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Spring breakers find Jesus ‘by surprise’

March 17 2014 by Amy Jacobs, Baptist Press

The land of bright sunshine and snow-white sand can be a spiritual dark spot each and every spring break. Rowdy weeks of partying often bring with them a spirit of recklessness and outright rebellion into Panama City Beach, Fla.
 
While locals brace for the invasion and disruption they’ve come to expect with spring, quiet forces determined to share the hope of Jesus Christ make their way south. Retirees who serve with the Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief Team link arms with college students from churches and collegiate ministries across the country for BeachReach.
 
BeachReach is a mission trip experience in the heart of Panama City Beach. Servant evangelism takes the form of free van rides and free pancake breakfasts. College students provide simple acts of service that open the door to life-changing conversations about the hope and love of Jesus Christ.
 

Here’s how it happens:

Each evening a team of students takes their place in a call center, where they receive inbound calls from spring breakers who need rides. An entourage of white passenger vans, church vans and the occasional minivan are dispatched to the Panama City Beach strip where they offer free and safe van rides in hopes of sharing their faith.
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BP photo by Russ Rankin
BeachReach students point the way to free pancakes. 

 
Each morning, armed with pancake mix and truckloads of syrup, the Georgia team sets up a mobile kitchen in a nearby strip mall parking lot. Hungry spring breakers trickle in and are greeted with pancakes – pancakes that lead to conversations.
 
“BeachReach is often the experience that causes my students to share their faith for the first time,” Austin Wadlow, college pastor at First Baptist Church in Denton, Texas, said. “When they start a conversation, on the van or over pancakes, it opens a door in their walk with Christ. They go from not sharing their faith at all, to sharing it on the strip or in a bowling alley, to realizing they can do that anywhere. What they learn to do at BeachReach is so transferrable to what they should be doing on campus.”
 
Prior to joining LifeWay Christian Resources as the BeachReach event coordinator, Bill Noe spent twelve years in Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) on the University of Louisville campus and participated in BeachReach year after year.
 
“I brought students to BeachReach and did so every year because there was no other experience I’d offered my students that created that kind of change in them, one that lasted beyond the week and came back to the campus,” Noe said. “BeachReach really seeks to help believers develop a passion and heart for lost students. That doesn’t just stay in Panama City Beach; it transfers back to the local campus.”
 
If Panama City Beach is the schoolroom for learning to share faith, it’s a rough one. BeachReachers are stretched and challenged by what they see and hear and, as they learn to share their faith, they learn to extend grace to their peers.
 
“One of the things that overwhelms me about BeachReach every year is how it takes spring breakers by surprise,” Noe said. “They expect one thing from us and they get something that’s so much more genuine, loving and gracious than they expect. There is a temptation to be overwhelmed by the behavior and think we have to correct behavior. That’s not the heart of BeachReach. BeachReach is offering the hope of Jesus through service.”
 
LifeWay continues to offer BeachReach as a ministry opportunity each spring break.
 
“BeachReach is one of the most important ministries we do. We see both souls and lives saved each week,” Faith Whatley, LifeWay’s director of adult ministry, said. “As we mobilize college students to share their faith boldly, those van rides and conversations often save young women from dangerous and destructive evenings. The ministry our BeachReachers extend is life-saving.”
 
Last year, after two weeks of ministry, 11,186 van rides were given. Seventy-eight students accepted Christ. The 767 BeachReach participants served 9,473 plates of pancakes. At three pancakes per plate, that stacks up to 28,419 pancakes all prepared by the hands of the Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief Team.
 
“The Georgia team is made up of retired senior adults who know that Jesus loves these spring breakers, and at some level they may feel unequipped to reach them. But they’ve found this unique way to impact these students,” Noe said. “The pancake volunteers know the students are better equipped to have those conversations. They want to see that happen and they set them up to have those conversations over a hot plate of pancakes.”
 
It’s a collaboration of college students and an older generation who believe service and friendship will make a difference.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Amy Jacobs is marketing strategist for young adult ministry at LifeWay Christian Resources. This story originally ran in the Winter 2013/2014 issue of SBC Life. The next BeachReach 2014 takes place in Panama City Beach March 15-21. For more information about BeachReach visit www.lifeway.com.)
3/17/2014 11:08:18 AM by Amy Jacobs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



CP ministry reports now available online

March 17 2014 by Baptist Press

In an effort to give more visibility to the work of SBC entities, the Cooperative Program 2014 Ministry Reports are now available to all Southern Baptists in an easily-accessible, online format, viewable at SBC.net.
 
The Executive Committee had previously made these reports available to Executive Committee members and state Baptist paper editors in a printed format. Now these reports are being made available to the general public online in a digital format.
 
“This new platform gives every Southern Baptist an opportunity to see firsthand the good work our SBC entities are doing,” Ashley Clayton, vice president for Cooperative Program and stewardship, said. “It brings to life ministry reports that the Executive Committee was already compiling as part of its own ministry assignment.”
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The Executive Committee, under the leadership of Frank S. Page, has emphasized the importance of the Cooperative Program as the best way to fuel and support what God is doing at home and around the world through Southern Baptists.
 
“This change in format for annual ministry reports, providing public access with up-to-date reporting, is consistent with Dr. Page’s efforts over the past three-and-a-half years to elevate and champion all SBC missions and ministries,” Clayton said, “as well as to promote long-held SBC values of missions, church planting, evangelism, church strengthening and revitalization, theological education, collegiate ministry, disaster relief, and moral advocacy, along with many other important ministries provided by our state conventions.”
 
Rather than having to hunt through multiple sources to find information, Southern Baptists can find ministry updates in one convenient spot, Clayton said. Reports are available from the SBC entities which receive Cooperative Program funds: International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, six SBC theological seminaries, and Council of Seminary Presidents. GuideStone Financial Resources does not receive Cooperative Program dollars, but also submits annual reports.
 
The 2014 Ministry Reports are compilations of SBC entity responses to questions and other related reports, presented in separate categories. Each category can be viewed by clicking its respective tab in the online interface: President’s Letter, Ministry Inquiries, Ministry Goals and Accomplishments, and Financial Management. Each seminary report also includes a Seminary Formula and ATS Report. The online format allows for the addition of visual elements like graphics, videos and color.
 
In addition to the written component of the reports, entity presidents are given the opportunity to share their own heart for ministry through a President’s Letter video message. These President’s Letter videos “allow the stories of the great things God is doing through our entities to be told in a fresh way, and from a personal perspective,” Clayton said. “They allow Southern Baptists to get face-to-face with our leaders, see their passion, and put a face to a name.”
 
The flexibility of the online format also allows for additional up-to-date information to be added through a mid-year update section. This update will be available in July.
 
The current 2014 Ministry Reports are available at www.sbc.net/cp/ministryreports.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article first appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of SBC Life.)
3/17/2014 10:54:56 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘Community Day’ set to spread nationwide

March 17 2014 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

Redland Baptist Church’s attempts to share the love of Jesus were threatened when its 2008 trip to Mexico fizzled because of travel risks.
 
Instead the Valdosta, Ga., church may have started a movement when they decided that year to host their first-ever Community Day.
 
Six years later, close to 100 South Georgia Baptist churches launched an effort to help seven church planters throughout North America host similar events.
 
“Community Day is everything a family needs,” Jay Watkins, pastor of Redland Baptist, said. “We give [food, medical care, etc.] to families with the love of Christ. It opens doors for us to tell them what Christ has done in us and through us, with people we wouldn’t normally come into contact with.”
 
Watkins said 25,000 people attended the last Community Day in Valdosta in April 2013. More than 60 Valdosta-area churches participated in the event sponsored by the Valdosta Baptist Association. More than 70,000 local residents have been served through the event, and 1,000 people have come to Christ since the first Community Day in 2008.
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NAMB photo by John Swain
Toronto church planter Daniel Yang (left) shares his testimony and ministry opportunities in Toronto near the end of the Jan. 28 Community Day Celebration and Banquet in Valdosta, Ga. NAMB South Region Mobilizer Neal Hughes (right) gave the evening’s keynote address, where he commended Valdosta Baptists for their “whatever it takes” spirit.

 
In January, Watkins and Valdosta Baptists hosted a banquet attended by about 100 South Georgia churches – and the seven church planters with whom they’ll be partnering. Church members were challenged to help take Community Day to church plants in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Memphis, Tenn.
 
Watkins began spearheading the campaign shortly after attending his first meeting as a North American Mission Board trustee. It was there he first learned the extent of North America’s lostness.
 
“I came back and called all my pastor buddies,” Watkins said. “I asked them, ‘How many lost people do you think are in the U.S.?’ A couple of them made some good guesses. I told them, ‘There are 239 million lost people in the United States. Add Canada in and there’s 259 million lost people in North America. We have to do something.’”
 
And they did. Leaning on their experience with Community Days in Valdosta and elsewhere, the South Georgia pastors decided to launch partnerships with church planters from each of NAMB’s five regions.
 
A different South Georgia sending church – along with multiple supporting churches – will take responsibility for each of the seven Community Day events. The first of the seven scheduled Community Day events is March 22 in Memphis.
 
The Georgia Baptist Convention is supporting the events by lending a tractor-trailer to make supply transportation easier and more cost-effective.
 
Community Day events will play a key role in helping church planters connect with their communities and share the Gospel in underserved areas of North America.
 
“Community is valued in Canada,” Toronto church planter Daniel Yang said. “Canada is a very inclusive country – Toronto especially. When you, as a church, say we want to do this ‘for you,’ without any anything or any expectations in return, it will be very well received. Canada is very inclusive of all kinds of people and if we can make Community Day along those lines, it’s going to be very successful.”
 
The events won’t be uniform in all seven locations. Los Angeles-area planter Zach Drake said his Santa Monica community is affluent and concerned about physical health. The initial plans have the South Georgian teams focusing on putting together a community “Olympics,” with a specific focus on youth. Drake also hopes the team might bring in health food rather than the typical fare.
 
“Partnering with Valdosta Baptists has been a tremendous encouragement to us,” said Drake, lead pastor of Santa Monica Church. “We’re a very small church in Santa Monica. We’re in a city without a lot of Christian support. Gaining support from Christians outside of the city – and even across the country from us – has been super, super encouraging to us.”
 
Valdosta Baptists hope this movement will motivate other Southern Baptist associations to try similar efforts throughout North America. Watkins has shared the story of Community Day in various gatherings throughout the United States.
 
Drew Boswell, pastor of children and families at First Baptist Church in Valdosta, said, “We hope other SBC associations and churches will seek to do it in their contexts well.”
 
“They can take the model we’re developing and say, ‘We can have a banquet, bring our churches together, we can identify our six cities ourselves so that it becomes a multiplication effect,” he said. “It’ll begin this big ripple effect. Our prayer is that revival will spark.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. For more information about Community Day, visit communityday.us.)
3/17/2014 10:38:34 AM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Christians beheaded by extremists in Somalia

March 17 2014 by Baptist Press/Morning Star News

NAIROBI, Kenya – Islamic extremists from the rebel Al Shabaab militia last week publicly beheaded a mother of two girls and her cousin in southeastern Somalia after discovering they were Christians, Morning Star News reported from sources inside the country.
 
In the port town of Barawa, the extremists March 4 called residents to the town center to witness the executions of the 41-year-old mother, Sadia Ali Omar, and her 35-year-old cousin, Osman Mohamoud Moge, the sources said.
 
Before killing them, an Al Shabaab militant announced, “We know these two people are Christians who recently came back from Kenya. We want to wipe out any underground Christian living inside of mujahidin [jihadists’] area,” according to an area resident whose name is undisclosed for security reasons.
 
Omar’s daughters, ages 8 and 15, witnessed the slaughter, sources said, with the younger girl screaming and shouting for someone to save her mother. A friend helped the girls, whose names are withheld, to relocate to another area.
 
“We are afraid that the Al Shabaab might continue monitoring these two children and eventually kill them just like their mother,” the area resident told Morning Star News.
 
The militants from Al Shabaab – which has vowed to rid the country of the Christian fellowships, which meet secretly as leaving Islam in Somalia is punishable by death – became suspicious of Omar and Moge because of their irregular attendance at Friday mosque prayers, sources said.
 
“The two people who were killed ... did not take Friday prayers seriously, especially Omar, who claimed that she was praying in her house,” another area resident said.
 
One source noted of Al Shabaab, “They have some spy everywhere in Somalia.”
 
Somalis who have lived in Christian-majority Kenya are especially suspect. The sources told Morning Star News Omar lived in the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh for seven years. Her husband became ill in 2011 and returned to Somalia, where he died. Omar and her cousin Moge, who helped take care of her daughters, left Kenya for Somalia in January 2013.
 
Barawa reportedly came under Al Shabaab control in 2009. In October 2013, a U.S. Navy SEAL team raided a beachside house in the town in an unsuccessful search for Al Shabaab leader Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr.
 
In the capital city of Mogadishu last October, gunmen who said they intended to kill a Christian for spreading his faith shot him to death, according to an area resident. Two men armed with pistols on Oct. 20, 2013 shot Abdikhani Hassan seven times as he approached his home after closing his pharmacy. Hassan was survived by a wife who was pregnant and five children ranging in age from 3 to 12.
 
The Somali cell of Al Qaida, Al Shabaab was suspected of killing Fatuma Isak Elmi, 35, on Sept. 1, 2013 inside her home in Beledweyne, in south-central Somalia. Her husband had received a threatening note that morning believed to be from the Islamic extremist group and was away at the time of the murder.
 
Al Shabaab’s attack on the upscale Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya on Sept. 21, 2013 killed at least 67 people, with dozens still unaccounted for.
 
On April 13, 2013, Al Shabaab militants shot Fartun Omar to death in Buulodbarde, 12 miles from Beledweyne. Omar was the widow of Mursal Isse Siad, killed for his faith on Dec. 8, 2012 in Beledweyne, 206 miles north of Mogadishu. He had been receiving death threats for leaving Islam.
 
Siad and his wife, who converted to Christianity in 2000, had moved to Beledweyne from Doolow eight months before. The area was under government control and there was no indication that the killers belonged to the Al Shabaab rebels, but the Islamic extremist insurgents were present in Buulodbarde, and Christians believed a few Al Shabaab rebels could have been hiding in Beledweyne.
 
On June 7, 2013 in Jamaame District in southern Somalia, insurgents from the group shot 28-year-old Hassan Hurshe to death after identifying him as a Christian, sources said. Al Shabaab members brought Hurshe to a public place in the town of Jilib and shot him in the head, they said.
 
On Feb. 18, 2013, suspected Islamic extremists shot Ahmed Ali Jimale, a 42-year-old father of four, on the outskirts of the coastal city of Kismayo.
 
In Barawa on Nov. 16, 2012, Al Shabaab militants killed a Christian after accusing him of being a spy and leaving Islam, Christian and Muslim witnesses said. The extremists beheaded 25-year-old Farhan Haji Mose after monitoring his movements for six months, sources told Morning Star News.
 
Mose drew suspicion when he returned to Barawa in December 2011 after spending time in Kenya, according to underground Christians in Somalia. Kenya’s population is nearly 83 percent Christian, according to Operation World, while Somalia’s is close to 100 percent Muslim.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This story first appeared at Morning Star News (www.MorningStarNews.org), a California-based independent news service focusing on the persecution of Christians worldwide.)
3/17/2014 10:24:30 AM by Baptist Press/Morning Star News | with 2 comments



Photographers capture missions, national attention

March 14 2014 by Baptist Press/IMB

Rahima* barely makes a living begging on the busy streets of Bangladesh. As Rahima and her two young daughters sat down on the edge of the sidewalk to eat a bag of cooked rice and vegetables, photographer Joanna B. Pinneo sees a story unfolding before her eyes and takes the shot.
 
Each year the International Mission Board (IMB) releases a special collection of their images taken during the past year. Many of those images compel Southern Baptists to give and go on missions to help relieve suffering through sharing the love of Christ. This article includes links to images and audio comments from photographers who covered the stories overseas.
 
This year, IMB’s CommissionStories magazine also was recognized by Pictures of the Year International as a finalist in their Best Publication Division/Best Magazine category. National Geographic received top honors in that category for Best Use of Photography by a Magazine. German Geo and the International Mission Board were the category’s finalists. For more information about the award go to http://www.poyi.org/71/35/index.php.
 
The following includes more details behind IMB’s collection of photographs:
 

Begging for a better life

Through Pinneo’s lens she was able to share Rahima’s story.
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IMB photo by Joanna B. Pinneo
Rahima and her family are forced to make a living in the best and most respectable way they can. “I do not have any dream for myself,” she says. “I only have dream and hope for my children.”

 
See the image here.

Listen to Pinneo's comments here.
 
Rahima and her family are forced to make a living in the best and most respectable way they can. This life of mere survival is not Rahima’s choice. Her hope and dream is that her two daughters will have a better education and environment than she has had and become “good women.” Rahima said, “I do not have any dream for myself. I only have dream and hope for my children.”
 
The Light of Hope Learning Center seeks to give girls an opportunity to expand their horizons and to make a living for themselves. The school, started by Southern Baptist worker Geri Hennerman,* lifts the girls up spiritually and provides them an education and handicraft skills. The teachers approach each girl as a whole person, treating them with respect, love and care.
 
Hennerman said, “The stories, pictures and video have gotten many people more involved in all the Lord is doing here. We have heard from individuals, churches and groups via email and have also received numerous financial gifts.”
 
Because of this, pre-teen girls like Rahima’s 9-year-old daughter Minara are able to attend the school five days a week.
 
View a video update about the center and hear the Hennermans expressing their thanks to Southern Baptists for their support here. To get in touch with the Light of Hope Learning Center directors about how you or your church can get involved, email lightofhope916@gmail.com.
 

Ongoing need

Another visual story includes a Syrian child taking a nap in a rented home in northern Lebanon, where there are no official, government-backed refugee camps.
 
See the image here.

Listen to photographer Joseph Rose's comments here.
 
Roughly half of the some 2 million refugees resulting from the Syrian civil war are children. (Read more at commissionstories.com/speakup). Southern Baptists have an ongoing relief ministry among Syrian refugees in four countries where they have fled. Contribute to the distribution of food packets, hygiene kits and temporary shelters at imb.org/syrianrefugees and designate “Syria relief” in the comment line.
 

Swath of destruction

A child runs along the rocky shore at Gibitngil Island, seemingly oblivious to the destruction caused to her community by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. Behind her are the ruined structures of a small beach resort that provided a valuable tourism income for the tiny community.
 
Gibitngil Island, like many communities that suffered almost total destruction, remained unreached by relief efforts for days because of its inaccessibility. Baptist Global Response (BGR) partnered with local IMB personnel to make assessment trips to many of these more isolated parts of northern Cebu Island to make plans for immediate and long-term assistance.

See the image click here.

Listen to photographer Hugh Johnson's comments here.
 
For an update on related relief efforts, click here. To donate to Southern Baptists’ Typhoon Haiyan Relief fund, click here.
 
The selections IMB submitted were presented in memory of photographer Don Rutledge, who died in February 2013 at age 82.
 
Traveling throughout the United States and to more than 140 countries for more than 40 years, Rutledge captured many moments of humanity and ministry in hundreds of classic photographs taken for the Home (now North American) Mission Board and later for the Foreign (now International) Mission Board. For many mission photographers, Rutledge revolutionized missions storytelling and influenced several generations of Christian communicators. His images helped millions of inspired viewers to understand, pray for and participate in missions.

*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Story compiled by IMB.)
3/14/2014 10:53:29 AM by Baptist Press/IMB | with 0 comments



Abedini, in hospital, shackled & denied care

March 14 2014 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

TEHRAN, Iran – Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen, was moved to a private hospital in Iran but was shackled and denied medical care, prompting the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which is working for his freedom, to say his case took a turn for the worse.
 
The next day, March 13, ACLJ reported that Abedini, imprisoned for his Christian faith, had been released from the shackles and was allowed to receive visitors again. He had not been treated, though, for severe abdominal ailments resulting from beatings by Iranian prison guards.
 
Abedini’s wife Naghmeh, on Facebook, asked believers worldwide to pray and even “fast from something” until Thursday, March 20, which marks the Iranian New Year, a day when the Islamic republic often grants clemency to prisoners of conscience.
 
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Saeed Abedini

ACLJ reported March 12 that Abedini, sentenced to eight years in prison for his involvement in house churches, was moved from the brutal Rajai Shahr Prison to a hospital. He received nourishment and underwent various tests, something ACLJ called a much-needed reprieve.
 
“Today, all that changed,” Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ’s executive director, reported. “This morning Iranian guards lashed out violently against Pastor Saeed and an elderly relative who had been able to visit him in the hospital. Pastor Saeed was pinned down and shackled. His elderly relative was roughly handled and expelled from the hospital.”
 
Abedini was denied surgery and was given only pain medication. He wasn’t even allowed to know the results of the tests he underwent, ACLJ said, and guards claimed they had a court order banning visitors and instructing them to keep him shackled.
 
Sekulow said the timing of the move to the hospital was suspicious given that Catherine Ashton, a representative of the European Union, was visiting Iran when Abedini was hospitalized. Once she left, he was told he would return to prison with no treatment.
 
“The EU has been faithfully raising Pastor Saeed’s case for some time, and this move would allow Iranian officials to report that he was receiving medical treatment if his case was brought up during the EU’s visit to Iran,” Sekulow said.
 
After Abedini was denied treatment and shackled, and after ACLJ drew worldwide attention to the problem, a family member of Abedini went to the prison to ask why the pastor had been denied medical care, Sekulow reported March 13.
 
“He was told by prison officials that the whole ordeal was a ‘mistake’ and that the warden called the hospital and ordered that Pastor Saeed be unchained and permitted to visit the family member.”
 
Iran’s behavior demonstrates the need for international pressure to remain strong on Abedini’s behalf, Sekulow said, adding that an ACLJ legal team was meeting with world leaders in Geneva, working toward Abedini’s release.
 
Naghmeh Abedini, living in Idaho with the couple’s two young children, challenged supporters to pray for the meetings in Geneva, stating, “I believe in the power of prayer.”
 
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in February, raised the possibility that Abedini and other Americans held by Iran could be granted clemency. Abedini’s wife urged believers to pray that her husband would be released in conjunction with the Iranian New Year.
 
The day before news of Abedini’s hospital beating and shackling broke, Naghmeh Abedini posted on Facebook a glimpse into how she is faring as her husband is persecuted.
 
“Many nights like tonight/today I am awakened after only 3-4 hours of sleep and I find myself struggling with hopelessness and despair,” Naghmeh wrote. “... I spend hours in prayer and crying out to The Lord.”
 
Later that day, March 11, she wrote, “Today I struggled with despair. I spent my day playing worship music, reading my Bible and devotionals, praying and reading each of your sweet messages (being surrounded by the body of Christ).”
 
God used 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 to remind her that “these pressures and uncertainties happen that I might not rely on myself, but on God.” She quoted the passage, emphasizing that “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE - Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. To sign an international petition for Saeed Abedini’s release, visit www.beheardproject.org.)
3/14/2014 10:38:02 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Bible Drill now on smartphones, tablets

March 14 2014 by Eddy G. Oliver, Baptist Press

The Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) has brought the digital age to Bible Drill, developing an app to help students and leaders study the Bible on smartphones and tablets.
 
Developed as a discipleship tool for children, students, adults and families, the app allows drillers to review the Bible through different activity and study options, Maria Brannen, a GBC state missionary in discipleship/spiritual renewal.
 
"Kids are digital natives and this is a great way for them to have an opportunity for study at home during the week," Brannen said.
 
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BP Photo
The Georgia Baptist Convention has brought the digital age to Bible Drill, developing an app to help students and leaders study the Bible on smartphones and tablets.

The app provides a variety of study tools to aid in Scripture memorization, including options such as electronic flash cards. Additional activities are designed to help students learn and review Bible books. The app is pre-loaded with three translations used by Bible Drillers -- the King James Version, the Holman Christian Standard Version and the English Standard Version. Students and adults also have the option to share a verse they are learning via social media.
 
Because it is not specific to Georgia's Bible Drillers, anyone can download the app for 99 cents in the iTunes store.
 
"It's a great home study tool where students can learn even if no one else is around," Brannen said. "We hope to have a whole new generation of children who will have a passion for studying God's Word."
 
Christian parents can use the app to help their children memorize Scripture, facilitating a faith connection at home for family activities, Brannen said. The app also can be used as a learning activity on an iPad in Bible Drill, Sunday School and missions classes at church.
 
The app is already receiving five-star reviews on iTunes.
 
"All my Bible Drill parents and teachers are downloading the app and they love it," a Bible Drill leader in Calhoun, Ga., said. "We have several church members who do not have children but simply want to be familiar with the material when the competition comes. Bible Drill is contagious!"
 
An array of Bible Drill ideas also is posted on Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/gabibledrill.
 
First developed in the 1920s, Bible Drill's purpose is to teach the Bible, develop skills in locating Bible books and verses and in memorizing Bible verses and names of the Bible books chronologically as well as teaching personal biblical application.
 
The GBC is the permanent host for the National Invitational Youth Bible Drill and Speakers Tournament. In 2014, the event will take place on June 20 at First Baptist Church in Helen.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Eddy G. Oliver serves as state missionary in communication services at the Georgia Baptist Convention.)
3/14/2014 10:26:11 AM by Eddy G. Oliver, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Spring break students highlight for Sandy relief volunteers

March 13 2014 by Sara Shelton, NAMB/Baptist Press

One of the highlights of the continued Sandy Rebuild effort is the arrival of college students using their spring breaks to serve the people of Staten Island, N.Y., according to at least one volunteer couple.
 
This year Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers, including Ronda and Randy Corn, will welcome nearly 200 students from more than six states over a two-week period to assist in the cleanup and rebuild work on the island.
 
When the Corns arrived in Staten Island in November 2012 – just five days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall – they didn’t think they would still be there today.
 
“Randy and I have been here since the beginning,” Ronda Corn said, “and we plan to stay until the end. There’s still such a mess here. Homes are gutted and unlivable. People are displaced. Below the surface there is just so much hurt. Time has passed and media attention has faded, but the people here still need so much help.”
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 NAMB photo by John Swain
Louisiana State University students Skyler Hollins (left) and Taylor Christian wield sledgehammers to remove flooring from a Staten Island home flooded by Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge. More than 500 students volunteered part of their winter breaks to work with SBDR volunteers last year. Registration for this year’s Sandy Rebuild effort is now open for spring breaks and summer.

 
Serving under local construction team leaders and fellow SBDR volunteers, students will hang sheet rock, tile floors, install doors, put up walls – anything to help homes become livable once again.
 
“The students work with a construction team leader and learn a lot about skilled labor,” Corn said. “It’s hard work but really an awesome experience.”
 
The experience is a stark contrast to the way many college students spend spring break. SBDR built a volunteer village on a three-acre field on Staten Island, complete with shower, kitchen and water units. Students will camp in tents built specifically for Sandy Rebuild workers. With New York closing out one of its roughest winters yet, volunteers face the difficult challenge of braving the elements.
 
“Weather conditions this season haven’t made our work easy, and we’ve tried to prepare students for the potential wet and cold weather we’ve seen all season,” Corn said. “They’re all still excited to serve. For all of us, it’s not about the project itself; it’s about the people. That’s been our motto from day one, and keeping the hearts of the people we’re serving in mind has helped tremendously on the difficult days.”
 
It’s not just the hearts of the people they’re serving but the hearts of the college students as well that the Corns and their team hope to see changed.
 
“Our main goal is that the gospel goes out to the people, both the ones we’re serving in Staten Island and the college students here doing the work,” Corn said. “There are opportunities for the body of Christ to minister both inside and outside our camp.”
 
Last year the Corns met a student named Belle. Though she didn’t know Christ, she signed up to serve with her fellow students. She returned to her campus after the week with a new curiosity about Christ and, after talking with her group leader, placed her faith in Christ. This year, Belle is returning to serve and share what Christ did in her life through service to Staten Island last year.
 
“It’s an incredible story,” Corn said. “This girl came to know Christ, and since then, has been walking with her roommate as she begins to seek Christ in her own life. She’s even kept in touch with the homeowners she served last year, helping point them to Christ as well. Just one story like this – one soul coming to know the Lord through serving here – that makes all the difference.”
 
Students have virtually year-round service opportunities now with Sandy Rebuild. To explore more about assisting in New York, visit www.namb.net/sandy.
 
From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., the North American Mission Board coordinates Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through a partnership between NAMB and the SBC’s 42 state conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.
 
Southern Baptists and others who want to donate to disaster relief operations can contact their state conventions or contribute to NAMB’s disaster relief fund via www.namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Other ways to donate are to call 866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sara Shelton writes for the North American Mission Board.)
3/13/2014 12:12:18 PM by Sara Shelton, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘Insanity of obedience’ explored by Ripken

March 13 2014 by Tess Rivers, IMB/Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Biblical obedience to God is insane. That’s the conclusion of Nik Ripken, based on his 15 years of research and hundreds of interviews with persecuted believers around the world.
 
In Ripken’s latest book, he asks:
  • Why else would a man like Dmitri,* imprisoned for leading an illegal house church in communist Russia, insist on singing a praise song to Jesus every morning for 17 years, even as prison guards beat him and fellow inmates ridiculed him?
  • Why else would overseas Christian workers in a Muslim country closed to a gospel witness gather to share Christian communion after a Muslim extremist shot four colleagues, killing three of them?
  • Why else would a man like Ripken move his family from the safety and comfort of a small Kentucky town to settle in Africa where they encountered sickness and death and witnessed unspeakable suffering among their neighbors and friends?
Insanity is the only plausible explanation by the world’s standards, Ripken states in The Insanity of Obedience. But for Ripken and other believers choosing to stay in difficult places to share the gospel, their belief in the power and love of Christ enables them to persevere.
 

A personal journey

Ripken’s first book, The Insanity of God, recounts his personal journey to relieve human suffering in war-torn Somalia, the appalling sorrow he experienced and his struggles with a God who would allow His followers to endure such pain on His behalf.
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IMB photo
Biblical obedience to God is insane, says Nik Ripken, who served with his wife Ruth in Somalia. Ripken bases his statement on 15 years of research and hundreds of interviews with persecuted believers around the world. Ripkin is the author of The Insanity of God and his latest book, The Insanity of Obedience.

 
The Insanity of God raises challenging questions for evangelical believers living in the relative comforts of the West: What is the cost of obedience? How can Christians in the U.S. come alongside persecuted believers and ignite churches in America to be serious about fulfilling the Great Commission?
 
Ripken answers these questions in his latest book. Drawing from his years of experience as an international Christian worker, he seeks to develop practical applications for Western churches.
 

Persecution redefined

Ripken challenges how American Christians commonly define persecution in what he calls a “post-Pentecost” era in America – an environment in which the gospel has been preached widely, churches are present and Christian literature and education are easily accessible.
 
“Persecution, it seems, is rare in a post-Pentecost setting,” Ripken writes. “Often pastors say to us, ‘Persecution is coming to the church in America.’ When asked to explain ... the response often revolves around conservative evangelical stances on homosexuality and abortion ... But the U.S. church’s stance opposing these activities and lifestyles is the same as conservative Islam!”
 
In what Ripken calls a “pre-Pentecost” or “Old Testament” environment, persecution is perceived differently. Approximately 9,000 people groups representing nearly 4 billion people live in settings where there are few believers and few, if any, churches. In some of these places, the gospel message has not been shared because there is no believer present to share it. In other places hostile to the spread of the gospel, believers who share their faith do so at risk to their and their families’ safety.
 
Ripken suggests that churches in the West do not face significant persecution as they become less and less a threat to a spiritually lost world. However, in pre-Pentecost settings, religious persecution comes not from taking a stand on social and cultural issues but from making Jesus known to those who have little or no opportunity to hear about Him otherwise, he says.
 
In these very different settings, discipleship approaches also differ, Ripken notes.
 
Churches living in persecution use a “New Testament house church style” of discipleship out of the necessity of believers bonding in small groups to endure persecution together, Ripken explains. They learn together and teach each other, modeling locally what being a believer in Christ means.
 
As non-believers see followers of Jesus meeting human needs and alleviating suffering, the love of Christ becomes tangible, drawing those outside the group to learn more, Ripken explains.
 
Ripken contrasts this approach with some Western-based discipleship programs that are essentially “information transfer.”
 
“Discipleship in settings of persecution is based on relationship,” Ripken writes. “New believers are asked how they are treating their wife and children ... about their use of money and their time on the Internet. In the Western world, a believer can go to a denominational college and get multiple seminary degrees and never be asked these kinds of questions! Discipleship is about building character, not simply transferring information.”
 

The scariest challenge

Learning discipleship methods from believers experiencing persecution may be a radical concept for evangelical believers comfortable with a highly programmatic style of church, Ripken acknowledges. But discipleship needs to be personal and bring about significant life changes in believers, he says.
 
True discipleship, coming alongside each other, is messy, inconvenient and rarely goes according to plan, he says, but it is necessary to life transformation and being obedient to God.
 
“Lost people must not be merely the focus of Western workers,” Ripken writes. “Instead, lost people must become their family.”
 
To build healthy, growing Christians and churches, evangelical believers must open their homes, their lives, their families and their hearts to those who don’t know Christ and those who don’t live according to conservative evangelical principles, Ripken says.
 

Obedience that influences

Dmitri learned this lesson in a Russian jail cell, Ripken shares. Every morning for 17 years, he stood at attention by his bed, faced the East, lifted his hands to heaven and sang a praise song to Jesus. He was beaten by his captors and ridiculed by fellow inmates, who often threw food and human waste into his cell in attempts to stop his singing.
 
Then, one day, after finding a piece of paper on which Dmitri had written every Scripture reference, Bible verse, story and song he could recall, his jailers beat him severely and threatened him with execution. As they dragged him from his cell down the center corridor toward the courtyard, Dmitri heard a strange sound. The 1,500 hardened criminals who had ridiculed him for nearly two decades stood at attention by their beds. They faced the East, raised their arms and began to sing the song they had heard Dmitri sing to Jesus every morning.
 
“Who are you?” a guard demands to Dmitri.
 
“I am a son of the Living God, and Jesus is His name!” Dmitri replies.
 
They returned Dmitri to his cell. Some time later, he was released and told Ripken his story.
 
That’s the kind of influence for which Christians should strive, Ripken says. But, it only comes through “insane” obedience to God’s commands.
 
*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tess Rivers is an IMB writer. Both of Ripken’s books, “The Insanity of God” and “The Insanity of Obedience” are available at imbresources.org.)
3/13/2014 12:02:56 PM by Tess Rivers, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Ethnic diversity viable in church, Newbell says

March 13 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Barriers to ethnic diversity in the church – barriers already torn down by the gospel of Jesus – can be eliminated in practice as Christians shed assumptions and overcome fears, author Trillia Newbell contends.
 
Newbell, who has written a new book on diversity in the body of Christ, says relationships based on a humble desire to understand can be vital in a cause she is passionate about.
 
"[Y]ou don’t want to assume. You want to ask questions," she said in an online video interview for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "It’s amazing what we can learn from each other when we are open and willing."
 
"So I think that one would enter into a relationship without assuming that you know everything, [and be] willing to ask if you don’t know," said Newbell, the ERLC’s consultant for women’s initiatives.
 
Fear also can inhibit the effort to achieve ethnic diversity, she said.
 
"If you don’t know someone or something about someone, you might just be fearful," Newbell told Daniel Darling, the ERLC’s vice president for communications. "Also, it’s a hot-button issue. ... And so people are, I think, just afraid, afraid to talk about it because of what we see not only in the media but in our backyards. It can be kind of a touchy topic, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be something we should be talking about, because I think when we start talking about it, it will help break these divides and barriers, especially with Christians because there isn’t one, there shouldn’t be one."
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Trillia Newbell has written a new book on diversity in the body of Christ called United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity.

 
The gospel has eradicated such divisions for followers of Christ.
 
"The gospel unites us and makes us brothers and sisters," Newbell said in subsequent interviews. "Only in the body of Christ can two people be different and yet the same (equal in creation, equal in redemption). Jesus’ blood breaks the divide that so often entangles us."
 
Despite the gospel and God’s celebration of the diversity in humanity, "the problem with the current church model and experience for most of us is that while we affirm these truths with our lips, Sunday morning reveals a different story," she said.
 
Converted to Christ as a young woman, Newbell was part of a Knoxville, Tenn., church made up mostly of white people for a decade. A request from her pastor led to the writing of her book, United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity.
 
"My pastor at the time asked me to read and review John Piper’s book Bloodlines," she told Baptist Press. "I was so affected by the book because it was the first time that I had read so clearly about issues of race from a white male theologian. From there I wrote a blog about my own concerns and struggles as a black female in a predominantly white church. The response was pretty remarkable to me. So many seemed to resonate with what I was sharing. It seemed like a topic that needed to be addressed."
 
Newbell grew up in the South, and her father told her about being beaten for refusing to sing "Dixie" at a sports event, and about the suffering blacks experienced in those days. He also taught her to love all people, regardless of their ethnicity.
 
When she became a Christian, she grew to understand being black "wasn’t even my first identity," she wrote in her book. "And though the richness of that truth took some time to sink in, I had become first a Christian, then a black woman."
 
In addition to finding her identity in Christ, she also benefited greatly from deep relationships with two young Christian women – one white and one Chinese. Those friendships fleshed out for her the ethnic diversity of the body of Christ and form much of her personal pilgrimage described in the book.
 
"By building into diverse relationships, we display the reconciliation and redemption of Christ to a world that is broken and divided," Newbell said. "True unity is found first through being reconciled to God and then to each other. To walk in that unity arm in arm with people of every tribe and race is to declare to the world that Christ’s blood is enough for the fight for racial reconciliation."
 
Because Christ’s salvation of sinners cuts across all ethnicities, "our churches should be the most gracious environments on the planet," she wrote. "More than any other place, the church should be more open to and excited about having people unlike themselves."
 
Newbell; her husband Thern Newbell, who is white, and their children moved to the Nashville area last year and are part of another predominantly white congregation, a new Southern Baptist church plant.
 
Churches, especially their leaders, can take intentional steps to foster ethnic diversity.
 
"I think it’s important to try to develop a staff that reflects their desire for diversity," she said. "I also think it’s important that they talk about it and cast a vision for it to their congregations."
 
Christians can promote diversity in their families by inviting people of different ethnicities into their homes and by reading books together "about other people, other nations, other tribes," Newbell said.
 
"Hospitality teaches children, one, to love people and to serve others because you have to be others-focused to be hospitable, but also it can teach them that they welcome other people who are not like them in terms of ethnicity in their home," she said.
 
Newbell is lead editor of Karis, the women’s channel for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and blogs on such sites as The Gospel Coalition and Desiring God.
 
Her book, published by Moody Publishers, is available at Lifeway Christian Stores, other Christian booksellers and Amazon.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Baptist Press’ Washington bureau chief.)
3/13/2014 11:54:38 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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