July 2010

Missions leader Avery Willis dies at 76

July 31 2010 by Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. — Avery T. Willis Jr., creator of the MasterLife discipleship series and former mission board executive, died Friday morning, July 30, after a seven-month battle with leukemia. He was 76.

The retired senior vice president of the International Mission Board (IMB) was known for his passion for missions, discipleship and making the gospel known to “oral learners.”

“My dad graduated to Glory early this morning,” Willis’ son Randy wrote in a statement. “This is not a time to mourn as those who have no hope ... This is the time to celebrate a life.

“I thank each of you that have visited, called, written and prayed over his past seven months,” Randy Willis added. “Your words of encouragement meant so much to him and to all of us. What a privilege to hear of the lives he impacted during his 76 years. May that influence extend through the generations.”

In January 2010, Willis was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. He leaves behind his wife Shirley, five grown children, 15 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Friends regard Willis as a man committed to the Lord’s work — 14 years of mission work in Indonesia with the Foreign (now International) Mission Board, later stepping into the role of senior vice president for overseas operations in 1993. He wrote and contributed to numerous books and materials, including the MasterLife discipleship series and “Biblical Basis of Missions.”

Willis was a key proponent of Bible storying — orally telling stories from the Bible as a method of discipleship and a simple, effective way to communicate the truths in the Bible.

“His passion for engaging unreached people groups led in directing orality strategies among multiple mission agencies,” said Jerry Rankin, IMB president.

“It would be impossible to comprehend this side of heaven the extent of global evangelization that will continue to sweep the world because of Avery’s witness, leadership and influence among Southern Baptists, national Baptists conventions around the world and other Great Commission partners.

“His walk with the Lord was authentic,” Rankin added. “His faith was contagious. His vision unlimited. To participate in a planning or strategy session with Avery was to be challenged beyond the ordinary and to catch a vision of possibilities characterized by the power and providence of God.”

Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, described Willis as “a Baptist statesman par excellence.”

“His contribution to the cause of missions and missions education will have sustained impact for generations to come,” Rainer said.

“I remember with gratitude the value of his ministry to my own life, especially through MasterLife and his insightful book, ‘Biblical Basis of Missions.’ He will be missed by all, and my prayer is that the Lord raises up others to continue where he left off, for the cause of global missions and Kingdom growth.”

Willis was born on Feb. 21, 1934, in Lepanto, Ark. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee and master of divinity and doctor of theology degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Willis served as pastor of Center Point Baptist Church in Wilburton, Okla., from 1954-56; Sunset Heights Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, from 1957-60; and Inglewood Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, Texas, from 1960-64.

Following his years as a pastor, he and his wife were appointed as missionaries by the Foreign Mission Board, serving with their children in Indonesia from 1964-78.

Avery Willis, retired senior vice president of the International Mission Board and creator of the MasterLife discipleship series, continued training new generations of Southern Baptists in discipleship until his death July 30 after a battle with leukemia.


Willis devoted the first six years of his mission service to evangelism and church planting. He spent the next eight years with the Indonesia Baptist Theological Seminary. He was a professor at the seminary for two years and its president for six years, during which time he wrote the MasterLife series of discipleship handbooks that eventually were translated into more than 50 languages and used in more than 100 countries.

After missionary service in Indonesia, Willis served for 15 years with the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) in the adult discipleship department. Longtime friend and former president of LifeWay James T. Draper Jr. described Willis as “God’s gift to Southern Baptists.”

“I have known Avery Willis for more than 30 years,” Draper said. “When I struggled to have a plan to help disciple converts in our church, it was on the back of an envelope at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport that Avery ... explained the basic concept of MasterLife. “It was under his supervision that ‘Experiencing God’ was released in the early 1990s,” Draper added.

“It was my privilege to call him friend and partner in ministry and to serve with him at LifeWay for several years before he [returned] to the International Mission Board. “His influence is truly global.”

Willis returned to the IMB in a vice presidential role in 1993 and retired in 2004. At the “Amsterdam 2000” conference on evangelism, Willis realized the need for discipleship materials for oral learners. Seventy percent of unreached people groups are functionally illiterate, and the majority of people in the world either cannot or will not read.

Willis worked with eight Bible storytellers to develop audio recordings of 400 Bible stories.

In 2004, Willis helped organize the International Orality Network, which focuses on oral learners. He also helped develop a Bible storying-based discipleship program for American churches that has been piloted by Real Life Ministries in Idaho.

Despite his leukemia diagnosis in January 2010, three months later Willis launched DNA 21: Discipleship Revolution, a conference at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to teach church leaders how to start Bible storying discipleship in their churches.

During the past year, Willis also worked with Mark Snowden, lead storying trainer for the North American Mission Board, to write the book, “Truth That Sticks: How to Communicate Velcro Truth in a Teflon World” to be released by NavPress.

Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said Willis “embodied the ‘faithful servant’ with his passionate pursuit of reaching the lost and teaching the saved. His lasting legacy will not be just the ‘orality’ strategy of storytelling the gospel that he championed abroad and at home, or the MasterLife resources found in church classrooms. His enduring heritage will be the lives changed because his love for Christ stirred his heart to reach one more soul. Southern Baptists will miss his leadership and service. He was a wonderful brother and colleague in Christ.”

David W. Whitlock, president of Willis’ alma mater, Oklahoma Baptist University, where the Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach has been established, described Willis as “a marvelous servant of God with an unmatched passion for global missions. At his core he was simply a man who truly loved and served the Lord, and only heaven will reveal the true impact of his life. You could not be with Dr. Willis for even a few minutes without hearing his passion for reaching those in our world who have never heard the name and message of Jesus.”

Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Seminary, said the campus “has lost a dear friend and certainly a worldwide figure in missions and discipleship with the homegoing of Avery Willis. Because of his discipleship materials, Avery would be as close to a household name among Southern Baptists as any other figure. A loss of a man like this would leave a crater in Southern Baptist life were it not for the fact that he has so effectively filled his own crater with the thousands that he has discipled. God bless you, Avery Willis. Enjoy heaven til we join you.”

Willis’ funeral arrangements are pending. In lieu of flowers, he had requested that donations be made to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions or the International Orality Network.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Provided by the International Mission Board communications staff. See a video tribute.)
7/31/2010 1:51:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Rankin: 40-years of gospel mission

July 30 2010 by Alan James, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. — It was 12-year-old Zachary Rankin’s first overseas mission trip.

Though he had spent five years in Thailand as a child of missionaries, he had never been to the jungles of Peru — and neither had his grandfather, Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board (IMB). In 2008, the two traveled about five hours by dugout canoe down river to spend a few days in a remote village with the IMB’s Xtreme Team missionaries who worked among a remote tribe known as the Yaminahua. They bathed in the river, slept in hammocks and ate monkey with the villagers.

The trip marked the potential beginning of a child’s commitment to missions. It also marked the sun setting on a 40-year career — 17 as IMB president — focused on helping take the gospel to every tribe, tongue and nation.

After going on two more mission trips since then — one in July to Haiti — the younger Rankin, now 15, said he plans to continue where his grandfather left off.

“(Missions) runs in my blood,” Zachary said. “(My grandfather) has been a huge influence on my life. I want to finish what he started.”

Missions does seem to run in the Rankins’ blood. Zachary’s parents, Russ and Angela, served in Thailand with their three children. The Rankins’ daughter (name withheld for security reasons) continues to serve overseas.

File photo

Within the International Mission Board, President Jerry Rankin, pictured with his wife, Bobbye, is known to place importance on knowing and remembering the names of people he meets.


Wisdom, focus, consistency and a commitment to the Lord’s work are a few of the words that longtime friend and IMB Executive Vice President Clyde Meador used to describe Rankin — particularly the word consistency.

Meador recalls a conversation the two men had a few months before Rankin was tapped in 1993 as president of what was then the Foreign Mission Board. The organization would change its name to the International Mission Board in 1997.

“We were in a car, and I asked him, ‘What will you do if you’re president?’” Meador recalled. “He said, ‘That will never happen.’”

After much pressing by Meador, Rankin shared a list of things he’d do if he were elected president — but he prefaced it again with, “That will never happen.”

The list included unifying the organization’s focus, streamlining decision making, restoring a sense of ownership to field staff and better equipping missionaries to do their jobs.

“Most of the things he said are what he has done,” Meador said.

Rankin and his wife, Bobbye, were appointed to East Java, Indonesia, in 1970. The couple and their two children spent the first few years on the field enduring rejection to the gospel, spiritual warfare and illness.

The Rankins eventually saw progress in Indonesia before moving through the ranks to associate area director for South and Southeast Asia and to director for Southern Asia and Pacific in 1987. Rebekah Naylor, a retired medical missionary who served with the IMB for more than 30 years, reflected on her longtime friendship with the Rankins. Naylor served at Bangalore (India) Baptist Hospital during Rankin’s years as area director in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

She fondly remembers the encouragement and support both Rankins gave her while she was on the field — including thoughtful notes from Bobbye.

“They were not just nice little notes that said, ‘I’m praying for you,’ but they were very personal, specific notes,” Naylor said. “The notes made me feel that she really was praying, concerned and involved.”

Naylor recalls Rankin’s commitment to missions and steady leadership.

“He is definitely a person of prayer,” she said. “His faith was evident in all parts of what he did ... his relationships, vision and every aspect of his life,” she added. “He is a person of vision and is able to communicate that.”

Rankin’s daughter said she’s always admired his ability to handle difficult decisions — and occasional criticism that comes with being the president of an organization.

“Things that would crush or overwhelm the average person just seem to roll off his back because he keeps such an eternal perspective,” she wrote in an e-mail. “He has a remarkable ability to focus on the Lord.

“He can balance more things in his head than anyone else I know.”

Remaining accountable for his leadership is something Rankin has worked hard to maintain. He recently shared with staff that during his years as president he annually met with a small circle of friends — mostly pastors — for a time of accountability. Each one in the group could call him at any time to check on his attitude, relationships and personal discipline, he said.

One called after important meetings to check his attitude, Rankin said.

“He asks if I am harboring bitterness or resentment toward anyone or if there is a strained relationship I need to clear up,” Rankin said.

Another called “out of the blue” to make sure he’s spending time with his family. “They always ask about my quiet time to be sure I am not neglecting my time with the Lord,” he added.

Rankin’s son, Russ, noted that his father sees accountability and time with the Lord as absolute necessities.

“He puts a lot of weight into that,” he said. “A time of being on his face before the Lord and seeking the Lord’s direction.”

Russ added that his son, Zachary, wasn’t the only one affected by that trip he and his grandfather took to the Amazon Basin two years ago. For Russ, the trip was just another example of why he’s grown to respect and admire his father.

“They end up in dugout canoes down the Amazon and having to eat monkey,” he said. “That’s what my 67-year-old dad takes his grandson on, and I’m like, ‘That is awesome.’

“It changed my son’s life, and that’s the kind of guy he is,” he said. “There’s no starched shirt and frills when it comes to that.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — James is a writer for the International Mission Board.)

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Rankin, IMB no strangers to change
7/30/2010 3:50:00 AM by Alan James, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Rankin, IMB no strangers to change

July 30 2010 by Alan James, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. — A few packed boxes line the back wall of Jerry Rankin’s office at the International Mission Board (IMB) in preparation for his retirement as president on Aug. 1. After 17 years as IMB president — and 23 more on the mission field — Rankin and the 164-year-old organization are not strangers to transition and change.

It was a different time in 1993 when Rankin became the IMB’s 10th elected president. The Internet was just getting started, terrorism was still seen as something that happened overseas, a gallon of gas in the United States averaged $1.16 and Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist.

In the mid to late ’90s, Rankin and the organization grappled with new ways to get the gospel into tougher, more restricted places. Though the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union had opened mission opportunities years before, more and more countries were beginning to deny missionaries access.

“Keith Parks (Rankin’s predecessor) had initiated some very creative approaches ... to send missionary personnel into restricted countries and people groups, and initiate nonresidential missionary strategies where people could not actually live among the people they were targeting,” Rankin says.

“But that had not really gained the traction to have a significant impact on our global strategy ... and literally one-third of the world did not have access to the gospel. We were still in a paradigm of basically sending missionaries where missionaries were welcome and could serve.”

Out of this challenge emerged New Directions, a strategy that focused less on individual countries and more on getting the gospel to all peoples around the globe.

“It was a monumental shift,” says David Garrison, who has served with the mission board for 27 years and is global strategist for evangelical advance.

“Before this, every country had its own mission ... but all those missions, one by one, dissolved into people group teams,” Garrison adds. “For the first time, the IMB engaged the entire world for the sake of the Great Commission, rather than just where we had personnel serving.”

In 1993, when Rankin began his tenure as president, the organization saw nearly 4,000 missionaries and their Baptist partners help start more than 2,000 churches in 142 countries. In 2008, more than 5,500 IMB missionaries helped plant nearly 27,000 churches and engage 101 new people groups for a total of 1,190 engaged people groups.

File photo

At missionary appointment services, IMB President Jerry Rankin hasn’t hesitated to tell Southern Baptists that the call to missions involvement and support rests in the heart of every believer as part of fulfilling the Great Commission.


With that progress, Rankin and the IMB also have seen their share of challenges and heartache. In the wake of 9/l1, the IMB lost eight missionaries to both random and targeted Muslim extremist attacks. Bill Koehn, Kathy Gariety and Martha Myers were killed Dec. 30, 2002, by a gunman at Jibla Baptist Hospital in Yemen. Bill Hyde died when a terrorist’s bomb exploded in a Philippine airport March 4, 2003. David McDonnall, Larry and Jean Elliott and Karen Watson lost their lives March 15, 2004, when insurgents attacked their vehicle in the Middle East.

“It brought into focus the reality of the kind of world we live in today,” Rankin says. The tragic events led the IMB to initiate more extensive preparation for missionaries headed to dangerous places.

“Interestingly, it didn’t deter the interest in missionary service,” he says. “With each incident we had a prolific spike of applications of people willing to give of their lives, which I think was an amazing factor.”

With more than 5,000 missionaries and all its resources, the IMB will never have enough missionaries to reach the whole world, Rankin says.

But if the denomination could mobilize and challenge 16 million Southern Baptists to be strategically involved overseas, the resources and the potential are there to fulfill the Great Commission, he contends.

In the past decade, the IMB has focused more attention on forming stronger relationships with churches — and personalizing missions for them.

“(The IMB) has set the tone for getting churches more involved in missions,” says J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham.

“They are always pushing the envelope, always striving after the nations,” he adds. “I think what a lot of churches are looking for is not for the IMB to do missions for them, but they want to do missions through them.”

In the past eight years, The Summit Church has started multiple partnerships with the IMB in difficult places and has more than 50 of its members serving overseas with the organization.

Rankin has often said he hopes his presidency will not be judged for the accomplishments of the organization under his leadership but for how the organization is poised for the future. In the past two years, the IMB entered another major reorganization designed to help streamline administrative work, create more cost-effective and focused approaches to fulfilling the Great Commission and reach people groups that have little to no access to the gospel.

“I believe God has blessed Southern Baptists,” Rankin says. “We stand on the verge of unprecedented opportunities to complete the task of engaging every nation, people and language with the gospel.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — James is a writer for the International Mission Board.)

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7/30/2010 3:45:00 AM by Alan James, Baptist Press | with 2 comments



West Edgecombe shares garden with neighbors

July 29 2010 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor

Okra. Tomatoes. Watermelon. Cucumbers. Corn. Potatoes.

At the sight, smell and taste of fresh vegetables and fruits, mouths start watering. And West Edgecombe Baptist Church in Rocky Mount has found a way to fill stomachs as well as hearts in their surrounding community — with a garden.

BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle

John Hollowell helped start West Edgecombe Baptist Church's community garden. They plant a variety of crops and give the produce to their neighbors. See video.


“The biggest thing about the garden is we are getting outside the walls of the church,” said John Hollowell.

The ministry started last year with an acre of land adjacent to the church. Formerly rented out to a soybean farmer, the owner and church member learned about the need and donated the land for use as a community garden.

Hollowell learned about funding that might be available through the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC). John Hamm, associational missionary for North Roanoke Baptist Association, shared the information with local leaders, and Hollowell’s brain started churning.

He applied for funds to help offset the costs of the church’s food closet and to apply a portion to field a garden. Ace Hardware chipped in for the new ministry as well.

This year, they have added another half acre to the garden and are reaching more people than ever.

“It’s been a good mission that everyone can get involved in that wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity,” he said.

The church has built a storage barn to house supplies and run electricity to enable longer ministry hours. They also have running water so volunteers can clean produce and themselves after surviving the summer sun.

The busiest part of the community garden comes on Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons from 4 p.m. until sundown. That’s when the bounty of the fields is placed on tables for people to come and get.

The most common response: “What? This is free?!?”

“I’ve had that reaction a lot,” Hollowell said.

This year has been harder because of the dry weather, but the ministry continues to be a blessing.

Some of the ladies who regularly walk in the church’s family life center have alternated their workout to the fields in order to minister to their neighbors and shut-ins from the church.

Local gardeners and other churches have gotten involved as well.  

Other ways of reaching out

The garden is great for reaching the community but Hollowell said the church has other ideas about reaching its community.

On Aug. 28 from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. the church plans a community block party with an outdoor concert by FFH at 7 p.m. From the food to the entertainment, everything is free. There will be lots of activities for the children including pony rides, face painting and jump houses.

Schools in the area are switching to uniforms, and Hollowell hopes part of the clothing giveaway that day will help fill that need for local families.  

Hunger funds in N.C.
When N.C. Baptists give to the World Hunger Offering through the BSC, 60 percent goes to the World Hunger and Relief Fund of the International Mission Board (IMB), 15 percent to the Domestic Hunger Fund of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), 20 percent to the North Carolina Hunger Fund and five percent to the North Carolina Disaster/Food Fund.

To order free resources — posters, bulletin inserts and offering envelopes — to help promote World Hunger Sunday, write kbissette@ncbaptist.org or call the BSC at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5618.

Save the date
World Hunger Sunday is October 10.

Please plan to share information about world hunger with your congregation. Free resources are available through the Baptist State Convention, the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board. 


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Free food grows giving attitude in Zebulon
Old perish from hunger as young struggle
7/29/2010 4:28:00 AM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 0 comments



Free food grows giving attitude in Zebulon

July 29 2010 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor

Standing on the side of North Carolina Hwy. 39 in the Pilot community, Elaine Lewis holds up two signs and talks to the coming cars with the same words: “Free Vegetables.”

Lewis and her cohort Teresa Alford spent a recent Saturday manning a roadside produce stand — for the ministry, not for the money. Lewis and Alford talked about how much this project through Pilot Baptist Church in Zebulon means to them.

“It’s been really nice,” said Alford. “Most of the time it all gets gone.”

BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle

From left, Elaine Lewis and Teresa Alford man the farm stand for Pilot Baptist Church in Zebulon, which distributes free produce to passersby. See video.


While Lewis’ garden came early this year, she’s still  sharing its bounty with others. This week she brought new potatoes to share with church members and at the roadside stand.

The church partnered with a local non-profit called Grow & Share, which fights hunger by promoting gardening and community building.

The stand is near the church with signs dotting the road in both directions to notify people of its presence. It started the first week in July and will continue until the crops are harvested. While it’s open a couple of hours Saturday morning, ministry happens throughout the week.

“Sometimes when people bring it to your door, it’s easier to accept,” Alford said.  

Picking up
On Fridays, Alford gets a phone call from a farmer and fellow church member about what’s available on his land. She and her husband, Jan, who had the idea to start the ministry, go and pick what’s available.

“When it’s ready, it’s ready,” she said. “It is a job. There’s no doubt about it. “We’ve been talking about doing something. Everybody has their gifts. We can be up here and man the station.”

And if there happens to be leftovers on Saturdays?

Easy answer: make bags for shut-ins and other neighbors.

Some of the people visiting the stand said they heard about it through the local newspapers.

“It means that you have a bigger meal,” one lady said. “It means a lot.”

Another said it helped stretch the budget for her family. Plus it provides fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables.

“The Lord wouldn’t leave me alone until I did something about it,” Jan Alford said. That’s when one of the men at church told him about Grow & Share.

“I think we’ve all received a blessing from it.” Kay Whatley, one of the founders of Grow & Share, said she and her husband started the non-profit in 2008 “when everything was going poorly for our nation. Some of our kids’ friends from school started taking part in backpack buddies. Things were crazy out there.”

They hated to see people choosing to skip buying medicine or food in order to pay the mortgage.

They started thinking there must be something they could do. While the dry weather has hurt production, the results are still a blessing. Volunteers at Pilot Baptist Church have helped advertise the non-profit and aid their neighbors through this ministry.

“It seems like it’s easy and people are willing,” she said. Grow & Share gave away 14,000 plants this year. “Some planted an extra garden just for this,” she said.


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West Edgecombe shares garden with neighbors
Old perish from hunger while young struggle
7/29/2010 4:22:00 AM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 2 comments



Old perish from hunger as young struggle

July 29 2010 by Alex Doukas, Baptist Press

WEST AFRICA — They volunteered to die.

The elderly men and women in this famine-wracked West African community knew there was simply not enough food to go around. Unwilling to watch their families starve to death, some made a choice: They would not eat so that their children and grandchildren might live. Some have already wasted away and perished — the price, they believed, of preserving the future.

The babies, of course, did not volunteer to die, and their mothers were trying desperately to save them. As local government officials handed out pans of grain, the women swarmed the site, knowing there was not enough for everyone. They pressed into each other under the blistering sun, their infants tied to their backs.

“Three babies died that day from suffocation and heat,” said Kate Gibbs*, a Southern Baptist field partner for Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization. “I cried.” Kate and her husband Todd live among a people in crisis. These nomadic herders usually sell animals to buy food for their families, but a harsh drought has wrecked their livelihoods.

“Daily, we feel the effects of the dust blowing across the arid fields,” Gibbs said. “The people all tell us that the dust blows like that this year because there is no grass to hold it. That also means no grass for the animals to eat.”

As the animals grow thin and feeble from hunger, the price they fetch at market plummets. At the same time, the drought has caused food prices to soar. This deadly combination means starvation for the people, who are already contending with chronic malnutrition.

The Gibbses’ hearts broke as the local people spoke of their hunger, and in some cases, showed up at the Gibbses’ doorstep pleading for food to feed their families. Something had to be done.

The Gibbses decided on a food relief program for their community. They worked with local leaders to identify the neediest families, who would receive a series of food shipments hauled in on donkey carts. They also planned a de-worming program to kill nutrition-robbing parasites in the stomachs of the people and their animals.

“Since food security is an ongoing issue, we hope to help them make the most out of the food that they are able to obtain,” Gibbs said.

Through Baptist Global Response, money was allocated from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund to purchase grain, rice and powdered milk for distribution. When the supplies began to arrive for the first distribution, the local people were so hungry they could not keep to the schedule the Gibbses set.

“The distribution was moved ahead three days, because when the people heard that the food was in the storage room at the distribution point, they begged to get it,” Gibbs said.

*Named changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Doukas is an international correspondent for Baptist Global Response.)

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7/29/2010 4:18:00 AM by Alex Doukas, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Jordan called ‘too polluted’ for baptisms

July 29 2010 by Judith Sudilovsky, Religion News Service/ENInews

JERUSALEM — Concerns about pollution and water quality have prompted an environmental advocacy group to call for the banning of baptisms in the lower Jordan River, where the Bible says Jesus was baptized.

“For reasons of public health as well as religious integrity, baptism should be banned from taking place in the river,” said Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East.

Israeli authorities said July 27 that tests done on the water of the lower Jordan River show the popular site for baptismal ceremonies at Qasr el Yahud on the West Bank meets health ministry standards.

Bromberg, however, said the ceremonies should not take place until pollutants are removed from the water.

The site, inside an Israeli controlled military zone, faces another baptismal site on Jordan’s side of the river. Both sites attract pilgrims who come to the Holy Land, and both are claimed as the authentic site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

“Our call is to halt baptisms on both sides of the river. It is exactly the same polluted water,” said Bromberg.

Bromberg’s group says the river suffers from “severe mismanagement,” including the diversion of 98 percent of its fresh water to Israel, Syria and Jordan, as well as the discharge of untreated sewage and agricultural run-off.

The baptismal site on the Israeli side of the river was closed for one day on Monday but reopened on Tuesday, Bromberg said, while the Jordanian side was never closed; Jordan has not responded to the environmental group’s claims.

“If the same thing were happening to a Jewish or Muslim holy site there would be a public outcry,” Bromberg said.  
7/29/2010 4:16:00 AM by Judith Sudilovsky, Religion News Service/ENInews | with 0 comments



Gospel singer Doug Oldham dead at age 79

July 29 2010 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

Doug Oldham, a prolific gospel singer and ministry partner of the late Jerry Falwell, died July 21 at the age of 79.

Oldham, who was a soloist at Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church and helped the evangelist raise money to start Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., died at a Virginia hospital while awaiting back surgery.

“My father and Doug Oldham were an evangelistic team who brought the gospel to nearly every home in America every Sunday morning on the ‘Old Time Gospel Hour,’” said Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. in a statement.

“The names Jerry Falwell and Doug Oldham were synonymous as Billy Graham and George Beverly Shea. ... His passing represents the end of an era at Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University.”

Oldham recorded more than 60 albums and sang on Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Praise the Lord (PTL) ministry’s television show. He was the first to perform “He Touched Me,” a song written by colleague Bill Gaither.

“Doug’s resonant voice and vibrant spirit moved people at a very personal level,” Gaither recalled in a tribute on his web site, Gaither.com. “He possessed that rare balance between polished professionalism and authenticity.”

Oldham, a Dove Award-winning artist, was inducted in the Gospel Music Association’s Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2006.  
7/29/2010 4:15:00 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Medical team makes deep impact in Honduras

July 27 2010 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

EL TABLON, HONDURAS — She wiped her face with her cream colored blouse but the tears kept coming. She sat sideways in the white plastic chair to face Larry Doyle, who held her hand and prayed with her while she waited with her grandchildren for their medicine.

She is a Christian, but her son, who is dying of cancer, is not. Doyle blinked away a few tears himself after their prayer.

One by one families came through the doors of Iglesia Bautista Restauracion and waited in line to see the doctor. Some walked miles to get to the free clinic. Some children enjoyed saying “ah” for the doctor and having him listen to their heartbeat.

Others, like Jared, seemed frightened at all the excitement. Jared buried his head in his mom’s shoulder and she held his shirt up while the doctor pressed the stethoscope against his back.

Respiratory problems are one of the most common causes for clinic visits. Many came to be treated for illnesses caused by parasites, a result of dirty drinking water.

In Honduras, a poor country of 6.6 million, 80 percent of illnesses could be prevented if clean drinking water was accessible.

Nearly 1.1 billion in the world do not have clean drinking water and according to the World Health Organization one quarter of the world’s population lives in developing countries with water shortages.

BSC photo by Melissa Lilley

From left: Jordan Teague (First Baptist Church, Salisbury), Maegan Marlowe (Sulphur Springs Baptist Church, Hiddenite), Bria Marlowe (Sulphur Springs), and Debbie Teague (FBC, Salisbury) sort medicine at a clinic in Honduras.


Doyle and a Deep Impact team of North Carolina Baptists did their best to comfort. One rubbed a little girl’s back as she sat in her mother’s lap and tried to receive a breathing treatment through a nebulizer.

She gently waved the tube back and forth under the girl’s nose so she could inhale the medicine, trying to help soothe her and end her screaming and squirming. Doyle moved around the room, talking with those in line and helping explain how to take their medication. 

The free medical clinic is one of six mission projects carried out by Deep Impact participants in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. High school and college students and youth leaders from across North Carolina spent a week in July ministering in rural areas in the country’s capital city. Deep Impact began 13 years ago at the North Carolina Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell in Brunswick County, and in Tegucigalpa. This is the third year Deep Impact expanded to include camp weeks at other locations. Deep Impact events were also held in Red Springs, Greensboro, Shelby, Fruitland and Eastern Canada. 

Doyle, a former missionary in Ecuador and now director of missions for Piedmont Baptist Association, has been to Honduras with Deep Impact several times, helping build the very church where the clinic was held. He and his wife also were on-site coordinators for N.C. Baptist Men the year following Hurricane Mitch.

Doyle said Benjamin, the pastor of Restauracion, told him how the clinic provided opportunity to get to know the people in his community. The church’s evangelism coordinator, Rosa, certainly took advantage of the clinic.

Thursday was the largest turnout with 157 patients, and Rosa shared the gospel several times with people waiting to see the doctor. “This clinic lets people know we care about them,” she said.

Sometimes the Deep Impact team provided medical solutions that seemed too easy.

Doctors “prescribed” simple over-the-counter cough medicine and vitamins. Or pain reliever for a woman whose shoulder hurt sharply when she bent over to scrub her clothes.

But, for the people living in the village of El Tablon, nothing is as easy as it should be. They cannot run to the pharmacy for basic items to treat a cough or an ear infection because they have no money. It’s hard to avoid water-borne disease when all the laundry, bathing and drinking water is contaminated. 

Rob Williams remembers the first time he saw parasites on someone’s skin. Williams, a physician’s assistant from Faith Baptist Church, came to Honduras in 2001 and worked in the medical clinic.

Williams has learned to treat things he doesn’t see in his Faith office, such as parasites and scorpion stings. “I came back this year for the same reason I came on the first trip,” he said. “I am reminded that God has blessed me far beyond what I deserve.”

Williams worked alongside Antonio, a Honduran doctor who has worked in years past with North Carolina Baptists.

Antonio lives in Tegucigalpa and decided to become a doctor when he saw so many people hurting in his city.

“They broke my heart,” he said. “I had to do something.”

One couple came back later in the week to get medicine for their son who has Hepatitis. Doyle prayed with the couple and when he finished, the dad was in tears. “I knew he was hurting,” Doyle said. Doyle shared the gospel and the boy’s parents prayed to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. For the people Deep Impact ministered to through the medical clinic, little “somethings” added up to something big.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Lilley is a researcher and writer for the Baptist State Convention. More stories and photos coming soon.) 
7/27/2010 10:33:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 1 comments



‘Experiencing God’: 20 years, 45 languages

July 27 2010 by Sam House, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Join God where He is working.

That simple premise hasn’t changed during the two-decade history of Experiencing God, an interactive Bible study first published in 1990 that taught a radically God-centered way of life.

Initially written by Henry Blackaby and Claude King, the material was revised and expanded in 2007 by Richard Blackaby, Henry Blackaby’s son.

Now, 20 years since its debut, the workbook is available in more than 45 languages and has sold 7 million copies. Internationally, reader testimonials describe deeper and more intimate understandings of God’s desire for relationships with them that will change their lives forever.

On a larger scale, Experiencing God has affected entire organizations, many of which credit the study with helping turn bad situations into good and bringing hope to tragic circumstances.

In prison

In 1995, Burl Cain became the new warden at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, arguably the most violent and dangerous prison in America. Knowing how God had used Experiencing God in his own life and believing that real change takes place in the heart, Cain soon introduced the workbook to the 5,200 inmates at Angola prison.

Over time, more and more inmates responded to the message. Some felt called to serve as Christian ministers and began meeting with other inmates for worship and prayer. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary later opened an extension center at the prison, and more than 150 men have earned bachelor’s or associate’s degrees. Inmate volunteers built chapels on the prison grounds. To this day, inmate congregations continue to use Experiencing God to lead others to deeper relationships with Christ.

Cain said that since inmates began studying Experiencing God, acts of violence have dropped 70 percent. Inmates have requested to be sent to other prisons where they can begin new ministries. Each year, 500 children get to spend a day with their incarcerated dads at a carnival, and an annual rodeo and craft show draws 15,000 people from the community to spend time with the inmates. Hospice care is available for dying inmates, and cardboard coffins have been replaced with polished wooden ones built by inmate carpenters.

A sign at the prison gate paraphrases Philippians 3:13 and summarizes the thoughts of Cain and the men who have experienced God: “I don’t look to the past, I press on to the future.”

In hospitals
A January 2007 news story about an 18-year-old patient at Wolfson’s Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla., led businessman Carldon Lahey to make a contribution to the hospital. His step led to the start of Christ’s Starfish Foundation, a program committed to helping non-cancer patients in pediatric hospitals and their families.

Lahey traces the inspiration for the foundation to his Sunday School class’ study of Experiencing God. For him, the study became a spiritual marker — a time of transition, decision or direction — to which God had clearly guided him.

“I learned that God initiates everything and everything came from Him,” Lahey said, noting that the concept changed his life. “I know that when God puts something in your hand, you run with it.”

The program has expanded to children’s hospitals in other Florida cities. “We are trying to make a difference, one hurting family at a time, helping hurting children and their families in the name of Jesus Christ,” Lahey said.

Join God where He is working
Since its beginning in 1956, Emmanuel Baptist Church in Farmington, N.M., has been known as a church with a heart for missions.

When Emmanuel studied Experiencing God as a congregation, one line in the material — “You cannot be in relationship with God and not be on mission” — convinced church members they should determine where God is working and join Him.

Emmanuel supports a school, the local crisis pregnancy center and the crisis closet of the San Juan Baptist Association. The church also is known for helping people with their utility and rent bills, giving aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina and ministering to AIDS orphans and prisoners.

The congregation has started five mission churches, one of which has grown to start a mission of its own. “There is just a lot our members are involved in, and they want to be,” Kirby Kennedy, a former pastor, said. “They want to give — of their finances, of their gifts, of themselves — because God is the greatest giver.”

Revised but unchanged
Through the years, LifeWay Christian Resources has published an entire family of Experiencing God resources, including an Experiencing the Word New Testament and the Experiencing God musical.

The 2007 revision, adding Richard Blackaby as a co-author, offers DVD messages and new applications and stories.

The vehicles carrying the message have changed, but the message remains the same.

Experiencing God leads believers to know God intimately and encourages them to faithfully step out and join Him in His work — with miraculous results.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — House writes for LifeWay Christian Resources. For more information on “Experiencing God” materials, go to www.lifeway.com/experiencinggod.)  
7/27/2010 10:28:00 AM by Sam House, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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