By Susan Belflower

In May, leaders from around the state gathered for Arizona Southern Baptists’ first Town and Country Church Planting Retreat.

Tommy Thomas, North American Mission Board church planting catalyst, and Ken Belflower, Arizona Southern Baptist Convention/NAMB church planting facilitator, had prayerfully designed a retreat to promote a stronger church planting community among the smaller communities of Arizona.

They decided leaders from around our state would come together to build a unique planting strategy for the town and country areas. Field-driven presentations on particular ministry areas would be vital in beginning a discussion of this stronger church planting climate. Thus, the retreat began.

The presentations were essential to the strategy, because the men were speaking about their calling to their unique ministry and what God was actively doing in their lives and in their ministry. At the same time, the need for the strategy became more clear.

The fellowship in the room grew as the testimonies continued and the distance factor (as the leaders came from all over Arizona) faded as they realized opportunities to encourage and visit one another in months to come. Lives of leaders were coming together.

Gary and Martha Ramer have ministered to the gambling community while keeping their basic tenets pure and simple through the years: 1. Be sure you are doing this because you love Him, 2. Rely on the Holy Spirit and His Word, 3, Preach the cross, and 4. Expect opposition.

Josh and Shannon Jennings and their young family have invested their lives in the area around Sedona. Studying the New Age concepts has strengthened Josh’s commitment to be available, be patient, be honest, be ready and be visible.

Jesse and Josephine Billy invest their lives in sharing Christ with Native American peoples. Jesse finds the young Navajos to be more transitory than in previous years. Syncretism has influenced his community, he said.

In Lake Havasu City, David and Julianna Arghir are following God’s call to plant churches in apartment complexes. David can be found sharing Christ as he helps a new tenant move in. “How can we serve you?” has literally opened doors for David.

Steve and Tara Allen lead their church to have a community ministry focus. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings, they distribute food in a nearby park. Tara prepares soup each week to minister to their community the Lord has called them to in Douglas.

Pinal County Cowboy Church in Casa Grande is where Tim and Lori Pruit serve. They minister to the cowboy culture and reach people who might never desire to enter a church building but will gladly come to a rodeo arena.

Prison walls do not keep the gospel out. Churches are being planted inside those walls. Julian’s life was changed forever when He trusted Jesus within those walls at a church plant. Newly released, Julian wants to minister to those he with whom he lived. God is working in the prisons.

The uniqueness of these ministries illustrates so beautifully the Great Commission and the need to reach people in situations we may never have considered. As testimonies were shared, it was evident that God strategically calls men and women, equips them for that ministry, and walks beside them as they serve.

The Town and Country Church Planting Retreat proved to be an avenue to build a stronger climate for church planting in the rural areas of Arizona.