Pastors & wives counsel family before ministry

June 11 2013 by Barbara Denman, Baptist Press

HOUSTON – A roundtable discussion on balancing family and ministry encouraged pastors to put their family foremost by focusing on calendaring, intentionality and the spiritual condition of their children.

The panel – part of the 2013 SBC Pastors’ Conference June 10 in Houston – featured Anne and Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.; Cheri and Paul Jimenez, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C.; and Kelly and Gregg Matte, pastor of First Baptist Church of Houston. Matte served as president of the 2013 Pastors’ Conference and Jimenez as vice president.

Wright, SBC president from 2010-12, said balancing ministry and family begins with “our quiet time with the Lord, just because obviously we wouldn’t last a month in ministry if we didn’t have that time alone with God. But I think our kids need to see us having that time alone with God.”

The Wrights, parents of three adult boys, now with four grandchildren, admitted they were “failures” in family devotions, due to the age spread of their boys. They decided early to commit to spending one-on-one time with each child to pray, read Scripture and perhaps a Christian sports biography – which became a “positive,” they both said.

Photo by Adam Covington
Paul Jimenez, left, pastor of Taylors First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., and his wife, Cheri, facilitate a roundtable discussion Monday afternoon on “Balancing Family and Ministry” with Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga. and founder of Right from The Heart Ministries, and his wife, Anne. The roundtable was one of three throughout the two-day Pastors’ Conference that preceded the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.

Wright told how he set aside each Tuesday as his own “Sabbath,” which he defined for ministers as “24 hours away from your regular job” to spend time with family.

“Ministers are perhaps the worst offenders of ignoring the commandment on the Sabbath. We really live in sin so often and rationalize it that we are doing the will of God,” he said. “The Sabbath allows us to have a family day.” And it also is a “time of rejuvenation that you can pour into your family and stay away from work.”

Making this happen, Wright said, requires discipline. He places his wife’s name each week on his calendar.

The Mattes, who have two small children at home, said the biggest challenge for them is “schedule and focus,” Gregg Matte said. “It’s never all done as pastor. It’s always I can’t get it all done as pastor. So we have to be very clear about keeping the schedule conducive to our family.”

A second key challenge is focus, he said, adding that he struggles to be at home mentally. So he has established his home as a “no-phone zone,” and refuses to look at messages until the children are in bed.

Paul Jimenez said intentionality also must be a priority, or the home calendar will be swept away by the church calendar.

The young family has made a commitment to have dinner together every night, Cheri Jimenez said. “We have had to give things up to maintain a peaceful attitude and way of life,” including extracurricular activities in the belief that their children will “remember those times we spend at home.”

All three couples agreed that family should always “trump” ministry.

“Always,” Matte said. “The oddity is when ministry trumps family not when family trumps ministry. I want my kids to always feel like they were most important.”

Bryant Wright said 1 Timothy 5:8 will convict a pastor on the priority of family. That passage teaches that a man’s lack of provision for his household denies the faith and renders that man no better than an infidel.

Anne Wright said as her boys grew to be teenagers, her prayer life “hugely expanded.” While she had been praying for her children’s “protection,” as they got older she began praying for their “provision and God’s preparation” in her effort to raise godly men.

At the suggestion of a spiritual mentor, she began praying Colossians 1:9-12 over her children, “encouraging them to know God’s will, to be strengthened, to have wisdom, to walk in way worthy of having His name attached to the end of your name.”

At the end of the discussion, husbands and wives throughout the auditorium were urged to join hands and pray for their families.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention. See SBC 2013 for more stories about the annual meeting.)
6/11/2013 2:41:38 PM by Barbara Denman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

U.S. Christians rally around home–schooling family facing deportation

April 23 2013 by Krista Kapralos, Religion News Service

When Uwe and Hannelore Romeike’s asylum case is argued April 23 before a panel of federal judges, their lawyers won’t talk about poverty, war, or any of the reasons most immigrants cite in their bid to stay in the U.S.
Instead, they’ll focus on a parent’s right to teach their children at home, which isn’t allowed in the Romeikes’ native Germany. There, home-schooling families face fines, jail time and even loss of custody if their children are not enrolled in a traditional school.
The Romeikes’ lawyers will also talk about their right to teach the Bible during the school day – an angle that has spurred more than 100,000 U.S. conservatives to sign a petition to let the family stay in Tennessee, where they’ve made their home since 2008.

Photo courtesy Homeschool Legal Defense Association
The Romeike family studies around a table at home.

“In Germany there is basically religious freedom, but it ends at least with teaching the children,” Uwe Romeike says in a video produced by the Home School Legal Defense Association, the Christian organization providing the family’s legal support.
Home-schooling families in Europe have become a cause celebre for some U.S. conservatives. The Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom is working with two Swedish home-schooling families, including Christer and Annie Johansson, who lost custody of 11-year-old Domenic when they refused to enroll him in public school.
The Romeike case is unusual in a system backlogged with people trying to escape violence and persecution. The Romeikes are comparatively well off, and come from a country that hosts more than twice as many refugees as the U.S.
But because they home-schooled their five children (a sixth was born in Tennessee), they faced high fines and tension with local authorities. At one point, police forcibly corralled the oldest children into a van and delivered them to school.
“That is persecution,” said Mike Donnelly, a lawyer with the Home School Legal Defense Association.
In a Board of Immigration Appeals decision last year, lawyers arguing for the U.S. Department of Justice said the family wasn’t targeted because of their faith – any parent who doesn’t enroll a child in school faces the same consequences.
“By mandatory schooling we try to ensure extremely high standards of learning for all of our children,” said Stefan Messerer, a spokesman at the German embassy in Washington.
Uwe Romeike said in 2010 that his family only started using the religious freedom argument when they applied for asylum. The primary reason his family home–schools, he said, is to avoid bullying.
Talk show host Glenn Beck pledged $50,000 to support the family, and warned last month that the case is a bellwether for religious liberty.
“When America says you don’t have the fundamental right to raise your children up to the Lord as the way you see fit ... we are no longer Americans,” he said.
Most Germans who home-school, many of whom are Christians, do so in secret. It’s estimated that hundreds or thousands of German children are home-schooled, according to interviews with advocates and lawyers.
“There are new cases cropping up all the time,” said Jurgen Dudek, a Christian home–schooling father of eight. His family, one of just a few that is open about home schooling, faces a near-constant cycle of fines and court appearances.
Dudek spoke last week at a homeschooling conference in Minnesota, and plans to attend the Romeikes’ hearing. Even if the Romeikes win, he said, his family will remain in Germany.
“We wouldn’t want (the German government) to be triumphant in ousting the Dudek family,” he said.
4/23/2013 2:35:51 PM by Krista Kapralos, Religion News Service | with 2 comments

Falling fertility rate poses problems, author says

April 18 2013 by Tonika Reed, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Benches built to push couples to sit closer together, special holidays and monetary incentives are all ways other countries have tried to boost fertility rates, author and demographer Jonathan Last told a Washington audience recently. 
The “bad news,” said Last, is there are few examples of effective public policy to nudge fertility rates upward. Other countries that have tried to do so failed, the author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting said during an April 3 lecture at the Family Research Council.

The world population will peak before the end of this century and then quickly contract, Last predicted in a February opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times. This would be the first time this large and quick of a contraction took place since the Black Plague hit Europe in the Middle Ages. 

Today, 97 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where the fertility rate is falling, Last said in the article. 

At the Family Research Council event, Last cited some past efforts to boost fertility rates. 

“The first attempt we see as pro-natalist public policy is actually from Caesar Augustus,” Last said. “He passes in the late days of the Roman Empire, when they were having a fertility crunch, a bachelor tax – to get unmarried young men to get married and start [having] kids. That did not work.”

Another flawed attempt was Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s medal incentive, he said. 

“As Russians were getting wound up in World War II, he realized that they had a demographic problem and needed more babies, so he created the motherhood medal,” said Last. “If a woman had six children, the first class medal; five, the second class. They would earn this wonderful little medal. You can buy them on eBay. They are about 12 dollars.”

Last also talked about how the old views on American sexuality have been untethered from one another.

“Pre-1968 – broadly speaking, you could not have sex without getting married. You could not have sex without having a child nine months later, and you couldn’t have a kid out of wedlock. Certainly people did those things certainly on their own outside, but in broader society people didn’t do that,” Last said.

“The sexual revolution plays an enormous role on fertility,” Last said.

In 1965, four percent of all births were to single mothers; today, it is 47 percent. It is not that America is unwilling to produce children; the problem is broken homes and the dropping fertility rate, Last said. America’s ideal fertility rate is 2.5; it is currently 2.1.

“What has changed is not our conception of what the ideal family is but our ability to achieve it,” said Last.

Steve Aden, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, asked if this problem was one of inherent selfishness among those who are able but choose not to have children. 

Last said America’s problem stems from “hyper-responsibility,” not selfishness. He said those who want to move up economically usually choose to go to school longer, postponing the rates of marriage and childbirth. 

“We don’t need to browbeat people who do not want to have kids into wanting them,” Last said. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tonika Reed is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.)
4/18/2013 2:11:34 PM by Tonika Reed, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

At Super Bowl, BR’s Gabriel chats with NFL royalty, Blind Side’s Oher

February 7 2013 by BR Staff

Rubbing shoulders with professional athletes and various sports figures has been part of life for Roman Gabriel III, the president of Sold Out Ministries and radio host. For the Biblical Recorder, Gabriel has interviewed a variety of personalities – from the NFL’s Tony Dungy to NASCAR’s Blake Koch. Each of his interviews focus on faith, family and how athletes use their sports platform to share Jesus and present a positive message to others. For the past 19 years Gabriel, who is the son of a former NFL star quarterback, – and a former pro QB himself – has covered Super Bowl week for both secular and faith-based media outlets. This year, the Biblical Recorder – along with American Family Radio and a few other supporters – partnered with Gabriel while he was in New Orleans for seven interview packed days. For this article, we turned the tables on Gabriel, who usually asks the questions. Gabriel shares his take on the week, the players and why the Super Bowl is similar to an annual Baptist meeting. Below are excerpts from the interview, which was edited for clarity, brevity and length.
Q: For those of us who have never been to the Super Bowl, give us a glimpse of what it’s like through your eyes. How did it go?
A: For me, I measure the week on our impact for the Lord. It went great. You have two teams – the Ravens and the 49ers. There were so many story lines. And many of those story lines were faith and family based. So that’s right up our team’s alley.

It is a spectacular thing. Sometimes you have a tendency to take it for granted if you’ve been there. But I can remember the first year I was there. If you’ve ever taken your kids to Disney Land or Disney World for the first time … [and] they’ve only seen Mickey Mouse on TV …  it’s that kind of excitement when you go the first time. When you’ve grown up with football since you were one-year-old like me, and you knew players that have played from my Dad’s era and then I played in 80s era, … you’re absolutely blown away by the royalty of the NFL coming together. … It would be like going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a week and having everyone that’s ever been inducted and you being a music person. … This is like the Hall of Fame on steroids.

Special to the BR

Roman Gabriel III, left, interviews Sean Considine of the Baltimore Ravens in New Orleans.

Q: What does a typical week look like for you at the Super Bowl?
A: We come in on Monday night. We get our credentials, and we get checked in the media center. We have a team of five – myself, producer, cameraman, another onsite cameraman and then a full-time photographer. … It is kind of like the Baptist convention getting people together. [It’s] where you can see players who you played with. [It’s] where people are able to reminisce about great Super Bowls of [the] past and players that have played in the game. [It’s] where radio stations can talk to them about the game and about the things they want to talk about. It’s beautiful for us because we’re able to target guys that are faith and family oriented, that are character oriented. [We] talk to them a lot about how they use their platform for what they do.  So it really is a 24-hour, seven-day … coming-out party for the NFL. Everybody comes down to celebrate a great year in the NFL and to cap it off Sunday with a Super Bowl game.
Q: How many people did you interview while you were in New Orleans?
Probably over 100. … You can only imagine how difficult it would be to get a hold of premier NFL players through their agents throughout the year, to try to set up radio opportunities or film opportunities or Internet opportunities. I’ll get a year’s worth of material [at the Super Bowl].  … You have entertainers. You have movie actors. You have musicians. … Michael Phelps, the Olympic gold medalist, was in the locker room with the Ravens. We interviewed him. He’s friends with a lot of the Ravens because he’s from Baltimore. You’ll see a lot of movie stars there because they’ll … come in to promote movies or a book that they’ve written. … I talk to a lot of people who cover sports that are there. … Very few people know that the Super Bowl is just the end of a very long week of promotion, a long week of having the opportunity to gather and have fellowship. … The average ticket price for a game like this is about $4,000 dollars, so this is definitely a corporate event. This is not something mom and dad can bring their kids to.  It’s corporations and sports mixing for the benefit of making money. ... Our goal all week long is to get these [athletes and others] to open up about their faith, about their families and about how their career – and the career that they had – has turned into allowing them to have a platform that’s even greater today after … playing.
Q: What were some of the highlights of the week for you?
A: I had a chance to chat with [John Harbaugh, coach of the Baltimore Ravens,] for a moment. … As he was leaving [after the Super Bowl], he stopped and put his arm around me. … He said … “[I] just wanted to let you know we appreciate what you guys [in Christian media] do.” And I thought that was really special. … The other story was Michael Oher, [whose story is captured in] the movie The Blind Side. Michael plays right tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. [He] comes from a foster situation, had no parents … and of course the Tuohy’s … took him in. [They] provided that strong parental acknowledgement and encouragement to him. I just asked him,  “What would you tell other kids that are in your situation?” And he said, “… Sometimes you have to decide for yourself that you’re going to make good decisions, even if you don’t have good people around you to help you in that. I just decided that I wanted to do the right thing. And I also know that God has blessed me greatly with my foster parents, [and] to be drafted in the NFL after everything I have been through and to be sitting here.” That’s what makes football and sports such a great thing. It teaches so many biblical lessons, and for me, those were never separated. The biblical lessons and the life lessons came together for me, and that’s why sports and God fit together so well. That’s why I have to thank God for introducing me to football and sports because I met God through that and through some very caring teammates [who] loved God.
 (EDITOR’S NOTE – Roman Gabriel III hosts Sold Out Sports Saturday nights at 8 p.m. EST on American Family Radio. He is an evangelist and motivational speaker. Contact him at (910) 431-6483 or email His website is
2/7/2013 3:30:10 PM by BR Staff | with 0 comments

Marriage takes work: Pastors share struggles, victories

February 4 2013 by Shawn Hendricks & K. Allan Blume, BR Managing Editor & BR Editor

Jim Henry will never forget the time his wife made an appointment to see him.
Henry, who was pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn. at the time, said he thought his wife, Jeanette, was playing a joke on him at first.
“Mrs. Henry, is there anything … I can help you with?” he asked her playfully.
Jeanette looked him straight in the eye and said, “You’ve got time for everybody else, and now you’re going to take time for me.”
“The church was growing, and I thought I was doing a pretty good job at home,” Henry said. “And I realized I wasn’t.”
Henry, who today is pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church Orlando after 28 years of service there, said that was his “kum-ba-ya” moment when he realized he needed to adjust his routine.
After 53 years of marriage, three grown children, five grandsons and one great grandson, Henry said that was a defining moment in his ministry. It stirred him to do a better job of balancing his schedule, not over committing himself to ministry, and carving out more “family appointment” time.
“Nobody taught me … these things,” said Henry, who pointed out that most young pastors aren’t properly equipped to juggle family and ministry. “I was not taught anything like this at seminary.”
And today’s pastors are paying a heavy price – with divorce or leaving the ministry.
Now on an advisory committee with Care For Pastors, an organization that ministers to church leaders, Henry said 1,600 pastors are leaving the ministry every month.
And one of the main reasons is linked to marriage trouble. Every year more and more pastors are getting divorced, and church leaders – like Henry and others in North Carolina – are looking for ways to curb the trend.
Matt Chewning, a church planter in Boston, admits the first two years of giving birth to Netcast Church weren’t easy on him and his wife, Beth, and their four children.
“It really was difficult on my wife and me,” said Chewning, who got his start as an intern at 1.21 Church in Winston-Salem.
“There is a real enemy who is trying to attack your family. If the enemy can un-unite the husband and wife, that trickles into the church, and there will be disunity in the church.”
Finding the balance meant saying “no” more often to the demands of ministry and saying “yes” to his family.
“Number one, it says to my wife, ‘You are more important to me than our church,’” he said. “‘I’m not going to cheat on you with the church God has given us.’ If I don’t do certain things, I’m not hindering God’s ability to build this church. 
“Jesus is going to build this church.”
Too many pastors transfer their loyalty from their families to their church once they begin their ministry, added Eddie Thompson, senior consultant for marriage and family ministry at the Baptist State Convention of N.C. Thompson counsels with pastors and their families and leads a variety of marriage conferences throughout the year.
“They don’t mean to [transfer loyalty], but it’s just the nature of the job,” he said. “This really hurts them in the long run.”
The sooner pastors learn their families are a critical part of their ministry, the better off the ministry becomes, said Thompson. Pastors often become isolated from their families and friendships over time.
“Even though they are around a lot of people … many pastors feel isolated,” Thompson said. “Ask most women, ‘Does your husband have a close friend? No. He doesn’t.’”
“When somebody feels isolated this really opens up the doors strongly to temptation.”
In addition to infidelity, pornography is a growing “plague” and “cancer” in the lives of many pastors, and it wreaks havoc on their families and their ministries.
“This is the number one call I get from staff members from across the state,” Thompson said.
“Some are trapped in a world of pornography and don’t like it one ounce. The access to pornography is just too easy.”
Thompson cited a poll done by Focus on the Family a few years ago that surveyed 2,000 pastors. The study asked them if they had viewed pornography in the last 20 days. Sixty-seven percent responded with “yes.”
Pastors and church leaders must realize they are an “easy target,” Thompson said. “You have the biggest target on your back than anybody.”
Facebook creates another temptation for people – including pastors – to engage in inappropriate relationships and extramarital affairs. A study involving 600 divorce attorneys revealed that two thirds of divorces in the United States are linked to the social networking site.
“We see Facebook really as [having] an intensely negative effect on the family right now,” Thompson said.
“This has really opened the door for pastors, just as much as everybody else.” 
Couples must establish boundaries with Facebook and other social networking sites. And congregations must also learn to be sensitive to the fact that pastors, and their families, deal with the same temptations and struggles everyone else encounters.
“Many of these pastors and wives are hurting deeply, but they never tell anybody,” Thompson said.
“They’re so afraid, and they’re so ashamed, that they can’t make progress on their own. They just continue to exist in a marriage, in a family relationship that’s not very good.”
Thompson challenges pastors and their wives not to settle for “less of the marriage that God intended [them] to have.” He said pastors and their wives can schedule an appointment for free counseling anytime. There also are convention-sponsored marriage conferences available throughout the year.
But in order to get the help they need, pastors must overcome their fears and reach out for help.
While pastors face their own troubles, they usually have a church full of laymen, church staff and leaders struggling to hold their marriages together.
Scott and Holly Ladner, who have been married for 12 years, were one of those couples.
Today they co-teach a Sunday School class at Apex Baptist Church in Apex for young married couples. But during their first few years of marriage the couple, who now have a 6-year-old daughter, went through a “dark time.” They shared how for months they didn’t even kiss.
“What was amazing was that nobody knew what was going on,” Holly said. “There was not any infidelity. There was not any addiction. We were just fighting like cats and dogs.”
“We would go to church on Sunday morning, and we were great,” she said.
“We would smile. We were participating in Sunday School. To this day, we will have people tell us, ‘Are you kidding me? We had no idea.’ We were really wearing the mask well.”
But the couple sought counseling. They also started attending LifeWay’s Festival of Marriage at Ridgecrest.
“The only reason[s] Holly and I are still married is number one, Jesus Christ,” said Scott, who is a deacon in the church. “Number two, the … Festival of Marriage. It has saved our marriage, besides Jesus. And that’s no joke.”
Attending the annual marriage conference continues to be a part of their “an annual check-up.”
The Ladners hope their story inspires others to know that they aren’t alone and that marriage is worth the fight.
Holly said marriage is a journey, one that can be revealed and studied throughout scripture.
“The whole Bible is about marriage,” Holly said. “It’s about how much Christ loves His bride … this picture of us being the bride of Christ. It’s been beautiful the way the Lord has taught me through His Word about marriage. It is all about Him.” 



  • Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion by Wayne Cordeiro
  • Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp
  • Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
  • Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
  • Visionary Marriage by Rob and Amy Reinow

Marriage events

  • The Pastor’s Juggling Act: A Pastor and Wife Getaway, Ridgecrest Conference Center, Black Mountain, June 6-8
Also Oct. 24-26 at Fort Caswell on Oak Island
For more information contact Eddie Thompson at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5644. Thompson can also plan events for your church.
  • Festival of Marriage, LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center, Black Mountain, Oct. 11-13. For more information call (800) 588-7222.
2/4/2013 3:20:58 PM by Shawn Hendricks & K. Allan Blume, BR Managing Editor & BR Editor | with 0 comments

Parents refused to ‘interrupt’ Haley’s life

January 24 2013 by Meredith Flynn, Baptist Press

ANNA, Ill. – Haley Willis has exceeded expectations her whole life. Diagnosed with a neural tube defect 21 weeks before she was born, doctors told her parents, Jeff and Lynel, that Haley wouldn’t survive the pregnancy. When she was born on her due date, the Willises were told to take her home and enjoy her for as long as she survived – two weeks, at most.

Haley will turn 10 this summer. And Jeff and Lynel Willis, who serve at Harvest Church in Anna, say their oldest daughter is a miracle with a special gift for making people smile and drawing shy kids out of their shells. And defying the odds.

The Willises, who were told it would be easier to “interrupt” or terminate their pregnancy and start over, knew from the moment of Haley’s diagnosis what their responsibility was concerning their daughter.

“I was realizing really quickly that this wasn’t about Jeff and me,” Lynel said. “This was about God showing His glory through something as little as this baby. And we were just along for the ride.”

One month before her birth, the Willises named their daughter Haley Faith. Lynel said, “We wanted faith in the name, because we were having her out of faith.”

Knit together

Jeff and Lynel met at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., where Lynel was preparing for the international mission field and Jeff was studying to be a worship minister. He’s no stranger to defying his own odds; born without several of his fingers, Jeff plays drums, piano and guitar.

Before they got Haley’s diagnosis, their biggest concern was that she would have all her fingers and toes. But after their doctor gave them the bleak news of her condition and prognosis, the Willises started praying very specific things for her birth: to see her eyes, hear her cry and make snuggle sounds, to be able to feed her, and that Haley would grab on to Jeff’s pinkie.

Photo courtesy of the Willis family

People quickly notice Haley’s joyful spirit, parents Jeff and Lynel Willis say. Doctors gave her practically no chance of survival when she was diagnosed with a severe brain defect five months before her birth.

“When they laid her on my chest, and at the very moment, she grabbed on to his pinkie,” Lynel said. “And the whole room just went quiet, because they all knew what we had prayed for, and it was happening right before our eyes.”

Haley’s neural tube defect caused part of her brain to separate and grow in a sack called an “encephalocele.” She was born without one-third of her brain, and what she did have was “disorganized,” Lynel said.

From the very beginning, the Willises knew it was up to them to be Haley’s advocates. She was eating and sleeping like any baby but doctors still didn’t give her hope for long-term survival. She desperately needed a shunt to relieve pressure in her brain, but the neurosurgeon they visited wouldn’t even see her at first because he considered it a waste of time.

One physician who did fight alongside the Willises for Haley’s quality of life came to be known by the family as “Uncle Freddie.” He set up hearing and seeing tests for Haley – which she passed – and at six months, the neurosurgeon agreed to see her.

“By this time, she was smiling and looking at us, almost like a normal baby,” Lynel said. “She looked up at him, and he said, ‘This child is looking at me.’ And she smiled at him.”

Haley had her shunt surgery that day, the first in a long string of major procedures to better her life. Jeff accepted a church staff position in Tucson, Ariz., far away from the couple’s Midwestern roots. But it put them much closer to the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, where, shortly after her first birthday, Haley had a craniotomy to repair her skull.

The procedure should have taken six to eight hours, so the Willises were stunned when the surgeon walked out after an hour and a half. “He just said, ‘I can’t believe what I just saw,’” Lynel recounted. The surgeons had been able to use some of the bone in Haley’s skull to close the tennis ball-size opening. He told the Willises they had “knitted the pieces together.”

The surgeon didn’t know her parents had prayed Psalm 139 – “You knit me together in my mother’s womb” – over Haley since before her birth, praying that God would knit her skull together, bind her, heal her.

“Just the words he had used, that he had knit them together, God was showing us all over again how much He loves us,” Lynel said. Jeff added, “... And that He was in control.”

Perfect in weakness

The Willises second daughter, Brynna Grace, was born in 2008. “For a 4-year-old, she can be pretty deep sometimes,” Jeff remarked. “She’s always thinking, and she’s very detailed – she picks up on things in a whole different way. She’ll ask me about my hands.”

He responds to his daughter’s questions by telling her, “God made me special and gave me the opportunity to share about how He made me....” There’s no physical connection between Jeff’s condition and Haley’s, but he does see a spiritual connection.

“The whole thing points back to Scripture – in our weakness, He is made strong,” Jeff said, referencing 2 Corinthians 12:9. Haley is “a little girl who shouldn’t be here, let alone functioning at such a high level, and how God uses her in her weakness ... the minute she walks into a room and just wins them over. People are drawn to her for some reason.”

As she looks toward her milestone 10th birthday, Haley is a student in a regular third-grade classroom. She gets special help during the school day for reading and math, and she walks on her own with a walker or her recently-acquired crutches. She’s a big sister to Brynna Grace, 4, and Roslyn Joy, 3. And she’s a teacher. For the past several semesters, Haley and Lynel have served as guest lecturers in a class for future special education teachers at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

Lynel also has connected with other families with kids like Haley, communicating with them through Facebook, where she has documented Haley’s story, and even in-person visits. As the Willises talk with families facing a diagnosis like Haley’s, they encourage expectant couples to see the pregnancy through – and see what God’s going to do.

While Haley’s case is definitely miraculous and not the norm, Lynel counsels, “[E]ven if you don’t get the baby that you hope for, and you don’t get to keep your baby, that doesn’t mean that God isn’t trying to show you something, to do some great things in your life.”

The Willises learned the same lesson 10 years ago when, against all odds, they chose to stick with a pregnancy that almost everyone else thought was hopeless. “It really started dawning on us that what God was doing in our lives and through our lives as we went through this difficult trial,” Jeff said, “It wasn’t in the outcome of whether Haley was going to be alive when she was born, but that He gave us the peace, and let us minister to people.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist, newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association, where this article first appeared.)
1/24/2013 1:42:37 PM by Meredith Flynn, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pro-life leaders: Battle going in right direction on Roe’s 40th

January 23 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Pro-life leaders differ over whether they expected Roe v. Wade to reach its 40th anniversary, but they agree the battle to protect unborn children and mothers in crisis is headed in the right direction.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state restrictions on abortion in its Roe opinion Jan. 22, 1973. Roe and Doe v. Bolton, a companion ruling also issued 40 years ago Tuesday (Jan. 22), had the effect of legalizing abortion throughout the country for any reason at any point in pregnancy. One of the results has been an estimated 55 million legal abortions during the last four decades.

Looking back after four decades, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said he is surprised Roe is still the law of the land, “given the fact that we’ve had Ronald Reagan as a pro-life president for eight years and George H.W. Bush as a semi-pro-life president for four years and George W. Bush for eight years. That’s 20 years since ’73. I would have thought we would have had more pro-life Supreme Court justices nominated and confirmed.”

The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission acknowledged pro-choice presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had two nominees each but said the 1990 nomination by the first President Bush of David Souter was “the game-changer.”

Pro-lifers, in this picture from the 2010 March for Life in Washington, rally for the unborn. In the 40 years since Roe v. Wade, there have been more than 55 million abortions in the United States.

Souter “was a horrible, tragic mistake, which is the main reason we still have Roe v. Wade. If instead of David Souter, President George H.W. Bush had nominated a strong pro-life Supreme Court nominee, we would have had Roe v. Wade overturned.”

Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said she is not surprised Roe still stands.

“Our opponents are the Goliath in this country,” she told Baptist Press (BP) by email. “They have the media, much of Hollywood, and unfortunately, a lot of money made by killing unborn children. However, we all know how [the story of Goliath] ended. A young boy, with faith in God, prevailed.”

Land, 66, said he still expects Roe to be overturned in his lifetime, if he lives out a “normal life span.”

“[S]entiment is moving against it,” Land told BP. “A majority of Americans think it’s immoral, and a majority [is] willing to put restrictions on it, significant restrictions on the procedure.

Tobias, 52, is not so sure.

“I truly don’t know if Roe will be reversed in my lifetime, but I tend to think it will,” she said. “The pro-life movement is filled with young people who have seen and experienced the impact of abortion on their peers and they are joining the fight to protect the next generation from the same fate. Their energy and enthusiasm will carry this battle forward until it is won.”

Pro-lifers agree the Roe and Doe decisions have been devastating for Americans. In its 1973 Doe ruling, the Supreme Court provided an exception from state regulations of abortion for “maternal health,” which it defined as “all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient.” The result was to legalize abortion “on demand,” as pro-lifers have described it.

“I can look back over those 40 years and say without a doubt: The world is not a better place because of abortion – women are not in a better place because of abortion,” Carrie Gordon Earll told CitizenLink, which is affiliated with Focus on the Family. Earll, who had an abortion in 1981, is CitizenLink’s senior policy analyst. “What it’s created is a world where you’re almost expected to abort if you’re pregnant at an inopportune time,” Earll said. “It’s created a society where it’s easier to push women toward exterminating their babies than to accommodate them with their needs as mothers.”

Tobias, of Right to Life, said in a written statement Tuesday, “Roe is a sad commentary on our society’s attitudes toward women and their unborn children.

“Roe is an assault on the very foundation of our country – the principle that life is the most fundamental of all human rights,” she said.

In a brief, written statement Tuesday, President Obama – who has strongly supported abortion rights – reaffirmed Roe’s “historic commitment to protect the health and reproductive freedom of women across this country and stand by its guiding principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters, and women should be able to make their own choices about their bodies and their health care.”

The reversal of Roe and Doe without constitutional protection for the unborn would return the issue to the states.

“[I]n most states, most abortions that currently take place will be made illegal,” Land said. “In most of the abortions that take place, the overwhelming majority, more than nine out of 10, have nothing to do with the life of the mother, rape, incest or any serious malady or genetic problem in the fetus. And most states will outlaw purely elective abortions. A significant majority of states, if they have the opportunity, would currently severely restrict abortion.”

He said, “Unfortunately, there would still be states that would have very liberal” abortion laws.

Land pointed to several factors in the pro-life movement’s advance under Roe, including:
  • The debate during the 1990s and the following decade over the heinous partial-birth abortion procedure “did an enormous amount to humanize the fetus.”
  • The progress in embryology and ultrasound technology also has helped humanize the unborn child.
  • “You know they say a picture is worth a thousands words,” Land said. “Well, sonograms have done more to reduce abortion than probably anything else, because women who see their baby are significantly less likely to abort. And, you know, we’ve got more than a generation of young people who have grown up with their siblings’ sonograms on the refrigerator. And so it’s not possible to try to convince them that it is not a human being, which is one of the reasons why pro-life is now the new majority.”
  • Pro-life couples have had babies and “raised them to be pro-life,” and pro-choicers “have not had their babies, and so they haven’t raised them to be anything.”
Pro-lifers will not give up on their effort to supplant America’s abortion regime, Tobias said.

“The pro-life movement is the movement of love, helping people they will never meet,” she told BP. “As love never ends, neither will our efforts on behalf of unborn children and their mothers.”

In its 1973 Doe ruling, the Supreme Court provided an exception from state regulations of abortion for “maternal health,” which it defined as “all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient.” The result was to legalize abortion “on demand,” as pro-lifers have described it.

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

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1/23/2013 3:33:32 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

20,000 Russians protest ban on U.S. adoptions

January 17 2013 by Baptist Press

MOSCOW – Upwards of 20,000 Russians marched through Moscow Jan. 13 to protest the country’s new ban on adoption by Americans, as confusion continued to swirl over the law’s immediate impact.

The Kremlin reportedly announced Jan. 10 that the law won’t take effect for one year due to a 2011 bilateral adoption agreement between the U.S. and Russia, The Washington Post reported. That agreement says adoptions can continue for one year even after one party withdraws from it. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the ban on American adoptions in December.

But for couples who are trying to finish adoptions that already are under way, any one-year delay is not yet evident. The New York Times reported the story of Rebecca and Brian Preece, a couple from Idaho who were in Moscow Monday (Jan. 14) trying to bring home their new 4-year-old son, who has Down syndrome. A judge had approved their adoption Nov. 29 but another judge on Tuesday (Jan. 14) said she could not sign a final decree “without further guidance from Russia’s Supreme Court.” And even if she signed it, she said, “there was no guarantee that other officials would issue the boy a passport,” The Times reported. And even if he got a passport, “immigration agents might block his departure at the airport.”

Alla V. Prozorova, an adoption expert knowledgeable about Russian adoptions, said the ban harms children because Americans are unique in their willingness to adopt children with disabilities.

“People who are involved in this problem – I mean even higher-level authorities – they know only Americans really volunteer to adopt special needs children,” she told The Times. “No Italian, no French, no Germans.”

Estimates vary over the number of children in Russia who are orphaned but most put it at more than 100,000. Putin signed the law as a retaliatory response to U.S. sanctions against Russia for human rights abuses.

One Russian orphan, 14-year-old Maxim Kargapoltsev, went public in his desire to have his adoption to a U.S. family finalized.

“I am very sorry,” he wrote on social media, according to The Washington Post, “that the law will not let me have a very good family in the future, the family that I have known and loved and whom I have become attached to. I like my motherland, but I would like to have a family in the U.S.”

The 20,000 or so Russians who marched against the ban shouted “shame on the scum” and carried posters of Putin and members of Russian’s parliament, according to the Associated Press (AP). It was a “far bigger number” of protesters than expected, AP said.

Unlike America, Russia does not have a strong adoption movement, and children often remain in orphanages until they are adults.

(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.)
1/17/2013 3:36:24 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood gets new leader

January 9 2013 by Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Owen Strachan was named executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood Jan. 7, succeeding Randy Stinson.

Strachan, 31, serves as assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) is a Louisville, Ky.-based group that supports a complementarian position on manhood and womanhood. The organization holds that men and women are equal but have different and complementary roles in the home and in the church.

“Owen Strachan is a bright and energetic young thinker, brimming with wise ideas about the next stage of CBMW’s mission,” Russell D. Moore, chairman of the board of CBMW, said. “I’m excited about the road-map he’s laid out for us and look forward to the future.”

Stinson becomes CBMW senior fellow.

Strachan has published articles, essays and reviews on gender roles for publications such as The Atlantic online, Christianity Today, The City and the Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (JBMW). He participated in a 2012 debate with Rachel Held Evans over egalitarianism on the UK radio show “Unbelievable.” In 2012, Strachan’s JBMW article on “Dad moms” led to media coverage from outlets like The Blaze, the Louisville Courier-Journal and Christianity Today. Strachan has spoken at the Family Research Council, the Veritas Forum and the Evangelical Theological Society.

Strachan holds a Ph.D. in theological studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a master of divinity degree in biblical & theological studies from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Wayne Grudem, past president and co-founder of CBMW, said Strachan “brings a wealth of knowledge about theology and evangelical history to his new leadership role with CBMW.”

“Strachan is a wise and gifted communicator who seeks to honor Jesus Christ in all that he does,” Grudem said. “I expect that Dr. Strachan will be used by God to significantly increase the impact of the ministry of CBMW.”

Prior to taking a professorship at Boyce, Strachan was the managing director of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) and the founding associate director of the Jonathan Edwards Center at TEDS.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Based on reporting by Jeff Robinson of CBMW.)
1/9/2013 2:26:39 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Mom & Dad nurtured athletic sons for God

January 4 2013 by Laura Fielding, Baptist Press

CORDOVA, Tenn. – “Keeping up with the Joneses” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to the family of college football star Barrett Jones.

Rex and Leslie Jones have raised three hard-working, respectful sons who have a heart for missions – and they happen to be talented football players.

“We wanted to be very intentional about how we raised [our boys],” Rex said. “One of the things I wanted to do is to raise my children with one goal in mind … [to] teach them to make good decisions.

“We just decided we were going to use the Bible as the foundation of truth to teach our kids.”

Their three sons are now grown – Barrett, 22, Harrison, 20, and Walker, 18 – but Rex and Leslie, members of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., have watched that early foundation shape their sons into godly men.

Barrett and Harrison play football at the University of Alabama – Barrett is an offensive lineman playing his last season, and Harrison, a junior, plays tight end. Walker, a senior at Evangelical Christian School in Cordova, plays for his high school team and plans to follow in his brothers’ footsteps.

Despite their athleticism, the brothers have remained true to the values their parents instilled – to make missions and ministry their first priority.

Intentional parenting

The Jones family took their first mission trip in 2001 when the boys were 10, 8 and 6. But missions wasn’t the only way Rex and Leslie exposed their children to ministry.

Church – despite hectic school and sports schedules – was always a priority. Rex didn’t allow his sons to participate in any sporting events on Sunday mornings. Leslie made sure the family was at 8 o’clock Sunday School and 9:30 a.m. worship services even after late-night Saturday activities.

“[The boys] thought that was a little harsh because, honestly, there aren’t many people that do that these days,” Leslie said. “But I think … it’s been a great thing because the kids have made church a priority since they are older now, too.”

Photo by Thomas Graham

The Joneses pose for a photo on their most recent mission trip to Nicaragua in March where they shared the gospel while visiting elementary schools, an orphanage and a local Baptist church. “You bond on these trips more so than you would at the beach or just on a regular vacation just because you see your family members growing spiritually,” said eldest son Barrett.

Barrett said his parents “did a great job of teaching me not only about the Bible and what we believe, but also how to study it for myself and how to find out why I believe what I believe.”

Besides a Christ-centered home life, the boys received a Christian education at Evangelical Christian School and strong biblical teachings through Bellevue. Each child began violin lessons at age 3, Leslie said, to teach them discipline and focus – while sitting still. They also used the violin as a ministry tool. The boys performed at nursing homes, schools or the Baptist Children’s Home and would then visit with the audience.

“I do think that gave them a love for people and ministering with people that they wouldn’t have had,” Leslie said.

Tightknit family

Going on mission trips together has obviously strengthened the family’s bond. During a trip to Nicaragua in spring 2012, the Joneses often had arms around each other, sat by each other, gave one another hugs or were encouraging each other.

“You bond on these trips more so than you would at the beach or just on a regular vacation just because you see your family members growing spiritually,” Barrett said.

“I learned a lot from [my brothers],” Walker added. “They definitely made me tougher just because I’m the youngest, and I really wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

While the brothers are close, they are still competitive with each other – whether in basketball, football or a sport they just make up.

“I love both those guys, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let them win anything,” Barrett said with a grin.

Leslie said she’s thankful all three sons share a special connection with their mother.

“We do have a special bond, but it’s just such a natural thing because they’ve always been very affectionate children,” Leslie said. “They’ve always communicated with me a lot about things going on. I guess not having any girls, I had to talk to my boys, so they’re just sweet to their mother.”

“My mom is great,” Harrison said. “Obviously, it’s a really tough task to raise three boys … really, when you’re in a house of four boys, including my dad. … But that really can’t be compared to anything else – the job of a mother – and she’s done the best job I could ever ask for.”

The relationship between Barrett and Leslie is so close that Rex describes Barrett as a “momma’s boy.” Though Barrett disagrees with that title, he admits he shares a special connection with his mom, partly due to their similar personalities.

“I couldn’t do all the stuff I do today without her,” Barrett said. “She helps organize everything for me and helps me handle all the things I have to do – so I’m very grateful to her for that.”

Challenge to make a difference

Because of her closeness with her boys, Leslie struggled as her two oldest sons left for college. “I just found it very difficult to be so involved with their daily life, and then suddenly they move away and start a whole new life and routine,” she reflected.

Rex, however, felt differently.

“As a man raising boys, I want them to go out and conquer the world, and mothers sometimes have a little harder time understanding that part,” he said. “But it has really been great to watch Leslie let them jump out of what we call ‘the nest,’ and to really fly.”

For Leslie, sending the first child to college was especially tough.

“It was really hard on me, but I knew that it was just something I had to adjust to,” she said. “I had to be so happy for [Barrett] that he was physically and spiritually and emotionally prepared to leave home and to be on his own.”

Barrett is thankful for his parents’ continued support, especially when it comes to his vision and passion for missions.

“This is not something you can do by yourself,” Barrett said during his mission trip in Nicaragua. “They’ve always just been great parents for me and have supported me in whatever I wanted to do.”

“I think at the end of the day, that’s really what our job of parenting has been,” Rex said. “It’s not to keep them at home for a lifetime, but to really challenge them to go out and make a difference.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Laura Fielding is a writer for IMB. To learn more about how to expose children to missions, visit or Kids on Mission.)

Related story

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1/4/2013 2:38:46 PM by Laura Fielding, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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