June 2010

Critics: Caner not only one with dubious past

June 23 2010 by Omar Sacirbey, Religion News Service

Liberty University is expected to release a report this month on whether Ergun Caner, president of the school’s Baptist Theological Seminary, fabricated or exaggerated his life story as a former Muslim extremist rescued by Jesus.

Caner is no ordinary ex-Muslim. His story has made him a favorite in conservative Christian circles, and many credit the charismatic preacher with helping boost enrollment at the school founded by the late Jerry Falwell.

At the same time, Caner has become the poster boy for critics who say he’s just the latest charlatan in a line of supposedly ex-Muslim terrorists who have found an audience among Christian fundamentalists seeking to attack Islam.

Most worrisome, the critics say, is that the self-styled former terrorists have been welcomed as “experts” on Islam and terrorism by religious institutions, universities, media outlets, members of Congress and even the military.

“These guys are to real terrorists what a squirt gun is to an AK-47,” said Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who has battled claims of religious discrimination at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“But this is not a joke. This is a national security threat.”

Caner, 43, has repeatedly claimed to have been raised as a Muslim extremist in Turkey, but moved to Ohio as a teenager in 1978, and converted to Christianity. “Until I was 15 years old, I was in the Islamic youth jihad,” he said in a November 2001 sermon at the First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. “I was trained to do that which was done on 11 September, as were thousands of youth.”

In 2002, he wrote Inside Islam: An Insider’s Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs, with his brother Emir, the president of Truett-McConnell College, a Baptist school in Cleveland, Ga.

In recent months, however, skeptical bloggers, such as London-based Mohammad Khan of FakeExMuslims.com, and Oklahoma-based Debbie Kaufman of the Ministry of Reconciliation blog, began unearthing documents and statements by Caner contradicting his own claims.

The Caner brothers’ own book, for example, states they were born in Sweden, not Turkey, and spent most of their time with their non-Muslim mother, not their Muslim father, after the parents divorced in the U.S.

Records indicate the family arrived in the U.S. in 1974, four years earlier than Ergun Caner has claimed.

So far, Caner and Liberty officials have declined comment.

Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr., in a terse May 10 statement, said only that “in light of the fact that several newspapers have raised questions, we felt it necessary to initiate a formal inquiry.”

Other terrorists-turned-Christians have invited scrutiny as well, including U.S. citizens Walid Shoebat, author of Why We Want To Kill You, and Kamal Saleem, who has worked for Focus on the Family, and recently wrote, The Blood of Lambs. Like Caner’s book, their books purport to be insider explorations of radical Islam.

Shoebat, who has said “Islam is the devil,” claims to have been recruited by the Palestine Liberation Organization as a teenager. In 1977, he has said, he threw a bomb on the roof of the Bethlehem branch of an Israeli bank. The bank, however, has no record of the incident, which was never reported by Israeli news outlets.

When asked by The Jerusalem Post in 2008 why there were no records, Shoebat surmised that the incident was not serious enough to merit news coverage. Yet four years earlier, he told Britain’s Sunday Telegraph: “I was terribly relieved when I heard on the news later that evening that no one had been hurt or killed by my bomb.”

On his web site, Saleem claims to have carried out terror missions in Israel, fought with Afghan Mujahedeen against the Soviets, and came to the U.S. hoping to wage jihad against America. He also once claimed on the site that he was descended from the “grand wazir of Islam,” until skeptics pointed out that it was a nonsensical term, akin to calling someone the “governor of Christianity.”

Skeptics point out that Shoebat and Saleem claim to have carried out their terrorist activities in the 1960s and 1970s, long before modern Islamic radicalism emerged in the 1980s. They also question why, if their terror claims are true, they’ve been able to retain their U.S. citizenship.

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Caner, Shoebat, Saleem and others like them belong to an “industry” that is often perpetuated by fundamentalist Christians.

“The people that are doing this do it to make money, or get converts, or to get some personal benefit,” Hooper said.

Muslims and non-Muslims alike are troubled that these alleged former terrorists have been welcomed as experts. They have appeared on CNN and Fox News and spoken at Harvard Law School. In 2008, they were featured speakers at a terrorism conference sponsored by the U.S. Air Force Academy, the findings of which were to be distributed across the Pentagon and Capitol Hill.

With the U.S. engaged in active combat in the heart of the Islamic world, Weinstein believes Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. military are actively promoting terrorists-turned-Christians — with potentially deadly consequences.

“These guys are spewing Islamophobic hatred, and the Pentagon laps it up. This is the kind of prejudice and bigotry that can lead to genocide,” said Weinstein.

Despite the evidence against them, Hooper believes these people will continue to be welcomed by some institutions because they preach what some audiences want to hear.

“As long as you attack Islam and demonize Muslims, you’re going to get a platform,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if your facts and background are wrong.”
6/23/2010 7:04:00 AM by Omar Sacirbey, Religion News Service | with 5 comments

Owners weigh morality of walking on mortgages

June 23 2010 by Amy Green, Religion News Service

ORLANDO, Fla. — Lynn Thompson quit paying the mortgage on her investment property — not because she couldn’t afford the payments, but because she thinks walking away is better for her long-term financial health.

Thompson bought the property here for $175,000 in January 2007, just as the housing market began its slow downward slide. At the time, she planned to rent the house and eventually sell it for a profit.

Today, she estimates the house is worth $85,000, maybe less.

Unable to find renters to help cover the mortgage, she tried to convince her lender to allow a “short sale” — selling below the loan amount, with the lender forgiving the balance. When the lender declined, Thompson decided to walk away.

“I would have basically no money left every month if I made the payments,” said Thompson, a single 39-year-old pharmacist. “If I tried to sell the house in, say, 10 years from now, I still would have to come up probably with, say, $75,000.”

Desperate homeowners like Thompson have raised an ethical debate: Is it ever OK to walk away?

Nationwide, up to 25 million homeowners — about one in four – are “underwater”: like Thompson, their mortgages are worth more than their homes. Those who do walk away face an array of financial consequences, from damaged credit to the prospect of a lender suing to recover the balance. Yet for many, the question fundamentally is a moral one. Is it the right thing to do? It’s unclear how many homeowners, like Thompson, are opting for strategic defaults — allowing their homes to go into foreclosure even when they can make the payments. Many feel their homes are decades away from regaining value and they see no other options.

But especially in hard-hit places such as greater Orlando, where 55 percent of homeowners are underwater, the question is nagging at more homeowners, and the number of strategic defaults appears to be rising.

Strategic defaults accounted for 31 percent of all defaults in March, up from 22 percent the year before, according to an April report by Paola Sapienza of Northwestern University and Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago.

That doesn’t mean, however, that homeowners are walking away without feeling like they violated some ethical or moral code about not buying something they can’t afford. Some are left with a deep sense of debtor’s shame.

Brent White, a law professor at the University of Arizona whose writings include The Morality of Strategic Default, said more than 80 percent of homeowners still think defaulting on a mortgage is immoral, and those who do it usually make the decision not for financial reasons but emotional ones, he said.

In other words, it takes more than a dismal financial reality to push homeowners to default. Often underwater homeowners feel angry, depressed or hopeless, he said.

“People walk away because they’re angry at their lenders,” he said. “They have been unable to work with them, and the government hasn’t done anything to help underwater homeowners who are trying to make their mortgage payments. If people were acting purely on a rational basis, they would walk away much sooner than they do.”

At the heart of the question are biblical concepts of promise-keeping and neighborliness, said James Childs, theologian and ethicist at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, who noted that one neighbor’s default can sink another neighbor’s property values.

“The simple answer is we make certain promises when we move into a neighborhood that we’re going to be good neighbors,” said Childs, author of Greed: Economics and Ethics in Conflict. “If my greed ... is realized at the expense of my neighbors and I say I’m free to do that, then I’ve missed an ethical point entirely.”

Yet in an economy that rose and fell on the backs of unaffordable mortgages, homeowners aren’t the only ones to blame, ethicists say.

White, from the University of Arizona, believes the housing market and economy could recover more quickly if homeowners could rid themselves of negative equity, allowing housing prices to hit bottom faster. The longer homeowners remain underwater, the longer they feel poor and spend less money. What’s more, a job loss or medical illness could be even more devastating.

For now, Mike Booth will remain in his home. He and his wife bought their first home in 2008, two years after they married, for $205,000 — a bargain since the house was appraised at $240,000.

Today, he estimates the house would sell for $165,000, but the 30-year-old engineer is taking the long view on what he and his wife call “our little castle.”

“We’ve entered into a binding moral contract,” said Booth, who lives in suburban Orlando. “... Really we don’t think about it being underwater. It’s kind of like being in a long-term investment, and tracking it daily doesn’t make sense.”
6/23/2010 7:00:00 AM by Amy Green, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

Losing faith can be occupational hazard

June 22 2010 by Solange de Santis

NEW YORK (RNS) For some clergy, it is the problem that dare not speak its name.

Affected pastors say they cannot be themselves among their congregations or colleagues, sometimes even with their own families.
It's a huge and burdensome secret with the potential to destroy their careers, they say. They think they're not the only ones, but feel terribly lonely.

No, it's not some kind of sexual secret -- it's loss of faith.

Daniel C. Dennett, co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University outside Boston, and Linda LaScola, a Washington-based clinical social worker, researcher and psychotherapist, are the authors of a recent study entitled "Preachers Who Are Not Believers" in the journal Evolutionary Psychology.

There used an admittedly tiny sample -- just five pastors, all Protestants -- of clergy who tell their congregations one thing, but secretly believe another.

"One of the things that was striking was how much like gays of the 1950s these pastors are," Dennett said. "In most cases, Linda was the first person these pastors had ever discussed this with. They were very lonely."

Dennett and LaScola state upfront that they themselves are not believers; indeed, Dennett is at the forefront of the "New Atheist"
movement. His book, "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon," tried to explain the human search for the divine as a part of basic evolutionary survival.

Yet the two remain "sympathetic and fascinated" observers of faith, intrigued by the idea of active clergy who "don't believe what many of their parishioners think they believe and think they ought to believe."

The five respondents all have master's-level seminary education; three were from liberal denominations and two were from more conservative, evangelical traditions.

Defining the blurry line between "belief" and "non-belief" was a challenge, Dennett and LaScola wrote. Two ministers felt they had crossed a self-defined line, saying they no longer deserved to be called believers. Three said that while they may not believe in a supernatural god, yet they believe in something.

"Wes," a United Methodist minister, said he now sees God as "a kind of poetry written by human beings." He distinguished himself from an atheist by acknowledging that the word God "has value in some contexts."

One key point on the road to unbelief was scholarly studies of the historical origins of the Bible -- it "does not fit with what is taught in Sunday school," Dennett said.

"Darryl," a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister, said his seminary studies "blew open" Christian doctrine, leading him to realize there was "a variety of thought that went in every different kind of direction" in Christianity. "Adam," of the Church of Christ, learned that there is variation in biblical texts and remembered wondering whether church founders picked the right one.

All five clergy "set out to do good" when they entered the ministry, Dennett noted, which is why they struggle so deeply with their current situations. Although Darryl still described himself as a "Jesus follower," he also says he rejects "heaven and hell in the traditional sense," the virgin birth and the divinity of Jesus.

"They care, that's the problem," Dennett said. "There is a deep anguish and guilt and a sense of loyalty to the church as well as a desire to protect members of the congregation."

So why not simply abandon the pulpit? Several ministers, nowhere near retirement age, said they needed the job to put food on the table.
Others said such a step would be devastating to their families. "Jack," a Southern Baptist, said leaving the church would turn his wife's world "upside-down." Adam said he tells himself, "Just keep doing it ... just keep along with it ... tell yourself that this is for the greater good for the people I care about ... you're doing good in your community; you're respected."

Dennett and LaScola claim that neither denominational leaders nor congregations seem much interested in the depth and specifics of a clergyperson's faith -- and for good reason.

"When a congregation is searching for new pastor, they are much more interested in pastoral skills, a way with people, inspiring sermons. They tend not to give the candidate the third degree about theology," Dennett said. And the last thing a bishop wants to hear is that "one of the front line preachers is teetering on the edge of default," the pair wrote.

Patrick Malloy, an Episcopal priest and professor of liturgy at General Theological Seminary in New York, agreed that "search committees do not give applicants the `third degree,"' yet said "that does not mean they are indifferent to the applicant's faith."

Malloy said he knows a number of Episcopal bishops, and "I can tell you that not one of them would take a `don't ask, don't tell' approach" to a clergyperson's faith, even while they might respect "a breadth of opinion" and even "honest doubt."

Respondents and others who spoke to Dennett and LaScola said they believe they are the tip of an iceberg, so the pair plans a follow-up study, given the necessary funding and willing subjects.

"We would like to get more denominations, more stories," he said.  They also want to know whether it's harder for a man (or woman) of the cloth to lose faith in more conservative denominations than in more liberal ones.

"Is it true that in the more conservative denominations that ... the gap between what they believe and what their parishioners believe is more painful? It's likely, but we don't know."



6/22/2010 2:50:00 AM by Solange de Santis | with 1 comments

Defender Goodson: God has been faithful

June 21 2010 by Caley King Newberry

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (BP)--Some Christians have miraculous stories of how they came to know Christ. Some have found themselves in the deepest, darkest moments one could possibly imagine and realized there was nowhere left to turn but to a Higher Power.

Clarence Goodson, a defender on the U.S. World Cup team, was not one of those stories.

Raised in a very tight-knit family with strong Christian values in Alexandria, Va., Goodson recognized at an early age the difference in right and wrong and was active in his local church. His parents were strong influences in his life and provided him with a Christian foundation to build his relationship with Christ.

Goodson does recall, however, one of the lower points in his life. Having dreamt all his life of being a professional soccer player, Goodson tried out for the Olympic Development Program and was cut from the district team, which is the lowest level of the league. Discouraged that his dreams may never come true, Goodson knew that however disheartened and disappointed he may be at the time, God was faithful.

"I believe God rewards faithfulness," Goodson said. "If we are obedient and follow Christ with all of our mind, body and soul, we will receive our heart's desires. That's not to say that you can get whatever you want, but if it is in God's will for your life, you will receive abundant joy. I am very proud to say that today, though hard work and putting my faith in Jesus Christ, I am the only person from those ODP tryouts to make the U.S. Men's National Team. Sometimes we think that things could not get much worse, but Christ has a bigger plan set out for each and every one of us."

From the outside, many sports fans idolize the lifestyles of professional athletes, convinced they live a life of luxury, complete with six-car garages, movie-theater-sized televisions and steak dinners every night, with no struggles -- financially or otherwise. That's not always the case for a Christian athlete, Goodson said.

"As an athlete, there are many temptations that the normal, everyday person may not experience," he said. "People want to give you things or ask things of you that are not things Christians should be involved with. As a Christian, we have to know what's right and wrong and recognize that we are in a position as professional athletes to lead others to Christ because of our platform."

Goodson married his wife, Kelsey, in January 2009 and says that she is now the biggest influence in his life. In addition to his wife, he says others who make big impacts on his life spiritually and professionally are his father; Cliff Shaw, the chaplain for FC Dallas in MLS; and his youth soccer coach, Gene Mishalow.

"They are the biggest role models in my life, and I don't make any big decisions without first consulting them because I know they'll always point me in the right direction," Goodson said.

Currently a defender for IK Start in Norway, Goodson says he originally struggled in a country that is spiritually thirsty. Having always been surrounded by strong spiritual influences, the lack of spirituality in Norway was a temporary shock to Goodson, but he quickly recognized the opportunity that presented itself, like he strives to do in every situation.

"Norway lacks the amount of full-fledged Christians that my teams in America had. We do have a few good Christians here that love Jesus Christ," Goodson said. "We are good for each other to pick up when we may be feeling down or going through difficult times. We all need the fellowship of believers in our lives. It's easy today to get sermons and music on the Internet, but that doesn't give you the Christian interaction we all desperately need."

Since he came to Norway in 2008, IK Start has signed other Christian players that Goodson has connected with, and his wife provides a strong spiritual grounding for him as well. When he is home in the United States, he attends First Baptist Church in Springfield, Va.

Goodson's Christian upbringing has molded him into the strong man he is today, and he credits his family for that, knowing he wouldn't be who he is or where he is without them, not only on a professional level, but, more importantly, on a spiritual level.

"Mothers and fathers are extremely important in the growth of a child," he said. "They set the standard for everything in their children's lives, and they are the ones who teach right from wrong, good from bad and how to be a faithful Christian."

Caley King Newberry is a writer based in Henderson, Tenn.

6/21/2010 11:26:00 AM by Caley King Newberry | with 0 comments

Nobles Chapel members pick up pieces

June 18 2010 by Dianna Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor

Members of Nobles Chapel Baptist Church in Sims spent the week trying to salvage some water-damaged pieces from its sanctuary and educational building.

Lightning struck the church June 13 causing the two buildings to catch on fire. The strike hit the fuse box in the portion of the building that connected the two facilities.

“Thankfully no one was in the building,” said Rodney Walls, who has been the church’s pastor for seven years. “We were very fortunate.”

In a phone interview with the Biblical Recorder, Walls was looking out from the parsonage at the destruction.

Photo by Ramona Westbrook

Flames rise up from the opening left by the falling church steeple at Nobles Chapel Baptist Church in Sims. Lightning struck the church June 13 destroying the sanctuary and the Sunday School building.

“I’m looking at it as we speak,” he said. “It’s like a war zone.”

The church does not have Sunday evening services so no one was in the building when the lightning strike occurred.

Firefighters were able to keep the fire from reaching the fellowship hall. Pulpit, pews, and communion table all sustained smoke and water damage.

The church Bible, as well as pictures of previous pastors, was rescued.

A committee met June 16-17 in the evenings to begin plans for rebuilding.

“It’s been kind of overwhelming actually,” said Walls, who was driving back from vacation when he got a call about the fire. “None of us were really prepared.”

The people of Nobles Chapel have been “stepping up” helping clean and try to salvage what they can.

The Walls live in the parsonage across from the church. Walls said he mainly worked from the parsonage so he did not lose much in the church study. But a most precious piece of art is lost forever. His daughter drew a picture of Jesus on a cross when they arrived at the church seven years ago. It has held a special place in his church office as well as his heart all these years.

“It’s stuff,” he said. “No lives were lost; we’re very blessed.”

The parsonage yard became the gathering place for members and concerned citizens as firefighters battled the blaze Sunday night. The church was established in 1901 and currently averages around 80 in worship on Sunday mornings.

Members will meet in the fellowship hall and cancel Sunday School for now.

“The people are really wanting to get the rubble off the campus,” he said. That could begin to happen as early as next week.

No alternative plans for Vacation Bible School have been discussed yet, but that will have to be addressed because the church usually hosts VBS in August.

The church just updated its insurance last year and is working with representatives to figure out the next step.
6/18/2010 7:32:00 AM by Dianna Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 0 comments

First year at Fruitland good for Horton

June 18 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

David Horton is firmly seated in the president’s saddle at Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute and has begun to apply the spurs.

On virtually the first anniversary of his assuming the role June 1, 2009, Horton announced that Fruitland would start three satellite campuses in North Carolina, with plans for as many more as there are groups of at least 10 students to support them.

While he envisioned satellite campuses even as he was being considered to succeed Kenneth Ridings as Fruitland’s eighth president, Horton quickly learned his goal was shared by many.

BR photo by Norman Jameson

David Horton

Chief among them are directors of missions aware of pastors who want theological education but who cannot afford college tuition or who cannot leave their fields.

While getting things into place to take that first big step, Horton eased into the president’s shoes by establishing a good relationship with students. He is not currently in the classroom, so he is an intentional presence in the cafeteria and around campus. His door is open to students at all times.

Last winter he and his wife, Lisa, sledded with students.

“It’s amazing how you can bond out there, doing something like that,” he said during an interview on his 50th birthday May 26 at Caraway Conference Center.  

Fighting Fruitland 40

Lisa Horton, who is very involved on campus, organized a campus fitness center to counteract what David Horton called the Fruitland Freshman Forty — those pounds too many students gain in the presence of a good cafeteria and absence of proper exercise.

“Through the years I’ve noticed in my own life and in the lives of other ministers, how easy it is to overlook proper nutrition and physical fitness,” Horton said. “It’s so easy to get busy doing good things for others, doing the Lord’s work, we forget our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and it’s the only temple we get.

“I’m not sure we can add years to our lives more than God intended to give us, but in the years God gives us we can have bodies that will serve us better if we take care of them.”

The Hortons work out there together and separately, as David is “in the process of losing several pounds” to be a better example, he said.

“Students comment on how good it makes them feel to see us down there with them working out.”

There was some initial surprise in the state when Horton was announced as the presidential candidate because he is neither a graduate of Fruitland nor does he hold an earned doctorate, both of which were thought beforehand to be qualifications the search committee would demand.

His immediate rapport with students, his love of Fruitland and the energy he exudes being back in mountains similar to where he grew up in Virginia have erased any issues about the new president not being a Fruitland grad.

And he — along with his two top administrators — is enrolled in the doctor of education program at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and vice presidents Scott Thompson and J.D. Grant are on the same track at Southeastern to graduate in May 2013.

They pray together weekly and he credits much of the progress at Fruitland to the covenantal relationship they share.

Horton said Fruitland’s staff and board “have been excellent,” during his first year, displaying an attitude of “How do we help this happen?”

He and Lisa live with their youngest son Matthew in the president’s house across the road from the chapel.

“I love living in Hendersonville,” he said. “We loved Greensboro; we raised our children there and pastored a wonderful church. But I grew up in the mountains of Virginia, in Hillsville.

“I’ve always loved the mountains. So for me, moving to a more rural setting into the mountains has in many ways been like going back home.”  

Fruitland first lady
Horton lauds Lisa, “a wonderful pastor’s wife” who grew up in a pastor’s home.

She ministers to wives of students with Bible studies, practical insights and training on how to be a minister’s wife.

“She is doing a great job and the ladies are responding to her,” he said. “They realize she is a great resource for them, as she has been for me for 31 years.”

Horton’s son Michael is an associate pastor at First Baptist Church, Dublin. His daughter Mandy lives with her family in High Point.

In earlier days, Fruitland would not admit students who were right out of high school.

The student body is becoming increasingly younger as students see Fruitland as an inexpensive destination for their earliest training.

“Today a lot of students feel comfortable starting with us,” Horton said. “When they finish with us they have learned so much they are ready to go to any school and do well.”

Horton was just 24 the first time he preached on the Fruitland campus, a place he calls “a preacher’s dream” because of the enthusiasm and appreciation students there have for preaching.

Coming from the pastorate, Horton knew he would miss preaching if he had only limited opportunity, but he said he is preaching more than once a week at area churches. 

Horton is considering offering online education courses from Fruitland, but that is not certain.

“During the next year we’ll continue to try to grow the school and manage what we’re doing well,” he said. “I enjoy doing new things, but I want to make sure the new things are done well.”
6/18/2010 5:49:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Prayers, soldier carry refugee child to safety

June 18 2010 by Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder

The sanctuary had never been this quiet before during a service.

As Siv Ashley spoke, no one moved. Not a sound distracted from her testimony. Every eye was focused intently on the diminutive, black-haired woman before them.

Most in the congregation knew of the cruelty she described only in theory, but she had once lived its grim reality.

Now, standing before them was a woman who had seen the very depths of human depravity. She survived to tell the congregation of her experiences, but she had also come to tell them of the God who brought her through it all.

Hers is an accent tinged mostly by her youth in Cambodia. However, having lived the last 31 years in Ashe and Yadkin counties in northwest North Carolina, there’s a little bit of country in there, too. It’s a charming trait that carries her testimony that much closer to home. As Ashley spoke, tears fell from the eyes of men and women alike. There was laughter, too.

But most of all, there was hope. Siv Ashley, a member of Mountain View Baptist Church in Hamptonville, is the very essence of faith.  

The Parade
Born Siv Lang Sov on Sept. 18, 1965, in Cambodia, her father moved the family to the capital city of Phnom Penh to have easier access to the “big-nosed people” — Caucasians — who could tell them about Christ and to maybe get an education. She was about six years old when what she thought was a parade began.

It wasn’t a parade. At least not a festive one. The infamous Khmer Rouge regime was about to relocate the area’s residents to one of its collective farms, which amounted to nothing less than a Nazi concentration camp.

Contributed photo

Siv Ashley

“The soldiers just started hitting people, started moving us out of whatever we were living in,” Ashley remembered. “My dad, at this point, he knew there was something wrong.

“He was looking for us. My brother and I were playing … we thought it was a parade. It was just so sudden. He came and grabbed us and said we needed to stick together.”

The family gathered a few belongings, but only what they could carry. They walked without knowing where they were headed, and what seemed like days might very well have been a single 24-hour period. For all the horrors they encountered along the way, there was no way of telling for sure how long the journey took.

It was as if the Khmer Rouge soldiers were on drugs, Ashley said, because they turned so suddenly vicious. They knocked down people on crutches and shot the elderly who couldn’t walk fast enough.

Children were crying, some couldn’t find their parents. Toddlers were trampled in the chaos.

And … there was this: Her father hacked her hair off with a knife to make her look like a boy, so she wouldn’t be raped.

“Pretty girls were being taken,” Ashley said. “My dad realized what was really going on, so he just took a knife.

“Right before they started taking us, he just cut my hair, just cut it, just cut it everywhere, just to make sure I looked ugly and looked like a little boy.”

Ashley wound up in the forced labor camp for about five years, and lost her entire family in the process.  

Siv’s Angel
Twice, Ashley was part of groups that escaped the camp. The last such effort included some 2,000 people, on foot, trying to make their way to freedom.

Waiting at a mountain, they knew they couldn’t go back but were afraid to go forward. Scavenging desperately for what food they could, many died of starvation.

Terrified, Ashley broke down.

“In my language, I prayed, ‘Joo-Soo (Jesus), if you are hearing us right now, just let us know a sign. Save us. Save us children,’” she said. “As soon as I broke down, I heard a helicopter and there were these packages dropping. I didn’t know what it was. There was food.”

She grabbed one of the aid packages, but as soon as she did, bombs started falling. 

A soldier — to this day, she remembers the stars of the American flag on his sleeve — grabbed her in the midst of the attack and carried her to safety.

“I remember that he had a gun and he had a backpack,” Ashley said of the man she calls her angel.

“He was scared … I was scared. This stranger was picking me up, and I didn’t know what was going on. We were running through that forest as fast as he could go.

“They were shooting at us, and he was shooting back.”

Suddenly, everything stopped. The soldier patted her head and shared a pack of crackers. Then, he was gone.

She would never know his identity. She remembers only the flag on his sleeve and that he was one of the “big-nosed people,” a Caucasian. Ashley wound up in a refugee camp on the border with Thailand, where miraculously, she found a maternal aunt who took her in as a third daughter.

“She said, ‘It’s OK. My husband and I will adopt you, and anywhere we go, we’re going to go together as a family. We’re going to move to a place called America,’” Ashley said, tears beginning to well in her eyes. “My dad had always told me, ‘You just have to have hopes and dreams, and you will have a good life.’”            

A Place Called America
Eventually, in August 1979, Ashley made it to the United States when her family was sponsored by members of Jefferson United Methodist Church in Ashe County.

At age 14, she knew no English and had never been to school a day in her life. The pictures of her standing with her kindergarten classmates might be humorous if they weren’t at the same time heart-breaking. Still, Ashley didn’t feel out of place.

“I didn’t care … I didn’t care that I was with the little kids,” Ashley said. “I was blessed just to be able to be with them.”

While hearing her new pastor speak, Ashley made the connection that the “Joo-Soo” her father had followed was Jesus Christ. She has been a woman of faith ever since and married her husband, Kenny Ashley. Today, they have two teen-aged children, Tia and Ty.

“Basically, I had gave my life to Christ when my dad talked about Christ, but I didn’t know it,” Ashley concluded. “We went to church that first week in Jefferson, and the preacher held up the Bible and talked about Jesus. I heard the word and it sounded so familiar. My eyes just lit up.”

More and more, Ashley has begun to share her life’s story with others. She has a growing conviction to tell other of her relationship with God, who saved her spiritually … and physically.


(EDITOR’S NOTE — Houston is a Baptist writer in Yadkinville, who most often covers NASCAR and the space program.)
6/18/2010 5:42:00 AM by Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder | with 0 comments

GCR, Orlando boost attendance

June 18 2010 by Baptist Press

ORLANDO, Fla. — Interest in the Great Commission Resurgence helped fuel a great attendance resurgence at the 2010 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention June 15-16 in Orlando, Fla.

This year’s unofficial messenger count was 11,070, compared to last year’s 8,790, SBC registration secretary Jim Wells told Baptist Press.

Wells said a family-friendly convention site like Orlando was likely another big draw. If the unofficial count holds, this year’s messenger tally will be the third-highest total in recent years:
  • 8,790 in Louisville (2009)
  • 7,277 in Indianapolis (2008)
  • 8,630 in San Antonio (2007)
  • 11,639 in Greensboro, N.C. (2006)
  • 11,641 in Nashville (2005)
In Orlando, host state Florida tallied 1,886 messengers this year, a huge jump over last year’s 393, and 600 more than the next-largest delegation — Georgia with 1,266.

As for next year in Phoenix, Wells said he is anticipating a dip in attendance.

The unofficial state-by-state messenger registration numbers show North Carolina with 829 messengers. Other states were: Alaska, 16; Alabama, 869; Arkansas, 332; Arizona, 30; California, 117; Colorado, 49; Connecticut, 5; Washington, D.C., 12; Delaware, 8; Florida, 1,886; Hawaii, 16; Iowa, 27; Idaho, 11; Illinois, 207; Indiana, 143; Kansas, 64; Kentucky, 670; Louisiana, 298; Massachusetts, 3; Maryland, 127; Maine, 2; Michigan, 59; Minnesota, 12; Missouri, 295; Mississippi, 447; Montana, 10; Nebraska, 8; New Hampshire, 6; New Jersey, 20; New Mexico, 38; Nevada, 39; New York, 52; Ohio, 169; Oklahoma, 285; Oregon, 2; Pennsylvania, 41; Puerto Rico 13; Rhode Island, 1; South Carolina, 630; South Dakota, 1; Tennessee, 868; Texas, 529; Utah, 10; Virginia, 361; Vermont, 8; Washington, 12; Wisconsin, 10; West Virginia 87; Wyoming, 15.

Official totals for the 2010 annual meeting will be available at the end of June, Wells said.
6/18/2010 5:26:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

GCR, Orlando boost attendance

June 18 2010 by Baptist Press

ORLANDO, Fla. — Interest in the Great Commission Resurgence helped fuel a great attendance resurgence at the 2010 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention June 15-16 in Orlando, Fla.

This year’s unofficial messenger count was 11,070, compared to last year’s 8,790, SBC registration secretary Jim Wells told Baptist Press.

Wells said a family-friendly convention site like Orlando was likely another big draw. If the unofficial count holds, this year’s messenger tally will be the third-highest total in recent years:
  • 8,790 in Louisville (2009)
  • 7,277 in Indianapolis (2008)
  • 8,630 in San Antonio (2007)
  • 11,639 in Greensboro, N.C. (2006)
  • 11,641 in Nashville (2005)
In Orlando, host state Florida tallied 1,886 messengers this year, a huge jump over last year’s 393, and 600 more than the next-largest delegation — Georgia with 1,266.

As for next year in Phoenix, Wells said he is anticipating a dip in attendance.

The unofficial state-by-state messenger registration numbers show North Carolina with 829 messengers. Other states were: Alaska, 16; Alabama, 869; Arkansas, 332; Arizona, 30; California, 117; Colorado, 49; Connecticut, 5; Washington, D.C., 12; Delaware, 8; Florida, 1,886; Hawaii, 16; Iowa, 27; Idaho, 11; Illinois, 207; Indiana, 143; Kansas, 64; Kentucky, 670; Louisiana, 298; Massachusetts, 3; Maryland, 127; Maine, 2; Michigan, 59; Minnesota, 12; Missouri, 295; Mississippi, 447; Montana, 10; Nebraska, 8; New Hampshire, 6; New Jersey, 20; New Mexico, 38; Nevada, 39; New York, 52; Ohio, 169; Oklahoma, 285; Oregon, 2; Pennsylvania, 41; Puerto Rico 13; Rhode Island, 1; South Carolina, 630; South Dakota, 1; Tennessee, 868; Texas, 529; Utah, 10; Virginia, 361; Vermont, 8; Washington, 12; Wisconsin, 10; West Virginia 87; Wyoming, 15.

Official totals for the 2010 annual meeting will be available at the end of June, Wells said.
6/18/2010 5:26:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Tenn. Baptist summer missionary dies in accident

June 17 2010 by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist and Reflector

STANDISH, Maine — Tennessee Baptist summer missionary Palmer Maphet, 20, of Mount Juliet, was killed June 16 and three other Tennessee students and their supervisor were injured after the car they were traveling in was struck by another vehicle near Portland.

Maphet, a sophomore at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville, was serving on a travel team sent out by Tennessee Baptist Collegiate Ministry. The team was traveling to minister at Laconia Motorcycle Week in Laconia, N.H., when the accident occurred.

Three other students also were injured: Leah Hardwick, Jackson, a student at Jackson State Community College; Justin Owens, Union City, a student at the University of Tennessee, Martin; and Legon Craighead, Gordonsville, a student at Union University, Jackson.

Also injured was Marilyn McClendon, the students’ supervisor who was driving the car.

Owens, Craighead and McClendon were treated at Maine Medical Center and released the same day. Hardwick was held overnight and expected to be released on June 17.

According to a news report by the Portland (Maine) News, a Toyota Tacoma pickup truck, driven by Paula Haddow, 63, of Standish, crossed into the lane and struck McClendon’s car.

“Palmer Maphet was an exceptional Christian man,” said Bill Choate, director of Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) for the Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC). “He will obviously be missed by so very many.”

Maphet was very involved in the BCM at Tennessee Tech, according to BCM director John Aaron Matthew. After the accident, Matthew posted on Facebook that Palmer had served as team leader of his freshman spiritual growth team and this past spring began his new position on the upperclassmen discipleship team.

He also was “preparing to reach his dorm for Christ as a community group leader,” Matthew wrote.

“Palmer lived a life that was not wasted because he lived his life running hard after Christ in an effort to know God and to make Him known,” Matthew also observed on his Facebook page. Matthew asked for prayer for the Maphet family and for his summer mission team in Maine.

“Please pray that Palmer’s life still continues to bring glory to God even in death.”

Choate noted that each summer Tennessee BCM sends students to New England to serve with Southern Baptist churches in reaching out into their communities. He noted that McClendon, who was leading this team, “is one of BCM’s very best partners and local missionary supervisors, working with us for many years to engage Tennessee students in ministry in a secular culture.”

McClendon, a former staff member at Highland Baptist Church in Tullahoma, currently serves on the staff at SouthCoast Community Church in Scarborough, a suburb of Portland. Stacy Murphree, TBC collegiate missions specialist, was traveling to Maine on Thursday to be with the remaining BCM summer missionaries.    
6/17/2010 9:02:00 AM by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist and Reflector | with 0 comments

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