July 2011

Land, Wallis, 1-on-1, discuss nat’l debt

July 15 2011 by Whitney Jones, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Richard Land and Jim Wallis discuss the national debt and possible solutions in a new online video tackling military spending, taxes, welfare programs and entitlements.

Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, agreed in the video on Bloggingheads.tv that the national debt, which has reached more than $14 trillion, is a moral issue. But they differed on how to solve it.

Bloggingheads.tv is a website filled with split-screen video entries of two people from remote locations dialoguing about the issues of the day — also known as “diavlogs.” Wallis, who is part of an effort called the Circle of Protection that aims to preserve government programs for the poor, called for cuts in military spending and higher taxes for the rich.

“Half the deficit is because of tax cuts for the wealthy and two wars financed off the books,” Wallis said.

Land said entitlements are one of the major reasons for the deficit, stating that $700 billion was spent in 2010 on welfare and aid programs. Absent fathers and single parenthood, he said, are the main cause of poverty. Getting rid of no-fault divorce laws, he said, “would help.”

Richard Land and Jim Wallis’ video discusses the national debt and possible solutions.

“Single parenthood is the largest cause of poverty in the United States,” Land said. “Children who grow up with two parents have enormous advantages in our culture and unfortunately they are now a minority.”

Wallis interrupted to remind Land, “You and I are both for marriage.”

Land continued to speak on the importance of parenthood: “It’s a moral and an economic issue, Jim — $700 billion dollars a year in means-tested welfare services mainly to replace absent fathers and what they would provide for their families.”

Land said entitlements “are at an unsustainable level” and are another large part of the reason for the deficit.

“We have one-size fits all entitlements and we can no longer afford those,” Land said. “We’re going to have to find a way to — I don’t know whether you want to call it means test or whether you want to call it taxing the benefits of those who are wealthier — but people who have other retirement that they’ve gotten through their companies or through IRAs, people who have other retirement income are going to have to get less from Social Security.”

Both men agreed waste must be cut from spending. Wallis called out the Pentagon as “the biggest waste” when it comes to spending, while Land challenged all government departments to examine and reduce their budgets.

“There’s no budget that’s ever been conceived that can’t take a five percent across-the-board cut,” Land said. “I guarantee you there’s five percent waste in every program that the government is using, and we can start by a five percent cut ... and I believe they could do so without any serious problem in delivery.”

Wallis agreed that entitlements needed to be addressed and proposed raising Social Security taxes on the wealthy. He also pointed to mortgage tax deductions for the wealthy as a potential source of revenue.

“$8.5 billion in low-income housing is on the cutting block,” Wallis said. “$8.4 billion — same amount of money — is being kept for mortgage deductions on second vacation homes for the wealthy. That’s a choice. What choice should we make there?”

Land said he “certainly would be against” mortgage tax deductions for second vacation homes.

While Congress continues to debate over how to solve the national debt crisis, Land and Wallis agree that something must be done soon to stop the government’s borrowing trend. “We’re borrowing 42 cents of every dollar that our federal government spends,” Land said. “We’re stealing our children and our grandchildren’s future by that level of borrowing.... They’ll spend most of their productive lives paying off our debts unless we get this debt monster under control and get federal spending under control and do so quickly.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Jones is a student at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and an intern with Baptist Press. The video of Richard Land and Jim Wallis can be found at http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/37169.)
7/15/2011 7:38:00 AM by Whitney Jones, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

NASCAR fans get FindItHere.com intro

July 15 2011 by Baptist Press

SOUTH BOSTON, Va. — Beyond the celebration on the track when Lee Pulliam won the FindItHere.com* NASCAR Whelen Late Model 200, there was rejoicing in heaven when three teenage girls were led to Christ that same night.

The SBC of Virginia (SBCV) sponsored the July 1 race at South Boston Speedway. The speedway’s annual Fourth of July holiday weekend is a fan favorite and actually features three races (Pure Stock 50, Limited 100, Whelen Late Model 200) and fireworks afterward. It was more than a one-time outreach, but part of a vision for churches to share Christ with thousands of race fans and continue the “God’s Plan for Sharing” (GPS) statewide evangelistic effort begun in 2010.

Church planter/pastor Andy Ferguson of Brookneal, Va., tells drivers to “Start your engines!” during the FindItHere.com NASCAR race events July 1 at the South Boston Speedway.

Jack Noble, the SBCV church health strategist for the region who developed a plan to provide churches with an avenue of outreach not just for one race night but for a number of races throughout the season, noted, “Good evangelistic opportunities are not just one-day events.

“Good evangelistic events take days of preparation and follow-up,” Noble said. “That is what we did by distributing FindItHere.com logo items at the four races that preceeded the big day. Our newly ‘logo-ed’ trailer was a magnet that drew hundreds of people who wondered what FindItHere.com was all about. Then we enthusiastically shared the truth.” More than 60 volunteers from 11 churches stood just inside the speedway’s gates before the race personally to welcome the thousands of fans. They asked attendees if they wanted to register to win a free flat-screen TV. Upon registering, the person would hear a three-minute gospel presentation.

Jackie Carver, pastor of Palestine Baptist Church in Moneta, trained his volunteers personally — and then personally led three girls to Christ.

Carver noted the simplicity of an outreach for “faithful service” that led to the girls’ prayer to turn to Christ. “God used me to be a light in someone’s life that otherwise I would never meet,” the pastor said.

David Rathel, pastor of Fork Baptist Church in Scottsburg, cited two key benefits from the SBCV initiative. “First, it gave churches a chance to show the people in the community that we love them and that we are interested in ministering to them. I think many who came to the race were surprised that we were willing to spend our time serving them on a July 4th weekend.

Using an Evangecube as one avenue of witness at the South Boston Speedway, volunteers and SBC of Virginia staff interact with fans at the FindItHere.com NASCAR race events July 1.

“Second, it gave people in our churches opportunities to share the gospel. This was the first time that many of the people in my church have ever participated in a gospel-sharing event like this. I was impressed by their willingness to boldly approach people and share. I’m excited that they’ve now had an opportunity to get experience in personal evangelism, and I hope their boldness infects all of our church family.”

Jack Stewart, pastor of Grace Southern Baptist Church in Virgilina, gave the opening invocation for the race. He was among SBCV volunteers who took part in parts of the race weekend, waving the green flag, presenting the winning trophies, riding in the pace car, manning the children’s area and preparing FindItHere.com funnel cakes.

“The preparation of working four races before the big event and the commitment to follow up set the tone for a great day of evangelism,” Noble said. “The spiritual tone was also increased when volunteers arrived the day of the event and were each asked to take a prayer lap around the facility.”

Brandon Pickett, director of media services for the SBC of Virginia, worked with the track and area media on coverage of the race.

“It was amazing how the track and community embraced this race and the theme of FindItHere.com. Between the track announcer and the drivers, the name FindItHere.com was spoken about every 10 minutes. On top of that, I was invited to talk about the website on the radio on and off throughout all three races totaling about 30 minutes of air time.”

Cathy Rice, general manager of South Boston Speedway and a member of an SBCV church, was thrilled not only with the turnout but how the community embraced the race theme.

“So many people came to me and said that this was a true blessing,” Rice said. “God was with us all night and we are looking forward to next year’s FindItHere.com (race) already.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Reported by the staff of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia convention.)

*Findithere.com is different than the three-year emphasis by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina known as Find It Here (finditherenc.org). This three-year emphasis draws attention to evangelism, discipleship and missions.

7/15/2011 7:29:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Gridiron Gospel opens doors in Portugal

July 14 2011 by Trent Parker, Baptist Press

LISBON, Portugal — The bright Portuguese sun illuminated the makeshift football field. In the distance, Atlantic waves beat the shore. Players for the Lisbon Crusaders took the field for their pre-game routines, which include, among other things, marking the field’s yard lines with sand.

The football field was only a converted soccer pitch, and the crowd only consisted of a few friends and family members. But for Emanuel and his Crusader teammates, the excitement reached NFL proportions in the moments before kickoff against the Galiza Black Towers. For Crusader player/coaches Brady Nurse and Grant Shields, the excitement was more than pre-game nerves. For them, the football team is both a competitive outlet and an incredible inroad for sharing the gospel.

“Football has been a great way for us to get into the lives of the Portuguese people,” said Nurse, an International Mission Board (IMB) missionary who has been in Portugal for four years and has played with the Crusaders for three years.

Emanuel, left, 21, talking with an unidentified Lisbon Crusaders teammate, found faith in Christ with the help of two Baptists associated with the Portuguese football team, Brady Nurse, an International Mission Board (IMB) missionary, and Grant Shields, a volunteer with the IMB’s short-term Hands On program for college students.

“It is a spiritually hard state here in Portugal,” Nurse said, noting that less than 2 percent of Portuguese have any kind of relationship with Christ. “There is a big spiritual dryness.” In spite of this, Nurse and Shields — a volunteer with the IMB’s short-term Hands On program for college students — have seen nearly 30 football players in Portugal come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

One of those players is Emanuel, 21, who has played center for the Crusaders for three years.

Like most Portuguese, he was raised in a Roman Catholic family. However, by the time Emanuel was a teenager, he had grown disillusioned. He saw the poverty around him and could not fathom why the priests kept asking for more money.

“They would (spend money on) cathedrals that were so pretty and well constructed and lined with gold,” Emanuel said, adding, “I realize now that it’s not about the place (of worship) but what you do while you are in it.”

Emanuel’s resentment toward religion grew during his college years as his life took a downward plunge. His mother battled cancer and his longtime girlfriend left him. Emanuel’s grades fell and depression set in.

“I had never talked to God during the good times (of my life), so I was ashamed to come to Him during the bad times,” Emanuel said. “I felt like I was being punished and was alone.” One day Emanuel saw a flier advertising tryouts with the Lisbon Crusaders. He enjoyed watching American football games on TV so he decided to try out. He made the team and fell in love with the sport.

The Crusader team became family for Emanuel, and his friendships with Nurse and Shields grew as their ministry to the team deepened.

“I knew Coach Grant did a (regular) Bible study, and one day he asked me to be a part of it,” Emanuel said. “I remember being surprised. It was really different (from my Catholic upbringing). The Catholics prayed to many different saints. The saints are not God, but in those (cathedrals) they were. One thing I realized with Grant was that it’s all about God and He is the only one who matters.”

Emanuel accepted Christ as his Savior and continues to meet with Shields and other members of the team for weekly Bible studies.

“He begs me to have more Bible studies,” Shields said. “He is hungry to learn.”

The Crusaders team has opened the door for Shields and Nurse to pour the gospel message into these men, among whom competition and teamwork have forged a camaraderie that makes open and honest conversation possible.

“Football has had a big role in opening my eyes,” Emanuel said. “I don’t feel empty like I did a few years ago.”

American football is steadily gaining popularity in Europe. University and community teams are being formed in many larger Portuguese cities. Currently Portugal has six teams, and Nurse hopes four new teams will be added to the league in the next few seasons.

“I did not know about football in Portugal until I saw some guys practicing in a field … ,” Nurse said. “I asked if I could join them and a few months later ended up being asked to be the head coach.”

Since then, Nurse has brought some gridiron savvy not only to the Crusaders but also the entire Portuguese league by helping organize football training camps with ex-NFL and collegiate players.

“The camps have not only been a way to increase the sport’s visibility, they have also been the greatest way to share Christ with these guys,” Nurse said. “Christian football players and churches from the States come over and teach not only football but also the gospel to these Portuguese guys.”

The Lisbon Crusaders team has been instrumental for Nurse and Shields to gain access into the lives of players who, otherwise, may have been closed to a friendship.

“Before practices (began), I spent a month here without being able to meet anybody,” Shields said. “If I could just get someone to say ‘hi’ to me, I would consider that day a success.”

Now success looks different — and not always a win on the football field, even when those come.

In the game against the Galiza Black Towers, the Crusaders quickly found themselves struggling to overcome a 14-0 deficit — a margin wider than any the Crusaders had come back from. But the Crusaders dug deep and fought back. They beat the Black Towers 38-34, keeping their hopes for the championship alive.

Nurse and Shields celebrated with the rest of the team after the game, but their hope — and now Emanuel’s too — is for something far greater than a gridiron championship.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Parker is a writer for the IMB in Europe. To learn about outreach in Europe through the International Mission Board, visit imbeurope.org.)

Related story
Uruguayan athletes share gospel in Chile
7/14/2011 3:09:00 AM by Trent Parker, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Uruguayan athletes share gospel in Chile

July 14 2011 by Tristan Taylor, Baptist Press

SANTIAGO, Chile — Lyle and Claren Dease saw their ministry come full circle when 11 young athletes from the church they started in Uruguay went on a mission trip to Chile. The Deases have served in Uruguay for 16 years with the International Mission Board (IMB).

The team of young men spent a week in Chile conducting soccer and basketball games to build relationships with Chilean children and university students. At every halftime, one of the Uruguayan volunteers stood and shared his testimony. And after each event, they made themselves available to talk about spiritual matters with those in attendance.

“It’s exciting to see young men get excited for missions,” Claren Dease said, “to see them ministering and sharing their faith like that.”

The volunteers ranged in age from 17 to 24 and included high school and college students, a teacher and a police officer. All of them are part of Iglesia Evangelica Bautista Nuevo Pacto (New Covenant Baptist Church), which the Deases helped start in the rural city of San Jose, Uruguay. Nuevo Pacto is a young congregation of mostly teenagers and young adults. The pastor, German Isnaldi, who also went on the trip, is only 29.

“This was the first time that our church had ever sponsored anything totally ‘us,’” Claren Dease said. “(The volunteers) paid all of their flight over.”

On a night halfway through their time in Chile, the Uruguayans were scheduled to play basketball with neighborhood children in a park, but only six boys showed up, each around 12 years old who had played with the volunteers earlier that week.

IMB photo by Wilson Hunter

Volunteer missionaries from Uruguay play a basketball game against Chile’s University of the Americas basketball team in Santiago, the nation’s capital. The Uruguayan Baptists wore T-shirts displaying their theme verse Colossians 3:17.

Undeterred by the small turnout, the Baptist team Uruguayans played the basketball game as planned, stopping at halftime to share a testimony. After the game, three of the Uruguayans felt led to ask three of the boys if they had any questions about the halftime message. The boys said they did, and the Uruguayans shared the plan of salvation with them.

“We couldn’t quite keep up with it” as the situation unfolded, Dease said. “One of (the volunteers) would come back and say, ‘The kid that I was with made a profession of faith.’ And the next one said, ‘The kid made a profession of faith.’ We weren’t sure if we were hearing repeated stories of the same person, but it turned out all three of them made professions of faith.”

The team gave contact information for the boys to a Chilean Baptist for follow-up. Cliff Case, an IMB missionary in Chile who hosted the volunteers, learned that one of the boys has been attending his church in Santiago, Chile’s capital city.

“I felt honored to have been used by God in this way,” said volunteer Sebastian Lema, a 23-year-old math education student who led one of the boys to Christ. “Now I realize that sharing my testimony isn’t as hard as I always thought it would be. I plan to be bolder about sharing my faith in the future.”

In addition to the athletic events in their venture to Chile this spring, the Uruguayan volunteers visited two churches, repaired a play area for a special-needs school and did one-on-one evangelism among Chilean university students in cooperation with Campus Crusade for Christ.

“They’re young so they have a lot of energy,” Case said of the Uruguayans. “They were willing to be flexible and do a lot of things that they hadn’t done before.”

Putting the trip in context, the Deases said the idea that national believers can become international missionaries is still a novel one in much of Latin America, where many nationals are more accustomed to receiving missionaries than sending them. But the Deases see evidence that more national churches are starting to catch the vision for global missions.

Nuevo Pacto is one of those churches.

Last year the Deases took seven young men from Nuevo Pacto to Forney, Texas, where they worked with First Baptist Church there in sports outreach. Earlier First Baptist had sent volunteers to Uruguay to do basketball ministry through the IMB.

“One day Scott Lyle, (First Baptist’s) missions minister, said, ‘You guys need to come to Forney and do with soccer what we’ve been coming and doing in Uruguay with basketball,’” Claren Dease recalled. “When he said it, a light bulb went on, and everybody realized it really was something that God was going to make happen for us.”

In Texas, First Baptist introduced the Uruguayans to the church’s sports ministries. The Uruguayan volunteers learned to build relationships through athletic activities and to use those events as opportunities to share the gospel.

When the Uruguayans returned home, Case, who served in Uruguay before moving to Chile, was interested to hear about their trip to Texas.

“Cliff (Case) said, ‘Sounds like y’all had a great trip to the States. Y’all need to come do that here in Chile,’” Dease recounted. “And again, it was a situation where light bulbs started going on, and now we realize that was the Lord’s leading.”

As they prepared for the Chile trip, the Deases were careful to be selective about who would go — the young volunteers would have to have a visible faith, be willing to go out of their comfort zone and be unashamed to share their testimony. Half of those who went to Chile also served on the team that traveled to Texas.

“This trip (to Chile), in comparison to what they did in the States, ... was more intense,” Dease said. “They did more in a shorter amount of time. And I think they accomplished a lot more.”

Though Nuevo Pacto members aren’t currently planning more group mission trips, two of the volunteers are involved in short-term mission projects in Alabama and Maryland this summer. Uruguayan brothers Nicolas and Cristian Almada are serving as counselors for Royal Ambassador (RA) camps sponsored by the Alabama Baptist Convention State Board of Missions. They also will participate, along with IMB missionary Lyle Dease, in a July RA mission trip to Maryland, where they will be leading Vacation Bible School.

Clearly, the Nuevo Pacto young congregation now has a vision for serving Christ in other parts of the world, IMB missionaries said.

“I just think this (trip to Chile) was the doorway that will lead to others,” Case said. “And seeing that they can work in other countries in Latin America will just feed the fire for them to go to other places also.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Taylor is an International Mission Board writer in the Americas.)

Related story
Gridiron gospel opens doors in Portugal
7/14/2011 2:51:00 AM by Tristan Taylor, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Don’t miss ‘great movement,’ Wright urges

July 13 2011 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — What God began during the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Phoenix could become “a great movement of the Lord” across North America and around the world, SBC President Bryant Wright said in a video at pray4sbc.com. (See here also.)

Wright used his post-convention video message to summarize, for the churches not at the meeting, “how God was moving in the convention.”

“If there is one thing that would be true about our convention in Phoenix, it was an overwhelming unity of focus ... on the Great Commission,” both in terms of planting churches in North America and taking the gospel to people groups around the world that have yet to hear, Wright said in the video.

The convention’s focus on North America’s lostness and the fact that 3,800 people groups overseas are “unreached and unengaged” stirred a dramatic response among messengers at the meeting, Wright said.

“God is moving powerfully in this area. If you weren’t able to be at the convention ... I really encourage you to look into this. I really encourage you to pray about this,” Wright said.

“Don’t hesitate to contact the International Mission Board (IMB) about embracing an unreached, unengaged people group, or the North American Mission Board (NAMB) about being part of a new church plant.”

Wright praised the two mission boards for working to give leadership to these initiatives to the churches.

“What is so exciting about both these areas is it will be church led; it’s not going to be led by the IMB or by NAMB,” Wright said. “These will be church-led focuses with NAMB and IMB being the facilitators, being the trainers, being the support group to enable expansion of our Great Commission calling to be fulfilled in a greater way in the years ahead.”

The commitment of more Southern Baptist churches to get involved in church planting and overseas mission seems to indicate God is working among them in a dramatic way, Wright added.

“To see the excitement about what God began in the convention in Phoenix and what can happen in churches all throughout our convention, really is something that seems to be a great movement of the Lord,” Wright said. “If you haven’t been part of this, I hope you’ll take the initiative, find out more about it. ... It could be God is eager to do a great work in your local church, a greater work than you’ve ever experienced in your congregation. I hope you won’t miss out on this opportunity.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor and senior writer Mark Kelly. Information about helping plant churches is available at namb.net. Information about taking the gospel to unreached unengaged people groups is available at imb.org.)
7/13/2011 5:56:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

In jail, inmates ask about loving attitude

July 13 2011 by Shiloh Lane, Baptist Press

SOUTHEAST ASIA — In a prison gym in Southeast Asia, a woman wearing a navy-colored head covering holds up a picture frame. Six little faces stare through the glass.

“These are my children,” she says. A grin of pride spreads across her face. She hasn’t seen them since her arrest more than a year and a half ago.

Dira Amar* lives in a cream-colored cell with 22 other women. She sleeps on a thin mattress atop a concrete slab and keeps her possessions in two cabinets above her bed.

Outside her cell, there’s a bench, a tiny garden and fishpond. Amar has rested here to read her Bible between 1 and 3 a.m. for the past year, when the inmates have finally gone to sleep and the prison grows still.

“I want it to be quiet and calm, with no one to disturb me because I want it to be only me and God,” she says. “Only at that time I feel peace.”

Amar didn’t know Christ a year and a half ago. She worked as an event coordinator for a local newspaper, helping organize events for the company and community. People admired her. She was a successful career woman in a Muslim nation while rearing six children. She had a home and her family had plenty to eat.

Then, governmental corruption ruined her life. A local official confiscated money she collected for a student exchange program and blamed her for its disappearance. She had proof of her innocence, but against the official’s power, proof meant little. She went to jail, leaving her husband and children without the income they had come to rely upon.

Sewing purses is one way Dira Amar (name changed), a former career woman imprisoned for an official’s corruption, has a meager income to help other prisoners buy personal items.

Amar’s voice falters as she talks about her sons and daughters and how their grandmother (Amar’s mother) can only feed the children cassava, a type of root eaten when families can’t afford rice.

As she lived in disgrace and imprisonment, God sent her Rick Alexander*, a Christian worker and volunteer English teacher at the jail. As Amar sat through his lectures on nouns and verbs, she noticed the kindness in his voice when he spoke to prisoners. She wondered why this man — a white foreigner — would treat Asian inmates with such respect.

God had taught him to love people, Alexander explained. Amar asked if he worked for God.

“No,” he answered. “I am only the servant.”

Amar envied Alexander’s integrity and loved the positive way he spoke. When Alexander gave her a Bible, Amar devoured its pages.

She wondered about giving up the religion of her family. How could she know the Bible in her hands spoke the truth? She prayed for God’s guidance and, one night, she felt someone wake her up. In the dark, she heard a voice.

“I love you,” the voice said. “I will not make you stand alone.”

After that night, she abandoned Islam.

She became a new person in Christ. During her “wee-hour” studies, she absorbs God’s instructions to apply them to her life. She now understands the integrity she saw in Alexander came directly from Christ. She wants the same.

Even though Amar still lives encased by cement walls, she is at peace with her prison life — one guided by biblical instruction and hope placed in Christ — compared to the one she lived as a Muslim woman with her children.

“Now, my life has become better ... every aspect of my life, and I’m proud of it,” Amar insists. “I’m proud of God. I’m proud to become a Christian. It always makes me cry. When I talk about God, it always makes me cry. I don’t know why.”

In her cell, she sits surrounded by women who have watched her change. They perch on the edges of cement slabs upon which they sleep. Some committed their crimes. Some did not.

When Amar became a Christian, she began to take care of them, dubbing some of them her “children.” To Amar, these women could never replace her husband and children, but God added them to her family. She comforts them when they feel homesick and she tells them about Jesus. When they can’t pay the jail fees for amenities such as soap and pillows, Amar assists them with the little money she earns by giving haircuts to prisoners and selling purses she sews to guards.

“How can you be like that?” they ask. “How can you be so full of love and patience and humility?”

Then, just like Alexander said to her, she explains that she is a servant of Christ, and she is learning to behave like Him. No one in her prison family has decided to follow Jesus, yet, but she prays they will.

In the prison gym, she sits with Alexander’s wife Meghan* and holds her hand. While the guards watch her closely from outside, she smiles and says she is blessed because God chose her to be His own. To her, that’s worth the loss of an old life.

“If God has to take my life, my children and my husband, I really don’t care because God knows the best thing for me,” she says.

In her mind, God’s blessings abound in the absence of her family. He gave her the Alexanders; He gave her a Bible; He gave her inmates to evangelize.

*Names changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Lane is a writer in Southeast Asia.)
7/13/2011 5:52:00 AM by Shiloh Lane, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Go ‘extra mile’ when witnessing to gay friends

July 13 2011 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Due to a negative view by the homosexual community of many Christians, believers must go the “extra mile” when witnessing to their homosexual friends and neighbors, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Bryant Wright says.

Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., made the comments in light of his June 15 meeting with a coalition of homosexual leaders and their allies at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix. Because of the media attention the meeting received, Baptist Press asked Wright for his follow-up thoughts.

The face-to-face meeting, Wright said, was fruitful.

“I think it’s always useful when we can sit down with anyone and share our faith in Christ,” Wright said. “When people are opposed to the Word of God on certain issues, we still have to trust God’s Word is true and deal with that tension.”

The hateful rhetoric of some professing believers has tarnished the reputation of other Christians, Wright said.

“There’s already that perception there, so we have to go the extra mile in showing the love of Christ while standing firm for the truthfulness of God’s Word,” Wright said. “It’s not only upholding God’s Word, but there’s always that spirit of Jesus that we want to seek to communicate. When we feel passionately that something is wrong, we are still called to love that person who is ignoring what God’s Word says. It’s not always easy to do.”

Current-day issues such as same-sex “marriage” can make such discussions difficult, Wright said. Yet if Christians maintain a loving tone, don’t argue, and stand firm on God’s Word, they’ll be in the “position God wants,” Wright said.

“We hopefully can help the person realize that ‘what you’re disagreeing with is what God’s Word says, so really your argument is with God,’“ Wright said. “We don’t want to just give our opinion, because then it’s just their opinion versus our opinion about what is right and wrong. But when we keep the focus on Scripture, then it’s just up to them — just like it is for us — to decide whether to trust Scripture and obey Scripture.”

It’s important for Christians to be ready to answer some of the more common current-day objections to historical Christianity, Wright noted.

“People say that Jesus doesn’t speak to homosexuality or gay marriage. But it couldn’t be clearer than Matthew 19:4-5,” Wright said. “He speaks very specifically there about both. Marriage is not for one man and four women, as you see in the Old Testament. Even though that was culturally accepted, it was never God’s will. It’s also not for two men or two women. It’s for one man and one woman, for life.”

The June 15 meeting was Wright’s idea; he did not have to meet with the coalition, which included representatives of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, Faith in America and Truth Wins Out. But he said he felt it was imperative to do so. The meeting was cordial the entire time.

“I was hoping they would see the love of Christ and recognize that, yes, we’re going to have a different viewpoint but it is really related to the authority of God’s Word,” he said. “They have decided to have a different authority.”

Toward that end, Wright said, “It’s important for Christians to be in dialogue with homosexual friends.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)
7/13/2011 5:49:00 AM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

World’s 196th country gives thanks to God

July 12 2011 by Charles Braddix & Zoe Allen, Baptist Press

JUBA, South Sudan — After enduring two decades of warfare and the deaths of 2 million people, the Republic of South Sudan saw its day of independence July 9.

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Juba, the new nation’s capital, as they heard their president, Salva Kiir, declare the southern region of Sudan free and independent of the north.

South Sudan’s official declaration of independence was read out at 1:25 p.m., followed by Kiir being sworn in as the new nation’s president.

Photo by Charles Braddix

On independence day, members of Nuru Baptist Church, Juba’s only Baptist church, sing in celebration over their country’s independence.

“Never again shall South Sudanese be oppressed for their political beliefs,” Kiir said. “Never again shall our people be discriminated (against) on account of race or religion. Never again shall we roam the world as sojourners and refugees.”

The division between the north and the south is sharp. The north is arid, Arab and Muslim, while the south has many varieties of vegetation, is black African and is predominantly Christian and animistic.

“We have reclaimed our permanent home given to us by God as our birthright,” Kiir said. “As we bask in the glory of nationhood, I call upon all South Sudanese to put the long and sad history of war, hardship and loss behind them and open a new chapter of peace and reconciliation in our lives.”

With elaborate ceremony, the flag of Sudan was lowered and the new flag of South Sudan was raised. South Sudan is now the world’s newest nation, raising the global number to 196, and the African continent’s 54th nation-state.

Among the many dignitaries on hand Saturday were former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who played a key role in the 2005 peace agreement to end Sudan’s civil war, and Susan Rice, the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations.

“Independence is not a gift that you were given,” Rice said. “Independence is a prize that you have won.”

The official ceremonies began with the singing of the country’s new national anthem. “Oh God, we praise and glorify you for your grace on South Sudan,” the opening lines say. In preparation for South Sudan’s independence, government officials urged citizens to attend churches and other houses of worship to pray for peace and thank God for their newfound freedom. Many churches held special services Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Nuru Baptist Church, the only Baptist church in Juba, held community services on Saturday to celebrate independence day, taking opportunity to share the gospel with visitors. The congregation played drums, sang and danced in traditional African worship. Many waved flags as they danced and sang. A feeling of jubilation filled the air.

One community leader, specially invited to the event, not only thanked God for the country’s independence, guaranteeing religious freedom, but also for establishment of the church in the community. “Your presence here is a benefit and a blessing to our area,” he said.

“Let us praise God that He has given us our freedom,” said Sworo Elikana, a pastor of the church. “We must rejoice!”

The service focused on the theme “Heal the Brokenhearted and Set the Captives Free,” from Isaiah 61.

“The passage says we must bring good news to the poor,” Elikana said. “We have been poor.”

The U.N. Security Council continues working to stabilize several areas in Sudan and South Sudan; however, U.N. troops assigned to Sudan since 2005 are being removed by Sudan President Omar Al-Bashir, despite disapproval from the U.S. The troops are expected to remain in the Darfur region and to occupy South Sudan during the early years of independence.

Rice said in a speech July 7 the U.S. was “extremely concerned by the government’s decision to compel the departure of the U.N. mission in Sudan from Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states and elsewhere in the north.”

President Bashir, who spoke favorably of the new country’s efforts during the ceremonies, must now work with President Kiir to divide oil revenue, set borders, apportion responsibility for Sudan’s $38 billion foreign debt and decide which country the oil-rich border states belong to.

One controversial state is Abyei, located just north of the proposed border. Abyei has long been hotly disputed because of oil in the region, but recent media reports say oil reserves are low and conflicts have become ethnic.

Photo by Charles Braddix

This young South Sudanese man celebrates the day of independence from Sudan.

In May northern troops violently annexed Abyei in overwhelming numbers, forcing nearly 100,000 southern Sudanese to flee; however, a recent deal was made to pull out northern troops and allow Ethiopian soldiers to serve as U.N. peacekeepers for six months in the region.

During the July 9 gathering, Simon Gatluaklim, another pastor at Nuru Baptist Church, asked for special prayers for Abyei, for believers there and for the state to be joined with the south.

Fighting also broke out in Kadugli, the capital of Southern Kordofan, a key oil state bordering South Sudan and Abyei that has a large population of southern sympathizers. Thousands have fled the state to escape killings and air strikes by the northern army.

Despite ongoing reports of conflict initiated from the north, President Bashir may soon realize the secession’s benefits for Sudan. U.S. President Barack Obama has offered to remove Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, enabling it to use the World Bank and restore diplomatic ties.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Braddix and Allen are members of the International Mission Board’s global communication team.)

Related story
South Sudan celebrates independence
7/12/2011 9:40:00 AM by Charles Braddix & Zoe Allen, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Volunteers help makeover hospital

July 12 2011 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

SANYATI, Zimbabwe — Volunteers are digging into the renovation of the historic Sanyati Baptist Hospital so new generations of Zimbabweans can experience for themselves the love of the Great Physician.

Many more teams, however, will be needed to complete the ambitious five-year project.

A 17-member team, mostly of Kentuckians, launched the renovation in May, replacing worn trusses and metal roofing on the hospital’s pharmacy and medical records warehouse. They were followed by 11 volunteers from Tennessee and Florida. A four-member team from Georgia is on the ground at Sanyati for the first two weeks of July, said project director Peter Sierson of Pleasant Heights Baptist Church in Columbia, Tenn.

As many as 60 teams will be needed over the next five years to complete the project, which is being conducted in partnership with the Baptist Global Response relief and development organization.

The first team of volunteers tore into the roofing work — an act of faith, considering the roofing supplies hadn’t arrived yet, said Mark Byler, a physician from Kansas City, Mo., who serves at Sanyati.

“With only four workdays — and no roofing materials — the scene looked challenging, but this group was up for the task,” Byler reported. “By faith, they began tearing off the leaky, rusted, metal roofing sheets and piling them in a nearby storage facility. This revealed some very termite-ridden trusses that had to be replaced, as they literally just crumbled to the ground. The new roofing material was on the way — maybe.”

By the end of the second day, however, the roofing material arrived and the team spent four hours unloading the heavy steel sheets by the light of the moon and a pickup truck, Byler said. “What seemed like only hours later, on day 3, the new gleaming-white roofing was in place and skillfully being fastened down,” he added.

Other team members spread out through the hospital, crawling up in the ceiling spaces to trace out old wiring systems, Byler said. They ran new wiring for a solar power system that provides electricity for X-ray and ultrasound equipment, the labor and delivery area, the operating room, and immunization and lab refrigerators.

BGR photo

Seth Mishne fastens down new sheets of metal roofing at the 60-year-old Sanyati Baptist Hopital in Zimbabwe, currently the focus of an “extreme makeover” volunteer effort. See video.

One team member, Tina Weitkamp, a clinical nursing instructor at the University of Cincinnati, spent time teaching nurses and the nursing students about techniques in neonatal resuscitation and how to help newborns in distress, Byler noted. The volunteers finished up their week touching up, applying cement and finishing repairs on hospital equipment.

Texas volunteers Gerald and Bobby Thornton served as on-site project coordinators from Feb. 1 to May 18. Tennessean Don Smith, who recently retired after 22 years as a project manager in hospital construction, followed the Thorntons and plans to serve on site through August.

The five-year “extreme makeover” plan will greatly extend Sanyati’s renowned 60-year history of meeting both physical and spiritual needs, Byler said. The hospital treats an average of 35,000 outpatients and 1,800 inpatients a year. The staff performs about 1,000 surgeries and delivers more than 2,000 babies each year. Southern Baptist missionary physician Archie G. Dunaway Jr. was killed at Sanyati in 1978 by guerrillas fighting against the government of what was then Rhodesia.

Byler described the volunteers as “generous, hard-working, dedicated men and women (who) did more than just put up roof and wires; they ministered to people they’d never met before in many ways.”

“They shared words of encouragement and prayers with people of the community and patients. They shared devotions with the staff in the morning. They shared a meal at a local village of believers. They shared the Word of God at two different local churches.

“They unselfishly shared their skills and hearts in a way that will last long after the new ceilings start to fade and leak,” Byler added. “God’s love, shown in this practical way, is making an impact at Sanyati Baptist Hospital.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly is senior writer and an assistant editor for Baptist Press. Learn more about the extreme makeover of Sanyati Baptist Hospital at www.sanyatimakeover.com. For information about volunteering, e-mail psierson@pleasantheights.com. Baptist Global Response is on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.)

Sanyati Hospital: First 'extreme makeover' volunteers from BGR on Vimeo.

7/12/2011 9:33:00 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

LifeWay acquires WORDsearch, QuickVerse

July 12 2011 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — LifeWay Christian Resources has acquired WORDsearch and QuickVerse, the Southern Baptist entity announced July 11.

“The addition of these two powerful Bible software resources is another vital step in LifeWay’s overall digital strategy to serve churches and individuals,” a LifeWay news release stated.

WORDsearch Corp., (www.WORDsearchBible.com), based in Austin, Texas, has been producing software and electronic books for the Christian market since 1987. The company offers more than 4,200 volumes of electronic books for Christian pastors, teachers and laypeople through its WORDsearch, Bible Explorer, LESSONmaker, WORDsearchToGo and InstaVerse software products.

Software by WORDsearch and QuickVerse (www.QuickVerse.com), based in Omaha, Neb., simplifies biblical research, allowing a user to view multiple reference materials including Bibles, dictionaries, commentaries and encyclopedias side-by-side on the user’s computer screen.

Additional QuickVerse software products include SermonBuilder, which provides quick access to thousands of Bible-related stories, quotes and anecdotes and various biblical language tools, sermons and stories.

“There is unprecedented growth in practically every area of digital media,” LifeWay President Thom Rainer said, “and we continue to seek opportunities to leverage these technologies in spiritually-transforming ways. By bringing the strengths of WORDsearch and QuickVerse into the LifeWay portfolio of Christ-centered resources, we offer customers a more robust collection of exciting Kingdom tools.”

“We’re thrilled to join the LifeWay family of ‘biblical solutions,’“ said Randy Beck, president of WORDsearch. “We’ve had a strategic business relationship with LifeWay for many years. This acquisition is simply a logical next step in that growing relationship.”

By acquiring the assets of WORDsearch and QuickVerse and through other digital offerings such as the launch of the new LifeWay.com, MyStudyBible.com and more than 25 mobile applications, LifeWay continues toward “strengthening its position as a leader in digital Christian media,” the news release said. In the digital publishing industry, its products and services span such areas as webcasts, church software, digital downloads, self-publishing, simulcasts, apps, events, online communities and ebooks.

“Existing users of WORDsearch and QuickVerse products will continue to enjoy high-quality, biblically-based software,” the news release added, noting that customer service contact information, (800) 888-9898 and Sales@WORDsearchBible.com, will remain the same.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Adapted from a news release from LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
7/12/2011 9:18:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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