April 2013

Iranian pastor told to recant his faith or else remain in prison

April 19 2013 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

TEHRAN – Iranian officials have pressured imprisoned pastor Saeed Abedini to renounce his faith in Jesus even as they have stepped up their physical abuse and psychological torture of him, including taking him to a hospital but denying him medical treatment, according to recent reports.

In a letter obtained by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), Abedini – a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent – wrote that he was told by Iranian prison officials, “Deny your faith in Jesus Christ and return to Islam or else you will not be released from prison. We will make sure you are kept here even after your 8 year sentence is finished.”

Abedini’s response, he wrote, is Romans 8:35-39, which says persecution and death cannot separate a believer from Christ. 

“The reality of Christian living is that difficulties or problems do arise in our lives,” Abedini wrote. “Persecution and difficulties are not new occurrences, but are seen often in the Christian life. It is through the suffering and tribulations that we are to enter the Kingdom of God.”

Saeed Abedini

The pastor closed the letter, ACLJ said in a news release April 10, by writing, “Pastor Saeed Abedini, the servant and slave of Jesus Christ in chains, with a lot of joy to see you soon. Evin Prison 9th March 2013.” 

Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ’s executive director, said it’s clear that Abedini’s faith is sustaining him even as he suffers from increased brutality at the hands of prison guards.

Sekulow reported April 15 that Abedini’s Iranian family visited him in prison that day and saw firsthand the marks and symptoms left by a severe beating he received when officials took him to a hospital the previous week. 

After being promised medical care for internal bleeding caused by repeated abuse, Abedini, a naturalized U.S. citizen, finally was granted a hospital visit but then was taken away without receiving treatment, being told the specialist he was to see was not available. 

“These beatings and the internal injuries are causing Pastor Saeed frequent fainting spells,” Sekulow wrote. “Iranian officials are telling Pastor Saeed it could be an additional two months before he will receive medical treatment. Such a delay is inhumane and a gross violation of Iran’s international obligations.”

Additionally, Abedini told his family that cellmates recently threatened to suffocate him in his sleep and make his death look like an accident, a risk that weighs heavily on him. 

“I cannot express in words how concerned I am about Saeed’s physical and mental health,” his wife, Naghmeh Abedini, said. “He is now continually attacked and threatened. The Iranian government should know that we are watching and aware of what they are doing to Saeed inside Evin prison. We need to speak louder until Saeed is home safely on U.S. soil.”

In an effort to bolster the pastor’s morale, ACLJ, which is representing his wife and two children in the United States, launched a letter writing campaign to send as many encouraging notes as possible to Abedini for his 33rd birthday May 7. 

“We want Pastor Saeed to know that he is not forgotten and thousands upon thousands of people are fighting for his freedom,” Sekulow said.

The effort quickly became one of the largest letter writing campaigns in history, with more than 33,000 people sending letters of support as of April 15. Letters can be written at SaveSaeed.org

“It is also an important opportunity to let Iran know that we will not forget about this persecuted pastor,” Sekulow said. “Iranian officials will be reviewing and paying attention to these letters. They will feel the incredible pressure of the world community calling for Pastor Saeed’s release.”

Meanwhile, USA Today published an article about Abedini April 4, saying “a movement to free him is gaining momentum.”

That movement, the newspaper said, got a boost from comments by Secretary of State John Kerry “that gave a nod to U.S. allies to quietly intervene.” 

Kerry’s call for Iran to release Abedini encouraged U.S. allies that have diplomatic relations with Iran to push the Islamic regime to release him or get him medical treatment, USA Today said.

Faraz Sanei, an Iran specialist for Human Rights Watch, told the newspaper that the regime views converts as a threat to the orthodox Shiite religion propagated by the government.

“Since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, authorities have cracked down on many religious and spiritual movements that draw young people away from the Shiite faith, including evangelical Christians and the more numerous Sufis, Bahai and self-help spiritual practitioners, who have grown in popularity under the repressive Islamic regime,” USA Today reported.

Sanei said, “The government feels threatened by these movements because it threatens their hold and grasp on the population.”

In the same article, Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., emphasized the importance of a case such as Abedini’s becoming a priority for the U.S. government.

“No administration, even dictatorships, wants to be subjected to any kind of embarrassment,” Smith told USA Today. “When issues are prioritized by the United States, it makes a difference.... [That strategy] works with radical Islamic regimes. It worked with the Soviets and with Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
4/19/2013 4:01:51 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Southern announces new school

April 19 2013 by Aaron Cline Hanbury, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Southern Baptist Theological Seminary announced the formation of a new school, named new academic leadership and approved an expanded budget at the spring meeting of its board of trustees April 16. These moves aim to position the school strategically to continue carrying out its mission.

New school of missions, evangelism and ministry

In August the seminary will launch a new school: the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry. The school, which combines the current Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism established in 1994 and the School of Church Ministries established in 2009, will serve students of both international and domestic missions, church planting, worship leadership and both local church and educational leadership. 

“The new Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry consolidates the great strengths of Southern Seminary’s tradition in Great Commission ministry, in global evangelism outreach and in ministry to the local church,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., the seminary’s president. 

“In a new global age, it is vitally important that students who graduate from Southern Seminary are exposed to a comprehensive curriculum that will prepare them for the challenges of real-life ministry in the local church and the mission fields of the world,” Mohler said. “This new school will bring together a comprehensive ministry vision and Great Commission passion.”

The new school’s sole purpose will be enhancing the seminary’s Great Commission reach and its faithfulness to the local church. Mohler noted the seminary will retain all faculty in the current Graham School and School of Church Ministries and will retain and even expand the entire curriculum. The seminary plans to name the dean of the new Graham School in coming months.

New academic leadership

Currently, Russell D. Moore serves as the seminary’s lead academic officer under the president as well as dean of the School of Theology. In March, trustees of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention elected Moore as the entity’s next president. (See related story.) After Moore’s election, Mohler named Randy Stinson as senior vice president for academic administration and Gregory A. Wills as dean of the School of Theology.

Mohler said separating the roles of academic administration and dean is now necessary due, in large part, to increased enrollment. 

“Southern Seminary has now reached the point in terms of expanding enrollment such that we need to have full-time executive leadership in academic administration and thus separate the roles of dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration,” he said. “We are experiencing record enrollment, and we now look to posture the seminary to continue that growth and development. I am pleased to separate these two positions in order to facilitate the future.”

Stinson became the founding dean of the School of Church Ministries at its inception in 2009. He holds a master of divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and master of theology and doctor of philosophy degrees from Southern Seminary. He is also the former executive director and current senior fellow for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

“Randy Stinson is one of the most dedicated, gifted and faithful Christian servants I have ever known,” Mohler said. “It has been a tremendous privilege to have him serve with the executive team. He has shown himself to be a natural leader, a servant and collegial catalyst for the entire institution. He is a gifted servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, a passionate teacher and a man who in his marriage and family life and ministry models everything we want Southern Seminary to represent. He will serve in an outstanding way as senior vice president for academic administration and will also fulfill the responsibilities of provost.”

Wills becomes the 10th dean of the seminary’s oldest and central school since its formation in 1954. Wills joined the faculty of Southern Seminary in 1997 after serving as the seminary’s first full-time archivist starting in 1994. He is now a professor of church history, an associate dean in the School of Theology, vice president for research and assessment and director of the Center for the Study of the Southern Baptist Convention. He holds a bachelor’s degree and a master of theology degree from Duke University, a master of divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a doctor of philosophy degree from Emory University.

“Dr. Gregory A Wills is the very model of the Christian scholar,” Mohler said. “I am glad to say I first met him when he was a doctoral student, and it is a tremendous personal satisfaction now, 20 years later, to see him emerge as such a model of scholarship, consecrated learning, academic writing and classroom teaching. Throughout its history, Southern Seminary has had a succession of scholars who have served as dean of the School of Theology. Greg Wills belongs in that illustrious line and will make his own very distinctive contribution to the life and work of the School of Theology. He already has the confidence and appreciation of his peers and faculty colleagues; that will only increase as he moves into this new role and responsibility.”

Moore said of Wills’ appointment: “Gregory Wills is a brilliant choice for dean of the School of Theology. He is a world-renowned scholar, a master teacher, a gifted leader and a godly man. He will not only have written the history of Southern Seminary, but he will also make it, as he works with President Mohler to take our mother seminary to a new level of excellence. He is committed to the vision of Boyce and Broadus, and he knows the challenges of the 21st century. Greg Wills leads with both the sword and the trowel and with the basin and the towel. Excellent choice.”

Mohler also announced Matthew J. Hall as vice president for academic services, which will include oversight of the Office of Enrollment Management and institutional research and assessment. Hall, currently chief of staff in the Office of the President, is a graduate of Southern and a doctoral candidate at the University of Kentucky.

“I am very pleased to appoint Matt Hall as vice president for academic services,” Mohler said. “Matt is a skilled administrator and a proven leader. He is also a Christian scholar, one who is unquestionably committed to the mission of Southern Seminary. He has served as executive assistant to the president and chief of staff and he will quite naturally move into this new position of expanded responsibilities.”

Expanded budget

Trustees voted to approve a budget for the 2013-14 academic year that represents a 3.3 percent increase from 2012-13. 

Mohler said of the school’s fiscal health: “We are thankful for God’s continued blessing on Southern Seminary in terms of enrollment, the support of our donors and most importantly the support of Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program. We are proud and thankful to be a Cooperative Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention and we are very thankful at this time to be able to move, as in previous years, into an expanded budget.”

Trustees approved the promotion of both Adam Greenway and Heath Lambert to associate professorships, and Robert L. Plummer to a full professorship. The board also granted sabbatical leave for professors Timothy K. Beougher and Bruce A. Ware and extended the contracts of seven other faculty members. 

Before concluding their meeting, trustees honored the late Rick Byargeon, a trustee of the seminary who died April 4, approximately 150 days after doctors diagnosed him with cancer. 

“We are so thankful for the service of Rick Byargeon and his service as a trustee of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,” Mohler said. “His death [reminds] us of what it means, regardless of the length of our days, to finish the course. We are thankful that Rick Byargeon finished his course. And we are thankful for the investment of time and energy he made in Southern Seminary.”

Byargeon was most recently pastor of Temple Baptist Church, Ruston, La. Before that, he served as a pastor in other churches and on the faculties of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (1993-1999; 2003-2005) and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (2001-2003). Southern Seminary trustees will present a framed set of resolutions in Byargeon’s honor to his widow Jonann and his son Will.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Cline Hanbury is manager of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.) 

Related story

Moore preaches final sermon on seminary’s staff
4/19/2013 3:49:59 PM by Aaron Cline Hanbury, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Moore preaches final sermon on seminary’s staff

April 19 2013 by Aaron Cline Hanbury, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Southern Baptist Theological Seminary honored Russell D. Moore for his nearly 10 years of service April 16 when he preached his last chapel sermon as dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration. 
In March, trustees of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention elected Moore as the entity’s next president. Moore, 41, will be the eighth president of the ERLC, which addresses moral and religious freedom issues in the public square. Moore’s last day in his role at Southern Seminary is May 31. 

The chapel service came during the spring meeting of the seminary’s board of trustees. (See related story.) Before Moore preached, seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. addressed those in attendance, which included members of the board and a sizable gathering of the seminary community. Mohler introduced Moore and commented extensively about the dean’s tenure at Southern Seminary.

SBTS photo
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees laid hands on Russell D. Moore to pray for him and his new responsibility at the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. See video.

“It humbles me to think about how many men have stood behind this pulpit to preach,” Mohler said as he stood behind the pulpit of Alumni Chapel, which the school built in 1949. “It should cause all of us to consider how many firsts and lasts have taken place here. This pulpit and this chapel have stood here long enough for generations to come and generations to go. And we recognize that we don’t get to hold on to people. They come and they go. And we recognize that that is exactly what this institution stands for: We are not here to accumulate people but to deploy them. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

“This is the last sermon Russell D. Moore will preach here as dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is going to be the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Nothing should make Southern Baptists more thankful than that fact. God has prepared Russ Moore for this position in a way such that anyone close to him, anyone who knows him, knows that God made his genetic structure for this job and made him for this time.”

Mohler continued: “I knew him as a student. I have known him as a colleague. And this is one of those bittersweet moments when we say ‘goodbye’ to a friend. At the same time, we want to rejoice because we have immense personal and institutional pride in Southern Baptists’ electing him to this position, and we want him to know how grateful we are for his years of service here. Transformative years. Crucial years. Historic years.

“When you work with someone, you inevitably get to know them better day-by-day and year-by-year. To know Russ Moore is to know that what you see in him in the first is only just a hint of what is to come. Southern Baptists will discover this year-by-year, through his service as president of the ERLC. We have experienced that – I most close at hand and most gratefully.

“There are so many things that could and might properly be said, but the most important thing to say is ‘thank you’ to Russ Moore,” Mohler said. 

Moore preached a sermon titled, “The Weight of Twelve Stones: Reflections on a Grateful Goodbye” from the Book of Joshua, chapter 4. Moore explained that he chose that particular chapter because of a sermon he heard years before that contributed to his attending Southern Seminary.

“I chose this text today because this text chose me,” Moore said. “This text is the reason we wound up here at Southern Seminary in the first place. In 1995, at the sesquicentennial Southern Baptist Convention, I heard Al Mohler preach from Joshua 4: ‘What Mean These Stones?’ I’d been to a lot of religious events, and in many of these I’d heard strings of clichés put together in order to evoke ‘amens,’ in order to prop up whatever status quo was being propped up. But this was different. This was someone preaching with a power, with a conviction, with a rootedness and with a theological vision that wasn’t some kind of antebellum reenaction of somebody else’s thought. 

“He spoke as someone not speaking for Bible-belt civil religion, but someone speaking of an ancient vision of what it means to be the people of Christ,” Moore said. “He was preaching something that sounded so different from anything I had ever heard from a living person. It was a vision that wasn’t only 150 years in the past, but a vision that was looking 150 years into the future. And as I stood there listening to that, I said, ‘That is what I believe; that’s the vision I hold to and I would love to give my life to.’ And I still do.” 

According to Moore, the sermon by Mohler sparked an interest in him in studying at Southern Seminary under a president he saw as a visionary leader. Nearly 15 years later, Moore’s journey at Southern includes posts as a doctoral student, research assistant for the president, professor and administrator. 

Moore explained that the stones the Israelites build on the bank of the Jordan in Joshua 4 are to establish a continuing pattern of memory with the Israelite community so that later generations both remember that God brought his people through the Jordan River and see a vision for God’s protecting and guiding them into the Promised Land. 

Moore connected this idea to God’s placing people in the lives of Christians as markers both of God’s faithfulness in the past and a vision for the next generation. He said, for him, these kinds of people define his tenure at Southern Seminary, from students and faculty to fellow executive leaders and interns. And one particular person who serves as a marker for him is Mohler.

“There’s a danger, whenever you have a hero in the faith who you get to see up close, that that hero is just an artifice,” he said. “And that was not the case when I came around Al Mohler. I’ve travelled all over the country with him, and we’ve worked together here where I’ve been able to see his leadership up close, having to work together in good times and in bad times. In every step of the way, I have seen the same vision, the same conviction, the same integrity that I first heard at the Southern Baptist Convention.” 

Immediately following Moore’s sermon, the seminary held a reception in his honor. Hundreds of people – trustees, faculty, staff, students and friends – filled the Duke K. McCall Sesquicentennial Pavilion to congratulate and express appreciation to Moore and his family, including his wife Maria and their five sons. At the reception, Mohler presented the Moore family with a large commemorative photograph of Southern Seminary’s campus. The school also gave Moore a portrait of one of the seminary’s founders and influential Southern Baptist John Broadus. 

Later the same day, during the plenary session of the board of trustees meeting, the board laid hands on Moore to pray for him and his new responsibility at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Mohler further commented on his working relationship with Moore. Mohler said, recounting the recent death of his father, that one of the things he learned is to appreciate those people who are worth missing.

“I’m thankful for so much that I have that is worth mourning the missing,” he said, “I told Russ Moore as we walked out of the chapel today, ‘There won’t be a day I won’t miss you.’ And I am thankful to have had a colleague I’ll so greatly miss. 

“Precious is a day like this in the life of Southern Seminary. I’m glad we didn’t miss it.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Cline Hanbury is manager of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Audio and video from Moore’s final sermon as dean and senior vice president are available here.)

Related story

Southern announces new school
4/19/2013 3:27:12 PM by Aaron Cline Hanbury, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Chaplains comfort families after Texas blast

April 19 2013 by Jerry Pierce, Baptist Press

WEST, Texas – Seven chaplains from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) are working with emergency responders and victims’ families following a deadly fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, Texas, in the central part of the state.

The blast at the West Fertilizer Co. plant killed between five and 15 people, authorities said – they were still trying to determine the number of dead on Thursday – and injured more than 160. Also, dozens of homes, businesses and a nursing home were damaged or destroyed.

About 130 residents from the nursing home were displaced, news reports said.

The blast reportedly was felt as far away as Waxahachie, Texas, nearly 50 miles north, and destroyed structures within four to six blocks of the plant.

Darryl Cason, chaplaincy director for SBTC Disaster Relief, said the seven convention chaplains in West on Thursday afternoon would be deployed there at least through the weekend, splitting responsibilities between ministry to emergency personnel and families affected by the blast. 

A shower unit from Linden, Texas, will set up for emergency crews at First Baptist Church in the nearby town of Gholson.

West, a town of 2,700, is about 80 miles south of Dallas on Interstate 35. 

Gov. Rick Perry declared the town a disaster area.

Cason said prayer for the families affected is the greatest need. Earlier in the morning, Wade Taylor, pastor of First Baptist Church of Alvarado and an SBTC chaplain, was able to counsel a family who lost a son in the blast, Cason said. 

Also, chaplains will provide spiritual support or simply a listening ear to the many law enforcement officers on hand.

Cason said the Salvation Army has five feeding canteens set up. An emergency command post was established Thursday at a local Catholic church.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN.)
4/19/2013 3:14:53 PM by Jerry Pierce, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Calif. bill would allow boys in girls’ restrooms

April 19 2013 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The cultural debate over “transgender rights” in public schools has moved to California, where a legislative committee passed a bill April 17 that would outlaw sex-segregated bathrooms and athletic teams. 

Under the bill – which passed the Assembly Education Committee by a vote of 5-2 – a student will be “permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs, activities, and facilities, including athletic teams and competitions,” consistent with “his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.”

This means that boys who say they identify as girls can use the girls’ restrooms and locker rooms, and vice versa. It also means that girls who want to play on boys’ teams, and boys who want to play on girls’ teams, will be allowed to do so. The key will be their “gender identity” – what sex they identify as – and not their birth certificate. 

The gender identity and transgender debate may be new to many Americans, but it’s likely heading to the heartland. In February, the Massachusetts Department of Education issued a “transgender rights” directive, accomplishing everything the California bill does. “In all cases,” the Massachusetts directive says, “the principal should be clear with the student (and parent) that the student may access the restroom, locker room, and changing facility that corresponds to the student’s gender identity.” 

Traditional groups say the transgender movement within public schools defies common sense and privacy. The California bill is AB 1266. It’s been dubbed the “bathroom bill.”

“Forcing boys and girls to share bathrooms, locker rooms and sleeping arrangements is not equality; it is insanity,” Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a traditional legal group, said in a statement. PJI has launched a website, genderinsanity.com, with information about this bill and another related one.

“Picture this ... your 7 year-old daughter comes home from school in tears,” the website states. “You ask her what’s wrong and she says she’s afraid to go to the bathroom at school because a boy comes in while she’s there. Outraged, you call the school to demand an explanation. You’re told that your daughter is telling the truth, but because the boy says he wants to be a girl, their hands are tied. ‘It’s the law.’”

Equality California, a prominent gay activist group, said the bill would “ensure that transgender students have the opportunity to succeed in school and participate in classes, sports and other activities based on who they are – just like all other students.”

The Capitol Resource Institute, a traditional group, warned that under the bill, a “boy would be free to come and go in girls’ locker rooms,” thus “violating the privacy of thousands of students.”

“The intent of this bill is not to help our children get a better education – it is to integrate and encourage alternative sexual lifestyles by utilizing the school system,” the Capitol Resource Institute said in a statement. “There is no protection for students that object to sharing bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms with students of the opposite sex. Such students could be subject to discrimination claims and punishment under anti-bullying laws. Male and female students should be able to get an education and develop healthy heterosexual relationships in a stable environment. The state should not allow mixed sexes into locker rooms and bathrooms based on a few students that claim to be a different gender than their gender at birth.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)
4/19/2013 3:04:13 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pat Summerall remembered for Christian faith

April 18 2013 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

DALLAS – Pat Summerall stood in the front row at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, on Easter Sunday, next to his wife Cheri, as the congregation sang “The Old Rugged Cross.”

“I looked over there at Pat, and big tears were streaming down his face,” Prestonwood Pastor Jack Graham said. “Of all the times I’ve watched him on television, of all the times I’ve heard his voice, my greatest memory is going to be remembering Pat with his eyes lifted up to heaven, tears soaking his face, singing ‘The Old Rugged Cross.’“

Summerall, the famed NFL broadcaster, died April 16 in Dallas of cardiac arrest at age 82. He had been in Zale Lipshy Hospital after surgery for a broken hip. 

Graham said with all the accolades and applause that Summerall received for his sports broadcasting work, his walk with Christ is what mattered the most to him.

BP file photo by Joni B. Hannigan/Florida Baptist Witness
Legendary sportcaster Pat Summerall, left, a member of First Baptist Church, Euless, Texas, shares a minute with Joe Ford, vice chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, at a Feb. 4, 2005, luncheon honoring Summerall in Jacksonville, Fla. Summerall died April 16. 

“He finished well,” Graham said. “His faith was strong in Christ and he was prepared for eternity. His commitment was stronger than ever. Even though he was battling illness and the personal challenges of aging, he was joyful and constantly engaging people with his life and his testimony. He was always willing to share what Christ had done in his life and the transforming power of Jesus in his life.”

After 10 years in the NFL as a kicker, Summerall spent more than 40 years calling NFL games for CBS and FOX, most notably with analyst John Madden. Prior to Madden, Summerall teamed with analyst Tom Brookshier.

“We lost one of the all-time greats yesterday in Pat Summerall,” said Mike Greenburg, host of ESPN’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning,” on his April 17 show. “He was one of the great football voices – maybe the greatest football play-by-play man there ever was.”

Summerall accepted Christ later in life.

His partnership with Brookshier extended beyond the broadcast booth, as the two became close friends and drinking buddies. Much of Summerall’s life was characterized by alcoholism and abandonment of his family.

In 1992, Summerall’s friends and family staged an intervention on his behalf, encouraging him to get professional help for his alcohol problems. He chafed at the idea and burned with anger throughout the intervention as his friends took turns speaking.

Finally, Brookshier read a letter from Summerall’s daughter Susan.

“I hadn’t been there much for my kids, but Susan’s letter made it clear that I’d hurt them even in my absence,” Summerall wrote in his autobiography, Summerall: On and Off the Air. “She recounted one incident after another. I was numb to most of it, sad to say. Yet, her final words made my knees buckle: ‘Dad, the few times we’ve been out in public together recently, I’ve been ashamed we shared the same last name....’”

Summerall began weeping tears of regret and reluctantly agreed to enter rehab at the Betty Ford Clinic. It was a decision that changed his life. At the clinic, Summerall not only found freedom from alcohol. He also encountered the grace of God. 

“My thirst for alcohol was being replaced by a thirst for knowledge about faith and God,” Summerall wrote. “I began reading the Bible regularly at the treatment center, and it became a part of my daily routine. The more I read, the more I felt a void in my life that needed to be filled.”

He was later baptized at First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas. Summerall described emerging from the water and said he had surfaced to a new world. 

“[F]or the first time in my life, I knew what people meant about being ‘born again,’” Summerall wrote. “I had already accepted that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who died for our sins. Now, I felt I was truly part of his family. I felt ecstatic, invigorated, happier, and freer. It felt as though my soul had been washed clean.”

Graham will preach Summerall’s funeral, which will be held at Prestonwood at 11 a.m. Central time on April 20. The service will be broadcast live at www.prestonwood.org.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is editor of BP Sports and director of news and media relations for Union University in Jackson, Tenn.)
4/18/2013 2:35:14 PM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Your Bible, now made in China

April 18 2013 by Angela Lu, World News Service

China, the world’s largest producer of textiles and manufactured goods, is now also the largest producer of Bibles. In 2012, the country’s sole Bible printer, Amity Printing, produced 12 million Bibles and New Testaments.
Although the increased availability of Bibles is a big step forward from China’s strictly Communist days, a closer inspection reveals the country continues to control how many Bibles are printed and who can get them.
Amity Printing started in 1988 as a joint effort between the British United Bible Societies (UBS) and Amity Foundation, the charity arm of the Three Self Church. Bible production increased from 500,000 the first year to 12 million last year. But many of the Bibles aren’t going to Chinese Christians, as Amity Printing has found it can turn a profit by exporting its goods. Bibles are printed in more than 90 different languages, and of the 88.9 million Bibles printed between 1988 and late 2011, 33.2 million were exported.
And the number of exported Bibles is increasing. In 2011, about two-thirds of the Bibles printed went out of the country, with only about 4 million copies remaining in China’s borders.
Not only is the number of Bibles printed by Amity unable to keep up with the growth of Chinese Christians, the 50 million believers in unregistered house churches do not have direct access to them, said Paul Hattaway of Asia Harvest.
The Bibles are distributed to the 55,000 registered churches, and anyone can purchase them there for an affordable 9.50 Yuan ($1.50). Christians found owning an Amity-printed Bible do not face punishment. But Christians in rural house churches far from registered congregations have a difficult time getting Bibles. Christians who ask for more than a few Bibles at a time raise suspicion. 
“There is a growing emergency in China because of the lack of God’s Word among the rural house churches,” Hattaway said in an interview in Asia Harvest’s 2011 newsletter. “If this need is not rebalanced soon, I fear it will have dire consequences for the revival that has been burning so brightly in China for the last 30 years.”
Hattaway said the government’s claims that Bibles are no longer needed in China is propaganda, and through speaking with the leaders of house church networks, he found they still need 34 million Bibles to give one to all their members.  Asian Harvest has so far printed and distributed more than 6 million Bibles to these house churches. 
“More than 60 years of atheistic Communist teaching in China has resulted in a large spiritual void in the lives of a billion people, which creates a hunger for truth,” Hattaway said. “When many people hear truth, they are eager to embrace and wholeheartedly live for God.”
4/18/2013 2:30:27 PM by Angela Lu, World News Service | with 0 comments

Easter popular time for new church plants

April 18 2013 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

NEW YORK – Easter Sundays and new school years often are chosen as “birthdays” for church plants. The North American Mission Board (@NAMB_SBC) expects to see Southern Baptists celebrate many more such birthdays in the coming years – especially in under-reached and under-served areas.

On Easter Sunday church planter Stephen Kim (@stephenkimnyc) celebrated the public launch of Mustard Seed Church in New York City. Kim was a 3-year-old child when his family moved from South Korea to be part of an earlier church plant in the city.

The church’s name encapsulates its vision. “[The mustard seed] is a seed that’s not noticeable to anyone and insignificant to everyone,” Kim said. “But in the process of time, God’s hand germinates it, and it grows into a tree that not only reaches the lost coming into New York City but it supports missions all around the world.”

Mustard Seed Church photo
At Mustard Seed Church in New York City, attendees share a fellowship meal after the new congregation’s public launch on Easter Sunday. Church planter Stephen Kim says God led him to start Mustard Seed because of the great need for theologically sound churches in the city. 

The church’s Easter launch came after nearly a year of weekly meetings with a core group. With a strong focus on discipleship reflecting the need he sees for theologically sound churches in the city, Kim has a long-term view of church membership, in which prospective members participate in the fellowship for a year before joining. Church planter Stephen Kim says God led him to start Mustard Seed because of the great need for theologically sound churches in the city. 

During the public launch, 20 people from the church’s core team officially committed to and joined the church, as Kim preached on the comparison between marriage and the relationship to Jesus and the church.

“We had a small induction ceremony at the end of the service,” Kim said. “It was very special. One lady commented that she felt like she was walking down the aisle for her own wedding!” 

Kim said 30 prospective members and guests also attended the public launch. 

A bivocational planter, Kim also works as a substitute math teacher. Because the church doesn’t need to provide a salary for him, it is able to give half its budget to the Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program and other missions opportunities.

“The lostness in New York City and the world is so immense that I think we all have to roll up our sleeves and do whatever it takes to spread the gospel as far as we can,” Kim said.

Also in Ontario & metro Indy

New Baptist churches were born on Easter in other underserved North American cities as well. On Easter Sunday 77 people attended the first preview service for Fellowship Streetsville in Mississauga, Ontario, located about a half-hour from Toronto. The metro area of Toronto has only one Canadian National Baptist church for every 167,000 people.

“We want to get a healthy expression of the church into every neighborhood we can get into,” said John Worcester, the veteran church planter who has launched 20 churches throughout North America in the past 33 years. “And it is all through evangelism. Evangelism pushes everything we do.”

Worcester told of a widower still grieving his wife and away from church for years who visited Fellowship Streetsville searching for hope.

“After the service he came up to me and said, ‘This is really interesting material,’” said Worcester (@johnworcester). “He wants to come back next week. He wants to get together to talk with me, too, so I’ll be getting together with him this week to share the Gospel on a more personal basis.”

In the Midwest Indianapolis-area church planter Jeremiah Brown (@jeremiahjbrown) chose Easter to introduce Generation Church to Noblesville, Ind. 

Since his move to Indiana two years ago, Brown has focused on building a core team and encouraging them to reach out to the Noblesville community. Attendance at earlier preview services was disappointing but this year nearly 60 people were in attendance for the Easter preview service – five times the size of the plant’s core group. At least one person made a decision to receive Christ as Lord. 

One of the most exciting developments for Brown came when three neighbor couples showed up at the service after months of being invited to church activities. None of them were regular churchgoers and all said they’d be coming back.

To help with the church’s launch, Travis Humerick from partnering Thompson Station Church in Thompson Station, Tenn., drove to Noblesville to personally support, encourage and help the new church throughout the weekend. Brown said Humerick helped clean the meeting location beforehand and greet visitors.

“We know God is getting ready to do something in Noblesville and the north Indy area,” Brown said. “Something big is happening. We’re just pursuing Him as deeply as possible.” 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.)
4/18/2013 2:17:46 PM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Falling fertility rate poses problems, author says

April 18 2013 by Tonika Reed, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Benches built to push couples to sit closer together, special holidays and monetary incentives are all ways other countries have tried to boost fertility rates, author and demographer Jonathan Last told a Washington audience recently. 
The “bad news,” said Last, is there are few examples of effective public policy to nudge fertility rates upward. Other countries that have tried to do so failed, the author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting said during an April 3 lecture at the Family Research Council.

The world population will peak before the end of this century and then quickly contract, Last predicted in a February opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times. This would be the first time this large and quick of a contraction took place since the Black Plague hit Europe in the Middle Ages. 

Today, 97 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where the fertility rate is falling, Last said in the article. 

At the Family Research Council event, Last cited some past efforts to boost fertility rates. 

“The first attempt we see as pro-natalist public policy is actually from Caesar Augustus,” Last said. “He passes in the late days of the Roman Empire, when they were having a fertility crunch, a bachelor tax – to get unmarried young men to get married and start [having] kids. That did not work.”

Another flawed attempt was Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s medal incentive, he said. 

“As Russians were getting wound up in World War II, he realized that they had a demographic problem and needed more babies, so he created the motherhood medal,” said Last. “If a woman had six children, the first class medal; five, the second class. They would earn this wonderful little medal. You can buy them on eBay. They are about 12 dollars.”

Last also talked about how the old views on American sexuality have been untethered from one another.

“Pre-1968 – broadly speaking, you could not have sex without getting married. You could not have sex without having a child nine months later, and you couldn’t have a kid out of wedlock. Certainly people did those things certainly on their own outside, but in broader society people didn’t do that,” Last said.

“The sexual revolution plays an enormous role on fertility,” Last said.

In 1965, four percent of all births were to single mothers; today, it is 47 percent. It is not that America is unwilling to produce children; the problem is broken homes and the dropping fertility rate, Last said. America’s ideal fertility rate is 2.5; it is currently 2.1.

“What has changed is not our conception of what the ideal family is but our ability to achieve it,” said Last.

Steve Aden, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, asked if this problem was one of inherent selfishness among those who are able but choose not to have children. 

Last said America’s problem stems from “hyper-responsibility,” not selfishness. He said those who want to move up economically usually choose to go to school longer, postponing the rates of marriage and childbirth. 

“We don’t need to browbeat people who do not want to have kids into wanting them,” Last said. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tonika Reed is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.)
4/18/2013 2:11:34 PM by Tonika Reed, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Longtime Graham associate, George Beverly Shea, dies

April 17 2013 by Press reports

George Beverly Shea, the baritone singer known for his long-time association with Billy Graham, died Tuesday, April 16.
“George Beverly Shea has been one of the closest friends my wife, Ruth, and I have ever had,” said Billy Graham in a statement. “He, along with Cliff Barrows, was one of the first members of our evangelistic team. I’ve been listening to Bev Shea sing for more than 60 years, and I would still rather hear him sing than anyone else I know.”
Shea, 104, of Montreat, N.C., worked with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) for more than 50 years.

BP file photo
George Beverly Shea, 104, died April 16.

Shea first sang for Graham in 1943 on a Chicago radio program (“Songs in the Night”) and has carried the gospel in song to every continent and to every state in America.
He was nominated for a Grammy Award 10 times. He won a Grammy in 1965 and was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the organization in 2011.
“He has set an example and has been a role model of what a Christian ought to be,” Graham said. “His contribution to my ministry cannot be measured in human terms. Since our organization is like a family, we are all going to miss him as one of the spiritual leaders of our Association. We are looking forward to that glorious day when we will all be together again.”
Shea was also a member of the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame and Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame. He was among the inaugural class of inductees into the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists’s “Hall of Faith” in 2008.
“My heart goes out to the entire Shea family,” Graham said. “I am praying that God’s grace and strength will be more than sufficient for Karlene, his two children – Ron and Elaine – and grandchildren.”
Shea’s musical journey started when he was growing up in the choir at his father’s Wesleyan Methodist church. Born in Winchester, Ontario, Shea went on to record more than 70 albums of sacred music. At age 23 he composed the music to one of his best known solos, “I’d Rather Have Jesus.”
Attending both Annesley College (Ottawa, Ontario) and Houghton College (New York), Shea worked in radio broadcasting while employed as a clerk in the headquarters of Mutual of New York Insurance Company from 1929 to 1938. He became a staff soloist and announcer at WMBI in Chicago between 1938-1944. He met Billy Graham in 1943 after he took over a radio program called “Songs in the Night” at WCFL, also in Chicago. At the time Graham was pastor of Village Church in Western Springs, Ill. Graham had heard Shea sing on the other station and enlisted his help with the hymn program.
The first crusade they worked together was in Graham’s hometown of Charlotte in 1947.
Shea remained active with BGEA into his late 90s, singing at Franklin Graham Festivals in Charleston, S.C. (2008), and Knoxville, Tenn. (2008) and at Will Graham Celebrations in Paducah, Ky. (2007) and Gastonia, N.C. (2006).
“Even though Bev was 10 years older than my father, he never acted his age,” said Franklin Graham on billygraham.org. “He was absolute fun to be with. Bev was one of the most gracious and unassuming men I have known. He was always encouraging and supportive, a man of deep faith and strong commitment to Jesus Christ.” 
Shea’s public funeral service will be held at Anderson Auditorium, 302 Lookout Road, Montreat, N.C., on Sunday, April 21 at 3 p.m. 
The service will be open to the public, and doors will open at 1:45 p.m. Parking for the service will be available at various locations in Black Mountain, N.C. Signage and attendants will be present to direct traffic flow. Shuttle buses will bring guests to the funeral service and back to the lot after the service. Shuttle service will begin 1:30 p.m. and will end one hour after the conclusion.
Shea will be laid to rest on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte during a private ceremony on Monday, April 22. The Billy Graham Library and grounds will be closed to the public during this service and will again be open for visitors on Tuesday, April 23.
Shea is survived by his wife, Karlene, and his children from his first marriage, Ronald and Elaine. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Erma, who died in 1976.

Memorials to BGEA, The Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse and World Medical Mission.

To visit the George Beverly Shea memorial website, click here.
4/17/2013 2:30:11 PM by Press reports | with 0 comments

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