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SBTS hosts historic Spanish-language conference

March 10 2014 by RuthAnne Irvin and Jairo Namnun, SBTS

Southern Seminary’s 9Marks at Southern conference looked and sounded different this year, as the seminary hosted its first-ever conference entirely in Spanish. A Feb. 27 Hispanic pastors’ conference was held in conjunction with the annual two-day 9Marks conference for pastors. Miguel Núñez, Dominican pastor, author and host of a popular TV show, broadcast in 20 countries, spoke at the conference, along with other pastors.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the Hispanic pastors’ conference pointed to the need and desire for outreach to the Hispanic and Latino communities.
“Southern Seminary was honored and extremely pleased to host this conference for Spanish-speaking pastors, and we were quite honestly overwhelmed with the turnout,” Mohler said in an interview about the new addition to the regular 9Marks conference. “It went far beyond anything we could have imagined. It just points to the need for Southern Baptists particularly, and evangelicals more generally, to have an intensive, strategic outreach to the Hispanic and Latino community.”

SBTS photo
Dominican pastor Miguel Núñez speaks Feb. 27 at a first-ever Hispanic pastors’ conference at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. The conference was held in conjunction with the annual 9Marks Conference.

Furthermore, he said, the mission field “demands that we get serious, and we get serious fast, about joining hand-in-hand with Hispanic pastors and Christian leaders to be faithful to Christ,” noting as an example that 25 percent of Chicago residents were born in Mexico, making the United States a prime place to minister to these communities.
9Marks, a ministry of Capitol Hill Baptist Church based in Washington, D.C., helps educate and train pastors to minister in local churches. The organization emphasizes “nine marks” of a healthy church – preaching, biblical theology, the gospel, conversion, evangelism, membership, discipline, discipleship and leadership – through resources and events like the 9Marks at Southern conference.
The Hispanic pastors’ conference coincided with this year’s 9Marks at Southern conference. The event focused on pastors and their understanding of biblical theology. Pastors need to understand the different parts of Scripture in order to know the whole of Scripture and to know God accurately, according to speakers at the Feb. 28-March 1 event.
Speakers included 9Marks founder and senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Mark Dever; Mohler; G.K. Beale, professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia; David Helm, lead pastor of the Hyde Park congregation of Holy Trinity Church in Chicago, Ill.; Christian hip-hop artist Shai Linne; and Michael Lawrence, senior pastor at Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, Ore.
More than 130 participants from across the U.S. attended the Hispanic pastors’ conference, which featured several prominent Hispanic pastors, including Núñez and Juan Sánchez.
The seminary streamed the conference live online, which was viewed by people around the world. This included more than 800 online viewers from countries like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Spain, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Peru, Canada, Ecuador, Sweden, Uruguay, Brazil, Netherlands, Australia, India, Norway, Paraguay, Singapore and Bolivia.
Núñez, senior pastor of the International Baptist Church in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, led a plenary session emphasizing the first “mark” of a healthy church, according to the 9Marks formula, which is biblically-based, expository preaching.
He expounded on the need for preaching in churches that is not divorced from the text or man-centered, but God-centered and gospel-saturated. Christians are sustained and grown through God’s Word, he said, which is why biblical preaching is essential to a healthy church.
“The church is sustained by the Word of his power,” Nunez said. “Our lives are sustained by his Word of power. What causes people to be born again is the action of the Word – not the skills of the preacher, not the way we present the message, not the audiovisual resources, which we use and love. It’s the Word of his power.”
Sanchez, pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church, in Austin, Texas, led a session about three more of the nine marks of a healthy church: leadership, discipline and membership. He said what God is doing in churches right now is great and the miracle of the gospel is the unity of Christians from around the world.
“The miracle of the gospel is not that Mexicans and Cubans and Puerto Ricans can be together in one room,” Sanchez said. “All that takes is a football game. The wonderful thing is that Mexicans and Cubans and Puerto Ricans are together as brothers and sisters. That’s wonderful. And right there you can see God’s wisdom that brings people who were enemies and are now together at the Lord’s table.”
The event also featured several other speakers and panel discussions, including Southern Seminary missions professor M. David Sills. Attendees received a copy of the newly released Spanish language edition of A Guide to Expository Ministry, published by SBTS Press.
Southern Seminary student Chris Wong said the conference encouraged him as someone of Peruvian descent.
“It’s just an encouragement to see so many pastors here from different parts of the U.S. – the fact that they’re very zealous to do God’s work,” Wong said.
Another attendee who drove from where he pastors in central Alabama, Antonio Inestroza, said he came to the conference to learn more about pastoral ministry in the Hispanic community.
“I came because I was interested in the development of Hispanic pastoral ministry in the United States. I thank God for these opportunities,” said Inestroza, who has pastored for 42 years.
And Josué Cardoso, originally from Cuba, traveled to the conference from Houston, Texas, where he serves in the Colegio de Estudios Biblicos de Houston (school of biblical studies). He came to the conference to get involved with 9Marks and to prepare for ministry.
“It is our purpose that the Latin community in Houston be better prepared. In the midst of so much confusion and many strange currents inside the church, we need to prepare better the leadership of the Latin community in the south of the U.S.,” he said.
Audio and video from both the Spanish-language conference and the English-language conference are available online at sbts.edu/resources.
3/10/2014 11:51:19 AM by RuthAnne Irvin and Jairo Namnun, SBTS | with 0 comments

BSA closer to gay leadership, Easley says

March 10 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The Walt Disney Company is playing into the hands of Boy Scouts of America by cutting donations to BSA, giving the Scouts greater public leverage to accept gay leaders, Atlanta area pastor Ernest Easley said today (March 7).
Disney in February joined a growing list of companies who have cut financial support to BSA because of the Scouts’ ban on openly gay leaders. Such pressure will make it easier for BSA to open Scout leadership to gay men, said Easley, pastor of Roswell Street Baptist Church and chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.
"Walt Disney has [apparently] done," what the Boy Scouts wanted, Easley told Baptist Press. "They’ve done them a favor in putting more pressure out there for the Scouts to come back later on and say, ‘Here’s the deal. Walt Disney’s cut us.... We have no choice than to let the [gay] men be part of this.’"

  BP file photo by Bob Carey

BSA voted last May to allow openly gay youths to become Scouts beginning this year, but retained a Scout prohibition on gay leaders that survived a 2000 Supreme Court challenge. BSA’s national membership has dropped 6 percent in the past year, although the group doesn’t attribute the numbers to the policy change.
"I think it’s part of [the Boy Scouts] strategy," Easley said. "... Why open the door to it? They knew that in May it was such a hot issue that they could not go all the way and let [gay] men be leaders in that organization. But they knew it was a matter of time."
Disney does not give direct donations to the Scouts, but Disney’s VoluntEARS program allows its employees to do volunteer work in exchange for cash donations to the charities of their choice. Employees taking part in the VoluntEARS program will no longer be able to submit the funds to BSA, Disney said Feb. 28. The change goes into effect in January 2015.
Disney did not release any data to show how much money has gone to the Scouts through the VoluntEARS program. But Easley, whose church stopped hosting Scout troop meetings because of the inclusion of gay Scouts, said the issue is about promoting the inclusion of gay Scout leaders, not about money.
"I don’t really think it’s a money issue. I think it’s the principle of it," Easley said. "I think that you’re going to continue seeing an effort from individuals and corporations to pressure them into taking the final step that [BSA] started in May of allowing homosexuals to be adult leaders in their organization.
"You’re going to have legislation, you’re going to have corporations, you’re going to have influential individuals continuing to put pressure on them," Easley said. "And my guess is as I said last year, it’s going to happen. I think they want it to happen, the Scouts."
Companies that have cut funding to BSA because it excludes gay leaders are Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar, Major League Soccer, Merck, Intel and UPS, said Scouts for Equality, a national group fighting for the inclusion of gay Scout leaders. Scouts for Equality applauded Disney.
"We’re never happy to see Scouting suffer as a result of the BSA’s anti-gay policy, but Disney made the right decision to withhold support until Scouting is fully inclusive," said Eagle Scout and Scouts for Equality co-founder Zach Wahls, the son of two lesbian parents. "Scouts for Equality will continue to advocate for a fully inclusive membership policy, to help build a stronger Scouting community that is eligible for the support of Corporate America."
Other moves in the fight to open Scouting to gay leaders include the anticipated litigious fight on behalf of Pascal Tessier, a gay 17-year-old Maryland boy who in February was awarded Eagle Scout status, the highest ranking. At 18, he will be ineligible for Scout participation.
"On my 18th birthday, I’m planning on applying to be an adult leader for the Boy Scouts so that we push the issue," Tessier has said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/ editor.)
3/10/2014 11:41:27 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Green family Bible museum closer to opening

March 10 2014 by Baptist Press

A yet-to-be-named Bible museum owned by Hobby Lobby’s Green family moved one step closer to its anticipated 2017 opening in Washington, D.C., with the hiring of two top-level management executives.
The Museum of the Bible, a nonprofit organization that will oversee the museum, hired David Trobisch as director of the museum’s collections and Steve Bickley as vice president of marketing, finance and administration, according to a March 6 news release.
The museum, which will focus on the story, history and impact of the Bible, will be located in a reconstructed 400,000-square-foot space that formerly was the Washington Design Center, just three blocks from the U.S. Capitol.
Housed in the museum will be a collection of 40,000 ancient biblical texts and artifacts, including one of the world’s largest private collections of Dead Sea Scrolls and the earliest surviving New Testament texts in Jesus’ household language.
Steve Green, museum chairman and president of the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts retail chain, lauded Trobisch’s expertise as an independent Bible scholar who consults with the American and German Bible societies.
“When we looked in the academic community for ... a scholar to lead our acquisition and research efforts, David Trobisch was mentioned time and again as someone who is a very skilled, distinguished scholar,” Green said. Trobisch will advise on new acquisitions, identify the storylines for the museum’s exhibits and supervise a team of 30 scholars and curators.
Bickley had been executive vice president of marketing and business development for Bell Media, Canada’s largest media company.
Developing a museum to educate the world about the Bible is an important move, Green has said.
“We have probably the most ignorant population we’ve ever had in our society [about the Bible] because it’s been taken out of our schools,” Green said. “We want to be able to, in a simple way, explain to them, ‘Here’s what the Bible is.’ Ultimately, it’s about the fact that we are sinners, we need a Savior and Christ was that. And He came to die for us that we might have life.”
Green is owner of the world’s largest private collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts, and he only began the endeavor in 2009. He believes the Bible is “the most incredible book ever written” and that it has “had the greatest impact on our society of any other book.” He plans for the museum to tell the story of the Bible in a solid, academic way.
Until the museum opens, the Green Collection is featured in the worldwide traveling exhibition “Passages.” The 14,000-square-foot interactive multimedia exhibition includes rare biblical manuscripts, printed Bibles and historical items including ancient biblical papyri, portions of the Gutenberg Bible and multiple first editions of the English Bible through the King James Version.
A spokesperson for the Green Collection said the family amassed the collection “not to lock it away for safekeeping or tuck into a think tank but to share it with the world. They don’t consider themselves collectors. Their goal is to make the history, scholarship and impact of the Bible accessible to everyone.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach.)

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3/10/2014 11:33:14 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Missionary loses ALS battle, dies at 43

March 10 2014 by Don Graham, IMB/Baptist Press

Mary Harper* didn’t want to fight anymore. For months, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) had gradually robbed her body of muscle and strength. She resisted with exercise, dietary supplements and prayer.
But now, sitting in a wheelchair in the family’s kitchen near Springfield, Mo., the 43-year-old mother of two was ready to yield. The disease had won. ALS had finally crushed her spirit.
“I’m tired,” Mary told her husband, John,* as tears began to stream down her cheeks. “I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of y’all seeing me suffer.”
Until that moment, there had been hope for a miracle. That God would heal Mary, or at least, stop the disease’s progression. But as John listened to the weariness in his wife’s voice, suddenly he knew – the woman he had loved for the past 21 years was going to die.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Eight years ago, the Harpers uprooted their family and moved to a spiritually dark corner of Central Asia to spread the gospel as Southern Baptist missionaries. By 2012, they were entering the prime of their ministry. That’s when ALS changed everything.
Forced to return to the United States, Mary was given three to five years to live. But she worried she wouldn’t last that long. Instead, she asked God for a single “good year” – enough time to transition her family back to America and teach her teenage daughters, Lindsey* and Jessica,* how to make a home without her.

IMB photo by Paul W. Lee
Alone in his bedroom, John Harper (name changed) dresses in preparation for the funeral of his wife of 21 years. Mary Harper (name changed), 43, died after an almost two-year battle with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. “I remember the first night I had to go to bed alone,” John said. “I wept and I wept and I wept.”


Cruel disease

ALS is a cruel disease. It attacks the nerves responsible for muscle movement, gradually paralyzing the body while sparing the mind. Many ALS victims eventually become “trapped” in their own bodies, unable to move, eat or even speak.
Mary’s symptoms began with twitching in her arm and shoulder. By April 2013, she had lost the use of her right arm completely. She was growing weaker, too, and tired easily. Even small tasks, like putting away dishes, were a challenge. Soon, cooking, cleaning and laundry were all handed over to Lindsey, Jessica and John.
“She had such a servant’s heart,” John said. “But she wasn’t able to serve. She had to be served.”
Mary’s condition continued to deteriorate rapidly. It was November 2013 when she told John she was tired of fighting. By then Mary could no longer dress, bathe or even use the bathroom by herself. She wore a scarf to hide the dramatic muscle loss in her neck and chest.
“She didn’t want to go some places because I would have to feed her,” John said. “It was embarrassing to her. She didn’t want people to remember her that way.”
ALS even took away simple pleasures. When they went to bed, Mary would often fall asleep with her head on John’s chest and her arm across his waist. But her muscles were now too weak to hold that position without straining. So they held hands instead.
“It just killed me. It really hurt [to see her suffer],” he said. “She never complained about her inabilities. She got frustrated at herself ... [but] not mad at God.”

Mary’s homecoming

On the morning of Jan. 20, 2014, Mary was having trouble breathing. She couldn’t seem to get enough air and felt like she would faint. She began choking sporadically. John was frightened.
“I asked her three times, ‘Do you want me to call you an ambulance?’” he said. Each time she answered, “Why?”
“I think she knew she was going to die that day,” he said. Mary’s parents were already at the house; John’s brother rushed to school to pick up Lindsey and Jessica. John was worried they wouldn’t make it in time, but Mary held on.
Family and close friends came to say goodbye, too. They held Mary’s hand, kissed her forehead and cried as she struggled to breathe. Ahsan* and Iman,* the Harpers’ closest friends and ministry partners in Central Asia, called to pray with her.
“Go be with your God,” John remembers telling Mary through his tears. “Quit fighting. Quit struggling.”
As more time passed between breaths, her eyes closed. “Heaven is such a beautiful place,” she said. Those were Mary’s last words. She lost consciousness and died soon after.
“Blessed be the name of the Lord. Though He slay me, I will trust in Him,” John cried out as he wept over her body. “And I kept saying, ‘My sweet Mary. My sweet, sweet, Mary.’ Because she was so sweet. Everybody loved her. She was easy to love.”
People filled the church in Ozark, Mo., for Mary’s funeral. Many shared stories with John of how Mary had personally impacted their lives, often with the truth from the Bible.
“Great is Thy Faithfulness” was sung at her request. “That was her testimony through all of this; that God had been faithful,” John said. “Even in death, she is still sharing the gospel.”

Looking ahead

Today, the Harpers are learning to live with the hole left by Mary’s absence. It’s hard, but they’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support they’ve received. People they barely know have brought meals, helped clean their house, even given special “love gifts,” like a box of shotgun shells so Jessica could go hunting. Not to mention dozens of cards and letters from believers across the country offering encouragement and prayer.
John said some of the changes just feel weird – like sleeping alone or not knowing whether to mark “married” or “single” on the visitor’s card at his new church. “I just left it blank,” he said.
He misses Mary’s “beautiful green eyes,” practical wisdom and ability to “straighten him out” with a single look. “Every weakness I had was her strength, and every weakness she had was my strength,” he said. “And I will miss her until the day I die.”
What will be hardest, he thinks, will be watching his daughters grow up without Mary by his side. “She won’t get to see the godly young ladies they are going to become,” he said.
But he can’t dwell on his grief. He’s got a family to raise and a new job to find. He doesn’t know whether he’ll ever return to Central Asia, but that won’t stop him from sharing the gospel. That calling has not changed.
“I have absolutely no idea what the future holds,” John said. “I think everybody is going to be amazed at what God can do with a hillbilly like me.... Our story isn’t over.”

*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham is an International Mission Board senior writer. To view additional photos and a message by John Harper, go to:
3/10/2014 10:41:18 AM by Don Graham, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bill Gothard resigns following abuse allegations

March 7 2014 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

Bill Gothard, an Illinois-based advocate for home schooling and conservative dress who warned against rock music and debt, has resigned from the ministry he founded after allegations of sexually harassing women who worked at his ministry and failing to report child abuse cases.
Gothard’s resignation from the Institute in Basic Life Principles, according to a letter sent to families affiliated with the ministry he founded, comes a week after he was put on administrative leave. According to an organizer involved in the whistle-blowing website Recovering Grace, 34 women told the website they had been sexually harassed; four women alleged molestation.

Photo courtesy of Institute in Basic Life Principles via Wikimedia
Bill Gothard founded the Institute in Basic Life Principles.

RNS spoke with several women who alleged they were sexual harassed, including one woman who alleged that Gothard molested her when she was 17.
Gothard is 79 and single.
Gothard told the Board of Directors he wanted to follow the New Testament command to listen to those who made accusations against him, according to an email sent from David Waller, administrative director of the Advanced Training Institute to families involved in the ministry.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus directs his followers to “go and be reconciled” if “your brother or sister has something against you.”
“To give his full attention to this objective, Mr. Gothard has resigned as president of the Institutes in Basic Life Principles, its Board of Directors, and its affiliated entities,” Waller’s email said.
Waller said the two institutes will continue under interim leadership, including upcoming conferences in Nashville and Sacramento under ATI president Chris Hogan.
Gothard’s ministry had been a popular gathering spot for thousands of Christian families, including the Duggar family from TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting.” Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute conferences were also popular among families within the Quiverfull movement, who eschew birth control and promote big families.
Gothard has also rubbed shoulders with Republican leaders. He and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee were photographed at a campaign lunch together; former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue spoke at one of Gothard’s conferences; and Sarah Palin, when she was a small town mayor in Alaska, attended his International Association of Character Cities conferences declaring  Wasilla among Gothard’s “Cities of Character.”
The allegations against Gothard dovetail with financial woes. In recent years, IBLP’s net revenue has dropped significantly, and the ministry is losing money. Between 2009 and 2012, it lost $8.6 million. Its net assets dropped from $92 million in 2010 to $81 million in 2012. It held 504 seminars in 2010, but that number dropped to fewer than 50 in 2012.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sarah Pulliam Bailey joined RNS as a national correspondent in 2013. She has previously served as managing editor of Odyssey Networks and online editor for Christianity Today.)
3/7/2014 12:41:38 PM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Criswell’s preaching honored by seminaries

March 7 2014 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

W.A. Criswell’s noted expository preaching is being honored in academic chairs at four Southern Baptist seminaries to model for new generations the verse-by-verse teaching that led thousands to Christ during his lifetime.
The W.A. Criswell chair for expository preaching was installed at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in January and was established at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary last fall. Two more chairs, at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, have not been formally announced.
At Southeastern, Jim Shaddix, professor of preaching and a teaching pastor at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., was installed in the new chair.
Jack Pogue, a close friend of Criswell’s and chairman of the W.A. Criswell Foundation, is establishing the academic chairs. The foundation’s aim, Pogue said, is to be involved in winning people to Christ through preparing pastors, missionaries, church workers and laypeople to lead people to Jesus.
Pogue, a Dallas commercial real estate broker, told Baptist Press the word “expository” is the key component of the academic chairs in Criswell’s honor.

Photo courtesy of Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives
W.A. Criswell, delivering a presidential address at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1970, was known for preaching the Bible verse-by-verse. Academic chairs are being established in his name at four SBC seminaries.

As Criswell, who helped return the Southern Baptist Convention to its conservative roots and died in 2002, traveled the country preaching, pastors would ask him, “How do you know what you’re going to preach on next Sunday?” Pogue said. “We wake up on Monday morning and have no idea what we’re going to preach on.”
Criswell’s reply, Pogue said, would always be the same: “It’s very easy. I’m an expository preacher, so I start at the first passage in a book of the Bible, and I preach verse by verse all the way through that book. So I don’t have to worry what to preach the next Sunday. I just preach on the next verse from where I ended my previous sermon.”
Pogue said of Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas for 50 years, “He preached through the entire Bible one time. It took him 17 years and eight months. He started at the first verse of the Book of Genesis, and he preached verse by verse by verse by verse all the way through the Bible.
“Dr. Criswell said, ‘Where I would leave off Sunday morning, I would start at the next verse on Sunday night. Where I would leave off Sunday night, I would start at the next verse the next Sunday morning. I never have to worry about what I’m going to preach the next Sunday. It will be just the next verse.’”
“After he got through preaching through the Bible, he’d start at different books in the Bible, and he would preach verse by verse all the way through that book,” Pogue said. “He said these young pastors worry about what they’re going to preach, but if they do expository preaching, they don’t have to worry about what they’re going to preach. They just preach the next verse from where they ended the previous sermon. I think it’s a great lesson for young preachers.”
In announcing the expository preaching chair at Southeastern during the seminary’s spring convocation, President Daniel Akin said Pogue “is a dear friend and a wonderful brother. I thank God for how he has been used in our Lord’s work.”
Criswell and Pogue had “a father-son relationship,” Akin said, “and Jack has done a tremendous job in honoring and perpetuating the legacy of Criswell.”
“If not for men like Dr. Criswell, you would not be here today,” Akin told the convocation.
The announcement of the chairs at Southeastern and Southern was accompanied by a video of Criswell’s sermon “Whether We Live or Die,” delivered in 1985 at the Pastors’ Conference preceding the SBC annual meeting in Dallas during the Conservative Resurgence.
Shaddix, who now occupies the sixth SEBTS chair installed in the past 10 years, said, “I was there in 1985 as a seminary student when Dr. Criswell gave this address. It opened my eyes to become aware of what was going on and the need to stand on God’s Word and preach it faithfully with integrity.”
Being named to the chair, Shaddix said, “is the greatest honor, encouragement and affirmation in my life in ministry.”
Criswell’s 1985 sermon highlighted “the promise of renaissance, resurrection and revival” in Christ versus the “pattern of death for a denomination, the pattern of death for an institution, the pattern of death for a preacher and a professor” in theological liberalism.
Criswell also encouraged the audience to “never turn aside from [God’s] great high calling to preach the whole counsel of God, warn men of their sins and the judgment of God upon them, baptize their converts in the name of the triune Lord, and build up the congregation in the love and wisdom of Christ Jesus.” He added, “Just keep on winning souls to Jesus!”
Pogue established the first academic post in Criswell’s honor nearly two decades ago at the Criswell College he founded in Dallas, naming it the W.A. Criswell Chair of Expository Preaching.
Pogue is the “custodian” of the Criswell legacy that has benefited thousands of ministerial students, said Susie Hawkins, a former Criswell College trustee. “As one of those, I am eternally grateful for Jack’s love for the Word and how he so generously has given of his time and resources to expand the extraordinary teaching/preaching ministry of Dr. Criswell.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
3/7/2014 12:19:16 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Moore, others urge religious liberty promotion

March 7 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention’s lead advocate for religious freedom has called on two conservative Republican senators to permit a vote on legislation designed to protect adherents of minority faiths in such countries as Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria.
Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and Richard Pates of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) asked Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mike Lee of Utah in a March 4 letter to lift their hold on a bill that would authorize presidential appointment of a special envoy to promote religious freedom in the Near East and South Central Asia. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed similar legislation in September with a 402-22 roll call, but the hold placed reportedly by Coburn and Lee has prevented the opportunity for a floor vote on the Senate version under the chamber’s rules.
The appeal to the senators came less than a week after another joint letter endorsed by Moore urged President Obama to promote religious liberty internationally and protect it domestically.
The special envoy to be established by the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act, S. 653, is needed “to focus on the dire situation affecting religious minorities, especially Christians who are the group most targeted for harassment and attacks in the largest number of countries,” Moore and Pates said in their letter.
Christians and adherents of other religious faiths increasingly are targets of repression and violence in countries in both the Near East – also known as the Middle East – and South Central Asia. The existence of entire religious movements is threatened in some areas – most notably Egypt and Iraq.
In their letter, Moore and Pates – who is chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace – pointed to the civil war in Syria as an example of assaults in the Near East on religious adherents. More than eight million Syrians, many of them Christians, “are caught in the cross-fire between the government and opposition forces, and have fled their homes, becoming internally displaced or flooding into neighboring countries,” they told Coburn and Lee.
Other attacks in recent years on religious minorities cited by Moore and Pates were the destruction of Coptic churches in Egypt and the targeting of Christian villages by Hindu extremists in India.
“In many instances, religious minorities have lived for centuries side by side with those of other faiths, but now find themselves coming under increased attack and harassment,” they wrote.
Among his duties, a special envoy would monitor religious freedom conditions in the regions and recommend responses by Washington to violations of religious rights.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee easily approved the proposal in December. Sen. Roy Bount, R.-Mo., is the sponsor of the bill, which has 22 cosponsors.
Coburn refuses to support the bill because he considers it unnecessary, he told Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a February 2013 letter. He said the special envoy position duplicates that of the ambassador at large for international religious freedom, according to the letter provided by Coburn’s staff.
“[T]he creation of this duplicative position will ultimately do nothing to hold the [Obama] Administration accountable for its continued failure to fulfill the legal mission established under [the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act] and our moral obligations to support freedom for religious minorities worldwide, as the bill’s supporters intend,” Coburn wrote.
Instead of passing another bill, Congress should hold the administration and State Department “directly accountable for their failure,” he said.
Baptist Press requested comments from Lee’s office, but none were received before the deadline for this article.
One difference in the House and Senate versions of the proposal is the House bill mandates the special envoy will prioritize activities in the countries of Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan.
In 2011, the House passed a bill that was similar to the one it approved in September, but the Senate failed to vote on that legislation. The Obama administration’s State Department led opposition to the measure in 2011, said the House bill’s sponsor, Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va.
The ERLC’s Moore joined nine others in a Feb. 26 letter to Obama thanking him for his advocacy of religious liberty overseas in his Feb. 6 remarks at the annual National Prayer Breakfast. They applauded his words of support for imprisoned Christians Saeed Abedini in Iran and Kenneth Bae in North Korea, as well as his promise to appoint soon an ambassador at large for international religious freedom.
They also urged the president to guard religious liberty in the United States.
“Some Americans are concerned that your administration’s domestic policies do not fully protect the religious convictions of all our citizens,” they said in the letter. “Your leadership abroad will be strongest as you point to the robust religious freedom protection that is provided even to those who may be critics of your administration.”
Among their complaints, religious liberty advocates have been especially dismayed by the Obama administration’s refusal to reverse its abortion/contraception mandate or provide adequate conscience protections as part of the regulation. The mandate, which is part of the implementation of the 2010 health-care law, requires employers to provide contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs for their workers.
The letter signers included Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington; and Dwayne Leslie, director of legislative affairs for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
3/7/2014 12:08:21 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Students encounter gospel in Quebec

March 7 2014 by Adam Miller, NAMB/Baptist Press

LENNOXVILLE, Quebec, Canada – Canadians easily dismiss Christianity, especially in Quebec. The history of mistrust is woven deep within the fabric of Québécois culture, a culture that’s decidedly Catholic and, at the same time, increasingly secular.
But Lucas Aube in Lennoxville, Quebec, has worked to make rejecting Christ a greater challenge than ever among the thousands of students of Bishop’s University and Champlain College.
It hasn’t been easy.
The immediate response many give to Christian outreach has been one of disdain, skepticism and even, as Aube has experienced, disgust at the crazy religious people. Intentionally engaging people in ways that destroy stereotypes is changing that perspective.

NAMB photo by Peter Field Peck
Church planter Lucas Aube stands on the shore of the St. Francis River, which runs through the town of Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada, where he lives and serves as a North American Mission Board missionary.

“We are living as the hands and feet of Jesus on a weekly basis,” said Aube, who is planting Encounter Church with a goal of having a self-sustaining church that reaches students and the families in the surrounding communities.
Aube is one of six missionaries featured this year in the North American Mission Board’s 2014 promotion of the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. The church plant he pastors is part of NAMB’s effort to help Southern Baptists start 15,000 new churches in 10 years. Half of NAMB’s financial support comes from the Annie offering.
Aube and his leaders train members to share their stories and to talk of faith in Christ as a journey and a process.
“When you talk to them in these ways they see you as at least an option on part of their journey instead of something to avoid at all costs,” Aube said.
“They expect Christians to be nasty and terrible to them,” Aube said. “They’re blown away with the love and hospitality that we are showing them. The barriers seem to be coming down. They’re like, ‘Wow. We can’t believe you guys are Christians. You’re so nice.’ They’re blown away that Christians are there in a way that has no strings attached.”
Aube is quick to point out how crucial partnerships with other churches have made his ministry possible.
A team from First Baptist Church in Midland, Texas, learned of Encounter on a mission trip to Quebec, and the church has been part of the ministry ever since. First Baptist Midland has been integral to Encounter’s continued growth and vital for weekly outreach efforts – efforts that require significant resources.
“Without them we would not be able to continue the work we have here,” Aube said. First Baptist Midland helps provide the food that goes into weekly meals for several hundred students.
Hospitality along with Tuesday night home cooked meals for about 300 students has provided the primary opportunities for students to emerge from atheism, agnosticism or some other belief into belief in the gospel.
“These opportunities really take a lot of time and energy and sometimes you feel like it’s going nowhere,” Aube said. “But over time we’ve seen people experience radical transformation.”
Students actually look forward to hanging out with the people of Encounter, Aube said, and chances are that going to church for a meal used to be the last thing on their list.
“The students love it,” Aube said. “Because that trust relationship is there, we’ve been able to go deeper in conversation. On Tuesday nights, for example, they say, ‘We’re going to church to have a meal.’ That’s their language. We’ve never used that language with them.”
In a lot of ways the work of reaching students in Quebec boils down to working hard to remove every barrier and then getting out of the way to watch the gospel bring people to life, Aube said.
“At its very core the gospel is offensive,” he said. “We aren’t supposed to add to that offense. We are supposed to seek and create opportunities for the gospel to do the work.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adam Miller writes for the North American Mission Board.)

3/7/2014 11:57:37 AM by Adam Miller, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Thai Baptists rally behind Filipino brothers and sisters in Christ

March 7 2014 by Caroline Anderson, IMB

BANGKOK – Despite political unrest permeating their own country, Thai Baptists have looked beyond their borders to show compassion to victims of Typhoon Haiyan. The disaster left a trail of death and destruction through the Philippines last November.
“We want to tell [Filipinos], they are our brothers,” said Thongchai Pradabchananurat, president of the Thailand Baptist Convention. “When our brothers suffer, we suffer. When our brothers are sad, we are sad. What we can do for our brothers, we will do.”
Photos and videos of lost lives, homes and livelihoods after Haiyan’s devastation stirred the hearts of Thai Baptists to give $10,000 towards relief efforts in the Philippines, said Pradabchananurat.

IMB Photo by Lily Jameson
A picture of the Virgin Mary and a New Testament are displayed by a family among the destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan in Ormoc, Philippines.

After watching news coverage of the typhoon’s aftermath, Pradabchananurat said the convention quickly sent word to Baptist churches throughout the country requesting donations for storm victims.
As a result, the donation will be given to Baptist Global Response – committed to long-term recovery and rebuilding in the Philippines.
Churches, large and small, responded to the call to give. Some small churches gave $50, while others gave from $100 to $500.
“Anything we can do for them we will do,” Pradabchananurat said. “It’s our joy. Our Thai people, Baptist Thais, they have become more generous. They are not rich, but they gave.”
The disaster reminded him of his nation’s own tragedy a decade ago due to a deadly tsunami.
A 2004 tsunami struck southern Thailand, killing more than 5,000 and causing millions of dollars in destruction.
“We used to suffer, we used to be victim,” Pradabchananurat said.
Typhoon Haiyan struck during the midst of a political crisis in Thailand. Pradabchananurat said the crisis temporarily diverted the attention of Thai Baptists and delayed the convention’s response time, but it didn’t keep Thai Baptists from giving.
James White,* an International Mission Board (IMB) worker in Southeast Asia, said he was inspired by the generosity of Thai Baptists.
“My initial reaction [to the $10,000 donation] was, wow, this is just another sign that our Thai Baptists are maturing in Christ and they want to be kingdom-minded, world-minded believers,” he said.
“They are stepping up and looking outside of themselves…realizing they need to be a blessing outside of their borders,” White said.
White was in a convention meeting with Pradabchananurat when the typhoon hit. The Thai leader asked White where they should send financial assistance.
White recommended the convention donate to BGR, a Southern Baptist international relief and development organization and a key ministry partner of IMB.
“Once the news cycle has become weary, some of these groups leave. Baptists don’t do that,” White said.
BGR and U.S. Baptists committed to long-term recovery projects in Thailand after the 2004 tsunami.
Pradabchananurat said Thai Baptists desire to be God’s hands and feet and give generously to those in need.
Pradabchananurat said Thai Baptists didn’t forget the generosity and kindness extended to them by U.S. Baptists. When Thai Baptists heard of the July 2013 devastating tornado in Oklahoma, they donated $6,850. Thai Baptists also responded financially to disasters in Japan, Missouri and Myanmar.
“Because of this kind of spirit, the churches in Thailand are growing,” he added.
Pradabchananurat said Thai churches started really growing after the tsunami in Thailand. Partnership and cooperation between Baptist churches in Thailand also increased as believers and churches banded together to help their country.
Church partnerships extended to Japan, Myanmar, Oklahoma and Missouri as Thai Baptists came alongside their fellow Christians during their times of crisis.
“We began to grow through that time,” said Pradabchananurat, explaining that much of the growth in Thai Baptist churches has been among lower income individuals.
The Thai leader said it has been historically difficult to reach the middle class of Thailand. However, in recent years, Baptist churches have been growing and more middle class Thais have become followers of Jesus Christ and they’re able to give more to their churches.
“They want to be a blessing to people outside of themselves,” said White. “That is a sign of growth and maturity.”
*Name changed
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caroline Anderson writes for IMB from Asia.)
3/7/2014 11:48:46 AM by Caroline Anderson, IMB | with 0 comments

Ukraine-Russia tensions expand ministry

March 6 2014 by Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press

KIEV, Ukraine – Tensions rose to dangerous levels as Russian forces occupied Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in late February, but Ukrainian Baptists aren’t slowing down their ministry to a nation battered by months of internal crisis.
In fact, they’re picking up the pace.
The response from the churches has been fantastic,” said International Mission Board (IMB) worker Shannon Ford, who lives in Ukraine’s capital city of Kiev, during a March 4 interview. “It really has been a time for prayer – not simply saying we’re going to pray, but actually going and being seen and guiding other people to pray,” even in the far east near the Russian border.
IMB personnel are serving right beside them.
“We’re able to do our ministry,” Ford insisted. “We have a family in [a Crimean city] right where the Russian fleet is parked. I talked to them this morning, and they were telling me all the different ministry things they did last week and what they’re planning this week. So despite all the uneasiness and the frightening pictures from the zoom lens of the media, our personnel and our national brothers and sisters are still doing their job, still having outreach groups, still holding services, still doing the things they do.”

IMB photo by Chris Carter
A Crimean Tatar pauses to pray. The man, who wished to remain unidentified, is a church planter to his own people in Crimea. The Autonomous Republic of Crimea is a small peninsula south of the Ukraine in the Black Sea, roughly the size of New Jersey. The Crimean Tatars have inhabited the Crimean peninsula, now a part of Ukraine, for more than seven centuries.

Ford doesn’t downplay the dangers facing Ukraine from both inside and out – or the agony the nation has experienced in recent months as protesters battled police and blood flowed before the government changed hands. He has served there for more than 15 years and feels the pain of Ukrainians more than most foreigners.
“The last couple of weeks in Kiev have been really tense,” he said, reflecting on the violent clashes in Kiev’s Independence Square. “The loss of life was just very hard to accept. The days after that turned into something more like an extended funeral period. I don’t know that I’ve seen a more grieving or sorrowful time in Ukraine.”
But Christians came alongside Ukrainians in the midst of their suffering and struggle, setting up tents in Independence Square to pray for people, provide medical aid, serve food and tea, distribute Bibles and share the gospel. In Ford’s view, it’s an outward sign of the maturing of evangelical work since Ukraine gained independence from the dissolving Soviet Union.
“For us it’s become a wonderful place for ministry because of our excellent partners, the Ukrainian Baptist Union,” he said. “Evangelistic efforts and church planting have borne lots of fruit. We’ve turned a page now from the pioneer work in the early ‘90s to looking toward missionary-sending from this country.”
At the moment, however, the crisis at home demands the full attention of Ukrainian Baptists. One of them is Oleksandr Turchynov, who was voted interim national president by the Ukrainian Parliament until new elections take place in May. He took office after President Viktor Yanukovych was removed Feb. 23 and later fled to Russia (Russia’s incursion into Crimea followed within a week).
Turchynov “has been a lay preacher in one of our Baptist churches, and he has brought a demeanor of trust and respect to the acting government,” Ford said. “So it’s really been a great time for the churches to be doing what we ought to be doing. They’ve not hidden. They’ve actually activated and gotten more visible during this time of stress and tension.”
Now, as divisions increase between ethnic Ukrainians in the western part of the country and ethnic Russians in the east, Christians are focusing on bringing people together.
“‘Unity’ is the word that keeps being used,” Ford reported. “The [Baptist] brothers and sisters in eastern Ukraine mostly use Russian. Many of them have Russian heritage. But they are the first ones to speak up and say, ‘There’s no tension between us and the Ukrainian speakers.’ Those in western Ukraine, even in a city that is very nationalistic and Ukrainian in language and culture, declared a ‘Russian language only’ day. They actually took to the streets and used Russian to show we’re one country. Language is not the thing that divides us.”
Unless circumstances force a change in plans, Baptists and mission workers anticipate a full schedule of summer camps, evangelistic outreach events and other ministries this year. In fact, Ford hopes Southern Baptist volunteers come to work alongside them.
“It may sound like a fool’s errand, but we still think you can come and serve, because we’re still here and we’d like you to come and join us,” he said. He also challenged Southern Baptists to use the current situation as a way to reach out to ethnic Ukrainians and Russians in American communities.
Ford said he and other IMB workers have been overwhelmed and greatly encouraged by the many emails and social media posts from Southern Baptists expressing concern and promising prayer.
“It’s kind of strange. We’re in a sense of alert, but we’re also very much at ease,” he said. “Our No. 1 prayer is not necessarily for our safety, even though we of course want that for ourselves and for our people. Our No. 1 prayer is that we make use of this opportunity to be purveyors of the gospel light. There’s just a lot of opportunity, and I’d hate for us to miss it.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is an International Mission Board global correspondent.)
3/6/2014 11:42:26 AM by Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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