In marijuana-ripe region, church defends the faith

by Karen L. Willoughby, posted Thursday, March 16, 2017 (3 months ago)

REDWAY, Calif. (BP) -- "At one time there were three very healthy churches in Redway and now we are the last church standing."

Dave Seaford, pastor of First Baptist Church in the northern California town of 1,200, ventured to one of the nation's most fertile regions for growing marijuana, legally and illegally, in 2014.

When Dave Seaford accepted a pastorate in a northern California region afflicted by the nation's burgeoning marijuana industry, he gained opportunities to make use of his call to defend the faith.
 
The small congregation -- some aging, others part-time workers -- felt a burden for Redway's secularity and "sacrificed to bring us here," said Seaford, former pastor of a North Carolina church founded by Norm Geisler, one of the leading experts in the field of apologetics. Seaford, likewise, is a seasoned defender of the Christian faith, with a reach of more than 2,500 Facebook friends.

First Baptist, organized in 1952, was without a fulltime pastor for three years. Knowing they needed a strong counterpoint to the free-thinking mindset of most people in the area, they approached Seaford.

After three visits with his wife Elva, and the unrelated move by their grown daughter to California, the Seafords determined that God was leading them to Redway.

The couple, who downsized from their home in North Carolina, live in a trailer on the church parking lot. Seaford spends his days studying and interacting on the streets with area residents and transients.

"The [church] people here tried to make us aware as best they could ... but you really don't know until you get into the middle of something what exactly it entails," Seaford said. "There are up to 700 homeless in the southern part of [Humboldt County]; as many as 80 to 100 children living in the homeless camps."

Crime also has risen as the marijuana industry has expanded, pushing Humboldt County toward the top of California's per-capita crime rate.

"Most Christian young couples are simply moving away as they don't want to even attempt to raise children here," Seaford said. "That means we don't have many young couples to engage their contemporaries.

"We're trying to figure out a way to reach those who are part of the [marijuana] industry," Seaford said. "It's a totally different worldview, where people don't see [it] being a problem. They say, 'I don't do drugs,' but then pull out their marijuana and begin smoking. To them, that's less harmful than having a beer.... And for the second-generation growers, that's all they've ever known and thus it is their normal."

Yet First Baptist remains "a group of wonderful, dedicated people who get out of their comfort zone to reach our community," said Seaford, who has been training them in evangelism and apologetics -- in "doing the hard stuff."

Today, at least half of the congregation of nearly 50 people serve on one of First Baptist's care teams in community outreach, prison ministry and communication. "Each of these groups has their victory stories and many of them are dramatic," Seaford said.

"The communications team has written more than 1,000 cards," he said. "Often they're little more than 'We're praying for you' but they make an impact. We've had people tell us, 'Nobody has ever sent me a card in my entire life.'" Each of the care teams, he said, is gaining opportunities "to plant seeds in peoples' lives."

Seaford started with four people in a 12-week study two years ago on the "Romans Road," the evangelistic witness that uses Scripture from the New Testament book of Romans. "We used the Bible to teach them how to do evangelism --'You're a sinner; you're separated from God; and you need a Savior.' Nobody knew how to do any of that."

They studied, listened and engaged in role-playing witnessing and then followed Seaford as he engaged with people in Redway. "That gave them field work," he said. "They would run into problems, issues, questions."

In their debriefings, everyone learned from everyone else's efforts. That led to a six-week study on apologetics before a return to the streets.

The original four people now are recruiting others, and the cycle of study, field work and recruiting others is repeating, Seaford said.

"There was a building of confidence," the pastor said. "I want them to learn to mentor. We've given them opportunities Sunday morning to speak and they say, 'We've seen God move,' and that encourages others."

He's doing what a pastor ought to be doing, Seaford said.

"Pastors are to teach the work of ministry to the body of Christ, and they are to go out and do the ministry," he said, citing Ephesians 4. "If we just follow what the Word of God has to say -- equip the body for Christ for ministry -- then we would have fewer formalized programs that end inside the church walls and more equipped Christ followers on the streets sharing their faith, winning souls and discipling those souls toward God's calling on their lives."

Broadening First Baptist's outreach, "Why" conferences were held last September at the Redway church and at Calvary Baptist Church in Eureka.

The conferences brought together 110 people from 22 northern California churches of varying denominations as well as their unchurched neighbors to see apologetics in action, with a focus on the question, "If there is an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God, then why is there evil in the world?"

Seaford led the two-hour discussions, which also were online.

"There were a large number of antagonists and a number that were just truly curious," the pastor recounted. "We tried to defend the God of the Bible" in terms of His attributes of love, mercy and grace and to explain why evil continues.

"The fact that our people would step up and go out and do the one-on-one engagement with people about the event made it a success," Seaford said. "That's the reason we had the good mix of people at the conferences. Those personal invitations provided for that free-flowing environment that allowed good communication to take place, and to answer Isaiah's and the apostle Paul's call to 'come let us reason together.'

"People felt they had the liberty to ask questions," Seaford said. "That attitude was created by the people in the church; they made it easy for people to come, relax and participate."

Seaford said the conferences sparked continued conversation in the churches, the community and beyond.

"Most communications from the conferences are emails to ask other questions," he said, adding, "One man who is stationed in Syria as a peacekeeper has been engaging me on Facebook in an effort to be better prepared to share with the Muslim population there. He's from Texas, saw [the conference] online and has been watching it with his friends."

Seaford said he and First Baptist are anticipating more apologetics conferences during the coming year.

Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.
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