September 2019

Women’s group hears ‘heartbreaking’ stories at border

September 13 2019 by Grace Thornton

The man was afraid that if he refused one more time, it might be his last.
Or even worse – it might seal his teenage daughter’s fate.

Submitted photo
Chelsea Sobolik, from left to right, and Elizabeth Graham of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, podcast host Jamie Ivey and author Ann Voskamp joined Briana Stensrud of Welcome. on a Sept. 3-4 trip to El Paso, Texas, to meet immigrants near the border.

“In Guatemala, it’s next to impossible to run a small business, because once you start doing well and making money, the gangs will come in and start demanding money,” said Chelsea Sobolik, a policy director for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) in Washington, D.C., recounting the man’s story. “If you refuse enough, they’ll murder you. He not only feared for his safety, he was fearful for his teenage daughter, because the gangs were beginning to prey on her, and he was afraid she’d be trafficked.”
So he fled with her to Mexico and ended up in the shelter where Sobolik met him. For two days last week – Sept. 3-4 – she and a team of other evangelical women including fellow ERLC staffer Elizabeth Graham, authors Ann Voskamp and Shannan Martin and podcast host Jamie Ivey spent time meeting the families who are trying to figure out their lives at the U.S.-Mexico border. They were invited down by an online community of women – known as Welcome. – committed to creating a culture of Christ-like welcome that transcends views on immigration policy or politics.
Over the two-day trip, the group visited with churches doing refugee and asylum ministries on both sides of the border, as well as talking with border patrol agents and visiting a shelter. 
“I think each one of us walked away with someone’s story imprinted on our hearts,” Sobolik said. “At meals, we gathered around the table and gathered around the stories.”
For Sobolik, those stories are both personally and vocationally transformative. In her work with ERLC, she handles a policy portfolio and advocates for issues including immigration.
“I had an interest in going on the trip from that aspect,” she said. “I’m such a firm believer that you can’t fix problems you don’t understand, and you can’t understand from a distance. Something so powerful about going to see something for yourself and learn something for yourself.”
ERLC is “committed to just and compassionate solutions,” she said.
That’s an idea ERLC President Russell Moore recently underscored in a video on his YouTube channel. After spending some time talking about the biblical nature of borders, he dealt with how to handle the moral issue of caring for people.
“Christians can disagree on what the specifics ought to look like in terms of what the policies ought to be,” he said. “What we can’t disagree about are immigrants themselves.”
Throughout scripture there’s language about caring for the strangers and sojourners, he said.
“The church ought to be the place that recognizes that yes, we’re part of a country, and that country ought to have coherent borders and coherent policies,” he said. “We’re also part of a church that is global, multinational and we have brothers and sisters in Christ in immigrant communities.”
Graham, who serves as ERLC’s director of events, tweeted back in June that “every human being deserves basic human care.”
Sobolik said going and seeing the situation firsthand “will better equip me to work on and advocate for those just and compassionate policies. It will further deepen and color the work I’ve already been doing.”
It was a quick trip, but it’s something Sobolik says she’ll be thinking about for a long time and she knows others will, too.
Another group of about 20 women who are part of the Welcome. online community arrived as Sobolik’s group was wrapping up. They traveled down on their own dime to learn how to better help the vulnerable there, she said.
Sobolik said it’s life changing to “look someone in the face and be reminded that God created them, and God knows their name and their story.”
“The world might not know their name, but the Lord does,” she said. “I was reminded of how important it is to infuse human dignity into these conversations. How we view one another and how we think of one another is so imperative.”
In a measure on immigration at the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas, messengers again requested reform – as they had in 2011 – that secures the borders and provides a pathway to legal status “with appropriate restitutionary measures.” The resolution also calls for “maintaining the priority of family unity.”
For more information about Welcome., visit or check out their Facebook group.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Grace Thornton is a writer based in Birmingham, Ala. With reporting from Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

9/13/2019 11:02:20 AM by Grace Thornton | with 0 comments

Portable ultrasound goes to women in crisis

September 13 2019 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Hannah Pregnancy Resource Center is now able to take sonogram technology to abortion-vulnerable women in southern Arkansas because of a donation from the Psalm 139 Project.
Hannah Pregnancy Resource Center (PRC) celebrated Aug. 17 the placement of a portable ultrasound machine that will be used at its satellite locations in Camden and Magnolia, both about 40 minutes from the center in El Dorado. The machine and the training that accompanies it were made possible by gifts to the Psalm 139 Project, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s (ERLC) ministry to help place sonogram technology in pro-life pregnancy centers across the country.

Submitted photo
Paula Williams, executive director of Hannah Pregnancy Resource Center in El Dorado, Ark., and Ernest DeSoto, associational missionary for the Liberty Baptist Association, stand with the new, portable ultrasound machine provided through the Psalm 139 Project.

“Many women we serve have transportation challenges that prevent them from traveling to our El Dorado center,” Kathy Love, Hannah PRC’s nurse manager, told Baptist Press (BP) in an email interview. “By having a cart and printer in both locations, I can now travel quickly to either location with the beautiful machine provided and have a state-of-the-art machine ready to go!”
In a written release, ERLC President Russell Moore said of the portable machine’s placement with Hannah PRC, “This gift, on behalf of Southern Baptists who have given sacrificially for the sake of caring for unborn children and women in crisis, will no doubt be used as a powerful instrument for good. I pray for the servant leaders at Hannah Pregnancy Resource Center as they play an immeasurably important role in the church’s mission to be a witness for human dignity.”
Hannah PRC’s satellite centers in Camden and Magnolia no longer had functioning ultrasound machines prior to the Psalm 139 placement.
Paula Williams, Hannah PRC’s executive director, found out about the ERLC initiative while looking for information on the Southern Baptist Convention’s website. She noticed pregnancy resource centers were listed on the site and found a link to the Psalm 139 Project while looking at the list.
“I had never heard of it before,” Williams shared during the Aug. 17 dedication ceremony, according to quotes provided by the center. “I downloaded the application, completed it and returned it. Almost immediately we were contacted, and they requested more information. We were approved, and in a matter of a few months we were awarded a machine.
She told BP by email, “We are so amazed at God’s goodness and provision. We just want to give Him the glory for it!”
The center’s past use of sonogram technology has made a dramatic difference with its clients. More than 96 percent of abortion-minded and abortion-vulnerable women at their centers choose life after viewing an ultrasound image of their child, according to the center.
Hannah PRC, which has an evangelical Christian statement of faith, not only provides for the physical and other needs of its clients before and after birth but shares the gospel with those who have no relationship with Jesus and encourages those who profess faith in Christ toward a closer walk with Him.
Both the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and Liberty Baptist Association support Hannah PRC financially. Volunteers from the association’s churches serve at the center, and the association also encourages churches to provide financial support, said associational missionary Ernest DeSoto. Churches in El Dorado, Camden and Magnolia are in Liberty Baptist Association.
The association sees its involvement with Hannah PRC as an expression of support “particularly for women who either are searching for answers or confused about their options,” DeSoto told BP in a phone interview. “So we believe it’s not only a service to the young mother-to-be that is finding herself in a difficult position, but also for the unborn.”
The portable machine provided through Psalm 139 “is going to be used in the years to come to make a difference,” DeSoto said.
In addition to the Psalm 139 placement, Hannah PRC received an ultrasound machine for its El Dorado center through the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s organization. The center had been using a 15-year-old machine for which parts could no longer be purchased.
Since 2004, the Psalm 139 Project has now helped provide ultrasound equipment for centers in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas. The ERLC has collaborated with Focus on the Family’s Option Ultrasound Program on some of the machine placements.
All gifts to the Psalm 139 Project go toward machines and training, since the ERLC’s administrative costs are covered by the Cooperative Program, the SBC’s unified giving plan. Information on the Psalm 139 Project and how to donate is available at
The Psalm 139 Project is named after the psalm in which David testified to God’s sovereign care for him when he was an unborn child. He wrote in verse 13, “You knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

9/13/2019 11:02:04 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Jarrid Wilson tweeted hope before tragic death

September 13 2019 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist pastor Jarrid Wilson played games with his son Denham, attended his son Finch’s baseball practice and tweeted encouragement to a struggling alcoholic within hours of dying by suicide late Sept. 9. Wilson was 30.
“I took this on Monday evening around 7:30 p.m. at our son’s baseball practice,” Wilson’s widow Julianne wrote in posting a video of Wilson playfully swinging Denham in his arms. “By 11:45 that night, my sweet husband was in the presence of Jesus. I love you, Jarrid.”

Photo from Twitter
Days before his suicide, Jarrid Wilson conducted this baptism as an associate pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., his senior pastor Greg Laurie said.

Wilson struggled with depression and suicidal tendencies, he said frequently throughout his ministry.
Wilson’s pastor Greg Laurie of mega Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside announced the death Tuesday on Twitter.
“Sometimes people may think that as pastors or spiritual leaders we are somehow above the pain and struggles of everyday people. We are the ones who are supposed to have all the answers. But we do not,” Laurie wrote. “At the end of the day, pastors are just people who need to reach out to God for His help and strength, each and every day.... One dark moment in a Christian’s life cannot undo what Christ did for us on the cross.” Harvest Christian Fellowship began cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2017.
Wilson had been a Harvest associate pastor for 18 months. He and his wife founded the nonprofit “Anthem of Hope” to help those “battling brokenness, depression, anxiety, self-harm, addiction and suicide.”
“Hey friends,” Wilson wrote on the Anthem of Hope Twitter page on the day of his death, “check out this @anthemofhope phone wallpaper in honor of our #YourLifeMatters campaign.”
Five years ago, Wilson served nine months as student pastor of LifePoint Church in Smyrna, Tenn. In social media posts, his former senior pastor Pat Hood and others lamented Wilson’s death.
“Even though we only served with Jarrid a brief time, he left an impression on LifePoint Church and its people,” Hood said on Instagram. “We ask the members of LifePoint Church and friends of the Wilson family to pray for Julianne, the boys and Jarrid’s family during this time.
“It is oftentimes hard to find the words to express our sorrow in times like this,” Hood wrote, “but we are thankful that depression and suicide cannot beat those whose lives are anchored in the death and resurrection of Jesus.”
Wilson’s friend Travis Akers, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and a political commentator, tweeted Tuesday that Wilson was one of the few people who knew of Akers’ battle with alcoholism.
“When I shared about it publicly to perhaps help others, he encouraged and lifted me up,” Akers wrote Tuesday. “This was his reply last night after I went public. That’s the type of person he was. He died moments later.”
Wilson had responded to Akers’ admission of alcoholism, “Proud of you man! What beautiful transparency.”
Wilson’s death coincided with World Suicide Prevention Day Sept. 10. After his death, many social media posts encouraged those considering suicide to get help through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255. Two GoFundMe pages for Wilson, one promoted as a tribute and the other as a memorial fund, had together raised more than $85,000 by 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Laurie tweeted a photo Wednesday of Wilson baptizing a new believer.
“This is Jarrid Wilson baptizing someone last Saturday. Look at the joy on both his and the young lady’s face that he baptized,” Laurie wrote. “This is how I remember him.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

9/13/2019 11:01:37 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Church pays off $4M medical debt in East Texas

September 13 2019 by Tobin Perry

Hundreds of homes throughout East Texas got an unusual yellow envelope in their mailboxes, thanks to one Southern Baptist church in Texas.
It wasn’t a church invite or junk mail. Instead, it could be worth tens of thousands of dollars for the recipients.
Facilitated by more than $45,000 in generous gifts in August, Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, is working with a nonprofit toward paying off $4 million in medical debt for their East Texas neighbors.
David Dykes, the church’s pastor, noted that Tyler is the medical capital of East Texas, with several large medical facilities. “Through my relationship with Mother Frances Hospital, I know just that one hospital is carrying like $157 million of unpaid bills,” he said.
“It’s a problem that’s crippling many families.
“The Bible says to ‘bear one another’s burdens and so we fulfill the law of Christ,’” he noted. “The only law of Christ is to love God and love your neighbor. Because the need was so great, we felt like this was the perfect thing for us to do.”
Helping with medical bills is part of Green Acres’ larger Kindness 25:40 initiative, based on Matthew 25:40: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
As part of the initiative, Green Acres challenged its members to participate in a variety of acts of kindness in the community. The church encouraged members to go through fast-food drive through lines and pay for their bill and the bill of the car behind, for example. They also gave away free water at a local park, washed the windshields of hundreds of cars in their parking lot during a local school district event, and paid for people’s laundry at local laundromats.
To pay off the medical debt, Green Acres contacted RIP Medical Debt, a national nonprofit that has helped organizations, like churches, abolish $715 million of debt since its 2014 founding. Green Acres members gave more than $45,000 to the effort.
Founded by a pair of men with experience as debt collectors, RIP Medical Debt began as a response to the growing impact of debt on the lives of the poor nationwide. Craig Antico, one of the cofounders, noted that half of all debt collectors are collecting money for medical debts and, according to a recent article in The Atlantic, half of all overdue debt on Americans’ credit reports is from medical expenses.
“If we can end the hardship of medical debt, then our medical system will work,” Antico said. “What we’re saying is that the reason it doesn’t work is that [medical debt] ruins people. They’re like one illness or accident away from financial ruin. If we can remove the financial ruin in people’s lives because of medical debt, then we’re doing what we set out to do.”
RIP buys “portfolios of medical debt” for about $1 per $100 of debt, which allows organizations like Green Acres to get maximum benefit from their donations. RIP uses a digital algorithm to identify the people with the biggest need for the debt relief, focusing on people with debt payments equal to more than 5 percent of their income or those who earn less than two times the federal poverty level. Because of the unique way the company acquires and forgives the debt, RIP doesn’t individually choose any of those whose debt is forgiven.
Antico said RIP has worked with 60-plus churches nationwide to forgive medical debts. Churches and other faith groups are particularly well-suited to impact medical debt, he said, because most religious traditions encourage participants to help people overwhelmed with debt. He pointed particularly to passages in the Torah that describe the Day of Jubilee.
“I don’t know if it’s going to get people to come to church,” Antico said. “But it does give people a renewed sense of faith.... I’ve had many people write us that this was an answered prayer. ‘It’s a miracle that you guys are in existence,’ they say.”
Antico encourages churches that want to relieve medical debt to go beyond their own community. It’s usually difficult to only target a few nearby zip codes with the relief effort (particularly in rural areas) but RIP can help churches focus their efforts on a region, a state or a specific group of people such as first-responders or veterans. He said an emerging desire among donors is to help people in struggling regions around the country like Appalachia. Smaller churches that want to participate can easily partner with other nearby churches to multiply their impact in medical debt relief.
Dykes says he hopes relieving the medical debt – along with the church’s entire Kindness 25:40 initiative – will help the community experience God’s love in a practical way.
“I think, sadly, the church has been largely characterized by what we’re against instead of being a positive force for showing God’s love,” Dykes said.
“Increasingly, we live in such a divided culture – politically divided, racially divided. Without a doubt, we’ve seen an increase of violence.... So I like to tell people the only way we’re going to extinguish this fire of hatred and racism is with a tsunami of kindness. That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s really our church’s emphasis for 2020” in a year that will be particularly divisive because it’s an election year.
To learn more about how a church can be involved in helping people relieve their medical debts, visit
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry is a freelance writer online at

9/13/2019 11:01:22 AM by Tobin Perry | with 0 comments

Fastest-growing, largest churches: Who made the list?

September 13 2019 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Thirty-four Southern Baptist congregations are among the fastest growing and largest evangelical churches in the latest Outreach 100 tally compiled by Outreach Magazine and LifeWay Research.
“Tracking the fastest growing churches gives us a glimpse into some of the most effective ministry work in America,” LifeWay Research Executive Director Scott McConnell told Baptist Press. “These congregations have the privilege of seeing many lives changed, while maintaining the ability to adapt quickly and do ministry in a scalable way.”
Mercy Hill Church in Greensboro, N.C., planted by The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area, is the fastest-growing Southern Baptist congregation on the list, ranking 12th among all churches who completed the self-reported survey.
The Summit Church, where SBC President J.D. Greear is senior pastor, planted Mercy Hill Church in 2012. Mercy Hill reported an average attendance of 2,671 in February and March, a growth of 31 percent, at its four locations. Andrew Hopper is senior pastor of the church that last ranked in 2017 as the 27th fastest growing church.
Among the largest churches, Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., is the top ranking Southern Baptist congregation. The 19-campus church with Rick Warren as senior pastor averaged 24,195 in attendance during the reporting period, according to Outreach100. Saddleback was the eighth largest church in the survey in 2018, and the second largest among Southern Baptists.
Outreach Magazine and LifeWay Research sent survey questionnaires to about 30,000 evangelical churches for the growth list and sought to verify submitted data, reported.
“Certainly the Outreach 100 is a celebration of numbers, a recognition of church addition and multiplication,” said in explaining the report’s methodology. “Ultimately, though, the Outreach 100 is not so much about numbers as it is the individuals those numbers represent – people who have found hope in Christ and the churches pointing them to [H]im.”


Mercy Hill, which came in first among the fastest-growing churches, was among 17 Southern Baptist congregations recognized for growth.
5 Point Church in Easley, S.C., led by Dean Herman, was the second-ranking Southern Baptist church and 21st among the 100. The church has an average attendance of 2,352 and exhibited 26 percent growth, comprising an additional 489 attendees.

Ranked third in growth among Southern Baptists is Sandals Church in Riverside Calif., 25th among the 100, experiencing 14 percent growth with 9,559 in attendance.
Other Southern Baptists, reported, are Venture Church in Hattiesburg, Miss., under the leadership of Jeff Clark, 29th with 17 percent growth and an attendance of 2,671; Rolling Hills Community Church, Franklin, Tenn., Jeff Simmons, 42nd, 25 percent growth, 1,678 in attendance; BattleCreek Church in Broken Arrow, Okla., Alex Himaya, 44th, 13 percent growth, attendance of 5,128; River Oak Church, Chesapeake, Va., Heath Burris, 48th, 16 percent, 2,844; First Baptist Jackson, Jackson, Miss., Chip Stevens, 55th, 23 percent, 1,661; and Bethlehem Church, Bethlehem, Ga., Jason Britt, 58th, 13 percent, 3,418.
Completing the list of Southern Baptists noted for growth are Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, Tenn., with Mike Glenn as senior pastor, ranking 65th with 10 percent growth and an average attendance of 6,456; Second Baptist Church, Conway, Ark., Josh King, 69th, 27 percent, 1,025 in attendance; Cascade Hills Church in Columbia, Ga., Bill Purvis, 80th, 12 percent, 2,961 in attendance; Lifepoint Church, Lewis Center, Ohio, Dean Fulks, 87th, 12 percent growth, 3,041 attendance; Brookwood Church, Simpsonville, S.C., Perry Duggar, 88th, 10 percent, 3,992; First Baptist Church, Bryan, Texas, Jim Heiligman, 89th, 18 percent, 1,247; Central Baptist Church, Jonesboro, Ark., Archie Mason, 97th, 11 percent, 3,042; and Chets Creek Church, Jacksonville, Fla., Spike Hogan, 99th, 12 percent, 2,547.
To be recognized for growth, churches must average more than 1,025 in attendance, report a numerical gain of 176 or more and a percentage gain of at least 3 percent.


Following Saddleback in size among Southern Baptists is Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, where former SBC President H. Edwin Young is senior pastor. The church reported an average attendance of 20,460 at its six locations and ranks eighth among the top 100. The ranking is up from 2017, when Second Baptist was the 11th largest among participating churches, with 20,885 in attendance.

Pinelake Church in Flowood, Miss., where Chip Henderson is senior pastor, is the third largest Southern Baptist church on the list, ranking 22nd among the 100 and reporting 11,042 in average attendance at its five locations.
The Summit Church, where SBC President J.D. Greear is senior pastor, is the fourth largest Southern Baptist church in the tally, ranking 24th among the 100. The Summit Church reported 10,905 in attendance at its 12 locations. The ranking is up from 32nd in 2018, when the church reported an average attendance of 10,538.
Ranking fifth among Southern Baptists is McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Va., led by David Platt, former president of the International Mission Board. The church is 28th among the 100 and reported an average attendance of 10,101 among its seven locations.
Following is Sandals Church in Riverside, Calif., which ranked in both growth and size. The church is 29th in size with 9,559 in attendance.
Cross Church, formerly led by SBC Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd, ranks seventh in size among Southern Baptists and 32nd among the 100. Floyd’s son Nick is currently senior pastor of the Springdale, Ark., church, reporting 9,202 in average attendance.
Other Southern Baptists on the list are Church by the Glades in Coral Springs, Fla., where David Hughes is senior pastor, ranking 37th and averaging 8,912 in attendance; The Village Church, Flower Mound, Texas, Matt Chandler, 40th, 8,526; Shadow Mountain Community Church, El Cajon, Calif., David Jeremiah, 46th, 7,935; First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla., David Uth, 47th, 7,827; Biltmore Church, Arden, N.C., Bruce Frank, 51st, 7,664; Houston’s First Baptist Church, Houston, Texas, Gregg Matte, 57th, 7,209; Champion Forest Baptist Church, Houston, Texas, David Fleming, 58th, 7,147; and Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, Tenn., former SBC President Steve Gaines, 59th, 7,106.
Ranking 72nd in size and averaging 6,456 in attendance is Brentwood Baptist Church, which also ranked in growth. Completing the list of Southern Baptists noted for church size are First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., with Jeremy Morton and former SBC President Johnny Hunt as co-pastors, 75th in rank with 6,351 in average attendance; Long Hollow Baptist Church, Hendersonville, Tenn., Robby Gallaty, 83rd, 5,718 in attendance; BattleCreek in Broken Arrow, Okla., which also ranked in growth, garnering 91st in size with 5,128 in attendance; and Sugar Creek Baptist Church, Sugar Land, Texas, 98th, Mark S. Hartman, 4,533.
To make the list of largest churches, congregations must report an attendance of 4,328 or more, said.
The full lists are available at
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

9/13/2019 11:01:04 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Dorian relief: Baptists serving Bahamas & N.C.

September 12 2019 by Brandon Elrod, NAMB

As Hurricane Dorian moved along the East Coast, North Carolina officials hoped they had dodged a direct hit. Then, the storm made landfall in the Outer Banks at 8:35 Sept. 6.

Photo by Sam Porter, NAMB
Tom Hale of Apex, N.C., left, and James Davis of Chapel Hill, N.C., right, assess Hurricane Dorian damage to Randall Styron’s house on Cedar Island. North Carolina Baptists on Mission are at work in Cedar Island and the town of Atlantic, N.C., after the storm.

The Outer Banks – a string of islands off the state’s main coast – experienced significant damage to homes and businesses days after Dorian struck the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm.
North Carolina Baptists on Mission (NCBM) has begun feeding and setting up recovery sites in the Carolinas while Baptist Global Response (BGR) is working with Bahamian Baptists to distribute supplies such as food, water, blankets and hygiene kits as their leaders plan for a long-term recovery effort.
Ronnie Floyd, president of the SBC Executive Committee, noted that “Southern Baptists have a long history of helping those in time of need. The quick response by Baptist Global Response, Send Relief [of the North American Mission Board] and our state Baptist disaster relief organizations as well as local churches to the devastation left by Hurricane Dorian is to be commended. We must continue to work together to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of those affected by Hurricane Dorian.”
BGR reported stories from survivors that underscored the ongoing severity in the Bahamas. The confirmed death toll stands at 50 and tens of thousands of residents have been displaced.
One man, BGR said in a statement, went out to help rescue others only to return and find that his wife had been killed as a result of the storm. Another woman rode out the hurricane by clinging to a rock, going days without food before making it to safety.
The search and recovery process has been ongoing in the Bahamas, even a week after the storm made landfall, and the death toll is expected to rise sharply. Volunteer relief teams will only be able to initiate their efforts when first responders declare towns and regions safe.
Some areas, such as Marsh Harbor on Abaco Island, were “completely destroyed,” BGR CEO Jeff Palmer said. “The city and area were so devastated that people have evacuated because there is nothing there for them.”
BGR’s primary focus so far has been working with their ministry partners to meet the needs of evacuees, many of whom fled to Freeport and Nassau. Eventually, volunteers will be able to serve in the recovery effort in the Bahamas, but the main need now, Palmer said, is prayer and financial support to provide food and other items locally sourced in the Bahamas so that churches there will be able to continue ministering to their communities.

Photo by Sam Porter, NAMB
North Carolina Baptists on Mission are preparing to serve hot meals to survivors of Hurricane Dorian on Ocracoke Island. Meals will be prepared at the mass feeding kitchen set up on the parking lot at the ferry landing in Cape Hatteras.

NCBM set up a feeding unit over the weekend at the Hatteras Ferry Terminal and prepared 1,980 meals that the American Red Cross then delivered to storm survivors on Hatteras Island and ferried to Ocracoke Island, which is only accessible by boat or ferry. Since then, a kitchen has been established on Ocracoke Island.
Jack Frazier, NCBM disaster relief coordinator, praised volunteers who have been flexible and servant-minded throughout the response. When the government’s emergency management agency called asking for a team to distribute items donated to help storm survivors, volunteers stepped forward to meet the need.
“They are spending their vacation and/or free time to do this at the drop of a hat,” Frazier said, calling North Carolina’s volunteers some of the best. “We can’t thank them enough for stepping up to be a servant and hands and feet of Christ.”
Recovery sites have been set up at Atlantic Missionary Baptist Church in Atlantic, N.C., at Cape Hatteras Baptist Church on the island in Frisco, N.C., and on Ocracoke Island at an Assembly of God church. From these sites, NCBM teams will go into neighborhoods to begin the cleanup and restoration process for homes damaged during the hurricane.
Visit to learn about local relief, to donate or to volunteer. Visit to donate and learn more about BGR’s efforts in the Bahamas.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board. Dianna L. Cagle, Biblical Recorder assistant editor, updated this story Sept. 13. Check with for more updated stories.)

9/12/2019 12:35:49 PM by Brandon Elrod, NAMB | with 0 comments

Southeastern hosts military community emphasis event

September 12 2019 by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) held its second annual Military Community Emphasis Event on September 3-5, 2019. The event highlighted the missional and pastoral role of military chaplains, church planting in the military community, local church military ministry and ministering to military families.


“It is our hope and goal to see students, churches and chaplains equipped to go with the gospel to military communities,” said Jesse Parker, director of student resources and financial aid. “By reaching military communities there is an amazing opportunity to see the gospel go all throughout the world, and we want to come alongside what God is already doing within these communities. It is really exciting to be a part of seeing students, churches and chaplains equipped to go on mission for the glory of Christ.”
In chapel, Chaplain Doug Carver, who formally served as the U.S. Army’s 22nd Chief of Chaplains and currently serves as the executive director of chaplaincy for the North American Mission Board (NAMB), delivered a sermon on Ephesians 6:10-20 in chapel. Carver preached on the importance of standing on the truth of scripture, explaining that believers need to cling to scripture as the standard for truth in a world that will tell them otherwise.
“We must be agents of truth. Why? Because there is a war going on,” said Carver. 
Carver also noted that knowing the truth found in the Creator God compels Christians to fulfill the Great Commission.
“You are being equipped to take forth the truth of God to our culture and every culture,” said Carver. “I challenge you this day. May we hold on to truth that is found only in Jesus.”
Following chapel, a Q&A panel took place where SBC Military Chaplains from the Army, Navy, Air Force and National Guard spoke on their ministry calling and context. The discussion included marriage and family life for military chaplains, the military demographic to whom chaplains minister and whether or not evangelical military chaplains can openly share the gospel within their units.
“Military chaplaincy has always been an extension of my pastoral identity,” said Army Chaplain Joseph “Stoney” Douthitt, commenting on the pastoral focus of this type of ministry.
Wednesday featured conversations about how local churches can better serve military families within their congregations and what it looks like to plant churches in military communities.

Chaplain Doug Carver, formally the U.S. Army’s 22nd Chief of Chaplains and currently the executive director of chaplaincy for NAMB, delivered a sermon on Ephesians 6:10-20 in chapel. Carver preached on the importance of standing on the truth of scripture, noting that knowing the truth found in the Creator God compels Christians to fulfill the Great Commission.

Panelists discussed the ways in which they have sought to minister to military families, including providing childcare for couples to grocery shop, connecting military members to a healthy community and helping veterans and spouses understand what benefits they can receive.
“We’re able to show what Christian family looks like to people who grew up without knowing Christ, the Bible or a family themselves,” said Shannon Terhune, pastor of Raleigh Heights Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va., and president of Faith Bible College. He also challenged pastors of those churches to have a humble, servant heart in helping meet the needs of military families even if that means pointing them to another church that is better equipped to help them.
With regard to local church military ministry, Matthew Bryant, discipleship and missions pastor at Village Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C., noted that when soldiers are deployed, that is an opportunity for the church to celebrate the sending of missionaries.
“Our firm belief is that God can change the world from a little bitty base in North Carolina if we can learn how to disciple soldiers and celebrate our sending out as missionaries,” said Bryant.
Church planting in military communities was the final panel held on Wednesday afternoon in which panelists discussed unique challenges to this type of ministry. Discussion points included learning military vernacular and how pastors should go about building relationships with chaplains and service members living on base.
Air Force Chaplain Justin Woods noted that bypassing the authority of a base chaplain to gain access to soldiers is unwise in thinking about long-term ministry among that community.
“A short-term gain is not worth a long-term sacrifice,” said Woods, director of Baptist ministry at the U.S. Naval Academy for NAMB and a founding pastor of Redemption Church and Citizen Church in Annapolis, Md.
Panelists also discussed the relevance of pastors having military experience to plant churches in military community. For someone like Barry Murray, a church planter serving with Point Church in Fayetteville, N.C., God’s call for him to plant in a military community has been a call to depend on God as he learns how to minister to the military culture of which he has not previously participated.
“This is a cross cultural endeavor for our family… For me, to plant a church in a military community is something only God can do,” said Murray.
Southeastern currently has more than 100 military students enrolled and offers scholarships and resources for service members and veterans.
“Momentum is building in military community ministry here at SEBTS,” said Jim Houck, Southeastern’s military affairs coordinator. “As a student and military retiree, the prospect of this institution equipping and sending more graduates to serve the military community as chaplains and local church leaders is so encouraging. The community that already exists in military units and among military families provides a rich mission field where the truth of God’s word can penetrate and spread quickly. I also thank God for the team of external partners he is calling to help us develop and conduct military community ministry events like this one.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lauren Pratt is the news and information specialist with SEBTS. This article originally appeared on

9/12/2019 12:30:47 PM by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS | with 0 comments

At old Coke bottling plant, lives are being changed

September 12 2019 by Gordon Cloud, The Christian Index

An old Coca-Cola bottling plant donated to Sherwood Baptist Church has become a hub for disaster relief operations and a ministry to at-risk youth.

Photo courtesy of Ken Bevel
Classes such as auto maintenance that have been eliminated in local schools are taught at The Hope Center in a former Coca-Cola bottling plant donated to Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga.

Albany, Ga., has been racked several times by severe storms over the last three years. From hurricane-force straight-line winds to a powerful tornado to Hurricane Michael, the city has experienced a tremendous need for assistance in getting out from under the rubble left behind.
Not only did Sherwood have a facility – donated by Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated – from which to distribute aid, but God sent them a man to run the operation. Enter Ken Bevel – a retired Marine Corp logistics officer who was a veteran of the Persian Gulf War as well as involved in the leadership of the U.S. relief effort to Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. Bevel also has played key roles in the Kendrick Brothers films “Courageous” and “Fireproof.”
“The last few years I was in the military, I prayed that when I got out, God would put the training and experience I had received to good use,” Bevel said, “and He did.”
God has opened doors in a big way for the disaster relief ministry in the community. As Sherwood has partnered with Samaritan’s Purse and the Team Rubicon veterans service organization, it has become a central distribution point for the entire community working with an interdenominational coalition of churches. Since the first major storm in January 2017, they have disbursed over $334,000 in aid.
Bevel gives God the praise for this.

Photo courtesy of Ken Bevel
A volunteer with The Hope Center teaches a class at a former Coca-Cola bottling plant donated to Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. The facility is now a hub for disaster relief as well as efforts to reach at-risk youth.

“I haven’t had to beg for one dime,” he said. “God has brought it in from all over the country.”

In addition to funds, the center is also able to provide help with clean-up and tarps, and they were recently blessed with a new fully-equipped panel truck courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse.

Even with all of the assistance coming into the community, the leadership at Sherwood realized more could be done both to utilize the facility, known locally as “the old Coke plant,” and minister to the needs of the Albany community.
“We began to ask, ‘How else can we glorify God with this place?’” Bevel said.
He then thought of a quote from Charles Spurgeon – “How do you set a city on fire? You start a fire in the basement.”
Bevel began to feel a burden for the “basement” of the city: at-risk youth. He realized many of them had educational needs the church could meet by offering special classes in the plant. The new ministry would be called The Hope Center.

Submitted photo
Ken Bevel

Partnerships were formed with Albany Technical College as well as several of the local public schools. Classes were developed to replace programs such as home economics and shop that had been cut from the school district. Sunday School classes from Sherwood and other local churches helped recruit kids to participate in the program, and it began to grow rapidly.

Recent offerings include home economics, auto maintenance, home repair, and wilderness skills as well as GED preparatory classes. Upcoming classes will teach plumbing, flooring and woodworking. An adult education class on family finance as well as other classes are being developed.
The program is not just about education, though. It is a platform for sharing the gospel. After instructors from the technical college and local schools finish teaching the class, a teacher from Sherwood presents the Good News to all in attendance.
While a difference is already being made, time and eternity will reveal the extent of the fire being started in the basement of Albany’s youth.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gordon Cloud is a writer and senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Camilla, Ga. This article first appeared in The Christian Index,, news journal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)

9/12/2019 12:22:54 PM by Gordon Cloud, The Christian Index | with 0 comments

High schoolers get meals & gospel in Fresno

September 12 2019 by Holly Smith, California Southern Baptist

For more than 30 years, four Fresno-area churches have worked together to serve lunch to their community’s high schoolers.
Under the auspices of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), members of New Life Community Church and Immanuel Lutheran Church as well as a Catholic parish and Presbyterian church have banded together to provide lunch one day a week for students at Washington Union High School, across the street from the Lutheran church.

Photo by Holly Smith
Sherann Kim, California Southern Baptist Convention student evangelism specialist, addresses high school students at a weekly meal provided by four Fresno churches.

Neil Marthedal, a New Life member of who died in 2015, began the ministry in 1988 in Fresno’s Easton community; his wife Nancy took over after his death, now coordinating volunteers from the four churches and enlisting speakers.
“But I’d rather be hanging out with the kids,” she said.
When the Marthedals moved to the area, Neil was asked by an FCA leader to become involved in the ministry.
“Neil told him yes, if you’ll start an FCA at Washington Union High School,” Nancy recounted. And the ministry was born.
The churches sponsored breakfasts at first, but “it was difficult with the fog, so we’ve been having lunches every week,” she said.
Some days it’s a sandwich and chips; some days, especially in the winter, a hot meal; dessert is almost always included. Leftovers are often sent home with the students since, as Marthedal said, it could be the only meal some of them have that day.
She also is involved with FCA’s summer sports camp; this year more than 70 students from Washington Union were signed up for the camp held at UCLA.
Marthedal helps raise funds to send the students to camp, which costs nearly $600 per student, and “when I go ask for donations for the sports camp I go to every single one of the churches” in town, she said.
A sportswoman herself, Marthedal coached softball at Washington Union “for a very long time.”
She went to one of the sports camps and “saw what FCA was about,” and became more involved in helping students to attend.
“This community is not ... privileged ... Christian children,” Marthedal said with emotion and obvious love for the students who participate in the weekly lunches and the sports camp.
Each of the four churches takes two months of the school year to provide lunch for any student who chooses to cross the street to the Lutheran church. Marthedal and the FCA ministry have a good relationship with school administrators, who even provide a crossing guard for the students.
Some come “just for the free lunch,” she admitted, but as many as 100 students at a time hear a gospel presentation each week.
Sherann Kim, California Southern Baptist Convention student evangelism specialist, spoke to the group last May, using the story of Zacchaeus from the gospel of Luke.
She used a Toblerone chocolate bar as an object lesson for the students, dramatically reading the ingredient list from the package, including the confusing technical terms.
She then called a student up and offered a bite of the candy.
“It’s one thing to hear about Jesus and another to actually look deeper for yourself,” Kim told the students. “As much as I told you about the ingredients in the candy bar, it made no difference until you actually taste it.
“From information to actually tasting the chocolate is a different experience – knowing about Jesus is different from accepting His gift of eternal life in Him.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Holly Smith is managing editor of the California Southern Baptist,, news journal of the California Southern Baptist Convention.)

9/12/2019 12:19:42 PM by Holly Smith, California Southern Baptist | with 0 comments

Chitwood at Gateway: Go wherever God calls

September 12 2019 by Katherine Chute

Paul Chitwood, International Mission Board (IMB) president, urged a chapel audience at Gateway Seminary Sept. 5 to remember that God’s vision cannot be fulfilled until people from every nation, all tribes and all languages have heard the gospel.

Gateway Seminary photo
Paul Chitwood, International Mission Board president, urged a chapel audience at Gateway Seminary Sept. 5 to remember that God's vision cannot be fulfilled until people from every nation, all tribes and all languages have heard the gospel.

Preaching from Revelation 7:9-10 – which is the basis for the IMB’s vision statement – Chitwood reminded faculty, staff and students on Gateway’s main campus in Ontario, Calif., that without vision, we have no direction.
“Without vision, we become discouraged, because we don’t know where to go or what to do,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important for the International Mission Board to have a vision statement, but it’s also important for the church to have vision. I believe with all my heart that this vision in Revelation 7:9-10 will be fulfilled one day. But will we be a part of seeing this vision fulfilled?”
Chitwood said this vision should be driving the ministry and mission of the church.
He pointed to the who, the where, the how and the why of the challenge described in the scripture: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
“Who do we see in the vision?” Chitwood asked. “The scripture says there is a great multitude that no one can number from all tribes, from every nation, from every language. The vision of heaven is inclusive. The adjectives are ‘every’ and ‘all.’ The ‘who’ of the vision are still out there.”
Chitwood noted, “Many of them have yet to hear, many have yet to be reached, they have yet to confess Jesus as Lord.
“If He should come today, they would not be among the number,” he continued. “So the vision cannot be fulfilled until the great innumerable multitude can include every nation, all tribes, all peoples, all languages. They are the ‘who’ of the vision and until they are reached, we have yet to complete the vision.”
The ‘where’ – the location for the vision – is standing before the throne and before the Lamb of God in heaven, he said.
“But they aren’t there yet,” Chitwood noted. “They are still on the farms, in the subdivisions, in the cities, on the deserts. Some don’t have a Bible in their language. Some have never seen a church building and wouldn’t know what it was if they did see it. Many millions and maybe billions have never met a follower of Jesus, but what they have in common is they are all lost.”
The ‘how,’ Chitwood said, pertains to the multitude being clothed with white robes in spite of their sin.
“The Bible informs us that human beings are conceived in sin,” he said.  “The Bible says we are dead in our sin. How can it be that the people who are so stained with the guilt of sin can be in the vision clothed with white robes?
“It’s the how of salvation,” he said. “They’ve been clothed with white robes because the sorrow within them was taken from them and borne by another. The debt we owed was paid by another. The judgment we earned was taken by another. The Messiah came and the lamb was slain and His death brought life. Then grave clothes are replaced by white robes. That’s how the ‘who’ will be there. Some of them will be there because you have seen the vision of heaven, and it has become the vision of your life that drives your life and your ministry, and you will go.”
Chitwood said the final question of the vision is why the innumerable multitude is there, with palm branches in their hands and crying out with a loud voice.
“Why are they there?” he asked. “Because He is worthy. They are there because He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. They are there to acknowledge Him, to worship Him, to adore Him, to declare Him as the one who is worthy. They are there because He deserves for us to be there, because He is worthy of us being with Him to adore Him.”
The vision must remain the call,” Chitwood said, “and the passion of the church, until Jesus comes to claim his church and until the vision is fulfilled.
“It is the vision that should carry you not only to the classroom, but carry you to the fields where you have been called,” he noted.
“It is the vision that will cause you to labor on that field and will keep you laboring on that field. It is my prayer that each of us individually and the church collectively will be about doing our part to fulfill the vision.”
The vision will be fulfilled, Chitwood said, whether we choose to be a part of it or not, but it is a privilege that God gave believers a purpose, His vision to be part of.
“Don’t live without vision,” he said. “Without vision, the people will perish, but God has given us a vision. Let this be a vision for your life and wherever He calls – go.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Katherine Chute is a media consultant for Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

9/12/2019 12:11:37 PM by Katherine Chute | with 0 comments

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