June 2014

Sudanese Christian charged with fraud

June 26 2014 by Baptist Press

KHARTOUM, Sudan – The Sudanese Christian whose death sentence for refusing to renounce her faith was overturned earlier this week has been rearrested and charged with fraud after attempting to leave Sudan with a U.S. visa and documents from South Sudan’s embassy, according to media reports.

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, 27, has been held at a Khartoum police station with her husband Daniel Wani and two children – Martin, 20 months, and Maya, 1 month – since her re-arrest Tuesday (June 24), Fox News reported. Wani refused to leave the police station without Ibrahim, according to the Guardian.

Reports that Ibrahim had been released on bail apparently were false.

“I just spoke to one of the lawyers with them in prison and they said the family is fine but the government brought charges against Meriam for falsifying documents to travel with. These are the documents the U.S. gave her!” Tina Ramirez, executive director of the religious freedom advocacy group Hardwired Inc., told Baptist Press in an email June 25.

“The lawyers have sent one petition to the attorney general for bail that failed and they just sent another,” Ramirez said. “They need more pressure to get the right documents, a Sudan passport unless the U.S. issues one. So pressure on both [the] U.S. and Sudan is needed.”

The specific charges against Ibrahim are traveling with falsified documents and giving false information, CNN reported. Ibrahim’s legal team told CNN that Wani, an American citizen from South Sudan, was dubbed an accessory to his wife’s crimes.


Screen capture from CNN.com
Meriam Ibrahim (center) was reunited with her American husband after being released from a Sudanese prison. The family was detained again June 24 as they attempted to leave the country.

The Sudanese government does not recognize Ibrahim’s marriage to Wani, a Christian, because marrying a non-Muslim is illegal in Sudan, where most citizens are Sunni Muslims, according to the Guardian.

A spokesman for the Sudanese embassy in Washington told Fox News that Ibrahim is “free to leave Sudan” but “has to do it legally.”

“It is regrettable and disturbing that some elements attempted to bring Meriam to U.S by issuing her an entry visa on a fraudulent traveling document obtained from a foreign country (for a woman the whole world knows ... is [a] Sudanese national),” Sudan spokesman Seif Yasin said in a statement. Those are “inexcusable and unnecessary violations [of] all laws and regulations, including U.S. ones. The same legal system that protects her right[s] and secures her freedom is capable of guaranteeing her right to leave the country whenever the legal procedure comes to an end.”

Ibrahim’s re-arrest occurred at the airport in Khartoum, where she and her family reportedly were attempting to travel to South Sudan and then the U.S. She was confronted by a team of about 50 Sudanese officials and detained despite her lawyer’s presence.

Sudanese foreign ministry official Abdullahi Alzareg told the BBC that Ibrahim arrived at the airport with American embassy personnel, a move he described as “fishy.”

“She came to the airport in an American embassy car – which was bullet proof and heavily guarded,” Alzareg said. “Everyone knows she is Sudanese. ... Imagine a British citizen trying to travel wherever, appearing at the airport carrying an emergency document from Costa Rica. This is a violation of immigration law anywhere in the world.”

Sudan planned to make Ibrahim apply for a passport and exit visa upon her release, Alzareg said.

Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services said in a Facebook post that it considers the charges against Ibrahim a serious matter.

“The airport passport police arrested Abrar after she presented emergency travel documents issued by the South Sudanese Embassy and carrying an American visa,” the post said, referring to Ibrahim by her Muslim family name. “The Sudanese authorities considered [the action] a criminal violation, and the Foreign Ministry summoned the American and South Sudanese ambassadors.”

NBC News described the interaction between U.S. and Sudanese officials as a “diplomatic spat.” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said June 24 that American officials – including the two U.S. senators from New Hampshire, where Wani is a resident – were working with the Sudanese government “to secure [the family’s] safe and swift departure from Sudan.”

Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte said in a statement they are “deeply concerned by reports that Ms. Ibrahim and her family have been detained again in Sudan. Our offices are working closely with all involved parties including the State Department and Sudanese Embassy to encourage their immediate release and safe passage to the United States.”

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, said “the only way the Ibrahim family could be truly safe is to leave Sudan.”

“We’re encouraged that the State Department is engaged and working to secure the freedom of Meriam and her family,” Sekulow said according to Fox News. “Whether Meriam and her family have been ‘temporarily detained’ or arrested, holding U.S. citizens against their will is extremely disturbing and unacceptable.”

Ibrahim gained her freedom after a Sudanese appeals court overturned a death sentence she received for refusing to abandon her Christian faith, Bloomberg News reported. Ibrahim, whose conviction and death sentence were greeted by international protests, was convicted under Sharia law of “apostasy” (leaving Islam) and sentenced to death by hanging. She also received a sentence of 100 lashes for adultery on the basis of her marriage to a Christian.

Ibrahim gave birth to the couple’s second child May 27 in the Omdurman Federal Prison for Women in Khartoum. Their 20-month-old son had been imprisoned with his mother since February.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.)

6/26/2014 11:06:38 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

21st-century challenges confronted

June 26 2014 by Joni B. Hannigan, Baptist Press

As Southern Baptists reflected on and bantered various topics – including numerous challenges of the 21st Century – at the Cooperative Program (CP) exhibit during their annual meeting in Baltimore, most agreed studying scripture in its proper context, selfless giving and a commitment to praying for others are good starting points for progress.

How Southern Baptists engage Millennials inside and outside of the Bible belt also garnered differing opinions from seminary professors, pastors, church planters and other Baptist leaders.

While addressing the topic of meeting challenges of the 21st Century during one of the panels, Jonathan Akin, pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., and co-founder of Baptist21, suggested Christians are accused of being inconsistent when they choose which parts of the Bible to emphasize.

Rhyne Putman, assistant professor of theology and culture at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said bringing biblical text into a proper context is important to the theological process because it gives God credit for the past.

Akin noted that some contemporary arguments on popular cultural issues are not consistent with scripture but can be a “massive challenge” for Christians who are not consistent in sharing their views.


Photo by Bill Bangham
Southern Baptists reflected on and bantered various topics – that included numerous challenges of the 21st Century – at the Cooperative Program exhibit during their annual meeting in Baltimore June 10-11. Panelists in the background include Jonathan Akin, Edgar Aponte, Rhyne Putman and Steven Smith.

Addressing the moral and social issues in the same manner as Jesus, is the key to reaching younger people, said Edgar Aponte, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

Steven Smith, vice president for student services and communication at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, challenged pastors to “pull back and see the big picture,” which can help them address contemporary issues and put them into the proper context.

While presenting a 10-minute TED-like talk on sexuality at the CP exhibit, Den Inserra, lead pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Fla., said there is a right way and a wrong way to talk about theological issues.

“As a church we have to not only get the theology right, but to get the approach right,” Inserra said.

When addressing sexual issues in their college town, for instance, Inserra said his congregation has learned not to respond to people in a “combative way” about hot-button issues.

While Christians must not abandon biblical teaching, they also should not make inappropriate jokes or be “prudes” in their behavior toward non-Christians.

“We preach to two different crowds at the same time,” Inserra said. Those crowds include people who need to hear about repentance and those who need to hear of God’s commands.

Inserra said, “Christians in my generation have friends who are gay.” But he also added, “Theology is not going to change for us.... We believe in every inch of every line of the scriptures.”

Generational shifts in giving, care and prayer

In a separate panel that focused on generational shifts in giving, Jim Shepphard, author of Contagious Generosity, and Houston’s First Baptist Church pastor Gregg Matte discussed giving rates in America and how that impacts the church. Matte said the churches can’t expect different results if they do things the same way.

Matte said giving has unified First Baptist because people have “received the blessing of being a giver, [and] who doesn’t want to be a part of that.”

While on another panel, Matte addressed the importance of pastor sabbaticals. As father of two elementary age children, Matte said he looks at extended time away each year to “work ‘on,’ instead of ‘in’ the ministry.” He spends that time reading and having time alone with God in the mornings, and enjoying afternoons with his family.

Johnny Hunt, a former SBC president, and longtime senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., said every five years he leaves town completely for six weeks to “love on my wife and my grandchildren.”

In a separate TED-like conversation, Matt Chewning, a church planter and pastor of Netcast, one of the fastest growing church plants in New England, focused on the importance of prayer. Sharing some of the challenges he has faced on his personal faith journey, he spoke on the stress of living in “out of the Bible belt” isolation. Southern Baptists need to be engaged in prayer and care for each other, he said.

Chewning, who grew up Catholic and later came to a saving knowledge of Christ during his college years, gave three suggestions for supporting ministries outside of the Bible belt:

  • Ask rather than tell how you can help. “It is possible that what you think we need is not helpful.... I need your support; I need your help. I don’t need you to tell me what to do.”

  • “I would really love if you care more about me than my church. The Kingdom of God will advance.”

  • Ask hard questions. “The best partners check on my soul and ask me about my marriage, they ask me about my kids ... how I am managing my family’s schedule.”

Chewning added, “At the end of the day if you truly believe the gospel of Jesus Christ ... if you truly believe in what you preach, there would be less broke planters and there would be more healthy churches.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joni B. Hannigan is a freelance writer in Houston.)

6/26/2014 10:55:00 AM by Joni B. Hannigan, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Patterson, Page offer advice to German pastors

June 26 2014 by Keith Collier, SWBTS/Baptist Press

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson and Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee President Frank Page challenged and encouraged more than 900 pastors from 170 European evangelical churches during a pastors’ conference in Lemgo, Germany.

Taking “Church of Jesus – Pillar of Truth” as its theme from 1 Timothy 3:14-15, the biennial conference was hosted by Bibelseminar Bonn (a partner school of Southwestern Seminary), the Forum evangelical Free (FeF) churches (a collection of partnering Russian-German Baptist and Mennonite churches in Germany), and the SBC Executive Committee. Speakers for the event included Patterson, Page, SBC Executive Committee vice president Ken Weathersby, and First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., pastor Mac Brunson.

Patterson congratulated the group of churches for 40 years of work together.

“You have grown stupendously, and the greatest years are yet ahead of you,” said Patterson, who has spoken at all three previous conferences in 2008, 2010 and 2012.


Photo by Andreas Driediger
Frank S. Page, SBC Executive Committee president, speaks to more than 900 pastors from 170 European evangelical churches during a pastors’ conference in Lemgo, Germany, June 18-19.

“We as your Baptist brethren from across the ocean are greatly honored to be a part of this congress.”

During the conference, Patterson and Page responded to pastors’ questions during a question-and-answer session.

“Any sermon that has not first of all become a part of the preacher will be a mere academic enterprise,” Patterson said in response to a question about sermon preparation. He outlined his approach to sermon preparation and encouraged pastors to make use of the biblical languages and to saturate their preparation in prayer.

Page agreed, noting that a recent sermon he preached on Psalm 51 “spoke to my heart” as the text “was for me too.”

Page and Patterson also shared from their own life experiences how men had mentored them in ministry. They encouraged pastors to seek out “Barnabases” who will encourage and guide them along the way. “Ministry can be very difficult,” Page said.

Addressing the value of the church in society, Page said many look to the government or their education or the judicial system for help.

“Those will always fail,” Page said during the June 18-19 conference, “but God instituted the church to be the place where truth is found, where true help comes.... So the church must preach the truth of God’s Word when it is easy and when it is not, when it is popular and when it is not.”

Patterson was asked if his role in helping the Southern Baptist Convention maintain fidelity to the inerrancy of scripture during the Conservative Resurgence was worth the struggle.

“If we do not have a sure and certain Word from God, Patterson said, “then we waste our time when we stand behind the sacred desk, and worse than that, we waste the time of all of our people.

“Without an infallible and inerrant Word of God, we are simply preaching the theories of man.... So, it was worth every second of the difficulty involved in it.

“One word of caution,” Patterson added. “The fact that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God does not mean that it is the easy Word of God. There are texts in the Bible that I have studied for years, and I still don’t know what they mean. You will discover that the Bible is a difficult book, but every word is true.”

Page acknowledged the SBC continues to face some theological and methodological differences within the convention, including the issues of Calvinism, church government, worship styles, and approaches to missions. But he expressed gratitude that the SBC is not fighting over the issue of inerrancy.

“We have many challenges; I know that you do, too,” Page said. “I would ask that you pray for us.”

Patterson also emphasized the power of prayer as he left young pastors with some closing advice. “You have to stay on your knees and face before God and walk with Him in prayer. It’s the only way to protect your heart from the attack of Satan.

“Number two, you must regularly witness for Christ. Whenever I’m depressed, I leave the house and go somewhere to witness for Christ. And within a few moments, I’ve forgotten why I was depressed, and I get to see many people born into the kingdom of God.”

Page quoted from Micah 6:8, saying pastors must “do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly before God.”

To do so requires wisdom, Page said, adding, “We must ever be aware of our sin and of the greatness of God.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)

6/26/2014 10:44:13 AM by Keith Collier, SWBTS/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

At 275th anniv., Baptist church receives founder’s book

June 26 2014 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

At a celebration marking its 275th anniversary, Greenville Baptist Church in Rochdale, Mass., received a rare gift: a book from 1764 containing a handwritten note from the church’s founding pastor.

The book, a pharmaceutical manual, was uncovered in 1968 when Ira Greenstein was serving as a summer camp counselor and in his free time visited a used bookstore in Springfield, Mass. He picked up the manual from a box of old books and bought it along with a book on social studies from the 1890s.

Greenstein, now a cantor at Beth Am Synagogue in Baltimore, Md., told Baptist Press he was fascinated to learn from the book how medicine was practiced in the colonies.

“This tells you what potions to apply and how to mix up things for various ailments that you have,” Greenstein said. “The description of the four elements: air, water, earth and fire – this was before they had physics and before they had chemistry.”


Photo by Morris Abernathy
Ira Greenstein, cantor at Beth Am Synagogue in Baltimore, Md., gave a pharmaceutical manual from 1764 to Jim Wideman, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England, at the Baltimore Convention Center. Greenstein found the manual at a used bookstore and was returning it to the church founded by the original owner. 

Aside from his interest in the subject, Greenstein knew someone must have a connection to the original owner of the book. Written in ink in the front of the book was a note from Thomas Green, presumably a physician, to Thomas Wallis, possibly his apprentice.

Greenstein searched on and off for years for someone connected to Green or Wallis, but he was unsuccessful until this year when a medical archivist at Johns Hopkins University discovered that Green also was a minister who founded Greenville Baptist Society in Leicester, Mass., the sixth Baptist church in Massachusetts.

“It was founded as the Greenville Baptist Society because at that time in American history the Congregational church was the only approved church,” Jim Wideman, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England, told BP.

It was clear from the inscription, Greenstein said, that Green “had a very strong attachment to some church and was passing that on as a responsibility to his apprentice, that God would hold him to account for the work he did in medicine, which seemed consistent with colonial America.”

Green was a pioneer in central Massachusetts, Wideman said, serving as a legislator as well as a physician and a pastor.

Once Johns Hopkins uncovered the connection, Greenstein contacted Wideman, who recently completed a two-year intentional interim at the church, to ask if the congregation would like to have the book. It would be the first original document from the founder. Letters in their possession were copies, Wideman said.

In something Greenstein described with the Yiddish word beshert – “it was meant to be” – he and Wideman met to exchange the book June 10 in Baltimore. Greenstein lives in Baltimore, and Wideman was there for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention June 10-11.

The timing, the two said, was providential also because Greenville Baptist Church, the congregation that began as the society founded by Green, would be celebrating its 275th anniversary June 22.

Greenville Baptist Church was affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA (ABC) for much of its history but joined the Southern Baptist Convention in 2011, Wideman said.

“The church has always stood strong on the Word of God and has always been biblically conservative,” Wideman said. “In the late ‘80s and ‘90s especially, as the convention that they were a part of began to change, they felt more and more isolated.”

Greenville Baptist Church also had been for decades an integral part of a local ministerial association, but about 10 years ago, the church “took a stand against the installation of a homosexual clergy person in one of the local churches and felt like they had to leave the ecumenical clergy association, which isolated them even more,” Wideman said.

“As they continued to stay strong on scripture, it just distanced them further and further from ABC.”

When the church’s pastor retired a few years ago, Greenville Baptist considered five different Baptist groups and chose to affiliate with the Southern Baptist Convention “mainly for our biblical, conservative stand and the importance that we placed on scripture,” Wideman told BP.

Having led the church through an intentional interim process for more than two years, Wideman stepped aside June 22 as the church installed a new pastor, Stephen Derrick from California, at the 275th anniversary celebration.

The church met in two services that day in its chapel built in the 1860s, Wideman said. The original pipe organ was refurbished recently and was used for the celebration, which drew about 275 people. Five former pastors were there, and three others sent greetings by video or letter.

Green’s pharmaceutical book was presented to the church during a dinner following the services, and former pastors and longtime members shared memories of God’s faithfulness through the years.

“I had quite a few people come up to me, amazed at the age of the book,” Wideman said. “They were very excited that we had something now in our possession that the founder of the church had actually signed and possessed.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is a writer in Nashville, Tenn.)

6/26/2014 10:28:11 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Sena named Hispanic relations consultant

June 25 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Longtime evangelist and leader Bob Sena has been named Hispanic relations consultant to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Executive Committee President Frank S. Page has announced.

Page appointed Sena in response to the final report of the Hispanic Advisory Council Page appointed in 2011. The report, presented to Page by council co-chairs Sena and Daniel Sanchez of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary during the council’s final meeting in March, highlighted and detailed the rapid growth of Hispanics in every region of North America.


Bob Sena, left, newly appointed Hispanic relations consultant to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, will work in the office of convention advancement under the leadership of vice president Ken Weathersby (right).

In his new position, Sena will work as a consultant in the office of convention advancement to represent Hispanic churches and promote the Cooperative Program. Ken Weathersby, Executive Committee vice president for convention advancement, welcomed Sena to the position.

“I am excited to have Dr. Bob Sena as a member of our team,” Weathersby told Baptist Press. “He has a wealth of experiences and relationships in the SBC. It is our hope and desire that the Kingdom of God will be expanded because of his appointment. Please join me in prayer for him and his family.”

Sena will work comprehensively in strengthening the participation of Hispanic churches in Southern Baptist life, Weathersby said.

“He will be responsible in assisting the Convention in building better relationships among Hispanics, promoting Cooperative Program and stewardship development among Hispanic churches, assisting in encouraging Hispanic leaders to serve on committees and trustee boards, and assisting in global evangelical relations within the Spanish speaking cultures in North America and around the world,” Weathersby said.

Sena will continue as director of the Hispanic Doctor of Ministry program at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. He retired in 2011 as director of the Church Planting Group of the Hispanic Resource Development and Equipping Team of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and has served as a NAMB national Hispanic missionary.

His more than 50 years of leadership in Southern Baptist life include pastoring small and large Hispanic churches in Texas and Georgia, and working as a church planting missionary in New Mexico, as a national multi-ethnic evangelism consultant for NAMB when it was known as the Home Mission Board, and as a Hispanic evangelism associate in the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Sena holds a bachelor’s degree in religion from Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas; a Master of Religious Education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and a Doctor of Ministry from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif.

Sena is a fourth-generation Hispanic born in the United States and a second-generation Southern Baptist. He has been married for 48 years to Priscilla (Urquidez) Sena.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Diana Chandler, general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press.)

6/25/2014 11:44:38 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Despite threats & protests, Festival of Hope draws 15,000

June 25 2014 by Nicole Lee, IMB/Baptist Press

TBILISI, Georgia – In the face of threats, arson attacks and protests, more than 15,000 Georgians turned out to hear the gospel in the capital city of Tbilisi, Georgia, a small country on the Black Sea, nestled between Turkey and Russia.

During Franklin Graham’s Festival of Hope, more than 1,000 Georgians indicated a desire to follow Christ – a reaction that sparked a fire of enthusiasm in local churches.

It was a flame that burned on the heels of intense opposition.

In the weeks leading up to the festival, the Orthodox Church became vocal in its opposition to the evangelical celebration, said George Green,* a Christian worker who serves with his wife Lily* and their children in Georgia. He said priests threatened congregants with excommunication from the church if they or any family member attended, a punishment tantamount to eternal damnation.


With the Festival of Hope venue too crowded for an altar call, Franklin Graham asked for a show of hands from people who wanted to follow Christ. More than 1,000 responded. 

They also warned that any show of support would negate their national identity and they would “not be Georgian” anymore, Lily said.

Just days before the festival, arsonists destroyed the sports center reserved for the event, forcing the organizers to scramble for another location. Many parks and venues refused to host them, but a local church offered its parking lot as a solution.

Although the lot was only large enough for 2,000 people, about 5,300 gathered each night in a standing-room-only crowd, leaning from windows of neighboring buildings and sitting on the walls of the property.

The crowd gathered in spite of protesters, who rallied to try to block the entrance.

“I walked through [the group of protesters] and there was a dark spiritual oppression, but as I entered the arena there was peace,” George said. “Every person who came to the festival had to walk through that and experienced that.”

“There were powerful spiritual forces at work,” Lily said. “But our God is stronger.”

The result was more than 1,000 people responding to God.

The festival, June 6-8, was a pivotal time for Georgian churches that have been timid about sharing their faith and uncertain that God could work through them, George said. The active presence of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he said, has tarnished the reputation of Protestantism in the country. That, along with strong opposition by the Orthodox Church has robbed evangelicals of their voice, he said.

But the Festival of Hope pulled together 150 evangelical churches and trained them to share the gospel and lead people to Christ. This has helped spark a fire in Georgian believers, Lily said.

“They invited their lost friends hesitantly – didn’t want to pressure them or put them in danger – but when they witnessed them hearing and getting excited and raising their hands to indicate they wanted to follow Christ, they were in disbelief. They thought this wasn’t possible,” she said.

The Greens’ pastor and partner in church planting, Gia, shares the enthusiasm of other believers.

“This is the beginning,” he told George. “Now so many Georgians have training. We’ve seen the hunger and now we should just tell people constantly.”

The Greens want to see this begin in the internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp where they have focused ministry efforts since January. In this small makeshift village of 300 people displaced since the civil war in 2008, the Greens have seen a Bible study begin and hope to see it become a church.

Believers Nica and Leila host this Bible study, and Leila was the first person in the village to accept the message of Christ.

“The whole village recognizes the change in Leila, and you can feel it spreading from their home,” Lily said.

Twenty-four people from this village came to the Festival of Hope, and six indicated a desire to follow Christ.

Pray for Nica and Leila as they have been under constant spiritual attack since opening their home for Bible study, Lily said.

She also asked for prayer for the churches of Georgia to continue with the work that has begun.

“Pray for all the evangelical churches in Georgia and especially our church, Tbilisi Bible Church,” Lily said, “that they would continue to have a passion for sharing the Word of God. They’ve been so quiet up until now.”

*Name changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nicole Lee is a writer for the International Mission Board based in Europe.)

6/25/2014 11:35:56 AM by Nicole Lee, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Motivating, mobilizing churches addressed

June 25 2014 by Keith Collier, SWBTS/Baptist Press

The advancement of the Great Commission will never be accelerated without Christians engaging in personal evangelism, newly elected Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president Ronnie Floyd said during an evangelism panel discussion at the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore.

“Somehow we have to find a way to do more to reach lost people for the Lord Jesus Christ,” Floyd said. “You can’t accelerate the Great Commission without personal evangelism.”


SWBTS photo by Adam Tarleton
Stephen Rummage (right), pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church near Tampa, Fla., challenged pastors and churches to be soul winners at the Launch evangelism event sponsored by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary June 11 during the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Baltimore. Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., joined him on a panel. 

Floyd joined pastors Steve Gaines, Stephen Rummage and John Meador along with evangelism professor Matt Queen to explore how Southern Baptist churches can be re-ignited with a fire for evangelism. The event, called “Launch: Creating a Culture of Everyday Evangelism” was hosted by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Queen, a professor at Southwestern, encouraged pastors to model personal evangelism for church members. He recalled his days as a pastor, taking key leaders in his church with him on visits and training them in evangelism.

“Evangelism really is more caught than it is taught,” Queen said during the June 11 panel.

Gaines, senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, Tenn., added that true discipleship requires teaching that person to share his faith.

“If you’re not training them to win people to Jesus, you’re not discipling a real disciple of Jesus,” Gaines said.

“When you lead someone to Christ, and you have a layman that just helped you share a testimony, you’ll never have to convince them that soul-winning is important again. They’ll want to see people get saved.”

Rummage, senior pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church near Tampa, Fla., said he prays daily for opportunities to share his faith.

“I want our people to know their personal responsibility for sharing the gospel with people one-on-one and that I have a personal responsibility for sharing the gospel with people one-on-one,” Rummage said.

John Meador, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas, echoed the challenge he gave earlier that day during his convention sermon. “I believe great awakening comes by obeying God in whatever it is we’re not obeying Him, and right now, we’re not obeying Him in evangelism,” Meador said. “I believe God will send great awakening if we will just dive in with evangelism.”

Queen agreed.

“It’s time for prognostication to stop and proclamation to increase,” Queen said.

North American Mission Board vice president of evangelism Al Gilbert, who led a pastors’ task force on evangelistic impact and declining baptisms last year, concluded the panel discussion with a brief explanation of the task force’s findings and a prayer for a resurgence of evangelism within SBC churches.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)

6/25/2014 11:22:14 AM by Keith Collier, SWBTS/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Church planters delve into Maine’s culture

June 25 2014 by Adam Miller, NAMB/Baptist Press

It’s clear from how he speaks with the harbormaster at a dock in Scarborough that Aaron Werner, church planter and pastor of Cross Church, is well-suited for reaching Maine’s largest city.

Even after 17 years away Werner still knows how to handle himself among southern Maine’s lobstermen. They’re a burly bunch, and they carry knives (for cutting the trawl-ropes of other lobstermen that cross their ropes).

Werner is the son of an affluent lobsterman and his brother is Portland’s high-liner (top lobsterman). When he steps into Becky’s Diner for haddock chowder near the dock in downtown Portland, the waitresses know the Werner name.

Though lobstermen are only a small sliver of who Werner is trying to reach, having this connection has been critical to success.

For a church planter to be this ingratiated into local culture is a gift few experience as quickly as Werner has. It doesn’t hurt that he has a lobster boat hoisted in his front yard, lobster traps stacked neatly by the road and a well-known family from the area.


NAMB photo by Adam Miller
Aaron Werner speaks with the Harbor Master in Scarborough, Me., a town in the greater Portland area. Werner grew up in a family supported by lobstering and will continue to work on a lobster boat while planting Cross Church Maine in downtown Portland.

Werner’s continued entree into the local maritime scene is no accident. Even if he doesn’t need to work on a lobster boat out of necessity, he plans to spend a couple of days at sea per week just for the connections and gospel conversations it allows at the dock.

“Lobster season never really ends,” Werner said. This means he has an ongoing opportunity for his trade and his gospel ministry to intersect with people who need to know Jesus.

This sort of bivocational ministry makes sense both financially and missiologically in places like Maine where many people might be slower to attend or give their hard-earned money to an evangelical church plant.

In a small town like Winthrop, Maine, in the suburbs of the state’s capital, Augusta, church planter Scot Story, pastor of Cornerstone Community Church, said the average income is $40,000, often for a two-income household.

This is why Story, from Alabama and a manufacturing engineer by trade, works part-time as vice president of sales and marketing for a local manufacturing plant. It’s a flexible job that allows him to support his family, contribute to his local business community and uncover gospel opportunities among his bosses, colleagues and others in the industry.

“My job gives me a type of credibility here that I wouldn’t have if I were a full-time pastor,” Story said. “It also encourages members of our church not to be spectators. If something’s going to happen, we all have to make it happen. We all have jobs, we all are busy and we’re all called to gospel ministry.”

It’s the same in northern Maine.

Joshua Presley, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Caribou, in the far reaches of northern Maine’s Aroostook County, works part time as a banker in nearby Presque Isle while building a ministry to reach the Caribou community. The result of his professional connection has been the slow development of ministries in both towns.

“Working at the bank opens up conversations I probably would never have if I weren’t employed in a local business,” Presley said.

Of course Presley needs his job to support his family, but it also provides him with an integral foot in the local culture – a footing that is hard to gain any other way.

“A typical Mainer is very independent, hardworking and friendly, but there are also many challenges and barriers we’ve experienced in trying to reach the amazing people in this beautiful region,” said Barry Murry, North American Mission Board Lead Church Planting Catalyst and planter and pastor of Lakeside Community Church in North Waterboro Maine.

These barriers are slowly crumbling as careers, real life and gospel meet through the work of Maine’s bivocational church planters.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adam Miller writes for the North American Mission Board.)

6/25/2014 11:09:59 AM by Adam Miller, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bivo, small church pastors gather at SBC

June 24 2014 by Joe Conway, NAMB/Baptist Press

Some 200 Southern Baptist bivocational and small church pastors and their families gathered for fellowship, lunch, networking and encouragement on the final day of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Baltimore, June 11. The SBC Executive Committee, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary partnered to sponsor the event.
For Charlie Arnold the lunch was a reminder that he is not alone in bivocational ministry. Arnold is an emergency medical technician (EMT) and pastors Seaside Church in Lewes, Del., where about 50 people gather for worship and membership is 100.
"We are the lone church in that part of the state," said Arnold. "We are the only Southern Baptist church for the entire region."


NAMB photo by Susan Whitley
Keynote speaker Ken Weathersby, vice president for Convention Relations for the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, addresses the Southern Baptist Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network luncheon at the SBC Annual Meeting in Baltimore, June 11. “We need men who will stand on God’s Word and preach in obedience, and then go into the marketplace and live in obedience,” said Weathersby.

Arnold and his wife, Erika, also an EMT, moved to the area to help re-launch Seaside in 1996. They did not expect that it would be their long-term church home. The family moved to Lewes from Columbia, S.C., where Arnold pastored Southside Baptist Church. He has also planted churches in Texas and is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
"I was the church's first called pastor," said Arnold. "Seaside launched three years earlier, but they felt they needed the direction that a dedicated pastor could bring them."
Lewes is a recreation area and home to many retirees. There is something of a transient nature to the population, necessitating the need for a bivocational pastor. In addition to serving as EMTs, Arnold and Erika are both volunteer firefighters, as is their daughter, Jennifer. Arnold also serves the department as chaplain and serves in the same capacity for the Delaware Fire Chiefs Association.
Beyond the fellowship of other bivocational and small church pastors, Arnold was also encouraged by keynote speaker Ken Weathersby, vice president for Convention Relations for the SBC Executive Committee. Weathersby used Hebrews 12 to remind the pastors and church leaders in the audience to endure in their callings.
"We need men who will stand on God's Word and preach in obedience, and then go into the marketplace and live in obedience," said Weathersby. "That is one of the many reasons you are truly the iron men of the SBC."
Weathersby reminded the audience that God "has a plan for you to pursue, a person for you to prepare (including yourself), a price for you to pay, provides power to persevere and has a future prize you may possess."
The event host was the Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network. National coordinator Ray Gilder reminded the men that they are not alone in ministry. He also reminded them of the educational opportunities they have through the New Orleans seminary, Union University and other avenues. The network's next event is the International Bivocational and Small Church Celebration, June 26-28 at Liberty University.
The North Carolina Baptist Bivocational Ministers Association is holding a conference for smaller church ministers and spouses July 11-12 at Caraway Conference Center. Claude V. King, discipleship and church health specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources, will be the speaker. Caleb’s Crossing will lead worship. The theme is “Men of Prayer and the Word.”
For more information about this event, click the events tab at ncbaptist.org or contact Abby Edwards at aedwards@ncbaptist.org or call 800-395-5102 x5536.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. The BR staff contributed to this report.)

6/24/2014 11:54:36 AM by Joe Conway, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Meriam Ibrahim rearrested

June 24 2014 by Baptist Press

The Sudanese Christian woman who was freed from prison June 23 has been rearrested while trying to leave Sudan with her family.

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, 27, was confronted by a team of 50 security personnel and taken into custody following an angry confrontation at the Khartoum airport today (June 24), NBC News reported. Ibrahim’s lawyer, Elshareef Ali Mohammed, told NBC that the Sudanese security force did not state a reason for the rearrest and took Ibrahim to a detention center with her husband Daniel Wani, who is an American citizen and two children. Her husband reportedly insisted on accompanying her.


Meriam Yahia Ibrahim and her husband Daniel Wani

The security team made no reference to Ibrahim’s overturned conviction, NBC reported.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s lead religious freedom advocate commented on the arrest.

“This is extremely concerning,” Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said. “The persecution of this brave Christian woman has been a shocking violation of human rights. The church should mobilize to pray for Mariam’s safety, and for any hindrances to her being allowed to leave the country to be removed.”

Ibrahim gained her freedom after a Sudanese appeals court overturned a death sentence she received for refusing to renounce her Christian faith, Bloomberg News reported. Ibrahim, whose conviction and death sentence were greeted by international protests, was convicted under Sharia law of “apostasy” (leaving Islam) and sentenced to death by hanging. She also received a sentence of 100 lashes for adultery on the basis of her marriage to a Christian.

Ibrahim gave birth to the couple’s second child, a daughter, Maya, May 27 in the Omdurman Federal Prison for Women in Khartoum. Martin, their 20-month-old son, had been imprisoned with his mother since February.

6/24/2014 11:22:44 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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