January 2014

Off beaten path missionaries take gospel

January 14 2014 by Elaine Gaston, Baptist Press

SAN LUIS, Peru – Josh Murphree doesn’t live at the ends of the earth, but he says can see it from his back porch.
The Alabama native grins when he says this, but it does take some expert driving to get to San Luis in the Ancash region of Peru, where he lives with his wife Crystal and their two children, Ella and Isaac. Driving to the town deep in the Conchucos Valley from Peru’s capital of Lima entails crossing a mountain range on perilous roads and traversing a 16,043-foot pass.
Like the overwhelming obstacles the mountains can be, Murphree says that life in this remote mountain setting has had its share of struggles.
“It’s been tough to home school. We have been very lonely at times. We’re eight hours away from an ATM or restaurant that won’t make us sick,” Murphree, an IMB missionary, explains. “It’s been tough but very rewarding at the same time. We realize we’re right in the middle of where God wants us to be – even if it’s not the safest place or the easiest place.”

IMB photo
John Grady, an IMB missionary, takes in the view just below the Punta Olympica, a 16,000-foot pass. Although the main mountain roads have been improved significantly in recent years, many ministry locations still remain accessible only with specially outfitted vehicles designed to function at the reduced oxygen levels of the Andes.

Murphree has hiked over mountains, taken hours-long bus rides and crossed some fairly sketchy bridges to reach villages that need the gospel.
The Northern Conchucos Quechua live in this geographically demanding area that provides plenty of obstacles that hamper the spread of the gospel. There, Catholicism has been fused with indigenous animistic beliefs. Biblically-based evangelical believers are much harder to find.
In 2012, student researchers for the Ancash Quechua team – of which the Murphrees are a part – discovered a cluster of five small Baptist churches in the remote Hu·nuco region. Team leader John Grady learned that these fellowships may date back to a Foreign Mission Board missionary who traveled into the area by horseback about 20 years ago and led several people to Christ. In the intervening years the fellowships stayed true to God’s Word, in part because some members in the congregation could read the Bible, which they had in Spanish.
Grady says these five churches are some of the few that have not slipped into heresy.
A lot of pastors can’t read the Bible and have dismissed it as old news,” he says. 
On the edge of the rainy season later that year, Grady, Murphree and another colleague made a trip into Hu·nuco to teach and train there. They traveled in a four-wheel drive truck instead of on horseback, as the earlier missionary had done before roads were built in the area. The villages were seemingly cut off from the outside world in the rugged terrain high above the Maranon River, Murphree says.
“It was amazing to experience a culture that did not depend on outside trade but only from their own crops,” he says. “At the elevation where we stayed most of the people grew potatoes and cold-weather crops, but it was possible on clear days to turn around and see snow in the mountains right behind us.”
When they arrived, Murphree says, there were believers there “with 20 years of questions in the making.” For six days they met with the churches, first in the main town of Huacrachuco, and then journeyed to outlying villages to teach in other fellowships, some of which could only be reached on foot. Many came into the villages from even further out in the mountains in spite of the rains. Several times the missionaries spoke to packed houses. In one village without electricity, they taught into the night by lantern light.
“We were able to spend some time with leaders in the churches, teaching oral means of sharing the Gospel in Quechua through stories,” Murphree explains. “The leaders in the churches were thrilled to learn how to take stories from the Bible in Spanish and craft stories in their own heart language to be shared with those who only speak Quechua.”
When it was time to depart, the missionaries discovered that a bridge they needed to return home over had been destroyed by a mudslide. Because there was no alternative route, road workers placed logs across the gully over which Grady then carefully drove their vehicle. Murphree and other colleagues volunteered to cross on foot.
The Ancash Quechua team is now working with nationals to craft stories from the Bible into Quechua to meet the need for God’s Word in the lives of these and other believers in the mountains. This also will enable believers to share the truths of the Bible in the heart language of the Quechua people.
“So we realize we’ve got to put a lot of our effort into Bible storying, whether it’s teaching the stories to outreach groups and house churches, helping them to multiply our efforts,” Murphree says. The leaders of these small groups have become excited about this way of teaching.
“Rather than preaching on a few verses they said, ‘I’m going to learn these stories and tell people what the Bible says. I want to tell people what God’s Word says. They’ll understand it this way.’”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Elaine Gaston writes for WMU and IMB. The Murphrees were featured in the 2013 International Mission Study on Peru, published by Woman’s Mission Union.)
1/14/2014 11:30:23 AM by Elaine Gaston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Professor finds pro-life convictions come with cost

January 13 2014 by Matt Damico, SBTS

Owen Strachan, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College, has been pro-life for many years. It wasn’t until recently, however, that he decided to act on his conviction.
“I’ve been convictionally pro-life for a long time, but hadn’t taken an opportunity to get involved with the cause,” Strachan said. “I was a passionate advocate for pro-life thinking, but it wasn’t until coming into contact with this ministry – and finding people who were putting their convictions to work – that I started to get practically involved.”
The ministry is Speak for the Unborn, which came to life when Ryan Fullerton, pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., preached a sermon on sanctity of life Sunday in 2009.
Dave and Stacey Hare, who were then members at Immanuel, decided to act on the message they heard. The following Saturday, they went to downtown Louisville to do sidewalk counseling outside of the abortion clinic.
“They had no idea what they were doing,” said Andrew King, who has led the ministry at Immanuel since the Hares left for the mission field in 2010. “But they went out there and started talking to people, pleading with them not to have abortions.”

SBTS photo by Emil Handke
Owen Strachan, center, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College, counsels women to choose life outside a Louisville, Ky., abortion clinic.

A group from Immanuel continues to go out every Saturday morning to do sidewalk counseling. On Tuesdays and Fridays, a group goes from Louisville’s Kenwood Baptist Church, where Strachan serves as an elder.
As a professor at the undergraduate school of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and as a pastor, Strachan’s primary calling is to teach, write and think. But he wanted to put his intellectual life to work.
It’s an extremely good thing for our faith and convictions to cost us something,” Strachan said. “In a Jesus-like way, we can put boots on the ground and our doctrine into practice, and really experience the cost of gospel ministry.”
Sidewalk counseling makes the cost quite tangible.
“It’s not a fun ministry,” Strachan said.
The typical morning includes waking up early to arrive by 7 a.m., when the Speak for the Unborn volunteers stand on the sidewalk outside the EMW Women’s Surgical Center next to the busy Market Street. As women walk from their cars to the clinic door, volunteers try to engage them in conversations, which rarely last longer than a minute. Speak for the Unborn volunteers use this brief time to try and persuade these women – who are often with their boyfriends, husbands, friends or even parents – not to abort their unborn children and to receive instead a free ultrasound at A Woman’s Choice Resource Center, located next to the abortion clinic.
In the short time volunteers have to talk to these women, “you try to engage them quickly, you try to plant a seed, speak a gospel truth. And then they go in and you lose them, so to speak,” Strachan said.
The brief amount of time is not the only obstacle Speak for the Unborn volunteers must overcome. There are pro-choice volunteers there, too.
These volunteers wear orange vests with the words “clinic escort” on the back to indicate why they’re there: to help women enter the abortion clinic and to shield the women from the pro-life volunteers.
Interactions with escorts can turn hostile.
“They have pushed and sworn at us,” Strachan said. “I had one escort tell me that she’d wish I had never been born. I had shared how thankful I was that I hadn’t been aborted and that the people walking into the clinic hadn’t been aborted, and she shouted to me that she wished I had been.”
The hostility sometimes extends from the sidewalk to the web, where the Louisville escorts have a blog, everysaturdaymorning.net. On the site, escorts share, among other things, stories from sidewalk interactions with people they call “antis” and “protesters.”
It is no surprise to Strachan that contact with the darkness and standing against the culture’s standards of morality can be difficult and disheartening.
“Jesus promised that ministry in His name is going to be hard,” Strachan said. “We should expect some suffering.”
Yet, despite the uncomfortable situation and the direct contact with what Strachan calls “tangible darkness,” there are reasons to endure. Just as Paul promised, God often uses fools and seemingly foolish efforts to accomplish his purposes.
Even when that foolishness includes preaching to a window. “Many of us will try to preach to the window of the waiting room where the women going into the abortionist’s chamber sit before they’re called in,” Strachan said. “We’ve seen women leave that waiting room and tell us that they could hear what we were saying outside. That’s a great thing to know, but when you’re actually preaching to a window, you feel like a fool.”
There have been other occasions for hope, as well. Heather Van Roekel, a volunteer from Kenwood Baptist Church, talked with a lesbian woman on her way into the clinic, and through her kindness and pleading, the woman decided to go in for a free ultrasound at A Woman’s Choice Resource Center. After seeing the ultrasound, she decided against the abortion. Van Roekel has continued contact with the mother and has brought her – and the baby – to church events.
King has seen other examples of fruit in this ministry.
“I know people who have adopted children from crisis pregnancy situations,” he said. “We do see women turn away, and we get to share the gospel with those people. Every life we see saved is a reminder that the Lord is faithful.”
Currently, Immanuel and Kenwood are the only churches formally taking part in Speak for the Unborn. There are a number of Catholics and other individuals who also do sidewalk counseling – although the number of escorts usually outnumbers the pro-life volunteers – but King wants to see more evangelical churches involved.
“We would love churches to claim days,” he said. “We want to set realistic expectations, because it is a hard ministry. If your church can come out every third or fourth week even, we would love that.” Though individuals can volunteer with Speak for the Unborn, local churches have the advantage of facing the challenge with community.
“Due to the difficult nature of the ministry, it calls out for fellowship and community, support and prayer,” Strachan said. “You can do the ministry as a lone ranger, but it’s so much more empowering to go down with fellow members, to pray together, to encourage each other between conversations, to stand on the sidewalk together. You can be a lone ranger, but you’ll miss out on so much of what God intends to give us in the local church.”
Strachan knows that those who advocate for the unborn, whether with their churches or by themselves, will face any number of obstacles. But the hope of seeing women choose life for their babies and of embracing foolishness for Christ’s sake makes the obstacles worth enduring.
“What keeps me going is that I want to be a light, and I want to suffer in his name, and I want my faith to taste and feel more real than it does when I try to risk-proof it,” Strachan said.
Conviction comes with a cost. But when it’s life or death, the cost is worthwhile.
1/13/2014 3:32:27 PM by Matt Damico, SBTS | with 0 comments

Player urges students to FREEZE, think

January 13 2014 by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q&A

Levar Fisher is a North Carolina success story. He is considered to be the best athlete to ever come out of Carteret County. He is a perfect example of what faith in God, hard work and serving others can do in impacting thousands of lives.
As one of the best linebackers at N.C. State University, Fisher was the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and a first team All-ACC selection from 1999-2001.
He led the nation in tackles with 15.1 per game and was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, given to the nation’s top defensive player. He was also an Academic All-American.

Contributed photo
Levar Fisher retired in 2007 after a knee injury. Fisher played for the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints.

After three seasons in the National Football League (NFL), Fisher was released from the Arizona Cardinals in 2005. He was then signed by the New Orleans Saints in 2006 where he suffered a knee injury, forcing him to retire from the NFL in 2007. He utilizes the same strength and fortitude that got him into the NFL to inspire people of all ages – especially students – through his ministry.
Having spoken in 45 states, Fisher is recognized as a powerful motivational speaker who leaves an imprint on lives. He recently joined me in middle schools outside Raleigh for two days with our Sold Out School Alcohol Abstinence Program.
With great motivation and passion, his story of personal and professional redemption captivated the students. In a recent interview, he spoke about his love for ministry, students, and specifically, the challenges facing this generation of teenagers and their parents.
Q: What is your national program “FREEZE and Think” about?
A: This program has taken off to a new level, Roman, and I’m loving it. It makes parents, teachers and students aware of the decisions students make right now that are going to dictate their future. “FREEZE” represents an acronym: Focus on what’s important, Realize who you are, Eliminate negative influences, Encourage others, Zone-in on your goals and finally, Expect success.
Q: You have traveled all over the United States speaking to students, teachers and coaches. Do you think we are facing a real challenge with this generation today?
A: There are currently a lot of unique issues and many parents don’t know how to deal with them, especially bullying.
As a young parent myself, resources are helpful, but when something actually happens to your child, ‘What do you do?’
I let parents know that much of it is about the power of your words, letting your kids know you’re with them and beside them through it all.
When parents make themselves accessible to their children, it makes a world of difference.
Q: Why is it so critical that parents and our society take such problems seriously?
A: We can’t make excuses for our children. There are a great number of kids taking their lives every day. And many of these cases have something to do with a bullying situation at school. I was bullied.
I got laughed at, made fun of and picked on. It affects you greatly.
But this generation is taking it to another level. I get letters from students who are hurting themselves or planning on hurting themselves.
We at Fisher of Men, Inc. are in the process of setting up a counseling hotline for students.
Through follow up contact with students we have been able to reach out to some of these kids by helping them and giving them hope.
Q: How are you able to integrate your Christian testimony when you address others with your program?
A: My entire life is my testimony. I share with the kids that God is the reason I’m here today as He directs my every step. When the kids hear that and also about my professional football career, they say, ‘Wow, this is real!’ My testimony always brings them to the question of whether or not they have a relationship with God.
Q: You wrote a book by the same name of your program, FREEZE and Think. Who is the book’s audience, and is it similar to what you do in your programs?
A: It’s for youth anywhere between 6th-12th grade and even college students. This book tells a lot of different stories: from my own life, some of my friends and many others. It involves stories of relationships, drug and alcohol use, bullying, etc.
At the end of each chapter or story we ask questions like, ‘What would you have done differently,’ or ‘How could a student might have handled it him/herself?’
The book puts the FREEZE and Think acronym to use by showing these kids real situations, and helping them find themselves in certain situation. You can find the book at freezeandthink.com.
Q: Why is impacting this generation of students important to you?
A: When I was teenager I almost got into the car with some friends who were drinking but for some reason I didn’t.
That very same night my friend got into a car accident and lost his life. He was drinking and driving. These kids need to hear truth today.
I go into these events speaking the facts, and when I speak I’m testifying about the life that could’ve happened to me. So, by kids freezing and thinking, they won’t get in the car with the wrong people.
Q: Have you applied these principles across other areas your life?
A: There have been several situations in my past where this simple process has saved me, such as in my marriage. I want to help youngsters understand that the decisions they make today are going to shape their tomorrow. 
For more information about Levar Fisher, visit his websites freezeandthink.com or levarfisher.com. Parents, schools and coaches can find many valuable resources on these sites. Fisher also responds personally to e-mails.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roman’s Sold Out Sports Talk Radio program on American Family Radio can be heard in 200 cities nationally or streaming live at afr.net. It’s all about faith, family and sports. Visit his website: soldouttv.com; Facebook page: Roman Gabriel III Fan Page; connect with him on Twitter: romangabriel3rd; email him: soldoutrg3@gmail.com.)
1/13/2014 3:22:14 PM by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q&A | with 0 comments

Smartphones join fight to save babies

January 13 2014 by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press

GRAPEVINE, Texas – “OnlineForLife: Center TX02 is speaking with someone considering abortion. Will you pray?”
The notification popped up on an iPhone and “Yes” is tapped, adding another intercessor in behalf of an unknown woman seeking counsel at an unknown Texas crisis pregnancy center. That the woman was even speaking with a life-affirming counselor can be credited to a simple yet underutilized tool in the pro-life movement: Marketing.
Attracting women to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) often requires a personal touch. A woman facing a difficult pregnancy may confide in a friend or family member. The prayers of a sidewalk counselor may be the last words a woman hears before entering an abortion clinic. But what if there were a way to direct a woman to a CPC before she leaves her home and simultaneously rally a national network of partners to pray for her?
“We’re business guys, and we test things so we can maximize the number of babies we save,” said Brian Fisher, co-founder of Online For Life (OFL), a pro-life nonprofit business.

Drawing on the expertise of professionals in the business and technology industries, OFL has developed cutting-edge online marketing techniques to direct abortion-minded women to CPCs and their life-affirming message.

Southern Baptist TEXAN photo by Rick Linthicum
Brian Fisher, standing, co-founder of Online For Life (OFL), and Tim Gerwing, OFL vice president of technology, discuss demographics in their office in Frisco, Texas. In 2007 Fisher and a co-worker at Coral Ridge Ministries in Florida toyed with the idea of using the Internet and social media to direct women from abortion clinics to CPCs. On June 21, 2010, the first OFL baby was rescued and the number is growing daily.

That work is then undergirded in prayer. The OFL iPhone application asks followers to pray. Being able to pray in real time for a woman considering abortion has powerful potential, Fisher said. Mustering the prayers of many thousands of people across the nation on behalf of abortion-minded women and their families could be a culture-changer.

“When you have that many people interceding, you’re going to have babies saved,” he said.
Fisher admitted the “abortion holocaust” was not on his radar in the 1990s. But the friendship of a crisis pregnancy center director in Pittsburgh and the birth of his first son in 1999 began an eight-year journey leading to his involvement in the pro-life movement. In 2007 Fisher and a co-worker at Coral Ridge Ministries in Florida toyed with the idea of using the Internet and social media to direct women from abortion clinics to CPCs. And it worked.
Fisher took the prototype to Dallas in 2009 and launched Online For Life. On June 21, 2010, the first OFL baby was rescued. That reality crashed over Fisher in a wave of gratitude to God. All of the hard work and dedication wrought a priceless reward – the life of a baby rescued and a mother saved from the heartache of abortion.
“That’s our baby,” declared Lori Szala, executive director of Pregnancy Resource Center South Hills in Pittsburgh.
One of three CPCs involved in the 2007 test project, the Pittsburgh center became the first CPC in the nation to affiliate with Online For Life, and the partnership has proven invaluable.
Szala said nonprofit centers like hers cannot compete with government-subsidized abortion giant Planned Parenthood and for-profit abortion clinics in the Internet marketing arena. But OFL gives them an edge.
For a monthly fee, the Pittsburgh center partners with OFL to get the clinic’s foot in the marketing door. That has translated into a 75 percent increase in inquiries from abortion-minded women, Szala reported.
Fisher and Tim Gerwing, OFL vice president of technology, would not divulge too much detail about OFL operations out of concern that abortion advocates might use that knowledge to undermine their efforts. Gerwing called OFL an extension of a pregnancy center’s ministry. Leaving careers in highly competitive businesses and technology ventures, OFL employees now dedicate their skills to saving babies and their families.
OFL works with 50 CPCs in 23 states to direct women in crisis to their affiliated centers as quickly as possible. Just as in the business world, there is competition in the abortion industry – nonprofit CPCs are competing against well-financed and market-savvy abortion providers to see who can be more persuasive.
“We have to out-fund or outwit them to get the same person,” Fisher said.
Using Internet target marketing, OFL programming recognizes Internet searches for abortion services. The goal is to have OFL affiliates pop up on the first page of results along with the abortion clinics, giving the searcher a choice of services.
Research indicates 80 percent of the Internet traffic OFL monitors is on mobile devices. That puts a woman just one tap away from an abortion provider or a life-affirming pregnancy center.
“Our goal is to get her talking to a pregnancy resource center as fast as possible,” Gerwing said. “It’s like a 911 call. Clearly she’s shopping for an abortion.”
As a result, staff at CPCs have been retrained to counsel women on the phone. Szala said getting callers to calm down and think clearly is the greatest challenge. Once that is done, the counselor details the options available, including a visit to the CPC. Callers are told in the initial conversation the center does not provide abortions or abortion referrals.
Gerwing said it is gratifying to be a part of that connection. From its Dallas office, OFL connects scared, panicked, vulnerable women to “people willing to love and care for [them] in the name of Christ.”
The endeavor hasn’t been without growing pains. As the network grew, more phones calls were coming into the pregnancy centers than there were available people to answer calls. Because the centers have limited office hours, only 42 percent of calls coming in were answered by a person.
“You only have one chance to pick up,” Gerwing said.
With no one answering at the CPC listed on her Google search, an anxious woman would simply scroll to the next listing, possibly an abortion clinic.
So OFL established a 24-hour phone service. Calls going to centers after office hours are rolled over to an OFL counselor in Dallas who can schedule an appointment with any affiliated center in the country.
And because OFL is staffed by people with business and technical prowess, the urge to tweak and improve never stops. That is why the logical next step for the organization is the establishment of their own pregnancy resource center in the Dallas area.
“We’ve designed the end-to-end care center that rescues families and children,” Fisher said.
Recognizing the impact abortion has on women and their extended families, the new center will serve not only as an outreach to women in crisis but as a learning laboratory for OFL. As entrepreneurial businessmen, Fisher and his team are always looking to discover how they can do their jobs better so that more babies will be saved.
Such is the motivation behind the upgrade of the iPhone app. Gerwing said the new version – due to roll out this month in time for national sanctity of life emphases – is designed for all smartphones and Windows applications.
“Our heart is to build a nationwide prayer network,” he said.
The application will allow users to:
  • See real-time prayer requests from as many or as few CPCs as they wish.
  • See the number of people praying at a given time.
  • Post notifications to social media.
  • Allow churches and pregnancy centers to post needs or events advancing the pro-life cause in their communities.
And it will continue to notify users of the number of babies saved. Until recently, pro-life organizations did not keep such a public tally. Fisher said that tactical change is most notably seen in the work of 40 Days for Life. The organization not only announces the number of babies saved through their efforts but the abortion workers who leave the industry (most notably Abby Johnson) and the number of abortion clinics that close.
And that, Fisher contends, will be the impetus for cultural transformation. By celebrating the number of babies saved from abortion – the exclamation point at the end of the pro-life message – society will regain its appreciation for the miracle of life and champion its cause.
Keeping the numbers in front of the culture that engages so prolifically in social media while using that same media to draw women to CPCs will create a self-perpetuating paradigm shift, Fisher said.
“By accelerating the number of babies saved, you create the cultural transformation of more people wanting to save babies,” Fisher said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)
1/13/2014 3:13:32 PM by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pin trading, key component to Olympic outreach efforts

January 13 2014 by Baptist Press

The unofficial spectator sport of the Olympics is pin trading, and during February’s Winter Olympics, people from Sochi and around the world will be collecting and trading pins from their favorite countries, sports and retailers.
To capitalize on this unique phenomenon, Engage Sochi volunteers will have their own lapel pins that are specifically designed to help share the gospel. The pins will feature Sochi’s most recognizable landmark, the seaport building, and the Engage Sochi evangelism star and web address.

Attached to the pin is a printed gospel presentation in both Russian and English. Volunteers will use the pins to help start conversations and to help explain the gospel during the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
During the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, volunteers distributed around 75,000 evangelism pins similar to the Engage Sochi design. In addition to being used in Sochi, International Mission Board missionaries across Russia will use these pins and the excitement of the Olympic Games to reach the people in the cities where they serve – from Moscow to Vladivostok.
Engage Sochi organizers believe that a minimum of 30,000 trading pins with an attached gospel presentation will be needed. For more information, visit netcommunity.imb.org.
1/13/2014 3:05:13 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

No ‘throw-away babies,’ Tibetans learn

January 13 2014 by Tess Rivers, Baptist Press

There is no word for abortion in the language of ethnic Tibetan people. The closest phrase is “throw-away baby.”
But even without a word, ethnic Tibetan women in Nepal understand the concept. Since 2002 when the developing country overturned laws that imprisoned women for abortion and equated the practice with infanticide, the legislative pendulum has swung dramatically.
Today abortion in Nepal is legal except for the purpose of gender selection. The “morning after” pill is available without a prescription in local pharmacies. Among its Asian neighbors, Nepal ranks with China, Vietnam, Cambodia and North Korea as a country that permits abortion without restriction.

IMB photo by Kate Weatherly
An ethnic Tibetan woman helps Janice Bratcher*, a Christian worker, prepare for a fetal development class in Kathmandu as volunteer Eliza Ellis* watches. *Name changed

Abortion rights advocates call this “success” – touting the availability of safe abortions as a significant factor in the 78 percent drop in maternal mortality since 1990. They say safe abortions have significantly improved women’s health.
Jewel Deckard,* a Southern Baptist worker in Nepal, knows there’s more to it. Much more. “Sometimes people that help with abortions tell you that this is not a baby,” the 33-year-old mother of preschoolers tells a small group of women as she holds a model of a 24-week-old fetus. “But I really want you to know that is a lie. It is a baby.”
Deckard, who has lived in Nepal since 2005, wants women to know the full story of fetal development and to understand the sociological, psychological and spiritual toll of abortion on women’s health. She developed a passion to educate women after reading the story, “Christians fight infant killing in Indian slum,” about one family’s response to infanticide in India in 2010. At the same time, she was seeking ways to connect with ethnic Tibetan women.
“I decided teaching women about their bodies – and how babies develop – was something I could do to bring women together,” Deckard says. “It’s practical, and it builds relationships.”
She also wanted to introduce women to the Creator God and help them understand the value of life in God’s eyes. As a result, she designed a fetal development course tied to chronological Bible stories, which she has since shared with other Christian workers throughout South Asia.

Telling the story

In this group of about 10 women, ranging in age from 13 to 45, the need for the classes quickly becomes obvious. All attending – whether married or single – are red-faced and bashful. The 13-year-old girl leaves quickly – too embarrassed to stay. They’ve heard about the topic but seldom discuss these things.
There is one Christian among them; the rest are Tibetan Buddhists. They understand the cycle of sin – bad karma – but they have no idea how to escape it. They attempt to find forgiveness by reciting mantras, offering sacrifices of incense and worshipping at local monasteries and the stupa – a large Buddhist temple in the center of town.
After Deckard’s co-worker, Janice Bratcher,* shares “Creation to Christ” – short summaries of key Bible stories from creation to the resurrection – Deckard carefully explains each stage of pregnancy and fetal development, displaying models of the fetus at 9, 12, 24 and 36 weeks. She passes the models to the women sitting in a circle, and eyes widen with wonder as the women gently handle them.
“It’s OK,” Deckard says, smiling. “It’s just a model. Not a real baby.”
The women giggle with nervous laughter as they discuss myths of when a woman can no longer get pregnant and the facts of menopause.
But the atmosphere changes when Deckard discusses abortion. “Many people after they have abortions feel very sad,” Deckard says. “God doesn’t like abortion because He is the Creator of life.”
The women sit quietly, nodding solemnly. No one laughs. No one admits to an abortion. No one shares a story. As with most discussions on sexual behavior, the topic is not discussed, even among friends.
“But, God can forgive you,” Deckard is quick to explain. “Just like Janice told you in the story, Jesus died for our sins. No sin is beyond His forgiveness.”

Valued by God

With the help of local believers, Deckard has been teaching these classes to women for the past three years – not just in Kathmandu but in small villages throughout the Himalayas that often require days of walking just to access.
Two volunteers also are helping Deckard develop a comprehensive program to address women’s health issues from puberty to menopause. The three intend to weave Bible stories throughout the curriculum to help women understand their value in God’s eyes. “Health education is just one way to connect women,” Deckard says. “We just want them to know the full story.”
Workers like Deckard are able to serve overseas through Baptists giving through the Cooperative Program and to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
*Name changed
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tess Rivers is an IMB writer.)
1/13/2014 2:58:14 PM by Tess Rivers, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

N. Korea remains No. 1 persecutor

January 10 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – North Korea remains the most dangerous country in which to follow Jesus, and Islamic extremism continues to be a dominating factor in the persecution of Christians around the world, according to a new report.
The annual study by Open Doors announced Wednesday (Jan. 8) ranked North Korea as the world’s top persecutor of Christians for the 12th consecutive year. Meanwhile, the report showed Islamic extremism is the driving force for Christian persecution in 36 of the 50 countries at the top of Open Doors’ World Watch List.
Open Doors, which seeks to strengthen the persecuted church overseas, named these countries as the top 10 persecutors of followers of Christ in 2013: (1) North Korea; (2) Somalia; (3) Syria; (4) Iraq; (5) Afghanistan; (6) Saudi Arabia; (7) Maldives; (8) Pakistan; (9) Iran; and (10) Yemen.
North Korea far outdistanced all other countries with a score of 90 on Open Doors’ list. The other top 10 countries – led by Somalia, with a score of 80 as the runner-up to North Korea – all evidenced Islamic extremism as a source for their repressive treatment of Christians.
During the same time, Syria led in the number of Christian martyrs with 1,213, Open Doors reported. Nigeria was second with 612. Those two countries ranked far above all others in the number of Christians martyred for their faith.
Southern Baptist public policy specialist Barrett Duke described the report as “deeply troubling.”
“Christians are facing irrational, hate-filled persecution just for being Christian,” said Duke, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s vice president for public policy and research. “These are our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Followers of Jesus in the United States can help their persecuted, fellow Christians, Duke told Baptist Press in a written statement.
“We must pray more fervently on their behalf,” he said. “We must also urge our government to do everything in its power to intervene to protect these vulnerable communities. Christians can start by urging President Obama to fill the still-vacant office of ambassador-at-large for religious freedom at the State Department. The Senate can start by passing the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2013, which will create a special envoy for religious freedom to focus on many of the places where Christians are facing the worst persecution for their faith.
“The church in America must not be silent. Our brothers and sisters in the Lord need us to speak up on their behalf,” Duke said.
Open Doors USA President David Curry called the report “a wake-up call to Americans to become more aware of these atrocities and restrictions on religious freedom.”
“Often completely unaddressed in the West is the fact that Christians are the largest persecuted minority in the world,” Curry said in a written release. The countries on the World Watch List “are targeting Christians; imprisoning, punishing, and even in some cases murdering people who choose to express privately or publicly their Christian faith.”
In its report, Open Doors pointed to increased persecution in countries described as “failed.” A failed country, according to the organization, is “a weak state where social and political structures have collapsed to the point where government has little or no control.”
Six of the top 10 persecutors, Open Doors reported, are classified as failed countries: Somalia; Syria; Iraq; Afghanistan; Pakistan; and Yemen.
North Korea, which practices communism and the cult-like worship of the ruling Kim family, continues to imprison from 50,000 to 70,000 followers of Christ in concentration camps, prisons or prison-like conditions, according to Open Doors. Possessing a Bible could result in execution or a life sentence in prison.
The countries that rose most dramatically in Christian persecution were the Central African Republic, which was not on the list last year but is No. 16 this year; Colombia, which moved from No. 46 to No. 25; and Sri Lanka, which is No. 29 after not being on the list in 2013.
The West African country of Mali showed the most improvement, dropping from No. 7 to No. 33 after the French military halted the threat of an Islamic takeover.
The rankings, which Open Doors began compiling in 1991, are based on not only violence against Christians but the degree of pressure in private life, family life, congregational life, community life and national life.
The list of 50 countries may be viewed online at http://www.worldwatchlist.us/.
The U.S. State Department compiles a list of the world’s most severe violators of religious freedom regardless of the faith being targeted. Its “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. The State Department, which is required to designate CPCs each year, has not done so since September 2011.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
1/10/2014 1:25:50 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Rodman apologizes for comments about missionary

January 10 2014 by Calum MacLeod, USA Today/Religious News Service

BEIJING – Dennis Rodman apologized Thursday (Jan. 9) for his widely criticized comments about Kenneth Bae, a missionary and U.S. citizen detained in North Korea. The former NBA star, on his fourth day in Pyongyang, then courted further controversy by apparently heading to the new ski resort built as a pet project of Kim Jong Un, the impoverished nation’s young dictator.
At an exhibition game Wednesday, Rodman sang “Happy Birthday” to Kim before his team of former NBA players and street ballers took on North Korean opponents. One player, Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, left Pyongyang on Thursday but made no comment at Beijing airport.
U.S. tourists on Floyd’s flight, who had watched the game live, praised Rodman’s “basketball diplomacy” as worthwhile engagement that could open up communication with the highly isolated nation. The United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, whose regime has threatened nuclear strikes against the U.S.

Photo courtesy of dossyl via Shutterstock
Dennis Rodman in Aventura, Fla., on March 11, 2013. 

In a statement to The Associated Press, Rodman apologized to Bae’s family for comments Tuesday in a CNN interview that appeared to blame Bae, a U.S. citizen born in South Korea, for being jailed inside North Korea. “It had been a very stressful day. Some of my teammates were leaving because of pressure from their families and business associates,” he explained. “My dreams of basketball diplomacy were quickly falling apart. I had been drinking” and felt “overwhelmed” by the time of the interview, said Rodman.
After rekindling his yearlong friendship with Kim on Wednesday night, when they sat together for the game’s second half, Rodman and other U.S. team members reportedly flew Thursday to the multimillion-dollar Masik Pass ski resort that Kim has had built in under a year. It is not yet known whether Kim accompanied them.
“I believe some of the players are going skiing,” Sean Agnew, 36, from Philadelphia, said at Beijing airport Thursday after flying in from Pyongyang. Agnew had joined a four-day tour to North Korea to watch the game, mix with players postgame and experience a little-visited destination, despite the U.S. State Department’s warnings to U.S. citizens not to visit.
Agnew’s report could not be independently verified, and information emanating out of the isolated nation is extremely tightly controlled.
However, the Reuters news agency quoted an unnamed source “with direct knowledge of Rodman’s itinerary” who said the 52-year-old flew by helicopter to the ski resort, one of Kim’s showcase projects, built by the North Korean army. The Swiss government called it a propaganda project when it blocked the sale of a ski lift last year to North Korea, out of concerns the deal would breach United Nations sanctions on “luxury” items.
U.S. tourists who left Pyongyang on Thursday welcomed Rodman’s efforts, despite the firestorm back home. “Any kind of engagement I think is worth it, genuinely,” said Hakan Sokmensuer, 55, a retired executive from Sarasota, Fla., who also visited Cuba last year. “I understand fully the criticism. But historically engagement is what solves things, over centuries,” he said.
Rodman’s visit, his fourth since last February, “helps with the attitudes of Korean people, because it’s in the newspaper ‘Americans coming,’ it could open up small lines, small channels of communication. We’ll see in a few months whether it works,” said Agnew, who owns a rock venue in Philadelphia but doubts he could open one in Pyongyang. “No,” he laughed. “It doesn’t seem that’s happening there too much.”
Rodman serenading Kim with “Happy Birthday” before tipoff resembled Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy, said New York University student Sophia Sokmensuer, 18, at Beijing airport. “No one really knew how to sing it, I started singing but I realize no one else was singing, so I stopped,” but the 14,000-strong crowd soon clapped instead, she said. Rodman and Kim “seemed very relaxed with each other,” she said.
Her father, Hakan, said the pin-drop silence for 45 minutes before the game, unthinkable at a U.S. sports event, ended with a “stirring roar” to greet Kim’s arrival. Sokmensuer noticed clear changes in Pyongyang from a visit four years ago, with another of his four daughters. “Architecturally, cars on the street, people are wearing colors, there’s more lights, more electricity,” he said. “I don’t know if the mind-set changes, but certainly they are doing something to make people feel better.”
1/10/2014 1:13:25 PM by Calum MacLeod, USA Today/Religious News Service | with 0 comments

Former Olympian among Golden Gate grads

January 10 2014 by Phyllis Evans, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary

MILL VALLEY, Calif. – An Olympic swimmer, a church planting couple and a former high-tech engineer were among 67 students who received degrees during Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s winter commencement.
Paul Kingsman, a 46-year-old New Zealand Olympic medalist, received a master of theological studies degree. In addition to his bronze medal for the backstroke in the 1988 Olympic Games, Kingsman also earned four Commonwealth Games medals and 12 New Zealand national senior titles during his swimming career.
Kingsman currently is the teaching pastor at a Cross Marin Christian Fellowship in Novato, Calif., and an adviser, speaker and executive coach in the financial services industry.

Photo by Phyllis Evans, GGBTS
Paul Kingsman, a 46-year-old New Zealand Olympic medalist, now a teaching pastor in California, received a master of theological studies degree at Golden Gate Seminary’s commencement Dec. 13, culminating eight years of study at the seminary.

Kingsman’s studies at Golden Gate spanned eight years. “I count it as an exceptional education. I had the opportunity to learn from people who have made it their life’s work,” he said.
After attending his first class, Introduction to New Testament taught by Rick Melick, Kingsman said he knew “this is what I wanted to do, to complete my seminary education at Golden Gate.” (Melick is distinguished professor of New Testament at the seminary.)
Nicolas and Azucena Pacheco, a church planting couple from Oakland, Calif., both earned diplomas from the seminary’s Contextualized Leadership Development program (CLD). Nicolas received a diploma in theology and Azucena received a diploma in Christian ministries.
Nicolas works 50 hours a week in the collections department of a financial corporation and Azucena is a domestic violence counselor.
While working on their diplomas the past two years, the Pachecos planted a Spanish-speaking church in one of Oakland’s most dangerous neighborhoods, founded four missions in Mexico and established a ministry to prostitutes. The couple has young three daughters.
Raymond Hsu, a New Testament professor at China Evangelical Seminary North America, received a doctor of philosophy degree. Originally from Taiwan, Hsu has lived with his wife and family in San Diego for the past 20 years. He retired from a high-tech job as an electrical engineer in 2010 to become a fulltime seminary student.
Hsu, 49, Hsu said Golden Gate’s doctoral program “was perfect because I could easily commute without having to relocate.” He also noted how “God prepared me for seminary and my dissertation work with my background in technology and analysis.”
Graduates came from the seminary’s five campuses, as well as from several of its CLD centers across the country. The graduates represented 11 states and six countries. Nine types of degrees were awarded: doctor of ministry, doctor of philosophy, master of divinity, master of arts in educational leadership, master of missiology, master of theological studies, master of theology, and diplomas in Christian ministries and theology. The Dec. 13 commencement was held at Dominican University of California in San Rafael.
GGBTS president Jeff Iorg, in his commencement message, voiced a message of hope to the graduates.
“We are a hope-filled movement. Our hope is not based on a spiritual pep talk or emotional fakery,” Iorg said. “We have hope – for meaningful life now and eternal life later – resting in the God we serve and His accomplishments.”
The message of hope, Iorg noted, is interwoven throughout the Christian message: “faith, hope, and love.” He encouraged the graduates and guests to “discover tonight, during this Christmas season, fresh hope for the future and renew our commitment to share our hope with every person in the world.”
Referring to various truths in Scripture, Iorg described five sources of hope.
  • hope because Jesus Christ has overcome death through the resurrection and the promise of His return.
  • hope because the Holy Spirit is at work through His people, and the power of the Holy Spirit will sustain.
  • hope because the Bible, as God’s Word, is true.
  • hope because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • hope that can be shared with the nations.
 “I challenge you, graduates, to continue to find in the Scriptures the hope of the Gospel,” Iorg said. “There is hope tonight because you are Gospel-centered. You have found the hope of the Gospel and you have hope because of what Jesus Christ has accomplished in your life. After all, Jesus is the hope of the nations.”
Golden Gate Seminary is a Cooperative Program ministry of the Southern Baptist convention, operating five fully-accredited campuses – in Northern California, Southern California, Pacific Northwest, Arizona and Colorado. For more information visit www.ggbts.edu.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phyllis Evans is director of communications for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.)
1/10/2014 1:01:36 PM by Phyllis Evans, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary | with 0 comments

ERLC network to equip Christians for culture

January 9 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Southern Baptists and other Christians have a new means of being equipped to address the culture’s contentious issues with the gospel of Jesus – thanks to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity unveiled today (Jan. 8) its ERLC Leadership Network and its related advisory council of SBC pastors and leaders.
The ERLC describes the new network as a blend of “university alumni association” and “comprehensive digital equipping hub.” It is designed to provide outlets for “affinity” with and “resources” from the ERLC, and is open to men and women who seek to identify with the ERLC’s Gospel-focused approach to cultural issues in their roles as pastors, leaders or lay people.
The ERLC Leadership Network Council consists of 31 Southern Baptist pastors and leaders, including David Platt, Matt Chandler and J.D. Greear, who will guide the network and receive training from the ERLC staff.
“The ERLC Leadership Network is about ministering in the midst of a devil-haunted universe,” ERLC President Russell D. Moore said. “As we come alongside one another, we’ll talk about crucial ethical issues confronting churches and how we can engage the culture with a Gospel focus.
“We’ll think through issues that aren’t yet confronting churches but will, and how we can best go through the difficulties of life and local church ministry with a joyful warrior, kingdom expectancy – marching toward Zion on the triumphant side of history,” he said.
Council members, who will contribute some material for the ERLC, welcomed the new endeavor.
Chandler, lead pastor of teaching at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, said he is blessed to be a council member.
“When I need help navigating the challenging ethical issues that exist in today’s culture, the ERLC is a great resource for me,” Chandler said in a statement on the leadership network website.
Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh/Durham, N.C., area, also praised the initiative on its website.
“The ERLC helps me think Biblically and in Gospel-responsible ways about the issues confronting our people every single day,” Greear said. “To not speak and think about these issues would be doing our people a great disservice.”
Benefits of belonging to the leadership network, according to the ERLC, include receiving unique content, gaining preferred access to commission events and securing discounts for ERLC events and materials. There is no charge to register for the network. Members of the network receive regular messages from the ERLC regarding materials and other benefits.
While the network is open to all, the ERLC will fill the network council annually on an invitation-only basis.
In addition to Chandler and Greear, other council members include:
  • David Platt, senior pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., and author of the book “Radical;”
  • A.B. Vines, senior pastor of New Seasons Church in Spring Valley, Calif., and president of the SBC’s National African American Fellowship;
  • Matt Carter, pastor of preaching and vision of The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas;
  • Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, and SBC first vice president, and
  • Nathan Lino, senior pastor of Northeast Houston (Texas) Baptist Church and the SBC’s 2012 first vice president.
Network registration, a full list of council members and other information are available at erlc.com/network.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Baptist Press’ Washington bureau chief.)
1/9/2014 10:37:31 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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