August 2010

Relief workers risk lives in chaotic Pakistan floods

August 20 2010 by Mark Kelly

ISLAMABAD – Relief workers are risking their lives to help an estimated 8 million people in urgent need of assistance in Pakistan’s flood crisis, Southern Baptist humanitarian workers report. Several ministry partners have been beaten and three have died in rain-swollen rivers. Chaos often is erupting when limited food supplies are delivered to multitudes of hungry people.

"Since it's an evolving situation, things are unfolding. Our estimate has gone up and now eight million are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance," U.N. spokesman Maurizio Giuliano told reporters Aug. 19. "Roughly 4.6 million people are still without shelter," including hundreds of thousands of people who are still looking for refuge from the ongoing monsoon rains, he said.

Flood survivors mobbed relief trucks carrying food and authorities warn famine could sweep the northwest region unless farmers get immediate help planting new crops, news reports said. The country has been flooding for three weeks but conditions do not seem to be improving for most of the 20 million people – one in nine Pakistanis – who have lost homes, possessions, crops, livestock and loved ones.

Southern Baptists have responded with $225,000 in relief and hunger funds and are working with national ministry partners to deliver supplies to people in need, said Francis Horton, who with his wife, Angie, directs work in South Asia for Baptist Global Response.

“We are meeting with several partners, trying to get an assessment of needs that have been met and needs that we can meet,” Horton said in an Aug. 17 e-mail from Pakistan. “Our national partners are doing a great job in helping people. The task is huge. The disaster grows. Housing is a huge need.

“Three national partners have died and one is in critical condition after falling into the river,” Horton added. “There has been some unrest in some places.  I have seen reports of partners being beaten and one team leader told me chaos has broken out at a couple of places as people reached with their bare hands into the serving pots to get food.
“The UN has said that this disaster has affected more people than the past few earthquakes and tsunami combined,” Horton continued. “Much like Katrina, there has been a limited but tragic number of people killed. Millions more became homeless and helpless. Caring for millions of survivors is incredibly difficult.”

One national ministry partner wrote Horton to explain what conditions are like for relief workers on the front lines of the disaster:

“The situation is getting bad day by day. Flood-affected people lost their all things. Many people, especially children, lost their lives. Thousands of people going towards death because of after-flood shortage of clean and drinking water, food, and medicines,” the partner wrote.

As the flood swept into villages, people ran for their lives, leaving possessions and even other family members behind, the partner reported. When survivors returned to see who was left in need of rescue, they saw many people trapped in their houses and on trees, crying “Save us! Save us!”

“Unfortunately, we could not save them because we were helpless,” the partner wrote. “Slowly, slowly, many people washed away in the flood in front of our eyes. ... People were drowning in the water and some of their houses were collapsed on them. After two days, some people arranged boats, then we start to rescue the people who were alive in the water.”
The ministry partner reported seeing “hundreds and hundreds” of dead bodies in the water.

“It seems to us very dreadful, then we saved around 600 men and 425 women with their children,” the partner said. “Our team leaders decided to find one local village leader to discuss how to find a better way to help the people. The workers found the local village leader and introduced themselves. They told him about their idea how to help with his people.”

When the village leader agreed with their plan, the workers asked him to provide some people from the village to help. A total of 460 men responded, and they were immediately given training in the rudiments of disaster relief.

Food and shelter are huge needs right now, with tents in short supply, Horton said. Southern Baptist relief workers are exploring other options for shelter, such as providing materials for construction of temporary shelters. They also are exploring ways to help people restore their crops and livestock.

One team reported distributing packets of relief supplies and water to flood survivors at a hospital and feeding prepared food to 300 families, Horton noted. A soldier accompanying the team told them, “You guys are the only ones around here who are doing distribution properly.”

While reports indicated the flow rate of flooded rivers have slowed, the flood crest is expected to hit lower Sindh province about Aug. 21, Horton said.

Horton noted several ways relief workers have suggested people can pray for the effort:

– That the Lord would “bless our five loaves and two fishes to feed the multitude” and “make our receipts balance to our requests.”

– That tensions between the government and militants in flooded areas would not inhibit relief work.

– That national partners would have the energy they need and get needed rest.

– That workers will be able to effectively get help to many who need it.

– That relief teams would have continued good relations with authorities.

– That Southern Baptist relief workers would have safe travel and make good decisions about what to do to help the most.

8/20/2010 8:43:00 AM by Mark Kelly | with 0 comments

IMB explores evangelism with international groups

August 19 2010 by Baptist Press

PRAGUE — “We thought this would take years to develop, this concept of the internationalization of missions,” said Gordon Fort, vice president of the International Mission Board’s (IMB) office of global strategy. But it’s apparent “that God has already been doing stuff that we had no idea about,” Fort said, “and we’re just beginning to get in on it.”

Fort spoke of the internationalization of missions — Christians all over the globe sending their own missionaries into other countries to share the Gospel — at the European National Partners in Mission Sending Consultation in Prague, Czech Republic, earlier this summer.

Leaders from the International Mission Board joined missionary-sending organizations from Romania, Germany and Panama. Also participating in the discussions on global evangelization were representatives from the College of Theology and Education in Moldova and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

IMB photo

Mark Edworthy, strategist for the International Mission Board’s European Peoples Affinity Group, addresses a meeting in Prague, Czech Republic, in which Baptists from several countries explored the internationalization of missions.

During the conference, leaders forged partnerships and shared their struggles and victories in sending cross-cultural missionaries — people from all nations, to all nations to share Christ.

Those from Central and Eastern Europe spoke about their struggles with churches that still operate under a communist-era mentality. Some shared stories of traveling to more than 300 churches, urging pastors to embrace a focus on missions. Others emphasized the urgency of sending missionaries to unreached people groups in Central and South Asia. The leaders shared ideas and needs, pinpointing ways they could assist each other.

“When I see the pictures and I hear the testimonies, I know that we are sharing lots of things, even though we are so far (away from one another) and have different contexts,” said Carlos Gomez, leader of PAAM, a Panamanian missions organization. “We have the same challenges. We find problems with money issues (and) churches with no missionary culture. But overall the main challenge we have is to go back to the Word of God. What were we created for?”

While these international missionary-sending organizations are growing, sending dozens of cross-cultural missionaries annually, they are still relatively young. Throughout the meeting, the 164-year-old IMB provided insight on evangelical strategy, missionary training and equipping.

“This might be the greatest contribution the IMB can make to global evangelization — more than anything we’ve ever done,” Fort said.

IMB strategist Scott Holste shared research showing missions leaders the urgency of sending missionaries to countries without any evangelical presence.

“If you take all the missionaries in the world ... only three out of 100 are working with these least reached people groups of the world ... so we’ve got to partner together,” Holste said. “We’ve got to get the whole church involved.”

Fort said, “We have sensed that God is really stirring the church locally in this generation. And we have felt that perhaps the greatest contribution we can make to global evangelization is making it possible for those last peoples who have not heard.”
8/19/2010 11:10:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Facebook fast’ emphasizes relationships

August 19 2010 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A church near Houston is leading a National Facebook Fast, calling on people to refrain from using social media for one day, Wednesday, Aug. 25, and instead to focus on building face-to-face relationships.

Kerry Shook, pastor of the Woodlands Church in Texas, and his wife Chris are challenging people to disconnect from Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, cell phones and even computers for one day in order to focus on the lost art of personal communication.

“We aren’t bashing technology; we’re simply issuing a challenge for participants to take one day, set it aside and act intentionally in their relationships,” the Shooks said in a news release. “For one day we’re getting back to the basics and we’re inviting everyone around the nation to do the same. If you have to rely on these methods for schoolwork or business, of course do so, but outside of that, get unplugged.”

Modern communication, the Shooks said, too often becomes a complete substitute for sitting down and spending time with people, which is vital for building deep relationships. The popularity of social media has led to a misperception that relationships can be managed from a distance, they said.

“We’re forgetting the amazing power of connection found in looking into someone’s eyes, giving them our undivided attention, sensing their body language and being in their space,” the couple said. “Or the transformative effect of an embrace, a handshake or a hand on someone’s shoulder. As much as we want to tell ourselves otherwise, rewarding and healthy relationships take time and effort.”

The Shooks recommend that on Aug. 25 people meet with a friend for face-to-face conversation, plan a family dinner night with no electronic devices to interrupt, get acquainted with a neighbor, take a meal to a shut-in, visit someone in the hospital or mail a handwritten note.

For many Americans, it is easy to live through nearly an entire day looking at the world through glass: the glass of a windshield, the glass of a television, the glass of a computer monitor and the glass of a cell phone, said Don Whitney, associate professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Despite the incredible benefits of these technologies and their abilities to help us connect with people, they can also hinder our relationships and our spiritual health, much as food is a blessing and yet too much of it becomes harmful,” Whitney, author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, said.

Even in the New Testament, before the advancement of technology, Whitney noted, the Apostle John knew some things were better said in person than by letter.

“He was willing to delay telling them until he could communicate it while looking them in the eye: ’I have many things to write you, but I don’t want to write to you with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face’ (3 John 13-14; and note that he also repeated this statement virtually word-for-word to his readers in 2 John 12),” Whitney said in an e-mail.

“There’s a timelessness in that example that we don’t want to lose, regardless of how sophisticated our communication technology becomes.

“Let’s also remember that God has given us an example of the importance of incarnate communication. He didn’t just speak to us with a disembodied voice from heaven or send us a written message in the Bible, as perfect and irreplaceable as the infinite treasure of Scripture is,” Whitney said.

“Rather He came to us in the flesh — in person. And by doing so God accomplished for us through His Son Jesus, what written words alone could never do.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.)  
8/19/2010 11:08:00 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Age-old Amish experience a 21st century boom

August 19 2010 by David Warner, Religion News Service

ELIZABETHVILLE, Pa. — Paul “Chubby” Chubb cranks up the engine of his big Dodge pickup and sets off on his daily rounds, running errands for the Amish, taking them shopping, delivering goods and making friends along the way.

“People like them here,” Chubby, 82, said of the Amish. “If people have a bad word, they are to blame.”

Chubby figures there are about eight people in the area who do what he does — driving the Amish around for a fee, called “taxis” in the local parlance. A day riding around the Lykens Valley with Chubby provides rare glimpses of Amish life.

This rural hamlet is a microcosm of an Amish population boom that has soared nationally by 84 percent, from 1992 to 2008. The Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College reports that the population has been doubling every 20 years because of large family sizes and a retention rate of around 90 percent.

While more Amish residents move out of Pennsylvania than those who move in, the state’s Amish population nonetheless leapt by nearly 82 percent in that same period, according to revised figures from the Young Center.

The study estimates that Pennsylvania now has 59,500 Amish residents, up from 56,500 two years ago and only 32,700 in 1992. That works out to a 4.3 percent increase in the last year. The center estimates the national Amish population to total 240,000. The study measures people who meet two key criteria for being Amish — they have to use a horse and buggy for transportation, and they have to speak Pennsylvania German. That leaves out some more liberal groups, like Mennonites, who drive cars.

While the notion of a pastoral population of farmers living off the land is ingrained in popular culture, only about 40 percent of the Amish make their living by farming, according to Donald Kraybill, senior fellow at the Young Center at Elizabethtown.

The other 60 percent work in construction, building sheds, or other trades.

That sounded about right to a 29-year-old Amish roofer who grabbed a snack at Koppy’s, a convenience store and gas station in the middle of Elizabethville.  In keeping with Amish custom, he declined to allow his name to be used in the newspaper.

The man said he had never been a farmer, and lives on a half-acre property near town with his family — “three beautiful girls, four including my wife.”

“This is the way I grew up,” he said of his job, “My dad was a carpenter.”

Chubby’s first mission of the day is to drive an Amish farmer several miles to a lumber store to pick up a big box of screws and other supplies. The farmer, 32, and a father of five, is building an extension on his barn for his Holstein herd, which grazes on the 120-acre farm.

RNS photo by Sean Simmers/The Patriot-News

An Amish farmer, who in keeping with Amish custom did not give his name, works his land in Pennsylvania’s Lykens Valley in his buggy. A recent study has shown that the Amish population has doubled in the past 20 years.

The conversation centers on crops and the weather. Chubby notes that the corn along the rural road is beginning to look brown. The young farmer reports, with some hope, that there’s a 30 percent chance of rain on this day.

The farmer says he’s happy to be in Lykens Valley, where his family moved in 1990 in part because there are no “gawking tourists trying to take my picture all the time.”

Kraybill, in his book called The Riddle of Amish Culture, explains the photo ban this way: “The well-known Amish taboo against personal photographs is legitimated by a biblical command: ‘You shall not make for yourself a graven image or likeness of anything.”

Chubby, who knows every turn and bump in the rural lanes and roads, said he can think of only two “English” farmers left in the valley.

“It’s a tough way to make a living,” the young farmer said.

Local Amish estimate that good farmland went for about $1,000 an acre when the Amish influx began in 1978. Today, good farmland would is closer to $6,000 per acre — still cheaper than Lancaster County, the picturesque Amish heartland and tourist Mecca.

The Amish influx has been a mixed blessing, said life-long resident Robin Straub, who owns an insurance agency in Elizabethville. The Amish will preserve the area’s agricultural character, he said, which is good.

But the Amish also don’t pay worker’s compensation, which gives them an unfair advantage over “English” contractors, he said.

Chubby stops for a chat with an Amish woman who runs a bakery business, shipping some of her work to Philadelphia markets. All kinds of bread and pies are cooked with propane fuel and mixed with a compressed air mixer.

As she talks, her household laundry sways in the hot breeze over the heads of two steers destined to become part of the family’s food supply.

“There are a lot that have another business besides farming,” she said. “Farming is not as profitable as it was at one time.”

Later he pays a social visit on an Amish farmer who also runs a small welding business in one of his barns. So why are so many Amish doing other things?

“They need more money to live and farming does not pay now,” the man said, blaming years of low milk prices as part of the problem.

A housewife a short distance away said farms are usually inherited by the oldest son, leaving his siblings to find other work. The woman’s husband is a machinist, she said, and likes his job.

But, she added, “we would love to farm.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Warner writes for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa.)
8/19/2010 11:03:00 AM by David Warner, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Sowers to lead Great Commission Partnerships

August 18 2010 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

Mike Sowers has been tapped as Senior Consultant for the newly created Office of Great Commission Partnerships (GCP) for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC). Sowers, who for the past three years served as youth missions consultant for North Carolina Baptist Men, begins Sept. 1.

The BSC Executive Committee approved creating the new office at its July 15 meeting in Cary.

When the BSC began a partnership with the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association earlier this year Sowers was asked to serve as coordinator of the new partnership, which he will continue to do in his new position. Sowers is looking forward to continuing efforts necessary to fulfill the projects previously identified in the partnership and expanding in strategic ways this unique partnership between the BSC and the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association. The New York partnership is one of five current BSC partnerships to which Sowers will give oversight, the others including Appalachian Regional Ministry, Eastern Canada, New England and Thailand.

Before joining N.C. Baptist Men, Sowers served five and a half years as pastor of Hope Mills Baptist Church in Hope Mills. Prior to that he served as youth pastor for three years at Guilford Baptist Church in Greensboro.

During the time at Guilford the Lord began burdening Sowers’ heart for missions and for helping get others, especially youth, plugged into missions. Sowers developed a three-year missions strategy for the youth at Guilford, culminating in an international mission trip to Honduras with Deep Impact.

Deep Impact, sponsored by N.C. Baptist Men, is a week of missions involvement and worship for middle and high school students. As youth missions consultant Sowers was responsible for leading and developing these mission weeks. In the past three years Deep Impact added more mission weeks at more locations across the state. “Deep Impact is an important part of introducing students to missions and to what God is doing in their community and in the world,” Sowers said.

As pastor of Hope Mills, Sowers had opportunity to not just encourage teenagers in missions, but to lead a congregation on a journey of discovering what it means to truly live with a missional mindset. Situated in a town transforming from a mill village into a commuter town for Fort Bragg, Sowers and the congregation set out on a two and a half year process of revisioning how to be more effective in reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sowers helped point the congregation to the Scriptures as they sought to answer the question, “What does it mean to be the church of Jesus Christ?”

The congregation stepped up its involvement in local missions, starting a homeless ministry that continues to increase in influence. They began serving in national and international missions.

“We developed a comprehensive missions strategy,” Sowers said. “You can’t just go on a mission trip or give to missions or pray about missions. There needs to be a comprehensive strategy that encompasses all of that if the DNA of the church is going to change.”

As a former pastor, Sowers can relate to the challenges pastors face when it comes to figuring out the needs in their community and developing a missional strategy for the community and the church. In his new role, reaching out to pastors will be a priority for Sowers. His goal is to help pastors become missions strategists who lead congregations in local, national and international missions.

Another area of development Sowers will focus on is training young leaders in what it means to be intentional in missions and missions leadership.

“I have seen the urgency people have to do missions and to make a difference, but they do not always have the tools they need,” Sowers said. “The Office of Great Commission Partnerships will seek to help equip North Carolina Baptists for missions and to introduce new ways of engaging in missions.”

Sowers received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and his master of divinity from Campbell University. Sowers and his wife Sara have two children, Andrew, 13 and Luke, 10.  
8/18/2010 6:43:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 2 comments

Office focuses on strategy, missional leadership

August 18 2010 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

In the coming weeks the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) begins an effort to help local churches develop a missions strategy that connects them locally and globally for effective, long-term impact ministry. To do this, the Office of Great Commission Partnerships (GCP) will focus on creating global impact networks, developing young leaders and equipping pastors as missions strategists.  

The BSC Executive Committee approved formation of the new office during its July 15 meeting in Cary. Mike Sowers, who has served with North Carolina Baptist Men since 2007 as youth missions consultant, has been named senior consultant for the Office of Great Commission Partnerships.

“Six billion people in the world do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s easy to see that as an overwhelming, unobtainable goal,” Sowers said. “I see it as opportunity, and our Great Commission partnerships as opportunities to help North Carolina Baptist churches start reaching people here and around the world.”

The Office of Great Commission Partnerships will work toward helping churches understand the importance of creating a holistic, comprehensive missions strategy. “Such a strategy is one that helps create a missional DNA in the local church so that missions extends beyond short term involvement. An effective missional strategy creates the urgency of radical commitment to penetrating lostness in the nations of the world, North America and North Carolina with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Sowers said.

Outlining a comprehensive missions strategy helps a church focus on the purpose of missions.

“We need a strategy because we need vision,” Sowers said. “We want North Carolina Baptists to invest their energy into a vision they create that will ultimately result in an ongoing missions mindset for the entire church.”

A major factor in determining where the BSC will establish future partnerships is whether or not the area is unreached or underserved. Unreached areas, those essentially void of any evangelical witness, and underserved areas, those with a limited access to the Gospel due to a lack of healthy sustainable churches, are top on the partnership priority list.

Sowers hopes churches will gain a greater sense of responsibility for missions as they develop a missions strategy. “We tend to pass off the responsibility of the Great Commission to someone else. When Jesus stood on the mountain and said ‘Go’ He commissioned everyone, the individual and the church,” Sowers said. “We cannot pass the ball to a state convention or national entity to do the work for the church. But it is our role as a Convention to help equip people to live out the Great Commission.”  

N.C. Baptist Men and Great Commission Partnerships
BSC partnerships, formerly under the supervision and coordination of Richard Brunson, who also serves as Executive Director of North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM), will now be managed through the Office of Great Commission Partnerships. Because Brunson has led both efforts, there has been an almost synonymous view of NCBM and BSC partnerships. In order for mission partnerships to continue effective growth and expansion, Brunson and Chuck Register, Executive Leader for Church Planting and Missions Development, agreed that a restructuring needed to take place.

NCBM will still continue their work in partnership missions, involving a wide array of mission projects, just as they have for nearly 30 years. NCBM coordinate partnerships domestically, such as Pennsylvania, Vermont and the recent coalfields ministry in the Appalachian region. They also coordinate partnerships around the world, such as Honduras, Ukraine, Armenia and Kenya.

The partnership in India has resulted in 500 wells being provided to villages with no access to clean drinking water. So far this year about 350 volunteers have served in Haiti, a partnership that will continue for several more years.

In 2011, a partnership will begin in Guatemala. Richard Brunson, NCBM Executive Director, said Guatemala is just one of the new partnerships N.C. Baptist Men looks to start in the next few years.

Brunson described the NCBM approach to partnership missions as project-driven. “Most people learn by doing. We believe you start with doing - you don’t start with education. If you can get people personally involved in missions it will change their lives,” Brunson said. “Then they will want to learn about missions and give to missions and pray about missions.”

The project-driven approach provides that opportunity for an individual to see firsthand what missions is about. “You have to start with their heart,” Brunson said. “That starts with the project.”

Brunson said the strategy-driven approach of the GCP office will be a great resource for pastors who want to be a missions strategist in their church. However, Brunson said he understands that not all pastors have the time to invest in this type of strategy, nor do they feel comfortable taking on this type of role. For those pastors, NCBM will continue helping them find ways to get involved in missions through mission projects at home and around the world.

NCBM and the GCP office are not attempting to duplicate their mission efforts. Both the project and strategy approach are necessary when it comes to helping North Carolina Baptists be as effective in ministry as possible. The new office will serve as a means of expansion for both approaches, giving more North Carolina Baptists more opportunities than ever before to be on mission.

“As a local church begins to develop a missions strategy, key projects will need to be addressed, and we will look to NCBM for input in that area,” Sowers said.  

Global Impact Networks
Foundational to the Office of Great Commission Partnerships is developing Global Impact Networks. “These networks will serve as points of connection for local congregations to partner with other congregations, the BSC, the North American Mission Board (NAMB), International Mission Board (IMB) and other evangelical groups,” Sowers said. “We are doing so much work independently of one another and independently of entities like NAMB and the IMB. If we can begin to coordinate our efforts and work together we stand a greater chance of having a long-lasting, global impact.”

GCP wants to hear from North Carolina Baptists about where they are serving and where they want to serve. Sowers is planning several interest meetings across the state for anyone interesting in Global Impact Networks. More information about the meetings will be posted soon at the Convention’s web site.

Prior to the Convention’s annual meeting in November a web page will be available at the Convention’s web site for North Carolina Baptists to submit information about their current mission efforts and vision for future mission partnerships. The GCP office will then use this information to help connect congregations.  

Next Generation Leadership Development
GCP is also developing a three-year plan to help high school students become the next generation of mission leaders. 

Each year, beginning in fall 2011, 20 North Carolina Baptist students will begin a missional journey that will involve: teaching from pastors, missionaries and mission strategists, interactive web-based discussion and accountability groups; and a hands-on summer missions experience with church planters, urban strategists and missionaries serving in unreached and underserved areas of the nations.

“Jesus taught the masses, but He mentored in a smaller group. We want to get serious about discipling students. If we don’t, teenagers may hear about Jesus and go on a mission trip, but they won’t really understand their part in the Great Commission or be equipped to fulfill it,” Sowers said.

In the first year of the Next Generation Missional Journey students will learn about the responsibility of the Great Commission and church planting and spend the summer serving in North Carolina. The second year focuses on North America and the underserved, the third year on the unreached and the ends of the earth.  

Pastors as Missions Strategists
Another component of GCP is developing local church pastors as missions strategists. Sowers said a missions strategist is one who can “read the spiritual landscape of the community and then develop a strategic plan to reach underserved/unreached in that specific community, as well as in the state, nation and world.”

Todd Marlow, pastor of Westmoreland Baptist Church in Charlotte and chair of the BSC Church Planting and Missions Development Committee, said this component has the potential to greatly benefit pastors as they figure out how to be on mission in their community. “One of the things that is lacking in churches is the emphasis on being an Acts 1:8 church. We often forget our mission field in our own Jerusalem,” he said.  

When to get out
Included in a holistic strategy are well-defined, measurable goals, which provide a good measuring stick for signaling when it is time to end one partnership and begin another. GCP will assist churches in learning how to define their goals and how to plan an exit strategy when it comes to various partnerships in which they participate.

Mark Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, said coming up with an exit strategy has been one of the biggest challenges for his congregation. “You feel a certain sense of responsibility in starting something and then can’t let it go,” he said. Yet, partnerships should aim to bring about a change that “reproduces itself,” Harris said, meaning leaders in the state or country where the partnership takes place are trained and equipped to carry on the ministry themselves.

Without an exit strategy people become dependent on partnerships and are not prepared to multiply ministry where they are. “Partnerships are just the catalyst for the work,” Sowers said.

For more information about the Office of Great Commission Partnerships contact Sowers at or (800) 395-5102.
8/18/2010 6:36:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Study: Religious hospitals provide better care

August 17 2010 by Daniel Burke, Religion News Service

Catholic and other church-run health care systems in the U.S. are more efficient and provide higher quality care than their secular counterparts, according to a new Thomson Reuters study.

The study looked at 255 health care systems and found that Catholic and other church-owned systems are "significantly more likely to provide higher quality care and efficiency" than both investor-owned and nonprofit health systems.

There was no statistical difference between Catholic and other church-run health systems, according to the study, which built on information gleaned from Reuters’ “Top 100 Hospitals” report.

“Our data suggest that the leadership teams ... of health systems owned by churches may be the most active in aligning quality goals and monitoring achievement across the system,” the report stated.

The report was short on specific reasons for religious hospitals’ success, saying that further study will be required to understand the differences. The performance measures included mortality rates, the number of medical complications, readmission rates, lengths of stay, profitability, and other factors.

The Catholic church in the U.S. runs 624 hospitals and 499 long-term health care facilities, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“When your mission is rooted in Jesus who healed the sick, only top quality care will do,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops. “This study confirms what many take for granted. The church leads in providing quality health care efficiently.”

Thomson Reuters provides “information solutions” and data to businesses and executives in the health care, finance, legal and media industries.  
8/17/2010 8:08:00 AM by Daniel Burke, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Atheists fight for ‘right’ to blaspheme religion

August 17 2010 by Alfredo Garcia, Religion News Service

The Amherst, N.Y.-based Center for Inquiry (CFI) has changed the name of its International Blasphemy Day to International Blasphemy Rights Day in a bid to show that organizers are not interested in “mocking religion” for its own sake.

CFI representatives said the name change better describes the purpose of the event amidst criticism received after last year’s inaugural events.

“There was a lot of controversy last year that we were doing what we were doing simply in the interest of mocking religion,” said CFI Spokesman Nathan Bupp. “That, indeed, is not the case.”

CFI bills itself as “an institution devoted to promoting science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.”

International Blasphemy Rights Day  is part of a larger, national campaign by CFI for freedom of expression.

The name change is meant to “emphasize the important connection that we think there is between blasphemy and the right to free speech,” said Ronald Lindsay, president and CEO of CFI. Lindsay said some critics “interpreted blasphemy in its crudest form” but “blasphemy is a wider concept than that.”

Although many people scoffed at last year’s campaign, he said, the center believes religion is not, and should not be, immune from criticism.

“Religious beliefs should be on the same level of political beliefs,” Lindsay said.

This year’s events are scheduled for Sept. 30, the fifth anniversary of the publication of 12 cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper. It will also come about three weeks after a church in Gainesville, Fla., is scheduled to hosts its inaugural “Burn a Quran Day.”

Although Lindsay said he would “defend the right of individuals to engage in an event like that,” he personally thinks it is “an inappropriate event.”

“We would certainly not condone the burning of the Quran. In fact, we believe it should be studied critically.” Lindsay emphasized that CFI’s goal is to criticize the belief, not the believer. “Blasphemy is often, unfortunately, associated with crude criticism of believers. But our focus is on looking at the beliefs,” he said.
8/17/2010 8:07:00 AM by Alfredo Garcia, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Wingate: Two killed, three hurt in accident

August 16 2010 by wire reports

Two students attending an academic enrichment program for incoming freshmen at Wingate University were killed Aug. 14 in a Union County car accident.

The students were in a caravan to a nearby team-building course.

According to the Charlotte Observer, Trooper R.L. Lankford said a Saturn being driven by Mishawn Miller, 18, of Fayetteville, ran a stop sign at White Store Road about 9 a.m. and was struck on the driver’s side by a grain truck. Miller and Arielle Parker, 18, of Greensboro, who was sitting on the right side of the back seat, were killed on impact.

Marcelle Louba, 18, a Mallard Creek graduate from Charlotte, was sitting behind the driver. She was in critical but stable condition at Carolinas Medical Center.

Kendric Reid, 19, of Greencastle, Pa., was in the front passenger seat. He was treated at the hospital for minor injuries. All four were wearing seat belts.

The driver of the grain truck, 52-year-old Carlton Watkins, of Ellberbe, was also treated for minor injuries. Lankford said alcohol and drugs didn’t seem to be a factor in the crash.

“A witness there said the Saturn never slowed down,” Lankford said. “The driver of the grain truck said he didn’t see him until it was too late.”

Wingate spokeswoman Jennifer Gaskins said the program was new to the university this year. Aimed at helping incoming freshmen adjust to college life, the 21 students that arrived Aug. 1 had become close friends.

“Right now all of our prayers and support are focused upon the families and the classmates of these students,” Wingate University President Jerry McGee said in a statement. “This is heartbreaking news as these promising young men and women were and are new members of our campus family.”

The rest of the student body begins moving in Friday, and classes begin Aug. 24. University officials met with other members of the group on Saturday, Gaskins said.

“We're just very saddened and just doing everything we can to support the students,” Gaskins said. “We have not had a tragedy like this since I can remember.”

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8/16/2010 6:18:00 AM by wire reports | with 0 comments

IMB, NAMB seek prayer for leader searches

August 16 2010 by Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. — As the Southern Baptist Convention’s two mission boards continue their respective searches for presidents, they are asking Southern Baptists to set aside Saturday, Aug. 28, as a day of prayer and fasting to ask God to direct the entities’ paths.

Officials with the International Mission Board (IMB) and North American Mission Board (NAMB) said they are making progress in their searches for the two men who will oversee their organizations. Each has interim presidents in place — Clyde Meador for IMB and Richard Harris for NAMB.

Spokesmen for the organizations declined to pinpoint any timetable for their presidential selections but noted they are entering important phases in the process.

“This is a critical moment for these two organizations,” said IMB presidential search committee chairman Jimmy Pritchard.

“It is a critical time for our convention as we find God’s man for IMB and (the right man for) NAMB.”

Pritchard said there’s nothing special about Aug. 28 other than it is “always a good time to ask God to speak clearly about who is His choice.

“The search has gone well, and we’re making some good progress … we’ve met with a number of quality men,” added Pritchard, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Forney, Texas, who oversees IMB’s 15-member search committee. “Of course our timetable would have been to already have made that selection, but we’d rather be correct than quick.”

Mike Ebert, communications team leader for NAMB, added that its search committee is “getting close” and hopes to have a decision in the near future.

IMB trustees will meet Sept. 14-15 in Tampa, Fla., while NAMB’s next full board meeting will be Oct. 19-20 in Los Angeles.

“We are excited about joining with our IMB brothers and sisters for a much needed and timely prayer emphasis,” Ebert said. “There’s no better way to demonstrate cooperation and partnership with IMB than to join our hearts in prayer in this way.”
8/16/2010 6:17:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 1 comments

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