New year holds promise of local shelter ministry

Published 10:36 am Friday, December 22, 2017

New year holds promise of local shelter ministry

By John Howell Sr.


Working at a downtown Batesville church has brought a heightened awareness of the presence and plight of the homeless, marginally homeless and hungry to the attention of First Baptist Church Associate Pastor John Howell Jr. Howell spoke about a concept of ministry evangelism that has been shaped by that increased awareness during a recent meeting of the Rotary Club.
“That’s been eye-opening to me to get a better understanding of the level of poverty and struggles we have in our area,” he said. “Our church, Pastor Ed’s church (the First United Methodist Church where Ed Temple is pastor, across Panola Avenue from First Baptist) right in the downtown area see a flow of really tough cases and cases that really touch the heart as you get to know the story, the families.”
“The approach to ministry evangelism is that to touch a life, you have to look at a person, the family, the hurts, just the full spectrum of what’s going on in their life and in their experience — physically, emotionally and spiritually,” Howell said. “When you can do that you can impact a family for now and for eternity.”
The pastor said that families and individuals often experience “emotional shock” not unlike the physical shock spawned by physical trauma, “because of some issues in life, tough licks in life, either poor decisions or something that was inflicted upon them.”
“To begin to get any traction in touching the spiritual need it begins first with meeting a physical need or an emotional need before you can even begin to talk about the substantive, the eternal issues of God’s word, especially the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Howell said.
“If you just meet physical needs, you’re neglecting the eternal; if you just try to go at this thing only spiritually, you’re probably going right over that person’s head because of where he is or where she is in the brokenness of their struggle,” Howell continued.
The First Baptist associate pastor described two churches he has recently visited where ministry evangelism has been implemented. One — Leesburg Baptist in Leesburg, Florida has since the 1990s built separate men’s, women’s and children’s shelters on its campus, a food pantry that serves two counties and a free medical clinic for the uninsured that has the support of the local hospital because it absorbs many of the patients formerly treated in the hospital’s emergency room, according to Howell.
During a recent visit to Guatemala, Howell said he found a second example of ministry evangelism.
“If you looked at this church, you would say this is a very poor church — their facility had walls on three sides, an open building.”
“Those who worshipped there were indeed poor people, but, wow, they were rich in spirit,” he continued. “They were doing ministry evangelism out of their resources,” including a medical clinic that saw 1,000 people over several days, distribution of food bags, assisting with repairs of members’ homes, distribution of water filters purchased by First Baptist.
“I got to see a church that looked rather weak at a glance, at least financially speaking, do some amazing things in the area of ministry evangelism,” Howell said.
The experience of the Leesburg Baptist Church helped spawn a new ministry founded by Jonathan and Shea Garner and Chad and Cheryl Sullivant called “Restoring Hope,” Howell said, that will minister to needy families during Christmas with food, gifts, clothing and spiritual counseling.
“We’re going to have a team trained to go in with them to say, ‘Look, we’re coming and we want to be a blessing. We want to share these material things, these physical things but we want to do so in the name of Jesus Christ,’’’ Howell said, “and then give the Gospel and let these families know that this is an example of God loving through believers. That’s how ministry evangelism works, you put it all together.”
Another ministry is developing in the community to help with drug addiction.
“Our area is being overwhelmed with substance abuse issues and the brokenness that goes along with that,” Howell continued. The pastor said that his experience at the Kairos Prison Ministry at the Mississippi State Penitentiary leads him to believe that with the overwhelming majority of incarcerated men and women, “you could probably trace it back to some kind of dependency issue.”
“A person has come along who also has a vision for ministry evangelism; his name is Joe May,” Howell said. “Joe has the vision to begin a shelter ministry for those dealing with addictions.”
A 501 3(c) non-profit corporation is being created to build the shelter on 11.5 acres that have been donated for the shelter, according to Howell. Board members include Derrick Simmons, Roger Howell, John Howell Jr., Jeffrey Bean, Marni McKenzie and Jonathan Garner.
“The vision is to have a center for men dealing with addiction issues and the need for shelter that goes along with that. Also for women, and then transitional housing. I’m just putting the vision out today and prayerfully in 2018 you’ll see the plan take sharper focus,” Howell continued. “There’s very little going on in our backyard so we’ve got a major issue there,” citing the lack of nearby addiction treatment facilities.
Howell also cited the Celebrate Recovery program hosted by the Hosanna Family Worship Center at Pope on Wednesday nights.
“That’s a blessing and they’re serving those with needs in the area of substance abuse “‘and other hurts, habits and hangups’ to use their lingo,” he said.
A Celebrate Recovery program will begin at First Baptist in late January. “When it launches, it seems that we’ll have the team in place to minister in some areas beyond men’s and women’s chemical dependency. It looks like out of the gate there will be ministry specifically geared to those dealing with grief and also those dealing with eating disorders following the Celebrate Recovery format,” Howell said.
“The Celebrate Recovery format is basically a Christ-centered 12-step program,” he said.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox