By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
KNOXVILLE — Last November messengers to the annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention overwhelmingly adopted City Reach, an effort to reach the five largest metropolitan areas in the state — Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis, Clarksville, and Chattanooga.
Because Summit was in East Tennessee last year, Knoxville was chosen as the first city. Tennessee Baptists are responding well, according to leaders in the city and the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
“City Reach has had a significant impact on the churches that are part of our network,” observed Phil Young, director of missions for the Knox County Association of Baptists. “We have seen partnerships formed that have encouraged and enabled churches to connect with their communities in ways that have helped move people toward a relationship with Christ and the local church,” he said.
Steve Snyder, who coordinates City Reach and also Project Knox (a similar ministry of the association), agreed. Since the beginning of the year there have been about 43 projects involving about 725 volunteers. He estimated there have been at least 35 salvation decisions already recorded.
He noted that City Reach is resulting in lost people coming to Christ and is also helping to energize smaller churches. In addition, churches are developing stronger relationships in their communities, Snyder added.
Tennessee Baptists are reaching out “in the name of Jesus to share love in this strong East Tennessee city,” observed Roc Collins, director of evangelism for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. Even though there are a lot of Baptist churches in the area “we still have a great number of unchurched and lost people” there as well, he observed.
Collins participated in a City Reach project last week, along with other TBMB staff members and spouses, and other churches during Camp Journey sponsored by Beaver Dam Baptist Church in Knoxville.
Camp Journey was held for two weeks and was part of a process to reach children in the Halls community with the gospel, said Tim Hopkins, minister of education at Beaver Dam Baptist.
He noted church leaders met the children in their schools and took food to their homes in order to build relationships that have resulted in the children’s parents allowing them to attend the free two-week camp at Beaver Dam. “It’s about building relationships,” Hopkins stressed, noting that about 90 percent of those children and their parents do not go to church. “We want to reach both the children and their parents for Christ,” he said.
Evelyn Keech, one of the driving forces and implementers of Camp Journey, agreed. “Camp Journey has been an amazing experience for us. It has allowed us to get into our local community, meet their physical and emotional needs, and share Christ with them in both spiritual and tangible ways.”
She noted that Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
That principle is applicable for Camp Journey and the City Reach project. “When you help people with their physical needs, whether it’s food, utility bills, school supplies, child care, or transportation, you gain a better understanding of the difficulties they are facing.
“And as you share your time helping to meet those needs, you are building a relationship that blesses everyone involved. Through this they are seeing Christ as He works through those who have volunteered, given, and shared so much,” Keech said.
Hopkins is appreciative of the volunteers from the TBMB and other churches that joined in the City Reach project at Beaver Dam. “It could not have happened without the volunteer teams,” he noted. “God knew what the needs were and He brought the people here and put them to work.”
Throughout the two weeks the camp reached as many as 79 children each day, Hopkins said. “Every kid who came heard the gospel,” he stressed, adding that they did not press for a salvation decision at the camp. “We will do that during follow up visits in the home.”
Aaron Disney, pastor of Lakewood Baptist Church, Beech Grove, brought a 14-member team which included three people from Normandy Baptist Church, Normandy. He was pleased with the way the team worked with the children at Beaver Dam.
It was a fabulous week, the pastor said. “It’s a blessing to watch our kids grow spiritually and unite together,” he said.
TBMB Executive Director Randy C. Davis expressed appreciation to Pastor Alan Price, Hopkins, and the laypeople of Beaver Dam Baptist. “They are setting a clear example of what it means to be practicing the Great Commission in their own community.
“Precious children here this week are experiencing real love and care and are being presented with the gospel,” observed Davis who participated in Camp Journey along with his wife Jeanne.
Young expressed appreciation for the partnership with the TBMB and to Davis for his vision in helping to make City Reach “a reality in Knoxville and across the state.”