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Exodus New Jersey: Journey of a lifetime

Forty years ago, a Texan named Dale Winget and his wife, Ava, loaded their five young children into a steel gray 1963 Ford Thunderbird and drove up the East Coast to their new home.
They arrived in Somerville County, N.J., 40 miles west of New York City, on a Sunday night and headed straight to worship at a rented YMCA.
“Unlike a lot of people, we had never seen New Jersey until the day we rolled into town in our T-Bird,” said Dale Winget, then a 31-year-old attorney.
The Wingets were a family on a mission — part of a much-heralded effort by Churches of Christ in the 1960s to evangelize urban cities in the Northeast.
The Exodus Movement — which made national headlines -— involved large groups of Christians in the South and Southwest forming ready-made congregations in places such as West Islip, N.Y.; Stamford,Conn.; Burlington, Mass.; Rochester, N.Y.; and Toronto.
Citing a “new kind of aggressive evangelism”by Churches of Christ, Time magazine proclaimed: “In order to carry the Gospel to one corner of the U.S. where they have few adherents, the churches are sending entire communities of believers to the urban Northeast instead of relying on individual missionaries to do the task.”

Newsweek described it this way: “The bulk of the pilgrims are white-collar workers and most of them have secured jobs in advance. But the 1,900-mile trek northeastward nevertheless involves a measure of courage.”

And, in a Page 1 story with the headline “Church Group in South Sends Members North To Spread the Word,” The Wall Street Journal reported:“Modern touches aside, the migrations by the Churches of Christ are keyed to New Testament evangelism. Those migrating are known as ‘vocational missionaries’; they hold down full-time jobs while giving much of their time to bringing uncommitted persons into the fold.”
Despite the initial promise, the concept of taking fully formed congregations to unchurched areas hundreds of miles away did not last long.
“It did not turn out to be an effective way to do church planting,” wrote Dwain Evans, who organized the first Exodus congregation in West Islip in 1963. “We imported our culture instead of embracing the culture of Long Island.”
Evans, a longtime member and formerelder at the Bering Drive church in Houston, recalled in his memoir that one woman baptized in New York remarked, “Not only do you become a Christian in this church, but you also have to become a Texan.”
“The sad thing is that it was true,” Evans said.
For those involved in the Exodus Movement, merging people of different backgrounds and subcultures proved more difficult than expected, Kent Smith wrote in the Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, published in 2004.
“Stresses often led to relationship breakdown in the teams, and the surrounding communities were sometimes less than enthusiastic about Southerners and their ideas of church,” said Smith, a ministry professor at Abilene Christian University in Texas.“The combination of internal and external stress was often overwhelming for the teams.”

Despite the difficulties, Smith noted,a number of the original Exodus Movement congregations survived and thrived.
More than 200 adults and children —including the Winget family — moved to New Jersey to start what is now the Garretson Road Church of Christ in Bridgewater. The Golf Course Road church in Midland, Texas, sponsored the effort.
The Garretson Road church, which averages Sunday attendance of more than 100, will celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Exodus New Jersey” June 30-July 3. The congregation embraces ethnic and cultural diversity while remaining true to traditional Church of Christ principles, elder Glenn Garthsaid.
Besides Dale and Ava Winget, five original members remain: Don and Annie Lou Grimes, Lewis and Roberta McDougal, and Lori Linderman.
Dale Winget, now 71, was baptized in Amarillo, Texas, just a few years before he heard about the Exodus Movement. Recalling himself as a young Christian “on fire for the Lord,” he told organizers he would commit to the move if he could find temporary support for his family while preparing to take the New Jersey bar exam.
When one of the organizers lined up support, Winget did not realize it until his wife read in The Christian Chronicle that they were among the group moving to New Jersey.
Ava Winget called her husband and asked, “Is there something you neglected to tell me?” Asked if she forgave him for the oversight, she joked, “I didn’t mind it. I didn’t kill him.”
Forty years later, the Wingets have no desire to return to Texas. They love New Jersey. And they’re proud of the seed they helped plant.
“The plain fact,” Dale Winget said, “isif we had not come here, this church would not be here. I suspect at the end of the day, we will have had a large impact on a lot of people.”

Filed under: National

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