November 2015

Marriage advocates’ rights bill draws Baptist support

November 19 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

A Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) ethicist and advocate for religious freedom has joined other church leaders to endorse revised legislation to prevent discrimination by the federal government against Americans who object to same-sex marriage.
 
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and nine others endorsed the latest version of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) in a Nov. 13 letter to the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Mike Lee, R.-Utah, and Rep. Raul Labrador, R.-Idaho.
 
The legislative proposal seeks to protect religious liberty following the Supreme Court’s June legalization of same-sex marriage. That decision and the uncertainty in its wake have left the conscience rights of Christians and other defenders of biblical, traditional marriage susceptible to potential federal discrimination.
 
In their letter, Moore and the other signers say enactment of FADA is needed to avoid a collision between “the federal government and people of faith.”

 
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Russell Moore

The bill would protect the free exercise of religion and the belief marriage is only between a man and a woman, they said.
 
“In our pluralistic and inclusive society this belief deserves protection, while ensuring that those who disagree are not denied any benefit or service under federal law to which they are entitled,” the letter says, adding FADA “does both.”
 
FADA “is a common-sense law that provides necessary protection to millions of Americans who have sincere religious beliefs about marriage and sexuality,” Moore said. “The need for such a bill has become obvious as legal rulings and confusion over existing religious liberty legislation have left many Americans vulnerable to overreach by the federal government.”
 
The bill, he said, “will help protect the conscience rights of all and will ensure that court rulings or cultural change do not embolden the government to exclude people of religious conviction from the public square.”
 
The legislation seeks to make certain the federal government does not discriminate against a person – as well as a religious organization or family owned business – because he or she “believes, speaks, or acts in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”
 
Discrimination prohibited by FADA would include revocation of a tax exemption and denial of a deduction for a charitable contribution based on belief in the definition of marriage as only a heterosexual union. It also would ban such discriminatory actions as refusing a federal grant or benefit, as well as denying access to educational institutions, based on the same conviction.
 
Lee and Labrador introduced FADA originally in June, but they presented revised language in September after working for months with religious freedom experts to make clear the intent is only to bar federal discrimination against people and institutions that limit marriage to a man and a woman, Lee said.
 
The revised legislation adds clarifying language, including a definition of “persons” protected by the measure to exclude “publicly traded for-profit entities,” federal workers acting within the range of their employment, for-profit federal contractors working as part of their contract and medical institutions in regard to visitation and health-care decision-making.
 
Moore led a coalition of 30 church leaders in endorsing the original legislation in a July letter to congressional leaders. Among the signers were several Southern Baptists, including the presidents of the six convention seminaries.
 
The Nov. 13 letter from Moore and his allies cited ominous comments from Solicitor General Donald Verrilli about tax exemption during the March oral arguments in the marriage case before the Supreme Court. When asked if a college or university would lose its tax exemption for opposing gay marriage, Verrilli said, “[I]t is going to be an issue.”
 
In addition to Moore, other signers of the latest letter included Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; William Lori, archbishop of Baltimore and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; and Matthew Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
 
Other signers of the letter included representatives of the Anglican Church in North America and the North American Lutheran Church.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

11/19/2015 12:05:43 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Israeli-Palestinian tensions rise, yet hope flickers

November 19 2015 by Charles Braddix, IMB

A clash of religions and ethnicities – when it comes to the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the lines get blurred and the story gets complicated.
 
The latest clash involves a familiar site that is holy to Jews and Muslims – what Jews call the Temple Mount and what Muslims call Al-Aqsa or the Noble Sanctuary. Atop the buried ruins of the first and second Jewish temples are the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque, two of Islam’s most sacred sites.
 
Both Jewish temples were destroyed by invaders, the second in A.D. 70. Six hundred years later the Dome of the Rock was built. It enshrines the rock from which Muhammad is said to have made his night journey into heaven and is located on an outcrop known as Mount Moriah where, according to Jewish belief, Abraham went to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice.

 
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IMB Photo by Walter Donaldson
A new wave of violence between Israelis and Palestinians was sparked by a dispute over Jews praying at Jerusalem’s most famous religious site, which Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary with its Dome of the Rock.

An agreement established in 1187 and still in force today says that while non-Muslims may enter the compound, only Muslims may pray there. Mosque officials once controlled access, but since the year 2000 Israeli authorities have been in charge.
 
Muslims now say the agreement is slowly being eroded, with more and more Jews arriving to “secretly” pray. Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, director of the Al-Aqsa mosque, recently said, “If a religious war is to be avoided, it is up to Israel to enforce the rules.” A Muslim guard, Nadir Shaheen, asks, “If they say prayers in their heads, how can we know?” Shaheen said he sees Jews praying and wonders why Israeli police don’t stop them.
 
Israeli government figures, meanwhile, show that about 12,000 Jews visit the site each year, compared to 4 million Muslims. Activist groups, however, are advocating for more Jewish access to the compound, calling it an issue of religious freedom.
 
Tensions flared in October when Israeli police dismantled surveillance cameras installed at the compound by Muslim authorities less than 24 hours earlier. This followed the Palestinian killing of two Israeli men in Jerusalem’s old city the previous week. Since then, violent incidents have spread throughout Israel and the Palestinian territory, leaving more than 90 dead on both sides.
 
The latest wave of killings has taken a new twist in a region familiar with bloodshed. Stabbings, shootings and driving vehicles into crowds are far different from the rocket attacks and suicide bombings of the past.
 
The use of knives by Palestinians is a low-tech way of scaring Israelis despite their high-tech security. It’s easy to buy a knife in Jerusalem, and the results are the same as suicide bombings – terrorizing Israeli citizens and provoking Israeli police to respond with force.
 
“What’s happening in Al-Aqsa today is a very dangerous escalation, and it does undermine the peace and stability of our city,” said Hosam Naom, dean of St. George the Martyr Cathedral in Jerusalem. “The Palestinian-Israeli conflict – and particularly in Jerusalem – is not about religion; that is, it is not between Muslims and Jews or Christians and Jews.
 
“The issue is much bigger than that,” Naom said, describing it as a political conflict that “cannot be resolved along religious parameters or framed as a religious one.”

 
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IMB Photo by Walter Donaldson
The town of Bethlehem, part of Palestinian territory only five miles from Jerusalem, has been caught in the current Israeli-Palestinian unrest stemming from tensions over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Naom calls himself a Palestinian Christian, and this points to another confusing issue – the proliferation of labels and terms used to describe people: Christian, Muslim, Jew, Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, Israeli Arab, Palestinian Christian, Messianic Jew and others. Sometimes it is easy, but erroneous, to exchange one for another – Arab and Muslim, for instance.
 
“I think if you ask people about Arabs, they would generally say, ‘Oh, they’re Muslim,’” said Ava Burnard*, a Christian worker in Bethlehem. “But there is a Christian [Arab] population.”
 
Only a few miles from Jerusalem, Bethlehem is on the West Bank in Palestinian territory and has been the site of much of the violence.
 
Christians in Bethlehem feel alienated from both Muslim Arabs and Israelis, Burnard said.
 
“The Israelis don’t like them because they’re Palestinian,” she said. Though many Christian Palestinians want to leave, they can’t. “They feel really trapped and walled in,” she said. “They feel forgotten by much of the world.”
 
One Christian shopkeeper in Bethlehem said, “All of this [conflict] is because of the mosque,” meaning the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
 
“When we were called to the Palestinians,” Burnard said, “we kind of had this motto that we were called to a people without peace, not just physical peace, but it’s become so evident they are without spiritual peace.... They are a people without peace because they do not know Christ, even though this is the birthplace of the Messiah.”
 
Cody Burnard*, Ava’s husband, said, “It sounds so simplistic for us to say that Jesus is the answer and that He’s the solution to the conflict.” Cody explained that Jesus Himself said people would argue over where to worship – at the Jerusalem temple or on a certain mountain. Jesus emphasized, however, that worship would be in spirit and truth and not based on a location, Cody said.
 
Ben Martin*, a Southern Baptist representative living in Israel, chooses to look at the unity among Christians in the middle of this latest violence instead of the divisions between factions fighting one another.
 
“Many would like to incite people to hate and to violence,” Martin said. “However, there are many in Israel among the Jewish and Arab believers who would refuse to allow extremists to divide them. There are numerous examples of this from both Arabs and Jews.”
 
One such example, Martin noted, is a meeting of Messianic Jews and Arab Christians who get together annually in the Galilee region. The latest meeting took place in October.
 
“This year it would have been easy to cancel such a meeting, but then that would be giving in to those who would love for people to fear and hate each other,” Martin said.
 
Quoting a blog post called Stories of Hope Amidst the Chaos on oneforisrael.org, he said, “This year, the event was particularly meaningful in the midst of the horrendous events that can so easily breed distrust and alienation between the two communities. It was all the more important to stand together in unity, and refuse to allow the enemy to sow division within the body of Yeshua.”
 
At the meeting, it was suggested that each Messianic congregation adopt an Arab church, and each Arab congregation adopt a Messianic church, in order for the leaders to meet, pray, plan activities and share the Gospel together.
 

Pray

Pray for Israel, Martin asks.

  • As political tensions rise in the Middle East, pray for unity in the body of the Messiah in Israel. As Jesus said, “This is how all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

  • When the Gospel is advancing, Satan is committed to opposing it. Pray for protection for believers and pastoral leadership in Israel as they boldly share the Good News. Pray that the body in Israel will remember “the Lord is faithful; He will strengthen you and guard you” (2 Thessalonians 3:3). Pray there will be a bountiful harvest.

Pray for Palestinian believers, the Burnards ask.

  • Pray that they will keep their faith in the midst of the current conflict, not wavering to the right or the left, “for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

  • Pray that the way believers relate within their own families will reflect the Gospel in their homes and impact the families around them.

  • Pray God will strengthen Palestinian believers to boldly proclaim the Gospel of grace to their families, neighbors and friends. Ask God to protect them as they minister to their own people, so worship will be lifted up across every Palestinian village.

*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Charles Braddix is a writer for IMB based in London.)

11/19/2015 11:54:28 AM by Charles Braddix, IMB | with 0 comments



Hawaii convention welcomes Asian association

November 19 2015 by Faith McFatridge, Baptist Press

Hawaii Pacific Baptists held steady their percentage of Cooperative Program (CP) gifts forwarded to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) causes and recognized a partner association with all of its cooperating churches in Asia.
 
Centered on the theme “Great Awakening!” based on 2 Chronicles 7:14, some 247 registered messengers and 73 guests gathered Nov. 5-6 at Olivet Baptist Church on Oahu.
 
Messengers adopted a 2016 budget of $3,105,550, a 5.4 percent decrease from the current budget. CP gifts of $1,335,000 are anticipated from churches, and a total of $751,500 is anticipated from the North American Mission Board and LifeWay Christian Resources.

 
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HPBC photo
Some 247 messengers and 73 guests gathered Nov. 5-6 at the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention annual meeting.

The Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention (HPBC) will continue to forward 31.5 percent of CP receipts to SBC missions and ministries in North America and across the world, with 68.5 percent funding HPBC ministries. The budget does not include any shared ministry expenses.
 
One new congregation requested affiliation and was approved by messengers: Joyful Baptist Church, a Korean congregation in Honolulu. Messengers also approved the calendar of activities for 2016 and the report of the executive director-treasurer and the executive board.
 
Newly elected officers included: president, John Endriss, pastor of Engage Church in Hilo; first vice president, Robert Uyeda, associate pastor of the English Department of Hawaii Chinese Baptist Church in Honolulu; and second vice president, Wes Higuchi, a member of Kahului Baptist Church on Maui.
 
Recording secretary Hazel Capinpin, a member of Word of Truth in Ewa Beach, Oahu, was elected to a second term.
 
Two resolutions were adopted, one thanking those ending their terms of service to the executive board and convention committees and another recognizing SBC entities.
 
Pastors from the newly formed Asia Pacific Network, the HPBC’s seventh partner association, were recognized. The five congregations represented were Koza Baptist Church in Okinawa, Japan; Seoul International Baptist Church in South Korea; Songtan Central Baptist Church in South Korea; Tokyo Baptist Church in Japan; and Yokohama International Baptist Church in Japan.
 
Executive director Chris Martin spoke from Zephaniah on the judgement of God, noting, “This is the point of our lives now – to live by faith. That faith is a combination of two things – trust and obedience. You have to trust the Lord and follow Him in obedience. If you do not have either one of those, you do not have faith.”
 
Martin continued, “If we are the people who are saying, ‘Yes, God,’ we also have to be saying, ‘I cannot to do this without the movement of God. I cannot do this without an awakening.’ May it begin with us.... But unless God explodes into the lives of everyone in our churches, we will never be able to make a dent in the world that’s around us. But don’t be discouraged. Be encouraged. The power of God comes to us, and now is the time. Before His Hand comes in judgement, now is the time. Seek the Lord. Seek Him in obedience. Whatever He says, let’s do. Say ‘yes’ to the voice God and follow Him in faith.”
 
The annual message was given by a Christian worker from East Asia, whose name cannot be revealed for security purposes. He said, “God says, ‘I have raised you up. You will know my power so that you can spread My Word to the nations.’ God invites us to join Him because He made us for this. He needs for us to see what only God can do. Say to the Lord, ‘You are my refuge and my strength, all that I am. Every breath that I take, every day that I take until You call me home, I will stand boldly for You.’“
 
The annual meeting was hosted by Olivet Baptist Church, Olivet’s Japanese department, Nuuanu Baptist Church and the Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship of the Pacific.
 
Proceedings of the annual meeting were broadcast live via the Internet. Videos from the annual meeting can still be viewed at ustream.tv/channel/hpbc-hawaii.
 
Next year’s annual meeting will be held Nov. 3-4 on Oahu.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Faith McFatridge is associate editor of the Hawaii Pacific Baptist, newsjournal of the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention.)

11/19/2015 11:49:29 AM by Faith McFatridge, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Moore: U.S. should not exclude Christians in genocide label

November 18 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The U.S. State Department should not exclude Christians as victims if it declares the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) guilty of genocide, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore has told Secretary of State John Kerry.
 
In a letter Nov. 16, Moore responded to a report the State Department is preparing to categorize the terrorist organization’s campaign against Iraq’s Yazidi sect as genocide but not to include Christians as targets of genocidal acts. The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission urged Kerry not to distinguish between different groups suffering at the hands of the Islamic State.

 
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Moore said in his letter he supports a U.S. declaration that ISIS has committed, and continues to commit, genocide, but he called for Kerry “to recognize every victim of every community standing in the path of [ISIS]. Let us not be distracted by a quibbling over terminology that falsely distinguishes between victims of equally horrific atrocities.”
 
Iraqi and Syrian Christians “have faced mass beheadings, crucifixion and other atrocities for the crime of following Jesus Christ,” Moore wrote. “This is genocide and civilization must declare it so.”
 
A leading human rights advocate in the U.S. House of Representative and a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) also spoke against the expected exclusion of Christians.
 
Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., said he is “shocked and dismayed” the Obama administration “would even think to exclude the present day genocide of Christians.”
 
“Ignoring Christians, and the full range of religious and ethnic groups who have been victims of the ISIS genocide, would continue [President Obama’s] policy of silence and weak response,” Smith said in a Nov. 13 written statement.
 
Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and a USCIRF commissioner from 1999 to 2012, described Christians’ fate at the hands of ISIS forces in a Nov. 13 piece for National Review.
 
“Christians have been executed by the thousands,” Shea wrote. “Christian women and girls are vulnerable to sexual enslavement. Many of their clergy have been assassinated and their churches and ancient monasteries demolished or desecrated. They have been systematically stripped of all their wealth, and those too elderly or sick to flee ISIS-controlled territory” have been forced to convert to Islam or been killed.
 
Moore, Smith and Shea responded to a Nov. 12 article by investigative reporter Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News. Isikoff reported the State Department is preparing to label ISIS’ onslaught against the Yazidis in Iraq as genocide. A 1948 United Nations treaty says genocide includes the commission of such acts as murder with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
 
State Department officials contend attacks on Christians and minorities other than the Yazidis appear to fall short of the standard established in the genocide treaty, Isikoff reported.
 
The naming of victims of genocide “is not an academic matter,” Shea said. “A genocide designation would have significant policy implications for American efforts to restore property and lands taken from the minority groups and for offers of aid, asylum, and other protections to such victims.”
 
In addition, she wrote, it would mean the United States and other countries, under the genocide treaty, “would not be bound to act to suppress or even prevent the genocide of these Christians.”
 
Moore has joined others in urging President Barack Obama and Congress to designate ISIS in violation of the genocide treaty.
 
A bipartisan House contingent is backing a measure, Concurrent Resolution 75, that expresses the view the “atrocities committed against Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities targeted specifically for religious reasons are crimes against humanity and genocide.” The list of cosponsors of the resolution consists of 94 Republicans and 52 Democrats.
 
A new report from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum helped motivate the State Department to move toward a designation of genocide for ISIS’ actions against the Yazidis, according to Isikoff’s report. That Nov. 12 report found ISIS “perpetrated crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes” in the cases of Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen, Sabean-Mandeans and others but concluded genocide has been committed only against the Yazidis, a sect with a patchwork of religious beliefs and practices.
 
Crimes against Yazidis have included the execution of men and the enslavement of women and girls, according to the report.
 
ISIS’ campaign against the Yazidis definitely should be considered genocide, Shea said.
 
However, she wrote, “To propose that Christians have been simply driven off their land but not suffered similar fates is deeply misinformed.... [Christians] are also being deliberately targeted for extinction through equally brutal measures.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

11/18/2015 12:26:53 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Personal evangelism South Carolina Baptist focus

November 18 2015 by Butch Blume and Scott Vaughan, The Baptist Courier

South Carolina Baptists focused heavily on personal evangelism at its 195th annual meeting themed “Tell the Story,” held Nov. 10-11 at Spartanburg First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C.
 
Speakers reiterated the compelling need for all believers to share the gospel, with Tommy Kelly, pastor of First Baptist Church of Varnville, urging messengers to ensure that every person in the state hears the gospel by the group”s 200th annual meeting in 2020. Messengers adopted a new convention vision statement, “Helping Churches Fulfill the Great Commission,” as recommended by the South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC) Executive Board Future Vision Committee.
 
In a business session, the convention unanimously voted to end fellowship with Augusta Heights Baptist Church of Greenville because the church performed a same-sex marriage ceremony. But messengers left the door open for the church to regain fellowship by expressing a “corporate repentance and return to a biblical view of marriage and sexuality that is in agreement with the principles of God”s word as summarized in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.”

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Baptist Courier photo
During business sessions, South Carolina messengers voted to end fellowship with a church whose pastor performed a same-sex marriage.

 

The Oct. 10 same-sex marriage ceremony did not take place at the church, but Augusta Heights” pastor Greg Dover performed the ceremony with the approval of his deacons, messengers learned. The Greenville Baptist Association had already dismissed the church Oct. 22.
 
In motioning for the SCBC disaffiliation, SCBC Executive Board Chairman Dwight Easler expressed a “burdened and heavy heart” and said the convention “must lovingly and without apology stand together for the word of God in order to call sinners to repentance.” Easler told messengers he contacted Dover about the issue and said the church cited the absence of a marriage policy and soul freedom as reasons not to reverse its actions.
 
“We believe this action by the pastor and the subsequent inaction of the church to correct this policy through an expression of repentance and returning to a biblical view of marriage and sexuality is evidence that they are sadly and tragically no longer in friendly cooperation with this convention,” Easler told messengers. “We believe that the gospel is for the gay person and the straight person, the rich and the poor, the black and the white, the young and the old. However, we believe that no man can come to the gospel without the acknowledgment of sin and confession and faith in Christ.”
 
Augusta Heights is the second Baptist church in Greenville to endorse gay marriage. In September, Greenville First Baptist Church withdrew from the SCBC after receiving a letter from Easler asking the church to reverse its policy of allowing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people to be married and ordained. Greenville First Baptist ended its affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention in 1999.
 
In other business, messengers approved a $28.6 million budget, adopted a new vision statement, elected officers, and endorsed resolutions addressing moral and social concerns. The attendance of 965 messengers from 440 of the state convention”s 2,138 churches marked an increase from the 941 who attended in 2014.
 
The 2015 budget anticipates $28.5 million in Cooperative Program (CP) gifts – $100,000 in other gifts – and is unchanged from last year. Messengers voted to forward 41 percent of Cooperative Program receipts, or $11.69 million, to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) national and international causes, including a $1.13 million supplemental gift directly to the International Mission Board.
 
The 59/41 ratio has remained steady for several years; however, with the adoption of a state Great Commission Resurgence initiative in 2011, the convention began forwarding a portion of budget receipts directly to the IMB, meant to compensate the entity at the same level as if the SCBC split its CP receipts equally between the SCBC and the SBC.
 
Newly elected officers are president Tom Tucker, pastor of Sisk Memorial Baptist Church in Fort Mill; first vice president Bart Kelley, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Westminster; second vice president Bryant Sims, pastor of First Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Greenwood; recording secretary Kathy Hall, a member of First Baptist Church of Camden; and registration secretary Naveen Balakrishnan, pastor of Hopewell Baptist Church in Adams Run.
 
Keith Shorter, pastor of Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Easley, was elected to the newly created office of president-elect, and will assume the office of president after serving one year.
 
Guest speakers included Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church of Spartanburg; Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee; and Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. Videos included messages from South Carolina Baptist Bobby Richardson, former second baseman for the New York Yankees; Clemson University head football coach Dabo Swinney; and Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga.
 
Interim executive director-treasurer Richard Harris applauded the work of South Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief in the wake of October”s floods, reporting more than 80,000 meals have been served by volunteers and more than $338,000 has been given for Baptist relief efforts from 32 states.
 
Harris updated messengers on the search for a new executive director-treasurer. He affirmed the leadership of North Greenville University, and said the SCBC will restore Cooperative Program funding to the school following former president Jimmy Epting’s abrupt resignation. SCBC leaders were satisfied with the resignation after meeting with the school”s leadership, Harris said.
 
Messengers approved resolutions:

  • expressing appreciation for the grace and forgiveness demonstrated by families of victims of the June massacre of nine worshippers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston, and noting the “multiethnic and multicultural unity” that developed in the wake of the shooting and continues to grow;

  • reaffirming the 2010 SBC action calling all Southern Baptists to “continue to honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach,” and encourages congregations to consider increasing their CP giving by 1 percent each year;

  • noting cultural and legal challenges to religious freedom, and urging churches, pastors and individuals “to understand and exercise their right and responsibility to stand for biblical values and to influence the culture;”

  • asking churches to embrace faith-based pregnancy care centers and community health care centers as alternatives for comprehensive healthcare centers that provide abortions, citing published accounts of “gruesome abortion procedures and the exchange of fetal body parts” by organizations that receive federal funding;

  • encouraging churches to develop ministries that provide refuge and healing for victims of human trafficking, citing the annual trafficking of 27 million people worldwide and noting the existence of such acts in South Carolina;

  • challenging churches to bolster awareness of foster-care opportunities, noting the 2,500 children and youth enrolled in South Carolina”s foster care system.

The full text of the resolutions can be found at scbaptist.org/2015-annual-meeting-resolutions.
 
Messengers set the 2016 annual meeting for Nov. 15-16 at Riverland Hills Baptist Church in Irmo.
 
(EDITOR”S NOTE – Butch Blume is managing editor of The Baptist Courier at baptistcourier.com, the news magazine of the churches of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Scott Vaughan is interim director of communications for the SCBC.)

11/18/2015 12:19:22 PM by Butch Blume and Scott Vaughan, The Baptist Courier | with 0 comments



Congo releases few adopted children to waiting families

November 18 2015 by Kiley Crossland, World News Service

Dozens of children stuck in halted adoptions in the Democratic Republic of Congo are now authorized to leave the country after two years of waiting, according to an announcement by Congolese officials Nov. 2.
 
In September 2013, Congo’s government suddenly froze all international adoptions by refusing to issue any exit permits for adopted children. The halt left hundreds of families in limbo, some with finalized adoptions whose children were unable to leave the country and others stuck in the middle of the adoption process. The exit permit is required to take the children through airport security as they leave the country.

 
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The Democratic Republic of Congo

Last Monday’s announcement is the first action by the Congolese government in months. Government officials announced they would grant exit permits to 72 adopted children, 69 with completed paperwork and three with serious medical conditions. The released children will travel to new homes in Italy, Belgium, Canada, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States.
 
Nearly 1,000 adoptive families, almost half of them American, remain stuck in the system, and there is little hope those cases will proceed quickly.
 
“All the other adoption dossiers will wait until the new law on adoptions currently under debate is finalized,” Congolese Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba said. “Until the new law is approved, we will no longer discuss these international adoption cases.”
 
Officials say they halted adoptions originally due to fears adopted children were being kidnapped or trafficked. The Congolese government said they would review all adoption cases and develop a new law surrounding the adoption process. In May 2014, officials issued 62 exit permits for adopted children, but made a similar claim: no more action until the law is finalized. It is unclear how fast that will happen.
 
U.S. State Department officials confirmed 14 children adopted by U.S. families were granted exit permits last week, but over 400 U.S. families are still waiting for their adopted children. In April 2014, almost 170 members of the U.S. Congress signed a letter to Congolese government leaders pressing them to issue exit permits.
 
Some, it seems, are taking matters into their own hands and smuggling their children out of the country, according to a Reuters investigation published in October. Their reporting found at least 80 Congolese children have been illegally taken out of the country since the ban. Unlike most European countries, the U.S. continues to issue entry visas for Congolese children, so if parents are able to get their children out of the Congo, they can often get them into the U.S.
 
In October, the U.S. State Department issued a strong warning to parents attempting to “circumvent the exit permit suspension,” saying the action would have severe consequences and any information concerning such efforts could become the subject of a law enforcement investigation.
 
Families caught in the red tape are often providing ongoing financial support for their adopted children residing in Congo, some still in orphanages, others living in boarding schools or with foster families.
 
Evan and Elizabeth Clements of Lamar, Mo., formally finalized the adoption of their son Elijah in December 2013, but have been unable to obtain an exit permit for Elijah. He was not on last Monday’s list. They are still waiting.
 
“The big problem is that there are more like 1,000 kids stuck and only letting 72 of them go is absolutely ridiculous,” Evan Clements said. “The (Congolese) government has shown time and time again that they do not hold to their word, so I will not trust them until these kids are home.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course.)
 

Related Stories:

Global adoptions decline; Show Hope begins new strategy
Adoption ‘difficult, but rewarding,’ couple says

11/18/2015 12:11:56 PM by Kiley Crossland, World News Service | with 0 comments



Support for MKs affirmed by WMU Foundation board

November 18 2015 by Candice Lee, WMU

The Woman’s Missionary Union Foundation (WMU) board of directors has affirmed their support for missionary kids (MKs) by committing to raise additional funding for MK scholarships. The WMU Foundation, headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., currently offers scholarships for International Mission Board (IMB) and North American Mission Board (NAMB) MKs and will work toward providing additional scholarships for a larger number of recipients.
 
“Increasing scholarship support is one way we can take care of our missionary families, both North American and international,” said Kerri Johnson, WMU Foundation board member. “It helps take a bit of the financial burden off missionary parents.”
 
Johnson, a NAMB missionary serving in New York at the Graffiti 2 Ministry Center, personally understands the financial needs of missionary parents facing college tuition. Children of current IMB and NAMB missionaries are eligible to apply for scholarships through the WMU Foundation, as well as those whose parents accepted IMB’s recent voluntary retirement incentive.
 
During the past 20 years, the WMU Foundation has granted scholarships to more than 400 MKs. Because the number of applicants has increased in recent years, the WMU Foundation board made it a priority to increase its ability to grant scholarships.
 
“We are seeing a trend where there are more applicants than available scholarships,” noted David George, president of the WMU Foundation. “We do not want to continue turning down MKs for scholarships simply because there is not enough funding.”
 
Securing donations from those who wish to support MK scholarships is key.
 
“The WMU Foundation stands beside our missionaries and their children in a number of ways,” said Judith Edwards, chair of the WMU Foundation’s development committee. “A gift to MK scholarships is a good way to put feet to your prayers for these special young people who have served during their growing up years alongside their parents.”
 
While the WMU Foundation offers a variety of scholarships for MKs, the Julia C. Pugh scholarship is the most widely used because it can support both IMB and NAMB MKs.
 
“When people want to support MK scholarships but aren’t sure where to give, I usually direct them to the Pugh scholarship. It is a great way to help all missionary families,” said Linda Lucas who administers the WMU Foundation’s scholarship program.
 
George said, “We know this is a tremendous need, and we will do everything in our power to raise the funds needed to help MKs.”
 
To learn more about making a gift to MK scholarships or for scholarship applications, visit wmufoundation.com.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Candice Lee is the marketing director for WMU Foundation.)

11/18/2015 12:08:01 PM by Candice Lee, WMU | with 0 comments



West Virginia increases CP, decries Planned Parenthood

November 18 2015 by Baptist Press & West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists

Messengers to the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists (WVCSB) called for an end to public funding of Planned Parenthood and increased the percentage of Cooperative Program (CP) receipts they will forward to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) causes.
 
Meeting Nov. 5-6 at First Baptist Church in Ceredo, W.Va., 163 messengers and 29 guests celebrated the convention’s 45th annual meeting by welcoming executive director William Henard, who was elected Sept. 12 by the WVCSB executive board.

 
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The 2016 budget of $2.5 million marks a 4 percent increase from this year’s budget. Some $1.2 million in anticipated CP receipts from churches will be supplemented by $1.1 million from the North American Mission Board and $55,000 from LifeWay Christian Resources.
 
Forty percent of CP receipts will be forwarded to SBC missions and ministries in North America and across the globe, a half-percent increase from 2015. The remaining 60 percent will be used for West Virginia missions and ministries. The budget includes no shared ministry expenses.
 
Under the theme “partnering together: from the mountains to the nations” based on 1 Chronicles 16:31, the convention heard a message from SBC President Ronnie Floyd on Thursday night. Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, challenged messengers to seek a movement of God through an unwavering commitment to prayer.
 
Elected as officers were: president, Ron McCoy, director of missions for the Upper Ohio Valley Baptist Association in Moundsville; first vice president, Todd Hill, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Parkersburg; second vice president, Paul Harris, pastor of Abundant Hope Baptist Church in Barboursville; and recording secretary, Jim Messenger, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in West Union.
 
All officer nominees ran unopposed except Harris, who defeated two other candidates for second vice president.
 
Two resolutions were adopted. One addressed the escalating drug abuse problem in West Virginia, with messengers vowing to “dedicate ourselves to active involvement in the effort to rid our country of drug abuse” and calling for “our Christian leaders and entities of the Southern Baptist Convention to minister to those harmed by drug abuse.”
 
The second resolution called for “an end to any and all public funding for Planned Parenthood.”
 
Messengers heard sermons from Bobby Thomas, pastor of Indian Creek Baptist Church in Middlebourne, W.Va., and John Freeman, outgoing convention president and pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Chapmanville, W.Va.
 
Henard challenged messengers to reach the 1.3 million unchurched people in West Virginia for Christ, calling the convention to prioritize church evangelism, church revitalization and church planting. Drawing from Proverbs 29:18, Henard urged messengers to set a vision that welcomed biblical parameters, visualized new possibilities, cultivated effective partnerships, set clear priorities and built evaluative processes.
 
The convention includes 223 cooperating churches with more than 20,000 total members. The 2016 annual meeting will occur Nov. 3-4 in Wheeling.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Based on a report by William Henard, executive director of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists, and compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

Related Story:

West Virginia elects new executive

11/18/2015 11:59:16 AM by Baptist Press & West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists | with 0 comments



N.C. Baptists minister through various agencies

November 17 2015 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor

Three entities shared reports Nov. 3 during the morning session of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) annual meeting. The convention has a rotating schedule for agencies and institutions of the BSC. For the 2015 meeting, the Biblical Recorder had a longer report time (see story page 9) and the N.C. Baptist Foundation (NCBF), N.C. Baptist Hospital and the joint Baptist Children’s Homes of N.C. (BCH)/N.C. Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM) had a shorter time limit.

 

NCBF

Clay Warf, NCBF executive director, said the organization is celebrating its 95th birthday in November.
 
It all started in 1920 when someone left $1,000 to support the NCBH. The person didn’t want the gift spent but invested over time to help the hospital in perpetuity.
 
NCBF was the first Baptist Foundation; now there are more than 30 foundations associations with conventions. Warf said NCBF’s purpose remains “undergirding Baptist churches, institutions and missions endeavors on a permanent basis.”

 
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BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle
Clay Warf, executive director for the North Carolina Baptist Foundation, shares his report to messengers to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina Nov. 2-3.

It wasn’t until 1962 that the first full-time employee was hired. By then, that $1,000 investment had grown to $250,000. When the second director was hired in 1972, assets had grown to exceed $2.5 million; when he retired in 1997, that total was $70 million.
 
Today, NCBF manages 2,264 charitable accounts. More than half are permanent endowments – 1,387 permanent endowments benefiting 541 different ministries on a permanent basis “from now until the Lord returns,” Warf said. Ministries that the money helps include the BSC along with some of the BSC’s agencies, churches and various Christian social and medical ministries.
 
NCBF provides a $200 monthly stipend to more than 50 retired pastors or spouses “who have serious need” as well as one-time gifts to help pay for specific needs like a roof or medical costs. The foundation provides Christian estate planning and endowment document preparation at no cost. He announced the establishment of the N.C. Baptist Scholars program in 2016. The goal is to provide meaningful scholarships to students, Warf said. “You can see there is much to celebrate,” he said.
 
At the end of 2014, NCBF managed $152.6 million. During its first 94 years, NCBF distributed $115.8 million to charities and ministries and $47.8 million in charitable trusts which will eventually roll over to support those same charities and ministries.
 
“The Lord continues to bless this ministry,” Warf said, encouraging leaders to tell church members about the foundation and how NCBF might help them plan for the future.
 

NCBH

Leland Kerr, FaithHealthNC liaison for Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, highlighted the beginnings of North Carolina Baptist Hospital more than 90 years ago. Today, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is ranked in the top 50 hospitals nationally in several critical areas, Kerr said.
 
FaithHealthNC was started three years ago as a partnership between churches, hospitals and community resources. He focused on a Winston-Salem church that has started a transportation ministry to take people to the doctor, the pharmacy and other appointments. That church launched a free clinic that offers services monthly. Kerr said the church wants to expand it to open weekly.
 
“They continue to reach out to the most vulnerable in the community with the love of Jesus Christ,” he said. The goal is to connect Baptist associations, churches and chaplains to better serve the community.
 
He announced a partnership with the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, the largest African-American convention in the state.
 
“We’re also grateful for the Cooperative Program, support of FaithHealthNC and CareNet Counseling,” Kerr said. “Through your giving, we can say no client is turned away because of lack of resources.”
 
Through the Mother’s Day Offering each year, N.C. Baptists “continue to touch lives with hope … as [people] face daunting medical bills.”
 
“Together we’re making a difference in people’s health and in their lives as we continue to find new ways to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ especially to the needy,” he said.
 

BCH/NCBAM

Michael Blackwell presented a report covering both BCH and NCBAM. BCH celebrated its 130th birthday Nov. 11, and NCBAM has existed for six years.
 
In 2014, both agencies reached 15,690 people.
 
“That is an incredible, verifiable number of lives touched,” Blackwell said, highlighting 100 decisions for Christ. Two boys who made that decision were featured in the 2015 BCH Thanksgiving Offering materials.
 
Jonathan and Thomas, brothers who came to BCH in June 2014, both think BCH is “ a good place to be,” Jonathan said. Both boys are looking forward to being baptized. Their grandmother told messengers, “I just can’t begin to tell you how God has blessed our family and blessed these boys. We just thank God for (BCH).”
 
Blackwell introduced J. Billy Graham, who received some help from NCBAM.
 
Just over a year ago, Graham lost his wife.
 
“We were there with Billy when his beautiful wife … began her descent into the darkness of Alzheimer’s,” Blackwell said.
 
Graham, who was married for 62 years, found out about NCBAM through his association. NCBAM offers help to retired pastors, directors of mission and missionaries. Graham said with NCBAM’s help he was able to choose the best care for his wife. NCBF also met with Graham to revise his will, name power of attorney and pre-plan funeral arrangements.
 
Last year, NCBAM helped 7,572 clients. “We will continue our ministry of hope and health and healing,” Blackwell, who is in his 33rd year as president, said. “We will never turn a child away who has suffered trauma or neglect. We will not turn our backs on the frail elderly. Stand with us North Carolina Baptists.”

11/17/2015 12:59:15 PM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor | with 0 comments



Great Commission Partnerships offer N.C. Baptists many opportunities

November 17 2015 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor

North Carolina Baptists contribute significantly to the Send North America cities they partner with through the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) Office of Great Commission Partnerships.
 
“By far, North Carolina is our most prolific partner,” said John Ramirez, associate executive director for Metropolitan New York Baptist Association (MNYBA).
 
Ramirez was among several partnership representatives from New York (Ramirez, Kevin Cabe and Steve Allen), Boston (David Butler), Toronto (Dave Strobel and Andrew Lamme), Baltimore (Ron Larson and Marcus Redding) and South Asia (Chase Tozer*) who spoke at a Nov. 3 breakfast sponsored by the Office of Great Commission Partnerships before the start of the second day of the BSC’s annual meeting.
 
“We also want to see our established churches flourish,” Ramirez said, emphasizing care for church plants also. Ramirez expressed a need for youth ministers and leaders to facilitate Disciple Now weekends and trainings for leaders.

 
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BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle
Participants of the Office of Great Commission Partnerships breakfast surround Marcus Redding, center, to pray for him and his work in Baltimore. Redding was a pastor at Hull’s Grove Baptist Church in Vale.

One of those church planters was Cabe, who spent the first 26 years of his life in North Carolina.
 
Cabe said he learned about opportunities in New York by reading the Biblical Recorder. He has been featured in previous BR stories for his church planting efforts.
 
Now Cabe is the partnership coordinator for MNYBA. With a population of 22 million, Cabe said there remains much work.
 
One of the churches has baptized more than 1,000 people. It targets Chinese restaurant works.
 
“It’s incredible to see what God is doing among that people group,” said Cabe, who said MNYBA wants to strengthen established churches and offer ways to help those churches and new plants as well.
 
They have 24 planters signed on for a pilot program. MNYBA is offering accounting services, legal advice, website design and more to help these churches.
 
“We believe that New York City is such a strategic place,” he said. “We believe God is bringing the people to our doorsteps.”
 
Allen, the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send New York coordinator, says the priority is to plant churches. They are working with 65 church planters in various stages.
 
With 290 neighborhoods and several counties where there is still not access to the gospel, Allen requested partners to pray four days a week for five minutes a day for one neighborhood.
 
“The work that you do does count for the Kingdom,” Allen said. “Don’t ever, ever, ever take for granted the potential that is sitting in your pews.”
 
Messengers to the annual meeting and across North Carolina donated around 7,000 coats for Coats for the City, an outreach ministry in New York to meet a physical need for churches across the city.
 

God meant it for good

Larson spent 34 years as a pastor until two years ago when he became the Send city coordinator for Baltimore.
 
“I went into a city where we needed desperately to beat the devil back to hell,” Larson said. “I was astounded as I walked the streets and realized that people have no clue that Jesus Christ can redeem their lives.”
 
It was that lostness that broke Larson’s heart and caused him to leave his church plant that had grown to seven sites.
 
Two years ago, the largest Southern Baptist church in Baltimore had 150 people on Sunday morning, Larson stressed that only 2.2 percent of the population in that area claims to be evangelical.
 
This spring, Larson said most N.C. Baptists probably know there were riots that broke out in his city.
 
“What the devil meant for harm, God meant for good,” Larson stressed. “What we have seen is an explosion of not only new church plants,” but baptisms, especially this summer.
 
One of the people who came to Baltimore was from North Carolina. Marcus Redding, former pastor of Hull’s Grove Baptist Church in Vale, thanked Steve Hardy, who leads the Office of Great Commission Partnerships, and Chuck Register, BSC executive leader for church planting and mission partnerships, for their friendship and mentoring.
 
It was Redding’s friendship with a woman in his N.C. congregation who spent 50 years in Baltimore that inspired his move.
 
“That relationship helped me to see the brokenness of that city and the need of that city,” Redding said.
 
He and his wife moved to Baltimore two months ago. He is coaching and training planters.
 
“All of us know the Great Commission,” he said. “We all know we need to reach the world.”
 

‘Need is staggering’ in Boston

After a 1985 trip with his wife, Butler said “Boston just got in our soul.”
 
While they didn’t move until about a year ago, Butler said he always thought “maybe someday God might allow us to serve in Boston.”
 
With 5.8 million people in greater Boston and 14.6 million around the Baptist Convention of New England, there are only 357 Southern Baptist churches.
 
“The need is staggering,” he said.
 
Netcast Church, which is led by Matt Chewning, a pastor with N.C. ties, averages 600 on Sundays. During a recent service, 27 people were baptized.
 
Partners have been a huge part of Boston’s surge of churches. Ten years ago 95 percent of church plants failed. Today, 85-90 percent of plants are sustaining themselves after five years.
 
“People have come along and breathed life into” our church planters, Butler said.
 

Among the nations

Dave Strobel moved his family just outside Toronto about four months ago from Southern California.
 
The former youth pastor started a church just over a month ago. With 20 core people, the first service attracted 30 people. Members had canvassed the neighborhood with 6,000 flyers.
 
“I was thinking just one person,” said Strobel, but four families have continued coming. “We’re excited about those four families because they’re all broken.”
 
The area they are trying to reach is about 750,000 people with 49 percent identifying as first-generation immigrants. As a suburban community, there are a lot of young families, which is what The Journey Church is trying to reach.
 
Canadians are “a funny bunch,” said Andrew Lamme, church planting catalyst for Send Toronto. “We want to look like and pretend like we’re American but heaven forbid, don’t ever call us American.”
 
Lamme said there are 34 N.C. churches partnering with churches in and around Toronto. With 60 churches in the greater Toronto area, 40 of those congregations are five years and younger.
 
“We don’t have churches of hundreds and thousands,” Lamme said. “We have churches one person or one family at a time. You’re helping us move the gospel farther ahead, the Kingdom farther ahead.”
 
Lamme stressed the need for partners to come alongside these church planters. He thanked N.C. Baptists and requested prayer.
 
“Be praying for the lostness and brokenness in North America,” Lamme said. “There are too many people dying that have never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus.”
 

Southeast Asia

Chase Tozer* spent the last 10 years on the other side of the world. He grew up on a hog farm outside a small town in Missouri.
 
Being in Southeast Asia, Tozer has seen God doing “some amazing things” in an area where much less than two percent of the population know Christ.
 
“Every year 12.6 million are marching towards hell,” Tozer said. “That’s a hard reality to work in.”
When Tozer was trying to learn the language and establish churches, his language teacher expressed a desire to plant churches too.
 
“From that day forward we dedicated our lives to teaching nationals to plant churches,” he said.
“These days we’re not just seeing a movement of God, we’re seeing movements multiply in various places across [that region].
 
“We’re standing on the shoulders of guys like William Carey that started that prayer movement 200 years ago and worked seven years for one convert.”
 
In one state in India, seven out of 10 people are accepting Jesus the first time they hear about Him, Tozer said. “It’s the Lord’s timing more than anything else,” he said.
 
One of the churches these nationals have planted is in Charlotte.
 
“We’re seeing the task remain the same – God calling all of us to join Him in that Great Commission as it’s multiplying around the world,” he said.
 
Tozer and his family had to move back to the United States a couple of years ago after his son hit his head and developed epilepsy.
 
He urged the attendees to “keep in mind the task is constant; God is calling us. He’s calling you and your church.”
 
He asked for prayers for the International Mission Board in the changes that are happening with recent request for volunteers to come back and find other employment.
 

Nations are coming

With 154 distinct people groups living in the eight urban centers in North Carolina, Register said the BSC is starting the Peoples Next Door NC initiative.
 
“We want to help facilitate your church in engaging them here in the state but in the partner areas,” he said. “We want you to help you go back to their homeland … reaching them for the cause of Christ.”
 
Register led the group to gather around each of the partner representatives to close in prayer.
The Office of Great Commission Partnerships also used its booth in the exhibit hall during the BSC annual meeting to have a drawing for ball caps from some of the partner areas as well as a few partial and one full scholarship to a North American partner city. There was also a partial scholarship to Southeast Asia.
 
Kelli Creswell, MNYBA church planting administrator, also attended the breakfast.
 
*Name changed.

11/17/2015 12:46:39 PM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor | with 0 comments



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