May 2012

N.C. pastor to nominate SBC 2nd VP nominee

May 31 2012 by Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – Mississippi pastor Eric Hankins will be nominated for second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) by North Carolina pastor Clint Pressley during the SBC’s June 19-20 annual meeting in New Orleans.
Hankins, 40, has been pastor of First Baptist Church in Oxford since 2005.

Pressley, pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, listed several reasons in a statement to Baptist Press why he intends to nominate Hankins for the SBC’s second vice president.

Among them: “Eric loves the Southern Baptist Convention enough to work within the convention to help it to honor the Lord as best as we can.” Pressley wrote. “This is, I believe, a factor of high importance in evaluating candidates for SBC office. Eric pastors FBC Oxford, Mississippi, and his church gives 12% through the Cooperative Program. If you love the SBC, then Eric is the kind of guy you want to see in leadership.”

Before serving at First Baptist in Oxford, Hankins was senior pastor of Galloway Avenue Baptist Church in Mesquite, Texas, from 2000 to 2005 and pastor of Gillsburg (Miss.) Baptist Church from 1997 to 2000.

Hankins earned a Ph.D. in theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas in 2007, a master of divinity in biblical languages from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 1997 and a bachelor of arts degree in religion from Louisiana College in 1994.

Pressley, in his statement to Baptist Press, described Hankins as “an innovative young leader in the pursuit of the Great Commission. Eric was involved in the founding of the One8 church-planting network and he serves on its leadership team today. This network combines all of the best new ideas about church planting with a convictional Southern Baptist doctrinal stance and denominational affiliation. One8 is a distinctively Southern Baptist church-planting network. Guys involved in creating and leading that sort of thing ought to be the leaders of our denomination, in my opinion.” The One8 Network is on the web at

Pressley also referenced Hankins’ father, David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, stating, “The primary responsibility of the second vice president is to assist our president in any way that he requires. Eric will serve well alongside Dr. Fred Luter,” the New Orleans pastor who, to date, is the lone nominee for SBC president. “[T]here’s already a good relationship between the Luters and the Hankinses,” Pressley said, adding, “Eric’s not the kind of guy who’s going to wind up on CNN for having done something to embarrass the convention while holding office. That’s important.”

Pressley also stated that “Eric is my friend and I know him to be a godly leader that loves his family, the church and the Great Commission.”

Eric Hankins and his wife Janet, have two school-age sons and a daughter.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.)
5/31/2012 2:48:19 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Poll: SBC pastors say black leader would be good

May 31 2012 by John D. Wilke, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn – Eighty-six percent of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) pastors who expressed an opinion believe it would be good for the convention to have an African-American leader.

Fred Luter, an African-American pastor from New Orleans, will be nominated for SBC president at the denomination’s annual meeting in June.

LifeWay Research polled SBC pastors asking their level of agreement or disagreement with the statement: “Without regard to any individual, I think it would be a good thing to have an African-American as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Of the nearly 1,000 SBC pastors who responded, 61 percent agree it would be positive, 10 percent disagree, but 29 percent don’t have an opinion. Of those who had an opinion, 50 percent strongly agree and 36 percent somewhat agree.

LifeWay Research president Ed Stetzer said the results are good news for a denomination born, in part, out of the racial divides of the mid-1800s.

“Southern Baptists have come a long way. In the last 20 years, the percentage of non-Anglo SBC churches has grown from five percent to 20 percent, and now seven percent of Southern Baptist churches are identified as primarily African-American,” Stetzer said. “But, we are still a predominantly Anglo denomination, so it is particularly encouraging to see the openness and enthusiasm for an African-American SBC president.”

Stetzer believes the high number of those not expressing an opinion, and some of those with a negative answer, may indicate many pastors believe race should play no part in selection of SBC leadership.

Regional location of the pastor shows no pattern of significant statistical differences. In fact, the results show many similarities across regions. For example, 66 percent of SBC pastors in the Northeast agree, while 62 percent of pastors in the South agree.

The survey results are reminiscent of public opinion polls taken four years ago that asked if Americans were ready for a black U.S. president. A pre-election CBS News poll in 2008 showed 68 percent of Americans agreed the country was ready for an African-American U.S. president.

Stetzer explained the LifeWay Research question was posed to gain perspective on pastors’ views of this anticipated historical vote, but was not focused specifically on Luter. “We wanted to know about race’s role in denominational leadership,” Stetzer said. “What we didn’t want was a referendum or pre-convention vote of confidence of any individual’s skills or electability. That’s why we asked the question the way we did.

“Pastors, when answering, may have thought about a black SBC leader as being a sign of national racial progress or even a positive pivot point in the direction of the denomination,” Stetzer said. “Either way, more than 8 out of 10 is an overwhelming percentage and a sign of remarkable progress by any measure.”

The question was asked as part of a mail survey of 1,066 SBC pastors conducted April 1 - May 11. The mailing list was randomly drawn from a stratified list of all SBC churches. Surveys were mailed to the senior pastor with the option of completing online. Responses were weighted to match the actual geographic distribution and worship attendance of SBC churches.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jon D. Wilke is media relations manager for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)


5/31/2012 2:42:57 PM by John D. Wilke, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

NAMB expands SBDR fleet

May 31 2012 by Mickey Noah, NAMB

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – While so far, 2012 has been a relatively quiet year for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) on a national scale – compared to tornado-dominated 2011 – SBDR leaders at the North American Mission Board (NAMB) have used the time to significantly beef up the response fleet and prepare for future disasters sure to come.
As a result of a $1.5 million allocation by NAMB’s Board of Trustees in February, the entity’s DR fleet now includes three new 53-foot, 18-wheelers. Two of the tractor-trailers are already in NAMB’s Alpharetta, Ga., parking lot, with the third – a tractor with a refrigerated trailer –due to arrive in July. Also coming in July will be a much-needed second command center trailer.
In addition, NAMB now has four heavy-duty Ford-550 trucks to pull any of four mud-out and pressure washing cargo trailers to future disaster venues – hauling generators, tools and other equipment.
The three 18-wheelers, the four new trucks, the two command center trailers and the cargo trailers will all be “wrapped” in the familiar blue and yellow disaster relief colors, with matching logos and graphics that will clearly identify Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.
“We are thrilled to be able to provide these vehicles and this additional equipment to come alongside our state partners who do such an amazing job responding to disasters,” Kevin Ezell, NAMB’s president said. “When this equipment rolls into town, people will know help is on the way, but they will also know hope is on the way.”

Photo by John Swain

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers (from left) Tom Day, Jim Harper, Claude Carpenter and Cam Sutherland, all members of First Redeemer Church (SBC) in Cumming, Ga., examine one of the three new heavy-duty Ford-550 trucks and cargo trailers at the North American Mission Board, which will be used to haul disaster relief equipment and supplies to the sites of future disasters.

NAMB disaster relief team leader Mickey Caison said NAMB’s expanded fleet will serve to complement and enhance the already significant DR assets of the state Baptist conventions when major disasters strike anywhere in North America.
“While the Southern state conventions already have considerable resources depending on the scope of the disaster in their states, the emerging conventions in the North, Midwest and West are especially excited to see these additional resources made available to them,” Caison said.
“These new resources will greatly enhance our capabilities of responding in the emerging state convention areas, and it also gives them the assurance that equipment will arrive and be available for the duration of the disaster. The command center will give them an office to work out of, and satellite communications to give them instant access to phone service and the Internet until local networks are restored,” said Caison.
Caison said funds for the new vehicles and trailers resulted from NAMB budget “underspends” in 2011. “In addition, Kevin Ezell saw the tremendous needs following last year’s devastating tornadoes in Tuscaloosa (Ala.) and Joplin (Mo.)”
The new vehicles and trailers will also enable SBDR teams to better support locally hit areas because of their greater capacity to bring in more equipment and resources at one time, according to Caison.
“With the new trailers, for instance, we’ll now be able to bring in rolled, fiberglass-reinforced plastic roofing following storms and tornadoes, allowing our chainsaw teams to immediately patch roofs to prevent additional damage.”
Caison also said the new trailers’ shipping capabilities will allow the set up of “volunteer villages,” including enough tents, generators, cots and other gear to accommodate an estimated 75 volunteers in each village.
“This will be an especially important capability in the emerging states, where very often the local SBC churches are few, small and unable to house a large number of volunteers who may have deployed from anywhere in the United States.” Caison said volunteer housing was especially a problem last year during the SBDR response to massive flooding in Minot, N.D., and to tropical storms Irene and Lee.
The additional fleet vehicles also generate a demand for more volunteers, Caison said, especially those with CDLs (commercial driver licenses). “We need these people to contact us if they want to volunteer to drive the trailers to deliver equipment during a disaster response.”
Caison said several of the new SBDR fleet vehicles will be exhibited during the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the Ernest Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, June 19-20.
For more information on how to become an officially trained Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer or to donate, visit
5/31/2012 2:19:28 PM by Mickey Noah, NAMB | with 0 comments

Poll: Churchgoers as digitally engaged as U.S.

May 31 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – American churchgoers are just as likely to use Twitter, Facebook and the Internet as non-churchgoers, according to a new study that shows the impact that technology can have on spreading a church’s message.

The landline and cell phone survey of 2,303 adults by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project showed that:

– 9 percent of those actively involved in religious groups use Twitter, the same percentage as the general population.

– 46 percent of those in religious groups use social networking sites – almost identical to the 47 percent of all adults.

– 60 percent of both groups use text messaging.

– 79 percent of those actively involved in religious groups use the Internet while 76 percent of all adults do so.

Attendance, though, was a factor in determining the percentage of churchgoers involved in social media and electronic communication. For instance, 54 percent of weekly churchgoers use Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn – a much smaller percentage than the 71 percent of monthly churchgoers and 65 percent of less frequent churchgoers who do so. Pew said the average age of weekly churchgoers could explain the disparity.


– 9 percent of weekly churchgoers use Twitter (15 percent of monthly churchgoers and 14 percent of less frequent churchgoers do so).

– 26 percent of weekly churchgoers make donations online (35 percent of monthly churchgoers; 27 percent of less frequent churchgoers).

– 70 percent of weekly churchgoers who have a cell phone send or receive text messages (80 percent of monthly churchgoers; 77 percent of less frequent churchgoers).

– 36 percent of weekly churchgoers use their cell phone to access the Internet (51 percent of monthly churchgoers; 45 percent of less frequent churchgoers).

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Read the full survey at
5/31/2012 2:14:35 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Suffering was ‘beyond imagination,’ Chen tells CNN

May 30 2012 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

NEW YORK – In one of his first televised interviews since seeking refuge in the United States, former Chinese prisoner Chen Guangcheng told CNN’s Anderson Cooper “the brutality was beyond anyone’s imagination.”

“I want to correct one thing here,” Chen told CNN. “When we talk about my situation in the future, let’s not use the word ‘house arrest’ but instead let’s use the term ‘illegal detention.’ It’s hard for me to describe what it was like during that time. But let’s just say that my suffering was beyond imagination.”
Chen, a blind self-taught human rights lawyer, was imprisoned for four years for helping to expose the cruelty of China’s one-child policy and then was placed under strict surveillance in his home. Chen’s investigation uncovered women being forced to have abortions. He escaped in April and now is in New York, where he will study law at New York University.

Recently, Chen had an opportunity to sit outdoors in freedom for the first time in several years.

In one of his first televised interviews since seeking refuge in the United States, former Chinese prisoner Chen Guangcheng told CNN’s Anderson Cooper “the brutality was beyond anyone’s imagination.”

“I haven’t been able to feel the nature for a long time,” he told CNN. “On that day I had some time to soak in the sun and feel the breeze. I just felt I hadn’t been able to do that in so long. I have missed out for too long.”

Chen is scheduled to speak May 31 at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York alongside his mentor, New York University law professor Jerome Cohen, whom he met in 2003 when Chen traveled to the United States.

Bob Fu, president of the Texas-based ChinaAid Association, met with Chen in his New York apartment May 23. The two hugged tightly for a long time and spoke for three hours, ChinaAid said. The aid organization asked for prayer for Chen’s family “to overcome new tough challenges after their arrival” in the United States.

In the CNN interview May 24, Chen declined to speak further about the brutality he and his wife experienced at the hands of authorities in their home village. He realizes people are concerned about him, he said, but he still needs time to gather his thoughts.

“There’s one thing I want to mention that may be a surprise to many people,” Chen said. “When a group of people come together and accomplish something, they often fight for credit. In my case all those people who went to Shandong to pick me up, when the news broke, they were fighting for risk instead of credit. They were all trying to claim responsibility to make others safer.”

While Chen, his wife and two children are in the United States, he is “very worried” about the rest of his family and those who helped him to safety. Since his escape, retribution against his family has intensified, he said.

“In the case of my nephew Chen Kegui, when dozens of men break into someone’s house with weapons in the middle of the night, taking away your parent with a hood over his head and detain him without any legal basis and then go back to assault my nephew, he only reacted when he could no longer bear the beatings and his actions would be self-defense according to any Chinese law,” Chen told CNN.

“They injured his head, and made him bleed for three hours. And his clothes were shattered and the sticks they used to beat him were bent, and if actions under such circumstances was not called self-defense, would there be any meaning left in having the term self-defense in Chinese law?”

Chen was referring to the night authorities who broke into his brother’s home and later charged his nephew with intent to commit homicide for slashing local officials with a kitchen knife.

The New York Times reported May 28 that Chen’s brother, Chen Guangfu, was back at home and “unguarded but under great pressure.” Chen Guangfu had escaped detention in order to travel to Beijing to meet with a lawyer to help his son. The Times said it was unclear whether Chen’s brother returned to the village by force or on his own.

“Local officials in China often send police officers to Beijing to retrieve discontented citizens who travel to the Chinese capital to try to make their grievances known to central officials,” The Times said, adding that Chen himself was seized in such a way in 2005.

The Los Angeles Times May 28 described the lockdown that continues in Chen’s home village even after his departure to the United States.

“At the turnoff for the sleepy farming village of Dongshigu, a man wearing a straw hat appears to be selling watermelons at a rough-hewn stand. But when an approaching car slows, burly young men dart out from behind the nearby concrete house and rush to head it off,” the Los Angeles Times said.

Any sign of resistance creates an overreaction, the newspaper said, and Chen’s escape has infuriated the Communist Party.

The Los Angeles Times described Chen’s 19-month illegal detention in Dongshigu this way: “Chen’s windows were covered with metal shutters and the perimeter cordoned off with an electric fence. Floodlights illuminated the house by night. Authorities put seven surveillance cameras at the entrance to the village and around the house and installed cellphone-jamming equipment to prevent Chen from having any contact with outsiders. Only Chen’s mother was permitted in and out of the house to buy food.”

ChinaAid appealed to the international community to keep focus on Chen’s family in China and asked believers to intercede in prayer.

“The Chen Guangcheng incident is not yet over,” ChinaAid said May 24.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach.)
5/30/2012 1:46:51 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Gay marriage at issue in Pentagon budget bill

May 30 2012 by Edward Lee Pitts, Baptist Press

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – President Obama told the graduating class of U.S. Air Force Academy cadets May 23 that they are starting their service at a time when the burden of national security no longer falls so heavily on the military’s shoulders.
Obama pledged to keep the military fast, flexible, versatile and superior. But what was left unsaid by the president was the lack of peace and harmony between the White House and Congress regarding how to fund the military going forward.

The House of Representatives approved its plan for the Pentagon’s budget for next year. But House lawmakers, including 77 Democrats, passed the $642 billion bill despite a veto threat from Obama. The House plan adds $8 billion more for the military next year than what the president has called for.

Social issues also are at play.

For example, an approved amendment to the House defense bill explicitly prevents same-sex marriage services from taking place on U.S. military bases.

“The administration’s recent actions have created uncertainty regarding ceremonies permitted on military installations,” said Rep. Steven Palazzo, R.-Miss., one of the amendment’s sponsors. “This amendment is intended to clear up any doubt and reinforce the [Defense of Marriage Act’s] authority as it applies to those installations.”

Rep. Todd Akin, R.-Mo., successfully pushed through a second amendment to protect the religious liberty of all military service members, particularly military chaplains. Akin’s amendment creating a statutory conscience protection clause for service members came at the request of military chaplain organizations that have reported an increase in censorship and discipline directed at soldiers who have moral or religious concerns about same-sex marriage.

“This liberal agenda has infiltrated our military,” Akins said. “Moral or religious concerns about same-sex marriage or the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ have become potentially career-ending.”

In a recent letter sent to Rep. Howard P. McKeon, R.-Calif., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, a group of 19 retired military officers and pastors representing the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty highlighted some of these recent abuses including:

– A senior chaplain on a major stateside military base lost his authority of the chapel under his charge for insisting that, in accordance with federal law, the chapel wouldn’t be used to celebrate unions between same-sex couples.

– Another chaplain was threatened with early retirement and reassigned to a position with more supervision for forwarding an email reflecting on the former “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding gays in the military.

“Until Congress acts decisively, efforts to silence the voices of our military chaplains of all faiths and backgrounds will likely continue well into the future,” states the letter from the alliance, which represents more than 2,000 military chaplains.

The Obama administration issued a statement saying it “strongly objects” to these amendments protecting chapels and the conscience of chaplains and other service members. The administration stated those provisions “adopt unnecessary and ill-advised policies that would inhibit the ability of same-sex couples to marry or enter a recognized relationship.”

The administration added the religious and moral beliefs protected by the amendments are overbroad and would be “potentially harmful to good order and discipline.” Denying service members access to facilities such as chapels on the basis of sexual orientation would, according to the administration, be “troublesome.”

Rep. Palazzo, while promoting his amendment protecting chapels from hosting same-sex union ceremonies during committee debates, argued that the Defense Department facilities are federal property, so they already fall under the jurisdiction of DOMA.

“The Defense of Marriage Act was clear in defining marriage for purposes of the federal government,” Palazzo said. “This amendment does nothing else but clarify for the Department of Defense that this standard should be upheld on military bases.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Edward Lee Pitts writes for World News Service, where this story first appeared.)
5/30/2012 1:33:11 PM by Edward Lee Pitts, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Walk-through tabernacle replica in Israel reflects atonement

May 30 2012 by Ava Thomas, Baptist Press

EILAT, Israel – As the little girl stepped forward to pull back the ornate curtain, her eyes widened.

“Are we going to die?” she asked.

She and hundreds of other Jewish children take it seriously when they enter the Holy of Holies at the tabernacle in Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city.

“It’s so real to these kids, and interactive,” said Josh, who helps with the full-size replica along with his wife Sarah. (Note: Workers at the site have asked that only their first names be used in this article.)

“Children in Israel study the tabernacle in school,” Josh noted, “and they bring their tape measures here with them so that they can make sure this one is the size it’s supposed to be.”

And it is.

The walk-through model of the tabernacle – which gets about 15,000 visitors a year – is made to the stipulations listed in scripture, Josh said.

It wows the kids, but it’s not just for children, nor just for Jews, said Herb, a Southern Baptist representative living in Israel.

A replica of Aaron’s rod sits with a replica of the stone tablets kept in the ark of the covenant in the days of the Israelites. The replicas are on display as part of the walk-through tabernacle experience in Eilat, Israel.

And to dispel what some might think, he said, it’s anything but boring.

“When people read the Bible, they often get to the details of the tabernacle and think, ‘Boring!’ For many people, it’s the driest part to read,” Herb said. “But it really is exciting when you get into the details. It lays the foundation for our history of faith.”

That’s why he and others decided to bring the tabernacle replica to Eilat, Israel, from Germany in 2000 – so that people could see that foundation for themselves.

“Without recognizing His dwelling presence in the camp,” Herb said of the wilderness account from the book of Exodus, “how could we understand His dwelling presence in our lives? This is something we need to be able to see.”

The tabernacle screams out the message of atonement, Sarah said.

“How many kids in the U.S. have learned about the details of the tabernacle in Sunday School? Not many. But the sacrifices that happened at the tabernacle were the first way God gave His people for atonement,” she said.

The tabernacle replica is a picture of reconciliation in more ways than one, said Yohannus Vogel of the Bible Center, a Bible school in Breckerfeld, Germany.

The German school chose to build the 23-ton tabernacle model to show Israel honor on the occasion of the school’s 30th anniversary in 1986, Vogel said. Built on the school’s campus, the tabernacle had 15,000 visitors in its first two months. Thirty of them decided to follow Jesus Christ as Savior.

“We prayed and prayed over the project, and it had a great start. Many visitors had an intense response to the tabernacle,” Vogel recounted.

Students manned it and gave tours seven days a week, and some time later the school decided to send it on tour around Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

“It had 500,000 visitors in all, but afterward it ended up in storage,” Vogel said. “We were thinking over it and knew that God hadn’t intended for it to end up in boxes.”

And that’s when he got a call from Herb asking if he could rent the replica and put it in Israel. The same week, Vogel got a call from someone who had space for it in southern Israel, near where the Israelites passed through with the tabernacle on their way to the Promised Land.

“In one week, two people with the same burden of their heart called me in Germany about the same tabernacle,” Vogel said. “One had the money to move it but not the land, and the other had the land and not the money.”

It was a divine appointment, he said, and in 2000 the tabernacle found its home in Eilat.

“Our vision for the tabernacle in Eilat is for people to get a vision for the Word of God,” Josh said. “We don’t want them to think, ‘Wow, what a pretty picture,’ as much as we want them to think, ‘Wow, I want to go read God’s Word!’“

As you walk through the details of the tabernacle and see it come to life, the message of redemption becomes vibrant, Sarah said. And the way it points to Christ becomes evident to those who are open to seeing it, she explained.

“When people ask questions, we say, ‘Go back and read the Bible for yourselves,’“ Sarah said. “If they go home and even open their Bible, that’s a huge step.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for Baptist Press based in Europe.)
5/30/2012 1:28:19 PM by Ava Thomas, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

101 new missionaries appointed by IMB

May 29 2012 by Laura Fielding, Baptist Press

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (BP) – Nate and Joanna Whitmire* told God they would go anywhere if He called them to missions. “It’s not like He’d ever call us to Africa,” they thought.
But He did.
“We had a heart that was, in theory, open to whatever God wanted to do – we wanted to be in His will, but for whatever reason … Africa was this big, black hole that was just not a place that we would consider,” Nate said.
After the Whitmires, both from South Carolina, attended a Catalyst conference three years ago, however, their outlook changed.
“God really just hit us with the realization that our hearts had been hard in that area and that we didn’t love who He loved,” Joanna said of what she and her husband experienced at the conference for young Christians held regionally three times a year.
The Whitmires, along with their four children, will serve in sub-Saharan Africa.

BP Photo

Brentwood Baptist’s praise team leads worship during the IMB appointment service, when 101 new missionaries were honored for their willingness to serve God overseas.

They are two of 101 International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries appointed May 23 during a service at Brentwood (Tenn.) Baptist Church. Forty-one of the missionaries have served previous terms, bringing the current missionary count to 4,919.
Many of the appointees recounted that their call to be God’s heart, hands and voice to unreached people groups overseas was a matter of obedience – no matter the cost.
From fear to joy
Both Mike and Rachael Kim’s* parents immigrated to California from Korea to give their children the “American Dream” – a better education, good jobs and lots of money. God gave Mike and Rachael another dream – to share the gospel with those who have never heard.
Raised in a Southern Baptist church, Rachael was fascinated – and horrified – by missionaries’ stories, which led her to associate missions with suffering, hardship and martyrdom.
But when she was in high school, a missionary spoke at her church about the number of unreached people groups, and Rachael’s heart became burdened for the lost. After a short-term missions trip to South America, she felt God’s calling loud and clear.
Mike did not submit so easily to God’s call. Among other things, he did not want to leave the comfortable lifestyle his parents had worked so hard to provide for him.
“My biggest fear in life was becoming a missionary,” he said.
But on a missions trip to East Asia during college, Mike was troubled when he saw people worshipping false gods. For the first time in his life, he became angry with God – how could He let these people who had never heard of Him go to hell? Who would God send to tell these people about Jesus? God clearly answered that it was Mike’s own task.
“My biggest fear has become my greatest joy – just sharing the gospel and taking it to people who have never heard of Jesus Christ,” he said.
The Kims, along with their two children, will serve in East Asia.
Feels like home
In high school, Aaron Meyers* questioned his Christian faith. When he miraculously survived a serious car accident, he created his own reasons for why he had survived. But when another wreck just nine days later landed him in the hospital, he began to seriously think about his life – and his faith.
“I didn’t really experience life until I almost experienced death,” Meyers said. “In that moment, I said, ‘God, whatever You want me to do, wherever You want me to go, I’m willing.’”
Missions is what God laid on his heart. Years later when he and his wife Sheila* were serving in Europe as short-term missionaries, their call to missions was severely tested.
During their first year of service, they were forced to spend 90 days in a neighboring country due to visa issues, Aaron had to have emergency surgery and two family members back in the U.S. died. During those trials, Sheila said they doubted their call and just wanted to return home to California.
But when they were able to go back to their country of service, God had truly solidified their call to that country.
“We were able to push forward because we knew that God has us there for a purpose,” Aaron said. “God has called us there, and until He calls us to go somewhere else, that’s where He has us.”
The Meyers family will return to Europe to serve.
The cross
Brentwood senior pastor Mike Glenn challenged the appointment service audience to respond to God’s call on their own lives.
“As our world keeps getting smaller and we keep saying technology will do this, and technology will do that, we still cannot replace the significance of a person telling the story of Jesus to another person,” Glenn said. “As you see those celebrating their calling and their placing, don’t forget you’re called, you’re placed, just like they are.”
IMB President Tom Elliff, in a message drawn from 1 Corinthians 1:17-18, noted that the cross is a “dividing point” – everyone in the world is simply either saved or lost. This realization, he said, will shatter prejudices and simplify a believer’s purpose.
“You’ll just see that you have one responsibility, and that is to share the gospel with everybody.”
The cross is also a “demanding possession,” Elliff continued. One is not a missionary just because of his or her geographic location or by living a good, Christ-like life.
“Being a missionary is about confessing – not just carrying the cross, but confessing the cross – ‘I am a blood-bought child of God,’” he said.
The IMB’s next appointment service will be Sept. 12 at First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, N.C., during the trustee meeting Sept. 11-12 in Ridgecrest, N.C. Both will be held during Emeritus Recognition Week, Sept. 7-13, at LifeWay’s Ridgecrest Conference Center.
*Names changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Laura Fielding is a writer for the International Mission Board.)
5/29/2012 1:15:35 PM by Laura Fielding, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

UNC–Greensboro reverses ruling on group’s religious status

May 29 2012 by World News Service

(WNS) – A Christian student group at the University of North Carolina–Greensboro will be allowed to limit its membership to those who share its beliefs after the college reversed a previous decision.
In April 2011, the Make Up Your Own Mind club first sought exemption from the school’s nondiscrimination policy under its provisions for religious groups. University officials denied that request, as well as subsequent requests, ruling the club’s requirement that members agree with its statement of beliefs and its mission did not clearly make it a religious group.
The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) filed a lawsuit against the school on behalf of the group on Feb. 29 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. A settlement was reached, so the ADF filed paperwork Monday to withdraw the suit.
“To their credit, they clarified policy,” said Jeremy Tedesco, legal counsel with ADF. “The policy is now clear — all belief-based clubs are able to select members and leaders based on their beliefs.”
Tedesco said the new policy ensures a marketplace of ideas on campus that extends to the “broadest range of beliefs” from religious to political. He stressed, however, that the public university’s attempt to define “religious” was a significant issue on its own.
“The government here was trying to decide based on (the club’s) organic documents if it was religious,” he said. “The government was being a theological arbitrator, which it cannot do constitutionally. That can no longer happen at UNCG.”
Why UNCG ruled the club wasn’t a religious group wasn’t clear from the responses to the exemption requests, Tedesco said.
A controversy erupted earlier this year when Vanderbilt, a private university in Tennessee, told faith–based groups they could no longer require leaders to share their beliefs. That leaves open the possibility of a club being taken over by students who disagree. The change has led some Christian organizations to move off campus.
Is there a lesson for Vanderbilt from the UNCG settlement?
“What we certainly hope is that Vanderbilt looks at universities like UNCG that did things right,” Tedesco said. “We think Vanderbilt should look at situations like this as a good model. So far they are not willing to do so.”
5/29/2012 1:04:23 PM by World News Service | with 0 comments

Believers ponder movement of the gospel in Syria, ask for prayers

May 29 2012 by Ava Thomas, IMB

DAMASCUS, Syria — For a long time, Syrians were complacent. At least that’s how one person familiar with Syria described the people of the war-torn country.
“[Syrians were] a people who felt they were more blessed than others because natural disasters and wars had not been a part of their modern history,” Dan David* said.
But over the past year, war has broken out, bloodshed has escalated and people have run for the country’s borders with their children in arms. The peace they enjoyed has been shattered.
“The news coming out of Syria — and there is much of it — shows their situation is bleak,” said Natalie Shepherd*, a Christ follower who lived and worked in the country.
But there’s a big question mark over how much Good News is making it into Syria, David said. The chances are slim that many Christ followers from the outside are left in country to share the gospel.  
So who is on the inside, then?
Seven percent of the population is “Christian,” a title that’s more indicative of a passed-down identity than personal relationship with Christ, David said. It’s a long heritage — Syria’s capital, Damascus, is the place where Paul met up with Christ followers for the first time as a fellow believer rather than a persecutor, according to Acts 9 in the New Testament.

Less than 1 percent of war-torn Syria appears to know Jesus, according to a former missionary to the country.

“During the first century A.D., the news about Jesus went into all Syria (Matt. 4:24), but only centuries later this cradle of Christianity became the cradle of Islam,” David said.
Over the past several decades, the gospel has been shared with small pockets of the people, with rough starts and stops. But believers are still there, however few, according to evangelical leaders familiar with the area.
“Today — as far as we can tell — less than 1 percent of the population of Syria knows Jesus,” Shepherd said. “Pray that millions of Syrian families who live inside and outside the country will begin to follow Jesus during this monumental upheaval in their homeland.”
The unrest has shaken the country’s people to their core, Shepherd said.
“Fear and apprehension about what will happen next is eroding most Syrian families’ sense of well-being, leaving them with a huge deficit of hope,” she said. “Many Syrian families face desperate physical needs for warmth, food and shelter, permeated by emotional trauma — the death of loved ones, gunfire night and day and the bombing of their homes. Many families are filled with fear, wondering if and when the fighting will come to their neighborhood.”
Recent news images show the city of Homs bombed out, people freezing in the snow and struggling to get the injured to medical care. On March 8, CNN footage showed some injured people chained to beds in hospitals, torture devices close at hand.
The Syrian death toll from the past year teeters around 8,500, according to The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Now most of the people in Damascus and all over the country are living their daily lives in fear and uncertainty as the country is being torn apart by fighting, arrests, torture and death,” David said. “This is a time when good news is desperately needed. The people of Syria need the Prince of Peace right now in such an urgent way.”
And many are finding him as they flee into other countries, Christian leaders say.
“People are running across the border into Lebanon, leaving everything behind, bringing only the clothes they are wearing,” said Josef*, a pastor in Lebanon.
And as they do, they’ve been met by believers happy to share with them the reason they have hope, Josef said.
“You can’t share the gospel as freely in Syria, so these people have never heard it before,” said Sam Lawson*, a Christian worker in the Middle East. “In a short period of time, we’ve been able to share with the same number of Syrians that it would take us months and months to share with in Syria.”
Some have believed, and house groups grow stronger by the day among the refugees, he said.
“There are several key families where the believers are focusing and investing their time, and the gospel continues to go out wherever they go,” Lawson said. “But the enemy attacks in various ways, so a key prayer request … is that nothing distracts from the Word going out among the refugees, and that it will bear lasting fruit.”
They are also praying that new Syrian believers will take the gospel back with them into their country as they return.
Believers in the region ask for Christians in the West to pray for Syria every time they see that nation in the news:
*Pray that the believers in the country would know God’s peace and be courageous in sharing hope and truth with their families and neighbors.
*Pray that the people of Syria would have dreams and visions of Jesus Christ and seek to know more about Him.
*Pray that believers in neighboring countries will have strength, protection and wisdom as they seek to meet the physical and spiritual needs of refugees.
*Pray that what the enemy means for evil will be used for good so that many Syrian families will hear the gospel and be saved.
*Names have been changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board based in Europe.)
5/29/2012 12:44:48 PM by Ava Thomas, IMB | with 0 comments

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