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Bullock-Centennial Association, area churches bring evangelistic event to Union Spingscomment (0)

January 6, 2011

By Kristen Padilla

When Gene Bridgman accepted the position of director of missions for Bullock-Centennial Baptist Association in May of last year, one of his goals was to see more cooperation between the churches in Union Springs, the county seat of and largest town in Bullock County with about 3,500 people.

“We are a small, poor area, and it was just like everybody was doing their own thing,” said Bridgman, who also serves as pastor of Eastside Baptist Church, Union Springs. “There’s not a ministerial alliance in Union Springs, and that’s been a dream of mine since I got here that we’d develop [one].”

While attending the Southern Baptist Convention 2010 annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., in June, he met members of the Strength Team, professional athletes who use their physical ability to share the gospel, and began a conversation with them.

Bridgman thought the team could be the very opportunity he had been looking for to get everyone in the community to work together. In order to do something that big in a small, rural community, he would need everyone working together. But would people be willing to work together, he wondered.

“Part of it was the need of people getting saved, but part of it was a vision of seeing everyone in the community working together — whites, blacks and Hispanics,” Bridgman said.

After presenting the idea to the association in October of last year, it voted to bring two members of the team to Union Springs for a three-day crusade Dec. 10–12. Bridgman started contacting area churches and pastors and the response was tremendous.

“At a meeting, we had a black pastor say, ‘I’ve been praying for this about five years,’” he said.

Mike Facciani, Strength Team development manager, said what impressed him most was how all the churches came together to pull off this weekend event.

“What was awesome about this crusade is we had all the reasons not to do it and [Bridgman] did as well because a lot of the churches weren’t accustomed to working together,” said Facciani, who also served as road manager for the crusade. “But I was just amazed at [Bridgman’s] faith and how he and others took and ran with the vision and (how) the churches that were considered white and the black churches got together.”

But that wasn’t the only obstacle the community overcame.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2005–2009 American Community Survey five-year estimates reveal that 47 percent of people in Union Springs live below the poverty level and the per capita income is $18,863.

In order to bring the Strength Team to the city, Bullock-Centennial Association had to commit $1,700. In addition, the team charges $500 for a school assembly or requests a suggested $2 donation at the door of other events. But the schools could not afford that cost, and it would be “detrimental” to even suggest a $2 donation, Bridgman said.

“In this area, $2 is a big deal,” he said. “[The Strength Team] came on faith [because] we didn’t guarantee them anything with the school assemblies.”

Even though the team came, Facciani admits team members had doubts.

“We were concerned about going down there … because we have a budget, too,” he said. “We like to pride ourselves [on] being people of faith … but we were nervous (with it being) right before Christmas.”

When it came time to pay the team for four assemblies, two other events and speaking at churches, Bridgman and others had raised $2,000 for the school assemblies, and combined with love offerings and other donations, the team received almost $700 more than its budgeted expenses of almost $9,000.

“Most crusades we don’t meet our budget, but there we went over our budget,” Facciani said. “We went over and that’s the miracle about it. … These were small churches.”

By the end of the weekend, 136 decisions had been made, the majority for salvation and rededication.

“We had 41 trained counselors, 38 of those … served in a counseling capacity,” Bridgman said. “Some of them were able to share the gospel one-on-one who had never had the courage to do that before. There were people in the churches that never felt comfortable sharing the gospel but now feel comfortable to share the gospel in the community.”

Follow-up is planned and the churches are committed to plugging those who made decisions into a church, wherever they feel most comfortable. And as Bridgman hoped, the crusade only served to get the ball rolling on bringing churches together.

“No matter where [those who made decisions] are going, it’s going to make a difference in this community; it’s going to make a difference in the school systems,” he said. “I think churches realize, ‘Hey, we can work together.’ I think we all found out that we serve the same God. He doesn’t care whether a black, white or Hispanic needs to be saved.

“I think it’s going to be an awakening or a revival (here) that doesn’t end with a one-time event,” Bridgman added.

As far as a ministerial alliance is concerned, he already has a breakfast planned this month that is open to all pastors in the area for them to discuss ways they can continue working together.

“The main thing is not only was it a good event, but I think it’s going to raise the belief level in that area that they can work together and accomplish things together,” Facciani said. “The story of Union Springs will inspire other communities across the country that when God’s people work together, much can be accomplished.”

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