Headlines from First Thoughts

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Croatia to Knoxville

Going to Croatia is like looking at our church through a microscope. This small group of faithful Baptists is addressing issues that we face. "What does it mean to move outside the church walls?" "How do we minister to the community?" "How do we make friends with those around us?"

Imagine being oppressed for 50 years, gain freedom, and immediately begin fighting against ethnic rivalries that date back for centuries. The Croatians experienced the horrors of communism, and the government essentially drove the church inside their walls. They could worship freely, they just could not encourage anyone else to join them. They became large family chapels with just enough people to keep the lights on. When communism was replaced by the current government, the Serbians attacked. Once again, the church became the refuge for people. The believers retreated. Some fought in the war, others did not. They largely remained inside the walls.

One of their leaders told me, "It's as if we are starting over again." This time they begin with Muslim mosques also forming and the ever-present Catholic establishment. There is great fear and mistrust of the Catholic church in Croatia, but the Baptist leaders do not want to retreat. They want the people to engage their neighbors, work together as friends, and find common ground to bring peace and light to their society.

At First Baptist, like the Croatians, we have beautiful facilities and are located in a strategic area. The center city is being revitalized by economic development. We also deal with the daily issues of the working poor. We have a growing Latino population moving into this region of Tennessee. We have many people in the buckle of the Bible belt who choose to remain home on Sundays. We have a center city business community who are entrusted with the community's resources and are the key decision makers for this area. We are three blocks from a University that is the crossroads of the world. We share the center city area with great churches from other denominations who minister effectively to this community.

As a regional church, we gather for worship, study, and fellowship and return to our homes and businesses to minister where we live and work. Our church is a showpiece for historical tours and the best concert hall of its size in downtown. Now we want to take the next step. We want to be a missions center for touching lives of people who need Jesus right in the heart of the city. Now, God is opening new doors for us right where our church is located. Maybe those doors have always been open, but we are positioned now to walk through them. Because of people who have gone before us and have been faithful to the mission, have renovated the facilities, and have prepared us financially, now we have the chance to develop long term relationships with people in need of God's love.

The Croatian Baptists and First Baptist have much to offer each other, and I'm glad to be on the journey.

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