October 2015

Students, churches set aside Oct. 15 to ‘Engage 24’

October 2 2015 by Tobin Perry, NAMB

As a student pastor at Spotswood Baptist Church in Fredericksburg, Va., Doug Adams realizes how important it is to involve college students in personal evangelism – and how tough it can be.

To help overcome the inherent struggles in getting students to share the gospel, Adams has turned to a familiar friend of student ministry – peer support. By participating in a nationwide evangelism effort called Engage 24, Adams has set aside a day to challenge every student in his ministry to share the gospel with at least one person.


NAMB file photo by Susan Whitley
Brian Frye, the North American Mission Board’s national collegiate strategist, says of Engage 24, “We’re creating a time where there’s this collective focus on evangelism with a tangible goal.”

“It’s a day when you might be doing something you’ve never done before, but you feel like you’re on a team doing it with the rest of your church body or your small group,” Adams said. “Engage 24 gives many of us more confidence to share our faith for the first time because you know you’ve been prepared and others are doing it with you on that specific day.”
Not only has Engage 24 made an impact on Spotwood’s college students, but for the last two years Spotswood has incorporated a church-wide focus on evangelism using Engage 24 as a model for the greater body. Spotswood picks a specific date when they ask their members to “engage” a neighbor or friend with the gospel. In preparation for that day, senior pastor Drew Landry teaches a three- to four-week series to encourage and equip their people to confidently engage in gospel conversations.
On the week following the event day, the church culminates the experience with a service dedicated to sharing stories of people throughout the church who shared the gospel. This year Landry and other church leaders have already begun preparing the congregation to participate in this one-day intensive effort again.
Southern Baptist collegiate ministry leaders from around North America launched Engage 24 in 2012 in an effort to move students who had never shared the gospel into becoming people who share regularly. Through Engage 24, churches and student ministries encourage all participants to share their faith once during a 24-hour period. Participating churches can use whatever evangelism training or methods they prefer. This year’s national efforts will focus on Oct. 15, although collegiate ministries and churches can set aside any day for their evangelistic emphasis.
“Instead of setting huge goals for the number of people who came to Christ or for baptisms, we decided that our goal would be to get as many students as possible to share the gospel with one person on a single day,” said Brian Frye, the North American Mission Board’s national collegiate strategist. “We’re creating a time where there’s this collective focus on evangelism with a tangible goal.”


NAMB file photo by Susan Whitley
College students have led the way in expanding Engage 24, a one-day evangelism challenge, to go beyond campus and into the mainstream. Churches have picked up on the observance, this year set for Oct. 15, and are using it to encourage their members in personal evangelism.

In that first year alone, Engage 24 mobilized students to make more than 8,000 gospel presentations on campuses throughout North America. More than 2,000 students shared the gospel for the first time that year. The goal, Frye insists, isn’t just to focus on a single day but to develop a culture of evangelism within ministries. In fact, he added, many of the churches who championed the day early on aren’t doing it any longer because, thanks in part to Engage 24, they have developed an evangelistic culture in their collegiate ministries.
For the past four years the effort has caught on to such a degree that the initiative has moved beyond student ministry into the broader church body. Last year Cross Church in Springdale, Ark., and other churches throughout North America, began challenging their entire church families to participate in the effort. See related column by Cross Church senior pastor and Southern Baptist President Ronnie Floyd.

Al Gilbert, NAMB’s vice president of evangelism, noted, “Pastors are looking for ways to move their people into action. Engage24 is a great first step.”
“The movement started on the college campus but has moved into churches across North America,” Gilbert said. “Some churches have used this first step to launch an ongoing emphasis to encourage believers to share their faith.”
Churches and student ministries that want to participate in Engage 24 can visit engage24.org. The website includes stories from previous years and videos that can be shown in public worship services.
“Our call is to make disciples,” Frye said. “For every pastor or collegiate leader it’s our call not to just teach the content of the Scripture but to model the content of the Scripture. What Engage 24 gives you is a fail-safe way to model gospel sharing and call your people to it. It’s a win-win-win scenario.”
Churches or individuals looking for evangelism tools are encouraged to explore 3 Circles; Life Conversation Guide, a simple way to engage in gospel conversations lifeonmissionbook.com/conversation-guide.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.)

10/2/2015 12:33:41 PM by Tobin Perry, NAMB | with 0 comments

1% CP Challenge met by 4,422 churches

October 2 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) President Frank S. Page has personally signed letters to more than 4,400 Southern Baptist churches that have met or exceeded the 1% Cooperative Program (CP) Challenge.
Recognized for their contributions are 3,846 congregations that met the challenge for the first time during the 2013-14 fiscal year (Oct. 1-Sept. 30) and 576 that met the challenge for two consecutive years, said Ashley Clayton, SBC Executive Committee vice president for Cooperative Program and stewardship development.
The 1% CP Challenge calls on churches to increase their Cooperative Program giving by at least 1 percentage point of their budgets from undesignated gifts by their members and visitors. CP gifts undergird both the work of the state Baptist conventions and the SBC’s national and international missions and ministries.
In the letters in advance of October’s Cooperative Program Emphasis Month on the SBC calendar, Page reminded pastors that every Cooperative Program dollar given is an investment in Baptist outreach.
The letters seek to express the “heartfelt gratitude on the part of every international missionary, every church planter in North America and Canada, every person in need or at risk from natural disaster, every seminary student, every plateaued or struggling church, and so many other people who are impacted,” Page told Baptist Press (BP).
The month-long Cooperative Program emphasis spurs churches to learn about the Cooperative Program and prayerfully consider increasing their contributions.
FishHawk Fellowship Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Lithia, Fla., is among churches that have met the 1% CP Challenge two fiscal years concurrently since 2012-13.
“We support and participated in the 1% challenge because the CP was instrumental in our establishment and growth as a church,” pastor David Whitten told BP. “As a former church plant, funds from the CP helped sustain us during the early days of our ministry. We are now a healthy, growing Southern Baptist church and we consider it both a duty and an honor to give back to the CP.”
FishHawk, in the Tampa area, increased its CP giving from 2.2 percent in 2012 to 5.6 percent in 2014, according to Executive Committee figures.
“We give and will continue to do so for two main reasons,” Whitten said: “One, to expand God’s Kingdom and, two, to provide funds so that other church plants can benefit from the CP just like we did many years ago.”
If every Southern Baptist church embraces the 1% CP Challenge, annual Cooperative Program giving would increase by nearly $100 million, Page said.
The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ channel of giving, begun in 1925, through which a local church can contribute to the ministries of its state convention and the missions and ministries of the SBC with a single monthly or weekly contribution. Gifts from state conventions and fellowships as well as churches and individuals are distributed according to the annual Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.
CP contributions for the current fiscal year were 1.13 percent above projections through August, Page announced in early September.
Clayton said the increased giving will help many Southern Baptist outreaches.
“Assuming this trend continues through the fiscal year end, that 1.13 percent increase represents almost $3 million dollars more for SBC missions and ministries fueled by the Cooperative Program,” Clayton said. “This is good news for Southern Baptists. As a matter of fact, missions contributions across the board are up over last year. Along with the 1.13 percent increase in Cooperative Program giving, special missions offerings, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, are both up by about two-thirds of 1 percent over last year.
“Again, good news,” Clayton said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

10/2/2015 12:29:05 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Naghmeh Abedini says faith ‘more real’ than before

October 1 2015 by Morning Star News, Middle East correspondent

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Sept. 30 declined to meet with the wife of imprisoned American pastor Saeed Abedini during his trip to the United Nations, days after the Christian’s wife learned her husband had recently been tortured.
Rouhani instead said in a television interview that releasing Iranian criminals held in U.S. prisons would change the “atmosphere and environment,” hinting that such a change would be necessary for possibly freeing prisoners such as Abedini. The Iranians in question were sentenced to prison for violating the international trade embargo placed on Iran for trying to develop nuclear weapons, Rouhani said.
“There are a number of Iranians in the United States who are imprisoned, who went to prison as a result of activities related to the nuclear industry in Iran. Once these sanctions have been lifted, why keep those folks in American prisons? So they must be freed,” he said Sept. 27 on CNN through an interpreter. “If the Americans take the appropriate actions vis-a-vis Iranian citizens who are being imprisoned here, then the right atmosphere and environment will be created for reciprocal action perhaps.”
Rouhani left New York Sept. 28 without responding to a request by Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh Abedini, for a meeting. She and lawyer Tiffany Barrans, international legal director for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), will remain in New York in hopes of meeting with Gholam Ali Khoshroo, the Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations.


Saeed Abedini

Naghmeh Abedini reaffirmed her husband’s innocence and said the Iranian government is treating him “like a pawn in a game of chess.”
“President Rouhani’s demand that America release 19 criminals in exchange for his consideration of releasing individuals like my husband, imprisoned solely for his faith, demonstrates that the Iran of today is no different than the Iran who took Americans hostages during the Iranian revolution,” she said in a press statement. “The environment is ripe for Iran to demonstrate it is ready to re-enter the global market and international scene of diplomats; it is time to show its good will, to change its image from one of a pariah to a member of the global society who will protect fundamental rights.”
Naghmeh Abedini commemorated the three-year mark (Sept. 26) of her husband’s imprisonment with fasting and candlelight prayer vigils as she prepared for the possibility of meeting with the president of Iran. On Sept. 27, she attended a prayer vigil in Boise, Idaho, where she lives with the couple’s son and daughter.
The vigil, one of more than 810 held last week around the world, according to the ACLJ, was held a week after she addressed more than 100 parliamentarians from nearly 50 countries at the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief. After her presentation, 67 parliamentarians signed a letter to the speaker of the Iranian Parliament calling for Abedini’s release.


A few days after the parliamentary meeting, Naghmeh Abedini received word from her in-laws that her husband had been tortured once again by prison officials.
Officials at Gohardasht Prison, also known as Rajai Shahr prison, on Sept. 22 tased, beat and threatened to keep the pastor in prison indefinitely by filing new charges against him, the relatives said. Authorities threatened to charge him with having contact with anti-government groups and making inflammatory statements and actions against the government.
The violence came to light two days after the assault, when family members went to visit him in prison. Other public interest groups were able to confirm the abuse accusations through their own sources.
Prison officials refused to give Abedini medical treatment after the assault, Barrans said. The denial of medical care and the cumulative effect of beatings and other abuse is a source of concern for Naghmeh Abedini and those monitoring his situation.
“Saeed continues to suffer from internal injuries sustained from previous beatings he endured from his captors,” Barrans said. “Despite that Iranian doctors have said he needs surgeries for the last year and a half, the Iranian government has refused to provide him critical medical treatment. Just last week, Saeed reported to his family that one of his cellmates died after complications from lack of medical care. Sept. 22, Saeed was tasered on several occasions and complained to his family that his heart has been hurting him since Iranian intelligence officers abused him and tasered him. The ongoing abuse and mistreatment of Pastor Saeed is of grave concern.”
With the help of the ACLJ, Naghmeh Abedini last month filed a request with Iranian Ambassador to the U.N. Khoshroo to meet with Rouhani during his trip to the United Nations to address the 70th meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. Last week she told Morning Star News why the meeting would be so important to her.
“Meeting with the Iranian president and government officials is important not just because in a way they are the ones holding Saeed, but also because of all the Christians that are imprisoned and have been martyred in Iran,” she said. “I hope to be able to address Christian persecution and also give them a chance to hear the gospel message. That’s very important, because I know these are the people that are holding many, many Christians in prison, and I hope to be a voice for them.”
She had attempted to speak to the Iranian president through U.N. channels once before. Two years ago, also in September, she was able to meet with members of the Iranian delegation at the United Nations during a chance encounter in the lobby of a New York hotel where they both happened to be staying. She met briefly with a member of the delegation but was ultimately unsuccessful in her attempt to meet with Rouhani.


Naghmeh Abedini and children

Faith Trial

On Jan. 27, 2013, an Iranian court sentenced Abedini, 35, to eight years in prison for allegedly threatening “national security” by planting house churches in early 2000.
Seven months earlier, in July 2012, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had briefly arrested Abedini during his visit to set up an orphanage he was building. After interrogation, authorities placed him under house arrest and told him to wait for a court summons to face criminal charges for his Christian faith. Two months later, on Sept. 26, he was arrested at his parents’ home and taken to prison, where he has remained. Abedini has steadfastly claimed his innocence on all the charges filed against him.
Despite all the problems and pain, the imprisonment of her husband in Iran has been an experience that has strengthened Naghmeh Abedini in ways she probably wouldn’t have imagined beforehand, she said. She described her faith before the ordeal as being somewhat riddled by fear.
“I always struggled with fear – ‘What if I lose this, the one I love? What if I lose a child? What if I lose everything?’” she said. “And I always feared that I would lose something and I would say, ‘You know, I’m done with Christ. I’m done with Christianity. This is not real.’”
She said she feared there would be a trial that would cause her to question God, His goodness and her faith.
“[But] this trial has actually really strengthened my faith,” she said. “I’ve tasted, and I have seen, that the Lord is good, and it’s really pushed me. My faith has become more real and dear to me than it has ever been. So, I’m not afraid anymore.”
The ordeal has also changed what she described as “mechanical” faith into a deeper, truer relationship with God.
“I’ve loved Christ for most of my life. I was a missionary to Iran, but in these moments I am discovering Christ in a deeper, more intimate way, and the reality of who He is,” she said. “He is not a story. He is not just going to church on Sunday and on Wednesdays and coming home. He is every breath I take. Every move, every step I take is through His grace.”
At certain times in life one reaches a point in which experiencing Jesus in a deeper way is the only way to go on, she said.
“You just cry out, you reach out and walk by faith even though circumstances don’t look very promising,” she said. “And that’s my biggest blessing from these last three years. That’s what I have learned. The more I know Him, the more I know of His character, the more I trust Him, and the more peace covers me.”
Saeed Abedini became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2010, but the Iranian government does not recognize his U.S. citizenship. His wife and two children were born in the United States. Raising her 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son while her husband has been detained has proven challenging and emotionally draining, she said.
“Most of the days my kids cry themselves to sleep, but at the same time it’s been a time of need to focus on Jesus and trust Him,” she said. “One of the most difficult questions they’ve asked is if I know that Daddy will be out anytime soon. My son’s been worried if Daddy would make it, if he would die in prison. Those have been the hardest. Yes, my son’s been worried about that – he says, ‘Mommy, is he going to survive?’ And, um, I don’t know.”
Most of the children’s questions about their father have become answers instead about the nature of God, she said. The ordeal has taught them to walk in their own faith, instead of “borrowing” their mother’s.
“I tell them that I don’t have the answers, but ‘The thing I do know is that God is good and God has given us everything. He gave us everything on the Cross, and He deserves our life. Now it’s our turn to give him everything, and that’s why Daddy’s in prison. He’s willing to give his life, and he won’t deny Christ.’”
She said she also tells her children that Christians have given their lives following Him, that they have been martyred and put in prison.
“Because He gave us the ultimate gift, we’re asked to give our life for Him,” she tells them. “That’s the best gift we can give Him, our life; dedicating our life and following Him, however that may look like.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Morning Star News is a California-based independent news service focusing on the persecution of Christians worldwide. Used by permission.)

Related Stories:

Abedini beating intensifies calls for release
'Kept here for His glory,' Abedini writes

10/1/2015 12:33:12 PM by Morning Star News, Middle East correspondent | with 0 comments

PPFA head fails to satisfy concerns

October 1 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Congressional testimony by Planned Parenthood’s president failed to satisfy the concerns of lawmakers and pro-life advocates in the wake of undercover videos providing evidence the organization trades in baby body parts.
Cecile Richards, head of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), denounced charges – apparently of unethical or illegal activity by her organization – based on the videos as “offensive and categorically untrue” in a House of Representatives hearing Sept. 29.
The hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee followed the release of 10 secretly recorded videos that show various Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of organs from aborted children. The videos recorded and released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) also display PPFA employees acknowledging their willingness to manipulate the abortion procedure to preserve body parts for sale and use. In addition, the videos include evidence of the dissection of live babies outside the womb to remove organs.
Less than one percent of PPFA’s centers facilitate federally approved fetal tissue donation, something many of their patients request, Richards told committee members.
She did not directly address a question about manipulation of the abortion procedure to procure body parts. Richards also said the person who testified on a video about the dissection of a child outside the womb is not a Planned Parenthood employee and no such event has occurred at one of its clinics.
Richards’ testimony fell far short of clearing PPFA of the troubling evidence on the videos, said Russell Moore, the Southern Baptist Convention’s lead ethicist.
“Nothing that Ms. Richards said before Congress removes any of the deeply disturbing signs that we’ve seen pointing to an industry of human trafficking within Planned Parenthood clinics,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “Further, she consistently dodged important questions about the prominence of abortion in Planned Parenthood’s revenue and about Planned Parenthood’s practices toward infants who survive abortions.
“My prayer is that protecting the lives of babies and their mothers will soon become a more important national priority than political solidarity and corporate profit,” he said in a written statement. “As the committee hearing demonstrated, we have a long way to go.”
Rep. Diane Black, R.-Tenn., sponsor of a bill to defund PPFA, said the hearing “further confirmed my belief that Planned Parenthood has skirted the law and should not be funded by hardworking taxpayers.”
Black’s legislation, the Defund Planned Parenthood Act, gained passage from the House in a 241-187 vote Sept. 18. The bill would place a one-year moratorium on federal money for PPFA and its affiliates while Congress investigates the organization.
In a written statement, CMP said Richards’ “evasive testimony will only prolong the controversy over this corrupt and unaccountable organization, while taxpayers continue to foot the bill for their expanding late-term abortion business and baby parts harvesting chop-shop.”
PPFA, the country’s leading abortion provider, received more than $528 million in government grants, contracts and reimbursements, according to its latest financial report (2013-14). Its affiliates performed more than 327,000 abortions during 2013.
The hearing’s focus was to be Planned Parenthood’s use of government funds, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R.-Utah, said when he opened proceedings Sept. 29. PPFA “is an organization that doesn’t need federal subsidies,” he said.
Committee members, however, returned to the videos repeatedly in their questions of Richards. The PPFA president and Democrats criticized CMP and the videos. Richards described the videos as “deceptively edited.” Rep. Elijah Cumming, D.-Md., leader of the committee’s minority party, charged CMP and its leader, David Daleiden, with a “three-year campaign of deceit” in which they “misled and essentially conned” Planned Parenthood employees.
A digital, forensics analysis released Sept. 28, however, reported the videos “are authentic.” Coalfire Systems Inc., which has some Fortune 500 companies among its clients, said the videos “show no evidence of manipulation or editing.”
CMP has posted not only edited versions of its video recordings but what it describes as full footage of the conversations between PPFA officials and its undercover individuals acting as representatives of a biologics firm.
Meanwhile, Richards offered in some cases either falsehoods or misleading statements to the committee, said Joe Carter, a communications specialist for the ERLC. In a post at the ERLC’s website, Carter pointed not only to Richards’ charge of deceptive video editing but four other assertions by her in written testimony that he described as misleading or inaccurate:

  • One in five American women has sought care from Planned Parenthood.

  • No federal funding goes for abortion in PPFA clinics.

“[M]oney is fungible,” Carter wrote. “A dollar spent for one purpose can also cover other purposes. For example, the money the federal government gives to PP can be used indirectly to cover operating and overhead costs such as rent and staff salary. This allows PP to provide abortions that are essentially subsidized by the government.”

  • Many women would not have prompt reproductive health care without PPFA.

“This is simply false,” Carter said, citing a recent report by Alliance Defending Freedom that showed comprehensive care clinics where women can receive “the same or better health care” outnumber PPFA centers by 20-1.

  • PPFA clinics outperform others in providing a broad diversity of contraceptives in an easily accessible manner.

“The reality is that PP doesn’t offer even the same level of services that are required by federally qualified health centers,” Carter wrote.
Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R.-Wyo., questioned Richards about Planned Parenthood’s oft-quoted statistic that abortion makes up only three percent of the services it provides. Citing PPFA’s 2013 report that 86 percent of its nongovernment revenue is from abortion, Lummis asked Richards to explain the “massive disparity” between those two statistics.
Abortions are more expensive than some of the services Planned Parenthood provides, Richards said.
Black, a nurse for four decades, and Richards disagreed during the hearing over whether abortion constitutes health care.
“It absolutely is part of women’s healthcare, and I think women would agree,” Richards told Black.
Black responded, “I’m a nurse and if you look at medicine, abortion is not healthcare.”
Black’s legislation to defund PPFA appears to have no future in the Senate and definitely none at the White House.
In early August, the Senate fell short in an attempt to pass a similar bill when senators voted 53-46 to bring it to the floor. While a majority of senators favored consideration of the proposal, the attempt to invoke cloture, as it is known, fell short of the 60 votes needed to begin debate on the legislation and establish a path to its passage.
President Barack Obama has made it clear he would veto Black’s proposal if it were to reach his desk.
The House hearing came less than a week after the ERLC sponsored a panel discussion on Capitol Hill about the sanctity of human life in light of the Planned Parenthood videos.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)


Related Stories:

Planned Parenthood by the numbers
ERLC panel: Planned Parenthood videos have helped
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10/1/2015 12:28:58 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Study addresses pastors' views on animal welfare

October 1 2015 by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay Research

Protestant pastors overwhelmingly agree humanity has a God-given duty to care for animals, a new study shows.
They just don’t mention it much from the pulpit.
In a survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors, sponsored by Every Living Thing, a national campaign for the Evangelical Statement on Responsible Care for Animals, LifeWay Research finds a distance between pastors’ beliefs about animal welfare and their church activities.


Two-thirds of pastors never preach about the treatment of animals or haven’t brought it up for more than a year. More than 4 in 5 say their churches aren’t involved in animal welfare issues in the community.
Nevertheless, 89 percent of Protestant pastors say Christians have a responsibility to speak out against animal cruelty.
“The disparity between pastors’ beliefs and church sermons and actions is worth exploring – there’s a noteworthy gap,” said Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research.
Responsible care for animals is rooted in the Bible, 94 percent of Protestant pastors say. Ninety-five percent believe God’s command for humans to steward all living creatures still applies today.
Only 12 percent think God is indifferent to people’s behavior toward animals.
Some pastors are not certain there’s a connection between caring for animals and caring about human beings. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) see a link, but 24 percent disagree.
Tension also emerges around how the church should respond. Eighty-eight percent of pastors say Christians need to work for protection of animals without neglecting vital human concerns, but only 16 percent say their church personally addresses local animal welfare issues.


Nearly 4 in 10 pastors (39 percent) say they have never addressed the treatment of animals in a sermon.
“Pastors have not said their congregations are disrespectful of animals, but there is little advocacy regarding the mistreatment of animals,” McConnell said.

Mainline issues

Mainline Protestant pastors are more involved with animal welfare issues than evangelical pastors, the survey shows.
Mainline pastors (79 percent) are more likely than evangelical pastors (70 percent) to believe the way people treat animals reflects their care for human beings. Accordingly, mainline pastors more often report their local church is involved with animal welfare issues (22 percent) than do evangelical pastors (13 percent).
LifeWay Research also found differences by education level.
Pastors with master’s or doctoral degrees are more likely than those with bachelor’s degrees to believe Christians have a duty to speak out about animal cruelty and to work to protect animals. They are also more likely to agree with the statement: “The way we treat animals is an indicator of our care for other human beings.”
Methodology: The phone survey of Protestant pastors was conducted Sept. 8-21, 2015. The calling list was a stratified random sample drawn from a list of all Protestant churches in America. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister, or priest of the church called. Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.2 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lisa Cannon Green is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine. LifeWay Research, based in Nashville, is an evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect the church.)

10/1/2015 12:22:49 PM by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments

‘Forgotten Storm’ heightened Baptists’ sacrifice

October 1 2015 by Philip Timothy & Brian Blackwell, Louisiana Baptist Message

Entire towns were wiped away in “the Forgotten Storm” 10 years ago. Fishing villages were smashed beyond recognition in an area known for its seafood and recreational fishing. The stench of dead shrimp and fish hung in the air.
Hurricane Rita, the fourth most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, made landfall between Johnson Bayou, La., and Sabine Pass, Texas, as a Category 3 hurricane on Sept. 24, 2005, with 120 mph winds and a 17- to 20-foot storm surge that sent saltwater as far as 10 miles inland.
The hurricane caused 125 deaths, mostly during the evacuation. An estimated 10,000 homes and dwelling sites were destroyed. Roads were impassable, tangled with fallen trees and downed power lines. Cars and trucks floated down flooded streets and the only means of getting around was by boat. Livestock by the hundreds were left stranded. The wind and storm surge was powerful enough to unearth more than 350 graves sending one casket 33 miles inland.


Photo by Tennessee Disaster Relief.
A group of Tennessee Baptist disaster relief volunteers workers gather around a distraught woman in prayer in the days after Hurricane Rita ripped through southwest Louisiana.

Yet the nation’s attention, then and now, was on Hurricane Katrina, which four weeks before Rita made landfall on Aug. 29 across the Mississippi Gulf Coast and greater New Orleans.
In the aftermath of Katrina, some 2,000 newspapers wrote more than a half-million stories about the storm for more than two years. Rita, on the other hand, garnered national headlines for only a few days.
But the people of southwest Louisiana, especially members of Southern Baptist churches and disaster relief teams, didn’t wait for help to show up, though they were exhausted from having spent three weeks helping others in New Orleans and surrounding areas.
“The thing that stands out to me,” said Bert Langley, director of missions for Louisiana’s Evangeline and Gulf Coast Baptist associations when Rita hit, “in spite of the damage many of our churches sustained, they still continued to take in folks.
“They exemplified Christ in the midst, during and after the storm,” Langley said. “It would have been easy for them to say, ‘Look, we’ve got our own problems,’ but they didn’t. They faithfully served all those who had a great need.”
Besides the herculean efforts of local churches, Louisiana Baptist Convention and disaster relief volunteers from other states were in place before other organizations could set up.
“The convention and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) made a great impact on this area and our community,” said Bill Holifield, pastor of First Baptist Church in Vinton at the time and now pastor of Colyell Baptist Church in Livingston. “By Thursday, when FEMA finally started arriving, we had already set up several [Southern Baptist] Disaster Relief teams, the Red Cross and NAMB teams at our church.”
A feeding team and chainsaw crew of Arkansas Baptist volunteers had arrived. Chainsaw teams soon followed from Kansas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, Florida and Alabama along with 75-plus student volunteers from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark.
The parking lot at East Bayou Baptist Church in Lafayette became a disaster relief hub, with a Texas feeding unit producing nearly 15,000 meals a day at the Lafayette Cajundome. First Baptist in Lafayette housed doctors and nurses who treated people sheltered at Cajundome as well as Southern Baptist relief workers. Several other churches in the region hosted command centers.
Louisiana’s 10 Baptist encampments played key roles, particularly Dry Creek Baptist Camp and Acadian Baptist Center. Though damaged by the brunt of Rita’s fury and without electricity, water and sewer, the two camps continued to minister to evacuees.


Baptist Message file photo
First Baptist Church in Cameron, like the rest of the Louisiana town, was severely damaged by Hurricane Rita.

“It was the pinnacle of ministry for us,” said Todd Burnaman, director of Dry Creek. “Rita changed our lives, made us stronger and better. It taught us how to do hurricane ministry.”
Bruce Baker, director of missions for the Carey Baptist Association in southwest Louisiana, recounted, “We had churches from throughout the state and country to help. And we had churches help each other. We saw the best of Christian community through that.”
Prior to the hurricane, Brent Cosio, a member of Old Anacoco Baptist Church in Leesville, reflected, “We sat around, went to Bible study and prayed about reaching out to others many times in our church before Rita. Now, it was time to do it. Our church was focused on something more than just their own personal needs. We were willing to do what Christ commanded.”
“Everybody was touched in some way by Rita,” said Steve James, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles. “Some people only lost a shingle, others their whole house. But through it all, God was good in providing the materials and manpower for us, as a church, to reach out to our own church family and the community. Every day we had teams cleaning up yards, putting down blue tarps, repairing roofs, cutting away downed trees, stacking and hauling away debris and rubbish and feeding people.”
Grand Caillou Baptist Church in Houma served more than 800 people each day as a distribution point in the initial emergency response for much-needed drinking water, emergency food supplies, cleaning materials, Red Cross meal distribution and spiritual support. Then, for the next year, the church housed and coordinated efforts for more 300 volunteers who came to assist in mud-out, cutting down trees, clearing debris from homes and property and various construction projects. Other groups assisted in providing hot meals, sharing Bibles and giving away tracts. Volunteers also went house to house praying for and encouraging people who were engulfed in a sense of overwhelming despair.
“As a result, our church became known in the community as one of the only places people could turn to when the local government agencies failed them, FEMA failed them, and things seemed hopeless,” said Marcell McGee, pastor of the church at the time and now pastor of Mt. Union Baptist Church in Spearsville.
Holifield said 43 people accepted Christ as a result of chainsaw teams and other churches’ ministry in the Vinton area.
Among them: an 88-year-old man whose granddaughter was a member of Crossroads Baptist Church in Vinton. The congregation had been praying for him for many years. As a chainsaw team was removing a tree off his home, they shared Christ with him, and he prayed to receive Christ in his front yard.


Photo courtesy of NAMB
Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers Judy Price (left) of Ocala, Fla., and Sarah Jo Trimble of Pensacola, Fla., set up a sign announcing food services at a feeding site in Lake Charles after Hurricane Rita.

Holifield told of a man who accepted Christ during one of two worship services the chainsaw teams held each day and then led his son to Christ. The two were baptized on Dec. 25, 2005.
“The days in the latter part of September and the following year proved to be very trying ones for the small town of Vinton,” Holifield said, “but by the grace of God that was brought to us by the many volunteers who helped us, Vinton not only survived but today it thrives and is continuing to grow both in population and in spiritual development. The bonds forged in those trying days have proven to be unbreakable and the people have proved to be unstoppable.”
Philip Robertson, president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention at the time, said the state’s Baptists “came together, loved one another and helped one another. It was a time of … doing what God calls us [to do] as the body of Christ.
“… In some ways that coming together has continued on,” said Robertson, pastor of Philadelphia Baptist Church in Deville which hosted primarily Katrina evacuees. “You look at the last 10 years in the Louisiana Baptist Convention and I think we have been moving forward. Those two storms perhaps facilitated it.”
In the predominantly Catholic town of Gueydan where Katrina and Rita evacuees were being sheltered at the civic center, First Baptist Church joined churches of other denominations to provide clothing.
In the months that followed, a vast operation developed. Donations poured into town and there was such an abundance of leftover items that First Baptist opened a clothing ministry in October 2006, long after evacuees had left. The church expanded the ministry in 2013 when a second building was added to accommodate the growing need.
Now, First Baptist’s clothing ministry averages 3,500 items a month in sales, though that number has reached as many 5,000 items some months, with the proceeds used to help pay for utilities for needy families.
Butch Guidry, a Baptist disaster relief leader from Sulphur, La., said the newly formed chainsaw unit of the Carey Baptist Association was only the third in the state when Katrina made landfall.
“Now we have between 45 and 50 units. Katrina and Rita were definitely a benchmark for disaster relief,” Guidry said. “Those two storms led to more, better training for our units. We learned a lot and saw where we could do better.”
More than 5,000 chainsaw work orders were on a waiting list for Baptist volunteers after Rita. “There was just so much damage and devastation,” Guidry said. “We worked on the weekdays and the weekends … virtually every weekend … through Christmas. We would not finally exhaust all the work orders until after Easter seven months after Rita slammed into the Louisiana coast.
“… But to sustain this ministry we need an infusion of new blood because a lot of our members are getting old,” Guidry said. “I tell potential prospects all the time there is nothing greater that they can do but serve. This ministry provides for all levels of society … from the poorest to the wealthiest.
“What would it have been like had we not had these units after Rita, I don’t even want to think about it,” Guidry said.
In Texas, similar disaster relief was afoot after Rita.
First Baptist Church in Vidor had lost electricity like most in the region but nevertheless began taking in those left homeless by the hurricane, along with relief volunteers and Federal Emergency Management Administration officials. In the days immediately following the storm, however, a hot meal was hard to find.
So Bettye Leslie stepped up. Her 12-hour-a-week job as coordinator for First Baptist’s Wednesday evening meals became an 80-hour-a-week endeavor into the following year.
Initially food for the meals came from church members. “We ate pretty good at first,” Wright said of the bounty from the defrosting freezers of the region’s hunters and shrimpers.
Once they quickly consumed that supply, help came from sister churches, including three in Houston. First Baptist provided a generator to power parts of the church; Second Baptist contributed funds to buy groceries; and, from October through Christmas, Sagemont Church sent daily deliveries of “anything we needed.”
As First Baptist became a hub for incoming assistance, it drew those seeking help. One group in particular caught pastor Terry Wright’s attention elderly widows who had dropped their homeowners insurance in order to meet more pressing financial demands and were without the means to make repairs. Without help, the women would remain homeless.
Local believers, through God’s providence, were ready to step in. Prior to Katrina and Rita, the Golden Triangle Baptist Association had been planning a construction ministry named Nehemiah’s Vision to build and repair churches. Those plans were put on hold and the ministry instead deployed teams to the poor, widowed and handicapped whose homes were damaged beyond their means to repair.
The home of Dorothy Howell, a widowed pastor’s wife and First Baptist Sunday School teacher, was the first to be repaired.
“I feel so loved,” the 91-year-old Howell said. “If there was ever anything I needed, my church would be there to help me.”
Wright said the work of Nehemiah’s Vision saw not only homes but lives restored. Some homeowners made professions of faith and others who had fallen away from God and the church returned because of the witness of the 35,000 volunteers who served between 2005-11.
During the six-year span, the nonprofit organization repaired or completely rebuilt 1,200 homes in the wake of Hurricane Rita and also 2008’s Hurricane Ike, which caused similar devastation across southeast Texas. Today, the ministry is officially inactive but can be up and running in a matter of hours should the need arise.
First Baptist’s members “worked on homes of people they never knew. They fed people,” Wright said. “Our people served and they sacrificed.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Philip Timothy is managing editor and Brian Blackwell is a staff writer with the Baptist Message at baptistmessage.com, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Bonnie Pritchett, a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, contributed to this article.)

10/1/2015 12:13:30 PM by Philip Timothy & Brian Blackwell, Louisiana Baptist Message | with 0 comments

His request for money led to life-changing faith

October 1 2015 by Alex Sibley, SWBTS Communications

When Kevin approached a group of missionaries-in-training at a bus stop, all he wanted was a few dollars to pay for gasoline. Seminary student Katherine Waters* agreed to help if Kevin would allow her to share a story with him.
Kevin consented. So Waters proceeded to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The ensuing discussion filled the next hour, with Waters and her teammates explaining the gospel and clarifying the truths of scripture. Having forgotten his original intent, Kevin listened with an open mind, repeatedly saying such things as “That makes sense” and “Oh, now I get it.”
“It was truly beautiful to see his eyes being opened to the truth of the Word,” said Waters, a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
At the end of that first hour, Kevin placed his faith in Christ and, as Waters put it, “it was amazing to see the Holy Spirit instantly start convicting him.”
Kevin began asking questions. Reflecting on all the sins in his life that he would have to give up – including drugs, alcohol and worldly music – Kevin inquired, “So can I still do this? … Can I still do that?”
“You could see his fleshly desires being confronted with the Word and Spirit of the Lord,” Waters recounted.
Kevin then asked what living for God should look like. In response, Waters and her teammates spoke with him for another hour, discipling him regarding how to live as a follower of Christ.
Waters and another team member met with Kevin again the following Sunday to encourage him and disciple him further. They spoke about such matters as church, baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the importance of sharing his faith with others.
“It was a great time of encouragement,” Waters said. “He actually asked us if you were allowed to baptize yourself, because he knew he was supposed to be baptized, and so he had gone home and tried to baptize himself in his kitchen sink! How sweet to see God working in a life that would be so fervent to follow Christ in obedience. … Of course, we told him the point of baptism is to be a public display of one’s faith, so he is going to find a church to baptize him.”
Reflecting on the overall experience, Waters said it was “pretty incredible to see my Savior work in Kevin’s heart. I was so blessed to be able to experience that and glorify God through God’s saving power in Kevin.
“Isn’t our God so good,” she said, “that He chooses to allow us to witness and participate in His incredible work of changing lives?”
*Name changed to protect future mission work.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Alex Sibley writes for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

10/1/2015 12:06:12 PM by Alex Sibley, SWBTS Communications | with 0 comments

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