July 2015

First Choice delivers hope for unplanned pregnancies

July 27 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

Emotional shockwaves rolled over many Americans when an undercover video surfaced that revealed a Planned Parenthood executive discussing the organization’s practice of selling aborted fetal parts. Again many were stunned when a second video showed former president of the Planned Parenthood Medical Directors’ Council negotiating prices for baby organs.
 
“I wasn’t surprised,” said Amber Lehman, chief executive officer of First Choice Pregnancy Solutions, a faith-based organization in Wake Forest dedicated to supporting those affected by unplanned pregnancies.
 
“Whether they are donating or selling the fetal parts is really a non-issue to me,” she continued. “The problem is that there’s a human child being destroyed …
 
“It should awaken our senses” that Planned Parenthood is harvesting hearts, livers and lungs “because those are the organs of a person.”
 
First Choice cares about people – babies and mothers alike. “We believe that every life is precious, including the mother,” said Lehman.
 

Offering real choices

The goal of First Choice is to communicate accurate and truthful information to those affected by an unplanned pregnancy and to provide them with physical, emotional and spiritual support, according to its website. Staff members do not pressure pregnant women into doing anything they do not want to do, Lehman specified. “We provide a safe haven for her to be able to work through her pregnancy decision.”

 
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Amber Lehman

A “decision tool” is used to help pregnant women determine – in their own handwriting – what they want, whether they’re faced with a decision to abort their pregnancy, decide which obstetrician to use, determine where to live or whether to stay in a relationship with a child’s father.
 
The clinic encounters some women intent on aborting. “We ask the question of each of them,” Lehman explained, “If your circumstances were different, what is your heart’s desire?” First Choice has only encountered one woman who wished to abort, no matter the circumstances; the rest wanted to carry their child to full term. First Choice says to these women, “If that’s your heart’s desire, that’s our heart’s desire too.”
 
Pregnancy centers like First Choice are often characterized as manipulative and not concerned about the interests of mothers. The clinics can be perceived as anti-choice. Lehman contends the opposite is actually true.
 
“You hear woman after woman say her heart’s desire is to have her baby, but she doesn’t know how,” Lehman said. “She doesn’t see how she can do it. Her boyfriend isn’t supportive, or her mom is threatening to kick her out, but she’s saying, ‘I don’t want to abort.’
 
“We’re accused of taking away choice but we actually give women the space and the resources to choose what they really want to choose instead of what they feel trapped to choose.”
 

Helping women overcome obstacles

Of the pregnant women that came to First Choice for help so far in 2015, approximately 50 percent of them were considering abortion but decided to carry the pregnancy to full term. Another 36 percent – whose life circumstances suggested they were likely to abort – decided to carry the pregnancy to full term as well. The remaining 14 percent includes abortion-minded women and pregnant women that were not considering abortion, but came to First Choice for testing, ultrasound and support services.
 
When a pregnant woman visits First Choice, they meet with a nurse, receive a test and ultrasound to determine pregnancy. Nurses educate clients on procedure risks and fetal development, said Lehman. Clients are also assigned a care coordinator that oversees initial and ongoing visits. Staff members begin assessing her “heart’s desire,” risk factors and major obstacles to carrying the pregnancy to full term. These obstacles are often financial, relational, related to housing or the loss of a dream or goal, according to Lehman.

 
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First Choice mobile clinic

“Often times they are faced with utilities being cut off, rent not paid or close to being evicted,” said Lehman. So, First Choice begins providing various kinds of support to help the client overcome each of the obstacles, starting with what’s important to the client.
 
First Choice wrote a check recently for more than $900 to keep a client from being evicted because she was nearing her due date and facing a housing crisis, according to Lehman.

First Choice also operates a daily mobile clinic that visits regions with high abortion rates. The two- or three-person unit is also available to women who seek medical services but cannot travel to the office clinic.
 
Lehman said the mobile clinic recently drove from Wake Forest to Durham at 6:30 a.m. to meet a woman – at her request – before her scheduled 9:30 a.m. abortion appointment. She cancelled the abortion, according to Lehman. “We deploy any hour that we need to.”
 

Taking the next steps

Most First Choice workers are paid medical professionals, said Lehman. “We have to have high levels of training; we need the best of the best.”
 
They also depend on volunteers for many non-medical aspects of their work. “Our volunteers usually engage in ongoing mentoring called ‘Next Steps,’” Lehman said, which offers workshops on childbirth preparation, infant safety, parenting skills, money management, basic car care and meal planning.
 
Other consultation services include post-abortion care. First Choice also provides sexually transmitted disease and infection testing, by hosting Wake County Health and Human Services on site. The organization faces a daunting task in its community.
 
“Well, we always need money,” said Lehman, when asked how others can help. “The abortion industry is a multibillion dollar industry … our competitor is a big competitor. Filling a baby bottle with some change is not enough. There has to be some sacrificial giving into all of the pregnancy centers.”
 
“We also need prayer,” Lehman said. “This is not an easy work. My staff members see children on an ultrasound machine screen, and they confirm the death of that child. That’s part of their job, and that’s hard to live with.”
 
Another difficult aspect of the ministry, according to Lehman, is counseling women who regret having an abortion.
 
The organization also receives slanderous attacks from those who oppose the ministry. Lehman said their staff had recently been reported to the Board of Nursing for investigation. The case was open and closed in the same day, she added, because First Choice medical staff members are certified medical professionals. “Nonetheless, we need discernment, wisdom and perseverance.”
 
One of the pressing issues, she continued, “is for the local church to rise up in support of these girls after they choose life.” The help a local church offers one pregnant woman can become known throughout her community.
 
“When her neighbor becomes pregnant, she says ‘You know what? My neighbor got help from these people – I think they’re called Christians – maybe they’ll help me too, and I don’t have to abort.’”
 
Lehman believes churches must “leave their apathy and silence. Talk about the issue. … Take a woman into your home. Help her get on her feet. It is hard but it is worth it.”
 
Visit firschoicenc.org for more information. To see a list of pregnancy centers across North Carolina visit cpcflink.org/member-directory.php. For more resources go to brnow.org/life.
 

Related Stories:

Planned Parenthood accused of selling aborted fetal parts
New video shows PPFA doctor negotiating prices
Obama admin to ‘review’ Planned Parenthood, CMP

7/27/2015 12:45:09 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



Obama admin to ‘review’ Planned Parenthood, CMP

July 27 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The Obama administration has agreed to “review all the information” surrounding two videos that show Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of baby parts obtained through abortion. The administration also said it will not agree to defund America’s largest abortion provider.
 
On the 2016 presidential campaign trail, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton defended Planned Parenthood as providing “essential services for women.”
 
Meanwhile, two Southern Baptists – a Colorado pastor and a Texas seminary administrator – have offered theological perspectives criticizing Planned Parenthood.
 
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said of the controversy July 22, “I’m aware of those matters generally from the media, and from some inquiries that have been made to the Department of Justice, and again at this point we’re going to review all the information and determine what steps, if any, to take at the appropriate time,” The Hill reported.
 
The promise to investigate came after Senate Republicans sent a letter to Lynch requesting an investigation of Planned Parenthood. House Democrats also sent a letter requesting an investigation of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the group which filmed and released the videos.
 
An NPR report said Democratic Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Zoe Lofgren, Jerry Nadler and Yvette Clarke wrote to Lynch requesting an investigation of CMP and calling the group’s investigation of Planned Parenthood an “elaborate scheme” using “fake identification” that did not obtain appropriate approval from the personnel who appear on video.
 
In a separate letter, 48 senate Republicans and one Democrat – Joe Manchin of West Virginia – asked Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to investigate Planned Parenthood.
 
Some observers have suggested Lynch’s investigation could focus on CMP more than Planned Parenthood. Politico reported July 23 that Lynch will “look into whether the group that released the sting videos obtained the footage legally.” The Federalist similarly reported, “The U.S. Department of Justice announced plans to investigate the group that produced undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood employees admitting that they harvest and sell organs ripped from the bodies of aborted babies.”
 
The Department of Justice did not respond before Baptist Press’ (BP) publication deadline to a request to clarify the focus of the investigation.
 
CMP also did not respond to BP’s request for comment before its publication deadline but released a statement July 22.
 
“Planned Parenthood [is] trying to use the power of their political cronies to shut down free speech, to silence the freedom of the press, to persecute [senior investigator] David Daleiden, and to save their half-a-billion in taxpayer money and avoid accountability to the law and the American people,” said the CMP statement, which appeared to be written by Daleiden.
 
“Planned Parenthood and their political allies know our investigation has revealed the truth about the gruesome and horrific practices of partial-birth abortions and selling baby parts taking place throughout their organization,” the statement said. “They will attack me and my organization all day long, but that does not change the facts about what our investigation has uncovered and what the American people now know – that Planned Parenthood is engaged in an enterprise-wide operation that traffics and sells baby body parts.”
 
A reporter asked White House spokesman Josh Earnest July 20 whether the administration would reconsider its stance that federal funding should not be withdrawn from Planned Parenthood. Earnest responded, “No,” and turned away from the reporter, according to a video of the exchange posted online.
 
Earnest said July 17 he had not viewed the first CMP video or spoken with President Obama about it. Earnest said he “did read news reports,” adding, “Planned Parenthood said they follow the highest ethical guidelines,” LifeSiteNews reported.
 
Clinton defended Planned Parenthood during a campaign stop July 23 in South Carolina.
 
“I don’t have all the facts but Planned Parenthood has apologized for the insensitivity of the employee who was taped and they will continue to answer questions for Congress and others, but for more than a century Planned Parenthood has provided essential services for women,” Clinton said according to LifeSiteNews. “Not just reproductive health services, including access to affordable family planning, but cancer screenings, for example, and other health checkups.”
 
Clinton continued, “I think it is unfortunate that Planned Parenthood has been the object of such a concerted attack for so many years and it’s really an attack against women’s rights to choose, to make the most personal, difficult decisions that any woman would face based on her faith and her medical advice that she is given. So I am hoping that this situation will not further undermine the very important services that Planned Parenthood provides.”
 
Boyce College professor Denny Burk responded to Clinton’s comments in a blog post, “Secretary Clinton defends an organization that routinely kills babies in utero, harvests their body parts, and sells them to buyers. The only moral outrage she musters is against the people who produced the video. This is the indifference toward innocent human life that must end. Any politician who cannot summon the resolve to oppose the barbarism of Planned Parenthood is not morally serious.”
 
At least eight states have launched investigations of Planned Parenthood along with two U.S. House committees.
 
In related news, two Baptist commentators have drawn parallels between Planned Parenthood’s actions and events recounted in the Old Testament. Calvin Wittman, pastor of Applewood Baptist Church in the Denver area, contrasted the lack of moral outrage in America with the Israelites’ reaction in Judges 19 when a woman was cut into 12 pieces.
 
“It is a sad day when this kind of evil does not get people up in arms,” Wittman told BP in written comments. “In Judges 19 a woman was cut up and her body parts were sent throughout all of Israel. But even Israel, during the time of the judges, when every man did what was right in their own eyes, was incensed and punished the persons responsible. Can it be that America is worse off morally than Israel was during the time of the Judges?
 
“All Americans should be disgusted and incensed by the revelation of this evil,” Wittman wrote of Planned Parenthood’s organ trafficking.
 
“Christians should not only be outraged, we should also be brokenhearted that our country has become so desensitized to evil,” he noted. “Clearly we can see what more than 40 years of ‘abortion rights’ have done to the moral fiber of our country: they have robbed us of the understanding that life is precious.”
 
The sale of body parts from aborted babies, Wittman said, “is the direct result of a naturalistic worldview that has intentionally absented God from the scene. This is what happens when you teach a generation that humans are just another animal; that human life is no more valuable than that of a dog or a cat. We can never truly know who we are [until] we know who God is. Only in light of who He is can we see ourselves, not only as sinners, but as those endowed with sacred life, as those who are created in His image.”
 
Wittman called for prayer for America and an aggressive gospel witness “amidst the moral decay.”
 
Charles Patrick, vice president for strategic initiatives at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, called the abortion industry “a modern day Molech,” referencing an ancient Ammonite deity who required child sacrifice.
 
In biblical times, “a couple sacrificed their firstborn by burning the child on a metal idol of Molech, believing that Molech would ensure financial prosperity for the family and future children,” Patrick, a former research scientist in the field of tissue engineering, wrote in an online commentary. “The Israelites were strictly forbidden to practice this form of worship (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; 2 Kings 23:10; and Jeremiah 32:35) as it is in stark contradiction to the sanctity of life espoused throughout the Bible. Today’s Molech is the abortion industry, sacrificing babies for the idol of financial greed, veiled in the hopes of the development of new cures through biomedical research.”
 
Reacting to the first video released by CMP, Patrick said most biomedical research is “ethically sound.” But research associated with harvesting parts from aborted babies “is ethically, morally, and biblically wrong.”
 
Watching a Planned Parenthood doctor “casually eating her meal while she describes the grotesque manner in which organs and body parts are harvested illustrates the supply and demand economics of the [abortion] business” and “how Planned Parenthood knowingly is skirting if not breaking the law.”
 
Patrick continued, “The modern day Molech should be well pleased – in addition to the untold millions received in selling aborted baby organs and body parts, Planned Parenthood receives over $500 million from U.S. taxpayers from government grants and reimbursements.”
 
The church must “destroy the idols” and “take down the high places,” Patrick wrote, through prayer, appropriate legal action and upholding the sanctity of life.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

 

Related Stories:

Planned Parenthood accused of selling aborted fetal parts
New video shows PPFA doctor negotiating prices

7/27/2015 12:38:28 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘God Before Government’ goes viral

July 27 2015 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Rit Varriale thought raising the Christian flag above the American flag at Elizabeth Baptist Church on July 5 would get the attention of people in Shelby and the surrounding North Carolina mountains. He did not expect the explosive attention that catapulted the event and the discussion of religious freedom into the national limelight.
 
The Biblical Recorder first published the story about the church’s flag raising service in the July 4 edition. Pastor Rit Varriale led the church to install their first-ever flagpole and hoist the Christian flag above the American flag.
 
Three Charlotte area television stations ran stories prior to the event. One invited Varriale and another pastor to appear in a live interview format. Baptist Press picked up the story on July 6, as did many newspapers across the country. Before the flag raising was 24 hours old, the story hit the viral meter on the Internet. Varriale was interviewed by Elisabeth Hasselbeck live on the “Fox and Friends” television show July 7.
 
For more than a day the story ranked number one on Facebook. A spokesman for Baptist Press said it was the most frequently read story on the Baptist Press website for more than two weeks.
 
 “It’s been surprising to see how fast the conversation took off,” Varriale said. He believes this speaks to the importance of religious rights.
 
“It says that a lot of people want to talk about this very issue. It’s an issue that we as ministers have to be prepared to address for years to come as we fight for our religious rights.”
 
Public response has been very favorable, according to Varriale. Approximately 75 percent of those who offered their comments by emails, Facebook and phone messages were favorable. Most of those who opposed the action thought the church was unpatriotic.
 
“We continue to put forward our patriotism and our love for our country,” he said. “To me it’s a sad indictment when we’ve come to the place as a nation where you say that if you put God first, then family, then country, that somehow your patriotism comes into question.”
 
Questioning patriotism in this way “shows how much of an advance secularism has made,” Varriale added. “We are very proud to be Americans. We’re proud of our nation and our history, but we’re also concerned about where we are [as a nation]. We really believe the solution to turning this nation back around is the church.”
 
He asks churches to remember that they serve God first, and churches must live that commitment beyond the walls of the church facilities.
 
That will be the beginning of changing the direction of the nation, he said.
 
“When you look at the way the left portrays people who believe in God and country – it’s almost as if you’re backwards if you believe in God,” Varriale said.
 
“That’s the narrative the left has tried to create. We are for God and country, in that order. That’s what it means to be a person who understands the historic values of America.”
 
The popularity of the story “speaks to the fact that Christians are begging to have this conversation. I think they are also looking for us as leaders in the church to lead,” he added.
 
Varriale does not want the flag to be the issue.
 
Flying the Christian flag above the American flag is only an illustration of the priorities that churches must demonstrate in the present anti-Christian, cultural environment, he said. The greater battle is with the courts in the United States.
 
“Our battle is not with the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] agenda,” he said. “Our battle is not with Freedom from Religion or Americans United for Separation of Church and State organizations. Our battle is with the courts.
 
“In the near future we have to start addressing how the church can lead in a peaceful resistance to the courts – standing up peacefully to the coercion of the courts, because ultimately that is where our battle is. The Christian baker is not afraid to stand up against an LGBT couple – the Christian baker is afraid of the courts. Likewise a principal that would like to lead a prayer in school does not have in the back of his mind the atheist family that will be upset about the prayer. What’s really in his mind is the U.S. court system. And the list goes on and on.”
 
Varriale said the Supreme Court marriage ruling is a classic example. “They forced the majority of Americans to accept [same-sex marriage]. This is not something the majority of Americans wanted.”
 
The struggle to regain religious freedoms will be a “community-by-community process – getting communities to stand together,” he concluded. “It’s going to have to start with small towns and move out from there. Communities need to stand together.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE –  Follow the movement at GodBeforeGovernment.org and Facebook.com/godbeforegovernment.)

7/27/2015 12:32:41 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 1 comments



Students experience ‘More’ at summer Youth Weeks

July 27 2015 by Chad Austin, BSC Communications

Thousands of students attending youth weeks at the North Carolina Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell this summer are learning that following Christ is so much more exciting than anything the world may promise.
 
“More,” taken from Ephesians 3:20, is the theme for the 2015 summer youth weeks at Fort Caswell, where approximately 7,000 middle and high school students will attend one of the seven weeklong camps held throughout the summer.
 
“God can do so much more in the lives of students, and He wants to do so much more in their lives than they even think about asking Him for,” said Merrie Johnson, consultant for youth evangelism and discipleship with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina who has conducted summer camps at Fort Caswell for 15 years. “During camp, we’re trying to help them understand that Jesus is better than any other thing that they want to seek after.”

 
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BSC photo
Students divide into prayer circles during worship at Fort Caswell.

So far this summer, Johnson has seen God move in the lives of students, as many have trusted Christ as their Lord and Savior, recommitted their lives to Him, or surrendered to God’s call to vocational ministry.
 
“You don’t realize what a week can do in a teenager’s life,” Johnson said. “This week at camp might be what sets them on a path that will lead them on a different trajectory for life.”
 
Each week at camp, students are challenged to grow in their faith through personal and small group Bible study, and powerful worship services that challenge students to go deeper in their walk with Christ through the proclamation of God’s Word. Campers are also given an opportunity to participate in global missions by packing meals and giving to an offering that goes toward sharing the gospel with children and families in Jacmel, Haiti, through a partnership with Change This World, a ministry that helps meet physical and spiritual needs in the lives of individuals in developing countries.
 
During one of this summer’s youth week services, pastor and evangelist Mike Satterfield challenged students to boldly live out their faith in their day-to-day lives, while sharing the message of hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ with their friends and family members.

“What are you doing with the rest of our life?” Satterfield said. “At the end of the day what will you show God as a result of your journey? Since we cannot count our days, we need to make every day count.”
 
Youth leaders from various churches said they’ve seen God at work in various ways in the lives of the students who attend the summer youth weeks.
 
“We all come back home with life-changing experiences,” said Michael Logan, who has attended camp as a chaperone with students from Oak Ridge Baptist Church in Sandy Ridge for several years. “We learn a lot, we grow a lot and we come back home and share that with others.”
 
Matt West, a youth pastor from Buffalo Baptist Church in Buffalo Junction, Va., said he appreciate the camp’s emphasis on discipleship.
 
“We want the kids to have fun, but we’re here to help them see the Bible more clearly, to see who Christ is and how to follow him more,” West said. “The camp staff want the kids to have a great camp experience, but they are also interested in equipping them to follow through on the decisions they make while they are here.”
 
Johnson said her prayer is that God would continue to do more in the lives of students as they continue to seek Him in the days after camp concludes.
 
“Remember that God still wants more of you,” Johnson told campers during one of the closing sessions at a recent youth week. “I pray it doesn’t stop for you, and it doesn’t have to. God goes with us wherever we go. We don’t leave Him here when we leave camp. He asks us to be His hands and His feet.”

7/27/2015 12:26:28 PM by Chad Austin, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Inner-city church experiences revitalization

July 27 2015 by Bonnie Pritchett, The TEXAN/Baptist Press

Faith Memorial Baptist Church was a small country church in a large urban area. And it was dying.
 
Literally.
 
Within his first eight months as pastor, Andrew Johnson presided over 14 funerals. Two years later, 14 more died to sin and death and publicly proclaimed their Christian faith in a makeshift baptistery at the church’s parking lot in Houston, Texas.
 
In its almost 75 years of existence, Faith Memorial has seen the ebb and flow of membership. At its peak, between the 1950s and ‘70s, the rolls held as many as 1,200 names. But when Johnson arrived in 2012 at age 22 with a freshly minted bachelor’s degree from Houston Baptist University (HBU), only between 60-80 people remained in the half-Hispanic, half-white congregation.
 
The pews could hold a lot more, Johnson thought. And the congregation should look more like the inner-city neighborhood it served.
 
Since then membership is up to around 300, and the faces in the congregation and behind the pulpit look like those across the street and around the block.
 
“All things have become new,” said Sherman Nong, following a worship service in late May, paraphrasing 2 Corinthians 5:17 and its relation to the changing complexion of Faith Memorial Baptist Church.

 
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Photo by Bonnie Pritchett
Longtime members at Faith Memorial Baptist Church and friends Derwood Radican, 93, and Frankie Atkins, 72, are both retired postal workers and widows.

Gathered to share their unique perspective on the growing pains at Faith Memorial were Nong; Frankie Atkins, a 72-year-old African-American retired postal worker; and her 93-year-old friend Derwood Radican, who is white and also a retired letter carrier.
 
“There is something special about this church,” said Nong, the lone Asian member in the rapidly growing and changing congregation. “What’s special about this church is everybody is really warm. They try to get to know you. I have a lot of people supporting me in prayer.”
 
Raised in a local Vietnamese Baptist church, Nong – a 2015 Houston Baptist University pre-med graduate – wanted to broaden his perspective of Christian fellowship and worship beyond what he knew in a Vietnamese-centric expression of that same faith.
 
Atkins could relate. More than 40 years ago she transferred her membership from an all-black church to the nearly all-white Faith Memorial in 1972. Aside from her husband and their children, only one other black family graced the pews back then.
 
Some members were not as welcoming, Atkins recalled, but her family was grateful for those who were especially loving. An admitted “hugger,” she said, “There were a few who weren’t having any of that.”
 
But a mutual love for the Lord and his people transcended the racial tensions – a reality that still holds true today, Johnson said.
 
Atkins and Nong agreed that individual Christians willing to immerse themselves in a congregation where they are not the majority – where the only commonality is a shared faith in Christ – have so much to learn.
 
“True learning happens when we have little to no comfort or control,” Johnson told the TEXAN. “This can’t just be a cute, pithy idea – a tip of the hat to multi-ethnic churches.”
 
He noted the gospel united a fiercely divided culture in first-century Jerusalem as Jews and Gentiles found common ground in their mutual faith in Jesus Christ.

 
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Photo by Bonnie Pritchett
Derwood Radican drove one of the church buses for nearly 30 years. Some of his passengers were his friend, Frankie Atkins, and her grandkids. Atkins began attending Faith Memorial in part because of the bus ministry.

“It proved that the gospel was for the whole world. If we fail to see that, we’re going to miss out on how big our God is,” Johnson said.
 
Having served as youth pastor at an all-black church Johnson understood, like Atkins and Nong, what it was like to be the odd man out.
 
“It was intimidating at first,” he said of his two-year stint with Alief Baptist Church in Katy while in college. “I was the only white face in the crowd. You learn something when you’re the minority.”
 
Although the doctrine was the same, the worship was very different for a boy raised in a white Southern Baptist church in Luling. Empathy for those in the minority and an appreciation for the differences in worship were significant takeaways for Johnson.
 
The lessons from Alief guided Johnson at Faith Memorial. Although he felt called to pastor a multi-ethnic church and believed the rejuvenation of Faith Memorial would require such a course, Johnson recognized his place as the new pastor – only the third in the church’s history. Some members had been there even longer than Atkins and had grandchildren older than the new pastor. So he gave it a year, preaching and establishing relationships in order to create a unified vision for the whole church.
 
And as expected, when this change came, not everyone was pleased. However, Johnson was fueled by the reality that creating a multi-ethnic church was not simply change for change’s sake. The survival of the church depended on the congregation reaching out to their predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhood, which is steeped in poverty and entrenched in self-destructive ways. Still, Johnson believed, the church would be better for it.
 
Some of his opponents – his “biggest headaches” – became his greatest allies during the course of the transition that began in 2014 with building renovations that included removing barbed-wire fencing around the property, repairing broken windows and painting an exterior wall with art unique to the neighborhood.
 
“We invested in a graffiti art mural, something that looks like a calling card to the community,” the pastor said.
 
And it served its purpose. The once nondescript, drab-grey building caught people’s eyes, and their curiosity drew them inside.
 
But most of the new members came because of family.
 
“Being an old church we are filled with grandparents. Their kids started coming back,” Johnson said.
 
After the May 31 worship service, Atkins and Radican joked about the changes. Different people. Different music. And the differences between the two of them.
 
“That was one of the most healthy things – to laugh at your differences,” Johnson said. “It was one of those things that put people at ease.”
 
The neighborhood of Atkins’ youth was half-black and half-Hispanic (she speaks fluent Spanish) so the transition came a little easier for her as the congregation began to reflect the neighborhood – race, ethnicity, tattoos, piercings and all.
 
Radican, too, seems nonplussed by the shakeup. For nearly three decades he drove one of the church buses through the neighborhoods of the historically black 5th Ward and predominantly Hispanic Denver Harbor picking up all who wanted to learn about the “risen Savior.” The spritely men’s Sunday School teacher took all the changes in stride, even offering to pitch in to pay for a new graffiti mural.
 
Staff members brought on since Johnson’s arrival also reflect the faces of those in the congregation and the community. Music director Moses Gonzalez is Hispanic and works to blend contemporary choruses with hymns and black gospel music. Andre Turner, who fills in with preaching and plays keyboard in the praise band, is black and coming into his own as a preacher, according to some members. Luke Dorr is white and works with the youth. All three men work full-time outside the church and are compensated with a small stipend from the church each month. Johnson is a part-time employee and is working on his master’s in theological studies at HBU.
 
Although the congregation was small upon Johnson’s arrival, there was a deeply rooted bond of care and affection for one another perhaps because of and not in spite of their differences. Members demonstrated that love for believers from differing backgrounds cannot be devoid of an appreciation for their cultural differences. “If you can speak their [cultural] language,” Johnson said, “that’s the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t let their culture be the line you can’t cross.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN at  texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

7/27/2015 12:18:28 PM by Bonnie Pritchett, The TEXAN/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



GuideStone appeals to SCOTUS over abortion mandate

July 24 2015 by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone Financial Resources

GuideStone Financial Resources has filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court against the government’s contraceptive mandate that will require certain ministries served by GuideStone to provide abortion-causing drugs and devices in their employer health plans or risk crippling fines.
 
GuideStone, along with churches and integrated auxiliaries of churches, are exempt from the mandate and not at risk of penalties. For certain religious employers other than churches and their integrated auxiliaries, however, the government has argued that it offers an “accommodation” to religious employers who object to the mandate.
 
Harold R. Loftin Jr., GuideStone general counsel, said the Southern Baptist entity “has, from the filing of our case, objected to the so-called ‘accommodation’ because the government is attempting to rewrite the terms of GuideStone’s plan” to use the plan “to provide access to drugs and devices GuideStone believes to be impermissible. In addition, the government’s regulations attempt to require certain of GuideStone’s religious employers to take actions that facilitate the delivery of abortion-inducing drugs and devices to our participants and their dependents.”
 
Loftin noted that the evidence presented in court “showed that women, as young as age 10, will be notified of their eligibility to receive abortion-inducing drugs and devices for free by GuideStone’s third-party administrator, if the religious employer complies with the government’s demands. If the employer refuses, then it will be subject to crippling penalties for its refusal.”
 
A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on July 14 overruled injunction in place since December 2013 that prohibited the government from enforcing its mandate on affected ministries served by GuideStone. As part of the appeal to the Supreme Court, GuideStone will ask the Denver court to maintain the injunction until the appeal has been decided.
 
“GuideStone, as an historic board of the Southern Baptist Convention, was never at risk of these draconian penalties,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. “However, as defenders of both religious liberty and the sanctity of life, we could not permit the government to effectively alter our plan documents and plan design with these affected ministries to make available abortion-causing drugs against our religious beliefs.
 
“If the courts have already seen fit to allow closely held, for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby to avoid the mandate and the associated penalties, it boggles the mind that the 10th Circuit Court wouldn’t also exempt nonprofit religious organizations that object,” Hawkins said.
 
GuideStone officials said they are optimistic that the Supreme Court will accept its appeal by the end of September. GuideStone, along with co-plaintiffs Truett-McConnell College, a Georgia Baptist Convention institution, and Reaching Souls International, an Oklahoma-based mission-sending organization, are represented by leading religious liberty attorneys who also represent a similar case that has received extensive publicity, the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic organization that also is among those appealing to the Supreme Court.
 
“The government has lost every single time they have made these arguments before the Supreme Court – including last year’s landmark Hobby Lobby case. One would think they would get the message and stop bullying ministries like Reaching Souls and Truett-McConnell College,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead attorney for GuideStone, Reaching Souls and Truett-McConnell.
 
Regardless of the outcome before the Supreme Court, Hawkins said GuideStone remains committed to the scores of ministries potentially affected by the mandate if the Supreme Court upholds it.
 
“If you had told me when I entered ministry that our federal government would be dictating matters of conscience to churches and their ministries, I would not have believed it,” Hawkins said. “These are indeed perilous times for the cause of liberty in our country, but GuideStone has never wavered, and will never waver, in our calling to serve those ministries that have entrusted their employee benefits to us. It is our high calling and deep privilege to serve these families who seek to live out their calling each and every day.”
 
The case is GuideStone vs. Burwell.
 
The mandate was imposed by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2010 in its implementation of Obamacare.
 
Among numerous other cases challenging the HHS mandate, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals declined June 22 a request for an injunction from two Baptist schools – East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University – and Westminster Theological Seminary.
 
The two universities and Westminster Seminary also have appealed to the Supreme Court.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is department head of denominational and public relations at GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/24/2015 2:48:51 PM by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone Financial Resources | with 0 comments



Planned Parenthood media coverage critiqued

July 24 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The mainstream media’s coverage of two undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of baby parts obtained through abortion has been criticized by some Christians as generally minimal and slanted.
 
“The media’s political correctness is standing in the way of what should be a moral outrage,” said Calvin Wittman, a Colorado pastor and former television news anchor.
 
Wittman, pastor of Applewood Baptist Church in the Denver area and a Dallas TV news anchor from 1985-6, told Baptist Press media bias is exhibited both in whether outlets cover a story and how they cover it. While the media “has covered” the Planned Parenthood controversy, he said, “their spin is clearly visible in their reporting.”
 
All journalists report based on their worldviews, Wittman said, but much of the reporting about Planned Parenthood evidences a secular agenda. He cited the emphasis of some media outlets that Planned Parenthood allegedly did not sell baby parts for profit as a case in point.
 
“Is it okay to own slaves as long as you don’t do it for profit?” Wittman asked. “Is it okay to wave the Confederate flag if you don’t do it for profit? Are there things that are morally wrong irrespective of whether or not you make a profit off them? The media is inconsistent in that.”
 
A July 21 News Busters article criticized the three national broadcast television news programs for devoting only 9 minutes and 11 seconds to coverage of the Planned Parenthood videos the week of their release, with ABC giving just 46 seconds to the story. News Busters contrasted that with 31 minutes and 11 seconds spent on Planned Parenthood by ABC, CBS and NBC in 2012 the week Susan G. Komen temporarily stopped funding America’s largest abortion provider.
 
News Busters added that all three networks “censored the word ‘baby’” from their coverage of the videos “and instead used the term ‘fetal tissue.’ Similarly, from the beginning of their coverage, ABC, NBC and CBS labeled the makers of the videos as ‘anti-abortion activists’ rather than use the ‘pro-life’ label.”
 
Roger Alford, communications director for the Kentucky Baptist Convention and a former Associated Press correspondent, said the mainstream media has taken “a wide variety of approaches to this coverage.”
 
Alford noted the contrast between a pro-life USA Today op-ed by Kirsten Powers calling the videos “stomach-turning” and “damning,” and a New York Times editorial criticizing the Center for Medical Progress’s undercover video campaign as “a dishonest attempt to make legal, voluntary and potentially lifesaving tissue donations appear nefarious and illegal.”
 
Television networks, Alford said, face a dilemma related to graphic descriptions of abortion used in the videos.
 
“The content is beyond disturbing,” Alford said. “The dismemberment of unborn babies isn’t a subject most Americans can tolerate while downing a quick bowl of corn flakes in the morning.” The networks’ decision “to describe the videos rather than show them speaks to the horror of the content.”
 
The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway published a July 16 article titled “The Bad, Worse, & Ugly: Media Coverage of Planned Parenthood’s Organ Harvesting Scandal,” in which she criticized major media outlets for being slow to report on the first video and biased in their coverage.
 
“The video immediately lit up social media” upon its publication at 8 a.m. Eastern Time July 14, Hemingway wrote. “Unlike most significant stories about major hot-button social issues, however, no major media reported on the news until 4:30 p.m. that afternoon. Some are still working on (or working on hiding) their coverage of the story.”
 
Hemingway acknowledged initial reports by the Washington Post and CNN were “fair,” but she critiqued a litany of media outlets, including the Post, for slanting their stories toward Planned Parenthood.
 
Terry Mattingly, a Christian journalist who blogs about the media’s coverage of religion, said The Times has incorrectly claimed in multiple articles that the Center for Medical Progress released the full version of its initial video after Planned Parenthood complained of misleading editing. In reality, the full version was released 21 seconds after the edited version, Mattingly noted.
 
Hemingway has requested corrections by The Times at least twice to no avail, Mattingly wrote at the Get Religion blog.
 
Some Southern Baptists took to Twitter to express their frustration with media coverage of the controversy. Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, tweeted July 14, “Sadly, if Planned Parenthood @PPact was selling body parts of puppies, not aborted babies, the mainstream media would actually cover it.” As of July 23, his tweet had been retweeted 1,500 times.
 
Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, tweeted July 20, “There are still so many unanswered questions. Why aren’t reporters asking them?”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

7/24/2015 2:42:34 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



U.S. needs ‘interagency strategy’ for global freedom

July 24 2015 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

The “tragic, global crisis in religious persecution, violence, and terrorism” requires America to greatly strengthen its strategies, a letter to top congressional leaders declares, signed by a diverse group of religious, academic and public policy figures.
 
The global crisis threatens “dire consequences for religious minorities worldwide as well as for U.S. national security,” the signers of the letter warn.
 
Among the 31 signatories are Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC); California pastor Rick Warren; and Kenneth Starr, president of Baylor University.
 
The letter is addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
 
Specifically, the signers of the letter call for the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom to have authority within the State Department “to develop an interagency strategy to protect global religious freedom, and the resources he needs to implement that strategy.”

 
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The signers endorse H.R. 1150, named the “Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2015” for the retired Virginia congressman and longtime champion of global religious freedom.
 
In addition to providing authority to the ambassador for international religious freedom, a post held by David Saperstein since mid-December, provisions of H.R. 1150 include mandatory training “for all foreign service officers, deputy chiefs of mission, and country ambassadors” to “ensure that our diplomats fully understand and can effectively defend the free expression of religion worldwide, the enduring value of religious freedom and its relationship to national security, and how to advance the cause of religious liberty in our foreign policy.”
 
H.R. 1150 currently is before three House committees: Foreign Affairs; Oversight and Government Reform; and Financial Services.
 
The signers of the letter, who describe themselves as a bipartisan group of “religious leaders, public intellectuals and scholars,” lament that “religious minorities the world over are suffering unjust discrimination and unconscionable persecution.” But, they note, “the catastrophic state of international religious freedom affects more than the victims. It undermines the national security of the United States.
 
“Without religious freedom, aspiring democracies will remain unstable,” they note. “Economic growth and development will be more difficult to achieve. The advancement of the rights of women and girls will continue to be obstructed. Perhaps most important of all, religious terrorism will continue to be incubated, nourished, and exported.”
 
Their letter reminds that “over three-quarters of the world’s people live in countries where restrictions on religion are severe,” according to the Pew Research Center.
 
“Anti-Semitism is rising at an alarming rate in the Middle East and, most troubling of all, in Europe. Christians in the Middle East, South and East Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa are being subjected to horrific violence. The very presence of the ancient Christian community in Iraq is at risk.”
 
(The full text of the letter and a recap of H.R. 1150’s various provisions follow this article.)
 
In addition to Moore, Warren and Starr, the letter’s signers include the Catholic archbishops of Washington and Philadelphia; cultural commentator and author Eric Metaxas; five current or former members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; former Sen. Joe Lieberman; and several Jewish, Muslim and Mormon officials.
 
The letter was dated July 14 and released to the public July 22.
 
Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, which passed a resolution on persecution in June, endorsed the appeal to Congress’ top leaders.
 
“As I regularly learn of the deplorable and horrific acts taken against Christians globally, I am moved beyond words,” Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, told Baptist Press in written comments. “We hurt with, pray for, and share the deep burden of seeing these horrific and demonic actions cease against Christians around the world.”
 
Floyd recounted that upon being elected as SBC president in June 2014, “I began to address this issue, write about it and lead Christians to pray about religious persecution around the globe.” He rallied all of the SBC’s past living presidents to join in sending a letter to President Obama urging immediate actions against religious persecution as well as steps to preserve religious liberty globally.
 
“I have also spoken to many members of Congress about this issue who are Southern Baptists,” Floyd said. “Therefore, I am grateful for the letter written by the leaders urging Congress to strengthen our response to terrorism, forwarding religious liberty for all globally.”
 
Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, affirmed Russ Moore’s embrace of the letter, stating, “I join with our ERLC in support of this initiative to secure religious liberty worldwide.”
 
The SBC resolution titled “On The Persecuted Church Worldwide” encouraged government officials to “elevate religious liberty concerns to the highest priority in foreign policy, invoking sanctions against those nations which advocate or tolerate persecution of those with differing religious beliefs.” And it called on Americans “to refrain from international trade, even at the risk of financial loss, with or in nations that practice religious persecution.”
 
And the resolution called Southern Baptists “to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters continually in our personal prayer times and regularly in our corporate worship services and prayer gatherings, asking that God grant them endurance, deliverance, justice, and souls won to Christ through their faithful and sacrificial witness.”
 
–––––
 
The full text of the letter to congressional leaders follows:
 
July 14, 2015
 
The Honorable Mitch McConnell
 
Majority Leader of the Senate
 
The Honorable John Boehner
 
The Speaker of the House of Representatives
 
The Honorable Harry Reid
 
Minority Leader of the Senate
 
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
 
Minority Leader of the House of Representatives
 
United States Capitol
 
Washington, D.C. 20515
 
Dear Senator McConnell, Senator Reid, Mr. Speaker and Minority Leader Pelosi:
 
We write as a diverse group of religious leaders, public intellectuals and scholars to urge Congressional action on the issue of international religious persecution that threatens people of faith worldwide and our national security.
 
We are gratified that religious liberty will be a subject of discussion between President Obama and Pope Francis during the Pope’s visit to the White House this September. The attention of these two world leaders to this issue is both timely and urgent.
 
We are witnessing a tragic, global crisis in religious persecution, violence, and terrorism, with dire consequences for religious minorities and for the national security of the United States.
 
According to the non-partisan Pew Research Center, over three-quarters of the world’s people live in countries where restrictions on religion are severe. Anti-Semitism is rising at an alarming rate in the Middle East and, most troubling of all, in Europe. Christians in the Middle East, South and East Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa are being subjected to horrific violence. The very presence of the ancient Christian community in Iraq is at risk.
 
Muslim minorities, and disfavored members of Muslim majority communities, are increasingly subjected to persecution. Indeed, religious minorities the world over are suffering unjust discrimination and unconscionable persecution. But the catastrophic state of international religious freedom affects more than the victims. It undermines the national security of the United States. Without religious freedom, aspiring democracies will remain unstable. Economic growth and development will be more difficult to achieve. The advancement of the rights of women and girls will continue to be obstructed. Perhaps most important of all, religious terrorism will continue to be incubated, nourished, and exported.
 
In 1998 Congress passed – unanimously – the International Religious Freedom Act, which mandates the protection of religious freedom in America’s foreign policy. The policy created by that law has developed under three administrations of both parties. Four ambassadors at large for international religious freedom have served our country. We wish to express our support for the current ambassador at large, David Saperstein.
 
Ambassador Saperstein’s job is at once exceedingly important and exceedingly difficult. He must develop and implement a strategy for the United States to undermine religious persecution and protect the free exercise of religion in scores of nations around the world. And yet, notwithstanding the stakes involved, Ambassador Saperstein lacks both the authority to develop a national strategy and the resources to carry it out.
 
H.R. 1150 would remedy these deficiencies by amending the International Religious Freedom Act to give Ambassador Saperstein the status that other ambassadors at large at the Department of State enjoy, the authority to develop an interagency strategy to protect global religious freedom, and the resources he needs to implement that strategy. It would also mandate training for all foreign service officers, deputy chiefs of mission, and country ambassadors. This training would ensure that our diplomats fully understand and can effectively defend the free expression of religion worldwide, the enduring value of religious freedom and its relationship to national security, and how to advance the cause of religious liberty in our foreign policy.
 
We urge you to support H.R. 1150. This is not a partisan or party issue. The freedom to practice one’s religion without fear is the precious birthright of every human being, of whatever class, status, or location on the earth. It is also the providence of persons of faith, everywhere. Of all people, we Americans should be united in defending this human right – on behalf of those who suffer grievously for its absence, and for the noble and essential cause of protecting our own beloved country.
 
–––––
 
H.R. 1150 includes, according to a summary of at Congress.gov., congressional action that:
 
“Amends the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) to locate the Office on International Religious Freedom in the Office of the Secretary of State.
 
“Directs the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom to seek to coordinate religious freedom policies and religious engagement strategies across all U.S. programs, projects, and activities.
 
“Specifies additional foreign government actions violating religious freedom for the Ambassador’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, including a Special Watch List of countries or violent nonstate actors that have engaged in or tolerated such violations but do not yet meet the criteria for designation as countries of particular concern for religious freedom.
 
“Amends the Foreign Service Act of 1980 to direct the Secretary to develop a curriculum for, and the Director of the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center to begin, mandatory training on religious freedom for all Foreign Service officers.
 
“Amends IRFA to require the Commission on International Religious Freedom to compile and make publicly available regularly updated lists of persons imprisoned, detained, disappeared, placed under house arrest, tortured, or subject to forced renunciations of faith by: (1) a foreign government recommended for designation as a country of particular concern for religious freedom, or (2) a violent nonstate actor.
 
“Amends the National Security Act of 1947 to direct the President to appoint in the National Security Council a Special Adviser for Global Religion Engagement and International Religious Freedom (in lieu of the Special Adviser to the President on International Religious Freedom) who shall assist the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom to coordinate executive branch international religious freedom policies and global religion engagement strategies.
 
“Establishes within the National Security Council: (1) the Interagency Policy Committee on Religious Freedom and Engagement; and (2) the Interagency Policy Committee on Religion, International Religious Freedom, and National Security.
 
“Amends IRFA to revise requirements, including reporting requirements, for presidential actions with respect to country and violent nonstate actor designations, in particular those countries on the Special Watch List.
 
“Declares the sense of Congress that:
 
* ongoing and persistent waivers for designated countries, especially those engaging in particularly severe violations of religious freedom, do not fulfill IRFA purposes; and
 
* the President, the Secretary, and other executive branch officials, in consultation with Congress, should seek to find ways to address existing violations, on a country-by-country basis, through specified actions.
 
“States that it should be U.S. policy that violent nonstate actors should be eligible for designation as countries of particular concern and that specified presidential actions should apply to them or individual members of such groups.
 
“Authorizes the President to take specified actions against foreign persons: (1) responsible for committing or supporting systemic violations of religious freedom, or (2) supporting violence or terrorist acts targeting members of religious groups.
 
“Declares the sense of Congress about: (1) adoption of codes of conduct by U.S. institutions of higher education outside the United States, and (2) national security strategy to promote religious freedom through U.S. foreign policy.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/24/2015 2:34:44 PM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Baptisms sign of church’s evangelism success

July 24 2015 by Brian Blackwell, Baptist Message/Baptist Press

Trinity Baptist Church planned to baptize 24 people one Sunday, as a special celebration of how God has blessed the congregation’s evangelism efforts this year.
 
But by the time the last person came out of the baptismal waters, 46 had been baptized. They join 108 others who have been baptized this year at the church in Lake Charles, La.
 
“When people started responding to that call to come, everyone stood up cheering and clapping,” said Greg Bath, Trinity’s minister of evangelism. “It was unbelievable. During our second service of the day, we were here way past 12 p.m. (when the service was scheduled to end) and no one had left.
 
“No one wanted to leave,” he noted. “They wanted to see God moving.”
 
The special emphasis, designated as Declaration Celebration, was promoted by the staff for several months.
 
Nine new believers were scheduled for baptism during the first worship service on June 28, with 15 slated in the second. But time also was reserved for additional baptisms, and, just in case, Trinity Baptist pastor Steve James brought a bag with T-shirts, shorts and towels to accommodate those who made decisions that day.
 
The newly baptized members represented a broad range of ages and other demographics, including four married couples and a grandfather and his grandson.
 
Among those baptized were Josh and Sarabeth Price who felt led to take that step together as husband and wife.
 
“I told Josh that this was something we needed to do together as a family,” she said. “This is something that if we have children we will be able to share with them, and that’s exciting. This was so special because it’s a milestone for us.”
 
Josh Price said that day was one he will never forget.
 
“It was an experience we will treasure,” he said. “When we heard about this day happening, we signed up because we felt it was a way to declare our faith in Christ. If it’s something that glorifies God, do it.”
 
For Mike Willis, seeing so many people he knew come forward to declare their faith in Christ through believer’s baptism made Declaration Celebration particularly special.
 
His son already was on the roster to be baptized that day, but when Pastor James invited others to accept Christ, Willis’ younger brother not only responded but asked to be baptized that day, too.
 
Willis knew others who came forward during the service, including a co-worker and his neighbor’s wife, and said tears were flowing by the end of the service.
 
“It was powerful to see that take place,” he said. “The Spirit moved like never before at that church.”
 
The Declaration Celebration came on the heels of an already busy year of evangelism for the church.
 
More than 2,000 attended Trinity Baptists’ Real Encounter event in April that featured high-speed motorcycle stunts and a gospel presentation. There, 194 accepted Christ.
 
During a special student ministry event called EPIC, 350 youth attended, with 18 making salvation decisions.
 
Then, at the church’s Vacation Bible School, 1,218 children registered, with 22 of them declaring Jesus as Lord and Savior.
 
Bath said seeing so many people respond to the call for baptism reflects an attitude of wanting to proclaim the gospel to a fallen world.
 
“At Trinity as a whole, we aim to share the gospel,” Bath said. “We aim to share the gospel with all who come on our campus and everyone in the community and this represents what we’re about. It represents who we are.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Blackwell is a staff writer for the Louisiana Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, where this story first appeared.)

7/24/2015 2:23:15 PM by Brian Blackwell, Baptist Message/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Escape artist prepares others for ultimate escape

July 24 2015 by Daniel Woodman, Baptist Press

Jumping out of airplanes, breaking free from jail cells, and evading death. It’s just another day of work for Anthony Martin.
 
Martin, a member of Mapledale Baptist Church in Sheboygan, Wis., started Ambassador in Chains Ministries in 1998. Martin uses his talents as an escape artist to draw people into local churches. He specifically hopes to attract those who would not necessarily come to the church for a more traditional presentation of the gospel.
 
Anthony Martin stands beside the box he would have to escape while being dropped 14,500 feet from an airplane.
 
Guy Fredrick, pastor at Mapledale Baptist, praised Martin for his work within the community and using his talents to share the gospel.
 
“He’s very evangelical, very solid in his doctrine, very solid in his teaching and I highly commend him,” Fredrick said.

 
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Leo A. Endel, executive director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention, also praised Martin, who is an executive committee member for the convention.
 
“I found Anthony to be humble and a gifted person.... His presentation really draws people’s attention and then he weaves it into a gospel presentation that is memorable,” Endel said.
 
Martin details the account of his life as an escape artist and as a follower of Jesus Christ in his book, Escape or Die, published in 2013. The 49-year-old escape artist has made a career of evading death, but even Martin says there is one escape he can’t do by himself.
 
 
“Skydivers deal with life and death every day,” Martin noted. “The reality is if the parachute doesn’t open, you’re going to impact the ground at 180 miles per hour. It’s a life-and-death situation. Now true, we do have a backup that God provided that we can escape eternal death and He was gracious enough to provide us with it. So for people to insist on being able to flap their arms to survive or somehow provide some other means is illogical.”
 
Despite the life-threatening situations Martin routinely places himself in, he has learned to understand his fears and not allow them to hinder his stunts.
 
“With my escapes, one principle is to understand what the different kinds of fear are,” he said. “There is the fear that the tiger is in the room, that’s a legitimate fear because you can see him, he’s in the room. Then there is the other kind of fear where what if the tiger comes in the room? And I find that most people spend a lot of time with the what-ifs.”
 
Martin has had to overcome fear many times in his career. In 1990, the escape artist had his hands chained and was placed inside a metal cage that had locks just removed from the factory packaging. The cage, along with Martin, was then lowered into a water-filled quarry. Martin was able to escape in one minute and 45 seconds.

 
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One of his more recent stunts garnered national attention when Martin appeared live on the Fox News Channel in 2013. The stunt involved him being handcuffed and chained inside a box with a “keyless” lock. The box containing Martin was then released from a plane 14,500 feet in the air. The live audience watched in awe as Martin escaped from the box and released his parachute in time to land safely on the ground.
 
Many would affirm that Martin is an example of how God can use extraordinary and unconventional talents to advance His Kingdom.
 
Martin wrote in his book that he originally intended to start his ministry with Roger Nelson. Nelson founded Skydive Chicago and became a mentor to Martin when he practiced his aerial escapes. Soon after the two men met, Nelson was imprisoned for involvement in a smuggling ring that funneled drugs from Central America into the U.S. But once out of jail, Nelson and Martin reconnected. Martin said he saw a changed man who had an authentic relationship with the Lord.
 
The duo worked together as Nelson passed off his wealth of skydiving knowledge. But Nelson died in a skydiving accident just days before their ministry was set to launch.
 
Nelson’s death led Martin to start the ministry in honor of his close friend, and he set out to impact local churches around the country with his unique abilities.
 
Martin said he believes in the local church and the role it has in reaching out to the local community. Martin said there is a place for many talents inside the church.
 
“I think the lesson to be learned is to use the talents that God has given you, whether you are a skydiver, an escape artist or whatever you do in life,” Martin said. “There is something that you do that puts you in a position to contact people. ... I can’t think of a profession where there is not some interaction with people.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Daniel Woodman was summer intern for Baptist Press. He is a journalism major at the University of Missouri.)

7/24/2015 1:50:21 PM by Daniel Woodman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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