September 2010

Army chaplain first to die in combat since ’Nam

September 2 2010 by Julie Sullivan, The Oregonian/Religion News Service

A Baptist minister from Oregon who was killed in Afghanistan Aug. 30 is the first Army chaplain to die in combat since Vietnam, according to the Army.

Capt. Dale Allen Goetz, 43, died in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan’s Arghandab River Valley. He had been in Afghanistan less than a month. Four other Fort Carson, Colo., soldiers were also killed in the attack.

Goetz is the 124th service member with strong ties to Oregon to die in Afghanistan or Iraq. But as a chaplain, he was a noncombatant and unarmed.

The more than 400 Army chaplains in Iraq or Afghanistan are military officers. Their job is to reach soldiers on the battlefield, to provide religious support and to perform services or rites, said Lt. Col. Carleton Birch, a spokesman for the Army Chief of Chaplains.

An armed chaplain’s assistant travels with each. The first assistant to die in the wars was killed in Afghanistan last month, Birch said.     

Goetz attended Maranatha Baptist Bible College in Watertown, Wis. He completed his master of divinity degree at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA. He was pastor of a church in White, S.D., until he joined the Army and began his work toward chaplaincy in 2000.

He served with the infantry at Fort Lewis, Wash., then three years in Okinawa, Japan, until he was transferred to Colorado in January. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, based at Fort Carson. He served 11 months in Iraq in 2004-05.

Survivors include his wife and three children ages 10, 8 and 1. Funeral services are planned in Colorado Springs, Colo., with burial at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver.
9/2/2010 11:29:00 AM by Julie Sullivan, The Oregonian/Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Former Muslim: Don’t lose sight of what really matters

September 2 2010 by Stephanie Smith

CHICAGO, IL — The proposed mosque near Ground Zero has stirred up a lot of hostility toward Muslims. But a former Muslim who now pastors a thriving church in the Caribbean has a message for Christians who are up in arms over the growing public presence of Islam — don’t lose sight of what really matters. 

“Increasingly, God seems pleased to bring the Muslim world right to our doorsteps. The work of cross-cultural evangelism and missions has never been more accessible,” says Thabiti Anyabwile, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Grand Cayman Islands and author of The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ With Confidence. Anyabwile explains that “the Gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed triumphing in the hearts, minds and lives of countless men and women from various Muslim backgrounds ... I know, because I am one such person.”

The author converted to Islam during his college years while studying the history of Africans and African Americans. “I grew angry toward white people in general. I became zealous for Islam, ‘the perfect religion for the African American’,” he remembers. Ironically, it was during Ramadan that “a steady awareness settled over me that Islam was not true.”

He recalls, “As a Muslim, I had devoured as much of the Quran as I could. The Quran plainly taught that Jesus was born of a virgin with no earthly father (Sura 3:42-50). The Quran plainly taught that the Gospels were books revealed by Allah (Sura 4:163-165; 5:46-48; and 6:91-92).

And in many passages, the Quran — written approximately 600 years after Christ and the apostles — expressed such confidence in these sections of the Bible that it called people to judge the truth using the Bible (Sura 3:93-94; 5:47; and 10:94). So, for me, any consistent and intellectually honest Muslim had to come to grips with the teaching of the Bible.”

Christians don’t have to spend a lot of time attacking the Quran, Anyabwile says. Instead, our focus should be on “helping our Muslim friends understand why they should humbly accept the Bible as revelation from God and therefore believe its message. In God’s marvelous kindness to Muslims and to Christians doing the work of evangelism, the Quran itself states ample enough reason for the Muslim to accept the Bible.”

Still, Anyabwile reminds believers to temper their confidence with humility when engaging Muslims on biblical truths.

“Typically, if we’re thinking about winning or losing debates with our Muslim neighbors, we’ve lost sight of what really matters,” he concludes. “Sometimes we have to draw sharp lines in order to be understood. But even when we draw lines, we should do so with love because we’re representing a loving God whom we wish to make known.”
9/2/2010 11:27:00 AM by Stephanie Smith | with 2 comments

UPDATE: Pastor facing deportation granted bail

September 1 2010 by Associated Baptist Press

WINSTON-SALEM — A Hispanic North Carolina pastor who had been arrested prior to deportation proceedings was granted bail at a hearing Sept. 2. That means he will be free until his trial to determine if he can stay in the United States.

Hector Villanueva, pastor of a Spanish-speaking church in Siler City, was arrested Aug. 19 by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and taken to Gainesville, Ga., to be held, although he is a legal resident of the U.S.

Deportation proceedings against him are the consequence of a 15-year-old crime he committed before accepting Christ.

Villanueva, 40, has lived in the United States since he was 3. He is a legal resident with a green card and Social Security card. He and his wife, Martha, a U.S. citizen, have four children and are in the process of adopting two foster children.

Martha Villanueva told an Associated Baptist Press reporter Sept. 1 that her husband has a North Carolina attorney who specializes in immigration, Jorgelina Araneda, advocating for him. She said she was en route to Atlanta for the hearing, hoping that her husband can get out on bond so they can contest his deportation.

“I just know that my husband has not done anything illegal anytime recently,” she said. “This is a very old case that they brought up and I know that he’s a different person than he was then; he’s changed and I just — I just don’t know what else to say. I just want him home; he’s needed here.”

Martha Villanueva told the Raleigh News & Observer a lawyer alerted her husband several months ago that his green card might be in jeopardy because of a “commercial burglary” conviction in the mid-1990s.

He was homeless at the time and apparently tried to cash a check that wasn’t his. He became a practicing Christian while in jail and dedicated his life to the ministry. Martha Villanueva admitted that in his former life her husband did some things of which he is not proud.

After moving from California four years ago, Villanueva helped North Carolina CBF Hispanic Leader Coach Javier Benitez start Iglesia Bautista la Roca in Raleigh, one of a dozen congregations that form the state organization’s Hispanic Network. He recently started a new church in Siler City.

His conviction surfaced in a background check after he applied for U.S. citizenship.

Under current immigration law, any non-citizen convicted of an “aggravated felony” faces deportation, whether or not they have served their sentence.  
9/1/2010 10:39:00 AM by Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

NAMB trustees to consider Kevin Ezell Sept. 14

September 1 2010 by compiled wire reports

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — A special meeting of the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) trustees has been called for Sept. 14 to consider the nomination of Louisville pastor Kevin Ezell as next NAMB president.

While a NAMB news release Aug. 31 announcing the special meeting did not name Ezell, search committee chairman Ted Traylor told the Florida Baptist Witness the nominee was Ezell, pastor of Highview Baptist Church and immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference.

In the first of two email letters from NAMB board chair Tim Dowdy to trustees and NAMB staff, Traylor said, “I am delighted to report to you that our search team has found God’s man to be nominated as the next president of NAMB. Our team has prayerfully considered several impressive candidates.”

BP file photo

Kevin Ezell

In the letter Dowdy said he would release details on the candidate to NAMB’s entire trustee board in a few days. That timetable accelerated when word began to leak that Ezell was the nominee. Dowdy sent a second letter to trustees with the information and Traylor gave the Witness a copy.

Dowdy told trustees in his letter that Ezell, 48, is a “gifted preacher and teacher and a faithful ambassador of the Lord with a passion for reaching the lost and touching the world for Jesus Christ. His own family embodies this commitment as Kevin and his wife of almost 25 years, Lynette, have three natural children and three adopted children from three different countries: Ethiopia, China, and the Philippines.”

Ezell has led his current church to grow to 6,000 members, meeting on seven campuses. Dowdy said the church’s investment in missions through “Southern Baptist causes” reached $1.2 million in 2009.

Ezell has held previous pastorates in Illinois, Tennessee and Texas, all of which experienced significant growth, according to Dowdy as quoted in the Florida Baptist Witness.

Traylor, senior pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, called Ezell “a warm, personable leader who can make difficult choices in leading an organization to be laser-focused on the mission at hand.”

Ezell’s nomination drew praise from current SBC President Bryant Wright, who received the news “with great joy and excitement.”

Wright urged prayer for Ezell “as God prepares him for this new calling of key leadership for Southern Baptists as we seek to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission.”

Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest and David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., also were quoted in the letter as references who supported Ezell’s nomination.

“This is a great day for NAMB. It is a great day for the SBC,” said Akin, who was a member of Highview for almost eight years of Ezell’s tenure as pastor.

Dowdy told fellow trustees more information about Ezell will be provided before the Sept. 14 meeting.

The Florida Baptist Witness reported that Ezell is a native of Paducah, Ky., and was born in Germany during his father’s service in the U.S. Air Force. Ezell has served on the board of trustees of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., including as its chairman, and currently serves on the Advisory Board of Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as Union’s Board of Reference.

He earned a bachelor of science degree from Union University, a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctor of ministry degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The NAMB presidency was vacated in August 2009 when former president Geoff Hammond resigned under pressure from trustees.

Richard Harris, a NAMB executive with 30 years of experience with the agency and its predecessor entity, the Home Mission Board, has served as acting and interim president since Hammond’s resignation.

In addition to Traylor, members of the search committee are Doug Dieterly, executive pastor, Plymouth Baptist Church, Plymouth, Ind.; Larry Gipson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Oneonta, Ala.; Chuck Herring, pastor of Collierville First Baptist Church in Collierville, Tenn.; Lisa Knutsen, a member of Green Valley Baptist Church in Henderson, Nev.; Ryan Palmer, pastor, Seventh Metro Church, Baltimore, Md.; and Tim Patterson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church, Jacksonville, and immediate past NAMB trustee chairman. As chairman of NAMB’s trustee board, Tim Dowdy, serves as an ex officio member of the search committee.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Story compiled from the Florida Baptist Witness, staff reporting and a NAMB news release.)
9/1/2010 9:00:00 AM by compiled wire reports | with 9 comments

NCBM prepared to respond to Hurricane Earl

September 1 2010 by BSC Communications

North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM) are prepared for the possibility of responding to a storm threatening the North Carolina East Coast.

The National Hurricane Center reports that Hurricane Earl, now a Category 3 storm, is expected to approach the coast by Friday morning. Maximum sustained winds are about 125 mph.

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for Ocracoke Island and Cape Lookout National Seashore. Dare County Emergency Management officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for all visitors to Hatteras Island.

Gaylon Moss, NCBM Consultant for Disaster Relief and Volunteerism, said the necessary disaster relief equipment is ready and volunteers are ready to be dispatched.

Moss has also contacted churches along the East Coast and NCBM partners who are prepared to help.

9/1/2010 7:44:00 AM by BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Katrina proved mettle of Baptist disaster relief

September 1 2010 by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — “As early as Aug. 26, we had pulled in a skeleton crew and opened the disaster operations center (DOC),” recounted Mickey Caison, disaster relief coordinator at the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in Alpharetta, Ga., in 2005. “We had also called the state conventions and mobilized an incident command team.”

On Monday, Aug. 29, at about 6:10 a.m. Hurricane Katrina made its monstrous landfall in southeast Louisiana. Packing 125 mph winds with intense central pressure, Katrina would be the third most powerful storm to ever hit the United States — and one of the deadliest.

More than 1,800 would perish directly in the hurricane itself or from the unprecedented flooding to follow. Eighty percent of New Orleans and surrounding parishes were flooded when levees broke; the putrid floodwaters — contaminated with sewage, gasoline, oil and chemicals — lingered for weeks.

With some 300,000 homes and businesses destroyed or damaged, Katrina left $81 billion in damages in its wake, the costliest hurricane in U.S. history. Mississippi beach towns like Gulfport and Biloxi — where the surge flooded inland as far as 12 miles — were devastated. One-third of New Orleans’ population moved away and never returned.

Today, Caison will tell you that just as things were never the same after Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination or 9/11, the Gulf Coast and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) have not been the same since Katrina.

Caison and the SBDR team initially thought Katrina would only be a “wind event” — albeit a serious one — with destructive wind damage predicted as far north as Jackson, Miss.

Caison and his team had local disaster relief teams hunkered down in Mississippi and Louisiana in addition to using three staging sites — Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center near Talladega, Ala., Camp Garaywa in Clinton, Miss., and a venue in Marshall, Texas — for the scores of volunteers en route from 41 of Southern Baptists’ state conventions.

 On Tuesday, we saw the levees break and the flooding begin in New Orleans,” said Caison, now adult volunteer mobilization team leader at NAMB. “We saw the thousands of people trapped in the Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center. We realized how bad New Orleans was going to take it.”

Starting on the western side of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain, and moving into southern Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes, and west of the Mississippi River down to Houma, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief finally was able to move in its first feeding and chainsaw units a few days later. “On the initial push, we had 30 feeding units deployed,” Caison said.

For 196 continuous days — from Aug. 29, 2005, until March 12, 2006 — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief was in full operation. The DOC staff in Alpharetta, Ga., initially worked around the clock and, later, 16-hour days.

In addition to all the SBDR work under way in Louisiana and Mississippi, 13 other conventions also were responding in their own states — ministering to the 1.2 million homeless evacuees forced to leave the flooded Gulf Coast areas for places like San Antonio, Atlanta, Minneapolis and even New York.

Into the following year, Southern Baptist relief did not stop, but transitioned into Project NOAH (New Orleans Area Homes) Rebuild.

NAMB file photo by John Swain

Carol Jordan of Brevard was among 21,000 Southern Baptist volunteers who traveled to the Gulf Coast after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina for disaster relief and rebuild initiatives. The volunteers garnered the White House’s commendation in a Feb. 23, 2006, report on lessons learned from the hurricane and flooding crisis across the Gulf states.

North Carolina Baptist Men concentrated on Gulfport, where they eventually repaired or rebuilt 715 homes.

“By November and December of 2005, it was clear to us we needed a long-term rebuild program,” Caison said. Project NOAH would be funded by the balance of some $25 million Southern Baptists and others had generously contributed to NAMB and to their state convention offices for Katrina relief.

Kicking off in May 2006, Project NOAH Rebuild would draw another 26,500 volunteers from across America to New Orleans, usually staying a week at a time, sleeping on cots or in sleeping bags in New Orleans’ World Trade Center or at a Southern Baptist church in St. Bernard Parish.

These NOAH Rebuild volunteers assisted with the building or re-building of some 500 homes in New Orleans, many located in the flood-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward area where floodwater from the ruptured levees spilled over into neighborhood after neighborhood. Another 26 water-damaged churches, schools and ministry centers also were repaired under Project NOAH Rebuild.

Today, five years later — with current responses under way in Haiti, American Samoa and in recently flooded Iowa, Texas and Kentucky — Caison said the real-life lessons and inspiring examples learned from Katrina have paved the way to improvements evident in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief in 2010.  

Need more chaplains
Caison said Hurricane Katrina also pointed out and solidified the need for more disaster relief chaplains, to the point that there are now 4,000-5,000 more trained disaster relief chaplains on standby than before Katrina.

“We’ve seen more and stronger partnerships between NAMB, the state conventions, associations and churches in disaster-affected areas because of Katrina,” Caison continued.

“The way we conducted our ministry during Katrina also caused the federal and state governments to stand up and take notice. Our relationships with FEMA and state governments changed because they finally began to understand what Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is about. Washington (D.C.) folks finally realized that we bring more to the table than our relationships with the Red Cross or The Salvation Army. They began to understand who we are and now recognize us as one of the top three disaster relief organizations in the United States.”

Caison said Southern Baptist relationships also blossomed after Hurricane Katrina with other evangelical organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse, Operation Blessing, Convoy of Hope and other para-church organizations — leading to the creation of the Christian Relief Cooperative, a group of evangelical organizations involved in disaster relief.

The number of trained Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers has climbed to an all-time high of 95,000, a 46 percent increase over the 51,300 trained volunteers just prior to Katrina. In fact, just in the few months following Katrina in 2005, Caison said 25,000 new volunteers were trained.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief’s fleet — which numbered about 800 vehicles in 2005 — has grown to 1,550 units.

“Disaster relief continues to evolve,” Caison reflected. “The number of state conventions that have come on line have increased over the last 10 years. Some are still emerging. Usually, it boils down to funding. Most state conventions operate on the donations made during a response. If funding does not come, they cannot respond.”

Caison said Southern Baptist disaster relief’s mantra is “serving Christ in the crisis.”

“Disaster relief will continue to be used to kick down the doors of opportunity,” Caison said. “After a disaster response, there are people who come up to us and say, ‘Please start a Southern Baptist church in our community.’ We’re working harder to follow up and do just that — to use disaster relief as a means to plant new churches.”

Caison said disaster relief’s physical and spiritual ministries are two sides of the same coin.

“Jesus said to the 12: ‘Go preach, share the story and heal the sick.’ He said to the 70: ‘Go heal the sick, share the story and preach.’ We have to do both the physical and the spiritual ministries. If we don’t, we’re just a social organization. “As people in a disaster ask us who we are, where we came from, etc., we can transition to sharing the gospel. And while we’re harvesting during disaster relief, we’re also planting seeds and watering as well. That’s who we are. That’s our DNA.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)
9/1/2010 7:37:00 AM by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ground Zero Orthodox church in limbo

September 1 2010 by Religion News Service

NEW YORK — Buried by falling rubble from the World Trade Center towers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, all that remained of the tiny St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church were some candles, two icons and a bell clapper.

These salvaged artifacts are being kept at the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America while the church’s 70 member families worship at a cathedral in Brooklyn, praying for the day they can return to a new sanctuary in lower Manhattan.

“Everything has been incredibly slow and incredibly frustrating, but until the spring of 2009, everything at Ground Zero was going slowly, not just us,” said John Couloucoundis, the president of the St. Nicholas parish council. “It was a slow faucet, but at least the faucet was dripping. But then, last year, they just turned it off.”

Construction has begun on the 9/11 memorial and several of the major buildings planned for the 16-acre site, with estimated completion dates between 2011 and 2014. Little St. Nicholas, however, remains in limbo.

Negotiations with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for a land swap and public funding reached an impasse more than a year ago.

The stalemate is only now generating public attention due to heated protests over Park51, a proposed Islamic community center several blocks away that’s been dubbed the “Ground Zero mosque” by critics.

“St. Nicholas has nothing to do with this mosque controversy. We believe in religious freedom, and whether the mosque should or shouldn’t be there, that’s a whole different dialogue,” said Mark Arey, archdiocese spokesman.

“But it’s a rising tide that lifts all boats. People say the mosque has been greenlighted, but why not this church?”

The entire Ground Zero rebuilding process has taken years longer than expected, due to the arduous rescue, recovery and rubble-removal efforts, followed by the bureaucratic process of establishing property ownership and designing the memorial and buildings.

By late 2008, St. Nicholas and the Port Authority had reached a tentative agreement for the church to give up its 1,200-square-foot site at 155 Cedar Street in exchange for 130 Liberty Street, a bigger site half a block away.

Six months later, the Port Authority said negotiations ended because St. Nicholas demanded too much money and approval power over a vehicle security center beneath the sites. Port Authority spokesman Stephen Sigmund said the church can return to its original location.

“In 2009, we made our final offer, which again included up to $60 million in public money, and told St. Nicholas Orthodox Church that the World Trade Center could not be delayed over this issue,” he said in a written statement. “They rejected that offer.”

Arey said negotiations were in the final stages, with the church “acting in good faith,” when the Port Authority suddenly stopped returning calls. He and other church officials think the agency changed course because the fate of the old Deutsch Bank building next to the new site — which is supposed to become Tower 5 of the rebuilt World Trade Center — became unclear after JP Morgan Chase took over Bear Stearns’ midtown offices and no longer needed a new building downtown.

“Maybe they wanted to figure out what else to do with that property,” Couloucoundis said. “The official account is that the church was too demanding. That’s completely ridiculous. We weren’t suddenly asking for $100 million or to build a church 30 stories high.”

The Deutsch Bank building is still partly standing at Liberty Street; a 2007 blaze that killed two firefighters there stalled the demolition, and the Port Authority has not released new plans for what will replace it.

The church is holding firm to the Liberty Street swap plan, and says its old site is unacceptable — it’s too close to the proposed vehicle security center’s garage doors, and St. Nicholas needs more space for the visitors to the 9/11 memorial and thousands of new residents in the neighborhood.

The new 130 Liberty Street site could accommodate a church six times bigger than the old one, which was open only twice a week and didn’t offer any children’s programs.

A three- or four-story building that meets the city’s Ground Zero security requirements will cost at least $30 million, Couloucoundis said. The church has raised about $4 million so far, with donations coming in from around the world. Concerns about sloppy book-keeping has prompted the archdiocese to step in to help oversee the funds, he added, and a forensic accountant will be hired to go over the bookkeeping.

“In the end, it’s not about the money,” Arey said. “There are people all over the world who want to see this church rebuilt. This church will be rebuilt.”    
9/1/2010 7:34:00 AM by Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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