April 2016

‘Pro-HB 2’ rally thanks lawmakers, McCrory issues exec. order

April 13 2016 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

Hundreds gathered April 11 in downtown Raleigh to show support for North Carolina’s controversial bathroom law. The rally was organized by a coalition of conservative political groups – including the Christian Action League (CAL), North Carolina Family Policy Council (NCFPC) and Return America – to express thanks to Gov. Pat McCrory and other lawmakers for passing House Bill 2 (HB 2).


Photo by K. Allan Blume
Hundreds gathered April 11 in Raleigh to show support for North Carolina’s controversial bathroom law.

HB 2 requires state buildings and public schools to designate bathrooms and changing facilities for use according to the biological sex indicated on a person’s birth certificate. Legislators passed the bill in response to a Charlotte ordinance that opened all restrooms to people based on the gender identity of their choice. Opponents of the ordinance said it could have allowed sexual predators to exploit the non-discrimination policy, endangering women and children.
Event speakers also clarified alleged misrepresentations of HB 2, countering what CAL Executive Director Mark Creech called a “mammoth smear campaign” by pro-LGBT activist groups and corporations.
PayPal announced April 5 that it is withdrawing plans to open a global operations center in Charlotte, saying the new law “invalidates protections” of LGBT rights. The online payment company’s decision, announced by CEO Dan Schulman in a statement on its website, allegedly cost the city hundreds of jobs.
Popular rock-and-roll singer Bruce Springsteen expressed opposition to HB 2 by cancelling an April 10 concert in Greensboro, referring to his stance as a “fight against prejudice and bigotry.”
Creech said unbalanced reporting “has resulted in unfounded criticisms of the law and opposition by various celebrities, large corporations and major sports groups – many of whom have wrongly threatened our state.”
John Rustin, NCFPC president and executive director, said in reference to recent outcry against HB 2, “While these activist groups would like us to believe that the publicized opposition to House Bill 2 is a spontaneous uprising of indignation from the business community, it’s actually a part of a carefully managed campaign by the [Human Rights Campaign] and its network of allies.”
Rally speakers included Creech, Rustin, Sen. Buck Newton, former professional baseball players and twin siblings David and Jason Benham, Rockingham County Sherriff Sam Page, Pentecostal bishop Harry Jackson Jr., Christian apologist Frank Turek and others.
David Benham, whose HGTV network reality show was cancelled before its 2012 release due to the twins’ stance on marriage and sexuality, said claims of discrimination and bigotry against HB 2 supporters are unfounded.


Photo by K. Allan Blume
David and Jason Benham, whose HGTV network reality show was cancelled before its 2012 release due to the twins’ stance on marriage and sexuality, said claims of discrimination and bigotry against HB 2 supporters are unfounded.

“We have rules, common sense, decency and privacy,” Benham said. “These rules are so that we can be safe. This is not forced belief.”
Bishop Jackson added, “This is not a civil rights issue. … It’s one group trying to silence another group.”
Donna Miller, an N.C. resident, shared her account of experiencing a “trauma trigger” after a male entered a female-only bathroom facility where she was present. The young man came into the bathroom and entered a stall across from Miller without closing the door, thus exposing himself as he used the toilet, she said. Her fear of physical vulnerability triggered an acute episode of post-traumatic stress disorder, stemming from a criminal assault she experienced years earlier.
“Any female victim of crime can experience this trauma trigger by seeing a man in female spaces,” Miller said.
Turek said the primary role of government is public safety. “We need to protect millions of people, and with all due compassion to people struggling with their sexual identity,” he said, “opening up bathrooms to everybody does not help them.”
Rockingham County Sherriff Sam Page agreed, “the legislature’s whole intent was to protect the families of North Carolina.”
McCrory, who signed HB 2 into law hours after it passed through the legislature, handed down an executive order related to the bill April 12.
In a statement about the order, McCrory acknowledged “a great deal of misinformation, misinterpretation, confusion, a lot of passion and frankly, selective outrage and hypocrisy.” He said the executive action would “affirm and improve the state’s commitment to privacy and equality.”
McCrory’s order clarifies a repeated misconception about HB 2, that it requires all businesses to designate bathrooms and changing facilities for use according to the biological sex indicated on a person’s birth certificate.
“In North Carolina,” the document states, “private businesses can set their own rules for their own restroom, locker room and shower facilities, free from government interference.”
McCrory also expanded the state’s equal opportunity employment policy to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.
The governor called on lawmakers to reinstate the right to sue for discrimination in N.C. courts, a provision reserved for federal courts according to the current law.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – BR editorial aide Emily Blake and BR staff writer Liz Tablazon contributed to this story.)

4/13/2016 3:52:09 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Executive Committee approves staff and ministry updates

April 13 2016 by BSC Communications

The Executive Committee (EC) of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) met on Thursday, April 7 to hear reports, discuss updates in ministry efforts and address personnel matters.
At its January 2016 meeting, the Committee voted to set aside half a million dollars for International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries returning to the United States as part of the IMB Reset.
Milton A. Hollifield Jr., BSC executive director-treasurer, and Chuck Register, executive leader for Church Planting and Mission Partnerships, updated the EC regarding this effort. Register noted that BSC staff have developed about 20 proposals for engaging returning missionaries in efforts that include people group engagement, missions mobilization, leadership development, translation ministry and speaking about missions.
The plan is for returning missionaries to work as BSC contract workers and engage the same people groups with whom they worked while overseas. They will also engage in other strategic efforts connected to the BSC strategy of impacting lostness through disciple-making. There are at least 154 different people groups residing in North Carolina today, many of whom fall into the unreached and unengaged people group classifications.
Hollifield reported that this information was shared during a banquet held in honor of those returning missionaries who will be residing in North Carolina. The banquet was held March 8, 2016 at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. During the banquet, BSC staff gathered important information from the missionaries regarding their previous experience, areas of expertise and skills that might assist the BSC in its efforts to impact lostness through disciple-making.
Hollifield noted, “We reminded (returning missionaries) that even though they may prefer to still be serving Jesus in another part of the world, they are still IMB missionaries …  God has brought them here to help reach the nations of the world represented by people now living in this part of our country.”
BSC staff are in conversation with returning missionaries, seeking to find those individuals interested in these strategic efforts. Already, BSC is contracting at least three missionaries as congregational catalysts. As a catalyst, a contracted  missionary will come alongside an existing congregation and help them develop strategies for reaching a specific people group in their community one with whom the catalyst is familiar from years of missions work overseas with the ultimate goal of planting a new church among this specific people group.
The Committee also approved a recommendation in terms of personnel matters. Linda Hudson announced that she will be stepping down from her role as director of Human Resources at the BSC effective June 1, 2016. Hudson has served in this role since 2004. She is not retiring, however, and will be moving to the BSC’s Office of Prayer as a ministry assistant. In her place, Hudson recommended that the Committee consider Pamela Bills, the current GuideStone retirement and benefits specialist at the BSC, for the position of director of Human Resources.
Hudson shared with the Committee, “Three years ago I approached Milton Hollifield and John Butler regarding my plans for transition. At that time, I recommended that they consider Pamela Bills to be the next (HR) director, and I appreciate their acceptance of my recommendation. Pamela has spent the last couple of years preparing herself for this opportunity.”
Bills has a Human Resources Certification from Duke University and a Master of Science in Human Resources Management from Western Carolina University. She has also been shadowing Hudson since February in a time of orientation to make her transition into the role as smooth as possible. Both Hudson and Bills will move into their new roles on June 1.
The Committee also approved a proclamation to honor Hollifield on the 10th anniversary of his installation as the executive director-treasurer of the BSC. Hollifield was installed in a called meeting of the convention held at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem on April 11, 2006. Members of the Committee then shared words of thanks and encouragement for Hollifield during this time of appreciation.
“Great teams have great leaders,” said EC chairman Brian Kinlaw.  “We know that the work that is accomplished here is largely in line with what God puts in (Hollifield’s) heart.”
Beverly Volz brought the financial report to the Committee, focusing first on the Cooperative Program (CP) budget. Although the CP budget is currently 6 percent behind, the year-over-year comparison shows an increase. As of March 31, 2016, CP receipts are $449,598 ahead of the same time in 2015. John Butler, executive leader of Business Services, noted that this year-over-year increase is a good sign, as this increase has the potential to continue and increase over the course of the year. Butler expressed optimism in meeting the budget again in 2016.
Volz also noted that the timing of special offerings also impacts the report. As Easter has come earlier in the year in 2016, the gifts to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering (AAEO) are greater at this point in 2016 as compared to 2015 reports. To date in 2016, the AAEO is over $250,000, or 80 percent ahead of the same point in 2015.
In addition, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has increased almost 13 percent in the past year.
“To God be the glory,” Volz said. “We are very pleased with this report.”
The next meeting of the EC will take place on May 17 in conjunction with the May meeting of the Board of Directors.

4/13/2016 12:51:16 PM by BSC Communications | with 0 comments

One Alabama church brings new life to another

April 13 2016 by Anna Keller, The Alabama Baptist

Clements Baptist Church, Athens, had been familiar with the city’s Poplar Creek Baptist Church for quite some time. After all, the churches are located just five miles apart from each other. But it wasn’t until the Poplar Creek Baptist congregation started to wane significantly that the churches decided it was time to partner.
“The Poplar Creek congregation has been declining for several years and they were down to just seven people last fall – all senior adults,” said Tim Anderson, who has served as Clements Baptist’s pastor since it was planted 21 years ago. “I knew of their struggles and approached them about the possibility of us taking the church over and they were more than ready to do so” since they’d been without a pastor for eight months.
Not only did Anderson feel the church needed support from Clements Baptist’s congregation (which has an average of 750 each Sunday), he and his church also felt the Poplar Creek building needed to be renovated. Clements Baptist purchased the church building and financed its renovation work and Anderson became pastor in August 2015.
They also renamed the church Clements Baptist Church at Poplar Creek to maintain the church’s history (Poplar Creek dates back to the 1800s) but also create a distinct link between the two congregations.


Photo taken from clementsbaptist.org/poplarcreek/

In need of renovations

“The church was in need of major repairs and now they have been made,” Anderson said, noting that renovations began in October 2015. “The entire church now has a more modern look and has been brought up to speed as far as its facilities and interior look and design.”
Clements Baptist then turned their attention to other ways to support the growth of the new campus.
The church identified 60 members who would be missionaries at the Poplar Creek campus for one year. While the missionary program was officially kicked off on Easter, a “trial run” took place March 13. The trial run gave members a chance to “celebrate the opportunity to be a part of keeping a church open,” Anderson said.
“The 60 Clements Baptist missionaries are all people that felt the leadership of the Lord to move over to the Poplar Creek campus when I first cast vision of this project,” Anderson said. “Those 60 people consist of pre-school teachers, children’s teachers, adult life group leaders, praise team, greeting team and more.”
Brian Murphy, education and campus minister at Clements Baptist, said one thing that’s been especially interesting throughout the process has been uncovering the strong ties that already existed between the two congregations.
“We were shocked at the number of people who are members of Clements who at one point were members of Poplar Creek,” Murphy said. “They were baptized there, married there, their parents were members there. We’re hearing things like, ‘I left my home church but now my home church has come back to me.’”
For now, Anderson will lead both church campuses as pastor, since the buildings are so close to one another. He will preach first at Clements and then deliver a sermon at the Poplar Creek service. The future plan is to place a pastor at Clements Baptist Church at Poplar Creek to be dedicated to that campus.
“The entire process has been a real joy and a sweet process over the last six months,” Anderson said. “Our people have been absolutely wonderful and the community was buzzing to see the church reopen March 27. Poplar Creek’s seven members have been very involved during the project, and they are simply thrilled to see the church remain open and once again become a vital church in the community.”

Dedication service

On April 10, Clements Baptist Church at Poplar Creek will host a service of dedication.
Murphy said, “During that service we’ll dedicate the building, reflect back on its long history and look forward to a new day. It’s been great to see how our community has really stepped up to the plate to help with this project. Everyone was so excited to see life at this church again.”
Anderson emphasized his excitement in getting to be involved in this true community effort to help revitalize a church that has been such an important part of their community for so long.
“I have such respect for Poplar Creek and see this as an incredible opportunity for us to partner with the community,” he said. “I feel privileged and honored to be a part of this revitalization process.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist at thealabamabaptist.org, newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Anna Keller is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.)

4/13/2016 12:39:03 PM by Anna Keller, The Alabama Baptist | with 0 comments

Malaysian court approves landmark Christian conversion case

April 13 2016 by Julia A. Seymour, WORLD News Service

A Malaysian court affirmed the right of a former Muslim to convert to Christianity in a landmark ruling handed down just before Easter.
Rooney Rebit converted to Christianity in 1999 and was baptized at age 24, according to World Watch Monitor (WWM). But he was officially considered Muslim due to his parents’ conversion to Islam when he was 8.
Rebit asked authorities to legally declare him a Christian and affirm his right to believe in Jesus. He also wanted the National Registration Department to change his identity card and for his state’s religious department and Islamic Council to officially release him from Islam, WWM reported. All Malaysian national identity cards list religion.
Malaysia has secular and Islamic Sharia courts. It often is difficult for Muslims to change their religion because they are sent to Sharia courts for permission, Malay Mail Online reported.
Because he did not challenge his conversion to Islam, Rebit was able to petition the secular court, which ruled in his favor on March 24.
“His conversion to the Muslim faith was not of his own volition but by virtue of his parents’ conversion when he was a minor,” Judge Yew Ken Jie of the High Court in Kuching, Sarawak state, said in his ruling. “He is not challenging the validity of his conversion as a minor. But having become a major, he is free to exercise his right of freedom to religion and he chose Christianity. The National Registration Department had not acted fairly towards the applicant by insisting on a letter of release and order from the Sharia Court.”
Yew ordered the agency to modify Rebit’s identity card. The National Registration Department is often unwilling to change the religious status on ID cards without Sharia court permission, according to UCA News.
Christian and Muslim groups supportive of the ruling said it affirmed the federal constitution’s religious freedom protections, but some were less optimistic about the ruling’s overall effect.
“This judgment reaffirms the supremacy of the federal constitution, which under Article 11 defends every Malaysian citizen’s right to freedom of religion,” Muslim NGO Sisters in Islam said in a statement.
Article 11 reads, “(1) Every person has the right to profess and practice his religion and, subject to Clause (4), to propagate it,” according to the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs.
One local priest called the ruling “good news ... but for how long?” The priest, who did not want his name used out of concern for his safety, said he hoped it would set a precedent for future legal battles.
Social worker Steven Chu hopes the ruling will be a turning point for those in “conversion limbo,” but told UCA News it is not certain the decision will stand.
Rebit’s lawyer hopes the National Registration Department won’t appeal the decision, according to WWM.
In practice, decisions from Islamic courts often overrule the federal guarantees of religious freedom. The courts can make it difficult for converts through bureaucracy and penalties for “apostasy.”
Malay Mail Online reported that between 2000 and 2010, Islamic courts approved just 135 out of 686 applications to change Muslim identity to another religion.
Another Christian convert from Islam, Lina Joy, unsuccessfully fought a six-year court battle to have her conversion legally recognized. She is thought to have fled the country after losing that fight in 2007, Malay Mail Online reported.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Julia A. Seymour writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine at worldmag.com based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)

4/13/2016 12:35:22 PM by Julia A. Seymour, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Chinese scholar finds Bible ‘persuasive, beautiful’

April 13 2016 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

Tao Lu never laid eyes on the Word of God until he came to the United States to study advanced computer engineering.
That’s not unusual in China where Tao grew up, even though his father taught English in a major city. The Chinese Christian movement may be growing rapidly amid periodic crackdowns, but it has yet to reach hundreds of millions of people in the vast communist nation.
“Not only did my father never mention the Bible to me, but as far as I can remember my high school and college English teachers never talked about it either,” recalls Tao, 30, now a doctoral student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., where he lives with his wife and 2-year-old daughter.
“As a result, in the first 26 years of my life ... I never even saw a Bible.”


Photo by Erich Bridges
Chinese scholar Tao Lu never laid eyes on a Bible until he came to the United States to study computer engineering. Once he studied it, everything changed.

One of his English textbooks mentioned Christmas and Christianity as a part of “Western festivals,” but that was about it. Tao wasn’t hostile toward Christianity or any other religious faith; they just seemed irrelevant to his life.
“Marxism is the dominant philosophy of China,” he explains. “Believing in God was beyond my understanding and even considered ridiculous. I didn’t try to seek God because I didn’t realize that I was a sinner or that I needed a Savior. You tell me there’s a God? Unbelievable.”
When Tao arrived in Richmond, he sought out a Chinese Baptist church and began attending a Bible discussion group near the university – but only to practice his English and socialize with other Chinese.
Or so he thought. The more he read the teachings of Jesus Christ, the more intrigued he became.
He was amazed by Jesus’ command to “love your enemies and do good” to them (Luke 6:35). The question Jesus asked in Luke 6:41 – “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that in your own eye?” – challenged him to stop judging others so harshly. He was moved deeply by Christ’s teaching not to be anxious about our needs, since God arrays the lilies of the field in grandeur and loves us much more (Matthew 6:28-32).
“These teachings are not only persuasive, they are beautiful!” Tao marvels.
But becoming a believer is not easy for a modern Chinese scholar.
“If Christianity is correct, that means the things we learned in China are wrong,” he says. “They are two totally different systems. One claims Marxism and atheism. The other claims [Jesus is Lord].”
Tao studied apologetics. He examined the lives of the disciples before and after Jesus’ resurrection. He read From Pagan to Christian, a book by Lin Yutang, a renowned Chinese author who embraced faith in Christ. He systematically listed the teachings of Jesus and found he agreed with all of them.
He also experienced the love of God in the lives of people who had befriended him: a pastor at the Richmond church where the Chinese fellowship meets; a Christian couple who welcome and mentor Chinese students at Virginia Commonwealth University; and a Christian lawyer, Jim Fiorelli, who volunteered time weekly to help hone his English. Their textbook: the Gospel of John.
“He was obviously a very sharp guy,” Fiorelli recalls. “He was ready to grab hold of the truth. There’s almost no substitute for giving someone the chance to read scripture, think about it and talk through it. If you can get people into the Word, to read it for themselves, the Word will speak for itself and go deep into a person’s heart.”
The time had come for Tao to make a decision. In June 2015, he made it.
He prayed the sinner’s prayer with his pastor friend and immediately shared the news with the couple who welcomed him and with Fiorelli, who led him through a series of lessons on assurance of salvation.
“Now I realize that it was the Holy Spirit’s work that helped me finally decide to follow Jesus,” Tao reflects. “It was not based purely on my rational, logical consideration. There was also emotion. I knew that I was a sinner. I believed that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died for me and His blood cleansed my sins, and I accepted Jesus as my Savior. I was sure that I had eternal life.”
Meanwhile, his day-to-day life has changed radically. He hungers for prayer and has seen his prayers answered. He helped lead his wife to faith in Christ. Their marriage has become stronger. His studies are more fruitful. And he is discipling other young Chinese believers in Richmond.
Whether Tao returns to China or stays in America, he’s now a committed follower of Christ. There are hundreds of thousands of other international students like him on U.S. campuses, waiting for someone to tell them spiritual truth.
“So many here are open to being reached,” Fiorelli says. “There’s nothing more fulfilling than seeing people like Tao come to Christ and grow in their faith.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is a writer in Richmond, Va.)

4/13/2016 12:17:41 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Parody video about Greear to ‘poke fun,’ says Unzicker

April 12 2016 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

An online parody video titled “J.D. Greear for SBC President Rap” stirred controversy recently due to its inclusion of alleged campaign endorsements by Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entity heads. The video’s producer, Ashley Unzicker, said the two-minute comedy was simply for fun.
“As a stay-at-home mother of three,” she said, “I’ve found that writing music, making parodies and shooting silly videos is a fun and creative outlet for me.”
The audio track is based on a popular ‘80s hip-hop song, featuring the recurring hook, “It’s tricky to lead the SBC.”
Critics say the video functions as a campaign ad and SBC leader appearances constitute endorsements of Greear as a candidate for the SBC presidency. They cite traditional SBC election practices as reasons to oppose the video, which allegedly have not included overt campaigns or leader endorsements for a number of years.


Image captured from YouTube video
Ashley Unzicker

Debate initially surfaced on blogging websites, but eventually sparked a news article related to an alleged endorsement by David Platt, president of the International Mission Board. Platt denies endorsing Greear, according to the Baptist Message.
Florida pastor Jimmy Scroggins announced March 2 that he will nominate J.D. Greear for SBC president at the 2016 annual meeting in St. Louis, as previously reported by the Biblical Recorder.
“My initial reaction to any news in my life – big or small – is to make a video about it,” Unzicker said.
“I had finished it and was preparing to post it when someone let me know that Johnny Hunt was nominating Steve Gaines,” she continued. “I decided to post it, even after Gaines’ announcement, because it wasn’t about one candidate or against another. It was something fun I was doing for our pastor.”
Louisiana pastor and former SBC president Fred Luter announced March 24 that he will nominate David Crosby as a third candidate.
“Each of the three men running for SBC president is a brother to me, and I hope they all see me as a sister, because that’s what we are,” said Unzicker. “I will never speak ill of them, and I will do my best to assume the best in them. I hope they do the same for me. That being said, J.D. is my brother and my pastor. I simply wanted to show my appreciation to him in the unique way that comes most naturally to me.”
Unzicker and her husband, pastor of missions at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, asked a number of people to contribute to the project by submitting self-made video clips saying the phrase, “It’s tricky.”
She said, “Most of them already knew about my silly YouTube hobby, so it wasn’t a weird request.”
A variety of pastors and friends submitted cameo shots, including Platt; Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; James Merritt, former SBC president and senior pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga.; D.A. Horton, hip-hop artist and church planter in Los Angeles; Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest; and Bryant Wright, former SBC president and pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.
“No one in the video was asked for an endorsement,” she said, “and no one intended their cameo in a parody video to be an endorsement.”
The parody contains disclaimers at the beginning and ending, saying the views expressed are only those of Unzicker and the video is for “entertainment purposes only.”
Unzicker said, “It never crossed my mind that people would look at this and think this was a serious ‘campaign’ video. It was meant to be silly and fun.”
She retains a sense of humor about the controversy, saying, “People must not think very highly of [Greear] if they think ‘It’s Tricky’ was his campaign ad! I literally threw it together with an outdated version of Garage Band [software] and a busted iPhone.”
Unzicker manages a YouTube channel under the name Momma Pop and has created approximately 80 videos. Previous topics for her parodies include parenting, marriage, pregnancy, homeschooling, Baptist history and Georgia football.
To date, the rap video about Greear has received more than 11,700 views online, much lower than her most popular hip-hop parody about pregnancy called “Waddle,” which received more than 250,000 views.
With tongue-in-cheek, Unzicker said she hasn’t received requests yet to feature in any songs by award winning Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae. “Honestly, I’m not sure if he’s ready for the level of ‘cool’ I bring,” she joked.
Momma Pop plans to continue making parodies, despite the criticism leveled at her latest project. “Actually, all of the excitement over this particular video has given me lots of ideas!” she said.

4/12/2016 12:16:57 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 1 comments

Layman plans for 50,000 churches in Ethiopia

April 12 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Arkansas corporate executive Haileyesus Abate cries, he says, for the people of his native Ethiopia, a majority Christian nation where numerous tribes still worship nature as deities and have never heard the gospel.
Typical is the Mursi tribe in southwestern Ethiopia, whose men use clay and natural pigments to paint intricate, colorful patterns on their bodies to attract a bride, who likely will have had a hole punched just below her lip before puberty; the hole stretched by the insertion of progressively larger, round, flat, decorated wooden plates. The larger her plate, the larger dowry the groom’s family pays in negotiating a union, according to custom.
Cross Church photo
Corporate executive and Cross Church of northwest Arkansas layman Haileyesus Abate, center, with a couple from the Mursi tribe in his native Ethiopia. The Mursi are among the people groups he wants Southern Baptist churches to partner with to spread the Gospel and provide humanitarian aid. 
Mursi and other tribes are seeing Muslims working to build mosques in their villages and seeking to convert them to Islam, Haileyesus said. He hopes that Christians can also develop relationships in these villages and new believers can form the nucleus of new churches, a movement he calls church planting.
Pointing to the 50,000 congregations in the Southern Baptist network of churches, he told Baptist Press of his dream to one day see up to 50,000 ministry initiatives from these churches serving the needs of the tribes across his native country.
Living in the United States almost 30 years, he has established relationships with various grassroots communities, he said, and hopes to use these networks and connections to benefit his country of origin.
“I actually weep about that,” he told BP. “We are not from the same tribe, but just God put a burden on me to make a difference for them.”
When his pastor, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd visited Ethiopia at the invitation of governmental leaders, Haileyesus was privileged to visit his home country and travel to remote areas where many tribes live.
While in Ethiopia, Floyd met with Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionaries working there, and told them of Haileyesus’ desire to spread the gospel even further by recruiting Southern Baptist churches to establish ministry points within unengaged, unreached tribal groups.
Upon his return to Arkansas, Floyd told his church how impressed he was to see Cooperative Program dollars at work.
“And I wanted to thank them [Cross Church] for the privilege of what they’ve given through the Cooperative Program, what we as a church do through giving to the Cooperative Program, that I saw it with my own eyes,” Floyd said. “We are taking the gospel to an unreached country in this world ... and we have people on the ground and they are seeing life change occur.”
Doug Sarver, Cross Church’s minister of global missions, is working with Haileyesus to recruit Southern Baptist churches to partner with Cross Church to take the gospel to unengaged, unreached tribes in Ethiopia, and train tribal members as Baptist pastors and teachers.
As new churches develop naturally out of these relationships, it will “also benefit them in health, technology and economic development by connecting the two societies at a grassroots level,” he said.
“Ethiopia is a proud country where Christians, Muslims and other religions have been living in harmony for centuries and we applaud that,” Haileyesus said. “Our engagement will not interrupt this.”
Haileyesus began attending the Pinnacle Hills campus of Cross Church in 2008 when he moved to Arkansas from Pennsylvania as a global program leader for a major corporation. He had grown up a Protestant Christian in Ethiopia, and as a top academic student had been privileged to attend The Bible Academy of Ethiopia, a selective, private boarding school – now closed – that was led by American missionaries. Haileyesus also attended Addis Ababa University before continuing his education in America 26 years ago.
Haileyesus explained his burden to help unengaged, unreached people groups in Ethiopia, including more than 10 tribal groups.
He began thinking beyond his own capabilities, he told BP, and considered what God could do through him, especially as a connection point between Ethiopia and Cross Church.
“God blessed me a lot. I can say I’m blessed more than I can think of,” Haileyesus said. “I see that I can be a connection point. ... God placed me in the middle, and this vision came because I know both sides.”
Seeing the Mursi left Haileyesus speechless with tears, he said.
“I have no words other than crying. Words cannot put any description of my feelings,” he told BP. “I am not in a good mood when thinking about them. I still feel it’s my failure not having a church there. So I just pray that we can do something as quickly as possible.”
Those interested in partnering with Cross Church to establish relationships for future ministry in Ethiopia may contact Sarver at dougs@crosschurch.com or Haileyesus at hyabate@yahoo.com.
“I need churches from here, especially Southern Baptist churches, to partner with me, take one village at a time, train those individuals … and then build a small church – it’s not very expensive – and just grow and reach out to all,” Haileyesus said. “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”
4/12/2016 11:50:30 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

As policies tighten, international adoptions continue to decline

April 12 2016 by Kiley Crossland, World News Service

The number of children adopted internationally by Americans fell 12 percent last year to the lowest number since 1981, according to new U.S. State Department figures.
Americans adopted 5,648 children during fiscal year 2015, down from an all-time high of 22,884 in 2004. Since 2004, intercountry adoptions to the United States have fallen every year.
Adoption advocates say the drop is the result of a web of factors, including both internal U.S. policies and external factors that have closed or slowed adoptions in other countries. In 2008, the U.S. adopted the Hague Convention, an international agreement on standards and practices for intercountry adoption. The convention’s goal is to establish guidelines that prevent the abduction, sale or trafficking of children. But the strict standards have forced some countries to slow or stop their adoption processes due to lack of resources to implement the new practices.
Some see the temporary drop as a necessary step to guarantee safety for children. Others see the drop as the result of a bureaucratic process standing in the way of children finding new families.
The steep decline is “an unnecessary trend,” Chuck Johnson, chief executive of the National Council for Adoption told The Wall Street Journal. “I don’t see a decline in Americans or citizens from Western countries wishing to adopt.” Johnson, a critic of U.S. State Department adoption policy, argues the U.S. should work harder to equip impoverished countries so they can improve their systems and meet U.S. requirements.
Countries “are begging the U.S. for help establishing intercountry adoption programs – and the U.S. has been slow to respond,” Johnson said.
Safety of children is a priority, said Becky Weichhand, executive director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. The goal is “not intercountry adoption at all cost,” she said
She acknowledged the tragic plight of many children: “There is absolutely a sense of urgency. Too often we aren’t aware of and don’t realize how long children who need a family are languishing in an institution.”
Weichhand noted that sociological research is finding that the longer a child stays in an institution, the more difficult it will be for that child to thrive down the road.
“At the same time, it’s really important to make sure processes and systems are in place so placement can be done with the confidence that the child needed a new family,” she said.
A number of factors led to the drop, Weichhand said, including the U.S.’s adopting the Hague Convention and other countries’ slowing their processes until they could become convention compliant. But she also said some countries hounded by fraud or corruption completely shut down their own systems instead of focusing on rooting out the fraud. Some countries also shut down adoptions to the U.S. for political reasons.
China accounted for almost half of the children adopted in 2015. The number of Chinese children adopted rose to 2,354 in 2015, up 15 percent from 2014. Other countries high on the list in 2014 saw drops, including Ethiopia, Ukraine, and Haiti. There were no adoptions from Russia, a country that previously had high numbers. Nearly 80 percent of the drop since the peak in 2004 can be attributed to reductions in China, Russia, and Guatemala, according to the State Department report.
Weichhand said the numbers might continue to decline in the short term. Many countries lack the social workforce to effectively investigate adoption cases and help support family preservation. Her organization has been involved in conversations with members of Congress to come up with ideas to “bring resources and support systems to partner with these countries to help change these numbers.”

4/12/2016 11:46:38 AM by Kiley Crossland, World News Service | with 0 comments

Burl Cain, former Angola warden, exonerated

April 12 2016 by Louisiana Baptist Message & Baptist Press staff

Burl Cain, a longtime warden who infused faith into what had been called the nation’s most violent maximum security prison, has been cleared of alleged ethics breeches following investigations by two Louisiana state agencies.
“Thank you so much for the prayers,” said Cain, former warden at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, speaking to the state’s Baptists in an exclusive interview with the Baptist Message newsjournal.
A Southern Baptist, Cain was Angola’s warden from February 1995 until Jan. 1 when he retired amid various ethics allegations pressed by the daily newspaper in Baton Rouge, the state capital, last year.
“It was really important for me to be restored, especially so Louisiana Baptists would know I didn’t really stumble; it was a political thing,” said Cain, 73, who was instrumental in opening Angola to a pioneering theological education initiative by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS).


Burl Cain

The Baton Rouge newspaper, The Advocate, acknowledged in a March 22 report that Cain, who was the longest-serving prison warden in the U.S. at retirement, had been cleared in investigations by the state’s Inspector General’s Office and the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
“The investigations did not find evidence to support the claims, the documents issued Tuesday show,” The Advocate reported March 22. The newspaper reported that various recommendations had been made as a result of their investigations to clarify personal business guidelines for corrections officials and outside individuals and inmates.
The newspaper also reported that an investigation by the State Police had cleared a nephew of Cain, an Angola employee, from an allegation of payroll fraud.
Cain said he took retirement amid a number of circumstances, including the new governor, John Bel Edwards, taking office; pressures being exerted on Edwards by a disgruntled legislator, whom Cain did not name in the Baptist Message interview; and a desire for Jimmy LeBlanc, head of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, to be reappointed so that the NOBTS seminary extension and other moral rehabilitation programs would continue.
Cain said the investigations by the Inspector General’s Office, Department of Public Safety and Corrections and State Police took a toll on him and his family.
“It cost me my job, it cost me a lot of money, it cost me a lot of chaos for my family … and it cost me my reputation,” Cain told the Baptist Message.
Cain said he never doubted he would be cleared of the allegations and he looks forward to “what God has in store for us in the future.”
He is working with a North Carolina prison to establish a seminary program similar to the one New Orleans Seminary conducts at Angola. Likewise, he has other prison projects he hopes to resume in the Midwest and West.
He said he also is open to returning to prison administration if it is God’s will for him.
Cain’s spiritual journey at Angola began just a few months after he became the prison’s warden in 1995 in watching a lethal injection execution of an inmate who had been convicted of murdering his mother-in-law. Cain had not asked the man about his eternal security, and that fact burdened him to the point he knew he had to do something.
From that day on, Cain vowed to ask men about their relationship with God, knowing the eternal importance of a changed life. And, in realizing the value of moral rehabilitation for lessening violence, the opportunity to set up a prison program with New Orleans Seminary “just fell in my lap.” The four-year NOBTS program, started in 1995, has produced 278 inmate graduates. Some have even transferred to other prisons as missionaries.
Now, Cain said, instead of inmates committing crimes, they are witnessing to other inmates, studying for a seminary test or holding a Bible study. Thousands of inmates have professed Christ as Lord and Savior, and violence has decreased by 85 percent among the 6,300 inmates.
NOBTS President Chuck Kelley told Baptist Press, “If a Hall of Fame for prison wardens existed, warden Burl Cain would have to be a first ballot selection for his groundbreaking vision and dramatically effective implementation of a process for moral rehabilitation.”
Cain “had the courage to believe any life could change and to give transformed inmates in America’s largest maximum security prison an opportunity to be heroes in a story of redemption,” Kelley said in a written statement. “Our seminary is grateful for the opportunity we have to train those transformed inmates to be ministers, and we are delighted to watch as this vision for moral rehabilitation spread to more and more of the nation’s most difficult prisons.”
David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, told the Baptist Message, “It is impossible to overestimate the eternal good accomplished by warden Burl Cain. He understood the men assigned to his jurisdiction were not merely prisoners but persons for whom Christ died. His willingness to provide spiritual nurture in the context of incarceration has brought many souls to glory.”
In September 2015, Kelley dedicated a new 11,000-square-foot building that houses an extension center built by the inmates and funded by donors.
The Joan Horner Center has a computer lab, two classrooms, an auditorium and library, and is named in memory of benefactor Joan Horner, founder of Premier Designs of Dallas, who with her husband Andy Horner were longtime supporters of the Angola ministry.
The next month, Louisiana’s Washington Baptist Association accepted a church at Angola into its fellowship.
Grace Baptist Church is believed to be the first church at a prison that a Baptist association has approved for membership. The church is the only Southern Baptist congregation among the prison’s 28 inmate-led churches.
Other correctional facilities have taken notice of the change inside Angola and adopted the seminary’s programs:

  • San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, Calif.

  • Darrington Unit, Rosharon, Texas

  • Mississippi State Penitentiary, Parchman

  • Phillips State Prison, Buford, Ga.

  • Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, St. Gabriel

In speaking to the state’s Baptists, Cain voiced thanks “for being a good steward. Thank you for letting us have the opportunity to show how we can change lives in prison.”
He “wasn’t that smart” to figure out the viability of the New Orleans Seminary initiative, Cain told the Baptist Message. “Here we took off and did a crazy thing and it worked. Can you believe that? It’s all over the country.
“Without your support we would never have been able to launch moral rehabilitation, nor would we have had a seminary, which is really the game changer,” Cain said. “Without the support of the Louisiana Baptist Convention it wouldn’t have happened.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by Will Hall, editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention; staff writer Brian Blackwell; and Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston.)

4/12/2016 11:39:51 AM by Louisiana Baptist Message & Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Repentant Boko Haram fighters offered rehab

April 12 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

ABUJA, Nigeria – Boko Haram members who surrender to the Nigerian military and repent of their terrorism will be offered rehabilitation, life skills and reintegration into society through government training camps, a Nigerian Defense Headquarters (DHQ) spokesman told the BBC.
The DHQ plans to open two or three camps within the next few months, Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar told the BBC, “to rehabilitate them to become good members of society ... Since they have shown remorse and come on board, I think it is our duty to ensure that we help them to become very productive members of this great country.”
As of April 7, about 800 Boko Haram militants had surrendered, suffering hunger, according to the DHQ.
A Baptist leader in the region, General Secretary Duro Ayanrinola of the All Africa Baptist Fellowship, told Baptist Press the program is commendable, and might open doors for former fighters to hear the gospel.
“I think the program will succeed if it is well coordinated and if the government will keep the repented ones from other insurgents,” Ayanrinola said. “In my opinion, the Nigerian government has done what a good government should do in a situation like ours.”
While the program does not call for spiritual repentance, Ayanrinola said, the power of the gospel can truly transform lives.
“Fighting Boko Haram is a spiritual matter; it is a problem of the heart and indoctrination,” Ayanrinola noted. “Only Jesus can give a new heart through His Sprit and make sincere repentance possible.”
The question is whether the government will allow the gospel to be introduced at the camps, he said.
“It is, therefore, up to Christians to take the advantage of the ‘open door’ to present the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit if the government will allow Christians to enter the camp,” he said. “Looking at it from the perspective of the gospel, what the government has done has created ministry opportunities for the Nigerian church to minister in words and deeds in Jesus’ name to the repentant ones.”
The details of the program, termed Operation Safe Corridor, have not been released, but Boko Haram members would have to denounce their membership in the Islamic State-aligned group to participate in the program. It is not clear whether those who are rehabilitated would receive complete amnesty, but Abubakar said the details would need to be taken “pace by pace.”
Financial compensation for those who participate in the program has not been ruled out.
“I believe the government will definitely ask the relevant agencies to do what is needful,” Abubakar told the BBC regarding compensation.
The Nigerian military has rescued 11,595 civilian hostages in attacks on Boko Haram camps and villages in northeastern Nigeria since Feb. 26, Abubakar told the Associated Press. But more than 200 school girls captured in April 2014 from a boarding school in Chibok remain missing. About 2.8 million refugees forced from their homes by Boko Haram attacks have not been able to return home, the AP reported, because they fear the areas are still threatened by the terrorists.
Boko Haram attacks continue. Among its most horrendous attacks of late, the fighters killed more than 100 people in firebombs, shootings and suicide bombings in northeast Nigeria at the end of January. One survivor told the Associated Press he heard the cries of children burning alive inside their homes.
Boko Haram has killed perhaps 17,000 to 20,000 people in northeast Nigeria since 2009, according to official estimates, and continues suicide bombings in Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon despite the defense of a special multinational military force. Boko Haram, intent on establishing strict Sharia law across Nigeria, originally targeted Christians, but has also killed moderate Muslims and military members.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said in December 2015 that Boko Haram has been “technically defeated,” pointing to evidence that the group has largely resorted to suicide bombings, as opposed to raids on villages where the jihadists had established caliphates – monolithic governments of strict Sharia law – before Buhari was elected. Suicide bombings will be much more difficult to prevent, Buhari has said, and are not an indication that Boko Haram will have any success in establishing caliphates.
The 2015 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) ranks Boko Haram as the deadliest terrorist group in the world, exceeding the Islamic State. The GTI attributed more than 6,644 deaths to Boko Haram in 2014, with most attacks occurring in northeast Nigeria. The Islamic State killed 6,073 in terrorist attacks in the same year, according to the report.
Terrorism in Nigeria also is fueled by a militant group of Fulani herdsmen, which the GTI blamed for 1,229 deaths in 2014. The herdsmen were blamed for 63 deaths in 2013, the GTI said. Among the latest attacks by herdsmen is the killing of more than 300 Christian farmers in Benue state in late February.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor.)

4/12/2016 11:33:38 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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