August 2002

Baptist churches plan trips to Afghanistan

August 29 2002 by George Henson , Associated Baptist Press

Baptist churches plan trips to Afghanistan | Thursday, Aug. 29, 2002

Thursday, Aug. 29, 2002

Baptist churches plan trips to Afghanistan

By George Henson Associated Baptist Press

KELLER, Texas - The U.S. State Department advises against travel to Afghanistan, but that isn't stopping one Baptist minister.

Bob Roberts, pastor of the 2,200-member NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas, takes seriously the gospel command to "go" into even dangerous parts of the world. He is looking for seven other churches to join him and members of his congregation in traveling to southern Afghanistan to build schools and share Christ's love.

Roberts already has made one trip to the war-torn region, working with the organization CURE International to start construction of a hospital. In December, his church plans to begin sending teams to work at the hospital and train the Afghan doctors there.

More than 40 members of NorthWood have signed up for the teams, and other Texas Baptists are being invited to participate as well.

Roberts acknowledged that isn't a decision to be made lightly. Travel in all areas of Afghanistan is considered unsafe due to military operations, land mines, bandits, armed rivalry among political and tribal groups and the possibility of terrorist attacks.

"It's not safe, but why is that an option for us?" Roberts asked. "The church should be actively making peace, not just being peaceful or peaceable."

Roberts said he believes "the church should be on the front lines" when a crisis occurs. Is he afraid? "Yes, I'm afraid," he said. "I had long talks with my wife and children before I left. But we really don't have a choice - not if what we believe is real."

Roberts said frankly that "some things are worth dying for ... and the gospel is one of those things."

Roberts wants to provide much-needed aid and education in southern Afghanistan, a region he said has gone neglected in other relief work.

"Most of the aid goes to northern Afghanistan, to Kabul," he said. "For comparison, if Kabul is Boston, then Kandahar is Dodge City. It's still wild and wooly in southern Afghanistan, and the people there are not getting a lot of help."

For $15,000, he said, a church could fund the construction of a school and pay teacher salaries for one year. But he sees this type of investment paying even greater dividends.

"My vision is to take those imams, take those young pastors, live out Christianity in front of them, for them to see so much Jesus inside of us that it is appealing to them and that they would want to become Christians."

NorthWood Church has purchased a $200,000 mobile medical unit that will enable dental, eye and general health treatment to travel to the villages outside Kandahar.

The highly publicized plight of Christian aid workers Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, imprisoned last year by Afghanistan's then-ruling Taliban, illustrated the peril faced by Christians ministering in areas dominated by Islamic fundamentalists.

But Roberts said he makes no bones with government authorities about the faith of the volunteers coming to help.

"I told them that we are Christians," he said. "We won't preach or pass out tracts about Christianity, but we do want to be able to talk one-on-one to people about our faith, and to not do so would be to deny our faith."

Roberts has told his congregation he believes God is opening doors for Christian ministry in Afghanistan.

In the days he spent there after the July 25 hospital groundbreaking, Roberts had an unexpected encounter that opened his eyes.

He was invited to the home of a stranger he had seen hanging around at events related to the groundbreaking. The only thing Roberts knew about the man was that he was a car dealer. He later learned the man was the son of a regional warlord.

Roberts at first balked at the invitation, but a friend told him it "probably would be all right." From that point on, Roberts saw it as a divine appointment.

To get to the house, Roberts traveled in an SUV with rocket launchers mounted on the roof and men wielding machine guns stationed at the windows.

During the five-hour drive across a hot, barren desert, Roberts learned his host's father is the leading warlord in southern Afghanistan and aspires to become the nation's president.

Before arriving at the home, they drove to a nearby village where the man told Roberts the children needed a school.

They later had dinner at the home, surrounded by rocket launchers and machine guns. After dinner, the man decided it would be safer to spend the night elsewhere, so he and Roberts drove farther into the desert, where they slept on cots in a building with walls but no roof. Roberts heard gunfire and rockets exploding in the distance during the night.

The next day, Roberts said, he was taken to meet eight mullahs, lower-level Islamic clergy. His host introduced him as "my Christian American mullah." After an uncomfortable silence, questions followed, such as "Why do you believe Jesus is God?"

At the end of the meeting, Roberts wanted to give his Bible to one of the mullahs, but his escort stopped him, saying: "He can't read English. I can; give it to me."

Roberts and the man discussed the Bible from cover to cover, paying particular attention to things that are also mentioned in the Koran, such as the three wise men and Jesus.

The man knew about Jesus but not the resurrection, and he was fascinated by the idea, Roberts said. While he didn't convert to Christianity, the man is planning to visit Texas, where Roberts plans to continue the dialogue.

Roberts said those kinds of relationships will be more important than the money raised to build a school. "Money is not going to change the issue or cause them to evaluate our concept of God," he said. "But if we get to know them and live out Christ in front of them, then we have an opportunity to make a difference."

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
8/29/2002 12:00:00 AM by George Henson , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Is 'Left Behind' in left field?

August 29 2002 by Ken Walker , Associated Baptist Press

Is 'Left Behind' in left field? | Thursday, Aug. 29, 2002

Thursday, Aug. 29, 2002

Is 'Left Behind' in left field?

By Ken Walker Associated Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The "Left Behind" novel series has given Christian fiction new respectability. Last year's installment, "Desecration," dethroned John Grisham from a seven-year reign at the top of bestseller lists.

The 10th and newest volume, "The Remnant," logged 2.4 million orders in the two months prior to its July 2 release.

But the novels have also renewed discussion of end-times theology. Theologians have a special discipline for interpreting what the Bible forecasts about the end of the world. It's called "eschatology" - from a Greek word for "last" - literally the "study of last things."

As readers of the "Left Behind" novels know, lead author Tim LaHaye believes Christians will be taken from the earth in a "Rapture" that precedes seven years of suffering, known as the "Great Tribulation," for those who are left behind.

Based on their reading of Bible prophecy - particularly the New Testament book of Revelation - LaHaye and co-author Jerry Jenkins predict that this period will include the rise of an anti-Christ who will demand loyalty from all humans, including acceptance of an identifying "mark of the beast" on their hand or forehead. A series of plagues and suffering will ensue until Jesus comes back to establish a 1,000-year reign on earth.

The "Left Behind" phenomenon has catapulted such discussion not only out of seminaries and into churches, but also into society at large. Only half of those reading the books are evangelicals, meaning a whole new audience is now grappling with similar questions.

Uncertainty since last Sept. 11 has only heightened doomsday fears. A recent Times/CNN poll found that 59 percent of Americans believe that prophesies in Revelation will come true. Nearly a fourth think the Bible predicted the terrorist attacks, specifically.

Concerned about influence of the "Left Behind" series, Roman Catholic leaders recently endorsed a book aimed at clearing up "confusion" over teaching about the Rapture.

Even some Southern Baptist professors who share many of LaHaye's views say his imaginative fiction is no substitute for exacting scholarship when it comes to formulating an end-times view.

"It's dangerous to take any of your theology out of a novel," said Danny Akin, dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. "The ultimate authority is the Bible, but I don't dissuade people from reading the books."

Akin said he particularly encourages his students who hold a different end-times view to read the books. "A well-informed minister should be reading the 'Left Behind' series, because his people are," Akin said.

Akin said he subscribes to the books' general theological viewpoint, but he quibbles with points at which he says the authors take liberties with the biblical text.

In earlier novels, believers are portrayed as receiving a cross on their heads that only Christians can see. That "fanciful" picture goes beyond what the Bible says, Akin said.

The series also portrays locusts as stinging humans, which Akin considers a confused reading of Scripture. While these locusts do appear in the ninth chapter of Revelation, he said, a careful reading shows that the creatures spoken of are in fact demons released from the abyss.

"But let's be fair," Akin said. "The books are novels. These aren't biblical, theological works."

Fellow Southern Seminary professor Russell Moore agrees. Although he has read only excerpts, he said the novels shouldn't be viewed as authoritative in the way they interpret Scripture.

The anti-Christ plays a prominent role in the novels' story line, but the Bible doesn't give many specifics about the character other than to predict his existence, said Moore, a theology professor who recently moderated a seminary forum on Israel and the end times.

"There are some issues of the end times that we don't know," said Moore. "To be fair, with a novel you have to do some speculating. But readers should have a discerning eye."

If people aren't careful, they can get caught up in the kind of speculation Moore encountered as a teenager in his native Biloxi, Miss. A revival evangelist warned his congregation to avoid supermarkets that used price scanners, saying they could be linked to Revelation's "mark of the beast."

"We know there will be a mark of the beast," Moore said. "But we can't have a mark when the beast hasn't been revealed yet."

The problem with jumping on the bandwagon of any particular interpretation is that it undermines serious discussion of end-times issues, said Craig Blaising, executive vice president and provost at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

"There's a serious impoverishment of Christian life when that happens," Blaising said. "Sometimes these things are made into a major matter of division and they shouldn't be."

The Southern Baptist Convention's "Baptist Faith and Message" statement doesn't promote a particular end-times view, he noted, but it does affirm belief in Christ's return and a bodily resurrection.

Blaising said preoccupation with the Rapture often leads to faulty speculation on the date of Christ's return - a practice Paul Boyer chronicled in his 1994 book, "When Time Shall Be No More."

Blaising also said the novels' major premise, that people without Christ are "left behind," picks up on a trend since the 1970s to view the Rapture as a "judgment" doctrine.

People's greatest fear shouldn't be missing the Rapture, Blaising said, but spending eternity apart from God. "The real message of the Bible is you better come to faith or you could die in sin," he said. "But our culture is disinclined to believe in hell and inclined to believe in earthly trouble."

A Samford University research professor said he believes the earthly travails outlined in "Left Behind" aren't going to happen at all. Professor Bill Hull said LaHaye's interpretation is a minority view among theologians and that it developed relatively recently.

English evangelist John Nelson Darby, who led a series of campaigns in the United States beginning in the 1860s, is credited with formulating the theological system called "dispensationalism." It gained popularity with the publication of the influential Scofield Reference Bible in 1909, with its extensive footnotes outlining Darby's scheme, and again in the 1970s with Hal Lindsey's popular book, "The Late Great Planet Earth."

Hull, one-time dean of Southern Seminary's theology school, said he views the theology underpinning the "Left Behind" series as "a massive misunderstanding" of Scripture.

"I think (LaHaye) has misinterpreted the whole Bible," he said. "It's not what Jesus, Peter, Paul or John preached."

Hull discounts LaHaye's account of "a secret Rapture where unbelievers don't know why people have disappeared." Revelation 1:7 says that when Christ returns, "Every eye shall see him."

"I've not found any of 10 Bible commentaries that interpret that verse the way LaHaye does," Hull said.

Hull hasn't read the "Left Behind" series, but he is familiar with LaHaye's theology as outlined in non-fiction books, including "Revelation Unveiled."

Hull said LaHaye forms his theology by tying together unrelated passages and taking certain passages literally that could be intended as symbolism.

Other Bible passages seem to indicate that God will never neglect or abandon his children on earth, he said.

"I would say the Bible doesn't have enough verses to dominate any particular view," he said. "I believe the end times will be characterized by the triumph of Christ, that it is God's purpose to redeem the world through Christ, and history will come to that conclusion."

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Bob Allen contributed to this story.)

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
8/29/2002 12:00:00 AM by Ken Walker , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

N.C. Baptists help Vietnamese hill people settle in U.S.

August 29 2002 by Derek Hodges , BR Intern

N.C. Baptists help Vietnamese hill people settle in U.S. | Thursday, Aug. 29, 2002

Thursday, Aug. 29, 2002

N.C. Baptists help Vietnamese hill people settle in U.S.

By Derek Hodges BR Intern

Forty-one years ago the Montagnards of Vietnam were fighting alongside American troops in the War in Vietnam. Now they are being persecuted in their native land, and, with the help of organizations such as Lutheran Family Services (LFS) and several Baptist churches, they are seeking a new life in the United States.

First Baptist Church in Durham is one of several Baptist churches sponsoring Montagnard refugees. Church member Tom Hunter has coordinated efforts to assist a group of eight refugees that arrived in America in late June 2002. Hunter says that the "Spiritual need (of the refugees) is obviously most important to us, but their other needs are important, too."

When it comes to providing for the spiritual needs of the refugees, the church members remember to keep it simple. Sermons are exchanged for one-on-one interactions. Prayers consist of simple phrases like "Thank you for Jesus."

The church has worked with LFS to provide apartments, food and training to the refugees they have sponsored. Refugees are put through a series of classes that teach them about American culture in their language, as well as providing them with training to begin speaking English.

The refugees express overwhelming gratitude at the opportunity to have a better life in America. Speaking through an LFS translator, Ymon Envol, a Montagnard and new American citizen, said that he is very grateful to be living in the United States.

"Thanks to God for bringing us here, thanks to our American friends," Envol said. "America is great, exciting, everything is new. Everything is overwhelming."

While Envol said that he worries about how his fellow Montagnards who are still in Vietnam and Cambodia are being treated, he also said that he thanks God that he had the opportunity to be living in America. "If I don't have faith, I can't survive up to now. I pray everyday and I know that God has answered my prayers. My sponsors are great, they are very good people, I see them as parents, they have unconditional love. God is great, blessings to all you Americans!"

The Montagnards, also known as "hill people" or Dega, are tribal people who live in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Many of the Montagnards were converted to Christianity by visiting missionaries. While the fertile soil of the highlands had given the Montagnards good land for farming, the hills they lived in had also formed them into a group that is culturally distinct from other Vietnamese people.

Montagnards are primarily from the Jarai, Pnong, and Rhade ethnic groups. They are strong opponents of communism. This opposition to communism led them to join the Freedom Fighters in the War. They fought alongside American troops in the jungles of Vietnam, attempting to stop Ho Chi Menh and his communist Viet Cong.

Since the war the Montagnards have joined other minority peoples in Vietnam in protesting abuses by the government. Those peaceful demonstrations included protests of encroachment by the government on tribal lands, economic discrimination, and religious restrictions. Rather than ending the persecution the Montagnards faced from the Vietnam government because of their Christianity, the protests only escalated the suffering the Montagnards were forced to endure.

After protests in February 2001 the hill people faced more threats from the government than ever. They began, in large numbers, to move to United Nations refugee camps just across the border in Cambodia. When the provincial governments of Cambodia began forcing the Montagnards to return to Vietnam in the custody of Vietnamese police, international organizations like Human Rights Watch became involved in trying to improve the living conditions of the Montagnards.

When these organizations realized that the persecuted peoples could neither return to Vietnam, nor make a new home in Cambodia, they decided to bring the refugees to the United States where they could be assured of adequate living conditions. With the help of organizations like the U.S. State Department, which ensures safe travel for the refugees, and LFS, the Montagnards began arriving in the United States and settling in the Piedmont of North Carolina.

Already more than 3,000 refugees have settled in cities like Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro and High Point, with 907 more expected before the end of the summer. As soon as the Montagnards arrive in the U.S. they are started in classes that will help them assimilate to a new culture. These classes teach the Montagnards everything from English skills, to how to handle money. They are given social security numbers and all appropriate paperwork by the U.S. government to start their new lives.

The Montagnards find jobs as soon as they can, and begin paying taxes immediately. They keep a strong bond with their fellow Montagnards, while still longing to help their family members back in Vietnam.

They soon realize that things in America are very different from things in Vietnam. Stores are bigger here, and rather than purchasing items one-at-a-time as in Vietnam, the Montagnards are excited to be able to fill up a shopping cart with everything they will need. Filling up that cart soon becomes a problem, as the Montagnards learn one of their first "hard lessons" of the U.S. - things are much more expensive here. To them the $400 they are given by LFS to open a checking account is a large amount of money. They soon realize, however, that money does not go as far here as it does in Vietnam.

Physical health concerns are addressed from the start of the immigration process. Before they ever leave Cambodia the Montagnards are checked and treated for communicable diseases. After arriving in the U.S. they are taken to doctors for a thorough check-up for any other ailments.

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
8/29/2002 12:00:00 AM by Derek Hodges , BR Intern | with 0 comments

Town prays for rain to ease 4-year drought

August 29 2002 by Erin Curry , Baptist Press

Town prays for rain to ease 4-year drought | Thursday, Aug. 29, 2002

Thursday, Aug. 29, 2002

Town prays for rain to ease 4-year drought

By Erin Curry Baptist Press

SHELBY - After four years of drought conditions and recent mandatory water restrictions, the town of Shelby, gathered to pray for God to send rain.

The mayors of Shelby and neighboring King's Mountain declared Aug. 22 a "Day of Prayer for Drought Relief," gathering at Bethel Baptist Church in Shelby with more than 400 local citizens to ask God's blessing of rain on the land.

One man prayed, "Any rain that's going to come is going to come from you," the Shelby Star reported. Someone else acknowledged that God is able to send rain but prayed that he would be willing.

Kneeling at the altar, in the pews or at a microphone, people also asked forgiveness for taking water for granted in the past and prayed for God to send spiritual rain on the community.

After the day of prayer, the community had several days of rain.

"We're thankful for whatever God gives us," said Larry Franks, associate pastor at Bethel Baptist Church. "We would have to have good rain for several months to even be close to getting back to the starting point."

Franks went on to explain that they have to appropriately handle the way God answers prayer because some would say the praying didn't work well enough.

"When we walk outside after praying for rain and it's not raining, people question. Then after these days of rain, people might say it's not enough. But we realize God is in control, and we're willing to take whatever he gives us," Franks said.

As of Aug. 26, the water in the First Broad River, Shelby's main water source, was flowing 2.25 inches over the dam, which is estimated at a rate of 10 million gallons a day. With mandatory restrictions including no watering of lawns, no washing cars, no filling swimming pools and even limited use of drinking water in restaurants, the city used 3.4 million gallons of water Aug. 25.

The city of Shelby had been purchasing water from the owner of a large lake and from neighboring King's Mountain, but that town is also experiencing emergency conditions.

Both mayors chose on their own initiative to invite the cities to gather in prayer for rain, and their decision drew criticism from those who believed it was unacceptable for elected officials to be involved in a religious issue.

Others say it's no different than declaring a National Day of Prayer.

"We thank you for these leaders, for their boldness and backbone to take a stand for Christ," one man prayed, according to the Shelby Star. People also prayed for a hedge of protection around the mayors as they faced opposition. During the 20-minute prayer meeting held from 12:20-12:40 p.m. to accommodate people on their lunch breaks, those gathered prayed for people to cross denominational and racial lines in order to join as brothers and sisters in Christ united for one purpose - seeking rain. They also used 2 Chronicles 7:14, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land," as a guide, according to the Shelby Star.

In nearby Boiling Springs, home of Gardner-Webb University, the nearly 2,200 students arriving on campus for the beginning of a new semester were advised of the mandatory water restrictions and encouraged to use water sparingly for showers and washing clothes and dishes. The athletic department continued to irrigate fields but pumped the water on an as-needed basis from a lake located on campus.

While irrigating the fields might seem unnecessary to some, athletic director Chuck Burch told the Shelby Star that if fields are not irrigated, the ground could clump and cause injury to athletes. The athletic department also faces challenges in conserving water because extreme heat makes it necessary for players to drink lots of water, and practice uniforms and gear must be washed in order to kill germs, Burch said, but they are mindful of conservation needs.

The cafeteria at the school is using paper plates and cups, and students are not using trays in order to reduce the times the dishwasher is used. School officials say they will continue the restrictions until there is no longer a major water shortage in the county.

"The only way we can get out of this thing," Franks said, "is for God to come through."

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
8/29/2002 12:00:00 AM by Erin Curry , Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Making a deep impact

August 23 2002 by Lynn Goswick , BR Correspondent

Making a deep impact | Friday, Aug. 23, 2002

Friday, Aug. 23, 2002

Making a deep impact

By Lynn Goswick BR Correspondent

NEW YORK CITY - Early one recent Monday morning Alicia Melvin of Statesville and Sarah Hamby of Greenville sat together in the cafeteria of Long Island University in Brooklyn. The two girls, who had just met, had just discovered they have a mutual friend.

They also learned that they shared a common purpose.

The two young ladies were in New York City with more than 160 Tar Heel youth and adults delivering the message of Jesus Christ through Deep Impact New York, the first national hands-on mission project sponsored by N.C. Baptist Men. The total number of participants was 165.

Deep Impact began as Mission Boot Camp in 1996 as a joint venture between Baptist Men and the staff at the N.C. Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell. During Boot Camp, the teenagers served on mission teams in Brunswick and New Hanover counties.

After a hiatus in 1999, the camp returned as Deep Impact in 2000. In 2001, coordinators added two spring weekends to the regular summer Caswell week. This year, the training program expanded to include a large spring weekend at Caswell, an international component in Honduras, the summer week at Caswell, the national project in New York and a fall weekend in Charlotte scheduled for Nov. 8-10.

During Deep Impact New York, teens and their leaders were divided into small groups with a particular talent or skill to spread the gospel. During the week of July 21-27, the teams shared through music, drama, sports, servant evangelism, backyard Bible clubs, prayer walking and office work.

Melvin, 17, a member of Bethel Baptist Church in Statesville, who had attended mission weeks at Caswell, had never participated in missions work outside her hometown. "I don't know what to expect," she said. "I don't know how people are going to react to me."

Hamby, 17, was in awe of the differences between the crowded streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn and her hometown of Greenville, where she is a member of Oakmont Baptist Church. "I hope that we actually reach out to people," she said, acknowledging that the teams' work will be a small drop in a big bucket of 8 million people. "You can't just expect to win over a whole city."

But the girls and their teammates certainly tried.

Melvin and Hamby were members of the music team, which spent the weekdays singing praise and worship songs near Central Park's boat pond, a place where children and adults can sail rented miniature motorized sailboats.

As New Yorkers and tourists passed by, the team members approached them with free packs of gum and cards inviting them to attend church.

Hamby said some of the people returned to the park on different days to listen to the group, including one Spanish-speaking woman with whom the group couldn't communicate the first day they met.

On the second day the woman visited, music team members were able to recruit a translator, a New York social worker who happened to sit down on a nearby bench.

"I think God really put her there," Hamby said, adding that the Spanish-speaking woman seemed happy that someone had tried to speak to her. "We were excited because she was excited."

John McGinnis, student missions consultant for N.C. Baptist Men and coordinator of the Deep Impact camps, hopes Hamby and her fellow campers will take their excitement back to their churches and reach their own communities with the gospel.

McGinnis said he has seen the positive effects hands-on missions training has had, not only on the communities where teens and their leaders work, but also on the teens themselves.

"When we go and we are obedient, Christ begins to impact our lives in a deeper way," he said. "Hopefully that impact will spread to the churches."

Christina Bruce, a member of Mineral Springs Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, said she realized that New Yorkers are not the only ones who need the gospel.

Bruce served on a survey team that went door-to-door seeking information that will help the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association in planting churches.

One day the team visited a church that looked much like Bruce's home church.

"I just realized there's no need to go all the way to New York City to do what we did," she said. "We can do it at home."

After their final worship service, Melvin said she planned to share the gospel with family members when she returned home.

She said the only word that would describe her experiences was "Wow!"

"There are so many that are confused and need God so badly," she said, adding that it was a great experience to share God's love with other people. "When we told them and to see the glow on their faces is just unbelievable."

The experience left a deep impact on Hamby, too.

"You didn't think you would get across to anybody," Hamby said. "(The week) has given me more confidence that people are willing to listen. It's given me more confidence to share my faith."

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
8/23/2002 12:00:00 AM by Lynn Goswick , BR Correspondent | with 0 comments

N.C. Baptists deal with 'changed world'

August 23 2002 by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor

N.C. Baptists deal with 'changed world' | Friday, Aug. 23, 2002

Friday, Aug. 23, 2002

N.C. Baptists deal with 'changed world'

By Steve DeVane BR Managing Editor

Cynthia Culberson was one of the first relief workers at the Pentagon after the terrorist attacks last September and among the last Baptist workers at New York's "ground zero" in June.

The work at the Pentagon was her first disaster relief mission. The trip to New York won't be her last.

In the hours and days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center's Twin Towers, everyone knew the world had changed.

A year later, that transformation is still felt.

Soon after the attacks, Culberson decided to call Skip Greene, who she knew from a previous mission trip to South Africa. She asked if Greene knew of anything she could do to help. Greene told her a team was being assembled to go help feed emergency workers at the Pentagon.

"I knew he would have something going," Culberson said. "I just happened to catch him in time."

Greene, Culberson and 28 other N.C. Baptists were headed toward the Pentagon less than 16 hours after the attack there.

Culberson's most vivid memory of the trip was thinking about the people who lost their lives. She said the relief workers tried to "be a light" to the emergency workers who were dealing with strenuous times.

"You want to keep an uplifting spirit about you to help them get through the day," she said.

Culberson, a member of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Kernersville, stayed in the area for about a week. Nine months later she spent nine days serving food to police, fire and rescue workers in New York. She saw their strength and their ability to move forward.

"I don't know if I could have done that," she said. "It was highly emotional when I walked up on the scene."

People in the area came to recognize the yellow shirts worn by Baptist relief workers. Just before she left, Culberson was walking down the street when a man in a car, slowed down to say "Thank you."

"They knew why we were there," she said. "That's what was important."

Culberson said she has tried to let other people know what a blessing it is to help others.

"Until you do it, you don't understand what missions is about," she said.

Culberson has gone through more training to be ready for future disaster relief efforts. She's one of about 2,000 to take the training in the past year, almost four times as many as usual, said Richard Brunson, executive director of N.C. Baptist Men.

"I'm sure most of that is because of 9/11," he said.

Brunson said it's hard to say if volunteerism among N.C. Baptists is up.

"We haven't had a big disaster since 9/11," he said.

International volunteerism might be off slightly, but that could be because people are afraid to fly since 9/11 or because of the economy, he said.

Some mission trips had to be cancelled immediately following the terrorist attacks, Brunson said. One group headed to Honduras was stuck in Houston, Texas, when planes were grounded in the days following 9/11 and had to return in vans, he said.

"The interest in disaster relief has been really high," he said.

Brunson said some of those who volunteered in New York or at the Pentagon in the days following the attacks are expected to speak at church services on the first anniversary. Jim Royston, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention, and Brunson are invited to a service at the Pentagon that day, but neither is expected to attend.

Churches across North Carolina will hold similar services on Sept. 11.

Burgaw Baptist Church in Burgaw will join with local Presbyterian and United Methodist churches for a memorial service.

Burgaw Pastor Michael Parnell said the service will focus on prayer with all three pastors giving five-minute reflections.

"We will have a patriotic element, but we're not going to wrap the flag around ourselves," he said.

Parnell said he has noticed a "greater awareness of the world" in the small town of Burgaw since the attacks.

"The world has come knocking on our door now," he said.

He has also sensed concern among people in the community. It's not a case of "if, but when" something else will happen, he said.

Parnell said people in Burgaw haven't forgotten the attacks. The images of the burning towers and wrecked Pentagon have become emblazoned in their minds.

"This to me is one of those bellwether events," he said.

Ken Boaz, director of missions for the Three Forks Association in the Boone area, said church attendance increased for about a month to six weeks after the attacks, but then returned to normal levels. Interest in spiritual matters followed a similar pattern, he said.

"It was a temporary increase ... and quickly dropped," he said.

Boaz said some people are taking more interest in their faith. One church is planning a revival around understanding the Muslim faith.

"I think people are aware a lot more of this huge thing called Islam," he said.

The association is sponsoring an all-day prayer vigil, Boaz said. Churches in the association will hold services that night, he said.

"We're just asking people to come seeking the face of the Lord and lift up our nation and our world," he said.

(EDITOR'S NOTE-BR Assistant Editor Jimmy Allen contributed to this story.)

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
8/23/2002 12:00:00 AM by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments

Praying for New York

August 23 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Praying for New York | Friday, Aug. 23, 2002

Friday, Aug. 23, 2002

Praying for New York

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

NEW YORK CITY - In the yearlong aftermath of the World Trade Center's destruction by terrorists, people around the world have sought to assist the families of victims, the emergency workers and the people of New York.

Believers who want to minister to the millions who live in and about the city can begin by praying for them, says Rick Astle, volunteer prayer coordinator for the Baptist State Convention (BSC) partnership with the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association (MNYBA).

"Usually prayer is tagged on as the caboose," Astle says. "We have a tendency to initiate things and pray later. This ministry of the partnership is unique in that it is beginning with prayer and growing out of prayer."

Astle, who is director of missions for the Columbus Association, began praying for victims and others associated with the World Trade Center attacks as soon as he learned of the tragedy.

And, Astle has continued to pray. In February, he scheduled a "prayer walk" on his own, traveling to New York and walking the streets to see the needs with his own eyes, hoping to see as Jesus sees.

Astle noticed how many businesses near Ground Zero had been shuttered, and prayed for those families. He met service people associated with cleanup efforts, and prayed for them.

But he also walked the upper streets of Manhattan, where he met people like Mike, a hot dog vendor at the corner of 61st and Broadway. Astle told Mike he had picked his stand out of all the others for his first New York hot dog. When Mike asked what brought him to the city, Astle explained that he had come to encourage New Yorkers and to pray for them. "What can I pray about for you?" he asked.

Astle said Mike's mouth fell open. "For 40 years I've been standing on this same corner selling hot dogs and nobody has ever asked me that question," he said.

Mike asked Astle to pray for his health and his family, and they prayed together there on the street corner, as people lined up behind them, waiting for hot dogs. "Thank you," Mike said. "You come back to New York for another hot dog and pray for me again."

Astle visited the city again in April, and was invited to tour the deepening "pit" at Ground Zero where recovery and cleanup efforts were drawing to a close. Astle prayed with workers sifting through the debris for human remains or possessions and spent two hours in the Port Authority command post, talking and praying with officers as they came in for breaks.

As prayer coordinator for the BSC/MNYBA partnership, Astle is recruiting churches and individuals who will pray at 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. for 11 minutes, as often as possible. "Prayer warriors" are encouraged to pray regarding one of 11 prayer tracks. These include:

(1) prayer for MNYBA staff workers; (2) the Strategic Focus City ministry; (3) new church starts;

(4) MNYBA ministries to victims' families; (5) churches seeking pastors; (6) current pastor/church requests; (7) MNYBA community ministries;

(8) police, fire and rescue personnel; (9) urgent requests as they arise; (10) families of Sept. 11 victims; and (11) student ministry.

Prayer partners can enlist by contacting Carla Foster at (800) 395-5102 or (919) 467-5100, ext. 331 or sending an e-mail to The N.C. Baptist Men's office will then send regular updates and specific requests for prayer related to each track.

"In a partnership, one of the things we have to do is pray for each other," said Dan Bivins, projects coordinator for partnerships with N.C. Baptist Men. "We want to really encourage people to pray for people in the MNYBA and to pray about their own place in the partnership. This offers a unique and inventive way to pray for people specifically."

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
8/23/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments

Bye-bye, bonsai

August 23 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Bye-bye, bonsai | Friday, Aug. 23, 2002

Friday, Aug. 23, 2002

Bye-bye, bonsai

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

From the first time I looked upon the undersized, twisted shape of a bonsai tree, I have been enamored with the ancient Japanese art form.

To create bonsai plants, shrubs and dwarf trees are grown in small containers that do not allow for adequate root growth. The plants are dug up periodically and their vital roots trimmed back so that just enough is left to keep the plant alive, ensuring that the plant grows older, but not larger.

The trunk and branches of the tree are often bent into artful shapes, held in place by thick copper wires until the form becomes ingrained and the bonsai takes on the look of an aged and weathered plant that bespeaks wisdom and care.

I admired bonsai plants from afar until about a year ago, when I purchased a small, swooping fir that looked as if it had spent years in a howling wind. After successfully keeping the plant alive for six months, I dared to take on a dwarf holly whose bent trunk sported two 90-degree angles.

I bought books on bonsai plants and delighted in a gift of tools designed for their care. I watered the plants carefully and kept them safely inside through the winter, moving them into fresh air with the coming of spring.

My pampered plants sprouted new growth, which I carefully clipped, and I added a wire-induced twist here and there, taking pride in my artistry.

And then I went out of town for a couple of days, not thinking to bring the plants inside or provide additional water. The days were dry and the temperatures exceeded 100 degrees. My little trees wilted and died, and all attempts to revive them were fruitless (and leafless).

Thus chastened, I confess to being an unfit caretaker for bonsai. For now, I'll limit myself to the admiration of others' efforts, and enjoy the tall maples that are taking over my house.

Psalm 1, and the deep-rooted tree planted by living waters, comes to mind. What the growing tree lacks in artfulness, it makes up for in life.

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
8/23/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments

Under the table, or out of the house?

August 23 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Under the table, or out of the house? | Friday, Aug. 23, 2002

Friday, Aug. 23, 2002

Under the table, or out of the house?

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

Finding a Baptist who admits being opposed to missions is a rare thing these days, when mission drives such as the current North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO) are a recurring part of the church calendar, and even confirmed Calvinists are eager to assist the chosen in discovering their (pre)destiny.

But historians of Baptist life would be quick to remind us that there was a time when anti-missionary Baptists regarded themselves as the guardians of authentic Baptist life, and the burgeoning missionary movement was seen as a corrupting influence on the "true" New Testament church.

For example, as local associations in Georgia debated whether to join the state's newly forming "Baptist General Convention" back in 1822, some Baptists wanted to be sure they didn't get involved with those troublesome advocates of missions.

Several years ago, a Georgia educator recalled what happened when a motion was made before one Baptist body, calling for the extension of the gospel through missions. "A motion was made to lay the matter on the table," he quotes an unnamed historian, "amended by a motion to throw the matter under the table, and then by another, to kick the bearer of the motion out of the house."

Reportedly, the amended motion was carried by a standing vote, with some of those present leaping to their feet to escort the motion maker to the door, "threatening physical harm if he ever again pronounced the word 'missions' in the presence of that body" (R. Kirby Godsey, "The Baptist Journey of Faith and Learning," in Christian Ethics Today [March 1996], p. 7).

I have met few contemporary Baptists who would vote to kick someone out of the church house for promoting the cause of missions.

I have, however, known many Baptists who are perfectly happy to leave the motion on - or under - the table. They may publicly applaud others who give of themselves to the cause of Christ as career missionaries or in volunteer mission work - but they extend a personal vote against the cause by remaining firmly seated when there is a call for volunteers, or by guarding their checkbooks against unwanted appeals for missions giving.

It's time again to bring the cause of missions out from under the table, and lift it high, and recognize it as central to the teaching and call of Christ.

The North Carolina Missions Offering is an ideal way to support missions because it not only provides needed funds for important mission programs, but it also helps to finance the coordination and promotion of volunteer missions projects.

The Woman's Missionary Union of North Carolina relies on the NCMO for most of its budget, as does N.C. Baptist Men.

Mission projects from Grifton to Ground Zero depend on the NCMO, as do strategic partnership efforts from Sitka to Singapore and back around to San Pedro Sula.

Age-graded missions training support and mission camps for boys and girls are supported by the NCMO.

N.C. Baptist ministry to the deaf and to people with other special needs gets funding from the NCMO, as do N.C. church planting efforts and many ministries of local associations.

When the call goes out in your church to support the NCMO, I pray that you will rise to support it, leaping up to give freely of your money and to escort yourself out the door and into the fields, which are ripe unto harvest.

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
8/23/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments

Family Bible Study lesson for Sept. 8: God is Just

August 23 2002 by John Tagliarini , Ezekiel 18:1-3, 19-20, 23-32

Family Bible Study lesson for Sept. 8: God is Just | Friday, Aug. 23, 2002

Friday, Aug. 23, 2002

Family Bible Study lesson for Sept. 8: God is Just

By John Tagliarini Ezekiel 18:1-3, 19-20, 23-32

Ezekiel performed one of the most difficult ministries imaginable. He preached judgment to a people already partially exiled because of sin. God's word came not as a curt, "told you so," but as a clear exhortation to repent and receive His tender mercies. Chapter 18 explains the judgment of God. The message is simple: the Lord is just in His dealings with man, wherein every individual is accountable to God.

An irresponsible attitude (Ezekiel 18:1-3) Verses 1-3 certainly show the irresponsible response of a hurting people. I prefer to include verse 4 in the focal passage because it brings the attention back to God. God called for His people to stop using this proverb to shift blame from themselves. In verse 4, God affirms the center of all spiritual realities. We belong to God. "The soul of the father is mine, the soul of the son is mine." All souls belong to God.

We will quit pronouncing pithy sayings in puerile protests of self-defense as soon as we realize the inescapable truth that we will each one deal directly with God.

A child's environment, no matter how desperate, never excuses his or her shortcomings before God. How much less does our sad history excuse our present rebellion?

Individual accountability (Ezekiel 18:19-20) The proverb sidestepped an honest self-assessment of the people's responsibility. As God called their attention back to Himself, He explained the depth and breadth of their sin in the background verses. Stated both positively and negatively, the seriousness with which God treats sin is obvious. These are matters of life or death. Idolatry, adultery, oppression of the poor, robbery, usury, lack of benevolence, faithlessness and violence delineate the soul who sins from the man who is righteous and practices justice.

The argument prompts a supposed question from the people. "Why should the son not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity?" (v. 19). The answer is sobering, "When the son has practiced justice and righteousness he shall surely live. The person who sins will die." (v. 20). No escape clause since Adam blamed Eve, who blamed the serpent, opens any loophole for our exit.

A just God (Ezekiel 18:23-29) Verses 25 and 29 cite protests from the Israelites claiming God is not right. The ensuing argument against Israel turns upon the justice of God's dealings with mankind. When a person repents unto righteousness, life results. If a person persists in or turns to wickedness, the result is death. In light of, and because of our tendency toward sin, we respond to this by blaming anyone but ourselves. Ultimately, we convince ourselves that God Himself is not just to hold us accountable. We think we deserve better.

The greatest clue to God's justice comes in verse 23. God has pleasure in our repentance, righteousness and life. He takes no "pleasure in the death of the wicked." This is a just God! We gain understanding of the depth of God's compassion as we embrace the cross of Jesus, but the passionate desires of a just God were made clear to the Israelites as well.

A call to repent (Ezekiel 18:30-32) The phrases, "repent," "turn away," and "cast away," are brought into balance by "make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!"

Again God affirms His displeasure in the death of the wicked. Again God lays before us the path of life. A person who repents will find freedom from his or her stumbling over sin. That person will receive a new heart and a new spirit.

Salvation has always been an internal matter, an issue of the heart. Old Testament, even some New Testament, writings might be misread to suggest a legalistic obeisance as the way of the Christian life. Legalism approaches God from the wrong direction. God looks for a changed life, which comes from the deepest reaches of our souls. He looks for our will to decide to trust and follow Him completely.

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
8/23/2002 12:00:00 AM by John Tagliarini , Ezekiel 18:1-3, 19-20, 23-32 | with 0 comments

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