April 2013

Student makes fruitful journey to Bible school

April 10 2013 by Amy B. McCraw, Special to the Recorder

New students looking on the Internet for directions to the Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute will find detailed instructions to the campus, beginning with an exit off Interstate 26 and a map of the local area.
But at least one student at the school probably needed more than just a quick look on the school’s website to find her way to class.
That’s because 22-year-old Laura Cotton drove the entire 4,500 miles from her home in Alaska to the Bible college in Henderson County this past summer. Cotton said she made the trip from Alaska because she felt drawn to the area and the biblical education offered at Fruitland.
“I feel God wanted me to come here,” Cotton said. “I feel like He called me here to attend Fruitland.”
Cotton began classes in July after making the road trip in her old Subaru with her mother. The two made the trip in about five days. Cotton said they had a wonderful time on the road, despite her occasional moments of doubt.
“I remember driving through Canada feeling scared. I was like, ‘What am I doing?’”
Cotton’s fears soon subsided, and the two reached the school in one piece.
Her mother flew back to Alaska, while Cotton began classes and settled into her new home away from home.
Cotton is working toward an associate degree in religion/church ministries. She has not decided what she wants to do after she graduates, but she said she thinks getting her degree will prepare her for whatever comes her way.
“I believe as a Christian I have a mission field wherever I am. I want to be more equipped and ready for it,” she said.
Cotton decided to attend Fruitland after her father, who is a Baptist minister, suggested the school. He attended the institute from 1991 to 1993 when Cotton was a young child.
“He loved Fruitland so much. When I said I wanted to go to Bible college, he recommended it,” she said.
It’s not unusual for the children of former students to come to Fruitland, said Bobby Garrett, the school’s director of facilities.

Garrett said more women are also deciding to attend the school to earn degrees they use in various faith-based careers, including counseling and children’s ministry.
The school’s outreach to evangelism conferences around the country and its reputation as a first-class Bible college has also drawn students from many states and some foreign countries.
“The foundation of this school has never changed,” Garrett said. “It’s a Bible college. When you teach the truth, you never go wrong.”
Cotton was 1 year old when her father began his education at Fruitland. She said she doesn’t remember much about the time her family spent in the area except for a trip to Sliding Rock and a visit with a relative in Murphy.
This time, Cotton said she will have many more memories to take with her when she leaves to begin her career.
“I’d never seen fireflies before. I’d never seen an apple tree before. I picked an apple off a tree for the first time,” she said.
Cotton also saw snakes for the first time when she visited Chimney Rock State Park last summer.
“I saw four in one day,” she said.
The mild winter in Western North Carolina has also been a welcome change from the 60-below temperatures usually found in her hometown of Delta Junction.
The small town in Alaska is in one of the colder parts of the state and is about six hours from Anchorage. It is also home to Clearwater Baptist Church, where her father is pastor.
While Cotton said she has enjoyed the warmer winter and new experiences, her move to the area has not been without its challenges.
The summer’s heat, humidity and influx of insects were “a little extreme,” she said.

The size of the community also took a little getting used to.
“It’s crowded,” Cotton said. “I’m used to being able to just drive and get away. In Alaska, that’s easy to do. There are thousands of miles of emptiness. Here, you don’t get that far from a town.”
But Cotton said the few drawbacks she has experienced are nothing when compared to the new friends, new experiences and the education she has received at Fruitland.
“It’s been really amazing,” she said. “It’s been neat meeting people. The people are really, really nice.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Amy B. McCraw writes for the Times-News in Hendersonville, where this story was originally published.)
4/10/2013 2:55:49 PM by Amy B. McCraw, Special to the Recorder | with 0 comments

Pakistani Christian freed after death sentence

April 10 2013 by Baptist Press staff

LAHORE, Pakistan – A Christian man sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan has been freed by an appeals court, but Muslim-Christian strife continues to flare up in the volatile Islamic nation.
Media reports differ on the exact circumstances of Younis Masih’s 2005 arrest for allegedly blaspheming Islam’s prophet Muhammad, which is punishable by life in prison or death.
Morning Star News, a news service that reports on persecution issues such as blasphemy laws, said Masih had asked local Muslims who were singing a religious song to do so more quietly, and a mob beat him unconscious the next day.
World Watch Monitor, another news service focusing on persecution issues, cited the Lahore-based Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement’s description of the case: Masih – under the influence of drugs – got into an argument with a Muslim imam who was leading a worship service at a neighboring home. The next day, Masih threw bricks at the imam’s door. Muslims subsequently beat Masih and his wife, and the imam accused Masih of blasphemy.
Both sources agreed that the conflict spread when Muslim mobs attacked Christian homes in the area.
Masih denied that he blasphemed Muhammad, but he was convicted and sentenced to death in 2007. According to World Watch Monitor, Masih’s sentence was appealed, and his attorney presented evidence that the original conviction was based on hearsay. On April 3, an appeals court in Lahore overturned Masih’s death sentence and declared him innocent.
Masih’s release comes three months after Rimsha Masih (no relation), a teenage girl accused of blasphemy, was freed by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which agreed with a lower court that Masih had been framed by a local imam. The case triggered worldwide attention on Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which critics claim are often abused to settle personal scores, often among Muslims. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 16 people are on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy and another 20 are serving life sentences.
Among those jailed: Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who has been imprisoned since 2009, convicted after a dispute with local Muslim women who later accused her of insulting Muhammad.

Islamists defend the blasphemy laws and militants have been known to murder anyone accused of blasphemy. Two high-ranking Pakistani officials – Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab governor Salman Taseer – were gunned down simply for criticizing the laws.
Pakistan’s small Christian community is especially vulnerable to blasphemy accusations. Christians make up less than 3 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people, with less than 1 percent considered evangelical/followers of Christ.

‘Blasphemy’ & local tumult

 Accusations of blasphemy also fueled Pakistan’s latest case of Muslim violence against Christians. According to Morning Star News, irate Muslims attacked a Christian neighborhood at Francis Colony in the northeast Pakistani city of Gujranwala, injuring at least five Christians as well as damaging a church, shops and vehicles.
Local Christians told Morning Star News the trouble began April 3 when three Christian youths were riding home in a rickshaw taxi with four Muslim passengers. A request by the youth to listen to music – which the Muslim passengers said was forbidden in Islam – turned into a scuffle.
Muslim youths subsequently formed a mob trying to provoke Francis Colony residents, who ignored them and stayed home. Christian elders went to the local police and said they were assured that violence would be prevented and the matter would be resolved peacefully.
But, according to Morning Star News, a mob of 500 to 700 Muslims later came from a nearby village and assaulted the neighborhood with firearms and clubs. Police reportedly exchanged some shots with the armed attackers but otherwise stood by as the violence raged.
“They were just looking on as the Muslim boys broke our shops and vehicles,” Babar Masih, a local Christian, told Morning Star News. “No one tried to stop the mobs from damaging our property, so some of us took out our weapons and started firing into the air to scare them away. Our boys also came on the roads and confronted the Muslims with batons and sticks.”
Aneeqa Maria Akhtar, a Christian lawyer who heads The Voice Society advocacy group, told Morning Star that before the clashes, mosque loudspeakers were used to call for Muslims to “teach the Christians a lesson,” but the police did nothing.
“They let it happen,” she said. “Timely action by the police would have contained the situation.”

According to Morning Star, Gujranwala Division Police Chief Amin Vaince said he has ordered the local police post shut down and officers will be disciplined for negligence.
“The police’s job is to serve the people,” Vaince said. “It’s quite clear that the police did not do their job, resulting in damage to property and injuries to some people. However, we will get to the bottom of things, and those responsible for disturbing interfaith harmony would be dealt with an iron hand.”
Pakistani media outlets gave a different picture of the events leading up to the violence, characterizing it as a dispute between a Muslim religious leader and Christians who were playing music too loud. One outlet said Christians started the violence by damaging houses and torturing a Muslim prayer leader who asked them to turn their music down.
The violence came the same day that Pakistan’s Supreme Court took police to task for standing by during a March 9 riot in Lahore’s Joseph Colony, a poor Christian area where Muslim mobs burned down nearly 200 homes, 16 shops and two churches. Christians marched in Lahore the following day to protest the attack and the blasphemy law.
The havoc arose after two friends, one Christian and the other Muslim, got into a drunken argument. Police warned residents to evacuate that night but most disregarded the warning, not believing anything would come from the argument. When the Christian was accused of blasphemy and a furious mob descended on the community the next day, the police stood by and watched the destruction.
A Punjab official, Hanif Khatana, admitted the police intentionally did nothing.
“The religiously charged mob was avoided by police, for if any of them got killed, the issue might have been blown out of proportion and spread all across the country," Khatan argued, according to Morning Star.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, however, was not impressed with Khatana's line of reasoning.
“Do you mean whenever there is a charged mob, the police should shy away from confronting them?” Chaudhry said, according to Morning Star. “Should we leave the SC  building if any mob attacks and take shelter in Judges Colony?”
Justice Azmat Saeed also challenged Khatana’s statement.
“Is the Punjab government not ready to take risk for protection of Christians?” he inquired, according to Morning Star. “It’s disturbing and upsetting ... you cannot punish a community and desecrate their churches.”

Ministry & prayer

 In the days following the attack on Joseph Colony, victims were sitting in front of their temporary homes – white tents that barely kept out the cold – still in shock and feeling helpless. The charred remains of their lives are near enough that you can smell the lingering stench of burned wood and melted plastic.
Christian worker Young Rhee* says Joseph Colony residents now live in fear and worry about their future. Rhee and a group of Christians from another section of town spent time circulating through the tented city, offering a listening ear, prayer and help.
Rhee described the destruction from the mob as vast. Homes are hollow, blackened structures or totally reduced to ashes. Women have sat in the midst of the aftermath, sifting through their belongings. One woman cried out in grief when she found her burnt Bible in the rubble.
One man said he left his house with just one outfit, expecting to come back to his home after things settled down. But the next day, he saw his house of 40 years burning on television.
“I feel miserable and horrible,” the man said. “If I had burned in my house, at least I would be crowned in heaven now.”
Rhee nodded and let the man talk out his grief, then simply asked, “Who can protect you in such a tragedy?”
Without hesitation, the man pointed up, indicating that only God protects him.
The visitors offered comfort and encouragement, sharing God’s promise and praying as tears flowed down the cheeks of the affected. Some heard for the first time of the One who can truly protect them. Others thanked God for protecting them and for no loss of life.
Rhee asks believers worldwide for prayer that:
  • The affected area may be reconstructed quickly and the victims recover from their shock.
  • This persecution and trial may be the opportunity for a spiritual revival among believers in this area and across Pakistan.
  • Believers will be bolder in their faith
  • Church leaders will be united in fulfilling the Great Commission
  • A resolution to the blasphemy law is found.
*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Compiled by John Evans, a writer based in Houston, and Art Toalston, editor of Baptist Press. Susie Rain, a writer in Southeast Asia, also contributed to this report.)
4/10/2013 2:46:36 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Autism Awareness: church ministers to special needs families

April 9 2013 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

Misty Brown once wondered if she’d ever be able to go to church with her husband and two children, as a family, again.
Brown and her husband Daniel have an 8-year-old son, Colby, who has autism. The couple struggled to find a church where their son was able to adjust. For a while they rotated Sundays. One of them would stay home with Colby. The other parent attended church with their daughter Zoe, who is 10.
“[It] was very frustrating not being able to worship together,” said Brown of the church they used to attend.
“They would tell us, … ‘Just bring him. He can sit in the pew. It’s no big deal if he claps his hands and screams.’ But … that was kind of a burden placed on us because … not everyone understands that. We didn’t want that to impact visitors coming to the church. We felt like it was best to just … keep him away.”

Contributed photo
Students and volunteers participate in an activity at Rich Fork Baptist Church in Thomasville. The church has a ministry that reaches out to families with special needs children.

The Browns aren’t alone in their struggle. The Center for Disease Control reports that 1 in 88 children has autism.
Some parents with special needs children are turned away from churches that contend they aren’t equipped to handle this issue. And other families, like the Browns, just go when they can.
But then the Browns heard about Rich Fork Baptist Church in Thomasville.

Rich Fork’s reputation for ministering to families who have children with autism and other disabilities had spread throughout the area. And the Browns decided to visit the church.
“It was such a blessing to just be able to drop our son off, know that he was safe, well taken care of,” said Brown, whose family joined the church last December.
“We were able to go [to church] together … as a family; where as before that was kind of unheard of.”
With this month being National Autism Awareness month, pastor Michael Bowers said he’s excited about the ministry. He also added that he can’t take much credit for its success.
“It’s been something that I’ve been able to stand back and watch,” Bowers said. “As a pastor I’m very proud of … the number of volunteers and the resources that have gone into [this ministry]. … It’s really blossomed beautifully.”
The special needs ministry at Rich Fork started about five years ago. A family with an autistic child joined the church, and Rich Fork’s children’s ministry leader Gaylin Stewart looked for a way to help that family. The church asked volunteers to “shadow” (accompany or escort) the child and help him acclimate into a typical class with other kids his age.
“That worked well for that particular child,” said Stewart, who added that the church’s initial effort soon attracted other families. “[They] started coming to us … and [asking], ‘Would you provide for our child, as well?’”
Since then the ministry has promoted itself more in the community and grown to about 17 children – in addition to the church’s adult program.
Parents meet regularly with Stewart  to discuss the needs of their children. The church has equipped some of their doors with alarms – that the community helped purchase – in case a child tries to open one of them. And parents occasionally lead training workshops.
“Now we have more of an individual plan for each child,” said Stewart, who explained some children might need more one-on-one time than others.
The church also uses a method called “reverse integration,” where typical students participate and build relationships with developmentally disabled children.
“Some of our older students are now spending time with [special needs] students close to their age,” said Pastor Bowers, who said the approach helps train young volunteers for future ministry.
“I think it makes them a more well-equipped believer,” Bowers said.
“I hope … our students graduate and leave Rich Fork and go to other parts of the state, and other parts of the world, and they go ‘Ya know, I can do this here.’”
In addition to the classroom, the church plans special activities for the children, such as swimming parties or a trip this month to an Alpaca farm.
“Valentine’s Day, [the church] had a couple’s dinner and they were … providing special needs child care,” said parent Misty Brown. “My husband and I were able to go to church, ... eat dinner and have both of our kids taken care of.”
“It’s a ministry to their whole family,” added Stewart.
Churches like Rich Fork are a rarity, said Donnie Wiltshire, senior consultant with special ministries for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
“Sometimes out of necessity … churches will minister to [a] family or that child that has special needs in their church,” Wiltshire said. “But it rarely becomes an outreach ministry … to their community and draws people to their church. Rich Fork is an exception to that.
“Rich Fork embraced these people, these families, these children with special needs and ministered to them in a really good way.”
In North Carolina, Wiltshire said, there are about 180 to 190 Baptist congregations that have some type of special needs ministry. Wiltshire added that most of those ministries, however, are geared toward adults.
“That’s a great and wonderful thing, but there are a lot of children around our state [who] have special needs,” he said. “There’s tremendous need across our state for churches that would open up to families … and would aggressively, enthusiastically, with love and energy, embrace them and bring them into their church.”
“There are very few churches that aren’t touched with a child or youth that has autism in one degree or another,” he said.
The church’s ministry has particularly been a blessing to Karen and Mac McGee and their 17-year-old son, Kevin, who has Down Syndrome.
Each Sunday Kevin participates during worship time in the auditorium and always presents his offering before the service.
“For Kevin, for him not to worship would be a crisis,” McGee said. “That’s a part of him. That’s like telling him, ‘You can’t go on the playground anymore.’”
When the opening time of music concludes, a volunteer escorts Kevin to his class.

“He feels a connection with the Lord, there,” McGee said. “The third time we visited … his feet hit the pavement [and] he said ‘Kevin’s church.’”
While Rich Fork is a larger congregation of about 1,000 people who attend weekly, churches of all sizes can minister to special needs families, said Stewart.
Any church, she said, can have a volunteer adult or teenager “shadow” a child. Occasionally a church can ask a few of the developmentally disabled adults in the church to take up the offering.
“It is just beautiful to see that,” Stewart said. “[It’s a] simple thing, but they take it very seriously. I hope some day some of these children can do that too. … They’re not just at our church. They’re a part of our church.”
Stewart said she believes the ministry is drawing children closer to God. She recalled a time when she was ill and in the hospital. A father and his two autistic twin girls visited her and shared how the girls had asked to pray for her.
“When they came and told me that in the hospital … that was worth everything to me,” said Stewart, her voice cracking with emotion. “I knew that what we were doing was taking root in them.”
“Just precious people, all of them,” she said. “They carry a heavy load. To think that a church would turn them away  … I just can’t do it.  Whatever they need I’m going to try my best to provide it for them.” 
For more information about Rich Fork’s ministry go to http://www.richfork.com or, contact Donnie Wiltshire, senior consultant with the special needs team for the Baptist State Convention of N.C., at (800) 395-5102 ext. 5630, or go to http://www.ncbaptist.org.
4/9/2013 5:14:02 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 1 comments

Autistic child becomes missionary to Japan

April 9 2013 by Maria Elena Baseler, Baptist Press

Steven Kunkel’s nickname appears at the top of his Facebook page: Sugoisteve. Sugoi (pronounced sue-GOY) means “awesome” in Japanese.
“Sugoi is my catchphrase,” Steven explains, “so sometimes my friends call me ‘Sugoisteve.’”
But from Steven’s perspective, the “sugoi” part isn’t about him. It’s about God.
“I always want to give God the glory for what He has done in my life,” he says.
That attitude was evident as Steven stood before worshippers at a Japanese-Paraguayan house church in Asunción, Paraguay. Accompanying himself on the guitar, he sang a favorite song by Casting Crowns, a Christian praise band: “The voice of Truth says, ‘This is for My glory.’ Out of all the voices calling out to me, I will choose to listen and believe the voice of Truth.”
Listening to Steven sing, his parents – missionaries Tim and Iracema Kunkel – wiped tears from their eyes. More than anyone else in the room besides Steven, they understood what these words have meant to him.

IMB photo by Rebecca Springer
Steven Kunkel, center, stands with his parents – International Mission Board missionaries Tim and Iracema Kunkel – in the family’s backyard in Asunción, Paraguay. Eighteen years ago, Steven was diagnosed with the developmental disorder of autism. Today, he serves as a missionary in Japan.

Eighteen years ago, Steven was diagnosed with autism, a developmental disorder causing problems in behavior, communication and social interaction. At age 5, Steven couldn’t speak. Today, at 23, he speaks four languages – English, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese. And he’s learning five more – Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, Mandarin Chinese and Tagalog.

Symptoms of autism

From the beginning, doctors said Steven was high functioning. Even so, he displayed all 14 of the most common symptoms of autism.
Steven couldn’t tolerate change, for example. He didn’t like to hug. He preferred being alone. He avoided eye contact, echoed others’ words and laughed at inappropriate times. He also had a habit of spinning himself and objects.

Today, as a missionary in Japan, Steven has only one of the 14 symptoms – inappropriate laughter – and it’s hardly noticeable. He taught himself how to manage it through Internet research.
Steven spent years struggling to overcome most of the other symptoms, and God used many people in that process. Steven’s parents created a structured and loving family environment, guiding him through the challenges of autism. His two older siblings, Julia and John Glenn, encouraged him with their love. Many believers prayed. Professionals like speech therapists and physicians provided specialized help.

Strengthened by God and his support team, Steven himself did years of hard work for healing.
“Sometimes it was like I was climbing a mountain, facing a lot of difficulties,” he said.
“Whenever I felt a difficulty or a weakness come, I fell down. But I managed to get up and keep walking.”
And through God’s power, Steven has climbed to some amazing heights.

‘Seeing through God’s eyes’

One of these was Steve’s commissioning as a missionary to Japan.
“I’ve felt today that so many questions about Steven’s autism have been answered,” Steven’s mom, Iracema, said, “like a veil is being lifted from my eyes and I’m seeing things through God’s eyes. I’m thinking, ‘for this day you were born, Steven.’”
Holding his well-marked Japanese Bible, Steven sat with head bowed as fellow believers surrounded him inside the Japanese-Paraguayan house church. The circle included church members, visitors and Japanese children Steven had taught at the church. Steven’s parents – International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries in Asunción – stood behind him.
The group laid hands on Steven as pastor Koki Nowada, his Japanese mentor, led in prayer. Nowada’s normally soft voice grew louder and more intense as he prayed in Japanese for God’s anointing on Steven.
It’s a powerful moment for worshippers. Steven’s dad, Tim, sobbed with joy.

He remembers the day doctors diagnosed Steven with autism, not long after the Kunkels moved to Uruguay as new missionaries.
“It was like one child died and another child was born,” Tim recalls. “But God, in His permissive will, allowed this to happen. And God, in His sovereignty, had a plan.”
The Kunkels saw God’s plan unfold as they continued serving in Uruguay. Because few services for autistic children were available there, Iracema studied special education so she could teach Steven herself. In the process, she discovered a gift for working with autistic children. She began sharing that expertise with parents of other autistic children in Uruguay. In turn, God used those connections to open doors for the Kunkels to witness for Christ.
“I’m realizing now that a lot of what God has had us doing on the mission field – first in Uruguay and then after we moved to Paraguay – hasn’t been so much about us as missionaries,” Iracema says. “It was about Steven. It was like God was using us to help put all the pieces of the puzzle in place for Steven, so this autistic child could grow up to be a missionary for God’s glory.”

One important puzzle piece fell into place when Steven accepted Christ at age 8. Later at 15, he became interested in Japan. While visiting some friends in Uruguay’s countryside, Steven fell asleep under a tree. He dreamed a Japanese girl told him she wanted him to learn her language and culture. When Steven woke up, he had a strong desire to learn Japanese and travel to Japan.
“Now, I think it was kind of like the dream Paul had when the Macedonian called him to come over and help,” Steven says.
After the dream, Steven couldn’t stop thinking about Japan. But no Japanese people lived in Salto, the small Uruguayan city where his parents then served. So Steven began learning Japanese on his own.
His mom bought him a Japanese phrasebook in her native Brazil, a country with the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. Steven taught himself all the phrases. He also became interested in Japanese cartoons called manga and began drawing his own.
Meanwhile, God was putting another puzzle piece in place.

Moving to Paraguay

When Steven was 16, IMB officials asked the Kunkels to consider transferring from Uruguay to Paraguay. By then, the Kunkels’ two older children had left home for college.
“Steven wasn’t sure if he wanted to [move to Paraguay],” recalls Tim, who is from California. “And we weren’t sure about the wisdom of moving him to a new country as an older teenager.”
As the family prayed about the decision, Tim took a trip to Paraguay. There he noticed many Asian immigrants; one named Lily Maeda de Martinez waited on him in a store. Tim learned she was Japanese, born in Paraguay to Japanese immigrants. He told her about Steven and asked her to write him a letter in Japanese. Lily agreed.

When Tim returned home with the letter, “Steven was so excited,” Tim remembers.
“That sealed it for him on going to Paraguay.”
With plans in place to move to Paraguay, the Kunkels left Uruguay for stateside assignment. In the U.S., Steven made some Japanese-American friends and learned more Japanese. He also rededicated his life to Christ at South Ridge Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo. It was then God’s call to Japan became clear.
Soon God showed Steven something more: Some of the Japanese manga he’d been reading had evil overtones.
“When I realized that, I tore up the bad manga with my bare hands,” Steven recounts.

From then on, Steven used biblical themes in cartoons he drew himself. Later he began composing sacred piano music.
“The Lord showed me He had given me gifts He wanted to use in Japan,” Steven says.

Preparing for Japan

But Steven needed Paraguay to get ready to go. And there God had people in place to help with that preparation.
Two of them: Japanese pastor Koki Nowada and his Japanese-Paraguayan wife Mari. They mentored Steven in Japanese language, culture and ministry for nearly seven years while he served in their congregation.
“We’re just a small house church, but we are a missionary church,” Koki Nowada says. “For the Japanese children [here], seeing Steven go to Japan as a missionary has been a wonderful opportunity to learn [about] the cost of discipleship.”
During Steven’s commissioning service, visiting preacher Jonathan Yao reminded those children – and their parents – that God wants to use them, too.
“If you say, ‘Lord, here I am,’ God will use you,” said Yao, a Chinese-Filipino pastor and a Kunkel family friend. “Don’t limit what God can do.”
God used Yao to open the door for Steven to serve in Japan, Tim notes.
“The missing piece in this whole puzzle was how Steven was going to get there,” Tim says. “That was a piece I just couldn’t figure out.”
In 2011 God provided that piece when Yao took Steven on a survey trip to Japan.
Yao knew no Japanese pastors, but before the trip he made a connection with a Filipino congregation in the small city of Shiojiri, Japan. He and Steven visited the church.
Steven made a strong impression on the congregation, who’d been praying for more workers. To help them expand their outreach to the Japanese, the church needed a Japanese translator, someone to teach Japanese to Filipino church members and a worker to teach English to Japanese children. The congregation also needed help in music and outreach to Brazilian immigrants.
As church leaders got to know Steven, they realized his skills matched everything in their prayers – all in one person.
“Steven is a miracle, a grace from God,” the pastor told Yao. “Where God’s grace is, His favor is.”
The congregation then invited Steven to “come over and help them.” He said “yes.”
That was seven years after Steven dreamed about Japan as a teenager in Uruguay.
“Since that dream, there have been lots of struggles and tests. But my faith has stayed strong,” Steven says.
“Today, I’m sure Japan is the land God has been preparing me for.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Maria Elena Baseler is an IMB writer/editor living in the Americas. Autism Awareness Month began April 2 with the United Nations World Autism Awareness Day. Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders – called autism spectrum disorders (ASD) – caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. In the United States, one in 88 children – and one in 54 boys – are affected by some form of autism, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. For more information on autism and Autism Awareness Month, go to http://www.autismspeaks.org. This story is the first in a series about Steven Kunkel, autistic son of International Mission Board missionaries in South America. Steven currently is serving as an evangelical missionary in Shiojiri, Japan. Look for future stories at BRnow.org.)
4/9/2013 5:02:55 PM by Maria Elena Baseler, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Church administration conference set for May

April 9 2013 by By BSCNC Communications

The duties assigned to church administrators are often complex and daunting, regardless of church size or the administrator’s experience and training. The challenges can intensify when the administrator also serves in other capacities, such as senior pastor.

Brian Davis, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC) executive leader for administration and convention relations, said the complexities of modern church administration duties often require administrators to seek additional training beyond the basics.     

“Church administrators are telling us that there are a lot of resources out there for introductory church administration matters,” Davis said. “However, they want something more advanced, something to help them in dealing with the key areas of strategic planning, communication and managing volunteers.”

To assist North Carolina Baptists in this important area, the BSCNC congregational services group, in cooperation with the Convention’s Christian Higher Education Committee and Campbell University, will sponsor an advanced church administration training conference May 2 at Campbell.
The conference will include plenary and small group sessions focused on training church administrators to become more effective leaders by equipping them to understand their own strengths, and how to invest in and utilize the strengths of others. 
Faculty from Campbell University’s Lundy-Fetterman School of Business will lead the plenary sessions.
Lynn Sasser, BSCNC executive leader for congregational services, said the conference will give North Carolina Baptists an opportunity to learn important insights from leading experts in the field of leadership development.
“We are excited to have Campbell University faculty partner with us. Their expertise in the area of leadership and administration will be a tremendous value to all who attend,” Sasser said.  
Cost to attend is $40 per person, which includes meals and materials. Once registered, participants will receive a copy of Strengths Based Leadership and instruction for how to complete the Strengths Finder assessment that participants are asked to complete prior to the conference.

The event is designed to be an advanced level training that will benefit church administrators from all backgrounds.   

“These are tools that everyone in ministry can use, whether they are paid or volunteer, clergy or laity, the pastor of a single staff church or the paid administrator of a large church,” Davis said. “Anyone who is tasked with church administration responsibilities will learn how to improve their performance at this conference.”

The schedule includes a morning and afternoon session, with the morning session featuring a “Utilizing Strengths in Leadership” plenary session, followed by small group sessions.

The afternoon will include the “Using Strengths to Enhance Leadership Strategies in the Church” plenary session, followed by another small group session when participants will work through various leadership and administration challenges. The conference also includes a time for participants to share best practices and summarize solutions discovered throughout the conference.

Registration deadline is April 15. For more conference information, contact Cynthia King at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5501, or cking@ncbaptist.org.
4/9/2013 4:56:27 PM by By BSCNC Communications | with 0 comments

Moore, on C-SPAN, talks culture, Kingdom

April 9 2013 by Dwayne Hastings, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON (BP) – In his first television appearance since being named president-elect of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore was forthright in his positions but stressed the importance of Christians being Kingdom-minded in approaching issues.
Moore, who will officially begin June 1 with the SBC’s entity for moral and religious liberty concerns, was featured in a live segment of C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”
Moore, currently dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., emphasized the importance of Christian believers recognizing they are facing “ultimately an optimistic scenario, not a pessimistic scenario.”
“The situations we face are very important and in many cases dire and the consequences are crucial but if we really believe what Jesus has said about the Kingdom of God and about the ongoing march of the Gospel in the course of history, then we don’t come to this as losers, as people who are frantic, as people who are outraged,” Moore said. “We come to this with a kind of quiet confidence.”
“We must not be a people who are terrified but who are confident in the sovereignty of God and the power of the Gospel,” he continued.
When Libby Casey, host of the April 5 C-SPAN program, asked Moore what side of the culture war he was on, Moore said he preferred not to think in terms of a fight. “I don’t think we are at war with one another in this country,” he said. “I think we have very deep disagreements on issues that matter.”
Yet he indicated it was possible and beneficial for people with divergent perspectives to “come together with civility and in conversation.”
Moore said it is critical that evangelicals recognize they are not speaking as majoritarians. “We’re not standing and saying everything we are concerned about is by necessity what the entire country agrees with us about.
“In many issues we are going to have to have a prophetic voice to a culture that largely disagrees with us,” he continued, noting that has been the position of evangelical Christians and Baptists as far back as the nation’s founding.
“Baptist preachers were the ones agitating for a 1st Amendment, for instance, for the protection of the freedom of conscience and religious liberty when that didn’t seem to be a priority for many people,” he said.
Casey asked Moore about the role religion should play in crafting legislation and politics at large.
“Religion deals with ultimate matters,” Moore responded, explaining faith impacts “what we value and how we see the world.”
He said people of faith must be involved in public policy matters: “As citizens of this republic we have a responsibility to care for the good of our neighbor and to maintain the common good of the nation.”
He noted the conversation is harmed when people of faith are not involved in the process. “After all,” Moore said, “religion teaches us and shows us that the state isn’t ultimate and the culture isn’t ultimate, there are ultimate priorities beyond these things.”
Individuals’ personal faith helps to shape and form the virtues of the citizenry, he continued.
When people of various faith backgrounds come together, Moore said, “We are speaking to one another not in order to in any way oppress one another but in order to persuade one another that there are things we ought to agree on because they are for the sake of the common good.”
In response to a caller to the program that accused religious conservatives of desiring to transform the United States into a theocracy, Moore disagreed, saying a state religion would be the bane of the Christian faith.
“The last thing an evangelical Christian would want is a theocracy,” he said. “We believe people are reconciled to God through the power of the Holy Spirit and through the proclamation of the Word, not through the action of the state.”
He said state-sponsored religion would trivialize faith into the equivalent of a driver’s license.
Evangelical Christians cherish religious liberty and freedom of conscience, Moore said. “We should all be able to bring our sense of what is important into the public square.”
The C-SPAN host noted the sudden shift in public opinion for same-sex marriage.
“We ought not to base radical changes in public policy on the basis of something as ephemeral as this cultural moment,” Moore responded. “When you have something as important as marriage, historically and culturally, we ought to protect that and conserve that.”
Moore said he hopes the Supreme Court is prudent in its deliberations and doesn't usurp the democratic process in its ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act.
“As an evangelical Christian, I believe that marriage is a conjugal union, a lifelong union, between a man and a woman,” he said.
Saying while he appreciated the debate over the definition of marriage, Moore said, “I believe the state doesn’t define marriage. The state merely recognizes something that already exists.”
In response to a caller who identified himself as a homosexual and who took issue with religious people forcing their beliefs on the rest of society, Moore said a position for biblical marriage doesn't equate to hostility toward gays or lesbians.
Evangelical Christians might disagree with others about what the proper purpose of sexuality is, Moore said, explaining, it is consigned to a marital union of a man and a woman. Yet he said that doesn’t mean Christians are engaged in a war against those who are gay and lesbian.
“We don't seek to oppress people; we seek to say instead we really believe this issue is important because God has designed sexuality to work in a certain way for the good of the people,” he continued. “That's not an act of hostility; it’s a matter of disagreement.”
Showing an image of a June 2011 posting on Moore's blog entitled “Immigration and the Gospel” on the screen, Casey asked him his opinion of the proper way to handle the immigration issue.
“We need to recognize those who immigrated to this country are persons created in the image of God and they bear dignity and ought to be loved and respected,” he said, taking issue with the “terms of derision” being used against the immigrant community by some in the debate.
Moore indicated his pleasure with the “growing consensus” on the issue, noting few people consider it reasonable or just to attempt to deport those who are in the U.S. without proper documentation.
He said he supports a path to citizenship that provides a “just way to move people out of the shadows and into the fullness of American life.”
No one favors an open border, Moore continued. “We must have border security in order to enforce the laws of this country.
“The question is how do we justly, fairly and humanely help these individuals become contributing members of society,” he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Dwayne Hastings is a vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
4/9/2013 4:53:00 PM by Dwayne Hastings, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Collegians on spring break tackle Sandy challenge

April 8 2013 by BR staff and Baptist Press

Helping rip out walls and floors infested with mold and damaged by mud and water wasn’t the most fun Mollie Jones had ever had during a spring break, but the experience was probably the most rewarding. 
The sophomore from Appalachian State University in Boone was one of hundreds of college students who gave up a week of sleeping late to work with North Carolina Baptist Men and other Southern Baptist disaster relief teams. In recent weeks students have helped Hurricane Sandy victims rebuild and reclaim their homes in Allenwood, N.J. and in other areas of the Northeast damaged by the “superstorm.”
“It definitely wasn’t like most people’s spring breaks, sleeping on the floor and taking cold showers and working all day,” said Jones, a member of First Baptist Church, Hickory.
“I don’t think people realize how bad it is in New Jersey. It’s been four or five months, and it doesn’t look like anything has changed.”

Photo by Laura Sikes
Christen Dierken, 24, pulls up mold-infested flooring from a home on Staten Island, N.Y. Dierken, a graduate student at the University of the Cumberlands, worked long days with her team. “We just kept going because we knew it was for God’s purpose,” said Dierken, who helped lead the team with her husband.

While students have helped N.C. Baptist Men complete around 60 projects since December, more than 700 remain. During the week of March 11-17 Jones helped do her part, which included consoling one family who learned most of their house was infested with black mold and needs to be rebuilt.
“I think they were in shock a little bit … because they didn’t really realize how bad their house was,” she said.
“They were living there hoping they would be OK. One of the sons was really sick because of the mold he was living in. … It was an emotional day.”
Another day included prying loose a board that had more than “1,000 nails.” 

“I’m not exaggerating,” she said. “For four or five hours. … We were pulling nails for the Lord.”
The experience for many of the students will change their lives, said Billy Layton, project leader for the N.C. Baptist Men’s team.
“These students have chosen to come and serve instead of going to the beach or to the mountains or to the Caribbean or wherever,” he said. “That’s very touching to me.”
Another collegiate team worked with Southern Baptist’s Disaster Relief ministry in Staten Island.
Donning protective suits, gloves, boots and masks, a Baptist Campus Ministry contingent from the University of the Cumberlands, the Baptist-affiliated university in Williamsburg, Ky., also tore out insulation, pulled up mold-infested floors and hauled mud and sewage from basements of homes flooded by the hurricane’s storm surge.
“Anything dirty, we jumped into it,” said David Dierken, a co-leader with his wife Christen.
Cumberlands’ freshman Brian Stills, 19, – on his first mission trip – said he was humbled by the devastation and loss that people suffered. He and others worked three days doing mud-out and cleanup on a flooded home less than a mile from the ocean.
The homeowner, a mother with two teenage daughters, was emotional when they met her.
“To see how little we did and to see how it touched somebody instantly slapped me in the face,” Stills said, while 18-year-old team member Angelica Williams was stirred by how the woman “almost cried before we lifted a finger. The house was just floors, beams and a roof when we walked in. There was nothing inside.”
Most teams went non-stop through the long days, from a 6 a.m. wakeup until bedtime at 11 p.m.
“It was exhausting,” said graduate student Christen Dierken. If they started to grow weary during the day, the 24-year-old Dierken said they would look to volunteer Ralph Payson, a 68-year-old Staten Islander, for inspiration.
Payson, a New York Fire Department retiree, helped supervise the Kentucky team’s efforts and worked beside them. Payson has worked closely with Baptist volunteers since the storm ravaged his hometown last October. Payson helped set up the tent city – temporary home for the students – on the grounds of Zion Lutheran Church.
“All these kids are great to take their vacation to come here and help my neighbors,” Payson said.
Noticing only bricks left from a home strewn in a flooded field while he walked through one of the neighborhoods the group worked in, David Dierken said Isaiah 40:8 in Scripture stuck with him all week. “All the stuff that we think is permanent, like a house, can be taken away in the blink of an eye,” he said. “What’s really left after that is God’s Word.”
For more information or to volunteer go to baptistsonmission.org or call (800) 395-5102, ext. 5599. 
4/8/2013 3:25:51 PM by BR staff and Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Rick & Kay Warren grieve son’s suicide

April 8 2013 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE (BP) -- The suicide of Matthew Warren continues to reverberate not only in Christian circles but the culture which his parents, Rick and Kay Warren, have sought to impact since the founding of Saddleback Church in 1980.
Matthew Warren, 27, died late Friday afternoon, April 5, at his home in Mission Viejo, Calif.
Warren released an emotional statement to Saddleback's staff after the suicide. The statement has since been broadly published:
“Over the past 33 years we've been together through every kind of crisis. Kay and I've been privileged to hold your hands as you faced a crisis or loss, stand with you at gravesides, and prayed for you when ill. Today, we need your prayer for us.
“No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now. Our youngest son, Matthew, age 27, and a lifelong member of Saddleback, died today.
“You who watched Matthew grow up knew he was an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man. He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He'd then make a beeline to that person to engage and encourage them.
“But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America's best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.
“Kay and I often marveled at his courage to keep moving in spite of relentless pain. I'll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said, ‘Dad, I know I'm going to heaven. Why can't I just die and end this pain?’ but he kept going for another decade.”
On Sunday, April 7, Warren voiced gratitude via Twitter for the concern and prayers for his family: “Kay and I are overwhelmed by your love, prayers, and kind words. You are all encouraging our #brokenhearts.”
The previous day via Twitter, Warren had stated, “We pray 'Thy WILL be done on earth AS IT IS IN HEAVEN' since in heaven God's Will is done #always. On earth, it's done rarely.”
The Orange County Register reported that Warren was slated to begin a new sermon series, “Surviving Tough Times,” on Sunday at Saddleback, one of the Southern Baptist Convention's largest churches. The first message in the series, for April 7, was titled, “What Do You Do on the Worst Day of Your Life?”
Among those expressing compassion for Rick and Kay Warren was Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee and a former SBC president.
Page and his wife Dayle lost a 32-year-old daughter, Melissa, one of their three daughters, to suicide in 2009.
Page stated via Twitter the day after Matthew Warren's suicide: “My heart is broken as I've heard the news about Rick Warren’s son. Please pray. Unfortunately, I understand that which they experience now.”
In a statement to Baptist Press, Page expanded on his tweet:
“Immediately after hearing the tragic loss of Rick and Kay Warren’s son, I called my wife and asked her to join me in prayer for this dear family. Having lost a daughter in the same tragic way slightly over three years ago, we know the valley through which they walk. While there is an element of shock in place for them now (a merciful provision from our Lord), we all need to pray for this dear family. It is a hurt that no one can adequately describe. Often, when people attempt to express sympathy, they often say, ‘I cannot imagine the pain of such a loss.’ The truth is, no one who has gone through such a loss would wish for anyone to even imagine much less experience it.
“I call on all Christ followers to pray earnestly for the Warren family in these days.”
The Warrens have two older children, Amy and Josh, and five grandchildren. Warren is the author of “The Purpose Driven Life” and “The Purpose Driven Church,” two of the best-selling books in recent publishing history. Kay Warren is author of several books including “Choose Joy” (2012) and “Say Yes to God” (2010).
Saddleback Church, in Southern California, is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and Warren’s wide range of speaking engagements have included the SBC Pastors’ Conference and other Baptist settings. He is a graduate of two Baptist schools, holding an undergraduate degree from California Baptist University in Riverside and an M.Div. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.)
4/8/2013 3:20:42 PM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

99-year-old recalls 1925 birth of CP

April 8 2013 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

M.O. Owens Jr. was still in knickers on May 13, 1925, the day his parents took him to a pivotal session of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. That was the day the Cooperative Program was born.

Now 99, Owens recalls the vote that ushered in the CP as a system of financial support for the missions and ministries of Southern Baptists within state conventions and throughout the nation and world.

“I was there but I was only 11,” Owens told Baptist Press. “I don’t have a keen memory of specifics. There wasn’t any great opposition, but it was a new idea to the pastors.

“I remember very vividly how excited my dad was, how delighted he was, and I do remember so well he was concerned about enlisting the other pastors,” Owens said of his father, the late Milum Oswell Owens Sr., who pastored two churches. “He was the only pastor from that association [Orangeburg County, S.C.] who attended that convention.”
Photo courtesy of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
M.O. Owens Jr. remembers the trip his family made in 1925 to Memphis, Tenn., so that his father, a South Carolina pastor, could cast his vote for the creation of Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program.  CP Sunday is April 14.

His parents must have realized the historical significance of the vote because Owens was allowed to stay with relatives during the other sessions of the five-day event, which took place in a brand-new convention hall in Memphis.

It was hot that day, Owens recalled; other reports say air was “oppressively muggy” in the convention center with about 5,600 people in their Sunday best. Owens recalls his father wore a suit and his mother, her best dress plus hat and gloves.

The SBC had space enough, with an 11,000-seating capacity, in what was known as the Memphis and Shelby County Auditorium and Market House, opened in 1924. For “air-conditioning,” it had just seven large fans to cool the entire auditorium, along with heat-escaping ceiling vents, said Eric Elam, director of operations for the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce.

Owens’ father apparently had planned for months to attend the SBC annual meeting, because he had purchased a brand-new 1925 black Plymouth that spring, replacing his 1916 black T-model Ford.

“Before that day [of the CP vote] there were very few Sundays there wouldn’t be someone appealing for an offering,” Owens said. “I remember my parents talking about it, Dad saying we needed to figure out a way to lump some of these appeals together – foreign missions, home missions, Indian missions, orphanages and more. And then he heard about [what is known today as the Cooperative Program] and he was tickled pink when it happened.”

Owens Sr. wasn’t alone in his pleasure that the Cooperative Program was approved. An article by Todd Starnes written in 2000 for SBC LIFE noted that “the messengers heartily approved the report [by what was known as the Future Program Commission] with the following recommendation: ‘That from the adoption of this report by the Convention our co-operative work be known as ‘The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists.’”

The fundraising strategy was created with a dozen working principles, including that the CP would be an equal partnership between state conventions and the SBC and that “money given by the churches was to be evenly divided between the state convention and SBC,” according to the establishing document.

“It was all brand-new to the local pastors, and my dad’s job, he felt, was to tell them about it, the reason for it and ... he was, I think, fairly successful,” Owens said of his father, then pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Cordova, S.C., and Two Mile Swamp Baptist Church, some eight miles down a dirt road. “The two churches together, as I remember, said they would pay him $2,000 a year, but it wasn’t guaranteed.”

Owens also became a pastor, serving churches in South Carolina, Florida and Georgia before starting Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia, N.C., as a mission in 1963. Beyond his retirement in 1980, Owens has continued to serve Parkwood as pastor emeritus, preaching there weekly in a ministry now spanning 50-plus years.

“Money was scarce [in 1925], actually,” Owens said. “There had been a period right after World War I when there was a sort of a boom and money was sort of plentiful, but then came a recession and that was right at the time the trip was made to Memphis.”

The Owens family drove over dirt-packed roads to get from South Carolina to Memphis, staying with relatives when possible to save money.

“It took us four days, because the front wheels of the Plymouth were not aligned properly,” Owens recalled. “Somewhere between Birmingham and Memphis the tires were worn out and Dad had to buy new ones.”

Nothing was going to keep them from that important vote, however, so Owens’ father dug into his wallet and paid for two tires and an alignment, about $100, the equivalent of nearly $1,000 today. In not having to pay for lodging in Memphis, it was possible for the family to drive 700-plus miles from South Carolina, through Atlanta and Birmingham, to go to the meeting and to pay for the tires and alignment, Owens said.

“The agencies and institutions were not happy with the new plan at first, but in only a few years they realized how fortunate they were in the benefits of the plan,” Owens said. “They no longer had to go begging, and their financial benefits began to increase. ... It was only a few years until it was recognized by the churches as a divinely-oriented concept.”

Owens said he has watched for years the strength of the CP his father was so pleased to help pass.
“It is a beautiful arrangement,” Owens said. “The churches are not plagued by appeals for money. Each church can choose to participate – or not. Each agency and institution can feel fairly secure in anticipating its designated share.”

The CP has enabled the SBC to develop a well-organized worldwide missions thrust that reaches into more than 160 nations, with missionaries trained by six of the “largest and most effective seminaries in the world,” Owens said. “Each state has had the privilege of using its share of CP funds for colleges, children’s homes, hospitals, homes for the aging, or whatever its apparent needs might be.”

The CP method of pooling mission dollars for maximum effectiveness “is not perfect, but its advantages are great,” Owens said. “There are biblical reasons why it is good, and there are compelling logistical reasons why it works so well.

“Through the Cooperative Program, we Southern Baptists are supporting thousands of missionaries here in America and all around the world. And these missionaries are specially trained to plant the Gospel in whatever area they are working,” Owens continued. “In 2011 ... they planted more churches and baptized more people than all the 45,000-plus Southern Baptist churches here in the USA.”

Owens received the 2011 Heritage Award from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and the North Carolina Baptist Foundation for his exemplary service, philanthropy and leadership in missions and ministries within the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina over the years. At Southeastern  Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, an academic post was named in his honor last year – the Dr. M.O. Owens Jr. Chair of New Testament Studies.

In the years after the vote to establish the CP, Owens Sr. went on to pastor First Baptist Church of Taylors, S.C., where he was followed some decades later by Frank Page, current president of the SBC Executive Committee. CP Sunday is April 14.

For more information about CP contact Mike Creswell, a senior consultant for the Baptist State Convention of N.C., at (800) 395-5102 ext. 5541 or at mcreswell@ncbaptist.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE:  Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
4/8/2013 3:09:51 PM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Poll: Americans love the Bible but don’t read it much

April 5 2013 by Caleb Bell, Religion News Service

More than half of Americans think the Bible has too little influence on a culture they see in moral decline, yet only one in five Americans read the Bible on a regular basis, according to a new survey.
More than three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) think the nation’s morality is headed downhill, according to a new survey from American Bible Society.

stock.xchng photo

The survey showed the Bible is still firmly rooted in American soil: 88 percent of respondents said they own a Bible, 80 percent think the Bible is sacred, 61 percent wish they read the Bible more, and the average household has 4.4 Bibles.
If the Bible is so commonplace in America, wouldn’t its moral teachings counteract the downward trend? Almost a third of respondents said moral decline was a result of people not reading the Bible, while 29 percent cited the “negative influence of America” and one in four cited corporate corruption.
Doug Birdsall, president of American Bible Society, said he sees a reason for why the Bible isn’t connecting with people.

“I see the problem as analogous to obesity in America. We have an awful lot of people who realize they’re overweight, but they don’t follow a diet,” Birdsall said. “People realize the Bible has values that would help us in our spiritual health, but they just don’t read it.”
If they do read it, the majority (57 percent) only read their Bibles four times a year or less. Only 26 percent of Americans said they read their Bible on a regular basis (four or more times a week).
James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, said the Bible can come across as intimidating to the uninitiated. “There’s a tendency to think that if you read the Bible, you have to read it from start to finish. But when people do read the Bible, they don’t know where to begin,” Martin said.
Younger people also seem to be moving away from the Bible. A majority (57 percent) of those ages 18-28 read their Bibles less than three times a year, if at all.

The Barna Group conducted “The State of the Bible 2013” study for American Bible Society, using 1,005 telephone interviews and 1,078 online surveys with a margin of error for the combined data of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
4/5/2013 2:38:31 PM by Caleb Bell, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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