June 2012

Storms, fires activate DR in 15 states

July 3 2012 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) -- Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units are in action in 15 states in response to recent storms in the mid-Atlantic, flooding in Florida and wildfires in Colorado.

"It's a busy time," said Mickey Caison, the North American Mission Board's disaster relief team leader who is in Colorado assisting relief efforts with the wildfire in the state.

"The majority of the states have been able to handle it on their own. We have a few that we are assisting with water and some other resources -- like Colorado and the two Virginia conventions," Caison said in reference to Baptist conventions in the respective states.

Two of the North American Mission Board's new 53-foot, 18-wheel tractor-trailers were deployed for the first time to deliver much-needed water to Virginia on Monday morning, July 2.

The new tractor-trailers, driven by Tennessee Baptist disaster relief volunteers, arrived at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., on Tuesday morning with 39 pallets of water -- about 120,000 bottles. Thomas Road and the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV) set up a "cooling station" at the church after powerful storms battered the eastern United States on Friday evening, leaving at least 22 dead and more than 2 million people without power.

The cooling station provides area residents with a place to cool down, get water and rest as temperatures have reached triple digits over the past few days. The church also is providing snacks to residents. The bottles will come at just the right time as the SBCV and Thomas Road have been providing water since Saturday and were beginning to run low.

"The neat thing about this event is that it's definitely a local church event," SBCV disaster relief director Jack Noble said. "Every one of our churches has the opportunity to get involved. ... They don't need any training they just have to go be Christ."

Two pallets of the water will also be delivered to the Virginia Baptist Mission Board (VBMB), whose volunteers were feeding people in the Highland, Bath and Alleghany counties of Virginia. The Tennessee volunteers also delivered 80 rolls of roofing material to the SBCV, the VBMB and North Carolina Baptist Men who are all helping with relief efforts in their states.

In fire-ravaged areas of Colorado, disaster relief work also is continuing. Caison said the Fort Collins area is moving into the recovery stage.

"We set up a receiving center for folks to make applications for support and work up in the mountains," Caison said. "We did some preliminary assessment and identified areas where we can help. We're working on the details of that today (July 3)."

Additionally, Oklahoma and Colorado units have set up a feeding unit at Vanguard Baptist Church in Colorado Springs. With 70 percent of the fire contained now, Caison said the unit will be closed either Tuesday or Wednesday as some area residents return to their homes in that fire-affected region.

Florida Baptist disaster relief units, meanwhile, are working in three locations in the state in the aftermath of historic flooding following Hurricane Debby's onset in late June. The storm deluged several parts of the state, although its gusts never got above 45 miles per hour.

Fritz Wilson, the Florida Baptist Convention's disaster relief and recovery team strategist, said the state's Baptists are gearing up for a heavy response in Live Oak, one of the state's hardest-hit towns.

"They received 20 inches of rain and the town just filled up like a bowl," Wilson said. "There are all kinds of sink holes. There was 8 to 10 feet of standing water in houses. The water is just now receding because it had to soak through the water table to go down."

On Sunday (July 8), Wilson said, Florida Baptists plan to start a large flood recovery response based at First Baptist Church in Live Oak. Wilson anticipates that Florida Baptist disaster relief will have three to four weeks of work in the Live Oak area.

Florida Baptists also are working in the town of Starke, where the flooding of the New River impacted about 50 homes. In addition, Georgia Baptists are helping to assess disaster relief needs around Lake City, Fla.

The Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention also has been active in flood relief near Duluth, Minn. The northeast part of the state was hit with floods nearly two weeks ago, with Southern Baptist volunteers subsequently participating in cleanup work and feeding in the area.

The convention reports many positive responses to their work, including a father and son who were "very skeptical" of accepting help at first. By the end of three days of Southern Baptist work on their home, they commented on how the volunteers were "living the Christian faith" in front of them.

"Pray for volunteers in all these areas that are working and for those who are affected," Caison said. "Pray that we'll have an opportunity to represent Jesus Christ and His love and grace in a very positive way during this time."

For more disaster relief updates, visit namb.net/dr.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board. Amanda Sullivan, a writer for the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, contributed to this report.)
7/3/2012 8:37:20 PM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Bible storying’ is key to reaching 2/3 of world

June 29 2012 by Don Graham & Barbara Denman, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to reach two-thirds of the world’s population who “learn through stories or music, drama or poetry.”

“If you hand them a book to read, they either can’t read it or they won’t read it,” International Mission Board (IMB) worker Annette Hall said of chronological Bible storying’s impact in addressing Woman’s Missionary Union’s (WMU) Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting June 17-18 in New Orleans.

Hall, who has worked for nearly 40 years with North African and Middle Eastern peoples, said chronological Bible storying also holds the key to evangelism in the U.S., with 50 percent of all Americans being functionally illiterate.

One recent news report, for instance, indicated that 30 percent of children in the third grade in Richmond, Va., cannot read on their grade level, Hall said, noting that they most likely come from families of non-readers and never will be active readers.

The process behind chronological Bible storying is simple, Hall said, explaining that she often uses a set of 20 individual stories that move listeners through the Bible from Genesis to the second coming of Christ.

BP file photo

In 2008, missionary Deborah Jefferson, right, gave a storying cloth to a teacher to aid in communicating the gospel to Brazil’s remote Quilombola people. “Chronological Bible storying is a powerful tool,” said Annette Hall, an IMB worker. “God gave it to us. He gave us a book full of stories. And all we have to do is learn to use them.”

“We tell them the story, and then we have them learn the story, and then we process the story by asking some very simple questions,” Hall said. “Because they’ve learned the story, and because we use the same simple questions every time, they can reproduce this and go out to tell other people.

“We don’t teach. We want people to get the point of the story from the story – they need to discover it for themselves. If I tell them the answer, it goes into their heads but it doesn’t go into their hearts.”

Storytelling should not be a new concept to Christians, Hall said, pointing out that Jesus often taught biblical truths through the use of stories now called parables.

Life transformation is at the core of storytelling, Hall said. “We want it to enter and change the heart.”

Hall illustrated the storying process by sharing the gospel account of Jesus sending a man’s evil spirits into a herd of pigs. After telling the story first in simple terms, Hall assigned the group to be characters, and retold the story, with participants acting out the story. Then she asked simple questions to promote discussion of concepts in the story, such as “What did you like? What were you surprised by? What did you learn about God? What did you learn about man?”

Asking probing questions to a group of oral communicators can easily spark an hour of conversation, Hall said, as oral communicators tend to devote time to discussion. Through such examination comes repetition and understanding, she said.

Among the pointers she gave the workshop participants:

– study the words in the story and rephrase them in simple terms.

– break down concepts into short simple thoughts.

– do not change the meaning of God’s Word or add to scripture.

– use the same name for God each time, to not confuse listeners.

– understand the culture because some terms may be offensive, especially in Muslim and Hindu cultures.

– consult several translations for alternate word choices.

– repeat before and after the story that this is a “true story from God’s Word.”

Frances Woodward of Pearl, Miss., who attended a workshop led by Hall, said she planned to use the process with children and her grandchildren.

“Children love to act out,” Woodward said. But for her personally, she said, studying the passage to find its simple meaning “sharpened the facts for me.”

Hall assured the group that “everybody in here can learn to tell a good story.”

About 40 participants practiced and modeled the process during breakout sessions and crafted their own stories to share.

In the general session, Hall shared a recent success story from a Bible storying training event last year in southern Asia. One of her colleagues, who helped with the training, met a young woman whose family had been radically changed.

“The woman said, ‘There were some people from my village who went to a training and they learned how to tell Bible stories. And they came and they told the story for me and my family. Now I am a believer and so is my family. All of us believe in Jesus,’” Hall recounted. She added that more than 20 people in that village have been baptized as a result of chronological Bible storying.

“Chronological Bible storying is a powerful tool,” Hall said. “God gave it to us. He gave us a book full of stories. And all we have to do is learn to use them.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham is the International Mission Board’s senior writer; Barbara Denman is the Florida Baptist Convention’s director of communication. Chronological Bible storying expert Anita Hall is available to do training for churches and groups. She can be contacted through the International Mission Board at 1-800-999-3113 or www.imb.org.)
6/29/2012 12:53:09 PM by Don Graham & Barbara Denman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Evangelists underscore ‘power of God’

June 29 2012 by Emily Grooms & Vicky Kaniaru, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – Two former presidents and the new president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE) focused on “The Gospel: The Power of God Unto Salvation” during the group’s worship June 17 in New Orleans prior to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting.

Braxton Hunter expressed impatience with division over the sinner’s prayer; Keith Fordham said “Christ’s blood” is what’s needed for “what’s wrong with the Southern Baptist Convention;” and the group’s new president, Eric Ramsey, said if Southern Baptists’ entities and programs don’t have the power of the Holy Spirit, “they are worth nothing.”

COSBE inducted two new members into its “Hall of Faith,” at the three-hour service at the New Orleans Hilton Riverside – John Bos of Orlando, Fla., and Tom Cox of Mountainburg, Ark.

Braxton Hunter, an evangelist based in Evansville, Ind., drew from Acts 6 for his sermon, “Just Preach It.”

“If there ever was a time when Southern Baptists have to decide to just preach it, now is the time,” Hunter said. “We need to come away with a refreshed understanding of the power of the gospel and a desire to just preach it.”

Hunter noted when the biblical Stephen was persecuted and killed, the written Bible, conferences and resources did not exist. Though he had likely not intended to die that day, Stephen had received the challenge that all believers have received – “Are you willing to just preach it or are you going to augment your message so it’s more palpable and appealing to the human senses?” Hunter said.

“If you don’t think that we’re going to face this level of persecution where we may have to lay down our lives, then that is all the more reason to preach it,” Hunter said.

Recalling a 1995 court case where a judge threatened incarceration for students who mentioned the name of Jesus during high school commencement programs, Hunter said believers may soon face persecution similar to that of Stephen.

“Are we really living like people who respect what these men and women went through for us to have [the Bible]?” Hunter asked.

Citing Acts 5 when the apostles were arrested, Hunter noted this represented the first time in history when Christians were prevented from sharing their faith.

“Does that sound familiar to where we are today in the 21st century?” Hunter asked. “Today, we’re getting the same societal view.”

However, no matter what the law stated, the apostles decided “to proclaim the truth that Jesus is the Messiah, the power of the gospel, both privately and publicly,” Hunter said.

“In a day like this, when we have a choice to make, it is time to make the right choice and just preach it,” Hunter said. “If the world is getting more evangelistic, and we’re getting less evangelistic, what is standing in the future for us?”

Sometimes it is not the fear of persecution but laziness that subdues preaching the gospel, Hunter said. Too many believers, he said, are not passionate about the things of God “because there is something wrong between us and Jesus.”

Citing Stephen’s last moments, Hunter said he is reminded that Christians don’t just die.

“We just fall asleep and wake up in the presence of Jesus,” he said. “The power of the gospel is so powerful that I believe everyone can be saved.”

Restating his conviction about the power of the gospel, Hunter talked about Southern Baptists’ discussion of the sinner’s prayer.

“I think the fact that we are at the SBC right now and the SBC is experiencing difficult times in many ways – the fact that we would begin talking about whether or not it is superstitious to lead someone to pray to receive the Lord Jesus Christ – I find to be absurd ...,” Hunter said. “No matter what we decide at the SBC this week, just preach it. Whatever we talk about, this is my message to my convention: Just preach it.”

Keith Fordham, an evangelist in the Southern Baptist Convention for 35 years, in his message spoke of the importance of the blood of Jesus.

Photo by Jeremy Scott

Former president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE), Keith Fordham, speaks during the COSBE worship service June 17 at the New Orleans Hilton Riverside in New Orleans. The theme of the service was “The Gospel: The Power of God Unto Salvation.”

Christ’s blood is the only source of spiritual life, he said. “Jesus did not spill His blood, He poured His blood. Jesus’ death was not a tragedy, but a triumph. Jesus shed His blood on the cross on purpose.”

Referencing Leviticus 17:11, Hebrews 9:22 and 1 John 1:7, Fordham spoke about the composition, the cycle, the conception and the contemplation of the blood.

“That’s the only way we will get into heaven,” Fordham said. “His blood cries out either for our damnation or, thank God, for our salvation.”

Without the proper understanding and dependency on the blood of Jesus, Fordham said “we cannot work for God and we cannot have proper fellowship in this world.”

“It’s the blood of Jesus that’s the cure for what’s wrong with the Southern Baptist Convention,” Fordham said. “It’s the blood that’s the cure for what’s wrong with America.”

Eric Ramsey, an evangelist based in Mountainburg, Ark., said he is “deeply burdened because North America for the last decade has remained the only continent in the world where Christianity is in decline.”

Churches are relying on resources more than relying on the missing ingredient: the Holy Spirit, Ramsey said. When the disciples asked Jesus whether He would restore the kingdom to Israel in Acts 1, they were seeking “positional power.”

“I believe the church in North America is spending too much time looking for positional power,” said Ramsey, who noted that Jesus’ promise of power referred to The Holy Spirit.

Though grateful for Southern Baptists’ entities and programs, Ramsey said, God is allowing the evangelical church to be buffeted because of the absence of the Holy Spirit.

“If those programs don’t have the power of the Holy Spirit driving them, they are worth nothing,” Ramsey said. “We don’t have the Holy Spirit, therefore there is no power behind the gospel that we’re preaching.

“Without walking in complete honor and glory to God, we do not walk in the Holy Spirit,” Ramsey said. “We don’t need a new marketing strategy. We don’t need a communications plan. We don’t need a new program. We need to get on our knees.”

The gift of the Holy Spirit employs believers to be witnesses, Ramsey said. “Way too many people today, in an effort not to offend somebody, are sitting silently on the witness stand.

“We’re way too concerned about people coming and being like us,” Ramsey said. “We need to be a lot more concerned about us joining others and others joining us on a journey to become more like Jesus Christ. That’s what the gospel is all about.”

Ramsey talked about a bent woman in India who, after praying to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, laid her cane down and said, “Thank you for Jesus,” and walked out.

The news of the woman’s healing spread throughout the village. God needs believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit and who believe that when they receive Jesus, things change, Ramsey said.

“Does your church need Jesus? Do you need Jesus? Let’s walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, and let’s stop relying on our money, on our programs, on our agencies, and let’s rely on Him,” Ramsey said. “He wants to do it much more than we want to receive it. He wants to give it much more than we want to get it.”

Hall of faith inductees
This year’s inductees into COSBE’s “Hall of Faith” will join 33 who have been honored for devoting their lives to vocational evangelism. In 2008 COSBE created the Hall of Faith and in 2010 the North American Mission Board dedicated a room at their headquarters in Alpharetta, Ga., where plaques are displayed honoring those evangelists chosen.

Evangelists – both living and dead – who have been inducted include Billy Graham, Junior Hill, Jay Strack, Vance Havner and Manley Beasley.

The 2012 inductees both are involved in international missions.

A Netherlands native, Bos, a member of First Baptist Church in Orlando, was on a mission trip to the Philippines at the time of the ceremony.

Bos’ friend and partner in ministry, Harold Hunter, accepted the award for Bos, summarizing his ministry by reading from a written statement. “John’s not able to be with us this year because he is out preaching the gospel,” Hunter said.

Entering the evangelism ministry in 1973 alongside friend and mentor E.J. Daniels, Bos has used his musical talents in crusades across the nation. Bos played the organ and piano for large crowds.

“I was amazed over the huge crowds packing the gigantic tent,” Bos wrote.

In 1972 Bos joined Daniels’ ministry, Christ for the World Inc. and served as associate director until Daniels’ death in 1987. Bos became the acting director and in September 2000, Bos took on the role of executive director. The ministry focuses on evangelizing the world through overseas festivals, orphanages and other ministries.

Hunter said Bos is helping “bring America back to God” while conducting accessible crusades.

“On behalf of John Bos and his wife Shirley, thank you. They are serving God faithfully,” Hunter said.

Cox, an evangelist from Mountainburg, Ark., who has been in ministry since 1956, said he was “greatly honored” by his induction into the Hall of Faith. He invited his wife and three daughters on stage with him.

Having celebrated 35 years as a full-time evangelist, Cox has preached over 1,500 revival crusades and served in ministry in more than 120 different countries. Each year he includes hundreds of individuals in short-term mission trips throughout the world.

“I love evangelists; they’re my heroes,” Cox said.

Elected as COSBE officers were Eric Ramsey, Mountainburg, Ark., president; Richard Hamlet, Memphis, Tenn., vice president; Russell Johnson, Myrtle Beach, S.C., worship leader; Eric Fuller, Fort Worth, Texas, recording secretary; and Dennis Nunn, Woodstock, Ga., parliamentarian.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Emily Grooms & Vicky Kaniaru are from Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga.)
6/29/2012 12:44:55 PM by Emily Grooms & Vicky Kaniaru, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

IMB, NAMB presidents address DOMs’ queries

June 28 2012 by Frank Michael McCormack, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – The Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions (SBCADOM) held its annual meeting at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary June 17-18. Nearly 225 associational leaders attended the SBCADOM sessions in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting June 19-20 in New Orleans.

Day one of the conference was highlighted by interviews with International Mission Board (IMB) President Tom Elliff and North American Mission Board (NAMB) President Kevin Ezell.

Dale Fisher with the Caldwell Baptist Association in North Carolina first asked Elliff to put into words how Jesus’ words in Matthew 9 about “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few” impact him as IMB president. Elliff first pointed to Matthew 9:36, which says Jesus “had compassion” on the crowds.

“It literally means that, when Jesus saw the crowds, it was a gut–wrenching experience for Him,” Elliff said. “I have to tell you, Dale, traveling around and seeing what’s happening in this world and realizing how seemingly small our efforts are breaks my heart.”

Elliff pointed out that, while Southern Baptists support about 5,000 international missionaries, that amounts to “less than 3/100ths of 1 percent of our U.S. Southern Baptist constituency.”

Southern Baptists have a great opportunity to get more involved in reaching unengaged, unreached people groups around the world, though, through such initiatives as the IMB’s “Embrace” call for individual churches, associations and entities to adopt one of the more than 3,300 unreached people groups around the world and develop a strategy for reaching them with the gospel.

NAMB President Kevin Ezell followed Elliff, offering an overview of the mission board’s church planting push and a glimpse of a new church revitalization emphasis being developed.

“I feel like we have brought a sense of focus [to the North American Mission Board],” Ezell said of the church planting emphasis that was the focus of his first two years as president.

Ezell said his goal is for 50 percent of NAMB’s resources to go toward church plants. Currently it is around 42 percent, Ezell said.

Photo by Kent Harville

Dale Fisher, left, of Caldwell Baptist Association in North Carolina, joins Tom Elliff, president of the International Mission Board, to address a meeting of the June 17 Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The theme of the meeting was “Igniting Passion.”

Ezell told the directors of missions that NAMB is preparing to launch a church revitalization program in which sponsor churches will directly support restarts or revitalizations.

“Then we can put a young pastor in there who will be mentored and use resources like it was a church plant,” Ezell said.

Ezell also said NAMB is preparing to begin a program by which properties that are no longer in use will be acquired and refurbished to help start churches in the rehabilitated facilities.

The association also heard from Tom Billings, executive director of Houston’s Union Baptist Association, who called the directors of mission to lead their churches to work toward true transformation in their communities. Billings said the overarching story of scripture includes four main elements: creation, fall, redemption and restoration. Christians too often focus mainly on the fall and redemption, Billings said.

“If that’s all of the story we tell, we’re telling too narrow of a story,” he said. “The full story involves creation and moves all the way to restoration.”

Part of the reason the early church had such a huge impact on society, Billings said, was “the difference that Christians made in the lives of ordinary people.”

“Christ’s followers didn’t just believe in Jesus, they behaved like Jesus,” he said of a major point of emphasis for churches in the Houston–area association.

Billings said he is looking forward to Southern Baptists coming to Houston in June 2013 for the Crossover evangelistic thrust and the annual meeting.

“I really hope that folks will say about Southern Baptists once they come to Houston the kinds of things they say about Southern Baptists here in New Orleans,” Billings said in reference to Southern Baptists’ work in the city following Hurricane Katrina.

Reflecting on the weekend meeting in New Orleans, SBCADOM’s president, Johnny Rumbough, director of missions for the Lexington Baptist Association in South Carolina, said it had been meaningful for participants.

“There were times when we were moved to stand and cheer,” Rumbough said. “There were other times when we were moved to sit and meditate and others where we wanted to get on our knees before the Lord.”

The 2013 Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions is set for the second weekend in June leading up to the SBC annual meeting June 11–12 in Houston. Second Baptist Church in Houston will host the SBCADOM conference.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Frank Michael McCormack is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)
6/28/2012 4:27:22 PM by Frank Michael McCormack, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

God-given femininity: Value it, Kassian says

June 28 2012 by Shannon Baker, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS (BP) – A sold-out crowd of 1,800 ministers’ wives heard Mary Kassian speak on “The Hidden Person of the Heart,” drawing from 1 Peter 3, at their luncheon during the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting in New Orleans.

Kassian, a women’s studies professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a national speaker for “True Women” conferences, admitted that 1 Peter 3, where wives are instructed to quietly submit to their husbands, was not her favorite part of Scripture when she was in her 20s. Reading it, she said, was like “sticking my face in a bucket of worms.”

As she has grown in the Lord, Kassian said her views have changed to where she sees “great gems” in the passage for those who are co-laboring with their husbands in the ministry.

Kassian, whose husband is a chaplain for the Canadian Football League, shared three ways wives can use their femininity to help, rather than hinder, their husbands in ministry.

First, be winsome, Kassian said.

“The most effective way to help your husband be on the right track is for you to work hard for you to be on the right track.”

The enemy of winsomeness is the tongue, Kassian said, cautioning, “A woman’s word can be the undoing of the man.”

Second, be womanly.

Photo by Bill Bangham.

Author and speaker Mary Kassian speaks during the Ministers’ Wives Luncheon June 19 during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting. The event featured the theme “The Hidden Person of the Heart.”

“Embracing your femininity is not about fitting a cookie-cutter mold,” Kassian said. “It’s about being the woman God created you to be – a beautiful, God-glorifying woman.”

Noting that issues of gender, sexuality and marriage are threatening what it means to be male and female, Kassian urged the women to be counter-intuitive and embrace the power of being a woman.

“Your husband needs you to be a woman – his wife – not his mother or one of the guys. When you are the woman God has called you to be, he can be the man God called him to be.”

Finally, be unwavering.

“These womanly traits are very precious in God’s eyes,” Kassian said. Through them, “we shine a light on the gospel and on Jesus Christ.”

The Lord’s way may seem counter-intuitive, but “it is the way that will bring most fulfillment,” she said.

Kassian is the author of “The Feminist Mistake,” “Girls Gone Wise” and most recently an eight-week study on biblical womanhood, “True Woman 101: Divine Design,” coauthored with Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

A copy of True Woman 101 was given to each attendee, along with a devotional, “The Hidden Person of the Heart,” edited by Janet Wicker, this year’s luncheon president, and written by more than 300 Southern Baptist ministers’ wives in all areas of ministry. A book about prayer, “Draw Near,” by Sherry Blankenship, this year’s recording secretary/treasurer for the luncheon, also was given to attendees.

Through tears, Wicker introduced two pastors’ wives who influenced her life and ministry: Nancy Buttemere, wife of Clive Buttemere, and Jane Hightower, wife of Bill Hightower, both of whom have been married for 51 years.

The Buttemeres served in the pastorate for 12 years and then as Southern Baptist missionaries to Costa Rica for 28 years. Nancy Buttemere “noticed” her at an awkward time of her life, Wicker said, and was her Girls in Action leader.

Hightower, who performed the Wickers’ wedding in 1975, and his wife, served in several churches for 30 years, including the church where Hayes Wicker served as a youth minister.

“You have been the fragrance of Christ to me all these years,” Wicker said as her two daughters, Kristin Yeldell and Allyson Wicker, presented bouquets of flowers to Buttemere and Hightower.

“The Lord values the vibrant, unfading inner beauty that comes from being adorned with soothing gentleness, regal tranquility, and strength submitted to God’s control and the leadership of our husbands,” Wicker told the June 19 luncheon at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.

“In a culture that emphasizes beauty that is only skin-deep,” Wicker added, “we must stand out as ‘daughters of Sarah’ who truly put their hope in God, doing what is good and right and not giving into fear.”

Also at the luncheon, a New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary jazz band and Yeldell, her husband Eric and a worship band provided special music.

Next year’s featured speaker for the June 11 luncheon in Houston is author and speaker Donna Gaines, www.donnagaines.org, wife of Steve Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn.

Officers for next year’s luncheon, with the theme “For the Sake of the gospel,” based on 1 Corinthians 9:23, are Kathy Ferguson Litton of North Mobile, Ala., president; Beverly Fleming of Houston, vice president; Becky Badry of Wewoka, Okla., recording secretary-treasurer; and Beverly Bender of Black Forest, Colo., correspondence secretary.

Always held on Tuesday during the SBC annual meeting, the luncheon is open to wives of all ministers, including pastors, staff members, chaplains, missionaries and denominational workers.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shannon Baker is the national correspondent for BaptistLIFE, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. Contributions to the SBC Ministers’ Wives Endowment may be sent to the Office of the Executive Director, Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32207.)
6/28/2012 4:23:01 PM by Shannon Baker, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Health care law upheld, disappointing pro-lifers

June 28 2012 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON (BP) – The U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld the 2010 health care law Thursday, dealing a disheartening setback to pro-life and religious liberty advocates who fervently oppose the controversial measure.

With Chief Justice John Roberts casting the deciding vote, the high court announced its affirmation in a 5-4 opinion of what is often labeled as “Obamacare.” Four associate justices – Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito – said in their dissent they would have struck down the entire law.

Writing for the majority, Roberts said the “individual mandate,” which requires almost all Americans to buy health insurance, is a valid exercise by Congress of its power to tax. Although Congress does not have the power under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to require the purchase of health insurance, it does have the authority to tax those who do not have such coverage, the court said.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – in combination with subsequent federal rules – not only has elicited widespread opposition because of the “individual mandate” but because of other provisions, such as its federal subsidies for plans that cover abortion and an abortion/contraceptive mandate that critics say violates religious liberty.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), as well as other pro-life and religious freedom organizations, has protested those provisions and others. For instance, the law requires insurance plans in state exchanges to not disclose their abortion coverage until people are enrolled in their plans.

The law mandates all plans cover contraceptives and sterilizations as preventive services without cost to employees. This includes contraceptives, as defined by the federal government, that can cause abortions of tiny embryos. The rule regarding that mandate has a religious exemption critics find woefully inadequate.

Southern Baptist leaders expressed deep disappointment with the opinion.

“It is astonishing that the majority of the justices did not see the bill for what it really is: a blatant violation of the personal freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution and perhaps a mortal blow to the concept of federalism,” ERLC President Richard Land said in a written statement.

In addition to continuing to protest the “abortion/contraceptive mandate” and its insufficient religious exemption, Land said, “Greater government involvement in medical care also means that the sick, elderly and terminally ill will suffer.” He suggested many patients will have to wait longer to receive treatment as the government determines how to allocate resources.

O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, said in a written release, “As I told messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans last week, we will never allow this Administration, or any other, to tell us that we have to provide abortive drugs like morning-after pills. ... We will maintain our advocacy on behalf of ministers we are privileged to serve.”

The court did provide a restriction on “Obamacare,” ruling the section expanding Medicaid is unconstitutional in threatening to take away states’ current funding if they refuse to participate.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press.)
6/28/2012 1:06:07 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bedouin tent at SBC inspires Great Commission prayer

June 27 2012 by Don Graham, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – Jill Welton quickly discovered that the Bedouin tent inside the convention center wasn’t a marketing gimmick. It was a place for prayer and reflection.

Welton, a pastor’s wife from Berryville, Va., had come to New Orleans for the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting and visited IMB’s (International Mission Board) booth in the exhibit hall.
The prayer tent, which dominated IMB’s display, was modeled after the desert dwellings of the nomadic Bedouin tribes of North Africa and the Middle East. It was created to inspire SBC messengers to deepen their commitment to be Jesus’ heart, hands and voice, following Him in obedience to the Great Commission no matter the cost.

It featured five stations that focused prayer on Jesus’ commands in Matthew 16:24-25 for believers to deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow Him.

Welton was overwhelmed by the words of Karen Watson, a Southern Baptist worker martyred in 2004 in Iraq. Before Watson went overseas, she penned a letter to be read by her pastor in the event of her death.

Elizabeth Yarnell of Fort Worth, Texas, hammers a nail into a cross at the prayer tent exhibit of the International Mission Board during the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans. Each nail by a visitor – more than 1,150 during the convention – represented a commitment to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Excerpts of the letter were displayed at one of the prayer stations: “When God calls there are no regrets. ... To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, His glory is my reward.”

“I wrote down every word,” Welton said. “I’m going to print it up and post it in my cubicle at work because it is incredibly inspirational.”

Two years ago, Welton helped her husband Van start Apple Valley Baptist Church in Berryville. The congregation averages about 40 people on Sundays. She said the prayer tent was a good reminder that success isn’t measured in numbers but in obedience.

“It’s so easy to get caught up in the world’s idea of success, and when you don’t think that you fit that mold, you may see yourself as a failure,” Welton said. “And I think that’s a good way for me to encourage my husband as pastor of a small, growing church.”

Luke Bray, pastor of Jeffersontown (Ky.) Baptist Church, said the International Mission Board’s prayer tent helped renew and refocus a calling God placed on his heart to share Christ overseas.

Bray, 31, said he first felt drawn to ministry as a teenager. A tour of duty in Iraq with the Army National Guard opened his eyes to the need for the gospel in North Africa and the Middle East.

“One of the most amazing things that the Lord was able to do, even through that difficult time, was to give me a heart for people in the Middle East and opportunities to share the gospel with Muslims,” Bray said.

The prayer tent helped him confront a serious obstacle to Christian service in that part of the world that he didn’t face as a soldier: fear for the safety of his wife and two young sons.

“I served in Baghdad for 14 months, and so I’m very familiar with that world and the dangers that come with it,” he said. “I’m continually praying that the Lord would eliminate those kinds of fears about my family and that I would trust Him.

“Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met are Muslims. ... They’re actually more open to talk about religious things than many Christians in the United States.”

Megan Galvin, a 19-year-old college student from Atlanta, spoke about her dream of one day serving the Lord through medical missions.

Galvin, who is studying pre-medicine at the University of Georgia, admitted that a fear of losing relationships with family and friends was hindering her ability to fully surrender her life in obedience to the Great Commission.

After visiting the prayer tent, she shared that “it was really cool to be able to zone in on the things that are holding me back from living the life that God’s called me to live.

“Putting myself where God’s called me to be over those relationships is a really hard thing,” Galvin said. “Every day I’m committing to make the decision to follow Christ and to leave those things that I’m fearing behind.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham is a senior writer at the International Mission Board. To participate in an interactive prayer experience to be encouraged and inspired to be His heart, His hands and His voice, visit imb.org/prayertent to view the slideshow.)
6/27/2012 2:05:35 PM by Don Graham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Native Americans install 1st executive director

June 27 2012 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – The Fellowship of Native American Christians (FoNAC) has installed its first executive director, Gary Hawkins.

Hawkins, a church planting associate with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, was called by FoNAC’s executive committee as the group’s executive director. The call was affirmed unanimously by the full fellowship during its June 18 meeting prior to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in New Orleans.

“It’s time for us to build on our strengths,” Hawkins said in his remarks to FoNAC. “Certain things are common to all Native peoples and yet we are a diverse people group. ... I believe God has a log of qualified people who haven’t had an opportunity to step up and come alongside another Native person.

“Without God I wouldn’t have a family. I come to you simply as a man who has a passion to reach Indian people. ... It doesn’t matter what people have or don’t have. If they don’t have Jesus, they don’t have anything.”

Emerson Falls, pastor of Glorieta Baptist Church in Oklahoma City and chairman of FoNAC, told the meeting, attended by some 60 Native Americans from the United States and Canada, that the fellowship “can do anything with God’s power.”

Most Native American Southern Baptist churches “are small; we’re weak,” Falls, one of FoNAC’s founders in 2009, said. But just as God chose David, the weakest of his brothers, so God has chosen Native congregations to reach Native people for Jesus, Falls said.

“If we don’t do it, who is going to do it?” he asked.

Photo by Bill Bangham

Members of the Fellowship of Native American Christians embrace and pray for Gary and Paula Hawkins June 18 after his installation as the first executive director for the organization. Those in attendance came from across the United States – as far away as Massachusetts – and Canada.

About 4.1 million Americans – 1.5 percent of the total population – identify themselves as Native American or Alaska Native, belonging to more than 800 tribal groups. While some live in urban areas, 140 reservations are scattered across the nation.

About 1.2 million Canadians – 3.8 percent of Canada’s total population – identify themselves as First Nations people, counted among 600 “bands” or tribes.

“This is where God is at work,” Falls said. “We’re going to join God in what He is doing.”

Through the relationships developed last year at two North American conferences, Native churches are helping each other in evangelism, Falls said. In his chairman’s report, he explained the need for a paid executive director who will be able to focus on building a network to start Native American churches and help existing churches extend God’s Kingdom.

FoNAC heard a report about its $78,700 budget, which will come from several sources, including contributions from Native churches. Some congregations have committed to send 1 percent of their undesignated receipts to FoNAC while not decreasing their giving through the Cooperative Program.

Support from individuals, churches, associations, state conventions and the North American Mission Board also are being sought, as are grants.

For additional information, visit fonac.org.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
6/27/2012 1:57:19 PM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

As African Sahel hunger crisis deepens, pleas for help grow

June 27 2012 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

DAKAR, Senegal – The food crisis in Africa’s Sahel region is expected to remain critical throughout the summer, a United Nations relief official has announced. Southern Baptists are being asked to pray for those who are suffering near starvation and for the workers struggling to help them, and to give to the World Hunger Fund.
United Nations (UN) aid chief Valerie Amos met with the presidents of Senegal and Burkina Faso during a four-day trip to West Africa to assess the scope and impact of the emergency.

Some 800,000 people in northern Senegal are going hungry, while 2.8 million in the country of Burkina Faso need urgent help, Amos told the AFP news service May 24. Burkina Faso also has 60,000 refugees from neighboring Mali living in refugee camps. An estimated 18 million people are suffering from food shortages, and nearly 1.5 million children are near starvation, according to UN figures.

Southern Baptists have responded with an initiative in Mali that will provide a six-month ration of grain and peanuts to help two villages with a combined population of about 3,000. In coordination with local leaders, three distributions will be conducted in each village over the course of four to six months. The project is being funded with a $366,200 disbursement from the World Hunger Fund. Donations to the World Hunger Fund can be made at worldhungerfund.com.

“The humanitarian situation is expected to remain critical at least until the main harvest this autumn,” around September, Amos said, according to AFP. “We can do more to avoid the crisis from becoming a catastrophe in the region but to save more lives we need strong leadership ... and continued generosity from the regional and humanitarian community.”

BGR photo

The arrival of semi-trailer loads of food brought great relief to residents of two villages in Africa’s Sahel region, where an estimated 18 million people are suffering from food shortages. Southern Baptists have responded by providing the villages with a six-month ration of grain and peanuts.

Hunger is a chronic problem in the Sahel, said Mark Hatfield, who directs work in Sub-Saharan Africa for Baptist Global Response (BGR) with his wife, Susan.

“In 2011, the rains came late or not at all over much of the region, and harvests have been very limited. One country estimates agricultural production may be down as much as 75 percent,” Hatfield said. “Families are running out of food quickly, food prices are skyrocketing, and malnutrition is reaching emergency levels, especially among infants and children.”

The only hope many people in the Sahel have is that people who care will respond to their need, said Jeff Palmer, BGR’s executive director.

“The most important thing Christians can do is to pray that God would miraculously provide the resources needed to avert a complete disaster,” Palmer said. “This crisis is massive and the international community has not yet risen to meet all the need. Our own resources through the World Hunger Fund are limited. Families in a dozen countries are desperate to know that we care about their plight.”

The Sahel is a 3,400 mile expanse that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, between the Sahara desert to the north and the savanna to the south. Its name derives from an Arabic word that means “shore” – the Sahel appears to run as a coastline along the southern edge of the Sahara’s ocean of sand. The Sahel covers parts of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Cameroon and Eritrea.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly writes for Baptist Global Response, located on the Internet at gobgr.org. You can help save lives in this crisis by donating to World Hunger Fund at worldhungerfund.com.)

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6/27/2012 1:41:35 PM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

NAMB, at SBC, spotlights spiritual need of North America

June 26 2012 by Adam Miller, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS, La. – Last year at the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Phoenix, Matt Mowrey took the stage as a testimony to God’s work in Norwich, Conn., through North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary Shaun Pillay.
This year Southern Baptists saw video of Matt’s dad who, shortly after watching last year’s presentation, became one of Norwich’s newest believers. Recently, Matt’s grandmother also accepted Christ.

During the NAMB report and presentation at the 2012 SBC annual meeting in New Orleans, NAMB President Kevin Ezell highlighted the importance of ongoing and sustainable efforts, like those in Norwich, in penetrating lostness in North America.

“We’re not planting churches that will make a difference for a week or a month or a year,” Ezell told messengers. “We’re planting churches that will continue to reach people year after year after year.”

To highlight the need for more churches in North America, Ezell offered a historical glimpse into the SBC’s nearly two centuries.

“When we started back in 1845, we started churches at a great pace. By 1900 there was one church for every 3,800 people,” Ezell said.

He added: “Today there are two different North Americas. One very well churched and one that’s not.”

Ezell shared that some Southern states have one SBC congregation for every 1,400 people. But in Canada there is one church for every 117,000 people. In the northeast United States, the numbers aren’t much better.

Photo by Jeremy Scott

John Voltaire, a bivocational pastor, with his wife, Emmanuela, and their two children, Mathew and Christa, was honored during a North American Mission Board report June 20 by Kevin Ezell, right, president of NAMB, for being an ‘Iron Man.’ “We think bivocational pastors are the iron men of the SBC,” Ezell said.

With a goal of seeing a net gain of 5,000 additional SBC congregations by 2022 and with an average of 890 churches dropping off the SBC database each year, at least 13,500 new churches will be needed in the next 10 years. In addition to church planting, Ezell spotlighted ways NAMB will help Southern Baptists accomplish this goal:

Iron Men of the SBC
Ezell said bivocational pastors are the “Iron Men of the SBC” and NAMB will be supporting them through educational and resourcing opportunities and by encouraging would-be pastors to pursue a profession as they pursue ministry.

John Voltaire, an engineer and bivocational pastor in Miami, joined Ezell on stage.

“I find it very exciting and rewarding, because when you’re out there [working in a career] you understand their problems and can point them to hope,” Voltaire said. “It’s good to know we are not alone in this. We need your prayers.”

Church revitalization
NAMB also is building an initiative for assisting plateaued and declining churches through partnering them with healthy churches.

Larry Wynn, NAMB vice president for evangelism, told messengers, “there is a place for you in the [church] revitalization process.” He outlined how the initiative will work.

This could include encouraging a plateaued church, helping re-launch a struggling church, merging with a dying church or helping acquire and reallocate unused church properties.

Military chaplain hero
In the most moving and dramatic portion of the presentation, SBC messengers viewed the story of Army Chaplain (Capt.) Jared Vineyard. Prior to becoming a chaplain, Vineyard’s unit was attacked by a suicide bomber while on a tour of duty in Iraq in 2004. Eight members of his unit were killed. The rest – including Vineyard – were injured. The experience ultimately led Vineyard toward chaplaincy service.

At the close of the video, Doug Carver, a retired two-star Army Major General and executive director of NAMB’s chaplaincy team, introduced Vineyard and his wife, Amanda, to SBC messengers who welcomed him with a sustained standing ovation.

“It’s an honor and privilege to be with those who serve and to be able to serve them,” Vineyard said. “We get in the mix with them and through that we’re able to share our stories and through that the story of Christ.”

Ezell added: “We appreciate your service to our country and most of all your service to our Lord.”

Earlier, in the report segment of Ezell’s presentation, he outlined the work NAMB is doing in Disaster Relief, LoveLoud ministry evangelism, GPS: God’s Plan for Sharing and a new initiative for ministers’ wives called Flourish. In addition, he shared how NAMB is strengthening its church planter assessment process and thanked churches for the 2011 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, which surpassed the previous year’s amount by 3 percent.

In closing the presentation, messengers gathered around NAMB missionaries and chaplains in prayer, and Ezell challenged each church to engage the North American mission field.

“We need a spiritual awakening in North America,” Ezell said. “That can’t be generated by NAMB. That must start on our knees.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – To view the videos from NAMB’s SBC presentation, visit namb.net. Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)

Related story
Ezell: Bivocational pastors are SBC’s ‘Iron Men’
6/26/2012 1:16:07 PM by Adam Miller, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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