By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
LAFAYETTE – Wayne Jenkins and Charles Billingsley shared moving testimonies of thankfulness with those attending Louisiana Baptists 2016 Evangelism Conference, their stories epitomizing the messages of God’s power and grace presented throughout the program.
The impromptu testimonies by both men highlighted how God used a dark hour in each man’s life to bring glory to Christ. Jenkins is evangelism and church growth director for Louisiana Baptists while Billingsley is a vocalist from Lynchburg, Va., who led worship during the conference, held at First Baptist Church in Lafayette Jan. 25-26.
During the afternoon session, colleagues and others surrounded Jenkins as the whole crowd prayed for him.
A teary-eyed Jenkins praised God for sustaining him throughout his battle with cancer.
“God is so good, really good,” Jenkins said. “This summer I was close to going home. … He chose to leave me here. And I’m glad. I think I’ve got a lot to do. Thank you for all the prayers.”
Billingsley offered how his music career nearly ended in 2009 when he severely injured his voice during a concert in Florida.
Addressing the audience for the evening session he also praised God’s healing power.
In that 2009 incident he had to have major surgery to remove a vocal cord, and uncertain days ahead.
After five days of not speaking or singing, the vocal cords healed and Billingsley received a fresh view of God and His plan.
“I am a testimony to you that no matter what you’re going through that Jesus Christ is still in the business of healing hearts and healing souls and healing bodies,” he said. “He is the great physician. He is the only one we can trust.”
The two testimonies were part of a conference filled with inspiring messages, music by Billingsley, recording artist and humorist Mark Lowry and the First Baptist Church Lafayette choir, encouragement from a church that experienced revival, dedicated times of prayer and breakout sessions. Fellowship opportunities included the Senior Adult Luncheon attended by more than 800 people, the African-American Fellowship and the Louisiana Baptist Christian Education Association Dinner and Church Planters Network Luncheon.
The two-day Evangelism Conference featured messages based on 1 Corinthians 9:22 and the emphasis of winning the lost. The messages focused on reaching the Next Generation and Every People Group in Louisiana. These two groups are identified for special emphasis in the 2020 Report, a carefully drafted seven-year strategy adopted by Louisiana Baptists to guide them in more effectively reaching others for Christ.
Between 2,000 and 2,500 people attended the several events related to the conference, which Jenkins said was the best one attended according to many with whom he talked.
“God was at work from the beginning to the end,” Jenkins said. “The crowds were consistent.
“The months of prayer by our churches was evident,” he said. “Every musician, testimony, speaker and seminar leader was on target and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
“A pastor told me yesterday he went home last year from the conference to his church that was a low and no baptism church, with a commitment to change that,” he continued. “His church baptized 23 this year. I pray after this conference, that story will be repeated in churches all over. I am so great full to work for LBC, and to have the financial support of the cooperative program that provides for events like this.”
Forgiveness in action
Billingsley and Jenkins were not the only ones to share a testimony of God’s miraculous ability to heal.
Growing up in a dysfunctional family and suffering abuse from a caregiver in his early years made forgiveness difficult for national best-selling author Josh McDowell. But the love of Christians at the university he attended along with a worldwide quest in which he hoped to disprove the faith led him to a relationship with Jesus, McDowell said during the second day of the Evangelism Conference.
When he was six, McDowell’s family hired a man to cook and clean on the family farm. The man turned out to be an abuser of McDowell for the next seven years. He tried to tell his parents but when he did, they accused him of lying.
Once he was strong enough, McDowell confronted the man and said to leave him alone, which he did. But his home environment continued to be stressful, as his dad was an alcoholic and known around town as a drunk.
The pain remained with McDowell as a freshman in college. There, he met a small group of students and professors who were Christians and challenged him to disprove Christianity.
After a quest that took him around the world to debunk the evangelical faith, McDowell instead confirmed Christianity’s truths and discovered his need for Christ.
God’s power and grace over McDowell’s life allowed him to tell his dad he loved him.
A year-and-a-half year later, during another visit between the two men, his father accepted Christ and was transformed. Before his death 14 months later, his father had led more than 100 men and women to a saving faith in Jesus.
God’s healing power and grace were evidenced again when McDowell felt led to visit his childhood abuser, telling him what he had done was evil, but he was forgiven.
“The power of forgiveness or the destruction of non-forgiving is so powerful in the life of a Christian,” McDowell said. “I made a conscience choice I’m not a victim. No one can make you a victim unless you let them. I was determined I was not going to let that man make me a victim.”
God is not calling Christians to hide in a cave or lay under a broom tree as was Elijah did in 1 Kings. Rather, believers must come out of either place and be eager to serve God.
“God sometimes send us to places we really don’t want to go,” said Calvert, pastor of New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Bessemer, Ala. “I’m so glad God is patient with me. Every now and then I want to take matters into my own hands. But God has to remind me that He doesn’t need me, but I need God.”
He said that just like Elijah, who asked God to take his life but was denied the request, Christians must realize the blessing of an unanswered prayer.
“I want to say thank God for unanswered prayers,” he said. “Thank you for giving me what I need and not what I want.”
This was Calvert’s first time to preach away from his church since July 2015. Due to health concerns which required a time of hospitalization last year, he had canceled all of his previously scheduled speaking engagements—except this conference.
“I want to thank you for your prayers,” he said. “I received so many cards and letters, so many prayers until I knew God would work it out and enable me to come. And this we left on the calendar to see if God would enable me to get here. And I’m so glad to stand before you today because God is a good God. And we all have a testimony.”
The United States in trouble, morally and economically, said Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, and God is its only hope. So, Christians must commit to sharing the Gospel, one on one.
“There is nothing compared to winning one on one,” he said during the first day of the Evangelism Conference. “When was the last time you led someone one on one to Jesus? And when was the last time you tried?”
Gaines shared the plan of salvation, reminding the audience each person must admit their sin, believe in Jesus and commit their lives to Him.
Gaines later addressed the question of what happens to people when they die.
Citing Luke 16:19-32, Gaines shared the immediate destinations for the saved (paradise) and the lost (Hades) to await judgment, respectively, for rewards in Heaven or punishment in Hell.
“I really believe when we share the Gospel it matters,” he said. “After this conference hopefully you’ll leave here saying I need to up my game a bit. I need to be a better witness in the way I live and talk.”
Gaines closed his message and the conference with a challenge, asking each person in attendance to lead at least one person to Christ in 2016—with about 500 gathering in front of the worship center to accept the challenge.
Alvin Reid is praying for a Jesus movement in America, only possible with real change in the lives of pastors and others who have committed themselves to Christ, he said.
Reid said a true Jesus movement is a Holy Spirit movement, defined by a Christ-like mission share the Gospel with the lost.
“God has moved throughout history in what we call Great Awakenings,” said Reid, evangelism professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. “If you are in a movement of God whether it’s a few days on a college campus or a global awakening, you are never the same.”
David Burton said he could sense the Holy Spirit moving throughout the sessions of the Evangelism Conference.
“I sense God wants to do something very unique,” said Burton, of David Burton Ministries in Jacksonville, Fla. “When we leave here, we have a mandate to make a difference out there. Most of the people out there are lost—without Jesus.”
He said that for some reason, Christians have become very complacent about sharing their faith. Burton said believers must get back to winning children and young people to Christ.
“We’re losing a generation,” Burton said. “I hope and pray that today we’ll walk out of here as excited about pushing back the darkness that’s been crated in this world.”
Burton challenged pastors to take a deacon with them and find where school buses drop off children and then take notes on how many they find, along with their age ranges.
“You talk about prospects,” he said. “You talk about finding people that need Jesus – that’s a great way to do it.”
He said believers need to truly care about those who do not know Jesus as Lord.
“We’ve got to find lost people and love them as they are,” Burton said.
Citing Luke 12:12, Burton said that God will give believers the right words to say at the right time when sharing the gospel.
“We have a message to declare,” he said. “It is to be the light of the world.”
Although Americans put off many decisions, the most critical of these is delaying to tell someone the truth about Jesus Christ.
When that happens, Mark Croston said the lost individual can never be their best in this life and will perish in Hell in the next life.
Croston said the lost act lost because they are lost without Christ, and, to help a lost person live their best, Christians must share the Gospel with them.
“Jesus delivers us from sin,” said Croston, national director of Black Partnerships for LifeWay Christian Resources. “We cannot deliver ourselves.”
But we can serve on God’s spiritual rescue squad, he said.
“I’m glad that God has left us with this great challenge,” he continued. “The truth is as I read my Bible God has not often told people to stay. So unless God has given you a special word from the Lord to stay, God’s word for you is to get up, use what he has already put in you and go and tell a world that desperately needs to know him because we don’t need any not to be saved.”
Crockett Point Baptist Church in Crowville had planned to hold a four-day revival. But recognizing a movement of God, the congregation extended the revival three times over a two-week period last year. By the event’s conclusion, 197 people had accepted Christ and many more had made other spiritual decisions.
Joe Senn, pastor of the church, told the story during one of the sessions of the Evangelism Conference.
Senn said every revival he has been a part of started with the youth and this time was no different. He encouraged the youth to find just one person for which they would pray. Night after night, his students would bring that one person to Crockett Point Baptist and God began changing lives.
Even though several months have passed since the revival occurred, God’s movement among the youth has not stopped. During its last Sunday service on Jan. 24, more than 400 people attended worship, including 150 teenagers.
He said that reaching out to students can happen, if churches are willing.
“It had nothing to do with my church,” he said. “It had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with the Holy Spirit and the Lord.”