August 2014

Displaced Iraqi families receive help

August 13 2014 by Mark Kelly, BGR/Baptist Press

While the world’s attention has been focused on the plight of Iraq’s suffering Yazidi community, Baptist Global Response (BGR) humanitarian partners have been working in other parts of the country among some 250,000 other displaced Iraqis.

Those efforts focused on providing survival supplies to new arrivals and helping displaced families launch businesses that can provide for their long-term needs.

News outlets reported Aug. 11 that Kurdish fighters were able to rescue about 20,000 Yazidi Iraqis after airstrikes broke a siege conducted by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militia. The United States and United Kingdom both had airdropped supplies to that group of Yazidis, which has since made the hard trek to the Syrian border.

As ISIS fighters overran the cities of Mosul, Tikrit and Tel Afar, an estimated 200,000 people fled, many with nothing more than the belongings they could carry, a BGR partner reported. When about 20,000 of those displaced families arrived where the partners were working, the team was able to help meet emergency needs for several hundred families by providing locally purchased tents, drinking water, infant formula and basic food staples.


Screen capture from
Yazidis, who have been stranded for days on Mount Sinjar in Iraq, desperately try to board an Iraqi air force helicopter that was dropping much-needed food, water and other supplies. About 20 people made it onto the flight.

The same partners have helped an earlier group of refugees begin developing small businesses that will support their families and, as loans are repaid, help even more displaced families in turn.

Primary funding for these projects came through Global Hunger Relief (GHR), the Southern Baptist channel for combatting hunger in both North America and overseas. GHR funnels 100 percent of each donation to the hunger need. In this case, the two projects received a total of $55,500 from GHR.

The displaced families represented the range of northern Iraq’s residents who would rather flee than submit to radical Islamist rule, including many Christians. Some observers believe northern Iraq’s ancient Christian communities are on the verge of extinction.

“This season of turmoil has seen the Christian population of Iraq dwindle significantly and the survivability of those who remain become uncertain at best,” Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response, said. “This deepening crisis gives Christians worldwide the opportunity to stand by their embattled brothers and sisters in the faith, as well as to demonstrate the mercy of Christ to others who need to experience the love of God in the midst of great trial.”

The multitude of displaced families had overwhelmed already strained job markets, said the BGR partner directing the relief operation.

“We have seen substantial needs for employment and sustainable income for these families,” the partner said. “Dependable income from self-replicating sources is the answer for these families developing sufficiency.”

Two micro businesses were launched as test cases, and the lessons learned with those two would help launch another 50 small businesses over a two-year period, the partner said. Proven business possibilities include shoe repair, transport of groceries or vegetables, and sales of tea, coffee sales, candy or fish.

Families receiving the first round of micro-loans would receive guidance, direction and supervision in growing their businesses, the partner said. Repaid loans would help other families launch businesses as well. Local government officials and Iraqi church leaders affirmed and encouraged the effort.

Chaos in the area has put the small business initiative on hold for the time being, the partner said.

Prayer is needed that peace would return to Iraq, Palmer said.

“The situation in Iraq is very volatile, and great uncertainty hangs over the country’s future,” Palmer said. “Please pray for peace so our partners can re-engage the small business effort. Ask God to make his great love known to every Iraqi heart that is searching for peace.”

To donate to Iraq’s refugee crisis through Baptist Global Response, visit or text bgr to 80888, which will donate $10 to BGR’s disaster response fund. To donate through the International Mission Board, which partners with BGR in disaster response situations, visit or text imbrelief to 80888.*

*Text to donate: $10 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance. Message and data rates may apply. Must have account holder permission to donate. Terms:

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly writes for Baptist Global Response.)

8/13/2014 10:28:23 AM by Mark Kelly, BGR/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Amid border crisis, government works with faith-based groups

August 13 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The surge of unaccompanied children from Central America illegally crossing the U.S. border has prompted renewed discussion of how government and faith-based organizations can partner to meet humanitarian needs during times of crisis. Some assert that such partnerships are helpful to both faith groups and government.

The relationship between government and disaster relief teams from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) is a “perfect match,” Scottie Stice, SBTC interim director of disaster relief ministry, told Baptist Press. “To work with government is not anything that is uncommon.”

More than 47,000 children were apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol for crossing the border illegally between October 2013 and May 2014, with the possibility of 90,000 being apprehended by the end of the 2014 fiscal year Sept. 30, the Brookings Institute reported. In comparison, 24,481 unaccompanied children were apprehended in 2012 and 38,833 in 2013.

The massive number of children fleeing poverty and violence in Central America has prompted the federal government to call on faith-based groups to assist, including SBCT Disaster Relief; the Georgia Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries; BCFS, a partner organization with the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT); Texas Baptist Men, another BGCT cooperating partner.

Most SBTC DR deployments occur in response to requests from churches, Baptist associations, local governments, the state of Texas and, in the case of the immigration crisis, the federal government, Stice said.

When the Federal Emergency Management Agency contacted SBTC DR in May, Texas Southern Baptists responded by providing 434 volunteer days of labor at the Brownsville Border Patrol Station over a three-week period. Volunteers prepared 21,000 meals for more than 1,300 children while providing shower and laundry facilities as well. SBTC volunteers also distributed 181 Bibles and 1,213 gospel tracts and presented the gospel four times.


Photo by Joni B. Hannigan
Joan Hogue, a member of First Baptist Church of Burkeville, Texas, hangs scrubs to dry outside the detention center in Brownsville. The blue scrubs provided temporary cover to children after they showered and while Southern Baptists laundered their clothes.

Stice said reports that Christian ministries have not been allowed to discuss spiritual matters with immigrant children are inaccurate.

“With the border crisis, we were actually on a federal installation,” Stice said. “We weren’t there to conduct Sunday School or Vacation Bible School obviously, but we interacted with the kids. We know that some of the kids were Christians because we were talking to them – those of us who spoke Spanish. It wasn’t an atmosphere where we were able to do evangelism, but we were able to interact with the kids.”

Natural partnerships

Stanley Carlson-Thies, president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, told BP that some faith-based organizations are natural partners with government during crises even though government funds cannot be used to fund explicitly religious services. He used the analogy of salads and brownies to explain what types of services are appropriate for religious organizations to provide in partnership with government.

“Some services you deliver are like a salad in which there are faith elements,” Carlson-Thies said. “But you can sequence those out, you can put them to the side (like components of a salad) and deliver the service in a way that’s perfectly fine by your own standards and fits the government’s desire not to fund inherently religious activities. Job training might be a good example. Emergency feeding might be another.”

Other services of faith-based organizations are like brownies, where ingredients cannot be removed without ruining the product as a whole, he said.

“If the kind of service you’re delivering is like a brownie, in which the faith is integral to it, then you shouldn’t get into these programs that require you to separate” faith-based and secular components, Carlson-Thies, who worked in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush, said.

Natural disasters and humanitarian crises are among the occasions when governments and religious organizations should not shy away from partnering with one another, Carlson-Thies said.

Because someone facing a crisis likely “has a trust issue, they feel grief, they feel a loss of meaning in the world,” a faith-based organization that “takes those things seriously without necessarily preaching at somebody would be helpful to somebody that really is looking for spiritual guidance,” Carlson-Thies said.

During the child immigration crisis, government has found substantial opportunity to partner with faith organizations. Despite reports of health risks and alleged heavy-handed security strictures at BCFS shelters, the organization has received more than $280 million in federal grants since December to care for immigrant children, TIME reported. The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement asked the Georgia Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries in March whether it could help care for the surge of children, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

A long history

Such partnerships are not new. During the Civil War and Reconstruction, numerous faith-based relief organizations assisted the government in caring for soldiers and rebuilding damaged communities, the father-son attorney team of Michael and Jonathan Whitehead told BP in written comments. In 1905 Congress chartered the American Red Cross to provide disaster relief in the U.S., and American citizens contributed nearly $785 million to the Red Cross during World War II.

President Clinton signed a bill in 1996 allowing states to enlist faith-based organizations to help provide basic welfare services, a program known as “charitable choice.” The George W. Bush administration created the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to expand opportunities for religious groups to apply for grants and provide basic services. Many of the Bush initiatives were continued under President Obama.

The Department of Health and Human Services website explains that faith-based organizations may receive federal grants as long as government money is not “used to support inherently religious activities such as religious instruction, worship, or proselytization as part of the programs or services funded with direct financial assistance from HHS.”

Carlson-Thies noted that the Bush administration began an initiative allowing faith-based drug treatment programs to be funded through vouchers, a program that continued under President Obama and falls within the U.S. Supreme Court’s guidelines of constitutionality.

“Faith-based providers are not guaranteed they will win a grant of public funds, but they should be guaranteed equal opportunity to compete for public funds, being neither favored nor penalized solely for their religious character,” Jonathan Whitehead said.

Dangers of partnership

Michael Whitehead, who has long advised churches and charities, warned that even with government regulations to protect faith-based organizations, partnering with the state has risks.

“Dependency upon public funds can be a grave danger,” Michael Whitehead said. “Perhaps there are no strings attached today, but if the government attaches unacceptable strings someday, can you afford to say no to the public funds [at that time] and remain in business? Better to say no at the outset than to grow so addicted to public funds that there will be pressure to compromise one’s convictions in order to keep the cash.”

One Baptist organization that appeared to feel such pressure was Sunrise Children’s Services, a ministry affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Late last year the organization’s president, Bill Smithwick, recommended changing Sunrise’s hiring practices against employing practicing homosexuals.

At the time Smithwick told Sunrise trustees, “A church or religious organization can hire all Christians and hold them to their standards, but they cannot accept state/federal monies. Sunrise cannot meet the needs of today’s abused and neglected children without public assistance.”

Smithwick resigned in December 2013 amid disapproval from Kentucky Baptists of his proposed hiring policy.

Carlson-Thies said there are challenges for faith groups that partner with government even when there is no government money involved. For example, obtaining a government license to serve the public in various capacities can require groups to abide by LGBT nondiscrimination policies, he said.

It is a “challenging time for these partnerships whether they take money or not,” Carlson-Thies said.

Yet Stice of the SBTC remains optimistic about responding to government requests for disaster relief.

Government “doesn’t stand in our way,” Stice said. “We’re not working for them. We’re not based out of government buildings. We do our ministry, which is only based on local Baptist churches and seeks to meet the needs of those who have been affected by a disaster.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is the chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.)

8/13/2014 10:07:46 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

'Pray fervently' for Iraqis, Moore says

August 12 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention’s lead ethicist has commended President Obama’s authorization of targeted airstrikes and humanitarian aid to assist members of Iraqi religious minorities threatened by Islamic militants.

United States military attacks since the president’s Aug. 7 authorization reportedly have helped repel advances by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the northern part of the Middle Eastern country.

Obama also took action Aug. 8 that advocates of global religious freedom had said would help in Iraq. He signed into law the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act, which authorizes the president to appoint a special envoy for the promotion of religious liberty in Iraq and other countries in the region.

After Obama’s Aug. 7 announcement, Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Obama “is right to take action to protect religious minorities, including Christians, in Iraq from ISIS.”

“He has my prayers,” Moore said of the president in an Aug. 8 written statement. “Those families stranded on a mountaintop, fleeing torture, rape and beheading, deserve justice and compassion.

“As Christians, we should pray for the president and our military leaders to wisely administer the sword of justice (Romans 13:1-3),” Moore said. “As part of the global body of Christ, we must also pray fervently for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Iraq and across the Middle East (Hebrews 13:3).”

Obama authorized the actions as ISIS’ campaign of terror spread further in northern Iraq. The Sunni Muslim militants had already emptied Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, of Christians before taking its bloody offensive to other cities, sending many people into exile. Their advance on Sinjar resulted in as many as 50,000 people fleeing for safety to the Sinjar Mountains. Most were Yazidis, who make up a minority religious sect, but some reportedly were Christians. The terrorists executed some Yazidis and enslaved some Yazidi women, according to reports.

In announcing his action, Obama said the authorization of the two operations was to avert “a potential act of genocide.” He also pointed to ISIS’ advance toward the city of Erbil as a reason. Erbil is a home to U.S. diplomats and civilians who work at the consulate, as well as American military advisers.

“When we face a situation like we do on that mountain – with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help – in this case, a request from the Iraqi government – and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye,” the president said Aug. 7. “We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide. That’s what we’re doing on that mountain.”

He added, “Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, ‘There is no one coming to help.’ Well today, America is coming to help.”

Obama said U.S. combat troops would not return to Iraq to fight. He “will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” the president said.

On Aug. 9, Obama told reporters that airstrikes already had destroyed ISIS arms and equipment outside Erbil, and two airdrops had succeeded in providing food and water to those on Mount Sinjar. He also said the United States had increased its military aid to the Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in northern Iraq.

The new law signed by Obama providing authorization of a special envoy for religious liberty in the Near East and South Central Asia is designed to aid faith practitioners in such countries as Iraq, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and Syria. Christians and adherents of other religious faiths increasingly are targets of repression and violence in those regions. The existence of entire religious movements is threatened in some areas, most notably Iraq and Egypt.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., sponsor of the special envoy bill, welcomed Obama’s authorization of airstrikes and aid in Iraq as a “positive first step,” but said the president needs to do more. Wolf repeated appeals he had made to Obama in a series of speeches to the House of Representatives. Among his recommendations, Wolf urged the president to name a senior administration official to supervise response to the ISIS massacre and to provide assistance to the Kurdish government.

“In addition to acknowledging that genocide is taking place, we must also be mindful of the threat to our national security by the thousand or more foreign fighters – including more than a hundred Americans – who have linked up with ISIS, and can travel back and forth to their home countries with ease,” Wolf said in an Aug. 8 written statement. “This is one of the most significant national security threats in years. The administration must do everything possible to protect the American people from these threats, including seeking any legislative changes to prevent radicalized westerners from threatening the homeland.”

Three days of U.S. strikes by fighter jets and drones appear to have helped curb ISIS’ progress toward Erbil and weaken its hold on the region around the Sinjar Mountains, American officials said Monday (Aug. 11), according to The Wall Street Journal. The latest airstrikes Aug. 10 destroyed several vehicles in a caravan planning to attack Kurdish forces, the newspaper reported. The Kurds were able to retake two towns captured by ISIS, according to the report. Four humanitarian airdrops have occurred in the mountains.

The International Mission Board (IMB) and Baptist Global Response (BGR), an IMB ministry partner, have asked Southern Baptists to help provide humanitarian relief to Iraqi refugees. BGR representatives are seeking to aid the reportedly 200,000 internally displaced Iraqis who have left their homes in the face of the ISIS threat.

Southern Baptists and others may help Iraqi refugees by donating to the IMB general relief fund or by texting imbrelief to 80888, which will donate $10 to that fund.* To give through BGR, visit or text bgr to 80888.

*$10 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance. Message and data rates may apply. Must have account holder permission to donate. Terms:
(EDITOR’S NOTE – With reporting by Don Graham, an IMB senior writer. Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

8/12/2014 11:33:28 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Mark Driscoll’s books pulled from LifeWay stores

August 12 2014 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

The nation’s second largest Christian book retailer has pulled megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll’s books from its website and 186 stores.
Leaders at the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Christian Resources, informed stores on Friday to stop selling books by the Seattle pastor who has been in hot water.
Last week, leaders of the church planting network Acts 29 removed Driscoll and his churches from the group he helped found and asked that he “step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help.”


LifeWay Christian Stores logo, courtesy of LifeWay


Driscoll has been an influential but edgy pastor within conservative evangelical circles for several years. His Mars Hill Church attracts some 14,000 people at 15 locations across five states. He has been provocative, occasionally profane and has faced allegations of plagiarism and inflating book sales.
The mushrooming set of allegations led the publishing arm to suspend sales while it “monitors the developments of his ministry,” said LifeWay media relations manager Marty King.
“It was a cumulative effect,” King said. “The Acts 29 leadership asking him to step down was certainly a part of that.”
At the time of the decision, LifeWay’s stores were selling just one of Driscoll’s titles, “A Call to Resurgence,” King said.
A spokesperson for Mars Hill did not respond to LifeWay’s decision.
Driscoll recently admitted to and apologized for crude comments he made about feminism, homosexuality and “sensitive emasculated” men on an online discussion forum under the pseudonym “William Wallace II.”
Blogger Warren Throckmorton, who broke the news, has also reported allegations from former ministers that Driscoll publicly asked their wives about their favorite sexual position.
Acts 29’s decision was unusual because ministries usually leave matters of church discipline up to local churches. But a letter from Acts 29’s board suggested that it could not lean on Mars Hill’s own board to discipline Driscoll. The Acts 29 statement came after evangelical leaders Paul Tripp and James MacDonald resigned as members of the church governing board.
In 2012, LifeWay halted sales of a breast cancer awareness Bible tied to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, an organization that has drawn controversy for its partnership with Planned Parenthood. The same year, it pulled “The Blind Side” from shelves after complaints over the film’s profanity and use of a racial slur.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sarah Pulliam Bailey joined RNS as a national correspondent in 2013. She has previously served as managing editor of Odyssey Networks and online editor for Christianity Today.)

8/12/2014 11:10:58 AM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Atheist group’s victory could help churches

August 12 2014 by Sarah Padbury, WNS/Baptist Press

An atheist group reached a settlement last month with the Internal Revenue Service over stronger enforcement of policies against “church politicking,” and at least one religious freedom group voiced optimism, claiming the IRS investigation could be “a good thing” in the long run.

Alliance Defending Freedom has been campaigning to overturn the portion of the tax code that prohibits nonprofit organizations from “intervening in political campaigns as a condition of their tax-exempt status.” To achieve that, it has organized the annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday since 2008, for which it encourages pastors to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech – including political speech – from the pulpit and send copies of their sermons to the IRS. Once the IRS attempts to take away a church’s tax-exempt status, ADF will represent the church free of charge and seek to declare the law unconstitutional, Eric Stanley, senior counsel with ADF, said.

The IRS has yet to bite at ADF’s challenge. But in November 2012, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed suit, criticizing the IRS for not enforcing electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations. As a result of the agency’s non-enforcement, “churches and religious organizations have been blatantly and deliberately flaunting the electioneering restrictions,” the suit claims, alleging election-year violations by The Billy Graham Evangelical Association and several churches.

But the IRS hasn’t always had the power to censor what is said from the pulpit, Stanley said in a recent radio interview. The law was introduced by then-Senate Minority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson as an amendment to a tax overhaul bill in 1954. It was reported that Johnson hoped the bill would silence two powerful, secular nonprofits that were opposing his reelection in Texas.

“Johnson Amendment was slipped into the tax code with no debate, no analysis, no committee hearings, no anything,” Stanley said. “And since that time, the IRS has been monitoring and censoring what a pastor says from the pulpit.”

The IRS currently has a moratorium on investigating any nonprofits for alleged political activities, including churches, due to an ongoing congressional probe into the agency’s targeting of conservative groups’ tax-exempt applications with unwarranted examinations. But as soon as the suspension is lifted, the IRS will be able to use “adopted procedures for reviewing, evaluating, and determining whether to initiate church investigations,” FFRF said in its press release.

On Jul 22, ADF used the Freedom of Information Act to petition the IRS for documentation regarding the agency’s new procedures for investigating churches. Stanley said the agency’s decision not to make the procedures public fuels more suspicion of the already mistrusted organization.

This year on Oct. 5, more than 2,000 pastors are expected to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, during which they will “plainly speak scriptural truth about the qualifications of candidates for public office, regardless of candidates’ political affiliation,” according to the project’s website. Stanley believes FFRF’s latest win could lead to a legal resolution that benefits ministries.

“Churches are tax-exempt as a matter of constitutional right because there is no surer way to destroy the free exercise of religion than to begin taxing it,” Stanley said. “That exemption cannot be conditioned on the surrender of constitutional rights.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sarah Padbury writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine ( based in Asheville, N.C.)

8/12/2014 10:51:43 AM by Sarah Padbury, WNS/Baptist Press | with 1 comments

NCBAM targets fire-risk areas in state

August 12 2014 by Carol Layton, NCBAM Communications

In March 2014, North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM) received seven of 50 “Smoke Alarm and Home Safety Grants” awarded by the Office of State Fire Marshal (OSFM) – one for each of NCBAM’s six regional directors to administer and one for the ministry’s Call Center with its statewide outreach.
“This grant brought much-needed information on fire prevention and safety to aging adults who are most in need,” said Anita Davie, NCBAM’s west regional director.
“At senior centers, the folks especially appreciated the oven mitts and night lights we distributed. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that some aging adults don’t have an extra dollar for these type things.”


NCBAM photo
Sandy Gregory, North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry director, reviews the benefits of lithium-battery alarms with Larry Morris.

The purpose of the grant was to identify areas with the highest rates for fire injuries and fatalities, and provide smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, deaf and hard-of-hearing alarms, safety incentives, educational and group presentation materials, and tool kits for alarm installation.
NCBAM serves aging adults 65 and over – a demographic at highest risk of being injured or dying in a house fire. In North Carolina in 2013, 23 of 65 fire fatalities were aging adults.
The NCBAM regional directors targeted areas with the most need, and along with OSFM staff, presented educational workshops at senior centers and North Carolina Baptist churches. High-risk neighborhoods were canvassed and residents needing smoke alarms were provided with 10-year lithium battery alarms. The grant program wrapped up in July – with North Carolina Baptists bringing increased safety to 581 households in North Carolina.
According to Sandy Gregory, director of NCBAM, several “saves” have already been reported. In these incidents, the occupants were alerted to a fire and were able to escape and call the fire department. “If the fires had occurred prior to the home visits and installation of new alarms, the results could have been tragic. It’s gratifying to know that the program has already made a difference.”
According to Angie Gregg, injury prevention specialist at the OSFM, the grant program was a huge success. “It’s great to know that at-risk areas are now protected,” she said. “We were surprised by the number of homes without smoke alarms or with alarms that were over 10 years old.”
NCBAM also partners with the OSFM to conduct smoke alarm installation trainings – which provide free grant-funded alarms for attendees to install in the homes of aging adults in their communities. Regarding the strong partnership between NCBAM and the OSFM, Gregory stated, “We value our partnership with the Office of State Fire Marshal. The needs are great and we accomplish more working together.”

8/12/2014 10:38:42 AM by Carol Layton, NCBAM Communications | with 0 comments

Rick Trexler retires from BSC after 13 years with students

August 12 2014 by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor

Rick Trexler retired July 31 from the campus ministry team of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC). He served in this position since June 2001.


Ricky and Joy Trexler

Trexler was also in campus ministry at Gardner-Webb University, Memorial Baptist Church in Buies Creek and Eastern Kentucky University.
He is a graduate of Gardner-Webb University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Rick’s wife, Joy, is a middle school guidance counselor in Wake County.
Standing in as interim for Trexler, Jonathan Yarboro is the western region consultant for collegiate partnerships at the BSC.
He helps churches engage college campuses and make disciples among those who are often overlooked.
Yarboro said, “Tom Knight, Evan Blackerby, Sammy Joo and I all love Rick very much. We all have a great deal of respect for him, have learned from him and admire his selfless ministry to college students for 40 years.
“In leading the team during this interim period, my goal is to continue building a strong collaborative team of consultants who are proactively helping churches make disciples on every single collegiate community in N.C. There are 591,000 college students in N.C., and if we are going to reach them it’s imperative that we move toward a reality of having no campus left without a gospel presence.”     

8/12/2014 10:12:58 AM by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor | with 1 comments

Preserving Fort Caswell’s past for its future

August 11 2014 by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor

Located of the southeastern shores of Oak Island, historic military stronghold Fort Caswell was named for Richard Caswell, North Carolina’s first governor.
Fort Caswell played a number of military roles in American history, and in 1949 it was purchased for $86,000 by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) to become the North Carolina Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell.
Nathan Sloan, seasonal staff coordinator at Caswell, said Congress authorized construction of Caswell in 1825 because the area – particularly Wilmington as a major trade center – was extremely vulnerable to international naval armies.
Except for the War of 1812, Caswell had a crucial function in every American war including the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, as well as the Persian Gulf War and the Haitian War.
Initial construction began in 1827 under United States Corps of Engineers, Major George Blaney. Notices were placed in the Cape Fear Recorder and the Wilmington Commercial for “competent” and “able-bodied” workers who would receive 50-75 cents per day in wages to erect the 2,750-acre military defense system.
This area includes today’s “Youpon Beach, Caswell Beach, Oak Island Golf Course and the land beyond to the Elizabeth River,” wrote authors Ethel Herring and Carolee Williams in their book, Fort Caswell In War and Peace.


BR photo by Michael McEwen
David Johnson, right, and Nathan Sloan are long-time Caswell employees. Johnson has been working at Caswell for more than 40 years, and Sloan has been in employment for about 10 years.

On Oct. 20, 1838, Fort Caswell was completed by Capt. Alexander Swift at the total cost of $473,402.

Two decades later, it would be captured by Confederate armies on Jan. 8, 1861 – three months before Fort Sumter in South Carolina was seized. Caswell was abandoned shortly after Fort Fisher fell on Jan. 15, 1865.
An evacuation order given by Charles H. Simonton, a colonel of the Confederate Army.
For a short span in the early 1920s, Fort Caswell functioned as a military-training ground used for maneuvers by the North Carolina Coast Artillery, National Guard and other militaries.
Over a decade later in 1937, the deserted fort was sold to private developers, S.O. Chase and L.B. Skinner of Florida. Sloan said, “They turned the gunning placements on top of Battery Caswell into swimming pools. … They attempted to turn it into a massive resort.” Chase and Skinner tried to take advantage of Caswell’s coastal environment and established buildings to convert the 248.8 acres into a year-round health resort.
After five years in the hands of Chase and Skinner, the United States government reacquired Fort Caswell in 1941 to use as a depot during World War II. Eight years later, the property became war surplus and it was sold to the BSC to become a retreat for North Carolina Baptists.
For the past five decades, the fort has been committed to serving North Carolina Baptists, and has been doing so while emphasizing the fort’s historical memory. Hundreds of renovations have been made to accommodate the 30,000 plus visitors each year.
Sloan said, “We’re still able to preserve the buildings better than most people would care to do because of the way we’re using these buildings for camps. … In fact, some bunks [in the renovated barracks] still have ‘U.S’ carved on the sides of them.”
Director of the Environment Stewardship Program (ESP) at Caswell, Jenny Fuller blends her background in biology and fisheries with her educational drive. She and her staff set up stations on local beaches and marshes so students can fish, crab and explore various organisms to learn about their biological structures as well as their economic and financial value to the state of North Carolina and abroad.

Two thousand students and adults came through the ESP in 2013, and Fuller expects over 3,000 by the end of this fall’s field-trip season.
Richard Holbrook, director of Caswell since 1985, said, “[Jenny] was a God-send. … The program grows every year. We really don’t know how far it will go, but we’re looking forward to what will happen with it.”
Much time and energy has been placed in marketing the ESP to provide mid-week programming in the spring and fall. In the summer, the staff teaches environmental education once a week to public, private or homeschool groups.
The curriculum is designed to correlate with N.C. Essential Standards for Science and Social Studies yet in a hands-on experience.
Fuller said, “We have tried to create things here that maximize exposure to the different ecosystems we have like exploring in the marsh or the beach.
“We talk about water quality, stewardship, science and biology. Our facilities lend themselves very naturally to ecosystem studies.”
Due to the unique facility and laboratory experience through the ESP, schools are open to sending students to safe environments found at Caswell, said Holbrook.
“We have a staff that can provide food, lodging and the complete package for the kids,” Holbrook said.
“It’s a good way to use the facilities and to teach young people how to preserve and take care of what we’ve been blessed with [at Caswell].”
In the past Caswell has been generally known as a youth camp.
“That’s the common concept of Baptists when they think of Caswell,” Holbrook said.
Caswell a year-round operation that does more than the summer camp experience. They also cater to adults and retired/semi-retired adults through programs like M.A.S.H. (Mature Adults Sharing Him), a retreat in fall 2014 challenging participants to share God’s Good News in word and deed.
Other denominations don’t have such premier facilities like what is found at Caswell, Holbrook said.
First completed in 1989, the Smith Conference Center had its finishing renovations done in May.
Dedicated to Fred and Eudell Smith for their 20 years of service at Caswell, the center is nestled at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, and it features a large dining room, conference spaces, classrooms and several guest rooms.
The newest lodging addition to Caswell is Sandpiper.
Opened in 2013, it blends in with the cultural architecture found along Caswell Beach Road. Sloan said Sandpiper generally provides bunks for youth with a 130-person capacity.
In spring 2014, the N.C. Baptist Assembly’s “Fort Caswell Historic District” was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
The register exists as “the official Federal list of districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering and culture.”
Pointing to the transitional point of Caswell’s history in 1949, Herring and Williams said, “Gone are the soldiers of former days, but these new recruits have many life battles to prepare for, and a place like Caswell has the unique opportunity to do that, using the teachable moments of retreats and conferences.”
Caswell, indeed, no longer serves as a highly engineered military fort, yet it largely functions to equip tens of thousands of Christian soldiers who visit the historic grounds each year.
Holbrook isn’t sure if anyone will ever know the final impact that Caswell has made through the years on individuals.
“Maybe there will be a big board in Heaven somewhere where they’ll have all the Caswell people listed,” he hoped. 
For more information about Fort Caswell, visit For more information about M.A.S.H. dates click the “Programs” tab on their website.

8/11/2014 2:07:40 PM by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Trainer to the top athletes puts Jesus first

August 11 2014 by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q&A

Chip Smith is recognized as the founding father of the sports performance training industry and has trained more National Football League (NFL) talent (more than 300 current NFL players and 40 Olympic gold medalists) than anyone alive.
As a speed and strength expert, his proprietary training system produces unparalleled results. Having equipped more than 1,000 professional athletes in nearly a dozen sports, Smith is truly a leader in his field. Chip Smith Performance System (CSPS) is one of the top sports training facilities in the United States and is located in Norcross, Ga.
CSPS just announced a partnership with Stack Velocity performance systems nationwide that will allow young athletes (high school, college athletes and others) to take advantage of his athlete training system. I have known Chip for years. He is a strong Christian, husband and father. While he has helped many athletes become champions, he relishes in leading them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.


Contributed photo
Chip Smith, far right, is working with one of his NFL cients Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Richard Seymour, far left, while a crew films Seymour’s progress.

Q: You have trained over 1,400 elite Olympic and professional athletes, such as NFL’s Brian Urhlacher, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton. How does your faith in God translate as you train athletes?
A: God isn’t concerned with how many first-round draft picks or how many Olympic gold medalists I trained. But, rather, He is concerned with how I made Kingdom impact with the tools He gave me. Because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, I hold a higher standard when I coach. I tell every young man who comes in: “You have to be mentally, spiritually and physically fit, and if you’re lacking in any of those areas you’re not a total person.”
Q: How do you put this philosophy into action?
A: Every Wednesday morning, we have a Bible study with Christians and non-believers. We are able to share with them what God has done in our lives, how He protects and takes care of us. We tell everyone that they can only be concerned about the things in their control such as one’s work ethic and preparation. In terms of physicality, I tell the guys that God made them exactly the size they are, and He didn’t make a mistake.
Q: Cheating has become so pervasive in professional sports today. What’s the message you’re giving to young athletes about performance enhancing drugs?
A: Most guys are not training right, and they’re not training in the right system. We’ve never had an athlete in the Olympic or NFL system that has maxed out their genetic potential. We take care of diet, training, recovery and regeneration at the highest level. In the end, it’s all hard work. Now, do performance enhancing drugs work? They can work. But in the long run you’re doing more damage to your body and shortening your life-span drastically.
Q: Training methods have changed so much even over the last 10 years, talk about this generation’s athletes and what makes them so fit.
A: Unlike when you and I played, we did static exercises like bench-presses, power cleans, squats and routine exercises. That still needs to be done, but now, we immediately go to explosive movements from those exercises. Athletes today are training so that they’re prepared for their sport. In the weight room once we finish an exercise like the squat – a controlled movement – we’ll finish with an explosive movement. This routine translates a lot better and more effectively on the field.
Q: A lot of people are worried about concussions today. What would you tell parents who are looking at youngsters playing contact sports?
A: I think you have to look at the age of the child: What is the make-up of the child? Are they aggressive or passive? When we speak to youth organizations people always ask, ‘What age would you suggest kids to start at?’ We have changed the philosophy. We used to tell parents to hold their kids back until they reached puberty. Now we’re saying that we can train prepubescent athletes with weight training as long as it’s based on the child’s percentage of body weight and high repetitions – where they’re not lifting heavy weights. Also, parents need to look at the coach’s mentality.
It has to be fun for the kids, but it’s a contact sport, so don’t make a mistake about it. Sometimes kids are going to get hurt because that’s the nature of the game. For me as a dad of three sons, I think it’s part of the growing-up process for young boys that they develop by playing.
For more information on Chip and his program you can go to or on Facebook, search for “Chip Smith.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roman’s Sold Out Sports Talk Radio program on American Family Radio can be heard in 200 cities nationally or streaming live at He is an evangelist and motivational speaker. Visit his website:; Facebook: Roman Gabriel III Fan Page; connect on Twitter: romangabriel3rd. Contact at (910) 431-6483 or email:

8/11/2014 1:49:51 PM by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q&A | with 0 comments

Liberian missionaries during Ebola outbreak arrive in U.S.

August 11 2014 by Religion News Service

Three SIM ( missionaries serving in Liberia during the recent Ebola virus outbreak returned to the United States late Sunday night. They flew into Charlotte-Douglas International Airport by private charter and arrived at 10:16 p.m.
Among the three is David Writebol, husband of SIM missionary Nancy Writebol, who is being treated for Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. The other two missionaries are SIM doctors who have been treating Ebola patients at SIM’s ELWA medical facilities in Monrovia, Liberia. Their names are being withheld at this time to protect their privacy and that of their families.
“We are excited to have these three missionaries safely back in the U.S.,” said Bruce Johnson, president of SIM USA. “They are all healthy and in good spirits, and we want to express our gratitude to all those involved in the effort to bring them back, and for the prayers of countless people around the world.”
SIM will hold a press briefing with reporters at its headquarters in Charlotte today at 2:30 p.m. EDT.
All three SIM missionaries are healthy and showing no signs or symptoms of Ebola infection. Each was checked and cleared medically before boarding the flight from Liberia to the U.S.  Each was also checked and found healthy by Mecklenburg County (N.C.) Public Health communicable disease specialists upon arrival in Charlotte.
Ebola is not contagious unless a person is presenting symptoms.
The missionaries will remain under a 21-day quarantine that began in Liberia, the continuation of which is being required by the Mecklenburg County Health Department, working in concert with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Public Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. SIM appreciates and sought the involvement of local, state, national and international public health professionals to ensure public safety.
Dr. Stephen Keener, Mecklenburg County medical director, said the quarantine is a preventative measure, and at this time public health officials feel there is no cause for concern.
“Quarantine is a public health measure to protect the public that requires healthy people who were exposed to a disease to be prevented from contact with others until it is certain that they are not infected,” Keener said in a press release Sunday.
The 21-day period is based on the longest duration of incubation, which is the delay between exposure and onset of illness for Ebola infection. The average incubation period is 8-10 days, while the range is two-21 days. In this case, the period of quarantine is only for the length of time necessary to complete the 21-day observation period, the press release went on to say.
The three SIM missionaries will be staying in a private section of SIM USA’s 90-acre campus in Charlotte until they have been released from quarantine. SIM has been working with the Mecklenburg County Health Department and the N.C. Division of Public Health to make full preparations for this period.
Upon completion of the 21-day quarantine period, David Writebol plans to visit his wife Nancy in Atlanta.
SIM ( is an international Christian mission organization with a staff of nearly 3,000 workers from over 50 countries serving in more than 65 nations. In addition to medicine, SIM serves on every continent in areas of education, community development, public health and Christian witness. While SIM stood for Sudan Interior Mission when it was founded 120 years ago, it is now a global mission known as SIM (pronounced S-I-M).

8/11/2014 11:41:45 AM by Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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