Encouragement in Evangelization

Encouragement in Evangelization

By Charles Smith

Featured Contributor

My great grand uncle, the Rev. Martin Luther Mathews, stands as a giant among those early Wesleyan leaders in the Methodist Protestant Church. He had a burning fire in his heart and a burden to help his fellow man. In fact, everywhere he went he would share the gospel not only in words, but in deeds. One quote that he would use consistently was from a poem, “Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today- -.” (Annie Johnson Flint 1919; The World’s Bible)

Rev. M. L. was born in true pioneer fashion in Johnson County, Arkansas on Sept. 23, 1875 to John J. and Isabelle (Barnette) Mathews. Martin was the eldest of four sons born to the family. Before John J. married Isabelle, he was married to Mary Jemima, in which they had eight children; (one of their daughters Mary E. married my great grandfather, Wiley Bunch). It was the death of his mother in 1888, that brought deep changes to the family. According to M. L., “In losing her (his mother) I lost the most important factor in my life. My father was not a Christian although he did become one later. For four years after Mother’s death, I did not follow her teaching but kept bad company. I had never attended revival meetings for the reason there had been none held in the communities where we had lived.” It was four years after his mother’s passing that he attended his first revival meeting, at the school house in Sevier County in 1892.

The evangelist was a Baptist preacher named Brother Denson, and it was during those meetings, while under deep conviction, M. L. came to surrender his life to the Lord. He became deeply concerned about spiritual matters and at the age of 27, he answered the call to preach. As a preacher, M. L. was a very humble and unassuming gentleman. According to the Rev. L. Gardner Griffin, who penned Sycamore Chapel: A Most Unusual Country Church, “M. L. Mathews did not look the way I expected a conference president to look. His suit was baggy and needed pressing, a condition that I was to see on him many times in the next few years. He was a large, rawboned man with a lined and craggy face, an Abraham Lincoln type but without the whiskers. He had one glass eye that did not always track straight with the natural eye. I don’t know about the others, but I was, to say the least, disappointed. It had been some time since the meeting closed. I was hungry to hear a good sermon and had been expecting one, (sic) but looking at this man I was not at all sure that he could deliver. But … Rev. Mathews was a powerful speaker, and as I came to know in time fully as dedicated as the Rev. Goodnight. That first night his unprepossessing outward appearance was soon forgotten as we were caught up in his message.”

This same attitude was carried in various newspaper clippings concerning different meetings he would conduct at various locations, one article mentioned that the Rev. M. L. Mathews, “…who already held two very successful revivals this year, will begin a two weeks’ meeting at Eagletown Aug. 15, (1920). Professor D.L. Grace will conduct the singing. A great meeting is predicted, signed Revival Committee.” He was a mighty and marvelous messenger of the gospel. It was during his evangelistic excursions that he encountered several that would try to interfere with the meetings and reading his brief autobiography one can see the tact and grit he had to confront and dismiss these situations.

Rev. Mathews not only served as President of the Fort Smith – Oklahoma Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church for 19 years (from 1916-1935); but he served as a minister of the gospel for 60 years. His other accomplishments consisted of, “1,500 conversions, have organized or helped to organize 15 churches; have built or sponsored the building of 17 churches; sponsored the building of three tabernacles for revival work; taught in 11 different schools and had five of his pupils become preachers; licensed 70 individuals to preach and have helped ordained a large number as well.” (autobiography)

His preaching was powerful, but rational and reasonable; the main thrust of his mission was to see men, women, boys and girls saved and sanctified in their service to the Lord. It is no doubt that M. L. would make a deep spiritual impact every time that he would speak about the Lord. I believe the reason why God used him as He did, is the fact that lived in an atmosphere of prayer and always sought after doing the Lord’s work. He desired to be the best he could be by going to the feet of Jesus where the only true scholarship is learned. He would spend many hours with the Holy Bible and desired to read it. He never forgot his humble beginnings and always blessed the continuing work that he did. Even though he passed away before I was born; I know that this is what my great grand uncle has taught me: We as a blood-bought people need to preach the Blood of Christ, the Fire of the Holy Spirit and give our testimony as a witness of what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us.

One thing that I do find quite fascinating is his great love for the History of Holiness, and his meticulous records of research that he shared with authors putting together the history of the Methodist Protestant Church. M. L. also had a chance to hear some of the “great and near great” evangelists in his day, Sam P. Jones, J. B. Culpepper, and even Billy Sunday, the baseball evangelist. I am looking forward to meeting him one day on that golden shore.

Morphing Fears into Blessings

The fear of being alone, looking foolish, revealing the ‘real’ you or any of a million other things can steadily chip away at your soul until you spend a lifetime living in fear. But God wants to take your fears and morph them into blessings. Blessings of growth. Blessings of using your weaknesses to touch others. And blessings of experiencing God helping you deal with whatever happens in your life. So start today. Give God one fear. And let God morph it into an amazing blessing – for God, others or you.  

Called to ServeAlma, Kibler UMC Help City With Two Community Events

Called to Serve
Alma, Kibler UMC Help City With Two Community Events

By Sam Pierce

Featured Contributor

In August of last year, Doug Phillips participated in the Community Development Institute at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. One thing he took away from it is how churches can’t help with community development — or help with economic development — if the town is not connected.

“I started looking around our neighborhood, and in the downtown area of Alma; it is depressed, disjointed and disconnected,” Phillips said. “Our streets are in bad shape, and our sidewalks are in bad shape.

“The city was making a big multi-million investment for downtown but had nothing happening downtown. With our church, being situated where it is, it is our obligation to help the community start bringing people together in this area.”

Phillips is the senior pastor at Alma First United Methodist Church and Kibler United Methodist Church. Together with area businesses, such as the local downtown library as well as the city’s chamber of commerce and other investors, was able to organize one of the city’s largest fall festivals last year.

“We had so many churches, probably 15 or more churches that came out, as well as several businesses,” Phillips said. “We just had so much diversity that night and so much fun – I didn’t realize the community had been so disjointed – but we were able to do something big.

“It was a really cool thing to see.”

Now, the church and the city have partnered again for the first-ever Liberty Festival, which will take place July 6 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Alma Lake and Park. The fireworks will begin at 9:15. Phillips believes even more people will show up for the Liberty Festival.

“I think, for the naysayers, they believed (the fall festival) is an event that wouldn’t have the success it did,” Phillips said. “Now that they’ve seen it, they are on board.

“… The problem is, churches, businesses and city departments even, feel like they are competing against each other. Churches are competing for people, and they do different events and fundraisers, but we are pulling from the same group of folks.

“For our fall festival, we relied on the generosity of others. They saw something that was equitable and an enjoyable event and something they could use to help promote their business or church. We weren’t competing that night.”

Phillips said despite the event having to be moved inside because of the weather, every business or organization had the same space and same opportunity to set up a booth. He said it was essential to making sure the event was fair to everyone. For the city to succeed, everyone has to be an equal player, he said.

“We have had more participation than the fall festival,” he said. “People see that we aren’t competing but see it as an opportunity to promote themselves, right along with everyone else.”

For example, Phillips said one day he was sitting in his office, struggling to figure out how he was going to promote the Liberty Festival, when he received a phone call from a local advertising company.

“He came up with sponsorship packages, T-shirts, and marketing information, and he did this pro-bono,” Phillips said. “He lives in Alma, and he believes in what we are doing. He did it not to promote his business, but to promote his town, because he loves his community.

Rev. Doug Phillips poses with another volunteer, both dressed in costumes for the fall festival. || Photo by Alma UMC

Jessica Blassingame is the administrative assistant at Alma FUMC and her husband, Larry, has lived in the city his entire life. She said it took someone like Phillips to finally put events like these in motion.

“I think (the fall festival) provided a safe environment, and sometimes it just takes someone to have an idea for it to grow,” Blassingame said. “That was the biggest part of why it was successful. Doug had a passion for making Alma have something like this.

“That’s why he was asked to be a part of the Liberty Festival – because of how well the turnout was.”

She said Phillips has done a great job of coming up with different ways of how the church can be involved and how it can impact the community.

Blassingame said for both festivals, she has worked mostly as the behind-the-scenes coordinator.

“We had to change the venue because of inclement weather, and fit everyone into a building – it was a little crazy,” she said. “We had to make sure we had enough room for everybody and make sure everyone had what they needed.

“We had a lot more people than we anticipated.”

Blassingame was a volunteer for the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Foundation for 10 years and said it was there where she gained a lot of experience for coordinating events.

“I imagine we are going to have quite a few people at the Liberty Festival,” she said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the people there volunteering.”

For last year’s fall festival, Phillips said there was no way to tell exactly how many people were in attendance. But he said Southside Baptist Church gave out 5,000 pieces of candy and another business gave out 1,000 hot dogs within the hour.

“We were so cramped in there, the city showed up to help out with everything,” he said. “Cars were stuck in the grass, there was no place to park near the facility – people were parking a mile away and walking. And still, parking lots were completely full.”

He said Alma’s population is between 4,000 to 5,000, and he estimated there were close to 3,000 people in attendance at the event.

“The largest part of our downtown is impoverished,” Phillips said. “So we had some who walked across the road to get there, get food or candy and have fun. There was nothing there they had to buy – sodas, popcorn, games – it was all free.”

He said even though it was pouring down rain, people weren’t cranky, they were excited.

“We had all the ingredients for potentially grumpy people, but people were just happy to have somewhere safe and fun to take kids,” Phillips said.

The Fourth of July celebration is free and open to the public, but it will feature six food vendors and a tug of war competition between the fire department and police department and a bunch of inflatable bounce attractions, according to Phillips.

He said they are going to have a dunk tank set up with the mayor from Greenwood. Donations earned from it will go toward a trail system that the city is trying to implement.

“Greenwood and Alma are old rivals,” Phillips said. “So both mayors agreed to sit in each other’s dunk tanks.”

Phillips said in trying to build relationships and trying to bring all the pieces together, it could not happen without the spirit of God.

“I think everyone in my church is trying to communicate the same message,” he said. “We do this because we are living our faith; this is something we were called to do.

“There is no doubt there are miraculous things here.”

Valley Moments

You want to believe that every problem is an opportunity for God to take life’s worst and turn it into God’s best. But it’s hard sometimes. In fact, it often seems impossible when you’re so depressed by the disappointment, depleted by the problem or derailed by the crisis that you’ve got nothing left to wait for God to go to work. And if that’s not a big enough burden, you also begin to question God’s love. But remember: it’s in your lowest valley moments that God’s grace will make itself known in the most amazing ways.

Pray

Ask questions. Give it your all. Seek to grow. Understand the other’s perspective. Try to make a bad situation better. Forgive someone when you don’t want to. Make the tough decision. Never give up. And every time you do, make sure you pray, pray some more and then pray even more. Not to get God to do what you want, tell God how to run the world or prove how righteous you are. But simply because it’s the best way to be in relationship with God who wants to be in relationship with you every moment forever.