December 2013

U.S. abortions on the decline, CDC says

December 12 2013 by Emily Belz, World News Service

Abortions are on the decline in the United States, though numbers remain shockingly high in New York City, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released over Thanksgiving.
The study used voluntary data from 44 states, New York City, and the District of Columbia. The states not included in the study didn't provide data for each of the ten years.
From 2001 to 2010, the number of reported legal abortions in the United States fell by 9 percent. The number of teenagers getting abortions dropped most significantly, probably due in part to the overall drop in teenage pregnancies. For that 10-year period, the abortion rate among teenagers fell about 30 percent.
The number of abortions in New York City alone remains incredibly high: 83,750 in 2010. That amounts to 694 abortions for every 1,000 live births. No other jurisdiction approaches that high of an abortion ratio.

Other city health reports have shown that almost 40 percent of pregnancies in New York end in abortion. Most shocking in the CDC's New York numbers: 82 percent of abortions in the city were performed on African-American or Hispanic women.
The authors noted that the CDC numbers, because they are voluntary, significantly underreport abortions compared to the more fully researched Guttmacher Institute studies. For 2008, the CDC reported 825,564 abortions while Guttmacher reported 1.21 million abortions. But the CDC trends are still meaningful.
The CDC released another report compiled from its own data as well as outside sources like Guttmacher that shows the abortion rate has fallen 32 percent since 1990.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Emily Belz is a writer for WORLD Magazine. This article is used by permission from WORLD News Service.)
12/12/2013 1:04:48 PM by Emily Belz, World News Service | with 0 comments

In Thailand, nurturing young adults' faith

December 11 2013 by Susan O'Hara

RICHMOND, Va. – Southern Baptist missionary Ruth Lapos visits a riverside village in Thailand on Saturdays to work alongside Thai Baptists in starting a congregation.

Ruth visited a young woman from the village one Saturday who had asked how to become a Christian during an English camp led by the church planting team. 

This was a significant question from someone raised in a heavily Buddhist society where conversion to Christianity often can mean being disowned by family.


Submitted photo
John and Ruth Lapos, along with their children, Hannah and Timothy, live in Bangkok, Thailand, where the couple serves at the Baptist Student Center, supported by Southern Baptist volunteers as well as Southern Baptists' giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and the Cooperative Program.

The young woman was a student from the Baptist Student Center in Bangkok, where Ruth and her husband John serve. Ruth followed up with her, praying with and encouraging her involvement in her hometown congregation.

Ruth had told the young woman that if she wasn't comfortable yet telling her family she was a Christian, she could wait for God's timing. But when the student had returned home from the camp, she had told her mother, "I'm a Christian now. I'm not following Buddha."

Instead of disowning her, the student's mother contacted the leader of the church planting team to say she had decided her daughter could follow Jesus. 

"My daughter told me she's a Christian now," the mother said. "After she came back from the camp, her mannerisms are different. She acts like all of you. She's just so happy and just so helpful. She's changed. She's become a better person."

Teaching the Word

Serving at the student center has given John and Ruth Lapos, whose home state is Texas, front-row seats to witness Christ's impact on young people's lives.

Nearly 3,000 Thai catch Bangkok's Skytrain to their weekly English classes at the student center.
John, undaunted by cerebral palsy, also has taught Bible studies at church starts consisting mainly of young professionals – people with great influence in Bangkok.

"God, what can I tell these young professionals?" he prayed.

"Teach them the Scriptures, from beginning to end" was God's response, John recalled sensing.

So he went chapter by chapter through the Scriptures with the church's leadership team.

"Thank you for showing me how valuable and how rich the Bible is," said Goy, one of the young women in the class.

"There's no substitute just for the plain, simple Word of God," John said of "emulating what the Scripture is saying: Be salt and light; magnify the Lord and make people thirsty [for God's Word]. And I think one of the hallmarks of a missionary, of someone who makes an impact, is someone who lifts up the Word of God. And the higher you lift up the Word of God, the more difference it makes in people's lives."

The student center relies heavily on Southern Baptist volunteers, some of whom have dedicated much of their lives to its ministry.

Lorena Mayhugh, 92, had spent eight years teaching at the center. After returning to the U.S. to spend time with her son, she sent an email to John asking to return to the center.

Submitted photo
John Lapos teaching at the Baptist Student Center in Bangkok

"I'm only going to buy a one-way ticket," she said.

And she did, asking that when the time comes, she be buried in the only Protestant cemetery in Asia.

Oklahoman Doris Whisenhunt, a widow with grown children, decided to teach at the center for four months to help her begin the next chapter of her life.

Four months stretched into four years – then into 10.

"Why did I do that?" she said to John about serving there. "Because God told me to go. And then God told me to stay."

When tornadoes hit Oklahoma this past May, John said Thai Baptists immediately asked what they could do to help. They took up an offering of nearly $7,000 for Oklahoma Baptists' disaster relief ministry. Students from the center joined in the offering because of the kinship they felt with Oklahomans, since many of the center's volunteers have been from Oklahoma. By late August, Thai Baptists had collected an additional $7,000 for Oklahoma Baptists' disaster relief teams.

It's a testament to those who have poured out their lives in service to reach the Thai people, John said.

"We see Thai people's lives changed, we see our own Southern Baptist volunteers' lives changed, like Doris and Lorena," John said. The student center, he said, is "just a wonderful place and we're just honored to be there."

The Lapos serve in Thailand through Southern Baptists' giving to the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (

When John first considered ministry overseas, he thought his cerebral palsy would keep him from living out his calling.

Eventually, he realized God was telling him, "John, no matter where you go, whether it's Indonesia or up some hilly streets in San Francisco, the bike cities of East Asia or the crowded concrete jungle of Bangkok, you're perfect for the place."

Before John and Ruth's wedding, his mother told them that when he was born three months premature and weighing only two pounds, the doctor told her to pray. 

After three days of praying, she said, "God, save my son. If You save my son, I'll give him to You."

Later, John's mother became a Christian and kept her promise to God, being supportive of John's call to missions.

"As I look back on my testimony," John said, "from how I was saved in Houston and my mother was saved, and then all those missions experiences from college to seminary, East Asia, Indonesia and now Bangkok, God didn't send me to these places because I walked there – because of my cerebral palsy. He sent me there because a long time ago my mom prayed and God honored it."
(EDITOR'S NOTE – Susan O'Hara is a former summer intern with the International Mission Board. Kate Gregory, an IMB writer/editor, contributed to this story.)
12/11/2013 2:27:12 PM by Susan O'Hara | with 0 comments

World-class libraries launch archive of ancient scriptures

December 11 2013 by Trevor Grundy, Religion News Service

Canterbury, England – Two of the world’s great libraries – the Vatican Library in Rome and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University – have scanned and loaded the first of 1.5 million pages of ancient Hebrew, Greek and early Christian manuscripts online Tuesday (Dec. 3).

The project brings rare and priceless religious and cultural collections to a global audience for the first time in history.

Photo courtesy Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
 Two of the world’s great libraries – the Vatican Library in Rome and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University – have scanned and loaded the first of 1.5 million pages of ancient Hebrew, Greek and early Christian manuscripts online Dec. 3. Pictured here, "De claris mulieribus (ed. Albertus de Placentia and Augustinus de Casali Maiori) (Ferrara Laurentius de Rubeis, de Valentia, 29 Apr."

The website is the first step in a four-year project and it includes the Bodleian’s 1455 Gutenberg Bible  one of only 50 surviving copies.

The $3.3 million project is funded by the Polonsky Foundation, which aims to democratize access to information. Leonard S. Polonsky is chairman of Hansard Global PLC, an international financial services company.

“We want everyone who can to see these manuscripts, these great works of humanity,” Monsignor Cesare Pasini, prefect of the Vatican Library, told The Associated Press.

Apart from the two-volume Gutenberg Bible there is also an illustrated 11th-century Greek Bible and a 15th-century German Bible, hand-painted and illustrated by woodcuts.

The Vatican Library was founded in 1451 and it has 180,000 manuscripts; 1.6 million books; and 150,000 prints, drawings and engravings.

The Bodleian is the largest university library in England and contains more than 11 million printed works.

Pasini said the Vatican was embarking on similar digitization projects with libraries in Azerbaijan and China.

Polonsky has been involved in a broad range of charitable activities for a long time. He is an honorary fellow and governor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
12/11/2013 1:28:35 PM by Trevor Grundy, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Disney’s animator of heroines

December 11 2013 by Emily Belz, World News Service

Mark Henn has been an animator at Disney for 33 years. While he has animated many of Disney’s best-known characters (from Goofy to Winnie the Pooh to the mice in The Rescuers), he has the reputation as the animator of heroines. He animated Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Ariel from Little Mermaid, Jasmine from Aladdin, Mulan from Mulan, and Tiana from Princess and the Frog. Now for Disney’s new animated film Frozen, Henn served as one of the lead animators, overseeing the development of all of the characters.
Q: Can you talk in more detail about the kind of work you did in Frozen, and whether there was a particular character you were drawn to? 

I worked with the animators as a consultant, mentor, cheerleader. I touched all of the characters at different times. I helped them make scenes stronger, make the expressions stronger. Marshmallow, Olaf, Ana, Elsa, Kristoph, Sven … I’m kind of partial to the leading ladies in our films. That’s been a big part of my résumé. This film presented a unique challenge – not one [leading lady], but two. They’re sisters, but they’re very different.
Q: You’ve worked in two-dimensional animation and now three-dimensional. As technology has changed, has the artistic process changed for you?

Mark Henn

A: If you think of the difference between hand-drawn animation and computer-generated animation – you have two completely different tools but the same end result: to make a character come to life. I did some computer animation – Meet the Robinsons was my first computer-animated film. The only thing that changed for me was the tool, getting proficient enough to use the tool.
I’ve been here 33 years now. I bring that skill set to help the younger animators think like a Disney animator. I don’t see a difference between hand-drawn animation and computer-generated animation from that point of view. The heart and mind of the animator is the same. And that’s what I’m trying to pass on to the new group of artists.
Q: I’ve heard animators describe their job as acting. 

A: Think of us like a theater troupe – that’s very much like an animated film. Over time as you get to know one another you learn each other’s strengths. Some people are great at comedy. You have other people who are more into the dramatic, more emotional acting. You have some typecasting among animators.
Being an animator is the best of both worlds. I love drawing. I love performing and acting, but I don’t have to be on the screen myself.
Q: Speaking of typecasting among animators, how did you end up animating all the leading ladies?
A: I don’t know other than I grew up the oldest of three kids – my other two siblings are sisters. I grew up with girls and I’m probably more comfortable walking into a room with a bunch of girls than a bunch of guys. I fell in love with Snow White and Cinderella. But I’ve also done mice and dogs and Winnie the Pooh and Pete [in the Mickey Mouse short Get a Horse! that will be shown before Frozen].
Q: How does your faith play into your work, into character development and storytelling?
A: It’s a global impact as well as day-to-day and scene-to-scene. I’m very blessed. … This has been my boyhood dream to be a Disney animator. I’ve seen a lot of change and a lot of ups and downs. I was almost fired at one point. God has been incredibly gracious to allow me to be here, and I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be.
In the minutiae – it’s those daily struggles – you’re fighting a scene, the same things everyone deals with. He’s gotten me through many a tough day and tough scene and tough production schedule.
It’s nice to work for a company – we’re not a church organization or a faith-based organization – but the basic values we want to put across in our films are right in line with my faith.
Q: I noticed Frozen had themes about self-sacrifice and the importance of family. 

A: Parents need to do a little work and glean out those things and talk about them with their kids. [The themes] are there. The parents have the responsibility to look for them.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Emily Belz has written for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News).
12/11/2013 1:10:11 PM by Emily Belz, World News Service | with 0 comments

Benghazi victim was U.S. church staffer

December 10 2013 by Baptist Press staff

AUSTIN, Texas – American teacher Ronnie Smith, who was gunned down during his morning jog near the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, served on staff at Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, before moving to Libya.
The church is affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Acts 29, an independent church planting network. Smith was director of equipping and resources at Austin Stone from 2009-11, and before that he served for two years as a pastoral intern.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for Smith's Dec. 5 murder, but Islamist militants in October had called for the kidnapping of U.S. citizens in Libya. Hospital officials said the teacher had been shot multiple times. His death came 15 months after an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Grieving friends on opposite sides of the globe remembered Smith, 33, as a devoted teacher, family man and Christian.

BP photo
Ronnie Smith

Smith held a master's degree in chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin and had been teaching chemistry at the International School Benghazi for 18 months. His wife Anita and their young son had returned to the United States several weeks ago for Christmas break. Smith stayed behind to help his students through midterm exams and had planned to join his family in a few days.
"Ronnie and his family moved to Benghazi to teach high school chemistry and to be a blessing to the Libyan people....," a statement from Austin Stone said. "Ronnie's greatest desire was for peace and prosperity in Libya and for the people of Libya to have the joy of knowing God through Christ."
A profile of Smith on the church website identified him as a deacon and a native of Michigan who had been married for 10 years. In the profile, Smith listed Minnesota pastor John Piper as his hero because God used Piper to introduce him to the writings of Jonathan Edwards and to teach him "the meaning and the joy of the supremacy of Christ in all things."
On the same page, Smith said if he could spend an evening with anyone who lived in the past 1,000 years, he would choose Jonathan Edwards because Edwards understood "that God gave us minds for the [sole] purpose of glorifying Him.... As a man of supreme intellect and prestige, he was refreshingly humble and holy."
In recounting his life story on the profile page, Smith wrote, "I was raised in the church from the time I was an infant. It was only by the grace of God that I went through my high school and college years free from the major struggles that many of those I knew dealt with. It was not always sunshine and lollipops but God's hand was always leading me and He brought me to where I am today. I really have no idea when I gave my heart to Christ, I can't pinpoint a date or time, all I know is that the only life I desire is only wholly sourced in Him. Over the last year or so, God has really shown me what it means to exist for Him alone, and that is where I have found my joy and satisfaction."
Back in Benghazi, Smith's students described him as a teacher who inspired and cared about them.
"He was the most amazing person, more like a best friend or family member," Yomna Zentani, 18, told NBC News. "After everything that happened in Libya, we were losing hope and he was the only one who was supporting us, motivating us.... He dedicated so much of his time for all his students. He chose to come here and help us and risk his life."
Other students memorialized Smith on Twitter. "He was the best teacher I ever had. Always ready to work, always in a good mood," one wrote. Another student tweeted that Smith "baked me 2 batches of peanut butter cookies on my birthday and sang happy birthday in Arabic." A Libyan wrote, "Thank you, sir, for believing in our Libyan children when half of their own country had given up on them. #Smith."
As Smith's family and friends prepare for his funeral, Smith's words on his church profile offer a reminder of his desire that "we strive for and treasure Christ above all things. I don't want the church to be about people, programs, or numbers, but rather a body that reaches out to the hurting and that speaks the truth of the gospel uncompromisingly into people's lives."
Smith also wrote, "If at the end of the day people look at our church and say that we are hip or cool or trendy then we have failed miserably. If they are challenged to live a life wholly devoted to Christ and His name and His purpose are exalted over our agenda, then I think God will continue to bless us with His Spirit. Our vision must always be God-centered."
Meanwhile, Smith's students in Benghazi may remember him best as the man who once described himself on Twitter as "Libya's best friend."
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Based on a report by Jamie Dean of WORLD News Service.)
12/10/2013 1:05:09 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Casual Conversations discuss culture and theology

December 10 2013 by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor

On December 5, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) featured an event named Casual Conversations that emphasized cultural and theological dialogue.

“As evangelicals, we tend to lean toward extremes,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
Moore was joined by Daniel Akin, president of SEBTS; Andy Davis, senior pastor of First Baptist Durham; and J.D. Greear, lead pastor of the Summit Church in Durham, N.C.
Moore said, “Some Christians tend to overreact to a highly politicized Christianity that is essentially apolitical. ‘Only preach the gospel,’ they might say. But not speaking to [cultural] issues is a cultural stance. We are to speak to non-believers with truth, with conviction, but also with gentleness and kindness because our ultimate goal is not to win an argument.”’

SEBTS photo by Maria Estes
Danny Akin, from left, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Andy Davis, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Durham, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, take part in Casual Conversations at the seminary's campus Dec. 5.

With the speakers casually arranged in a circle at the front of Binkley Chapel and a large number of faculty, students and friends of SEBTS gathered, Greear moderated the first session of the event devoted to cultural engagement and the Christian. In session two, Davis moderated and entertained theological topics on Calvinism, eschatology, church polity and evangelism.
Moore shared the four important categories he focuses on at ERLC: religious liberty for everyone, human dignity – including the right to life, the protection of family stability and how to live justly in a civil society.
He encouraged the audience to find common ground on cultural issues as they interact with others. One strategy he noted is to share both theological information and personal implications despite the other individual’s beliefs.
The second session of Casual Conversations focused on theological themes.
Akin stated, “Theology helps us think better in terms of biblical truth. … We should process [truth] with our hearts and minds. The gospel is central from beginning to end in the scriptures. Everything is genetically-wedded to the gospel such as marriage, church discipline, church polity, lawsuit issues and even the family.”
Greear agreed. He said, “Unfortunately in the local church there’s a tendency to downplay theology. Everybody is a theologian, but the question is: ‘Are you a good one or a bad one?’ We at the Summit are in a highly educated context of Raleigh-Durham. People aren’t interested in ‘happy’ sermons. They ask hard questions so we must give convincing answers.”
The panel discussed variances between Arminianism and Calvinism, while acknowledging each perspective’s emphasis on God’s sovereignty and grace toward humanity. The conversationalists came to the conclusion that both views are to balance one another, as iron sharpens iron.
Pertaining to biblical manhood and womanhood, each of the conversationalists confirmed the distinguishable roles between males and females as created in the image of God.
Davis said, “God put Adam in the Garden in order to serve the land to bring it into its full potential. Also, he was to protect the Garden and Eve. I think that Adam’s sin of omission preceded Eve’s because he did not protect her by warning her.”
Adding to Davis’ point, Moore said, “Indeed, we need to capture the meaning of scripture’s ‘servant-leader.’ If Jesus is the true servant-leader, He is making real leadership decisions while serving and pouring Himself out for His bride.”
To watch the event, visit
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ali Dixon, news and information specialist at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary contributed to this article.)
12/10/2013 12:43:41 PM by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Students at FUGE camps relish each year's missions infusion

December 10 2013 by Tess Rivers, International Mission Board

RICHMOND, Va. – More than $11 million. That's the amount of money given to missions at LifeWay camps since 1984.
"It's incredible," said Mark Robbins, FUGE camps coordinator for LifeWay Christian Resources. "Just incredible."
The collection is, indeed, incredible especially considering the offerings come from students ranging from third grade through high school.
Summer 2014 will mark the 35th anniversary of the FUGE mission offering. Centrifuge, now called FUGE, is a summer camp for seventh- to 12th-grade students which began in 1979. Campers gave their first offering for missions in 1980. Since then, LifeWay has divided the offerings between the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board.
LifeWay campers – 100,000 this summer – donated more than $600,000 to missions. For the North American Mission Board, the offerings will fund missions efforts in the Bronx and in Canada.
For the IMB, 2013 donations will help meet needs of orphans in East Asia through a project called One Child, in a new focus on age-appropriate projects, said Jeremy Echols, who leads LifeWay's CentriKid team.

IMB photo by Derek Clinton
Audra Long of New Orleans, a staffer with summer FUGE camps, visited South Africa in 2011 to build relationships and assess needs in preparation for the upcoming five-year partnership with sub-Saharan Africa. Here, she reads a story to a class at Johannesburg Girls Preparatory School.

Meanwhile, the 2013 CentriKid partnership (grades three through six) provided $65,009 to orphans in East Asia living in isolated and difficult conditions, reported Tobias Jones*, an IMB student strategist in the region. In an environment where $10 will feed a child for a month, and $30 will provide clothing and thermal underwear to keep kids warm throughout the long winters, the offering literally changes lives.
"Many of these kids were orphaned because their mothers died during labor or their parents died because they didn't have basic medical care," Jones said. "Spiritually, these kids have almost zero opportunity to hear about Jesus. They need to see His love and hear His love."
Christian workers among the orphans are praying for more opportunities to show God's love, such as meeting their most basic needs, Jones said.
"FUGE has partnered with IMB for years and years," Echols said. "Sometimes the projects like True Love Waits and HIV awareness were a better fit for teens than for kids. It's been great this year for CentriKid to focus on meeting the physical needs of kids in an orphanage in East Asia."
When CentriKid began in 2001, LifeWay combined the FUGE and CentriKid offerings and gave them to support student projects through IMB's International World Changers (IWC). In 2006, LifeWay and IMB also began identifying specific projects that allowed students to "pray, give and go" to a specific people group.
"The 'pray, give, go' tag keeps kids from getting confused with the details," Echols said. "Praying is something they can all do. Giving is something they can all do, and they can go now or go later."
In 2014, CentriKid campers will help provide clean drinking water to villagers in India. Although access to water is a luxury in many villages, providing clean water may be as simple as replacing a broken pump handle or other equipment for existing water resources. Through an IMB project called One Cup of Water, Christian workers in India hope to repair broken pumps or provide new ones in 1,200 villages.

A solid foundation

While CentriKid's kid-friendly partnerships are just getting started, FUGE and IWC have worked together for more than 15 years. A portion of the FUGE offering provides ministry funds so IWC's student teams can work alongside career missionaries on short-term projects. In addition, FUGE currently is teaming with IMB workers in sub-Saharan Africa, its second people group-specific initiative since 2006. The first five-year FUGE project involved the Roma people of Eastern Europe.
The value of these relationships to IMB's global mission is significant, said Kurt Holiday, an IMB strategy leader in sub-Saharan Africa.
"Knowing that 50,000 partners are joining with us to shatter the silence in sub-Saharan Africa is tremendously encouraging," Holiday said. "The prayers offered [by campers] give us strength and the offerings provided … have enabled us to dream."
Since the FUGE partnership with sub-Saharan Africa began, campers have provided prayer support and funds for a high school sports ministry in Cape Town, South Africa; helped refurbish a hospital in Sanyati, Zimbabwe; and supported a project to rescue abandoned babies in Johannesburg and Soweto, South Africa.
In 2013, the partnership embraced the Karamojong people of northern Uganda. The Karamojong are an unreached people group, Holiday explained: Of the 696,000 Karamojong people, very few are followers of Jesus. There are virtually no evangelical churches and until recently no one was actively sharing the Gospel among them. FUGE campers gave $230,850.60 to support efforts to serve the Karamojong, to meet vital ministry needs in sub-Saharan Africa and to subsidize IWC student teams around the world.
"Next summer, FUGE will send our first group of staffers to work among the Karamojong," Robbins said, noting that IMB has provided opportunities for FUGE staff trips for several years. "Just as they did with the Roma and in other parts of Africa, FUGE staffers will work alongside IMB missionaries."
FUGE staffers, through these opportunities to serve, gain real stories to share, bringing the Karamojong to life for campers. Working together with IMB student mobilizers, FUGE also has developed opportunities for campers to work with the Karamojong through IWC projects.
This natural progression of missions education, giving and involvement for campers has been vital to the success of both FUGE and CentriKid, Robbins said.
"I can't imagine camp without a missions emphasis," he said. "Taking missions education out of camp would be like taking the sugar out of the cake."
Other ways students' FUGE gifts have impacted lives:
  • Home care kits for those with HIV/AIDS
  • Water filters for patients in a hospital in Tanzania
  • Clinic visits for street children in Nairobi
  • One month of food and housing for street children in Nairobi
  • Training or subsidizing youth on mission events for African student missionaries in Kenya, Ghana, Botswana, South Africa, Togo and Benin
  • Leadership camps for youth in South Africa
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tess Rivers is an IMB writer. For more information on IMB student opportunities, visit For more information on IMB projects such as One Child and One Cup of Water, visit For videos and additional information on FUGE's partnership with sub-Saharan Africa, visit For information about CentriKid camps, visit
12/10/2013 12:29:41 PM by Tess Rivers, International Mission Board | with 0 comments

The HHS mandate: What's at stake?

December 9 2013 by Joe Carter, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a pair of cases that challenge the HHS mandate requiring most private companies' insurance to provide coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients. The Obama administration asked the high court to review the issue after a federal appeals court in Colorado found in favor of Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based crafts franchise. The court will combine the Hobby Lobby case with lesser-known case involving Conestoga, a Pennsylvania company that lost earlier bids for relief from the mandate.
These are among the questions people are asking about the issue:
Q: What is this contraception mandate?
A: As part of the Affordable Care Act, the universal health insurance reform passed in 2010 (often referred to as “Obamacare”), all group health plans must now provide – at no cost to the recipient – certain “preventive services.” The list of services mandated by the Department of Health and Human Services includes sterilization, contraceptives and abortifacient drugs.
Q: If this mandate is from 2010, why are we talking about it in 2013?
A: On Jan. 20, 2012, the Obama administration announced that it would not expand the exemption for this mandate to include religious schools, colleges, hospitals and charitable service organizations. Instead, the administration merely extended the deadline for religious groups who do not already fall within the existing narrow exemption so that they will have one more year to comply or drop health care insurance coverage for their employees altogether and incur a hefty fine.
Q: Is there a religious exemption from the mandate? If so, who qualifies for the exemption?
A: According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the SBC's GuideStone Financial Resources in one of the suits, there is a “religious employer” exemption from the mandate but it is extremely narrow and will, in practice, cover very few religious employers. The exemption may cover certain churches and religious orders that inculcate religious values “as [their] purpose” and which primarily employ and serve those who share their faith.
Many religious organizations – including hospitals, charitable service organizations and schools – cannot meet this definition. They will be forced to choose between covering drugs and services contrary to their religious beliefs or cease to offer health plans to their employees and incur substantial fines. “Not even Jesus' ministry would qualify for this exemption,” they note, “because He fed, healed, served and taught non-Christians.”
Q: Doesn't the mandate only apply to religious organizations that receive federal funding?
A: No. The mandate applies to religious employers even if they receive no federal funding.
Q: When did the government begin requiring employer insurance programs to pay for contraceptives?
A: According to the Becket Fund, the trend toward state-mandated contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance plans began in the mid-1990s and was accelerated by the decision of Congress in 1998 to guarantee contraceptive coverage to employees of the federal government through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). After FEHBP – the largest employer-insurance benefits program in the country – set this precedent, the private sector followed suit, and state legislatures began to make such coverage mandatory.
Q: Why is the federal government dictating that contraceptives should be covered by insurance?
A: In 2000, the EEOC issued an opinion stating that the refusal to cover contraceptives in an employee prescription health plan constituted gender discrimination in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). That law was adopted by Congress in 1978 in response to a Supreme Court decision holding that an employer's selective refusal to cover pregnancy-related disability was not sex discrimination within the meaning of Title VII, the primary federal law addressing employment discrimination.
As the Beckett Fund notes, “Although this opinion is not binding on federal courts, it is influential, since the EEOC is the government body charged with enforcing Title VII. This opinion led to many lawsuits against non-religious employers who refused to cover prescription contraceptives.” The federal district courts have split over the issue of whether the PDA requires employers to provide contraception. The only federal court of appeals to address the issue held that the PDA did not include a contraceptive mandate.
Q: But what about the First Amendment protections? Isn't such a requirement inherently unconstitutional?
A: In Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment's free exercise clause “does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a 'valid and neutral law of general applicability,'“ simply because “the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).” According to the Becket Fund this means that the fact that an act infringes on the religious beliefs or regulates the religiously motivated policies of a religious institution does not necessarily make the law unconstitutional.
Q: Doesn't this seem to be primarily a Catholic issue?
A: No. Although the Catholic Church has been the most vocal opponent of the mandate, many Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders also oppose the mandate. In fact, several evangelical leaders have called on evangelicals to stand with Catholics in civil disobedience to this law. Additionally, 300 academics and religious leaders signed a statement by the Beckett Fund explaining why the mandate is “unacceptable.”
Q: I don't oppose contraceptives, so why should I care about this issue?
A: There are two reasons that all Christians, regardless of their view on contraceptives, should be concerned about this mandate.
The first reason is because it forces Christians to pay for abortion-inducing drugs. The policy currently requires coverage of Ulipristal (“ella”), which is chemically similar to the abortion drug RU-486 (mifepristone) and has the same effect (to prevent embryos from being implanted or, if already implanted, to die from lack of nutrition). Additionally, RU-486 also is being tested for possible use as an “emergency contraceptive.” If the FDA approves it for that purpose, it will automatically be included under the mandate.
The second reason is that it restricts religious liberty by forcing religious institutions to pay for contraceptives and abortifacients even if the employer has a religious or moral objection to such practices.
Q: While it may be a pro-life concern, why is it a religious liberty issue for me since I support the use of contraception?
A: If the mandate is allowed to stand it will set a precedent that the government can not only force citizens to violate their most deeply held beliefs but that we can be sanctioned for refusing to do so. As John Leo has noted, today it is contraceptives and abortifacients, but “down the road it will be about suicide pills, genetic engineering, abortion and mandatory abortion training, transgender operations, and a whole new series of morally problematic procedures about to come over the horizon.”
As Leo has recounted, a Catholic-run California hospital was sued because it refused to perform breast-enlargement surgery on a transgendered patient. The state court ruled the hospital had violated the state's anti-discrimination laws. (Caving under litigation, the hospital paid $200,000 to the transgendered man.)
Q: Didn't the Obama administration offer a compromise?
A: In response to the concerns of religious organizations, Obama offered a “compromise” in which he proposed that insurance companies, instead of religious institutions, be required to cover procedures and products that they find objectionable at no cost in their insurance policies. In other words, the insurer would be required to provide the services “free of charge” and pay for them out of their own pocket.
As economist Steve Landsburg has noted, the proposed compromise does not really change the fact that the religious employers are still being forced to pay for the contraceptives-abortifacients: “[A]ll economists ... understand that transferring the responsibility from employers to insurers amounts to transferring the cost from [insurers] to insurance buyers, which is to say that it's not a change in policy. One of the first and most important lessons we teach our students is well summarized by a slogan: 'The economic burden of a tax is independent of the legal burden.' Ditto for a mandated insurance purchase. It is not the law, but the underlying price-sensitivities of buyers and sellers that determines where the burden ultimately falls. Your president knows this. He's banking that you don't.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Carter is director of communications for the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.)
12/9/2013 10:22:40 AM by Joe Carter, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission | with 0 comments

Clayton King slated as new ‘True Love Waits’ author

December 9 2013 by From press releases

LifeWay Christian Resources will release this month its revamped series, “True Love Waits,” along with its new author, Clayton King.
True Love Waits (TLW) is an international campaign challenging teenagers and college students to make a commitment to sexual abstinence until marriage.
Originally created by LifeWay, it encourages adolescents to moral purity by adhering to biblical principles.
Clayton King is the founder and president of Crossroads Worldwide and Clayton King Ministries. He also serves as teaching pastor at NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C., and as campus pastor at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

Photo courtesy of Colin Mukri
Clayton King, seen here with his wife, Sharie, signed the True Love Waits pledge as a college student and now is writing for the True Love Project.

TLW first debuted in 1994 when King was a college student at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs.
King said, “I was part of the movement when it began. I spoke at one of the very first TLW/DiscipleNow weekends. I signed the [commitment] card, along with hundreds of thousands of students, and I still meet people today who give testimony to a season in their adolescence when they began to discover God’s design for love and intimacy. … It certainly changed the trajectory of my life as a young man.”
In honor of its 20th anniversary, LifeWay has renamed TLW and changed its purpose. Renamed “The True Love Project (TLP),” this redesigned campaign will still emphasize sexual purity but with a particular focus on sexual health.
LifeWay will be releasing the first wave of TLP resources this Christmas
TLP will feature an eight-session video-driven Bible study and focus on how the gospel of Jesus Christ can serve as a catalyst for sexual purity. Understanding God’s true design for love and sex, students will learn that sexual abstinence is centered in a desire that honors and pleases God.
King said, “I want the [TLP] to challenge young women and men to dig deeper into the reality of relationships and human connections. … I want them to defy the stereotype of the typical American teenager by living for the glory of God ... I want them to discover a love for the wisdom of scripture and uncover the rich intimacy found in prayer and worship.” TLP is available for pre-order at The materials will be widely available Dec. 15.
12/9/2013 10:13:40 AM by From press releases | with 0 comments

Burmese immigrants find 'living water'

December 9 2013 by Susan O'Hara & Evelyn Adamson, Baptist Press

RANONG, Thailand – It rains eight months out of the year in the Thai province Scott and Alyssa Branding* call home.
For many of the country's 2.5 million Burmese living in the southern part of Thailand, monsoon rain is their only dependable water source. But drinking the rainwater can make them sick.
So, the Brandings give them small clay water pots lined with rice husks to filter impurities from the rainwater. Then, they tell them about Jesus, the source of “living water:” Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).
The Brandings, from Calvary Baptist Church in Maysville, Ky., have been sharing the gospel with Burmese migrant workers for more than 10 years.
Many of these migrant workers live in remote areas without electricity or running water. They work on rubber and palm oil plantations or are undocumented immigrants living in the jungle to avoid detection by local immigration police.

Living in fear

Families there build spirit houses in their yards, setting out food every day to appease spirits – even when there is not enough food left to feed their families.

IMB photo
Scott Branding*, right, prefers to work behind the scenes, teaching nationals to take the gospel to their own people. *Name changed 

Fear of angering spirits is so deep-seated that new Christians often do not immediately throw out their idols.
“When we go into a home and we see their altar being totally clean, we just praise God because we know they've made that final step, they have totally committed their whole selves to the Lord,” Alyssa says.
When a small group of believers formed among the plantation workers, one of the first things they prayed for was time each week to meet together, the congregation's pastor Ye Htoelt said. With no means of transportation, walking 10 kilometers (six-plus miles) or more to another plantation can take more than an hour each way.
Htoelt's hands are cracked and calloused from years of working on palm oil plantations. On the first plantation Htoelt worked in Thailand, there had been running water and electricity, but the landowner was “wicked” and overworked his employees, Htoelt recalls.
He and his wife eventually found work at a different plantation. It didn't have running water or electricity, but the landowner was a believer. Not only did he give the couple Sundays off from work, he sent Htoelt home every Saturday afternoon so he could prepare to teach his small congregation the following day.
Htoelt was unsure he had the ability to lead the congregation, so Scott mentored and trained him in discipleship for two years.
“[It is] such a joy now to see him be able to share the Gospel and have confidence,” Scott says. “When he starts speaking about the Bible, it's just like he comes alive and he just explodes with power. ... It's because the power of Jesus Christ [is] in him.”

Living in joy

The Brandings, who live in an area surrounded by fish processing plants, also have helped start Bible studies among factory workers.
Aung Kyaw,* a fish buyer whose work affords him the opportunity to interact with both Thais and Burmese, now relies on God instead of trying to appease spirits when business is bad.
“I have learned to have one thing in mind: Trust and believe in Christ alone,” he says.
For WinWin Ma, a young woman who works in a squid processing plant, times of worship allow her to claim joy in life through Christ. She is the only Christian in her workroom of 30 laborers.
“I work 10 hours a day and sometimes face problems at work,” she says, “but when I worship, the worry and stress fall away. I feel joy.”
She also has learned the joy of giving what she can to help others in need. For the past two years, the small migrant congregation has hosted a Christmas program for AIDS patients in the community, says its pastor Simon David, a Burmese immigrant Scott has mentored.
“We go and distribute everything from food, medicine and clothes. We also pray and have fellowship with them,” David says. “I love that whenever there is someone in need of counseling or money, they want to give. They don't have much, but they love to give.”
Migrant work by its nature is transitory. David tries to stay in contact with relocated workers, telling them, “Do not be afraid. Trust God all the time.” He often calls ahead to help the family locate a new congregation. If there isn't one, he stresses the importance of the believers staying grounded in God's Word and sharing it with others.

Living by faith

But it can be especially difficult when family members don't share their faith.
Alyssa tells about a pregnant woman whose husband wouldn't allow her to pray to God when she was sick. “When my husband saw me reading the Bible, it didn't please him at all,” the woman told Alyssa. “He kicked me ..., and then took and burned my Bible. ... Yet I decide to cling to God.”
Others are eager to hear God's Word. One day while walking along the docks to distribute rice and share the Gospel, Alyssa was invited into a small home. There, she was shown a newborn baby.
“Will you name the baby?” the strangers asked – much to Alyssa's surprise.
Alyssa prayed for wisdom, looked at the infant and named him after the Bible's Joshua – a great warrior for the Lord. She prayed that this child, too, would be strong and courageous.
The family began attending church. This year, 7-year-old Joshua sang a Bible verse to the congregation.
Watch a video about the Brandings at
*Name changed
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Susan O'Hara worked as an International Mission Board editorial intern and Evelyn Adamson as a writer in Southeast Asia.)
12/9/2013 10:04:01 AM by Susan O'Hara & Evelyn Adamson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Displaying results 41-50 (of 72)
 |<  <  1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8  >  >|