October 2017

Amid drug crisis, sheriff lets faith guide him

October 24 2017 by Mark Maynard, Kentucky Today

For Bobby Jack Woods, a 37-year veteran lawman, it isn’t easy being the sheriff in drug-ravaged Kentucky, where 1,404 people died from overdoses in 2016.
But his faith in God helps him handle the heart-wrenching plague of drug abuse he encounters on a daily basis.

Photo by Mark Maynard, Kentucky Today
Sheriff Bobby Jack Woods in his Catlettsburg office.

In recent years, more Kentuckians have been dying from drug overdoses than from car crashes. Heartache, grief and brokenness are rampant.
Woods, a member of Unity Baptist Church in Ashland, serves Boyd County, which ranks among the Top 5 in Kentucky in overdose deaths. Paramedics there answered 230 overdose calls between January and September.
In Woods’ jurisdiction alone, first responders have spent $20,000 so far this year on Narcan, the drug administered to reverse heroin and fentanyl overdoses. The drug has been successful in saving nearly 200 lives in Boyd County this year.
“Being a sheriff in Kentucky is a test of faith, and I mean that sincerely,” he said. “You see so much heartache. There are times when you wonder why God lets people suffer or why God lets people do some of the things they do.”
At the end of the day, though, Woods remains thankful that he can lean on his faith as he goes about his duties to protect and to serve amid an opioid crisis that some political leaders have described as “a scourge.”
Heroin and, increasingly, fentanyl – a lethal narcotic even in low doses – are ravaging the state, pushing overdose deaths to unprecedented levels, according to the 2016 Overdose Fatality Report from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.
While nearly every community in Kentucky has been affected, Boyd County has been among those hit the hardest.

A new direction

Woods, the son of a Baptist preacher, grew up in church in Catlettsburg, but he didn’t come to know the Lord until he was 44. In his words, he had been doing “everything I could to be sent to hell.” The change in his life was dramatic.
It was while still a state trooper working on a security detail for former Gov. Paul Patton when he learned that he had a heart blockage. He was petrified about his eternal destination if he didn’t make it.
“I remember being on that table and being scared for maybe the first time in my life,” he said. “I wasn’t ready to die, and I knew it.”
Woods decided it was time for a new direction in his life.
“I said ‘If you get me through this, I’ll do what’s right.’ He did and I have,” Woods said.
Woods said he has never looked back as far as his profession of faith is concerned.
“Every night my prayer is to give me wisdom to make right decisions,” Woods said.
Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Paul Chitwood said Woods has done precisely what Christian men and women need to do – get involved.
“I’m thankful Southern Baptists are willing to step up for such a time as this,” Chitwood said. “We have so many people who are gifted of God to minister amid the pain and brokenness in our state, nation and world. They’re ministering from every angle, including law enforcement and government. It’s reassuring to know Christians like Bobby Jack Woods are standing in the gap.”

Lord, give me grace

Woods, 62, was elected sheriff nearly three years ago, taking over for Terry Keelin, a popular lawman and local high school football hero who decided not to run for re-election.
Overseeing a department with 27 deputies, 11 court security officers and three full-time office workers, Woods had worked every day since taking office in January 2015 until, finally, he and his wife planned a getaway in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
The first morning there, his cellphone began ringing non-stop. Rod Williamson, one of his deputies, had been hospitalized after being struck by a car driven by a fleeing suspect who was later charged with attempted murder.
Lt. Jamie Reihs recalled that Woods made a beeline for home and worked into the early-morning hours to track down the suspect, who was later captured in Virginia.
“I prayed ‘Lord, give me the grace to handle this; they’re looking for me to be strong,’” Woods said.
God answered that prayer for the sheriff who had served 20 years as a Kentucky state trooper, more than six of which were on the governor’s security detail.
Reclaiming the neighborhoods
Now he’s on the front lines of the war against drugs.
“We’ve got to take the neighborhoods back,” Woods said.
The drug epidemic has fueled other crimes, keeping the court dockets and jails full. Woods said he recently arrested a young man who had four burglaries in a single day because “he had to get a couple of days’ supply of heroin.”
The drug problem, Woods said, isn’t limited to the young. Not long ago, a couple, 72 and 73 years old, were found dead of overdoses in an Ashland motel.
“There’s no age limit,” Woods said.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared drug overdose deaths “the top lethal issue” in the nation. Speaking at the annual conference of the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children, Sessions said preliminary data show nearly 60,000 overdose deaths nationally in 2016, the highest number ever.
“Our current drug epidemic is indeed the deadliest in American history,” he said. “We’ve seen nothing like it.”
In Boyd County, Woods’ deputies worked 14 overdoses in one 24-hour span beginning June 30, the result of a powerful strand of heroin brought into the area.
Woods said the drug problem has “reached past an epidemic to biblical plague proportions.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Maynard writes for Kentucky Today, www.kentuckytoday.com, where this article first appeared. Kentucky Today is a news resource of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)

10/24/2017 8:45:53 AM by Mark Maynard, Kentucky Today | with 0 comments

Annie Armstrong offering reaches all-time high

October 23 2017 by Brandon Elrod, NAMB

On Oct. 19, Kevin Ezell announced to the North American Mission Board (NAMB) staff that the 2017 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering totaled an all-time high: $59,648,377. The offering for North American missions beat the previous 2007 high by $185,096.

File photo by Susan Whitley, NAMB
The North American Mission Board (NAMB) celebrated a record-high Annie Armstrong Easter Offering Oct. 19. Kevin Ezell, president of NAMB, welcomed James Roberson to share a portrait of how NAMB missionaries serve. James and his wife Natarsha moved their family from Atlanta to Brooklyn in obedience to God’s call to plant a church. The Robersons have three daughters, Leah, left, Faith and Sophia.

“We are grateful for every dime we get from Southern Baptists,” said Ezell, NAMB president. “We are thankful for churches, pastors and denominational leaders who encourage their people to give to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.”
“We’re primarily concerned about doing the very best we can with every dime that we receive, but any time we hit a new high like this, we want to celebrate.”
NAMB welcomed several missionaries to the meeting, including Trent DeLoach, Send Relief Hub coordinator in Clarkston, Ga., and his wife Elizabeth. Several Atlanta-area church planting missionaries also attended.
After expressing gratitude to the NAMB staff, Ezell told the missionaries in attendance, “You are why we do what we do. What you do is why Southern Baptists give.”

Portrait of a missionary

Ezell also welcomed James Roberson, a church planting missionary in Brooklyn, N.Y. Roberson presented a portrait of how gifts to the Annie Armstrong offering are invested in God’s Kingdom.
“We moved to New York in February 2013 without knowing anything about the city, the trains, the buses or the neighborhoods,” Roberson said. “By April 2014, we launched our church and had 185 people because God allowed us to gather people.”
Three years later, they now have 250 meeting every Sunday.
Roberson mentioned three members of his church – John, who is Haitian, Danny, who is Puerto Rican and Chris, who is Chinese. “They’re all second-generation immigrants,” Roberson said, “and they’re a picture of our church.”
Roberson described his goal of raising up indigenous leaders within every community so that those who speak different languages and are from different cultures and neighborhoods can be ministered to more effectively.
“We don’t want to just move into a building,” Roberson said. “We want to move into a community and see lives changed. All of the guys I mentioned are bilingual. They would be able to reach their first-generation family and community in ways that I could not.”
NAMB seeks to equip visionary and effective missionaries who will rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to reach their communities. Church planting and Send Relief missionaries receive support from the Annie Armstrong offering. And church planting missionaries, like Roberson, and relief missionaries, such as DeLoach, would not be able to work as effectively without the support of the offering.

About the Annie Armstrong offering

In 1895, the Women’s Missionary Union collected the first missions offering to benefit North American missions, then called home missions. Since that year, Southern Baptists have raised more than $1 billion through the offering named in honor of the missions advocate and WMU leader, Annie Armstrong.
The Annie Armstrong offering funds 50 percent of NAMB’s ministry budget. Every dollar of the offering goes directly to the field in support of NAMB missionaries who proclaim the gospel throughout the United States, Canada and other territories.
Every year around Easter, churches collect money for the offering and send those funds to NAMB by way of their state conventions. Individuals can give online at AnnieArmstrong.com or by mailing checks to North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.)

10/23/2017 9:18:10 AM by Brandon Elrod, NAMB | with 0 comments

Capital campaign tops SEBTS fall meeting agenda

October 23 2017 by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS

During their Oct. 15-17 meetings, both trustees and supporters of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) were updated on institutional developments – namely the seminary’s capital campaign being launched in the spring of 2018 to enhance the on-campus experience by adding a welcome center and dining hall.
The campaign is a four-year plan to raise $20.5 million. In addition to these new buildings, plans include renovations for Stealey Hall and the library as well as the addition of a campus center as a primary location for the college.
Trustee members approved the following decisions on Oct. 17:

  • The Capital Campaign, which primarily involves the financing to build a dining hall and welcome center on campus.
  • Sabbatical reports and requests for the following faculty members: David R. Beck, Mark Liederbach, Allan Moseley, Steven P. Wade, Benjamin L. Merkle, George G. Robinson and Chip Hardy.
  • New and revised curriculum to The College at Southeastern, theology and various ministry degrees.
  • New Investment Policy Statement and the asset allocation proposed by CapTrust.
  • Updated Campus Master Plan, which includes the changes involved in the seminary’s capital campaign.
  • Response to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) motion on publishing online contact information for trustees. While the seminary lists trustee members on its website, it does not publish contact information online due to privacy and concerns over technological related misuses. However, any member of a church that cooperates with the SBC can contact the seminary’s Office of the President and receive contact information for trustees. For more details, click here.

Photo courtesy of SEBTS
During their Oct. 15-17 meetings, both trustees and supporters of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary were updated on institutional developments – namely the seminary’s capital campaign being launched in the spring of 2018 to enhance the on-campus experience by adding a welcome center and dining hall.

Three new trustee members were welcomed this fall, including Howard Li, Ryan Martin and Sam Wheat. Li was assigned to the Academic Committee, Martin to the Student Services Committee and Wheat to the Institutional Advancement Committee.
The seminary’s Southeastern Society (SES) members heard from Thomas West, discipleship pastor of Providence Road Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. Preaching from Ephesians 2, West spoke to members about the importance of God’s people remembering where they have come from and how God is planning to use them in the future.
“We will never marvel at who God is until we realize how messed up we are,” West said.
SEBTS President Danny Akin shared his 10-year vision with trustee and SES members, noting his four marks of a Great Commission seminary – consumed with a global focus, certain in its doctrinal conviction, committed to expansive ministerial preparation and characterized by spiritual vibrancy.
The seminary has seen eight consecutive years of growth, Akin reported, and it is setting a goal to see 5,000 students enrolled by 2027.

Remembering the Reformation

During chapel on Tuesday morning, Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School, delivered a lecture as part of the Page Lecture Series on campus, an annual lecture series featuring predominant theologians. George spoke on the Reformation in remembrance of the 500th year anniversary being commemorated this month and noted the turning points that led Martin Luther to the climactic moments in his life.
“I think it’s better not to think of one ... event when it all happened suddenly but rather to think of this as a process in Luther’s own mind as he learned and studied and grew deeper in the Word of God,” George said.
He also spoke on what he called the “hermeneutical shift” that Luther had while writing his commentary on Romans. During this process, George noted that Luther began to read the Bible with a Christocentric focus.
“Jesus Christ becomes the fulcrum around which everything in the Bible revolves,” George said.
Breakout sessions were held for SES members. Jonathan Six, director of financial and alumni development, spoke on the importance of having faithful donors that contribute to the ministry of helping students prepare to minister around the world. He gave examples of people like Luther Rice who supported Adoniram Judson and Lady Huntington who funded George Whitefield’s ministry.
“We believe that a great movement of God can start here and spread around the world because of gospel patrons like yourself,” Six said.
Ryan Hutchinson, executive vice president for operations, also led a breakout session in which he explained the planned constructions of the dining hall and welcome center in greater detail.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lauren Pratt is Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s news and information specialist.)

10/23/2017 9:13:15 AM by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS | with 0 comments

ETCH conference: teach whole Bible

October 23 2017 by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Christian Resources

“Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.” This famous quote by pastor A.W. Tozer served as inspiration behind the theme – “Nothing Less” – of the 2017 ETCH family ministry conference.

Photo by Harrison Hughes, LifeWay
Jana Magruder, right, director of LifeWay Kids, interviews Raechel Myers, left, and Amanda Bible Williams, center, from SheReadsTruth.com at the ETCH 2017 conference.

More than 1,000 ministry leaders gathered Oct. 16-18 in Nashville for the event hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources. ETCH stands for equipping the church and home.
ETCH 2017 offered attendees more than 50 breakout session options, a concert event and worship led by the Stephen Cole Band. Experts on children’s and student ministry, including LifeWay’s Eric Geiger, Jana Magruder, Ben Trueblood and others, spoke during the main conference sessions.

Eric Geiger

“Discipleship isn’t just receiving information or behavior modification; it’s about transformation,” said LifeWay’s Senior Vice President Eric Geiger, who spoke on making disciples of children and students.
Geiger reminded attendees that demons had knowledge about God and the Pharisees had behavior modification, but neither group had Christ ruling their hearts.
“We’re after kids’ hearts not just being formed, but transformed,” he said.
Geiger also said true discipleship can’t happen apart from God’s Word.
“The number one predictor of spiritual growth in kids is them being in the Bible,” he said, citing a new study by LifeWay Research.

Jana Magruder

Photo by Harrison Hughes, LifeWay
Jana Magruder, director of LifeWay Kids, speaks to attendees at the ETCH 2017 conference.

“The church and the Bible rank low on the list of where Americans look for parenting advice,” said Jana Magruder, director of LifeWay Kids.
“And only 29 percent of parents say faith is an important influence on their parenting,” she reported, pointing to the LifeWay Research study. “As a culture, we’re chasing the wrong things.”
The research also shows the frequency of spiritual activities of children in Protestant churchgoing families, Magruder noted. Church-related activities such as Sunday school and Vacation Bible School attendance topped the chart, while personal spiritual activities such as daily scripture reading ranked near the bottom.
Yet regular Bible reading in childhood is by far the number one indicator of spiritual health in young adulthood, said Magruder, author of Nothing Less: Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith.
“There’s no right answer for how to read the Bible with your kids; you just have to find a way to do it that fits your family and style,” Magruder said. “It’s so profound, but so simple.”

Ben Trueblood

Ben Trueblood, director of student ministry at LifeWay, recounted Moses’ final words to the Israelites in which he pleaded with them to choose life by clinging to God’s Word.
“The Israelites were to follow the whole counsel of God they had in that moment,” Trueblood said. “If we’re to make disciples of children and teenagers, we have to give them the whole counsel of God – not just passages that are easy.”
God’s Word, Trueblood said, is the most important thing children can take with them from church ministries.
“When children leave with only a handful of stories and not the whole counsel of God, they leave with a crippled faith,” Trueblood warned.
“Their faith is stunted by the books of the Bible we leave closed.
“We must give them the only thing that will grow their faith. It’s not our funny anecdotes; it’s God’s Word in its entirety.”

Eric Mason

Eric Mason, pastor at Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, Pa., called for stamina in ministering to children and students.
One way to endure is to avoid making comparisons with other ministries, Mason said.
“Be very careful of being jealous of what someone else is able to do,” he warned. “Be satisfied with where God has placed you.”
Mason concluded the conference with the call, “Don’t give up. Keep plowing, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and let nothing get in the way of your commitment to seeing Christ formed in children and youth.”
Other speakers from the ETCH conference included Joshua Straub, LifeWay’s marriage and family strategist; Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; author Rebekah Lyons; and Raechel Myers and Amanda Bible Williams from SheReadsTruth.com.
The next ETCH conference is scheduled for Oct. 17-19, 2018, in Nashville. For more information, visit EtchConference.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Wilson is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.)

10/23/2017 9:12:58 AM by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Send Relief ‘pastor packs,’ SBDR help Puerto Rico

October 23 2017 by Brandon Elrod, NAMB

When people started showing up seeking food and water after Hurricane Maria, pastor Johnny Baez knew he couldn’t just sit back and do nothing.

Photo courtesy of Sam Porter
Jack Noble, from left to right, the on-site disaster relief coordinator in Puerto Rico, Luiz Zapata, pastor Henry Ajo, Freddie Abdul, and Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s national director for disaster relief, oversee the delivery of 50 pallets of supplies that arrived in Puerto Rico on Oct. 8.

“People around my church started asking me for water to drink and food to eat,” said Baez, who serves at Iglesia Bautista Familia Santurce (Baptist Church of the Family Santurce) in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “So, I asked pastor friends for a [water] filter, and they let me use one. I asked another pastor for a gas stove and another pastor for a gas tank. Now we are cooking Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.”
Soon they started averaging between 110 and 115 people per meal.
“Somebody asked me, ‘Pastor, why’d you do that? How’d you do it?’” Baez said. “I did it because the need is there. The people are waiting for something, and the church has to respond because that’s the church.” See more on Pastor Baez’s story here.
While God provided for the needs in Baez’s area by bringing together the tools and food necessary to start feeding the community, many pastors had the same heart and desired to do the same for their communities, but the resources were harder to come by.
On Oct. 8, an MD-80 aircraft was loaded with 50 pallets of Send Relief supplies – enough to make 45 “pastor packs.” Each pack includes a generator, a Coleman stove, a propane tank, a water purification system, a chainsaw and several other items designed to facilitate clean-up and recovery efforts.
Another 45 pastor packs were scheduled to arrive by air on Oct. 22. Six containers of supplies were expected to arrive by sea as well.
Once the pastor packs are distributed throughout the island, Puerto Rican churches will have more tools to serve and share the gospel in their communities.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) and Send Relief have also been coordinating to send volunteers to Puerto Rico. SBDR sent 80 trained volunteers who served last week and this week, and Send Relief is accepting trained and untrained volunteer registrations at sendrelief.net through Dec. 1 with expectations to extend through Dec. 31.
“Churches and individuals have the opportunity to come alongside pastors like Johnny Baez,” David Melber, president of Send Relief, said. “Southern Baptists can come alongside churches in Puerto Rico to help them reach their communities with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and see their area changed in the aftermath of a terrible disaster.”
Kenton Hunt, disaster relief director for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey, served across the island with other SBDR volunteers from around the United States. They cleared debris and cleaned out flood-damaged homes.
“Take the same passion that you have for reaching people at home, and bring it with you here,” Hunt said to encourage SBDR volunteers who respond. “It’s going to be an opportunity to spread the gospel, to minister to people in Jesus’ name. There’s so much need here that’s been identified.”

Relief responses in California, Texas and Florida

Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) national director for disaster relief, landed in California on Oct. 18 along with Eddie Blackmon, NAMB’s disaster response coordinator. Together, they visited Mike Bivins, the volunteer mobilization specialist in the California Southern Baptist Convention, to encourage and strengthen SBDR volunteers who will respond to wildfires.
Work continues in Florida and Texas as SBDR and Send Relief teams provide help and hope in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Mud-out operations are moving forward in southeast Texas as teams start to move into long-term recovery mode.
For more information on how you can help, visit sendrelief.net or contact the North Carolina Baptist disaster relief ministry, Baptists on Mission (baptistsonmission.org).
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.)

10/23/2017 9:07:57 AM by Brandon Elrod, NAMB | with 0 comments

Kidnapped Chinese Christian lawyer details persecution

October 23 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A kidnapped Chinese Christian attorney held in Beijing chronicles China’s religious persecution in a book smuggled from the country and published in the U.S., even as Chinese President Xi Jinping pledges to control religion there.

Renowned attorney Gao Zhisheng’s book Unwavering Convictions was released just two days before Xi delivered an hours-long speech encouraging, the Washington Post reported, the purest Marxist communism and religion that is “Chinese in orientation” and guided by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The China Aid religious freedom organization said in an Oct. 17 press release that Gao’s book chronicles, among other ills, the CCP’s consistent religious persecution in 2016; the party’s suppression of political rights, speech, information and ideas; its abuse of labor rights; a governmental lack of respect that enables sex trafficking of women, seniors and children; and Gao’s personal abuse by the CCP.
Bob Fu, China Aid founder and president, said in the press release Gao’s report “further validates the findings of the international community, which indicate that the overall situation on human rights, rule of law and religious freedom in China has reached its worst point since the end of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution.”
Gao was kidnapped in August from his home in Shaanxi, China Aid said, and is being held at an undisclosed location in Beijing. He was captured during the same period the CCP rounded up and detained at least 14 activists in advance of the CCP’s 19th Congress meeting through Oct. 25 in Beijing, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) reported. The CCP placed others under house arrest and comparable restrictions, the CHRD said in its latest China Human Rights Briefing released Oct. 17.
In a speech lasting three-and-a-half hours on the opening day of the 19th Congress, Xi promoted total control of China’s religion, morals, culture, economy and the internet, the Washington Post reported Oct. 18.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler lamented Xi’s exhortation, noting China’s religious persecution already is severe.
“The indoctrination of just about every level of Chinese society by the repressive power of the Communist Party has been reasserted. ... We have seen this developing over time,” Mohler said in his Oct. 19 Briefing podcast. “But what happened yesterday in that three-and-a-half-hour speech and in the successive days of the Chinese Communist Party Congress is the announcement by the Congress that it is even going to take control of religion. And by that it means it’s a doctrinaire Marxism that has to be the religion of the land.”
The CCP has persecuted Gao, a two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, since 2005 stemming from his advocacy for human rights including religious freedom. He penned Unwavering Convictions in secret in 2016, China Aid said.
According to its press release, China Aid smuggled Gao’s book to the U.S., translated it into English and published it in cooperation with the Human Rights Foundation and Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
“Gao Zhisheng vanished again and has been under the authorities’ watch for more than two months,” Fu said. “The Chinese government should give a full account for what is happening to him and disclose his whereabouts without delay. We urge President [Donald] Trump to speak to Chinese leaders about this deteriorating human rights situation and raise the case of Gao and other prisoners of conscience when he visits China in early November.”
Among other Christians persecuted or suppressed in advance of the CCP congress is missionary and pastor Yan Xiaojie, who was released from prison in early 2016, China Aid said.
“Wenzhou authorities keep harassing me, asking me to report to the police station every day and coming to my home daily,” China Aid quoted Yao as reporting in a letter. “They seriously disturb my family’s life – especially that of my two elderly [parents] – my life and my work.”
Yan voiced opposition in 2015 during a government-led campaign to destroy crosses in Zhejiang province, China Aid said, and the Wenzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau placed him in administrative custody.
“In the end, I don’t know why [they harass me]?” Yan said in his letter, China Aid said Oct. 20. “[In 2015], they captured me for no reason, and I was shut for half a year in a small, black room. Inside, I was constantly hurt and attacked.
“I have not exposed them to the world, because they do not allow me to tell about the things that happened inside the prison. I have not yet started to protest and complain,” Yan wrote. “Do we Chinese people have human rights at all?”
According to the CHRB, most of the 14 people they reported as detained in advance of the CCP Congress were charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a charge used by police as a pretext for incarcerating government critics.
China is ranked 39th on the 2017 World Watch List of Christian persecution released by religious freedom advocates Open Doors USA.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

10/23/2017 8:44:36 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

ESL co-leaders use their diversity to change lives

October 20 2017 by Margaret Colson, California Southern Baptist

When Maria immigrated to California from Mexico, she knew she needed to learn English. What she didn’t know was that, in doing so, she would also come to know Jesus Christ.
Arbor Christian Fellowship in Lake Forest, Calif., has offered an ESL – English as a Second Language – school to Spanish speakers for many years. Today it is led by Sue Thompson and Rosie Montoya and supported by a team of volunteers.
Maria became a student and quickly became a friend to Thompson and Montoya. Looking for a job, Maria applied for an open position in the church nursery. As Montoya helped her new friend with the job application, Maria read the question, “How long have you been a Christian?” and turned to Montoya, saying, “I don’t understand.”
The plan of salvation was shared, and Maria “accepted the Lord right there on the spot,” Montoya recounted.
“She has become a faithful, faithful person,” getting involved in the church’s English-speaking congregation and also teaching a Spanish Sunday School class, Montoya said. “She became a good friend and sister in the Lord.”

Photo by Terry Barone
Rosie Montoya (left), who was born in Mexico, and Sue Thompson, who couldn’t speak Spanish, found a calling as co-leaders of their church’s English as a Second Language school.

Such stories of lives changed for eternity fuel Thompson’s and Montoya’s passion for the ministry that unexpectedly became part of their lives about 15 years ago.
The program director at the time was moving and searching for someone to take her place. She approached Thompson, who agreed to think and pray about the opportunity but also felt some uncertainty – she didn’t speak Spanish and wasn’t sure she would understand the people she would be working with.
“It wasn’t anything I had thought about doing, but I felt called,” Thompson said.
Just a couple of weeks after she said yes to the ESL opportunity, she asked her friend, Montoya, who was born in Mexico, to serve as co-leader.
“God is certainly working in our church’s ESL program,” Montoya said. “If you see God working, jump in and join Him!”
She “jumped in” with her friend, and the two haven’t looked back.
“It’s such a wonderful ministry. This is where the Lord led us to serve and work,” Montoya said.
Ministries such as ESL are undergirded by the California Mission Offering. The 2017 theme, “It Begins with YOU,” resonates with the two women.
“If all of us would take one little area to work for God’s Kingdom, it would be a completely different world,” Montoya declared.
Each individual Christian should respond when called by God to a particular ministry and not wait for others, she added.
“It has to begin somewhere.”
Today the ESL school offers six classes using four books, from basic to accelerated to conversational English, with students attending two evenings a week. One night each week, a Hispanic pastor shares a “sermonette.” Many students ask for prayer, and Scripture memorization is encouraged.
“We are creative in teaching them to know Jesus,” Thompson said. The school conducts Thanksgiving outreach in the community and hosts a Christmas party.
Thompson and Montoya try to be flexible with the classes, meeting students at their point of need. Students often express challenges in their workplace, for example, because of their limited English. One, a restaurant worker, asked how to say the names of vegetables for risk of being fired. Another, a construction worker, asked how to ask to go to the bathroom – his boss wouldn’t let him go unless he asked in English.
“It’s a harsh life” for the immigrants, Thompson said.
The students “become a part of your life; they are friends,” she added. “They are so appreciative of anything you do for them.”
Over the years, the women’s steps may have slowed but their enthusiasm for serving where they believe God called them hasn’t dimmed.
“I pray to the Lord to keep me going and keep me there,” Montoya said.
The blessings from the ESL ministry are triple any she might offer others, Montoya said, reflecting on what she may have missed had she not said yes to God’s call 15 years ago.
“I am a happy person.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Margaret Colson is a writer in Atlanta. This article first appeared in the California Southern Baptist, newsjournal of the California Southern Baptist Convention.)
10/20/2017 10:43:14 AM by Margaret Colson, California Southern Baptist | with 0 comments

Ten Commandments monument case declined by SCOTUS

October 20 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined an opportunity to revisit whether the display of religion-related monuments on government property is against the law.
The court declined without explanation Oct. 16 to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling against a Ten Commandments monument outside the Bloomfield, N.M., City Hall. In lower courts, two Wiccans represented by the American Civil Liberties Union successfully challenged the five-foot monument, complaining that it constitutes the government’s establishment of religion.
The last time the Supreme Court ruled on a similar case, in 2005, justices said in a 5-4 decision that a granite monument on the lawn of the Texas state capitol in Austin was constitutional, Baptist Press reported in December 2005. That same year the high court ruled 5-4 that the posting of the Ten Commandments inside Kentucky courthouses in McCreary and Pulaski counties was unconstitutional.
The Bloomfield monument had stood since 2011 in a city beautification program that allows private citizens to fund and erect historical monuments on a designated portion of the City Hall lawn, Bloomfield attorneys Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) said at adflegal.org. Monuments honoring the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address and the Bill of Rights are also displayed on the City Hall lawn, including names of donors who funded the displays, ADF said.

Facebook photo
This Ten Commandments monument in a display of U.S. history on the lawn of the Bloomfield, N.M. City Hall will have to be removed. The U.S. Supreme Court declined Oct. 16 to hear the city’s appeal of a lower court ruling ordering its removal.

Religion was not a consideration in choosing to display any of the monuments, Bloomfield City Manager Eric Strahl told Baptist Press Oct. 17.
“The monuments went there originally because they were of a historical significance,” Strahl said. “And since Christianity did play such a big part in the formation and the development of the country, one of the monuments was the Ten Commandments.
“It was a determination, based on the formation of the country and the city, to place the Ten Commandments there,” Strahl said, “and as far as the city is concerned, it wasn’t a religious issue.”
The Bloomfield City Council will discuss what to do with the monument in executive session during its regularly scheduled meeting Oct. 23, Strahl told BP.
“I’m not sure what decision the City Council will ultimately make,” he said, “but I think they’ll be looking at relocating it to a piece of private property, [which] is one option.” The city will likely coordinate with the community group that funded the monument in deciding where to place it, he said, and may also decide whether to relocate all of the monuments to the same location.
The Supreme Court’s 2005 decision regarding Texas made it clear that stone monuments such as the one in Bloomfield are constitutional, the ADF said. Rather, several subsequent and contrary lower court rulings have created confusion by “erroneously ... giving standing for so-called offended observers – plaintiffs who allege no more than ‘being exposed to a state symbol that offends his belief,’“ the ADF said, quoting Bloomfield’s appeal in the case.
Hopefully, the court will take advantage of future opportunities to clarify the law and discourage improper interpretations, ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman said in an Oct. 16 press release.
“Americans shouldn’t be forced to censor religion’s role in history simply to appease someone who is offended by it or who has a political agenda to remove all traces of religion from the public square,” Cortman said. “In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court had the opportunity to affirm, as it recently did, that ‘an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront from the expression of contrary religious views.’ We hope the court will take advantage of a future case to resolve the confusion that reigns in the lower courts on this issue.”
In August, 23 states, 24 members of Congress and various legal experts, religious groups, and others filed briefs supporting Bloomfield and encouraging the high court to hear the case, Bloomfield v. Felix, the ADF said in its release.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
10/20/2017 10:35:09 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Colo. Baptists seek revival, anticipate building sale

October 20 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A focus on revival and an announcement the Colorado Baptist General Convention will sell its Denver-area office building were among highlights of the convention’s Oct. 9-10 annual meeting at Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church in Aurora, Colo.
Colorado Baptists also increased the percentage of Cooperative Program receipts they will forward to Southern Baptist Convention causes and celebrated their first annual meeting with Nathan Lorick as CBGC executive director.
“We experienced a heightened sense of joy and expectancy upon the arrival of our new state executive, Dr. Nathan Lorick,” said outgoing CBGC President Mike Routt. “We believe God has sent him to us ‘for such a time as this.’
“Colorado Baptists were so excited with the challenge Dr. Lorick presented on Tuesday night, and flooded the altar after his address to join him in prayer for God to revive His people called Colorado Baptists, initiating a spiritual awakening that would sweep across our nation,” said Routt, pastor of Circle Drive Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, Colo.
In July, Lorick, a former evangelism leader with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, succeeded retiring Colorado executive director Mark Edlund.
Routt, whose two-year tenure as president focused on spiritual awakening, presented a series of theme interpretations and led the 144 messengers from 72 churches in multiple seasons of prayer. The meeting’s theme of “reaching people” included emphases on personal evangelism, servant evangelism and church planting/replanting.

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Messengers kneel during a season of prayer at the Colorado Baptist General Convention annual meeting Oct. 9-10.

The convention’s executive board announced its unanimous vote in September to sell the CBGC office building in Englewood, Colo., and relocate to a smaller facility. The move will allow more CP dollars to be used for missions and ministry rather than building expenses, Lorick told Baptist Press, adding the convention is “in the beginning stages” of the relocation process.
A budget of $3,416,237 adopted for 2018 marks a decrease of less than .2 percent from 2017 and includes $1,989,237 in anticipated CP receipts from churches, $1,375,000 from the North American Mission Board and $60,000 from LifeWay Christian Resources.
The Colorado convention will forward 32.97 percent of CP receipts to SBC missions and ministries, an increase of .5 percentage points from this year. The budget does not include any shared ministry expenses with the SBC.
Officers elected included: president, Calvin Wittman, pastor of Applewood Baptist Church in Wheat Ridge, Colo.; first vice president, James Moreland, pastor of Denver Christian Bible Church in Denver; second vice president Rolland Kenneson, pastor of Rosemont Baptist Church in Montrose, Colo.; and recording secretary, Jan Loser, a CBGC ministry assistant.
Among the meeting’s speakers were former SBC President Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, and Todd Unzicker, pastor of missions at The Summit Church in Raleigh/Durham, N.C.
“God’s presence was evident at our annual meeting of Colorado Baptists,” Lorick said. “The preaching was powerful, the worship was incredible and the spirit was phenomenal. God’s people came together to celebrate all that God is doing through our family of churches. These are great days to be a Colorado Baptist.”
The 2018 annual meeting is set for Oct. 15-16 at First Baptist Church of Black Forest in Colorado Springs, Colo.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. Colorado Baptist General Convention staff contributed to this story.)
10/20/2017 10:19:47 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Prayer, new partnerships highlight Montana conv.

October 20 2017 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

Six church plants and a new three-year partnership with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention were among highlights of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting.
The convention, known in-state as Refresh Montana, held its Oct. 5-6 sessions at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Billings, where Paul Jones has been pastor for 28 years.
“Ministry in Montana is challenging on many levels,” Executive Director Barrett Duke told the 203 attendees, which included 89 messengers from 52 of the state convention’s 135 churches. “But you have proven that through dedication, hard work and God’s leadership, great things are possible.”


Doug Hutcheson, retiring this year as church strategies team leader, was given a fly rod handmade by Greg Payton, pastor of the Rock Church in Laurel, Mont., and a pair of chest-high waders with boots attached.

This year’s annual meeting focused on spiritual refreshing, with Duke noting to Baptist Press, “We kept business at a minimum and focused on worship, equipping, encouragement and fellowship. I believe everyone who attended left spiritually refreshed and better equipped to lead their churches to impact their communities for Christ.”
Prayer permeated the two-day gathering that also encompassed fellowship, preaching and reports as well as special recognition of Doug Hutcheson, retiring this year as the convention’s church strategies team leader. He was given a fly rod handmade by Greg Payton, pastor of the Rock Church in Laurel, and a pair of chest-high waders with boots attached.
Business was handled in just one of the four sessions. Elected as new officers by acclamation were Lee Merck, pastor of Church of the Rockies in Red Lodge, president, and Chad Scarborough, pastor of First Baptist Church in Shelby, vice president.
The 2018 budget was approved: $1,303,766, a reduction from the $1,380,567 budget for the current year, reflecting a $90,000 decrease from the North American Mission Board, though NAMB will supply $100,000 toward the budget, $400,000 for church planting, $40,000 for church planter development, $15,000 for church planting evangelism and $85,000 for existing church evangelism.
The Montana budget includes nearly $587,766 from Montana churches, along with $60,000 from LifeWay Christian Resources and $16,000 in interest income.
Montana Baptists maintained for the fourth year the 25 percent of receipts going to national and international SBC causes, for a total of $146,942 for the 2018 budget year.
“CP giving remains strong,” Duke told messengers. “I’m grateful for the trust our churches are showing through their support for our state and national cooperative work.
“Our September CP giving was outstanding,” Duke added. “We are now about $20,000 ahead of the same time last year in CP giving.”

New partnerships

No old or new business was discussed and no resolutions were made by MTSBC messengers. Open Door Baptist Church in Thompson Falls, where Jim Hantz is pastor, was welcomed into the state convention.


Montana Baptist Convention officers are (left to right) Chad Scarborough, newly elected vice president, First Baptist Church, Shelby; Darren Hales, current president, Big Sky Fellowship, Helena; Lee Merck, newly elected president, Church of the Rockies, Red Lodge

In his executive director’s report, Duke announced the implementation of a three-year partnership with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and introduced Barry Calhoun, SBTC’s mobilization director. Both men spoke of the similar frontier spirit of people in both state conventions.
Duke also announced a new partnership with New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and introduced Mark Tolbert, professor of preaching and pastoral ministry and director of the Caskey Center for Church Excellence at NOBTS. Tolbert said because of the an anonymous donor’s generosity, five pastors of small churches in Montana would each receive an annual $5,000 scholarship for tuition and books that they could use for online study so they wouldn’t have to leave the state to get their theological education.
Six new churches were launched so far this year, reported William Johnson, leader of MTSBC’s church starting team. They are in Gallatin Gateway, Helena, Missoula, Thompson Falls, Bridger and Billings. Two more are anticipated soon, in Livingston and in Columbia Falls.
Montana’s disaster relief teams have had an extremely busy year, reported Dan Stewart, the convention’s disaster relief coordinator. Montana’s shower and laundry unit went to Louisiana last fall to help with flood relief and “stayed on mission for almost three months,” Stewart reported. That unit also served on five separate assignments this summer in Montana, helping with the 45 major fires in the state.
Montana’s mud-out and recovery trailer was deployed for more than 18 weeks this year in the state and is being readied for deployment to Texas, where “there are 100,000 homes in need of mud-out,” Stewart told messengers.
Yellowstone Christian College President Bruce Cannon, in a report to messengers, spoke of nearly being to the finish line of the accreditation process. It has cost about $200,000, Cannon reported, but the final paperwork is to be submitted by November and a decision made in February 2018.
The college anticipates by the end of the year being able to offer four professional degree programs in addition to its two Christian ministry degrees – psychology and sports management – as well as business and exercise science, Cannon said. The college now has just under 100 students, Cannon told Baptist Press.
The Friday morning session included a time of corporate prayer that lasted more than an hour.
“We prayed for 10 different areas of need,” Duke told Baptist Press. “Prayer for each need was opened with a prayer by a different pastor in the state convention, except the prayer for missions, which was opened by Paula Rasmussen, Montana’s women’s director. After each opening prayer, everyone prayed silently for a few minutes for that need.
“It was a powerful time in the Lord,” Duke said about the prayer time that can be viewed online at http://montana.e-quip.net/presentations/4182. “One person present took the model back to her church and organized a similar prayer time,” Duke told BP.
Featured speakers during the meeting included Darren Hales, the convention’s outgoing president and pastor of Big Sky Fellowship in Helena; Stephen Rummage, pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., who also led a preaching workshop; Steve Bass, NAMB’s vice president for convention relations in the western U.S.; Ashley Clayton, SBC Executive Committee vice president for the Cooperative Program and stewardship.
The 2018 annual meeting of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention is set for Oct. 4-5, but the location is not yet set.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.)
10/20/2017 10:01:57 AM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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