September 1, 1999

Texas offering strengthens
ministry along El Paso 'borderplex'

___By Ken Camp
___Texas Baptist Communications
___EL PASO--It's a time zone away from most Texas Baptists and 250 miles west of the nearest Texas city of any size.
___But when it comes to helping local churches reach the 3 million people of the "borderplex" with the gospel, Texas Baptists are focused on El Paso.
___Since 1996, churches in El Paso Baptist Association have committed themselves to a five-year strategic plan centered around church starting, placing priority on prayer,
developing discipled leaders and promoting church health.
___Texas Baptists statewide have joined local Baptists in that initiative through "Focus on El Paso." The 1999 Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas Missions earmarks $50,000 for the emphasis.
___This is an investment in the future, according to Lorenzo Pena, director of missions for El Paso Baptist Association.
___With a population of close to 750,000 in El Paso and more than 2 million in neighboring Juarez, the twin cities make up "the largest borderplex in the world," Pena said. And it is a significant mission field.
___El Paso is 77 percent Hispanic. Many are "cultural Catholics" who were baptized into the church but are not active in the faith, and about one-fourth of the population claims no church affiliation. El Paso is less than 10 percent evangelical and less than 2 percent Baptist, Pena noted.
___To penetrate El Paso with the gospel, El Paso Association set a goal of starting 25 churches between 1996 and the end of 2000. While they likely will fall short of that goal, El Paso Baptists already have started eight new churches and are on pace to start a total of 15.
___First Baptist Church of El Paso sponsored two very different new congregations.
___One is Pleasant View Baptist Church, a predominantly Hispanic, mostly blue-collar congregation that meets each week in a school. The church, which started with fully bilingual services, has shifted to a focus on English-speaking Hispanics.
___The other congregation sponsored by First Baptist is Cornerstone Baptist Church, a Generation X-style fellowship that meets Tuesday nights at Northgate Baptist Church.
___Another new congregation started as part of the emphasis was Montana Vista, a mission of Coronado Baptist Church. Montana Vista is a product of Operation Lydia, a church planting approach using Bible studies designed for women.
___Operation Lydia is co-sponsored by Woman's Missionary Union of Texas and the Texas Baptist Church Starting Center, and it receives funding through gifts to the Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas Missions.
___More than a half-dozen individuals and families made their homes available for regularly scheduled Bible studies. Recently, about 85 members of Montana Vista Bible study cell groups have been meeting together once a month at a rented high school for worship.
___To support the emphasis on taking the gospel to previously unchurched people in El Paso, Texas Baptists will join local Baptists in "embracing El Paso."
___Abrazando El Paso is a concerted evangelistic effort scheduled Nov. 5-6, prior to the annual session of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. The evangelistic thrust will include fiesta-style block parties, community ministry opportunities, door-to-door canvassing and distribution of "Jesus" videos and Scripture portions, and a Spanish-language evangelistic rally.
___In addition to church planting and evangelism, El Paso Baptist Association also has placed special emphasis on prayer, equipping leaders and promoting church health.
___"We have mobilized our pastors to pray and fast for one-and-a-half hours one day each month," Pena said. The association also schedules prayer focus rallies and conferences.
___To achieve the goal of developing discipled leaders, the association created the Borderland Leadership Center. Working in partnership with the Texas Baptist Leadership Center, the local entity schedules training opportunities for church leaders.


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