July 2011

South Sudan celebrates independence

July 11 2011 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON — The Republic of South Sudan became the world’s newest independent country Saturday, but it celebrated with questions and threats ending.

South Sudan marked its independence with a ceremony in the capital of Juba, capping a bloody, lengthy path to freedom. The celebration followed a two-decade-long civil war between the Arab Islamic north and the mostly Christian south that ostensibly concluded with the signing of a 2005 peace agreement.

That agreement, though its implementation is still incomplete, required a referendum to determine the future status of the southern part of the country. In January of this year, nearly 99 percent of the southern Sudanese who voted in the referendum chose independence.

Questions still remain for the new state and its old country, such as: Where exactly will the border between the two be, especially regarding the region of Abyei? How will the revenues from the oil-rich south be divided? Will southern Sudanese maintain citizenship rights if they continue to live in the north?

BP file photo

The strife-ridden backdrop of independence for the Republic of South Sudan is captured in this photo of a South Sudanese woman and, in the background, a military tank. The world’s newest country gained its independence July 9.

There is also the danger of militia forces possibly backed by Khartoum fomenting unrest in South Sudan.

Despite the uncertainties, advocates for religious liberty and human rights applauded the milestone.

It was “a long time in coming” for people who “paid a tremendous price,” Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., told Baptist Press.

Southern Baptist religious freedom leader Richard Land said July 9 “will be a great day for southern Sudan and its people.”

The southern Sudanese “have suffered terrible deprivations, and hundreds of thousands have died under the brutal Khartoum regime,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). “Their 98 percent-plus vote for independence in the referendum was compelling proof of their desire to rule themselves as an independent nation.

“Freedom-loving people around the world should celebrate with the people of southern Sudan this propitious occasion,” he said, “and the world community should do everything in its power to guarantee the full independence and sovereignty of its new neighbor, the Republic of South Sudan.”

Faith McDonnell told Baptist Press her first reaction “is to be very happy for South Sudan, to almost not be able to believe that it is happening.”

“It’s just a miracle, really,” said McDonnell, director of the Church Alliance for a New Sudan at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

USCIRF Chairman Leonard Leo said it would be “a tremendously exciting day for the people of South Sudan and the world.”

In the written statement, Leo called it “a tremendous achievement for American diplomacy and the work of the international community. Dedicated, bi-partisan efforts spanning the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama and numerous sessions of Congress, as well as the tireless work of many special envoys to Sudan ... were central to achieving peace and creating” the Republic of South Sudan.

There are multiple concerns for the new country, longtime observers say. Wolf told BP he expects the southern Sudanese “are going to have a lot of problems.” The congressman, who has visited Sudan five times since 1989, said his concerns include the lack of infrastructure, the underdeveloped resources, the loss of a “whole generation” during the civil war and the continued rule of Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Yet, Wolf said, the southern Sudanese “have a lot of spirit and strong faith. So I’m pretty optimistic that they’re going to do well.”

For Christians outside South Sudan, life can be expected to be more difficult, Wolf and McDonnell told BP. Al-Bashir has said he plans to enforce Shariah law in Sudan.

“I think we are going to see our Christian brothers and sisters going through a really hard time if they are not in South Sudan,” McDonnell said.

Wolf said, “I wouldn’t want to be a Christian living in downtown Khartoum, and yet there are a number of them. (A)n amazing thing — the church is really alive” in the south and part of the north.

As independence day for South Sudan neared, al-Bashir’s military attacked regions at the border but not in the new country. Khartoum forces invaded and bombed Abyei in May, driving more than 100,000 people from their homes, the Enough Project reported July 7.

They began bombing the Nuba Mountains in the state of South Kordofan in early June, displacing more than 70,000 people, and reportedly have practiced ethnic cleansing, according to the Enough Project.

South Sudan will occupy about the lower one-third of what was formerly the largest African country in land area. The region of Abyei rests in the middle of the border between Sudan and South Sudan, and the sides have been unable to reach an agreement on how to determine its future. North and south disagree on which residents in Abyei should be able to vote in a referendum.

Christians and others in the Nuba Mountains sided with the south in the long civil war that was based largely on religious differences, with the militant Arab Islamic forces backed by Khartoum pillaging Christian, animist and moderate Muslim villages. It is estimated more than two million people in the south and central parts of Sudan died at the hands of the Khartoum-supported militia and another four million or so were displaced.

While there has been some peaceful resolution in the south, the western region of Sudan has been the scene of ongoing, ethnic cleansing for the last eight years. Khartoum military forces and Arab militias supported by the government have committed widespread atrocities against African Muslims in Darfur. The genocide has resulted in the killing of an estimated 300,000 people, as well as rampant torture, rape and kidnapping. Nearly four million people have fled their homes because of the attacks.

The U.S. State Department has designated Sudan as one of only eight “countries of particular concern,” a category reserved for the world’s worst violators of religious liberty.

USCIRF is a nine-member panel selected by the president and congressional leaders. It reports to the White House and Congress on religious freedom overseas.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
7/11/2011 8:14:00 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Deepwater Horizon saga: a ‘backdoor blessing’

July 11 2011 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

LAFITTE, La. — It’s been more than a year since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, leased by oil giant British Petroleum, exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, just 41 miles off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers and contaminating waters that are home to the state’s large fishing industry.

Once oil began washing ashore, federal officials for a season prohibited fishing in the once-prolific waters.

Remarkably, area pastors say their congregations are stable, if not thriving, as the largest marine oil spill in history became a blessing in disguise for the local economy. Still, they express concern about the spill’s potential long-term effects on the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem and human health.

“There’s definitely concern about how this is going to play out in the long run and the unknown,” said Eddie Painter, a then-commercial fisherman who now pastors Barataria Baptist Church in Lafitte. “Actually, it was a backdoor blessing for us. It provided some tremendous ministry opportunities.”

The cleanup effort allowed Painter’s church the chance to minister to the community in a unique way. On most days during the cleanup, the church delivered some 200 meals to area senior citizens and missions centers as far away as New Orleans, using excess food prepared for British Petroleum cleanup workers.

“The hours were long for the ministry,” Painter said of the church’s efforts. “It was seven days a week, 12 to 15 hours a day.”

But he and leaders of other Baptist churches along the Louisiana coast say their ministries have been blessed despite the upheaval.

“From all the reports I’m getting, everything is looking pretty good,” said Lynn Rodrigue, who leads Port Sulphur Baptist Church, where about 60 worship on Sundays. “I would say basically, now everything is back to normal. (The spill) really turned things upside down for a while.

“The giving is back to normal and the attendance is back up. I think actually the oil spill was a blessing to many people financially. I know some people who made $300,000 or $400,000 in six months.”

Fishermen were able to make money by leasing their boats to British Petroleum during cleanup efforts and, to Rodrigue’s knowledge, there were no reports of related health concerns in his congregation of more than 100. While litigation attorneys have been calling, Rodrigue said he’s had no need to respond.

Now that fishing has resumed, Rodrigue said he has talked with area fishermen who are enjoying big catches.

“They’re catching oysters. They were making like 100 sacks a day, which is really good for oysters,” he said.

At nearby Venice Baptist Church, pastor Steve McNeil reports that his small congregation of 12 worshipers includes one family of fishermen who leased two boats to British Petroleum during the cleanup and have now returned to fishing.

“He’s done well. God has blessed him before, during and after the spill,” McNeil said.

“By and large, our community benefited financially in the short term. This year appears to be a good year,” the pastor said. “The main effect was a (temporary) lifestyle change,” he said, though noting that some families have been adversely affected.

At Barataria Baptist, Painter, a bivocational pastor at the time of the spill, was preparing to resume crabbing on his boat when the explosion occurred in March 2010. He opted to hire two workers and lease his boat to haul ice during the cleanup. Painter sold his boat several weeks ago to concentrate on being a pastor and obtaining a master of divinity degree at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS).

Shortly after the spill, officials and cleanup workers descended upon the community in droves, and fishermen had to temporarily find a new livelihood.

“Our little community looked like somebody kicked over an ant hill,” Painter said. “Our mayor did a great job of getting most of our people employed with (British Petroleum).” After the spill, Barataria Baptist participated in the Unlimited Partnership New Orleans program that places NOBTS seminarians in part-time ministry positions at struggling churches, Painter said, and was able to grow its small group ministry.

Also, the church hosted British Petroleum’s hazardous materials handling classes during the cleanup operation, which allowed Painter the opportunity to open those meetings with public prayer.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Chandler is a regional reporter for the Baptist Message, official newsjournal for churches in the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
7/11/2011 8:11:00 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

First Nations kids sharpened calling to Canada

July 11 2011 by Jami Becher, Baptist Press

DUCK LAKE, Saskatchewan — After a weeklong mission trip to Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, Karla Johnson wondered aloud what would happen to the kids who had accepted Christ. There was no First Nations church to disciple them.

“God will raise somebody up,” her husband Jason replied.

“It’s us, isn’t it?” Karla realized.

The Johnsons had felt God leading them to the mission field for several years, but that trip to Saskatchewan cemented where He wanted them to serve.

“After a week of praying, we jumped in with both feet,” said Jason, who at the time was the missions pastor at First Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas. “Regardless of how it happened, we were going.”

NAMB missionary and church planter Jason Johnson, left, and an unidentified volunteer visit with Noella Sutherland at the steps of her RV where the First Nations Canadian first gave her life to Christ. See related video.

The Johnsons’ first phone call was to the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to find out how they could serve.

“They said they would love to have us, but there was no funding for the position,” Jason recounted.

The Johnsons investigated the opportunity to serve through NAMB’s Mission Service Corps (MSC) as self-funded missionaries who engage in evangelism and church planting with administrative support provided by NAMB. Ultimately, MSC became their path to the mission field in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan.

“It was scary to step away from a secure church staff position not knowing exactly where our funding would come from, but it was amazing to see the way God provided,” Johnson said.

The Johnsons started contacting family, friends and people they’d worked with in the past. Within a few months, they’d raised their support, secured a home and acquired work visas allowing them to live and work in Canada for three years. They moved to Saskatchewan last July.

“People just jumped on board to be part of our regular support,” Johnson recounted. “It’s a tremendous relief to know that you have continual, year-round (support) — not only financial but prayer support and friendship support.”

Several of the Johnsons’ supporters are churches they worked with back home in Texas. Not only are they giving but they’re also going to help the Johnsons reach First Nations communities in Saskatchewan.

Will Withers, a volunteer from a Texas Baptist Church, took his third mission trip to Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, last winter to help church planter Jason Johnson with a basketball camp for First Nations students. See related video.

Last winter, volunteers from First Baptist Church in Odessa, First Baptist Church in Buna, Calvary Baptist Church in Beaumont and First Baptist Church in Silsbee helped the Johnsons with a sports camp teaching basketball skills to Duck Lake’s youth.

“Jason is very passionate about what he’s doing, and we caught that vision,” said Clay Jones, Calvary’s minister of missions and evangelism. “We came up here and fell in love with the people and wanted to be involved in what he’s doing. The potential here is huge. There are 144 First Nations reserves in Saskatchewan and only 12 evangelical churches in the entire province.”

First Nations families in Canada are a largely unreached people group. Their traditional beliefs and experiences with being forced into Christianity have left them wary of groups coming in to share the Gospel. Johnson and his family are working to overcome such barriers by loving people and becoming part of the community.

“There’s a lot of false hope and a lot of animosity between the First Nations people and people who represent Jesus Christ,” Johnson said. But that hasn’t stopped him from making personal visits with the people as part of his outreach.

Not long ago Johnson knocked on the door of Noella Sutherland’s RV and shared the simple message of Christ’s love.

“He asked me if I was willing to accept Jesus,” Sutherland recounted. “I’ve had other people come to my door asking me to do that, and it just never felt right. And then one day these guys show up and I knew it was time. So I said yes.”

Sutherland prayed and gave her life to Jesus Christ on the steps of her RV that day. A woman who’d avoided church is now part of the core group of a new church start.

“We’re here to serve,” Johnson said. “We’re bringing the gospel through children’s ministry, sports ministries, just getting out and helping people work in their fields and cafés — whatever we can do.”

Johnson’s goal is to start churches in communities — some of them with populations of up to 2,000 — with no evangelical presence.

One of the ways the Johnsons are building trust and sharing the gospel is through sports camps. Last winter, the Johnsons, along with teams from each of their four partner churches, held basketball camps on two First Nations reserves and in the town of Duck Lake.

“The response this year has been great,” Johnson said. “The kids loved it, and we had around 100 people at our family night events at each location.” Community leaders told him to expect only 20 participants.

“We’re riding the wave from last year’s sports camps,” Johnson said. “People see us and still talk about how fun it was and how much they loved interacting with the Texans who came up to the cold Arctic to play with them.

“It’s about interaction and building foundations that will open up new opportunities for spreading the gospel.”

This year, community leaders were advocates, even publicizing the event in the schools. Johnson credited their partner churches as being a key part of the event’s success.

“There are instant rewards to having people on the field with you,” he said. “It just magnifies what we live out daily. We try to represent Christ with our lives, and to have volunteers from the United States to reinforce what we’re doing is a huge boost in this community. The productivity we get from that is exponential.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Becher is a freelance writer in Alpharetta, Ga.)
7/11/2011 8:02:00 AM by Jami Becher, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Groups seek atheist concert at Fort Bragg

July 11 2011 by Jack Jenkins, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — Three church-state activist groups criticized the Army for allowing an evangelical concert at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg but not making similar provisions for a “Rock Beyond Belief” concert for nonbelievers.

The three groups — Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina — on July 5 complained to the Secretary of the Army about events that appear to give “selective benefits” to religious groups.

Fort Bragg hosted a Christian-themed “Rock the Fort” concert last September that was sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and was touted as “evangelistic in nature,” according to the three groups.

The groups alleged that Fort Bragg chaplains promoted the event, which received “$50,000 in financial support, and $30,000 in logistical and security support” from the Army. Such actions “cannot be squared with (Army) regulations, much less with the First Amendment,” the groups said.

The letter also complained that a recent attempt to hold an atheist-themed “Rock Beyond Belief” event at Fort Bragg was not granted the same venue or the same level of financial support.

Additionally, performers — who included atheist leaders such as Richard Dawkins — were also asked to provide “statements of intent.” The event was ultimately canceled after being “crippled ... with last-minute restrictions” according to the concert website.

A news release from Americans United urged the Army to “refrain from supporting any event that promotes religion,” and to support the atheist event “to the extent that this can be done consistently with the Constitution.”

An Army spokesman said he would look into the groups’ letter but could not comment further.
7/11/2011 6:49:00 AM by Jack Jenkins, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Official tally: SBC registration 4,852

July 8 2011 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) registration secretary Jim Wells has released official registration figures for the 2011 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix.

A total of 4,852 messengers were sent by 2,158 churches from 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Only North Dakota and Rhode Island had no registered messengers.

The registered messenger count was down 56.19 percent — from 2010’s 11,075 messengers sent to Orlando by 4,466 congregations — and was the lowest-attended annual meeting in 67 years.

SBC President Bryant Wright said at the time that the quality of the meeting should not be judged on numbers alone.

“I do believe it could prove to be the most spiritually significant convention over the last 50 years,” said Wright, who was re-elected to a second one-year term during the Phoenix gathering. Wright pointed to the sluggish economy and to the travel time from most SBC churches as possible reasons for the low attendance at the sessions which gave special focus to unengaged people groups and church planting across North America.

The data from 770 messengers who provided additional information during the registration process showed that individuals 50 and older accounted for more than 68 percent of the registered attendance.

Messengers ages 18-29 accounted for 4.29 percent of the total; ages 30-34, 4.81 percent; ages 35-39, 7.14 percent; ages 40-44, 7.66 percent; ages 45-49, 7.66 percent; ages 50-54, 17.14 percent; ages 55-59, 15.32 percent; ages 60 and over, 35.97 percent.

Tennessee had the largest number of messengers, 389, at the June 14-15 meeting in the Phoenix Convention Center, accounting for 8.02 percent of the registration total. A total of 156 Tennessee Baptist congregations sent messengers.

The next four leading states in messenger count were Georgia, 360 (7.42 percent of the total) from 168 churches; Texas, 344 (7.09 percent of the total) from 155 churches; North Carolina, 336 (6.92 percent of the total) from 146 churches; and Alabama, 245 (5.05 percent of the total) from 115 churches.

Official registration numbers follow: Alaska, 13; Alabama, 245; Arkansas, 163; Arizona, 384; California, 242; Colorado, 43; Connecticut, 1; District of Columbia, 12; Delaware, 1; Florida, 242; Georgia, 360; Hawaii, 13; Iowa, 6; Idaho, 17; Illinois, 82; Indiana, 78; Kansas, 56; Kentucky, 234; Louisiana, 183; Massachusetts, 8; Maryland, 57; Maine, 1; Michigan, 27; Minnesota, 5; Missouri, 169; Mississippi, 201; Montana, 9; North Carolina, 336; Nebraska, 1; New Hampshire, 11; New Jersey, 11; New Mexico, 85; Nevada, 69; New York, 13; Ohio, 88; Oklahoma, 148; Oregon, 11; Pennsylvania, 22; Puerto Rico, 3; South Carolina, 194; South Dakota, 1; Tennessee, 389; Texas, 344; Utah, 24; Virginia, 191; Vermont, 1; Washington, 20; Wisconsin, 3; West Virginia, 22; and Wyoming, 13.     

The official number of churches from each state registering messengers: Alaska, 5; Alabama, 115; Arkansas, 72; Arizona, 112; California, 100; Colorado, 23; Connecticut, 1; District of Columbia, 2; Delaware, 1; Florida, 95; Georgia, 168; Hawaii, 7; Iowa, 4; Idaho, 8; Illinois, 43; Indiana, 36; Kansas, 25; Kentucky, 114; Louisiana, 78; Massachusetts, 3; Maryland, 28; Maine, 1; Michigan, 14; Minnesota, 3; Missouri, 80; Mississippi, 103; Montana, 5; North Carolina, 146; Nebraska, 1; New Hampshire, 1; New Jersey, 7; New Mexico, 38; Nevada, 32; New York, 7; Ohio, 43; Oklahoma, 69; Oregon, 4; Pennsylvania, 12; Puerto Rico, 2; South Carolina, 106; South Dakota, 1; Tennessee, 156; Texas, 155; Utah, 10; Virginia, 86; Vermont, 1; Washington, 12; Wisconsin, 2; West Virginia, 12; and Wyoming, 9.

By gender, 62.43 percent of the messengers were male, 37.57 percent female. By vocation, according to the data supplied by the messengers responding to the survey, 43.64 percent were senior pastors; 9.09 percent were homemakers; 11.69 percent were other church staff; 5.19 percent worked in associational missions; 4.94 percent were state convention, entity or institution staff members; 1.04 percent were seminary students; 2.47 percent were involved in North American or international missions; 1.43 percent were other denominational employees; 1.30 percent worked in evangelism; and 19.22 percent listed “other.”

For 112 of the responding messengers, or 14.55 percent of the total, the convention in Phoenix was their first SBC annual meeting; 217 had attended an SBC meeting five times or less (28.18 percent); 149 had attended six to 10 times (19.35 percent); and 292 had attended 11 or more times (37.92 percent).

In traveling to Phoenix, 73.90 percent of the messengers came by plane, 23.90 percent by car. In terms of expenditures to attend the annual meeting, 24 estimated they would be spending under $100 (3.12 percent); 30 estimated $100-299 (3.90 percent); 78 estimated $300-599 (10.13 percent); 148 estimated $600-999 (19.22 percent); 176 estimated $1,000-1,499 (22.86 percent); 195 estimated $1,500-1,999 (25.32 percent); and 119 estimated $2,000 or more (15.45 percent).

Of the 770 messengers who provided the additional information at registration, 268 said no other family members were with them in Phoenix (34.81 percent); 403 brought one family member (52.34 percent); 80 brought two to four family members (10.39 percent); and 19 brought five or more family members (2.47 percent).

Wells, who was unable to attend the Phoenix meeting because he is undergoing cancer treatments, expressed deep gratitude for those who made the registration process a success in spite of his absence.

“I think I’m the first registration secretary ever elected in absentia,” Wells joked of his re-election to serve as registration secretary at next year’s annual meeting in New Orleans.

“The process went well. I spent a lot of time on the phone and in email. I had a great team of people. John Yeats did an admirable job, and the Tellers and Credentials committees did great work. My registration people and technology team did a fabulous job.

“I’m recuperating from my fourth regimen of treatment. I was back in the hospital last week for that, and it seemed to go OK. I’m doing all right,” Wells added. “I want to thank the hundreds of people who have prayed for me. I don’t take that lightly.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor and senior writer Mark Kelly.)
7/8/2011 4:53:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Church sees joy in missions giving

July 8 2011 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Home mortgages are underwater by $60,000 or more for many members, but giving to North American missions at First Baptist Church in Carson City, Nev., is on solid footing.

The church, which runs about 85 in worship each Sunday, gave $59.85 per person in 2010 through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering — and a total of $5,087.06. Per-person giving to Annie across the Southern Baptist Convention is $14.78, according to the North American Mission Board.

“We give to Annie to support family and friends who are like family,” pastor Thomas Chandler said. “It’s purely by the grace of God that people have responded so well in an area that’s been so hard-hit by the economy.

“We give to Annie Armstrong to impact people eternally,” Chandler continued. Referencing 1 John 1:3-4, he added, “The greatest joy we know is seeing others find the same joy. It’s a joy made complete in seeing others come to find the joy in Jesus we have found.”

First Baptist’s story shows the interconnectedness of Southern Baptists, and how Southern Baptist missions commitment strengthens individuals, churches, state conventions, North American and international missions and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) at large.

Ministry to carnival workers is one way First Baptist Church in Carson City, Nev., reaches out to its community. The church provides warm clothing, kind words and the gospel message.

Chandler has a “treasure box” in his office given to him shortly after he became pastor five years ago by one of the church’s longtime members. In that box is a rolled-up piece of paper — a list of missionaries the church was praying for on their birthdays. The first name on that list: “Thomas Chandler (Jennifer), Anglo church planting, West Virginia.”

“I was blown away when I read that,” Chandler said. “Long before I came here, this church was praying for me. And when I went to seminary, I went to Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, where the associate pastor was Mike Holton, who I now know was a former member of this church. I was in his Sunday School class. He was teaching me. The ministry of this church was affecting me even then, preparing me to pastor them now.”

Puzzle pieces
Chandler said he has been “blessed by the Lord” to see “how a few pieces of the puzzle fit together of how Southern Baptists cooperate in missions, how we support missions and mobilize churches to pray, give and go.

“When I was a church planter in West Virginia, I also was a campus minister. I led one young woman to the Lord and later married her to a young man I was discipling,” Chandler recounted. “I took them on their first-ever mission trip to Utah, going door-to-door witnessing in an area that was 90 percent LDS (Mormon). It was a life-changing week for them that has had a ripple effect that continues to this day. Today, they’re serving in an ultra-sensitive position through the International Mission Board.”

While that couple and about 10,000 other missionaries are serving across North America and throughout the world, First Baptist Carson City continues to pray for them, gives to support them in God’s Kingdom work and serves like them at the local level.

First Baptist’s local outreach includes a pregnancy care center, food and other provisions for the needy, nursing home ministry, grief support and conflict resolution.

All the while, Nevada, which leads the nation in the number of foreclosures in addition to suffering amid the nation’s gambling addiction. People who used to travel to Reno or Las Vegas can now find a “gaming” establishment within an hour or two of their homes. And, as a result of decreased tourism and gambling, Nevada had a 13.9 percent unemployment rate this spring, the highest in the nation, according to Bloomberg’s Businessweek.com.

Despite the economy and the fact that several church members are government employees with an increasingly uncertain tenure, First Baptist Carson City has a longstanding commitment to giving, in part because they understand the need for and the blessing of giving to missions, Chandler said.

“I have been used by God to refine their conviction,” Chandler said. “Some people were already giving. Some folks were looking for an opportunity to be directed and taught. Teaching on tithing was strengthened, missions and the needs were explained, and they heard about a better vehicle for their giving,” he said, referring to the Annie offering. “I led the church to see the benefits of instituting a united missions offering,” the pastor continued. “We emphasize the four offerings in their seasons — Annie (Armstrong) for North American missions, state missions, world hunger and Lottie (Moon) for international missions. We emphasize missions weekly.”

Each worship service begins with a missions video.

‘Seasons the nation’
“We have tried to teach folks that you give through — not to — the Cooperative Program,” Chandler said. “It’s that channel of giving through which you support 10,000 missionaries around the world.”

First Baptist’s “Great Commission Giving” offering has been taken up weekly since 2006, Chandler said, explaining that giving weekly to missions is an idea he got from Paul Jones, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Billings, Mont.

“When we started the offering, we looked at our giving the previous five years and used those percentages as the percentages for Great Commission Giving,” Chandler said. “We found there was 15 percent going to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, for example, so Annie now gets 15 percent of Great Commission Giving.

“The vision God has placed on my heart is that we become a church that increasingly reflects God’s attributes,” Chandler said. “God is the most generous giver in the universe. He did not give us just enough grace to get by. He is not stingy with His mercy.”

Chandler’s commitment to missions giving through the SBC’s Cooperative Program (CP) is strong because he has seen it in action. It helped provide his education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. CP and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions provided him with a salary as a church planter in Michigan and West Virginia. He continues to have friends and family members who benefit from Southern Baptists’ missions giving.

“The United States is not a Christian nation,” Chandler stated. “I’ve seen a lot of surveys, and I would work out that the most generous number is that 20 percent of Americans are Christian. But even at that level, if 20 percent of your food was salt, you should be able to taste it.

“That’s it! Annie Armstrong seasons the nation,” the pastor said. “Annie Armstrong is a primary tool we have as Southern Baptists to mobilize the salt out of the shaker — evangelizing and planting churches.”

During his five years as First Baptist’s pastor, Chandler said he has focused on unifying the congregation so it can be as strong as possible as it reaches out locally, nationally and internationally.

“In these economic times, there has never been a discussion about decreasing our missions giving,” Chandler said. “We want our giving to reflect who He is. We should give in a manner that makes much of who He is and what He has done for us.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana Baptist.)
7/8/2011 4:36:00 AM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Evangelicals see declining influence in U.S.

July 8 2011 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

Are U.S. evangelicals losing their influence on America?

A poll released June 22 from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life seems to say just that, with the vast majority — 82 percent — of U.S. evangelical leaders saying their influence on the country is declining.

At the same time, their counterparts in Africa, Asia and Latin America are far more optimistic.

“There’s both a huge optimism gap and a huge influence gap in terms of the way these folks perceive things,” said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum.

Researchers surveyed more than 2,000 leaders invited to attend the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa, last year.

S. Douglas Birdsall, executive chair of the Lausanne Movement, which worked with Pew on the survey, said the U.S. pessimism is rooted in a changed culture where Billy Graham has retreated from public life and government-sponsored prayer has been banned from public schools for more than a generation.

“There was a time when there was a Ten Commandments in every classroom, there were prayers in public places,” he said. “So having gone from that position of considerable influence, even though we might actually have more influence than churches in ... other parts of the world, the sense is that it’s slipping from our hands.”

The perception of declining influence comes as the nation has become both more pluralistic and more secular. The vast majority of U.S. leaders surveyed — 92 percent — called secularism a major threat to evangelical Christianity.

Some evangelical denominations are starting to acknowledge pluralism in hopes of increasing their numbers. The Southern Baptist Convention, which drew the smallest attendance since World War II at a recent meeting in Phoenix, and is grappling with declining baptism rates, has launched a plan to diversify its leadership.

Researchers also found that evangelicals are far more pessimistic than their Global South counterparts about the current and future state of evangelicalism.

About half (53 percent ) of U.S. leaders said the state of evangelicalism is worse than it was five years ago, and nearly as many (48 percent) said they expect it to grow worse in the next five years.

Researchers found that just 18 percent of U.S. Lausanne representatives surveyed said religious leaders should stay out of political issues, compared to 78 percent who said they should express their political views.

U.S. evangelical leaders’ sense of influence and optimism contrasted sharply with leaders of the Global South in a number of ways:
  • Evangelicals in your country losing influence: U.S. 82 percent; Global South 39 percent.
  • State of evangelicalism worse today than five years ago: U.S. 53 percent, Global South 27 percent.
  • State of evangelicalism in your country will be worse in five years: U.S 48 percent; Global South 12 percent.
7/8/2011 4:30:00 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Haiti still needs help

July 7 2011 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

Dan Phillips hadn’t even been home 36 hours before another return trip was on his calendar. A year ago Memorial Day weekend Phillips went on his first mission trip, a medical mission trip to Haiti.  

When Phillips stepped off the plane he saw people everywhere living in tents and shelters, and a landscape of dirt and filth. Although at that time Haiti was already five months into recovering from the massive Jan. 12 earthquake, “it was like it happened yesterday,” Phillips said.  

Nothing, not even serving on the Vietnam evacuation team back in 1975, prepared Phillips for the poverty he saw in the Haitian villages.  

Every day for about a week Phillips, who has been in emergency medicine for 20 years and has a medical office in Roxboro, went out with the medical team to different villages. The hospital he had envisioned working in turned out to be clinics set up in tent villages, church buildings with tarps on top, or outdoor amphitheaters.  

Cathi Sander, above right, a doctor and North Carolina Baptist Men volunteer, treats a patient at a hospital in Haiti in February 2010. An earthquake hit the country January 2010. Sander learned there was no medicine to keep from causing pain while treating wounds.

They went to mountain villages and to what is considered the worst slum in the western hemisphere. The team worked among all the flies and mosquitoes and without examining rooms or labs to get blood counts and X-rays.  

Although they cared for the Haitian people as best they could with the resources they did have, Phillips said he had a hard time dealing with the fact that he couldn’t do more for the people. Some medical conditions that could have been resolved very easily back home were difficult if not impossible to treat in Haiti.  

The team saw patient after patient and treated for medical conditions such as skin diseases, high blood pressure, parasitic diseases, anemia and cared for many newborn infants. When Phillips went back last December his team treated many cases of malaria, typhoid and cholera.  

Volunteers like Phillips began arriving in Haiti immediately after the earthquake hit, with the first team of N.C. Baptist Men volunteers arriving just three days after the disaster. So far, nearly 800 volunteers have helped care for more than 90,000 patients, constructed more than 800 temporary shelters and assisted with building 21 homes.  

While volunteers are in Haiti to help meet physical needs, they are also there to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Since January 2010, North Carolina Baptist volunteers have seen more than 1,000 Haitians pray to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.  

Phillips is making another trip to Haiti this month and is looking to go again later this fall. Between trips he is helping coordinate supplies for medical teams.  

Medicines cannot be easily shipped to Haiti and many of the items teams need cannot be purchased in Haiti. “I’ve tried to be a resource for the teams going,” Phillips said.  

Family doctor Cathi Sander is another North Carolina Baptist volunteer committed to helping in Haiti. “I went because I knew God wanted me to go. But that didn’t make me feel better. I was scared to death,” she said.  

This was Sander’s first medical mission trip and her first international mission trip. She went to Haiti in early 2010 and again this past March.  

Sander was on one of the first volunteer teams to Haiti. She said the 36-48 hour shifts pushed her harder than ever before.  

One night, while working the overnight ICU shift without an interpreter, Sander found herself caring for two very sick patients. One man needed to be on a ventilator, another man suffered with chest pains.  

“That was the most intense 12 hours of my life,” she said. Sander said her prayer over and over, “wasn’t even a full prayer.” She simply prayed to God, “I can’t do this. This is all You, right?”  

Morning came, and God healed, as patients not expected to live did.  

Later that same day, Sander had to change the bandages on a 14-year-old teenager. His wounds were so severe that had Sander been able to give him medicine to put him to sleep she would have done so. Numbing his arm was all she could do.  

She spent two hours with the teenager, and he told her he was sorry for crying.  

No matter what sickness a person had, from adults to children, “the only response I got back was gratitude. It felt so unfair because they deserved better than what I had to offer,” she said.  

Sander said among the Haitian people she could, “see fear in their eyes when we told them we were leaving.”  

The Haitian people are still in desperate need of help, and N.C. Baptist Men are still sending volunteers. Visit www.baptistsonmission.org.
7/7/2011 8:04:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Campbell alum accepted into Baylor program

July 7 2011 by Campbell Communications

Campbell University alumnus Christopher Moore (’01,’05) has been accepted into Baylor University’s Baptist College and University Scholars (BCU) program, a partnership of the Baylor Graduate School and the International Association of Baptist Colleges and Universities (IABCU).

Chris and Amie Moore with daughter Clara Rose

Moore, who received his undergraduate degree and a master of divinity from Campbell, went on to obtain another master’s degree in theology from Duke Divinity School. He will pursue a Ph.D. in church history at Baylor beginning in July.

The Baylor College and University Scholars program was established to strengthen the ties among IABCU member schools by identifying promising undergraduate or graduate scholars. According to program information, BCU’s main objective is to “stem the ‘dying of the light’ by providing a continued education for bright students in a Baptist university committed to its religious identity.”

Moore, an outstanding Campbell student, graduated magna cum laude in 2001 and was named a “Graduate of Distinction” by the Campbell Divinity School in 2005. He also received the Donald B. Keyser Church History Award for the highest average in church history courses as an undergraduate. He currently serves as an adjunct instructor of religion at Campbell University and Sampson Community College and is the Minister of Education, Children and Senior Adults at Durham Memorial Baptist Church. Moore and his wife Amie, also a Campbell graduate, lived in Raleigh until their recent move to Texas. They have a daughter, Clara Rose and are expecting another girl later this year. Amie Moore recently left her position at the Biblical Recorder as circulation manager.
7/7/2011 7:54:00 AM by Campbell Communications | with 0 comments

Father’s warnings twice saved family from bombs

July 7 2011 by Norman Jameson, Associated Baptist Press

NEW BERN — Rieko Suganami Evans remembers the sky glowing strangely red behind a huge cloud and one little airplane flying out of the cloud. It was Aug. 6, 1945, and the Japanese city of Hiroshima had just been vaporized in the world’s first use of atomic energy as a weapon.

Rieko had left Hiroshima the day before after a warning call from her father — formerly an attaché from the Japanese Imperial Army to Britain who lost favor with the emperor by continually urging him to surrender.

“Get out now!” he told them.

Grabbing their bags and hurrying to the train station, Rieko’s mother and children left behind the cousins they had come to visit and headed for a safer city — Nagasaki.

Two days later her father called again with the same message. They hurried away from Nagasaki the day before it was destroyed on Aug. 9, finally convincing the emperor to surrender and end the war — and rehabilitating her father’s honor.

Sixty-six years after those bombs demonstrated the horrific destructive force of nuclear weapons any reference to Hiroshima and Nagasaki still recalls that dramatic event. And their names sound a constant warning for vigilance to all nations to avoid nuclear conflict.

Rieko, 72, is a member of First Baptist Church in New Bern.

Childhood events still burn brightly in her memory, although she was too young to understand the significance of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, or her father’s expulsion from the emperor’s inner circle. Her father, Maj. Gen. Ichiro Suganami, was an attaché in London before the war.

He maintained his intelligence connections and knew America was developing a bomb with the capacity to eradicate an entire city in an instant. He urged the emperor to surrender to avoid that fate for Japan. Instead, the emperor dismissed Suganami. But Evans is certain that friendships her father developed gained him an early warning by which he was able to make the fateful calls to his family.

Suganami failed to convince the emperor to surrender, but he gained appreciation from the Allies who evidently warned him about the pending bomb drop; and he avoided prison when General Douglas MacArthur came to oversee the occupation of Japan.

Rieko’s sister married a MacArthur aide, a Japanese-American.

While MacArthur put the emperor’s inner circle and all the highly placed military leaders in prison, he did not imprison Suganami — a distinction that bothered his wife until she died at age 104.

She felt it would have been more honorable and befitting his rank as a major general to have gone to prison.

Still, Suganami lost his high status and made a living basically as a private tutor until he died at age 66.  He already struggled for full inclusion into the inner circles because he was a Catholic Christian and did not see the emperor as a god as did the vast majority of his other subjects.

A graduate of Seijo University in Tokyo, Rieko is an American citizen, who came to Los Angeles under sponsorship of an American couple.

She had court reporter training and was very independent — unusual for a Japanese woman.   Most Japanese women who graduated from university in Japan and came to the United States to seek opportunities after the war returned to Japan to marry.

After five years in Los Angeles, Rieko passed her tests for citizenship. Even today she cheers when a Japanese airplane is shot down in WWII war movies, so confesses she must be “fully American.”

She retains a tremendous appreciation for America’s helping to rebuild the decimated cities after the war ended.

Her father’s advocacy for surrender is well known in Japanese history. But his position was not shared even by his brothers, and their disagreement is both part of Japanese history and part of discomfiting family lore.

Rieko married Joseph Evans — a “CIA master spy” who specialized during the Cold War in Soviet counterintelligence — at age 46 and moved to New Bern. Although she was young during the Second World War she retains several vivid period memories.

She remembers her father returning home from London with a suitcase full of milk chocolate bars. She also remembers that he shared them with neighbors, which she did not like one bit.

She remembers her mother and sister going into the fields and returning with an armful of potatoes; of the emperor announcing over the radio while they huddled in an underground bunker that Japan was surrendering. It was the first time most Japanese had ever heard his voice.

She remembers walking to church through the meadow with her father. Her mother and one sister never became Christian. Her father’s Bible is heavily marked and underlined.

She remembers that photographs of a man and woman together were prohibited during the war; likely to keep relationships from being used to weaken the resolve of a war captive. Her mother kept the children in the house during the anniversaries of the bombs dropping.

She remembers working in California and a customer refusing to be served by “a Japanese” person. She remembers being told so many times that an imperial military officer’s wife and children were not to cry, that when her husband of 24 years died it was four months before sobs finally broke through her reserve.

In New Bern she attended the Catholic Church for many years but had friends at First Baptist. When her husband was ill she started attending First Baptist, where many others soon befriended her, including former International Mission Board missionaries to Japan, Hershel and Elizabeth Johnson.

Rieko was baptized two years ago.

Tsunami pain
Rieko said the samurai spirit of Japan keeps them from seeking or appreciating outside help, even in times of direst need.

But if Japan can rebuild from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she is certain they can recover from the twin terrors of earthquake and tsunami that struck hard in March.

She tries to find out through personal connections how cousins and family friends are getting on after the disasters. She gets little feedback.

“They are not talking,” Rieko said. “That’s another Japanese trait. They don’t spill any bad news.”

One of Rieko’s best classmate’s sons is working near the crippled nuclear reactor. While other heroic workers volunteered for almost certainly suicidal turns to disarm the reactors and prevent holocaust, Rieko’s classmate says simply about her son, “He’s fine.”

She has visited the Pearl Harbor Memorial, where she felt “very awkward.”

While others may have noticed that she was Japanese, none could have known that her father tried his hardest to convince his emperor to surrender and avoid the nuclear holocaust that still haunts human history.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Jameson is reporting and coordinating special projects for ABP on an interim basis.)
7/7/2011 7:31:00 AM by Norman Jameson, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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