March 2018

Youth rally memories: funny, touching, miraculous

March 28 2018 by David Dawson, Baptist and Reflector

Kent Shingleton occasionally scratched his goatee and broke into a chuckle while reflecting on his two-decade tenure as the coordinator of Tennessee Baptists’ Youth Evangelism Conference (YEC).
Shingleton said he had a deep supply of stories he could share – some funny, some touching and some truly miraculous. But Shingleton, who is passing the coordinator baton to Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (TBMB) evangelism event specialist Jay Barbier, said his biggest takeaway from his 20-year involvement with YEC has been seeing how many lives have been touched by the event – one of the many youth rallies sponsored by state Baptist conventions across the country.

Baptist and Reflector photo
Kent Shingleton caps ever-changing 20-year leadership of Tennessee Youth Evangelism Conference.

“It’s pretty mind-boggling,” Shingleton said. “Not only has it impacted me as a dad in regard to my own kids, but the fact that the same story has played out across churches and families statewide is just amazing.”
Shingleton is the pastor of a church plant, Hope Fellowship Church in LaVergne, Tenn., that he started roughly seven years ago. He and his wife Shawnah have four children.
Shingleton served as coordinator for the final time at this year’s YEC, which was held March 9-10 at downtown Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium and marked the 50th anniversary of the yearly gathering. Shingleton was recognized for his 20 years of service on the opening night of the conference.
Shingleton has seen many different trends come and go, especially among the attendees, during his tenure.
When he first took on the role in 1998, texting wasn’t a fabric of the teenage culture and social media was essentially nonexistent. Contrast that to this year’s attendees, almost all of whom arrived with cellphones in hand, prepared to share the experience on Instagram or SnapChat.
And yet, through all the years and all the changes, YEC has always remained true to its core focus: reaching teenagers for Christ.
“It’s pretty amazing to think about how much has changed,” Shingleton said. “But I think the key to this has been our unwavering dedication to the gospel. The youth leaders that come, they know that on Friday night there is going to be an anointed man of God, clearly preaching the gospel and giving the teenagers an opportunity to respond. Bottom line, I think that’s why God has continued to bless this.”
God’s presence was clearly felt at this year’s conference, and several hundred first-time commitments were made. Barbier, who was introduced to the crowd on Friday night, said he is already looking ahead.
“The way the Lord moved this year motivates me to spread the word about YEC like crazy for next year,” Barbier said. “This is our chance for thousands of youth to hear and respond to the gospel. We are already preparing for YEC 2019.”
Shingleton’s dedication and passion for YEC, along with his visibility at the event, has led him to earn the nickname “The YEC guy.” He said he is routinely recognized – or at least partially recognized – at different places all across Tennessee.
“Normally what happens, I’ll be out and about and someone will be looking at me like, ‘Where in the world have I seen you; how do I know you? I know your face,’” Shingleton said. “Then it will usually click with them, and they’ll say, ‘You’re the YEC guy.’”
Shingleton was serving as a youth minister in Arkansas when he was first contacted regarding the job as YEC coordinator. He was hired in May 1998, and served as coordinator for the first time the following year, in March 1999. He laughingly recalled that he was hesitant to take the job, but said he received “encouragement” from a person with great influence.
“I was not real excited about it; I just wasn’t sure it was time for a move,” he said. “My wife Shawnah was like, ‘Oh, yes it is time.’ So, we just started that conversation and God opened the door and that’s how we came on.”
In the 20 years since, Shingleton has seen God do amazing things through YEC. He said one of his favorite stories involved a disabled teenager who attended the event roughly 10 years ago.
“He was in a wheelchair, and his group was in the upper deck, and he felt the Lord calling him to make a decision,” Shingleton said. “But trying to be a part of an altar call and get down to the floor was impossible. So, he said something to some of the other students in his youth group – and they carried him all the way down to the arena floor and he gave his life to Christ.”
Shingleton noted the impact of YEC stretches well beyond the weekend of the event.
“It has a ripple effect, and it’s very powerful,” he said. “For instance, one of the ripple effects of this ministry is that, through YEC, we’ve started mobilizing high school students to go on international mission trips. Every other year, we receive a love offering, and the money goes towards teenagers in Tennessee to go on a partnership missions trip.”
The missions work through YEC started 19 years ago, he said, when a group traveled to Brazil.
Shingleton has seen firsthand just how impactful those trips can be. His son, Jared – who now serves as youth minister on staff with Shingleton at Hope Fellowship – was saved during one of the YEC-sponsored trips.
“I basically forced him to go,” Shingleton said with a laugh. “He was 16 years old at the time. And if he were sitting here today, giving his testimony, he would tell you that he gave his life to Christ on the mission trip. That’s all part of the fruit of YEC.”
Shingleton said he is proud of the fact that YEC, regardless of the changes that have taken place to the culture, has remained focused on its two primary objectives.
“It’s always been about sharing the gospel, but it’s also a time of disciple making and equipping,” he said. “I think that’s why it continues to be effective, and I think that’s why it will continue to be successful for 50 more years. That’s my prayer.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Dawson writes for the Baptist and Reflector,, news journal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)

3/28/2018 10:53:47 AM by David Dawson, Baptist and Reflector | with 0 comments

Frank Page admits 'inappropriate relationship,' resigns

March 27 2018 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

In a statement that recast an earlier retirement announcement, Frank S. Page has resigned as president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee (EC), effective March 27 over what is described as a “morally inappropriate relationship in the recent past.”

Frank S. Page, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee since 2010, has resigned due to an "inappropriate relationship in the recent past."

An initial Baptist Press news story reported his retirement, which included comments by Page that he would be making the transition to spend more time with family. He received an outpouring of tributes and compliments on social media from Southern Baptists for his tenure in the SBC leadership role.
Page later admitted that he made the announcement “without a complete explanation.”
Stephen Rummage, Florida pastor and EC chairman, released a 300-word statement on behalf of the EC’s officers noting the circumstances of Page’s resignation:
“Last evening, the officers of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee met via phone conference with Dr. Frank Page during which he announced his plans for retirement. Today, I spoke with Dr. Page and learned that his retirement announcement was precipitated by a morally inappropriate relationship in the recent past.”
The exact nature and duration of that relationship is unclear at this time.
“This news will, we understand, bring great sorrow” Rummage said. “I have shared with the Executive Committee officers what Dr. Page shared with me, including Dr. Page’s repentance and deep regret that his actions have caused pain for others.
“My heart is broken for Dr. Page, his family and everyone affected. I believe I speak for the entire Executive Committee in saying that we are committed to provide them the spiritual and emotional support they need in the coming days. We also recognize the stewardship we owe Southern Baptists and the watching world to communicate with truth and candor and to honor the Lord in our actions and decisions.
“I call upon all Southern Baptists to pray for everyone involved in a situation like this, and especially for Dr. and Mrs. Page. Please pray for the Southern Baptist Convention and all that is entrusted to the Executive Committee.
“As officers, we are committed to provide leadership that the Southern Baptist Convention will recognize and trust. To those ends, in keeping with our Executive Committee bylaws, we will be working on a plan to provide for interim transition in the wake of Dr. Page’s immediate departure and also to conduct a search for the next president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee. I am personally counting on the prayers of Southern Baptists, as I know are all who serve on our SBC Executive Committee.”
Page released a statement as well Tuesday afternoon:
“It is with deep regret that I tender my resignation from the SBC Executive Committee and announce my retirement from active ministry, effective immediately. As a result of a personal failing, I have embarrassed my family, my Lord, myself, and the Kingdom. Out of a desire to protect my family and those I have hurt, I initially announced my retirement earlier today without a complete explanation. However, after further wrestling with my personal indiscretion, it became apparent to me that this situation must be acknowledged in a more forthright manner. It is my most earnest desire in the days to come to rebuild the fabric of trust with my wife and daughters, those who know me best and love me most.”
Page, 65, as EC president, has held a key role in coordinating the work of the SBC’s national ministries, encompassing two mission boards, six seminaries and other entities, overseeing a Cooperative Program budget of nearly $200 million yearly. Page’s work also included building relationships with 42 state and regional Baptist conventions and 47,000-plus Southern Baptist churches in all 50 states.
Page was the 2006-2008 president of the SBC, elected to the post as pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C. Before being elected as Executive Committee president in 2010, Page was serving as vice president of evangelization for the North American Mission Board.
Among the hallmarks of Page’s eight years as EC president have been strong calls for personal evangelism, support for the Cooperative Program channel of Southern Baptist missions and ministry support, and inclusion of numerous ethnic groups, women, young leaders and small-church pastors in the life of the convention.
The Pages have two daughters, Laura and Allison; a third daughter, Melissa, died in 2009.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – BR Content Editor Seth Brown added to this report.)

3/27/2018 9:50:40 PM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Frank Page announces retirement as SBC Exec. Comm. president

March 27 2018 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Frank S. Page, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee (EC) since 2010, has announced his retirement.

Frank S. Page, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee since 2010, has announced his retirement.

BP photo by Matt Miller
Frank S. Page, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee since 2010, has announced his retirement.

In a letter to EC members, Page wrote, “It has been my joy and honor to serve the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) for eight years.
“Many months ago, my daughters shared their deep desire for Dayle and me to retire and move closer to them in South Carolina so that we might spend more time with them and their families – especially our grandchildren. After much prayer and conversation, we have chosen to make this decision,” Page, 65, wrote.
He did not set a retirement date but stated to EC members, “Know that I am willing to assist in any way to make this transition efficient and smooth.”
Page was the 2006-2008 president of the SBC, elected to the post as pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C.
Before being elected as EC president in 2010, Page was serving as vice president of evangelization for the North American Mission Board.
Among the hallmarks of Page’s tenure as EC president have been strong calls for personal evangelism, support for the Cooperative Program channel of Southern Baptist missions and ministry support, and inclusion of numerous ethnic groups, women and young leaders in the life of the convention.
“You have been dear friends to me these last eight years,” Page wrote to EC members. “You have served tirelessly beside me – advising, encouraging, challenging, and honoring my position as President and CEO of the Executive Committee. Most of all, you have been prayer supporters in every way. I will never take that for granted. I thank God for what we have been able to accomplish in this time together. Pray for Dayle, my family, and me as we make this important transition.”
This story is developing.

3/27/2018 11:02:05 AM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Abstinence ed could benefit from HHS tweaks

March 27 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Tweaks to a federal grant program that allots $260 million to family planning, mostly for lower-income Americans, have drawn praise from advocates of abstinence-based sex education and criticism from Planned Parenthood.

Screen capture from YouTube
Valerie Huber

Among the tweaks at issue, this year’s grant announcement for Title X Family Planning Services Grants encourages applicants to consider informing teens of the “benefits of delaying sex.” Another change this year by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is that the final decision on grant awards will rest with longtime abstinence education advocate Valerie Huber, now HHS acting deputy assistant secretary for population affairs.
Before her appointment at HHS in 2017 as chief of staff to the assistant secretary for health, Huber was co-founder and president of Ascend (formerly the National Abstinence Education Association). She has been in her current position at HHS since January 2018.
Ascend Executive Director Mary Anne Mosack told Baptist Press (BP) in a statement that changes to grants under Title X of the Public Health Service Act which “focus on optimal sexual health through avoiding risk are a welcomed focus.”
But an analyst for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America said the potential for Title X grants to promote abstinence-based sex education and pro-life groups “is unprecedented, and has dangerous implications,” according to a March 6 Politico report.
HHS’ Feb. 23 grant announcement states applicants should regard as “key issues” in their programs:
– “A meaningful emphasis on education and counseling that communicates the social science research and practical application of topics related to healthy relationships, to committed, safe, stable, healthy marriages, and the benefits of avoiding sexual risk or returning to a sexually risk-free status, especially (but not only) when communicating with adolescents.”
– “Activities for adolescents that do not normalize sexual risk behaviors, but instead clearly communicate the research informed benefits of delaying sex or returning to a sexually risk-free status.”
For the first time since 1987, one person – Huber – is the final arbiter of grant recipients, Politico reported, though an independent panel will review all applications. Previously, final decisions on family planning grants were made by a team of HHS and local health officials.
An HHS spokesperson told BP via email that grant-eligible projects must “offer a broad range of voluntary family planning methods and services, including information, and education related to family planning, preconception care, contraception, natural family planning and infertility services.”
As with previous years’ family planning grants, the HHS announcement states “abortion is not a method of family planning for this grant.”
Still, at least 14 of the 84 grant awards in 2017 went to Planned Parenthood affiliates, according to the HHS website. Politico reported Planned Parenthood treats about 41 percent of Title X patients.
Kashif Syed, a Planned Parenthood Federation of America senior analyst, told Politico, “The Trump-Pence administration is handing the future of the country’s program for affordable birth control over to a woman who wants to mandate abstinence pledges. Valerie Huber has called abstinence an anti-poverty program, and has made it clear she will impose her beliefs on people no matter how many get hurt in the process.”
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore doesn’t share that concern.
“Were Planned Parenthood to show concern for women, such would be a welcome change,” Moore told BP in written comments. “This issue is not about health care, though. Planned Parenthood is not and has never been a ‘health care’ organization.
“It is a storefront that preys upon women in crisis, exploits families and devalues human life. The nation’s abortion leader should not be trusted with health care or educating teens. Americans should be thankful, however, to have a faithful public servant such as Valerie Huber is in this decision-making role,” Moore said.
Richard Ross, co-founder of the teen abstinence movement True Love Waits, also welcomed the prospect of more Americans being taught to delay sex until marriage.
“The Bible says that sex only belongs in marriage,” Ross, professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told BP via email. “Teenagers who are Christ followers obey that guideline because they love and adore Jesus. But the personal and social advantages of following that guideline apply to all. Community organizations that motivate teenagers to delay sexual involvement can allow even non-religious teenagers to sidestep the pain and suffering of their peers. Such organizations are worthy of financial support.”
Ross added, “Those who want to ‘liberate’ teenagers to express themselves sexually should not be surprised with the personal and societal harms that result.”
This year’s Title X family planning grant recipients will be announced in September.
In related news, the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending bill signed by President Trump March 23 increased funding by $10 million for a separate grant program to fund abstinence education for youth. The Sexual Risk Avoidance Education Grant will receive a total of $25 million in fiscal year 2018, according to an Ascend news release.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/27/2018 9:18:53 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

New Trump transgender military policy ‘likely’ to stand

March 27 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The Donald Trump administration has issued a new directive that permits transgender military service only “under certain limited circumstances.” The policy tweak could render moot legal challenges to President Trump’s previous ban of transgender troops, says a former military attorney.
A presidential memo released late March 23 revoked Trump’s August 2017 directive – which has been blocked by multiple federal court decisions – and replaced it with a policy “that transgender persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria ... are disqualified from military service except under certain limited circumstances.”
Along with Trump’s directive, the White House released a three-page memo by Defense Secretary James Mattis outlining the specific policy Trump is adopting and a 44-page Pentagon study of “military service by transgender persons.”
Mike Whitehead, a former member of the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps who serves as general counsel for the Missouri Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press (BP) the Department of Defense likely will follow up Trump’s policy announcement with formal regulations, which may take several months to develop.
“The government may seek dismissal of the pending lawsuits” against Trump’s previous ban of transgender military service “and temporary injunctions on grounds of mootness,” Whitehead said in written comments. “The [American Civil Liberties Union] and other opponents will seek amendment of the lawsuits, and will argue the new guidance has the same constitutional defect” as an initial policy Trump announced via Twitter in July.
“The trial court may agree, but it seems likely the appeals courts or the Supreme Court will uphold executive power to reverse a year-old policy and restore the generations-old military framework that promotes unit cohesion and lethality rather than social engineering,” Whitehead said.
A Pentagon spokesman said the announcement of a new policy would have no immediate effect, and the military would continue to recruit and train transgender individuals until legally instructed to do otherwise.
The policy recommendations adopted by Trump entail three prongs, according to Mattis’ memo:
– Transgender persons diagnosed with gender dysphoria (“the experience of discomfort with their biological sex, resulting in significant distress or difficulty functioning”) “are disqualified from military service.”
The military will make exceptions, the policy states, for individuals who “have been stable for 36 months in their biological sex” prior to entering the service; military members diagnosed with gender dysphoria after entering the service “if they do not require a change of gender and remain deployable”; and service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria since the Barack Obama administration permitted open transgender service in 2016.
– “Transgender persons who require or have undergone gender transition are disqualified from military service.”
– Transgender persons “without a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria” may “serve, like all other Service members, in their biological sex.”
“There are substantial risks,” Mattis wrote, “associated with allowing the accession and retention of individuals with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria.”
The accompanying study – compiled, Mattis stated, by “senior uniformed and civilian Defense Department and U.S. Coast Guard leaders” – offered several reasons for reversing the Obama-era policy that permitted transgender military service:
– “High rates of suicide ideation, attempts, and contemplation among people who are transgender” are “well documented in the medical literature, with lifetime rates of suicide attempts reported to be as high as 41% (compared to 4.6% for the general population).”
Even though “numerous studies” suggest gender transition “can improve health outcomes for individuals with gender dysphoria, the available scientific evidence on the extent to which such treatments fully remedy all of the issues associated with gender dysphoria is unclear,” the report stated.
– Since the Obama administration lifted a prior ban of transgender military service, gender-transitioning members of the Army and Air Force have averaged 159-167 “days of limited duty ... over a one-year period.”
– Individuals who have undergone chest or genitalia surgery or hormone treatment for reasons other than gender transition historically have been “disqualified from service, unless a waiver was granted.”
– Because the military’s “sex-based standards are based on legitimate biological differences between males and females, it follows that a person’s physical biology should dictate which standards apply.”
The Obama administration’s policy, the report stated, sometimes requires the military to allow biological males who self-identify as female “to use female berthing, bathroom and shower facilities,” which “undermines reasonable expectations of privacy and dignity of female service members.”
Compounding the problem, “of 424 approved Service member treatment plans” for gender transitions, the report stated, only 22 have included a request for genital surgery. The remainder of the transgender troops studied presumably would retain at least some anatomical characteristics of their biological gender yet potentially be permitted to share restroom and shower facilities with individuals of the opposite gender.
In one instance, such a situation resulted in a commander “confronted with dueling equal opportunity complaints”: one from females who believed a biological male in their shower facilities “violated their privacy” and one from the biological male “claiming that the command was not sufficiently supportive of the rights of transgender persons.”
– While the overall cost of gender transitions is anticipated to be minimal compared with the overall military budget, “transition-related treatment” is “proving to be disproportionately costly on a per capita basis.”
Since 2016, medical costs for military members with gender dysphoria have increased nearly 300 percent compared to service members without gender dysphoria, the report stated. Some commanders said “their units had a negative budgetary impact because they had to use operating and maintenance” funds to pay for gender transitions.
The report concluded “the Department is not convinced that these risks could be responsibly dismissed or that even negligible harms should be incurred given the Department’s grave responsibility to fight and win the Nation’s wars.”
Meanwhile, a column submitted to BP by two Southern Baptist scholars noted several logical problems with the claims of the transgender movement.
If gender is an irrelevant social construct, as many transgender advocates claim, individuals should not cite preferences for traditionally masculine or feminine activities as indicators of their gender identity, wrote Gateway Seminary vice president Adam Groza and author Ben Arbour.
Another logical flaw in the transgender movement, they wrote, is the contradictory claims that gender is self-chosen and a social construct. It must be one or the other, they state.
“Gender is not a social construct,” Groza and Arbour wrote. “Rather, it is divinely instituted, and it’s an essential aspect of personal identity. This doesn’t mean things aren’t complicated sometimes, because ... sin messed everything up.
“‘Everything,’ unfortunately includes chromosomes, hormones, neuropathways and other biological aspects of humanity,” they wrote. “It’s likely that some questions will remain unanswered until we have resurrected bodies in the eternal state.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/27/2018 9:18:24 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Shorty’ the church bus: An unlikely evangelism tool

March 27 2018 by Emily Howsden, The Baptist Messenger

Many churches now operate a bus ministry which usually involves transportation of members and visitors from the church to their home and vice versa.
However, Timothy Baptist Church in Muskogee, Okla., has an interesting bus ministry that takes the church into the community.

Screen capture from BGCO
At most community-wide events it is nearly expected that the short, white bus from Timothy Baptist Church will be there, serving hot dogs, chili dogs, nachos and all sorts of sweet treats.

“Shorty is a small, old school bus that I kind of had the idea for and shared it with some people in the church,” said Kelly Payne, the church’s pastor. “The idea was to find a bus that we could equip to pull into a neighborhood and get the church to the community.”
Payne explained that “Shorty” operates much like a backyard Bible club. But a dream he shared with members of the church was that when Shorty arrives anywhere, people are also excited for the fun that ensues.
“Shorty” came about when Payne’s son told him he saw a bus for sale that sounded like what Payne was looking for. A retired auto mechanic who is a church member then helped a few other men from the congregation restore the bus, which was already made to be a camper on the inside.
Payne, who is known for his evangelistic efforts, recently won the “Fishers of Men” evangelism award at the 2018 State Evangelism Conference.
“Kelly is walking in the favor of God and men,” said Mike Napier, personal evangelism specialist of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. “He is an evangelistic pastor who’s getting it done. He’s thinking outside of the box.”
“Shorty” hosts a multitude of evangelism opportunities in the Muskogee community. At most community-wide events it is nearly expected that the short, white bus from Timothy Baptist will be there, serving hot dogs, chili dogs, nachos and all sorts of sweet treats.
Payne said as well as serving at events, during the summertime “Shorty” will make the rounds around town, visiting lower-income neighborhoods and serving lunch, “no questions asked, and everything is always free.”
The unique thing about “Shorty” is that wherever the bus goes, a team of people equipped to have gospel conversations go with it. “Sharing Christ and meeting needs,” is how Payne describes the process.
“You’ve got a church which is outside the walls, which is the first step to evangelism, and they’re doing practical ministry, meeting a need, whether it’s a sno-cone, hot dog or whatever, and they’re taking the time to pray with people and share the love of Jesus, share a clear and concise gospel presentation,” Napier said. “That sounds real similar to what Jesus and His disciples did as they went from town to town. I think it’s spot on.”
One thing that Payne and the members of the church have noticed as they serve their community, is the community has embraced the church as a place they can go.
The city used to hold a Fourth of July event with fireworks and food, until eventually the church’s event on the third of July became the most popular gathering in town. The city happily conceded and joined efforts with the church, working with them to provide a celebration for the town.

Screen capture from BGCO
“The idea was to find a bus that we could equip to pull into a neighborhood and get the church to the community,” Kelly Payne, pastor Timothy Baptist Church.

“We gave out 3,500 hot dogs and sandwiches last year at our event,” Payne said. All we do is tell people to bring a lawn chair and come, and they show up in droves.”
A church member licensed to put on large firework shows organizes a fireworks display, and others host games like trivia time.
During trivia, the first three or four questions are simple questions about the Bible that most people are able to answer correctly.
“Then all of the sudden the next question is ‘Do you know for sure if you died right now you’d go to heaven?,’” Payne said. “And we have people there waiting to have a gospel conversation with them. We’ve seen many people accept Christ in that way.”
Other ways that the church has stepped outside their walls include a coffee shop, just a few blocks from the church, and a “LINC” ministry that partners with Baptist Village Communities at the local assisted living facility near the church.
At the coffee shop, members of the church are encouraged to invite someone to have a gospel conversation on a more neutral ground than an unbeliever might consider a church building to be.
In the LINC ministry, “They’re seeing great results and are getting to share the gospel and see people accept Christ because of their ministry not only to residents but to the employees as well,” Napier said.
“It’s refreshing to work together with the community, because generally we have always felt like it wasn’t an open door,” Payne explained.
“I have heard throughout my ministry, and I even said myself that ‘people won’t work with us; we’ve just got to find a way,’ and I don’t think that’s true. I think many times we just have to find a way for the community to see that we just want to reach people and make a difference in people’s lives, and then they are open to let you.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Emily Howsden is a staff writer for the Baptist Messenger,, news journal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.)

3/27/2018 9:16:49 AM by Emily Howsden, The Baptist Messenger | with 0 comments

Kidnapped pastor’s family ‘solid and secure in Jesus’

March 27 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A Malaysian pastor threatened with death for trying to convert Muslims to Christianity remains missing more than a year after his February 2017 kidnapping in Kuala Lumpur, a family friend confirmed to Baptist Press (BP) March 26.
The family of 63-year-old Raymond Koh has heard nothing of his whereabouts or health since his abduction by as many as a dozen masked men in broad daylight, family friend and Nashville-area pastor Greg Wilton told BP.

Screengrab from KiniTV documentary
Malaysian pastor Raymond Koh has been missing since his February 2017 kidnapping amid death threats against him for spreading the gospel in Malaysia, a Muslim country under Sharia law. His wife Susanna has pled for his release.

“They’ve really suffered, suffered psychologically,” said Wilton, who met Koh before becoming missions pastor of the Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., in January 2017. “And yet through it all, God’s given them a tremendous amount of … assurance that even though they may not see him in this life, they are totally certain that they will see him in the next life.”
Koh pastored an Evangelical Free Church of Malaysia for 20 years before founding Harapan Komuniti in Malaysia in 2004, a community-based outreach to single mothers, drug addicts and HIV/AIDS victims, according to Open Doors USA. Workers at Harapan Komuniti were instructed not to try to proselytize people the outreach served, Koh’s wife Susanna Liew Soh Yoke has said, but days before Koh’s disappearance the family received death threats for spreading the gospel.
Wilton communicates weekly with the family through texts, praying for Susanna and Koh’s three adult children, he told BP.
“The family has a tremendous faith in God right now, still believing and trusting that he could show up at any moment, [any] day,” Wilton said. “But they also find that their faith is most solid and secure in Jesus … knowing that Jesus takes care of them even in the darkest of situations.”
Many religious liberty groups are advocating for Koh’s return, but an official inquiry of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia has been on hold since January, when Malaysian police arrested Lam Chang Nam as a suspect in the kidnapping. Koh’s wife and other advocates believe the arrest is a deliberate attempt to halt the inquiry, which Malaysian law prohibits as long as court proceedings are activated against a suspect. Lam, 31, was originally charged in March 2017 with trying to extort a ransom of about $8,000 from Koh’s son Jonathan, World Watch Monitor reported in January.
“Why is he being charged with kidnapping now, after a lapse of several months and just a day before the inquiry resumed?” his wife said in a plea for his release at “If he really is involved, then he should know where Raymond is now. Bring him out and let the perpetrators be apprehended and justice served.”
Koh is among at least four missing persons the Human Rights Commission is investigating, including pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth who were reported missing in March 2017, according to World Watch. In Malaysia, a Muslim country under Sharia law, trying to convert Muslims to Christianity is constitutionally illegal. The Open Doors World 2018 Watch List ranks Malaysia as 23rd among the 50 countries where Christians are the most persecuted.
Wilton encouraged Southern Baptists to support Koh’s family by praying for them and taking any available steps to spread the gospel in Malaysia.
“Southern Baptists can do what Raymond always did, which is do everything that he can to love Malaysians and share the gospel with them,” Wilton told BP. “Continue to pray and to love all people of Malaysia.”
Koh’s family maintains a webpage at The Human Rights Commission, Open Doors, World Watch and the World Council of Churches are among groups that have advocated for Koh’s return.
See 2017 story on Koh’s plight.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

3/27/2018 9:16:05 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Opera singer from Brazil sparks Vienna house church

March 26 2018 by Nicole Leigh, IMB

When Maria* began to feel God nudging her to share Christ with Persians, she didn’t know exactly what a Persian was. (There’s no Persian language and no Persia on the map.) But within a week Maria met a girl from Iran. When Maria asked what language she spoke, the girl said “Persian,” so Maria invited the young lady to study the Bible.

IMB photo
Immigrants worship Jesus together at the new Baptist church in Vienna, Austria.

Maria didn’t set out to start a new Persian church. She was just obeying God. But that Bible study has now grown to over 100 people – a mixture of former Muslims from Iran and Afghanistan, former Buddhists from Vietnam and former atheists from Austria.
“The girl started coming to her Bible study and bringing friends. She got saved and started sharing her faith with others, and it was just spontaneous,” said.
“Maria’s always had the desire to serve the Lord,” said Roger Hartsill*, an International Mission Board (IMB) worker who is helping Maria. “[She] decided to do something in her home … and we’ve pitched in to help her,” said Diana Hartsill*, Roger’s wife. “It’s been exciting just to see what God is doing through her there.”

From opera singer to church planter

Maria came to Vienna from Brazil more than a decade ago. She had completed a seminary degree as well as a music degree in Brazil and was offered a scholarship to study opera in Vienna. After finishing her studies, Maria settled in Vienna, married an Austrian and embarked on a career, but her lifelong call to missions never dissipated.
In 2014, she started a Bible study in her home. By the end of that year, two Iranians, two Vietnamese and one Austrian had become Christians and been baptized. Twelve new converts, most of whom were Iranian immigrants, were added to their number by spring of 2015. The Bible study became a church.
Maria has now quit her job to be a missionary full-time. Her husband works to support the family.
As the work began to reach mostly Muslim men, Roger Hartsill recounted that Maria wisely sought out male pastors, including himself, “as the body has been in transition from an outreach group in her home, to a house church and then to a recognized church within the Austrian Baptist Convention.”

From Latin America to Europe and beyond

Hartsill, who is mentoring Maria from his home in Germany, is in a unique position to help. He and Diana began their ministry with IMB in South America, then moved to Europe for the express purpose of mobilizing South American believers who have emigrated to Europe.
The Hartsills want to help Latinos in Europe spread the gospel wherever they go. In some cases, Roger and Diana help Latinos find pathways to go beyond Europe to unreached peoples in other parts of the world. But they also see a tremendous opportunity to mobilize Latinos to specifically reach out to other immigrants and refugees in Europe.
“We have discovered that oftentimes a believing immigrant in Europe from elsewhere can more easily connect with the refugee or immigrant than the nationals can,” Hartsill said.

From zero to 94

Since the Hartsills have started working with Maria, God has continued to bless the church plant. In November 2015, 22 former Muslims – all Iranians and Afghans – were baptized. In April 2016, another 18 Iranians and Afghans were baptized as well as a local Austrian doctor who has become a strong supporter of the new church. Nineteen more baptisms were celebrated on May 28, 2016, including Vietnamese, Afghans and Iranians. In August 2016, 18 former Muslims followed Christ in believer’s baptism. In December 2016, 16 were baptized, and in March 2017, 11 more.

IMB photo
Maria (name changed) leads the church in worship through song.

“This new work started from zero and has seen 94 adult baptisms in less than two years,” Hartsill said. “Nearly all of the new converts are immigrants from Iran, Afghanistan or Vietnam – places where missionaries cannot freely enter. The growth is the result of these new believers sharing their newfound faith with others from their people groups.”
Hartsill visits several times a year to help with baptisms, discuss logistical problems and wrestle through issues that come from having Muslim-, Buddhist- and Catholic-background believers in a burgeoning church family.
“My role is primarily as a coach,” Hartsill said. “We have identified an Iranian man who feels called to ministry and whom we hope will assume the role of pastor for this church in the near future. His immigrant status is still pending, but he is already teaching new converts in the church’s discipleship training.”
The growing church is looking for space to expand. The Vietnamese are meeting on their own for language ease. They are not growing as quickly but still see God adding to their number.

From enemies to disciples

Among the challenges facing the church is that the teaching and discipleship must be done through translators or in a second language.
New believers come from strong Islamic, Buddhist and atheistic backgrounds have many misconceptions about Christianity and have a long discipleship road.
Their religious backgrounds also put many at risk. Often, the new Christians can never return to their families or home countries because of their conversions. They fear for the safety of loved ones who still live in their homelands.
And there is always the risk of an attack on Christians or on the church, even in Europe.
Recently the church was infiltrated by an enemy of the gospel who poisoned Maria’s food during a fellowship meal. She was hospitalized but has since recovered. The persecution hasn’t stopped Maria from forging ahead, convinced that it’s worth the risk to watch God bring former enemies of Christ together
“I was in the Vienna church for baptism, and afterwards everybody was just hanging out,” Hartsill recounted. “This guy came up and said he was from Iran, ‘You know Iranians and Americans have not always gotten along, but I want to get a picture with you because you’re my brother in Christ now.’
“An Afghan guy heard this and said, ‘Well, Afghans don’t always get along with either of you. In fact, if you, me and this guy were in our home countries, we’d probably be looking at each other down a gun barrel. He’s Sunni and I’m Shi’ite, but we’re brothers in Christ.’
“A Vietnamese guy was playing violin for worship but stopped to join us, ‘Well, Vietnam has had problems with the U.S. too. ...’ So we got this picture – we’re all brothers in Christ,” Hartsill said. “These men who were once angry don’t have to fight anymore because they’ve found peace in Jesus.”
As the gospel continues to spread among immigrants in Vienna, the Hartsills ask for prayer for the work God is doing there:

  • Pray for protection, for health, wisdom, fullness of the Holy Spirit and continued boldness in word and deed.
  • Pray for Roger as he works alongside Maria, helping to teach and answer the many questions from new converts from Islam, Buddhism and atheism.
  • Pray for the new believers and a few mature believers who have joined the new church and are being trained to provide future leadership.
  • Pray for God’s protection over this work, and that it will expand and continue to grow into a movement.
  • Pray that God will provide language learning for the immigrants so they can complete the immigration process, work and earn a living.

*Names changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nicole Leigh writes for the International Mission Board. To see more of what God is doing in Europe, visit

3/26/2018 8:31:57 PM by Nicole Leigh, IMB | with 0 comments

Oklahoma pastor Felix Cabrera to be 2nd VP nominee

March 26 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Oklahoma pastor Felix Cabrera will be nominated for second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Alabama pastor Ed Litton announced March 23.

Felix Cabrera

A Puerto Rico native, Cabrera planted Spanish-speaking Iglesia Bautista Central (IBC) in Oklahoma City in 2015 and has seen the congregation grow from about 12 in worship attendance to more than 200, according to information released by the church. Cabrera also is co-founder of the Hispanic Baptist Pastors Alliance and founder of the RED 1:8 Church Planting Network, which has helped plant 34 churches over the past five years in North America, Puerto Rico, Latin America and Spain.
Litton cited Cabrera’s “gospel vision as a church planter, his humble-hearted leadership and how he leverages his leadership gifts to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.”
“Felix doesn’t sit back and accept the status quo,” Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Mobile, Ala., told Baptist Press via email, “but he humbly gives himself to the Lord’s service and to others in order to build up the church and to work together with other pastors and leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention to represent Christ well to the world.”
The nomination will occur during the SBC’s June 12-13 annual meeting in Dallas.
Cabrera, 39, is among the “powerful young leaders of a new generation that leave me with an impression of hope for the SBC’s future,” said Litton, a former SBC Pastors’ Conference president. “He demonstrates to me the beauty of God’s diverse, multiethnic church and he is exactly the kind of man that we should be learning from and following.”
During Cabrera’s pastorate, IBC has been recognized twice by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) for being among the state’s top churches in baptisms per capita, IBC reported. The congregation baptized 10 people each of the past two years, according to data from the SBC’s Annual Church Profile (ACP).
IBC has classified 15 percent of its undesignated receipts for 2018 as Great Commission Giving, including 7 percent through the Cooperative Program (CP), Southern Baptists’ unified program of funding missions and ministries in North America and across the globe.
By convention action in 2011, the SBC defined Great Commission Giving as comprising “contributions to any Baptist association, Baptist state convention, and causes and entities of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
During its first two years as an independent congregation, IBC gave 7.9 percent and 9.4 percent respectively of its undesignated receipts through CP, according to a report from the church confirmed by the BGCO and ACP data. In 2016, the church received a letter from SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page commending it for increasing its CP giving by more than 1 percent of undesignated receipts as part of the “1 Percent Challenge” issued by Page. Amid a move in 2017 to “a new, higher-cost facility,” IBC stated, the church’s Great Commission Giving decreased temporarily to approximately 5 percent and CP giving to 2.9 percent.
Cabrera has served on the SBC’s Resolutions Committee and Committee on Committees as well as the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s Leadership Council and LifeWay Christian Resources’ Hispanic Pastoral Council. Additionally, he is part of Southern Baptists’ Hispanic Leaders Council, a group comprising leaders of various Southern Baptist Hispanic ministries seeking to bring focus and cooperation to their work.
Cabrera holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico, a master of arts in pastoral counseling from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and a master of arts in church planting from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Cabrera is pursuing a doctor of ministry degree at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he serves as an adjunct professor in the Spanish-language graduate program.
Prior to planting IBC, Cabrera was an associate pastor at churches in Puerto Rico and Oklahoma. Before his call to ministry in 2005, he was general manager of professional basketball teams in Puerto Rico.
He and his wife Denisse have two daughters.
Cabrera is the first announced nominee for second vice president. Announced presidential nominees are J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Ken Hemphill. A.B. Vines, pastor of New Seasons Church in San Diego, has been announced as a nominee for first vice president.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/26/2018 8:06:07 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Congress passes online, anti-trafficking bill

March 26 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Congress has given overwhelming approval to legislation designed to thwart sex trafficking by holding accountable online sites that facilitate the crime.
The Senate adopted the bill in a 97-2 vote March 21, barely three weeks after the House of Representatives had passed it Feb. 27 in a 388-25 roll call. The bill will go to President Trump, who is expected to sign it.
The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) would amend a 1996 anti-obscenity federal law to authorize the prosecution of websites that support the sale of people in the sex trade. The proposal – which includes provisions from the Senate’s Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) – also would clarify trafficking victims have the right to bring civil action against such online sites as the classified advertising company
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and other supporters of the bill applauded the legislative action.
ERLC President Russell Moore said he is “deeply thankful that Congress has passed this commonsense legislation addressing one of the most significant human rights issues in the world today.”
“Human slavery and trafficking are wicked to the core,” Moore told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments. “I look forward to this bill being one important societal step among many in the work to end this scourge in our world.”
Donna Rice Hughes, president of the internet safety organization Enough Is Enough, described the Senate vote as “a critical step towards draining the cyberswamp of commercial sexploitation.” In a written statement, she described it as “nothing short of a David and Goliath victory against the multibillion dollar trafficking industry and the tech giants who lobbied against the bill’s passage.”
Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., FOSTA’s sponsor, thanked the Senate for its vote, tweeting, “Today, Congress spoke up for countless survivors of sex trafficking and unequivocally stated that our sons and daughters are NOT for sale.”
Though the legislation has yet to be signed into law, the precautionary response by websites involved in sex trafficking and prostitution was almost immediate after the Senate vote.
The online platform Reddit – known as the “front page” of the internet – barred several sex-worker forums hours after the Senate passed the bill, according to the news site Other sites – Craigslist, Cityvibe and Erotic Review – shuttered their U.S. prostitution ads, according to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE).
These steps indicate “the major role Internet companies play in promoting prostitution and sex trafficking” and demonstrate the bill’s “power to hold them legally responsible for facilitating these criminal activities,” said Lisa Thompson, NCOSE’s vice president of policy and research.
“As ‘businesses’ that help arrange prostitution transactions and which derive earnings from them, there can be no doubt that their executives and owners are the functional equivalents of sex traffickers (a.k.a. pimps),” Thompson said in written remarks. “These businesses and their owners represent corporatized sex traffickers, who until [March 21] were a protected class of criminals.”
The use of the internet has grown to dominate the trafficking of adults and children for sexual purposes, and is reportedly far and away the leading online facilitator of the sex trade. More than 73 percent of reports by the public to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children concern a ad, the center said in January 2017.
The 1996 Communications Decency Act was designed to combat online obscenity and indecency, but courts actually interpreted a section of the law to protect from liability sites involved in sex trafficking. FOSTA – with SESTA – would enable states to use their laws to “investigate and prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking.” It also would make it clear victims of sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation are able to gain civil judgments against online sites.
Travis Wussow, the ERLC’s general counsel and vice president for public policy, commended Wagner and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, SESTA’s sponsor, for their leadership of the bipartisan effort.
“Sex trafficking mars the God-given dignity of millions of people worldwide,” Wussow told BP in written remarks. “Victims of sex trafficking deserve justice and protection under the law. This bill is an important step forward in the fight to end sex trafficking.”
The only Senate members to vote against FOSTA were Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
On Twitter, Wyden said he takes “a backseat to NOBODY when it comes to policies that bring sex traffickers to justice and help the victims of their hideous crimes.” He said, however, the measure “will punch a hole in the legal framework of the open Internet” and “will prove to be ineffective, it will have harmful unintended consequences, and it could be ruled unconstitutional.”
In January 2017, a Senate investigative subcommittee chaired by Portman reported Backpage knows its site facilitates prostitution and child sex trafficking. The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs also found Backpage had hidden evidence of criminal acts by editing the ads in its “adult” section and by coaching its customers to post acceptable ads for illegal activities.
In addition, the subcommittee reported Backpage’s growth in gross revenue from $5.3 million in 2008 to $135 million in 2014 “was attributable to ‘adult’ advertisements.”
Backpage shut down its “adult” section shortly after the Senate subcommittee released its report in 2017, but ads for prostitution and child sex trafficking reportedly were moved to other places on the site, such as its dating section.
Among FOSTA’s supporters were Facebook, IBM, Oracle, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Mastercard.
In the Southern Baptist Convention’s most recent resolution opposing human trafficking, messengers to the 2013 meeting approved a proposal that included a call for Southern Baptists to support government policies to fight trafficking.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/26/2018 8:04:33 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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