July 2011

World Hunger Fund gifts at 20-year low

July 26 2011 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Southern Baptists face a “red alert” crisis in their World Hunger Fund just as a massive drought/famine cycle threatens nearly 11 million people in the Horn of Africa, a Southern Baptist humanitarian leader announced July 25.

The situation is compounded by greatly increased needs around the world while giving to the World Hunger Fund has sharply declined, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response (BGR), an international relief and development organization.

“We are now at a ‘red alert’ time for our human needs funding,” Palmer said. “The overseas hunger relief fund is down to $4.1 million dollars — enough to meet the needs of Southern Baptist international hunger projects for six months. These projects help the poorest of the poor, the most neglected and marginalized and some of the most lost people groups in the world. We are approaching a baseline where we are going to have to start denying funds to critical projects.”

Southern Baptists donated $4.3 million to the World Hunger Fund in 2010, only 40 percent of what they gave during a 12-month span a decade earlier, according to numbers supplied by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). The ERLC focuses on hunger awareness as a moral/social issue. The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention distributes donations to the World Hunger Fund to International Mission Board (IMB — 80 percent) and North American Mission Board (NAMB — 20 percent).

“Last year was the lowest donations to the World Hunger Fund have been in 20 years,” Palmer said. “This is very disturbing, seeing the huge need of the crisis looming in the Horn of Africa. Our Southern Baptist avenue of seeing the lost, last and least be helped both physically and spiritually is about to dry up.”

Recent news reports have heightened interest in the crisis in the Horn of Africa and neighboring countries in eastern Africa, where the United Nations estimates about 770,000 people have fled to refugee camps and about $1.3 billion will be needed to address the crisis. The region suffers from long-term cycles of severe hunger, sharpened now by decades of failed crops, economic crises and climate changes.

Southern Baptists face a “red alert” crisis in their World Hunger Fund, just as a massive drought/famine cycle threatens almost 11 million people in the Horn of Africa.

The drought in the Horn is the worst since 1951, noted Abraham Shepherd, who with his wife Grace directs Baptist Global Response work in Northern Africa. He pointed to a USAID analysis that says the drought has driven up food prices and weakened livestock, thus increasing malnutrition, hunger and famine.

Hunger projects in the Horn and eastern Africa have totaled more than $250,000 just in the past two years, Palmer said.

“Southern Baptists, who care so deeply about people in need, have given very generously to the World Hunger Fund in years past,” Palmer said. “They are able to give in confidence because every dollar donated to the World Hunger Fund is used 100 percent to help hungry people. Now it looks like the World Hunger Fund has become the best-kept secret in Southern Baptist life. It’s a secret that needs to get out for the sake of millions whose lives and destinies are threatened by hunger or starvation.”

While World Hunger Sunday is scheduled in Southern Baptist churches for Oct. 9, the dual crises in Africa and the World Hunger Fund call for a daily response to people in desperate need today, Shepherd added.

“In Africa, thousands have fled as refugees or IDPs (internally-displaced people) and others await their fate,” Shepherd said. “We can eat when we are hungry, but they cannot. Would you care to make a difference?”

The World Hunger Fund fights hunger in the United States as well as abroad, Palmer added.

“Twenty percent of the donations to the World Hunger Fund are used domestically through the North American Mission Board to feed people like the victims of the Alabama and Joplin tornados,” Palmer said. “The remainder is used overseas through the International Mission Board.

“Southern Baptists who want to make a difference in world hunger can do that best by giving through their local church, designating it for the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund,” Palmer added. “You can encourage your church and fellow members to give. You also can give through your state Baptist convention. To help with hunger needs in the USA, you can give through the North American Mission Board, and for overseas needs, you can give through the International Mission Board.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly is senior writer and assistant editor for Baptist Press. Donations designated for the Horn of Africa crisis can be made through the International Mission Board at imb.org. Resources for promoting the World Hunger Fund can be found at worldhungerfund.com. Baptist Global Response is on the web at gobgr.com.)

Related story
Famine relief under way in Horn of Africa
7/26/2011 9:34:00 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Famine relief under way in Horn of Africa

July 26 2011 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Southern Baptists already are at work with relief efforts in the Horn of Africa, where drought and famine threaten the lives of nearly 11 million people.

Recent news reports have sparked heightened interest in the suffering there, but the crisis has been building for years, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of the Baptist Global Response (BGR) international relief and development organization.

“We are grateful the mass media have begun reporting on the situation and that more people are becoming concerned,” Palmer said. “Southern Baptists have been engaged in humanitarian work in that area since the 1970s, and we are initiating new projects so people who care will have plenty of opportunities to reach out to people in the Horn of Africa who are in desperate need.”

The United Nations estimates about 770,000 people have fled to refugee camps and about $1.3 billion will be needed to address the crisis.

The Horn of Africa suffers from long-term cycles of drought and famine, and Southern Baptists began months ago to address the developing crisis, said Mark Hatfield, who with his wife Susan directs BGR work in Sub-Saharan Africa and is helping coordinate response to the crisis.

“East Africa has experienced cycles of hunger due to failed crops, economic crises and climatic changes for decades, with those cycles becoming closer and closer together in recent years,” Hatfield said. “Southern Baptists have been involved in addressing these needs. In 2009, the World Hunger Fund helped respond to a severe drought among the Masai of southern Kenya. Over $1 million dollars was allocated to provide supplemental feeding during that cycle of hunger.

“Since then, over $190,000 has been allocated for feeding projects focused in northern Kenya and Southern Sudan,” Hatfield added. “We are assessing the current situation among the people groups we have relationships with, and we are working with our BGR partners in the East Africa area to develop ministries that will reach out to those most vulnerable during this critical time of hunger and suffering.”

Donations designated for the Horn of Africa crisis can be made through the International Mission Board (IMB) at imb.org. BGR will post updates on the relief work as more information becomes available. Updates can be monitored on Twitter (www.twitter.com/gobgr), Facebook (http://on.fb.me/hKaE6J) and www.gobgr.org.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly is senior writer and an assistant editor for Baptist Press.)

Related story
World Hunger Fund gifts at 20-year low  
7/26/2011 9:31:00 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Sturgis rally goal: plant a church for bikers

July 26 2011 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

STURGIS, S.D. — After this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Baptists in the Dakotas want to birth a church.

“We would like to have a church planter and core group in place in the Black Hills by the end of this year,” said Garvon Golden, interim executive director of the Dakota Baptist Convention.

“What we envision is that this would be the first of many churches across the Dakotas and beyond started as a result of what we do here at Sturgis the first week of August each year.”

Dakota Baptists’ evangelism ministry at Sturgis involves about 250 volunteers from across the country who share their faith at the annual gathering of about 500,000 bikers and biker-wannabes — arguably the largest motorcycle event in the world.

The volunteers are trained in giving three-minute testimonies of the change God has made in their lives to “the affinity group we call ‘bikers,’” as Golden put it. Anyone at Sturgis willing to listen then can enter a drawing for a brand-new Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

BP file photo

South Dakota pastor Roger Persing and volunteer Lyn Hanson work to draw people into a hospitality tent at the 2010 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally where they can hear about God’s power to change people.

The annual rally in the northern part of the Black Hills in western South Dakota has, over its 71-year history, enticed many people to move to the area, but few churches are ready to meet their specific needs.

“For some, Sturgis is where the healing begins,” Golden said. “We have people come to the tent (on Main Street in Sturgis) who are on the fast track to unmentionable places, and they know it, and we talk with them, and they see a way out.

“Their lives change, and it’s a whole new world for them.”

Some people return to their homes, but some start a new life in the Black Hills. The church that hopefully will start this fall in the Black Hills Area Baptist Association is for those who stay and those who made their home years ago in the area because of their biker interests.

“We need a church planter who wants to start a church for bikers,” Golden said. “We’re just waiting on God to send His man here, someone who is comfortable with people in the biker culture, someone who can start a church that multiplies itself.”

And while Dakota Baptists are waiting, they’re busy with the final details for this year’s outreach at the Aug. 8-14 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The tent will be open from Aug. 6-13 in the usual location on Main Street across from the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum.

“It starts months out with prayer,” Golden said, “praying while on our website — www.sturgisbikegiveaway.com — virtually prayerwalking Sturgis and the Black Hills, and dedicated intercession by prayer warriors across the nation for the people we will be having contact with....

“About one out of every five people we talk with makes a profession of faith,” Golden said. “The Holy Spirit takes the words of the volunteers sharing their faith, and somehow turns it into just exactly what someone is needing to hear.”

Also during the rally, a “clean and sober” camp for bikers at a camp owned by First Baptist Church in Custer will be operated by Set Free Ministries leaders from South Dakota, Montana and Colorado.

“How to effectively share your faith in three minutes” training will take place Monday and Tuesday during the rally at First Baptist Church in Sturgis.

Chaplains from Oklahoma and Dakota disaster relief teams are set again this year to minister to vendors of T-shirts, tattoos and everything remotely interesting to bikers, as well as to police and fire personnel and other behind-the-scenes people who make Sturgis “happen,” each year.

In Dakota Baptists’ five years of intentional evangelism ministry at Sturgis, 23,779 gospel seeds were planted and 4,933 people prayed to receive Christ.

For more information on Dakota Baptists’ outreach at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, contact Garvon Golden at Garvon@dakotabaptist.com or (605) 877-1163.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana Baptist, official newsjournals for those state conventions.)
7/26/2011 9:25:00 AM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

NAMB sends states $950,000 in relief funds

July 26 2011 by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — The North American Mission Board (NAMB) is sending $950,000 to Baptist conventions in seven states hard-hit by tornadoes and storms this spring. The funds have been distributed based on a formula prioritizing the states’ needs, NAMB President Kevin Ezell has announced.

The amount of funds by state follows: Alabama, $494,000 (52 percent of the $950,000); Missouri and Tennessee, $114,000 each (12 percent each); Mississippi, $66,500 (7 percent); Arkansas and Oklahoma, $57,000 each (6 percent each); and Georgia, $47,500 (5 percent).

“We are disbursing all the funds we received for spring storm relief,” Ezell said. “We are grateful to Southern Baptists for their generosity and want them to know the money is going where it is most needed.” Funds received after the current distribution will go to North Dakota for flood relief, Ezell added.

Through July 8, 1,719 donors had made 1,940 gifts totaling nearly $1 million to support the disaster relief efforts of the North American Mission Board and the state conventions, reported Carlos Ferrer, NAMB vice president and chief financial officer. This amount is in addition to monies Southern Baptists gave directly to state convention disaster relief funds.

“It’s been an expensive year for disaster relief,” said Mickey Caison, NAMB’s disaster relief coordinator, “and we haven’t begun to get money for our upcoming North Dakota flood response yet.”

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) currently is gearing up for a major response in Minot, N.D., where flooding of the local Souris River has impacted 4,000 homes, requiring extensive mud-out work.

Even with this year far from over and in the midst of the annual hurricane season that does not end until Nov. 30, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief in 2011 will be remembered as the year of deadly tornadoes, historic flooding, an unusual number of state wildfires, earthquakes and even a tsunami.

Except for 2005 — the year of Hurricane Katrina — SBDR staff and volunteers have seldom been so taxed and spread so thin.

“We’ve had a lot of states involved in a lot of responses,” Caison said, adding that he thinks the SBDR network is continually gaining strength. “Even though we’ve been stretched thin and involved in so many different states, our state leaders and volunteers continue to step up in ministry,” Caison said. “We’ve had the diversity of disasters in past years but not the diversity of disasters spread across so many states.”

Yet, 2011 will go down as another successful year not just because of the thousands of SBDR volunteers who have worked across the United States and Canada, and not because of the 412,000 meals prepared, the 28,000 “volunteer days” served or the 4,000 mud-out and chainsaw jobs completed.

Its success also will be measured in the 100-plus people who were led to Christ and 22,000 gospel presentations, ministry contacts and chaplaincy contacts made during the first seven months of the year.

Year-to-date recap
While the predicted effects on the West Coast of the tsunami from the 9.0 earthquake in Japan on March 11 turned out to be a false alarm, the same could not be said of the killer tornadoes that struck the South during two different weeks in April.

On April 15-16, more than 50 people died across 14 states — from Oklahoma to Virginia — by an onslaught of some 250 tornadoes. In North Carolina alone, 21 people died when a reported 60 tornadoes struck on April 16. In response, 1,500 North Carolina SBDR volunteers were mobilized for feeding and chainsaw work, reported Richard Brunson, director of Baptist Men for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

On that same weekend in Alabama, an estimated 40 tornadoes tore through that state, including an EF-3 tornado that destroyed the sanctuary of Boone’s Chapel Baptist Church near Prattville, Ala., and killed three family members who lived about 200 yards from the church in a mobile home.

But the outbreak was merely a foretaste of what was to come on April 27 when some 300 people were killed in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Arkansas by an even deadlier spate of tornadoes. More than 249 were killed in Alabama alone when a mile-wide tornado plowed 200 miles northeast from Tuscaloosa up to Fort Payne and over into Ringgold, Ga. Dozens of Southern Baptist churches were destroyed or damaged.

In the two weeks following the April 27 tornadoes in Alabama, SBDR mobilized nearly 5,900 trained volunteers from 10 state conventions, including 200-plus SBC chaplains who fanned out across the state to help tornado victims cope with the stress brought on by grief over lost loved ones and massive property damage.

The chaplains — many of them CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management) chaplains — not only comforted the tornado victims, but also first-responders affected by the death and devastation, said Mel Johnson, state disaster relief director for the Alabama State Board of Missions.

State conventions responding in the aftermath of the historic Alabama tornadoes included Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, the Southern Baptists of Texas and Texas Baptist Men.

Rick Lance, executive director and state missionary of the Alabama State Board of Missions, called the tornadoes “our Katrina.” NAMB’s Caison called it the “storm you never want to see.” Initially, the Weather Channel dubbed the April 27 tornadoes as the “deadliest tornado outbreak since 1974” but as the body count climbed, that would later be revised to “the deadliest tornado outbreak since 1932.”

With DR response activity still under way in Alabama and the South, 2011’s tornado list expanded to Joplin, Mo., a city of 50,000 where at least 159 people were killed by an EF-5 tornado on May 25. As in Tuscaloosa, Ala., U.S. President Barack Obama and NAMB’s Ezell were among the officials who traveled to Joplin to survey the damage and encourage victims and survivors.

In Joplin, the tornado literally hit home for one SBDR volunteer, Gary Hunley, who lost his own home to the storm. Yet he continued to work in SBDR as one of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s “Blue Hat” leaders.

“You just don’t know where to start,” Hunley said as he and his wife Twyla sifted through what was left of their belongings. “You don’t want to let people help you because you think other people need it more. Then you realize you do need the help.

“Southern Baptists have been a true blessing to me,” said Hunley, who was honored with his wife Twyla by a standing ovation by the 5,000 messengers and attendees at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix in June. “They have helped me grow in my faith,” Hunley said of fellow Baptists. “When you face something like this, you need to have your life in order. You never know how long you have,” he said.

In the wake of the Joplin tornado, some 400 SBDR volunteers from Missouri, Kansas/Nebraska and Oklahoma prepared more than 18,000 meals; chaplains made 4,000 visits and contacts; 400 chainsaw jobs were completed; 134 children were cared for; and nearly 900 showers and laundry loads were provided.

“We just appreciate the prayers and financial support and all the teams who volunteered,” said Rick Seaton, the Missouri Baptist Convention’s director of men’s missions and ministry. “It was a tremendous response and a big operation. It went well because of the 400 volunteers who made it happen.”

After the state disaster relief teams’ deployment ended in storm-ravaged Alabama and Missouri, other state teams were deployed to Brimfield, Mass., and Williston, Vt., where three tornadoes ripped the region June 1, killing four and impacting 19 communities. Some 30 SBDR volunteers from Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania/South Jersey, New York, Connecticut, North Carolina, Maine and NAMB were deployed to Massachusetts. Working from of an incident command post set up at Friendship Baptist Church in Brimfield, they included SBDR recovery, feeding, assessment, chaplaincy and shower units.

SBDR teams also have responded to heavy flooding in Vermont, Kentucky, Ohio, Montana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, California, Iowa and Wyoming – along with a rash of wildfires, which have plagued Texas, Arizona, Kansas/Nebraska, Florida and Silver Lake, Alberta, Canada, with the latest fire in New Mexico.

From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., NAMB coordinates Southern Baptist response to major disasters through a partnership between NAMB and the SBC’s 42 state conventions, most of which run state disaster relief programs.

SBDR assets include 82,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and some 1,550 mobile units for operations in feeding, chainsaws, mud-out, command, communications, child care, showers, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is the largest mobilizer of trained, credentialed disaster relief volunteers in the United States, including the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

On the international front, SBDR continues to support ongoing responses in earthquake-ravaged Haiti and Japan, Caison noted.

With the Florida Baptist Convention and the Baptist Global Response (BGR) relief organization leading the effort, Southern Baptists have built 2,000 new concrete block houses in Haiti at a cost of about $2,500 each. Using concrete blocks, wood and tin purchased in Haiti — as well as local Haitian labor — Caison said at least 1,000 more homes are in the works.

In Japan, SBDR is partnering with the International Mission Board, the Japan Baptist Convention, Tokyo Baptist Church and BGR to provide training as well as recovery and clean-up assistance following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country’s northeastern area.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.)  
7/26/2011 9:20:00 AM by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Acts 1:8 Challenge leaders chart future

July 25 2011 by Adam Miller, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — More than two dozen Southern Baptist missions leaders are making plans for the future of the Acts 1:8 Challenge initiative to mobilize churches to reach their communities, regions, the continent and the world with the gospel.

Launched in May 2004 by the International Mission Board (IMB) and North American Mission Board (NAMB) in cooperation with Baptist state conventions and associations, the Acts 1:8 Challenge is designed to encourage Southern Baptist churches, both English- and Spanish-speaking, to take a fresh look at how they plan and execute their missions efforts. Acts 1:8 state coordinators, state leaders and entity representatives addressed the direction of the Acts 1:8 Challenge at their annual coordination meeting July 6-7 at the North American Mission Board offices in Alpharetta, Ga.

“The question is still the same,” said Neal Hughes, NAMB’s mobilization coordinator. “How do we move Southern Baptists and mobilize them from their heart’s desire to where God wants them to be.”

The overarching question for the group, though, was how will state convention partners, local associations and their churches interact with NAMB with its regionalized focus and with the IMB as it assists churches to reach unreached people groups in North America. Illinois Baptist State Association Executive Director Nate Adams, who authored The Acts 1:8 Challenge manual, emphasized via Skype the design of the Acts 1:8 Challenge as a paradigm and not program, calling it a “grassroots” intention rooted in Southern Baptists’ local church heritage. The consensus among the group was that the Acts 1:8 Challenge will continue to be most effective as a church-based effort.

Acts 1:8 state coordinators, state leaders and entity representatives addressed the direction of the Acts 1:8 Challenge at their annual coordination meeting at the North American Mission Board’s offices in Alpharetta, Ga.

“All we’re saying is how do we get the gospel to 6,476 unreached people groups around the world, 3,800 of which have no access to the gospel,” said Eric King, IMB’s director of missional church strategists team. “The only way we’ll do this is if we continue to partner with churches who desire to reach unreached people groups.

“We are challenging churches to pray and explore God’s direction for the long haul,” King added. “We’re looking for churches to commit and do whatever it’s going to take and however long it’s going to take to see an effective church planting strategy for these people groups.

“It’s not an easy call. We admit that, but we are doing everything we can to come alongside local churches.”

IMB mobilizer Terry Sharp emphasized the importance of reaching North America’s cities in order to reach the world.

“Don’t just think about those over there in the 10/40 window. Don’t neglect the fact God may have brought that people group here,” said Sharp, who works with Southern Baptist state conventions and associations and facilitates urban strategies. “I’m excited about how all of this is coming together. God is up to something.”

Sharp noted, “The cities of North America are changing, and the unreached people groups of the world are coming to our cities. They’re hard to get to and it’s dangerous to get into their own countries, but God is bringing them to our cities.”

Shane Critser, NAMB’s church mobilization team leader, echoed Sharp in emphasizing the importance of reaching North America’s cities through evangelistic church planting.

“As we plant churches and evangelize communities to reach the fourth most lost nation in the world, we will see more churches go to unreached people groups throughout the world,” Critser said. “(NAMB is) committed to seeing healthy reproducing churches in the key cities of each region.

“To do this we need a coalition of likeminded people who can pull together all our strategies and resources and support each other to impact lostness.”

In the days ahead, Acts 1:8 Challenge momentum will hinge on state- and association-based implementation as leaders ramp up efforts to mobilize churches in missions, evangelistic church planting and evangelism.

“It was a giant step to see the concept of Acts 1:8 associations accepted,” said Sid Hopkins, director of missions for the Gwinnett Metro Baptist Association and chairman of the 430-member Network of Baptist Associations. “Whatever things come and go, the biblical mandate of Acts 1:8 will always be there. I think our gathering sowed solidarity of thinking about the Acts 1:8 strategy of missions.”

Mark Emerson, mission involvement director for the Illinois Baptist State Association, said he was glad to see a renewed vigor as Acts 1:8 was embraced by the missions entities at the meeting and further grafted into state and associational strategies.

“We use that model as the way that we can help lead pastors and congregations to establish missions strategy in their church,” Emerson said.

The next Acts 1:8 Fellowship Roundtable will be July 18-19, 2012, in Raleigh facilitated by Mike Sowers, senior consultant at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina for church planting and missions development.

To learn more about what it means to be an Acts 1:8 church, visit www.actsone8.com; call (800) 422-8718; or email info@actsone8.com.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)
7/25/2011 7:36:00 AM by Adam Miller, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Slums in India spur musician’s witness

July 25 2011 by Torie Speicher, Baptist Press

MUMBAI, India — When Micah Watson came to India for the first time, he never thought he would be back, let alone recording a music video with his band there one year later.

The daunting task of sharing Jesus with the 22 million people of Mumbai — India’s largest city — haunted him so much that all he could do was talk about it for a year after his first trip to India. He shared with his family and friends and even his audiences at Micah Watson Band concerts.

Watson is no stranger to seeing a lost world up-close-and-personal, having grown up in a missionary family in Israel. But somehow the songwriters’ trip to Mumbai was different than anything he had experienced.

In India, Micah Watson pauses while filming a music video to share stories about God’s love with curious faces of all ages in the slums of Mumbai. See video.

Watson thought he would be writing songs and experiencing the city from a safe distance.

Instead, from the moment he slung his guitar over his shoulder and left the airport, the singer-songwriter found himself face-to-face with life in India.

The devastating poverty in Mumbai overwhelmed him. Dirty children swarmed around him in the slums. Being a father of four, Watson wanted to pick them up, play with them and protect them. Even though the trip was a step far outside of his comfort zone, the test of faith had only just begun.

Watson was caught off-guard when the team leader said they would be going out two-by-two to share the gospel and pray for the sick.

Even though he sings weekly in front of crowds, Watson didn’t feel he has an “outgoing” personality. And while he shares with concert-goers about God’s work through his songs from the stage, he struggles sharing the gospel one-on-one.

“God, I need you to put words in my mouth,” Watson prayed, and soon the prayer was being answered as people began inviting him into their homes.

On that first trip to Mumbai, God stirred Watson to realize more than ever that the Holy Spirit is working all around the world.

Micah Watson pauses while filming a music video to play with the children of Mumbai’s slums.

“God went before us and is behind us working,” Watson said. “When you go on a trip like this, you’re just becoming a part of what God is already doing. You’re not creating a new thing. We just need to tap into what God is doing.”

After that first trip, Watson shared about India at all his concerts in the southern United States, with his song “Your Hands, Your Heart, Your Voice” resulting from the year of talking about what God is doing in India.

When Watson returned to Mumbai’s slums to make a music video for the song, the trip was different this time — even when people stopped and stared, forming a crowd around him.

Even though trash covered the streets and dirty children roamed wild, Watson’s heart and voice reached out to everyone as he shared the gospel.

“As overwhelming as it is that there are so many people,” Watson said, “it’s more overwhelming that God knows each one of them.”

Music is the one art form people can’t ignore, Watson said, voicing his goal to use music to stir people’s hearts toward what God’s doing in the world.

“If you can get songs in front of the church that are focused on missions, on what God is doing in the nations,” Watson said, “if you can get that rolling around in people’s heads, then maybe more people would give, go and pray.

“When people hear the song ‘Your Hands, Your Heart, Your Voice,’ I hope they will stop and realize, ‘Hey, I have to go and be God’s heart and hands.’ It’s not just a lovely thought for someone else. You don’t do your Christian duty at 18 and that’s it. We’re commanded to do it.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Speicher is a writer, volunteering with International Mission Board, serving among South Asian peoples. The Micah Watson Band is online at http://micahwatsonband.com.)

7/25/2011 7:26:00 AM by Torie Speicher, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Campus Crusade ditches name for ‘Cru’

July 22 2011 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

Campus Crusade for Christ is out. “Cru” is in.

The 60-year-old evangelical ministry announced its new name at a staff conference July 19 in Fort Collins, Colo., saying the old name had become problematic.

“We’ve been having issues with two words in the name — campus and crusade,” said Steve Sellers, a vice president who oversees the ministry’s U.S. operations, in an interview.

Though the Orlando, Fla.-based organization began on campuses in 1951, it has expanded to more than two dozen ministries focused on topics such as families, athletes, the military and inner cities.

When Campus Crusade was founded by the late Bill Bright and his wife Vonette, the word “crusade” typically referred to the large, stadium events held by evangelists like Billy Graham.

“In today’s culture it carries more weight in terms of its historic meaning,” Sellers said, with people thinking “more to the days of the Crusaders and dealing with the Middle East as opposed to a positive use of the word.”

Cru isn’t the only religious organization that has moved away from “crusade.” Wheaton College, Graham’s alma mater in Illinois, changed its mascot from Crusaders to Thunder in 2000. Graham’s son Franklin leads “festivals” instead of crusades, and his grandson Will holds “celebrations.”

Most recently, Crusader Lutheran Church in Rockville, Md., changed its name to Living Faith Lutheran Church out of concern that the old name had “militaristic” and “non-Christian” overtones.

Sellers said the Crusade-to-Cru change is part of that trend.

“We don’t want the words that we use to get in the way of the message that we have,” he said.

In a Frequently Asked Questions feature on its website, the ministry explained why leaders also opted to take the word “Christ” out of its title.

“Cru enables us to have discussions about Christ with people who might initially be turned off by a more overtly Christian name,” the response read. “We believe that our interaction and our communication with the world will be what ultimately honors and glorifies Christ.”

During the extensive renaming process, Sellers said researchers found that 9 percent of Christians, and 20 percent of non-Christians, were turned off by the original name. A total of 1,600 alternatives were considered.

The name Cru — already used on many U.S. college campuses — will be used throughout the United States. Most of the international ministries affiliated with Cru use a name other than Campus Crusade for Christ. Its Canadian affiliate is called Power to Change and European ministries use the name Agape.

Sellers said the name of the umbrella organization, Campus Crusade for Christ International, will still be used for now. The global organization includes more than 25,000 full-time and part-time people in 191 countries.

“From the beginning, Bill (Bright) was open to changing our name. He never felt it was set in stone. In fact, he actually considered changing the name 20 or 25 years ago,” said Vonette Bright in a statement.

“We want to remove any obstacle to people hearing about the most important person who ever lived — Jesus Christ.”
7/22/2011 8:39:00 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Tuscaloosa among World Changers cities

July 22 2011 by Courtney Searcy, Baptist Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The hot summer sun beats down on a young man’s forehead as he drives another nail into a roof. Usually he’d be reclining in an air-conditioned room playing video games but, instead, his shirt is soaked with sweat.

He doesn’t mind. He’s making a difference.

A young woman is giving a home a much-needed fresh coat of paint. She is missing an important week of cheerleading practice. But she says she made the right decision.

Their stories mirror those of about 2,000 students and adults from across the country who, by the end of the summer, will have served as World Changers in tornado-battered Tuscaloosa and other locations in Alabama.

Volunteers with the North American Mission Board’s World Changers initiative have worked or will work this summer in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Anniston, Florence and Huntsville. Another 20,000 “world changers” are serving in 85 other cities across the United States.

For 21 years, individuals from churches and schools have raised their own funds — averaging $250 a person this year — to take part in a World Changers week working on projects aimed at improving substandard housing while also gaining a “venue in which to live out the faith they have in a loving God,” according to the World Changers website.

BP photo/The Alabama Baptist

A World Changers crew from six churches across the South works on a home in the Sherman Heights neighborhood of Birmingham, Ala.

Once all the groups arrive in their host city, they are divided into crews and given their project assignment. They kick off each morning with a devotion before heading out to work sites for a full day of work. Each evening, they gather for worship and then rest for their next day of hard work.

In Tuscaloosa, April 27’s tornado outbreak yielded an out-of-the-ordinary opportunity for 199 World Changers June 13-18. The city was scheduled to be a World Changers location for the second year before the tornadoes hit. But the projects there were revamped toward disaster relief, with 17 crews partnering with Samaritan’s Purse for debris cleanup across Tuscaloosa.

Project coordinator Mark Matson, who has been involved with World Changers for 15 years, said the situation provided an even greater opportunity for students to present the gospel and speak to people about why they were there.

The students made 425 gospel presentations, resulting in 60 professions of faith. Matson said the crews were able to share the hope of the gospel with many who were devastated after the tornado took their homes.

The disaster relief aspect of the projects brought unprecedented media coverage.

“It’s no doubt that a lot of Tuscaloosa has known that World Changers has been here,” Matson said, noting he hopes the attention it received will lead to more funding in the future so more people can be helped.

The city is on the schedule for next year, and Matson hopes to assist in rebuilding the areas cleaned up this year.

In Birmingham, more than 750 students and adults are slated to work more than five weeks on roofing, painting and other home improvement projects in partnership with the Birmingham Baptist Association; Metro Changers, a year-round home rehabilitation ministry of the association; and the city of Birmingham.

This was the third year Conor Martin, a high school senior from Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., has participated in World Changers. Martin was part of a June 11-18 crew responsible for putting a new roof on an elderly woman’s home in the Sherman Heights neighborhood.

“This is what God calls us to do. He calls us to be missionaries, and we’re being missionaries by putting a roof on a house,” Martin said.

But as fellow Fairview team member Austin Kemp pointed out, they weren’t just completing projects.

“It’s a big part of it, but the bigger part of it is Jesus,” he said.

The first Birmingham group reported 108 gospel presentations in the community, with several people requesting more information or prayer.

World Changers teams have worked in the city since 1992, making a difference in the lives of hundreds of homeowners.

“It’s neat because people see the work we do and make comments that they see that we really are changing the city,” said Hannah Berry, a senior at Judah Christian School in Champaign, Ill.

In Florence, nearly 130 World Changers participated in 11 projects June 20-25.

“Every year, I’m amazed how God matches the talents and abilities of the team members with the needs of the homeowners,” said Tim Ray, who has served as project coordinator during World Changers’ five years of work in Florence.

Ray called the projects a “team effort,” as homeowners apply through the city and are then screened and chosen for projects based on their need. Churches in Colbert-Lauderdale Baptist Association assist in providing meals while the city’s board of education allows students to stay in schools.

“Our goal in Florence is to continue this project as long as the Lord wants us to continue to do so. We consider this an indefinite endeavor,” Ray said.

In Huntsville, 270 World Changers worked on-site from June 25–July 2, while Anniston will host 170 participants July 18–23.

Students often say the World Changers experience changes them as much as it changes the face of the city in which they serve.

Allison Leflie, a first-time participant from First Baptist Church in Woodlawn, Tenn., acknowledged she wasn’t fully looking forward to the week in Birmingham but when she saw the difference her team was making, it changed her attitude.

“I’m going to have to change my whole lifestyle. It’s going to be hard but it’s worth it,” Leflie said.

Although World Changers is primarily for students, they aren’t the only ones affected by the outreach, said Derrick Cronk, the high school director for First Baptist Woodlawn who served as a chaperone for the group.

“When you serve others and are being obedient, it’s always a blessing.... I would encourage even adults to get involved in (World Changers),” Cronk said. “If they’ve never experienced it, it’s a blessing. If they get involved, they’ll never quit.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Searcy is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist. For more information on World Changers, visit www.world-changers.net.)
7/22/2011 8:24:00 AM by Courtney Searcy, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Youth groups aid tornado-battered county

July 22 2011 by Gary Hardin, Baptist Press

CROPWELL, Ala. — An Alabama-based youth ministry — helping St. Clair County to come “storming back” from the April 27 tornado that destroyed 300 homes and took 13 lives — organized 18 rebuilding projects in June involving dozens of youth groups.

But youth weren’t the only ones involved in the disaster relief effort in the county’s Shoal Creek Valley community, said Jeff Huey, director of Extreme Ministries, an organization based in Cropwell, Ala., that assists churches in sharing the gospel through drama, praise and worship, evangelism, discipleship and construction projects.

Huey, an Alabama Baptist disaster relief volunteer, contacted state convention leaders to see if disaster relief feeding units could prepare meals for the youth. While the young people replaced roofs, built wheelchair ramps and even started rebuilding some homes from the ground up, six disaster relief volunteers from Morgan Baptist Association provided them with three meals a day the first week of the June 5-25 initiative.

More than 70 youth from Bethel Baptist Church in Odenville, Ala., made up the bulk of the volunteers that week.

BP photo/The Alabama Baptist

Youth from Bethel Baptist Church in Odenville, Ala., prepare to lift a newly constructed wall into place as part of a tornado recovery effort in St. Clair County, Ala.

A year ago, “we didn’t know ... where we would go (for a youth missions trip), but once the disaster in St. Clair County came, we knew we had a focus,” youth minister Brad Tollison said.

The disaster also changed the plans of the youth group at Crestway Baptist Church in Birmingham.

“Our youth were scheduled to go to Chattanooga on a fun trip. But the youth themselves chose to work this week close to home,” said Bill Ezelle, an adult worker who accompanied the youth.

Maria Wall, another Crestway youth worker, said, “I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if we used all this money to go on a fun, out-of-town trip when there was so much need and heartache in our own area.”

Disaster relief feeding units from Limestone and Tuscaloosa Baptist associations in Alabama were scheduled to prepare meals for the second and third weeks of the project.

Coosa River and St. Clair Baptist associations were providing shower units.

The youth began each day with breakfast and a devotion before heading to the job sites. After showering and eating dinner, they attended a nightly praise and worship service. They took their meals and bedded down in Ragland High School’s lunchroom and gym.

“It’s really special having the school available, and their kitchen facilities are first-class,” said Tom Bennich, a member of First Baptist Church in Hartselle, Ala., one of Morgan association’s disaster relief leaders.

As the youth lined up for breakfast and dinner, the volunteers talked with them, learning many of their names during the course of the week. After eating, many youth thanked and hugged each cook.

The youth were on pace to accomplish even more than Huey first envisioned. “Our rebuild projects are going much better than expected,” Huey said in mid-June. “We have finished three of the nine original projects and have added nine more new ones.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hardin is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.)
7/22/2011 8:18:00 AM by Gary Hardin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pa. debates hunting on Sabbath

July 22 2011 by Donald Gilliland, Religion News Service

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Two of the most influential forces in conservative lobbying are poised to go head-to-head this fall over an issue that some Pennsylvania lawmakers dread might be one of the most difficult of the session.

It’s the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau vs. the National Rifle Association in a title bout over the legalization of hunting on Sunday.

The Farm Bureau is the defending champion of one of the last remaining blue laws that forbids hunting of most game species on the Lord’s designated day of rest.

Apart from the religious justification for the ban, Farm Bureau members also claim they want one day free of hunters traipsing across their property.

Hikers and bird-watchers have joined the farmers, saying they want one day a week of bullet-free passage through Pennsylvania. And some sportsmen also support the ban, saying the wild critters they stalk need a day of rest as well.

Challenging that position is the Sunday Hunting Coalition, led by the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation with help from a diverse collection of national outdoor interests.

The economic benefit of extending hunting to Sunday would be significant, they say. In an age when most hunters are limited to the weekend to pursue their sport, the change would effectively double the value — not the price — of their license.

Advocates say the change might also prompt hunters who have quit for lack of time to return to the sport, it might draw more hunters from outside the state, and it might spur interest in hunting among young people.

The corresponding increase in hunting activity, they say, would have direct and indirect economic impacts totaling more than 8,000 jobs and $764 million in Pennsylvania.

They also say the underpinnings of the blue law are wormy with age and irrelevance — one of the last relics of colonial nanny-state dogma.

Almost every other blue law has fallen: Pennsylvanians can shop on Sunday, drink and gamble on Sunday, or buy a motorcycle on Sunday. But you can’t hunt (or buy a vehicle). The challenge is not new, but it has newfound traction this year.

The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs has come out in support of dropping the ban on Sunday hunting. The state Game Commission for the first time weighed in with a 4-3 vote in favor of the change.

State Rep. John Evans, the Republican chairman of the House Game & Fisheries Committee, was long opposed to the idea but has changed his mind.

“I was presented with the facts,” Evans said. “From an economic standpoint, it’s a real shot in the arm for the Pennsylvania economy, and when we’re coming out of a recession, these types of opportunities need to be seized.”

“Folks who argue against it generally are believers in the blue laws established years ago” said Evans, “but — you know — we have changed as a society.”

“If you don’t want Sunday hunting on your land,” he said, “all you have to do is post your land ‘No Sunday Hunting.’ It’s that simple. They really want to put their wishes out there for everybody to abide by.” Until now, the Farm Bureau has made sure any Sunday hunting proposal was basically dead on arrival. With more than 53,000 members across the state, the Farm Bureau is a voice that must be minded by rural legislators.

The Sunday hunting issue is “near and dear to the hearts of our farmers, who overwhelmingly oppose it,” said Mark O’Neill, spokesman for the Farm Bureau.

But it’s also a top issue of the Sunday Hunting Coalition, and O’Neill claimed there are “interests outside Pennsylvania with money coming in and pushing this. They are targeting Pennsylvania.”

That’s only partially true, said Jake McGuigan, director of state affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation — the NRA’s partner in the Sunday Hunting Coalition.

“Pennsylvania is a major priority for us this year,” he acknowledged, but the group hardly represents “outside interests.” Every member of the Sunday Hunting Coalition has significant membership inside Pennsylvania: the NRA alone has some 400,000 Pennsylvanians on its rolls.

The vice chair of Evans’ committee, state Rep. Todd Rock, isn’t on board with the proposal nor are other Republicans on the committee but says he is taking a “wait-and-see” stance for now.

“I had six local farmers come into my office together,” Rock said, “and they said they would post their land” if the measure passed. “They opposed it for religious reasons and others.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Gilliland writes for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa.)
7/22/2011 8:15:00 AM by Donald Gilliland, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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