December 2009

Clergy's ethics ratings hit 32-year low

December 10 2009 by Religious News Service

(RNS) Americans' views of the "honesty and ethics" of clergy have hit a 32-year low, with just half rating their moral caliber as high or very high, according to Gallup's annual Honesty and Ethics Ratings of Professions survey.

The reason for the decline from 56 percent last year to 50 percent in 2009 is "unclear," according to a Gallup news release, which also noted that "now the clergy's ratings are below where they were earlier this decade" at the height of the Catholic Church's clergy abuse scandal.

Barbara Dorris, outreach coordinator for the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, attributed the drop to ripple effects from seven years of negative press surrounding predatory priests.

"The Catholic church's ongoing clergy sex abuse and cover-up crisis has also prompted victims in other denominations to step forward, speak up, call police, expose predators, file lawsuits, and speak publicly,"
she said. "This has, we suspect, also contributed to the diminished view of clergy."

Ratings dropped year-over-year among Catholics and Protestants, as well as among regular and occasional churchgoers. However, they rose in one category: among those professing "no religion." Last year, 31 percent rated clergy honesty high or very high; in 2009, that figure inched up to 34 percent.

"Still, ratings of the clergy remain high on a relative basis, ranking eighth of the 22 professions tested this year," Gallup said.

Clergy ratings, however, declined the most -- 6 percentage points -- followed by lawyers, with a 5-point drop to 13 percent.

The most highly regarded profession was nursing, with 83 percent judging nurses' honesty and ethics as high or very high.

Police officers showed the greatest gain (7 points), to 63 percent.

Bankers' ratings tumbled amidst the financial crisis to 19 percent, down from 23 percent in 2008 and 35 percent in 2007. Ratings of stockbrokers
fell to 9 percent, the same level as members of Congress.  

The survey was based on telephone interviews with 1,017 adults nationwide with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

12/10/2009 10:48:00 AM by Religious News Service | with 3 comments

NC Baptists developing NYC partnership

December 9 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Members of the Baptist State Convention Executive Committee learned of new mission partnership opportunities and approved hiring Russ Conley as senior consultant for leadership development as they wrapped up an eventful year with their final meeting in Cary Dec. 8.

They also learned of a pending partnership with Baptists in New York City and declined to provide the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) an email database of churches.

After 25 years in banking Conley, 54, established D.R. Conley & Associates in 2003 to provide executive development coaching. He has been a contract worker for the Baptist State Convention for six years.

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Russ Conley

Conley’s is not a new position, but one distilled from two others. He will assume some deacon ministry roles of Eddie Hammett, who was laid off, and leadership development roles of David Moore, who has moved to pastoral ministries after Wayne Oakes’ retirement.

“It is not often we have the opportunity to work closely with an individual for an extended period of time prior to recommending him for employment, but I have enjoyed that opportunity with Russ,” said Lynn Sasser, executive leader for congregational services under whom Conley will work.

Conley, a member of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, will continue to live in Advance.

The Cooperative Program giving report through 11 months showed receipts from churches continuing to run five percent behind 2008 gifts. Despite the $1.5 million decrease in receipts the BSC continues to operate in the black by more than $800,000, according to comptroller Robert Simons.

Steve Hardy, who chaired the committee that presented the 2010 budget, said North Carolina Baptists are in “interesting times” as they watch development of giving patterns following a return to a single giving plan. In the past couple years, churches that would identify themselves as “moderate” have been “withdrawing support at a precipitous rate,” he said.

Prompted by a question on the investment performance of funds held in reserve, John Butler, executive leader for business services, said that investments have recouped virtually all of the 10 percent or $3 million lost in value during 2008.

 “We’ve been very, very pleased,” Butler said. “As the market has come back we’ve fully participated and made up what was lost in 2008.”

Data request

Discussion about the data request from the ERLC followed a procedure adopted earlier this year to deal with numerous requests for such information. While the ERLC is building a national data base through which to inform churches about issues, Executive Committee members were reluctant to hand over the email database without permission from churches.

Alternatively, the BSC’s Christian Life and Public Affairs Committee will use the email address the BSC has for each church to notify the church of the ERLC’s interest in keeping them informed and will provide a link through which the church can indicate its interest to the ERLC.

 Executive Committee member Greg Barefoot is a trustee of the ERLC and he said the Southern Baptist Convention does not have “what we’re looking for” as the ERLC tries to build its email list of all SBC churches.

Barefoot also encouraged North Carolina Baptists to become involved in the sex education curriculum offered in their local schools. The health education law passed by the N.C. legislature is still “primarily abstinence based,” Barefoot said, but comprehensive sex education can still be taught.

He also encouraged Baptists to support a ban on abortion providers teaching any of the sex education units in schools.

Joel Stephens, chair of the Committee on Christian Higher Education, brought up the “brief exchange concerning theological consistency between the Convention and affiliated educational institutions” during the annual meeting. A messenger asked why the Convention continued to support the Baptist colleges which “don’t believe like we do.”

Jerry Wallace, president of Campbell University, rose to say, “The beliefs of this Convention and of Campbell University and the other schools are compatible and have been that way for 123 years.”

Stephens told the Executive Committee that his committee “takes input from both sides very seriously. We want to work to be sure schools with which we affiliate can be supported in good conscience by the Convention.”

He urged Executive Committee members to communicate with his committee so it can provide answers and “avoid any divisive discussion that might happen on the floor of the convention.”

Todd Brady and Dale Duncan told of a pending partnership with the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association and its 260 churches.

Southern Baptists have been in New York City since 1963, according to Duncan, who is president of N.C. Baptist Men. He said North Carolina Baptists “fell in love with New York City” during their intensive cleanup volunteer efforts following the disaster of 9/11.

Twenty language groups are represented among SBC churches there. Facilities will be available at which volunteers will be able to stay. Duncan said all talents will be able to be put to use, from construction to servant evangelism, urban evangelism, homeless ministry, Bible clubs and sports ministries.

Mike Sowers with N.C. Baptist Men will be the contact person: (919) 459-5626. He will be meeting Dec. 15-16 with a contingent from New York to finalize details.

Executive Committee members gave positive reviews of the 2009 annual meeting site and Butler said he is negotiating with the Sheraton Hotel and Koury Convention Center to have some rooms available for $99. That rate should encourage more people to stay in the headquarters hotel, saving the Convention money on meeting room rental.

12/9/2009 7:56:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Nurture college bound students

December 9 2009 by BP staff

BRYAN, Texas (BP)--The story of Abby Johnson is an example of the subtle atheism that often snares collegians.


Not well-grounded in her faith or connected to a church or a campus ministry, Johnson was a freshman at Texas A&M University when she became a Planned Parenthood volunteer, naive about the organization's pro-abortion agenda. She ultimately committed eight years of her life to the work of Planned Parenthood until a life-changing experience compelled her to leave the organization and turn to God.


Students want to make a difference, said Lance Crowell, church ministries associate with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, but there are some moral inconsistencies. They speak out on the atrocities in Darfur. They raise money for mosquito netting in Africa to stop the spread of malaria. But they often silence themselves for the sake of the unborn.


Johnson's choice to volunteer for Planned Parenthood exemplifies such thinking, Crowell said. Here was a compassionate young woman who had grown up as a Southern Baptist, who wanted to make a difference and help people, and yet she was a volunteer and, later, director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas.


"Here's the disconnect. The church is not making a difference in the world in their minds. It is disengaged," Crowell said.


J. Budziszewski, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of "How to Stay Christian in College," said the atmosphere on university campuses is profoundly anti-Christian but, with the exception of a few outspoken professors, not confrontational.


"It is usually much, much more subtle."


What new students will find on the college campus is practical atheism as opposed to theoretical atheism, Budziszewski said. The reasoning goes like this: Because the existence of God cannot be theoretically proved or disproved, God is irrelevant and has nothing to do with the day-to-day lives of people.


Students and professors steeped in such thought are then free to compartmentalize their lives, developing a moral code that does not hold them accountable to anything or anyone beyond themselves, Budziszewski said.


"There is no such thing as a solitary Christian," Budziszweski added. Christian youths leave home and instead of finding a new church, they think they can study God's Word and worship Him on their own. Such thinking, he said, is spiritually fatal.


Nurturing compassion


Students' passion, especially for valuing human life, can be stirred in multiple ways, noted Julie Parton, executive director of Texas Life Connections, a ministry partner of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.


Needs abound in nearly every community for volunteer and financial support of pro-life ministries, Parton said, noting that most pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) across the country are listed at the website Also, phone books typically include under "Abortion Alternatives" a list of pro-life ministries.


"Any individual or church can start with that. Once they identify a local PRC, go in to meet the director of that center," Parton said. "The same could be said for any abstinence or post-abortion ministry, but oftentimes those same ministries emanate from the PRC."


A great way to "puts one's toe in the water," Parton suggested, is to organize a Sunday School class or home group Bible study in hosting a baby shower for a local pregnancy resource center, providing diapers, formula and other related items.


Once that occurs, God often lays it on more than one heart the importance of such ministry to expectant mothers and their babies, many of whom don't have the father in the picture.


"Of course there are prayer groups. Another very practical thing that people can do is to reach out to moms who have already made the decision to give life to their child and many times need help. A single moms' support group at your church, classes for the moms, parenting classes, classes on budgeting and nutrition—those are all very positive ways churches can minister."


Men can provide oil changes for single moms, for example, or attorneys in the church might provide free legal advice, Parton said.


Campus realities


"Parents need to get their bravery back and start engaging our kids with confidence," said Vicki Courtney of Austin, an author and speaker whose ministry reaches pre-teen and teenage girls and their mothers across the country.


Too many parents shrink at the first sign of rolled eyes and disinterested sighs from their teens, Courtney said. But they must be taught not just to believe but "give them the 'why' behind God's standards."


Although she believed her children were raised in the way they should go before leaving for college out of state, Courtney said they still needed to be held accountable to their faith. Before they left home, her two oldest children, Ryan and Paige, signed a contract drawn up by her and her husband that they would find a church, maintain a specified GPA, become involved in a weekly Bible study and establish a close-knit group of friends who would hold them accountable.


"Spiritual growth is always in the context of a relationship," said George Jacobus, pastor of collegiate ministries at Central Baptist Church in the Bryan-College Station area.


"One of the reasons students struggle is because they never find a place that feels like home to them." Adding to their list of excuses for not attending church, Jacobus said students are bombarded with so many things to do outside of class that the choices often take the place of church. Some will justify skipping Sunday services by becoming involved in a small group Bible study during the week.


The problem of scriptural illiteracy is so severe, Crowell said, that many students are unable or unwilling to take a stand on the exclusivity of Christ, the center point of a biblical worldview. In today's multicultural society, many students balk at the idea of saying, directly or indirectly, that there is something wrong with the beliefs of their friends whose parents come from such countries as India, China, Vietnam or Pakistan.


It is never too late for parents to engage their teenage children, Courtney said. For some, though, it may need to begin with an apology.


Parents who feel convicted they have not lived up to the biblical mandate to train up their children should make that effort before their child leaves home, Courtney said, suggesting taking the teen out for a special meal or cup of coffee and beginning the conversation by saying, "I owe you a huge apology and I need your forgiveness for something."


The parents can then admit their shortcomings in teaching and discipling their children and then commit to making that a part of their lives from that time forward.


"Sometimes just the humility of the parents touches the kids," Courtney said. "I guarantee you, deep down that kid is feeling cared for."

Adapted from reporting by correspondent Bonnie Pritchett and managing editor Jerry Pierce of the Southern Baptist TEXAN (, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

12/9/2009 7:50:00 AM by BP staff | with 0 comments

Planned Parenthood clinician details heart turn

December 9 2009 by Bonnie Pritchett

BRYAN, Texas (BP)--Abby Johnson had never felt so alone. Sitting in her Planned Parenthood office and weeping, Johnson, who was raised Southern Baptist, knew God had called her to leave her job as director of the women's health and abortion clinic and join forces with the Coalition for Life advocates just down the street.


The call was unmistakable. But the courage to take the step of faith to leave her job with no other prospects in sight -- and invest herself in a movement that was diametrically opposed to the life she had lived the past eight years -- was harder to muster.


Other than her husband Doug, she had no one she could confide in. Her co-workers, whom she considered friends, would not understand her decision. Christian ideals, Johnson said, often were mocked by the Planned Parenthood employees and the pro-choice advocates she knew. So she kept quiet.


She believed her church would not understand either. The Johnsons were members of an Episcopal church because they had been turned away from membership in the Baptist congregations they visited. She said some in those congregations made clear that she and her husband were welcome to attend worship services, but church membership was another matter.


But the Episcopal congregation they joined supported her efforts in her job at Planned Parenthood.


So there she sat. Counting the days until the next abortion would be performed in her clinic, knowing she could have no part in it -- and coming to the numbing realization that, beyond her home, there was no one to tell her she was making the right choice.


Except the people down the street.


Johnson and the staff of the Coalition for Life knew each other. It was not an antagonistic relationship but a mutual acknowledgement that they stood on opposing sides of a great divide over abortion. When Johnson walked into the back door of the coalition offices on Oct. 6, the staff was stunned.


What brought Johnson, 29, to that monumental moment was a compassionate heart for others -- a trait that led her to Planned Parenthood's staff and stayed intact while she denied the harsh realities of abortion. It was that same compassion -- stirred by the Holy Spirit and witnessing an abortion via an ultrasound -- that brought reality into focus.


"I grew up Southern Baptist," said Johnson, who moved from her native Louisiana to Texas as a teenager.


Since her decision to leave Planned Parenthood and embrace the pro-life message, Johnson's story has made international headlines and she has given interviews on several cable television news programs.


Johnson admitted to being rather naive regarding feminism and the abortion issue when she left home for Texas A&M University in 1997.


"I remember my mom saying, 'We are pro-life,'" she said in a telephone interview. But that was the end of the discussion. The family didn't speak in-depth about such things, she recalled.


So when seeking volunteer opportunities at Texas A&M, Johnson was drawn to the Planned Parenthood display, unaware of the organization's involvement in the abortion industry. The booth attendant spoke about women's health and women's rights and Johnson thought, "Well, that sounds good."


She began her association with the Bryan Planned Parenthood clinic as a volunteer escort. On one of the two weekends per month that abortions were performed at the clinic, Johnson would walk women from their cars to the clinic, staving off any potential harassment from pro-life protesters. Johnson said she enjoyed the interaction with the women she believed she was helping.


"I learned more about the pro-choice movement, and the longer you're there the more you accept what they say. I really started buying into it."


"Planned Parenthood was about prevention [of unplanned pregnancies], not abortion. I really believed that."


Just one week before she left the clinic, the staff had helped a woman discover she had cancer. There were legitimately good things happening at the Planned Parenthood facility, she reasoned.


Johnson's volunteer activities had led to a paid position with the clinic, giving pre-abortion counseling. The information she offered focused not on choices but on the procedure -- what the client could expect before, during and after the abortion. As Johnson was about to graduate with her degree in psychology, the clinic promoted her to director of community outreach and health education. The job allowed Johnson to extol the virtues of the women's health services that Planned Parenthood provided in the conservative community of Bryan-College Station. It also afforded Johnson's conscience a rationalization -- she was working for better health and the prevention of unplanned pregnancies through birth control.


Shortly after marrying Doug, she became pregnant. It was an unplanned but not unwanted pregnancy. Johnson thought it would be awkward for her, as a pregnant woman, to give abortion counseling.


On the contrary, her then-director replied, "It will be good for them to see what they don't want," Johnson recalled being told.


Workers at all Planned Parenthood facilities are forbidden to use the word "baby," Johnson said. During her pregnancy Johnson began to see the disconnect between the philosophy of the ardent pro-choice movement and a woman's choice to carry a pregnancy to term. She quoted a liberal clergywoman as stating, "It's a baby when you decide you want to be a mother."


The Johnsons choice resulted in the birth of a little girl they named Grace.


With Grace's birth in November 2006, the Johnsons knew they needed to be in church. They had stopped attending because they could not find a church that would allow them to join as long as Johnson worked for Planned Parenthood. In retrospect, Johnson said she was rather put off by the exclusion. She said Baptist churches denied them membership but did little or nothing to explain why or to disciple the couple in a way that might have led her to leave her job.


Instead, the couple sought out a church that would not criticize or question her work. The Episcopal church they joined "was very supportive of Planned Parenthood and my job," Johnson said. One of her co-workers also attended the church and two other clinic employees were Catholic. In choosing to join the church, Johnson sealed a self-affirming bubble of colleagues, friends, and church family who would not call her to account for the apparent contradiction in her own life of professing Christ and supporting the abortion industry.


But her Christian faith would not let her ignore the conflict.


"Faith is what led me out of the abortion industry. But it was a struggle many times," Johnson said. The clinic performed abortions two Saturdays a month. Although she was not directly involved in the procedure most of the time, there were times when she was present during an abortion and, the next day, felt guilty as she sat in church.

When Johnson, who had been promoted to director of the clinic in 2007, was approached by her superior about the need to bring in more money to the clinic via abortions, she became troubled.


The family planning services that Johnson wholeheartedly promoted were a financial drain on the clinic. The real money-maker was the $500 abortions and distribution of RU486, the so-called "morning after" pill.


In late September Johnson was asked to assist with an abortion. A third set of hands was needed. Usually the process involves only the doctor and nurse practitioner. But on this day the doctor on call was using an ultrasound machine during the procedure and needed assistance with the abdominal probe. This, Johnson said, was how he performed abortions in his own clinic.


The use of the ultrasound is not common, she said, because it takes longer to perform the procedure, but it is the safest practice because it allows the physician to see inside the uterus and view in detail exactly what he is doing.


It gave Johnson the same vantage point.


"I'm watching [the monitor]. I didn't want to look but I couldn't stop," she recalled. She saw the cannula -- the instrument used to remove the fetus -- move toward the 13-week-old baby. And she continued to watch as the tiny life recoiled in vain from the instrument.


"The first thing I thought about was Grace," Johnson said, recalling that first ultrasound image of her daughter Grace and how she posted it on the refrigerator and sent copies to family members.


While watching the abortion take place in real time, she said she recognized the fact that there had been a life in the woman, and she had played a part in ending it. Johnson went to the recovery room later in the afternoon to check on the woman. The guilt became overwhelming.


"I had taken away her chance to be a mother," she said.


Johnson did a lot of praying and crying. Her husband was sympathetic and supportive of any decision she made, but there was no one in the clinic she could speak to for counsel.


"I felt very alone," she said. All of Johnson's friends at work and church were invested in the Planned Parenthood claim that its work was about women's health and rights. Addressing the issue from a biblical perspective was out of the question.


"There is no spirituality in abortion. God is not present in the abortion facilities," Johnson said.


Nor is He welcome, she said.


"The people who work there don't have any kind of faith. You're kind of an outcast in the organization if you are a professing Christian."


Johnson reluctantly returned to work the next Monday, the week coming and going with no decisive action on her part. The next week would be different.


"I felt like the clock was ticking. There would be more abortions on Saturday. I'm sitting in my office. I don't want to be there and I'm crying. And Saturday was coming."


She knew what she had to do, but needed the extra measure of faith to step out. She saw two women from the nearby Coalition for Life center praying outside her clinic. The women were taking part in the 40 Days for Life campaign, which organized prayer vigils outside abortion clinics from late September through early November (


"God was shouting at me to go to the center."


So she did.


Johnson drove the short distance to the center, afraid if she was seen by her staff walking there it would cause suspicion. She parked in the back of the building and made a call.


A staff member inside had seen the car pull in and called out jokingly to Bobby Reynoso, Coalition for Life director of communications, that Abby Johnson was there to see him. When the call came through, the staffer, now serious, told Reynoso that Johnson was outside crying.


The Planned Parenthood director walked into the Coalition for Life center, Reynoso recalled, and "our jaws just hit the floor." He said they sat down with her and listened as she poured out her story of stress and conviction. She had come to their doorstep to confess she could no longer be a part of abortion.


"It's not what we were expecting. But as Christians we should be," Reynoso said. After all, the pro-life volunteers had been praying faithfully outside the clinic for years and, most recently, during the 40 Days for Life. The director of the Bryan Coalition for Life, Shawn Carney, is co-founder of the prayer campaign, which has gained international attention. The staff and volunteers had prayed specifically for Johnson.


Reynoso said Coalition for Life members have been excited to be a part of what has unfolded before them but can take little, if any, credit for the miracle that has taken place.


Since turning in her resignation in October, Johnson has made numerous media appearances. She will be speaking more publicly after the New Year when her family has had time to process her transition. She asked that Christians pray for her as she looks for a new job and, most likely, a new church. She said her parents were thrilled with her decision and her parents' pastor even contacted her with words of encouragement.

Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.



12/9/2009 7:39:00 AM by Bonnie Pritchett | with 2 comments

Global economics buffets missions

December 4 2009 by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. — Jodi Nichols cries when she talks about it. Her husband Kevin says he would rather be hit with a baseball bat.

The couple from Wheeler, Miss., committed their lives to missions nearly two years ago. They planned to move to Russia with their four children in January. But in the midst of a rocky economy and shortfalls in missions giving, they won’t be going anytime soon.

“It hurt,” says Kevin of the day he, his wife and about 200 others also called to missions learned that Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board (IMB) did not have the funds to send them.

“Today it still doesn’t feel real ... I know what God has called us to ... (but) it takes money,” he says.

IMB photo

Kevin and Jodi Nichols of Wheeler, Miss., had planned to be in Russia next year sharing the gospel as IMB missionaries. But reduced missions giving put their plan on hold indefinitely. They and their four children moved into a mobile home to ride out the transition.

For now, the Nicholses are uncertain when — or if — they will be able to go to the mission field. By the time the economy rebounds, their oldest child may be 15 or 16, and IMB discourages the appointment of families with children that old.

The Nichols family’s situation is a snapshot of how a struggling economy impacts lives — both here and around the globe. Because the Nicholses can’t go, someone in Russia may not hear the gospel.

A global problem
In Asian countries such as South Korea, a sluggish U.S. economy means fewer sales and less money for local goods. It also means that in one of the largest missionary-sending countries in the world, fewer South Korean missionaries will have enough funds.

“The South Korean market kind of mirrors the U.S. market, but double the effects,” says John*, a missionary who handled finances in South Korea for four years before recently moving with his family to Thailand.

“As the U.S. market kind of tanked, (South Korea) lost about half of (its) buying power,” he adds. “They are extremely dependent upon the U.S. imports of their Asian goods.”

South Koreans also are heavily involved in missions — with more than 17,000 Korean Protestant missionaries currently serving worldwide.

“They’re probably our biggest (missions) ally worldwide,” John notes. “The weakening of the Korean won (currency) has impacted their ability to function outside Korea. As a missionary-sending country, they are really feeling it.”

Other countries around the globe are “feeling it” as well.

The U.S. unemployment rate stands at more than 10 percent. As staggering as that seems, unemployment in Zimbabwe hovers around 90 percent.

Statistics from the International Labor Organization show the number of unemployed could jump to 239 million internationally by the end of 2009.

There also is the issue of the dollar.

Last year, it took $1.62 to equal 1 euro. This month, the value is around $1.49 after improving briefly to $1.25 earlier this year.

‘Difficult to live’
IMB missionaries Mike and Jan Bennett have worked in Venezuela for more than 10 years.

Even doing simple things, they say, can be a major expense. When inflation rose to 26 percent, two combo meals at McDonald’s cost $35.

“The economic crisis is affecting every country in the world,” Bennett says. “It makes it very difficult to live on the field when the prices continue to go up.”

In past years, Bennett says, missionaries have been unhappy about the lack of funds to buy Bibles or other ministry materials.

“But the truth of the matter is that this is a far more serious problem,” he says. “The critical need is just having (missionaries) here to do the work.”

The lack of workers also is jeopardizing the future of a significant ministry in Europe.

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims who live and work in Europe board ferries every summer to return home to North Africa to visit family.

However, an effort that puts Bibles and ministry materials into the immigrants’ hands as their cars pass through a European city’s port gates may fall by the wayside.

Approximately 200 Southern Baptists help with the ministry each summer. Because of last year’s shortfall in Southern Baptists’ Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, many short-term missionaries who coordinate the efforts will not be able to extend their terms.

‘Hard times’ back home
Parkridge Baptist Church in Coral Springs, Fla., has sent teams in the past to help with the outreach in the European country. But like many churches and ministries worldwide, they also are experiencing their share of financial challenges.

“It’s a hard time,” says pastor Eddie Bevill, who started the church 17 years ago. “Our offerings haven’t grown much in the last year,” he says. “We raised our mission challenge but reduced our general operating budget. No one got raises — but we didn’t have to let anybody go.”

As the housing market continues to struggle and people are laid off from jobs, many turn to their church for help.

“It used to always be people outside of our church,” Bevill says. “Now more and more, it’s (church members) who need financial assistance.”

To avoid staff layoffs, the church reduced its Cooperative Program (CP) giving to a month-by-month basis. Nearly half the funding for missions comes through CP, which supports state efforts as well as IMB and North American Mission Board.

“If it comes we’ll give it,” Bevill says. “If it doesn’t come we can’t ... and that’s a terrible way to support the Cooperative Program.

“Older pastors around the country would kick me, I’m sure, for doing that.”

This year the church began what it calls the “Great Connection Offering.” It’s a year-round offering that collects funds for Southern Baptists’ state, national and international mission entities.

Bevill, whose church received CP dollars when it formed, knows the importance of giving to other ministries.

“But I can read a spreadsheet, too,” he says. “I can see what’s coming in the offering plate. These are tough decisions for everybody.”

*Names changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hendricks is a writer for the International Mission Board. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supplements Cooperative Program giving to support more than 5,600 Southern Baptist missionaries as they share the gospel overseas. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. To find resources about the offering, go to For additional information about the Cooperative Program, go to
12/4/2009 9:36:00 AM by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Vodka unlikely ministry ally

December 4 2009 by Don Graham, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. — Carl Stroller* doesn’t drink vodka. But his ministry might not be the same without it. Stroller and his wife, Amy,* are Southern Baptist missionaries. Ten years ago, they left their hometown in North Carolina to share the gospel with a Muslim people known as the Lezghi (pronounced lez-gee).

More than 600,000 Lezghi live among the snow-capped peaks of the Caucasus Mountains, located between the Black and Caspian seas. Most are poor by Western standards, surviving as farmers or shepherds. Though their culture is Islamic, the Lezghis’ belief in God is deeply rooted in animism (spirit worship).

Many have heard Jesus’ name but know Him only as a good man who did good things.

In rocky soil like this, Stroller says sharing the truth about Christ requires patience to build strong relationships. When he’s not involved with community development projects — like teaching English — much of Stroller’s time is spent talking about God over a bottle of vodka.

Alcohol, like animism, is tightly woven into Lezghi society. Sharing a drink with a neighbor, friend or co-worker is an everyday event — at meals, on the job, after work.

IMB photo

Most Lezghi of the Caucasus Mountains survive as farmers or shepherds, growing what they need to eat and selling anything left over.

Russian influence has made vodka the Lezghis’ liquor of choice, not to mention the fuel that fires rampant alcoholism.

But the Lezghis’ desire to drink does have a single redeeming value — it presents Stroller with the chance to explain why he doesn’t.

“To decline drink is always an odd response for them,” Stroller says. “They can’t believe that somebody wouldn’t want to drink, but it often leads to an opportunity to … share your testimony and what the Lord has done in your life.

“The funniest thing is what they consider to be alcoholic and not alcoholic. I’ll decline vodka … and they’ll bring beer or wine. Then it’s back to my testimony of why I don’t drink.

“If I don’t have an opportunity to share … it’s because I didn’t take the opportunity.”

But opportunity doesn’t necessarily indicate openness to the gospel, and sharing is no guarantee of salvation.

Despite a decade of work among the Lezghi, the Strollers can’t confidently say they’ve led a single person to saving faith in Christ. It’s been a difficult journey, filled with hardship, bitter disappointment — even betrayal.

“Initially we thought that these people only needed to hear the gospel and then they would start coming to faith. We never anticipated them being so obstinate to the Good News,” Stroller says. “Though spiritually minded, they don’t typically express much interest in the gospel. Their eyes have truly been blinded.”

Stroller remembers sharing the gospel with a young Lezghi man who appeared to accept Christ but later began asking about the “benefits” of being saved.

He eventually discovered that the young man’s conversion was motivated by a TV news story about churches that were allegedly bribing people to become Christians. Once the man realized his profession of faith wasn’t going to pay, he renounced Jesus and ended his contact with Stroller.

Amy tells of a similar experience. Several years ago she shared Christ with a Lezghi woman who was married to an abusive, alcoholic husband. Amy, along with several local believers, tried to help the woman.

She claimed to accept Christ and even went so far as to be baptized. But Amy soon realized the woman was using them — lying to the church and borrowing money she had no intention of repaying.

“All the other neighbors that I had evangelized in the past had heard that this woman had become a Christian,” Amy says. “They thought she was an accurate model of a believer, and they wanted nothing to do with Jesus. She gave them reason to reject Christ.”

But situations like these don’t tell the whole story. God has blessed the Strollers with some successes among the Lezghi, including starting a small house church that’s grown from a group of five to 15 people. Persecution has since forced the church to split in half to attract less attention, but it continues to grow in spite of the Lezghis’ coldness to the gospel.

“How do we overcome (hardship)? By remaining faithful to the task,” Stroller says. “We remain obedient to the command of our Lord to make disciples of all nations. We believe He meant the Lezghi people when He gave that command — that’s why we are here.”

*Name changed

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Graham is a writer for IMB. Every penny given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is used to support more than 5,600 Southern Baptist missionaries as they share the gospel overseas. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. The 2009 Lottie Moon offering theme is “Who’s Missing, Whose Mission?” It focuses on overcoming barriers to hearing and accepting the gospel in various parts of the world and the mission that the Great Commission gives all Christians to “go and make disciples of all nations.” For resources about the offering, go to
12/4/2009 9:30:00 AM by Don Graham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

It can begin with a sandwich

December 4 2009 by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press

NEW YORK — It’s a cold, rainy Saturday in New York City, and Vaughn McLamb ladles up steaming cups of chicken soup for the homeless, addicts, immigrants and urban poor gathered at Tompkins Square Park on the Lower East Side.

Whether Puerto Rican, Chinese, Eastern European or other ethnic background, they’ve come for FLIP (a free lunch in the park), a ministry provided by East Seventh Baptist Church and Graffiti Community Ministries. Graffiti Church, as it’s commonly known, has been serving the Lower East Side since 1974. At the helm is North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary and pastor Taylor Field.

Every weekend, Field and a group from Graffiti Church set up in the park to feed the hungry.

“We believe God has called us to reach out to those who have fallen through the cracks,” Field says. Graffiti feeds 10,000 people a year, with assistance from partner churches and NAMB’s Domestic Hunger Fund. The Domestic Hunger Fund represents 20 percent of gifts received to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund; the remaining 80 percent is used in International Mission Board (IMB) hunger ministries.

“We feel like part of the gospel is reaching out in a physical way, and that’s a very big need in our community,” Field says. “It’s not theoretical, it’s not something to argue about. It’s something tangible that every person can do and we can all come together on.”

Field has seen a lot in the 23 years he’s lived on the Lower East Side with his wife Susan and their two sons. He remembers when the park was a tent city filled with homeless people living in makeshift shelters. He remembers when most of the blocks in the neighborhood were lined with abandoned buildings and vacant lots. Now the park is a clean green space and the buildings have been refurbished into high-rent condominiums.

“It’s a tale of two cities,” Field says. “We have people with six-digit incomes living right next to people who have nothing. They don’t even see each other sometimes.”

In addition to changes in the neighborhood, Field has seen changes in the individuals who have lived on the streets around Graffiti. One of those individuals is Vaughn McLamb.

“I believe Vaughn is one of those people who is a resurrection story where you see the resurrection power of God in him,” Field says. “I think part of the fun of what I do is getting to see these amazing things God does in people’s lives.”

NAMB photo by Peter Field Peck

Vaughn McLamb, with Graffiti Church on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, ladles steaming cups of chicken soup for the crowd gathered at Tompkins Square Park. McLamb found Graffiti when he was a drug addict living on the streets.

McLamb’s first encounter with Graffiti started with the free lunch in the park more than 10 years ago. At the time, McLamb was on the other side of the table. He was a drug addict and living on the streets.

As a young man, McLamb was able to manage his addiction and hold a steady job. But as he became caught in the cycle of addiction and denial, things got worse and no one wanted to hire him. He shuffled from crack house to crack house and shelter to shelter. Through decades of rough living and bad choices, McLamb knew God wanted something better for him. He carried a worn Bible, which he read during his darkest moments.

“I always wanted to be something useful in God’s Kingdom,” McLamb says. “But I had too many other gods distracting me.”

McLamb kept reading his Bible and God wouldn’t let go of him. “I read so much of the Bible that it was filling me and creating in me something that eventually allowed me to pull up out of the sewer. The power of God’s Word can’t be pushed out of a crack house.”

Slowly, McLamb began his crawl out of the sewer and into God’s will. That’s when he found FLIP.

“It started with the sandwich and the individual giving it to me — like they wanted me to have it,” McLamb recalls. “I didn’t have to beg, explain myself or apologize for being in line.”

That day, McLamb got more than a sandwich to soothe his growling stomach. The volunteers invited him to a Bible study across the street. He took the bologna sandwich and sat through the Bible study.

“It re-ignited that belief in Christ I was trying to stuff down with the failures and the behaviors and the drugs and all the excuses,” McLamb recalls. He started attending church at Graffiti. Week after week, he listened to the sermons and things started to click. “When Taylor asked me if I wanted to take the next step and be baptized, I said yes, let’s do it.”

That was 10 years ago.

“Christ is working in me,” McLamb says. “And He is putting distance between being real messed up and not being messed up.”

Today McLamb is sober, saved and baptized. And every Saturday he heads up the church’s feeding ministry.

“This ministry allows me to work with others and to work with the church,” McLamb says. “God has used my past experience and chiseled me into someone who can work certain parts of this ministry.

“It beats lying on that bench in the park saying, ‘My life is finished. I have no purpose. I’ve messed my life up so bad that nothing can be done.’”

In addition to heading up the lunch program, McLamb runs Graffiti Church’s clothes closet, oversees the care of the building and leads a Bible study.

“Vaughn is one of the most anointed teachers I’ve ever seen,” Field says. “He prepares well and has a sense of what God is doing in his life and other people’s lives.”

And it all started with a free lunch.

“When we reach out with a sandwich, it’s a way to say we believe in you as a person and we know this is an immediate need you have,” Field says. “It’s a way of making contact with people and being able to look them in the eye.

“When I see what God has done with Vaughn’s life and I see how Vaughn has drawn other people to the Lord, I can say from experience there is no one who is too far gone.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Pipes is a writer for the North American Mission Board. To find out more about Graffiti Church, visit To give to the World Hunger Fund, visit To view a video about Taylor Field and other NAMB missionaries, visit and click on the “Missionary Focus” gallery.)
12/4/2009 9:24:00 AM by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Church personalizes missions for its members

December 4 2009 by James A. Smith Sr., Baptist Press

NAPLES, Fla. — In what he hopes will be a “game-changer in terms of the Cooperative Program and our whole relationship with missions,” Hayes Wicker has led First Baptist Church in Naples, Fla., to launch the “Great Commission Connection.”

The initiative aims to personalize missions by linking church members with missionaries and others who serve the denomination while also boosting support for Southern Baptists’ cooperative missions funding channel.

The project already has resulted in connecting 507 families in the Naples’ congregation with about 1,500 Southern Baptist missionaries, the Florida Baptist Convention and faculty members of Southern Baptist seminaries. In the coming weeks, especially as seasonal members return to Naples, the church anticipates additional families signing up as well.

The Great Commission Connection concept asks church families to adopt a “missionary package” that includes one International Mission Baord missionary, a North American Mission Board missionary or combat chaplain and either a Florida Baptist Convention missionary or seminary faculty family. Congregants agree to establish contact with the three to ask about their prayer needs and be an encouragement to their ministries.

Church members also commit to giving at least an additional $300 per year over their tithe, with some of them using a “Change the World” piggy bank to collect loose change throughout the year. The additional funds will complement the church’s budgeted allocation to the Cooperative Program in hopes it will generate an extra 2 percent giving from the church through the Cooperative Program.

“In no way is this a substitute, but is a supplement for Cooperative Program giving,” said Wicker, pastor of the church since 1992. “And the exciting thing about this is it opens the doors for us to talk about how to pray for missionaries, how others are involved in missions that they don’t normally think about — like seminary professors, Baptist missionaries in our state and others.

“I believe we have the greatest missions program in history. Our people need to know how wonderful it is,” Wicker added, noting the strength of the Cooperative Program (CP) is that it frees missionaries from the need to raise their own support. He said the CP’s weakness is “facelessness” and “lack of personal contact.”

There is a need in the congregation, he said, to make First Baptist members more aware of Southern Baptists’ missionary efforts because many members come from a non-evangelical background in which they did not learn about the missions mandate, or they come from independent churches that support missionaries who raise their own support.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Smith is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness.)
12/4/2009 9:22:00 AM by James A. Smith Sr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Small Canadian church of 50 makes film

December 4 2009 by Frank Stirk, Baptist Press

MAPLE RIDGE, British Columbia — Many people who have seen “The Scarf,” a new feature-length film produced by a Canadian Baptist church, are giving it “two thumbs up.” “This is really a tremendous piece of work,” said Alan Braun, pastor of Royal Heights Baptist Church in Delta, British Columbia. “They’ve done a super job, way beyond what I thought they would be able to do.”

The reaction is even more surprising when considering the fact that the church behind the film — The Connection, a Canadian National Baptist Convention church plant in metro Vancouver — has no more than 50 people in attendance on Sundays.

“Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised at the quality of this production and impressed with the message it sends,” Tom Blackaby, international director of Blackaby Ministries International, who also lives in Maple Ridge, said in an e-mail.

Filmed on a $20,000 budget, The Scarf tells the story of two girls working on a high school science project about UFOs. One of them is so determined to get an A+ in hopes of impressing her absentee father that she puts herself at risk by dabbling in the occult.

Woven through the narrative are dialogues on spiritual warfare and the power of prayer.

Most of the cast were unchurched teenagers with no acting experience. As a result, most in the near-capacity crowd who attended its red-carpet premiere at a movie theatre in nearby Coquitlam were non-Christians. John Martens, the pastor of The Connection, said that when the movie ended, they broke into “thunderous applause.”

Photo courtesy of

Members and attendees of The Connection, a church plant in British Columbia, work on the set of “The Scarf,” a film that recently released on DVD. The church has no more than 50 people on a Sunday morning.

Martens wrote the script for The Scarf. Youth and media minister Kyle Lawrence was its director, cinematographer and editor.

The film contains “strong spiritual stuff” but is deliberately not “in-your-face” evangelistic, said Martens. “We wanted to make people think and open up their eyes to some new things that they maybe hadn’t really thought about before,” he said.

Braun likes that approach.

“I really think if you’re going to touch teens today, they want you to get them to think and to let them discover the answers, instead of just being spoon-fed,” he said.

Gerry Taillon, national ministry leader of the Canadian National Baptist Convention, said he, too, “really appreciated” the fact that the movie’s “purpose is to pique interest and to help young people in their discussions.”

“I think it could do exactly that,” he said.

The challenge now is to make The Scarf available to as many people as possible.

“We’re hoping to get it on TV.” Lawrence said. “We have a number of DVDs of the movie in the hands of different distributors and people in the industry that are looking at it that we’re waiting to hear back from.”

Martens is working on DVD-based study materials based on the movie that churches can use in their small groups or Bible studies. Martens’ desire is that The Scarf will be only the first of many movies The Connection will produce as part of what he calls “our long-term, world-touching strategy.”

“We hope over time — it may take 10 or 20 years — to train a variety of young Christian filmmakers like Kyle to be able to go out and make their own Christian films and create a wave of media evangelism and discipleship out there, bringing the Christian worldview into the public consciousness much more strongly,” he said.

But for their next project — which they plan to film in 2011 — Martens hopes there will be more people actively involved in both the moviemaking and the church.

“It was a lot of fun doing it, but because of the work in the church plus the work on the movie and all that, it was really a very hard experience for us too,” he said. “And so to have the church a little bit stronger would be a big deal.”

He said he’s spoken with people who “assumed we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

“The very fact we got this done, I think, is just one of those indicators that God wanted it done,” he said. “He helped us and strengthened us. Because sometimes I wondered, ‘How did we make it through all this — and get a neat, little product out of it, too?’”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Stirk writes for the Baptist Horizon, a publication of the Canadian National Baptist Convention. To learn more about The Scarf, visit
12/4/2009 9:15:00 AM by Frank Stirk, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

N.C. Baptists support Operation Christmas Child

December 3 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

A steady trickle of cars pulled up to the white canopy set in the parking lot of Trinity Baptist Church in Raleigh to disgorge one or a dozen shoe boxes packed with an assortment of gift items for a child.

While the boxes’ destination might be the thankful, eager hands of a child in a desert village in Africa or a thatched hut in an Asian jungle, their first stop is the collection center at Trinity. Volunteers coordinated by Ron Sneed are receiving the boxes, wrapping them with two big rubber bands and identifying the boxes as appropriate for either a girl or boy if the donor has not already identified them as such.

This process is part of the massive Operation Christmas Child sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse that will send about 8 million gifts to children around the world this year. Since a Welsh couple first gave gifts in shoe boxes in 1989 the project has caught the imagination of churches throughout the nation, and North Carolina Baptist churches are as enthused as any.

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Andrew Higgins helped his parents and volunteers of all ages at Trinity Baptist Church in Raleigh pack Operation Christmas Child boxes into larger boxes for shipment to children around the world.

Samaritan’s purse spokesperson Millie Giles said Christmas boxes are distributed through churches in 100 nations with which Samaritan’s Purse field personnel have relationships. Churches invite village families to a worship service, after which they will receive a gift box.

In many cases children also receive material for a 12-week discipleship course and a Bible.

At Trinity, volunteers on one of 22 shifts pack the boxes into 22x19x18 inch cardboard cartons and roll them onto a semi-trailer for transport to the processing center in Charlotte, the largest of six in the nation. Each carton holds 22 standard Operation Christmas Child boxes distributed by Samaritan’s Purse, or more typically, 14-16 regular shoe boxes of various sizes.

Many of the clear plastic boxes that entrepreneurs have produced specifically for this project nationwide show up, too. They have the added advantage of becoming a useful household utensil once its contents are delivered to a happy child.

Giles said Charlotte is expected to process 2 million of the 5.2 million boxes contributed by churches in the U.S. An additional 3 million gift boxes will be contributed from churches in 12 other “sending nations.”

During peak weeks in November and December about 1,000 volunteers work each of three 4-hour shifts daily at the Charlotte processing center. They check every box to be sure nothing inappropriate is included, and that each box has at least a minimum of goodies.

Sneed said he has heard from other volunteer leaders that the recent news of Samaritan’s Purse founder Franklin Graham’s million dollar salary — which he has since given up — has negatively affected shoe box donations this year, although gifts at the Trinity location are up. Giles said the pace of gifts in Charlotte also was up. This is Trinity’s third year as a collection center, and church members last year produced more than 1,200 boxes themselves.

Operation Christmas Child sprang from a shoebox ministry started in 1989 by a Welsh couple. They suggested the idea to Samaritan’s Purse, which got behind it and organized Operation Christmas Child in 1993.
12/3/2009 3:38:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

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