Criswell students find divine appointments in Phoenix
Written by Clinton Wolf, TEXAN Correspondent
Phoenix, Arizona, June 24, 2011 —
Criswell College student Esther Jeong’s eyes teared up as she talked about her stay in Maricopa, Ariz., a growing desert community 45 minutes south of Phoenix. A South Korean native and single mother of two college students, Jeong clearly saw God’s plan for her to stay with her host family here during this year’s SBC Crossover evangelistic event. The day after her arrival, Jeong spoke with Jannett Large, the mother in this blended family home, about the importance of marriage, and Jannett began to weep.
Jeong remembered Jannett saying she had intended to return to Mexico and never come back but the commitment to host a student delayed that plan. She told Jeong of a dream she had of being close to the Mexican border and being stopped by a women who told her she was going the wrong way and needed to turn around, advising her to simply follow her. The next morning Jannett told her husband that about a strange dream and needed to stay and see what God had for her.
Despite Jannett’s unusual story, Jeong was not surprised. Even before arriving, the Lord had also been preparing the Criswell student for what would prove to be a fruitful four days. “When I arrived in the home, I realized they were Hispanic, and it shocked me,” she explained, recalling that one of her close friends had recently shared her own dream of Jeong bringing many Hispanic people to a house. “So I thought, ‘OK, there must be something happening here.’”
Jeong is one of six Criswell students who participated in Crossover through the school’s Encounter Missions program. The students, along with program director Bobby Worthington, partnered with Jay Gjurgevich, an Arizona native and pastor of newly planted Waypoint Church in Maricopa who had previously served on the staff of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth. The church meets in a school building in a development of about 2,000 homes and now has about 70 in attendance, including Jannett and her family. One of a dozen churches that this year’s Crossover organizers hope to see strengthened through the evangelistic outreach, Waypoint was begun two years ago by 10 members of Foothills Baptist Church in Ahwatukee, Ariz.
With another new believer ready to be baptized, the church made plans to gather at the home of Wil and Jannett Large for an afternoon fellowship and baptismal service in the family’s backyard pool. On the day prior to the event, Jeong talked further with Jannett to confirm her conversion experience and explained the need for biblical baptism. “I said to her, ‘Why don’t you proclaim you are a Christian through baptism? You must proclaim who you are,’” Jeong recalled. “I told her, ‘Baptism is not the time of salvation, but it is the time of proclamation.’”
While Jannett considered the matter, Jeong took the family’s 12-year-old son Devon along to knock on doors, inviting residents to visit the church. “He was evangelizing door to door in his community,” Jeong explained. “He knew the Lord, and everybody knew him.” After further conversation with the pastor, both Jannett and Devon recognized their need for baptism, and participated in the ordinance as the church gathered at their swimming pool. As Jannett came up out of the waters, she was embraced by Jeong who declared, “I am your big sister now.”
During the time in Maricopa, Criswell students visited nearly 600 homes in the area, hosted a free car wash and a parents’ night out, providing additional opportunities for spiritually directed conversations. In his sermon on Sunday morning, Gjurgevich told the congregation how God had used the Criswell team to refocus the church on its community. “We understood early on as a church that we must get outside the walls of the church,” he shared. “We must go out and live it out.”
Gjurgevich told the TEXAN, “When we began, there were only 10 of us, so there was an urgency for outreach because we knew if we didn’t do outreach, there wouldn’t be a church.” Through the involvement of Criswell students that original passion was renewed, he said. “There was inspiration and encouragement in watching their excitement, so it was good for me and for those who worked alongside them.”
Worthington saw many examples of God’s hand in directing the team. “I tell the students, ‘If there is one thing you should learn this week, it is that prayer and evangelism are linked together,’” Worthington emphasized. “They must be right with the Lord before they minister. And before you speak to someone about the Lord, you must speak to the Lord about them.”
Two other of Worthington’s students found themselves faced with a witnessing opportunity as they went to pray in the convention’s prayer room. Rick Bailey and Darrell Vang noticed a young man serving with the convention center posted at the door across from the prayer room. They approached him and began to talk to him about the Lord. Within minutes, the young man had accepted Christ. Sheila Jones, who serves as prayer coordinator for the Arizona Baptist Convention and for Crossover, watched the interaction as she staffed the prayer room. “I could see what was going on and just sat here smiling,” Jones related. After the pair of students left she saw the change that came over the man. “I could hear him reading Scripture out loud, and then he would look up at the ceiling and smile. I told someone, ‘Look at that young man—he’s a new brother! I just witnessed a birth.’”
Despite their busy ministry schedule, students found time for study as well. Each one enrolled in Criswell’s SBC annual meeting history and practicum course, which includes attendance at the Pastors’ Conference and annual meeting, lectures from Criswell College President Jerry Johnson, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Bruce Ashford, as well as advance study of SBC polity. “The advantage of taking our students to the Southern Baptist Convention for this class is that Baptist history becomes real,” course instructor Andrew Hebert said. “It is a real enhancement to the books they are reading.”
Meanwhile, Jannett and her family continue to rejoice in the faithfulness of the Criswell team in coming to Maricopa. “When we left I told Jannett, ‘Thank you for taking care of Esther for us,’” Worthington said. “But she replied, ‘No, she took care of us!’” Worthington said Jannett’s husband added, “‘Thank you for sending Queen Esther to us.’”
“There is no doubt in my mind that God placed Esther in that home,” Worthington said. “That’s something the Spirit of God does.”