December 2012

Modern shepherds corral nativity animals

December 27 2012 by Rachel Ortego, Baptist Press

MANDEVILLE, La. – Pat Hayden, a deacon at Mandeville Baptist Church in Louisiana, is a shepherd of sorts. It is his job to round up sheep, donkeys, goats and maybe a calf or two for the church’s annual Christmas live nativity.

But he doesn’t do it with a rod and staff. Hayden is the animal facilitator who arranges, by phone, for the mini-herd to be delivered from farms as far as 50 minutes away to the nativity scene on the church property for three afternoons in December.

The church has had some interesting experiences with the animals but generally everything goes off without a hitch, Hayden said.

About 1,000 people viewed a live nativity at Mandeville Baptist Church in Louisiana in just one weekend. The nativity includes several sheep and a trail with various scenes that might have surrounded Jesus’ birth.

“We have one lady who loans us between 15 to 20 sheep and we provide some funds for her expenses,” Hayden said. “Other people loan us donkeys, goats and even a calf, dropping off the animals before crowds start arriving and bringing them home afterwards each night. The owners are very good about helping and will stay around and watch and to be there if needed. Sometimes the animals stay overnight.”

This is the fourth year the church has staged the live nativity called “And on Earth: Peace,” which is viewed by an estimated 1,000 people the first full weekend of December. Guests walk a roped-off trail to view nine scenes of events surrounding Jesus’ birth.

The scenes, portrayed by church members and animals, are lit by torches, fire pits and lights. Markers at each station explain each scene while Christmas music plays.

“We use mostly donkeys standing in the scenes and put sheep in little corrals that church members have built,” said David Watson, music director at First Baptist Mandeville.

“We’ve never had any problems, but we did have one funny experience when one of the guys decided to try and ride one of the donkeys after a performance. He dug his heels in the donkey’s side and the donkey reared straight up and threw him 10 feet right into one of our nativity signs, then took off.”

Hayden recalled one year when the live nativity included two male donkeys: one regular sized and one miniature, plus one female donkey.

“There was a turf war between the two male donkeys for the affection of the female donkey and the miniature donkey was primarily the more interested one,” Hayden said. “That was pretty funny.”

He said the animals are popular with the crowds and many want to pet the animals.

“The sheep are docile,” Hayden said. “They just mosey along. But they like to eat and they’ll start munching towards the baby Jesus in the straw if you don’t watch them.”

Both Watson and Hayden say animal “hygiene” is not a problem.

“The performance is at night and outdoors,” Hayden said, “so you don’t see any ‘accidents.’ We control that by putting down straw where the animals stand.”

Overall, Watson said, the animals lend an air of authenticity to the event that makes the portrayal of Jesus’ birth more dramatic to the 100 members of the cast and crew.

“We’ve done lots of programs and dramas, but we’ve never dreamed this would have such an impact on us,” Watson said. “The first night we staged this, while we were cleaning up, we could not get over how much more real Jesus was to us. We could feel it and see it on each other’s faces during the performance and on the faces of the people who came.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rachel Ortego is a regional reporter for the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)

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12/27/2012 2:08:32 PM by Rachel Ortego, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Iranian-born pastor/U.S. citizen tortured

December 27 2012 by John Evans, Baptist Press

TEHRAN – An American pastor has been imprisoned on secret charges and tortured in Iran as the country pursues a crackdown on house churches.

Fox News reports that Saeed Abedini, a 32-year-old Iranian man who is a U.S. citizen, was detained while on a visit to see family members and conduct humanitarian work. Abedini, who lives in the United States with his wife and two children, previously spent years in Iran developing house churches.

“When he became a Christian, he became a criminal in his own country. His passion was to reach the people of Iran," Naghmeh, his wife, told Fox News.

Naghmeh explained that her husband once was a radical Muslim in training as a suicide bomber, but the training depressed him and he turned to Christ.

“Christianity saved his life,” she said.

According to International Christian Concern, an aid and advocacy organization for the persecuted church, Iran is in the midst of a crackdown on house churches.

Ahmed Shaheed, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, told Reuters that the country has arbitrarily arrested and detained more than 300 Christians since 2010, including at least 41 people detained from a month to more than a year.

“Scores of other Christians appear to remain in detention for freely practicing their religion,” he said.

Abedini started a network of clandestine house churches for Muslim converts to Christianity, spanning roughly 100 churches with more than 2,000 members. It’s a movement Naghmeh told Fox News the Iranian government fears.

“They think if the country becomes more Christian, they are no longer under Islamic authority,” she said. “That’s why it’s a threat.”

Abedini’s Iranian family members, all Muslim converts to Christianity, are under house arrest, Fox News reported. Abedini awaits trial in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, where he has been severely beaten both by prison guards and cellmates who self-identify as Al Qaeda members. As a Muslim convert to Christianity, he could face the death penalty.

Abedini previously was arrested by Iranian authorities in 2009 but was released after signing an agreement to stop all official house church activities, according to Fox News. His family’s attorneys have said he honored that agreement.

“He thought if he honored his part, they would honor theirs. He was transparent about his humanitarian work there,” Tiffany Barrans, international legal director at the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which is representing Abedini’s American family, told Fox News.

In an ACLJ news release, the organization announced a campaign calling on the United Nations, the U.S. State Department and Congress to demand Abedini’s release.

“This is a very troubling pattern that we have seen inside Iran – Christian husbands and fathers who are punished for their religious beliefs,” said Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ’s executive director.

Abedini’s detention comes as Iranian pastor Behnam Irani languishes in prison for “actions against the Islamic state.”

According to a report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an organization that promotes religious freedom, Irani has been severely beaten by guards and inmates, causing acute stomach ulcers and colon complications that led to blood infection, severe bleeding and weight loss.

Morning Star News, a Christian news service focusing on the persecuted church, reported that sources close to Irani say authorities intend to kill him by denying him medical treatment.

“The prison scheduled a time for him to have surgery several months ago, but mysteriously this decision was reversed and he was not allowed to receive medical attention,” Jason DeMars of Present Truth Ministries, an organization that seeks to bring the gospel to Muslims and aid the persecuted Middle Eastern church, told Morning Star News.

“Those close to the case believe this is a deliberate attempt to bring about the conditions so that Pastor Behnam would die in prison as a result of his sickness,” DeMars said.

According to Morning Star News, Irani was arrested in 2006 for “actions against national security” and handed a five-year suspended sentence, which a judge ordered him to serve in 2011 due to charges of leading a house church service. The judge also labeled Irani an “apostate” from Islam, which could potentially lead to the death penalty.

In a letter released by Present Truth Ministries, Irani said he has learned more about extending the love of Christ while in prison.

“Here, I live with cellmates that you can hardly see something positive in their lives and personalities,” he wrote. “They don’t think about anything but negative values, abhorrent acts, learning new experiences in crimes and nasty literature.

“[But] immediately, I remember that Jesus Christ was sacrificed for their sins too. I become weary of myself for being unable to reflect this love to the darkness of my surroundings.”

Three months ago, pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian convert to Christianity, was released from prison after three years. Initially charged with apostasy (leaving Islam) and sentenced to death, Nadarkhani was given four chances to recant his faith, but he refused.

After significant international pressure, he was acquitted of the apostasy charge but found guilty of evangelizing Muslims and sentenced to time already served, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The ACLJ noted in its news release, however, that Nadarkhani’s attorney was thrown in prison for representing him and others in Iran.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Evans is a writer in Houston.)
12/27/2012 1:48:19 PM by John Evans, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Newtown residents continue to hurt in ‘an unimaginable way’

December 21 2012 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

NEWTOWN, Conn. – As Newtown, Conn. continues to mourn and bury victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Southern Baptists alongside other denominations are offering light in the midst of darkness.

John Revell, pastor of Stamford Baptist Church in nearby Stamford, Conn., described Newtown as under a “heavy, dark cloud.”

“The most important thing you can do right now is pray for the people. They are hurting in an unimaginable way,” Revell said.

Last Friday (Dec. 14), 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother at home, then drove to the elementary school and killed 20 children and six adults before committing suicide.

“It’s clear that people are still in the process of trying to come to grips with the magnitude of this tragedy … [and] are still in a state of shock,” said Revell, who has attended many of the funerals and memorial services as a chaplain to the town’s law enforcement officials.

BGEA Photo

A makeshift memorial in Newtown infuses its ray of hope into the traumatized Connecticut community in its loss of 20 elementary schoolchildren and six teachers. Among those providing chaplaincy care in Newtown are Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team.

And it is “a very, very tumultuous time here,” Revell said. “A lot of people don’t realize just how, how active it is around here with the media and the out-of-town guests. The people are just absolutely swamped.”

Revell said he is praying that after the media and others are gone, ministry to Newtown residents will continue and that people will have the opportunity to begin considering matters of faith and healing.

Southbury Baptist Church, serving as a command center for the Southern Baptist response team, hosted a planning meeting Tuesday (Dec. 18) evening to gain insight in ministering to the community.

“The hope of our churches in the region is to meet the emotional and physical needs in this time of crisis and to open the door for sharing the gospel,” pastor Bryan Bruce said. “As time goes on, the needs will likely change but the hope is that ministries will adjust to meet the new needs and have an ongoing witness.”

Most of Southbury’s outreach has been to first responders.

“For them and everyone in the area, it’s hitting hard,” Sims said. “Now is a time for people to be praying for hearts that are grieving and broken.”

Churches may send donations to the Baptist Convention of New England’s Victim Relief Fund at 87 Lincoln St., Northborough, MA 01532.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has declared Friday (Dec. 21) a statewide day of mourning, asking residents to observe a moment of silence at 9:30 a.m. and churches to ring bells 26 times during the observance in honor of each life taken. Malloy has also written letters to all governors in the U.S., asking each state to participate in the observance.

“Let us all come together collectively to mourn the loss of far too many promising lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” Malloy said in an official statement.

“Though we will never know the full measure of sorrow experienced by these families, we can let them know that we stand with them during this difficult time.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)
12/21/2012 2:39:33 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

SBC’s Land: Armed, trained teachers can save lives

December 21 2012 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land says he would support arming teachers with guns.

In a radio interview Dec. 19, Land also said the “New Testament justification” for owning a firearm is found partly in “loving my neighbor as myself.”

The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) offered his comments in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR) in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting deaths in Newtown, Conn., of 28 people, including 20 children and six faculty/staff members at an elementary school. The interview occurred the same day President Obama announced an initiative led by Vice President Biden that could include gun-control recommendations.

Responding to questions on the NPR program “All Things Considered,” Land said he has no problem with his grandsons being in classrooms with teachers who are armed and have been properly trained.

“Law-abiding citizens who are armed are the best last-ditch defense against the kind of horror that we’ve just experienced,” Land said. “If there had been teachers who had been trained and knew how to use their weapons, they could have saved a great many lives.

“Gun-free zones are a fantasy, and they’re an invitation to criminals,” Land said, adding, “Gun-free zones assume that murderers and criminals are going to obey the law. They’re not.”

NPR’s Robert Siegel asked Land about the possible restoration of a federal ban on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines that existed for 10 years beginning in 1994.

Land said he has no problem personally with some type of restriction on such weapons, although he knows many Americans do.

“I am not a member of the [National Rifle Association], never have been a member of the NRA. I am a gun owner,” Land said. “But the problem that I have with hanging too much of our concern on [an assault-weapon restriction] is that for the decade that it was in effect it had no influence on homicides.”

Land said he does not want Americans limited to “target pistols and shotguns,” noting, “The Second Amendment didn’t make that restriction, and neither should we.

“We live in an age of worldwide terror. And as we’ve noticed from some of these domestic tragedies, by the time the police get there, it’s often too late.”

Land told about using a handgun when he was 15 years old to turn away an intruder. A man had broken into the garage of his family’s house in Houston, Texas, about 3 a.m. and was trying to break through a door into the kitchen. With his father away, Land’s mother awakened him. Land grabbed the gun and warned through the door he would shoot if the intruder had not left by the time he counted to three. The man fled by the count of two.

Siegel asked Land how he would justify gun ownership from the New Testament.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love your neighbor as yourself,” Land responded.

“If I find that someone is trying to do harm to someone else, I believe that I have a moral and Christian obligation to do whatever I can – with the least amount of violence necessary but, if necessary, lethal violence – to stop them from harming others,” he explained. “That’s loving my neighbor as myself. That’s doing unto others as I would have them do unto me.”

Land called for closing loopholes on background checks “to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals” but to enable law-abiding citizens to buy firearms.

At the White House Dec. 19, Obama said Biden would work with Cabinet members and outside organizations to present reform proposals by January. In urging Congress to act on the reforms in the new year, the president implied they might include bans on semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity ammunition as well as more stringent background checks.

Obama said he “will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies” like those in Newtown and elsewhere. “We won’t prevent them all, but that can’t be an excuse not to try,” he said.

In other developments since the Newtown killings:
  • Southern Baptist pastor Ronnie Floyd endorsed some changes regarding guns in a first-person column Dec. 19 in Baptist Press (BP). The senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas said, “While gun control may not be the ultimate answer to the threatening epidemic of mass murders in our nation, I personally hope some changes can be made. I am not an authority on this issue, but I am one American who is highly concerned with the path we are on. Surely, something can be done.” Floyd also addressed abortion and media violence as factors in a culture that devalues human life. In addition, he called for churches – as well as private firms and government – to assist families dealing with mental health issues.
  • Shannon Royce, president of, said in a Dec. 17 first-person column for BP she agreed with these sentiments in an online article by a mother of a son with mental illness: “In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. ... It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.” A Southern Baptist, Royce called for “personal engagement” by the church. “We are called as the body of Christ to engage the fallen and broken world with the grace and power of the gospel of Christ. That includes those with mental health concerns,” she wrote. is a nonprofit organization for families living with hidden disabilities
  • The sale of firearms has escalated since the Newtown school killings, which Adam Lanza, who later committed suicide, carried out with a semi-automatic rifle. Many Walmart stores have sold out of semi-automatic rifles, Bloomberg News Service reported Dec. 19. While Walmart said it would continue to sell guns, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced the suspension of sales of “modern sporting rifles” in all its stores. Prices of ammunition magazines for some handguns have risen markedly on EBay, according to Bloomberg. One of the country’s largest gun stores – Hyatt Gun Shop in Charlotte, N.C. – achieved more than $1 million in sales Dec. 18, the highest one-day figure since the store open more than 50 years ago, the news service reported.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
12/21/2012 2:31:53 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘God loved you enough to come,’ worker tells Muslim friends

December 21 2012 by Laura Fielding, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – At 4:45 a.m., the Muslim call to prayer wakes Marie Edwards*. In the cooler hours before the scorching heat arrives, the 20-something Christian worker spends her own time in prayer and worship.

Quiet times with the Lord give her strength to make it through the day.

“Worship is really helpful for actually getting out the door,” Edwards said. “If you spend time worshipping long enough, you remember that He’s sovereign,” no matter what occurs.

Edwards and her colleagues are working in North Africa and the Middle East to reach a people group with a history of persecuting Christians. This country where Edwards lives has been hostile to the gospel – proselytizing for a non-Islamic religion is prohibited – but she and her co-workers are there to share Christ’s love.

Despite living in a male-dominated culture, the single African American woman has built solid relationships while teaching English to university students. Although she’s only lived in the region a few years, her ministry has grown to include participating in house churches, hosting discipleship groups and seeker groups, teaching nationals T4T (training for trainers), strategizing with other Christian workers, prayerwalking the city, distributing Bibles and participating in English clubs.

Tea is an important part of many North African and Middle Eastern (NAME) cultures. Because Marie Edwards (name changed) is African American, she blends in with the peoples she works with and is often treated like one of the family, sometimes being asked to help make tea with other women. Though this treatment once bothered her, she now sees it is a statement of trust – and she has a great opportunity to build meaningful relationships.

But the most important thing Edwards does is build relationships and share the gospel.

She’s found that often, as she eats her lunch, “[students] will come and sit with you and chat, and that’s an open opportunity we like to use – ‘Do you know the story of Adam and Eve?’ or ‘What’s going on in your life?’”

Edwards also spends time in the teachers’ lounge, drinking hot tea or coffee with co-workers despite the 120-degree weather.

“They come and you just talk, because that’s what they like to do,” Edwards said. “... It’s very easy to share the gospel that way, and one of our [team’s] goals is to never leave someone without praying for them.”

Initially, Edwards and her Christian co-workers were hesitant to share their faith so openly – being arrested or expelled from the country are real concerns. But they were discouraged by the lack of people coming to know Christ.

“We were tired of not seeing fruit, so we got bolder and that yielded fruit and so we got bolder and now we’re just kind of outrageous, and it works,” Edwards said. “... There is opposition, but the Lord has really protected us from it, so we’re going to continue to be a little crazy bold.”

Her missions heritage

Missions work is in Edwards’ blood. After her mother served as an IMB journeyman (two-year missionary), she met Edwards’ father at seminary. After marrying and starting a family, the couple became IMB missionaries when Marie was 7 years old.

The Edwardses studied language in Europe for a year and then served in West Africa nearly four years before returning to the United States. Edwards’ father then became a North American Mission Board-sponsored chaplain, which led the family to live in various places in the U.S. and Europe throughout her adolescent years.

Though as a child Edwards dreamed of becoming a missionary, by the time she reached college she was determined to work in government relations overseas. But a godly mentor who had caught the vision for missions challenged Edwards to catch that vision as well. After a short-term trip to West Africa, Edwards’ calling to the mission field was solidified.

She began attending seminary, preparing to serve – so she thought – in West Africa, in a place and with a people with which she was accustomed. When given the opportunity to lead short-term mission teams to North Africa and the Middle East (NAME), Edwards jumped at the chance, but soon discovered that these people were nothing like West Africans.

“I really struggled,” Edwards said. “... After about a month and a half, my team leader and God both really challenged my heart to love [these people].”

A broken people

Underneath Edwards’ cheerful manner, a serious passion for seeing North African and Middle Eastern people come to Christ is ever-present. Her passion, though, does not come from herself – it comes from obedience to the Lord.

“It’s a supernatural love for sure,” Edwards said, since the people to whom she ministers are not accustomed to being loved by Westerners and are perpetually “on the defensive.” But their tough exterior is riddled with cracks.

“They are very prideful and they are very good at putting up a good [front], but the bottom line is they are just a broken people,” Edwards noted. They are not used to hearing about a heavenly Father who cares for them.

In one Bible study, Edwards was teaching two Muslims from the Book of John about the Word becoming flesh. The two young women were confused – why would God care enough to put on flesh and come to earth? God doesn’t care about us, they said. He doesn’t see us. Nobody does.

Edwards then asked, “Was it possible for someone to love you and to put on long-sleeved shirts and skirts [despite the hot weather], to pull her hair back and cover her head with a scarf, to leave her family behind, to forsake a career, to forsake a possible marriage and children, and to leave the things she knows in her culture and the home that she thought she would live in for the rest of her life, and come to you and tell you she loves you?”

It was as if a light bulb turned on – the girls understood.

“If a human loves you enough to come to you to tell you this, then surely God loves you enough to send me, and God loved you enough to come,” Edwards said. “That’s my heart for [these people] – God loved them enough to come for them, I can ... love them enough to be with them.”

Changing attitudes

As political shifts occur in many governments across North Africa and the Middle East, Edwards has noticed a shift of attitudes in the country – people who were once closed to hearing anything about Christ are now willing to listen.

“The window is open right now for abundant gospel sowing,” she said.

She also is excited to see how God is moving in mighty ways. Some government security workers have accepted Bibles. A young woman who cried in joy to receive a Bible continues to study it, though her sisters threaten to expose her. Girls who hated men because of past abuse are learning about forgiveness and that the Lord is a loving Father.

“You just never know where God is working, and that’s how we’re doing that broad seed-sowing now, we just shoot it out to huge groups,” Edwards said. “... Because we are doing so much sowing, we are seeing return.

“It’s almost like a physical transformation happens. You can see the burden lifting, the hatred – it takes a while, but yeah, it’s a good thing.”

*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Laura Fielding writes for the International Mission Board. To learn how you can get involved in overseas missions, visit Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and through the Cooperative Program help Southern Baptist missionaries around the world share the gospel. Gifts for the offering are received at Southern Baptist churches across the country or can be made online at where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at
12/21/2012 2:21:09 PM by Laura Fielding, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Two colleges get backing of court on abortion-contraceptive mandate

December 20 2012 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court has delivered an important victory to religious nonprofit organizations that oppose the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate.

In the first ruling on the mandate at the appellate level, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the federal government Dec. 18 to keep its promise to issue a new rule to protect the religious liberty of two colleges and other religious nonprofits. The three-judge panel told the Obama administration to report back every 60 days on its commitment to publish a notice of a proposed rule by March 31 and to issue a final rule before August.

The D.C. Circuit Court also said it expected the administration to fulfill its pledge not to enforce the current rule against Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian school in suburban Chicago, and Belmont Abbey College, a Roman Catholic institution in North Carolina, as well as other religious nonprofits.

“We take the government at its word and will hold it to it,” the panel said in its three-page order.

The appeals court issued the order in response to lawsuits by Wheaton and Belmont Abbey against a rule by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that mandates employers provide workers with health insurance covering contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs. The rule is part of the implementation of the 2010 health care reform law, which has been dubbed Obamacare.

The abortion/contraception mandate went into effect Aug. 1 of this year, but the Obama administration established a one-year “safe harbor” from that date intended to accommodate the concerns of nonprofit religious entities. Neither the “safe harbor” nor the D.C. Circuit Court’s order applies to for-profit companies with owners opposed to the mandate.

Religious freedom advocates praised the court’s order.

Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention called it “a tremendous day for religious freedom and freedom of conscience,” adding he was “extremely pleased but not surprised” at the court’s action.

“It shows clearly that when the federal government oversteps its bounds and denies the First Amendment free exercise and freedom of conscience rights of Americans that those citizens can successfully appeal to the federal court system to be the protector of those divinely endowed and constitutionally guaranteed rights,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) which signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Wheaton and Belmont Abbey.

Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said the court “has now made it clear that government promises and press conferences are not enough to protect religious freedom. The court is not going to let the government slide by on non-binding promises to fix the problem down the road.”

The D.C. Circuit Court’s order came only four days after Duncan and government lawyers presented oral arguments before the panel of judges. During the arguments, the Obama administration lawyers promised the judges the government would not enforce the current rule against religious nonprofits and would provide a new rule to guard their religious freedom.

Wheaton and Belmont Abbey appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court after federal judges dismissed their lawsuits separately, partly because they ruled neither school had standing to sue. The appeals court, however, ruled the schools had standing. The three-judge panel also decided not to return the cases to the federal judges for further action but to hold them until a new rule is issued.

In addition to the challenges by the two colleges, 40 other lawsuits have been filed against the HHS for a rule that requires employer coverage of drugs defined by the Food and Drug Administration as contraceptives, even if they can cause abortions. Among such drugs are Plan B and other “morning-after” pills that can prevent implantation of tiny embryos and “ella” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can even act after implantation to end the life of the child.

While the religious exemption to the rule provided by HHS covers churches, it is insufficient to protect religious hospitals, schools and social service ministries, as well as some churches, critics have pointed out.

Four Baptist schools – Louisiana College, Houston Baptist University, East Texas Baptist University and Criswell College – are among the institutions or businesses that have filed lawsuits against the mandate.

Among others suing the federal government are Hobby Lobby, Christian publisher Tyndale House, Colorado Christian University, Geneva College, Priests for Life and the EWTN Catholic television and radio network.

The ERLC joined 10 other evangelical organizations in a brief filed by Christian Legal Society in support of the appeals by Wheaton and Belmont Abbey on religious liberty grounds.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
12/20/2012 3:08:10 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Jeopardy!’ mentions Baptist seminary

December 20 2012 by Frank Michael McCormack, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS  – For casual and competitive “Jeopardy!” fans alike, it’s not unusual to know at least a few of correct questions to the show’s answers. (Note: Jeopardy! poses statements or answers, and contestants respond with questions like “What is...?” or “Who is...?”)

Some are easier than others. And for the really difficult questions, usually featured in “Final Jeopardy,” the show gives contestants a few extra seconds to respond, accompanied by the famous Jeopardy! theme song. (

Rarely, though, can Jeopardy! viewers claim to be, at least in part, the subject of a question. But that’s what Jeopardy! fans with ties to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) experienced Dec. 7.

An answer read, “Prisoners at Angola in this Southern state can study for degrees at a Baptist seminary.”

The correct response was, “What is Louisiana?”

Images of the NOBTS nod on Jeopardy! subsequently spread through the seminary’s social media network, highlighting the NOBTS undergraduate program at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

NOBTS launched the Angola extension center in 1995 at the urging of Angola warden Burl Cain and inmates there who desired more extensive training. In January 2000, the first four-year degree graduation service was held at the penitentiary, once known as the nation’s bloodiest prison. Inmates may earn either associate’s or bachelor’s degrees from Leavell College of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. At any given time, there are about 100 inmates studying in the NOBTS Angola extension center.

In the years since that 2000 graduation, graduates from the Angola program have gone on to be official ministers to other inmates. In addition, Louisiana State Penitentiary inmates are sent to other state prisons as “missionaries,” serving two-year stints before returning to Angola.

The success of the NOBTS education program at Angola has been widely documented over the years. The connections between the seminary’s extension program and the dramatic drop in prison violence have been featured in USA Today, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, a number of radio and television reports and even a documentary titled “A New Hope.” The PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly” featured New Orleans Seminary’s Angola extension in a March 2004 episode.

NOBTS isn’t the only Southern Baptist seminary training inmates. In 2011, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary launched a program at Darrington Prison in Rosharon, Texas, modeled in large part on the NOBTS Angola extension.

Due to the success of the Angola extension center program (especially its role in reducing prison violence), other prisons across the Southeast have reached out to New Orleans Baptist Seminary to start similar programs. NOBTS now oversees educational programs at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel, the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman and at Phillips State Prison in Buford, Ga.

NOBTS President Chuck Kelley called the seminary’s prison programs a true miracle.

“What God has done in and through our inmate ministry training programs defies description,” Kelley said. “It is a miracle of moral rehabilitation, demonstrating that Jesus has the power to work in any life. It is encouraging to see that word of what is happening is seeping into the popular culture.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Frank Michael McCormack is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)
12/20/2012 3:05:46 PM by Frank Michael McCormack, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

N.C. cadet reaches ROTC’s top 10

December 20 2012 by Baptist Press

A N.C. Baptist college cadet has been named to the 2012 Cadet Command list of top 10 ROTC seniors in the nation.

John LeBaube

Campbell University’s John LeBaube garnered the No. 2 slot. The top 10 listing represents highest honors from the U.S. Army Cadet Command, which ranks all Army ROTC seniors across the nation. This year the list includes 1,119 Distinguished Military Graduates out of 5,579 cadets. LeBaube, 29, enlisted in the U.S. Army as an 18-year-old, serving in Afghanistan in 2007 and 2009 before deciding to return to school for a college degree. The Brown Summit, N.C., native enrolled at Campbell through the influence of co-workers at Fort Bragg.
“We all motivated each other,” LeBaube said. “They were looking to the future, and that got me thinking about what my future would look like.”
LeBaube said his one advantage in being considered for the Cadet Command list was his previous military experience, as many ROTC students are fresh out of high school. He thought he had a good chance to be in the top 10-20 percent but the news of being No. 2 in the nation was surprising. “I don’t know how exactly I reacted, but I was excited and happy about it,” LeBaube said.
The achievement means that, after graduation, LeBaube will have his choice among the Army’s 26 branch choices for future second lieutenants. LeBaube hopes to work as a pilot in the Aeromedical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) program.
Another Baptist college cadet made the top 10. California Baptist University’s Kyle Feldman was No. 6.
12/20/2012 2:55:21 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Chinese student yearns to tell everyone her good news

December 20 2012 by Ivy O’Neil, Baptist Press

CHINA – Wherever American collegians participating in “Christmas in China” go, Shi Li Na* goes. Whether hanging out in student common areas, eating a bowl of steaming noodles or climbing a mountain to visit a primary school on Christmas Day, Shi goes along.

Each year, Christmas in China’s students travel to East Asia to celebrate the holiday season, sharing their culture and faith in response to students’ questions there.

Shi feels comfortable with the U.S. university students, among whom the name of Jesus is spoken as a friend.

She also loves being with Christmas in China participants because it was through such a group that she accepted the gospel in 2010.

“I’d heard of Jesus before,” Shi says to a team member, recounting her story. “When I was 14, I found a song that talked of a man who turned water into wine. It was pretty, so I downloaded it. I listened to it all the time.

Photo by Ivy O’Neil

Shi Li Na (name changed), a Chinese collegian reached by a previous “Christmas in China” team of university students from the U.S., gives a villager his very first Bible.

“I knew some about Jesus. In my village, several people are Christians. However, they carried an ill reputation among the other villagers. People would talk about them, how they were lazy and expected God to do everything for them. They talked about how they would never go to the doctor when they were sick.”

The song may have planted the idea of Jesus but it wasn’t until Christmas 2011 that Shi learned that faith is about far more than a story told through a pretty song.

When word spread about a group of American students on campus, Shi was excited about the chance to study English with native speakers. She eagerly accepted an invitation to a Christmas party, hoping to improve her English skills through conversation.

Instead, she found herself transfixed by the stories they told about Jesus.

When one student approached her afterwards, asking, “What did you think of the stories?” Shi didn’t hesitate in her answer.

“I want to become a Christian.”

The students helped Shi find a group of local believers who could teach her more. As the year went on, she became stronger in her faith. One thing in particular that she wanted to do was share her newfound faith with others.

Well-known on her university campus, Shi can’t walk to class without greeting many people. Her connections give her chances to share her faith often – a task that can be frustrating and joyful.

“Some people don’t want to talk to me because I am Chinese,” Shi shares with team members. “I tell them that I am a Christian, but people don’t want to listen to me.” With the American visitors by her side, “... now, more people listen to me and I share my experiences with them.”

Shi sighs. “I want to tell everyone the Good News that I know,” she says. “I know it, and I want to tell my family, my friends – everyone.”

Her time with the Christmas in China students encourages her. As the group goes about days together, Shi’s face lights up with joy. Her quick laugh and cheerful spirit leaves even the team encouraged as they battle cold and exhaustion.

But she isn’t the only one giving encouragement.

“When Christians come and spread the word of the Lord, they leave me encouraged.” Shi says. They are her new friends, brothers and sisters in the Lord who are eager to share the Word of God with Shi’s people.

“Shi, what do you plan to do when we leave? Where will you go to church?” some of the American students ask. It’s the night before the team leaves to return to America and to classes.

Shi pauses. “Well, I have a few Christian friends now on campus, and I think we should make our own church. We can study the Bible together and be like a family.”

*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ivy O’Neil lives in and writes about Asia. To learn more about East Asia and Christmas in China, visit Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and through the Cooperative Program help Southern Baptist missionaries as they undertake initiatives around the world to share the gospel. Gifts for the offering are received at Southern Baptist churches across the country or can be made online at where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at
12/20/2012 2:47:31 PM by Ivy O’Neil, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Explorer still trying to prove Noahic flood

December 20 2012 by Baptist Press

The underwater explorer who found the wrecked Titanic continues to look for evidence consistent with the great Noahic flood, according to news reports.

Robert Ballard, who has been trying for more than a decade to prove the flood and Noah’s Ark, discussed his latest explorations in Turkey with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour.

“We went in there to look for the flood,” Ballard said of his work in Turkey. “Not just a low moving, advancing rise of sea level, but a really big flood that then stayed.... The land that went under stayed under.”

ABC reported that Ballard, using advanced robotic technology, is able to explore events from nearly 12,000 ago, when much of the earth was covered in ice. Geologists theorize that the melting ice of that age would have surged through parts of the globe.

Ballard’s findings will be revealed in a two-part ABC News special “Back to the Beginning” on consecutive Fridays Dec. 21 and 28 at 9 p.m. Eastern. The special will retrace the Bible from Genesis to Jesus.

Geologists say the rising Mediterranean Sea would have pushed a channel through what is now the Bosporus Strait, submerging the shoreline of the Black Sea in waters rushing about 200 times the volume of Niagara Falls and covering 100,000 square miles.

As early as the 1990s, geologists William Ryan and Walter Pitman gathered evidence of a flood in the Middle East region about 7,500 years ago, PBS has reported.

Ballard found evidence in 1999 of a submerged ancient shoreline and in 2011 found a sunken vessel and one of its crew members in the Black Sea, according to ABC. Ballard has enjoyed success as an underwater explorer, having found not only the Titanic but the battleship Bismarck and a U.S. fleet lost off the coast of Guadalcanal in the Pacific, according to news reports.

The Bible records Noah’s flood in Genesis 7-8.
12/20/2012 2:42:55 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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