December 2017

Seminary’s impact strengthens family’s call to serve

December 18 2017 by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS

As Lesley Hildreth walked across the stage with her daughter, Rachel Hildreth Breniser, at Binkley Chapel on Dec. 8 to receive their degrees, the moment represented not only personal accomplishments but also Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SEBTS) influence on the Hildreth family.
 
“[SEBTS] is a key vehicle that has enabled us to serve the Lord better and serve the Lord together,” said Scott Hildreth, director of the Center for Great Commission Studies at SEBTS, husband to Lesley and father to Rachel.

SEBTS photo
The Hildreth family pose for a picture following the fall graduation ceremony on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.


Lesley received her master of arts in Christian studies degree from SEBTS. Her daughter Rachel received her bachelor of arts degree in English from The College at Southeastern, the undergraduate arm of the seminary.
 

A call to go

It was 10 years ago that the Hildreth family moved to Wake Forest, N.C., from Central Asia. Scott still remembers the time when he wrestled with the call God had given him and his family to leave the mission field.
 
Both he and his wife Lesley, along with their two children had served as international mission workers in Central Asia for two years and had spent another six years in Berlin, Germany.
 
“I remember standing on a hill in [Central Asia] just really praying and asking God, ‘Why would you want us to leave? Look at all these lost people around us,’” he said. “And it was as if the Lord spoke and said, ‘Yeah, but you’re only one person here. Just think if you could have hundreds of people sent out [and] trained for this.’”
 
The Lord led Scott and his family to come to SEBTS for him to pursue a doctor of philosophy – but they later realized God had much more in store.
 

Academically equipped

Having prior overseas ministry experience, Lesley saw the value of what a theological education could have provided for her as a missionary. After Scott received his doctor of philosophy, she began her master of arts in Christian studies.
 
For Lesley, she has seen how the combination of seminary courses and prioritizing time in God’s Word strengthens the ability to better equip others in their spiritual walks.
 
“It helps you teach others who will not ever step in a seminary classroom how to look at scripture. ... It’s exciting to watch other people fall in love with the Lord through reading and studying the Word of God when they’ve never had the opportunity before,” Lesley said.
 
Lesley models this, too, with her role at The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham area as the women’s discipleship director. There, she oversees women’s ministry at nine of the eleven church campuses, totaling approximately 6,000 women. And she continues to maintain the relationships she has built with SEBTS women.
 
“I think that’s probably been my personal greatest blessing of being on [SEBTS’s] campus and around this campus for the last 10 years,” she said.
 
Scott and Lesley look back and see how God has given them the opportunity to mobilize many students to take the gospel all over the world.
 
“I have the chance to sit in here and quite literally be part of ... a movement through [SEBTS where] we quite literally have sent hundreds of people around the world,” Scott said.
 

Spiritually transformed

For Rachel, she experienced a spiritual turnaround during her time in theological education. Between growing up on the mission field and attending the school where her parents also were, Rachel’s spiritual life was not something she believed she owned for herself – that is, not until the summer leading into her sophomore year.
 
“I went on the Crossover Baltimore trip and the Lord worked through that trip and changed my life,” Rachel said.
 
Prior to Crossover Baltimore, an evangelism initiative preceding the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in 2014, she had been getting ready to transfer to University of North Carolina at Charlotte and was ready to “run from [her] faith” as she recalled.
 
But in Baltimore, she experienced the love of believers unlike she had before and it came during a difficult season in her life.
 
“I had just not had Christian people care about me like that so it really made me reinvestigate my faith and choose it for myself instead of something I just did for my parents,” she said.
 
This experience radically changed her outlook on faith and even theological education. After spending the fall semester at University of North Carolina in 2014, Rachel was back on SEBTS’s campus the next spring. This time, she had a new motivation.
 
“When I came back,” she recalled, “I really had a different motivation instead of just being there to be there.”
 
Personally, she has seen her community of friends grow through getting plugged into a small group and working on campus.
 
Academically, Rachel was pursuing her college degree while experiencing some new changes in her life. Along with managing school and work, Rachel’s time in college came with a new marriage and, right before graduating, a new baby.
 
But through all of this, she remembers professors who cared for her. One such time was shortly after she had been married. Managing school and a marriage was hard and she reached out to her advisor, Adrianne Miles, for help due to falling behind in class.
 
“She [was] really was encouraging ... She sent scripture [that was] encouraging and helpful,” Rachel said.
 
There have been challenges and sacrifices in each of the academic journeys for Scott, Lesley and Rachel.
 
Whether it was sacrificing social time to finish an assignment, pushing forward in school instead of quitting or moving the whole family to a new town to follow God’s call to further theological training, Scott, Lesley and Rachel are seeing the fruits of their labor.
 
More importantly, they are seeing how God’s faithfulness in calling their family to leave the mission field is exceeding all that they could have hoped for.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lauren Pratt is Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s news and information specialist.)
 

12/18/2017 9:47:23 AM by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS | with 0 comments



Reformed theologian, pastor R.C. Sproul dies

December 18 2017 by WORLD News Service and Baptist Press

Robert Charles “R.C.” Sproul, the Reformed theologian, pastor, teacher and lecturer who founded and chaired Ligonier Ministries and authored close to 100 books, including The Holiness of God, died Dec. 14. He was 78.

R.C. Sproul


Sproul was known for delivering uncompromising messages on the holiness and sovereignty of God in his writing, video teaching series and as a regular speaker at Ligonier’s national conferences in Orlando, Fla. Ligonier’s mission is “helping Christians know what they believe, why they believe it, how to live it and how to share it,” he once said.
 
Among Southern Baptist entity leaders that paid tribute to Sproul on social media upon learning of his death were Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Jason Allen, GuideStone Financial Resources’ O.S. Hawkins, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s Russell Moore and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s R. Albert Mohler Jr.
 
Mohler, a teaching fellow at Ligonier Ministries, called Sproul “the greatest and most influential proponent of the recovery of Reformed theology in the last century.” Sproul’s tape-recorded lectures helped Mohler work through “big theological questions that had me by the throat” as a teenager in the 1970s, Mohler said.
 
“When [Sproul] taught about the holiness of God, a generation of evangelicals was rescued from the emaciated and desiccated theology of cultural Christianity,” Mohler wrote in a Dec. 14 commentary. “When he defended Reformed theology, he taught us all how to understand the gospel in terms of God’s eternal purpose to save, consistent with His sovereignty. He was rigorously biblical and ruthlessly logical ... with a smile.”
 
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, who joined Sproul and some 200 other evangelical leaders in 1978 to help craft the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, told Baptist Press, “Any time the Christian community loses a faithful leader who has impacted untold numbers for Christ, Christians are poorer. Yet we can rejoice because we know where he is and the separation is only temporary. I rejoice today in the memory of Dr. R.C. Sproul – a great man of God.”
 
Born in Pittsburgh in 1939, Sproul graduated from Westminster College, which he attended on a football scholarship. A fellow student at Westminster nudged him on his path to discipleship. Sproul told Christianity Today in 2002 that one evening during his freshman year, the captain of the football team invited him to chat: “He was the first person I ever met in my life that talked about Christ as a reality.”
 
Sproul earned degrees from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the Free University of Amsterdam. In 1971 he helped establish the Ligonier Valley Study Center in western Pennsylvania, which eventually became Ligonier Ministries and moved to Orlando in 1984.
 
“Whatever else we do with this gospel, we must never, ever, ever, ever, ever mess with it,” he once said. Sproul, ordained as a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), also served as co-pastor at St. Andrew’s Chapel and chancellor of Reformation Bible College, both in Sanford, Fla.
 
His daily radio program, “Renewing Your Mind,” and his Tabletalk magazine column, “Right Now Counts Forever,” helped spread his message.
 
“Every single moment of life that we experience on this planet is tied to eternity,” Sproul said. “I find it not just comforting but a delight to be involved in this enterprise in which we are saying to the world, ‘You are not meaningless. God has printed upon you His worth.’”
 
Sproul’s wife, Vesta, whom he had known since childhood, survives him, as do his daughter Sherrie Sproul Dick, his son Robert Craig Sproul and their families.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Baptist Press chief national correspondent David Roach contributed to this report. Laura Hendrickson writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)

12/18/2017 9:38:55 AM by WORLD News Service and Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Tennessee Baptist pioneer reinterred

December 18 2017 by David Dawson, Baptist and Reflector

The remains of Tennessee pastoral pioneer Tidence Lane have been moved to the grounds of a church he pastored beginning in 1785.
 
Around 1779, Lane helped found what some believe to be the first organized church of any denomination in Tennessee, Buffalo Ridge Baptist Church near Jonesboro, according to Albert Wardin’s book Tennessee Baptists: A Comprehensive History, 1779-1999. Six years later, Lane – a Revolutionary War veteran – became founding pastor of First Baptist Church in Whitesburg, Tenn., when the congregation was known as Bent Creek Baptist Church.

Photo by Madison Turner
Volunteers uncovered the former grave of Tennessee Baptist pioneer Tidence Lane at a family cemetery in Morristown, Tenn.


In a ceremony this fall, the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board joined with First Baptist Whitesburg for the reinterment of Lane’s remains on the church’s property. Several of Lane’s family members were reinterred along with him, Knoxville’s News Sentinel reported Nov. 26.
 
Richard Long, a descendant of Lane and pastor of Brown Springs Baptist Church in Mosheim, Tenn., was among the speakers at the Oct. 21 reinterment ceremony.
 
“God has worked all things out,” Long said. Lane and his family are “already home in heaven, but we’ve done something today that can commemorate the family. We know the ground in which their remains have been placed is going to be securely taken care of.”
 
Lane’s remains previously had been in a family cemetery in Morristown, located about two miles from the new burial site. His original burial site was given to his family as part of a land grant from the state of North Carolina for his service in the Revolutionary War.
 
Some consider Lane the father of church planting in Tennessee.
 
“It is good that we are honoring Tidence Lane,” said Randy Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. “In looking forward to where we need to go, we need to look back and see the pioneering spirit of Tidence Lane and the Lane family. We too live in a state where there are great challenges and we need to forge ahead for the sake of the gospel.”
 
According to historical accounts, Lane became a believer in 1743, soon after his marriage to Esther Bibber. Not long after his conversion, Lane sensed God’s call to preach.
 
Lane was living in North Carolina when he was called to ministry but moved to Tennessee due perhaps in part to anti-Baptist sentiment in the Tar Heel State. He was known to stand on a log to deliver his sermons.
 
He also was the first moderator of the first association of any denomination in the state, the Holston Baptist Association, which was organized Oct. 21, 1786 – 10 years before Tennessee was admitted into the Union.
 
Lane remained in the ministry for more than 60 years, continuing his work until his death on Jan. 30, 1806.
 
Lane and his wife Esther had nine children – seven sons and two daughters.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Dawson is a communications specialist with the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.)
 

12/18/2017 9:38:34 AM by David Dawson, Baptist and Reflector | with 0 comments



Security tightens at small churches after Texas shooting

December 18 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

“Shell shocked.” That’s how Michigan pastor Mathew Vroman felt after learning of the Nov. 5 massacre at a small Sutherland Spring, Texas, church that left 26 worship attendees dead at the hands of a gunman.
 
So Vroman, pastor of Eastside Community Church in Eastpointe, Mich., joined the expanding cadre of small- and medium-sized-church leaders who are developing security plans in an effort to prevent armed attacks and other threats at their churches.
 
Secular media outlets are taking note of these security-minded leaders. USA Today reported on a Dec. 5 seminar titled “Church Security in the 21st Century” that drew 650 ministry leaders to Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention co-sponsored the seminar.
 
Before the Sutherland Springs shooting, Vroman told Baptist Press (BP), “I knew I should” develop a security plan. “But I didn’t look at it as a priority.” The shooting “really kind of shocked me ... I don’t want to be a pastor that didn’t do all I could to try to protect my folks with a plan.”
 
As a first step toward a fully-orbed security plan, Eastside – which averages 60-100 in morning worship – identified a man in the congregation to lead a security team. The church has also begun to station a volunteer security watchman at the door during worship services and started to secure the door in its children’s area.
 
In January, a team from Eastside will attend a church security training session sponsored by the Baptist State Convention of Michigan.
 
“We ultimately trust the Lord for everything,” Vroman said. “But we are not determinists, and we’re not fatalists. So we have to be proactive in not just shepherding by preaching the Word, but we also have to protect our people physically, give them a safe place to come.”
 
For John Mark Simmons, pastor of Highland Hills Baptist Church in Las Vegas, this fall brought two tragic reminders of the need for church security: Sutherland Springs and an Oct. 1 shooting at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip that killed 58 people and injured more than 500 others.
 
“For the last several years, I’ve been concerned about security at the church,” Simmons told BP. But “it wasn’t a pressing issue.”
 
Following the two shootings, however, a church member emailed Simmons expressing “a burden to move the church forward” regarding security, the pastor said. In response, Highland Hills – which averages 250 in worship – has enlisted a volunteer security team of about 15 church members and held two meetings in route to developing a security plan. The security team has been aided by instructional videos from its insurance company and may attend training sessions in the future.
 
Among measures Highland Hills has taken already are locking doors that don’t need to be open during church events, stationing a “watchman of the day” at the main entrance on Sundays and installing security film on some windows to prevent an intruder from smashing them and entering.
 
Additionally, the team is educating the entire congregation on what to do in the event of various types of security threats. No one on the team, Simmons noted, is required to carry a gun.
 
“I hope our attendees and worshipers will feel that we have been diligent and maybe have a bit more peace of mind that we are doing what we can to make the church a safe environment,” Simmons said, adding a security team can be an opportunity for otherwise uninvolved members to serve the church body.
 
The Sutherland Springs shooting likewise impacted Tarpley (Texas) Baptist Church, which, like First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, is small, rural and in the San Antonio area. The day after the Sutherland Springs attack, Tarpley pastor Dick Sisk met with two law enforcement officers in the congregation to hammer out a security plan “that was adapted to our particular situation,” Sisk said.
 
Tarpley’s plan includes proactive measures to prevent crimes at the church, procedures to employ in the event of an active threat and protocol to follow after a security threat has passed.
 
During worship services – which generally are attended by 80-95 people – the congregation always has a marked law enforcement vehicle parked near the parking lot entrance, Sisk said, and the two law enforcement officers in the church are armed and seated strategically in the auditorium. Greeters, workers in the sound booth and a team of security volunteers also have been assigned security duties.
 
Sisk commended church security training events but said small churches can take action even as they wait for the next convenient training event.
 
Pastors should “sit down with people in law enforcement,” Sisk said, “even if they go to another church.”
 
Vroman, Simmons and Sisk all stressed that church security is not only for megachurches with extensive resources.
 
Congregations of all sizes, Sisk said, can “give ... people a sense of security that somebody is alert and there is a plan in place.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

 

12/18/2017 9:29:43 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



100 Christians killed in clashes with Nigerian herdsmen

December 18 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

More than 100 Christians have died in December clashes with militant Fulani herdsmen in northeastern Nigeria, and the military is suspected of aiding the attackers, Christian leaders there told World News.
 
The attacks began after Fulani herdsmen raped and killed a pregnant mother on her farm in the Numan community of Adamawa, killing her husband and brother when they intervened, chaplain Zenald Zidon said. When Numan community members staged a counterattack, herdsmen responded by ambushing several Adamawa communities beginning Dec. 4.
 
“The people were killed and their places destroyed,” World News quoted Zidon, chaplain of Unity Chapel in Adamawa’s capital city of Yola. Some of the community members suspected the Nigerian military of aiding the Fulani herdsmen after a military jet bombed a Lutheran church in Shaforon and killed villagers, World News reported.
 
The herdsmen, who have attacked Christians in an ages-old dispute over land rights, have been accused of aligning with Boko Haram in attacks as early as 2016. Local Christian Association of Nigeria chairman Stephen Mamza reported a death toll of 100 to World News Dec. 12, but said others were still missing and might also be dead.
 
The Nigerian Air Force mobilized fighter jets to support ground troops working to restore order, state commissioner for information Ahmed Sajoh told reporters.
 
Felix Samari, communications officer of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria in Adamawa, confirmed to World News the attack on the church in Shaforon. The roof was blown off and the church’s interior was burned; some homes in Shaforon were burned down. Churches of various denominations are aiding survivors of the attacks, providing water and raising money for food, Zidon said.
 
The herdsmen attack Christians regularly in southern Adamawa, especially during the harvest season, Zidon said. The 2017 Global Terrorism Index said the historical dispute for land rights has worsened this year due to droughts, erratic rainfall and land degradation.
 
The index described the herdsmen as terrorists as early as 2014, blaming them for nearly 1,250 deaths that year alone, a sharp increase over the 80 deaths they were blamed for in 2013.
 
Among the herdsmen’s deadliest attacks in Nigeria, the Fulani killed 300 Christians in Benue in February 2016 and killed 200 Christians in Nasarawa in March 2017, it was widely reported. The Fulani are responsible for as many as 60,000 deaths since 2001, according to Global Terrorism Index statistics.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

12/18/2017 9:18:11 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Hearts drawn to gospel: Missionaries see God at work

December 15 2017 by IMB staff

It was as vivid a dream as it could possibly be, and she didn’t know where it came from.
 
Dilara* hadn’t been asking anyone questions about Jesus or researching Christianity. But in her dream, Jesus picked the woman up from her bed and started walking her through the streets of her town.

IMB photo
IMB missionary Lindsay Mikeska, left, talks with Claire Scott, a friend whom Lindsay disciples. As Lindsay has mentored Claire, she has become like part of the Mikeska family, who are investing their lives in London so that people like Claire can know Christ and grow in their relationship with him.


“We eventually came upon this building, and He opened the door for me,” she said. Then she realized it was a church.
 
“There were three men standing at the front of the church. I could see their faces so clearly,” she said. “Jesus spoke, ‘OK, it’s time for you to believe – what are you waiting for?’ We left the church and He walked me back to my house, and I woke up lying in my bed.”
 
A few weeks later, Dilara was walking downtown and realized she recognized a few things from her dream that she hadn’t noticed before. She decided to wander down the side streets and see if the building from her dream actually existed. Her heart pounded as she looked for it and nearly jumped from her chest when she found it.
 
“When she walked in, she immediately recognized one of the three men from her dream standing in the front,” recounted an International Mission Board (IMB) leader in Central Asia. “Over the course of the next couple of months, she heard the gospel, began reading the New Testament and surrendered her heart to Jesus.”
 
Dilara’s story may sound like the exception rather than the norm, but all over the world, God is continually drawing hearts to Himself in incredible ways. From Europe to East Asia, the Middle East to South America, there’s story after story of God miraculously intervening and people coming to faith.
 
It happened that way for one woman in a Southeast Asian village who said she wanted to “see Jesus” before she believed. The woman suffered a leg injury and was deaf in one ear, and an IMB missionary who had been sharing the story of Christ with her prayed over her and told her she would be back.
 
“When they came back the following week, the woman met them with the news that her hearing had returned and her leg injury had disappeared,” another IMB missionary in the area said. “More importantly, she was ready to believe, and we are now beginning a new group in that village with the prayer that a new church will form.”
 
*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention was Dec. 3-10. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches, supports international workers in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at IMB.org/lmco, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year’s goal is $160 million.)
 

12/15/2017 10:32:15 AM by IMB staff | with 0 comments



Polygamist’s 28th son takes gospel to sect community

December 15 2017 by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press

Brian Mackert was the 28th kid to a polygamist father with four wives and 31 children.
 
Family tumult in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) prompted his mother to divorce – leaving Mackert an angry teenager, even wanting to kill his father.

Photo courtesy of Short Creek Fellowship
Brian Mackert and his wife Sherrie have planted their lives to reach a polygamist community along the Ariz.-Utah border. For Mackert, it’s a return to his past – he grew up as the 28th child in a polygamist family until his mother left his father when Mackert was 13. After a painful road to faith, he felt God drawing him back to share Jesus with his former community.


Mackert didn’t feel he was one of the favored sons in the community, that “it didn’t matter how much I tried to please the elders, I wouldn’t be receiving a daughter of Zion as a wife.” Because each man in the fundamentalist Mormon church has to marry at least three women to achieve godhood, that meant statistically only one out of every four boys in the church was favored enough to make it.
 
So after several troubled years of drinking and doing drugs, Mackert left and ended up in the Navy, intending after his discharge to take a gun and kill his father on Father’s Day.
 

Fist-shaking to forgiveness

But before that fateful day came, a chaplain intervened. Mackert was put in psychiatric counseling and substance abuse treatment where he confessed all his plans.
 
“It helped me come to the realization that killing him wouldn’t make anything better, but I still hated him,” he said.
 
It would take joining the Marines next and spending a few more years cursing God and his father before Mackert began to figure out his life and his faith. He tried going to Mormon services, but still felt revulsion. When he got married and his wife said she couldn’t be a Mormon, he was relieved.
 
He considered becoming an atheist, but she asked him to try a Baptist church. So he did and after the message of Christ chipped away at his Mormon core, he surrendered his life to Jesus.
 
“I called my dad. We hadn’t spoken in 13 years,” Mackert said. “I talked to him and forgave him and asked him to forgive me for having judged him, because God hadn’t put me on earth to be his judge.”
 
That phone call didn’t change their relationship, but it did change Mackert. “It had everything to do with me letting go of the bitterness and the anger.”
 
And he found God slowly drawing him back to his former polygamist community to reach his people.
 
Fast forward more than a decade, and Mackert was sitting at a trustee meeting in Colorado City, Ariz., asking a panel of polygamists for a place to live.
 
“In the fundamentalist community, everybody has consecrated their property to the church, so you have to get permission to live there,” he said.
 
A lot had happened since Mackert had left the FLDS church. He had found Jesus. He had walked through dark periods of the soul. He had married, then his marriage ended. He had led a fruitful prison ministry and been licensed as a Baptist minister. He had penned a book about God rescuing him from his fundamentalist upbringing, a life in which the Mackerts had grown up alongside the infamous Jeffs family.
 
None of that was a secret, and the panel was puzzled as to why he would ever come back. They waited for his answer.
 
He could’ve just told them he wanted to be close to his aging mother – still a fundamentalist Mormon – so that he could care for her. But he heard different words coming out of his mouth instead.
 
“God’s called me to move back and plant a church here.”
 
The words hung in the silence for a moment, and then a trustee said, “Well, good. We need diversity in this community.”
 
Mackert was speechless but was ready to go. With an open door into the community and support from First Southern Baptist Church in Hurricane, Utah, he moved in and began building bridges.
 
Around the same time, he had fallen in love with Sherrie Kuns, a woman with a social work background who had spent 28 years ministering to human trafficking victims.
 
“It was amazing that God would bring me someone with trauma counseling skills,” Mackert said. “I knew we were going to need that to handle the issues in the community.”
 
They married, and a week after the wedding the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the FLDS community on charges of food stamp fraud.
 
“The leaders were charged with embezzling $12 million from the welfare system, so all those benefits were frozen for their families,” Mackert said.

Photo courtesy of Short Creek Fellowship
An unnamed volunteer from First Baptist Church in Versailles, Ky., third from right, spends time with FLDS women who run a homeschool for children in the Short Creek Community along the Ariz.-Utah border. The Kentucky team traveled to Short Creek to help with construction at the school and minister to the heavily polygamist community.


For a community of mostly women and children with a 70 percent unemployment rate and a 90 percent poverty rate, “it was basically a humanitarian crisis,” he said. “People were starving.”
 
The Short Creek Community along the Arizona-Utah border – stretching from about 20 miles south of Colorado City to about 20 miles north – had about 10,000 people, many in polygamist families, impoverished and hungry.
 
So Mackert did the best thing he could think of – he got food and stocked a 10,000-square-foot warehouse. In July 2016, Short Creek Family Services did its first food distribution feeding more than 100 families. Now, more than a year later, they’re distributing 24 tons of food per month to feed 1,000 families.
 
“It’s giving us a golden reputation in the community,” Mackert said. “People are beginning to see that we just want to help them, that we don’t want to control them or take from them. They need to experience our love before they respect what we have to say.”
 
After Mackert and his wife moved to Colorado City, their front door was kicked in more than once, a rock was thrown through their ministry window, their signs were vandalized and their motorcycle tampered with.
 
“The spiritual attack has been vicious, but we won’t quit,” Mackert said.
 
And over time, as people have visited the food bank, they’ve become friends of the Mackerts and have begun to trust them as community leaders.
 
“People will sometimes come out of their way to find me and say, ‘Brian, can I talk to you?’ And we would go in my office and they would pour out their pain, and I would pray with them over it,” Mackert said. “People are starting to come to me with questions.”
 
One day in the middle of the grocery store, someone stopped Mackert and said his son had begun to read the Bible and was wondering if he was going to hell.
 
“We talked about it right there in the middle of the grocery store with people around, and I told him to go read John 3,” Mackert said. “We stood right there and talked about Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.”
 
It was the first whispers of a church now called Short Creek Fellowship.
 
And other things are happening as well. They’ve purchased a house that will serve as lodging for missions teams who come in the future. They fill the seats at their dinner table with those who can’t afford to eat or who just need a friend. They’re doing a Christmas shoe drive for people so desperate for shoes that they cut the toes out of the ones they have to make them fit longer.
 
And Mackert is ministering to the “lost boys” of the FLDS – boys like him who didn’t fit and got left behind.
 
Rob Lee, executive director of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention, said he’s grateful for Mackert and the churches in southern Utah that are partnering to meet the needs of the FLDS/polygamist community.
 
“Brian’s experience growing up in a polygamist family uniquely equips him to share the gospel. His story shows that God can reach those even in a polygamist lifestyle with the saving gospel,” Lee said. “God has opened so many doors so quickly. Having Brian there ministering is an incredible blessing and a support for a number of ministries serving the FLDS community.”
 
Mackert said he’s just grateful to be a part of what God’s doing in the midst of the ashes of his growing-up years.
 
“I’ve never in my life experienced so much conflict, but I’ve never in my life had so much peace and joy,” he said.
 
Mackert’s ministry welcomes missions teams to Colorado City. For more information, visit shortcreekfellowship.org.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Grace Thornton is a writer in Birmingham, Ala.)
 

12/15/2017 10:25:10 AM by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Cookie ministry provides comfort

December 15 2017 by Pam Horne, Southern Exposure Magazine

The simplicity of a single homemade cookie. Could it be a source of sustenance for those mourning the death of a loved one?
 
Six and a half years and more than 50,000 cookies later, the answer is most definitely yes.

Photo by Brandy Blanton
Providing comfort to grieving families in Williamson County through the Cookie Comfort Ministry are, from left, Charlene Cochrane, Evelyn Pearson, Evelyn Hilton, Drea Briggs and Barbara Elder of Oak Valley Baptist Church, Franklin.


When Evelyn Pearson first asked herself that question she was a longtime member of Oak Valley Baptist Church in Franklin, Tenn. She had experienced the deaths of her father-in-law and then her mother. Coping with the pain of loss led Pearson to attend a non-denominational ministry held at Oak Valley called GriefShare.
 
Her healing became a catalyst for personal reflection. How could she be a comfort to others and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ? “It was the Lord that gave me this idea,” she said.
 
Pearson first presented the idea of food for grieving souls to a ministry committee at Oak Valley, hoping someone would take on her vision.
 
Instead, the members asked her to develop it with God’s guidance. “They said Evelyn why don’t you look into it. I called Pam (Stephens) and she was out of town. While she was out of town, I prayed about it. I thought to myself when Pam calls me, if she’s excited, I am going to do it,” Pearson recalled. Stephens is the co-owner of Williamson Memorial Funeral Home and Cremation Services.
 
“I had been praying more for a contact ministry to help others,” Pearson explained, adding that she knew from her own experience at Williamson Memorial just how much homemade food mattered to families.
 
While a hot meal is often a source of strength and comfort to families, Pearson learned from Stephens that the taste of a simple home baked cookie could go a long way toward feeding a soul in mourning.
 
Moreover, as the community has grown, the sheer number and frequency of funerals means the delivery of full meals is not always the easiest way to start a consistent ministry. A simple container filled with homemade chocolate chip oatmeal cookies can give tired families much needed sustenance, she said.
 

Comfort Cookie Ministry

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” is the Bible passage from the book of Matthew 5:4, that Pearson and her team have adopted for The Comfort Cookie Ministry.
 
It is just one of several promises Jesus gave to His disciples during what is called the “Sermon on the Mount” or “The Beatitudes.”
 
For Pearson, it was not enough just to jump in and start baking cookies. She identified people who shared her passion. Then the baking team meticulously chose easy recipes, taste-tested in Pearson’s own kitchen with the help of her own children.
 
“We tried freezing the baked cookies and freezing the cookie dough to decide which would be the best for our emergency runs. We use these when there is an unexpected increase in the (funeral) services.”
 
Hands down, Pearson’s children were sold on the cookie baked fresh, rather than the prebaked and frozen for later delivery. The bulk of the cookies are created by individual bakers with the ministry who work on Mondays and Fridays making batches to package for the daily number of visitations and funerals.

Photo by Brandy Blanton
The Comfort Cookie Ministry at Oak Valley Baptist Church, Franklin, provides cookies for more than 2,000 funerals a year in Williamson County.


Just as the brown sugar, butter and vanilla are mixed with love, so the personal packages are delivered along with an inspirational note from The Comfort Cookie Ministry of Oak Valley. The note bears the name of the family being served and contains Jesus Christ’s message in Matthew 5:4, along with information about GriefShare and Oak Valley Baptist Church’s location.
 
Charlene Cochrane is on the delivery team, responsible for Wednesday, Friday and Saturday drop-off. While she downplays her role compared to the job of the bakers, it is clear that without a messenger the gift would never make it to the hearts of those in need. “You all are what makes this work,” Cochrane said.
 
In between spooning drops of batter, Evelyn Hilton, “The Other Evelyn” as she is often known, quickly assures Cochrane that she is wrong. “But, no, I think it takes you to deliver all these cookies,” said Hilton, noting the time Cochrane spends getting the cookies to multiple visitations and funerals weekly.
 
Hilton, along with Barbara Elder and Drea Briggs gather every other Monday morning in the small church kitchen on Lewisburg Pike to bake from scratch. It was their baking collaboration that led to adding oatmeal, for energy and good health, to the chocolate chip recipe. There are other recipes used by this baking ministry, but one rule holds true: no icing, no nuts and no fruit can be used.
 

Synchronized response

These ladies have created a special system for serving tasty cookies to those enduring the exhausting and stressful process of grief. When Pearson sought Stephens’ advice about the ministry, her instincts were not just affirmed but supported.
 
A church ministry with members ready to participate is not enough to accomplish this kind of mission. In Pearson’s case, the actual gift could not be given without the cooperation of Stephens and her staff at Williamson Memorial.
 
“This cookie mission has been a wonderful addition that families just don’t expect,” Stephens said.
 
“They are always overwhelmed with the fact that someone thought of them,” she explained. “Sometimes families have food sent in, and in some cases, the only thing for the family are the cookies sent by Oak Valley. We are so honored that Oak Valley has reached out to so many over the years and ministered in a ‘sweet way’ to families we serve.”
 
In addition to cultivating a committed group of bakers and deliverers, a plan had to be devised to accommodate the daily flow of information required to sustain the cookie ministry.
 
“We receive two e-mails a day from Williamson Memorial letting us know how many visitations and services are scheduled,” Pearson said.
 
This kind of collaboration, Pearson noted, allows her bakers and deliverers to provide for every single funeral. There are currently more than 2,000 a year.
 
Oftentimes, Pearson says she is known as the “Cookie Lady.” The letters of thanks tell the story of this ministry’s reach.
 
A poem authored by one of their own Oak Valley members, particularly expresses that positive impact.
 
Betty Jane More found her own family receiving the blessing of the cookie ministry at the passing of her husband. She penned the poem titled “The Little Things That Count” and sent it to the bakers. The first two verses read “It’s the little things that count; That seem to make one’s day; Small, insignificant things; That help one along the way; Little things add up; Like pennies do, you know; So, at the end of the day; One’s blessings seem to overflow!”
 
For more information about GriefShare and other ministries provided through Oak Valley Baptist Church, contact them at oakvalleybaptistchurch.org.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This story originally appeared in a Southern Exposure Magazine and was also published by the Baptist and Reflector. Used by permission.)
 

12/15/2017 10:18:11 AM by Pam Horne, Southern Exposure Magazine | with 0 comments



Small-town church says ‘come as you are’ & 300 do

December 15 2017 by Jane Rodgers, Southern Baptist TEXAN

As keyboardist for country music legend Johnny Lee, Ryan Hurt played “Lookin’ for Love” with Lee’s band in a whole lot of places across Texas and the U.S. in the early 2000s – until a drunk driving accident led him back to a place where love never runs out.
 
Called in 2015 to be the pastor at Lingleville Baptist Church, the tattooed and bearded Hurt has seen the congregation grow from around 50 to more than 300, remarkable in a central Texas town with a population of 91.

Photo by Jane Rodgers, TEXAN
Ryan Hurt, left, with church member Gary Clayton, has grown from a tattooed country music keyboardist to pastor of Lingleville Baptist Church in Texas.


Hurt grew up Baptist, playing music from a young age. Proficient at the piano, he became a professional musician rather than go to college, learning some painful life lessons along the way.
 
Success came with a vengeance and at a cost.
 
“I traveled around and played for a long time. We opened for a whole bunch at Billy Bob’s [a famed Fort Worth dancehall],” playing with musicians such as Neil McCoy, Red Steagall, Johnny Duncan and others, Hurt said.
 
The temptations inherent in traveling with the band resulted in Hurt’s abuse of alcohol and drugs, until what he calls the pivotal moment in 2003, a DUI incident when he and his new wife crashed head-on into a concrete wall.
 
“We ran off the road. It totaled my truck. It was bad, real bad. The road went one way, and I kept going straight,” Hurt recalled, calling their survival a “miracle for sure.” The impact crushed the front of his pickup.
 
“It sounds so cliché, a prodigal story,” Hurt acknowledged. “By God’s grace we didn’t hurt someone else or ourselves. It turned our lives around. I knew something had to change.”
 
Following the accident, Hurt’s wife Melissa, whom he had met when she worked in a club where he played, became a Christian. They settled in Hurt’s hometown of Grandview, Texas, where Daniel Hancock, then youth pastor at First Baptist Church (FBC), answered his “many questions,” discipling him in Christian doctrine and living.
 
“Daniel began to pour life into me. He showed me by example what it meant to be a Christ follower,” Hurt said.
 
By 2005, Hurt was leading worship at FBC Grandview. His desire to preach and teach the gospel grew, culminating in the moment he sensed his “true calling” during worship at a Houston church in 2009. The next year, he was asked to work in student ministry at Grace Baptist Church in Grandview, where the pastor and elders encouraged him. Five years later, Lingleville called him at age 39, the father of three.

Photo by Ryan Hurt
An outdoor nativity scene is the latest outreach by Lingleville Baptist Church members in seeking to reach their neighbors with the gospel in their rural Texas town.


“Ryan came and filled the pulpit a few times. We started praying about it and realized, this is our guy,” said Monty Williams, a Lingleville elder and longtime church member.
 
Hurt said the small church stepped out in faith financially when they hired him fulltime on June 7, 2015. Growth came quickly.
 
“By Jan. 7, we had outgrown the sanctuary and moved to the family life center,” Hurt recalled, referring to the large metal gymnasium building erected years earlier.
 
“We always knew the right guy here would bring growth,” Williams said, remarking with a chuckle that Lingleville is not in the “middle of nowhere” but in the “middle of everywhere,” close to Stephenville and other communities.
 
The church was poised to grow before Hurt arrived.
 
Williams praised the loving spirit of the congregation, adding that many had sponsored and participated in the Walk to Emmaus – a three-day ecumenical Christian discipleship course – prior to Hurt’s arrival.
 
“We are not the typical Baptist church. He is not the typical Baptist pastor. Our deal is come as you are. We believe in reaching the common people. If you are already saved and living for the Lord, you may need to stay at the church where you’re at. These people didn’t come from churches. That’s what we want,” Williams said of the growing congregation, about half of whom are new believers.
 
“They were ready; the harvest is ripe; everything just happened when it needed to,” Hurt said. Growth necessitated change and risk.
 
“We had to step out, take chances,” he said.
 
Hurt started by approaching the older generation in Sunday School, explaining the rationale for shifts in music and worship.
 
“I shared my heart with them. I was respectful and they’ve been very accepting as we have changed to a more contemporary worship service with some hymns incorporated.”
 
The older generation became fans of Hurt, evidenced by the many seniors who joined in as 250-300 packed the family life center Oct. 24 for the year’s final family night featuring homemade chili, cornbread, desserts and worship.
 
“Wait till you hear the music tonight,” 82-year-old Sudy Williams told the Southern Baptist TEXAN. With fellow senior Beverly Hudson, she enthusiastically described an upcoming trip to the “Promise” production in Glen Rose their group would be taking with the Hurts.

Photo by Jane Rodgers, TEXAN
Jocelyn Candelaria and her mom get chili during Family Night at Lingleville Baptist Church.


Hurt lauded the older men and women of the congregation for becoming involved with younger members through events such as the multi-generational Man Camp and other discipleship opportunities where generations mix.
 
“Senior adults feel they are part of this church. These are their words,” Hurt said. “I need them to reach our community and the young people. They have gotten involved in youth ministry, teaching things like cooking, canning vegetables, manners, things that have been lost through the years. We are all in this thing together.”
 
Hurt also praised the church’s worship team and the many members who volunteer as teachers and leaders in children’s, youth and college ministries and Bible classes.
 
The church is active in the community, too. A back-to-school outreach provided all 270 children in the Lingleville school district with backpacks and school supplies.
 
Since Hurt’s arrival, the Christmas season finds church members providing 65 needy children with gifts from wish lists. Families are notified by mail when to come to the church to pick up the packages.
 

A nativity & a live camel

A Christmas tradition in its third year is Lingleville’s live nativity, scheduled this year for Dec. 15-17 on the church grounds, the perfect outreach for a farm community with livestock.
 
“The whole parking lot will look like Jerusalem,” Hurt said. “All of our kids dress up. We have goats, sheep, guys on horses dressed up like Roman soldiers. Each scene is delegated to a certain church group.”
 
“We even have a live camel,” Williams exclaimed. “A guy down the street has three and lets us use one.”
 
This year’s nativity will depict the life of Christ. Around 600 came last year to walk through the displays. Hurt expects at least that many in 2017.
 
Regarding the future, Williams and Hurt said the debt-free church hopes to build a new sanctuary on adjacent property bordering the local high school. With the area’s large Hispanic population, Spanish-language services in the present facilities are also in the works.
 
“It’s a neat season right now,” Hurt said.
 
The church’s motto is “Come as you are,” a concept modeled by a member once known throughout the community as a heavy drinker.
 
“Everybody was talking about this tattooed-up preacher. He said he had to go to see if it was true,” Hurt said. Six months later, Hurt baptized him in a stock tank.
 
Hurt shares his own experiences with substance abuse with the congregation. “I preach very openly. That helps with the people who are struggling with addiction. They feel like they can connect with me. I am honest about my failures.”
 
A rustic pavilion beside the family life center is called the Tabernacle. Designated a historic landmark, the structure hosted camp meetings during turn-of-the-19th-century boom days when four colleges and multiple churches called Lingleville home.
 
A century later, revival is stirring there again.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jane Rogers writes for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, texanonline.net, news journal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)
 

12/15/2017 10:13:45 AM by Jane Rodgers, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments



Family finds calling in ‘young people’s haven’

December 15 2017 by IMB staff

Shane Mikeska’s missions calling and plane ticket didn’t land him in London – a tropical illness did. “It definitely wasn’t part of our plan,” he said. “My wife, Lindsay and I started out in Southeast Asia on an agricultural farm. We loved the people, and we loved the language. But long story short, I got sick.”
 
He needed to be in a place with a colder climate, and after much deliberation, it looked like England was the place. So the couple moved, and the difference was stark. It wasn’t just the climate that was cold; Shane said the people seemed cold toward Christianity. And the pace of life in England’s cities felt chaotic and hard to engage.

IMB Photo
Shay Porter, standing, an International Mission Board journeyman and IMB missionary Lindsay Mikeska, third from right, talk with students during a coffeehouse music night hosted by one of their partner churches.


“I grabbed every book I could find on the people of England, and I started going to pubs, campuses, everywhere to try to get to know our neighbors,” he said. “God began to stir in us a love for the people here.” And He began to open their eyes more and more to the tremendous missions field they had been placed in.
 
“We have the world at our fingertips,” Shane said. “We have an amazing capacity to be senders to the world.” London, the city the Mikeskas call home, reportedly has 300 spoken languages spread across hundreds of people groups from around the globe. It holds 48 universities, with a quarter of that student population coming from other countries.
 
“We come in contact here all the time with people who haven’t heard of Jesus,” Shane said.
 
Because of the vast opportunity and size of the task, the Mikeskas have teamed up with other International Mission Board missionaries to divide the city up into strategic groups.
 
“Our group is the millennials,” Shane said. “London is a young people’s haven.”
 
The Mikeskas meet people for coffee, feed them meals and try to create a sense of community for young internationals. And on a regular basis, they experience divine appointments, Lindsay noted.
 
“We met this guy from Singapore one night and got to talking, and we told him the name of the town we had lived in Southeast Asia,” she said. “He told us he had a friend from the same town.” One night he brought his friend to meet the Mikeskas, and it turns out they had lived on the same street. She even knew the house they had lived in.
 
“She recalled, ‘I remember when new people moved in and painted it brown,’ and we said, ‘That was us,’ ” Lindsay recalled.
 
It was confirmation for the Mikeskas that their God is bigger than borders and tropical illnesses and everything else. He’s bringing the world to London from everywhere, Shane said, including the city that captured their heart in Southeast Asia. “And He is doing great and amazing things here.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention was Dec. 3-10. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches, supports international workers in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at IMB.org/lmco, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year’s goal is $160 million.)
 

12/15/2017 10:09:57 AM by IMB staff | with 0 comments



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