Every time I’m in town visiting one of my close friends who lives within walking distance, I love worshiping with her at this congregation. The Temple Terrace church of Christ has long been a beacon of light, both for the preachers they support and the young people within walking distance of Florida College. They are always ready to go the extra mile and consistently check-in to see if there is anything we visitors need, and we came pretty close to needing a place to "shelter" — only not the spiritual shelter so many souls have found in this loving family of God, but in our case, quite physically! I'll explain.
When Mark and I had passed the city line into the town of Tampa, just a few miles before we could even land at the Temple Terrace church of Christ for Bible class, a "once every 25 years" tornado warning blared loudly on both our phones telling us to “find shelter immediately”. We didn’t say anything to each other, because whenever I say anything to Mark during a crisis he is always silent so he can focus on whatever the issue is.
I didn’t see any cars on the highway pulling over or collectively exiting the highways (if that’s what you do), so I texted my local friend, Janice McDonald, for some advice, not really realizing the rarity of a tornado in Tampa. She brought up her radar app to tell us which direction destruction was spinning — which happened to be opposite from the direction we were traveling, thank heaven.
I have to be honest here — the irony of this happening I found totally hysterical because in 2018 we’d researched the whole country to choose a location to purchase a rental to get out of some capital gains tax, and in the end, selected one in Wesley Chapel, Florida, near Tampa. This was only after talking Mark through his nervousness about one day living near Tampa, the “lightning capital of the world”, with its hurricane zone and, not to mention, its sinkholes. The fact that just as we enter the city limits and before we can even park at the Temple Terrace church building, emergency alarms go off on our phones, was classic.
After a good class, we were greeted by fellow Pacific Northwesterners, Abby Mountford and Minerva Holk, the latter of whom had just been hired at Florida College to run the new nursing program there. It was a joy to see much-loved familiar faces. As we mingled more, I met Kim Keenan, an evangelist’s wife who, after some introductory exchanges, began to describe a wonderful string of baptisms that had occurred recently, many of which were related to each other and one of which we were delighted to witness while visiting. When Kim introduced me to her husband, Kerry, he elaborated more on all the new babes in Christ and walked Mark and me over to the bulletin board in the hall that had reports of many of the preachers that they support all over and even outside the country that had also had a surge of open hearts ready to make peace with and enter into a relationship with their Father in heaven during the COVID pandemic. Among them was Gregory L. Whipple who runs a prison ministry that had another three baptisms in March during the pandemic to add to the over twenty men who were baptized in the past two years. Of the “white unto harvest” variety, the church’s report in West Harlem from August through October was exceptional. For your encouragement, they were kind enough to allow me to share this congregation’s wonderful report:
“Since my last letter, I am happy to report that there has been much more of the same incredible growth in God’s Kingdom here in the Northeast. Almost all of the people who were baptized into Christ in my last report continue to be very involved in the work here- being part of multiple studies throughout the week, bringing others to Bible studies, and reaching out and evangelizing in their daily lives. Many of them have been coming every Sunday to worship with us at West Harlem.
Isaiah, Jonathan, Alyssa, Nicole have continued to be actively involved in preaching the Word and studying with me and others, and since that time, Matthew, Ricardo, Brittney, Grace, Luis, and some others have also been added to that list of active fellow workers with me in the Gospel. They have helped in bringing each of these new people to Christ (or at least to baptism; many would say they already had a relationship with Him).
A few months ago I got in touch with a man named James; James had been studying with a Bible school online, and when he showed interest in being baptized, the school got in touch with me and asked me to baptize him. The two of us met up and studied for a while, and after the study, I believed James was ready to be baptized. Although James is not a young adult, he has joined the studies that I have been doing with them. James is growing and I am thankful for that.
Another contact that I received from the same online bible school was Dorena. Dorena had been studying the Bible with the school for a couple of months and said she was ready to be baptized. The school got in touch with me and I set up a time to meet with her. The day we met together, I was expecting it to be just her and I, but she also brought with her her son, Bryan, and her nephew, Michael. The four of us studied together at length about baptism, and afterwards, all three were baptized into Christ. That story is a good example of the continual, incredible opportunities that have been handed to me over the past many months; not only with only her but with a plethora of individuals who God has brought into my life. Praise be to God.
Not long after James’ baptism, a teenage girl named Chrisledy came to visit our church on a Sunday. She is a distant relative of Paola, one of our members. Chrisledy heard one sermon, and immediately decided she needed to be baptized. After speaking with Gardner and I for over an hour, we decided to baptize her. Since her baptism, many of the young, new Christians I have mentioned above have taken her under their wings, and she has continued to be an active part of Bible studies, services, and evangelism.
Around that same time, CJ, the grandson of Rosa, a sister here and close friend, was baptized. He is young but seemed to understand the Gospel Message well. He recently moved here from Georgia and we hope that we can encourage him to stay faithful to Jesus.
Keith is an individual I have mentioned in multiple past reports because I have studied on and off with him throughout the years. Recently, Keith surprised me by calling me up one day and telling me that he had realized he needed to be baptized. We got together and studied for a while, and he was baptized... Please pray for him to continue to grow in the Lord.
One of the exciting things that continues to bring new people into my life is two separate studies we are doing throughout the week at Isaiah’s house. On any given day, we have between ten and twenty people there. Some of the people who have come to those studies are Ethan, Savannah, Grace, Cristany, and Sarah. The five of them have all been baptized since coming to that study. Ethan and Savannah were baptized by Isaiah in his home while I was out of town. That was the first time Isaiah had baptized someone, and it was so great to see one of the new Christians I have been teaching now baptizing people he had helped bring to Christ. The studies at Isaiah’s house have been one of the greatest opportunities I have ever had. He and his brother Luis are inviting new people every week, so I am constantly teaching new people the Gospel by just showing up at their house. It has been an incredible thing to witness and experience. I am so thankful for their good work and excitement in bringing people to hear the Word being preached.
One of the people I met through the study at their house was Grace. Grace is about my age (so a little older than the rest of them) and knew Isaiah and some of the others from another church they’d met at. She showed up to a Zoom study that I taught on Thursdays on the book of Acts and she loved it. Two days later, she showed up to an in-person study I do at the building. The Tuesday after, she attended two studies that I did that day. The next day, she came to another; on Thursday she came to two more, and the Saturday after that, she came to the building to study and be baptized. Grace is a great example of the type of people who are coming to Christ right now; hungry, determined, and ready to know and begin their walk with Christ.
Around the same time, a young adult named Joel began visiting our service on Sundays. He was referred to us by a man who attends Sherman- a Spanish church I worked with years ago that is not far away. He was sent to us because his preferred language is English. Joel came to us eager and excited to learn and understand. Tim Bunting began studying with him throughout the week, and a few weeks later, he was baptized. Since his baptism one of the most encouraging things I have seen in him is his evangelistic spirit. He has brought many friends and family with him in the short amount of time he has been with us to the services on Sunday.
The last few months have taught me many things, but one of the most obvious is that it is truly God who gives the growth. Before all of these baptisms, I had been frustrated by the lack of baptisms and fruit in my work. I had been working, teaching, and evangelizing with (seemingly) such little results, and all of the sudden in the past nine months, there have been so many souls brought to Christ. I am still doing the things I have always done, but God has given me a season of harvest and is growing and increasing his kingdom. I am thankful to be a part of it. May we always keep keeping on, focusing on the Kingdom and His work, and trusting Him to bring forth fruit.”
Truly it is "God who gives the growth" and praying daily for a "season of harvest" would avail much. One of the biggest takeaways from this encouraging spiritual field report, is how key a new convert is to sharing his or her good news with the friends and family around him or her. How wise at the time of a new birth as we are handing a towel to a new babe in Christ at their baptism, that we let them know we are immediately ready to open up our schedules to accommodate any Bible studies with anyone they’d love to share the truth with. It's amazing how quickly the kingdom can grow so that "the birds come and perch in its branches" (Matthew 13:32); especially when new converts also attend these studies so that they too feel equipped to soon be able to teach others independently.
Temple Terrace Church of Christ
8001 Temple Terrace Highway
Temple Terrace, FL 33637
(813) 988-4350 | INFO@TTCOC.COM