June 2011

Disaster relief continues in Tuscaloosa

June 13 2011 by Gary Hardin, Baptist Press

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Duane Bechtold understands his mission. “We didn’t come here to cut trees but to tell people Jesus loves them. The chainsaws give us the tools to share that message.”

Bechtold, the volunteer disaster relief coordinator for Texas Baptist Men’s efforts in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is part of a group of nearly 200 Texas Baptists who assisted in Tuscaloosa for most of May.

Texas Baptist Men came with chainsaws, compact tractors, trailers, trucks and other equipment. East McFarland Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa hosted the group, providing meals and sleeping quarters inside the church.

Another group affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) brought a mobile feeding unit, chainsaw equipment and shower and laundry units. Two Tuscaloosa churches, North River and Emmanuel Baptist, have hosted the SBTC volunteers.

Photo by Gary Hardin

Volunteers from Alabama’s Baldwin Baptist Association assisted the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention feeding unit in Tuscaloosa.

“We have been washing about 60 loads of clothing each day,” said Chad Barnes, who coordinated the shower and laundry units.

Diana Boelman, of Bryan, Texas, said when she heard about the needs in Tuscaloosa, where more than 40 people died and thousands of others had their homes destroyed or badly damaged, she knew God was leading her to go there to help.

Grace Partin of Pleasanton, Texas, acknowledged a similar prod from the Holy Spirit.

“When you sense God saying, ‘Go,’ you go,” she said.

But Texas Baptists have not been the only ones feeling that call.

A team of 12 from Baldwin Baptist Association in Alabama, led by Mac Duck, arrived May 17 to assist the SBTC group with the feeding unit. Several Red Cross emergency vehicles arrived in the North River parking lot twice a day, bringing food for the disaster relief volunteers to prepare in the feeding unit. They prepared thousands of plates and then packed them in insulated containers so the Red Cross could distribute them throughout the area.

A World Changers group of 200 youth from Georgia is scheduled to arrive in mid-June to help with cleanup and recovery.

Tuscaloosa Baptist Association churches have been faithfully ministering to their communities since the EF-4 tornado hit April 27, even though seven of them were damaged.

Gary Bonner, the association’s associate director for new work/missions, said while it has been stressful, the people of the greater Tuscaloosa area are in a “recovery mood” now.

The initial shock of the storm is beginning to subside, according to interim director of missions Billy Gray, and now people are asking theological questions and seeking answers and meaning to what has happened.

“We have an opportunity here in Tuscaloosa County for our churches to do some great things,” he said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hardin is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.)

Related story
Ala. church blessed with overflow

6/13/2011 7:06:00 AM by Gary Hardin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

LifeWay: baptisms decline, churches increase

June 10 2011 by Russ Rankin, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The number of baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 2010 fell by nearly 5 percent, according to the Annual Church Profile (ACP) compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions.

Southern Baptist churches reported 332,321 baptisms in 2010, down from 349,737 in 2009, a 4.98 percent decline. Total membership in 2010, reported at 16,136,044, represents a 0.15 percent decline from 2009 and is the fourth straight year of decline.

“I am saddened to see this report which seems to indicate a lack of passion for winning our world to the Lord,” said Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee and a former convention president. “That will turn around when we repent of our sins and seek the power of our Lord in our evangelistic efforts.

“I am convinced that we are doing many good things but will see this situation change only when the churches and people of the SBC return Evangelism to the top priority of our Kingdom activities,” Page said.

Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay, said, “I pray that all of us will see the urgency of the moment. We must make the Great Commission the heart of all we do and say. These latest numbers should be received with a broken spirit and a God-given determination to reach people for Christ.”

The report did, however, indicate a key positive change: The number of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention rose to 45,727, an increase of 1.59 percent from the 45,010 reported in 2009.

“I do find encouragement in the increase in the number of churches,” Rainer said. “Hopefully a church planting trend in our convention will lead to the Gospel of Christ being shared with more people than ever before.”

Primary worship attendance in SBC churches mirrored the decline in overall membership, declining 0.19 percent to 6,195,449 in 2010.

“As Southern Baptists, so much of our identity comes from missions involvement and a passion for the Great Commission,” Rainer said. “We certainly pay attention to categories such as missions expenditures because this not only supports our missionaries but also the training of our future pastors and church leaders through our convention-affiliated colleges and seminaries.

“As we look upon fields white unto harvest, we should be ever aware that it is critical that we proclaim Christ to our neighbors and those we come in contact with on a daily basis,” he added. “It is critical for our churches to not just get people in the door, but to also train them and disciple them in how to share their faith.”

The Cooperative Program (CP) of the SBC, a voluntary contribution from local churches, supports mission efforts in individual states, throughout the United States and around the world. CP also funds six seminaries, the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board and other SBC entities (except for LifeWay and GuideStone Financial Resources, which are self-funding).

While several categories of the ACP reflected decline in 2010, totals for various categories were affected by the fact that not all state conventions asked churches for all the information in a way that would allow proper year-to-year comparison.

For example, total mission expenditures in 2010 totaled $1.3 billion, down from $1.33 billion in 2009, with one state convention not reporting these figures. Total tithes, offerings and special gifts received in Southern Baptist churches totaled $10.68 billion, a decline of $153 million from 2009, but again with a state convention not asking churches for this information.

Impacted categories and their 2010 totals include:
  • Total tithes, offerings and special gifts: $10,680,023,357
  • Undesignated receipts: $8,911,796,522
  • Total receipts: $11,720,820,320
  • Total mission expenditures: $1,302,479,654
  • Value of congregational property: $42,509,449,468
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Rankin is manager of editorial services for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
6/10/2011 7:42:00 AM by Russ Rankin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Alabama recovery phase under way

June 10 2011 by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Mel Johnson said the word “overwhelming” doesn’t even begin to describe the aftermath of the tornadoes that ripped apart Alabama in late April. The death toll in the hundreds. The total devastation.

“It’s been a tough, tough situation — so many lives lost, and so many needs,” said Johnson, disaster relief strategist for Alabama Baptists. “It doesn’t matter how well you are prepared, you are never equipped to properly mitigate a disaster of that size.”

But as he and others have been picking up the pieces in the wake of “our Katrina,” he said he has seen God at work, no question.

Photo by Doug Rogers

Mel Johnson, top left, leads the emergency strategy session of Alabama Baptist disaster relief leaders and State Board of Missions representatives at 7:30 a.m. April 28, the day after the state was ravaged by tornadoes.

Disaster relief volunteers from 13 state conventions have descended on Alabama, and people recognize the breadth of the ministry and are drawn to Christ and to the church because of it, Johnson said. “We are experiencing a tremendous openness to the gospel.” Local churches in affected areas have had the opportunity to step into leadership roles in their communities in ways they’ve never done before, he said. “Communities and churches are coming together in a real way.”

And other churches in the state have seized the chance to reach out to their fellow Alabamians in need, and not just for disaster relief, Johnson said.

“Some churches, for example, were going to cancel their Vacation Bible School because so many members were affected by the tornadoes, but other churches have stepped up to the plate to come in and run those for them,” he said.

It’s part of the second phase of recovery, a new part of the process for disaster relief teams. This phase will go beyond cleanup and move into long-term rebuild.

“We are working to put together opportunities for pastors and directors of missions to be able to receive some ministry support,” Johnson said. “Not only have they been affected by storms and tragedies, but their church members have been affected too.”

State Baptists also will offer counseling opportunities for those suffering grief and loss, he said.

Disaster relief leaders are working to partner ministry teams with potential projects, “whether it be rebuilding the church or rebuilding the community,” Johnson said. “I have seen a tremendous amount of resolve among volunteers who have done things so far beyond what I would have expected.”

How long will Alabama Baptists be involved in the recovery process? “As long as it takes,” he said.

The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has been providing a significant portion of the broad-brush leadership in the recovery process and will continue to do so, Johnson said. NAMB stepped in to help coordinate the greater Southern Baptist volunteer response to Alabama, and Johnson said that’s “a perfect picture of Cooperative Program support and Cooperative Program spirit.”

“They expressed instant concern, and when our state was wounded, they came along with other state conventions to the rescue,” he said. “Without that ministry, we wouldn’t have been able to respond the way we did.”

Mickey Caison, NAMB disaster relief team leader, said Alabama has done a great job in its response, and other states have come in and done well also in the midst of a “very large and very deadly tornado season.”

“We have been working to connect the states with sites and will continue to develop long-term recovery plans for that,” Caison said. “And as Alabama knows what it needs, we will help put out the call for additional teams to come in and help. It’s a large job, but we’re all committed to help.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Thornton is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.)
6/10/2011 6:48:00 AM by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

2nd VP nominee named by N.C. pastor

June 10 2011 by Baptist Press

NORFOLK, Va. — Virginia pastor Eric Thomas will be nominated as second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, a North Carolina pastor announced June 9.

Thomas, pastor of First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va., will be nominated by Clint Pressley, senior pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte. The SBC annual meeting will be June 14-15 in Phoenix.
6/10/2011 6:46:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Yellow shirts a ‘blessing’ to residents

June 9 2011 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor

As a young boy, Lin Honeycutt never imagined that he would one day be coordinating recovery efforts in the neighborhood where he was raised.

“It’s been quite an experience,” Honeycutt said. “It’s been a big blessing to be able to help people I’ve known all my life.”

He lives, works and goes to church in the same area where he grew up in south Raleigh and is the white hat coordinator for the North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM). NCBM set up its Raleigh headquarters at Carolina Pines Baptist Church on South Saunders Street, a hard-hit area of the capital city after an April 16 tornado carved a path through houses and businesses, streets and playgrounds.

As of June 4, Honeycutt said Baptist Men and its volunteers had completed 575 chain saw jobs with at least 60 more to go. Honeycutt estimated that chain saw jobs will be complete within a couple of weeks and all volunteers will be redirected to restoring and rebuilding efforts.

NCBM has agreed to adopt Stony Brook Mobile Home Park, which originally had 180 homes. Baptist Men will rebuild or restore 100 of the homes that were deemed salvageable.

“We’re getting the families out of the shelters and back into their homes, said the Highland Baptist Church member.

Because of the amount of devastation, he believes NCBM will be at Carolina Pines for at least four more months.

BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle

A team from Red Mountain Baptist Church in Rougemont works to cut and remove a tree in a south Raleigh yard. From left, Wally Watson, Eric Sanders, Bill Johnson and Jamie Gillie spend their Saturday on mission while another team from their church served at Samaritan’s Inn in Durham.

Honeycutt, who has seen more than his fair share of disasters in his 22 years of volunteering with NCBM, compared the destruction to hurricanes — Katrina and Floyd.

Recapping experience
Honeycutt was in Winston-Salem April 16 at one of the Baptist Men’s regional training weekends. He was on his way home Saturday afternoon when he received a call redirecting him to Sanford where a home improvement store was demolished.

He was 30 minutes from Sanford when he received a second call telling him to go home because a tornado was tearing across his area.

“I kind of freaked out,” said Honey-cutt, who could not imagine a tornado hitting downtown. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

After talking to his wife about what she was seeing, “I put it in high gear,” he said. Honeycutt drove to his business and unhooked a camper he had used at disaster relief training.

“I couldn’t even get down the streets,” he said. “South Saunders was blocked off completely. There were no lights anywhere.”

Compared to others, Honeycutt said the damage at his business was minimal — roof, ceiling and signage. By 10:30 p.m. Honeycutt was surveying the church with a flashlight to see if it would be suitable for responding to the disaster. With power out in south Raleigh, he said he got chills recounting how the lights at the church came on while inspecting it.

“There were no lights anywhere else,” Honeycutt said. “The lights have not been off since then.” Honeycutt said it has been a blessing to serve in his hometown.

“Not only were we able to help residents but we were able to help supporting churches,” he said. Chain saw teams were on site April 17, the day after storms ripped across the state. They worked to clear streets for two days. By April 18, NCBM was contacted by Red Cross to help with feeding people. The first meal served 45,000 out of the church’s parking lot.

At one point, there were 12 sites operated by NCBM to help communities in need across North Carolina. The site in Fayetteville closed about two weeks ago, leaving Raleigh as the only site left open to help those in need. While the feeding has switched to the church’s kitchen to feed the volunteers, Honeycutt estimated 30-50 volunteers each day with as many as 150 on site at any one time.

“We have been able to use local volunteers through the city and county … as many as 125” totaling about 250 on a recent Saturday, Honeycutt said.

Because the city is known for its oak trees, Honeycutt said two out of three of the jobs needs heavy equipment. For the first time, NCBM had to purchase a 48-inch saw, and he said that some of the trees are still bigger than that saw’s range. Honeycutt said he had a bucket truck, cherry picker and excavator as well as six Bobcats operating out of the Raleigh site.

He said 650 jobs is typical for a hurricane site but not a tornado. This recent disaster showed Honeycutt that “disaster can happen at your back door.”

Preparedness is key, Honeycutt said.

Volunteer crew
Red Mountain Baptist Church in Rougemont sent a team of four down recently to help on a Saturday. Wally Watson, a member at the church, led three other men — Jamie Gillie, Eric Sanders and Bill Johnson — as they cut apart a large black walnut tree that had fallen in a yard in south Raleigh.

Watson became Baptist Men coordinator five years ago at his church; they bought a trailer and have since had a total of 15 church members trained in some form of disaster recovery.

He and some church members spent four days in Sanford in May doing similar work Anytime we get a phone call, Watson said he brings a request before the church.

Teams have worked at Camp Duncan and Baptist Children’s Homes facilities as well as doing yard work for people in their community.

“It’s really been special for me … in fact our church is starting to respond more,” Watson said.

Gillie was just certified in March at a training in Fayetteville. He also served on the crew that worked in Sanford recently. Gillie was out of the state when the tornados hit North Carolina, but it was all over the news in Washington state where Gillie had gone to see his brother.

Watson said he has used presentations for the congregations to encourage and motivate members to get involved. Volunteers share with the church how God has worked in them to bless others.

‘Blessing’ ministry
Freddie Malone, 62, sat on her front porch planting flowers as a NCBM team cut apart a neighbor’s tree. “I am very happy to see those yellow shirts,” said Malone. “It is a blessing for us.”

Malone grew up on this street, and she knew the tree they were cutting was tall, even when she was just a little girl playing in the yard.

The tree down in the yard across from her house served as a daily reminder of the devastation that struck her neighborhood April 16. “You never get over it because every time you see it you go through it again,” she said.

Malone serves as the caretaker of the rental property where the volunteers were cutting the tree. The woman who owns the house lives in another state.

Malone said her house was fine but she had damage in her back yard. She lost a metal shed and her privacy fence was toppled. She had no electricity for five days and no phone for three weeks.

“We were truly blessed,” she said. “God looked out for us.”

Because of the coverage of the fallen tree, Malone said she could not tell the house behind the tree had sustained some damage from it. The renter in the house beside the tree had begun planting flowers and preparing to have a party in that section of the yard for a birthday and graduation this month. Now that the volunteers in yellow shirts have come, that party might happen.

“I praise God that He sent them,” Malone said.

NCBM seeks partners to help rebuild
 North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM) is moving toward the repair and rebuild stage and is in the process of seeking church-to-family partnerships. Volunteers are still doing chainsaw, debris removal and putting tarps on homes in the Raleigh area.

Baptist Men has set a goal of helping 400 families rebuild homes. The idea is to partner churches or individual groups within churches to help these families. The families will apply for help and commit to giving funds from FEMA to help purchase materials for rebuilding their home. There is also a form for the church or group to complete.

NCBM is providing up to $3,000 of building materials per home for the partner church to use in rebuilding the home. The church or group does not have to commit to provide any amount of money, although ministry to that family is encouraged.

There will need to be a meeting to agree on what the volunteers can do for the family and assess what resources are available.

Other ways to help the family: call on a regular basis; ask about prayer needs and share those needs within prayer ministry or the church bulletin; collect furniture and appliances; and invite them to church or other events.

Contact Baptist Men at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5599, email ltharrington@ncbaptist.org or write to N.C. Baptist Men, P.O. Box 1107, Cary, NC 27512.
6/9/2011 6:00:00 AM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 0 comments

Public school students hear gospel

June 9 2011 by Laura Moore, BR Editorial Aide

With the school year coming to a close, 103 student’s lives have been changed forever. 2011 will mark the year that they came to know Jesus Christ through a program they signed up for at — believe it or not — their public school.

Out of 450 students, 103 have made professions of faith since four Released Time Bible Education programs were started in February in Bladen County. Four programs in four months have opened doors for 450 students to hear about the Bible.

A multi-state organization called School Ministries (www.schoolministries.org) partnered with Jason Williams, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Dublin and North Carolina coordinator for the ministry, to begin its first Released Time Bible Education programs in North Carolina this year. Williams has helped with this ministry in other states as well.

What is a Released Time Bible Education (www.releasedtime.org) program?

Volunteers can offer the program to students who will leave school grounds to study the Bible during their school hours. Students must have their parents’ permission to participate, and volunteers transport students from the school to the program’s location off campus. At Bladenboro Primary where Williams has been active leading a program, students are transported in buses to Dublin First Baptist Church for their Bible lesson, then transported back for the rest of their regular school day.

There are no laws in North Carolina that prohibit a program like this from starting as long as it is conducted off school grounds and has the school board’s approval. Other factors that a program needs include transportation for the students, a location for the Bible education time, liability insurance, volunteers and church community support. Usually, schools will allow students to have Released Time Bible Education during their elective or enrichment class time.

“To have a great work we have to have great volunteers,” Williams said.

Each volunteer serves in an area compatible with their desire and giftedness whether it be driving, teaching, counseling, keeping attendance records, etc. “We look to make sure we are putting our volunteers in the right places,” he said.

With an organization like School Ministries, churches can find the resources they need to get a program started.

Program leaders can find curriculum as well as valuable advice and support on how to run a program. Williams describes the Bible education curriculum as a character based study that ties the roots of the character back to Jesus. “Our first goal was to establish the character of obedience,” he said. Through the story of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Genesis, “we started there, interjecting the gospel.”

And through these Bible lessons, scripture is finding its way into the homes of students. “The church is being able to take the gospel home to families in a quicker legal way,” Williams said.

“If I reach one unchurched kid for Christ, and they go home and reach their family, then our work has multiplied,” he said. Many of the students that are being reached through Released Time are kids from families that have no church home or involvement. When students first sign up to participate, they are asked if they have a church. For students who are unchurched, it’s important to start connecting them with a church near them.

“We have a guy at church who started coming for his kids. Then, he realized he needed it (Christ) too,” said Williams about the church he pastors.

While every situation is different and costs will vary depending on many factors for each program, overall “cost is very inexpensive for the opportunity,” Williams said.

“The cost is much less than what it would cost a church” to run a program on it’s own.

So much of the success that School Ministries has seen in Bladen County since February is a result of the nature of the opportunity. There are 1.3 million public school students in North Carolina.

The nature of the program is about bringing Christ to a central location and community where there is the potential to reach entire families, said Williams.

“When you can win kids for Christ you can often win the family. So, this ministry is for the family,” he said.

Williams and School Ministries, Inc. want to start four new programs a year in North Carolina schools as they campaign to raise $100,000 to cover start up costs.

The campaign’s initiative is to find 1,000 people to contribute $100 each.

While some have contributed $5 and others $500 in the past couple of months, they are still currently in need of about 880 people.

Williams said, “We take that money and put it into helping programs start. We help offset the cost so that funds don’t slow the process.”

Contact Jason Williams at (910) 549-0661 or Jason@schoolministries.org.
6/9/2011 5:45:00 AM by Laura Moore, BR Editorial Aide | with 0 comments

Lottie Moon offering: $145.6 million in 2010

June 9 2011 by Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. — “Will Southern Baptists be found simply marching around our denominational parade grounds, flexing our muscles and polishing our medals, while across this globe souls are being ravaged and hell gapes wide and eager?” asked IMB President Tom Elliff.

“God forbid!”

Elliff challenged Southern Baptists to greater missions involvement following the results of the 2010 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

Doubts about the strength of America’s economic recovery and rumors of a double-dip recession didn’t stop Southern Baptists from giving $145,662,925 million in 2010 to tell the world about Jesus Christ. The offering supports the nearly 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries serving around the world through the International Mission Board, providing housing, salaries, medical care and children’s education. The cost averages $46,700 annually per individual missionary.

BP photo

School children in Lusaka, Zambia, crowd around missionary Troy Lewis, whose primary focus involves ministering to those impacted by the AIDS crisis. Like his IMB colleagues scattered around the world, Lewis’ ministry is made possible by Southern Baptists’ gifts through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Cooperative Program.

In 2009, that support enabled missionaries and their national partners to baptize more than 360,000 people and start more than 29,000 churches.

Elliff and Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) Executive Director/Treasurer Wanda Lee both expressed deep gratitude for Southern Baptists’ investment in international missions and faithfulness to fulfill the Great Commission.

“In the midst of continuing economic challenges … this offering total gives evidence that Southern Baptists remained focused on missions,” Lee said. “We are grateful for every church and every WMU leader that kept missions before their congregation with a challenge to give sacrificially so all the world may know of our Savior’s great love.”

The 2010 offering is $3 million less than the $148.9 million Southern Baptists gave in 2009, a 2.2 percent decrease, and $8.3 million less than IMB needs to meet its 2011 operating budget. Offering receipts also fell well below the national goal of $175 million. Elliff said the “deficit is a matter of concern, but the issue is ultimately spiritual, not fiscal.”

“Every offering is a picture of our heart. And it illustrates whether we have faith in God — that’s what stewardship is all about,” Elliff said. “When we give generously, not only do we accomplish more on the field, but more is accomplished in our own heart because we’re expressing our trust in Christ.

“God is calling Southern Baptists to a spiritual awakening — an awakening of our faith — without which it is impossible to please Him.”

Now, more than ever before, Elliff said, it is critical to press forward with taking the Gospel to those who haven’t heard.

“Never has the cry of the lost been more desperate and the opportunity for sharing the Gospel been greater,” he said. “The fact that there remain 3,800 people groups that are not engaged with the Gospel coupled with the fact that, barring an awakening of our faith, 1.7 billion people will die without hearing the name of Jesus, should be totally unacceptable to those of us who call ourselves by Christ’s name.

“We will not evangelize the world by simply falling out of bed tomorrow morning and going about our business as usual. We must awaken to the trumpet call of faith.”

Regardless of the budget deficit, Elliff said the IMB will not retreat during what may prove to be the most effective season of the organization’s 166-year history.

“Through our cooperative efforts God has enabled Southern Baptists to develop two of the most dynamic and effective mission organizations anywhere in the world, six of the finest training institutions in the evangelical world, along with our other wonderful entities that speak to the great need of mankind,” he said. “Add to these the amazing, supernatural strength of our local churches and we have a great cloud of witnesses capable of awesome exploits in the struggle for the souls of men.

“Your IMB intends to move forward, driven by a sense of urgency and with faith — faith in God and faith in Southern Baptists. My prayer is that in the days ahead we will see a level of sacrifice, generosity and concern that we have never seen before within the Southern Baptist Convention.

“One can only wonder what could be accomplished if we as Southern Baptists rose up to the level of faith that God wants us to experience.”
6/9/2011 5:31:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ala. church reaches out to Joplin, Mo.

June 9 2011 by Lindsey Robinson, Baptist Press

HUEYTOWN, Ala. — The day after an EF-5 tornado ripped through Joplin on May 22, a student minister and associate pastor in Alabama made a phone call to First Baptist Church in the Missouri town. The person who answered the phone was a little surprised. “Hueytown, Ala.? Aren’t you? Didn’t you?”

“Yes, we are,” said Jason Green of Crossroad Baptist Church in Hueytown. “And yes, we did.” On April 27 a super cell storm destroyed homes and businesses in Concord and Pleasant Grove near Hueytown. The next day, with the support of pastor Jimmy Bradford, Crossroad Baptist stocked its gym with canned goods, hygiene products, clothes, cleaning supplies and other basic necessities to serve storm survivors in Alabama.

And now it’s time to reach out to other states, Green said.

On May 26, Crossroad Baptist sent a church van and a 16-foot trailer filled with the same basic necessities to First Baptist Joplin.

Photo by Lindsey Robinson

Volunteers from the Mud Creek Baptist Association provide a visible presence near Concord, Ala., with their tent offering free snacks and cold drinks.

“If we’re going to be faithful with what God’s provided for us, we have to be faithful to them,” Green said.

It’s a sign of a step toward recovery in Alabama that churches can provide aid for states suffering from similar disasters.

In Concord and Pleasant Grove, progress is being made. Cleanup crews from Bessemer and Jefferson County, Ala., companies and volunteer groups have cleared the largest heaps of debris from properties and moved them to the edges of the streets to be hauled away.

The result is a flat, bare landscape dotted with twisted trees and the remnants of a few homes. It’s the next step toward rebuilding, said Ken Maddox, director of missions for the Mud Creek Baptist Association.

“You can actually see the ground,” Maddox noted. “Before, all you could see was rubble.” On the outskirts of Concord, Maddox and Alabama disaster relief volunteers Tom Barry and Billy Swindle have manned a tent with snacks and cold drinks for residents for several weeks.

“Our volunteers have dropped off,” Maddox said. “We could always use a few volunteers.” Barry has been coordinating disaster relief in Concord and Birmingham since the tornadoes hit, but he said he may be called to Missouri or another relief site.

“I’m going to go where He sends me,” Barry said.

Near the tent, Hueytown’s Concord Highland Baptist Church stands empty as a result of tornado damage, but with the creak of shifting wooden beams and ceiling tiles in the wind, the building seems full of activity.

The sanctuary is still standing, but the church will have to rebuild in a plot across the street, said Buddy Howell, chairman of the deacons.

Howell added the church might consider erecting a monument with some of the bricks from the old church.

The recreation center was reduced to its steel supports, and the parsonage and garage were destroyed.

Richard Larson, pastor of Concord Highland, said the congregation is meeting for Sunday morning and Wednesday evening services at Red River Baptist Church in Concord. Church leaders hope to begin the groundwork on the new Concord Highland in about four months — “hopefully less,” Larson added.

Like most families and business owners, leaders at Concord Highland have to wait for the go-ahead from insurance providers before they can rebuild. At First Baptist Church in Pleasant Grove, pastor Daven Watkins said many church members are waiting for insurance allotments to come in. Then people have to decide whether to rebuild or move to a new property, he said.

About one third of the families at First Baptist Pleasant Grove lost their homes, a fraction that mirrors the overall loss in Pleasant Grove, Watkins said, noting, “Big decisions are on the horizon for a lot of people.”

First Baptist Pleasant Grove has a food pantry and a FEMA representative on its campus to assist survivors. For many, life is still a struggle, but the worship services at the church echo with celebration and revival, Watkins said.

“I don’t hear people getting angry with God or asking why,” Watkins said. “People see God’s mercy in the fact that the closet they were staying in was the only thing left standing in their house.”

In fact, one church member said the storms were the best thing that ever happened to him, Watkins said. The man had a newfound faith and purpose, and he didn’t doubt that God saved him for a reason.

Watkins’ prayer is that people in Pleasant Grove and across the state hold on to that sense of purpose and passion for Christ even after all the storms — both literal and spiritual — have passed.

“From day one I’ve asked people to pray that we aren’t missing what God is teaching us,” Watkins said. “And pray that we maintain a hunger for God.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Robinson is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.)
6/9/2011 5:09:00 AM by Lindsey Robinson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Fred Luter to be nominated for 1st VP

June 8 2011 by Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana pastor Fred Luter will be nominated as first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Daniel Akin announced June 7.

Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, will be nominated by Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest.

The SBC annual meeting will be June 14-15 in Phoenix.

Akin, who has known Luter for more than 20 years, praised him as “one of Southern Baptists’ favorite preachers.” Citing his “enormous respect” for Luter, Akin said, “He is a wonderful role model as a pastor, as a preacher, as a husband, and also as a father. He has graced Southern Baptist churches and conferences for more than two decades.”

Luter was born in New Orleans and grew up in the historic “Lower 9th Ward” of the city. Next year’s SBC annual meeting will be held in New Orleans. “The timing is right,” Akin said.

“I think it would be a great thing for Southern Baptists to honor him and allow him to serve us the year the convention is going to return to New Orleans,” Akin said. “I can’t imagine anyone more qualified and more worthy to be nominated to this position than Fred.”

Luter lost his home and many church members to Hurricane Katrina. Much of the church building also was under water.

“The fact that he has stayed in New Orleans and helped rebuild both that church and the city following Katrina just speaks volumes as to the kind of man that he is,” Akin said.

Luter, who is celebrating his 25th year at Franklin Avenue, was also asked to serve on the mayor’s “Bring Back New Orleans Commission” to help rebuild the city post-Katrina.

Luter’s church had 4,878 members in 2010, according to the Annual Church Profile. It had fewer than 100 resident members when he arrived.

Luter and his wife, Elizabeth, have two children: Kimberly Ann and Fred “Chip” Luter, III.
6/8/2011 9:59:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ethnic leaders: ‘different ships, same boat’

June 8 2011 by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — “We all came over on different ships, but now we’re all in the same boat.”

That’s what Chris McNairy, a leader on the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) multiethnic mobilization team, told about 40 pastors and leaders at the 2011 Ethnic Leadership Summit at NAMB’s offices in Alpharetta, Ga.

Twenty-seven Southern Baptist Convention ethnic fellowships and networks encompass an array of people groups: African, African American, Cambodian, Chinese, Deaf, Filipino, Greek, Ghanian, Haitian, Hispanic, Hmong, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Middle Eastern, Messianic, Multiethnic, Native American, Polish, Brazilian, Romanian, Slavic, Ukrainian and Vietnamese. Most were represented at the two-day summit.

“We all are responsible for reaching the lost,” McNairy said, referring to ethnic and Anglo Christian leaders alike. “The largest categories of people are just two: the saved and the lost. And at the end of the day, the saved are responsible for the lost.” The “job description” of sinners, he said, is to sin, while the saints’ job description is to lead sinners to Christ.

“Today, which one is not fulfilling their assignment?” McNairy asked rhetorically.

The ethnic leaders from across the U.S. and Canada also heard from Kevin Ezell, NAMB’s president, and Sing Oldham, an SBC Executive Committee vice president, who underscored how important the leaders are in their spheres of influence and in NAMB’s new overarching Send North America strategy for planting churches.

“Send North America is a way for NAMB and our state partners to plant hundreds and thousands of more churches in North America,” Ezell said. “But Send North America also gives us greater flexibility to work with groups like yours. We want to partner with you as we move forward. We need your help in encouraging your churches to step up to the plate and partner with us to plant more churches.”

NAMB’s Send North America strategy will benefit ethnic networks and churches more than other groups because “many of you are already established in the 26 ‘send cities’ we’re focusing on,” Ezell noted.

NAMB has reorganized into five regions — Northeast, South, Midwest, West and Canada. The “send cities” currently are New York, Washington/Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, San Francisco/Palo Alto, Seattle, Portland, San Diego, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Denver, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

Photo by John Swain

North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell, right, chats with NAMB multiethnic mobilization team member Ken Ellis, left, James Dixon, second from left, president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Lennox Zamore, a pastor from the U.S. Virgin Islands, during the Ethnic Leadership Summit at NAMB’s offices in Alpharetta, Ga.

The major dispersions of immigrants throughout the United States involve Africans, Asians, Europeans, Latinos and those of Middle Eastern descent, McNairy said. “But of the top sending countries to the United States, one-third of the people are coming from Mexico,” he said, adding, “There are 650,000 international students here — two-thirds of them of Asian descent.

“Don’t we have the responsibility to reach them all?” McNairy asked.

McNairy urged the ethnic fellowship and network leaders to “participate in the system” — referring to the SBC’s annual meeting, state conventions and local associations.

“If you choose to stay outside and don’t participate, and don’t encourage the people you lead to be in the system, they don’t get counted,” McNairy said. “We have to be diligent and come to grips on these things. Our information is skewed because we’re not taking the time to differentiate ourselves. Some of your people are not registered in the ACP,” the SBC’s Annual Church Profile database.

Echoing McNairy, Ken Weathersby, NAMB’s associate vice president for multiethnic mobilization and equipping, said, “We can’t do our work in a vacuum. We make better decisions when we have the best information.”

Weathersby emphasized that, for example, African American churches must plant Hispanic churches and Japanese churches must plant Korean churches and Slavic churches must plant Chinese churches — not just churches of their own ethnic group.

Using NAMB’s new Northeast Region as an example, Weathersby said there are some 1,000 SBC churches in that part of the country.

“The Northeast represents 25 percent of the United States’ population, or 78 million people. But how can we expect 1,000 churches to reach 78 million people? Or should we all work together across cultures to plant new churches? That’s what Send North America is all about.”

During their May 23-24 meeting, the 40 ethnic leaders unanimously affirmed the initiative of Paul Kim, a Korean multiethnic church planter and pastor in Boston who, at the 2009 SBC annual meeting, introduced a motion regarding ethnic involvement in the convention.

“It’s about time Southern Baptists of all ethnic backgrounds worked together,” Kim said. “That’s why I introduced the motion. We are all one family and can achieve more work for the Kingdom together.” Kim exhorted his counterparts to attend local, state and national Southern Baptist meetings. “Let people know who you are. Why do we even have to have so many ethnic fellowships rather than be one working together?”

Oldham reported on the SBC Executive Committee study group which, over the last two years, conducted an extensive review of the history and participation of ethnic churches and ethnic church leaders in the SBC and how they can be more actively involved in serving within the convention.

As a result of the group’s study, the Executive Committee made 10 recommendations to be voted on in Phoenix. Among them:
  • SBC entities will report on the participation of ethnic churches and church leaders in the life and ministry of those entities.
  • Newly elected SBC presidents would be encouraged to give special attention to appointing individuals representing the diversity within the convention.
  • The president would be encouraged to select annual meeting program personalities representing the ethnic diversity within the SBC.
  • SBC entities would give due consideration to the recruitment and employment of qualified individuals to serve in various professional staff positions, on seminary faculty and as appointed missionaries in order to reflect ethnic diversity within SBC life.
  • The Executive Committee will receive a report from its communications workgroup each February concerning the participation of ethnic churches and leaders in the life and ministry of the SBC entities.
The Executive Committee also will recommend in Phoenix that the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference and other groups that meet in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting “be sensitive to the desire of our ethnic brothers and sisters in Christ to see and hear individuals from their ... cultural heritages….”

To the ethnic groups, the Executive Committee will recommend that their leaders and church members “involve themselves to the highest level possible in associational life and through state convention ministries so that their participation in broader denominational life becomes the platform from which their greater involvement in visible roles of leadership in the Convention will naturally follow.”

Those attending the ethnic summit included the following ethnic pastors and leaders from ethnic fellowships and networks located throughout the U.S. and Canada: Luis Rosales, vice president of the National Hispanic Fellowship; Tegga Lendado, African Baptist Fellowship; James Dixon, African American Fellowship of SBC; Frank Williams, Black Church Leadership Network of New York; Jon Langford, Anglo-multiethnic leader and interim pastor of Rehoboth Baptist Church, Tucker, Ga.; Mati Joseph, Multiethnic Fellowship, Metro New York Baptist Association; Kan Chantha, Cambodian Baptist Fellowship; Lennox Zamore, Caribbean Baptist Fellowship; Peter Leong, Chinese Baptist Fellowship of U.S. and Canada; Galahad Cheung, Chinese Baptist Fellowship of Canada; Ted Lam, Chinese Church Planning Initiative; Jim Dermon, Southern Baptist Conference of the Deaf; Loren Chong, English Ministry Network; Roger Manao, Filipino Baptist Fellowship; Jacques Avakian, a French-Canadian worker, Montreal; Samuel Opoku, Ghanian North American Assembly; Joseph Gaston, Haitian Baptist Fellowship SBC; Na Herr, Hmong Baptist National Association; Yhutaka Takarada, Japanese Baptist Fellowship USA; Ken Suziki, Japanese Church Planting Network; Chongoh Aum, Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches in America; Kyung Tae Cha, Korean Home Mission Board; Pat Anongdeth, Laotian Fellowship SBC; Ric Worshill, Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship; Jason Al-Nimri, Middle Eastern pastor; Tyrone Barnette, a multiethnic leader from Tucker, Ga.; Paul Kim, multiethnic leader from Boston; Russell Begaye, Ethnic America Network; Emerson Falls, Fellowship of Native American Christians; Dan BK, Nepali church planter; Mark Szajner, Polish Fellowship SBC; Jedaias Azevedo, Brazilian Baptist Association of North America; Ted Cocian, Romanian Baptist Association-East Coast; Nikolay Bugriyev, Pacific Coast Slavic Evangelical Baptist Association; Anatoly Moshkovsky, Slavic Church Planting Network; Thira Siengsukon, Thai Leadership; Paul Demianik, Western Ukrainian Baptist Association; and Christian Phan, Vietnamese Fellowship of SBC.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.)  
6/8/2011 9:53:00 AM by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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