Former lesbian and LGBT activist offers unique perspective

October 13 2015 by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS Communications

While many speakers during the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) conference were evangelical counselors or longtime pastors, Rosaria Butterfield offered a unique perspective on homosexuality. The conference, titled “Homosexuality: Compassion, Care, and Counseling for Struggling People” and held at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), featured the popular author and speaker’s testimony during one of its plenary sessions, Oct. 6.
Butterfield – once a liberal, feminist, lesbian college professor at Syracuse University and now a pastor’s wife – offered the perspective of someone formerly a member of the gay lifestyle, but radically and supernaturally saved out of it through the ministry of a local pastor.
In 1997, after Butterfield wrote a scathing article about a nearby Promise Keepers conference, a Presbyterian pastor in town sent her a letter challenging her presuppositions and inviting her to dinner at his home. After initially throwing it away, she dug it back out and agreed to visit him. Their interaction grew into a friendly, and eventually redemptive, relationship.
“I felt that when Ken [Smith] extended his hand to me in friendship, it was safe for me to close mine in his,” she said. “I wasn’t Ken’s project; I was Ken’s neighbor. This wasn’t friendship evangelism; this was friendship.”


SBTS photo by Emil Handke
Rosaria Butterfield, former lesbian and LGBT activist, gives her testimony during an Oct. 6 plenary session at the ACBC conference.

Through the consistent love and care from Pastor Ken Smith and his wife, Floy, Butterfield was gradually exposed to a holy God who hated sin but extended love and grace to broken people, she said. The Smiths never explained the gospel to her, nor did they invite her to church, but instead treated her as a friend and patiently encouraged her to read her Bible carefully.
“I actually started to read the Bible like I was trained to read a book,” she said. “I was a heathen reading the Bible. ... I read the way a glutton devours. And slowly and over time, the Bible started to take on a life and a meaning that startled me.”
Butterfield’s regular exposure to Word of God slowly changed her, and even her friends within the gay community began to notice. Butterfield found the structure of Romans 1 particularly gripping, with its unflinching condemnation of sin and its close literary relationship with the Fall narrative in Genesis 3.
“The two biblical frames, now – one in Genesis and one in Romans – stood out as bookends of my life,” she said. “But not just my life … if the Bible is, as its internal testimony purports, an eternal frame relevant for and responding to the needs for all humanity, then Genesis 3 and Romans 1 stood out as the table of contents for what ails the world.”
After she had read through the Bible seven times, Butterfield continued to wrestle with it spiritually. When Smith preached a sermon on Jesus feeding the 5,000, he paused to emphasize Jesus’ words to Peter and the disciples: “Do you still lack understanding?
“This startled me, because this was my question,” said the former literature professor. “I realized that question was for me. Do I still lack understanding? Then I wondered who was speaking here: that old man behind the pulpit or the God-man from before the foundations of the world? There was something about the hermeneutic of preaching that completely disarmed me, and truth be told, it still does.”
It was through deep, heartfelt repentance that Butterfield began to experience new life. Though her life has changed significantly since her conversion, that fundamental reality never changes, she said.
“Repentance is bittersweet business,” she said. “Repentance is not just some conversion exercise; it is the posture of a Christian. Repentance is our daily fruit, our hourly washing, our minute-by-minute wake-up call, our reminder of God’s creation, Jesus’ blood, and the Holy Spirit’s comfort. Repentance is the only no-shame solution to a renewed conscience, because it proves only the obvious: that God was right all along.”
Butterfield’s talk was followed by an hour-long question and answer session with Heath Lambert, executive director of ACBC and associate professor of biblical counseling at SBTS and Boyce College. Butterfield argued the moniker “gay Christian,” when used to affirm that both a Christian identity and a homosexual identity are compatible, is unhelpful.
“The problem with identifying as a gay Christian is that the Lord Jesus Christ wants our whole identity,” she said. “And we are not to use any adjectival modifier to modify our identity as Christian, especially if that is not going to survive to the new Jerusalem.
“Adjectives in terms of grammar are modifiers, their job is to tell me what kind of Christian you are. The problem with a term like ‘gay Christian’ is that it modifies Christian according to a category of the flesh.”
Butterfield has written two books, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and Openness Unhindered. Audio and video from the conference will soon be available on the ACBC website
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Andrew J.W. Smith writes for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky.)

10/13/2015 12:24:39 PM by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS Communications | with 0 comments

Joining SBC draws focus in 2015

October 13 2015 by Roger S. Oldham, SBC Life

Becoming part of the Southern Baptist family, both as a church and as an individual, has been on display in 2015.
In his address to the Executive Committee during its February meeting, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Ronnie Floyd challenged the Convention to invite other churches “to come into our family and cooperate with us to finish the task of advancing the gospel to every person in the world.”
A few months later, Pastor James MacDonald announced at the SBC Pastors’ Conference in Columbus, Ohio, that Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago had made the commitment to become a cooperating church with the SBC.
On August 16, Barry McCarty, who has served as chief parliamentarian at the SBC annual meeting for 29 successive years, and his wife Pat were baptized into the membership of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga.


Photo by Bill Bangham
James MacDonald announces at the SBC Pastors’ Conference, June 15, 2015, that Harvest Bible Chapel has become part of the Southern Baptist family.

The appeal of cooperation

In his remarks to the Executive Committee, Floyd observed that there are thousands of churches across the U.S. that affirm the doctrines articulated in The Baptist Faith and Message, admire the SBC’s methods of doing missions across the world, and would be willing to help finance that work.
“What if we begin to call forth churches aggressively and outwardly, ‘Come and be a part of who we are and cooperate in reaching the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ?’“ Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Ark., asked.
“I believe there are churches all over America who have an interest in becoming a part of our network of churches called Southern Baptists,” he said.
MacDonald, founder of the multi-site Harvest Bible Chapel in the greater Chicago area, prefaced his June 15 announcement by noting he was a “Baptist kid who grew up in Canada” and that he had been ordained there in a Baptist church.
“In our desire to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth and our sense of the way God honors broader partnerships,” he said, “and the fact, frankly, that we’ve been treated like family here [at the Pastors’ Conference] for more than a decade, I’m just thrilled and truly honestly humbled to announce that the board of our church, Harvest Bible Chapel, voted unanimously about a month ago for us to join the Southern Baptist Convention.”
MacDonald’s announcement was greeted with applause and shouts of joy across the convention hall.
Serving 16 SBC presidents as chief parliamentarian afforded McCarty more platform time at SBC annual meetings than any other individual over a 29- year span and gave him a unique perspective.
“I immersed myself in the content of The Baptist Faith and Message and grew to love the way it summarized the Christian faith,” he told the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Christian Index.
“I especially appreciated its clear statement on salvation by grace through faith, while also affirming believer’s baptism as the biblical testimony of a saving faith in the work of Christ,” he said.
McCarty cited three primary reasons for his decision to become a Southern Baptist. “First,” he noted, “while Southern Baptists are not a creedal people, they are a confessional people. And at this point in history The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is the best statement of faith I know of.
“Second, right now no one is speaking to our culture on the great moral issues with as much clarity or biblical integrity as Southern Baptists.
“Third, at this point in history no one is doing more to penetrate lostness around the world than Southern Baptists,” he said.

The Meaning of Cooperation

The term “cooperation” has a specialized meaning in Southern Baptist life. It refers to a set of cooperative relationships at the local, state, and national level, creating a synergy among and between sister churches committed to the same broad missional purposes. These ministry statements are spelled out in the SBC Organization Manual.
Southern Baptists value such cooperation as a core commitment, believing it enables churches more effectively to accomplish Kingdom purposes. Using the Acts 1:8 missions mandate, the Southern Baptist family provides a structure for each church to network with other churches locally and regionally to reach their respective “Jerusalems and Judeas” with the gospel, and with the ministry initiatives of the SBC to reach out to their “Samarias and the uttermost parts” of the lost world.
A Southern Baptist church is an autonomous Baptist church that,

  • Missionally identifies itself as part of the Southern Baptist fellowship of churches;

  • Cooperatively affirms its willing cooperation with the Convention’s purposes, missions, ministries and processes;

  • Doctrinally embraces the biblical faith and practice with which Southern Baptists do and have historically identified themselves; and

  • Financially provides regular financial support for the Convention’s work as part of the church’s adopted budget.


Choosing to Cooperate

More than one thousand existing churches have begun to cooperate with the Convention since 2010, according to data provided by the North American Mission Board in the 2015 Book of Reports.
Many inquiring churches make their initial contact with the Southern Baptist family through a local Baptist association, a Southern Baptist ethnic or racial fellowship, or a cooperating state Baptist Convention.
Others begin the process of becoming Southern Baptist by contacting the SBC Executive Committee office of Convention communications and relations. Working with associational leaders, state convention staff, and SBC entity staff, this office has produced resources to assist inquiring churches as they pray through becoming openly identified as cooperating Southern Baptist churches.

Three Levels of Cooperation

The vast majority of Southern Baptist churches are part of three independent, but interrelated, sets of ministries a local Baptist association, a state Baptist convention, and the SBC. This has been true historically; it remains the case in the 21st Century.
Being a “non-connectional” organization, the SBC recognizes three principles relative to these sets of relationships.
First, the SBC is independent and sovereign in its own sphere, setting its own parameters for participation in its missions and ministries.
Second, each local church is fully independent and autonomous over its own matters, selecting and ordaining its own leaders, establishing its own bylaws and other governing documents, adopting its own budget, and choosing to participate in Convention causes at its own will.
Third, each local Baptist association and state Baptist convention is independent and sovereign in its own sphere and sets its guidelines for local church participation in their respective ministries.

Benefits of cooperation

The most important benefits of cooperating with the SBC are spiritual and intangible. Scattered across the U.S. are thousands of like-minded churches and millions of like-minded believers working together to accomplish Kingdom-sized initiatives in missions, evangelism, church planting, education, ethics and religious liberty. A special synergy and camaraderie exists when local churches band together in a network of high impact ministries at home and abroad.
Further, members of cooperating local churches become part of the leadership pool from which leaders are drawn for multiple facets of Southern Baptist life. They also become the volunteer base for numerous ministries supported by the Convention. Being informed of SBC initiatives, they give of their time, talents and resources to the various ministry initiatives of the Convention and its entities.
Financial contributions through the Convention’s plan of giving called the Cooperative Program, coupled with special missions offerings, help underwrite the Convention’s missions sending agencies, ministerial training through the Convention’s seminaries, and the godly influence brought to the public square and halls of justice across the nation through the Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
The networking and fellowship of the members of cooperating churches promotes a sense of accomplishment that this national ministering family is making a difference in people’s lives.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger S. Oldham is vice president for Convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee. He serves as executive editor of SBC LIFE, where this article first appeared.)

10/13/2015 12:20:12 PM by Roger S. Oldham, SBC Life | with 0 comments

In Ukraine: He lifts church’s resolve to stay open

October 13 2015 by Tom Long, IMB Connecting

Life along the road to the war front seemed normal – gardens surrounding every home, villagers taking their cows out to pasture, huge sunflower fields dotting the landscape nearby. It didn’t look like we were less than 13 miles from the war front.
I met Victor* last summer. At that time, the 30-something believer was helping evacuate people from Ukrainian towns and villages where the war was raging. Now he works with a ministry that assists internally displaced people.


Photo by Tom Long
For 30-something Victor, spending time with children is a highlight of his ministry trips to a Baptist church near Ukraine’s war front.

Two to three times a week, Victor visits the war front to deliver food and hope to those most in need.
This particular morning, we loaded 300-plus loaves of bread directly from a bakery into a van and headed toward the front at 5:30 a.m. After six checkpoints in more than two hours on the road, we finally arrived.
Two hundred yards from the church stood three buildings that had been heavily damaged by mortar shells the other day. Fortunately, the church building did not sustain any damage.
We were greeted by Sasha*, a young man in his 20s whose age disguises his maturity and his heart for the people who have endured more than a year of war.
Sasha is not the pastor of this church, but he finds himself in that position now that the pastor and another leader have left. Someone suggested they lock up the church building and all of them leave.
“I was against the idea,” Sasha said. “The church, like Christians, must stand in the most difficult times. We must be here to minister.”


Photo by Tom Long
Victor, a Ukrainian involved in ministry to people displaced by war, prepares to load bread into his vehicle for delivery to a Baptist church for distribution to its war-battered community.

The church is doing just that. Every day they prepare a hot meal and deliver it by bicycle to more than 40 people unable to leave their homes due to physical immobility. They started distributing food back in February when temperatures were below freezing, and they have continued to deliver meals no matter the weather.
“Ministry isn’t just singing songs and preaching on Sundays,” Sasha said. “During this time, we need to go to the people and help deliver food and water,” he said, commenting on full scope of “true ministry.”
Someone donated a generator to the church, so now they are able to provide a charging place for phones and computers when the electricity doesn’t work.
Covering windows and roofs damaged by shelling is another ministry of the church. With winter not too far away, they hope to purchase particleboard to cover broken windows.
Funds also are needed for a vehicle to deliver food to the homebound and for medicine and other supplies that are in demand because no shops are open in the city.
When Victor and others come to town, they take food packets to families with children. Victor and his ministry receive some support from Global Hunger Fund gifts from Southern Baptists distributed by Baptist Global Response to provide the packets. To help bring a smile to the numerous kids waiting for him, Victor also brings Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes of school and hygiene supplies and small toys.


Photo by Tom Long
Three days before a food delivery team arrived, the force of the mortar shells that hit this building near a Baptist church blew out every window.

“Before the war, few people knew there was a Baptist church. Now, everyone knows there is a Baptist church,” Sasha remarked about the role the church now plays in the community.
Sasha’s sister, who started attending the church again after the war began, said her life has been changed.
“I know that without God, I’m no one,” she said.
She commented that she has a small child and there isn’t any place to buy food or diapers.
“I was praying how to feed my baby,” she said. After a moment of silence and tears streaming down her face, she said the body of Christ “is living up to its name.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Long is a Christian worker in Ukraine.)
*Names changed.
Learn more – If you or your church would like more information about how IMB is working with churches inside the Ukrainian war zone, contact
Give – To help families replace windows, doors and roofs that have been damaged in areas around the conflict zone where the war has stopped, go to; in the “Find projects by keywords” search box, type “Rebirth” for more information on how to give. To give to Global Hunger Relief, go to; to assist the work of Baptist Global Response, go to

10/13/2015 12:12:12 PM by Tom Long, IMB Connecting | with 0 comments

From Zen Buddhism to church planting

October 13 2015 by Keila Diaz, Florida Baptist Witness

Aldo Leon, a self-described Cuban-American Miami boy, recently moved back to Miami from Los Angeles to plant Reconcile Church Miami with the purpose of reaching the lost in south Dade County.
Leon, 33, married and a father of two, wasn’t always so passionate about the gospel. He says that he grew up in a home that was very “unreligious,” and in college he had very liberal professors who fed his dislike for religion – Christianity in particular.
“I was taking criminal justice courses, and the professors would attack Christianity, and I would swallow it all,” Leon said.
In his 20s, Leon had a girlfriend – now his wife – who is a Christian. Every time she invited him to church or talked about God, he said, they would fight.


Photo courtesy of Aldo Leon
Aldo Leon and family

“That was the extent of our conversations about religion,” he said.
Leon became involved in boxing and as he trained and became more serious about the sport, his trainers suggested he read up on Zen Buddhism because some of its aspects would be beneficial to his boxing.
“I wanted to be this great fighter, and I really got into this religion,” Leon said.
He bought all the books, read all the articles, watched videos and really delved into Zen Buddhism. In the midst of his studies he came upon a chapter that suggested to Westerners to get familiarized with Jesus. For Buddhists, Jesus is another enlightened being.
Leon got his hands on a New King James New Testament to learn about Jesus like his book suggested.
“Not because I was looking for the Jesus of the Bible, but the idolatrous Jesus of Buddhism,” he said.
Everything changed after that.
“Something happened to me that I haven’t gotten over since,” Leon said. “I began to believe what was written about Christ. It was very strange for me because I wasn’t really looking for Jesus, but He was finding me.
“One month prior I was arguing with my wife and ripping her away from her faith, and the next I’m battling to stand on biblical truths and morals.”
That all happened in 2007.
After completing his ministry education at The Master’s Seminary in Los Angeles, Leon came back to Miami with the desire to plant a church.
“I felt a need to attack areas of great [gospel] need and do it with passion,” he said.
Conversations with Al Fernandez, a regional catalyst for the Florida Baptist Convention, and Jose Abella, lead pastor of Providence Road Church in Miami, confirmed God’s calling for Leon to plant in Miami. Reconcile Church Miami is set to launch in October.
Gary Johnson, director of missions for the Miami Baptist Association, heard Leon’s story during a new works meeting in July. He felt that it was one of those stories that just had to be shared. Johnson, however, was more interested in seeing Leon join the Miami Baptist Association – like many other millennial pastors are doing.
Leon said joining the Miami Baptist Association makes sense because church planting is not something that can be done alone. Not only that, but being part of the association makes him and his church a part of something much bigger than themselves, and that is important to him.
Leon noted he’s often thought about the similarities between his conversion story and the apostle Paul’s. While the Zen Buddhism aspect of his conversion story is an interesting one, he says that what really drives him to share the gospel is his realization about how lost he once was and how miraculously he was saved – much like Paul.
“I’ve never gotten over the fact that I was a person who was lost and is now saved,” Leon said. “When I converse with lost people, there is an empathy and understanding of where they are at.
“Some Christians don’t know how to have a conversation with a lost person, and they can kind of say these cookie-cutter things but not really connect. When [lost] people ask questions and say the difficult things that some [lost] people say, I’m able to respond to that.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keila Diaz is a reporter for the Florida Baptist Witness, news source of the Florida Baptist Convention.)

10/13/2015 12:07:16 PM by Keila Diaz, Florida Baptist Witness | with 0 comments

Floyd: Awakening will cause ‘strategic reinvention’

October 12 2015 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Merging the International Mission Board (IMB) and North American Mission Board (NAMB) is a key question Southern Baptists must address if a much-prayed-for spiritual awakening comes to their network of churches.
Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Ronnie Floyd raised the question during his address at a symposium on “The SBC & the 21st Century: Reflection, Renewal & Recommitment” Sept. 28-29 at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.
“Spiritual renewal leads to strategic reinvention,” Floyd said in an address titled “Kindling Afresh the Gift of God: Spiritual Renewal, Strategic Reinvention and the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“Structure and systems flow from the work of God; they do not create the work of God,” said Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas who was among the symposium’s seven featured speakers.
“I do not speak as one who does not understand our history nor as one who is a newcomer asking questions that are not truly relevant,” Floyd said, citing numerous ways he has been involved in Southern Baptist life since the late 1980s. Among them: chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, president of the Pastors’ Conference and, most recently, chairman of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.


Spiritual awakening will cause “strategic reinvention” in the Southern Baptist Convention, SBC President Ronnie Floyd notes at a symposium on "The SBC & the 21st Century: Reflection, Renewal & Recommitment."

“Yet, I have always been one who has never been afraid to challenge us in what we are doing, why we are doing it, and even the way we may still be doing it,” Floyd said, noting, “We do not need to demonize any of our people who ask questions in the right spirit.”
Floyd set forth several “challenging questions” that Southern Baptists will face “as we kindle afresh the gift of God and experience moments of renewal.”
“I will propose more questions than my opinion, even though I do have a view on probably most of them,” Floyd said. “Most of these questions people have heard already, but some may never have made it to a public arena,” he continued. “I believe it would be negligent of me in dealing with my assigned topic if I chose not to share some of these important questions for this generation of Baptists to consider.”
Among Floyd’s questions:

  • “Do we exist to preserve our present brand, structure and systems, or do we exist to advance the gospel together regionally, statewide, nationally and internationally?”

The Southern Baptist Convention, founded in 1845, could drift into a focus on structures, budgets and competing projects “rather than keeping our focus on our mission to reach the world,” Floyd said. If, over time, Southern Baptists lose “our identity and our reason for being … this leads to people and leaders leaving us and taking their support and vision to other places and ministries,” he said.

  • “For the sake of gospel advancement, should the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board become one mission board, the Global Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention?”

One reason why a single mission board has never been created, Floyd said, stems from the specific roles of IMB and NAMB. But he pondered whether the dual roles are needed “within the global culture we experience daily and with the reality that ethnicities live everywhere across the world. ... [W]ith an undeniable global mindset in America today, is this still the right strategy?”
The future of the SBC’s two mission boards, Floyd said, will involve a decision on how best to “fast-forward the mission of our churches” to advance the Gospel among the ethnicities of the world.

  • “Do state conventions and associations have a future in Southern Baptist life?”

There is a need for “boots on the ground” to help churches fulfill their mission, Floyd said, suggesting that state conventions and local Baptist associations will have relevance by optimizing their mission to “serve our churches in reaching their God-assigned responsibility of going, baptizing and making disciples of all the nations.”
State conventions, associations and SBC entities, he added, “must find a way to cease duplication and triplication locally, statewide and nationally.”

  • “How will we finance our work together in the future in the most effective way?”

Floyd noted that Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program for missions and ministry support in each state and across the nation and world was founded 90 years ago. “I don’t think our forefathers would fear churches asking serious questions about our financial future and the gospel work we do together,” he said. “If they had not asked the question … there would be no Cooperative Program today.”
To strengthen the Cooperative Program, Floyd called for “a renewal in teaching biblical stewardship to our people, calling them boldly to 10 percent giving through their church”; for churches “to give more sacrificially than ever before through our Cooperative Program annually, beginning as soon as possible”; and for state conventions to “consider going 50-50 [in budgeting for their state and the SBC] by the end of the year 2020 or even before.”
“If we did these specific things simultaneously … we would see a mission explosion statewide, nationally and internationally,” Floyd said. “What God has given to us biblically and missionally we must refuse to lose financially.”
Floyd added a call for “an intentional strategy to enlist other churches in America to join our convention” because many churches “have the capacity for us to become their home.”
“If they agree with us biblically by adhering to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, agree with us missiologically in the way we advance the gospel regionally, statewide, nationally and internationally, and agree with us cooperatively in the way we support our work financially and are willing to join us in this grand task, then we need to open our doors to them,” Floyd said.
“I would even suggest that we go online with this strategy, creating a ‘Join the Southern Baptist Convention’ website and place a link on the websites of each of our state conventions and our [Southern Baptist Convention] website,” Floyd said. He also suggested that state convention and SBC websites “create online giving for our churches … in this online world.”

  • “Is there anything new we need to create for today and for the future that will help our churches in their mission of going, baptizing and making disciples of all the nations?”

Baptists must not be thwarted by “How much will it cost?” but focus on “Who will it reach?” Floyd said.
“What if we had a compassion arm in our convention that brings all we do presently and all we could do in the future into one entity?” he asked in reference to disaster relief, hunger relief and other Southern Baptist initiatives. “I submit to you, if done effectively, it may have the capacity long-term to pay for itself sufficiently. Why? Because Baptists are supporting some of this now through what we are doing already, and they are helping pay for it through others that are non-Baptist ministries.
“Additionally, it would place our powerful Gospel message into this Christless culture that is usually open to appreciating ministries of compassion,” Floyd said.
In his conclusion, Floyd noted that Southern Baptists gave “just over $7 billion over the past decade” through the Cooperative Program and the annual mission offerings for IMB and NAMB.
“Knowing what we know about our past and present, as well as having the resources of churches, people, influence, reach and dollars,” Floyd asked, “how can we leverage all for the purpose of advancing the Gospel in an unprecedented manner into places where the gospel has never been before regionally, statewide, nationally and globally?”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

10/12/2015 12:57:23 PM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

South Carolina Baptists move forward

October 12 2015 by South Carolina Baptist Courier staff

First Baptist is mourning, yet like so many other churches in Columbia, S.C., and across the state, engaging in ministry as flooding continues to grip Hurricane Joaquin survivors and first responders.
Richard Milroy, 82, “died in his car sometime in the last couple of days due to devastating floods,” minister of discipleship Wes Church wrote to First Baptist members, The Baptist Courier, newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, reported Oct. 6.
“How do we even begin to put into words all of the emotions we are experiencing?” Church said. “There is so much heartbreak and need in our community.” Milroy was one of at least 17 drowning or auto accident fatalities from the hurricane’s downpours in South and North Carolina.
Some First Baptist members have lost homes or cars, and some have lost all their belongings. College and high school students and their leaders are helping clean up their flood-damaged homes.


Baptist Courier photo by Raz Bradley
Baptist Collegiate Ministry students help set up a South Carolina Baptist disaster relief feeding unit at Riverland Hills Baptist Church in Columbia.

The church also is housing 13 South Carolina Baptist disaster relief volunteers who are feeding more than 1,000 first responders at a nearby city maintenance area.
And volunteers are coordinating with a sister church to collect donations of bottled water and are delivering refreshments to security personnel, EMS staff and firemen.
First Baptist’s outreach is being replicated by churches in numerous other locales.
Richard Harris, interim executive director-treasurer of the South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC), wrote to the state’s Baptists in a letter posted by the Baptist Courier on Oct. 6: “We say we are serious about presenting the gospel to everyone in South Carolina and to fulfilling the Great Commission in our lifetime. This flood crisis provides one of the greatest opportunities to reveal our love for our fellow citizens and obedience to the Lord who commissioned us. The empowering of the Holy Spirit is ours to change the population of heaven and hell as we love folks in Jesus’ name.”
Harris, recapping the trauma inflicted by Hurricane Joaquin, noted: “South Carolina has experienced historic rainfall and flooding that few of us have experienced in our lifetime. Thousands across our state have lost homes or had significant damage to their homes, as well as vehicles and other personal property. Business owners are facing huge damage to buildings and inventory loss. Numerous churches (many of our SCBC churches) and their members have felt the wrath of the heavy rains and flooding.
“Throughout Columbia and much of the state,” Harris continued, “the roads, highways and interstates, as well as much of the state’s infrastructure (water, electrical, sewer, etc.), have notable damage which will require days and weeks to repair.”
Harris called for prayer, volunteers and finances.


Baptist Courier photo by Clay Shook
South Carolina Baptist disaster relief volunteers man a feeding station for first responders near downtown Columbia.

“I want to call South Carolina Baptists to join hearts, heads and hands to pray for flood victims as well as our Southern Baptist Convention disaster relief teams already rallying and responding to overwhelming needs. I want to respectfully ask our SCBC pastors to call and mobilize members (some already are) in a united prayer for the victims and those responding with assistance and aid. This crisis provides all of our churches historic opportunities to undergird in prayer the front-line responders as they express the love of Christ, meet needs and share the hope found in the gospel with thousands of the 3.6 million lost/unchurched in South Carolina.”
Regarding volunteers trained in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief ministry, Harris noted, “Many churches and associations have their own trained teams who are/will be responding to the flood crisis. … Some of our fellow state conventions are inquiring about service in South Carolina. We welcome their assistance! … As floodwaters recede and a thorough assessment of damage and needs can be made, teams will be deployed to appropriate locations.”
Regarding finances, Harris wrote, “Big dollars will be needed to give appropriate response to all the challenges before us.” He noted that donations from churches can be received online here and from individuals here.
South Carolina Baptist disaster relief assessment teams, chaplains, two feeding units, mud-out and chainsaw teams and a laundry unit have been deployed to various locations in the state, The Baptist Courier reported. Command centers have been stationed at the South Carolina convention office in Columbia and at the Charleston Baptist Association.
Assessors and chaplains, for example, are visiting homes in the Columbia area to estimate the scope of work that needs to be done in the coming weeks and months. Members of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at the University of South Carolina helped with one of the feeding unit’s setup. The laundry unit is based at a Columbia fire station to wash first responders’ uniforms. Disaster relief teams from North Carolina and Alabama also have arrived.
In an apparent grassroots movement spurred by social media, numerous churches and Baptist associations across the state have begun collecting truckloads of bottled water and driving them to Columbia, where residents are under a “boil water” advisory due to water supplies compromised by bacteria-laden floodwater.
At the Columbia-area Lexington Baptist Association, disaster relief coordinator David Lee said three types of calls have been received: from homeowners with property damage seeking help; from churches volunteering to help; and from individuals also ready to help. The association is on the Web at
Among the volunteers: Keith and Kristyn Getty, contemporary hymn writers best known for “In Christ Alone,” who will hold a benefit concert at 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11, at First Baptist in Columbia.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adapted from Baptist Courier reporting by Art Toalston, senior editor of Baptist Press. The Baptist Courier at is the newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Rudy Gray is the Courier’s editor; Butch Blume, the managing editor.)

10/12/2015 12:37:21 PM by South Carolina Baptist Courier staff | with 0 comments

U.S. actions could benefit persecuted Christians overseas

October 12 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Oppressed Christians and other religious adherents around the world stand to benefit from recent actions by the United States government.
The House of Representatives approved reauthorization of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in a voice vote Oct. 6. The Senate passed the same legislation without opposition Sept. 30. The measure, awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature, will extend the authority of a bipartisan panel that serves as a watchdog on global religious liberty conditions.
Congressional action to renew USCIRF’s mission came shortly after Obama selected one of the commission’s own staffers as the first special advisor for religious minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia. David Saperstein, the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, announced the appointment of Knox Thames to the new post Sept. 16. Thames, formerly USCIRF’s director of policy and research, began work in the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom Sept. 28.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), applauded both developments.
He expressed gratitude Congress “acted in the best interest of Americans and millions of other people around the world by reauthorizing [USCIRF], which plays a crucial role in standing up for soul freedom against tyranny around the world.”
In written comments for Baptist Press, Moore described Thames as “an excellent choice to serve as a special advisor for religious minorities in some of the most oppressive regions in the world. His stalwart commitment to religious freedom and years of experience both on the field and in crafting policy will help play a crucial part in defending religious freedom in countries where there might otherwise be little or no advocacy for it.”
The road to congressional reauthorization of USCIRF proved rocky. The international religious freedom community supported bills sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, R.-Fla., and Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., that would not only have renewed USCIRF’s authority but strengthened it. The Rubio and Smith measures included provisions calling for expanding the designation of severe violators of religious liberty to include non-government, terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Near East and Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Congress finally approved a compromise but one that accomplished its main purpose – keeping USCIRF’s doors open. It appeared in late September the commission might have to shut down, at least temporarily. Its authorization was to end Sept. 30, but Congress managed to extend USCIRF’s life by including it in a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating. A continuing resolution is a short-term funding measure.
The newly approved reauthorization is for four years, a fact Rubio highlighted after the Senate vote. The four-year authorization will enable USCIRF “to focus, without distraction, on their critical mandate at precisely the time it’s most needed,” he said in a written statement.
“Attacks on houses of worship, imprisonment and even death are daily realities for people of faith around the world,” Rubio said. “This is especially true for religious minorities in the Middle East who are facing a genocidal onslaught.
USCIRF “has been a steadfast champion of this ‘first freedom’ and a reliable voice for the oppressed and marginalized,” he said.
Moore commended Rubio’s efforts, saying USCIRF reauthorization “would never have been possible if not for the longstanding and valiant leadership” of the senator.
The post now filled by Thames remained vacant for 13 months after the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act became law in August 2014. Moore joined a diverse coalition of religious liberty advocates in an April letter urging Obama to make an appointment for the position.
Thames’ responsibilities as special advisor include monitoring religious freedom conditions in the Near East – also known as the Middle East – and South/Central Asia, and recommending responses by Washington to violations of religious rights.
Repression or persecution of religious adherents in recent years has continued or increased in such countries as Iraq, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt and Afghanistan. Among the religious communities victimized by ISIS and other Islamic extremists in particular are Christians, Yazidis in Iraq, Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan and Baha’is in Iran. The existence of entire religious movements is threatened in some countries, such as Iraq and Egypt.
Moore also joined the International Religious Freedom Roundtable (IRFR) in August to call for congressional reauthorization of USCIRF. Moore and his allies said USCIRF “has been vital to elevating the promotion of religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy.”
USCIRF, a nine-member panel, came into existence in 1998 upon the enactment of the International Religious Freedom Act. Evangelicals helped lead the effort to gain passage of the legislation after the widespread persecution of Christians and other religious adherents overseas gained attention in the mid-1990s.
The commission makes an annual report on global religious freedom, as well as periodic reports on particular countries. In its yearly report, USCIRF includes recommendations of governments it believes the State Department should designate as “countries of particular concern,” a label reserved for the world’s most severe violators of religious freedom.
While conditions have improved in some countries through the efforts of USCIRF and the federal government, about 77 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with high levels of religious restriction, according to the Pew Research Center.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

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Senate approves USCIRF reauthorization
USCIRF crucial to religious freedom, Moore says

10/12/2015 12:27:48 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

In Honduras, hunger offering aids Mayan corn farmers

October 12 2015 by Ann Lovell, Baptist Global Relief

LAS MEDIAS DOS, Honduras – Lucio, a 23-year-old Chorti farmer, emerges from the hedgerows with a machete in hand. He has been tending his small plot of land in preparation for the next sowing season for corn.
In the past, soil erosion complicated his efforts and made his farm less productive.


BGR photo
Lucio, a young father of two, received training from the Chorti Agricultural Development Center in Cabañas, Honduras, funded in part by Global Hunger Relief and Baptist Global Response.

“I tilled the soil with a hoe, [and] the soil would roll downhill whenever it rained,” Lucio said. “Now there’s been an improvement with the barriers … because the soil that rolls stops at the barriers. In the past, people didn’t think about this … but it is a big help for the land.”
The “barriers” are hedgerows of nitrogen-fixing legumes, a key component of a farming technique called SALT or Sloping Agricultural Land Technology. Lucio learned the technique while studying at the Chorti Agricultural Development Center in Cabañas, Honduras, a nonprofit center that receives a portion of its funding Global Hunger Relief and Baptist Global Response (BGR).
Southern Baptists have an opportunity to help address hunger through a special offering to Global Hunger Relief in the month of October. BGR, a Southern Baptist relief and development ministry, uses 100 percent of gifts to Global Hunger Relief to meet hunger needs among the Chorti and around the world.
The Chorti are a Mayan people group living in western Honduras and eastern Guatemala. As a community leader, Lucio also is teaching others in his village about SALT – first developed in the southern Philippines to help subsistence farmers improve crop yield and give their families better lives.
“I brought pictures of the project, and I showed them the improvements seen [at the center] before we started here,” Lucio said. “When I started here … they asked me what it did, whether it produced something good to eat. I told them it was to maintain the soil and to provide nutrients the soil needed.”


BGR photo
Funding from Global Hunger Relief and Baptist Global Response allow Mayan Chorti farmers to grow better and more abundant crops for their families.

With SALT, crop health has improved, providing Lucio’s family and others in the community a better quality of life. The corn no longer needs fertilizer to grow; farming costs are reduced and the harvest is increased.
Thanks to a silo provided provided in part through gifts to Global Hunger Relief, Lucio also has a means of storing the corn. This past season, he harvested 1,200 pounds and sold 600 pounds of corn. He only needs about 200 pounds to feed his family, and the silo allows him to store the remainder to sell at a later time.
“Since there are times when the value of the corn goes up, we can store it when the harvest is good … and sell it when the time is right,” Lucio said.
The young father of two also takes his work as a community leader very seriously.
“I’m training quite a few people,” Lucio said. “As a leader, I must inform the community of projects or things that are of benefit to the community … Some already think there has been an improvement since I started leading.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ann Lovell writes for Baptist Global Response. For more information about BGR’s humanitarian work, visit Part of the BGR funding for this project was provided by Global Hunger Relief, the Southern Baptist campaign against the global hunger crisis. Learn more at

10/12/2015 12:10:11 PM by Ann Lovell, Baptist Global Relief | with 0 comments

Foley to retire as University of Mobile president

October 12 2015 by Kathy Dean, Mobile University

Mark Foley, president of the University of Mobile, has announced he will retire in 2016 after more than 17 years as head of the Baptist-affiliated college.
Foley, 65, announced his retirement during the Oct. 8 meeting of the university’s trustees.
“Since accepting the position of president of the University of Mobile in 1998, it has been my determination that part of my responsibility is, at the appropriate time, to lead the institution carefully and effectively into the hands of my successor,” Foley said. “Just as in a relay race, the key to winning is an effective handoff, I believe now is the time to begin that handoff.”


Mark Foley

Trustee chairman Terry Harbin said the board has formed a search committee and engaged a Nashville firm that has had success in the Christian college community. He said the process to select a new president is expected to take six to nine months.
Harbin said Foley came to the University of Mobile during a critical transition time and led it through a period of significant growth.
“Dr. Foley led us to a much more solid spiritual and financial footing, while upgrading facilities, programs and the university’s stature in the community,” said Harbin, market president of Bancorp South in Mobile. “Additionally, through his influence, Dr. Foley has expanded the understanding of the university’s mission and goals far beyond the borders of our traditional Baptist constituency and into the community at large.”
In a letter to students, faculty and staff, Foley said he will continue as president until July 31, 2016, or until a successor is in place.
“Between now and then, we will press our mission forward. Remember, to win the race, one must enter the hand-off zone at full stride,” he wrote.
Foley has served as president of the University of Mobile since 1998 and is the third president since its founding in 1961. He led in a move to intentionally integrate learning, faith and leadership in all areas of university life while raising academic standards, building new facilities and establishing programs such as the Center for Performing Arts.
During his tenure, the university invested $44.8 million in capital projects, including a recent $7 million campus enhancement program that was the most far-reaching campus-wide improvement of buildings and its 880-acre grounds since the 1970s. The university built three residence halls, added a professional recording studio and Ram Hall auditorium, and created Bedsole Commons student center. The university expanded its music program into the Center for Performing Arts, with 22 performing ensembles that tour nationally and internationally and present the annual Christmas Spectacular for an audience of thousands.
Community service was incorporated into the university’s academic programs, resulting in nationally recognized efforts such as Project Serve, an annual day of service involving more than 1,200 students, faculty and staff volunteering at more than 60 locations across two counties in south Alabama.
Foley was preceded by William K. Weaver Jr., now deceased, founding president of what was then Mobile College. Weaver served from 1961-84. The second president, Michael A. Magnoli, a member of the first graduating class, served as president until 1997. It was during Magnoli’s tenure that the school became the University of Mobile.
More than 1,500 students are enrolled in more than 40 undergraduate and graduate programs, and the university has expanded its offerings to include online programs for adult students. The university, located in north Mobile County, is on the Web at
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kathy Dean is director of media relations for the University of Mobile.)

10/12/2015 12:00:33 PM by Kathy Dean, Mobile University | with 0 comments

NAMB trustees approve Send Relief, IMB aid

October 9 2015 by Mike Ebert, NAMB

Trustees of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) have approved the establishment of Send Relief – a new compassion ministry to offer Southern Baptists opportunities to meet physical needs and serve underprivileged communities.

Also during their Oct. 7 meeting, NAMB's trustees approved a $4 million budget reduction so the entity can send funds to assist International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries.


NAMB Photo by John Swain
North American Mission Board (NAMB) President Kevin Ezell pauses with David Melber and his wife Tera at the Oct. 7 trustee meeting where Melber was named senior vice president of NAMB’s new Send Relief compassion ministry.

NAMB President Kevin Ezell, commenting on the Send Relief initiative, noted shortly after trustees closed their meeting in Salt Lake City, “Imagine 40,000 Southern Baptist churches engaged to meet needs in their communities and across North America. Send Relief will give churches hands-on opportunities to alleviate suffering and transform lives.”
Send Relief will launch in 2016 and include compassion ministries to combat hunger, poverty, serve children through foster care and adoption, combat human trafficking, minister to migrants through international learning centers and meet inner-city needs with construction and medical teams.
NAMB trustees approved David Melber as vice president of Send Relief. Melber has led Crossings Ministries camp outreach in Kentucky since 2003.
“Send Relief is going to be an ideal way for us as Southern Baptists to meet a real need – not only for the physical side but to proclaim the gospel, see people come to Christ and help be part of the church planting effort,” Melber said.
NAMB’s disaster relief team will be part of Send Relief and continue to have its own director. The mission board will continue to serve as coordinator of national disaster relief responses.

Aid to IMB missionaries

Trustees approved the $4 million budget reduction to assist IMB missionaries during NAMB’s 2015-16 fiscal year. Ezell requested the action in response to the IMB’s announced reduction in personnel of up to 15 percent in order to address ongoing revenue shortfalls.
“This is a Kingdom vote,” declared NAMB trustee chairman Chuck Herring, senior pastor of Collierville First Baptist Church near Memphis, after NAMB trustees unanimously passed the resolution. Next, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee must approve the proposed assistance before NAMB can transfer funds to IMB.
In other business:

  • Trustees received a report showing that revenue for 2014-15 was 1.15 percent higher than the previous year and revenue exceeded spending for the year.

  • Trustees authorized several other position and structure changes in addition to Melber’s in Send Relief. Carlos Ferrer will serve as executive vice president; Kim Robinson will serve as vice president of marketing and ministry support; and Clark Logan will serve as chief financial officer. All three men have been promoted from other roles at NAMB.

  • Gary Frost shared with trustees that he has resigned from his role as vice president of NAMB’s Midwest Region to move to the role of national facilitator for prayer and compassion initiatives with Mission America.


NAMB Photo by John Swain
“We believe Send Relief is a way to help thousands of churches take their first missions step” into ministry combining compassion and evangelism, North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell told trustees at their Oct. 7 meeting in Salt Lake City.

Ezell, in his address to trustees, included a brief look back at his first five years at the entity. Among the sharpest contrasts: In 2010 NAMB’s annual summer meeting had 300 attendees and NAMB paid them to attend; in 2015, the Send North America Conference in Nashville drew more than 13,000 attendees and all but a few paid their own way.


Ezell also pointed to downsizing that has allowed more resources to go to the field, better counting and tracking of Southern Baptist church plants and a tripling of resources NAMB sends to Canada.
“You are changing lives,” Ezell told trustees. As examples he mentioned a church plant in Detroit that recently had 250 at a preview service. Another in Augusta, Maine, is now averaging more than 700 a week in worship attendance.
“There are church planters all over North America who, because of your leadership, are being taken care of better than they ever have.”
Ezell closed by thanking trustees for their affirmation of Send Relief and shared his excitement about its potential.
“People are very excited about compassion ministry,” Ezell said. “We believe Send Relief is a way to help thousands of churches take their first missions step.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mike Ebert writes for the North American Mission Board.)

Related Story:

Send Relief VP Melber brings ‘passion, experience’

10/9/2015 12:37:37 PM by Mike Ebert, NAMB | with 0 comments

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