September 2017

Stymied by Harvey no longer, mission returns to life

September 15 2017 by Bonnie Pritchett, Baptist Press

Liz Neal kept talking to a woman driving a white F-150 pickup crawling forward in a food distribution line at Houston’s Farrington Mission. Two weeks after Hurricane Harvey devastated the region, hundreds of drivers – in a line that wrapped around the block and down the feeder road – came for basic food and household supplies.

Photo by Nathan Lino
Piles of flooded debris from Farrington Mission in Houston’s 5th Ward line the road for future removal. It will cost $75,000 to repair the mission, with $40,000 of that going toward its women’s medical clinic.

And volunteers like Neal made sure they left with so much more.
For two unbearably long weeks, beginning Aug. 27, the Farrington Mission had been closed. Unprecedented rainfall overflowed Halls Bayou and filled the mission and neighboring homes with water.
For seven years the mission of Northeast Houston Baptist Church (NEHBC) had served the city’s economically depressed Fifth Ward. And, now, when the community needed them the most, they couldn’t help.
In addition to the mission’s food and clothing distribution centers and community outreach programs, it houses the Source, a Christ-centered women’s medical clinic. Hundreds of clients receive life-affirming counseling and medical care each month, including 4-D ultrasound imaging of their unborn babies.
A tour of the facility reveals recovery work here is progressing faster than other parts of the building. Del Traffanstedt, NEHBC associate pastor, said the reason is obvious.
“We save babies every business day,” he told Southern Baptist TEXAN. “Every day we’re closed, we lose a baby.”
The church had just completed $21,000 in improvements “and it was all gone” after Harvey, Traffanstedt said. The $15,000 4-D ultrasound machine, which clinic staff scrambled to protect, may have been saved. Technicians inspecting the machine should have a prognosis soon.
It will cost $75,000 to repair the mission, with $40,000 of that going toward the clinic. NEHBC did not have flood insurance due to the prohibitively high cost, choosing instead to put money aside for the proverbial rainy day.

Photo by Nathan Lino
Volunteers clean out a meeting space inside Farrington Mission, which serves families in Houston’s 5th Ward.

So it has been with a sense of urgency that volunteers from outside Houston and Texas have come alongside the church to gut, clear, clean and restock the facility. Supplies for restocking the shelves began arriving “while there were still fish swimming in the gym,” said Kristyn Roberts who, along with her husband Evan, volunteer as Farrington Mission intake directors.
Roberts began by collecting food and bedding from short-term shelters after they closed. Then the tractor-trailer, cargo vans and pickup trucks began to arrive. Two of the rigs pulled in the morning of Sept. 9. One of the trucks and an accompanying cadre of volunteers came courtesy of three Southern Baptist churches in Kentucky.
While repairmen continued their work in the food pantries and kitchen, the gym became the mission’s receiving and distribution center. Volunteers scrambled to unload and sort the supplies in an already crammed gym. From sorting newly arrived supplies to getting boxes to staging areas outside for distribution, volunteers prepared and handed out 429 boxes Sept. 9 filled with food, toiletries, bedding, cleaning supplies and, if needed, baby supplies.
And as volunteers filled cars with supplies, Neal and the NEHBC evangelism team made sure no one pulled away without hearing the gospel.
“This is what our people do,” Nathan Lino, MEHBC’s pastor and president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, told the Southern Baptist TEXAN as he pointed to church members, fists full of gospel tracts and Bibles, moving from car to car checking on the occupants’ welfare – both physical and spiritual.
By noon, the gospel had been shared with 2,000 people. On Monday, NEHBC received 10,000 more gospel tracts overnighted from the North American Mission Board to continue their evangelistic efforts.

Contributed photo
People observe flooding at Farrington Mission in Houston’s 5th Ward following Hurricane Harvey. The mission was closed until Sept. 9, but reopened to serve the community due to the help of church groups and individuals.

One of the recipients, Leester (pronounced Lee Esther) Francis, waited patiently under the awning covering the mission’s sidewalk. She, her daughter and her daughter’s three children, ages 23 and 11-year-old twins, are staying in a hotel while her home undergoes repairs with the help of her sons and brother.
“It’s God’s work,” she said of the storm and her displacement. “I serve the Lord. He [said] He would never leave you or forsake you if you serve Him.”
Another woman who had visited two other food distribution sites that week only to leave empty-handed arrived at Farrington hours before the 9 a.m. start time and left grateful for the provisions.
But even with the generous donations from across the country, it still was not enough. Supplies ran short with cars still lining the street.
Houston police officers, who had arrived at the mission once traffic flow surrounding it became more than the volunteers could handle, signaled for traffic on the feeder road to stop and for the white pickup to proceed. Neal stepped back from the truck as the female driver, provisions tucked into the truck bed, eased on.
Neal said the woman told her she was a believer but did not feel close to God. The current circumstances didn’t help. Neal encouraged her to read the Bible and gospel literature she had given her and assured her God would draw close.
And Farrington Mission will be there.
Beginning Oct. 2 the mission’s normal operations will gradually resume. Mission volunteers continue to trust in God’s provision when they can’t see it. At the end of the Sept. 9 distribution there were enough boxes for 120 families, Lino said.
So the church prayed Sunday morning. By Monday morning two 18-wheelers and one cargo truck had already delivered food. Another 18-wheeler is expected before the Sept. 16 distribution.
“It just keeps multiplying,” Kristyn Roberts said. “It’s incredible.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN,, news journal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

9/15/2017 11:42:41 AM by Bonnie Pritchett, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pastor sees church thrive amid corn, soybean fields

September 15 2017 by Roger Alford, Kentucky Today

With corn and soybean fields in every direction, this rural community of 564 people is an unlikely spot for one of Kentucky’s largest churches to sprout up.
Or is it?
Pastor Ricky Cunningham, who doubles as a farmer, has applied the same commonsense agricultural principles used to produce crops and livestock to grow Hardin Baptist Church to 2,500 total members over the past three decades.

Photo by Roger Alford, Kentucky Today
Ricky Cunningham, pastor of Hardin Baptist, says he has employed basic farming principles to grow one of Kentucky’s largest churches.

In this community of tractors and pickup trucks, there are no chain restaurants or strip malls or housing developments. Out of this rural setting, a congregation approaching megachurch proportions has sprung forth.
“Brother Ricky and the folks at Hardin have shown that it’s not the size of the community that matters most, but the size of the God we serve,” said Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Cunningham said the Lord taught him to be a pastor through farming.
“It’s obvious to farmers that there’s a direct correlation between sowing and harvesting,” he said. “If you skimp on planting, it’s going to affect you in the harvest. If we’re going to win souls for Christ, we really have to be sowing gospel seeds.”
When Cunningham, 56, arrived as pastor at Hardin Baptist Church in 1983 as a 22-year-old student at Mid-Continent Bible College, he realized he couldn’t be the only one doing the work if the region was to be reached for Christ.
“The question occurred to me: What if everyone in the church is sowing seeds?” he said. “I realized that if that were to happen we would have a much larger harvest. As a farmer, I can’t do all the work by myself. Most pastors fail by trying to do everything themselves.”
That approach to ministry has allowed Cunningham to experience life as pastor of a small church, a medium church, a large church without ever leaving Hardin.
Todd Gray, the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s team leader for evangelism, said one of the keys to the growth of Hardin Baptist Church is that the membership bought into Cunningham’s vision to involve everyone in outreach.
“This church has reached people through personal evangelism and kept them by good preaching and solid ministry,” Gray said. “Brother Ricky sets the pace in personal evangelism. Years ago, when it came time to take the pastor’s picture for the annual church directory, the ladies in charge told Brother Ricky that they were not going to take a picture of him preaching or sitting behind a desk. They wanted a picture of him knocking on someone’s door to share the gospel because that was where he was likely to be found.”
Cunningham said he has followed the biblical admonition to equip the saints to do the work of the church. That, he said, allows Hardin Baptist Church to increase both sowing and harvesting. It also allows all the church members to help shepherd the flock, tending to the needs of one another.
“When I go to the farm, I take a feed bucket into the pasture,” Cunningham said. “I holler for the cattle and put feed in a trough, and every one of them come up. I count, and if someone isn’t there, I know it. If a cow is healthy, she’s going to be at the feed trough. If I’m not feeding them something nutritious and good, they’re not going to come to the feed trough. If one doesn’t come, I know that it is injured or calving or out in somebody else’s pasture.”
Cunningham believes that if all pastors would employ basic agricultural principles, they’d see their churches experience revival. He points out that these are the very same principles Jesus taught during his earthly ministry.
“When I step into the pulpit on Sunday mornings, I’m going to feed my people,” he said. “And, so, my weeklong prerogative is to make sure that on Sunday morning I’m able to equip my people to be the best saints they can be, to exercise their gifts in ministry. On Sunday mornings, we count, but not to see who’s here. We’re counting to see who’s not here, because we know if you’re healthy and it’s Sunday morning, you will be in church. We’ve developed a system so that we can check on our people if they start missing.”
Cunningham recalled a religious conference he attended years ago in which the leader listed the most important factors necessary for churches to grow.
“We didn’t have any of them,” Cunningham said. “We didn’t have location and we didn’t have any of the resources. I smiled and said to myself: ‘Isn’t God good. He has supplied all our needs.’ I was amazed when we got to 100 people. I was amazed when we got 200. I was amazed when we got 500. I was amazed when we got 1,000. I am just amazed at what the Lord has done.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger Alford is editor of Kentucky Today,, where this article first appeared. Kentucky Today is a news resource of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)

9/15/2017 10:40:14 AM by Roger Alford, Kentucky Today | with 0 comments

Study: Pastors’ spouses experience mixed blessings

September 13 2017 by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends

Being married to a pastor means a life filled with joy, purpose and a lot of headaches, according to a new study released Sept. 12.
Most pastors’ spouses feel a call to ministry and enjoy their roles inside and outside their church, notes the LifeWay Research study about the lives of Protestant pastors’ spouses. But many also have few friends, think they yell at their kids too much and worry about money.

The representative study of 720 spouses found their lives are complicated, filled with blessing and stresses, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.
“Despite their challenges, most pastors’ spouses say they are happy,” McConnell said.

A diverse group

LifeWay Research’s survey focused mainly on spouses of a senior pastor or solo pastor at Protestant churches from a variety of denominations, including Baptist (29 percent), non-denominational (15 percent), Methodist (9 percent), Lutheran (9 percent) and Assemblies of God (7 percent) congregations. The survey also included spouses of Presbyterian (4 percent), Pentecostal/charismatic (3 percent), Church of Christ (3 percent) and Church of God (2 percent) pastors, among others.
Most of the spouses are married to pastors who work at least 35 hours a week for the church (90 percent). Half have children at home (53 percent). Nine percent have seminary degrees. Half have spent at least 20 years as a pastor’s spouse (51 percent). Eighty-six percent have responsibilities at their church, including 19 percent who are on the church’s staff.
More than half work outside the spouse’s church (55 percent), and of those, a quarter work for a church, ministry or other nonprofit (26 percent).
Most are women (96 percent). Most also feel a strong call to ministry (81 percent).
And in the big picture, they’re satisfied with their lot in life.
Among the findings:

  • 93 percent believe their spouse is a good fit for the present church.
  • 90 percent think ministry has had a positive effect on their family.
  • 85 percent say, “The church we serve takes good care of us.”
  • 83 percent enjoy their ministry work.
  • 79 percent are satisfied with their role in ministry.


Still, there are many challenges. Conflict in a church and a sense of loneliness are commonplace. Among the issues:

  • 72 percent say their spouse has experienced resistance in the church.
  • 69 percent say they have few people they can confide in.
  • 68 percent worry about having enough money for retirement.
  • 59 percent say church commitments limit family time.
  • 49 percent say, “If I were honest at church about my prayer needs, they would just become gossip.”


Finances and friends

Like many Americans, pastors’ spouses say money is one of their biggest worries, the LifeWay Research survey found.

About a third (36 percent) say they worry every month about making ends meet. Forty-six percent say they worry about not being able to save for the future. Sixty percent say the compensation paid by the church isn’t enough to support their family.
Many also feel isolated, with few close friends other than their spouse. Sixty-two percent, for example, say they can count on their spouse “a great deal” when they feel under stress. Fewer say they can depend a great deal on other family members in their household (14 percent), other relatives (12 percent), friends at church (10 percent), friends outside church (12 percent) or other ministers’ spouses (9 percent).
Half say they don’t confide in people at church because they’ve been betrayed in the past. About half (55 percent) also say they don’t have enough relationships where they can be themselves.
That’s in part because there is constant pressure to keep up appearances, according to the LifeWay Research survey. Seventy-nine percent say their congregation expects their family to be a “model family,” while 86 percent say they are expected to have a model marriage. Half (49 percent) feel they live in a fishbowl.
Often churches have unrealistic expectations for a pastor’s spouse, said Kathy Litton, a national consultant for pastors’ spouses at the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board.
“They feel like their family needs to be perfect,” Litton said. “When congregations paint that picture for you, that’s a lot of pressure.”
Litton, who has been a pastor’s spouse for nearly four decades, said when she was younger, she often felt some pressure to present a good example as a family. When in reality, they just needed to apply the gospel in their family, she said.
“Pastors and their spouses don’t need to try to keep up appearances at church or at home,” she said. “It’s especially critical for our kids to see us as human frail parents who need Jesus and the gospel like anyone else. Our homes need to be places of vulnerability and reality.”

Finding your calling

The LifeWay Research study did provide clues for how pastors’ spouses can thrive in their roles. Those who feel a strong sense of personal call to ministry tend to be more satisfied with their role. Those who have strong marriages and friends they can count on also are more likely to thrive.
By contrast, those who feel burned out by their ministry, have experienced conflict or struggle to balance church life and family are much less likely to be happy.
A sense of calling to ministry is key, Litton said. It’s hard to survive as a pastor’s spouse without it, she said.
“The ones who struggle are the ones who don’t feel a sense of call,” she said. “There’s no safe place for them to talk about that.”
Pastors and the spouses can also thrive by putting their own family – not the church – first, said Mark Dance, executive director of LifeWay Pastors. It’s a model that other couples in the church can follow.
“Creating a culture of healthy marriages starts in the pastor’s home,” he said.
Janet Dance, who leads retreats for pastors’ wives, said that planning ahead is key.
“If you don’t plan ahead, it’s not going to happen,” she said. “We have to give pastors’ spouses permission to put their families on their calendar.”
Many of the challenges pastors’ spouses face aren’t unusual, McConnell said. Lots of Americans worry about money or feel lonely, he said. They struggle with conflict at work and have a hard time balancing work and family responsibilities.
But few have the added pressure of being role models or spiritual examples, he said. That makes the role of a pastor’s spouse unique.
Despite the complicated nature of their lives, ministry remains rewarding for many pastors’ spouses.
“They feel a sense of joy and satisfaction in their work,” McConnell said. “And they see that as a blessing.”


The study was sponsored by Houston’s First Baptist Church, the North American Mission Board and Richard Dockins, M.D. The mail survey of spouses of Protestant pastors was conducted June 21 to Aug. 2, 2017. The mailing list was a random sample drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with a spouse of someone working in a ministerial role within a Protestant church. The completed sample is 720 pastor spouses. Responses were weighted by denominational group to more accurately reflect the population. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.7 percent. This margin of error accounts for the effect of weighting. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.
LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends.)

9/13/2017 9:15:01 AM by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends | with 0 comments

Churches, ministry groups serve refugees fleeing Irma

September 13 2017 by Brandon Elrod, NAMB

Following more than 24 hours of travel from West Palm Beach, Fla., a group of Syrian refugees finally made it to the Send Relief hub at Clarkston International Bible Church (CIBC) in Clarkston, Ga. The eight families had fled from the civil war in Syria. Now, they were on the run from Hurricane Irma.

Photo by Kristen Lowry
Syrian refugees who had settled in West Palm Beach, Fla., were relocated to the North American Mission Board’s Send Relief hub at Clarkston International Bible Church in Clarkston, Ga. Several ministries came together to help the group of refugees evacuate to Clarkston. The unplanned trip, which took over 24 hours, came just as the group had started to feel settled in Florida.

After scrambling to leave in the early-morning hours of Sept. 7, the families did not arrive until after 4:30 a.m. the next day.
David Chavez has been working with the group since many of them arrived in the United States. Chavez connected with these families through Bridges Language Academy, a nonprofit he helped create with the goal of assisting refugee families in learning English.
The refugee families wanted to go with Chavez when he decided to travel north to avoid Hurricane Irma. So, in a short amount of time, Chavez utilized connections that led him to the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) new Send Relief hub at CIBC.
Several ministries came together to make the transition happen, and Chavez expressed his gratitude saying, “I am incredibly thankful for those who helped all of us relocate.”
World Relief was one of the main partners who connected Chavez with the hub at CIBC. Envision Atlanta, a Christian Ministry Alliance group, gathered cots, beds and provided a number of volunteers.
First Baptist Church of Woodstock (FBCW) provided 50 sets of bedding, sheets and pillows just three hours after they received the request.
Johnson Ferry Baptist Church committed to covering meals, including a breakfast when the group arrived in the early morning and again in the later morning as the Syrian group awoke after their travels.
Around the clock, Arabic translators have been on hand to assist the families with anything they need. Some with the CIBC family, some from Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula, Ga., and a few Arabic speaking missionaries who currently live or work in Clarkston volunteered to serve.
Dareen serves with Embrace, a ministry that helps pregnant refugee women, but she volunteered to help with the refugee group. A Syrian herself, she helped translate both the language and the culture to the other volunteers and missionaries there.
“Some of these people were just starting to get settled in Florida when the hurricane forced them to be uprooted again,” Dareen said.
The Georgia Baptist Mission Board (GBMB) set up one of their shower trailers in the CIBC parking lot in order to accommodate the new guests.
“I’m glad we were able to help, and we will do whatever possible to help out,” said Ricky Thrasher, the state missionary in community missions with the GBMB.
Many of the families who made the trek had young children. The non-profit organization Friends of Refugees provided diapers and pack-and-plays because there were five newborns in the group. One of the women – two weeks away from her baby’s due date – fully expected to give birth in Atlanta.
“The effort to welcome and serve this group has been a great example of how different churches and ministries can join arms to serve refugees in need,” said David Melber, NAMB’s vice president of Send Relief. “What may be overwhelming for a single church is absolutely doable when the Body of Christ comes together to meet needs.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.)

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9/13/2017 9:13:12 AM by Brandon Elrod, NAMB | with 0 comments

Muslim Fulani herdsmen massacre 20 Christians

September 13 2017 by Morning Star News, Nigeria Correspondent

Muslim Fulani herdsmen in central Nigeria’s Plateau state massacred 20 Christians, including children, as they slept in the hours after midnight on Sept. 8 in an apparent reprisal attack that mystified villagers, sources said.

Morning Star News, courtesy of family
Sati Ishaya, 9, one of 20 Christians slain in Ancha, Plateau state.

Police reportedly said the attack was an act of vengeance after the discovery last week of a slain and beheaded Fulani boy who was a resident of Ancha village, Miango District in the Bassa Local Government Area. But a village Christian told Morning Star News that the area’s terrified residents were at a loss to explain why they were targeted, as the murder of the Fulani took place at another village.
“The village where they claim one of them was killed over a year ago is not part of our village, and we have never had any misunderstanding with them in the past,” said John Bulus, church secretary of Salama Baptist Church-Ancha, which lost 19 members in the massacre.
Bulus told Morning Star News that Ancha villagers have never had any problems with the Fulani, who have a settlement a few kilometers away. He was able to recognize some but not all of the assailants, and area villagers believe Islamic extremist militants accompanied the herdsmen.
“On Saturday, September 2, while we were working on our fields and farms, we saw the Fulanis moving their cattle and families out of their camp, a settlement that is just some few kilometers away from here,” Bulus said. “So we rushed to them to inquire why the sudden departure from camp. They responded by telling us that one of them was some time ago killed in another village 5 kilometers from our village, hence, their decision to move away.”
Bulus said the area Christians returned and continued working.
“We never knew that these same Fulanis would return to attack us, as there is nothing that warrants an attack on us,” he said.
Bulus said nine of the 20 Christians killed were children, ranging in age from 3 months to 17 years old. Along with the 19 Baptists killed, one was member of a Methodist church, he said.
Awoken by the sound of gunshots shortly after midnight on Sept. 8, Bulus quickly went outside to see who was shooting. He said he saw three persons standing with guns in their hands, and that he stood quietly watching them until they shot at him, nearly hitting him before he ran back into his house.
“One of them ran after me into the house, and he stood by the door to my room without entering the room or shooting, and after a few minutes he went out to join his colleagues outside,” he said. “And just as I was thinking about what to do, I heard sporadic gunshots all over the village. They were shooting everywhere in the village and this lasted for about 25 minutes.”
The assailants, he said, were talking to each other in the Fulani language. He noted that from the light of a bright moon, he was able to see that some of the attackers were area Fulanis.
“I can confidently tell you that some of the persons among those who attacked us are local Fulani herdsmen who lived close to our village,” he said.
About five minutes after the shooting stopped, he saw the assailants had gathered at a spot just outside the pathway that leads into the village and then they left. Bulus and others went from house to house to determine any casualties.
“We found out that 20 persons were killed, and six others were grievously injured,” he said. “We found that those killed were from three households. We have, in all, 50 households in this village.”
Children killed, he said, were Sati Ishaya, 9; Aveh Ishaya, 5; Azumi Monday, 3 months old; Lami Monday, 3; Emmanuel Sunday, 6; Ishaya Sunday, 8; Friday John, 17; Ayo John, 10; Deba John, 7.
Also slain were Bulus Rohun, 50; Laraba Bulus, 45; Musa Ishaya, 21; Gado Odo, 75; Sei Musa, 19; Kande Ahmadu, 48; Ishaya Ahmadu, 40; Bala Ishaya,18. Tina Monday, 20; Lami Ishaya, 40; and Ahmadu Rohun, 80.
Bulus gave the names of the six Christians injured during the attack as Talatu Gado, 60; Mai’angwa Monday, 16; Talatu John, 46; Monday Ahmadu, 24; Vou Monday, 4; and Tina Ahmadu, 28.
Plateau Commissioner of Police Peter Ogunyanwo told reporters the slain Fulani boy that triggered the attack was from Ancha village, was reported missing Aug. 3, and that his body was found three days before the Sept. 8 massacre. Some Nigerian press reported the boy’s body was found in Dantanko village.
“We are investigating the matter, but from our findings so far, the attack was carried out by Fulani herdsmen to avenge the killing of a young boy,” Ogunyanwo said.
He appeared to under-report the number of children killed, saying there were only seven, and that only five persons had been injured.
The official said five suspects had been arrested over the missing Fulani boy, but that no one had been detained in the Ancha massacre.
Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population, while Muslims living primarily in the north and middle belt account for 45 percent. Nigeria ranks 12th on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Morning Star News is a California-based independent news service focusing on the persecution of Christians worldwide.)

9/13/2017 7:56:26 AM by Morning Star News, Nigeria Correspondent | with 0 comments

Irma Facebook page reaches 600,000 with gospel truth

September 13 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press & Brandon Elrod, NAMB

As Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida, Vero Beach associate pastor Kyle Bailey “had a sense of peace,” he said, and “felt like God had something special in store.”

Submitted photo
Pastor Roger Ball, right, and associate pastor Kyle Bailey of Freedom Church in Vero Beach, Fla., established a Facebook group that reached more than 600,000 people with safety information and gospel truth during Hurricane Irma.

But little did he know God would soon use him and pastor Roger Ball, both of Vero Beach’s Freedom Church, to share prayer, encouragement, weather updates and the gospel with more than 600,000 people through a “Hurricane Irma Safety Check-In” group they created on Facebook.
“When you do something with the intention of trying to help people,” Ball told Baptist Press, “and then you see God’s hand in it and you see Him doing things you would have never ever been able to do on your own ..., it causes you to want to fall on your knees and worship God.”
Meanwhile, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) teams have been deployed to south Florida, and SBDR efforts continue in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Vero Beach, some 100 miles southeast of Orlando, avoided the worst of Irma. But Freedom Church, which averages 175 in worship, facilitated online communication for Floridians throughout the state.
During last year’s Hurricane Matthew, Ball and Bailey broadcast live prayer videos on Facebook and discovered up to 1,000 people would watch each video. When Irma approached, they got the idea of creating a safety-check-in public group, where they could post more prayer videos, share safety information and create an online community for individuals weathering the storm.
The group was established Sept. 7 at 2 p.m., Bailey said. By the time he went to bed that night, it had 3,000 members. It had reached 10,000 people by morning, 70,000 later in the day and 603,000 before the storm passed Sept. 10.
Some group members broadcast live videos from their locations to update fellow Floridians on weather conditions, Bailey said. Others used the online community to help battle feelings of loneliness as the storm passed.
The prayer videos included talk of Christ and Freedom Church. Ball posted a pre-recorded worship service video Sunday morning for those unable to attend church due to the storm.
As comments poured in, several Facebook users said the group led them to pray for the first time in their lives. One woman sent Ball a private message stating, “I need more help learning about the Bible.” Another woman posted on the group page that she was a believer but had not been walking with God. Ball followed up with both individuals.
“To be able to see how God used this hurricane to call those who have been wandering back to Him is just more than I could express gratitude for,” Ball said.
Because so many members have requested that the Facebook group continue – nearly 400,000 members remained as of Sept. 12 – Ball and Bailey plan to keep it going and retitle it with the name of each subsequent hurricane to hit the U.S. Among their hopes is that survivors of past storms can encourage those in the midst of a hurricane or other natural disaster. Friends and church members have offered to help moderate the group.
Bailey estimated the number of group members could rise into the millions after future storms because the group’s size likely will cause it to rank high on internet search engines.
“We really have a platform for the gospel to [advance] throughout future catastrophes,” Bailey said.

Florida Disaster Relief

Florida Baptist Convention photo
Among churches damaged by Hurricane Irma was First Baptist Church in Lake Wales, Fla., some 60 miles east of Tampa.

By Sept. 11 SBDR teams from throughout the eastern United States were being deployed to set up feeding units across south Florida at the request of American Red Cross (ARC). Those units were equipped to provide 130,000 meals per day across six locations, and more units likely will become available as damage assessments continue.
Projections were for kitchens to serve their first meals by Sept. 15. Some churches will remain temporary shelters. Some congregations and disaster relief teams have self-deployed by helping their neighbors in whatever ways they can.
A temporary childcare unit has been engaged at the Putnam Community Medical Center in Palatka, Fla., east of Gainesville.
Resources and volunteers have been stretched thin due to the major responses required by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but SBDR leaders have remained upbeat and eager to do whatever they can to serve those in need.
“We are always concerned about our churches,” said Mark MacDonald, strategic communications catalyst with the Florida Baptist Convention. “We want those who have been affected by the storm to know that we are right beside them.”
Government officials in Florida are continuing to assess the damage from Hurricane Irma, which left widespread power outages, structural damage and flooding. The Florida Keys sustained serious damage, and initial reports suggested it could take at least a month before people were allowed back to the Keys.
In Miami, 75 percent of the population was initially without power. In Lee and Collier counties on the Gulf Coast side of south Florida, 87-95 percent of people were without power. Outages affected 60 percent of people in Tampa. Jacksonville experienced flash flooding, and storm surges forced at least three bridges to close. Numerous tornados were also reported across the state.

Volunteers still needed in Texas

Mud out teams continue their work in Houston and other parts of Texas and Louisiana to clear debris from homes that have been flooded. Chainsaw teams are being deployed across Texas as volunteers clear downed trees. Southern Baptists are preparing hot meals for Texans who are still unable to return to their homes.
David Melber, vice president of Send Relief at the North American Mission Board, said volunteers are now needed for weekday projects in Houston.
“Many of the local churches have been giving significant volunteer help for the last two weeks,” Melber said. “But those volunteers are now having to go back to their jobs. We need hundreds of volunteers who can come and serve on weekdays.”
In addition to homes, hundreds of churches were impacted by flooding in Texas.
“It has been encouraging to see a lot of our churches bring teams to directly help local churches,” Melber said. “But when they return home after a week, that Texas church still has a lot of needs. That is why each Texas church needs several churches from outside the area to partner with it in relief efforts.”
For more information, go to
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.)

Related articles:
In Irma-shattered Caribbean, Baptists arrive to help
Irma response to begin; Harvey relief work continues

9/13/2017 7:37:07 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press & Brandon Elrod, NAMB | with 0 comments

After Irma, Baptists already issuing food in Caribbean

September 13 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Food and water shortages in the Caribbean are being relieved by Southern Baptist partners and disaster relief workers nearly a week after Hurricane Irma trampled islands and killed at least 38 people.

NAMB photo
While Irma spared Havana, Cuba, from hurricane winds, the city still suffered flooding from storm surge.

Baptist Global Response (BGR) is already distributing food in Cuba, where Irma hit 13 of the 15 provinces. The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to transport a feeding unit to Puerto Rico, BGR CEO Jeff Palmer told Baptist Press (BP) Sept. 12.
“Right now our team is on the ground in [San Juan] Puerto Rico,” Palmer said. “We also are releasing some resources ... through our Baptist partners in Cuba; we’ve already done some food distributions in Cuba.”
The feeding unit from Alabama will serve the U.S. Virgin Islands and other impacted areas, NAMB said in today’s Send Relief bulletin.
Transportation to Puerto Rico is slow and hampered by hurricane damage and changing logistics, Palmer said. BGR representatives planned to meet today with Jorge Alvarez, president of the Convention of Southern Baptist Churches in Puerto Rico & U.S. Virgin Islands, to discuss islanders’ needs. About 60 churches in the territories cooperate with the convention.
BGR and NAMB have each donated an initial $50,000 to food relief in the Caribbean in response to Irma. Alabama disaster relief strategist Mark Wakefield is coordinating the transportation of the feeding unit, but details were not available today.
BGR will continue to prioritize food, clean water and shelter in its initial response in the Caribbean. NAMB is focusing primarily on disaster relief efforts stateside in response to both hurricanes Irma and Harvey, which hit within a two-week span.
While damage assessments continue in the Caribbean, the latest reports from the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) show varying amounts of damage across the island nations.
The greatest damage continues to be reported from Barbuda, where Irma rendered the hospital unusable and damaged 99 percent of buildings and 90 percent of the electricity infrastructure, OECS said Sept. 10. One person was killed and the island was completely evacuated to Antigua, OECS said, accounting for just over 1,400 persons. Officials estimate rebuilding costs of $200 million.
In Anguilla, one person was killed, 90 percent of the electrical infrastructure and 90 percent of government buildings were damaged, and seaports remain closed, OECS said. The majority of homes on the Turks and Caicos Islands were damaged, including 70 to 90 percent on South Caicos, 70 percent on Providenciales and half of those on Grand Turk Island, according to the OECS and PAHO.
Irma killed at least four people in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where damage is extreme but hard to access with transportation and communication channels hard hit. Food shortages there are severe, The New York Times reported Sept. 11.
Southern Baptist pastor Lennox Zamore of Ebenezer Baptist Church in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, was working to contact other pastors when he texted an update to Baptist Press on Sept. 11. At that time, he reported damage to three churches, variously including internal damage and the loss of windows, a roof and doors. Damage was most severe in the community of St. John, Zamore said.
The U.S. Virgin Islands are expected to lack electricity, running water, hospitals and schools for months, Zamore said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
Related articles:
In Irma-shattered Caribbean, Baptists arrive to help
Irma response to begin; Harvey relief work continues

9/13/2017 7:27:09 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

In Irma-shattered Caribbean, Baptists arrive to help

September 12 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Days after Hurricane Irma killed at least 34 people and destroyed entire communities in the Caribbean and West Indies, Southern Baptist partners are on site assessing the most urgent needs for assistance. screen capture

A Baptist Global Response (BGR) disaster assessment and response team (DART) arrived Sept. 10 in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic, BGR CEO Jeff Palmer told Baptist Press (BP), and is working in cooperation with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to meet the immediate life-preserving needs of survivors across the region.
“We have already approved $50,000 of food relief in a joint effort with NAMB Send Relief for the Virgin Islands,” Palmer told BP. “Send Relief is committing $50,000 as well for an initial effort of $100,000 from Southern Baptists.”
Food, clean water and shelter top the list of immediate concerns, Palmer said, as communities prepare for long-term recovery and rebuilding.
“Clean, potable water sources are critical right now to prevent dehydration and intestinal issues that could cause outbreaks of diseases such as cholera,” he said. “Personnel will also find temporary lodging alternatives to provide survivors with comfort and shelter from the elements until more permanent housing is in place.”
Initial BGR assessments will focus on Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Turks, Caicos and the Bahamas, Palmer said in an update on BGR’s website,
Pastor Lennox Zamore of Ebenezer Baptist Church in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, was working today to contact fellow Southern Baptist pastors in the region.
“I still have no contact (with) the churches of St. John (Virgin Islands) where Irma was most severe,” Zamore told BP by text message today. “Only emergency transport and military (are) allowed. Besides, there is no gas.” A curfew that restricts travel from noon to 6 p.m. impedes travel, Zamore said. “I am trying to overcome all of these (impediments).”
Ebenezer Baptist lost all of its windows, Zamore said. Among churches Zamore has managed to contact, Grace Baptist Church in St. Thomas lost its roof, and Bovoni Baptist Church in Bovoni lost windows and doors and suffered internal damage.
Irma killed at least 34 people in the Caribbean including 10 in Cuba, CBS reported today. Casualties included four deaths in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Weather Channel reported, and according to The Nation, three in Puerto Rico. Among the heaviest of the widespread structural damage, 95 percent of buildings on the island of Barbuda were destroyed.
The Virgin Islands are expected to be without electricity, running water, hospitals and schools for months, Zamore said, and several hotels are damaged.
The destruction has created “great opportunities for mission trips in the area,” Zamore said, listing needs including debris removal, structural repairs, feeding and mental healthcare for post-traumatic stress disorder and other concerns.
About 80 Southern Baptist churches comprise the Convention of Southern Baptist Churches in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, according to Southern Baptist Convention data. The U.S. territories have a combined population of about 4.1 million, including 3.5 million in Puerto Rico and 100,000 in the Virgin Islands, The Nation reported.
BGR will list damage assessment and aid updates at, where donors may financially support relief efforts.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

9/12/2017 9:23:59 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Western wildfires have Baptists poised for action

September 12 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

With wildfires in the western United States having consumed a cumulative area larger than the state of Maryland, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units are preparing for ministry.

UPI screen capture

Nine western states – California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming – have experienced fires this year that have consumed more than 8 million total acres, 3 million above the annual national average for the past decade, according to The Washington Post.
Disaster Relief (DR) units for the Montana Southern Baptist Convention (Montanta SBC) are poised for action amid what The Post has labeled “the most destructive fire season in the last 20 years” for the state. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved disaster assistance for three large western Montana fires, the Associated Press reported Sept. 10.
Dan Stewart, DR coordinator for the Montana SBC, said most property loss thus far seems to be fences, out buildings and vacation homes. The convention’s DR teams are prepared to do ash out work for any homes that have been burned, he said.
The Montana SBC also may help coordinate local pastors and youth groups to cut trees away from vulnerable homes, take down burned fencing for ranchers and cut trees back from vulnerable fence lines, Stewart told Baptist Press (BP).
Generally, Montanans “don’t ask for help and they don’t look for help,” Stewart said. “And they [wonder], ‘Why are you helping me?’ That gives us an opportunity to tell them” about the love of Christ.
One Montana feeding unit was mobilized to feed evacuated residents at a shelter near the Missoula-area Seeley Lake fire, which started in July. But that unit was called off when residents dispersed before ER crews could reach the shelter, Stewart said.
In Oregon – where fire has seared more than 640,000 acres, according to The Post – DR units from the Northwest Baptist Convention are on standby.
The Eagle Creek fire, which has burned more than 33,000 acres in northern Oregon according to United Press International, has chainsaw crews on standby, said Bill Griffith, a regional DR coordinator for the Northwest Convention.
The Chetco Bar fire in southern Oregon may require feeding units for evacuees, Griffith said. That blaze has consumed 180,000 acres, The Post reported.
In California, the Los Angeles-area La Tuna fire threatened 1,400 homes and injured 10 people before firefighters achieved 100 percent containment Sept. 10, according to media reports.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

9/12/2017 9:23:18 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

NY’s highest court rules against physician-assisted suicide

September 12 2017 by Emily Belz, WORLD News Service

The New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, on Sept. 7 unanimously refused to legalize assisted suicide, a huge moment in the state’s fight over the practice. Assisted suicide is the practice, distinguished from a patient refusing medical care, where a doctor prescribes lethal drugs that a patient then self-administers at a time of his or her choosing. In New York, assisting in a suicide is a felony.
In its 5-0 ruling the New York court cited the “long-standing” state interests in banning assisted suicide: “prohibiting intentional killing and preserving life; preventing suicide; maintaining physicians’ role as their patients’ healers; protecting vulnerable people from indifference, prejudice, psychological and financial pressure to end their lives; and avoiding a possible slide towards euthanasia.”
Pro-lifers, disability advocates – and, prominently, an Iraq veteran with brain cancer – have successfully fought the legislative push for the practice in New York so far. Assisted suicide advocates, failing in the legislature, have pursued their cause in courts. That’s how the practice became legal in Canada.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in the 1997 decision Vacco v. Quill, upheld New York’s law banning assisted suicide, a clear precedent for courts to follow. But the three terminally ill plaintiffs in the current New York case – two of whom have died since filing the lawsuit in 2015, and one who is in remission – argued that the New York law violated the equal protection clause of the state constitution. That’s an appealing argument in the legal universe post-Obergefell, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that canceled state marriage laws based on equal protection arguments.
Ten state and national disability groups – ADAPT, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Center for Disability Rights, the Disability Rights Center, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, the National Council on Independent Living, the New York Association on Independent Living, Not Dead Yet, Regional Center for Independent Living and United Spinal Association – had opposed the effort to legalize assisted suicide, a detail media reports on the decision uniformly ignored.
More importantly, the state judges didn’t ignore the disabilities groups. Justice Eugene Fahey wrote a concurring opinion to underscore the threats assisted suicide posed to the poor and the disabled.
“Legalizing physician-assisted suicide would convey a societal value judgment that such ‘indignities’ as physical vulnerability and dependence mean that life no longer has any intrinsic value,” wrote Fahey, citing the amicus brief from the disabilities groups. He also pointed to people from different socioeconomic groups who might be pressured into assisted suicide if medical care was more expensive than the lethal drugs.
The New York Catholic Conference and New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a Protestant group that advocates on social issues, celebrated the decision.
“The court’s decision does three important things,” said Rev. Jason McGuire, who heads up New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, in a statement. “First, it demonstrates respect for the constitution of the state of New York. Nothing in our state’s constitution in any way affirms physician-assisted suicide, and the court acknowledged that reality. Second, the decision upholds the role of the legislature as policymaker. Third, the decision recognizes that the state ‘has a significant interest in preserving life and preventing suicide, a serious public health problem.’”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Emily Belz writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine,, based in Asheville, N.C. Used with permission.)

9/12/2017 9:22:45 AM by Emily Belz, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

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