July 2010

Duvall talks faith on film — except his own

July 27 2010 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

THE PLAINS, Va. — Amid the rolling hills of Northern Virginia, actor Robert Duvall lives in a rural hamlet not unlike the on-screen settings where he has immersed himself in Southern culture.

It is, his wife says, “the last station before heaven,” even if Duvall’s cast of fallen characters might never make it all the way.

His characters are often touched by faith, from washed-up country singer Mac Sledge in “Tender Mercies” to a hermit in the upcoming “Get Low,” which opens July 30 in New York and Los Angeles and nationwide in August.

And then there was Euliss “Sonny” Dewey, a Texas preacher on the run from the law and his own foibles in the “The Apostle,” which Duvall wrote and directed.

“You don’t have to agree with everything that these people believe in, but you want to try to portray them as accurately as possible ... without dictating or putting judgments on it,” Duvall said in an interview on the farm where he’s lived for 15 years.

Down an unpaved road and surrounded by a silo, a barn and vast farmland, Duvall is almost as secluded as Felix Bush, the mysterious man he plays in “Get Low.” Bush, a Tennessee recluse, seeks the help of ministers to speak at a “funeral party” where he plans to reveal a deeply held secret before he dies.

“I guess maybe he needed that reinforcement of someone who was kind of an ally or believed him, kind of like soul brothers in a way,” said Duvall, dressed in a cream-colored shirt with the monogram “RL,” the first letters of his and his wife’s Luciana’s first names.

The 79-year-old actor said characters like Bush, as well as Sledge and Dewey, deserve time on the movie screen — with all their flaws and complexities — to reflect the rich spiritual and cultural stew of Southern culture.

“They should be shown, should be seen, should be portrayed but ... with contradictions,” he said, noting that even peace-loving Jesus chased moneychangers out of the temple “with a whip.”

It’s the kind of portrayal that isn’t often seen in Hollywood, said Craig Detweiler, director of the Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.

RNS photo courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

Actor Robert Duvall plays Tennessee hermit Felix Bush in the upcoming film, “Get Low.”

“By dignifying seemingly common people, he’s also elevating and humanizing Christian faith in profound ways,” said Detweiler. “Hollywood producers may ignore the flyover district between Los Angeles and New York, but Duvall is very rooted or drawn to that kind of land and place.”

Already known for his roles in films like “The Godfather’ and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Duvall became a researcher as he developed plans for “The Apostle,” the 1997 film that earned him a best-actor nomination. He had already taken home an Oscar for his portrayal of Sledge, in 1984.

He fondly recalls spending more than a dozen years traversing the country, visiting churches, picking up the signature cadences of black preachers, and recruiting non-actors for the film. The spark of the project, he said, was a visit to a church in Hughes, Ark., the real-life home of a fictional character he was portraying in an off-Broadway play.

“I said, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen this,’” he said of the little white clapboard Pentecostal church with a woman in the pulpit and a man on the guitar. “Someday, I want to put this on film.”

When he couldn’t get funders for the movie, Duvall ponied up $5 million of his own. In his tour of churches, he was moved — a “wonderful feeling,” he said — by the choir of New York’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, and recruited extras for Dewey’s One Way Road to Heaven Holiness Temple at a meeting of the Church of God in Christ.

“You don’t have to totally believe in what you see, but you can’t patronize it,” he said. “I put real people — the real preachers, real people from the congregations, in my movie to give it a sense of truth. That was a truth gauge.”

William Blizek, founding editor of the Journal of Religion and Film, said Duvall’s use of real religious people and actual words from preachers showed the actor’s interest in accuracy without turning them into “saintly characters that could do no wrong.”

“In ‘The Apostle’ it was of special concern to him to try to get this right,” said Blizek. “He thought other movies had sort of mocked this kind of fundamentalist evangelical, what he calls the Holiness Church,” he said.

Like Bush in “Get Low,” the characters he played in “The Apostle” and “Tender Mercies” sought redemption or forgiveness. But Duvall said the greatest crime of the runaway preacher in “The Apostle” was one of passion, not premeditation.

“He killed a man out of the moment, he didn’t premeditate it, like King David did in the Psalms,” Duvall said. “Am I right? Every time I read the Psalms — which are beautiful — I think of that. ... Yeah, what Sonny did wasn’t as bad as that.”

Duvall, who spent so much time delving into the faiths of the men he played on screen, is more reticent about his own. “My own faith is a very personal thing,” he said, “so I just don’t talk about it.”
7/27/2010 10:24:00 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

Sabbath Home casts for men and women

July 26 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Mark Perko was searching for a missing element in outreach ministry for Sabbath Home Baptist Church when he was hooked by an idea that continues to reel in benefits.

A gregarious fisherman, Perko was wetting a line from the Holden Beach pier when someone asked the typical conversation opener, “Are you catching anything?”

“That clicked,” Perko says, four years after formalizing an informal act in the fishing community — building relationships by simply showing a natural, non-obtrusive interest.

Fishermen stand hours shoulder to shoulder along the 700-foot pier in family oriented Holden Beach.

Perko realized that if church members intentionally engaged those they fished with, and became regular fixtures on the pier, they could create community and eventually win the attention and maybe the hearts of their new friends.

And it is working.

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Some Sabbath Home members who faithfully build community on the Holden Beach fishing pier: from left, pastor Mark Perko, Tony DiFranco, Larry Johnson, Steve Holland, Gay Lawrence and Betty Johnson.

Perko, pastor for six years at Sabbath Home, just across the bridge from the pier, can count 32 people who have come into the church through the pier ministry.

Six have been saved in the past two years and he points privately to several fishing quietly one summer Friday as “future converts.”

“It’s relationship evangelism,” Perko said. People who take the time to “get acquainted” find a receptive audience among others who have been looking for a relationship without even knowing it.

Gay Lawrence, who retired at age 40 then fished 14 hours a day for 20 years, started coming to Sabbath Home because the member ministers at the pier were so genuine, she said.

Gay holds the record for largest flounder caught off the pier — a fish she actually caught twice. The first time it broke her line and her husband Clay gave her his pole and said, “Catch it again.”

When she pulled the 28-inch, 8-pound flounder from the water about 10 minutes later, her original purple line protruded from its mouth.

Betty and Larry Johnson were coming to the pier “about every day” and say starting conversations about important personal issues is easy. Sharing hours in the sun, conversation naturally turns to life issues and when it does, they offer a Christian witness.

In season after season the fishermen become community. The Johnsons have hosted a fish fry at their house for 60 people from the pier.

A season ending event on the pier draws 100 regulars who share their catch, their stories, and their lives.

Gil Bass owns and runs the pier and the bait shop and restaurant attached at the beach end.

His father-in-law Lonnie Small, once a vice president at Campbell University, built the pier.

It originally was 1,100 feet before Hurricane Hugo blew off 700 feet. Bass could only afford to build it back to 700 feet. 

“I’m glad (Mark) is out there,” Bass said. “Anytime you have a person like Mark out there the attitude is different. He’s certainly made a difference.”

Perko has become a chaplain of sorts to Bass’s employees, visiting them in the hospital even when they are not members of Sabbath Home.

Perko pulls a wagon onto the pier with his equipment and some signage that mentions Jesus and Sabbath Home. His gear attracts many positive comments.

He painted a big selling “gotcha plug” with the yellow, green, red, blue and white stripes of the popular witnessing bracelets and designed a corresponding tract for people who ask him about the unique colors on the lure. The tract’s magnetic question is, “Who’s gotcha?”

Member and pier patron Tony DiFranco was baptized through the pier ministry and now he is on the pier three days a week. His seafarer’s beard, rugged features and hat made him the perfect subject for the May 2010 cover of Our State magazine.

“I could never get Tony to go door to door, but he is in his element out here,” Perko said. “He talks easily to people and invites them to church.”

And that’s the point of the pier ministry … doing what comes naturally among people with whom you share a common interest and consciously turning the naturally arising conversation to spiritual matters.

It all leads to community that Perko calls “something like I’ve not seen in a long, long time.”
7/26/2010 7:05:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 1 comments

BSC officers announce intentions for second terms

July 26 2010 by BR staff

North Carolina Baptists’ three elected officers all indicate they will be candidates for re-election at the Nov. 8-10 annual meeting.

President Ed Yount has been pastor of Woodlawn Baptist Church in Conover for 18 years. He has an extensive background in state and national Baptist leadership. He chaired the Giving Plans study Committee in 2008 that recommended a return to a single Cooperative Program giving plan among North Carolina Baptist churches, which has been in effect since Jan. 1.

Yount is a graduate of Lenoir-Rhyne University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Mark Harris, first vice president, is pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte five years and is a current member of the Biblical Recorder board of directors. He has been board chair at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Second vice president C. J. Bordeaux, pastor of Gorman Baptist Church in Durham, once a vocal critic of the Baptist State Convention, said his service on the Board of Directors 1999-2003 educated him.

“We’re doing a lot of good things as North Carolina Baptists,” he said last year. “We’ve got a good state, and I enjoy being involved.”
7/26/2010 7:04:00 AM by BR staff | with 0 comments

Can those in white skin ever understand racism?

July 26 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Being born white in America endows a person with privilege he or she likely never realizes, but that skin color clears obstacles in life that block the path for persons cloaked in a different color.

At least that is the insight that two dozen people at a racial reconciliation conference in Charlotte July 13 gained from black participants who shared specifics about what it means to live as a minority in a “racialized” culture.

Meeting at Sardis Baptist Church people with a commitment to bridging the gap that artificially separates people of different races questioned, discussed and revealed to each other the barriers they saw in their own lives.

What difference can two dozen people make in a world where race separates billions? Leaders concluded that individuals make all the difference and that one by one, barriers can be pulled down.

Their goal is not just diversity in the public square, but true reconciliation, they said. They long for the church to set the pace in reconciliation. Not lost on participants was the irony that they were meeting in Charlotte, recently identified in a Harvard University study of 40 cities as having the third highest per capita number of churches, but ranking 39th in interracial trust.  
Practical considerations
Those who work in racial reconciliation avoid the term “white privilege” in most public forums because it sets teeth on edge. But Darryl Aaron, pastor of First Baptist Church on Highlands Avenue in Winston-Salem articulated some things non-white persons often endure, simply because they are non-white.

During a recent store visit his children, ages 10 and 12, were laughing and impatient for their parents to finish and they ran out of the store. Aaron told them very seriously that as black children they “can’t just run out of a store. Even if you have the receipt, you can’t just run out of a store.”

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Jonathan Redding, minister of youth at Peace Haven Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, chimes in on talk about racial reconciliation.

He constantly fights the urge to restrict the “childhood” in his children because black children carry behavior stereotypes that are simply true of all children. But he cautions them not to laugh too loud, or jump on the bed.

A “race burden” that black participants shared that whites seldom consider is that they are compelled to have receipts with them for any item they walk out of a store with — and they’d better be prepared to present them. If you have your receipt and are asked to present it, it’s a small matter; a minor insult. “If you don’t have it, we’ll read about you in the paper,” said Otto Gaither, associate pastor of Delabrook Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem.

Young black children can’t find a doll at Christmas that looks like them, he said.

Speaking in the video “Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism,” Wayne Ward said racism is ego centered. People want to know, “why can’t everybody be just like me?”

Speakers expressed frustration over a sense that resegregation is creeping into American life, citing reversal of diversity policies in the Charlotte and Wake County school systems. “We’ve dealt with this once, now we’re having to deal with it again,” they said.

To those in privileged positions who wonder why minorities don’t just “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” Javier Elizondo, a naturalized American born in Mexico who is now executive vice president and provost at Baptist University of the Americas, said by video that concept is a myth. “No one pulls themselves up by their bootstraps,” he said. It is true and biblical that people come alongside others to help them on their journeys.

Nathan Parrish, pastor of Peace Haven Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, said racism is institutionalized in American life and, “We have to be honest, the church is an institution.”

He asked how religious life reinforces or resists racism in American culture.

He said people of color have told him, “I just can’t believe you don’t get” that social privilege is racialized in America.

Parrish said he recognizes gender privilege more easily, knowing he has opportunity and ease of social egress that females do not have.

“As a white, male Baptist pastor I must be in relationship with people who can help me see,” said Parrish, who very intentionally nurtures relationships with those of other races.

“Sometimes I need to see some things that I may not be doing maliciously, but nevertheless are perpetrating things that are hurtful and harmful to people around me.”

Parrish surmised that some church traditions are in place “precisely to keep us from being involved,” when we should “roll up our sleeves and work for justice outside the confines of our property lines.”

“Maybe as a representative of the Lord I ought to have something to say on the Lord’s behalf” down at the board of education, Parrish said.

Maria Handlin, executive director of the interfaith Mecklenburg Ministries, said if discussions such that days’ activity happens only once, “so what?” She links black and white pastors in a curriculum study called “Souls of White Folks” that helps to establish inter-racial relationships.

“Once you build relationships you are transformed,” she said. 

During a concluding panel discussion Greg Moss, pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church in Charlotte, and president of the General Baptist State Convention, told participants they could no longer claim innocence in a racialized society at a minimum because of what they’d learned that day.

“You’re not innocent anymore,” Moss said. “You were innocent when you hit the ditch, but you’re not any more.”
7/26/2010 6:59:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 1 comments

IMB moves on GCR recommendations, honors Rankin

July 26 2010 by Don Graham, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. — International Mission Board (IMB) trustees moved toward the future while honoring the past during their July 20-21 meeting in Richmond, Va.

BP photo

Jerry and Bobbye Rankin chat with North Carolina trustee Rick Byrd during the July 20-21 board meeting in Richmond, Va. This was Rankin’s final board meeting as IMB president.

Trustees voted unanimously to recommend modifying the IMB’s primary ministry assignment to reach people groups globally, including North America, and formally recognized Jerry Rankin for 40 years of service.

This was Rankin’s final board meeting as IMB president. Trustees awarded Rankin the title of president emeritus and paid tribute to his 23 years on the mission field and 17 years as IMB president during a banquet in his honor.

Special guests included O.S. Hawkins, president and CEO of GuideStone Financial Resources; Frank Page, president-elect of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee; R. Philip Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; former missionaries and trustees as well as the Rankins’ two children and their spouses, grandchildren and other family members.

Al Gilbert, a former assistant to Rankin who now is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, described Rankin as a man of vision and passionate prayer, intensely focused on the singular goal of making Christ’s name known among all peoples.

“You’ve poured out your life. It’s been a sweet aroma to heaven’s throne, and I’m glad I could be nearby and watch you do it,” Gilbert said.

Rankin, who will retire July 31, was joined by his wife Bobbye in expressing gratitude for those with whom they’ve served.

“It’s not about a job, a title or responsibility — it’s all about relationships and what each of you has invested in who we are,” Rankin said. “Recently I returned from some extended travel and walked in through the (IMB) lobby and one of our maintenance staff followed me into my office ... and said, ‘Welcome back Dr. Rankin. How can I pray for you today?’ That’s the kind of people we work with.... (Leaving) wouldn’t hurt so badly if we hadn’t loved so deeply.”

Rankin shared how God had called him to faith in Christ and to missions at age 10 during a Billy Graham crusade in Jackson, Miss.

“I remembered thinking, ‘I wish everyone in the world could know Jesus.’ And ever since I’ve thought that, there was within our call to salvation a call to missions to tell a lost world about Jesus Christ,” Rankin said.

BP photo

Al Gilbert, former assistant to Jerry Rankin, thanks the Jerry and Bobbye Rankin for their 40 years of service to the International Mission Board at a retirement banquet trustees held in their honor July 20 in Richmond, Va. Gilbert now serves as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.

He added that one of his greatest disappointments as president was leaving the IMB without bringing gospel access to all of the world’s people groups — a task he’d hoped to see achieved by the end of his tenure.

“That’s the goal we’re striving for,” Rankin said. “We’re not there yet, but as I leave the future is in your hands, and I pray that you would maintain that focus and be found faithful in the task.”

Trustee Rick Byrd, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C., recalled seeing the depth of Rankin’s missions heart during a 2009 trustee meeting when a global recession and giving shortfall forced the IMB to limit missionary appointments.

“I looked up on the platform and there was Dr. Rankin with tears streaming down his face,” Byrd said. “It was a telling moment about the heart of our president. He was crushed.

“Dr. Rankin, Southern Baptists owe you a debt of gratitude for your faithful leadership, for your heartfelt passion for missions, for your abiding love for missionaries and your deep compassion for the lost of the world,” Byrd continued. “Henry Blackaby said, ‘History is largely the tale of how God used ordinary men to accomplish His extraordinary purposes throughout time.’ Many years ago God used some ordinary people to greatly impact world missions. People like William Carey and Lottie Moon. ... Today and in the years ahead, our children and our children’s children will learn about another ordinary man who helped shape modern missionary strategy. ... That ordinary man is Jerry Rankin.”

Great Commission Resurgence action
In addition to honoring Rankin, trustees took action on recommendations from the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) report, which was approved by messengers at the SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., in June.

Trustees voted unanimously to recommend that the SBC’s Executive Committee modify the IMB’s primary ministry assignment, removing wording that excludes the organization from working with people groups in North America.

“The world continues to change, and unreached people groups aren’t defined by geographic boundaries,” said Gordon Fort, IMB vice president for global strategy.

“Our strategies and structures must also change if we want to maintain an effective gospel witness. Historically, there’s been a clear distinction between home and foreign missions, but those lines are blurring.” Fort added that the IMB already is beginning to flesh out the practical possibilities that come with the trustees’ adoption of the GCRTF’s recommendations, but he cautioned this does not mean the IMB will begin deploying missionaries inside the United States.

“The truth is this: When it comes to deployment, we’re already undermanned overseas,” Fort said. “So if anyone thinks we’re going to start putting a lot of missionaries in America, that’s just not true — or strategic. Why would we put more people in America when there are 46,000 churches that can do that?

“The biggest piece that I think we’ll start focusing on are the first-generation ethnic and immigrant populations in North America. What about really impacting Asians? What about really impacting some of the North African, West African and Middle Eastern cultures? What are the strategic opportunities for IMB to help equip churches to engage those peoples?”

Presidential search
Clyde Meador, IMB executive vice president, will step into his new role as interim president Aug. 1 as trustees serving on the presidential search committee continue their work.

Trustee chairman Jimmy Pritchard, who leads the search committee, said progress is being made.

“God will make His man known to us at the right time,” said Pritchard, pastor of First Baptist Church in Forney, Texas.

“We have a good heart, our committee is together and committed to finding God’s man. We’re just not quite there yet.”

The next trustee meeting will be Sept. 14-15 in Tampa, Fla., in conjunction with a missionary appointment service Wednesday evening, Sept. 15, at Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.)
7/26/2010 6:54:00 AM by Don Graham, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

His comic books convey God’s story

July 23 2010 by Joni B. Hannigan, Baptist Press

LEESBURG, Fla. — In 1872, baby boy John Harper is born in the dark of night in the Scottish village of Houston.

“Father, he is a gift from You, thus we will dedicate him to You. His name will be John,” his mustached, middle-aged, working-class father declares, looking toward the heavens, clutching the baby to his chest.

“Yes, a good Bible name,” John’s mother says, drops of sweat pouring from her otherwise serene face as she reclines against a rumpled pillow, a midwife looking on.

On a glossy comic book’s opening page, bright graphic artwork in four blocks introduces the engrossing biography of a Baptist preacher who survived three close brushes with drowning before finally perishing with the Titanic.

“The Last Convert of John Harper” is one of a new line of comic books which encompasses five genres — adventure, biography, sci-fi, biblical epic and historical fiction — and the creative passion of Art Ayris, who is both the executive pastor of First Baptist Church in Leesburg, Fla., and CEO of Kingstone Media.

Ayris has long been part of the inventive leadership at First Baptist, a congregation which ministers through a Christian school and through a Christian Care Center encompassing a men’s shelter with drug and alcohol rehabilitation, shelters for women and children, a pregnancy care center, medical help for the unemployed and other benevolence aid and a counseling center.

Like John Harper, who in the comic book climbs to the top of a well and looks over before falling in, Ayris has had a few close calls with death himself.

Relating his “God story,” Ayris told the Florida Baptist Witness he was in a near fatal accident at the age of 5 when he was struck in the abdomen by blade thrown from a lawn mower his father was driving.

“I came very close to dying,” Ayris recounted. A call was placed to the local jail for prisoners to give blood. Ayris said his father, who owned a construction company, and his mother, a teacher, were overwhelmed when prisoners responded to the call.

At age 18, Ayris almost died again and was hospitalized for 30 days when gangrene set in because of scar tissue from the previous injury.

“In that time in the hospital, I really realized there was something else out there and I was not prepared for that,” Ayris said. “A little later after that I became a Christian.”

After earning a degree in criminology at Florida State University, Ayris said he first set his sights on working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Drug Enforcement Administration, but finally decided to go back to school for certification to teach special education.

“God just really redirected my path,” said Ayris, who put his passion for children and teens to work at First Baptist Leesburg, building “Saturday-Sunday Schools” and what at one time was one of the largest Vacation Bible Schools in the nation. “Throughout that, God just really burdened my heart for kids, especially through the media,” he said.

BP photo by Joni B. Hannigan

Art Ayris is both a minister and, through Kingstone Media, a comic book entrepreneur.

On stage in front of a large group of unchurched kids, Ayris said he had an “epiphany” about communicating more creatively. Soon planning large-scale productions like an annual walk-through Nativity at Christmastime, Ayris befriended J.B. Jones, a man from Miami who worked on James Bond films as well as 60 others.

Ayris said Jones encouraged him in media. “All of that was really a context for the whole comic thing we are doing,” he said.

It didn’t hurt that his mother, who had an earned doctorate in education, read a picture Bible to Ayris when he was growing up — and paid him a nickel for every page he wrote. “My father gave me my work ethic and my mom gave me my creativity,” he said.

With a heart for evangelism, but a pragmatic side that understands how people respond to creative media, Ayris felt that something was missing, so he began a 40-day fast.

“Either I need to hear from You on this or I am dropping it and won’t ever pick it up again,” he told God.

Five days later, walking through a supermarket parking lot, Ayris began weeping as God gave him an “overwhelming, precise, to-the-second answer.” Drawing on his years in ministry — and using the wealth of Bible knowledge he’s stored in his heart through memorizing Scripture — he let God lead the way in showing him the stories which might appeal to an 18-25-year-old target audience.

Aboard the Titanic
John Harper, the Baptist preacher in Ayris’ comic book, also had an unusual start to his visionary ministry. After his early brush with death, the young minister is shown preaching in the streets and in the ghettos, handing out clothes and blankets with compassion, while warning passersby: “The wages of sin is death ... but the gift of God is eternal life!”

Harper was declared an “angel God has sent to the slums” — and in 1892 he undertook studies at the Baptist Pioneer Mission in London to “refine his gift.” In establishing the Paisley Street Baptist Mission, which today is known as Harper Memorial Church in London, Harper became a visionary in finding ways to meet needs while sharing the gospel.

Invited twice to preach at the Moody Church in Chicago, it was while attempting to travel there for a second time that he ended up on the Titanic in 1912.

In comic book-style graphic art depicting Harper’s actions after the dramatic few hours when an iceberg struck the massive ship — “SCRRRUNCH!” — until it sank, the 39-year-old widowed preacher is shown placing his 6-year-old daughter “Nana” on a lifeboat before he goes through the ship, extending his arm in invitation — “women, children, and the unsaved to the LIFEBOATS!”

Thrusting one of the few remaining life vests toward someone who tells Harper he is not “saved,” Harper jumps overboard as the ship splits and sinks.

“Believe in Christ, He can and will save you,” Harper says to one floundering man before he is shown grasping a wooden plank and attempting to speak to others floating around him. “Christ D—D—Died for your sin,” he stutters. “A—A—Ask for His forgiveness!” an immersed Harper says in another frame, puffing bluish-white frigid air while water drips from his face.

Four years later at a survivor’s meeting in Canada, one of those Harper spoke to that night, and presumably the last person who saw him alive, declares: “I am the last convert of John Harper.”

Ayris’ first movie
Ayris produced a movie in 2005, titled “The Touch,” a true story of a woman’s journey to homelessness, which won first place honors at a number of Christian film festivals and became popular in the Middle East where it was translated into Arabic and Farsi. It also was translated into the Chinese sub-language known as Hakka Chinese.

“God also gave a lot of confirmations along the way,” Ayris said of his broadening media interests. “I began seeing God could reach and touch a lot of people through media and it’s just come out in different forms.”

One of the extras in The Touch was a female officer who realized on the last day of shooting the film that she needed Christ. “She started bawling and said, ‘My life is totally a mess.’ It was like picking a ripe peach off a tree,” Ayris said.

The comics followed, when market research revealed a void for comics and graphic novels with a Christian worldview. And Ayris didn’t skimp on quality.

Talented artists better known for their work with Marvel, DC and other comics use their skills for Kingstone Media to pencil, sketch, ink and color the comics, Ayris said. The gospel message virtually leaps from the pages of comics named for books and characters of the Bible — The Revelation, Elijah and Exodus.

“I have discovered a lot of believers out there,” Ayris said of the artists and printers who produce the comics. As for those who are not believers, he said it provides an opportunity to witness through solid business practices like paying on time; being “gracious”; and exposing them to Christian truths through the content of his products.

The quality is not lost on kids and teens either. Ayris tells pastors to go to a Borders or Barnes & Noble Bookstore and look at the number of kids and teens camped out in front of the comic book section. “With big biblical illiteracy in the U.S.,” he said, “we feel like our biblical epic line can help readers.”

Even at church, given the choice between a Bible or a comic book, Ayris said he tells pastors that kids will look at a table where there’s both a Bible and a comic book and “probably nine times out of 10, they are going to pick up the comics and read them.”

Libraries also have bought comics and graphic novels to attract “reluctant readers,” Ayris said. “With the world being about 50 percent illiterate or semi-literate, we see comics as an effective bridge to both reading and understanding God’s Word.”

The comics are also a natural bridge to the film industry. Ayris said major film companies in Hollywood and Los Angeles have expressed interest in at least two of Kingstone Media’s stories.

“Comics are also a great way to tell an epic story without the zillions cost of film,” Ayris said. “You have already story-boarded out what the film could look like.”

Amassing an impressive collection of the comics — 15 — which Ayris hopes will grow to 30 by the end of the year, and to 80 by 2011, he manages a growing staff of 19 ranging from full-time to freelance writers, artists and a chief operating officer.

Christian comics sell
“Some of our comics are designed clearly for the faith market, but others are specifically designed to be able to go into the general trade to engage readers ... and elicit conversation,” Ayris said. “This has opened up many corridors to share the gospel with people other than in church ministry situations.”

Nationally, Bellevue Baptist Church in the Memphis area was one of the first to buy in. Then came other independent outlets. Kingstone is in negotiations with Family Christian Stores, a chain of 330 stores throughout the country, and is talking with other, larger chains. Kingstone’s comics have put in an appearance at MegaCon, the Southeast’s largest comic book convention, and already have a following overseas.

Ayris said he is “stunned” by the international response. The comics are going into 18 countries through a Spanish distributor and a Brazilian distributor is planning translation into Portuguese for some titles. The Revelation has been produced in Arabic, with other titles forthcoming in that language, while a Bible society in the Middle East covering five Arabic countries has placed their first order.

Keeping in step with the digital age, Ayris said Kingstone Media currently is negotiating with the largest cell phone comic book distributor in Japan and possibly the world. Kingstone has also budgeted a “good part” of its funds for digital translation and distribution through iPad, e-book (electronic) and cell phone applications.

Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief of WORLD magazine, is the writer for some of the comic books, including a futuristic series “2048: A story of America’s Future” which explores ethical dilemmas caused by human-animal hybrid embryo stem cell research resulting in chimeras, what the comics call “bumans.”

Another Kingstone comic to debut soon is “Hope Amid Horror” about modern-day martyrdom produced with The Voice of the Martyrs ministry. Coming this summer is “The Book of God (How We Got the Bible).”

In 2009, Ayris completed a novel, Sudan, with career journalist Ninie Hammon. Based on a true story, Hammon said it explores “the horror of rape, mass murder, kidnapped children and human bondage of everyday life in Sudan.”

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote an endorsement of the novel as did Mike Huckabee, a FOX television host and former Arkansas governor.

Actively sharing his ideas and expertise, Ayris served on the faculty of the Gideon Media Arts Conference and Film Festival in early June at Ridgecrest in North Carolina, along with other noted leaders in the film industry like David Nixon, one of the producers of Sherwood Baptists’ “Fireproof” and “Facing the Giants.” More recently, Nixon worked on “Letters to God.”

Ayris’ wife Kelly is a television producer who now works in the church’s television ministry and for Kingstone. They have two sons, Ben, who will enter law school in the fall, and Alex, who is heading to Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.

“They love the comics; they think they’re cool,” Ayris said of his sons.

With an active board of directors and investors and a capable chief operating officer at Kingstone, Ayris said he is able to spend his days overseeing the financial and personnel aspects of the church’s various ministries, while devoting himself to Kingstone’s creative side on nights and weekends.

Passionate men of faith
“This is my heart and soul,” Ayris said of First Baptist Leesburg, where he has served in various positions the past 21 years — a church which he described as his “greenhouse.”

“I feel like God’s given me this ability to just continue to open these doors and to be faithful when He gives me these opportunities — and He’s given me a calling and passion,” Ayris said. First Baptist’s senior pastor Cliff Lea, following in the church’s tradition, has been willing to take “God risks,” such as buying a hotel to assist homeless families.

“My former pastor, Charles Roesel (who retired in 2006), used to joke and say I was a Peter, always ready to jump out of the boat,” Ayris said. “Hanging with men of faith like that only fuels me to be more prayerful as well as more creative in communicating God’s truth through imaginative venues and always seeking out ways to connect with spiritually lost people.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, newsjournal of the Florida Baptist State Convention. For more information, go to www.kingstonemedia.com.)
7/23/2010 3:18:00 AM by Joni B. Hannigan, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Rick Warren has sight loss; expects recovery

July 23 2010 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

MISSION VIEJO, Calif. — Author and pastor Rick Warren experienced some temporary vision loss during an accident at his home Monday but is expected to recover fully, a spokesperson for his church says.

Warren was in his yard pruning a firestick plant when a substance from the plant transferred to his hands and then to his eyes, causing what he labeled as “excruciating pain.” His wife called 911, and he was transported to a Mission Viejo, Calif., hospital, where his eyes were irrigated.

He stayed overnight but went home Tuesday.

The author of The Purpose Driven Life, Warren sent out a Tweet Thursday asking Christians to “pray my sight loss is restored.” That led to various rumors that he was blind, which is not the case, Saddleback Church spokesperson Kristin Cole told Baptist Press. Warren later sent out a Tweet saying in part, “I am NOT blind.”

“There was a little bit of temporary vision loss because the cornea was damaged,” she said. “... That’s a part of the eye that will restore itself, so it’s in the process. His vision seems to be OK right now. He is still in pain and discomfort but it’s not nearly as severe as when it first happened.

“The doctors are expecting a 100 percent recovery.”

Warren described the pain as a 12 on the 1-through-10 pain scale. He was given protective contacts and eye ointment.

He was in so much pain “that when his wife Kay came out to find out what was going on, he really couldn’t articulate fully what was happening,” Cole said.
7/23/2010 2:53:00 AM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Medicine, missions get together at IMB summit

July 23 2010 by Don Graham, Baptist Press

AUGUSTA, Ga. — All he wanted was a vacation — Yellowstone National Park sounded nice. Instead, Dale Twilley wound up pulling teeth in Venezuela. It was the Toccoa, Ga., dentist’s first time out of the country, and more importantly, his first medical missions trip.

Before he knew it, Twilley was hooked. Now 61, he’s made 13 short-term mission trips to six different countries over the past 12 years, traversing four continents, extracting more than 5,000 teeth and personally leading at least 250 people to Jesus along the way.

The journey sounds a little like a dentist’s version of an Indiana Jones movie.

Machete in hand, Twilley has traveled up the Amazon River, bushwhacking his way through dense jungle to reach remote indigenous villages. He’s pulled teeth in Brazilian prisons and diagnosed gum disease in Rio de Janeiro’s infamous slums. And he’s crossed Mongolia’s steppe and stood on China’s Great Wall — all to make Christ’s name known.

Dale Twilley, in one of his 13 mission trips as a medical volunteer, treats a patient in Mongolia, one of six countries where the Georgia dentist has conducted clinics.

But more recently Twilley’s passion for both medicine and the gospel took him somewhere closer to home — Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., host of the International Mission Board’s (IMB) Medical Missions Mobilization Summit.

The July 8-11 event brought medical professionals and members of Southern Baptist churches from across the United States together with IMB missionaries serving around the world to explore medical missions opportunities.

Roger Henderson, Warren Baptist’s missions and mobilization pastor, said the idea is to “expand people’s horizons about what medical missions can do. If we bring people here — whether they’re a doctor, a nurse, a dentist, a student, a resident — and they are inspired and are called into short- or long-term missions from this, what an impact.”

Twilley’s own commitment to missions came while doing dental work for a group of missionary patients who visited his office during stateside assignment.

“They had a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment and purpose in their lives that I didn’t have,” he said. “I had a good practice, I was very active in my church, chairman of the deacons ... but they had that something that I wanted and I found out what it was — their involvement in missions work.

“It’s just given me a new reason for living; instead of winding down and burning out, I just stepped it up a gear.”

Twilley adds that his missions work doubles as a way to share Christ with his patients back home in Toccoa. He’s frequently asked about his mission trips — where’s he been, what he did and why, and where he’s going next.

Biblical model
One of the summit’s key themes was the biblical mandate for medical missions.

Scott Holste, IMB associate vice president for global strategy, emphasized the organization’s commitment to pursue and expand medical missions work and lamented evangelicals’ past failings concerning human needs strategies.

“Medical missions provides us access that many of our other personnel simply do not have. It gives them the opportunity for that life-on-life experience to be able to ... share again and again,” Holste said.

“One of the great weaknesses in evangelical thought and practice over the last 40 years has been the divorce of the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel,” Holste added. “Proclamation without demonstration looks empty. Demonstration without proclamation can be very ambiguous; nobody knows why you do what you do.”

Summit speakers also addressed a damaging misconception that many evangelicals — including Southern Baptists — hold about medical missions.

“Early on (I saw) medicine only as a way to get the door cracked to do evangelism,” said Rick Donlon, a doctor who runs a medical clinic for the urban poor in Memphis, Tenn. “(But) it’s not just an excuse to share the gospel with people. Jesus didn’t need to take time to do all of the physical healing He did in the New Testament if it wasn’t really important — if loving people and trying to address their needs in a real way wasn’t crucial to who He is.... We’ve got to care about poverty and justice. That’s what we do in Memphis. We try to provide the same health care for our poor, inner-city neighbors that we would want for our own families.”

The need and the risk
To convey the need for medical missionaries, IMB leaders gave summit participants a look at the scope of lostness around the world — more than 6,400 unreached people groups — and talked about the dangers involved in reaching some of them.

In Central Asia, for example, all of the region’s 612 people groups are unreached. At 99.9 percent Muslim, less than one-tenth of 1 percent are believers.

Twilley said his wife used to worry about his safety on mission trips. She would even cook his favorite meal the night before he left as if it would be his last. They jokingly called the tradition the “last supper.”

But Twilley’s wife finally came to grips with her husband’s missions call.

When she asked what she should tell their children if he ever was killed on one of these trips, he said, “You just look them straight in the eye and say, ‘Your daddy died doing the most important thing in the world to him.’”

Plans are under way for the IMB’s 2012 Medical Missions Mobilization Summit, date and location to be announced. To learn more about medical missions opportunities with the IMB, e-mail medicalmissions@imb.org or call (800) 999-3113.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.)
7/23/2010 2:48:00 AM by Don Graham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

All-State choir ministers with voices, hands

July 22 2010 by Eric Nusbaum, Special to the Recorder

Buckets of soapy water and frozen candy bars are not the usual tools of a touring youth choir that more typically ministers with their voices.

But on July 21, 68 choir members and 11 adult leaders of the North Carolina Baptist All-State Youth Choir literally washed the feet of street people in sweltering downtown Raleigh, distributed hygiene kits, free shoes, new socks, bottled water and frozen chocolate bars before their evening concert.

BR photo by Norman Jameson

With 600 pairs of donated shoes sorted on the bus, students and coordinator Phil Campbell found the right shoes for runners who were going between the bus and the foot washers during a ministry day among street people in Raleigh. See photo gallery.

In just three days choir members memorized 13 songs, several of which they performed for grateful loiterers at Moore Park on an afternoon that reached 98 degrees. Choir members each brought six pairs of new or gently used shoes when they came to their first practice July 18 at Campbell University, where they practiced and stayed each night.

Their first concert was July 20 at Campbell’s Butler Chapel.

“We have been working hard since we arrived,” said Phil Campbell, this year’s tour coordinator, from First Baptist Church in Lincolnton. “All of us are very excited about our tour.”

“We have kids from the mountains to Wilmington,” said Campbell. “That is why this group is so fantastic to work with.”

The choir learned their diverse 13-song program with ease. Songs include classic hymns, current hits and even an African language song of encouragement.

“The group has a lot of different types of singers, which makes it tougher to get them on the same page than ‘normal’ choir, but this group has done a wonderful job,” said Clif Harris, choir director.

Harris is associate pastor of music at Winter Park Baptist Church in Wilmington. Even though he has been involved with church music for 20 years he still gets excited whenever he directs.

BR photo by Norman Jameson

The North Carolina Baptist All State Youth Choir took time out from “hands and feet of Jesus” service to ministry through song at a popular park in downtown Raleigh, where street people and homeless pass the time in the shadow of several social service ministries. See photo gallery.

“Music is a great way to spread God’s word, and that’s what we are trying to do on our tour,” said Harris. “It is even more special and exciting when I get to direct the best singers from around the state, so I am very blessed.”

“I have been doing service projects with the choir for a few years, but this year when they told us to bring three pairs of shoes I was prepared for anything,” said singer Charles Parker from Snyder Memorial Baptist Church in Fayetteville.

In addition to distributing shoes and socks, students gave out “survival kits” containing hand wipes, band aids, toothpaste and other essential items. The group toured and learned about the ministry of the Raleigh Rescue Mission, just across the street from the park.

“I love being a part of the choir. The singing and the friendships are great, but what I love the most are our ministry projects,” said singer Carter Benge from Snyder Memorial. “It is just great to go out and help the less fortunate and spread God’s word. Anything that we can do to help, we will.” 

When asked earlier if the idea of handling other’s feet bothered him, choir member Zachary Barham of Greensboro said, “I don’t think so, but I guess I’ll see tomorrow. It is all for God, so I’m sure I’ll be able to handle it.”

Karen Hoffman, church and community relations director for the Raleigh Rescue Mission, oriented students on each of two buses before they disembarked in Raleigh.

“We don’t wash people’s feet just because they’re dirty,” she told apprehensive, but excited choir members. “We wash them because we are the hands and feet of Jesus. Your faith compels you to do as Jesus did.”

Under the watchful, expectant eyes of park regulars, choir members set up distribution stations and ate a white bread sandwich much like the lunch of most of their audience.

Once they started washing feet the line quickly formed, men on the right, women on the left. They were not bashful to doff their shoes and dip their toes in the soapy water.

“We’re doing what Jesus would do,” said fourth year choir member Emily Johnson, from Woodlawn Baptist Church in Conover. “This is putting away your own pride, realizing there are people out there for whom this is the best thing we could do for them … they won’t remember my face or my name, but I made a difference.”

After a concert that night at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Raleigh, the choir was to perform on succeeding nights in Lumberton, Durham and Wilmington.

“I think it will be hectic and crazy with all the traveling, but I am really having fun,” said veteran member Shelby Ludlum of Scotland Neck. “I just want to spread God’s love in any way I can.”

“Any way I can” now includes for North Carolina Baptist Youth Choir members washing the feet of others — just as Jesus did.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Nussbaum is a communications student at Campbell University. BR Editor Norman Jameson contributed to this story from Moore Square. Follow the blog.)

Raleigh Rescue Mission from NC Baptist All-State Youth Choir on Vimeo.

7/22/2010 3:27:00 AM by Eric Nusbaum, Special to the Recorder | with 0 comments

Agencies say adoption interest on rise

July 22 2010 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The adoption agency Bethany Christian Services says interest from couples in adopting is significantly ahead of what it was last year, a trend that is being seen elsewhere and, adoption leaders say, is an example of a growing adoption movement among Christians.

International adoption placements through Bethany are up 66 percent this year compared to last year while inquiries about international adoption are up 95 percent, the agency reported July 19. Domestic infant adoption interest also is up: Applications are up 23 percent and home studies up 15 percent.

Representatives from Nighlight Christian Adoptions and Buckner International — two Christian-based agencies — say they, too, have seen an uptick in interest from couples wanting to adopt.

The increased interest comes as ministries and churches renew their focus on adoption. The Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference in June had a special emphasis on adoption and donated its offering “overage” to adoption scholarships for pastors and missionaries. Saddleback Church, where Rick Warren pastors, hosted a Forum on Orphans and Adoption in May, and the Christian Alliance for Orphans in April held its sixth annual Summit conference, an event that grows in popularity each year.

Ron Stoddart, executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, said there’s “no doubt” that there’s a growing adoption movement among Christians. Nightlight — which has offices in California, Colorado and South Carolina — is a member of the National Christian Adoption Fellowship, which is comprised of nine adoption agencies and programs. All nine, he said, have seen an increased interest this year from couples wanting to adopt. In addition to an upswing in interest in international and domestic adoption, Nightlight also has seen in increase in interest in its embryo adoption program, in which couples adopt donated frozen embryos.

“I think the reason for the upswing in the number of home studies that are being done and the number of families that are applying is because of this increased awareness within the church of the need to take care of kids,” Stoddart told Baptist Press (BP).

Estimates of the number of orphans worldwide varies wildly, although all stats put the number in the millions. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Russell D. Moore and his wife Maria adopted two boys from a Russian orphanage. He has since written a book about adoption, Adopted for Life, and he often speaks to groups on the subject.

“The Spirit of Christ is on the move among evangelicals, and this is just the beginning,” Moore, dean of the seminary’s school of theology, told BP. “... (M)any Christians are awakening to the radical nature of the gospel itself. We, the gospel says, were adopted. This reality tears down any artificial notion that adoption is some kind of ‘less than’ or ‘Plan B’ family. Christians are also waking up to what Jesus and His brother James define as pure religion: the care of the least of these, the orphans and widows.”

Other factors are at work, Moore said. Christians have seen “the plague of fatherlessness” and been convicted to make a difference. There’s also a multiplying effect: As couples adopt, their friends see that adoption isn’t so “strange” and they, too, begin to “pray and ask God if this is where He’s leading them,” Moore said. Pastors also are leading the way, he said.

“Pastors are starting to preach the whole counsel of God about the Father’s love for the orphan, and calling churches to support the effort in all sorts of ways. Not every Christian is called to adopt, but every Christian is called to care for widows and orphans,” Moore said, pointing to James 1:27. “I literally do not go five minutes these days without hearing from at least one family, via e-mail or social media, who testify that God has called them to adopt.”

Kevin Ezell, who served as the president of this year’s Pastors’ Conference, has seen firsthand that pastors are taking action. He expected around 70 Southern Baptist pastors and missionaries would apply for the adoption scholarships; however, 140 did so.

“I’ve never been more proud of SBC pastors than the last month,” Ezell, pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., told Baptist Press.

Ezell learned of one pastor’s family who was adopting a child with spina bifida and another pastor’s family who was adopting twins with Down syndrome.

“The stories are incredible,” Ezell said.

Although the funds were limited for the scholarships, Ezell is trying to find enough money to cover everyone who is eligible. Church members who see their pastor adopting a child will be more likely to do the same, said Ezell, whose family has adopted three children.

“If a pastor does it, it changes the atmosphere of the church,” he said.

Buckner International, which places children in families through domestic and international adoption, also has seen an increase in inquiries and applications this year, said Debbie Wynne, director of Buckner Adoption and Maternity Services. She credits much of it to churches adding adoption, foster care and orphan ministries.

“There is a grassroots movement of churches building these advocacy ministries to support and inspire their church members to actively help ‘the least of these,’” Wynne said.

The Haiti earthquake also impacted couples. Buckner’s international adoption program received more than 3,800 inquiries in January and February about adopting children from the country, Wynne said.

Bethany Christian Services said the Haiti disaster had a big impact in demonstrating to Christians the plight of orphans.

“The figures Bethany released show strong improvement as we confront the global orphan crisis, but the need still remains as there are still an incredible number of orphaned children who wait for their ‘forever family,’” Bill Blacquiere, president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services, said in a statement.

Stoddart, of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, said despite the positive increase in interest, some children — older ones and minorities, for instance — remain the toughest to place into families. The outlook is not good for an orphan from a foreign country who never finds a home.

“That still is a great need,” Stoddart said. “With those kids, if they’re not adopted, we know what happens when they age out of the orphanage. They become victims of one sort or another. The girls get into prostitution and the boys into petty street crime and drugs. The number of kids who commit suicide is staggering. Here in the United States we have kids that have problems during their teen years and rebel, but there still is that family that is there as a safety net. When you get out of an orphanage at age 17 or 18, there is no family.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. Visit the ministries and programs referenced in this article: Bethany, Nighlight, Buckner and the SBC Adoption Fund for Ministers. Bethany Christian Services is providing a matching grant for the first 25 pastors who are approved for the SBC Adoption Fund and who use Bethany for their adoption service.)
7/22/2010 2:47:00 AM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 2 comments

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