December 2008

Students find missions calling with Lottie help

December 8 2008 by Shawn Hendricks, International Mission Board

RICHMOND, Va. — Eating fish and rice for every meal or living in a house with no running water for five months may not appeal to most people. Ben Geller, however, developed a taste for life on the mission field as a short-term worker in Africa.

He also came away with an appreciation for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. He was grateful for the no-frills accommodations provided by the offering while he shared the gospel in Senegal among the Lebou, a Muslim people of 150,000.

Geller was one of more than 40 student missionaries who participated last spring in the International Mission Board’s (IMB) Hands On program. A portion of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program helped the Hands On students offset some of the costs of food, lodging and transportation. The program, which gives seminary and college students a semester of missions experience in Africa, will expand to other countries in January.

“(The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering) takes a huge weight off your shoulders,” said Geller, a member of First Baptist Church in El Dorado, Ark., and a senior agricultural major at Mississippi State University.

“When you don’t have to support yourself overseas that means you can dedicate all your time to ministry.”

This year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal is $170 million. Last year, Southern Baptists gave a record $150.4 million to the offering, but fell short of the $165 million goal. In addition to helping with the Hands On program, the offering and the Cooperative Program also provide support for more than 5,500 missionaries.

Geller plans to return full time to the mission field after finishing his education.

“I’m sold,” Geller said. “As soon as I get my degree, get my seminary requirements — I’m ready to get back over there.”

Life changing

Students’ lives are being changed by serving overseas, said Chad Stillwell, who heads up the IMB’s Hands On program. Many of the students are learning that becoming a missionary takes sacrifice.

Though the Lottie Moon offering and the Cooperative Program helped Hands On students offset most of the costs, each student pays a flat rate that covers airfare, insurance, visa and training materials.

“(It takes them) to that next level of sacrifice,” Stillwell said. “To not just say, ‘I’ll do it when it is convenient.’ But they say, ‘we will sacrifice money, and we will sacrifice timing graduation (to) go out and share the gospel.’”

Aubrey Brown learned about sacrifice and the importance of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering while working in Tanzania with a Hands On team.

Living in the mountains in a mud hut with concrete floors and no electricity or running water, Brown — a member of First Baptist Church, Raymore, Mo., — taught English in a small school. The only existing supplies were chalk and a chalkboard.

Through the offering and reading supplies donated by her home church, Brown and her team ministered to the children in their English classes. Brown came away with an education of her own.

“The great thing about (this missions experience is) it gives you a better idea of what missionary life is truly like,” said Brown, a graduate of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo.

“I’m going back,” she said.

12/8/2008 6:31:00 AM by Shawn Hendricks, International Mission Board | with 0 comments

Call unshaken by economic crisis

December 5 2008 by Don Graham, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. — Somewhere in a Texas storage shed sits a reminder of the reason Mark Moses left home and headed overseas. It's a paper Moses, then 11 years old, wrote for a school assignment. The first line reads: "I want too be a misiunary wen I gro up."

"I tell folks my spelling has changed but my calling has not," jokes the Fort Worth, Texas, native, who has spent the past 22 years as a Southern Baptist missionary in the Philippines.

It hasn't been easy. Between the joys of new believers and churches starting, Moses also has endured bitter disappointments and devastating personal tragedy — including the loss of his wife, Jan, to cancer last year.

It's this deep sense of calling that helps drive and sustain Moses and the more than 5,500 other missionaries who serve with the International Mission Board (IMB).

Called to persevere

Today these missionaries must hold fast to their calling as they experience the fallout of a burgeoning economic crisis. That's because missionaries' ability to live out the Great Commission on the mission field depends on the generosity of Southern Baptists' gifts through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

Those financial lifelines are "the umbilical cord that keeps our heart pumping, our feet moving and our hands serving," Moses says. "I used to wonder what I would do if, for some reason, my support from Southern Baptists dried up. I've watched other missionaries who don't have the support structure we're privileged to receive. They spend so much of their time focused on raising support that it limits their effectiveness overseas."

Earlier this year, the U.S. dollar lost an average of 12 percent of its value in the world marketplace — a daunting drop given that 85 percent of the IMB's $300 million budget is spent overseas. Though the dollar is rebounding, it has not yet recovered the buying power it had prior to the decline.

"This means that the $150.4 million given to the 2007 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering spends more like $132 million — a loss of more than $18 million in purchasing power," explains David Steverson, the International Mission Board's financial chief. "To make matters worse, Lottie Moon giving isn't keeping pace with inflation (3 percent to 4 percent annually).... In accounting terms it's what we would call a 'double whammy.'"

Missionaries serving in Western Europe are among the hardest hit. Each time they exchange a dollar for a euro — the currency of the European Union — they're losing 20 percent of that dollar's value.

Christopher Watts and his wife, Colleen, are Southern Baptist missionaries from Georgia who've served in Rome since 2004. Less than 0.1 percent of the city's population of 4.1 million is evangelical Christian. Watts calls this a "tragic reality" given that the Apostle Paul himself helped lay the foundation of the church in Rome.

"The last two years have been pretty tough for us," he says. "The exchange rate is killing us, and while the IMB has done a fantastic job trying to keep up with it, it's made life harder.... I just hope people are able to recognize the priority that missions should take in the life of every Christian and find a way to continue to give. We can't accomplish the task without them."

Heart for the lost

Southern Baptists' goal for the 2008 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is $170 million. Though the figure may sound intimidating in light of America's struggling economy, IMB President Jerry Rankin encourages churches to rest in God's providence and continue their 120-year tradition of faithful Lottie Moon support.

"I know that a rough economy hasn't changed Southern Baptists' heart for the lost any more than it has changed missionaries' call to reach them," Rankin says. "Difficult circumstances don't excuse us from fulfilling our Great Commission mandate. Hardship and sacrifice, even danger, are all part of the task Christ has called us to. We are asked only to obey and entrust the rest to our heavenly Father."

Whatever the outcome of this year's Lottie Moon offering, Watts offers his heartfelt thanks for Southern Baptists' support.

"There are no words that can express how much my family appreciates how well our Baptist brothers and sisters take care of us," he says. "Their prayers sustain our ministries, our spirits and our health, and their financial gifts put a roof over our heads and food on our tables, not to mention Bibles in the hands of the lost and medicine in the hands of the sick and suffering.

"Without their prayers and their gifts, the whole thing falls apart. Our churches in the States are truly the solid ground upon which God builds our ministries."

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

12/5/2008 9:09:00 AM by Don Graham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Day 8 — Lottie Moon prayer guide

December 5 2008 by International Mission Board

Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008
Eric and Ramona Reese
Urban poor of Brazil

It’s 9:20 p.m. when Eric Reese maneuvers his truck through the dirt roads of a slum in Rio de Janeiro. With frequent shootouts, prostitution, and drug trafficking in the streets, the favelas (slums) are a rough place to share the gospel. He taps on the ceiling light of his Chevy pickup as he drives. It’s a signal to everyone outside the cab that he’s not a threat.

“In these communities, it’s an ugly evil you’ve got to deal with,” Eric says, “but you’ve got to deal with it. We can’t stand here and let these people shoot and kill each other without the gospel being preached.”

Seeing past the violence and corruption is a challenge for the Reeses. But the self-destruction that keeps some from receiving Christ is precisely what compels the Georgia natives to share.

“Communicating the gospel with these folks cannot wait until tomorrow,” Eric says. “You’ve got to share it with them today because you don’t know what their tomorrow holds.”

Ask God to use the difficult conditions in Rio de Janeiro’s slums to show people their need for a Savior. Pray for Eric and Ramona’s personal safety as they work to share the gospel in this dangerous place.

12/5/2008 7:27:00 AM by International Mission Board | with 1 comments

Half of clergy: Churches need to address poverty more

December 5 2008 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

Slightly more than half of Christian clergy surveyed say their own congregation should be doing more to address global poverty and health.

The survey of 1,024 Protestant and Catholic clergy found that almost two-thirds of them — 64 percent — said U.S. churches in general should increase those efforts. But while 57 percent said their own congregation should be doing more, 43 percent said they believed they were doing enough.

"The church is really split when it comes to their interest in dealing with international poverty," said David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group, which conducted the research for the ONE Campaign, a secular advocacy organization that has started a ONE Sabbath effort to engage religious congregations.

While the vast majority of clergy — 90 percent — said political leaders should talk about how the country can address international poverty and health matters, the typical Christian leader may only preach about poverty issues once a year.

"Usually poverty is something that's mentioned once or twice a year," said Kinnaman, who added that African-American, mainline Protestant and Catholic churches tend to bring up such issues more often. "It doesn't really become a main theme for many congregations as they talk about the kinds of things they're trying to activate people in their church to do."

The telephone survey of 1,024 Catholic and Protestant clergy was conducted in October and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

Mark Brinkmoeller, national coordinator of ONE Sabbath, said the campaign is offering online resources to congregations — from sermon and hymn suggestions to materials mosques can use during Ramadan and Hindu scriptures that might be used to influence service projects. The emphasis is timed to the first 100 days of the administration of President-elect Barack Obama and the new Congress.

"It's a bit of an on-ramp for congregations," Brinkmoeller said in a news teleconference Dec. 3.

Leaders from the Jewish, Muslim and Hindu communities who support the ONE Sabbath effort said keeping things simple is crucial for congregational involvement. They cited examples of the Nothing but Nets Campaign, recently endorsed by the Union for Reform Judaism, where $10 can save a life with a malaria-preventing net over a person's bed.

12/5/2008 6:52:00 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Day 7 — Lottie Moon prayer guide

December 5 2008 by International Mission Board

Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008
Charles and Mary Swanner
The Deaf of Uruguay

In a country that once forbade its Deaf to sign, missionary Mary Swanner, from North Carolina, is something of a pioneer. That’s because she’s dedicated more than 20 years of her life to teaching Uruguay’s Deaf about Jesus through sign language.

Mary says much of her early ministry was spent simply earning trust. The Deaf are often wary of the hearing world, and because much of society considers them to be inferior, teaching them about God’s love is especially challenging.

“The Deaf are suspicious of hearing people and their motives for getting close to them,” Mary says. “All this compounds the resistance to the gospel.”

For several years Swanner’s team didn’t see any fruit from their labor. But in 2002, they began planting Deaf churches where entire services were conducted in sign language. Deaf congregations soon began to grow.

Mary and her husband, Charles, plan to retire in about five years. They’re praying God will raise up new leaders to carry on the work among the Deaf in Uruguay.

Pray the Lord will raise up bold believers within Deaf churches and that they will continue to spread His word throughout Uruguay.

12/5/2008 5:59:00 AM by International Mission Board | with 0 comments

Churches with WMU strong SBC supporters

December 4 2008 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Southern Baptist churches that have Woman's Missionary Union (WMU) organizations support the denomination's missions programs at significantly higher levels than congregations without WMU, according to an analysis of reported church giving.

Tensions over several issues surfaced in recent years between some Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders and leaders of the independently governed auxiliary group, founded in 1888 to promote SBC missions. They included WMU's refusal to submit to direct oversight by the denomination and the group's decision to remain part of the Baptist World Alliance women's department after the SBC severed ties with the global Baptist group in 2004.

Despite those differences, a new breakdown of giving patterns suggests missions education by WMU continues to play an important role in inspiring local churches to give more money to SBC home and foreign missions.

A review of annual statistics collected by LifeWay Christian Resources found that churches that have age-level WMU organizations like Girls in Action and Women on Mission support the SBC's unified budget and two annual special missions offerings at higher per-capita levels than those without ongoing missions education.

The study, conducted jointly by WMU and the SBC North American Mission Board (NAMB), found that churches with missions-education programs supported by one or both of the organizations gave $43.28 per member to the Cooperative Program. That compared to $23.65 per capita by churches without such programs.

Giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for foreign missions was $3.29 per capita from churches without missions education, compared to $9.05 from those with missions education. Per-member giving for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for home missions was $5.34 for churches with missions education, compared to $1.54 for those without.

Wanda Lee, WMU's executive director, acknowledged to a group of Baptist state convention executive directors and editors that "there have been some rocky times" with recent years' leadership transitions at WMU and the SBC's two mission boards, "but we are learning how to work together for missions."

Lee, meeting with Baptist leaders at a Dec. 2-3 briefing at WMU headquarters in Birmingham, Ala., said that communication between the auxiliary and the SBC agencies has improved in the last year.

"Do we always agree about everything?" she asked. "No, but we seek to have healthy communication." She reported on both recent visits and planned future visits from NAMB President Geoff Hammond and Jerry Rankin, president of the SBC's International Mission Board.

WMU recently appointed a full-time liaison to coordinate communication with the two mission boards. WMU staffer Steve Heartsill said he received 7,000 e-mails from IMB personnel in the past year and a comparable number from NAMB workers.

The briefing was scheduled midway through WMU's Nov. 30-Dec. 7 Week of Prayer for International Missions. The national goal for this year's Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is $170 million.

Over 120 years, WMU has helped raise more than $3 billion for international missions by promoting the Lottie Moon offering and $1.1 billion for home missions through the Annie Armstrong offering.

This year WMU produced nearly 4.2 million Christmas prayer guides in six languages, distributed by state WMU organizations to churches in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Canada. About 174,000 Week of Prayer posters were sent to churches, and 4.8 million Lottie Moon Christmas Offering envelopes were placed in pews in Southern Baptist churches.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)

12/4/2008 7:54:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 4 comments

Nigerian Baptists reach out to riot victims

December 4 2008 by Emily Peters, International Mission Board

JOS, Nigeria — At least 12 Nigerian Baptists were killed and five Baptist churches burned during Thanksgiving weekend riots sparked by local election results in Jos, Nigeria.

International Mission Board (IMB) workers in the area were unharmed by the violence that began Nov. 28. The workers and several Nigerian Baptist congregations are reaching out to comfort and house those left hurting and homeless.

News agencies report more than 300 people killed and thousands injured in fires and riots. Dozens of churches, mosques, businesses and homes were burned in Jos, centrally located between Nigeria’s largely Christian south and Muslim north.

When gunfire quieted Dec. 2, a local Baptist pastor ventured into the still-smoldering city to assess the damage.

“One Baptist church lost five members and one deacon,” he said. “At least one pastor’s home was burned down. It was a very, very sad day.”

Unscathed by the violence, the pastor’s church is housing some of those who have lost their homes. Other local Baptist churches are doing the same. Church families also are helping to house boarding students evacuated from the Baptist High School there.

“Everyone is sad and afraid, but we have faith,” said the pastor, noting rumors swirl that the fighting may start again. “We can only do our part to help. We will find out more about the damages in coming days and find out what we can do.”

While local churches are serving as shelters, armed police and military troops patrol the streets to keep the peace among local groups clashing over issues steeped in tribal identity, religion and land. Local news agencies report the Red Cross and government agencies have set up shelters and brought in large-scale relief materials such as mattresses.

A help in time of need

When a local pastor needed medicine for his sick daughter discharged from a hospital to make room for incoming riot victims, IMB worker Mary Lovett was able to find what the girl needed.

Tennesseans Mary and her husband, Mike, also have helped other local friends like Paul.*

“(Paul) is a very strong Christian, and he’s not afraid to tell people,” Mike said. Paul lives in a neighborhood where Christians and Muslims live side by side, which caused Mike to worry when he started hearing gunfire in the city Nov. 28.

After the tumultuous weekend, Paul showed up at the Lovetts’ house Dec. 1 with only one shoe. Nothing else in hand.

“He said his house was burned down, and he lost everything,” Mike said. “I lent him some of my shoes. We just happened to be the same size.”

Tensions in Jos have erupted into violence a few times in the past decade, but Muslims and Christians typically have lived in peace in Africa’s most populous nation. According to the World Values Survey, Nigerians are known as some of the world’s friendliest and happiest people.

Knowing this, IMB worker Harriet Bowman from Georgia is confident peace will be restored and workers and volunteer teams will continue taking the gospel to countless villages that have never heard the message of Jesus.

“We may have to be a little more cautious, but this won’t change anything that we’re trying to do at all,” she said. “In fact, we’ll just try harder.”

A Jos pastor asks that Christians:

  • Pray for comfort for those who have lost their loved ones.

  • Pray the fighting does not continue.

  • Pray for the country to have peace and unity.

  • Pray that hearts will be open to hear the message of Jesus.

*Name changed

12/4/2008 7:51:00 AM by Emily Peters, International Mission Board | with 0 comments

Bush leaves mark on faith-based funding

December 4 2008 by Robert Marus, Associated Baptist Press

WASHINGTON — President Bush's administration and a host of court rulings have indelibly altered the way that the federal government relates to religious charities, according to an analysis by experts on the subject.

"The heart — the core — of the faith-based and community initiative is a commitment to equal treatment of faith-based social-welfare providers," said George Washington University professor Bob Tuttle at a Dec. 2 briefing in Washington. "Now, eight years into this, it doesn't seem like such a radical proposition."

Tuttle and George Washington Law colleague Chip Lupu spoke to reporters at the release of their annual "State of the Law Report" for the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy. The non-partisan educational organization — a cooperative effort between the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Rockefeller Institute of Government — has been tracking Bush's effort to expand government funding for religious charities.

While the report has annually tracked changes in the legal status of government-religious partnerships, this year's report analyzed the cumulative changes in the status of such partnerships since Bush took office.

Tuttle said Bush's effort to boost government funding of religious groups has been largely successful. The success owes, he added, mainly to significant changes over the last 10-12 years in how the federal courts view direct government funding for ostensibly secular social services provided by churches and other deeply religious organizations.

"Because of the way that constitutional law developed in the 1970s and 1980s ... religious organizations were frequently — not always, but frequently — excluded from government aid programs," Tuttle said. "But in the 1990s, that began to change."

A series of decisions began to lower the high wall that the courts had placed between church and state in regard to direct government funding for social services. Before the late 1990s, religious groups wishing to qualify for grants from most federal social-service programs had to incorporate separately from the churches that supported them and operate much as secular social-service agencies would.

The courts gradually altered that equation, and the welfare-reform legislation of the late 1990s further expanded government funding of church efforts.

However, Tuttle noted, "When the Supreme Court says something's permitted, there's a big gap between that permission and something actually happening. And I think when you look at the accomplishments of the faith-based initiative, you have to look at this gap."

 Tuttle and Lupu's analysis found that, while the courts removed legal barriers to federal funding for religious groups, Bush and his lieutenants also removed many administrative and even cultural barriers that had existed within the executive-branch agencies that administer social-service programs.

"Measured against that standard, the initiative has been, I think, a success that really doesn't have a parallel in administrative law," Tuttle said.

Bush has contended that one of the essential aspects of the faith-based initiative is that religious groups should be able to compete for social-services funding on the same basis as secular agencies without having to alter their religious character.

Part of that character, Lupu noted, is the unique ability of churches to discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring decisions.

"The Bush administration has fought to preserve this aspect of  religious character — the right of faith-based grantees to hire only those  of their own faith," he said. "The administration has fought this with every tool at their disposal."

The employment-discrimination provisions have been among the most controversial aspects of Bush's faith-based effort. Lupu noted that the incoming Obama administration could choose to reverse some of the Bush interpretations of such provisions in a couple of ways.

One is re-interpretation of existing statutes; another is executive orders explicitly reversing Bush policies.

Many supporters of strong church-state separation hope he will do so. But Obama has vowed to continue with at least some of Bush's initiative.

"The fact that Obama said that he was going forward with some version  of this on his own and his own life experience as a community organizer  suggest that he is quite serious about this," Lupu said.

12/4/2008 5:54:00 AM by Robert Marus, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Day 6 — Lottie Moon prayer guide

December 4 2008 by International Mission Board

Friday, Dec. 5, 2008
Larry and Nancy Jackson
REAP North, Peru

Going into mountain and jungle villages, missionaries Larry and Nancy Jackson endure bumpy, unpaved roads and 10-hour boat rides to plant churches in Peru.

The Jacksons, from North Carolina, hold out hope that a Southern Baptist church will feel led to adopt each people group they research. Through REAP (Rapid Entry Advance Plan) North, the couple, in the International Mission Baord’s Masters Program, helps churches connect with people groups in Peru and Bolivia. Masters missionaries are those 50 or older who commit to at least two or three years of overseas service.

Today more than 25 churches have promised to invest their efforts in approximately 15 areas with the Jacksons. Fanning out from the more evangelized city centers, Larry will continue researching and contacting people groups on the edges of darkness to connect Baptists with the lost of South America.

Because you give:
“You can see your money at work when you look at us because that’s how we’re funded,” Larry says. “When you give money, people’s lives are changed. If you want to come to Peru, I’ll show you.”

12/4/2008 5:23:00 AM by International Mission Board | with 0 comments

Atheists sue over law tying security to God

December 4 2008 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

The American Atheists have sued the commonwealth of Kentucky after learning that a law requires the state’s Office of Homeland Security to declare its reliance on God for safety.

The New Jersey-based atheist group filed suit Dec. 2 in a Kentucky court seeking a ruling that a 2002 law stating that “the safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance on God” is unconstitutional.

The atheists are particularly concerned about a 2006 law that calls for the divine-reliance wording to be spelled out on a plaque at the entrance of the state’s Emergency Operations Center.

“It’s so offensive, not just from an atheistic point of view but from an American point of view because these people are trying to bring the religious debate into homeland security,” said David Silverman, spokesman for American Atheists, who also said “it’s patently unconstitutional.”

The laws were both sponsored by Democratic delegate Tom Riner of Louisville, Ky., who also is a Southern Baptist minister.

“It’s a frivolous lawsuit that American Atheists has launched to attempt to censor and suppress the publication of a key law that acknowledges divine providence,” said Riner, pastor of Christ is King Baptist Church.

12/4/2008 4:02:00 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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