March 2012

Ho Chi Minh City ‘moving forward’

March 21 2012 by Ivy O’Neill, Baptist Press

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam – Even at midnight, the city isn’t silent. The night air is punctuated with the honking of horns and the music of karaoke bars. Even the scream of power tools from high-rise construction sites continues well into the night.

Ho Chi Minh City is preparing to become an Asian superpower.
 
“That’s going to be the new financial district,” said Linh*, a tour guide at the Bitexco Financial Tower, pointing to an empty grassy field on the other side of the Saigon River. “In 15 years, that will all be high-rise buildings.”

Vietnam bears scars from its rocky history, but progress shows throughout Ho Chi Minh City. Designer-brand companies like Chanel and Gucci have storefronts along some of its busiest streets. Skyscrapers under construction stretch into the clouds. Previously held back by the tenacious grip of tradition, the city is reaching toward the future.
 
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A Vietnamese man stretches against the evening landscape. Even as Ho Chi Minh City is slowly westernized, the city’s residents hold to their traditions.


“People are moving forward and leaving the past behind,” says Trang*, a leader of a Vietnamese church.

It’s not just the economy that’s changing. The gospel is more accessible than ever before through media; a wide range of churches gather to worship; and believers are sharing their faith. Progress is slow, but still, it’s progress.

Among the older generation, many hold to their Buddhist beliefs, visiting Buddhist temples and avidly practicing ancestor worship.

“You cannot stop the flow of a river,” says Huy*, a second-generation believer living in Ho Chi Minh City who works to prepare materials for Vietnamese Christians to grow in their faith. Huy and other believers are helping the “river” – or the gospel message – find creative ways to spread through the country.

One such way is by reaching young people. As Ho Chi Minh City grows, more young people come to study and work. Roughly 70 percent of the population of Vietnam is in the 18-to-65 demographic, with the majority in the 18-to-30 range. The student and young worker population is exploding, especially in cities where opportunities to study and work abound.

“When they come here, their focus would be ... to study hard and work hard,” Trang says. “Religion is their unfelt need. They are trying to maximize their opportunities in the city to gain more of what they think is the first priority.”

People like Linh and Nhu* came to Ho Chi Minh City and found work there.

Linh, the tour guide, spends her limited free time with friends. “I don’t like to go to bars,” she says. “Most people go there to show off their expensive clothes and how much money they have. I have more fun just sitting in the park with my friends. We just drink coffee, sit on our motorbikes and talk.”

Nhu became a believer while working abroad and now works at a small coffee shop in the city. When she’s not on the job, she looks for opportunities to share the gospel. Every day, Nhu goes to a public park where many Vietnamese young people like Linh hang out. She boldly goes from person to person, sharing the gospel.

Many reject the message, but sometimes, people listen, and Nhu’s heart is encouraged.

“I have a deep love for her,” Nhu says, speaking of a new friend, Khanh*, she met in the park one morning. “She hasn’t believed yet, but her heart is soft. She is open and wants to talk about it.”

Nhu continues to pray for the new friends she meets like Khanh. She also prays for opportunities to share with other people in Ho Chi Minh City like Linh.

“I have to share Christ,” Nhu says. “He changed my life.”

*Names changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ivy O’Neill is a writer with the International Mission Board based in Southeast Asia. For more stories like this, visit www.asiastories.com.)
3/21/2012 3:02:41 PM by Ivy O’Neill, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



After arrest Southeastern ‘family’ gathers to worship, pray

March 20 2012 by BR Staff/Baptist Press

WAKE FOREST – A former student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is out on $50,000 bond after his arrest March 17.
 
William “Billy” Birch, 43, has been charged with sexual assault after an incident involving another male student March 17 in an apartment on the Wake Forest campus. According to Danny Akin, Southeastern’s president, Birch confessed to the police and to him. Birch has been expelled from the seminary and evicted from his on-campus apartment at Goldston Hall.
 
In the chapel service March 20, Akin along with other faculty, addressed the gathering about the incident over the weekend.
 
Akin reminded students and faculty of the “depravity and wickedness of man” in his address to them. The incident should serve as a reminder to “how desperately we need the gospel.” He warned students to be careful in their walk with the Lord and to be involved in a local church.
 
Akin said Birch admitted to him that he wasn’t currently involved at the local church level. Akin told the students they can’t hide from sin.
 
“Don’t hide it,” Akin said. “Don’t act like, ‘If I ignore it, it will go away.’ Let us help you.”
 
Because of the nature of the incident there are a lot of eyes watching Southeastern now and what students and faculty will do, Akin said.
 
“What I want them to see is a redeemed community of sinners,” Akin added, asking students to especially be careful when using social media.
 
“This incident is tragic in so many ways and is a reminder of the fallen and broken world in which we live,” Akin wrote in an email to students. “Christians are not immune to this reality. Sin is always crouching at the door and this is an evidence of the necessity to take every thought captive to Christ and to walk wisely before our God.”

Sin was the main topic of the chapel gathering. Songs that were sung included “It is well,” “In Christ Alone,” and “There is a fountain,” all having verses dealing with sin and the victory only found in Jesus.
 
Akin shared that some of the early media reports were incorrect or misleading. One report said the seminary and specifically himself were unavailable. Akin said he, along with the seminary’s communications director, were in contact with local media outlets. Early reports also said students had not been notified of an attack. Akin said students were not notified right away because authorities had Birch in custody and no one was in immediate danger.
 
An email was sent to students Sunday afternoon informing them of the incident and that Akin would address it when he was in chapel Thursday, March 22. He sent another email March 19 indicating that he would be in chapel March 20 to address concerns about the incident as well as misinformation that had been circulating.
 
Mark Liederbach, dean of students, sent out an email March 19 about a mandatory meeting that afternoon for students living directly on campus to discuss what had happened and offer the seminary’s services if anyone needs counseling. He, as well as counseling staff members, are available.
 
In one of his emails, Akin described the seminary as “a precious family of redeemed sinners.” Again in chapel March 20, he addressed the people gathered as family.

“We should never be surprised when sinners sin,” Liederbach said in chapel. “We need to be very careful with our own hearts.”
 
Akin, Liederbach, and Sam Williams, a counseling professor, addressed the need to surround Birch in prayer and encourage him in a right relationship with God. They also stressed the need to pray for the victim, whose identity has not been released. They asked students to pray for their fellow student and, if they do know him, to be sensitive to what he needs right now.
 
Birch is a recognized blogger in Southern Baptist circles, with Dave Miller of SBCVoices.com calling him a friend “whose judgment and astute theological argument I was increasingly impressed with.”

In a blog post March 19, Miller, pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, said he returned from leading the evening service at his church Sunday to find an email from Birch admitting moral failure.

“I feel like crying as I write these words, because a brother in Christ whom I counted as a friend has fallen deeply into sin,” Miller wrote.

He also noted that “a 25-year-old seminary student has had his life turned upside down as the result of this assault.” Miller wrote that the victim “has been badly damaged by another’s sin” and will need “God’s grace and power to find comfort, healing and strength.”

Miller also requested prayer for Birch, who “seemed genuinely sorrowful and broken,” that God would “bring him through the dark night of repentance to a restored walk with Christ” and “carry him through the difficult days that lie ahead.”

“Let the authorities do their work, pray for the victim and for Billy and let us speak only those words which build others up,” Miller wrote.
3/20/2012 8:48:20 PM by BR Staff/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Obama opposes N.C. marriage amendment

March 20 2012 by Baptist Press

RALEIGH – President Obama says he opposes a proposed North Carolina constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman – an amendment that polls show a majority of the state’s voters support.
 
The amendment, which will be on the May 8 primary ballot, is aimed at preventing a state judge from redefining marriage to include gay couples, as has happened in Massachusetts, Iowa and Connecticut. The amendment, known as Amendment 1, reads: “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.”

Twenty-nine states have similar amendments in their respective constitutions.
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“While the president does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the record is clear that the president has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples,” Cameron French, a spokesperson for the Obama North Carolina campaign, said in a statement to the media. “That’s what the North Carolina ballot initiative would do – it would single out and discriminate against committed gay and lesbian couples – and that’s why the president does not support it.”

But Tami Fitzgerald, chairwoman of Vote FOR Marriage NC – the coalition backing the amendment – said Obama’s position would allow a judge to determine the issue.

“Not only did President Obama state during his election battle in 2008 that he believes marriage is the union between one man and woman, but he said that for him as a Christian, it is also a sacred union, invoking the name of ‘God’ as his source,” Fitzgerald said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, his recommendation against the Marriage Protection Amendment would leave the definition of marriage up to an activist judge instead of the people of our State,” Fitzgerald said. “President Obama has no business inserting himself into the people’s business in North Carolina. The people of North Carolina cannot sit by and let marriage as the union of one man and one woman be destroyed by a handful of political activists or by activist judges.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said it’s becoming more obvious that Obama – despite his public statements – supports gay “marriage.”

“The longer this ruse goes on, the more ridiculous it becomes,” Perkins said March 19. “It’s an insult to American intelligence that the President thinks we can’t read between the lines of his opposition to state marriage amendments. Voters are tired of being played. They understand that the White House is just riding the fence on this issue until November 7, when it can give up the charade on marriage without fear of election backlash. It’s time for the President to be honest with the American people and explain that what he really supports is the redefinition, and ultimate destruction, of man-woman marriage.”

The amendment has led in at least two polls this year:

– A Civitas Poll conducted Feb. 27-28 of 600 likely voters showed the amendment leading 64-30 percent.

– A Public Policy Polling survey conducted Jan. 5-8 of 780 registered voters showed the amendment ahead, 56-34 percent.

Each poll’s question was nearly identical and used the exact wording on the ballot.

Both polls differed dramatically with an Elon University poll conducted among 605 state residents Feb. 26-March 1 showing adults opposing the amendment, 54-38 percent. But that survey used very different language from the other two polls, framing the issue negatively: “Would you [support or oppose] an amendment to the North Carolina constitution that would prevent any same sex marriages?”

In a Tweet, Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen called it a “fatal flaw” for Elon University not to use the “exact ballot language” that voters will see when they enter the booth May 8. Public Policy Polling’s survey of Maine in 2009 was the only one to correctly predict residents there would reverse a law that had legalized gay “marriage.”

For more information about the amendment, visit VoteForMarriageNC.com.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.)
3/20/2012 8:30:13 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Q&A: Kirk Cameron on new film, Piers Morgan

March 20 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When Kirk Cameron went on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” to discuss his upcoming patriotic-themed documentary “Monumental,” he didn’t expect to get pulled into a national debate over homosexuality.

But in hindsight, it may have been a good thing, particularly for getting the word out about the movie, which is in theaters nationally for only one night – March 27 – and then in select markets March 30.

“It seemed that perhaps the Lord was in this,” Cameron told Baptist Press.
 
In Monumental, Cameron follows the footsteps of America’s founders – first the Pilgrims (he travels to England) and then America’s forefathers, interviewing experts and historians along the way. His goal is to find the source that inspired the founders and to explore whether America can be turned around economically, morally and spiritually. He thinks it can. Publicists have promoted the movie with the catchy phrase: “Sometimes the only way forward is to go back.”
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The documentary gets its title from the National Monument to the Forefathers, a Massachusetts monument built in the late 1800s to commemorate what the Pilgrims believed.

Cameron had hoped to discuss his documentary in detail on Morgan’s program, but the questions instead mostly focused on gay “marriage” and abortion, with a discussion about the movie seemingly tacked on at the end. None of those issues are specifically mentioned in the documentary. But Cameron’s opposition to gay “marriage” and his labeling of homosexuality as “unnatural” caused an uproar in Hollywood and the mainstream media.

Baptist Press (BP) talked with Cameron about Monumental and about the CNN interview. Following is a transcript:

BP: How did you get involved in Monumental, and what motivated you to do it?

KIRK CAMERON: I began on this journey about two years ago, as a father. My wife and I have six children, and I’m thinking about their future and the world that they’re growing up in. You turn on the news, and you realize that all signs say “panic.” Economically we’re $16 trillion in debt. Morally, you can go down to the mall or public school, sit down and just be terrified by what you see; what used to be called shameful is now celebrated and normalized in the culture. Spiritually, we’ve got “In God We Trust” written on our money but the government is going around erasing anything having to do with God or Christ or Christian faith from monuments. The separation of church and state is making teachers feel like they’re breaking the law if they mention anything about the faith of our forefathers. I am very concerned where the world will be in 10 years, 20 years, for the sake of my kids. I decided the best thing I could do was to go back and talk to the men and women who built this country, and since I didn’t have a time machine, I did the best thing I could, and I bought a ticket to England and began retracing the escape route of the Pilgrims. I went on this journey to understand who they were and what drove them to do what they did. What was the secret sauce – what was the rocket fuel – that pushed them to risk their lives and their children for the sake of their future? What principles did they use to ultimately wind up with a nation that has received more blessing, security and prosperity than any nation in the history of the world?

BP: Some Christians believe America is hopelessly headed in the wrong direction and that there’s no turning back. Do you disagree with them?
 
CAMERON: I think America is headed in the wrong direction on so many levels. It’s obvious. If you have a spirit of discernment, you are keenly aware that we are not moving toward God nationally but away from God. But it’s not hopelessly moving in the wrong direction. There is always hope. Christ is our hope. And to the extent that we are walking in faithfulness toward God and we’re obeying His precepts and we’re trusting His Word and we’re teaching these things to our children, we can expect the protection of God – the blessing of God – and the healing of our families, of our nation. We know this from Scripture and we can see this in history. But to the extent that we walk away from that and abandon God, just like in Romans 1, God will hand us over to our foolishness and give us what we want until we choke on it.

BP: You end the movie by saying that the solution to the nation’s problems, economically and morally, “lies in my hands” or lies in the viewer’s hands. What did you mean by that?

CAMERON: We live in a world now where most people look to the government to take care of all of their needs. They profess trust in God or trust in Christ, but then in practice, they are really trusting in Washington – take care of my health care, take care of my education, take care of my finances, take care of my overall happiness and well-being. As Christians, God tells us to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him. Our hope is in Jesus Christ, not the government. Our hope is in the gospel, working in the hearts of people. The human agent that brings the gospel change to the world is courageous moms and dads who teach these things to their children, when they’re sitting down and when they rise up, when they wake up in the morning and when they go to sleep – the Shema, Deuteronomy 6. Change does not start at the Oval Office. It starts at the kitchen table.

BP: Are you calling on Christians to get more involved with the political process, or for Christians to get more involved with family life? Or both?

CAMERON: I want to learn from the forefathers. So what does the monument say, what did they leave us? This was the Gilgal stones that they left for us, so to speak. And what they said is it must start with faith. So I’m calling people back to the monument, and the monument is calling people to say, “It’s the Shema, folks. It’s the same strategy that Moses used with the Israelites: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and honor His world.” We must get involved with taking a real responsibility with our family life, particularly in the worldview that we teach our children. And then, yes, get involved in the process of electing leaders who are men and women of character. You don’t want ungodly leaders, because they will lead your nation astray.

BP: That is similar to what you said at the end of the movie, when you said the “seed that grew this nation is faith in God.”

CAMERON: Yes.

BP: This movie will be in theaters only one night. How do you see it being used after that?

CAMERON: March 27 is our big event. That’s the giant stone that we’re dropping into the pond to create all of the ripples. So it will be 500 theaters, one night – tens of thousands of families watching simultaneously on that night. And then after that, we will have a traditional theater release. So we’ll be in maybe 50 theaters around the country that weekend, and then the movie will continue to tour around the country in select markets. It will be more difficult to find it in theaters after March 27, so we’re recommending everyone go out March 27. If we can sell out 500 theaters on that night, that will send a giant ripple out, all the way up to July 4, when the DVD comes out, together with curriculum and study materials for schools, homeschooling families, small groups, churches.

BP: The Piers Morgan interview seemed to put you in the spotlight for a few days. Did this help draw attention to the movie and end up being a good thing?

CAMERON: Absolutely it did. I was actually very careful not to bring up any politically explosive questions or topics in Monumental. But it seemed the Lord had other plans. Piers was disingenuous with me and told me that we would speak of the movie, and in fact he refused to talk about it. He asked me several different questions: What do you think of gay marriage? Do you think homosexuality is sin? What do you think of abortion? Would you still force your daughter to carry that baby?

BP: So there was a major silver lining.

CAMERON: There was. It seemed that perhaps the Lord was in this. As much as I as a follower of Christ try to model love and respect and kindness for everyone – and hold to convictions of faith and truth and morality – this just blew up in the press. It was trending all over the world. What some people mean for evil, God means for good. My hope is that this will embolden Christians to stand for truth in the context of loving people, like Christ did. People are trying to characterize me within the movie as being some kind of bigot. I can take that, but I hope it sends a message to the rest of the body of Christ – I’m just a representative of who they think you all are. We need to stand together in the body of Christ and say, “We don’t hate anybody. We love everybody, even our enemies. We will love you, but we won’t allow you to bully us into silence.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Monumental is unrated and has no foul language. For more information visit MonumentalMovie.com.)

3/20/2012 8:22:00 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘Missionary kids’ aid hospital’s makeover

March 20 2012 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

SANYATI, Zimbabwe – Joining in the “extreme makeover” of Sanyati Baptist Hospital in Zimbabwe, a crew of nine youth, ages 11-18, proved up to the task.
 
In four days, the “missionary kids,” whose parents serve in nearby Botswana and South Africa, offloaded 15,000 pounds of roofing metal from a truck and assembled 15,000 screws to help future roofing teams, besides painting a hallway, inventorying supplies and visiting two local churches.

Sanyati Baptist Hospital, a 60-year-old icon of Southern Baptist work, had fallen into serious disrepair over the past decade as the African country’s economy collapsed. The problems included a broken water system, leaking roofs and rotting, termite-damaged wood. The electrical supply, averaging only four hours a day, was so unreliable that hospital staff had installed auto headlights and a battery in an operating room to be sure doctors weren’t plunged into the dark in the middle of surgery.

“This team of kids maintained a great attitude of servanthood, flexibility and commitment to the task at hand,” said Daren Davis, an International Mission Board missionary in Botswana who was one of four fathers accompanying the youth. “They enjoyed working together, playing together and eating together. It was a great experience for these kids and something they will not soon forget.
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The task of assembling roofing screws was tackled by a team of “missionary kids” during a four-day venture to Sanyati Baptist Hospital in Zimbabwe. The screws – made up of three separate parts – came in bags of 1,000. By the last day, 15 bags were completed, enabling an upcoming volunteer roofing team to quickly start roofing more the hospital compound’s buildings.


“They were moved at the conditions the patients must live in and the inadequate resources the nurses and doctors have at their disposal to meet the needs of these patients,” Davis said. “They were blessed to be able to do a little to help make the hospital a better place and to share a message of encouragement with area churches.”

“Even though my jobs were small,” said Meredith Davis, 16, daughter of Daren Davis and his wife Shawna, “I know they were important and that I was helping the future teams that are going to come and put the new roof on the hospital.”

Meredith’s brother Micah, 18, added, “When younger generations go on trips like these, they will see that they need to stop complaining about the hard stuff that they are going through because other people are going through things that are twice as hard.

“I learned that I need to be happy with what I have and stop wishing for things I don’t have.”

Rhett Warner, 12, was struck by Sanyati Baptist Hospital’s importance.

It is “the only hospital in that village, and the village is in the middle of nowhere,” said Warner, son of missionaries Brandon and Torie Warner in Botswana. “So it was cool being able to repaint the walls and assemble screws for them. If I have another chance to go again, I will definitely go.”

The hospital handles 35,000 outpatients and 1,800 inpatients a year as well 1,000 surgeries and 1,500 births, said Mark Hatfield, who with his wife Susan directs work in Sub-Saharan Africa for Baptist Global Response, a key partner in the renovation project.

“With the economic difficulties Zimbabwe has experienced the past 10 years, many people find it very difficult to feed their families, much less provide medical care,” Hatfield said. “Sanyati is the only option for hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans who need medical care. Hospitals in the country struggle to keep their doors open, and volunteer teams like this one are making a difference for Sanyati.”

The five-year “extreme makeover” of the hospital intends to restore its facilities to where they can be locally maintained, said project director Peter Sierson, missions pastor from Pleasant Heights Baptist Church in Columbia, Tenn.

A dozen teams a year will be needed over the course of the project, Sierson added.

In 2011, about 125 volunteers came to Sanyati, and another 150 to 200 are expected in 2012, Sierson said. “We were able to replace the roofs on two of the 12 buildings this past year,” he said. “I hope we can get at least 10 buildings under new roof by this time next year, then our thoughts can turn to inside the buildings.”

For 2012, teams already are lined up from Kentucky, Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, Sierson noted.

“We had Zimbabwe churches involved in the project last year, and we look forward to more of them joining us,” Sierson added. Tim Shaw, an International Mission Board missionary in South Africa who also accompanied the youth team in their venture to Sanyati in December, reported that several volunteers from the community showed up to help paint or move steel. “It was a pleasant surprise,” Shaw said. “They never asked for anything, just wanted to help.”

Another boost to the project, Sierson said, is that the Chick-fil-A corporation is “partnering with us in 2012. They already have led a leadership development conference for the Baptist Convention of Zimbabwe that included hospital leadership.”

In answer to prayer that God would call an on-site project coordinator to smooth the way for volunteer teams coming from the United States, Ryan Sifford, a member of First Baptist Church in The Colony, Texas, agreed to come with his wife Rashel and three girls, ages 2-7, to help provide coordination. Sifford, who served on a Sanyati work crew last summer, will stay for six months, starting after Easter.

Plenty of opportunities to help at Sanyati are still available, Sierson said. “There are still openings in the schedule for more teams,” he said. “There is a focus on roofs, but other projects need to be done as well.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly is the media strategist for Baptist Global Response, on the Web at www.gobgr.org where more about the extreme makeover of Sanyati Baptist Hospital is available. For information about volunteering for the project, e-mail psierson@pleasantheights.com.)
3/20/2012 8:14:14 PM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Crossover New Orleans: Big outreach planned for Big Easy

March 19 2012 by Adam Miller, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS, La. – There’s no better time than June to visit New Orleans. Add to jazz, beignets and the French Quarter, the attraction of city residents who have grown to love Southern Baptists, and you have a perfect chemistry for a successful Crossover 2012.
 
Hundreds of SBC volunteers—from Louisiana and across the nation—will join together June 15-16 for the key evangelistic outreach event prior to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting, slated June 18-19 in New Orleans.
 
Southern Baptists have poured heart, soul and sweat into the Crescent City since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
 
“We all have our Katrina stories,” said Jack Hunter, executive director for the New Orleans Baptist Association and a lifetime resident of the city. “But for the most part we’ve gotten beyond Katrina and we’re now in a rebuilding mode.”
 
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Photo by Joe Conway

Sabino Road Baptist Church Student Pastor Ron Marlin (far right) prepares volunteers from the church and four states (Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas) to go into neighborhoods around the church inviting residents to VBS and other events hosted by Sabino Road. More than 50 volunteers took part in Crossover Tucson 2011 events sponsored by the church.


In city government, in education and in economic stability, New Orleans has a new heart. A recent study suggests the city also has a new attitude toward Christians—Southern Baptists especially.
 
According to the study, conducted by Turner Research for the Louisiana Baptist Convention (LBC), New Orleans residents are open to door-to-door visitation, street evangelism and coming to church if invited. The most surprising and encouraging of these findings was that residents favor Southern Baptists above any other faith group.
 
“Southern Baptists were here with us when we were recovering and mourning with us when we were getting back on our feet,” said Hunter, who served as a lawyer in the city until more recently entering the ministry. “And Southern Baptist work is still going as New Orleans is reborn.”
 
“Calvary Baptist Church, where I pastored for years, is the most visible church on the west bank of New Orleans but no one knew where we were,” said Keith Manuel, evangelism associate for the LBC. “Now, if you mention Calvary everyone knows where it is because that’s where they got water, food and help from Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.”
 
All this awareness, though, places a greater burden on Southern Baptists to use the opportunity to its fullest. The need is still staggering.
 
“Our research also shows us that almost 50 percent of the people in New Orleans have never had anyone tell them how they can go to heaven,” said John Hebert, director of missions and ministry for LBC. “And about 75 percent of the total population can’t tell you how to go to heaven. But a majority said they would love to attend a Bible study or prayer meeting if someone would just invite them.
 
“New Orleans pays more attention to the spiritual world than ever before,” said Hebert. “They’ve been moved by the attention and care that Southern Baptists have given. It’s made a difference and this research really shows that.”
 
The North American Mission Board is working with the local Crossover coordinating team to provide volunteers with opportunities to share the love of Christ as they participate in block parties, health screenings, prayerwalking, servant evangelism outreach projects and church planting.
 
Southern Baptists in New Orleans plan to launch four new churches in 2012, with two of those launched during Crossover and the SBC. Crossover will raise the visibility of those new churches.
 
Local church leaders see Crossover as an opportunity for Southern Baptists to converge and help galvanize New Orleans churches in their evangelism efforts throughout the city.

“Our churches are becoming well trained in evangelism and will lead the way in reaching our communities through Crossover events,” said Hunter. “Our leaders want to create a culture of evangelism in the association, and Crossover, followed closely by other outreach events in succeeding weeks will help do that.”
 
For churches and volunteers interested in working with a church plant in the New Orleans area with which they can build a long-term partnership, Crossover is partnering with the efforts of City Uprising, June 13-16. City Uprising aids church plants in coordinating missions experiences for potential partner churches. Volunteers of all ages will work with two New Orleans area church plants. To register for City Uprising, visit cityuprising.com.
 
“It’s a good time to be Baptist in New Orleans,” said Hunter. “Our prayer is that the Cross of Christ would be lifted up across the greater New Orleans area to the end that many souls would be saved and that the church would be increased and that our faith community would have an increased culture of evangelism.”
 
To learn more about Crossover New Orleans and to volunteer, visit joinnoba.com/crossover.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)
3/19/2012 3:07:12 PM by Adam Miller, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



U.S. homeschoolers wary of Canadian bill

March 19 2012 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Homeschool defenders in the United States are wary of proposed legislation in Alberta, Canada, that could set a philosophical precedent for government intrusion into what parents are allowed to teach their homeschooled children.

“This is concerning to us because this is the first time we’ve seen anything like this on North American soil, where a government has actually proposed to include homeschools in a law that would constrain what parents could teach their children or to alternatively require them to teach something in a certain way,” Michael Donnelly, staff attorney for the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association, told Baptist Press (BP).
 
At issue is section 16 of Alberta’s proposed Education Act, which states, “All courses or programs of study offered and instructional materials used in a school must reflect the diverse nature and heritage of society in Alberta, promote understanding and respect for others and honor and respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Human Rights Act.”
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In the Education Act, homeschools are considered schools, and the Human Rights Act has been used in Canada to target Christians and conservatives who believe homosexual behavior is wrong.

The U.S.-based LifeSiteNews presented Alberta Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk’s assistant director of communications with a test case regarding the proposed legislation and was told that faith-based schools and homeschooling families would not be allowed to teach that homosexual behavior is a sin.

“You can affirm the family’s ideology in your family life, you just can’t do it as part of your educational study and instruction,” Donna McColl, the education minister’s staffer, said.

Days later, after receiving a substantial number of complaints and after about 500 homeschool supporters gathered for a rally at the Alberta legislature March 5, Lukaszuk distanced himself from his spokeswoman’s comments.

“This government in no way would ever want to interfere in what families [may] discuss or not discuss in their homes,” Lukaszuk, who was present at the rally, said. “From a legal perspective ... those concerns, even though real in their hearts and their minds, are not substantiated in the act.

“There is no intention to ever infringe on their rights. They do not have to change their homeschooling practices in any way,” Lukaszuk said. “Whether they’re homeschooling children or not, we as government would not step into people’s kitchen and tell them what they can or cannot discuss.”

Paul Faris, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) in Canada, said the proposed legislation should be amended to avoid misinterpretations such as McColl’s by other government officials.

“Quite frankly, I don’t care what the government’s intentions are,” Faris said, according to LifeSiteNews. “I want to know what the law says because ultimately it’s what’s written in the law that’s going to matter.

“Even if this government does have good intentions, if a different government gets in with nefarious intentions, they’ve got that law sitting there waiting for them to use.”

Patty Marler, a government liaison for the Alberta Home Education Association, wondered how the government could differentiate between home education time and family time.

“We educate our children all the time, and that’s just the way we live. It’s a lifestyle,” Marler said. “Making that distinction between the times when we’re homeschooling and when we’re just living is really hard to do.”

The HSLDA in the United States has called on its members to contact Alberta’s legislative assembly and ask them not to move the law forward, Donnelly said.

“People have sort of focused on the homosexuality aspect of this, but there is certainly much more to it than that. The biggest issue from my perspective is ... there is also a free speech issue here and a line that the government in Alberta is crossing where they are attempting to in a sense seize the parents and make them government employees,” Donnelly told BP.

“They’re ... essentially saying that parents who teach their children at home are just state employees teaching their children,” he said. “It’s absurd. We’re concerned about it, and we want to help the Alberta homeschoolers to defeat this very bad legislation.”

Donnelly mentioned California becoming the first state last summer to mandate the teaching of gay history in public schools, requiring social science classes to include the “role and contributions” of “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.”

“You see increasing attempts across the country by legislators – Massachusetts too – to impose teaching requirements on public schools,” Donnelly said. “From there the next step is private schools and then incorporating homeschools.

“So it certainly appears to be part of a larger plan. I don’t know that there’s any kind of conspiracy or they’re connected with one another, but there certainly seems to be an agenda to try to control what children learn from the government,” Donnelly said. “That certainly is a very serious concern. One of the things we pay attention to here is watching legislatures in all 50 states to make sure they don’t do things like this.”

Internationally, homeschoolers are not seeing a lot of positive developments, Donnelly said, though Brazil is in the early stages of considering legislation to recognize homeschooling.

“Brazil is a place where homeschoolers have had difficulties,” he said.

In Germany and Sweden in particular, homeschooling families have fled to other countries as they faced persecution including harassment, insurmountable fines and separation of families for not sending their children to government-sanctioned schools.

“I think linking what’s happened in Germany and Sweden to what’s happening in Alberta is appropriate. These are examples of governments that are trying to impose a totalitarian view on society through education by not permitting viable alternatives to parents through private schools that are truly independent and by preventing parents from teaching their children at home,” Donnelly said. “That’s what the actions of those countries represent.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
3/19/2012 3:00:27 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Warfare in Syria upends a once-complacent people

March 19 2012 by Ava Thomas, Baptist Press

DAMASCUS, Syria – Syrians were complacent for a long time – at least that’s how one person familiar with the war-torn Mideast country described its people.

They were “a people who felt they were more blessed than others,” as Dan David* put it, “because natural disasters and wars had not been a part of their modern history.”

But war has broken out in the past year, bloodshed has escalated and people have run for the country’s borders with their children in tow. The peace they enjoyed has been shattered.

So there’s a big question mark over the extent to which Good News is being shared inside Syria amid the tumult.
 
Seven percent of the population is “Christian,” a title that’s more indicative of a passed-down identity than a personal relationship with Christ, David said. It’s a long heritage – Syria’s capital, Damascus, is the place where Paul met up with followers of Christ for the first time as a fellow believer rather than a persecutor, according to Acts 9 in the New Testament.
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Photo by Chris Carter

The people of war-torn Syria, predominantly Muslim, “need the Prince of Peace right now in such an urgent way,” a Christian familiar with the country says. Here, a Muslim woman prays in the mosque built around the mausoleum of Shiite saint Sayyida Ruqayya.


“During the first century A.D., the news about Jesus went into all Syria [Matthew 4:24] but only centuries later this cradle of Christianity became the cradle of Islam,” David said.

Over the past several decades, the gospel has been shared with small pockets of the people, with rough starts and stops. But believers are still there, however few, according to evangelical leaders familiar with the area.

“Today – as far as we can tell – less than 1 percent of the population of Syria knows Jesus,” said Natalie Shepherd*, a follower of Christ who lived and worked in the country. “Pray that millions of Syrian families who live inside and outside the country will begin to follow Jesus during this monumental upheaval in their homeland.”

The unrest has shaken Syrians to their core, Shepherd said.

“Fear and apprehension about what will happen next is eroding most Syrian families’ sense of well-being, leaving them with a huge deficit of hope,” she said. “Many Syrian families face desperate physical needs for warmth, food and shelter, permeated by emotional trauma – the death of loved ones, gunfire night and day and the bombing of their homes. Many families are filled with fear, wondering if and when the fighting will come to their neighborhood.”

Recent news images show the city of Homs bombed out, people freezing in the snow and struggling to get the injured to medical care. On March 8, CNN footage showed some injured people chained to beds in hospitals, torture devices close at hand.

The Syrian death toll from the past year teeters around 8,500, according to The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Now most of the people in Damascus and all over the country are living their daily lives in fear and uncertainty,” David said, “as the country is being torn apart by fighting, arrests, torture and death. This is a time when good news is desperately needed. The people of Syria need the Prince of Peace right now in such an urgent way.”

Many are finding Him as they flee into other countries, Christian leaders say.

“People are running across the border into Lebanon, leaving everything behind, bringing only the clothes they are wearing,” said Josef*, a pastor in Lebanon. And as they do, they’ve been met by believers ready to share the reason they have hope.

“You can’t share the gospel as freely in Syria, so these people have never heard it before,” said Sam Lawson*, a Christian worker in the Middle East. “In a short period of time, we’ve been able to share with the same number of Syrians that it would take us months and months to share with in Syria.”

Some have believed, and house groups grow stronger by the day among the refugees, Lawson said.

“There are several key families where the believers are focusing and investing their time, and the gospel continues to go out wherever they go,” he said. “But the enemy attacks in various ways, so a key prayer request … is that nothing distracts from the Word going out among the refugees, and that it will bear lasting fruit,” especially once they return to Syria at some point in the future.

Believers in the region ask for Christians in the West to pray for Syria every time they see that nation in the news:

– that Syria’s Christians would know God’s peace and be courageous in sharing hope and truth with their families and neighbors.

– that the people of Syria would have dreams and visions of Jesus Christ and seek to know more about Him.

– that believers in neighboring countries will have strength, protection and wisdom as they seek to meet the physical and spiritual needs of refugees.

– that what seems meant for evil will be used for good so that many Syrian families will hear the gospel and be saved.

*Names have been changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board based in Europe.)
3/19/2012 2:53:41 PM by Ava Thomas, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Douglas Carver to lead NAMB chaplaincy

March 16 2012 by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Retired U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains (Major General) Douglas L. Carver has been appointed executive director of chaplain services for the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in Alpharetta, Ga., with the goal of taking Southern Baptist chaplaincy to a “new level.”

In the newly created position, Carver, 60, will lead NAMB’s chaplaincy team by casting its vision and future strategy. Carver will continue to reside near Charlotte.
 
“It is not every day that God brings the opportunity to add a retired, two-star general to your team,” said Kevin Ezell, NAMB’s president. “Doug is first and foremost a man of God and a humble leader. He has led chaplains who are serving in the most difficult circumstances. I know he will help us bring an even greater level of care and equipping to our chaplains.”

The day-to-day operations and management of NAMB’s chaplaincy group will continue under team leader Keith Travis, who will report directly to Carver. Although Carver’s experience is specifically with military chaplaincy, he will bring leadership and support to all Southern Baptist chaplains endorsed by NAMB.

“This signals the expansion of chaplaincy at NAMB and will take it to a new level,” said Larry Wynn, the mission entity’s vice president for evangelism and leadership development. “It will expand our role in our nation with our chaplains and also with our SBC churches.

“We’re going to be more intentional in encouraging churches to adopt chaplains and military personnel and to be more involved in our chaplaincy ministry here at NAMB,” Wynn added. “Doug will be working to encourage churches to have more communications, programs and ministries for chaplains and military personnel.”
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Retired U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains (Major General) Douglas L. Carver has been appointed executive director of chaplain services for the North American Mission Board (NAMB).


Wynn said he has “never met an individual who has more passion than Doug for the gospel and for sharing it with the world. This is a huge win for Southern Baptists and the Kingdom.”

Carver said he hopes to forge a tighter relationship between NAMB chaplaincy and the people of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“Historically, chaplaincy has always been an extension of the ministry of the local church,” said Carver. “I hope to help churches see more clearly how God works through chaplains in the military and in other institutions.

“We’ll work on enhancing the relationships between churches and chaplaincy and the dialogue between chaplains and pastors. Chaplains have a wealth of ministry experience, professional education and pastoral leadership that we need to do a more intentional job of tapping into.”

Chaplaincy dovetails easily with NAMB’s current overarching priority of church planting, Carver said.

“Our chaplains frequently minister in places where the church hasn’t been or cannot go, especially in dangerous or desperate situations where people need pastoral care,” Carver said. “As a result of their providing what we refer to as ‘ministry of presence,’ chaplains often find themselves planting churches where they serve in their various institutional and community settings.”

Before retiring in the summer of 2011, the two-star general spent 38 years in the U.S. Army, 27 of them as an Army chaplain. In 2007, he became the first Southern Baptist in 50 years to be promoted to chief of chaplains for the Army, based at the Pentagon. In that post, he was responsible for some 2,900 chaplains in the active Army, the Army Reserves and the National Guard.

Carver’s four years as chief of chaplains came during a time when the United States was fighting dual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his tenure, he ensured comprehensive and religious support to a total of 1.2 million soldiers deployed in more than 80 nations, 300,000 Department of Defense civilians and 700,000 military families.

A native of Rome, Ga., Carver graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and was initially appointed as a regular Army officer in the field artillery branch of the U.S. Army. After serving on active duty for six years, he resigned his commission to enter the ministry. He was later commissioned as an Army chaplain in June 1984.

Carver also holds a master of divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and a master of science degree in strategic studies from the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. An ordained Southern Baptist minister, Carver has pastored churches in Kentucky, Colorado and Virginia.

Since his retirement, Carver and his wife, Sunny, have made Waxhaw their home. They have two daughters and four grandchildren.

NAMB currently has more than 1,500 endorsed SBC chaplains serving in the U.S. military, which requires that all of its chaplains be endorsed and qualified by a recognized denomination. In all, 3,650 NAMB-commissioned and endorsed chaplains are ministering not only in the military but in correctional institutions, corporations, healthcare and public safety.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.)
3/16/2012 1:34:06 PM by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



S.C. editor Kirkland to retire at year’s end

March 16 2012 by Butch Blume, Baptist Press

GREENVILLE, S.C. – Don Kirkland, editor and president of The Baptist Courier for the last 16 years, has announced he will retire from the South Carolina Baptist paper at the end of 2012.
 
Kirkland, addressing the Courier board of trustees’ biannual meeting March 2, said when he was asked in 1974 to join the paper’s staff he knew “God was leading me to the Courier, and I’ve never doubted that.

“And neither do I doubt that God is now leading me away from my service here as editor,” he told trustees.

Kirkland said his time as editor has been marked by serving with trustees “who have kept the best interests of the Courier and its mission at the forefront in their thinking and their actions.”

“This is a happy more than sad occasion for me,” he added, “because I am eager to learn the plans God has for me when a new chapter in my life opens.”

Randy Harling, trustee chairman and pastor of First Baptist Church in Simpsonville, said South Carolina Baptists “owe a debt of gratitude” to Kirkland.
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Don Kirkland, editor and president of The Baptist Courier.


“Don has informed and inspired thousands of Baptists over the years. His journalistic gift made even the dullest topic a pleasure to read,” Harling said.

Kirkland also “managed to avoid being labeled as biased” and he “kept the Courier on a fair journalistic path,” Harling said. Kirkland possesses a “keen understanding of our rich Baptist heritage” but “didn’t allow that to interfere with communicating our role as Christ-followers.”

Kirkland will be 69 when he retires after 42 years of denominational service – 38 of them at the Courier.

He joined the paper’s editorial staff in 1974 as assistant editor and was named associate editor in 1983. He succeeded John Roberts as the Courier’s 10th editor on March 1, 1996.

The son of a Baptist pastor, Kirkland was born in Columbia and spent most of his boyhood in Lancaster. He is a graduate of Anderson College (now Anderson University), the University of South Carolina and Erskine Theological Seminary, where he earned a master of arts in Christian education. He was awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree by Charleston Southern University.

Kirkland is a member of Earle Street Baptist Church in Greenville, where he was licensed to the ministry, and he is a former president of the Association of State Baptist Papers.

He and his wife Linda, a teacher at Riverside High School, have two children and four grandchildren.

“When my wife and I were in our teens, we both made commitments to seek God’s guidance in our choice of careers,” Kirkland told the Courier’s trustees. “For Linda, it was the classroom, to teach English. For me, after a short time in the classroom and in newspaper work, it was Baptist communications.

“We both have been privileged to do what we know God led us to do for more than four decades. How could anyone be more blessed?”

Harling said the executive committee of the board of trustees will begin meeting later in March “to pray for who God has to assume leadership of the Courier.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Butch Blume is managing editor of The Baptist Courier, newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.)
3/16/2012 1:18:59 PM by Butch Blume, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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