Treasure Hunt: Searching for the lost in Walnut Springs
Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from the Summer 2010 edition of the Southwestern News. To view the magazine online, visit www.swbts.edu/swnews.
On the Texas map, Farm-to-Market Road 927 and Highway 144 converge in the small town of Walnut Springs to mark a rough “X” nearly 60 miles southwest of Fort Worth. Last year, Jason Sharp and his wife Miranda moved to Walnut Springs in search of lost treasure.
“God doesn’t always have to send you to a large megachurch to fulfill your purpose for God’s glory. He wants to work everywhere. I just want to be obedient to serve Him and share His Word wherever I am.”
Jason and Miranda left their home in Kentucky to begin their ministry training at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in spring 2009. Soon afterward, they moved to Walnut Springs, where Jason was chosen to serve as pastor of Walnut Springs Baptist Church. This spring, Jason led his church through an exposition of Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son in Luke 15.
“It was the lost coin that really got my mind going,” Jason says. In this parable, a woman, with broom in hand, hunts through her house for a missing silver coin. After finding it, she calls her friends and neighbors together. “Rejoice with me,” she cries, “because I have found the silver coin I lost!” Christ, after relating this story, says, “I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:8-10, HCSB).
“When we speak of ‘lostness,’” Jason says, “we need to speak of it in terms of worth. They’re lost because they’re worth something. I want people in the community to know that they’re worth something to God. They’re worth looking for. They’re worth being pursued.”
During the past year, Jason and Miranda have searched for the lost within Walnut Springs’ population of nearly 750 people. On the surface, the town might seem an unlikely site for this treasure hunt.
“It’s rural Texas,” Jason says, noting that most people in the town live below the poverty line and many are out of work. With a substantial Hispanic population, many people in the town also come from a Catholic background.
“Sharing Christ in that dynamic a lot of times is like living on the mission field,” Jason says. “Texas is part of the Bible Belt, but a lot of times we feel like we’re in another country.”
Of course, international mission work is not unfamiliar to the Sharps, who have volunteered for independent, short-term mission work with the International Mission Board, most recently serving in West Africa in December 2009. But they do not hesitate to share the Gospel wherever God leads them, whether Africa, the inner city, or rural Texas.
“God doesn’t always have to send you to a large megachurch to fulfill your purpose for God’s glory,” Jason says. “He wants to work everywhere. I just want to be obedient to serve Him and share His Word wherever I am.”
This passion for reaching people with the Gospel is what attracted the Sharps to Southwestern Seminary: “The reason we came to Southwestern,” Jason says, “was because of its evangelism and missions emphasis. … The mantra at Southwestern is ‘As you go, preach. As we go, preach.’
“In his evangelism class, Dr. Mills (assistant professor of evangelism) made a comment that you should share the Gospel with everyone you have a conversation with.”
Jason and Miranda have tried to follow Mills’ advice, and, in recent months, they have seen God work among the people of Walnut Springs. Throughout the past year, they have made multiple evangelistic visits to every home in the community. They have also sought every opportunity to open their home to people and get out into the community. Their church has hosted events during holidays and after football games, and Jason has worked as a substitute teacher in the local school district in order to meet teachers, students, and their families. The church is also planning a local mission initiative for summer 2011, in which they will help their neighbors with needed renovations and maintenance on their homes and yards.
As a result of their efforts, nearly 30 people have professed faith in Christ and have been baptized at Walnut Springs Baptist Church during the past six months. Previously, the church had not baptized more than 28 people in one year, which had happened in 1993.
Among the new believers in Walnut Springs are Sylvia and her son, Jordan. While knocking on doors in the community, Miranda led Sylvia to Christ without the knowledge of her son. Soon afterward, Jason led Jordan to Christ, but Jordan hesitated to announce his newfound faith to his family because of their Catholic heritage. Jason encouraged him to stand firm in his faith and tell his family about this decision. When Jordan went home that night, his mom immediately told him about her decision to follow Christ. Only afterward did Jason and Miranda realize that Sylvia and Jordan were related.
“You shouldn’t set a limit on what God can do,” Jason says. “The more people we lead to Christ, it’s changing the dynamic of this town. You see a difference. It’s changing the culture, in a sense.”
The youth group at Walnut Springs Baptist Church is also changing. Shortly after the Sharps began their work in Walnut Springs, the church lost their youth minister. Since that time, several men and women from the church have worked with the youth group.
“There was a season right after our youth minister resigned,” Miranda says, “when I would go to the youth building and unlock it every Wednesday, and I would wait. Nobody would show up, and I would lock it back, and I would go to church. But then there came a time when three or four of them trickled in, and that was the base that God used to really grow it, and now we have 20 coming every Wednesday night.”
The youth began by learning the basics of the Christian life: how to pray, how to study the Bible, and where to find verses and chapters in the Bible.
“These are kids who have not had a background in Christianity,” Miranda says. She and some other ladies from the church work with the girls in the youth group, teaching them especially about purity.
“We just did something with some of the girls that participated in True Love Waits,” Miranda says. “We did something that we called ‘Modest is Hottest.’ We took them to some retail shops, and we showed them how to be cute and trendy but also modest. That was a good day of just mentoring and fellowship.”
The youth are also learning how to share the message of Christ with their peers. They are discovering the nature of their identity in Christ, and they are excited about it, Jason and Miranda say.
According to Jason, a growing evangelistic fervor has permeated the rest of the church as well. Church members have become more excited about evangelism and more active in sharing their faith with others. Jason has led the church in evangelism training, and he invited professor David Mills to lead in further evangelism training during one weekend. Jason and Miranda also make a point to take church members with them whenever they practice door-to-door evangelism.
Through their own evangelistic experiences in Walnut Springs, Jason and Miranda have discovered the importance of persistence. When they first began to share Christ’s love in the community, they visited dozens of houses only to find closed doors. “But God is opening them now,” Miranda says. “You just have to keep going back.”
“I think that God pursues us,” a truth Jason sees displayed in Christ’s parable of the lost coin. “And I think that we’ve got to take on the characteristic of God and pursue the lost, too.” In doing so, Jason and Miranda are seeing that persistence pays off, and they are discovering treasure one repentant sinner at a time.