March 2012

‘Bringing heaven to earth’ becomes focus of church planter

March 13 2012 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

It’s just about dusk at Heritage Glen apartments in the Cincinnati, Ohio, suburb of Fairfield. As the sun drops from sight, the lower light begins to mask some of the harsher realities of this low-income apartment complex—including the dilapidated tennis court that’s populated with random cracks and missing a net, the overgrown grass, and the worn exterior paint job. A handful of volunteers from the Red Door, a Southern Baptist church plant in Cincinnati eagerly play with, laugh with and generally corral neighborhood kids. What better way to kick off the church’s plans than by doing what’s at the heart of what the church is all about?
 
The apartment complex is only about 25 miles from the posh community of Indian Hill, where Cincinnati’s elite—like famous astronaut Neil Armstrong—live. Yet Heritage Glen seems like a thousand miles away.
 
03-13-12Lenon.jpg

Photo by Dale Stroud

Josh Lenon preaches at Red Door Church, a one-year-old church plant that operates out of The Underground, a state-of-the-art club and concert venue in Cincinnati.


But, more to the point for church planter Joshua Lenon, it’s even further away from heaven. For the past two years Cincinnati’s Red Door Church, started by church planter Joshua Lenon in 2010, has pointed people in the Heritage Glen apartments to Jesus by trying to close that distance.  
 
Josh and Tiffany Lenon are among five North American Mission Board missionaries featured as part of the annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 4-11, 2012, and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. The offering supports Lenon and others like him who serve on behalf of Southern Baptists throughout North America. With a goal of $70 million, this year’s offering theme is “Whatever It Takes.”
 
“We can provide just a glimpse of heaven on earth,” said Lenon. “We can paint a picture of God’s future for these people.”           
 
Today that means throwing a block party for neighborhood families—complete with pizza, popcorn, cotton candy and a great family-friendly movie. In the past it has meant everything from redoing the complex’s playground—including buying equipment and doing the landscaping—to providing Thanksgiving meals for its residents for the past two years.
 
And much of that ministry is thanks to the faithful gifts of Southern Baptists. “Flat out, we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing without the support of the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the North American Mission Board,” Lenon says. “We wouldn’t have the funds to do that.” 
 
The Lord’s Prayer reimagined
The church’s passionate commitment to bringing heaven to earth isn’t just a trendy church planting strategy; instead it’s borne out of a deeply held conviction about the Bible’s most famous prayer—the Lord’s Prayer, found in Matthew 6.
 
Lenon came to this realization in the midst of a particularly tough time in his life. Discouraged and saddened by a bad experience on staff at a large church in a neighboring state, 30-year-old Lenon and his wife, Tiffany, left the ministry and began a time of deep soul-searching.
 
“The Lord’s Prayer became really significant for me,” Lenon says. “I thought if Jesus said to pray about this then it is probably what I should be about. I prayed it repeatedly. I thought about it constantly. For me, it was hitting the reset button. I knew this was going to be a critically important thing for me—to wrap my mind around this prayer.”
 
Late one night, as he pondered the prayer, he came across a life-altering realization—the Christian life wasn’t just about getting people into heaven—it was also about bringing heaven to earth.
 
Tears started to flow. Months of frustration boiled over. “If that prayer moves from heaven to earth, it means I have a very specific mission for my life: to spend my life bringing heaven to earth,” Lenon says.
 
A church is born
Realizing this was the kind of truth that should incubate in community, Lenon called up some friends near Cincinnati, where he was from, to see if anyone would want to study the truth together. To his surprise, many did.
 
Thirty-five people showed up for a whiteboard session to discuss what it would be like if they spent their lives bringing heaven to earth. And what if they did it—together?
 
Even after the group started meeting monthly, Lenon wasn’t ready to call what was forming a “church.” But God soon made the word unavoidable. Josh and his wife, Tiffany, moved back to Cincinnati with no money, no jobs, and the conviction that God wanted them to spend their lives “bringing heaven to earth.”
 
For the next year, Lenon and the others who were joining him (his core team) made plans to start a church in suburban Cincinnati. Lenon named the new church the Red Door, which had a creative double meaning. In cultures around the world red doors represent places of refuge and safety. Lenon says the tradition goes all the way back to the Exodus, where the Israelites painted the doors of their homes with the blood of an unblemished lamb.
 
Everyone behind that door was safe.
 
“Hundreds of years later, Jesus painted a red door over the cosmos and says ‘all who enter through me are safe,’” Lenon says. “We tell Red Door people that whether it’s your office cubicle or your daughter’s soccer game, or it’s your work party, or it’s your neighborhood, you should be the place that people know as a place of home and welcome and safety and restoration.”
 
Now, a year and a half after the church officially launched in September of 2010, worship attendance is starting to climb past 100 on Sunday mornings—many of whom are re-connecting with church for the first time or after years of being away. Five people have been baptized in the past year.
 
The help of other Southern Baptists—both locally and around North America—has been crucial to what God has done through the Red Door. A strong partnership with a local Southern Baptist association and nearby Lakota Hills Baptist Church in West Chester Township has provided a breath of fresh air for the church. Lenon compares the newfound partnership with Lakota Hills to an orphan finding a parent.
 
“You feel very, very alone without a strong partner church,” Lenon says. “With Lakota Hills coming alongside of us, it’s like finding parents. All of a sudden you find out that someone cares for you and loves you. They help take care of needs that you don’t even know exist and aren’t planning for.”
                         
Just a year and a half into the life of the Red Door, Lenon has already started to plan for future church plants with a similar vision of bringing heaven to earth. 
 
“In five years we’d like to have two churches,” Lenon says. “Not a satellite, but another pastor leading a community of people like the Red Door, sharing resources and sharing a vision.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board. To view a video about Josh Lenon and other Week of Prayer missionaries, visit anniearmstrong.com.)
3/13/2012 7:25:20 PM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



Medical professionals seek to preach and heal

March 13 2012 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

Richard Marx remembers treating patients at a medical clinic held under a sheet in the slums of some remote village somewhere in North Africa.
 
The sun bore down on them while children begged for water and needed care. For Marx, a physician and veteran medical missions volunteer from Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, it was a tough environment to hold a clinic.
 
03-13-12medical.jpg

IMB photo

Medical professionals treat a young boy during a medical mission clinic. Medical skills can open up opportunities to share the gospel in some of the toughest places in the world. Healthcare professionals gathered March 3 in Winston-Salem for a one-day conference.


A few days later, a local believer followed up with a woman who visited the clinic. The woman suffered from chronic breathing trouble and mentioned she noticed something different about the volunteers, whom she said seemed more interested in her than payment.
 
“They touched me,” the woman said. That day she accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior.
 
Marx shared this story during the Medical Mission One Day conference March 3 at Calvary Baptist Church. The event was co-sponsored by IMB (International Mission Board) and its Southern Baptist partner BGR (Baptist Global Response).
 
About 35 to 40 medical professionals from around the area gathered during the event to learn how their medical skills can open up opportunities to share the gospel in some of the toughest places in the world.
 
“When you return you will be a changed person,” Marx said.  “Like most of those who have been on a medical mission trip you will be anxious to go back to the field again. You will be hooked.”
 
If handled well, medical missions can be one of the most powerful frontline weapons for reaching people with the gospel. IMB staff were quick to point out the need for more medical volunteers.
 
“There is the idea that IMB doesn’t do medical missions anymore,” said Scott Holste, IMB’s associate vice president of global strategy.  “It’s a widespread myth.
 
“The truth is we actually have more medical potential today serving with us in more countries than ever before, ever in our history.”
 
Medical missions is biblical, it is Southern Baptist and it is strategic, he added.
 
“[Jesus] proclaimed the good news and demonstrated the gospel, healed the sick,” Holste said. 
 
“Jesus is asking disciples to do the same.”
 
For Southern Baptists, medical missions goes back to the beginning of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. Holste read reports from pioneers of Southern Baptist medical missions that were written in the days when chloroform and “other drugs” were used to perform surgery.
 
Today, younger generations continue to look for opportunities to meet both physical and spiritual needs.
“We have a rich heritage to share with [younger generations],” Holste said.
 
Through the years, however, there has been an “unfortunate divorce” with many organizations on the issue of “the proclamation of the gospel and demonstration of the gospel.”
 
“With some [agencies] there is the thought that proclaiming the gospel in the midst of demonstrating the gospel somehow taints that demonstration, that act of goodness,” Holste said.
 
“I think that is unfortunate.”
 
Medical missions has become a strategic tool in gaining access to difficult and hard-to-reach places.
 
At one time, most governments allowed missionaries in any part of the world, Holste said. Today, most have a closed-door policy to missionary work.
 
That’s where medical missions can help break down cultural barriers and gain access to areas most missionaries are unable to openly travel.
 
According to IMB research, about a billion people worldwide – most who live in these difficult areas – have inadequate access to food and are undernourished. Over a billion people lack access to safe drinking water.
 
More than 8 million children die each year under the age of 5, primarily from preventable disease. Three million die from Malaria each year.
 
In addition to providing health care, medical volunteers have opportunities to work alongside missionaries and local believers to help make disciples and empower the church or start one.
 
Of the more than 11,500 people groups, 6,628 of these are unreached with less than 2 percent who are evangelical. And 3,501 of these groups are unengaged – no evangelical church, no evangelical agency, no one trying to start a church, no known evangelical presence. 
 
“It’s a command,” said Jason, a medical missionary in an area of the world with restricted access. “We need to do it.
 
“As healthcare professionals, our comfort zone is caring for people, but if we neglect preaching the gospel … I believe we get a little out of balance.”
 
For more information on specific projects and to learn more about how you can become involved in medical projects overseas, go to gobgr.org and click on “Health Care Connections” or call them at (866) 974-5623.
3/13/2012 7:16:23 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments



Former N.C. pastor urges churches to ‘Love Loud’

March 13 2012 by Dianna L. Cagle BR Assistant Managing Editor

When Al Gilbert left Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem in 2011, “love” was one of the reasons.

As executive director of Love Loud, the evangelism arm of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), Gilbert said he and his team are working toward some simple steps to help Southern Baptist churches improve their ministry.
 
“We’re still in much of a learner mode,” Gilbert said, noting that they are collecting stories through May 1 of successful ministries across the nation.
 
Gilbert brought ideas from his church’s Love Winston-Salem ministry and is combining that with examples of other successful ministries. NAMB is looking at churches of all sizes and ethnicities, attempting to find a way to replicate successful ministries elsewhere.
 
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Al Gilbert, executive director of Love Loud, the evangelism arm of the North American Mission Board.


“We recognize that mobilization is a process,” Gilbert said.
 
“I think there are three components – awakening, growing, and strategic alignment – when a church is meeting community needs while sharing Christ. The point is to meet needs and share Christ simultaneously” by offering a blanket to a homeless person or smoke detectors for an older or poor community.
 
Gilbert said ministry could come in different forms: English as a Second Language classes, tutoring, sports ministry, medical/dental clinics, food banks, job training, etc.
 
Love Loud was one of the emphases for the Week of Prayer for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.

The Week of Prayer also highlighted the work of five missionaries, as well as Send North America and efforts to equip the next generation.
 
“There seems to be a movement ... especially in the next generation reminding us the church has withdrawn from meeting human needs,” Gilbert said.
 
Even though NAMB will be encouraging churches to host events/ministries to reach their communities, the hope is that church members will see the event as just one step in the process.
 
“When you look at scripture, God is God of widow, orphan and poor,” Gilbert said.
 
“Where do we find people in the community that have those kind of needs?”
 
He encourages existing churches to look outside their walls to meet needs and challenges expanding churches to look at the Send North America cities:
 
• Northeast – New York, Washington, Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
• Midwest – Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Louis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, Detroit
• West – Los Angeles, San Francisco/Palo Alto, Seattle, Portland, San Diego, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Denver
• South – Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans
• Canada – Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal
 
Churches can come alongside church planters in these cities to help them have a broader reach into their community.
 
Casting a vision is the first step for churches to see the potential they have to reach outside their walls. Gilbert believes this step is important for helping a church focus on its purpose, as well as seeing a deeper commitment when a church body is unified.
 
After that, mobilization is key. Gilbert said churches should contact congregations with successful ministry models and start preparations for beginning their own ministry.
 
For instance, a church could look at the Graffiti Church in New York and develop a plan for starting a similar church in Miami. Graffiti Church not only shares Jesus Christ but also meets human needs.
Gilbert compares his Love Loud team to air traffic control, actively guiding churches to connect with ministry models that they can replicate or start in another area.
 
“I think a lot of people back off of helping because they think they are wasting time or money,” Gilbert said.
 
What Love Loud is doing is trying to let churches know what other opportunities are out there and how to start those ministries locally as well as other places.
 
“It sure would be good so that you have an idea of who is doing what,” he said.
 
Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans in June will likely hear more about this movement, and Gilbert highlighted July 22, a day to set aside as Love Loud Sunday. He encouraged churches to consider adjusting weekly schedules to take ministry into the surrounding neighborhoods.
 
Transitions
Since leaving Calvary, Gilbert and his wife, Karen or “KK,” have made several transitions.
 
Not only did Gilbert change jobs, but he and his wife sold their home and moved in with her parents in Georgia. KK’s mother died in the latter part of 2011, and the couple continues to help her father.
 
They left nine of their 11 grandchildren in North Carolina. They have also been looking for a church home.
The couple has started going to Northside Church in Roswell, Ga., a congregation that is going through a restart.
 
It is an older church that has made a commitment to transition to growth, a move that Gilbert hopes other churches will imitate through Love Loud and help from a local association, state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.
 
“I have said transition is a big word,” Gilbert said. “To leave pastoring and sell a house … make a move, has been challenging.”
 
His transition to NAMB “has been great,” Gilbert said, praising his new team. “Even though I’ve been here about five months, there’s still a lot I don’t know.”
 
To learn more about this new effort, visit namb.net or request more information at loveloud@namb.net.
3/13/2012 5:24:39 PM by Dianna L. Cagle BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 0 comments



CBF to revisit policy on hiring gays

March 13 2012 by BR staff

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) leadership may revisit the organization’s policy on hiring homosexuals after they replace retiring Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal and the organization finishes its re-visioning process.
 
CBF Moderator Colleen Burroughs has suggested that revisiting the policy could become a priority. On April 19-21 a conference on Sexuality and Covenant – co-sponsored by Mercer University and CBF – will be held at First Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga.
 
In an official statement March 8, Vestal defended CBF’s 12-year ban on hiring homosexuals.
 
“My own conviction is that the foundation of a Christian sexual ethic is faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman and celibacy in singleness,” said Vestal, who plans to retire in June after more than 15 years at the helm.
 
Vestal was also clear to point out that he does not speak for the Fellowship. The next executive coordinator search committee is slated to meet in April.
 
When CBF’s Coordinating Council meets April 15 they will be looking at revisions to the 2012 Task Force Report submitted Feb. 23.
 
The task force, which was appointed in 2010, was given the responsibility of charting the organization’s course for the next two decades.
 
The task force’s final report will be made available no later than 30 days prior to the organization’s general assembly June 20-23 in Fort Worth, Texas.
3/13/2012 5:20:29 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments



BSC leader gives marriage vote challenge

March 12 2012 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

As the May 8 vote on a proposed marriage amendment approaches, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s executive director-treasurer reminded Baptists of their opportunity to help determine whether marriage will be defined as the union between a man and a woman in the state’s constitution. 
 
Milton A. Hollifield Jr. spoke on the issue during Culture Reach, the Convention’s evangelism conference Feb. 27 at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. 
 
“Pastors, I hope that you would use the time always – but especially in these days – to preach and teach your people what the Word of God teaches about marriage and the value and importance of the marriage relationship between a man and woman and their children,” he said.
 
Register to vote
Hollifield urged pastors and church leaders to encourage members to make sure they are registered to vote. The deadline to register in N.C. is Friday, April 13.
 
According to the N.C. Center for Voter Education at ncvotered.com/register, those who miss the deadline still have an opportunity to vote during early voting. “It will not matter [that]… we believe this or we believe that,” Hollifield said. “What will determine what happens about this vote will be if your people go to the polls and vote. I pray that this marriage amendment will pass.”
 
In 2010 a study from the Pew Research Center reported that 39 percent of Americans believe marriage is becoming “obsolete.” “The local church must step up and lead the way,” Hollifield said. “We must teach our people in our churches about God’s design for marriage and family.”

Related story
Crowd challenged to 'wake up,' reach culture for Christ
3/12/2012 6:12:54 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments



Crowd challenged to ‘wake up,’ reach culture for Christ

March 12 2012 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

While movies, television shows and the Internet continue to be among the most influential factors in our culture today, Christians are falling short in using them to spread the gospel, contends Alex Kendrick, actor, filmmaker and associate pastor at Sherwood Baptist Church, Albany, Ga.
 
“We’ve got to wake up to the fact that the same old, same old doesn’t necessarily reach an ever-changing culture,” said Kendrick, who has helped Sherwood Films make “Flywheel,” “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof” and “Courageous.”
 
Kendrick was among a variety of speakers that included father-son duo Rusty Martin Sr. and Jr. of Garner – both in the movie “Courageous” – at Culture Reach, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s evangelism conference held Feb. 27 at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. The one-day event drew a crowd of more than 800 pastors, church leaders and others from around the state.
 
Christians must unify and strive toward reaching their culture for Christ, Kendrick said.
 
As North Carolina faces an opportunity to define marriage between a man and a woman on May 8, Kendrick warned of liberal agendas that continue to work against biblical views of marriage, the family, schools and nearly every facet of society. 
 
“We need to be involved in our government, the courts, country, entertainment, education,” he said. 
“What are we doing to unify the body of Christ?  We have to come together … We have the gospel, we need unity.”
 
A nation in trouble
“Folks we are losing the battle for our culture,” said Alex McFarland, who speaks nationally on apologetics and is a guest contributor on Fox News.
 
“I’m not doom and gloom,” he said. “I’m not a pessimist … but the kids and the grandkids are going to be living in a dark world if we don’t get on our knees and pray for heaven to come down.
 
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BR photo by Shawn Hendricks

Alex Kendrick leads a prayer during Culture Reach Feb. 27 in Winston-Salem. The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina hosted the one-day state evangelism conference. Kendrick is a writer, actor and producer for Sherwood Pictures.


“Aside from the fact we’re losing the culture, our neighbors are dying and going to hell.”
 
McFarland, who has debated numerous personalities on the popular news channel, challenged the crowd to prepare to defend their faith – but to do it in a loving, Christ-like way.
 
 “Apologetics is not a license to be abrasive,” he said. “We use good arguments, but we are never to be argumentative.”
 
The world has changed. In 1900, more than 80 percent of the Christian population in the world was in Europe and North America, said Alvin Reid, an associate dean and professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
 
Today, it’s less than half of that number.
 
“[The United States] is the fourth-largest lost nation in the world,” Reid said. “We are an international mission field.”
 
Younger generations
Reid linked part of the problem with a failure to reach younger generations for Christ.
 
“We have the largest group of teenagers in the history of America right now,” he said.  “And yet Southern Baptists reach about half as many teenagers today as we did in the early 70s.”
 
For those who have a desire to reach younger generations for Christ, Reid summed up the solution in one word.
 
“Try!”
 
Young people need to be seen as the church of “now,” instead of tomorrow. Too many of them are being marginalized and underestimated, he said. During his message, Reid interviewed a group of teenagers from Calvary Baptist Church who have started a ministry to help stop human trafficking. Their ministry is at saveoursisterstoday.com.
 
“This is just a ninth grade Sunday School class in a Baptist church,” said Reid, noting that students are hungry to learn and make an impact for Christ. “If [teenagers] can learn trigonometry in the high school, they can learn theology in the church.”
 
Too many churches, however, are too focused on their youth having fun, eating pizza and keeping them safe, said Merrie Johnson, senior consultant for youth ministry with the Baptist State Convention. Not enough churches are focusing on teaching them about Jesus.
 
According to a Gallup study, 88 percent of students drop out of church by the time they graduate from college. Half of them will leave church and never come back.
 
Only one out of 10 has a living vibrant relationship with God, Johnson reported.
 
“Nine don’t,” she said. “We’ve got to be passionately persistent and follow after them. Students need someone to commit to them long enough to outlast all of their push away protective techniques.”
 
“They will do what we expect,” she said. “If we expect them to graduate and go off to college and party for a while, guess what? They will. If we expect them to catch on to the fact that they are missionaries to a lost culture, [they will].”
 
Meeting the ‘deep’ need
Problems in many of today’s churches also can be traced to watered-down preaching said, Don Wilton, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Spartanburg.
 
“I believe that every message preached ought to be an evangelistic message,” he said.
 
“Any preaching that is void of Jesus Christ and Him crucified is not Christian preaching.”
 
“I submit to you that many a sermon delivered in many of our Southern Baptist churches today could be preached in a Jewish synagogue and wouldn’t offend a rabbi.”
 
Chuck Register, executive leader of missions development for the Baptist State Convention, challenged pastors to preach an evangelistic message and baptize new believers on Easter, which is part of the 2012 Find It Here: Expanding the Kingdom emphasis.
 
Evangelism should be a part of everything the church does, Register said.
 
“There are millions of people, billions of people on planet earth that are screaming for North Carolina Baptists to [share the gospel with them],” he said. “They do not want us simply to build a shelter. They do not want us simply to serve a hot plate when we arrive.
 
“When we arrive they really want us to meet the deepest, darkest need of their life. It is the need for the Lord Jesus Christ.”
 
For more information about Find It Here, go to finditherenc.org or call (800) 395-5102. 

Related story
BSC leader gives marriage vote challenge
3/12/2012 6:07:08 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments



Ky. convention offers early retirement

March 12 2012 by Drew Nichter, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Preceding what will be a reorganization of the entire Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC), KBC Mission Board employees have been asked to consider retiring early or resigning voluntarily.

In a KBC staff-only meeting March 7, Executive Director Paul Chitwood proposed the offer to all of the convention’s 73 full-time employees.
 
The details of the offer include an early retirement option for all full-time employees age 60 and older or who will turn 60 by the end of the year. Those who accept the offer will receive full retirement benefits, including health care coverage until age 65 and Medicare supplement coverage past 65. A cash incentive also will be paid out based on an employee’s years of service, the equivalent of one week’s pay for every year worked, up to a 20-year maximum allowance.

According to KBC officials, 26 employees are eligible for early retirement.

For those employees not yet eligible for early retirement, the KBC has offered a “voluntary resignation incentive.”
03-12-12kyconv.jpg

Those who choose that offer will be able to retain their jobs until June 30, then will be paid 90 days of salary and benefits. If an employee leaves earlier, the 90-day incentive will be paid upon departure.

Employees have 45 days from March 7 to accept or reject the offers.

“I believe these current offers are the best opportunities that will come for anyone who is considering either retirement or other ministry or work opportunities,” Chitwood stated in a report that was presented to KBC staff.

One caveat of the deal is that for those who opt not to retire early or resign, their positions could be eliminated if the reorganization plan – which Chitwood will present to the KBC Mission Board May 7 – is approved. Those employees would be terminated by the end of May. Chitwood said it is not yet known whether or not they would receive severance packages at that time. They would not be eligible for unemployment benefits due to the convention’s status as a nonprofit religious organization.

No positions have been eliminated as of yet, and Chitwood declined to say what the reorganization would look like. However, KBC staff members told the Western Recorder after the meeting that Chitwood acknowledged that the reduction of staff would be significant. (The Western Recorder, Kentucky Baptist Foundation and Woman’s Missionary Union, which all have offices at the Kentucky Baptist Building, were asked not to attend the meeting.)

According to Chitwood’s statement, the move is necessitated by a decade-long decline in Cooperative Program giving from Kentucky Baptist churches, mostly due to the economic recession.

Added to that decline is the Kentucky Baptist messengers’ vote in 2010 to achieve a down-the-middle split of Cooperative Program funds between the KBC and the Southern Baptist Convention by 2020.

All of those factors combined “have created significant challenges for our KBC Mission Board staffing and strategy,” Chitwood noted.

In an email to the Western Recorder responding to a series of follow-up questions, Chitwood said the KBC is indeed facing “difficult days and hard decisions.”

“I believe this measure is the most compassionate plan given the current needs of the KBC,” he noted. Those who are ready to retire or move on “know that at least some provision is made for them,” he added.

“Staff members who choose to wait and see do so knowing that a reorganization is likely coming that could eliminate their jobs,” he continued.

Chitwood said the number of positions eliminated in the reorganization plan is dependent upon the number of staff members who accept the retirement and resignation offers. He declined to speculate as to how many employees might leave.

Reaction among KBC employees – all of whom agreed to speak with the Western Recorder under condition of anonymity – was mixed. Some agreed with Chitwood that the severance packages are fair and likely are better than what might be offered at a secular company in a similar financial position. Others, however, said they feel unappreciated by the offers and as if they’re being pushed out the door. One employee said there are those who feel they’re being forced to make decisions with incomplete information.

The mood among the employees at the meeting was described as “depressed,” and that while the early-retirement packages were anticipated by some, few saw the voluntary resignation offers coming.

The convention currently is operating on a $21.8 million “spendable” budget. That’s down nearly $2 million from the $23.5 million messenger-approved Cooperative Program budget for the current year.

With less than a month and a half to make a decision about whether to stay or go, Chitwood has invited KBC employees to meet with him one on one before making up their minds.

“I simply want to be available to our staff to help them think through their decisions if they think that would be helpful,” he said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Drew Nichter is news director of The Western Recorder, newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)
3/12/2012 5:50:14 PM by Drew Nichter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Harold Camping says May 21 prediction was ‘incorrect and sinful’

March 12 2012 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

Radio evangelist Harold Camping has called his erroneous prediction that the world would end last May 21 an “incorrect and sinful statement” and said his ministry is out of the prediction business.
 
“We have learned the very painful lesson that all of creation is in God’s hands and he will end time in his time, not ours!” reads the statement signed by Camping and his staff and posted on his ministry’s website.
 
“We humbly recognize that God may not tell his people the date when Christ will return, any more than he tells anyone the date they will die physically.”
 
The “March 2012” letter, which included multiple mea culpas, was released with a note from the board of California–based Family Radio. The group intended to mail it to listeners first, but immediately posted it “to avoid confusion” after it was leaked online.
 
Camping said people have continued to wish for another prediction, but he is now convinced that critics were correct about the biblical admonition that “of that day and hour knoweth no man.”
 
“We must also openly acknowledge that we have no new evidence pointing to another date for the end of the world,” he wrote. “Though many dates are circulating, Family Radio has no interest in even considering another date.”
 
The letter makes no reference to Camping’s explanation last year that he had miscalculated by five months and the world would instead end on Oct. 21, 2011.
 
The dual predictions landed Camping in the No. 7 spot of the Religion Newswriters Association’s list of the top 10 religion stories of 2011.
3/12/2012 5:44:13 PM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Tsunami survivors in Japan grateful for SBC relief

March 9 2012 by Susie Rain, Baptist Press

When Nobuko Tanno closes her eyes, she sees tsunami waves rushing in and destroying her village along Japan’s northeastern coastline. She sees cars floating and houses coming off foundations. She hears the roar of the water and desperate cries for help.
 
Her normally stoic face contorts a little with the flood of memories and she quickly opens her eyes. Remembering that fateful day one year ago, March 11, 2011, is still hard.
 
She fixes her gaze on the odd-shaped frame on the white wall in her refurbished home. It immediately brings a smile and a contented sigh escapes.
 
By her reaction, you’d expect the framed object to be a peaceful painting, but it’s just a section of the drywall where Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams signed their names and wrote Bible verses as words of encouragement.
 
For Tanno, however, it’s a priceless masterpiece, a reminder that there is hope for the future.
“After the tsunami, my husband and I tried to clean up. By ourselves, we couldn’t do much. It was overwhelming,” Tanno recounts.
 
The entire first floor was damaged and piled high with debris lodged in toxic mud. “Then, the yellow shirts [Southern Baptist workers] came to my door. They treated my house like it was their own.
 
“Their attitude was ‘thank you for letting us serve you.’ I was really surprised at their servant heart,” Tanno says of the five different teams from California, Washington, Oregon, Missouri and Canada who worked on her home throughout the year. “Thank you. Thank you for what you did for my family.”
 
Tanno points to a verse, Jeremiah 33, on the wall. “That is my favorite. It was the first one,” she says. “I don’t understand all of it but I am learning.”
 
Mickie Lee from Clovis Hills Community Church, Fresno, Calif., smiles when her friend mentions Scripture.
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BP photo

Savannah Bracewell, from New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga., serves tea to tsunami survivers after a clown show by Baptist volunteers. The 16-year-old traveled to Japan on her first international mission trip to minister to survivors of the March 2011 tragedy.


Lee, who came with two different disaster relief teams and stayed on to serve as an interpreter, remembers when Tanno was skeptical. Lee says Tanno is not yet a believer but is studying the Bible a team gave her, starting with the verses on her wall so she can understand what makes these “yellow shirts” so different from other volunteers.
 
Southern Baptist teams, known in this part of Japan by their yellow attire, responded to the world’s first triple disaster – a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis – within days.
 
They have kept a steady presence ever since by working through the Tohoku Care ministry of the International Mission Board.
 
Teams from 15 states have done everything from mudding out houses and rebuilding to hearing survivor stories and hosting banana split parties. Others have made their impact from afar.
 
A group of Girls in Action from Georgia made rag dolls so teams could hand out toys to children who lost all of their belongings. Women in Louisiana made 4,000 Christmas stockings for IMB missionaries and Southern Baptist disaster relief teams from the States to hand out to the tsunami survivors as a way to share the Christmas story.
 
Survivor Ryouichi Usuzawa says the Tohoku Care volunteers are different in that they meet more than just physical needs, but also emotional and spiritual needs. They often do this simply by “listening” to survivors, like Usuzawa, recount their harrowing escape from death or playing games to help them forget the nightmares.
 
Like more than 323,000 other Japanese, Usuzawa was forced to move to temporary housing when her home was destroyed last March.
 
Any flat piece of land was used to set up the pre-fab houses. Many villages and families were split up, forcing most survivors to deal with grief and depression on their own. Usuzawa’s new community is among the largest, with 2,164 households.
 
“After we all moved to temporary housing, we just stared at the floor. We had so much grief. It was such a pathetic situation that my heart broke.
 
Then, the volunteers came and listened,” Usuzawa says. He looks back at a new green building and adds, “The reason this community building was set up was so people could come together and share their suffering – encourage one another.”
 
Through the Japan Disaster Response fund, Southern Baptists provided three community buildings in different locations along the coast. Arkansas Baptists paid for decks to go up around the buildings, providing more gathering space for outreach events, and a team from Tennessee did the construction work. Usuzawa says the buildings provide a place for the next phase of Japan’s healing – “heart care” – to begin.
 
“I see this building every day and it’s a signal to me that Southern Baptists in America are telling us to ‘hang in there’ – that they care about us,” she says.
 
Heart care
IMB emeritus missionaries Gerald and Brenda Burch stress that the willingness of Southern Baptists to unselfishly give their money, time and prayers have survivors and fellow Japanese volunteers taking notice.
 
Missionaries say Tohoku in northeast Japan has been closed to the gospel for hundreds of years. Less than 1 percent claim to be evangelical Christians in the areas hardest hit by the tsunami.
 
“The steady flow of Southern Baptists since the tsunami has opened doors,” Gerald says.
 
“Before it was hard to talk to anyone. Now, when they open the doors of their small temporary houses and see our faces and yellow vests, the countenance on their faces changes.
 
“They are glad to see us. They invite us in for tea.”
 
One Japanese homeowner reflected this change right before the eyes of two Hawaii Baptist disaster relief workers, Leonard Higa of First Baptist Church in Pearl City, and David Blair of Lahaina Baptist Church, who partnered with Samaritan’s Purse through Tohuku Care in refurbishing the downstairs of the home.
Higa, a 70-year-old carpenter, speaks Japanese and at every opportunity, tried to engage the homeowner in conversation.
 
“She was standoffish,” Higa says, remembering the first few days. “I knew she wasn’t interested in my message, so David and I worked hard to plant seeds by caring for her physical needs. We knew the Holy Spirit would grow these seeds and God would send someone behind us to follow up.”
 
As he and Blair cut boards, they teased the other volunteers and joked back and forth. The laughter carried throughout the house and up the stairs to where the homeowner sat. Soon the joyful noises drew her downstairs. She listened from behind a corner.
 
When lunchtime arrived, she quietly brought in pumpkin soup for the workers covered in sawdust. They thanked her profusely but she shrugged it off and went back upstairs.
 
The friendly banter kept drawing her back, though.
 
She eventually joined in the conversations and spent days sharing meals and her own story of survival and grief.
 
At one point, she admitted that she wished she were an American so she could be joyful like them.
“We aren’t happy because we are Americans,” Higa responded. “We are joyful because we have Jesus in our hearts. You can have the same.”
 
The homeowner looked at Higa for a second then nodded her head, indicating she was ready to welcome that same joy into her heart.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Susie Rain is an International Mission Board writer based in Asia. For more stories on Japan’s “Road to Recovery” and how Southern Baptists are helping, visit asiastories.com.)
3/9/2012 2:30:41 PM by Susie Rain, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Alaska church reaches the world

March 9 2012 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

DELTA JUNCTION, Alaska – “We’re a small town in a remote area,” Alaska pastor Dave Becker says of Delta Junction, where he leads First Baptist Church.

As a Southern Baptist congregation, however, the church has a global reach.
 
“We believe the best and most effective way to be involved in what Jesus told us to do – which is to reach the world – is with our support of the Cooperative Program,” said Becker, First Baptist’s pastor since 2000.

“Our church continues to view the Cooperative Program as a great opportunity to give to the Kingdom of God for the glory of God throughout the world.”

The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ method of supporting missions and ministry efforts of state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

About 100 people participate in Sunday morning worship at First Baptist. Last year the Delta Junction congregation gave about $100,000 to missions, including more than $40,000 – 17 percent of their offerings – through the Cooperative Program.

The church’s missions giving also includes 5 percent to missions through the Tanana Valley Baptist Association, plus financial support for two families from the church who have become overseas missionaries and for outreach among Athabasca Indians in east-central Alaska.

The Delta Junction congregation – started in 1952 by First Baptist Church of Fairbanks, 100 miles to the north – has found ways of contextualizing the gospel for native Alaskans, “subsistence Alaskans” and military personnel while at the same time supporting the work of Southern Baptists through the local Baptist association, the Alaska Baptist Convention and through the SBC nationally and internationally.
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Steve DuBois/Delta Wind online photo

Members of First Baptist Church in Delta Junction, Alaska, are accustomed to the marvels of nature visible from town. Here, the waning moon is setting as the first rays of a January sunrise cast a glow on 11,400-foot McGinnis Peak south of Delta Junction.


“The strength of our church is that about 15 years ago they made a commitment to get out of debt,” Becker said. “That’s when they upped their commitment to missions through the Cooperative Program. They did 10 percent, 12, 15 and jumped to 17 [percent] in just a few short years.

“We are very blessed,” the pastor continued. “God has always brought us people who tithe, and we have made a commitment to be strong on stewardship with every dollar people give.”

Twenty-five years ago, First Baptist started Clearwater Baptist Church, about 10 miles south of town, to meet the needs of people who might not feel comfortable in a “First Baptist” setting. For the most part these were people who had moved to Alaska to “live off the land” by hunting and fishing. With many of these “subsistence Alaskans” homeschooling their children, the Clearwater church has started a midweek AWANA youth group, now with about 40 participants.

Until then, First Baptist had the only midweek children’s ministry in the area.

“This church is very strong in children’s ministry,” Becker said of the ministry, now encompassing about 60 youth. “We’re very committed to reaching children. Our big draw is our children’s programs. We get a lot of young families with young kids.”

This includes a continual turnover of people from nearby Fort Greely. World War II brought a military presence to the sub-Arctic area; temperatures in the Tanana Valley lowlands can drop below 50 degrees below zero in winter. The Army base – developed to fly airplanes and supplies to Allies in eastern Russia – became a cold-weather training site for troops in the early 1950s. Today it is a missile defense base.

“Maybe 5 percent of our people come because we’re a Southern Baptist church,” Becker said. “Our draw is that we’re going to preach the gospel; we’re going to proclaim Jesus Christ.”

Members from Catholic, Methodist and other backgrounds who call First Baptist their church home freely give to support the Cooperative Program because it goes to support missionaries around the world, Becker said.

“We’re a very transient community because of Fort Greely,” the pastor explained. “We have a few who have been here 20 years but the majority have been here less than five years” and they learn at First Baptist “what Southern Baptists are all about in Alaska and around the world. ... We emphasize the missions giving, the outreach and the authority of the gospel, bringing people into relationship with Jesus Christ. When we can agree on those things, everything else is peripheral.”

First Baptist sponsors a Boy Scout troop and provides a food pantry for the town. The church, in conjunction with the local ministerial alliance, brings in special events such as the African Children’s Choir, evangelistic strength teams and the like.

It also hosts and runs the associational summer camp, which last year brought at least 100 youngsters to the shores of the Tanana River.

“We do want to see the gospel go forth in our state as well as around the world,” Becker said. “Our draw is, we’re going to preach the gospel; we’re going to proclaim Jesus Christ; we’re going to use the Southern Baptist Convention to bring organization to the way we reach throughout the world for Jesus Christ.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message.)
3/9/2012 2:25:31 PM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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