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Conference to reignite pastors in their calling

September 23 2014 by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor

Before the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s annual meeting Nov. 10-11, pastors will gather at this year’s Pastors’ Conference in Greensboro to learn how to flee the passions of worldly living and live content in the care of the Lord.
Based on 1 Timothy 6:11 – “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” – the theme for the conference is “The Pursuit.” Each of the lessons will invite pastors to pursue personal holiness anchored in unwavering faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.


Lawndale Baptist Church has hosted this event in the past, but this year the two-day conference will be in the Koury Convention Center on Sunday, Nov. 9, 6-8 p.m. and Monday, Nov. 10, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Josh Phillips, pastor of Cherry Grove Baptist Church in Cerro Gordo and Pastors’ Conference president, said, “I am very excited about this years Pastors’ Conference. I feel this year we have a great lineup of preachers to encourage and aid our pastors and staff members.
“As we take ‘The Pursuit’ as our theme this year, we hope our pastors and staff members will see just how important it is to pursue the calling that has been given by God.”
Lawndale Baptist Church has hosted this event in the past, but this year the two-day conference will be in the Koury Convention Center on Sunday, Nov. 9, 6-8 p.m. and Monday, Nov. 10, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Greg Heisler, senior pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Boone, said this conference is all about “pastors encouraging pastors. … All of us as pastors need the Spirit’s refreshment and refinement, and I have found that to come powerfully through the preaching of God’s Word. My prayer is that all who attend will leave with a greater sense of the eternal weight of their high calling to be pastors, and a profound sense that with the Spirit’s power and Word’s witness, they can see God move in this generation.”
Speakers include Rick Coram, founder and president of Rick Coram Ministries, Inc.; Greg Heisler; Phil Hoskins, senior pastor at Higher Ground Baptist Church in Kingsport, Tenn.; Tony Merida, founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh and associate professor of preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Bob Pitman, Southern Baptist evangelist; Robert Smith, Jr., professor of Christian preaching at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.; and Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C.
Phillips said, “Oftentimes in the ministry there are so many things competing for our time, our calling and our focus and if we are not careful, it’s easy to fall prey to some of these traps. … I pray that God will remind all of us as pastors just how vital our calling is. In addition, we pray that God will use the preaching, the times of prayer and the music to reignite some of our pastors that are on the verge of quitting.”
The conference is free to attend and registration is not required.
To find out more, visit ncannualmeeting.org/legacy.

9/23/2014 9:56:07 AM by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

D. Strawberry says ‘no’ to world, ‘yes’ to God

September 23 2014 by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q&A

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Darryl Strawberry was one of the most feared sluggers in Major League Baseball. At 6’6” he was known for his intimidating presence in the batter’s box and his extraordinary home runs.
During his 17-year career, he helped lead the New York Mets to a World Series championship in 1986 and the New York Yankees to three World Series championships in 1996, 1998 and 1999. A popular player during his career, Strawberry was voted to the All-Star Game eight straight times from 1984-1991.
As great as he was on the baseball field, he struggled for many years with a devastating drug and alcohol addiction.
In this very candid interview Strawberry tells me all about how God came to rescue him and alter his darkness forever. Now an ordained minister, Strawberry and his wife Tracy have hit a “home run” with Darryl Strawberry Ministries, and have committed to help restore the lives of others struggling to survive the game of life.


Contributed photo
Darryl Stawberry helped his teams win several championships when he was playing baseball, but he had struggles which he shares in a new book, The Imperfect Marriage.

Q: Based on your experiences with drugs, alcohol and overcoming them, what do you tell kids who are thinking about doing drugs and alcohol?
A: A success plan in life shouldn’t include alcohol or drugs. Let’s be realistic about this. Turn on the TV and look at many of the Hollywood people, entertainers and athletes and where they are right now. Drug and alcohol abuse leads you down the wrong road. It changes you as a person. The devil is a deceiver and is trying to use those destructive forces on young people in this world.
God says the truth will set you free, and there’s nothing like studying His Word. Young people: seek after God yourself, and you’ll find the truth. God loves you. He has a great passion for you and a plan for your life. For me and sports, it used to be about championships, about winning. Now it’s about eternal things, knowing God.
Q: Your wife Tracy sounds like she helped you get to the real issue – your heart problem – a spiritual problem.
A: She helped change my life. Thirteen years ago we met in a convention in South Florida. We started dating, and she went through some very hard times with me. I was saved in 1991 and knew the Bible, but I was running from God. We decided to start over, leave South Florida and go back to St. Louis.
We got married and starting walking with God together. She is remarkable, and led me back to my faith. I always tell people it’s awesome to have a great woman who loves Jesus.
Q: At Sold Out Ministry, we work with students today and warn them about the dangers of alcohol and drug use and about the importance of knowing that the only way to stay safe is to never do it the first time. But after all those years of struggling, was it the spiritual change that completely freed you?
A: You’re right. You know recovery works but it was really difficult for me to focus because of my celebrity status.
I would go to meetings and have real trouble focusing on what was wrong with me. It wasn’t until I went back to God, started attending church again that I started to understand. I began to study the Word hard, and I did that for five years. I was visiting my pastor, reading my Bible and continuing to surrender my life.
I began to do things different. I really came out of the world, and started to do it God’s way.
Q: It’s exciting to see how God radically changed your life. How can people find you and get involved with your ministry?
A: You can go online to strawberryministries.org. You can check out all the things that we do. For Tracy and I, it’s all about changing lives. It is not about us. So check this out!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roman’s Sold Out Sports Talk Radio program on American Family Radio can be heard in 200 cities nationally or streaming live at afr.net. He is an evangelist and motivational speaker. Visit his website: soldouttv.com; Facebook: Roman Gabriel III; connect on Twitter: romangabriel3rd. Contact at (910) 431-6483 or email: soldoutrg3@gmail.com.)

9/23/2014 9:11:01 AM by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q&A | with 0 comments

Old Cape Fear church is new again

September 22 2014 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Eight years ago David Barco did not know Christ and did not go to church. Today he is the youngest pastor of the oldest Baptist church in Cumberland County. He calls this an “anomaly” that gives glory to the “awesome God we serve.”
Cape Fear Baptist Church (CFBC) was constituted in 1756 and has held a reputation of effective ministry to the Grays Creek community southeast of Fayetteville. But two years ago church attendance had decreased to fewer than 20 people.
“They realized this was a make it or break it situation,” Barco said. “They knew that if they didn’t do something, these doors would close and this would just be a historic site. They took a risk with me at 24 years old.” 
As a teenager, Barco had no interest in church. But he was very interested in dating the woman who is now his wife.
“One of the rules of dating Danielle is that I had to go to church,” he said. “I hated [going to church], but I went every Sunday.” They attended Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Fayetteville where Ron Hester is pastor.


Contributed photo
David Barco stands at the pulpit in Cape Fear Baptist Church in Fayetteville. He is the youngest pastor of the oldest Baptist church in Cumberland County. The church was constituted in 1756 and has a long history of ministering to its community.


“I could tell God was convicting me, so one Wednesday night I went to talk with Pastor Hester, and I gave my life to Christ,” Barco said. “I was 19 years old.”
He began reading his Bible. “I started feeling like God was calling me to preach. I didn’t understand all of it, so I talked to Mr. Hester about it. He guided me, and I submitted to God’s call.”
Barco enrolled at Carolina College of Biblical Studies in Fayetteville. At the age of 21 he accepted his first ministry position as the youth pastor of Massey Hill Baptist Church. “I enjoyed youth ministry, and it was going real well,” he said. “The youth group grew from eight to 40. It was awesome. But I felt that God called me to pastor, and I always wanted opportunities to preach.”
When Barco heard the pulpit was vacant in another church in the area, he decided on a long shot to submit his resume.
He said, “A man from the church called me about a week later and he told me, ‘Listen, you’re too young for the job; God’s called you to be a youth pastor, not a pastor.’ I said, ‘Ouch.’ I was really bummed out about that. I thought I’m never going to get a shot at pastoring. I’m young, and no one’s going to give me an opportunity in an established church.”
In the spring of 2012 Danielle’s uncle was in a local McDonald’s when someone from CFBC asked, “Isn’t Danielle married to a minister? Can you ask him to send us his resume?”
The uncle told Barco about the conversation. “I don’t want to be any part of that,” Barco said. Knowing the church only had 15 to 20 people left, he did not believe it would be a good match. “We won’t be able to do anything. It’s a traditional church – I won’t go well with the church.”
His wife encouraged him to preach for the church. “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” she said.
Although he preached at CFBC, he was still reluctant to consider a call to serve as the pastor. “I made up my mind that I didn’t want to even try to take a chance. I would probably fail at it. I was comfortable in youth ministry.”
Barco prayed, “Lord, let Your will be done. If you want me to take this church, please show me.”

The church where he was serving had experienced financial struggles and needed to release him. Barco said. “But that was God answering my prayer.”
He weighed the options of looking for a secular job or trying to get into another youth ministry position.
“I thought, maybe the Lord wants me to take this church,” he said. “A lot of people encouraged me not to do it. Many pastors I looked up to said, ‘You’re too young for this church; it’s not going to work; the church is about to close; the church is going to die.’”
One friend explained that Barco’s philosophy of ministry would not work in an established church. He was advised to start a new church. “It is easier to give birth than to raise the dead,” his friend said.
“I thought about all of that,” Barco said. “As I read the scriptures, it occurred to me that giving birth and raising the dead are both miracles. But raising the dead is an even greater miracle, and God will get even more glory in that.”
He accepted the church’s call in June 2012. There wasn’t a youth ministry, children’s ministry or Wednesday night service.
He served bivocationally for the first year since the church could not support him full time.
“We went to the drawing board that summer, and we worked. We set as our mission ‘To lead people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ,’” he said.
“Every ministry is driven off this. We’re not going to design this church for church people, but for the unchurched. Jesus came to seek and save that which is lost. So that’s what we are about.”
On Labor Day weekend of 2012 CFBC relaunched. It was a way of making a statement to the community that the church is new and different. The congregation saw it as a new beginning point. They baptized 14 people that day.
“It’s been awesome to see what the Lord has done. We have baptized 60 people in two years – 40 of those are adults. The majority of our people did not grow up in church, and most did not go to church before they came here,” Barco said.
The sanctuary was built in 1859. It was spared destruction during the Civil War because it was used as a hospital. “When people look at the building, they think it is a traditional church – because of the old building. But the church has had a complete change.”
Barco preaches in jeans and a casual shirt.
“We have an awesome praise team and sing contemporary music,” he said. “People say a church must look a certain way to attract people, and the building needs to be relevant. I don’t believe that. When I was lost I did not want to go to any church, no matter what it looked like.”
Tina Drake leads the praise team and has been a church member for four years. “Two years ago, CFBC was a mere skeleton of the church it once was, with only a handful of dedicated members fighting to keep it alive. Now, the church is thriving,” she said. “My own teenagers refuse to miss a church service because they are so excited to participate.”
The church has averaged around 100 in attendance this year. Barco said 25-30 youth participate in a thriving youth ministry. There are Sunday School classes for all ages now, and Barco leads a class called “Starting Point” for new believers.
A small group ministry is scheduled to launch in October. He believes this will be a great entry point into the church. “I’m stoked for that,” Barco said. “I think it’s going to take us to another level. These will be in homes, restaurants, wherever they choose. They will invite their unchurched friends to join the group.”
Jamie Cottrell, the director for the small groups ministry, grew up in CFBC. “Before our relaunch, I thought it was time to be looking for a new church because the doors were starting to shut. When David and Danielle came to the church it was our last hope.” She said the relaunch brought the church together. “We want to tell the world what is going on at Cape Fear Baptist.”

9/22/2014 12:35:09 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 2 comments

Ronnie Floyd visits N.C. to pray for revival

September 22 2014 by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor

After Ronnie Floyd was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) at the June annual meeting this year in Baltimore, he expressed his desire for Southern Baptists to come together in extraordinary prayer for the next great awakening.
“It’s time for us to come together, for us to have visible union and time … in extraordinary prayer,” Floyd said in a press conference after his election. “Over the last many months, I have given my life to pastors and local churches together to practice hours and hours of extraordinary prayer for this very purpose, to see … the manifested presence of God in our lives, to see revival come to the church of Jesus Christ so that America would be awakened with a powerful God-consciousness so that great numbers come to faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.”


SEBTS photo by Maria Estes
Ronnie Floyd leads prayer in Binkley Chapel at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Arkansas and president of the Southern Baptist Convention, was on campus with Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., to call people – students, faculty, pastors and other church leaders – to prayer.

For three months, Floyd has been intentional in these efforts. Recently, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) hosted an event, “United in Prayer,” meant for students and pastors to pray for awakening and persistence in the Great Commission.
“Revival is the manifested presence of God in our lives,” Floyd said to those gathered Sept. 18 in Binkley Chapel. “Today, this Great Commission seminary is going to call out for God to … raise us up” to fulfill His mission.
Pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., Steve Gaines said the early church was birthed in a white-hot, fervent prayer meeting.
“They prayed until God showed up, and when they prayed nobody had to tell them when He showed up,” Gaines said.
“When God shows up, you don’t have to ask anybody. … A lot of people tell me that we need God in our government and we need God in our schools, but I want to tell you that we need God in our churches.”
Gaines also noted that missions happened when the early church started praying in a small, upper room in the book of Acts.
The two-hour morning session was set aside for students and professors, and an afternoon assembly hosted area pastors.
Time was allotted in each gathering for worship, teaching and prayer, which concentrated on personal and national repentance, local ministries and international missions.
Nathan Finn, associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies at SEBTS, prayed for spiritual renewal in churches and global awakening.
He prayed, “Lord, we pray that you would help us to be faithful in our going, to help us be united in our vision for the greater mission, and Father, we pray and long for that day prophesied by the prophet Habakkuk when the knowledge of the glory of the Lord would cover the entire world as the waters cover the sea.
“That’s our prayer today.”
The president of SEBTS, Daniel Akin, referenced the International Mission Board’s statistics that report approximately 3.5 million people don’t have adequate access to the gospel, whereas 1 billion have no access at all.
“The Bible says that God will respond to the prayers of His people to get the gospel to every tribe, tongue, people and nation,” Akin said.
“Might it be that the first and hardest work in fulfilling the Great Commission takes place on our knees?
“Brother Ronnie said in the beginning that [Southeastern] aspires to be a Great Commission seminary, but I’m wondering more and more if that means we must also be a praying seminary?”
Floyd plans to meet with senior pastors Sept. 30-Oct. 1 in Southlake, Texas, to continue praying for revival and awakening.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – To find out more about Ronnie Floyd’s prayer gatherings, visit ronniefloyd.com. Get updates via ronniefloyd.com/join-the-movement.)

9/22/2014 12:27:27 PM by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Embrace conference stresses boldness in evangelism

September 22 2014 by Erin Gandy, Biblical Recorder

More than 100 women from across North Carolina gathered at LifeWay’s Ridgecrest Conference Center at Black Mountain from Sept. 5-6, 2014, for the Embrace Women’s Prayer and Evangelism Retreat.
This year’s theme was “Be Bold: Standing Up for Christ in the Midst of Change.”
“We live in a changing culture, and while most of our lives have not been threatened because of the gospel message, at times it feels as though we are in the minority,” said Ashley Allen, senior consultant for Embrace Women’s Missions and Ministries for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC). “Paul is the example of one who took that mandate [Great Commission] seriously and shared the gospel in the midst of opposition. May we be found faithful to do likewise.”
The special guest speaker for the two-day retreat was Mary Jo Sharp of Houston, Texas.


BR photo by Pam Blume
Phyllis Foy, a church renewal missionary with the North American Mission Board, leads women in prayer during the Embrace Women’s Prayer and Evangelism Retreat Sept. 5-6 at Ridgecrest Conference Center.

Sharp, a former atheist who holds a masters in Christian apologetics, is currently an apologetics instructor for the North American Mission Board. She is also an assistant professor at Houston Baptist University. Worship for the weekend was led by Ashley Seagle, leader of the BeDoTell Girls’ Band, part of the BSC’s youth ministry.
Conference attendees were made aware of the BSC’s eight strategic focus teams across the state which are “committed to impacting lostness through disciple-making,” according to ncbaptist.org.
Women were asked to sit at tables that properly identified the strategic focus area in which their church was located. Tables contained facts and tailored prayer requests for their strategy area.
As a kickoff for Friday evening, women enjoyed games centered on North Carolina facts and snacked on Krispy Kreme donuts.

This was meant to foster pride in the state yet shed light on the extreme prevalence of lostness in neighborhoods and communities.
Sharp led three plenary sessions focusing on the reason for apologetics and conversational apologetics. According to Sharp, we must study our faith to “answer our own doubt which builds up our own confidence in what we believe and that changes lives.” We must be confident in what we believe in order to go out and share with others.
Sharp’s discussion on the elements of conversational apologetics provided attendees with practical tips of how to converse with nonbelievers. Sharp emphasized women must know their faith, listen to others, question and respond. In her closing remarks Sharp said 1 Peter 3:15 encouraged that “we are not out there giving good arguments to be argumentative …  this is out of love and respect for the other person.”
A question and answer time with Sharp was held during the final session. This allowed women to pose questions regarding concerns about sharing the gospel in their personal contexts.
Brian Upshaw, disciple-making team leader for the BSC, led an additional plenary session teaching the women in attendance “The Story” method. This is a simple method of sharing the story of the gospel divided into creation, fall, rescue and restoration. Upshaw said, “We are to be living the Christian life in such a way that people are asking, ‘Why do you live the way you live? Why do you believe the way you believe?’ and then we are given an invitation to share this wonderful story.”
Upshaw’s time of instruction served to provide a framework for conversations Sharp had previously encouraged women to have with others during her speaking times.
Allen hoped women would return from the retreat to their home church “feeling not only encouraged and challenged to do the ministry of disciple-making, but [that] they also felt equipped to do so” in their contexts.
Next year’s conference will be held at Caraway Conference Center Oct. 23-24, 2015.

9/22/2014 12:18:56 PM by Erin Gandy, Biblical Recorder | with 0 comments

Philippines: Baptist Global Relief feeds, heals

September 22 2014 by Caroline Anderson, IMB

A crushing wall of water from Typhoon Haiyan hit the city of Tacloban on Nov. 8, 2013. Thousands of people perished. Homes and businesses were destroyed.
The water beached cargo ships weighing several hundred tons. Water devastated Tacloban. But water also is what people need most after the storm. And water is the precious resource being provided by Christians like the ones from Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists (KNCSB).
Baptist Global Response (BGR) is partnering with Carl and Suzie Miller, International Mission Board missionaries in Tacloban, not only to provide water, but also rebuild the city of Tacloban.
Global Hunger Relief funds are making it possible.
“It’s going to take a long, long time for Tacloban,” Suzie said and starts to cry.
The city has long-term needs, “everything from getting water into their homes, to getting a home, to having their schools ready, maybe livelihood, just the whole gamut of getting people back on their feet and helping them to move forward,” Suzie said.
“For that long-haul building, it’s exciting to know that Southern Baptists are going to be here,” she adds.


IMB photo by Hugh Johnson
Wells are an essential source for inhabitants of many of the Philippines’ rural villages. Typhoon Haiyan disrupted this water supply by damaging pumping equipment of many wells and contaminating others. Restoration of these freshwater supplies is a top priority in the ongoing relief effort.


The Kansas-Nebraska convention enlisted the help of Oklahoma Baptists because of their experience in drilling wells after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. In July, a team installed two well pumps in Tacloban and in a small community on the outskirts of the city. Water4, an organization based out of Oklahoma, provided the well pumps.
Instead of bringing multiple teams from the U.S. to build and maintain the wells, Larry Thomas, former KNCSB director of disaster relief, said they enlisted help from local believers to drill the wells. In the future, they hope to see believers trained to maintain the wells.
Joey Rojero, a Filipino-American from Kansas, worked with believers from each of the communities where wells were drilled or repaired. He has been Kansas-Nebraska’s man on the ground in the Philippines since April.
One of the wells that received a water pump is on the grounds of Kalipayan Baptist Church in Tacloban.
The church’s pastor said the wells will minimize expenses for his church and the church will be able to serve the community by providing water. Wells meet a physical need in communities, but they also provide a source of income for the believers who were trained in well maintenance.
“It’s an economic blessing for life,” Thomas said.
“Speaking as a survivor, as soon as you can begin to make decisions and do things for yourself, the healing takes place a whole lot faster and that’s one of BGR’s objectives in this long-haul, is to help people from Tacloban begin to help themselves,” Suzie adds.
Though much has been accomplished through national and international relief organizations, Carl said full recovery is still a long way away.  “Long-haul healing is needed,” he said.
Though Global Hunger Relief and BGR’s involvement in disaster relief in the Philippines began in November, their work in Tacloban began in April. After the typhoon, as the world’s attention focused on Tacloban, Southern Baptist relief efforts focused on other areas not in the media spotlight.
Although the work in Tacloban is just beginning, the Millers say the assistance provided by Global Hunger Relief comes at a perfect time.
Some of the relief organizations pulled out of Tacloban in July – the same month the two well pumps were installed.
“I believe disaster relief is one of the best opportunities for people to move from I am a follower to I am a disciple-maker,’” Thomas said. “It’s going to be a catalyst to open a lot of doors.”
Global Hunger Relief funds also will be used to meet chronic needs like medical care, education and food security.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caroline Anderson writes for the International Mission Board from Asia. On World Hunger Sunday, Oct. 12, Southern Baptist congregations will address the hunger crisis across North America and around the world, many by focusing on the theme “Hunger Happens Everywhere.” Visit BGR at gobgr.org. Donations received are channeled through Global Hunger Relief, which uses 100 percent of each gift to meet hunger needs. For more information, visit globalhungerrelief.com. Donations to Global Hunger Relief can be made at globalhungerrelief.com/giving.)

9/22/2014 12:05:47 PM by Caroline Anderson, IMB | with 0 comments

Moore to Reid: Vote on relig. Freedom post

September 19 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist public policy leader Russell D. Moore has called for a U.S. Senate vote on a nominee for ambassador at large for international religious freedom at a time when people of faith are suffering greatly in many countries.

Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, urged Majority Leader Harry Reid Thursday (Sept. 18) to permit a Senate vote on the nomination of David Saperstein to the post, which has been vacant since October 2013. Saperstein is director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

The White House announced President Obama’s intention to nominate Saperstein on July 28. The Senate must confirm the nomination before Saperstein can begin serving as the country’s leading advocate for global religious liberty.

“The whole world is on fire on the issues of religious liberty and religious conflict,” Moore said. “This nomination is too important to leave hanging simply because senators want to get back on the campaign trail.

“Leader Reid controls the Senate calendar, and I strongly urge him to allow a vote, up or down” on Saperstein, Moore said in a written statement. “We need all the diplomatic and intellectual power we can muster in addressing these critical matters of human rights and global security. That should be more important than politics.”


BP Photo
Russell Moore

The Democrats are seeking to maintain their majority in the Senate, but polls indicate they will have a difficult time doing so in the Nov. 4 election. In the meantime, senators are running out of time to act on Saperstein’s nomination before voters go to the polls.

The wait for a confirmation vote on Saperstein comes as Christians and other religious minorities are undergoing persecution internationally, perhaps most notably at this time in Iraq and Nigeria.

Research shows 5.3 billion people, or 76 percent of the world’s population, live in countries with high restrictions on religious freedom from the government or groups in society.

The terrorist movement known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has committed atrocities against Christians, Yazidis and other minorities, especially in northern Iraq. Meanwhile, Boko Haram, also a militant Islamic group, has continued its reign of terror in Nigeria. In the last five years, Boko Haram has killed some 15,000 Christians and destroyed or bombed more than 200 churches, a government official has reported.

Saperstein’s testimony in a Sept. 11 confirmation hearing included some promises that likely were well received by religious freedom advocates.

According to his written testimony, Saperstein committed to a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to use his post, if confirmed, “fervently (and fiercely) to advocate for the rights of individuals to choose, change, and practice their faith safely, to end blasphemy and apostasy laws, and without government interference or the threat of violence or marginalization, to ensure that people are free and safe to assemble, worship, teach, learn, and share their faith with others.”

He also promised to attempt to “engage every segment” of the State Department and the rest of the federal government “to integrate religious freedom into our nation’s statecraft: counter-terrorism, conflict stability efforts, economic development, human rights.” Such foreign policy goals, he said, “need the stability, the security, the contributions of members of religious majorities and religious minorities, in every country, to further our nation’s values, interests and agenda.”

Saperstein strongly advocated for passage of the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 and served as the first chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the bipartisan advisory panel established by the law. He was on the commission from 1999 to 2001.

He has advocated positions opposite those of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and other pro-life and religious liberty organizations, however. Saperstein, who was a member of Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships from 2010-11, backs abortion rights. He criticized the Supreme Court’s June opinion in the Hobby Lobby case that supported the religious freedom of for-profit employers. He stood at Obama’s side as the president signed an executive order July 21 to extend workplace protections among federal contractors to homosexual, bisexual and transgender status. Other religious liberty advocates said the religious exemption in the order would prove inadequate.

Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research, said after the announcement of the nomination he disagrees with Saperstein on social and theological issues but believes he “would be a tireless, eloquent, fair-minded, effective champion” as ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

In a July 15 letter, Moore urged Obama to name an ambassador quickly and suggested Rep. Frank Wolf, a retiring Republican representative from Virginia, for the post. Suzan Johnson Cook resigned as the ambassador in October. Wolf has been a champion for global religious liberty during his 34-year House career.

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

9/19/2014 11:35:12 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Syrian refugees pass 3 million mark

September 19 2014 by Brian Andrews, Baptist Press

The Syrian crisis reached a new milestone as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees counted more than 3 million officially registered refugees driven out by the conflict tearing the Middle Eastern country apart.

As the crisis continues in its fourth year, Christian workers persevere in bringing spiritual and physical aid to the refugees and call on the church to keep praying and keep giving to these efforts.

“We have a God-given moment in history,” Don Alan,* a Christian worker in the Middle East, said. “Will we be cowards and shrink back, or will we play the role that God is calling us to? I pray that you [the church] will stand with us as we respond to this window of opportunity that we have been privileged to be a part of.”


BP Photo by Jedediah Smith
Syrian refugees cross the border from Syria to Jordan. They must wait a few hours before going to the UN camp.

The Syrian crisis began in the spring of 2011 with protests against the government that escalated into a civil war. Since then, countries surrounding Syria -- Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt -- have been flooded with Syrian refugees seeking asylum.

In the last four years, the conflict has displaced more than 6.5 million people within Syria and killed more than 150,000.

As the numbers continue to rise, workers seek to keep their focus on the individual people around them, sharing the “ with refugees as they meet their physical needs.

“Jesus said that He came to seek the lost, bringing healing to the hurting,” Alan said. “As we continue to reach out to refugees, our desire continues to be to reach out [to] one person at a time and make a difference in their life.”

However, despite efforts to focus on the individual and daily victories, the incredible scope of this conflict can sometimes seem daunting, Alan says.

“The length of the fighting and the number of refugees threatens to overwhelm not just aid agencies, but may also be discouraging us [the church] from staying involved,” Alan said.

Workers urge the church to stand alongside them on behalf of the Syrians, remembering that God has not left Syria. “From events on the ground, we are reminded daily that God is at work -- don’t lose hope,” Alan said.

As refugees continue to flee their homes, solidarity and action from the church is invaluable. The question for each believer, Alan says, is not whether they should help but how God is calling them to help.

“God reminds us often in His Word to endure, and not lose faith,” he said. “As you continue to consider what part you will play, know that God is at work and that your praying, giving and even being willing to go is part of God’s plan in reaching the Syrians.”


  • Ask God to give Christian workers perseverance and wisdom in reaching out to the Syrian refugees around them.
  • Ask God to provide workers with the resources to meet Syrian refugees’ physical needs, and open doors to share the gospel with them.
  • Pray many refugees will find their refuge and hope in Jesus.

Learn more

  • For more related stories, videos, photos and information on ways to help, go to s.imb.org/4syria.
  • Write to SyriaInfo@pobox.org to find out about short-term and long-term opportunities to work among Syrians.

*Name changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE - Brian Andrews is a writer for Baptist Press’s London Bureau.)

9/19/2014 11:24:33 AM by Brian Andrews, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Labor and witness mark summer student volunteers

September 19 2014 by Aaron Earls, Baptist Press

Thousands of World Changers and P2 Missions volunteers tackled manual labor and served with local churches this summer, often with an impact that will last a lifetime and into eternity.

A woman was able to leave her home in Tennessee for the first time in months after volunteers built a wheelchair ramp. Teams in Cleveland, Ohio, were able to restore a home that was destroyed by fire. A church plant in Philadelphia, Pa., formed a relationship with an established church and was able to secure a place to meet because of painting done by the student volunteers.

These are only a few of the stories from those who served with the two ministries of LifeWay Christian Resources dedicated to week-long short-term missions projects.


BP Photo
P2 Missions volunteers like this young woman in Philadelphia helped make numerous ministry possible this summer, church planter Alonzo Johnson says.

This summer, 12,642 World Changers participants served at 900-plus work sites doing manual labor in homes and communities. P2 Missions, previously PowerPlant, encompassed 2,865 participants who served 108 church plants.

Alonzo Johnson, a church planter in Philadelphia, said the work by a group from First Baptist Orange City, Fla., made possible the outreach that Northeast Bible Fellowship had planned for the rest of the summer.

Johnson said the church plant conducted a sports clinic and kids club at a community center the week after the Florida volunteers came to paint benches and clean the area. “The following week’s ministry would not have been possible if we did not have this group willing to do hard work and help us build relationships through cleaning, painting and just talking to people in the community,” Johnson said.

But more than serving with their hands, a special emphasis was placed on training students to share the Gospel this year, Dave MacNeill, a strategist with World Changers and P2 Missions, noted.

“World Changers has always been about using construction as an avenue into a community in order to share the Gospel,” MacNeill said. “This year, more than ever, we saw students take their evangelistic training into the communities where they were meeting a physical need while verbally sharing the Gospel of Jesus.”

That training paid dividends as, in addition to the work provided through World Changers and P2 Missions, 12,851 presentations of the Gospel were made, with 569 people making commitments to follow Christ.

The work and the Gospel presentations came together in Cleveland where Jeff Bodziony is planting Forward Church in the same neighborhood where he previously sold drugs.

A fire damaged the home of a Forward Church member, forcing her and her extended family to live elsewhere. Over the last two years, World Changers worked at the home, cleaning it out, replacing the sheetrock and plumbing, re-roofing and rewiring it so her family could return.

More importantly, however, two of her children have joined Forward Church after turning to Christ through the witness and service of the student teams.

Not only did the projects cause a lasting change for the individuals served, but also for the students who participated. A total of 402 participants professed a call to vocational ministry.

Erin Haley, member of a team from Jessieville First Baptist in Arkansas, said New Circle Church in Indianapolis gave her a greater appreciation for church plants. As a college freshman, she is now exploring and praying “about the possibility of helping with the establishment of a church.”

For Ben Trueblood, LifeWay’s director of student ministry, those moments are part of what makes World Changers and P2 Missions worthwhile. “When I hear stories from youth pastors about their students learning how to share their faith and having an opportunity to do so through one of these projects, it is a special thing,” he said. “That’s something those students will take back to their own cities and be able to make an incredible impact.”

To learn more about this year’s projects or to see plans for 2015, visit World Changers and P2 Missions.

(EDITOR’S NOTE - Aaron Earls is a writer with the communications team of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

9/19/2014 11:11:43 AM by Aaron Earls, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

BP website launches new look

September 18 2014 by Baptist Press

Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service, launched today (Sept. 17) its new redesigned website, unveiling an updated look and new features.
This is the first comprehensive Baptist Press redesign of bpnews.net since 2007, said Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. The more flexible, user-friendly design will better “position BP to communicate content in the fast-paced world of Christian journalism,” he noted.
“The old design was based on a newspaper format, reproducing a ‘daily’ in a web-based environment,” Oldham said. The updated design “provides flexibility in delivering news as it happens, expanding Baptist Press’ ability to post news through the variety of media that people utilize in their daily lives, including print, audio and video.”


The site’s new responsive design “automatically sizes to fit whatever screen size, shape or orientation individuals use to access Baptist Press, whether on their computers, smart phones, tablets or other electronic devices,” Oldham said.

Art Toalston, now in his 23rd year as editor of Baptist Press, said the website redesign is “the latest step forward in how the SBC Executive Committee has equipped Baptist Press to be the best possible news service.”
The new website “will optimize the display of our daily content of convention news, of national and international affairs, and of theology and our Baptist distinctives such as the Cooperative Program and a high view of Scripture,” Toalston said. “We have been fortunate to have excellent staffing and supportive relationships with editors, writers and photographers at the SBC entities and state Baptist conventions. Now, we will have an elevated online presence for the Christian journalism we all seek to produce. Next up within a few weeks – a BP app that will extend our cooperative reach even more.”
Providing news with a Christian perspective since 1946, Baptist Press circulates stories through the Internet for 40 state Baptist publications across the country. The news service is based at the SBC Executive Committee’s offices in Nashville. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally. BP reaches a worldwide audience of Southern Baptists, like-minded evangelicals and readers seeking faith-based content.
Among other new features:

  • Updated search capabilities designed to be more user-friendly as people search for archived material and story collections.

  • In addition to a “Latest News” tab on front page of the site, the site also includes a “Most Popular” tab that highlights the most-read stories from the last 10-15 days.

  • Various international and national stories will be accompanied with a Google map that corresponds with the story’s dateline.

  • The weather and forecast that corresponds with the reader’s location will display at the bottom of the front page of the site.

The redesign was part of a partnership between the Executive Committee’s information systems and Baptist Press teams. Both groups worked together to create an updated site that allows for smoother navigation and features a more streamlined appearance.
Chris Chapman, director of information systems for the Executive Committee, noted that the new look and feel of Baptist Press is “a refreshing update to an already informative news source for Southern Baptists. It was enjoyable collaborating with Dr. Oldham and the Baptist Press staff, who came prepared with ideas and suggestions from day one.”

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

9/18/2014 9:22:32 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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