March 2010

Salvation Army reports record donations

March 17 2010 by Kimberlee Hauss, Religion News Service

Nickels, dimes and quarters added up quickly last Christmas despite the economic slump as Americans donated a record $139 million to the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign. 

“America is an incredibly generous nation and philanthropy is alive and well, despite the current economic conditions impacting so many,” said Commissioner Israel L. Gaither, national commander of the Salvation Army.

“We are grateful for every donor, volunteer and corporate partner for supporting the Salvation Army’s mission by giving more than ever during a time when some have so little to give.” Bell ringers set up the signature red kettles in front of an estimated 25,000 locations across America on Thanksgiving Day. The Salvation Army reported a 7 percent increase in giving over the $130 million record of 2008.

The Red Kettle campaign, the nation’s longest running annual fundraising campaign, helps Salvation Army provide more than 28 million Americans with food, shelter, rent, substance abuse treatment and Christmas assistance each year.

Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club locations partnered with the Salvation Army to raise 29 percent of the total amount of the campaign. The Wal-Mart Foundation also made a direct donation of $1.25 million.

Kroger stores in nearly 2,000 locations accounted for $11.3 million or eight percent of the total.

In addition to hosting kettles, Target stores teamed up with toymaker Hasbro, Inc. and donated 5 percent of some sales of selected Hasbro toys to the Salvation Army. Target donated more than $1.25 million total.
3/17/2010 8:59:00 AM by Kimberlee Hauss, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Call lowers anxiety over GCR recommendations

March 16 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Ronnie Floyd, chairman of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, lowered the anxiety level of some participants in a national conference call Tuesday with up to 500 participants arranged by the Network of Baptist Associations.

Floyd reaffirmed that any recommendations concerning the North American Mission Board would still involve partnerships and that NAMB would not be a strategy “island.”

“We’re not trying to create a NAMB operating unto itself,” Floyd said. “It can do nothing apart from local churches and little apart from state conventions.” Then he said strategies among NAMB and the associations and state conventions “may look a little bit different than before.”

“There is going to have to be sacrifice,” said Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church, Springdale, Ark., and of nearby The Church at Pinnacle Hills. “There’s going to have to be change” as the task force looks for ways to marshal resources to “push back lostness” in the world.

But, to the relief of associational missionaries in areas where Southern Baptists are not strong, and whose work is heavily funded through the North American Mission Board, Floyd said, “By no means does the task force imagine NAMB being an island not working in partnership with churches, associations and state conventions.”

Strategy, not projects

Floyd said the task force is going to change terminology from its initial report in which it said future mission investments are more likely to be “project driven.” Rather than “project” he said the more accurate term is “strategy.”

With nearly half the task force on the call, moderator Bobby Gilstrap of Michigan asked several questions submitted earlier. This was a “listen only” call because of limited time.

Floyd said the task force’s single goal is to “penetrate lostness.” Every recommendation is a means to that end, he said.

He expressed a desire that the task force could meet face to face with every Southern Baptist so all could hear their voice and “understand our hearts.”

Young pastors seem to “love everything we’ve recommended,” Floyd said because the recommendations are “about the local church” but provide broad entry points into the denomination.

Floyd also said adoption by the SBC of task force recommendations will draw “real interest in people who have fallen by wayside” to re-engage with the Convention.

He said others have expressed disappointment in task force recommendations because it did not address other issues. He said, “We had one assignment; to put more dollars, personnel and strategy toward penetrating lostness.”

He admitted to the task force having a “Very, very difficult learning curve,” but suspects even denominational staff would have had a learning curve to absorb the enormous amount of material the task force considered.

While the mega church, southeastern flavor of the task force has been criticized, Floyd emphasized its membership includes eight “who receive compensation for serving Baptist entities,” several from the west, people with associational leadership experience and two state convention executives.

“Our decisions have not been made in a vacuum,” he said.  

Appreciates associations

GCR Task Force member David Dockery, president of Union University, said task force members “celebrate the significance of associations in our history,” which operated well before there were state conventions or a national convention.

Dockery said the task force wants to bring Southern Baptists together “to work in cooperative, collaborative ways.” He said current collaborative processes “may not be the best ways to address issues of 21st century.”

Dockery said the core values that open the task force’s recommendations can “change the culture of Southern Baptist life,” which he said is “unfortunately characterized by fragmentation rather than cooperation” with “many aspects characterized by decline rather than by moving forward.”

He said, when asked to talk about the most important ones, that commitment to truth and to “unity working through love” can best help “change the culture and emphasize cooperation.”

Task force member Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said having cooperative agreements with state conventions and associations is “essential.” Cooperative agreements are understandings between NAMB and state conventions that share costs for mission personnel. The task force recommends those agreements be phased out completely in four years.

Richards quickly followed his statement by saying, “Cooperative agreement and cooperative budgeting are two different things.”

Alleviating some anxiety by associational missionaries in new work areas whose ministry is funded through cooperative agreements with NAMB, Richards said it would be “foolish to try to bring new personnel into areas” where current personnel have necessary skills.

“Cooperative agreements will change,” Floyd said. “But there will need to be agreements of cooperation.”

Dockery said the task force read its assignment as coming up with an “overarching vision for how to be more effective, and faithfully carry out the Great Commission as a Convention,” which, he said, includes all aspects of the Convention, from national entities to state conventions, associations, and local churches.

The task force has no intention of telling NAMB how to conduct the national strategy assignment it is recommending NAMB receive. “Once we extend vision, it will be up to the administration and board of NAMB” to come up with the strategy to move the vision forward, he said.

He said partnerships “will be more important than ever” to move the vision forward.


3/16/2010 11:29:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 3 comments

Haitian judge weighs new charge for Silsby

March 16 2010 by Baptist Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Laura Silsby, the last of 10 Baptist missions volunteers detained in Haiti on suspicion of kidnapping, now faces a new charge.

Silsby, who led the team, now is accused of attempting to take 40 children out of Haiti without proper paperwork on Jan. 26, three days before the 10-member team was prevented from crossing the border into the Dominican Republic with 33 children.

Haitian Judge Bernard Saint-Vil announced the additional charge of “organizing irregular travel” March 12. He had released the ninth team member, Charisa Coulter, March 8 after more than five weeks in jail. The other team members were freed Feb. 18.

The new charge is based on information provided by a Haitian official who said he prevented the Jan. 26 incident after being alerted by a concerned citizen about a bus loaded with Haitian children, news services reported. The official asked not to be identified, claiming fear of reprisal.

The new charge is based on a 1980 travel law implemented by Haiti’s dictator at the time, Jean-Claude Duvalier, the Associated Press reported. It carries a penalty of three to six years imprisonment. The judge said he has until early May to decide whether to release Silsby or order a trial.

The 10 volunteers were arrested Jan. 29 for trying to take 33 children out of the earthquake-ravaged country to a makeshift orphanage in the Dominican Republic. They allegedly did not have the proper paperwork.

Both Silsby and Coulter are members of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho. The other group members were Carla Thompson and Nicole and Corinna Lankford, also of Central Valley Baptist Church; Paul Thompson, his son Silas and Steve McMullen of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho; Jim Allen of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas; and Drew Culberth of Bethel Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. Bethel Baptist is the only church not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
3/16/2010 3:26:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pastor wept after quake, then got to work

March 16 2010 by Tristan Taylor, Baptist Press

CONSTITUCIÓN, Chile — As the house trembled, Chilean pastor Juan Mauricio Muñoz prayed with his wife, son and a young woman who was staying with them. When the 8.8-magnitude earthquake was over, they were shaken but unharmed.

But the worst was yet to come. Though no tsunami warning was issued, the pastor knew to expect a wave.

“We were always taught from a young age that in any kind of earthquake, you go to high ground,” he said.

He rushed his family to the car, headed to his daughter’s home at a higher elevation in this seaside city of Constitución, 164 miles south of Santiago.

As they were leaving, the pastor glanced across the Maule River toward an island where approximately 200 Chileans had been enjoying a late-night party. He saw the lights of nearly 30 cell phones waving frantically as partygoers trapped on the island tried to signal for help.

By then the water was rising into the street and around the wheels of his car — evidence that the 10-foot wave was quickly approaching. Horrified, Muñoz realized it was too late to help the people on the island.

IMB photo

In the coastal city of Constitución, Chile, Juan Mauricio Muñoz, in blue shirt, pastor of Constitución Baptist Church, shows members of a Baptist assessment team where his home used to stand before a post-quake tsunami hit Feb. 27.

Only three survived.

Just days after the Feb. 27 tragedy, Muñoz, pastor of Iglesia Bautista de Constitución (Constitución Baptist Church), showed the devastation in his neighborhood to a disaster assessment team of Southern Baptist and Chilean Baptist officials. Standing on the concrete slab where his home used to be, he fought back tears and recounted how the wave flattened everything on the waterfront. Like most of his neighbors, he lost a place to live and most of his belongings.

A street block of houses was gone. One of the family’s cars was found almost three blocks uphill from his home. In one place, the water had crushed one building into the next. In another spot, the second story of a home blocked the street as if it were a one-story house. Everywhere, people searched the ruins, sorting through soaked belongings and wondering what to do next.

As Muñoz walked past the homes of his church members and friends, he couldn’t keep from weeping. The people he loved had lost so much. The devastation was overwhelming.

But Muñoz knew it was time to minister. When he discovered his produce business was not damaged by the tsunami, he opened its doors and freely gave the food to people in need. His church’s building — also spared — now provides housing for about 20 displaced people and serves as a center for distributing relief supplies.

While Muñoz and his church members are showing God’s love as they help their neighbors, disaster relief teams of Chilean Baptists and Southern Baptists also are working in the Maule region — which includes Constitución — setting up feeding kitchens and providing food preparation training.

“We thank God we have our lives,” Muñoz said. “The other things are only material and can be replaced. God is good.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Taylor is an IMB writer in the Americas. Donations to Southern Baptist Chilean relief may be made at, click on the Chile quake response graphic. Updated prayer requests can be viewed at
3/16/2010 3:21:00 AM by Tristan Taylor, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Uzbekistan levies massive fines on Baptists

March 16 2010 by Associated Baptist Press

OSLO, Norway — Thirteen members of an unregistered Baptist church in Uzbekistan have been fined 100 times the nation’s minimum monthly salary, an international news service that tracks stories about abuses of religious freedom reported March 15.

The Norway-based Forum 18 news agency said fines were handed down Feb. 23 following arrests Jan. 24 on charges of “illegal teaching of religious doctrines without a special authorization from a central religious organization” in the city of Almalyk, not far from Uzbekistan’s capital of Tashkent.

Last year members of the same church were fined 50 times the minimum monthly salary. Fines for six Baptists were reduced to five times the monthly wage following an appeal.

The church belongs to the Baptist Council of Churches, a group that refuses to register its congregations within the former Soviet republic as a matter of principle. Fearing interference by the state, the council’s churches claim a right to worship without registering under international human-rights agreements that Uzbekistan has signed.

News of the conviction and fines came on the heels of a separate case involving another church that is also part of the Baptist Council of Churches. As reported March 11, Tohar Haydarov, 27, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in the region of Syrdarya in central Uzbekistan on drug charges that fellow Baptists insist were fabricated against him after he refused to renounce his faith.

The Baptists in Almalyk claimed more than 60 violations of Uzbek law by police, including excessive use of force and falsifying of case files. The United States State Department lists Uzbekistan as one of eight “Countries of Particular Concern,” a designation for the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.
3/16/2010 3:20:00 AM by Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

N.C. Baptists aid Kenyan churches through homes

March 15 2010 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor

“To know someone is concerned, to know that someone wants to know them and know of their lives and needs, to know that someone wants to be their co-workers — all of this is highly valued in our country where guests are often treated as royalty,” said Bert Yates, an International Mission Board missionary in Kenya.

Contributed photo

A Kenyan pastor, left, teaches children songs and tells Bible stories while workers build a home for a widow in a Houses of Hope project with the North Carolina Baptist Men. Leaders hope the home will become a future church plant.

Yates, along with her husband, Jack, is based in Nairobi, Kenya. Kenya was recent host to mission teams from North Carolina Baptist churches and leaders among North Carolina Baptist Men.

Mark Abernathy, from N.C. Baptist Men, went with Ted Menster, of Troutman Baptist Church, Jan. 18-29 to explore mission opportunities. He was looking at a pilot project called Houses of Hope.

“I was very impressed with the vision of the ministry, and we hope to send several teams a year to help with this,” Abernathy said. “It’s almost like our handyman ministry where men go into our community and help with houses.”

Abernathy said they completed two houses while there but most teams, which will have seven to eight people, should be able to complete at least four.  

Strengthen churches
Abernathy sees this as a “church-strengthening project where men could get together and say, ‘We could do this.’”

The project pulls the community together to build a house for a widow or another family in need. Around 50 homes have been built so far, according to Bert Yates.

Often when a woman’s husband dies she has no way to support herself so she returns to her village. Usually accommodations are very meager.

Abernathy said local pastors are involved in the planning and help with construction. Volunteers work alongside Kenyans to build the house.

The goal is for the local pastor to followup house dedications with Bible studies in the new home. Eventually, the leaders hope to plant churches in those villages.  

Contributed photo

From right, Jack Yates, an International Mission Board missionary, Ted Menster of Troutman Baptist Church, and Mark Abernathy with North Carolina Baptist Men, pray with Kenyan church leaders and a widow for her new home to be a blessing.

One-day construction
Bert Yates observed a house being built in a day.

In one of her e-mail updates Yates said, “The two-room home we watched being built yesterday was the 50th home built in the area in the same way — this one for a young widow with three small children. Her home had been the thatched hut beside the building project which had two special features — you could see the stars at night and unlike other homes in her village, she had running water in the house, but only when it rained — not the piped kind of water, but straight through the holes in your ceiling!”

Yates said Southern Baptists enabled these houses to be built.

In June 2008, she said they provided tin, nails and one day’s pay for a skilled carpenter. With that, a village built a home of twigs, sticks and mud for a family who had lost their home in a political crisis. Yates said she was excited to see a local pastor teaching choruses and Bible verses to the children in the neighborhood.

One of the local men who led the Yates on a maze of twisting dirt roads to the village told them repeatedly, “Your coming is such an encouragement.”

Teams have been going to Kenya through Baptist Men since 2007. Most work at Nyeri Baptist High School, which is where a team from Spruce Pine was working during the same time of the North Carolina Baptist Men’s trip. Led by Robert Stroup of First Baptist Church in Spruce Pine, the six-member team was working on facilities for the girls at the campus.

Classrooms and dormitories are in process of being built. Abernathy said volunteers live at the school and build relationships with the students and faculty.

For more about N.C. Baptist Men’s work in Kenya, visit  

Political climate
There are no widespread political problems in Kenya following political unrest after elections in late 2007.

Thousands of villagers were displaced as villages and churches were burned.

Southern Baptists through Baptist Global Response provided food and relief supplies for months as people moved about the country.

Bert Yates said none of the major players have been arrested. Her concern is that if something isn’t done that violence will escalate again for the next election in 2012.

Yates shares stories, prayer requests and praises through her blog: She also set up another site chronicling stories from Kenya about how the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is used ( as well as other sites highlighting work in Kenya.

“The greatest need is for people to do door-to-door witnessing in areas that have few churches,” she said. This serves as “an incredible spur to get the local Christians who often feel they can do little, to realize their potential for witnessing and sharing God’s love and salvation.”

Another need is for teams to help with follow-up.

“We have seen too many discouraging examples of a church begun by a volunteer team, but no proper plans were made for discipleship after the team left and the church quickly disappears,” she said.   

Houses of Hope Project
North Carolina Baptist Men is assisting the Kenya Baptist Convention in a bold initiative of planting 1,000 new house churches in the next five years. One strategy involves building houses for families in strategic areas. Teams will also have opportunity to minister with children who gather for the project. Volunteer teams are also welcomed into the local public schools.

For more information contact Mark Abernathy at Check
  • Teams: Teams of 7-8 are needed to go for 11 days. Ideally, some will work on the house while others minister with children and adults. The team will be housed and fed at the home of the Kenya Volunteer Coordinator. A Kenyan foreman will work with the team on the construction effort. 
  • Cost: Exact cost varies depending on current airfare. Ground cost is approximately $425 per person (based on 8-person team), includes food, lodging, in-country transportation, bottled water; entry visa; orientation, and insurance. Airfare typically runs between $1,300 and $1,800 depending on time of year. 
  • Dates of Service: Almost any 14-day time frame can be worked out.
  • Other costs: The cost of each house (which includes materials and  salary for two local craftsmen) is $450. Cost for four houses will be $1,800. For now, NC Baptist Men will contribute the cost for these houses for the first five teams that sign up for the project each year. 
3/15/2010 5:55:00 AM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 2 comments

Therapist gives armless Haitian child a chance

March 15 2010 by Susie Ransbottom-Witty, adapted from a first-person account

Mikeley is one of thousands of Haitians who survived the Jan. 12 disaster with injuries that required amputation and who will have to deal with their new handicaps in a third world country where disability services are not a top priority.

Amputees must learn to function with their new disabilities by maneuvering around mounds of cement, crumpled sidewalks, and unsteady stairways as their homeland struggles to clean up and rebuild its very basic infrastructure.

Just two years old, Mikeley toddles around the hospital in diaper and clogs, giggling at American visitors. Mikeley lost both arms in the event that also killed his four-year-old sister.

His mother and three older siblings made it out of their home in Leogane alive, but there was no chance to save his arms when he arrived at the hospital six days later.

Susie Ransbottom-Witty is an occupational therapist from Dillsboro who specializes in hand therapy and volunteered in Haiti through N.C. Baptist Men.

She spied Mikeley playing in the courtyard and knew when she saw him scratch his nose with his toes he would adapt quickly.

Mikeley, 2, begins to adapt to using his feet to feed himself. He lost both arms in the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Susie went to work with a piece of thermoplastic material she found in the hospital. She heated water over the stove, which softened the plastic enough that she could mold a cup holder to ergonomically fit Mikeley’s foot.

He could slide either foot through the handle and it has some room for his little foot to grow.

He was so proud when he drank from the cup that his eye gleamed with a smile from behind the new contraption.

They also experimented with a spoon between his toes. He could hold the utensil but when he brought the spoon to his mouth the food would slide off.  

When he gets older and his toe coordination improves, Susie hopes he will be able to keep an ordinary spoon level, but for now, she will send a swivel spoon from home that will help him eat by himself.

Susie and Mikeley worked on carrying objects between his toes, transferring things from one foot to the other and passing an object to someone else. Another big accomplishment was getting Mikeley to carry something under his left stump, which was amputated just below the elbow.

He was very hesitant to use his stump because it was still tender but he finally gave it a try and was seen carrying a rattle under his left arm and a beanie baby in his left foot.  

Susie grew tearful when she talked about Mikeley and the countless others who will need to figure out how to survive following such potentially debilitating injuries.

She was struck by the sweet, selfless attitude that so many of the Haitians demonstrated through simple acts of kindness to each other.

And her heart ached when she saw many former patients put on a bus and sent back to their villages, which may or may not still be standing.

“Part of the difficulty for me emotionally was knowing that all these people with amputations and casts were being discharged from the hospital with absolutely no place to go,” she said.  “I heard the story again and again from interpreters that they didn’t want to leave the hospital” because of the uncertainty they faced.

Unlike many survivors, Mikeley has his family to nurture and guide him as he navigates life outside the hospital.

They will mourn their own losses and, like most people in the earthquake devastated areas, will begin to figure out how to live a life of some normalcy one small step at a time.  

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Ransbottom-Witty was among medical personnel on a recent visit to Haiti. Medical volunteers are still needed. There is also a need for construction and other disaster recovery specialties. To find out how you can volunteer, visit
3/15/2010 5:52:00 AM by Susie Ransbottom-Witty, adapted from a first-person account | with 0 comments

Hymnal favors singing traditions, innovations

March 15 2010 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

ATLANTA — Bucking a trend in many churches to eschew four-part harmonies for praise choruses projected on a screen, a new hymnal released March 8 seeks to introduce both old favorites and lesser-known new compositions to a new generation of Baptist congregations.

“We were trying to create a hymnal for churches that use hymnals,” said Stanley Roberts, a Mercer University professor and member of the editorial team that planned the Celebrating Grace Hymnal, “to provide a resource that our current generation and future generations could use for worship in the local church.”

Tom McAfee, a Georgia layman who conceived of the idea for and oversaw development of the hymnal, said the new song book seeks to embrace a denominational identity broader than battle lines that divided Baptists in the United States in the latter decades of the 20th century.

“One of the things we did in the beginning was to intentionally be inclusive,” said McAfee, chairman of a health-care company and member of First Baptist Church in Macon, Ga. “I think it’s one of the things that make our hymnal unique.” 

Starting at the grassroots level, McAfee said, editors and board members sought input from individuals and churches affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, African-American Baptists, Canadian Baptists and the Southern Baptist Convention.

Thomas McAfee, center, introduces members of the editorial board.

“If you had a Baptist badge, we wanted you to be involved,” McAfee said. “We also wanted to incorporate some Methodist traditions, Presbyterian traditions. We wanted to be something that is, yes, Baptist, and is built by Baptists with Baptists in mind, but we also wanted to be able to bring in these other traditions so that others can use the book as well.”

“It’s not just a book for Cooperative Baptists or Southern Baptists or the other brands of Baptists,” said McAfee, “We’ve got materials there that will meet the needs of a number of different denominations.”

Mark Edwards, vice president of music and worship resources who oversaw the music side of the project, said Celebrating Grace was already in the works and unrelated to a new Baptist Hymnal that LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention released in 2008.

“We are doing hymnals that are to different markets,” said Edwards, who was minister of music at First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., for 30 years. “I think they’ve done a good job,” he said of the new Southern Baptist hymnal. “It’s a good book for what it is. They’re just doing a different thing from what we are doing.”

In addition to the 700-page printed hymnal, the Celebrating Grace Hymnal includes online support for extra features including orchestration, piano and organ music, hand bells and “congregational anthems” that arrange hymns in ways that treat the congregation like a choir instead of singing four stanzas by rote.

“In times gone by you could publish a hymnal and just do a book, and that was enough,” Edwards said. “These days it’s not enough. There are other things that have to go along with a hymnal if it’s going to be used in a church effectively. So part of this whole process was building a body of materials to go along with the hymnal.”

The project also includes a component of interactive, online worship planning trademarked by David Bolin, minister of music at First Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, who said he developed the concept over three decades as a local-church worship leader “never dreaming this would some day be used by anybody other than myself.”  

Originally conceived in 2005 as a contribution to Baptist worship by Mercer University Press in Macon, Ga., McAfee said, the project grew into a new not-for-profit corporation. Early conversations, McAfee said, included: “Is there a market for a hymnal today?”

“That became very evident very quick that there was a strong need for a hymnal today,” he said. Other problems involved: “How to repackage some of the hymns to make them fresh, taking old hymns and giving them new treatment, and to give training materials for some of the younger generations who may not have been exposed to hymnody the way that my generation has been exposed.”

One major challenge, McAfee said, was “how to get the book out into the churches.”

“The old model from SBC days was that you had state music reps in each of the states, and those were your salespeople,” he said. “That model doesn’t exist today.”

McAfee declined to discuss specific finances but described pre-sales of the new hymnal as “exceptionally good.”

“Our first printing was around 25,000 copies,” he said. “We’re in the process of getting the second printing running. We’ll expect to have those in hand in the middle of April.” McAfee said sales have performed surprisingly well in an otherwise-poor economy.

“For the most part we are finding it is a gift that is given in honor of, and those types of gifts are reasonably small,” he said. “If a church wants to go out and solicit from its congregants to do a memorial in honor of one person buying one hymnal, $20 by that individual is doable by just about everybody.”

“We’ve had situations where families have stepped up and they’ve given the entire congregation hymnals,” he said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)
3/15/2010 5:46:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 2 comments

Pledge is constitutional, federal court rules

March 15 2010 by Adelle M. Bank, Religion News Service

The Pledge of Allegiance, with its inclusion of the words “under God,” is constitutional, a federal appeals court ruled March 11, reversing a previous ruling.

The 2-1 ruling answers a challenge by California atheist Michael Newdow, who argued that the use of the pledge in a Northern California school district — where children of atheists had to listen to others recite it— violated the First Amendment’s clause prohibiting the establishment of religion.

The “students are being coerced to participate in a patriotic exercise, not a religious exercise,” the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday. “The Pledge is not a prayer and its recitation is not a religious exercise.”

In 2002, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that the use of the words “under God” in the pledge violated the Constitution. The current court called that decision “erroneous.” The Supreme Court later dismissed the earlier Newdow suit, sidestepping the church-state issues by finding he did not have standing to sue.

“The 9th Circuit today failed to uphold the basic principle found within the first ten words of the Bill of Rights ... that the government is required to show equal respect to the lawful religious views of all individuals,” Newdow said. Kevin J. “Seamus” Hasson, founder and president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who argued for the school district, said the court “finally stood up” for the Pledge of Allegiance.

In a scathing and lengthy dissent, Judge Stephen Reinhardt said the words “under God” have an “undeniably religious purpose” and “we have failed in our constitutional duty as a court.”

In a separate decision, also issued March 11, the 9th Circuit dismissed Newdow’s challenge to the words “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency.  
3/15/2010 5:44:00 AM by Adelle M. Bank, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

AAEO Day 8 — Winning souls in Arizona

March 14 2010 by Mickey Noah, North American Mission Board

As a Southern Baptist pastor for the last 30 years — and as a North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary for the past six — Louis Spears has conducted many a funeral. But none of them prepared him for the long, lonely walk behind his wife’s casket almost two years ago.

A native of Guthrie, Okla., Spears and his wife, Shelley, had been married for 32 years — ever since they were both 20-year-old church planters in Oklahoma. But in May 2008, she succumbed to a pancreas-related illness only 11 days after its sudden onset.

“Shelley was an incredible person, a woman of many talents,” says Spears. “The main thing I miss about Shelley — other than just being together as not only my spouse but also my best friend — is the amount of prayer-time she spent on my ministry. She was really my partner in ministry. It’s a huge loss and huge gap in my life.”

Spears’ strong, tried-and-true personal faith prevented him from caving in to the temptation of chucking his whole ministry and blaming God in the process.

Photo by Greg Schneider

Garden Place House Church meets on Monday nights at Garden Place Apartments in Mesa, Ariz. Shown here, NAMB Week of Prayer missionary and church planter Louis Spears leads a youth Bible study. See video.

“I never thought about blaming God. I was not mad at God. The worst thing was being totally cut off from Shelley, missing her encouragement and positive reinforcement.”

Still after almost two years, the 54-year-old missionary said the grief is still “like big ocean waves that just swell up over you and you can’t fight them, but you know the Lord is the Lord, that He is supreme, and that in His design, He had a purpose for it.

“I can’t see it and I don’t understand it but I really don’t argue with Him about it. I really tried during Shelley’s 11-day crisis and through the last year to live my life without regrets. I didn’t leave anything undone or unsaid,” said Spears, who has a 24-year-old daughter, Amy, one grandchild and another on the way.

Spears is one of some 5,300 missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® for North American Missions. He is among the North American Mission Board missionaries featured as part of the annual Week of Prayer, March 7-14, 2010. This year’s theme is “Live with Urgency: Share God’s Transforming Power.” The 2010 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering’s goal is $70 million, 100 percent of which benefits missionaries like Spears.

While no one or nothing can ever replace the vacuum in his life caused by Shelley’s death, Spears depends on his challenging missionary work in Arizona to take up some of the slack, ease the pain and bring new victories.

With an estimated 71 percent of Arizona residents as unbelievers, Spears, a church planting strategist with the Valley Rim Baptist Association, faces a huge challenge. In addition to Mesa, the association serves 50 churches and missions in the Tempe, Scottsdale, Chandler and Gilbert areas of metro Phoenix.

Because land and buildings are so expensive in the greater Phoenix area, Spears focuses on planting “tactical” churches instead of brick-and-mortar churches, which can financially strap a congregation with huge indebtedness in its infancy and make survival more difficult.

“Tactical churches are collections of people who have not been reached before,” Spears explains. “We try to target an area where the Kingdom of God hasn’t been before. Some may be apartment complexes, mobile home parks, house churches or just a gathering of people at a Starbuck’s.”

According to Spears, the Phoenix area is the 12th largest metro area in the United States.

“We’re in a vast multicultural setting. We have a lot of unchurched, unsaved individuals. “We’re way behind on the number of churches we need in order to impact these individuals’ lives. We have only one church for every 23,000 people in Arizona. Since we don’t have many churches that run 23,000 every week, it’s vital for us to have funds to do evangelistic outreach, buy Bibles and other resources to help posture the churches we do have.”

Photo by Greg Schneider

North American Mission Board Week of Prayer missionary Louis Spears, Mesa, Ariz., did not let the tragic, sudden death in 2008 of his wife of 32 years, Shelley, sidetrack his ministry to multihousing residents and “gypsies” in the greater Phoenix, Ariz., area. See video.

Evangelical Christians — of which Southern Baptists represent the largest group — only represent two percent of the state’s population, trailing Catholics and Mormons.

“We have some churches that are in senior adult communities. We have multi-ethnic churches like Native American, Filipino and African-American churches. We have a large Spanish-speaking population. Over 35 percent of the people in Arizona speak Spanish.” 

On top of the diversity, the uncertainty in the Phoenix area housing market is driving people to multihousing developments — whether apartments, townhouses, condominium communities or mobile home parks.

“Statistics show that only a small percentage of those people will ever come out and go to anyone’s church, so we believe it’s important to take church to them,” says Spears. Spears begins by meeting a multihousing development’s property managers — to get in from the ground up and establish good working relationships.

“We begin by asking the managers what their needs are,” he said. “We try not to assume that we know the industry better than the people who work in it. Most apartment communities know how to evict people, know how to charge the rent, know how to handle air conditioning problems and pest control. But what they don’t understand is the human element.

“They lose money every time somebody moves so by building a ministry and a partnership with them, it helps to build a sense of community. The people are more likely to stay,” Spears said.

To assist both the property managers and the tenants themselves, Spears and his team do things like forming kid’s clubs in the afternoon to give them a place to go and something meaningful to do. They often provide lunch to latch-key children, who are on a break from school and whose parents work. Afternoon soccer games are offered. Summer sports camps via mobile trailers can be deployed to various multihousing communities. 

An offshoot of Spears work with multihousing communities was his introduction to the Travelers, the substantial “gypsy” culture and population of Arizona.

Spears says outsiders like him are usually not successful at trying to approach and penetrate the closed gypsy culture. “American gypsies actually discovered me and began to attend our church in Mesa,” he explains. “Eventually, I was accepted into their fascinating culture.” 

The gypsy mission field is a natural extension of Spears’ missions work in multihousing since so many gypsies travel in RVs and live in mobile home parks throughout southern Arizona because of the area’s warmer winters.

“People who give through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering help supply a base of church planters and allow them to have a living while they’re beginning to build new congregations,” said Spears.

“Without the Annie Armstrong offering, I would be able to devote only a fraction of the time to tactical church plants, and even less to reaching the Travelers (gypsies) population. But because of the offering, in addition to my salary, I receive training, materials for evaluation and training, demographics for new and existing church areas, and am able to network with other church planters across the country.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)

Related stories
AAEO Week of Prayer — Live With Urgency: Share God’s Transforming Power
AAEO Day 1: Mtn. Survivor now cowboy preacher
AAEO Day 2: Reaching students at Syracuse U.
AAEO Day 3: Multihousing as a mission
AAEO Day 4: Blazing an Appalachian Trail            
    Macon Assn. lends hand, heart
AAEO Day 5: Reaching a vast wilderness
AAEO Day 6: Reaching out in word and deed
AAEO Day 7: Expanding God’s work in Puerto Rico
AAEO Day 8: Winning souls in Arizona

3/14/2010 3:42:00 AM by Mickey Noah, North American Mission Board | with 1 comments

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