October 2009

Members should help pastor set boundaries

October 19 2009 by Greg Warner, Special to the Recorder

Church members who want to help their pastors avoid depression should accept their human limitations, not expect them to be present for every event, and insist they take care of themselves, counselors say.

Ministers who become depressed almost always talk about the high stress and expectations of the job — even if they impose those depression-triggers on themselves.

“Being a pastor is like being a single parent — there’s never enough love to go around,” said Steve Scoggin, president of CareNet, a network of 21 pastoral-counseling centers in North Carolina. “In a congregation in the Baptist tradition, everyone is your boss. Expectations are as numerous as your congregants.”

“Clergy don’t do a real good job in setting boundaries for their availability,” said Scoggin, who described a typical pastor as a “24-hour ER.”

“That constant availability is one of the worst stressors,” he said.

Economic recession and its strain on church budgets are adding to the normally high stress and unrealistic expectations of ministry, say pastoral counselors and psychologists.

Meanwhile, Baptists in the Carolinas are reeling from news of several suicides and attempted suicides among their pastors in recent years. Could they have been avoided?

Scoggin said cultivating a climate that accepts pastors as human and encourages self-love and self-care offers some prevention. “These suicides are born out of a lack of the social supports that can intervene in times of personal crisis,” said Scoggin.

“Suicide looks impulsive, but there is almost always depression that leads up to that,” he said. “It’s when depression gets to a point where there appears to be no way out.”

Only a tiny fraction of depression results in suicide, whether or not it is treated. But suicide almost always starts with depression.

CareNet, a subsidiary of North Carolina Baptist Hospital, has an agreement with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina to treat Baptist pastors whose insurance doesn’t pay for counseling.

The Minister Care Plan provided 102 counseling sessions to Baptist ministers last year, which also includes marital counseling, said Scoggin, of Winston-Salem.

BR photo illustration by Dianna L. Cagle

Sometimes pastors feel overwhelmed by members' demands and because of their role as shepherd, don't feel they can share their challenges with others.

Of 35,000 counseling sessions conducted by CareNet last year, conservatively 10 percent were clergy of various denominations, he said. CareNet is the largest hospital-based counseling program in the country, and its Minister Care Plan is unique among the Baptist state conventions, he added.

The convention-provided counseling for underinsured ministers is underutilized, Scoggin said. “We could do a better job of making clergy aware of these resources.”

Congregations likewise are not encouraging pastors to live healthy lifestyles.

“There is not a lot of encouragement for self-care practices,” he explained.

Not all depression can be prevented or avoided. Clinical depression is an imbalance of the normal chemical functions of the brain. Environmental factors, such as stress, can trigger depression, but avoiding those factors can’t always prevent it.

But some depression could be avoided if ministers and their congregations spent some time on prevention.

“We assume clergy lead a life of commendable spiritual discipline and healthy personal habits,” said Scoggin, but that assumption is incorrect.

H.B. London, director of pastoral ministries for Focus on the Family, agrees.

“Ministry eats up your time,” said London of Colorado Springs, Colo. “One thing that leads to depression is the inability to get rest. … A guy burning the candle at both ends is going to burn out at some point.”

Scoggin said the high demands of the Christian faith are sometimes misapplied.

“Our focus on faithfulness is also our greatest weakness,” he said. “It doesn’t allow us to focus on the very things that trouble us.”

“Most pastors have high expectations of themselves,” he explained. “They really understand that as the gospel. They forget the greatest commandment is to love others as you love yourself. We confuse self-love with selfishness. It is a healthy, mature love of self that enables you to love the world — living from the inside out, rather than from the outside in.”

Counselors agree a first step for congregations to help their pastors is to let them be human.

“We want our pastors to be pretty much perfect,” London said. “We don’t want them to have problems, because then those become our problems. But the most effective pastors are the ones that are vulnerable.”

When church members put a pastor on a pedestal “right there next to Jesus,” they “deny his humanness,” said Fred Smoot of Duluth, Ga, executive director of Emory Clergy Care.

The next step often is to blame the pastor when things go wrong, he added. “The difference being having a hero and having a scapegoat is sometimes very little.”

With expectations so high, it becomes very hard for a minister to admit he or she needs help, counselors say.

“Although (ministers) have been called to what they’re doing, they still come out of their own humanity,” said Scoggin. “And depression is part of the human condition.”

Several counselors noted there are prominent examples of depressed people in the Bible who were nonetheless used by God — Job, David, Elijah, Jeremiah. “Some of the best diagnostic descriptions of despair are in the psalms,” Scoggin said. “And if you don’t think Jesus got a little depressed and anxious in the garden (of Gethsemane), you haven’t really read the story.”

Despite those examples, there remains a huge stigma among Christians against depression and treatment for medical illness, counselors say.

In this regard, sometimes ministers are their own worst enemies.

Research by neuroscientist Matthew Stanford of Baylor University shows that pastors, particularly conservatives, often dismiss mental illness as spiritual weakness or sin.

In a 2008 study, 30 percent of Christians who approached a pastor about their own or a family member’s diagnosed mental illness were told it was not mental illness at all.

Those pastors in the study most often recommended prayer or repentance of sin, not psychological counseling, for the treatment of depression, anxiety or other mental disorders. Afterward, 57 percent of the Christians who were told they weren’t ill quit taking their antidepressants or other medication.

Also troubling, Stanford said, is that people who suffer from depression or other mental disorders most often go to pastors first for help. Pastors “are the gatekeepers” to counseling services, Stanford said. “Why do we think that people with no training would know where to refer someone?”

“There is a tremendous distrust of psychology,” said Stanford, an evangelical Christian. As a result, depressed pastors are even less likely to seek counseling than their congregants, he added.

Untreated depression often will show up looking like something else, said CareNet’s Scoggin. “People have all kinds of ways to hide their depressiveness.”

Some pastors “eat their way to depression,” he said. “Obesity is epidemic among clergy. That’s documented. And obesity can be symptomatic of an underlying personal distress.”

Other depressed people will become mildly agitated or impatient, develop insomnia or hypersomnia, overeat or not eat, or become sad, tearful, lonely or hopeless, he said. As a step toward creating a healthy climate for pastors, Scoggin said, congregations should teach a more holistic approach to faith — one that includes exercise, good eating habits, and adequate time off.

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10/19/2009 8:01:00 AM by Greg Warner, Special to the Recorder | with 1 comments

Gilbert, Akin give insights into GCR

October 19 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Members of the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force appointed by Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Johnny Hunt in June are not releasing any information about their deliberations, but recent comments by two North Carolina members offer some insights into at least what they are thinking.

Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke candidly Oct. 12 to his trustees and board of visitors about SBC issues. Al Gilbert, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, led a listening session at Hardin Baptist Church in Dallas.

In both sessions, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) took a beating, with Akin saying it “is broke, and has been broke for a long time.” He said Southern Baptists have no “comprehensive strategy” to impact America, and we cannot “continue business as usual.”

Although some denominational defenders of status quo have said that the past couple years of declining baptisms, dollars and churches are an aberration based on birth demographics, Akin brushed them off and said, “We’re not doing well,” and “have been losing ground” for 50 years.

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Al Gilbert, left, and Austin Rammell discuss the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.

Continued declines will relegate the SBC to the “way of the mainline” denominations, he said. If we fall into irrelevance, it will be “not over theology, but over bureaucracy.”

At Hardin where Gilbert went to hear what area Baptists wanted him to take back to task force deliberations, he heard similar harsh words for NAMB.

Unfortunately, the church planter funding process through NAMB is cumbersome, even “stupid” as Jeff Long from Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia labeled it.

Host pastor Austin Rammell said there is “massive replication” in the process of identifying, training, placing and funding church plants and planters. “Either the state convention needs to go away or NAMB needs to go away,” said Rammell, who is on the Baptist State Convention board of directors. “I think the obvious answer is NAMB.”

Gilbert pointed out that the opinion of NAMB’s effectiveness and necessity is different in the Deep South states that basically fund NAMB, and the north and western state Baptist conventions whose work is heavily funded through NAMB. The task force is charged with studying the way Southern Baptists do business and to try to find efficiencies to recommend at the June 2010 annual meeting in Orlando.

Gilbert said, “We are constantly reminded we are only dealing with the national entity called the Southern Baptist Convention.” He said the task force can “talk to” and “give challenge to other partners” but cannot instruct.

Akin said with the pending vacancies from resignation and announced retirements in the top spots at the International Mission Board, NAMB and SBC Executive Committee, “there is a lot of swirling about in Southern Baptist life that is going to — one way or another — chart our future for the next several decades.” Knowing that missions is the engine that pulls the SBC train, Akin said, “The person who leads the International Mission Board in many ways sets the agenda for the SBC.”

Akin feels that agenda should be to eliminate redundant bureaucracies, to trust Southern Baptists’ 45,000 churches to win America, and to reallocate funds to carry the gospel to the nations.

He said only Southern Baptists have the resources to reach all people groups with an international missions force. That won’t happen if individuals, churches and conventions do not release more money for international fields, he said.

“I don’t want to stand before the Lord some day and say we squandered our resources and missed our opportunity,” Akin said.

On the other hand, Ronnie Bowers, pastor of Flint Groves Baptist Church in Gastonia, told Gilbert the most important message for local, state and national Baptist entities is to help local pastors reach people.

David Clippard, pastor of Woodlawn Baptist Church in Lowell, affirmed missions, but asked Gilbert and the task force to consider, “How can you help me as a pastor do what I need to do to equip my church?”

Gilbert affirmed the centrality of the local church in fulfilling the Great Commission. He echoed a sentiment that Baptists through the decades have been assigning and funding others to “win America and win the world,” when in fact “the local church has to own this.”

He said Southern Baptists are non-connectional in theory, but historically once people start exercising their autonomy at the state or associational level, their loyalty to the Southern Baptist Convention is questioned. It is dangerous to establish any test of loyalty, he said, because Baptists need to relate to each other and their entities “by conscience.”

Other participants at Hardin lamented a sense there is “no compelling vision” coming from the Southern Baptist Convention that will attract and hold commitment from churches. “Be a good Baptist and give 10 percent to Cooperative Program” is not compelling, one said.

The International Mission Board was not untouched. Several participants expressed frustration by the complexity of trying to get their churches involved with international projects. One said he took a team overseas to work but the missionary had nothing for them to do.

Gilbert, who spent five years as special assistant to the president of IMB, said he dreams that churches and their international missions agency could “grow in this together” like a marriage, in which churches would be more teachable about the local situations and missionaries would see the need to accommodate and facilitate churches’ desire to be involved.

He called the work of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force “a shot” to reengineer the corporation, rather than starting from scratch.

10/19/2009 7:58:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 2 comments

GCR Q&A scheduled for annual meeting

October 19 2009 by BSC Communications

CARY — Two members of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force will participate in a question and answer session Tuesday, Nov. 10, at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro. Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Al Gilbert, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, are scheduled to participate.

The Q&A will be held in the Blue Ashe Room, located near the exhibit hall, 15 minutes after the conclusion of the Tuesday evening session of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina's annual meeting.

Although the task force is not releasing any statements or positions from their deliberations, both Akin and Gilbert have answered questions and spoken publicly in recent days about their perceptions of the current status of the Southern Baptist Convention. See Akin’s comments here. See Gilbert’s comments here.

Send questions for the panel to gcr@ncbaptist.org. Questions may be submitted until noon Nov. 10.

Click here for Akin’s series on myths about the GCR.

10/19/2009 6:35:00 AM by BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Meals brighten childrens’ faces in Macedonia

October 16 2009 by June Lucas, Baptist Press

SKOPJE, Macedonia — Roma children commonly watch from the public school yard as their classmates purchase snacks during the lunch hour. Many of the Roma children will wait several more hours for their single meal of the day — mainly bread, most likely.

The Roma are among the poorest people in Europe. In Macedonia, the unemployment rate among the nearly 200,000 Roma is around 80 percent. Children from these families commonly suffer from malnutrition, evident in anemia, hair loss, loss of skin color, an increasing occurrence of tuberculosis; lack of concentration and attention span; and decreased retention of material. Bread, which is both inexpensive and filling, makes up the bulk of their diet but does not provide the protein and many of the vitamins the children need.

A lunch program supported by Southern Baptists through their World Hunger Fund helps fill the rumbling stomachs of nearly 400 Roma schoolchildren each day.

The meal program, modeled on the Headstart program in the United States, was identified as a way to counter the effects of hunger on the children. Through the initiative, conducted in partnership with Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization, 400 Roma schoolchildren are provided three meals a week, consisting of milk, an egg, bread and chocolate-covered raisins or peanuts.

The lunches are served in two education centers that help prepare Roma children for school and assist them with homework once they begin school. One center serves about 300 children daily in Topana, the oldest Roma community in Macedonia’s capital, Skopje. The other center, located in Shutka, the largest of Skopje’s Roma communities, hosts 75 to 100 children a day.

Field partners working with the project will be able to literally measure the program’s impact.

“One of the things we are doing in conjunction with this project is compiling statistics of various physical measurements — height, weight, arm measurements, general physical health — as well as looking at scholastic results,” project director Betty Easter said. The measurements were taken at the start of the project in March, again in June and in September, and also will be taken at the end of the meal program. A report detailing the impact of the project will be written from those measurements.

Emily Harrison, who also helps with the project, said some Roma children initially resisted the meal.

“It took a little while for the children to warm up to us,” Harrison said. “There were many days in the beginning where the more prideful ones refused to eat. But after some time, they began to show a little more gratitude and desire to be there.”

Harrison said Igber, an older woman from the community, helped facilitate a friendlier relationship between the Roma children and the field partners involved in the project. Igber played music for the children and encouraged them to dance before the meal, and her storytelling kept the children quiet as they ate.

The meals have opened up relationships that extend into the larger Roma community.

“I love serving these kids,” Harrison said. “My favorite job is handing them their dessert on the way out. Usually it’s a piece of fruit, but getting to look each one in the face and say ‘Bye’ or ‘Have a great day’ or ‘See you later’ is so fun.

“After about a month of it last semester, I started to notice the kids would look me in the face right back.... Now it has grown to be where they will yell my name and chase me down in the street to say ‘Hi.’ Oftentimes when I am stopped, talking to a child or two, their parent will cross our path and invite me into their home.”

The initiative is an excellent example of the way Southern Baptist gifts to their World Hunger Fund open the door for disadvantaged children to discover lives of meaning and purpose, said Jim Brown, U.S. director for Baptist Global response.

“Through ministries like this meal program, children in need experience the love of God for themselves — because people who care are willing to give,” Brown said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Lucas is a collegiate correspondent for Baptist Global Response, on the web at www.gobgr.org. For information on how you can promote the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund in your church, visit worldhungerfund.org.)

10/16/2009 11:29:00 AM by June Lucas, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Maggie Lee day surpasses 13,000 good deeds

October 16 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

SHREVEPORT, La. — An Internet-fueled show of support for a 12-year-old girl killed this summer in a church-bus accident is reaching as far away as Africa, bringing clean water to impoverished children in Malawi.

More than 13,000 people have committed to one act of kindness on Oct. 29. That would have been the 13th birthday of Maggie Lee Henson, who died Aug. 2 from injuries she received when the bus carrying youth from First Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., overturned while headed to a church camp. The accident had taken place about three weeks earlier.

Proceeds from sales of a T-shirt and charm necklace designed for the occasion will go to Watering Malawi, a ministry of the Passport youth-camping ministry that provides clean water and irrigation in the drought-plagued country of 13 million.  

Maggie Lee’s father, John Henson, an associate pastor at the Shreveport church, heard Colleen Burroughs, Passport’s executive vice president, talk about Watering Malawi at a recent event sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Louisiana.

Burroughs, who is based in Birmingham, Ala., said she didn’t know the family had chosen to contribute funds to Watering Malawi until she read a website posting about it written by Maggie Lee’s mother, Jinny Henson.

“The gift of this water is as though Maggie Lee herself will be sharing cups of clean water with 13-year-old girls in Malawi,” Burroughs said. “The thought takes my breath away. It really is Living Water.”

The Shreveport youth were on their way to a Passport camp in Georgia July 12 when their bus blew a tire and overturned several times on an interstate highway near the Mississippi-Alabama state line. One youth, 14-year-old Jason Ugarte, died almost immediately.

Maggie Lee was taken to Batson Memorial Children’s Hospital in Jackson, Miss., Her parents provided prayer updates on CaringBridge, a non-profit Internet service that connects family and friends during serious medical events. That developed into an intensely personal journal written from Maggie Lee’s bedside describing her final days.

Kelli Alamond, a mother of teenagers from Texarkana, Texas, did not know the Hensons personally, but she was moved enough by the story to start a Facebook group to build prayer support. It went viral, and after Maggie Lee’s death Alamond suggested keeping her memory alive by doing something good on her birthday.

Jinny Henson started a Maggie Lee for Good Facebook group with a goal of trying to get 1,300 people to perform a demonstration of Christ’s love on Oct. 29, in honor of her daughter’s 13th birthday. The goal was surpassed in less than 24 hours, and she upped it to 13,000. On Oct. 12 she announced that more than 13,600 people had signed up either through Facebook or a separate Maggie Lee for Good website.

Henson said her daughter was a caring Christian who would give her allowance and money she received at Christmas to children the family sponsored through World Vision.

“She just really had a passion for helping other people and just being Jesus to them and loving them in very creative ways,” said in an interview that aired Oct. 12 on K-LOVE radio. “If she saw someone hungry on the side of the road, then she would say, ‘Let’s pull over and give them a hamburger.’“

“We feel like we are to carry on her generosity and the love that she had for God and other people in tangible ways since she is no longer here to do that,” she said.

Erin Anderson, a wedding photographer in Houston who several years ago attended the Hensons’ former church in Brownwood, Texas, designed a Maggie Lee for Good logo.

Christine McAlister-Gray of Mesa, Ariz., one of the thousands of people touched by Maggie Lee’s story, approached Snider Sports and Apparel in Gilbert, Ariz., about designing a T-shirt for the occasion. It sells for $15, with proceeds donated to Watering Malawi.

Amy Peters, a jewelry designer in Avila Beach, Calif., created a $5 Maggie Lee for Good necklace, with 100 percent of profits also going to Watering Malawi. Peters is the designer of a ring engraved with “Dream, Fly, Dance, Sing.” that Maggie Lee was wearing when emergency personnel found her. John Henson wrote about discovering the ring his wife had recently purchased for their daughter in his computer bag in a CaringBridge post July 21.

Burroughs said providing access to clean water “extends Maggie Lee’s goodness in ways most people in the States cannot comprehend.”

“If a young girl spends most of her day walking miles for water, she cannot attend school or learn to read,” Burroughs said. “If you give the same girl a 5th-grade education, her babies are 85 percent more likely to live past the age of 5.”

“I will be wearing my MLFG (Maggie Lee for Good) shirt on October 29,” Burroughs said.

Jinny Henson said acts of kindness had already begun. She received an e-mail message from one woman who will be out of town Oct. 29, so she did her “Maggie Lee” a few days early by taking a bag of groceries to a homebound neighbor. She watched from a window as the neighbor got his groceries, read the card and blew a kiss toward the sky.

Later in the day the man told her about how the groceries had mysteriously appeared. “I don’t know who she was,” he said, “but Maggie Lee must truly have been an angel among us all if she was able to inspire such an act of human kindness, especially in today’s world.”

“I cried right along with him,” the e-mail reported.

Henson said in the radio interview that birthdays and anniversaries are the most difficult days for someone grieving the loss of a loved one. “While it will be difficult, I’m just so thankful that so many people want to honor her and really want to see good have the last say,” she said.

The Maggie Lee for Good website offers several ideas for the day sent in from across the country.

“One of my ideas is just to pick up the phone and put a grudge aside, because you really don’t know how much time you have,” Henson said. “We all take for granted that we are going to have the next year or the next decade with our kids and with our friends and family, but really we don’t.... Time is short and the time to love and forgive is now.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)

10/16/2009 11:28:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Jailed Cubans accused of illegal economic activity

October 16 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

MIAMI — Cuban authorities say two Baptist leaders held in jail for 11 days in a city on the eastern end of the island are suspected of illegal economic activities.

Associated Baptist Press first reported Oct. 13 that Rubén Ortiz-Columbié, coordinator for special projects of the Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention, and Francisco “Pancho” Garcia, director of the convention’s teen department, had been arrested Oct. 3 and held without formal charge since then. They were being held in the city of Santiago de Cuba.

The following day El Nuevo Herald, a Spanish-language sister paper to The Miami Herald, reported that Ortiz, 68, and Ruiz, 46, were arrested by agents of Cuba’s National Revolutionary Police as they entered the province of Guantanamo to deliver financial aid to churches.

A prosecutor’s report obtained by the newspaper said authorities seized the equivalent of about $4,000 from the men at the time of arrest. It said the men were trying to aid a group of small agricultural producers in the region — without authorization from the appropriate government body — through an effort the document called the “Fishermen’s Project,” or “Proyecto de Pescadores.”

Ortiz’s son, Ruben Ortiz, pastor of First Hispanic Baptist Church in Deltona, Fla., told El Nuevo Herald his church has been sending money to Cuba to help buy food and support repairs of church buildings, many of which were damaged by three hurricanes last year.

Cuban authorities said the men are being detained as a precautionary measure while they complete the case file.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida is licensed to send funds to the Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention and has transferred $7,000 since October 2008. The younger Ortiz told the newspaper that he sent paperwork documenting the transfer to Cuba Oct. 12.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)

10/16/2009 11:27:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Diverse challenges ahead for missionaries

October 15 2009 by Mike Ebert, Baptist Press

DENVER — Joe Beckler and wife Cheri are on a mission field where people are skeptical, even suspicious, of Christianity.

“Many of them have alternate lifestyles. How do you present the gospel to people who have great disdain for the gospel? Many people here view Christianity with great suspicion,” said Beckler, a missionary who is working to start churches in Denver.

“Their worldview is complicated.”

Photo by John Swain

Joe Beckler and wife Cheri, church planting missionaries in Denver, were among the 119 missionaries and chaplains commissioned by the North American Mission Board at Applewood Baptist Church in Denver.

Sharing Christ with such people often is contingent upon building relationships. “Life is our best tool. Calling yourself a Christ-follower gets attention,” Beckler said. “It’s not uncommon here to have someone literally following you. You have to show them the way to Christ through daily life.”

The Becklers were two of the 119 missionaries and chaplains commissioned by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) Oct. 5 at Applewood Baptist Church in Denver. The mission field they face reflects the growing diversity of ministry by NAMB missionaries as North America’s population grows increasingly diverse and complex.

“We are a diverse culture. The world has come to our front door,” NAMB’s interim president, Richard Harris, told the missionaries. “And that’s the reason we need missionaries and chaplains going out to the front lines and representing us.”

The group who were commissioned in Denver reflect the diversity of the mission field — and those who are going to that field, including:
  • Prasad and Vandana Aghamkar, who minister in the south Asian Indian and Nepali communities of Louisville, Ky.
  • Ken and Thurleen Bain, who work among Native Americans in Arizona.
  • Chuy and Maria Avila, who are reaching Hispanics in Laredo, Texas.
  • Jali and Sundus Dawood, who minister to the Arabic community in Dallas.
  • Harold and Barbara Lunsford, who work among oilfield workers in Wyoming.
  • Pedro and Dionisia Escobar, who reach out to Latinos in New Mexico.
All of these missionaries work through state convention partners to most effectively link national and local strategy and maximize efficient use of Southern Baptist resources.

Vivek Arora, as a young man living in India, had a dream that he would find a book someday that would answer all his questions, and that he would be instrumental in bringing people together in a way that they could live in harmony. He discovered that book years later when he came to faith in Christ while reading a Hindi translation of the Bible. As for people living in harmony, he believes the Great Commission is God’s plan for that.

Today, Vivek and his wife Manisha are church planting missionaries in Boston, ministering in the international community that has come from around the world to one of America’s great cities.

“We are reaching out to international students and professionals,” Vivek said. “Many come here from their countries for two or three years. If we can reach them for Christ, the impact will be greatly multiplied when they return to their home countries.”

Harris told the missionaries and chaplains that, in being sent to challenging mission fields, much is expected of them.

“Be evangelistic,” Harris said. “We’re not looking for you to go out there and help us shuffle around church members. We want you to go out there and take the gospel to people, let the Holy Spirit work in their lives and transform them into new creatures in Christ.”

Mark Edlund, executive director of the Colorado Baptist General Convention who served in Asia as a Southern Baptist missionary for 17 years, thanked NAMB for its partnership in Colorado missions.

“Welcome to this mission field we call Colorado,” Edlund said. “I am so thankful to NAMB for what they do for Colorado.”

Edlund said NAMB provides at least partial funding for the work of 49 missions personnel in Colorado and for another 86 self-funded Mission Service Corps missionaries commissioned by NAMB who serve in the state.

Others participating in the commissioning service were Applewood’s senior pastor, Calvin Wittman; NAMB trustee chairman Tim Patterson; Woman’s Missionary Union Executive Director Wanda Lee; and Bob Ryan, director of missions for Denver’s Mile High Baptist Association.

Harris encouraged the missionaries not to be distracted by things that might derail them from ministry. He specifically addressed the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force which is considering, among other things, recommending changes in how NAMB functions.

“If there’s one thing that Southern Baptists love, it’s their missionaries and their chaplains,” Harris said. “You do what God has called you to do and leave the rest to Him. Southern Baptists will take care of you.”

Harris ended with a challenge: “Go out of here tonight with a new zeal and a renewed belief that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. You’re going to meet some tough cookies. You’re going to meet some people who are mixed up in their theology, their mindset and their worldview. Don’t let it deter you, hinder you or discourage you. Present the truth. Present the gospel and depend on the Holy Spirit to work through your life.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Ebert is communications team leader at the North American Mission Board.)
10/15/2009 4:24:00 AM by Mike Ebert, Baptist Press | with 2 comments

Ga. school board uphold banning Bible banners

October 15 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

RINGGOLD, Ga. — A school board in far northern Georgia upheld a policy Oct. 13 banning cheerleaders from displaying religious banners on the field at high-school football games.
Supporters of the signs, banned Sept. 28 by a superintendent who had been told by a Ringgold, Ga., woman that they violate federal law, rallied outside the first school-board meeting since the decision. They then packed the meeting room with a crowd estimated by local media at between 80 and 100 people strong.  
Renzo Wiggins, attorney for Catoosa County Public Schools, told spectators the tradition of having football players at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School burst onto the field through paper signs displaying Bible verses violated the First Amendment’s ban on government endorsement of religion.
“Virtually all of the cases rule that that has the imprimatur of a stamp of approval by the state,” Wiggins said in a video posted online by the Chattanooga Free Press. “Therefore it is prohibited under the (Constitution’s) Establishment Clause.”
Local attorney Matthew Bryan, meanwhile, said the signs were protected under the First Amendment’s clause guaranteeing free speech.
“There are no cases in the federal appellate courts that deal with cheerleader signs, so there have been no cases to say that cheerleader signs violate the Establishment Clause,” Bryan said.
Superintendent Denia Reese said she regretted the decision to remove the banners from the field and restrict them to a “free-speech zone” outside the stadium, but it was her responsibility to protect the school district from a potential lawsuit.
She signed a petition brought to the meeting by audience members, even though the document asked the board to overrule her decision, to symbolize that she personally supports the cheerleaders.
As is common with judgments about implementing policies in public schools in the gray area between the First Amendment’s protections for freedom of speech and religion, however, the dispute may still end up in court.
The Chattanooga newspaper quoted a local activist as saying that several Christian associations have offered free legal representation if the cheerleaders and their families decide to sue.
“Because of the attention that this matter has received, I think that all of us understand what is at stake at this point in time,” Jeremy Jones, a 1992 graduate of Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School and a Republican candidate for Congress, told board members. “And as members, as elected officials, as representatives of our community you are faced with a decision now, and your decision is simply are you going to side with the community and the community values and what we want you to represent, or are you going to side with what will ultimately be the ACLU?”  
The Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center says students have the right to express their faith in public schools but not to force a captive audience to participate in religious exercises. If a school-sponsored event allows students a forum to express their religious views, therefore, it also must be open to all kinds of speech — including speech critical of religion or the school.
The center, in partnership with various groups including the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, publishes both parent and teacher guides for religion in public schools.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)

10/15/2009 4:23:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 2 comments

Equestrian Games a ministry opportunity

October 15 2009 by Drew Nichter, Baptist Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. — “Don’t miss the biggest equestrian event in American history,” the slogan on a World Equestrian Games (WEG) brochure reads.

More than 600,000 people from 100-plus countries are expected to arrive in Kentucky next year for the Sept. 25-Oct. 10 event. And believers in the state intend to be ready for the Olympics-like atmosphere.

The Kentucky Horse Park, a 1,224-acre equestrian facility in Lexington operated by the state of Kentucky, will host the 16-day World Equestrian Games. During a Church and Community Day at the park, about 100 Christians gained a glimpse of the abundance of WEG-related volunteer outreach possibilities.

Not only will Kentuckians represent the Bluegrass State at the WEG next year, but the entire United States, said Harvey Thomas, a British Baptist and public relations consultant working closely with the Church and Community Day sponsor Affiliated International Ministries (AIM).

“Kentucky has the chance to change, improve or increase the image of the United States in 100 countries of the world,” said Thomas, who previously served as press secretary for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

AIM is the organization that will coordinate Christian ministries during the World Equestrian Games. It was established by Kentucky Baptist Convention missions consultant Larry Martin.

The group is seeking a large number of volunteers to serve at next year’s games in a variety of ministries, both in and around the Kentucky Horse Park.

During a panel discussion at the Church and Community Day Sept. 12, several AIM representatives talked about the volunteer opportunities that will be available for individuals, groups and churches.

There are two ways to volunteer, AIM volunteer coordinator Jeff Rice said. One option is to sign up as an official WEG volunteer at the Kentucky Horse Park during the competitions. WEG volunteers are required to work six-hour shifts for a minimum of four of the event’s 16 days and submit to a security check beforehand.

Another option is to become an AIM volunteer. The AIM group will work at various venues in and around Lexington.

AIM representative Ray Van Camp, director of church planting and development for Elkhorn Baptist Association, said AIM will have a presence at dozens of WEG-associated events, such as an International Equestrian Festival in downtown Lexington. The various outreach opportunities include staffing booths, participating in backyard Bible clubs at area hotels and campgrounds, storytelling and face-painting.

There also is a need for families and churches to open their doors to give World Equestrian Games volunteers from other countries a place to stay, noted Ken McDaniel, AIM hospitality coordinator and associate minister at Hill-n-Dale Christian Church in Lexington.

Much of the WEG outreach is being patterned after Christian outreach that takes place during the winter and summer Olympics every other year. LaRaine Rice, youth and college consultant with Kentucky Woman’s Missionary Union, is coordinating Gospel presentation materials for AIM for the many opportunities provided at Olympics and WEG events.

“When so many people from so many different cultures come together in a neutral sports setting, it just opens up conversations,” Rice said. “People are more open to hearing other thoughts, other beliefs and just learning from one another.”

Part of the volunteer outreach will involve pin trading, a favorite pasttime of Olympics visitors. The “More Than Gold” pins, Rice said, help believers share the gospel.

With so many details still left to be finalized before next year’s games, Cindy Rullman emphasized that prayer is the most important way volunteers can be involved right now.

Because there may not be an opportunity for “overt evangelism” inside the park during the World Equestrian Games, Rullman, associate director of marketing for the Kentucky Horse Park, urged Christians to begin prayerwalking the park as much as possible.

“Our prayer effort from now through the games could make this place like stepping into the Holy of Holies,” Rullman said. “I absolutely believe that we could ... have God’s presence here in such a powerful way that none of us would have to open our mouths.”

The World Equestrian Games, which features eight competition categories, is governed by the Federation Equestre International, which was founded in 1921 and now has 134 affiliated national federations globally. The official name of the games is Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Alltech, a lead corporate sponsor, is an animal health company.

The Kentucky Horse Park, which opened in November 1978, includes a number of tourist attractions and horse barns, with some 50 different breeds during peak summer months; the International Museum of the Horse and American Saddlebred Museum; offices of more than 30 national and regional equine organizations; and a 260-site resort campground.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Nichter is news director for the Western Recorder, newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. For more information about how to volunteer, send an e-mail to aim@hthomas.net or visit www.EquestrianMinistries.org/WEG.html. The website for Affiliated International Ministries — www.aimky.org — is scheduled to be online later in October.)

10/15/2009 4:19:00 AM by Drew Nichter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Prayer requested for GCR/execs meeting

October 15 2009 by Baptist Press

ROGERS, Ark. — The chairman of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Wednesday issued an “urgent” call for prayer in light of a meeting task force members are scheduled to have with state convention leaders later this month.

Ronnie Floyd, pastor of the Church at Pinnacle Hills in Rogers, Ark., and task force chairman, said the task force will meet Oct. 27 in Dallas with 22 state convention executives. All executive directors were invited. Bill Mackey, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, will lead the executive director’s presentation to the task force, Floyd said.

“This pivotal meeting may be unprecedented in at least recent history and needs our highest support in prayer and hopefully even a day of fasting,” Floyd said in an e-mail to Pray4GCR.com prayer partners. “It is my prayer that we can all go together towards a bold, visionary Great Commission future. The need is urgent and calls us to act together now.”

Floyd added, regarding the task force’s assignment, “There are days I am overwhelmed with this task and feel it upon my life heavily. Our task force is agonizing not only over our desperate need, but also about what we must do to move together towards seeing every person in America and the world afforded the privilege of hearing the Gospel and coming to Jesus Christ.”

Following is the text of Floyd’s complete e-mail:

“Since the last time I communicated with you, there have been so many things happen in Southern Baptist life. Your Great Commission Resurgence Task Force has been focused on our assignment and working diligently. During this same period of time, we have been as surprised as you to learn that both of our mission boards and our Executive Committee will be searching for new leaders. With you, we trust in our Sovereign God to do His will among us.

“As Chairman of the GCR Task Force, I want to clarify to everyone what I know we are not charged to do by our convention. We are not in the personnel business, but in the Great Commission business. Each of these three entities that have the need for new leaders will choose their own leaders. Their trustees have selected their own search committees, and we have confidence that God can work through this system to place the right people at the right time to provide leadership for the future. While it is not our role to select leadership, it is our role to pray for each of these entities and their need for future leadership and I have been faithful to do that daily. I hope you will join me in this privilege of interceding for them.

“Please do not let these sudden vacancies take us off point on our urgent assignment of providing leadership to our convention that will move us towards this Great Commission Resurgence we are all praying for and desire. Our task force takes seriously the overwhelming charge extended to us at the 2009 convention that Southern Baptists want to move towards a new, higher, and greater commitment to the Great Commission. As we work towards creating this Great Commission vision and paradigm for the future, we are cognizant of our assignment and embrace it with prayer, faith, and courage.

“While search committees have the immense task of selecting leaders for their respective entities, any leader will serve for only a limited number of years, or if you may, one generation. Our assignment on the GCR Task Force may result in affecting not only one generation, but many in the future. I appeal to you in Jesus’ name to come alongside us now as we labor together in this significant assignment. We are in great need of your most fervent intercession for us daily.

“Over these next few days, I am asking you to pray for a very important meeting that will take place in Dallas, Texas on Tuesday, October 27. I have requested that each State Executive from our 42 state conventions meet with us. Due to matters of scheduling and some who have annual conventions at this same time, we are very grateful that 22 of our state convention executive leaders will be able to meet with us. I have asked their Chairman, Bill Mackey of Kentucky, to lead their group in a presentation to us about what is on their heart about the Great Commission. Following their presentation, we will dialogue with one another about the Great Commission related to the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. This pivotal meeting may be unprecedented in at least recent history and needs our highest support in prayer and hopefully even a day of fasting. It is my prayer that we can all go together towards a bold, visionary Great Commission future. The need is urgent and calls us to act together now.

“Finally, we are listening, learning, and committed to leading our convention towards experiencing this Great Commission Resurgence. We do not have all the answers. As Chairman, I am in desperate need of God and His leadership. There are days I am overwhelmed with this task and feel it upon my life heavily. Our task force is agonizing not only over our desperate need, but also about what we must do to move together towards seeing every person in America and the world afforded the privilege of hearing the Gospel and coming to Jesus Christ.

“Therefore, prayer partners, pray for our upcoming meeting. Pray for your GCR Task Force to have clarity, direction, power, and courage from our Lord and His Spirit. Thank you for standing with us in prayer. As you pray for us and watch for the outcome of our work, join with us in anticipation about what our God will do among us. Continue to share the need for prayer with others, encouraging them to enlist as a prayer partner on www.pray4gcr.com.

“1,000 Thank Yous for Praying,

“Ronnie W. Floyd

“Chairman, Great Commission Resurgence Task Force
of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

10/15/2009 4:18:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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