May 2014

Staff changes and committee reports highlight Executive Committee

May 30 2014 by C. Walter Overman, BSC Communications

The Executive Committee (EC) of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) met Tuesday, May 20, at Caraway Conference Center for a meeting that included hearing personnel, committee and budget reports.
 
In personnel matters, Linda Hudson, BSC human resources director, announced the resignation of Devon Griffin, consultant for Great Commission Partnerships, effective August 6, 2014. Griffin has accepted a position at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida as Assistant Professor of Cross-Cultural Studies.
 
“One of my biggest concerns is that my short stay at the convention might indicate that I had a negative experience or some sort of concern regarding the convention,” Griffin said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. I love and fully embrace the vision and the strategy of the convention.”
 
Milton A. Hollifield Jr., BSC executive director-treasurer, said Griffin leaves with the blessing of the convention. “I’m glad that we have the kind of environment in the convention that encourages people to respond to God’s call on their lives,” Hollifield said. “But I am excited to see who God will bring in as the next consultant with the Office of Great Commission Partnerships.”
 

NC Baptist Men

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John Gore, North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM) president, reported on their response to several disasters in recent months. He reported that disaster relief volunteers completed more than 600 work requests in response to the March 7 ice storm that struck parts of North Carolina. In addition, NCBM is preparing for possible rebuild operations in two eastern North Carolina communities – Washington and Elizabeth City – in the wake of recent tornadoes.
 
Gore said volunteers were sent to Louisville, Miss. to set up a mobile disaster hospital after the town’s hospital was damaged in the April 29 tornado outbreak. A specially trained 25-member team set up the hospital in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the North Carolina Office of Emergency Medical Services.
 
Gore also reported that NCBM recently completed a prison chapel at the Pender County Prison and is preparing to construct a church building in Calabash.
 

Committee Reports

Jimmy Adams, chairman of the Business Services Special Committee, reported that the BSC’s external auditors completed their audit for 2013 and confirmed that the convention finished in the black for 2013. Adams also reported that the sale of the Baptist Campus Ministry facility at East Carolina University in Greenville is in process and is scheduled to close at the end of July.
 
Christian Social Services Committee chairperson Wanda Dellinger told the EC that 444 wheelchair ramps were built as part of this year’s “Rampin’ Up” outreach, held April 26 in partnership with North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM) and Operation Inasmuch.
 
Dellinger also reported that NCBAM has formed a strategic statewide aging adult leadership team to help them prepare for challenges presented as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement.
 
Regarding the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH), Dellinger reported that the BCH website has been updated, and two special events are planned this year: the “UNITE Youth” event at the Mills Home in Thomasville on October 16, and “Super Senior Fest” at Kennedy Home in Kinston on November 6. More information is available at bchfamily.org.
 
During the report, Dellinger asked Brian Davis, BSC associate executive-director treasurer, to give an update on FaithHealthNC, which is the strategy of the Faith Health Division of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (WFBMC).
 
The goal of FaithHealthNC is to connect churches and associations with people with health care needs to provide physical, emotional and spiritual support to them. Davis said FaithHealthNC has identified pockets of health care disparity in parts of the state where WFBMC is covenanting with faith partners to provide care for people in need.
 
“There will be some opportunities for the convention through some gateway kind of ministries to connect in these communities in partnership with North Carolina Baptist Hospital,” Davis said. He added that FaithHealthNC is focused on helping individuals in need of health care find, “the right door, at the right time, ready to be treated, not alone.”
 
Chris Hawks, chairman of the Evangelism and Discipleship Committee, reported on “The Story” witness training events. The BSC has hosted three training events so far in 2014 with three more scheduled for the remainder of the year. “We are on pace to see 500 plus pastors trained who will then train members of their churches,” Hawks said. For more information, visit ncbaptist.org/thestory.
 

Financial Report

Beverly Volz, director of accounting services, reported that Cooperative Program receipts through May 9 totaled $10,187,242.05, which represents a deficit of more than four percent compared to the same time last year. Despite the deficit, Volz said the BSC is operating in the black.
 
Volz said North Carolina Baptist churches have given more than $8 million to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, a slight increase over last year. Giving to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions is about 35 percent behind the 2013 year-to-date gifts. However, she noted that Easter was much later this year.
 
Davis reported that the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO) has received $325,000 to date, which is about $6,000 ahead of this same time last year. This year’s NCMO theme is “Choose Now,” based on Luke 21:10-13. The goal is $2.1 million. NCMO helps support the work of N.C. Baptist Men, as well as church planting, mission camps and associational ministry efforts. For more information, visit ncmissionsoffering.org.
5/30/2014 11:18:56 AM by C. Walter Overman, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Rainer writes ‘autopsy’ of ‘deceased’ churches

May 30 2014 by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press

The church was dying and didn’t know it. Attendance was down, the building was mostly empty, and the glory days had long since passed.

As a last resort, a church member asked LifeWay Christian Resources’ president, Thom S. Rainer, for advice. Rainer spent a few weeks studying the church, then recommended a number of changes.

But church leaders rejected them.

As he walked out the door, Rainer knew it was simply a matter of time before the church died. Later, he and a friend performed a kind of autopsy on the church – reviewing its last few years for what went wrong.

Lessons from that church autopsy – along with about a dozen others – are included in Rainer’s latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church from LifeWay’s B&H Publishing imprint.

The book is meant for struggling and vibrant churches alike, Rainer said. “Even healthy churches need to learn from autopsies,” he said, “because they can tell us paths of prevention.”

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Rainer found 10 factors – from slow erosion of the congregation and too many short-term pastors to a lack of prayer and neglected facilities – that cause churches to decline and die.

A number of the now-dead churches spent too much time thinking about the past, Rainer said, in a chapter titled “The Past is the Hero.” Remembering the past with fondness is fine for a church, he said, “but if it hinders us from looking forward, that is a problem.”

Most of the deceased churches Rainer studied had once been thriving and then went through a period of decline. In some cases, demographics played a role. About a third of the dead churches had been in urban areas where the ethnic mix of the community changed but the church did not. Instead of reaching their new neighbors, many withdrew and became commuter congregations, with no neighborhood ties.

“The common theme among those congregations was an unwillingness to connect with the transitioning community,” Rainer said. “Instead, the churches became a white island in a sea of diverse people.”

Some of the now-dead churches were in small towns where the population was shrinking. But more than a few were in thriving communities, yet they still failed to reach their neighbors. All became increasingly insular as they declined.

Surprisingly, most of the churches still had money in the bank when they closed. “You don’t have to be broke to be dying,” Rainer noted.

But those churches spent most of their money on programs that benefited their members rather than on mission or outreach. They developed a me-first mentality, Rainer said, and had little connection to the community around the church.

“Though it’s difficult to isolate any one factor as the most dangerous,” Rainer said, “the steep numerical decline of these churches was most noticeable as the congregation started focusing on their own needs. They became preference-driven instead of Great Commission driven.”

The book is relatively short – about 100 pages divided into 14 chapters, one on each risk factor plus three chapters of recommendations for how churches can respond.

Much like Rainer’s previous book, I Am a Church Member, currently No. 2 on the CBA’s bestseller list, Autopsy of a Deceased Church is designed for group study. Each chapter ends with a series of discussion questions and a prayer challenge.

Rainer hopes church leaders and members will read the book and learn from the mistakes other congregations made. They may also have to face their own problems head on, he said, since that’s better than ignoring the signs of decline and hoping they’ll go away.

“The trauma of observing an autopsy is only beneficial if it is received as a warning to the living,” he writes.

That’s a reality Rainer knows well. The book was inspired in part by the childhood death of his sister Amy. Rainer’s father insisted her doctor perform an autopsy so the cause of death would be clear. He wanted to know if her health problems might affect the rest of the family. The autopsy revealed a weakness in Amy’s heart, which proved a warning sign to other family members.

“We all get checked out for our heart problems because Dad had the courage to ask for an autopsy,” Rainer said.

He hopes churches will have the courage to do likewise. That often starts with prayer and a willingness to love one’s church enough to point out its flaws and face its challenges.

“I do love the fact that so many people love their churches,” Rainer said. “But we can’t love them to death.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for LifeWay Christian Resources’ Facts & Trends magazine.)
5/30/2014 11:12:19 AM by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



SBC entities back GuideStone challenge to health care law

May 30 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Three Southern Baptist entities have called on a federal appeals court to protect the religious liberty of the convention’s health and financial benefits organization.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed May 27, GuideStone Financial Resources received support from sister entities in its challenge to the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), International Mission Board (IMB), Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. called in the brief for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to uphold a lower court’s preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the requirement for the time being.

GuideStone and two of the organizations that participate in its health plans filed a class-action suit against a rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that requires employers to provide for their workers drugs and devices that potentially can cause abortions.

In their brief, the ERLC, IMB, SBTS and Mohler say the Bible and Southern Baptist doctrine teach it is a sin to support directly or indirectly the killing of an unborn child through abortion. “Accordingly, a statute or regulation requiring a Southern Baptist individual or ministry to be complicit in conduct that the Christian faith teaches is morally wrong forces that person or ministry into an impossible choice – to either violate conscience or violate the law -– and imposes a substantial burden on the exercise of religion,” the brief says.
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Mohler said in a statement for Baptist Press, “We are determined to stand with GuideStone in this righteous and necessary cause.

“Nothing less than religious liberty is at stake, and Baptists have been from the beginnings of our history on the front lines of defending religious freedom,” Mohler said. “That freedom is directly threatened by the unconstitutional and aggressively coercive policy of the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.

“We are proud to stand with GuideStone, and now is the time to take that stand.”

The HHS regulation, which is part of the implementation of the 2010 health care law, requires coverage of federally approved contraceptives, including the intrauterine device (IUD) and such drugs as Plan B, the “morning-after” pill. Both the IUD and “morning-after” pill possess post-fertilization mechanisms that potentially can cause abortions by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can even act after implantation to end the life of the child.

The brief filed by the SBC entities and Mohler contends the HHS rule’s imposition of “draconian fines” in reaction to actions “specifically mandated by Christian doctrine” place a substantial burden on the religious free exercise of GuideStone and the nearly 190 ministries for which it provides health benefits.

The abortion/contraception mandate violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and the H Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), according to the brief. RFRA requires the government to have a compelling interest and use the narrowest means in burdening a person’s religious exercise.

In the brief, the ERLC, IMB, Southern Seminary and Mohler point to a series of pro-life resolutions adopted by messengers at SBC annual meetings for more than three decades. Southern Baptists “have a firm and well-known theological opposition to abortion, and the Southern Baptist Convention has repeatedly expressed its opposition to abortion in the strongest terms,” according to the brief.

Christian doctrine, including that of Southern Baptists, teaches followers of Christ to apply their beliefs to every part of life, the brief says. As a result of such a comprehensive view, GuideStone and its partners, “as a matter of doctrine and conscience, cannot distribute abortion-inducing drugs and devices either directly or indirectly by authorizing, obligation, or incentivizing a third party to provide such drugs and devices to others,” according to the brief.

ERLC President Russell D. Moore stated, “There won’t be a government bureaucrat standing beside a person at the Judgment Seat, so there shouldn’t be a government bureaucrat standing between a person and his conscience. A government that can coerce the conscience is a government that has overstepped it God-appointed bounds. We are proud to stand with Guidestone and for the cause of religious liberty.”

Among other organizations filing briefs May 27 in support of GuideStone, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, were the Christian Legal Society, National Association of Evangelicals, Prison Fellowship, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Christian Medical Association, American Center for Law and Justice, Concerned Women for America and Americans United for Life.

HHS provided an exemption to the rule, which was first proposed in August 2011, for churches and their auxiliaries but did not extend it to non-church-related, nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies that object. The Obama administration also offered an accommodation for non-church-related religious organizations, but critics said it was inadequate because it still forces such groups to provide access to the drugs through third parties.

Joining GuideStone in its suit are Truett-McConnell College, a Baptist college in Cleveland, Ga., and Oklahoma City-based Reaching Souls International. A federal court in Oklahoma City issued the preliminary injunction in the case.

More than 300 parties – some nonprofit organizations and some for-profit corporations – have combined to file 97 lawsuits against HHS, according to the Becket Fund, which has led the diverse effort challenging the mandate.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in late March in a case involving two for-profit businesses, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, that have challenged the abortion/contraception mandate. The high court is expected to announce its decision in the case before it adjourns in late June or early July.

The cases involving nonprofits such as GuideStone have yet to work their way up to the Supreme Court.

In the combined Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood case, the ERLC signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Christian Legal Society in support of the corporations. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and its president, Daniel Akin, and Southern Baptist pastor and author Rick Warren joined in another brief on behalf of the businesses in the Supreme Court case.

Truett-McConnell College is affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention, and Reaching Souls is a missions organization that trains Africans to reach their continent with the gospel of Christ.

GuideStone, which is based in Dallas, serves not only churches but missions organizations, schools, hospitals and other ministries. In addition to health and other insurance coverage, GuideStone also offers retirement, investment management, property and casualty coverage and other services.

The Becket Fund and the Dallas law firm Locke Lord LLP filed the lawsuit.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
5/30/2014 10:55:55 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Water gives relief to fire-ravaged Chileans

May 30 2014 by Lily Jameson, BGR/Baptist Press

Sections of Valparaiso, Chile, looked like a war zone after a forest fire destroyed nearly 2,500 houses on April 12. The fire also killed 15 people and displaced at least 12,000, according to Chilean news reports.

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IMB photo by Christopher Wilson
IMB missionary Brian Lovelady, from Texas, mixes concrete while helping to build a water tower in a low-income neighborhood of Valparaíso, Chile. Lovelady, his wife Debby and their son Daniel worked alongside other IMB missionaries and Chilean Baptists in a Baptist Global Response relief effort in the area, which was badly burned in an April 12 forest fire.

“There was total devastation, and we saw people who had lost absolutely everything,” said Karen Wright, a Southern Baptist missionary who is working with Baptist Global Response (BGR) in the relief effort. “And for the first couple of weeks, people didn’t talk very much.”

Wright said BGR partners requested relief funds after the disaster so they could help distribute food and other aid in some of the 42 affected hillside neighborhoods of Chile’s chief seaport. But they discovered other organizations were addressing those needs and the government was distributing emergency housing. So, instead, they have assessed the situation and are using relief funds from Southern Baptists to help with water access.

“We decided that the best thing we could offer them would be to help them rebuild towers and to provide a water tank,” Wright said.

Before the fire, residents had built their own makeshift water tanks and towers and the city has sent water trucks to periodically fill the receptacles. However, many of these tanks have burned. BGR’s relief effort is installing new tanks and towers for more than 100 Valparaiso families. Wright said when one resident heard she would receive a tank and tower, she cried and praised God.

The community encompasses a large number of low-income families, Wright said, noting that drugs are a problem. Wright and her team, however, have built relationships with local officials in the midst of the disaster. The president of the neighborhood association even cried each time a local pastor prayed for her.

“I just pray God continues to soften hearts here,” Wright said.

Wright asked for prayer that these relationships will strengthen and the Valparaiso community will heal quickly and for prayer for the BGR team. Each of the BGR partners has been dealing with family issues while simultaneously helping with relief efforts, and they need God to give them endurance.

Prayer also is requested for volunteers. The BGR team in Chile needs more help installing tanks and towers, Wright said. Those interested in donating their time to this cause can contact her at kswright653@hotmail.com.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lily Jameson writes for Baptist Global Response, on the Web at www.gobgr.org.)
5/30/2014 10:29:08 AM by Lily Jameson, BGR/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘Directionless’ Magog notices the Spirit taking root in town

May 30 2014 by Adam Miller, NAMB/Baptist Press

This city an hour east of Montreal does not draw its name, Magog, from the apocalyptic book of Revelation – though a growing group of Christians hopes it someday might help spark the end times for Quebec’s spiritual destitution.

With 53,000 people in Magog most months and an additional 20,000 vacationing there in the summer, it is Quebec’s premiere destination for the province’s vacationers. Magog’s name is First Nations in origin, an abbreviation for nearby Lake Memphremagog meaning “lake of low water” or “lake between two mountains.”

But church planter Dominic Chaussé (@DominicChaussé) didn’t come to Magog to be on a permanent holiday or to sit by the lake. He came here to start Axe21 as a planter sent by a church also named Axe21 in the neighboring town of Sherbrooke.

Though it has “a huge lake that goes all the way to Vermont, four ski hills less than an hour away, miles of cycling paths, lots of outdoor sports – fishing [and] hunting – and so many restaurants, it has only one evangelical church,” Chaussé said.
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NAMB photo by Claudine Chaussé
Dominic Chaussé, pastor and planter of a soon-to-launch church plant in Magog, Quebec, leads a weekly Bible study with members of the church’s core group and local residents.


Many of the younger adults in Magog, as with most Quebecois, have parents who parted from the Catholic Church, leaving their children disinterested and without any knowledge of Jesus.

“I grew up in Montreal, and I never really prayed for my friends to get saved because I never really believed it was possible,” Chaussé said. “My parents’ generation left the Catholic Church, and so my friends are the sons and daughters of people who have left the Catholic Church.

“We have one of the highest rates of suicide and divorce, and it’s because people are so directionless and lack meaning or contentment in their lives.

“But there’s a movement of the Spirit. People are praying for the lost,” Chaussé said, “and we’re seeing those same lost people come to Christ.”

Axe21 plans to launch later this year in a Magog theater that once had been the city’s most notorious bar. Chaussé sees it as an opportunity to redeem a dark part of the city – but a city that is surprisingly receptive.

“I thought it was going to be super hard to start because the faith was so not present,” Chaussé said. “They’re not opposed – just unaware. What’s going to happen when you die? Many couldn’t care less. They don’t really believe there’s something after death. Talk to them about hell and they laugh and say ‘that’s something for kids.’ If you talk to them about going to church, they just think it’s something weird.

“But they’re excited to speak about Jesus.”

Living in a way that reflects Christ has had the greatest effect on Magog residents, Chaussé said.

“Our babysitter is an example. Her mother died. When we heard of this we didn’t just tell her we would pray for her. That would have not had much impact,” he said. “We cooked meals for her and cared for her. She said, ‘You’re living it out.’ She came to church one Sunday, and then she started bringing her husband.”

Axe21’s core group spent 400 hours last summer serving on The Green Brigade, which meant picking up trash after the city’s many festivals.

“The city was actually excited about us launching,” Chaussé said.

The former bar that will become Axe21’s new address has drawn attention from radio stations and three local newspapers – one of which praised the church for its volunteer work in the city. The church currently has 85 people meeting on a weekly and monthly basis in advance of its launch, and they’ve baptized 18.

“There’s really no explanation for what’s happening,” Chaussé said, “except that this is a movement of God’s Spirit.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adam Miller writes for the North American Mission Board.)
5/30/2014 10:14:07 AM by Adam Miller, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Baptism, worship declines prompt leaders’ prayers

May 29 2014 by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press

Southern Baptists experienced growth in the number of churches affiliated with the convention in 2013, while other key measures declined, according to the Annual Church Profile (ACP) compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions.

The number of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention grew by 91 to 46,125, a 0.2 percent increase over 2012. SBC churches also reported 4,789 church-type missions last year, a decline of 203 from 2012. However, some state conventions no longer use the designation of church-type mission, which may have impacted the total.

While the number of SBC churches increased, reported membership of those churches declined by 136,764, down 0.9 percent to 15.7 million members. Primary worship attendance declined 2.21 percent to an average of 5.8 million Sunday worshippers.

For the second year in a row, Southern Baptists experienced a decline in baptisms, down 1.46 percent to 310,368. Reported baptisms have declined seven of the last nine years. However, the decline in 2013 is not as sharp as the previous year’s decline. In 2012 baptisms declined 5.5 percent.
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“I am grieved we are clearly losing our evangelistic effectiveness,” said Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. “I continue to pray for revival and a renewed passion for the Great Commission in our churches. May God renew all of us, including me, with a greater heart for the lost.”

Commenting on the annual summary, Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, cited Old Testament prophet Amos: “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1).

“That warning in the book of Amos is a clear call to the people of God who have lowered their guard, relaxed their vigilance and reduced their commitment and passion for the things of God,” Page said. “That very same thing can be said of our modern-day churches as we yet again see a disappointing decline in our ability to reach our continent for Christ.”

Page said he is thankful for an increase in the number of churches, but lamented a “lack of passion for reaching people for Christ. The numbers of people in our continent are increasing dramatically while our evangelistic efforts are failing in many places and in many ways.

“God help us realize the great needs that are before us and the great opportunities that are there. Lord, forgive us of being at ease in Zion,” Page said.


Giving and mission expenditures

Total and undesignated church receipts reported through the ACP decreased 2.7 percent and 1.4 percent respectively. Total mission expenditures reported by churches also declined by 1.5 percent in 2013. However, reported Great Commission Giving increased 4.5 percent from $744 million in 2012 to $777 million in 2013. This is only the third year churches have been asked to report Great Commission Giving as a reflection of each church’s financial gifts to local, state and national SBC missions causes.

Giving through Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program (CP) mission initiative is not included in the ACP annual report because those totals are more accurately available through Baptist state conventions and the SBC Executive Committee, which processes the mission gifts. CP gifts forwarded from state conventions for SBC causes in fiscal year 2012-13 were 1.92 percent below the previous year. CP gifts received by the SBC Executive Committee for the first seven months of the 2013-14 year were reported to be 0.58 percent behind the same period the year before.

While several categories of the ACP reflected a decline in 2013, totals for various categories were affected by the fact that not all state conventions asked churches for the information in a way that would allow proper year-to-year comparison.

Statistics for the national ACP are reported by individual churches to their local association and/or state convention. National totals are compiled and released after all cooperating state conventions have reported.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carol Pipes is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.)
5/29/2014 9:24:19 AM by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



2nd Sudanese woman jailed for her faith

May 29 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A 27-year-old Christian mother on death row for alleged apostasy has given birth to a daughter while another Christian woman is jailed in Sudan on a similar charge, Morning Star News reported.

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim gave birth early May 27 to daughter Maya in the Health Center Clinic of Omdurman Federal Prison for Women, according to her husband Daniel Wani, a South Sudanese-born U.S. citizen with ties to New Hampshire.

Ibrahim is in prison awaiting a sentence of 100 lashes and death by hanging for marrying a Christian and denying the Muslim faith. Born to a Muslim father and Ethiopian Orthodox mother, Ibrahim contends she was raised Christian after her Muslim father deserted the family when she was 6.

Ibrahim also is caring for her 20-month-old son in prison and is expected to be allowed to nurse her daughter until age 2 before the death sentence is carried out, according to news reports. Her husband has not been allowed to see his newborn daughter.
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Daniel Wani and Meriam Ibrahim


In a similar case, Sudanese immigration/citizenship police arrested Faiza Abdalla, 37, as she tried to obtain her national identification number April 2 at an official building in El Gadarif on Sudan’s eastern border, Morning Star News reported May 27.

Abdalla, whose parents converted to evangelical Christianity before her birth and raised her in the same faith, was arrested because she has a Muslim name and professed Christianity. Her Catholic husband fled Sudan two years ago because of persecution, Morning Star News reported. As in the case of Ibrahim, Sudanese officials terminated Abdalla’s marriage and accused her of apostasy when she refused to deny Christianity.

Ibrahim’s case has been widely reported and condemned by a broad spectrum of Christians and human rights activists.

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has written a letter urging Secretary of State to denounce Ibrahim’s sentence as “cruel and inhumane, to demand her release, and to use the diplomatic influence of the State Department to advocate for this most fundamental human right, the freedom of religion and belief.”

In the U.S. House of Representatives, 21 Republicans and one Democrat have signed a letter urging Kerry to “condemn the ruling handed down by Sudan’s court and call upon the Sudanese government to respect human rights and free Mariam Yahya Ibrahim [sic] and her young son immediately,” according to news reports. Senators Roy Blunt, R.-Mo., and Kelly Ayotte, R.-N.H., have signed a similar letter and also asked Kerry and President Obama to reappoint an ambassador at large for international religious freedom to monitor, prevent and respond to such injustices.

The United Nations human rights office also has voiced concern over Ibrahim’s sentence, and online petitions calling for her freedom have gained momentum, including one by Amnesty International signed by more than 660,000 people. The World Council of Churches has urged Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir to drop Ibrahim’s sentence.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s chief executive, Mervyn Thomas, said May 27 that the charges against Ibrahim violate religious rights guaranteed under Sudan’s interim constitution as well as covenants that Sudan has signed.

“We are pleased to hear that Mrs. Ibrahim and her baby are reportedly in good health; however, we urge the authorities to ensure that Mrs. Ibrahim’s husband and lawyers are granted access to see them, and that they are guaranteed medical attention,” Thomas said in a statement on CSW’s website. “CSW continues to call upon the Sudanese authorities to annul the inhumane and unwarranted sentence given to Meriam Ibrahim, and to release her and her young children immediately.”

Ibrahim was sentenced May 15 for leaving Islam, a religion she never practiced, after someone claiming to be her relative reported her to authorities in 2013. Witnesses in Ibrahim’s defense were not allowed to testify. The court ruled that Ibrahim was born to Muslim parents, has the Muslim name of Abrar Elhadi Muhammad Abdallah Abugadeen and is guilty of adultery because of her marriage to a Christian. Ibrahim has identified herself as a medical doctor and University of Khartoum graduate, but the court ruled it had no proof of such an education.

Instead, the court said Ibrahim is a lab technician who graduated from Sudan University for Science and Technology.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Diana Chandler, general assignment writer/ editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
5/29/2014 9:15:33 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘A Christ-Centered Wedding’ counters culture’s pressures

May 29 2014 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

Amid strong influences from the modern wedding industry, evangelicals now have a practical guide for honoring God and pointing others to Him through one of the most important events of their lives.

A Christ-Centered Wedding: Rejoicing in the Gospel on Your Big Day by Catherine Strode Parks and her mother Linda Strode, published by B&H Publishing Group, reminds couples what God originally intended for the sacred marriage ceremony.

“One of our main goals is to free couples from the culture-driven idea that you need to re-imagine your wedding, and your marriage, in order to make it ‘unique,’” Parks said. “There is a beautiful freedom in seeing that weddings are nothing new. The Bible begins and ends with a wedding.”

God set forth His plan for marriage in scripture, Parks said, and weddings can reflect what He designed marriage to reflect – the beauty of Christ’s love for His bride, the church.
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Catherine Strode Parks (left) and Linda Strode


“There is joy in making that our goal rather than succumbing to many of the pressures that come with planning a wedding,” she said.

Parks and Strode recognize there are two occasions in most lives that give believers an opportunity to publicly share the gospel with their friends and family: weddings and funerals. And only one happens while the believer is there to participate.

Weddings of professing Christians, however, often look like those of the world.

“Unfortunately, we have bought into the world’s ideas about marriage and weddings, and much of the time we do not realize there is a better way to go about it,” Parks and Strode write. “Weddings, like marriage, were God’s idea – remember the first wedding took place in the Garden of Eden. So why is He absent from our ceremonies, except for a token prayer or scripture reading?”

The Bible is filled with wedding and marriage metaphors, the authors note, including repeated references to Israel as His bride and His betrothed. The ultimate comparison is found in Revelation, which pictures Christ returning for the church, His bride.

Parks and Strode remind couples that until Christ returns, the perfect wedding is elusive. No amount of spending will ensure the fairytale most brides seek, and placing the focus on the one in white ultimately will disappoint.

“Ask your officiate to bring it back to the gospel,” the authors write. “And know this is not just for those unsaved family members and friends in the audience. This gospel proclamation is for you. We need to reflect on the power of God’s gospel work and His grace every day of our lives – particularly as we are making the most serious human commitment possible.”

A Christ-Centered Wedding guides couples through more than just how to plan a Christ-honoring ceremony. It starts with the engagement and – through anecdotes from Parks’ experiences and testimonies from other couples – offers practical advice on decisions from registries to the rehearsal dinner.

The authors even make sense of the countless decisions a couple faces when planning a wedding, from the flowers for the ceremony to the food served at the reception. Though some of the decisions can seem mundane when the overall goal is presenting the gospel, the authors say the details are a means to an end – and accomplishing the means can be an act of worship.

Though the authors respect wedding traditions, Strode counsels that if she were able to go back in time, one thing she would do differently in planning her daughter’s wedding is make not only the wedding day but the whole planning process more about the gospel and less about tradition.

By valuing the Bible more than bridal magazines, believers can use their special day as an occasion for more than an elegant party and warm memories.

“We are made to worship the Creator, not His creations,” Parks and Strode write. “And so our desire must be for our Creator to receive the glory in our weddings as we present the gospel for all to see.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is a writer in Nashville, Tenn.)
5/29/2014 9:07:33 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Dennis Manpoong Kim Q&A for SBC president

May 28 2014 by Baptist Press

Maryland pastor Dennis Manpoong Kim, one of three people to be nominated for Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president in June, responded to six questions Baptist Press posed to each candidate.

Kim’s nomination was announced May 20 by Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.

Kim has led Global Mission Church of Greater Washington in Silver Spring, Md., for 23 years. The congregation, which has a predominantly Korean membership, is the largest church in the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. Global Mission Church has produced more than 50 International Mission Board career missionaries and has planted churches in four U.S. states and South Korea.

Among Kim’s leadership roles in the SBC, he is a member of the Pastors’ Task Force on Evangelistic Impact and Declining Baptisms, a national task force convened by the North American Mission Board to address the continued decrease in baptisms among Southern Baptist churches. He also served on the SBC Resolutions Committee in 2012 and 2013 and has taught courses at Southern, New Orleans and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminaries.

He is the author of Pulpit Counseling, Answer with the Bible! and other books. He has translated more than 60 books from English to Korean.

Kim holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Korean institutions; a master of arts in theological studies with a concentration in pastoral counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston, Mass.; a master of divinity from Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; and a doctor of theology in pastoral psychology from Boston University in Boston, Mass.

The new SBC president will succeed New Orleans pastor Fred Luter of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, who became the first-ever African American to lead the SBC when he was elected in 2012.
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Dennis Manpoong Kim


Q&As with the other two nominees, Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd and Kentucky pastor Jared Moore, appeared in the May 22 edition of Baptist Press.

Dennis Manpoong Kim’s answers to BP questions

BP: What influence on the Southern Baptist Convention do you pray to have during the two consecutive one-year terms that an SBC president typically serves?

KIM: If God gives me the opportunity to serve as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, I will endeavor to accomplish the following for the glory of God:

1) To promote fellowship among all Southern Baptists of different nationalities and ethnicities so that we may show the world true unity within diversity.

2) To accomplish the Great Commission by mobilizing the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.

3) To empower the church to prepare the way for the second coming of the Lord by equipping believers with practical and effective tools of evangelism and discipleship.

BP: If elected as SBC president, in what ways do you envision calling Southern Baptists forward in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission?

KIM: I will humbly remind all Southern Baptists the vision that our predecessors proclaimed in First Baptist Church of Augusta, Ga., on May 10, 1845: “Men who see the invisible, hear the inaudible, believe the incredible, and think the unthinkable.” In a time when about 1,000 churches close their doors every year, I believe that the need of the hour is an evangelistic tool that is simple enough to train all church members, effective enough to ignite believers’ passion for evangelism and engaging enough to captivate the hearts of the present generation. I will partner with all leaders of NAMB, IMB, Lifeway Christian Resources, WMU, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and all Baptist seminaries to equip Christians with an evangelistic training that is simple, effective and engaging to reach this generation for Christ.

BP: Describe ways you have led your church to be involved in Great Commission outreach through Southern Baptist cooperative missions and the Cooperative Program.

KIM: I believe in the power of collaboration. That is the reason why I have always led the Global Mission Church to be faithful in its participation in Cooperative Program. In the year 2013, the Global Mission Church gave $93,600 to the Cooperative Program and $16,900 to the Montgomery Baptist Association. In addition, it has given $13,061 for Lottie Moon and $11,396 for Annie Armstrong. The Global Mission Church is also active in its involvement with the Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches. Last year, it contributed $3,900 for international missions, $2,600 for North American missions, $3,900 for the Cooperative Program among Korean Southern Baptist Churches and $20,000 for Nicaraguan missions. Our church invested $25,520 last year to send our short-term mission teams around the world including Mexico, Thailand, Philippines, Peru, Nicaragua and Kyrgyzstan. With a steadfast commitment to world missions, our church is training and sending more than 10 short-term mission teams every year and it has produced more than 50 career missionaries working for the International Mission Board. The Global Mission Church has also planted five churches in various locations: Baltimore (Md.), Fairfax (Va.), Seattle (Wash.), Cary (N.C.), and Bun-dang (South Korea).

BP: In what ways do you see the SBC president coming alongside leaders of the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, GuideStone Financial Resources and the convention’s six seminaries to undergird and encourage their respective ministries?

KIM: First of all, I would like to seek opportunities to (1) meet personally the leaders of the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, GuideStone Financial Resources and the convention’s six seminaries, (2) listen to them, (3) learn from them, (4) understand each others’ roles and (5) endeavor to positively undergird and encourage their respective ministries as one great team for the Kingdom of God under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I will not play a lone ranger in this matter.

BP: If elected as SBC president, how do you foresee speaking to the next generation of Southern Baptist leaders to be involved in expanding the convention’s Great Commission work?

KIM: My vision is to challenge and train the next generation of Southern Baptist leaders so that they can truly mobilize the whole church for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Whereas Christians generally agree that it is imperative for all believers to share the gospel, only few Christians actually evangelize in their daily lives. The glaring question is “how can we mobilize the whole church to witness Christ?” For the purpose of equipping my whole congregation to fulfill the Great Commission, I have devised a tool of evangelism and discipleship called Anothen Training. As a result of this training, the church has witnessed amazing results in evangelism. From May 2013 to March of this year, church members have presented the gospel to 3,125 people through personal evangelism. Among the people who heard the gospel, 1,078 people accepted Christ and 802 others received the assurance of salvation. This year’s vision is to produce four generations of disciples (G1 – Senior Pastor, G2 – Associate Pastors and Key Leaders, G3 – Lay Members, G4 – New Believers). The Global Mission Church is pressing on towards the goal of turning this vision into a reality by the end of this year. I am currently using Anothen Training to equip the next generation of Christian leaders around the world so that they may also mobilize their whole congregations to fulfill the Great Commission. I have challenged and trained Christian leaders in more than 10 cities across the United States and other countries including Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and South Korea. I pray that God may continue to use me to challenge the next generation of Southern Baptist leaders to mobilize their local congregations to win souls for Christ.

BP: What do you see as the key moral issues of our day and how the SBC president can represent Southern Baptists as America increasingly moves away from Judeo-Christian values?

KIM: Religious pluralism is one of the greatest epidemics of our day that erodes Judeo-Christian values in America. A practical indication of such erosion can be easily detected in the prevalence of the bumper sticker that says “COEXIST” with pluralistic connotations. I take an active stance against the views and values of religious pluralism. I give my wholehearted consent to the Baptist Faith and Message that acknowledges the Bible as the infallible and inerrant Word of God. I indeed believe that only the Word of God provides the ultimate standard and guideline for our lives. I recognize the dignity of human life that starts from the very moment of its conception (Ps.139:13-16). I believe in the biblical view of marriage of one man and one woman (Gen.2:24; Matt.19:4-6). The values of this world pertaining to various moral issues may change in the passage of time. But I will always remain steadfast in supporting the biblical values regarding our spirituality and morality. As a Southern Baptist, my allegiance to the biblical standard will always remain the same.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press chief national correspondent David Roach.)
 

Related stories:

Ronnie Floyd Q&A for SBC president
Jared Moore Q&A for SBC president
5/28/2014 10:49:53 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Nigerian girls' location learned, military says

May 28 2014 by Baptist Press

The Nigerian military has learned the location of more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian Christian girls but has not managed to free the captives, Reuters News reported, while Boko Haram continues to slaughter Christians.

Nigerian Air Marshal Alex Badeh cautioned May 26 that using military force might further endanger the teenagers, Reuters said, while Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has refused Boko Haram's offer to free the girls in exchange for Nigeria's release of imprisoned Boko Haram terrorists numbering about 4,000.

Since Boko Haram kidnapped about 275 girls April 14, the terrorists have taken another 10 or so Christian girls and killed at least 470 civilians including Christians, Reuters reported.

"The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you," Reuters, the Associated Press and other news outlets quoted Badeh. "But where they are held, can we go there with force? We can't kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back."

About 223 Christian girls are believed still held captive, many of them reportedly featured in a video Boko Haram released of about 130 girls dressed in hijabs and chanting scriptures from the Quran. The girls are feared to have been sold into slavery as the wives of Muslim men, perhaps in Nigeria and bordering Cameroon and Chad. About 53 of the girls somehow managed to escape their captors days after the attack, according to news reports.

President Barack Obama deployed 80 U.S. troops to Chad May 21 to aid in the search by maintaining aircraft and analyzing data, but the troops are not armed, according to the Pentagon. Britain, Israel, China and France are also aiding in the search.

Since the kidnapping, Boko Haram has raided villages almost daily. Bombings in northern and central Nigeria have killed hundreds, including attacks in the capital city Abuja and Jos.

In the latest attacks, Boko Haram killed at least 28 people and burned homes May 22 in three northern Nigeria villages, Reuters reported. Days earlier, Boko Haram killed more than 100 when it set off bombs near shops owned by Christians in the central market district of Jos, Morning Star News reported, quoting a Christian shop owner who barely evaded the blasts.

"I had left my shop and went out and was just returning when the bombs exploded," Morning Star quoted a woman who requested anonymity. "I put through a phone call to some of my colleagues, and they confirmed that three Christian brethren, a man named Dauda, and two other Christian women, have died from the blast."

Jonathan has been slow and ineffective in stopping Boko Haram, the international community has complained, and a partial state of emergency Jonathan declared last year in northern Nigerian states has not deterred the terrorists.

Boko Haram, which Jonathan has described as the Al-Qaeda of West Africa, began killing Christians and Muslims around 2002, but has killed thousands of Christians in intensified attacks since 2009 in an effort to establish sharia law.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Diana Chandler, general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)
5/28/2014 10:38:20 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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