September 2012

N.C. worship leader shows heart for orphans

September 28 2012 by Don Graham, IMB

Ajay Kumar stands straight as a rod in a line of green-sweatered boys during a school presentation near Katihar, India. The show is serious business, complete with singing and an audience of honored American guests. But when the teacher calls Ajay’s name, the 9-year-old’s solemn face slips into a wide, infectious grin. This is his moment, and he knows it. Ajay steps forward, takes a deep breath and begins his monologue.  
 
“When I was at home, there was no one to love me,” he says. “Both of my parents remarried and abandoned me. So our village used me to look after their dogs and buffaloes.”
 
These aren’t lines from a play — it’s real life. Ajay is an orphan. His “school” is Compassion Children’s Home, an orphanage run by his teacher/foster father/orphanage director, Mukesh Soren. The visiting Americans are a volunteer team from The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., led by Summit’s worship leader and Christian recording artist, Matt Papa. 
 
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Photo by Joseph Rose

Matt Papa, worship leader at The Summit Church in Raleigh, plays the “slap game” with a handful of orphans at Compassion Children’s Home.


Papa’s untamed shock of red hair, scruffy beard and bright blue eyes stand out among the jet-black locks of the presentation’s largely Indian audience. But Papa doesn’t mind the extra attention, especially from the orphans. Indeed, he’s traveled halfway around the world because these are his children.
 
Papa, 28, is part of OneLife, an International Mission Board (IMB) initiative that develops student advocates in support of global causes.
 
Three years ago, Papa helped Mukesh and his wife, Jasmine, start the orphanage, which is now part of OneLife’s “One Orphanage” project. It’s Papa’s job to drum up support for the orphanage by raising awareness, money and recruiting student volunteers. He knows the need is dire.
 
India is the world’s second-largest country, home to more than 1.2 billion people. More than 31 million of them are orphans, according to UNICEF.
 
“The thing that has always struck me about India is the combination and culmination of spiritual and physical poverty,” Papa says.
 
“A lot of these children are condemned forever to beg for money. That’s all they can do and that is all they will ever be able to do.”
 
Most of the orphans share similar stories. Besides being forced to beg, many, like Ajay, were treated as virtual slaves by neighbors or relatives, paid only with enough food to keep them alive. Few knew how to read or write; most had no education at all.
 
“There is no one to hug them. There is no one to show them the right direction,” Mukesh says. 
 
“And in India, at the age of 6 or 7 years old, they use drugs. They drink alcohol. And they spoil their lives.”
 
As the presentation continues, Papa listens intently to the orphans’ testimonies, his face full of compassion.
 

Eternal homes

But Mukesh and Papa aren’t satisfied with providing only earthly homes for these children.
Both men are deeply invested in the orphans’ eternal futures, too.
 
“Jesus has a purpose and a plan for their lives,” Mukesh explains. “They have to know that Jesus is the Way, Truth and the Life … that through Jesus only, we have salvation.”
 

Forging a partnership

About five years ago while Papa’s band was touring India, he hired Mukesh as a translator.
 
The two stayed in touch via Facebook. Then, during a trip to India two years later, Papa reconnected with Mukesh and discovered why God had brought them together – both men have a heart for orphans.
 
“James 1:27 gripped my heart,” Papa explains, quoting the verse from memory: “‘Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God is caring for orphans and widows in their distress and keeping one’s self unstained by the world.’”
 
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Photo by Joseph Rose

Camera-shy Sabita Kumar, 11, peeks from a doorway at Compassion Children’s Home. “Please pray for my brother and sister who are still Hindu, that they will also accept the Lord Jesus Christ,” Sabita says.


At nearly the same time, halfway around the world, God was tugging at Mukesh’s heart from Matthew 9:35-36, where Jesus is preaching and healing across Galilee: “When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd.”
 
With Papa’s promise of financial support, Mukesh and Jasmine, his wife who was orphaned at 12, launched Compassion Children’s Home in January 2009, using their own home as the orphanage. They’ve since taken in seven orphaned children, six boys and one girl, all under age 12.
 
On the outside, Compassion Children’s Home is a drab concrete cube with a half-finished second story. But Jasmine’s touches have made the inside bright, clean and relatively comfortable. There are soft beds that the boys share, clean water via a hand-pumped well and hot, nutritious meals – even a soccer field. 
 
But with seven children, the orphanage is already near capacity. That’s one of the reasons Papa has come. He’s personally financing the construction of a new orphanage that will house roughly 30 orphans, 15 boys and 15 girls, including five widows who will help care for them.
 
A planned second phase of construction promises to create room for 50 more – roughly 80 children total. It’s a drop in the bucket when weighed against India’s 31 million orphans, but Papa says that’s not the point. 
 
“Jesus took 12 and changed the world. … And whether or not they go on to be huge world changers, they are 30 souls who need the gospel.”
 
Papa has designated $25,000 of his own money to cover the cost of the construction, and he’s eager to see what his investment has bought him. The day after the children’s presentation, Papa and the team from The Summit Church head to the orphanage site, a vacant lot between farmers’ fields off a quiet dirt road.
 
Construction began months ago. By now, the building’s foundation should be complete as well as the reinforced concrete columns that will support its second story.
 
“One of my albums that I made a little while back, a [record] label picked it up and my wife, Lauren, and I got a chunk of money that we weren’t expecting,” Papa explains.
 
They began to pray about how the Lord wanted them to use it. He told them to build an orphanage.  
 
“The question that God taught me to ask was, ‘God, are you using me for Your kingdom or am I using You for mine?’” Papa says. “As Christians we are blessed to be a blessing. … Find your standard of living. And when God blesses you, don’t change it. Change how much you can give to bless others.”
 

‘Ministry is messy’

Though he knows a lot about music, Papa admits he has zero experience starting orphanages – particularly in India.
 
“It’s totally outrageous. … I’m thinking some days, ‘What am I doing?’” he says. “I’m 28 years old, and my wife and I have yet to adopt a child, much less build an orphanage.”
 
As the SUV rolls to a stop in front of the construction site, it’s clear that inexperience has cost him.
 
Papa stares at a heap of bricks and mangled rebar – the remains of some of the building’s support columns, none of which remain standing. There’s no foundation, either. His discouragement and frustration are obvious, but Papa remains upbeat.  
 
“Ministry is messy,” he says. “If somebody were to drive by this place right now they would see twisted rebar. Bricks piled up. Uneven ground. But I see children who have been abandoned. Who have been forsaken. … I see them here, loved on, cared for, safe, protected and, most of all, discipled and growing and seeking God.” 
 
The damage isn’t a complete surprise. Papa says there have been “hiccups” from the beginning — from stolen building materials and crooked contractors to a freak storm that toppled some of the columns. Fortunately the mess has cost Papa only about $5,000 of the $25,000 he’s planned to spend. 
 
Still, there are even bigger hurdles. Once the orphanage is finished, Papa and Mukesh have to figure out how to sustain it. Though Papa’s band provides most of the financial support for the seven children Mukesh and Jasmine have now, the band can’t support 30, much less 80. That’s why Papa doesn’t want the ministry to depend on donations.
 
“How is this going to be a self-sustaining model?” he wonders. “We have poured ourselves into this. We did a tour this past fall and raised funds … about $11,000 for the orphanage.”
 
But the band can’t stay on the road forever, and in order to survive, Papa knows Compassion Children’s Home has to outgrow The Matt Papa Band. Ultimately, both Papa and Mukesh believe it’s a matter of faith.
 
“We’re a vapor. We have got 60 or 70 some years on this planet, and we never get another chance, ever. That’s it. And I don’t want to waste it,” Papa says.
 
“Here and now, what I have to do is leverage my life. Leverage my gifts, my music, for the sake of this place right here, for the sake of these children. … That’s why I’m here.”
 
Want to be a part of OneLife’s “One Orphanage” project? You can give, go or simply spread the word. Learn more at onelifematters.org or email go@onelifematters.org. A recent single by Matt Papa, “The Reward of His Suffering,” is available at thereward.org. All proceeds go to support missions. Visit mattpapa.com.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham is a senior writer at IMB.)
9/28/2012 3:19:32 PM by Don Graham, IMB | with 0 comments



Pastor compensation slightly ahead of inflation, survey says

September 28 2012 by Jon D. Wilke, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Compensation for full-time Southern Baptist pastors increased at a rate slightly faster than inflation nationally over the past two years, yet many churches continue to struggle in providing their pastors with adequate medical insurance.

These findings are part of the SBC Church Compensation Study, an in-depth survey of 12,168 staff members in Southern Baptist churches. Baptist state conventions along with LifeWay Research and GuideStone Financial Resources conduct this survey every two years. All the data acquired by the study has been compiled into an online tool LifeWay.com/CompensationSurvey.


Compensation

Adjusting for church size (see Methodology below), the average full-time Southern Baptist senior pastor’s compensation (salary and housing) rose 5.5 percent between 2010 and 2012. That rate of change was only slightly higher than the 5.1 percent inflation rate for the same two-year period, according to figures supplied by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index.

According to Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, “Other surveys by our team [among pastors] have shown that a majority of churches have not experienced growth in giving that would keep pace with these same inflation measures. In these churches, providing cost of living pay increases and covering the rising cost of benefits has required cuts in other budget areas.”

Overall, the value of the entire pay package (salary, housing and other benefits such as insurance) for the average full-time senior pastor rose by 6.4 percent.

For other full-time staff ministers, basic salary and housing compensation decreased 0.7 percent between 2010 and 2012, while salary compensation for full-time office personnel increased 2.8 percent.

When it came to determining pastors’ compensation rates, education level, tenure at current church and higher weekly attendance resulted in more compensation.

In fact, each additional educational degree level adds, on average, $2,878 in compensation. Seminary graduates receive, on average, $7,012 more in total compensation than non-seminary graduates and receive more vacation time.

Benefits

The survey also revealed that slightly more full-time senior pastors receive medical insurance from their churches today than in 2010, matching results from the 2008 study. Sixty-four percent of churches partially or fully pay medical insurance for their full-time senior pastors, compared to 61 percent in 2010. The U.S. Department of Labor indicates the cost of medical care rose 7 percent between June 2010 and 2012.

Twelve percent of SBC churches provide at least partial medical insurance funding for the full-time pastor alone while 19 percent fund coverage for the pastor and his wife and 34 percent supply coverage for the pastor and his family.

For full-time senior pastors, churches fully or partially pay for the following benefits:

- Life and/or accident insurance - 37 percent

- Disability insurance - 30 percent

- Dental insurance - 28 percent

- Vision insurance - 12 percent

“When it comes to benefits for senior pastors,” McConnell said, “it appears churches are doing the best they can. On average, the more people a church has attending worship, the more insurance benefits they provide for the pastor.”

More than half of churches with weekly attendances above 250 people provide insurance for the pastor and his family. Nearly half (47 percent) of churches that average 50-99 people in weekly attendance do not provide any medical coverage.

“Southern Baptist churches have defied recent trends among American workers in which Gallup polls have shown declining percentages of non-government workers receiving employer-based health insurance,” McConnell said.

Tim Head, GuideStone’s executive officer for denominational and public relations services, said the online compensation tool is a starting place for churches to see how they compare to other Southern Baptist congregations.

“This tool was designed to provide a snapshot of how Southern Baptist churches provide compensation packages for their workers,” Head said. “Compensation varies depending on church size, region and a host of other factors.”

The survey also obtained compensation data for bivocational pastors and part-time custodial and office personnel. In 2012 for the first time, this data is standardized by the median number of hours worked to allow churches to more easily compare their part-time employees with these averages.

“In this troubled economy,” Head stated, “it is encouraging to note that pay and benefits are generally headed in the right direction for those who choose to serve the body of Christ as a full-time profession.”

Methodology: Southern Baptist state conventions invited each church’s staff to respond to the survey; 12,168 completed surveys were analyzed. For the purpose of this article, senior pastor responses were weighted to account for lower response rate among smaller churches and to match the distribution of the size of Southern Baptist churches. When using the online tool, national totals may be somewhat higher than these weighted totals. Viewing the results by church size categories within the online tool minimizes this impact. When running customized reports online, error can be minimized by selecting criteria that allow for larger numbers of participants.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jon D. Wilke is media relations manager for LifeWay Christian Resources.)

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9/28/2012 3:12:49 PM by Jon D. Wilke, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



NAMB, states target church stagnation, decline

September 28 2012 by Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Just over 70 percent of churches are plateaued or declining in membership in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), according to North American Mission Board (NAMB) statistics. In response, NAMB – working with state conventions – is launching a series of Send North America Church Growth and Revitalization Conferences in 2012 and 2013.

Former SBC President Johnny Hunt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church Woodstock, launched the first revitalization conference at Northside Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Sept. 20. Representing NAMB, Hunt will conduct revitalization conferences in eight states.

Hunt said church revitalization is his personal passion along with church planting, noting, “As D.L. Moody said, unless we stab American cities in the heart with the gospel, we will lose this country.”

“With NAMB’s help,” Hunt said, “we want to help churches revitalize.

“In addition to planting new churches, sometimes we need to revitalize existing churches,” Hunt noted, recounting how First Baptist Woodstock took over an aging church that had dwindled to 17 people. “That church is now six years old, averaging 600 every Sunday,” Hunt said.

At one point, First Baptist Church in Essex, Md., just outside Baltimore, was among the 72 percent of plateaued or declining churches. But its pastor, John Smith, ultimately decided – with God’s prompting – that he would have no part of shepherding a diminishing flock.

Early into his career in ministry, had someone asked Smith about church revitalization, his answer would have been simple: It’s a great idea but just not for him.

“It was one of those places in ministry that I just never thought I was going to be,” he said.

But God had a different plan. When Smith visited First Baptist Essex, it was “a church with one foot and four toes in the grave, and I was not interested in pastoring it at all.”

After preaching at the church twice while visiting family friends in the area, Smith sat down with a small committee from the church looking to keep the doors open. However, he still did not feel the call to take on the role of pastor to a dying congregation.

“As I was driving out of the parking lot for what I thought would be the last time, I heard God tell me it was my job to lead this church out of the grave. It was as if He was saying, ‘You’re telling this church it’s going to die, but I’m asking you to die to yourself and pastor this church.’“

So Smith answered the call. In the two years he has served as pastor at First Baptist Essex, Smith has worked tirelessly to revitalize and change the atmosphere there.

“We got out there and started getting back out in the community, reminding the people that we were there and just trying to bring in new people to give the church a new life and new excitement about it,” Smith recounted.

Attendance has since grown from an average of 35 every Sunday to now around 120 each week, with big days showing 200-plus in worship. Nearly 100 people have come to Christ through the church and 67 have been baptized as new believers.

“We really worked to find a balance between honoring the legacy and history of the church while still casting a new vision for new life at FBC-Essex,” Smith said. “When it’s all said and done, the God that started our church, the God that saw it struggling to stay alive – that same God loves this church still and wants to see it march forward towards a future.”

Send North America Church Growth and Revitalization conferences are scheduled Nov. 1 at Living Hope Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Ky.; Dec. 6, Georgia Baptist Convention, Duluth, Ga.; Jan. 29, 2013, First Baptist Church, Brandon, Fla.; Feb. 7, Broadmoor Baptist Church, Madison, Miss.; Feb. 28, Colonial Heights Baptist Church, Colonial Heights, Va.; April 25, Mount Vernon Baptist Church, Raleigh, N.C.; and May 23, White Oak Conference Center, Winnsboro, S.C.

Every conference – co-sponsored by NAMB and the state convention – runs from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., with final registration at 8 a.m. The cost is $30 and includes registration, conference materials, lunch, refreshments and a $15 LifeWay gift card.

To learn more about church revitalization or to attend a Send North America Church Growth and Revitalization Conference, visit http://namb.net/revitalization; email revitalization@namb.net; or call 770-410-6305.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by North American Mission Board writers Sara Shelton, Joe Conway and Mickey Noah.)
9/28/2012 3:09:07 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Usage of LifeWay background check program is up 100%

September 28 2012 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The number of churches signing up for LifeWay Christian Resources’ background check program increased by 100 percent over the last year.

Jennie Taylor, marketing coordinator in LifeWay’s direct marketing department, said the dramatic increase “shows how serious churches and organizations are about protecting their children, students, employees and congregations.”

In 2008, LifeWay endorsed backgroundchecks.com, (www.LifeWay.com/backgroundchecks), to offer background screenings for churches and religious organizations. Subscribing through LifeWay enables churches and religious organizations to conduct background screenings for their camp counselors, bus drivers, staff, volunteers and others at discounted prices.
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According to records for the program, nearly 2,800 churches and organizations conducted more than 55,000 background checks in the past year. Of those, 35 percent (18,753) returned a criminal hit, “which is any kind of incident ranging from minor traffic violations to felony convictions,” Taylor said. More than 33 percent of the 18,753 criminal hits, or 12 percent of the overall 55,000 checks, returned records with misdemeanor or felony offenses.

“Leaders from churches and organizations who use LifeWay’s background checks program say protecting those God has placed under their care is paramount,” Taylor said, noting that churches can conduct due diligence by using backgroundchecks.com as a step in their security and safety policy. With a database of more than 450 million criminal records, backgroundchecks.com has an extensive collection of public record sources, delivering reports in a concise and user-friendly format.

Garrick Conner, discipleship pastor at Park Hill Baptist Church in North Little Rock, Ark., noted, “In a culture where churches have become the last frontier of sorts for child predators, it is essential that we are diligent to properly screen and train all paid staff and volunteers who serve with preschoolers, children and teens.

“While it is true that churches should be places of grace and hope, far too often those positive traits are exploited by those who would seek to harm kids,” Conner said. “God entrusts these young ones to us and we will be accountable for how well we protected them – physically, emotionally and spiritually.”

Bill Bartlett, business administrator for Oakview Baptist Church in Okeechobee, Fla., voiced a similar commitment: “We, as church staff, have an obligation to protect the children in our care and those adults who work with children.
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“By obtaining a criminal background check annually on every staff member and volunteer who works with children of any age, we feel we are making the correct efforts to do just that – protect our children,” Bartlett said.

At Emmanuel Baptist Fellowship in Frost Proof, Fla. -– in its first year using backgroundchecks.com – the service “speaks highly in our community,” pastor’s assistant Christie Sitek said. “Families are grateful that we have concern for our children and youth.”

“We do everything we can to have a safety net for our ministry,” Sitek said.

Taylor said LifeWay’s program has made checking criminal backgrounds much more affordable for churches of any size.

Today’s unstable economy has made church leaders reluctant to spend money on “extras,” Conner commented. “I would assert that our children and youth are invaluable, and their safety is well worth the small investment.”

For more information, visit www.LifeWay.com/backgroundchecks. For additional resources to help churches prevent the devastating effects of sexual abuse and other moral failures by staff members or volunteers, visit www.sbc.net/localchurches/ministryhelp.asp and www.sbclife.net/pdf/ProtectingOurChildren.pdf.

Note: Statistics reported in this article reflect results from clients who have purchased background check services from backgroundchecks.com through LifeWay’s OneSource program.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the communications staff of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
9/28/2012 2:57:47 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Church anti-bullying push follows gun incidents

September 28 2012 by Sharon Mager/Baptist Life

ESSEX, Md. (BP) – “Enough is enough,” the crowd, mostly wearing blue shirts, chanted at an anti-bullying rally on the front lawn of First Baptist Church (FBC) in Essex, Md.

The “B3 Code Blue” rally was in response to a shooting at Perry Hall High School about 10 miles from the church and a gun incident at Stemmers Run Middle School about a mile away. Both gun-bearing students had been repeatedly bullied.

“The B3 stands for ‘Before Bullying Begins,’” pastor John Smith of FBC of Essex said. “‘Code Blue’ represents responding to an emergency and this is an emergency.”

Teens stood alongside Mace Avenue in front of the church waving anti-bullying signs as drivers shouted out encouragement and beeped their horns in support. About 100 people attended the Sept. 13 rally. Most heard about the event through word of mouth, others saw flyers at their schools.

Church leaders worked long hours contacting potential speakers and preparing to host the rally just 48 hours after the gun incident at Stemmers Run.

In addition to Smith, rally speakers included Gordon Webb, principal of the middle school, and Tally Wilgis, pastor of Captivate Church. Several other Stemmers Run school officials and local politicians attended and local television stations and local papers covered the event.

“Tragedy pulls us together,” Webb said. The principal said the school is partnering with FBC Essex and with the community to find ways to stop bullying and make the community a safer place.
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Photo by Sharon Mager/Baptist Life

Holding a sign to promote an anti-bullying rally, student Storm Hopple stands in front of First Baptist Church in Essex, Md., where the rally was held in response to two gun incidents at local schools.


Smith told listeners the rally is just the beginning.

“We are going to take action steps. This is not a ‘flash in the pan,’ but a marathon. This will be an ongoing ministry of First Baptist Church Essex. We won’t quit until bullying stops,” the pastor said.

Smith called for “blue Thursdays.” “We have purple Fridays [for the NFL Baltimore Ravens], why not blue Thursdays?” In addition to showing solidarity against bullying, it will be much more difficult for a bully to pick on someone if a group of students, all in blue, come together to defend the victim, Smith noted.

The church also started a B3CodeBlue Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/b3codeblue), which will act as a forum and offer a place to share resources, activities and events. The page received 130 “likes” in less than a week. There will be a tip line, where students can share about bullying anonymously and school officials will be alerted. A B3CodeBlue website is being developed and nonprofit organizational status is in process.

Smith also called for “safe houses,” places where kids can go to escape and be in a safe, nurturing environment.

Bullying is a longstanding problem, but it’s different now, Smith said. Students are bullied at school, then instead of coming home to welcoming safe environments, they may be bullied at home. When they try to escape online, they find they’re bullied there as well.

“Bullying isn’t about prejudice,” Smith said at the rally. “It’s about respect.”

Smith said Jesus was bullied, but He conquered it. He rose from the dead.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sharon Mager is a correspondent for Baptist Life, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.)
9/28/2012 2:50:51 PM by Sharon Mager/Baptist Life | with 0 comments



DOM’s recovery from motorcycle accident called a miracle

September 27 2012 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

Most of the medical professionals who helped save Barry Nealy’s life thought he was a “dead man.”
 
But less than a year after a horrific motorcycle accident that nearly claimed his life, Nealy is back to work – with a slight limp and some minor aches – as director of missions for the Three Forks Baptist Association in Boone. He and his wife, Donna, remain thankful to God and the support of friends for his recovery.
 
“I can’t explain why [God chose to] save the life of a guy who is over 60,” said the 65-year-old Nealy, who spoke during a chapel service a few weeks ago at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in Cary.

“Truly, many people thought he was a dead man,” said Donna, who also spoke during the service. “[But] God had other plans.”
 
On March 22, Nealy crashed his 1980 Yamaha XS 1100 into a Ford sedan on a mountain road 12 miles west of Boone. The accident happened about 20 minutes away from the couple’s home. The impact sent Nealy over the handlebars and head first into the windshield of the oncoming car. The trooper on the scene estimated that the combined speed of the two vehicles was about 70 miles per hour. The other motorist suffered only minor injuries.
 
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BR photo by Shawn Hendricks

Barry and Donna Nealy shared their story during chapel at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Nealy, director of missions for Three Forks Baptist Association, was nearly killed in a motorcycle accident in March.


“I don’t really know if we were going that fast or not,” said Nealy, who has no memory of the accident. “They transported me by helicopter, and they didn’t think I’d make it to the hospital.”
 
Nealy was airlifted to Johnson City Medical Center in Tennessee where doctors performed emergency surgery. He remained in the Intensive Care Unit there for 15 days. Nealy remembered waking up with tubes in his lungs and being hooked up to a ventilator. In addition to both of his lungs collapsing, his injuries included a fractured left collarbone, a “crushed” pelvis and a damaged femoral artery that caused “a lot of internal bleeding.” Some speculated whether he’d be able to use his left foot again.
 
Doctors later told Nealy they didn’t think he’d make it 48 hours after surgery.
 
“Thankfully … they didn’t say that to my wife,” Nealy said.
 
Donna, shared how the support of so many people helped her through the difficult days following the accident.
 
“The network was amazing,” she said. “All along God sent people our way  … some I knew, some I didn’t. Once I knew word had gotten out, and people were praying for us, I knew [God] was holding my hand. I had peace that passes understanding.”
 
Nealy remained hospitalized for a total of 35 days. He wore a neck brace as a precaution for seven weeks following the accident, but he did not suffer any serious injuries to his neck.
 
Nealy said he occasionally talks to the medical personnel and ambulance workers who helped him on that horrible day in March. Many of them have surprised looks on their faces. Nealy admits to being surprised himself.
 
“I didn’t break a finger nail. I didn’t chip a tooth,” Nealy said during the chapel service. “I didn’t have any damage to my neck.”
 
Though he gives all credit to God for his recovery, Nealy remains thankful for the medical personnel who cared for him. He said the accident gave him a new perspective and appreciation for those who help others on a daily basis and receive little credit for their efforts.
 
“If you’ve been in the ministry for 45 minutes you’ve been there,” he said.  “If you’re in the ministry, you’re in the process of saving people’s eternal lives and some of them don’t care if they know your name. But the important thing is the One who called you knows your name.”
 
“What God did for me a few months ago, that’s what God did for me a number of years back before that in a whole different way,” said Nealy, recalling how God also saved him spiritually through Jesus Christ.
 
While Nealy was in the hospital he found opportunities to share his faith with the hospital staff. Those conversations included one with a doctor who grew up Buddhist. Nealy pointed his doctor to the Bible and prays he will become involved in a small group that is going on near his home. “It was a great opportunity to point out [the] Truth,” Nealy said.
 
Though most may never go through an accident like Nealy, he described it as just “one of many experiences” people go through in life. And he hopes this experience will allow him more opportunities to point people to Jesus.
 
Earlier this month, Nealy wrote a first-person article for the Watauga Democrat, a local newspaper. In the article he shared the following:
 
“Life is not automatic and my recovery, after five months, goes forward with some struggle, but it is worthwhile. Many have prayed for me and shared with me their encouragement. A few have threatened me if I ever think about riding a motorcycle again … I am thankful for the concern and prayers of hundreds of people. The Valley of Death has opened, for me, into ‘The Way, the Truth and the Life.’”

 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shawn Hendricks is managing editor of the Biblical Recorder, North Carolina’s source for Baptist news.)
9/27/2012 3:38:51 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 1 comments



See You at the Pole draws prayerful teenagers

September 27 2012 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – About a million teenagers at schools across the nation and the world gathered Sept. 26 for the 22nd annual See You at the Pole global day of student prayer.

This year students used Twitter and Facebook to communicate about their involvement, with student Claire Fridey tweeting “One of my favorite days of the school year is #seeyouatthepole! Prayer is powerful!” and a user named Israel tweeting “#seeyouatthepole was a nice way to kick off the day.”

See You at the Pole, which began in 1990 among a small group of teenagers in Burleson, Texas, “is simply a prayer rally where students meet at the school flagpole before school to lift up their friends, families, teachers, school and nation to God,” according to the event’s website, syatp.com. SYATP is student-initiated, student-organized and student-led.

“SYATP helps launch teenagers and college students – in unity – to minister to their peers,” said Daryl Nuss, executive director of the National Network of Youth Ministries, which coordinates promotion of the event.

“See You at the Pole empowers students in prayer at the beginning of the school year to take leadership at their schools. What better way is there to begin a semester than to pray for their friends, community and nation?” Nuss added.
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Students at Kingfisher High School, northwest of Oklahoma City, gathered Wednesday morning (Sept. 26) for the 22nd annual See You at the Pole global day of student prayer. Students shared photos, including this one, on Facebook and Twitter.


Norman Flowers, student evangelism and mobilization specialist at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, told Baptist Press that See You at the Pole is going strong in his state.

“We’re seeing a continued movement of God among our students as they’re gathering at their flagpoles this morning,” Flowers said. “From a handful of students in some of our small towns to hundreds of students at other schools, we’re seeing an amazing movement of students gathering to pray that God would move on their campus.”

Churches across the nation hold rallies during their Wednesday night services on the day of See You at the Pole, which is every year on the fourth Wednesday of September.

“We know of 41 evangelistic rallies that will be taking place this evening,” Flowers said of BGCO churches. “Last year we had over 10,000 students at these rallies with over 1,000 decisions for Christ.”

About three years ago, the convention knew of 25 such SYATP evening rallies, Flowers said, so the practice is growing.

Doug Clark of the National Network of Youth Ministers told Baptist Press it is difficult to count the number of See You at the Pole participants because the event is so widespread, but by midday he had heard from people in Australia, Canada, Germany, South Korea, Guatemala and Puerto Rico – besides countless reports across the United States.

Clark said he would be inclined to estimate that a million or more students took part in See You at the Pole this year. Some groups planned to meet Sept. 27 because their schools were closed Wednesday for Yom Kippur.

This year’s See You at the Pole theme was “Awaken” based on Ephesians 3:14-21, the passage in which the Apostle Paul urges believers to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”

“Pray for an unusual outpouring of the Spirit of God to awaken the hearts of students on campuses throughout your community ... and the world!” a prayer guide on the See You at the Pole website said.

At the same time, SYATP participants aren’t immune from the hard realities confronting today’s youth. A group of students at Stillwater Junior High School in Oklahoma witnessed a tragedy immediately after they gathered for prayer around their flagpole Wednesday morning. An eighth-grade student died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the school’s common area just before classes started, News 9 in Oklahoma City reported.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
9/27/2012 3:32:02 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Report: Restrictions on religious freedom increasing worldwide

September 27 2012 by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service

Religious believers throughout the world face a rising tide of restrictions, according to a study released Sept. 20.
 
In the one-year period ending in mid-2010, 75 percent of the world’s population lived in a nation with high or very high restrictions on religious beliefs or practices, according to the study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Pew tracked religious freedoms denied by government and cultural authorities.
 
A previous Pew study on the subject found that 70 percent of the world lived under religious restrictions.
 
The increasingly hostile climate doesn’t come as a surprise to John Pinna, director of government relations for the American Islamic Congress.
 
“As countries, particularly developing nations, search for stability, religious persecution is a tool for consolidation of authority,” Pinna said. “Furthermore, in the developing world, governments lack the capacity to protect vulnerable populations from non-state actors who have their own political agendas.”
 
The Pew researchers found increasing intolerance in every region of the world. Government and social restrictions on religious freedom particularly tightened in the Middle East-North Africa region, Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, according to the study.
 
The Middle East and North Africa showed the highest levels of social and government hostility involving religion well before the beginning of the tumultuous period known as Arab Spring swept across the region.
 
Globally, restrictions increased not only in countries that already afforded few protections for religious freedom, such as Nigeria and Indonesia, but also in countries where citizens have generally enjoyed a high degree of religious liberty, such as Switzerland and the U.S., the study found.
 
Among incidents cited in the U.S.: the intense opposition to the building of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and a spike in the number of religion-related workplace discrimination complaints.
 
The study covered 197 countries and relied on 19 sources of information, including the U.S. State Department’s annual reports on religious freedom.

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9/27/2012 3:23:52 PM by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Group: DADT repeal has harmed religious liberty

September 27 2012 by Edward Lee Pitts, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – One year after the military began allowing gay, lesbian and bisexual service members to openly proclaim their sexuality, some conservative groups continue to call for an end to the change in policy.

But their pleas are falling largely on deaf ears on Capitol Hill, where most lawmakers seem content to focus on other issues.

The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty (CARL), which represents more than 2,000 chaplains serving the armed forces, said it is cataloging examples of negative consequences that have resulted from the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. After Congress voted in December 2010 for repeal, White House and Pentagon officials set Sept. 20, 2011, as the official end date of the then-16-year-old policy that prevented homosexuals from serving openly in the military.

“The American armed forces exist to defend our nation, not as [a] social experiment lab in which our troops serve as human subjects,” said Ron Crews, a retired chaplain and colonel who now is with CARL. “While many will ignore the negative impacts or pretend that they don’t exist, threats to our troops’ freedom are mounting.”

Many media accounts focus on incidents against gay service members, but CARL points out the following incidents since the policy change:

– A chaplain was encouraged by military officials to resign his commission unless he could “get in line with the new policy.”

– A chaplain was threatened with early retirement and then was reassigned to be more “closely supervised” because he had expressed concerns about the policy change.

– A senior chaplain was stripped of his authority over the chapel under his charge because, in accordance with federal law, he proclaimed the chapel as a “sacred space” where marriage or marriage-like ceremonies would be between one man and one woman.

– Same-sex ceremonies have been performed at military chapels, including one at Fort Polk, La., a state that constitutionally defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.

“This list of problems and incidents that have arisen mere months after this administration imposed its will on the armed forces is disturbing to say the least, and we know it is only the beginning,” Crews said. “Compounding the outrage, service members are not free to speak out about these matters. This ensures that distrust in the ranks will increase and morale will decrease as the number of silenced victims grows.”

Republicans in the Senate on Sept. 11 introduced a bill protecting military chaplains from being forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

The measure, introduced by Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., also forbids the performance of marriage services for gay and lesbian couples on military bases.

The effort, similar to one introduced in the House earlier this year, is designed to reassert the authority of the Defense of Marriage Act in the aftermath of the ending of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell last year. The Department of Defense already has authorized chaplains to perform same-sex marriages on military bases in states that recognize such unions.

Some soldiers are fearful that the changing military culture could force conservative Christian denominations to withdraw their support for the chaplain program.

“This bill protects military chaplains from being forced to go against their conscience and religious beliefs in regard to this issue,” Inhofe said. “This is something the chaplains that serve this country need and deserve.”

While the House version to protect religious freedom passed earlier this summer, the Democratic-led Senate is not expected to approve the Senate bill.

In the House, many Republican lawmakers seem reluctant to continue fighting to overturn the repeal. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., told reporters in June that he considered the matter settled.

“We fought that fight,” McKeon said regarding failed efforts by Republicans to prevent the repeal. “That’s not something that I would personally bring up.”

Gays, lesbians, and bisexuals make up an estimated 2 percent of the 2.2 million service members on active duty and serving in the reserves or the National Guard.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Edward Lee Pitts writes for World News Service, where this story first appeared.)

Related stories
Report: Restrictions on religious freedom increasing worldwide
Guest Column: How gay marriage harms religious liberty
9/27/2012 3:18:07 PM by Edward Lee Pitts, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Hobby Lobby helps Okla. Baptists buy camp

September 27 2012 by Baptist Press

DAVIS, Okla. – Hobby Lobby, Inc., has donated $2 million to the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) designated for the purchase of a youth camp located near its Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center at Davis.

The convention’s board of directors has approved the relocation of Oklahoma Baptists’ CrossTimbers Children’s Missions Camp to the Newburn Conference Center that formerly was a summer camp owned by the Assemblies of God. CrossTimbers has been based in McAlester.

“This gift from Hobby Lobby and the Green family is an answer to prayer,” BGCO Executive Director-Treasurer Anthony L. Jordan said of the nationwide chain and its founders. “We have sought the Lord’s leading as to how we can further expand our impact and reach in the Falls Creek area, and we are grateful beyond words for their generosity which makes that possible.” The Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center is the largest youth camp in the nation.

Hobby Lobby CEO Steve Green, a Southern Baptist, said in conjunction with the Sept. 25 announcement, “Throughout the years, we have been privileged to invest in the work of the BGCO through Falls Creek. The opportunity to help the Falls Creek ministry through this gift brings us great joy. We see this as a win-win for everyone involved.”
09-27-12okla.jpg

The covered tabernacle at Oklahoma Baptists’ newly acquired Newburn Conference Center can seat hundreds at children’s camp. The facility has been obtained by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma through a $2 million designated gift from Hobby Lobby, Inc.


Jordan said the Newburn Conference Center “has the potential to more than double the capacity for children. Because the new camp is well-maintained and in very good condition, CrossTimbers is able to shift to the new location for summer 2013.

“One of the greatest advantages is the proximity to Falls Creek,” Jordan added. “Co-locating the camps enables our conference center staff to serve both facilities with an economy of scale.”

Jordan said the BGCO has been “in consultation with Hobby Lobby and the Green family for a number of months regarding this incredible gift. The nature of this gift and its timing couldn’t have been better, and the camp property will mesh perfectly into the long-range development plans for our conference centers as a whole. This is more evidence that God always knows what He is doing and has a plan in place.”

Jordan described the Newburn facility, located on Highway 77, west of I-35 near Turner Falls, “as a beautiful wooded site, with Honey Creek from Turner Falls running through the property.”

With this new gift, Hobby Lobby becomes the leading corporate donor in the history of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, a nonprofit organization. The Green family and Hobby Lobby previously donated more than $3 million to the BGCO’s capital campaign for construction at Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center.

For more information on BGCO’s camps and development plans, visit www.bgco.org.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s communications staff.)
9/27/2012 3:11:14 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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