January 2016

2015 CP gifts up in North Carolina

January 26 2016 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Cooperative Program (CP) gifts from North Carolina Baptist churches rose slightly in 2015 according to a report from the Business Services office of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC). Total CP funds increased $239,069.11 or .83 percent above 2014 gifts. CP gifts were $29,068,605.85 for the year. Gifts exceeded the convention’s budget by $68,605.85.

 
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Gifts to three major offerings in the state showed stronger increases in 2015. The North Carolina Missions Offering increased from $1,877,228.99 to $2,150,208.60, or 14.54 percent, exceeding the $2.1 million goal for the first time in nine years.
 
N.C. Baptists increased their gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (LMCO) in 2015 by more than $1 million or 8.14 percent. Total gifts for the year reached $13,658,811.30.
 
Gifts to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions (AAEO) totaled $5,893,999.11, an increase of 1.32 percent over the previous year.
 
According to John Butler, BSC’s executive leader for Business Services, N.C. Baptists gave more to LMCO and AAEO than any other Baptist state convention for the SBC fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2015. LMCO gifts were $1.5 million above the second highest state in the SBC. Commenting on the overall report Butler said, “After nine years of decline we feel like we are going up [in giving].” He is pleased to see gifts exceed the BSC budget and reverse the downward trend.
 
Baptist Press reported the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) year-to-date CP contributions are 1.26 percent ahead of the first quarter (October-December) of 2014 and 1.85 percent under the SBC CP Allocation Budget projection for the year.

The BSC will forward approximately $400,000 more to the SBC CP for 2015 than it did in 2014, bringing the CP dollars forwarded in 2015 to $10.7 million. When LMCO, AAEO and hunger funds are added to the SBC CP share, it pushes the total amount forwarded to the SBC to $1.6 million more than the previous year. 

The 2016 BSC budget includes another $1.07 million SBC CP increase, which could mark a record high for the state convention. 
 
Milton A. Hollifield Jr. executive director-treasurer of BSC said, “I am grateful that N.C. Baptist churches were able to increase their contributions to missions through the Cooperative Program in 2015.
 
“More of our churches are accepting the 1% Challenge from Dr. Frank Page of the SBC Executive Committee to strengthen their support of missions through the CP.”
 
He expressed hope that the giving record indicates churches also experienced growth in support of their missions and ministry budgets.

1/26/2016 11:54:00 AM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments



‘Snowed-in’ ERLC staff improvise hotel worship service

January 26 2016 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

Long-awaited sunshine revealed monumental blankets of snow covering the Washington, D.C., area on Jan. 24 after nearly 48 hours of blizzard-like conditions. The skies were clear that Sunday morning, but roads and runways were closed due to historic levels of snowfall, leaving droves of travellers stranded in the city.
 
Among the D.C. castaways were organizers and attenders of the inaugural Evangelicals for Life conference at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, co-sponsored by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention and Focus on the Family. The Jan. 21-22 pro-life event had gone as planned, as did the yearly March for Life, until inclement weather created impossible travel conditions on Friday afternoon.

 
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Nathan Lino, president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and lead pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church

Despite the helpless situation, marooned conference-goers decided to redeem their hotel-bound Sunday morning, doing what evangelicals do best – praying together, singing hymns and preaching the Word of God.
 
Nearly 100 Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and others packed into a hotel conference room that seated around 50. Staff members from the ERLC arranged the time of worship, inviting hotel guests to join them for the improvised chapel service.
 
Phillip Bethancourt, ERLC executive vice president, jokingly referred to the gathering as “Hyatt Regency Community Church.”
 
Nathan Lino, lead pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church and president of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, preached to the gathered crowd from Ephesians 4:29-30.
 
“Words are tiny, but they are powerful,” he said. “They shape us and form us and control us and they direct our lives.”
 
Lino emphasized the potential for words to either build up or destroy.
 
“Every decision you’ve ever made, and who you are today, is the result of words,” he said. “I hope you suffer or I forgive you; I hate you or I love you; We regret to inform you or we’re happy to inform you.”
 
Words are powerful because they come from God, Lino said, referring to numerous biblical stories and examples from the life of Jesus.
 
“Do not speak words that rot people’s souls,” he continued. “Speak honest words, speak true words, but speak them in a way that is fitting … and it will be life-giving to those that hear.”
 
Daniel Darling, ERLC vice president for communications, led the group as they sang classic hymns, including “Amazing Grace.” He was accompanied by Trillia Newbell, director of community outreach; Lindsay Swartz, managing editor of content; and Christian Walker, wife of Andrew Walker, director of policy studies.
 
Scripture reading came from Daniel Patterson, ERLC chief of staff, and Ferrell Foster, director of Ethics & Justice for the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas Convention.
 
Freda M. Bush sang special music. She is a longtime pro-life advocate and clinical instructor in the OB-GYN and Family Medicine departments at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
 
The group seemed to enjoy the chapel service, despite the inconvenience of being snowed-in. They did, however, sing one particular verse with a hint of eagerness: “‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Seth Brown is content editor of the Biblical Recorder, news journal of North Carolina Baptists.)

1/26/2016 11:34:30 AM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



Saeed Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, interviewed post release

January 25 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Naghmeh Abedini is making plans to join her husband Saeed Abedini at the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove in Asheville, N.C., where he has been resting with his parents and sister since arriving there Jan. 21 from Berlin, Germany.
 
She changed earlier plans to fly with the children to meet her husband in Germany, where he was receiving medical treatment after his release from unjust imprisonment in Iran, after the couple determined he needed more time to heal psychologically, she told Baptist Press (BP) Jan. 22.
 
“When I spoke to him he didn’t seem to be in a good state of mind, and so we just had to give it time before our family reunited, especially with the kids,” she told BP. “I had a quick conversation with the German doctor and he said overall he was healthy, he was pretty healthy [physically].”
 
The 35-year-old pastor suffered beatings and harsh punishment during three-and-a-half years in prison in Iran, where he had been held due to his Christian faith. He was freed Jan. 15 with three other Americans in a prisoner swap the Obama Administration negotiated during nuclear disarmament talks.

 
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Samaritan’s Purse photo               
Pastor Saeed Abedini is surrounded by his parents and sister at a North Carolina airport Jan. 21, his first day in the U.S. after his release from an Iranian prison. Franklin Graham, who is hosting the family as guests at The Cove conference center, is in the background at left.

Naghmeh Abedini and their children Rebekkah and Jacob will arrive in Asheville early the afternoon of Jan. 25 to spend at least a week with Saeed before returning as a family to their home in Boise, Idaho. At the Cove, they will rest and receive counseling, she said.
 
The Abedini marriage is strained by the imprisonment and emails that surfaced, intended only for close friends, in which she accused her husband of spousal abuse and an addiction to pornography.
 

Marital struggle

Naghmeh Abedini hasn’t been able to determine who in November 2015 leaked to the media emails she had sent only to close friends. In those emails, she revealed her marriage was strained by abuse, but later expressed regrets for sending the emails even to close friends.
 
“It’s unfortunate that your family is going through so much pain and people try to profit off of it and put it out there,” she said. “Because Saeed was made aware of it, it will make it that much harder for us to pursue healing and reconciliation. So I was very heartbroken.”
 
But the revelation of the marital strife has proved to be a blessing that has taught her to rely more heavily on the Lord through prayer and fasting.
 
“That’s how God works,” she said. “The worst things in our life turn out to be the best blessing.” She trusts God to make beauty out of ashes, she said, evoking Isaiah 61:3, and to use the situation as a ministry to others.
 
“For most of my marriage, I’d idolized Saeed, and through my fast I was made aware of that and the importance of putting God first, which seems to be Christianity 101 in action,” she said. “This last fast really had me focused on the Lord. It took his imprisonment for me to break that idol and focus on the Lord fully and to see issues that are so hidden.”
 
The Lord has taught her to forgive and love her husband, she said, while still establishing boundaries in the relationship.
 
“It was difficult because Saeed was the first person I ever dated, the love of my life, and he still is,” she told BP. “But [I’ve learned] that can’t override my relationship with God and my obedience to God. Obedience to my husband is very important, but when it’s biblical and when it’s healthy.... I’m sure many, many Christians know that, but for me, it was a new lesson to learn.”
 
Her husband was converted to Christianity at age 20, she said, and grew up in an Iranian cultural environment that subjugates women. She described herself as a private person who has suffered much pain and anger because the emails were made public, and she chose not to tell BP the details of the alleged abuse.
 
Any further discussion of the abuse would need to come from her husband, she said.
 
“I think when it’s time,” she told BP, “I think it’s a story that needs to be told by Saeed, not me. I think it had better not be anything that I focus on anymore.”
 
She has advocated widely for her husband’s release, maintaining a Facebook page, meeting with President Barack Obama, and speaking before Congress and in many venues before taking a break from public advocacy last November.
 
“I’m proud of Saeed for having stood for his faith, but we’re real people with real issues, and a lot of it is ... from the Middle East and the way women are treated there,” she said. “But I’m hearing from a lot of women in this country and I’m just hoping God can use it to show He’s bigger than anything and to help other people be set free.
 
“The biggest lesson I learned as a wife is I needed to find my strength in God. I was looking to my husband for everything, for self-worth,” she said. “I don’t know how to explain it, but he had become my god. That’s not a small thing; that’s a big deal. ... If God is not number one it’s bad, and God is jealous. He will have no idols before Him.”
 
God has revealed the struggles of His followers for ages, she said, referencing the biblical King David who was described as having a heart for God but was also an adulterer and murderer.
 
“There’s a reason God allowed people to see the most intimate part of my family,” she said. “I don’t want us to be idolized. Maybe part of the blessing of this coming out is that we can’t be idolized.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

Related Stories:

Saeed Abedini released from Iranian prison
Abedini retreats to North Carolina

1/25/2016 1:01:48 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Pro-life laws in 2016 will focus on unborn child’s suffering

January 25 2016 by Courtney Crandell, World News Service

In 2015, the fight against abortion began with a setback when a highly publicized 20-week abortion ban failed to pass in the U.S. House of Representatives despite its Republican majority. But the pro-life movement regrouped and accomplished legislative victories on the state and federal level, making last year one of the most life-affirming since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973.
 
The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and Americans United for Life (AUL) celebrated the 2015 victories in two recent reports that also outlined legislative priorities for 2016. Pro-lifers hope last year’s momentum will carry through to November and help sweep a pro-life president into the White House.

 
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According to AUL’s 2015 legislative session report, 48 states introduced about 315 measures related to abortion, a 17 percent increase over 2014. And state lawmakers enacted 30 of those measures, which included 20-week abortion bans, abortion facility regulations, chemical abortion regulations and admitting privilege requirements.
 
Oklahoma ranked first among states for passing legislation prohibiting some dismemberment abortions and for strengthening its informed consent laws, progress that also earned the state a place on AUL’s Life List All Stars. Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Indiana, North Dakota, Missouri and Texas also made the top 10 in AUL’s state ranking. Washington ranked least life-affirming state for the seventh year in a row, followed by Vermont, New Jersey, California, and Oregon.
 
“The momentum for creating a culture that respects life in the law increases each year,” said AUL president Charmaine Yoest. “This is a historic time for life. More life-affirming and protective state laws have been enacted since 2010 than in any similar period since Roe v. Wade.”
 
Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas also made AUL’s Life List All Stars, a ranking given to states that most successfully enacted legislation protecting both mothers and their children. Arkansas enacted seven abortion regulations, including a law that requires informing women that their chemical abortions can be reversed. Texas continued to defend its abortion facility standards in court while enacting legislation strengthening its parental consent law.
 
And according to NRLC, the declining abortion rates prove legislation enacted since Roe v. Wade is working. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data released in November showed a 4.2 percent decline in abortions from 2011 to 2012 – 31,000 fewer abortions overall. NRLC credits the abortion decline to long-term legislative and educational strategies.

 
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But work remains for 2016. Though abortions have declined overall, the rate of chemical abortions is increasing. About 20 percent of all abortions are chemical abortions, the highest percentage since the government legalized the abortifacient RU-486 in 2000, according to the CDC.
 
AUL already has seen interest in new model legislation focused on regulating the treatment of fetal remains. Yoest also said state leaders are considering stronger abortion facility regulations after the Supreme Court agreed to review Texas’ abortion provider health and safety regulations. NRLC aims to continue shifting abortion arguments to focus on the unborn child’s plight by promoting legislation focused on the child.
 
Three states – West Virginia, Nebraska, and Missouri – already have introduced legislation to ban dismemberment abortions, and NRLC expects more states to follow suit in the coming months. Kansas and Oklahoma passed the legislation last year. Partial-birth abortions already are illegal in the U.S., and dismemberment abortions are just as brutal. U.S. lawmakers introduced a dismemberment abortion ban on the federal level in September.
 
NRLC also expects to see more 20-week abortion bans proposed in state legislatures. Though the legislation failed at the federal level, 12 states have passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.
 
Douglas Johnson, legislative director for NRLC, said electing a pro-life president in November would encourage Congress to pass more pro-life legislation. NRLC anticipates federal legislation banning dismemberment abortion, increasing protection for healthcare workers, and protecting abortion survivors in the coming year. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act already passed the House in September.
 
“Even after seven years of pro-abortion policies from the Obama administration, the right-to-life movement is making tremendous gains on behalf of mothers and their unborn children,” said NRLC president Carol Tobias. “As the November election approaches, the right-to-life movement stands ready to protect our pro-life majorities in Congress and elect a pro-life president.”

1/25/2016 12:54:18 PM by Courtney Crandell, World News Service | with 0 comments



Supreme Court takes landmark church-state case

January 25 2016 by Emily Belz, World News Service

A case the Supreme Court just agreed to hear is about ground-up tires for a church playground, but it could be one of the more significant religious-exercise cases in a decade. The court will consider when states can provide aid to religious institutions.
 
Missouri nonprofits can apply to the state for scrap tires to use for rubber playground surfaces. Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., which has a daycare called the Learning Center, applied to receive the ground-up tires for its playground. The state ranked the church’s application highly, but refused the grant based on a state constitutional provision that forbids state money going to support churches. About 35 states have similar provisions in their state constitutions.
 
The church challenged the application of the state constitutional provision in federal court, arguing that a church should be eligible for basic state aid. Trinity Lutheran lost at the district court and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court, to some surprise, took the case Friday, and will hear arguments in March or April. The court’s decision to take the case could possibly indicate the justices’ desire to reverse the 8th Circuit, but no one knows with certainty what the court will do.
 
The significance of such a seemingly pedestrian case lies in a Supreme Court precedent from a 2004 case named Locke v. Davey. In that case, the court ruled under Chief Justice William Rehnquist that Washington state was justified in refusing a scholarship to a student studying theology at a private Christian school. Students in other nonreligious degrees were still eligible for scholarships. Essentially, the court ruled that a state was justified in refusing to grant scholarships to train clergy. Now the Supreme Court will decide whether Locke would apply to other aid.
 
“The Trinity Lutheran Church case is important because it’s going to resolve whether Locke should be read narrowly or broadly,” said Carl Esbeck, a religious freedom lawyer at the University of Missouri School of Law, just down the road from the church. Esbeck filed an amicus brief on the side of the church in the lower court. “If you care about religious liberty, you want Locke to be read narrowly.”
 
When a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit ruled against the church, one judge, Raymond Gruender, dissented in part. He wrote that “Locke did not leave states with unfettered discretion to exclude the religious from generally available public benefits.” He also believed that “the disfavor of religion here is more pronounced than in Locke.”
 
“Schoolchildren playing on a safer rubber surface made from environmentally-friendly recycled tires has nothing to do with religion,” Gruender wrote in his dissent.
 
The facts in this case are good for the church because it is clear that scrap tire does not somehow promote the Christian gospel. And the church argues the playground is a resource for neighborhood children, not just church members.
 
“They haven’t had a case like this since Locke v. Davey … so we haven’t seen anything like this for 12 years,” Esbeck said. “If they rule here in favor of the church, it’s probably going to stand for another 12 years at least.”

1/25/2016 12:45:53 PM by Emily Belz, World News Service | with 0 comments



Study: Americans share conflicting views on sports gambling

January 25 2016 by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay Research

Wagering on sports isn’t morally wrong, most Americans say but nearly half think it should be illegal anyway, a newly-released study shows.
 
And as millions nationwide manage their fantasy sports rosters, Americans straddle the fence on whether heavily advertised daily games by companies such as FanDuel Inc. and DraftKings Inc. should be banned.

 
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A study released Jan. 22 from LifeWay Research shows widespread belief that sports gambling is morally acceptable. Nearly two-thirds of Americans disagree that it’s morally wrong to bet on sports. The results are from a survey conducted this past September.
 
Yet 49 percent think sports betting shouldn’t be legalized nationwide, while 40 percent say it should be. Eleven percent of Americans aren’t sure.
 
They’re evenly divided on daily fantasy sports contests, which face heightened scrutiny nationwide as states weigh whether the games constitute illegal gambling. In the survey, 47 percent of Americans say daily fantasy sports should be legal, 46 percent say no, and 7 percent aren’t sure.
 
“Throughout history, gambling has invited shady and addictive behavior,” said Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research. “Clearly, people perceive a harm to society that goes beyond the wager itself.”
 

Skill vs. chance

In fantasy sports, gamers create hypothetical teams of real college or pro athletes and can win prizes based on the performance of the chosen players. Some fantasy leagues last an entire sports season, but short-term contests have attracted millions of participants and billions of dollars in recent years.
 
Controversy erupted last fall amid allegations that employees of daily fantasy sports companies were using insider information to win large sums at rival sites.
 
While federal law allows online daily fantasy contests if they meet certain criteria, several states are scrutinizing whether the games run afoul of state gambling laws. The games don’t operate in some states because of concerns over their legality.

 
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“In gambling, experts known as sharks can make a lot of money off of novices,” McConnell said. “This is certainly true in daily fantasy sports. If you know the sports and you know how the game is played, you can make money off people who say, ‘Let me throw 30 bucks in and try this out.’”
 
At issue is whether fantasy contests are primarily games of skill, in which sports knowledge and ability to create hypothetical teams are paramount, or games of chance, in which the outcome is determined by factors beyond players’ control. Gambling laws typically allow games of skill but restrict or regulate games of chance.
 
McConnell said daily fantasy contests change the nature of the game.
 
“When you start over each day, there’s more skill involved in building a team than games that can be adjusted for a full season,” he said. “And instead of spending $50 in entry fees for a four- or five-month commitment, you’re spending $50 a day.”
 

Age, gender gaps

Support for legal sports betting is higher among men (50 percent) than women (30 percent), LifeWay Research found.
 
The survey also shows differences by age, with younger Americans more likely to favor legal sports betting and daily fantasy games than those in middle age or older. A majority of those 18-34 say sports wagering should be legalized nationwide; less than a third of those 55 and older agree.
 
Opposition runs highest among religious Americans. Nearly six in 10 with evangelical beliefs (58 percent) say sports betting should not be legalized throughout the country, and 57 percent believe daily fantasy sports should be illegal.
 
On the question of morality, however, even religious Americans take a softer stance. Only 36 percent of Christians believe betting on sports is morally wrong, the survey shows. Those with evangelical beliefs and those who frequently attend religious services are the most likely to have qualms, but fewer than half (47 percent) of those groups say sports wagers are morally wrong.
 
“We don’t see a majority in any group saying it’s morally wrong to bet on sports,” McConnell said. “For more Americans to want something to be illegal than find it immoral is an interesting situation.”
 
Americans recognize sports wagering could affect the integrity of the sport, he said.
 
“For the average American who has a fun rivalry with a friend, it’s a way to put your money where your mouth is,” McConnell said. “But when people are trying to make money, rather than just back up their claim that their team is better, that’s a different kind of wager.”
 
Methodology: The phone survey of Americans was conducted Sept. 14-28, 2015. The calling utilized random digit dialing. Fifty percent of completes were among landlines and 50 percent among cell phones. Maximum quotas and slight weights were used for gender, region, age, ethnicity and education to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.6 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.
 
LifeWay Research, based in Nashville, is an evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect the church.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lisa Cannon Green is managing editor of Facts & Trends magazine.)
 

Related Story:

Fantasy sports betting investigated

1/25/2016 12:33:18 PM by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments



Ministry challenges, opportunities abound in Indonesia

January 25 2016 by Elaine Gaston, WMU

INDONESIA – It wasn’t tropical tourism that first brought Rosemary Brackey* to Indonesia more than a decade ago. It was her desire to offer healing hands to the country after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed an estimated 170,000 Indonesians alone. At the time, Rosemary was a telemetry nurse, monitoring patients’ vital signs for Liberty Hospital in a Kansas City, Mo., suburb. She and her husband Howard* had felt called to global missions but were waiting for the Lord’s timing.
 
Nearly 88 percent of the population, an estimated 205 million people, profess Islam in Indonesia, making it the most populous Muslim country in the world. Even though the majority claims adherence to Islam, groups in the islands have a multitude of non-Islamic practices – most incorporating animism and ancestor worship.

 
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On Dec. 26, 2004, an earthquake off the western coast of Sumatra spawned a tsunami that killed nearly 250,000 people in 13 countries. The disaster took the lives of 170,000 people in Indonesia, most of those in the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra. Giant waves surged in, engulfing villages, turning the region into a deluged wasteland and eradicating entire communities.

Then, reports of the catastrophic tsunami spurred her to action when she discovered that a local church was sending a disaster relief team to help survivors in Aceh Province. By the time she learned about the trip, however, the team was already complete and the organizer suggested that she volunteer for a later trip. But Rosemary’s heart couldn’t take “later.”
 
That night, during the small group Bible study she led, her group prayed she could be part of the relief effort. She felt strongly that she needed to be on the team leaving in less than two weeks. When she returned home after the study, a message was waiting on her answering machine. One of the nurses had dropped out of the trip for medical reasons and if Rosemary wanted to go, then she had nine days to raise the funds.
 
“In nine days, I got three weeks of [nursing] shifts covered, I found people to watch our kids after school and I raised a ton of money – $3,600,” she said. “It was clearly God’s plan for me to go on that trip. I got on the plane, and I didn’t even know [exactly] where Indonesia was. I didn’t have time to look that up. I knew I was called and I just went.”

 

Where in the world

The country of more than 250 million people – fourth in population in the world – has the largest economy in Southeast Asia and is the most populous Muslim country in the world.
 
Today, international travelers to this archipelago, a collection of islands, straddling the equator often go there for vacation. The island of Bali, since Europeans discovered it centuries ago, has been considered the ultimate island paradise, with its sun-bathed beaches and extravagantly colorful culture. But it wasn’t pristine beaches that first brought explorers to Indonesia’s shores. Arab and Asian merchants sailed through these island-studded waters as part of the maritime Silk Road to avoid crossing the formidable Himalayas when transporting goods between India and China.

 
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 A family of four navigates a busy roadway in one of Indonesia's megacities. The country of more than 250 million people has the fourth largest population in the world and the largest economy in Southeast Asia.

The islands were discovered to be the single source in the trade for exotic spices such as nutmeg, mace and cloves, which at that time were found nowhere else in the world. Europeans joined in trade explorations, and by the 17th century, the Dutch controlled the islands as part of the Dutch East India Company, managing a tight monopoly on the spice trade until nearly the 19th century.
 
As ships from afar traveled the trade winds, foreign religions were introduced to the islands by the merchants: Hinduism sprang from India, Buddhism came from China and, a few centuries later, Islam arrived from South Asia. Islam swept down through the archipelago from its northwest tip and took a firm hold that remains today.
 

Islands apart

Though nearly 88 percent of Indonesians profess Islam, Indonesia is a mosaic of peoples, cultures and languages throughout its roughly 13,500 islands. The nation’s motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity), reflects the challenge of a national identity with the educated urban elite and factory workers living in densely populated cities, hunter and forager groups stalking island forests, inland rice farmers harvesting fields by hand and coastal fishermen sailing clear ocean waters.
 
Five major islands are home to most of the population base. Java, about the size of New York State, carries the weight with nearly 60 percent – about 140 million. However, Java has only 7 percent of the nation’s landmass. By contrast, Sumatra, much larger than Java, is home to more than 50 million. Sulawesi, Kalimantan (the southern part of the island of Borneo) and the western part of New Guinea (known as the provinces of Papua and West Papua or collectively known as Irian Jaya) are the other major islands.

 
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Many places in Indonesia are tough to reach – physically and spiritually. There are diverse groups of people spread across the vast collection of islands, from sea gypsies who live in stilted houses over water, to hunter and forage groups who inhabit island forests, to fishermen sailing along the coast.

And though Bali isn’t one of the major five islands, it is significant with its economic impact in capturing tourist dollars. In recent years, it has become the new gateway island, routing hundreds of thousands of international visitors through its massive new international airport terminal, rather than the congested capital city of Jakarta.
 
Most of the thousands of smaller islands belong to island groups, of which there are about 30 clusters. Examples include the Moluccas (also known as the Spice Islands) east of Sulawesi and the sparsely populated Banyak Islands off Sumatra’s western coast.
  Many places in Indonesia are tough to reach – physically and spiritually. So it takes creativity for International Mission Board (IMB) workers to share the gospel there.
 

The right time

Rosemary doesn’t live in Kansas City anymore.
 
Once in her seat for the volunteer team flight to Indonesia, she pulled out the flight magazine, looked at the map in the back pages and suddenly realized just how far this trip would take her. It wasn’t just distance, though. It was also the place she and Howard were in their lives. By her third day there, she was deeply touched by the people she was working among.
 
“I just loved it. I loved the work,” she said. She sent Howard an email in which she remembers writing something along the lines of: Sell the house and call the IMB because I want to live here. It was that moment in time when God crystalized His call on their lives.
 
Supported through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, Rosemary and Howard, with their four children, have been living and working in Indonesia since 2007 to bring spiritual healing, hope and truth to this island nation.
 
*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Writer Elaine Gaston has served overseas with her family in restricted-access countries. She is now based in the U.S. Indonesia is the current country of focus for Woman’s Missionary Union’s International Mission Study. International Mission Board workers featured in this study are supported through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering: imb.org/give. Find IMS study resources at imb.org/ims and wmu.com/IMS.)

1/25/2016 12:19:26 PM by Elaine Gaston, WMU | with 0 comments



Churches brace for snow cancelations

January 23 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Philadelphia is expecting so much snow that some churches may have to cancel worship services not just this Sunday, but the following week too.
 
That’s because many of the Greater Philadelphia Baptist Association’s 143 congregations have no parking lots, and snow could be piled up in their curbside parking for more than a week, said Peter Yanes, a North American Mission Board church planting catalyst and ethnic church strategist for the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania-South Jersey.

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Snow storms pound the eastern side of the United States Jan. 22-23, causing local churches to consider canceling services despite the financial impact. 

 
The City of Brotherly Love is expecting 12-18 inches of snow Jan. 22-23, according to the National Weather Service, as part of a winter storm that could affect a quarter of the U.S. population, dump two-and-a-half feet of snow on Washington, D.C., and cause thousands of churches to consider cancelling worship services this weekend.
 
Pastors and other ministers in affected areas told Baptist Press church cancelation policies vary, and the financial impact of winter storms can be significant.
 
Churches in Philadelphia “encourage all of our families that if there is closure of streets and you can’t make it to our churches, do your own family worship time [at home] and family bonding,” Yanes told BP. Believers “will be missing going to church together, but we expect them not to miss worship.”
 
On Friday, Yanes said the church he attends had already cancelled a Saturday wedding and was waiting to see whether public transportation would operate Sunday – since some church members use public transportation to attend worship.
 
Winter weather makes January the most challenging month of the year financially for Philadelphia churches, Yanes said, and some build an expectation of lower offerings into their planning.
 
“Many of our churches are struggling financially, and to remove one collection [of offerings] a month will have a big impact on the income of the church,” he said.
 
Farther north in New England, January snow last year decreased churches’ giving through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified channel for funding missions and ministries in North America and across the globe.
 
Terry Dorsett, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England, told BP in an email, “Last January was brutal and many churches cancelled two or three Sundays in a row. Not only was it devastating to some of those churches financially, but it impacted CP giving and gave us one of our lowest months in years. It took several months for the budget to fully recover.”
 
In Charlotte, N.C. – which CNN said “looked like a ghost town” Friday because residents stayed home to avoid snow and ice – the pastor of multi-site Hickory Grove Baptist Church said worship will not be cancelled altogether Sunday, though some individual services at the congregation’s two campuses may be called off.
 
“We historically have not ever cancelled church on snow and ice days,” Hickory Grove pastor Clint Pressley told BP. “... it’s the Lord’s Day. Our church is pretty close to neighborhoods. There are those who will want to worship, and most of our maintenance guys, including the pastor, have four-wheel-drive vehicles. We can get there.”
 
Pressley said sidewalks and parking lots will be salted, and greeters will be stationed at entrances “to make sure people can get in safely.”
 
Financially, “varying weather days” always cause Hickory Grove to “take a hit,” Pressley said. “You won’t really ever make that up. But it’s not been something that’s ever impacted the budget to the degree we had to make adjustments.”
 
Unlike Hickory Grove Baptist Church, which averages 4,000-5,000 in worship, smaller congregations face unique challenges related to snow, said Cliff Woodman, president of the Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network. When he served as a bivocational pastor in the past, Woodman cleared snow off the church parking lot himself. He contrasted that with the situation at larger churches that often pay for snow removal.
 
“I hoped it was going to snow on Saturday night so I could go clean [the parking] then rather than on Sunday morning,” said Woodman, currently the fulltime pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville, Ill.
 
When it comes to finances, small churches and large churches alike are impacted by snow, Woodman said, noting that worship attendees who give on the spur of the moment rather than in a planned fashion typically do not make up for snow days.
 
“I attribute [the financial impact of snow days] to the offering plate and the people who pull out $20 or $10 or $1 and put it in the plate,” Woodman said. “They don’t have that opportunity to give, and the next week they’re not going to give $40 instead of $20.”
 
Still, lower offerings in snowy months tend to be balanced by good offerings in other months, he said. When considering whether to cancel church, finances should not be a consideration.
 
A congregation’s weather-related decisions should be focused on “the safety of the people and the age of the people you have driving,” Woodman said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.)

1/23/2016 8:44:22 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Abedini retreats to North Carolina

January 22 2016 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor

A smile burst forth from Saeed Abedini’s face as he skipped the last step exiting the plane into his family’s arms.
 
Abedini, 35, a pastor who has been imprisoned in Iran for more than three years, was freed Jan. 16, along with three other American citizens. He landed Jan. 21 in Asheville, N.C.
 
Gathering his parents and sister in a hug, Saeed Abedini closed his eyes and thanked God.
 
“Lord, we worship you,” Abedini prayed as he gathered in a hug with his family and Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse. “We thank you, Lord, for this beautiful time. You are awesome. You are faithful. We worship you. Thank you, Jesus.”

 

Abedini thanked Graham for his help in his return to the United States.
 
“Pastor Saeed Abedini is safely back and will be a guest at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville … as he re-aclimates and spends time with his family,” said Graham on his Facebook page Jan. 21. “He is grateful for everyone’s prayers.”

 
1-22-16abedini.jpg

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association photo
Saeed Abedini skips the last step as he departs a plane Jan. 21 into his mother's arms. Abedini was released from an Iranian prison Jan. 16, along with three other Iranian-American prisoners.

Abedini was detained in July 2012 during a trip to visit family and to finalize board members for an orphanage he was working on in Iran. Authorities raided his parents’ home. He suffered intense interrogations and was sentenced to eight years in prison for what the Iranian government called “crimes against the national security of Iran.”
 
Attorneys for Abedini said the charge was based on his prior involvement in planting Christian house churches. There were repeated reports that Abedini was beaten, threatened, suffered internal injuries and was denied medical treatment.
 
The release was part of a nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers brokered in July 2015. The U.S. released seven Iranian-Americans charged with violating sanctions in exchange for four Iranian-Americans, according to an Iranian news agency.
 
“It is confirmed: Saeed is released!” Naghmeh Abedini announced on her Facebook shortly after news reports of her husband’s release.
 
Early reports said Naghmeh would fly to Germany but U.S. Congressman Robert Pittenger, R.-N.C., met with Saeed Jan. 19 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany where he was taken after a stop in Geneva, Switzerland.
 
“Pastor Abedini is a wonderful young man who has been through an extraordinarily difficult period in his life,” Pittenger said on his Facebook page. “Please keep Pastor Abedini and his family in your prayers as they begin the personal healing process.
 
Saeed Abedini was flown to N.C. where he will retreat with his family at The Cove.
 
“We are ready to welcome him home,” said Naghmeh Abedini in a Jan. 17 interview with FOX News. “[T]he kids are really excited because they are making welcome home signs. There’s a lot of readjustment and a lot of healing that needs to happen. It’s time for our family to heal and to move forward.”
 
Abedini was released with three other men, also dual citizens of Iran and America: Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post journalist; Amir Hekmati, former Marine infantryman and Arabic and Persian linguist; and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari,
 
Rezaian, 39, a Tehran correspondent for The Washington Post, was detained in November 2014 on espionage and other charges.  Hekmati, 32, was detained in 2011, weeks after arriving to visit his grandmother. He was accused of espionage and other charges in 2012. Little is known about Khosravi-Roodsari other than he decided to stay in Iran.
 
Another prisoner was released the same day but was not part of the exchange. Matthew Trevithick, 30, a student studying Farsi, was detained in December on unknown charges. He flew directly home to Massachusetts from Iran.
 
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) lobbied extensively for Abedini’s release
 
“I cannot underscore enough how grateful he is for the tireless efforts of the millions of people who prayed and spoke out for his freedom over the last nearly three-and-a-half years,” said Jay Sekulow of Abedini. “In a phone call from a U.S. military hospital in Germany where he’s being treated, Pastor Saeed thanked our entire ACLJ team and the more than 1.1 million ACLJ members who worked to secure his freedom, saying, ‘May God bless you for everything you did.’”
 
Sekulow serves as ACLJ’s chief counsel.
 
“We had met with President Barack Obama last year, and he had promised that getting Saeed out of Iran was a high priority for him,” said Naghmeh in a Facebook post Jan. 17. “I could see his love and compassion as he spoke last year and again today. I am thankful for our President and all of the hard work by the White House and the State Department in making this happen.”
 
Obama praised Abedini for his sacrifice.
 
“His unyielding faith has inspired our people around the world in the global fight to uphold freedom of religion,” Obama said. “Now Pastor Abedini will return to his church and community in Idaho.”
 
Saeed will spend a few days with his parents. Naghmeh and the children will join him Jan. 25.
 
Naghmeh Abedini was in the midst of a 21-day fast modeled after the fast of the biblical prophet Daniel when her husband was released. She thanked supporters for their help.
 
“Thank you for having stood with our family during this difficult journey,” she wrote on Facebook. “Thank you Jesus for being with us during the difficulties of life and bringing people who help us bear them. One battle has been won of [sic] Saeed’s freedom. There are many more difficult battles and a hard road ahead.”
 
She has advocated widely for her husband’s release, maintaining a Facebook page, meeting with President Obama, and speaking before Congress and in many venues before taking a break from public advocacy this past November. She was one of the main speakers at an October 2015 women’s retreat hosted by Embrace Women’s Ministries of the Baptist State Convention in North Carolina.
 
“Please pray for us as we will be spending weeks or possibly months healing as a family and going through counseling,” Naghmeh Abedini posted Jan. 20. “I am thankful for Franklin Graham for coming along side our family through this next steps of the difficult journey ahead.
 
“I am believing in a miracle for our marriage. We need your prayers more than ever. The enemy wants to bring division and destruction. Please pray that we can heal and move forward united as a family.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTES – This story was compiled by reports from Seth Brown, content editor for the Biblical Recorder, and Diana Chandler, general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press.)
 

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Abedini beating intensifies calls for release
Saeed Abedini's wife testifies before Congress
'Kept here for His glory,' Abedini writes

1/22/2016 1:55:17 PM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor | with 0 comments



‘Even abortion doctors have human dignity,’ says CMP founder

January 22 2016 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), kicked off the first annual Evangelicals for Life Conference in Washington, D.C., Jan. 21, when he sat down for an interview with Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family.
 
The event was organized by the ERLC and Focus on the Family to gather and equip evangelicals to defend the value of every human life. Daleiden said his pro-life convictions include all people, even abortion doctors.
 
CMP received national attention last year after they released a series of 13 undercover videos over the course of several months. Daleiden orchestrated the sting operation, which revealed that Planned Parenthood Federation of America was involved in the practice of selling aborted fetal parts. The exposé prompted Planned Parenthood to file a lawsuit Jan. 14 in federal court against the CMP, accusing the group of conducting “a complex criminal enterprise conceived and executed by anti-abortion extremists.”
 
When asked about the purpose of the videos, Daleiden said a “cruel paradox” undergirds the abortion crisis in America. The undercover videos spotlight that contradiction.

 
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Photo by Chad Bartlett
On left Russell Moore, ERLC president interviews David Daleiden (center), founder of the Center for Medical Progress. On right is Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family.

“These videos are tapping into something very deep and very human,” he said.
 
Explaining the “cruel paradox,” he continued, “Their humanity [unborn children] is not considered to be equal enough to our own in order to be completely protected by law … but at the same time it’s precisely that equal humanity – that humanity that is equal to our own – that makes them so valuable for scientific experimentation.”
 
Filming conversations with Planned Parenthood medical staff and executives in covert operations placed Daleiden and others in difficult emotional circumstances.
 
Moore asked, “How do you keep yourself together psychologically?”
 
The pro-life ethic extends beyond valuing the life of unborn children, said Daleiden, it also includes empathy for abortion doctors.
 
It took “firm reliance on the grace of God,” he said, and “a really strong intention that this is being done out of love.”
 
Daleiden continued, “That individual who’s doing monstrous things is still a human being made in the image and likeness of God. … What you have to do – from that place of love – is find something about their humanity that you can still relate to.”
 
Identifying with the universal morality in all people, he said, “For me, that was always the fact that the doctors themselves realize pretty clearly that they’re killing people. They see the humanity of the unborn baby up close and personal every day, and they have to carry the burden, the guilt and the conflict with them. … So in that sense, they share that with us – that they have grieved over dead baby parts the same way that we have.”
 
That common sense of right and wrong could be the way God grabs the attention of abortion doctors, according to Daleiden.
 
“[O]n a spiritual level there is something really powerful about that connection and that may be the door through which Christ can enter some day,” he said.
 
Moore also asked Daleiden about recent criticisms leveled at CMP related to the apparent moral ambiguity of undercover work: “Are you making morality relative here, by using lying and deception in order to do that?”
 
Daleiden answered, “I think undercover work is fundamentally different than lying, because the purpose of undercover work is actually to serve the truth, and to bring the truth to greater clarity and to communicate the truth more strongly.”
 
Moore inquired about the “doctored” videos.
 
Daleiden said all news footage is edited to some degree, furthermore, “CMP has been far more transparent than any other news organization,” referring to the release of uncut footage that accompanied the series of videos last summer.
 
A recent report by WORLD News Service said Planned Parenthood has not yet specified the compensatory, statutory and punitive damages for which it is asking it the suit. The case could take up to 18 months, according to Planned Parenthood’s lawyers.
 
The Evangelicals for Life conference also featured a breakout session called “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Fetal Tissue, Bioethics, and the Future of Abortion in America.”
 
Stay up to date with coverage from the ongoing event at brnow.org.
 

Related Stories:

Planned Parenthood sues over undercover videos
Planned Parenthood defense unfounded, CMP says
 

1/22/2016 1:40:41 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



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