February 2017

TRUSTEES: NAMB approves Send Relief ministry hubs

February 13 2017 by Mike Ebert, NAMB

Trustees of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) meeting in Southern California heard reports from local church planters and approved the establishment of three Send Relief “ministry hubs” that will provide mercy ministry and give Southern Baptists more opportunities for hands-on missions service.

Photo by Hayley Catt, NAMB
North American Mission Board (NAMB) president Kevin Ezell shares a report with the mission entity’s trustees at their Feb. 7 meeting in Ontario, Calif. Trustees approved a plan to purchase and operate three Send Relief ministry hubs that will serve as regional centers for mercy ministry and other mission work.

Meeting Feb. 7 for their full board meeting, trustees approved a plan for NAMB to purchase existing property that will be transitioned into the ministry hubs. A Clarkston, Ga., hub will be located in Clarkston International Bible Church; in Memphis, Leawood Baptist Church will serve as a hub; and a property in Ashland, Ky., will be a hub for Appalachia ministry work. The trustee action grants NAMB the authority to move forward with the transition of these properties. Churches will still meet at the Clarkston and Memphis locations.
“These ministry hubs will serve their surrounding areas and become a destination for Southern Baptists who want to send mission teams,” NAMB Send Relief vice president David Melber told trustees. “If these go well they will become models for launching additional hubs throughout North America.”
Melber said the ministry hubs outside of Atlanta will also house equipment and supplies to be deployed in times of disaster, allowing for a quicker response for urgent needs.
The night before, NAMB trustees gathered at nearby Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention in Ontario to celebrate church planting in greater Los Angeles and throughout the West region. Planters from throughout California shared reports from their ministry and trustees gathered around each of them for prayer.
NAMB president Kevin Ezell told the planters, “The reason these people [trustees] have left their families and come to this place is to invest in NAMB and make sure you have what you need and let you know that they have your back.”
Gateway Seminary president Jeff Iorg shared the story of how the school transitioned its primary operations from the San Francisco area to Ontario and some of the ways God provided throughout that process. One example is an $850,000 unsolicited gift to be used for training church planters that come to the seminary. The gift came just a few months after Iorg announced the school’s relocation.
“In the past three years we have given 404 church planters scholarship money to go to seminary to help feed the pipeline you need to get church planters into the church planting positions you have,” Iorg told trustees.
In other trustee business:

  • NAMB controller Matt Smith reported to trustees that year-to-date budget revenue is on budget and that year-to-date expenses are running below budget.
  • Finance Committee chairman David Parks, a member of Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., reported that NAMB’s independent auditors gave NAMB a clean report for the audit they conducted for fiscal year 2015-2016.
  • Trustees approved a recommendation from the Board’s executive committee in response to a motion from the 2016 annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting asking entity trustees to review their media coverage policies. Trustees voted to maintain NAMB’s current media policy.

In his report to trustees, Ezell shared a “Pray for Planters” initiative that NAMB will be championing throughout 2017 the goal of enlisting 10,000 Southern Baptist churches to pray for church planters and other missionaries.
“It doesn’t cost a church anything to pray and we are just asking that they commit to prayer,” Ezell said. “It’s the very first step in church planting, and every church can participate.”
A website for the initiative where churches can log their prayer commitment will be launched March 1 at namb.net/pray.
Ezell shared about progress in NAMB’s continuing efforts to strengthen and build Southern Baptist church planting efforts. Church planter assessment centers are now present in 20 cities across the United States and Canada. A new church planter reporting system will track the progress of church plants in key areas and provide reports for NAMB and other funding partners. NAMB will conduct three church planter orientations this year – two for planters in Send Cities and one for planters serving outside of Send City areas.
In evangelism, Ezell shared that NAMB is continuing its Engage 24 workshops for pastors. The noon-to-noon, pastor-led events equip pastors with tools and ideas for church-wide evangelism initiatives. A new Three Circles church kit helps pastors train members how to turn conversations toward Jesus. In June NAMB is partnering with Harvest America to bring the Crossover Crusade to Phoenix on the Sunday, June 11, prior to the SBC annual meeting.
“We are excited about everything that is going on,” Ezell said in concluding his report. “What’s very exciting is that everything we have dreamed of is very, very doable. It is a God-sized task, but God has really shown up and provided everything we need. We have got to stay focused and cannot get distracted. Because this absolutely can be done.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mike Ebert serves as executive director of public relations for the North American Mission Board.)

2/13/2017 10:33:22 AM by Mike Ebert, NAMB | with 0 comments

Open letter: refugee ban ‘deeply’ concerning

February 10 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A full-page ad in the Feb. 8 Washington Post expressing concern over a portion of President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration included the signatures of at least seven Southern Baptists among a coalition of some 100 evangelicals.
Two of the signatories – former Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin – told Baptist Press their signatures reflect a specific policy disagreement and not a blanket repudiation of the president’s approach to immigration.
The ad was coordinated by the National Association of Evangelicals’ World Relief arm and phrased in the form of an open letter to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Meanwhile, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling Feb. 9 temporarily blocking the travel ban from taking effect. The lower court now will determine whether the ban is legal. The case is expected to rise to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Trump responded to the court's decision with a scathing tweet.

Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., said the open letter signed by evangelicals expresses “a disagreement with [Trump’s] decision on” the order. “But still, the headlines like to sensationalize.”
A Washington Post headline stated, “Conservative evangelicals join letter denouncing Trump’s order on refugees.” Pennsylvania’s Pennlive.com news site also used the word “denouncing.” The Huffington Post’s headline was “More than 500 evangelical leaders sign letter decrying Trump’s refugee ban,” a reference to the total number of signatories after the letter opened for others to sign online.
While the signatories stated they are “deeply concerned by the recently announced moratorium on refugee resettlement,” they also “welcome[d] the concern expressed [in the order] for religious minorities, including persecuted Christians.”
Akin said in a statement released to BP, “I respect the president and support his concern for safe and secure borders. I simply believe the policy laid out in his executive order on January 27, as it specifically pertains to our refugee resettlement program, is not the best approach.


BR photo by Seth Brown
Middle Eastern refugees take shelter at a temporary camp near a border crossing to Macedonia in Eidomeni, Greece.

“I signed the statement to stand with many of my brothers and sisters in asking this administration to consider the needs of those who are displaced and desperately hurting. I continue to pray for President Trump and Vice President Pence and am thankful to live in a country where we can petition our leaders on these types of matters,” Akin said.
Other Southern Baptists to sign the statement include William Coates, pastor of First Baptist Church in Gainesville, Ga.; Eric Costanzo, pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church in Tulsa, Okla.; Matthew Mason, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.; Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.; and Jay Wolf, pastor of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.
The open letter states, “We live in a dangerous world and affirm the crucial role of government in protecting us from harm and in setting the terms on refugee admissions. However, compassion and security can coexist, as they have for decades. For the persecuted and suffering, every day matters; every delay is a crushing blow to hope.”
It adds, “Ministries to newly arrived refugees are ready and desire to receive many thousands more people than would be allowed under the new executive order.”
The signatories stated they are “eager to welcome persecuted Christians ... vulnerable Muslims and people of other faiths or no faith at all.”
Trump’s Jan. 27 order placed a 120-day moratorium on America’s refugee admissions program, suspended travel to the U.S. for 90 days from seven Muslim-majority countries and banned Syrian immigrants indefinitely.
According to the conservative publication “National Review,” the order’s refugee admissions cap of 50,000 annually following the 120-day halt “stands roughly in between a typical year of refugee admissions in George W. Bush’s two terms and a typical year in Obama’s two terms” prior to an increase of refugee admissions in 2016.
Wright stressed that the open letter is not an overall slam of Trump.
The president’s cabinet appointments and his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court are “outstanding,” Wright said. But “on this decision, we just really feel it was a mistake and not well thought through.”
Other evangelicals to sign the open letter included pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area, pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York and author Max Lucado.
Wright said signatories with a range of political viewpoints could unite behind the open letter because “the calling to follow Jesus is not a Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative calling.” The sanctity of human life demands support of some causes often regarded as conservative, like protection of the unborn, and some causes often regarded as liberal, like care for refugees, he said.
View the ad here.
Related stories:
Danny Akin signs letter calling Trump to support refugees

2/10/2017 1:08:55 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

DeVos wins confirmation in historic vote

February 10 2017 by Evan Wilt, WORLD News Service

The Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as education secretary by the narrowest of margins on Feb. 7, marking the first time in history a vice president had to break a tied vote on a Cabinet nomination.

Screenshot of White House video
Betsy DeVos

Democrats targeted DeVos early as a Cabinet nominee they wanted to scuttle. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., labeled DeVos “the least qualified nominee in a historically unqualified cabinet” and rallied his caucus to do everything it could to block her appointment.
They held the floor through the wee hours of the morning delivering speech after speech to oppose the nomination. Their last-ditch effort followed a campaign launched by teacher unions and education groups to rally parents to jam senators’ phone lines and bombard them with email and social media messages.
Concerns about DeVos’ qualifications for the position and pressure from constituents prompted Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to break ranks with the party. But no other Republicans abandoned ship, allowing DeVos to win confirmation on a 51-50 vote, thanks to Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaker.
“Senate Dems protest to keep the failed status quo,” Trump tweeted. “Betsy DeVos is a reformer, and she is going to be a great Education Sec. for our kids!”
DeVos has spent years working to influence the education system from the private sector. As a wealthy donor to GOP politicians, DeVos has been a strong advocate for expanding charter schools and vouchers programs to give families more educational choice.
But her critics say she has little experience in the educational system and warn she will direct the Education Department to promote her agenda by redirecting federal dollars to public school alternatives – possibly leaving children in rural communities without the resources they need.
Collins and Murkowski delivered back-to-back floor speeches last week outlining those concerns and explaining why they chose to defect from the GOP conference.
“The mission of the Department of Education is broad, but supporting public education is at its core,” Collins said. “I am concerned that Mrs. DeVos’ lack of experience with public schools will make it difficult for her to fully understand, identify, and assist with those challenges, particularly for our rural schools in states like Maine.”
Murkowski and Collins both said thousands of calls from constituents helped sway their opinions. DeVos’ strongest supporters in the Senate blamed the smear campaign for causing unwarranted anxiety.
“It seems this gridlock and opposition has far less to do with the nominees actually before us than the man who nominated them,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “Enough is enough.”
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said DeVos’ passion for changing the nation’s education system stirs up apprehension. But no one should be comfortable with the current status quo, he said, and DeVos will bring much-needed change: “The real debate isn’t Betsy DeVos. The real debate is about generations of kids stuck in underperforming schools.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Evan Wilt writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

2/10/2017 10:50:57 AM by Evan Wilt, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Canadian study touts euthanasia’s cost ‘benefit’

February 10 2017 by Julie Borg, WORLD News Service

Canada legalized euthanasia in June 2016, declaring assisted suicide a humane way to end the suffering of already dying patients. Opponents warned it wouldn’t be a far jump from legalizing euthanasia to manipulating patients into believing they have an obligation to die and stop draining medical system resources.
Eight months later, researchers at the University of Calgary have released a study extolling assisted suicide’s cost benefits: “If Canadians adopt medical assistance in dying in a manner and extent similar to those of the Netherlands and Belgium, we can expect a reduction in healthcare spending in the range of tens of millions of dollars per year.”
The authors of the study denied any suggestion cost should factor into end-of life-decisions, despite the obvious connection.
“We are not suggesting medical assistance in dying as a measure to cut costs,” they wrote in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
But critics note the utilitarian view of euthanasia, that it can benefit the general public, gives society a stake in the death of vulnerable people.
“I can’t imagine anything more dangerous than that,” Wesley J. Smith, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and a consultant for the Patients Rights Council, told me.
Bioethicists already link the medical cost savings of euthanasia with organ harvesting. A recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics suggested euthanasia in Canada has the potential to provide organs for transplantation. The article even suggested it would be acceptable if the organ harvest was the cause of death, Smith noted in National Review.
In the Netherlands and Belgium, people who choose euthanasia because of disability or mental illness are being targeted as potential organ donors, Smith said. Such thinking exploits vulnerable people worried about being a burden and losing their dignity.
“This is not just a cold issue of choice, this involves deep emotions, this involves deep fear,” Smith said.
Canada’s laws legalize medical aid in dying for any seriously ill or disabled adult whose condition is incurable and who is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability. Doctors must determine no alternatives acceptable to the patient can relieve the suffering and the patient has to believe the physical or psychological suffering is intolerable. The patient’s natural death needs to be “reasonably foreseeable” but the law does not require a prognosis specifying the time period within which death is expected.
Smith isn’t certain the United States will follow the euthanasia prescription of its Northern neighbor. So far, five states have legalized physician-assisted suicide, which allows a doctor to provide the means for death, usually prescription medication, but the patient must administer it. Canada's Medical Assistance in Dying law takes physician-assisted suicide a step further and allows practitioners to administer the means of death for patients who have requested it but are physically unable to do it themselves.
“At least in the United States we still don’t know what the outcome is going to be,” Smith said. “Assisted suicide advocates are far less candid in the United States than they are elsewhere precisely because the United States is still up for grabs on this issue.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Julie Borg writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

2/10/2017 10:46:09 AM by Julie Borg, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Swedish midwife still fighting employer’s abortion mandate

February 10 2017 by Kiley Crossland, WORLD News Service

A third court in late January heard the case of a Christian Swedish midwife denied employment because of her pro-life convictions.
Despite the support of international laws granting medical professionals in Europe the right to freedom of conscience, the midwife, Ellinor Grimmark, has faced an uphill battle defending her rights.
“As a midwife, I want to exercise a profession which defends life and saves lives at all cost,” Grimmark told Catholic News Agency. “Somebody has to take the little children’s side. Somebody has to fight for their right to life.”
In 2014 Grimmark filed a religious discrimination complaint after a women’s center in Jönköping, Sweden, withdrew a job offer because she said she could not perform abortions. Two other medical clinics denied her employment on the same grounds. A court ruled in favor of the women’s center, saying the job offer was rescinded “not because of her religion, but because she was not prepared to perform duties that were part of the job description.”
Grimmark appealed the ruling, but in 2015 a district court also ruled against her, saying employers have a right to include abortion as a required job duty. The court ordered Grimmark to pay the county’s legal fees, amounting to about $109,000.
Grimmark appealed again. Last week’s three-day hearing at the Labour Court of Appeals drew a buzz of coverage because of the broad implications if the court changes course and rules in her favor.
Her critics argue the case is about women’s rights. Mia Ahlberg, president of the Swedish Association of Midwives, told the BBC the midwife does have a choice: She can choose another profession if she does not want to perform abortions.
But legal experts say Sweden is drawing a line in the sand.
“Some have attempted to frame this case as one that pits one human right against another,” said Robert Clarke, director of European advocacy for ADF International, which filed a brief in support of Grimmark. “However, the only person whose rights have been violated is Ellinor Grimmark. The fact that midwives in other countries are able to work in accordance with their consciences should be proof enough that Sweden stands without an excuse.”
Grimmark now works in Norway despite a massive shortage of midwives in Sweden.
Sweden has one of the highest abortion rates in Europe. The government provides free abortions to all women up to 18 weeks of pregnancy.
During an interview, Grimmark referenced a memory another midwife told her about – holding an aborted baby in her arms, still alive, while it struggled to breathe for an hour.
“I cannot take part in this,” Grimmark said.
Clarke says he and other attorneys working on the case are confident that international laws, of which Sweden is a signatory, defend Grimmark’s right of conscience.
The ADF International brief points to a resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe stating “no person, hospital or institution shall be coerced, held liable or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to an abortion.”
“The desire to protect life is what leads many midwives and nurses to enter the medical profession in the first place,” Clarke said. “Instead of forcing desperately needed midwives out of a profession, states should look to safeguard the moral convictions of their staff. We are hopeful that the court, in accordance with international law, will rule accordingly.”
A verdict is expected within a few weeks.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley Crossland writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

2/10/2017 10:43:30 AM by Kiley Crossland, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Baptisms, outreach to military, draw church’s focus

February 10 2017 by Brian Blackwell, Baptist Message

Sherry Slaydon gave her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren a priceless gift – the opportunity to celebrate her new life in Christ by being present at her baptism.

Baptist Message photo
Members of East Leesville Baptist Church sport T-shirts telling of their obedience to share Christ’s love in their community, this time delivering breakfast and mugs to area schools during a teacher’s development day.

“I pray watching their grandma proclaim her love for God was an inspiration to them,” said Slaydon of her baptism that took place at East Leesville Baptist Church in Louisiana shortly before Christmas this past December. “I had people tell me I had a glow afterward … words can’t describe the feeling.”
Now, she is anxious to share the Good News that changed her heart with others, too.
Slaydon was among 77 people East Leesville Baptist Church baptized in 2016, adding up to a combined three-year total of 205. Rarely does a Sunday seem to pass when pastor Jeff Smart or another staff member is not baptizing someone.
“We are so used to baptisms every week that it’s something our church looks forward to every Sunday,” said Smart, noting baptisms reflect the heartbeat of the congregation – evangelism.
God even uses baptisms for still more evangelism, he said.
“I tell those who are getting baptized that they are telling their story of how Christ has changed their life,” Smart said. “Someone who isn’t saved sees that and they might accept Christ – which has happened numerous times.”
The church’s focus on evangelism in large part is paced by its military outreach. Located 10 miles from Fort Polk – a United States Army installation – East Leesville enjoys a “target-rich environment” for growth. In fact, the congregation attracts 60 percent of the 1,350 worshippers on campus each Sunday from there.
“Our proximity to Fort Polk really makes our church unique,” Smart said. “We have people from so many different backgrounds get saved while stepping inside our church during their time at Fort Polk.

Baptist Message photo
Sherry Slaydon was among the 77 believers East Leesville Baptist baptized in 2016. In the past three years, the church has baptized 205 people.

“For us, the military is a field white unto the harvest,” he added.
That includes a number of children and teens, too.
More than 200 youth regularly participate in the church’s Sunday morning Bible studies and Wednesday evening discipleship activities; about 100 of them are involved in mission activities and summer camps; and, many take part in Friday evening gatherings, too.
“We really cater to the military families’ kids,” Smart said. “The parents come to us for the benefit of their kids, and in turn will start to worship with us and learn more about Jesus.
“They get under the influence of the gospel,” he said. “The gospel is saturated in everything we do.”
The church ministers to non-military personnel as well, through such outreach vehicles as Compassion In Action, disaster relief efforts and Beyond Our Walls (a joint effort with local schools to give reading help to students, distribute backpacks with supplies, and provide food for hungry children on weekends).

Sent into the fields

Newly baptized believers are immediately enrolled in a Bible study for discipleship, and they are asked to complete a survey to find out how they are spiritually gifted for service.
Then they are trained to go out into the community, and beyond, to share Christ.
“We try to get the military families involved in all these ministries, especially,” Smart said. “We disciple them, teach them, so they can serve at other churches.
“Whenever they leave, we want them to go to that next church eager to plug in, ready to use their spiritual gifts and continue growing in the Lord.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Blackwell is a staff writer for the Baptist Message, baptistmessage.com, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)

2/10/2017 10:37:59 AM by Brian Blackwell, Baptist Message | with 0 comments

Prayer strategy augments church’s missions focus

February 10 2017 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

Pastor Joel Newton anticipates Woodland Baptist Church, Peoria, Ill.,  will grow closer to God with the congregation’s new emphasis on prayer, adding to commitments to missions giving and going.

Submitted photo
Youngsters in West Africa spend time with members of Woodland Baptist Church in Peoria, Ill., who come each year. The Woodland team visits several villages meeting people, distributing medical supplies, making jewelry and showing films.

During the Jan. 22 Sunday morning worship, the church embarked on its new “Choose 2 Prayer Partner Project.”
“Everything begins with prayer,” Newton told Baptist Press (BP). “Prayer was a priority for the New Testament church.”
Newton led his staff and other church leaders to build a prayer emphasis around teams of two people praying together each week, interceding for a specific nation and four specific people who are spiritually lost.
“A vital part of our discipleship is the practice of prayer,” Newton said. “Prayer helps us become more like Christ.” The prayer ministry is adapted from an outreach begun in 2012 by Tim Sadler, then evangelism director for the Illinois Baptist State Association. When coupled with missions giving and going, the renewed prayer emphasis will hopefully result in Woodland Baptist having an increased impact for God’s Kingdom, Newton said.
Generous giving is an aspect of discipleship Newton believes Woodland members already do well. The church allocates more than 20 percent of its undesignated income to missions, including 16 percent through the Cooperative Program – the Southern Baptist Convention’s giving channel for missions and ministry.
“Cooperative Program giving has been a priority for Woodland for many years. Missions is in the DNA of this church,” Newton said. “For us, giving is important because it helps us minister beyond the walls of the church.

Submitted photo
Joel Newton has been pastor of Woodland Baptist Church in Peoria, Ill., since 2002. About 150 people participate in Sunday morning worship services.

“Giving to the Cooperative Program helps us recognize we need to be a part of what God is doing around the world,” he said. “The Cooperative Program helps us see beyond where we are locally, and to see the importance of sending people even for short-term missions.”
Local ministries include partnership with the Midwest Food Bank, allowing the church to give monthly packs of food to about 30 families. Woodland Baptist hosted three block parties in a nearby park in the summer of 2016, and is planning another three this summer, to minister to families living in multi-family housing units just across the street from the church.
“A large Asian Indian population is one of the groups we’ve been trying to minister to,” Newton said. “The block parties have led to the building of some relationships” enriched by English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and cooking classes showcasing cultural dishes. The church’s four-days-a-week preschool, started in the early 1970s, has an enrollment this semester of 64 neighborhood children of various ethnicities.
“Peoria is an international city,” Newton said. “We’ve been doing English as a Second Language classes for at least 20 years. Harold and Jean Stark lead the ministry. Harold has written most of his own material, which he calls ‘Idioms.’ He includes phrases common to Americans but confusing to people from another culture, such as ‘Raining cats and dogs.’”
An additional outward focus is the Congolese congregation that has begun meeting at the church as an outgrowth of its ESL ministry. One of the neighborhood contacts is a pastor from the Congo who was already hosting weekly worship in his apartment, although his wife and two daughters are still in the Congo. Woodland Baptist extended use of its building to the Congolese house church after discussing with Joe Gardner, Metro Peoria Baptist Association director of missions, and John Mattingly, director of Northwest Region Church Planting for the Illinois Baptist Convention.

Submitted photo
Founded in 1958, Woodland Baptist Church in Peoria, Ill. has worshipped in its current facility since November 1974. A 1982 addition to the rear of the building accommodated the congregation’s growth.

“They’re still just trying to find their way, trying to earn enough money to have a place to live and learning the language,” Newton said. “Woodland is just excited to be a part of what God is up to. We’ve tried to see ‘where God is working and join him there,’ as Henry Blackaby has said, and it’s such a blessing to be used by Him.”
Woodland Baptist has also shared its building with groups of Chinese and Korean worshippers. The Congolese outreach extends to people more than 100 miles from Peoria, and has the potential to birth other Congolese churches.
Woodland Baptist, established in 1943 as The Peoria Southern Baptist Church, has also helped start three other churches – Oakwood Avenue Baptist Church in East Peoria, First Baptist Church in nearby Morton and Agape Missionary Baptist Church, an African American congregation in Peoria.
The church’s Choose 2 prayer emphasis was a God-inspired extension of the church’s strong missions focus, Newton believes. “God’s Spirit was working in this to give us direction,” he said.
After much discussion, leaders determined to “trust God’s Spirit” to lead the prayer ministry, Newton explained. Men were paired with men, and women with women in forming prayer partners. The partners were announced during the Jan. 22 worship service. They were instructed to give each other the names of two people who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus, to pray for all four by name every week, and to pray for a nation assigned to the team.
“I had wanted to use ‘Choose 2’ and ... this is where God led us,” Newton said. “We know some people are not comfortable praying out loud. Some will begin by texting or emailing. Hopefully they will become more comfortable praying together and even meet in person. The main point is we want people to pray, period.”
Choose 2 has three clear benefits, Newton said. “We’re emphasizing the importance of prayer. The praying causes us to think of lost people and perhaps to reach out to them directly; and third, [praying causes us] to think of what God is doing in the world.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

2/10/2017 10:31:20 AM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Louisiana tornado destroys church, delays NOBTS chapel

February 9 2017 by Baptist Message & NOBTS staff

An EF-3 tornado that touched down in eastern New Orleans Feb. 7 heavily damaged a Southern Baptist church’s facility and briefly interrupted a chapel service at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS).

NOBTS photo
Suburban Baptist Church in New Orleans sustained major damage Feb. 7 from an EF2 tornado.

Initial reports estimated 250 homes damaged with 31 people injured. No fatalities have been reported.
The tornado – one of several to strike Louisiana Tuesday – devastated the three-building campus of Suburban Baptist Church in New Orleans, a predominately African American congregation. Pastor Jeffery Friend and his wife Stephanie were not injured, though their home was heavily damaged, Stephanie Friend told Louisiana’s Baptist Message newsjournal.
Friend posted on Facebook that she is “praising God for lives spared” but “devastated at the loss of our church and our home.”
Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief workers arrived Feb. 8 to assess damage to the Friends’ home, the church campus and a pastorium occupied by an NOTBS student and his family.
“I know who Jesus is,” Stephanie Friend said according to a report from NOBTS, “so I’m not concerned about my well-being. I’m just trusting Him to do what He does.”
Suburban Baptist and its neighborhood also sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The New Orleans Baptist Association is providing a room for the Friends at Providence House, the hotel operated by New Orleans Seminary.
“Please join us in prayer for churches and families affected by the severe weather in our region today,” the association said in an email. “Early reports tell of severe damage to at least one church, Suburban Baptist and several homes in New Orleans East.
“As soon as we have more information regarding damages and the response of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, we will communicate requests, as well as material, ministerial, and volunteer needs via e-mail and on our website,” the associated stated.
At New Orleans Seminary, President Chuck Kelley began a Feb. 7 chapel service with an announcement about potential storms and a prayer for the region. When weather intensified some five minutes later, campus police interrupted the service and attendees sheltered in place.
The tornado touched down about three miles away before passing. The service resumed in 10-15 minutes, and no damage to the campus was reported.
Later in the day, Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief workers gathered at the seminary’s Leavell Center for Church Growth and Evangelism in preparation for assessing damage in the area.
Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief (DR) director Gibbie McMillan told volunteer DR workers, “What we’re trying to do is be the hands and feet of Jesus to [storm victims] and let them know we care in a tangible way.”
McMillan urged prayer for area residents and said he plans to set up a webpage for online donations to the relief effort.
“We know there will be a need for teams and resources soon to help with the situation,” McMillan said.
Several Louisiana communities were hit hard with severe weather, with the National Weather Service reporting tornado touchdowns Feb. 7 in multiple communities between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
As of mid-afternoon Feb. 7, more than 10,000 people were without power due to the tornadoes.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency for much of southeastern Louisiana.
“I am heartbroken to once again see Louisiana families suffering in the wake of devastating tornadoes today,” Edwards said in a news release. “We are working tirelessly to ensure that every citizen affected by this storm receives the resources they need as quickly as possible.”
While weaker tornadoes are relatively common in the New Orleans metro area, strong tornadoes are rare, according to a report from New Orleans Seminary. The damage that occurred Feb. 7 “is unprecedented in scope and severity for a tornado in the New Orleans city limits.”
Seminary administrators are working to assess how many students and faculty members were impacted by the tornadoes.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Brian Blackwell of the Baptist Message and Marilyn Stewart of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

2/9/2017 10:49:46 AM by Baptist Message & NOBTS staff | with 0 comments

El Paso-area church takes over local bar

February 9 2017 by Jane Rodgers, Southern Baptist TEXAN

An El Paso-area church withstood the opposition of alleged drug traffickers and credit the protection of God as they sought to expand their presence in a strip shopping center in San Elizario, a city of 5,000 in El Paso County, Texas.

Photo provided
Members of Iglesia Bautista Dios con Nosotros prepare to worship in their renovated worship center – formerly a bar in El Paso County, Texas.

Iglesia Bautista Dios con Nosotros, translated in English as “God with Us Baptist Church,” quickly outgrew the small space rented in 2012 and expanded the storefront. Within a few years, they again needed more room, but the owner of Amigos Bar at the opposite end of the strip center had other ideas.
He wanted them off the property entirely.
“The bar owner said that he did not care for us to be there, even if we were a church,” pastor Marcos Jacinto recounted.
Jacinto replied to the bar owner, “Do what you need to do. God is with us.”
The owner indicated he knew “a lot of people in town” who could “do something against the church” to force them to leave, Chuy Avila, church planting associate with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, told the Southern Baptist TEXAN.
Undeterred, the congregation continued to hold church services, unaware that El Paso County sheriff’s deputies, FBI agents and DEA agents were conducting a lengthy investigation into alleged drug trafficking activities at Amigos Bar and other sites in San Elizario and nearby Socorro and Clint.
The El Paso Times reported that on June 22, 2016, law enforcement agents armed with search warrants recovered weapons, cocaine and cash from the properties. Amigos Bar was closed, its owner eventually arrested with others.
Amigos Bar was no longer a threat, but Dios con Nosotros continued to desperately need additional space. The answer came in an unexpected way as Jacinto and Sunday School teachers began praying for a solution during a meeting last fall.
“As we prayed we heard a knock at the door,” Jacinto said. “It was the owner of the shopping center. He came to offer us the bar space, but we couldn’t afford to pay rent on something so big.” When the church leaders hesitated, the owner asked them to come to his office the following day.
“He made us an offer of half what the bar paid,” Jacinto said. “His exact words were, ‘As soon as you sign the contract, this place will be yours.’”
Church members began transforming the 3,000-square-foot-plus former bar into a church. The first services in the new facility were held the weekend before Christmas and attracted many from the neighborhood.
“They had a full house for three days of services,” Avila said. “People wanted to know what was going on inside.” Avila admitted that the “smell of the bar” was still “pretty strong” in that first service but has since vanished.
Jacinto said the choice of the San Elizario area for the church was deliberate. “We had spent some time praying for guidance, seeking for a place to begin. The Lord gave us this place and the rent was accommodating. Also, we felt that we could relate with the people since we were part of the same culture and economic status.”
Local residents have noticed the transformation. “Anywhere we go in the neighborhood, even non-Christians, congratulate us, affirming that God helped us win the battle that we faced with the bar,” Jacinto said. “People I had never seen before knew our story. We could feel God with us, which translates to our church name, Dios con Nosotros.”
For Avila, “Church planting is the most successful tool that the Lord gave us to transform our community with the power of Jesus Christ. If somebody is seeking to go into church planting, don’t hesitate to step by faith. The Lord will provide everything that they need in order to support a project.”
The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s church planting website is sbtexas.com/missions/church-planting.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

2/9/2017 10:43:55 AM by Jane Rodgers, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments

New Planned Parenthood videos get lawmakers’ attention

February 9 2017 by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service

Lawmakers gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 2 to spotlight new undercover pro-life videos and to reiterate their commitments to defunding Planned Parenthood.


The videos, made by pro-life activist Lila Rose’s organization Live Action, show Planned Parenthood employees telling women seeking prenatal care to go somewhere else for their ultrasounds.
“Oh, we won’t be able to tell you if it’s healthy or the gender,” an unnamed Planned Parenthood worker in Farmington, N.M., told an undercover activist (see video at end of article). “We specialize in abortions. You know, that’s what our ultrasounds are for, to see how far along the, um, patient is.”
While Planned Parenthood facilities’ websites and voicemails state they provide prenatal care, employees turned away the activists seeking those appointments.
“No Planned Parenthood does prenatal care, hon,” a worker at an Albany, N.Y., facility said.
Live Action said it reached out to 97 separate Planned Parenthood facilities across the country, and only found five willing to check on the health of the child. All the others required the women to schedule an abortion.
Diane Black, R-Tenn., an opponent of state funding of Planned Parenthood and sponsor of the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2017, said today the nation is poised to defund the abortion giant.
“Last fall, Americans went to the polls and rejected Planned Parenthood’s callous extremism. Now it’s time for Congress to do the same,” Black said. “Cecile Richards should consider today’s press conference as a notice that the days of her organization receiving a free ride from taxpayers and a blind eye from Washington are coming to an end.”
Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., co-sponsor of the Conscience Protection Act of 2017, which protects health service providers who refuse to perform abortions, cited polls saying most Americans support the act, as well as a ban for abortion after 20 weeks of gestation.
Wagner also pointed to Congress’s Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, introduced again this year by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz.
“Congress has a sincere duty not only to defund abortion but to radically change the conversation around life,” Wagner said. “We will continue to fight until abortion is not only illegal but abortion is unthinkable.”
Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., said the latest Live Action videos add fuel to the pro-life fire already kindled by previous investigative journalist work.
“We have seen the atrocities of Planned Parenthood selling baby parts. We have now seen them publicly state they provide prenatal care only to find out that that is not true,” Hice said. “The time to defund Planned Parenthood is loud and clear. That time is now. Our founders understood that life is something that is both self-evident and unalienable. It is something that God has given, and it is not something that man has the right to take away.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Samantha Gobba writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)
2/9/2017 10:34:41 AM by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

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