January 2018

Swimming bacteria defy Darwin

January 24 2018 by Julie Borg, WORLD News Service

Tiny biological motors that give bacteria the power to swim possess a complexity that baffles scientists and undercuts Darwin’s theory of evolution. A recent study in Scientific Reports claims the existence of the motors shows evolution produces inevitable and creative ideas, terminology that sounds more like the work of God than of natural selection.
“Natural selection is supposed to be blind, random and uncaring, but not here,” Discovery Institute experts noted Jan. 8 on the organization’s blog.
Each of the proteins involved in the bacterial motor’s function is essential. The motors could not have worked before all the right accidental mutations required by natural selection took place, but with no survival benefit, natural selection would not choose them.
Charles Darwin himself admitted that the discovery of such irreducible complexity would destroy his assumptions. “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down,” he wrote in On the Origin of Species.
Nevertheless, the researchers said a biological “quantum leap” spurred the evolution of bacterial motors. Lead researcher Morgan Beeby likened the quantum leap to what would happen if the necks of giraffes suddenly increased in length because a giraffe gave birth to offspring with necks a meter longer, rather than because an extended series of random mutations over many years favored longer-necked giraffes.
“Evolution at the molecular scale is much more radical,” Beeby said. He described evolution as a creative process that “is constantly churning out new molecular ideas.”
Discovery Institute experts pointed out the inconsistencies between Beeby’s theory and Darwin’s: “Whatever ‘evolution’ Beeby is talking about is surely not Darwin’s variety, or that of neo-Darwinians, either. He has essentially proposed miracles by another name.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Julie Borg writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)

1/24/2018 8:08:01 AM by Julie Borg, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

3rd Virgin Islands crusade to continue imparting hope

January 24 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Devastation and suffering among Hurricane Irma and Maria survivors in the U.S. Virgin Islands were palpable to Florida Baptist Jeffery Singletary, who led a mission trip to the islands months before the storms.

Photo from Feeding the Five Thousand
Leaders at an evening worship service of the “Feeding the Five Thousand” crusade in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands included from left: Lennox Zamore; Jeffery Singletary; Maekiaphan Phillips from the Opi’a Taino relief organization of St. Thomas; Ken Weathersby, and Julian Jackson Sr.

His heart’s response was a series of “Feeding the Five Thousand” crusades that reaped 620 decisions for Christ and fed thousands both spiritually and physically, Singletary, a regional catalyst with the Florida Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press (BP). A crusade on St. Croix Jan. 28 -30 will be his third.
“I knew they had four great needs – food, clothing, shelter and hope,” Singletary said. “Red Cross could help provide food and clothing. [Federal Emergency Management Agency] could help provide shelter. But only the church of Jesus Christ can provide real hope.”
Singletary led crusades on St. Thomas Nov. 19-21 and on St. John Dec. 21-22, supported by a host of Southern Baptists from the Florida Baptist Convention, the North American Mission Board, Calvary Baptist Church of Clearwater, Fla., Christ Fellowship of Miami and disaster relief ministries from both the Kentucky and Alabama Baptist conventions.
Ken Weathersby, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee vice president for convention advancement, was among preachers at the St. Thomas crusade, where 575 hurricane survivors professed decisions to accept salvation in Christ.
Weathersby offered survivors the hope Jesus proclaimed in Revelation 3:20: “Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me.”
“So many of those attending the crusade felt alone,” Weathersby told BP, who preached on “the hope of Jesus in the midst of their darkness. I offered a fellowship that lives through eternity.”
Volunteers including pastors and church members served 3,000 meals and distributed groceries to 26,000 individuals on St. Thomas, Singletary said, and provided groceries for 7,200 survivors during the St. John crusade, where Singletary noted 45 decisions to accept Christ.
Southern Baptist pastor Lennox Zamore was among the volunteers. Zamore, senior pastor of Exciting Central Tampa Baptist Church since October 2017, was pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in St. Thomas when the storms struck.

Photo from Feeding the Five Thousand
The “Feeding the Five Thousand” crusade in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, led to 575 salvation decisions as thousands received food and spiritual bread.

“We’re so grateful for all the volunteers and how we’re going to make a tremendous impact in the lives of our community,” Zamore said on Facebook while participating in the St. Thomas crusade. “We want to thank everybody for coming and being a part of this great venture.”
Singletary plans to provide 15,000 meals to survivors on St. Croix and hopes to draw hundreds to Christ, he told BP. Speakers will include Mark Croston, LifeWay Christian Resources national director of black church partnerships; Dennis Mitchell, executive director of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC; and Super Bowl XXXVII Most Valuable Player Dexter Jackson.
The many speakers and worship leaders at the St. Thomas and St. John crusades included Willie Rice, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church; Adron Robinson, senior pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Chicago; recording artist Niya Cotton, worship leader at Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, Texas; and former world champion boxer Julian Jackson Sr. and his son Olympic boxer Julian Jackson Jr., both from the Virgin Islands.
The events have encouraged island residents and made them feel more connected to the 50 states, Singletary said, based on letters, emails and other messages he has received.
“It has given the people of [the U.S. Virgin Islands] renewed hope that someone truly cares about their plight and condition beyond their islands,” Singletary said. “Relationships have been created and strengthened cross-culturally and denominationally. The crusades have served to foster relationships with pastors and community leaders that did not exist previously. We have made a Kingdom impact.”
He encouraged Southern Baptists to do more to engage Southern Baptists in the Caribbean in ministry.
“They need us and we need them. Together we are better and the Kingdom is stronger,” Singletary said. “What a great sending force they can be to the world with resources. In the past we have seen the Caribbean as a mission field. Now it’s time to see them as a mission force.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

1/24/2018 7:26:55 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Roe v. Wade ‘survivors’ defend right to life

January 23 2018 by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN

People from across the nation and around world rallied Jan. 19 at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the annual March for Life just three days prior to the 45th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that legalized abortion on demand across the nation.

Photo by TEXAN
Forty-five years ago on Jan. 22 the U.S. Supreme Court declared abortion on demand legal across the nation. Every year since, the March for Life has ended its procession at the court’s steps where they demand the ruling be overturned.

A majority of the estimated 100,000–plus participants (no official counts are registered) appeared to be overwhelmingly teenagers and young adults who recognize the impact that the 1973 Roe v Wade decision has had on their generation. Many carried hand-made placards stating “One-third of my generation is missing,” referencing the more than 1 million babies, on average, aborted each year since 1973.
And many donned t-shirts declaring “I survived Roe v Wade. Roe v Wade won’t survive me.” Often called “the Pro-life generation” by people their parents’ age or older, the TEXAN asked the high school and college students if the title is one they claim for themselves.
“It’s not something we decided to become,” Grady Moyer, a high school senior and member of Church at the Cross in Grapevine, Texas said. “But God worked in us.”
Moyer was among 32 students and young adults who traveled to D.C. for the march eager to add their voices to the call to end abortion. James Sercey, Church at the Cross student pastor, said he recognizes the March for Life is a significant event founded and organized by the Catholic Church. But he noted he would like to see more protestant churches add their voices to the nation’s largest pro-life demonstration.
To help facilitate that effort, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Focus on the Family hosted the third Evangelicals for Life Conference. The effort has focused on drawing more Protestant churches to the march and broadening their members’ perspective on what it means to be pro-life.
Only Leanne Jamison, among the 28 women from Prestonwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, had attended the national march in the past. Hoisting teal-colored placards promoting the church’s pregnancy center and the admonition to “Love Life,” the band of women joined the flow of demonstrators leaving their hotel for the five-block walk to the mall and the sea of life-affirming compatriots.
Compelled by their belief that life is sacred they marched. But, as they passed the U.S. Capitol, some paused to consider their constitutional right to march, Jamison said.
Melanie Leach, one of the Prestonwood marchers, told the TEXAN that “as Americans we can do this – all walk together.”
“I am marching for our inalienable right to life,” she said.

Photo by TEXAN

The event marked the first time a sitting president spoke to the rally live via satellite. In his address from the White House Rose Garden, President Donald Trump thanked marchers for their commitment to life while acknowledging America’s place among human rights abusing nations when it comes to abortion policies. Also, in an official statement recognizing the Roe v. Wade anniversary, Trump declared Jan. 22 as “National Sanctity of Human Life Day.”
“We are one of the only nations that still allows for late-term abortions,” Trump told the marchers. “This is wrong and needs to change.”
Attendees from nations with more restrictive abortion laws than the U.S. also joined the national march in order to learn from the “good example” of America’s pro-life movement, said Joseph Ureta of France’s Droit De Naître (Right to be Born). In France, abortion is unrestricted up to 12 weeks and requires the approval of two physicians after that.
While many American pro-lifers are motivated by their faith, Ureta, who is Catholic, lamented that in order to draw more French supporters to the movement, Right to be Born must minimalize the religious arguments. And that, he acknowledged, minimalizes what should be the primary pro-life message.
“The greatest motivation is the love of God,” he said.
In Australia, people simply do not want to discuss abortion, said Mary Lennon, 22, of Sydney. She and pro-life workers from Australia traveled to Washington D.C. to discover how they can more effectively promote the pro-life message back home. Australians are “nonconfrontational” and avoid the abortion debate forcing pro-life activists to discover new means for engaging their countrymen, Lennon said.
As in America, Australia’s abortion laws vary from state to state with Victoria’s laws being the most egregious allowing abortion up to birth said Rebecca Gosper, 21, LifeChoice Australia director, a pro-life organization. Australian laws also place 150-meter buffer zones around abortion facilities and allow no conscience protections for medical personnel she said.
Gosper contended that more Australians than polls indicate are pro-life but many are hesitant to speak up for fear of backlash. But America’s national March for Life has inspired Gosper to motivate the students on Australia’s university campuses to speak up for life.
Isaac Spencer, Campaigns Manager for Right to Life New South Wales said he looks forward to taking America’s pro-life examples back to Australia to fight the “human rights outrage” of abortion.
And hours after the demonstration had concluded a trio of marchers, far from the event’s epicenter and carrying a Polish flag and life-affirming signs, told the TEXAN they had traveled from Poland to take part in the march. Poland has some of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws allowing the procedure only when the life of the mother is at risk, if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, or if the unborn baby has a grave health diagnosis. The Polish parliament is even considering legislation that would revoke the latter provision.

“We love babies, how ’bout you?”

The march’s two-hour-long one-mile trek to the Supreme Court was broken by spontaneous singing, corporate prayers, and raucous chants of “We love babies, yes we do. We love babies, how ’bout you?” And, for good measure, a New Orleans Catholic high school marching band stood on the sidewalk and performed for grateful marchers passing by.
In contrast participants in the Women’s March gathered the following day on the same National Mall proclaiming a very different and paradoxical message. Donning knitted pink hats, their message of equal treatment and respect for women appeared to be overshadowed by calls for unrestricted abortion, expletive-laced denunciations of Trump and support for transgender issues.

Is marching enough?

The pro-life events over the weekend caused many to consider how they will live out a pro-life ethic for the remaining 364 days of the year.
Leach, who participated with the Prestonwood group, noted she cannot march and then walk away. Her commitment to supporting Lifesavers Foundation, a Dallas-Fort Worth area faith-based ministry providing health services to women and their young children, has been reinvigorated.
The students and young adults from Church at the Cross understand they have the “power and influence” of social media for reaching their peers with the pro-life message, said Nathaniel Ortiz, a senior homeschool student.
Ortiz, Moyer and Hannah Webber, a college freshman, agreed that they will earn an audience with their ideological opponents when their pro-choice peers see their compassion for humanity extends beyond the womb.
“If we care about life we’re going to care about the person who cuts us off in traffic – the ones I haven’t valued as image bearers of God,” Webber said.
“People will ask what I think about things when they see that I care,” Moyer said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, texanonline.net, news journal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

1/23/2018 9:04:19 AM by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments

SBC added as defendant in Pressler lawsuit

January 23 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has been added as a co-defendant in a lawsuit accusing retired Texas state judge Paul Pressler of sexual abuse.

BP file photo
Paul Pressler, pictured here in 2004, has denied a lawsuit’s allegations of sexual abuse.

A Jan. 12 amendment to a suit originally filed last October claims the SBC, among other defendants, had a “duty to exercise reasonable care so as to control” Pressler, who helped engineer a strategy to turn the Southern Baptist Convention back to its theologically conservative roots in the late 20th century. See related report.
Pressler denies the allegations by plaintiff Gareld Duane Rollins, who claimed Pressler sexually abused him repeatedly between the late 1970s, when Rollins was 14, and 2004. Rollins’ petition, filed in Texas state district court, alleges he was enrolled in a young adult Bible study which Pressler led at Houston’s First Baptist Church, and later served as Pressler’s office assistant.
Pressler, 87, was a justice on the Court of Appeals of Texas, 14th District, and a member of the Texas state legislature. He also served Southern Baptists in various volunteer capacities.
Other defendants in the lawsuit – all of whom have denied Rollins’ allegations that they facilitated and concealed the abuse – include Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), its president Paige Patterson, Pressler’s wife Nancy, Houston’s First, Pressler’s former law partner Jared Woodfill and the Woodfill Law Firm.
The suit demands more than $1 million in relief from the defendants collectively, claiming the alleged abuse contributed to Rollins’ life of substance abuse and crime.
Among the suit’s allegations against the SBC:

  • It made “minors sexually available to Pressler.”
  • It “fraudulently misrepresented and continue[s] to misrepresent material facts concerning the safety of children” at cooperating churches.
  • It “had actual or constructive knowledge” of Pressler’s alleged conduct and “concealed” it.
  • The convention and others “continue to assist Pressler through obstruction of justice.”

In other developments, Pressler filed a Dec. 21 motion asking Harris County district judge R.K. Sandill to dismiss Rollins’ suit because the statute of limitations has expired on its claims of abuse, the last of which allegedly occurred more than a decade ago.
A hearing on that motion is scheduled Feb. 23.
SWBTS and Patterson filed a motion to separate themselves from other defendants and move the case against them to Tarrant County, where the seminary is located. A hearing on those motions was canceled Jan. 17 and has yet to be rescheduled, according to the Harris County District Court.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/23/2018 8:58:08 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

N.C. Baptists make a difference in Vermont

January 23 2018 by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications

First in a series
Mention Vermont and most Americans think pleasant things like maple syrup, bright fall foliage and winter skiing.
But to missions-minded Baptists, Vermont is one of the most challenging mission fields in the country. The state has proportionately fewer Bible-believing churches and Christians than any other state.

BSC photo by Mike Creswell
Lyandon Warren, left, lead pastor of the Castleton campus church of Mission City Church, Rutland, welcomes people to the Sunday morning worship service City Church in Rutland, Vt., welcomes people to a Sunday morning worship service.

Scores of villages in Vermont have had no Bible-believing church for decades. Thousands of families have had no Christian members in five generations.
Vermont is not just lost; it is hardcore lost and gospel-resistant. The state presents an unusual missions challenge, surrounded by other New England states that have similar degrees of lostness.
The population is about 625,000 people, fewer than Charlotte, N.C.  Vermont is one of the nation’s most rural states, with vast areas of woodlands crossed by mostly two-lane roads.

A 2017 Gallup poll showed Vermont is America’s least religious state. That is changing.
In 2016, Vermont churches counted 246 baptisms. That is not enough to say a great revival is under way, but it means Vermont led Southern Baptist baptisms in all other New England states.
Further, it only took 11 Vermont Baptists for each baptism. If N.C. Baptists had a similar ratio, all of the state’s 5.8 million lost people would follow Christ in months.
The progress is encouraging. Vermont now has more healthy, growing Southern Baptist churches than ever. New churches are being planted. More pastors and church planters are considering ministry in Vermont.
It’s too early to celebrate, but North Carolina Baptists should feel very good about the progress in Vermont and the important role they have played in part of this new work.
As Sanford, N.C. native Chris Autry put it, “North Carolina Baptists have fingerprints all over the state of Vermont.” Autry now serves as a pastor in Barre (rhymes with Barry), Vt.

A long-term partnership

N.C. Baptist Men (NCBM), also known as Baptists on Mission, set up a partnership with the Green Mountain Baptist Association of Vermont in 2005 and coordinated the flow of thousands of N.C. volunteers into the state.
Partnership means N.C. Baptists ask Vermont Baptists how they can help, rather than trying to dictate a plan, said Mark Abernathy, who oversees partnership programs for NCBM in New England.
“We don’t go in with an agenda. We ask, ‘How can we assist you?’’’ Abernathy said. “We don’t fill all the requests, but we have a pretty good track record on it.”
Because Baptists are sparse in the region, there is one convention, the Baptist Convention of New England (BCNE), incorporating seven associations of approximately 370 churches sprinkled across Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.
“We’ve sent an average of 400 to 550 volunteers a year to Vermont,” said volunteer coordinator Steve Carter, who works with NCBM. “Of course, many of the volunteers go back year after year.”
During 2017, NCBM sent 418 volunteers in 30 teams to serve across Vermont. Volunteer requests may be for construction, Vacation Bible Schools, sports ministries or other projects.
Every spring, Carter and his wife, Nellene, pack up their camper trailer and pull it from their home in Lincolnton, N.C., for the two-day trip to Vermont. They stay until fall. During those months, they plan service opportunities for volunteers and encourage local pastors and church planters.
The Carters first went to Vermont as volunteers in 2005, and in 2008 began staying five or six warm-weather months each year to coordinate mission projects.
“The big challenge in Vermont is the culture,” Carter said. “Down South, everybody has heard about Jesus and church ... We’re in the Bible Belt. If people are not saved, they at least kind-of know a Bible story and who Jesus is. But [in Vermont], 98 percent of the people don’t have a clue about any of that.”
That has slowly begun to change in the past 12 years, Carter said.   
“We have 51 churches in Vermont now and expect to have several more by the end of 2018,” he said. That almost doubles the state’s 27 churches in 2005.
Some Vermont Baptist churches are struggling, Carter acknowledged, but others are doing well. In fact, several Baptist churches now claim several hundred members – virtual megachurches in Vermont where churches feel successful with 25 people present on Sunday.
There are other hints that things are changing.
Carter tells of a sports banquet held in Vermont in late summer in which 34 Vermonters accepted Christ as Savior – a rare response.
North Carolina native Lyandon Warren is working to start a new church in Castleton, Vt., with support from the North American Mission Board (NAMB).
“North Carolina has really shouldered a lot of God’s work in Vermont,” Warren said. “North Carolina Baptists need to know that and I think be proud of that. … God has used them to impact this state in such a great way.”
Becky Pellegrini, who serves on the board of directors of the BCNE, said she is thankful for the partnership with N.C. Baptists.
Pellegrini works with the youth of Faith Community Church in Barre, Vt., where she and her husband John, are members.
“North Carolina has helped me personally put on camps for our youth, and they have done physical work to our church building, our parsonage and our mission house,” Pellegrini said. “It has been a great thing.”
Vermont Baptists sent a team of volunteers to work in the Lumberton, N.C., area in 2017 to repair hurricane damage, she said.
Buncombe Baptist Association, in Asheville, N.C., has sent teams to Vermont for years, said Perry Brindley, director of missions. That includes sending 40 volunteers during the summer of 2017.
Beyond the volunteers, Brindley speaks with pride about how some of the key leaders in Vermont are from western North Carolina.

Starting strong in Rutland

Some shopping mall stores in Rutland, Vt., are not doing well. But that has enabled Mission City Church to rent space in the mall. Unlike the stores, Mission City is going great, with three Sunday services and more than 400 members. By Vermont church standards, this is a hugely successful, out-of-the-park home run of a church plant. The church now has 12 on staff, including four who are full-time and some who are volunteers.
The Tar Heel roots include Lead Pastor Tim Owens who grew up in Canton, N.C., and served seven years as associate pastor of Pinnacle Church.
In 2014, he moved his family to Rutland along with seven other adults and six children to start a church in his living room.
“We moved six times in six months,” Owens recalled with a smile. The last move was to the shopping center.
The church became Mission City in 2016 after it launched a second campus at Castleton, a university town 14 miles west of Rutland and home of Castleton University. The Castleton church began meeting in a classroom building and has grown steadily.
Lyandon Warren wears many hats as NAMB’s Vermont church planting catalyst. One of those includes serving as a volunteer campus pastor in Castleton.
Warren is from Waynesville, N.C., grew up in the Crabtree/Clyde area and worked as a tool and die maker before he surrendered to full-time ministry in 2001. He graduated from North Greenville University in upstate South Carolina in 2006 and moved to Vermont soon after graduation.
“We’re a church that believes in partnering in church plants,” Owens said. “Our vision is to make disciples and plant churches. We don’t just say it – we do it.”
Along with a strong effort to plant churches in Nepal and helping get churches started in Maine and Georgia, they are also backing several church plants in Vermont.
Mission City helped train others involved in church planting, such as Hayden Swanger. He will lead worship and music at Crosspoint Church, a new plant by Todd West in Williston, Vt. Mission City is also helping Crosspoint with its website. Owens and West are old friends from their western North Carolina days.
Ricky Vest, one of Mission City’s associate pastors, also has N.C. connections. He grew up in Georgia but spent five years in western North Carolina working in camp ministry before enrolling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., in 2011. He graduated and moved to Vermont in 2015 for church planting.
He lives with his family in Pittsford, a 15-minute drive north of Rutland, and says he likes living in Vermont.
“God has given us the opportunity to build lots of relationships,” Vest said, and adds they have had to buy more winter clothes.

A campus connection in Castleton

Many North Carolina church planters would see the trailer pull up beside a classroom building at Castleton University and perhaps have a twinge of backache.
Those weekly setups of sound systems, signs, screens, coffee pots and materials – then the tear down and moving it afterward – are part of the hard work required to have church in a borrowed or rented facility. For now, it’s part of the schedule for Mission City Church’s Castleton campus.
Lyandon Warren preaches but rotates Sunday services with associates so he can pursue his wider church planting ministry across Vermont and beyond. He and his wife, Kim, greet members and visitors in the outer lobby before the contemporary service starts.
Many attendees are university students, but some are older adults. Warren’s own parents moved to Vermont from Waynesville, N.C., to help the new church get started.
At a table with balloons, discipleship pastor Tyler Ray signs up members for home groups. Ray is unusual – he grew up in a Baptist family in Maine, where Baptists are scarce. Called to full-time Christian service, he is attending Northeastern Baptist College, a Baptist school founded in 2013 in Bennington, Vt., to train people for Christian ministry in the region. This school is considered by Vermont Baptists to be a huge asset to Baptist outreach in Vermont and New England. Many New England Baptists who are called into ministry head to Baptist schools in the south; many wind up staying south. Clearly New England Baptists must begin training and equipping their own people to minister and serve here, and Northeastern is an indication that is beginning to happen.
Collin Terenzini, 25, is unusual for another reason. He is a Rutland, Vt., native who accepted Christ as Savior in 2010. He then moved to North Carolina so he could attend Fruitland Baptist Bible College. He graduated in 2013, continued his studies at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., then served as student pastor at Laurel Springs Baptist Church near Boone, N.C.
The unusual part is that Terenzini then moved back to Vermont, where he came to have high regard for the church planting ministry of Tim Owens, so he became part of the Castleton work.
“God is really working in Vermont,” Terenzini said. “He is working to change the least religious place in America to having a thriving Christian influence.”
Be sure to look for more stories from Vermont in the next issue of the Biblical Recorder.

1/23/2018 8:52:32 AM by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Evangelicals for Life addresses ‘pro-life ethic’

January 23 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Evangelical Christians defend not only unborn children in the pro-life cause but all other human beings in need as well, speakers said on the second day of the Evangelicals for Life conference in the country’s capital.

ERLC photo
Evangelical Christians defend not only unborn children in the pro-life cause but all other human beings in need as well, speakers said on the second day of the Evangelicals for Life conference in the country’s capital.

Christian advocacy for and ministry to refugees, orphans, immigrants and the poor gained attention Jan. 19 at the third annual event co-hosted by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and Focus on the Family. The three-day conference – which concluded Jan. 20 with breakout sessions – broke mid-day Jan. 19 for attendees to join tens of thousands of others for the annual March for Life from the National Mall to Capitol Hill.
At the conclusion of the Jan. 19 sessions, ERLC President Russell Moore announced more than $336,000 had been raised at a leaders dinner the same evening to fund ultrasound machines for pregnancy resource centers across the country.
In her keynote speech, popular author Ann Voskamp said, “We are a people of a robust, pro-life ethic. We are for both humans in utero and humans in crisis.”
Moore said during a panel discussion on developing a whole-life, pro-life perspective, “The primary reason that we care about all of these people is because Jesus does ... [T]he reason that we care about unborn children is because they’re human beings made in the image of God. If that’s the case, then we care for all people who are made in the image of God and who are threatened.”
Rich Stearns, president of World Vision U.S., said it is “true that when the church demonstrates true compassion for all people and particularly for the poor and the vulnerable, that there’s no more powerful witness to the truth of the gospel than this kind of sacrificial love for those Matthew calls ‘the least of these.’”
“You see, a Christian faith that is consistently and passionately pro-life is almost universally admired and irresistibly attractive to outsiders, and that’s because it’s so unexpected,” he said in a keynote address.
The Jan. 18-20 conference took place just prior to Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, Jan. 21, which the Southern Baptist Convention and many evangelical churches observed, and the 45th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, Jan. 22, which legalized abortion nationwide.
While Evangelicals for Life’s (EFL) yearly proximity to the Roe anniversary and the March for Life – as well as the topics and speakers – makes clear its commitment to protecting the unborn, the issues addressed Jan. 19 affirmed the evangelical pro-life cause is an expansive one.
Speaking about care for refugees, Voskamp told the audience, “If you are passionate for Christ, then you are compassionate for those in crisis.
“A whole world of people will decide who Jesus is by who we are,” she said. “A whole world of hurting people will decide what they think about Jesus by how we decide to respond to the hurting. If we turn our backs on the fleeing, we turn our backs on Christ.”
Voskamp’s family of nine sponsored a six-person refugee family from war-torn Syria that had undergone a two-year process of “stringent vetting,” she said. “[I]t’s relatively easy to pontificate on how to live the gospel, and it’s infinitely harder to incarnate the gospel in your life, but it’s worth it.”
“Now is the time for the church to be the church ...,” Voskmap said of the current period marked by the massive uprooting of people from their homes and countries that has been described as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.
The Bible “is a book from beginning to end about exiles and refugees,” she said. “We are not a people who believe in parts of the Holy Bible. We are a people who believe in the whole Bible.
“This is us, the people who do not take out parts of the Bible to fit our agenda but [take] our lives and make them a living offering to serve all people.”
Stearns suggested American evangelicals should examine themselves about what the world sees when it looks at the church.
“Do our actions speak to our identity? Are we consistently pro-life?,” he asked.
Some of their historic positions and current opinions reflect poorly on American evangelicals, Stearns said. A recent Barna Group survey showed evangelicals were the least likely group to say they would welcome refugees, he said. Less than one-third of U.S. churches have taken steps to help refugees, he said.
“Our history suggests that we need to be more self-critical and we need to demonstrate some humility and a spirit of repentance,” Stearns said.
Jenny Yang – vice president of policy and advocacy at World Relief and the daughter of immigrants – said immigration is not just a political and economic issue.
“I firmly believe the issue of migration is a spiritual issue,” she said in a panel discussion. “It’s about whether or not Jesus wants to see people of all nations coming to know Himself. And lots of times when you’re in a place like the United States where there is freedom – religious freedom especially – they are able to choose” religious faith.
She told about a Nashville, Tenn., church that welcomed Bhutanese refugees, showed them the “Jesus” film and saw many of them come to Christ for salvation. Those refugees welcomed others from their home country, showed them “Jesus” and saw others converted. There has been “a proliferation of people who are traditionally Buddhists becoming followers of Jesus,” Yang told attendees.
Citing the ministry of churches in Kenya and Jordan, Yang said in a later address, “These churches around the world are demonstrating to us that we don’t value others because of their ability or capacity to contribute to our own well-being. ... But when we as a church align ourselves with those abroad who are suffering, what we’re doing ultimately is aligning ourselves with the heart and the mission of God.”
Benjamin Watson, tight end for the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League (NFL), said pro-lifers can also be pro-justice.
“Being pro-life does not mean you’re not pro-justice,” said Watson, who was named Jan. 21 as one of three finalists for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for excellence on and off the field. “We can be both. There’s a little word called ‘and,’ and never let the world determine what we can be and what we can stand for.”
The idea of justice appears 200 times in the Old Testament, Watson said. The idea of justice is individual but also about correcting structural issues, he said. Justice comes from God’s character, he said, adding, “We want to identify and love the things that He loves.”
The challenge, he said, is “to be people who humbly come before God and say, ‘God, what would you have me be a champion for?’”
D.J. Jordan, communications director for Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., encouraged attendees during a panel discussion, “Don’t be afraid to work with the social justice movement. Oftentimes we’re scared away from movements like that, but many of them [are] using language that’s consistent with life.”
Kelly Rosati, Focus on the Family’s vice president of advocacy for children, said about 100,000 children in foster care in the country are waiting for adoption. If only one family in every third church “would welcome home a waiting child, we would have no more waiting kids in the United States,” she said.
The mother of four children adopted through foster care, Rosati asked participants, “Would you simply be willing to pray and ask God, ‘Do you want to use the blessing of our family on behalf of a child without one?’”
Trillia Newbell, the ERLC’s director of community outreach, spoke about her conversion to Christ and the pro-life cause.
“There was a time when I thought that children didn’t matter, and all that mattered were those of us who are adults,” she said. “I was pro-choice, but I wasn’t just pro-choice. I was pro-choice to the extreme.”
Saved at the age of 22, she said, “[God] took a dead, dead girl and gave her resurrection life. God radically transformed everything about me. He transformed my world view.”
When she understood human beings bear the image of God, she learned, “From the womb to the day we face Jesus, it matters to God. And therefore it matters to me. And therefore it matters to us. Ultimately what the Lord was doing was helping me truly love people, truly love people, an imperfect love nonetheless, but a love.”
A group of about 30 – primarily high school students – from a Southern Baptist church in Texas attended the conference and the march.
Church at the Cross in Grapevine is active in the cause for the unborn, orphans, children in foster care and Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, student pastor James Sercey told Baptist Press. The trip to D.C. for the conference and march is an effort to expose the church’s young people to and educate them about the pro-life argument, he said.
His prayer on the way to Washington, Sercey said, was that when the students walk away from the experience “what’s driving them to be pro-life is really an understanding of the glory of God and the image stamped on every person.”
The duo Shane and Shane led in worship during the conference.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/23/2018 8:46:57 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Flu outbreak prompts churches to take precautions

January 23 2018 by Scott Barkley, Christian Index

Johnny Nix of Pickett’s Mill Baptist Church has asked volunteers to consider staying away.
Like so many other churches, Nix and the Dallas, Ga., church he leads are locked in a battle with the flu.

Map from CDC

“We’ve instructed our volunteers and workers to postpone coming by for a couple of weeks if they or someone in their family has had it,” Nix told Georgia Baptists’ Christian Index news journal. “That may seem a little extreme, but we’re taking every precaution necessary.”
And Pickett’s Mill isn’t awash in volunteers. “It’s very difficult when you’re short on workers,” said Nix, who began at the church last June. “But it’s necessary to provide the safest environment for our church family.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in its latest report on Jan. 6, stated that 49 states have reported “widespread influenza activity.”
Dan Jernigan, director of the CDC’s influenza division, said in a Jan. 12 media briefing, “What we’re seeing is the season has started early and that it’s probably peaking right about now. ... In terms of the numbers, this week ... there’s 22.7 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the United States. That’s up from 13.7 last week, so that’s almost doubling in terms of the numbers, just in the last week.”
Prompted by such reports, churches are taking extra steps. At Second Baptist Church in Warner Robins, Ga., hand sanitizer stations have been placed on the walls around the lobby and auditorium and in each nursery and children’s room, pastor Jim Perdue said.
During the cold and flu season, Perdue added, the church usually skips the normal welcome time to prevent germs from spreading via hundreds of handshakes.
At First Baptist Church in Cartersville, Ga., members and visitors were encouraged to replace handshakes with a “warm wave” during the welcome time.
Lisa Lovett, First Baptist’s children’s ministry director, also sent an email to parents and volunteers addressing the flu. Normally, a 24-hour rule is followed for how long a sick child should stay away from Sunday school. Lovett encouraged that the time frame extend back to Friday. If a child was sick on Thursday, she asked parents to call church staff to determine if it’s safe for them to be there Sunday morning.
At Second Baptist, preschool coordinator Donise Woodrich and children’s pastor Ben Hunley work to take appropriate measures for the church’s youngest attendees through recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics Infectious Disease Control.
As such, Second Baptist urges any children or volunteers to stay home if they’ve experienced flu-like symptoms. Those include a fever reaching 100.4, vomiting or diarrhea within the last 24 hours.
Joel Southerland, pastor of Peavine Baptist Church in Rock Springs, Ga., recounted that disinfectant foggers, which worked well at a church where he previously pastored, are being considered at Peavine.
Southerland heard about the devices from a school employee. Most recently, the school system in Hartselle, Ala., has been using foggers to spray disinfectant after 13 percent of its student body was out because of the flu.
The CDC’s Jernigan noted to the media, “... if you look at seasons like this one that we’re having, there’s at least 11 to 13 more weeks of influenza to go.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Scott Barkley is web content editor for The Christian Index, christianindex.org, news journal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston contributed to this article.)

1/23/2018 8:30:27 AM by Scott Barkley, Christian Index | with 0 comments

The Summit climbs toward 1,000 new churches

January 22 2018 by Seth Brown & Chad Austin, BR Content Editor & BSC Communications

The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham has a plan to reach the world by starting more churches, an evangelistic process often called church planting. Their goal is lofty – 1,000 churches in 50 years. But with an emphasis on disciple-making and cooperation, church leaders believe they are on the right track.

Contributed photo
The Summit Church sent out more than 50 members and leaders in April 2017 to church plants in Atlanta, Ga., and Orlando, Fla. The Orlando team was joined by a group of members from another Summit church plant, Mercy Hill Church in Greensboro, N.C.

“The church is the institution that Jesus left us when He gave us the Great Commission – God’s ‘Plan A’ for reaching a lost world,” said Todd Unzicker, pastor of sending at The Summit.
They have started 248 churches to date, including 208 outside the U.S. In addition, 158 Summit members are currently serving as International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries, with 17 participants in the “limitless pathways” initiative, meaning those missionaries continue to work in professional careers while partnering voluntarily with an IMB team.
The church has sent nearly 1,000 people to do mission work over the years, both domestically and internationally.
The Summit is also reaching thousands of residents and college students in the Triangle region of North Carolina. In 2017, The Summit averaged nearly 10,000 in total weekend worship attendance at nine campus locations that make up its multisite approach to ministry. The Summit baptized more than 500 people last year and reported 45 salvations in its college ministry.
The church began as Homestead Heights Baptist Church in 1962, but went through a “revitalization” in 2002, a year after selecting J.D. Greear as pastor.
“We introduced a clarification of the vision,” Greear told the Biblical Recorder. “In reality, it was a return to the vision of the church’s original founder – Sam James of IMB fame. We wanted a fresh start. Three hundred longtime Summit members committed to do whatever it took to reach people and follow the Holy Spirit wherever He leads.”
The Summit wants to see new congregations in every North Carolina college and university town, influential cities across the U.S. and regions around the world with low Christian populations.
Milton A. Hollifield Jr., executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), applauded how the church “promotes evangelism and disciple-making” in a statement to the Biblical Recorder. He also highlighted similarities between The Summit and the state convention’s missions and ministry strategies, which include a focus on making disciples, planting churches and reaching college students.

Contributed photo
Lynn Greear, J.D. Greear’s father, baptizes Jocelyn McBride. McBride attended a worship service in February 2017 at The Summit after being invited by a friend. Lynn and his wife, Carol, came to know McBride through the church’s “Starting Point” ministry and spent weeks discussing the gospel and answering her questions about God.

Will Toburen, executive pastor of discipleship ministries, said, “We believe that disciples make disciples, so our discipleship and evangelism strategies are inextricably linked.”
At the core of The Summit’s church planting and discipleship model is an emphasis on multiplication. They train each new Christian disciple to make more disciples and each new church to start more churches, and so on.
“Multiplication always grows faster than addition,” Unzicker said.
Church leaders know their goal of “1,000 churches in one generation” is ambitious – likely impossible – if they work alone. That is why they cooperate with other local churches.
“We’re not trying to do a new thing,” said Greear, “simply do the ‘old things’ in a new generation with the power of the Holy Spirit. … We are grateful for our partnership with the BSC in doing that.”
Unzicker echoed that sentiment: “The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina has been a great partner.”
In 2014 church leaders decided to begin a five-year process of gradually increasing The Summit’s Cooperative Program (CP) giving.
“We are big believers in cooperation for the purpose of mission,” said Greear, “and since the Southern Baptist Convention [SBC] is our tribe, it made sense that the lion’s share of our giving should go there.”
Their CP commitment made an unexpected turn in 2016.
“We found ourselves in a place where God had so blessed us financially that we could go ahead and get to our five-year goal, so we did that,” Greear said. “We are very excited to be a part of the SBC right now, and feel like God has a lot for the SBC in the future. Missions is what the church is all about, and churches helping churches is a core New Testament strategy.”
Hollifield also commended The Summit’s preaching and Bible teaching ministry. For 2017, The Summit reported that nearly 5,000 people were engaged in one of the church’s 355 small groups.
“J.D. is a solid and effective preacher,” he said, “but he is not the only one who is teaching the Word of God. People who attend there are getting biblical truth from a number of people, helping them grow in their faith. As a result, they are challenging people to surrender their lives to the Lord and answer God’s call on their lives.”
Unzicker said college students were a strategic part of their mission strategy, calling them an “untapped gift to the church.” Young adults have the time and flexibility to develop interest and experience in international missions. They are “eager to take on new challenges,” Unzicker explained. As they begin to graduate, marry and start families, their “global vision for the world” will “infect the DNA of all our churches.”
Greear said, “We’ve been given a great tradition of faith, and we want to steward it well for the next generation. We want to take the old, historic gospel into the future.
“I believe the greatest days of the SBC are ahead of us, and it’s exciting to be alive at this time. We need God’s grace and His help more than ever, and we believe He is more than ready to give it. We face new challenges in being faithful gospel preachers in the 21st century. But Jesus, the Lord of the church, is the same yesterday, today and forever. He helped our forefathers; He will help us.”

1/22/2018 3:30:45 PM by Seth Brown & Chad Austin, BR Content Editor & BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Former Steelers running back discusses repentance

January 22 2018 by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q&A

Tim Worley, North Carolina native and former National Football League (NFL) running back, struggled through injuries, substance abuse, crime and suicidal thoughts before becoming a Christian. He was drafted into the NFL in 1989 after an award-winning stint playing for the University of Georgia. Worley ran for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears and now does motivational speaking for youth across the country. He and his family live in Charlotte, N.C.

Contributed photo
Tim Worley slips past a player as running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Below is an edited transcript of Worley’s conversation with Roman Gabriel III about his story of redemption.

Q: Can you tell us about using your platform for the Lord to alter the lives of other people?

A: For the past couple years, I’ve been doing ministry with K-LOVE and Air1 radio on a program called “Dare to Dream.” We go into middle schools, high schools and youth detention centers all over the country speaking to students. It’s amazing – the feedback and the changes happening with the students, and even parents. It’s outstanding. God is doing His thing.

Q: What are you seeing in young people today as you travel the country?

A: One of the things I’m seeing across the board is hopelessness. I see a lot of bullying. Many kids just don’t have hope today, but I use my story to encourage. Whenever I present, I don’t talk about my victories. I talk about my failures. I believe when we talk about our failures, it opens up people to talk about what they’re going through. Even the comment cards we receive back from students are telling us things they wouldn’t even tell their parents. We’re pumping some hope to the children.

Q: Being a former All-American running back at Georgia, has this year been an exciting one?

A: Oh boy, yes it was exciting. My wife, Dee, attended The University of Alabama, so we’re not a house divided, we’re a house blessed. She’s going to root for Alabama with that jersey on. But she wore my jersey the week before (a game against) Alabama, and I root for Alabama when the two aren’t playing each other. She was a gymnast at the university. She’s going to always represent “Bama.”

Q: What’s your take on a handful of elite NFL draft picks forgoing playing in their final bowl game, which would be their last college game?

A: Personally, I don’t agree with it, but they make their own choices. I’m “old-school,” a basic fundamentals guy. You play the very last game. It was very important to me to play as many games as I could at the University of Georgia. And it was very monumental to walk off that field and know that I gave it my all, which paved the way for me to be a first round pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I also believe you should be dedicated to your school, to those that gave you the opportunity to showcase your gifts.

Q: You reached your dream, being the seventh overall pick in the first round of the NFL draft. You had a good first year, professionally, but what happened when you began to experience problems in your personal life?

A: First of all, it was a very exciting time in my life, competing at that next level. When I look back, I was prepared to play the game of football. You didn’t even have to pay me; I loved it. But I wasn’t prepared for the things that came off the field, the business side of things. Even before I stepped into the NFL, I started experimenting with drinking and using drugs occasionally. It started escalating when I got into the NFL. I just didn’t know who I was. The things off the field became more important to me than the things on the field. I didn’t know how to separate myself from being in a program mentality in college, to being an NFL employee. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Chicago Bears were looking for a return on their investment. But that partying, frivolous lifestyle became most important to me. That’s when the on-field injury problems came into play.

Q: So, things in your life began to go downhill?

A: That’s when the failed drug tests began to show up. That’s when the troubles and run-ins with the police began. Things just went sideways for me, all because of the negative choices I made. But I learned from it. I learned from those things, and I thank God. It’s by the grace of God that I’m here today. He’s given me a second chance to be here and reach back and help other people with some of the issues I once dealt with.

Q: At what point did you finally hit bottom?

A: In making the transition from professional football to a normal lifestyle – suddenly at the age of 30, I’m speaking the word retirement. And it was tough, but the drugs and the alcohol were a big thing in my life. I didn’t think I had a problem. I wouldn’t admit it. I was just doing what I had to do. They say it’s not a crime until you get caught, right? The thing that turned it around for me happened in 2008. I had a run-in with the police in Smyrna, Ga. I was basically suicidal, trying to kill myself or get somebody to kill me. I put myself in harm’s way, through a run-in with police officers, trying to get them to put a slug in my heart, but they didn’t do that. God gave me another chance. They stunned me with a Taser, arrested me and put me in jail for 23 days. That’s when my life changed. I actually got down on my knees in a jail cell, and I repented and I asked the Lord to restore me. Ever since April 23, 2008, God has radically changed my life.

Q: Now that God has changed your life, how has that changed your perspective?

A: The word of God says we overcome by the blood of the lamb. I’m always going to tell my testimony. He told me to change my life, to change my perspective. It gave me a better perspective – that life is a gift. I don’t want to waste time while I’m here. It’s God’s gift to us, and what we do with that gift is our gift to him. Our gifts are not for us. They are for other people. Even through the adversity and all the difficult things that I put myself through, and the choices I stepped through that almost destroyed my life, I’ve used those things.
I’ve learned from them to get back in places to help someone else. It’s all about the next person; it’s all about other people. It’s not about me.
It’s about Jesus Christ. I want to continue doing those things to let young people know, “Listen, you’ve been put here for a purpose. God has given us many things so that we shouldn’t take life for granted.”

People need to hear the gospel and how much God loves us. When you’re flowing in your strength, and you know your purpose, while you’re here, you’re unstoppable! That’s the way I feel today, Roman.

Q: Alcohol and substance abuse is such a huge problem in our country, and it doesn’t delineate between social standing, age, race, creed or religion. What would you tell people out there that struggle with alcohol or substance abuse?

A: I believe the first thing is you have to confess it; you have to admit that you have an issue. Secrets kill, and there are a lot of people out there right now walking around with secrets. People are killing themselves on the inside.
There so many different kinds of substances and drugs out there – the pharmaceutical drugs, opiates. People are dying every day from these drugs. Admit it; talk to somebody. Especially men, young men don’t know how to talk to each other. Women, on the other hand, for the most part, are willing to talk more.
You have to humble yourself and admit that you have a problem.
When I humble myself and admit that I can’t live this life by myself, that’s when freedom comes and the mind can get renewed. Ask for help.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roman Gabriel III is an evangelist and motivational speaker. Visit the Faith Family Sports website: fspn.net. Hear his Sold Out Sports Talk Radio program on American Family Radio in 200 cities nationally or streaming live at afr.net. Visit his website: soldouttv.com; Facebook: Roman Gabriel III; connect on Twitter: @romangabriel3rd. Contact at (910) 431-6483 or email: soldoutrg3@gmail.com.)

1/22/2018 3:25:34 PM by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q&A | with 0 comments

Adoption: a pro-life battle

January 22 2018 by Liz Tablazon, BR Staff Writer

Three weeks after Joseph and Laura Thigpen, members of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, brought their two-year-old daughter home from Ethiopia after a grueling four-year process, the Ethiopian Parliament voted Jan. 9 to ban all foreign adoptions.

Photo by Michelle Nachnani
Joseph, Laura and Eliza Thigpen arrive home at Raleigh-Durham International Airport Dec. 16, after a four-year adoption journey.

The couple, who had just let out their first “genuine sigh of relief” Dec. 16, now asked about the millions of children left without families, “Who holds their breath for these orphans?”
Adoption was always part of their plan – an issue they said would have kept them from moving forward in their relationship, even when they were dating.
They learned that poverty in other countries makes it impossible for locals to pursue domestic adoption in their own homeland. This knowledge affirmed the call to adopt internationally.
“We resonated with this,” Laura said in an email to the Biblical Recorder. “We, too, were once the orphan in a far-away land in need of a foreign adoptive parent. We, too, relied, and still do, on a Father to come to us when we could not go to Him.”
In September 2013, the Thigpens applied to their first adoption agency. It took nine months to complete a home study, file a petition to the United States Customs and Immigration Services to bring an orphan from Ethiopia to the U.S. and mail a dossier to be authenticated.
“The paperwork process of international adoption goes a little like this: hurry up, then wait … hurry up, then wait,” said Laura.
By August 2014, they were placed on a list of families waiting for a referral of the child they would adopt. They were 39th on the list.
“Each month would go by, and we would hope to hear of movement. Some months we would move a few numbers, and some months we wouldn’t move at all,” Laura said.
Then, in November 2015, after waiting for more than one year and being told to expect a referral soon, Joseph and Laura learned the placing agency they were working with would suddenly be closing Dec. 30, 2015. They were devastated.
“Our agency had given us a few options: remaining with them, but using another placing agency, putting us at the end of that waiting family list, which already had over 100 families; switching to an entirely different program (country) that they offered; or losing all of the money we had paid in agency fees by leaving that agency altogether for a new agency.

Contributed photo
The Thigpen family celebrates their first Christmas together, just days after bringing Eliza home.

“We had a strong resolve to remain with an Ethiopian program, but knowing it took us a year to move from 39 to nine on a waiting list, we could not imagine waiting behind a hundred or more families. We cried out to the Lord in absolute desperation.”
Within 24 hours, a friend connected them to the organization from which she and her husband adopted two Ethiopian children. The agency needed a family that was ready to adopt a new child in their orphanage.
“After praying and seeking a lot of wisdom and counsel from pastors, friends and family, we felt certain the Lord was leading us to forsake the $8,000 we had paid in agency fees and switch to this new agency. Of course, making a change requires an update to all of the paperwork – home study, immigration petition and dossier. So, we followed that call once again to ‘hurry up and wait!’”
Joseph and Laura completed their home study update and were ready to receive their referral by the first week of January 2016.
“We were excited, exuberant even to finally see the face of our child,” Laura said.
But the week before, an uprising began in Ethiopia. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the government office that handles adoption paperwork in Ethiopia, suspended all processing of paperwork. The child, too, waited to receive a signature that would permit her referral for international adoption. Her paperwork would not be signed for another year.

A community in prayer

By August 2016, Joseph and Laura felt more desperate than at any other point in their journey.
“We felt we had been fighting an invisible war for three years with a harsh, shrewd and relentless enemy. We felt battered, and despair seemed unsettlingly close when we felt we needed spiritual reinforcements,” they said.
The couple asked a group of about 35 friends to pray and fast together one day a month. They prayed for specific needs for the adoption and for a particular little girl in the orphanage. The agency had requested prayer for the child, who was struggling to gain weight.
Things started looking up. In January 2017, Laura and Joseph attended the Evangelicals for Life conference in Washington, D.C. At the event, co-hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Focus on the Family, speakers and panelists talked about the warfare surrounding the adoption process.
“Their words were affirming and encouraging to our weary souls,” Laura said.
During their stay in Washington, D.C., the couple met an Ethiopian waitress. They shared the story of their adoption journey with her, telling her how long it had been and about the signature for which they were waiting. Laura remembered the waitress tearfully pleading, “Thank you! Please don’t give up! Those children need someone. Don’t give up!”
“Her tears and her words became treasured gems we hid in our hearts,” Laura said.
Days after returning home from the conference, on Valentine’s Day, Joseph and Laura received the notification that several children’s paperwork had been signed, and they would receive their referral.
Upon receiving their daughter’s file, they studied every detail of her photos, praising God for His sovereignty. Their daughter had been born in October 2015, just two months before their first placing agency closed.
“It would not have been a possibility for us to adopt her had we been or remained with the other agency.”
They also discovered that the little girl they and their friends had been praying and fasting for was this very child whose file they held. “The Lord had been answering so many prayers,” Laura said.
Still, the waiting persisted. Paperwork needed to be updated, translated and processed.
By May, Joseph and Laura were “drained, weary and exhausted physically and emotionally” and decided to take a week-long vacation to rest. Upon returning home, they received an alert from the U.S. Department of State. The Ethiopian government had temporarily stopped processing adoptions.
Throughout the next few weeks, with help from friends, family, their church and other organizations, Joseph and Laura sent emails, tweets and letters to Congressional representatives, urging them to help more than 200 families bring their children home.
As cases began moving forward, the Thigpens faced another obstacle: Ethiopia’s rainy season. From August to October, weather can shut down the courts in Ethiopia, further extending families’ waiting time to appear before a judge.
“People would ask how we were doing, and we would often reply, ‘We’ll breathe when she’s home but probably not before then,’” Laura said. “We felt like we were holding our breath not because we thought the Lord would forsake us, but because we had to move forward. We couldn’t stop to think about the ‘what ifs,’ and we certainly could not act like the fight was over.”

A family comes home

Joseph and Laura finally flew to Ethiopia Nov. 30. On Dec. 5, they were legally declared parents.
“There were several times we looked at each other, in awe of the fact that we were holding our daughter – the tiny little girl we had been praying for, pursuing relentlessly and actively waiting for four long years.”
The family – Joseph, Laura and Eliza Talitha – arrived home in North Carolina Dec. 16.
The couple said their adoption process led them to understand Romans 8 as a theological embodiment of their present reality. “We are eagerly waiting for our adoption as sons to be completed, hoping for what we cannot see, not knowing for what to pray,” the couple shared in a written statement to the Biblical Recorder. “We understand that in the adoption process we were never waiting on people or paperwork but on Almighty God, His plans and His time.
“We groaned regularly, wept often, suffered setbacks and heartache, longed deeply and learned to trust the Lord in a profoundly better way.”
Their journey also gave them perspective on being pro-life that they had not previously considered.

“Being pro-life is costly, and it requires a vision of humanity that is real, authentic and raw. ... Being pro-life is not just sparring with lawmakers or law enforcers over legislation, neither is it just caring for the weak, the vulnerable and the oppressed. We saw firsthand how the enemy not only takes pleasure in preying on the weakest and most vulnerable – he takes pleasure preying on human beings created in the image of God. This enemy worked diligently to thwart our efforts to bring our daughter home. But God is the relentless and just avenger for the orphan.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Seth Brown, BR Content Editor, contributed to this story.)

1/22/2018 3:15:43 PM by Liz Tablazon, BR Staff Writer | with 2 comments

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