April 2011

Death toll tops 200 in Ala., nears 300 in U.S.

April 29 2011 by Baptist Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — One of the most devastating tornado outbreaks in the nation’s history left at least 290 people dead in six states April 27 as Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers — already on the ground in some locations — scrambled to assess damaged church buildings and assist in disaster relief in the midst of power and telephone outages, and rubble.

In Alabama alone, more than 200 people died in 16 counties, and the governor estimated as many as half a million to a million people were left without electricity.

Tennessee was the next hardest hit with a reported 34 deaths, followed by 32 in Mississippi, 14 in Georgia, five in Virginia and one in Arkansas. Entire neighborhoods were leveled in the affected regions.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers in Alabama already are assisting emergency response personnel in an effort to find survivors.

The Weather Channel called the outbreak the deadliest since 1974.

Photo courtesy of Alberta Baptist Church

Alberta Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala., was one of an unknown number of Southern Baptist churches damaged during the Wednesday tornadoes. More significantly: Nearly 300 people died across the region, and the number is climbing.

Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama State Board of Missions and treasurer of the Alabama Baptist Convention, said Thursday, “This is our Katrina,” according to The Alabama Baptist newspaper.

Mel Johnson, director of disaster relief for the Alabama Baptist Convention, said disaster relief volunteers “have been asked to assist in search and rescue efforts” — a first for the Alabama volunteers.

Johnson was one of about a dozen Baptist state convention disaster relief leaders who participated in a Thursday morning conference call coordinated by the North American Mission Board. State representatives shared about damage in their states while others offered resources and volunteers when needed.

“Entire communities disappeared,” Johnson said. “Many hospitals, police departments, local fire departments all sustained damage. At one campsite campers were picked up and swept into a lake.

“We have teams that started responding yesterday,” Johnson said. “They have had to cut their way into these areas.”

Johnson said after search and rescue, their top priority is establishing several feeding sites near large population centers so they can begin serving hot meals to victims.

Southern Baptist disaster relief leaders in Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia also reported damage from Wednesday’s outbreak. The lack of electricity in Alabama is making meal distribution a high priority.

Lance, the Alabama state exec, also said via Twitter Thursday that he was thankful for a call from Southern Baptist Executive Committee president Frank Page pledging prayer and other support. The SBC family is needed in Alabama, Lance said.

President Obama planned to visit Alabama on Friday to view the damage and meet with state and local officials as well as families affected by the storms.

Mickey Caison, NAMB’s Disaster Relief coordinator, called it the “storm you never want to see.”

“Our top priority is to help people just get through the next few days and weeks. After that, Southern Baptists will be called upon to help with the longer-term effort to remove debris and help victims rebuild.”

The tornadoes came as Southern Baptists volunteers were also in the midst of responding to floods in Kentucky, Missouri and Arkansas as well as earlier deadly tornadoes in North Carolina.

NAMB president Kevin Ezell called on Southern Baptists to pray “but I would also like to ask every Southern Baptist and every church to donate to our disaster relief efforts.” Ezell said people can give at Namb.net to a specially designated fund for tornado and flood victims that will ensure that 100 percent of donations go directly to help disaster victims. Donations also can be made to the disaster relief unit of each state convention.

“God has blessed Southern Baptists with more trained disaster relief volunteers and more disaster relief units than any other ministry or organization,” Ezell said. “Now is a time to respond generously with our resources and our services to meet physical and spiritual needs.”

At least one strong tornado cut a path through Tuscaloosa, Ala., killing dozens, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses and leaving roads impassable. Mayor Walter Maddox said the storm obliterated blocks of the city, causing unprecedented devastation to the city’s infrastructure.

“I don’t know how anyone survived,” Maddox told CNN. “We’re used to tornadoes here in Tuscaloosa. It’s part of growing up. But when you look at the path of destruction that’s likely five to seven miles long in an area half a mile to a mile wide ... it’s an amazing scene. There’s parts of the city I don’t recognize, and that’s someone that’s lived here his entire life.”

Classes were canceled Thursday at the University of Alabama, and some of the school’s off-campus residents were among the dead. The school’s web site said the semester was ending early and that students could settle for their current grade or opt to take a final at a later date. May’s graduation ceremony has been postponed until August.

The same tornado that hit Tuscaloosa also hit Birmingham, Ala., causing significant damage with a Red Cross spokesman telling CNN the number of ambulances on the street there was “just like taxicabs in New York.”

It is not known how many church buildings in Alabama and elsewhere were damaged or destroyed, but reports kept coming in through the day Thursday.

Alberta Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa was heavily damaged, and in rural Phil Campbell, Ala. — 90 miles north of Tuscaloosa — Mountain View Baptist Church was destroyed. Other Alabama churches that sustained heavy damage included First Baptist Church in Cullman, Eastside Baptist Church in Cullman, and First Baptist Church in Fultondale.

In Mississippi, Smithville Baptist Church in the northeastern part of the state and the neighboring United Methodist Church “were both destroyed,” according to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. “The Baptist church had an inverted Chevy truck on top of its roof where its offices once stood. The church bus lay on its side in a nearby ditch,” the newspaper said.

No building along a mile-long stretch through town was unaffected, and most were destroyed in Smithville, a town with a population of 900 people. Homes with bodies in them were marked with two orange Xs.

Marsha Houck, a nurse practitioner, told the Daily Journal, “People are walking around in shock with broken arms and all sorts of injuries, and folks are looking for their loved ones.” In Georgia, Shorter University, affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention, was cleaning up Thursday after about 20 trees were down on campus. Disaster relief teams from the state convention were onsite to help, and classes were canceled. At least one window in the university’s administration building was knocked out by a fallen tree, and a nearby garage was destroyed.

In the northwest corner of the state, First Baptist Ringgold was reportedly hit by a tornado after the twister destroyed several businesses at a nearby interstate exit — killing seven — before ripping up ball fields and buildings at Ringgold High and Middle schools, The Christian Index newspaper in Georgia reported.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach. Donations can be made online at Namb.net, or to state conventions’ disaster units. Click here for North Carolina.)

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact dianna@biblicalrecorder.org or call 919-847-2127.)
4/29/2011 9:23:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Rwanda’s survivors choose to forgive

April 29 2011 by Jacob Alexander, Baptist Press

KIGALI, Rwanda – April is a time of annual mourning and remembrance in Rwanda as the nation reflects on the 1994 genocide in which more than 800,000 people were killed. Memorial services are being held across the country and many Rwandese are visiting mass graves where their loved ones are buried, still pained by the bloodshed that nearly destroyed a country.

For the past 17 years, Rwanda’s government has developed infrastructure and promoted unity among its citizens. People are no longer required to carry identity cards to determine their ethnicity; they are all simply Rwandans.

A new believer prays with a group of Muslim-background believers at a weekly Bible study. These women have been meeting for several years and have helped each other move past the tragedies of the 1994 genocide.

While unity is slowly growing, genuine forgiveness is difficult for most Rwandans, and many still suffer from the emotional trauma of seeing their families killed, often by neighbors or other people they knew. Rwandan pastor Charles Buregeya of New Life Bible Church shares about a young man in his church who witnessed his own family’s execution during the genocide.

“The whole experience of seeing your father and mother killed, and hiding yourself at the age of five, that picture is very vivid in his mind and his life,” Buregeya said. “There are so many people who saw what happened (to their families).”

The Hutu-led genocide against the Tutsi people lasted for approximately 100 days. Many were hacked to death by machete, women were violently and repeatedly raped, and children’s heads were smashed into brick walls. Some women escaped death but were forced to watch their families executed, then intentionally infected with HIV through rape, ensuring they would suffer the rest of their lives. According to information at the Kigali Memorial Centre, by the time the Rwandan Patriotic Front liberated Rwanda, 85 percent of the Tutsi population had been killed.

Despite the severe trauma they experienced, many Tutsi Christians are learning to forgive their neighbors for what happened in 1994.

Georgina Nkubito lost several relatives during the genocide and often sees the Hutu extremists who killed her family. “During April it is hard because of what we have experienced; however, we try to be patient when we meet those who wanted to kill us,” said Nkubito. “We remember that the Bible says if you don’t forgive you won’t be forgiven. We forgive those who have hurt us, but it is difficult.”

Another woman, Marie Therese Mukantagwera, lost her parents, siblings, husband and only child in the genocide. She was also raped and intentionally infected with HIV. “I forgive,” she says. “... There is no reason to hold on to that anger.”

Skulls and bones line the shelves in the crypts of Nyamata Genocide Memorial, located just outside of Kigali, Rwanda. These crypts serve as mass graves for the genocide victims of 1994.

Buregeya, the pastor, believes a major factor in helping Rwanda heal from the past is to help survivors deal with the emotional trauma of the genocide. His church ministers to survivors and helps them learn about forgiveness.

“The Bible says all things are possible but those possibilities are miracles – the number of people who have recovered from that past,” he said. “They have received comfort from God and now are reaching out to comfort other people.”

Buregeya shared about Chantal, a lady who lost her family in the genocide. Chantal chose to be one of those new lives climbing out of the rubble. According to Buregeya, she went to the killers to ask where they left her family’s bodies. Initially they refused to tell, but after several visits they led her to the remains. Since then Chantal has forgiven them, loved them and offered assistance to them when help was needed.

“I don’t know how she does it, it’s a miracle, but every case is different,” Buregeya said. “It’s going to take time and gradually people are getting there.”

The effects of those 100 days are still evident, but Buregeya sees Rwanda as a country slowly healing. Tutsis and Hutus are learning to live together again, going to church and school together and breaking free from the pain of the past. Some who lost their families in the genocide once refused to forgive the killers but now understand God’s plan of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

“I know some people who (said they) would never forgive, and they have come all the way to the cross, given their lives to Jesus Christ and found the only way for them to go forward is to forgive those who have transgressed against them,” Buregeya said. “Lives are being changed through the preaching of the Gospel. It’s a miracle; God is working here in Rwanda in a miraculous way.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Based in Africa, Alexander is a writer for IMB’s Global Communication Team.)

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact dianna@biblicalrecorder.org or call 919-847-2127.)

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Amazed by Rwanda's stories of healing
4/29/2011 9:16:00 AM by Jacob Alexander, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Mexican cult: ‘like fighting against Satan’

April 28 2011 by Jerry Pierce, Baptist Press

LAREDO, Texas — They call her “La Santa Muerte,” the Saint of Death, whose followers have multiplied rapidly over the last decade as violence has gripped Mexico and spilled across the border, according to missionaries who have witnessed the death cult’s growing influence.

From Mexico City to border towns such as Laredo, and lately in large American cities such as Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago, her cloaked, skeletal icon, usually depicted gripping the Grim Reaper’s scythe, is often seen hanging from the windows, entryways and sometimes on the tattoos of her disciples.

Her appeal lies in basic human desires — especially those of the poor and drug runners who entreat her for protection and vengeance.

“Healing, money, protection, or they want power,” said Orpha Ortega, who along with her husband William serves as a Southern Baptist missionary in Mexico City.

The Santa Muerte cult is a growing concern for pastors in border towns such as Laredo, where a meeting hosted by Southern Baptist missionaries in January drew Spanish-speaking pastors, church leaders and at least one concerned police officer whose experiences at a local jail prompted him to attend. (Spanish-language video of the meeting is accessible here.)

The death cult figures are prominently in the surging violence by Mexican drug traffickers known as narcos in interior Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexico border, William Ortega told those at the meeting.

Photo by Kristen Hiller

In Mexico City’s notorious Tepito neighborhood, where the Saint of Death cult (“La Santa Muerte”) has a stronghold, International Mission Board worker William Ortega and Mexican pastor Mauricio Rojas pray for a man battling addiction. 

For six of the 12 years they’ve been in Mexico City, the Ortegas have ministered in the Tepito neighborhood, which is notorious for its thriving black market. Poverty, drugs and violence are pervasive, and the largest shrine to Saint Death is an institution there.

Of the 28 million people in Mexico City, about 2 million are estimated to be followers of Saint Death, Ortega said, with large numbers of them in Tepito.

The Ortegas welcomed the news in January that Mexican authorities had arrested the leader of the Tepito shrine and the closest thing the cult has to a high priest, David Romo, on kidnapping and money laundering charges.

Increasingly, the death cult has moved north, making inroads into border towns and American cities where Mexican immigrants find work.

Ortega said adherents largely form two groups: drug dealers and the poor, with the former seeking protection from authorities and vengeance on their enemies and the latter seeking healing, protection from the violence around them, and prosperity. The death saint, her followers claim, offers all of the above.

A Baptist worker in the Laredo area told the Southern Baptist TEXAN he hears testimonies of healing from cancer, AIDS and other ailments at the hands of Saint Death.

“But most of the time, their promise of healing or protection involves the killing of someone else in order to receive a miracle or in order to receive a protection,” the worker said.

That was one of the points Ortega emphasized during the Laredo meeting. In the Texas border town and across the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo is the largest number of Saint Death followers along the Rio Grande, Ortega said.

Often, Christians are seen as enemies of the cult for winning converts and refusing to syncretize orthodox Christianity with the death cult.

Although the Mexican government officially removed Santa Muerte from its list of recognized religions in 2005 and the Roman Catholic Church has deemed it a pagan cult, many of its adherents are said to mix their Catholicism with Santa Muerte practices, the missionaries said.

With its authority in mostly oral tradition and its roots in ancient Aztec and Mayan death gods, the cult easily spreads its message through folklore. Worship practices include the placing of rum, flowers or candy at the feet of a Santa Muerte altar, begging her favor in exchange for her favorite gifts.

In Mexico City, the Ortegas have had success in some areas planting churches and winning converts, but they said in Tepito some of the churches don’t last long “because they are weak Christians and it is hard for them to grow with all of the opposition around them,” Orpha Ortega said.

“You can go there (to Tepito) and give them a tract and they will read it, but it’s almost like fighting against Satan himself,” Ortega said. “It’s a real battle there.

“We still have not been harmed and are grateful to God for that. So continue praying for us to be strong and be brave. And for other people for God to open their eyes.”

In some border towns where many followers are either tied to drug cartels or are seeking protection from them, the rise of the death cult has posed major challenges.

“It’s affecting a lot,” said one missionary working along the border. “First of all, they teach their followers they cannot talk to us. We are Christian, we are their enemies, they are taught. Secondly, they try to attack us in different ways. As a missionary here, they have threatened me, written notes. I’ve been on their watch list. It is spiritual warfare.”

On the Texas side of the border, the missionary was quick to note that short-term missionary volunteers are relatively safe, explaining, “It is a problem for us because we are encountering them on a daily, long-term basis.”

“Pray for safety while I’m doing the work,” the missionary said. “Pray for my integrity and holiness. Pray the Lord will provide the right leaders to provide churches. The only way we will win the fight is to plant those churches that preach the truth.”

Bruno Molina, ministry associate for language evangelism at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said the death cult “is a challenge to the Gospel not only in Mexico but increasingly beyond the U.S. border area into other areas of Texas. The very name of its representative organization, roughly translated as ‘The Traditional Church of Mexico-USA,’ implies that they do not see themselves as just a Mexican ‘religious’ phenomenon but that they lay claim to the U.S. as part of their cultic turf.”

“They claim 1.5 million adherents here in the U.S. and, due to our shared border with Mexico, many of them necessarily reside in Texas,” Molina added. “This is evident not only in our jails but also in Texas front yards that display Santa Muerte figures, cars and pick-up trucks decorated with Santa Muerte decals, and people who are tattooed with Santa Muerte figures. The Santa Muerte cult is virulently anti-Christian in that it promotes devotion to someone, namely Saint Death, other than God through Jesus Christ.

“Our evangelism department is committed to exposing this challenge to the Gospel and working with our pastors to equip their church members to meet this challenge.”

Orpha Ortega said she was faced with the cult’s growing influence when she and William traveled to her son’s college graduation last year in Lynchburg, Va., only to happen upon Santa Muerte paraphernalia for sale in a local store.

William Ortega said the couple is encouraged by the promises of 1 Corinthians 15:55-58, that the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ’s victory.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact dianna@biblicalrecorder.org or call 919-847-2127.)
4/28/2011 8:01:00 AM by Jerry Pierce, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Journalist claims to find nails from Jesus’ cross

April 28 2011 by Michele Chabin, Religion News Service

JERUSALEM — An Israeli-Canadian journalist believes he may have tracked down two of the iron nails used to crucify Jesus to the cross. Or at least objects that “could be” the long-lost relics.

While researching a segment for the History Channel series “Secrets of Christianity,” host and producer Simcha Jacobovici learned something that startled him: In 1990, Israeli archeologists excavating a 2,000-year-old burial cave discovered two nails crafted by the Romans, but kept the discovery quiet.

They did, however, publicize the discovery of two ossuaries — stone burial boxes filled with human bones — with the inscriptions “Caiaphas” and “Joseph son of Caiaphas.” The latter intricately carved ossuary toured the world and is now prominently displayed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

According to the Gospels, Caiaphas was the Jewish high priest who handed Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion.

“There’s a general scholarly consensus that the tomb where the nails were found likely belonged to Caiaphas. Nails at that time were a dime a dozen, but finding one in a tomb is exceedingly rare,” Jacobovici said outside the high stone walls of the Old City, where Jesus spent his final days.   When Jacobovici found a brief reference to the nails in the official archeologists’ report, “my jaw dropped,” he said.

“It would be as if, 2,000 years from now, archaeologists uncovered the cave of Muhammad Ali but neglected to mention the pair of boxing gloves found there. Sure, boxing gloves are common, but perhaps those particular gloves had special significance to the boxer?”

Jacobovici also hosts the “Naked Archaeologist” series on History International and collaborated with filmmaker James Cameron on the controversial 2007 documentary, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.”

In the segment “Nails of the Cross,” which aired April 20 on the History Channel, Jacobovici attempts to discover why the researchers felt the nails were unimportant. “Everything else is so meticulous, yet there are no photos or drawings or measurements of the nails. When I inquired at the Israel Antiquities Authority, I was told they had gone missing.”

“Caiaphas is known for one thing only: the trial and Crucifixion of Jesus,” Jacobovici said. “He may have felt compelled to take these nails with him to his grave.”

There was also the belief among some ancient Jews that nails had healing powers “and were a ticket to the afterlife. Other items found in the tomb show that this was a superstitious guy,” he added.

The history detective searched the IAA’s vast warehouses and then tried to find the location of the long-sealed tomb, which now lies beneath a public park.

Finally, on a hunch, Jacobovici approached Israel Hershkovitz, a forensic anthropologist at Tel Aviv University, who is also expert on crucifixions.

“When I asked Hershkovitz if he’d received two nails about 20 years ago, he knew exactly what I was talking about and located them within minutes,” Jacobovici recalled.

Hershkovitz could not say where the nails had been found because the original packaging lacked the information. He could not be reached for comment.

While Hershkovitz knows for certain the nails came from the IAA, there’s no conclusive link that they came from the Caiaphas tomb. Israeli archaeologists seem as reluctant to comment this time around as they were back in 1990.

When the anthropologist showed Jacobovici an ancient heel bone impaled with a nail — the only such crucifixion specimen ever unearthed — “I realized that the Caiaphas nails were similar, though shorter. The tips appeared purposely bent to keep them from falling off the wood.”

Jacobovici asked Hershkovitz whether the nails could have been used to crucify a person’s hands to a cross. Hershkovitz said “yes.”

The limestone residue on one of the nails clinched it for Jacobovici, “because one of the nails was found in the ossuary, the other on the ground” of the burial cave, where it would be exposed to limestone.

Gabriel Barkay, a professor of archaeology at Bar-Ilan University, called Jacobovici’s investigation “very challenging, very interesting, very intriguing, but it’s a TV show and not a scholarly study.

“There’s no proof whatsoever that they originate in the tomb of Caiaphas,” he said. “It’s all conjecture.”

Nails were used for “many purposes,” Barkay noted, “from fixing iron gates to wooden doors and coffins.”

And for crucifixions.

Ronny Reich, a Haifa University archeologist who deciphered the writing in the Caiaphas cave, believes the cave “belongs to a member of the Caiaphas family, but we have no evidence it belongs to the high priest.”

Jacobovici, however, is certain his research will withstand scrutiny, even if it seems largely circumstantial at first glance.

“Skepticism is good. As with the Shroud of Turin, you can’t be 100 percent certain, but believers don’t need 100 percent certainty. They need a solid ‘could be,’ and that’s what we’re offering.”

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact dianna@biblicalrecorder.org or call 919-847-2127.)
4/28/2011 7:39:00 AM by Michele Chabin, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Study: Churches slowly recover from recession

April 28 2011 by Nicole Neroulias, Religion News Service

The recession was a double-barrel blow to American congregations: directly hurting their budgets while also stretching them thin due to increased needs for counseling, emergency housing and other social services.

But the worst seems to be over, according to a report released April 21 that found that one in 10 have begun to recover from the loss, and more than 40 percent are now stable or increasing financially.

The “Holy Toll” report, based on the 2010 Faith Communities Today national survey of more than 20 religious groups, found that more than half (57 percent) of U.S. congregations reported their income had declined due to the recession.

Researcher David A. Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, said larger congregations seem to be recovering more easily as endowments and investment income rebound, and more members who can help them grow their way out of deficits.

His theory echoes last month’s State of the Plate report by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and Christianity Today International’s church management team, which found smaller churches had suffered a disproportionate drop in giving last year.

Roozen’s survey, based on data from more than 11,000 congregations, found the recession had hurt congregations across the spectrum, surprising researchers who “almost always find differences” between evangelical and mainline Protestant churches.

Nine percent of congregations said the recession had prompted layoffs or furloughs, and just over a quarter of congregations reported salary freezes or reductions. With about 350,000 congregations in the U.S. employing about 1.5 million clergy and other staff, that translates to more than 500,000 people who lost jobs or had their salaries reduced, and about 50,000 prospective employees who weren’t hired, according to the report.

At the same time, congregations had to ramp up outreach services due to the recession’s toll on local communities. Nearly half of all congregations experienced an increase in requests for cash assistance, and nearly one in four received moderate to major increases in requests for emergency housing.

“Those congregations whose finances were hit the hardest, a lot of their members were unemployed, so you had members who were financially stressed, you had communities who were financial stressed, on top of the fact that the congregations’ own financial resources as measured by income was down,” Roozen said.

But even congregations that have recovered from the recession are still struggling with a general economic downturn for America’s religious organizations. From 2000 to 2008 — before the recession’s toll — congregations reporting “excellent financial health” had dropped from 31 percent to 19 percent; the number is now about 14 percent.

Meanwhile, congregations reporting financial difficulty more than doubled, to nearly 20 percent, in the past decade.

“That the worst is over doesn’t necessarily mean that things are getting better,” Roozen explained, estimating that at least 5 percent of congregations won’t be able to rebound. “These are challenging times. Most congregations aren’t feeling devastated by the recession (anymore), but it’s exacerbating those downward trends... it’s not something that congregations move easily out of.”

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact dianna@biblicalrecorder.org or call 919-847-2127.)
4/28/2011 7:35:00 AM by Nicole Neroulias, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Campbell, Convention throw annual Spring Fling

April 27 2011 by Diane McClary, Special to the Recorder

A day of fun and brightness.

On March 26, an event called Spring Fling was held at Campbell University in Buies Creek for people with developmental disabilities.

“I am not blessing the participants,” said Macy Cook, a freshman at Campbell. “They are blessing me.”

Cook, who majors in elementary education, says this event sponsored every year by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), is dear to her heart. Her brother has special needs. Next year, Cook will be coordinating the event on campus.

Churches, group homes, and institutions have participated annually since 1983. The Saturday event drew a crowd of 220 people, twice as many as 2010.

BSC leaders would like to eventually have one at each of the state’s Baptist colleges.

Many of the participants have autism, brain injuries, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, or a combination of disabilities. A day such as this is an opportunity to set aside differences and come together for a day of love and interaction as the Body of Christ.

The Convention purchased the supplies, and lunch was provided by McDonald’s in Dunn and Lillington. Crafts, activities, and games were set up in the practice gym of the Pope Convocation Center. Participants could bowl, have faces painted, or make crafts.

Campbell students volunteered to help with various aspects of the event. A Facebook event was set up through the United Campus Ministries to advertise the event, and emails and other announcements were used to spread the word about volunteering.

“There is a point where families hit a wall and drop out of church,” said Susan Kubel, a special education and Sunday School teacher at Salem Baptist Church in Apex. “We found that parents were taking turns to attend church, and that should not be happening.”

Photo by Diane McClary

David and Wanda Hester bring their son DJ to the Spring Fling every year. The Hesters say the day allows families and churches to make connections and offers a time of recharging for the Lord’s work. See photo gallery.

Kubel brought nine children and 10 adults to the event. The group has attended the past four years. She believes that a day like this is meaningful for the children and adults who can come together for fun activities in a structured environment. It is a rare opportunity for them to participate in church-oriented activities, and the kids look forward to it every year, Kubel said.

The event is a big gift to the parents who are able to have a day to themselves, she said. At Salem, the Special Needs committee governs the needs of those with disabilities through a group called the Precious Jewels. There is a music program called the Jewel Chimes, and they offer Sunday School with a fully staffed extended session so parents can worship, Kubel said.

“I was working in the secular field, and I told God that I would work for Him only on Sunday nights,” Kubel said. “He changed my heart and I was strongly convicted. I was not using the talent that God gave me. He brought me to my knees and I surrendered and started working with the special needs program at church. The program has grown and it has been a huge blessing.”

For more than 10 years, David and Wanda Hester from First Baptist Church of Lumberton have attended this event. They believe it is good to make connections with others outside of family and to rekindle friendships. They both assert that this type of event is good for people in ministry to recharge and energize themselves for the Lord’s work.

Faithe Beam, Campbell’s campus minister, said this event is a wonderful way for students to minister to those whom they do not normally encounter.

One such student who looks forward to the event is Sara McCarthy Acosta, who works in the campus ministry office and is a Campbell graduate. She feels connected to this “hidden” population and believes it is important for students and staff members to connect with the community.

Tyler Ward, who is a graduate assistant in the campus ministry office and student at the Divinity School, loves the uniqueness of personalities of each participant. He helped to lead the event and has volunteered in the past. He thinks that students have a chance to get out of their comfort zone and show compassion.

Brandy Whitley, a first year pharmacy student, has volunteered three years. She coordinated the event last year and serves as the community service coordinator for Campbell’s Baptist Student Union. Whitley believes that it is important for Campbell students to learn effective ways of interacting with those who have disabilities.

“The biggest barrier to service is the heart,” said Donnie Wiltshire, BSC special ministries consultant. “The church should have a change of attitude to see the image of God in all people. There is a place for everyone in the Body of Christ.”

Offering a Sunday School class for people with developmental disabilities allows them a creative outlet in a structured and loving environment.

Incorporating people with special needs into your service is not hard, leaders say.

They can pass out bulletins, work with children, share testimonies, serve at soup kitchens or other ministries. BSC leaders can provide information and training for those who want to start a ministry within their church.

Wiltshire said another way churches can minister to those with special needs is to help them attend Happiness Retreat at Truett Camp in Hayesville or Caraway Conference Center in Sophia.

The Western Happiness Retreat is June 3-5 at Truett Camp. Dates at Caraway are: July 22-24, July 24-26, July 27-29, and July 29-31. The retreat will feature small group learning experiences, music, drama, creative movement, worship services, and special training sessions.

Contact (800) 395-5102, ext. 5629. Visit http://specialministries.ncbaptist.org.

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact dianna@biblicalrecorder.org or call 919-847-2127.)
4/27/2011 8:18:00 AM by Diane McClary, Special to the Recorder | with 0 comments

Trustees elect professors, OK degree program

April 27 2011 by Lauren Crane, SEBTS

During the bi-annual meeting of the Board of Trustees of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, held April 11-12, trustees promoted two professors and elected three professors, approved an updated campus master plan and approved changes to a degree program.

Nathan Finn was promoted from assistant professor of church history and Baptist studies to associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies, while Daniel Heimbach was promoted from professor of Christian ethics to senior professor of Christian ethics. The trustees also approved the election to the faculty of Jeremy Evans, associate professor of philosophy, Tony Merida, associate professor of preaching, and Larry Purcell, associate professor of leadership.

With the exception of Merida, each of the other men has been serving the kingdom of God through their teaching and mentorship at Southeastern and will continue to do so. Merida, a new face around campus, will be coming from Hattiesburg, Miss., where he has been serving as the teaching pastor of Temple Baptist Church. In addition to his election to the faculty of Southeastern, Merida is the founding pastor of the new church plant, Imago Dei Church in Raleigh.

Academically speaking, the trustees also looked at the proposed changes for the Master of Arts in Bible Translation degree and approved it. The degree program prepares students to serve as translators and as field supervisors for Bible translation teams, taking the word of God to people around the world.

SEBTS photo

Tom Elliff, right, president of the International Mission Board, leads a time of prayer and commitment for students, faculty and guests during Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s April 12 chapel service which coincided with the Board of Trustees meeting. Elliff challenged the students to live out the gospel in their everyday lives.

This curriculum will serve the church and help fulfill the Great Commission by preparing students to translate the Bible, into languages that now are without access to God’s word. The curriculum will prepare them in particular to translate the Bible from its original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. With access to God’s word in their own languages, whole people groups will have access to the gospel, and believers will be able to study the Bible for themselves.

Trustees also approved an update to the campus master plan, a strategy for the future of the institution that is revisited every four to five years. The updated plan is a list of priorities and estimated costs for various campus needs, including structural as well as aesthetic. In conjunction with surveys and suggestions from the students, staff and faculty, the campus planning committee submitted a plan that includes approximately 35 million dollars worth of upgrades and renovations to Southeastern’s campus.

The committee identified the most urgent needs as a new student center and renovations to the current Ledford Center for additional recreation and fitness facilities. The plan also includes renovations to Simmons Hall and shifting of other housing facilities to free up Lolley Hall for offices and a welcome center. Additionally, trustees approved renovations of Stealey and Appleby Halls, as well as the Denny Library, as part of the new master plan.

The trustees also approved the recommended budget increase of 4.21 percent to a 2011-2012 operating budget of $21.6 million.

Because Cooperative Program giving continues to lag behind previous years, the budget increase will require a raise in tuition for students, many of whom, Southeastern’s president, Daniel Akin, said, appear to be struggling already with paying their tuition.

Akin said although enrollment numbers are at a record high of 2,689, the number of hours of classes being taken has not significantly increased, and in fact, reflects class load amounts equal to those in 2006.

These numbers indicate that although more students are taking classes, they are taking fewer classes, likely due to economic concerns.

Akin urged the Board of Trustees to encourage their local churches to give to the Cooperative Program, which supplies about 40 percent of funds for Southeastern’s annual budget.

Akin said in order for students to graduate without school debt, more financial support must be given to supplement the increased operating costs and budget.

“I’d encourage you to pray God will raise up more partners for annual giving and endowment,” Akin said. “God is doing great things here, and we want to see that financial increase for the glory of God.”

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact dianna@biblicalrecorder.org or call 919-847-2127.)
4/27/2011 8:14:00 AM by Lauren Crane, SEBTS | with 0 comments

Poll: Pastors skeptical of global warming

April 27 2011 by David Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Protestant pastors are more skeptical about global warming today than they were two years ago.

That is the finding of a LifeWay Research telephone survey of 1,000 randomly selected Protestant pastors. The survey also found that pastors’ views on the subject vary widely by denomination, education, location and political ideology.

When asked to respond to the statement, “I believe global warming is real and manmade,” 41 percent of pastors strongly disagree, up from 27 percent in a similar survey conducted in 2008. That marks an increase of more than 50 percent.

According to the new survey — which is based on data collected in October — 19 percent of pastors somewhat disagree with the statement, 13 percent somewhat agree and 23 percent strongly agree. Combining the answers, 60 percent disagree and 36 percent agree.

Twenty-five percent strongly agreed in 2008 that global warming is real and manmade.

According to the Pew Research Center, this trend among pastors parallels a trend among Americans in general. Between 2008 and 2010, the percentage of Americans who said there is no solid evidence that the earth is warming increased from 21 percent to 32 percent, Pew said. In addition, in 2010, 34 percent said the earth is warming because of human activity, down from 47 percent in 2008.

“Pastors’ sentiments on global warming have shifted right in step with Americans in general,” said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research. “The number of pastors who are firmly convinced global warming is manmade has not changed much, but many who were beginning to agree during the 2008 election cycle now strongly disagree.”

Evangelical and mainline pastors are divided on global warming:
  • 68 percent of evangelicals disagree strongly or somewhat that global warming is real and manmade, compared with 45 percent of mainline pastors. Forty-four percent of evangelicals strongly disagree, but only 30 percent of mainline pastors feel the same.
  • 39 percent of mainline pastors strongly agree that global warming is real and manmade, but only 14 percent of evangelical pastors strongly agree.
The survey also found a deep political divide on the issue among pastors.

A full 65 percent of pastors who are Democrats strongly agree, along with 24 percent of Independents and 6 percent of Republicans that global warming is real and manmade. But 57 percent of pastors who are Republicans strongly disagree, along with 36 percent of Independents and 6 percent of Democrats.

Among pastors who describe their political ideology as progressive or liberal, 78 percent strongly agree that global warming is real and manmade. Yet only 7 percent of conservative pastors and 6 percent of very conservative pastors strongly agree.

Sixty-nine percent of those labeling themselves very conservative strongly disagree with the statement. Forty-seven percent of conservatives and 3 percent of progressives and liberals strongly disagree.

Half of Protestant pastors (52 percent) address the issue of the environment to their churches once a year or less — virtually unchanged compared to 2008 (50 percent).

Pastors who consider themselves evangelical speak to their churches on the environment less often than mainline pastors. While 49 percent of evangelicals address the environment once a year or more, 67 percent of mainline pastors address it once a year or more.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Roach is a pastor and writer in Shelbyville, Ky.)

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact dianna@biblicalrecorder.org or call 919-847-2127.)
4/27/2011 8:10:00 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

WMU-NC plans unhindered future

April 26 2011 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor

In many parts of society, girls don’t matter much.

During her annual report to the Woman’s Missionary Union of North Carolina  (WMU-NC) annual meeting, Ruby Fulbright shared the story of a missionary driving through a heavily populated area overseas. A crowd surged near a bus stop pushing a four-year-old girl in front of his car. A policeman said it was an accident but urged the missionary to pay for the child’s funeral.

The missionary, who was also a father, wanted to do more. The four-year-old’s father said, “Don’t worry about it. It was only a girl.”

Fulbright pointed out that it was only girls who began WMU 125 years ago. Fannie E.S. Heck, 24, and Sallie Bailey, a teenager and daughter of the Biblical Recorder editor, began meeting with other women in borrowed Methodist churches because their Baptist brothers “did not favor women in missions endeavors or church business,” Fulbright said.

Fulbright shared this story April 9 during her WMU-NC executive director’s report with more than 1,000 girls. The 1,036 registered women gathered at Ridgecrest Conference Center April 8-10 for its 120th annual meeting.

During the weekend of sessions the women focused on Heb. 12:1-2 and being Unhindered.

BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle

State and national Woman’s Missionary Union leaders prepare to cut the cake to celebrate the state organization’s 125th birthday. See photo gallery.

When Fulbright was just a girl, she recollects her time as a Sunbeam, learning that God loved her. She was still a girl when she learned that she could pray and bring money.

Fulbright recognized two girls and their leader. Cassie Taylor and Kianni Curry are serving as National Acteen panelists. Their leader, Deborah Taylor, guides the Acteens at University Hills Baptist Church in Charlotte.

North Carolina has had eight national panelists since 2000; five of those have been from University Hills.

During 2010 WMU added 133 new organizations in 55 different churches. Fulbright mentioned the recent news of the Royal Ambassador program returning to the national WMU.

She said she and Richard Brunson, executive director of North Carolina Baptist Men, “are excited” about providing missions education to these boys.

The women approved the budget during a business session. It takes $100,000 each month to keep the WMU-NC office and ministries running.

In January, the leadership met with Chris Gambill of the Center for Congregational Health to discuss strategic planning for WMU-NC’s future.

Five things need to be addressed:
  • Financial development
  • Communication/technology
  • Camp Mundo Vista
  • Volunteer base
  • Strategic planning
During the weekend sessions women were open to discuss these items with Gambill and help WMU-NC focus on dreams and hopes for the future of the organization.

She also encouraged the ladies to help WMU find a volunteer grant writer as well as some donors with deep pockets to help ensure a brighter future.

“We’ve used all our time and energy and resources just surviving,” said Fulbright. “May we have the same courage and wisdom and strength to see further and to walk boldly into the future. I think that’s what girls would do.”

In its offering WMU-NC collected $24,127. The funds were designated: $15,235 for Crown Club; $170 for Heck-Jones Offering; $50 for prison ministry; $75 for Camp Mundo Vista; $345 for operating expenses; and $8,252 for the Missions Extravaganza (ME) offering.

Each year a ministry or two is highlighted and an offering is taken. This year’s ME is divided among Project HELP: Human Exploitation in North Carolina and Project Dorcas, the first Christian Women’s Job Corps site in South Africa. The Crown Club was introduced at the meeting. In 1913 Heck penned a book In Royal Service that followed the mission work of Southern Baptist women. Those donating $125 will be recognized as prince or princess giving to royal service of missions. A king/queen gift is $1,250, and the royal plan is $5,000 (divided as $1,250 a year for four years).

One of the rooms was set aside for Project HELP: Human Exploitation Interactive Experience. Participants could learn about many areas of human exploitation in the world as well as in North Carolina and ways to respond. Women put together 300 backpacks and boxes of stuffed animals, blankets and books for ministries across the state.  

Past, present, future
Three speakers highlighted being unhindered in the past, present and future. Nancy Curtis, former executive director-treasurer talked about the past.

Curtis, who lives in New Mexico, discussed the failed first effort to organize.

“Fannie and Sallie only did it because they were so young they didn’t know better,” Curtis said. “They were not perfect … but they did not back away from work.”

Curtis talked of the nameless ones who gave of themselves to ensure missions was supported.

“It was seldom easy,” she said. “We must tell our story for no one will do it for us.”

In highlighting the present, Christine Harper, a Sisters Who Care facilitator within the WMU-NC leadership network, urged the women to run with passion, purpose and perspective.

“I believe greatness was imagined for this organization,” Harper said.

Women should consider those who ran before them and what they personally must lay aside — “not necessarily a sin but a weight that keeps us … from sharing the love of Christ,” she said.

Over these last 125 years, God has been refining the women of WMU-NC, said Gina Smith, WMU leadership network specialist for children.

“We just have to be available,” Smith said. “Our future depends on us being willing to be moldable and fillable.

“We don’t know what the future holds. God carries that for us. All we have to know is who holds the future.”  

The Nominating Committee report was approved with the following for 2011-2012:
  • Officers — Tana Hartsell, president; Robin Penninger, vice president; Beth McDonald, recording secretary; Dee Dee Moody, assistant recording secretary.
  • Members-at-large — Claire T. Presley, region 1; Brenda Rose, region 2; Jeanette Walters, region 2; Christine Matchett, region 3; Dorothy Barham, region 4; Laura Davis, region 4; Linda C. Beaver, region 5; Linda B. Plummer, region 5; Delores Thomas, region 6; Beth B. Beam, region 8; Sandi Heavener, region 8; Kristen Trull, region 9.
Sandra James, past president, led a time of dedication for the new officers and members. In her parting address, outgoing president Delores Thomas, said she had enjoyed serving the WMU-NC and the prayers of the women involved. She pledged to continue to serve and was approved as an at-large member.

Related items
Video: Greetings from national WMU leaders
Video: Fannie Heck talks of the women who lead WMU-NC

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact dianna@biblicalrecorder.org or call 919-847-2127.)
4/26/2011 6:28:00 AM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 0 comments

Church shuns ‘fluff,’ gives to Annie, missions

April 26 2011 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

GASTONIA — Parkwood Baptist Church expects a lot from its members.

To join the church, for example, a personal interview with one of the church’s pastors is required, and in that meeting, potential members are told, “We expect you to participate in small groups,” known in some churches as Sunday School.

As a result, out of nearly 1,200 people in recent Sunday morning worship services, more than 1,000 also were in small groups, resulting in relationships that lead to a shared sense of purpose.

“Glorify, grow and go are our three goals,” said Jeff Long, senior pastor since 1999 and youth pastor the previous seven years.

“There’s not a lot of fluff here. We are Bible-centered and discipleship-oriented.”

Parkwood, located in Gastonia, also is focused on missions and church planting, which can be seen in part by its giving to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for the North American Mission Board (NAMB).

Although it is not the largest Southern Baptist church in Gastonia, Parkwood gave more to the Annie Armstrong Offering than any other church in North Carolina — $71,658, or $59.81 per capita, in 2009, the last year for which statistics are available.

That amount comes from a portion of the church’s year-long Faith Offering and from a special emphasis at Easter on spiritual needs in North America.

Contributed photo

Jeff Long, pastor of Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia asks members to “pray and ask the Lord what to give” to their year-round Faith Offering, which includes the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.

Parkwood’s focus also can be seen in its eight church plants — five across the United States and three in other countries, and in the local community ministries it supports in Gastonia.

“We believe it’s crucial to the growth of the Kingdom in the world that just introducing people to Christ isn’t fulfilling the Great Commission,” Long said. “If you’re going to create disciples and baptize them and teach them to observe all God has commanded, there needs to be the local expression of a church.

“Ultimately, that’s our goal, to raise up church planters and disciple them,” the pastor said. “The first step is to sow the seeds of evangelism — a broad sowing of seed — and through that, we realize others will be raised up too.” Parkwood members are actively involved in each of the church plants.

“We say we’re going to Phoenix to work with Scott Gorley, and probably a couple hundred people here know Scotty,” said Kem Lindsey, Parkwood’s missions pastor.

“You’ve got a face, name and city, and the church they’re planting. It helps our folks come back understanding what we do here in Gastonia.

“Some of the things we’ve done with church planters, we do the same things here,” Lindsey said.

“In Phoenix, they hosted a movie night and gave out information about the church.

“Here, in a new area with about 300 homes, we headed out with the USA Today newspaper, with a sticker on it of our church.

“It’s gotten far enough in three neighborhoods that their homeowners’ organizations came to us and asked, ‘Will you help us?’ Relationships are being made, and that’s something we got from the church planters,” Lindsey said. “We’ve brought those concepts home.”

Getting members involved in short-term mission trips, as well as giving to missions, is one way of discipling them, Long said.

“Mission trips allow people at different stages in their walk with the Lord, and with different gifts, to participate,” the pastor said.

“We do a fall carnival in Phoenix every year.

“For some people, that’s easier than in-home visits. But it — whatever they do — allows people to develop a heart connection, and we want to nurture that. They grow as believers and reach others as they grow, and as you do that you glorify God and fulfill your purpose.”

An unexpected result of the short-term mission trips is that Parkwood members are now asking different questions about church finances, Long said.

“We’re really battling this question,” he said.

“What do we really need? Our worship center was built in 1985 and needs to be renovated.

“However, when people return from mission trips in places like Phoenix where the need is great, you realize the need for putting resources toward planting churches. The needs beyond Gastonia force us to evaluate our perceived needs on our campus and in our budget.”

Parkwood became debt-free in 1997. Its members voted in 2002 never to borrow money again, even to build. Twenty percent of its $2.7 million budget is allocated to missions — the Faith Offering is in addition to that — and no goals are set for seasonal missions offerings.

“We ask people to pray and ask the Lord what to give, and that’s enough,” Long said. “We nurture that all the time, and since we’ve done that, much more has been given to missions.

“The vast lostness of North America is one reason we give to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering,” the pastor said.

“I think NAMB’s vision is clear; we’re supposed to reach people with the gospel.

“We want to be faithful with being an Acts 1:8 church.

“Though we are very committed in the uttermost parts of the earth, we’re also committed in our city and want to be in North America as well. We try not to sacrifice one for the other.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana Baptist newspapers. For more information about the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions, go to www.anniearmstrong.com.)

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact dianna@biblicalrecorder.org or call 919-847-2127.)
4/26/2011 6:16:00 AM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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