March 2012

Asian farmer’s coffee crop brings nurture to his faith

March 28 2012 by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Press

EAST ASIA – Far off the beaten path in the mountains of an East Asian nation, believers in a house church find God’s faithfulness in budding coffee crops and healthy animals.

Zhe Wang Hu* is one of these believers, praying for his coffee crops when the church gathers to worship after a long day in the fields.
 
At home over their wooden dinner table, Hu’s family talks about the weather, not as light conversation but because their well-being depends on it. Despite the recent absence of rain, the 20-something farmer trusts that God will provide for his wife and son.

“I have witnessed God’s harmonious way [in] pouring down the rains when the plants need the rains,” Hu says. “It shows His grace.”

Hu started growing coffee in 2009 with the help of Christian agriculturalist Ted Wong*.

Wong, who has a Ph.D. in environmental engineering, teaches believers in rural areas how they can support themselves and their ministries. Most of the men and women he works with live in rural areas in East Asia and have few options to make a living.
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IMB photo by Kelvin Joseph

Zhe Wang Hu* teaches his son the importance of hard work and faith.


Wong uses his expertise to teach the believers how to grow coffee and blueberries effectively, and he assists them in exporting the coffee to generate income.

Wong also disciples the believers so they can influence their communities.

He visits Hu frequently, providing coffee seedlings and agricultural counsel.

Before the coffee project in Hu’s village started, Wong made sure Hu knew that coffee trees take longer to mature than normal crops. For three years, he would see no income. Wong told Hu he must be committed and work hard for any profit to come from the plants and that he must wait for the fields to be “ripe with the harvest.”

“That takes a lot of faith,” Wong says. “Commitment is the key.”

When Wong and Hu meet every month, they discuss the health of the coffee and Hu’s spiritual health.

Hu, the most successful farmer in the village, has 1,500 healthy coffee trees that soon will be ready for picking, processing and exporting.

“I believe God has chosen him for this program,” Wong says of Hu. Other villagers have tried their hand in the coffee business with less success.

As Hu works the land that’s been in his family for three generations, he sends up supplications for his crops. Although rain is scarce, he has faith that God will answer and bless his faithfulness and perseverance.

Hu also prays for the health of his animals.

“The buffaloes, the hogs that I raise, whenever there is trouble to these animals, I submit my prayers to God and ask Him to bless me,” Hu says.

God answered Hu’s prayer earlier that day by restoring health to the hogs of a fellow villager who hosted that evening’s church meeting.

Hu also prays for focus as he follows the Lord. Hu’s heart knows the land and now it knows his Father’s heart, and he prays everyone in his village can find God’s blessings as he has.

“Planting trees and spiritual growth actually tie together,” Hu says. “... I learn how to grow spiritually by planting coffee faithfully.”

In spreading the seed of God’s Word in his village, he spends hours each morning nurturing his coffee plants and each evening growing in his walk with the Lord.

“Coffee is a kind of seed,” Hu says. “Spiritually, God’s Word is like a seed.”

*Names changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caroline Anderson writes for the International Mission Board.)

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Christianity frees farmer from fear of death
3/28/2012 2:55:41 PM by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Christianity frees farmer from fear of death

March 28 2012 by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Press

EAST ASIA – Jia Liang* doesn’t stop to sit down the entire evening, making sure guests never see the bottom of porcelain bowls full of rice and fish stew.
 
Traditionally in East Asia, women play the role of host, but tonight under a star-studded sky, Liang serves family members and friends who helped plant his terraced rice fields. Most are believers and attend Liang’s house church, but not all.

Two years ago, however, Liang was a tormented and fearful worshipper of ancestors and idols.

“I found Christ in a very difficult situation,” says Liang, 29, now a calm and unassuming house church leader. “I was ill.”
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Photo by IMB/Kelvin Joseph

Spring is the prime time for farmers like Jia Liang* to plant rice in East Asia. Liang, who also is a house church pastor, also has begun growing coffee; with the income, he and his family hope to find more time for ministry and community leadership. *Name changed.


Liang’s fear of death crippled him to where he felt like he was dying. Most days, with fear manifesting itself as physical illness, he couldn’t muster the strength to get out of bed.

Jiu Wang*, one of Liang’s Christian neighbors, told him evil spirits were the cause of his fear. She encouraged him to follow Christ and told him God has the power to free him from his fear.

“If I follow Christ, what will family members say about me?” Liang asked, since his entire family worshipped idols.

A witch doctor gave Liang 30 bags of medicine to cure his fear, and he decided to try that before trying God.

The medicine didn’t work, and Liang’s wife invited Wang to their home.

It was raining when Wang arrived.

“I prayed to God and asked him to make it stop raining,” Wang says. She told Liang that God would heal him.

“Do you have faith?” she asked Liang.

Liang decided to believe in Christ. The rain soon stopped, and Liang was healed of his fear.

“Because I believe in Christ, I will have eternal hope,” Liang says. “I will not have any fear of death because He is the eternal, living God.”

Fourteen of Liang’s family members and close friends began to follow Christ after they saw how the Lord set him free from his fear of death.

Liang shoulders a heavy load for a young man. Because he came to faith first, he is seen as the leader of their house church. He balances leading the church with raising a family and farming the rice, soybeans, yams and coffee that sustain his extended family.

Liang receives spiritual guidance from a believer in a nearby village but the rest of his biblical knowledge comes from reading the scriptures.

He and the other believers share their burdens and help each other in the fields and in their faith. The homes that sparsely dot this valley are not easily reached by visitors. The isolation means community members depend heavily on each other for everything from help in the fields to prayer.

During the church’s weekly time of worship, the believers, now numbering about 20, pray for rain for the crops, for families whose babies were miscarried and for neighbors and family members to accept God’s truth. They sing their thanks for God’s faithfulness in answering their prayers.

Liang has told his house church of a dream he had of a voice telling him, “Go share the gospel.” His hopes and prayers have been stirred for a revival to sweep through the homes of the 200 to 300 people scattered throughout the mountains as men and women hear and accept the truth about Jesus.

He doesn’t know how revival will come other than church members passing on Bible stories as they farm and share meals with their neighbors.

Right now, he says, the believers know how to tell about Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. They’re learning new Bible stories and how to share them with non-believers.

Their times of learning come after long days of planting rice, picking coffee beans and feeding chickens and hogs.

When they do share the Bible stories with their neighbors, the villagers’ fear of spirits and the desire to appease ancestors keep many from accepting the Good News. But these believers have seen faith in Christ cure Liang’s fear and change their own lives.

Liang asks for prayers:

– for the truth to echo throughout the mountain range.

– for boldness for the believers as they share in the rice fields and courtyards of their unbelieving neighbors.

– for unity, wisdom and understanding as the believers grow in their faith.

“Right now we are still in the infant stage,” Liang says. “So basically, we study the Bible together and share and encourage one another and pray for one another.”

*Names changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caroline Anderson writes for the International Mission Board.)

Related story
Asian farmer’s coffee crop brings nurture to his faith
3/28/2012 2:42:21 PM by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



IMB welcomes 61 new missionaries

March 27 2012 by Laura Fielding, Baptist Press

LAKE CHARLES, La. – He was a rebellious punk rock skateboarder who openly renounced his family’s faith, telling his parents that “God was a joke.”

But God had a plan for Charles Drake*. During college, he met a friend who also listened to punk rock but didn’t act like a punk rocker. He was loving, kind and compassionate – and he invited Drake to join a men’s Bible study group.

“[I] started reading the New Testament and was blown away by Jesus – His power to raise the dead, to calm storms … His compassion to forgive sins, to die on a cross for my sins,” Drake said. “He saved me.”
 
As a new believer, Drake’s natural reaction was to tell others about Christ. He started with his friends, but after a trip to Russia he knew God was calling him to something bigger.

After serving as a journeyman missionary for two years, Drake, his wife Renee* and their two children will now live among East Asian peoples.
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BP Photo

Ryan and Kelley Day share their testimony during an IMB appointment service at Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, La. The couple were pursuing the American dream – jobs, house, cars, family – but God called them “to do something of eternal significance.”


The Drakes were among 61 newly appointed missionaries honored March 21 during a service at Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, La., which followed a meeting of trustees of the International Mission Board (IMB).

Though many of the IMB missionaries were called to vocational ministry early in life, several candidates, like Drake, came from unusual backgrounds. Others made radical shifts from previous life plans as God called them to missions.

Heart for Arab Muslims
When Jermaine Willis* was serving in the Middle East with the U.S. Marine Corps, he didn’t just see a combat zone – he saw people who need the gospel.

“They just had absolutely no hope,” Jermaine said. “I could just see it on their faces, I could just hear it in their voices and [watch it] in their lifestyle…. [T]hey just were lost and had nothing.

“That’s always kind of burdened and impressed me that I wanted to go back, if not to the exact same people, to the same types of people [Arab Muslims] in the Middle East and be able to offer that hope … that can only come through the gospel.”

Though Willis felt called to missions before joining the military, seeing the reality and needs of Middle Eastern people confirmed that call.

Political ambition
Growing up, Suzanne Willis*, Jermaine’s wife, had one specific life ambition – to work in politics and constitutional law.

Though offered a full scholarship to a school near Washington, D.C., Suzanne felt the Lord leading her to a Bible college in Dallas. She told God she would not go into ministry, but while there, she said God slowly changed her heart.

“I just realized that it was more important to follow Christ than it was to do things for Christ,” Suzanne said. “So I just said, ‘OK, if You lead me to do anything – it doesn’t matter what it is, anything in the world – I will do it.’ … He [God] still didn’t tell me, at that point, what He wanted; He just wanted that complete surrender and submission to Him.”

Months later, God brought Jermaine into Suzanne’s life; he told her about his call to missions. As their relationship grew more serious, Suzanne began to discover her own missions calling. Now, the Willises and their three children will be serving among North African and Middle Eastern peoples.

American dream
Ryan and Kelley Day were living the “American Dream.” After college, they started their careers – he worked for an environmental engineering firm and she was an architect.

After short-term mission trips to Thailand and Taiwan, God began to reveal His plan for their lives.

“It really broke our heart to know that we were so focused on ourselves here in the U.S.,” Ryan said. “We had amazing redemption stories, both of us, and then we just fell right into the track of job, family, house, cars – the whole thing – and just forgetting that there’s millions of people out there who need that same redemption story.”

God burdened both of their hearts for “investing in eternity,” Ryan said. The Days left their jobs behind and are now preparing to serve as Southern Baptist missionaries in Japan.

Elliff’s charge
IMB President Tom Elliff spoke to the new missionaries and their families about the importance of sharing the gospel and challenged the appointment service audience to “embrace” an unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG).

“Of the 7 billion people on this globe, about half of those people have virtually no exposure to the gospel … 1.7 billion of those could actually die without ever hearing the name Jesus. [It’s] tragic,” Elliff said.

To embrace a UUPG, “it doesn’t take a big church, it takes a big-hearted church,” he continued. “So you’re that person – you’re to be His heart, His hands and His voice in that church.”

Referencing the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26, Elliff also spoke about the necessity of Jesus’ death on the cross and the responsibility of all believers to share the news of that sacrifice.

“Will you preach the blood?” Elliff asked. “You say, ‘Well, I’m not a preacher.’ No, it’s all about proclamation. Whatever all these people are, they’re preachers. I don’t mean preachers behind the pulpit, necessarily, but they are proclaimers of the gospel.

“That’s what the gospel is – it is Good News. News has to be told.”

The IMB’s next missionary appointment service will be May 23 at Brentwood (Tenn.) Baptist Church.

*Names changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Laura Fielding is a writer for the International Mission Board.)
3/27/2012 7:33:36 PM by Laura Fielding, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



October Baby has successful Top 10 opening

March 27 2012 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The faith-based film “October Baby” finished in the Top 10 on its opening weekend despite playing in only 390 theaters, and did even better on a per-theater average.
 
The movie, which tells the story of a young woman who learns she is the survivor of a failed abortion, grossed $1.7 million in limited release, good enough for a No. 8 finish – and a No. 3 spot ($4,352) on a per-theater average. Provident Films, which marketed the film to faith audiences, watches a film’s per-theater average more than it does a movie’s total gross, because the stat levels the playing field. Not counting October Baby, the Top 10 total gross films opened in an average of 2,500 theaters. October Baby opened in one-fifth as many.
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Kris Fuhr, vice president of theatrical marketing for Provident Films – which marketed the film to the faith audience – told Baptist Press that anything with an average of $3,000 or more is considered successful.

Inspired by a true story, October Baby chronicles a young woman’s search for the truth about her past.

There are no stats on abortion survivors, but October Baby’s Jon Erwin, who directed and produced the movie with his brother Andrew, told Baptist Press earlier this year that there are more than many people would think.

Erwin has received emails from as far away as Africa with people telling them they were abortion survivors.

The story itself was inspired by Gianna Jessen, whose story is among the first that pops up when the phrase “abortion survivor” is Googled.

(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.)

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Go see 'October Baby'
3/27/2012 7:14:18 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Mich. abortion clinic abuses go ‘uninvestigated’

March 27 2012 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Michigan provides almost no oversight of the 32 abortion clinics in the state, a leader of Right to Life of Michigan has testified in a state Senate subcommittee hearing.

As a result, unhealthy conditions and violations of reporting mandates are rampant, said Ed Rivet, Right to Life state legislative director, according to the Detroit Free Press.

A state government official acknowledged the inadequate oversight in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Licensing and Regulatory Affairs’ March 15 hearing.
 
Mike Pemble, director of the Bureau of Health Systems, said only four of the state’s abortion centers are licensed, the Free Press reported. Michigan may inspect only licensed facilities, Pemble said, while admitting that few inspections occur because of a lack of employees. There is no full-time inspector, he said.

Some of the centers “should have been shut down a long time ago,” Rivet told the Senate panel. “When complaints are filed ... problems go uninvestigated.”

At least two women have died from abortion complications in the last 10 years without their deaths being reported to the state, according to Right to Life.

The state organization issued a 52-page report on clinic abuses last November, drawing from months of research and thousands of pages of documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act.

“The report demonstrates that many abortion clinics have operated without holding a proper license or were granted a state license without ever being inspected,” the group stated in a news release. “Most of Michigan’s abortion clinics are not in compliance with dozens of state laws or regulations. The report also cites a vital need for oversight and enforcement on the part of Michigan agencies charged with holding health providers and facilities to account.”

Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing said the report “reveals that women’s health and welfare are needlessly being put at risk. We have heard numerous stories about the deplorable conditions that persist in Michigan abortion clinics. This blatant disregard for women’s safety due to a lack of proper government oversight must stop.”

The report is available for download at on Right to Life of Michigan’s website, www.rtl.org.

Meanwhile, legislators in other states continue to approve proposals regulating abortion. Among the latest:

– The Mississippi House of Representatives passed bills the week of March 12-16 requiring physicians at the state’s only abortion clinic to be certified in obstetrics and gynecology and to have hospital admitting privileges; mandating a doctor must be in the same room with a woman to whom he dispenses the abortion drug RU 486; and prohibiting abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected, the Associated Press reported.

– The New Hampshire House approved measures March 14 mandating a 24-hour waiting period and information on fetal development be given to women considering abortion, banning partial-birth abortion and halting weekend judicial bypasses for minor girls seeking abortions without parental notification, according to the Concord Monitor.

– The Wisconsin House passed legislation in a 61-34 vote March 13 barring any Wisconsin exchange plan under the 2010 federal health care reform law from covering abortion, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode and BP editor Art Toalston.)
3/27/2012 7:06:38 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Coup in Mali: Baptist family waits for calm

March 27 2012 by Don Graham, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Southern Baptist workers in Mali are prayerfully waiting out the unfolding military coup that erupted in the West African nation March 22.
 
Rebellious factions of Mali’s army stormed the presidential palace last Wednesday night, announcing on state television the following day that they had ended President Amadou Toumani Toure’s rule, suspended the constitution and closed Mali’s borders.

Cliff and Rachel Blunt*, Southern Baptist humanitarian aid workers in Bamako, Mali’s capital, with their two young daughters, have endured the sound of nearly constant weapons fire since the coup began, but the fighting came especially close Thursday night when the Blunts witnessed a group of men firing guns immediately outside the gate of their home. The Blunts’ guard suspects the men were robbing a store. For Rachel, it was too close for comfort.
 
“We could hear everything the guys with the guns were saying. They were close enough to us that we could have carried on a conversation with them. ... I could actually smell gunpowder,” Rachel said in an interview via Skype. “None of us are [military] targets. The only thing you have to worry about is when already desperate people get [even more] desperate – they can do stupid stuff.”

The Blunts awoke to heavy machine gun fire Friday morning just a few hundred yards from their home.

“We’ve heard a good bit of automatic weapons fire,” Cliff said in the Skype interview. “From time to time we’ll hear what sounds like an explosion.” He said the family is “following the [American] embassy’s recommendation to shelter in place, avoid unnecessary travel and lay low.”
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BP photo

Women walk through a village outside Mali’s capital city of Bamako. Southern Baptist missionaries in West Africa, concerned that women and children often are targets of violence and abuse during times of civil unrest, ask for prayer for their protection.


The Blunts believe the biggest threat isn’t from rebel soldiers; instead, it’s crime that worries them – thieves, bandits and roaming gangs who could take advantage of the police vacuum. Isolated reports of looting already are surfacing.

Renegade soldiers have imposed a curfew and shut down Bamako’s airport. It ruined the travel plans of an Arkansas church volunteer team due to depart Mali Friday evening. The team is part of Southern Baptists’ efforts to share Christ with villages in Mali’s bush, which is where the team will remain for now.

“Truthfully, being out in the bush is about the most secure place you can be in Mali right now,” Cliff said. “They seem to be in high spirits and taking it like champs.”

This isn’t the first time the Blunts have dealt with civil unrest during their short time in Africa. Less than a year ago, a military uprising hit Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, just four days after the Blunts arrived on the field for their first term as Southern Baptist workers.

“We knew that there were risks involved. But it’s all a matter of your theology. If you really believe that God has a plan ... and that people need to be reconciled to Him through Christ ... it ought to compel you to act,” Cliff said. “While some of this stuff might have been a surprise to us ... none of it is a surprise to Him.

“The same God who gave me my family is the same God who called us to this, together. And He loves my wife and my kids more than I do.”

Above all, the Blunts ask for prayer.

“... That we would seek the Lord through this, that God would give us His perspective, that we would walk in faith and not in fear ... and be able to point others to the Lord,” Cliff said.

After the March 22 coup, Southern Baptist missionaries in West Africa asked Christian to pray for Mali.

Renegade soldiers took over the palace of Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure in Bamako, reportedly exchanging heavy fire during the offensive Wednesday night. The insurgents also captured Mali’s state television station, taking to the airwaves to announce the end of Toure’s “incompetent” regime, the suspension of Mali’s constitution and closing of the country’s borders.

Among issues alleged by military forces staging the coup: blame of Toure for lack of support in their fight against an armed rebellion in the north by Mali’s nomadic Tuareg people.

The United States joined a chorus of voices – including the United Nations, European Union and many of Mali’s West African neighbors – in condemning the coup and demanding return to constitutional rule. Mali’s military pledged to hold elections once national unity is restored.

The American embassy in Bamako advised U.S. citizens in Mali to stay indoors.

Brad Bessent, a Baptist pastor in South Carolina who has traveled to Mali as a missions volunteer, wrote on his blog March 23, “I still remember the last night of my first trip to Mali in 2007. A friend there said, ‘Are you alright?’ I said, ‘How can anyone see what I have seen and be alright?’ The hunger, the poverty, the fear, so many things that rip your heart.

“So when I heard the news early yesterday, I could not help but weep. Weep and pray,” wrote Bessent, who leads the Church Unleashed @ Beulah in the Columbia, S.C., area. “I have too many friends there. I have seen so many beautiful children, and people. I have enjoyed their smiles. I have enjoyed their hospitality, even when they had so little to share.”

Among missionaries’ prayer requests for Mali:

– that God will provide a peaceful resolution to the conflict, sparing further fighting and potential loss of life.

– for wisdom among world leaders as they attempt to diffuse the situation.

– for special protection for women and children in Mali as they are often targets of violence and abuse during periods of unrest.

– that God will use the situation to open opportunities for the gospel to provide hope to Malians who do not know Christ.

*Names changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham is senior writer at the International Mission Board. Listen to audio from the interview with Cliff and Rachel Blunt as Rachel talks about the lie of perceived “safety” for Christians at the center of God’s will.)
3/27/2012 6:51:46 PM by Don Graham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Turkey added to watchdog’s list of religious liberty violators

March 27 2012 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Two more countries – Turkey and Tajikistan – are worthy of inclusion on a list of the world’s worst violators of religious liberty, a congressionally approved watchdog on the issue has recommended.
 
In its annual report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) urged the State Department to designate the two governments as “countries of particular concern” (CPCs), which is reserved for regimes that participate in or tolerate “particularly severe” violations of religious liberty. If added by the State Department, Turkey and Tajikistan would increase the number of CPCs to 10.

But it appears unlikely the State Department will embrace both recommendations. As of last year, the department had designated only eight countries as CPCs of a total of 14 recommended by USCIRF, which advises the White House, State Department and Congress on the condition of religious freedom overseas.

The commission released its 2012 report March 20, only two days before a new law forced five of its nine members off the panel. USCIRF’s reauthorization, enacted in December, mandates term limits for commissioners. Among those whose service ended was Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

In explaining its recommendation of Turkey for the CPC list, USCIRF pointed to the government’s refusal to recognize legally such non-Muslim minority communities as Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, Jews, and Greek, Armenian and Syriac Orthodox churches.

“Furthermore, Turkish officials meddle in these communities’ internal government and education and limit their worship rights,” according to USCIRF.
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Only five of nine commissioners voted for Turkey’s CPC designation.

Tajikistan deserves CPC status because of government repression of all religious activities it does not control, USCIRF reported. The regime’s policies primarily impact the majority Muslim community, but it also targets such minorities as Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to USCIRF. The Tajikistan government closed 50 unregistered mosques early last year.

Reporting on global conditions, USCIRF said religious liberty “was under escalating attack” during the last year. “To an alarming extent, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief was being curtailed, often threatening the safety and survival of innocent persons, including members of religious minorities,” according to USCIRF’s report.

Among the abuses cited by the commission were:

– Egypt’s refusal to protect religious minorities, especially Coptic Christians, from violence.

– Iran’s continued arrest, torture and execution of its citizens, with Christians, Bahai’is and Sufi Muslims targets of mistreatment.

– China’s suppression of Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims, making conditions for them “the worst in decades,” and the escalating repression of Protestants and Catholics.

– Pakistan’s abuse of Christians, Ahmadis and Hindus.

– Burma’s prohibition of Protestant house churches and restrictions on Muslims and Buddhist monks.

USCIRF also placed nine countries on its “watch list:” Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia and Venezuela. All were on last year’s “watch list.” Countries on the “watch list” are those that do not reach the level of CPCs but “require close monitoring due to the nature and extent” of abuses of religious freedom, according to the commission.

In addition to Land, the other commissioners whose service ended March 22 were Nina Shea, Felice Gaer, Elizabeth Prodromou and Don Argue. Shea had served on the commission since its establishment in 1999, while Gaer, Prodromou and Ague had been on the panel since 2001, 2004 and 2007, respectively. Land began his service in 2001 but was off nearly a year before being reappointed to the commission in 2005.

The four remaining commissioners are Chairman Leonard Leo, Azizah al Hibri, William Shaw and Ted Van Der Meid. Leo’s service, however, will be terminated May 14 under the new law.

No new commissioners have been named to fill the vacant slots. The president selects three members for the panel, while congressional leaders name the other six.

One of the reservations expressed about term limits for commissioners is a loss of experience and institutional memory that may result from the limited service. USCIRF – the first commission of its kind in the world – has played a major role in bringing attention to the persecution of Christians and other religious practitioners since it was established by Congress in 1998.

In deciding whether to recommend CPC status for Turkey, commissioners Land, Leo, Shea, Prodromou and Argue favored the designation. Gaer, al Hibri, Shaw and Van Der Meid dissented. Turkey was on the “watch list” from 2009 to 2011.

The commission typically releases its annual report in late April or early May, but it chose to release the report early this year because it faced the problem of not having a quorum when the five members were required to leave the panel. The report covers the time period from April 2011 to February 2012.

USCIRF’s 337-page report may be accessed online here.
3/27/2012 6:45:58 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Couple leaves comforts of South for city that never sleeps

March 26 2012 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

Kevin and Kristi Cabe love the view from Sunset Park in Brooklyn, N.Y. The park overlooks a backdrop of tall buildings and skyscrapers in Jersey City, Manhattan and Staten Island. Further in the distance one can see Queens and the Bronx.
 
“It’s really an amazing place to stand and see it all,” writes Kevin on his blog that documents the couple’s recent move to the city.
 
It’s a much different view for the Southerners. Both have North Carolina ties and were living in Knoxville, Tenn., a few weeks ago before uprooting to the Big Apple. The couple packed up their possessions, sold their car, quit their jobs and moved from a “comfortable life” in Tennessee to Brooklyn.
 
They now live in a one-room apartment in Bay Ridge, a community of 70,000 people packed within two square miles. As Mission Service Corps missionaries with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) the couple is working alongside Cornerstone Church in Bay Ridge – the only Baptist church in their neighborhood – to help lead locals to Christ. The church, which launched Sept. 11, 2011, is part of NAMB’s Send North America effort to start new churches in cities across the country.
 
The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina also is involved in several of these Send North America partnerships that include New York, Toronto and Boston.
 
“It was simply about being obedient [to God],” said Kevin, who spent most of his life growing up in Canton, N.C.
 
“We had great jobs. We were comfortable. We were secure.”
 
Kevin has served on staff in the past at Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden and also helped start Pinnacle Church in Canton. He attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. Kristi also attended there and graduated. But the couple didn’t meet until after Kevin moved to Knoxville in 2008. There, he served as student minister at Belmont Heights Baptist Church. The Cabes married in May of 2011.
 
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Kevin and Kristi Cabe, as Mission Service Corps missionaries with the North American Mission Board, is helping with Cornerstone Church. They are coordinating volunteer teams and hitting the pavement to tell others about Jesus and the church.


Kevin first felt called to New York City about two years ago. While on a six-hour layover in Newark, N.J., as he and a mission team returned from an overseas trip to Poland, the team set out to explore the city that never sleeps.
 
“It was just the enormity … the high rises, knowing that there are millions of people here,” said Kevin, noting there are more than 170 languages represented in the city.
 
“And knowing that in the South we have churches on every corner. But up north that is not the case.”
 
Though Kevin concedes there are some “church buildings” in Bay Ridge, there are few congregations that identify themselves as “evangelical” or those who put their sole trust in Jesus Christ for salvation.
 
“Our goal [is] to help a church as well as lead people to Christ,” he said.
 
The move has required some adjustment.
 
Without a vehicle, the Cabes must walk or take the subway to get where they need to go in the city. The people “talk fast” and the cost of living is much higher. As Mission Service Corps missionaries the Cabes are endorsed by NAMB, but they are responsible for raising their own support.
 
“We were fortunate to raise enough support that will keep us here for several months,” Kevin said.
 
“But we are going to need jobs … which is good because it will allow us to meet more people.”
 
Right now the couple has applications out and are actively looking for employment.
 
The Cabes are working with Nathan Tubbs, a bi-vocational pastor of Cornerstone Church and a 7th-grade science teacher. The church meets in a hotel with about 25 people who attend each week.
 
As an associate pastor, Kevin leads worship, works with youth and leads a small group. Kristi’s main role with the church involves leading a women’s ministry.
 
Both have helped Tubbs coordinate volunteer teams and lead groups to hand out flyers and information about Cornerstone. Some of the flyers can be found hanging in stores and in other places around the neighborhood.
 
“We were afraid that people in the local businesses would be like ‘we don’t want this,’ but they were really friendly and really receptive,” Kristi said. 
 
“Being from the South you always hear that people from up north are rude, and I haven’t experienced that since I’ve been here.”
 
While riding a subway, Tubbs shared on his cell phone how the Cabes are an answer to four years of prayer.
 
“Having another couple come in and help out, [Cornerstone’s] ministry has been tripled,” Tubbs said.
“We’re meeting people who have never been in a church before, and no one in their family has been in a church before.”
 
Tubbs described the work in Brooklyn as being similar to ministry among an “unreached people group” overseas.
 
According to one study, 83 percent of New York City residents affiliate with some form of organized religion, but only 3 percent claim to trust Christ alone for salvation. “We’re about 97 percent lost,” Tubbs said. “We’re right on the verge of what the International Mission Board would call a people group that’s two percent lost … unreached.”
 
Overall, the work is going to take time and persistence. “The relationships here are incredibly slow,” Tubbs said. “It takes days, months, years to have the opportunity to share with someone.”
 
“That’s why a couple like Kevin and Kristi Cabe are so important to our ministry because they come and they stay … and are going to see the long-term benefits of doing that.”
 
For more information on how your church can become involved in similar partnerships through the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina contact Michael Sowers, senior consultant with Great Commission Partnerships at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5654, or msowers@ncbaptist.org. You also can follow the Cabes on their blog at kevinandkristicabe.blogspot.com or contact them at (828) 273-1536.
3/26/2012 3:31:12 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments



Tony Dungy shares about Colts, faith, Billy Graham

March 26 2012 by Roman Gabriel, Sports Q&A


Earlier this year, Tony Dungy, an NBC football analyst and Super Bowl winning coach, sat down with Biblical Recorder sports correspondent Roman Gabriel III. After winning a Lombardi Trophy both as player and coach, he walked away from the game, on top both professionally and personally. Now Dungy continues to be a champion at home, through his involvement in ministry on many fronts (including All-Pro Dads), and in his new career as an analyst on Sunday Night NFL on NBC. Dungy shared about his new life covering the game, being a fan and supporter for his son’s team, and his thoughts on a host of topics: Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow, longtime evangelist Billy Graham and his coaching future.
 
Q: How tough has it been for you watching Peyton Manning’s situation?
 
A: The whole thing has been hard for me. To see them lose 11 games in a row to open the season, to see Jim Caldwell who coached with me get fired two years after being in the Super Bowl. 
 
Bill Polian had been general manager here 14 years and hired me. To see those people not here now … and to see Peyton Manning struggl[e] with an injury … that is very difficult. He is the ultimate competitor; he wants to be out there. 
 
Q: What do you believe Jim Irsay is trying to do with the Colt’s franchise from his perspective?
 
A: Irsay has to run a franchise. He has to put his feelings and fans’ feelings aside. He has to put his personal feelings aside, do what he thinks is best for the franchise, and that can be hard some times. Jim Irsay is the relationship person. I know letting Jim Caldwell go hurt him but he has to say, “For the long run, the long haul of this franchise, this is the best thing to do. That is what a real leader does.
 
03-28-12dungy.jpg

Contributed Photo

Tony Dungy shares in an interview with sports correspondent Roman Gabriel III.


Many experts have always felt you would come back to the NFL someday. Do you foresee a time when you will come back and coach?
 
I really don’t see it. I [have] a lot going on with ministries … and a freshman son at the University of Oregon that I get to watch play. My family loves me being home, so honestly, life couldn’t be better right now.
 
Q: I know I was always excited when my dad used to watch me play. How does that feel for you getting to see your son on the field from a father and fan perspective?
 
A: There is nothing like it. This year, I’m there sitting in the parent’s section. Everyone is rooting for each other’s kids. 
 
My son Eric scored the first touchdown, and it was like the best feeling ever. My wife and I got to go to the Rose Bowl where they won on the last play of the game. [There is] something special about watching your son play.
 
Q: What are your thoughts on players who are open about their faith? Why is it so polarizing?
 
A: Tim [Tebow] is a person who stands up for his faith. 
 
He is quick to let people know that he can’t separate his Christian faith and who he is as a person from his performance and what he does as a football player. 
 
Some people really embrace that and they love that, and other people don’t. So that is always going to be polarizing, but I love Tim because he is who he is, and he is never going to be different no matter what situation he is in.  
 
Q: What is some advice you would give to young people today?
 
A: The best advice my dad ever gave me was never follow the crowd. 
 
Do things because you want to do them, not because everyone else is. 
 
Don’t feel like you’ve got to be popular. Don’t feel like everybody else is doing it so I have to do it. Think about your life and your future and what’s going to happen to you.
 
Q: Billy Graham is 94 years old. In your time around him, what would you say about him?
 
A: Greatest missionary in my mind. He is stuck on one thing and one thing only and that is spreading the gospel. 
 
I remember the first event we had at Raymond James Stadium was the Billy Graham crusade.
 
I got the opportunity to introduce him, to sit on the stage and watch the message.
 
He just talked and then he said if this message has impacted you I want you to come down and it was like everybody leaving the stadium after a game. The stands just emptied and they all came down on the field.
 
It was so simple and yet so powerful. A memory I will never forget.   
 
Q: What is it about him that helped you in your coaching life?
 
A: I felt that I had a lot of missions: to help young men grow, be a good coach, build a winning team, as well as advancing the cause of Christ. With Billy Graham, he had a one-track mind, and that was to advance the cause of Christ. I admire that so much about him. 
 
For more information on All Pro Dads and Tony Dungy go to allprodad.com.

(Editor's Note: Roman Gabriel’s Sold Out Sports Talk Radio program on American Family Radio can be heard in 200 cities nationally or streaming live at afr.net. It’s all about faith, family and sports. Visit his website: soldouttv.com; Facebook page: Roman Gabriel III Fan Page; connect with him on Twitter: romangabriel3rd; email him: soldoutrg3@gmail.com or call (910) 431-6483.)
3/26/2012 3:23:08 PM by Roman Gabriel, Sports Q&A | with 0 comments



Evangelical training helps churches reach communities

March 26 2012 by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications

Although every church is called by God to engage in evangelism, a one-size-fits-all approach does not exist. Every local church must develop an effective strategy to evangelize its community.
 
That principle is the driving force behind the Intentionally Evangelistic Church Strategy (IECS).
 
IECS is a comprehensive, five-part evangelism initiative that assists pastors and churches, in their unique context, to be intentional in fulfilling the Great Commission.
 
Don McCutcheon, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) executive leader for evangelization, developed the effort through his experiences and research during which time he discovered five core components of evangelism applicable to every church. 
 
“God has called us to make disciples in our communities,” McCutcheon said. “When churches implement this strategy they begin to reach their communities for Christ.”
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Since 1997, more than 200 churches have used IECS to help enhance their evangelism efforts. About 40 percent of those churches doubled their number of baptisms within two years of implementing the strategy. 
 
The Convention provides statewide and regional IECS training throughout the year.
 
During three days of instruction, participants learn how to incorporate evangelism into every aspect of church life through evangelistic leadership, evangelistic prayer, event evangelism, assimilation and personal evangelism.
 
Here’s what several leaders had to say about IECS during a recent three-day training seminar:
 
Marvin Green, director of missions
Sandy Run Baptist Association
Green has attended three IECS training seminars, and he teaches it to pastors and churches in his association. “I was a pastor for almost 40 years and I went to a lot of conferences and I gained something from all of them, but I’ve never had one affect me like IECS,” Green said. “It has been the most profound change agent in my ministry.
 
“So I can ask these pastors to do it because I know the difference it can make.”
 
Green said the effectiveness and adaptability of IECS make it an essential tool for pastors. “It’s a strategy, not a program. Most pastors don’t want another program to put into their churches,” he said. “It can be adapted no matter the size of the church and can be plugged into what they are already doing.” All five components are important and beneficial, Green said, but the prayer component has benefited him the most.
 
“I know that if you strengthen that particular ministry the potential is great to reach the lost,” he said. “A few of my churches have caught the understanding of that importance and have begun to focus on evangelistic praying.” 
 
Shannon Scott, pastor
Mount Vernon Baptist Church, Raleigh
In addition to attending several IECS seminars with his staff over the years, Scott’s church has served as a regular venue for statewide and associational IECS trainings. IECS encourages churches and pastors to prioritize disciple-making, Scott said.
 
“We start right, and we know that evangelism is dear to our hearts, but given time we drift away,” he said. “Sometimes we need that urge to get back on track. That’s what IECS does.”
 
Ed Rose, pastor
Central Baptist Church, Wendell
Two full-time staff members and four lay elders from Central Baptist joined Rose during the three-day training. “I brought the staff because I wanted us to hear firsthand the same things and to be able to discuss the things together, so that we will be aligned in our thinking as we go through our annual planning,” he said. “I think it is important for our ministry teams to hear from someone else other than the pastor.”
 
Rose prays that the training proves fruitful for Central Baptist.
 
“Hopefully it will permeate the entire body, so that we will become more intentional in all of our ministry activities in terms of being evangelistic,” Rose said. “My hope and dream is that the strategy will become lived out by our people.” 
 
For more information on upcoming IECS training visit ncbaptist.org/iecs.
3/26/2012 3:17:11 PM by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



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