June 2011

Patterson, Mohler endorse NIV resolution

June 30 2011 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Two prominent Southern Baptist leaders have endorsed a resolution passed by convention messengers that calls the New International Version (NIV) 2011 Bible an “inaccurate translation” the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) cannot recommend.

Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, say messengers were right to pass the resolution and take a stand against what the language calls “gender neutral methods of translation.” Mohler, though, did say he regrets the resolution addresses LifeWay stores so directly.

The controversy over a newer version of the NIV dates back to 2002 when messengers passed a resolution criticizing the Today’s New International Version (TNIV) Bible, which also employed a gender-neutral philosophy of translation for pronouns. After receiving criticism from James Dobson, Southern Baptist leaders and other evangelical leaders, the TNIV never gained widespread usage and finally was discontinued.

At issue in both cases are pronouns for humanity, not pronouns for God.

The NIV 2011 is an updated translation to both the TNIV and the NIV 1984. It maintains 75 percent of the gender-neutral changes found in the TNIV, according to the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), a Louisville, Ky.-based group that supports a complementarian position on manhood and womanhood. CBMW did acknowledge that the NIV 2011 had “numerous commendable improvements” from the NIV 1984 but that the newest translation still had problems from CBMW’s perspective. The NIV 2011, CBMW contends, changes the meaning of the text in numerous verses, and by changing singular pronouns to plural pronouns, “removes the emphasis on an individual, personal relationship with God and on specific individual responsibility for one’s choices and actions.”

The NIV’s popularity — it’s the bestselling Bible translation — is a driving force behind the controversy. Zondervan, the North American publisher, is discontinuing the NIV 1984 and replacing it with the NIV 2011.

The fact that the resolution on the NIV 2011 was debated at all at the SBC annual meeting was somewhat of a surprise, because the Resolutions Committee, the body charged to recommend resolutions to the convention, had declined it. Instead, messenger Tim Overton asked from the floor that his resolution — previously submitted to the committee as required — be brought forward, and messengers voted to consider it by the required margin of at least 2-to-1. After a brief debate, it passed overwhelmingly by a show of ballots, receiving opposition from only a few dozen messengers out of the 4,800 who were registered.

CBMW’s lengthy NIV 2011 evaluation, released in May, helped give the resolution momentum.

“The adoption of a resolution on the NIV offered from the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention has three major points of significance,” Patterson told Baptist Press in a statement. “First, it demonstrates anew that a grass-roots response on the part of Southern Baptists is still a unique feature of the DNA of the Convention, something that we must never loose. Second, the adoption of this resolution demonstrates the continuing concern that the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists have for gender-neutral translations of the Scripture and the questionable advertising techniques of the NIV marketing program. In fact, Southern Baptists will continue to reject all agenda-driven translations of Holy Scripture.

“Third,” Patterson continued, “this action from the floor of the Convention should send a message to all Southern Baptist Convention institutions and agencies that we are expected to pursue our ministries out of conviction rather than out of concern for profitability.” Focus on the Family also has quietly taken a stance on the NIV 2011. Its website lists a series of Bibles it recommends, specifically stating the “New International Version 1984 Edition” as an acceptable translation. An asterisk guides readers to the bottom of the list, where it says, “For a preliminary analysis of the NIV 2011 Edition, see the CBMW’s review.” The link takes readers to a November article where CBMW said it “cannot commend” the updated translation.

Mohler said he thought the Resolutions Committee and messengers were both right. “The Committee on Resolutions had good reason for deciding that this was not the most timely opportunity to bring a resolution on the NIV,” Mohler told Baptist Press. “I would not second guess the Resolutions Committee, and I certainly know their conviction on these issues. But once that resolution was brought to the floor, Southern Baptists simply had to support it, and support it overwhelmingly, on the basis of the fact that what it said was patently true and did reflect the established concerns of Southern Baptists.”

The resolution, Mohler said, reflected his concerns “related to the gender issue and specifically related to the linkage between a verbal plenary understanding of inspiration and the importance of an accurate and formal translation.”

The doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration holds that all the words of Scripture are God’s words and that all scripture is authoritative.

Douglas Moo, chairman of the Committee on Bible Translation — which translated the NIV 2011 — previously told Baptist Press there was no agenda in the translation process other than to render a Bible into more contemporary language. The committee did, he said, make significant changes following the controversy over the TNIV.

“Our gender decisions were made on the basis of very careful and significant research ... and the decisions we’ve made about gender have no motivation of not offending people,” he told Baptist Press, explaining that the committee used the Collins Bank of English, a database of 4.4 billion words showing how people are speaking and writing. “The motivation, rather, is to communicate clearly to people what we think arguably is contemporary English,” Moo said.

He added, “Where, in our view, the original text is intending to be inclusive then we feel our job as translators is to figure out what is the best way to make that inclusive point in modern English.

“Where the original text is exclusive, on the other hand, then our task as translators is to choose the appropriate contemporary exclusive English construction that conveys the meaning of the original. That is not to say that all of the decisions are easy ones. There are a lot of texts which are very tough to make that decision about. Of course, we struggle with those, and good scholars can come to different opinions on some of them.”

An example of the NIV 2011’s gender-neutral language is John 14:23, which reads, “Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’” The NIV 1984 read, “Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’” Changing “him” to “them,” CBMW says, removes the emphasis on an individual, personal relationship with Christ. Another example is 1 Samuel 18:2, which the 2011 NIV rendered, “From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family.” The 1984 NIV translated it “ ... let him return home to his father’s house” — a translation CBMW said emphasizes the role of fathers in Israelite society.

Still another verse of concern for CBMW is 1 Timothy 2:12, a passage dealing with church roles. The controversy actually does not pertain to pronouns. The NIV 2011 rendered it, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” The NIV 1984 translated it “have authority.” No other major modern English translation translates it as “assume.” The verse, CBMW said, takes sides in the debate over female pastors. “As soon as a church adopts the 2011 NIV,” CBMW said, “the debate over women’s roles in that church will be over, because women pastors and elders can just say, ‘I’m not assuming authority on my own initiative; it was given to me by the other pastors and elders.’”

Said Mohler, “It’s very healthy that the convention sends a very clear signal that we take the issue of faithfulness in Bible translation and accuracy in Bible translation to be of utmost, nonnegotiable importance.”

Overton, pastor of Halteman Village Baptist Church in Muncie, Ind., said “Southern Baptists have a long and proud history of speaking biblical truth to important issues.” Overton used the 2002 resolution as the basis for writing the 2011 resolution.

“Biblica (the worldwide publisher) and Zondervan made serious errors when they chose to insert a gender-neutral philosophy of translation into the 2011 New International Version,” Overton told BP. “This flawed translation undermines verbal plenary inspiration, which is a core belief of Southern Baptists. Every single word in scripture, including pronouns, is inspired by God. When the bestselling NIV Bible disregards the smallest ‘jot or tittle’ of scripture, Southern Baptists have an obligation to make a firm stand upon God’s inerrant Holy Bible.”

Among the resolution’s highlights, it says the NIV 2011 erases “gender-specific details which appear in the original language” and “has gone beyond acceptable translation standards.” It cites CBMW’s 75 percent statistic and says messengers “cannot commend the 2011 NIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community.”

It also says messengers “respectfully request that LifeWay not make this inaccurate translation available for sale in their bookstores.”

“It has been a part of established SBC tradition not to address the convention’s entities by means of resolution, and this is a good policy,” Mohler said. “I do regret that this resolution addresses LifeWay so directly. This puts LifeWay in an almost impossible position. The very significant complications now handed to LifeWay include the fact that the NIV is not the only English Bible to involve many of the same translation issues. The resolution rightly addresses many translation concerns, but the NIV is hardly alone with respect to those issues. Furthermore, removing a specific Bible translation is no simple matter.” As an example, Mohler cited B&H’s popular New American Commentary series, which is based on the NIV translation.

“This is true across the board for many evangelical commentary series, and for a host of devotional works as well,” Mohler said.

LifeWay released a statement after the resolution passed, stating, “LifeWay Christian Resources has received the resolution. Our first step is to involve our board of trustees since they are the representative body Southern Baptists have elected to oversee our work.”

Other gender-neutral translations are the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New Living Translation (NLT), the New Century Version (NCV) and the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)
6/30/2011 4:48:00 AM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Embrace: Southern Baptists begin engaging 3,800

June 30 2011 by Alan James, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. — “Let’s get to it already. We’re ready to roll.”

Micah Fries’ sentiment echoed throughout the crowd as International Mission Board (IMB) President Tom Elliff gave an invitation during the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting June 14-15 in Phoenix. Elliff told messengers he felt like he was “holding back a dam” of Southern Baptists ready to walk forward and “embrace” the remaining 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups around the globe.

Fries, pastor of Frederick Boulevard Baptist Church in St. Joseph, Mo., and his wife Tracy didn’t blink when the moment finally arrived for them to step forward and respond to a calling they felt deep inside.

Before Elliff invited people to come forward to turn in their commitment cards, he requested that no music be played.

And then he told them to “just get up and come.”

Fries and a multitude of pastors, church leaders and laypeople rose to their feet — almost in unison — and headed for the front of the convention floor to answer Elliff’s challenge. One performer onstage said she had goose bumps at the sight of men and women being obedient to God’s leading.

“It was … amazing,” said Laura Allen of the singing group No Other Name and a member of Inglewood Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn. “People are serious about this. It was exciting for me as a Southern Baptist to see that … it could be a spark for something really great.”

BP Photo

In Central Asia, a young Pamiri man holds his son close during a local festival. The Pamiri people represent one of approximately 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups that have no church-planting strategy among them and are less than 2 percent evangelical.

The crowd was committing to learn more about how they could engage those people groups with no active church-planting strategy among them and less than a 2 percent evangelical presence.

Since the annual meeting, IMB staff is continuing to follow up with those who turned in 600-plus commitment cards. Elliff refers to the response as a time “when Southern Baptists were on the same page” in a call to action that might cost them their lives.

After serving with IMB in West Africa nine years ago, Fries contends more and more Southern Baptists — young and old — are more than ready for that type of sacrifice. “We’ve got a huge number of people who are just eating that up and would love to engage in that kind of mission,” said Fries, whose church recently began efforts to work among a Central Asian people group.

“The convention is looking for a reason for all of us to engage together,” he said. “I thought it was a big moment.”

The spirit of unity and one purpose among Southern Baptists that final night of the convention — and during the entire SBC meeting and Pastors’ Conference — was something Eric Thomas, pastor of First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va., said he hasn’t seen in a long time. Being at the meeting this year, Thomas said, “struck a deep cord” within him.

“The simplicity of the call was strong and powerful,” said Thomas, who was elected as the SBC’s second vice president.

“Regardless of where you come down on different issues in Southern Baptist life, to reach an unreached people group is — at its core — the biblical mandate that we embrace as Southern Baptists and have embraced from our initiation as Southern Baptists.”

Al Jackson, pastor of Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala., said he wasn’t surprised when he saw the number of people rise up from their seats to respond to the challenge that night.

“There is so much more for us to do,” Jackson said. “It’s going to take sacrifice of our time, sacrifice of our people.”

While Lakeview Baptist continues to work among Arab Swahili people along Africa’s east coast, Jackson said he wants the church to keep learning and finding ways to help reach the unengaged, unreached.

“For pastors, we’re inundated with the immediate,” he said. “It’s easy to let the unseen be neglected, (but) God is a God of nations.

“I came away deeply moved in my spirit,” he said. “In many ways this would be the single most encouraging convention that I’ve attended.”

What is embrace?

The embrace challenge is different from “adopting” a people group. It is a more focused emphasis that challenges churches to make a lifetime commitment to an unengaged, unreached people group.

To engage them will take tremendous sacrifice, Elliff said.

“They’re unengaged for a reason,” he recently told IMB staff. “A lot of them are on top of mountains, deep in the valley and in countries that are absolutely closed. We can’t do it alone. IMB can’t do it. Southern Baptists can’t do it alone.”

This initial response from pastors is just the beginning — a “crack in the barrel” — of a long and challenging journey,” Elliff said. He hopes it will spur more Southern Baptists to accept and follow through with this opportunity so that every language, people, tribe and nation will have an opportunity to hear and accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

First steps

To begin the “embrace” process, pastors and church leaders are urged to check out the embrace website at call2embrace.org. Here, they can begin the journey, which IMB leadership suggests should begin with church-wide focused prayer. Churches can download a six-week Sunday worship prayer guide and small-group guides that are provided on the embrace site.

Pastors also are encouraged to:

explore the approximately 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups by visiting gettingthere.imbresources.org. On this site, churches can study a group’s location, culture and identify their language, religion, barriers to the Gospel and other helpful information.

register to attend one of the embrace equipping conferences scheduled:
Sept. 7 at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.
Oct. 27 at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Cedar Hill, Texas
Nov. 4 at Applewood Baptist Church in Denver
March 24 at Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif.

Additional training opportunities are being planned.

The embrace site also includes links to information on the global status of evangelism, church-planting movements, discipleship training and spiritual warfare.

For more information on how churches can become involved, contact the IMB at (800) 999-3113 or go to imb.org.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — James is a senior writer for the International Mission Board.)
6/30/2011 4:07:00 AM by Alan James, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Online tool aids small church, bivo pastors

June 30 2011 by Jon D. Wilke, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gary Mitchell spent 20 years as a pastor in small, rural congregations. Like many church leaders across the country, Mitchell held a full-time job to support his ministry.

“I’ve been bivocational my whole life,” said Mitchell, who is 68 and “retired.” He now trains, equips and networks with the nearly 1,000 bivocational pastors in the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

“The vast majority of churches are led by a bivocational pastor,” Mitchell noted. Nationwide, the Bivocational Small Church Leadership Network estimates there are about 37,000 smaller church pastors, most of whom are bivocational, within the Southern Baptist Convention.

“Most bivocational pastors are looking for affordable study tools to assist them in their sermon preparation,” Mitchell said. “They are starved for information and resources. I constantly search for study materials that are easy to use and not overwhelming. Bivocational pastors have limited time and resources.”

One of the main tools Mitchell tells pastors about is MyStudyBible.com, a robust online Bible study tool launched in 2010 by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“I love the format of MyStudyBible.com,” Mitchell said. “All the tools are in one spot.” In June, LifeWay updated MyStudyBible.com with some key features to help meet the growing needs of bivocational pastors, seminary students and other Bible lovers. In addition to the HCSB Study Bible as well as select content from books like the Holman New Testament Commentary and references from Strong’s Bible concordance, MyStudyBible now includes access to new free content including the English Standard Version (ESV), American Standard Version (ASV) and the Reina-Valera 1960 (RVR60) Spanish translation of the Bible.

LifeWay also introduced an online store where users can purchase access to additional content such as “The Apologetics Study Bible,” “The Holman Illustrated Study Bible,” “The Teacher’s Bible Commentary,” “Word Pictures in the New Testament,” “The Holman Bible Atlas” and “Experiencing God.”

Users also can purchase access to content on an as-needed basis with three time frames — 24 hours, 30 days, or unlimited. Some 24-hour access costs 99 cents. “MyStudyBible.com makes the Bible and some of the best biblical reference materials in the world accessible,” said Paul Mikos, LifeWay’s executive editor of digital publishing. “Now people don’t have to spend $400 for commentary sets or Bible software. They can dive as deep as they need when they need for as long as they need.”

“Expense is the biggest obstacle (for bivocational pastors),” Mitchell said. “Most bivocational pastors can’t afford expensive commentaries or the fees for the websites with all the bells and whistles. But they will invest in these types of tools. These price ranges put invaluable tools within their reach.”

Aaron Linne, executive producer of digital marketing for LifeWay’s B&H publishing division, describes MyStudyBible.com as “continuing LifeWay’s path to utilizing the biblical text in new ways, presenting products and ideas where the Bible itself becomes the basis for our digital publishing efforts.”

“The Bible is central to the Christian experience,” Linne said. “MyStudyBible.com is all built around the Bible. We are trying to deliver the best digital Bible reading and studying experience to the people we serve.”

Mikos said, “It is our prayer that this site is a blessing to those around the world seeking to know the Lord and His Word more intimately.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Wilke is media relations manager for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)  
6/30/2011 3:57:00 AM by Jon D. Wilke, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Hoax claims SBC backs ‘gay marriage’

June 29 2011 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An elaborate hoax Tuesday claimed that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was on the verge of formally supporting “gay marriage” and repenting of its stance on homosexuality, and the hoax backed up the false claim with a press release, phone number and website.

The stunt was pulled off by a group calling itself the Center for Responsible Christian Living, but the group didn’t identity itself until later in the day and only after one major Catholic blog had posted the release as legitimate. The blog soon pulled it. No major media outlet reported the news as real. Several media members, in fact, called the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee to make sure officials knew of the hoax.

The Center for Responsible Living — which does not have a website — said the hoax was to “highlight the Southern Baptists’ anti-gay stance as both irresponsible and unchristian.” The Center for Responsible Living’s press release did not list a phone number or a spokesperson. All the quotes were of “anonymous” spokespersons.

Roger S. (“Sing”) Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations for the SBC Executive Committee, said the SBC’s approach to homosexuality is not only biblical but loving.

“Southern Baptists do not think it irresponsible or unchristian to uphold clear biblical teachings on human sexuality and marriage,” Oldham said. “God’s expectation of sexual purity is woven throughout every part of Scripture, across generational and cultural lines. The Bible is equally clear that all who receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, those who repent of their sins and trust in Christ alone, will be forgiven and delivered from the bondage of sin. To deny such a fundamental biblical teaching as God’s redemptive purpose is the height of irresponsibility and would clearly be un-Christian.”

The fake press release — sent out early in the morning — and fake website falsely claimed that the Executive Committee, “meeting in extraordinary emergency session,” had asked that the SBC adopt a statement defining marriage as “two partners” because “loving and committed homosexual relationships must have the right to acknowledgment in the eyes of God.”

The hoax further said the Executive Committee had proposed a resolution urging “our agencies and institutions seek diligently to bring about greater diversity from the LGBT community.” The fake resolution also said Southern Baptists were repenting of their past stance. The hoax came complete with a website that didn’t look anything like the convention’s real website but did have enough faith-themed icons that it likely could trick some people. Curiously, the website claimed to be the “Southern Baptist Convention of America.” The real SBC does not have “of America” in its title.

A call to the number on the press release led to a recording with a male voice stating, “You’ve reached the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention. Please enter the extension of the person you are trying to reach or leave us a message in our general mailbox after the tone. For more information on the Southern Baptist Convention or to find contact information on a specific church in your area, please check at our website, at www.sbcaa.net.”

The SBC’s real website is SBC.net.
6/29/2011 7:47:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Laredo: 727 new Christians, 4 new churches

June 29 2011 by Keith Manuel, Baptist Press

LAREDO, Texas — Many times in the darkest and most dangerous places the light of the gospel shines even brighter. Such is the case in Laredo, Texas, stemming from the “GPS 2020” evangelism and church planting initiative of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC).

The darkness and danger are readily apparent in Laredo. The Mexican drug cartel and the violence attached to the $20 billion illegal enterprise cast an ominous shadow on the border town. Additionally, the satanic influence of “La Santa Muerte,” the Saint of Death, and its cult following continues to grow rapidly among the people of Laredo and beyond.

In this darkness, SBTC churches lifted high the torch of the gospel. Jack Harris, associate for personal and event evangelism with the convention, led the charge. Working with churches from various regions of the state, Harris organized volunteers to prepare “Gospel Bags” to touch 50,000 homes with the hope of planting four churches from the effort.

Photo by Jerry Pierce

A group of Laredo-area children register for door prizes at a block party in the small community of El Cenizo, a short distance from the Rio Grande southeast of Laredo. Over spring break, 15 church groups held five block parties in the Laredo area, 15 outdoor evangelist meetings, and delivered the gospel in English and Spanish to more than 35,000 households.

“Biblically, you evangelize an area and then you start a church,” said Don Cass, SBTC evangelism director. “The way we do it, and I’m convinced it’s the proper way, is to go door-to-door with the gospel, invite people to a big event, give a clear presentation of the gospel with an invitation, and through the follow-up with all decisions, create a core group that will start a congregation.”

The strategy is built around the four biblical markers of GPS 2020: 1) praying, 2) equipping, 3) sowing and 4) harvesting.

First, teams of trained volunteers covered the Laredo area through organized prayerwalks, praying over the venues and the neighborhoods where the gospel would be sown.

Second, volunteers were equipped to share the gospel through hanging Gospel Bags on doors in the community while others were equipped to share the gospel at a community event featuring Team Impact, a team of evangelists who use feats of strength as a bridge to share the gospel. Third, volunteers sowed the gospel in the neighborhoods with the Gospel Bags. The bags contained a gospel witness in English and Spanish along with an invitation for 10 people to come to the Laredo Energy Arena to see Team Impact perform such feats as crushing bricks and breaking stacks of boards. At the Energy Arena, Team Impact presented the gospel to 5,000 people at the community-wide harvest event. During the invitation, 727 people surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ.

Now, the churches are working to establish the new congregations. The 727 people who made decisions were immediately introduced to four church planters at the harvest event. The church planters and volunteers from participating Laredo churches are in the process of following up on every decision made.

Chuy Avila, a jointly funded missionary with the SBTC and the North American Mission Board, is assisting the church planters. Avila noted that three established congregations that helped with the event also are experiencing higher attendances in their worship services because of the initiative.

One of the new church plants, Impacto Juvenil, led by church planter Hervin Antonio, held their first service May 27. The aim of the ministry is to connect with the younger adults in their community, thus the name Youth Impact. The first meeting was attended by 40 people. The new plant continues to meet every Friday as a core group is developed.

“We are focused on reaching the lost generation of young adults that are not going to church,” Antonio said. “We are going to connect with them and make the church a place where they can come and encounter Christ in a contemporary way while hearing the Word preached.”

The next step for the church plant is to bring in strategic partners to help with the work, such as First Baptist Church in Mandeville, La. Cory Veuleman, First Baptist’s student family pastor, led his team in door-to-door evangelism, Vacation Bible School, prayerwalks and a block party to share the gospel to help Impacto Juvenil develop relationships with their neighbors.

Laredo may have a dark and dangerous edge, but the light of Jesus is shining bright through the cooperative work of Southern Baptists.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Manuel is an evangelism associate with the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s evangelism and church growth team.)
6/29/2011 7:42:00 AM by Keith Manuel, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Joplin tornado didn’t halt Thailand mission trip

June 28 2011 by Susie Rain, Baptist Press

NAKHON SAWAN, Thailand — The banners advertise a free medical clinic with American doctors, and a Thai man looks at the signs, trying to figure out where to go.

But his interest stretches beyond the clinic being conducted by volunteers from Joplin, Mo.

He finds a Thai woman in the crowd who looks like she knows what’s going on and asks, “Where do I register to be a Christian?”

The woman can’t believe her ears. Just an hour earlier, the village’s vice-mayor welcomed the volunteers from “Joplin’s tornado” then reminded the 150 villagers that they were all Buddhist.

“These people are Christians,” the vice mayor pointedly explained.

The vice-mayor told his neighbors they are welcome to take all the free medicine the Americans give, but under no circumstances should anyone become a Christian today. Then he led the entire village in praying and offering sacrifices of incense, flowers and juice to the Buddha statue he placed in the middle of the clinic area.

The lone Thai Christian in this village isn’t surprised by the declaration. She endures daily abuse because of her faith. Neighbors and family call her “crazy” or claim that she is “disloyal to her country” because she does not follow traditional Buddhist teachings. She is not easily deterred, though.

Sharon Babbitt, a member of Forest Park Baptist Church in tornado-battered Joplin, Mo., adjusts a blood pressure cuff during a medical clinic in Thailand — her fifth missions venture to the Asian country.

She wakes up every morning at 4 a.m. to pray for her village and the six other nearby villages. In fact, she’s been preparing for a day such as this for years when fellow Christians come to help spread the gospel. A day when, despite the vice-mayor’s warning, six neighbors pray to receive Christ as their Savior and seven others agree to meet in her home to hear more about this “free gift.”

“Thank you,” the woman tells the volunteers from Forest Park Baptist Church in Joplin, tears streaming down her face. “Thank you for not letting the tornado keep you from changing the fate of my village.”

No doubts
When the EF-5 tornado hit Joplin on May 22, Paul and Dianne Eckels say it never occurred to them that they should cancel the church’s ninth mission trip to Thailand, which was just weeks away. The mile-wide tornado ripped through six miles, or one-third, of the Missouri city, killing more than 150 people and destroying more than 8,000 homes and businesses.

“My first thought was, ‘who’s dead and who’s alive,’ on the mission team,” Dianne recounts. “After I found out, I talked to Doug and Cheryl (Derbyshire) in Thailand to ask them to pray for our city and church members. They said they understood if we needed to cancel our mission trip.

“Honestly, it never occurred to me to not come — never!” the team leader exclaims.

Others on the team echo the same sentiment. Only two of the original 16 could not make the trip, and then only because their passports were blown away in the storm when their house was destroyed. Replacements did not arrive in time for them to board the plane.

Most on this team are returning volunteers and understand the value of teams like theirs in villages normally resistant to the gospel. Meshelle Thompson, a five-time volunteer, explains the American presence often helps give credibility to local Christians and opens doors for the Thais to share more about their faith. If the team had canceled, it could have caused a “black eye” for the Thai believers.

“I’m not about to let a tornado be the reason someone gets persecuted,” says Thompson, a kindergarten teacher. “If anything, my family encouraged me 10 times more than normal to go on this trip. We just felt like it was something we needed to do, it’s important to share the Gospel and not miss an opportunity.”

Normally, when Forest Park travels to Thailand, people in the Asian country have no idea where Joplin or even Missouri is located in the States. But, bad news travels fast — even halfway across the world. Paul Eckels says many Thais expressed sympathies to him about Joplin’s disaster. The Thai Baptist Convention, in fact, donated money for Joplin relief efforts through the Missouri Baptist Convention.

Twirling his finger around, Paul shows how he and a grade school principal talked about the tornado. The Missourian pulled out his phone and shared photos with the man. Though the principal’s English was limited, the two men talked about Paul’s team coming to Thailand to share God’s love — something the principal never would have talked about with just anyone.

“This disaster has united us with people around the world who have also endured hardships. Simply by our presence here, we are able to communicate how much we love these people, how important it is for us to be here and how much we value them,” Paul says. “He (the principal) will be able to relate to the kids that ‘the tornado people’ came to love them and tell them why.”

Dianne Eckels is thankful the team pushed through the obstacles mounted by the tornado to make the trip. She says it’s like something good is coming out of their city’s horrible disaster. Because Thais recognize “Joplin” now, more people than normal stopped to listen to their message.

“I feel like God pushed us on. It was through no energy on our part; we were all tired with the tornado. God just put us in the flow,” Dianne says. “I’m thankful that He did. We were able to help our brothers and sisters share their faith in very difficult circumstances.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Rain is a writer/editor living in Southeast Asia. For more stories specific to work in Asia, visit www.asiastories.com.)
6/28/2011 3:33:00 AM by Susie Rain, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

SBCV exec Jeff Ginn accepts La. pastorate

June 28 2011 by Brandon Pickett, Baptist Press

GLEN ALLEN, Va. — After three years as executive director of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV), Jeff Ginn has accepted the senior pastor position at Istrouma Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La.

Ginn notified the SBCV executive board last week in anticipation of the vote from Istrouma. On Sunday, June 26, Ginn preached in both morning services in view of a call. The congregation responded with a unanimous vote after each service. Ginn indicated that his last day as executive director will be July 31, with Aug. 1 as his first day as Istrouma’s senior pastor.

“I have always been so proud of the face Jeff put on the SBCV,” said executive board chairman Wendell Horton, pastor of Skyview Missionary Baptist Church in Fancy Gap. No interim director has yet been named, but the executive committee already has met by phone to begin planning for the future. “We will meet in person this week,” Horton said, “to pray and work towards selecting an interim executive director and a seven-member search committee. We will do our very best to choose a committee that represents a broad spectrum of the SBCV.”

Ginn came to Virginia in 2000 to pastor Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Colonial Heights. It was through this ministry that he was introduced to the SBC of Virginia.

“The SBCV’s vision of planting new churches, assisting existing churches, and helping all churches to be on mission is a compelling one,” Ginn said. “For that reason, serving the Lord through the SBCV has been one of my life’s greatest joys and honors. The state staff with whom I have labored is unexcelled in their passion for, capabilities in, and commitment to the Great Commission.”

Although he has extensive ministerial experience as a former International Mission Board missionary and seminary educator, Ginn said he senses God’s renewed call on his life to be a local church pastor.

“The church is at the heart of all that the SBC of Virginia does. It should come as no surprise then when one of her staff returns to the local church to serve there. Istrouma Baptist Church is uniquely situated to have a global impact. Our family is thrilled and humbled at the prospect of joining in what God is doing at that dynamic fellowship.”

It is that pastoral touch that Mark Becton, SBC of Virginia president and pastor of Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, said made Ginn’s ministry effective.

“As our executive director, Dr. Ginn epitomized servant leadership,” Becton said. “His passion for maturing, mobilizing and multiplying churches energized our passion to do the same. Each time he spoke in board meetings, committee meetings, in the pulpit, or when sending out a word of encouragement through Empowered, we heard his heart. I’m grateful for the time God allowed us to have Dr. Ginn. We will miss him.”

Ginn began as executive director in 2008, following Doyle Chauncey, founding executive director-treasurer of the SBC of Virginia. Chauncey retired from that role at the end of 2007 after more than 12 years. The state convention has been positively impacted by Ginn’s service, Chauncey said.

“His keen wisdom, contagious enthusiasm, gifted leadership and communication skills helped make us a better team in serving our churches,” Chauncey said. “God used him to accomplish a number of things that would have been left undone had he not served as SBCV’s executive director. We will miss the Ginn family, but I am always excited and rejoice when God is at work in the life of His faithful servants wherever He leads them.”

During Ginn’s tenure, ministry highlights include the formation and unanimous adoption of a Vision 20/20 strategy, with the goals of planting of 400 new churches by 2020 and an increase in Cooperative Program giving to SBC causes of 0.25 percent each year (the SBC of Virginia currently sends 50.5 percent of all CP dollars to SBC national and international missions and ministries.

Istrouma Baptist Church has a membership of about 3,700 with an average worship attendance of approximately 1,500. Sunday’s affirmative vote for Ginn concludes an 11-month search for a new senior pastor.

“Istrouma Baptist Church is praising God for sending Dr. Ginn and his wonderful family to be our next senior pastor,” said Don Powers, chairman of the Istrouma Baptist Church pastor search committee.

“The unanimous vote of the nine-member search team and the unanimous vote of the congregation further provide evidence of God’s hand in bringing him here. The search team and the congregation have been praying that God would send us a loving shepherd, preacher, leader, teacher and a protector against false doctrine. Without a doubt, Dr. Ginn not only meets what we were praying for, but God has given us someone far beyond our expectations. Throughout the search process, God’s direction was felt in many, many ways. We are excited to see how God is going to use Jeff, the Ginn family and Istrouma Baptist Church to reach the lost in Baton Rouge, La., the United States and the world.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Pickett is director of media services for the Southern Baptists Conservatives of Virginia convention.)  
6/28/2011 3:28:00 AM by Brandon Pickett, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Americans remain faithful to religion

June 28 2011 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — Significant majorities of Americans say it is possible to disagree with their religion’s teachings on abortion and homosexuality and still remain in good standing with their faith.

The findings, released June 9 in a detailed survey by Public Religion Research Institute, held true for major religious groups, including Catholics and white evangelical Protestants.

The findings reflect the complicated tasks faced by Catholic bishops to discipline politicians who stray from church teaching, or evangelical groups that try to toe a traditional line as cultural values shift around them.

In fact, the survey found that six in 10 Americans chafe at the idea of religious leaders publicly pressuring politicians on the issue of abortion, as has happened to several high-profile Catholic Democrats in recent years.

Overall, 72 percent of Americans say it’s permissible to disagree with church teaching on abortion, and 63 percent say the same for homosexuality.

Catholics closely mirror the general population’s position on abortion and church teaching, but are more progressive than the general population on the issue of homosexuality and church teaching.

Two-thirds of evangelicals (67 percent) said they could differ with church teaching on abortion, and slightly less than a majority (47 percent) said the same about homosexuality.

The report focused on the views of millennials (people ages 18-29) and found that they are more supportive than their parents of gay marriage. Their views on abortion closely mirror their parents, however, with six in 10 saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Also, most millennials — 68 percent — think at least some health care professionals in their community should provide legal abortions.

“Millennials are actually more likely to say that abortion should be available in their local community than say it should be legal,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Washington-based research firm, which announced its results at the Brookings Institution.

Abortion services by local health care professionals is also supported by majorities of white mainline Protestants (72 percent), the religiously unaffiliated (71 percent), white Catholics (58 percent), and black Protestants (56 percent). Minorities of Latino Catholics (38 percent) and white evangelicals (37 percent) supported such availability.

The report also found a religious divide on the sinfulness of having an abortion, with more than 60 percent of white evangelicals, black Protestants and Latino Catholics seeing it as sinful. White Catholics, meanwhile, were evenly divided (46 percent each), and white mainline Protestants were the sole major religious group where a majority (55 percent) did not believe it is sinful.

Researchers found a link between biblical interpretation and opposition to abortion: almost six in 10 Americans who say the Bible is the literal word of God believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

More than 80 percent of people who don’t see the Bible as the word of God but rather a book written by men think abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances.

The overall survey, based on telephone interviews with 3,000 people between April 22 and May 8, had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. The sample of 431 millennials had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Among other findings:
  • Significant majorities of mainline Protestants (85 percent), Catholics (78 percent), black Protestants (74 percent) and evangelicals (62 percent) support public schools teaching comprehensive sex education.
  • With the exception of white evangelicals, majorities of major religious groups say “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are both labels that describe them at least somewhat well.
  • Majorities of Americans who attend church at least once or twice a week hear clergy talk about abortion and homosexuality, with most hearing those issues are morally wrong and few hearing they are morally acceptable.
6/28/2011 3:25:00 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Vietnamese fluency lifts villagers in Cambodia

June 27 2011 by Tess Rivers, Baptist Press

KBAL TAOL, Cambodia — For a moment, Josh Nguyen thought he was back in Vietnam.

Rubbing the wooden floor of a floating home in a remote village on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake, the 44-year-old physician from Texas remembered the country he left as a refugee in 1975.

Nguyen joined a team of nine other medical and dental volunteers working with the Vietnamese living in floating villages on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. He and three nurses divided into two groups and visited from boat to boat, assessing medical needs and sharing the gospel. Nguyen, who speaks Vietnamese, also translated for the nurse who assisted him.

The trip was revealing to Nguyen, who saw himself not only in the floorboards but also in the faces and experiences of those he met on the lake.

Photo by Tess Rivers

Children living in the floating villages on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake learn to paddle roughly hewn wooden boats to visit in each other’s homes from an early age. See photo gallery.

“I thought we were back,” said Nguyen, a member of Second Baptist Church in Houston. “I thought we were boat people again.”

While the trip spawned memories for the doctor, it was a wake-up call for Gina Nguyen, 30, a pharmacist from Plano, Texas (no relation to Josh Nguyen).

Gina left Vietnam in 1991 under less difficult circumstances. Although she returned to Southeast Asia two years ago on a trip with her father, this was her first volunteer trip.

The member of Plano Vietnamese Baptist Church admitted she reluctantly signed up for the trip, which included medical and dental personnel from seven Baptist churches, four states and four different ethnic groups. She struggled initially with how best to contribute to the team.

“I can’t diagnose. I’m not trained. I didn’t think I knew the Bible well enough. I’ve never been a translator,” Gina said. “Until this trip, I thought my apartment in Texas was the center of the universe.”

Once on the lake, Gina also experienced the full force of the difficulty villagers experience every day.

There was no air conditioning, nor any electric fans. The toilet and shower facilities were rudimentary. Sleeping arrangements were uncomfortable, cramped and hot. Python was the main course for dinner. The nearby karaoke bar ran until all hours of the night.

Gina’s culture shock was obvious.

“We look at these people and ask, ‘Why would they swim in this water? Why would they eat and drink in this water?” Gina said.

When Gina shared these complaints with Josh, he said simply, “Gina, this could have been us.”

Once the team began its work, however, Gina, who speaks Vietnamese, realized she could serve not only as translator for the two nurses on her team, but she also could share the gospel with villagers in their heart language.

“I was afraid,” Gina said. “What do I do? What do I say? But I knew God was speaking through me. So I kept praying inside, ‘God, just tell me what to say.’”

By visiting in their homes and sharing the gospel, Gina came to understand that the physical challenges facing the villagers are nothing compared to the spiritual ones. “They’re lost,” Gina said. “They worship different kinds of gods. They don’t know anything else.”

She also realized God was giving her a chance to “give back” — using the material blessings she gained in America to share the spiritual blessings of her faith in Christ with the people on the lake.

“God chose us,” Gina said, referring to the salvation she and other Vietnamese-Americans have found in Jesus Christ while living in America. “He brought us to America and gave us the opportunity to live in nice conditions. This is our chance to spread the gospel to the Vietnamese.”

In fact, Gina hopes to come back to the lake, noting, “I know that the weather and the living conditions have been tough on me, but I see what we’re doing here. I know it goes beyond medical needs.”

In spite of the difficulties, she encourages other Vietnamese-Americans to come as well because of their ethnic credibility with villagers and the Vietnamese language skills they provide to volunteer teams.

“We (Vietnamese-Americans) have a great opportunity to reach the Vietnamese in Cambodia,” Gina said. “We can speak the language. We can approach them better than non-Vietnamese speakers.”

“You don’t have to be a doctor or a nurse,” Gina said. “You can be the voice.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Rivers is a writer for the International Mission Board based in Southeast Asia. For more stories about Cambodia’s Lake Dwellers, visit www.asiastories.com.)

Related story

Viet toddler’s miracle is no gospel substitute
6/27/2011 5:35:00 AM by Tess Rivers, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Viet toddler’s miracle is no gospel substitute

June 27 2011 by Tess Rivers, Baptist Press

KBAL TAOL, Cambodia — Song Phu* is a healthy 2-year-old Vietnamese boy who entertains visitors to his floating home with giggles and gurgles common to toddlers around the world.

Born with the name Mong, his grandfather changed it to Song — which means “live” — after he was miraculously healed from a rare blood disease nearly a year ago. Residents in this floating village of Kbal Taol come often to see the boy who, they believe, was healed by the Creator God.

To the 800 Vietnamese and Khmer families in Kbal Taol on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake, Song is nothing short of a miracle. Only one person in the village professes to follow Jesus, yet many believe that the Creator God saved Song.

Sadly, though, Song’s miraculous recovery has not spurred the villagers, including his own mother and father, to worship the God who healed him.

Photo by Tess Rivers

Gina Nguyen, 30, left, a pharmacist from Plano, Texas, talks with Hoa Phu* and her husband Thoah about their son, Song*. Nguyen, who spent part of her childhood in Vietnam, translated for a team of American medical volunteers visiting the floating village of Kbal Taol on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake. See photo gallery.

“I believe the Creator God healed my son,” Song’s mother, Hoa Phu*, says. “We prayed to my ancestors and to Buddha but he did not get better. Doctors told us they couldn’t help. It was only the Creator God who healed him.”

The 27-year-old mother explains that when the boy was three months old, his belly swelled and he suffered from constipation and fever. The family knew the baby needed medical attention. They made the two-hour boat ride across the lake to Siem Reap. At the hospital, doctors ordered a blood transfusion and prescribed medication. They told Hoa and her husband Thoah, 27, that the boy had a rare blood disorder. Without monthly transfusions, he would die.

The family returned home with Mong. They prayed and offered sacrifices to Buddha and their ancestors. When the boy’s condition deteriorated, they returned to the hospital in Siem Reap where he again received a blood transfusion and medication. His condition improved. The doctors sent him home. Over the next few months, this cycle repeated.

“We took him to the hospital at least five times,” Hoa recounts. “Each time, they told us he wouldn’t live.”

Desperate to save the child’s life, his parents gave Mong to other families on the lake, thinking that conflicting birth dates within the family may have angered the spirits. But the boy’s condition did not improve and the adoptive families always returned him.

Then, David Dau*, a Christian worker, came to visit with a team of medical volunteers from the United States. They sought medical care for the child and confirmed from doctors in Siem Reap that the boy was beyond hope. Without monthly transfusions, he would die.

Dau explained to Hoa and Thoah that neither he nor medical science could save the boy’s life. He offered to help them pray to the Creator God for healing. The parents agreed.

Soon after, Mong improved. He gained weight. He remained healthy.

When it became obvious that the boy was well, his grandfather changed his name from Mong to Song, saying, “This boy was given new life.”

One year later, Song is healthy and happy. He has no recurring problems. “It was a miracle that healed that baby,” Dau says. “Everybody in the community knows it.”

Still, none of the villagers has come to faith in Christ as a result. Even Hoa and Thoah, who acknowledge that they worshipped the Creator God for a while, returned to their lifelong practices of Buddhism and ancestor worship a few months after Song was healed. Today, they rely on the traditions of the past — rather than the Creator God — to protect them from the spirits.

“I pray to my dad most often,” Hoa explains, “I was taught that he helps me.”

This is frustrating for Dau who has worked since 2005 to share the gospel with the people on the lake. From his days as a boy growing up in Vietnam, the Vietnamese-American understands the fear enveloping the villagers. He compares the spiritual situation of those on the lake to the dirty water surrounding them — infested with trash, bacteria and filth. But, he also understands that faith in Christ can overcome every fear and the truth of the gospel can cleanse their souls.

“The only way to pump out the dirty water is to blow in the truth of the gospel one breath at a time,” Dau says.

For this reason, Dau looks for every opportunity to find ways to share the gospel with the people on the lake. He makes personal visits, trains the handful of local believers from a neighboring village and brings teams of volunteers from the United States to conduct medical and dental clinics, evangelism and Vacation Bible Schools. He also prays for miracles, though he admits that the experience with Song taught him many things.

“Miracles just aren’t enough,” Dau says. “Miracles won’t save these people. Only the gospel can save them.”

Song’s story is living proof.

*Names changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Rivers is a writer for the International Mission Board based in Southeast Asia. For more stories about, “Reaching Cambodia’s Lake Dwellers,” visit www.asiastories.com.)

Related story
Vietnamese fluency lifts villagers in Cambodia
6/27/2011 5:27:00 AM by Tess Rivers, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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