July 2008

Iowa bishops say immigrants deserve better after raid, floods

July 16 2008 by By Tim Murphy/Religion News Service

Iowa bishops from three denominations are demanding an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy in the wake of an immigration raid on a large kosher slaughterhouse and allegations of worker mistreatment during relief efforts after last month’s floods.
“We are concerned that we would substitute any level of fearmongering ... for the hard work of getting a humane and just immigrant immigration policy,” United Methodist Bishop Gregory Palmer said July 10.
Organized by the group Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, the bishops condemned the government’s handling of a recent raid at a kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, which resulted in the arrest of nearly 400 undocumented workers.
The Episcopal, Methodist and Lutheran bishops also voiced concerns that many undocumented workers faced “inhumane” conditions while cleaning up flood-affected areas in eastern Iowa. According to the group, workers were paid below the minimum wage and forced to work 12- to 14-hour shifts in “toxic” environments.
“They were from Miami, Houston, Honduras — all over,” said Iowa Episcopal Bishop Alan Scarfe. “We discovered that one man thought he was actually in Chicago. That’s how taken-off-the-streets these people are.”
Illegal immigration has been a hot-button issue in the state in recent months. Federal agents arrested 389 workers during a May 2 raid at the Agriprocessors meat packing plant. Advocates for immigration reform argue that the raid had a wide-reaching negative impact on the community and on young children, whose parents were either imprisoned or forced to stay home with no source of income.
“(Government) policies have increased the level of fear, and have literally terrorized the lives of people and torn apart families,” Palmer said.
The Postville plant has recently come under fire from Jewish leaders as well, who called the conditions for workers “contrary to Jewish values.” The plant is the nation’s largest supplier of kosher meats.
7/16/2008 4:09:00 AM by By Tim Murphy/Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Prominent New Orleans church faces another uncertain future

July 16 2008 by By Bruce Nolan and Mary Elise DeCoursey/Religion News Service

NEW ORLEANS — One of the city’s largest churches, whose congregation was scattered by Hurricane Katrina, is facing another uncertain future after a weekend fire destroyed its 2,000-seat sanctuary.
Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Church was gutted by a predawn fire July 7. Parishioners who stopped by to see the damage compared the scene to a wake.
“We’re like family here,” said Lisa Smith, a social worker and member of more than 20 years.
As investigators search for the cause of the fire, Bishop Paul S. Morton, who built what was once a small Baptist church into a major congregation, said officials suspected the fire started in the choir area behind the pulpit.
Morton said the congregation was insured. His wife, Debra, was recently named the church’s pastor after her husband wanted to devote more time to nurturing a satellite church in Atlanta that was started after Katrina.
We’ll be back, bigger and better,” she said.  
The Mortons said they were summoned to the church well before dawn and watched a three-alarm blaze ruin the sanctuary. A nearby education building sustained heavy smoke damage, said church administrator Brandon Boutin.
The building’s loss presents the congregation with a major challenge.
Before Hurricane Katrina, Greater St. Stephen was by far the largest church in the city, perhaps the largest in the state. It claimed about 20,000 members worshipping at three campuses, and Morton was a prominent figure in the city’s political scene.
Katrina scattered the congregation, knocking its number down to about 5,000. The church’s location in eastern New Orleans is still closed, and a suburban branch is probably too distant to be of much use to the downtown congregation, the Mortons said.
For now, church members plan to worship at Temple Sinai, which itself is nearing the end of a multimillion-dollar renovation. “We say all the time we’re a house of prayer. Anyone who comes in a spirit of brotherhood is welcome,” said Rabbi Ed Cohn. “We’re walking the walk.”
7/16/2008 4:06:00 AM by By Bruce Nolan and Mary Elise DeCoursey/Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Economy may affect churches in ways other than giving

July 16 2008 by By Rachel Mehlhaff/Associated Baptist Press

The bottoming markets, soaring gas and food prices and a steady stream of home foreclosures may be affecting other sectors of the economy, but that doesn’t mean church budgets will necessarily feel the pinch.
But local congregations may well be affected in other ways, according to experts on the subject.

In tough times people look to religion, said Sylvia Ronsvalle, executive vice president of the Christian research organization empty tomb, inc.

In the United States, “60 million people are in a religious house of worship each weekend,” she said. “These numbers suggest church is one of the last places people begin to cut back on.”

Giving to local churches has almost consistently been increasing since 1986. It did decrease slightly during three out of six economic recessions between 1986 and 2005, according to an empty tomb analysis of church giving in recession years. The report also suggests that the decrease doesn’t tend to show up until near the end of the recessions.

The report also notes that “church-member giving declined in four non-recession years during the 1968 through 2005 period,” Therefore, it reasons, “church-member giving does not necessarily decline in a recession.”

Scott McConnell, associate director of research for LifeWay Christian Resources, believes giving has been fairly consistent.

The organization — the Southern Baptist Convention’s publishing arm — recently conducted an economic survey of Southern Baptist pastors. The survey indicated that 72 percent felt the economy was having a negative impact on their churches. But the survey’s other findings indicate the situation for most churches may not be as dire as the pastors perceive.

It also looked at whether church receipts were meeting pastors' expectations. Half of the respondents said church receipts were about what they expected. Twenty-three percent said they were more than expected and 24 percent said their congregation's income was not meeting expectations.

McConnell said the share of those not satisfied with their church's income is a normal percentage from what he has seen in surveys conducted in non-recession years.

Finally, the LifeWay survey looked at whether or not the pastors thought their churches would meet their budgets. Sixty-six percent said yes and 26 percent said no.

McConnell said government figures show that, overall, wages are continuing to rise. He believes people should be giving at the same levels as income.

Whether this affects churches will be revealed at the end of the year, he said. In particular, year-end giving figures will show how accurately churches and individual church members budgeted, taking the various economic stresses into account.

As unemployment begins to rise and tough economic times increase McConnell said, the pinch could be a great opportunity for individual church members who can afford to give more generously than those whose budgets are tighter.

This is “an opportunity to see God work,” McConnell said. “I think there is a renewed awareness that we have heard from a lot of churches needing to be in tune with their community.”

But other factors may affect giving in more logistical ways. For instance, high gas prices could make it difficult for members to make it to worship services to turn in their tithe envelopes.

Steve Hewitt, a reporter for Christian Computing magazine said churches are going to have to find alternate routes — such as online giving or automatic checking-account deductions — for giving.

“Churches can do stuff to fix this,” he said.

Hewitt believes that churches have other reasons to adapt their ministry to the rising gas prices, which are projected to be as high as $5.75 by the end of July.

He drives 30 to 40 miles to church and frequently has church activities to attend throughout the week.

Hewitt said more churches may choose to stream their worship services and other events live on the Internet to help members for whom driving to church regularly creates an economic hardship.

“Only problem I have with that is the music aspect,” he said.

The soaring price of fuel is fundamentally different than the other aspects of the economic crunch, Hewitt noted. “It is directly proportionate to me going to church,” he said. “It affects the largest of all churches.”

Hewitt believes one solution may actually create better fellowship within churches: A new emphasis on neighborhood meetings and local small groups of church members.

Members of such groups not only can conduct some church business without driving to a remote location, but also get to know each other and share fellowship and support during difficult economic times, he said.

7/16/2008 1:45:00 AM by By Rachel Mehlhaff/Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Lilly Endowment awards $1 million grant to CBF

July 15 2008 by By Lance Wallace

ATLANTA – The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has been awarded a $1 million grant by Lilly Endowment Inc. to create a “missional leadership ecosystem” during the next three years.

“All of this is a systemic effort to ask ‘How is this helping you discover your vocational calling?’” said Terry Hamrick, CBF’s coordinator of leadership development. “Our focus all along has been to discover, develop and nurture leaders. This grant is strategic in that we will be able to call young people out, improve their theological education experience and create positive ministry experiences in the local church.”

CBF will add more than $300,000 of its funds to the Endowment grant to bring about the ecosystem, which will begin to take shape this fall. CBF will implement the new program with existing staff and partners.

“Lilly Endowment is very pleased that many institutions and leaders affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship – pastors and congregations, leaders of seminaries and colleges, and many young people preparing to become pastors – have been working together so closely to create an environment in which churches can flourish,” said Craig Dykstra, senior vice president for religion at the Endowment. “We hope this grant will help CBF cultivate an even more effective ecology of relationships that fosters effective ministry in its congregations.”

The youth and college initiative has been formally called “Enhancing the Capacity of Missional Congregations to Serve as Agents of Vocational Discovery.” The four strategies to implement this initiative are as follows:

  • Creating a youth ministry network,
  • establishing a collegiate support network,
  • funding congregational-based internships for college students and
  • convening a summer ministry summit for college and graduate students involved in summer ministry, such as CBF’s Student.Go program, Passport Inc. summer camp staff, the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty interns and more.

The second initiative designed to bring churches and theological educators together is called “Serving as a Catalyst for a New Community of Theological Schools and Congregations.” It will be fulfilled through three strategies:

  • Instituting a pastors and scholars studio that would bring together 20 professors and 20 pastors to improve the process of forming missional leaders,
  • creating a supervised ministry network composed of faculty and staff members from theological schools and pastors of churches hosting seminary students in internship-type ministry positions and
  • establishing a doctoral student network from among Baptist students in doctoral study.

“We’re trying to help supervised ministry go from being an ‘Oh, no, I’ve got to have this to graduate’ to helping students utilize the experience to better set their vocational direction,” Hamrick said. “The new networks will be places for us to begin a conversation with colleges and universities to have a relationship.  That is such an important time for vocational decisions.”

7/15/2008 9:33:00 AM by By Lance Wallace | with 0 comments

Fat America tips scales toward health care crisis

July 15 2008 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

America is in the midst of a debilitating health care crisis brought on almost entirely by the fact we eat too much and exercise too little.

We are too fat and excess weight causes or contributes to other primary killers.

Sixty-two percent of Americans are overweight or obese, according to giant insurer Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which insures more than one in three North Carolinians. This extra weight costs the country a trillion dollars a year in lost productivity and health care that for the most part could be avoided by making better lifestyle choices, according to those who study the issue.

Obesity is the prime cause of three diseases that haunt both Americans and those in other prosperous countries: heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes.

And the fix is so simple: smaller portions, healthier food choices and a regular walk.

Ninety percent of new diabetes cases are Type 2 diabetes which is caused by eating too much of the wrong food and by exercising too little. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) says 29 percent of children covered in their plans are currently overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. Meanwhile, 59 percent of the parents of those children believe their children’s weight is “about right.”

Why it matters

As personal as your health is, when you suffer ill health as a result of poor choices, its effects wash beyond yourself into your family, church and community. You accomplish less during a shorter, sicker life and pay much higher health costs.

Bible teachers admonishing students against abusing their bodies — the temple of God — by abstaining from sex, alcohol, tobacco and drugs argue against their own position if they are obese or suffer from diseases brought on by poor personal health choices.

“Diabetes and heart disease are on the rise” and unhealthy weight is “an epidemic among our Southern Baptist pastors and staff, said Donna Lively, director of GuideStone’s insurance marketing department.

A fit Carl Johnson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Icard, realized “it is not OK for me not to take care of myself” because it had the potential to disqualify him from ministry.

Some North Carolina Baptist churches are beginning to weigh in with programs that address their congregation’s health. Two professional trainers at Scotts Hill Baptist Church in Wilmington are designing a program for members. Trinity Baptist in Raleigh has sponsored a community fitness run that attracted hundreds.

Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Boone sponsors an annual bike ride called Tour de Bamboo.

GuideStone, the Southern Baptist retirement and insurance agency, sponsors an annual fitness run at the annual SBC meeting to raise fitness awareness. Nurses at its booth during the annual meeting test hundreds to give them the vital health indicators of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugars.

Lively said several persons have been discovered to be “under stress” and were referred immediately to a doctor.

GuideStone, which insures 60,000 Southern Baptist church staff members, is instituting wellness programs both to help those currently suffering from weight issues and to prevent others from falling into that trap.

Both GuideStone and Blue Cross now offer some preventative and wellness medical coverage that was not covered in recent years, such as annual physicals, and specialized tests on certain schedules, such as colonoscopies after 50.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield originated a program called Blue Points that offers rewards for regular exercise. GuideStone is launching 10,000 Steps, a program to get people walking the equivalent of five miles each day through conscious effort in their regular movement patterns, such as parking in a space distant from the store, taking the steps instead of the elevator and walking at lunchtime.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield says employers who institute wellness programs realize three dollars in benefit for each dollar invested in lowered insurance costs, higher productivity and fewer days lost to illness.

Crossnore School, a residential children’s home near Grandfather Mountain, lowered health insurance premiums by $40,000 annually for its 90 staff members when it instituted a fitness program and hired a nutritionist.

David Hunnicutt, president of the Wellness Councils of America, said, “If people can get 30 to 45 minutes of exercise on most days, the research will show us you can delay the onset of disability by 10 years.  Walking may very well be the magic bullet.”

Your insurer may offer nutrition consultation to your church staff or to a community meeting in your facility.

For Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Member Health Partnerships provide customized approaches to address health concerns including chronic disease management, health risk reduction and lifestyle issues. For people diagnosed with obesity issues, the insurer covers up to six nutrition counseling visits a year with its network of licensed, registered dietitians.

Members can access tools such as a lifestyle diary, nutrition booklets and step counters.

At GuideStone, insured with a Body Mass Index greater than 30 can be covered for more regular physical exams and to see a licensed nutritionist.


Nutrition’s role

Research by Blue Cross and Blue Shield found 84 percent of parents report that their children have potato chips or other processed, convenient snacks at least once a day; few were getting five servings of fruits and vegetables daily and none reported their children were active for at least 60 minutes every day, as fitness experts recommend.

Researchers feel there is a “disconnect” between what parents observe and what they conclude. Only 28 percent of parents surveyed felt their children did not get enough physical activity. Of course, a quarter of those parents reported they get no exercise whatsoever.

While 62 percent of BCBSNC adult members are overweight or obese, black members are nearly three times more likely to be out of the recommended weight ranges than white members, researchers said, and almost half of black females covered by BCBSNC are considered to be obese.

A full 23 percent of the state’s adults reported being current smokers.

In its 2007 State of Preventative Health report, Blue Cross and Blue Shield said public health experts believe preventable illnesses make up 60-70 percent of the country’s illness burden. The report said that in North Carolina, more than half of adult deaths could have been delayed with healthier lifestyle choices. Two–thirds of these deaths are attributable to a trio of lifestyle factors: tobacco use, physical activity and poor nutrition.

In this issue and in coming weeks the Biblical Recorder will highlight churches and programs that address this national health care crisis at a local level. 

7/15/2008 8:02:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Eight churches learn unique lesson through VBS

July 10 2008 by Bob Burchette

Photo by Bob Burchette
Patrick Fuller, pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Greensboro, greets VBS participants from eight churches that Southside hosted.
GREENSBORO - Eight churches that joined forces in mid-June to conduct a Vacation Bible School (VBS) together learned a unique lesson, and reaped great spiritual rewards, according to Patrick Fuller, pastor of the host church.

Three black congregations and five predominately white churches sponsored the VBS at Southside Baptist Church June 15-20. The event enrolled 648 children, who sang Hawaiian themed songs like "Wiki Wiki," heard "Wave Truths" from the Bible and had fun playing "on" Outrigger Island.

Members at Southside created the "island" which enjoyed an average attendance of nearly 500, said Fuller. Participants came from neighboring churches - and some who don't attend any church regularly.

It was more than the catchy Hawaiian songs, costumes, decorations and paraphernalia that excited pastors of the eight sponsoring churches, said Rodney Mitchell of Rocky Knoll Baptist Church.

"The most exciting thing about it was that it showed what could be done by working together," Mitchell said. "It was an opportunity to see what can take place when churches get together in a common purpose for the Lord."

"We had 24 decisions for Christ and many prospects for each church were identified. The churches split the prospects by location," Fuller said. "This opportunity has opened the door to a new fellowship and new friendships. It also has allowed the churches to encourage one another and press on for Jesus," he said.

Children, using Lifeway VBS material, were taught:

Wave 1 Truth: God is real.

Wave 2 Truth: Jesus is God's Son.

Wave 3 Truth: Jesus is the only way.

Wave 4 Truth: the Bible is God's word.

Wave 5 Truth: My actions show what I believe.

Some churches had not conducted a VBS in several years, while others had held VBS programs during the same weeks in recent years.

The scheduling conflict hindered the churches involved, Fuller said. "We don't want to compete for the same kids but bring in as many children as we can," he said.

Parents had opportunity to join their children on the final evening, not only for a Hawaiian-themed worship service but also for an island-themed dinner-on-the grounds. A variety of outdoor games were available for the children.

"I looked out across the children gathered each night, and it was like a glimpse of heaven with the diversity of people there - white, black and Asian," Mitchell said.

"It was fantastic. You couldn't tell who was a member of which church because everybody went together," said David Phelps, Groometown Baptist Church pastor.

"I've been here nearly six years, and I've never seen anything like this before. That's what the church ought to be - not you against us but all (working) for the kingdom of God," Phelps said.

"Everyone was working together in a wonderful spirit of unity," said Brad Hargett, pastor of Central Assembly of God. He said there was "a level of excitement that I had not seen in our individual endeavors."

Hargett said being the only non-Baptist pastor in the VBS group wasn't a problem. "I sensed that my coming and participation was fulfilling their vision of bringing unity to the body of Christ and reaching our community with the love of Jesus," he said.

"Everything about this VBS just blows me away! Diversity, unity, impact and souls - those are the words that come to mind when I think about what happened at Southside," said Tom Howe, associate director of missions for Piedmont Baptist Association.

"What an example this is both to other churches as well as to this community," Howe said.

From a spiritual standpoint that part of Greensboro may never be the same. The same churches, which also include Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist, Water of Life Community, Whosoeverwill Baptist and Pinecroft Baptist, will have a joint back-to-school party Aug. 16.

"It was awesome. I have been in Greensboro all of my life and never have seen so many churches (of different races) come together. That had to be of God," said Phillip Cole, pastor of Water of Life Community Church, a predominately black church.

"All of the people I have talked to are happy about it. It is something we could not have done ourselves. If you let God make it happen, it is going to stick," Cole said. "My desire would be to see this idea catch on in other quadrants in the city."

"I don't think there was anybody who didn't like it," said Larry Foust of Whosoeverwill Baptist Church. Foust said that he has been pastor of minority churches for the past 16 years, which have belonged to the Piedmont Baptist Association. "We need to invite more (black churches) to join," he said. "It is time for us to come together."

Cole, a founder of the first black church to join the Piedmont Baptist Association in 1984, was delighted to hear that Christian Fellowship has applied for membership in the association.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Bob Burchette, a retired editor/writer from the Greensboro News & Record, can be contacted at bburchette@triad.rr.com.)
7/10/2008 12:00:00 PM by Bob Burchette | with 0 comments

Executive Committee takes first run at bylaws, articles changes

July 10 2008 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

BR Photo by Norman Jameson
George Holley, chaplain at Craggy Correctional Center, said a double murderer pulled a prison knife on a chaplain and said he didn't need that weapon since he'd become a Christian. Holley told Executive Committee members about chaplaincy.
The Baptist State Convention (BSC) Executive Committee on July 10 took its first detailed look at changes being proposed by the Articles and Bylaws Committee for consideration by messengers to the 2008 annual meeting in November.

They heard details about how the BSC is managing the budget shortfall, and also heard how some associations are not managing so well.

"We're in a situation where churches are deciding where funds are going for missions," said Roger Nix, director of missions for Raleigh Baptist Association. Nix was filling in for associational missionary representative Billy Honeycutt, who is recovering from a fall.

"A great amount of that funding is staying in the local church," Nix said. "Baptists are reevaluating how they are doing missions. Associations are taking a pretty big hit at that level"

Harvey Sharpe, director of missions for Yancey Association, was elected to fill the unexpired term of Samuel Rodriguez on the Board of Directors for Region 9.

A position was approved for a senior consultant to lead the new Embrace women's ministry.

Bylaws changes presented

Shannon Scott, chairman of the Articles and Bylaws Committee, said the changes presented for consideration came from his committee unanimously. "That doesn't mean we didn't have discussion," he said. "We had a lot of it."

He said there was some, "controversy even in our committee" but "we are unanimous in bringing it to you."

Several awkward structural issues existed when the BSC incorporated in 2004, but they were ignored in favor of working on incorporation, according to Brian Davis, who presented the committee's report.

Davis, BSC executive leader for administration and convention relations, is staff liaison with the Articles and Bylaws Committee.

Aside from editing the articles and bylaws for brevity, clarity and consistency, some definition is offered in relationships.

Among them:

Woman's Missionary Union of North Carolina (WMU-NC), whose president is on the board and Executive Committee, will be reduced in the proposed changes to a non-voting representative on the Board of Directors. Davis said the change reflects an historical status for WMU-NC.

Before 1946, he said, WMU-NC was recognized as one of five Convention departments. In 1946 WMU-NC was recognized as an auxiliary of the Convention. In 1968 the WMU-NC president became an ex officio, non-voting member of the board. In 1980 the WMU-NC president received ex officio, voting status and in 1986 the WMU-NC president got a position on the BSC Executive Committee.

Since WMU-NC staff resigned their BSC positions in December 2007 and moved their offices to separate quarters, there has been a question of its status on the BSC Board of Directors and Executive Committee. The proposed changes would grant the WMU president membership on the board, in an ex officio, non-voting status.

Many items will be moved from the Articles of Incorporation to the Bylaws, especially those regarding BSC institutions where relationships have changed so dramatically since November. That does not include the relationship with Baptist Retirement Homes, which has not changed officially.

The Council on Christian Social Services has asked Baptist Retirement Homes to notify the Council about its intent to continue participating on the Council. Chairman Scott Eanes met with BRH President Bill Stillerman July 3. According to Eanes, Stillerman said he will respond after meeting with his board.

New terminology was created for the relation to the Convention of Mars Hill College and the four universities, which used to be referred to among "institutions of the Convention." They are in the process of changing relationship to the Convention and the proposal refers to Wingate, Campbell, Gardner-Webb, Mars Hill and Chowan as "affiliated educational institutions."

Wake Forest University and Meredith College will be referred to as "historical institutions." Baptist Hospital has its own category.

Campus ministry will be represented on the Board of Directors.

Rules for committee members meeting through technological means will be included. Terms for service on committees will be consistently four years instead of varying lengths. Minimums and maximums for Board committee size will be changed to make it easier to fill those seats.

Mission Growth Evangelism and Congregational Services committees, for example, require a minimum of 25 members. Membership size of the Board is a function of population. When churches do not fill out their Annual Church Profiles, it presents a smaller population, which dictates a smaller board and more difficulty filling committee slots.

All committees will have a minimum of 10 under the proposed changes.

WMU materials

A letter was distributed at the meeting from national WMU Executive Director-Treasurer Wanda Lee to Phyllis Foy, who leads the North Carolina woman's ministry task force. It clearly indicated that WMU would provide mission education materials through channels other than the state WMU. It will, however, continue to recognize only one statewide WMU organization, as Ruby Fulbright, WMU-NC executive director, has been saying.

Fulbright said after the meeting however, that while WMU national will provide educational materials, Week of Prayer materials for the national and international missions offerings are distributed through the state WMU organization, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

7/10/2008 11:00:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Churches combine efforts for Castaway retreat

July 9 2008 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Contributed Photo
Emily Brand of Beaufort First Baptist Church, left, and Justin Furr of Concord First Baptist Church test their "heartiness" against each other by eating mystery foods during a creative, multi-church "Castaway" retreat.
Your ship has wrecked on a deserted island. You and your fellow castaways salvage only a few scarce resources to survive.

Now survivors from a second shipwreck threaten your own ability to stay alive. How will there be enough for all of you? Can you put differences aside to work together?

Young people from three churches enacted this scenario on an island during a creative retreat in June, combining competition in tribal games with "fear factor" elements. Students learned to lay aside differences in favor of unity.

Bible studies and games focused on finding real survival in life through Jesus Christ, and the church working together to that end.

As students at Gardner-Webb University Travis Crocker and Jonathan Hale tossed around ministry ideas that students would find both creative and meaningful.

Crocker, now student family minister at First Baptist Church in Beaufort, says he and Hale did an island themed lock-in back then to lead students to find their survival in Jesus.

Now on staff in Beaufort, Crocker was sifting his "this worked" file and realized being just a block from the water and he and his friend Hale - now family life minister of First Baptist Church, Concord - could upgrade and repeat the retreat on an empty island. He test-drove the idea with his own group first to great success.

Crocker suggested Hale bring his group to the coast for a retreat, but surprise them with the location, which would be Cape Lookout. Crocker's group, having experience, would assume the role of the first shipwrecked survivors. On the island they set up camp and donned war paint. Some truly looked like castaways and became territorial, said Crocker.

Youth and pastor Mike Willard from Smyrna Missionary Baptist joined Crocker's group as original survivors.

When First Baptist Concord arrived in Beaufort, they were told their host church was unable to make the retreat after all. Meanwhile, the hosts enjoyed a beach cookout and Crocker stayed in contact with Hale through text messages.

At the right time, the first group hid in the dunes, watching. Hale's group arrived and conducted a scavenger hunt for items "washed to shore" from their shipwreck.

Meandering the island in search of final items, the Concord group was ambushed by the Beaufort and Smyrna youth yelling war cries and carrying torches.

"We dramatized a confrontation where we would not accept them to work beside us and believed only one group could survive," Crocker said.

That set up contests through tribal games such as relay races and the Concord group eating unpalatable items quickly to show they were hearty enough to join the island's first survivors.

They had to feed their leaders, while blind folded and eventually, the newcomers earned the right to work with the Beaufort veterans.

Crocker and Hale led Bible studies with a unique flavor of "Castway" and "Lost." Students learned about seeking God instead of the culture and finding in God the bread of life, living water, and fire of the Holy Spirit.

A significant theme was being the body of Christ together, instead of spending energy on differences.

"All three churches got along together as one big group," Crocker said. "It was wonderful getting to interact in such a way."
7/9/2008 12:00:00 PM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

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