Should We Build?
Not too long ago, I stared wide-eyed at a map in the latest Avant Ministries magazine. The unusual map colored in vivid detail the global status of evangelical Christianity. I was not surprised by the coloration in the 10/40 window. The visual picture of this area, contrasted with other areas of higher evangelical influence only tugged at my missionary yearnings.
But then I looked at America in the map and noticed a huge, gaping hole in the landscape of our great country. It looked like Ground Zero, a spiritual wasteland, relatively untouched, a missionary frontier existing between Colorado and California but above Arizona. The IMB map colored this area exactly like the 10/40 window. I exhaled slowly, forcing my eyes to blink.
For a minute, I just sat there, a cacophony of emotions. To be perfectly honest, like a sinful doubter, I questioned the sovereign, majestic God. “Where are You in the Intermountain West? How come You aren’t causing the Gentiles, who blindly think they are the true Israel, to glorify You for Your mercy? How is it that the darkness is not overcoming the light?” Wretched discord and disbelief were seeking to fracture my puny, mortal manhood.
For a moment, let me help you peer into a little window of the Intermountain West. In Ammon, Idaho (a small community of 10,000 people outside of Idaho Falls), wards are busting at the seams on Sunday mornings, creating the continual need for building more chapels. Each ward teaches and marches to the drum of the same curriculum. There is no centering upon personalities. If a chapel experiences over 500 in attendance, it is time to build a new one.
Utah is the state that pulsates with over 4,000 local Latter-Day Saints (LDS) congregations. But don’t think they are lifeless or listless. Parking lots are jammed every Sunday. The 2,389,000 LDS in Utah enter doors of chapels each weekend to mingle with about 300 to 500 others.
Southeastern Idaho carries the majority of the 876 wards (376,661 LDS members) in its state. In fact, my city of residence, the Idaho Falls area, roughly consists of about 11% of the total LDS local congregations in Idaho. I am figuring that the LDS church will not rest, will not tire, will not be distracted in this decade until they have 1,000 local LDS wards situated in the approximate 100 square miles of Southeastern Idaho. Just imagine 1,000 local churches within 100 miles of each other, all teaching the same Scripture lesson on Sunday mornings. Talk about religious unity.
How does one outside the LDS fold in the Intermountain West even compete with “the Church”? The buildings are beautiful. The programs are proactive. And financial prosperity accelerates in Mormon country. Harris H. Simmons, chairman, president, and CEO of Zions Bancorporation, makes $750,000 a year. Even in Utah academia, things aren’t too bad. Michael Young, president of the University of Utah, pulls in $316,000 a year.
Within the massive land area of spiritual Ground Zero, the Mormon window in America, there must be a foundational, missionary passion over the truth expressed in one inspired sentence---John 1:5. Certainly, unbelievers in themselves cannot fully comprehend light but only reject it. But neither shall the darkness ever overcome the light. And in the multi-layers of bright, ornate religion built upon the foundation of an inward God-consciousness, it the Christ, the Word, the Light, who must rise up as the towering, infinite peak from the LDS western man’s construction of henotheism.
Here out in “Ground Zero,” please come visit one of my buddies or me. You don’t need a visa, malaria shots (though Idaho has been ranked the highest in the country for the West Nile virus), or a foreign language class.
- Pastor Colan Deatherage (age 34 and perhaps SI lurker from time to time) of Pocatello Baptist Church in Pocatello, Idaho. Several years ago, his daddy, Jim Deatherage, a deacon in my church family, engineered a 40’ by 50’ auditorium addition for their meetinghouse. And then two years ago, Colan started a Christian school. If you desire to be a pioneer Christian schoolteacher on the Western frontier, here is your chance. They do have a handful of students.
- Pastor John Lovegrove (age 70 and perhaps SI lurker from time to time) lives in Idaho Falls. He is on the verge of a new church plant in Shelley, Idaho, outside the southern outskirts of Idaho Falls. He is the senior among our crew and a faithful hero to me.
- Pastor Jason Ehmann (age 28 and SI lurker) of Bethel Baptist Church in Rigby, Idaho. The church is finishing a 5,616-square-foot new building addition (engineered by Jim Deatherage) to the existing log chapel facilities. God is doing His miracles in the heart of Rigby.
- Pastor Joe Lacy (age 33 and SI lurker) of Grace Baptist Church in Rexburg, Idaho. I am excited about how God will be exalting His name in future days right in one of America’s greatest bastions for Mormonism.
- Pastor Ray Hatfield, the one single in Joe’s church, now trying to start a Bible study in Victor, Idaho. In Idaho, you are the singles' ministry.
- Pastor Chris Leavell (age 28 and SI poster) of Berean Baptist Church in Ashton, Idaho. Check out his personal blog (http://www.leavell-ashton.blogspot.com/) that shares his story in full color.
Actually, I have lots of pleas. I need a group, not just lone individuals, but a team of graduate students who are ready for earnest, loving apologetics engagement. For the summer of 2007, move your passionate roundtable discussions on bibliology, theology, Christology, anthropology, hamartiology, and soteriology from the classrooms in seminary to the neighborhood apartments of Rexburg filled with intellectually sharp BYU students. Ever since the Harvard Dean of the School of Business became president of the new BYU-Idaho, the need for building apartments has exploded in Rexburg. I need you to come live, setting up headquarters in one of the multi-dwelling residences. You will have the extensive BYU library for your research and understanding and then the whole city filled with kind, friendly people for conversation and Gospel interaction, each individual unique on his own personal beliefs within the world of Mormonism. I guarantee it will be a “summer seminary class” worth its weight in gold for fleshing out your contemporary apologetics training. I will be your coordinator for the summer---mail you a required reading list for our study, pick you up in Salt Lake City if you fly, provide instructions and a tour of the spiritual mecca in the West, and then transport you to the small, booming Rexburg town of thousands, well over 90% LDS. It is one of those unique apologetics opportunities that you will experience in a lifetime. In 2007, when the new temple is dedicated in Rexburg, some of the countries most outspoken lay Christian apologists/missionaries (some good, some not so good) to Mormons will be on the streets.
And if you are not in seminary but on a master’s track in business, please come with your seminary buddies. Future church planters need future business professionals. Your required reading will be The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1989) by Stephen Covey, listed by Time magazine to be among the 25 most influential Americans. In 2003, he received the National Fatherhood Award as outstanding father of nine and grandfather of forty-four. And while you are reading, please peruse three chapters in the book You’ve Got To Read This Book! (NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006). Two of the fifty-five people interviewed in the volume list Covey’s book as having the number-one impact in their lives, one of them being the chief operating officer of eBay, Inc. Also, one full chapter features Stephen Covey, sharing the two books that influenced his life the most. And to add to your summer experience, we would seek to set up a friendly appointment for inquiry and conversation with two brilliant men, the president of BYU-Idaho and Stephen Covey.
Likewise, I need Dave Barba to bring “This Phone’s For You” to Rexburg. We need a crew of college students to cover Rexburg’s 18,000 people with phone calls, advertising the ministry of the twenty people worshipping the true, omnipotent God under the local name, Grace Baptist Church.
I need Mike Washer and his basketball ministry to spend a week in Southeastern Idaho in the summer of 2007, scheduling day tournaments in the four public high schools in Idaho Falls, one in Rigby, and then finishing at the high school in Rexburg.
I need traveling evangelist Will Galkin, with some prospective church planters under his wing in the team, for a month excursion in the summer of 2007, ministering three days in each town: Pocatello, Blackfoot, Shelley, Idaho Falls, Rigby, Rexburg, and finally Ashton. Are there those who would like to financially support this endeavor?
I could go on and on with pleas for looking with vision to the spiritual Ground Zero of America.
I save the best for last.
You need to pray. Without your prayers, we are sunk. For the last forty years, we have only been on the first page. F.B. Meyer once wrote, “The greatest tragedy is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.”
Order a free Global Status of Christianity Map from IMB. You can receive up to ten. Stick it up in your missions office, church office, or wherever you have your devotions; and please start praying for our neck of the woods alongside other areas. It is time to build on America’s spiritual Ground Zero for the glory of God through our prayers.
Todd Wood is pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He received his B.A. in Missions, M.A. in Theology, and M.Div. from Bob Jones University. But more than anything he hungers for the A.I.G. degree affixed to Apelles (Rom. 16:10). Todd and his church family, Berean Baptist Church, will be sponsoring the upcoming church planting conference (Sept. 25-27), "Is There Not a Cause?"