August 2010

Ed Yount offers second year to N.C. Baptists

August 10 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

When Ed Yount said in May that he was willing to serve a second term as president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) if messengers saw fit to elect him again in November, “serve” was the most significant word in his announcement.

Yount, 55, serves North Carolina Baptists with a glad and humble heart. Woodlawn Baptist Church in Conover, which he has led as pastor since July 1993, expects him in the pulpit on Sundays, but they are proud for him to serve the broader Baptist body.

“Woodlawn is one of the best churches you could ever hope to have the privilege to serve,” Yount said of his congregation in an interview in his small and unpretentious office. “I’ve been blessed everywhere I’ve been with good people, but these people are exceptional. They love Jesus, are missions minded and they love each other.”

Before being elected as BSC president in November 2009, Young was first vice-president. He was on the BSC Executive Committee and chaired the important Giving Plans Study Committee that recommended a return to a single Cooperative Program giving plan. He has been a trustee for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, and chairman of the BSC Mission Growth Evangelism Committee.

He chaired the executive director-treasurer installation committee for his friend and fellow area pastor Milton A. Hollifield Jr. in 2006. He has been on the Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute board, moderator of Catawba Valley Baptist Association and adjunct religion instructor at Catawba Valley Community College.

And for the past 18 years, he’s been doing it all from his hometown.

James Edwin Yount grew up in nearby Hickory and attended the local Lenoir-Rhyne University. He also is an MDiv graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a DMin grad from Southern Seminary. His parents still live about 10 miles away and are members of his church.

Yount’s home church is Temple Baptist in Hickory, where he was saved and where he met his wife. When Tanya walked in as a Lenoir-Rhyne student, Yount took one look and “I just knew she was the one.”

Yount had carried a card in his wallet from age 16 on which he’d written the characteristics of the wife he wanted. When Tanya walked into his sight, “I got the impression from God that this was the woman I’d been praying for.”

Tanya too, is local, growing up in the tiny town of Cranberry, near Wilkesboro. Yount was in community college when they met, and they married within a year, on Aug. 18, 1979.

Yount worked several years after high school in the textile plant his dad managed 50 years, and went to school part time. Textiles are gone now and unemployment in Catawba County is among the highest in the state.

Several years ago Woodlawn members voted to give $500 to every church family in which the main breadwinner had lost his or her job.  

Growing pains
When Yount came to Woodlawn the church was struggling with attendance of about 160 meeting in a new auditorium built for unrealized growth that seated 900. Today two services have a total attendance of 1,000.

“I’ve been part of something the Lord has done and it’s been a beautiful thing to watch,” Yount said with typical humility.

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Ed Yount

Despite the poor economy in Catawba County, Woodlawn continues to plan for an enlarged future, buying the abandoned Ford distributorship next door potentially for education and youth space, and an administrative wing that will allow sanctuary expansion.

Surveying the possibilities, Yount doesn’t see a county with a vanished jobs base and discouraged populace. Instead he sees 50,000 unchurched people within five miles of his church, Yount grew up expecting to be a teacher and coach. At 6-6 he was an active high school athlete, but as a college senior, “God began to press upon my heart the call to ministry.”

His first ministry role was as youth minister at Central Baptist Church, where he worked and attended Southeastern Seminary. He eventually was called to the ironically named Millstone Baptist Church in Halifax, Va., where “very gracious people, loving people” taught him how to be a pastor and let him make mistakes.

He then went as pastor to Alexis Baptist Church in Gaston County. Hollifield was pastor of First Baptist Stanley at the time and the churches joined hands to plant Lucia Baptist Church.

After six and a half years at Alexis, Yount was called to Cornerstone Baptist in Greensboro, a church start out of Lawndale in Greensboro, where he saw significant growth in two and a half years before returning to his home area and to Woodlawn.

Ed and Tanya’s children are both involved in vocational ministry. Amber is married to Josh Benge, pastor of Harris Chapel in Hudson. Eddie is pastor of Mount Hebron in Taylorsville.

Benge is the son of Alvin Benge, one of Yount’s boyhood friends and deacon chair at Woodlawn. Ed and Alvin’s moms worked together and later, Josh and Amber were born on the same day at Fry Hospital.

“I’ve thanked God many times for being able to minister in my home town,” Yount said.  

Service rewarding
Yount said he found his first year as BSC president “extremely positive and very rewarding.”

Meeting people across the state makes him “grateful to be a North Carolina Baptist,” he said. “We have some committed men and women to the Lord Jesus. They love Him and serve Him. I’ve seen a lot of that.”

Second, as so often happens, full immersion into the extensive work North Carolina Baptists accomplish together through ministries supported through the Cooperative Program has revealed “the dynamic inner workings of the Convention.”

“The Baptist State Convention has great staff,” Yount said. “They are men and women of excellence and dedication. North Carolina Baptists can be very proud of the people who serve us. They are a great resource to the local church.”

Few things have surprised Yount during his first year in office. He’s always believed “North Carolina Baptists were a people committed to Christ and to the Church and that’s exactly what I’ve found.”

If re-elected Yount said he wants to “be available” and to help in any way he can. He’s worked with South Carolina President Fred Stone in meeting with next generation pastors from both states. “They have a lot to offer” and share “an eagerness to serve” Yount said.

Unlike many wearied by rigorous travel schedules, Yount said he finds his “kind of energizing.”

He exercises regularly on a stationary bike each morning and tries to walk for a half hour most days. He reads devotionally while on the bike.

Don’t ask Yount for the inside scoop on any denominational controversy or for the skinny on any of the players.

He won’t be much help.

“I don’t hear a lot of stuff because I just don’t do those kinds of things,” he said. “I do think it is a time of transition for our Convention nationally. Anytime there is a refocusing or transition time, there will be growth pains.”

Within North Carolina, Yount said he “hears good vibes” wherever he goes and said people “are very positive.”
8/10/2010 9:30:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 2 comments

North African believers pay heavy price for faith

August 10 2010 by Don Graham, Baptist Press

NORTH AFRICA — Ibrahim* wasn’t ready to die. He wasn’t ready to back down either.

For months, Islamic authorities had ignored the tiny house church he started with a handful of former Muslims in a dusty, desolate village on the outskirts of town. But the 26-year-old Arab farmer’s brazen evangelism had become a problem. The church was growing, and it was now turning too many heads and winning too many souls for authorities to overlook. Today, they’d come to end it.

Ibrahim’s eyes scanned the mob of about 20 men, led by the village’s chief, Karim,* sent to confront him. Ibrahim recognized many of their faces. They were his neighbors, even friends.

Now as Karim’s hired thugs, Ibrahim saw only hatred in their eyes. Armed with knives, machetes, spears and guns, the men stood ready to kill if necessary.

Acting on Karim’s orders, the mob had already trashed the round kuzi (coo-zee) where Ibrahim and the other believers met for church, ripping apart the hut’s thatch roof and smashing its mud-brick walls. Karim then turned his attention to a box of Bibles and study materials his men had taken from the church.

He was going to burn the Bibles. That’s when something inside Ibrahim snapped.                

Face off 
“We’re not going to let you burn those books,” Ibrahim exclaimed as he charged from the huddle of believers to face off with the chief. “You’ve become heretics in the way of Islam,” Karim shot back.

“You’ve become believers in Jesus. This would have been different if you kept it to yourself, but you’re telling other people, and I can’t allow that to happen.”  

As he argued with Karim, Ibrahim’s mind flashed to passages in the Bible where he’d read of the beheading of John the Baptist and the torture and crucifixion of Jesus. Ibrahim realized he wasn’t afraid. He was, however, tired of talking.

Ibrahim grabbed the box of Scriptures from Karim, walked briskly back to the believers and calmly stared down the mob.

“We were full of the Holy Spirit,” Ibrahim recounted. “We knew that if they threw a spear at us or stabbed us or shot us and we died, we would be in heaven.”

The mob yelled at them, but a physical confrontation did not occur. Ibrahim and the believers mounted horses, rode a triumphant lap around the village and took off.

The victory was short-lived.  

Witch hunt
Within days the believers were ordered to appear for trial before the town’s Islamic council.

They knew it would be a witch hunt, run by 80 of the area’s most powerful Muslim leaders. But the believers chose to go anyway. They weren’t ashamed of the hope they had in Christ and wanted everyone to know it.

“We’ve called you here to hold Islamic court over you,” explained the head imam, who presided over the council.

“How can you do that?” Ibrahim asked. “We’re not Muslims.”

For the next three days the council grilled the believers about their belief in Jesus, why they had left Islam and why they so fervently shared the gospel with anyone who would listen.

Some of the most incriminating evidence came when the imam produced a gospel cassette that Karim had managed to steal from the church. The imam played the tape, a condensed version of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, for the entire council to hear. Most people in the audience laughed. Ibrahim smiled knowingly.

“We’ve really made it big,” he whispered to one of the believers. “We’re actually evangelizing all of the major religious leaders in town because they’re listening to our tape.”

IMB photo

Karim,* center, the village chief who threatened to murder Ibrahim,* thanks the believers he once persecuted for installing a well that provides his village with clean water.

In the end, the trial boiled down to a single question: “Will you return to Islam?”

The believers’ answer was an unequivocal “no.” They immediately were banished from their village, the town and the entire county. To return was an automatic death sentence. Loudspeakers on the town’s mosques blared the believers’ names, publicly marking them as kuffar.

“It means you are absolutely worthless, an absolute heretic,” Chuck Castle,* a Southern Baptist doctor who runs a clinic in town, said. “You can’t get jobs, you can’t get married and no one will live with you. You are a complete outcast.” 

People were told not to meet, eat or drink with the believers. Worse, their marriages and children were now considered illegitimate. Even in death they would remain outcasts, the burial rights to their family cemeteries revoked. 

Eight years ago, it was Castle who led Ibrahim to the Lord and discipled him. But now, in a heartbreaking twist of circumstances, the doctor found himself helping Ibrahim leave the area.

He was the only friend who volunteered to drive Ibrahim to the desert so he wouldn’t have to make the 30-mile trek on foot. But taking his friend and church-planting partner to a place where he would be forced to live as a nomad is a painful memory, one that still brings tears to Castle’s eyes.

“There was nothing out there,” he said. “It’s extremely hard when people that you helped lead to Christ are persecuted and you can’t walk through that persecution with them. ... And you’re broken on their behalf. You’re also moved by the joy they show in evangelizing the very people that were persecuting them.”   

Barred from their homes, the believers and their families survived in ramshackle tents near the county border. Ibrahim’s son was only a few months old at the time, and with no source of clean water, day-to-day life under the blistering North African sun was brutal. But being outcasts did come with one advantage: They were free to worship God. And He didn’t forget them.

A year later they received a surprise letter from Karim granting them permission to return home.

There was no explanation, but Ibrahim didn’t need one. He knew God was giving them a new place to live just like He did for the Israelites after they wandered in the wilderness. Instead of moving back to their old village, the believers founded a new village a few miles away.

Now free from the fear of persecution, and living as the area’s first and only Christian community, the believers’ faith blossomed. But they soon realized they were missing something.

“God began to give us a vision to evangelize other peoples,” Ibrahim said. “No matter how far it was, we wanted to go to that place and tell people about Jesus.”

And they did. Today, church members estimate they’ve shared the gospel with more than 5,000 people. At least 90 have been baptized. Under Ibrahim’s leadership, the church itself has grown from a group of 10 to more than 25 and is focused on evangelizing three major tribes.   

Heaping coals 
What’s more, they’ve come full circle with the chief who once tried to destroy them. 

With the help of Castle and financial gifts from Southern Baptists, the church recently finished drilling a well at the village where the persecution began. The village’s women used to travel more than four hours round trip by donkey every day to get water. It wasn’t always clean and often made people sick.  

Capped wells cost about $4,000. Villagers managed to raise $1,000 and Southern Baptists paid the rest. Installed earlier this year, it’s literally giving new life to the village, keeping children healthy and bringing back families who had moved away because of the lack of water.

Karim is baffled by the church’s actions. It’s no small irony the well is located less than 100 yards from the site where his men ripped apart the believers’ hut. 

“Why have you done this for us?” the chief asked Ibrahim and a handful of believers on a recent visit.  

Amine,* one of the believers who was persecuted with Ibrahim, answered Karim with a Bible reference about loving others more than yourself.

Karim nodded in agreement and smiled at the men he once considered killing. Though there is a lot of work to be done before Karim and others in the village are ready to surrender their lives to Jesus, Ibrahim and Castle believe the well has done much to repair their relationship and demonstrate Christ’s love. 

“Every day I thank God for the well,” Karim said. “If you don’t have water, you can’t work, you can’t live. I’m very happy with Ibrahim and Amine for helping bring us this gift.”

*Names changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Graham writes for the International Mission Board.)
8/10/2010 9:21:00 AM by Don Graham, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Doctor orders Johnny Hunt to rest

August 9 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Under doctor’s orders Johnny Hunt, immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is taking an extended break from all responsibilities, according to an announcement made at First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga. Aug. 8, where he is pastor.

Church members were expecting his return Sunday from his annual July sabbatical, but Jim Law, senior associate pastor and administrator, said that “At the advice at several of us they sought the counsel of a professional who recommended an extended break from their routine.”

Law said Johnny and his wife, Janet, were both “physically and emotionally depleted” from caring for the large congregation and leading the Southern Baptist Convention the past two years.

“I know of no one else on the planet who has given himself away to others more than pastor Johnny,” said Law.

“Many people face physical and emotional weariness. This is especially in leaders’ lives and their families,” said Law, who then drew comparisons between the Hunts’ experience and the prophet Elijah.

He said Elijah’s life shows that “exhaustion often follows mountain top experiences” and it “often follows intense periods of stress and strain, which they’ve been under.”

He said the staff stands “in total support of the counsel they’ve received” and he urged all staff and church members not to attempt to communicate with the Hunts “in any way at this time.”

Although the Hunts’ condition will “continue to be monitored” Law said Hunt is expected to return to the pulpit Sept. 19, which would conclude a 10-week absence.    
8/9/2010 10:46:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 2 comments

Camp Betel: A miracle from God

August 9 2010 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS — Outside during play time, Cristian held both ends of the string and tried to make the green button spin around fast on the string. Most of the children got the hang of it and Christian did too, with a little help.

When a Deep Impact participant gently moved Cristian’s hands close to the left side of his face, up next to his left eye, his spinning got faster.

Cristian usually stood outside his house as the Deep Impact teams drove out from camp each day down the long windy road covered in so many bumps that even a seat belt didn’t do a thing to stop the rocking and swaying and jerking down the mountain.

At home Cristian didn’t wear his bandana, exposing the tumor that caused discoloration on his face, the right side of his face around the eye to swell and his right eye to remain shut. Regardless, with a little extra care, Cristian participated in the fun just as did the other children.

BSC photo by Melissa Lilley

Betsy Skinner, left, of Memorial Baptist Church in Williamston, plays with one of the children at Camp Betel. Deep Impact teams held Vacation Bible Schools, medical clinics and did construction. See photo gallery.

Cristian is one of about 30 children who attend a preschool hosted at Camp Betel and who came to a week of Vacation Bible School led by Deep Impact students and leaders.

The VBS at Betel was one of six mission projects during the weeklong mission trip in Tegucigalpa.

The children learned Bible stories and did arts and crafts. Perhaps some of the most fun they had all week came when the leaders made balloon animals.

Once the children discovered that rubbing their finger up and down on the balloon produced a loud squeaking sound they proceeded to keep it up the rest of the morning, laughing hysterically every time.

While one team led VBS, another team worked with the children’s mothers and grandmothers.

The mothers and grandmothers also heard Bible stories and did crafts, their project for the week being cross-stitching.

Although many of the ladies had never cross-stitched and learned for the first time, by the end of the week they arrived early to start work on their projects and worked until the children came by after VBS.

Some of the older ladies couldn’t see as well as the younger ladies, so they helped keep the babies entertained while the younger ladies cross-stitched their bookmarks.

Deep Impact is hoping the ladies can sell their bookmarks and use their new skill to earn money to help their families.

A Deep Impact construction team also worked at Camp Betel all week, hauling cinder blocks and sand and laying mezcala in order to build a new preschool building. The building replaces the current rundown building being used for children’s ministry and the feeding program run by Elva and Ignacio.

For two days a medical team set up a free clinic at Betel before moving to El Tablon.

The husband and wife team of Elva and Ignacio own and operate Camp Betel.

“It was a vision God gave us,” Elva said.

Twenty-six years ago they began the camp as a place to train pastors and leaders, and as a place for pastors to meet and fellowship.

Many pastors who come to retreats at Betel serve in areas where they are the only pastor and the loneliness can become hard to overcome.

Camp Betel is what it is because Elva and Ignacio practiced tremendous faith.

“We prayed,” Elva said very matter-of-factly, as if that’s all that was necessary for vision to become reality.

Within three months of deciding to buy the property, an anonymous donor from the United States gave Elva and Ignacio the money they needed.

Every other building on the property was built the same way — they prayed, God supplied donors and volunteers and funds.

“Everything we started here was out of nothing,” Elva said.

Camp Betel runs a feeding program for children and their mothers five days a week.

They also teach the children Bible stories, celebrate birthdays and teach good habits, such as saying “good morning” and washing their hands before they eat.

Elva also reaches out to the mothers on Mother’s Day by providing a food basket with basic items such as beans and sugar.

Elva and Ignacio and their son, Sonny, used to live in the city, but moved out to the rural area to be closer to the camp.

While Elva grew up in a Christian home, Ignacio did not. Ignacio lived with his grandmother awhile before turning to life on the streets. Eventually he moved in with his sister and her husband, who is a pastor.

In their home Ignacio learned about God and through the pastor’s mentoring God changed his heart and he came to know Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.

Ignacio enjoys working with the pastors who come to Betel.

Pastors and leaders often invite friends who are not believers and when they come to Betel, they hear the Word of God.

“When they come here, something happens,” Elva said. “That’s a blessing to us.”

Related stories
Camp Betel: A miracle from God
Grateful hearts worship in El Tablon
Honduran pastor leads charge to change community
Guest column: Reflections on Honduras
Medical team makes Deep Impact in Honduras
8/9/2010 10:36:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 1 comments

Grateful hearts worship in El Tablon

August 9 2010 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

EL TABLON, HONDURAS — Pastor Benjamin pulled the photo out from between the pages of his Bible and before he could flip to the next photo the Greenes were wiping away tears. Mike and Ginger’s daughter Stephanie is now a senior in college and she hardly recognized herself in the eight-year-old photo, back when the Greenes (now North Carolina Baptist Men on-site coordinators) worked with Deep Impact to build a building for Iglesia Bautista Restauracion. The building took several years to complete, but the congregation of about 45 has moved in and children, youth and adults gather together each Sunday to worship.

During the Deep Impact week in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, high school students, college students and youth leaders made the village of El Tablon and Restauracion church a focus of ministry. One team did Bible studies, games and crafts in a public school just down the street from the church and another team set up a free medical clinic at the church.

Pastor Benjamin remembers when the spot where the church building now sits was empty.

His dad was a member of the church that bought the property, which for 11 years sat abandoned. Finally, his dad helped lead the charge to get a ministry started in El Tablon. When Benjamin’s dad died last September, Benjamin stepped up to help lead the mission church.

BSC photo by Melissa Lilley

Mike, Ginger, and Stephanie Greene look at photos with Pastor Benjamin. The Greenes went to Honduras eight years ago to work on a church that is now open. They are on-site coordinators for North Carolina Baptist Men. See photo gallery.

Benjamin lived in Choluteca until age 18, when he moved to Tegucigalpa. His enjoys teaching the congregation and wants to help them learn that “it’s the job of everyone” to be on mission for God. Benjamin grew up in a Christian home and received Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior during a Vacation Bible School.

Several students at the school in El Tablon prayed to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior during the Vacation Bible School led by Deep Impact participants.

One day during the week the Bible study was about prayer and the team asked the students to write down specific prayer requests. Some students asked the team to pray that they would have food to eat. One student prayed for his dad to come home. Other students asked how they could know Jesus Christ.

The students at the school don’t have much. They give their full attention to simple crafts and coloring sheets because they rarely see them. Just listening to their excitement playing soccer and one would never know they were playing on a cement slab full of cracks with no nets for the soccer goals. The classrooms are simple, with white walls, exposed wooden beams, nothing for decoration except a few faded posters and a few vocabulary words, and no air-conditioning. One room didn’t have lights.

If the students mind, they certainly don’t show it. Nor does Benjamin’s congregation seem to mind worshipping in a building without pews, or a choir loft, or stained glass windows, or even a bathroom. None of that matters to them. They shout praises to God and worship as if this Sunday may be their last Sunday.

The church sits at the top of a hill, past the school with its thick black gate and wrought iron looking bars over all the windows. The road is dirt and gravel, the homes close to the school hardly looking like homes at all with their tin roofs and structures that seemed to be made out of whatever material people could find.

But the landscape is breathtaking. Walk around to the back of the church and as far as the eye can see are lush, rolling green mountaintops. Tegucigalpa sits in the bottom of a bowl with mountains on every side. On the way to the school, driving through curve after curve and looking down below at the brightly colored buildings, homes and mountains that seem to go on forever underneath the earth, it seems unfair for such extreme poverty to exist in the midst of such beauty.

Yet, pastor Benjamin and those who gather each week for worship in El Tablon bring a beauty to their village that may very well surpass the grandeur of the mountainous terrain. Brothers and sisters run and play together outside the church before service starts. An older woman sitting in the back of the church takes the hands of a child sitting next to her on her mother’s lap and helps her make the hand motions to the song.

A young girl makes her way up and down each row, shaking the hands of the Deep Impact team members joining them for worship. When the church begins the service singing “How Great is our God,” there is no doubt that they truly know what it means to rely on God for even the most basic needs — and they still proclaim how great is the Lord God.

Related stories
Camp Betel: A miracle from God
Grateful hearts worship in El Tablon
Honduran pastor leads charge to change community
Guest column: Reflections on Honduras
Medical team makes Deep Impact in Honduras
8/9/2010 10:30:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Honduran pastor leads charge to change community

August 9 2010 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

SAN MIGUEL, HONDURAS — “Let’s roll,” said pastor Oscar to the group of students and youth leaders gathered in front of Emmanuel Baptist Church with their hygiene kits. Oscar doesn’t waste any time when it comes to getting out in the community and ministering. Oscar is pastor of Emmanuel in San Miguel. San Miguel is a municipality in Francisco Marazan, one of 18 departments that divide the country of Honduras.

The municipality is extremely poor. Oscar said not until this year did the government start pouring cement onto some of the streets that were nothing but mud and dirt. Although the community is poor the people try to help raise funds for the work, and Emmanuel also pitches in with street repairs, street cleaning and trash pick up. Recently San Miguel has seen many cases of dengue fever, and Emmanuel members seek to reach out to those who are sick and to help with disease prevention.

As Oscar led the team from home to home passing out the hygiene kits the poverty of his community is undeniable. He pointed out a dirt patch where a house once stood before the river washed it away. One home sits just a few feet from the edge of a cliff, overlooking a river, with tarps spread out in front of the door in attempt to keep the heavy rains from coming inside. With much more rain, the little house itself has a good chance of being gone.

BSC photo by Melissa Lilley

Will Young (at left, in blue), Deep Impact summer staff, works with Carlos (in red), a translator, while they talk with Oscar, right, a pastor at a local Baptist church. See photo gallery.

Most homes the team entered consisted of one room and no electricity. Still, the houses felt like homes, as the families put pictures on the walls and had everything neat and tidy. The Hondurans are very hospitable people.

Even if the home is so small there’s no way the entire team can fit, they still invite the team inside to sit down and pray.

Two teams of Deep Impact participants spent their weeklong mission trip in Honduras serving in San Miguel.

One team led basketball clinics in the morning and passed out hygiene kits in the afternoon. A second team led Vacation Bible School at Emmanuel. Other teams worked in El Tablon and at Camp Betel.

The first afternoon of hygiene kit distribution the sun seemed to beat down unmercifully. Pastor Oscar never tired.

The team started by winding down a mountain of steps to the bottom of a hill and from house to house, not skipping over a single one, they worked their way back to the top. An elderly woman greeted the team at the first home they visited.

Her home sat at the bottom of the hill, out of sight until the team squeezed around a mound of rocks. She asked the team to pray for her health because she often faints.

When Oscar first came to Emmanuel the church was a mission of another local church and met in a small wood building with few people attending. Over time the church grew and its influence in the community increased.

Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem helped build a new building for Emmanuel and in 2001 celebrated with Oscar at the building’s inauguration.

The impact made when believers are willing to sacrifice to help others is not easily forgotten. Oscar still has a framed photo in his office of Max Furr and his family, from Calvary Baptist, who helped with the new building.

He also has a Bible signed by Mark Corts in 2001, on the day of the inauguration. Corts, who died in 2006, pastored Calvary Baptist from the age of 25 until he retired in 2002.

Oscar, 50, grew up in south Honduras in Choluteca. In the 1980s, Oscar was heavily involved in drugs and alcohol. His family members were not Christians, but he had friends who were. Although he showed no interest, friends persistently stayed after Oscar to join them at church. When Oscar finally relented, a friend picked him up and they went to church together.

Oscar showed up to church that day with long hair, baggy pants and sat in the last row. “Young people still came up to me after the service,” Oscar said. “And I liked that.” Oscar came to know Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior at that church. He also met his wife at church and they have been married 24 years. The kindness shown to a stranger that day meant more than those young people could ever have imagined.

Related stories
Camp Betel: A miracle from God
Grateful hearts worship in El Tablon
Honduran pastor leads charge to change community
Guest column: Reflections on Honduras
Medical team makes Deep Impact in Honduras
8/9/2010 10:22:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Why the Prop 8 ruling scares conservatives

August 9 2010 by Daniel Burke, Religion News Service

When U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker struck down California’s Proposition 8 on Aug. 4, he said voters’motivation for outlawing gay marriage was clear.

“The evidence shows conclusively that moral and religious views form the only basis for a belief that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples,” Walker wrote in his sweeping, 136-page decision.

“These interests do not provide a rational basis for supporting Proposition 8.”

Religion, in Walker’s reasoning, amounts to a “private moral view,” which should not infringe upon the constitutional rights of others.

While some legal scholars say Walker’s decision lands on firm legal ground — a law must advance a secular purpose to pass constitutional muster — some religious leaders accuse the judge of trying to scrub faith from the public square.

“Judge Walker claimed to read the minds of California’s voters, arguing that the majority voted for Proposition 8 based on religious opposition to homosexuality, which he then rejected as an illegitimate state interest,” R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in an online column.

“In essence, this establishes secularism as the only acceptable basis for moral judgment on the part of voters,” Mohler said.

On Thursday, Prop 8’s supporters filed an appeal of Walker’s decision. Jim Campbell, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian law firm involved in the litigation, said the religious freedom argument will play an important role as the case moves up the federal judicial ladder — including, potentially, the Supreme Court.

“At bottom, our strategy here is, and has always been, that in this country we should respect the rights of the people when they do what they have always done: vote based on their religious and moral convictions,” Campbell said.

Abolitionists, anti-abortion activists, and civil rights activists have all been motivated by personal faith, Campbell argued. “To be blunt, we felt (Walker’s decision) was an all-out attack on religion.”

Walker did note, however, that no religion will be forced to perform same-sex weddings. Howard Friedman, an emeritus law professor at Ohio’s University of Toledo, said Walker is not attacking religion per se; he is just not giving religious expression any special consideration.

“He’s basically saying that a private moral view isn’t a rational basis for legislation,” said Friedman, who writes the popular “Religion Clause” blog. “Case law goes both ways on that. There are certainly some cases that say a merely moral view isn’t enough to support legislation; on the other hand, there are some cases that talk about laws being a moral view on society.”

Walker’s reasoning relies, in part, on a 1996 Supreme Court decision that struck down an anti-gay law in Colorado, Friedman said. That decision, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy — who’s considered a key swing vote on the high court — invalidated laws grounded in “animosity toward the class of persons affected.”

Walker devotes several pages in his ruling to identifying religion as a prime source of anti-gay animus, listing examples from the Vatican and the Southern Baptist Convention, and noting that 84 percent of weekly churchgoers voted in favor of Prop 8, according to a CNN exit poll.

As if to prove Walker’s point, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony released a statement on Wednesday that said, “Those of us who supported Prop 8 and worked for its passage did so for one reason: We truly believe that marriage was instituted by God for the specific purpose of carrying out God’s plan for the world and human society. Period.”

Still, some religious leaders take issue with Walker’s conclusion that “religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians.”

“If religion is considered the chief obstacle to gay and lesbian political progress, then it would seem to follow that the state has an obligation to remove that obstacle,” said R.R. Reno, a senior editor at First Things, a Catholic journal based in New York.

“That’s not going to happen, because the First Amendment protects religious expression,” but it could lead to a sidelining of faith in political debate, Reno said.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, says Walker is wrong on the law and the church’s theology. The Roman Catholic Church holds that homosexuality is not sinful in itself, but that homosexual acts are.

“Freedom of religion and freedom of speech allow us to speak without his deeming us harmful,” Walsh said. “Our teaching is our teaching.”      
8/9/2010 10:19:00 AM by Daniel Burke, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

5 questions & answers about the Prop 8 ruling

August 9 2010 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A landmark federal ruling on California Proposition 8 has thrust the issue of “gay marriage” back into the national spotlight. Following are five questions and answers about the ruling’s significance:

Q: What did the judge rule?

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker overturned California’s constitutional marriage amendment known as Proposition 8, ruling it violates the due process and equal protection rights of same-sex couples under the U.S. Constitution. Prop 8, he wrote, “does nothing more than” discriminate and “enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.” It marks the first time a federal judge has ruled there is a federal constitutional right to “gay marriage.” Prop 8, passed in 2008 by a margin of 52-48 percent, reads: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” 

Q: What happens next?

, the group that sponsored the amendment, is appealing the decision to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a randomly selected three-judge panel will hear it. From there, the case could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. All total, the appeals process could last several years. Some conservative leaders, including Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, say the only solution for their side may be to pass a federal marriage amendment.

Q: Why is this case more significant than other “gay marriage” cases?

Most other cases have involved state courts, so their impact was limited. The current case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, is a federal case and could impact all 50 states — and in essence become the Roe v. Wade of “gay marriage.” If Walker’s legal reasoning and ruling is upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, then marriage would be redefined not only in California but also nationwide, reversing statutes and constitutional amendments in all 45 states that define marriage as between one man and one woman. That’s been the goal of “gay marriage” supporters for years. In 2004, after 11 states passed marriage amendments on Election Day, Matt Foreman, then-executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, told the Associated Press: “This issue is going to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court, and it’s not going to give a (expletive) what these state constitutions say.”

Q: Why are some people saying the ruling could mark a cultural shift?

Because Walker made sweeping arguments about homosexuality that, collectively, have never been made in a federal ruling. Regarding marriage, he wrote: “Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.” On childrearing, he wrote, “The gender of a child’s parent is not a factor in a child’s adjustment,” and, “Having both a male and a female parent does not increase the likelihood that a child will be well-adjusted.”

Regarding religion, he wrote, “Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians.” He included in his decision Southern Baptist resolutions on “gay marriage” (2003) and homosexuality (1999), as well as statements on homosexuality from the Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Free Methodist Church, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the Orthodox Church of America. All of the denominations point to Scripture in calling homosexuality sinful.

Q: What legal arguments will Prop 8 supporters make during their appeal?

Attorneys for and the Alliance Defense Fund argued at the lower court that children need mothers and fathers and the state has an interest in fostering that relationship. attorney Andy Pugno said in a statement after Walker’s ruling that the government “has a strong interest in channeling natural procreation into stable and enduring relationships between men and women and increase the likelihood that those children will be raised by both a mother and a father.” Opponents of “gay marriage” warn that religious freedom will suffer if the ruling is upheld, impacting everything from what is taught in public schools to the tax exempt status of religious organizations and perhaps even churches. In New Jersey, a Methodist-owned beachfront property lost part of its tax-exempt status because its leaders denied use of the property to a lesbian couple for a commitment ceremony. Said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, “The goal of this movement is to use the law to reshape the culture so that disagreement with their views on sex and marriage gets stigmatized and repressed like bigotry. Children will be taught, whether parents like it or not, that traditional faith communities’ views on marriage are based on hatred and bigotry.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.)  
8/9/2010 10:16:00 AM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Judge: Prop 8 violates same-sex rights

August 5 2010 by Daniel Burke, Religion News Service

In a decision with enormous legal, political, and religious implications, a federal judge on Aug. 4 struck down California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s watershed decision marks the first time a federal judge has declared a state gay marriage ban unconstitutional.

In a 138-page decision, Walker ruled that “moral and religious views” are not a “rational basis” for the state to deny same-sex couples equal marriage rights.

Walker concluded that Proposition 8, California’s voter referendum that outlawed gay marriage in 2008, violates the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian couples.

“Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license,” Walker said.

“Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.”

Walker’s ruling is expected to be appealed, and the lawsuit, brought by two same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco, could eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Including California, 29 state constitutions bar same-sex marriage.

Twelve additional states have laws restricting marriage to one man and one woman; same-sex marriage is legal in five states and the District of Columbia.

While Walker’s ruling technically applies to California, it will have wider implications as the case moves up the federal judicial ladder — a fact ruefully acknowledged by conservative activists.

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, warned that “this lawsuit, should it be upheld on appeal and in the Supreme Court, would become the ‘Roe v. Wade’ of same-sex marriage, overturning the marriage laws of 45 states.”

Even before the decision was made public, the religious and conservative groups that pushed for Proposition 8 asked for a stay of Walker’s ruling and vowed to appeal it.

The case pitted same-sex couples, who argued that gay marriage ban violated their constitutional rights to equal protection, against religious groups and conservatives who countered that the traditional definition of marriage — and the votes of 7 million Californians who favored the ban — should stand.

California voters supported Prop 8 by a margin of 52-48 percent in 2008, just five months after the state’s Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.

Walker said the plaintiffs offered “overwhelming evidence” the gay marriage ban violates their rights to due process and equal protection under the law. He also noted California issued 18,000 marriage licenses to gay couples in the five months gay marriage was legal and “has not suffered any demonstrated harm as a result.”

Religious groups — including the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — used their political influence and deep pockets to push for Prop 8. Mormons donated an estimated $22 million to the cause, and church headquarters were fined $5,000 by California officials for failing to declare non-monetary contributions.

“The evidence shows conclusively that moral and religious views form the only basis for a belief that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples,” Walker writes in his decision. “The evidence fatally undermines any purported state interest in treating couples differently; thus, these interests do not provide a rational basis for supporting Proposition 8.

Religious conservatives lamented Wednesday’s ruling. “Traditional Jewish values recognize marriage as being only between a man and woman,” said the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America in a statement.

“In addition to our religious values — which we do not seek to impose on anyone — we fear legal recognition of same-sex marriage poses a grave threat to the fundamental civil right of religious freedom.”

But a recent poll sponsored by advocates for gay equality suggests public opinion in California has shifted in favor of allowing same-sex couples to wed.

Just 22 percent of Californians believe passing Prop 8 was a good thing for the state, according to a poll conducted in June by Public Religion Research Institute, a non-partisan organization based in Washington.

A slight majority — 51 percent — said they would vote to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry if another vote were held. The poll was sponsored by the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, to “survey California religious communities and help develop religious education strategies supporting gay equality.”

Support for expanding the definition of marriage remains tepid nationwide, though, with just 39 percent of Americans saying gay marriage should be legal, according to a joint poll conducted in April by CBS News and The New York Times.

But gay rights advocates appear to be on a winning streak, after a federal judge in Boston last month struck down part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and enables states not to recognize same-sex relationships as marriages.    
8/5/2010 11:27:00 AM by Daniel Burke, Religion News Service | with 3 comments

Campbell considers osteopathic medical school

August 5 2010 by Campbell University

Campbell University has authorized a feasibility study to consider establishing a college of osteopathic medicine, beginning with a charter class in August 2013.  

Trustees approved funding Aug. 4 for the study, which includes employment of a dean, consultants and architectural planning.  A decision is expected no later than May 2011. 

Bob Barker, chairman of the Campbell board of trustees, said the trustees are “unanimous in their support of the feasibility study and very positive about the possibility of an osteopathic medical school at Campbell.” 

Campbell University President Jerry M. Wallace, Robin King-Thiele, Robert Thiele, Darren J. Sommer, and Trustee Chairman Bob Barker. The Thieles and Sommer are doctors of osteopathic medicine.

Osteopathic physicians are licensed to practice medicine in all 50 states of the United States with all the privileges and responsibilities of medical doctors.  More than eight hundred osteopathic physicians currently practice medicine in North Carolina.

Trustees approved the feasibility study for several reasons, including the growing shortage of primary care physicians in North Carolina, population growth, an increase in the aging population, and national health-care reform. 

According to the 2009 North Carolina Institute of Medicine Study, North Carolina has approximately 7,660 primary care physicians or 8.8 per 10,000 population, which is below the national average of 9.4 per 10,000 population; medical school graduates choosing primary care dropped 50 percent between 1997 and 2005; North Carolina is projected to experience a 12 percent decline in per capita physician supply by 2020; the growth and aging of North Carolina’s population  is expected to increase demand  (measured by annual visits to physicians) by 34 percent between 2004 and 2020; and persons 65 and older will increase by 33.7 percent by July 2020.

Campbell University began addressing health care issues in 1985 by establishing its School of Pharmacy, which was the first new pharmacy school founded in the United States in more than 35 years.  In addition to offering the Doctor of Pharmacy program, the school offers undergraduate and graduate programs in Clinical Research and Pharmaceutical Sciences. 
8/5/2010 6:58:00 AM by Campbell University | with 0 comments

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