In Acts chapter 8, the church in Jerusalem was facing great persecution for their faith in Jesus. It caused the church to scatter throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. They fled from a man named Saul who was, according to Acts 8:3, ravaging the church.
These people, however, were not running out of fear; they were taking the gospel to other people. In Acts 11, these people were preaching the gospel to Jews and gentiles and they formed what would be known as The Church in Antioch.
 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.  But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.  And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.  The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose,  for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. – Acts 11:19–24
This church was committed to advancing the gospel. They didn’t let persecution stop them; they saw the need to take the gospel to all people. God’s hand was with them and because of their obedience, they saw many come to believe in the name of the Lord. In Acts 13, the faithfulness of this church leads to the beginning of an incredible movement.
 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. – Acts 13:1–3
Saul, who was ravaging the church, is now being sent out from the church in Antioch, along with Barnabas, to start churches. From Jerusalem, to Antioch, to Europe, the gospel continued to spread. The faithfulness of persecuted believers in Jerusalem led to church planting efforts around the globe.
From Antioch to Winter Haven, FL
On April 18th, 1965, a man by the name of R.D. Hodges was led by the Holy Spirit to start a church in Winter Haven, Florida. Their first gathering was in Lake Elbert Elementary School. From there, Winter Haven Baptist Church was committed to taking the gospel around the world.
In the early 1981, Pastor R.D. Hodges passed away. The church called his son, Mark Hodges, to become the Pastor. Since then Pastor Mark Hodges has faithfully served Jesus and leading WHBC to support over 50 mission works around the world.
From Winter Haven to Lake Asbury
In 2012, Pastor Hodges took a flier on a recent Seminary graduate. That graduate was me. I didn’t know it at the time, but God would use Pastor Hodges to lead me and Julie to return home to clay county to start Grace Life Church. And just like the church of Antioch sent out Paul and Barnabas, Winter Haven Baptist Church sent out Grace Life Church to reach people with the Gospel. They have supported us through prayer, encouragement, and financial resources.
The example they have set before us is where we are headed. We want to be a sending church. A church willing to send people out, even our best people, so more people can hear the message of the Gospel. We are committed to church planting and we are thankful to Winter Haven Baptist Church for being committed to us. Let’s thank God for them today and let’s pray that God will use us to continue the example set by our brothers and sisters in Winter Haven.
It was an honor Pastor Mark Hodges speak to us this past Sunday. If you missed the sermon, be sure to check it out here.