February 2018

Online ‘trolls’ target Baptists

February 26 2018 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

A recent news report about indictments against Russian propagandists for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election indicated that social media accounts aimed at spreading disinformation (commonly called “trolls”) have been targeting Baptists in attempts to stoke dissension in America.

Image captured from Facebook
According to the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, a paid advertisement promoted by a Russian-sponsored Facebook page called “Army of Jesus” targeted users that followed or liked pages associated with certain people or topics, such as Laura Ingraham, God, Ron Paul, Christianity, Bill O’Reilly, Mike Huckabee, the Bible, Jesus and Conservatism in the United States.

A company based in St. Petersburg, called Internet Research Agency (IRA), employed and trained workers to flood websites and social media conversations with false and provocative information through fake profiles, groups and paid advertisements on social media, along with inflammatory comments on news articles, while posing as Muslims, African Americans and “middle-class Baptists,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
The posts shared common themes of anger and distrust toward authority, government and news media, said the Journal.
The IRA and other propaganda efforts are allegedly backed by an influential Russian business owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was indicted Feb. 16, along with 12 others, by a federal grand jury as part of an investigation by U.S. Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.
Many Baptists have witnessed first-hand how vulgar and severe such digital harassment can become.
In recent years, online discussions about events related to the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting have triggered activity from what appear to be European ethno-nationalist and American “alt-right” social media profiles.
A Twitter thread for the hashtag #SBC16 was hit with a barrage of offensive messages attacking supporters of a resolution denouncing the use of the Confederate battle flag.
An account with the name “Der Kaiser,” which is German for “the emperor,” hurled crude insults at Alabama resident Debbi Moses on June 15, 2016, after she tweeted messages in support of the resolution.
Der Kaiser’s profile page includes descriptors such as, “trad-Christian,” “traditionalist” and “nationalist,” along with white supremacist slogans in German and hashtags indicating support for the alt-right, former Confederate States of America and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Moses told the Biblical Recorder that most of the language used about her that day on Twitter was too vulgar to repeat, but she said the use of the “N-word” in reference to her grandchildren was “the most hurtful.”
“They saw pictures of me with my grandchildren,” she said, “twins born in Ethiopia and their sister who was born in Guatemala.”
Harassment became so disturbing that Moses almost deleted her Twitter account. She blocked more than 50 accounts that day.
Multiple Southern Baptists told the Recorder they witnessed troll-like activity during the 2017 SBC annual meeting from accounts that were apparently trying to sow discord over a resolution condemning “alt-right white supremacy.”
James Forbis Jr., associate pastor at First Baptist Church in Willow Springs, Mo., said he believes the surge of antagonistic posts exaggerated the appearance of division in the convention.
“I believe that they wanted the world to see an SBC that was severely divided by politics and racism,” Forbis told the Recorder. “By hijacking the hashtag they deceived people into believing they were a part of the SBC and at the meeting.
“There was confusion about what the alt-right is, and there was confusion about what [the resolution on the alt-right] was condemning, and that’s what the trolls latched onto. They took the confusion and ran with it.”
Facebook and Twitter have each shut down millions of fake accounts since 2016, according to news reports.
Online activity by alt-right supporters ranges from intentionally shocking and nonsensical text and images – what Matthew Rose called “moral idiocy” in a First Things article – to sociological and philosophical notions meant to provide white supremacists with a more highbrow public persona.
Some white supremacists who promote “traditionalist” beliefs, which have no apparent connection to Southern Baptist “traditionalists,” are self-described pagans who oppose Christianity, according to Rose, who is director and senior fellow at The Berkeley Institute.
Distinguishing between trolls and active users with extremist ideas can be difficult. Hyper-partisan social media posts on specific political topics that are filled with grammatical mistakes characteristic of non-native English speakers may be helpful clues. Absurd grammar or sentence structure may also indicate that a social media account is automated. These are commonly known as “bots.”
Chris Martin, content strategist and co-creator of LifeWay Social, told the Recorder that social media users should avoid interacting with suspected trolls or bots.
“When you are confronted with trolls, bots, or others attempting to harass you on social media,” he said, “the best course of action is to simply ignore them and move on.”

2/26/2018 10:00:16 AM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 2 comments

Graham’s indelible impact on global missions

February 26 2018 by IMB staff

Besides Billy Graham’s unprecedented impact as an evangelist in the United States, he also profoundly influenced international missions in a way many Christians may not realize, Southern Baptist international missions leaders said.

IMB file photo
Besides Billy Graham’s unprecedented impact as an evangelist in the United States, he also profoundly influenced international missions in a way many Christians do not realize.

Not only did Graham, who died Feb. 21, preach in person to large gatherings in more than 180 countries, but for 40 years he led in organizing international conferences on missions and evangelism that introduced the concept of “unreached people groups” that today lies at the heart of global strategy.
And the simple fact those meetings solicited representation from many countries – not just traditional mission senders in the West – drew Christian groups from less-developed countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America into their own global mission undertakings.
As in the United States, Graham had a profound influence globally as an evangelist, said International Mission Board (IMB) President David Platt.
“In his life and ministry, Billy Graham shaped so much of the way we view international missions today,” Platt said. “He united the global church around the gospel and mission in unprecedented ways. In his preaching across multitudes of countries, he showed the power of the gospel to transcend cultures. At the same time, the Lord used him to open our eyes to the places in the world where the gospel has not yet gone. His legacy carries on in the lives of men and women throughout the IMB who are doing today what Billy Graham did all of his life: sharing the simple gospel of Jesus Christ and inviting people to believe in Him for eternal life.”

Vision of unity

Graham had a vision of uniting evangelical Christians all over the world in the task of global evangelization. A series of “world congresses” on evangelism began in 1966 in Berlin with a gathering of 1,200 delegates from more than 100 countries. Other conferences followed, and a 1974 congress in Lausanne, Switzerland, drew about 2,700 participants from more than 150 countries.
Out of that meeting grew the “Lausanne Movement,” which has sought to bring the gospel mission to bear on a rapidly changing world filled with turmoil. Congresses continued to convene during the next four decades in different locations. The understanding of missions was refined, higher levels of international coordination were achieved, and a wide range of issues were addressed, from Christian witness in various segments of society, to cultural challenges, to topics such as creation care and bioethics. Graham used the 1974 Lausanne conference to share a deep burden that evangelical Christianity had lost a key understanding of Jesus’ “Great Commission” mandate to make disciples, recorded in Matthew 28.
Though not officially involved at the Lausanne conference, Southern Baptists eventually joined the Lausanne Movement when Keith Parks, then president of the Foreign Mission Board (now IMB), offered the organization’s resources to help build and maintain a database of people groups unreached by the gospel. The Lausanne movement became one of Billy Graham’s enduring legacies. Graham’s call to world evangelization brought the challenge of unreached and unengaged people groups to the attention of the Christian world.

From everywhere to everywhere

The Lausanne movement’s emphasis on “unreached people groups” not only gave sharper focus to mission strategy, it also drew in “Two-Thirds World” Christian groups – those from less-developed countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America – as partners in what had been a global missions endeavor dominated by the United States and Western countries. Today, people groups that once had no access to the gospel are sending out their own cross-cultural missionaries.

IMB file photo
Billy Graham’s Lausanne Movement introduced the concept of “unreached people groups” that today lies at the heart of global missions strategy and drew “Two-Thirds World” Christian groups into their own global mission undertakings.

In addition to pointing millions of people toward salvation in Jesus Christ and inspiring Christians to proclaim the gospel simply and fearlessly, Graham also multiplied his impact by launching thousands of others into Christ’s mission, said John Brady, IMB vice president of global engagement.
“Billy Graham brought a great deal of emphasis onto the fact we could not leave large portions of our world unreached for Christ,” Brady said. “He set up the special consultations to deal with every major roadblock to the gospel going to all peoples. But he also brought men and women together, going to the ends of the earth to all peoples. He launched thousands of other people into ministry that multiplied even far beyond what he was.
“The effects are real and measurable,” Brady added. “It’s a challenge for all of us – being faithful in our witness and faithful in launching other people into witness as we encourage others to do their thing.”
Platt noted, “On a personal level, Billy Graham was a hero of mine as I was growing up. I remember as a child listening to his preaching, reading his books and learning from this man who simply loved God and loved preaching the gospel. Words really can’t express the impact he had on shaping my life and ministry.”
Graham also made an indelible impact on the global church, Platt said.
“The church is indebted to God’s grace in and through Billy Graham,” he said. “On one level, countless people are in the church because Billy Graham led them to faith in Christ. At the same time, in every facet of his ministry, Billy Graham reminded the church of the pure power of the gospel to change lives all over the world.
“Billy Graham showed us that the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is worth proclaiming over and over again wherever, whenever and to whomever we can.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by International Mission Board staff.)

2/26/2018 9:55:05 AM by IMB staff | with 0 comments

Billy Graham to lie in honor in coffin made by prisoners

February 26 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The late beloved evangelist Billy Graham, who ministered to both the disenfranchised and the most powerful, will lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in a pinewood coffin fashioned by prisoners’ hands.

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association photo
The body of Billy Graham rests behind a pulpit at The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, N.C.

The Feb. 28-March 1 viewing will mark only the fourth time a private citizen has been so honored, and puts Graham in the company of a legendary list of 11 U.S. presidents and 20 esteemed leaders and others who have lain in state or in honor in the rotunda, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) said Feb. 22.
Graham, who died Feb. 21 at age 99, will be placed in a handmade plywood casket with a wooden cross nailed on top, built by inmates of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, BGEA announced. Graham’s son Franklin ordered the coffin when he saw the prisoners’ handiwork during a tour of the facility, the largest maximum security prison in the nation. Graham’s late wife Ruth was also buried in one of the handmade coffins upon her death in 2007.
The Angola prison is the site of an extension center of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary/Leavell College that has trained inmates in ministry the past 22 years, offering the bachelor of arts in Christian ministry and non-credit certificate degrees. Grace Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church among 28 inmate-led congregations on the vast prison campus, is a member of the Washington Baptist Association.
In a second opportunity for public attendance, Graham will lie in repose in a closed casket from 8 a.m.-10 p.m., Feb. 26-27 at the Graham family home place in Charlotte, next to the Billy Graham library, BGEA said.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, in announcing the rotunda viewing, described Graham as a minister and evangelist “internationally known for his devout faith, inherent humility and inclusive nature.”

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association photo
Billy and Ruth Graham at their Montreat, N.C., home in 1967.

Graham was an ordained Southern Baptist minister who in his later years was a member of First Baptist Church of Spartanburg. Graham’s pastor Don Wilton described the evangelist as “an incredibly precious man.
“The closer God has allowed me to sit at Mr. Graham’s feet, the more I’ve realized this man has an intimate relationship with the Lord. He takes no credit for himself. He is a servant of the God most High,” Wilton said in comments on BGEA’s memorial website. “It’s all about Jesus. He is almost offended by any effort to try and make of Billy Graham anything outside of the Lord Jesus Christ. He deflects the attention away from himself to the point of his own irrelevancy.”
Graham continued to minister well into his 90s through media, even as his health failed. Upon his death, he had preached in person to more than 210 million people in 185 countries and in all 50 U.S. states, according to ministry statistics.
His family has announced a private funeral service March 2 at noon in a tent in the Billy Graham Library parking lot, followed by a private interment service in the library prayer garden. There, Graham will be buried at the foot of a cross-shaped walkway. More than 2,000 individuals will receive personal invitations to the funeral, according to news reports.
A four-hour funeral motorcade from Asheville to Charlotte is scheduled for Feb. 24, BGEA said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
Related articles:
Billy Graham’s impact praised by Baptist leaders
Study shows far-reaching impact of Billy Graham
World renowned evangelist Billy Graham dies

2/26/2018 9:49:07 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

2017 SBC Annual online at Southern Baptist archives

February 26 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The 2017 SBC Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention 2017 Phoenix meeting is available for download and text search at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives (SBHLA) website, sbhla.org.

The 2017 SBC Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention 2017 Phoenix meeting is now available for download and text search at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives (SBHLA) website, sbhla.org.

The 2017 edition joins annuals archived at SBHLA dating back to the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) 1845 inception. The SBC Annuals are a ready access to a wealth of SBC history and news, including meeting proceedings, entity reports, statistics, sermons, state convention information and lists of staff, trustees and committees, said SBHLA director Taffey Hall.
“The SBC Annuals are a basic starting point for researching the historical issues and activities of the SBC. Having these resources available digitally greatly enhances accessibility,” Hall told Baptist Press in written comments. “Anyone from anywhere can view and keyword search the annual proceedings from 1845-present online.
“Historians, pastors, denominational workers and really anyone interested in learning about the past activities of the Southern Baptist Convention will find the online availability of the annuals useful,” Hall said.
John L. Yeats, who has prepared and/or reviewed every SBC Annual since 1998 in his official capacity of SBC recording secretary, described the annuals as records of “testimony about God at work through Southern Baptists. God has done and continues to do great things among Southern Baptists.”
Yeats appreciates the online and printed issues of the SBC Annuals.
“Rarely a month goes by that I don’t whip out my SBC Annual to check on a data point or to discover a potential open seat on an SBC Board or Commission,” said Yeats, who also serves as executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention. “Once I find that information I try to nominate a faithful cooperating Southern Baptist for service.
“While one can go online and retrieve so much information about our Southern Baptist past,” Yeats said, “the actual (SBHLA) archives are staffed with servants who will help you” research Southern Baptist life.
The online archive has been available since 2011 through a cooperative project of the SBHLA, the SBC Executive Committee and Baylor University.
“We like to work on cooperative projects with other libraries whenever we can,” Hall told Baptist Press (BP).
D. August (Augie) Boto, executive vice president and general counsel of the SBC Executive Committee (EC), described the collaborative project.
“In 2010 the SBC’s Historical Library and Archives, and staff at the Baylor University Library, collaborated to combine their SBC Annual collections to make two complete digital sets,” Boto told BP. “Baylor contributed technical assistance by supplying automated readers and optical character recognition software. The SBHLA supplied use permission and volumes to fill out voids in Baylor’s collection. Additionally, each party to the arrangement agreed to resupply the other with a complete replacement set in the event of a future calamitous loss.”
The complete set of SBC Annuals is also available through Baylor’s Internet collections, Boto said. The university is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
The EC holds copyright to all issues in all formats of the annuals and proceedings, as stated in the volumes. To view the 2017 SBC Annual and earlier years, log onto sbhla.org and type SBC Annual into the site’s search engine.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

2/26/2018 9:41:54 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Billy Graham’s Southern Baptist ties highlighted

February 26 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

While Billy Graham was widely known for working across denominational lines, he also was more involved in his own denomination – the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) – than many may realize.

SBHLA photo
When Billy Graham preached at the 1979 SBC annual meeting, more than 1,200 people registered decisions to “go where [God] wants you to go,” as Graham put it.

Graham, who died Feb. 21, spoke at 13 SBC annual meetings between 1951 and 1995, served as a trustee of two SBC entities, and, including references to two institutions and a professorship named in his honor, his name has been mentioned in every SBC Annual since 1951.
He even was nominated for SBC president in 1963 – though then-convention president Herschel Hobbs ruled Graham could not be considered for office that year because he was not an SBC messenger.
Graham “has an interesting variety of denominational ties,” said Tom Johnston, a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) professor and author of Examining Billy Graham’s Theology of Evangelism. But “among the Southern Baptists he found a home of warmth and welcome for his evangelistic gift.”
Raised in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Graham became a Southern Baptist in 1937, receiving baptism at East Palatka (Fla.) Baptist Church along with new believers saved at a revival he had preached, Johnston, professor of evangelism at MBTS, told Baptist Press (BP).
Graham went on to hold membership at Curtis Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga.; First Baptist Church in Dallas for 55 years; and most recently First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C., according to BP reports.
The first of 67 consecutive years Graham was named in the SBC Annuals – record books published by the convention – came in 1951, when the evangelist addressed the SBC annual meeting in San Francisco on “the need for revival.”
In a handful of those 67 years, the only mentions of Graham were the endowed chair and school of missions, evangelism and ministry named for him at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). But at the vast majority of their annual meetings, Southern Baptists mentioned Graham in motions, resolutions, reports of his crusades, sermons and announcements of his service on boards and committees.

BP file photo
Billy Graham, who died Feb. 21, addresses the 1995 sesquicentennial meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta, one of several SBC annual meetings he addressed starting in 1951.

Graham told the SBC at its 1995 Atlanta meeting, “Many of the great Southern Baptist leaders encouraged me from the beginning of my ministry when they weren’t even sure I was a Southern Baptist ... I remember Dr. R.G. Lee and J.D. Gray and Jimmy Morgan and Herschel Hobbs and Duke McCall and W.A. Criswell and many others – I could go down the line – that encouraged me from the very beginning,” according to a transcript of his address.
His friendship with Hobbs was evident in 1970, when Graham made a surprise visit to an elderly woman in an Oklahoma City nursing home at Hobbs’ request, BP reported.
Only two of Graham’s addresses to the SBC – 1979 and 1987 – came during the height of the convention’s Conservative Resurgence, and Graham made a point of not taking sides.
He said in 1987, “I have determined that as an evangelist I do not want to get into a denominational dispute that in my mind is a combination of theological differences and personality clashes.”
Two years earlier, however, Graham did find himself briefly in the middle of the conflict when a message he intended as a private communication with then-SBC President Charles Stanley was made public. Graham conveyed to Stanley that if he were a messenger, he would vote for Stanley’s reelection – to the surprise of Stanley’s moderate opponents.
Graham later clarified the reason for his vote would be that the convention customarily granted presidents a second one-year term.
A 1979 missions-themed sermon to the SBC culminated with more than 1,200 annual meeting attendees registering decisions to, as Graham put it in his message, “go where [God] wants you to go, and be what he wants you to be.”

SBHLA photo
Then SBC-President R.G. Lee, right, introduced Billy Graham at the 1951 SBC annual meeting in San Francisco, where Graham made his first of 13 preaching appearances before the convention.

Graham served as a trustee of the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) in the late 1950s and early 1960s, according to SBC Annuals, and a trustee of the SBC’s Radio and Television Commission in the late 1960s.
In 1972, Graham wrote to then-FMB executive secretary Baker James Cauthen that “no mission board in the world compares with the effectiveness of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Graham said of the Cooperative Program in 1969, “No other denomination has devised a better plan for supporting the total missions program,” BP reported at the time.
He was elected to preach the 1961 convention sermon but did not deliver that message because he was in the midst of a crusade in London and hospitalized with illness, according to SBC Annuals.
The convention elected Graham as one of its representatives on the Baptist Joint Committee in 1962.
SBC entities where Graham did not serve as a trustee also counted him as a friend.
SBTS is “the sole institution to receive authorization by Graham to use his name for its graduate school,” according to a 2014 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine. Graham spoke at the inauguration of SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. in 1993.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary counts Graham as an honorary life member of the Southwestern Advisory Council, BP reported in 1997.
Graham’s relationship with the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board) was evidenced by a visit to HMB offices in 1973 and an address at an HMB conference in 1985, BP reported.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission presented Graham with its Distinguished Service Award in 1983 and 2007.
Johnston, of MBTS, said Graham’s broad “appeal across denominations” might have caused the evangelist “not to overly emphasize his work as a Southern Baptist.” Still, Graham “was very grateful for the evangelistic ethos of the Southern Baptist Convention, and he was grateful for being a part of such a wonderful group of Christians.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – With reporting by Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston.)

2/26/2018 9:31:05 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

High-tech enthusiasts gather at Code for the Kingdom

February 23 2018 by Aaron Wilson & Joy Allmond, LifeWay Christian Resources

Bitcoin in the offering plate?
Software allowing people to use cryptocurrency to give to churches was among the high-tech ideas under development at LifeWay Christian Resources during the Feb. 9-11 weekend.

Photo by Aaron Wilson
Software developers, from left, Kimberly Lannear, Brantley English, Zach Boatwright and Chance Smith collaborate during the Code for the Kingdom event Feb. 9-11 at LifeWay Christian Resources. Their proposed app, “Gifted,” matches people with ministry opportunities related to their spiritual gifts.

LifeWay hosted its Code for the Kingdom event at its new Nashville campus where software developers worked long hours creating technology to serve the church.
Participants from across the country made 90-second pitches of their software ideas then formed teams to work on projects throughout the weekend.
Tim Hill, LifeWay’s senior vice president and chief information officer, told attendees LifeWay’s new building was designed with technology in mind.
“We knew we wanted to make collaboration easy,” Hill said. “We wanted this facility to be high-tech, and it is.”

Pitching ideas

Shamichael Hallman, a bivocational pastor from New Direction Christian Church in Memphis, Tenn., presented the idea of an app to help church members use their spiritual gifts.
“Once a person has taken a spiritual gifts assessment, I want to populate a list of church-specific ministries to get them immediately engaged,” Hallman said. “I think a lot of drop-off happens when people know their gifts but don’t really know what to do with them.”
Other pitches included:

  • A social media platform to help people connect over topics related to sermons.
  • An app for exchanging goods and services within the local church.
  • An online directory of churches that contains sermon outlines and online giving information.
  • An app to help with scripture memorization.

To make the most of the time, several participants brought sleeping bags or worked all night. Teamwork with other believers made the extended hours enjoyable, they said.
“The tech industry can be really intimidating,” said Abby Fleming, a front-end developer from Lewisburg, Tenn. “Here, if you have a question, you can take your laptop to another team and ask for help. It’s not about competition, but collaboration.”
Hallman, a Code for the Kingdom organizer who’s been involved since the inaugural event in 2013, agreed.
“I’ve been to non-Christian hackathons where there’s a heavy emphasis on winning a prize,” he said. “Code for the Kingdom is more about helping others. I love seeing the cool projects that come out of it.”

Young coders workshop

Photo by Aaron Wilson
Three 8-year-olds – from left, Tyson Jones, Theodore Anderson and Caden Frith – assemble and program a robot during the Young Coders Workshop on Saturday, Feb. 10, at LifeWay Christian Resources. With them is Caden’s father, Chase Frith.

While teams worked on their projects Saturday morning, LifeWay simultaneously hosted a Young Coders Workshop for kids in third grade and up. The workshop introduced kids to the basics of computer programming and encouraged an interest in electronics and robotics.
More than a dozen children worked in small teams with their parents to create robots they could control via smartphones.
Brian Ignatz, who attends Temple Baptist Church in White House, Tenn., brought his daughter Anna to the event.
“She’s into coding and robots and didn’t want to pass this up,” Ignatz said. “I’m having a good time too. I like watching the kids engage in team-building.”

Future collaboration

Sunday, after an onsite worship service, the six teams finished their projects and assessed the results, using four criteria:

  • Kingdom impact: Would this product serve the church and equip its people?
  • Viability: Could this be a real, sought-after product?
  • Innovation/originality: Is there a unique quality to the proposed software?
  • Completeness: How far did they get with their project?

Hallman and his teammates – fellow Tennesseans Stephen Bussard, Zach Boatwright, Kimberly Lannear, Brantley English and Chance Smith – won first place for their proposed app, “Gifted,” which matches people with ministry opportunities according to their strengths.
Their win encouraged them to stay in touch and continue their work together.
“There are a few tweaks we can make,” Bussard said. “We’re happy with the front end, and we will continue to collaborate online.”
Conference organizers were pleased with the weekend. “We hope they continue the projects – and these relationships – beyond the weekend,” said Adam Murray, a senior software engineer at LifeWay. “And we hope other people saw a project they liked and thought, ‘I’d like to see that make it to the finish line.’”
Kevin Old, a front-end architect who came on board at LifeWay through the 2016 Code for the Kingdom event, said it only makes sense for LifeWay to sponsor an event like this.
“We need sponsors like LifeWay who want to reach people for Christ,” Old said. “We have the technology, the space and the content. But in the end, it’s not about the software. It’s about the relationships and it’s about ministry.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Wilson and Joy Allmond are writers for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

2/23/2018 8:24:21 AM by Aaron Wilson & Joy Allmond, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Gerber baby spotlights Down syndrome abortion fight

February 23 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A smiling baby with Down syndrome is making history as the Gerber “spokesbaby” just as a growing list of states are trying to criminalize the abortion of babies diagnosed with the genetic disorder in utero.

Photo from Facebook
Lucas Warren

A federal appeals court heard arguments Feb. 16 in Indiana’s two-year battle with Planned Parenthood over a law criminalizing the abortion of babies with disabilities such as Down syndrome, the Indianapolis Star reported at IndyStar.com. The 2016 measure, which Vice President Mike Pence signed into law during his gubernatorial term, has been blocked by a permanent injunction since September 2017, IndyStar said.
In Ohio, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit Feb. 15 to block a similar law set to take effect March 23 there. In Utah, a bill making it a misdemeanor to abort Down syndrome babies has passed the House and has been introduced in the Senate Rules Committee.
North Dakota in 2013 became the first state to criminalize abortions based on Down syndrome diagnoses. The law has faced no legal challenges, the Associated Press reported Thursday, because the state’s blockage of abortions after 16 weeks has prevented the measure from becoming an issue.
In selecting a baby with Down syndrome as its 2018 spokesbaby, Gerber said 18-month-old Lucas Warren of Dalton, Ga., simply beat out the other 140,000 entrants in the 8th annual contest.
“Lucas’ winning smile and joyful expression won our hearts this year, and we are all thrilled to name him our 2018 Spokesbaby,” Gerber President and CEO Bill Partyka said. “Every year, we choose the baby who best exemplifies Gerber’s longstanding heritage of recognizing that every baby is a Gerber baby, and this year, Lucas is the perfect fit.”
Lucas’ mother Cortney Warren said his selection is a plus for babies with special needs.
“We hope this opportunity sheds light on the special needs community and educates people that with acceptance and support,” she said in the Gerber press release, “individuals with special needs have the potential to change the world – just like our Lucas!”
Southern Baptist editor Will Hall, the father of an adult son with Down syndrome, told Baptist Press he and his wife Catherine hope Lucas’ selection will shine a light on human dignity and worth.
“Our hope is that this is a reflection of vastly improved perspectives in our society about the value of the lives of Down syndrome children,” said Hall, editor of the Baptist Message. “Likewise, we pray Gerber’s choice proves to be a catalyst for even greater change in attitudes among Americans – to understand that every life deserves a lifetime.”
Nationally, about 6,000 babies are born each year with Down syndrome, according to the latest statistics from the National Centers for Disease Control. Estimates of U.S. babies aborted with Down syndrome range from 65 percent to 90 percent, but the lack of data collection makes it difficult to determine an accurate number, life advocacy research group Charlotte Lozier Institute reported in 2015.
In the international community, Iceland has boasted of nearly eradicating the birth of babies with Down syndrome through abortion, with only one or two babies born with the condition annually in the nation of 330,000, CBS reported in 2017.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

2/23/2018 8:15:00 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Sister’s tragedy fuels Wise’s passion for amputees

February 23 2018 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

David Wise remembers getting the text message from his sister Jessica in 2015 telling him that his other sister, Jessica’s twin Christy, had been in an accident while paddle boarding.
Christy was going to live, but she was likely going to lose her leg.

Photo by Tim Ellsworth
“I feel like my greatest calling is to serve other people,” U.S. freestyle skier David Wise says. “I am in a unique place to serve people from the platform that I’ve had.”

For Wise, a freestyle skier who won a gold medal in the half-pipe event in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, the whole ordeal led him to a newfound gratitude for the ability he has.
“Yeah, I might not be feeling very good, things might not be going my way, the judges might not like what I’m doing, or whatever,” Wise said. “There’s all kinds of adversity out there in the world. But there’s always somebody who has it worse off than you do.”
Christy indeed lost her leg after the boating accident. But out of that experience, she and Jessica, a surgeon who has worked with impoverished people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, began the One Leg Up On Life Foundation. The non-profit organization not only provides prosthetic limbs to those who cannot afford them, but does so “to glorify God,” according to its mission statement.
Wise has pledged to give 10 percent of his winnings and his sponsorship payouts this year to the foundation.
“I’ve always had a heart for amputees, and I think we can all be inspired by seeing them achieve athletic greatness,” Wise said. “But it hit a lot closer to home when my sister lost her leg.”
His sisters, four years older than he was, often pushed him to succeed. They were a competitive bunch, and outdoor activities were a regular part of the siblings’ lives as children. Whether skiing, baseball, softball, football, soccer, whatever, Wise and his sisters were active athletes.
Despite the setback, Christy, a captain in the Air Force, slowly began the trek back to mobility and even athletic participation. Watching her ski for the first time after she lost her leg was an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling experience for Wise. Christy hopes to compete in the Paralympics in the future.
Wise won gold in the men’s half-pipe competition Feb. 22 at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. He and his wife, Alexandra, work with the youth group at their church in Reno, Nev. Wise has said that he may be interested in full-time ministry work when his days as a competitive skier are over.
“I’ve always been involved in ministry,” Wise said. “I feel like my greatest calling is to serve other people. I’m in a unique place to serve people from the platform that I’ve had.”
Wise said he dreams of serving people in whatever way God calls him to do so.
“My faith is my cornerstone in the same way that my family is,” Wise said. “At the end of the day, all of this might be taken away from me at some point. There might be an injury that I have, or I can’t compete anymore, or I must just fall off.
“I can’t really depend on this for my happiness, for my contentment,” he continued. “But I can depend on Jesus. I can depend on God. He’s always going to be there for me. If anything, that just frees me up to go out there and enjoy the ride.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is a sports correspondent for Baptist Press and associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. He is covering the Winter Olympics in South Korea for Baptist Press, previously having covered four Olympics – 2008 in Beijing, 2010 in Vancouver, 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.)

2/23/2018 8:10:35 AM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Refugee women persevere amid peril, harsh conditions

February 23 2018 by Dave Arden & Pat Centner, NAMB

For more than 7 million Africans forced to flee their warfare-stricken homelands, “home” has become a refugee camp where many wait year after year in hopes of a better life.
Bamurange and Esther are two such women who survived the Great African War, one of numerous conflicts that have plagued the continent. Braving nearly two decades in separate refugee camps, they now have settled in Arizona, safe from the conflict that claimed an estimated 2 million lives and displaced 2 million from their homes.

Photo submitted
Pastor Francis, center, leads church that imparts hope to Esther, left, Bamurange and other refugees from Africa.

Bamurange (pronounced Bahm-a-rahng-gay) left her Congo homeland in 1998 and spent 19 years in a refugee camp in Rwanda. Esther fled the Congolese upheaval the same year and spent 16 years in a refugee camp in Uganda.
In the organized chaos of these refugee camps, people are constantly moving in and out. Food supplies usually run low. And stress is ever-present from such challenges as finding a tent-like covering from the rain; sharing a bathroom with the masses; sleeping on the floor; showering once a week with water brought in by trucks.
Such camps are great “levelers,” a step up from the ravages of war, bringing together those from high social status with those of lifelong deprivation.
The community copes by organizing according to their gifts. Some are teachers; others know how to cook; doctors, few in number, treat people’s ills as best they can.
Bamurange Nyirakinyaruka fled Congolese strife when she was just 16. One night, a terrible fight broke out and every relative on both sides of her family was killed, with Bamurange crediting God for His providence in protecting her that night.
“I survived by hiding in the bush and in the river,” she says of evading opposing tribesmen for many nights in the bush.
“With water up to my chin, I would dip under the water and hold my breath when the men came to the water’s edge looking for survivors” she says. “I was so afraid. By the grace of God, I was able to flee.”
A man who once befriended her family hid Bamurange in a large basket, covered her with leaves and took her to town. He guided his donkey cart right up to trucks belonging to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the authorities took her in.
Esther Vumiliya has a similar story.
The war took the life of her mother, father, sister and many relatives. In a grueling journey, she traveled on foot walking every day for three months until she finally reached Tanzania.
Where did she find water and food? She drank rainwater that had fallen in the streets and begged food from people along the way.
After one year in Tanzania, she arrived at the refugee camp in Uganda where she stayed 16 years.
Esther and Bamurange languished in their refugee camps, working and waiting as time seemed to endlessly pass by, wondering what their future would hold.
Both women are Christ followers who kept their faith that God would see them through, and finally things started to change.
The immigration process is tedious and exhausting, requiring dozens of interviews and standing in long lines for many hours. But after nearly two decades, Bamurange and Esther – along with the families they began as refugees – finally made it to the U.S. in 2015.
Once their planes landed in Phoenix, their struggle still wasn’t over in a new culture far different from anywhere they had ever lived. Not knowing anyone, they needed to connect to new friends, to a church and to work opportunities.
Bamurange and her family were extremely lonely for the first two weeks before a new acquaintance told her about Pastor Francis and Solution Church. Francis Tugirimana – just call him Pastor Francis – started the church in 2009 to serve the East African refugee community.
With help from the church, Bamurange’s husband was able to get a job, enabling the family to buy a car.
“I can enjoy my life, and my children can enjoy their lives. We can live free,” she says.
For Esther, “I feel better and blessed. I have a job and eat everything I need. I am able to buy clothes and stuff for my children.”
Solution Church, having become a key influence in helping the women and their families adjust to life in the States, has provided friendship, prayer, support and help with schools and teachers. English classes help people eventually find work, and guidance is even given in learning to drive a car.
Pastor Francis himself survived the Rwandan civil war and lost many relatives. Solution Church, a congregation of more than 250 people, cares for needs big and small in refugees’ lives. The church baptized 90 people in the last year.
Still, the needs are overwhelming with so many still entering the community, as the refugee crisis in many parts of Africa remains a widespread, open-ended and painful struggle.
Though their arduous journey nearly cost them their lives, Bamurange and Esther showed rugged courage, faith and perseverance. Their stories and their strength have touched their community with a testimony of God’s grace even in the worst of times.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dave Arden is a freelance writer and church planter catalyst for the North American Mission Board in Phoenix. Pat Centner is a freelance writer who also works with African refugees.)

2/23/2018 8:08:01 AM by Dave Arden & Pat Centner, NAMB | with 0 comments

GuideStone offers single-staff churches health care options

February 23 2018 by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone Financial Resources

Continued uncertainty in the health care marketplace with the repeal of the individual mandate coming in 2019 and reductions in the number of individuals served by the health care exchanges has some pastors and ministry workers wondering about health care options this year.

Further, the Affordable Care Act continues to drive up costs for consumers nationwide. GuideStone Financial Resources recognizes that affordability is a key issue, and while, like others, the Southern Baptist entity is not immune from the financial pressures caused by the 2010 law, President O.S. Hawkins said, “We are working diligently every day to develop options that reflect the values of our participants and keep costs extremely competitive in the marketplace.” He noted personal health plans offered by GuideStone may be options for churches with a single staff member, usually the pastor.
“We take seriously our ministry assignment from Southern Baptists to make available life and health coverage to our churches and ministry organizations, especially those pastors serving out at the crossroads,” Hawkins said. “We’d encourage any pastor of a single staff-member church to call GuideStone to see if we may be able to serve him and his family.”
For GuideStone to provide health insurance to a pastor or other single staff member, he must be a paid employee of an eligible church or ministry that is affiliated with or shares common religious bonds with the Southern Baptist Convention and works 20 or more hours per week.
GuideStone’s personal health care coverage options include traditional PPO plans, an economy PPO plan and a federally-qualified High Deductible Health Plan designed to be paired with a Health Savings Account.
Churches and pastors interested in seeing if GuideStone can serve them in the individual marketplace can call 1-844-INS-GUIDE (1-844-467-4843) or visit GuideStoneInsurance.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is director of denominational and public relations services for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

2/23/2018 8:00:13 AM by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone Financial Resources | with 0 comments

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