Chicago school to allow male student in girls’ locker room

December 16 2015 by Kiley Crossland, WORLD News Service

A suburban Chicago school district will allow a transgender student access to the girl’s locker room, under a contentious agreement reached Dec. 7 during an emergency school board meeting. The decision to comply with government demands for inclusivity comes after months of back and forth between school officials and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR).
 
The OCR found the district violated federal sexual anti-discrimination laws with its policy restricting a biologically male transgender student’s access to female locker rooms. Last month, the OCR told the district it had 30 days to change its policies or face potential litigation and the loss of up to $6 million in federal funds.
 
The school board for the Township High School District 211 and the OCR reached an initial agreement Dec. 2. But school and federal officials on Dec. 3 went head-to-head on the settlement details, and district Superintendent Daniel Cates announced the following day the district would hold an emergency meeting Dec. 7 to discuss the path forward, “including the potential retraction of the agreement.”
 
The student, referred to as “Student A,” filed a complaint with the OCR in 2014. Although the school allows the student to use female restrooms at school because of the privacy of stalls, school officials restricted the student, who is still anatomically male, from using the female locker room for changing and showering because they said it would violate other students’ privacy. The OCR investigated and concluded the district violated federal laws against sexual discrimination.
 
The Dec. 3 agreement gives the student access to the locker room, but within hours of the vote, district and federal officials diverged on the practical application. Cates said the agreement applied only to Student A, only if the student used a privacy curtain in the locker room, and did not change districtwide policy.
 
“That’s a mischaracterization,” said Catherine Lhamon, Education Department assistant secretary for civil rights. She said the deal applied to all district students, did not hinge on the use of a privacy curtain – though Student A has agreed to use one – and required the district to revise its annual notice of nondiscrimination.
 
The emergency meeting on Dec. 7 included two hours of public comment followed by a private board meeting. About 600 people attended the public portion. Some expressed support for Student A, calling the school’s policies “institutionalized segregation.” Others said the agreement triggered concerns for their daughters.
 
“It seems the rights of this one person are trumping the rights of everyone else,” said one father, according to the Chicago Tribune.
 
School officials decided not to take a vote during emergency meeting, keeping the agreement in place. They said the decision was made, in part, because OCR officials clarified by letter Dec. 7 that the agreement only applied to one student, and not all district students.
 
But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represents the student, said that is not enough.
 
“We find it impossible that the OCR would allow the district to allow access to our client, while they don’t defend a Student B, or Student C,” said Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois, according to the Chicago Tribune.
 
In addition to allowing Student A access to the female locker room, the agreement, lasting through June 2017, requires the school to submit to reporting and monitoring by OCR officials.
 
Though the agreement does not explicitly state Student A must use a privacy curtain, it says the agreement allows the student access “based on Student A’s representation that she will change in private changing stations in the girl’s locker rooms.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley Crossland writes for WORLD News Service. Used by permission.)

12/16/2015 11:54:36 AM by Kiley Crossland, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



Adrian Rogers’ sermon tapes given to grandson

December 16 2015 by Amanda Vernon, Union University

Baptist preacher Adrian Rogers’ legacy lives on in a collection of audio tapes given to his grandson, a current Union University student, during a presentation in Union’s Ryan Center for Biblical Studies.
 
A giant in Southern Baptist life, Rogers was the longtime pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church who played an instrumental role in turning the Southern Baptist Convention away from liberalism and back to the authority of scripture.

 
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Photo by Kristi Woody
Kay Wilkes has given her late husband’s collection of Adrian Rogers’ taped messages to Rogers’ grandson, Andrew Edmiston, a student at Union University in Tennessee.

Kay Wilkes of Union City, Tenn., discovered Rogers’ sermon tapes among the possessions of her late husband, Ben Wilkes, a former pastor who was a student at Union when he was mentored by Rogers. After learning that Rogers’ grandson Andrew Edmiston is a sophomore at Union, Kay Wilkes worked with staff at the Jackson, Tenn., campus to present the tapes to him. Andrew’s mother, Janice Edmiston, attended the presentation, as did his sister, Breezy Edmiston.
 
“Andrew was just 9 when my dad died,” said Janice Edmiston, one of four children of Adrian and Joyce Rogers. “But sometime later, I found out he was going to sleep listening to my dad’s sermons. He’s still living on through them.”
 
Kay Wilkes said Rogers’ sermon tapes served as a resource for her husband over the years of his ministry.
 
“I have an office filled with these messages and memories,” Kay Wilkes said. Her husband, who died in 2009, “would be so honored to know that these things that he valued so much have found a home.”
 
Bob Agee, Union’s vice president for institutional advancement, and Todd Brady, vice president for university ministries, spoke at the Nov. 17 presentation. Agee said that the bond shared by Adrian Rogers and Ben Wilkes can now be shared with Rogers’ grandson, who is studying physics and mathematics at Union.
 
“Listen to the tapes ... it is an anointed man of God dealing with the Word of God in such profound ways,” Agee said. “Ben’s collection of tapes is a reflection of his love. I think from heaven today, a couple of guys are smiling about this moment.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Amanda Vernon is a junior at Union University.)

12/16/2015 11:45:04 AM by Amanda Vernon, Union University | with 0 comments



Kroger to offer transgender health benefits

December 16 2015 by Savannah Petree, WORLD News Service

In 2002, no major U.S. corporation covered transgender procedures, such as gender-reassignment surgery and drug therapy, under its employee medical benefit plan. Today more than 400 do, including Ford, Apple and Coke. The Kroger Co., the largest grocery chain in the nation with 2,500 stores, is set to join the list next month.

 
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Beginning Jan. 1, Kroger’s 400,000 workers will be eligible for up to $100,000 for gender-reassignment surgery, drug therapy and other procedures. Kroger will become the largest American retailer to offer such coverage.
 
The announcement earlier this fall thrilled gay activists and media outlets. The Daily Beast called the move a “milestone for private employers in the United States” and a “tipping point, of sorts” because it boosted Kroger’s score on the Human Rights Campaign’s “Corporate Equality Index,” a public relations tool designed to pressure businesses into adopting pro-homosexual policies. With Kroger’s decision, nine out of the 10 largest American private employers will score an “A” on the index.
 
Only four of the 10 largest American companies – Walmart, McDonald’s, The Home Depot and UPS – do not offer “trans-inclusive” benefits, according to The Daily Beast, but the website noted that “all four would have a 100 percent rating if they made this single change.”
 
Despite the accolades from the gay community, Kroger is not setting a trend, noted Peter Sprigg, senior research fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council. Political correctness has long dominated higher education, the news media and the entertainment industry. “Unfortunately, I think we can now add most of corporate America to that list,” he said.
 
Companies do not make these decisions “because of a dispassionate evaluation of what attracts the best employees and how best to serve them,” Sprigg said. “Instead, it is the result of relentless lobbying on the part of LGBT activists, accompanied by implicit or explicit threats to try to harm a company’s reputation if they do not fall into line.”
 
Transgender issues will play an increasing role in American life, he suggested, involving children, education and the federal government through issues such as mixed-gender locker rooms and all-gender bathrooms.
 
How conservatives respond when dealing with these issues is important, he said.
 
“We must always communicate that we do not seek to harm homosexual or transgender persons, but on the contrary, seek to spare them from the well-documented harms to physical and mental health that are associated with homosexual and transgender conduct,” he said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Savannah Petree writes for WORLD News Service. Used by permission.)

12/16/2015 11:40:19 AM by Savannah Petree, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



States spotlight sanctity of life, religious liberty

December 16 2015 by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Southern Baptist TEXAN

The sanctity of human life and defense of religious liberty remained the most often addressed concerns among many state Baptist conventions during their annual meetings as messengers penned resolutions endorsed by fellow Southern Baptists.
 
Resolutions calling for an end to the funding of Planned Parenthood gained support in eight state Baptist conventions this year, with others declaring the sanctity of human life. Pro-life concerns remained on the minds of messengers in light of undercover videos released by the Center for Medical Progress showing Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of baby parts obtained through abortion.

 
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Baptist Courier photo
During business sessions, South Carolina messengers voted to end fellowship with a church whose pastor performed a same-sex marriage.

Identifying Planned Parenthood as the single largest abortion provider in the nation, the resolution approved by Oklahoma Baptists, for example, called on policymakers to redirect taxpayer funds to more reputable medical providers of women’s health. Other state conventions joining in the call for defunding Planned Parenthood included Alabama, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Utah-Idaho and West Virginia, with sanctity of life statements passed in Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas-Nebraska, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.
 
Last summer’s Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage led messengers in Kansas-Nebraska, Louisiana, New Mexico and Tennessee to voice objection, while resolutions in Arkansas, Nevada, New England, Oklahoma, Utah-Idaho, Baptist General Association of Virginia and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia affirmed the sanctity of marriage. Appeals for a defense of religious liberty also arose in resolutions passed in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Baptist General Association of Virginia.
 
Tennessee Baptists worded their resolution by stating that “no governing institution has authority to negate or undermine God’s definition of marriage” and that “the religious and conscientious liberties of individuals and institutions should not be infringed upon as a result of living according to deeply-held biblical convictions about marriage.”
 
In a year when the Southern Baptist Convention celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Cooperative Program (CP), resolutions were approved in seven state conventions expressing appreciation for the funding mechanism for worldwide ministry, including Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, New England, Nevada, Ohio and South Carolina.
 
Ohio Baptists encouraged increased CP giving to “keep and put more missionaries on the field, facilitate church planting, fund evangelism in our state and around the world, [and] assist in equipping churches to be healthy.”
 
Several state conventions added references to the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) in their governing documents or guidelines. Mississippi Baptists approved the first reading of a constitutional amendment specifying the current BF&M as their doctrinal guideline. Tennessee Baptists now require members of boards and committees to act in accordance with the statement of faith while Florida Baptists affirm it as the theological foundation for convention ministries.
 
In Kentucky and Utah-Idaho state conventions, congregations that affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior will not be considered cooperating churches, with the latter adding the requirement that they complete the Annual Church Profile.
 
Michigan Baptists adopted a new constitution and bylaws, addressing requirements of a cooperating church that involve the state convention’s vision, mission and doctrinal statement, credentials, submission of an Annual Church Profile and contributing to the Cooperative Program.
 
Louisiana Baptists approved guidelines for disaffiliation of any local congregation no longer in agreement with beliefs and practices of the state convention.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN.)

12/16/2015 11:33:16 AM by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments



Aborted babies dumped in landfills, Ohio AG reports

December 15 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Planned Parenthood’s public persona now includes a report that the remains of babies aborted at some of its centers are dumped in landfills.
 
An investigation of three Planned Parenthood affiliates in Ohio showed that all of them send the remains of aborted children to companies that dispose of them at landfill sites, state Attorney General Mike DeWine announced Dec. 11. The fetal remains apparently are mixed at the landfills with “common residential and commercial trash,” DeWine said in a letter to the director of the state Department of Health.
 
The report came possibly only days before a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to cut as much as 90 percent of federal funds in the next year for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its affiliates. The House may vote by Dec. 18 to approve a budget-related reconciliation bill already passed by the Senate.
 
President Barack Obama has promised to veto the legislation, which also repeals fundamental sections of the controversial 2010 health-care law backed by the president and opposed by nearly all pro-life organizations.

 
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The congressional move to slash federal money for PPFA followed the release of undercover videos in the last six months that revealed the country’s leading abortion provider trades in baby body parts. PPFA performs more than 300,000 abortions a year, receives more than $500 million from the government annually and continues to be plagued by scandal.
 
The Ohio attorney general’s office investigated Planned Parenthood clinics in Cincinnati, Columbus and the Cleveland suburb of Bedford Heights to determine if they were selling baby parts in violation of state law. His staff found no evidence the clinics were selling fetal tissue, but it uncovered proof of a disposal practice that violates a state rule mandating a “fetus shall be disposed of in a humane manner,” DeWine said. That rule calls for the state health director to seek to block the practice through a court injunction.
 
“Just when you thought you had heard it all, Planned Parenthood demonstrates again its callous disregard for the unborn,” said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “Unborn babies are as human as any other person. They deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect anyone else would be given, even in death.”
 
Duke said in written comments for Baptist Press, “If the latest revelation is determined to be true, we have further evidence to support our call to end all taxpayer subsidies to Planned Parenthood. The staff of the ERLC is praying and working for the day when our nation recognizes the dignity of the unborn and protects them by law. Until then, we must all do everything we can within the limits of the law to hold accountable anyone who abuses the power of life and death over the unborn.”
 
Planned Parenthood officials in Ohio rejected the report from DeWine’s office, describing the allegations as “inflammatory and false.” The Ohio affiliates filed a federal lawsuit Sunday, Dec. 13, contending they handle fetal remains the way other abortion providers do and utilize companies that dispose of them “respectfully and safely.”
 
“Politicians in Ohio will stop at nothing to ban abortion in all cases in our state,” said Stephanie Kight, president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, in a written statement. She called the report a “plainly political attempt to restrict women’s access to safe and legal abortion.”
 
Supporters of the congressional effort to defund Planned Parenthood used the reconciliation process because it enabled the Senate to pass a budget-related measure without the need for 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. The House had approved a different bill to defund PPFA in September, but the legislation was dead on arrival in the Senate because of the need for a super majority. In August, the Senate had fallen short on a defunding bill despite a 53-46 majority, because it failed to gain the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, as it is known.
 
The legislation awaiting a House vote does not name Planned Parenthood but specifies it prohibits funds to organizations and affiliates that receive federal and state Medicaid expenditures exceeding $350 million annually. The bill does not eliminate those funds but redirects them to approved community health centers.
 
PPFA and its affiliates received more than $528 million in government grants, contracts and reimbursements, according to its latest financial report (2013-14). Planned Parenthood affiliates performed more than 327,000 abortions during 2013.
 
This year’s congressional effort to cut federal funds for PPFA came after secretly recorded videos released beginning in July showed various Planned Parenthood officials in different locations discussing the sale of organs from aborted children. The videos included acknowledgements by Planned Parenthood employees of their willingness to manipulate the abortion procedure to preserve body parts for sale and use.
 
PPFA sought to blunt the defunding campaign by announcing in October its centers no longer would accept federal reimbursement for expenses accrued in tissue donations from aborted babies. Its critics, however, said the action served as an admission of guilt and should not halt the effort to eliminate federal money for the organization.
 
ERLC President Russell Moore and 37 other pro-life leaders wrote congressional leaders in October to encourage them to use the reconciliation process in an attempt to defund PPFA.
 
In recent years, fraudulent overbilling of the Medicaid program has been uncovered at some Planned Parenthood affiliates. In addition, undercover video investigations have caught Planned Parenthood staff seeking to cover up alleged child sexual abuse and the apparent willingness of employees to aid sex traffickers whose prostitutes are in their early teens. In another secret investigation, Planned Parenthood workers agreed to receive donations designated for abortions of African-American babies.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
 

Related Stories:

Planned Parenthood by the numbers
Senate cuts PPFA funds, challenges Obama
First Choice delivers hope for unplanned pregnancies

12/15/2015 11:30:15 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Wherever you go, we go: Missionary couple takes on many roles

December 15 2015 by Kate Gregory, IMB

Wherever you go, we go.
 
First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss., made this commitment to Jeff and Liesa Holeman long before they began serving as International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries in 2008. It started a decade earlier when Jeff became student minister at the church, located in the town of the University of Mississippi. He led the youth group to make return missions trips to Brazil.

 

Matter of time

In 2003, during a Sunday morning service at Oxford, Jeff felt called to overseas missions fulltime.
 
Jeff jokingly says he did what he was supposed to do by going home and telling Liesa, who had been at home caring for a sick child, “We’re going to be missionaries.”

 
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IMB photo
Some of the youngsters that Liesa Holeman visits at a children’s home will return home with their families after a couple months of specialized care, so she has learned to take every opportunity to share the love of Jesus with them.

“It didn’t go well,” he smiles. It wasn’t that Liesa didn’t feel a tug toward missions, but she thought that would be later in life after their children were grown. In the meantime, she thought she would continue to work as a criminal investigator for Mississippi’s state tax commission, and the couple would spend their children’s formative years doing student ministry together.
 
It turned out they would, just not how she had thought.
 
The Holemans stayed in Oxford for the next few years until they took their two children with them on the church’s mission trip to Brazil in 2006. The children responded so well that the family then went on a trip to Southeast Asia to help lead activities for the children of missionaries during a retreat.
 
Talking with the missionary families gave Liesa the reassurance she needed about raising a family on the international mission field, and the Holemans were appointed by IMB at the end of 2007.
 
First Baptist, Oxford, partnered with the Holemans where they first served in Peru. Then, in the three years since the Holemans have begun serving as cluster strategy leaders in Oaxaca, Mexico, the Oxford church has adopted the Tlacolula Valley Zapotec people group in that area.
 
“They didn’t just send us,” Jeff says, “they want to be a part.”
 
“We have a huge support group behind us … they don’t let go of us,” he says. “That’s a two-way street. We value our relationship with one another. Just because we’re out of sight, we’re not out of mind. We know this because of the way they love us.”
 
Earlier this year, a mission team from Oxford spent a week alongside Jeff and Liesa, teaching English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) and leading medical clinics. For some on the team, their children had been in Liesa’s preschool class at the Oxford church and in the youth group led by Jeff. For others, they had taught the Holemans’ children in Sunday School.
 
Oxford member Buster Hale had been part of Jeff’s first mission trip to Brazil. He’s served alongside him on trips to both Peru and Mexico.
 
“We’ve watched Jeff and Liesa grow,” he says. “We’ve been a part of raising them in the Lord.”
 
Jeff and Liesa met while attending Ole Miss and became a part of the Oxford church.
 
“That’s who first invested in me – my church,” Liesa says. “We want other churches to do the same … God called the church to do this. And we as missionaries have a responsibility to help our churches touch, feel and understand our stories … to help them understand the importance of going to the nations.
 
“When they sent us,” Liesa says, “they told us they would come alongside us. It’s amazing to see that they sent us, and now they are coming themselves. They invested in me. I want to take the time to invest in others.”
 
Jeff’s home church, First Baptist Church of Yazoo City, Miss., also had taught him the value of international missions. Yazoo City member Gene A. Triggs had served as chairman for the Foreign Mission Board (now IMB) for four years. Layman Lawrence Owen Cooper had been president of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1973-74. And, the church was home to comedian Jerry Clower for 34 years.

 

Mission: Make God known

The Holemans mentor dozens of students and young adults from across the U.S. serving in Oaxaca as summer, semester and two-year missionaries, many of whom return to the mission field for extended terms of service.
 
Sarah Toles from The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., worked with the Holemans for four months as a Hands On missionary in Oaxaca before returning to Birmingham to work as a nurse. This year, she went back to Oaxaca on a short-term mission trip to help medical professionals from First Baptist, Oxford, conduct medical clinics there.
 
“They’re like family,” she says of the Holemans. “They would invite us to their home. They would check in with us to make sure we were connecting not only there but with loved ones back home.”
 
A student minister at heart, Jeff realizes the impact short-term missions can make.
 
“God uses short-term missions to open our minds and hearts about what it means to be available to God and to question, ‘Why am I here?’
 
“We were created to make Him known,” Jeff says. “Our role is making His Name known around the world. Obedience is asking, ‘Where do You want me to go to do that?’”
 
Nearly every unreached people group in Mexico is represented in the U.S., Jeff says. “My prayer is that U.S. churches become aware that cross-cultural missions isn’t just something they can do in other countries, it’s something they can do in their own cities, and it will equip these people groups to share the gospel in their own countries.”
 
Similarly, the Holemans have helped Oaxaca Christians to intensify their evangelistic efforts both in Oaxaca and abroad. Jeff guided Iglesia Biblica Evangelica Lluvias de Gracia in Oaxaca to plan a trip to Guatemala.
 
“‘I’ll get you connected,’ Jeff told us,” says Juanita Perez, a member of the Oaxaca church. “He’s just full of resources.
 
“Oaxaca’s been so blessed by missionaries,” says Juanita, noting the student teams and missionaries who have served there. “Now, it’s our turn to go.”
 

Declare His glory among the nations

Find resources for churches at imb.org/offering and hispanos.imb.org/lottie (Spanish language) to learn more about and promote the Lottie Moon offering. While Southern Baptists are encouraged to give to the offering through their churches, a Donate Now option is available for individual online gifts.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kate Gregory writes for IMB.)

12/15/2015 11:03:52 AM by Kate Gregory, IMB | with 0 comments



Moldova partnership increases passion for missions

December 15 2015 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Bobby Blanton’s recent visit to Moldova was his third in a four-year international partnership of two churches. The multi-level relationship between Lake Norman Baptist Church (LNBC) in Huntersville and Agape Church in Chisinau, Moldova, has become more relational than either church originally expected.
 
The Lake Norman church, where Blanton is senior pastor, works with a network of pastors in Moldova to spread the gospel by equipping leaders, providing jobs, ministering to orphans and delivering nutritious meals to families in need. But every layer of the partnership is rooted in disciple-making.
 
“Discipleship has been my focus in ministry this year,” Blanton said. As he prayed about what he should teach the Moldovan pastors during the Sept. 7-13 mission trip, his burden was to encourage these pastors in disciple-making.
 
The theme “was born out of what God has been doing in my life, and what I have been investing in our staff and church membership recently,” Blanton said. “We want to make disciples who will make disciples. So I tried to lay a foundation of what a disciple is and how a disciple is different from a simple believer. I tried to encourage those guys to invest themselves more narrowly into individuals who will make disciples.”

 
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Contributed photo
A group learns how to package food at Lake Norman Baptist Church in Huntersville.

Most of the pastors live in remote villages. Resources are very limited and economic opportunities are marginal. They have no Bible training so they appreciate every opportunity to learn and fellowship.
 
“Those guys are really the salt of the earth,” said Blanton. “I’m so humbled to be around those men. When I stand there and try to offer what little I can as far as teaching and training, I realize they have studied the Bible and they know the Bible. But I feel like I can give them a little breadth of understanding and how to approach some passages.”
 
In addition to the Bible teaching, Blanton brought two large duffle bags of men’s clothing for the pastors. The idea came from a woman at LNBC whose husband died this year. She wanted to donate his clothes to pastors in Moldova. “Those pastors just grabbed it up,” he said. “They had big smiles on their faces and were so pleased.”
 
Ron Hoppe is LNBC’s volunteer missions coordinator. He manages the Moldova partnership and other mission activities for the church. He is supportive of Blanton’s focus on discipleship. “The natural overflow of [disciple-making] will be increased passion and energy that is directed to missions. That’s the essence of being a disciple. Discipleship and missions are two sides of the same spiritual formation coin,” he said.

 

Food ministry

In September 2014 LNBC volunteers packed 70,000 dehydrated meals in cooperation with Feed the Hunger (feedthehunger.org), a ministry based in Burlington. Through a generous arrangement with FedEx, 40,000 of those meal packets were shipped to Moldova and were distributed by more than a dozen pastors and their churches throughout the year. The Biblical Recorder reported on this project in the April 11, 2015, edition and on BRnow.org, posted April 7, 2015.
 
“It is encouraging to us to see how something as simple as a meal packet was able to be used in a number of scenarios,” Hoppe said. “They’re not just handing out a meal. It is a tool for these pastors to reach out and to spread the gospel and to demonstrate the gospel in action in their communities.”
 
Pastors are using the meal packets to reach out to families, providing children and adults with much-needed nutrition in the poorest country in Europe. Sometimes teams from LNBC assist with special distribution events. The meals open many doors for building relationships, according to the pastors.
 
But the real work for the food ministry happens between mission trips, Hoppe emphasized. On Oct. 30-31 LNBC held a second pack-a-thon. More than 500 volunteers packed 125,000 meals this year, compared to the 300 volunteers who packed 70,000 meals the previous year.  “I believe this increased volunteer participation is a reflection of being able to share with them how the meals packed in 2014 were being used and the impact they were having on ministries in diverse places,” he said.
 
Meals packed in 2014 were shared with people in the greater Charlotte area, in Greensboro and Siler City. The meals were used an outreach tool by a new church plant in West Virginia and most recently helped to feed families displaced from their homes as a result of the flooding in South Carolina. Other meals went to Moldova, Ukraine and Haiti.
 
“This is an initiative in which the entire church family can participate,” Hoppe added. He saw five-year-old children and 85 year-old adults working at the pack-a-thon.
 
“But the packing of meals is not the end of the effort; it is really just the beginning,” he said.  Meals packed this year will go primarily to Haiti and Moldova. LNBC teams will be part of the larger distribution of meals to those who need both physical and spiritual food. The total cost of each six-meal packet is only $1.56.
 
As the meals were packed into shipping boxes, a slip of paper containing a scripture and the names of everyone involved in packing those particular meals was placed in each box. As the boxes are delivered and opened, those slips of paper will be returned to LNBC.
 
Everyone who packed the meals will get a report on where ‘their’ meals went. They will see photos and hear stories about how the food was used.
 
This is not an isolated effort according to Hoppe. “At Lake Norman in all of our missions efforts – whether they are overseas, local or somewhere in the United States – we’re focused on not doing events. We’re looking to form relationships and partnerships. That may be at the Charlotte Rescue Mission or in very modest facilities in Moldova. We want to journey with those partners.”
 

Employment ministry

The journey includes other outreach thrusts. Hoppe said the leadership of LNBC asks, “In everything we do, are we really being effective, not just in relieving sort of a stress or a need that exists today, but are we considering how we can encourage and support the work so that it will go forward in an efficient way?” Simply doing charitable work is not acceptable. They want to see lasting change.
 
Adequate employment is a great need in Moldova. LNBC works with small business leaders to find gainful employment for men in a rehabilitation ministry center who are struggling with addictions. The church is partnering with a boot maker in a very modest facility with the goal of employing these men. Hoppe said, “This little boot making operation provides a few of the men with something meaningful to do and some basic financial support. They’re being productive and able to gain some self-worth. It also generates resources for that ministry and has the potential to expand the ministry.”

 

Orphan ministry

Another concern Hoppe discussed is the orphanage structure in Eastern Europe. It has been a significant part of the social order, but it is changing. “The orphanage system in Eastern Europe is breaking down,” he said. “Governments want to get these children out of the large, old facilities that need significant repair. Sadly, many of these kids are being returned to the families they were taken away from.”
 
When the children are between ages 15 to 17 the orphanage requires them to leave. “What happens to them when they are forced to leave?” Hoppe asks. “The system says, ‘we’ve brought you as far as we are going to bring you, and you are on your own.’”
 
Moldova is one of the leading locations for sex trafficking, he adds. Alcoholism is rampant. Suicide is at a high rate among young men. In response LNBC is developing a foster care system for Christian families in Eastern Europe and in the United States. “They need a solid family structure that is speaking the Word of God to them. At the end of the day if it does not center around the gospel, it’s not going to be successful,” Hoppe said. The long term goal is that orphans who go through the foster care system will get vocational training, be able to support themselves and to become independent.
 
The church has also embraced a strong conviction about adoption that the Moldova partnership has strengthened. He said, “At Lake Norman we have a very deep, deep commitment to supporting life – whether that’s through our local pregnancy center, or through families in our church who are actively involved in hosting international orphans. Sometimes the outflow of hosting is adoption.”
 
LNBC has a strong record of adoption both within the church and modeling adoption to others in their community. Many of the internationals their families adopt have special needs. They hope some of the children they are working with in Moldova will be adopted by families in the states.
 
Blanton said LNBC believes packing food, distributing food, adoption, orphan care and equipping pastors are part of disciple-making.

12/15/2015 10:54:50 AM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments



New team aims to help churches in revitalization efforts

December 15 2015 by Chad Austin, BSC Communications

The story still haunts Milton A. Hollifield Jr. to this day.
 
It came from an illustration during a sermon Hollifield heard preached years ago by former Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Jim Henry. Henry told of a time when he was visiting another city to preach. While there, Henry noticed a church in the distance that appeared to be closed down.
 
Curious, Henry went closer. The church’s doors were indeed closed, and a sign hung on the boarded-up door. Again, Henry went closer.

 
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BSC photo
Brian Upshaw

“Closed,” the sign read. “Gone out of business. Forgot what the business was.”
 
Hollifield, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), hopes the formation of a new team at the convention will help other churches avoid a similar fate.
 
The goal of the new church health and revitalization team is to help struggling churches become vibrant congregations that are focused on the mission of God. Hollifield announced the new team during his report to messengers at this year’s BSC Annual Meeting in Greensboro, following approval by the Executive Committee of the BSC Board of Directors.
 
“We’re trying to help churches understand what the business is all about – reaching and discipling people,” Hollifield said.
 
“I’m very excited about this team and how churches are going to be helped with the people that we will have working across the state.”
 
Brian Upshaw, who recently led the BSC’s disciple-making team, became the team leader for the new team Dec. 1. Upshaw will work with a team of contract workers throughout the state who will work with individual churches in revitalization efforts.
 
“I believe church revitalization is critical to the mission of God,” Upshaw said. “It’s important to see the local church healthy, outwardly focused and to be the sending agency God wants us to be.”
 
The new team will be part of the BSC’s evangelism and discipleship group led Lynn Sasser, executive leader.
 
“This is not a church growth program, per se,” Sasser said. “This is a program that is intended to help churches grow by doing the right things, focusing on the right areas and by making disciples.”
 
The church health and revitalization team will focus on four priorities – disciple-making, church health, church planting and missions mobilization – which align with the convention’s ongoing strategy of “impacting lostness through disciple-making.”
 
“Church revitalization is not compartmentalized,” Sasser said. “It’s a very broad approach that intersects with all the work that we do at the convention.”
 
The team will employ a three-fold process in working with churches. Those phases include a focus on developing a church’s leadership, internal ministry and external mission, utilizing both individual coaching and team consultation.
 
In the coming months, Upshaw will begin to discover, enlist and train contract workers throughout the state who will work with individual churches. Sasser said the team hopes to enlist 10-12 workers by the first half of 2016, with plans to increase that number as the team works with more churches. Upshaw will also be developing a number of resources to assist the contract workers in their efforts.
 
BSC leaders said they became convinced of the need for a church health and revitalization team as they examined the statistics and data from research conducted on the overall decline of church health. The numbers, they said, were staggering.
 
Citing research conducted by the North American Mission Board (NAMB), only 27 percent of SBC churches experienced growth between 2007 and 2012. Additionally, other research showed that across all denominational lines, approximately 3,500 churches close each year.
 
NAMB research also shows that 70-75 percent of SBC churches in North America are either plateaued or declining, and an additional 10-15 percent of SBC churches are either at or near risk. Taken together, those figures suggest that an estimated 80-90 percent of churches are in need of revitalization.
 
More alarming, BSC leaders said, is that most churches do not know they need help or where to turn to get it.
 
BSC leaders also spoke with representatives from other state conventions and found that those that were making progress related to church revitalization had an individual or team in place devoted solely to that task.
 
“I am excited about this team, and I felt like this was a step we had to make,” Sasser said. “This is a hard work, this is a difficult work, and it’s not a quick work. But the No. 1 thing that had to happen for us to move forward successfully is that we had to have someone on our staff dedicated to church revitalization.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Contact Brian Upshaw at bupshaw@ncbaptist.org or (800) 395-5102, ext. 5632.)

12/15/2015 10:48:58 AM by Chad Austin, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Free BR subscription aims to inform, strengthen churches

December 15 2015 by Chad Austin, BSC Communications

Joining a new church can be overwhelming. There’s a lot to learn about the church, the staff, various ministries and the denomination to which it belongs.
 
Southern Baptist churches are experiencing an increase in members who are coming from other denominations and have a limited understanding of Southern Baptist’s background and beliefs.
 
A new service being offered by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) and the Biblical Recorder aims to help those new members better understand what it means to be a Southern Baptist and part of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

 
12-15-15BR.jpg

Beginning in January, new members of Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina coming from non-SBC backgrounds will be eligible to receive a free, one-year subscription to the Biblical Recorder, the state’s longstanding Baptist news journal.
 
The goal of the program is to strengthen churches by informing and educating new church members about the missions and ministries of the SBC, BSC and affiliated churches. Cooperation is at the heart of all that Southern Baptists do in missions and ministry. The BSC and the Biblical Recorder want to help new Southern Baptists better understand how we cooperate locally, statewide, across the nation and around the world.
 
“Our desire is to invest in these new members who are joining our churches to help them understand the value of all we do as Southern Baptists to fulfill the Great Commission,” said Milton A. Hollifield Jr., executive director-treasurer of the BSC.
 
Allan Blume, editor of the Biblical Recorder, said the free subscription program will help these new Baptists better understand things like Southern Baptists’ strong support of missions through the Cooperative Program, its network of seminaries and work of entities such as the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
 
“People will often say, ‘I didn’t realize Southern Baptists had this much going on,’” Blume said. “This is an opportunity for us to assist churches in communicating to these new members who we are as a denomination and how we work together as North Carolina Baptists and as Southern Baptists.”
 
Additionally, Blume said the Biblical Recorder plans to run a series of articles throughout 2016 that highlight the beliefs and history of Baptists.
 
Churches are asked to contact the Biblical Recorder to submit the names and addresses of members of their congregations who are eligible for the free subscriptions. The only requirement for the free subscription is that individuals be new members of a Southern Baptist church and be from a non-SBC church background.
 
For more information or to submit subscription information, contact Liz Tablazon, circulation manager for the Biblical Recorder, at (919) 459-5693 or liz@BRnow.org. Subscription information may also be submitted at newBR@ncbaptist.org.
 
“We hope churches will take advantage of this opportunity to get the Biblical Recorder into the hands of more of their members,” Blume said. “I’m grateful to partner with our state convention to make this program possible because I believe it will ultimately help strengthen churches and encourage them in their Great Commission mission.”

12/15/2015 10:42:57 AM by Chad Austin, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



500 follow Christ at Columbus County crusade

December 15 2015 by GO Tell Ministries

Amid calls from emergency personnel to stay home during a 1,000-year flood, more than 800 people made commitments to Christ during the Rick Gage GO TELL Columbus County, N.C., Carolina Crusade on Oct. 4-7. At least 500 of those decisions were for salvation.
 
The total four-day attendance at the South Columbus High School Gymnasium in Tabor City was estimated to be above 10,000.
 
The GO TELL and BMX bike teams spoke to 4,000 students in seven school assemblies. Youth evangelist Steve Paysen challenged students to be winners in the game of life.
 
Other guest speakers included Tony Nolan and Adrian Despres with NewSong as musical guests.

 
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Contributed photo
A four-day attendance in Columbus County, N.C., during a Rick Gage GO TELL crusade is estimated to be more than 10,000 people.

Crusade chair Brenda Jolly said, “After a year of intensive planning, work, organizing, training and praying with all of our hearts, we opened the first night of the crusade amidst predictions of the ‘1,000-year flood’ at South Columbus High School Gymnasium – not the football stadium as we had planned for all those months. We held off making the final decision of whether to proceed or not until 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4, mainly due to county emergency agencies broadcasting for people to stay off the roads for their own safety.”
 
Some pressed to cancel the event for the protection of those who would drive to the crusade.
The executive team prayed and decided to go forward, changing the venue to the gym rather than the outdoor stadium.
 
Jolly said, “Instead of canceling, we flooded the airways and social media with the confirmation that the crusade would go on, but for everyone to make wise choices about their personal safety, and if the roads in their area were not safe, please stay home and pray!”
 
The decision was confirmed when more than 400 counselors walked in the arena, with their Bibles, umbrellas and smiles.
 
“I could barely believe my eyes when people began to arrive and we actually needed an overflow room to hold the audience,” she said.  Approximately 1,200 people attended the opening night and 80 decisions for Christ were listed.
 
“Each night the crowd grew – as did decisions – with the culmination of over 300 decisions on Wednesday night,” Jolly said.
 
Decisions recorded by counselors totaled more than 800 people of “all ages, walks of life, races and gender.
 
Other opportunities surrounding the week of the crusade yielded 25 decisions at the North Carolina Boys and Girls Home and 19 at two prisons.” 
 
Adding the decisions made prior to the crusade from messages preached by Rick Gage and Steve Paysen to those registered at the crusade, the total decisions for Christ were estimated to be close to 1,000.
 
“To me, it was as if God said, ‘OK, you have worked, planned and executed on every level possible. Now step aside and watch what I am going to do’ – and, boy, did He,” Jolly said.
 
The benefits of the event extended beyond the public gatherings, according to area leaders. Christians are reported to be networking together now as never before – regardless of denominations, races, cultures or other boundaries.
 
Jolly listed a variety of decisions that included:

  • A news reporter covered the GO TELL Columbus story from the beginning. Conviction set in, and on Monday night he surrendered his life to Christ.

  • A husband, wife and teenage son whose family was facing divorce were reunited in the counseling room, and divorce proceedings were dropped.

  • Hundreds of teens – football players, cheerleaders – all races, all ages, responded to God’s call, streaming down the bleachers and folding chairs.

  • A man traveled from two hours away because a friend begged him to come “just one night.” This man lost his son in April to suicide, lost his fiancée to another man in September and had purchased a gun to take his own life.

  • An 82-year-old man who had spent his entire life in church, even serving as a deacon, trusted Christ as his Savior. He never felt sure he was saved. Now he knows.

A young counselor was driving his car through a bad neighborhood. Stretched across the road in front of him, were five black teens, blocking the road. In fear he said he “hit the gas pedal.”
 
All but one scattered off the road. As he drove toward the sole teen in the street, he slowed down and opened his window partially to hear what the guy would say. The teen called him “a fool” and identified himself as a gangster. He drove off.
 
That night at the crusade, the young driver watched as hundreds of people entered the counseling room. His eyes met the eyes of the same black teen he had encountered earlier that day in the street.
 
The “gangster” came because there was free pizza and stayed to ultimately meet God face to face. The black teen extended his hand to the counselor and apologized for his actions earlier that day. He gave his life to Christ.
 
So did a friend who came with him.
 
“There are many stories that are still coming in … Everywhere I go, people are commenting on the amazing changes in people’s lives,” said Jolly.
 
“The vision of people almost running to the altar will be forever burned in my brain and heart, and I am a new person because of what I’ve seen and felt as a member of the best team God ever put together to do His work.
 
“The real work has just begun. Stay tuned as you will hear much more from our county and what we are going to do, with God’s help, to turn the tide against the enemy and win the battle for God,” Jolly concluded.
 
Outreach Co-Chair Bo Shaw said, “I had a great experience with the GO TELL Crusade.
 
“All the planning and preparations were worth its reward with more than 850 souls saved. Wow! [I’m] still excited that God allowed me to be part of the process. … I intend on using every tool possible, as God allows, to win souls.”
 
Visit gotellministries.com.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David B. Heller, director of missions for the Columbus Baptist Association, submitted this story that was written by the staff of Go Tell Ministries, Inc. Atlanta, Ga. Allan Blume, BR editor, contributed to this story.)

12/15/2015 10:30:38 AM by GO Tell Ministries | with 0 comments



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