Struggling rural church now thriving
___By Ken Camp
___Texas Baptist Communications
___COMMERCE--When LaVelle Hendricks arrived as pastor eight years ago, East Caney Baptist Church was a struggling nine-member rural African-American congregation.
___Today, the vibrant multi-racial church draws about 150 worshipers weekly from both Hopkins and Hunt counties, and its members are involved in 26 ministries, including
extensive evangelistic outreach.
|LAVELLE HENDRICKS, pastor of East Caney Baptist Church in Commerce.
___"We've bought into Texas 2000 hook, line and sinker. We want to be a part of sharing Jesus Christ with everybody in Hopkins County," Hendricks said. Texas 2000 is the statewide Baptist vision for sharing the gospel with every Texan.
___As part of its evangelistic strategy, East Caney has sponsored "Praise in the Park" festivals one Saturday each summer month the last six years.
___With the support of local merchants who help provide refreshments, the church coordinates basketball tournaments, volleyball games and other sports events. Throughout the day, members of the church witness, distribute tracts and share Scripture portions.
___Hendricks expects his church to distribute up to 4,000 gospel tracts at a Praise in the Park event June 19--the traditional day for "Juneteenth" emancipation day celebrations.
___"It's amazing. When we start handing out the Bible tracts, the drug dealers leave, the drug use ceases, the alcohol consumption stops," Hendricks said. "The Sulphur Springs chief of police has said he wishes we could do it every week."
___Rehoboth Baptist Association has been very supportive of East Caney's evangelistic emphasis, as well as providing leadership training for church-based ministries, Hendricks noted. Four years ago, East Caney became the first historically African-American church to affiliate with Rehoboth Association in 150 years.
___"We wanted to make a point to the community that we are one in the body of Christ. We worship the same God. We'd rather focus on our common thread--our commitment to Jesus Christ--than dwell on the racial differences that have divided us," Hendricks said.
___In addition, Hendricks said, he also was attracted by the Texas Baptist and Southern Baptist emphasis on Bible teaching and discipleship.
___Hendricks comes honestly by that commitment to teaching. In addition to serving as a pastor, he teaches psychology and works as assistant director of institutional effectiveness and research at Texas A&M University at Commerce.
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