September 2017

Puerto Rico churches doing best to help, NAMB catalyst says

September 29 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

More than a week after Puerto Rico suffered its greatest natural disaster, the condition of most of the Southern Baptist churches on the island is still unknown, a church planting catalyst on the island told Baptist Press (BP).

Screen capture from MSNBC
Puerto Rico needs “all hands on deck” as it struggles to recover from “the perfect storm” created by damages from hurricanes Irma and Maria in the island nation, its Gov. Ricardo Rossello said today on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

But the 12 churches Carlos Rodriguez has been able to contact are doing all they can to help survivors of hurricanes Irma and Maria, he said in a telephone interview Sept. 27. Rodriguez had been unable to contact the remaining 75 or so Southern Baptist churches on the island because of damaged infrastructure and communication services, he said.
“The churches in the metropolitan area and some in the south (and southeast) ... are OK,” the North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planting catalyst said. Those 12 churches had only “limited damage, nothing really bad.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Sept. 28 gave Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) teams permission to move onto the island to help recovery efforts, NAMB told BP. The teams had been on standby as National Guard and U.S. military troops conducted search and rescue efforts and delivered emergency humanitarian resources.
In the meantime, NAMB has been working closely with state Baptist partners, FEMA, the American Red Cross and Southern Baptist pastors on the island to set a response in place.
“We have just received a green light from government officials,” said David Melber, NAMB’s vice president of Send Relief. “Southern Baptists will play a significant role in this response and there will be a long-term need for volunteers and resources.”
Melber said the Southern Baptist response will include feeding teams that will be serving at several locations throughout the island. In addition, Send Relief is sending care packages directly to Puerto Rican Southern Baptist pastors. The packages will include vital equipment and supplies. NAMB is also working with the Florida Baptist Convention to facilitate church-to-church partnerships so Southern Baptist churches on the mainland can work directly with counterparts in Puerto Rico. More information is available at as well as opportunities to volunteer or donate.
On the island, Rodriguez had cell service only because he had managed to travel to the island’s metropolitan area of San Juan. He noted he’d be unreachable by phone once he returned to his home on the island’s south side. Hurricane Maria destroyed the island’s electrical grid, compounding the damage from Hurricane Irma two weeks earlier.
“The churches are trying to do their best with the limited resources they have right now. Other agencies also – the Red Cross – are trying to help the people,” he said. Pastors are visiting with survivors in shelters, praying with them and offering spiritual comfort.
Recovery in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where an additional eight Southern Baptist churches are located, has also been slow. Lennox Zamore, pastor of Ebenezer Memorial Baptist Church in Saint Thomas, told BP last week that churches there were rallying to help the devastated community.
“Amid the crisis and chaos, the church is emerging to be the nerve center of the community,” Zamore said in a text message. “We are resourcing churches to be supply pods for food, supplies, tarps, counseling, and VBS (Vacation Bible School). And the Kingdom is responding all across America, led of course by the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention).”
It will take months to regain electrical power, reopen schools, universities and government offices and restore government services, he said.
“Recovery is slow because of the curfews and crippled infrastructure. Irma destroyed St. Thomas and St. John, so the government was operating from St. Croix,” Zamore said. “Maria came through and destroyed St. Croix, bringing things to a virtual halt. No island has power.”
In the U.S., President Donald Trump lifted certain restrictions of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, to allow foreign cargo ships to transport supplies to Puerto Rico, press secretary Sandra Huckabee tweeted today.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, speaking on today’s Morning Joe on MSNBC, shared an update on relief efforts so far. Puerto Rico has rescued 5,500 people since the storm, reopened 34 of the 69 hospitals, and has received four million liters of water, he said, but the island is limited in transporting food and supplies to residents.
“Between yesterday and today, we’ve impacted 50 municipalities to get them food, water and of course, try to work with the diesel and fuel distribution,” he said. “The food is here, the water is here, but critically what we need is equipment and (people), whether it be National Guard or state guard.”
Puerto Rico is distinct from Texas and Florida, Rossello said, in that the island has no bordering countries to help, and travel is restricted to air and sea.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor. The North American Mission Board contributed to this report.)

9/29/2017 10:51:58 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Miracles really do happen,’ Scalise says to House

September 29 2017 by Baptist Press staff

Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana described himself as “definitely a living example that miracles really do happen” in his first appearance in the U.S House of Representatives after suffering a life-threatening gunshot wound 15 weeks ago.

Screen capture from NBC News
Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana described himself as “definitely a living example that miracles really do happen” in his first appearance in the U.S House of Representatives after suffering a life-threatening gunshot wound 15 weeks ago. “… The power of prayer is something that you just cannot underestimate,” he said.

Scalise, the House’s majority whip and a leading conservative in the Republican Party, spoke Sept. 28 after walking into the packed chamber with the aid of crutches. He was shot June 14 at an Alexandria, Va., park as GOP members practiced for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity.
His ability to return to the House “starts with God,” Scalise said. “When I was laying out on that ball field, the first thing I did once I was down and I couldn’t move anymore was I just started to pray. And I tell you it gave me an unbelievable sense of calm, knowing at that point it was in God’s hands.
“But I prayed for very specific things,” he told his colleagues. “And I’ll tell you, pretty much every one of those prayers was answered, and there were some pretty challenging prayers I was putting in God’s hand. But He really did deliver for me and my family. And it just gives you that renewed faith and understanding that the power of prayer is something that you just cannot underestimate.”
On June 14, Scalise received a rifle shot to the left hip from James Hodgkinson, who was killed by subsequent gunfire from police. The bullet traversed “his pelvis, fracturing bones, injuring internal organs and causing severe bleeding,” according to a statement from the MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where he was transported in shock.
He was in critical condition and required at least four surgeries. Three weeks after the shooting, he had to return to the intensive care unit, but he was moved to the inpatient rehabilitation center July 26, the hospital reported.
The “outpouring of love, of warmth, of prayer” overwhelmed his wife Jennifer and him, giving them the strength to reach this day, Scalise told his fellow House members.
Scalise expressed gratitude to the U.S. Capitol Police, especially David Bailey and Crystal Griner, who were assigned to his security detail that day. They returned fire with Hodgkinson and were injured in the process. They received credit for keeping the shooter from wounding or killing others.
He prayed while he was on the ground that Bailey and Griner would be successful in fulfilling their duties, Scalise told his fellow representatives. Griner was unable to attend Scalise’s speech, but Bailey sat in the House gallery.
Scalise looked at Bailey and said, “David, you are my hero. You saved my life. Thank you so much.”
In introducing Scalise after he received a standing ovation upon his entrance to the House chamber, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said, “Our prayers have been answered. His bravery and his family’s strength have been such an inspiration to this House and to the people it serves. America is grateful for this moment.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

9/29/2017 10:49:19 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Federal judge strikes down Kentucky abortion law

September 29 2017 by Mark Maynard, Kentucky Today

A Kentucky law requiring doctors who conduct abortions to display and describe a patient’s ultrasound as well as play the fetal heartbeat to the pregnant woman violates the First Amendment rights of those physicians, a federal judge said.

Photo by Robin Cornetet, Kentucky Today
Attorney Steve Pitt, the general counsel for Gov. Matt Bevin, talks to reporters outside the courthouse after a trial earlier this month. A federal judge struck down a Kentucky abortion law on Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge David Hale ruled late Sept. 27 in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) challenge to the law by the state’s only abortion provider, EMW Women’s Surgical Center, and bans the state from enforcing it.
On Thursday, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said the governor was disappointed in the ruling and would immediately appeal it. She said the administration is confident in the constitutionality of law. Similar laws in other states have been upheld and struck down by various courts.
William Sharp, legal director of the ACLU of Kentucky, called the ruling “a vindication of the rights of Kentuckians and their physicians.” He noted the ruling “marks a significant victory against the General Assembly’s overreach into the area of reproductive healthcare.”
Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, voiced his disagreement with the ruling by saying “Judge Hale and the ACLU have brought injustice rather than justice to expectant mothers and their unborn children.”
“Rather than ensuring a mother is fully informed about the abortion procedure, its risks and consequences, they use wild claims about the First Amendment to shroud the slaughter of sons and daughters,” Chitwood said. “Not only is abortion the only legal form of murder in the U.S., it is an immensely serious medical procedure with significant risks. Judge Hale and these liberal lawyers want the surgery to be regulated as if it were no more complicated than a doctor’s visit for a sore throat.”
Earlier this year, the state attempted to shut down EMW Women’s Surgical Center, the last abortion clinic in Kentucky, saying it lacked proper agreements with a hospital and ambulance service. The ACLU and a Kentucky law firm sued, arguing that the state was targeting abortion providers for medically unnecessary regulation. Another federal judge blocked the attempt to close the clinic. The trial was held earlier this month.
The ACLU said in a statement that the court recognized the law “appears to inflict psychological harm on abortion patients,” and causes them to “experience distress as a result.”
Kentucky, which had 17 abortion providers in 1978, was trying to become the only state in the nation without an abortion clinic. Besides Kentucky, six other states – North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Mississippi, Wyoming and West Virginia – have only one such clinic.
Between 900,000 and 1 million babies die each year in the United States at the hands of physicians performing abortions. Between 3,000 and 3,500 of those children are killed in Kentucky alone every year.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Maynard writes for Kentucky Today,, where this article first appeared. Kentucky Today is a news resource of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)

9/29/2017 10:46:42 AM by Mark Maynard, Kentucky Today | with 0 comments

Missionary physician Franklin Fowler dies at 100

September 29 2017 by Ann Lovell, LifeSpire of Virginia & Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Franklin T. Fowler, the first medical consultant for Southern Baptists’ Foreign Mission Board (FMB), died Sept. 10 in Richmond, Va., at age 100.
Fowler began serving at the board (now International Mission Board) in 1960 after he and his wife Dorcas had been missionaries in Paraguay and Mexico.

Contributed photo
Franklin Fowler stands in front of the Baptist hospital in Asuncion, Paraguay, which he founded as a missionary in the South American country from 1947-1956.

In Paraguay, Fowler founded a Baptist hospital in Asuncion, which continues today under Paraguayan leadership as the Baptist Medical Center, which treats 16,000 patients per month in the nation’s capital.
Fowler grew up in Argentina as the child of missionary parents, committing his life to Christ at age 10. After college at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn., he went to Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville where, with the start of World War II, he and his class earned their medical degrees a few months earlier than planned.
Fowler served in combat in France, Luxembourg and Germany as a doctor with the semi-mobile 110th Evacuation Hospital. After returning from the war, he married Dorcas, a registered nurse, in August 1946. She died in June of this year at age 96.
The Fowlers had lived at the Lakewood retirement community in Richmond since 1987, where they started a worship service for health care residents and Fowler wrote a 398-page autobiography, From There to Here: The Story of a Missionary Child available on Amazon. Proceeds from Fowler’s book of his missions experiences, poetry and painting go to the VBH Foundation of LifeSpire (formerly Virginia Baptist Homes) to assist residents who outlive their financial resources.
Jerry Rankin, who became International Mission Board (IMB) president in 1993, and his wife Bobbye were among the hundreds of missionary candidates processed by Fowler in his work as the mission board’s medical consultant.
“He put us through the paces of all the exams for qualifying health-wise” for missionary service, Rankin said of their 1970 appointment to Indonesia.
“We got to know him through some of his travels visiting the mission hospitals in our area of the world,” said Rankin, who retired as IMB president in 2010. “We always appreciated his humor, his sensitivity. He was always personally interested in us as missionaries, not just with medical concerns.”
Fowler’s influence on medical missions is exemplified in the counsel he gave Rebekah Naylor who spent 35 years in India as a missionary surgeon at the Bangalore Baptist Hospital.
As recounted by Naylor, “When I approached the time of appointment by the Foreign Mission Board in response to God’s call to be a medical missionary, it was Dr. Franklin Fowler who came to Dallas to decide with me where I would serve. He cheerfully asked that I go to India as a surgeon at the Bangalore Baptist Hospital then under construction.
“In my early years in India, Dr. Fowler made several visits both to evaluate the work and to provide much encouragement,” said Naylor, now a global health consultant for the Southern Baptist humanitarian organization Baptist Global Response. “He was a leader in medical missions both overseas and among Southern Baptists here at home.”
Fowler and his wife of 70 years are survived by four children, Franklin Timothy Fowler, James Cate Fowler II, Lindon Fowler Rice and Richard Phillip Fowler; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Starting a hospital

Appointed as Southern Baptist missionaries in 1947, the Fowlers went to Paraguay, tasked to build a hospital.

Contributed photo
Franklin Fowler showed a copy of his autobiography, “From There to Here: The Story of a Missionary Child,” as his wife Dorcas looked on. The book was published shortly before her death in June of this year at age 96. Fowler, the first medical consultant for Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board, died Sept. 10 at age 100.

Two years later, after surveying the needs, deciding on a location and purchasing property, Fowler sent a cable to the FMB: “HOW DO YOU BUILD A HOSPITAL?” He soon received a simple reply from Everett Gill, the mission board’s area secretary for the Americas: “WE ARE PRAYING FOR YOU.”
In an interview before his 100th birthday in March, Fowler said the hospital in Paraguay was among his most satisfying accomplishments. In 1995, the Baptist Medical Center expanded to include a heart institute, and the next year doctors there performed Paraguay’s first successful heart transplant.
The Fowlers left Paraguay in 1956 to accept an assignment in Mexico then moved to Richmond in 1960 where he served on the mission board’s home office staff. Dorcas, meanwhile, worked as director of Johnston-Willis Hospital’s nursing school until it closed. During his tenure at the FMB, Fowler started the Baptist Medical/Dental Fellowship, which remains active today.
Randy Sprinkle, who served in Ethiopia, Botswana and Lesotho, was among hundreds of missionaries who interacted with Fowler about their medical concerns.
“In 1979 we were at our lowest after an extremely difficult first term of missionary service in Ethiopia that included war, famine and, most personally, my wife Nancy developing lupus,” Sprinkle told Baptist Press. “We had been home on an extended medical leave and were facing the end of our missionary careers as Dr. Fowler would not approve a medical clearance for us even though we both had clearly testified to him and our area leadership that God’s direction was to return and trust Him to provide.
“After waiting for the mission board to accept our involuntary resignations, we called our area director and he said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on but your resignation was not acted upon by the board. Let me transfer you to the medical office.’ After a couple of rings, Dr. Fowler himself answered. I identified myself and before I could go further, he said, ‘Randy, what a pleasant surprise. I just signed your medical clearances. You can return to Africa.’ And we did for 10 more years of service.”
Sprinkle, who later led the mission board’s International Prayer Strategy Office, noted, “We knew Dr. Fowler as a medical professional who made hard, sometimes painful decisions that affected missionary lives but at his core he was a missionary himself who listened to and obeyed God.”

‘Healer & spiritual witness’

In March, the Fowlers were asked how long they’d been married. They exchanged a puzzled glance and then laughed.
“We don’t remember!” Dorcas said. “Forever.”
Fowler reached for his Bible, opened the front cover and pulled out a photo of Dorcas as a young woman. He didn’t say much, but his message was clear: His God and his wife were his two most important relationships.
Dorcas was born in Oklahoma City and received a bachelor of arts degree from William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo.; a nursing degree from St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.; and a master of arts degree from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Va.
Even at the end of her life, Dorcas faithfully cared for her husband. As her life ebbed away, Fowler sat quietly, holding her hand.
Fowler’s autobiography tells of their first trip to Paraguay by boat when Dorcas was eight months pregnant with their oldest child.
“This proved to be a bad time for Dorcas to travel,” Fowler wrote. “Eight months pregnant, the rolling of the ship kept her in her bunk most of the way. I’m afraid this was not a pleasant Caribbean and South American cruise for her.”
A few weeks later, she delivered their oldest son in a clinic in Asunción, Paraguay – without anesthesia.
“I asked Dr. Aguire later why he did not use anesthesia,” Fowler wrote. “He said that if he lost a Paraguayan patient, it would be considered the will of God, but if he lost an American patient or the baby, his reputation would be ruined, thus he took no risks. Dorcas wished he had taken a little more risk!”
Fowler’s family, in his newspaper obituary, wrote, “Our words are wholly inadequate to describe what he meant to us. A man of great intellect and personal strength, he was physician, missionary, minister, soldier, teacher, writer, painter, poet and faithful servant to the Lord. His life was an example of devotion and he demonstrated God’s love to people he encountered around the world. He touched untold lives as a healer and spiritual witness. His was an example of a life well-lived in service to the greater good.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ann Lovell is corporate director of communications for LifeSpire of Virginia, formerly Virginia Baptist Homes, which published Franklin Fowler’s book, From There to Here: The Story of a Missionary Child. Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press.)

9/29/2017 10:35:27 AM by Ann Lovell, LifeSpire of Virginia & Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pensacola cross sparks legal battle

September 29 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The city of Pensacola, Fla., has appealed a federal judge’s ruling that a 34-foot-tall cross in one of its public parks must be removed.

Becket Fund for Religious Liberty photo
A 34-foot-tall cross in a Pensacola, Fla., public park is the subject of the legal battle between the city and four plaintiffs who sued to have it removed.

The city, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, filed a 155-page brief in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Sept. 26 claiming those who filed suit lack legal standing to bring a complaint and that the cross does not violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban of government-established religion. Becket is a conservative, Washington-based nonprofit organization focused on defending religious liberty.
“Pensacola has a rich history, and it shouldn’t have to censor that history just because part of it is religious,” Becket deputy general counsel Luke Goodrich said in a press release. “The Constitution doesn’t treat religion like a nasty habit that must be hidden from public view; it treats it as a natural and valuable part of human culture. Pensacola can treat religion the same way.”
A cross was first erected in Pensacola’s Bayview Park in 1941, donated by the city’s Junior Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with a community Easter gathering, according to the city’s brief. The aging cross was replaced in 1969 with the cross currently in Bayview Park.
In 2016, the American Humanists Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of four people who objected to the cross, Pensacola’s News Journal reported.
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled in June the cross violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, as it has been interpreted by courts, and ordered the cross to be removed. Vinson added, however, that while he is bound by higher court precedent, he hopes the U.S Supreme Court will revisit its interpretation of the Establishment Clause, according to the News Journal.
In its appellate brief, Pensacola claimed the suit lacks legal standing because the plaintiffs have not demonstrated any injury due to the cross.
None of the four plaintiffs made “any effort to avoid the cross, and all of them encountered it for many years before filing suit, apparently without any distress,” the city’s brief stated. One plaintiff has utilized the cross for his own “satanic purposes,” according to the brief.
The cross, the city added, serves a secular purpose by preserving “the city’s history and culture.”
Still, Annie Gaylor, co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said according to Fox News, “When a city park serving all citizens – nonreligious, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian – contains a towering Latin cross, this sends a message of exclusion to non-Christians, and a corresponding message to Christians that they are favored citizens.”
Ted Traylor, pastor of Pensacola’s Olive Baptist Church, told Baptist Press via email he believes the cross should “remain in the park.”
“I see the city being on firm ground legally and historically,” Traylor said. “The city seal of Pensacola has a cross on it. Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola contains rows of crosses. I see no reason for a symbol that has stood for 75 years to be taken down.
“However, if every cross in the land is removed, I will not rise in angry protest but proclaim the love of our risen Lord Jesus,” said Traylor, a former Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) first vice president and a former president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference.
The American Humanists Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation have until Nov. 16 to file their brief to the appeals court, with the city’s reply due Dec. 14, the News Journal reported.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

9/29/2017 10:29:33 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Church rallies after hurricane to serve Florida community

September 28 2017 by Josie Bingham, NAMB

Inside a gym with yellow walls, 200 volunteers form an assembly line. These helpers from First Baptist Church (FBC) of Immokalee, Fla., are bagging food and cleaning supplies in the church’s gym because it’s one of the few buildings left standing after Hurricane Irma reduced the already-impoverished area to even less.

Photo by Daniel Draddy
Eustolia Flores and her daughter, Jocelyn, stand in front of their home in Immokalee, Fla., that was completely flattened by Hurricane Irma. Flores, Jocelyn and her son, Andriz, were taken in by their next door neighbor Anita Martinez. Martinez’s home received damage as well, half of it is covered in tarps slung over gaps in the roof. Both families are living in the damaged home sleeping on sections of the floor that remain covered. Nobody in the neighborhood has power or running water.

“Our awesome volunteers are inside and outside the church manning all kinds of stations from bagging to distribution so that when people’s cars pull up, they can get everything they need,” said Jessica Pigg, wife of senior pastor Timothy Pigg. “They’ll get a bag of groceries and canned goods, a bag of snacks, bananas and a hygiene kit with toiletries and other necessities.”
It takes a group effort, but FBC Immokalee won’t let that deter them.
“We’ve got football players helping us with water distribution and with carrying dog food and diapers to cars,” Pigg said. “We’ve also got volunteers handing out tea and lemonade. You name it, we are going to have it.”
From baby formula to food boxes and bags, the church’s gym floor is covered in supplies donated to this hurricane-devastated community.
“When church ended Sunday afternoon [September 17], we received so many donations and boxes from all kinds of disaster relief organizations and churches,” Pigg said. “We’re going to keep giving until we’re out of things to give, but hopefully every single day this week, Monday through Friday, we are going to have a distribution.”
Alongside the Immokalee high school football players, students on cheerleading, power lifting and softball teams have continued to show up to help FBC Immokalee volunteers serve the diverse Immokalee community of 30,000.
A junior at Immokalee High School, Woodchy Darius, has to choose between accepting a job picking berries and going back to school when it reopens. He fears his family, Haitian migrants, won’t be able to pay rent because Irma took away the ability for them to work.
“If I don’t have the money, they’ll kick us out,” Darius told the Lufkin (Texas) Daily News.
According to the Census Bureau, those immigrants in Immokalee are among the impoverished 16 percent of the state’s 20.6 million population. Day laborers and migrants in Immokalee who pick produce did not receive paychecks while Irma flooded their fields. Stores and restaurants closed during the storm with no hope of opening soon after damage assessment.
“My hope for First Baptist Immokalee is that Christ be exalted through preaching, teaching and serving ministries of the church,” pastor Timothy Pigg said. “My focus is to equip those to do the work of ministry.”
And service ministry is needed in Immokalee.
Mobile homes are no longer livable but for those with only $10 to their names, there’s nowhere else to go. People are running out of gas and generators. Haitians, Guatemalans, Latin Americans and others that make up Immokalee’s diverse community are trying to be strong for one another during their struggles.
For many Immokalee residents, not having to worry about where their next meal will come from is a blessing.
“We’re all in recovery mode from hurricane Irma, and it can be overwhelming,” Kerri Sisson, member of New Hope World Changer’s relief operations in Fort Myers, said. “Most of us will be able to get back to normal. Unfortunately, that is not the reality for thousands of people in Immokalee who were hard hit by the storm and are struggling to get the most basic necessities.”
New Hope World Changers put together a food drive and donations arrived at FBC Immokalee, Sept. 17, just in time for distribution.
“We are so thankful for all the helping hands that are faithfully serving us as we organize distributions this week,” Pigg said. “We have over 200 volunteers at FBC Immokalee, and it’s just Tuesday. We also want to thank disaster relief organizations like the North American Mission Board and Flourish Now, Hearts with Hands, New Hope World Changers and several others that are providing us with all these products to be passed out.”
The North American Mission Board (NAMB)’s Send Relief teams and the Maryland Baptist Convention also sent volunteers to serve and to cook meals for FBC Immokalee volunteers.
“We have social media calls for volunteers, and in them we say volunteers will be fed when they serve with us from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.,” Pigg said. “We are so grateful for not just the supplies but for the help we’ve received from so many. Thank you!”
On Sept. 19, FBC Immokalee passed out more than 800 bags to hurricane survivors. And in an area where residents make half of what the average Floridian does, community support and donated items are the difference between survival and destitution.
“We saw thousands and thousands of families well up with gratitude at being able to get the supplies they need,” Pigg said. “We covet everyone’s prayers as we continue to serve the rest of the week. We are just so thankful for the prayers, donations and support.”
Learn more about NAMB’s hurricane relief efforts at
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Josie Bingham writes for the North American Mission Board.)

9/28/2017 8:42:09 AM by Josie Bingham, NAMB | with 0 comments

As Harvey loomed, church prepared for town’s needs

September 28 2017 by Kirsten McKimmey, Baptist General Convention of Texas

Soon after Hurricane Harvey made landfall along the Texas coast, pastor Mike Martin of First Baptist Church (FBC) in Huffman made several visits around town, located 30 miles northeast of Houston, before the heavy rains hit the area.

Contributed photo
Flood survivors register for shelter at First Baptist Church in Huffman, Texas, after flooding from Hurricane Harvey inundated their town 30 miles northeast of Houston.

He stopped at the local volunteer fire department and told them the church was available if they needed help. Within an hour, they contacted him and asked if the church could be used as a shelter.
By the time the storms arrived, First Baptist members had sprung into action. They were mobilized to gather water, blankets and clothing as several hundred people from the community arrived at the church seeking shelter from the storm. By Aug. 26, the Harris County Sheriff’s Department made FBC Huffman into not only a shelter but also a temporary headquarters.
Harvey’s record rainfall continued for the next 24 hours while volunteer firefighters and civilians went into the surrounding neighborhoods to rescue people from their homes.
“People were coming off of boats, waist deep in water,” Martin recalled. “We had to take them in.”
Along with the storm survivors, First Baptist also sheltered upwards of 100 animals. Though the church building had significant damage from the weather, the members maintained a focus on helping others.
“People needed the help, the safety and the hope that our church gave them on those first nights,” Martin said.
“God’s people responded to our needs from all over the country,” he added, regarding supplies and help from other churches “as we kept the 300 people we were sheltering clothed and fed.”
“Those first two nights, I watched hero after hero do their part – whether it was cooking in the kitchen or going out into the waters,” the pastor said. “I saw all denominations and races come together. It was a time of disaster and tragedy, but our community and churches and schools came together to shelter over 600 people” counting First Baptist and other locations in Huffman.
After four days of serving as a shelter, the church began transporting flood survivors to the NRG Stadium in Houston for better facilities and more resources. In transitioning to a distribution point, First Baptist continued to feed hot meals to those in their community while distributing water, groceries and cleaning supplies to upwards of 500 cars per day for two weeks.
“Currently, we have care teams that are going out into our communities and surveying all of the neighborhoods to assess the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the people,” Martin said.
“Since many in our community do not have flood insurance, we’re partnering individual homeowners that suffered from the hurricane with willing churches to help rebuild their homes. We can’t remodel Houston but we can help them with labor and materials as we’re able to.”
Meanwhile, Martin and his team are working to refurbish their church from the storm’s damage in order to get their Sunday School program running again.
Not only is First Baptist working to help restore the town, but also the people living in it. Martin said church leaders have had countless spiritual conversations over the course of those four days, many of which led to new relationships with the Lord. Martin said it was evident the Lord was making something beautiful even out of a disaster.
Youth pastor Josh Campbell said, “Through the heartbreak and pain, everyone had this hope in the midst of despair, because of what Christ had done for them. Even through all of this, God’s still good and He’s going to fix things, whether that means building houses or mending relationships.”
Martin noted there are “a lot of pastors right now in the Houston area that have worked tirelessly in their communities. I would encourage the churches to remember these ministers and remember their churches in prayer. The love of God’s people here in Texas for me and my church is evident just by the outpouring of people reaching out. I just want to say thank you to Texas Baptists and my friends.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kirsten McKimmey is a news writer for Baptist General Convention of Texas’ communications office. For information on BGCT relief and recovery initiatives, visit

9/28/2017 8:36:37 AM by Kirsten McKimmey, Baptist General Convention of Texas | with 0 comments

Roy Moore wins GOP Senate primary

September 28 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Roy Moore, the former Alabama chief justice known for his stands on same-sex marriage and a Ten Commandments monument, has won the Republican primary in a special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Screen capture from YouTube
“You cannot make America good without acknowledging the sovereign source of that goodness,” Roy Moore said Sept. 26 after winning a GOP Senate primary.

Moore, a Southern Baptist, referenced God frequently during the campaign and his victory speech, according to media reports. His election night party Sept. 26 in Montgomery, Ala., included the singing of hymns like “How Great Thou Art.”
To make America great “we must make America good,” Moore said in his victory speech according to the news website “And you cannot make America good without acknowledging the sovereign source of that goodness, the sovereign source of the law, liberty and government, which is almighty God.”
Moore, who spoke at churches across that state during the campaign, added that he “never prayed to win this campaign,” according to The New York Times, putting the election “in the hands of the Almighty.”
After finishing first in a 10-person GOP primary field in August, Moore faced Sen. Luther Strange in the runoff and defeated him by a 55-45 percent margin.
Strange, who was appointed to fill Sessions’ seat until the special election, had been endorsed by President Donald Trump and Republican Senate leadership, leading some media outlets to report Moore’s victory as a slap at national party leaders.
But Joe Godfrey, leader of the Alabama Baptist Convention’s public policy auxiliary, said two local issues may have been more important in the election.
First, Godfrey told Baptist Press, some voters seemed to hold a “perception” that former Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Strange to the Senate “as a behind-the-scenes agreement” to stall an investigation into misconduct that eventually led Bentley to resign and plead guilty to multiple criminal charges. Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, noted a lack of evidence to support that perception.
Second, when Alabama’s Court of the Judiciary suspended Moore last year for the remainder of his term as chief justice, “he almost became a martyr in the minds of people” for taking a stand against same-sex marriage, Godfrey said. “I think there was a sense that ‘we’ll show them. We’re going to rally behind him and get him elected to the U.S. Senate.’”
In April, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld Moore’s suspension from office for advising the state’s 68 probate judges they had a duty not to issue same-sex marriage licenses until the Alabama Supreme Court clarified the relationship between state law and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
In 2003, Moore was removed from office as chief justice for defying a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments display from the Alabama Judicial Building. He was elected to the office again in 2012.
As Senate candidates, both Moore and Strange advocated positions on social issues that seemed consistent with the views of evangelical voters, Godfrey said.
“I know both of these men,” Godfrey said. “... And I believe both of them to be men of integrity and godly men. I think either one would be an excellent senator representing Alabama.”
Moore advances to face Democrat Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor, in a Dec. 12 general election. It has been 25 years since a Democrat last won a U.S. Senate general election in Alabama, according to The Times.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

9/28/2017 8:29:14 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Student-led prayer weathering the storms

September 28 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Catastrophic hurricanes in the U.S. and the Caribbean impeded planning for an annual student-led prayer event held Sept. 27, but likely did not daunt desires to pray, organizers told Baptist Press (BP).

Facebook photo
This group of Santo Domingo students gathered with organizers at a flag pole in the Dominican Republic Sept. 27 to participate in the global youth prayer event, See You At the Pole.

In Texas, Hurricane Harvey killed an estimated 82 people or more and extensively flooded several communities just as training for the prayer event, See You at the Pole (SYATP), would have begun in late August, SYATP greater Houston metro coordinator John Butler said.
In its 27th year, the event encouraged students to gather at their school flagpoles for prayer at 7 a.m. local time today. Other prayer events are also being held throughout Global Week of Student Prayer Sept. 24-30. Typically, many churches will host SYATP-related events in the evening, allowing students to share prayer reports from their individual schools.
But for some in hurricane-impacted areas, Butler noted, this year has been different.
“There’s no promotion time left. We had two events that were scheduled before the hurricane hit, and they were both cancelled because of the hurricane,” Butler told BP Sept. 26. “The kids are excited about doing See You at the Pole, if they remember about it, but they haven’t been trained, they haven’t been prepared. By the time they think about it, it’s almost too late to promote it.”
But in the Dominican Republic, struck this month by both hurricanes Irma and Maria, a SYATP event organizer in the capital city of Santo Domingo expected more participation this year than in 2016, when Hurricane Matthew struck the area days after SYATP.
“The storms haven’t altered our plans as schools are running as normal,” Alexander Lopez Diaz told BP. “However, the storms did affect the advertising and connection-making as we had to cancel our meetings with pastors several times.”
Diaz, who has organized SYATP events in the Dominican for three years, communicated with BP via Facebook. He has used social media in efforts to organize a prayer convocation across the island, concentrating his efforts in Santo Domingo.

Facebook photo
Houston High School students prayed at their flagpole during the See You at the Pole observance Sept. 27, even after Hurricane Harvey cancelled training and promotion events that would have been held in late August and early September.

“Dominican citizens are positive on the effect that prayer can bring to our country; no one is ever bothered by or opposed to prayer,” he told BP. “Last year we had four universities’ main campuses participating and about eight schools. It is our expectation to exceed that number in five – seven college campuses and 10-15 schools minimum.”
SYATP promoter Doug Clark, national field director for the National Network of Youth Ministries (NNYM), expected students to pray especially for national unity this year, and for communities hit by hurricanes and earthquakes. Still, organizers avoid dictating prayer points, Clark said.
“I believe students will be praying about our culture wars, and also focusing on the areas of the U.S. (Florida/Texas), Puerto Rico and Mexico that are groaning right now,” Clark said. “The theme this year is ‘Fix Our Eyes,’ from Hebrews 12:2. Our nation needs more than ever before to get our eyes off our divisions and fix them on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of faith.”
Today he tweeted, “Love seeing my social media feeds full of students praying today.”
While participation in SYATP reached as high as 3 million in the 1990s, Clark said, it has leveled to 1 million in more recent years and has included as many as 64 countries.
In Texas, where students organized the first SYATP a year after a 1990 DiscipleNow weekend, Butler still expected students to pray this year. But he didn’t know of any churches planning to hold events this evening, as most congregations are focused on disaster recovery work.
“There still will be a lot of kids gathering at their flag poles,” he said. “Our concern [as veteran youth workers] is that we were really trying to encourage the youth pastors in the different communities to work together to provide training ahead of time, so that when the kids showed up at the pole they already had a plan in mind.”
Butler emailed 116 youth pastors in the eight-county area he overseas, but said he received no responses.
“We don’t know of any (youth pastors) who are hosting an event,” he said.
SYATP does not violate U.S. laws against prayer in schools, as all prayer is student-led, before school hours and outside of any school building, according to the SYATP website. But the site encourages students to pray off campus if school administrators object to the event.
Christian radio station KSBJ is holding a community wide prayer rally Sept. 28 in Houston, but Butler said the rally is not a SYATP event.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

9/28/2017 8:28:15 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Newbell helps children put diversity in gospel focus

September 28 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Trillia Newbell required only one experience from teaching a Sunday school class to be convinced she should write a children’s book about God’s view of diversity.

Trillia Newbell’s new children’s book – “God’s Very Good Idea” – is designed to help parents teach their children about diversity and how God has rescued and will restore that idea.

She had taught a children’s class on “the image of God and racial harmony” about a year before, Newbell told Baptist Press (BP) Sept. 26 in an email interview. “It was such a joy for me to watch the kids think through what it meant to be equally created by God to reflect His image, that God created people different and we can enjoy those differences, that Jesus died for all those different people, and that we can all be brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Later that day, a friend told her about a conversation she had with her daughter regarding her friendship with Sydney, Newbell’s daughter. She told her mother, “Me and Sydney are made in the image of God. We aren’t just friends, we’re sisters!”
Newbell said, “At that point I knew I wanted to attempt to write something that parents and teachers could use to share this wonderful message. I also discovered there was little to no material out that I could find on the topic for children.”
Newbell’s intention came to fruition when God’s Very Good Idea: A True Story About God’s Delightfully Different Family was released Sept. 1 by The Good Book Co. It has reached the American marketplace at a time when many children likely are becoming more aware of the tension over ethnic differences in the wake of protests in Charlottesville, Va., that resulted in deaths and amid the vitriolic debate over National Football League players kneeling during the national anthem.
The book – illustrated in vivid colors by London-based artist Catalina Echeverri – addresses diversity by following the oft-cited scriptural storyline: Creation; fall; redemption; and reconciliation.
Newbell wrote the book, she told BP, to equip parents to “help their children understand about the image of God, the beauty of God’s creation, how we ruined God’s idea through sin, His rescue plan through Jesus, and that He is returning to finish it.”
Near the end of the book, Newbell summarizes the stages this way: “God MADE it. People RUINED it. He RESCUED it. He will FINISH it.”
She determined to take a gospel-focused approach to the issue, said Newbell, a resident of the Nashville area and director of community outreach for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Trillia Newbell is the author of “God’s Very Good Idea.”

“So often this topic is framed around politics and history,” she wrote in her interview with BP. “I wanted to address it differently (although those other contexts are important) and give parents and children a foundation for why it’s important to God and how the gospel affects this discussion and our understanding of race and ethnicity.
“If we can build a foundation based on the truth, then I think it will be easier to tackle those other areas that touch the topic of race and ethnicity,” Newbell said. “Ultimately, this is about people made in the image of God. So, if we can gain understanding about how all of us were created equally by God and all of us need the same saving grace, then perhaps we can begin to work towards really loving one another.”
In her book, Newbell explains God’s “very good idea” was “to make PEOPLE ... lots of people ... lots of different people ... who would all enjoy loving him and all enjoy loving each other.”
After describing the sin of mankind and the saving work of Christ, Newbell points to Jesus’ return to “make the world perfect again.” Children “don’t have to wait till then to enjoy it” if they ask for forgiveness, she writes. The church is where they can experience that enjoyment, the book says.
“Your church friends are your brothers and sisters – your wonderful and colorful church family,” she writes.
Her prayer, Newbell said, is “the church would reflect what heaven will look like for eternity: Every tribe, tongue and nation together worshipping God. I wanted to close with a focus on the church because that’s where the world sees our love (a theme in the book). Jesus says that the world will know us (Christians) by our love for one another (John 13:35). If this is true, then we should learn to love those in the church.”
Newbell’s other books include United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity, which is “a primer of the theology of race,” as she describes it, and her story as an African-American woman.
God’s Very Good Idea is available at LifeWay Christian Stores, among other booksellers, and Amazon.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

9/28/2017 8:22:48 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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