April 2015

Her aim: ministry at historically black colleges

April 17 2015 by Gary D. Myers, NOBTS Communications

Joy Pigg jumped at the opportunity to help launch a new Baptist Collegiate Ministry group at Southern University of New Orleans (SUNO).
Pigg’s readiness for a ministry challenge stretches far beyond SUNO. The vision of this student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s (NOBTS) Leavell College is to see Baptist campus ministry groups launched or reestablished at historically black colleges and universities across the country (HBCUs).
For now, her attention is on SUNO, less than two miles north of the NOBTS campus.
SUNO received severe damage during Hurricane Katrina. Caught between recovery red tape and state budget cuts to higher education, SUNO has struggled to rebuild and revitalize its campus after the storm. On top of the challenges posed by the slow recovery, the university has a large commuter population, making it more difficult for ministry groups to reach students.
Pigg nevertheless took up the challenge of establishing a strong gospel witness on the campus, working as an intern with Jason Thomas, associate metro Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) director and NOBTS alumnus, and NOBTS student DeAron Washington.


Photo by Gary D. Myers
Leavell College student Joy Pigg, left, meets students at Southern University of New Orleans. Pigg serves as an intern with Baptist Collegiate Ministries at the historically black university a mile north of the NOBTS campus.

She is meeting students, faculty and administrators and, so far, the campus has welcomed the new ministry with open arms. A Bible study has begun, with the goal of a worship experience in the coming months.
“We have so many new students [at SUNO] who are interested in BCM,” Pigg said. “I am so excited about that. Last year we had about seven or eight students in Bible study and now there are 15 to 20 people talking about it.”
With SUNO beginning to make recovery strides and BCM becoming a foundational part of the campus renewal, Pigg hopes the work at SUNO will inspire others to lead ministries at HBCUs.
“That’s where my heart is – the HBCU,” Pigg said. “There are 105 HBCUs in the country; only 19 have BCMs [or BSUs]. I think that’s a little bit tragic. I hope to be influential in bringing campus ministry back to these campuses.”
Pigg’s burden for black colleges began while she was attending Tennessee State University, an HBCU in Nashville. With her focus on ministry, she decided to transfer to the NOBTS/Leavell College extension center in Marietta, Ga., near her Atlanta-area hometown of Conyers. In 2013, she moved to the seminary’s campus in New Orleans to complete a bachelor of arts in Christian ministry.
“Joy has been a great addition to our ministry at SUNO,” Thomas said. “She has an insight into historically black colleges that has helped us navigate programming and networking. This assists in her ability to reach students for Christ.”
BCM leaders in New Orleans are not the only ones to notice Pigg’s giftedness for ministry. Last summer, she was one of the first recipients of the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) of the Southern Baptist Convention Scholarship which was given during the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at the LifeWay Ridgecrest (N.C.) Conference Center. NAAF created the scholarship fund to encourage and assist black students who are studying for ministry.
“It is a tremendous honor,” Pigg said. “I take it humbly and I hope that it is the first of many, because there are a lot more African American students coming through the Southern Baptist Convention schools.”
The black student population at NOBTS, encompassing 300-plus students, has been growing in recent years thanks in part to initiatives such as the seminary’s African American Student Scholarship launched in 2011. This year, NOBTS awarded 73 African American scholarships. In addition, a number of Louisiana-based African American pastors and bivocational ministers were awarded full-tuition scholarships by the Caskey Center for Church Excellence at NOBTS.
Pigg said she is excited to see the growing number of black students in seminary and believes scholarships like the one she received and the NOBTS-based scholarships will help additional students receive theological training. She also is looking for ways to help with the process.
“I have been talking to Dr. Walter Strickland at Southeastern [Baptist Theological Seminary], who is the chair of the diversity initiative there. In some of our exchanges we have been talking about what Kingdom diversity will look like at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary,” Pigg said. “I am hoping to aid in that by bringing back the Black Seminarians [student club] and starting a gospel choir.
“New Orleans is a big ‘gumbo pot’ anyway,” she said. “I believe that the seminary is starting to reflect that, but more students need to get involved in making that happen.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary D. Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

4/17/2015 11:45:29 AM by Gary D. Myers, NOBTS Communications | with 0 comments

Local & global needs stir Dayton church plant

April 17 2015 by K. Faith Morgan, NAMB

When Randy Chestnut and his wife of 35 years, Denise, sensed God calling them to establish a church and ministry in Old North Dayton, it was a homecoming with a then-and-now feeling.
Raised in the area, the Chestnuts had deep roots in the community. But while Old North Dayton is home, the region has seen many changes since their youth.
The steady slide in manufacturing jobs in the area’s auto industry squeezed the local economy. But in an urban landscape dotted with vacant homes and signs of decay, the couple saw potential.
“This went from being a middle-class working neighborhood to being more of an impoverished neighborhood,” Randy Chestnut said. “The median family income in this neighborhood is $27,000 a year. About a quarter of people live on $15,000 a year or less.


NAMB file photo
For Randy and Denise Chestnut, community involvement and small groups are among the keys to planting New Hope Community Church in a declining Dayton-area neighborhood.

“It’s one of those things where there’s a sense of desperation, and that sense of desperation opens up doors to a lot of ministry opportunities.”
The congregation Chestnut leads, Hope Community Church (HCC), engages with a number of partners to expand their outreach potential and vision for ministry. By coming alongside established organizations and municipal entities, Chestnut said HCC can gain the trust and respect of community leaders and neighbors alike.
“If you do [service] consistently in the same place over long periods of time, then people know, okay, this is not just a church that’s coming in and doing a project, and then they’re off. ... We need that, but we also need folks who will plant their lives in communities like this and stay a long time,” Chestnut said.
HCC meets at Kiser PK-8 School – the same building where he and his wife went to high school – one of five schools in the city designated as Neighborhood School Centers (meaning that the school also functions as a community center). HCC utilizes the building free of charge throughout the week for a variety of outreach initiatives.
“The school sees needs to be met in the community, and we want to partner with them to do that,” Chestnut said. “The platform of serving gives us the opportunity to share the gospel in a very natural way.” Kids’ sports programs, a young men’s ministry and a weekly community meal all operate out of the school facility.
Teresa Wendell, Kiser Neighborhood Center site coordinator, said HCC’s values “and, really, their understanding [of] the needs [here] is really important. We work with a lot of folks all over Dayton, but those that really get it understand the urban core. ... [T]hat’s when you can really make some changes.”
Chestnut’s return to Old North Dayton also coincided with the launch of a citywide initiative to attract immigrants. Dayton officials saw an opportunity to grow the city’s tax base and counteract population decline; Chestnut saw a chance to reach a global audience with the gospel.
HCC partnered with the neighborhood and business association last year to help host The Taste of Old North Dayton celebrating the exceptional cultural diversity in the area.
“We were able to have a food court highlighting the different nationalities in our neighborhood,” Chestnut said. The tasting event included cuisine from nine different nationalities as well as HCC’s booth distributing classic American carnival food and gospel literature to 500-plus attendees.
Old North Dayton also is home to the largest population of Ahiska Turks (an unreached Sunni Muslim people group) in North America.
“I had been praying for a number of years to get connected with an unreached people group,” Chestnut said. So he contacted the group’s leader. “I just said, ‘How can we serve you? How can we help you? I grew up in this neighborhood; I’m a Christian,’ and that started our relationship.”
That friendship has opened many ministry doors and conversations, including a couple years ago when the Chestnuts hosted two Turkish families in their home at Christmas time. One of the children inquired about the Nativity display in the living room.
“I have a copy of the Jesus DVD in multiple languages including Turkish,” Chestnut said. After showing the “Christmas portion” of the movie, he gifted both families with a copy of the movie. “The next day I ran into one of the guys that was there, and he said, ‘Oh, we went home, and we watched the whole thing. Then there at the end’ – and he spread out his hands to show when Jesus was crucified – you could tell this guy was really moved by that.”
Of all of his various partnerships and associations, Chestnut highlights the importance of partnership with the church body at large. From prayers to financial support to short-term teams, he cites all as necessary components of HCC’s ministry.
“We couldn’t have done this without our partnerships with North American Mission Board, our Greater Dayton Association of Baptists, our State Convention of Baptist Ohio,” he said. “We realize that we could not do these things if it weren’t for prayerful and faithful supporters.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – K. Faith Morgan writes for the North American Mission Board.)

4/17/2015 11:40:01 AM by K. Faith Morgan, NAMB | with 0 comments

Global religious freedom draws leaders’ appeal

April 16 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) lead religious freedom advocate is part of a widely diverse, informal coalition urging Congress to strengthen protections for the rights of people of faith overseas.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, signed on to a letter sent April 14 to members of a House of Representatives subcommittee seeking their support for the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The bill, which will update the original IRFA of 1998, is designed to enhance the United States’ ability to promote religious freedom globally. It also will reauthorize the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) through 2021.
In the letter, the International Religious Freedom Roundtable says approval of the legislation is “not only the right thing to do but it is in our vital self-interest to do so.” The letter provides three reasons:


U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom image

  • As perhaps the premier fundamental human right, religious liberty offers the basis for a secure democracy, including such elements as economic growth and female empowerment.

  • Religious freedom is “the ultimate counter-terrorism weapon,” thwarting religious fanaticism in advance.

  • Religious liberty globally is in crisis, with 77 percent of the world’s population living in countries with high levels of religious restriction, according to the Pew Research Center.

By enacting the measure, America “will send a clear and urgent message regarding the inherent dignity of every human being, as well as our common global security in the fight against persecution and religious extremism, and terrorism,” according to the letter.
As examples of people failing to live peacefully with religious differences, the signers point to the recent genocide of Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State and the conflict in Ukraine that is marked by religious strains.
Elements of the legislation, according to a summary, are:

  • Increased authority within the State Department for the ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

  • Mandated religious liberty training for all new foreign service officers, as well as ambassadors going to new posts.

  • Establishment of a “tier system,” with automatic demotion to the classification of “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) for governments on a “special watch list” for three consecutive years or a total of four years. The CPC list is reserved for the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.

  • Elevation to senior director of a post on international religious liberty at the National Security Council.

  • Requirement of the State Department to maintain lists of and advocate for religious prisoners.

In addition to Moore, other individuals who signed the letter were Lauren Homer of Law and Liberty Trust; Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern; Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom; and Chris Seiple, president of the Institute for Global Engagement.
Among the organizations that endorsed the letter were Open Doors USA, Home School Legal Defense Association, Institute on Religion and Democracy, Christian Solidarity Worldwide-UK, Coptic Solidarity, Church of Scientology National Affairs Office, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Indian American Muslim Council and American Humanist Association.
The International Religious Freedom Roundtable is a loosely organized group of non-governmental organizations that meet regularly for conversations about religious liberty overseas.
The coalition’s letter was sent to each member of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations which is part of the Foreign Affairs Committee. The subcommittee was expected to vote on the bill, H.R. 1150, April 14.
Wolf, the bill’s namesake, was the leading congressional advocate for global religious freedom before he retired in January after 34 years as a representative from Virginia.
In their letter, the signers applaud the nomination and confirmation of David Saperstein as ambassador at large for international religious freedom. The Senate confirmed Saperstein, a longtime proponent of global religious liberty, in December. He was director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism for more than three decades.
Saperstein, an original member of UCSIRF, strongly advocated for IRFA’s passage and served as the first chairman of USCIRF, the nine-member, bipartisan panel established by the law to advise Congress, the White House and State Department on global religious freedom conditions. He was on the commission from 1999-2001.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

4/16/2015 11:24:08 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Gay marriage gap widens for evangelicals & culture

April 16 2015 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Christian Research

Americans who have gay or lesbian friends are twice as likely to say gay marriage should be legal as those who have none.
And more than half of Americans, meanwhile, say homosexuality is not sinful.
Such survey results place evangelicals increasingly in a minority position in American culture over same-sex relationships.


Same-sex marriage

Nashville-based Lifeway Research, in a phone survey of 2,000 Americans on gay marriage, reported that friendship and faith play an influential role in how Americans view the issue.
“When it comes to support for gay marriage, a lot of it depends” on who one’s friends are, said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Those who have gay or lesbian friends are the most open to gay marriage.”


Regardless of friends, Stetzer said, evangelicals are more likely to consider homosexual behavior sinful.
Currently 37 states allow gay marriage – though ceremonies are on hold in some places, pending appeals. Later this month the Supreme Court will hear arguments that could make same-sex marriage legal nationwide.
Half (50 percent) of Americans agree with the statement, “I believe gay marriage should be legal.” For Americans who have gay or lesbian friends, that number jumps to 6 in 10 (60 percent). Among Americans with no gay or lesbian friends, only a third say gay marriage should be legal.
Among faith groups, Catholics (56 percent) agree more than Protestants (40 percent) that it should be legal but less than the non-religious (73 percent).
Evangelicals, defined as those who identify themselves as a born again, evangelical or fundamentalist Christian, are least likely to support gay marriage. Less than a third (30 percent) say gay marriage should be legal, compared to 38 percent of evangelicals with gay or lesbian friends who say gay marriage should be legal.
“Culture is dramatically shifting on the issue,” Stetzer said.
The study confirmed that Americans have become polarized over the question of gay marriage. A third (36 percent) strongly agree gay marriage should be legal. A third (35 percent) strongly disagree. Few (6 percent) are unsure.

Homosexual behavior

Researchers found similar responses to the statement, “I believe that sex between people of the same gender is sinful, regardless of its legality.” Just under half of Americans agree (46 percent) while the same number disagree. Seven percent are unsure.


Two-thirds of evangelicals say sex between two people of the same gender remains sinful, whether it is legal or not. Among those with gay or lesbian friends, 62 percent of evangelicals agree that it is sinful. More than half of non-evangelicals (54 percent), meanwhile, say sex between people of the same gender is not sinful, with 8 percent unsure.
For comparison, LifeWay Research also conducted an online survey, asking 2,252 Americans, “Do you believe homosexual behavior is a sin?”
In 2014, 3 in 10 (30 percent) answered “yes.” More than half (54 percent) said no.
By contrast, 37 percent said yes in a similar 2012 survey and 44 percent said yes in 2011. About 4 in 10 (43 percent) said homosexual behavior is not a sin in the 2011 survey, along with 45 percent in 2012.

Pastors & same-sex weddings

Even if gay marriage becomes legal nationwide, few Protestant senior pastors are likely to officiate at same-sex weddings. Most see same-sex marriages as wrong, according to a study of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors from LifeWay Research.
Eight in 10 of the senior pastors (80 percent) disagree with the statement, “I see nothing wrong with two people of the same gender getting married.” That includes 74 percent who strongly disagree.
About 1 in 5 Protestant senior pastors (18 percent) agree with the statement, including 1 in 10 (11 percent) who strongly agree.
A 2010 LifeWay Research survey of pastors found similar results. In 2010, 83 percent disagreed.
“Church leaders have traditionally been seen as the champions of all things moral in society,” Stetzer said. “As public perceptions of morality change, pastors find themselves in an increasingly unpopular position.”



The phone survey of Americans was conducted Sept. 19 – Oct. 5, 2014. The calling list was a stratified random sample. Responses were weighted by age, ethnicity and education to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 2,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 2.4 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
The online survey of adult Americans was conducted Sept. 17-18, 2014. A sample of an online panel demographically reflecting the adult population of the U.S. was invited to participate. Responses were weighted by region, age, ethnicity, gender and income to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 2,252 online surveys. Comparisons are made to the following surveys that used the same methodology: 1,191 surveys Nov. 14-16, 2012, and 2,144 surveys Sept. 23-26, 2011.
The phone survey of Protestant pastors was conducted Sept. 11-18, 2014. The calling list was a stratified random sample drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.1 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is a former senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine, published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

4/16/2015 11:15:39 AM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Christian Research | with 0 comments

Church uses 'Heaven' DVD to bring in 'sheaves'

April 16 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Each of the 4,200 homes in neighborhoods surrounding Waynedale Baptist Church in Fort Wayne, Ind. is visited by a member of the congregation at least twice a year, an outreach dear to pastor Wayne Gullion.
This spring, the church is distributing a total of 4,000 copies of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s (BGEA) Heaven DVD door-to-door on alternating Saturdays through May 9. He likens the outreach to the scriptural harvest of sheaves referenced in Psalm 126:6 (KJV).
“[God] said if we would go and sow the seed, and weep a little bit over the seed, that we would doubtless come again rejoicing, bringing our sheaves with us. And we believe when we go out, that will happen,” Gullion said. “God will honor our efforts and we just are trying to be obedient because we love Him and we really do love our community.”
Door-to-door outreach is an effective evangelistic tool even as the U.S. culture changes, Gullion believes.


“I know that we’re living in a time when many of our religious leaders tell us that door-to-door doesn’t work, but Jesus said it does work. And I tell you, I have found that when He tells us something, then you can count on it,” the pastor said. “And it has been effective for the past four years, and we just believe it will be effective this year. And we’re just trying to do our part.”
The Heaven DVD, which includes a never-before-released message from the 96-year-old evangelist, is the latest film in the BGEA My Hope America with Billy Graham series of evangelistic media. The DVD giveaway adds to the 275,000-plus copies already distributed across the U.S., according to BGEA.
Gullion describes the DVD as heaven-sent.
“We knew we wanted to go back and knock on the door and ask every home if they had a personal relationship with Christ. When we saw this Billy Graham DVD on heaven, I knew that God wanted us to place one of those in each home,” Gullion said. “It is a powerful tool to be used for our Lord, and ... I believe it was birthed in heaven. I just think God wants to use it in a great way and this is the way we believe He wants to use it right here in Waynedale/Fort Wayne.”
Guillion began the church’s door-to-door outreach four years ago as part of the North American Mission Board’s God’s Plan for Sharing (GPS) evangelism initiative, nurturing relationships with community members.
“I think God birthed GPS in heaven and gave it to us right here. And it has made such a radical difference in the life of our church,” Gullion said. “We have been to each home in our community – about 4,200 homes – for the past four years now. And so when we knock on the door and tell them who we are and where we’re from, they know our church. So we hope we will get a good opportunity to share our faith.”
Gullion expects more than 100 Waynedale Baptist Church members to participate in the outreach each weekend, about half of the average Sunday attendance of 225. He has led the church 11 years.
“All total, we hope to give out 4,000 DVDs. We want to knock on every door and if one of the family members comes to the door, we would like to have an opportunity to ask them if they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” Gullion, 63, said. “If they say no, we would like, then, to ask them if they would like for us to share with them how they could know Him as Savior and Lord, and hopefully they will allow us.”
Gullion said the community appreciates the individual contact.
“Our community has determined they like some public or some personal attention, and we have knocked on their doors and told them we’re here because we care and we love you. And they have appreciated it,” Gullion said. “We get a lot of calls from people in our community where a tragedy takes place, an illness, and they’re willing to call us and ask if we would pray for them.”
Over the past four years, only a dozen community members have requested to be left alone, Gullion said. About seven Southern Baptist churches serve Fort Wayne’s 260,000 population. While many pastors no longer conduct door-to-door outreach, Gullion said others in the Northeastern Indiana Baptist Association are adopting the personal contact approach.
“Most generally they say, ‘You did what?’ But I can tell you this spring, we have about five or six churches in our association that have gone door to door,” Gullion said. “It’s catching on. And I will tell you this: Our association of churches here in northeast Indiana is a happening association. It is growing. Dead churches are coming to life; new churches are being birthed. And God’s doing some miraculous things in our area. He’s changing things. We’re not dying; we’re going and we’re growing.”
Baptisms at Waynedale Baptist Church have averaged about 30 or 40 a year the past four years, Gullion said.
“Every year that we have done it, we have added people by baptism to our church. I’m guessing over [the] past four or five years, we have averaged somewhere between 30 and 40 baptisms a year, which isn’t enough. I believe because of the willingness of the people to be involved in it and to go out, God’s already honoring their commitment and we’re seeing souls saved.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

4/16/2015 11:10:58 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Mideast gets personal touch in memoir & novel

April 16 2015 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

God’s work in the Middle East is the focus of two new books by former missionaries – one a memoir reflecting on life in Lebanon amid war, the other a spy novel depicting the influence of Iranian Christians.
Frances Fuller’s In Borrowed Houses conveys a picture of the Lebanese people who today are facing imminent threats from ISIS, the self-proclaimed Mideast Islamic state, while Luana Ehrlich’s One Night in Tehran is a potential evangelism tool as it tells how a group of believers can lead an unlikely convert to Christ.


‘Lebanon is a crucial country’

For 24 years, Fuller was the director of a Christian publishing house in Lebanon, training writers and producing Arabic-language books that would be basic to a Christian library. In Borrowed Houses is, as she puts it, “a piece of my life as I remember it.”
Fuller and her husband Wayne lived through Lebanon’s civil war while ministering to the Lebanese people. Even today from California, Fuller’s heart for the Mideast is as strong as ever.
“Lebanon is a crucial country, and we need to pray for Lebanon to survive what is going on in the Middle East now because the movement is very powerful and coming toward Lebanon,” Fuller said. “In fact, it’s possible that ISIS forces poised on the border of Lebanon have been waiting for winter to pass so they can attack Lebanon.”
Lebanon has a higher percentage of Christians than any other Middle Eastern nation. It’s also a diverse country, which has served it well in some ways and made it fragile in other ways.
Part of the fragility is that Lebanon has been inundated with refugees from Syria and other countries plagued by violence. As a result, the nation’s infrastructure is overwhelmed.


Frances Fuller

“Every church in Lebanon – any kind of church – is participating in ministry to the refugees,” said Fuller, who last visited Lebanon two years ago. “One pastor said to me, ‘It is the greatest opportunity for ministry that we ever had.’”
What’s so unique about Lebanese Christians ministering to Syrian refugees, Fuller said, is that for nearly 30 years Lebanon was occupied by Syrian troops.
She remembers not being able to drive down her own street without encountering a checkpoint where armed men would tell her to open the trunk and would ask where she was going.
“We had to obey this occupation army,” Fuller recounted. “When you live in a situation like that, you naturally build up a certain amount of resentment.”
Lebanese Christians have had to overcome that resentment in order to serve Syrians who have fled to their country in search of food and shelter. The Christians in Lebanon, Fuller said, have risen to the opportunity.
“They are going out to the refugees and feeding them, and they are welcoming the refugees to come to church,” she said. “Among those are many Christians, and among those are many Muslims.”
Fuller urges prayer for the Lebanese people and for refugees who are “seeing Christianity in action.”
Fuller’s book can aid in praying for them.
“The biggest reason I want people to read my book is that it gives you a picture of the Lebanese people,” Fuller said. “Because I loved them and because I had such a good relationship with so many people in Lebanon, I think my story helps to give Lebanon a human face.
“I think the Middle Easterners don’t just look like this blank army of violent people when you read my book.”

Iranian Christians ‘willing to die for their faith’

Luana Ehrlich, a former missionary to Venezuela and a former pastor’s wife, was stirred to write a spy novel involving Iran about five years ago when Iranian Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was imprisoned and faced execution for his faith.


Luana Ehrlich

Ehrlich had been intrigued by espionage since she was young, and as she prayed for persecuted Iranian Christians, an idea for a Christian novel bloomed.
“I began to think about what would happen if a covert intelligence agent was over in Tehran and encountered some of these Iranian Christians who were willing to die for their faith,” Ehrlich said.
Her interest in the Mideast – originating from the Bible – led Ehrlich to pay close attention over the years to news reports about the region, and she kept newspaper articles that later would be a research resource for her book.
One Night in Tehran is about a CIA officer, Titus Ray, who finds shelter with a group of Iranian Christians in Tehran while hiding from the authorities. His brief encounter with them changes the course of his life.
Ehrlich, who lives in Norman, Okla., describes the novel as a fast-paced thriller, and she believes Christians will be encouraged because Ray, the protagonist, “is such an improbable person to be saved and yet he is saved.”
“I have had lots of families buy the book after they read it and give it to one of their relatives who loves spy fiction in the hope that the subtle message of the gospel will penetrate their heart,” Ehrlich said.
“It’s such an unintimidating way to witness, to give someone a fictional book.”
As Ehrlich follows the news from the Middle East these days, her heart remains concerned about persecuted Iranian believers – particularly pastor Saeed Abedini serving an eight-year prison sentence for his faith.
“It seems a tragedy that we can’t do something to get him out,” Ehrlich said. “I believe our prayers may do more to get him out than the State Department or any organization.”
Both women’s books, In Borrowed Houses and One Night in Tehran, are self-published and available on Amazon. The website for Fuller and her book is inborrowedhouseslebanon.com; the website for Ehrlich and her book is luanaehrlich.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is a writer in Nashville.)

4/16/2015 11:01:15 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Executive Committee hears ‘encouraging’ financial report

April 15 2015 by Chad Austin, BSCNC Communications

Cooperative Program (CP) funds received by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) through the first quarter of 2015 are up 3.5 percent from the same time period as last year.
Through March 31, BSC has received $6.47 million in CP gifts, more than $221,000 above the first quarter of 2014.
Although the $6.47 million received is slightly behind BSC’s annual budget projections to date by about 3.3 percent, convention leaders are encouraged by the giving 2015 levels.


If contributions hold steady and annual trends in church giving continue, the convention should make or possibly exceed its CP missions budget of $29 million for 2015, said John Butler, BSC executive leader for business services.
“To be where we are at this point, we would project out that we actually may end 2015 above budget, if we stay on track with where we are now,” Butler said, noting that the convention receives a larger portion of its budget in the fourth quarter when churches adopt new budgets and when many people make year-end financial gifts. “To be where we are, we are very encouraged,” he added.
Butler and Beverly Volz, director of accounting services, presented the first quarter financial report to members of the BSC Executive Committee (EC) during the committee’s scheduled meeting April 9 in Cary.
Additionally, Volz reported that funds received for the Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong and North Carolina Missions offerings in 2015 are all higher than funds received during the same time period last year.
“We do rejoice in this financial report,” said BSC Executive Director-Treasurer Milton Hollifield. “I do believe that this year’s budget of $29 million is very reachable, and I am in hopes that we will exceed that budget.
“We thank God for what comes from the churches. Everything we have comes from the churches of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Thank God for what He is doing, and continue to pray that God would give us the resources that we need.”
In other business, board president and EC chairman Perry Brindley announced his appointments to the Articles and Bylaws Committee and the Fruitland Baptist Bible College Nominating Committee.
Brindley appointed five individuals to serve on the Articles and Bylaws Committee, which is made up of eight members appointed by the president of the board to serve a four-year terms. The five new appointees are:

  • Linda Black, administrator at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Gastonia;

  • John Compton, pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church in Hickory;

  • Mike Moore, retired minister and member of Kure Beach First Baptist Church;

  • Scott Setzer, associational missionary with the South Roanoke Baptist Association;

  • Marty Tobin, associate pastor for adult ministries at Pleasant Garden Baptist Church.

 Three EC members were named to serve on the Fruitland Baptist Bible College Nominating Committee, which considers nominees for Fruitland’s board of directors. The Fruitland Nominating Committee must be comprised of members of the EC. The three appointees are:

  • Lawrence Clapp, pastor of South Elm Street Baptist Church in Greensboro;

  • Chris Hawks, pastor of Second Baptist Church of Hamlet;

  • Ken Jones, pastor of Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church in Lincolnton.

Hawks will serve as chairman of the Fruitland Nominating Committee.
The next meeting of the BSC Board of Directors is scheduled for May 19-20 at the Caraway Conference Center near Asheboro.

4/15/2015 12:33:03 PM by Chad Austin, BSCNC Communications | with 0 comments

NAMB's Ezell nurtures church after pastor's death

April 15 2015 by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist and Reflector

The pastor’s heart in Kevin Ezell would not let him say no when the Nashville-area Long Hollow Baptist Church asked him to serve as interim pastor.
The North American Mission Board (NAMB) president intentionally had not taken any interims after he joined NAMB’s staff in September 2010 although he has filled the pulpit on occasion at First Baptist Church in Alpharetta, Ga., where he is a member.
With as much traveling as he does for NAMB, he felt interims would put “too much wear and tear on his family.”
Yet, the request from Long Hollow was one he had to consider.

Screen capture from longhollow.com
North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell stepped in as interim pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., in December of 2014, after longtime pastor David Landrith lost a gallant battle with cancer.

The church lost their pastor David Landrith last November after a gallant fight with cancer. Ezell occasionally filled Long Hollow’s pulpit during Landrith’s illness, so he was well aware of their situation after the pastor’s death.
On top of that, Ezell considered Landrith one of his “closer” pastor friends. We go back a long way,” Ezell said, noting they both considered themselves “blue collar-type pastors with a tinge of redneck. We had a lot in common.”
A year ago Ezell felt he was traveling “too much” so he intentionally planned his spring schedule to be home more on weekends. Ezell said he and his wife Lynette and their children prayed about the decision to accept the interim as a family. “We felt it was the right thing to do,” he said, “but not necessarily the easiest thing to do.”
Ezell normally has driven on Saturday evenings to the church in Hendersonville, Tenn., since late last year to be ready to preach four times on Sunday – and nine times during the Easter weekend.
While his work with Long Hollow is done on his personal time, Ezell said he does plenty of NAMB business, primarily by phone, as he travels back and forth on Saturday evenings and Monday mornings.
In addition, what he does at Long Hollow best fits his natural gifts, Ezell said. “I don’t have as much a love for preaching as I do for pastoring people,” he said. “That’s really what I miss most.”
The NAMB leader readily admits “there are far better preaching options” for Long Hollow. But pastoring a people who were hurting and helping them prepare for their eventual new pastor is what the church needed after their beloved pastor died last year. Though they had walked with him and his family throughout the entire process, his death left a void, Ezell said. “Everybody loved David.”
From day one Ezell said he made it clear that the church would not forget its past but that it was time to move forward. “We are going to walk through the valley but we are not going to wallow in it,” he said. “We are going to appropriately appreciate the past and expectantly look toward the future,” he said.
Ezell said he told the church that he planned to preach the worst sermons that he could. “I’m trying to get them desperate for their new pastor,” he laughed. “They get a kick out of that.”
Seriously, Ezell believes the church is beginning to heal. “There are no books on how a church goes through this type of grieving process,” he said. “But they have done extremely well.”
Jeff Lovingood, senior associate pastor for spiritual development at Long Hollow, agreed that the church is walking through the grief process as well as can be expected. “David was pastor here for 17 years. God is getting us through this. He is so faithful,” Lovingood said.
God has worked through people like Ezell to bolster the church, Lovingood said. “His giftedness and transparency have been huge.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector, tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)
4/15/2015 12:26:00 PM by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist and Reflector | with 0 comments

800,000 children displaced by Boko Haram

April 15 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

One year after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria, more than 800,000 children remain displaced by the Islamic militant group’s onslaught in Nigeria and neighboring countries, UNICEF reported April 13.
The number of displaced children – among 1.5 million people forced to flee their homes in the region – has more than doubled within the past year in northeast Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad, UNICEF stated in a report titled “Missing Childhoods: The impact of armed conflict on children in Nigeria and beyond.”
The 1.5 million refugees and internally displaced persons in the region are among an overall 3.5 million-plus people who face months of food shortages from the insurgency, according to news reports of projections by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network in March.


UNICEF photo
Displaced Nigerian children Ousmane, 10, Moussa, 9 and Oumar, 12 (left to right) are drawing under a Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI) tent about their experience with Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa, said the capture of the Chibok schoolgirls, 200 of whom remain missing, is “only one of endless tragedies being replicated on an epic scale across Nigeria and the region.”
“Scores of girls and boys have gone missing in Nigeria – abducted, recruited by armed groups, attacked, used as weapons, or forced to flee violence,” Fontaine said. Women and girls also have been targeted for “particularly horrific abuse, including sexual enslavement,” according to the UNICEF report.
Boko Haram, in targeting students and teachers, has damaged or destroyed 300 schools, killing at least 196 teachers and 314 schoolchildren through the end of 2014, UNICEF said, predicting the numbers would increase as Boko Haram violence continues.
The UNICEF report quotes Marzia Vigliaroni of Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI), an Italian non-governmental organization which manages a space in Diffa, Niger, for displaced children, with support from the U.N. agency.
“Some children are very shy. They won’t speak or participate in our activities; they need psycho-social support. We ask them to make drawings of their experience during the attack. They draw people with slit throats and people drowning in the river,” Vigliaroni said. “This shows us how deeply affected children are. We work with them individually; we try to help them forget the traumatizing events they have experienced and continue their lives like other children and forget what they had to live through.”
UNICEF’s report was among various papers on Boko Haram violence released on the one-year anniversary of the Chibok kidnapping, which was commemorated with special church services and vigils across Nigeria.
Boko Haram affiliated with ISIS, the self-proclaimed Mideast Islamic state, in early March and has worked to end Christianity in Nigeria.
Boko Haram has kidnapped at least 2,000 women and girls and killed at least 5,500 civilians since the start of 2014, Amnesty International said in a 90-page report titled, “‘Our job is to shoot, slaughter and kill’: Boko Haram’s reign of terror.” The report included findings from more than 200 witness accounts, including interviews with 28 abducted women and girls who escaped captivity, Amnesty International said.
Nigeria’s military reported successes against Boko Haram that allowed the country to hold largely peaceful democratic presidential elections March 28, placing Muslim candidate Muhammadu Buhari in office. He has pledged to continue efforts to defeat the militants and to secure the Chibok girls’ freedom, although he made no promises.
“We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown. As much as I wish to, I cannot promise that we can find them,” Buhari told Reuters News April 14, saying his approach would differ from that of defeated President Goodluck Jonathan. “My government will do everything in its power to bring them home.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/ editor.)

4/15/2015 12:15:07 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

White House decries therapy for homosexuals

April 15 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The White House’s claim that so-called conversion therapy for homosexuals should be illegal has sparked replies from Christian ministers and counselors who say President Barack Obama’s position is based on biased research and threatens religious liberty.
“This is a tragic example of having a president who is fundamentally opposed to a Christian worldview and making statements that are really shaped more by the worldview of exclusive humanism,” said Eric Johnson, a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor who serves as director of the Society for Christian Psychology. The White House’s statement “is reflective much more of the culture wars that we’re in the midst of right now than it is based on good science.”
In response to a petition that garnered 120,000 signatures, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett issued a statement April 8 asserting that conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, is “neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm.” The statement affirmed laws in New Jersey, California and the District of Columbia banning state-licensed therapists from using conversion therapy on minors experiencing same-sex attraction and noted that similar legislation has been proposed in 18 states.
The petition that prompted Jarrett’s statement stemmed from the suicide of an Ohio teenager who identified as transgender and wrote about “Christian therapists” who were “very biased,” Fox News reported.


Photo by Lingjing Bao
Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Barack Obama, said conversion therapy is “neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm.”

“Tonight, somewhere in America, a young person, let’s say a young man, will struggle to fall to sleep, wrestling alone with a secret he’s held as long as he can remember,” Obama said in written remarks at the top of Jarrett’s statement. “Soon, perhaps, he will decide it’s time to let that secret out. What happens next depends on him, his family, as well as his friends and his teachers and his community. But it also depends on us – on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build.”


Some Christians have questioned specific types of reparative therapy for operating on an unbiblical model of change rooted in psychology rather than the gospel. Johnson and others say aspects of reparative therapy may be useful tools to help some individuals battling same-sex attraction and should not be stigmatized as inappropriate.
Conversion or reparative therapy seeks to reduce or eliminate same-sex attraction based on the theory that homosexual orientation is a function of traumatic childhood experiences related to gender formation, according to the website of psychologist Joseph Nicolosi, a leading advocate of reparative therapy. Reparative therapy is only for individuals seeking to reduce same-sex attraction, Nicolosi wrote, and is based on four principles:

  • Therapists should disclose their personal views on homosexuality but not impose those views on clients.

  • Therapists should encourage clients to inquire about the source of their same-sex attraction.

  • Therapists should attempt to isolate and resolve childhood trauma that led to same-sex attraction.

  • Therapists should educate clients about the causes, motivations and consequences of their same-sex attraction and behavior.

The White House statement references warnings against reparative therapy by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups.
“While a national ban [on reparative therapy] would require congressional action,” Jarrett wrote, “we are hopeful that the clarity of the evidence combined with the actions taken by these states [that have enacted bans] will lead to a broader action that this Administration would support.”
Johnson said the White House statement relies on research by scientists “committed to a humanistic worldview, and they’re interpreting the [data] accordingly.”
“What we need is dozens, if not hundreds, of studies done by Christian researchers who are documenting changes that are occurring in Christians [with same-sex attraction] over the course of their lives with Christ,” Johnson told Baptist Press.
The “primary treatment” for same-sex desires is coming to Christ for salvation and drawing close to Him in every facet of life, said Johnson, a member of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee President Frank S. Page’s Mental Health Advisory Group. Christians should utilize all available resources from God’s created order to become healthy and holy, including helpful aspects of reparative therapy, Johnson added.
No therapy will help all believers with same-sex attraction reduce or eliminate their desire for members of the same gender, he acknowledged, and therapy should never be used as a substitute for battling same-sex attraction with Christian discipleship.
Bob Stith, founder of Family and Gender Issues Ministries in Southlake, Texas, said he does not know many Christians who practice reparative therapy, but he believes restricting the practice by law is an infringement of religious liberty.
“It is ... alarming for the government to intrude in this aspect of our personal lives because there are no guarantees that it will stop there,” Stith, the SBC’s former national strategist for gender issues, said in written comments. “Religious freedoms are already under assault and it isn’t unreasonable to think that this intrusion will advance into other areas in the not too distant future. Nor is it unreasonable to think that what begins with regulation of a therapist with a minor will soon encompass adults.”
Stith continued, “I wonder if the President has made any effort whatsoever to discuss this with acknowledged experts who have a different perspective. To not do so would be the height of irresponsibility. While some pro-gay advocates may be delighted at this recommendation from the White House, all thoughtful therapists should be very alarmed at the idea that politicians would be given the authority to determine what is and isn’t permissible.”
SBC ethicist Russell Moore raised religious liberty concerns when New Jersey passed its reparative therapy ban for minors in 2013, prohibiting state-licensed counselors from all efforts to help children under 18 reduce or eliminate same-sex attraction.
“This really isn’t about reparative therapy, but about religious liberty and personal freedom,” Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said at the time.
Moore said the bill was “broadly and haphazardly written in a way that endangers, among other things, the teenager who seeks counsel for how to live a chaste life with same-sex attractions. His counselor, upon threat of losing a license, can only parrot the state-approved line rather than dealing with him or her as an individual.”
In a 2014 resolution on “transgender identity,” messengers to the SBC annual meeting noted that “the state of New Jersey prohibits licensed counselors from any attempt to change a child’s ‘gender expression.’” The resolution did not mention reparative therapy but pointed out that the American Psychiatric Association allows for transgenderism treatment options that include “cross-sex hormone therapy, gender reassignment surgery, and social and legal transition to the desired gender.”
The resolution stated, “These cultural currents run counter to the biblical teaching as summarized in The Baptist Faith and Message, Article III, that ‘Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation.”
The SBC resolution went on to invite “all transgender persons to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the gospel.”
Moore, in an October 2014 video posted on the ERLC website, said reparative therapy is counterproductive when separated from the transformative power of the gospel.
Reparative therapy, Moore said, often is used as an “umbrella term” that can mean anything from helping “someone walk through what does it mean to follow Christ” to a “psychotherapeutic model where the end goal is to see to it that the person is ... substantially free from same-sex attractions and is now ‘straight.’”
The latter type of reparative therapy “can easily become a substitute for the gospel, which never promises anybody freedom from temptation,” Moore said. “What the gospel promises us is the Holy Spirit to give us the power to walk through temptation faithfully.”
Moore affirmed the ministry of Bible-believing counselors who help believers develop specific strategies for dealing with unwanted same-sex attraction, but he said dealing with same-sex attraction faithfully will not produce the same end result for all Christians who struggle in that area. Some may eventually enter a biblical marriage and be freed from same-sex attraction while others may remain celibate and battle same-sex temptations their entire lives, he said.
Tim Wilkins, executive director of Cross Ministries, an organization that seeks to help individuals with same-sex attraction, criticized the White House’s suggestion that attempts to reduce same-sex attraction can lead to suicide. He said persons with same-sex attraction are prone to mental health struggles regardless of whether they attempt to change.
Wilkins lamented the high suicide rate among homosexuals but said compassion, rather than unjustified attacks against the Christian worldview, is the solution.
“The White House,” Wilkins said, “selects what it wants to believe.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/15/2015 11:59:10 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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