December 2011

Elliff shares encouragement, Lottie challenge with N.C. Baptists

December 5 2011 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

After being inaugurated in November as the 11th president of IMB (International Mission Board), Tom Elliff expressed his appreciation to North Carolina Baptists for their ongoing support of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and their willingness to embrace the unengaged, unreached around the globe with the gospel.
 
N.C. Baptists gave a total of $11,652,395.33 to the 2010 Lottie Moon Offering, and 18 of their churches were ranked among the top 200 offering givers. The Baptist State Convention (BSC) also has committed to challenge Baptists in the state to take the gospel to 250 unengaged, unreached people groups over the next 10 years.
 
“Knowing [BSC] leadership, I wouldn’t have expected anything less,” Elliff said during a phone interview.
 
“Anytime I hear of a state convention [like North Carolina] stepping up to the plate and hearing the state leadership say [they’re] going to lead our churches in engaging the unengaged people groups of this world, to me that kind of leadership speaks of vision, compassion and a passion to see the great commission fulfilled.”
 
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BP Photo

Former IMB President Jerry Rankin prays for his successor as denominational leaders, seminary presidents, IMB trustees and missionaries lay hands on Tom and Jeannie Elliff at Elliff’s inauguration Nov. 14 as the newest president of IMB at Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, Va.

Despite economic challenges around the globe, Elliff remains optimistic that Southern Baptists can step up to the challenge of this year’s Lottie Moon goal of $175 million. The total amount raised by Southern Baptist churches last year fell $8.3 million less than IMB needed to meet its 2011 operating budget.
 
“All together I believe if we give, throwing ourselves on the providence of God, I believe our $175 million Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is achievable,” he said. “But only if we are willing to do that,” he added. “Awakened hearts, by the very act of giving, catapult themselves into God’s economy rather than man’s economy.”
 
Embracing the challenge
 
This past summer, Elliff challenged Southern Baptists to “embrace” 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups – those with no church-planting strategy and less than a 2 percent evangelical presence – at the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix.
 
“God gave me a very clear picture he has painted on the walls of my heart that could only be by His grace,” Elliff said. 
 
“And part of that was seeing the unengaged people groups of this world engaged.”
 
According to the latest available IMB figures at press time, 70 North Carolina churches had committed to exploring how their church can embrace an unengaged, unreached people group. A total of 968 Southern Baptist churches have made that same commitment. “It’s encouraging to hear the convention as a whole believes that this is a responsibility that belongs to us,” Elliff said.
 
“We have several state conventions that have said this is what we’re going to do,” Elliff said. “I think the Lord is going to bless in an unusual fashion, each of those … that have such a passion for the world – not just the folks on their doorstep but folks all over the world.”
 
“That to me is an exciting prospect.”
 
This year, IMB’s media department highlighted two North Carolina churches – Englewood Baptist Church in Rocky Mount and Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. Englewood was featured this past summer for their ongoing work among the Koli, a formerly unengaged – but still unreached – people group in South Asia. Old Town was highlighted for their efforts to pursue an unengaged, unreached people group in Southeast Asia.
 
Melissa Lilley, BSC research and communications coordinator, has also been following Old Town’s journey. The stories are available on the BR website, BRnow.org. Elliff clarified that helping finish “the task” is not the IMB’s responsibility, but it is the responsibility of all Southern Baptists. “This is the task of every believer,” he added. “My belief is that the best ideas for missions are still out there in the pews of our local churches.”
 
This year, IMB has hosted several Embrace Equipping Conferences around the country. Next year, IMB will host three other conferences: Highland, Calif.; Orlando, Fla.; and Graceville, Fla.
 
For more information on how your church can receive training on embracing an unengaged, unreached people group go to call2embrace.org. Or for information about the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering go to imb.org.  

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12/5/2011 2:46:27 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments



Miss. Baptists support the unborn

December 5 2011 by William H. Perkins Jr.

JACKSON, Miss. (BP) – Messengers to the Mississippi Baptist Convention unanimously passed a resolution supporting a constitutional amendment that would have defined human life as beginning at conception.

The resolution, passed during the 176th annual meeting Nov. 1-2 at First Baptist Church in Jackson, called on Mississippi Baptists to vote yes on the Personhood Amendment in the statewide general election Nov. 8.

The initiative was defeated by a margin of 58-42 percent despite being expected to pass just days earlier.

David Hamilton, pastor of West Heights Baptist Church in Pontotoc, was elected president of the convention.

Matt Buckles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Vicksburg, was elected first vice president, and Chris Aldridge, pastor of Freedonia Baptist Church in New Albany, was reelected second vice president in a ballot with Andy Fullington, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Sontag. Michael Weeks, pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Olive Branch, was reelected recording secretary.

The theme of the annual meeting was “Telling the Story: A Life, A Cross, A Tomb, A Living Lord.” The official messenger count was 948, down from the 1,025 messengers who attended last year’s annual meeting.

Messengers approved a 2012 budget of $32,329,059, a 2 percent decrease from the current year. Mississippi Baptists will forward 36.25 percent of Cooperative Program receipts for national and international missions and ministries, up from 35.25 percent in 2011.

In addition to the resolution on the Personhood Amendment, messengers expressed appreciation to First Baptist Jackson for hosting the meeting; recognized Bettye Rogers Coward, the first woman president of Baptist-affiliated Blue Mountain College, who will retire next June; and marked the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first Baptist congregation on English soil by Thomas Helwys and a small band of believers in London.

James Lewis, pastor of DeSoto Hills Baptist Church in Southaven, delivered the convention sermon. Michael Catt, pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., preached during the closing session. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, provided devotionals.

The Mississippi Baptist Convention includes 2,127 churches with a membership of more than 697,000. The most recent U.S. Census estimated the total population of the state at nearly 3 million people.

Next year’s annual meeting of the Mississippi Baptist Convention will be Oct. 30-31 at First Baptist Church in Jackson.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – William H. Perkins Jr. is editor of the Baptist Record, newsjournal of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.)
12/5/2011 2:45:08 PM by William H. Perkins Jr. | with 0 comments



Utah-Idaho Baptists decrease budget

December 5 2011 by Bill Pepper

JEROME, Idaho (BP) – Messengers to the 47th annual meeting of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention celebrated the theme “Building for the Future” based on Nehemiah 4:13-20 and approved a decreased budget.

A total of 144 messengers from 52 churches gathered at Northridge Fellowship in Jerome, Idaho, Oct. 25-26.

Rob Lee, Utah-Idaho’s executive director, was honored for 20 years of service on the state convention staff. As a US/C-2 missionary from 1987-90, Lee was director of Baptist Campus Ministries at Utah State University before becoming director of ministry to students for the convention in 1991.

In 1996, Lee became the convention’s religious education consultant, and in 2008 he was promoted to executive director. In recognition of his service, Lee was given a book of letters and cards of appreciation as well as a plaque. There was a break in the evening program for cake and personal thanks from those in attendance.

Messengers approved a 2012 budget with a decrease of 13.74 percent, from $2,480,080 in 2011 to $2,139,317 for 2012. The budget reflected a decrease of $300,000 from the North American Mission Board for joint ministries.

Cooperative Program receipts from Utah and Idaho churches are budgeted at a decrease of 9.63 percent, from $915,136 in 2011 to $826,977 in 2012. The two-state convention will continue to forward 25 percent of Cooperative Program receipts to national and international missions and ministries.

Kirk Baker, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Idaho Falls, Idaho, was elected president; Jim Panagoplos, pastor of First Baptist Church in Roy, Utah, first vice president; and Steve Winters, interim pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Hyrum, Utah, second vice president. Arie Sparkman, a member of Desert Streams Fellowship in Kuna, Idaho, was re-elected recording secretary. All were elected by acclamation.

Ergun Caner, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Arlington Baptist College, spoke at the pastors’ conference and twice during the annual meeting. He said believers are to love the sheep, convert the goats and kill the wolves in churches.

Steve Bass, regional vice president for the North American Mission Board’s West Region, reminded messengers that everyone comes from a church that was planted at some time. He challenged churches to send out their best for missions.

O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, preached from Acts 9:31 on “Being Multiplied,” noting that believers today have so many more resources than those in the early church. Those believers, though, did so much more with so little while having peace and walking in the fear of the Lord.

James Gregory, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Mountain Home, Idaho, and president of the convention, challenged messengers to build for the future with Jesus as the foundation, always preaching the cross.

The sole resolution approved by messengers expressed appreciation to the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma for sharing their people, resources and prayers throughout a five-year partnership “to the increase of God’s Kingdom in Utah and Idaho.”

Next year’s annual meeting of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention will be Oct. 23-24 at Canyons Church in Salt Lake City.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bill Pepper is director of business services for the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention.)

12/5/2011 2:42:18 PM by Bill Pepper | with 0 comments



Jerusalem: Searching for peace

December 5 2011 by Reed Flannigan, Baptist Press

As Jesus approached Jerusalem for the last time, He wept. He thought about the people within its walls and said, “If you had only known on this day what would bring you peace.” He knew within hours He’d be crucified by the very people for whom He wept.
 
Would Jesus still look over the city and weep 2,000 years later?
 
Most believe He would. Jerusalem is a city where stress runs high and the strain of so many people practicing so many religions in such a small area makes the tension palpable. They seek a blessing or a healing or some connection with God through well-meaning, but mistaken, devotion.
 
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Orthodox Jews pray at the Western Wall also known as the 'Wailing Wall' by outsiders. Jews gather here to mourn the loss of their temple that once stood just above the large stone wall. View video.

Bitter division resides just below the surface. Christians, Jews, Muslims — each group would be pleased if the other two simply exited the city walls and disappeared into the barren countryside.
 
Rebecca* considers herself nonreligious. She’s a bus driver expecting her first child and is married to a devout Jew. She says the relationship works. She ponders the question: What would it take for peace to come to Jerusalem?
 
“[Peace] between the Jewish people or between everybody?” she asks. “It’s a good question because there is no peace between the Jewish people. The religious [don’t] accept the not religious. The religious people themselves, they have a few groups they don’t like or don’t accept each other, and with the Arabs I think when we have the peace between us it will be easy to make the peace with them, I hope.”
 
Many who actually want peace see it as something to be brokered; something that’s been pursued by leaders for decades, yet to date has proven elusive. Still many hold out hope for a negotiated solution.
 
“We all want peace,” says a local rabbi. “In order to achieve this goal, we must realize that Jerusalem is holy for the Jews, for the Christians and for the Muslims, and let’s think about a solution that all the three monotheistic faiths will be OK with.”
 
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It was from this vantage point that Jesus wept as he approached Jerusalem by donkey shortly before being crucified.

Waging peace through sharing the gospel is not without its challenges. Bitter persecution is coming to those proclaiming the same good news Jesus shared along these stone streets.
 
“We work toward peace, we work toward bridging the gap between cultures and between the differences in people, but really it’s God’s grace and only God’s grace that will ever appear,” says a Southern Baptist worker.
 
Faithful followers of Jesus are preaching His resurrection and reconciling men to God through Christ, just as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5.
 
“The situation in Jerusalem will decide … the situation in the rest of the world,” says Meno Kalisher, a local Messianic pastor. “The reason the Bible says pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:7) is because it’s like praying ‘Jesus come soon.’ And when He comes soon there will be peace in Jerusalem. There will be peace in Jerusalem and there will be peace in the rest of the world.”
 
Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program help Southern Baptist workers around the world share the gospel. Give to the offering through your local Southern Baptist church or online at imb.org/offering, where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at imb.org/entirechurchvideo.
 
 *Name changed

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reed Flannigan served in Europe on IMB’s Communication Team.)

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12/5/2011 2:38:26 PM by Reed Flannigan, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



CP: 11.14% below last year’s pace

December 5 2011 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) – Year-to-date contributions to Southern Baptist national and international missions and ministries received by the SBC Executive Committee are 11.14 percent below the same time frame last year, according to a news release from SBC Executive Committee President and Chief Executive Officer Frank Page. The total includes receipts from state conventions and fellowships, churches and individuals for distribution according to the 2011-12 SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.

As of Nov. 30, gifts received by the Executive Committee for distribution through the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget totaled $28,427,727.02, or $3,563,526.89 behind the $31,991,253.91 received at the end of November 2010.

Designated giving of $7,258,271.13 for the same year-to-date period is 6.47 percent, or $502,322.88, below gifts of $7,760,594.01 received at this point last year. This total includes only those gifts received and distributed by the Executive Committee and does not reflect designated gifts contributed directly to SBC entities.

November’s CP allocation receipts for SBC work totaled $13,846,198.10 while designated gifts received last month amounted to $3,366,605.97.
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The end-of-month total represents money received by the Executive Committee by the close of the last business day of each month. Month-to-month swings reflect a number of factors, including the number of Sundays in a given month, the day of the month churches forward their CP contributions to their state conventions and the timing of when state conventions forward the national portion of their CP contributions to the Executive Committee.

For the SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget, the year-to-date total of $28,427,727.02 is 91.70 percent of the $31,000,000 budgeted to support Southern Baptist ministries globally and across North America.

During the last fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2010 - Sept. 30, 2011), Cooperative Program receipts for the year were up 0.06 percent – the first increase since 2007. Combined CP and designated giving for the year, meanwhile, were up 0.17 percent.

Page said at the time that seeing the halt in what had been a four-year decline in national CP contributions was a “cause for joy.” He observed that Southern Baptists have continued to give sacrificially in spite of global economic uncertainties, praising “the continued faithfulness of Southern Baptists to support the ministries of their churches, their respective state conventions and the ministries and mission causes of the SBC through the Cooperative Program.”

The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ method of supporting missions and ministry efforts of state and regional conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Cooperative Program total includes receipts from individuals, churches, state conventions and fellowships for distribution according to the 2011-12 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.

Designated contributions include the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund and other special gifts.

State and regional conventions retain a portion of church contributions to the Southern Baptist Convention Cooperative Program to support work in their respective areas and forward a percentage to Southern Baptist national and international causes. The percentage of distribution is at the discretion of each state or regional convention.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press staff.)
12/5/2011 2:34:22 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



World AIDS Day: in Swaziland, 26 percent are infected

December 2 2011 by Jacqueline Gordon

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Today (Dec. 1) is World AIDS Day.)

MBABANE, Swaziland (BP) – A 7-year-boy in a ragged gray shirt, with scabby knees and scuffed shoes, sits on a grass mat. He is listening intently to a presentation assuring him that the disease in his body is not his fault. Nor is it an ancestor’s ire or demon possession. He has heard all these reasons for his suffering from various elders and has even been warned not to visit a clinic or accept antiretroviral (ARV) medication, or he will die.

The presentation, however, tells him that his HIV is the work of microscopic organisms, contracted in his mother’s womb, and the ARVs will ensure him a fairly normal life if he faithfully takes them. This is probably the first time he has heard this information, cutting across tradition, superstition and syncretism.

The African country of Swaziland has the highest adult HIV prevalence in the world; nearly 26 percent of the population is known to be infected, according to UNAIDS. Many others remain untested to avoid the stigma carried by the disease. Sangomas – traditional healers – promise cures if proper sacrifices are made to the ancestors, while syncretistic pastors describe HIV as the work of demons and prescribe sufficient faith as a substitute for ARVs. Polygamy is the norm, with the king setting the standard with his 14 official wives. Premarital sex is expected; many believe sexual abstinence is physically impossible or can cause insanity.

Confronting traditional practices and corrupted religion, four young women have sought to open the eyes of Swazi youth to the choice before them. Two, Brooklyn Evans* and Rachel Hays*, minister in the sugarcane fields and rural homesteads of northeast Swaziland, while Elisabeth Belle* and Sara Butler* work in the capital city, Mbabane, and surrounding mountains.
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Photo by Safiya Brooks.

HIV-infected student Qiniselani Ndwandwe has been told he should not visit a clinic or take antiretroviral medications. Many in Swaziland believe AIDS is caused by demon possession or an ancestor’s ire. Here, a coloring sheet is used to help him learn the truth about his disease.


Serving through the Hands On program of the International Mission Board, the women are performing vital work. “What [we’re] telling people could literally save lives,” Evans says.

Hays agrees, “If nothing is done about the AIDS epidemic, this country will die.”

World Health Organization data shows that 64 percent of all deaths in Swaziland in 2002 were related to HIV/AIDS. The CIA World Factbook reports Swaziland’s life expectancy – 49 years – is one of the lowest in the world.

Working with national partners, the Hands On missionaries use visual presentations and interactive skits to dispel common myths about HIV, its transmission, life with the disease and, most importantly, how godly living is the only truly safe way. One demonstration shows how intercourse with multiple partners has repercussions far beyond those in direct contact, as each new relationship includes all past partners. The uncertainty of condoms as a means of HIV prevention is illustrated by a “poisoned” donut put in a bag with three other donuts and offered to the students – they have a three-in-four chance of not dying.

Advocates also act out how sexual promiscuity tears apart families and lives, in addition to destroying health. “‘Don’t have sex’ is an important message,” Evans says, “but it’s also, ‘Don’t give your heart away.’“

To this end, Evans and her teammates contrast the biblical story of Amnon, a son of David who raped his half-sister, with that of Joseph, the husband of Mary, highlighting the difference between love and lust as defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. They also use their personal testimonies of how they have upheld their pledge to wait for marriage.

The advocates face a huge task, as sexuality is rarely discussed openly, allowing superstition to flourish. Church attendance is no guarantee of right belief or action, as animism and ancestor worship often infiltrate churches. “Religion here is so intertwined with their culture ...” Hays relates, “even people who are Christians still worry that the ancestors will be upset.”

She recalls one pastor who gave a Bible to an HIV-positive woman and said, “If you follow Jesus, you won’t need these [ARV] pills anymore.” The same man claimed testing was unnecessary because if one has the Holy Spirit, the “soldiers” that carry HIV cannot get into his or her blood.

Misconstrued Christianity often leads to disappointment. “The ‘prosperity gospel’ is huge here,” Hays observes. “They think, ‘God will give me anything I want,’ and when He doesn’t, that’s when they go to a sangoma.”

The presentations the women give are based on a mindset very foreign to Swazis. Swazi culture places great importance on population size, with women expected to have at least five children while men are encouraged to impregnate multiple partners.

“You can give this presentation to 60, 70 people, and only five will really get it,” Hays says. Additionally, Evans notes that while people may make a commitment to stay sexually pure, “Follow-through is very difficult.”

There is also a strong need for Christian men to set the example of godly living for young Swazis. A study by the UN Population Fund found that decision-making, including family planning and sexuality, is largely a male prerogative.

While elders often hold to traditional beliefs, the Hands On teams have seen progress in their young audience. “It’s been really encouraging to see kids getting it,” Evans says. “When the children understand what we’re teaching them, it’s fantastic.”

Butler concurs, “We’ve seen the amazing response of youth trusting us enough to ask real questions, because we’ll give them real answers.”

*Names changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jacqueline Gordon is a short-term writer for the International Mission Board. To learn how Southern Baptists are responding to the HIV/AIDS crisis with the love of Christ, see accompanying story, http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=36682.)

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12/2/2011 1:19:32 PM by Jacqueline Gordon | with 0 comments



1,000 churches to get apps as part of giveaway

December 2 2011 by LifeWay Christian Resources

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – LifeWay Christian Resources and ROAR, a mobile app development group, are giving mobile church apps to 1,000 churches throughout the month of December.

ROAR, LifeWay’s recommended church app development partner, will customize mobile apps on the platform of the church’s choice. Church leaders can choose either iPhone/iPad, Android, or both.

The mobile apps will feature customizable logos, colors and content.

“We can collect all of the content on a church’s website and from other pages – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, iTunes – and package it together in an app so people can find it all in one place on their phone,” said Matt McKee, president of ROAR.

“Churches can upload audio sermons as podcasts, post calendar events and event details, upload photos from church events or mission trips, create separate pages for separate ministries and allow people to donate to the church from their mobile devices,” said Matt Morris, project manager for LifeWay’s Digital Church.

Developing an app usually costs approximately $750 per platform per church, McKee said. As part of the giveaway, churches will only have to pay a discounted hosting fee of $30 per month for one app or $50 for two platforms.

“We want to resource 1,000 churches with this technology,” Morris said. “Churches will be able to communicate their messages to people through a device that’s almost always in their pocket or purse.”

Pew Research data from July 2011 stated that nine in 10 smartphone owners use their phones to access the Internet or email.

“As the number of smartphone users continues to increase, churches can’t deny that communicating through a church app connects with people on-the-go,” said Morris.

Learn more about the offer at ROAR.pro/DigitalChurch.
12/2/2011 1:14:24 PM by LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments



Japanese businessman goes from high finance to homelessness

December 2 2011 by Tess Rivers

TOKYO (BP)—Kiyoshi Sugioka entered the busy Tokyo train station in July 2009 with a single purpose in mind — to end his life. Dressed in a business suit and dress shirt, the 53-year-old man looked like any of the hundreds of Japanese businessmen crowding the station.

Sugioka was once part of their world — the world of international business and finance. The pace of his life moved briskly with the same efficiency for which Japanese businesses are renowned. He left home at 7 a.m. and returned home around 11 p.m., 30-minutes after the New York Stock Exchange opened. Sugioka spent most late nights tracking his investments. He rarely slept. Like most Japanese businessmen, he seldom saw his wife and two daughters.

But on that day in July 2009, Sugioka’s life was dramatically different from those surrounding him at the station. He hit rock bottom. In one year, Sugioka lost two jobs, his family, his home, his honor and even his identity. Sugioka was unemployed and homeless.

Millions of dollars are made and lost everyday in the world of international finance. In 2008, Sugioka was a major player. As a manager in a prestigious Japanese investment firm, his team made billions for his company. Along the way, Sugioka amassed a small personal fortune. Then, one day in July 2008, the bubble burst. One of Sugioka’s employees made a risky investment resulting in a huge loss of money.

“I had two options,” Sugioka recalled. “I could hand over my own personal wealth to the company or I could face a court hearing and possible prison time.”

Sugioka opted to pay the company back and instantly fell from the heights of financial prestige to the pits of homelessness. With that single decision, he became a Japanese government statistic, joining an estimated 4,000 people sleeping on the streets of Tokyo. He took up residence in Yoyogi Park in downtown Tokyo.

“I was homeless for two months,” Sugioka recalled, “and I saw a completely different world … I didn’t like it.”

In those two months, Sugioka met a man named Josh Park, an IMB (International Mission Board) missionary with ties to California now serving Tokyo’s homeless population, which consists mostly of men. The two met when Park offered Sugioka a cup of coffee in Yoyogi Park.
12-02-11tokyo3.jpg

Kiyoshi Sugioka, a former investor who lost millions, considered ending his life. A memo with IMB missionary Josh Park’s number on it led to a phone call that saved Sugioka’s life, spiritually and physically. See video.


“It was the winter of 2008,” Sugioka explained. “I had found another job with an I.T. company outside of Tokyo.”

Park also offered Sugioka his cell phone number, but Sugioka said he didn’t need it. His life was coming together. He found work. Still, Park wrote his number on a small slip of paper and Sugioka stuck it in his wallet without much thought.

However, Sugioka’s job with the I.T. company was short-lived.

“In an economic downturn, people are the first to go,” Sugioka explained. “Companies move to protect profits.”

Sugioka lost the job in March 2009 and returned to Tokyo a desperate man. That desperation was fueled in part, Sugioka explained, by the stigma associated with unemployment and homelessness in Japanese society.

“When I lost my job, I not only lost my home and my family, I lost all of my relationships,” Sugioka said. “I was cut off from my [business] contacts.”

With no home, no family, no money and no prospects for work, Sugioka decided to end his life.

“It wasn’t that I wanted to die,” Sugioka recalled. “It was that I didn’t want to live anymore. I wanted to erase my existence.”

Each day in Japan, many Japanese face a decision similar to Sugioka’s. On average, seven people a day successfully end their lives, according to the Japanese government. The most common methods of suicide include hanging, leaping from buildings and jumping in front of a train.

Sugioka went to the train station.

He stood at the edge of the platform, peering at the tracks below him. He looked left and then right for approaching trains. He fidgeted. He adjusted his glasses. He put his hands in his pockets and let out a deep breath. He stepped away from the tracks.

Then, for whatever reason, Sugioka remembered the man he met a year before in Yoyogi Park. He fished the number from his wallet; found a pay phone and called Park.

Sugioka didn’t tell Park that he was contemplating suicide. He only asked if Park could meet him somewhere.

“When I saw him … he was in really bad shape,” Park said. “He look tired, weary and worn out.

“I just listened to him talk,” Park continued. “I remembered that he wasn’t interested in hearing the Gospel … then he said, ‘Tell me about God.’”

After Park shared the plan of salvation, Sugioka prayed to receive Christ. After a few weeks of discipleship, Sugioka was baptized in Tokyo’s Tama River in August 2009.

“He introduced me to God and Christ,” Sugioka recalled. “It was a world I didn’t know. I felt like I was born again.”

Park didn’t learn until later that Sugioka was on the brink of suicide when he called.

“Through this experience … I realize that we are in a serious business,” Park acknowledged. “(We are) dealing with people between life and death.”

Today, Sugioka lives in government-subsidized housing. He participates in one of the small groups started by the Tokyo homeless team in the past two years. They meet throughout the week in parks and restaurants. Typically, approximately 100 homeless people gather each Saturday in Yoyogi Park for worship.

From this experience, Sugioka learned relationships were more important than power, prestige and wealth. He learned the church, rather than the workplace, helped meet his need for community.

Sugioka also recently accepted a position as an accountant with a real estate agency in nearby Yokohama that specializes in custom home construction orders. He found this job through a friend he met at Tokyo Baptist Church. The company is going to help him move from government-subsidized housing into an inexpensive apartment closer to Yokohama.

In his new position, Sugioka will have a small staff. He wants to be a good supervisor and to look for opportunities to share Christ.

“Because others have helped us, we need to make [good] choices …” Sugioka said.

He also doesn’t want to fail. He is quick to point out that it took only one day to fall from the top to the bottom. However, it also took only one prayer to receive God’s grace.  Today, Sugioka’s desires are different than they once were. Now, he focuses on finding opportunities to share Christ’s love with those around him — in his personal life and with business relationships.

“The people of Japan are very affluent, but their hearts are in poverty,” Sugioka concluded. “The people of Japan need restructuring of their hearts.”

Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program help Southern Baptist missionaries around the world share the Gospel. Give to the offering through your local Southern Baptist church or online at imb.org/offering, where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at imb.org/entirechurchvideo.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tess Rivers is an IMB writer living in Southeast Asia.)

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12/2/2011 1:00:42 PM by Tess Rivers | with 0 comments



Billy Graham hospitalized, in stable condition

December 1 2011 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

ASHEVILLE ­– Evangelist Billy Graham has been hospitalized, potentially with pneumonia, and is in stable condition, according a hospital statement.

The 93-year-old Graham was admitted to Mission Hospital in Asheville, N.C., “alert, smiling and waving at hospital staff,” according to the statement. The hospital is near his Montreat, N.C., home. He was admitted “for evaluation and treatment of his lungs,” and a doctor said he was “being tested for possible pneumonia.”

Graham was admitted to the same hospital in May with pneumonia and spent four nights there before going home.

“While no date has been set for discharge, Mr. Graham is looking forward to returning home to spend the upcoming Christmas holidays with his family,” the Tuesday (Nov. 30) statement said.

His latest book, “Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well,” was released this year. It chronicles his thoughts on aging.
12/1/2011 2:54:56 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Christmas Day services will go on, pastors say

December 1 2011 by Chris Turner

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) – Nine in 10 pastors plan for their churches to host Christmas Day services this year.

A LifeWay Research study of 1,000 Protestant pastors shows that 91 percent of Protestant pastors plan to have services on Christmas Day while 69 percent said they plan to host Christmas Eve services.

“Having church on Christmas Day when it falls on a Sunday seems as if it would be as much of a given as having Thanksgiving on a Thursday, but this has been an issue of discussion and contention in recent years,” Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said.
12-01-11christmasservice.jpg

“Also, just because an overwhelming majority of pastors think that way doesn’t mean those in their congregations necessarily share their perspective,” Stetzer said.

According to a LifeWay Research report from December 2010, 74 percent of Americans agree strongly or somewhat that “Christmas is primarily a day for religious celebration and observance,” yet 67 percent of all Americans also agree that, “Many of the things I enjoy during the Christmas season have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ.”

“Churches see these conflicting values, and we wanted to know how many churches plan to conduct services on [Christmas] day – since that is also such a family day, particularly the morning,” Stetzer said.

Pastors were asked, “Christmas and New Year’s Day both fall on Sunday this year. As a result, does your church plan to have services on the following days: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day?”

Six percent of Protestant churches surveyed plan to have a Christmas Eve service but no service on Christmas Day. Twenty-eight percent plan to have a Christmas Day service but no service on Christmas Eve. Almost two-thirds (63 percent) plan to host both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services.

Protestant pastors in the South are the least likely (62 percent) to host a Christmas Eve service compared to other regions. Fulltime (71 percent) and part-time (74 percent) pastors are more likely to be planning a Christmas Eve service than bivocational or volunteer (53 percent) pastors. Pastors identifying themselves as mainline (87 percent) are more likely to have a service on Christmas Eve compared to those identifying themselves as evangelical (70 percent).

Nearly as many Protestant pastors plan to host services on New Year’s Day (88 percent) as Christmas Day (91 percent). Far fewer are planning New Year’s Eve services. By comparison, only 26 percent said they were planning for their church to host a Dec. 31 meeting.

The telephone survey was conducted in May, and the calling list was randomly drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chris Turner writes for LifeWay Research. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (
@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).)
12/1/2011 2:51:06 PM by Chris Turner | with 0 comments



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