March 2012

Knowing the ‘real God’ has come at a price

March 16 2012 by Don Graham, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE – As Christians are being asked to pray about the unrest in Afghanistan, God continues to move in that country and many other parts of Central Asia. This story highlights the spiritual journey and sacrifice of a Central Asian believer who risked everything to follow Jesus.)

CENTRAL ASIA – His heart pounds as he presses his two young daughters tightly to his chest and darts into the freezing rain. His wife follows close behind, quietly making her way through the darkness to the taxi idling outside the family’s home. Faruq and Jamilah* aren’t safe here anymore; police have finally tracked them down. Faruq knows they will soon come to arrest him.
 
The girls are in tears, frightened and shivering after being startled from a deep, warm sleep. Why are they leaving in the middle of the night, and in this weather, the driver asks, explaining that the taxi’s heater is broken. Faruq offers a flimsy excuse and tells him to drive, warming the girls’ tiny feet with his hands as the taxi speeds away.

This isn’t the first time Faruq has been forced to disappear, but it is for the same reason – his decision to follow Christ.

At 18, he abandoned the Muslim tradition of his parents in search of what he calls the “real God.” But for many Christians in Central Asia whose belief in Jesus is born out of the ashes of a past Islamic faith, Christ’s “free gift” of salvation comes at a high price.

Faruq’s own nightmare began not long ago. As he prayed alone late one night while his wife and daughters slept, more than a dozen policemen slipped silently over the walls surrounding the family’s compound. Within moments they were inside the house. Faruq and Jamilah watched in horror as police ransacked their living room, confiscating Bibles, Christian books, literature and videos as well as other gospel materials. But they didn’t stop there.

“They took my laptop, my camera, even my kids’ toys,” Faruq says. “They say if you’re changing your religion, anything you have belongs to the Muslims.”

The raid was part of a coordinated sting on several suspected Christians; Faruq knew immediately who sold him out. Earlier that evening, he had discipled a small group of believers at his home. One brought a new friend who turned out to be a police informant.

After the officers finished picking through the couple’s possessions, they arrested Faruq. Jamilah watched as they loaded him into a truck and drove off, leaving her and the children behind.

Rounds of interrogation began as soon as Faruq arrived at police headquarters. Why did he become a Christian? Was someone paying him to convert Muslims? Was he paid to convert?

The police didn’t like his answers.

“I told them my testimony,” Faruq recounts. “I said, ‘There’s no money.’ ... Finally one of these people who were investigating me got very frustrated. He was saying, ‘Why don’t you tell us [the truth]?’ I said, ‘... the Holy Spirit is changing people, not me.’”

But the questions kept coming. Early the next morning Faruq was thrown into a small holding cell, exhausted, afraid and totally alone. Seeds of doubt planted by the police about his own decision to follow Jesus were taking root. They said he was too young, stupid and naive to understand that he’d been deceived by the Christians. Perhaps he’d made a mistake?

“I was thinking maybe they are right,” Faruq says, but he suddenly was reminded how and why he came to love Christ.

Burning curiosity
It started with a burning curiosity to know his Creator.

“I was trying to reach to God. I was praying and I was fasting. At midnight I was going to the mosque to pray alone. I was like 12, 13 or 14 years old,” Faruq says.

But that fervor eventually faded to disappointment at the emptiness and insecurity he found while studying the Quran at a local madrassa (Islamic school). By 18, he was tempted to give up on religion altogether but couldn’t shake the fear he felt.
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Death – even at the hands of one’s own family – is a very real threat for Muslims in Central Asia who become Christians. Choosing Jesus often costs new believers their homes, jobs, marriages and contact with their children.


“I was not sure if I died today where I would go. There was no assurance,” he explains.

A seemingly random encounter with a foreign believer placed a Bible in Faruq’s hands. He knew precious little of the gospel but began to read it and was immediately struck by Jesus’ words in John 10:10 – “... I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance.”

Faruq believed; he had never known such love. But with his new faith came a new fear.

“I didn’t want people to know who I was,” he admits.

They knew now.

Death threats
“I don’t care if they kill me, but I cannot go and say I made a mistake,” Faruq decided as he sat in his cell. “They said, ‘What you’re believing is wrong.’ But I said, ‘Even if it is wrong [in your eyes] I still want to believe in this ... my country needs it.’”

Five days later police changed tactics, dumping Faruq into an open, overcrowded central jail packed with more than 200 inmates. Many were hardened criminals, gang members, Islamic radicals – or all three. Faruq says police made an extra effort to ensure everyone knew why he had been arrested.

Faruq was terrified but the Lord sent an unlikely ally to protect him: a homosexual gang leader.

“Hey, you!” one of the inmates grunted fiercely at Faruq, who was so scared he could only stare at the man’s feet.

“When I [finally] looked into his eyes, I understand that he was my friend; we grew up together!” Faruq says. “And then he hugged me and ... pointed to all the prisoners and said, ‘This is my cousin. If I see that you are going to treat him bad, then I know what to do with you guys.’”

Faruq spent the next 10 days in the central jail, sleeping on concrete with a water-filled, plastic Coca-Cola bottle for a pillow. But under the watchful eye of his friend’s gang, no one laid a finger on him.

Gnawing fear
Faruq had been so consumed with survival that he’d pushed aside a deep-seated fear gnawing at him since the night of the raid: What happened to his wife and children? Would they ever be a family again?

The arrest had blown the lid off Faruq and Jamilah’s relatively clandestine walk with the Lord, which meant that both sets of their parents now knew they had left Islam. But it was Jamilah’s father who scared Faruq most.

“I feared that they were going to separate my wife and my kids from me,” he remembers. “I was not concerned if they put me in jail for a couple years or they want to execute me.... I was scared for my family.”

Was all this his fault? He was responsible for leading Jamilah to Jesus. It was five years ago, while they were engaged to be married, that Faruq first revealed to her his walk with Christ.

“I said, ‘It will be a tough life. ... I might go to jail, I might be killed, many things will happen to me. I might be kicked out of the family; many times will come when they want to separate us. What do you think? Do you want to still be with me?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’”

It seemed Faruq’s warning was prophetic. A visit from his brother-in-law was the first contact he’d had from any family members since the arrest more than 20 days ago. Faruq immediately asked about Jamilah.

“He said, ‘You don’t have a wife anymore. You gave up your wife the first day [you followed Jesus],’” Faruq remembers.

Devastated, he returned to his cell and wept, covering his face with his shirt so his cellmate wouldn’t see his tears.

“God, I don’t know [what to do]. If You gave me this family, then I want to trust You that nobody can take them away. God, give them back to me,” he pleaded.

Family feud
A week later Faruq was released from jail. There were no charges, court dates or conditions. He speculates that jurisdictional squabbling between police and intelligence officers likely contributed to his extended detention and, ironically, his sudden release. But he was too focused on reuniting his family to dwell on the details of God’s blessing.

Jamilah had been living with her parents since the arrest. Her father’s terms were simple and nonnegotiable: Faruq must forsake Jesus, embrace Islam and remarry Jamilah in a traditional Muslim ceremony. Only then could he have his family back.

So Faruq offered his father-in-law a deal: If he would allow Jamilah and his daughters to return home that evening, he would remarry her the next day. Jamilah’s father agreed. Faruq had not seen or spoken with his wife since his arrest and needed to know if she would still stand by him.

“I wanted to make sure because [her family] was saying, ‘Your wife doesn’t want to come with you,’” Faruq says.

Her answer was an unequivocal “yes.” They left town late that evening, driving through the night to ensure Jamilah was well outside her father’s reach.

“It was a trick,” Faruq says with a grin. “The next day when my father-in-law called, I said, ‘Goodbye, I am in [another city].’ ... He was so frustrated. But he couldn’t do anything to me.”

Way in the wilderness
Much has changed since Faruq’s arrest. Shortly after reuniting his family, he and Jamilah left the country with their daughters. But God soon called them back; there was work to be done.

“I’m not staying in this country anymore.... I cannot live here like thieves,” Faruq remembers praying. “And God said, ‘I’m going to use you to do totally new things,’ and spoke to me from Isaiah 43:19 ... ‘I am going to make a way in the wilderness.’”

God kept His promise, and today Faruq’s ministry is thriving. Discipled and mentored by Southern Baptist workers and other likeminded Great Commission Christians, he is busy training a new generation of leaders with the goal of spreading house churches across the nation. He says God is working through local believers, miracles and dreams to stir thousands of his countrymen toward a relationship with Jesus – perhaps one day even his father-in-law.

But behind every sharing of the gospel, every new salvation, prayer meeting, discipleship training, Bible distribution or bathtub baptism, the specter of persecution remains.

“I am a criminal right now; the government is looking for me. They have my fingerprints,” Faruq says. “I am not living in a house more than six months.”

He isn’t alone. Recently, a believing friend he was discipling was kidnapped by his classmates, beaten and tortured with electric shocks. The 15-year-old daughter of another Christian couple Faruq is discipling was raped because of their faith. With two young daughters of his own, it’s a possibility that terrifies Faruq. But he’s determined not to allow that fear to keep him from answering God’s call.

“I wanted to be Jesus’ disciple and walk with Him. I thought it was easy, but then I walk a little with Him and I saw that Jesus was a tough guy to walk with,” Faruq says. “And I was thinking that it is only the physical things we have to give up for Jesus, because the disciples gave up their boats. ... But that was not enough; the time came that I was going to have to give up my children, my wife and even my life.”

Despite the hardships, Jamilah remains by his side.

“She really walks with God and walks with me,” Faruq says, affectionately. “I never heard my wife complaining about the life that we have. I never heard that she says, ‘I am tired of this life. I want to live in a good way. I want to live like my other friends.’ ... I think she understands more of God and God’s love. ... That’s encouraging to me.”

As for the future, Faruq says he’s taking things one day at a time, seeking God’s will and depending on His provision and protection.

“I expect thousands of [new believers] very soon,” he says. “They will work miracles and wonders. God told me to go and raise leaders and be ready for His glory.”

*Names changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham is senior writer for the International Mission Board.)

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3/16/2012 1:10:27 PM by Don Graham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Couple awarded $3M in ‘wrongful birth’ suit

March 16 2012 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – A “wrongful birth” lawsuit is a horribly flawed response to the unexpected birth of a baby with a disability, pro-life bioethics specialists said in the wake of an Oregon jury’s award of nearly $3 million to the parents of a child with Down syndrome.
 
The 12-member jury unanimously awarded $2.9 million to Ariel and Deborah Levy, a Portland-area couple, in their suit against a hospital system that failed to detect the chromosomal disorder in their unborn daughter, Kalanit, who is now 4. The Levys said they would have aborted her had they known she had Down syndrome, but Legacy Health System’s Center for Maternal-Fetal Medicine assured them after a test their daughter did not have the condition.

“In a civil society, there must be better remedies for cases like these,” said C. Ben Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. “Rather than ‘wrongful birth’ suits, a robust social services infrastructure could relieve the burden families feel when they choose to bring disabled children into the world. There are many communities who would be willing to rally around these families if they knew the need.
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“At the same time, we must repudiate abortion for disability,” said Mitchell, also a biomedical and life issues consultant for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The diagnosis of a disability, including Down syndrome, should not be a death sentence for the unborn baby.”

Such lawsuits “are merely the newest front in the ongoing eugenic search-and-destroy mission aimed at wiping people with Down syndrome off the face of the earth,” Wesley Smith wrote in a column for The Daily Caller.

“The time has come to reverse course,” said Smith, co-director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Human Exceptionalism. “We could begin with states prohibiting wrongful birth lawsuits as a matter of public policy. We may have a right to have a baby, but we don’t – or at least shouldn’t – have a right to the baby we want. Most importantly, none of us should ever be declared by a jury to be a wrongful life. May Kalanit never learn that her parents would have prevented her from ever being born.”

Bioethicist Art Kaplan, who is not a pro-life advocate, also contended “wrongful birth” lawsuits should not be allowed.

“Wrongful birth lawsuits are a horrible way to deal with failed prenatal testing,” said Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, in a MSNBC commentary. “Forcing parents to argue that their child never should have been born may make legal sense but it is morally absurd.”

The Arizona Senate approved in a 20-9 vote March 6 a bill that would protect health-care providers from “wrongful birth” lawsuits while permitting malpractice suits, the Arizona Capitol Times reported. If Arizona enacts the legislation, it would become the 10th state to bar “wrongful birth” or “wrongful life” court actions.

“Wrongful birth” lawsuits are rare, Caplan said, but some have resulted in awards of millions of dollars.

An estimated 90 percent of unborn children in the United States diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted, and the estimate of abortions for other genetic abnormalities in the unborn is about the same. Down syndrome normally results when a person has three copies, rather than two, of chromosome 21.

Deborah Levy, who already had two sons with her husband, underwent a test known as chorionic villus sampling (CVS) when she was 13 weeks pregnant at the age of 34, according to The Oregonian. The lab results from tissue taken from her womb showed Levy’s unborn daughter had a normal chromosome make-up.

Two ultrasounds performed later showed abnormalities that can indicate Down syndrome in an unborn baby. Legacy staff assured the Levys, however, their daughter did not have the condition and did not recommend another prenatal test, amniocentesis, The Oregonian reported.

The Levys argued Deborah’s tissue instead of the baby’s tissue was extracted during the CVS test and the Legacy staff should have identified it as such.

Expert witnesses for Legacy testified the CVS was performed correctly. They said the lab result showed a normal chromosome count because Kalanit has mosaic Down syndrome, which means some of her cells do not have an extra copy of chromosome 21, according to The Oregonian.

The $2.9 million award was estimated to cover the extra costs required to care for Kalanit, the newspaper reported.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
3/16/2012 12:58:08 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Afghanistan massacre prompts call for Christians to pray

March 15 2012 by Don Graham, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – A lone U.S. soldier accused in a shooting rampage that killed 16 Afghan civilians near Kandahar over the weekend is prompting Southern Baptist workers in Central Asia to ask American Christians to pray for peace.
 
The shootings threaten to further inflame a roiling tide of anti-American sentiment that swept the country in February following Afghans’ outrage over the burning of Muslim holy books, including Qurans, at Bagram Air Base, as well as the posting of a video to the Internet in January allegedly showing four Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters.

The Quran-burning incident alone was followed by a week of protests in which 30 Afghans were killed; attacks that resulted in the deaths of six American military personnel also were tied to the burning.

Some Afghans “understand and are slow to judge, but they … are certainly not the loud voices,” says Leo Hughes*, a Southern Baptist human needs worker in Central Asia who has spent time in Afghanistan.

The vehemence with which Afghans sometimes respond to such incidents may be difficult for Westerners to understand, Hughes says, but the violence is a byproduct, at least in part, of 30 years of war that has ravaged the country beginning with the 1979 Soviet invasion.
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These three generations of Afghan villagers live in poverty with little hope for a better life, the result of decades of war that have decimated the country’s economic, infrastructure, health care and education systems.


“I have not encountered anyone in this country who has ever known Afghanistan at peace,” Hughes says. “There are a few very old men who, when you hear them talk, it’s almost like they are hallucinating when they speak about a time of peace.”

In addition to America’s ongoing conflict with the Taliban, there is continuous fighting among more than 20 ethnic groups that make up Afghanistan’s population of 30 million. Hughes says the need to pray for peace for the country’s tribes is equally as important.

“Think about a tribe of a million people accusing another tribe of 2 million people of doing wrong, so they fight. The winner was right; the loser was wrong. That’s the law of the land,” he says.

It’s just another reason why prayer is so desperately needed, Hughes says. Rather than react with pessimism or negative attitudes based on stereotypes, American Christians must pray that Christ will soften Afghans’ hearts and break the cycle of violence.

These are people God loves, Hughes says. “We are terrible at making generalities and characterizations of folks. All Americans are not Christians. All Muslims are not terrorists. ... And if we are not willing to meet people and understand them, how do we have any right to condemn them? Some of my closest friends that I trust – literally – with my life every night, are Muslims.

“Christ didn’t spend all His time with believers. He spent more time with nonbelievers,” Hughes adds. “We need to get off of the church pew ... and become more concerned about the lost in the world than our own comfort.”

Among prayer requests for Afghanistan relayed by Hughes and other workers:

– Pray for God’s mercy and justice for the families of the Afghans killed in the shootings.

– Ask God to quiet rising anger and prevent this incident from sparking further violence.

– Pray for an end to conflict in Afghanistan. Ask God to bring peace and unity between feuding ethnic groups and tribes as well as peace between Afghanistan and other nations. Pray that those seeking to incite violence are stopped and that criminals are brought to justice.

– Ask God to ease widespread suffering caused by war and conflict. Pray that He brings peace, stability, education and sustainable living conditions.

– Pray that Afghans will worship the one true God.

– Ask God to send workers to the harvest field in Afghanistan. “There is a huge task in Afghanistan under the hardest circumstances. The workers are few and the time is short,” Hughes notes. “Help is needed desperately.”

*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham is senior writer at the International Mission Board.)

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3/15/2012 2:00:37 PM by Don Graham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



GuideStone Funds honored with premier financial award

March 15 2012 by Tim Head, Baptist Press

DALLAS – GuideStone Funds has won one of the most prestigious awards in the financial world for mutual fund families with up to $40 billion in assets – the 2012 Lipper Award for Best Overall Small Fund Group in the U.S.
 
As the first Christian-based socially screened fund family to win the premier Lipper honor, GuideStone was ranked No. 1 among 182 eligible companies for its consistently strong risk-adjusted investment performance across broad asset classes.

GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins, chief operating officer John Jones and chief investment officer Roddy Cummins, along with Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, were in New York City Thursday night, March 8, to receive the Lipper trophy at a dinner sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, Thomson Reuters and Investment News.

Hawkins said the Lipper Award for Best Overall Small Fund Group “recognizes a standard of excellence that we pursue every day as we seek to honor the Lord and enable our faithful participants to invest according to their biblical principles.”
 
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GuideStone Financial Resources chief operating officer John R. Jones, President O.S. Hawkins, SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page and GuideStone chief investment officer Roddy Cummins receive the Lipper trophy honoring GuideStone Funds as the Best Overall Small Fund Group in the U.S. during a dinner ceremony March 8 in New York City. The awards ceremony was sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, Thomson Reuters and Investment News.


Page said it was “an incredible night, not just for GuideStone, but for the entire Southern Baptist Convention and other evangelicals who are seeking biblical integrity not only with their lives and families but also with their finances.”

“On Thursday night, the financial world publicly acknowledged that people can successfully invest their money in a God-honoring way,” Page said.

At a celebration event in Dallas Monday morning, March 12, Cummins first thanked the Lord for His favor and then recognized the daily collaborative efforts of GuideStone’s 450 employees as well as the team of outside sub-advisers to the fund group.

“People often think that they have to compromise biblical integrity for investment performance,” said Cummins, who has overseen the growth of the GuideStone Funds family from 13 funds at its inception in 2001 to 27 funds today. “We are dispelling that myth, which is evidenced by the Lipper Award for Best Overall Small Fund Group that now resides at GuideStone headquarters in Dallas, Texas.”

GuideStone Funds has achieved its leading level of excellence through its sophisticated proprietary manager-of-managers investment platform that leverages what GuideStone believes to be the best possible intellectual capital worldwide. The 27 funds in the GuideStone Fund group are managed by more than 20 professionals dedicated to its investment process and committed to GuideStone’s biblically based, social screening guidelines.

“The Lipper Award is a very meaningful accomplishment professionally for our team,” Cummins said, “but most importantly it brings honor to the Lord and reflects favorably on our client base that is faithfully fulfilling their call to Christian ministry or raising their family on biblical values. It’s a joy to receive this award on behalf of the pastors, church workers, missionaries and others who are invested in GuideStone Funds. While they are out there living their lives and doing their work for God’s Kingdom, we strive to enhance their financial security by delivering the highest quality investment program that reflects their biblical values. They deserve the best and we are thrilled for them in receiving the Lipper trophy.”

GuideStone Funds are available to Southern Baptist and evangelical Christian churches and ministry organizations that GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention is authorized to serve. In addition, the funds are sold to individuals associated with those organizations that are eligible to utilize products and services made available by GuideStone Financial Resources. For more information, visit www.GuideStone.org.

Lipper, a Thomson Reuters company, is one of the financial world’s leading fund research and analysis organizations, covering more than 122,000 funds, with 231,000-plus share classes, in 61 registered for sale (RFS) universes. Lipper, in providing independent insight on global collective investments, analyzes mutual funds, retirement funds, hedge funds, fund fees and expenses to the asset management and media communities. Additional information is available at www.lipperweb.com.

Criteria for consideration for the Best Overall-Small Fund Group Award include:

– Funds are registered for sale in the respective country as of the end of the calendar year of the respective evaluation year.

– At least 36 months of performance history as of the end of the calendar year of the respective evaluation year.

– Small fund groups with at least three equity funds, three bond funds and three mixed-asset funds.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Head is executive officer for denominational and public relations services at GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
3/15/2012 1:50:49 PM by Tim Head, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



African American Advisory Council named

March 15 2012 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – An African American Advisory Council has been created to communicate the perspectives of black churches and their leaders to Southern Baptist Convention entity leaders, Executive Committee (EC) President Frank S. Page has announced.

“Part of the work of the Executive Committee is ... to provide quality connections and relationships,” Page said in a statement to SBC LIFE, journal of the Executive Committee. “I am very excited about working with the members of this council, which includes Ken Weathersby who is helping with all of our ethnic groups in raising awareness and involvement of our ethnic brothers and sisters in Cooperative Program promotion and development.”

Weathersby is the North American Mission Board’s presidential ambassador for ethnic church relations.

The African American Advisory Council will be a three-year initiative (2012-2015) established by Page, as EC president, and Kevin Ezell, as NAMB president, in an ongoing effort, as SBC LIFE described it, “to engage the many faces of the SBC in meaningful dialogue about working together as full and equal partners in the harvest.”

Page first noted the council’s formation in addressing the Executive Committee’s Cooperative Program Subcommittee on Feb. 20. Last September, Page announced the creation of a Hispanic Advisory Council, which held its inaugural meeting in early February in Fort Worth, Texas. Other ethnically-oriented advisory groups may be named as deemed appropriate.

Among the African American Advisory Council’s chief aims is to help the EC, NAMB and other SBC entity heads understand the perspectives that African American Southern Baptists bring to the common task of reaching the United States and the nations with the gospel.

“The council is representative of the regions of the country and reflects the cultural diversity of the African American population,” SBC LIFE reported. “Its purpose is consultation, communication and cooperation. It will neither launch nor execute ministries. It will provide information, insight and counsel through NAMB and EC staff to the broader Southern Baptist community relative to the special needs and concerns of African American churches and church leaders in the Southern Baptist family of churches.”

The council will use surveys, phone conferences, Internet communication, personal meetings and other means to gather and communicate information from consultative African American groups and leaders. Among those with whom it will communicate are key African American pastors and laymen; the National African American Fellowship, SBC; the Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network; the Black Church Leadership Network; and African American leaders serving in elected roles in state Baptist conventions and on state Baptist convention staffs.

“… [T]he council will enable the presidents and staff of the EC and NAMB to maintain vital contact with the African American Baptist family through participation in strategic meetings and personal conferences,” SBC LIFE reported. “One of the council’s goals is more fully to incorporate African American Baptist churches and church leaders into the total fabric of Southern Baptist life and ministry.”

The council will be chaired by K. Marshall Williams, pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa.

Also serving on the council, in addition to Ken Weatersby, will be:

Roscoe Belton of Middlebelt Baptist Church, Inkster, Mich.

Chandra Bennett, Greater Grace Temple Community Church, Nashville, Tenn.

Mark Croston, East End Baptist Church, Suffolk, Va.

James Dixon, El Bethel Baptist Church, Fort Washington, Md.

Leroy Fountain, Philadelphia Baptist Church, Lithonia, Ga.

Mark Hammond, Village Baptist Church, Norwalk, Calif.

Kim Hardy, Connections Community Church, Ypsilanti, Mich.

Keith Jefferson, Parkway Baptist Church, Moseley, Va.

Dennis Mitchell, Greenforest Community Baptist Church, Decatur, Ga.

Marvin Parker, Broadview Baptist Church, Broadview, Ill.

Kevin Smith, Watson Memorial Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky.

Bucas Sterling III, Kettering Baptist Church, Upper Marlboro, Md.

Terry Turner, Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church, Mesquite, Texas.

Alton B. Vines, New Seasons Church, Spring Valley, Calif.

Frank Williams, Bronx Baptist Church, Bronx, N.Y.

(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Adapted from SBC LIFE, journal of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

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3/15/2012 1:45:44 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Hispanic Advisory Council holds first meeting

March 15 2012 by Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – The effectiveness of cell groups in reaching Hispanics, the need for quality discipleship materials in Spanish and family pressures experienced by Hispanic believers were among the topics discussed at the first meeting of the Hispanic Advisory Council on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Facilitated by co-chairman Bob Sena of Atlanta, members discussed with Executive Committee President Frank S. Page ways in which God is moving among the Hispanic communities they represent – Mexican, Cuban, European, South American, Central American, Caribbean, first generation immigrants and native-born Americans. The council was appointed by Page following the September 2011 Executive Committee meeting.
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SBC Life photo

Bob Sena, standing, of Georgia facilitated the inaugural meeting of the Hispanic Advisory Council appointed by Frank Page, far right, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.


Among the “best practices” for Hispanic ministry, several council members representing various regions of the country – Jonathan Santiago from upstate New York, Frank Moreno from Florida and Fermín Whittaker from California, as well as Salomón Orellana from New York City and Jorge Meléndez from Chicago – pointed to the effectiveness of cell groups in evangelism and discipleship. In addition to the cost efficiencies of meeting in homes, Luis López of Tennessee credited the natural hospitality that is part of the Hispanic culture as a major factor for Hispanic church growth through cell groups.

The council also discussed the greatest community needs Hispanics face. Members agreed that the foremost need is for quality educational opportunities, including access to inexpensive ministerial training. Yolanda Calderón of California pointed to high rates of domestic violence, often the result of unemployment or underemployment, while Orellana added that rehabilitation services are a great need in the urban setting where he lives and works. Jason Carlisle of Virginia noted the high incidence in human trafficking and highlighted fears many Hispanics have over current U.S. immigration policies. Elías Bracamonte of Kansas noted that though many immigrants are in the United States legally, the presence of family members who are in the country illegally produces tension, conflict, instability in family life and even feelings of guilt.

In addressing congregational needs, Gus Suárez of Missouri pointed to the need for quality discipleship materials written in Spanish. Pedro Avilés of Puerto Rico noted that many Hispanics face family pressures and even persecution when they receive Jesus Christ and desire to be baptized as believers.

Roger “Sing” Oldham, EC vice president of convention communications and relations, gave the council an overview of how churches can embrace a cooperative relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention. He also reviewed the ethnic study committee report adopted by the SBC in June 2011.

Co-chairs Daniel Sánchez of Texas and Sena provided an open forum with Page under the heading, “If there is one question you would want to ask the Executive Committee, what would it be?” Moreno thanked Page for setting up the weekend meeting, saying, “We have your ear and your heart.” While most questions centered on such topics as “How do you see us moving forward from here?” and “How do we retain our identity as Baptists?” Santiago asked Page and Oldham, “How can we pray for you personally?” Dividing into two groups, the council gathered around them and spent time in concentrated prayer for the EC leaders.

At the close of the Feb. 3-4 meeting, each member was asked to gather information from specific groups in the Hispanic Baptist community. The input will be forwarded to Sena and Sánchez, who will then communicate with Page and Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, through Oldham and Ken Weathersby, NAMB presidential ambassador for ethnic church relations.

Members participating included Daniel Sánchez, associate dean of Southwestern Seminary's Roy Fish School of evangelism and missions, director of the Scarborough Institute of Church Growth and professor of missions; Bob Sena, Hispanic evangelist, conference leader and retired NAMB church planting consultant; Pedro Avilés, director of evangelism, Puerto Rico Baptist Convention; Elías Bracamonte, pastor, Iglesia Bautista Nueva Vida, Topeka, Kansas, and president, National Hispanic Baptist Fellowship; Jason Carlisle, director of Hispanic mobilization, IMB; Yolanda Calderón, writer and conference speaker, California director of ConPaz, a ministry of restoration for women, and former recording secretary with national WMU; Luis López, director, Lifeway International & Espanol; Jorge Meléndez, Hispanic church planting strategist, Illinois Baptist State Association; Frank Moreno, director, language division, Florida Baptist Convention; Salomón Orellana, pastor, Iglesia Bautista El Buen Pastor, Hempstead, N.Y., and Iglesia Bautista Luz De Las Nacion, Hempstead, N.Y., and president of the New York/New Jersey Hispanic Baptist Association; Jonathan Santiago, associate director of student evangelism, Baptist Convention of New York; Gus Suárez, professor of church planting at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, director of the seminary's Center for North American Missions and Church Planting and director of the Hispanic doctor of ministry program; and Fermín Whittaker, executive director-treasurer, California Southern Baptist Convention.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reprinted from SBC Life, journal of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

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3/15/2012 1:38:10 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



New committee members announced during Executive Committee

March 14 2012 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

The Executive Committee (EC) of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) met March 2 at Hollifield Leadership Center for a brief business meeting that included hearing committee and budget reports.
 
The March 2 meeting was the first regularly scheduled meeting for the newly elected 2012 Executive Committee. Serving on the Executive Committee this year are: Michael Barrett, president of the Board of Directors and senior pastor of Pleasant Garden Baptist Church, Pleasant Garden; Phil Qualls, vice president of the Board of Directors and retired pastor from Apex Baptist Church, Apex; Mark Harris, BSC president and senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Charlotte; C.J. Bordeaux, BSC first vice president and senior pastor of Gorman Baptist Church, Durham; Timmy Blair, BSC second vice president and senior pastor of Piney Grove Chapel Baptist Church, Angier; Jimmy Adams, chair, Business Services Committee; Todd Marlow, chair, Church Planting and Missions Development Committee; Jon Hall, chair, Communications Committee; Patrick Fuller, chair, Congregational Services Committee; Rit Varriale, chair, Christian Higher Education; Randy White, chair, Evangelization Committee; Jarrod Scott, chair, Christian Life and Public Affairs Committee; Wanda Dellinger, chair, Christian Social Services Committee; Duane Kuykendall, president, associational missions conference; Dana Hall, president, N.C. Baptist Men; Bartley Wooten, chair, Articles and Bylaws Committee; Stan Welch, chair, Budget Committee; Tracey Bolick, at-large; Mike Ivey, at-large; Sandy Marks, at-large; Rob Roberts, at-large.
 
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Barrett announced he has appointed Debra Spalin, member of Hephzibah Baptist church, Wendell, and Bruce Cannon, member of Galeed Baptist Church, Bladenboro, as new members of the Articles and Bylaws Committee. In addition, he appointed Perry Brindley, senior pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Canton, and Dwain Bouldin, of Carmel Baptist Church, Matthews, to the Budget Committee.
 
Patrick Fuller brought the Congregational Services report and shared that the “Looking at your church in 3-D” events begin March 20. These events seek to help lead pastors and church leaders through a Christ-centered process to discover, develop and deliver a strategy to be more effective in disciple-making. Event dates and details are available at ncbaptist.org/3d.
 
The Church Planting and Missions Development group asked the Executive Committee to pray for the Moldova mission trip March 9-19. Milton A. Hollifield Jr., the BSC’s executive director-treasurer, and 10 BSC staff will participate in evangelistic rallies, leadership training conferences, children’s camps, food distribution and door-to-door witnessing.
 
The BSC began a partnership last year with the Baptist Union of Moldova. The goal is for at least one team of N.C. Baptists to go into each of Moldova’s 33 districts to help strengthen churches and share the gospel with those who have never heard. For more information about the Moldova partnership visit ncbaptist.org/moldova.
 
The update from Christian Social Services focused on upcoming events related to North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry, North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Baptist Children’s Homes. In April, the Baptist Children’s Homes begins its annual food drive with a goal of $350,000 worth of food. To get involved, visit bchfamily.org/support/foodroundup.
 
In May, North Carolina Baptists are encouraged to support the Mother’s Day Offering (mothersdayoffering.org) for the Baptist Hospital. This offering helps patients in financial need pay their hospital bills.
 
On April 28, N.C. Baptist Aging Ministry, N.C. Baptist Men and Operation Inasmuch are partnering together for “Rampin’ Up,” a day devoted to building wheelchair ramps for aging adults. 
 
Jarrod Scott, chairman of the Christian Life and Public Affairs Committee, reported the Christian committee continues encouraging pastors to use this month to preach and teach on the biblical view of marriage. On May 8, North Carolina voters will decide whether or not an amendment to the state constitution will define marriage as the union between one man and one woman.
 
“We’re praying for a grassroots movement, and we’re starting to see that,” Scott said. “We are encouraging churches to pray – that is an important first step.”
 
Resources for pastors and churches related to the marriage amendment are available at blog.ncbaptist.og/clpa, christianactionleague.org and voteformarriagenc.com
 
Under new business, the Executive Committee approved a church loan of $175,000 for River City Church in Hamptonville. River City is a church plant that started about two years ago.
 
Hollifield brought the financial report. Cooperative Program funds are $2,534,058.95, a total that is .92 percent ahead of last year at this time.
 
The next Executive Committee is scheduled for April 12 at the Baptist Building in Cary.
3/14/2012 6:55:55 PM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Networks enable churches to partner toward Kingdom growth

March 14 2012 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Asst. Managing Editor

In 2010 Todd Brady met a church planter from Canada in the exhibit hall of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) annual meeting.
 
Brady, who is lead pastor of The River Church in Fayetteville, said that meeting began a relationship that took 15 of his church members to Toronto last summer. Now, Brady is leading a Global Impact Network of seven North Carolina Baptist churches to help promote the efforts of this church plant in Canada.
 
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The pastor Brady met that year at the Convention’s annual meeting was Scott Rourk of Rendezvous Church in Toronto, Canada. After sending members of The River Church on a summer mission trip in 2011, Brady returned with other pastors as part of a vision trip in September of that year.
 
“For the longest time churches have been doing their own thing,” Brady said. “I see an incredible trend where churches are starting to come together.”
 
Rendezvous Church, the plant that is partnered with several churches in the Fayetteville area, hopes to plant 10 churches in Canada over the next few years. The goal is for the network to help Rendezvous make that a reality.
 
The Global Impact Networks help connect a church planter or an area/people group to churches in North Carolina.
 
The network “enables a smaller church that might not be able to send a large group” to partner with other churches to help in a mighty way by providing teams to help with community outreach, training, and other ministries, Brady said.
 
Global Impact Networks emerged as part of the strategy of BSC’s Office of Great Commission Partnerships.
Four of the seven N.C. Baptist churches committed to this network are going on a vision trip to Toronto in April to seek out ways they can partner to expand and enrich local church plants.
 
“We can do more together than by ourselves,” Brady said. “God just put it all together.
 
Potentially, all seven churches could send people on two to three mission trips this summer.
 
“Our church planting catalysts who make it possible” are North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionaries, said Mike Sowers, senior consultant for the Office of Great Commission Partnerships. The planters work with the Convention and these budding networks to build their outreach capacity.
 
Funding for these NAMB church planters comes through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and giving through the Cooperative Program.
 
When Kevin Ezell, NAMB’s president, announced a focus on church planting, NAMB launched Send North America, targeting church planters in bigger cities. NAMB cut jobs, reorganized and diverted funding from other areas of ministry to church planting.
 
Sowers is excited about the networks that are forming to help churches in Toronto, Boston and New York, areas of emphasis for the Convention’s Office of Great Commission Partnerships as well as for NAMB’s Send North America efforts.

Sowers said the network concept birthed out of the partnership with Toronto. The Office of Great Commission Partnerships is working to build similar networks for New York and Boston as well. Right now, North Carolina has four networks formed and two more in process. The first step is to get “boots on the ground” participating in vision trips to help form connections with church planters, Sowers said. “Our work is focusing on those networks … steering people toward a long-term focus.”
 
Partners can provide training and leadership resources as well as teams to help facilitate reaching communities.
 
Last summer The River Church taught a soccer clinic and held a Vacation Bible School in Toronto. Rourk started an after school program “because the kids wanted to come back,” Brady said.
 
That program led to an adult Bible study because the children were asking their parents questions about the Bible that they couldn’t answer.
 
Brady is excited that the “next generation type of guys are starting to get a heart” for church planting and seeking to save the lost.
 
The goal for all the church plants is for them to become multiplying churches.
 
“That’s the only way we’ll be able to even make a dent in any of these cities,” Sowers said. “We like to give to something. We like to go to something.”
 
In the giving and the going it is important to remember not to forget prayer, Sowers said.
 
Churches who might not be able to send money or people can pray for these church plants. “When a good mission network gets involved, it pushes the church planting process six months or so ahead of where they should be on their own,” Sowers said. “I’m real grateful for the new vision. I really believe we’re all working together for the same end with the same strategy.”
3/14/2012 6:41:05 PM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Asst. Managing Editor | with 0 comments



Prayer, training help equip planters for Kingdom impact

March 14 2012 by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications

Since the North American Mission Board  (NAMB) was formed in 1997, Southern Baptists have planted more than 20,000 churches in North America, averaging more than 1,500 new starts each year. With an emphasis on planting culturally and ethnically diverse churches that emphasize evangelism and multiplication, Southern Baptists are planting more North American churches than any other denomination.   
 
Year after year North Carolina has been among the leaders in church planting. The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) has helped start 556 churches in the past six years.
 
In 2011, the BSC helped start 89 churches. North Carolina counts a church plant when her core team begins worship. The BSC currently funds 138 church plants in the two-year funding cycle. The North American Mission Board only recognizes church plants once they are assigned a Southern Baptist Convention identification number, an assignment made when the plant makes her first contribution to the Cooperative Program.
 
Only 60 of the new 89 church plants were assigned a Southern Baptist Convention identification number in 2011. The remaining 29 will begin Cooperative Program contributions this year. 
 
Yet, with more than 4,300 BSC churches some people question the need to plant more churches in North Carolina.
 
Mark Gray, BSC church planting team leader, said that although many wonderful things are happening in established churches, some churches are experiencing decline and are not effectively reaching their communities.
 
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BSC Photo

Church plants reach people at a faster rate than existing churches. N.C. Baptists helped start 89 churches in 2011. While N.C. has more than 4,300 Southern Baptist churches, some may question the need to start more, and others aren’t effectively reaching their own communities.


Statistics repeatedly demonstrate that new church plants are the most effective tool to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
 
“New church plants reach people for the Lord at three times the rate of existing churches,” he said. 
 
For that reason, Gray believes church planting will play a critical role in the effort to reach the 5.6 million people in North Carolina who do not know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. With so much at stake, the BSC church planting team works hard to ensure that every church planter is trained and equipped.
 
“We know that when we invest in church planters on the front end to help them understand the principles to be an effective church planter we will have a much better impact on the lost in North Carolina,” Gray said.
 
The investment in church planters begins with a rigorous assessment process designed to help confirm a potential planter’s call to church planting.
 
The assessment also gives the church planting team an opportunity to determine if a candidate has a passion for, and a history of, leading people to faith in Jesus Christ.
 
“We are looking for someone who really has a passion to reach the lost,” Gray said. “It’s one thing to talk about reaching the lost; it’s another thing to actually reach the lost.”
 
After the initial assessment, many planters who complete church planting training are eligible to receive BSC funding to help with the new church plant. In 2011, 198 people, representing 23 language groups, completed the comprehensive, four-day training.
 
During the training, church planters learn how to target specific people groups, disciple new converts and organize a core team. They are also encouraged to begin thinking about how their church can help start another church.
 
“Our goal is not to plant a church, our goal is to plant a church that plants churches,” Gray said.
 
The most important factor before launching is to gather a solid group of leaders. “One of the challenges of church planting is a guy who conducts his public launch too quickly before his planting core is discipled and matured enough to take the lead and run with it,” Gray said. “We do not encourage them to launch quickly.”
 
The hard work and resources Gray and his team have poured into equipping church planters has led to an 88.5 percent success rate of affiliated church plants during the past four years. The success rate is determined by the viability of the congregation after four years.
 
Gray points to the dedication and years of experience among the BSC church planting team as one reason for the success.
 
Another reason is prayer. The BSC church planting team has 187 prayer partners statewide who pray regularly for the specific needs and strategic initiatives of church planters.
 
“The effectiveness being experienced in new church plants is largely due to the power of prayer and our faithful prayer partners across the state,” Gray said. “We are humbled and grateful for the support and prayers of North Carolina Baptists as we seek to reach the 5.6 million lost and unchurched in our state.”
 
In 2011, among the 138 churches in the funding cycle, 2,651 people made professions of faith and the average worship attendance was 7,981.
 
While in the funding cycle, churches set aside two percent of undesignated funds for church planting, at least five percent to the Cooperative Program and at least three percent to an association or church planting network. Last year, these churches gave more than $203,000 through the Cooperative Program and about $108,000 to associational missions.
 
Gray is excited to see church planters embrace the importance of giving to Southern Baptist missions.
But more than anything he looks forward to seeing how God continues to provide North Carolina with church planters who are committed to planting churches that reach people for Jesus Christ.
 
“I am really excited about the continued growth and passion for evangelism among church planters,” he said. “I love seeing people saved.”
 
For more information on how your congregation can become directly involved in church planting please visit ncbaptist.org/churchplanting.
3/14/2012 6:25:40 PM by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Poll: Most back abortion/contraceptive exemption

March 14 2012 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – A majority of Americans say religiously affiliated organizations – such as hospitals and universities – should be exempt from the Obama administration’s abortion/contraceptive mandate, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll.
 
The survey found that by a 57-36 percent margin, U.S. adults believe religious organizations should be allowed to “opt out” of covering birth control for their female employees. The poll did not use the word “abortion,” although Christian leaders say the mandate would require them to cover contraceptives that can cause chemical abortions.

The poll also found that 51 percent of adults believe that any employer – and not just the ones with religious ties – should be able to opt out if they find such coverage objectionable based on religious or moral beliefs. Forty percent disagree.

Under the mandate announced by the Department of Health and Human Services, employers must offer employees health insurance covering all FDA-approved contraceptives for free – including ones such as Plan B and “ella” that can act after fertilization, causing a chemical abortion. President Obama announced a compromise that he said protects religious organizations, although it was widely criticized. Under his compromise, the insurance plans of religious organizations still would cover all contraceptives, although the insurance companies – and not the religious organization, he said – would be responsible for offering the employees the free contraceptives. Many Christian leaders called it an accounting gimmick, since the contraceptives would remain covered under the plan, with the religious organizations likely picking up the tab via higher premiums.

The CBS/New York Times poll first asked adults about the mandate: “Do you think health insurance plans for all employers should have to cover the full cost of birth control for their female employees, or should employers be allowed to opt out of covering that based on religious or moral objections?” Fifty-one percent said employers should be allowed to opt out.

The poll then asked, “What about for religiously-affiliated employers, such as a hospital or university? Do you think their health insurance plans should have to cover the full costs of birth control for their female employees, or should they be allowed to opt out of covering that based on religious or moral objections?” Fifty-seven percent chose the second option.

The survey was conducted March 7-11 among 1,009 adults.
3/14/2012 6:20:54 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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