Extra headerMay 2020

New York minister serving "least of these" during pandemic

The challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic have struck everyone, but perhaps none are feeling it exactly like the world's ministers. Forced to close church doors and conduct church services via technology or other means, pastors and other staff are having to be creative to continue their work.

Fortunately, that's nothing new for Stephen Trainer and his family, church planters in New Stephen ministering on subwaysYork City with the Graffiti Fellowship Church. Just two months ago, Stephen's ministry looked vastly different than it does now, but Graffiti is continuing to make a big impact on their neighborhood.

"God impressed us very early on that we needed to go to a place where other people are not called to or to the harder places. We are serving a part of Brooklyn that is one of the three most impoverished communities in NYC, in Coney Island," says Stephen, a 2014 graduate of WBU Online, and executive pastor since 2015. "Our folks are largely the homeless, near homeless, chemically addicted, with a little mental illness sprinkled in there.

"How do you come to one of the most impoverished communities and make the gospel available? You have to meet the need first. When the base survival needs are unmet, that's all people can focus on. We can't just go out on the street and tell people they need Jesus. They DO need Jesus. But they are not at a place where they can hear that. But when you meet that need first, now you have a place to move forward from and a relationship."

Taking it to the streets

In post-COVID Coney Island, that has meant shifting their three-times-weekly community meals from a congregational gathering to sack lunches delivered in person to members and others on the streets. And with the jobless rates up and poverty soaring, that has also grown to an everyday activity.

"A lot of our folks are just out on the streets, so I know what bus stops to visit and find 3-4 of my people there at each one because they don't have anywhere else to go. We've been just making the rounds in the neighborhood, just meeting the immediate felt needs for our folks and the community," Stephen said, noting that the delivery consists of a sack lunch as well as a face mask (now mandated by the state for those out in public) and a sanitary hand wipes.

Sean helping with lunch bagsHe's also ramped up outreach efforts in partnership with a group called Guardian Angels NYC, a volunteer group started in 1979 to patrol the transit system in an effort to curtail crime. While Stephen has been working with the group for a few years, he's spent more time of late alongside them taking meals and ministering to those who call the subways and train stations their home.

"These folks are at great risk for a number of things during the best of times, but think of their vulnerability during this pandemic," Stephen says. "The PSAs that go out are reminding us how to properly wash our hands, but what about those without access to running water and soap? Life was hard for these folks before Coronavirus, and now it's even harder."

Taking the faith leap

Serving a population with such challenges, in an area where poverty and crime are nothing new, is not something Stephen ever imagined as a young man, but it's where he feels confident that God has planted the family. But he admits not everyone had that confidence.

"Some very smart people that I respect a great deal told us early on that it was the wrong community to plant a church… it was too poor, too dangerous. We disagreed on all those things and said this is where God is calling us; we're trusting God to bring the miracle," he says. "To be able to gather 40 believers who have come from a place of perceived hopelessness in an environment that others said was impossible, we're really celebrating what God has done and will do."

Building on his background in education, Stephen said their first step on arriving in Brooklyn was to start Graffiti Ministries Learning Center. Since at least half of the adults in the neighborhoods lack a high school diploma, the family felt meeting that need was crucial to building relationships and opening the door for the gospel. The center offers GED classes that last ten months or more, as well as English language classes that run in shorter cohorts based on skill levels. They also offer programming for children, both during school and in a day camp format during the summer months. All of these have had to transition to online formats during the quarantine, but the needs are being met as best they are able.

Graffiti Fellowship Church has not had such an easy transition. Since most of Stephen's congregation are homeless or near homeless, their access to technology is severely limited, and most simply are unable to live-stream an hour church service. Stephen's teaching pastor, Matthew Galyon, has begun recording short devotional segments on videos uploaded to Facebook. A musician records brief worship interludes, and the staff hosted a "virtual prayer walk" of the community on Facebook recently as well.

"We know all of our folks aren't connected, so we're going really old school now… making phone calls, sending stuff out in snail mail, and delivering items," Stephen notes.

Journey to the call

Life as he now knows it is a far cry from Stephen's childhood as the son of a military father originally from Scotland and an American mother. New York was home until the family began moving for military assignments, and eventually Stephen found himself in north Texas, specifically the Weatherford area.

"I wasn't raised in a Christian household, but I believe God brought me to north Texas to hear the Gospel," Stephen recalls. "I was discipled by some churches there as a young man. I had some family obligations here in New York and was a healthcare proxy for my grandmother, so I found myself here at least once a month.

"I spent so much time here and began to view the city through a lens of faith. God used that to help me understand how needed the gospel is here… and how much kingdom impact the gospel can have here. This is one of the most strategic cities with a unique role to play. That set us on a trajectory of planting a church here in 2015."

Prior to that, Stephen was teaching automotive technology at Weatherford High School and serving bivocationally in youth ministry. That's when he stumbled upon Wayland in pursuit of the coursework needed for teaching certification.

"Wayland was one of the few alternative teacher certificate programs I could find in Texas," notes Stephen. "I had such a good experience with them that I decided to stay on and finish my undergrad with Wayland."

Stephen is currently pursuing a master's degree in public administration at Baruch College. He Stephen and Carrie Trainer and his wife Carrie have three sons - Ryan, 10, Liam, 7, and Sean, 4 - and are expecting a baby girl in September. The entire family is involved in ministry, with the boys even helping assemble sack lunches each morning before Stephen delivers them to members.

Growth and reward

Recently, the church added a teaching pastor that will allow Stephen to take on more of an administrative role and oversee the opening of another branch church in nearby Brownsville, another area of great need. And while work in the trenches is definitely challenging, he knows they are all in the right place.

"There are plenty of moments - and even days - where you think, 'this is insane; what are we doing?' But what grounds us and keeps us tethered, reminding us this is where God's called us to be, is when we meet people like John, who hadn't eaten in four days and now he's serving and leading in his own way," Stephen says. "Just before he passed away, he was being rushed into an emergency surgery and he knew the prognosis wasn't good. From the gurney, he called me.

"It's a big kingdom, and God's not relying upon me only. If not us, God would bring somebody in. But without someone doing this, who would John call? Who would be that person in his life?"

To learn more about Graffiti Fellowship and their ministry work, visit https://graffitifellowship.org/.


Alum uses 25 years of intelligence skills to serve ministry

One particular verse in 1 Peter 4 has always stood out to Steve Franklin: "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace."

For a man who spent years in the U.S. military then in civil service in intelligence, that might seem to be a tough transition. But for Steve, a 1998 graduate of the Phoenix campus, nothing in life is a coincidence. In his current role as senior security specialist for Compassion International, he has brought decades of skills to the table, all for the benefit of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Headquartered in Colorado Springs, Compassion is a Christian organization that secures Steven Franklin on site in Burkina Faso sponsorship for children in some of the poorest nations around the world. As of 2019, Compassion has two million sponsored children across 25 countries, with more still seeking families to help meet their physical needs, provide educational assistance and biblical training, along with some vocational training, hygiene programs and community solar installation and sustainability initiatives. All for $38 a month.

"It's the best 38 bucks you can spend," says Steve, who joined the staff of Compassion in January 2018, relocating his family back to the mountain area they had previously called home. He and wife Tracy, a 2005 WBU graduate, each sponsor a Compassion child themselves.

The road to Compassion

Steve's journey to Compassion is a winding one, starting with his Methodist upbringing in Southern California. His first college foray only lasted a semester, then he was back home working for his father, attending community college and dating the woman who would one day be his bride. After the Franklins married, they opted to join the U.S. Army, going into the military intelligence field.

"This was the early 1990s, and in that time the U.S. was in Somalia and we were assigned to the higher headquarters that covered the Middle East and the Horn of Africa," recalls Steve. "That was my first exposure to Africa in a real way, supporting the mission going on there. I enjoyed learning about Africa and really developed a heart for it."

Once their time in the service was done, Steve moved into contracted work with Lockheed Martin in the Phoenix Area, opting then to complete his degree at the Wayland campus on Luke Air Force Base. He earned a degree in criminal justice, thinking his future would be in federal law enforcement.

Along the way, Steve said his Wayland experience grew his faith, noting it was Bible professor Dr. Dallas Bivins who "brought the gospel to life." Center director Dr. Charles Jinks invited the Franklins to the Baptist church where he was pastoring and that faith walk deepened.

The itch for fulfillment

After graduation, Steve went back into intelligence as a civilian for the Department of Defense, accumulating a total of 25 years in the field and numerous moves both overseas and within the U.S. In his final stop in Washington, D.C., he began to yearn for more.

"I was at the top of the GS pay scale but still wasn't being fulfilled by what I was doing. I realize Steven and Tracy Franklin and sonsthat was God's calling to find something else. As I was going through my job search I saw this job as a senior security specialist for Africa at Compassion International," recalls Steve. "Most of my DOD assignments steered back toward the Africa mission, and I was assigned to that command for a while. I realized that everything I had done was God's preparation to do this new thing to further His kingdom."

In joining the staff of Compassion, Steve had his entire idea of ministry turned on its side.

"When I thought about ministry, I thought about guys like Charles giving a sermon on Sunday. But I realized that God wants all of us - whether we're soldiers or intelligence analysts or whatever - to use our gifts to further the kingdom, and I realized it was something I was being called to do. I am able to use the knowledge I learned over 25 years to further Compassion's mission and keep our employees and the people who live and work in Africa safe and provide warning when things are not great so we can protect the kids there and keep everyone as safe as we possibly can."

The rewards of service

Steve's work is to monitor the eight African countries in which Compassion works as well as those surrounding them to guard the ministry from any security problems or potential issues. He follows crime, terrorism and civil unrest in these nations and communicates regularly with local national staff who can prepare and adjust as necessary to keep the children and employees safe. Training is another big part of his job, as he prepares headquarters staff to travel for program implementation and others - including sponsors themselves - for mission trips to the service areas. Knowing the current security environment is crucial so they travel safely and can guard themselves from potential trouble.

"It is an incredibly rewarding job. I love going to the project sites since the kids all have huge smiles on their faces; they love being there," says Steve, who has visited seven of the eight countries he monitors. "When we do get out in the field and see the kids… we know they are known by the staff there, and they are known by their sponsors who write them letters. They know they are loved, and someone is there to give them a hug and help them out. And they are cared for; they are getting meals, instruction and help with schoolwork."

While in those countries, Steve has done security assessments of the buildings to make sure they are at the proper level of security. He has also conducted training for field staff who are most exposed to threats. Leaders get a snapshot of what security looks like in a country when they visit project sites as well. All are aimed at making sure staff are also known, loved and cared for as they serve in Jesus' name.

The current challenges of COVID-19 mean that group activities have been replaced by home visits when possible or phone/online check-ins from staff to families and children to make sure basic needs are being met during this time. Staff are able to use funding to sustain families until standard programming is able to be restarted in churches and community centers.

"The kids get their letters when they go to the program, and that is an important thing for them to see," Steve says. "The staff is able to get out and deliver letters to the kids so they continue to feel known and loved and that we are still here for them during this time."

Steve and Tracy have two sons: Max, 20, a college student in Colorado; and Joe, 17, a high school junior. Tracy works as a project accountant for Accenture, a defense contractor.


Devotional: Chaos brings time to examine our focus

My husband and I were on a cruise a few years ago, thoroughly enjoying the tropical scenery, the fun activities and, of course, the delicious, endless food. Then one morning we were awakened by a horrible rocking and pitching of the boat that threatened to make us toss our cookies. In our cheap, lower-level room at the bow of the ship, we were feeling every blow of a tropical storm. There was literally nothing we could do but go back to sleep until the storm passed.

By the next morning around nine, the ship had cleared the storm and we could all come out of our shelters and try to continue our trip as usual. There was no real damage, and all we lost was a few hours awake. No big deal.

This pandemic reminds me a lot of that trip. It certainly has Camera in focuslasted longer than our storm, but we find ourselves in the same position: we have to make a choice about our attitude. Several aspects of our lives are not in our control right now: we can't come and go as we please, we have to have covering or follow different procedures if we do go out in public places.

Our attitude, however, is still firmly in our hands. We can choose to sit at home and pout about how difficult life is and how things are turned upside down. (Or was that just me?) Or we can decide to see the needs around us and find out how we can help. Turning our focus inward always produces feelings of self-pity and disappointment as we compare ourselves to others or to the way life "used to be." But we ultimately have the choice to turn our focus in other directions.

Upward: When we look to the Lord and see all he's done for us -- providing a savior in Jesus Christ, blessed us abundantly -- we can shift our perspective to a more realistic and grateful one. One of my favorite verses is John 16:33, where Jesus says, "in this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world." That brings great peace that when all is said and done, God is still sovereign amid the chaos.

Outward: When we look out into our community, we will undoubtedly see others in need. If we ask God how he'd have us to best use the resources we have and to serve others -- even if just with our time -- he will allow us to be a blessing. And I've found that serving others ALWAYS brings such fulfillment and joy, and we know we are being the hands and feet of Jesus.

So where is your focus these days? Inward, upward or outward? The best news is that if you don't like it, you can make a change.

Teresa Young is a 1994 graduate of Wayland and currently serves as the Director of Alumni Relations.

From the History Files

For this month's column, we revisit a speech given in August 2008 by Dr. Estelle Owens, emeritus professor of history and university historian. Owens taught history at WBU from 1975-2016, when she retired to work full-time on the comprehensive Wayland history book. We're reprinting the first half of her speech this month and the remainder in the June issue.

As we enter our second century, Wayland exists today because of the grace of God and the caliber of people He called into His service here. We would not be here had He not wanted us to exist. Our history proves it over and over again. There have always been times when there was Dr. Wayland statue at Gates Halltoo much month left at the end of the money. There have always been those who believed that too few Baptists lived in West Texas to sustain a school of our own.

There have always been frustrations, grief, disagreements, programs that didn't quite go as planned, and students who tested our mettle and our patience. We'd be both foolish and dishonest to paint a picture of Wayland - or indeed of any human institution - in which there were no problems.

But our history also demonstrates that the clichés are true: we stand today on the shoulders of giants. We continue to go where others have not been. And we've made an enormous difference for good in the lives of thousands and thousands of people worldwide.

Our forebears were giants whose examples urge us to "go and do likewise." As a teenager, James Henry Wayland could very easily have bled to death as a result of an accident with a plowshare. But God had plans for his life, as He does for each of us. He took a Missouri farm boy and sent him to medical school, giving him a heart of compassion for the suffering of sick people and a love for God that led him to echo David and declare he would "not offer his Lord that which cost him nothing." Before he was finished, it cost him more than $100,000.

He lived to see his big house cut up into rental units so that his family would have an income. He survived the deaths of three children, asthma, rattlesnakes, flash floods, and wolves sniffing his face as he lay sleeping on the prairie on the way to see a patient. He was descended from Charlemagne and English and French kings. But the only king this 5'4" giant of a man cared about was the King of Kings he served.

The giants in our past include so many nameless others whom God raised up to make a difference in the life of this institution. There were the little kids in the Sunbeam Band at First Baptist Church whose hearts were touched by the fact that the students at Wayland didn't have a water fountain and couldn't afford to buy one. So, those little folks collected pennies and laid them edge to edge along the street from the church uphill to Wayland. It was enough to purchase a water fountain. A little thing perhaps, given by vertically-challenged little people who nevertheless walked pretty tall.

Shop online while supporting Wayland

If you shop online, especially while many retail stores are shuttered in the pandemic, you have the opportunity to support your alma mater at the same time. Amazon offers its SMILE program as an easy way to direct a portion of your sales back to Wayland, and it does add up!

Simply log onto smile.amazon.com and you will find information about t Amazon Smile logohe program and a list of charities you can support. You'll find Wayland Baptist University easily on your search and make that choice. You do not have to do this but once and the system remembers on your login.

The donations come from Amazon and you are not charged anything extra on an order. So any shopping you would normally do comes now with an added bonus to bless your school!

For more information, feel free to contact Teresa.Young@wbu.edu.


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