Tri-State Transformation: Long-Distance Life Change a Post-Pandemic Blessing
By Carl Stagner
Not unlike most churches across the United States and Canada at the dawn of the pandemic, Church in the Palms took intentional strides to get their services online. Also not unlike other Church of God congregations, the Greenacres, Florida, ministry actually extended its reach when it went virtual. Of course, the church’s video stream over the internet wasn’t a perfect substitute for the in-person experience, but for the church’s ever-increasing faithful following on social media from places near and far, it was a lifeline of hope. In a unique series of circumstances only God could coordinate, the celebration of new life in Christ was carried out by three churches spanning three states.
Tracy is the name of one whose life was life was changed long-distance through the ministry of Church in the Palms. She lives in Mobile, Alabama—that’s 663 miles, or a 9-hour-and-30-minute drive, from Greenacres, Florida. Tracy’s among several who, according to Pastor Shawn Allen, “have become a very active part of the church family though they have never set foot on the property.” Before long, Tracy wanted to go public with her faith in Jesus through baptism; however, neither the drive nor the flight seemed practical for her or the church. Thank God the Church of God is so much bigger than any one local congregation!
“The first thing I did was use the ‘Find a Church’ search engine on the Church of God Ministries website to find the nearest churches to Tracy’s location,” Shawn explains. “I left voicemails and sent emails to those churches. One of the churches that I contacted responded to my inquiry, eventually connecting me to the pastor of the congregation.”
That pastor is Larry Dishman, of Wade First Church of God in Moss Point, Mississippi. “I said I’d help out in any way I can,” Bro. Larry Dishman recounts. But one more hurdle had to be crossed—the Moss Point building doesn’t have its own baptistery. Thankfully, a friend of Dishman at an Assembly of God congregation just across the state line in Alabama had the solution. Tracy’s baptism would be held in Alabama, at an Assembly of God facility, by a Church of God pastor from Mississippi, on behalf of a congregation in Florida. Only God!
Some of Tracy’s family was present for the baptism, capturing the moment on video to share with the Florida congregation. Leading up to that moment, Church in the Palms had welcomed Tracy with open arms; responded to her request for baptism by helping her understand the ordinance, salvation, and the gospel—offering discipleship opportunities over the phone and via Zoom; maintaining and growing the online relationship; finding a pastor who would arrange and perform the baptism; announcing the baptism to the congregation in Florida; and showing the video of the baptism at the following Sunday worship gathering so the whole congregation could celebrate.
“It was so exciting when I found a pastor who was willing to partner with us in this unique way!” Shawn Allen explains. “It was exciting to know that someone who had become connected to our church online (and had never set foot on our campus) wanted to be baptized. That definitely confirms the potential and importance of our church continuing to provide online ministry opportunities post-COVID.”
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Feature (top) picture: Tracy rejoices after Larry Dishman baptizes her.