October 2010

Child pornography trafficked on Facebook

October 29 2010 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Facebook houses a subculture dedicated to trafficking child pornography and interacting with potential victims, according to an investigative report by FoxNews.com.

The social network site says it is doing all it can to keep pedophile materials from being displayed, but the news organization found plenty of suggestive and potentially illegal photographs of children on the website.

“Where kids play, predators prey. Predators and pedophiles are taking advantage of this site to target children, swap child pornography and share their exploits,” Donna Rice Hughes, president of Enough Is Enough, said in response to the report.

“It is entirely unacceptable that Facebook has allowed this content to surface on its site, and I fear this is only the tip of the iceberg.”

After uncovering the subculture of child pornography on Facebook, FoxNews.com spent 90 minutes on the phone with two Facebook executives, including the company’s chief security officer, leading them click-by-click through what they found.

The executives were “dumbfounded, unaware of and unable to explain the extremely graphic content on the site,” FoxNews.com reported Oct. 21. They were shocked that their filters had failed, and later some of the material was blocked but much of it remained available to the public.

“We’re constantly looking to improve our filter system,” Joe Sullivan, Facebook’s chief security officer, said. “As we get more information and tactics, we’ll use that to inform our system to make it even better.”

Displaying child pornography is against Facebook’s terms of use, and Facebook’s filter system utilizes a list of keywords from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. One challenge in blocking all illicit material, the company said, is that some keywords that child pornographers use have double meaning and are harmless in some cases.

“Some terms on these lists, including code words and acronyms, have multiple meanings, which makes it difficult to block them upfront without also preventing legitimate uses,” Facebook spokesman Simon Axten said.

“We do a careful evaluation of each term and consider both the potential for abuse and the frequency with which the term is used in other contexts when making decisions on whether to block or flag,” Axten said.

But Hemanshu Nigam, co-chairman of President Obama’s Online Safety Technology Working Group, told FoxNews.com that the mass of pedophile content on Facebook would have been rooted out if the company were doing its job properly.

“The fact that Facebook missed the most basic terms in the terminology of child predators suggests that they’ve taken a checkbox approach instead of implementing real solutions to help real problems facing children online,” Nigam said.

Hughes, of Enough Is Enough, said the investigation underscores the fact that parents must be involved when their children use Facebook. A world of dangerous, exploitative content is just a few clicks away from any unsuspecting or curious teenager, she said.

“Over the past 10 years, we have seen a sort of perfect storm scenario emerge for Internet-initiated sexual crime against children,” Hughes said. “Never before have predators and pedophiles been able to hold a town hall together to share their exploits and encourage this type of horrific behavior, but now, through sites like Facebook, they can do just that.

“We find that these individuals are often at the cutting edge of technology, they have easy access to child pornography and to children, and law enforcement, the technology industry and parents are often left in the dust, which is why we focus on reaching those parents and educating about prevention,” Hughes said.

Enough Is Enough provides guidance for parents called Internet Safety Rules ’N Tools, online at internetsafety101.org, including such tips as:
  • Establish an ongoing dialogue and keep lines of communication open.
  • Supervise use of all Internet-enabled devices.
  • Know your child’s online activities and friends.
  • Regularly check the online communities your children use, such as social networking and gaming sites, to see what information they are posting.
  • Supervise the photos and videos your kids post and send online.
  • Discourage the use of webcams and mobile video devices.
  • Teach your children how to protect personal information posted online and to follow the same rules with respect to the personal information of others.
“Parents have to remain alert,” Hughes said. 
10/29/2010 8:18:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Campbell freshman killed in wreck

October 28 2010 by wire reports

An 18-year-old Campbell University student was killed Oct. 22 when her vehicle ran off N.C. 27 near N.C. 87.

The Highway Patrol reported today that Traci Lyn Caporale of Norwood hit a tree after running off the road.

An article on the Fayetteville Observer web site said Caporale was returning to Buies Creek about 1:15 p.m. after meeting her parents, who had come from Stanly County, when the wreck happened.

According to an official, Caporale steered the car, which was traveling about 65 mph in the 55-mph zone, back onto the road but it ran off the left side and hit the tree. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
10/28/2010 10:41:00 AM by wire reports | with 0 comments

Koreans celebrate 60 years of So. Baptist work

October 28 2010 by Tess Rivers, Baptist Press

SEOUL, South Korea — Celebrating 60 years of Southern Baptist work in South Korea, the Korean Baptist Convention recognized 15 former and emeritus Southern Baptist missionaries during its annual meeting in Seoul.

David Hahn, 74, emeritus pastor of Seoul Memorial Church, organized the trip for the returning missionaries. Hahn said he feels a deep sense of gratitude to Southern Baptist missionaries for the support they provided following the devastation of World War II and the Korean War.

“Korea was in darkness,” Hahn said. “Missionaries brought us the living gospel. They brought us Jesus Christ.”

Missionaries also provided practical help as they shared the gospel, Hahn noted, citing free medical care that missionary Daniel Ray provided in the late 1950s as he traveled from town to town with a portable X-ray machine. Ray and his wife Francis were appointed to Korea in 1954.

Photo by Ann Lovell

Lee Nichols, second from left, who served in South Korea with his wife Norma from 1967-98, laughs until he cries with three Korean men about the time a mutual friend tricked him into eating meat from a canine.

As Koreans like Hahn recounted kindnesses shown and lives touched, returning missionaries like Lucy Wagner appreciated the opportunity to reconnect with old friends during the Sept. 27-29 sessions at Central Baptist Church in Seoul.

Wagner, who retired in 1994 after 39 years of service in South Korea, reunited with Samuel Choi and his wife Song. Wagner first met Choi in the late 1950s when, as an 11-year-old boy, he snuck into the back of a Girls in Action class Wagner taught.

“The class was for girls but he came with his friends to hear an American speak Korean,” Wagner recounted.

When Wagner asked the children if they would say “yes” if God called them to be a foreign missionary, Choi raised his hand. That decision was the beginning of his call to foreign missions.

Choi and his wife were the first missionaries appointed by the Korean Foreign Mission Board (KFMB) in 1980. Today, they serve with the KFMB in Honolulu, Hawaii — among nearly 650 South Korean missionaries serving in 54 countries.

The Korean Baptist Convention and its affiliates grew rapidly from the 40 churches that appealed in 1950 to Southern Baptists’ then-Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) to send missionaries to the war-ravaged country. Today, South Korea has more than 2,800 Baptist churches with nearly 800,000 members.

Early missionaries like Wagner and Don Jones, who served with his wife Nita from 1956-93, marveled at such rapid spiritual growth.

Jones attributed the growth of Baptist work in Korea to a strong sense of purpose.

“Koreans compare their liberation from Japan to the liberation of the Jews from Egypt,” Jones said. “They believe that God liberated them physically and spiritually. As a result, they believe they have a special role to fulfill in world missions.”

Franklin Harkins, who served with his wife Janie from 1967-99, agreed.

“(Koreans) saw us as their friends,” Harkins said. “They accepted the gospel as their gospel — not as a foreign gospel.”

Sterling Edwards*, an IMB strategist, noted that Koreans used the economic gains of the past 60 years to further spiritual pursuits. The World Bank currently ranks Korea as the 13th largest economy in the world.

“Koreans have a tremendous work ethic,” Edwards said. “While many Asian countries have vision and passion, Koreans have vision, passion and financial resources.”

As a result, Koreans can do things that others with equal vision and passion can’t, Edwards said. Koreans, however, humbly deflect such notions, pointing to the training they received from American missionaries as key to their rapid spiritual growth.

“American missionaries came in love to help churches, start churches and train pastors,” said Chul Ky Pek, 73, retired director of the Korean Home Mission Board. “They modeled for us how a missionary should live, act and love. We have followed that example.”

Hahn’s wife, Hyun Sook Um, agreed. Um, 59, attributed the missionary zeal of Koreans to the lifestyle they saw lived out by the missionaries and to the personal kindnesses missionaries showed to families like her own.

“Because of what missionaries did for us, we always try to help those in difficult situations,” Um said. “And we have a special place in our heart for missionaries.”

*Name changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Rivers is a writer for the International Mission Board based in Southeast Asia.)
10/28/2010 10:37:00 AM by Tess Rivers, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Returning to Korea: foretaste of heaven

October 28 2010 by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Baptist Press

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas — For Don Jones, the 60th anniversary of Southern Baptist work in South Korea was a dream come true, remembering 36 years of service to the country and his Lord.

Jones, 81, was among 15 emeritus Southern Baptist missionaries who served in Korea between the 1950s and 1990s who joined in the Korean Baptist Convention’s celebration, preaching in many of the churches and the seminary where they saw the fruit of their labor in years past.

Though Jones has remained active in retirement, traveling with mission teams to many countries in Asia, Europe and Africa, Jones knew this trip would be different.

“After being away for 17 years, God gave me good fluency in preaching yesterday morning,” he shared in a Facebook post after one of his sermons in returning to Korea in September. “It was a blessed experience.”

Jones’ schedule included preaching in Korean at Seoul Memorial Church and traveling to Taejon to preach to the 2,800-member student body at Korea Baptist Theological Seminary and to Busan where the Baptist hospital named in honor of the late missionary Bill Wallace has grown from 50 to 548 beds since Jones first went to Korea as a missionary 53 years ago.

“This hospital sends out mission teams all over Asia and trains doctors from other nations in their own hospital,” Jones marveled. While at Busan’s Global Vision Baptist Church, Jones sang at one of six services held at two locations.

“The auditorium I was in seats 1,100 people but they have other ones in the same building which each seat 500 to 1,000 people and even more in another building,” Jones recounted, noting that pastor Danny Lee usually preaches all six services for a congregation of 32,000, utilizing large-screen projection technology. Lee served as a chaplain at Wallace Memorial Baptist Hospital, professor of the Korean seminary and pastor of Young-ahn Baptist Church and Yale Baptist Church, both in Busan.

Photo by Ann Lovell

Returning missionaries reconnect with old friends as Korean Baptists celebrate 60 years of Baptist work in South Korea. Don Jones, left, and Cloyes Starnes greet a Korean friend prior to a luncheon in their honor.

“Don Jones is our best friend and our honoring missionary,” Lee told Baptist Press. “He gave Korean people a lot of help and Christian love when he was in Korea. I personally respect him and love him very much. He is really a great missionary and a Christian.”

Jones, though, describes himself as “a person of quite ordinary Oklahoma and Texas background who was blessed to be born in a Christian home, to find Christ early and to have stumbled into the glorious adventure of saying, ‘Yes,’ to the call of God to missions in Korea, where we served for 36 years.”

Before his appointment as a missionary, Jones had been to Korea while serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. For two years he resisted the call to missions, though his wife Nita was certain of that destiny early on. The couple studied Bible and music at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, and then graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in Fort Worth with a bachelor of divinity degree, which was converted to the M.Div. in 1969. He also earned a master of religious education degree in 1969 and a doctor of ministry in 1979, both from Southwestern.

Koreans now make up Southwestern’s largest group of minority visa students, with 276 having F-1 visas and a total of 326 Koreans enrolled. SWBTS President Paige Patterson praised the contribution of early Southern Baptist missionaries who seeded an interest in theological training and the multiplication of churches in their homeland.

“As a boy preacher in 1959 I celebrated my 17th birthday in Korea preaching in Korean Baptist churches struggling to recover from the devastations of war,” Patterson said. “Even then, it was apparent that God’s hand of favor was upon these churches. Now as these Baptist colleagues celebrate 60 years as a convention of churches, the future is bright with unabridged opportunity.”

Jones and his wife, appointed in 1956, studied the Korean language stateside, then deployed in 1957. He taught at the seminary, served as mission treasurer, led the publication and religious education promotion work for 10 years, was the mission planner another 10 and mission administrator for six years, finishing his tenure as evangelism coordinator before retiring to Grand Prairie, Texas.

His wife first served in religious education, but soon transitioned to utilizing her musical talent by teaching piano, leading musical groups, training music directors and translating and publishing music materials, in addition to teaching at the seminary and university levels.

Their children, Libba and Preston, both learned to swim in the Yellow Sea, vacationing at Taechon Beach. “We truly had an interdenominational family of missionaries from all groups who became part of our larger family,” Jones said.

Jones said he looks forward to a reunion in heaven of those former colleagues, but most of all with his wife who died in 2004. “I cannot help thinking that heaven’s music has been enhanced,” he said.

On Sundays when he’s not jetting around the world on mission, Jones can be found teaching a Sunday School class at Inglewood Baptist Church in Grand Prairie where he also serves as a deacon and choir member. The congregation honored the couple a few years ago by naming their mission house for Don and Nita Jones.

Things are quite different in Korea from the day the Jones’ arrived there more than three decades ago to find 140 churches in the Korea Baptist Convention. Focusing on mission-mindedness as the best indicator of growth, Jones said, “Today, Korea Christian groups are second only to the USA in the number of missionaries sent throughout the world.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)
10/28/2010 10:33:00 AM by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

U.S. feels charitable, just not to churches

October 28 2010 by Whitney Jones, Religion News Service

Americans are being more generous to religious charities, but why are they skimping on their giving to churches?

A new report from Empty Tomb Inc., an Illinois-based Christian research organization, contains an analysis that found from 2007 to 2008, Protestant churches saw a decrease of $20.02 in per-member annual charitable gifts.

Meanwhile, Empty Tomb’s analysis of federal data found that annual average contributions to the category of “church, religious organizations,” which includes charities like World Vision and Salvation Army, increased by $41.59.

Sylvia Ronsvalle, executive vice president of Empty Tomb, said the good news/bad news difference is stark: giving to religious charities is up, while giving to churches is down.

One reason? Churches spend more money on congregational finances and less on missions beyond the church walls, which is unappealing to people who want to support specific causes with a tangible, visible benefit.

“People overall give to vision, and this is just what we’ve observed, that you see that kind of outpouring when there is a specific need,” said Ronsvalle, who co-wrote the 20th edition of the “State of Church Giving through 2008” with her husband, John.

For example, The Salvation Army’s iconic Red Kettle Campaign, which provides food, toys and clothing to the needy during Christmas, reached a new record in charitable gifts in 2008 that was up 10 percent from the year before.

Israel Gaither, the national commander of The Salvation Army, attributed the increase in charity to Americans’ willingness to serve during a time of great need, aided by increased use of user-friendly technology like cashless kettles, the iPhone and the Online Red Kettle.

According to the Empty Tomb report, U.S. churches devote more than 85 percent of their spending on “congregational finances” such as salaries, utility bills and brick-and-mortar maintenance. Religious charities, meanwhile, can focus on serving people outside their institutions.

The report’s hefty subtitle calls out churches on their lack of charity: “Kudos to Wycliffe Bible Translators and World Vision for Global At-Scale Goals, But Will Denominations Resist Jesus Christ And Not Spend $1 to $26 Per Member to Reach the Unreached When Jesus Says ‘You Feed Them?’”

Christian Smith, the director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame, said the main reasons Christians hold back on their generosity are bad personal financial habits, distrust of where the money is going and a lack of teaching from the pulpit.

Churches trying to serve and survive in difficult economic times should not obsess about finances, Smith said, but conceded that the financial bottom line is a daily reality for congregations.

“Obviously, churches are more than financial,” he said. “They are more than about just money, but it takes resources to hire people and put programs into action and to serve the community.”

Conrad Braaten, pastor of the Washington’s Lutheran Church of the Reformation, said his Capitol Hill congregation continues to support outreach ministries — a food pantry, a GED and job-training program, and repairing houses of low-income homeowners — despite difficult financial times.

Even though the church has seen a decline in giving, he said it has continued charity work by “tightening the belt” on operating expenses.

“That’s why the church exists,” he said. “When we’re focused in upon ourselves, we’ve lost our reason for being.”

Ronsvalle worries about the long-term implications for philanthropy since churches are where most people learn how to be generous. A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey found that 92 percent of charitable giving from people under the age of 25 went to church or religious charities.

“Religion,” Ronsvalle said, “serves as the seedbed of philanthropic giving in America.”    
10/28/2010 10:31:00 AM by Whitney Jones, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

‘Hitchhiker’ gets ticket, accepts invitation

October 27 2010 by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. — After 32 years on the highways and back roads of America hitchhiking for Jesus, James McCollough finally got in trouble with the law.

But God had a bigger purpose all along for the man known as “The Hitchhiker” and has used the legal tangle to further his ministry.

McCollough, a 61-year-old ex-Marine, Southern Baptist pastor and a Mission Service Corps missionary for the North American Mission Board, hitchhikes evangelistically as part of his BlackTop Ministries based in La Puente, Calif.

Back on June 1, McCollough left wife Martha at home when he began a 2,500-mile trek to Orlando, Fla., for this year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting and Crossover, a week of sharing Christ in Orlando during the lead-up to the convention.

But only 40 miles east of Los Angeles, McCollough was sitting near the Interstate 10 on-ramp in Rancho Cucamonga waiting on his next ride. One of the city’s police officers took note of McCollough and proceeded to roll up on his motorcycle, turn on his loud-speaker and advise The Hitchhiker that he couldn’t be on the ramp.

Even though McCollough had not passed the on-ramp sign marked “no pedestrians past this point,” the policemen wrote The Hitchhiker a ticket. After James respectfully accepted the ticket, the officer left and McCollough proceeded to catch his next ride. He made it to Orlando on Saturday, June 6, in time for the Crossover outreach and the SBC annual meeting.

BP file photo

James McCollough, a.k.a. “The Hitchhiker”

But the story doesn’t end there. Fast forward to Sept. 17, the day McCollough — now back home — reported to San Bernardino County Judge Michael Libutti’s courtroom in Rancho Cucamonga. Rather than just pay the $200 ticket, The Hitchhiker had decided to ask for a jury trial, believing himself to be innocent of the charge.

After hours of sitting through dozens of other traffic court cases, McCollough’s name finally was called. After the officer alleged that McCollough was past the on-ramp’s “no pedestrian” sign, The Hitchhiker produced photos proving otherwise.

“At the time the officer saw me, I also wasn’t actually hitchhiking,” McCollough told Judge Libutti. “I was sitting down on the ground, writing in my journal. My thumb was not in the air.”

As Libutti, the police officer and McCollough examined the photographic proof, “I told them I had been hitching as a Christian ministry, sharing the gospel, since 1978,” The Hitchhiker recounted.

“That caught the judge’s attention and he asked me why I do it,” McCollough said. “I explained to him that I preach and share the gospel.”

Libutti reduced what would have been a $200 ticket to $20 and invited McCollough to his church, Life Bible Church in nearby Upland, Calif., to speak to his men’s breakfast. McCollough and the church are currently working out a speaking date for the near future.

“I have hitchhiked since 1978 for the Lord,” McCollough said, “and this was the first time I’ve ever had to go to court because of it. I’ve been stopped a few times but when I explain what I do and give them my card and a copy of the hitchhiking laws, they always let me go and just tell me to move to a safer place.

“On that day, the enemy was just trying to stop me from getting to Orlando for Crossover and the convention. I went to Orlando, did Crossover, shared Christ and everything. The enemy wanted me to high-tail it and run because I got the ticket.”

But as McCollough says, Marines and missionaries never turn tail and run.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)
10/27/2010 6:16:00 AM by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Survey shows more complaints about Christians

October 27 2010 by Adelle M Banks, Religion News Service

When asked about Christianity’s recent contributions to society, Americans cited more negatives than benefits, according to a new survey.

The negative contribution cited most was hatred or violence in the name of Jesus, according to the Barna Group survey. Other frequently cited examples included opposition to gay marriage and the Roman Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal.

The positive contribution mentioned most was Christians’ helping the poor, as well as evangelism and influencing the country’s values.

“Overall, there was a more extensive and diverse list of complaints about Christians and their churches than there was of examples of the benefits they have provided to society,” said the Barna Group, a Christian firm that researches U.S. faith and culture, in a report released Oct. 25.

Researchers, who asked open-ended questions, found that one in four respondents could not name a single positive contribution made by Christians in recent years to American society. Just 12 percent could not think of a single negative contribution.

The findings were based on telephone interviews Aug. 16-22 with a random sample of 1,000 U.S. adults and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
10/27/2010 6:15:00 AM by Adelle M Banks, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

Hunger ministry improves tribal lives

October 27 2010 by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Press

CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh — Fish and chicken used to fill boys’ plates only twice a week. Now, thanks to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, boys living in two hostels in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in southeastern Bangladesh have protein every day in their diet.

Life is not easy for families living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, an area bordering India and Myanmar that once was protected for tribal people groups.

Civil unrest plagues the hill tracts, but many of the health issues of the 1.3 million people there are caused by malnutrition. UNICEF reports that in the three hill tracts districts — Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban — 43.4 percent of teens ages 13-19 are anemic.

Boys at the Bandarban Boys’ Hostel help plant and weed some of the fruit trees planted on the hostel’s land. The hostel, run by the Bangladesh Baptist Church Fellowship, allows boys educational opportunities that are not available in their rural communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of southeastern Bangladesh.

Southern Baptists, through their World Hunger Fund, provide food for boys living in Bandarban Boys’ Hostel, which houses 55 boys, and Sajek Boys’ Hostel, home to another 22 boys.

These hostels, run by the Bangladesh Baptist Church Fellowship, allow boys educational opportunities otherwise unavailable in their rural communities, said Burt Galvin*, who oversees Southern Baptist ministry in Bangladesh and northeastern India. By staying at the hostels, the boys can attend school in town.

There are several other hostels for boys and for girls in the area. The hostel system is well-known throughout the Christian community and provides a Christian learning environment as well as Christian discipleship.

“We have seen a transformation of tribal people in just one generation,” Galvin said. “First and foremost is the spiritual transformation that takes place when the tribals leave Hinduism and Buddhism and embrace Christianity. Along with that, when these groups become Christian, they immediately see a need for education.”

Most of the tribal Christians come from a non-literate background. In part, their newfound desire for education may be because they now want to read God’s Word, Galvin said.

“The result has been amazing,” Galvin said. “Christ has truly transformed the tribals. Education through the hostels has been part of that.”

Most areas in the hill tracts have schools for children in grades 1-3 but do not offer any higher-grade levels. Some students who have excellent grades upon finishing third grade may receive admission into schools elsewhere, but those opportunities are few. Boys with less-than-stellar marks do not have much hope of continuing their education.

“Culturally in Bangladesh, only students who make excellent grades from their first days in school will be considered, allowed [or] have any opportunity to continue up through the grades,” said Finn Aurora*, a Southern Baptist representative who serves on the board of directors for the Bandarban hostel.

The Baptist hostels meet this need for education in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Christian tribal leaders responsible for admissions select which students should go to the hostels. Boys usually come to the hostels at about age 9.

“The few tribal leaders who have received education in the past, in particular the Christian leaders, see the significant lack of education holding the tribal people back from both development within themselves as well as receiving Christ and discipleship in following Him,” Aurora said.

During the past year, 22 boys at the Bandarban and Sajek hostels made professions of faith in Jesus, he said.

“Four families of students made professions of faith after hearing the Gospel because their child was living in the hostel,” Aurora said. “Two of the students in the hostels made commitments to the ministry.”

During the 2009-10 school year, $8,373 from the World Hunger Fund provided the budget for adequate meals and a nutritious diet for the boys who live in the two hostels. Before the World Hunger Fund was applied, the boys had only two meals a day and fish or chicken only twice a week.

“While the students realized they were still afforded the opportunity to attend school, obviously they were hungry at times and knew there was a shortage of food,” Aurora said.

Now they have three meals a day and protein every day.

“Funding allowed us to properly feed the students of those same tribal farm families who are striving to provide an education for their children,” Aurora said.

The families of the children in the Sajek Boys’ Hostel are generally subsistence farmers, like many of the families in the hill tracts.

“They grow what they can, gather what they can in the jungle areas, and trade or work in addition to that to make ends meet,” Aurora said.

The Sajek hostel’s recent growth from five students to 22 has increased its operating budget needs.

“We are praying about additional support for this hostel as we expect the families in the area to seek admission of new students each year,” Aurora said.

Aurora’s prayer is that more children can be educated.

“These students are the hope of their families for future support and income,” he said. “It is these same students who will soon lead their home communities and be responsible to meet the physical and spiritual needs of their community.”

Aurora asks that you pray:
  • For the tribal children in each of the hostels to develop into mature Christian leaders.
  • For more churches and volunteers to catch a vision for praying for these who will be future leaders among Bangladesh’s tribal minority.
  • That the tribal people would recognize that education, training and discipleship are blessings from God that enable them to develop and lead their families and communities without dependency on outside sources.
*Names changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Anderson is a writer in Asia for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. For resources to promote the World Hunger Fund, visit www.worldhungerfund.com.)
10/27/2010 6:03:00 AM by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

How many versions of the Bible do we need?

October 26 2010 by Daniel Burke, Religion News Service

If you stacked all the Bibles sitting in American homes, the tower would rise 29 million feet, nearly 1,000 times the height of Mount Everest.

More than 90 percent of American households own a Bible, and the average family owns three, according to pollsters at the Barna Group. The American Bible Society hands out 5 million copies of the Good Book each year; 1.5 billion Gideon Bibles wait in hotel rooms worldwide.     

Scripture outsells the latest diet fads, murder mysteries and celebrity bios year after year. Evangelical publishers alone sold an estimated 20 million Bibles in recession-battered 2009, raking in about $500 million in sales, according to Michael Covington, information and education director of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.

Experts say it’s nearly impossible to calculate exactly how many Bibles are sold each year. But one thing is clear: The Good Book is great for business.

stock.xchng photo

“Bibles are in many ways a cash cow,” said Phyllis Tickle, a former longtime religion editor at Publishers Weekly. “The Bible is the mainstay of many a publishing program.”

However, some Christian scholars wonder whether too much Good News can sometimes be a bad thing, as a major new translation and waves of books marking the 400th anniversary of the venerable King James Bible inundate the market this fall.

The assortment of translations and “niche Bibles” (think, “The Holy Bible: Stock Car Racing Edition”) sow confusion and division among Christians, invite ridicule from relativists, and risk reducing God’s word into just another personal-shopping preference, the scholars say.

“I think we are drifting more and more to a diverse Babel of translations,” said David Lyle Jeffrey, former provost of Baylor University and an expert on biblical translations. Jeffrey believes Americans need a “common Bible” — a role the King James Version played for centuries — to communicate the grandeur of Scripture without reducing it to “shopping-center-level” discourse.

“When we have so much diversity we lose our common voice,” he said. “It is in effect moving away from a common membership in the body of Christ into disparate, confusing misrepresentations of the rich wisdom of Scripture, which ought to unify us.”

Leland Ryken, an English professor at Wheaton College, a leading evangelical school in Illinois, was more blunt.

“When there is wide divergence among Bible translations, readers have no way of knowing what the original text really says,” Ryken said. “It’s like being given four different scores for the same football game, or three contradictory directions for getting to a town in the middle of the state.”

Christian publishers, meanwhile, say they have an obligation — even a divine calling — to make Scripture ready and readable to as many people as possible.

Despite the Bible’s ubiquity, Americans are not necessarily reading or absorbing scripture, said Paul Franklyn, associate publisher of the Common English Bible, a new translation sponsored by five mainline Protestant publishers.

For example, half of Christians cannot name the four Gospels; a third cannot identify Genesis as the Bible’s first book, according to a recent study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.     

The new Common English Bible aims to present an easy-to-read translation from the “theological center,” Franklyn said. Its New Testament debuts this fall; the entire Bible is due next year.     

Despite the profitability of Bible publishing, penetrating the crowded and competitive market is a “big risk,” requiring equal parts scholarship and salesmanship, Franklyn said. The Common English Bible publishers spent $1 million on the translation and will doll out another $3 million to get people to “pay attention” to it, he said.

Scholars estimate that at least 200 English translations have been published since 1900 — many of them revisions of earlier texts. Sorting out the differences between the New American Bible and New American Standard Bible, for example, can be daunting for even experienced readers.

The market can be so confusing and crowded that half of customers who visit Christian stores to buy a Bible leave without one, according to a study presented to Christian retailers in 2006.

“Heck, I’m overwhelmed and I’m supposed to know what the hee-haw I’m doing,” said Tickle, author of “The Great Emergence,” a well-regarded book on the future of Christianity. “Bibliolatry is not a word I use very often, but we are probably veering very close to it.”

There’s even a cottage industry of experts to help people choose a Bible. Paul Wegner, a professor at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona who conducts church conferences about the Bible, says Christians constantly ask why there are so many different Bibles, and which is the “right” one.

“People almost throw up their hands, there are so many Bibles out there,” he said. “Maybe they’ve created a market for me.”  

To counter consumer confusion, publishers began marketing Bibles based on “felt needs,” or secular interests, said Andy Butcher, an editor at the journal Christian Retailing.

Christian publisher Zondervan’s 2010 catalog of Bibles (“The Book of Good Books”) runs 223 pages and includes Bibles tailored toward black children, students, spiritual seekers, women with cancer, busy dads, new moms, recovering addicts, surfers, grandmothers and camouflage enthusiasts.

“The next thing will be a Bible for men in midlife crises,” Jeffrey said, “with ads for Harley Davidson motorcycles inside.”

Tim Jordan, a marketing manager at B&H Publishing Group, a leading Christian publisher that sells niche Bibles, compared them to conversation starters. “It’s just being smart about where people are at and trying to meet them there,” he said. “We need to engage people into the Bible.”

Ryken, however, suspects publishers’ motives may be more economic than spiritual.

By definition, niche Bibles are designed to corner a market segment, he said. In the process, “the Bible loses its identity as the authoritative word of God and becomes something trivial, on par with shoes for hikers or luggage for the international set.”
10/26/2010 7:45:00 AM by Daniel Burke, Religion News Service | with 2 comments

Churches ‘re-potted,’ revived in L.A.

October 26 2010 by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press

LOS ANGELES — California — hardly a Bible Belt state — is the current site of some of the most innovative approaches to church planting in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Successful church planting in California is vital, considering that U.S. Census estimates place its population at 36,961,664, making it the most populous state in the United States, and with a population larger than all but 34 countries in the world.

The California Southern Baptist Convention, as part of its emphasis on church planting, launched “10-10-10” at 10 a.m. (PDT) on Oct. 10, 2010. The goal of the initiative was to start 40 new churches simultaneously throughout the state on that single day.

Not only are brand-new churches being planted, but aging, withering churches are being re-planted, or “re-potted” as Mark Hammond, executive director of the Los Angeles Baptist Association, calls it.

Hammond started the church “re-potting” process eight years ago after he kept seeing churches — some 50-60 years old — plateau and almost close their doors.

“The community around these churches may have changed five times, but their members were still looking for the ‘good old days,’” Hammond said. “The churches we re-pot are practically on life-support.”

When it comes to re-potting a dying church, Hammond’s first move is to probe the community surrounding it — asking surviving members of the congregation what they need, determining other needs and examining the area’s demographics. Needs may include the hiring of new pastors, building up dwindling or nonexistent Sunday Schools or helping with the church’s financial or bookkeeping problems.

Based on a canvass of the community, Hammond recruits special teams to become members of the church to be re-potted. Team members may be Filipino, Hispanic, African American, Anglo, Korean — all or in any combination — depending on the area’s people groups.

Each team usually includes a church planting strategist, a church planter and laypeople with special skills and talents. Hammond asks each team member to make a two-year commitment — in time, talent and tithing — to the re-potted church. Under Hammond, who has led the Los Angeles Baptist Association the past 10 years, five churches were re-potted last year while 90-plus new churches were planted over the last three years — bringing the number of churches in the association to more than 200.

Hammond said his first success in church re-potting in Southern California was Village Baptist Church in Norwalk, an old church that had dwindled to only a dozen members but now runs 200.

“Re-potting is one area where we have to do more,” Hammond said. “In a major megalopolis like Los Angeles, it costs so much to build a new church. It can cost $4 million to put up a church that can house only 100 people. Its members could never even pay the note off.

“We have to do things differently, whether we’re planting a new church or re-potting an old one. If we do the same old things, we’ll get in the same situation as before,” said Hammond, adding that re-potting a church is more difficult than planting a new one and requires a different skill set.

Don Overstreet, a church planting missionary jointly funded by NAMB and the California convention for the last 15 years, has been in the church planting ministry for 45 of his 63 years. A kidney cancer survivor, Overstreet says “God gave me a heart to plant churches early on.”

Overstreet specializes in traveling up and down California, starting inner-city churches “in areas most people are afraid to go.”

He helps plant an array of churches — from traditional to hip-hop.

“The church should look like the community, so we start multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-racial and English-speaking churches,” Overstreet said.

Overstreet’s philosophy for starting new churches is simple: Find people who have fallen through the cracks, who don’t seem to fit anywhere, and start a church to minister to them. And he believes in church planting via multiplication, not addition.

“Addition is good but multiplication is better,” he said, recounting the outreach efforts in Artesia, a suburb on the border of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Artesia — with its 45,000 population — is the most diverse city of its size in the country, according to California State University-Fullerton.

“In Artesia, we decided we couldn’t just start one church at a time. So we started English, Hispanic, Korean and Filipino churches — all at the same time,” Overstreet said. “We’re still working on starting a Chinese church there. That’s what the community looks like.

“The Southern Baptist Convention is not an old denomination in Southern California,” said Overstreet, who — along with his parents — were members of one of the first SBC churches in Los Angeles.

“A lot of the churches out here were started in the 1940s and ’50s. They were founded by transplants coming to California from the South. They did a great job of bringing along the Southern culture but never were able to reach the California culture. These are the churches dying off because their members are now in their 70s and 80s.”

Although these older churches are fighting to survive, they often own attractive facilities in key locations. In expensive cities like Los Angeles, where buying premium real estate is prohibitive, these churches don’t want to lose their existing facilities, which could never be duplicated in today’s economy and real estate market.

Overstreet cites First Baptist Church of Bell Gardens as an example. Situated in a southeast Los Angeles suburb, it was one of the first SBC congregations in the region and, by Overstreet’s estimate, was a mother church for 50-75 church starts.

“It was a strong church in the ’50s and ’60s but the world changed around them and they didn’t. The city of Bell Gardens is now 95 percent Hispanic. But it also needs an English-speaking Southern Baptist church.”

The pastor-less church dwindled to only four elderly members, whose weekly worship service consisted of turning on a TV set to watch Atlanta pastor Charles Stanley every Sunday morning.

“But these folks never gave up,” Overstreet said. “They finally asked me to help. The first Sunday I preached, we had 12. They now have a new pastor and are running 50. On a recent Saturday night, they held a block party which drew 200-300 people. The church is coming back as a combination English and Hispanic church. They also added a Spanish-speaking-only church this summer.

“The key thing for these dying churches is that they have to be desperate. They must be willing to change and work outside themselves, and do whatever needs to be done to reach out and be revived. “It takes more creativity to re-plant churches like Bell Gardens,” Overstreet said.

“There’s no cookie-cutter approach to planting or re-planting churches in Los Angeles. We’re never going to change our doctrine, but our methodology has to adapt to the situation.”

Working closely with the Los Angeles and Inland Empire Baptist associations, Overstreet and his team of four church planting strategists and some 100 church planters have planted 200-plus churches in the past five years.

“We’ve worked hard in L.A. for the last eight or nine years to create a church planting atmosphere,” Overstreet said, adding that he and his team have divided the metro area into five zones for planning and organizing purposes.

“Some areas around L.A. are like foreign countries,” he said. “No one speaks a word of English. We’re trying to develop a better awareness of our communities.”

Overstreet is continuing to pray that God will continue to raise up indigenous lay leaders to help plant new churches in the greater Los Angeles area.

“[T]hey know the languages,” he said, “they know the cultures and they have the existing networks.” Ken Weathersby, NAMB’s vice president for church planting, is excited about the fact that creative church planting methods are bubbling up from not only California but throughout the North American mission field, where 258 million people — three out of four — are unreached and unchurched.

Weathersby believes church planting must undergo a major sea change in the months ahead that will “liberate us to the point of seeing more people and churches engaged in church planting. We’re going back to our biblical roots. We don’t want to rearrange the body of Christ, we want to plant new churches.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)  
10/26/2010 7:40:00 AM by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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