July 25 2014 by
Myriah Snyder, Baptist Press
Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman whose death sentence caused an international outcry, arrived safely in Italy this morning (July 24).
Ibrahim, also known as Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, was flown on an Italian government jet to Rome with her husband, Daniel Wani, and two young children, Martin and Maya.
Ibrahim was arrested in February and Sudanese judge Abaas Al Khalifa set Ibrahim's death sentence for "apostasy" (leaving Islam) May 15. However, in June, the ruling was overturned and she was released from prison only to be detained at the airport and denied permission to leave the country.
Upon arriving in Italy, the family met with the pope who "thanked her for her faith and courage, and she thanked him for his prayer and solidarity," according to a Vatican report.
Photo from ACLJ.org
Meriam Ibrahim and her two children are escorted off a plane by Italian personnel after landing in Rome.
Currently, Ibrahim and her children are in a government safe house in Italy until they secure proper travel documents to enter the United States. Their case was discussed today at the State Department press briefing in Washington.
Al-Sharief Ali, Ibrahim's attorney said, "The Italians had the greatest influence on Sudan and were able to secure her release." Lapo Pistelli, deputy foreign minister for Italy, negotiated Ibrahim's release and accompanied the family to Italy.
"Leveraging [Italy's] ties within the region," Ali said Pistelli negotiated in an amicable way. "This [friendliness] paid off in the end," he said.
"The court has sentenced you to be hanged till you are dead," Al Khalifa told Ibrahim on May 15 after Islamist crowds shouted for the court to punish her. Al Khalifa had given her 15 days to recant upon announcing his original sentence April 30. Because she married a Christian, she was also sentenced to 100 lashes for apostasy.
She defended her religious beliefs by telling Al Khalifa in court, "I am a Christian, and I have never been a Muslim."
Ibrahim was born to a Sudanese Muslim father who disappeared from her life when she was 6 years old and an Ethiopian mother who was Ethiopian Orthodox. Though her mother reared her as a Christian, Islamic law asserts she is Muslim by birth because her father was Muslim.
She gave birth to her daughter Maya on May 27 in a Sudanese prison for women. Her not-yet-2-year-old son also remained with his mother in prison.
She was released from prison and her court rulings were stayed on June 23. However, when attempting to leave Khartoum for South Sudan the following day, she and her husband were detained for "falsified" travel documents.
Ibrahim was staying at the U.S. embassy for her safety and was unable to leave the country until Italian intervention.
Although her release was a major advancement in her case, Tina Ramirez, executive director of Hardwired, a worldwide religious freedom advocate, said, "Meriam faces an appeal to the original sentence of death for apostasy which is now with the Supreme Court" in Sudan. Ramirez continued, "She also faces additional charges for falsifying documents and a new case filed by her [larger Muslim] family but not yet reported to her lawyers seeking to annul her marriage."
Her lawyers continue to challenge her case.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council which had launched an online petition drive in Ibrahim's behalf, said in a news release, "Meriam's bold stand for Jesus Christ as she faced death is both an inspiration for Christians to be courageous, but also a reminder of the vigilance required to preserve and promote not just our First Freedom as Americans, but the basic human right of the freedom of religion. ...
"The ordeal of Meriam and her family underscores the need for the Obama administration to make the promotion of religious freedom a priority at the State Department rather than an afterthought," Perkins said. "The reality is that there are thousands of Meriams looking toward America, hoping they are not forgotten and that someone will speak out on their behalf."
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press intern Myriah Snyder.)
7/25/2014 12:17:37 PM
July 25 2014 by
Ben M. Skaug, GGBTS/Baptist Press
Myriah Snyder, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary has finalized the sale of its property near Mill Valley, Calif., setting aside funds both to purchase a new campus in Southern California and add $50 million to its endowment.
The sale agreement for Golden Gate’s Mill Valley property included a base price of $85 million, along with other terms financially advantageous to the seminary, including a favorable lease-back rate; the ability for the seminary to remain fully operational in the Mill Valley location for two years; and the seminary retaining revenue earned through rentals and other uses of the property during the lease-back period.
Jeff Iorg, Golden Gate’s president, praised the seminary’s board of trustees for their fiscal discipline in reserving significant proceeds from the sale for the seminary’s endowment.
“We are delighted this first phase of our relocation is complete,” Iorg said. “It took us 70 years to gather an endowment of $21 million. Increasing our endowment by another $50 million in such a short time is amazing.”
Golden Gate Seminary President Jeff Iorg signs documents for the $85 million sale of the San Francisco-area campus; next, the seminary will begin the process of relocating its main campus to Southern California.
Board chairman Steve Sheldon added, “The board is determined the property sale will dramatically improve our long-term financial health. By adding this much to our endowment, we are accomplishing that goal.”
The board also approved an allocation of resources for new facilities in Southern California, Iorg reported. “We are pleased with how circumstances are coming together related to our future campus in Southern California. Now that the sale has been finalized, we can conclude our agreements for the new campus and announce those in a few weeks. God is bringing this entire process together in ways we could have never imagined,” he said.
The seminary is finalizing plans for its new primary campus in Southern California and a new regional campus in the San Francisco Bay Area. “We appreciate the hard work so many are doing on this project,” Iorg said. “I am particularly grateful for our faculty and staff who are working hard to keep us fully operational during this transition.”
In commenting on the sale agreement, Iorg said, “There’s been much conjecture about the value of the Mill Valley property over the years. In reality, because of the development restrictions on the property, its value is less than some have speculated. We have tried for years to remove these entitlement restrictions, to no avail. We have watched with increased urgency as value has continued to erode because of these restrictions. This helps explain the necessity of our decision to sell the property.”
Iorg said the seminary had received “multiple offers for the property over the past two years. All of them were for less than the offer we ultimately accepted. An indispensable part of the agreement is the two-year lease-back. We had to build the relocation process around the needs of students,” he said. “We could not sell the land and close the campus abruptly. We had to have a sale and relocation process that preserved our institutional commitment to current students.”
Golden Gate trustee Stuart Smith, president of Stuart Smith and Company, said the sale process “has been one of the most complicated and difficult land deals I have witnessed in more than 20 years in the commercial real estate business. Our board has spent countless hours analyzing reports, considering options and trying to find a way forward. This agreement took more than a year to hammer out, but in the end it met our goals.”
Jim Williams, president of T. James Williams Accounting and a trustee whose term concluded in June, added, “We spent considerable time analyzing the financial details of this transaction. The value for the seminary is significant and will make a huge difference in our long-term financial health.”
Golden Gate’s relocation plan, as it relates to students, has received a positive review by the staff of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the seminary’s regional accrediting agency, who affirmed the transition plan for its thoroughness and focus on students.
Michael Martin, GGBTS vice president of academic affairs, said, “We have fulfilled every expectation of our regional accrediting agency and have kept faith with our students. Every student has a clear pathway to graduation, which we were committed to maintaining as part of the sale and relocation process.”
“Students and potential students are endorsing our new direction. Approved applications for fall enrollment are actually ahead of the same time frame last year,” Iorg said. “Given the breadth of our current transition, that is unexpected confirmation we are on the right track.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ben M. Skaug is vice president for institutional advancement for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.)
7/25/2014 12:00:34 PM
July 25 2014 by
David Roach, Baptist Press
Ben M. Skaug, GGBTS/Baptist Press | with 0 comments
As early as kindergarten, people have decided whether they believe God intervenes in the world or whether the universe is a closed system of natural causes, a new study by researchers at Boston University, Harvard and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology suggests.
Published in the July issue of Cognitive Science, the study by Kathleen Corriveau, Eva Chen and Paul Harris asked 5- and 6-year-olds to identify whether the protagonists in various stories rendered in several sentences were real people or fictional ones and then provide a reason for their classifications.
Some of the stories were adapted from the Bible and included miraculous events brought about through divine intervention – though several of the accounts got biblical details wrong. Other stories, labeled “fantastical,” were modifications of the same Bible stories with all references to divine intervention removed and the supernatural events presented as magic. A third group of stories, labeled “realistic,” modified the Bible stories further to exclude supernatural events and replace them with events that were “plausible due to human intervention.”
For example, the study included an adaptation of the biblical David and Goliath story, a fantastical version in which David kills Goliath with a magic stone and a realistic version in which David notices there is no armor protecting the giant’s head and attacks the vulnerable region.
Not surprisingly, children who attended church, parochial school or both identified the biblical protagonists as real more often than children who attended neither church nor parochial school. More unexpectedly, children receiving religious education at church or school also identified the fantastical protagonists as real more often than their secular counterparts. All the children tended to characterize realistic protagonists as real.
In a second facet of the experiment, researches tried to determine why children with Christian training were more likely to identify religious and fantastical stories as real. This time they presented a series of supernatural stories, changing all the characters’ names so that they were not recognizable as people in the Bible and including stories of some supernatural events not in scripture. Again religious children were more likely than secular children to classify characters from supernatural accounts as real – regardless of whether the supernatural events were described as magic or recounted without reference to magic or divinity. The secular children, researchers said, “systematically treated the characters as ‘pretend.’”
The study’s authors concluded that the divergent responses were not due to the religious children’s familiarity with Bible stories or their propensity to believe in magic. Rather, “religious children have a broader conception of what events can actually happen” because they are taught that divine interaction can “override ordinary causal regularities.” In other words, by age six children have already established a belief about whether God does or does not intervene in the world, and they interpret what they observe based on that belief.
Media reports of the study have tended to portray children with Christian training as ignorant or developmentally challenged. For example, the Huffington Post reported that “young children who are exposed to religion have a hard time differentiating between fact and fiction.” But a careful examination of the study suggests the opposite of what some media reports imply. In the rush to slam Christianity, it’s been overlooked that religious children correctly identified the true stories far more often than did secular children. After all, the “realistic” and “fantastical” stories were mere concoctions of the researchers’ imaginations, unlike the biblically-based stories, which were largely true though some changed the details of Bible stories and one was an apocryphal story about Jesus that contained elements similar to what is reported in the Gospels.
Of course, the religious children got some answers wrong too. They misidentified as true some fantastical stories. And they performed “at chance” when asked about stories that resembled biblical accounts, but with different names and events (like John parting a mountain rather Moses parting a sea). Still, the secular children misidentified the religious stories as false at a higher rate than the religious children misidentified the fantastical stories as true. In the end, the Christian worldview proved more effective at recognizing truth than the secular worldview.
Ironically, a secular study underscores the importance of Christian training for children. That training must begin at home and continue at church. As the Baptist Faith and Message says, “Christianity is the faith of enlightenment and intelligence,” and “an adequate system of Christian education is necessary to a complete spiritual program for Christ’s people” – even in kindergarten.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.)
7/25/2014 11:36:07 AM
July 25 2014 by
Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press
David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
Islamic militants have eradicated virtually every trace of Christianity from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, said July 23.
“There are no Christians left in Mosul,” Shea told CBN News. “They have all been driven out. They have been told to convert to Islam or die, or to leave.”
Mosul has been the center of Iraq’s Christian community for two millennia, but it is also a site with a significant place in biblical history. Ancient Mesopotamia was the location of both the Babylonian and Assyrian empires, as well as the ancestral homeland of Abraham. The city of Mosul is located on the site of the ancient city of Nineveh, the capital of the brutal Assyrian empire and the location of Jonah’s preaching in the biblical account. Nineveh, according to the Bible, was established by Noah’s grandson Nimrod.
Mosul became a familiar location to Southern Baptists in 2004 when four Christian aid workers, affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, were ambushed there. Larry and Jean Elliot, David McDonnall and Karen Watson died in the attack. Only Carrie McDonnall, David’s wife, survived, though she was seriously wounded.
Shea, who formerly served as vice chair for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said fighters with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) marked the property of Christians in Mosul with the Arabic word “Nasrani,” or “Nazarene” – a clear reference to Christianity. Christian property owners were then driven out.
iStock; Graphic by Laura Erlanson
Last month militants offered Christians in Mosul the opportunity to enter into a dhimma, an agreement which would have allowed them to practice the Christian faith behind closed doors after they paid a hefty tax and agreed not to proselytize. However, multiple sources in the region said that offer was later withdrawn and all Christians were told to leave or face execution.
Members of Assyrian Christian and Chaldean Catholic groups streamed out of Mosul when the final ultimatum was delivered this week by ISIS militants, Shea said, and they left empty handed. Militants confiscated all of their possessions, including homes, cars, clothes “and even their wedding rings, sometimes with the finger attached if it would not come off,” she said.
Shea also said she saw reports of ISIS militants destroying or defacing ancient Christian sites, such as the supposed tomb of the prophet Jonah, fourth century monasteries and churches. She added that militants tore down crosses in the city and burned ancient Christian manuscripts.
“There is zero tolerance for the religious other on the part of this group,” Shea said. “They are rabidly bigoted against Christians. They hate Christians. They are eradicating every trace of the 2,000 year history of Christianity in every area they have conquered, including in Iraq’s second largest city, the center of Christianity in Iraq, which is Mosul.”
David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, which offers assistance to persecuted Christians around the world and lobbies repressive governments to cease religious persecution, called the plight of Christians in Mosul and the remainder of northern Iraq “unprecedented in modern times.”
“This latest forced exodus of Christians further shows why Western governments and the people in the West need to cry out in support for religious freedom in the Middle East and elsewhere,” Curry said in a statement. “If this does not move us concerning the near extinction of Christianity in the Middle East, it’s likely nothing else can.”
Since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein, nearly 1 million Christians have fled the country for safer surroundings. An estimated 500,000 Christians remained throughout the northern portion of the country chiefly among the Chaldean Catholic community, which has existed there for 1,700 years. The archbishop for the region, Shimoun Nona, told the Catholic World Report after Mosul fell to militants in June that the Christian population had dropped to 35,000 and then to only 3,000.
According to recent reports from the region, only a few hundred Christian families remained in Mosul before ISIS gave its ultimatum last week. Its stance toward Christians who remained may mean the hardened Al-Qaeda offshoot is becoming even more intolerant of dissenting faiths as it tightens control over a large swath of the plain of Nineveh, where Mosul is located.
ISIS alone is not to blame for the crisis in northern Iraq, Shea said, noting that the inaction of the Obama administration and the Iraqi government have made matters worse.
Obama “should be talking about it,” Shea said. “It is important also to keep pressure on the Iraqi government, which has failed in every way. It is a narrow, sectarian government that has, as I’ve heard reports today, rescued Shiite minorities from the north but is leaving the Christians ... to fend for themselves. They only rescued Shiites from the wrath of this Islamic state.”
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., said on the floor of the U.S. House June 22 that the Obama administration was watching the “extinction” of Christians and other religious minorities take place in northern Iraq.
“I believe what is happening to the Christian community in Iraq is genocide,” Wolf said. “I also believe it is a crime against humanity.”
Wolf said he and 54 other members of Congress – Republicans and Democrats – urged the Obama administration in a letter to engage the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government and ask them to prioritize additional security support for especially vulnerable populations in the region. Among those are Iraq’s ancient Christian communities, he said. The members also asked the administration to provide humanitarian assistance to religious refugees from the area.
“I want to read the last line from our letter: ‘Absent immediate action, we will most certainly witness the annihilation of an ancient faith community from the lands they’ve inhabited for centuries,’” Wolf said. “It is happening. They are almost all gone – just as we predicted. The Obama administration has to make protecting this ancient community a priority.”
Wolf spoke about the war on Iraqi Christians from the House floor again July 24, warning, “Christianity as we know it in Iraq is being wiped out.”
“Where is the West? Where is the Obama administration? Where is the Congress? The silence is deafening,” Wolf said. “The West, particularly the church, needs to speak out.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Malaki finally addressed the plight of Christians in Mosul in a statement to the Iraqi News Agency July 20. Al-Malaki, a Shiite Muslim, said the actions taken by ISIS in northern Iraq “undoubtedly reveal the criminal nature of terrorists and extremist groups, which pose danger to the humanitarian legacy and heritage through the centuries.”
Al-Malaki called on the government to render humanitarian aid and to support efforts of the Kurds to care for displaced peoples from Mosul. Many Christians have found protection among Kurdish fighters, who oppose ISIS’s domination of the area.
In addition to the condemnation of forced deportations of Christians from Mosul by Shea, Wolf and Curry, interfaith groups and other religious leaders have also condemned ISIS’s repression of Christians.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of interfaith affairs with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global Jewish human rights organization, said too many people believe “forced conversions and expulsions of entire religious communities were part of a distant, medieval past.”
“It is not too late to realize that many others – Christians today, but certainly Jews, Baha’i, Hindus, Muslims and others – are mortally endangered by a potent religious fanaticism that threatens tens of millions, and which still can be resisted,” Adlerstein said in a statement.
Even prominent Sunni Muslim scholars claimed the forced deportation of Christians from their homes was not a true representation of Islamic doctrine. Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi said the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) condemns the actions of ISIS.
Christians “are native sons of Iraq and not intruders,” a statement from the group told Rueters in Doha, Qatar, July 22. “The aim must be to bury discord, unite the ranks and solve Iraq’s problems, rather than thrusting it into matters that would further complicate the situation.”
IUMS does not disavow the notion of an Islamic caliphate as a goal to be obtained in the future. It claims, however, that a majority of Muslims in an area have to agree to join such a caliphate. That makes the caliphate announced with force by ISIS unlawful, according to the group.
The reach of ISIS began to expand into northern Iraq after fighting spilled over into the country from Syria in the spring. Militants overtook Mosul June 10, followed by the city of Tikrit, less than 100 miles from Baghdad. They captured Tal Afar and portions of the “Sunni Triangle” in western Iraq, including Ramadi and Fallujah. ISIS also temporarily took the town of Baquba, less than 40 miles from Baghdad, June 16.
The terrorist group now controls nearly one third of Iraq and Syria, an area larger than Jordan, Lebanon and Israel combined.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gregory Tomlin is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas.)
7/25/2014 11:08:36 AM
July 24 2014 by
Tom Strode, Baptist Press
Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
Southern Baptist leaders recognized something when they toured federal government facilities for children who have fled to the United States without their parents – hope.
Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Russell D. Moore, the SBC’s lead ethicist, joined others in tours Tuesday (July 22) of two centers established to address the crisis of unaccompanied minors crossing America’s southern border.
The centers in McAllen and San Antonio, Texas, are part of the response to a wave that includes more than 57,000 underage children who have been apprehended at the border with Mexico in the last nine months. Most of the children – and sometimes children accompanied by a young parent or parents – have fled Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, which are plagued not only by poverty but by violence among gangs involved in drug trafficking.
“I was struck as we were walking through the facility with two things: a sense of fear and a sense of hope,” Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a written statement. “A sense of fear when I asked the kids why they made the trek up to the United States. And a sense of hope: I saw many crosses and Bibles. Many people are desperately hoping for an end to the violence where they come from.”
Floyd said, “These are real people who are looking for hope, and we have the greatest hope that anyone can give them. ... [W]e need to provide them that hope – hope that we love them, hope that we care for them, hope most of all in the gospel of Jesus Christ that will change their life and give them hope forever, whether they remain in the United States or they go back to their homeland.
Photo by Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons
Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, speaks at a news conference in McAllen, Texas, after Southern Baptist and other religious leaders toured a detention center for unaccompanied children who have crossed the border with Mexico.
“People will go a long way and tackle obstacles when they feel that hope is possible. They are hoping for a better life,” Floyd said.
Floyd and Moore were among pastors and other religious leaders who walked through a U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention center in McAllen and a Department of Health and Human Services shelter in San Antonio. Among those participating in one or both of the tours hosted by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention were Jim Richards, the SBTC’s executive director; Daniel Flores, the Roman Catholic bishop of Brownsville, Texas; and SBTC pastors.
About 65 children are in the detention center in McAllen, which is a major border crossing point near the southern tip of Texas, but that number will mushroom. The center, opened only a few days earlier to alleviate overcrowding in other McAllen detention centers, can house 1,000 children. The shelter at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio has more than 1,100 children. The McAllen center had children ranging in age from about 5 to 17, while the San Antonio shelter is for 12- to 17-year-olds.
Floyd and Moore had expressed concern for the children before going to Texas but they said touring the facilities personalized the issue for them.
“It makes it really real to me,” Floyd told Baptist Press. “It’s no longer about something … that I hear on the news or stories that I read. But now I’ve seen real people who have real moms and dads, who have real grandparents, who have taken long treks across the country ... all looking for a better life, all looking for hope, all looking for safety. They want safety because many of their lives have not been safe.”
Moore said the visit “put a human face on a moral crisis for me. These children are not issues to be resolved but persons bearing dignity and needing care. The issues involved in this crisis are complex, but our first response should be one of compassion and justice, not fear or disgust.”
After touring the San Antonio shelter, Richards said, “We as a state convention are compassionate to these children. It is our obligation under the gospel to minister to them and help them, regardless of the circumstances in which they came or their future. Our main concern is to care for the children.”
Baptists in Texas with both the SBTC and Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) have been ministering as they are able, but the federal government has strictly limited access to unaccompanied children. HHS is responsible for custody of such children once they are moved from detention centers. It permits only federal authorities and federal contractors to be in contact with the minors, according to the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board.
For now, Baptist churches are primarily working to help children and adults crossing the border together by serving them at a processing center; providing food, clothing and showers; and doing laundry. A Hispanic pastor affiliated with the BGCT is conducting worship services for unaccompanied children in one shelter, according to that convention.
Moore said he is “deeply encouraged by the response of Christians to this crisis. We need to be praying for a just resolution, and quickly.”
Floyd expressed gratitude “for the churches who have helped along the way, and I want to encourage all of our Southern Baptist churches to see what’s happening and think about what you can do to help as a church. Do what Jesus would do: He would care for the children and show them compassion while we have them in our nation.”
The federal government has moved some of the children to other states for housing, sometimes by faith-based organizations.
The McAllen detention center is designed to house children no more than three days before they are transferred to an HHS shelter, according to the ERLC. Many of the children at the San Antonio shelter said they had been there from 30 to 45 days, an ERLC staffer reported. The children at the San Antonio shelter receive schooling and medical care among other services.
A study released July 22 shows that the rate of apprehensions of children 12 and younger at the border has grown faster than that of teenagers. The analysis of government data by the Pew Research Center revealed a 117 percent increase in the number of unaccompanied children less than 13 years of age since Oct. 1. The apprehension of minors 13 to 17 has increased by just 12 percent during the same span. Still, 84 percent of the minors apprehended at the border since Oct. 1 have been teens.
In that time period, 27 percent of the unaccompanied children apprehended have been from Honduras, according to Pew. Meanwhile, 22 percent have been from El Salvador, 10 percent from Guatemala and 3 percent from Mexico.
Moore signed on to a July 22 letter from the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) urging members of Congress to provide the necessary resources and policies to address the border crisis while not weakening a law combating human trafficking. The EIT is a coalition of evangelical leaders promoting immigration reform.
Floyd and Moore have called not only for a compassionate response to the plight of the unaccompanied children in this country but for repair of what is generally acknowledged is a broken immigration system. The ERLC has called for reform that would provide border and workplace security; uphold the rule of law; respect family unity; and establish a path to legal status to those who want to live in this country permanently and are willing to pay penalties and meet the requirements. Flaws in both the system and its enforcement have resulted in an estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants living illegally in the United States.
In 2011, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for Christians to advance the gospel of Jesus while simultaneously calling on our government to secure the nation’s borders and pursue a just and compassionate solution to the immigration crisis.
The U.S. Senate passed broad reform legislation last year, but the ERLC has said it needs improvement. So far, House of Representatives committees have approved bills dealing with such matters as strengthening border and national security, providing visas for guest workers and requiring employers to use the E-Verify system to check employees’ eligibility. The full House has yet to act on those bills, however.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
7/24/2014 12:04:12 PM
July 24 2014 by
Bob Smietana, Baptist Press
Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
Charles Spurgeon, 19th-century legendary London pastor, was a publishing and preaching juggernaut.
He preached to more than 10 million people and baptized more than 14,000 believers. More than 50 million copies of his sermons were sold. Spurgeon’s fans nicknamed him "the Prince of Preachers."
More than 3,500 Spurgeon sermons were eventually published, but none date from his early ministry, a leading Spurgeon scholar, Christian George, noted.
That will change next year.
B&H Publishing will release The Lost Sermons of Charles Spurgeon, a multi-volume edition of early Spurgeon sermons and sermon outlines.
"I have been involved in Christian publishing for over 20 years," said Jim Baird, publisher of B&H Academic. "A project like this comes to you once in your lifetime if you are fortunate."
The collection of 400-plus sermons and outlines dates from Spurgeon’s days as a young pastor outside of Cambridge. The son of a minister, Spurgeon came to faith in 1850 during a service at a Primitive Methodist Church. That encounter with God set him on a path to become one of Christendom’s most prolific and most quoted preachers.
B&H Publishing Group photo
Early journals by the 19th-century English preacher Charles Spurgeon form the basis of a multi-volume academic work by scholar Christian George slated for release next year.
"It is sometimes overlooked that Charles Spurgeon published more words in the English language than any other Christian in history," said George, curator of the Spurgeon library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City.
Spurgeon began preaching not long after his conversion. At 17, he became pastor of a Baptist church in Waterbeach, not far from Cambridge. He kept his sermon outlines – which he called "skeletons" – along with some full-text sermons in a series of handwritten journals.
The first of the 13 newly-discovered journals is dated October 1849, a few months before Spurgeon’s conversion. The last is dated from 1854, just before he became pastor of London’s New Park Street Chapel. The journals reveal how Spurgeon developed his theology as well as his skill in preaching.
"They give us a rare and remarkable glimpse into Spurgeon’s pre-London life and ministry," George said.
Some of the journals show Spurgeon’s spiritual struggles. Many of the sermons end with simple and sometimes blunt prayers.
"Lord, revive my stupid soul," Spurgeon wrote after finishing one sermon. Another ended with, "Oh my God. Do help. For Jesus’ sake."
After becoming a pastor in London, Spurgeon had planned to publish those early sermons. But that never came to pass. They were stored in the archives of Spurgeon’s College in London and forgotten.
George discovered the journals three years ago while doing research at the college. A librarian there brought him a stack of Spurgeon’s journals to look through.
"Only when I began flipping through their pages did I realize the significance," George said. "These were the lost sermons Spurgeon tried so long ago to publish."
The multi-volume set from B&H Academic will include sermons from those journals along with critical commentary from George in what will be the first critical edition of Spurgeon’s work ever published.
Most other works about Spurgeon either reprint his sermons without analysis, or only focus on his "celebrity-like reputation, uncanny oratorical abilities and worldwide influence," George said. That leaves many people with a one-dimensional view of the great preacher.
"But there is a growing interest in Spurgeon scholarship in recovering his humanity – his inconsistencies, his weaknesses, his doubts, struggles and sufferings," George said. "In this way, we discover a Spurgeon who does not arrive on the theological landscape of 19th-century Britain in perfect, polished form but, instead, a preacher in progress whose exegesis, rhetorical tendencies and homiletic method evolve over the first five years of his preaching ministry."
Jason K. Allen, president of Midwestern Seminary, said he is "proud to support Dr. George and to partner with B&H and LifeWay Christian Resources in this historic undertaking. The Christian tradition as a whole will prove the true beneficiary of this monumental work."
LifeWay President Thom Rainer said he is excited to make the sermons available to pastors and scholars alike. "This project is the most recent example of the tremendous impact B&H is having on evangelical publishing," Rainer said. "As we constantly endeavor to faithfully serve the church, we believe the Lord will bless our efforts."
George hopes the new edition of early Spurgeon sermons will lead to more scholarly interest in the great preacher. Pastors, he said, also will benefit.
"He models for us an unwavering commitment to Christ-centered preaching, fervent prayer and discipleship, local and world evangelism, and incarnational urban ministries," George said.
When the new books are published next year, digital versions will be available exclusively through WORDsearch.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine, published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
7/24/2014 11:57:34 AM
July 24 2014 by
Joe Conway, NAMB/Baptist Press
Bob Smietana, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
Travis Kunckel had no idea his selection of a temporary base of operation for his consulting business would lead to the proprietor’s spiritual transformation. The same is true for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers who played a role in her baptism.
Throw in a local congregation focused on serving the community and Donna Gail is the newest member of East Boulder Baptist Church.
When Kunckel, a Texas business consultant, contracted to work with multiple clients in Colorado for an extended time, he looked for a central lodging location that would provide flexibility in travel with the benefits of a mountain retreat. He settled on Gail’s Patience Clearing Bed & Breakfast in Lefthand Canyon.
Soon Gail noticed Kunckel used his spare time at the inn for Bible study. Intrigued, she asked questions. Travis gave gospel conversation answers. "Finally the reality of Christ was so clear to me and I stopped resisting Him," Gail said.
NAMB photo by Susan Whitley
Donna Gail is embraced by East Boulder Baptist Church senior pastor Larry Dramann following her baptism. Gail’s friend, Travis Kunckel (right), traveled to Colorado from Texas with his family to attend the service. Kunckel and his wife Denise discipled Gail following her profession of faith in Christ.
After sharing the gospel, Kunckel continued to disciple Gail on his visits. He gave her a Bible and his wife Denise sent Bible studies and other gifts.
In the meantime, God used Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers to minister to Gail as well. She was one of the survivors of the 2013 floods that wiped out much of the nearby village of Jamestown and devastated Lefthand Canyon. SBDR workers, hosted by East Boulder Baptist Church, worked to bring help, healing and hope to the area. East Boulder senior pastor Larry Dramann escorted SBDR assessors to locate ministry sites but they were unable to travel up the canyon road to rescue Gail. That would take a U.S. Army helicopter.
Gail and Dramann never met, but she began to encounter SBDR volunteers. First she saw volunteers helping her friends in Jamestown. Then she encountered two SBDR volunteers at a FEMA location where she applied for aid. They prayed with her and gave her a Bible.
"It was the most uplifting prayer and they were so gracious," Gail recounted. "And just like all the volunteers I met, before I can even say thank you they are always thanking me for the opportunity to serve. Everywhere I went people would ask me, ‘Have you heard about the Baptists?’"
By December Gail was determined to find a way to say thank you. So she picked a local church, East Boulder, and attended worship, not knowing the church had served as an SBDR command center. In fact, the day of her visit, the church thanked volunteers who were leaving to return home.
"I couldn’t believe it," said Gail, who cried through most of the service.
"When Donna came up and introduced herself, I said, ‘You’re the one we were looking for but could not get to,’" Dramann said. "I saw her knees buckle, she was so overwhelmed by God’s grace."
Dramann, who has pastored the church 13 years, served with the International Mission Board for 15 years in southern Africa. He and his son visited Gail and asked about her spiritual journey.
"When it became apparent that she had a genuine relationship with Christ, I asked her, ‘Would you want to be baptized?’ She said, ‘Could I?’ And when she told me about Travis and Denise and their impact on her life I asked if I could give them a call. They said they would come to the baptism."
On July 20 Dramann baptized Donna. Travis and his family were by her side.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.)
7/24/2014 11:41:57 AM
July 24 2014 by
Myriah Snyder, Baptist Press
Joe Conway, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments
While most of America sees the border crisis on the nightly news, leaders at Calvary Baptist Church in McAllen, Texas, recognize it as a mission field in their own backyard.
Chad Mason, pastor for mobilization and global impact, recounted a meeting where Calvary Baptist leaders agreed that “we have to do something. We have to be involved in this. These people are here, and it’s incumbent on us to be the hands and feet of Christ with our actions.”
“I just love this church’s heart,” Mason said of Calvary Baptist’s response to the crisis. “Even the people who had practical concerns, their heart was totally right. There was not one time that someone said we shouldn’t do it based on political agenda. I was very proud to be a part of this church where their faith is influencing their stance. Their faith is the leading part of who they are.”
In facing what he described as a “massive humanitarian need right here in our community,” Mason said church leaders have had conversations with White House staff members and Border Patrol at many levels trying to get access to unaccompanied minors. “As of the moment, we have no access to them,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest piece of information that is misunderstood nationwide. We keep being told that any day that might change, and we have hope that we will have access to the minors.”
Calvary Baptist Church coordinates with Catholic Charities at a child refugee relief center in McAllen, Texas, to provide food, showers and laundry service.
Thus Calvary Baptist is focusing on other aspects of relief work and ministry amid the chaos at the border, despite limited access to the unaccompanied refugees.
The church has discussed responding to the needs of Border Patrol personnel, Mason noted.
“That is one of the things that we really would love to be doing. We are trying to start an intentional effort to thank and care for the Border Patrol agents [in a larger way].” In August, the church hopes to host between 200 and 300 Border Patrol agents in an event partnering several organizations to say “thank you” and to show the church’s concern for how the agents’ work can be overwhelming.
Through cooperation with various organizations, Calvary leaders have had opportunities to communicate to government officials what the workers and refugees are experiencing at the border.
“This last weekend we had three senators and seven congressmen who were in town, and they wanted to hear from the volunteer faith community. I was blessed to go and sit in this meeting and speak and share as an equal voice.... We got to tell them what we were doing; we got to ask for their help.... We got to push them on issues that we would never [have been] asked to have any influence [over].”
With the influx of refugees, the need for showers, laundry services and other basic needs was so high that Catholic Charities was asked by the government to open a relief center. Days later, Calvary began assisting, along with the Salvation Army and other humanitarian organizations. Calvary’s volunteers focus on laundry service by using mobile laundry units provided by the Texas Baptist Men missions organization.
Calvary also has launched a website, southtexasrefugees.org, to facilitate communication among those interested in helping.
“We feel that we are being stretched, to become more like Christ,” Mason said. “God is using this opportunity tremendously.”
The greatest need
“All of the facilities that are hosting these unaccompanied minors nationwide are looking for foster homes to place children whose families aren’t in the United States,” Mason noted.
If not put in a foster home, the refugee children face being housed in a government facility for years, in many cases, while awaiting their hearings.
Although the agencies are not allowed to advertise the need for foster care for the children due to security concerns, Mason urged – as a third party – interested individuals to contact southtexasrefugees.org. The requirements are quite extensive and speaking fluent Spanish is a must.
“As soon as the border closes, these opportunities for relief are going to stop. When that happens our relief-based ministries will cease to exist, but foster care is going to go on for years. I would just stress to churches and Christians nationwide to consider opening your home. Let your home become a mission field.”
He continued, “[H]ere’s the thing: You talk about access to unaccompanied minors, that’s the limited access.... The most influential and life-changing opportunity to show the love of Christ is to open your home to one of these kids ... to share the gospel and demonstrate the gospel all at the same time.”
Families are needed for every age child, Mason said, while also pointing to the needs of the many 13-to-17-year-old mothers who crossed the border while either pregnant or with young babies.
Foster care, Mason said, is “where transformation can happen.... I think that’s a massive opportunity that needs to be embraced nationwide.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Myriah Snyder, who will be a senior at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky., is a summer intern with Baptist Press.)
7/24/2014 11:28:17 AM
July 23 2014 by
Myriah Snyder, Baptist Press | with 0 comments
Rick Speas, senior pastor of Old Town Baptist Church, Winston-Salem and a former president of Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), said, “I am happy announce that I will nominate Joel Stephens to the office of 2nd vice president of the BSC. I believe Joel is a dedicated servant of the Lord. He is a strong supporter of North Carolina Baptists and the Cooperative Program, and he has served our convention in many capacities already.”
Joel Stephens, senior pastor of Westfield Baptist Church, will be nominated by Rick Speas this November at the annual meeting in Greensboro.
As senior pastor of Westfield Baptist Church
, Westfield, Stephens said the church is active in reaching the surrounding community and has taken the challenge to investigate ways to impact lostness in the Piedmont Triad area through the BSC’s new strategy.
Stephens said, “Our congregation has also supported me whole-heartedly in my role as a founding faculty member of the Roma Bible Institute – a school established by North Carolina pastors to train Roma pastors in Hungary, Romania and Ukraine that partners with Baptists on Mission and Hungarian Baptist Aid. Beyond all this, Westfield gladly gives over 11% to the Cooperative Program.”
Speas believes Stephens “will bring great insight and vision to that position and to our convention. It will give me joy to stand before our convention in November and nominate him.”
Stephens received his master of divinity and a doctor of ministry degrees from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 2007, he began serving on the BSC Board of Directors and as a member of the Council on Christian Higher Education – now the Christian Higher Education Special Committee. Stephens was elected in 2009 as chair of the Christian Higher Education Special Committee placing him on the Executive Committee, also. In January 2012, he was elected to serve as the chair of the Committee on Convention Meetings, and has filled that position the past two years.
He said, “I am so excited about what God is doing through our convention, and I whole-heartedly support the new strategy and the leadership of our convention. God’s hand is blessing and moving among us in these days.”
He and his wife, Lisa, have four children: Carson, Carrie, Cooper and Cathryn.
7/23/2014 2:49:30 PM
July 23 2014 by
Ariana Castro Acuña, IMB/Baptist Press
BR staff | with 0 comments
Lynn Carter* always wanted to serve in missions somewhere in Africa but after attending the MedAdvance Conference in Rockville, Va., that may be changing.
The registered nurse from Milford, N.J., read about the conference in several newsletters and decided to attend, even though it was on her birthday. By lunch on the second day of the conference, she was questioning whether Africa was the only place she wanted to serve.
“Now, I’m thinking about Central Asia,” Carter said.
During the MedAdvance Helping Hands, Healing Hearts Conference, July 17-19 at International Missionary Board’s (IMB) International Learning Center, 144 healthcare professionals and students from across the United States came together to learn how IMB is active in health care missions, how health care strategies are being used to share the gospel across the world and how they can get involved.
Scott Holste, IMB vice president for global strategic mobilization, stressed why IMB is dedicated to health care missions: “It’s the biblical thing to do ... it’s the Southern Baptist thing to do ... and it’s the strategic thing to do,” Holste said during one of the sessions.
IMB photo by Heather Pendergraft
Lynn Carter (name changed), a registered nurse from New Jersey, looks at an exhibit at the MedAdvance conference from the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting that features people groups to pray for from around the world.
Holste cited Matthew 4:23-24 and Luke 10:1-3 to illustrate how the Bible calls for healing as well as preaching. He also referred to letters from the 19th century written by IMB missionaries who used health care in their ministries to show how the organization has been involved in health care missions from its beginning.
Skills in the medical field can provide access to people and places where traditional approaches are restricted, Holste said, adding that 40 percent of the countries in the world fall into that category.
“I really believe God has gifted each individual – whether they are a doctor, or a businessman, or a dentist – and sometimes He calls people out of their professions, but I think a lot of times, He wants to build on the passions and talents He gave them,” Holste said.
Attendees also heard from 34 of the more than 300 International Mission Board missionaries currently using health care strategies to reach their people groups. The missionaries from various affinity groups across the globe each held 20-minute sessions, telling attendees about their ministries using health care strategies and presenting them with opportunities to serve in that area of the world.
“When you are face to face and hear how God is using them, and they’re so fearless, it’s amazing,” Carter said.
One of the conference’s themes was the relationship between human needs and spiritual needs. Throughout the conference, including in 13 break-out sessions, attendees were presented with models and ideas of how they can use their medical skills to serve both people’s physical needs and spiritual needs.
“The greatest spiritual needs and the greatest health needs in the world are usually one and the same,” said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response (BGR), a key IMB partner in health care initiatives.
In addition to healthcare professionals, this year’s conference also included an unprecedented number of students. Participating were 30 students from schools across the country, such as Avalon University (Ohio) and the University of West Florida.
MedAdvance “is a really good way to connect students like me with people already on the field,” medical student Olivia Mak said.
Mak, a student from Campbell University (North Carolina), has been thinking about international missions for a while.
“I can’t think of any other way (I want to) to use my skills other than to share the gospel,” Mak said.
Originally from East Asia, she said she was encouraged when she met several family doctors serving in that region.
At the close of the conference, IMB President Tom Elliff stressed the importance of health care missions.
“A health need is just an invitation to come share Jesus,” Elliff, addressing the group, said. “God has placed in your heart and hand a tool that can get to them like nobody else that I know of.”
Attendees were given an opportunity to commit to pray for health care missions, to go on a short-term health care missions trip and to explore the possibility of career missions. Marking commitment cards, 131 attendees placed their cards on a world map, with 41 of them expressing an interest in career service.
To learn more about medical missions opportunities, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ariana Castro Acuña served as an IMB summer intern.)
7/23/2014 10:49:05 AM
Ariana Castro Acuña, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments