February 2010

S. Bapt. assess needs in wake of 8.8 Chile quake

February 27 2010 by IMB staff

Southern Baptists are moving quickly to assess relief needs in the aftermath of an 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Chile at earlier today, killing at least 82 people, collapsing buildings and setting off a tsunami.

Disaster relief specialists from South Carolina and California are on standby to respond, said Jim Brown, director of the U.S. office for the International Mission Board’s (IMB) primary partner in disaster relief, Baptist Global Response (BGR).

A decision about what initial response is needed will be made within the next 12 hours. The epicenter was located just 70 miles from Concepcion, a city of more than 200,000 people, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

A tsunami wave struck the Robinson Crusoe Islands, 410 miles off the Chilean coast and tsunami warnings have been issued for Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand and Asia. Chile’s president, Michele Bachelet, declared a “state of catastrophe” in three central regions of the country.

Several hospitals were evacuated and communications with Concepcion were knocked out. In the capital city of Santiago, which is about 200 miles from the earthquake, IMB field personnel reported in a 5:00 a.m. e-mail that they had experienced “very scary shaking” and that electrical, telephone and water services were cut off. IMB and BGR leadership began consulting immediately during the early morning hours after the earthquake, said Scott Holste, associate vice president for the IMB’s office of global strategy.

“We are evaluating damage reports as they come in and preparing initial response plans, if it is determined that a significant response is needed,” Holste said. “Southern Baptists have ministry partners in Chile who will be able to help respond immediately with basic necessities.”

“We know that immediate needs usually include things like food, water, shelter and medical needs,” Brown said. “We have emergency response funds available to help with the crisis response. Southern Baptists always respond quickly when a disaster like this strikes. They pray and give from the heart. We’re glad to know so many people who care are ready to spring into action to help people in need.”

Word has been received from IMB leaders in Chile that all field personnel have been accounted for and are safe; information about the impact on the Chilean Baptist community is being sought. IMB will be monitoring developments and will issue further announcements about needs and response as more information becomes available.  
2/27/2010 11:52:00 AM by IMB staff | with 0 comments

Vancouver full of surprises, opportunities

February 26 2010 by Adam Miller, Baptist Press

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — After eight Olympics and nearly three decades in ministry, Debbie Wohler still discerns God’s work in hindsight like the rest of us. In a matter of minutes on a stroll in downtown Vancouver, she has a dozen interactions that could change her life, or theirs. But only God knows.

“There’s no one more surprised than me that I’m a missionary,” said the physical education major-turned-Lake Tahoe resort missionary.

Her life is full of surprises, and she likes it that way.

“I’m a planner, planner, planner, but after all that planning, I have to be open to what God wants to do, not what I want to do.”

At the Winter Olympics, God has shown Wohler the fruit of being flexible. This year she is cheering for three Olympians from Lake Tahoe — Marco Sullivan, Shannon Bahrke and Shannon’s brother, Scotty — who all grew up in the Big A Club Wohler directs as part of a ministry to children in Lake Tahoe funded by Southern Baptists’ North American Mission Board.

“I got to see Shannon take bronze this year on women’s moguls,” Wohler said, beaming a smile on a street corner. “Twenty years ago, when we were telling them Bible stories, did I think they would be here today? There’s no way I could have seen this day 20 years ago. There are so many God connections you can’t see at the moment but that become apparent over time.”

Making her way to the SkyTrain for an Olympic event up in King Edward, Canada, she’s planting seeds for the next 20 years.

Her pockets are filled with More Than Gold pins, which provide spectators with a keepsake and a printed presentation of the gospel.

Photo by Adam Miller

Vancouver marks the eighth Olympics North American Mission Board missionary Debbie Wohler, right, has attended, an opportunity she uses to reach the world for Christ. “One of the things I love about the Olympics is that I get a glimps of the world the way God sees it. All its diversity in looks, language and culture. It’s overwhelming.”

She’s learned the value of preparedness and the simplicity of pins; in less than a mile it pays off multiple times.

She gives a More Than Gold pin and directions to a lady looking for the flaming Olympic cauldron downtown. She gives a pin to a SkyTrain worker monitoring the tracks. The three ladies asking directions outside the restroom — they get a pin, too. They volunteer e-mail addresses.

They want to keep in touch.

“Those three ladies,” Wohler said. “Now we’re friends! And they gave me their e-mail addresses and were so grateful for my help and for the pins. You see? Who knows where this will lead?”

In Beijing and other Olympic venues of years past, it led to friendships she still maintains. Some have become believers.

“In Torino (at the 2006 Winter Games) I gave a pin to a blind man. He said he was a believer but that he wanted to use my pins to share with his friend.”

With her quick smile, wit and laugh, Wohler could make friends in any city. But she also shows the power of simply going and letting God work through you as you go.

“Whether we’re walking the wrong way down a one-way street or making our way to an event, God has given us many opportunities and many different ways to talk about Him,” Wohler said, recounting the interview she had the previous week with a Wall Street Journal reporter.

She was at the wrong place at the right time.

“I’m just the conduit,” she said. “I just show up and who knows what’s going to happen?”

As the day grows late and her event nears, Wohler boards the train and looks around, a More Than Gold pin at the ready.

Three iPhone “app” developers want to know where they can find some coveted Olympic red gloves.

“They’re updating their iPhone app with my information,” she says, as the train approaches her stop.

“We have the same exact event schedule for the next three days.” Wohler grins. “You see? Who knows what God will do! All I do is show up and start talking.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)
2/26/2010 6:19:00 AM by Adam Miller, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pac, Meyers win bobsled bronze

February 26 2010 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

WHISTLER, British Columbia — The U.S. bobsled team of Erin Pac and Elana Meyers won a bronze medal Feb. 24, the first medal for the United States in any of the sliding sports in this year’s Olympics.

Photo by David G. McIntyre/Genesis Photos

Americans Erin Pac, right,and Elana Meyers celebrate after winning the bronze medal in women’s bobsledding at the Whistler Sliding Center during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver on Feb. 24.

“It’s all divine,” said Meyers, the brakeman. “It’s all God-driven. That’s something the both of us share is our strong faith. It took a lot of constant prayer. ... Three years is a long time ... and we’ve been through a lot of stuff and God has brought us through that and it’s been amazing and He’s been amazing.”

Pac, the team’s driver, and Meyers were in second place after three runs, but the Canadian team of Helen Upperton and Shelley-Ann Brown turned in a fast time of 53.17 seconds in their final run to move ahead of Pac and Meyers, whose final run was their slowest of the competition.

The U.S. team finished 1.12 seconds behind the gold medal Canadian team of Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse and .27 seconds behind Upperton and Brown.

“Any medal is never disappointing,” Pac said. “Me and Elana worked really hard on just focusing on the four runs, and coming into there I knew that we could medal. Didn’t know which one, but I’ll take a bronze any day.”

The road to the Olympics wasn’t always a smooth one for Pac and Meyers, who had to work on repairing a fractured relationship brought about by some of the stresses of competition. The two didn’t speak for a long time. 

But they said God brought healing and forgiveness, and as they crossed the finish line in their final run, Pac leaned back in her bobsled and affectionately grabbed both sides of Meyers’ face, as the two celebrated their medal-winning performance.

“I fully believe that God was with us every step of the way and He brought us together as a team and He helped us get down this hill,” Pac said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Ellsworth, director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., is covering the 2010 Olympics for Baptist Press.)
2/26/2010 6:15:00 AM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Caner apologizes for calling IMB head a liar

February 26 2010 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

LYNCHBURG, Va. — The president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary has apologized for calling the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) International Mission Board (IMB) a liar, saying he got carried away in an interview while criticizing a mission strategy used to evangelize Muslims.

In a Feb. 24 podcast on the SBC Today web site, Ergun Caner, a former Muslim turned Southern Baptist who has written extensively labeling Islam a false religion, defended earlier statements critical of a strategy called the Camel Method. 

The method uses verses from the Quran to convince Muslims that what the Christian Bible says about Jesus is true. Caner said that is like using the Book of Mormon as a bridge to someone in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But Caner said he “became an idiot” and “stepped over the line” in a Feb. 3 SBC Today podcast with comments picked up by other media accusing IMB President Jerry Rankin of lying by allowing missionaries to use the method in engaging church-planting movements in the Muslim world.

“I believe that the Camel is lying,” Caner reiterated in the new podcast interview. “It assumes the ignorance of a Muslim by saying, ‘Oh, you believe Allah? I believe in Allah.’ That’s one of my ethical issues with the Camel. I think it’s based on deception.”

Photo by Jon Blair

Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va., delivers a 2009 service sponsored by the Convention of Southern Baptist Evangelists at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky. Caner is the group’s elected president.

“And then the idiot opens his mouth and says, ‘Do I believe it’s lying?’” he continued, quoting his previous words. “Sure. Do I believe that Jerry Rankin is lying? Yes.”

“And so what happens is, in one fell swoop I cast aspersion on a brother, and given the last few days I’ve discovered that’s not the biblical thing to do,” Caner said.

Caner said he acknowledged his mistake before students in a chapel service at Liberty Theological Seminary and in a letter of apology sent directly to Rankin.

“If you’re dumb enough to say something like that, you’ve got to be man enough to own up to it,” he said. “What does it mean to call somebody a liar? You’re questioning their motives.”

Caner said one reason he is going public with his apology is to separate his criticism of the Camel Method from his statement about Rankin.

“I don’t want to confuse the Camel issue — which I believe is absolutely based on deception — and opening my stupid mouth and sinning against a brother,” he said. “I don’t know Dr. Rankin’s motives, and I don’t know why he would believe the Camel is usable, but you certainly shouldn’t say something like that.”

Caner said he isn’t opposed to using “Allah” as a title for God when discussing the gospel in Arabic, but it should be clear from the outset that the God of the Bible is not the same being that Muslims believe is revealed in the Quran.

“I think you can use the Quran (for witnessing), just like you can use a Rolling Stones lyric,” Caner said. “The problem comes when you say the Rolling Stones are as inspired as the Bible.”

Caner said the Camel Method, developed by a Southern Baptist missionary who adapted it from mission strategy already in use in places where large numbers of Muslims are converting to Christianity, “assumes that the Quran is partially correct” and acts as “a valid bridge” toward understanding God.

“I would argue that it’s not a valid bridge,” Caner said. “I don’t think it’s a good bridge for anything. I think you begin by proclaiming Jesus. What did Paul say? He said ‘I preach Christ and him crucified,’ and the Quran is explicit that Jesus wasn’t crucified.”

David Garrison, global strategist for evangelical advance at the International Mission Board, said in an interview on The Christian Post web site that he thinks most criticism of the Camel Method is based on confusion about how it actually works.

Garrison said the method is very explicit about not using deception, and that if a Muslim asks a missionary using the method if he or she is a Muslim, the correct way to respond is, “No, I’m a Christian who loves Muslims.”

Garrison said he has used the method many times.

“One of the first questions that Muslims will often ask you if you do get into a conversation with them is, ‘Have you read the Quran?’” he said.

“And when you can say, ‘Yeah, I’ve been reading the Quran,’ it is easy and natural to follow-up with ‘Have you read the Injil?’ which is the New Testament.”

Proponents of the Camel Method say it is similar to the Apostle Paul’s conversation with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers on Mars Hill in Acts 17.

Noticing a city full of idols, Paul acknowledges the Athenians are very religious and then appeals to a particular altar inscribed, “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD,” which he tells them is the Lord of heaven and Earth that they already worship in ignorance.

But Caner said there is an important distinction between Paul’s appeal to an unknown god and telling a Muslim that God and Allah are one in the same.

“He doesn’t use any of the gods that they have named,” Caner said, “because, goodness gracious, if you do, now you’re in an area of syncretism, which is confusing the two gods.”

Caner pointed to recent news coming out of Malaysia, where Muslims have taken Christians to court over the issue of using Allah to describe the Christian God.

“You cannot use Allah; that is our name for our God,” he quoted the Muslims as saying. “So even the Muslim scholars, even the Muslim leaders — the imams and the leadership — even they know that word is exclusive for the Muslim world.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)
2/26/2010 6:10:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 7 comments

2 Baptists in Haiti won’t be freed this week

February 26 2010 by Baptist Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE — The Haiti judge overseeing the case of two jailed Baptist volunteers said Thursday the women won’t be released this week and that he wants to obtain more testimony from others.

The news comes two days after the judge told Reuters the women — Laura Silsby and Charisa Coulter — could be freed this week and that he had not found any wrongdoing. That still may happen, but apparently not this week.

The Associated Press Thursday quoted Judge Bernard Saint-Vil as saying he wants to, in the words of AP, ask “two real estate agents and a pastor from the Dominican Republic to testify in Port-au-Prince about property” the women “rented to set up an orphanage.”

He also wants to ask questions of a pastor “and another man” from a border town, AP reported. Saint-Vil said he expects to rule on the case next week.

He told Reuters on Tuesday, “We haven’t found anything that could suggest wrongdoing on the part of the Americans” and that “they could be released this week.”

Silsby and Coulter are members of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho. They and eight other Baptist volunteers were arrested Jan. 29 on charges of child kidnapping and criminal association when they tried to take 33 children out of the earthquake-ravaged country and to a makeshift orphanage in the Dominican Republic.

They allegedly did not have the proper paperwork. The other eight team members were released from jail Feb. 18 and are back in the United States.

Saint-Vil kept Silsby and Coulter in jail because he had further questions for them. Silsby and the others have said they simply were trying to help the children.

The freed group members are Carla Thompson and Nicole and Corinna Lankford of Central Valley Baptist; Paul Thompson, his son Silas and Steve McMullen of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho; Jim Allen of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas; and Drew Culberth of Bethel Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. Bethel Baptist is the only church not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
2/26/2010 6:09:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

40,000 Haitians profess faith in Christ

February 26 2010 by Barbara Denman, Baptist Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A reported 40,127 Haitians have made professions of faith in Jesus Christ since a major earthquake hit the impoverished nation in January, according to pastors and directors of missions within the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste d’Haiti (CMBH).

“Haiti is ripe for a spiritual movement from God,” said Craig Culbreth, director of the Florida Baptist Convention’s partnership missions department, which coordinates the work of the CMBH, upon his Feb. 22 return from Port-au-Prince.

During a Feb. 16-17 citywide holiday observance in Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city, Culbreth saw “thousands upon thousands filling the streets where people are seeking God and asking Him to spare them from what happened in Port-au-Prince. For me, it was a New Testament expression of what it looks like when the Spirit of God shows up. I have never seen anything like it.”

The CMBH is the Florida Baptist Convention-funded partnership of nearly 900 Haitian Baptist churches throughout Haiti. Through the partnership the Florida convention employs seven indigenous missionaries in six regions.

Since the earthquake, the CMBH pastors have distributed 51 tons of rice, which provided 437,750 servings to Haitians in Port-au-Prince and outlying areas where refugees have fled. Additional feedings are expected.

During the week of Feb. 16-22, Culbreth was on his third trip to Haiti since the earthquake to determine how Florida and Southern Baptists could reach beyond Port-au-Prince and meet needs of refugees who left the capital city.

Together, he and Dennis Wilbanks, an associate in partnership missions, have visited five of the six associations, conferring and praying with the directors of missions and Haitian pastors in the associations.

Culbreth compared the window of opportunity where the people are hungry for the gospel to the United States after 9/11 when hundreds flocked to churches.

He cited recent events in many of the 110 churches in the Port-au-Prince area where throngs of people have been seeking spiritual guidance in church meetings, which have been held outdoors because Haitians feared to enter buildings. Church leaders have reported 28,000 salvations in the Ouest (Port-au-Prince) association.

Many conversions took place during the three days of prayer and fasting called for by the Haitian government Feb. 12-14, Culbreth said.

“People were in the streets, literally begging God for forgiveness and mercy,” said Wilbanks, who was in Port-au-Prince at the time.

Professions of faith also have been reported by Florida and Southern Baptist medical and disaster relief teams as volunteers shared the gospel.

The upsurge in the reported conversions appears to fulfill a pre-earthquake vision by Louis LaBranche, CMBH director of ministry.

“Pastor LaBranche said he had a vision of God telling him that 1.5 million Haitians will be saved in the next five years. He believes it and so do I,” Culbreth said.

Culbreth traveled to Leogane, the epicenter of the earthquake which is located 18 miles west of the Haitian capital.

“Reports said that 90 percent of the buildings have been destroyed, but I did not see a house that was not damaged. The roads are buckled and people are pouring out in the streets,” he said.

Culbreth was in Port-au-Prince during the 4.7 magnitude aftershock Feb. 22, and he said Haitians continue to live in fear for their lives.

The next three months will be crucial to reaping a spiritual harvest in Haiti, Culbreth said. CMBH leaders are planning 14 area-wide crusades, including two each in five associations and four in Port-au-Prince. The Florida Baptist Convention has authorized $53,000 to purchase Bibles and tracts and to rent sound equipment for the Haitian leaders.

“This is their dream and vision,” Culbreth said. “They are making the plans. We are only providing funding to make it happen.”

 (EDITOR’S NOTE — Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention. Note: The total for professions of faiths reported by the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste d’Haiti is based on written reports by churches/pastors to the seven CMBH regional missionaries, who in turn report them to the convention’s director of ministry. The regional missionaries provide numbers of professions of faith and baptisms as part of their reports on disaster relief ministry by CMBH churches.)  
2/26/2010 6:05:00 AM by Barbara Denman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Christians have Holy Spirit to aid health

February 25 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Because Christians enjoy the indwelling Spirit of God, they have a power to overcome addictions they should be utilizing for health.

Now two Christian doctors say that Christians’ failure to appropriate the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome addictions of gluttony and sloth are killing the church. Their concern reached such a level that for the past two years they have been devising a health plan that is now available without cost.

Baptist doctors Ted Chandler and Ray Morrow, and Morrow’s father, Phil Morrow, a retired Baptist pastor and administrator at Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina, have launched the web site www.christianhealthforums.com.

There churches can find tools and steps to improve the physical health of their members, which the founders say will also improve their spiritual health.

Four principles are at the base of improving health says the trio. Phil Morrow, a member of Victory Baptist Church in Thomasville, lost 40 pounds, avoided insulin for his diabetes and came off other medicines based on the plan. He is both testimony and advocate.

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Dr. Ray Morrow, an internist at Baptist Medical Center, along with his father Phil Morrow, and Dr. Ted Chandler, have created a web site to promote a healthy lifestyle among Christians. See video.

Those who would “dare to be a healthy Christian” will not smoke; will maintain a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or less; will exercise 150 minutes per week and will eat five servings of fruits or vegetables daily. 

“If the Apostle Paul was preaching today his message would not be about America’s sexual sin as much as our obesity,” said Ray Morrow, a member of First Baptist Church, Hildebran.

The obesity epidemic in children parallels that in adults, with the percentage of children who are obese rising from 4 percent in 1974 to 30 percent today.

“As Christians we are called to serve,” Ray Morrow said. “We can’t serve if our knees give out, we can’t drive to preach, etc. How do you serve in this world?

“We serve not through mental telepathy but with our physical bodies. When we’re called, are we going to be physically able to go?”  

Spiritual strength
While the visible manifestation of discipline is physical, the Morrows and Chandler emphasize the spiritual nature of the battle.

The Holy Spirit helps people overcome all kinds of addictions, they say, and the addiction to food and laziness should be no different.

It is not uncommon for Christians to be urged to appropriate the power of the Holy Spirit to break addictions such as alcohol or drugs, but the same power is not considered for strength to put down the donuts or refuse the fries.

As doctors, Chandler and Ray Morrow were constantly approached by people for help in changing habits they ultimately were unwilling to change. Chandler, a member of Rich Fork Baptist Church in Thomasville, introduced The Reduce Diet, as an initial step and it worked well with Christians.

When Morrow introduced it in his clinic, it “failed miserably,” he said because the spiritual element was missing.

About the time the doctors were wrestling with persistent health problems of patients, studies came out showing Americans’ poor health habits and that churchmen — particularly Baptists — were the worst offenders. 

“This really touched us,” Ray Morrow said, “that this is something going on that is killing America and the church is leading the way.” 

Over the past two years, a dozen studies have confirmed the beneficial effects of following the four principles for health. In the same time, it seems the church has become a marketing haven for alternative medicines, magic diets and supplements that have no value.

It is a spiritual problem, they say, a problem of lust for food. It’s a problem too great to overcome “without the power of Christ.”

“Of all people in America the Church has the power to overcome the self destructive nature of our nation,” said Ray Morrow, 42.

The web site includes positive and encouraging sermons by Phil Morrow, age 73, access to books and eating plans by Chandler.

It also includes a form that churches can use to survey their health habits. Chandler said those surveys will be evaluated to help a church see where its members stand and to make specific recommendations.

Diabetes often is twice as high in church members as in the general public, a finding Chandler said is “shocking.”

Also scary is that people under age 50 are generally in worse shape than those over 50.

Chandler, who practiced in Hickory for 20 years before joining the faculty at Bowman Gray Baptist Medical Center, said younger people believe a pill will fix any health problem they encounter. Chandler and the Morrows have presented this issue in person to 10-12 churches and would be glad to address more.

But they designed the web site to multiply their effect because the need is so great and immediate.

Chandler, who was one of Ray Morrow’s medical school professors, calls it a “modern plague.”

But the cure, he said, is free and simple: it is the rules of healthy living.

Ray Morrow is not advocating that churches become health clubs. He said the work of the church is to do the work of Jesus.

But he was finding that “people spent more time in the doctor’s office than on the mission field; and spent more money on medicine than on missions.” 

“If you are doing things that are killing you, what does that say about your perspective of the resurrected Jesus?” Ray Morrow asked.

“We cannot eat and live lives that are destructive to ourselves and others around us and really take in the power of the resurrected Jesus.”

According to surveys, only four percent of church members observe the four health principles. If that number could be raised to 50 percent Ray Morrow said, “The improvement in health by the entire nation would be so dramatic — the benefits would be overwhelming — there would no longer be a health care crisis in our nation. And through that the church would become the health leader in the nation, leading the nation down this path as it has led in so many other areas.”  

Cookbook promotes health, family time
Growing up at Mills Home in Thomasville 1934-45, the original Baptist Children’s Homes campus, Ted Chandler remembers hours in the kitchen as wonderful times.

To encourage both healthy eating and family communications Chandler wrote a family cookbook called Resurrection Kitchen. While the 66 recipes have a weight loss component, a significant feature is that they can all be prepared in 30 minutes, and the book is designed to involve both a child and an adult in the preparation.

“A child can call out to mom what the next step is,” Chandler said.

He wants Resurrection Kitchen to open the dialog about food within a family, and to create togetherness in the kitchen.

“It was at the table, breaking bread, that the disciples recognized the resurrected Christ,” (Luke 24:30-31) said Chandler, emphasizing the central role of food and community meals.

Chandler wrote about his years in “the orphanage” in Tough Mercy, available through BCH.

2/25/2010 3:57:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 4 comments

Volunteers have ‘no bottled answers’ in Haiti

February 25 2010 by Baptist Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — “What do I do?” the Haitian man asked helplessly.

Having lost his wife and two children and his home in Haiti’s Jan. 12 earthquake, he was living out of a suitcase.

Butch Vernon struggled to answer the man’s question.

“I’m not asked that question a lot back in the States, you know?” the Baptist pastor said, his voice cracking with emotion.

BP photo

Hester Pitts, a member of a Mississippi Baptist medical team in Haiti, shares a hug with a young woman who helped the volunteers during their week of work in makeshift clinics helping victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Vernon, who was in Haiti as a volunteer with a Kentucky Baptist disaster relief team, later reflected, “It’s not one of those deals where you can say, ‘take two (Bible) verses and call me in the morning. It’s the only time I’m going to see that guy, and there are no bottled answers.

“I prayed with him and I hugged him, and we gave him some medicine...,” Verson, pastor of Thoroughbred Community Church in Nicholasville, Ky., recounted. “We’re seeing a lot of that.”

Vernon and the Kentucky team joined forces with a Mississippi Baptist disaster relief team from Jan. 31 to Feb. 8 as part of a coordinated effort involving the Florida Baptist Convention, which has a longstanding relationship with Haitian Baptists; the North American Mission Board; International Mission Board; and Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist relief and development organization.

The toughest part for a volunteer is that you can’t help everyone, said Daniel Edney, who directed medical response efforts by the Mississippi team.

“But we can take care of those who God puts in front of us,” said Edney, a member of First Baptist Church in Vicksburg who led relief teams in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and in southern Asia after the tsunami.

“When those you help walk out with a smile on their face, you know you’ve done something.”

When the Mississippi volunteers pulled up to a church on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, they were surprised to see people praising and worshipping God even as they were struggling to get by without adequate food and water.

“It was a neat thing to drive up and hear them singing and praising the Lord and worshipping,” said Kay Cassibry, state Woman’s Missionary Union executive director who led the 10-member relief team.

“They have been so receptive,” added Cassibry, a member of Highland Colony Baptist Church in Ridgeland.

“People do not know us, but they are receptive to our hugs and everything,” she said during an on-site interview.

During the week, the Mississippi team helped at makeshift medical clinics and saw more than 1,100 patients.

“We have treated all kinds of things,” Cassibry said while walking through one of the clinics. “There were a lot of respiratory problems, a lot of infection. We had to set a couple of bones.

BP photo

At a makeshift clinic, Daniel Edney, who traveled to Haiti with a Mississippi Baptist disaster relief medical team, prays over a man suffering from a high fever, dehydration and serious infections.

“We’ve got a guy on an IV,” she added. “He asked for a Bible as soon as he woke up. We were pretty excited about that.”

For Hester Pitts, another Mississippi volunteer, the biggest blessings were the thank you letters team members were receiving from Haitians.

“I know what it means for us to be here,” said Pitts, a member of First Baptist Church of Vicksburg, “but (these letters are) tangible evidence of what it means for them.”

Pitts, a retired medical technologist, was on vacation with her husband Kerry and two other couples in Tampa, Fla., when she was contacted about joining the relief team.

She admitted she wanted to wait until later to volunteer, but she couldn’t shake her burden for Haiti. She agreed to go to Haiti immediately and asked others in her vacation group if they wanted to join her.

One of the friends, David Baldwin, broke down in tears.

“He said, ‘Hester, I’ve been sitting here praying that God would open that door for me to go,’” Pitts said. “I could not believe it.”

Within two hours, the couples were on the road back to Mississippi so that Pitts and Baldwin could prepare for their trip.

For Pitts, giving up her vacation became an opportunity of a lifetime.

“I’m just thankful that I didn’t miss the experience,” she said. “I came so close to telling God ‘no.’”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by International Mission Board staff. For more on the volunteers’ experience in Haiti, go to commissionstories.com/haitivols or see video below.)

2/25/2010 3:40:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Remaining 2 Baptist volunteers in Haiti to be freed

February 25 2010 by Baptist Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE — The two Baptist volunteers still in jail in Haiti will be freed and possibly could be released this week, the judge overseeing the case says.

“We haven’t found anything that could suggest wrongdoing on the part of the Americans,” Judge Bernard Saint-Vil told Reuters Feb.18.

“I think they could be released this week,” he added.

Laura Silsby and Charisa Coulter, members of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, have been in jail since Jan. 29, when they and eight of their team members were arrested on charges of child kidnapping and criminal association when they tried to take 33 children out of the earthquake-ravaged country and to a makeshift orphanage in the Dominican Republic.

They allegedly did not have the proper paperwork. The other eight team members were released from jail Feb. 18.

Saint-Vil kept Silsby and Coulter in jail because he had further questions for them.

“The case will be over this week because we have no criminal grounds to pursue it,” Saint-Vil told Reuters after questioning Silsby and Coulter. “Thank you for helping to reveal the truth,” Silsby told Saint-Vil.

She told Reuters, “I hope we will be released because we did nothing wrong.”

Silsby and the others have said they simply were trying to help the children.

The freed group members are Carla Thompson and Nicole and Corinna Lankford of Central Valley Baptist; Paul Thompson, his son Silas and Steve McMullen of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho; Jim Allen of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas; and Drew Culberth of Bethel Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. Bethel Baptist is the only church not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
2/25/2010 3:38:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

What really is a Great Commission church?

February 25 2010 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

A well-known North Carolina Baptist pastor chokes up when he talks about his “hard heart” toward missions in his seminary days.

It wasn’t until he worked with the International Mission Board (IMB) that God began to soften Al Gilbert’s heart. The pastor now leads Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, a church that gives generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and is one of three North Carolina members of the Great Commission Task Force, which presented its proposal to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee Feb. 22.

In a blog post at pray4gcr.com dated August 2009, Gilbert writes this about his seminary days: “Knowing I was called to pastor, I avoided ‘Missions Chapel.’ My call was to the church not ‘missions.’”

A rather strange statement coming from the pastor of a church that supports missionaries serving locally and overseas, and year after year sends church members on mission trips across the globe. Gilbert goes on to say in the post that “after years of serving as a pastor, God began to deal with my heart.”

He spent five years as special assistant to IMB’s president, visiting and encouraging missionaries, and challenging churches to take missions seriously. Gilbert traveled to unreached areas of the world, meeting missionaries and beginning to see people as they saw people — lost without the gospel of Jesus Christ.   

BSC photo

Al Gilbert says “The Great Commission really is the mission of God, to bring worshippers to Himself.”

During a recent interview Gilbert gets choked up at times as he talks about these experiences. But the emotion is not for show. Gilbert seems acutely aware of the importance of what he is talking about. Gilbert came to Calvary Baptist Church in 2002.

Ever since the Task Force was appointed last summer that phrase — the Great Commission — has been used. A lot. So much so that the temptation may become to start unintentionally using it as some type of passing jargon that is said without really understanding its meaning, or perhaps forgetting the weight of what is being said.

What does it mean to be a Great Commission church? What does it mean to be a church devoted to the Great Commission?

Gilbert described a Great Commission church this way: “The Great Commission really is the mission of God, to bring worshippers to Himself. We see that pattern from the very beginning when He blessed Abraham and said through him all people will be blessed.”

Gilbert said a Great Commission church understands the mission of God and its global implications. Churches seeking to be obedient to the Great Commission must make discipleship a priority, and look for strategies to make disciples in their Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and ends of the earth, as taught in Acts 1:8. Fulfilling the Great Commission requires churches to maintain a “multiplying mindset.”

“It’s not how many our church can seat but how many we can send,” Gilbert said.

From the outset of the interview Gilbert made it clear that Calvary is on the road to becoming a Great Commission church; in no way does the church have it all figured out, right now. Yet, Gilbert is encouraged as the church continues to grow in its understanding of the mission of God and its desire to be part of that mission.

When he began as a pastor years ago Gilbert had a lot to learn about what it means to be a Great Commission church and what it means to be a church that cares about missions, which he described as essentially the mission of the church, or bringing worshippers to God.

“Missions has to take on an intentionality of stretching, moving, crossing a barrier and taking the gospel where it is not,’ he said. Gilbert had to get over a “false dichotomy” of being a local pastor and being on a global mission — the two can in fact co-exist.

As a trustee of the Foreign Mission Board for eight years, his wife told him story after story of God at work around the world.

“I think she was praying that God would soften my heart and make me open to that,” Gilbert said. “Going on a mission trip did a lot for me in this regard. When I was confronted with poverty like I had never been before I was faced with the reality that God loved those little boys and girls as much as He loved my own. It broke my heart and showed my arrogance.”

Locally, Calvary takes the waffle approach in determining where and how to minister. The waffle/pancake analogy, one Gilbert picked up from the IMB, goes like this: pour syrup on a pancake and it moves freely and runs over the entire surface. Pour syrup on a waffle and some of the pockets won’t get it.

“As leaders trying to reach the neighborhoods in our town we need to do a waffle analysis. Try to figure out where those pockets of lostness are,” Gilbert said.

Churches must consider where in their community the gospel is present and where it is not, what hinders the gospel in that area and what the church can do to help. Calvary often partners with other local churches in their effort to take the gospel throughout Winston-Salem and surrounding areas.

They are intentional about reaching out to internationals and helping meet practical needs. Calvary includes language congregations, such as Hispanic and Vietnamese.

Calvary does not try to meet all the needs in Winston-Salem, as that would be impossible and would most likely duplicate ministry efforts of other local churches. They focus much of their outreach on two communities and seek to pour into the lives of those people.

Pastors must think like missionaries and in turn must help the church think like a missionary.

“A missionary thinks with a waffle model in mind. We should be trying to work ourselves out of a job. We want to plant reproducing churches that become missionaries themselves,” Gilbert said. “In the local church we do this by finding where the gospel is not. We pastors tend to fall into the trap of thinking we are measured by how many people we gather in our particular location, rather than how many people actually know and are being transformed by the gospel. So I tell pastors they may actually have to get smaller to be more successful because we are working toward giving people away for the sake of the gospel.”

Calvary keeps missionaries from their church in front of the church. They pray for them, help meet needs when they can and allow them to share about their ministry with the church as often as possible.

Churches must stay connected with the missionaries being called and sent out of the church.

“When a pastor feels that the church has transferred the job of witnessing to him, he knows that there is a sickness in his church. He knows he is not to be the only one sharing his faith; he knows his job is to equip them so that they can share their faith,” Gilbert said. “We have made the same mistake by placing the responsibility to reach the world on the missionary and then failed to link our lives with theirs. We are losing the component of tasting and feeling the responsibility. We have to own the task along with them.”

Great Commission churches are churches with a passion to see people come to faith in Jesus Christ at home and around the world. They are churches not content to maintain the status quo because that’s what is most comfortable.

Gilbert urged pastors not to get bogged down with church member expectations and measuring themselves by the expectation of others.

“Get on your face before God,” he said. “Ask Him to help you balance the needs your church has with the direction that the church needs to begin to move in, in order to become a Great Commission church.”  
2/25/2010 3:31:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

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