August 2009

Missionaries search for converts online

August 5 2009 by Amy Green, Religion News Service

ORLANDO, Fla. — For centuries, missionaries have ventured to the farthest reaches of the globe to share the gospel. Today, the new mission field is just a mouse click away.

Some 2 million surfers a day type keywords like “God” and “Jesus” into search engines, and hundreds of thousands of them end up at one of 91 web sites operated by Global Media Outreach, a ministry of the Orlando-based Campus Crusade for Christ that dispatches domestic missionaries to the far corners of the World Wide Web.

The sites describe the basics of Christianity, such as who is Jesus, and provide forms where surfers can submit questions and share personal stories with one of the ministry’s 3,000 missionaries. The missionaries, in turn, respond via e-mail with personal messages, Bible passages and prayers.

It is the newest way to reach out, said Allan Beeber, the Orlando director of Global Media Outreach, which also has offices in Silicon Valley.

“The paradigm of evangelism is changing. In the past, various Christian groups would go door-to-door, or they would hold citywide crusades,” he said. “The paradigm change is that people are now coming to us.”

RNS photo by Amy Green

Maria Rodriguez, an accountant at Campus Crusade for Christ in Orlando, Fla., helps oversee Spanish-language outreach through Campus Crusade’s new online missionary work, Global Media Outreach.

The number of these spiritual surfers has grown so much since the ministry launched less than a decade ago that officials now hope to double the number of missionaries by the year’s end. In the last year alone, traffic on the ministry’s web sites more than doubled.

Campus Crusade is among the nation’s largest nondenominational campus ministries, with some 55,000 students involved at more than 1,090 colleges and universities nationwide. Worldwide, the organization offers 29 ministries in 191 countries.

Global Media Outreach has partnered with Northland, a local megachurch whose pastor is the up-and-coming Joel Hunter, to add missionaries and a church-planting effort to the ministry. Now, when surfers e-mail about how to start a church, Northland can respond with church-planting resources.

The partnership is a fit for Northland, which subscribes to the philosophy that a church is defined by its people and can be as small as three people gathered around a dinner table, said Dan Lacich, a pastor at Northland. Some 10,000 people worship each Sundays at one of Northland’s multiple locations, including 1,000 online.

“It’s another tool,” Lacich said. “What we’re hoping happens is that missionaries who are in field ... will get encouragement and support from this ministry as we’re able to connect them with people who are near them.”

Technology is now at a point where Christian leader can track how many people worldwide are exposed to Christianity, and how many want to become Christians, Beeber said. It also is the first time missionaries can reach into dangerous countries, and other hard-to-reach populations, such as teenagers here at home, without ever leaving their desks. What’s more, online outreach can be specialized to target a variety of groups, from members of the military to hurricane victims.  

One group of pastors handles especially difficult theological questions. Most missionaries respond within 24 hours, Beeber said.

Evangelicals are not the only ones turning to point-and-click proselytizing. Mormon missionaries spend 12 hours fielding questions online as part of their training before being dispatched around the world. Missionaries who can’t go overseas for health reasons can instead put in a two-year stint at the Mormons’ online referral center in Provo, Utah.

“Absolutely it’s the new frontier,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. “In advanced economies, the majority of people are online, and ... they begin to think of the Internet as the default starting place for all kinds of information searches.

“So it’s not surprising that when people have spiritual questions or have concerns about the direction of their lives, a lot of them now sort of start their search for answers online.”

Maria Rodriguez, a Campus Crusade accountant who heard about the project around the office, said sharing the gospel is now akin to “going on a mission trip without stepping out of the house.”

Rodriguez helps oversee the ministry’s Spanish speakers and enjoys developing online relationships with those who write in, including a woman from Peru who is moving to Canada but worries about leaving her mother, who is in poor health, behind.

“We go back and forth, praying for each other, praying for her mother and her decision,” said Rodriguez, 48. “Mostly people want to be heard. They want to tell their stories. ... The family of God is so huge that we can reach others from such a distance.”

8/5/2009 3:55:00 AM by Amy Green, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Riots leave 14 Christians dead

August 5 2009 by Baptist Press/Compass Direct News

GOJRA, Pakistan — Islamic extremists Aug. 1 set ablaze more than 50 houses and a church in northeastern Pakistan following an accusation of “blasphemy” of the Quran, leaving at least 14 Christians dead, sources said.

The dead include women and children, with several other burn victims unable to reach hospitals for medical care, according to the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS). The attack came amid a protest by thousands of Muslim Islamists — including members of banned militant groups — that resulted in another six people dying when participants shot at police and officers responded with tear gas and gunfire.

The same rumor of desecration of the Quran that led to the Aug. 1 massive protest and attack in the northeastern city of Gojra also prompted an arson assault July 30 by Islamic extremists on the village of Korian, seven miles from Gojra, that gutted 60 houses.

Punjab Minister for Law Rana Sanaullah reportedly said an initial investigation of allegations of the Quran being blasphemed indicated “there has not been any incident of desecration.”

Because of the earlier assault in Korian, Pakistani officials were already in the area and had sought reinforcements to help control the Aug. 1 demonstration in Gojra, but security forces were slow to respond, according to CLAAS.

“There were unaccountable people in the mob and they were out of control because only four police constables were trying to stop the mob of thousands of people,” a CLAAS report said.

Crowd size and attacks grew, and Islamists managed to block main roads and railways to keep fire brigades from fighting the house fires, according to CLAAS. With authorities also blocking roads to keep more Muslim extremists from entering from neighboring villages, clerics at local mosques broadcast messages that those “who love Muhammad and Islam should gather with them to defend the Islam because it is in danger,” according to CLAAS.

In response to the police road closures, Islamists became more aggressive and began burning property using firearms and explosives in nearby hamlets where primarily Christians live, according to CLAAS.

Asam Masih, a Christian in Gojra, said that that women and children were severely burned and had no way to get to a hospital, according to CLAAS, which was helping to transport victims for medical care. Islamists set on fire a Catholic church on Sumandri road and destroyed it using firearms and explosives, according to CLAAS.

“50 houses are burned and totally destroyed,” the CLAAS statement read. “14 people including children, women and men are expired.”

As Christians have begun defending themselves against the onslaughts, mainstream media have already begun referring to the overwhelmingly Islamist aggression as “Christian and Muslim rioting.”

Compass Direct investigated the facts of the trigger incident in the village of Korian, where more than 500 Muslims, responding to calls from a mosque, attacked Christians in the Toba Tek Singh district. Local sources said nearly all village Christian families fled. The fires destroyed their homes — collapsing their wooden roofs or melting T-iron roofs — and all belongings within that the attacking Muslims had not first looted.

One Christian resident of Korian identified only as Shabir said the blasphemy accusation grew out of an incident at a wedding July 25. During the ceremony, Christian wedding guests tossed currency notes and coins into the air according to custom, with children catching most of them as they fall. Shabir told Compass a Muslim funeral was taking place at the same time, however, and that mourners told wedding celebrants to stop their music; they apparently declined.

The next day, Muslims met with the parents of the bride, Talib and Mukhtar Masih, and told them that their sons had cut pages of the Quran the size of currency notes and had been throwing them in the air the previous night, Shabir said.

“Talib said that nothing like this has happened, but that if there was anything, ‘I’ll call my son and he will definitely apologize for it,’” Shabir said. “But then they immediately began beating them and left Talib when he fell unconscious.”

Shabir said that afterward when Christian women went to the Muslims and told them that they were wrong to beat Talib Masih, the assailants yelled at them and tried to attack them, but they were able to flee to their homes.

On July 30, Shabir said, Muslim clerics announced from the village mosque that “if any infidel Christian wanted to save his or her life, then get out of here or they would be killed.”

As the Muslim mobs gathered, he said, Christians immediately fled — leaving their meals prepared and fires burning in stoves.

“These assailants first looted these houses and then set them on fire and closed the door,” he said. “Since then, not a single Christian is left there except a very old couple.”

Village Muslims declined to open their doors when Compass reporters called on them.

But one of three Muslim leaders standing with a crowd of turban-clad Islamists at the entrance to the village, Qari Noor Ahmed, told Compass the story of the alleged cut pages of the Quran at the marriage ceremony.

“Because it was night, no one noticed, but in the morning we saw that the pages of the Quran had been cut to currency note size, and they were trampled under people’s feet,” he said.

Ahmed said that village authorities later met and called in Talib and Mukhtar Masih. He said that council authorities decided that their son should apologize.

“But when his son came in the meeting, he by no means seemed apologetic, rather he was aggressive,” Ahmed said. “This was the root cause, and we told Talib and Mukhtar to tell their children to apologize.”

Ahmed said that afterwards they searched for Talib and Mukhtar Masih and their sons but could not find them.

“Then Muslims became furious that first they had profaned the Quran, and now they had fled and were not apologizing,” Ahmed said. “Then the villagers attacked their houses. All the Christians who are visiting here are armed, and we are sitting here to avoid any untoward incident. It is better for you to leave now or you may be attacked.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Compass Direct Staff.)

8/5/2009 3:54:00 AM by Baptist Press/Compass Direct News | with 0 comments



GCR site goes live

August 4 2009 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A webite encouraging support for the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCR) has been launched at www.pray4gcr.com.
 
The site, which went live Aug. 1, gives interested people an opportunity to register their commitment to pray, interact with the task force through blogs, Facebook and Twitter, sign up for updates about significant developments and see photos of the 23 task force members.

The task force is asking for 5,000 believers to commit themselves to pray for task force members and a renewed passion for the Great Commission among Southern Baptists, chairman Ronnie Floyd said in a press statement.
 
“We cannot accomplish the task entrusted to us without a groundswell of prayer support. Surely, thousands will join in prayer together,” said Floyd, who is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., and the Church at Pinnacle Hills in Rogers. “I know Southern Baptists love the Great Commission and will want to join us in praying for this resurgence. The urgency of the hour calls us to pray.
 
“Southern Baptists have entrusted the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force with a great responsibility. I can assure all Southern Baptists that our final report will reflect the boldest visionary dreams of Southern Baptists to reach the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are ready to get busy with bold thinking, hard questions, fervent prayer, and big dreams. The world is waiting to see how serious we are. I can tell you that this task force is ready to get to work. This is why we are asking you to join us by going to pray4gcr.com, sign the prayer partner list and share it with your friends and family members across the world.”
 
In a statement posted on the web site, Southern Baptist Convention president Johnny Hunt echoed the call to prayer.
 
“Would you please pray for us daily, weekly, or ever how God lays it on your heart? Also, please encourage your church family to join us in praying that God would help the Southern Baptist Convention to have a Great Commission Resurgence in order that church-planting, as well as church revitalization, would become a priority in our hearts like never before and that we, as pastors and laypeople, would be intentional witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying nation,” Hunt said. “May we give like never before that the Gospel would be taken to the furthest ends of the earth. I trust that it will become the rally cry of our denomination that, as we think of the Cooperative Program, we would all simply say, ‘We can do more.’ I will assure you that if that would be our mindset, only heaven knows what will be given for that cause.”
 
Floyd said he is asking supporters to pray about three primary concerns:
  • for the members of the task force and “for God’s leadership to be upon them mightily, making His direction clear for them;”
  • for a Great Commission resurgence “to occur in my life, my church, and through the 50,000 churches and missions in our convention;”
  • for a Great Commission resurgence “to occur in the leaders of and through the entities of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Task force members are scheduled to meet twice in August, the first time Aug. 11-12 at the Renaissance Hotel near the Atlanta airport and then Aug. 26-27 at the Embassy Suites Northwest Arkansas in Rogers. Floyd said the Arkansas meeting will be preceded by a luncheon for area pastors and staff, laypersons serving on SBC entities and “anyone who wants to come.” Reservations must be made by 2 p.m., Aug. 24, by e-mailing Debbie Swart at debbies@fbcs.net or calling (479) 751-4523.
 

8/4/2009 9:11:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Christians protest mob attacks

August 4 2009 by Anto Akkara, RNS/ENI

NEW DELHI — Church schools and other Christian institutions in Karachi, Pakistan, have closed to protest the killing of Christians in the country’s central Punjab region on Aug. 1.

Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Pakistan, said in a statement Monday that all Christian institutions in Punjab should “close down and observe mourning for three days to condemn the burning of seven Christians alive.”

The Christians killed on Saturday reportedly included four women and two children. In addition, 50 people were injured and scores of Christian homes torched.

The violence followed rumors that Christians in the region had desecrated a copy of the Quran. The attack in Gojra took place as a Muslim march passed through a predominantly Christian area in the town.

“The leaders of the march were inciting violence against Christians and there was even firing from the mob on Christians,” Peter Jacob, a spokesperson for the Catholic Church in Pakistan, told Ecumenical News International.

After one Christian returned fire, Jacob said, the Muslim crowd, said to number hundreds, attacked the Christians and set their houses on fire.

“Many of the dead were shot and set on fire. The post-mortem showed bullet injuries besides the burning,” said Jacob. He questioned why authorities allowed, “such a provocative procession to enter a Christian neighborhood at all.”

he Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC) on Monday appealed to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to ensure the security of Christians in the Punjab province, noting three attacks against Christian communities by militant Islamic groups in the previous two months.

“The Gojra carnage ... the latest in a series of organized attacks against Christians reconfirms the fear that the government is constantly failing to protect its citizens who frequently face attack by militant Islamic groups,” said Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the WCC.

In Lahore, the National Council of Churches of Pakistan, which includes several four Protestant denominations, deplored the attack on the Christians as “shocking.”

More than 40 Christian homes were reported to have been torched after clerics used the public address system of the local mosque to call for such attacks. A crowd prevented firefighters from reaching the burning houses with Muslim women lying down on the roads to block access for the firefighting trucks.

Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister for minorities, who is a Christian, denied that the Quran had been defaced by Christians and accused police of ignoring his appeal to provide protection to
Christians.
 

8/4/2009 9:10:00 AM by Anto Akkara, RNS/ENI | with 0 comments



Church-bus crash victim dies

August 3 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

JACKSON, Miss. — A July 12 rollover of a bus carrying a church youth group to a summer camp has claimed a second fatality.

Maggie Lee Henson, 12, died Aug. 2 after a three-week battle with critical head injuries received when the bus from First Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., blew a tire and overturned en route to a Passport youth camp in Georgia.

All 23 passengers were injured in the accident on an interstate highway near Meridian, Miss., several seriously. One, Brandon Ugarte, 14, died while being airlifted to the hospital.

This is one of several photos of Maggie Lee Henson posted at CaringBridge.org.

Henson was thrown from the bus, which rolled several times, and trapped underneath. A busload of Alabama National Guard soldiers that happened on the scene helped upright the vehicle to free her.

She was taken to University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Miss. She died at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday in a private room where she had been transferred July 31 from a kiosk in the Children’s Hospital Pediatric Critical Care Unit.

Survivors include her father, John Henson, an associate pastor at the church; her mother, Jinny; and a younger brother, Jack.

Maggie Lee Henson was a rising seventh grader at First Baptist Church School.

Her parents reported details of her three-week fight for life on a web site called CaringBridge.org.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

The wreck occurred while 17 youth and six adult sponsors from First Baptist Church traveled toward a weeklong camp in Macon, Ga., sponsored by Passport, a youth camping ministry partner of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

“The Passport community is grieving with the family of Maggie Lee Henson and First Baptist Church Shreveport,” said Colleen Burroughs, Passport’s executive vice president. “We extend our sympathy and prayers to all who are touched by this tragedy.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)


8/3/2009 5:30:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Katrina relief groups half finished

August 3 2009 by Bruce Nolan, Religion News Service

NEW ORLEANS — Leaders of a consortium of Katrina relief groups say they are approaching a milestone in recovery efforts, having distributed $25 million in money, muscle and construction material to about 1,000 families around New Orleans in the four years since Hurricane Katrina.

Even so, they estimate the region’s recovery is only at the halfway point, at best.

And as the big private donations that marked 2006 and 2007 taper off, the consortium of mostly church-related agencies is positioning itself to continue its work with upcoming state and federal grants.

To be sure, $25 million is a small fraction of the total outpouring of private aid that flowed, and still flows, into the region since Katrina roared ashore in August 2005.

An accurate calculation of the total private relief figure is largely unknowable, some relief managers say.

But $25 million is the value of volunteer aid, materials and donations the partnership believes it has supplied to about 1,000 families, said Tom Costanza, its board chairman.

The consortium is called the Greater New Orleans Disaster Recovery Partnership (GNODRP). In speech, members refer to it by its inelegant acronym: “No-drip.” Like much else after Katrina, the agency is unprecedented, Costanza said.

After most natural disasters, private, nonprofit relief organizations create county-based roundtables to coordinate their work and share resources. But the devastation from Katrina was so vast that Catholic, Mennonite, Salvation Army and other faith-based relief groups linked up with big secular partners such as the Red Cross to form a kind of super-roundtable.

Typically, participating disaster agencies such as the United Methodist Committee on Relief or Lutheran Disaster Response helped families from their own resources wherever possible.

But they also brought money and the promise of construction material and volunteers to the roundtable as well, prepared to donate them to other agencies with needy clients, said Costanza, a Catholic relief worker with the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Office of Justice and Peace.

The $25 million in aid the partnership has distributed out of a common coffer does not include tens of millions of dollars worth of aid its 80 or more member agencies have distributed solely out of their own relief operations since 2005.

Even so, on the basis of what it knows about the landscape, the partnership estimates that four years out, Katrina rebuilding is still only barely at the halfway mark — if that, said Paul Timmons, the partnership’s executive director.

8/3/2009 5:29:00 AM by Bruce Nolan, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Baptists celebrate 400th anniversary

August 3 2009 by Robert Dilday, Associated Baptist Press

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — Baptists from around the world recalled the birth of their movement 400 years ago during a July 30 worship service held a few blocks from the site of what is generally recognized as the first Baptist congregation.

About 300 worshippers filled the main floor and double balconies of the Singelkerk, a Mennonite church on Amsterdam’s Singel Canal built in 1608, a year before the first Baptists met in a bakery on the Amstel River, a short distance west.

The bakery no longer exists, but leaders of the initial Baptist movement — including John Smyth and Thomas Helwys — forged close ties to the Mennonites, with whom they shared views on believers’ baptism and congregational governance. Both Smyth and Thomas are believed to have worshipped in the Singelkerk.

“Four hundred years have passed since the Baptist work began,” said Neville Callam, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), as the July 30 service began.  “Now we gather in the presence of representatives from around the world to worship the child of God.”

BWA photo

Worshippers sang in a vareity of languages during the celebratory service at the Singelkerk in Amsterdam.

The BWA’s General Council held its annual gathering July 27-Aug. 1 in Amsterdam.

“We are here to celebrate God’s faithfulness during those first 400 years,” said Albrecht Boerrigter, general secretary of the Union of Baptist Churches in the Netherlands. “Take what you get here and carry it with you into the future.”
 
A wide array of languages highlighted the service, whose program was printed in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, German and Swahili. Scripture was read in Bangla and Dutch and verses of songs were sung in French, German and Spanish. The congregation recited the Lord’s Prayer simultaneously in their own language.

A litany of thanksgiving expressed gratitude to God for the “cloud of witnesses” who have enriched the Baptist movement, from Smyth, Helwys and Menno Simons, to Roger Williams and William Carey to John Leland and Martin Luther King Jr.

“They ran the race set before them,” the readers said.

In a sermon, the BWA’s general secretary emeritus highlighted “the freedom in Christ (that) has been the theme of the Baptist movement from our beginning to the present day.”

But Denton Lotz, who retired last year as the BWA’s top executive, warned that the defense of religious freedom must change if it is to be relevant in the 21st century.

“It is incumbent upon us as a people of faith to realize that our concerns today are very different from those of 400 years ago,” Lotz said. “If we fail to take seriously the 21st century and merely continue to defend religious freedom as though we were living under King James I, then we will become irrelevant and our defense of freedom irrelevant.”

The threat today is not directed at religious practice, Lotz said, “but rather whether or not religion will be granted a fair hearing or a hearing at all. Will the public expression of religion continue to be curtailed or even allowed? Our public and state education has promoted secularism as its own religion and has indoctrinated the younger generation to believe that man can live without God and can explain the universe and history and community without faith.”

“Our goal must not be religious freedom to practice or religious freedom to express our faith,” he added. “Our goal is to be on mission with Jesus Christ.... Therefore, today and in this 400th year we honor all those men and women who by faith followed the footsteps of their master.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Dilday is associate editor of the Religious Herald.)

8/3/2009 5:26:00 AM by Robert Dilday, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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