April 2009

Iowa Supreme Court OKs gay civil marriage

April 6 2009 by Robert Marus, Associated Baptist Press

MOINES, Iowa — Iowa will soon join the ranks of states that allow same-sex marriage, due to a unanimous April 3 ruling by the state’s highest court.
The Iowa Supreme Court said a law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples violates the Iowa Constitution’s equal-protection provisions. The justices said their decision would take effect three weeks from the date it was handed down, meaning same-sex couples will be able to marry in the Hawkeye State beginning April 24.
The court also raised a religious argument. While the sanctity of marriage is very important to many religious believers, the justices said, neither the state nor federal government has any business sanctifying marriage.
“This proposition is the essence of the separation of church and state,” the court said. “As a result, civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals. This approach does not disrespect or denigrate the religious views of many Iowans who may strongly believe in marriage as a dual-gender union, but considers, as we must, only the constitutional rights of all people, as expressed by the promise of equal protection for all.”
Anticipating just this scenario, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina recently joined the NC4Marriage coalition to support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Legislation allowing North Carolina to vote on such an amendment is buried in committee, with little hope of resurrection.
Justice Mark Cady, writing the Iowa court’s opinion in Varnum v. Brien (No. 07-1499), said the court’s responsibility ”is to protect constitutional rights of individuals from legislative enactments that have denied those rights, even when the rights have not yet been broadly accepted, were at one time unimagined, or challenge a deeply ingrained practice or law viewed to be impervious to the passage of time.”
“The framers of the Iowa Constitution knew, as did the drafters of the United States Constitution, that ‘times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress,’“ Cady wrote, quoting from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision striking down a state sodomy law.
The case began in 2005, after six gay couples were denied marriage licenses by officials in Polk County, where Des Moines is located. They sued, and a lower court found in their favor. County officials appealed to the state’s highest court.
The justices rejected several arguments by county officials defending limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, saying they were not sufficiently rational nor tied to a legitimate government interest to justify treating gay Iowans differently from other citizens.
In regard to one of the chief arguments attorneys for Polk County marshaled — that heterosexual-only marriage benefits children — the court said neither scientific evidence nor reason bear that assertion out.
The opinion noted that its decision does nothing to affect religious marriage. “A religious denomination can still define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and a marriage ceremony performed by a minister, priest, rabbi, or other person ordained or designated as a leader of the person’s religious faith does not lose its meaning as a sacrament or other religious institution,” Cady wrote. “The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past. The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law. This result is what our constitution requires.”
The decision met with immediate disdain from religious conservatives.
U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) released a statement shortly after the decision was handed down saying the decision was “another example of activist judges molding the Constitution to achieve their personal political ends. Iowa law says that marriage is between one man and one woman. If judges believe the Iowa legislature should grant same-sex marriage, they should resign from their positions and run for office, not legislate from the bench.”
Iowa will join Massachusetts and Connecticut as the only states with legalized same-sex marriage. Legislators in Vermont — which already allows same-sex couples to enter into “civil unions” virtually identical to marriage — recently passed a same-sex marriage bill by wide margins, but the Republican governor has promised a veto.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Marus is managing editor and Washington bureau chief for Associated Baptist Press.)

4/6/2009 9:30:00 AM by Robert Marus, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Youth minister channels ‘Force’ to win audience

April 6 2009 by Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder

Until meeting Mike Johnson, youth minister at Antioch Baptist Church in Taylorsville, you just thought you liked Star Wars.

You might recognize Darth Vader as one of the most iconic bad guys in the history of film, but Johnson is Darth Vader. Really.

A member of the Carolina Garrison of the 501st Legion, a world-wide Star Wars costuming group, Johnson has made at least 50 public appearances in full Vader regalia.

He dons the famous mask and helmet, and the cape, armor and light saber. Johnson has also rigged his iPod to loop Vader’s infamous raspy breathing sound effect. It’s an outfit meticulously researched from head to toe.

It’s also an outfit that has helped him connect with the kids in his church, as well as those he visits during appearances with the Carolina Garrison.

“We make hospital visitations, and I get to see kids’ faces light up as Darth Vader comes into the room,” Johnson says. “It seems as though they’re not sick any more, in a way. They get to see their favorite Star Wars character come in and call them by name.

“For me to be Darth Vader for a child who has cancer or who is terminally ill in the hospital, in a way, that’s me leaving God’s fingerprints on the world because I’m able to bring joy to somebody’s life for a moment in time.”

Johnson is also a big fan of Tranformers, the toys that change from various types of vehicles into robots through a series of moves only a kid — or a kid at heart — could manage. He also likes comic books and anything else, he says, that’s “geeky.”

Contributed photo

Parades, hospital visits and Halloween events keep Mike Johnson, a.k.a. Darth Vader, busy. The youth minister said the Star Wars character can offer some biblical lessons.

And don’t think for a second that the young people at Antioch don’t notice.

“A lot of the time, I consider myself being a big kid who just went to school to be a youth minister,” Johnson says with a laugh.

“With the children, I don’t so much use the symbolism within Star Wars because it’s harder for them to grasp. But with the youth, I can use that kind of thing. They can grasp those concepts a little easier.”

Reaction from fellow staff and members at Antioch has been very positive. Then again, who’s going to mess with Darth Vader?

“I’ve had a lot of closet Star Wars fans come out,” Johnson says, again with an infectious chuckle. “Until they were able to see me as Darth Vader at one of our trunk-or-treats, that’s when they began talking to me about Star Wars.”

More than once, Johnson has used illustrations from the Star Wars universe in lessons.

Remember the scene from The Empire Strikes Back where Luke fails to lift his X-Wing fighter out of the swamp, and Yoda responds that it’s because he doesn’t believe? The 27-year-old Johnson says it’s a perfect metaphor for Philippians 4:13, where Paul writes, “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Holman CSB).

Then there was the time he used a Transformer in a lesson. He went through all the steps, changing the toy from a vehicle to a robot. It looked complicated, sure, but with practice, it becomes easier.

His point was this: To some, living as a Christian may seem difficult. But with practice … sure enough … it becomes easier.

“It has become a strong tool for me to use within ministry, to connect with kids,” says Johnson, who made his first Vader public appearance in May 2005.

“I think a lot of times that’s kind of where youth ministry lacks. We can teach God’s word and relate that to them, but sometimes we forget that we need to connect with our kids, too.

“I always think it’s cool to be able to connect with kids, and be able to get on their level. I think that’s when true ministry starts, whenever we begin to show kids that we love them and care enough about them (to become) involved in their world … that we can get down on their level and be personal with them. And being personal with them, we’re able to show them a God who is personal, too.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Houston is a writer in Yadkinville.)           

4/6/2009 8:11:00 AM by Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder | with 0 comments

89 new missionaries to serve overseas

April 6 2009 by Emilee Brandon, Baptist Press

TAYLORS, S.C. — “We do not have lofty goals of world success,” missionary Christine Moffett said. “Our desire is simply to live through Christ and to proclaim His message of grace and salvation.”

Moffett, a South Carolina native, was among 89 new missionaries appointed by the International Mission Board (IMB) during a March 18 service at Taylors First Baptist Church in South Carolina, bringing the current missionary count to 5,569. The new appointees will serve throughout the world, joining missionaries in all of the board’s current 11 regions of service. The March appointment service would have been the IMB’s fourth-largest group of appointees had 14 more approved missionaries been able to participate. The 14 are delayed because their stateside houses have not sold yet.

Moffett will be serving with her husband Andrew in Argentina.

Three couples with N.C. ties also were appointed.

Russell and Ingrid Woodbridge will be serving in church and leadership development in Central and Eastern Europe. Woodbridge was assistant professor of theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest and also was missions pastor at The Summit Church in Durham. The Woodbridges have four children, ages 6 and 12.

Jeremy and Deanna McSwain, both Shelby natives, have also been appointed to Central and Eastern Europe but in community outreach/development. They have two children, ages 3 and 8.
He previously was on staff at Crestview Baptist Church in Shelby and was an educator. Most recently, Deanna was working at a Shelby jeweler.

Appointed as strategy coordinator to Middle America & Caribbean, Jaime and Myrna Pagan have three children, ages 4 to 12.

Myrna has been a teacher, assistant principal and principal in the Raleigh area. Jaime was an environmental engineer in Durham. They are members of Apex Baptist Church in Apex.

Officials said other N.C. missionaries were appointed but names were not available because of security concerns.

Spiritual provisions
God wants to “turn the hearts of people to what only Jesus can provide,” IMB President Jerry Rankin said in addressing the new missionaries.

Speaking from Colossians 1, Rankin encouraged each person to use the Apostle Paul’s prayer for spiritual provisions as an example — pray to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, to always walk in a manner worthy of the Lord and to be strengthened by His power and presence.

Being a missionary is not just a job, Rankin reminded, but rather a witness for Jesus Christ, a representative for Him in a lost world.

The most effective witness of Christians is the way they live their lives. Believers need to “demonstrate peace in the midst of adversity, joy in all circumstances,” Rankin said.

Each new missionary carries the indwelling presence of Jesus Christ onto the mission field, he said. No believer is limited to his or her own strength and ability to handle difficulties.

“You folks are going to go through the fire again and again and again,” Rankin said.
“But you can be certain your Lord will show up and see you through.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Brandon is a writer with the International Mission Board.)

4/6/2009 8:10:00 AM by Emilee Brandon, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Event raises $8,400 for World Hunger Fund

April 6 2009 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

PRINCETON, W.Va. — During the 30 hours that 150 believers fasted at Immanuel Baptist Church in Princeton, W.Va., 31,250 people died of starvation around the world.

That’s why the believers were fasting.

“We fast to save their lives. We fast so they don’t have to,” participants were told as the event launched in late February.

Seven years ago, when Immanuel held its first fast for world hunger, only 13 people participated, said Josh Johnson, the congregation’s associate pastor. This year, their “f30” fast drew 150 participants from a wide variety of congregations and raised almost $8,400 for the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund.

Photo by Josh Johnson

Young people at the “f30” event at Immanuel Baptist Church in Princeton, W.Va., draw some of the 31,250 stick figures that represented the number of people who would die of hunger during the 30-hour fast.

Because the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund is a “dollar in, dollar out” operation, every penny of the amount raised by the young people will go to combat hunger in North America and overseas.

The church’s emphasis on a 30-hour fast for world hunger ministries actually began with a previous youth pastor who used a program promoted by a Christian parachurch ministry. Johnson, however, liked the fact that the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund doesn’t take out a percentage of donations to cover administrative overhead. Southern Baptists are able to do that because their unified budget, from contributions through the Cooperative Program, provides a permanent infrastructure for operating hunger ministries.

“When we have a ministry within our own Southern Baptist circles that sends 100 percent to the mission field, in my book that’s a lot better,” Johnson said. “So we came up with our own event and designed our own curriculum.”

The result: A church that was giving about $1,700 a year to world hunger increased its giving to more than $6,000, over the course of four years. And this year they wrote a check for $8,371.06.

That’s an average of almost $56 per participant, compared to the 50¢ Southern Baptist church members give on average to the World Hunger Fund each year.

“That’s $56 per participant in one weekend,” Johnson noted. “If all our churches committed to this project, we could stamp out hunger and change lives all over the world.”

Keys to success
One key to the event’s increasing success is that the youth are challenged with creative team activities. For example, each of this year’s 27 teams was given a penny and told to trade it for something “bigger and better” — and then keep trading up. Pennies became nickels, which in turn became dimes, then quarters. When a team received a dollar, they converted it to smaller coins and kept going.

The 27 pennies multiplied into more than $2,700.

Johnson said he also looks for ways to visually illustrate the death toll claimed by hunger.

“We try every year to come up with a way to show how many people die worldwide during our 30-hour fast,” he said. “The number is 31,250, so this year we had the students draw 31,250 stick people on large sheets of paper. Then we mounted the pages on the sanctuary walls for our Sunday morning worship hour. One year we made crosses out of paint stirrers and placed them in the front lawn of the church. Another year we dipped our hands in red paint, then placed them on paper and each hand represented five people. One year we cut out paper dolls. That was one of my favorites, to see 31,250 dolls cut out, holding hands, wrapped around our sanctuary walls like six or seven times. Amazing!”

The church also uses the hunger event to prepare students for missions involvement, said Johnson, who grew up in Immanuel. Participation in overseas projects requires young people to get involved stateside first.

“Our whole church is very mission driven. One Thursday night a month, our church members go out on a mission opportunity. This past year, we gave out more than 300 volunteer on mission certificates,” Johnson said. “Missions has been the backbone of our ministry. We drive everything off of missions.”

Immanuel’s youth group will conduct 25 to 30 mission projects in the community each year, ranging from cleaning up vacant lots to helping at the animal shelter to volunteering at food and clothing ministries, Johnson added.

Life change
At the end of the event, participants broke their fast by celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Then they all ate a hearty dinner, prepared for them by other church members, and awards were handed out for the teams’ accomplishments.

“It’s real fun. Our kids get really excited about it,” Johnson said. “It’s one of the things they look forward to most every year.”

And the event also influences the direction of young people’s lives, he added.

“One young man said he felt he was being called to the ministry by experiencing the weekend. He felt like God was calling him to do the things he was doing there, whether it was through missions or ministry in a church, he felt God was calling him. We also had a student who surrendered to missions through the weekend, which he shared with the church the following Sunday,” he said. “Numerous students talk about how it opens their eyes to see what starvation is like, even after only 30 hours, they are tired and hungry and the thought of having to go days without food really hits home. It’s really interesting to see how God moves through all of it.”

The f30 event engages students from sixth grade through college but the church also has started an “f15” emphasis, a 15-hour fast that focuses on children from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Jim Brown, U.S. director for Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization, hopes other congregations will adopt the f30 and f15 events as their own.

“Immanuel’s f30 event was far more than just a youth event to benefit world hunger ministries,” said Brown, who spoke during the fast and then shared with the entire congregation on Sunday morning. “They involve the whole church — children through adults — and it meets a wide range of needs in both the church and community.”

A holistic effort like the f30 event not only creates awareness about the world hunger crisis and raises money to help, but it also engages Christians in mission, deepens their discipleship, helps churches grow and ministers in the name of Christ to the entire community, Brown said.

“The f30 event not only raised money for a good cause, but a period of fasting also is a great time for teaching spiritual truth,” he added. “It’s been a long time since many churches have had a world hunger event like this, but the global hunger crisis hasn’t gone away. We’d like to see congregations everywhere get involved again in stamping out hunger.”

Southern Baptist churches will observe World Hunger Sunday on Oct. 11, 2009. For information about conducting your own event to benefit the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, visit worldhungerfund.com.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.)

4/6/2009 8:07:00 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

April 8 named day of prayer for military

April 3 2009 by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON — Wednesday, April 8 has been proclaimed as a day of prayer and fasting for the U.S. Army’s 200,000 deployed soldiers and their families by the Army’s chief of chaplains.

Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Douglas L. Carver, a Southern Baptist, said the prayer and fasting proclamation coincides with a 120-day “stand down” and unit training period to address the Army’s top-priority emphasis on suicide prevention and awareness.

“April 8 is a Wednesday and prayer meeting night for Southern Baptists, so we really encourage not only Baptists but all local churches to pray for the military,” Carver told Baptist Press in a phone interview.

Photo by Carol Pipes

U.S. Army Chaplain Jeff Houston, far right, prays with American soldiers prior to another dangerous mission in Iraq. Houston is one of 3,500 chaplains serving in the Army worldwide.

The two-star general from Rome, Ga., said the Army noticed a spike in its rate of suicides among soldiers, and that top Army leadership asked its chaplaincy if it could do more to mitigate the suicide rate and take care of affected Army families.

“This has been a long war we’ve been in — for eight years since 9/11,” Carver said. “The war has been on an up tempo and at an almost unsustainable rate, with fighting on two fronts (Iraq and Afghanistan). Suicide is something we’re now seeing as one of the residuals of this long war.

“So we came up with the idea of having a time of concerted prayer to pray for the Army and its challenges, our soldiers and their families, and our senior leadership making decisions. We also have a new commander-in-chief and his new staff we need to pray for.”

Last year the Army marked 140 suicides, the highest number recorded since the early 1980s, Carver said.

“Life is difficult right now, with all the chaos in the world, all the challenges, the economy. This is affecting our forces,” he said. “Since 2001, the U.S. Army has had all the challenges of multi-deployments. We’ve got soldiers on their second, third and fourth deployments. Obviously, the stress and strain of constant deployment, rotations, going in and out of combat zones, and trying to keep their families together, have affected our soldiers.”

The Army has some 3,500 chaplains in the active Army, the Army Reserves and the National Guard, Carver said. The Army’s goal is to have a chaplain in each battalion of 500-600 soldiers and available for their families. Every unit deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan has an assigned chaplain. The Army has 200,000 deployed soldiers in 80 locations around the world.

“By God’s grace, we haven’t lost any chaplains yet, but we have had some seriously wounded and awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star,” Carver said. “We’ve also had chaplains who have suffered post-traumatic stress and even a few who have also taken their own lives in the last several years.

“One of the greatest things Southern Baptists can do is pray for our soldiers and their families,” he said. “We’ve asked our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen to protect and defend our great land. They’re encouraged when they know our local churches are praying for them.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)

4/3/2009 2:43:00 AM by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

In Iran, ‘crackdown’ on Christians worsens

April 3 2009 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON — Reports are emerging from Iran of heightened persecution of Christians.

Two Christian women are being detained by Iranian security forces as “anti-government activists,” according to International Christian Concern, a human rights organization based in Washington. The imprisoned women reportedly are in ill health.

A Pentecostal church in Tehran has been ordered closed and three Iranian Christian men have been declared guilty of cooperating with “anti-government movements,” according to Compass Direct News of Santa Ana, Calif., which provides reports on Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith.

In an overview of persecution in Iran, International Christian Concern stated: “Iranian officials have dramatically increased their persecution of Christians following the conversion of a large number of Muslims to Christianity. Last year alone, 50 Christians were arrested for practicing their faith, some of whom were tortured. There have also been reports that Christians died due to the torture they were forced to endure.”

As phrased by Compass Direct News, there were “more than 50 documented arrests of Christians in 2008 alone.” Compass added that “the recent government crackdown includes Christian institutions that minister beyond Iran’s tiny indigenous Christian community.”

Compass also noted: “A new penal code under consideration by the Iranian Parliament includes a bill that would require the death penalty for apostasy.”

International Christian Concern, in its April 2 report on the two detained women, recounted:

“... (O)n March 5, 2009, Iranian security forces detained two Christian women for practicing Christianity. Iranian officials allege that Marzieh Amairizadeh Esmaeilabad and Maryam Rustampoor are ‘anti-government activists.’

“According to the Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN), Iranian security officials searched the apartment shared by the two women and confiscated their personal belongings before they handcuffed and took the Christians to Police and Security Station 137 in Gaysha, west of Tehran.

After appearing before the Revolutionary Court on March 18, the women were sent to the notorious Evin prison. Iranian officials told the Christian women to post bail at a staggering amount of $400,000 in order to be released from the prison.

“Both women are allowed just a one minute telephone call every day to their immediate families.

Both are unwell and in need of urgent medical attention. During their last call on March 28, Marzieh said that she was suffering from an infection and high fever. She said, ‘I am dying,’ reported FCNN.”

The Pentecostal church in Tehran was ordered closed because “it offered a Farsi-language service attended by converts from Islam,” Compass reported March 31, attributing the information to the Farsi Christian News Network.

The church, which consists of Assyrian believers, was ordered closed by the Islamic Revolutionary Court, which, as Compass described it, was established as part of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

An Assyrian member of Parliament, Yonathan Betkolia, announced the order on March 19.

Compass recounted that Betkolia last October had lauded freedoms extended to Iranian minority groups, but “he has publicly protested” the church allowing Farsi-language services for “non-Assyrians” (namely Muslims). An unnamed regional analyst said Betkolia waged the protest, as Compass put it, because “the increase in government pressure on the Christian community has put him in a difficult position.”

Compass quoted the analyst as saying, “As a representative of the Assyrian community, a priority for Betkolia is to ensure the preservation of the limited freedoms and relative peace his traditional Christian community enjoys. Disassociation from a church which has welcomed believers from a Muslim background should therefore be seen as a form of self-defense.”

Compass reported that the pastor of the church “has indicated that cancelling Farsi-language services may allow it to continue, though it was unclear at press time whether the congregation’s leadership was willing to make that compromise.”

Meanwhile, the three Iranian Christians declared guilty March 10 of cooperating with “anti-Christian movements” have received eight-month suspended prison sentences with a five-year probation. But, Compass reported, the Islamic Revolutional Court judge said he would enforce the sentences of Seyed Allaedin Hussein, Homayoon Shokouhi and Seyed Amir Hussein Bob-Annari -- and try them as “apostates,” or those who abandon Islam -- if they violate their probation – “including a ban on contacting one another,” Compass noted.

Compass reported: “The ‘anti-government movements’ referred to by the judge are satellite television stations Love Television and Salvation TV. Unlike the Internet, which is heavily censored in Iran, the two 24-hour satellite TV stations can bypass government information barriers.

“Sources said links between the accused and these organizations, however, remain tenuous,” Compass continued, quoting an unnamed source as saying, “The TV link came up almost six months after [the original arrests], so it is very new. We believe they just made it up, or it is something they want to make appear more important than is the reality.”

Compass further reported: “The three men were arrested by security forces on May 11, 2008, at the Shiraz airport while en route to a Christian marriage seminar in Dubai. According to a report by Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN), at that time the families of the three men avoided formal charges by agreeing to terms of release, including payment of a bond amount. Details of the terms were undisclosed.”

According to Compass, “The number of Assyrian Christians in the country is estimated at between 10,000 and 20,000, with estimates of Armenian Christians in Iran ranging from 110,000 to 300,000.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.)

4/3/2009 2:42:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Teen’s vision brings water to Darfur

April 3 2009 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

MILAN, Tenn. — Joshua Guthrie was a troubled teen. Like many others of his generation, the high school sophomore was troubled by the needless suffering of so many people in so many places. Hunger and poverty. Wartime atrocities and sex trafficking. AIDS orphans and genocides.

Contributed photo

Joshua Guthrie

It seemed so impossible for a 16-year-old in west Tennessee to make a difference.

Then Joshua read Do Hard Things, a bestselling book by twin brothers Alex and Brett Harris, at 20 years old only barely out of their teens themselves. The book challenges young people to rebel against “the myth of adolescence” — the notion that teens are by nature irresponsible, immature and rebellious. “By breaking the mold of what society thinks we are capable of, teens can achieve so much more than what’s expected,” the brothers write. “We’ve seen ‘average’ teenagers transformed from channel changers to world changers who are accomplishing incredible things.”

The book rocked Joshua’s world.

“For as long as I can remember, my family has supported children through World Vision, and we have gotten their catalogs, which list items you can buy for needy people around the world,” Joshua said during an interview at his parents’ home near Milan, Tenn. “I had always wanted to be able to buy one of the really big items, like the largest well, which was $10,000.”

Joshua knew that clean, safe water is a life-and-death issue for nearly 900 million people around the world. He found it deeply disturbing that water-related disease kills more than 3.5 million people each year — the vast majority of them children, almost half of them because of simple diarrhea.

Photo from BGR

Residents of a village in the Darfur region of Sudan enjoy clean water provided by the “Dollar for a Drink” campaign of 16-year-old Joshua Guthrie.

Joshua’s desire to help grew even more when Jeff Palmer, executive director for Baptist Global Response, came to the Guthrie home for dinner in the spring of 2008. Palmer and Joshua’s dad, George, had been friends since their college days at Union University in nearby Jackson, Tenn., where George Guthrie now serves as a Bible professor. Joshua learned that Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization, works on precisely the kind of human needs ministries he cared so much about.

“Mr. Palmer told me Baptist Global Response was helping drill water wells in Sudan and he gave me some tips about how to go about raising money for a project like that,” Joshua recounted. “I thought that paying for a well would be a really cool thing to do, but a teen really can’t save up $8,000 or $10,000 for a well. I knew I would have to raise it with the help of others. When I read Do Hard Things, I thought, ‘I really need to get going on this if I actually want to do anything.’ So I kind of took the step to get started.”

Joshua zeroed in on the idea of giving other teens an achievable goal: giving up one drink so they could give $1 to help build one well in Sudan. He set a goal of raising $8,000 by Christmas. With his parents’ help, he reserved an Internet domain — dollarforadrink.org. They registered the new organization as a nonprofit, got a post office box and set a launch date of Oct. 1. They got a basic website up, and Joshua started talking the project up in the forums at the Harris brothers’ web site, therebelution.com.

“It’s a wonderfully run website,” Joshua said. “I got lots of advice, encouragement and suggestions, even before I started the project. Then the Harris brothers announced they would match all donations given by their members, up to a total of $1,000.

“It came in fast,” Joshua said. “The first gift we received was $250 from a college student. In less than two weeks, we had reached the $1,000 matching gift goal. And the day after Christmas, when we received the $1,000 check from Alex and Brett Harris, we had raised a little over $10,000.”

Money kept coming in, however, and by the time they were ready to write the check to Baptist Global Response, the total had risen to $11,200.

Photo from BGR

Clean, safe water is a life-and-death issue for almost 900 million people around the world. Water-related disease kills more than 3.5 million people each year — the vast majority of them children, almost half of them because of simple diarrhea.

The drive succeeded, not because of large checks, but because so many people made small donations.

“We had kids who were in their youth groups or on their campuses doing these mini-drives,” said Joshua’s mother, Pat. “We’d get these checks from these little churches and groups, just all over the place.”

“Apart from the Rebelution check, everything else was pretty much small donations,” Joshua said. “We didn’t have a whole lot of single-dollar donations, but we had lots of $5 and $10 gifts. I’m sure lots of people in churches and at schools gave single dollars, but it just came to us in a larger check.

“Through the post office box, we got a lot of money in with cards and letters, just giving us encouragement to keep going and that they really appreciated what I was doing,” he added. “It was always a lot of fun to go to the post office and find a large stack of letters and read them. My favorite was from a little old lady in a nursing home who said, ‘I don’t have much I can give. I just wanted to give what I could,’ and there was like $5 in the envelope. It was so sweet. I wrote her back to thank her.”

On March 15, Joshua received photos of the well put in by his Dollar for a Drink campaign. The photos were sent by Abraham Shepherd, who directs Baptist Global Response work in North Africa. One image showed young people from a community of about 6,000 people in Sudan’s Darfur region, drawing water from the new borehole. Before this well was drilled, people had to walk at least four hours to get to a source of clean water, Shepherd said.

“On behalf of the needy people of Sudan, I thank you for caring and rallying others to care with you, to provide that drink of water,” Shepherd wrote. “When I told them about your desire to raise more funds and drill more wells, in working with BGR, the response from Sudan was: ‘We need all the help that we can get. We need people like yourself who will help us quench the thirst of the needy and give them hope.’“

Jeff Palmer agreed: “The Apostle Paul said to Timothy, ‘Don’t let anyone look down upon you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.’ I think Joshua has set that kind of example for us all. He took on this awesome vision, followed God’s leading and showed a whole generation his own age, as well as those much older, that God can do amazing things when we hear and follow His plans for us. My prayer is that more people will be inspired by Josh’s story and dare to make a difference.”

Joshua has his sights set on another round of fundraising — with a goal of $16,000 to drill two wells. This time, he can spend his summer raising awareness, instead of organizing the project, and he plans to launch the campaign Sept. 1 to coincide with the start of school.

He said he has learned two important lessons from his experience.

“I learned you actually have to take the first step forward,” he said. “In the beginning, I was just kind of thinking, ‘Well, what do I need to do?’ I guess starting something like this was kind of intimidating. But Dad and I sat down and made a list of five things we needed to do. They were real simple things, and then we just kind of got going with it. Things started accelerating, and by the time we got into October, I was kind of like, ‘How did we get here?’

“I also learned you’ve got to trust God that it’s possible to do something like this,” he noted. “It doesn’t matter what your age is. So often people think, ‘Well, that person is exceptionally gifted’ or ‘That person really had the right resources. I couldn’t do that.’ I’m just a completely ordinary guy, but I serve an extraordinary God.

“I just really want to say that it’s possible for God to use you, if you’ll just take the step forward and let Him do His work.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press)
4/3/2009 2:35:00 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Vt. House passes ‘gay marriage’ bill

April 3 2009 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont’s House passed a bill Thursday night (April 2) that would legalize “gay marriage,” although it fell just short of a veto-proof majority, meaning the political drama is far from over.

The bill passed on second reading by a vote of 95-52, which is five votes shy of the veto-proof number of 100 if all members are present. Republican Gov. Jim Douglas has promised a veto.

The bill — which had minor changes made to it — will face a third reading today (April 3) and then will go back to the Senate, where it already passed it by a veto-proof margin. Democrats control both chambers.

If the bill becomes law, Vermont would become the first state to legalize “gay marriage” without a court-order.

It’s still possible supporters will get the votes to override a Douglas veto. At least two Democrats told the Burlington Free Press they would switch to a “yes” vote on an override simply because they thought Douglas had interfered in the legislative process with his veto pledge.

During floor debate, supporters said it was a matter of civil rights and that Vermont should take the next step by granting the title “marriage” to homosexual couples. The state already recognizes civil unions, which grant same-sex couples all the legal benefits of marriage minus the name.

Opponents argued that religious freedom was at stake. Rep. Duncan Kilmartin, a Republican, told the story of a Massachusetts couple, Robb and Robin Wirthlin, who complained to their school when their second-grade son and his classmates were read a book about a prince “marrying” a prince.” The school didn’t budge, so the Wirthlins sued the school in federal court but lost. Massachusetts recognizes “gay marriage.”

“I treasure the Vermont Constitution, which protects not merely my freedom of thought ... but protects my practice of those thoughts as long as they don’t harm someone else,” Kilmartin said. “If I teach my children that marriage is between a man and a woman and not between two people of the same sex, then both my children and I should be fully protected — not merely in (our) belief, but in the public expression (of it).”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.)

4/3/2009 2:34:00 AM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

WMU-NC stresses call to love at annual meeting

April 1 2009 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor

RIDGECREST — “WMU has brought the house down,” Ruby Fulbright quipped March 20 during the first session of the annual meeting of the Woman’s Missionary Union of North Carolina (WMU-NC).

Actually, the outside ceiling covering the porch of the registration building at LifeWay’s Ridgecrest Conference Center collapsed a little more than two hours earlier. No one was seriously injured.

BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle

New officers in May, from left: Beth McDonald, assistant recording secretary; Tammi Ward, recording secretary; Chris Harker, vice president of development; Tana Hartsell, vice president; and Delores Thomas, president. View photo gallery.

Lasting March 20-22, 925 ladies attended many breakout sessions to learn about missions near and far and tips for doing WMU better for various age groups. Registration opened at 1 p.m. March 20 with two breakout sessions before dinner.

“It’s about loving Him and loving them,” said Haven Parrott, featured speaker. Each of the sessions for Missions Extravaganza focused on the “Called to Love” theme based on Matt. 22:37-39.

Parrott, discipleship and outreach coordinator for First Baptist Church in Kannapolis, said “real life begins with Christ” and warned about the “fiercest enemy” — religion.

“It is in the relationship to Him that we begin to resemble Him,” said Parrott, who led sessions over the weekend. “We sometimes live as if God had given us a great command and a great idea,” with the great command being to love God and the great idea being to love others.

But both are commands, Parrott said, and both involve death.

“Death to our convenience, comfort, claim on our time, money and … death to purposelessness, selfishness,” she said.

In spite of the fun and learning that took place, Parrott reminded the participants that

“God has not saved us for conference Christianity. He has saved us for confrontational Christianity.”

More work is ahead for the ladies. The reason for the retreat is to advance, said Parrott, using military terminology to explain.

“There is work left to do,” she said, encouraging them to exhibit tough love in their relationships, a love that is not about how they feel.
  • Regardless love
  • Relentless love
  • Redemptive love
WMU-NC status
WMU-NC ended 2008 in the black in spite of not meeting its $1.2 million Heck-Jones Offering goal in 2008.

In fact, the organization finished with a $71,557 net loss based solely on 2008 income.
There was enough money in the bank to make up the difference.

“We are encouraged about how we ended the 2008 year,” said Beth Beam, “considering that the Woman’s Missionary Union of North Carolina did not receive the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO).”

The Baptist State Convention (BSC) removed WMU-NC from its NCMO offering in 2008 when the relationship between the two organizations officially changed.

Beam, who represented the finance committee, WMU-NC needs $110,000 monthly to meet its budget.

The 2009 budget of $1.3 million includes new ministries including poverty initiatives, Summerfest, family missions as well as military ministry.

The new officers for 2009: Delores Thomas, president; Tana Hartsell, vice president; Chris Harker, vice president of development; Tammi Ward, recording secretary; and Beth McDonald, assistant recording secretary.

Harker’s position was a new addition to the bylaws. Instead of a second vice president, which was standard before, the WMU-NC added the vice president of development because of the need of the organization to have someone who can help raise money. The new position will not be in line for the presidency and is not limited by term.

Two listening sessions offered March 20 allowed delegates to learn about changes to the WMU-NC’s articles of incorporation and bylaws that were voted on March 21.

Wendy Case, part of the WMU-NC executive board, led the listening sessions March 20, which she said were well-attended.

Making the changes was a four-year process mainly cleaning up wording and making sure policy is in sync with bylaws. Some of the changes were brought about by a change in relationship to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).

In the Articles of Incorporation:
  • changes age of voting delegates from 16 to 18
  • removes requirement that delegates have to be from BSC churches
  • changes address of headquarters to current location
  • corrects legal name in document
Case said if you participate in a WMU group, you’re a member but to be a voting delegate you have to be registered at the meeting and 18 or older.

The first change in the bylaws adds a membership definition, which was required by the national WMU.

“We made a change in our relationship,” Case said veering the conversation to the bylaw changes. “We wanted to continue indicating a partnership with the Baptist State Convention.”

In the past the BSC did not like the term cooperative partner in the WMU-NC’s relationships section, Case said. Now the wording reads “laborers together in Christian work with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina …”.

“We haven’t changed the work,” Case said. “Co-laborers is our national watchword. We didn’t change our mission. We didn’t change our relationship.”

The number of at-large members to the Executive Board (30) increased as did the number allowed to be elected each year (10). Case said the reason is that members of the nominating committee now are part of the Board.

Because of the relationship change, BSC staff members can now serve on the WMU-NC Executive Board.

Since the relationship change between the BSC, Case said the WMU-NC will still complete an annual report but will not be required to send it. The report will be available upon request.

“Nothing we did was earth-shattering,” Case said. “It hasn’t changed but it made it more clear.”

During the March 21 business session, no opposition was voiced to any of the changes or items up for approval.

BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle

Ruby Fulbright shares her report March 21. View photo gallery.

Fulbright, in her report to the delegates, said WMU-NC started 158 new organizations in 79 churches and that all events were well attended.

“Every element of  involvement … every event held reflects people and relationships,” Fulbright said. “At the very core of Christian faith is relationships. Building relationships is how Jesus did ministry.”

Fulbright recognized the deaf women who were joining the Missions Extravaganza for the 25th year. She also praised her staff for their unique gifts.

“I’m really blessed to be their leader,” she said.

Sandra James called her time as president challenging and frustrating and “much more.”

“So much more because of people like you,” James said. “We were not only seeking God’s will but we were discovering new opportunities and new doors.”

Incoming president Thomas encouraged the ladies toward a missional mindset.

“It’s not just enough to go around the world. You need to go next door,” she said.

An offering taken during the meeting raised more than $9,500 for the Heck-Jones offering.

4/1/2009 9:47:00 AM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 0 comments

Hunt, state leaders meet to address SBC health

April 1 2009 by Staff and wire reports

DULUTH, Ga. — Baptist state convention presidents were called together March 19 to discuss the health of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) with the president of the SBC.

The meeting, held at the Georgia Baptist Missions and Ministry Center in Duluth, Ga., drew 26 of the state convention presidents, including Rick Speas, president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

The convocation was the brainchild of Georgia Baptist Convention president Bucky Kennedy as a forum to determine how the national convention could position itself for revival and a “Great Commission resurgence” in the days ahead.

“I want us to build stronger relationship within our denomination and bring the younger generation along as we work and witness together,” said SBC president Johnny Hunt.

Speas, pastor of Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, said the convention presidents want to see a fresh movement of God’s Spirit in the SBC and the nation.

“The desire in our hearts was pretty much the same — praying that God will move among His people again,” Speas said.

The presidents discussed how to maintain biblical Christianity in a secular world, Speas said.

“There was good conversation around the table about where we are as Southern Baptists,” he said.

Kennedy said state convention presidents would love to see a new enthusiasm for the gospel mission across the SBC.

“Those presidents of the various state conventions are very much aware of where we are as a denomination,” Kennedy said. “They long to see a spiritual awakening in our convention and nation. They also have a desire to see us engage in an aggressive church planting movement.”

The state presidents were “in one accord,” Hunt said.

“I did not hear any kind of disagreement expressed. The presidents from both of the Texas conventions were present and sat together,” he said. “To me that was symbolic of the kind of harmony and togetherness we can experience as a denomination.”

The Cooperative Program, the SBC’s unified budget, also became a part of the discussion. While a strong commitment to the Cooperative Program was apparent among the men at the Duluth gathering, they also agreed the Cooperative Program should not be a requirement of fellowship or a litmus test for serving in the denomination.

Hunt asked: “How do we measure faithfulness to the Convention? Is giving 10 percent to the CP worthy of a badge of honor? Is giving less than 10 percent to the CP deserving of a badge of dishonor? I think we need to celebrate those churches that are growing and headed in the right direction.

“A church that is declining in numbers and giving, but committed to giving 10 percent of its undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program, is headed in the wrong direction and will be giving less even though their percentage of giving is strong,” Hunt said. “But a church that gives only 3 percent, but is growing in numbers and giving — buying land, constructing buildings and adding staff — will consistently be increasing their dollar amount to the CP.”

At the same time, giving 10 percent of all undesignated gifts to the Cooperative Program “should not necessarily be the ceiling,” Kennedy said.

4/1/2009 8:34:00 AM by Staff and wire reports | with 1 comments

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