August 2012

N.C. teen depends on God after horrible accident

August 31 2012 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

Kelly Blanton’s ventilator drones softly in rhythm as she sits motionless in her wheelchair. The 18-year-old misses horseback riding along the road outside her home in Taylorsville, N.C.
 
But, for now, the days when Blanton’s mother said she “had the world on a string” are gone. Despite her current circumstances, Blanton, a member of nearby Three Forks Baptist Church, does not question God’s plans for her.
 
“It’s not my place to understand everything,” she said. “When [God] wants me to understand why this happened, [and] what’s going to happen in the future, He’ll let me know in His own time.”
 
Blanton’s long, dark hair frames her face as she smiles and rolls her eyes while her mother, Geri, brags about how her daughter has handled the accident that left her paralyzed from the neck down. Geri admits she doesn’t know if she could handle paralysis nearly as well. And Kelly, she says, rarely complains.
 
“As hard as it can be for me to look at my daughter’s life just jerked away from her,” said Geri, “I can’t imagine what it would be like if it was my life jerked away from me. … I just don’t think I would be that way.”
 
It was during a practice run before the International Finals Youth Rodeo in Shawnee, Okla., that Blanton was thrown from her horse, Bandit.
 
08-31-12blanton.jpg

BR photo by Shawn Hendricks

Kelly Blanton, left, seen here with her mom, Geri, desires to seek God’s plan for her life.


“I remember thinking I’ll just fall off and this will be OK,” she said. “But I landed on my forehead and then my whole body bent back behind me. … I was flipping down the arena, and I just landed in the dirt. I wasn’t really concerned about not being able to move. I was just concerned with not being able to breathe. I thought the wind had just been knocked out of me, but that’s not what it was at all.”
 
On that day in July 2011, her plans for the future were put on hold.
 
“I remember the accident fully, but sometimes I wish I didn’t,” said Blanton, who now depends on her mother to scratch an itch on her arm or wipe her nose. 
 
The outgoing, attractive teenager seemed to have everything before the accident. She lived an active lifestyle and planned to attend N.C. State University last fall. She was captain of the high school tennis team, threw the discus on the track team and was involved in more clubs and activities than her youth pastor had time to read at a church event honoring the 2011 graduates.
 
She also loved to compete in roping and barrel racing at rodeos. And she was good at it. Now, however, she can only watch Bandit and her other horses as they chomp grass behind her home.
 
After her accident, Blanton was transferred from a hospital in Oklahoma City to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. She spent months there receiving treatment and continues to make routine visits.
 
Her mother describes her daughter’s condition as a “C4 spinal cord injury that is incomplete.” Translation: Her spinal cord is not severed, and she has some feeling below the neck, but she is unable to move her arms and legs.
 
“The changes I’ve seen [are] in the strength in my arm … and then strength in my leg and things like that,” she said. “I’ve also seen strength in my diaphragm. I can breathe more and more [on my own] every day.”
 
“Incomplete is a good thing,” Geri added. “She does have some feeling. There’s always a chance with incomplete that those [nerve] connections can be made again.”
 
Since the accident, Blanton has been surrounded by friends, family, church members and her community. People throughout the area lined the road she lives on to welcome her back home when she returned from the Shepherd Center.
 
Volunteers installed a wheelchair ramp in front of her house and helped modify inside so she could navigate more easily. The church and community also have held a variety of fundraisers to help her family with expenses.
 
Most days find one or more of Blanton’s friends stopping by for a visit while her parents work. Her mother is a supervisor at the local post office and her father, Michael, is a truck driver. She also has two brothers: Michael, 25, and Marcus, 24.
 
On this day, Lakelyn Elder is relaxing on Blanton’s bed keeping a watchful eye on her friend.
 
The two young women have known each other since they were “babies,” Elder said. 
 
“If you’re [at her house] you’ll find a gang of students that huddle with her every day,” said Brandon Watson, Blanton’s youth pastor at Three Forks. “There are at least two to 10 kids that are always over there, every day just hanging out with her. It’s been that way since she’s come home.
 
“Kelly is a very selfless person. She’s kind of attracted those people around her,” he added.
 
“I know that her days have challenges, but she handles them well, and she’s been a great testimony to our students and to our church.”
 
Blanton also has gained new friends since her injury. Morgan Patton, 19, a fellow rodeo competitor, was the first person to reach Blanton after she fell off her horse. She helped stabilize Blanton’s neck. Though the two didn’t know each other before the accident, they have been nearly inseparable since. Patton recently returned to Georgia for college, where she is studying nursing. 
 
Blanton also is pondering her future. She is struggling with whether she should become a veterinarian or commit to some type of ministry. For now she is taking courses at a community college in Hickory, but she plans to eventually transfer to N.C. State. While she is leaning toward being a veterinarian, she also has a strong desire to share her story and faith with others.
 
“The only easier part now [since the accident] is I do have a doorway into telling people about Christ because people would ask me about what happened,” Blanton said.
“And they see I don’t blame God. Then they see God through me.”
 
This past July, Blanton returned to Shawnee to attend the rodeo event where she was injured. She thanked the people of Oklahoma for their prayers and support while she was in the hospital. She also shared her testimony at her church – with her new friend, Patton, by her side – and expressed her appreciation for all that her church has done for her.
 
“I’ve learned how much my church family loves me,” Blanton said. “… People come up and say, ‘I’ve been thinking about you.’ It’s always happened when I’ve needed it the most.”
 
Blanton, and those who care for her, remain optimistic that she’ll walk again and ride her beloved Bandit. Her pastor, Carson Moseley, believes the Lord has great things in store for the young woman.
 
“She’s determined,” said Moseley, who said he misses seeing Blanton ride her horse up and down the road outside the church. “If God be willing He’s already put within her the will and desire to walk again. But I think He’s also put within her the acceptance of ‘Whatever … whatever You [God] want to do.’” 
 
“I pray the Lord will use Kelly to touch lives. I pray [the accident] will give her many opportunities … to tell her story, to touch her world in the way that she can.”
 
She already seems to be off to a great start.
8/31/2012 1:34:50 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 1 comments



Moody honors Gary Chapman

August 31 2012 by Baptist Press

Moody Bible Institute and its seminary have established The Gary D. Chapman Chair for Marriage and Family, which has been endowed by a gift from Chapman, a 1958 graduate of Moody, and his wife Karolyn.

It is the first endowed chair in Moody’s 126-year history, according to an Aug. 28 news release, and will serve as Moody’s “voice on marriage and family.”
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Gary Chapman


Chapman, author of “The 5 Love Languages” and numerous other books, is a nationally known marriage and family speaker and senior associate pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Recruitment for a professor for the chair is expected to be completed by July 1 of next year.

Chapman said he and his wife of 45 years are praying “that God will use this chair to further equip students to have God-honoring marriages and learn how to help others do the same.”

The endowed chair “uniquely and strategically combines education, radio and publishing to utilize Moody’s media platforms, reaching a broad audience with the biblical perspective on marriage and family,” the news release stated. “The responsibilities of this chair will include teaching courses in counseling and marriage and family each semester at [Moody Theological Seminary]; guest lecturing in Moody’s undergraduate school; serving as a regular voice on Moody Radio; and publishing with Moody Publishers on marriage and family topics.”

In addition to graduating from Moody, Chapman holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in anthropology from Wheaton College in Illinois and Wake Forest University, respectively, and M.R.E. and Ph.D. degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas.
8/31/2012 1:31:27 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Isaac prompts large disaster relief response from Baptists

August 31 2012 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Southern Baptists are already headed to the Gulf Coast region as remnants of Hurricane Isaac continually disrupt the lives of an increasing number of residents.

By the weekend, a total of 36–40 Baptist relief units will have been deployed to Louisiana and Mississippi, said Bruce Poss, a disaster recovery coordinator at North American Mission Board (NAMB) offices in Alpharetta, Ga.

“Southern Baptists have responded as they have in the past with a lot of enthusiasm, in numbers to the disaster,” Poss said. “When people start hurting, [Southern Baptist Disaster Relief] shows up.”

Two feeding units from the Oklahoma State Convention already have left for Louisiana and a group of Texas Baptist Men left this morning (Aug. 31) to set up a feeding unit. Additionally, feeding units from the Arkansas Baptist State Convention are headed to First Baptist Church in Kenner and Gentilly Baptist Church in New Orleans, disaster recovery officials said. Chainsaw units also are being deployed. North Carolina Baptist Men’s Disaster Relief Ministry remains on standby for now.
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FEMA Photo

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (head of table in blue shirt) leads the Louisiana Unified Coordination meeting in response to Hurricane Isaac.


Two 60,000-pound Freightliner rigs with roofing supplies set out for the Gulf Coast region Wednesday (Aug. 29), in coordination with the Gulf Coast Baptist Association in Mississippi and other Southern Baptists in Louisiana. The trucks are filled with 20 pallets containing 320 rolls of plastic roof sheeting, wooden strips and nails volunteers will use to repair storm-damaged homes.

New evacuations are adding to the number of people in need. Today, officials in Louisiana and Mississippi ordered an evacuation of areas along the Tangipahoa River. Emergency crews announced plans to intentionally breach Percy Quin dam to alleviate pressure and avoid flooding in Kentwood, La. and Pike County, Miss., as the dam, weakened from heavy rains, was considered in imminent danger of failing.

Louisiana and Mississippi were hardest hit when Isaac came ashore Tuesday as a Category 1 hurricane, bringing rain, strong winds and flood waters that forced evacuations and rescues. Power companies are working to restore electricity to 700,000 customers in the region, and hundreds displaced by floodwaters in several communities in the Louisiana parishes of Plaquemines, Jefferson and St. John.

At least 7,000 were in emergency shelters and the number was only expected to increase, officials said.

Two deaths have been reported, one in each state, according to news reports.

Strong winds caused scattered damage in New Orleans.

At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), a dozen large trees blew down, two of them on homes occupied by professors. A student apartment building sustained significant roof damage, as did a few Southern Baptist churches and the New Orleans Baptist Association (NOBA) building, said Billy Puckett, NOBA disaster relief coordinator. NOBTS is closed through Labor Day.

Recovery crews will have difficulty reaching certain areas of the city, said John Hebert, missions director for the Louisiana Baptist Convention. “All the highways from the north, the east and the west are closed because of high water,” Hebert said, including Interstate 55, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and both directions of Interstate 10.

But Puckett said New Orleans is recovering.

“The spirits of the people are really up…,” Puckett said. “The mayor was encouraging businesses to open today.”

Isaac had weakened to a tropical storm, but continued to bring heavy rains and tornado warnings as it moved slowly inland. The storm has dumped 10 to 15 inches of rain in communities along its path.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief assets include 82,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and some 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, including the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

Southern Baptists and others who want to donate to the disaster relief operations can contact their state conventions or contribute to NAMB’s disaster relief fund via www.namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE  – Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Diana Chandler, with reporting by Karen Willoughby, managing editor of the Baptist Message newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)

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Isaac, 7-years post-Katrina, mobilizes volunteers
8/31/2012 1:17:22 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



NASCAR driver shares passion for racing, impacting others

August 31 2012 by Roman Gabriel, Sports Q&A

Nationwide Driver Blake Koch has created a major fan base in both the NASCAR community and the faith-based market over the past three years. After only three short years, Koch went full time into the NASCAR Nationwide Series. In his first 10 career NASCAR Nationwide Series races, Blake Koch earned five top-25 finishes. Koch finished 18th in points and finished “Runner Up” Rookie of the year.
 
He has toured the nation sharing his faith and has been a keynote speaker at numerous outreach events including Promise Keepers. Koch’s ambition is to promote the importance of God’s influence in the American family, while also encouraging everyone to rise up and register to vote in this November’s election. You can learn more at riseupandregister.com
 
I had the opportunity to speak with Koch about this and more. It was a pleasure to talk to a young up-and-coming driver and strong Christian with a heart for the next generation. He is passionate about getting young adults to follow God.
 
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Photo from blakekoch.com

Blake Koch, a NASCAR driver, tries to lap up support for November’s election. His No. 41 car carries the Rise Up and Register logo, encouraging people to register to vote. Koch is also a Christian who wants to inspire a younger generation to aspire to a better future. An injury cut short his dreams of being a champion motocross racer. He didn’t start racing cars until he was 22.


Q: In talking to you I sense a great deal of appreciation for what God has done for you and the great position you are in to compete on the Nationwide NASCAR Series. What can you tell me about that? 
 
A: I feel completely blessed to have the opportunity. I thank God for the opportunity to qualify, and run one lap on one of these tracks in front of these (NASCAR) fans, completely blessed!
 
Q: You were a champion motocross racer for years, and unlike so many, you started your NASCAR career very late at the age of 22. How did you decide to move out of motocross and get involved in driving cars?
 
A: Motocross was my life growing up. I wanted to be the best I could be as a pro motocross racer. Everything I lived for was to be the best at motocross, I lived slept, and ate it ... of course injuries like football, as you know, are a big part of the sport.
 
Injuries can set you back in a physical sport like this for a while. ... I had two ACL knee surgeries which set me back. Then when you came back and these guys you beat are faster and ahead of you, and winning races. ... It really was difficult for me with overcoming the injuries. ...  The big key in the sport is staying healthy. That separates [the] good from the best in motocross.
 
I decided to give it up (motocross) to go to college. ... I then had the opportunity to get in a racecar because my stepdad bought one and offered me the opportunity, and I took it; it was awesome.
 
Q: NASCAR is unique in that it is such a public faith and family sport. What are your thoughts on the influence of Motor Racing Outreach (MRO) on drivers and their families on the NASCAR circuit? 
 
A: MRO is such a big influence on our personal life, our families, to the fans. We are just completely blessed to have such great support from a organization like MRO … prerace meetings, driver Bible studies, family prayer, counseling, etc. available to us. You can learn more about them on the MRO website at go2mro.com, any support is greatly appreciated. …
 
Even if you’re not a Christian you still want that prayer to make sure someone’s watching over you going that fast and that close to the wall.
 
Q: You say on your website, “My ambition is to promote God back into the American family and everyone to rise up and register to vote.” What message would you like to deliver to young people when you go in a church?
 
A: It’s an easy message. Put God first in your life. Pray about the decisions you make. … I start my day off this way: “God take control of my life, my heart, my mind, and my actions. Put me in the situations that you want me in, open the doors you want open, and slam the doors you want shut. That’s pretty simply said. Basically, God take control.” 
 
… As you’re well aware, there’s a battle that we all see and all go through. ...
 
The more that athletes and others can get out there and be a motivational and spiritual influence and hope, the better. ... Giving kids hope is crucial as they are our next generation of leaders. They will be influential people, many running the country in 30 years. ... We need to get a hold of them now. Let them know that there’s hope in God, and that they can do anything they set their mind to, especially when we put God first in our life. 
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE –  Roman Gabriel III is president of Sold Out Ministries. He hosts Sold Out Sports heard Saturday nights 8 p.m. EST on American Family Radio, and is an evangelist and motivational speaker. Contact at (910) 431-6483 or email soldoutrg3@gmail.com. His website is soldouttv.com. Go to blakekoch.com to learn more about Koch, and how you could have him come and speak at your church.)
8/31/2012 1:10:39 PM by Roman Gabriel, Sports Q&A | with 0 comments



Isaac, 7 years post-Katrina, mobilizes volunteers

August 30 2012 by Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – On the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are in place to help Louisiana and neighboring states rebound from Hurricane Isaac’s damage, heavy in some areas.

Massive power outages that may last a week, downed power lines, uprooted trees, fallen limbs and notable street flooding met south Louisianans Wednesday morning, with forecasters expecting the weather to worsen throughout the day, even as Isaac weakened to a tropical storm.

In the state’s low-lying Plaquemines Parish, where Isaac made landfall outside the state’s extensive $14 billion levee and floodwall system, government emergency crews rescued some 100 residents from their flooded homes. Many in the community 90 miles southeast of Louisiana had ignored a mandatory evacuation order and were trapped after water over-topped miles of an earthen levee.
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Hurricane Isaac


Southern Baptist relief units were on standby, including North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

One storm-related death has been reported in Louisiana from Isaac, which killed about 30 people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic before entering the Gulf of Mexico. In Haiti, N.C. Baptists have helped provide medical care to those impacted by the storm.

Across New Orleans and surrounding suburbs, about 600,000 were without electricity, Entergy Louisiana reported.

As the rain slacked at times across the city, residents in various neighborhoods could be seen on the streets removing downed tree limbs from encumbered storm drains after more than 8 inches of rainfall since Tuesday evening. The slow-moving system could dump up to 20 inches of rain in the state.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is closed through Labor Day because of power outages, but the school reported no major damage from Isaac, only a couple of downed trees and fallen limbs.

On the eastern edge of Isaac, damage was reported in Mobile, Ala., with downed trees and street flooding. Southern Baptist DR crews are also standing by there, said Mel Johnson, disaster relief strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.

Isaac came on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed some 1,800 people, mainly in Mississippi and Louisiana.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Diana Chandler. Biblical Recorder staff contributed to this story.)

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Isaac prompts large disaster relief response from Baptists
8/30/2012 2:18:36 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Hostility to religion in U.S. at ‘all-time high’

August 30 2012 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Hostility toward religious expression “has reached an all-time high” in the United States, according to a new report.

“The Survey of Religious Hostility in America” shows a rising tide of attacks on religious liberty in the public square and in schools as well as against churches and ministries, Liberty Institute (LI) and Family Research Council (FRC) said in the 140-page report. The organizations released the document Aug. 17 and held an Aug. 20 news conference at Tampa, Fla., during the Republican National Convention’s platform committee meeting in that city.
 
The report, which is an update of a 2004 survey by LI, documents more than 600 instances of hostility toward religion – hostility it says is dramatically growing in both frequency and type. Most have taken place in the last 10 years. Religious liberty advocates have prevailed in legal challenges in some of the incidents, not in others.

“America today would be unrecognizable to our Founders,” said Kelly Shackelford, LI president, and Tony Perkins, FRC president, in the introduction to the survey. “Our first freedom is facing a relentless onslaught from well-funded and aggressive groups and individuals who are using the courts, Congress, and the vast federal bureaucracy to suppress and limit religious freedom. This radicalized minority is driven by an anti-religious ideology that is turning the First Amendment upside down.”

They pointed to the Obama administration’s common use of the term “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion” as part of the problem.

“This radical departure is one that threatens to make true religious liberty vulnerable, conditional, and limited,” Shackelford and Perkins said. “As some have said, it is a freedom ‘only with four walls.’ That is, you are free to worship within the four walls of your home, church, or synagogue, but when you enter the public square the message is, ‘leave your religion at home.’”

The Obama administration’s advocacy in an important case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in January likely is one of the more criticized of the incidents of hostility documented in the survey. The administration contended there is no “ministerial exception” that safeguards the rights of churches to hire and remove leaders without government regulation. The high court unanimously disagreed, saying such government involvement would infringe on both the First Amendment’s protection of religious free exercise and its ban on government establishment of religion. The ruling came in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Another Obama administration policy cited in the report is its abortion-contraceptive mandate, which requires all health insurance plans to cover contraceptives – even ones that can cause abortions – and has a religious exemption critics find woefully inadequate.

Among other instances of hostility cited in the report:

– The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at one point prohibited references to God in funerals at national cemeteries, a policy invalidated by a federal court.

– A Texas city barred citizens at a public senior adult center from praying before meals, singing Christian songs or listening to religious messages.

– Public school officials in Texas banned students from bringing gifts for classmates that referred to Jesus or contained other religious messages, actions that elicited censure by federal courts.

– A Texas city outlawed a Christian ministry to former prisoners from operating within its jurisdiction, an action rejected by the state’s Supreme Court.

– A federal appeals court ruled that prayers before local government meetings violate the establishment clause.

The report calls for advocacy on behalf of religious freedom.

“As dark as this survey is, there is much light,” the report says. “The secularist agenda only advances when those who love liberty are apathetic.”

Liberty Institute developed the 2004 report after Shackelford and others testified to a U.S. Senate committee about hostility toward religion. Senators asked LI to compile more information after critics charged the incidents were islated.

The report may be accessed online at http://www.religioushostility.org/.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
8/30/2012 2:14:34 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Looking to start a discipleship group?

August 30 2012 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

If you have a desire to start up a discipleship group in your neighborhood this fall, and you don’t have any idea where to begin, you’re not alone.
 
While every situation is different, and most will agree there is not a set formula, every group leader must adapt to their situation and the culture of their community.  Most importantly, they must be willing to remain flexible and open to God’s leading.
 
Brian Upshaw, who leads the church ministry team with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, shared from his own experiences and offered a few tips regarding how to minister to people in a neighborhood.
 
Drop agenda, love neighbors
First and foremost, Christians must have a genuine desire to love their neighbors, Upshaw said.
 
He shared how he and his wife, Brandie, and their two children moved into a neighborhood in the Raleigh area about four years ago. Though they assumed they’d eventually start some type of Bible study group in their home, Upshaw said the initial plan wasn’t to start a discipleship group among their neighbors.
 
“My family’s desire [was] that we as a family would just love our neighbors, and try to understand what it means to love our neighbors,” he said. “… and to figure out ways that were contextually appropriate to share the gospel with a neighborhood of people [who] did not go to church at all. We really didn’t set out to start a group in our home.
 
“If your goal is to start a group, that’s what you’ll get,” he said. “Your goal has to be lives changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. If your goal is to see lives changed by Christ, a group is very likely going to be part of that process.”
 
Many Christians, Upshaw contended, don’t know how to relate to the unchurched in a natural, authentic way.
 
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Brian Upshaw leads the church ministry team with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.


“[People] don’t want to be your project,” he said. “[This process] has really opened my eyes to see how many times that those [who] are far from God perceive Christians as looking at them as projects instead of seeing them as people.”
 
For Upshaw, a former pastor, he realized he had to let his guard down to “be real” with his neighbors.
 
“We didn’t act like super Christians,” he said. “We [have] flaws. We didn’t hide those flaws. We didn’t treat them like projects. We were friends with them first.
 
“It is important to be authentic … warts and all.”
 
Be on their turf
Building relationships and loving neighbors also meant being “faithfully present.” Upshaw and his family made an intentional effort to show up to as many neighborhood events, parties and social activities as possible. 
 
“You have to be willing to be on their turf,” he said. “We [also] made a conscious effort to be on the front lawn instead of the back yard. When you’re walking you take time to stop [and] talk to people.”
 
With that came natural friendships – people the Upshaws truly care about and enjoy spending time with. It’s not anything that is “agenda driven.”
 
Pray for your neighbors
Upshaw also wrote down the names of his neighbors in the front of his prayer journal and prays for them regularly.
 
Prayer is a crucial part of impacting a neighborhood for Christ, Upshaw said.
 
Upshaw shared how he prayed for his neighbors for more than a year and a half before a group was formed. 
 
“We began to walk and pray the neighborhood,” he said. “I would pray for the homes. I’d pray for the people in the houses.
 
“Not long after we moved in there I read about the prayer that John Knox [prayed] … when he was a minister in Scotland. He prayed ‘Give me Scotland or I die.’ And I began to pray that prayer for my neighborhood until I meant it.”
 
Choose material wisely
Months after initially mentioning the idea of starting a small group, one of Upshaw’s neighbors asked about it during a Labor Day party.  A group of several couples soon began studying the Bible in the Upshaw’s home.
 
Upshaw admitted he struggled with finding the right curriculum. He said a leader must first evaluate the needs of the group and choose material that is the right fit.
 
Most of those who showed up expressed a desire to know the Bible better and to have a better understanding of it. After seeking suggestions from fellow ministry leaders at the Baptist State Convention, Upshaw settled on using curriculum called Story of God. The curriculum focuses on chronological Bible storying – from Genesis to Revelation. It has been developed from International Mission Board methods and materials that missionaries use among people who have little to no knowledge of the Bible. It focuses on four areas – creation, the fall, redemption and restoration.
 
While the study was designed to take 10 weeks, Upshaw said his group took their time with the material and spent a year going through it.
 
“I wasn’t bound to the curriculum to finish the lesson,” he said. “I wanted them to get it.” 
 
The group met every other week from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Each gathering would involve an hour of discussion time and about 30 minutes of fellowship that included a snack of chips and salsa or brownies.
 
“We didn’t make it complicated,” he added.
 
Be patient
It’s about being on God’s timetable, added Upshaw, who has seen some of his neighbors accept Christ into their lives since the group started. He meets regular with two other guys from his neighborhood for accountability.
 
“God has taught me so much about trusting in his time and not my own, waiting on him and thinking about guys like William Carey,” he said. “They spent years and years and years, tilling the ground. Living in America, I think we’re doing the same thing.”
 
“Just as Jesus was incarnational by coming into our world and getting into our skin, that’s the kind of ministry we have in our neighborhood,” he added. “We get into the skin of the people. And you minister based on what you see in the people, not in your mindset or your program. It’s not over. It’s a work in progress.”
 
Contact Upshaw at bupshaw@ncbaptist.org or (800) 395-5102, ext. 5632. For more information about Story of God material go to http://www.gcmcollective.org/. For more on discipleship visit BRnow.org.
 

Tips to minister to neighbors
Brian Upshaw, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina church ministry team leader, shares some tips on how to minister to neighbors. Keep in mind to always be flexible and open to God’s leading.
• Drop agenda, love neighbors
• Be on their turf
• Pray for your neighbors
• Choose material wisely
• Be patient

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8/30/2012 2:04:16 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 1 comments



Niger families thrown ‘from famine to flood’

August 30 2012 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

NIAMEY, Niger – Six weeks of severe, ongoing flooding has claimed 52 lives and displaced almost 400,000 people in Niger, a landlocked country in West Africa that already was in the throes of a major food shortage.

Torrential rains have swept away crops, tools and homes, according to news services. Southern Baptists have mobilized a disaster assessment team and authorized an initial release of $25,000 in relief funds.

Many families have lost everything, said a humanitarian relief partner of Baptist Global Response who participated in the disaster assessment.

“I spoke with a lady named Fati. She is a widow and now she has lost her home and farm,” the partner said. “She told me, ‘We’ve never seen or heard of water like this. The water kept rising. We tried to get our things out of the house but we could only take what we could carry. We lost most of our things when our home was destroyed. We have nothing now but suffering. We have no hope and we cannot see an end to this suffering. At night, they bring me food and I can’t even eat because I am so sad.’”

The chief of the Sarando area told the assessment team that roughly 2,400 people have been displaced there and 190 homes destroyed. Residents have lost 60 percent of their millet and gardens, and homeless families have taken refuge in schools, with family members or in a local church.

Niger lies in the Sahel region of Africa, which has been struggling with a food crisis. An estimated 18 million people have been suffering from food shortages, with nearly 1.5 million children facing starvation, according to UN figures.

Now Niger’s people have gone from famine to flood, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response.

“Here in the United States, we are hurting with friends and family on the Gulf Coast who are enduring flooding problems from Hurricane Isaac. It brings back vivid memories of the misery Hurricane Katrina dumped on the region seven years ago,” Palmer said. “With all the media coverage of American politics and now this hurricane, the plight of people in Africa’s Sahel region is going virtually unnoticed. We’re praying God will stir the hearts of people to respond with compassion to needs both at home and abroad. The people of Niger are in desperate need right now, and they need to feel the comfort of God’s love in their distress.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly writes for Baptist Global Response, on the Internet at www.gobgr.org. To help replenish funds being expended on this crisis from the World Hunger Fund, go to www.worldhungerfund.com.)
8/30/2012 1:59:02 PM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Church moves forward after fire

August 29 2012 by BR staff

North Beaver Baptist Church’s Rick Miller sees the congregation he pastors as looking to the future.

On July 29, Miller was awakened by a phone call notifying him that the church building was burning. With evidence of a door being kicked in and fires set in five places, Miller said members are focused on serving God in the coming months.
 
“We’ve got a big God, and we’re excited to see what He can do,” Miller said.
 
08-29-12fire.jpg

Contributed photo

A fire July 29 left North Beaver Baptist Church members scrambling for a place to meet. Christian neighbors have shared space with them while they figure out the next step.


The West Jefferson congregation lost its sanctuary and education building, which included classrooms, offices, library, nursery and a fellowship hall.
 
The thieves also stole money from the fund where children give money to help a variety of ministries.

The church, which averages 75 on Sundays, met in a funeral home with little interruption to its schedule and has begun gathering at nearby Bald Mountain Baptist Church. A ladies exercise class has also been moved, and Wednesday night services have been held at a local fire department.
 
Three families in the church had firefighters who fought the blaze. So far, the only event that has been postponed is Thunder Sunday, a special service with motorcyclists.
 
The local police department said there is a suspect but no other information has been released in the investigation.
 
Contributions can be sent to Rebuild North Beaver, c/o Jessica Yearick, 278 Country Mtn. Lane, West Jefferson, NC 28694. Call Miller at (336) 649-0395.
 
Visit northbeaver.org or the church’s Facebook page.
8/29/2012 2:17:52 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments



HHS broadens ‘safe harbor’ guidelines

August 29 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – In a move that gives religious organizations some wiggle room but doesn’t solve the larger issue, the Obama administration has broadened its health care law guidelines so that all nonprofit religious organizations are exempted – for one year – from being penalized for not carrying insurance plans covering contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs.

Previously, some religious organizations – such as evangelical school Wheaton College – didn’t qualify for the one-year exemption because they didn’t meet a complex series of guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The newest guidelines, issued in mid-August, simply mean that Wheaton and other religious organizations like it now have until August 2013 to carry insurance plans covering abortion-causing drugs – a proposition that the groups, who staunchly oppose abortion, say is unacceptable.

HHS’ broadening of what are called the “safe harbor guidelines” was a small victory for Wheaton, but it resulted in a loss in court. On Aug. 24, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit Wheaton had filed Aug. 1 seeking to overturn the contraceptive/abortion mandate. The judge, Ellen Segal Huvelle, ruled the case was not “ripe” for consideration because Wheaton was now exempt for a full year.

Wheaton was represented in court by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Government attorneys had asked the judge to dismiss the suit.

“The government has now re-written the ‘safe harbor’ guidelines three times in seven months, and is evidently in no hurry to defend the HHS mandate in open court,” Becket Fund’s Kyle Duncan said in a statement. “By moving the goalposts yet again, the government managed to get Wheaton’s lawsuit dismissed on purely technical grounds. This leaves unresolved the question of religious liberty at the heart of the lawsuit.”

Hannah Smith, another Becket Fund attorney, told Baptist Press the threat to religious liberty is very real, despite the one-year safe harbor. There are now more than 25 lawsuits nationwide seeking to overturn the contraceptive/abortion mandate. The latest lawsuits were filed Aug. 23 by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of two evangelical schools – Grace College and Seminary in Indiana and Biola University in California – underscoring once again it is more than a Catholic-centered issue.

“This mandate is one of the most troubling intrusions on the right of religious freedom in our country that we’ve seen in a long time,” Smith said. “It puts religious organizations in a terrible position of having to choose between following their convictions and obeying the law, and I think that is a perilous place for religious organizations. It is troubling that the government has chosen to impose this on them.”

Wheaton is deciding whether to appeal the ruling, Smith said.

The mandate was announced by HHS in August 2011 as part of the health care law championed by President Obama. Although the Supreme Court upheld the health care law in June, the justices’ ruling did not deal with the religious liberty issues surrounding the contraceptive/abortion mandate. That means the nation’s highest court could yet strike down what has been for religious groups the most controversial part of the law.

Under the mandate, all employers must pay for insurance plans that cover contraceptives and drugs such as Plan B and ella – drugs that can work after fertilization and cause a chemical abortion. Ella even can work after implantation.

The HHS guidelines exempt churches but not religious organizations such as Christian schools and universities or faith-based hospitals.

The HHS guidelines have a large “grandfather” loophole that allows businesses and organizations to avoid covering contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs, provided the businesses’ and organizations’ insurance plans have not made any major changes since March 23, 2010 – the date the health care law was signed. Because Wheaton had made changes to its plan it was not eligible for the grandfather exception. The HHS loophole means some religious organizations are facing the August 2013 deadline while others are not.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)
8/29/2012 2:12:46 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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