April 2011

Baptist Men take search & rescue to ends of Earth

April 8 2011 by Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder

John Adams and Joe Burris have seen many unspeakable things in their work with the North Carolina Baptist Men Rescue 24 team, and that’s exactly what keeps them going. 

During a state missions breakout session at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem April 2, both men spoke of the weight of their calling with the international search and rescue organization. Adams, Rescue 24’s director, had just returned from Japan, which was hit with a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami March 11. A month later, a nuclear plant damaged by the twin disasters continues to dominate world headlines.

“This is a call on us,” Adams told the small group in attendance. “God has gifted us with special gifts, special talents to be used in answering that call. So I’m praying that each and every one of you will prayerfully consider using those gifts that you’ve been given in this service, in this ministry, as we go out to be God’s hands and feet in the world around us.”

Photo by Rick Houston

Joe Burris, left, and John Adams discuss search and rescue ministry at an April 2 breakout session during the North Carolina Baptist Men’s missions conference at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. See photo gallery.

Burris, who led the first of Rescue 24’s two meetings at the missions conference, is 57 years old and retired as a state fire marshal. He is currently the assistant chief of the fire and rescue service in Eastern Pines, and he does emergency services training as well. There’s a lot on his plate to be sure, but not so much that he’s unwilling to try to live up if at all possible to Rescue 24’s goal of deploying to an international crises on 24 hours’ notice.  

“I truly do believe I’ve been blessed,” Burris said. “You’ll know if this is meant for you, and it’s not so subtle. It’s kind of like a two-by-four hitting you upside the head.”  

The international search and rescue team grew out of the Christmas 2004 earthquake and tsunami that killed nearly a quarter of a million people in Indonesia. In alliance with Hungarian Baptist Aid, Adams and a few other volunteers took part in a training session in Budapest the following summer before going on their first deployment to an earthquake-stricken portion of the Kashmir province of Pakistan in October 2005.  

Rescue 24 members also responded in the spring of 2008 to Bangkok, Thailand, as the result of a cyclone that struck nearby Myanmar. Other team members headed to Manila, Philippines, at the same time to assist in recovery operations following another typhoon. The group deployed to Padang, the capital city of Western Sumatra in Indonesia in September 2009 and was one of the first relief agencies in Haiti following its January 2010 earthquake.  

Adams has been on each deployment, despite serving as pastor of Salemburg Baptist since retiring from the Army in 1999. His participation would not have been possible without the cooperation of his congregation and his wife, Carol, a long-time military wife used to her husband being gone for extended periods of time with little or no warning. 

“Fortunately, being at the church I am (at), the people and the staff are all very supportive of this ministry,” said Adams, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. “When the earthquake in Japan hit, I was trying to make calls to (members of Rescue 24) to get them on board, but at the same time, I’m having parishioners calling me, saying, ‘I’m praying for you,’ knowing that we were going to be sending a team. The mindset of the people in that community is just unbelievable in regards to missions and outreach.”  

For Adams, serving as the leader of Rescue 24 is his fulfillment of Acts 1:8. “We’re told to be His witness, and we’re supposed to go into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world,” Adams continued. “I’ve been gifted and provided the opportunities at various times in my life to do just that. In the military, I was given orders and told to execute a mission. I’d go execute the mission. (Serving with Rescue 24) is an order, so I go and do it.”  

Having done fire and rescue training for the state fire marshal’s office across the country and internationally, Burris’ family is also used to his extensive travels.  

Burris had another job lined up after he retired, but kept it for only a couple of months. That allowed him to do what he’s doing now with North Carolina Baptist Men. It worked out. 

“Debbie Hilliard (a battalion fire chief for the town of Cary and a charter member of Rescue 24) was the person that recruited me,” Burris said. “I’d worked with Debbie for 20 years in the fire service. She kept saying, ‘Joe, you need to come join us. Joe, you need to come join us.’ I told her, ‘Debbie, I can’t. I work for a living.’ As I retired, I ran out of excuses. I was blessed with a great career, and now I’m being given the chance to give back. I really do consider it to be a blessing.”  

It would be hard for a lot of people to comprehend the tragic disasters to which Adams and Burris have responded. Yet in those circumstances, Burris sees a chance to exercise the abilities that he has honed for about four decades now.  

“I have my own set of standards,” Burris said. “I’ll quote (NFL Hall of Fame coach Vince) Lombardi — and I won’t do a very good job of it — ‘In the pursuit of perfection, which you will not often attain — you can often reach excellence.’ That’s what I’m after. I’m trying to be the very best I can be.”  

Referring to a young man who had attended the session, Burris concluded, “If he was to become a member of this team, I would enjoy bringing him along. That’s where I was at 40 years ago. I’ve been given opportunities like that, and now I’m able to give that back.”  

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

(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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4/8/2011 8:43:00 AM by Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder | with 0 comments

Church nurseries need to look at cribs

April 7 2011 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In order to comply with new safety regulations taking effect in June, churches need to replace their nursery cribs, which could already pose a danger to children and leave churches open to liability lawsuits.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission unanimously approved sweeping new safety rules, which outlaw drop-side cribs and require stronger hardware and supports. The commission said it is unlikely that existing cribs will meet the new standards.

Jim Swedenburg of the Alabama State Board of Missions served more than 10 years as a state missionary for church administration and said churches that have weekday ministries or daycares especially need to heed the new safety standards.

“If a parent had a child that was injured and the daycare was in that sense negligent in not having changed that bed, that’s going to put them at greater risk for any kind of liability judgment,” Swedenburg told Baptist Press. “In other words, nobody’s going to come around and inspect the cribs and force the church to comply, but if they don’t they’re still going to be taking a risk.”

For years, parents favored drop-side cribs because they could lower the rails on one side to more easily lift their children from the cribs.

Since 2000, drop-side cribs have been blamed in the deaths of 32 infants and toddlers and suspected in another 14 fatalities. In the past five years, more than 9 million drop-side cribs have been recalled, and Congress has pushed for stronger crib safety rules.

At issue is malfunctioning hardware, including cheaper plastics or assembly problems that can lead to the drop-side rail partially detaching from the crib. A dangerous “V”-like gap between the mattress and side rail can trap a baby, causing it to suffocate or strangle.

Also, as children grow, they can apply more force to the crib by shaking it, running around in it or jumping up and down, the Associated Press said. To address this, the new safety standards affect far more than the drop side.

“A crib’s mattress support, slats and hardware are now required to be more durable and manufacturers will have to test to new more stringent requirements to prove compliance,” the commission said.

Beginning June 28, all cribs manufactured and sold must comply with the new federal standards. Some manufacturers, such as Church Interiors, which supplies cribs purchased through LifeWay Christian Stores, already are selling cribs that comply with the new standards.

“The manufacturers were working closely with the board that was making the changes, so they knew the changes were coming. They just weren’t sure when,” Stacie Reeves, a sales representative with Church Interiors, told BP. “So we were able to in January introduce the new line and all the cribs that are coming out now are compliant.”

Child care centers and places of public accommodation, which include churches, must use only compliant cribs that meet the new standards by Dec. 28, 2012, the commission said. Until the cribs are replaced, owners are encouraged to check the cribs frequently to make sure that all hardware is secured tightly and that there are no loose, missing or broken parts.

“A consumer should not resell, donate or give away a crib that does not meet the new crib standards, such as trying to resell the product through an online auction site or donating to a local thrift store,” the commission said. “CPSC recommends disassembling the crib before discarding it.”

Consumers can check the safety commission’s website at cpsc.gov for companies that have recalled their cribs and are providing immobilizers to secure the drop-side on cribs. But a drop-side crib, even with an immobilizer installed, will not meet the new standards. If a crib was purchased recently, the owner can ask the retailer or manufacturer whether the crib complies with 16 CFR 1219, the new federal standard for full-size cribs, or with 16 CFR 1220, the new federal standard for non-full-size cribs.

Swedenburg said churches should comply with the law, and beyond the safety and litigation risks, incompliant churches could send a negative message to parents who may be visiting for the first time.

“For guests to come to our churches looking for a place to attend, if the patterns of the past hold true, a lot of those people are going to be young adults with preschoolers,” he said. “If they come into a preschool facility and they see a drop-side crib, they’re going to say, ‘These folks are not taking care of my kids.’

“They may be wrong about that assumption, but any time churches fail to do something that even the parents are aware of, they’re going to think the church is not safe,” Swedenburg said. “So churches really need to take care of this. It’s the kind of thing that these young parents probably would not call to the attention of the church. They would just not come back.”

Gaelen Cole, a property and casualty program manager with GuideStone Financial Resources, said standard insurance policies will have coverage for the liability coming from defective products.

“As long as the church has made reasonable efforts to remove known defective cribs, there should be little problem with the church bearing the brunt of the negligence,” Cole said. “However, if the church has not done so, there can be negligence attaching to the church for failure to follow up on known, well-publicized product recalls. Even in that case the church’s insurer should defend it, but then the limits of liability carried by the church could come into question. Standard General Liability policies have a $1 million per-claim limit. “If that limit is exhausted — which could easily happen with a serious claim, especially if life-long disabilities are involved — the church would be protected by also having an ‘umbrella’ or ‘excess liability’ policy with additional limits of coverage,” Cole said. “These policies can have limits from an additional $1 million to $5 or even $10 million for premiums that may cost up to a few thousand dollars, depending on the specific insurer and church.”

Swedenburg said churches need to have a plan in place to convert to compliant cribs by the end of 2012.

“They might be able to set aside some funds on a monthly basis or just purchase one at a time as they’re able,” he said.

Ron Chandler, manager of the direct sales section of LifeWay Christian Resources, said LifeWay is aware of the new regulations and wants to assist churches in making the transition.

“We realize the burden this might put on churches, especially in these times, so we are working on some special financing and pricing for churches,” Chandler said.

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

(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.) 
4/7/2011 8:19:00 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ground Zero cross on the move again

April 7 2011 by Mark Di Ionno, Religion News Service

NEW YORK — The Cross at Ground Zero was one of thousands of I-beams used to construct the iron skeletons of the World Trade Center towers. This one fell from the fiery, apocalyptic heavens during the 9/11 terror attacks and stuck upright in the ground, in a field of similar but smaller crosses.

The iconic cross rose higher than the others above the twisted steel, concrete slabs and human remains. When the smoke subsided and the dust and ashes settled, it emerged as a beacon — a sacred symbol of, at once, survival and remembrance. Almost immediately, rescue workers and firefighters scratched out memorial messages on the 20-foot cross. A shrine was created, services were held. It was later blessed and draped with a sheet-metal shroud from the wreckage, then hoisted atop a concrete stanchion from the destroyed plaza at the corner of Church and Liberty Streets.

The symbolism was obvious. Church, liberty, religious freedom — concepts that separate America from its attackers. The cross stayed there until October 2006, when it was moved for preliminary construction work at the site.

“It was headed to a warehouse in Long Island, but the firefighters and construction workers objected, so we offered to put it here,” said Kevin Madigan, the pastor at nearby St. Peter’s Church, the city’s oldest Catholic parish and where St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American to be canonized, worshipped.

RNS photo by John Munson/The Star-Ledger

A cross formed from a falling steel I-beam at the former World Trade Center towers was placed outside St. Peter’s Catholic Church in lower Manhattan where Kevin Madigan kept watch over it until its pending move to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

The cross will soon move again, to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at Ground Zero.

“The way I understand it, the cross will stand in an apse, which will be built around it,” Madigan said. “So the cross has to be in place before construction (of the apse) begins.”

The church will not be without a 9/11 cross for long. Sculptor Jon Krawczyk is making a replacement, a stainless steel “9/11 Memorial Cross.”

“It will be highly polished, so people will be able to see themselves in it and hopefully reflect on their lives, and lives lost in the terror attack,” Krawczyk said from his studio in Malibu, Calif.

Krawczyk’s 9/11 cross will have three pieces of metal saved from the World Trade Center debris.

“That metal will be used where Christ’s hands and feet would have been nailed,” he said. “Those pieces will stand out because they are rusted.”

The vertical beam of the cross will be 14 feet high, and the horizontal beam will be 11 feet wide. It’s the largest cross Krawczyk has made.

The commission came to Krawczyk after a patron of the archdiocese agreed to fund a cross in New York.

“She wanted it in any church,” Madigan said, “We knew we were losing the 9/11 cross, so (retired) Cardinal (Edward) Egan offered it to us.”

Since then, the benefactor decided to withdraw her offer, so Krawczyk and the gallery that represents his work are raising funds through the church. Krawczyk will finish the cross in a few weeks, then truck it cross-country. It will be installed in early May.

“It’s as big an honor as there possibly can be,” Krawczyk said. “I’m overwhelmed by the significance. To memorialize the sacrifice of the people and the loss of life in art, well, I’m not sure I can put it into words.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Di Ionno writes for The Star-Ledger  in Newark, N.J.)

(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.) 
4/7/2011 7:56:00 AM by Mark Di Ionno, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Malaysia wants ‘Christians only’ on Bibles

April 7 2011 by Baptist Press & Compass Direct News

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Christian importers of Bibles that Malaysian officials detained are balking at conditions the government has imposed for their release, such as defacement of the sacred books with official stamps.

The Home Ministry stamped the words, “This Good News (Malay) Bible is for use by Christians only” on 5,100 Bibles without consulting the importer, the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), which initially refused to collect them as it had neither accepted nor agreed to the conditions. The Home Ministry applied the stamp a day after the government on March 15 issued a release order for the Bibles, which had been detained since March 20, 2009.

Another 30,000 Bibles detained since Jan. 12 on the island of Borneo remain in port after the Sarawak state Home Ministry told the local chapter of Gideons International that it could collect them if the organization would put the stamp on them. Gideons has thus far declined to do so, and a spokesman said April 5 that officials had already defaced the books with the stamp.

The government issued letters of release to both organizations on March 15 under the condition that the books bear the stamp, “Reminder: This Good News (Malay) Bible is for use by Christians only. By order of the Home Minister,” and that the covers must carry a serial number, the official seal of the department and a date.

The Home Ministry’s stamping of the BSM Bibles without the organization’s permission came under fire from the Christian community. In a statement issued March 17, Bishop Ng Moon Hing, chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), described the Home Ministry’s action as desecration.

“(The) new conditions imposed on the release of the impounded Bibles ... is wholly unacceptable to us,” he added. Ng described the conditions imposed by the Home Ministry as tantamount to treating the Malay Bible as a “restricted item” and subjecting the word of God to the control of man. In response, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has said the act of stamping and serialization was standard protocol.

Government overtures

In the weeks following the March 15 release order, the government made several attempts to try to appease the Christian community through Idris Jala, a Christian from Sarawak state and a minister in the Prime Minister’s department.

Idris issued the government’s first statement March 22, explaining that officials had reduced earlier conditions imposed by the Home Ministry to require only the words, “For Christianity” to be stamped on the covers of the Bible in font type Arial, size 16, in bold.

Idris informed BSM that the Bibles could be collected in their present state or arrangements could be made to have stickers with the words “For Christianity” pasted over the imprint of the stamps made by the Home Ministry officials. In the event that this was not acceptable, the minister pointed out that BSM had the option of having the whole consignment replaced, since the government had received an offer from Christian donors who were prepared to bear the full cost of purchasing new Bibles.

In response, the CFM issued a statement on March 30 saying, “The offer made does address the substantive issues,” and called on the government “to remove every impediment, whether legal or administrative, to the importation, publication, distribution and use of the (Malay Bible) and indeed to protect and defend our right to use the (Malay Bible).” Bishop Ng, however, left it to the two importers to decide whether to collect the Bibles based on their specific circumstances.

On March 31, BSM collected the mishandled Bibles “to prevent the possibility of further acts of desecration or disrespect.” In a press statement, BSM officials explained that the copies cannot be sold but “will be respectfully preserved as museum pieces and as a heritage for the Christian Church in Malaysia.” The organization also made it clear that it will only accept compensation from the Home Ministry and not from “Christian donors,” a term it viewed suspiciously.

On April 2, Idris issued a 10-point statement to try to resolve the impasse. Significantly, this latest overture by the government included the lifting of present restrictions to allow for the local printing and importation of Malay and other indigenous-language Bibles into the country.

In Sarawak and Sabah, there would be no conditions attached to Bibles printed locally or imported. There also would be no prohibitions and restrictions on residents of these two states carrying such Bibles to other states. A significant 64 percent of Malaysian Christians are indigenous people from Sabah and Sarawak states who use the Malay language in their daily life, and having the Bible in the Malay language is considered critical to the practice of their Christian faith.

In the case of West Malaysia, however, in view of its larger Muslim population, the government imposed the condition that the Bibles must have the words “Christian publication” and the sign of the cross printed on the front covers.

The issue with the Malay Bibles is closely tied to the dispute over use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims.

In a controversial court ruling on Dec. 31, 2009, judge Lau Bee Lan had allowed The Herald, a Catholic newspaper, to use “Allah” for God in the Malay section of its multilingual newspaper.

The Home Ministry filed an appeal against this decision on Jan. 4, 2010. To date, there is no indication as to when the case will be heard.

Christians make up more than 9 percent of Malaysia’s nearly 28 million people, according to Operation World.

(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.) 
4/7/2011 7:51:00 AM by Baptist Press & Compass Direct News | with 0 comments

‘Rebuild Haiti’ makes progress

April 6 2011 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Southern Baptist rebuilding efforts in Haiti since the devastating earthquake 15 months ago have made good progress — and the improvements are as much spiritual as physical, leaders in the effort said.

“Rebuild Haiti,” a cooperative Baptist venture to put as many as 6,200 families in decent housing by the end of 2013, has completed 796 homes, with another 130 nearing completion, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response (BGR). Haitian Baptists also are participating in the initiative as are the International Mission Board, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and Florida Baptist Convention.

“In the aftermath of the earthquake, getting an effective program of rebuilding was very challenging,” Palmer said. “Moving people and money into the country, assembling all the supplies needed, just dealing with the nuts and bolts of getting things done in a place devastated by the earthquake was hard. Doing it in a way that enables Haitians to stand on their own, rather than continue the dependency patterns of the past, made it even a greater challenge.”

Photo by Nathanael Hollands

When volunteer medical professionals are unavailable for Southern Baptist relief efforts in Haiti, Esther, left, steps in to help. An 18-year-old Haitian who dreams of one day attending medical school herself, she has learned the basics of tending wounds and visits patients house to house.

Fritz Wilson, director of disaster relief and recovery for the Florida Baptist Convention, said the decision to use local labor and supplies has multiplied Rebuild Haiti’s impact.

“A key component in the strategy is that we are purchasing materials from in-country sources, work is done by Haitian men whom we have hired from the communities, local churches are helping us identify the people who need the houses the most, and we are building homes back where people lived before the quake so that they do not have to relocate,” Wilson said. “This means we are impacting the communities much more than just providing houses, by putting money back in the economy, providing jobs and elevating the church’s status in the community.”

The Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake killed 300,000 people and left more than 1 million homeless. Even before the earthquake, Haiti’s people were the poorest in the Western hemisphere. Currently, only about 2 percent of the rubble had been cleared and aid officials said clearing all the rubble would fill 1,000 trucks a day for more than 1,000 days.

More than $11.2 million has been donated to the Baptist relief effort through various channels. The Florida convention reported the $7 million they received included $171,665 sent by individuals, Sunday School classes and individuals specifically to build houses. State Baptist conventions also have gotten involved in Rebuild Haiti, like the Kentucky Baptist Convention, which has earmarked $200,000 for the effort.

The challenges of rebuilding communities from the inside out are being met as partners in the joint venture demonstrate a spirit of cooperation and work alongside Haitian believers to achieve a shared vision, Wilson said. He noted that Haitian Baptists assisted in designing a 12-by-16-foot cement block “transitional home” for quake survivors and looking into the future at what kind of communities would reflect God’s love for Haitians.

“The brightest spot in this is how the partners are all working with a common mission and vision,” Wilson said. “It is much like the tribes of Israel working on the walls of Jerusalem. Each group working on our own section, but we are tying it all together to push back the darkness.”

Communities like the Port-au-Prince suburb of Damien need more than just physical rebuilding, Palmer said.

“Most disaster recovery efforts focus on the externals like reconstructing buildings, but Christian recovery also understands the need for an inner change that creates new lives,” Palmer said. “In Rebuild Haiti, we are encouraging community members to lift their eyes beyond their own needs to the needs of others. We have structured the initiative to encourage people to take responsibility for their future and work hard to make a better life for the entire community.

“What we see happening in Damien is not only is a community getting new houses, they are also getting a new community,” Palmer added. “As the houses are being constructed, we see more people helping and sharing to ensure that everyone gets what they need. For example, one widow received a house but didn’t have enough money to furnish it. The local church members used their own money to buy her a bed, chair and small table.”

The change in Damien has been dramatic, said Jo Brown, who works with her husband David to direct BGR work in the Americas.

“When our assessment team arrived in Damien after the earthquake, the community felt very eerie,” Brown said. “I was ready to leave the moment we got there. People were sitting on the ground, staring blankly into nothingness. We saw practically no businesses.

“A year later, Damien has been transformed. Many small businesses have cropped up. People at the building sites — all ages, both male and female — are carrying block and needed items to the sites. We see hope and hear laughter. People smile and greet each other and stop to talk.

“Where I once felt fear, now I am able to walk alone in this community, even after dark,” Brown added. “Each morning before work is started on the sites, the U.S. volunteers join hands with the Haitians and sing and praise God. The focus is not on what the North Americans are doing, but on God’s provision.”

The change in Damien is a good example of a vision to see “people experiencing a full and meaningful life with hope and peace that inspires them to raise their families in confidence, build their communities with dignity and share this life with others,” Palmer said.

“We see homes built, but people are being built up as well. We see communities working together for the benefit of all and we see people whose lives are being literally transformed” by the message of hope Baptist volunteers are living out among them and sharing verbally, Palmer said.

“I want to thank Southern Baptists as well as others for their gifts and volunteerism that is such a key part in this transformation that we’re seeing,” Palmer added. “And I want also thank our Haitian partners who are opening up their lives to the transforming power of God.”

People in Damien and other Rebuild Haiti communities won’t forget who helped them find new life when their world was in a shambles, said David Brown.

“Our friends in Haiti want their friends in the U.S. to know how thankful they are to God that they were not forgotten in that desperate hour,” Brown said. “Haiti has such a long way to go, but we have begun to see the first fruit of what we believe will be a harvest of new life in Haiti.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly is an assistant editor and senior writer for Baptist Press. Barbara Denman, director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention, contributed to this article.) 

(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.) 
4/6/2011 10:26:00 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

New Orleans Seminary to cut personnel

April 5 2011 by Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has announced that in light of the economic recession and a reduction in Cooperative Program funding, the seminary will lay off three professors, ask four professors to shift to part-time status, and eliminate six ministry-based faculty positions, effective Aug. 1.

New Orleans Seminary President Chuck Kelley made the public announcement in a statement to Baptist Press late April 1, after telling seminary staff and faculty. Earlier, he met personally with the individuals affected by the cuts. The changes will be presented to the seminary trustees at their April 12-13 meeting as a part of the proposed budget for next year.

Following is Kelley’s full statement:

“As a result of the ongoing effects of the recession, the decline in Cooperative Program (CP) giving, and the recent reduction of projections for expected CP income next year, some difficult personnel decisions are necessary. Our budget and staff had already been slashed — first after hurricane Katrina, and again in austerity budgets since the beginning of the economic recession. Now the seminary has no alternative but to make faculty personnel cuts. We simply no longer have income sufficient to support our current level of full-time faculty. Therefore, in order to present a balanced budget to our Trustees, with great reluctance and regret, we must reduce the number of full-time faculty, effective August 1, 2011. The changes in next year’s budget include laying off three professors, asking four professors to shift to part-time status, and eliminating six ministry-based faculty positions. All of these individuals will be paid full salary through the end of the academic year in July. Although curricular needs may require us to fill a few mission-critical positions, all other open positions will remain vacant for the immediate future.

“The actions we are taking now are similar to steps already taken in many SBC churches, conventions, and entities. However, seminary communities have more of a family atmosphere than some other ministries. These individuals whose positions are being eliminated are people we love — our colleagues and friends. We deeply regret having to make this painful move, but economic necessity requires us to do so. We are profoundly grateful to Southern Baptists for their support by continued giving through the Cooperative Program during such difficult times. I encourage the NOBTS family and all Southern Baptists to pray for these families and the thousands of others across the nation who are being affected by this recession.

“This decline in Cooperative Program giving comes as the seminary enrollment is returning to pre-Katrina levels. Last year, we were within 100 students of our highest enrollment in the institution’s history. The interest in affordable, accessible theological education remains high, and we will make the necessary adjustments to continue serving those whom God has called. We remain passionately committed to making theological education as accessible as possible to everyone anywhere, so that we can train the next generation of pastors, missionaries, and other ministers to fulfill the Great Commission and impact our world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by staff of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Baptist Press.)

(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.) 
4/5/2011 4:21:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Myanmar quake claims Baptist worshippers

April 5 2011 by Susie Rain, Baptist Press

KYAKUNI, Myanmar — A three-day Baptist meeting in eastern Myanmar turned fatal March 24 when an earthquake struck near the Laos and Thailand border. Twenty-three people were killed and 50 others injured when a Baptist church building in Kyakuni, Myanmar, collapsed.

A man prepares a body outside the Lahu village where the Baptist church collapsed, killing 23 people. News of the March 24 earthquake in Myanmar has been slow getting out. Ninety villages were damaged in the 6.8 quake.

Yet, in the midst of their grief and distress, Myanmar Baptists — with some assistance from Southern Baptists — are looking past their own troubles to help their neighbors.

The Baptists were in the middle of a worship service when the ground began to shake violently. Screaming, church members scrambled outside as the building cracked and came crashing down. One worshipper said it looked as if the “earth swallowed the buildings.”

The 6.8-magnitude quake was felt as far away as Bangkok and in Hanoi, Vietnam. The town of Tachileik and surrounding villages in Shan state bore the brunt of the damage and fatalities.

Official counts list 74 dead. There are fears the death toll could be much higher, once reports are received from remote areas. An estimated 3,152 people are homeless. Nearly 90 villages have been moderately or severely damaged, encompassing more than 18,000 people.

The village where the Baptist church was located was destroyed. Not one building or structure was left standing. Government officials told survivors that they will not rebuild this village. Some have moved to neighboring communities. The majority, however, moved a short distance into the jungle, using tents as their new homes.

Information about the true scale of the disaster has been slow to emerge given the region’s mountainous terrain, linguistic barriers and security concerns. Communication systems and infrastructure are also poor in this area.

Officials in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, are not allowing foreign relief workers into the affected areas. However, Myanmar Baptists are responding by taking collections in their churches and distributing simple supplies such as: noodles; plastic sheeting for temporary tents; sleeping mats; cooking oil; etc.

Residents of Tar Lay village in Myanmar’s Shan State take stock of the damage after a March 24 earthquake destroyed much of the community.

“From what we hear, the Lahu villages are the worst hit,” a Baptist worker on the Thai border said. “Myanmar Baptists are using their own funds to try to help — at least with this initial response.”

One of the greatest needs the local assessment team found was for safe drinking water. When the quake hit, sand spewed up and the water level rose, resulting in a sulfur smell and taste. Baptists are trucking in 20-liter bottles of water across the border from Thailand.

Pastors are then loading the big bottles onto the backs of their motorcycles and driving through muddy, near impassable roads to deliver the water to remote villages in need.

Baptist pastors in the area say they have never experienced anything like this disaster. Three-story buildings were flattened to one. The roads have fissures and gaps, making them impassable for buses and large vehicles.

Warnings squawked over loudspeakers about staying out of homes until they can be checked. A Baptist pastor said buildings in the hardest-hit areas are no longer safe because of cracks in the foundations and walls. No evacuation centers have been formed. People made their own temporary shelter from the plastic sheets and local grass.

The damage was so overwhelming that Baptists from four associations broke through strict cultural barriers, reaching out to help people who were not part of their own community.

“In Myanmar, people interact within their own people groups. The Shan people help the Shan. The Wa people help the Wa,” a Baptist representative in Thailand explained. “It’s just how it is. People stick with their own.”

Several Baptist leaders from the different people groups crossed over into Thailand to receive a crash course on disaster relief, learning how to assess and respond to the massive devastation. They were encouraged to look beyond their own people and to reach out to the needs of others.

“I’m encouraging (local believers) to work together,” said the Baptist worker in Thailand. “We can cover more ground in a shorter amount of time (if we work together).”

Southern Baptists want to be sure assistance gets to people in remote villages, which often fall between the cracks in disaster relief situations.

“A number of community-based organizations appear to be responding to the situation,” said Pat Melancon, global disaster relief coordinator for Baptist Global Response. “We want to be sure that the needs of people off the main road, away from the main distribution venue, are properly assessed. If people are being overlooked in a crisis situation, they are in special need of a demonstration of God’s love for them.”

As the Myanmar pastors trained for disaster relief, they spent time in prayer and sharing experiences. One Lahu leader cried as he talked about the devastation and loss of life.

Another spoke of how they had to bury so many people in one day, without doing the proper ceremonies or grieving.

“It is not in their nature to cry or to tear up,” the Baptist worker said. “I cried just watching and listening. I could feel his pain. These Baptist leaders really need our prayers for strength.”

The Baptist worker encourages Southern Baptists to join her in praying for Myanmar Christians who will be working together for the first time in this disaster relief effort: 
  • Pray that they will be able to supply safe drinking water and figure out how to fix the problem.
  • Pray that until the problem is fixed, the government will continue to allow water to be trucked in from Thailand.
  • Pray for the spiritual and emotional health of people in the affected areas. Many lost loved ones and/or their homes.
  • Pray that the Christians will remain hopeful and show it through the actions.
  • Pray for opportunities to not only share but show Jesus’ love.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Rain is an International Mission Board writer living in Southeast Asia. Ivy O’Neil contributed to this article.)

(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.) 
4/5/2011 4:15:00 AM by Susie Rain, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Goal: More African Americans serving overseas

April 5 2011 by Don Graham, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. — A recent report from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee affirms what Keith Jefferson realized when he set foot on the mission field: God can use ethnic minorities in a big way.

Jefferson is the new African American mobilization strategist for the International Mission Board.

The ethnic involvement report, containing a number of recommendations for greater ethnic diversity within all areas of Southern Baptist life — including international missions — will be presented to messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in June.

African Americans “can serve God all around the world,” Jefferson says, “not just in places that have people of African origin.”

The call to missions is not optional, he says. “It is an obligation; it is a commandment; and no child of God can get around the Great Commission that Jesus gave us — preaching the gospel to all peoples.”

BP photo

Keith Jefferson

Jefferson spent 16 years as a Southern Baptist missionary sharing Jesus among Brazil’s Quilombola people, descendants of escaped African slaves. More used to traipsing through the Amazon Basin than sitting behind a desk, the role of African American mobilizer is new to Jefferson, who accepted the role following the retirement of David Cornelius last December.

“My focus is to encourage, challenge and train African American churches and individuals in being on mission with God,” Jefferson says. “Some think that missions is for people who are spiritual giants. ... Actually, it only takes a person who is available and willing, has the strength to get on and off an airplane and hold a conversation with somebody about the love of God.”

A lack of exposure to international missions and sometimes-overwhelming domestic problems have led some ethnic congregations to be less involved overseas, as Jefferson sees it. He points out that though African Americans make up an estimated 6 percent of Southern Baptists, they represent less than 1 percent of IMB missionaries serving on the field.

“People have myths and misconceptions about people who do missions,” Jefferson says. “Before I went to the field, about the only missionary I knew was an older white guy with black-rimmed glasses, white socks and flood-bottom pants.

“Now, I’m an African American who met Christ in a Southern Baptist church at the age of 18 and I never saw an African American missionary until I turned 42,” Jefferson recounts.

“When I finally met this guy, I realized that African Americans can be missionaries. People identify with their same ethnicity — I’m black, he’s black. He’s doing it, so I can do it.... You’d think this wouldn’t be necessary but people are people. It’s always helpful for them to see someone from their ethnic group doing God’s work.”

It was Cornelius who first challenged Jefferson, then a bivocational church planter and chaplain, to consider serving God on “foreign soil.”

“Honestly, I was a little bit irritated that he didn’t think that my mission pastor work was sufficient,” Jefferson laughs. “I mean, here I am, a mission pastor and a full-time chaplain — I am serving God.”

But when Cornelius asked Jefferson’s wife Deborah the same question, she surprised her husband by immediately saying she would pray about it. After two fortuitous encounters with missionaries from the two countries that Cornelius had suggested the couple consider working in, Jefferson says God confirmed the family’s call to missions, and within a year they were in Brazil.

“David (Cornelius) told me that in Brazil there are many people of African origin that were asking our missionaries, who at that time were all Caucasian, ‘Are there black Christians in America?’ And our missionaries said, ‘My goodness, sure — there are many black Christians and black churches.’

“And they said, ‘But you are here and they aren’t. If there are black Christians, wouldn’t they be here too?’ That was an awakening to me that there is such a lack of African Americans serving around the world.”

Among Jefferson’s top priorities is a greater networking of African American churches to connect them with African American missionaries already overseas.

“We have African Americans serving on the field, and their city and state associations may not know that they’re there,” Jefferson says. “We want to put African American missionaries in front of congregations by video, voice and Skype interviews.”

Though he admits he misses his ministry in Brazil, Jefferson says he’s excited about challenging African American believers to consider missions in the same way Cornelius challenged him.

“Working to bring more laborers to the field — at my age (57) — that’s not a bad move. The roads are pretty rough into Quilombola villages,” Jefferson laughs.

“A missionary can be from any background because there’s someone that he can reach that no one else can reach. That missionary with the black-rimmed glasses — he reached people that I could never reach. I can reach people that he’ll never reach. And so God uses our unique personalities to click with somebody in another country.”

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

(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.) 
4/5/2011 4:11:00 AM by Don Graham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Report: Chinese expand persecution tactics

April 5 2011 by John Evans & Art Toalston, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON — The Chinese government intensified its pressure against Christians in 2010 for a “fifth straight year of escalating persecution,” according to ChinaAid Association, a Christian human rights organization based in Washington.

Beatings, torture, arrests, harassment and church demolitions are among the 90 recorded cases of persecution, a nearly 17 percent increase over 2009, according to a report released March 31 by ChinaAid.

A photo shows the moment the cross at the Chengnan Three-Self Church was torn down when authorities in China’s Jiangsu province forcibly demolished the building on Nov. 19 of last year.

The cases “are just the tip of the iceberg,” according to a ChinaAid news release. “The Chinese government’s stranglehold on information and the authoritarian regime’s other security measures make getting a true picture of the extent of persecution impossible.

Nevertheless, the fact that the documented incidences of persecution came from all parts of China and involved people from all levels of society makes the report a useful guide.”

The report suggested the increase in persecution may have been triggered by the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiabao and the thwarted attendance by more than 200 delegates from Chinese house churches at the Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelization in South Africa.

The report stated that Chinese authorities, in addition to continuing to target house churches and their leaders in urban areas, are adopting three additional tactics of persecution:
  • The government is severely cracking down on Christian human rights lawyers, who have increasingly defended persecuted Christians in the country’s court system. More than two-thirds of persecution cases in Beijing involved such lawyers, who are subjected to harassment, beating and abduction.
  • While the government is decreasing official prison sentences against Christians who can defend themselves against such measures in the legal system, mafia-type violence and intimidation (some people have simply disappeared) is being used, which leaves Christians no legal recourse.
  • The government is punishing Three-Self Patriotic Movement Churches (official churches) that have failed to submit to its complete control. Congregants are beaten, churches forced to disband, and some buildings torn down.
The report documented 3,343 people who were persecuted in 2010, a nearly 14 percent increase from 2009. Detentions increased by 43 percent, and 336 house church leaders were persecuted. Overall, the report said persecution was more than 193 percent worse in 2010 than 2006.

Concerning the three new tactics of persecution, the ChinaAid report noted:
  • “Full-scale suppression of Christian human rights lawyers groups: In 2005, Dr. Fan Yafeng, a Christian constitutional law scholar, launched a movement within the church to use legal means to protect citizens’ rights, a model based on the principle of non-violence and in accordance with the actual political and legal situation in China. In the years since, working in partnership with Li Subin, Li Baiguang, Zhang Kai, Gao Zhisheng, Jiang Tianyong, Li Fangping and other prominent Christian lawyers and legal professionals, he established Christian Human Rights Lawyers of China, an unstructured non-governmental organization. From its original single mission of defending the rights of the church, the group’s legal rights defense work has gradually expanded to defending the rights of other citizens and groups, including other persecuted religious groups and individuals, rights defense of petitioners, peasants who have lost their land, victims of the compulsory family planning policy who try to defend their rights, etc. In 2009, the government severely cracked down on a number of large house churches and sentenced a group of influential house church leaders to long prison terms. During this process Christian Human Rights Lawyers of China publicly participated in many major cases (Linfen Church in Shanxi, Alimujiang in Xinjiang), thus greatly raising the church’s awareness of rights defense through legal means. In the meantime, the model of the church defending its rights spread rapidly to the rest of the country and reached its climax in the latter half of 2010. Also in the latter half of 2010, the government began to severely crack down on the members of Christian Human Rights Lawyers of China in a full-scale campaign, and the focus of their persecution was Dr. Fan Yafeng.
  • “Abuse, torture and mafia tactics: As a result of the vigorous rights defense movement activities of Dr. Fan Yafeng and Christian Human Rights Lawyers of China in effectively using the existing legal system in China, some local governments were forced to appear in court and hold dialogs with persecuted Christians or non-Christians. This greatly increased the cost to the government of its persecution activities and in some cases resulted in the failure of the persecution. Therefore, beginning in the latter half of 2010, the government began to circumvent regular legal means and instead began to allow law enforcement officers to wreak physical and mental havoc on the targets of their persecution rather than punishing them through legal and accepted methods. In December 2010, Dr. Fan Yafeng was tortured during his nine-day detention. What is worrying is that, judging from the cases in the first three months of 2011, such persecution tactics are being promoted.
  • “Severe crackdown on Three-Self Patriotic Movement churches that do not accept government control: 2010 was also a year of persecution of Three-Self churches. This is a special phenomenon and it signifies that it is not just the house churches but the whole of Christianity that the government regards as a threat. Any Three-Self church that dares to adhere to true Christian belief and is not willing to be controlled by the government will be the victim of a severe crackdown sooner or later. These persecuted churches are all large churches led by pastors who adhere to the principles of the faith. The persecution methods are severe and include beatings, abuse, and forced demolition of church buildings. Of course, as a result of the persecution, the reputation of these churches is being turned around, and more house churches and Three-Self churches are coming together, to help each other and to face persecution together. For example, Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, president of the Chinese House Church Alliance, made a number of trips in 2010 to the Chengnan Three-Self Church in Tinghu district, Yancheng, Jiangsu province where he encouraged the clergy and believers and also provided help.”
The report, titled “2010 Annual Report: Chinese Government Persecution of Christians & Churches in Mainland China, January-December 2010,” can be accessed at http://bit.ly/fEZTHv.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Evans is a freelance writer in Birmingham, Ala.; Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.)

(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.) 
4/5/2011 3:55:00 AM by John Evans & Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

In Argentina, hunters reach hunters

April 4 2011 by Tristan Taylor, BP

ESQUINA, Argentina – The pastor from Arkansas and the pastor from Argentina looked at each other in disbelief. God was leading their hearts in the same direction, though they’re from different continents and different cultures and speak different languages.

“There are moments when you just don’t know what to say because it’s so obvious that God’s in control,” said Chuck McAlister, a former International Mission Board trustee from the Church at Crossgate Center in Hot Springs, Ark. “This is one of those moments.”

Pastor Hector Barolin agreed.

“What came to my heart was here’s a friendship like that of David and Jonathan,” said Barolin, who leads Jesus, Light to the Nations church in Esquina, Argentina. “And that’s what I shared with Pastor Chuck. I really feel like this is something that’s going to last.”

McAlister, a retired pastor who hosts an evangelistic TV program for hunters, went to Argentina with three families from Trinity Baptist Church of Apopka, Fla., to partner with IMB missionaries David and Alisha Holt from Mount Zion Baptist Church in Snellville, Ga. The Holts minister to northern Argentina’s Criollo people who work primarily as guides and lodge keepers in the hunting and fishing industry.

The volunteers’ purpose was to build relationships with the people they would encounter while enjoying the region’s hunting and fishing opportunities. The strategy of evangelizing men through their hobbies is one McAlister describes as reaching an “affinity of interest.” Though the hunters of Argentina are from a different culture, he said he probably has more in common with them than with some people in the United States.

Photo by Wilson Hunter

Chuck McAlister, a retired pastor and former IMB trustee from the Church at Crossgate Center in Hot Springs, Ark., came to northern Argentina to reach the Criollo people through hunting ministries. "Whatever affinity group of interest you can find ... it's our responsibility to exploit it and use it for advancing God's Kingdom," he said.

“I guess rednecks are my people group, and it doesn’t matter if they live in south Georgia or South America,” McAlister said with a wry smile. “Whatever affinity group of interest you can find that unites a group of people, I think it’s our responsibility to exploit it and use it for advancing God’s Kingdom and impacting lostness.”

On a cold, wet morning, the American volunteers and the Holts met with Barolin and other leaders of Jesus, Light to the Nations at their church building. As the group sat in the white concrete sanctuary, they shared mugs of hot mate -- a tea-like drink popular in South America – and McAlister shared his heart for reaching men through outdoor activities.

“We are doing the same thing,” Barolin said. “In this church we have members who are hunters and fishermen ... and they’re reaching out to men in the same way you are.”

McAlister was nearly speechless.

“You’re doing this for men in your ministry. We’re doing it for men in the United States,” McAlister said. “This is no accident.”

As the two men continued to share their hearts, it became clear that God had orchestrated their meeting so they could work together.

“We’ve been feeling for a time that God is telling us something new is coming,” Barolin said. “And it’s going to be big. I’m excited to begin to dream together about what God is going to do.”

Both Barolin and McAlister have found outdoor activities to be an effective evangelism tool because many men are more likely to accept an invitation to go on a hunting trip than to go to a church service.

“Let’s say they show up to a church service,” McAlister said. “And what are we doing? We’re singing love songs to a man. We’re escorting them into a small group where someone may break down and cry. Or they’re asked to hold hands with other men in a circle and pray. And these guys are freaking out because this is not the world they live in. I think without realizing it, we have made much of what we do in church today effeminate.”

One of the myths in the local culture is that real men don’t need Jesus, Alisha Holt said.

“Sadly, the predominant icon of Jesus Christ through the Catholic tradition is either the infant Jesus in Mary’s arms or the dead body of Jesus in Mary’s arms. And real men just don’t want that,” Holt said.

Many men – both American and Argentine – don’t know the Jesus of the Bible, McAlister said; they don’t know the man who walked on water or the God who calmed the waves or threw over the tables in the temple. But when they encounter other outdoorsmen who love and need Jesus but are still “real men who hunt and fish and can handle a gun and a knife and a boat,” the masculine Jesus of the Bible starts to come into focus, McAlister said.

But Barolin and McAlister have set their sights beyond just men. They want to reach entire families.

“We see the father as the rock of the family,” Barolin said. “And we realized if we could reach the head of the family, the family is much easier to win as well.”

By bringing families from the United States, McAlister hopes to model for the Argentine men that “there is a responsibility that they have to their family, that they can come to know Jesus Christ personally and that they can be the spiritual leader of their family.”

While in Argentina, the volunteer families spent time with members of Jesus, Light to the Nations. The kids attended a youth meeting where there was dancing and games, and Barolin invited McAlister to share a message with his congregation.

The next step is to plan how American families can work strategically with Barolin’s church. But the partnership has been established.

“I really think this is the work of God,” Barolin said. “I’ve seen answers to prayers and have seen God’s hands in this.”

McAlister agreed.

“I have found my Latin American brother,” McAlister said. “Where do we begin?”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tristan Taylor is an International Mission Board writer living in the Americas. To view a multi-media package related to this story, go to www.commissionstories.com/stories/1313.)

(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.) 

Related story
Volunteer families mix hunting, fishing, missions
4/4/2011 8:01:00 AM by Tristan Taylor, BP | with 0 comments

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