Lessons in MasterLife

MasterLife Group 1978

MasterLife Group 1987

During the five year pastorate of Dr. Mark Coppenger in the mid-1980’s at First Baptist Church El Dorado there was a renewed emphasis in personal evangelism and discipleship. Our evangelistic efforts were fueled by the Southern Baptist program called Continuing Witness Training (CWT), and those trained in this method of evangelism met once weekly at the church. We would go into the community in teams of two in a door to door fashion to introduce the gospel to those who had never received Christ as Savior.

As we improved and perfected this outreach, the Arkansas Baptist State Convention scheduled a state-wide training session for CWT at our church. Pastors and leaders from all over the state came to First Baptist to be trained in evangelism and leaders from our church became their teachers. It was both refreshing and a little intimidating for us to be training pastors who were seminary trained and some of whom had years of experience in vocational ministry. On the final evening of the training we went into the community in teams to witness. I don’t remember how many people received Christ as Savior that evening, but as I recall eight people were saved.

In addition to evangelism the church began a discipleship program called MasterLife. There were training sessions in various home groups of ten to twelve people who used the material designed by Dr. Avery T. Willis. Dr. Willis  and his wife served as missionaries for fourteen years with the International Mission Board in Indonesia. They returned in the late 1970’s to work for the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources). He developed the MasterLife material which was translated into fifty languages and used in one hundred countries. The same material is being used today for the glory of God.

In 1987 Cathy and I had a MasterLife group which met for 2 hours in our home every Sunday night for twelve weeks. The photo above was made one night when all the members of our group were present. Joe and DeAnne Hegi were in their 20’s and were the youngest members of the group. There were three couples who were in their late 60’s and 70’s and are now in glory. Tommy and Cleo Reeves, Ed and Lorene Rogers and Jim and Lila Johnston  added so much wisdom and maturity, and we were all blessed by their testimonies and faithfulness to the Lord. Bob and Sarah Merkle are still active at First Baptist and remain wonderful friends to Cathy and me.

As we studied God’s Word and prayed together each week God knitted our hearts together in special ways and gave us insights into ourselves and into each other. Tommy and Cleo  lived on Madison Avenue about two blocks from our home, and we had known them for years. I had bought many suits and shirts from Tommy who owned and managed B. W. Reeves Clothing Store. By the time of our meetings Tommy had been a deacon at First Baptist for over fifty years. During one of our sessions Tommy was bemoaning the fact he was growing progressively blind as a result of a medical problem. He voiced his frustrations and anger at God for allowing this affliction to occur since he had been so faithful. Seated next to him was Lorene Rogers who had lost most of her vision several years earlier, and when Tommy finished speaking she quietly but firmly rebuked him for his self-pity. She reminded him God was not finished with him, and he could serve the Lord in different and even greater ways if he would submit to His power and enablement. It was a very touching moment and months later Tommy would confess her rebuke that evening was a major turning point for his acceptance of the blindness.

One Sunday afternoon I was preparing to teach a lesson in the evening on personal witnessing to people who were lost. I was reminded by the Holy Spirit I had a patient in the hospital who had just undergone a major operation for a malignancy, and I wasn’t sure of her salvation. I had known Mildred Bell since early childhood, because she and her husband lived next door to my favorite Aunt Lilly Mae Smith.  Mildred was also the mother of my good friend W.I. Bell. W.I. was an excellent photographer in El Dorado and had a very popular studio. He taken some of the most treasured photos we have of our children and family. I was so convicted I left my study and drove to the hospital to witness to Mrs. Bell. She was alone in her room and had recovered enough from the operation to be able to understand the things from God’s Word. As I pulled my chair to her bedside W. I. arrived for his afternoon visit and stood behind my chair. As I was telling Mildred how much God loved her and wanted to enter into her heart, W.I. was saying, “That’s right Mother. Listen to John Henry and do what he tells you.” It was as if he was cheering for her and praying at the same time. Finally in a very tender moment with tears in her eyes Mildred bowed her head and asked the Lord Jesus to save her and become the Lord of her life. There was rejoicing with tears in her hospital room, and the Word says there was also a great celebration in heaven.

Later in the evening I was able to give testimony at our MasterLife group when the Master takes control of your life, the results will bring glory to Him alone. He will bring life to those who are spiritually dead and light into the lives of all who are in darkness.

Dr. John


The First Mission Trip To Brazil – Part 2

Cathy at Temple Baptist

Cathy and Bubba at Temple Baptist -Redencao

The name of the town in Brazil which the thirty missionaries from First Baptist Church, El Dorado chose to serve in 1986 is Redencao which means redemption. The purpose of our mission was to lead as many as possible to Christ so they might be redeemed. Our secondary purpose was to begin the building of two new churches for the work of Christ in the area.

Redencao Building Team

Redencao Building Team-partial

On our first evening in Redencao we attended the worship service at our host church Temple Baptist Church led by Pastor Rosemar (Hose’ amar).

He had visited and given testimony in our church in El Dorado months earlier, so we already knew him. Also in attendance were our mission hosts Johnny and Barbara Burnett who were SBC missionaries living in Belem. Their son Brett accompanied them and served as one of our interpreters. The church held about one hundred and fifty people and was full of members and seekers each evening we had worship services. There were decisions by people to follow Christ at every meeting.

Morning Devotion

Morning Devotion – Magnum Hotel Lobby

We began each morning at approximately 6:30 A.M. with a devotion and prayer together. It was a good time to reflect on the previous day and commit ourselves to the work ahead. On at least four occasions and prior to our prayer time Bubba, Pastor Mark, Youth Pastor Hess Hester and I would go onto the streets of Redencao for a two to three mile jog. The locals who happened to be out those mornings, particularly the children would look at us with amazement. The sight of Americans was rare but to see a group of them huffing and puffing while jogging must have seemed extraordinary.

All of us would usually go to the building sites in the mornings while the temperatures were  bearable. We would work together until the noon break for lunch. The evangelist teams would take a short rest in the afternoon and meet our translators at 3 P.M. for our door to door visits. Cathy and I were on a team with another couple, and we had two translators working with us. Our primary translator was Lorenz, a pharmacist with a very limited understanding of English. He would translate our testimonies to the ones we visited and continue with his own conversation inviting them to repent and receive Christ as Savior.

An unusual Brazilian custom is when one approaches a home he claps his hands instead of knocking on the door. It is considered impolite to knock on a door. On one particular visit an elderly gentleman came to the door without a shirt. He stepped outside and following our conversation suddenly ran around to the back of the house. I thought perhaps he had been offended. In a minute or two he returned with his wife and two children. He had put on his nicest shirt. All of them bowed their heads and repented to receive the gift of Christ for salvation. He said he didn’t want to make such a prayer without having on his best clothes.

One particular afternoon of visitation Cathy and I accompanied Lorenz to six houses and were able to present our stories. We then stopped at a bar and pool hall in which seven very rough looking characters were noisily playing pool. As we entered their conversations suddenly stopped, and we weren’t sure what would happen next. The owner got two crates which Cathy and I used as chairs, and we presented our testimonies while seated. The pool players were quiet and respectful and before we left, we wrote all of their names on the list of all the people who had heard the gospel this day. Down the street from the bar was a grove of trees providing a shady spot for a family, and Cathy witnessed to them about the love of Jesus for all and especially His love for children.

Cathy sharing The Way with Children

Cathy sharing The Way with some children

Cathy, Bubba, Becky and I were invited one afternoon to visit a hospital owned by a physician Dr.Gerson and his wife Barbara who was also a physician. They gave us a tour of the hospital and their adjacent home while Barbara prepared for us some very delicious refreshments. Bubba witnessed to Dr. Gerson through our translator Alberto, a Brazilian exchange student who attended Ouachita Baptist University. Dr. Gerson had never become a Christian although his wife professed a faith in Christ. In a very tender moment he repented and prayed for Christ to enter his heart and life. He told us through tears, “This is a moment I will never forget as long as I live!” He invited us to return on another trip to work with him in their hospital, which I was able to do in 1988.

Dr. Gerson receiving the Word

Dr. Gerson receiving the Word through Bubba and Alberto  1986

A highlight of our witness in Redencao was a showing of the film Jesus produced by The Billy Graham Organization. It had been translated into Portuguese and was brought to Redencao by Alberto. We had chosen to show the film in the town square on Saturday night which is traditionally a gathering time for the locals. Earlier that day we had a sound truck driving around the area announcing the showing of the film that evening. Since there was very little electrical power available we had a gas-operated generator for the projector and a speaker system connected to Pastor Rosemar’s car battery. The screen was an 8 x 10 foot sheet attached to a wooden frame we had built. A phenomenon I wasn’t aware is when one projects a film on such a screen the movie can be viewed on both sides of the screen thus doubling the number of people who can view it. A total of approximately five hundred people saw the movie and heard in their native tongue the message of salvation. I believe this was the first movie ever seen by many in attendance.

When our time in Redencao was completed each of us believed we had been faithful to go where the Lord had invited and experienced Him in a new and fresh way. Upon return home and reflecting back we believe at least two hundred salvation decisions were made by the people in Redencao to follow Christ by faith. Cathy and I were grateful to have been part of this team of believers and are confident we will again meet our Brazilian brothers and sisters when Christ returns.

Dr. John

Bubba, Becky and team thanking God for spiritual fruit

Bubba, Becky and team thanking God for the spiritual fruit

The First Mission Trip To Brazil – Part 1

Brazil Mission Team 1986

Brazil Mission Team

Dr. Mark Coppenger became the pastor of First Baptist Church in El Dorado in 1983, and as a young and enthusiastic pastor he brought changes to the church. The former pastor Dr. Don Harbuck had faithfully served the church for twenty-nine years, but in his last few years the church had become complacent and lost its’ earlier zeal for soul winning and missions. One of Dr. Coppenger’s priorities was a re-focus on evangelism, and a few members began training in door to door witnessing using the program Continuing Witness Training (CWT). It took almost a year before the training bore fruit, but those involved  remained faithful. Along with other changes there was a greater hunger for short-term overseas mission trips. At the time the Arkansas Baptist Convention was in a cooperative effort with the Southern Baptists in Brazil in a partnership called the Amazon-Arkansas Partnership Mission. Our church made plans for its’ first mission trip to Brazil in August, 1986.

Cathy and I had never been on a mission trip and were convinced this was the Lord’s will for us. Our children were old enough for us to be away from them for the ten days required to make the trip. Our church was combining forces with members of Three Creeks Baptist Church to go far down the Amazon to a small town named Redencao (Hay’ den saw) in the state of Para. We began the planning meetings in April, and there were soon a total of thirty people committed to make the trip. The purpose of our mission was to begin the building of two churches in Redencao and to send teams doing door to door evangelism. In addition to Cathy and me my brother Berry Lee (Bubba) and his youngest daughter Becky made plans to go. Years before Bubba had made a mission trip to Panama where he provided medical care to the Kuna tribe on the San Blas Island. The photo above shows our entire team and includes Pastor Lowell Snow of Three Creeks Baptist and four of his members.

As part of our preparation each of us wrote our personal salvation testimony. This was  translated into Portuguese and printed on a single sheet with English on the front and Portuguese on the back. Each missionary had multiple testimony sheets for distributing in airports, shops, on the streets and in the homes we were to visit. In our planning sessions we had people with Brazilian backgrounds tutor us in the language, customs and cultural differences. The meetings helped in bonding our team and gave us opportunities to commit ourselves in prayer for the work ahead.

Cathy and I wanted a few days of rest with her family in Florida before leaving for Brazil, so we drove to Fort Lauderdale with Mary Kay and Ginny. On the trip we stopped in Kissimmee, Florida to briefly visit Cathy’s sister Nancy and husband Norman to see their  new law office which Norman had designed. John Aaron was already in Fort Lauderdale having spent several weeks working with his Uncle George (Cathy’s brother). Those days of being together at Gram Young’s ocean-front apartment were both fun and relaxing.

The plane trip from Miami to Belem, Brazil was particularly memorable. I had flown overseas once years before, but because I don’t particularly enjoy flying I had more anxiety than necessary. Cathy said during the six hour flight I just sat there looking straight ahead without talking much and having a white-knuckled grip on the arm rests. I couldn’t close my eyes for very long because my inner ear would give me the sensation the plane was in a slow climbing bank to the left.

The large Boeing 767 was packed with returning Brazilian tourists, and the cabin was hot and loud with excited Brazilian children having been to Disney World. I kept thinking if we had an in-flight emergency we would be surrounded with people with whom we couldn’t communicate. It was not a fun experience for me, but we finally touched down in Brazil. I think I was actually surprised we made it.

On arrival in Belem at 3 A.M. we were met by a Mission Board missionary who assisted us in getting boarding passes for the next leg of our trip to Redencao. At 7 A.M. we boarded a much smaller twin-engine plane for the trip which took another three hours. As we flew down the beautiful Amazon River with nothing in sight but the rain forest I asked the flight attendant what we would do if we developed engine trouble. He said we could not land in the trees because they were as tall as two hundred feet, and it would not be wise to try to ditch in the Amazon because of the piranhas. He left the solution to my imagination. By then I was too tired to imagine.

The landing strip at the Redencao airport was a dirt runway, but we landed safely in a massive cloud of dust. The Magnum Hotel was clean and new and the thirty members of our team completely filled it. We were the first guests in this new hotel and were told our safety was assured since the owner was the local Chief of Police.

Our first meal was in a well-known bar-b-que which Brazilians call a churrascaria (shoe ras’ ca rea). They bring to your table a large sword-like device holding barbecued beef, chicken, sausage and a meat called picanha which is the hump of a Brahma bull. We cautiously ate the meat and rice and found it to be delicious. We had already been made aware of the risks of developing gastroenteritis (“touristas”). After a much-needed nap we dressed for our first encounter with our Brazilian hosts when we went to the evening church service at the Temple Baptist Church ( Templo Da Igreja Baptiste).  To be continued–

Dr. John