November 2016

‘Heartbroken’: Tennessee fires destroy homes, churches

November 30 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Wildfires in and around the east Tennessee resort area of Gatlinburg have destroyed the facilities of at least one Southern Baptist church, claimed buildings at two other churches and prompted local believers to launch relief ministries.
The reported 14 blazes near Gatlinburg Nov. 29 were among a series of wildfires across the southeast this fall that have led Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units to deploy in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.

Screen capture from Twitter
More than 14,000 people were evacuated from Gatlinburg, Tenn., when a series of wildfires threatened buildings across the area.

In Gatlinburg, about 100 homes have been damaged or destroyed and 14,000 people have been evacuated, the Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel reported, noting a 16-story hotel was among the buildings on fire.
Though media accounts Nov. 29 cited no known fatalities, pastor Dan Spencer of First Baptist Church in Sevierville, Tenn., just north of Gatlinburg, told Baptist Press (BP) he anticipates “a sizeable number of fatalities” to be reported in the days ahead.
“As a pastor, I’m heartbroken for people in our community and our church,” Spencer said. Yet “at the same time ... I’m so proud of first responders and linemen and volunteers, people just calling and saying, ‘I want to help.’”
Among the worst hit churches was Roaring Fork Baptist Church in Gatlinburg, where both the worship center and family life center were a “total loss,” Pastor Kim McCroskey told BP.
People from all over the U.S. have called to offer condolences and assistance, McCroskey said. The church plans to meet Sunday at a camp owned by the local Sevier County Association of Baptists, with the possibility of meeting there on a more long-term basis.
“I think God’s going to take care of this,” McCroskey said, “and we’re going to come out of it stronger than we were before the tragedy.”
Robert Nichols, director of missions for the Sevier County Association, said Roaring Fork – which averages approximately 230 in worship according to data from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Church Profile – was “experiencing phenomenal, incredible growth” prior to the fire. The church had paid off the debt on its family life center last year.
Nichols requested prayer that “God’s Holy Spirit overwhelmingly blesses” the members of Roaring Fork “and holds them up.”
First Baptist Church in Gatlinburg “lost our youth building and the custodian’s residence,” but “the main sanctuary is OK,” youth minister Bryon Fortner told BP via text. “Many of our church members lost homes. It’s really bad.”
Fortner added, “Please pray for our community.”
Gatlinburg’s Banner Baptist Church also suffered loss from the fire. The congregation’s fellowship hall “burned to the ground,” Pastor Pete Lamon told BP, and the main building suffered smoke damage. Some church members lost their homes.
At First Baptist Sevierville, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (DR) workers and local volunteers prepared some 1,500 meals Tuesday morning for distribution by the Red Cross, Tennessee Baptist Convention disaster relief specialist Wes Jones told BP. Meal preparation was expected to continue.
The approximately 20 DR workers who have been deployed in Tennessee also are working on damage assessment, providing chaplaincy services at shelters and running errands for local emergency management workers, Jones said.
About 75 people spent the night Nov. 28 at First Baptist Sevierville on pews and in classrooms, Spencer said. This included displaced individuals and firemen from Cookeville, Tenn., who were required to get a set amount of rest before deploying to fire zones.
While providing counseling at a local hospital, one First Baptist Sevierville pastor met a couple who suffered the loss of their house and experienced a miscarriage in what doctors believe was “a direct result of the fire,” Spencer said, adding “several” First Baptist members lost their homes.
A scheduled musical presentation of First Baptist’s living Christmas tree Dec. 4 will proceed, with the offering going to support Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief.
The Sevier County Association is collecting bottled water, blankets and food for donation to fire victims.
First Baptist Church in Pigeon Forge, which is between Gatlinburg and Sevierville, hosted two evacuated families for the night in its facility Nov. 28, held prayer with local fire fighters and has determined all the congregation’s shut-ins are safe, associate pastor Wayne Cook told BP.
Meanwhile, North Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief teams have closed two feeding units that served firefighters in the Tar Heel state. North Carolina DR workers continue to help state forestry staff with “cooking” and “house cleaning” at a state facility in Crossnore, N.C., North Carolina Baptist DR coordinator Gaylon Moss told BP.
The Crossnore effort has included four bunk units, two shower units and a laundry unit for first responders. A firefighter from California was saved through the witness of DR workers there, Moss said.
In Georgia, Baptists operated a feeding unit for three days in the far northeastern corner of the state, the Christian Index newsjournal told BP.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

11/30/2016 12:05:05 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Congress doubles budget for investigating Planned Parenthood

November 30 2016 by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service

Congress now has twice the money to push ahead with investigations into allegations Planned Parenthood sold aborted baby parts for profit.
House Republicans voted Nov. 16 to increase the budget for the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives from $790,000 to a total of over $1.5 million for this year.
Chaired by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., the 14-member panel came into being last October, months after the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released a series of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood officials detailing their practices.
“The practices described in these videos are despicable, and Planned Parenthood should be forced to defend their content,” House Republicans stated on their website.
Democrats on the panel expressed disappointment in the new budget increase. Panel member Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said in a statement it would “roll back women’s healthcare.”  
Both Planned Parenthood and StemExpress, a tissue procurement company, have resisted the panel’s investigations. In September, failure to supply the documents subpoenaed by the panel landed StemExpress in contempt of Congress.
Planned Parenthood has denied any wrongdoing.
A final report by the panel is due to Congress by the end of the year.
The panel has been highly effective in its work, said David Daleiden, founder of CMP. “The findings that the panel has put together so far that are available on their website … are just absolutely incredible. They've not only confirmed everything that myself and CMP were alleging in the release of our videos a year and a half ago, but they've even gone beyond that and found that the wrongdoing in Planned Parenthood's participation in the harvesting and sale of baby body parts was even more widespread and even worse than anybody was imagining over a year ago.”
Daleiden and others speculate the investigation could continue into next year after the final report is due, and said that “every last tiny bit spent on their investigation is going to be well worth it.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Samantha Gobba writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine,, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

11/30/2016 12:01:50 PM by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Pope clashes with biblical teaching, Baptists say

November 30 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Pope Francis’ newly extended permission for all priests to forgive the sin of abortion demonstrates sharp disagreement between Roman Catholicism and evangelical Christianity over God’s forgiveness, Southern Baptist theologians say.

In an apostolic letter issued Nov. 21, Pope Francis said he was granting “all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion.” In so doing, the pope expanded indefinitely an authorization he had given priests worldwide during the just-concluded Jubilee of Mercy.

Pope Francis

Prior to the nearly year-long jubilee, a bishop or a specific priest approved by him typically was the only one who could forgive a woman who confesses she had obtained an abortion – as well as those who assisted in an abortion – because such a sin results in automatic excommunication from the church. Almost all bishops in the United States already had granted their priests permission to forgive abortion, Catholic News Service (CNS) reported. Forgiveness of the sin of abortion also results in the lifting of excommunication, a Vatican spokesman said, according to CNS.
In addition, Pope Francis said in his letter, “I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father.”
Southern Baptists can affirm those statements about the sinfulness of abortion and the mercy of God, but they would dissent from others, seminary professor Rex Butler noted.
“One point at which Southern Baptists disagree with the pope’s pronouncement is the necessity of a priest to absolve sins,” said Butler, professor of church history and patristics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
“We agree with Paul,” Butler said, citing 1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the pope’s action “raises all the issues that were at the center of the debate in the church that led to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.”
The teaching “that the priesthood in general, and the pope specifically, has the authority to forgive sins” is “one of the central claims” by the Roman Catholic Church, Mohler said in his Nov. 22 podcast, The Briefing.
Butler told Baptist Press in written comments, “We have no need of a priest other than Jesus Christ.”
In support, Butler quoted Hebrews 4:14-16: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
“In contrast to the Roman Catholic priesthood, whereby God’s forgiveness is mediated through sacramental penance and priestly absolution, Southern Baptists instead ‘honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God,’” Butler said, quoting from the preface to the Baptist Faith & Message, Southern Baptists’ statement of faith.
The difference between Catholics and Protestants goes deeper than their views of the ministry and the church, Mohler said. “We are looking at the fundamentals of the gospel, because we’re talking here about the forgiveness of sins,” he said.
“The evangelical imagination is simply staggered by what the pope declared over a year ago – that is a year of mercy in which he symbolically opened doors at the Vatican through which sinners were invited to enter in order to be given for that one-year period a special set of forgiveness under special conditions,” Mohler said.
“At this point, evangelicals would ask the question, ’If indeed the papacy and the priesthood involve the ability to forgive sins, why in the world would one declare special years – in contrast to other years – in which mercy would be more available than in previous years?’“
The pope probably instituted the Jubilee of Mercy as a trial run for changing the forgiveness of abortion permanently, Boston College moral theology professor James Bretzke told The Washington Post.
The 500th anniversary of the Reformation will be celebrated next year. Martin Luther’s nailing of his “95 Theses” to the Wittenberg, Germany, church door on Oct. 31, 1517, is normally credited with igniting the Reformation.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

11/30/2016 11:58:01 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

At a German university town, connections yield faith

November 30 2016 by Katie Coleman, SWBTS

“Don’t you know where you are?” was the reaction Martha Moore often heard. “People don’t do religion in east Germany.”
Moore moved to Germany in 2000 to serve as a campus evangelist at the University of Jena and start a new ministry, now known as Connexxion. It was clear that it would be a challenge to see lives transformed by the gospel in a country where many are atheists or agnostics.

Photo by Kathleen Murray
Martha Moore and a group of university students join in prayer as part of the Connexxion outreach that Moore began in Germany in 2000.

Nearly two decades later, Connexxion has grown from a small group of students to a ministry with multiple locations in Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. As Connexxion works to “penetrate the spiritual darkness with the Good News,” Moore, the program’s director, has seen God use the ministry to multiply the number of believers, expand Connexxion’s reach in Europe and even plant churches.
Moore received her call to collegiate ministry while attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where she earned a master of divinity degree in 1987.
This season of life for young adults – that is, their college years – provides unique opportunities for evangelism and missions, Moore says.
“College is a great time in which God can call people for a lifetime of ministry or just to be a lifelong laborer for Christ,” she notes. “This is a good window of time before financial pressures, before they are sent in different directions and even before any regret of more and more years lived away from God. It is such a pivotal time to reach people.”
As God led her to serve in Europe, Moore was eventually placed in the university town of Jena. Aware of the significant need for campus evangelism in Europe, Moore hoped to create a ministry model that could be duplicated in a variety of contexts.
Connexxion’s vision is for college students “to ‘connect’ with Jesus Christ in faith, have fellowship with one another and in turn be trained to reach a lost world with the gospel.” Moore and her fellow team members aim to accomplish these goals by connecting with students and seeking opportunities to engage them in spiritual conversations.
Connections are made in a variety of ways, including outreach through spiritual surveys and Soularium cards (a collection of photographs with accompanying questions that facilitate spiritual discussion). Although these methods often open doors for conversation, most students are more receptive after they establish a measure of trust. One way in which Moore and her team accomplish this is through informal gatherings such as game nights, excursions and dinners. During these times, students simply get to know one another and develop relationships. In most cases, she says, students need to feel welcomed by Christians before they are open to the gospel.
“If you start talking about a lot of belief stuff, that will raise red flags for people,” Moore says. “So really, we are trying to break down barriers with relationships.

Photo by Kathleen Murray
Martha Moore builds relationships with university students through excursions, dinners and game nights toward sharing the gospel in small group settings. Moore began her “Connexxion” strategy after moving to Germany in 2000.

“When you get to the gospel, there is a surprising number of people who will say, ‘OK, that is interesting.’ They become much more interested because we’ve already started to build that rapport with them.”
After participating in some of the activities – or even after just one dinner – students oftentimes join Bible discussion groups and Bible studies. These small groups seek to be a “safe place” for students to ask difficult questions, all while “letting the Holy Spirit work through the power of His Word.”
Regardless of the setting in which students gather, Moore says what remains a priority is a commitment to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. “It has to be about evangelism. We can’t just start getting Christians together and doing discipleship groups,” she says. “Although that is important, we have to do so with a missional purpose. It has to be missional from the start.”
During Moore’s first semester in Jena, a university student named Anja joined one of the group’s evening Bible discussion groups. Anja grew up in former East Germany. Her parents were atheists and, other than reading a passage from a family Bible as a child, Anja never thought much about God.
During Anja’s sophomore year, a friend invited her to attend a church service. Anja had never experienced such customs as prayer and singing in a group setting, so the entire service was unusual for her. Although the church members were welcoming and friendly, Anja had a difficult time believing their kindness was sincere.
After following up over coffee later, her friend shared the gospel with her. Anja was not entirely opposed to the message presented to her, but she still had questions. Her friend then told her about Moore and a weekly gathering of students who were “just like her” – who did not know anything about the Bible and discussed common yet difficult questions.
Anxious and uncertain of what to expect from the Bible discussion group, Anja nevertheless showed up. Moore recalls that she was shy and reserved but clearly interested in that week’s discussion.
Anja returned in the following weeks, mostly observing, but eventually she opened up. She began to read more, and she asked questions when Moore and other students shared the gospel.
By the following April, the truths of scripture had sunk in, and Anja gave her life to Christ. Moore says she immediately saw a change in Anja as she grew in her relationship with the Lord and became more involved with Connexxion.
“God did a great work in her,” Moore says. “I saw a real transformation even in her personality. She really came out of her shell and started leading and serving even in major conferences and Bible studies.”
Anja was on track for a career in social work, but God used her time as a student leader in Connexxion to call her to full-time ministry. In March 2003, she joined the Jena Connexxion staff, and Moore eventually encouraged her to pursue theological training. Reflecting on her own time at Southwestern, Moore says she learned the importance of being equipped and biblically grounded when doing ministry.
“Knowing that you are going to be sent out, you soak up and learn all you can, ask the right questions and get grounded to make sure your theology is solid,” Moore says. “It is important to get grounded in your faith and theology so you don’t only believe, but know why you believe.”
In 2005, Anja moved to Fort Worth to attend Southwestern Seminary to pursue a master of arts degree in Christian education. As Anja prepared to return to Germany following her 2008 graduation, Moore was preparing to move to Spain to start another Connexxion group in Seville. So, upon returning to Jena, Anja took over the main leadership position of the Jena Connexxion group and later started a new Connexxion group in Bonn, Germany.
Now in the early stages of launching yet another Connexxion group in Amsterdam, Moore says she is in awe of the way God connects the lives of students and believers throughout the world, furthering the gospel and making disciples of all nations.
“We have seen the walls break down in the lives of students,” she says. “[They go] from being raised as atheists to hearing the gospel and responding in faith and being discipled. Many have even been called to serve internationally as lifelong laborers for Christ.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Katie Coleman writes for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This article first appeared in Southwestern News, a quarterly publication of the seminary.)

11/30/2016 11:52:47 AM by Katie Coleman, SWBTS | with 0 comments

Christian killings said to be religious cleansing

November 30 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The increasingly militant killings of Christians in north-central Nigeria by Muslim Fulani herdsmen are described as revived attempts at religious and ethnic cleansing by survivors, Morning Star News reported.

Sahara TV screen capture
Armed Fulani herdsmen, such as this one shown on Sahara TV in October, are responsible for at least 140 deaths of Christian farmers in Kaduna state, Nigeria since May.

Fulani herdsmen, at times disguised as Nigerian soldiers expected to protect villagers, killed at least 36 Christian farmers in separate attacks in four villages in Kaduna state in mid-November, Morning Star said. The killings are on the heels of the slaughter of about 85 Christians in Kaduna between September and Nov. 13 by the herdsmen, and are part of at least 140 such deaths since attacks intensified in May, Morning Star reported.
A local pastor of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), Zachariah Gado, has called the killings “a campaign of ethno-religious cleansing by Fulani herdsmen militia.” The attacks target Christians and members of the Kaninkon Chiefdom ethnicity, a ruler from the ethnic group told and other local news sites.
Concurrently about 475 miles east of Kaduna, Boko Haram militants continue to destroy villages around the mostly Christian town of Chibok, the site of the 2014 kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls, World News Service reported. The attacks have occurred even as Nigerian military officers continue to proclaim defeat of the Islamists, a claim Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari first said in late 2015.
The president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Samson Supo Ayokunle, called the Fulani attacks “Boko Haram in another color.” Fulani herdsmen have also wounded 215 and displaced 10,000 Christians since May, CAN leaders said.
The Jubilee Campaign for religious freedom issued a statement Nov. 9 noting the herdsmen have become increasingly murderous and bold.
“The Fulani militants have gotten little international attention due to a focus on the Boko Haram, allowing their activities to grow unchecked,” Jubilee said. “They typically kill villagers, burn villages and move in with their cattle so that any survivors from the attacked villages are unable to return and rebuild their lives. Christian communities have been especially attacked and displaced.”
In the latest attacks, heavily armed Fulani herdsmen began killing Christians Nov. 23 in Pasakori village and continued attacks days later in the nearby villages in the Gidan Waya District of Kaduna, area resident and ECWA member Joshua Aku told Morning Star. Herdsmen first burned the home of district leader and ECWA member Daniel Akai, Aku said.
“The house of Mr. Akai was burned by the herdsmen, as was St. Paul’s Catholic Church, and the offices of the ECWA Gidan Waya District Church Council were also destroyed,” Morning Star quoted Aku. “Most residents of Gidan Waya believe the herdsmen were brought to the area in a military helicopter and were ferried away soon after perpetuating the atrocities on the Christian communities.”
Nigerian military leaders, proclaiming a technical defeat of Boko Haram for nearly a year, have told residents that plans are in place to defeat the herdsmen. But such proclamations have not comforted Christian villagers who believe Boko Haram is still strong, based on attacks around Chibok, World News Service (WNS) reported. As recently as Nov. 20, Nigerian Army Chief Tukur Buratai said his troops had defeated Boko Haram and were involved in “mop-up operations” until remaining Boko Haram members surrender, WNS said.
Boko Haram attacked at least nine villages within 16 miles of Chibok in early November, Chibok local government chairman Yaga Yarkawa said at a Nov. 22 press conference, WNS said.
“Chibok is now under Boko Haram siege,” Yarkawa said. “Contrary to claims by the government and security operatives, Chibok is not safe.” Others, including Human Rights Watch Nigeria leader Mausi Segun, have also accused the Nigerian government of downplaying Boko Haram’s strength.
Boko Haram has killed an estimated 25,000 people and displaced about 2.5 million, including many Christians, in northeastern Nigeria since 2009 in its attempts to establish strict Sharia law across the country. The insurgents, who have proclaimed allegiance to the Islamic State, are also blamed for creating a humanitarian crisis of homelessness, hunger, sickness and starvation.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

11/30/2016 11:41:14 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Family serves unreached in Mozambique

November 29 2016 by International Mission Board

Believers traveling by boat, sharing the gospel: in the book of Acts it was the Apostle Paul on the Mediterranean. In Northern Mozambique today it is International Mission Board (IMB) missionary Brian Harrell steering his dhow through coastal waters. A national partner often joins him, and sometimes his wife Becky, and their four children, Andrew, Dillon, Janna Kate and Micah are his crewmates. The boat’s name is Oromela.

IMB photo
Brian Harrell, right, uses a boat to traverse the coast of Mozambique, trying to reach the many unreached peoples in the country.

“Oromela … in the local dialect means ‘hope,’” explains Brian. He and his family live on the water’s edge here solely to reach the approximately 300,000 Makhuwa Nahara people with the gospel, whether that means venturing to unreached villages accessed best by water, or sharing gospel stories with women in their own village as they sit in a circle and make rag rugs.
The Harrells, who are IMB Week of Prayer missionaries, have served in Mozambique since 2004, when they arrived with a one-year-old child and the desire to serve where no one else was working.

“Like Paul, we didn’t want to build on somebody else’s work,” Brian recalls. “We read job requests from all over the world. But the one that stood out to us was this stretch of coastline.” Arab traders 1,000 years ago brought Islam, and the vast majority here are Muslim with no more than 200 believers in “Isa,” Jesus Christ.

Tough welcome

What met them when they landed 12 years ago was deep lostness and spiritual oppression.
“As we came into the area, we went down to the Ilha de Moçambique, which is one of the ethnographic centers of our people group. You could feel a spiritual heaviness there that I had never felt before in my life,” Brian said. People fear evil spirits and the practice of witchcraft has been commonplace for centuries.

IMB photo
The Harrells chose to go where no one was working to spread the gospel. They arrived in Mozambique in 2004 with their one-year-old child. Now, the couple has four children. The entire family gets involved with reaching the lost in villages.

“The women here fear [for] their children,” Becky explains. “Babies die here all the time. Sickness, malaria, infant mortality rate is high.” Women seek witchcraft during pregnancy and birth. “There is ceremonial witchcraft … to protect that life and to protect themselves from evil spirits during that time,” Becky continues. For instance, Adelina, a local witch doctor, assisted villagers with divinations and spells in a grass-roofed hut beside her house.
Nevertheless, Adelina also allowed the Harrells to use her home to share Bible stories with a weekly group. But after a year of seemingly fruitless praying for Adelina, Brian and Becky were about to give up. Though Adelina listened carefully to the stories, she continued practicing witchcraft.
“We just couldn’t [continue sharing the gospel] right there next to this witch doctor hut. … What was the message that we were sending to the local community?” Brian says.
Then one day when the group was preparing to pray, Adelina suddenly rose and said: “I need you to help me to do something. I know that what I have been doing is wrong, and I want to get rid of my witchcraft.” The following Sunday a group of believers gathered to sing songs, pray and dismantle the hut. They burned the gourds and all the paraphernalia she used in practicing witchcraft.
“It was incredible,” Brian said. “It was an extremely intense day for her. … This was something we had been hoping for and praying for.”
“She just recently gave birth to … her seventh child, and she says that all of her neighbors told her that this child would not live because she is no longer doing witchcraft,” Becky says.
“This baby … is still very healthy. Adelina is eagerly now sharing her testimony, boldly explaining to people what God has done in her life.”
The IMB’s Week of Prayer is meant to draw attention to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.

Prayer requests

• The many new believers who have come to faith in recent months. Pray they would be strong in their faith despite family and community persecution and the spiritual warfare they inevitably face.  
• The Holy Spirit to continue to draw Makhuwa Nahara souls to Himself and we (the Harrells) and other believers would be faithful to find those God-prepared people and give a clear gospel witness.

11/29/2016 1:20:02 PM by International Mission Board | with 0 comments

Falwell declines Trump’s education secretary offer

November 29 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. reportedly declined to serve as education secretary under President-elect Donald Trump. photo
Jerry Falwell Jr.

Trump offered the post to Falwell during a meeting in New York days before Thanksgiving, Falwell told the Associated Press (AP) Nov. 26. Fallwell reportedly declined the post because he was not able to commit to serve four-to-six years as Trump desired. Instead, Falwell was only prepared to serve two years at most, he told AP.
Trump has made no indication of the offer and announced Nov. 23 he had chosen Republican Michigan billionaire and education activist Elisabeth “Betsy” DeVos, but Falwell’s statement to AP was widely reported.
Falwell said after Trump’s victory that he would be willing to serve in the Trump administration in some capacity related to education reform, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Nov. 15.
“I let [Trump and Vice President-elect Michael Pence] know one of my passions is reforming higher education and education in general,” the Times-Dispatch quoted Falwell. “I told them I’d be willing – I have a lot of responsibilities here – but I’d be willing to serve in some capacity that sort of brings education back to some form of sanity.”
Falwell has called Trump’s election a “peaceful revolution” that will “forever change our country,” CBS reported.
Falwell endorsed Trump in January and said Trump’s presidency would be an asset to the U.S.
“Donald Trump is a breath of fresh air in a nation where the political Establishment from both parties has betrayed their constituencies time and time again with broken promises and a continuation of the status quo, sometimes in the name of bipartisanship and sometimes in the games of gridlock – both of which are really code words for cowardice and lack of leadership,” Falwell said in a statement on the university’s website.
Endorsing the candidate days later, Falwell said in a printed release that he believes Trump “can lead our country to greatness again.”
Falwell has served as Liberty University’s president since 2007. Liberty is one of the ministry partners of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia state Baptist convention.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

11/29/2016 1:19:33 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Georgia Baptists increase budget to $41M

November 29 2016 by Christian Index staff

Messengers to the 195th Georgia Baptist Convention annual meeting approved an increased Cooperative Program budget of $41,000,000 – 42 percent of which will be forwarded to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) causes.

Photo by Joe Westbury, Christian Index
Host pastor Kenny Grant of Calvary Baptist Temple welcomes messengers to Savannah for their 195th annual meeting.

In addition, they re-elected Alpharetta pastor Thomas Hammond as president at the Nov. 14-15 gathering at Calvary Baptist Temple in Savannah.
Of the remaining budget, 11.74 percent – $4,812,500 – will be allotted for Georgia Baptist Mission Board ministries such as colleges and universities, the Ministerial Education Fund, the Education Commission, Baptist Village, Baptist Retirement Communities of Georgia, and the Georgia Baptist Foundation. The approved budget is an increase over the 2016 budget of $40,600,000.
The other 46.26 percent – $18,967,500 – will fund Georgia Baptist Mission Board ministries beginning in Georgia and extending around the world. The board is expecting to receive additional non-Cooperative Program income of $2,983,745 from the Mission Georgia Offering of $1,450,000; Cooperative Agreements of $522,000; and Investment/Registration/and other Income of $1,011,745.
In the first year pre-registration was offered online, approximately 1,300 chose to do so. The official number of registered messengers at the Savannah meeting came in at 1,083. Last year 1,404 messengers attended the annual meeting held at Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta.
Alpharetta First Baptist Church pastor Thomas Hammond was re-elected without opposition for a second term as Georgia Baptist Convention president. A slate of new vice presidents also stepped in, including Jim Perdue of Second Baptist Church in Warner Robins, first vice president; Joey Taylor of Springhead Baptist in Adel, second vice president; Levi Skipper, pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Clermont, third vice president; and Richard Statham, pastor of Salem Baptist Church in McDonough, as fourth vice president.
Danny Henson, pastor of New Liberty Baptist Church in Ringgold, was re-elected recording secretary. Freddie Rhodes, pastor of Westview Baptist Church in Hawkinsville, and Tom Vann, pastor of Rentz Baptist Church in Rentz, were elected as assistant recording secretaries.

Photo by Joe Westbury, Christian Index
New officers for the Georgia Baptist Convention were elected on Nov. 15 during their annual convention meeting. President Thomas Hammond, center, was elected by acclamation to a courtesy second term. New Vice Presidents include pastors (left to right) Joey Taylor of Springhead Baptist Church in Adel, second vice president; Jim Perdue of Second Baptist Church in Warner Robins, first vice president; Levi Skipper of Concord Baptist Church in Clermont, third vice president; and Rick Stratham of Salem Baptist Church in McDonough, fourth vice president.

The previous evening Hammond detailed his “Big Invite,” which will call Georgia Baptists statewide to join a massive effort to invite one-million unchurched to Easter Sunday services.
“I would like to have all of our churches participate but if only 2,500 of our 3,593 churches invited 400 people each – some more, some less depending on their location – we would have the million invitations,” he said.
An eight-week preparation time for churches to gear up for the event will precede the emphasis as churches will need to be ready for a larger attendance.
“If you invite them, they will come,” he said.
Hammond has also rolled out a pastor prayer partner network to build fellowship and spiritual support among the group.

Backpacks exceed 30,000 goal

At last count, Georgia Baptists had donated 31,369 backpacks for Appalachian children, just behind the 31,396 collected last year but breaking the 30,000 goal. The effort has grown tremendously since its first year, 2012, when Georgia Baptists sent 4,400 backpacks.
Bill Barker, director of Appalachian Regional Ministries based out of the North American Mission Board, said he was confident a record 50,000 backpacks would be collected this season with Georgia being the frontrunner.

Resolutions address illegal immigration, culture issues

Georgia Baptist messengers approved two resolutions on illegal immigration and a Christian response to culture and one expressing gratitude to the host church and the Savannah Baptist Association as they wound down their two-day annual meeting at Calvary Baptist Temple. The resolutions were approved on Nov. 15.
The resolution on a Christian response to illegal immigration was submitted by Brad Whitt, messenger from Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez.
The document acknowledged “the federal government’s failure to fulfill its responsibility in the area of illegal immigration during both the Democratic and Republican administrations” and the biblical mandates to “not mistreat the alien living among you.”
A second resolution on pastors, culture and Christian citizenship was submitted by Rusty Stewart, messenger from Poplar Springs North Baptist Church in Dublin.
The document took strong exception on a local Seventh-day Adventist lay minister who was required to submit his sermons, notes and transcripts – along with his ministerial credentials – to the state’s attorney general within days of employment. Eric Walsh was then terminated within a week based on the content of those sermons. The public outcry was so strong that the attorney general’s office withdrew its request. See related story.
A final resolution expressed a appreciation to Calvary Baptist Temple and the Savannah Baptist Association for its hosting of the annual meeting. Messengers also thanked Hammond for his leadership as president and Georgia Baptist Convention Executive Director J. Robert White on his 24 years of service.

Photo by Joe Westbury, Christian Index
Campus Ministers Keith Wade, left, and Warren Skinner, right, help load boxes of backpacks into the 18-wheeler provided by the North American Mission Board. Wade serves at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega and Skinner at Georgia Tech in downtown Atlanta. A report of the effort was shared during the Georgia Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, Nov. 14-15, at Calvary Baptist Temple in Savannah.


WMU reports, messengers approve Committee on Nominations

Georgia WMU Executive Director Beth Ann Williams reported efforts by teens and women sharing the gospel worldwide, utilizing video testimonies and a live Skype conversation with a Georgia missionary couple living in Mozambique.
The video featured the testimony of Melissa Ringwalt of Rowland Springs Baptist Church in Cartersville and Paige Knox of Thomson and their summer 2015 introduction to lostness in the African nation. That summer as camp workers – where they studied about the ministry of a Southern Baptist missionary couple – resulted in a trip to serve as semester missionaries alongside the couple the following year.
“Paige and Melissa developed contacts with people who otherwise would never have crossed our paths. They extended our ministry in ways that we are now using to share Christ and disciple new believers,” the missionary wife in Mozambique said in a live video call cross six time zones.
“We continue to need volunteers such as these girls to serve alongside us,” she said. “Less than 2 percent of those in our area – the size of the state of Virginia – can be considered evangelical Christians. It is impossible for [us] to cover that distance by ourselves.”
Messengers also approved the 2016 Report of the Committee on Nominations for those serving on various committees and as trustees for Georgia Baptist Mission Board-related entities.

Speakers challenge attendees

Beginning with Sunday night’s Inspiration Rally and a welcome from Calvary Baptist Temple Pastor Kenny Grant, speakers such as Woodstock pastor Johnny Hunt, SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page, and White proclaimed the importance of sharing the gospel.
The following afternoon, Nov. 14, First Atlanta Senior Associate Pastor Anthony George, New Orleans pastor Rob Wilton, and North Long Beach, Calif., pastor D.A. Horton spoke on finding one’s worth in Christ during the Preaching Conference, focused on the theme of brokenness.
That night, Toccoa pastor Andy Childs urged others to not lose their passion for evangelism in the missionary sermon. Hammond’s address the same evening included a memorable performance by a 12-year-old cowgirl and testimony from Army Ranger and Georgia pastor Jeff Struecker.
On Nov. 15, First Vice President Perdue presented a message just before lunch, proclaiming “Jesus is better.” State speakers tournament winner Mackenzie Ford gave her speech “For Such a Time as This” and talked later of her own recent experience challenging her faith. Derrick Moore, football chaplain for Georgia Tech, closed out the gathering urging Georgia Baptists to win the state for Christ.  
Next year’s 196th annual meeting will be held at North Metro First Baptist Church in Lawrenceville.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by staff with The Christian Index,, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)

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11/29/2016 1:17:10 PM by Christian Index staff | with 0 comments

Comic book evangelism: ‘The Silence’ by Chad Nuss

November 29 2016 by S. Craig Sanders, SBTS

Though he didn’t have a personal faith in God, Chad Nuss was incredulous as his father stood firm in atheism before dying from lung complications in 1996.

BTS Photo by Emil Handke
Chad Nuss, a doctoral candidate at Southern Seminary, writes and illustrates his comic book The Silence, inspired by the late Francis Schaeffer.

Nuss experienced an existential crisis, sensing that family and friends were wrong when they said that his father was “in a better place.” Not having grown up in church, Nuss said his knowledge of God extended only to what he perceived in creation, alluding to Romans 1 in the New Testament.
“Look at the stars. How can you say that there’s not a God?” Nuss had asked his father.
Now, 20 years later, the artistically-inclined Nuss is the creator of a planned 12-volume worldview comic book series, “The Silence,” and a doctor of philosophy candidate in The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry. He’s also a full-time culinary manager and father of four.
Determined to help others navigate life’s most pressing questions and inspire by the works of the late apologist Francis Schaeffer, Nuss combines art and evangelism in the popular storytelling medium to explore the silence of naturalistic worldviews and the centrality of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.
“I came to the conclusion that all the other religions and philosophies were teaching me how to get to God, but Christianity teaches that God comes down to us,” Nuss said of his profession of faith in 2000 in an interview with Southern Seminary Magazine. “All the other religions were telling me to make myself a better person, but I realized that I’m the problem and I can’t fix myself, that Christ came down and died for me.“
Nuss met Kentucky pastor Tony Rose while playing street hockey. Rose, senior pastor of LaGrange Baptist Church since 1993, said Nuss was a high school senior determined to find honest answers to his deep questions about God.
“God had put in Chad’s heart a seriousness about life that could not be satisfied with silly, ungrounded, fairy-tale answers,” Rose said of his early encounters with Nuss. “I think his questions were so intense and serious that Christian kids were frightened away from him. No wonder Chad has had such an interest in apologetics, missions and reaching people with the real gospel in their real culture.”
When Nuss moved back to his native Canada for art school, he and Rose exchanged letters to continue their gospel conversations. Rose knew of Nuss’ artistic abilities and sent him a copy of Francis Schaeffer’s “How Should We Then Live?” in which the apologist examines the effects of humanistic worldviews on art and society throughout Western history. Nuss had already begun exploring various philosophies and world religions in his search for truth and found Rose’s correspondence to be crucial in leading him to an understanding and belief in the Christian faith.

SBTS Photos by Emil Handke
Chad Nuss pencils, inks, letters and writes each panel of The Silence, raising funds through Kickstarter to publish the first issue.

Rose, who would later earn a doctor of ministry degree from Southern Seminary, baptized Nuss when he returned from art school in 2000.
“I had no clue what Southern Seminary was, but I knew when I met the Lord I was called into some form of ministry,” Nuss said. He first enrolled as a master of divinity student in 2002, but because he was still new to the faith and had no background in the church, Nuss took a decidedly slower pace in his studies and soon began to work at Romano’s Macaroni Grill, where he met his wife Elizabeth.
At one point, Nuss noticed himself becoming legalistic and overly confrontational with unbelievers in his workplace, and credits his relationship with Elizabeth – whom he married in 2004 – and studies at Southern with teaching him about grace and evangelism.
“Learning about worldview really helped me articulate the gospel in a way that’s compelling and confrontational with tact, being gracious and truthful at the same time,” Nuss said. “I’ve got to show them the holes in their worldview and how Christ is the better answer.”
As he explored vocational ministry, Nuss served as an assistant to SBTS alumnus Lisle Drury at LaGrange Baptist Church before leading a church plant in his home for several years. He and his family are now members at Sojourn Community Church J-Town, where Drury is the pastor.
Although Nuss had abandoned his artistic pursuits for more than a decade, he said it was difficult to resist the urge to create. In 2013, friends from church encouraged Nuss to recognize his giftedness as an artist and steward it toward his calling as an evangelist. Reflecting on the importance of that redirection, Nuss said creating “art that deals with beauty, excellence, joy, thoughtfulness and transcendence” helps him build bridges in gospel conversations with unbelievers.
“I want artwork that makes people think about God and who He is, which naturally then I can use to point to the gospel,” Nuss said.

Counter cultural storytelling

Late at night in his kitchen – or whenever the father of four can spare a moment between full-time employment and doctoral studies – Nuss is sketching, weaving his epic worldview adventure The Silence. He launched the first issue in June 2016 after a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for publishing and distribution.
Set in the fictional Prolegomenon System – consisting of 12 planets that each manifest specific worldviews like existentialism, nihilism and dualism – The Silence follows two characters, Naomi and Lazarus, as they explore the universe. Beset with physical weaknesses, Naomi is angry at God for her blindness and Lazarus is angry at mankind for his lung condition, which Nuss said comprises the fundamental aspects of worldview – knowledge of God and of man. Creating flawed heroes, Nuss said, yields a complex, redemptive narrative featuring “relatable people who are wrestling with questions that everyone asks.”
“These characters are trying to find answers about God and about life and they keep looking into creation but they can’t find it,” Nuss said. “What I’m trying to do in the book is show why these worldviews don’t work, like what Francis Schaeffer did – drawing them out to their logical conclusions.”
For those who are skeptical of comic book storytelling, Nuss points to the pervasive and growing influence of the industry in mainstream culture. In the past five years, the comic book industry has seen a dramatic resurgence, with its print and digital market value last estimated at $1.03 billion in 2015, and yet with virtually no Christian influence. And now that popular titles have inspired billions more dollars in movie and television properties, most notably the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Nuss said skepticism of Christian engagement with comic books hinders gospel witness.
“The Christian story is counter cultural, so you have this huge opportunity to use that popular medium for influence,” said Nuss, noting how classic titles from the 1980s like “Watchmen” and “V for Vendetta” popularized a once-countercultural postmodern nihilism that is a mainstream philosophy today.
Similar to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress or C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Nuss said he wants to tell a profound and sophisticated story by taking his story to a different world with issues parallel to our own, hoping readers return challenged in their worldview assumptions and influenced to think about the gospel.
In the November issue of the seminary’s newsmagazine Towers, Nuss wrote in a feature essay on comic books and the gospel that the longing for escape provided in superhero stories represents “securing justice, offering redemption, defending truth, ushering in a better world – the very things Christians hope for in the person and work of Jesus Christ.”
Timothy K. Beougher, Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth and Nuss’ doctoral adviser, said his student has “hit on a groove” by reaching a segment of society ripe for this type of worldview engagement. Beougher said Nuss’ careful approach to his storytelling resembles his tone in personal evangelism, describing Nuss as a “very good listener” who “can relate to anybody.”
While Nuss supports his wife and four children, two of whom have special needs, through his full-time employment as culinary manager at Macaroni Grill, he also recently launched a regular column on comic books and culture for the digital magazine Scenes. And as he tours comic conventions and shares the gospel through conversations about his work with fans and other creators, Nuss has recognized the value of placing his gift in service to his calling as an evangelist.
“Theology should always drive you to love God more, and the arts help you to do that because it brings together the aesthetics with deep philosophical ideas,” Nuss said. “Beauty is a very important part of theology.”
For more information on Nuss’ work, visit
(EDITOR’S NOTE – S. Craig Sanders is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Adapted from the fall 2016 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine.)

11/29/2016 1:16:16 PM by S. Craig Sanders, SBTS | with 0 comments

Castro death unlikely to halt revival or spur liberty

November 29 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, who died Nov. 25 at age 90, is being remembered as both an unwitting catalyst of revival and an opponent of religious liberty.

Photo by Jim Veneman
Baptist World Alliance leaders visit with Cuban President Fidel Castro during a July 8, 2000, meeting in Havana. Participants included, left to right, BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz, immediate past BWA President Nilson Fanini of Brazil, Castro and then-BWA President Billy Kim of Korea.

Castro’s death, said Southern Baptists with ties to Cuba, is unlikely to yield significant increases in religious liberty for the island nation until the fall of the communist government he inaugurated 57 years ago.
When Castro led a revolt that overthrew then-Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, he instituted a communist regime that viewed Christians as “anti-revolutionaries.” And he barred them from attending universities or entering certain professional fields, according to the persecution watchdog group World Watch Monitor. But the global decline of communism in the early 1990s yielded decreased oppression of believers in Cuba.
Castro’s government was “really hard on the churches during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s,” said Cesar Perez, a Cuban-born American who directs Hispanic ministries at First Baptist Church in Richmond, Ky. “Then because of the economic situation” when the Soviet Union fell and could no longer support Cuba, Castro “just let the churches go a little bit.”
Cuba’s communist party “is still in control,” Perez told Baptist Press (BP), but the easing of restrictions “helped the churches.”
The more moderate pressure on churches continued after Castro ceded power to his brother Raul in 2008. Last month, for instance, a Cuban court sentenced the pastor of a 550-member house church to a year of house arrest for holding loud worship services, according to Morning Star News, a news service focusing on Christian persecution worldwide.
Among ongoing restrictions, construction of church buildings requires government permission, Perez said, as do large gatherings. Yet those restrictions have driven Cuban believers to launch a house church movement that has spurred “a revival for the whole island” for the past 20 years.
Heberto Becerra, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-area pastor who served in the 1970s as president of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, confirmed the report of revival in Cuba. He also said immediate change in Cuba’s treatment of churches is unlikely.
“Communism has set in already,” Becerra, pastor of First Baptist Church in Plantation, Fla., told BP through a translator. “It doesn’t matter if [Castro] died or not.”

SBHLA image
Fidel Castro wrote a note to attendees of the Baptist World Alliance’s 2000 General Council in Havana and included his signature at the bottom.

Southern Baptists experienced the Castro regime’s totalitarian rule firsthand in 1965, when Home Mission Board workers Herbert Caudill and David Fite were arrested in Cuba along with 53 other Christian leaders, according to the “Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists.” BP reported at the time that the two missionaries were charged with “illegal foreign currency exchange.”
Caudill was released in 1966 and Fite in 1968.
In 1995, a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) resolution listed Cuba among nations experiencing “notable occurrences of oppression” directed at Christians.
In 2000, the world’s Baptists witnessed the apparent softening of Castro’s restrictions on religious life when Havana hosted the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) General Council. At that meeting, the BWA adopted a resolution criticizing economic embargoes against Cuba as restricting access to food and medicine for innocent Cubans, according to a BP report.
Castro sent greetings to the BWA and specifically thanked meeting attendees for the resolution. He met with BWA leaders for two hours, according to BP.
A handwritten note from Castro dated July 8, 2000, thanked Baptists “for having chosen Cuba as the site of the council and for the unanimous resolution against the blockade,” according to BP’s translation of a copy of the note housed in the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives.
For a variety of reasons, the SBC voted to withdraw from the BWA four years later.
In the post-Fidel Castro era, a Florida Baptist Convention leader who has been coordinating missions in Cuba for 18 years says Baptists will continue to be salt and light among their neighbors in the Caribbean, though they expect little immediate change in the Cuban government.
“Things aren’t going to change a whole lot [in Cuba] until the last name [of its leaders] changes,” Craig Culbreth, the Florida Baptist Convention’s lead catalyst for misisons and ministries, told BP. “And it’s still Castro. I think there will be some changes. How fast or how many I don’t know.”
In the meantime, Florida Baptists plan to continue sending an average of one mission team to Cuba every eight days, Culbreth said. That translates to about 40 teams per year assisting the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba and 10 assisting the Baptist Convention of Eastern Cuba.
The Florida convention provides 51 percent of the western convention’s budget, Culbreth said.
For Pablo Miret, a Cuban who pastors Iglesia Bautista Discipulos de Cristo in Miami, Castro’s death offers a ray of hope for Cuba’s future.
In a Facebook post he wrote, “What truly moves those of us who lived the communist experience in and outside of Cuba is the hope of a better future,” according to the Florida Baptist Witness’ translation.
Cuba is observing a nine-day period of mourning for Castro.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

11/29/2016 1:14:52 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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