February 2018

Hockey an opportunity for Hensley to love God, others

February 21 2018 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

Her love of hockey started as a child with a neighborhood friend named Hayden.
Nicole Hensley, a goalie on the U.S. women’s hockey team, remembers Hayden was always outside of her Colorado home playing street hockey with his family and friends. One day, he asked if she wanted to play, too.

Photo by Ally Eames, USA Hockey
Nicole Hensley, a goalie on the U.S. women’s hockey team, has a chance for a gold medal when the Americans face Canada on Feb. 22. But a higher priority for Hensley than hockey success is her relationship with the Lord.

“From there, we would play all day every day outside, and I just kind of fell in love with it,” Hensley said.
Hensley and her U.S. teammates will face Canada for the gold medal on Feb. 22. The matchup between the two rivals has become a predictable part of the Winter Olympics. Since women’s hockey debuted as an Olympic event in 1998, the two teams have faced each other for the gold medal five out of six times.
For Hensley, her first Olympics appearance is the culmination of a dream that began in her cul-de-sac playing street hockey with Hayden. Not long after she started playing, the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 2001, so hockey in general was growing in popularity around her. She watched that playoff run intently, and she was hooked.
“There’s no other sport as fast paced,” Hensley said. “There’s nothing quite like it. You can stop moving your feet and you’re still just gliding on the ice. It’s such a unique thing. Go ask a hockey player to play soccer or basketball, and they can catch. But you ask anyone to go skate, and it doesn’t come as easily.”
Her love for hockey – and her ability to play the sport – is something that Hensley believes is given to her by God. She grew up in a Christian family, attending church with her parents and her sister every week. Her dad was a deacon. The family volunteered to clean the church once a month. They served in the nursery. They were, in every way, active church members, and she says her parents did a good job of making sure she and her sister were grounded in their faith.
It wasn’t until Hensley got to college at Lindenwood University, however, that she really began to own her Christian faith for herself. She credits fellow believers on the women’s hockey team there with helping her to grow in her walk with the Lord.
“At one point, it was eight or 10 girls that would get together weekly, or every other week, doing Bible studies and talking about the Lord,” Hensley said. “It was a really cool experience and really cool to see people my own age involved and invested in it because they wanted to be and not because anyone was making them. I think that was kind of when it clicked for me.”
Her growth as a believer helped her as a hockey player, Hensley said, especially as a goaltender, where mistakes and failures are on full display for everyone to see. It’s important for her to remember that she isn’t the sum of how many saves she makes or how many goals she allows.
“My faith is number one for me, and that means that you may be having a bad day on the ice, but you still get to be on the ice,” she said. “It’s trying to find the joy and the passion of playing for God and not just playing to be successful.”
Hensley is grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Olympics and perform at the highest level of her sport. She has seen how the Lord has shut certain doors and opened other ones to get her to this point, and she wants to use the opportunity she’s been given to be a light for Him.
“Nothing on this Earth matters more than loving God and loving other people,” Hensley said. “I think sports and hockey give me the opportunity to do that, to praise Him for the chance to play and the passion and the abilities He’s given me, and to go out and do my best on the ice.”
(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.)

2/21/2018 8:00:50 AM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pastors’ Conference announces 2018 speakers, theme

February 20 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

“Fulfill Your Ministry!” will be the theme addressed by a diverse lineup of speakers at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Pastors’ Conference June 10-11 in Dallas.

Pastors’ Conference President H.B. Charles Jr. announced the theme, drawn from 2 Timothy 4:5, and speakers, half of whom are non-Anglo, late last week in a blog post. Five African American preachers will join one Hispanic preacher and six Anglos.
“The goal of the conference is to challenge and encourage pastors and church leaders to be faithful to the calling to serve the Lord in local church ministry,” wrote Charles, pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.
“We are living in critical times. The world at its worst needs the church at its best,” Charles, the first African American Pastors’ Conference president, wrote Feb. 15 on his website. “To reach this culture and generation for Christ, we must live faithful lives, preach faithful messages and lead faithful congregations. Each message will be a call to faithfulness.”
Along with preaching, the Pastors’ Conference will feature worship and prayer to undergird the ministry of pastors and their wives. The sessions at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center will be held prior to the SBC’s June 12-13 annual meeting there.
Among Pastors’ Conference highlights, Charles wrote, will be an address by Frank Pomeroy, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, who “will share his testimony of trusting God through the tragedy his congregation suffered last summer,” when a gunman murdered 26 people, including Pomeroy’s daughter, during a worship service.
Other Pastors’ Conference speakers will include:

  • Bryan Carter, pastor of predominantly African American Concord Church in Dallas;
  • Charlie Dates, pastor of predominantly African American Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago;
  • Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas;
  • J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and a candidate for SBC president;
  • Tony Evans, pastor of predominantly African American Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas;
  • James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga.;
  • Ray Pritchard, president of Keep Believing Ministries in Elmhurst, Ill., a ministry that provides free biblical resources for pastors and churches;
  • Juan Sanchez, pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, a multiethnic congregation;
  • Robert Smith, Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.;
  • Cameron Triggs, pastor of Grace Alive, in Orlando, Fla., a multi-ethnic congregation;
  • David Watkins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala.

Worship will be led by Joe Pace, Shiloh’s pastor of worship and arts, along with the church’s mass choir.
“Please remember this year’s conference in your prayers,” Charles wrote. “And make plans to join us for two powerful days of preaching, worship, and fellowship.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

2/20/2018 9:43:04 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Men with N.C. roots bond in Vermont

February 20 2018 by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications

ABOUT THIS SERIES: Vermont is a unique mission field, but North Carolina Baptists are helping increase the gospel influence in this New England state.
Williston is a town of about 9,000 people in northeastern Vermont that functions mostly like suburbs for the larger city of Burlington, the most populous city in the state.

BSC photo by Mike Creswell
Todd West, right, is lead planter on a new church plant in Williston, Vt., near Burlington. At left is Hayden Swanger, 19, who will be worship leader. Swanger is a native of Haywood County, N.C., currently studying in the online program of Fruitland Baptist Bible College. They stand in a rented building which will house the new church in Williston.

But with a population numbering only about 43,000, Burlington is the nation’s smallest city to be a state’s biggest city. This is near the shores of Lake Champlain which separates New York and Vermont. Montreal, just north of the Canadian border, is only a two-hour drive away.
Williston is one of Vermont’s fastest-growing areas, where one can find the newest shopping centers and restaurants.
But Canton, N.C., native Todd West, who now lives in Williston, points out that the restaurants don’t include a Chick-fil-A or Cracker Barrel, and it’s hard to find grits or corn meal in the grocery stores.

West is quick to say he is not complaining, just listing cultural differences.
He moved here with his wife, Amy, their four kids and the family dog in June 2017 with the goal of starting a new church. After a month of crowded hotel room living, they located a house.
West grew up in Canton and still has family there and in surrounding Haywood County. He graduated from Fruitland Baptist Bible College in 1998, studied briefly at North Greenville University before graduating with two degrees from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
More recently, West has served as pastor of a church in Carnesville, Ga. But it has been reunion time with the other western North Carolina folks who are also serving in Vermont. He attended high school with Tim Owens, for example. Owens accepted Christ as Savior in West’s room. Now Mission City Church which Owens leads is helping West’s church plant through training and tech support.
The Wests are supported through the North American Mission Board. He and a growing number of team members are busy converting a vision and a website into a living church, Crosspoint Church.
Hayden Swanger, 19, will be Crosspoint’s worship leader. A native of Haywood County in western North Carolina, Swanger met West in Georgia. He is working on a Fruitland degree online, and he has received further training from Mission City Church.
“After we got moved into our house, we just went out trying to meet people,” West said. He started making friends with the local police and fire departments, a chaplaincy ministry he pursued back in Georgia. He said local people do notice his accent but so far the reception has generally been friendly and receptive.
They have been refurbishing a rented set of rooms on Commerce Street, very near Williston’s major shopping area, which will house the new church.
Introductory meetings have already grown to 30 people attending. West hopes they will have many more people on board by the time the church officially launches, hopefully in March 2018.
“So far it has gone really well, and God has given us favor here,” West said.
The challenge for a new church here is huge. Surrounding Chittenden County has an estimated 95,000 unchurched people. “The Burlington area is the most irreligious place in the country,” West said.
People have told West that reaching people for Christ here will be very difficult, but West isn’t so sure of that.
He suspects it may be harder in the South to convince a religious person they need Jesus than a person here who knows nothing about Jesus.
“In the South everybody knows Jesus, or at least they will tell you they do, even if they haven’t been inside a church for years,” West said. “Up here they don’t know Jesus, and they will tell you they don’t. We have people here who don’t know what a church looks like at all. That’s good in a sense, but it’s also a huge responsibility. We have to define what that church DNA looks like in a sense. Doctrinally, we’re making footprints for them to follow.”
West is looking beyond this start-up phase to future growth. He would like to have a 400-member church going before they begin starting other churches around the county.
“I don’t want Crosspoint to be just another church that’s hot for a while and then fizzles,” West said. “I want it to be something that outlasts me, that outlasts Hayden, our worship leader and outlives my kids.”
He anticipates having volunteer teams to come join in the church-planting venture.
One team has already come from Mississippi, and one from Maryland is scheduled. It’s early days for Crosspoint Church, but to Todd West the future looks good.

Related articles:
N.C. Baptists make a difference in Vermont
A ‘strong and healthy church’ in Pownal, Vt.
Battling darkness in southeastern Vermont

2/20/2018 9:34:47 AM by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Meeting needs first in New York City

February 20 2018 by North American Mission Board

Once an abandoned storefront tagged with spray paint, the building that originally housed Graffiti Church has become a symbol of hope on New York’s Lower East Side. Send Relief missionaries Taylor Field and his wife, Susan, strategically positioned the church plant in 1986 amid crack houses and a large homeless population, eventually making this neglected neighborhood their home.

NAMB photo
Annie Armstrong Easter Offering 2018 Week of Prayer missionary, church planter and pastor, Taylor Field, began serving the homeless and drug addicted in 1986 on New York City’s Lower East Side through his church plant, Graffiti Church. His mission was to be a place where those who had no hope could find healing and have their basic needs met while hearing the gospel.

“Jesus started with meeting needs first,” says Field. “His compassion grew people’s faith, and then He built the church on that faith.”
The Fields’ work was not without opposition. Confronting drug dealers and learning how to care for users and hundreds of homeless men, women and children were part of the weekly challenges.
“The first college mission group would paint our storefront, and then someone would tag it again with graffiti,” says Field. The mission team then painted their own spiritual message on the wall along with the word, “Graffiti.”
Inspiration struck.
The ministry workers decided to embrace the form of artistry so familiar to the neighborhood, and gave what was then East 7th Baptist Ministry a new moniker: Graffiti, which eventually became a church.
Embedded in the identity of the church is a simple idea: “From small things come great things.” Field explains that it is all about an upside-down approach to ministry, doing tangible, practical things well.
This upside-down approach led to a series of books: Upside-Down Leadership: Rethinking Influence and Success, Upside-Down Devotion: Extreme Action for a Remarkable God, and Upside-Down Freedom: Inverted Principles for Christian Living, all by Taylor; and Upside-Down Results: God Tags People for His Purposes by Susan. Both are well-known in North Carolina Baptist circles because they are frequent guests at the annual Baptists on Mission Missions Conference.
But this year, the couple will be the featured speakers during the Woman’s Missionary Union of North Carolina’s (WMU-NC) Missions Extravaganza April 27-28. The 127th annual meeting of the WMU-NC meeting is scheduled at Ardmore Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. The Fields are Send Relief missionaries and are among the 2018 Week of Prayer missionaries and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions. As North American Mission Board (NAMB) personnel, the Fields are assigned to New York.
Stories of life change testify to the effectiveness of their ministry through Graffiti and NAMB.

The practical approach to ministry

Recently released from prison and living in a treatment facility for drug rehabilitation, Raul received a court mandate to take a GED class; Graffiti offered one.
Raul was skeptical about going to a church, even for a required education class, but he went anyway. One day after class, a member of the church extended an invitation to visit a service saying, “We would love to have you.”
Something about the “we” stood out to Raul, and he came – six months in a row. He also brought his girlfriend, Siyyida.
Leaders in the church helped mentor Raul and Siyyida. They both became followers of Christ, and after more than two and a half years of dating, they decided to get married. Now they attend and serve at Graffiti campuses, which have grown to five meeting sites in the New York City metro area and two affiliates in other cities.
Melissa, too, has experienced the impact of personal and practical ministry. She went to Graffiti’s Christmas Toy Drive in 2012. When she arrived that day, she was basically on empty spiritually and mentally.
“I had made some terrible choices in my marriage, my career and my health,” she said, “and I felt like I was drowning.”
The instructions she received at the door were simple: First, you talk briefly with a toy store counselor, and then you go shopping.
The counselor greeted Melissa warmly and told her that it was a joy to pray with her. During the prayer time, Melissa said, “I couldn’t speak or respond. I just wept. Uncontrollably … It wasn’t a prayer I had in my Rolodex of memorized prayers. This woman was talking to God as though He was a King, a Father, her hero, something deeper than I had ever experienced. She shared her story with me, and I finally opened up to her about my avalanche of troubles.”
Melissa accepted Christ that day, and now helps lead the same ministry that changed her life.
The small-things approach works. Change continues on the Lower East Side through daily connections in the diverse community.
The church shares Christ’s compassion in practical ways – from after-school tutoring and ESL classes to hip-hop dancing and lunches in the park.
“When we serve a meal, it’s not just about handing over some food; we sit down together at the table and talk while we eat,” said Field. “It’s about connecting.”
Many who call Graffiti their home church have been directly impacted by the church’s ministry efforts: a free sandwich, a literacy lesson, legal assistance, a blanket in the New York winter.
Louis “Chess Monster” Taylor is part of that group.
“I was homeless for about 60 years,” said the former history teacher who moved to New York about 15 years ago.
Every day, he played chess at Tompkins Square Park, and through that consistency, he became well known in the neighborhood. When one of the Field’s young sons expressed interest in learning chess around the age of 9, a game with Chess Monster was a must.
That was the beginning of a relationship that continues to this day. The Field family invited Chess Monster to lunch at the park.
“I noticed when [Field] started feeding the people in the park – no strings attached,” said the chess expert. “Other ministers came through the park, and you had to listen to the hour and a half sermon first. Then you might get a bag or a ticket for the pantry. Well, Taylor was the complete opposite. He fed everybody first. And if you wanted to stay, you could stay. If you didn’t want to stay, you could go. So, that really impressed me.”
Over the course of a few years, Chess Monster went from receiving free lunches to helping serve meals to others. He connected with people at Graffiti and experienced something new.
When one person is in need of food or shelter and someone reaches out to help, it makes a big impact, he said.
“There’s this old saying: An empty stomach has no ears.”
Graffiti’s approach to meet needs first made it possible for Chess Monster and people in similar situations to hear about the love that motivated their efforts.
Louis Taylor now has a personal relationship with Jesus. He works at the church in maintenance, helps lead Bible studies and continues to be part of the compassion ministries that changed his life.

Playing the long game

Through consistency and authentic love, the hope of Christ has infiltrated the Lower East Side and surrounding communities. Graffiti continues to pioneer ways to serve the neighborhoods of their respective campuses and they keep in mind the larger goal: to share the Good News across the globe.
Field said, “Graffiti values a heart for God and hands for work. We have more than 20 ministries and have assisted in some way in helping start 31 new church plants which in turn have started 39 more.
“There’s a famous game in chess, as I understand from chess experts, where one player continues to give, and give, and give some of their most valuable pieces,” said Field.
“As it plays out, you may look like you’re losing, but it’s a strategy because it’s a strategy for the long game; in the end, you’re really winning. I think that’s part of the story of the gospel.”
That long-game vision and willingness to invest time and resources have helped transform this area over the past few decades. Change has not come quickly, but it has come.
“Changing one block can change a neighborhood, changing a neighborhood can change a city, changing a city can change a country, changing a country can impact the whole world,” said Field. “I think people can learn from what God has done here, that you don’t have to do great things for God, but just things with great love. And you don’t have to have great faith in God, but just faith in a great God.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Taylor Field’s newest book, The Wayward Way, publishes in this spring.)

2/20/2018 9:23:45 AM by North American Mission Board | with 0 comments

Trump’s faith focus of book, advisors’ reflections

February 20 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Three Southern Baptist members of an informal evangelical advisory council for President Donald Trump have echoed the assessment of a new book on the president’s faith: he seems to possess a growing eagerness for spiritual knowledge.

Screen capture from C-Span
President Donald Trump, pictured here giving his first State of the Union address Jan. 30, is the subject of a new book examining his spiritual beliefs.

Those advisors – Ronnie Floyd, Jack Graham and Richard Land – also say they have witnessed believers share the gospel with Trump on multiple occasions. They noted that most of the president’s evangelical advisors have not hesitated to speak bold truth to him on issues ranging from the sanctity of life and religious liberty to racial reconciliation and immigration reform.
All three spoke to Baptist Press (BP) about their experiences with Trump following the Feb. 13 release of The Faith of Donald J. Trump by David Brody and Scott Lamb, published by HarperCollins’ Broadside Books imprint.
Trump “genuinely seems to enjoy being around believers,” said Graham, a former Southern Baptist Convention president. “I don’t think he has been around Christians that much, maybe in his life – certainly not evangelical believers.”
Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, added, “When I’m around him, I sense that he really is eager to know more” spiritually.
Brody, a journalist with the Christian Broadcasting Network, and Lamb, a vice president at Liberty University, write about Trump’s spiritual background and how his faith affected both the 2016 presidential campaign and the opening months of his administration. They note his upbringing in the liberal Protestant tradition, his relationship with “positive thinking” advocate Norman Vincent Peale and his longtime affinity for Christian television and Southern Gospel music.
Brody and Lamb also note Trump’s sporadic church attendance, extravagant lifestyle and public record of marital infidelity and divorce. While reserving judgment on whether Trump is a born-again believer, they claim he has a generally Judeo-Christian outlook on the world characteristic of 1950s America.
“Donald Trump,” they write, “has two qualities that give one encouragement as one negotiates what to make of his faith: respect for the God of the Universe, and a desire to draw closer to Him. As our research clearly lays out, the yearning plays out in this President’s regular tendency to seek prayer and spiritual guidance.”

A faithful witness

Floyd, Graham and Land say they don’t know whether Trump has trusted Christ as his Lord and Savior. But they’re certain he has heard the gospel.

Amazon.com photo

All three recounted a conference call on which Trump said, perhaps jokingly, that he hoped a specific policy initiative would help him get into heaven. That’s when evangelist James Robison, a member of the informal advisory group, broke in.
As Land recounted the exchange, Robison said, “No sir, Mr. Trump. The only way you’re going to get to heaven is by trusting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and His sacrifice on the cross for your sin.”
Trump’s response was, “Thank you, James, for reminding me,” said Land, former president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Floyd and Graham both said they have expressed the gospel to Trump personally – Floyd at a 2016 meeting and Graham at a dinner after Trump became president.
“I’ve sensed a deep commitment” among Trump’s evangelical advisors “to speak forth the Word,” said Floyd, immediate past SBC president and president of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. “Personally, that’s about all I have to say. Why in the world would I ever warrant that opportunity to speak or pray with the president other than to be faithful to what God has said in His Word?”
The gospel witness, Land said, appears to be received with interest.
Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, said people close to Trump have said “when evangelicals were on the campaign plane with him, he would make them sit next to him, and he would just pepper them with question after question.”
Though Trump said in July 2015 he didn’t think he had ever asked God for forgiveness – as Brody and Lamb recount – Floyd, Graham and Land said Trump appears to have progressed in his spiritual pilgrimage since then.
As Floyd put it, Trump seems to have experienced “a constant growth pattern ... the last several years of his life related to his faith.”

A prophetic voice

In what Graham described as “almost monthly” meetings with Trump or his staff, the evangelical advisory board has offered its views on a range of policy matters.
In addition to discussing issues traditionally associated with evangelicals – like abortion and religious liberty – meetings have included discussion of poverty, criminal justice reform, immigration and race relations.
Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, said he asked Trump specifically about his vision for racial reconciliation and America’s inner cities during a June 2016 meeting with 1,000 evangelicals. And the day white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Va. turned to violence in 2017, Floyd texted a faith leader with White House access and requested that Trump make a statement.
“Nobody” among Trump’s evangelical advisors “is compromising on racial reconciliation,” Floyd said, though “you may not see them speak the truth on a tweet or in an article.” To optimize the impact of their words, evangelical advisors “speak it to people who can do something about it.”
For example, Floyd said, when discussion with Trump turned to immigration, evangelicals told him, “Mr. President, look at this in relationship to your being a father, your being a grandfather.”
Floyd added, “And transformation came with regard to these issues.” He said Trump’s view on undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, “is articulated differently” than it was a year ago and includes “a deep renewal of the family element.”

‘Strong & vital’ prayer

Floyd, Graham and Land said serving as Trump’s informal advisor is not a political endorsement of the president or his policies.
When Land was asked to serve in an advisory capacity for Trump, he quipped to Trump’s staff that Trump was Land’s 18th choice out of 17 candidates in the 2016 GOP presidential field. But Trump welcomed him as an advisor nonetheless, Land said.
All three advisors said they pray for President Trump, like they did for President Barack Obama, and advised every believer to do the same.
“Let’s let our witness and our prayer for [Trump] be strong and vital and true,” Graham said. “I do pray for his soul, and I pray that he knows Christ and that he is a part of the forever Kingdom of God.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

2/20/2018 9:16:26 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Battling darkness in southeastern Vermont

February 20 2018 by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications

ABOUT THIS SERIES: Vermont is a unique mission field, but North Carolina Baptists are helping increase the gospel influence in this New England state.
Brattleboro sits among the hills and mountains of southeastern Vermont, and it’s a pretty town, popular with tourists.

BSC photo by Mike Creswell
Corey Eikes has started Rivertown Church in Brattleboro, Vt. He was formerly mission pastor of Hales Chapel Baptist Church, Zebulon, N.C. The Baptist congregation shares the building of an Assemblies of God church.

But look at the city, population around 13,000, with missions eyes, and you’ll see the darkness, says Corey Eikes, who is in the process of starting a new church there.
He was missions pastor of Hales Chapel Baptist Church in Zebulon, N.C., while attending Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Corey’s father, Andy, was pastor of Hales Chapel in earlier times. Corey and his wife, Ashley, came to Vermont in 2014.
“A handful” of earlier efforts to plant churches here have failed, Eikes said. “This is one of the darkest places in North America.”
When Eikes first talked to Lyandon Warren about planting a new church in Brattleboro, Warren did not answer his question quickly. “It will only be taken through prayer and fasting,” Warren finally replied.
While at Southeastern, Corey and Ashley had been intent on serving overseas. “We had been banking everything on going overseas. All our eggs were in the international basket,” Corey recalled. But when they finally journeyed halfway around the world to a major Asian country, they both sensed God calling them to Vermont.
However, Eikes feels the contextual training on understanding foreign cultures is great training for Vermont. For example, in Brattleboro the traditional rural and conservative values of lifelong Vermonters have been joined by many newcomers who have brought in a worldview strongly colored by Eastern religious ideals. These two patterns of thought divide the town, he said.
Drugs are also a plague here as in much of Vermont. “There was a drug bust three doors down from my house the other day,” Eikes said.
“It’s a very eclectic place,” Eikes said. “The hippy movement landed here and never left this area. Some church members grew up on communes in this area.”
Eikes has made friends with some of the local non-Baptist but Bible-believing churches, praising for their survival against opposition like having witches gather on their front lawns to cast spells against their churches.
Rivertown Church, which Eikes leads, now averages about 50 on Sunday. It was started after Corey and Ashley were joined by several others who moved to Brattleboro. They share the church building of an Assemblies of God congregation on Birge Street so both groups can cut expenses. Finding meeting places — especially affordable ones – is a challenge for churches across Vermont.
Like so many others in Vermont, Rivertown is banking on financial and volunteer help from North Carolina for continued growth.
“Southeastern has sent professors up to encourage the work and ministry,” Eikes said. “You couldn’t ask for better equipping or better ongoing support.”
Eikes is a bivocational pastor by choice. He supports himself through his work as a manager with Vermont’s state program of mental health, the same way he worked his way through college.
He figures Rivertown is going to need all the light they can generate to push back Brattleboro’s spiritual darkness.

Related articles:
N.C. Baptists make a difference in Vermont
A ‘strong and healthy church’ in Pownal, Vt.
Men with N.C. roots bond in Vermont

2/20/2018 9:11:44 AM by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

‘I Can Only Imagine’ movie delivers ‘rush of hope’

February 19 2018 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Bart Millard, lead singer for the Christian band MercyMe, wrote a song in 1999 that went on to become the most downloaded Christian song of all time, according to industry sources.

J. Michael Finley, left, and Dennis Quaid act in a father-son scene for “I Can Only Imagine” due in theaters March 16. The film, produced by Erwin brothers, Andy and Jon, has gotten some attention on its theme of forgiveness.

Within a few years it crossed over into other music genres, and now movie producer Andy Erwin has turned the song’s touching story into a feature length film, which opens in theaters March 16.
The song and the movie bear the same title, “I Can Only Imagine.”
In a conversation with the Biblical Recorder, Erwin said he and his brother, Jon, are ecstatic about the early response to the movie. The first trailer has received more than 43 million views on the Internet. “If you combined our other movies, they would add up to about a fourth of that,” Erwin said.
The Erwin Brothers produced “October Baby” (2011), “Mom’s Night Out” (2014) and “Woodlawn” (2015). All are Christian films with strong box office ratings.
“I think people connect with something deeply personal in the song, ‘I Can Only Imagine,’” Erwin said. “When we did the movie, we asked Bart [Millard], ‘What does the song deliver?’ He said, ‘It’s a rush of hope – people wanting to imagine what heaven is like.’”
Erwin said the story behind the song, is “powerful,” as is the story surrounding the production of the movie.
“We had just finished the movie, Mom’s Night Out,” he explained. “I asked Bart Millard, singer for Mercy-Me, to come to a screening for the film. Afterwards he pulled me aside and said, ‘I don’t know if you know this Andy, but for the past five years someone has been developing the story behind my writing the song, I Can Only Imagine.’ I said, ‘I don’t know if you know this Bart, but they sent us the script this morning.’”
The company that developed the script decided not to use it and offered it to the Erwin Brothers.
Woodlawn was already in production, but Erwin read the script for I Can Only Imagine, talked to Millard about the full story and immediately decided, “After we finished Woodlawn, this is our next movie.”
As they discovered the full story of Millard’s troubled background, the Erwin Brothers knew a movie would require a level of transparency that could be painful. “We said, Bart, if we do this, we need to tell who you really are. We feel like the hope is in the true story behind what you went through.”

Andy Erwin

Millard lived with an abusive father who rejected the boy and his dream of being a musician. His mother had walked away from the family. Later the father faced certain death from cancer and reached out to the young Millard who was successfully following his love of music.
Erwin said, “Jesus redeemed his father as he was passing away with cancer, and Bart saw his father falling in love with Jesus. At the funeral, someone said to Bart, ‘I can only imagine what your dad’s doing in heaven right now.’ That became a way for Bart to reflect on his dad’s life and he wrote a song that is deeply personal and has connected with tens of millions of people. The song is the number one most downloaded Christian single of all time. It has crossed over to secular, country, gospel – so it’s really had life elsewhere.”

Choosing the cast

The Erwins prayed that God would put the right people in the movie. A nationwide casting call was conducted for Millard’s role. “We wanted someone to do their own singing. We wanted somebody who looked like Bart – a southern, blue collar kid that has an amazing voice,” said Erwin.
They found a young man who was working in the Broadway play, “Les Miserables” in New York. J. Michael Finley “has an amazing voice,” Erwin said. “When we talked to him, [Finley] said, ‘My dad is an associate pastor at a Baptist church in Missouri. I grew up going to hear MercyMe at camps. This is deeply familiar to me.’”
Finley gladly joined the cast. Erwin said it was a “special experience” to watch Finley and Millard working together, learning how to sing the songs.
Another big challenge was finding the right man to play the role of Arthur, the abusive father. The Erwins had a short list of actors they believed would fit the part.
“I was losing sleep wondering who God would have for us to play the dad,” Erwin explained. “I talked to movie producer Stephen Kendrick, and he really encouraged me. He said, ‘Andy, you want God to make it obvious who His choice is, so embrace closed doors and He won’t let you miss the right one.’
“A week before we were scheduled to start filming the dad’s role, Dennis Quaid called and said, ‘I love this role and I want to do it.’ I think it’s the best role he has ever had. It’s an amazing, transformative role. He plays this rough guy who comes to Christ at the end of his life. It’s a beautiful, beautiful picture of grace.”
The Erwins don’t require actors in their films to share their Christian beliefs but, the cast has to “agree on the role they play and the story we’re trying to tell,” he said. “We’re called to tell true stories that are a tool for the church to reach their communities for Christ – to be an introduction to Christianity. Our niche is evangelism.”
Another goal of Erwin’s films is to “influence the influencers.” He hopes to expose actors to real Christians and real Christianity. When a rough edit of the movie was ready, Erwin went to Quaid’s home to preview it with the actor and his twin nine-year-olds.
When the film ended, “I turned around and said, ‘What did you think Dennis?’ He was crying – couldn’t even speak. He hugged me two or three times and said, ‘Thank you. That was powerful.’
“He called Bart [Millard] that night and talked to him for hours. [Quaid] said his daughters were asking questions about God and about heaven. He said, ‘this is a film about how God does His miracles the hard way sometimes. I’m totally in.’”
Trace Adkins was invited to play the role of Scott Brickell, MercyMe’s manager. At first, he turned down the idea. According to Adkin’s manager, “He feels like he’s too rough around the edges and doesn’t want to be a hypocrite.”
Erwin responded, “That’s not a good enough reason. So, I went to Mississippi and played 18 holes of golf with him. I said, ‘Trace, this movie is about redemption, and redemption accepts you where you are. Redemption is found in Christ who loves you where you are.’”
Adkins later told a reporter, “I could use a little redemption in my life.” He accepted the movie role.
Erwin added, “Everybody loves Trace. He’s a big, gruff, lovable teddy bear. He’s great in the movie.”
Madeline Carroll, who plays Bart’s love interest, is “a strong believer – she really loves Jesus,” according to Erwin. “She does not compromise her values, and has landed some really big roles. We are very happy to have her in this film.”
Priscilla Shirer who starred in the Christian movie, “War Room,” plays the teacher who influenced Millard to develop his music interests. “She’s royalty in any circles,” said Erwin. “She was a popular speaker before God just blew the doors wide open with War Room. She is such a dignified lady. Having her on set was such a blessing.”
The Erwin Brothers’ fourth film is proving to be very different from the others.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” he said. “Woodlawn was a special film. It was deeply personal for us. But there’s this extra, rare ‘magic’ factor about this one – it’s supernatural. There’s something very simple to Bart’s story and to the song he wrote, but it is really deeply relatable, also. It’s an entry to the gospel, specifically the redemption of Arthur, Bart’s dad.
“Jon and I passionately believe in the local church. Our goal is not to get people from the church into the movie theater. Our goal is to allow the church to get a new vision to reach out to their community, to evangelize the lost in the movie theater, and get them back into the church.”
Erwin believes a whole generation is walking away from the church. Since the age demographic of many that are leaving the church is frequent movie-goers, he sees Christian films as an open opportunity to help the church with evangelism.
“We’re excited about the church being able to use this movie as an evangelistic event to engage their communities and hopefully funnel large numbers of people that make decisions for Christ into their churches,” he said. “Jesus pricked the hearts of people with His parables, then people asked, ‘What was that all about?’ We believe this movie will prick the hearts of your friends so they will say, ‘tell us more.’ Then, you can share the gospel with them.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Other movies with Christian themes releasing in February and March include “Samson,” “Tortured for Christ,” “Paul, an apostle of Christ,” and “God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness.”)

2/19/2018 3:30:38 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Sessions offer diverse options for disciple-making event

February 19 2018 by Chad Austin, BSC Communications

Pastors and ministry leaders from churches of all sizes and locations should walk away from the upcoming 2018 N.C. Baptist Disciple-Making Conference with a host of biblical and practical resources to help them make disciples in the home, church and world within their context of ministry.

“Home. Church. World.” is the theme for this year’s conference, which is scheduled for Tues., Feb. 27 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Center Grove Baptist Church in Clemmons.
Through a combined total of approximately 40 breakout sessions planned throughout the day, this year’s event features a special emphasis on training and equipping in the three spheres of home, church and world reflected in the theme.
Registration for the event is $10 per person and includes conference materials and lunch.
While the Disciple-Making Conference has traditionally been held on a Monday, this year’s event is on a Tuesday. Additional information and registration is available online at disciplenc.org.
“This year’s conference has been designed with all North Carolina Baptists in mind,” said Brian Upshaw, who leads the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) Disciple-Making Team, which is coordinating the event.
A diverse group of pastors, ministry leaders, church practitioners, seminary professors, BSC staff and others will lead the various equipping sessions held throughout the day, Upshaw said. “This year’s speakers represent churches of different sized memberships from both urban and rural contexts,” Upshaw said. “Each of the equipping session leaders brings both experience and expertise to the topics they will be addressing.”
Since disciple-making involves both helping others come to know Christ and then helping them grow in Christ, Upshaw said equipping sessions will focus on both evangelism and discipleship.
For example, a variety of sessions will focus on how to begin a gospel conversation or turn a conversation toward the gospel. A session on worldviews will equip attendees on how to listen for verbal clues about a person’s spiritual beliefs in the course of everyday conversations and then use those conversations to build bridges that connect with the gospel.
Other sessions will focus on issues such as race relations, culture and the arts, and how to wisely and carefully approach these topics from a biblical perspective in a way that can lead to disciple-making.
Several pastors and other church staff will lead sessions on creating a culture of disciple-making and developing a disciple-making pathway in one’s church. Other sessions will emphasize how to align specific ministries, such as children’s, youth, family ministry and missions, with a church’s overarching disciple-making strategy.
Equipping sessions designed for women and women’s ministry leaders will also available.
A complete list of equipping session topics and leaders is available at disciplenc.org.
Matt Carter, pastor of Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, will lead two plenary sessions.
“Austin Stone is a church that has cultivated a disciple-making culture that is impacting the home, the church and the world,” Upshaw said. “Matt is a gifted preacher whose church is aligned with what our strategy here in North Carolina is focused on.”
Preregistration is requested for this year’s conference, but Upshaw said walk-up attendees are welcome the day of the event. He encouraged all pastors and church leaders to bring a group from their church to the conference.
“There’s really something for everybody at this year’s conference,” Upshaw said. “The event is designed so that attendees should come away with practical ministry applications for making disciples in the home, the church and the world.”

2/19/2018 3:26:31 PM by Chad Austin, BSC Communications | with 1 comments

Chowan University announces 23rd president

February 19 2018 by Amanda Bradshaw Sharpe, Chowan University Relations

At a press conference Feb. 15, the Board of Trustees of Chowan University announced the selection of Kirk E. Peterson as the 23rd president of Chowan University. He will take office June 1.

Kirk E. Peterson

“My family and I are thrilled to return to Murfreesboro and Chowan University,” stated Peterson.

“We are eager to become reacquainted with members of the Chowan community, faculty, and staff and to become acquainted with those members we have yet to meet. Our family is blessed beyond measure to serve a remarkable university, its talented faculty, its dedicated staff, and its most important constituents: the students.”
“Dr. Peterson’s academic credentials are impeccable,” stated Frank Rose, chair of the Board of Trustees. “Dr. Peterson is no stranger to Chowan University, for he served as a faculty and staff member from 2004-2010. During these years, he served as the chair of the department of health and physical education, as the founding dean of the graduate school, and as associate provost.” 
Peterson earned the doctor of philosophy degree from the University of Tennessee in 2000, along with a master of science degree in education with a major in mental health counseling, and holds a second master of science degree in education with a major in sports psychology earned in 1996. In 1994, he received the bachelor of science degree in psychology from University of Wisconsin La-Crosse. 
Peterson also has experience as senior vice president and interim president followed by president at Urbana University in Ohio. After facilitating a successful merger of Urbana, saving the university from absolute closure, Peterson became superintendent of two private schools in Ohio.
M. Christopher White, the current Chowan University president, announced last fall he would transition to the role of chancellor after 32 years as a university president.
This transition will coordinate with Peterson’s arrival in June. This cooperative succession will allow White to assist Peterson, raise funds for important projects, and help raise the profile of the university. 
“I am eager to begin work with a devoted staff, expert faculty, talented senior team and remarkable Board of Trustees,” Peterson said. “As Luke 12:48 states, ‘To whom much is given, much will be required.’ As a university community, we will always be reminded that we have been given a tremendous opportunity in educating and mentoring our students. Also, we are expected to assist in the intellectual, physical, mental, social, and, most importantly, spiritual development and maturation of our students. So, as you can see, we have been given much and much is expected of us.”
Peterson is married to Rachel, and they have three sons.

2/19/2018 3:22:16 PM by Amanda Bradshaw Sharpe, Chowan University Relations | with 0 comments

Reprint of ex-slave’s book opens ‘underexplored vista’

February 19 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Reprinting a theology book by a former slave “offers a window” into the “underexplored vista” of African-American theology, says the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) officer who has rediscovered the work.

SBHLA photo
Charles Octavius Boothe (1845-1924)

Originally published in 1890 by Charles Octavius Boothe, Plain Theology for Plain People was reprinted last year by Lexham Press at the prompting of Walter Strickland, SBC first vice president and associate vice president for Kingdom diversity initiatives at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“African-American theological heritage is a mystery to many because the sources that comprise the tradition are limited,” Strickland, who is African-American, told Baptist Press (BP) via email. “Sources are scarce because historically black Christianity is a largely oral tradition and the written resources that have been produced have been obscured because of racial bias.
“Booth’s work is important today because it positions black evangelicals in the broad spectrum of the evangelical tradition,” Strickland said.
In a preface to Plain Theology for Plain People, Boothe noted that all the theology books in his day “supposed some educational attainment in their readers” and seemed unsuitable for laypeople and emerging leaders in churches. His book attempted to explain “the doctrines of our holy religion” with “simplicity of arrangement and simplicity of language.”
In less than 150 pages, Boothe explained the doctrines of God, man, salvation, Christ, the Bible, the church and more from a distinctly Baptist and moderately Calvinistic perspective. The work quoted scripture extensively in addition to journalists of the day, Shakespeare and contemporary theologians like J.M. Frost, who founded the SBC’s Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) in 1891.
Boothe presented defenses of doctrines like believer’s baptism by immersion, perseverance of all true believers and salvation by faith alone. Yet other Bible doctrines, he wrote, are more mysterious and must be believed without full explanation from God.
“We should have thought it strange,” Boothe wrote, “if Mary and Martha, or the centurion of Capernaum, or the widow of Nain, had troubled Jesus with questions as to how he had brought their dead back to life again. It was enough to know that their loved ones lived once more, but it was by no means necessary to know how he had raised them to life again.
“... So those who are raised from spiritual death and made partakers of spiritual life, should not spend any moments of that new life in asking useless questions, but rather busy themselves with devout thanks for the gift, and in earnest efforts to make the most of their life for the glory of the gracious Giver,” Boothe wrote.
Born an Alabama slave in 1845, Boothe learned to read beginning at age 3 and was taught by “several teachers who boarded at the estate where he was enslaved,” Strickland wrote in an introduction to the book. Boothe professed faith in Christ in 1865 and went on to establish and pastor two churches following the Civil War: First Colored Baptist Church in Meridian, Miss., and Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. pastored in the mid-20th century.
Boothe died in Detroit in 1924.
“Interracial cooperation,” including collaboration with Southern Baptists, Strickland told BP, was “a trademark of Boothe’s life and ministry despite his most fruitful years coinciding with the onset of Jim Crow segregation and the height of lynching terror.”
Strickland hopes Southern Baptists will read Boothe’s work and capture something of his “passion for racial reconciliation.” He also hopes Boothe will help modern readers achieve greater understanding of African-Americans’ importance in “the formation of evangelical thought.”
“Boothe offers a window into an underexplored vista of theological expression, and offers black evangelicals a deep sense of belonging in a tradition that has historically overlooked their voice,” Strickland said. “... The reprint of Plain Theology for Plain People is indicative of progress among evangelicals to engage theological voices that affirm unity in Christ yet demonstrating an openness to sharpen each other in the theological task.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – February is Black History Month. David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

2/19/2018 10:19:08 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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