February 2013

Fruitland, NCBAM announce new opportunities

February 11 2013 by BR staff

In addition to offering new online courses, Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute plans to unleash other new classroom opportunities for their 2013 fall semester, David Horton, president of Fruitland, told the Baptist Sate Convention of North Carolina’s Board of Directors during their January meeting.
In early January, Fruitland’s Board of Directors approved two additional ministry tracks, which include an associate degree in religion in either Church Planting or Christian Worldview.
“We’ve been listening to the Lord and … we’ve been listening to His people and to the needs of churches,” Horton told the board. “We believe the time has come for us to expand our curriculum.
“Our purpose is developing Christian leaders, those who will serve in the local church and Christian organizations, those who will serve as missionaries, those who will go out and make a difference in the kingdom of God.”
Rit Varriale, with the Christian Higher Education Committee, shared an update on the Fruitland Scholars Program. The scholarship is a partnership between the convention and its five affiliated schools – Campbell, Chowan, Gardner-Webb, Mars Hill or Wingate. It would be awarded to two students planning to graduate from Fruitland and continue their education at one of the five institutions. The scholarship would be based on academic excellence, and the chosen school would match up to $7,500 per student. The convention is putting forward  $10,000 for the 2013-14 academic year for one student. The scholarship could receive contributions through a future endowment set up at the N.C Baptist Foundation.

BR photo by K. Allan Blume

Sandy Gregory, director of North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry, encourages Board of Directors of the Baptist State Convention to pray about how they can get involved in NCBAM.

Horton also reminded the board of Fruitland’s “One in a Million” campaign to raise a million dollars to pay off debt owed by Fruitland to the Baptist State Convention for the construction of the school’s chapel. The campaign is based on the idea that Fruitland can raise $1 million dollars if 1,000 individuals, groups or churches each contributes $1,000.
“We appreciate the good response that we’re receiving already,” Horton said. “It is a real tough challenge in the midst of an economy like this to raise a million dollars, but this is something that is doable, that we believe is going to happen.”


The North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM) announced several new ministry opportunities designed to help the elderly community.
Last April NCBAM, N.C. Baptist Men and Operation Inasmuch helped bring 3,000 volunteers together to build 327 wheelchair ramps. Sandy Gregory, director of NCBAM, announced the next Rampin’ Up! event will be held April 26, 2014. “Plan now,” he said. “Begin praying, talking to Baptist Men, your builders and others. Put it on your calendar and plan to be a part of this great event.”
NCBAM also has launched a ministry designed to assist ministers and church leaders who are 65 and older. Gregory shared how the ministry often receives calls from pastors who are alone and are in need of assistance or unable to leave their homes. One 86-year-old man called NCBAM a few months back to see if he could receive help with a move from N.C. to Maine. 
“One of the hardest things is for ministers to ask for help,” Gregory said. “This minister reached out, and we as North Carolina Baptists are helping and serving him. What better way to help … than helping those who have served the churches and who need help.”
This past year, in addition to helping build 327 wheelchair ramps, NCBAM has served 2,267 individuals and families in need. NCBAM is also now working with N.C.’s State Fire Marshal office to provide smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to the elderly.
For more information about how you can get involved with NCBAM contact their office at (877) 50-NCBAM.

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2/11/2013 3:38:24 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments

Iranian-American pastor reportedly tortured

February 11 2013 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

TEHRAN, Iran – An Iranian-born pastor who is a U.S. citizen is undergoing physical and mental torture in a notoriously brutal Tehran prison while an international campaign for his release mounts, according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).

Saeed Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison for establishing a network of Christian house churches years ago and for “attempting to sway Iranian youth away from Islam.” Since his conviction Jan. 27, Abedini has not been allowed to communicate with his wife and two children who live in the United States.
The pastor’s Iranian relatives were allowed to visit him in prison Feb. 4, according to FoxNews.com, and he expressed apprehension and concern about his future. Abedini asked if there were international efforts to secure his freedom, the news network said, adding that his downtrodden spirit “is due to abuse and brainwashing techniques used by prison officials.”

“It is no surprise that the Iranian prison guards are engaging in this kind of psychological abuse,” Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ’s executive director, told www.FoxNews.com. “We know that Pastor Saeed is undergoing physical beatings and torture. And we know there is growing concern about his health.

“Now, a troubling report that the guards are trying to take away his hope by feeding him false information about his fate – trying to convince him that no one cares, that efforts to secure his freedom have ceased,” Sekulow said.

ACLJ is leading international efforts to secure the pastor’s release, including launching the website SaveSaeed.org and on Twitter promoting #SaveSaeed.

When Abedini’s wife Naghmeh heard of her husband’s crushed hopes, she told ACLJ, “When I heard this from my husband, I cried. It broke my heart. Behind those walls he feels helpless and relies on us to be his voice. It is so easy to feel forgotten in the walls of the prison. Please help me make sure he is never forgotten.”

As of Friday (Feb. 8), more than 155,000 people had signed a petition at SaveSaeed.org asking the United Nations, European Union and Council of Europe to mobilize their resources to require Iran to honor its treaties and its constitution and release the pastor.

ACLJ also has enlisted the help of U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, R.-Fla., and Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., toward freeing Abedini. Rubio was instrumental in obtaining a statement from Secretary of State John Kerry during his confirmation process supporting the pastor.

“I, along with the U.S. government, condemn Iran’s continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion and call on the Iranian authorities to respect Mr. Abedini’s human rights and release him,” Kerry said. “The Department of State is in close contact with the Abedini family and is actively engaged on this case.”

Graham wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to intervene in the American citizen’s case and stating that the situation “is symbolic of the gross injustice against all Christians in Iran today.”

“It is imperative that you personally add your voice to those calling for Pastor Abedini’s immediate and unconditional release,” Graham told Obama. “There is no better symbol of American values, specifically freedom of religion, or demonstration of loyalty to the welfare of our citizens abroad than vocal and sustained support directly from the president of the United States.”

Sekulow, in a blog post Feb. 5, said Abedini’s attorney filed an appeal in Tehran, but it could take considerable time for the Iranian court to act.

“It’s important to note, though, as we saw in the case of Pastor Youcef, appeals in these cases often lack any semblance of due process and justice, and are frequently no more than a rubber stamp of the initial unjust trial,” Sekulow said, referring to Youcef Nadarkhani, who was imprisoned in Iran on apostasy charges last year.

In addition to ACLJ’s legal and diplomatic efforts to free Abedini, the advocacy organization has launched an international social media effort to raise awareness of his plight.

Steven Curtis Chapman, TobyMac, Bart Millard of MercyMe and other musicians and concerned citizens have joined the effort. Videos of the musicians speaking on behalf of Abedini are posted at SaveSaeed.org.

ACLJ believes that the more people are calling for Abedini’s release, the more international media, governments and world leaders are willing to put pressure on Iran to grant his freedom.

Sekulow urged people to sign the petition, share Abedini’s story and pray for the pastor and his family.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)

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2/11/2013 3:29:55 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Syria refugees surpass 700,000; deaths, 60,000

February 11 2013 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Refugees keep streaming from Syria as a cycle of violence and revenge threatens to destroy their homeland, and even the United Nations cannot keep up with the “unrelenting flow,” a Southern Baptist humanitarian leader said.

Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response said the number of refugees has topped 700,000 and the death toll has surpassed 60,000 in the 22-month conflict. Families who thought they would be able to outlast the fighting are giving up and fleeing the country as reports of atrocities – like the recent discovery of another mass grave in Aleppo – continue to mount.

The fragmentation of regime and opposition forces has thrown the entire situation into doubt, Palmer told Mission Network News (MNN), an evangelical news service based in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“I wish I could point out who’s the bad guy, who’s the good guy, but that’s the problem. That’s why a lot of people are fleeing. Nobody knows who’s who,” Palmer said. “It’s just literally chaos – fear for safety, fear for their children, fear for their families and future.

“A lot of time it’s women and children coming out, but more and more, it’s the men, too, because they’ve got to protect their families,” Palmer said.

“Food is scarce. Children can’t go to school. Families can’t live, fearing for their lives,” Palmer told MNN. “So now we have more people flooding outside of the country; we have more internally displaced people inside the country; and it’s just chaos.”

As the number of refugees and internally displaced persons heads toward 1.5 million, humanitarian agencies are finding their resources stretched past the breaking point, according to news reports. The flood of refugees keeps coming, and relief groups are unable to provide the supplies that will be needed to survive the harsh winter conditions ahead. Syrian refugees in northern Jordan recently fought over tents being distributed by one charity, and riot police had to intervene to quell the violence.

While the work of Baptist Global Response is dwarfed by that of the international relief groups, Southern Baptists are helping people who would not receive help any other way – although those refugees are very hard to find.

“We’ve got about four places that we’re actually touching and helping ministry partners that are able to respond. That’s in several countries,” Palmer told MNN. “[The refugees are] setting up shop. They’re putting up makeshift tents. They’re living in garages of people’s homes. They’re finding empty storerooms and finding places to set up for their families.”

Because refugees who fled their homes in summer are ill-prepared for winter, BGR’s most recent relief effort focused on cold-weather supplies: clothing, carpets and blankets. About 2,500 people benefited from the assistance, which was provided with Southern Baptist relief funds.

Amid the upheaval, God is moving in remarkable ways among the refugees, Palmer told MNN.

“Most of the work we do goes through local partners who are of the same language and culture [as the refugees], but they’re followers of Christ. They become the hands and feet [of Christ],” Palmer said. “That is a demonstration of the gospel: to show the hope of Christ by having compassion, providing blankets, warm clothing, food and health care kits.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Mark Kelly of Baptist Global Response, an international relief organization on the Internet at www.gobgr.org/.)

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2/11/2013 3:17:40 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Miracles on the border: Syrians encounter Jesus

February 11 2013 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

BEIRUT – The Christian relief team heard about the needy Syrian widow living outside a Lebanese Muslim village near the Syrian border. So they took food to her.

Apparently, Jesus had been there first.

A refugee from the civil war in Syria, the Muslim widow, along with her three children, had sought shelter in Lebanon – like more than 100,000 other Syrians. She was observing a traditional 40-day period of solitude to mourn her dead husband, so she had received nothing from the local Islamic aid society.

When the Christians knocked at her door, the widow appeared fully covered in black, including an opaque veil over her face. She explained her period of self-isolation. They offered to leave the food outside, but she unexpectedly invited them in. They sat with her and her children on the floor of the temporary dwelling.

“Who are you?” she asked anxiously.

A Syrian refugee in Lebanon, hands clasped as if in prayer, hopes for better days. Another Syrian Muslim woman (not shown) had many questions when Lebanese Christians delivered food aid, since she already was reading the New Testament. “We read Matthew, the first chapters, about Jesus’ incarnation and that He is Immanuel [‘God with us’],” one of the Christians recounted. The woman didn’t understand. He explained the concept of a king visiting his people disguised in plain clothing and humility, yet remaining in every aspect a king. “I want to follow Jesus,” she said. She has since become a bold advocate for the gospel.

“You don’t know us, but we have great love in our hearts toward you,” the team leader answered, explaining their reasons for helping Syrian refugees. “That love comes from God, who has worked in our lives.”

To their amazement, she responded by removing her veil – unheard of in her conservative Muslim culture. Then the words came flooding out.

“I want to tell you what happened to me yesterday,” she said, her voice trembling with emotion. “As I was sleeping during the night, someone knocked on my door. I was so scared, but I opened the window to see who it was. No one was there. After a while, I heard the same knocking. My heart was beating so fast, so I went and sat beside the door, and I fell asleep there.

“As I was sleeping, someone put His hand on my shoulder. He said, ‘You don’t know Me. You have passed through a great pain. I experienced a great pain, also. But I will not leave you alone. Tomorrow I will send you someone who will tell you about Me. Listen to him.’”

When she finished the story, she began to weep. She turned to the team leader and said, “Tell me about this person that I saw in my dream.”

Through his own tears, the leader told her about Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the friend of widows, orphans and outcasts. “This Book that I’m going to give you will explain to you about God’s love,” he promised, giving her a Bible along with additional aid to help her and her children survive the mourning period.

The widow later returned to Syria. No one knows for sure what has become of her. But God knows.

‘Dead or alive?’

Sami*, the Lebanese Christian pastor who told the widow about Jesus, has had similar experiences with other Muslims. He and several Christian partners have been reaching out to Muslim villages in Lebanon with the simple gospel message. They expanded their outreach to Syrian Muslims when refugees started streaming across the border last year.

“When we started to serve among those villages and communities, I had a doubt in my heart,” Sami admits. “Will it work? Are we going to experience what we hear from different parts of the Middle East and the world about Muslims coming to know Jesus as Savior and Lord? It was a challenge, a discovery process for me personally and for many with us in the ministry. But as we have shared the gospel faithfully, the Lord is showing us signs of people who are opening up, asking questions and opening the door for us to reach a wider community.

“We started a couple of house groups in different areas with Lebanese and Syrian Muslims, and we are discipling those people. Some of them have come to know Christ. Others are discovering who Jesus is. They are showing signs of changing in their lives.”

A Muslim community leader the Christians befriended last year helped them gain entrance to the homes of many Muslims – Lebanese and Syrian. During those visits, he heard the gospel message of God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ perhaps 100 times.

Arabic-language Bibles and Christian books occupy a place of honor on the bookshelf of an influential Muslim community leader among Syrian refugees. Another Muslim leader befriended by Christians as they deliver relief aid has helped them gain entrance to many Muslim homes. At the beginning of one such visit, he walked up to a refugee family, pointed at them and said, “Are you dead or alive?” He pointed at the Christians and declared, “These people have a Book, and it’s going to tell you how to find life. You need to read it!”

At the beginning of one such visit, the Muslim leader walked up to a refugee family, pointed at them and said, “Are you dead or alive?”

The family was taken aback; so were the Christians. He repeated his question: “Are you dead or alive?” Then he pointed at the Christians and declared, “These people have a Book, and it’s going to tell you how to find life. You need to read it!”

“This is a Muslim guy who probably has never read the New Testament himself,” marvels Christian worker David James*, who participated in the visit. “But he’s opening doors for us now because he saw something different in us as he heard the things that we were sharing.”

In another village, the relief team made a repeat visit to the home of an influential Syrian Muslim. He knows many other needy families, so they brought a large supply of food for distribution.

“We don’t need your boxes of food,” the Syrian leader said. “What we need is somebody to come and teach us how to walk in the way of Jesus and how we can forgive one another. We don’t know how to live with each other.” The Christians were happy to oblige.

‘I want to follow Jesus’

Perhaps the boldest new evangelist in Lebanon, however, is an older Syrian woman whose home has become a center for teaching truth.

Sami met Noora* at the end of a long, exhausting day of aid deliveries to refugees. He was ready to go home, but his guide insisted on one more stop to a particularly needy group of families. Reluctantly, he agreed. They distributed food portions and New Testaments along with a simple gospel presentation.

Noora, one of the Syrian Muslim women in the home, started asking questions about baptism. As it turned out, she already was reading the New Testament. She had plenty of other questions about Jesus: How do you address Him? How does He differ from the other prophets?

“We read Matthew, the first chapters, about Jesus’ incarnation and that He is Immanuel,” Sami recounts. “Immanuel means ‘God with us.’”

“I don’t understand,” Noora replied.

Sami explained the concept of a king visiting his people disguised in plain clothing and humility, yet remaining in every aspect a king. He told her about Jesus’ sinless life compared to the other prophets, all of whom had failed God in various ways, despite their greatness.

“Who do you want to follow – Jesus or the prophets?” Simi asked.

“I want to follow Jesus,” Noora answered.

During another visit Noora suddenly declared, “The message that you shared with me changed my life. I’m a new person.” The changes in her life proved her words.

“Once we visited her and she was reading the Old Testament,” Sami recalls. “After another week, she was in the New Testament. She told us, ‘This is my third time of reading the whole Bible.’ After that we continued visiting her, encouraging her and discipling her. She said, ‘Everything you tell me, I go and I share it with others. I tell the traditional Christians that worshipping saints is not good; you have to worship God. I’m sharing with the Syrians [Muslims] about how God changed my life.’”

Recently Noora returned to Syria for a visit with family, despite the dangers. When Sami called her to make sure she was OK, she reported: “I have a group of women gathered in my house from Muslim and Christian backgrounds and I’m teaching them.

“It’s hard,” Noora acknowledged, “but God is helping me.”

*Names changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is a global correspondent for the International Mission Board. Contributions to relief ministry among Syrian refugees can be made by visiting imb.org/syrianrefugees? and designating “Syria relief” in the comment line. For updates on how God is at work through the crisis in Syria and ways to pray and help, email love4syria@pobox.com. Contributions to the spread of God’s Word among Syrians can be made by calling Faith Comes By Hearing at 1-800-545-6552 and designating a gift for the Syrian Refugees Project.)

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2/11/2013 3:05:30 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Wounded warrior learns power of forgiveness

February 11 2013 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

BEIRUT – Forgive? Don’t talk to me about forgiving. You didn’t see what they did to my father, to my brother, to my daughter. You didn’t see what my son’s body looked like when they brought him home in a box.

A lot of Syrians will declare something like that – with blood in their eyes. The Syrian civil war that began last year has turned into a fight to the death between factions determined to destroy each other. Clans want payback. Families want revenge. Some of those hatreds seep across the border into Lebanon, where the same ethnic and religious tensions exist.

But Fadi*, a Lebanese follower of Christ, has learned about the power of forgiveness. And he wants to share it with Syrians, the people he once hated.

Now a 40-year-old husband and father, Fadi suffered terrible mistreatment by his father while growing up in a traditional Christian family in Lebanon. It was so bad that he ran away at 13 to join the Lebanese military, only to suffer even more brutal abuse in the ranks. Angry and bewildered, he stopped believing in God – or anything else. He threw himself into soldiering, eventually sustaining eight serious wounds in his unit’s frequent cross-border clashes with Syrian forces. Any of the injuries could have killed him, but he survived to fight again.

Fadi (name changed) looks over a storage room filled with aid packages for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Now a joyful servant of Christ, Fadi once hated Syrians. He fought them for years as a Lebanese soldier. But God taught him to love and forgive Syrians and others who hurt him. “When the war started in Syria in 2011, I went to my pastor and told him I’m ready to serve the Syrian refugees,” Fadi says. “I was convinced that in order to love them, I needed to be available to show God’s love in a practical way.”

A fellow soldier gave him a Bible, but he tore it up in anger. As an afterthought, however, he put the pieces in the breast pocket of his battle vest. The next time he saw combat, the Bible stopped a bullet meant for his heart.

“That incident affected me a lot,” Fadi says. “The book that I refused safeguarded me from death. I started to desire to know more of Jesus. I prayed to Him, saying, ‘If You are really the God of love, then help me to love You. Let me love my father and love those who abused me so I can know that You really love me.’ In time, the love of Christ filled my heart toward those people. Since that date, I’m a new creation in Christ. I cannot forget the injuries or the pain, but they helped me discover God’s love.”

Fadi retired from the military, started a family and continued to grow in Christ. Still, he harbored deep hatred for his enemies: the Syrians. So he asked God to give him love for them, too.

“When the war started in Syria in 2011, I went to my pastor and told him I’m ready to serve the Syrian refugees,” Fadi recounts. “I was convinced that in order to love them, I needed to be available to show God’s love in a practical way.”

In typical Fadi fashion, he put his life on the line to do it – visiting border villages under threat by Syrian forces.

“Many times, as we were serving the Syrian refugees on the borders, we were facing a direct attack from the Syrian army,” he says. “I was trained because of my years of experience in the army not to be afraid of those attacks. One time we were visiting a family in a village divided from Syria by a riverbank. As we were there, this village started to be attacked randomly by the Syrian army – bombs and gunshots. We saw dozens of women and children escaping from the border areas toward us, asking for refuge. We needed to leave the area as soon as possible. But at the same time, I had the feeling that I’m like any one of them and that I cannot leave them. So we remained in that village until the attacks stopped.”

Once he encountered a unit of Syrian soldiers after visiting a family living just across the border. He greeted the soldiers, convinced he would be shot at any moment. But they let him go on his way. “I never did that again, because God gave us wisdom on where to go and how to do things,” he says with a grin.

Another time he aided a Syrian family crossing a river into Lebanon. “Why are you risking your life to serve us?” the mother in the family asked.

“I shared the love of God in my life,” Fadi says. “She told me that many times she had refused to accept a New Testament from her Syrian Christian friend. But she said, ‘As you have told me about the love of Christ, I promise you I’m going to read the New Testament. I want to know more about that love.’

“I don’t know the reasons behind all that’s happening in Syria,” Fadi says. “But I know that God’s reason is to share His message, His Word, with those people. I love to serve them.”

Last year Fadi and a few co-workers visited a Syrian Muslim friend in Lebanon. It was the day before Eid al-Adha, the Islamic festival that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God. (Muslims believe Abraham took Ishmael, rather than Isaac, to Mount Moriah to be sacrificed.) Hundreds of sheep slaughtered for the observance hung in shop windows and on street corners as Muslim families prepared for the holiday.

Fadi’s Muslim friend, Abu Khaled*, fled his town in Syria last year after 20 days of shelling by Syrian forces. He hid with his family in the sewers, then walked 50 miles to reach Lebanon. He hasn’t seen his oldest son, captured in Syria, in more than a year. The son might be dead. But Abu Khaled, an influential older man who has become a leader among Syrian refugees, doesn’t want revenge. He wants reconciliation.

“If we decide not to forgive, the cycle of death will continue,” he said, rubbing his gray patch of beard. “But someone needs to sacrifice.”

With his permission, the Christian visitors told the full story from the Bible of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son – and God’s intervention to supply an animal as a substitute. Then they talked about Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God who became a sacrifice for all. Abu Khaled listened carefully. The conversations will continue.

As they prepared to leave, Fadi embraced Abu Khaled.

“He is my brother,” Fadi said.

*Names changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is a global correspondent for the International Mission Board. Contributions to relief ministry among Syrian refugees can be made by visiting imb.org/syrianrefugees? and designating “Syria relief” in the comment line. For updates on how God is at work through the crisis in Syria and ways to pray and help, email love4syria@pobox.com. Contributions to the spread of God’s Word among Syrians can be made by calling Faith Comes By Hearing at 1-800-545-6552 and designating a gift for the Syrian Refugees Project.)
2/11/2013 2:52:15 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

TRUSTEES: 1.9% increase in offering reflects heart for missions

February 8 2013 by Adam Miller, Baptist Press

SAN DIEGO – North American Mission Board (NAMB) President Kevin Ezell expressed gratitude to Southern Baptists whose giving to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering increased 1.9 percent in 2012.

The gain, Ezell said during NAMB trustees’ Feb. 5-6 meeting in San Diego, will translate into greater effectiveness in reaching North America for Christ.

The offering totaled $57.2 million in 2012 – the second year in a row for an increase.

“It’s a humbling thing every day that we get to do what we do because of the sacrificial giving of Southern Baptists,” Ezell said. “Their heart for missions is unmatched.”

Trustees approved Gary Frost as vice president of NAMB’s Midwest Region and of prayer and spiritual awakening initiatives. Frost, who pastors Evergreen Baptist Church in New York City, is a former NAMB vice president. (See story). Steve Davis, who previously served as Midwest Region vice president, now serves as vice president of NAMB’s South Region.

Photo by John Swain

Victor Schloss, pastor of The Body Church in Spring Valley, Calif., describes his ministry to North American Mission Board trustees in conjunction with their Feb. 5-6 meeting in San Diego.

The trustee meeting took place in San Diego to spend time with NAMB church planting missionaries and see their work firsthand during a tour the day before their business sessions. San Diego is one of 30 cities in NAMB’s Send North America strategy to connect established churches with church plants.

Steve Bass, NAMB’s West Region vice president, told trustees how important their visit was to church planters and to Southern Baptists.

“These planters will not soon forget,” Bass said at the outset of the visit. “I think you’re going to find out that you have some God-called and very sharp church planters who are proud to be a part of the Southern Baptist family.”

Church planter Ben Pilgreen of Epic Church shared a devotion from Ecclesiastes. Epic Church, although only two years old and located in the heart of San Francisco, gave more than $40,000 to missions in 2012. Epic is already on track to give more than $67,000 in 2013.

Also during the meeting:

  • Trustees approved Al Gilbert as vice president of evangelism. He will continue to serve as executive director of LoveLoud, NAMB’s ministry evangelism initiative. Gilbert reported on NAMB’s Hurricane Sandy disaster relief activities as well as preparations for Crossover 2013, which will take place in Houston leading up to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in June.
  • Carlos Ferrer, NAMB’s chief financial officer and vice president of mission support, reported to trustees that NAMB is in the “strongest position financially” as it has been in his 20 years of service.
  • Trustees heard a report from NAMB’s chaplaincy group, which noted that Southern Baptist chaplain ministry resulted in 97,200 gospel presentations in the last quarter of 2012, along with 22,047 professions of faith and 4,413 baptisms. All three categories saw gains over the previous year.

Ezell, in his address to trustees, again sounded a call for 15,000 new churches in the next 10 years so that Southern Baptists can begin to make gains on the SBC church-to-population deficit that developed over the last century. Ezell also noted that NAMB is partnering with state Baptist conventions to help revitalize churches that are plateaued, declining or near death.

If 15,000 churches are to be started in the next decade, Ezell said thousands of new missionaries will be needed. NAMB’s missionary “Farm System” is designed to intentionally discover new missionaries, develop them for service and deploy them to the field.

“We’re raising a generation of young missionaries who are bold and absolutely believe in missions and absolutely believe in church planting. They are intent on penetrating lostness,” Ezell said.

Concluding his remarks, Ezell challenged trustees and all Southern Baptists to adopt NAMB’s new “10:2” prayer thrust based on Luke 10:2. At 10:02 (a.m. or p.m.) each day, Ezell asked that Southern Baptists pray to the Lord of the harvest to send more workers into the field.

“We’re in desperate need and these are desperate times,” Ezell he said. “God has allowed us to focus and we need to make the most of it.” He then led trustees in prayer for current missionaries and the future missionaries God will be raising up for the North American mission field.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)

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Gary Frost to lead NAMB Midwest Region

2/8/2013 1:58:27 PM by Adam Miller, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Gary Frost to lead NAMB Midwest Region

February 8 2013 by Joe Conway, Baptist Press

SAN DIEGO – North American Mission Board (NAMB) trustees approved the appointment of Gary Frost as the board’s new Midwest Region vice president during their Feb. 6 meeting in San Diego. Frost is returning to NAMB’s staff from New York where he has been a pastor and leader of a local association of Southern Baptist churches.

“Gary is humble and a servant,” NAMB President Kevin Ezell said of Frost. “Anyone who knows him knows he has a huge heart for people. I believe God has him specifically in mind for this important task.”

Frost, an Ohio native, said he is “deeply humbled by such an opportunity to minister in the midst of SBC life.”

“I’ve been privileged to be part of NAMB’s partnership to penetrate the darkness in New York City. I believe we’ve made a difference. There is still much work to be done, but there is more light in the city now as a result of Southern Baptists’ faithfulness in church planting,” Frost said.

Photo by John Swain

North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell congratulates Gary Frost, NAMB’s new vice president for the Midwest Region. Frost also will lead prayer initiatives for the mission board.

In meeting with Ezell, Frost said he “felt a kindred spirit with Kevin and was impressed by his love for the lost and his passion for seeing people come to faith in Christ.”

Frost served as NAMB’s vice president of the strategic partnerships group from 2001-04.

Frost’s move is something of a dual homecoming. Frost spent 18 years as pastor of Rising Star Baptist Church in Youngstown, Ohio. He plans to locate near Cleveland for his new role in spearheading efforts in the Midwest to start new churches and mobilize existing churches to become involved in church planting.

“I will miss the people of Evergreen Baptist Church and pastoring there,” Frost said of the New York congregation he has led. “I am in love with these people and leaving them will be a painful process. I’m also privileged to have become integrated into the evangelical network in New York City. I have built some tremendous relationships with people and churches. I hope those relationships continue in my new role with a new perspective.

“I love the Midwest and I came from Ohio, so we are excited about the move. And people in Cleveland face many of the same issues we face in New York. I hope I will be able to draw on those experiences and apply them to reaching new people and helping plant new churches in the Midwest.”

In addition to his vice presidential role, Frost will provide leadership for NAMB’s prayer initiatives, including a new one called “10:2.” Based on Luke 10:2, the emphasis asks Southern Baptists to pray daily at 10:02 a.m. or p.m. for North American missionaries, asking God to send additional harvesters to the field.

“I have a passion to see a spiritual awakening in North America,” Frost said. “I believe such an extraordinary movement will occur when we are empowered by God’s Spirit to strengthen and plant Christ-exalting, disciple-making churches.”

While in New York, Frost has been actively involved as a board member of Concerts of Prayer Greater New York and the 2004 Billy Graham Crusade. He currently serves as president of Concerts. As a co-founder of The Hope Consortium, Frost has been mentoring at Rikers Island Corrections where he has developed an Urban Eagle Mentoring Initiative targeting young men ages 16 through 21.

Frost and his wife, Lynett,e have been married for 36 years.

Steve Davis, who had previously served as NAMB’s Midwest Region vice president, now serves as vice president of NAMB’s South Region.

(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.)

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2/8/2013 1:45:52 PM by Joe Conway, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

At Super Bowl, BR’s Gabriel chats with NFL royalty, Blind Side’s Oher

February 7 2013 by BR Staff

Rubbing shoulders with professional athletes and various sports figures has been part of life for Roman Gabriel III, the president of Sold Out Ministries and radio host. For the Biblical Recorder, Gabriel has interviewed a variety of personalities – from the NFL’s Tony Dungy to NASCAR’s Blake Koch. Each of his interviews focus on faith, family and how athletes use their sports platform to share Jesus and present a positive message to others. For the past 19 years Gabriel, who is the son of a former NFL star quarterback, – and a former pro QB himself – has covered Super Bowl week for both secular and faith-based media outlets. This year, the Biblical Recorder – along with American Family Radio and a few other supporters – partnered with Gabriel while he was in New Orleans for seven interview packed days. For this article, we turned the tables on Gabriel, who usually asks the questions. Gabriel shares his take on the week, the players and why the Super Bowl is similar to an annual Baptist meeting. Below are excerpts from the interview, which was edited for clarity, brevity and length.
Q: For those of us who have never been to the Super Bowl, give us a glimpse of what it’s like through your eyes. How did it go?
A: For me, I measure the week on our impact for the Lord. It went great. You have two teams – the Ravens and the 49ers. There were so many story lines. And many of those story lines were faith and family based. So that’s right up our team’s alley.

It is a spectacular thing. Sometimes you have a tendency to take it for granted if you’ve been there. But I can remember the first year I was there. If you’ve ever taken your kids to Disney Land or Disney World for the first time … [and] they’ve only seen Mickey Mouse on TV …  it’s that kind of excitement when you go the first time. When you’ve grown up with football since you were one-year-old like me, and you knew players that have played from my Dad’s era and then I played in 80s era, … you’re absolutely blown away by the royalty of the NFL coming together. … It would be like going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a week and having everyone that’s ever been inducted and you being a music person. … This is like the Hall of Fame on steroids.

Special to the BR

Roman Gabriel III, left, interviews Sean Considine of the Baltimore Ravens in New Orleans.

Q: What does a typical week look like for you at the Super Bowl?
A: We come in on Monday night. We get our credentials, and we get checked in the media center. We have a team of five – myself, producer, cameraman, another onsite cameraman and then a full-time photographer. … It is kind of like the Baptist convention getting people together. [It’s] where you can see players who you played with. [It’s] where people are able to reminisce about great Super Bowls of [the] past and players that have played in the game. [It’s] where radio stations can talk to them about the game and about the things they want to talk about. It’s beautiful for us because we’re able to target guys that are faith and family oriented, that are character oriented. [We] talk to them a lot about how they use their platform for what they do.  So it really is a 24-hour, seven-day … coming-out party for the NFL. Everybody comes down to celebrate a great year in the NFL and to cap it off Sunday with a Super Bowl game.
Q: How many people did you interview while you were in New Orleans?
Probably over 100. … You can only imagine how difficult it would be to get a hold of premier NFL players through their agents throughout the year, to try to set up radio opportunities or film opportunities or Internet opportunities. I’ll get a year’s worth of material [at the Super Bowl].  … You have entertainers. You have movie actors. You have musicians. … Michael Phelps, the Olympic gold medalist, was in the locker room with the Ravens. We interviewed him. He’s friends with a lot of the Ravens because he’s from Baltimore. You’ll see a lot of movie stars there because they’ll … come in to promote movies or a book that they’ve written. … I talk to a lot of people who cover sports that are there. … Very few people know that the Super Bowl is just the end of a very long week of promotion, a long week of having the opportunity to gather and have fellowship. … The average ticket price for a game like this is about $4,000 dollars, so this is definitely a corporate event. This is not something mom and dad can bring their kids to.  It’s corporations and sports mixing for the benefit of making money. ... Our goal all week long is to get these [athletes and others] to open up about their faith, about their families and about how their career – and the career that they had – has turned into allowing them to have a platform that’s even greater today after … playing.
Q: What were some of the highlights of the week for you?
A: I had a chance to chat with [John Harbaugh, coach of the Baltimore Ravens,] for a moment. … As he was leaving [after the Super Bowl], he stopped and put his arm around me. … He said … “[I] just wanted to let you know we appreciate what you guys [in Christian media] do.” And I thought that was really special. … The other story was Michael Oher, [whose story is captured in] the movie The Blind Side. Michael plays right tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. [He] comes from a foster situation, had no parents … and of course the Tuohy’s … took him in. [They] provided that strong parental acknowledgement and encouragement to him. I just asked him,  “What would you tell other kids that are in your situation?” And he said, “… Sometimes you have to decide for yourself that you’re going to make good decisions, even if you don’t have good people around you to help you in that. I just decided that I wanted to do the right thing. And I also know that God has blessed me greatly with my foster parents, [and] to be drafted in the NFL after everything I have been through and to be sitting here.” That’s what makes football and sports such a great thing. It teaches so many biblical lessons, and for me, those were never separated. The biblical lessons and the life lessons came together for me, and that’s why sports and God fit together so well. That’s why I have to thank God for introducing me to football and sports because I met God through that and through some very caring teammates [who] loved God.
 (EDITOR’S NOTE – Roman Gabriel III hosts Sold Out Sports Saturday nights at 8 p.m. EST on American Family Radio. He is an evangelist and motivational speaker. Contact him at (910) 431-6483 or email soldoutrg3@gmail.com. His website is www.soldouttv.com.)
2/7/2013 3:30:10 PM by BR Staff | with 0 comments

Scouts, delaying vote, spark Baptist leaders’ hopefulness

February 7 2013 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

IRVING, Texas – Facing pressure from its supporters and members, the Boy Scouts (BSA) executive board announced Wednesday (Feb. 6) it is delaying a decision on lifting its prohibition of gay Scout leaders and members until May, when it will put the matter before its 1,400 voting members.

Meeting in Irving, Texas, the board was considering a proposal that would have replaced the national ban with a “local option” for local councils to determine the policy, potentially leaving a patchwork of different policies within the same city. Outside groups on both sides had criticized the proposal.

In a statement, the Scouts announced that “after careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization,” the board concluded that “due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy.”

The statement further said that the board directed its committees to engage Scout members and “listen to their perspectives and concerns.” The board will “work on a resolution on membership standards” and present it to the 1,400 voting members at the national annual meeting in May.

Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), called it “encouraging news.”

“I’m very excited to hear that the Boy Scouts have delayed their decision and that they’re going to put it before the annual meeting,” Luter told Baptist Press (BP). “I also want to thank all the believers across the country who have been praying about this situation. I just can’t help but think that the ‘prayers of the righteous availeth much’ in this situation. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the decision was delayed.”

Photo by Jerry Pierce

Boy Scouts from the Dallas area gathered near the podium at a rally on Wednesday to show their support for the traditional policy of the Scouts, which encourages them to be morally straight. The Scouts do not allow homosexuals to serve as members or leaders.

Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, also applauded the move. He had appeared on CNN Wednesday morning – prior to the Scouts’ announcement – to defend the current Boy Scouts’ policy.

“I am delighted the Scouts have delayed their decision,” Page told BP. “While I wish they had put this to rest by voting to maintain their current policy, at least this gives all segments of the Scouting family an opportunity to express their views to the Scouting leadership. I urge all Bible-believing Christians to continue to pray that the Boy Scouts will hold fast to the biblical principles of morality and righteousness when they revisit this issue in May.”

Simultaneous to the vote at an Irving, Texas, hotel, a prayer vigil and rally sponsored by Texas Values, an Austin-based conservative group, was being held outside the Scouts’ national headquarters in Irving, drawing several hundred people, including Boy Scouts, who were protesting the proposed change.

Chip Turner, chairman of the Boy Scouts’ Religious Relations Committee, said Wednesday he was pleased with the decision as it reflects a resolution passed by committees representing all 109,000 Boy Scout troops in America. Turner said there was only one dissenting vote as the resolution passed through three committees Monday on its way to the executive board prior to Wednesday’s meeting. The resolution asked the executive board to table a vote on the matter pending further discussion.

WORLD Magazine reported that after the Boy Scouts of Canada lifted its ban on homosexual leaders in 1999, membership dropped by half over the next five years, from about 300,000 to about 150,000.

The Boy Scouts have lost at least three corporate sponsors in recent months because of their current policy: UPS, Intel and the Merck Foundation. All cited the Scouts’ policy on homosexual leaders in their decisions. Also, two prominent Boy Scouts board members – AT&T CEO Randall Stevenson and Ernst & Young CEO James Turley – also had said the Scouts should change their policy.

But the Boy Scouts’ base remains traditional, with around 70 percent of all Scouting units owned and operated by faith-based organizations. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) leads all religious organizations with 38,000 units and 420,000 participating youth, followed by the United Methodists (11,000 units; 371,000 youth) and the Roman Catholic Church (8,570; 283,000). Baptists are sixth (4,100; 109,000).

Photo by Jerry Pierce

Pastor Alvin Fuller of Dallas leads in prayer to close a prayer vigil and rally to encourage the Boy Scouts’ leadership to oppose changes to the BSA’s policy of allowing homosexual Scouts and troop leaders. The rally drew several hundred people to the BSA headquarters in Irving, Texas on Wednesday. During the rally, word came that BSA leaders voted to delay a decision until May to offer more consideration of the issues involved in changing the policy.

When the Boy Scouts board members arrived for their meeting Monday (Feb. 4), they were greeted with a half-page USA Today ad which was signed by some of the nation’s leading pro-family groups and urged the Scouts to “Show courage” and “Stand firm for timeless values” by upholding the current policy. Organizations signing the ad were the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, Bott Radio Network, American Family Association and Concerned Women for America. More than 40 national and state pro-family organizations signed it.

The board was considering the proposal a mere six months after it concluded a two-year review by upholding the current policy. The Scouts released a statement then that said, “The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their rights to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting.”

In his appearance on CNN, Page said churches “would and could” fill the gap in lost corporate financial support if the Scouts upheld the policy.

“[The Scouts] have not given the churches an opportunity to step up to the plate and support more,” Page said. “This was all a surprise to us.”

Page spoke in an interview opposite Matthew Breen, editor-in-chief of the gay publication The Advocate, in a five-minute interview moderated by CNN’s Carol Costello.

Breen accused religious groups of discrimination, saying that “nothing is less American.” However, Page said the issue is discrimination against biblical morality.

“This is about discrimination,” Page said. “It is about intolerance toward a private group who holds to biblical morality, which does reveal righteousness and unrighteousness. It’s about a systemic attempt to hurt, to change a private organization that holds to certain beliefs. That’s what this is about. It is about discrimination and intolerance toward those who hold a biblical morality. And it’s a sad day when we, they cannot express their beliefs and hold to them.”

Page said the church community was given one or two weeks’ notice that the Boy Scouts were considering a vote to reverse their policy that limits participation to those who meet certain moral standards, while the corporate community was notified far in advance.

At one point, CNN’s Costello asked Page, “What about love thy neighbor? ... Do you love your gay neighbor?”

Page replied, “Absolutely. I have gay family members, Carol. And I believe in loving them, but part of love is to tell people the truth. If you don’t tell the people the truth, it is the worst form of love.”

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, penned a letter to the Boy Scouts Jan. 31, asserting that changing the current policy defies common sense.

“[W]ith the admission of homosexual Scout leaders, the BSA would place men, who by their own definition are sexually attracted to men, in close, supervisory proximity to teenage boys, which invites real human tragedies. We are not saying homosexuals are pedophiles,” Land wrote. “However, how many parents would send their teenage daughters on camping trips with heterosexual male troop leaders? They would not – not because they believe that such heterosexual men are pedophiles, but because they realize that under such close, supervisory care of men who by definition are attracted to women, human tragedies could, and inevitably would, occur.”

(  EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. With reporting by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press staff writer, and Jerry Pierce, managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)
2/7/2013 3:15:37 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Kazakh authorities raid Baptists, fine pastors

February 7 2013 by Baptist Press

OSLO, Norway – Police and other officials in Kazakhstan raided at least eight different worship meetings in January, including three Baptist congregations.

Forum 18, a Norway-based religious freedom monitor, reported that three Council of Churches Baptist pastors were fined two months’ average wages for leading meetings.

The North Kazakhstan Regional Police announced the raids on the three Council of Churches Baptist congregations in a joint operation with the the government’s Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA), according to Forum 18. The police statement said the raids targeted “illegal missionary activity” and “illegal migration” and that special focus was given to “places where religious books are traded.”

Forum 18 reported that operations against unapproved religious literature have taken place elsewhere in Kazakhstan, and that seven people have been fined since August 2012 for “illegal missionary activity.” All religious activity and literature in Kazakhstan must be approved by the state, and congregations that are either unwilling or unable to register face raids and fines. The Council of Churches Baptist refuses to register with any government, Forum 18 says, and its members have a policy of not paying fines imposed on their religious activity, as they believe such fines are unwarranted.

Two of the raids on Council of Churches Baptist congregations, at Petropavyl and Taiynsha on Jan. 20, followed similar patterns, according to Forum 18. Police entered the rooms regardless of permission and filmed the people at the services. Two congregational leaders, Aleksandr Pukhov in Petropavyl and Aleksandr Kerker in Taiynsha, were each fined for leading unregistered religious organizations. Both refuse to pay.

When contacted, police in both cases denied they raided the congregations.

“We didn’t raid them,” Major Kanat Amrin, head of North Kazakhstan Regional Police’s Department for the Struggle against Extremism, Separatism and Terrorism, told Forum 18. “We have a religion law, which requires all religious activity to be registered. No one has the right to break the law.”

Another Council of Churches Baptist congregation was raided Jan 20 in the village of Kishkenekol, Forum 18 reported. This time, police stopped filming at the request of church leader Roman Pugachev and waited until the service ended to question those present. Pugachev was fined but refuses to pay and will instead launch an appeal.

Five other congregations – three Jehovah’s Witness and two Protestant – also were raided by Kazakh authorities. Illustrating the government’s hostility to religious freedom, Major Kanat Rakhmetzhanov, head of Sarykol District Police, responded to a question from Forum 18 about whether police would have raided a home where people were drinking, reading poetry or watching TV.

“It is not against the law to gather to watch football, read poetry or drink vodka,” Rakhmetzhanov said. “But our lads wouldn’t have gone to such a meeting for no reason. We had reliable information that prayers were being said.”

Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country just south of Russia, guarantees religious freedom in its constitution, but its laws narrow that freedom. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report, the chief problems for religious minorities (including evangelical Christians) are prosecution by government officials for conducting unregistered religious activities.

The report noted that while all religious groups must register with the government, some minority religious groups reported long delays in their applications being processed. The government usually claimed the groups’ charters did not meet the requirements or had to be referred for expert theological review.

(  EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by John Evans, a writer in Houston.)
2/7/2013 3:11:34 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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