February 2010

Buoyed by 2nd chances in speedskating, with God

February 18 2010 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

VANCOUVER — Rebekah Bradford knows about second chances.

She received one at the U.S. speedskating championships in December when she fell with only 30 feet to go in her last race. Bradford rebounded in her reskate to post a personal best and qualify for the Winter Olympics.

But an even greater rebound came five years earlier when Bradford, who had been raised in church before abandoning her Christian roots, decided that what she had been taught about Christianity was indeed true. She gave her life to the Lord and has since seen God work in her life through her speedskating.

“It’s not just a sport to me,” Bradford said. “It’s taught me so many life lessons. I feel like God uses our talents to bring us closer to Him, and He’s used speedskating to bring me to His heart.”

Skating was a part of her family’s life as Bradford was growing up in Minnesota. She began with figure skating but began speedskating because she wanted to be like her two brothers who were heavily involved with the sport. At age 13, Bradford left figure skating behind permanently to concentrate on speedskating.

She moved to Utah when she was 18 to continue her training. As she left home, she also left behind the Christian beliefs and doctrine she had been taught. She knew the Bible but had decided it was just a story with no relevance to her life.

“I think it was just mostly a hard teenage heart and not really seeing the big picture,” Bradford said. “At that point, skating was my religion. That’s what gave me status and merit.”

Bradford, however, had a void in her life that she tried to fill with anything she could find, resulting in what she described as a tormented lifestyle.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Speed Skating

Rebekah Bradford

“I was actually in this relationship, and one of the things that ended it was that this gentleman called me a Christian,” Bradford recounted.

“I’m not a Christian,” she told him. “You don’t call me a Christian. This relationship is over.”

A few months later, on a whim, she attended a service at The Rock Church in Salt Lake City. As she sat there listening to the sermon, Bradford had a sense that God was speaking to her, affirming that everything she had learned as a child — that Jesus was God in the flesh, that He lived a sinful life and died on the cross to pay the penalty for sins, that He rose again from the dead — was true. That was the moment of her conversion, and she was baptized a week later.

Life became more joyful for Bradford, the tormented lifestyle now a thing of the past. She now sees speedskating as a form of worship in which she can feel God’s pleasure in using her talents to glorify Him.

“In my prayers I actually ask God, as if He’s my coach, what I should do,” Bradford said. “He’ll sometimes place thoughts in my head of what I need to work on or what to focus on. It’s helped me with my relationships with my coaches, with my teammates, my work ethic.”

That work ethic has led her to the Vancouver Olympics, where she will compete Feb. 18 in the women’s 1000 meters.

“It’s more of a performance goal I have for my race,” Bradford said. “I don’t know how I’m going to rank or place. Mostly I just want to go there and represent God well and I want to be able to race my heart out and do the best I can do, and take in all the experience.

“There are very few people who can experience going to the Olympic Games, and it’s such an honor and privilege,” Bradford said. “I expect to learn a lot, and I expect to race well.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Tim Ellsworth, in addition to his role as BPSports editor, is director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.)
2/18/2010 2:57:00 AM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

A skater’s ‘extra grace’

February 18 2010 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

VANCOUVER — With only 30 feet to go in her 1000-meter race at the U.S. speedskating championships in December, Rebekah Bradford’s Olympic dreams seemed to tumble away when she suffered a nasty fall.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Speed Skating

Rebekah Bradford is thankful God answers prayers.

Not only had her Olympic aspirations taken a hit — her pride had as well.

“I was pretty emotional in the raw moment of it,” Bradford recalled. “It was a pretty embarrassing experience. I tore a hole at the seam in the (rear) of my skin suit.” Bradford was devastated. She had worked so hard and wanted so much to make the Olympic team. It was all over.

Or so she thought, until a referee approached her with a question that lifted her spirits. “Are you aware that you have a reskate?” the referee asked.

Bradford hadn’t even thought of that. The rules allow, at the referee’s discretion, for skaters who fall to be given a chance to skate again. Even with the reprieve and the second opportunity, given the circumstances, Bradford wasn’t hopeful that she’d be able to post the time needed to qualify for the Olympics. Kelly Gunther held the time of 1:17.12 that Bradford had to beat.

With friends and family cheering her on from the stands in Kearns, Utah, Bradford turned in the performance of her life. She skated a personal best, 1:16.36, to nab the Olympic spot up for grabs.

Earlier that day, Bradford had sent a prayer to a couple of friends that was her request of the Lord as she competed that day.

“I was asking God for confidence and to calm my mind,” Bradford said. “I want His name to be glorified out of asking the impossible. I also asked Him to put me in a position of extra grace.”

By “extra grace,” Bradford was thinking about strength and endurance to finish the last lap of her race strongly.

“I never thought it would mean extra grace to do a second race within a half-hour of my first race, and then skate a personal best on top of that,” Bradford said. “I never expected that God was going to answer my prayer in that way.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Ellsworth, director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., is covering the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver for Baptist Press.)  
2/18/2010 2:51:00 AM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

UPDATE: Haiti judge frees 8 U.S. detainees

February 17 2010 by Baptist Press

Eight of the 10 American detainees in Haiti arrived in Miami, Fla., early today.

They arrived at Miami International Airport shortly after midnight on a U.S. Air Force cargo plane. None of them spoke to reporters about their ordeal.

“Faith means everything to me and I knew this moment would come when the truth would set me free,” said Jim Allen, a welder from Amarillo, Texas, in a statement.

A judge in Haiti released the eight on bail Wednesday. They did not have to post bond to leave but had to promise to return if needed during the investigation.

Bernard Saint-Vil said two volunteers will not be freed, the Reuters News Service reported. Laura Silsby, the group’s leader, and Charisa Coulter are being kept for further investigation.

CNN reported that Coulter, who is diabetic, was taken to a field hospital “in a lot of pain.” Friends and family members of the detainees had expressed concern during the three-week detention about the volunteers’ access to health care.

Jorge Puello, who had stepped forward as a presumed legal adviser in the Dominican Republic on behalf of some of the Americans, reportedly now is being pursued by U.S. Marshals as well as authorities in El Salvador.

Puello called the Associated Press Feb. 16 and said he was in Panama preparing to return to El Salvador to face charges for leading a ring that lured young girls and women into prostitution. He also acknowledged he is named in a 2003 federal indictment in Vermont that accuses him of smuggling illegal immigrants from Canada into the United States, AP said.

Saint-Vil, however, had stated that Puello’s legal problems are separate from the child kidnapping charges that were leveled against the 10 Americans. One of the Americans on Tuesday denied any connection to Puello.

AP said Puello, 32, is identified as Jorge Torres in the Vermont indictment and managed to avoid arrest because he was living in Canada at the time. The United States requested extradition, and Puello fled.

The AP report also noted that Puello was convicted of theft of U.S. government property in 1999 in Pennsylvania and sentenced to six months in prison and five years probation, and in 2001 a court found he violated the terms of his probation and issued a warrant for his arrest. After the Americans were detained Jan. 29, Puello contacted their relatives by calling their church, Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, AP said.

Before he initiated the call, he had never met any of them. In subsequent days, Puello reportedly delivered food and medicine to the prisoners and helped them find a Haitian lawyer, whom he later fired. Puello was born in the United States but has strong ties to the Dominican Republic, AP said, and authorities in El Salvador noted his resemblance to the suspect in a sex trafficking case in their country after seeing him portrayed as representing the Americans.

Allen confirmed during an eight-minute phone call with his wife Feb. 16 that he had no contact with Puello.

“I have never heard from that guy, never seen him, never spoke to him, never met him,” Allen said. “I don’t even know who he is.”

Louis Gary Lissade, a former Haitian minister of justice, is representing Allen with help from a team of attorneys in the United States including Liberty Legal Institute, which conveyed information from the phone call in a news release the same day.

Allen’s wife Lisa said that during the call he was in good spirits, joked about having lost a few pounds and expressed confidence in Haitian officials to set him free, the news release said.

Liberty Legal Institute, based in Plano, Texas, filed a motion Feb. 10 seeking the release of Allen, a small business owner and construction worker who is a member of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo.

Kelly Shackelford, Liberty’s chief counsel, said Allen “is an upstanding American with a good heart trying to rebuild a country. We believe that when the facts of this case are revealed, our client will be released. We’re working hard to make that happen.”

Allen reportedly had been invited by a cousin to join the volunteer team and had “joined the team 48 hours before the group’s departure.”

His wife has expressed concern about his well-being in prison since he suffers from a medical condition for which he takes medication, Liberty said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly and staff writer Erin Roach.)    
2/17/2010 10:45:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

He helped throttle Soviets in ’80; now he’s back

February 17 2010 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

VANCOUVER — Thirty years later, Mark Johnson still wonders at times whether it really happened.

Was he really a part of what is widely considered the greatest moment in U.S. Winter Olympics history? Did he really score two goals for the U.S. hockey team against the juggernaut Soviets in the semifinals at Lake Placid in 1980 en route to a stunning 4-3 victory? Did he really win a gold medal when Team USA beat Finland in the finals, capping an unlikely run that captivated an entire nation?

“You’re not quite sure you still believe it, even though it’s been 30 years,” Johnson said. “Generally when the thought of it pops in your head, or you see a highlight or video, it usually brings a smile to your face and makes you feel good that you were involved in something that obviously was so special to so many people.”

This year in Vancouver, Johnson returns to the Olympics for the first time since those magical moments — this time, as the head coach of the U.S. women’s hockey team.

“It’s a different role,” Johnson said. “It’s much more difficult and challenging to be a coach of one of these teams than a player.”

Johnson, who was named to the position about a year ago, has taken a sabbatical from his seven-year stint as women’s hockey coach at the University of Wisconsin. The women have been practicing, training, traveling and playing exhibition games since Aug. 18, and Johnson said he’s ready for the competition in Vancouver’s Winter Olympics.

“Expectations are high within our group,” Johnson said. “We’re taking a run at the gold medal. Everybody within our locker room and our support staff knows and understands the expectations.”

Photo by David G. McIntyre/Genesis Photos

Mark Johnson, head coach of the U.S. women's ice hockey team, leads his team to a 12-1 victory over China during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver at the UBC Thunder Bird Arena on Feb. 14.

After his history-making performance in the 1980 Olympics, Johnson spent 11 years in the NHL with Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Hartford, St. Louis and New Jersey. It was during his time with the New Jersey Devils in the mid-1980s when Johnson’s life took a new direction. He had been married for a few years by this point and had a couple of kids.

“I sort of came to the point in my life where I was looking for some answers and had some questions,” Johnson said.

Johnson and his wife Leslie began attending an Athletes in Action Bible study with a group of players in the New York area. After a period of three or four months of regular attendance, Johnson said he and Leslie both came to the point where their questions had been answered, and they placed their faith in Christ.

“It’s been a long, wonderful journey since that point,” he said.

That’s not to say his life has always been perfect or rosy. But his faith in Christ has provided what he calls a “balancing point” that has kept him from getting too excited when things are going well, or too depressed when life takes a turn for the worse.

“If you find that balancing point — that I find with my relationship with the Lord — He’s able to keep me even, whether things are going really well or things aren’t going well,” Johnson said.

His commitment to Christ also has a considerable influence on who he is as a man, a husband, a father and a hockey coach. His hope is that his players see the evidence of that commitment in his life — through his day-to-day consistency and through the values and morals he holds in high esteem and tries to live out.

“I think as a coach and as a leader, if you’re able to do that, it certainly sends a strong message,” Johnson said. “You have to walk the talk. I think that is something that speaks a lot louder than words do.”
2/17/2010 10:30:00 AM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Author takes faith, but not himself, seriously

February 17 2010 by Nancy Haught, Religion News Service

PORTLAND, Ore. — Author Donald Miller’s best-selling 2003 memoir, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, is being made into a movie and he’s on the phone with his director.

“That explosion and the sex scene?” he says into his cell phone. “I still want those in there.”

He’s kidding. Blue Like Jazz won’t be that kind of movie. It is Miller’s account of growing up fatherless, struggling with relationships and finding a Christian faith that wrestles with Jesus, the church and cultural stereotypes.

There are no sex scenes, but Miller, 38, has lived through an explosion of sorts.

Before Blue Like Jazz, Miller was a freelance writer sharing a house in Portland’s Laurelhurst neighborhood.

His first book hadn’t sold well and his tiny publishing business wasn’t making much money.     
“I reached a point where I had to get a job or write another book,” he says. “I wrote another book.” Cue the explosion. Blue Like Jazz was a giant hit. It made The New York Times best-seller list and has sold 1 million copies. At Portland’s legendary Powell’s City of Books, where it’s shelved in the Red Room with other religious, travel, foreign language and health-related titles, Blue Like Jazz sold more copies in 2006 than any other book in the room.

Part of Miller’s appeal — and what has made the book so successful — is his “brokenness,” says Paul Louis Metzger, a theology professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in northeast Portland, a writer himself and a friend of Miller’s.

“Don understands at a core level what it’s like to feel pain, suffering, abandonment. There’s a sense of rawness and pain and earthiness to his writing.”

And a slightly warped sense of humor. “That humor is bound up with shared humanity,” Metzger says.

Blue Like Jazz caught the eye of documentary filmmakers Steve Taylor and Ben Pearson, who contacted Miller about turning the book into a movie.

Miller’s new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life, is the story of that story and everything he’s learned so far about living and telling stories.

RNS photo courtesy Jeremy Coward Photography

Author Donald Miller, who wrote the hugely popular Blue Like Jazz, finished a national tour for his new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, in December.

“The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined,” Miller writes in his new book. “The point of a story is never about the ending, remember. It’s about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle.”

After a year writing the screenplay and learning about character development and narrative arcs, Miller realized that his actions convey his character. He’s just finished a 70-day, 65-city book tour. He’s a sought-after speaker and a member of President Obama’s task force on fatherhood.

He’s organized The Mentoring Project, a nonprofit that works with churches to recruit mentors and match them with fatherless kids. He has dreams of creating a corps of good fathers in the next 20 years, of closing down the prisons that today house so many fatherless sons.

He lends himself — not just his name — to what he calls “noble causes,” including a cross-country bike ride to call attention to the global need for clean water.

He spends time alone, daydreaming and recharging his spirit with his cast of friends who show up often in his writing. When he can, he worships at Imago Dei Community, an independent, art-supporting, thriving church, whose founder, Rick McKinley, is one of Miller’s closest friends.

“We were nobodies in the beginning,” says McKinley, who first met Miller 10 years ago. “I wanted to start a church and he was becoming an author.”

These days, Imago Dei draws 2,000 people every Sunday.

McKinley says his friend’s success is making a difference in people’s lives.

“There’s a whole generation of people trying to make sense of church, of faith, of God. I think he created a following that continues to respond to Don.”

Miller grew up in Pearland, Texas, near Houston. His mother, Mary, still lives in the same tiny house where he would shut himself up in his room and daydream.

“He was very easy to raise,” she says, which was a good thing because being a single mother with two children wasn’t easy. “He didn’t get into trouble, but he had his own ideas about things.”

When his high school band teacher, who would urge students to “visualize yourself marching as you play,” complained that Donald was skipping rehearsals, his mom confronted him. “Tell him to just visualize me,” Donald said.

Miller’s flippant streak helped him deal with his parents’ divorce and the handful of times he reconnected with his father.

“He left when I was 2,” Miller says. “I remember being 11 or 12” — the last time he saw him — “old enough to be scared of him, old enough to think, ‘Who are you?’”

The prospect of seeing his father again figures in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

It’s an idea Miller says he wouldn’t have considered except that the filmmakers wanted to inject some conflict into the screenplay.

“If I learned anything from thinking about my father, it’s that there is a force in the world that doesn’t want us to live good stories,” he writes in the new book. “It doesn’t want us to face our issues, to face our fear and bring something beautiful into the world.

“I guess what I’m saying is, I believe God wants us to create beautiful stories, and whatever it is that isn’t God wants us to create meaningless stories, teaching the people around us that life just isn’t worth living.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Haught writes for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore.)
2/17/2010 10:25:00 AM by Nancy Haught, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

SBC loses members again in 2009

February 16 2010 by ABP Staff

NEW YORK (ABP) -- Catholic, Mormon and Assembly of God churches all posted membership gains in 2009, while mainline denominations and the Southern Baptist Convention lost members, according to an annual report by the National Council of Churches. The SBC -- the nation's second-largest faith group -- saw its membership decline for the second consecutive year.

The NCC's 2010 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches
reported membership of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States -- the largest of 227 national church bodies included in the report -- at 68 million. That represents growth of 1.49 percent, after a slight membership loss in 2009.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (No. 4) grew 1.71 percent to 5,873,408 members. The Assemblies of God grew 1.27 percent to 2,863,265 members, passing the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to become America's ninth-largest religious body.

This year's edition of the yearbook, the 78th, reports information collected by churches in 2008 and reported to the National Council of Churches in 2009. Some faith groups, such as several historically African-American Baptist denominations, report their membership estimates based on population formulas instead of actual headcounts.

American Baptist Churches posted one of the largest losses, 2 percent, dropping its membership to 1,331,127.

Membership in the SBC, the second-largest denomination behind Catholics, dropped 0.24 percent to 16,228,438 members. That follows a similar loss of 0.24 percent
reported in the yearbook last year.

Eileen Lindner, editor of the annual yearbook since 1998, said some observers attributed decline in church membership to increasing secularization of American society but pointed out that some groups -- especially of the Pentecostal variety -- continue to report gains.

Another factor, she said, is that large percentages of immigrants into the United States in the
last 40 years are Christians. Lindner said statistics in the yearbook reflect "continued high overall church participation, and account for the religious affiliation of over 163 million Americans."

The 10 largest church groups reported in the 2010 yearbook are:

1. The Catholic Church, 68,115,001 members, up 1.49 percent.
2. Southern Baptist Convention, 16,228,438 members, down 0.24 percent.
3. The United Methodist Church, 7,853,987 members, down 0.98 percent.
4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5,974,041 members, up 1.71 percent.
5. The Church of God in Christ, 5,499,875 members, no membership updates reported.
6. National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc, 5 million members, no membership updates reported.
7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,633,887 members, down 1.62 percent.
8. National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., 3.5 million members, no membership updates reported.
9. Assemblies of God (ranked 10 last year), 2,899,702 members, up 1.27 percent.
10. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (ranked 9 last year), 2,844,952 members, down 3.28 percent.


2/16/2010 12:50:00 PM by ABP Staff | with 5 comments

Kenneth Starr named Baylor president

February 16 2010 by Marv Knox, Associated Baptist Press

WACO, Texas — Former Whitewater special prosecutor and current Pepperdine University Law School Dean Kenneth Starr has been named the 14th president of Baylor University.

Baylor’s board of regents elected Starr unanimously on Feb. 12, upon the unanimous recommendation of both a 14-member search committee and a 10-member advisory committee for the presidential search, according to a Baylor news release

The world’s largest Baptist university will be led by the man whose investigation of a 1980s Arkansas real-estate deal gone bad nearly brought down the nation’s last Baptist president in 1998, with Congress’ failed attempt to remove President Bill Clinton from office.

Starr will succeed John Lilley, who was fired for failing to “bring the Baylor family together” in July 2008. Lilley’s two-year tenure followed the 10-year presidency of Robert Sloan, which was marked by discord over the university’s future, specifically Baylor 2012, a decade-long strategy. David Garland, dean of Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, has been interim president since August 2008.

Kenneth Starr

Starr, a Texas native with a background in the Churches of Christ, has been dean of Pepperdine’s law school in Malibu, Calif., since 2004. He is a former federal judge and solicitor general of the United States, and he remains an attorney with the prominent Washington-based law firm Kirkland & Ellis. He is a longtime member of McLean Bible Church in McLean, Va., a conservative, non-denominational evangelical congregation in the Washington suburbs.

From 1994 to 1999, he was independent counsel for five investigations, including the death of White House counsel Vince Foster, the Whitewater real-estate dealings of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

His investigation resulted in the Starr Report, which asserted Clinton lied about his affair with Lewinsky in a sworn deposition. That allegation led to Clinton’s impeachment. Starr was born in Vernon, Texas, in 1946 and raised in San Antonio. His father was a Churches of Christ minister, and Pepperdine is affiliated with the Churches of Christ.

He is a graduate of George Washington University, Brown University and Duke University Law School. Early in his career, Starr clerked for Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David Dyer and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger.

He is the author of more than 25 publications, including First Among Equals: The Supreme Court in American Life.

According to the Waco Tribune-Herald, Starr has said he will join a Baptist church upon moving to Waco.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Knox is editor of the Baptist Standard. ABP Managing Editor Robert Marus contributed to this story.)  
2/16/2010 2:22:00 AM by Marv Knox, Associated Baptist Press | with 3 comments

2009 tax preparation ‘tips’ for ministers

February 15 2010 by Johnny Ross, BSC GuideStone Representative

As the deadline for 2009 tax returns approaches (April 15, 2010), it is important to review some basic tax information for those persons who are considered “ministers for tax purposes.” First, be sure your filing status is correct. Most ministers have a dual tax status. 

In almost every case ministers are employees for federal and state taxes; therefore, they should receive a W-2 from the employing church, not a 1099. In addition, ministers are always self-employed for social security and medicare purposes for ministerial income; therefore, they pay the full SECA tax of 15.3 percent. The church should not withhold and send in Social Security taxes to the Internal Revenue Service.

Secondly, the employing church should always count business expense allowances as taxable income. For example, a car allowance, book/tape/periodical allowance, convention/workshop allowance, etc. are reported in Box 1 of the W-2 as taxable income.

It is only when the church has established and administers an accountable business expense reimbursement arrangement that these monies have no taxable consequence. Otherwise that money is taxable.

If any of the business expense funds are given as salary to the minister, even in an accountable plan, then all of those reimbursements become taxable. The standard mileage reimbursement rate for 2009 was 55 cents per mile. That amount has decreased to 50 cents per mile in 2010.

Third, be sure to claim the legal amount for housing allowance. The law states that the minister must claim the least of the following as the housing allowance for the year:
  • the amount designated in advance (this may never be done retroactively) as a housing allowance by the church;
  • the amount actually spent for housing costs during the year;
  • or the fair rental value of the home furnished with utilities.
For those who live in a parsonage and have housing expenses the person must claim the lesser of the following:
  • the amount designated in advance by the church;
  • or the amount actually spent for housing costs during the year.
Furthermore, these amounts are only exempt from federal/state taxes; the minister must pay SECA taxes on the housing allowance and/or the fair rental value of the parsonage.

Fourth, be sure to gather and organize all tax documents including receipts for appropriate and correct reporting purposes as you prepare your tax returns or pay an official tax preparer. Be advised in securing a tax preparer that the person whom you enlist understands ministers’ taxes since minister tax status is very different from the ordinary citizen/tax payer.

Fifth, be sure to include your social security number, sign and date your returns, and mail them to the appropriate Internal Revenue Service address by the tax deadline. The IRS has indicated that these are very common mistakes/oversights.

For additional information and a step-by-step explanation of preparing your 2009 tax returns an excellent resource piece by Richard Hammar, 2009 Ministers Tax Guide, is now posted on the GuideStone Financial Resources web site.  
2/15/2010 6:02:00 AM by Johnny Ross, BSC GuideStone Representative | with 0 comments

Former Muslim shares gospel in diverse Toronto

February 15 2010 by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press

TORONTO, Ontario — A former Muslim, North American Mission Board missionary Nadeem Qazi’s conversion to Christianity set his life on a path of sharing his faith no matter the cost.

Born to Muslim parents in Pakistan, Qazi was raised like most Muslim children in the upper caste. By age 8, he had studied the entire Quran and learned how to follow the practices of Islam. Qazi left Pakistan to pursue a Ph.D. in Europe when he was 25. When he met a group of Christian students in Denmark who told him about a loving God who meets people’s needs, Qazi heard the message at a time when he felt utterly hopeless, and he gave his life to Christ.

It took him awhile before he found the courage to write to his family in Pakistan about his new life. His father became angry and didn’t accept Qazi as a Christian.

“My family said I was dead to them and to never come back home,” Qazi recalled. “But I have no regrets. Praise God, He took me from there and gave me love I never knew.”

Eventually, God sent Qazi back to Pakistan to share the gospel with his people and help start churches.

BP photo

Nadeem Qazi has taken his conversion to Christianity to Toronto where he envisions starting churches for Pakistanis and other south Asians.

“There was so much joy going back with a different mandate and challenge.” Qazi said. “The people there are very hard, disappointed and disoriented, but you love them and that makes the whole difference.

“We had a tremendous opportunity to share the gospel.”

He saw many people convert to Christianity, even his own sister.

In addition to starting churches, Qazi helped start schools for Pakistani Christian children living on the streets with no means of getting an education.

After many years of ministry in Pakistan, Qazi began to receive letters from the Pakistani government warning him to leave the country because his life was in danger. He and his wife Jamila escaped to Canada, where they found “such a freedom here we never knew.”

Nadeem and Jamila were surprised that a neighborhood of Toronto named Brampton seemed so much like Pakistan and southern Asia.

“There were more people with the turban and Pakistani and Indian dress who spoke the same language,” Qazi said. “We started building friendships and sharing God’s Word with them.”

Toronto is one of North America’s most ethnically diverse cities. More than 50 percent of the population was born outside of Canada, according to Jeff Christopherson, NAMB missionary and church planting strategist for southern Ontario. Christopherson is always on the lookout for indigenous leaders from people groups around the world who have a heart to reach their people. When he met Nadeem and Jamil he asked if they would help reach south Asians in Toronto and eventually start a church.

The invitation resonated, with Jamila noting, “I knew God had a different plan for us in this city.”

Many Pakistanis and other south Asians use public transportation to get to and from work, so the Qazis began traveling the city by bus looking for people who speak one of the nine languages they speak.

“We sit next to them and start talking,” Qazi said. “We get their names and addresses so we can visit them. It’s a good way to reach out.”

Because they speak so many languages, the Qazis are able to connect with many people groups.

“God’s words will speak to their heart in their own language,” Jamila said. “It has much deeper meaning and value than any other language. It’s much sweeter to them.”

When immigrants first arrive in Toronto they are in culture shock and “lonely and desperate,” Qazi said, so he and his wife help them find apartments, furniture, even jobs as they adapt to their new surroundings.

The Qazis have been working primarily among Hindu, Sikh and Muslim groups. They have started a couple of Bible studies in Brampton that they hope will grow into a church. Many of these people would never be in the same room in their home countries. One meets in the home of a Sikh family who accepted Jesus two years ago.

“We have a such a passion for these people,” Jamila said. “We see them struggling in the same way as they struggle in Pakistan. Our heart breaks because they are not free in this country. So we really want to share God’s love with them that they may understand all this freedom in Christ.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Pipes is a writer for the North American Mission Board. To view a video about Nadeem Qazi and other missionary and chaplain ministries through NAMB and its state partners, visit www.namb.net and click on the “Missionary Focus” gallery. Pray for the more than 3,000 contacts Nadeem and Jamila Qazi have made in Toronto that they will come to know the Lord.)
2/15/2010 5:55:00 AM by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Professor fears arrests will hurt adoption

February 15 2010 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A Southern Baptist seminary professor says the arrests of a group of Baptists from the United States accused of trying to remove children from earthquake-stricken Haiti without proper documentation could give a black eye to a budding movement of evangelicals who view adoption as a means of spreading the gospel.

Russell Moore, senior vice president for academic administration and dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recounted his reaction to hearing the news that 10 Americans accused of human trafficking were members of Baptist churches Feb. 1 on the “Albert Mohler Radio Program.”

“I thought, ‘Oh no, this is going to cause all kinds of derision to the orphan-care movement and to what the Holy Spirit is doing in churches all across America and all over the world in having a heart for orphans,’“ Moore said, sitting in as guest host for seminary president Al Mohler.

Last year Moore published a book titled Adopted for Life calling on Christians to adopt children as a “Great Commission priority.” On Feb. 26-27, the seminary in Louisville, Ky., is sponsoring an “Adopting for Life” conference aimed at creating “a culture of adoption” in families and churches.

“The Bible tells us that human families are reflective of an eternal fatherhood (Eph. 3:14-15),” says a website promoting the event. “We know, then, what human fatherhood ought to look like on the basis of how Father God behaves toward us. But the reverse is also true. We see something of the way our God is fatherly toward us through our relationships with our own human fathers. And so Jesus tells us that in our human father’s provision and discipline we get a glimpse of God’s active love for us (Matt. 7:9-11; cf. Heb. 12:5-7). The same is at work in adoption.”

Moore, the father of two children adopted from a Russian orphanage, said while all the facts are not in about the motives and methods of the mission team comprised mostly of members of two Southern Baptist churches in Idaho, he has heard from many individuals stirred by images of suffering asking what they can do to help Haitian orphans.

Particularly following tragedy, Moore said couples seeking international adoption can feel frustrated by the seemingly endless process of filing and processing papers. But he said a certain amount of red tape is necessary to ensure that children have no surviving relatives able to care for them before they are removed from a home and that they receive proper care from their new parents.

“I’m worried that this news is going to give a black eye to the orphan-care movement in the same way that some of the really rambunctious, lawbreaking aspects of the right-to-life protester movement did to the pro-life movement,” Moore said on Monday’s program. “You had people who were saying for instance, ‘Unless we have a constitutional amendment right now, outlawing all abortions in every situation, then we can’t do anything.’ Well that hurt, I think, the pro-life movement in many ways.”

Moore said backlash to what is being reported as well-intended but poorly executed action by the church group “is going to cause people to have increased skepticism toward what I think is a genuine movement of the Spirit of God among God’s people.”

During the segment Moore interviewed Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, and, along with Moore and David Platt, senior pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., one of three keynote speakers at the upcoming conference.

“I think those of us who care passionately for the cause of orphans and I think a lot of Christian groups that are out there on the ground really are just deeply embarrassed by this, and I think frankly it will have the potential to do some really pretty significant long-term harm to the cause of both Christian care in country as well as the cause of adoption,” Medefind said. “I think some folks who really oppose our approach to caring for children will kind of point to this very mistakenly as Exhibit A of reasons why a focus on adoption is not healthy and why you should leave caring for orphans just to governments and not allow ordinary people in the church to be involved.”

Medefind, a former aide to President George W. Bush who led the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, now heads an alliance of orphan-serving organizations and churches promoting Christian orphan and foster care and adoption and adoption ministry.

The group’s mission statement says it exists to “motivate and unify the body of Christ to live out God’s mandate to care for the orphan.” The Alliance’s vision statement is “every orphan experiencing God’s unfailing love and knowing Jesus as Savior.”

Moore said there are some people, only a few, who comprise “kind of an anti-adoption movement out there that would say every adoption is abduction, is man-stealing.”

Reacting to the news out of Haiti, Moore said, “I can just see those people saying, ‘See, this is what we’re talking about.”

In his book, Moore said when he and his wife were adopting their boys they were encouraged by social workers and family friends to “teach the children about their cultural heritage.”

“We have done just that,” he wrote.

“Now, what most people probably meant by this counsel is for us to teach our boys Russian folk tales and Russian songs, observing Russian holidays, and so forth,” Moore explained. “But as we see it, that’s not their heritage anymore, and we hardly want to signal to them that they are strangers and aliens, even welcome ones, in our home. We teach them about their heritage, yes, but their heritage as Mississippians.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)  
2/15/2010 5:51:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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