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91-year-old longs for next mission trip

August 19 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Dorothy Lockett would like to take a second mission trip to Kenya, but at 91, her daughter won’t allow it.

Lockett’s first mission trip was to Kenya at age 83. She joined fellow members of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Herndon, Va., on a weeklong trip to Nairobi.

“I had my birthday over there. I was 83 when we went … and 84 when I came back,” she said. “I knew they were going on a mission and someone asked me, ‘Would you like to go?’ And I said yes … so, I went.”


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Photo courtesy of Dorothy Lockett
Dorothy Lockett, a member of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Herndon, Va., took her first mission trip at 83 to Nairobi, Kenya. She is now 91 and lives in Sterling, Va.  

“They were talking about going back on a trip this year and I was telling my daughter. I said, ‘I want to go back to Africa,’ and she said, ‘You’re not going;’ because I’m 90 years old, I take medication, so she says I don’t need to go,” Lockett told Baptist Press before her latest birthday. “But if I had the chance, I’d go back again.”

During Lockett’s young adulthood in Meridian, Miss., she was a member of First Union Baptist Church. The church was occupied with the turbulent civil rights struggle at the time, she said, and not focused on international missions. Lockett moved to Sterling, Va., 17 years ago to live with her daughter Eldna Smith.

“But I think now if I were able, that’s what I would like to do, and I’m sorry that I couldn’t have done more,” she said.

Lockett said she enjoyed her missions work in Kenya. The group stayed in a hotel and had a driver for local transportation.

“There was a revival, we attended it and we went out … to minister in other churches there. They split us up and different ones went to different churches,” she said. “We worshipped with them. We worshipped with a church full of women one time. It was just like being in church at home. They were listening and participating. The music was just wonderful.”

Lockett doesn’t recall the trip being rugged, but she said a stranger helped her down a steep hill.

“We supply wells for them over there. And we went to this one place where there was a well and we had to go down a steep hill. But there was a woman that came to me … and she helped me down the hill and up the hill. She stayed with me the whole time I was there,” Lockett said. “And you know, we just kind of bonded. And … I bonded with [the driver]; his name was Peter. He was very sweet to me; he’d just take care of me.”

It’s important to take mission trips, she said, “to share Christ, just to carry the Word.”

“I just believe I am led by God to do things,” Lockett said. “Everyone is shocked that I get around as well as I do. But I do good for my age.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press.)

8/19/2014 11:04:46 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



N. Korea detainee’s family pleads for release

August 19 2014 by Rachel Lynn Aldrich, WNS/Baptist Press

The family of an American man detained in North Korea for “anti-state” crimes has apologized to the country and pleaded with officials to show mercy and release him, saying in a statement that they are desperate for him to return home.

Jeffrey Edward Fowle, 56, is from Miamisburg, Ohio. His wife and three children appeared at a newscast Aug. 12, but didn’t speak. Attorney and family friend Tim Tepe acted as their spokesperson, reading their statement and answering questions while they sat nearby. He said the family was not answering questions out of fear of compromising Fowle’s situation.

The State Department re-emphasized its commitment to Fowle’s release last week, but the Obama administration has not had any success getting the North Koreans to release another American detainee, Kenneth Bae, 45, who was arrested in November 2012 as he was leading a tour group in one of North Korea’s special economic zones for foreign investors. A Christian, Bae was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for plotting to overthrow the government.

Tepe said Tatyana Fowle, Jeffrey Fowle’s 40-year-old wife, and their family are struggling to survive financially. Fowle told her on a recent phone call that he was afraid the benefits from his job at the city streets department would run out soon.

“The kids miss their dad. That’s the bottom line,” Tepe said. Tatyana “is having to be mom and dad at this point for the past three months. ... I hear the desperation in her voice to get Jeff home.”

Fowle was detained sometime after arriving in North Korea on April 29 for what the country said were hostile actions that violated his tourist status. It is suspected that he left a Bible in a nightclub in Chongjin.

Tepe said Fowle was not on a church mission, but on a vacation tour in the country.

In February, the North Korean regime released Australian missionary John Short, who was arrested earlier this year for evangelizing. Short apologized to the government and begged for his freedom on a video released to the international media.

North Korean officials said they are preparing to bring Fowle and another American detainee, Matthew Todd Miller, 24, of Bakersfield, Calif., before a court. They have not specified what actions on the part of the Americans is considered hostile or illegal. The country has also not indicated what kind of punishment they might face.

Tatyana Fowle and her three children have written to President Barack Obama to ask for his intervention. They also reached out to former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Tepe said only Bush responded, though they have received assistance from Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, and former congressman and United States diplomat Tony Hall.

The U.S. has no diplomatic ties with North Korea and no embassy there, but has offered to send a human rights envoy to Pyongyang to seek a pardon for the detainees. The U.S. State Department works with the Swedish embassy in North Korea in cases like this. A small number of U.S. citizens visit North Korea as tourists every year, something the State Department strongly discourages.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rachel Lynn Aldrich is a writer for WORLD News Service. Used by permission.)

8/19/2014 10:51:58 AM by Rachel Lynn Aldrich, WNS/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Islamic militias continue spread beyond Middle East

August 19 2014 by Fredrick Nzwili, Religion News Service

An Islamist group has gained ground in the northeastern Libyan city of Benghazi, declaring it an Islamic territory and raising fears that radical Islamist militias may spread in the rest of Africa.
 
The declaration from Libya’s Ansar al-Sharia movement mirrors the rise of the Islamic State in northern Iraq and Syria. The two militant movements share similar goals.
 
The prospect of more fighting and the possible disintegration of Libya, the country where NATO allied forces helped topple strongman Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011, sent chills throughout the nation.
 
“I think this is a risky way to go,” said Sheikh Saliou Mbacke, a Senegalese Muslim leader who is the coordinator of Inter-Faith Action for Peace in Africa.
 
“It hinges on the failure of the governments, lack of democracy and poor and unequal distribution of resources,” added Saliou.
 
These latest actions reflect the growing influence of Islamists in Africa, where militants are challenging existing governments.
 
In the Central African Republic, Seleka Islamic militants want to divide the country into an Islamic north and a Christian south. Boko Haram militants have issued a similar call in Nigeria.
 
This has put religious leaders in a bind and strained calls for coexistence, said Sheikh Juma Ngao, a Kenyan Muslim leader who is involved in interfaith actions.
 
So far, Christian leaders in Libya have vowed to stay, even if the country spins out of control.
 
“I intend to stay even if only one Christian is left,” Roman Catholic Bishop Giovanni Martinelli of Tripoli told the Fides news agency.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Fredrick Nzwili is a journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. For more than 15 years, he has written about religion, politics, peace and conflict, development, security, environment and wildlife.)

8/19/2014 10:43:08 AM by Fredrick Nzwili, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



In missions, pastor says, ‘Don’t despise small beginnings’

August 19 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Pastor James Graham of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church and his wife Gloria were heading home one May Sunday when they heard on the radio the latest news of more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls.

Pulling into the driveway of the couple’s home in Herndon, Va., Graham received a call from longtime friend James Dixon Jr., pastor of El-Bethel Baptist Church in Ft. Washington, Md.

“He said, ‘Man I think we need to go to Nigeria.’ So he said it first. And I said, ‘Man, flesh and blood did not reveal that to you.’ And so that’s how we got to Nigeria,” Graham told Baptist Press. “While the Southern Baptist Convention was taking place in Baltimore, he and I were in northern Nigeria.”

The two African American pastors have taken joint mission trips for nearly 20 years, teaching their congregations the importance of simultaneously ministering locally and internationally. Joined in Nigeria by Lincoln Brownell Jr., former president of Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary and current leader of Go Ye Ministries in Liberia, they met with 300 Nigerian Christian pastors and prayerwalked Abuja, Chibok and other northern communities.

“It was very encouraging to them,” Dixon said. “They galvanized those people just that fast. We didn’t have time to make any plans. When the Lord put it on our hearts we left; we got on a plane and left and went there.”

Islamic extremists Boko Haram kidnapped the schoolgirls in April and has led subsequent attacks on Christians and moderate Muslims, according to news reports.


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Photos courtesy of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church
James Graham, pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Herndon, Va., preaches to orphans and Sudanese refugees in Kenya.

“We knew it was risky going over there, but we just felt that we needed to go,” Dixon said. “Believe me, their lives in that northern area are in jeopardy, especially Christians over there. But they’re determined to stand together and protect themselves, and protect their faith.”

Graham, called to pastor Mount Pleasant in 1995, shared about his personal desire to help fulfill the Great Commission.

“I believe that God would have us to reach the uttermost,” said Graham, who took a church team to Haiti just two months after he began his pastorate. “And the people here have just embraced that, ever since I’ve been here.”

Throughout the years, Mount Pleasant Baptist has formed many partnerships in missions around the globe. Two of those partners have included the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board. In addition to ministry partners in the United States, Nigeria and Haiti, the church has partnerships in Kenya, Benin, Ghana, South Africa and Liberia.

Within Mount Pleasant Baptist’s diverse membership of 2,800 are African Americans, Anglo Americans and first-, second- and third-generation immigrants from about 25 countries, including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Panama, Antigua, Kyrgyzstan, Guyana, Haiti, France, Chad, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Italy, India, Kenya, Montserrat, Trinidad, Congo, Jamaica, the Ivory Coast and Eritrea, according to the church’s website.

“I think our church is what it is primarily because of two things; we serve a great God and we got great people,” Graham said. “That’s it.”

Mount Pleasant makes inroads in countries by forming partnerships with and training indigenous missionaries there. One of the church’s longstanding partnerships includes churches in Kenya. What started out 15 years ago as an evangelistic outreach to help build churches has grown to include constructing water wells in west Kenya, feeding Sudanese refugees, supporting orphanages for refugees in Juga, and efforts to serve the Pokot peoples near the Ugandan border. Mount Pleasant takes a missionary team to Kenya once a year, Graham said.

Graham participated in a significant prayer crusade in Kenya during the 2007 Kenyan political crisis. While on vacation, he saw a news report of the turmoil there. Moments later, he received a call from Dixon.

“When I heard the voice of the Lord say you’ve got to go to Kenya, I remember having this conversation,” he said. “… James Dixon calls and says, ‘Man, what you up to?’ I said, ‘Man, I’m down here on the beach … and the Lord just told me [I’ve] got to go to Kenya.’ And he said, ‘Well, who [is] going with you?’ I said this is not a church thing; the Lord just told me I got to go. He said, ‘Well I’m going.’”

Brownell, who had experienced 30 years of Liberia’s civil unrest, also called and offered to help in Kenya. Graham contacted ministry partner Moses Wang’ombe, bishop of Great Commission Churches in Kenya.

“I want you to get as many pastors and bishops from as many different tribal groups as you can,” Graham recalled telling Wang’ombe. “Set up prayer points in different areas, and we’re just going to come … and we’re just going to pray.

“That’s what we did,” he said. “We met with pastors and encouraged them and went out to Nakuru and some other places where a lot of the stuff had taken place, and we prayed. We got an opportunity to go in and pray over the area where they were holding the negotiations.”

As the three were preparing to leave Kenya, Graham expressed disappointment that the crisis continued.

“I said, ‘Lord, You done sent me here; nothing has happened.’ As soon as we said that, a guy came running around saying they signed the peace agreement. It’s those types of things that get us into countries to partner. … We develop indigenous partners and develop trust and relationships and from there we do things.”

In Liberia, Mount Pleasant has partnered with Brownell’s Go Ye Ministries to donate water wells, distribute food, and establish leadership institutes. Mount Pleasant recruited an indigenous church planting couple in Liberia, brought them to Herndon for training, housed them, provided a stipend and insurance, and recommissioned them back to Liberia to plant churches there. The church continues to send the coupl a stipend.

Mount Pleasant partnered with the Baptist General Association of Virginia, other churches and private donors to ship to Liberia about 250,000 slightly used textbooks from Virginia public schools. The books supplied 300 schools, Graham said.

Church members actively participate in missions, with teams of 8-10 people participating in three or four outreaches a year, Graham said.

“We have a lot of people exposed to missions; not as many as I’d like to see, of course. I would like to see far more. I would like to see us be able to post more young couples like we’ve done with the young couple in Liberia,” he said. “But you know we’re faced with resource challenges just like every other church, so we try to manage the resources that we do have very tightly, and just follow the lead of God.”

Mount Pleasant has funded missions using church and individual resources, incorporating cultural education into outreaches.

“The thing that we’ve seen work the best is the philosophy of, ‘If you get there, then we take care of your needs while you’re there.’ Of course, that too became very costly. We dropped back from that, but I think that we’re probably going to reinstitute that, because it helps us to mobilize people.”

For the most part, he said, members pay their own way, but the church will cover all expenses of team leaders. Churches should not let finances deter them, he said.

“I just think to whom much is given, much is required,” he said. “As God blesses you, you go ahead and bless others, and don’t despise small beginnings. Start. You can start with one person.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press.)

8/19/2014 10:23:41 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The Bibles are back: Navy lodges scuttle removal plan

August 18 2014 by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service

The Gideon Bibles are going back in the Navy’s nightstand drawers

In June, the U.S. Navy ordered housekeepers at thousands of Navy-owned guest lodges near U.S. and international bases to remove the Bibles and any other “religious materials” from their rooms. Scriptures would remain available on request.

 
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Photo courtesy of Official Navy Page from United States of America MC2 Timothy Walter/U.S. Navy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Lt. Cmdr. Jose Arana, maintenance officer for Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 9, stands at attention during a change of command ceremony in the squadron’s hangar at a Naval station.

But public outcry, prompted this week by a social media alert from the American Family Association (AFA) and protests by the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, led the brass to reverse course Friday (Aug. 15).
 
Now, the Navy’s “religious accommodation policies with regard to the placement of religious materials are under review,” Navy spokesman Cmdr. Ryan Perry wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes, the daily military newspaper. Meanwhile, the Bibles (New Testament and Psalms but no Hebrew Bible) will be tucked back into nightstand drawers.
 
AFA President Tim Wildmon rejoiced on the association’s web site: “This is great news!”
 
A letter from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) prompted the original order to remove the Bibles. The atheists proposed that the Navy offer Bibles and other texts – including an atheist treatise, “The Born Again Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible” – on request at lodge front desks.
 
“The bottom line is that the Navy’s preferential treatment of Bibles … shows an unconstitutional preference for Christianity over all other religions and over nonreligion,” Sam Grover, the atheist group’s staff lawyer, told Religion News Service Friday (Aug. 15).  “We are confident that ultimately the Navy will revise its policy to conform with the requirements of the Constitution, which each Navy service member has sworn an oath to uphold and defend.”
 
FFRF is not only pressing the Navy for change. Grover said the group has sent a similar letter to the Air Force, which removed the Bibles from its lodges in 2012 and returned them after a similar outcry.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Cathy Lynn Grossman is a senior national correspondent for Religion News Service, specializing in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics, and manager for social media.)

8/18/2014 12:44:59 PM by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Sturgis bike rally volunteers move into ‘devil’s playground’

August 18 2014 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

Closer to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally’s bar scene and with an extra three-hour nightly shift, Baptist volunteers nearly tripled the professions of faith recorded last year.

The Dakota Baptist Convention-led outreach – with its popular giveaway of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle – gave 120 volunteers from at least 20 states and Canada 3,654 opportunities to share three-minute testimonies, up from 2,141 last year, leading to professions of faith by 513 people, up from 178 in 2013.

“It was a wise decision that Garvon [Golden, DBC executive director] had, to move locations,” said Buck Hill, the convention’s missions director. “It put us deeper into the jungle, into the devil’s playground.”

This was the ninth year for the intentional evangelism ministry in which “catchers” encourage passers-by to enter an oversized venue to listen to one of the “witnesses” tell about how life changed since the volunteer came to know Jesus Christ personally. The pivotal question: “Has anything like this ever happened to you?”

The reward for listening: a chance to win a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

In previous years, the DBC’s evangelism tent was on a corner lot on Main Street across from the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and about four blocks from the center of the bar scene. This year it was indoors, one of several “vendors” under one roof. The others: a tattoo parlor, leather goods sales and the like.


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Listening to a three-minute testimony qualified Sturgis bikers for a chance to win new Harley.

Its location was strategic – across the street from a liquor store and adjacent to a bowling alley that becomes a party hub when the small town of about 6,600 residents hosts nearly a half-million bikers, wannabes and gawkers for what this year was the 74th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Less than two blocks from the evangelism venue were two of the biggest drinking establishments in Sturgis.

The majority of the rally activity extends about six blocks down each of three streets in the center of Sturgis.

“Just to show the impact we have, one guy came to us showing a faded and wrinkled playing card that we hand out, with the plan of salvation on one side and a prayer asking Jesus to be the boss of their life,” Hill said. “He asked for a new card, saying he prayed that prayer every day, and one of the volunteers asked him if he had ever made the decision to put his life in Jesus’ hands. This year he didn’t just pray the prayer; he prayed to receive Christ.

“Another guy came in with a worn-out token,” Hill continued, referring to a round token about the size of a half-dollar that had Sturgis Motorcycle Rally 2011 on one side and two websites on the other for follow up, www.sturgosbikegiveaway and www.whatsnext.com. We haven’t given them out for a couple of years. It was so faded from him rubbing it that you could hardly read the words on it anymore. That token was so important to him that he found us in the new location, just to get a fresh one.”

The stories ticked off Hill’s tongue.

“A guy who got saved early in the week brought his brother back later in the week,” the DBC missions leader recounted. “But the best story happened three times. We did a 7-10 p.m. shift this year because we knew we’d be more in the bar scene. One night nothing was happening, and about 10 minutes to 10 I said to Morgan [Medford, Dakota’s church planting catalyst], ‘Let’s wrap it up.’ But Morgan said, ‘Let’s wait a few minutes.’

“At straight-up 10 p.m., three people prayed to receive Christ,” Hill said. “The next night, the situation was reversed. It was raining and no one was out at 9 p.m., and Morgan said, ‘Let’s go.’ We were exhausted. We [Hill, Medford and volunteer Bob Clardy of South Carolina] hadn’t had more than six hours’ sleep for 10 nights in a row, and most nights it was four or five.

“But I said, ‘No, let’s wait a few minutes,’ and literally we were shutting up the tent and people were still coming in. One got saved at 5 after 10. Each night it seemed like right at 10 p.m., people were getting saved,” Hill said. “Friday night, it was 10 after 10. The catcher had told the guy we were closed but Bob [Clardy] said, ‘Let him come in.’ After he prayed to receive Christ, Bob was in tears. ‘What if I’d said no, that we were closed,’ Bob said.

“Ultimately we realized we were trying to dictate the time God could work, instead of letting God dictate it,” Hill reflected. “It was more of a spiritual battle this year than I’ve experienced the last couple of years.”

In addition to the “catchers” and “witnesses,” other volunteers assist in a variety of related tasks, including chaplains who minister to the nearly 1,000 vendors, city employees who handle the daily 55 tons of trash collected, police and fire personnel; shuttle bus drivers who transport volunteers to and from area churches where they bunk for the week and; church site workers who minister to the volunteers; and those who keep ice on hand to keep water cold for the volunteers.

Chris Riddick of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia convention, which partners with the Dakota Baptist Convention was one who served in a support role, writing a database program that will enable Southern Baptists across the nation to follow up with the names of those who made professions of faith in Sturgis.

“Each evening I was logging in around 65 names – names that were forever changed; names that would go back to their friends and family and share how God’s love was changing them,” Riddick wrote on his personal blog. “Some names would bring back their children and others to the tent so that they could hear the stories of how Christ changes lives and gives purpose.

“I heard that one stopped caring about the bike giveaway altogether and walked away saying he had received so much more than the value of a free Harley,” Riddick continued. “We made sure he was still entered.

“The stories I heard each day of people being connected to a volunteer who had been through very similar tragedies were nothing short of miraculous,” Riddick blogged. “Cancer survivors. Substance abusers. Broken homes. The abused. Military veterans who’d served in the same regiments. I sat back and watched a beautiful puzzle being assembled with pieces that were created and distributed around the globe decades ago.”

Among those who made professions of faith were people from 41 states, five provinces in Canada and one from Australia.

Two volunteers returning to Virginia – Dallas Mills and Norman Booze – were in the midst of a pack of motorcycles in West Virginia when Mills’ bike went down and Booze’s bike hit it. Mills had torn rib cartilage, broken bones and a totaled motorcycle. Booze, meanwhile, was uninjured and his bike was not seriously damaged.

It was only the second accident involving volunteers over the nine years of the evangelism ministry at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Larry Gibson of Wilsonville, Ala., was killed on a road trip in Wyoming on his way home from the rally in 2011.

Plans are already being made for the 75th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally during the first week of August 2015 and the 10th annual intentional evangelism ministry.

A million or more attendees are anticipated, according to various news reports. At least 200 volunteers will be needed for the evangelism outreach, Hill said. Registration forms are available on the ministry’s website: www.sturgisbikegiveaway.com after January 2015, but check out the Sturgis Bike Giveaway Facebook page for updates during the rest of this year.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.)

8/18/2014 12:35:05 PM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Ferguson cleanup organized by church planters

August 18 2014 by Tobin Perry, NAMB/Baptist Press

When The Passage Church partnered with local church plants to clean up a St. Louis suburb following rioting, looting and heated protests that erupted there late last week, they weren’t doing anything new.

“We bring in anywhere between 8 to 15 mission teams every summer to serve the cities of Florissant and Ferguson – putting on block parties and reaching out to the community,” Joe Costephens, who replanted The Passage five years ago on the border of the two St. Louis area suburbs, said. “So when this came up, I called some church planting buddies, and said, ‘Hey we want to bless our city, let’s do a cleanup day.’”

Thanks to social media and a growing brotherhood among Southern Baptist church planters in metro St. Louis, Costephens and his colleagues mobilized between 100 and 200 people to clean up embattled Ferguson before participating in a prayer service Aug. 13 at First Baptist Church of Ferguson.

Problems in Ferguson, Mo., began on Aug. 9 when an unarmed 18-year-old African American man was shot and killed by a police officer. After a day of relative peace the next day, a crowd grew unruly that evening and the situation turned violent with businesses looted, vehicles vandalized and confrontations with police.


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Photo from The Passage
Joe Costephens, pastor of The Passage in suburban St. Louis, talks to Ferguson, Mo., residents during a cleanup project he organized along with other Send North America: St. Louis church planters.

As tensions increased in Ferguson, Costephens connected with four other church planters he had developed friendships with through Send North America: St. Louis and Plant Midwest event, a quarterly meeting for church planters and other Christian leaders in Missouri and Illinois. The church planters mobilized their congregations to help clean up Ferguson and look for other ways to serve the community. A few tweets by one of The Passage’s members led to local news coverage and more than 100 people pitching in to help in the cleanup effort.

“What started out as a couple of church plants trying to get together to clean up the streets turned into a great turnout – 120, 150, 180, I really didn’t get a great count – from all over St. Louis,” Costephens said. “We walked the major streets of Ferguson with trash bags. People from all different ages and backgrounds picked up trash and debris off the streets just to help beautify the city.”

Costephens’ Passage Church is also helping to organize a school supply drive for residents of Ferguson, particularly those in the Canfield Green apartment complex, where the shooting took place.

Todd Genteman, a North American Mission Board church planting apprentice who is starting Apostles Church on St. Louis’ north side, participated in the cleanup project and said the Ferguson residents he met were appreciative of the group’s efforts. Residents urged visitors not to get the wrong idea of their community, saying outsiders had initiated much of the violence.

“Honestly, the response we got was overwhelmingly positive,” Genteman said. “We were walking up the streets of West Florissant, where a lot of the activities happened, picking up trash on the side of the street, helping the businesses that had been looted. And the whole day we were out there, people were driving by and honking. At bus stops, people were giving us high fives and hugs.”

Kenny Petty, an African American pastor who started The Gate in St. Louis in 2012, had opportunities to share his story with Ferguson pastors before the prayer service at First Baptist Ferguson. Petty grew up 10 minutes from Ferguson and, at age 19, watched a police officer shoot a friend multiple times in front of him. He said anger and hate grew in him stemming from that incident. Eventually Petty served time in jail, but in retrospect he said he is grateful because jail kept him from seriously hurting someone.

“I understand the anger, the hate and the violence that can come from an unredeemed heart,” Petty said. “While I was incarcerated, the gospel was presented to me – I had been antagonistic about the gospel and the Bible – but the gospel was presented to me, and my life was radically changed. That heart of hate and violence turned into a heart of love.”

Noting the lack of racial diversity in many of Ferguson’s strong churches, Petty offered pastors his help in engaging the community’s majority African American population. Petty’s church is about 20 minutes from Ferguson.

“I want to come alongside of them,” Petty said. “I want to bring some of my guys. We have plenty of young men, African American young men who are being raised up with part of their DNA to be on mission and engage the community. We’ll come out there, and we’ll help you bridge the gap.”

Send North America: St. Louis city coordinator Noah Oldham sent interns from his church, August Gate, to the cleanup effort and hosted a prayer meeting at his church Aug. 13. During the prayer meeting he explained to his congregation – and a number of visitors – how to view the Ferguson events from a gospel perspective.

“We closed with hope,” Oldham said. “We said, ‘We know, God, You’re not done here.’ We sang ‘God of This City.’ We had everyone break up in groups and pray for all the things they want to see the city become. They may not even see it as possible to see those things happen, but we asked them to be bold. People were just crying out, asking God to change the city in huge ways.”

Oldham asked Southern Baptists to pray that God would use the tensions to show people in St. Louis their need for the gospel and pray for church planters God has called to reach the city.

For more information about how your church can push back lostness in St. Louis, visit namb.net/stlouis.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.)

8/18/2014 12:23:49 PM by Tobin Perry, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



LifeWay explores sale of 14.5-acre property

August 15 2014 by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press

LifeWay Christian Resources is exploring opportunities to better utilize its downtown Nashville corporate offices, which could mean the sale of some – or all – of the 14.5-acre property, Thom Rainer said in a letter to the organization’s staff.

LifeWay is working with a consulting firm to study the advantages and disadvantages of a possible sale, said Rainer, LifeWay’s president and CEO. About 1,100 of LifeWay’s employees work in the downtown corporate offices. The organization also oversees 186 stores and 4,300 employees in 29 states.

Acknowledging that LifeWay has been located in the Music City for more than 120 years, Rainer cited demand for property in the downtown area and fewer employees now working at its corporate offices as reasons for studying a possible sale.

“... It would be poor stewardship for the organization not to explore the possibilities this situation could present for our ministry,” Rainer, said in the Aug. 1 letter.

LifeWay, he said, could sell only a portion of its property. Or, it could sell all of its downtown campus and move outside the city, either into existing facilities or begin new construction. Rainer described the possibility of moving outside of middle Tennessee as “remote.”

“... My preference is that we stay in downtown Nashville,” Rainer said.

He noted the study is in its “very beginning stages.”

“I assure you absolutely no decisions have been made, other than our commitment to use all the resources the Lord has provided us to make the maximum impact on churches and the kingdom, now and in the future,” he said.

In the letter, Rainer addressed changes in the publishing industry and why more of LifeWay’s employees now work outside of Nashville than at its corporate offices.

“Our needs have changed,” he said. “We no longer print and package our resources on the first floor of the Operations Building and then put them on a conveyor belt running under Broadway to the U.S. Post Office.

“That post office building is now an art center, our printing is done all over the country, our assembly and shipping is centered in new facilities in Lebanon, [Tenn.], and [the Operations Building] sits mostly empty. We have been unable to even lease the space.”

While LifeWay leases unused office space in its Frost Building along with the adjacent parking lot, Rainer said, hundreds of offices on its campus remain vacant. LifeWay spokesman Marty King estimated nearly one third of the facility is vacant or leased.

King declined to speculate about the value of the property. The Tennessean newspaper estimated the value at “more than $80 million.” He noted one Nashville developer called the property “a homerun site.”

Rainer said, “We have a lot of history here, and a lot invested in our property... But, times change. The needs of our customers change. So, LifeWay changes.”

It could take several months or longer before a recommendation is made to LifeWay’s trustees, Rainer noted.

“But, we might decide not to do anything at this time,” he said. “There are so many factors to consider, we simply don’t know what the final outcome will be or even what some of the alternatives might be.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shawn Hendricks is managing editor of Baptist Press.)

8/15/2014 11:13:57 AM by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



After teen’s death, Baptists pray & serve

August 15 2014 by Ben Hawkins, Baptist Press

Missouri Baptists gathered for prayer Aug. 13 before a fifth night of turbulent protests erupted over the shooting death of an African American teenager by a local police officer.

The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by an unnamed Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9 garnered national attention after the teenager’s death incited peaceful protests as well as several nights of upheaval in this St. Louis-area town.

During the night, looters broke windows, started fires and stole items from local stores. Racial tensions also came to the fore after Brown’s death partially because the Ferguson police force has only three African American officers in a community where two-thirds of the population is black.

Missouri Baptists in the area are responding to the tragedy through ministry, seeking to demonstrate reconciliation in Christ. First Baptist Church in Ferguson opened its doors on Aug. 13 for a citywide prayer service. The downtown church is located near the police station and a couple miles from the center of protests.

First Baptist pastor Stoney Shaw said residents of Ferguson were joined by Missouri Baptists from nearby towns in praying for peace and unity. Among other churches involved in the service were The Gate Church of University City and The Passage Church of Florissant.

The interracial prayer service exuded a spirit of reconciliation, with participants recognizing the need to love and understand one another, Shaw said.

Earlier in the week, First Baptist released a statement regarding Brown’s death and its aftermath.

“The pastors and members of the First Baptist Church of Ferguson wish to extend our heartfelt sympathy and prayerful support to the family and friends of Michael Brown, who tragically lost his life on Saturday,” the statement read. “We stand with the civic and religious leaders of our city in asking for calm and understanding from everyone impacted by this young man’s death. And we add our voices in calling for a complete, unbiased, thorough and transparent investigation concerning the events that led up to this tragic loss of precious life.

“For now, we pledge to pray diligently for everyone involved,” the statement continued. “We ask that everyone join us in praying for peace and unity as we go through this difficult time together. And we stand ready to assist our community in any way possible to bring peace in the wake of this horrible tragedy.”

The St. Louis Metro Baptist Association also organized an Aug. 13 prayer service hosted by Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in North St. Louis. They prayed for Brown’s family and for peace in Ferguson, director of missions Jim Breeden reported, and they prayed that God would empower local Christians to transform the greater St. Louis area with the gospel message.

Some Missouri Baptists have already displayed this message by helping to clean Ferguson storefronts that were damaged by looters in the aftermath of Brown’s shooting.

“We want people to know that heart-change comes through Jesus and through what He did on the cross,” said pastor Joe Costephens of the Passage Church in Florissant, who served in the cleaning project on the morning of Aug. 13 and participated in First Baptist Ferguson’s prayer service that evening.

“We know that in the end all things will be recreated, but in the meantime He has called us to be His hands and feet and to be agents of redemption. Through us, His Spirit will bring about change. … It is not what we do. It is what He does in His timing.”

The story about Brown’s death and its aftermath has drawn widespread media attention and comments from both state and national leaders as well as from some Southern Baptist entity heads.

Posting photos of the nightly unrest on Twitter, some media outlets have compared Ferguson’s situation to the present discord in the Middle East. The Dallas Morning News commented on the “militarization” of Ferguson’s police force and the Baltimore Sun reported that demonstrators in Baltimore have connected Brown’s death with the Trayvon Martin case in Florida.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama urged people to react to Brown’s death in “a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” And in Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon commented, “The worsening situation in Ferguson is deeply troubling and does not represent who we are as Missourians or as Americans.” Additionally, Missouri Speaker of the House Tim Jones expressed his condolence to the Brown family and his confidence that justice will be served.

“Everyone deserves a clear picture of what led to this situation,” Jones said, “and I am hopeful that the local and federal investigations will produce a transparent, complete picture of all the facts that led to this tragedy.”

Among Southern Baptist leaders who have commented on the unrest surrounding Brown’s death, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., called his listeners to avoid hasty judgments.

“This is one of those situations that, as the attorney general of the United States made clear, requires everyone to stand back and let law enforcement do its work,” Mohler said in his audio program, The Briefing, on Aug. 12. “At this point, we just need to follow the attorney general’s advice and stand back and let the law enforcement officials – especially now at the federal level – do their job.”

Additionally, noting that circumstances surrounding Brown’s death remain unclear, Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the tragedy brings to light “the myth of a ‘post-racial’ America.”

“The simmering tensions in this town, following the shooting of an unarmed teenager, ought to remind the body of Christ of our responsibility to model reconciliation in Christ,” Moore said. Christians should not only cry out against the evil of racism, he said, but also should display gospel-centered love and reconciliation in their congregations.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ben Hawkins is associate editor of The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)

8/15/2014 11:05:01 AM by Ben Hawkins, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



New think tank launched to help churches

August 15 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention's ethics entity has introduced a newly configured think tank to equip Christians and churches to address moral and cultural issues.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) announced Monday (Aug. 11) its new Research Institute made up of Southern Baptist scholars and leaders. The think tank is a newly designed version under the leadership of ERLC President Russell D. Moore of the previous Research Institute inaugurated by the ethics entity in 1999.

The Research Institute's purpose is to help the ERLC in its work by generating materials to help churches engage ethical and religious freedom issues. The ERLC's wide span of responsibilities includes homosexuality and same-sex marriage; abortion and other sanctity of life issues; domestic and international religious liberty; and race relations.

The institute's collection of 70 fellows in four categories includes representatives of all six SBC seminaries; various Southern Baptist colleges, state conventions and churches; public and Christian universities; and organizations such as the American Center for Law and Justice and the Heritage Foundation.
 

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The Research Institute's purpose, Moore said, "is to be a catalyst to connect the agenda of the Gospel to the complex questions of the day -- and to do so at the highest levels of academic scholarship for the good of local congregations. I am thrilled to get to work together with an exceptionally gifted band of scholars and leaders as we seek to be a persuasive, prophetic witness engaging the academy and equipping the church."

Joining Moore as senior research fellows of the new institute are: Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; David Dockery, president of Trinity International University; Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University; Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and ERLC president emeritus; Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary; R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Greg Thornbury, president of The King's College; Thomas White, president of Cedarville University; and David Whitlock, president of Oklahoma Baptist University.

The institute also has 32 research fellows, 10 research fellows in Christian ethics and 16 associate research fellows.

Barrett Duke, the ERLC's vice president for public policy and research, directs the Research Institute. Andrew Walker, the ERLC's director of policy studies, is the institute's associate director.

The new institute, Duke said in written comments for Baptist Press, "comes along at a crucial time for our churches. With our culture nearing crisis mode on many moral fronts, church leaders and laymen alike will be confronted with some challenges the church has not had to address since before the founding of this country. Other challenges are ones the church has never had to address before."

"Many of the finest thinkers and practitioners in Southern Baptist life have agreed to help us come alongside the church to offer biblically sound, culturally relevant, practical guidance for God's people as they work, witness, and love," Duke said.

Walker told BP in a written statement, "Southern Baptists have an arsenal of intellectual firepower at their disposal. The [institute] is primed to be a central bank of sorts, to organize and channel those resources in a direction that furthers intellectual reflection, while aimed at resourcing the local church."

Many of the fellows with the new think tank also served with the previous institute. As senior fellows, Midwestern Seminary's Allen and Oklahoma Baptist University's Whitlock are new to the institute.

"On issues of cultural engagement, Christian ethics and religious liberty, the ERLC not only leads Southern Baptists but has also taken a leadership role in the broader evangelical world," Allen said in a statement for BP. "The Research Institute is integral to the ERLC's mission, and I'm proud to serve as one of their senior research fellows."

Whitlock told BP in a written statement, "I'm honored to be a part of the ERLC's Research Institute and believe the fellows will provide valuable support and input on many of the most important ethical and religious liberty issues of our world. My hope is to be a convictional and winsome voice on the important issues of our day."

The Research Institute will hold its 2014 meeting in conjunction with the ERLC National Conference, which will be Oct. 27-29 in Nashville. The conference is titled "The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage."

Information on the institute, including the names of the fellows, is available at http://erlc.com/institute.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

8/15/2014 10:45:42 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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