May 2014

USCIRF: Religious liberty law needs revision

May 2 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The White House and Congress need to make specific changes to combat persecution 15 years after enacting legislation to promote religious liberty globally, a federal watchdog says in its annual report.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called April 30 for the Obama administration to improve its implementation of the 1998 law designed to protect the rights of people of faith worldwide. In its 2014 report that reviewed the first 15 years following passage of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), the bipartisan advisory panel also urged Congress to approve changes to address the changing face of religious repression.

In addition, USCIRF recommended that the State Department add eight countries to its list of “countries of particular concern” (CPCs), a designation for the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s lead religious freedom advocate responded to the report by pointing to the responsibility of both the church and the U.S. government to address the issue.

“Religious freedom is one of the most imperiled realities in the world today,” said Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in a statement for Baptist Press. “The church of Jesus Christ must stand firmly for soul freedom for everyone and be on guard against those who would steal such freedom away.

“The USCIRF report reminds us of our responsibilities to this end,” Moore said. “The United States must bear the burden of calling the nations of the world to recognize liberty of conscience and of calling out tyrannies that seek to persecute religious minorities.”
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Among its recommendations, USCIRF called for:
  • Annual designations of CPCs in keeping with the 1998 law’s expectation.
  • Presidential use of tools, including sanctions, provided by IRFA to implement consequences for CPCs.
  • Consistent emphasis by executive and legislative branch officials in public statements and private meetings on the significance of global religious liberty.
  • Timely filling of vacancies for the ambassador at large for international religious freedom and USCIRF commissioners.
  • Direct access to the secretary of state by the ambassador at large for international religious freedom.
  • Increased efforts to build a multi-national coalition to promote religious freedom.
  • Congressional expansion of CPC designation to include countries in which severe violations are taking place but no government exists or is in control.
  • Congressional action to address religious liberty violations in specific countries.
USCIRF chairman Robert George said the United States’ commitment to global religious liberty “must be renewed and strengthened.”

“With religious freedom abuses occurring daily around the world against people of all faiths and those without religious faith, the United States must by words and deed stand in solidarity with the persecuted,” George said in a written release.

The 1998 law was perceptive “in recognizing that religious freedom needs to be a key component of U.S. foreign policy,” said George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University. “The United States must fully utilize IRFA’s provisions including: faithfully designating CPCs each year, ensuring that the CPC list expands or contracts as conditions warrant, and consider taking Presidential actions unique to each situation.”

The timely designation of CPCs is again an area where the Obama administration has fallen short, USCIRF said in its report. President Obama’s State Department has named CPCs only once, August 2011, in his five years in office, even though the 1998 law calls for designations in conjunction with an annual report.

USCIRF’s 15-year review in its report showed the administration of President George W. Bush also faltered in the last half of his second term, going from November 2006 to January 2009 between CPC lists. During the first eight years following enactment of the 1998 law, the State Department missed only one year in designating CPCs. The USCIRF report says there “has been a growing disparity between State Department CPC designations and USCIRF CPC recommendations.”

This year, USCIRF recommended the State Department name 16 governments as CPCs or Tier 1 countries. Eight were on the State Department’s CPC list in 2011: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.

USCIRF called for CPC designation also for Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam. The commission recommended all but Syria for CPC designation last year.

The bipartisan commission – which is named by the president and congressional leaders – placed eight countries on Tier 2, formerly known as its “watch list.” Tier 2 countries, which are on the threshold of recommendation for CPC or Tier 1 designation, are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia and Turkey.

The USCIRF report demonstrates the Obama administration has been slow in filling the ambassador at large position. It went from January 2009 to May 2011 with the post vacant. The administration has yet to fill the position since Suzan Johnson Cook’s departure in October.

Two USCIRF staffers wrote April 30 of the major problems found in the review of the first 15 years under the International Religious Freedom Act.

“First, while religious freedom abuses are frequent and alarming, no administration has fully honored or fulfilled the act,” Knox Thames and Elizabeth Cassidy wrote at the OnFaith website.

“Second, the act needs updating,” they said. “The global terrain for religious freedom has changed dramatically since 1998, but the act has not. As a result, the United States is increasingly behind the curve on major foreign policy challenges related to ongoing violations of religious freedom, new religion/state questions, and spreading violent religious extremism. The U.S. government is not well positioned or resourced to engage effectively.”

Thames is USCIRF’s director of policy and research; Cassidy is deputy director.

Despite the problems with implementation, IRFA has had some unexpected positive consequences, USCIRF reported. They include the increased familiarity with the issue by a generation of foreign service officials who have researched and written on religious freedom in their countries, new access by religious groups overseas to the American government and the higher profile for international religious freedom in other countries.

USCIRF’s 209-page report is available online at http://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/USCIRF%202014%20Annual%20Report%20PDF.pdf.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
5/2/2014 12:17:41 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Pro-gay book, publisher face more criticism

May 2 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

New criticisms of Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian have emerged in the week since its April 22 release. Among the critics are a Southern Baptist seminary professor, a popular blogger and a noted defender of young earth creationism.

Vines’ book argues that monogamous homosexual relationships are compatible with biblical Christianity.

The publisher, Convergent Books, also has drawn criticism for billing Vines as “evangelical” and releasing his book alongside traditional evangelical titles by sister imprints in the Crown Publishing Group. Among the authors under Crown’s Multnomah imprint are David Jeremiah, David Platt, John Piper and Chuck Swindoll.

Evan Lenow, assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on the seminary’s Theological Matters blog that Vines is among the first authors to advocate a pro-gay reading of the Bible while claiming to believe in “the inspiration and authority of Scripture.”

Because of Vines’ purported “high view” of Scripture, “this book has the potential to do great damage to people’s faith in the authority and veracity of Scripture,” Lenow wrote, even though “Vines has not actually presented any new arguments for interpreting Scripture in support of homosexuality.”

Vines is “interpreting God’s Word through the lens of the gay rights movement,” Lenow wrote. Employing a “cultural hermeneutic,” Vines grants more authority to his own homosexual experience than to Scripture, deciding truth by experience when the two conflict, Lenow said.

Christians “simply cannot ignore” this book because Vines “stands to be a major voice for people who want to remove the tension between Scripture and homosexuality,” said Lenow, who wrote a series of articles refuting Vines two years ago when Vines posted an Internet video arguing homosexuality was compatible with the Bible.

In light of 1 Corinthians 6 – where Paul said some of the Corinthians engaged in homosexuality before they placed their faith in Jesus – Lenow expressed hope that Vines and others struggling with homosexuality will be transformed by Christ.

Homosexual acts “are no longer the behaviors of people who claim to be Christians,” he said. “This is not where they find their identity anymore. The power of Christ can overcome these sins.”

Justin Taylor, a blogger for The Gospel Coalition and an executive at Crossway publishers, commended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professors who published an e-book refuting Vines, titled God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines.

“Responses like this can help to sway those who are uncomfortable with the revisionist proposal but do not know how to answer [it] adequately and carefully,” Taylor wrote on The Gospel Coalition website. “This is not merely preaching to the choir, but the strengthening and equipping of the choir, as well as a timely word to those outside the choir who may be listening and unsure of what to think or how to respond. We should thank God for those who have the time, energy, gifts, and skills to assemble such a learned and thoughtful interaction with proposals that undermine the teaching of God’s holy word.”

Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis (AiG), said a misinterpretation of Genesis 1-2 is a key part of Vines’ argument.

“In reading Vines’s analysis of the creation account, it becomes evident that he has little regard for God’s intention in making Adam and Eve male and female,” Ham and AiG writer Steve Golden said in an online commentary. “Vines’s agenda is clear: he must make room for same-sex relationships – from the very beginning of Scripture.”

For example, Vines argued that Adam’s need for human companionship was more important than his need for a woman specifically. A sexual relationship with someone of either gender can fulfill humanity’s relational need, Vines said.

Ham and Golden countered, “Despite what Matthew Vines claims, God explains what marriage between two humans looks like in His design: ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’ (Genesis 2:24). ‘Father and mother,’ ‘man,’ and ‘wife’ are all used intentionally – there is no allowance for another arrangement, such as a man being joined to another man.”

In a 2012 article responding to Vines’ online video, First Things author Joshua Gonnerman critiqued Vines for a deficient view of church history. Though tradition is not authoritative, it is instructive that Christians for 2,000 years have condemned homosexual acts as sinful, Gonnerman said. Vines needs to balance the “prejudices, concerns, strengths, and weaknesses” of his own culture with “the weight of Christian tradition.”

Gonnerman seemed to indicate that a person can self-identify as gay and still “uphold a traditional sexual ethic.”

For Vines, “the [Holy Spirit] seems only to inspire Scripture and Matthew Vines’ own interpretation of Scripture, which he must assume is Spirit-led,” Gonnerman said. “But what of the ancient Christian tradition? Is it devoid of the presence of the Spirit? A robust [doctrine of the Holy Spirit] recognizes that the work of the Spirit is not limited to the inspiration of Scripture, but is seen in the living community of believers throughout the ages, and in the theological tradition which that community has handed down. The tradition is not infallible, but it does have a certain degree of normativity, which he ignores.”

Meanwhile, Convergent Books drew criticism for departing from the orthodox tradition of its fellow Crown Publishing imprint Multnomah.

Matt Barber, a Christian attorney and associate dean for online programs at the Liberty University School of Law, charged Multnomah in an online commentary with “trying to cover up its fast-growing connection to sexual sin activism” by establishing Convergent.

Convergent chief publishing executive Stephen Cobb responded to criticism in a statement April 16.

“WaterBrook Press and Multnomah Books are sister imprints of Convergent Books, within the Crown Group, as is Image Books, a Catholic-interest imprint, all four of which I oversee. It is important to know that Waterbrook, Multnomah, Convergent, and Image each have their own distinct editorial guidelines and missions,” Cobb said.

“Convergent’s mission is to publish nonfiction for less traditional Christians and spiritual seekers who are drawn to an open, inclusive, and culturally engaged exploration of faith. As such, Matthew Vines’ new book is appropriately positioned as a Convergent publication. God and the Gay Christian is not published by WaterBrook or by Multnomah – nor would it be editorially appropriate for either,” Cobb said.

Cobb classified Vines as “thoughtful” and “evangelical.”

“Convergent Books is publishing God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines because we believe it offers a thoughtful examination of Scripture on the topic of same-sex relationships from a bold, young, evangelical writer whose first calling is to promote a civil, loving and biblically based conversation on the subject,” Cobb said.

Michael Brown, president of FIRE School of Ministry in Concord, N.C., said calling Vines evangelical “is to make the word ‘evangelical’ utterly meaningless.” Brown, author of Can You Be Gay and Christian? Responding With Love and Truth to Questions About Homosexuality, said it is “a sad and shameful day when a major Christian publisher releases such a book and claims that it is a solid evangelical publication.”

“Those who want to revise biblical sexuality and morality have moved away from the Word of God,” Brown said. “And if they have any sense of integrity, they need to renounce their claim to be evangelicals – and that includes Mr. Cobb, if he personally claims to be one – and say, ‘We are liberal Christians who no longer hold to the authority of Scripture, because of which we embrace homosexual relationships.’“

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
5/2/2014 12:01:28 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



Revamped NAMB website points to action

May 2 2014 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

When it comes to evangelizing today’s global generation, stories matter. Just ask a Korean exchange student who recently committed her life to Christ in Indianapolis. Church planter Brandon Shields says when a young woman in his congregation shared Christ with her through narrative, the former atheist responded.

“[The student from my church] dug into her story and dug into the spiritual biography of Jesus in the book of John,” Shields, whose Soma Church now runs 225 in two services, said. “She accepted Christ and was baptized on Easter Sunday.”

Shields explains some of what he has learned about sharing Christ in narrative manner in an upcoming blog on North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send Network website.

“We’ve tried to think about recasting the story – not changing the story – but recasting the biblical story in language and forms the younger generation can understand,” Shields said. “We’ve tried to think through the hinge points of the redemption story. I wrote about those in that blog post.”

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The newly redesigned Send Network website, which officially launched April 2, helps prepare missions leaders to fulfill the Great Commission in North America. On the new site church planters, leaders of established churches and lay people committed to living on mission can find practical posts, videos and e-books written by experienced ministry leaders. The website leans heavily on tested, local church leaders with on-the-ground experience on the topics. In its first three days after the relaunch the site averaged 2,000 unique visitors per day.

Ministry leaders can find a variety of free e-books on the site, including J.D. Payne’s Leading Your Church in Church Planting, Dhati Lewis’ In Plain Sight: A Primer for Reclaiming Discipleship in the Local Church and Aaron Coe’s Church Plant Growth Projector.

“We have access to some of the best resources in the world,” Dustin Willis, NAMB’s coordinator and editor of the Send Network, said. “We have strong relationships with great church planters, incredible existing churches and passionate people within the church who are living life on mission. We have direct access to them, and they have graciously offered to help lead the way in resourcing churches and individuals.”

In an upcoming blog post, Columbus, Ohio, church planter Jeremy Westbrook shared the need for ministry leaders to develop specific habits to avoid periods of burnout. The post specifically highlights three such patterns: getting alone with God, guarding your heart and gathering a team.

“I hope pastors, planters and followers of Christ who read this will realize that, as leaders, we preach this but we don’t live it well – you’re not called to do the Christian journey alone,” Westbrook, whose Living Hope Church has grown to more than 400 people in two services since its 2009 launch, said. “You need people around you who can speak into your life. We can often preach community and accountability from the stage but then not have it for ourselves.”

The website will include training on topics like building teams, empowering teams, how to raise funds, how to be a pastor and lover of your family and how to live out the mission of God in your neighborhood. What makes the site unique among ministry-related websites is that each article will lead to a practical next step readers can engage right away, Willis said.

“We don’t just want to connect you to a blog,” Willis said. “As you read ... you can connect with an expanded resource or training on the specific idea you are reading about. It is our desire that the site would not only resource someone for the moment but launch them into applying the content within their own context.”

Every post on the site will link visitors with a resource, a conference or a person that will take them deeper into the topic or help them take their first step to applying the content to their lives and ministries, Willis said.

For more information, visit www.sendnetwork.com or follow @sendnetwork on Twitter.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.)
5/2/2014 11:45:03 AM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



McDonald’s snubs family focus, markets offensive content

May 1 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

McDonald’s could energize declining sales by returning its ad focus to family friendly television and abandoning broadcasts with sex, violence and foul language, the Parents Television Council (PTC) has told the fast food chain.

In the United States, McDonald’s sales decreased 1.7 percent in the first calendar quarter of 2014 ending March 31, operating income declined 3 percent, and earnings fell 4 percent to $1.21 per share, the company reported on its corporate website.

Although the Parents Television Council acknowledged it cannot definitively state that McDonald’s performance is due solely to its advertising placement on programs with offensive content, the council contends McDonald’s performance began declining after the corporation abandoned a family focus and began targeting Millennials by sponsoring the programs they watch.

“You cannot definitively state that as the sole cause,” said Melissa Henson, the PTC’s director of grassroots education and activism, pointing out McDonald’s slip from the PTC’s list of the 10 best sponsors judged on avoidance of programs with graphically violent, profane or sexually explicit content.

“But I think if you look at McDonald’s history for example, the last time they were on our best list was in 2007. And around the same time, they were dominating the competition at a time when ... some of the other fast food companies were not pursuing a family friendly ad strategy. McDonald’s was at that time” pursuing a family focus, Henson told Baptist Press. “In the last few years McDonald’s has gone in the opposite direction. They’ve starting sponsoring more and more offensive content.”

PTC president Timothy Winter pointed out McDonald’s advertising habits in an April 4 letter to McDonald’s president and CEO Don Thompson.

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In the first quarter of 2014, Winter said, McDonald’s sponsored an episode of “The Family Guy” that joked about pedophilia in referencing “The Magic Flute in A Minor” as a “pedophile opera”; multiple episodes of the serial killer drama “The Following,” including an episode featuring a woman’s throat being slit; and an episode of “Reign” that referred viewers to an online-only version of the installment that featured two explicit sex scenes.

“Mr. Thompson,” Winter wrote, “I believe McDonald’s can improve its fortunes by returning to a family focus.”

Association of National Advertisers research supports the PTC’s conclusion that such advertising placement is hurting McDonald’s image, Henson said.

“[The association] found that if a brand was in a context that seemed to be inappropriate for the brand, then that affected the consumer’s perception of that company and that brand,” Henson said. “For example, if you’re a beer company and you’re advertising on a kid’s show, that’s going to negatively affect the perception of the brand, not because” viewers may think there’s something “inherently wrong with selling beer. That’s because it’s a bad environment to be advertising it.

“And the same is true on the converse. If you’re a family friendly company and you’re advertising on a show that contains high levels of graphic sex, violence and foul language, then that’s going to affect the way people view the brand.”

McDonald’s is viewed as a family brand because of its Ronald McDonald Houses that provide housing for families during their children’s extended hospital stays in other cities; happy meals for children, and kid-friendly atmospheres including playgrounds at many of its franchise locations, Henson said.

“They’ve got the Ronald McDonald House, and yet at the same time, here they are advertising on programs like Family Guy, where ... they’re trivializing child sex abuse. And that is just so, so appalling that this family brand that has done so much good in their communities would be supporting this kind of content with their advertising dollars,” Henson said. “And I think that the drop-off that they’ve had in recent months and years is because they’ve sort of muddied the waters about who it is that they’re trying to get into their restaurants.”

McDonald’s responded to the PTC in an April 17 letter.

“It’s important to understand that McDonald’s is not directly involved with network/radio programming decisions,” a McDonald’s customer satisfaction representative wrote. “As an advertiser, our role is not to determine what broadcasters should or should not air. That decision belongs to the broadcaster and, ultimately, to the individual viewer. However, we recognize our customers support a diverse view of programming interests. As such, we appreciate you sharing your opinion and have shared it with our Marketing Department where it will be considered for future advertising decisions.”

The PTC is asking consumers to bring the issue to the attention of neighborhood franchise owners. To that end, the council has included on its website a letter for consumers to download, sign and share with franchise managers. The letter is available at http://w2.parentstv.org/main/Campaigns/images/McD_leaflet.pdf.

Business analysts attribute McDonald’s declining performance to several factors, including ill-fated menu changes and improvements among its competitors, according to Crain’s Chicago Business and other news outlets. Conversely, McDonald’s blamed bad winter weather, analysts reported, and on its website, attributed a decline in earnings per share to “the impact of prior year income tax benefits.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
5/1/2014 12:59:03 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



How an autistic son extends ministry in Japan

May 1 2014 by Maria Elena Baseler, IMB/Baptist Press

It’s Sunday morning at Life Baptist Church in Fuji, Japan, and the sounds of lively praise music fill the small worship center.

Worshippers, most of them Brazilian immigrants of Japanese descent, sing a popular praise chorus, accompanied by an amplified acoustic guitar.

“I want to know You. I want to hear Your voice. I want to know You more,” they sing in Portuguese, clapping enthusiastically to the beat.

Near the back of the room, 21-year-old Filipe Koji Kakumu sits with his eyes closed, a frown wrinkling his brow. As the music grows louder, he plugs his ears with his index fingers.

Filipe’s parents, Japanese-Brazilian Luís Carlos Kakumu and Margarete Kakumu, are Brazilian Baptist missionaries in Japan. Luís Carlos pastors the congregation; Margarete leads the praise team.

During the song Luís Carlos strolls to the back of the worship center and stands behind his son Filipe, gently placing a hand on his shoulder.

Filipe keeps his ears plugged, looking like he’s in pain. But when the music softens, Filipe suddenly stands and begins to jump. After the singing ends, Margarete slips into the seat next to Filipe. Luís Carlos moves to the front of the church. Filipe begins clicking his tongue on the roof of his mouth. He appears to be trying to speak, but no words come.

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IMB photo by Wilson Hunter
Brazilian missionary Luís Carlos Kakumu (left) walks with his non-verbal autistic son Filipe outside the family’s apartment in Fuji, Japan. “I long for him to be able to talk with me, to share what he’s thinking and feeling,” Kakumu said. “But Filipe has been a great lesson in prayer for me. I’ve realized how important it is, as a son of God, to talk with my Heavenly Father.”

Luís Carlos and Margarete remember when Filipe, their only child, wasn’t like this. A family video shows Filipe as a rambunctious 2-year-old, strumming a toy guitar, talking and giggling. But not long after the video was filmed, Filipe stopped speaking. He lost interest in creative playtime and withdrew into a world of his own.

“The change was drastic,” Margarete recalls. “We couldn’t understand what was wrong with him.”

Doctors in Japan diagnosed him with autism, a developmental brain disorder causing problems in communication, behavior and social interaction.

“It was a shock to us,” Margarete says.

She and Luís Carlos share their story with missionaries during a trip to Japan’s Mount Fuji, about an hour’s drive from their home. Filipe sits in the back seat of the family’s van, listening to a music CD and making non-verbal, vocal sounds. He appears to be in a world all his own.

When the Kakumus stop at a visitors’ center, Filipe interacts with his parents, walking hand-in-hand with his father, touching his mother’s face, allowing both parents to put their arms around him.

Standing at an observation deck at Mount Fuji, the group tries to get a good view of Japan’s highest peak. But the weather is too foggy to see the peak. Gazing toward the horizon, Filipe touches his father’s face with his left index finger, seemingly wanting to express himself.

“I long for him to be able to talk with me, to share what he’s thinking and feeling,” Luís Carlos said later, his wife sharing the same desire.

“But Filipe has been a great lesson in prayer for me,” Luís Carlos said. “I’ve realized how important it is, as a son of God, to talk with my Heavenly Father.”

Luís Carlos prays two hours daily, an hour in the morning and another hour at night.

“Everything begins with prayer,” he said.

At night when Filipe is sleeping, sometimes Luís Carlos and Margarete slip into his bedroom and pray over him. Often, they’ve asked God to heal him. So far, that hasn’t happened. But Filipe, unable to say “I love you,” teaches his parents valuable lessons about love.

Because of Filipe’s level of disability, Margarete says, “Filipe depends on us for just about everything. He’s with us all the time. Being his parents has taught us a lot about unconditional love, God’s love.”

Their interaction with Filipe has also shown others – whether believers the missionaries are discipling or lost people they’re trying to reach – a tangible picture of God’s love in action.

That “picture” can even be seen on the Kakumus’ Facebook pages, where they often post expressions of their deep love for Filipe and behind-the-scenes photos of their close-knit family of three.

In a post called “Unconditional Love,” a series of photos shows Luís Carlos and Filipe walking side-by-side down a tree-lined path. “I will always be beside you, my son,” Luís Carlos says in the message. “Let’s walk together through life. I will love you and care for you for all my days.”

On a Facebook page Margarete created to give Filipe a “voice,” photos show him hugging church members, kissing his mother’s cheek and cuddling with his father. Many autistic people don’t like to show affection, but Filipe is unique.

A photo of Filipe with his arm around his mother is accompanied by the post, “My world is without borders, lies or deception. As it should be for everyone. Autistic or not. – Filipe.”

When Filipe was diagnosed with autism, his family’s world changed forever. But God used the crisis for good. Although the Kakumus were Christians, they weren’t serving in Japan as missionaries when the diagnosis came. They had emigrated from Brazil to Japan four years earlier to work in a Japanese automobile plant. When they learned Filipe had autism, they returned to Brazil to be near family and to get help for him from Portuguese-speaking professionals.

During those seven years back in Brazil, God called the Kakumus to global missions.

“God really used Filipe’s autism to direct our lives and ministry. It’s because of Filipe that we’re here as missionaries in Japan,” said Luís Carlos, who serves in a country where only about 1 percent of the people are evangelical Christians.

“My great dream is that God will do here in Japan what He did in [South] Korea,” said Luís Carlos, referencing the rapid church growth, fueled by prayer, that began there several decades ago. “Our prayer is that many, many people in Japan come to know the Lord as Savior and that there will be many strong churches all over Japan.”

“We know God can do this,” Luís Carlos said. “Nothing is impossible for Him.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Maria Elena Baseler is an IMB writer and editor living in the Americas. The Kakumus now serve at Life International Church in Oyama, Japan, where Luís Carlos is assistant pastor. The church is affiliated with Convenção das Igrejas Batistas Independentes (Convention of Independent Baptist Churches) in Brazil and the Japan Evangelical Church of Christ. To learn more about the Kakumus’ work in Japan, go to http://www.commissionstories.com/americas/stories/view/japanese-brazilian-serves-the-lord-in-land-of-his-ancestors.)
5/1/2014 12:47:12 PM by Maria Elena Baseler, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



New hunger campaign launching in Baltimore

May 1 2014 by Mark Kelly, BGR/Baptist Press

Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund national partners will launch a new initiative during the June 10-11 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting that will continue the SBC’s unique “dollar in, dollar out” approach in the battle against hunger across North America and overseas.

Global Hunger Relief will maintain continuity with the purposes and focus of the World Hunger Fund while presenting the cause of hunger relief to a new generation, according to a memorandum of understanding affirmed by executive leaders of the seven stakeholders that promote and administer the World Hunger and approved by the SBC Executive Committee at its February 17-18, 2014, meeting. The memorandum of understanding was signed by Frank S. Page of the SBC Executive Committee, Russell D. Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Tom Elliff of the International Mission Board, Kevin Ezell of the North American Mission Board, Thom Rainer of LifeWay Christian Resources, Wanda S. Lee of Woman’s Missionary Union, and Jeff Palmer of Baptist Global Response.

More than 1 billion people around the world are hungry more often than not, and about 24,000 people – over half of them young children – die every day from various conditions that could have been alleviated by basic nutrition. Southern Baptist giving through the World Hunger Fund had been declining for more than a decade before rebounding a bit in 2011 and 2012.

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Global Hunger Relief seeks to take the WHF’s unique “dollar in, dollar out” message to new and wider audiences – and challenge a new generation of believers to personally take Jesus’ love to starving souls, in both word and deed.

Southern Baptists have a tremendously effective approach to loving their neighbors through hunger ministries. While some groups keep as much as 70 percent of their donations to cover overhead, donations through Global Hunger Relief go directly to the actual need.

Sending 100 percent of each donation to service projects is possible because Southern Baptists support their mission endeavors by giving through their Cooperative Program. Most overhead costs for “boots on the ground” efforts are already covered by Cooperative Program gifts.

In addition, because hunger donations are channeled through the International and North American mission boards, those funds become a vital part of Southern Baptist mission strategies to impact the world for Christ.

Global Hunger Relief will follow precisely the same guidelines used with the World Hunger Fund. As with the WHF, funds will continue to be distributed 80-20 between international and North American causes. The hope is that a new name and fresh look will revitalize conversations about the global hunger crisis and raise awareness about the effective efforts Southern Baptists are making to help people in need experience the life-changing love of God.

The World Hunger Fund was organized to help Southern Baptists respond to the horrible famine in Ethiopia during the mid-1980s. By 1998, more than $8.5 million annually was flowing into hunger relief efforts worldwide, but by 2010 donations had dwindled to barely $5.4 million. The lack of funding happened at a time when hunger relief efforts were becoming even more strategic for Southern Baptist initiatives among unreached and impoverished people groups.

In 2012, Southern Baptists gave $7.471 million through the World Hunger Fund, primarily through promotion of World Hunger Sunday, which is held on the second Sunday of October each year. In 2014, World Hunger Sunday will be observed Oct. 12.

The Global Hunger Relief campaign will be supported by a new website, www.GlobalHungerRelief.com, and social media presences are being created on Facebook and Twitter. Resources for fighting global hunger also are available through the websites of the national WHF/GHR partners: www.erlc.com, www.namb.net, www.imb.org, www.gobgr.org, www.wmu.com, www.lifeway.com and www.sbc.net.

The full text of the memorandum being presented to the SBC annual meeting follows:

“We the undersigned, representing the major stakeholders in promoting and administering the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, affirm this Memorandum of Understanding that Global Hunger Relief, trademarked by the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is the successor in fact of the Convention-approved World Hunger Fund. Global Hunger Relief is designed to maintain continuity with the Convention-approved purposes and focus of the World Hunger Fund while seeking to lift up the needs of hunger relief to a new generation of Southern Baptists. The singular purpose of Global Hunger Relief is identical to its predecessor, World Hunger Fund, namely to provide a Convention-approved fund through which Southern Baptists and others may give to help meet hunger needs of any person or group of persons wherever they may reside, with administrative and distribution costs borne through our Cooperative Program partners. Global Hunger Relief gifts will be distributed 80 percent for overseas hunger relief and 20 percent for hunger relief in the United States and Canada unless and until changed by Convention action.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly writes for Baptist Global Response.)
5/1/2014 12:31:25 PM by Mark Kelly, BGR/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Patterson, Wright urge immigration reform

May 1 2014 by Michelle Tyer, SWBTS/Baptist Press

Paige Patterson and Bryant Wright were among 250-plus leaders at an Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) gathering in Washington April 29 to urge Congress to act on immigration reform.

Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas and a former Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president, and Wright, pastor of the Atlanta-area Johnson Ferry Baptist Church and also a former SBC president, were among the event’s featured speakers.

Patterson, in a news conference, said he believes “we are at a point in this country where we are very much on the verge of acting unjustly.” It is “my desire to see the fear of God inform all of our actions,” he said.

The United States has always been known as a generous country that readily provides help and relief to other countries in need, Patterson said, calling for the U.S. to do likewise for those from other countries who come to America.

“I believe the fear of God informing our actions would cause us to reach out to many people in this country from many different origins who are not known lawbreakers, not workers of wickedness, but simply needing an opportunity,” Patterson said. “We cannot afford on the issue of immigration reform to be anything other than kind and generous.”

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Photo by Doug Carlson/ERLC
Paige Patterson (at microphone) and Bryant Wright (left) were among 250-plus leaders at an Evangelical Immigration Table gathering in Washington April 29 to urge Congress to act on immigration reform. Patterson is president of Southwestern Seminary in Texas; Wright is a former SBC president and pastor of the Atlanta-area Johnson Ferry Baptist Church.

Patterson noted that although weather and distance prevented others from coming to the Evangelical Immigration Table event, each person in attendance represented many others who support reform. For example, Patterson said, Southwestern Seminary has many international students on campus, most of whom support immigration reform, as do many Texas pastors and church members.

“They don’t want amnesty, and they do want to be sure the borders are carefully controlled,” Patterson noted. “Given those two things, they know that the compassion of Christ is to reach out to those who are among us. Therefore, they support – by the hundreds of thousands, enthusiastically – what we’re doing.”

Patterson answered one reporter’s question concerning the Republican Party, saying part of the goal of the EIT gathering was to let the Republicans know of grass-roots support for immigration reform. He said he believes reform will receive support from most Republicans in Congress.

Wright, SBC president from 2010-12, described for reporters the resolution on immigration reform adopted by the convention’s messengers in 2011 in Phoenix.

Southern Baptist leaders saw the “need for us to have a resolution on calling for immigration reform that was based on biblical guidance and biblical standards,” Wright said. “We felt like too many of the conservative evangelical Christians were allowing their views on immigration to be shaped more by talk radio and other news outlets rather than by the Scriptures.”

The SBC’s resolution called for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and holding businesses accountable in their hiring. It also asked public officials to establish after securing the borders “a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.” It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.

After approval of the 2011 resolution, Wright said he returned to his church and preached on the issue.

It was his first time to travel to Washington to call for immigration reform, Wright told the news conference. He said he did so recognizing the concern of Southern Baptists and the frustration “at the lack of progress.”

“There’s just a greater sense of urgency that the time is now for the Congress to act,” Wright said.

The Senate approved a broad bill last year, but the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has said it needs some repair. The House of Representatives, meanwhile, has taken a piecemeal approach, with two House committees – Judiciary and Homeland Security – approving a total of five bills. Those bills deal with strengthening border and national security, providing visas for guest workers, requiring employers to use the E-Verify system to check workers’ eligibility and setting levels for the number of immigrants.

The Evangelical Immigration Table – which the ERLC participates in – is a coalition of evangelical leaders promoting a solution to secure the borders, respect the law, guarantee fairness to taxpayers and authorize a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.

(EDITOR’S NOTE - Compiled from reports by Michelle Tyer, a newswriter for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and Tom Strode, Baptist Press Washington bureau chief.)
5/1/2014 12:19:00 PM by Michelle Tyer, SWBTS/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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