end of the year, average attendance more than doubled, to 150.
A GROWING MINISTRY
The baptisms and worship attendance increases reflect how the congregation is catching onto their God-centered purpose, according to Stephen Richardson, who became transition pastor in June.
“Our people are going into the community to invite people to church,” Richardson said. “Their whole mindset now is ‘How do I invite someone to church.’ This congregation is passionate about their reason for being the church in this area and that is to win souls for Christ.”
Prayer is now a centerpiece of the church’s worship services.
Every Sunday and Wednesday, the congregation joins hands to form a prayer circle. Members also have moved from a focus on “general” prayers to more specific ones for people and needs in the community.
The season of prayer has forged unity and diversity.
For the first time in 20 years, First Mount Nebo has a children’s worship time on Sundays, averaging 20 young ones. Its youth group also has grown, from six in early 2016 to 13.
Meanwhile, ministry efforts have grown to include a partnership with First Baptist Church, Jena, and Fellowship Baptist Church, Trout, to host 135 youth for a Fifth Quarter event after a Friday night high school football game. They held a “Trunk or Treat” outreach in October attended by 90, and participated in a “Miracle of Christ” that took 463 guests on a walk from the birth of Christ to his resurrection over the course of 10 stages at Nebo Ballpark on two nights in December. Church members also collected 505 shoeboxes that were sent off to Samaritan’s Purse for distribution to needy children overseas.
“You can’t sit inside the four walls and expect people to come,” Richardson said. “You have to get out there. And that’s the vision our people have gotten so excited about. They realize that when you invite someone to come to church or to an event, many times they will come.”