February 2017

Immigration order serves as reminder to pray

February 1 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Persecution against Christians is ranked “extreme” and “severe” in the seven countries whose residents President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on immigration has temporarily banned from entry into the U.S., based on 2017 rankings by the non-profit Open Doors USA.

Syrian refugees are among those blocked indefinitely from entering the United States under a Jan. 27 executive order from U.S. President Donald Trump. Upon the release of the Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List earlier this month, Christians were encouraged to remember nations like Syria in prayer.

Six of the countries – Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen – are ranked in the top 10 nations where persecution of Christians is highest, with Libya ranked 11th, according to Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List.
Upon the release of the list on Jan. 11, Open Doors encouraged Christians to remember these nations in prayer.
In addition to the 90-day travel ban on the seven countries, President Trump has suspended for 120 days the entry of all refugees, regardless of their home country, and from Syria indefinitely. As many as 20,000 refugees tracked in statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) might have been resettled to the United States during the refugee suspension timeframe, the UNHCR said in a Jan. 30 press release.
Among other stipulations, Trump said in his Jan. 27 order, “I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP (U.S. Refugee Admissions Program) to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.”
The UNHCR described refugees it tracks from various nations as “fleeing war, persecution, oppression and terrorism,” including “people needing urgent medical assistance, survivors of torture and women and girls at risk.”
Among the seven countries covered under the travel ban, Somalia leads in persecution of Christians, ranked second only to North Korea by Open Doors. Rankings of others banned by the presidential order are Sudan, 5; Syria, 6; Iraq, 7; Iran, 8; Yemen, 9; and Libya, 11. Persecution against Christians in the top 10 is described as “extreme,” with persecution in Libya and other countries in the remaining top 30 ranked as “severe.”
In addition to North Korea, other countries in the World Watch List’s top 10 are not included in the ban, namely third-ranked Afghanistan, fourth-ranked Pakistan, and 10th-ranked Eritrea. While Trump’s executive order does not list the countries by name, the order references the countries as those listed in section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Pray for Somalia

Somalia’s population of 11.4 million includes only a few hundred Christians, Open Doors reported, and described Christians as having “no voice” in the society hostile to democracy.
“Islam was already firmly established in Somalia before the arrival of Christianity, and as a result, life for believers is defined by hostility,” Open Doors reported. “The mere suspicion of one’s having renounced Islam leads to a rushed public execution.”
Open Doors urges prayer for Christians there who risk martyrdom if their Christianity is discovered. Pray that God would give them boldness, a sense of His presence and wisdom and discernment in sharing the gospel.

Pray for Sudan

Sudan’s population of 42.2 million includes 2 million Christians who are subject to Islamic oppression and dictatorial paranoia under the presidency of Omar al-Bashir, Open Doors said.
“The ethnic-cultural landscape is complicated and divisive: Arab versus Ethnic Africans, Muslims versus Christians,” Open Doors said. “Historically, Islam is deeply embedded in Sudan’s society and the government is strictly implementing a one-religion, one-culture and one-language policy, which results in the persecution of Christians. Arrests, attacks and murders plague all Christian communities in the country, particularly those living in the Nuba mountain region.”
In addition to prayers for the safety of Christians there, Open Doors encourages Christians to pray that the hearts of Sudanese leaders would be radically changed by the gospel.

Pray for Syria

Syria’s population of 18.9 million is estimated to include nearly 800,000 Christians, although the population is changing in the midst of civil war.
“The geographical concentration of remaining Christians in strategic areas is an important factor in their vulnerability to attack, as is their alleged support for the government” of President Bashar al-Assad, Open Doors said. “Most churches are in ruins, yet some Christians make a deliberate choice to stay and reach out to their fellow countrymen with the gospel.”
Pray that Christians who remain in the country would be strong witnesses of Christ’s love to fellow Syrians, Open Doors urged, and that “the justice of Christ” would draw oppressed Syrians to Himself.

Pray for Iraq

Iraq’s population of 38.65 million includes 230,000 Christians in the parliamentary democracy led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
“The overall persecution situation in Iraq is characterized by impunity, the threat of attacks and second class treatment by the authorities,” Open Doors reported. “Historical Christian communities and Protestant Christian communities are seriously affected by persecution, especially from radical Islamic movements, authorities and non-Christian leaders.”
Open Doors asks Christians to pray that Christianity would spread in Iraq and for the wellbeing of internally and externally displaced Christians attempting to rebuild their lives, Open Doors recommended.

Pray for Iran

At 800,000, Christians comprise nearly a 10th of Iran’s population of 80.9 million.
“Christianity is considered a Western influence and a threat to the Islamic identity of the Republic,” Open Doors said. “Converts to Christianity from Islam make up the largest group of Christians and experience the most persecution. Other Protestant Christian communities who evangelize Muslims are the second most persecuted group.”
Also mistreated are expatriate or migrant Christians from Asia and the West, and Armenian and Assyrian Christians, although the two latter ethnicities are technically protected by law.
Prayer is urged for the safety of Christians persecuted daily by their own families, for imprisoned Christians to have genuine love for their guards and fellow inmates and that persecuted Christians would be bold enough to share the gospel with other persecuted minorities.

Pray for Yemen

A few thousand Christians are estimated among Yemen’s 28.1 million people. While war has forced most Christians to leave, reports show that more Muslims are turning to Christ in Yemen than ever before, Open Doors said.
Suffering political turmoil and violence since 2012, Yemen is facing a dire humanitarian crisis with 80 percent of the population in need of humanitarian assistance, and more than half of the population described as “food insecure.” Ostracized, Christians suffer the greatest risk of hunger.
Open Doors encourages Christians to pray that secret gatherings of Christian converts from Islam would glorify God. Open Doors encourages prayer for Christians to be able to minister to fellow malnourished Yemenis.

Pray for Libya

Libya has suffered anarchy since 2011 when Muammar Gadaffi’s regime was toppled. Various militant groups control different parts of the country that is home to only 20,000 Christians among 6.4 million people.
Expatriate Christians and converts from Islam experience extreme pressure and high levels of violence, Open Doors said.
Christians are encouraged to pray that persecuted Libyan Christians would remain steadfast in faith as God comforts them and equips them for ministry.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

2/1/2017 9:10:59 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Pro-life tsunami floods state legislatures

February 1 2017 by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service

Pro-life leaders say a nationwide surge in optimism is driving the wave of pro-life bills already introduced in the first few weeks of this year’s state legislative sessions.
The nearly 50 new bills include bans on dismemberment abortions and any procedure after 20 weeks gestation, fetal burial requirements, and bills that would defund Planned Parenthood.
“With the election of a pro-life president, with all of the gains that we made across the different states with last year’s election, I think we are very optimistic in passing laws that protect the unborn baby and their moms,” National Right to Life Committee’s Ingrid Duran told WORLD News Service (WNS).
Last year, lawmakers approved 60 new pro-life laws across the country, and leaders expect more of the same focus this year, simply with more energy.
Eric Scheidler, director of Pro-Life Action League, told WNS the surge of pro-life bills is a reaction to years of “elitist cultural bullying.” He pointed to President Donald Trump’s choice of pro-life advisers: Vice President Mike Pence, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, and Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions.
“It isn’t the person of Trump, but it’s the whole phenomenon and all the people around him and the people he’s appointed. That’s really what’s driving this optimism,” Scheidler said.
So far this year, legislators in Iowa, Virginia, New Jersey and Florida have introduced 20-week abortion bans. Lawmakers in four states – Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, and Rhode Island – have filed bills that would ban dismemberment abortions. And the Kentucky and Iowa legislatures will consider bills to defund abortion giant Planned Parenthood.
Laws restricting abortion already have momentum: The pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute reported last year that 288 bills – more than one-fourth of all pro-life laws passed since 1973 – came after 2010.
“That’s when Obamacare was rammed through so cynically,” Scheidler said. “A lot of reason behind the pro-life laws was an attempt to reign in some of the pro-abortion measures of Obamacare.”
Until 2015, most pro-life measures addressed medication abortion, private insurance mandates and parental involvement. Coinciding with the release of undercover videos revealing Planned Parenthood’s involvement in the fetal tissue trade, lawmakers began focusing on abortion facility regulations and the humanity of the unborn child.
Some states have only one or two pro-life bills introduced so far this year, while others have a whole stack. In Missouri, lawmakers filed dozens of bills targeting abortion, 22 for which Missouri Right to Life expresses support. The pro-life bills include a ban on abortions due to an unborn baby’s sex, race or a diagnosis of Down syndrome; five bills addressing the sale or donation of aborted baby body parts; and a bill that would extend greater protections to embryos conceived through in-vitro fertilization.
In Iowa, where the most recent pro-life law (a parental notification bill) passed in 1996, state senators have introduced half a dozen pro-life measures. They include a bill that would classify unborn babies weighing at least 350 grams (0.77 pounds) as a “person,” and a bill that would make dealing in baby body parts a felony.
After they reclaimed the Senate in November, Iowa Republicans now have a trifecta – holding the state House, Senate and governor’s seat for the first time in 20 years. Iowa Right to Life director Jennifer Bowen said the future looks bright for pro-lifers in her state. Iowa is “radically behind” other states in pro-life laws, she said, adding lawmakers now have a chance to close the gap.
“Planned Parenthood lost. Completely lost,” Bowen said. “I don’t think the reality has sunk in yet, that voters responded very, very strongly in Iowa. … In the short term, we’re seeing a lot of loud, histrionic hysteria that is quite distracting, but at the end of the day they have to realize at some point that this abortion-on-demand and without apology is not where Iowa wants to go.”
Some pro-life bills may be too aggressive to survive a court challenge. Those most likely to succeed will mirror measures passed last year that avoided court interference, Denise Burke  with Americans United for Life told me.
“When we’ve got this great opportunity, we’re going to pass the tried and true, things that we know are constitutional and effective,” she said.
Aggressive measures include an Idaho bill to classify abortion as murder, a Texas bill removing abortionists’ medical licenses, and an Indiana bill that defines human life as beginning at conception, which would make abortion illegal.
But even if they can’t survive a gubernatorial veto or a court challenge, Scheidler said aggressive pro-life bills can be “a good teaching tool” for the pro-life movement: “It allows us to talk about how the healing art should be used for healing and not killing.”
So much pro-life momentum is especially remarkable after last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, which struck down a Texas law requiring abortion centers to meet ambulatory surgical center standards and abortionists to have hospital admitting privileges.
Pro-lifers at first feared the decision would have broad implications for regulating the abortion industry, but the focus changed in November.
“I think there’s increasing confidence among many pro-life allies and legislators that Hellerstedt may have a limited shelf life with the potential new Supreme Court,” Burke said. “So we’re seeing a lot of what we’ve seen in the last couple of years, but just with renewed vigor and enthusiasm.”
But not all states got a green light in November to push through pro-life bills. Oregon Right to Life director Gayle Atteberry told me state leaders “laid down the gauntlet” and pledged to fight the Trump administration’s pro-life agenda in the state.
Oregon Right to Life is promoting a few pro-life bills, including one that would ban late-term, sex-selective abortions. It’s also fighting a bill that would mandate insurance coverage for contraception and abortions and notification for religious organization employees that their contraception and abortions won’t be covered. Despite strong opposition to the pro-life cause, Atteberry remains optimistic: “God is working here, and we’re not going anywhere.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE Samantha Gobba writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

2/1/2017 9:10:06 AM by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Boy Scouts’ transgender policy ‘sad,’ ‘predicted’

February 1 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Boy Scouts’ decision to include girls who identify as boys in their programs is a tragic but predictable step, said conservative Christian leaders.

“Tragically, the Boy Scouts seem to be continuing their trajectory toward embracing the moral priorities of the Sexual Revolution,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Many of us predicted that earlier decisions by the organization were the beginning of an organizational reinvention and hoped we were wrong. Those fears have now been justified.
“The church must be absolutely clear about God’s good and beautiful design for men and women, even when our most cherished public institutions fail to do so,” Moore told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments.
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced Jan. 30 it would accept transgender members. In a written statement, the BSA said it would no longer base eligibility for its programs on a child’s birth certificate but on the gender identity designated in applying for acceptance.
“For more than 100 years, the Boy Scouts of America, along with schools, youth sports and other youth organizations, have ultimately deferred to the information on an individual’s birth certificate to determine eligibility for our single-gender programs,” the BSA said in its announcement. “However, that approach is no longer sufficient as communities and state laws are interpreting gender identity differently, and these laws vary widely from state to state.
“Starting today, we will accept and register youth in the Cub and Boy Scout programs based on the gender identity indicated on the application,” the BSA stated.
A BSA spokeswoman told BP churches and religious organizations that partner with the Boy Scouts “will continue to have the right to make decisions based on religious beliefs. Additionally, we will work with families to find local Scouting units that are the best fit for their children.”
The new policy followed two other dramatic departures in the past four years from century-old policies related to sexuality:

  • In 2013, the BSA voted to permit openly homosexual scouts.
  • In 2015, it approved the inclusion of openly gay and bisexual adults as unit leaders and employees.

The BSA protected the right of religious organizations to make decisions in accordance with their beliefs and to bar individuals living a homosexual lifestyle.
As with the other policy changes, the latest BSA action again drew dismay and opposition – and the possibility more scouts and sponsoring organizations will abandon Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and related programs for boys.
John Stemberger – chairman of the board of Trail Life USA, an alternative, Christian organization for boys that was formed in 2013 – described the latest BSA decision as “profoundly sad but inevitable.”
BSA leadership “assured its membership less than four years ago when they voted to allow openly gay boys in the program that this would never happen,” he said in a written statement. “Now untold thousands of boys in Scouting will be directly exposed to the serious psychological confusion that is characterized by those claiming to be transgender.”
Stemberger called for “great compassion for children suffering from gender dysphoria while getting them proper counseling and professional help.” The Boy Scouts, however, are “encouraging and facilitating a recognized mental disorder that has far reaching consequences to the health and safety of children.”
He also expressed concern about the “clear child protection issue” caused by boys and biological girls potentially “showering, dressing and camping in tents together.”
“It’s simply stunning that a leading youth organization which parents entrust the protection of their children with has opted to again appease political activists rather than follow clear, common-sense best practices for child protection,” said Stemberger, who also is president of the Florida Family Policy Council.
Ted Spangenberg Jr., president of the Association of Baptists for Scouting (ABS), told BP he still encourages Baptist churches to charter Boy Scout units as a means of ministry.
“The fields are clearly ‘white unto harvest,’” Spangenberg said in written comments for BP. “All Christian churches might ponder the question of ‘what are we doing to minister to families struggling with transgender issues?’
“A Baptist church which has the courage, insight and inspiration to charter a Cub Scout pack, a Boy Scout troop or a Venture crew as a method of outreach and harvest in their community – to all of its children, adolescents and youth and their families – deserves our appreciation and support,” Spangenberg said.
As Scout leaders selected by such a church – “based on that church’s standards – serve in these Scout units, they have a unique opportunity to be obedient to the Great Commission given by our Savior,” he said.
“There is no doubt in my mind that all children, adolescents and youth, particularly those who struggle with sexual orientation and gender identity – and the parents who struggle with their children in all aspects of their life – have a need for the help and hope that is available through the gospel of Jesus Christ and the ministry of congregations that are His,” Spangenberg said.
About 60 percent of the ABS membership is Southern Baptist and the rest other types of Baptists, he said.
In addition to Trail Life USA, some Southern Baptist leaders have suggested Royal Ambassadors and Challengers as alternatives to Boy Scouts. Royal Ambassadors, also known as RAs, is the Southern Baptist missions organization for boys in grades one to six, while Challengers is for young men in grades seven to 12.
In 2013, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting responded to the BSA’s decision to include openly gay scouts by adopting a resolution expressing “our continued opposition to and disappointment in the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to change its membership policy.”
Messengers to the 2014 convention approved a resolution regarding transgender identity that “affirm[ed] God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.” The resolution “regard[ed] our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn[ed] acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.”
The resolution also said, “We invite all transgender persons to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the gospel.”
The BSA reports it has nearly 2.3 million members and about 960,000 volunteers. Trail Life USA says it has 700 troops in 48 states.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

2/1/2017 9:09:33 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Sex trafficking: One click led NYC church to action

February 1 2017 by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press

It all started in a Facebook community group. It could’ve ended there but something happened that changed everything.
He recognized her face.

Nathan Creitz

“The Facebook group was a place where people in our part of town share things,” Nathan Creitz, pastor of City Life Church in Ridgewood, Queens, New York, recounted, “and somebody on there shared a link and said something like, ‘I can’t believe this is happening in our neighborhood.’”
Creitz clicked on it – and immediately wished he hadn’t.
“It was a picture of scantily clad Asian girls from a website that often advertises places that are fronts for human trafficking, places like massage parlors,” he said. “I was about to click away – except for the fact that I realized I recognized one of the girls.”
And he recognized the place – it was a massage parlor right next to the church.
“When we were giving out coats in front of the church a month or two before, as the employees of the massage parlor came, this girl was there, and it was basically was her first day on the job,” Creitz said. “She came over and got a hat and coat, and some of the people there serving with our church befriended her.”
They had no idea what was really going on, he said – but that picture told him that there were some girls in need of help, about as close as they could get to the church.
“Based on our interactions with them, there’s no doubt in my mind that these girls were not doing this stuff willingly,” he said.
Creitz had been working with Raleigh Sadler, who runs the New York City-based nonprofit Let My People Go aimed at stopping human trafficking, so he knew how to recognize the signs.
And he decided it was time to go to the police department – a place he’d already begun to build relationships.
“The Lord had just really opened some doors to have great access to the local precinct. I had become friends with the captain,” Creitz said. “And when I shared my concerns with him, he didn’t just dismiss it – he really took it very seriously.”
They began to investigate the five parlors Creitz had expressed alarm about, including the one next to the church. Three parlors were shut down; two were cleared. And when a new commander, Mark Wachter, took over the precinct, he inherited the concern and kept right on working.
“He [Wachter] gets a lot of credit for taking this seriously. We see the hand of God in this,” Creitz said, noting that his church had been praying for God to put an end to human trafficking in Queens, which is a known hotbed for exploitation.
And Wachter said he felt the prayers of the church.
“I knew the church was praying,” the precinct commander said. “Together we aggressively tackled these businesses that were hurting the community, and thank God we were able to close them all down in this area where Nathan’s church is. Slowly we let those people know that those types of businesses are not welcome here.”
And it wasn’t long before Creitz attended a community council meeting and learned a piece of information that took his breath away.
In a two-mile radius, 24 illicit parlors had been shut down.
“That form of trafficking has been virtually eliminated in the precinct,” Creitz said.
“Any other massage parlors that are open have been investigated and cleared at this point. As long as they are shutting this down, as long as there is pressure on that community, if there are fewer and fewer outlets for that to be abused and exploited, then that’s just going to dry up.”
Sadler said that’s exactly what he prays will happen.
“Our mission is to help the local church fight human trafficking by reaching those who are most vulnerable,” Sadler said of Let My People Go, which held its official kickoff at the end of January. “We want to help the church identify those people, empower them, protect them and include them in the church.”
Nearly 46 million people are exploited globally through modern-day slavery, Sadler said, adding up to a $150 billion business.
His goal? To help churches figure out how to stop it from the corner of the world where they sit.
“There are ways to inject justice and mercy into everything you are already doing ... to come up with applications for your church and small groups,” Sadler said. “We’ve seen it take on different forms in different kinds of churches and communities.”
And just like he came alongside City Life Church, he said his goal is to come alongside churches across the country, offer resources and help them strategize how to best stop trafficking together alongside police and social services in their community.
“We want to create a congregational approach that mobilizes the entire congregation to believe this is what you naturally do,” Sadler said. “It’s vital to have a gospel approach to the topic of trafficking – that way you’re actually creating a culture that says, ‘This is what we do, this is how we do it, this is what it means to be a believer – you’re loved by God and so you love others.’”
That’s what City Life Church was doing the day they gave the girl from the parlor the coat and hat – and that’s what led to Creitz’ being able to sound the alarm that led to her safety.
“It really all began as a matter of prayer – prayer and having a church that was engaged in knowing our community,” Creitz said. “If we hadn’t seen that girl, there wouldn’t have been any reason to look any further into this issue. If you’re not out there recognizing the vulnerabilities that exist, then nothing happens.”
Wachter agreed.
“If the community is concerned, we’re going to be able to work together to solve these problems,” the precinct commander said. “Nathan is a great example of that, how he’s kind of joined with the police department to try to help as many as we can as best we can. We want to make a difference. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Creitz said there is another story that needs to be told about the girl who received a coat and a woman from North Carolina who spoke to the Chinese girl in her native language. 

City Life Church partners with the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association and North Carolina Baptists in the annual Coats for the City ministry. Dudley Shoals Baptist Church in Granite Falls and Sandy Ridge Baptist Church in Hickory are two churches that have engaged in the partnership.

“We were on the sidewalk giving out hats that the ladies at Dudley Shoals made and coats that North Carolina churches gave,” Creitz recalled. 

The massage parlor’s staff arrived later that morning. One of their girls, who is Chinese, “struck up a conversation in Chinese with Debbie Smith,” he said. Smith, a member of Dudley Shoals, lived in China for two years and spoke the language. 

It was the girl’s first day on the job, and she didn’t know how to do a massage. Creitz said that sounded suspicious, but the volunteers stayed focused on helping her.

Smith was invited into the parlor where she showed the girl how to do a massage. 

“We offered to help her with English and things like that, but then we never saw her again,” Creitz said. 

“We would not have known this girl if we did not have the volunteers from North Carolina and the coats. That ministry is what helped us have that first interaction with someone at the massage parlor.” 

Dudley Shoals and Sandy Ridge has helped the Queens church with coat distribution, prayer walking, picking up trash in the neighborhood and serving through the subway outreach: giving away water bottles, fruit snacks, granola bars and gospel materials.  “We’ve had quite a few people visit our church as a result of that outreach, and some have joined our church from the subway outreach,” Creitz added.

“We try to use our partnerships to go as wide as we can in the community. We tell our mission teams, ‘You’re helping us to meet a lot of people so you help us go ‘wide’ in the neighborhood. Those of us in the church are able to go ‘deep’ with the connections that you find. We need both aspects – going wide and deep.’”

Creitz recognizes the value of partnerships with other churches. “I’m grateful for the role North Carolina Baptists have played because it really takes all of us,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for prayer and mission teams and networks, this would not happen. God gets all the glory because not any one of us can.”
For more information about Let My People Go, visit lmpgnetwork.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Story updated Jan. 4. Grace Thornton is a freelance writer in Birmingham, Ala., and author of I Don’t Wait Anymore, a 2016 release from Zondervan.)
2/1/2017 9:09:06 AM by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Houston experiencing ‘Super Week’ of outreach

February 1 2017 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

James and Barbara Guilbeau’s home has seen better days. The outside garage wall was completely rotted out, and the sheetrock in the kitchen had fallen victim to a leaking roof for nine years, thanks to Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Photo by Sarah Ellsworth
Clyde McMinn of Wylie Baptist Church in Abilene, Texas, tears off the rotted garage wall at the home of James and Barbara Guilbeau in Houston. McMinn was one of more than 50 volunteers participating in Super Week of Caring, a service-based outreach leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl.

That’s why the Guilbeaus were thankful for a team of Southern Baptist volunteers who are making numerous repairs around their house this week in Houston as part of the Super Week of Caring efforts spearheaded by Texas Baptist Men.
“Many of these individuals are uninsured, underinsured, disabled or elderly,” said Gerald Davis, the long-term recovery coordinator for Texas Baptist Men. “We target that group of individuals that usually falls through the crack.”
Davis said the group decided to partner with the city of Houston during Super Bowl week leading up to Sunday’s game between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons to take advantage of the hype and to devote themselves to service.
“At the time, we just knew the (Dallas) Cowboys would be here,” Davis said. “We envisioned ourselves caravanning from Dallas down to help our neighbor in Houston. It didn’t quite work out that way, but we’re here regardless.”
On Jan. 31, a group of seven Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers from Wylie Baptist Church in Abilene, Texas, worked on the Guilbeau house while other Texas Baptist Men volunteers did similar repairs at another house a block away in Houston’s Acres Home area.
The disaster relief team at Wylie began about five years ago.
“That’s our calling,” said Clyde McMinn, one of the volunteers from the church. “We’re not preachers, we’re not song leaders, we’re not Sunday school teachers, and we felt that our calling was to do disaster relief and help people in need who have had a disaster in their life.”
“We’re put here to serve,” said Donna Baker, another Wylie team member. “These people need help, and I can help. It’s a blessing. It makes you feel really good.”

Photo by Sarah Ellsworth
Volunteers with Texas Baptist Men replace the garage wall at the home of James and Barbara Guilbeau in Houston. The home was badly damaged by flooding in March and April of 2016.

The Guilbeaus, like many families in Houston, were victims of severe flooding in March and April of 2016 that Davis said hit nearly 2,700 single-family homes and multi-family units. Though the couple recently got a new roof, the damage done by the leaks remained. James Guilbeau is a truck driver by trade, but Barbara’s poor health has limited the amount of work he can do.
“This is giant. This is humongous,” James said of the repairs being made to his house. “It’s an absolute boost for me and my household.”
In addition to the home repair projects, Union Baptist Association (UBA) in Houston offered other events tied to the Super Bowl.
The association has scheduled a Souper Bowl of Caring offering on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 5, providing area churches an opportunity to collect a special offering to benefit the UBA Mission Centers of Houston, which seek to address hunger in the community.
The Church at Bethel’s Family will hold a tailgate party on Sunday, Feb. 5, to express appreciation for the 50-60 volunteers who are expected to take part in the Super Week of Caring ministry. Davis said the work is being done “because of our calling in Christ.”
David Bridges, a member of First Baptist Church in Houston, said he wanted to volunteer during the Super Week of Caring because he had the spiritual gift of being a servant.
“I just feel a calling to help people who have a need – people who have been caught up in things that are beyond their control,” he said.
Volunteers are completing 21 different projects this week at four different houses. Other projects in the Houston area, in partnership with the city, will be ongoing throughout the year, Davis said, and not just during Super Bowl week. He said volunteers are still needed in the months ahead to help with those projects.
For McMinn, the ministry he’s doing this week comes with great rewards.
“We feel that God gave us these talents and the time, and this is where we need to be and what we need to be doing,” McMinn said. “It’s all about these people, but sometimes we feel like we get more of a blessing than they do.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth writes for Baptist Press and is an associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.)

2/1/2017 9:08:38 AM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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