September 2012

N.C. Baptist finds relief in helping others

September 26 2012 by Carol Layton, NCBAM

Bob Wilder from Trinity Baptist Church in Trinity typifies many well-aging North Carolina Baptists reaching out to others in the name of Jesus. To help some of those in need, Wilder assembled a team – with an average age of 70 – from his church that specializes in spreading the love of Jesus with nail guns and miter saws.
 
All the men are retired, but none of them were professional builders. They learned the way most men do – from fathers, friends and from taking care of their own homes. “We’ve all built a playhouse and a chicken coup or two,” quips the 79-year-old Wilder.
 
Wilder’s team built two wheelchair ramps for Rampin’ Up! – an event sponsored by North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM) and North Carolina Baptist Men. The event was held April 28 in conjunction with Operation Inasmuch, a one-day initiative that encourages churches across the state to participate in neighborhood service projects. Nearly 3,000 volunteers from around the state built a total of 327 wheelchair ramps during the record-setting event.
 
Wilder first learned of NCBAM when Debbie Pilson, the ministry’s central regional director spoke at his church. Wilder says, “NCBAM is a wonderful ministry. It gets down to where the rubber meets the road with the needs in the area. Sometimes needs can get lost, but with NCBAM you’ve got the organization. You just have to plug in and go.”
 
Wilder saw Rampin’ Up! as a catalyst for the men of his church.
 
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Contributed photo

Bob Wilder spends time each week helping people in his community. He and men from Trinity Baptist Church in Trinity built Dora Kale a wheelchair ramp as part of Rampin’ Up! The record-setting event held April 28 increased awareness of the need for wheelchair ramps and highlighted the great volunteer spirit of North Carolina Baptists.


“I’m optimistic that Rampin’ Up! changed things,” he said. “It opened another door. It showed me there are men ready and wanting to help.
 
“Before, I called on only one or two people, and I sometimes felt they were overburdened. Rampin’ Up! inspired people and gave the men a lot of enjoyment. One of their wives thanked me – saying that her husband was just so excited about it.”
 
In addition to helping older adults, one of the ramps Wilder’s team built was for 16-year-old Eric Workman of Denton. Because of a near-drowning incident when Workman was 2 years old, he is now confined to a stretcher wheelchair. For six years his mother, Lahoma Workman, desired a wheelchair ramp for her son.
 
Workman says the ramp made life better for the teenager.
 
“Eric loves to get outside,” she said. “This new, wider ramp has made it easier to get him on the porch and in the house. The men did a wonderful job.
 
“They built it offsite and installed it here. We don’t have to struggle anymore. It’s been a blessing.”
 
Wilder’s team also built a ramp for Dora Kale in Lexington.
 
Prior to an automobile accident in February, 70-year-old Kale had been very active – holding a part-time job and teaching aerobic classes six days a week at churches and senior centers.
 
Kale had been using a “make-do” system that friends put in place the day she was discharged from rehab.
 
“My ramp now is much safer and nicer. The men did a great job. I’m tickled with it!” she said.
 
Wilder is quick to confirm that it’s more blessed to give than receive.
 
“We worked hard all day but when we saw Ms. Kale’s face as she rolled onto her ramp – she was speechless and her face shone like a young girl’s. When you see something like that, it’s icing on the cake for everyone there.”
 
Wilder leads his church’s men to complete large projects like ramps, gutters and roofing problems, but he often handles small home repairs himself. Many aging adults in Wilder’s community cannot afford to pay for professional home repair estimates – let alone services. Wilder keeps a five-gallon bucket stocked with $35 worth of miscellaneous plumbing supplies that lasts him several months.
 
“Ninety-five percent of the time, I can use a 15-cent washer to fix a leaky faucet. When you stop the drip, they’re in awe. When you do something that’s beyond someone else’s ability, it’s hard to articulate how much joy that gives me.”
 
The joy that Wilder receives from ministry is evident in the good-natured friendliness he exudes.
 
It is clear Wilder is not one to repair a drippy spigot, tip his hat, and move on. He’s often been known to spend more time in conversation – something that many aging adults hunger for – than the time it takes him to fix a problem.
 
Wilder shares his testimony of God’s faithfulness with those struggling with uncertainty and loss. “People need to know that somebody believes in the guidance of the Lord. I try to reassure people that the Lord  has a hand in all that goes on in our lives.”
 
Though Wilder receives dozens of calls each week from people in need, Wilder said he never tires of helping others.
 
“It’s not stressful; it’s a relief,” he said. “I worked a highly stressful job all my life. Void time is not something I handle very well. To see someone who I’ve helped just a little bit – to see their burden lifted – I just can’t imagine life any other way.”
9/26/2012 2:31:41 PM by Carol Layton, NCBAM | with 0 comments



Platt explains position on ‘sinner’s prayer’

September 26 2012 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In light of a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) resolution that apparently had its impetus in comments by David Platt, the Alabama pastor has written a two-part series on the “sinner’s prayer” explaining his concerns over its “abuse” while revealing that he voted for the resolution.

Meanwhile, Eric Hankins, the Mississippi pastor who submitted the resolution, says he believes the concerns Platt has are best addressed by critiquing “Southern Baptists’ weakness in discipleship.”

Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., delivered a sermon earlier this year that was viewed by some as being critical of all uses of the sinner’s prayer. Soon, discussion about the sinner’s prayer on blogs and within social medial morphed into a debate over Calvinism.

Hankins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss., wrote and submitted a proposed resolution affirming the sinner’s prayer to the SBC’s Resolutions Committee, which re-worded it before presenting it to messengers at the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans. The resolution passed overwhelmingly.

In a column at Radical.net, Platt said he voted for the resolution.

“Though I had some concerns with the resolution as it was originally proposed, I was pleased with the resolution that Southern Baptists eventually adopted, and I voted in favor of it,” Platt wrote. “It was encouraging to see pastors and leaders together say that we need to be wise in the way we lead people to Christ, but such wisdom doesn’t necessarily warrant that everyone must throw out a ‘sinner’s prayer’ altogether.”
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Photo by Bill Bangham

David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, gives the convention sermon June 15, 2011, during the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center.


Platt says he tells participants in his church’s evangelism and missions class that there is “nothing inherently wrong” with the sinner’s prayer, and he said he points out “how it has been useful in many people’s moment of conversion.”

“Many wonderful men and women have used the ‘sinner’s prayer’ to lead people to Christ, from Billy Graham to Bill Bright,” Platt said. “Consequently, I encourage the members of our church, as they share the totality and beauty of the gospel, to feel free to invite a lost person to pray a pointed prayer that expresses biblical repentance of sin and faith in Christ.”

Platt, though, said he rarely asks people to repeat a sinner’s pray when he witnesses to someone. Instead, he says, he shares the gospel and invites them to “call on the Lord” – essentially, forming their own response. He listed four cautions regarding what he called a “formulaic” sinner’s prayer:

– “A specific ‘sinner’s prayer’ like we often think of today is not found in scripture or even in much of church history.”

– “The use of a ‘sinner’s prayer’ can potentially come across as unhealthily formulaic. I talk with people all the time who are looking for a ‘box to check off’ in order to be right with God and safe for eternity. But there is no box. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Such saving faith is the anti-work (i.e., ‘not by works, so that no one can boast’ in Ephesians 2:8-9), and I want to be careful never to communicate that someone’s work (or words) can merit salvation before God.”

– “I have seen the ‘sinner’s prayer’ abused across the contemporary Christian landscape as people ‘pray the prayer’ apart from a biblical understanding of the gospel or ‘pray the prayer’ on multiple occasions to ensure their salvation or ‘pray the prayer’ without ever counting the cost of following Christ. I have experienced this abuse in my own life: I can remember laying in my bed at night as a child/teenager, wondering about whether or not I’m really saved, and then thinking, ‘Well, I just need to pray that prayer again ... and really mean it this time ... and then I’ll know I’m saved.’ I have seen this abuse in a variety of evangelistic settings (here and overseas, among children, youth, and adults)....”

– “It seems that ‘praying the prayer’ is often used in a worship service or an evangelistic conversation to ‘cement a decision’ or ‘close the deal’ regarding someone’s salvation. People are often told immediately, ‘If you prayed that prayer, you can always know that you are saved for eternity.’ Now I certainly believe that justification before God happens at a point in time (i.e., people don’t ooze into the kingdom of God), and it’s helpful (though not entirely necessary) for someone to be able to identify the point at which they were saved. Ultimately, however, I don’t want people to look to me or even to a ‘prayer they prayed’ for assurance of salvation. I want them to look to Christ for this.”

Hankins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Oxford, said he disagrees with Platt’s reasoning.

“While affirming that there is nothing inherently wrong with the sinner’s prayer, Dr. Platt warns against its use for four reasons: it’s not in the Bible, and it can become formulaic, manipulative and man-centered,” Hankins told Baptist Press in an email. “My response is that these criticisms could be (and should be) raised concerning essentially all of our actual practices, from worship services, to Sunday School, to covered-dish suppers.

“What sparked my desire to write the Resolution on the Sinner’s Prayer for the SBC,” Hankins added, “was a sense that Dr. Platt and others were saying that the practice was inherently erroneous and needed to be jettisoned forthwith because it was fueling the problem of ‘unregenerate church membership.’ Indeed, the Bible warns that there will be many who ‘believe’ yet display no evidence of transformation, but it doesn’t view ‘improper evangelism techniques’ as a reason for this.”

Hankins referenced Platt’s sermon at this year’s Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference, in which Platt, preaching from John 2 and 3, warned against “easy believism” and “spiritual deception” within churches. Referencing the story of Nicodemus, Platt said “there is a kind of faith that does not save.”

“Many assume they are saved simply because of a prayer they prayed,” Platt said of today’s church.

Hankins said the “implication that Platt draws out is that evangelism practices like the sinner’s prayer are often the cause of that deception.”

“This application is hardly the point of the [Nicodemus] passage, unless Jesus is to be faulted for doing miracles that gave people false assurance without articulating the full implications of the gospel,” Hankins said. “It seems that Dr. Platt’s implicit message is that unregenerate church membership can be corrected by proper technique, a concept that is theologically problematic. Jesus tells us to anticipate sheep and goats, wheat and tares, and different results from different kinds of soil. Is He to be credited for Judas’ failure to believe savingly? Paul’s churches were often troubled by people who ‘fell away.’ Was Paul somehow deficient in his evangelism?”

Platt, Hankins said, “really seems to be criticizing ... Southern Baptists’ weakness in discipleship, a sentiment with which I am in complete agreement.”

“I think a scrupulosity about making sure that gospel presentations are ‘done right’ so that people ‘know exactly what they are doing’ can have a stultifying effect on personal evangelism,” Hankins said. “We don’t need to become so afraid of potentially sharing incorrectly and ‘causing’ someone to believe falsely that we cease to share at all. ... When people do pray to receive Christ, they are frequently not discipled, and I believe that this is the heart of the problem of the state of the churches in the SBC.”

In his post, Platt explained how he leads someone to Christ apart from using the sinner’s prayer:

– “Share the gospel clearly ... and call people to count the cost of following Christ. Make sure that the person you are talking with has a biblical understanding of the glorious reality that the just and gracious Creator of the universe has looked upon hopelessly sinful men and women in their rebellion and He has sent His Son, God in the flesh, to bear His wrath against sin on the cross and to show His power over sin in the resurrection so that everyone who repents and believes in Him will be reconciled to God forever. Make sure this gospel is clear. Tell them following Jesus will cost them their life ... and tell them Jesus is worth it!

– “If you are in a personal conversation with someone (and this could be applied in a small group, as well), ask them if they have any questions about the gospel. Ask them if they have ever repented and believed in Jesus (i.e., turned from their sin and themselves to trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord). Ask them if they would like to repent of sin and believe in Christ.

– “Invite them to call on the Lord and be saved. If they see God for who He is, their sin for what it is, themselves for who they are, and Christ for who He is and what He has done, then by the grace of God through the Spirit of God they are more than able to call out in repentance and faith ... so let them do so. You don’t necessarily need to tell them the exact words to say at that point. You have shared the gospel and the Spirit has opened their eyes to the love and lordship of Christ, so urge them to call out for His mercy and submit to His majesty.

– “At the same time, be willing to let them be alone with God, if that is best. In some circumstances, it probably is best to encourage them to be alone with God in order that you might not unknowingly, unintentionally, or unhelpfully manipulate a decision, circumstance, or situation.

– “Most importantly, once someone repents and believes in Christ, be willing to lead that person as a new follower of Christ. Remember, our goal is not to count decisions; our goal is to make disciples.”

(Platt’s columns are available at Radical.net.)

Many Southern Baptist-centric blogs viewed the debate over the sinner’s prayer as part of a larger debate over Calvinism, which has been widely discussed within Southern Baptist life this year.

In mid-August Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank Page announced the members of an advisory team who will help him craft a strategic plan to bring together the various groups who hold different opinions on Calvinism. The team held its first meeting in late August.

Earlier in August, Page and three other SBC leaders – Union University’s David Dockery, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’ Steve Lemke and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Hershael York – took part in a forum in Kentucky on Calvinism. The four men said they didn’t think the issue should divide the SBC.

“Baptists for 400 years have disagreed over this issue, and we’re not going to come to some place where we all agree. I think we can come to a place where we all can work together,” Dockery said.

The issue of Calvinism also was addressed several times at the SBC annual meeting, with each speaker urging messengers to remain united for the Great Commission. Page – who said he’s not a Calvinist – addressed each side of the debate. He told the non-Calvinists: “There seems to be some non-Calvinists who are more concerned about rooting out Calvinists than they are about winning the lost for Christ.” He then addressed Calvinists, some of whom he said “seem to think that if we do not believe the same thing about soteriology that they believe then somehow we are less intelligent or ignorant.” Soteriology is the study of the doctrine of salvation.

“I do believe we can find some ways to work together better,” Page said, “and I believe that the leaders of both of these groups can come together to say, ‘Here’s how we can return to working together like we once did.’”

Page confirmed again his plans to assemble a group of advisers to help chart a way through the division surrounding Calvinism. But that will not include revising the Baptist Faith and Message, Southern Baptists’ statement of beliefs, he said.

Then-SBC President Bryant Wright also addressed the issue in his convention sermon.

“Our calling is to be centered on Christ and grounded in the Word, while agreeing to disagree on the finer points of theological issues,” Wright said. “May we all agree that Christ ... has given us a very clear message and mission for the church.”

Wright added, “If we pride ourselves more on being a traditional Southern Baptist or more on being a Calvinist or a Reformed theologian, more than we are thankful that we are Christ-centered and biblically based ... then it is time to repent of theological idolatry.”

Messengers also overwhelmingly passed a resolution “On Cooperation and the Doctrine of Salvation,” which said in part, “We affirm that The Baptist Faith and Message provides sufficient parameters for understanding the doctrine of salvation, so that Southern Baptists may joyfully and enthusiastically partner together in obedience to the Great Commission.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.)
9/26/2012 2:23:32 PM by Baptist Press | with 2 comments



Terrified Pakistani Christians get food aid

September 26 2012 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani Christians, driven from their homes when a mentally handicapped girl was accused of blasphemy, were assisted in their distress with resources provided by the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund.

Rimsha Masih has since been released on bail and Khalid Chisti, the Muslim cleric who accused her, was arrested when witnesses alleged he framed the girl by placing pages from the Muslim holy book in the trash bag she had been carrying.

When the girl originally was accused on Aug. 16, an angry crowd gathered outside the police station where she was being held, according to news reports. The cleric who accused the girl reportedly called for the massacre of Christians in the neighborhood. Terrified Christians fled their homes, many of them taking none of their belongings.

As many as 600 families evacuated from the neighborhood, many of them taking refuge with Christians elsewhere in Islamabad.

Baptist Global Response partners became aware of the displaced believers and made plans to provide them with meals. Drawing from the World Hunger Fund, the partners were able to prepare one meal a day for an average of 300 people over the course of 10 days. As the meals were served, Christian leaders were able to pray with the traumatized families and share Bible stories that helped them understand how to live out Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies.

One of those Christians, Arif Masih, told reporters his family had left so quickly they didn’t even lock the front door. When they returned nine days later, the house had been looted. Even his kitchen utensils and a sack of flour were gone.

“People are so afraid, they cannot sleep at night,” Masih said, according to the McClatchy news service.

Francis Horton, who with his wife Angie directs work for Baptist Global Response in South Asia, said, “It’s such a privilege to be able to help people who find themselves suddenly in desperate need. When this story broke in the international news, many people in the United States were shaking their heads, wondering what to do about a crisis like this. Southern Baptists can celebrate that their partners were actually on the scene, helping people in need. And they were able to respond because Southern Baptists give generously to their World Hunger Fund.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly writes for Baptist Global Response, on the Internet at www.gobgr.org. World Hunger Sunday is Oct. 14. For more information, go to www.worldhungerfund.com.)
9/26/2012 2:19:24 PM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Flooded graveyards among DR call-outs

September 26 2012 by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press

BRAITHWAITE, La. – Jerry Jones, mass feeding coordinator for Texas Baptist Men (TBM), knows how to run a large-scale food operation during disaster responses. But he was taken aback by a request for TBM volunteers to go to Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish to recover runaway caskets.

Along the Louisiana Gulf Coast – from Braithwaite to New Orleans – it’s common local practice to bury loved ones in above-ground crypts because of the area’s high water table.

But after above-ground tombs in English Turn and Promised Land cemeteries near Braithwaite and another nearby cemetery were inundated by Hurricane Isaac’s flood surge, dozens of caskets – some new, some decades old – simply popped out of the ground. Some flooded-out mausoleums contained as many as four coffins.

“Our initial job was to collect and help load caskets on trucks to be taken to a central processing center where LSU forensic anthropologists and funeral home directors were waiting to ID the displaced remains,” Jones said.
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Photo by Ronald Threadgill

Louisiana State University forensic anthropologists and volunteers from Texas Baptist Men (background) process displaced caskets and human remains in Braithwaite, La., the result of recent flooding caused by Hurricane Isaac in Plaquemines Parish.


“Up front, we had a meeting to discuss what was expected,” said Jones, 71, a retired supervisor with Eastman-Kodak in Longview, Texas, who’s been involved in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief since 1996. “We gave any guys who wanted to a chance to drop out – with no questions asked. But everyone agreed that the Lord called us to do this ministry and He would give us the strength and courage to do it. And He did.”

Their first task when arriving on the scene – with rain still pouring down over displaced, muddy caskets and human remains – was to erect privacy fences with tarps and install a lighted, air-conditioned tent for the Louisiana State University forensic experts.

“Of course, very few of the remains in the caskets had identification on the bodies, so it was the LSU folks’ job to identify them,” Jones said.

As Christians, Jones and his Texas Baptist Men’s team showed maximum respect to the dead and to the living. After a day or so, family members of the displaced deceased began showing up to locate their loved one’s remains.

“There were a lot of tears and grief, and we tried to console them as best we could,” Jones said. “We had some ex-military personnel who had skills at handling these kinds of situations.”

Gibbie McMillan, the Louisiana convention’s DR director, said the casket retrieval operation will take another month to six weeks, and is now being operated by Louisiana Baptist volunteers who took over from Texas Baptist Men.

“There’s no telling how many caskets are in the woods,” McMillan said, adding that the state of Louisiana may have to do an aerial reconnaissance mission to find them all.

Meanwhile, four weeks following Hurricane Isaac’s landfall on Wednesday, Aug. 29, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers from a dozen state conventions have posted 7,594 volunteer days; 226,153 meals prepared; 1,082 chainsaw and mud-out jobs completed; 221 roof repairs; 141 children cared for; 8,796 laundry loads and showers for victims and volunteers; 13,512 ministry and chaplaincy contacts; 244 gospel presentations; and 37 professions of faith.

From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., the North American Mission Board (NAMB) coordinates Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through a partnership between NAMB and the SBC’s 42 state conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.

SBDR assets include 82,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and some 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, including the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

Southern Baptists and others who want to donate to the disaster relief operations can contact their state conventions or contribute to NAMB’s disaster relief fund via namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”
 
Contact North Carolina Baptist Men at baptistsonmission.org or call (800) 395-5102, ext. 5599.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.)
9/26/2012 2:08:17 PM by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Chinese congregation faces persecution but presses on

September 26 2012 by John Evans, Baptist Press

BEIJING – The first time the government had them evicted from their rented building, they worshiped outside in a blizzard. When the police started arresting them at their outdoor services, they came back faithfully each Sunday. When their leadership was placed under house arrest and some of them were pressured to quit their jobs, they endured.

They are Shouwang Church in Beijing, a congregation that has refused official registration. For years they have absorbed the abuses of a government opposed to their belief in Jesus Christ as head of the church. Shouwang now has ventured into legal efforts to secure a regular place of worship.

“The Chinese Communist Party is always afraid of any form of organization independent from the control of the central government,” said Mark Shan, news analyst for ChinaAid, a group that monitors religious freedom and has chronicled Shouwang Church’s struggles.

In China, only churches registered as part of the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement are considered legal. But registration brings government restrictions on evangelism, Sunday School, baptizing teens and children and other activities. In addition, ChinaAid’s founder and president, Bob Fu, says government-appointed leaders, many of whom are Communist Party members, are at the helm of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
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Jin Tianming, senior pastor of Shouwang Church in Beijing, preaches during the first worship service held outdoors in 2009 when the congregation’s struggle began with authorities over a regular meeting place.


Shouwang Church’s refusal to place itself under the yoke of government regulators has earned it and its roughly 1,000 members consistent harassment from authorities. In November 2009, according to the church, the government had the church evicted from its rented building, forcing members to worship outside twice before they received “tacit” consent to return indoors. But authorities continued to thwart efforts by the church to rent or buy a meeting place, so beginning on April 10, 2011, Shouwang decided to return to outdoor worship until they received official permission to meet indoors.

During the church’s first service, police arrested more than 160 members. For 17 months since then, Shouwang has continued to worship outdoors, and police have consistently arrested and detained scores of believers.

Shan says most arrested church members are released within a few days, but some are terrorized verbally and physically by the police. During interrogations, Shouwang members have even faced representatives of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement who try to sway the church members with theological arguments.

“The church never gives in,” Shan said. “Every Sunday, believers try very hard to go to the worship location, and they get arrested. They get detained, put in police stations and released. Every Sunday this kind of thing is repeated.”

Some members have been forced to quit their jobs or move due to government pressure, and church leadership has been held under house arrest. The senior pastor, Jin Tianming, has been confined to his home for more than 500 days.
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Members of Shouwang Church sing their praises to God in an outdoor worship service in 2009 – the beginning of a series of disputes with Beijing authorities over a regular meeting place.


In an effort to remedy the church’s situation through legal means, Tianming has filed an “administrative review” – which lets citizens contest government actions – with the Beijing municipal government. The application argues that the government’s actions – from pressuring landlords to detaining church members – indicate the government is “suppressing the religious freedom granted by the Constitution to every citizen and the right of Christian churches to practice their religious faith, all of which constitutes religious persecution.”

According to the South China Morning Post, a staff member at the legal affairs office of the Beijing government said the administrative review has been rejected. The next step, Shan of ChinaAid said, would be to file an “administrative lawsuit.”

“That would be more serious, because in that sense the courts would be involved in this case,” he said.

In the meantime, Shouwang Church struggles on. The Post quoted a church elder who said four leaders and many worshippers have left the church, a “painful wound in its heart.”

Shan asks believers to pray that God will grant Shouwang Church protection and wisdom. He also urges Christians to contact not only their governments, but also prominent businessmen and companies working in China. Their economic power has earned great respect from the Chinese government, and if they were to speak out, Shan said, it could make a difference.

In its most recent announcement posted on ChinaAid’s website, Shouwang Church gave thanks for its Sept. 16 outdoor worship service, the 38th consecutive week of services this year. Police arrested more than 20 members, but the church remains undaunted, committing itself to the Lord.

“Indeed, the LORD knows us; we won’t be able to persevere through such a long period of time without Him sustaining us with His might (sic) hands,” the announcement said. “Therefore, we believe that our LORD is still with His church, and is going to manifest His glorious work through our weakness. We pray that God will listen to our prayers in unity.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Evans is a writer in Houston.)
9/26/2012 1:56:41 PM by John Evans, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Church leaders trained by IMB to ‘equip and release’

September 25 2012 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

During a Bible study in Southeast Asia James* asked people to raise their hand if they had been persecuted for their faith. After no one raised their hand, he asked the question again, and still no hands were raised.
 
Confused by the response, James tried a different approach. He asked if anyone in the group had been sent to prison for their faith, or suffered physical pain for their faith. People raised their hands.
 
James explained that this group didn’t consider trials to be persecution. “They saw persecution as a normal part of their faith,” he said.
 
James, an International Mission Board (IMB) missionary in Southeast Asia, shared this experience during the Sept. 18 Embrace Southeast Asian Peoples USA Training at Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.
 
Southeast Asia is home to 347 unreached, unengaged people groups (UUPGs), and 218 live in areas of high government restriction. Among the 347 people groups, 13 live in extreme physical conditions, 32 in areas of high social hostility, and 263 are without access to Scripture in their heart language.
 
Through its “Embrace” emphasis the IMB is helping churches all across the country engage unreached, unengaged people groups in Southeast Asia and throughout the world with the gospel. UUPGs have a Christian population of less than two percent and no church planting methodology that is consistent with evangelical faith.
 
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Robert Clark


Reaching these people groups is not easy. “Are you ready for persecution? Are you ready for it for national brothers and sisters who come to faith? When you share the gospel and people come to faith, persecution is going to happen,” James said. But persecution is not an excuse to stay home.
 
“Missions in its purest sense means going where the gospel is not,” said Phil Nelson, IMB church missional strategist. “Jesus said to make disciples among all people. We have our marching orders straight from Scripture.”
 
North Carolina Baptists are on a journey to embrace 250 UUPGs by the year 2021. About a year and a half ago Old Town Baptist began its journey to share the gospel among the T people in Southeast Asia. “If they don’t have access to the good news of Jesus they can’t fulfill the passion of the heart of God,” said Mark Harrison, missions pastor at Old Town. During the training Harrison shared how God led Old Town to the T people and how God affirmed their obedience along the way.
 
“You have to be convinced this is what God wants you to do or you will not succeed. If you do this just for novelty or fun or anything else, that will not sustain you,” Harrison said. 
 
T4T discipleship
Believers are called to share the gospel among unreached people and to then make disciples of those who come to faith in Jesus Christ. James said believers would not be as effective as possible for the Kingdom without a strategy and process for working among unreached people.
 
During the training James walked participants through a process known as T4T (t4tonline.org) that is being used all over the world and resulting in thousands of new churches. During the T4T (“Training for Trainers”) process a leader meets with a small group of believers, training them in how to share their testimony, how to witness to lost people and how to disciple believers.
 
The goal of T4T is to train and disciple a believer so that the believer is able to start other T4T groups that will result in more T4T groups. The expectation is that everyone who is discipled and trained in a T4T group will in turn witness, disciple and train others who come to faith in Jesus. “It’s about multiplying disciples and leading to a church planting movement,” James said. “Everyone who is saved knows enough to go and share their faith.”
 
T4T encourages leaders to think strategically about reaching various population segments and casting a vision that gives everyone in the people group opportunity to hear the gospel. “We like to bask in the glory of a movement in one area when there are still more lost people to reach,” James said.
 
A reproducible process
Foundational to the T4T process is reproducibility. Trainers must teach people in their groups evangelism strategies that they can then not only use themselves, but also teach someone else how to use.
 
Trainers must train people in effective discipleship and how to study and feed themselves from God’s Word.
 
Accountability is also a key T4T component. Everyone in a T4T group is challenged to share the gospel with people every week and to share those experiences with their group. James said if people are not held accountable they are less likely to actually put into practice the evangelism and discipleship lessons they learn in the group.
 
Equip and release
Engaging unreached people groups will take time and Robert Clark, who is training leaders in Southeast Asia, encouraged believers not to be discouraged if people do not immediately come to faith.
 
“We need to go with expectancy,” he said. “But it’s not a one-man show. God will use you, and other people and other things, as part of the process of bringing people into the Kingdom. Wherever a person is, we can help him take one step closer to salvation in Jesus.”
 
Equipping and releasing believers to share their faith among lost people should be a key component in any strategy for reaching UUPGs. However, Clark said many churches fail to live out the truth of the priesthood of all believers. When that happens, “our strategy to reach the world is to come hear our pastor,” Clark said.
 
“The pastor becomes the superstar of the church and that puts a lot of pressure on the pastor. A lot of pastors burn out because they live under a burden God never intended them to carry,” he said.
 
“The pastor’s role is to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. It is not about bringing more people to us; it is about equipping and releasing people into the world,” Clark said. 
 
“Equip and release lay people to start new churches in new places and continually repeat that process generation after generation.”
 
To learn more about engaging unreached people groups in Southeast Asia and throughout the world visit ncbaptist.org/gcp or imb.org. The Baptist State Convention’s Church Planting & Missions Development Group will host a series of T4T training events next year across the state. More information will be available soon at ncbaptist.org/gcp.

*Name changed
9/25/2012 2:23:03 PM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Mud houses compound Niger flood recovery

September 25 2012 by Tess Rivers, Baptist Press

NIAMEY, Niger  – Floodwater destroys, dissolves, stains, reeks, stagnates and displaces. For those with homes built of mud and livelihoods based on farming, the devastation – and the time it takes to rebuild – multiplies exponentially.

This post-flooding assessment by Baptist Global Response (BGR) partners in Niger followed the distribution of some 300 hygiene and living kits to families in two communities – Sarando and Yonkoto – after the Niger River reached its highest levels in 90 years, stemming from heavy annual rains in August. According to reports, rising floodwaters in the West African country have killed 81 people and destroyed 37,000 homes, affecting nearly half the country’s already impoverished communities.

In the village of Sarando, water destroyed nearly 95 percent of houses, granaries and other mud block structures, BGR partner Gabe Manor* reported. “It was like walking through a village of wax houses,” Manor said. “Houses and other mud structures had melted and flowed away. You could not have sculpted a more pathetic cityscape.”
09-25-12niger.jpg

Relief supplies were distributed in two West African communities after the Niger River in August reached its highest levels in 90 years, killing 81 people and destroying 37,000 homes. Nearly half the country’s already impoverished communities were affected.


“It’s like building a house out of Play-Doh and then squishing it,” BGR partner Shadrach Black agreed. “We saw tin roofs lying on top of mounds of mud that used to be family homes.”

The BGR team worked with representatives from the U.N. and other aid organizations to “fill the gaps” in smaller or harder-to-reach communities. This level of cooperation assured that organizations were not duplicating efforts and ultimately allowed aid to reach more hurting people, said Mark Hatfield, who directs BGR’s work in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The kits contained mosquito nets, mats, blankets, buckets, soap, a kettle, sugar and tea. The BGR team purchased the items in local markets, allowing relief to get to affected families much more quickly than importing from other countries.

But the goal wasn’t just to provide relief quickly. The distribution was not a “come-and-get-and-go-away event,” Manor said.

“Our goal was that this distribution would be relational,” Manor said. “We wanted to boost the work of Christians in the area and profile the work of the local church.”

While villagers in both communities were grateful, both Manor and Black admitted their own struggle with the inadequacy of their efforts in the face of such great need.

“What does a blanket, a pot and a mat really give people?” Black questioned.

Tini Magarie, a leader in another heavily affected village, put their efforts in perspective. Magarie thanked the team for providing what he described in the local language as “readiness.” He explained that receiving things to be set aside for later use helps villagers “get ready” to rebuild once floodwaters recede.

Black said, “Our buckets, mats and blankets represent hope – hope and ‘readiness’ that when the time comes, they will rebuild their lives.”

*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tess Rivers is a contributing writer for Baptist Global Response, on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.)
9/25/2012 2:07:45 PM by Tess Rivers, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



China report disputed of end to abortion policy

September 25 2012 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – It is too soon to say the Chinese government has put a stop to forced abortion, foes of the practice have said in response to such a report from one of their allies.

All Girls Allowed (AGA) reported the end of forced abortion in China Sept. 12, but two other organizations – Women’s Rights Without Frontiers (WRWF) and the Population Research Institute (PRI) – disputed that assertion days later. All three groups work to combat China’s coercive “one-child” population control program instituted in 1979.

AGA said Beijing family planning officials had ordered a ban on forced late-term abortions and sterilizations. It based its report on two documents from family planning entities and statements by national and local officials.

Wang Xia, director of the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC), called on family planning enforcement authorities to “absolutely stop performing late-stage abortions” and only “guide people to do family planning voluntarily,” according to the AGA report. AGA acknowledged Wang refused to comment on forced abortions early in pregnancy but concluded “her insistence on using only voluntary measures indicates that forced abortion should not occur at any stage of pregnancy.”
09-25-12china.jpg

Wang’s order “is awesome progress,” AGA founder Chai Ling said in a written statement.

AGA’s announcement is premature, the leaders of WRWF and PRI said in Sept. 17 news releases.

Her organization “has no doubt that forced abortions continue to happen at this very moment in China,” WRWF President Reggie Littlejohn said. “When the message goes out that this is no longer happening, it undermines the movement to stop it.”

PRI President Steven Mosher said, “Women continue to be arrested, aborted and sterilized against their will at this very moment.”

Mosher uncovered the forced-abortion practices of the “one-child” policy in 1980 while he was a Stanford University doctoral student in China.

The Chinese regime has said for more than three decades the “one-child” policy is “entirely voluntary,” he said. “[T]his assertion of ‘voluntarism’ is no more true now than it was when I saw women who were five, seven and even nine months pregnant held down on the operating table and aborted.”

Mosher has no doubts China’s family planning panel issued the document AGA cited, but it will do no more to stop forced abortion than did a 2002 Chinese law that supposedly protected citizens from coercion by family planning officials, he said.

Both Mosher and Littlejohn said the documents and statements from family planning officials are attempts to overcome bad publicity in recent months, especially a report of a mother without a birth permit whose baby was forcibly aborted when she was seven months pregnant. The story – accompanied by a photo of Feng Jianmei and her aborted daughter in bed next to her – gained global attention online in June.

“Until proven otherwise, we believe that any rhetoric generated by the Chinese Communist Party ostensibly banning forced abortion is propaganda designed to deflect the heat generated” by Feng’s forced abortion, Littlejohn said.

“We need to keep the pressure on, not celebrate propaganda designed to take the pressure off,” she said.

Mosher said he expected Beijing “would engage in exactly this kind of damage control.”

“The Chinese Party-State, which is responsible for such criminal acts, has lost face, and is now trying [to] recover,” he said.

China’s population control program generally limits couples in urban areas to one child and those in rural areas to two, if the first is a girl. Parents in cities may have second babies if the husband and wife are both only children. Couples who violate the policy face the possibility of not only forced abortions or sterilizations but of large fines, job loss and imprisonment.

The policy has resulted not only in many reports of authorities carrying out forced abortions and sterilizations, but there also have been accounts of infanticide. It has helped produce a dramatic gender imbalance because of the Chinese preference for sons.

In a follow-up news release Sept. 17, AGA acknowledged an “uphill battle” remains to overturn the “one-child” policy but said Wang’s call to stop forced late-term abortions is “major progress” that is “worth reporting.”

“It’s a step. It’s the beginning of the end,” according to AGA. “It means, ultimately, that God is answering the devoted prayers of many.”

AGA remains “as committed as ever” to uncovering forced and coerced abortions, as well as trying to deliver mothers from violence against their babies and them, it said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
9/25/2012 1:54:42 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Spiritual awakening emphasis to highlight annual meeting

September 24 2012 by BSC Communications

The 182nd Annual Meeting of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) will be Nov. 12-13 and include worship services, break out sessions and special related meetings. 
 
The annual meeting will be held at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex Special Events Center. The meeting begins Monday, Nov. 12, at 6 p.m. and ends Tuesday, Nov. 13, at 8:50 p.m. Registration opens Monday at 4 p.m. and closes 30 minutes after the general session that evening. Registration opens Tuesday at 8 a.m. and closes once the business session concludes that evening.
 

Awaken

This year’s annual meeting theme is “Awaken,” based on Romans 13:11-14. The theme encourages all North Carolina Baptists to pursue revival and spiritual awakening in an effort to reach the 5.6 million people in North Carolina, and six billion worldwide, who do not know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.  
 
BSC leadership is praying that this year’s meeting will encourage a revival among churches across the state. Prior to the annual meeting, North Carolina Baptists are asked to commit to pray every day during October for spiritual awakening. Brian Davis, BSC executive leader for administration, said the need for spiritual awakening is great.
 
“Never before have the people in this state been surrounded by such spiritual darkness and overwhelming numbers of lostness,” he said. “The Committee on Convention Meetings felt strongly that God is directing the theme of awakening to stir God’s people into action for His Kingdom.” 
 
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Davis added that many North Carolina Baptists have already committed to pray for spiritual revival. “We are excited to see so many people respond and commit to praying for awakening in the months leading up to the annual meeting,” he said. 
 

Special worship

Messengers to this year’s meeting will participate in two special worship services. The Monday evening session will feature a special service devoted to spiritual awakening including worship, theme interpretation, prayer and a sermon from Milton A. Hollifield Jr., BSC executive director-treasurer.
 
During the Tuesday evening session attendees will participate in a North American Mission Board (NAMB) Commissioning Service. 
 
Michael Sowers, BSC senior consultant for Great Commission Partnerships, said the commissioning service will be a time to remind North Carolina Baptists of the urgency to take the gospel to people who need to hear. “We have people living in this country who represent unreached people groups from all throughout the world,” Sowers said. 
 

Related meetings

The Pastor’s Conference will be held at Lawndale Baptist Church in Greensboro. The event is free and registration is not required. The conference starts Sunday evening, Nov. 11, and concludes Monday afternoon, Nov. 12.
 
Messengers are invited to explore mission opportunities from the BSC, NAMB and the International Mission Board, as well as networking opportunities with other pastors and leaders, during the Great Commission Partnership Missions Breakfast Nov. 13 at 7 a.m. Featured speakers include Jeff Christopherson, regional vice president of Canada and northeast region for the North American Mission Board, and Mark Harrison, missions pastor at Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. The breakfast is free but registration is required and space is limited.
 

Breakout sessions

A variety of breakout sessions will be offered Tuesday afternoon. Topics include “Pursuing Godliness as You Lead Others,” “Disciple-making in 3D,” “The Billy Graham ‘My Hope’ Evangelistic Emphasis,” “Church Renewal and Revitalization,” “Stewardship: Lost in Translation” and “Awaken: God’s Time to Wake Up and Pray.”
 

Exhibit hall

The exhibit hall includes more than 100 exhibits featuring BSC ministry groups and institutions and agencies, as well as exhibits offering various resources to churches such as insurance, church building and planning, and website development. The exhibit hall is open Monday from 4 p.m. until 30 minutes after the conclusion of the evening session, and Tuesday from 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m.
 
For more about the annual meeting, including directions and hotel information, visit ncannualmeeting.org.

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9/24/2012 3:02:05 PM by BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Messengers to receive cards by September’s end

September 24 2012 by BSC

North Carolina Baptists from across the state will gather in Greensboro Nov. 12-13 for the 182nd annual meeting of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC). The meeting will be held at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex Special Events Center.
 
Churches to the annual meeting should receive messenger cards by the end of September. For questions about messenger cards, call (800) 395-5102, ext. 5555.
 
Messengers must present their properly signed card to the Credentials Subcommittee at the time of registration in order to receive their messenger packet. For more information about how to complete the cards, visit ncannualmeeting.org.
 
N.C. Baptists are invited and encouraged to attend the annual meeting. However, messengers are those attendees who have an opportunity to vote during the business sessions and speak at the microphone about an issue.
 
All cooperating BSC churches are eligible to send messengers to the meeting.
The number of messengers a church may send is determined on either a numerical or financial basis:
 
On a numerical basis: Every cooperating church shall be allowed two messengers. One additional messenger is allowed for every 100 members or major fraction thereof, beyond the first 100 members, provided that to have more than two messengers, the church financially supports the Cooperative Program by giving at least one percent of undesignated budget gifts through the Cooperative Program of the Convention (funds used as matching funds for the expanded annuity shall not be considered).
 
On a financial basis: Every cooperating church giving five percent of undesignated budget gifts through the Cooperative Program shall have two messengers and one additional messenger for every one percent beyond the initial five percent.
 
Messengers must register in order to be eligible to vote during the business sessions. Registration opens Monday, Nov. 12, at 4 p.m., and will close 30 minutes after the general session that evening. On Nov. 13, registration opens at 8 a.m. and will close at 6:45 p.m.

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9/24/2012 2:42:56 PM by BSC | with 0 comments



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