January 2017

Judge blocks mandate on gender transition, abortion

January 4 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

A federal judge has blocked implementation of a controversial Obama administration rule that requires doctors to perform gender transition procedures or treatments, as well as abortions.
In a Dec. 31 opinion, Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas granted a nationwide, preliminary injunction against a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulation that mandates the performance of and insurance coverage for gender transitions – even on children – and abortions, even if they violate the religious or ethical beliefs of the physicians and others involved.
The HHS rule was scheduled to go into full effect Jan. 1. Religious freedom advocates applauded the decision.
“This ruling is a common-sense decision that is a victory for all who believe that children should not be pawns of the state and that the political ideology of the day should not supplant the consciences of doctors,” said Travis Wussow, the new vice president for public policy, as well as general counsel, of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“I am thankful for Judge O’Connor’s intervention and pray that our federal government would stop its needless assault on the conscience,” Wussow said in written comments for Baptist Press.
Lori Windham, senior counsel for Becket Law (formerly the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty), described O’Connor’s ruling as “an across-the-board victory.”
“The government has no business forcing private doctors to perform procedures on children that the government itself recognizes can be harmful and exempts its own doctors from performing,” Windham said in a written statement. “The ruling ensures that doctors’ best medical judgment will not be replaced with political agendas and bureaucratic interference.”
O’Connor, whose court is in Wichita Falls, had previously blocked enforcement of another transgender directive from the Obama administration. In August, he issued a preliminary injunction against a May guidance from the Departments of Education and Justice that instructed public school districts, as well as colleges and universities, to allow students to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity instead of their biological sex.
In granting the latest injunction, O’Connor ruled those challenging the HHS transgender/abortion mandate had demonstrated they likely would succeed because the rule redefined “sex discrimination” and failed to protect religious freedom.
As it did in its guidance to schools, the Obama administration defined “sex” in the HHS rule to include gender identity, which it describes as “an individual’s internal sense of gender, which may be male, female, neither or a combination of male and female, and which may be different from an individual’s sex assigned at birth.”
Title IX – a federal law that bars sex discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities – “unambiguously prevented discrimination on the basis of the biological differences between males and females,” O’Connor wrote, thereby ruling it did not include gender identity.
He also said the HHS regulation’s “failure to include Title IX’s religious exemptions renders the [mandate] contrary to law.”
The HHS regulation, an implementation of the 2010 health-reform law, became partly effective July 18.
In October, a Christian association of more than 10,000 physicians and a Roman Catholic hospital system – represented by Becket Law – asked O’Connor to block enforcement of the rule. Eight states joined the Christian Medical and Dental Associations and the Franciscan Network in the legal challenge.
In their motion, the challengers contended the HHS regulation violates the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment’s freedom of speech clause, and federal laws, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The HHS rule applies to all private doctors, healthcare providers and health insurance plans that accept federal funding. It apparently would affect more than 900,000 physicians and virtually all hospitals. Foes of the regulation estimate it will cost citizens and healthcare providers nearly $1 billion.
HHS exempted the federal government’s Medicare and Medicaid programs from the regulation’s requirement, however, because its panel of experts said the literature “is ‘inconclusive’ on whether gender reassignment surgery improves health outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries with gender dysphoria.” Gender dysphoria refers to the discomfort a person may feel with his biological sex.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) – the country’s largest gay and transgender rights organization – criticized O’Connor’s decision.
The ruling “puts thousands of people at risk of marginalization, harassment, and discrimination at a time they are most vulnerable and in need of inclusive, respectful care,” HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in a written release. “While Judge O’Connor’s action is unconscionable, we believe that justice will prevail as courts continue to recognize that discrimination on the basis of sex is illegal, including discrimination on the basis of gender identity.”
A new website started in opposition to the HHS rule – transgendermandate.org – reports two studies show overwhelming numbers of children who report gender dysphoria grow out of that discomfort and live healthy lives despite not having surgery or life-long hormone treatments. One study showed this to be true in 77 to 94 percent of children and another in 73 to 88 percent of children.
Messengers to the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution regarding transgender identity that “affirm[ed] God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.” The resolution “regard[ed] our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn[ed] acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.”
The resolution also said, “We invite all transgender persons to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the gospel.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/4/2017 8:29:28 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Paul Powell, former Annuity Board president, dies

January 4 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Paul Powell, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annuity Board, died Dec. 28 following a stroke earlier in the month. He was 83.
In addition to leading the Annuity Board (later renamed GuideStone Financial Resources) from 1990-97, Powell pastored Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, 17 years; served as president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) in the mid-1980s; chaired Baylor University’s board of regents; and became dean of Baylor’s Truett Theological Seminary in 2001.

Submitted photo
Paul Powell

GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins, Powell’s immediate successor, called him “a strong advocate for our participants throughout his tenure” at the helm of Southern Baptists’ financial services entity.
“He guided the Annuity Board with integrity and skill,” Hawkins said in a statement. “When we took over stewardship of this ministry, he was a trusted adviser and made the transition in leadership as seamless as possible. Our prayers and our hearts go out to his family during these days.”
When Annuity Board trustees unanimously elected Powell – then a fellow trustee – to lead the entity in 1989, he declined initially. However, after three weeks, he told the presidential search committee chairman, “I can find no peace in the answer I gave you. If you still want me, I will come,” according to a Baptist Press (BP) report at the time.
Powell said a key factor in his change of mind was a letter from his boyhood pastor that quoted Matthew 25:23, which teaches that faithful stewardship over a small area of responsibility can yield a larger field of influence.
Upon his retirement from the Annuity Board, the SBC Executive Committee adopted a resolution noting Powell “provided excellent leadership, effectively sharpening the focus of Southern Baptist pastors on proper stewardship in preparing for retirement.”
Powell also “effectively educated the Southern Baptist family concerning its responsibility for the care and provision for their pastors,” the resolution stated.
Prior to his Annuity Board presidency, Powell led Green Acres to grow from approximately 700 in Sunday School to 3,000. The congregation baptized 202 people during his final full year as pastor and was active in international missions, particularly in Belize, according to a 1989 BP report.
Ken Brumley, pastor of Green Acres’ GraceWorks Ministry and a friend of Powell’s, told the Tyler Morning Telegraph that as pastor, Powell “was a worker and he expected the same work ethic out of” staff members. He emphasized to the staff “that people are more important than programs or anything else.”
Powell was a Baylor trustee in 1990 when the board voted to become self-perpetuating rather than continue the traditional trustee selection process through the BGCT, according to a 1994 BP report. The next year, he was elected chairman of Baylor’s newly created board of regents and helped secure a compromise that allowed the BGCT to name 25 percent of trustees.
Powell was rumored to be a candidate for Baylor’s presidency in 1994, according to BP. As dean of Truett Seminary from 2001-07, Powell saw enrollment double to nearly 400 students and the endowment increase by more than $38 million, according to media reports.
Powell received a bachelor of arts degree from Baylor, a master of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and honorary doctorates from four Baptist institutions.
The author of more than 50 books, Powell wrote in this 1998 book The Life Beyond that if he knew the date of his last night on earth, he would spend it saying goodbye to his “personal treasures,” loved ones and earthly body and “then ... spend some time looking forward in anticipation to the adventure of eternity.”
He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Cathy; his children Mike and Lori; and three grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son Kent as well as his parents Jodie and Mary.
Funeral services were held Jan. 2 at Green Acres.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/4/2017 8:28:34 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Christian pastor freed in Sudan, others still charged

January 4 2017 by Morning Star News, Sudan correspondent

A court in Khartoum, Sudan, released a pastor from prison Jan. 2 after acquitting him of charges punishable by the death penalty, sources said.
Kwa (also spelled Kuwa) Shamaal was acquitted of charges ranging from spying to inciting hatred against the government, his attorney Muhanad Nur said.

Submitted photo
Kwa Shamaal

“Yes, he was released today after the court found that he was not guilty of the charges brought against him,” said Nur, part of the team of lawyers defending Shamaal and three other Christians.
Head of missions of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC), Shamaal had been arrested without charges from his home more than a year ago on Dec. 18, 2015. Three other Christians are also facing charges, and Nur expressed hope for their release. The next court hearing is scheduled for Jan 9.
SCOC church leaders expressed joy upon Shamaal’s release. “Thank God for his release,” one leader said. “We were sure he was innocent.”
The court charged Shamaal’s colleague Hassan Abdelrahim Tawor, Czech aid worker Petr Jasek and Abdulmonem Abdumawla of Darfu with crimes against the state punishable by death. The charges include espionage, waging war against the state and gathering false news information, as well as inciting hatred between classes. Tawor, also a pastor, had been arrested on the same day as Shamaal.
Shamaal was released three days after his 2015 arrest and had been required to report daily to the offices of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) until Jan. 16, 2016. But he was re-arrested on May 25.
Both Shamaal and Tawor were charged with trying to tarnish the image of Sudan’s government by collecting information on Christian persecution and genocide in the Nuba Mountains. The charges included collecting information for “other parties hostile to Sudan.” The pastors were accused of conducting intelligence activities and providing material support for Nuba rebels in South Kordofan under two charges that carry the death penalty – waging war against the state (Article 51 of the Sudanese Criminal Code) and spying (Article 53).
Arrested in December 2015 on similar charges were Jasek and Abdumawla, who initially said he was Muslim but later admitted he was Christian. Abdumawla was arrested after he began collecting money to help a friend, Ali Omer, who needed treatment for burns suffered in a student demonstration. Abdumawla contacted Tawor, who donated money for Omer’s treatment and thereby raised the ire of Sudanese authorities, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said.
Prosecutors charged Jasek with “tarnishing Sudan’s image” by documenting persecution. He is also charged with waging war against the state, reportedly based on an accusation that he gave money to “some individuals” in South Kordofan in 2012, allegedly including rebel fighters.
At one hearing, NISS official Abbas el Tahir accused the defendants of conducting “hostile activities against the state that threaten the national and social security” in Sudan, according to Netherlands-based Radio Dabanga.
“Since 2012, we banned organizations or individuals working against Sudan,” El Tahir reportedly said. “However, these NGOs still work and plan to threaten the national security and harm the society’s interest.” He accused aid organizations of publishing false reports against Sudan.
Foreign diplomats and international rights activists have taken notice of the case since Morning Star News broke the story of the arrest of the two pastors in December 2015. Their arrest is seen as part of a recent upsurge in harassment of Christians.
Most SCOC members have roots among the ethnic Nuba in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan’s South Kordofan state, where the government is fighting an insurgency. The Nuba along with other Christians in Sudan face discrimination, as President Omar Al-Bashir has vowed to introduce a stricter version of Sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and Arabic language.
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir in connection with war crimes in Darfur. Due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the country remain on the list in its 2016 report.
Sudan ranked eighth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List of countries where Christians face most persecution.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Morning Star News is a California-based independent news service focusing on the persecution of Christians worldwide.)

1/4/2017 7:35:20 AM by Morning Star News, Sudan correspondent | with 0 comments

Texas moves to pull Planned Parenthood funding

January 3 2017 by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service

Texas will no longer send $3.1 million of Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, according to a letter sent to the organization on Dec. 21.
The letter, from Texas Health and Human Services Commission Inspector General Stuart Bowen, gave Planned Parenthood 30 days’ notice before the state shuts off funding.
In the letter, Bowen cited the undercover videos filmed by the Center for Medical Progress, “which contain evidence that Planned Parenthood violated state and federal law” by tailoring abortion procedures to leave babies as intact as possible and selling baby body parts for profit.
“Your willingness to engage in these practices violates generally accepted medical standards, and thus you are not qualified to provide medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal, and ethical manner,” Bowen said.
In a statement, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund denied allegations that the organization sold baby parts for profit and called the videos “heavily edited and thoroughly discredited.”
“Planned Parenthood never has and never would sell fetal tissue for profit,” the statement read. “The state of Texas is once again recycling these false accusations as the basis for today’s actions.”
But the state’s notice also cited information provided by the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, which referred Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast for to the Texas attorney general for criminal prosecution earlier this month.
National Right to Life’s Randall O’Bannon told me Planned Parenthood’s “unflagging” attachment to the abortion industry is to blame for Texas’ push to defund it.
“They have shown that they’re willing to sacrifice whatever legitimate medical services they are supposed to offer so that they can continue building their abortion empire and further increase their market share in the abortion industry,” he said. “It’s why abortion has held steady at Planned Parenthood while other services there have fallen, even while abortions were dropping elsewhere in the country.”
Texas lawmakers have been working for years to redirect state money away from Planned Parenthood. The organization received $27 million of state funding in 2010. This year, it was down to $3 million in Medicaid funding.
The biggest hit to Planned Parenthood’s income came in 2011 when the legislature removed the organization from its Medicaid Women’s Health Program, a federal program that poured $35 million into Texas every year. The Obama administration responded by cutting Texas out of the program, and then-Gov. Rick Perry countered with a promise to float the program with state money.
The program is now called the Texas Women’s Health Program, and it’s entirely state-funded.
Defunding Planned Parenthood at the state level doesn’t always work. Several states – including Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi – defunded Planned Parenthood only to have a federal judge block their laws.
A few states such as Ohio, Wisconsin, and Tennessee have successfully redirected funding to other health centers that don’t provide abortions.
In January, a new Health and Human Services mandate will block all states from stripping Planned Parenthood of Title X funding.
Texas Alliance for Life’s executive director Joe Pojman told me the Obama administration’s rules barring states from directing tax dollars away from an entity based on whether it performs abortions are flawed.
“Hopefully under the Trump administration, that will be rectified,” he said. “In the meantime, it’s very clear that Texas should be able to exclude providers who violate state and federal laws.”
Planned Parenthood has vowed to fight the decision, but Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he “stands ready to defend any challenge by Planned Parenthood to their termination.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Samantha Gobba writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

1/3/2017 9:56:15 AM by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

A family stitched together at Christmas

January 3 2017 by Robin Cornetet, Kentucky Today

As Christians worldwide celebrated the birth of Jesus, one Kentucky couple reflected on the day they say God stitched together their Christmas gift of a new family.

Photo by Robin Cornetet
Sam and Stephanie Patterson, of Louisville, Ky., will celebrate the second anniversay of the day they adopted four siblings from foster care on Dec. 18. The couple are pictured with their children Carrie, 13, Carissa, 9, Austin, 6 and Kali, 4.

On Dec. 18, Sam and Stephanie Patterson marked the second anniversary of the day they adopted four siblings from foster care.
“That’s our ‘forever family’ day,” said Stephanie, a music ministry associate at Little Flock Baptist Church in Shepherdsville, Ky., just south of Louisville.
More than 8,000 children are in the care of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services this holiday season. Another 400,000 foster care kids are waiting for permanent homes across the U.S.
Sam recalled when he was handed a photograph of his children while they were still in the state’s care and the range of emotions that followed. He cautioned others not to get caught up in a cloud of empathy that could lead to a child being abandoned twice.
“I think you need to be led,” Sam said. “You don’t need to do it just because you know Christians are supposed to take care of orphans. God really needs to place it on your heart.”
The couple struggled with infertility for 10 years before recognizing God was leading them toward adopting older children.
“We never intended to get small ones,” Sam said. “Carrie and Carissa are more the age we were looking for, but when they showed us a picture of all four, there was no way we were going to say no.”
Carrie, now 13, Carissa, 9, Austin, 6, and 4-year-old Kali have since settled into safe and predictable patterns at home, school and church.

Photo by Robin Cornetet
Carissa Patterson, 9, wears her adoption necklace engraved with the date she and her three siblings officially became part of the Patterson family. Carissa later added a heart locket with a photograph of her new family.

Eighth grader Carrie is contemplating a career in veterinary medicine while ignoring the occasional admiring glance from a boy or two at Little Flock Christian Academy.
Her once bashful sister, Carissa, has joined the cheerleading squad at the same Baptist private school and views any open space as an invitation to perfect her back handspring.
Austin finally got his wish to go to school like his older sisters. Mom and Dad said the kindergartener is becoming a pro at spelling words by sounding them out.
And Kali recently discovered the furry, four-legged members of the family. On several occasions, she has been caught bear-hugging or straddling the cats.
“I can’t remember what life was like before kids,” Stephanie said, a smile lighting up her face.
In a situation that began as anything but typical, the couple agreed that becoming parents of four foster children overnight has settled into something that probably looks like any other family of six with lessons in selflessness, gratitude and personal responsibility taught over and over – and over.
Sam said patience has been the greatest challenge for everyone.
“We preach love and kindness all the time. Does it always happen?” Stephanie asked. “No, but I think that’s normal.”
As one of more than 15 foster or adoptive families at Little Flock Baptist, the Pattersons are quickly becoming less of an exception.
“God calls us to care for the widows and orphans. How we care for them is going to be different for every person,” Stephanie said. “For Sam and I, that was to adopt children, bring them into our home and be a forever family.”
But for others who may not have the means or clear calling from God, the couple suggested putting together backpacks full of supplies for children who are new to foster care. Children’s belongings are often stuffed hurriedly into trash bags when taken from their homes.
Other ways to help include providing respite for foster parents, mentoring or sponsoring a foster child, or volunteering at a hospital to comfort babies born with addictions.
“It can be different for everyone,” Stephanie said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean everyone must adopt, but in some way, we should all be doing something to care for widows and orphans.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Robin Cornetet is the managing editor of Kentucky Today, a news website of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)

1/3/2017 9:47:57 AM by Robin Cornetet, Kentucky Today | with 0 comments

Blast at Australian Christian group’s building raises concern

January 3 2017 by Onize Ohikere, WORLD News Service

The director of an Australian Christian advocacy group said many unanswered questions remained after a van exploded outside the group’s headquarters on Dec. 21. Police said they spoke with the driver and members of his family and concluded the explosion had no political or religious motivation.
The Australian Capital Territory Policing confirmed a 35-year-old Australian man drove the van that exploded next to the headquarters of Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) in Canberra. Police said in a statement the driver “appeared to have ignited gas cylinders within the vehicle.” The driver is in stable condition at a hospital in Sydney. ACL director Lyle Shelton confirmed no member of his staff was hurt.
Shelton initially described the explosion as an attack on ACL, which advocates for maintaining the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman and against the government-backed “Safe Schools” program that encourages the promotion of gender fluidity in schools. He was selected this month as WORLD’s Daniel of the Year.
Shelton said he neither knows the suspect, nor can he confirm the motivation behind the explosion, but the police conclusion does not line up. He explained at a press conference that ACL had received multiple death threats throughout the year because of its advocacy efforts. The attack appeared to be more than a random act, Shelton said, since the ACL office is off any major roads in the area.
“You don’t just drive around the corner here at 10 o’clock at night, park a van loaded with gas cylinders, then detonate it unless you’re trying to send a message to the ACL,” Shelton said. “I’m sure it’s a message to intimidate us, to cause us to be silent in the public square, and that’s something we’re not prepared to do.”
Shelton told a television station in Sydney the explosion came from a car bomb and seemed to be a failed suicide-bombing attempt. Video footage has shown the driver speeding toward the building in a rented van.
ACL has received bipartisan condolences since the explosion. Liberal Sen. Eric Abetz told Sydney’s Channel 7 News he found it strange that certain details were left out of the case.
“Unless you believe that this was a very random parking of the vehicle and then the gas bottles and other things in the vehicle, then it starts to raise that there might have been a motivation,” Abetz said.
Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan expressed his condolences and said police ruled out the possibility of a targeted attack but would continue to work with the ACL to ensure their safety.
“The police are obviously continuing their investigations,” Keenan said. “When they have a motivation, when they have something to update the Australian people about, they will do so.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Onize Ohikere writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

1/3/2017 9:43:58 AM by Onize Ohikere, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Journey to pastorate included jail time for Florida pastor

January 3 2017 by Nicole Kalil, Florida Baptist Witness

It’s not the conventional road to the pastorate.
“I wouldn’t wish [my] story on anyone, but I wouldn’t change anything about it, either,” said Adam Wiggins, campus pastor of The Creek, a new campus of First Baptist Church (FBC) of Orange Park, Fla., which is just outside of Jacksonville.

Submitted photo
Adam Wiggins, pictured with his wife Sabrina, was licensed to the gospel ministry by First Baptist Church of Orange Park on Oct. 9.

Wiggins’ path to the pulpit has been complicated, but it has ultimately landed him on staff with FBC Orange Park leading the church’s newest effort to minister to an unreached community in Middleburg.
But his most notable stops, and the ones that set him apart from so many other pastors, are the ones in prison.
As a young child, Wiggins learned a lot about alcohol and drugs from his father, who was addicted to both, yet still managed to hold down a job and provide for his family. Wiggins didn’t see enough negatives to dissuade him from drinking and using drugs at a young age, and the consequences of that lifestyle led to a few arrests and time spent in prison.
Yet it seems God was at work in Wiggins even then. When he was 10 years old, Wiggins’ mother began going to church, and shortly thereafter she gave her life to Christ. Wiggins said that when his mother walked the aisle during an invitation, he followed her. A couple of years later, his dad followed suit and soon quit alcohol and drugs cold turkey, completely giving his life to the Lord.
Wiggins saw the radical changes in his parents, but he had experienced no personal change of his own. By the age of 13, Wiggins realized something was wrong.
At the time, he got no counseling to make sure he understood the decision for Jesus Christ that people thought he was making, so after talking to his pastor Wiggins made what he felt was a real commitment to the Lord, and got baptized again.
But Wiggins struggled to follow the Lord and break away from the destructive patterns of behavior he had already adopted.
“It was so confusing, because I had seen so much with my dad and had started doing things in the neighborhood,” Wiggins said. “It was hard to escape all that because everyone was doing it.”
So he didn’t escape from it but incorporated it into his new life at church, smoking pot and drinking on Friday and Saturday and attending church on Sunday.
“It was a double life,” he said.
At the age of 18, when his parents said he didn’t have to attend church any more if he didn’t want to, Wiggins left his double life behind and embraced the drugs and alcohol, “running and living a fast life.“
That fast life earned him a stay at a Florida prison and a brief stint in a Georgia jail. Yet even in rebellion, God led Wiggins to his wife Sabrina. Four children later, Wiggins found his way back to the Lord and to Jacksonville.
Chris Drum, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Baldwin, had walked through Wiggins’ turbulent adolescence with him and his family and welcomed Wiggins back to church with open arms. When Wiggins felt that God had more for him to do, Drum began praying about what that would look like and eventually gave him the opportunity to head up discipleship efforts at the church.
From that role, Wiggins felt led to pursue church planting, a role that would combine his passion for discipleship with his desire to serve people. Wiggins connected with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and after some research and a vision trip to Toronto, he felt that he finally knew what God wanted him to do.
As part of a church planter assessment process offered through the Jacksonville Baptist Association, Wiggins met David Tarkington, lead pastor of First Baptist Church of Orange Park. Wiggins’ NAMB internship included partnership with a church planting church. Since Orange Park already was connected with planting in Toronto, Tarkington’s church was a natural fit. It already supports two church plants in the Canadian city.
It was decided that Wiggins would have an on-the-job learning experience helping First Baptist Orange Park plant a campus in Middleburg while he raised funds for his new work and the move across the northern border.
However, Wiggins soon discovered his background was going to make it impossible for him to live in Canada. While his dreams of planting a church in Toronto would never be realized, Wiggins noted it was the pursuit of that dream that led him to Tarkington and First Baptist Orange Park.
Toronto’s loss is Middleburg’s gain.
Tarkington said when he and Wiggins first drove around the Swimming Pen Creek community of Middleburg, it was immediately apparent that Wiggins felt an affinity for the community.
“He said, ‘These are my people,’ ” Tarkington recalled.
Drum said while there was a time when he never would have imagined this future for Wiggins, part of him is not at all surprised that Wiggins is planting a church.
“He doesn’t give up – that’s a picture of his life,” Drum said. “God didn’t give up on him, and he doesn’t give up either.”
After three successful preview services, Wiggins is eagerly anticipating the fourth preview service and the campus’ soft launch on Christmas Eve.
Regular weekly services will begin on Jan. 8.
Wiggins believes his rough background and life experiences put him in a unique position to reach certain people who feel that they’ve done too much for God to forgive them. He has also seen how his past can sometimes be an obstacle. Some family and church members have been unwilling to believe his change was genuine. But Wiggins said he is grateful that many have come around over the years.
“I had done bad things, I get it,” he said. “But for every one of those [who doesn’t accept that I have changed] there are 10 people with open arms.”
Drum said Wiggins’ story is a reminder to him to never give up on someone.
“Keep on praying,” he said. “God is in the miracle-working business.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nicole Kalil is a reporter for the Florida Baptist Witness, goFBW.com, the official news source of the Florida Baptist State Convention.)

1/3/2017 9:33:44 AM by Nicole Kalil, Florida Baptist Witness | with 0 comments

Christmas turkeys among college’s gift to students

January 3 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

At Kentucky’s Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, every Christmas season includes “turkey day.”
On the designated day in December, all degree-seeking students taking at least six hours of classes at the eastern Kentucky college receive a frozen turkey, fixings for a holiday meal and a cash gift of at least $100 to help with Christmas expenses. A separate “shopping spree” gift helps student families buy presents for their children.

CCBBC photo
Clear Creek Baptist Bible College President Donnie Fox helps distribute frozen turkeys to students on the Kentucky college’s annual Christmas “turkey day.”

For a college focused on training ministry students with an average age of 30 – many of whom have left behind their sources of income to pursue God’s call – the holiday gifts are a welcome treat.
Adam Dooley, a 1999 Clear Creek graduate and pastor of Dallas-area Sunnyvale First Baptist Church, told Baptist Press the turkey was always a “highlight” of his Christmas season.
Many “students who lived on campus and had wives and children ... would not have had a Christmas apart from those turkeys,” Dooley said. “It was more than a luxury for them.”
Dooley noted that Clear Creek’s mission at its founding in 1926 “was to provide an education for mountain preachers in eastern Kentucky, most of whom did not have resources to go to college.”
The student body includes a more diverse array of students today, Dooley said. Still, “there is a large percentage of the student population there that ... would not be able to afford” a traditional Christmas celebration for their families.
Clear Creek President Donnie Fox told Baptist Press the “typical” married student on campus has “left a job that they’ve had to support their family. Many of them had to sell their homes ... They’ve sacrificed to come, and there are some financial struggles.”
On turkey day, Fox and his executive staff personally place turkeys in students’ cars and provide faculty and staff with turkeys as well.
The turkey ministry began in the late 1960s when Clear Creek alumnus Don Burnett, then a pastor in Bowling Green, Ky., remembered his own financial struggles as a student and began taking frozen holiday turkeys to campus. Fellow Bowling Green pastor Bill Whittaker, who became Clear Creek president in 1988, helped Burnett with the ministry and assumed leadership following Burnett’s death in 1970.
Even when Whittaker served as a missionary in the Philippines from 1983-86, he made certain annually that a friend in Kentucky could deliver turkeys to Clear Creek. Students came to know Whittaker as “the turkey man.”
“When I was elected president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention” in 1980, Whittaker told BP, “I probably owed that vote to the turkeys because Clear Creek graduates were at the convention meeting and I only got it by 17 votes.”
Whittaker, who served on the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, also remembers weightier benefits of the turkey giveaway.
“While I was [Clear Creek] president, I knew that some [students] were just barely getting by,” Whittaker said, “and they were grateful for” the turkeys.
A program from Whittaker’s presidential tenure that allowed students to pick toys for their children from a collection in the Clear Creek gym has evolved into the “shopping spree” gift students receive today.
Whittaker’s frozen turkey deliveries have given way to ordering turkeys purchased with donated funds.
Though Whittaker no longer travels to campus for turkey day, Fox said he continues to support the ministry financially. Fox also noted that students continue to express gratitude.
“Multiple times, the students – especially the ones with families – come and thank us tremendously, beyond words,” Fox said.
Clear Creek is a ministry partner of the Kentucky Baptist Convention that receives more than 16 percent of its annual budget from Cooperative Program funds.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/3/2017 9:27:41 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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