April 2017

Five WHO aid workers nabbed in Somalia

April 13 2017 by Onize Ohikere, WORLD News Service

Somali-based extremist group al-Shabaab has abducted five World Health Organization (WHO) employees working in the country, security officials said. The report comes as aid workers responding to the humanitarian crisis in some parts of the continent battle security risks.
Col. Deeq Abdi Khaliif, commander of the Somali army in the town of Luuq, told Voice of America (VOA) the extremists broke into the aid workers’ home early on April 2 and took them. The men lived in Maganey village, close to Luuq.
“We are now pursuing them to free the abducted men,” Khaliif told VOA’s Somali Service.
The five Somali men worked for the World Health Organization’s polio vaccination program. Al-Shabaab has not allowed any vaccinations in the regions under its control and previously threatened the aid workers because of their work, Khaliif said.
Somalia faces a humanitarian crisis that has left 5.5 million people suffering from food insecurity. The crisis is worse in the areas controlled by al-Shabaab, an extremist group that has plagued the country since 2006. The insecurity has blocked aid from reaching its territory and places at risk aid workers who try to help. IRIN, a humanitarian news agency, said 16 aid workers died in Somalia last year.
South Sudan also faces a similar crisis, with more than 4 million people severely food insecure. The country descended into civil war in 2013 when fighting broke out between supporters of the country’s president and vice president. The conflict has led to accusations of civilian assaults and targeted killing by several government militias and other armed factions. The fighting has multiplied the challenges aid workers face.
Samaritan’s Purse last month said armed rebels released eight of its South Sudanese staff in the country’s Mayendit region. Another nonprofit based in South Sudan confirmed last month that attackers killed six of its aid workers, the highest casualty count from a single attack. About 79 aid workers have been killed in the country since the war began, according to the United Nations.
Deepmala Mahla, Mercy Corps country director for South Sudan, said it sometimes takes the organization’s teams two days to reach project sites in areas in dire need of aid. The conflict also has made it impossible to reach some regions and frequently leaves their centers vulnerable to attacks.
“Many humanitarian organizations’ facilities and compounds have been looted,” Mahla said. “Unfortunately it’s not decreasing or stopping.”
Mahla called on governments in the famine-hit countries to provide immediate and safe humanitarian access for the needs of their own people: “We want to help save lives, and for that we need access to the people.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Onize Ohikere writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

4/13/2017 8:49:12 AM by Onize Ohikere, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

6 Stones leads churches in transforming communities

April 13 2017 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

John Meador experienced “a grief, a heartbreak ... soul-searching, a time of prayer and fasting” when he learned about a woman who had no one to help her after an apartment fire.

Submitted photo
6 Stones ministry volunteers gather before heading out to revitalize 50-plus homes in six cities around Dallas-Fort Worth area last October. 6 Stones now encompasses 60 churches intent on sharing the Gospel through initiatives to transform their communities in partnership with the public, business and nonprofit sectors.

The church Meador leads, First Baptist in Euless, Texas, was emerging from millions of dollars in debt and was focused on missions ventures worldwide. Though the church had begun exploring what they could do to help their local community, news of an apartment fire at a complex adjoining the church campus was the last straw.
“It became apparent that we really needed to pay more attention to our Jerusalem,” Scott Sheppard told Baptist Press (BP), in reference to a biblical term for one’s community. Meador, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference in 2016, tasked Sheppard, who was serving on the church staff at the time, with finding a way to help the woman who had lost everything, as well as others like her.
What emerged from that challenge was a ministry called 6 Stones which has merged the nonprofit, public and private sectors to transform parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
Since it began in 2008, 6 Stones has repaired more than 500 homes, donated school supplies to more than 26,000 students, provided Christmas gifts for more than 22,000 children, logged nearly 270,000 volunteer hours and invested $9 million in local communities, according to a 2016 year-end report.
Sheppard, executive director of 6 Stones, a name based on the church’s retirement of a $6-million-plus debt over 28 months prior to launching its community outreach, recounted how eager First Baptist Euless was to start the ministry.
“They were so moved, so excited about the possibility of investing in their Jerusalem that we went from realizing the need to the church voting and launching a nonprofit in less than 120 days,” Sheppard said.
“The congregation was so inspired to do something locally. They do stuff all over the world, but we had forgotten in many respects Jerusalem and the needs that they had. That’s really what precipitated it,” he said.
Dallas-Fort Worth is among the top destinations for relocation in the world, Sheppard said, noting that people from other countries arrive in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago and realize there are no jobs, and then they turn to Texas, which he said has produced twice as many jobs in the past decade as the rest of the U.S. combined.

Submitted photo
Two police officers help distribute school supplies to families during 6 Stones ministry’s Operation Back to School in August 2016. Officer Vanessa Nilson is from the city of Euless, James Webster the city of Hurst, both localities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“So they’re coming for work, but that puts a strain on your school system and your city and all the other social service agencies,” Sheppard said. “I think that’s what brings the receptivity now for the church to step into some of these arenas because they need the help and they want to collaborate.”
One of the first ways 6 Stones got involved was to partner with the city of Euless – with the help of federal housing grants – to revitalize deteriorating homes.
Gary McKamie, a former Euless city manager, described the initiative at a Catalyst of Hope forum in February in nearby Bedford, when a panel explained how churches can replicate the 6 Stones model.
“It was kind of unusual for us to be approached at the city by someone asking, ‘What can we do for you?’” McKamie said. “... At the time, property values were falling. We had all sorts of needs. ... We had a growing group of people that didn’t have decent roofs over their heads.”
Gene Buinger, a former superintendent of the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district, said more than 50 percent of children in the area today come from homes at the federal poverty level or below, and more than 70 languages of the world are spoken in homes throughout the district.
When 6 Stones asked Buinger how they could help the school system, he had “a whole laundry list of things that they could do with us.”
Among those projects have been Operation Back 2 School, providing students with school supplies, and Night of Hope, a Christmas experience for those in need.
Sheppard said the city transformation movement is growing as churches across the nation are realizing they must engage with their local communities, but 6 Stones is unique because they’ve “been able to bridge the gap to the other sectors, whether it’s the city, school district, corporate or even collaborating with other nonprofits.”
With collaboration across sectors, “you usually get more done,” he said, than if a church alone tries to transform a community. About 60 churches from various denominations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are part of the 6 Stones coalition.
Corporations want to get involved and supply the resources, Sheppard said, because “it’s good business to do good right now.” He noted a new campaign by State Farm Insurance called Neighborhood of Good, which connects consumers to charitable opportunities in their towns.
As churches are catching on to the city transformation movement, Sheppard said they’re the most poised to help “because of our faith, because of our gearing – Christ said to serve. If you can bring the Christians into this, that’s really where the power is.”
6 Stones is intentional about sharing the gospel alongside the good works, and the salvation stories are abundant.
“At the Night of Hope, we work with the school district to identify the kids, we go in and raise the funds and volunteers from all those sectors, and at every one of those parties – 20 of them on 20 school campuses – the gospel is shared to every one of those at that Christmas program, and we’ve seen as many as 500-600 kids and parents pray to receive Christ during those four nights in December,” Sheppard told BP.
“We’ve seen homeowners that we’ve worked with in revitalization – because we start to bless them and they want to hear what we have to say. One of our largest sponsors is a car dealer who gives about $100,000 a year to us as an organization. I was able to lead one of their executives to faith in Christ over a hamburger one day because he wanted to know, ‘Why do you all do this?’” Sheppard said.
A man named Marcus was homeless after wrestling with drugs and other bad decisions, and now he knows Jesus and volunteers in the 6 Stones community garden, helping feed people after knowing true hunger himself. Another man, a retired veteran, had a simple gospel conversation with Sheppard on a loading dock one night, and he has become a key volunteer.
“It’s not just those in poverty, but it can be the executive at the corporation that needs to know because they are spiritually bankrupt just like anybody else may be financially bankrupt,” Sheppard said of those 6 Stones reaches.
God may be challenging the church to get outside the walls and work alongside other sectors so communities can see Christ in action, Sheppard said. Too often, the world sees the church as irrelevant to the community at large, he said, recounting a conversation he had with a police detective.
The detective told him, “We see the crime, we see the pain, we see the dysfunction, and we wonder, ‘What in the world are you guys thinking as you fly all over the world and do all these great things with all these other people but you don’t help us in your own backyard?’”
But as the detective saw what 6 Stones was doing in Dallas-Fort Worth, he told Sheppard, “When you start doing things like this and you start working with us across all these sectors, you might be relevant to our community.”
Sheppard told BP, “We’re the largest Southern Baptist church in northeast Tarrant County, and he saw us as irrelevant. So that’s how, unfortunately, most of our secular entities see the church.
“It’s time to go be relevant.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is a writer in Nashville.)

4/13/2017 8:48:43 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Alabama governor’s resignation yields call to prayer

April 12 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

After Alabama’s governor pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and resigned amid allegations of illegal conduct to cover up an extramarital affair, the state’s Southern Baptists expressed disappointment and pledged prayer.

Robert Bentley

“More than anything, we need to pray for Gov. [Robert] Bentley,” Alabama Baptist Convention President John Thweatt told Baptist Press (BP). “Pray for his family. Pray for our new governor [Kay Ivey], lifting her up and asking God to give her direction and give her wisdom.”
Bentley, a Republican and Southern Baptist, pleaded guilty April 10 to converting campaign funds for personal use and failing to file a major campaign finance report, according to media reports. Shortly after the plea, he resigned, stating in a farewell address, “The consequences of my mistakes have been grievously unfair to you, my dedicated staff and my cabinet.” Bentley also told the staff and cabinet, “I have let you and our people down.”
Among terms of the plea deal, the Montgomery Advertiser reported, Bentley will serve one year of probation, forfeit the $36,912 in his campaign account and perform 100 hours of community service as a dermatologist, his profession before entering politics.
Bentley’s resignation came the same day Alabama’s House Judiciary Committee began an impeachment hearing. The committee released a report April 7 alleging Bentley misused state workers and resources to hide an affair with a political adviser.
Bentley’s wife of 50 years divorced him in 2015.
A professing Christian, Bentley drew criticism in 2011 for inviting listeners during a speech to trust Christ as their Lord and Savior, BP reported at the time. Bentley is a member of First Baptist Church in Prattville. He is a former chairman of deacons at First Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa.
First Baptist Prattville pastor Travis Coleman told BP, “We have reached out to Gov. Bentley, are praying for him and are willing to help him in any way possible.”
Thweatt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Pell City, Ala., said moral failures among politicians are “especially devastating for us when it’s a person who claims to be a believer.” He added Christians should condemn the former governor’s sin but not become judgmental.
“There is an expectation of holiness for the child of God,” Thweatt said. Because all believers are susceptible to sin and moral failure, “we’ve got to take steps to make sure we’re walking in sanctification.”
Vice President Mike Pence is a positive example for fellow politicians and others, Thweatt said, noting Pence’s 2002 claim he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife.
Joe Godfrey, leader of the Alabama Baptist Convention’s public policy auxiliary, told BP he feels “disappointment.” While all believers sin, Godfrey said, the former governor’s apparent “lack of remorse” seems antithetical to the posture a believer in sin should adopt.
Walking with Jesus requires “humbling ourselves before a holy God and acknowledging our total dependence on Him,” said Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program.
Christians can increase the level of integrity in politics by becoming involved in the political sphere and staying “close to Jesus” in the process, Godfrey said.
“Our only hope of overcoming the temptations of power and sex and money and all of those things is to stay close to Jesus,” Godfrey said. Believers in politics “are called to be salt and light.”
A “bright spot” related to Bentley’s resignation, Godfrey noted, is that it demonstrated the ability of Alabama’s system of checks and balances to weed out unjust leaders.
“In this case, the system eventually worked,” Godfrey said. “It took time, but it eventually worked, and we were able to get rid of somebody that was breaking laws and doing things that he shouldn’t be doing. There’s some encouragement in that for all of us.”
Though Bentley was the first Alabama governor to be considered for impeachment by the state House, the news website AL.com reported, three of the last six governors have either been convicted or pleaded guilty to criminal charges.
Also leaving office in Alabama during the past 18 months were House Speaker Mike Hubbard, who was convicted of 12 felony ethics charges, and Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was suspended for the remainder of his term for allegedly directing probate judges to disobey a U.S. Supreme Court order related to same-sex marriage.
Ivey, a member of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, was sworn in with her pastor Jay Wolf holding the Bible on which she placed her hand. Wolf led the swearing-in ceremony’s opening prayer.
“Romans 8 says that God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Let’s pray for that result,” Wolf said according to The Alabama Baptist newsjournal. “May she honor You (Lord) as she serves the people of Alabama.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/12/2017 8:27:46 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Restrictions, hostilities increase for people of faith

April 12 2017 by Baptist Press staff

The world’s religious adherents experienced greater government restraints and social animosities after two years of declines, according to a newly released study.

Pew Research graphic

The Pew Research Center reported April 11 the percentage of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of anti-religious policies or acts increased in 2015. The share of countries with such levels of government restrictions – including laws, policies and actions – edged up from 24 percent in 2014 to 25 percent in 2015. The percentage of countries with such degrees of religious hostility – performed by individuals, organizations or societal groups – jumped from 23 to 27 percent.
Among Pew’s other findings for 2015 in its study of 198 countries:
– 40 percent of the world’s countries have “high” or “very high” levels overall of restrictions/hostilities, a rise of six percent from 2014.
– 79 percent of the world’s population lives in these countries, a hike of five percent.
– 53 percent of countries reported “widespread government harassment of religious groups,” an increase of 10 percent.
– 12 percent of countries documented more than 200 cases of the use of government force against religious groups, a growth of one percent.
Among factors in the global increase in social animosities were rises in religiously related mob violence, assaults against and displacement of people of faith, and attacks to impose religious rules.
Southern Baptist religious freedom leader Russell Moore said in response to the Pew report, “For millions, including many of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world, conscience freedom is constantly in peril. This new data confirms how urgent the need is for advocacy on behalf of so many who face danger for their convictions.
“I pray that the United States would continue its important work for global religious freedom and, more importantly, that the church of Jesus Christ would tirelessly work and pray for our fellow believers who are being persecuted by Caesar,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in written comments for Baptist Press.
Government harassment and use of force against religious groups surged in 2015, Pew reported. Four of the five geographic regions examined in the report – the Middle East-North Africa, Asia-Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe – had increases in these categories.
Europe experienced the greatest growth in government harassment or use of force against religious groups, with 53 percent of its countries showing such increases in 2015, according to the study. Sub-Saharan Africa was next, with 48 percent of its countries experiencing growth in such actions.
The Middle East-North Africa, however, continues to lead all regions, with 95 percent of its countries marked by government harassment or use of force against religious bodies.
In Europe, Jews and Muslims experienced social hostilities in more countries than did Christians, according to Pew. Such animosities against Jews were found in 33 of Europe’s 45 countries and against Muslims in 32 European countries. Christians experienced such hostilities in 21 countries.
Harassment and the use of force by European governments against Muslims came in a year when 1.3 million immigrants – more than half from the Muslim-majority countries of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria – sought asylum on the continent, Pew noted. It also was a year marked by threats and deadly attacks by Islamic terrorists in European countries.
Worldwide, Christians and Muslims continue to be harassed in the largest number of countries, according to the study. The number of countries in which Christians were harassed jumped from 108 to 128 in 2015. For Muslims, the number surged from 100 to 125.
Twenty-three countries had “very high” levels of government limitations in 2015, an increase of seven from 2014. At the top of the list were Egypt, China, Iran, Russia, Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Syria and Morocco.
Last year, the U.S. State Department designated 10 “countries of particular concern,” a category reserved for especially severe violators of religious liberty. They were Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
For its study, Pew relied on nearly a dozen sources, including annual reports from the State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/12/2017 8:23:13 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Murder charges dropped against former pastor

April 12 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The prosecution of former Southern Baptist associate pastor Richard Shahan should be dropped for lack of sufficient evidence to prove whether he stabbed to death his wife in 2013, Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall announced April 10.
Marshall filed a motion in Jefferson County Circuit Court to “nolle prosequi without prejudice” – drop the prosecution without prejudice – of 55-year-old Shahan, thereby preserving the right to prosecute if and when additional evidence becomes available.
“A thorough review of the evidence and comprehensive attempts to discover new evidence led to the conclusion that the evidence currently in the State’s possession is insufficient to move forward with prosecution,” according to Marshall’s press release.
“Today’s action effectively preserves the State’s opportunity to prosecute the case at a later date if additional evidence is developed,” the release noted. “There is no statute of limitation for the prosecution of murder, so this may be done at any appropriate time in the future.”
The circuit court judge had not ruled on the motion as of April 11, Alabama attorney general spokesperson Joy Patterson told Baptist Press, but the judge’s ruling is considered a formality.
Shahan, former children and families pastor of First Baptist Church of Birmingham, was arrested Jan. 1, 2014 in the death of his wife Karen, found stabbed to death in their Homewood residence in July 2013.
At the time of his arrest, he was at Nashville International Airport in Nashville, Tenn., attempting to board a plane to Frankfurt, Germany. A prosecutor in the case, Leigh Gwathney, had accused Shahan of attempting to “begin a new life with his boyfriend … who he intended to marry,” the news site al.com reported. Shahan had resigned his post at First Baptist Church on Dec. 31, 2013, saying he was taking a children’s ministry assignment in Kazakhstan.
Marshall’s latest motion means Shahan, who had been under house arrest with electronic monitoring, can move forward with his life, his attorney John Lentine told al.com.
The attorney general reached “the same conclusion we knew from the beginning,” al.com quoted Lentine.
Shahan was originally indicted by the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office. But the office recused itself from the case in December 2016, requesting that the Alabama attorney general assume the prosecution. A trial date had already been set for this May.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

4/12/2017 8:20:01 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Marriage is still the gold standard of family stability

April 12 2017 by Kiley Crossland, WORLD News Service

Yet another research study published recently showed marriage was superior to cohabitation for providing family stability across the demographic spectrum.
The study, “The Cohabitation-Go-Around: Cohabitation and Family Instability Across the Globe,” published by the Social Trends Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, found marriage provided significantly more stability for children than cohabiting, regardless of education level or geography.
Cohabiting parents split up twice as often as married parents, according to the data. And children who experienced their parents’ breakups and then additional family transitions also reported more unhappiness, school disruptions and teen pregnancies.
“Our results suggest that there is something about marriage per se that bolsters stability,” wrote Bradford Wilcox and Laurie DeRose, the study’s authors. They suggested it could come from the wedding, the societal norms of “commitment, fidelity and permanence” tied to marriage, the distinct treatment by family and friends of a married couple, or, likely, all three.
“By contrast, the very freedom and flexibility that makes cohabitation so attractive to some adults means that cohabitation is per se less institutionalized and therefore less stable,” Wilcox and DeRose wrote.
The study found the “stability premium” held among highly educated families, a population some experts said best maintains stable cohabitation. Nearly half of cohabiting, college-educated mothers broke up with their partners before their child turned 12, compared to less than one-fifth of college-educated, married mothers.
“So much for the argument that it is education, not marriage, that matters for family stability,” wrote Wilcox and DeRose.
Their research found similar results around the globe. Even in Europe, where most people view cohabitation and marriage as functional equivalents, the study found a marked difference.
Looking at data from 16 countries in Europe, children born to cohabiting couples were about 90 percent more likely to see their parents’ relationship end by the time they turned 12 than children born to married couples. In France and Norway, two countries heralded as examples of progressivism, the rates were 66 percent and 88 percent, respectively. And in both countries, a college education did not change the likelihood of a breakup.
Despite the association of the growth of cohabitation with increases in family instability, rates of cohabitation continue to rise. Nearly half of U.S. women live with a partner before they marry, according to federal data, compared to just 34 percent 15 years before. Today, nearly 1 in 5 U.S. children are born to cohabiting couples.
But despite young Americans’ progressive attitudes toward cohabitation, they have far more traditional views of marriage than their parents, according to a set of reports released Friday. The studies by the Council on Contemporary Families examined a survey that monitored the attitudes of high school seniors for 40 years. Results showed that more young millennials, ages 18-25, supported traditional family arrangements than did the same age group 20 years ago.
In 1994, 42 percent of high school seniors said in the best families, the man worked and the woman took care of the home. By 2014, it had jumped to 58 percent.
Young men especially responded in traditional ways, saying they were less likely to reject the superiority of the male-breadwinner family and less confident that employed mothers were just as good as stay-at-home moms.
The researchers said the results were “puzzling,” but suggested the change might stem “from young people witnessing the difficulties experienced by parents in two-earner families,” leading them to question modern gender roles. Researchers also suggested more family-friendly work policies, like affordable childcare and paid leave, could alleviate some of those concerns.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley Crossland writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

4/12/2017 8:15:24 AM by Kiley Crossland, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Gateway Seminary dedicates Bay Area campus

April 12 2017 by Katherine Chute, Gateway Seminary

Gateway Seminary dedicated a new campus in the San Francisco Bay Area April 8, fulfilling a promise that the institution would not abandon its presence there.

Photo by Kyle Drake
The audience held hands as Leroy Gainey, chair of Gateway Seminary’s educational leadership department, leads in a dedication prayer at Gateway Seminary’s new Bay Area campus.

But the story behind the new facility in Fremont, Calif., has two parts: one from the perspective of the Southern Baptist seminary – formerly known as Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary – and the other on the side of a church that was declining but wanted to continue its commitment to missions.
“When we decided the seminary relocation would go forward, one of the most difficult parts of the decision was the feeling we were abandoning the Bay Area,” said Gateway Seminary President Jeff Iorg, who saw the seminary also dedicate its new main campus in Ontario, Calif., in October.
“We see the need in this area, so leaving was not desirable to us,” he noted. “When we knew we were selling the property in Mill Valley, we also knew we wanted to build a new campus in the Bay Area.”
He said that a list of requirements for a new facility included a location in the Fremont area between the 680 and 880 freeways, situated on a major thoroughfare and near a rail transit station. He and other staff members looked at possibilities over a six-month period – but buildings that fit the criteria were very expensive.
One day in October 2014 Iorg’s phone rang, and an area pastor said, “I wonder if I can talk to you for a moment about the Bay Area campus. I have heard that the Seminary purchased property in Fremont for that purpose.” Iorg assured him that was not true. The pastor replied, “Well, I’m glad to hear that, because our church would like to give you our property.”
When Iorg brought up the property on Google maps, he said, “Looming in front of me was property located between the 680 and 880 freeway on a major thoroughfare, near a rail transit station,” he said. “I asked him, ‘Are you sure this is the property you’re telling me the church wants to give the seminary?’ And the pastor replied ‘yes.’”

Photo by Kyle Drake
Larry Floyd, pastor of Discovery International Church, tells the story of his church’s donation of the campus property, valued at $2.9 million.

So Iorg and Gary Groat, vice president for business services, visited the church, inspected the property and then went to lunch to discuss it.
“Gary is a very analytical, realistic person,” Iorg said, “so I asked him – what am I missing? He replied, ‘You’re not missing anything. It’s a miracle.’
“We first heard from the pastor in October and by January, we owned the property, and had the opportunity to develop it to what you see it today,” Iorg said. “The gift was magnificent: a church that realized that possibly the best use of their resources was in the training of future leaders at a seminary on this property.”
Larry Floyd, pastor of Discovery International Church that donated the property valued at $2.9 million, said they were unaware of the seminary’s side of the story but that it was an example of God knowing both sides and bringing them together for His purpose.
Floyd explained the church began as a mission in 1952, experienced difficulties that temporarily closed it and then it reopened in 1959. The church moved to the Fremont location in the 1960s. He began his role as pastor in 2007.
“As time progressed to about 2009, there was an uneasiness,” Floyd said. “We often prayed ‘God, what are you doing with us here?’ We would grow and then people would leave. At one time, we had someone from every continent in our church, so we changed the name to Discovery International Church. Our desire has always been for missions, but at the time, my wife and I were in our early 60s, and we were some of the younger ones in the church.”
The church had several leadership meetings, Floyd said, where the question was asked “has Golden Gate purchased property in Fremont yet?” He would reply, “I don’t know. I heard they had.”
Floyd noted, “Time progressed, and as we were praying, God was making it more and more evident that this is what He wanted us to do.”
“As we looked at statistics on the Southern Baptist Convention website, we found there are still more than 1,400 unreached people groups, and we wanted to make some impact,” he said. “What were we going to do? We began praying again.”
All along, they thought the seminary had already purchased property in Fremont. Finally, someone said, “Why don’t you just call Golden Gate and find out what they plan to do?” That question precipitated the phone call Floyd made to Iorg.
“The circumstances that took place were about timing,” Floyd said. “At first we thought we had missed [the window of time], but the timing was such that we knew that this property should be used for His glory.
“When we look back on what we did, we had to consider that most of our people were seniors with limited incomes,” Floyd said. “But now students are going to be graduating each year going out in the world to share the gospel. We couldn’t have done that collectively. But now our church will always be on mission through our gift to the seminary.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Katherine Chute is director of communications for GateWay Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

4/12/2017 8:09:37 AM by Katherine Chute, Gateway Seminary | with 0 comments

Texas foster care ministry accused of sexual abuse

April 11 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A $7 million lawsuit alleges children were “serially sexually abused” and neglected at a Baptist children’s home in Texas.

The Texas Baptist Home for Children (TBHC) – an “affiliated ministry” of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) – did not respond specifically to the suit but told Baptist Press (BP) it maintains the highest standards of safety for children in its care.
The lawsuit, filed April 5 in Tarrant County civil court, claims seven siblings under age 14 suffered sexual and physical abuse as well as “serious medical and other neglect” in 2013 while under the care of foster parents at cottages owned by TBHC in Waxahachie, Texas. Among the suit’s allegations are that TBHC failed to “properly investigate reports of abuse,” “perform adequate background checks or follow-ups on foster parents” and “take prompt action against perpetrators.”
Hal Browne, an attorney representing the siblings, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram three of the male siblings were sexually abused by “other, older children” while the four additional siblings suffered neglect.
The plaintiffs are requesting awards “in excess of” $1 million for each of the seven children, according to a copy of the suit provided to BP by Browne.
“We don’t file lawsuits lightly,” Browne told the Star-Telegram. “If we didn’t feel the abuse was severe and long-term, we wouldn’t have filed the lawsuit.”
TBHC interim president Randy Odom told BP April 10 he had not been served with the suit yet but noted all TBHC foster parents undergo a “very extensive process” to be licensed.
“Our standards go well beyond state standards,” Odom said.
The suit names the SBTC as a codefendant, noting TBHC is an affiliated ministry of the convention. The SBTC has “representation” on the TBHC trustee board and provides funding to the ministry, according to the lawsuit.
The SBTC told BP in a statement it “is aware of the lawsuit, and we pray for a resolution that facilitates the continued ministry of the Texas Baptist Home for Children as they meet the needs of at-risk children and families.”
Another codefendant is the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas, a network of 400 churches listed on the SBTC website as a “related ministry” that “operates” the TBHC.
According to the Star-Telegram, allegations in the lawsuit appear to match facts from a previously publicized case in which the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services “found no deficiencies in its own inquiry of” the TBHC. The state recommended, however, that foster parents who cared for two of the siblings “increase supervision and not allow the children to have any unsupervised contact with one another.”
The Southern Baptist Convention, with which the SBTC maintains a cooperative relationship, adopted a 2013 resolution “on sexual abuse of children” that “remind[ed] all Southern Baptists of their legal and moral responsibility to report any accusations of child abuse to authorities.”
The resolution “call[ed] upon all Southern Baptists to cooperate fully with law enforcement officials in exposing and bringing to justice all perpetrators,” urged the use of background checks for ministry staff and volunteers and “encourage[d] all denominational leaders ... to utilize the highest sense of discernment in affiliating with groups and or individuals that possess questionable policies and practices in protecting our children from criminal abuse.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/11/2017 9:16:15 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Coptic Christians pray, persevere after Egypt church bombings

April 11 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

As Coptic Christians bury an estimated 44 killed in terrorist bombings during Palm Sunday services in Egypt, the oldest Coptic church in the U.S. is praying for both the families of the Christian “martyrs” and the Islamic State (IS) that has claimed responsibility for the deaths.

ABC screen capture
A small child was among the survivors when the Islamic State attacked two Coptic Christian churches during Palm Sunday services April 9.

The attacks at St. George’s Church in Tanta and at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria also wounded more than 125 worshippers, Morning Star News reported, making the bombings more deadly than the 2016 Christmas bombing at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in suburban Cairo. Last year’s attack that killed 24 and wounded 50 had been considered Egypt’s worst bombing against Christians in the nation’s history.
In the U.S., the Coptic Orthodox Church of St. Mark in Jersey City, N.J., is praying and persevering, the church’s deacon of public relations Joseph Ghabour told Baptist Press (BP) April 10.
“We deem their terrorist attack as an attempt to disrupt our prayers and disrupt our festivities, and we lost many more souls than we did in the bombing of St. Peter and St. Paul Church in Cairo,” Ghabour said. “But we can only go on and pray and spread the message of peace and love that our Lord taught us.”
In the Apostolic denomination believed to flow from a church founded by Saint Mark in the middle of the first century, the slain Christians have been called martyrs.
“We know that the martyrs are in a much better place,” Ghabour told BP. “Pray for the terrorists who are trying to instill hate in the hearts of all Egyptians, whether they are Muslims or Christians, and we will not let the terrorists succeed in doing so.
“We pray for all those who hate us and we ask that God provide His guidance to them to enlighten their hearts and their minds to know the right way.”
The Palm Sunday attack in Tanta, about 60 miles north of Cairo, killed at least 27 people and wounded 78, Morning Star reported April 9. Hours later, a suicide bomber whom security officers stopped at the door of the church in the coastal city of Alexandria detonated explosives he had concealed on his body, killing at least 17 people and injuring 48 others. The same day, IS claimed responsibility for both attacks. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi soon declared a three-month state of emergency.
Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Church, had just addressed worshippers at the Alexandria congregation before the blast, Morning Star said, but he was not injured.
“These acts will not harm the unity and cohesion of the people,” Tawadros said in an official statement after the attacks.
Christians who comprise 10 percent of Egypt’s population have been increasingly attacked and persecuted since the 2013 coup in the country, Morning Star reported, with the Egyptian army having little success in protecting the Coptic minority.
In New Jersey, Ghabour said the church of 2,000 worshippers is saddened by the attacks. The church is among nearly 200 Coptic congregations in the U.S., according to the Coptic Church database at CopticNetwork.net. Security at the New Jersey church is always in place, Ghabour said, but is heightened during holy days and feast days.
“Christians are – whether Coptic Christians or Catholics or any other Christian – a target these days for terrorists,” Ghabour said. “They believe we are soft targets … so we always have security measures in place. They are more elevated during the festivities, particularly during Easter, Christmas, all the major holidays.”
The church is requesting prayer from Christians including Southern Baptists.
“The world would be a lot better place for everyone if everyone loved each other as the Bible teaches us,” he said. “All that we humans can do is to pray that God provides guidance to these people and enlightens their hearts and their minds.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

4/11/2017 9:15:05 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Seminarians & churches forge evangelism partnerships

April 11 2017 by Alex Sibley, SWBTS

Though Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s “Going the Second Mile” evangelism program does not officially continue during the summer months, a group of seven students got together every Friday to share the gospel in Rosemont Park, just down the street from the seminary campus.

Contributed photo
Eagle’s Nest Missionary Baptist Church and Stadium Drive Baptist Church were the first to respond to Southwestern Seminary students’ offer to join together in evangelizing their communities.

As they interacted with the lost and even saw people profess faith in Christ, they realized that follow-up was difficult. Though they tried to connect those who made decisions to nearby churches, the students were often unable to determine if new believers were being properly discipled.
In addition, the students realized that several churches in close proximity to the seminary, for one reason or another, lacked strong evangelism programs yet would likely accept assistance should it be offered.
With these factors in mind, the students prayed for direction, sensing God’s answer: partnering with these local churches to evangelize the communities around them and connect those whom they evangelize directly to the church body so they are properly discipled.
“We, as a group, partner with the local churches because we have a burden for the lost,” master of divinity student Joy Arulogun said. “And we believe that partnering with churches by training church members in intentional personal evangelism is a great way for us and the churches to fulfill the Great Commission as we work together reaching the lost in the neighborhood for Christ.”
Throughout the fall semester, the students prayed, sought counsel from Southwestern professors and contacted local churches about joining with them in evangelism. Professors Mike Morris, Matt Queen and Steve Lee each provided input for the students’ vision.
“A lot of the professors have their hands in this,” M.Div. student Daniel Moon said. “They gave us some directions and told us that we are on the right track. They encouraged us to go forward.”
Emmanuel Escareno, another M.Div. student, added that the professors have been “a huge asset … because we want to do everything to spread His Kingdom. That’s why we are doing this – because we have a passion to see the lost reached.”
Following the advice of the professors, bachelor of arts student Jong Lee reached out to local pastors and inquired if she and her fellow Southwesterners could evangelize with the members of their churches. Stadium Drive Baptist Church and Eagle’s Nest Missionary Baptist Church were the first to respond. So, every Friday since late January beginning at 3:30 in the afternoon, the Southwesterners have evangelized alongside the members of these churches in their respective neighborhoods.
“By partnering with the church, we can see the church discipling those who accept Christ,” said Chan Young Lee, a fellow bachelor of arts student. “We go door-to-door, and then we connect them right away to that church, and the church members will be there as well.
“People are actually in a place where they want to go to church,” Lee noted of those who make decisions for Christ, “but they’re kind of afraid to go to church because when they go to church, they feel like they have no one they know there and they think they’ll be left out. So we are in the process of getting the church involved and bringing people together.”
Moon added, “Whenever we go out, we always meet someone who really needs to meet us.” One day, for example, they knocked on the door of an accountant who said she was busy and didn’t have time to talk, but before the evangelists left, they asked how they could pray for her.
“That question really just changed her,” Moon said. “She just unloaded all these different prayer requests – all these things like her friend’s cancer and work and everything. She invited [the evangelists] into her house, and they started praying and she was crying and they shared the gospel.
“Every time, there are people who are waiting for someone to ask them about their life,” Moon said. “They are waiting to unload things in their heart; all we have to do is just go and ask.”
On a separate occasion, Arulogun and Jong Lee met a Hispanic couple in the neighborhood surrounding Eagle’s Nest. As they tried to witness to them, the Spanish-speaking couple could only respond with, “No English.”
“We felt sad and helpless,” Arulogun said, “but as we turned to leave, the wife waved to us to wait, and she ran inside the house. So we waited and wondered what she was going to bring for us. She appeared at the door with her teenage son, who happens to be bilingual. We almost screamed for joy!
“He became our interpreter,” Arulogun continued, “and God did a wondrous thing that day that blew our minds. At the end of the gospel presentation, they all received Christ! What an awesome God we serve!”
The group also rejoiced when a member of Stadium Drive Baptist Church had a conversation – also in Spanish – with a neighbor, Ava, that resulted in Ava accepting Christ as her Lord and Savior.
“That’s what we want to see: the church taking ownership and evangelizing, because we’re not always going to be there,” Escareno said. “We want them to take ownership and say, ‘This is our community; we want to share the gospel.’ Because the power is in the gospel, and so that’s how we want to encourage the church: to reach their community with the powerful message of Jesus Christ.”
Associate professor of missions Mike Morris said of the students’ work with local churches, “It’s a great development. We didn’t require them to do this; it was all voluntary on their part – they took the initiative. That’s exactly what we want to see. They’re kind of thinking outside the box. They saw a need and they responded to it. So I think it’s a very healthy thing.”
More churches have since reached out to the Southwesterners for assistance with their evangelism programs, and so the students are inviting their fellow Southwesterners to join them in meeting the need. Beyond fulfilling the Great Commission, assisting local churches, and reaching and discipling new believers, the students cite a key motivation: “We love God,” Jong Lee said. “That’s why we do what He wants us to do.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Alex Sibley is associate director of news and information at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

4/11/2017 9:14:43 AM by Alex Sibley, SWBTS | with 0 comments

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