Annie Armstrong Week of Prayer

Melanie Lawler:

God’s ‘Miracle Missionary’ in Northwest Nevada
By Mickey Noah

RENO, Nev. – North American Mission Board missionary Melanie Lawler is a real, talking, walking-around miracle.

To follow Melanie around northwest Nevada where she serves the Sierra Baptist Association as a ministry evangelism specialist in Reno, you’d never guess she first suffered seizures as a fourth grader in Leland, Miss. Melanie first was diagnosed with epilepsy.

Melanie’s seizures followed her family’s move to Carthage, Miss., where, during the 11th grade, doctors discovered a brain tumor. The tumor was removed but then 17-year-old Melanie suffered a stroke.

Following the stroke, “they (doctors) said I would be a vegetable,” Melanie recalls. But the doctors forgot to consult God, who had other plans.

Melanie remembers that as a teenager, her pastor at First Baptist Church, Carthage, Russ Barksdale, challenged her to memorize Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you. . . plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (HCSB)

“And I memorized that verse and shortly after, God began speaking to my heart saying, ‘Melanie, I have plans for you.’ And I would say, ‘Oh yes God, I know. I’m going to be a pediatric neurologist. I’m going to be a good doctor for you Lord.’

“And God would say, ‘No Melanie. I have plans for you.’

“God brought me through the brain tumor and the stroke and today, I’m OK. I realized that if God could protect me in the midst of great problems, then I could trust Him to dictate the direction of my life.”

Lawler is one of more than 5,000 missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® for North American Missions. She is among the NAMB missionaries featured as part of the annual Week of Prayer, March 2-9, 2008. This year’s theme is “Live with Urgency: Seize Your Divine Moment.” The 2008 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering’s goal is $61 million, 100 percent of which is used for missionaries like Melanie.

Lawler earned her bachelor’s degree at William Carey College, Hattiesburg, Miss. Her current assignment in Reno is actually her second stint in Nevada. She served as a US/C2 missionary in Las Vegas back in the late ’90s, after graduating from college and before receiving her master’s degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

“After my time in Las Vegas ended in 1998, I told God I would never live in Nevada again,” laughs Lawler. “It was too hot, too dry, too brown and too ugly.

“Following seminary, I was seeking where God would use me in ministry next. I got a call to come back to Nevada, and my immediate response was ‘No! It’s too hot, too dry, too brown and too ugly.’” But God had His plan and Melanie returned to Nevada in fall 2001.

“Reno continues to grow on me and I’m even beginning to find beauty in the desert,” she says. “But I still go to Lake Tahoe at least once a month to get my tree fix. Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

Think of Reno, Nev. and one usually conjures up bright lights, casinos, gambling and other assorted sins and vices. Melanie, now 34, is ready to take them on.

“My goal is to see our churches reach all our communities for Christ,” she said. “So that includes the people working at the casinos and the tourists visiting the casinos. We don’t have casino ministries in Reno at this point, but it’s a dream I hope to carry out in the future.”

Assigned as a ministry evangelism specialist for the last six years, she serves cities in northwestern Nevada – Reno, Sparks and Carson City, the state’s capital – and smaller towns most have never heard of — Gerlach, Empire, Silver Springs, Minden and Gardnerville.

“Our association is a mixture of rural and metro communities,” Lawler explains. She said the Sierra Baptist Association extends from the California state line east 100 miles into the desert, and from the Nevada/Oregon border south to California. Lake Tahoe and Virginia City are also part of the Sierra association.

Lawler said the people in her mission field are from all walks of life – from the middle class and inner-city neighborhoods of Reno to the “second home” owners at Lake Tahoe to the ranchers in the Nevada desert.

“I help our churches develop and do ministries that reach beyond the walls of the church and into their communities to share Christ. They can be ministries like a food pantry, an ESL (English as Second Language) class, or a ministry presence at special events in our cities.”

One ministry Lawler is especially excited about is a food ministry local Southern Baptists recently have been given responsibility for by the county government in Lyon County.

“The county came to First Baptist Church in Fernley and asked if we would be willing to host a food bank,” she said. “So now, once a month the church receives all the food for the food bank and the church members go to the church and box it up. On Fridays, members of the community come into the church and get their allotment for the month.

“It gives the church the opportunity to have people come in and see that the earth doesn’t break in two if they actually enter a church. It also allows the local people to see that the church’s members are normal people, too. I hope to begin to see these people coming to church as a result.”

Another ministry Lawler helps run is ESL classes. She says many in northwestern Nevada don’t know how to read or speak English and in some communities, as many as 52 percent of the people speak a language other than English.

“Our churches are beginning to say, ‘maybe we could do something to help with that.’ So we’re starting ESL ministries in different areas,” said Lawler, citing one for Koreans who speak some English but not well enough to communicate and get along in society.

Lawler’s favorite ministry is the Kid’s Club, an initiative geared to kids in Nevada’s apartment community. Lawler herself became a Christian in Mississippi when she was only six.

“It’s given an opportunity for many of those children — who have never been inside of a church, never heard of God, never heard of Jesus and never heard of the Bible — to be able to come and learn that God cares about them, loves them and desires to have a relationship with them.

“So at the Kid’s Clubs we do games, songs and stories. Sometimes we do a craft. Of course the children’s favorite thing is the snack at the end,” said Lawler.

Another ministry involves the “Nevada Day Carnival” each Oct. 31, which commemorates the day Nevada became a state. All the students get out of school for the day and although it coincides with Halloween, Lawler said the day has nothing to do with goblins or witches.

“Before the actual carnival begins, we have a local church, First Baptist in Carson City, which cooks dinner for the carnival workers and shares Christ with them.”

Similar ministries are carried out for area Fourth of July celebrations and even for“Burning Man,” a well-known counter-culture festival held in the middle of northwest Nevada’s Black Rock Desert each August. For Burning Man, Melanie and her team distribute gallon-jugs of water, each with a Gospel of John and a tract attached.

What gives Melanie her greatest joy?

“Two things. First, seeing people come to know the Lord and being able to share Christ with them. Second, resourcing a church and watching the church realize, ‘Hey, we can do that. We can reach past our walls. We can share Christ in our community. We may be a little church that meets in a school or in somebody’s home. But we can do something to share Christ with the community.’”

She asks Southern Baptists to pray that churches in northern Nevada will realize and cultivate their harvest fields.

“Ninety-five percent of the people here in northern Nevada don’t know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. On any given Sunday, only one person out of 10 here in Washoe County, where Reno and Sparks are, will to go any kind of church anywhere. That includes the Mormon and Catholic churches.

“The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is vital to our ministry here,” Lawler said. “We would not be able to be here at all if it weren’t for the Annie Armstrong offering. It allows me to be able to do my work without having to worry about how my bills are going to be paid. I know the money is there for me through our Southern Baptist churches.”

Tuesday – Obituary

Billy Truitt Bankston, 75, a native of Kentwood and a 30-year resident of Covington, died Monday, March 3, 2008. He was the beloved husband of the late Bernice Bankston, loving companion of the late Kathleen Willis, father of Perry Bankston and spouse Brenna, of Picayune, Miss., and brother of Hollis Bankston, of Roseland, Doris Sweat, of Hammond, Brenda Bankston, of Kentwood, and the late Harold, Johnny, Curtis and Sidney Bankston and Ester Ruth Pettitt. He is also survived by five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He was a longtime volunteer at St. Tammany Parish Hospital. Relatives and friends of the family are invited to attend the funeral service on Thursday, March 6, at 1 p.m. at Shepherd’s Care Ministries, 20115 La. 1081, Covington, LA 70435. Visitation at the church on Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and on Thursday from 11 a.m. until service. Interment in Shepherd’s Fold Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Billy’s name to Shepherd’s Care Ministries. Arrangements by entrusted to E.J. Fielding Funeral Home Inc., 2260 W. 21st. Ave., Covington, LA 70433.

Monday – Obituaries

Douglas Arnold Schneider
(August 30, 1931 – March 1, 2008)

Died at 7:58 p.m. on Saturday, March 1, 2008 at his residence in Kentwood. He was a native and former resident of New Orleans, LA and later retired to Kentwood. Age 76 years. He retired as owner of Crescent Gun and Repair in New Orleans, was Past Master of Trinity Lodge #375 of New Orleans and two time Past Master of Lodge #184 of Spring Creek. Visitation at McKneely Funeral Home, Kentwood, from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. on Tuesday and at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, 1908 Short St., Kenner, from 10 a.m. until religious services at 12 Noon on Wednesday. Services conducted by Fr. Richard Miles. Interment Garden of Memories, Metairie. He is survived by his wife, Elsie Hall Schneider, Kentwood; 3 daughters, Mrs. Gloria Gaines and husband, Edward, Raceland, Mrs. Orna Mumphrey and husband, Clarence, Prairieville and Elsie Jo Schneider, Abita Springs; brother, Gerald Schneider, New Orleans; sister, Mrs. Elaine Laurence and husband, Tommy, Auburn, AL; 8 grandchildren; 8 1/2 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph V. and Mabel Boudreaux Schneider.

Louise Ardillo Marabelli
(October 25, 1924 – March 1, 2008)

Died at 11:12 a.m. on Saturday, March 1, 2008 at North Oaks Medical Center in Hammond. She was a native of Kenosha, WI and a resident of Independence. Age 83 years. Visitation at Mater Dolorosa Catholic Church, Independence, from 9:30 a.m. until religious services at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Services conducted by Fr. Chris Romaine. Interment Colonial Cemetery, Independence, LA. She is survived by her 3 daughters, Diana Ardillo, Indpendence, Sandy McAlister and husband, Donald, Independence and Marianna Miller and husband, Jim, Knob Noster, MO; brother, Johnny Marabelli, Kenosha, WI; 6 grandchildren; 7 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her first husband, Sam Ardillo; parents, John and Ida Marabelli; sister, Olivia Harvey; brother, Anthony Marabelli.

Jason Phillip Smith
(July 11, 1986 – March 1, 2008)

Died at 11:25 p.m. on Saturday, March 1, 2008 at St. Helena Parish Hospital in Greensburg. He was a native of Belle Chasse and a resident of Montpelier, LA. Age 21 years. Visitation at Montpelier Baptist Church, Montpelier, from 9 a.m. on Thursday, March 6, 2008 until religious services at 12 Noon. Services conducted by Rev. Rusty Durant and Rev. David Theriot. Interment Montpelier Cemetery, Montpelier. He is survived by his mother, Pamela Morris Smith; two sisters, Jessica Lynne Smith, Montpelier and fiance’, Joseph Wall, Springfield and Jennifer Lynne Futrell, Montpelier; grandparents, James E. Morris and Kathryn Crouch Morris, Belle Chasse; step-grandmother, Mary Smith, Derby, MS; aunts and uncles, Mitchell and Vickie Futrell, Montpelier, James Phillip Morris, Belle Chasse, Kenny and Ruby Smith, Picayune, MS, Karen and Mike Anderson, Pearl River, Kathy Louise Smith, Long Beach, MS, Tori Smith, Derby, MS; 8 cousins, Ken, Cher, Victoria, Nolan, Brandy, Jeremy, Joshua and Jacob. He was preceded in death by his loving father, Kerry Vireece Smith, who died in a car crash on November 21, 2007; grandparents, Nolan Ray Smith and Shirley Meitzler Biehl. Special thanks goes to St. Helena Parish Nursing Home where Jason resided from December 2006 with love and excellent care. Also to Occupational Therapist, Linda Charleville for not only the therapy but the love and devotion she had for Jason. As an employee of the hospital, I think of St. Helena Parish Nursing Home and St. Helena Parish Hospital as one. I thank everyone and every department for the love they showed Jason. Jason’s mother, Pamela Smith.

Monday – Update on Hill Family

Just received a posting on Aaron. We need to pray for Faith as she is now alone with Aaron at RMH. Waiting for March 12 time with doctors. She is so unselfish & has requested prayer for Marshall who is there. God Bless You

This weekend was nice with Scott here visiting. We had some nice weather and had some good family time. Aaron and I are a little sad, though, as mom, Scott and Levi left this morning heading home. It is lonely already… Aaron and I will need each other for support until we see our family again.

Please remember our new friend Marshall Sanders in your prayers today. Marshall’s mom is a teacher at NWR and his daddy is a fireman in Flowood. Marshall was having his second surgery for hypoplastic left heart syndrome on Thursday and there was more damage to his heart than doctors anticipated. He has been on bypass since Thursday. Although they anticipate taking him off bypass today, there is a possibility that he may need a heart transplant asap. He and his family need our prayers.

Love to everyone.

Monday’s Devotional



“At the name of Jesus every knee should bow…” (Philippians 2:10).

Mike Benson, Editor

“THE WORLD HAS no problem accepting and following a religious leader who permits them to stay in their sins…

but they will crucify the man who dares to point them to a narrow gate that leads to a narrow way” (Warren Wiersbe).

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matt. 5:10


Monday – FBC

Deacons of the week:

  • Tom Brister
  • Robert Wilson

Acts 1:8 Easter Outreach – Touching our Jerusalem with the Gospel

  • Saturday, March 8 @ 10:00 A.M.
  • Give out New Testaments house-to-house
  • Will continue through March 15

Easter Worship Musical “The Risen Christ”

  • Sunday, March 16 @ 6:00 P.M.
  • Monday, March 17 @ 7:00 P.M.

Annie Armstrong Kick-Off Luncheon

  • Sunday, March 9
  • Following morning worship
  • Everyone is invited

Monday – AAEO

Annie Armstrong Week of Prayer for North American Missions

Despite State’s Native Beauty,


Aikens Worry About Lostness of Vermont


By Mickey Noah

WASHINGTON, VT. – When Dewey and Kathie Aiken survey the landscape of Vermont, they see much more than the beautiful red and yellow leaves of autumn, the traditional maple syrup-making in March, and 150-year-old churches with white steeples piercing the blue skies of summer.

Instead, the couple is haunted – literally unable to sleep some nights – when they ponder the lostness of the majority of Vermonters and the urgency to reach the tiny New England state’s population of 623,000 with the Gospel. It’s estimated that only two percent are committed believers in Christ.

“Vermont is a beautiful state and it’s full of beautiful people,” says Kathie. “But we know that beneath the facade there is a lostness. Something is missing in people’s lives. I see the sadness in so many of their faces.”

The Aikens – a husband-wife team of Mission Service Corps missionaries commissioned by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) – say their passion for Vermont stems from the urgency of the state’s bleak spiritual condition.

“There’s an urgency to go and get the Gospel out here. When I think about how so many people in this state do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior, it breaks my heart,” Dewey said.

The Aikens are two of more than 5,000 missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® for North American Missions. They are one of eight NAMB missionary couples highlighted as part of the annual Week of Prayer, March 2-9, 2008. This year’s theme is “Live with Urgency: Seize Your Divine Moment.” The 2008 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering’s goal is $61 million, 100 percent of which is used for missionaries’ needs and ministries.

Hailing from Brevard, N.C., Dewey, 56, and Kathie, 54, were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary 10 years ago when they vacationed in Vermont. They fell in love with the Green Mountain State.

Already active in missions and disaster relief back in North Carolina, the Aikens returned home and after several years, retired from their successful first careers – Kathie as a registered nurse and Dewey as a purchasing manager for Duke Energy.

“When we came up here on our anniversary, we saw the need here in New England,” Kathie said. “We had careers that we were finishing up, and we knew it was time for a change. Our children were married, our family was changing, and it was a time in our lives when we could serve Christ in another area in a different way. And we were ready.”

Their passion for Vermont grew even stronger. “We wanted to come here. We desired Vermont. We were at home in North Carolina, where we were raised and where we had good jobs and family,” Kathie said.

“We just felt like God was calling us to Vermont, to share the Gospel here,” Dewey said. “I looked at Romans 10:14 which asks: ‘how will they know unless somebody comes and tells them?’ That’s why we’re here. We’re here to tell the people of Vermont about Jesus.”

And since the Aikens did not leave their North Carolina drawl behind, they joke about how they use it to witness to Vermonters.

“Folks up here grin when we talk but they’re polite about it,” says Kathie. “Our accent is actually a witnessing tool. Say we’re in a restaurant and we strike up a conversation. When they say ‘you’re not from around here,’ we make them guess where we’re from. That opens up doors and we can tell them why we’re here.”

Coming from a strong Southern Baptist state like North Carolina, the Aikens initially faced some culture shock upon their arrival in Vermont, a state known for its liberal political and secular bent. Vermont also suffers from a pervasive influence of New Age thinking and even Wiccan practices.

“God prepared our hearts and gave us a vision of what it was going to be like, even before we got here,” said Kathie. “We came up here with the mindset that nothing is going to shock us.”

A hindrance to their ministry, according to the Aikens, is the fact that many in Vermont — with its strong Catholic influence — have “just enough religion in their pasts to think — because they were baptized as infants — that they’re going to heaven. Or they think they are ‘genetic Christians’ because their families attended church or were members of a certain faith.

“It hurts your heart, and actually sometimes makes me somewhat angry at the way people up here have been deceived into thinking that everything is OK,” says Kathie.

Kathie gets frustrated at times because she sees children and young people who don’t understand the Bible and, in fact, says the Bible has never been read to them, even in a church. “They don’t open the Bible in church, only the priest does.”

So whether ministering to young people or conducting a Bible study for a group of 80-year-olds, Kathie tries to keep it basic and simple. Her strategy must work: she recently led an 82-year-old woman to Christ.

Rather than ask a person if he or she is a Christian – since two-thirds of most Vermonters consider themselves Christians – Kathie instead asks “Was there ever a time in your life when you asked Christ to be your personal Savior?” Or “Do you have a personal relationship with Christ?”

While Vermont is dotted with beautiful old churches built in the 1800s and before, many have closed their doors. People in some churches just quit coming; some churches died spiritually or financially; and yet others closed because entire families finally died out. Sadly, many of these churches have been converted into town halls, libraries, antique shops and senior centers.

But Washington Baptist Church, the only Southern Baptist church around, is open for ministry. Located in the village of Washington (pop. 1,000), Washington Baptist has 90 members, including Dewey and Kathie Aiken.

Right off Washington’s village square is The Calef House and Retreat Center, a 7,400-square-foot Victorian mansion built by the wealthy Ira Calef in the mid-1800s. Today, it’s managed and maintained by the Aikens for God’s work.

Purchased from the local Catholic parish in the late 1990s by Washington Baptist Church and operated by the Green Mountain Baptist Association, the house was completely renovated by Southern Baptist volunteers who came from across the country.

“The church had a vision of changing the facility into a parsonage for the pastor and his family, a mission apartment for us and a retreat center,” Kathie explains. “We were called here by God to be the managers of the retreat center.”

Some 300 Southern Baptist “guests” — as many as 21 at a time — stayed at The Calef House from April to November 2007, most of whom were on mission trips to Vermont from throughout the United States.

When he’s not helping Kathie run The Calef House, Dewey works as state disaster relief coordinator for Vermont under the auspices of the Baptist Convention of New England.

Using his relationship to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, he also manages a partnership of volunteers among the two state conventions and the Green Mountain Baptist Association, the local association serving 33 churches in Vermont and two in New Hampshire.

Dewey said the association only had 23 churches when he and Kathie came to Vermont. Today, the association’s largest Baptist church has some 400 members, while the smallest has as few as eight.

“We’ve had a lot of mission construction teams to come in and help us do construction on our church buildings,” Dewey said. “The Calef House is an economical place where they can come, get a good night’s sleep, good food and a fresh shower. We’ve had about 80 teams come to Vermont this year, 50 just from North Carolina. God is using these teams to evangelize the state.

“One of the main ways teams coming to Vermont have helped us is in the increase of salvations we’ve seen. More churches have been started and the number of ministries has increased. They have assisted our churches in our work and encouraged our pastors.”

The Aikens also serve the Green Mountain association and its director of missions in the equipping and encouraging of the association’s churches and pastors. They also work as “church strengtheners” for Washington Baptist, which involves the training, mentoring and encouragement of new Christians.

What do the Aikens feel like they’ve accomplished during their five years of service as MSCs in Vermont?

“I want to know that the people of Washington, Vt., had an opportunity to know Jesus Christ as Savior,” says Kathie. “I want our churches in this state to grow and to reach people for Jesus. I want to teach and mentor young Christians and help them grow. I want to continue to be able to accommodate our mission teams at The Calef House. I want us to be able to encourage our pastors and their wives.”

Dewey said he wants Southern Baptists to understand that “we are here because God, first of all, called us here. Southern Baptists need to understand that New England is an area that needs the Gospel. And we need workers.

“I pray that Southern Baptists will continue to give, not only of their time but of their financial resources,” he added. “We still have so many towns and villages in Vermont that do not have a Gospel-preaching church at all.”

Why should Southern Baptists give to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering?

“The money that comes to Vermont under the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering supports our director of missions, our church planters, and our new church plants,” said Dewey. “It’s all about a compassion to win people to Jesus Christ and spreading the Gospel here in Vermont.”

When will the Aikens return to their native North Carolina, their three grown children and five grandchildren?

“We just signed up for two more years,” said Kathie. “After that, I’m not sure. We’ll return to North Carolina one day, probably to the Brevard area near Asheville. We’re mountain people.

“But right now in our lives, I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she says. “It’s so absolutely fulfilling to know you’re right smack in the middle of what He wants you to be doing. We cherish that.

“We have friends and family in North Carolina who still ask us, ‘when are you going to come to your senses and come home?’ Or they ask, ‘when are you going to get over this mid-life crisis?’ Dewey and I just look at them. They just don’t get it. We pray that one day they will. No matter. We’ve never had a satisfaction or a joy like we have here today. We are exactly where we’re supposed to be,” Kathie said.