December 2008

Chuck Register to be new executive leader

December 12 2008 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Charles “Chuck” Register, pastor of First Baptist Church, Gulfport, Miss., and well known to North Carolina Baptists as the local face of Hurricane Katrina recovery, has been elected to the administrative staff of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).

Register, 49, will start Jan. 5, 2009, as executive leader for church planting and missions development. The new position was authorized by the BSC Executive Committee May 20 and Register was elected during the Executive Committee meeting Nov. 10.

Register has been pastor of First Baptist Church, Gulfport, since 1999. He led the church through a complete $19 million relocation after its total destruction from Hurricane Katrina Aug. 29, 2005. The church occupied its new facility Aug. 10, 2008.

“My wife, Charlene, and I have said only one thing would pry us out of Gulfport and that was a calling from the Father to a new page of ministry,” Register said by phone Dec. 11.
“We are as excited as we can be to come to North Carolina.”

Ironically, Register’s senior associate pastor for eight years in Gulfport, Brian Upshaw, was elected Aug. 14 as team leader for the BSC church ministry team. Register acknowledges it is “certainly a blow” to the church that loves North Carolina Baptists for their work to restore Gulfport after Hurricane Katrina to lose two staff members at the same time to North Carolina.

But, he is confident that “God always has the answer for those resources” the church needs.

He is equally as confident that under the threat of shrinking resources in denominational work, “When God calls us to a task He always provides.”

Register believes an immediate challenge in what will be a high profile responsibility as the BSC emphasizes church planting, will be to “help the established churches understand the need for new church plants. Because we’re in such a heavily Baptist area we can live under the false assumption there are already enough Baptist, enough evangelical churches.”

He reiterated that new churches reach more people per capita and said, “We need to be planting new churches aggressively.”

Register also wants to raise awareness that 180 languages are spoken in “our state” and today “the world lives in North Carolina.”

Register has been involved in church planting and church growth from his earliest student days. He helped to start a church in Eldon, Iowa, as a summer seminary student worker; churches he’s led as pastor have started other churches, including internationally, and he has taught evangelism and church growth at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he directed the Landrum P. Leavell II Center for Evangelism and Church Growth 1996-1999.

He said he has a special concern for World A, or “unreached people groups.”

He cited statistics that indicate as many as 7 million North Carolinians are actively engaged in no church, and said, “You can’t be obedient to the Acts 1:8 if you’re neglecting your own back yard.”

Register is a native of Starke, Fla., and has been married to his high school sweetheart, the former Charlene Beam, since 1982. They have two children: Chip, a senior at the University of Southern Mississippi and Christina, a sophomore at Mississippi State University.

Register is a graduate the University of Florida and earned both his master of divinity and doctor of theology degrees from New Orleans Seminary. He is currently a trustee of the Southern Baptist  International Mission Board and was a member of the SBC Committee on Committees in 2001.

12/12/2008 7:03:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 1 comments

Oldest IMB emeritus missionary dies at 102

December 12 2008 by Emilee Brandon, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. — The International Mission Board's (IMB) oldest emeritus missionary, Howard McCamey, was honored in a memorial service in Dallas Dec. 5. He died Nov. 26 at age 102.

Longtime members of Gaston Avenue Baptist Church in Dallas, Howard and his late wife, Georgia, were commissioned by the former Foreign Mission Board April 10, 1940 — one day shy of Howard's 34th birthday. Born April 11, 1906, Howard served as a missionary dentist in Nigeria for nearly three decades.

The McCameys' careers as missionaries started when they felt the Lord calling them to work at a hospital in Nigeria. They set sail in 1940, one year after World War II started.

The war presented many problems, especially for travelers. The voyage from the United States to Cape Town, South Africa, took a month. Once the couple arrived in Cape Town, they boarded another boat for Nigeria. Frequent detours to avoid German U-boats slowed their progress.

 Nearly a month and a half later, Howard and Georgia reached their destination. But the grueling trek was still not over. Another missionary met them in Lagos, Nigeria, and from there they drove 176 miles to the hospital in Ogbomosho.

The couple's calling outweighed their exhaustion. Howard found himself in charge of a 46-bed medical hospital, 12 leper colonies and two medical dispensaries. He performed emergency dental work with only a foot drill and a flashlight.

Georgia, a nurse, helped staff the hospital, kept the books, taught new nurses, delivered babies, conducted a well-baby clinic once a month and was qualified to administer anesthetics. The couple's numerous responsibilities meant long work hours.

With no running water, Howard dug water holes by hand and piped water to the hospital. He also helped American and British soldiers during World War II get clean water, food and medical attention.

After nearly eight years on the mission field, the McCameys returned to Texas so Howard could update his dental skills. They went back to Nigeria in 1954 to run the Baptist Dental Clinic in Ibadan.

Perhaps the McCameys' greatest legacy is the young men they mentored during their missionary career. The McCameys taught them to clean teeth and make dentures, encouraged them to go to school and helped provide them with clothes, shoes and food. Most importantly, they shared their faith in Jesus.

One of the young men, Olaleyee Aremu, showed particular interest in dentistry. Howard mentored Olaleyee and later, along with doctor friends in the United States, helped him attend college.

Three years later, Olaleyee graduated summa cum laude from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and went on to attend dental school. He then returned to Nigeria to help the McCameys at the Ibadan clinic. When the McCameys retired to Dallas in 1971, their work continued as Olaleyee took over running the clinic.

Howard and Georgia opened a private dental practice in Dallas after retirement. Georgia died in 1994. Howard is survived by his sister, Doris Brown, and her family.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Brandon is a writer with the IMB.)

12/12/2008 4:35:00 AM by Emilee Brandon, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Deaton elected Western Recorder editor

December 12 2008 by Drew Nichter, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Former Biblical Recorder Associate Editor Todd Deaton was elected Dec. 9 as editor of the Western Recorder, newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

Deaton, 45, has been managing editor of the Baptist Courier, newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, since 1996. Prior to coming to the Baptist Courier, Deaton had been associate editor at the Biblical Recorder. He worked as an intern for the Western Recorder for three years when he was a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

"You have already made a profound impact upon who I am," Deaton told the KBC Mission Board. "This is a way I can return the blessings that you have given me."

Prior to being elected, Deaton told the KBC board he "would seek to bring to the pages of the Western Recorder accuracy, balance and fairness" and that he has "a fervent desire to tell the stories of what Kentucky Baptists are doing."

Deaton "meets and exceeds all of our requirements" to become the newspaper's next editor, said Skip Alexander, chairman of the Western Recorder editor search committee.

"We're enthusiastic (and) we're excited about Todd Deaton leading the Western Recorder," Alexander said. "It's not only right for Todd to step into this calling, but we believe he's right for Kentucky Baptists. He is known as a bridge builder and an encourager, someone who will put the faces of our people in print ... and tell what Kentucky Baptists are doing for God's glory."

Deaton is expected to begin his new role in mid-January. He succeeds Trennis Henderson, who resigned in March 2008 to become vice president of communications at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark.

Deaton is a graduate of Furman University in Greenville, S.C., and Southern Seminary. In May he expects to complete a doctor of education degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest.

He and his wife Michelle have two children, Laura Leigh and Caleb Todd.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Nichter is news director of the Western Recorder, newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)

12/12/2008 4:27:00 AM by Drew Nichter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Christmas boxes en route to chaplains

December 11 2008 by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — At least 200 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)-endorsed military chaplains will be pleasantly surprised with a box of Christmas goodies by Dec. 25.

Chaplains in Iraq and Afghanistan will receive boxes of candy, instant coffee and hot chocolate, powdered soft drinks, snacks, CDs, books and magazines, toiletries, batteries, pre-paid phone cards, socks, boot laces, sunglasses and even small Christmas trees and other Christmas decorations.

Some 100 North American Mission Board (NAMB) employees and members of several Atlanta-area Baptist churches collected and boxed the items as a "symbol of love" for the chaplains, said Keith Travis, team leader of NAMB's chaplaincy evangelism team in Alpharetta, Ga.

Travis initiated the project because he "felt like we needed to do something to let the chaplains know we're thinking of them at the holidays because the chaplains in Iraq and Afghanistan are doing such a great job over there. Other than this, all we can do for them is pray.

"These chaplains are serving on the front lines as pastors for our soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines," Travis said. "They're baptizing our men and women over there, and using a lot of ingenuity to share the gospel in various ways. They're making a difference and changing lives. It's a miracle to see."

Slightly more than 1,000 SBC-endorsed military chaplains serve in military branches around the world. At any given time, about 75 are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other chaplains, whose locations remain secret, are serving with special operations forces and Army Rangers.

The Christmas boxes were assembled by NAMB staff and members of several Atlanta-area churches — including First Baptist Church of Alpharetta, First Baptist Church of Winder, and Travis' own church, First Baptist Church of Holly Springs — and then were shipped by the U.S. Post Office.

The Post Office offers special shipping boxes and reduced rates for the military. Available to anyone, the boxes hold up to 50 pounds and cost a flat rate of around $10 regardless of actual weight shipped.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer with NAMB. If you would like to send a gift box to a chaplain at Christmas or any time of the year, e-mail for more information.)

12/11/2008 6:54:00 AM by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Evangelism leaders meet for GPS planning

December 11 2008 by Michael McCormack, Baptist Press

National and state Southern Baptist evangelism leaders from across North America met in New Orleans Dec. 2-4 for their annual evangelism winter meeting, which this year was focused on the new "God's Plan for Sharing" (GPS) denomination-wide evangelism emphasis.

The gathering was a continuation of what has been two years of planning, designing and strategizing for the evangelism emphasis that will run from 2010 to 2020. The campaign — a product of a partnership between the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and state and local evangelism leaders within the SBC — has a goal of having "every believer sharing" and "every person hearing" in North America by 2020.

More than 100 attended the meeting, which included state directors of evangelism, state prayer coordinators, leaders of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE) and NAMB staff.

Author and Bible teacher Henry Blackaby addressed the group, as did Chuck Kelley, president of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS). Attendees spent much of their time in workgroups related to GPS, discussing goals and needed actions leading up to the campaign's 2010 launch.

But the primary focus of the evangelism conference was prayer — the first of four "mileposts" that make up GPS. The other mileposts are "engaging," "sowing" and "harvesting." Throughout the conference, prayer and reliance upon God were front-and-center.

"Prayer is a non-negotiable," said Ron Clement, the Colorado Baptist General Convention director of evangelism. "King David said to the people, 'Seek God's face always.' Jesus said in Luke 11: 'Always pray and never give up.'"

Clement, who was charged with outlining GPS to attendees, also challenged the group to pray earnestly to God and actively seek God. He led the group in a time of focused prayers of repentance and preparation for the future.

Amid a sense of preparation and participation, Blackaby addressed the crowd. His tone was markedly direct and serious.

"Jesus said in John 20:21: 'As the Father has sent me, so send I you,'" Blackaby said. "Do you feel the weight of that assignment that God has granted you? It's actually the same as He gave His Son. And that's why God is seeking to conform us to the image of His Son."

The gravity of God's calling warrants serious prayer, Blackaby said. He pointed specifically to Solomon's prayer and God's reaction to it recorded in 2 Chronicles 7 as a model for every believer's prayer life.

"I want you to see a pattern in the life of Solomon, which is a pattern you and I need to look at very carefully," Blackaby said.

Second Chronicles 7 begins with the phrase "When Solomon finished praying" and goes on to record God's response to that prayer, he noted.

"That's the key," Blackaby said. "All that happened next was because of the prayer life of Solomon. So I ask myself the question, 'How central to my relationship with God and His assignment for me is my prayer life? Is God responding to my praying?'"

Blackaby also drew attention to the God-sent fire that consumed the sacrifices Solomon had placed on the altar. He compared the sacrifice of Solomon to offerings — both tangible and intangible — that individual Christians offer today.

"We pray without any offerings," he said. "Ask God what you need to already have on the altar. The fire cannot consume what you have not put on the altar."

The centrality of prayer — the first GPS milepost — is key to evangelism, because prayer gives birth to evangelism, Blackaby said.

Making an analogy between agriculture and the four GPS "mileposts," Kelley drew on history to highlight how successful evangelism campaigns had been for Southern Baptists up through the mid-1970s. Kelley, who studied the history of Southern Baptist evangelism as part of his doctoral work, described how, from 1955 to the mid-1970s, yearly baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention crested near 450,000 in 1974 and quickly fell off.

"I watched that passion (for evangelism) become institutionalized," Kelley said of the mid-1970s. "From 1955, when we baptized 415,000 people, until today, we have never baptized 450,000 people. More churches, more Southern Baptists, more money, more resources, more missionaries, more strategies. More of everything but fruit. What happened to the harvest?"

Kelley compared the state of Southern Baptist evangelism and baptism today to "grandchildren of farmers keeping the farming stories alive over dessert and coffee at family reunions." Despite the challenges ahead, there are great opportunities, Kelley said. One such opportunity especially true in New Orleans, Kelley said, is social turmoil resulting in openness to the gospel.

Joe McKeever, associational director of the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans, led the group in a time of prayer for the New Orleans area.

"There has never been a revival in New Orleans," McKeever said, quoting Kelley. "But since Katrina, with thousands of your people coming to minister and share their faith, now I believe we are on the verge of a great revival. No city in America has been seeded with the Gospel like New Orleans."

(EDITOR’S NOTE — McCormack is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. For more information on God's Plan for Sharing, visit

12/11/2008 4:32:00 AM by Michael McCormack, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘True Woman’ movement challenges feminism

December 11 2008 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A group of conservative Christian women is seeking 100,000 signatures on a "True Woman Manifesto" aimed at sparking a counter-revolution to the feminist movement of the 1960s.

Introduced at a gathering of more than 6,000 women in early October, the document calls not for equal rights, but instead proclaims that men and women are created to reflect God's image in "complementary and distinct ways."

That includes the idea that women are called "to honor and support God-ordained male leadership in the home and in the church."

"That is very explosive stuff," organizer Mary Kassian described the campaign Nov.25 on a radio program hosted by Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. "It is countercultural, because the world would be screaming at us, women would be screaming at us: 'What are you doing? All those rights that we fought so hard for, how can you say 'Just give that up and say that men are to be the heads of the homes?'

"The basis on which we do that is because we believe that is taught in dcripture," Kassian said. "And we believe that is a blessing for women and not a curse against women, and that actually when we live according to God's design, we find blessing and peace and wholeness in our lives."

The idea for the True Woman '08 Conference held Oct. 9-11 and webcast from Schaumburg, Ill., came as Kassian — an author, speaker and distinguished professor at the Louisville, Ky.-based seminary — and Christian radio broadcaster Nancy Leigh DeMoss discussed how feminism revolutionized women's lives.

Recognizing that revolution began with a meeting of only a few women, they asked why there couldn't be a similar movement sparked by a meeting of women driven not by feminist ideals, but by teachings of the Bible.

"We are believing God for a movement of reformation and revival in the hearts and homes of Christian women all around this world," DeMoss said in the conference's closing address. "I just believe there is a massive women's movement of true women in those millions of women who are able to capture all kinds of battlefronts for Christ."

DeMoss said there are "a lot of truly desperate housewives" in homes and churches, who are not finding fulfillment in what God intended for them to be.

Kassian told the gathering that women have come a long way in the last 50 years, but not always in the right direction. While they may not have been able to identify the source of their values, she said, the idea of complementary roles for men and women was part of the social landscape until after the 1950s.

In the 1950s, for example, the Cleaver family in TV sitcom "Leave it to Beaver" exemplified the ideal suburban family. In contrast, she said, during the last decade media images overwhelmingly portrayed women as being in charge, while men were "marginalized and de-masculinized" into characters that are whiny, needy, not-too-bright and totally unreliable.

Kassian said even Christian women have been influenced more by feminism more than they realize, including the idea that patriarchy — the idea of submitting to male authority — is the source of all their heartache and problems.

Kassian told radio host Al Mohler the solution is not going back to the 19th century but to scripture. Instead of "wimpy women," she said the movement is out to recruit women who are "doctrinally strong and theologically strong" and who will "study and search scripture and come to scriptural conclusions."

"I believe part of the reason the feminist movement was so successful throughout the '60s was that you had a whole culture that was just living by (a) Judeo-Christian framework in the '50s, without really thinking about (it). And then when feminism came in with these new ideas, a lot of Christian women even began to embrace them," she said.

"We are interested in a countercultural movement," Kassian said, that looks nothing like "Leave it to Beaver" or the 1950s.

"True Woman is taking the Bible and God's plan for womanhood and applying it to my life today in this millennium, in this year, and for what that looks like for single women, for married women, for women at all stages of life," Kassian said.

Mohler, along with Kassian a member of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, termed the manifesto "a very important document."

"These are shots that ought to be heard around the world." Mohler said.

The effort has a long way to go before reaching its goal of 100,000 signatures. As of midday Dec. 10, the number of online signers stood at 2,667.

(EDITORíS NOTE —Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)

12/11/2008 4:27:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Alabama church named fastest-growing

December 11 2008 by Greg Garrison, Religion News Service

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Birmingham's Church of the Highlands has been named the fastest-growing church in America by Outreach magazine, a publication for religious leaders that does an annual analysis of church growth.

In the yearlong survey of church attendance ending in spring 2008, Highlands grew by 3,418 from the previous year — a jump of 72 percent — to 8,168.

And in the months since, attendance has increased by more than 2,500 at its main campus and three satellite branches, said Chris Hodges, the 45-year-old pastor who founded the church just seven years ago.

Weekly attendance exceeds 10,000, and was 11,670 on Easter.

"It's about worship, music, child care, creating a breath of fresh air," Hodges said. "A life-giving experience is what draws people."

A big factor in becoming the fastest-growing church in the country was the opening last year of a $15 million campus with a 2,400-seat sanctuary next to Interstate 459. The church is planning a 1,000-seat youth auditorium that can serve as an overflow area.

The church offers conferences for 30 to 40 church leaders who want to learn church growth methods or how to start a church.

Some lessons, however, cannot be taught, said Layne Schranz, associate pastor.

"We always make it very clear there is no explanation for the intangible: God has put his hand on this," Schranz said.

On Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings at the church, people line up at a coffee shop for free coffee or $2 espressos before and after the service. "It's all part of creating an environment where people want to be at church," Hodges said.

Highlands stresses mission work, sending youth groups around the world, and has planted 75 churches around the country, with plans to start 50 more next year.

Hodges stresses that local mission work is as important as anywhere else. The church plans a health clinic and mission outreach to help the poor.

In addition to its big worship services, the church has dozens of small groups meeting in homes, parks and schools to focus on prayer and Bible study. Life application lessons are at the center of the studies and services.

Hodges, who grew up in Baton Rouge and was raised Southern Baptist, leans toward Pentecostal theology, but Highlands is independent. He spent 11 years on staff at the 8,000-member Bethany World Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, La., and seven years at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo. Church of the Highlands is modeled on those.

In addition to the fastest-growing churches, Outreach magazine listed the 100 largest.

Church of the Highlands ranked No. 71 on that list. At the top was Lakewood Church in Houston, led by Joel Osteen, which reported weekly attendance of 43,500.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Garrison writes for The Birmingham News.)

12/11/2008 4:25:00 AM by Greg Garrison, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

WorldCrafts gives hope to Afghan families

December 10 2008 by Stephanie J. Blackmon, Woman’s Missionary Union

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Amid the arid lands of Afghanistan, where hills and snow-capped mountains surround deserts and poppy fields, a cloud of war hovers over the terrain and all who inhabit it. But there are those who, with the help of WorldCrafts, have found deliverance.

WorldCrafts, a fair-trade, nonprofit ministry of national Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), is helping to give Afghan families an expectation of a life beyond their impoverished conditions through a partnership with an artisan group comprised of women who make jewelry, mosaics, and sew.

The artisan group of approximately 10- to 12 women will sell their hand-made products through WorldCrafts, and use the proceeds to pay for healthcare and education for themselves and their families.

“I am very happy that we will soon start a literacy class here,” said Natalia*, an artisan from Afghanistan. Forced to drop out of school at age 10 due to illness, Natalia is illiterate.

She currently lives with her mother, single sister, two brothers, and her brothers’ wives and children.

Her father died when she was 11, and she and her sisters were forbidden to marry before her brothers. Natalia, now 28, is deemed too old to marry. But she discovers freedom in her ability to work.

“It is very good for me to have my own money,” she said. “I can provide everything for myself without asking my brother. Now I can even help my brother, and I put my nephew in school.”

At the age of 15, Asha* too understands the constraints of financial oppression. The ninth grader resides in her paternal grandfather’s home with her mother, father, three sisters, three uncles, and her uncles’ wives. Between her health problems and her mother’s, Asha and her family often wondered if they would have enough money for medical treatments and school for Asha and two of her sisters.

However, the young girl, who dreams of becoming a geologist, finds some solace in her job as an artisan with WorldCrafts. “My father is currently unemployed. I use the money I earn to go to school and to help my father provide for the family,” she stated.

“I want to finish the 12th grade and go on for a masters/doctorate,” said Anya*, a 32-year-old artisan. Despite hardships, like her husband being injured in an accident, Anya continues her work. “I have children going to school, and my husband is unemployed,” she stated, “The job is a big help for me.”
Anya also expressed that she wants her three children to be educated as well. Perhaps, through her job as an artisan, she can see her dreams for herself and her family come to fruition.

For each of these women, and the other artisans not mentioned here, working for WorldCrafts has not only given them a glimpse of life outside of continuous war and poverty, but also a chance to achieve it.

As the group’s leader expressed, “We all are very happy with this job. It helps us to forget our family problems for the hours that we are working together, laughing and talking. When we are together, we talk and learn what is going on in the world. Being together makes us brave and gives us courage to fight for our rights. When we see that our children are happy that we have money to put them in school and buy clothes for them, it makes us happy. Thanks be to God for giving us this job. Thanks to the people who try to provide work for us.”

* Names have been changed to protect the anonymity of the women.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Since 1996, WorldCrafts has imported handmade crafts from artisans worldwide, providing them and their families with hope and income for food, shelter, education, and medicine. WorldCrafts works with 70 different artisan groups in 38 countries and has expanded its product line to approximately 370 quality items. Please visit the WorldCrafts web site,, for more information about artisan groups, the complete WorldCrafts product line, and tips and resources for planning a WorldCrafts party.) 

12/10/2008 9:14:00 AM by Stephanie J. Blackmon, Woman’s Missionary Union | with 0 comments

Program works within fair trade guidelines

December 10 2008 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Paulina Navichoc lives in San Pedro, a remote village high in the mountains surrounding Lake Atitlan in western Guatemala. This Christmas her family has food, clothes and medicine they might otherwise have gone without if it weren't for WorldCrafts, a non-profit ministry of Woman's Missionary Union (WMU).

Paulina and her mother, a pastor's wife who became a widow last year, work together to make hand-beaded Christmas ornaments that WorldCrafts sells for $19.99.

Andrea Mullins, director of WMU's product-development center, said people often ask why WorldCrafts products are more expensive than other similar products on the market.

The answer, Mullins said, is because the ministry's aim is not to make a profit, but to improve the lives of women like Paulina who live in extreme poverty in nations all over the world.

"One of the interesting facts about WorldCrafts is that we are a fair-trade organization," Mullins recently told a group of Baptist state convention executive directors and editors visiting the Birmingham, Ala., headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention-related auxiliary organization.

That means WorldCrafts buys products only from businesses that abide by Fair Trade Federation guidelines, which include paying fair wages and practicing environmental sustainability.

"We in the United States are a free-trade society," Mullins said. "We've seen what free trade can do — both positive and negative — over the last few months. Fair trade gives people who are very poor a place at the table."

Beyond helping the working woman's immediate family, Mullins said, WorldCrafts partnerships help communities by bringing new jobs and income into local economies.

"We're not after them to get the cheapest price that they can give us," Mullins said. "We work with them so they are getting a fair price and also help them to invest back into the community."

The program also establishes credibility for Baptist missionaries. All artisans involved with WorldCrafts are also in contact with mission personnel. Often, helping local businesses is a core part of the missionary's ministry.

"Many of our missionaries work in high-security places, and they couldn't go in and work with the people they work with if they didn't have some sort of a business platform to go into that country," Mullins said. "We do that."

If a missionary leaves, however, the business continues. "Our objective is, in the long term, to bring sustainable transformation to people who are living in poverty," Mullins said.

Started in 1996 with one artisan group —Thai Country Trim in Thailand — Mullins said WorldCrafts now works in 38 countries with 66 artisan groups ranging in size from a few people to hundreds of workers.

WorldCrafts imports more than 300 different items of indigenous artistry from Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Items offered at the WMU online store range alphabetically from backpacks, baskets, Bible covers and bookmarks to stationery and tablecloths. Prices start at 79 cents for a key ring to a Mount Ararat Rug that sells for $199.99.

Mullins acknowledged that some of the items would cost less if they were mass produced in a factory, but those profits might go to the owners of a sweatshop instead of people who need the income to live a better life.

Compared to items of similar quality, however, Mullins said WorldCrafts' prices are often quite comparable to those charged by for-profit businesses. That is especially true when the value of an item is gauged by the amount of work it took to produce.

Making a single hand-beaded Ki'che Christmas Ball takes a Mayan woman in Guatemala a full day, but the sale of that ornament will feed the artisan's family for a week in an area so poor that only about two children in five reach preschool age due to malnutrition.

Another new product, the $29.99 King's Garden Bracelet, is made by women in Afghanistan — many of them widows due to that country's decades of war. Featuring more than 1,000 beads applied by hand, the product would have no access to market if not for contact with WMU.

WorldCrafts products are not sold in stores. They can be purchased online at or ordered from a catalogue. One popular way to purchase the items is at WorldCrafts parties. They can be planned as a small home gathering, an existing group or a large event such as at a church.

One added benefit of the parties, Mullins said, is they provide an opportunity to educate women about undiscovered talents of other women from around the world.  

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)
12/10/2008 9:07:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

All those letters to God find a home

December 10 2008 by Michele Chabin, Religion News Service

JERUSALEM — Once a year, usually just before Hanukkah and Christmas, a handful of Jerusalem postal workers leave their dreary letter-sorting station for a few hours and head to the Western Wall.

Boxes in hand, they haul the thousands of letters addressed to "God, Jerusalem Israel," "the Almighty," or "the Wailing Wall," among others.

At the wall, the second-holiest in Judaism after the adjoining Temple Mount, the workers separate by gender, going either to the men's or women's prayer sections. An arm's length from the wall's ancient stones, where dozens of people are deep in prayer, they carefully open the envelopes, fold the letters until they are slivers and insert them into the crevices.

Jewish pilgrims and others have been performing this ritual for centuries, and the postal workers take the job of delivering heartfelt prayers very, very seriously. Many Jews, as well as some followers of other Abrahamic faiths, believe God answers prayers inserted in the 2,000-year-old wall.

"If you live in Israel you can come to the Kotel (Western Wall) and place a prayer in the stones, but the people who wrote these letters live abroad," says Chana Arvatz, a postal worker, while inserting a letter between the stones. "It is a sacred responsibility, something I find very moving."

The letters arrive from dozens of countries, some of which, like Malaysia and Kuwait, do not have diplomatic ties with Israel. Most of the letters in today's pile appear to be in Russian, but English, Spanish, Italian and French are also represented.

"The majority come from Christians, but a sizable number come from Jews and even a few from Muslims," says Avi Yaniv, who calls himself the manager of the "dead letters" department. "There are also quite a few letters to Santa Claus."

From what Yaniv has heard, Israeli postal workers have been delivering letters addressed to God to the wall for 60 years, since the founding of the state.

Yaniv says he and his fellow postal workers read some of the letters before placing them in the wall, but are careful not to look at the senders' names out of respect for their privacy.

"People tend to write to God when they're experiencing problems in their lives or want to change their situation. Some are very touching," he says somberly.

Regardless of the religion of the sender, all letters addressed to God are taken to the Western Wall, says Avi Hochman, general manager of the Israel Postal Service.

"Israel is a Jewish country and the Kotel is a sacred place. All people are welcome to pray here. We respect all minorities," Hochman says.

Like all of the messages placed in the wall's crevices, those addressed to God will eventually be collected by employees of the Western Wall Plaza and buried in the "geniza," a repository for texts considered holy, such as the Torah and prayer books.

12/10/2008 9:02:00 AM by Michele Chabin, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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