July 2014

Former Muslim shares his own Damascus Road experience

July 18 2014 by Julie Payne, The Alabama Baptist/Baptist Press

Karim Shamsi-Basha felt like his head was literally going to explode – then everything went dark.

The photojournalist, working at the time for Alabama’s Birmingham Post-Herald newspaper, was covering a church fire on April 8, 1992, when his world suddenly turned upside down.

“It was a chaotic day,” he recalled. “I felt this headache; within seconds it evolved into an explosion in my head and my eyes felt like they were going to pop out.”

The last thing Shamsi-Basha remembered from that moment was the paramedics hovering over him asking him questions. Shamsi-Basha had experienced a ruptured aneurysm in his brain. He was in a coma for about three weeks and couldn’t talk or walk for a couple of months after he opened his eyes. He subsequently experienced other lingering effects from the aneurysm such as double vision and short-term memory loss.

But despite the setbacks, he went on to make a full recovery.
 

A journey of searching

Shamsi-Basha’s final visit with his neurologist those many years ago launched him into an unexpected spiritual journey after the doctor told him few people recover from a ruptured aneurysm the way he had. “You have to find out why you survived,” the doctor told him.

It could be said that Shamsi-Basha, who grew up a Muslim, had already been on a long path of exploring religion.
 

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Photo by Neisha Fuson
Karim Shamsi-Basha is an award-winning photographer whose work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, People, Time and Newsweek among many others. Shamsi-Basha describes his journey to the Christian faith in a 2013 book.

Born and raised in Damascus, Syria, Shamsi-Basha was the youngest of four children. His mother revealed to him years later in his adulthood that she had almost aborted him while pregnant. But her friend Hanrietta, who had accompanied her to the clinic, wouldn’t allow her to go through with the procedure. Shamsi-Basha said he later learned that Hanrietta dragged his mother by her hair from the waiting room and took her back home. He was born a few months later.

He has fond memories of growing up in Damascus, particularly time spent with his father, the owner of a clothing store and also a talented poet and writer.

“I was very special for my dad,” Shamsi-Basha said. “He showered me with love.”

Shamsi-Basha had a good friend in middle school, Moneir, who was a Christian. The two friends sometimes discussed religion. These conversations about faith occasionally resulted in Shamsi-Basha going to his father with questions.

“[My dad] would say ... ‘You just go on and keep reading and keep exploring.’ Dad was very open-minded, and he encouraged me to explore and read and learn,” he recalled.

Shamsi-Basha graduated from high school and immigrated to the United States in January 1984. He met his wife, who was a Methodist, while studying at the University of Tennessee. They married and moved to Birmingham in 1989. “We were both open-minded,” he explained. “We didn’t have a problem marrying each other from different religions.”

After his aneurysm in 1992 and subsequent recovery, Shamsi-Basha decided to follow the advice of his neurologist to find out why he had survived. Some of his Christian friends advised him to read the Gospel of John, telling him that God’s love is “why we’re on this earth.”


‘Go through Jesus’

Shamsi-Basha wanted to know more about God’s love, so he began reading John and eventually read John 14:6 where it says: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”

“I didn’t want to come to the Father alone and leave my (Muslim) family,” Shamsi-Basha said, noting the concern that verse caused him. He began talking to many theologians who all had a “pretty black-and-white explanation just like the Bible: ‘If you want to go to heaven, you’ve got to go through Jesus.’”

He continued seeking to learn more about Jesus the next four years.

Bill Bangham, a veteran editor, journalist and photographer with the International Mission Board, met Shamsi-Basha at a photojournalism conference during that time and formed a friendship with him.

“He’s the real deal. ... This is not a façade – what you see is what you get,” said Bangham, who noticed Shamsi-Basha’s curiosity about Christianity early on in their friendship.

As a result of his years of searching, Shamsi-Basha had what he calls a “near-conversion” in 1996 when he asked a minister to baptize him.

“This is when I realized what God has done in my life. Everything that has happened in my life was God taking care of me,” he said. “And yet I still couldn’t call Him my Savior because I didn’t want to be saved alone without my family.”

Shamsi-Basha would later experience a series of painful events: a divorce from his wife of 16 years in 2001 and the death of his father in 2005.

“When he died, I fell apart. I became both Muslim and Christian. I was very mad at God for a couple years, but something inside kept tugging me back to Christianity,” he said. It wasn’t until a particular conversation he had with a Christian in 2008, he added, that he fully accepted Christ as his Savior.

Shamsi-Basha is a sincere, passionate person whom God has drawn to Himself, said a lay leader at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Birmingham. His name is withheld because of his ministry work in sensitive areas of the world.

Shamsi-Basha, who occasionally attends Dawson Memorial, said his salvation and conversion from Islam to Christianity was God’s doing. “All I did was obey,” he said. “Salvation is mentioned over 150 times in the Bible; it’s mentioned once in the Quran. Islam and most other religions on this earth say ‘do and don’t.’ Christianity says ‘done.’”

His story, Paul and Me: A Journey to and from the Damascus Road, from Islam to Christ, was published in 2013. The book includes parallels to the apostle Paul’s life and sections about Paul, written by several 20th century biblical scholars, in each chapter.

“The apostle Paul is one of the most influential people in the history of Christianity,” Shamsi-Basha explained in the book’s introduction. “I am a humble servant who happened to be born in the city of Damascus, where Paul had his conversion. ... Paul converted to Christianity on the Road to Damascus; I converted on the Road from Damascus – two very different stories, two very different men – the same salvation and the same Lord and Savior.”


Boldness in sharing faith

Shamsi-Basha eventually shared the news of his conversion with his Muslim family members. For the most part, the topic isn’t discussed, he said.

“I am just letting them see the light of Christ in me. And if the subject comes up, I would be happy to discuss it,” he wrote in “Paul and Me,” which includes a letter to his family at the beginning.

Since his book was published, he has shared his faith story with many churches as well as on national platforms such as “The 700 Club.”

The lay leader from Dawson Memorial Baptist Church said Shamsi-Basha is becoming more and more bold in stepping out in his faith.” He added, “We should all be those type[s] of people, stepping out and sharing our faith and being used in the realms God has placed us.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Julie Payne is a writer for The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), where this article first appeared.)

7/18/2014 11:15:55 AM by Julie Payne, The Alabama Baptist/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Southeastern serves university students in Taiwan

July 18 2014 by SEBTS Communications

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) professors Walter Strickland, special advisor to the president for diversity and instructor of theology, and Benjamin Quinn, instructor of theology and history of ideas, led five Southeastern students on a weeklong mission trip to Taipei, Taiwan.
 
The students participated on the trip to support the International Mission Board’s (IMB) ministry efforts in Taiwan.
 
This was Strickland’s first and Quinn’s second trip to Taiwan with SEBTS. Strickland sees the trip as a way to fulfill the Great Commission. “As an individual it shapes me to be a person who is Great Commission oriented,” he said.
 
Quinn said, “Much of Taiwan has never heard the story of Jesus. It is a place where we can go and share the gospel without having to look over our shoulder. This provides a huge opportunity to go and make disciples of all nations while encouraging personal formation for us and students.”

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Taipei is a large city in Taiwan, but is not large compared to other major Eastern cities such as Beijing or Hong Kong. With a population of approximately eight million people, the city has about 800,000 college and university students. This is in comparison to the 150,000 college and university students in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina area.
 
“In Taiwan, only two percent of the population is Christian but the people are very open to the Gospel,” Quinn said.
 
The team experienced the culture of Taiwan by tasting unique foods popular in the region such as eggs boiled in tea, squid on a stick and bing, a dessert made with condensed milk, crushed ice and fruit.
 
Rob Riley, a 2003 graduate from SEBTS with a Master of Divinity in International Church Planting, his wife Pam and their three children, are a dedicated IMB missionary family serving this student population.
 
Riley has served in Taiwan for five years, for a total of seven years in East Asia. He is one of The College at Southeastern’s partners for the Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies degree program where students spend a semester abroad in a strategic ministry location.
 
“I think Rob Riley is one of the best missionaries we have,” Quinn said. “He has a strategic focus towards college and university students. This is an area dense with students and at the surface does not look too different from a western city. However, when you interact with the people they have a very different worldview, and you know you are in a very different place.”
 
Quinn believes that good missionaries are marked by focusing on their callings when circumstances are challenging and the culture is difficult. They love people and have a genuine desire to learn the best way to serve.
 
As part of his ministry, Riley teaches classes on college campuses including English as a Second Language (ESL), a life skills class, an American civilization class and a “The Cosby Show” class. “The Cosby Show” class has seen the most “conversion fruit.”
 
The team visited classrooms and performed a formal, dramatized presentation of the gospel to 350 students. Ninety percent of the viewers had never heard the full story of Jesus. Then they would break up into small groups to discuss the story of creation, fall, redemption and restoration in Christ Jesus. The SEBTS students met with the Taiwanese students outside of the classroom for coffee or other activities.
 
Citarelli said, “One of the lessons God taught me is the importance of being humble and dependent upon Him to save. During my time in Taiwan, I experienced the joy and hope found in totally relying upon Him instead of my own strength or even the strengths of the members on the team.” 
 
Quinn enjoyed jamming with a local Taiwanese musician to popular American hits such as “Sweet Home Alabama.” He used this as an opportunity to ask him about Jesus and share the gospel.
 
“This area requires a lot of patience. It typically takes nine to 10 months of conversation before the students ask good questions because the way they view the world is drastically different,” Quinn added. “One way to connect with the people was by being very personal at a heart level first and then the head level second. It was helpful to begin by sharing our own story of personal brokenness and the healing that Christ offers.”
 
Strickland shared that he would highly recommend going on an international mission trip because it will help someone to fully understand the heart of Southeastern Seminary as a Great Commission seminary.
 
“The trip made me into a more mature and missional disciple of Christ by reaffirming my desire to serve overseas one day,” Citarelli said. “It gave me a better understanding and passion for the current ministry work I do in North Carolina.”

7/18/2014 11:05:33 AM by SEBTS Communications | with 0 comments



HIV specialist: God in details of case

July 18 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

God is in the details of the change in HIV status of a Mississippi baby once thought cured of the virus, pediatric HIV specialist Hannah Gay said after the virus began replicating anew in the child.

“I have learned that often the hand of God is evident in the details and even in this relapse it has been no different,” Gay told Baptist Press today (July 14) after tests revealed the virus was again growing in the child, breaking a remission of more than two years.

“For confidentiality reasons I cannot share any of those details publicly but there are many and they have helped to not just reaffirm my faith in God,” Gay said, “but to actually strengthen it.”

Gay administered a groundbreaking, aggressive antiviral drug trio to the child within 30 hours of its birth four years ago to an HIV-positive mother. Gay had always given God credit for the treatment’s success. While scientists speculated the child was cured and continued monitoring her status, Gay never assumed the child’s status would remain the same.

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Hannah Gay, the Mississippi pediatric HIV specialist whose treatment garnered an HIV-positive baby two years of remission, said the child’s relapse is surrounded by God’s blessings.


“If I ever said that I believed that God had healed this child for all time, I misspoke, because I certainly do not have the wisdom to say what God has in His plan,” Gay said. “My intent was to communicate that I had not created or discovered something magical, but that it was the work of God.”

The international scientific community took notice in March, 2013, when Gay announced the virus was no longer replicating in the baby who had received no antiviral treatment for 10 months, because the mother had failed to bring the baby to appointments at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where Gay is professor of pediatric infectious diseases.

Gay continues to monitor the child and periodically sends samples of the child’s blood to the labs of colleagues for ultrasensitive tests.

“In reality I have never understood why God chose to touch this baby and allow her to get off of medicine. I have never understood why He chose to do that here and now,” Gay said. “I have certainly never understood why God chose to involve me in this story when that is not something I would have chosen for myself. And I don’t know now why He chose to send us all along what seems to be a different path.

“But I learned many, many years ago that God is far too big for me to understand Him, but at the same time that His love for mankind is just as far beyond my comprehension,” she noted. “So I trust Him even when I don’t understand.”

The child’s latest blood tests revealed detectable levels of HIV, reversing the child’s status of more than two years in remission, Gay and researchers reported July 10 to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.

“From a more feeling standpoint it is a thoroughly bitter disappointment to know that this child is now back on medicine after we had hoped that she could stay off for a lifetime,” Gay said. “None-the-less, she has been given over two years of reprieve from medicine and currently has [the] availability of drugs that can be expected to keep her healthy throughout a long life or until a cure is discovered.”

The child’s medical history remains vital to the continued research of an HIV cure, Gay told BP.

“Thinking from a purely scientific standpoint, this outcome, though disappointing, is not disastrous. Indeed we often learn as much from failures as from successes in science, so this case remains very important to the progress of HIV cure research,” Gay said. “I look at it as if the world is working together on a puzzle that, when finished, will show us the complete picture of what ‘cure’ looks like.

“The case of the Mississippi Baby has added some huge pieces to that puzzle and likely will continue to add more in the future. I could have wished that this would be the last piece of the puzzle, at least for newborns,” she said, “but I am content in knowing that the pieces are steadily coming together and the picture will eventually become clear.”

A clinical trial testing Gay’s treatment as an HIV cure in babies may be redesigned.

“I predict that the clinical trial will proceed though perhaps with some modifications,” she said. “I am not personally involved with that particular decision making, but I do know that the NIH leadership and members of the protocol team are looking hard at all of the issues involved, and am confident that they will come to a conclusion that optimally protects the safety of study participants while giving the best chance of answering the important scientific questions that are on the table.”

Deborah Persaud, a virologist and pediatric HIV expert at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, is heading the trial as chairman of the cure committee of the International Maternal Pediatric Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trial Network.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press.)

7/18/2014 10:52:55 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Disciple-making in the home focus of September conference

July 17 2014 by C. Walter Overman, BSC Communications

The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) Disciple-Making Team will sponsor the Building Faith Filled Families Conference at Lakeview Baptist Church in Hickory Sept. 19-20. The team will focus on equipping pastors and parents to work together to build faith-filled homes that are marked by disciple-making.
 
“Faith starts at home and if the church desires to grow and build disciples, it must equip parents to make disciples at home,” said Eddie Thompson, BSC family evangelism and discipleship consultant. “We don’t want children to leave their home without having a strong emphasis on the truth of God’s Word, who they are in Christ, and how to live out their faith.”
 
According to the most recent research from the Barna Group, nearly 60 percent of 18-29 year-olds who grew up in Christian churches walk away from either their faith or from the church at some point during their first decade of adult life.

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Thompson believes an essential component of reversing that trend is for parents and pastors to work together in making disciples of today’s children and youth.
 
“We want to help the parents and the church be on the same page of discipleship,” he said. “Most parents would love to disciple their kids but many would say they don’t know how to do that.”
 
The two-day conference will feature breakout and plenary sessions plus roundtable discussions. Mark A. Holmen will be the keynote speaker. Holmen served as a pastor, consultant and a speaker for Focus on the Family. He is the author of several books including Faith Begins at Home, Impress Faith on Your Kids and Church + Home: The Proven Formula for Building Lifelong Faith.
 
Thompson said the first day of the conference would focus on equipping pastors and church staff to help parents “build strong families of faith. “If we don’t want kids to abandon the church and faith at college age, then we have to help these parents make disciples in the home. They only get one chance at this thing,” he said.
 
Day two of the conference will focus on parents and caregivers. Attendees will learn about disciple-making strategies for the home and how to overcome cultural barriers that limit discipleship opportunities in today’s families. There will be age-graded breakouts available.
 
Thompson said the biggest challenges to disciple-making in the modern home is technology and busy schedules for both parents and children. “Today’s parents are tired. Just watch young parents as they’re racing around to get their kids to all these places and events,” Thompson said. “Today’s families struggle to do so many things and faith development is too often near the bottom of the list.”
 
Given the cultural trends of young adults leaving the church, Thompson said this is an important topic for the church and parents.
 
“We can have the greatest church programs in the world, but if we don’t encourage faith at home and see discipleship among our kids it’s not going to prove very effective,” he said. “Faith has to start at home. There is just no choice about where it begins.”
 
Registration deadline is Sept. 12. Lakeview Baptist Church in Hickory will host the conference. Each day’s schedule is from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Friday’s cost is $20 per person/$25 per couple (includes lunch). Saturday’s cost is $15 per person/420 per couple (includes lunch). Visit ncbaptist.org.

7/17/2014 11:48:02 AM by C. Walter Overman, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Hobby Lobby’s Green family postpones launch of curriculum

July 17 2014 by David Van Biema, Religion News Service

Fresh off their victory in the Supreme Court, the Green family, owners of the Hobby Lobby craft chain, appear to have hit a stumbling block in one of their other projects – a potentially controversial public school elective on the Bible.
 
On Wednesday (July 16), the nonprofit led by Steve Green announced it was postponing the August introduction of the curriculum adopted by the Mustang, Okla., school district.
 
“We have operated on an aggressive timeline to deliver the curriculum for the upcoming school year,” wrote Jerry Pattengale, editor for the projected four-year high school syllabus, in a prepared statement. But “unforeseen delays” necessitated postponing the debut until January.
 
Pattengale, who has previously said he hoped to see the full curriculum introduced in thousands of schools by 2016, wrote: “We will continue to work with Mustang and other school districts that have shown interest” in the program.
 
The nonprofit Museum of the Bible, has already poured millions of dollars into developing the courses and hoped to introduce the first textbook, The Book: The Bible’s History, Narrative and Impact in Mustang, just a few miles from Hobby Lobby headquarters, when classes begin later this summer. In April, the school board voted to adopt the course.
 
Pattengale has portrayed the curriculum as a conceptually elegant, technologically spectacular primer with 550 web links; proprietary videos; and connections to the Greens’ vast collection of biblical artifacts, which they also expect to feature in a museum to be built a few blocks from the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
 
But when the Mustang school board made 220 pages of the book public, church-state experts suggested that its claims and assumptions amounted to teaching the Bible from a particular religious perspective, which the Supreme Court has banned in public schools.
 
“In its current form, sectarian bias, including the principle that the Bible is inerrant, is built into the structure,” said Mark Chancey, a religion professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
 
The book had already undergone significant revision. But Pattengale, who sits on the board governing Religion News Service, told Time magazine last month that he intended to make more changes to correct “overreaching.” It was unclear from his comments on Wednesday whether the current glitches are technical or editorial.
 
In any case, commented Chancey, “it will give them the opportunity to develop a curriculum that treats the material in a more even-handed manner.”

7/17/2014 11:39:46 AM by David Van Biema, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Sanctity of human life in China

July 17 2014 by June Cheng, WNS/Baptist Press

When two pastors – one American, one Chinese – taught on the sanctity of life at a church in northern China, women and men of all ages stood up, sobbing and praying for forgiveness.

Repentance flowed in such words as “Lord, forgive me for aborting my child; I didn’t know it was murder. Lord, forgive me for shedding innocent blood.”

For most in the room, it was the first time they had seen photos of fetal development, learned about what abortion entails and studied what the Bible says about the sanctity of life.

A middle-aged Chinese woman, eyes watering, asked a visitor, “Where do the [aborted babies] go?” She confided, “I’ve had it done before and was wondering if I’d ever see them again.”

The babies go to heaven, she was told. “Oh, that’s so good to hear,” she replied.

Abortion in China is “as common as drinking water,” as one woman put it. The official tally of 13 million babies aborted each year is by far the highest in the world.

For many, abortion is viewed as the preferred method of birth control, with ubiquitous ads on buses and billboards touting quick, cheap and pain-free abortions. Few people, including Christians, are knowledgeable about life inside the womb or the abortion procedure, a fact attributed to China’s longstanding population control policies.

Yet it’s not just the one-child policy causing women to abort. More and more, single women are aborting, stemming from the clash between the younger generation’s lax view of sex and traditional stigmas against having children out of wedlock.

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Photo description
Central Intelligence Agency China Administrative Map


In the past few years, Chinese Christians are starting to take a stand for life, both by teaching about abortion from the pulpit and working with women to find oftentimes unconventional ways to protect life. Some originally hear the pro-life message from U.S.-based ministries, some through the Internet or overseas teachings, while others are convicted through reading the Bible. From there, the message has spread to tens of thousands of churches around the country, and resulted in mothers holding giggling babies that otherwise wouldn’t be born, women saved from forced abortions and churches growing stronger as they repent and help their own.

Yet few churches in China have heard what the Bible has to say about life, according to the pro-life group China Life Alliance (CLA). And with cultural, governmental and practical roadblocks hindering their message, the Chinese pro-life movement faces monumental challenges.


China’s illegal abortion clinics

Inside a dingy illegal medical clinic in southwest China, a female doctor brags about her experience performing abortions over the course of 40 years both at a hospital and at the clinic where she makes much more money. Next to an ill-lit room lined with thin, musty cots and IV stands, the doctor says it’s a very typical operation. One girl who had eight abortions is fine, the doctor asserts.

While China’s law forbids late-term abortions, the doctor said she would do an abortion regardless of the delivery date, “even if [the baby] comes out crying.” An abortion at three months costs merely 1,000 yuan ($160) and the patient can be in and out of the clinic in two hours.

The doctor opens a locked back room where the abortions are performed. It reeks of chemicals. In one corner stands a rusting operating chair with stirrups, which the doctor quickly walks toward to toss out blood-stained tissues from her last operation, performed on an 18-year-old who was five months pregnant. Tucked between a cot and table is an illegal ultrasound machine covered with a piece of cloth, which the abortionist uses to help determine the sex of the baby, although sex-selective abortions are illegal in China since the preference for sons has skewed the country’s sex ratio.

Authorities secretly appreciate these clinics, said Mark Li*, an American who founded CLA, because they lower the official number of abortions in the country. While the government counts 13 million abortions a year, Li said the actual number with unreported abortions could be as high as 30 million.

In China sex education is not taught in school, as teachers are embarrassed to discuss it. Parents also don’t talk to their families about sex, so children learn from media, including sexually explicit Western movies, music and TV shows. As a result, a large majority of Chinese engage in premarital sex.

For unmarried girls who get pregnant, abortion often seems like the only option. Unwed mothers bring shame to the families, so parents pressure their daughters to abort. If a single woman keeps her baby, she’s without a support system and could lose her job, get kicked out of school, and have difficulty getting married in the future. Also, the child would be unable to get hukou, or household registration that allows people to go to school, travel or get a job.

Placing the child for adoption also is difficult, as the government has restricted private adoptions, leaving only a complicated and arduous legal adoption process. So for many, the only solution is to slip over to a hospital, spend two hours and 1,000 yuan and return back to normal life, or go to an illegal clinic.

Under the one-child policy, married couples often see abortion as their only choice as well. While the law has become less strictly enforced in some areas – with exemptions for ethnic minorities and parents where one is a single child – couples who have a second child are often forced to pay a fine between three and 10 times the average after-tax income in the city where they live. For those who work at government-run workplaces, having a second child leads to job loss, as it sets a bad example for the rest of society. While the government officially bans forced abortions, the practice continues in rural areas where local officials don’t understand the law.


Carrying the message to churches

Even the Chinese church, which has been growing exponentially, has kept silent about abortion. Peter Wang*, a former house church pastor who now spends his time carrying the pro-life message to churches, said he’s met pastors who have participated in abortions themselves or given money to church members to help pay for their abortions. Some pastors keep quiet because they feel that the topic is too sensitive and don’t want another excuse for the government to persecute their church.

But lately the tide is turning, as more Christians see the need for a Chinese pro-life movement. Mark Li started the Christian Life Alliance in 2010 to create a decentralized network of churches and ministries to share the pro-life message and help women keep their babies.

CLA, by linking resources from the experienced pro-life movement in America to leaders of the Chinese church, has equipped local believers to start their own ministries. The group has launched a network of safe houses for pregnant women, abortion rescue teams, a Christian legal aid ministry, a Chinese resource website and a pregnancy help center. Li said that so far about 20,000 churches have heard the pro-life message. Each church that hears the message goes on to save two to five babies a year, he added.

CLA’s on-the-ground work is being done and funded by locals like Sarah Huang (name changed), a cheerful house church leader in her 30s. After almost aborting her son in 2012, she realized the importance of protecting life and started working for CLA. Since then she’s started her own one-woman ministry that has saved several dozen babies.

In a typical afternoon, Huang’s two cell phones ring continuously from mothers needing her help: “What do I do about my second baby?” “I’m pregnant and I don’t have money to take care of this child.” “The officials are forcing me to have an abortion, can you help?”

Most calls deal with one-child policy problems, and Huang assertively douses the fires by challenging churches to help families pay the fine, find safe houses to keep the pregnant woman away from the pressures of relatives, or threaten to report family-planning officials who continue to practice forced abortion. For those who still can’t pay the exorbitant fines, families can have the baby and then buy hukou registration for their child in the black market for a fraction of the official price.

Throughout the sprawling house church networks, leaders are rising up independently of any overseas ministries. Jonny Fan, a 27-year-old at the 500-member Early Rain Reformed Church in Chengdu, saw images of abortion on a blog in 2012 and felt convicted about China’s high abortion rate. For the past three years, Fan and other church members have distributed brochures urging mothers not to abort on June 1, which is Children’s Day. Using his background in marketing, Fan created polished pamphlets explaining the scope of abortion in China, the hope found in the gospel, and contact information for his church. Last year, he expanded his campaign to include bus ads, and authorities arrested him and a few others for printing unapproved material. This year, Fan printed 50,000 fliers for his church to distribute, and on church member was beaten by police officers for passing out the fliers.

At Early Rain, the focus on protecting life is noticeable in the number of families sitting in the service with two children. Fan said that most of the second children don’t have hukou, and they aren’t sure yet what they will do in the future. Besides buying hukou, families also can wait until the national census, when officials will sometimes register children for free to make their own job easier. One upside is that Early Rain has its own private Christian school and seminary, so the lack of hukou wouldn’t stop them from getting an education.

During the rest of the year, Fan leads a pro-life small group that focuses on educating church members about abortion and has expanded into adoption care. Last year, one church member distributing fliers outside a hospital convinced a young woman to keep her baby. Fan connected her with a family who was willing to adopt the child privately, and he realized this would be the next big need in his ministry.

His June 1 campaign has inspired others to use the day to talk about abortion. This year Peters and Wang started a month-long campaign ending June 1 to train church leaders to spread the word about abortion within their church networks. Wang estimated that about 8,200 pastors preached about abortion in their churches this year.

Fan said that while others have approached him asking about pro-life work, he’s not an expert, he’s just a Christian acting on his convictions.

“I do this because I see China’s rate of abortion is growing too fast; it’s frightening,” Fan said. “This is what I believe: We cannot murder. But Chinese people have sinned in this way. I don’t want to let the next generation live in an environment like this.”

*Name changed

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adapted from WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine [www.worldmag.com]. Used by permission.)

7/17/2014 11:23:09 AM by June Cheng, WNS/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



FBC Matthews calls Clay Smith

July 17 2014 by Press reports

The First Baptist Church (FBC) of Matthews voted unanimously July 13 to call Clay Smith as the church’s senior pastor.
 
Smith, 35, currently serves as minister of adults at Shandon Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C. Dick Lincoln, Shandon’s senior pastor, believes the Matthews congregation is “in for a treat.”

 
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Clay Smith

“Clay is bright, outgoing, energetic and full of good ideas,” he said. “He is a top-notch teacher who also knows and understands the work of the church in the 21st century.”
 
Sue Morrow, chair of the senior pastor search team said, “Clay is a young, dynamic minister who has a heart for evangelism and a desire to lead God’s people in making a positive impact in other’s lives. It was thrilling, yet humbling, to see the Lord’s hand clearly at work as He brought Clay to us.”
 
The son of a pastor, Smith has 14 years of ministry experience.
 
He said his primary goal as a pastor is to make disciples for Jesus Christ and equip them to share the gospel.
 
“I am convinced that, as Christians, we should ‘do church’ based on an Acts 1:8 model,” he said. “We should be concerned for our neighbors, whether they are across the street or around the world. And from that flows mission trips, strategic partnerships, community outreach – all opportunities to help people come to Christ as we grow in Him.
 
“I am excited about the opportunity for an intentional sharing of ministry that emphasizes the size of the impact a church makes in its community more than just the size of the church.”
 
Smith previously served at Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter, S.C., and Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.
 
A native of Greenville, S.C., he is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
 
He will begin his ministry at FBC Matthews on Aug. 10. Smith and his wife Terrica have three daughters: Madison, Molly and Miller.

7/17/2014 11:12:47 AM by Press reports | with 1 comments



Weekend celebration marks Kennedy Home’s centennial

July 17 2014 by Blake Ragsdale, BCH Communications

A century of history and memories, shared by those who call this special place “home,” was celebrated at Kennedy Home on July 5-6 for its 100th anniversary. The “Centennial Celebration” saw the Kinston-based campus filled with faces from both past and present as all came together to pay tribute to Baptist Children’s Homes’ (BCH) second oldest location.
 
Dubbed the “Star of the East” by BCH president Michael C. Blackwell, Kennedy Home’s sprawling grounds pulsated with activity throughout a commemorative weekend of live music, free food, family games, worship, and most importantly, the sound of laughter.
 
“At the 75th anniversary in 1989, I promised that we would orchestrate a major celebration at the 100th,” recalls Blackwell. “I cannot imagine a more fitting anniversary event. At its core, the celebration was about family, and we were reminded throughout the weekend just how far the branches of our family tree extend.”
 

For the Centennial Celebration’s public festival July 5, Kennedy Home alumni from multiple generations were joined by current residents along with boys and girls from BCH’s additional statewide locations.
 

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BCH photo
Captain William Lafayette and Emily Hardee Kennedy exit their carriage at Cedar Dell, their three-story Victorian-style home, during the 100th anniversary celebration July 5 of Kennedy Home, the Kinston-based campus for Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH). The Kennedys were portrayed by Jim Dyer and Doris Hartley Powers.

The event began with the ceremonial arrival of Kennedy Home benefactors Captain William Lafayette and Emily Hardee Kennedy. The couple, portrayed by alumni Jim Dyer and Doris Hartley Powers, made their campus entrance in a horse-drawn carriage. Onlookers greeted them along the main street of the campus as they arrived at Cedar Dell, the Kennedys’ three-story, Victorian-style home that resides on the National Register of Historic Places. “To be here today portraying Mrs. Kennedy and leading the tours of Cedar Dell is an honor,” says Powers. “I hope she would be proud of me.”
 
With Powers and Dyer beside him on stage, Blackwell offered appreciation to the Kennedys at event’s opening program.
 
“We have captured the early vision of Captain and Mrs. Kennedy and feel what this couple did 100 years ago is being carried out in ways that could not be imagined. Doris and Jim, I thank you in their stead.”
 
Dignitaries in attendance included BCH trustees Abe Elmore, Betty Greene and Walter Williams. Lenoir County commissioner Jackie Brown and Kinston mayor B.J. Murphy were also present.
 
“I want to thank BCH for the social service you provide,” Murphy said to the crowd. “You do it without taxpayer money. That is an incredible act of service you provide for this city, state and country. “Children, this day is for you. Enjoy the ice cream, bounce houses and just have fun.”
 
Children, from both BCH and the community, played on the giant inflatable games throughout the afternoon. They paused long enough to make crafts with members of Scotts Hills Baptist Church from Wilmington, eat snow cones and enjoy homemade ice cream scooped by former North Carolina senator Jim Jacumin and former NFL football player Lin Dawson.
 
Lines to tour newly-renovated Cedar Dell remained long throughout the day. During one tour, 10-year-old Madison Burkett discovered the old dollhouse that is displayed on the residence’s third floor. She knelt to get a closer look at the dollhouse as her grandfather, Doug Haigler, looked on. Haigler, who was at Kennedy Home from 1957-1966, brought his granddaughter to the event so she could see the place where he lived as a child.
 
“I think it (Kennedy Home) is really beautiful,” Burkett says. “I’m sure my grandfather really liked it.” Donald Wetherington, an alum from 1958-1966, invited his friend Arnold Maready to bring his horse and buggy to the event. Wetherington became emotional as he watched his friend take children and adults for rides across the grounds where he grew up.
 
“When I think about Kennedy Home, I think about the godly people who lived here. I’m a living testimony of the love people have for children,” Wetherington said. “I got saved here. I learned about Jesus Christ and that was the most important thing of all.”
 
Approximately 750 people attended Saturday’s celebration and every pew was filled for the worship service at Kennedy Home Baptist Church on July 6. Staff brought out extra seats and many stood along the sanctuary walls to be part of the historic service.
 
Music was led by John Thompson, the church’s minister of music from 1972-1977. Alumni, who fondly remember singing for Thompson and his wife Becky as children, packed the choir loft.
 
Working at the church and being involved with the choir had a resounding impact in the life of alum Keith Williams.
 
“Brother John had us singing in the choir and one of my first jobs on campus was cleaning the church,” recalls Williams who lived at Kennedy Home from 1970-1973. His time at the home inspired him to become a gospel singer. Williams’ quartet, “Second Chance,” sang prior to the Centennial worship service. “It’s meant a lot to me to be here for the 100th anniversary and to share through gospel music.”
 
In a service, and weekend, that was filled with special moments, the emotional highlight was BCH president Blackwell’s dramatic, 15-minute monologue. Garbed in period clothing, Blackwell slipped into the persona of Captain Kennedy for the service’s main message.
 
His monologue recounted Kennedy Home’s rich origins from the perspective of Captain Kennedy. He spoke of the joy the Kennedys’ felt as they decided to give their 1,250-acre farm and residence for an eastern branch of the then-called Baptist Orphanage. He also shared the sadness felt at the passing of wife, Emily, who remained alive just long enough to see construction completed on Hardee Cottage. Mrs. Kennedy sold the diamonds given to her by her husband to fund the building of the children’s cottage in honor of her late father.
 
“There would not be a Kennedy Home without Emily Hardee Kennedy,” Blackwell, in the character of Captain Kennedy, said to the congregation. He received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his monologue.
 
“As I stood and spoke before the church, I was almost overcome with emotion – emotion so powerful it made it difficult to recover,” Blackwell explains. “To be able to portray the founding father of Kennedy Home during this historic moment in time is a supreme honor and a highlight of my time as BCH’s leader.”
 
A meal, which fed 400 guests, followed the service. The celebration concluded with the burial of time capsules filled with items connected to the 100th anniversary. Children currently in Kennedy Home’s care assisted alumni association treasurer Richard Maynor with placing the capsules into the ground at the Kennedy Home church. They are scheduled to be unearthed on July 3, 2039, for Kennedy Home’s 125th anniversary.

Months of planning went into the Centennial Celebration. Members of the Kennedy Home alumni council and BCH staff members, including Kennedy Home director Brian Baltzell, first came together in late 2013 to begin preparations. Efforts were coordinated by BCH’s T.J. Slaughter who was inspired by the heartfelt story of Captain and Mrs. Kennedy.
 
“Their love story is incredible. I believe Captain Kennedy adored his wife and that they both adored their home,” explains Slaughter. “Their love story ends with them sharing their home with our children. I can hardly think of anything more beautiful.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Blake Ragsdale is director of communications for the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina.) 

7/17/2014 10:59:23 AM by Blake Ragsdale, BCH Communications | with 0 comments



NCBAM helps spread word about elder abuse

July 16 2014 by Carol Layton, NCBAM Communications

More than 500 people gathered June 21 in Triad Park in Kernersville to participate in the third annual “World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Walk.” Team members from North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM) served as volunteers at the event by directing traffic, helping with set up and welcoming the walkers.
 
Jennifer Harriss, ombudsman for the Piedmont Triad Regional Council (PTRC) – Area Agency on Agency, explained the importance of her agency’s partnership with faith-based groups. 

 
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NCBAM photo
As part of an elder abuse awareness event, participants share goals for their life on a “Before I die I want to ...” board.

“We especially value the partnership of NCBAM,” Harriss said. “As a faith-based organization, they help spread awareness in places where we don’t have easy access. Many times, being taken to a church event is the only outing that a homebound person has. It’s important they receive messages there about how to protect themselves from frauds and scams.”
 
Sandy Gregory, director of NCBAM, agrees. “Churches with visitation ministries may often be the first or only witness to elder abuse – whether it is physical abuse or fraud,” he said. “As awareness grows, scammers are continuing to get craftier. It’s important that we be vigilant in spreading awareness messages to families and to aging adults.”
 
According to Harriss, there were more than 21,000 cases of elder abuse reported in North Carolina last year. Experts believe that for every one case reported, five are unreported.
 
What can you do to help prevent elder abuse? Help spread the word when you hear of frauds or scams. Offer to provide respite for an unpaid family caregiver. Be on the lookout for signs of abuse, neglect or exploitation toward aging adults in your church or community. Signs could include food insecurity, compromised decision making, unexplained bruises, or other unusual behavior. Advocate against spending cuts for home health services for aging adults. Report suspected abuse to your local department of social services – adult protective services. If you have been victimized, speak up and share your experience with others.
 
“The needs are great and no one agency can do it all,” said Gregory referring to the partnership between NCBAM and PTRC.

7/16/2014 11:39:13 AM by Carol Layton, NCBAM Communications | with 0 comments



Billy Graham ministry set to release ‘Heaven’ message

July 16 2014 by Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

A new video message from Billy Graham is in production and is set to release Nov. 7, in honor of his 96th birthday. The program, called “Heaven,” is being released to churches as an evangelistic tool, in conjunction with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s My Hope 2014 with Billy Graham campaign.
 
A recent Barna Group study found that while 73 percent of “born-again” Christians believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith, only half (52 percent) have actually done so in the past year.

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Among “evangelicals” – the group which overwhelmingly believes they have a responsibility to share their faith – less than one-third (31 percent) have in the past 12 months.
 
“Evangelism is clearly the hardest activity of the church, but it’s also the one most closely tied to the health of the local church,” said Steve Rhoads, vice president for My Hope. “We want to come alongside pastors and help them as they motivate their congregations to reach out in love.”
 
My Hope 2014 puts the focus on partnering with local churches to present the gospel.
 
This fall, “Heaven” will be available for churches to use in offering a message of hope in their own communities. Graham’s message on heaven was filmed from his home as a part of last year’s My Hope campaign.
 
In addition to that never-before-seen footage, this year’s program will also feature real-life stories of faith interwoven throughout, in the same style as the impactful programs previously produced such as “The Cross.”
 
Churches and individuals involved in My Hope 2014 are encouraged to pray and reach out to neighbors, family and friends, and invite them to a local event this November, using this newly produced video program in the setting that works best in the local church or community.
 
In 2013, more than 110,000 made commitments to Jesus Christ through My Hope with Billy Graham. This past Easter, churches nationwide hosted events and showings of “The Cross,” the acclaimed video message from Billy Graham. My Hope staff heard reports of churches and individuals using the videos in church services, small groups, local movie theaters, prisons, rescue missions and more.
 
“No matter how an individual or church uses these My Hope resources, it begins with prayer,” said Rhoads, who oversees the efforts for My Hope 2014 and My Hope UK with Billy Graham, a similar evangelistic effort taking place in the United Kingdom this year. “It starts as individuals begin to pray specifically for people they know who need the hope found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
 
Visit www.MyHopewithBillyGraham.org. You can participate by preordering your copy of “Heaven” online.

7/16/2014 11:16:36 AM by Billy Graham Evangelistic Association | with 0 comments



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