May 2010

Camp Cale director takes own life

May 25 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Camp Cale Director Steve Carter, on administrative leave pending resolution of sexual misconduct charges, was found dead in his parked truck on land he owns in Virginia Beach, Va., at 10 p.m. May 24. He was 51.

Margie Hobbs, public information officer with the Virginia Beach Police Department, said the wooded property on which Carter was found in the 4800 block of Blackwater Road is listed in his name.

Initial reports said Carter committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. His body is being examined at a local hospital, but no foul play is suspected.

Carter was first charged in July 2009 with taking indecent liberties with a child and first degree sex offense involving a child under the age of 13. Additional charges involving two other children were added in November. Charges were pending and no court date was imminent.

He was on administrative leave from Chowan Baptist Association, which operates Camp Cale. He had directed Camp Cale since February 2002. His indictment restricted him from the camp property.

His wife Gracie and children lived in the director’s house onsite. Gracie Carter is part-time assistant director of the camp, which is enrolling students for summer camp weeks. On Sunday before his death, Carter had attended church where graduating high school seniors were recognized, including his son.


5/25/2010 9:21:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 6 comments

Better `Theology of Sex' could reduce abortions

May 24 2010 by Adelle Banks

(RNS) -- National Association of Evangelicals on May 20 launched an initiative to reduce abortions by promoting a "Theology of Sex" for churches and pledging to find common ground with opponents on abortion.

"There's a sense that, whatever our laws are, abortion is a problem because of the underlying issues of how we treat sex," said Galen Carey, director of government affairs for the Washington-based umbrella organization.

NAE leaders have concluded that churches are not doing a "good job"
of teaching about sex and marriage and should better address the high percentage of cohabiting unmarried young adults, including many evangelicals.

"Addressing that subject will do a lot, we think, to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies and the number of abortions," Carey said.

A Gallup poll commissioned by the NAE found that 90 percent of evangelicals consider "hormonal contraceptives" to be morally acceptable, and three-quarters consider abortion and unmarried sex to be morally wrong. Less than a third -- 30 percent -- think national religious leaders are doing a good or very good job at addressing the issue of abortion.

NAE officials have planned nationwide forums to promote dialogue about abortion reduction. Carey hopes they will include academics, counselors, teachers and representatives of pregnancy resource centers.

"These conversations should build on our shared concerns for human dignity, protecting children and promoting healthy families and communities," the NAE said in a resolution.

Its new 24-page "Theology of Sex" booklet declares "Yes, sex is good!" within the context of heterosexual marriage and says that "God is forming a new life in his image" in both planned and unplanned pregnancies.

"Sex is a responsible act only in a relationship in which the couple is willing to care for any children that can come from that union," it states.

5/24/2010 3:24:00 AM by Adelle Banks | with 1 comments

Caution expressed over synthetic cell

May 24 2010 by BP Staff

 WASHINGTON (BP)--Researchers announced May 20 the creation of the first synthetic cell, prompting President Obama to ask for a study of the implications and bioethicists to question the possible repercussions.

The breakthrough could be a step toward creating artificial microorganisms that observers say might be used for such purposes as absorbing greenhouse gases or developing vaccines and fuel. They, however, have also expressed concerns the research could result in the production of hazardous life forms or biological weapons.

The J. Craig Venter Institute, a genomic research organization with facilities in both Maryland and California, produced what it described as the "first self-replicating, synthetic bacterial cell." Venter has a reputation as a maverick, having raced the federal government to map the human genome and finishing in a tie in 2000.

On the same day the milestone was announced, Obama called for his new Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to examine the possible benefits and risks of the new development "as its first order of business." He asked the panel's members, who were mostly appointed in April, to finish their study in six months and make recommendations for potential federal government actions.

In creating the synthetic cell, the Venter research team designed a genome, or full set of chromosomes, with a computer. The researchers gave the genome life using chemicals and no natural DNA. They transplanted it into a host cell, producing a synthetic cell controlled fully by the genome produced in the lab.

A variety of observers voiced reservations about the news.

"It's too early to tell what this development may mean for the future of science," Southern Baptist bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell told Baptist Press.

"But the potential for catastrophe is sufficient to warrant concern," said Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and a consultant to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "Unfortunately, Dr. Venter's habit of self-promotion doesn't provide much confidence that those concerns have been given appropriate attention."

On his weblog, bioethics specialist Wesley Smith described it as "a remarkable achievement, and one that needs to be very carefully controlled because of the potential havoc it could cause.... [F]or now, it seems to me the primary concern is safety and the need to protect the environment. But we had better start thinking about how to regulate the technology. The last thing we need is a synthetic life wild, wild west."

Helen Wallace, executive director of Genewatch UK, told British Broadcasting Corp. News, "If you release new organisms into the environment, you can do more harm than good. By releasing them into areas of pollution [with the aim of clearing it up], you're actually releasing a new kind of pollution. We don't know how these organisms will behave in the environment."

The Vatican's leading bioethics expert adopted a cautious approach.

"If it is used toward the good, to treat pathologies, we can only be positive" in evaluating its effect, Rino Fisichella told Italy's government-run television, according to the Associated Press. "If it turns out not to be ... useful to respect the dignity of the person, then our judgment would change.

"We look at science with great interest," he said. "But we think above all about the meaning that must be given to life. We can only reach the conclusion that we need God, the origin of life."

A report on the research is published at the online site of the journal Science.


Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.


5/24/2010 3:07:00 AM by BP Staff | with 2 comments

Winners named in 2010 State Bible Drill Finals

May 20 2010 by BSC Communications

On Saturday, May 15, 30 middle and high school students competed in the state Bible Drill Finals at Pleasant Garden Baptist Church in Pleasant Garden, N.C. This year more than 850 students participated in church and associational level drills, with about 575 advancing to state drills. The winners from the six state drills advanced to the state Bible Drill Finals.

Photo courtesy Walter Stanford

From left: Paul Summerville, Britney Strickland, Deborah Robson, Luke Roberts.

Fifteen students participated in the Youth Bible Drill competition. Paul Summerville of Salem Baptist Church, Raleigh Baptist Association, was named the 2010 Youth Bible Drill winner.

In the high school division, 10 students competed with Britney Strickland, who represented Mt. Airy Baptist Church, Burnt Swamp Association, and won the High School Bible Drill. 

Coming in first in the Youth Speakers’ Tournament was Luke Roberts of Clarks Chapel Baptist Church, Caldwell Baptist Association.

Each winner received a $2,500 college scholarship from the Baptist State Convention.

This scholarship is made possible by gifts from North Carolina Baptists through the Cooperative Program.

All three winners will compete in the June 25 National Bible Drill Finals in Mesquite, Texas.  
5/20/2010 12:32:00 PM by BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Flood relief vols call it ‘a joy’ to help

May 20 2010 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On this day, the lunch menu would consist of pork chops and mashed potatoes, and — over the course of the next 10 hours — some 10,000 meals would be cooked for Middle Tennessee flood victims.

Welcome to the world of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, where meals are cooked by the oodles and a day with 10,000 meals is considered, well, normal. It’s also far from the record, which was set back in 2008, when 150,000 meals in one day were prepared for victims of Hurricane Ike.

The 30-plus “feeding unit” volunteers who were set up in the parking lot of Nashville’s Judson Baptist Church May 12 were just a handful of the 88,000-plus Southern Baptists who are trained for disaster relief, ready to head to any disaster location at a moment’s notice.

“Once you start, you love to do it,” Charlie Sherwood, a member of Second Baptist Church in Clinton, Tenn., told Baptist Press. “I hate for a disaster to happen, but it’s a joy to go out and help people.”

But Southern Baptist DR volunteers don’t just prepare meals. Among other things, they remove downed trees, clean out and help rebuild flooded homes, provide portable hot showers and, of course, minister in the name of Christ to people who often have lost everything. The volunteers make up one of the nation’s three largest disaster relief efforts, the other two being the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

It’s tough work, yes, but — they’ll tell you — worth it.

Sherwood, 76, should know. He went out initially in 1980 and increased his frequency of participation with each decade. He estimates he’s participated at least 50-75 times during those 30 years, volunteering about three times each year in recent years. But, honestly, he’s lost count.

“Some people can’t understand why we do it,” he said. “We tell them that we love them and the Lord loves them.”

Over the years Sherwood has helped victims of tornadoes, hurricanes, ice storms and floods. He also travelled to New York City in the days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In Nashville, Sherwood and the rest of the feeding unit crew woke up around 5 a.m. each day to begin assisting the Nashville area, which saw thousands of homes flooded May 1-2 and experienced at least $1.5 billion in flood damage in the city alone. The early rise was necessary because the first batch of lunch meals had to be ready by 8:30 in order to be delivered by 10:30 to locations two hours way.

Photo by Royce DeGrie

Tennessee Baptist disaster relief volunteers pray before setting up a feeding unit on May 6 at Judson Baptist Church in Nashville to help feed flood victims and DR workers across the region.

The unit — owned by the Tennessee Baptist Convention — ran like clockwork, with volunteers wearing color-coded hats, depending on their task. Those in white and blue caps were the leaders, while those in yellow caps — the predominant color — were the workers.

The food is cooked in huge restaurant-sized tilt skillets and ovens and then poured into red Cambro food storage containers, resembling red Igloo ice coolers. There’s also a dessert, which usually consists of something easy to prepare, such as canned peaches.

Red Cross volunteers pick up the Cambros and then take them to shelters and communities where they pour the food into Styrofoam clamshell containers similar to restaurant takeout boxes. Each meal also contains a roll or other type of bread.

Southern Baptist feeding units often work in partnership with the Red Cross, and the food must be warm enough so that it’s 140 degrees when it’s served.

Once lunch is cooked, the volunteers find time to grab a bite to eat and then begin cooking a different menu for supper. On this day, it was chicken and dumplings and peas.

Occasionally the units set up feeding lines on-site, where disaster victims stand in line to get a meal. The Nashville feeding unit did not have a feeding line, but the lines can be eye-opening experiences.

“We had people in 2008 in Texas who drove 30 miles to pick up plates because there was no electricity,” said Phyllis Griffith, a member of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Mountain City, Tenn. “We’d hand them the plate, and lot of them would say, ‘We just appreciate y’all so much. We haven’t had a hot meal in forever.’ It’s really heartbreaking to think that if we weren’t there, they wouldn’t have it.”

The Nashville flood was the third time Griffith had been out on disaster relief.

“It’s very rewarding,” she said. “After one time, you’re hooked.”

Each Southern Baptist volunteer must first go through disaster relief training, which takes place in locations close to home and lasts about a day and a half.

Sam McClanahan, a member of Vonore (Tenn.) Baptist Church, began working on disaster relief units about eight years ago after he retired. A blue cap leader, he said he’s done a “bit of everything” over the years. His wife Nancy also is a DR worker.

“Retirees are the only ones that can easily drop what they’re doing and go,” McClanahan said. “When I hear of a hurricane coming, I’m starting to arrange things around the house, whether it’s mowing my yard — whatever I need to do. When I’m called, I can say, ‘I’m sitting here waiting for you.’ Nancy and I both, we don’t even ask each other. We just start arranging things.”

Getting involved in feeding units is an adventure, McClanahan said, and the volunteers often reward themselves late in the day by cooking something different, just for themselves.

“After these people have been standing here stirring beef stew for four or five hours, they don’t want that to eat it at night,” McClanahan said, smiling. “We normally go in a fix us something a little different.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
5/20/2010 12:27:00 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Violence escalates in Thailand

May 19 2010 by Tess Rivers, Baptist Press

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Gunshots and explosions could be heard in downtown Bangkok Wednesday (May 19) only hours after the Thai government launched a major initiative against anti-government protestors in the capital city.

“It has been going on steady for several hours now,” reported Doug Olive*, one of several International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries based in Bangkok.

Violence that erupted in Bangkok has spread to northern Thailand, where masked protestors stormed and ransacked a police post, setting it on fire in Chiang Mai. Two fire trucks were set ablaze and exploded near a major intersection in the downtown area.

“All of our (personnel) in Bangkok are all right,” said Dwight Chittum*, an IMB risk management consultant in Thailand.

“They are weary but prepared for what lies ahead. There is no power in some parts of the city, which includes the office compound.”

Initial reports indicate the government push against the protesters was successful.

Seven leaders among the protesters, also known as Red Shirts, surrendered to authorities but violence erupted following the arrests.

Protestors set fire to banks, stores and government buildings in Bangkok, and violence has spread to the northern cities of Udon Thani, Khon Kaen, Ubon Ratchathani and Chiang Mai where Red Shirts retain strong support.

All IMB personnel serving in northern Thailand are accounted for, Chittum said.

In Chiang Mai, the U.S. Consulate reported that protestors burned tires and set off firecrackers in front of the governor’s residence two blocks from the night market, a popular tourist destination and three blocks from the consulate office.

Masked protestors also stormed and ransacked a police post, setting it on fire, according to C.S. Stanley*, an IMB photographer who captured scenes of the protests.

A fire truck blocking the bridge also was set on fire.

“All in all there were probably 30 to 40 protestors who participated,” Stanley said. “The rest (of the crowd was) a mixture of local and foreign bystanders.”

The crowd dispersed when military personnel arrived two hours later.

In response, the Thai government extended an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for Bangkok to 18 provinces in northeast Thailand, including Chiang Mai.

“We are taking the matter seriously and carefully monitoring the situation,” Chittum said. “We are trying to keep (our personnel) informed as events unfold, and they are all doing well under the circumstances.”

*Names changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE ­— Rivers is a writer for the International Mission Board living in Southeast Asia.)
5/19/2010 12:51:00 PM by Tess Rivers, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pulpit murder spurs church safety workshop

May 19 2010 by Vicki Brown, Associated Baptist Press

ST. LOUIS — The shooting and death of an Illinois Baptist pastor in the middle of a worship service last year brought Steve Heidke face-to-face with the reality that most houses of worship are vulnerable as “soft targets” for crimes, including violent ones.

That realization birthed a recent training on crime mitigation for houses of worship, involving advice from law-enforcement officials, hosted by Missouri Baptist University (MBU) in St. Louis. Heidke, the school’s director of public safety, was inspired to ask MBU officials to host such an event as a result of the shooting.

The inspiration
On March 8, 2009, a gunman walked into the First Baptist Church of Maryville, Ill., and shot Pastor Fred Winters, killing him and wounding two others and himself in the ensuing struggle. After contemplating the local crime — Maryville is a bedroom community just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis — Heidke said he felt “something had to be done.”

“Criminals think of houses of worship as easy targets, so I brought a proactive and very practical idea of helping houses of worship crack down on crime to the vice presidents at Missouri Baptist University, who thought this would be a wonderful outreach program for our community,” he explained in a May 17 phone interview.

“We had such a great response that we are considering offering another next year.”

MBU photo

A St. Louis County SWAT team member presents information to help houses of worship discover ways to protect themselves from violence.

Shortly after the shooting, Heidke’s home church asked him to develop a plan for the congregation should something like that ever happen to them. He had already developed a gun-attack plan for MBU in response to the shooting rampage that killed 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech University in 2007.

A couple of area churches approached him after learning about the plan he had developed for his congregation. “So I approached the university about doing a workshop for the region,” Heidke said.

The safety director is a graduate of the Missouri State Highway Patrol Academy and of Central Missouri State University’s Traffic Management Institute. He has served with sheriff’s departments in two Missouri counties and as security director for Monsanto Chemical Co. He has worked for MBU since 2002.

Drawing on colleagues
Heidke called on his contacts from 25 years in law enforcement to help with the conference.

He enlisted representatives from the FBI, the Anti-Defamation League, the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Department and the city police department to lead several workshop sessions.

“We basically tried to teach them how to make safety a ministry that all could do — to empower all groups in the church to participate in safety.” Heidke explained. “For example, you can teach ushers and greeters clues to look for as people come in. People in the audio-visual box can be taught how to respond and call for help.”

Houses of worship are at risk for three primary reasons, Heidke said. Large numbers of people regularly gather in their buildings. Worship centers have a high vulnerability factor, and they are the “softest” or most vulnerable targets.

More than 100 individuals representing many kinds of churches and other houses of worship attended the workshop. It included a review of security concerns, a demonstration for creating a security ministry and information about local, state and national law-enforcement resources available to churches, synagogues and mosques.

Workshop leaders encouraged participants to conduct a comprehensive review of their facilities, to develop a written assessment of their risk and to tap available resources.

Resources already available to churches
Lack of knowledge about resources was the workshop’s most surprising aspect for Heidke. “The churches didn’t really realize what resources are already available free from local law enforcement, including training,” he said.

Heidke added that most police departments in larger cities have a community-resource or community-relations officer on staff who can work with churches. Most county sheriff’s offices have a similar staff position as well.

He also was surprised to discover that most local faith groups have no effective way to communicate with one another in the event of an emergency. “Since Virginia Tech, the universities have a network to immediately let everyone know. But there is no community interchange on an interfaith basis to let people know immediately when something happens,” he said.

Leading different faith groups to communicate was the best aspect of the workshop, Heidke believes. “It heightened awareness and it got different faiths to communicate about things that would improve security,” he said. “It got different faiths to talking.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE —  Brown is associate editor of the Missouri Baptist Word & Way.)  

Related stories
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Editorial: Pay attention to church security
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Safety: responsibility to take seriously
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Current insurance can take sting from disaster
Crime prevention tips to detect, deter crime
For churches, how much risk is too much?   
5/19/2010 12:43:00 PM by Vicki Brown, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Brook Hills members sacrifice big

May 19 2010 by Grace Thornton, The Alabama Baptist

Your church only thought it squirmed when your pastor preached on tithing.

Imagine this.

It’s Sunday morning, and your pastor opens the Word and begins preaching from Numbers 13–14, encouraging the congregation to faithfulness, not fearfulness, when it comes to following God’s leadership to take the land.

Then he gets specific.

He mentions a community roughly 15 miles away, a part of town you don’t really want your wife or daughter driving through in the daytime, much less at night.

And then he asks you to pray about taking your family and moving there.

What would you do?

The Alabama Baptist

When David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, posed that question to his congregation March 7, you could’ve heard a pin drop in the room.

But that just made it all the better for Chuck and Margaret Clarke — and roughly 40 other families and singles — to hear the call just that much more clearly.

Forty households. All looking toward putting “For Sale” signs in the yard and surfing real estate ads in neighborhoods nothing like their own.

“People might be surprised at that response to a sermon, but it wasn’t an isolated message,” Chuck Clarke said. “For three years, David has been preaching what it means to be a follower of Christ, so now when the opportunities come, people are ready to take them.”

And God makes it happen once you do, he explained. The Clarkes got a cash offer on their condo nearly immediately after surrendering to the idea of uprooting. They quickly found themselves prepping with their three children for a move to inner-city Birmingham.

And it wasn’t long after moving that they found themselves already a mainstay in the neighborhood.

In the afternoons, Anna Katherine Clarke, 13, invites groups of neighborhood kids up onto the sprawling porch of the Clarkes’ new home, and her mother offers them a spread of drinks.

“You want to just go in and get yourself a snack while you wait on your parents to get home?” Margaret Clarke asks two little girls.

Another crawls into her lap and starts munching on a pretzel stick — she’s already made herself at home.

“We just wanted to be a place of refuge in the neighborhood, and [the house] is already fulfilling what we wanted,” Margaret Clarke said. “We want people to come and feel loved and welcome and safe.”

Do the Clarkes themselves feel safe?

“We heard gunshots yesterday morning, two houses down. That’s all around us,” she said. “But God has woven such a beautiful tapestry of His grace in leading us here that we know if anything happens to us, it’s going to be OK.”

They are the first to move there from Brook Hills, but others will be joining them soon, including Ben DeLoach, the church’s associate local disciple-making minister, and his family.

Though the influx is significant, it’s not going in loud and proud under the Brook Hills banner — it’s just a few families moving in to live life and show Christ to the neighbors. They will be joining some people from other churches who are already doing the same thing.

“People ask, ‘What are you going to do there?’” DeLoach said. “I tell them we are going to love God and love people.”

The inner-city move is one more outgrowth of a challenge to take Christ’s commands literally that Platt has been preaching since at least fall of 2008. He preached the Radical series in November of that year, messages aimed at taking a long, honest look at what Christ really said about being His disciple.

Referencing the story of the rich young ruler, as well as the call of the 12 disciples, Platt notes that Jesus called His followers to abandon everything for the sake of His glory in the world.

“What if I were the potential disciple being told to drop my nets? What if you were the man whom Jesus told to not even say goodbye to his family? What if we were told to hate our families and give up everything we had in order to follow Jesus?” Platt asked. “This is where we come face to face with a dangerous reality. We do have to give up everything we have to follow Jesus. We do have to love Him in a way that makes our closest relationships look like hate. And it is entirely possible that He will tell us to sell everything we have and sell it to the poor.”

In fall of 2009, the church began work on a drastically different budget for 2010 — hundreds of thousands less spent on the church itself, and hundreds of thousands more sent to help further the gospel and fight poverty locally and around the world.

And at the end of 2009, Brook Hills voted to send more than $500,000 in tucked-away surplus money to fund 21 of Compassion International’s Child Survival Programs in India. Continuing to fund them became one component of this year’s Radical Experiment that the congregation committed to in January — an emphasis Platt calls “one year to a life turned upside down”:
  1. To pray for the entire world (using resources such as “Operation World,” a book and website that lists a different people group to pray for each day of the year)
  2. To read through the entire Word (together as a church)
  3. To commit our lives to multiplying community (through small groups)
  4. To sacrifice our money for a specific purpose (to meet needs locally and globally, specifically in India)
  5. To give our time in another context (by going on missions trips)
“Ultimately Jesus is a reward worth risking everything to know, experience and enjoy. But claims such as these remain theories until they are tested. That is the reason for the experiment,” Platt wrote in his new book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream, which came out earlier this month.

Brook Hills members would be quick to tell you — it’s an experiment that’s changing their lives.

One went home after the sermon on the rich young ruler, emptied all his clothes on the bed, collected bags of food and other items and drove into the projects and gave it all away.

Nearly 100 families completed training and are being certified to take care of foster children after a sermon based on James 1:27 last fall that challenged the congregation to not let a single child in Shelby County go without a home for the night.

Still more families are signed up to go through the training soon.

And dozens like the Clarkes are selling their homes and possessions and moving overseas or into other ministry contexts, such as inner-city Birmingham.

“How do you deal with the hard sayings of Christ?” Chuck Clarke asked. “We decided it was time to act, and our joy in Christ has only been maximized through it. So it’s to our benefit, too.”
5/19/2010 12:34:00 PM by Grace Thornton, The Alabama Baptist | with 2 comments

Baptist’s Haiti story ‘radically different’

May 18 2010 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE — The following story is based on interviews with Paul Thompson, one of the 10 Baptists held in prison in Haiti.)

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Paul Thompson reads the media accounts describing the journey of him and nine other jailed Baptist volunteers in Haiti who are all now free, and scratches his head. He was there. What he reads is not what he experienced.

Thompson, pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho, was one of those 10 Baptist volunteers who went to Haiti in late January with the goal of taking orphans out of the earthquake-ravaged country and into an orphanage being started in the Dominican Republican. That trip took a disastrous turn Jan. 30 when the 10 were shocked to learn they were being charged with child kidnapping, with allegations swirling that the group had plans to sell the kids into slavery, or worse, to harvest and sell their organs.

Such rumors were false, but it took more than 100 days to finally resolve the matter.

Eight of them were freed in February, a ninth one released in March, and the final one — Laura Silsby — was let go May 17, more than 100 days after the ordeal began.

The story Thompson tells is far different from what has been described repeatedly in most media accounts.

“It’s radically different,” Thompson said.

For instance:
  • The 10 Americans did not, as has been alleged in some accounts, go through the streets of Port-au-Prince passing out flyers and going door-to-door looking for children, Thompson said. Instead, the 33 children they were trying to take across the border in a medium-sized bus came from two orphanages, and orphanage workers told them that none of the children had parents.
  • The group was told multiple times before they got to the border that their documentation and paperwork — the source of the controversy — was sufficient, Thompson said. A Haitian child services official said as much, as did a Haitian policeman and an orphanage director who has extensive experience transferring orphans from Haiti to the Dominican Republic.
  • The 10 Baptists were arrested in Port-au-Prince, and not at the border. They thought they would go free until UNICEF — a United Nations agency —got involved and pressed charges, Thompson says.
  • They were arrested on Jan. 30, and not Jan. 29 as has been reported repeatedly. Thompson said that ever since he was released from jail Feb. 17 — after spending 19 days in jail — he’s wanted the group’s side of the story told but feared going public would endanger members of the group that were still in prison. Everyone, though, is now free.
Their only goals, Thompson says, were to spread the gospel and to help children. That latter goal seemed to be on track until that disastrous afternoon of Jan. 30 when they were arrested and their lives were forever changed. Until that afternoon, Thompson says, they saw no “red flags,” nothing to make them think, “Wait a minute, something’s not feeling good.”

Their first trip into Haiti
The group’s Haiti story actually began five days prior to their arrest, when they boarded a Greyhound-sized bus at 6 a.m. Jan. 25 for the six-hour drive from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republican to Port-Au-Prince. The closer they got to the earthquake zone, the more destruction they saw, until finally, arriving in Haiti’s capital, it quickly became clear they were “in a leveled city.” Only a few buildings were left standing, and many of the city’s orphanages had moved their children to tent cities.

Before entering Haiti the group had made contact with a handful of orphanages, being told by the orphanage directors that they were overcrowded and had quake orphans who could be moved to the Dominican Republican. But the first orphanage the group went to that day — despite being crowded and having children who were needing food — “completely changed” its story when Thompson and the others showed up. The orphanage was receiving food and water from outside agencies based on head count and didn’t want to lose any residents, Thompson said.

The Baptists did receive cooperation late that day at another tent city orphanage, which gave the group approximately six children to take to the Dominican Republic orphanage.

The children were placed on the bus but taken off when a Haitian policeman named Leonard — who Thompson said became a “very helpful ally” — told the group the orphanage was not a “recognized” orphanage. He also told the group that they needed written permission from an orphanage director in order to cross the border with the children and take them to the Dominican Republican orphanage, New Life Children’s Refuge.

“And so we took these kids off our bus, gave them back into the care of the tent-city orphanage,” Thompson said. “... We cooperated with every government agency and personnel that we talked to.”

The policeman was “the first to tell us that all that is necessary for us is to have written documentation from an orphanage director transferring the custody of the children from his orphanage to New Life Children’s Refuge,” Thompson said.

Because the first orphanage didn’t cooperate and the second one didn’t have the proper paperwork, the group decided to go back to the Dominican Republic, where it would regroup, get a smaller bus — thus making it easier to navigate the streets — and make phone contact with other orphanages in Port-au-Prince to see if they had children who needed to be housed elsewhere safe. They also asked their three translators, whom they were leaving behind and who had grown up in orphanages, to contact any orphanages they were close to and inquire about children. After a night’s sleep in Port-au-Prince, the Baptists drove to Santo Domingo on Jan. 26.

Their second trip into Haiti
The group headed back toward Haiti on Jan. 27, and at the border was surprised when — without the group’s permission — border guards began loading strangers onto the bus for the trip into Port-au-Prince. Fearing for their safety the Baptists told the guards to take the new passengers off the bus. Yet amidst the chaos and confusion they did allow one man and his assistant to stay. His name was Jean Sainvil, a pastor who — providentially — directs orphanages in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. He had never met members of the group, but their shared interests quickly sparked a conversation on the bus about orphanages and needy children.

“He explained who he was and that he was trying to get back to his family in Port-au-Prince to assess more of the damage on the orphanages that he’s director of,” Thompson said. “... This director, this pastor, confirmed what the policeman told us the day before: that all that’s necessary to transfer orphans from orphanage to orphanage is custody transfer, written documentation from the orphanage director. So there’s a second confirmation for us that that’s the documentation that’s required and necessary.”

Sainvil told the group that at least one of his orphanages was destroyed and that it would be helpful if he could transfer some of its residents to New Life Children’s Refuge in the Dominican Republic. The two sides agreed to meet the next day at Sainvil’s. First, though, Sainvil was dropped off at a relative’s and the group went to a Christian school compound where they stayed the night.

Seeing orphanages in ruins
The next morning Thompson and the others met up with their translators, one of whom had made contact with an orphanage he grew up in that was overcrowded. When the bus arrived at the orphanage — located in a mountain village — the children, about 13 of them, were ready and waiting to board. Following protocol, Silsby got each child’s name, birth date and closest living relative, and the children boarded.

Everything appeared to be in order, but when the bus started pulling away one boy began to cry, screaming in Creole that his dad was outside the bus. The bus stopped.

“He was weeping and had tears rolling down his eyes,” Thompson said of the boy. “... As soon as we discovered that that kid’s dad was outside the bus, ‘we put him back in the custody of his dad.”

The fact that a child who had a living parent was at the orphanage underscored the country’s desperate situation.

“We had heard,” Thompson said, “that this was a common practice — that an actual parent would take their children to an orphanage and insist that this child has no parents, knowing that that child could be better taken care of at an orphanage.”

Silsby then phoned Sainvil, who told her he was not yet ready for them to come to his orphanage. With time on their hands, the group headed to the Dominican Republic embassy in Port-au-Prince to try and obtain a document the Baptists had learned the D.R. requires to transfer orphans into that country.

No one at the consulate, though, had the document. Silsby’s wait inside the consulate lasted so long — at least an hour — that the Baptists on the bus decided to feed the children.

“There were several delays,” Thompson said. “She came out one time and said that the person that is supposed to meet her with the document was on their way.”

The person never showed up.

“From this side of things, that kind of dialogue is probably better interpreted as delay tactics, because they didn’t have the paperwork,” Thompson said. “Nobody had it, and it was not there. These are government agencies telling us the person with the paperwork is on their way. So we waited and waited and waited. Eventually we told them that we have this appointment to meet at the orphanage with Pastor Jean Sainvil. We left the embassy building.”

Were they really orphans?
Sainvil’s orphanage — and most of the neighborhood around it — was destroyed.

Despite that, the 20 or so kids from Sainvil’s orphanage were dressed and ready, and they boarded the bus one at a time as Sainvil gave Silsby each child’s name, birth date and closest living relative.

It would later be learned that none of the children — not the 20 at Sainvil orphanage and not the 13 at the mountain village — were orphans. Thompson says now he does not know who was deceiving whom, but that he and the others believed they were receiving children who were orphaned because of the earthquake.

“That’s still an unknown for us,” Thompson said. “But as far as we knew, these kids that this pastor was giving into our care and our custody had no moms and no dads. We had communicated above board that this is the purpose of this ministry — it is to only minister to kids that have no moms and no dads. And it was communicated frequently. So somewhere along the way, a deception was communicated to us who these kids were.”

With 33 children now in their care, the group headed back to the Dominican Republic embassy to see if the official who supposedly had the necessary document had arrived. The person, though, had not, but Silsby was told the document would be waiting for them at the border.

The group members now faced a dilemma: they did not have the proper documents to cross the border but — with it now being close to nighttime — they also did not have a place for them and the children to sleep. Officials with the Christian school compound previously had told Silsby and the others that they would not be allowed to bring children into the facility, but the group felt it had no other choice but to try. Sure enough, though, the school turned the group away. So that night, the 10 Baptists and the 33 children slept on the streets just outside the compound, with military personnel on the compound grounds making it feel at least somewhat safe.

Despite that setback, the group was heartened when medical personnel came out of the compound to check on the children.

Thankfully, the area around the compound saw no violence or looting that night.

“Nobody even wandered down the street upon us,” Thompson said.

‘You might as well go to the border’
Thompson and the others woke up on Jan. 29 after a rough night’s sleep intending to obtain not only the Dominican Republic document but also a Haitian document they had learned about.

They spent nearly the entire day looking for both documents — “going to every government agency we were told to go to” — while at the same time entertaining and feeding the 33 children. The friendly Haitian policeman they had met during their first day in Haiti assisted them throughout the day, guiding them to the necessary buildings.

The group then attempted to obtain the Haitian document, going to a Port-au-Prince child services office and also a Haitian child services office, but got a similar story each time: “They would say, ‘This is a brand new document, we actually don’t have the document’ or ‘We don’t have anyone here to sign the document. You’ll have to go to (another) office to get it.’”

The final Haitian government office they visited wasn’t any more helpful, and — in hindsight — may have helped lead to their arrest. After Silsby showed an official there the documents she had been given by the two orphanages, the person, Thompson said, responded, “This document that you have, you might as well take it to the border and see if they’ll let you cross with this document because this other document — that everyone knows is a new document to have — nobody has it. And nobody is here to actually produce the document.”

So, late that afternoon, the group decided to head to the border.

“We made that decision based off what a government official told us to do,” Thompson said. “We felt we made every attempt to be above board with this process.”

The bus left Port-au-Prince and got to the border around 6 o’clock.

“As soon we got there, Laura stepped out and she had all the documentations with her,” Thompson said. “She was explaining to the border guards, ‘Here’s the situation, here’s where we’re going.’ ... They felt comfortable that everything she was sharing was on the up and up — that’s the feeling we got. Then there began to be some dialogue amongst themselves in Creole or French about this new document that Haiti was now requiring for transfer of orphans. They were in a bit of an argument, some of the guys saying, ‘This is all they need,’ and others saying, ‘No, they’ve got to have another document.’”

The border guards called the chief border guard, and Silsby and Thompson went into his office.

“She was telling these guys the same story,” Thompson said. “The border guards were listening, the chief border guard’s listening. You can tell that he’s confused.”

The chief border guard made several calls and then got off the phone and broke the bad news: “I cannot let you cross the border.” The group, he said, must go back to Port-au-Prince to get the Haitian document that no one could provide.

“He did not arrest us,” Thompson said. “So we complied and said, ‘OK.’”

In a video aired by CBS News in February, several members of the Baptist volunteer team are shown in the hours after their arrest with a number of Haitian children they were seeking to relocate to an orphanage that group leader Laura Silsby was planning to open in the Dominican Republic.

But the group now had the same problem it had the night before: 33 kids, with no place to sleep. Desperate, the Baptists made a proposal to the chief border guard: They would stay at the border that night, and the next morning, the bus driver would take Silsby to Port-au-Prince to get the document, with the others staying at the border until she got back.

The chief border guard agreed to the plan, and the bus was moved into the gated area. The Baptists and the border guards — many of whom had grown up orphans and who appreciated what the Baptists were doing — then began working together to ready the children for bed. Their sleeping area would be a porch area, with blankets spread out. “(The border guards) were very grateful and expressing a lot of gratitude to us for what we were doing to help their country,” Thompson said. “We got a good sense of reception from them.”

Soon, a group of medical personnel showed up who had, somehow, gotten word about the children. These officials ran a medical facility in Haiti five miles from the border and offered to give the children physicals — including de-worming medication — the next day. The Baptists agreed. The new plan for Saturday — OK’d again by the chief border guard — now had the bus dropping the children off at the medical facility while Silsby went to Port-au-Prince to obtain the document. The Baptists’ frustrating predicament now seemed to have a silver lining, and, perhaps, things would fall into place the next day. That hint of optimism soon turned to joy that night when the conversation between the Baptists and the border guards turned spiritual.

‘I want to become a Christian’
With the children falling to sleep and the group members preparing MREs (meals, ready to eat), the border guards and Baptists practiced their lingual skills — the border guards’ limited English and the Baptists their rough Creole. Out of the blue, one of the border guards, speaking through a translator, told the Baptists, “I want to become a Christian and I want to know how to become a Christian.” The Baptists, amazed at what had just been requested, led the man to the Lord.

“Our act of compassion upon his country, God was using that to draw this man to Himself — I’m sure with a lot of other things,” Thompson said. “Because of what just happened we became very satisfied that this was God’s ordained moment for this man’s life.”

The Baptists rejoiced with the man, and the experience made the fact that they were still in Haiti — and would be sleeping without a bed for a second straight night — significantly more palatable. It would be their final night sleeping in freedom before being placed in jail.

They awoke the next morning ready to tie up all the loose ends and finally get the proper documents to travel into the Dominican Republic — where a church group from Idaho awaited — but soon were told that there had been a change of plans. They would not be allowed to take the children to the medical center, and Silsby would not be allowed to travel to Port-au-Prince alone. Instead, everyone — the 10 Baptists and the 33 children — were told to board the bus and travel to Haitian child services, which just happened to be housed in the same building in Port-au-Prince as the police station.

They were not given any detailed explanation.

“Our understanding was we were going back to get the documentation,” Thompson said. “So we complied.”

UNICEF gets involved
The bus passed the medical compound en route to Port-au-Prince and arrived at the police station around 8 or 9 o’clock that morning. Ironically, it was one of the buildings the group had been at the day before trying to obtain the Haitian document that officials had been unable to find.

The police escorted Silsby and her translator into an office, leaving behind the other nine Baptists and 33 children in a waiting area. The discussion between the police and Silsby lasted more than an hour, and she exited the meeting optimistic that everything was OK.

“Laura came out of this meeting pretty satisfied that the police were ready to put us back on the bus with the kids and head back to the border because she had produced the documentation from the orphanage directors,” Thompson said. “She told them the whole story. We were actually in a building where we had been the day before trying to get documentation. So she was able to say, ‘We’ve already been here, we’ve tried this. Nobody was here to get this paperwork for us.’”

Yet they weren’t allowed to leave the police station just yet because a representative from child services was on her way to the building to meet Silsby. After that — at least they thought — they would be good to go.

Finally, the woman arrived, and Silsby and the others knew something could be amiss.

The woman was a UNICEF worker who Silsby recognized from previous visits to child services offices. She walked into the building with a group of UNICEF employees, all of them wearing shirts with the UNICEF logo. A “spiritual shift,” Thompson said, took place.

Still, though, there was no reason to worry. “You guys are going to be OK,” policemen told the team. But the group soon began questioning that logic.

The lengthy meeting between the UNICEF woman, Silsby and the police had barely begun when the other UNICEF employees brought cameras and microphones into the waiting area to film video of the kids, talking to them in Creole.

The children began crying, and the footage made it into news broadcasts around the world.

“This was a complete setup,” Thompson said. “They were beginning to build their case for us as being kidnappers and child traffickers.”

Even worse for the Baptists, the UNICEF employees told the children that the 10 were kidnappers who wanted to sell the kids into slavery or sell their organs, Thompson said.

“What those cameras won’t show — which is ironically amazing — is that these kids were sitting in our laps, crying on our shoulders and they were not running away from us,” Thompson said. “We’re the very people that the UNICEF people were saying we kidnapped them. There’s no policemen that is taking these kids away from us at this point. Nobody’s removed us from the kids. We were still in complete care of the kids. They’re not even turning to the policemen. For us, that really began to tell us that we were right in the middle of something very spiritually active. For us, it was clear that there was a spiritual battle that we were right smack dab in the middle of.”

After the UNICEF cameras left, though, the children calmed down, and the Baptists were allowed to go back to their bus where they got food and water to feed the kids. With the meeting dragging on, the kids ate, and everyone waited for a report from Silsby.

Finally — about an hour and 45 minutes after it started — the meeting ended. As if on cue, the UNICEF camera crew once again put microphones in the faces of the kids, who, once again, began crying and screaming. The UNICEF woman — whose name Thompson still does not know — then headed to a press conference in an adjacent part of the building, where she announced that the Baptists had just been charged with kidnapping and child trafficking. Thompson watched the press conference, as did some of the children. A policeman actually interpreted the press conference for Thompson. It was a surreal scene.

“He’s just standing next to me, he was not acting on the charges that she’s telling the press conference about,” Thompson said. “And still, no large group of policemen has showed up. Nobody has showed up with handcuffs. We’re still taking care of the kids, and she’s telling the world we’re kidnappers and traffickers.... They’re definitely still crying and I’m sure heavy in thought about what was going on. It’s hard to know really what these kids are processing in their minds.”

Soon, though, the 10 Baptists were arrested, beginning an ordeal that forever changed their lives. That night would be Day 1 of a nearly three-week ordeal for eight of them and a 100-plus-day ordeal for Silsby.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
5/18/2010 12:11:00 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

GCRTF asks Baptists to prioritize reaching lost

May 18 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

A yearlong self examination process by a 22-member task force handpicked by Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Johnny Hunt last year will ask Southern Baptists to “reset every priority” to focus on a single goal of “pushing back lostness” according to its final report issued May 3.

Southern Baptists will consider seven recommendations the task force is making when they hear the report at their annual meeting in Orlando on the afternoon of June 15.

A progress report issued Feb. 22 drew considerable reaction and task force members, chaired by Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church, Springdale, Ark., and of Church at Pinnacle Hills in nearby Rogers, Ark., held numerous listening sessions across the country. Their final report reflects their responses to the input.

Whether the report will be presented as one recommendation or considered one component at a time is as yet undecided.

SEBTS photo

Nathan Akin, from left, Jed Coppinger, Jon Akin, Danny Akin, Al Gilbert and J.D. Greear gather after a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary chapel service focused on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force April 28. The event was sponsored by Baptist21 which will also be hosting an event in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention in June.

Floyd said that decision is in the hands of the presiding officer, although John Sullivan, executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention and for 25 years a parliamentarian at the SBC, said in a recent interview he expects the report to be considered and voted upon one recommendation at a time.

Unlike the progress report, the final draft contains not only seven recommendations, but also 92 challenges to Southern Baptists individually and to their churches and institutions, all of which are aimed at focusing SBC individual and corporate life on winning the lost to faith in Christ. But it is only the recommendations that formulate the task force report that messengers will consider. To see the full report and challenges, go to

In an introduction that says, “We must see a tidal wave of evangelistic and missionary passion” or Christians will fall further behind in their efforts to win unreached people, it says, “Churches in America are losing ground with each successive generation.”

The report recognizes that Southern Baptists “must see this generation of young Baptists take their places on the front lines of the Great Commission Resurgence” as “our only hope (humanly speaking) for a bold advance for the gospel in the coming generation.”

It says “there are bright signs of promise and ample signs of hope” if Baptists will “do whatever it take to see a great Commission Resurgence change our priorities, reshape our plans and fuel our lives for God’s glory.”  

Seven components
The first recommendation is to adopt a “missional vision” that will “reset every priority of the local church and the denomination.”

While the Southern Baptist Convention has a purpose statement from its founding days in 1835, the task force suggests the SBC operate from the basis of this statement: “As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.”

That statement is similar to the purpose statement adopted by Southern Baptists at their formation in 1835, but more narrowly focused.

Component two encourages Southern Baptists to make their values transparent in a “new and healthy culture” within the SBC.

It asks that Southern Baptists stand together in Christ-likeness, truth, unity, relationships in which we consider others more important than ourselves, trust, embracing responsibility for a future generation, honoring the local church and joining other Christ-followers “for the gospel, the Kingdom of Christ and the glory of God.”

Component three affirms the priority of missions giving through the Cooperative Program, but would create a broader accounting category to “celebrate” a church’s gifts to Southern Baptist causes outside CP as well.

It would create a “Great Commission Giving” category with CP as the central ingredient. This is one of two components that prompted the most reaction, primarily from people who believe it would further dilute the sense that CP is the primary missions giving channel. 

Component Four — which also garnered significant reaction — says the North American Mission Board (NAMB) must be “liberated” and “unleashed for greater effectiveness.”

It wants NAMB to be free to plant churches, appoint missionaries directly and establish a national strategy without what the task force believes is the encumbrance of working with Baptist state conventions through cooperative agreements.

Cooperative agreements are working documents that outline strategy, responsibilities and shared costs between Baptist state conventions and NAMB when NAMB responds to requests from the conventions. Baptist associations also receive NAMB funding and work with a state convention to access those funds.

The task force believes too great a portion of such funds return to the southeastern states where Baptist work is strong, rather than going to underserved areas. It wants to phase out all such agreements over seven years in favor of another working agreement which has not been designed.

Verbiage in component four also says, “Our churches are in great need of leadership, strategies and materials for making disciples” and said NAMB is “best suited to fulfill this leadership mission.”

Component five would remove any geographic restrictions from the service areas of missionaries appointed by the International Mission Board. The IMB strategy to follow people groups rather than national boundaries should include the United States, the task force says, where as many as 586 people groups are represented.

That means IMB missionaries working with a people group in West Africa, for instance, could minister among those people in Detroit or New York or anywhere else they are gathered, lending their language and culture expertise to local churches.

Component six would encourage Baptist state conventions to take primary responsibility for promoting the Cooperative Program and stewardship among churches. It also encourages the states and SBC Executive Committee to develop a strategy “for encouraging our churches to greater participation and investment in the Cooperative Program.” 

The preliminary report recommended removal of the responsibility altogether from the Executive Committee, but recognizes in the final report “there must also be a role” for the SBC in CP promotion. Component seven would move one percentage point of national CP allocations from the SBC Executive Committee to the IMB.

At current levels one percent equals about $2 million, which would be almost one-third of the Executive Committee budget and less than one percent of the IMB’s. The Executive Committee, which operates as the SBC between annual sessions and recommends the overall CP allocation for approval by messengers, has grown in recent years as it has assumed some responsibilities resulting from consolidating commissions and agencies in 1995.

For many years it operated on just one percent of CP allocations.  

The task force acknowledges their report does “not represent a revolution in Southern Baptist life and work,” and says it is “only a start.”

It also recognizes “the challenge of working toward a Great Commission Resurgence will require the commitment of a generation, not merely of the messengers to an annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Members of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force: Johnny Hunt SBC President, Ex-officio member of the GCR Task Force, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga.; Ronnie Floyd, chairman, pastor of First Baptist Church Springdale, Ark., and the Church at Pinnacle Hills, Rogers, Ark.; Daniel Akin, president, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Tom Biles, executive director, Tampa Bay Baptist Association; John  Cope, pastor of Keystone Community Fellowship, Chalfont, Pa.; David Dockery, president, Union University; John Drummond, owner, DMG Development, Panama City, Fla., Donna Gaines, wife of Bellevue Baptist Church pastor Steven Gaines,
 Cordova, Tenn.; Al Gilbert, pastor, Calvary Baptist Church, Winston-Salem; Larry Grays, pastor, Midtown Bridge Church, Atlanta, Ga.; J.D. Greear, pastor, The Summit Church, Durham; Ruben Hernandez associate Spanish pastor, Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, Texas; Harry Lewis, vice-president of Partnership, Missions, and Mobilization Group at the North American Mission Board (NAMB); Kathy Ferguson Litton, wife of First Baptist Church, North Mobile, Ala., pastor Ed Litton; Albert Mohler, Jr.
, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Mike Orr, pastor of First Baptist Church, Chipley, Fla.; Frank Page, vice-president of Evangelism at NAMB; Jim Richards, executive director of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention; Roger Spradlin, pastor of Valley Baptist Church, Bakersfield, Calif.; Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church, Pensacola, Fla.; Simon Tsoi executive director of Chinese Baptist Fellowship of the U. S. and Canada; Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention; Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church, Lutz, Fla.
5/18/2010 2:26:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 1 comments

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