News

Few Syrian Christians get asylum in U.S., despite genocide declaration

May 31 2016 by Evan Wilt, World News Service

Two months after the Obama administration called out militant terror group Islamic State (ISIS) for committing genocide against Christians in Iraq and Syria, refugee data show those finding a safe haven in the United States are not the ones suffering the most persecution.
 
Last year, President Barack Obama set the goal of bringing 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States in fiscal year 2016. So far, the State Department is on track to fall well short of that number, with only about 2,700 successfully resettled. State Department figures show 499 Syrian refugees have resettled in America this month, but not a single one was a Christian or member of another religious minority group targeted for genocide, according to CNSNews reports.
 
“For me, that has got to change,” said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on May 26. “I mean that is unconscionable.”
 
Of the 2,705 Syrian refugees who came to the United States this fiscal year, 97 percent are Sunni Muslims. Only 12 identified with a form of Christianity, either Catholic, Greek Orthodox or Protestant, along with 10 Yazidi refugees.
 
Tempers flared during the hearing yesterday as lawmakers noted the disproportionate numbers. Some compared the crisis in Iraq and Syria to Jewish persecution during the holocaust.
 
“We have innocent people in the hundreds of thousands – if not millions – who are in jeopardy of being slaughtered in the same way the Jews were slaughtered in the holocaust,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. “This is wrong, this is absolutely wrong. This is like sending the Jews back and saying we’re going to have a more open policy with the Nazis but the Jews aren’t going to be able to come in.”
 

Photo by Seth Brown

Earlier this year, religious liberty advocates urged the State Department to recognize the atrocities against Christians and other minority faith groups in Iraq and Syria. The Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians compiled a 278-page report detailing acts of violence and targeting of minority groups in the region.
 
One week later, on March 17, Secretary of State John Kerry agreed with the report and issued a genocide declaration, only the second time in American history an administration has declared genocide amid ongoing conflict.
 
But advocates say the State Department needs to ramp up aid for Christians and others trying to escape persecution.
 
“The world’s greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II is unfolding now in the Middle East. In addition to millions of refugees, many of the region’s indigenous communities now face extinction,” said Carl Anderson, Knights of Columbus CEO. “American policy should recognize the important differences in the situations of those fleeing violence and those targeted for genocide. And we should prioritize the latter.”
 
According to Anderson, the Christian population in Iraq has dropped more than 80 percent, with 70 percent fewer Christians in Syria since ISIS rose to power. The Islamic militants have driven millions of Christians and other faith minorities out of their communities and murdered thousands because of their faith.
 
Smith said it’s important not to have a religious test or discriminate against refugees trying come to the U.S. but insisted current figures are inexcusable and those targeted for genocide need to have priority.
 
He criticized the Obama administration for conflating strategies of taking down terrorists and helping civilians in distress. Smith said the United States needs more effective monitoring and response systems for those targeted for genocide in the Middle East.
 
“For years, the administration has been unwilling to effectively address the slaughters in Syria and Iraq,” Smith said. “If it still thinks it has no obligation to act, it will likely continue its policy of acting too little, too late.”

5/31/2016 1:38:51 PM by Evan Wilt, World News Service | with 0 comments



Mission:Dignity aids ‘folks like us’

May 31 2016 by Joe Westbury, Mission:Dignity

After 45 years of ministry, Reginald and Claudia Pressley retired much the way they began – serving small churches in the Southeast. They were there for births, baptisms, weddings and funerals as they marked the milestones and the passage of time in the lives of their members.
 
And they wouldn’t trade anything for the memories.
 
The couple met in their teens at Toccoa Falls Institute (now Toccoa Falls College), a faith-based school in the mountains of north Georgia. He was attending on the advice of a pastor where he lived in Talladega, Ala., after surrendering to the ministry; she was the daughter of an instructor.
 
His memory is that it was “love at first sight” for Claudia.
 
Her story differs. “He chased me all over the place,” she said.
 
Regardless, they struck up an acquaintance before he returned to Alabama for his senior year of high school. Then he was drafted by Uncle Sam; entering the Marines, he shipped off for the Korean Peninsula.

Photo by Joe Westbury
Reginald and Claudia Pressley, over 45 years of ministry, “never had much money to put away for retirement,” as he described it, “though the churches helped where they could.” The Pressleys are among 1,800 individuals aided by Mission:Dignity, the retiree benevolence ministry of GuideStone Financial Resources.


The relationship continued halfway around the world, and when he returned home he went to Toccoa to visit Claudia. Soon they were married and, after his discharge, settled back in Toccoa. He took Bible classes at the school and then moved the family to Florida where he studied at the Baptist Bible Institute (now the Baptist College of Florida).
 
“Times were tough being newly married, having a son and wife, and trying to support them; money was scarce,” Reginald said.
 
His first pastorate, at Bellwood Baptist Church in Geneva, Ala., taught him and Claudia a lot about human nature, such as the squabble that was just being solved when they moved to town.
 
“The church had a very heated question over whether to add air conditioning,” Claudia recounted. “Most folks didn’t have it back then, and couldn’t afford it, so they could not see taking on the expense of higher electric bills just for an hour or two on Sunday morning.
 
“Well, the church was split on the vote, so they went ahead and air conditioned the sanctuary, and that created a very unique worship experience,” Claudia said. “The half in favor of air conditioning sat on one side with the cool air blowing, and those who opposed it sat on the other side with the windows open.”
 
That was just the first of a lifetime of experiences that Reginald and Claudia look back on with amusement.
 

‘A real blessing’

Throughout the next several decades, the couple moved around the Southeast, always serving small churches and living in parsonages.
 
Reginald’s favorite part of ministry was preaching.
 
“The Lord just seemed to speak through me and give me what the people needed to hear at the time,” he reflected.
 
Reginald also credits his ministry with good discipleship and a strong missions education program through Woman’s Missionary Union and the Brotherhood, which he described as the backbone of the church that kept it focused on missions.

Mission:Dignity photo
Idell Austin, seen here putting canned goods in her cabinets at home, is a North Carolina recipient of Mission:Dignity help. Her husband, Wayne, pastored small churches for nearly 40 years, sometimes getting paid $10 a week or with a chicken or produce. When he died there was no burial insurance; the hospital bills from his cancer fight piled up. She kept working at the local textile mill until she was 73 so she could pay her bills. When she retired, all she had was Social Security to pay everything. “When you draw $700 a month, you pay your light bill, telephone, taxes on your car, gas and medicine. There’s nothing left. I went hungry sometimes. You can’t go all day without eating something.” A local pastor soon heard of Idell’s situation and suggested she ask about some help from GuideStone’s Mission:Dignity ministry. She applied and was approved for an extra $200 a month to help her buy food and other necessities. In 2008, her amount doubled to $400 a month. “I never dreamed they would send me anything. I was no preacher,” Idell said.


Now retired, the Pressleys are not far from where they first met. They live in Toccoa and are members of Old Liberty Baptist Church, just 15 miles across the state line in Westminster, S.C. It was the last church he served and where he retired at age 70 in 2001. Claudia plays the organ each Sunday.
 
One of the blessings Reginald and Claudia have in retirement is Mission:Dignity, the benevolence ministry of GuideStone Financial Resources by which Southern Baptists’ gifts supplement the couple’s limited income to help them make ends meet.
 
“We never had much money to put away for retirement, though the churches helped where they could,” Reginald said. “I think many of them put about $35 a month away toward our retirement, which is what the Annuity Board [now GuideStone] recommended as a minimum.
 
“Of course we didn’t have anything to contribute because I rarely made more than $300 a month in my early days, and not much more than that later.”
Claudia seconded that thought.
 
“I sometimes wonder how in the world we got by in those days without health insurance, but we couldn’t afford it,” she said.
 
“Thank goodness the Annuity Board eventually offered a program and it was a real lifesaver. The Annuity Board was a real blessing when we needed it.
 
“It was hard to raise four children on a country pastor’s salary, but the Lord always met our needs.”
 
Mission:Dignity assists more than 1,800 recipients each month, providing a measure of security and dignity in their retirement years.
 
The neediest couples with at least 25 years of paid Southern Baptist ministerial service can receive $600 each month from Mission:Dignity.
 
Thanks to an endowment that pays for administrative costs, 100 percent of money given to Mission:Dignity benefits a retired pastor, worker or his widow in need.
 
For some recipients, it means being able to stay in the familiar surroundings of their own home.
 
For others, it covers the cost of groceries, utilities, prescriptions and other necessities. But for each of them, it’s an expression of the love and care from their Southern Baptist family.
 
“As you get old the medical bills come a lot more frequently and seem to never end,” Claudia said.
 
“Mission:Dignity is helping us to meet those bills while still having funds available to cover other day-to-day expenses.
 
“We don’t know what we would do without the check we receive from Baptists all over the nation who contribute to folks like us.”
 

N.C. Baptist support

Last year, North Carolina Baptists gave nearly $360,000 to Mission:Dignity. Those funds benefit many people in the state, since 158 of the program’s recipients live in N.C.

“We have a good partnership with North Carolina,” said John Ambra, director of development. “It’s been wonderful across the years.”
 
Ambra shared a story that illustrates the commitment of N.C. Baptists to the ministry.
He said an elderly lady from Roanoke Rapids who received assistance from Mission:Dignity felt compassion for widows like herself, so she decided to give back $5 each month.
 
“If a little widow lady living on the edge can come up with $5 a month, there’s no reason anyone in our state conventions and across the Southern Baptist Convention can’t do that,” Ambra said.
 
Of the 148 churches, Sunday School classes and other church-related organizations that gave to the ministry last year, the top two were Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Boone and Snyder Memorial Baptist Church in Fayetteville.
 
Visit MissionDignity.org.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index and wrote this story on assignment for Mission:Dignity. Seth Brown, BR content editor, contributed to this story.) 

5/31/2016 1:25:52 PM by Joe Westbury, Mission:Dignity | with 1 comments



Incarcerated women receive milestone degrees

May 31 2016 by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS

Having overcome a crisis of faith to complete her college degree, Brenda Thornton walked the chapel stage at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women (LCIW).
 
Thornton was one of 13 LCIW graduates in the first-ever awarding of bachelor degrees at the prison by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Leavell College, marking a milestone for the program that began five years ago.
 
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I would make it,” said Thornton, who received a bachelor of Christian ministry degree with a minor in women’s ministry May 18.
 
Thornton credited Sandra Vandercook, NOBTS/Leavell College associate professor of English and education, with helping amid her spiritual storm, saying, “What helped me? My professor.”
 
NOBTS President Chuck Kelley challenged the LCIW graduating class to be ready for what God had planned next in their lives.

Photo by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS
The first undergraduate degrees at Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women were awarded May 18 by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's Leavell College, marking a milestone for the program that began five years ago.

“I don’t know what God will do with you or through you, but I know He has plans,” Kelley said. “Get ready. Get busy. God has something He wants to do.”
 
Drawing from the biblical account of Joseph, Kelley reminded listeners that those who sold Joseph into slavery meant him harm, but God in His sovereignty intended it for good and used it to change lives.
 
“We’re here because we believe in you,” Kelley told the graduates. “And we believe that the power of your life given in ministry to others can make LCIW, and the wide world beyond, a different place.”
 
Noting that redemption is the exchange of one item for another, Kelley pointed to the redemption won by Christ and said no life is beyond a fresh start.
 
“God is a redeemer who takes what is broken and fixes it, who takes what is hopeless and restores it, who is able to take lives and circumstances and transform them into something good and beautiful,” Kelley said. “We are here because we know God is a redeemer.”
 
Some LCIW graduates like Thornton previously were awarded the 15-hour certificate as well as associate degrees in women’s ministry.
 
Kristi Miller, assistant warden and director of the program, told the graduates in opening remarks that they made her proud. Miller holds a doctorate degree from NOBTS.
 
“This is an academic accomplishment, but that’s not why I’m most proud,” Miller said. “I’m proud of you walking in a manner worthy of your calling. ... You are making a difference in the lives of the women here.”
 
A maximum and a minimum security prison housing more than 900 offenders, LCIW is Louisiana’s only women’s prison. For men, NOBTS has operated a degree program at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola for 20 years, with 30 graduates currently serving as “missionaries” and church planters in other institutions. Similar programs later were started at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman; Phillips State Prison in Buford, Ga.; and Hardee Correctional Institute in Bowling Green, Fla.
 
Rhonda Kelley, NOBTS president’s wife and adjunct professor of women’s ministry, said supporters were prompted by the success at Angola to envision a similar program for women.
 
“The vision began to take shape as donors made possible a beautiful chapel on the prison grounds to house the seminary library and academic classroom,” Rhonda Kelley said. “Prison personnel and NOBTS leaders saw the potential of Christian women at LCIW to make a difference inside the prison and beyond.”
 
Carolyn Adams, spokesperson for the graduating class, thanked administration, faculty, family members and Louisiana benefactors of the program, and described the long journey to graduation. “Here we stand,” Adams said. “To God be the glory as He continues to sharpen us, to mold us, and to use us.”
 
NOBTS Provost Steve Lemke thanked the Louisiana Department of Corrections and the LCIW staff, saying, “We simply could not have this program apart from you.”
 
Representing Louisiana Baptists were Tommy Middleton, executive director of missions, and Chuck Lowman, associate director of the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge. Judson Baptist Church in Walker, La., provided refreshments.
 
“We owe a debt to Louisiana Baptists,” Lemke told the audience. “This is a glad day and we look forward with anticipation to what God is going to do with your lives.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marilyn Stewart is assistant director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

5/31/2016 1:18:10 PM by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS | with 0 comments



Hispanic church beams gospel to community

May 31 2016 by Joe Westbury, Georgia Christian Index

A young mother may turn to 94.7 on her radio dial for health tips for herself and her family as well as children’s programming. An auto mechanic may listen to the station to hear a two-way discussion of a previous week’s sermon or a broadcast on anger management.
 
Radio PESCA, the Spanish word for fish, streams into homes that may never be reached by a knock on the door. Through a variety of ad-free programming, the station seeks to glorify God and direct listeners to a church not too far away – Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana, or First Hispanic Baptist Church.
 
The low-watt station is the brainchild of pastor Samuel Rodriguez and others who donate their time to provide programming. It is also just the tip of the iceberg of how Primera Iglesia is thinking outside the box to bring Christ to homes and businesses on the east side of Savannah, Ga.

Photo by Joe Westbury, Christian Index
Miriam Rittmeyer, a Guatemalan physician and leader in the Hispanic community, is among Radio PESCA’s on-air personalities, along with the station’s visionary pastor, Samuel Rodriguez of Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana in Savannah, Ga.

 

The 24-hour radio station offers a diverse schedule, with each day having a special emphasis. Monday is business, Tuesday is medical information, Wednesday focuses on domestic violence, Thursday on anger management, Friday on a discussion on a previous sermon at the church, and Saturday on children’s programming.
 
“We teach how to start a business, how to prepare for a job interview, and other related topics,” Rodriquez said examples of the daily programming.
 
PESCA is an acronym for the objectives of the station: P stands for “Preach the Gospel,” E for “Educate God’s people,” S for “Serve by showing the love of the Lord,” C for “Companionship among God’s family” through involvement in a local church, and A for “Adore God as He deserves.”
 
Rodriquez appreciates a good challenge, with Radio PESCA but one example.
 

‘Step of faith’

“It was a step of faith from the very beginning,” Rodriguez said with a guarded chuckle, not wanting to minimize the seriousness of venturing onto the airwaves.
 
“We knew nothing about operating a radio station but just took a step of faith. We sat down and began researching the Internet for suggestions on what steps we needed to take. As a result of this ministry, God has opened up so many doors for us here in Savannah.
 
“The step of faith was for me, our church and our on-air personalities. None of us had any radio experience but we wanted programming that spoke from the heart to solve everyday problems our listeners may be having. We wanted to share helpful information from a Christian perspective.”
 
Last year the church received an FCC permit for the nonprofit low-watt station. Rodriguez credits two volunteers, Iris Sarria from Peru and Isabel Haring from Honduras, for keeping the programs on schedule. Both are on-air Radio PESCA personalities, while Haring, who had a medical ministry for 15 years in her native country, also serves as station director. Upwards of 10 other people work behind the scenes to make the station a success.
 
The church is active in the community and works in conjunction with the Red Cross, United Way and government agencies to help new and current immigrants assimilate to life in America, thus Radio PESCA carries programming dealing with health issues, immigration advice, employment and food assistance.
 
The church also hosts the Mexican Consulate from Atlanta each April to process passports and provide Mexican ID cards. The three-day event usually processes upwards of 5,000 residents.
 
“This is another way to show the Hispanic community that we are here to share the love of the Lord with them. We want them to have the joy we have and to know the peace and love of God,” Rodriguez said.
 
The congregation also has a food and clothing ministry and its annex is known as the Hispanic Community Center. There are about 25,000 Hispanics in Savannah and Chatham County, with 15,000 in a seven-mile radius of the church.
 
Rodriguez accepted the pastorate of the struggling mission of Bull Street Baptist Church in 1995 with only eight members.
 
Five years later Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana began meeting at Wilder Memorial Baptist Church. The Hispanic congregation was growing while Wilder was in decline – signaling the future of both congregations.
 
The mission constituted as a church in 2001 and, Rodriguez said, owes much of its growth to the English as a Second Language classes it provided at Jasper Springs Baptist Church and First Baptist Church of Garden City. Worship and language classes also were held at Emmanuel Baptist Church.
 
“Our English classes are an important part of who we are and why we have grown. There is an incredible need for this ministry and it is a valuable way to bring people into your congregation,” he added.
 
In 2010 Wilder Memorial Baptist Church disbanded and donated its property to Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana.
 
Last year Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana started a mission in Hilton Head, S.C., meeting in a nondenominational church on Sunday evenings with about 10 attendees. The congregation doesn’t focus only on missions in the Savannah area but looks to mission trips to nations where its members are from. Trips to Mexico, Nicaragua and Costa Rica are common. Peru is being added this year.
 
At Radio PESCA, six hours a day are devoted to live programming, the rest is filled with music and short devotionals. The station is broadcast simultaneously on the Internet.
 
What sets the station apart from many traditional religious stations is that it does not focus on preaching or the broadcasting of worship services.
 
“I do not want a preaching station. Instead, on Fridays my program focuses on a two-way discussion between myself and Isabel. She will ask questions that I use to go into a more in-depth discussion of the previous week’s sermon. It’s a much more interactive approach to delivering the gospel,” he said.
 
Rodriguez wants to expand the station’s footprint by purchasing equipment that would allow for remote broadcasts from community events and festivals.
 
But for now the station remains the flagship ministry of the growing congregation.
 
“I sometimes do crazy things and take chances to spread the gospel. You know what they say,” Rodriguez said with a grin.
 
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)

5/31/2016 12:26:15 PM by Joe Westbury, Georgia Christian Index | with 0 comments



Listening can spark witnessing, NW Baptists told

May 31 2016 by Sheila Allen, Northwest Baptist Witness

Many Christians want to share their faith but miss opportunities by not actively listening or recognizing cues, evangelical trainer Margaret Slusher said in eight workshops across the Pacific Northwest this spring.
 
The isolation and loneliness people feel today leaves them wanting to talk, Slusher said. “While it is hard to listen, you must hear what they are really telling you.”
 
Overcoming the habit of “talking and entertaining everyone,” Slusher said, often can yield a “tremendous opportunity to share the gospel” in conversations that move toward many of the Bible’s instructive stories.
 
“Start by looking for things to talk about with a stranger, including their book or an interesting piece of clothing or jewelry – and catch people’s eyes so they will talk to you,” Slusher said in the one-day “story witnessing” workshops sponsored by the Northwest Baptist Convention.
 

Photo by Sheila Allen
“People will often tell their personal issues within the first couple of sentences of introducing themselves,” evangelical trainer Margaret Slusher said in witnessing workshops across the Northwest Baptist Convention this spring.

Many things distract from listening, including personal agendas, pride, thinking about a next response and being a problem-solver, Slusher said, encouraging workshop participants to “practice engagement” with open body postures, such as standing with arms and legs uncrossed, palms open, leaning forward and maintaining eye contact – social cues that can lead to more rapport with people.
 
“What people receive with their own filter or worldview and body language accounts for 55 percent of what is believed,” Slusher said. Believability diminishes “if the tone or body language doesn’t match what they are hearing,” she said.
 
Biblical accounts show that while Jesus taught crowds, He also modeled active listening by stopping, listening to strangers and asking questions.
 

Story witnessing

The practice of “story witnessing,” Slusher said, begins with hearing “the hidden struggle which is told through the stories the speaker shares with you” – “listening for the unconscious meaning in a person’s story,” often drawing from themes and metaphors in the conversation.
 
“People will often tell their personal issues within the first couple of sentences of introducing themselves,” Slusher noted.
 
Paraphrasing others’ words and mirroring back conversations, she said, can help determine if an accurate message was received and demonstrate interest and caring.
 
“There is no such thing as multi-tasking, and other things must shut off to begin building rapport,” Slusher said, citing the apostle Paul’s intent to “become all things to all people for the sake of the Gospel.”
 
After hearing a person’s story or struggle, Slusher said, a transition can be made to spiritual concerns by mentioning a story from the Bible that relates to the situation at hand. While a broad understanding of the Bible is desirable, many familiar Bible stories can be part of various conversations, such as the prodigal son, the Samaritan woman at the well, Noah building the ark and Daniel in the lion’s den.
 
Then, questions about the person’s story and the Bible story can help determine the possibility of deeper conversations, Slusher said. An assessment of someone’s openness to following Christ also can be made by watching body language, she added.
 
If a person is receptive, a salvation story can then be presented and guidance given to making a commitment to Jesus, Slusher said. If the individual is not ready, a follow-up time can be suggested. And prayer can be raised for other witnesses to come into the person’s life.
 
“Interest in others must be prefaced by prayer, asking God to help you love people,” Slusher noted. “We must be burdened for the lost because God wants them, so we must take a genuine interest ... which can be started with just a smile.”
 
Randy Adams, executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, said this spring’s workshops are part of a commitment to provide evangelism resources to churches across the convention, which spans the states of Oregon and Washington and part of Idaho.
 
The convention’s cornerstone My316 five-week curriculum for children through adults is online at nwbaptist.org/nwbc_resources/my316.
 
The gospel presentation in My316 uses John 3:16 and personal testimony, Adams said.
 
Story witnessing, then, “combines listening skills and the telling of a Bible story that speaks to the other person’s issues and needs,” Adams said.
 
“Too often we speak before we listen and understand,” he said. “I have learned that people will reveal a great deal about themselves if only we will listen and ask the right questions. Often relational or spiritual matters will surface, giving us the opportunity to share Scripture that addresses the issues.” A multitude of Bible stories address the daily concerns of each of us.
 
“Whereas many people might get defensive at a Gospel presentation that seems like a memorized sales pitch, most are open to hearing a story that relates to their need. And they don’t mind that the story comes from the Bible,” Adams said.
 
Churches in the Northwest convention reported 2,007 baptisms in 2015, “which was a 19.5 percent increase over the prior year,” he added. “We believe that placing evangelism front-and-center is making a difference.”
 
This spring’s workshops were held in Spokane, Richland, Lakewood, Bothell, Burlington and Vancouver, Wash., and Eugene and Central Point, Ore. A three-day intensive workshop is scheduled Sept. 20-22 at the Northwest Baptist Center in Vancouver, Wash., for training in teaching a story witnessing method for evangelism.
 
Slusher is president of Lead Plus, an Atlanta-area training and coaching organization. She formerly served as the Leadership Network’s director of church planting learning community and the North American Mission Board’s director of equipping initiatives. Earlier, she served as associate director of missions for the Noonday Baptist Association in Marietta, Ga., and director of church development for the Montgomery Baptist Association in Montgomery, Ala.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sheila Allen is managing editor of the Northwest Baptist Witness, newsjournal of the Northwest Baptist Convention. Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston contributed to this article.)

5/31/2016 12:01:08 PM by Sheila Allen, Northwest Baptist Witness | with 0 comments



Memorial Day: Jimmy Connelly’s greatest honor

May 30 2016 by Jim Burton, Baptist Press

An estimated 3.6 million Americans fought in the Pacific Theatre in World War II, overcoming brutal encounters on island after island against Japanese soldiers burrowed into the hillsides.
 
The late Jimmy Connelly was one of those Americans.
 
The Navy made Connelly chief of a troop-landing Higgins Craft during the massive amphibious assaults at the outset of the Allies’ first major Pacific offensive against the Japanese – Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.
 
Each craft could ferry up to 36 Marines, and when they stormed the beaches, Connelly operated a 7.62mm belt-fed machine gun to provide cover. On his 10th trip to transport troops into the Solomon Islands battle zone, he also was carrying several hundred five-gallon cans of gasoline. When a mortar round struck their craft, shrapnel pierced his neck and arm, and his pants were set afire, propelling him into the ocean.

Contributed photo

 
When he returned home from the war, Connelly never mentioned the injuries. Too many men like him – 18 to 21-year-olds uprooted from their families and hometowns – lost their lives and limbs that day. His suffering, by comparison, had been minor.
 
Seventy-two years later, Connelly could still recite the names of his crew members killed that day in the Solomon Islands. Not until his mid-80s did he even speak of the war – or that the Navy awarded him a Purple Heart.
 

Child of the Depression

Connelly was born in 1922 into a family who scrapped their way through the Great Depression on a small farm in Branchville, S.C. He carried fresh milk on the school bus, and when it stopped at a railroad track, he would jump off and make deliveries to the stores before walking about a mile to school. With the money he made, Connelly was able to buy his clothes.
 
After high school, Connelly attended the University of South Carolina in Columbia but was unable to find a job there to support himself. So he returned to the family farm and eventually secured a job at the Charleston Naval Shipyard as an apprentice building and repairing ships. He became a ship fitter, someone who measured and designed repairs – which led to his Navy enlistment.
 
When he returned home from the war, Connelly caught the eye of Frances George, who lived about 10 miles away. He began frequenting their family’s restaurant where she worked in January 1946.
 
“He was very quiet, not boisterous,” Frances said. “Some of the soldiers were so flirty, but my husband wasn’t like that.”
 
Jimmy and Frances were married on July 2, 1946, when she was barely 18. This summer would have marked their 70th anniversary. Their only child, Jimmy Connelly Jr., was born in 1947.
 
Connelly returned to the Charleston Ship Yard after the war where he worked as a supervisor in design and planning until he retired.
 
Because Connelly never talked about the war, Frances never understood how much of the war he brought home. Neither of them had knowledge of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
 
“At night, he would have terrible nightmares three to four nights per week,” Frances said. “It would scare me to death. He didn’t know what it was, and neither did I.”
 
Connelly had recounted in a 2015 interview with the Georgia Christian Index, “The most vivid recollection of the war for me was seeing those young soldiers being riddled with bullets and shrapnel when they landed on the beaches. I could see them losing their limbs and dying in the sand, and I can still hear them crying out for their mommas, but their mommas were not there.”
 
The horror of war “still lives with me today,” Connelly told The Index. “I saw large numbers of our best young men die … to ultimately preserve our own freedom.”
 
He also remembered the killing of enemy soldiers. From his vantage point on the Higgins Craft, he could see Marines use flamethrowers to flush the Japanese from their entrenchments. “It was horrible, but I could smell the stench of burning flesh from my vantage point hundreds of yards away,” he said.
 
Not until about 10 years ago did Frances know that Jimmy had a Purple Heart. That was also about the time she learned the extent of his shrapnel wounds when he started bleeding while shaving as shards surfaced on his skin.
 
When he had a stroke, doctors ordered a routine MRI. The powerful magnets in the MRI pulled one of the shrapnel pieces close to his jugular vein and nearly severed it.
 

Deacon emeritus

Jimmy and Frances were members of Memorial Baptist Church in St. George, S.C. Besides his gentle spirit, friends and family remember how much he loved his church as they mourned his passing this year on March 26 at age 93. He was one of nearly 500 elderly World War II veterans estimated to die each day.
 
“At the funeral, I got pretty emotional,” said Clay Shook, Memorial’s pastor. “He was a dear friend of mine. As a pastor, I need men like him in my life. He cared about his church, me and my family.”
 
Shook spent time with Connelly in his role as a deacon and trustee as well as the church’s jack-of-all-trades fix-it man. Connelly earned a reputation around town for shopping to get the best price on church repairs.
 
“Jimmy loved his church,” Shook said. “He was an exceptional churchman and deacon,” a man who uniquely made “a huge difference.”
 
He had come to know Christ as a young lad and was baptized at Mt. Tabor Baptist Church near Reevesville. “But I have been baptized three times – once as a child, again in the Potomac River before going to the Pacific. I just wanted to make sure I had properly obeyed the Lord,” he told The Index. “I was also baptized in the Jordan River when I took a trip to Israel.”
 
Connelly’s example affected Shook’s only son, Andy, who served in the Marines from 2008-2014. After boot camp, Andy came to church in his dress blues to salute Connelly on the church steps. At the graveside, Andy placed his Afghanistan combat-action ribbon on Connelly’s casket.
 
Connelly’s values took hold in his family as well. His youngest grandson, Christopher, gave a eulogy, speaking of his love for his grandfather, and his grandfather’s love for Christ.
 
In World War II’s battles for freedom, Connelly had told The Index, “I considered it worth my life.”
 
Yet, “The proudest moment of his life,” his wife Frances said, “was when they elected him deacon emeritus.”

5/30/2016 10:28:46 AM by Jim Burton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



N.C. Baptists run for Congress: Albert Wiley Jr.

May 30 2016 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

In the May 21 issue the Biblical Recorder published brief summaries of six candidates for the U.S. Congress who are members of Baptist churches affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC). Since that publication date three other candidates asked to be included. One was a member of a church that is not affiliated with BSC. One said he is a Baptist and was invited to provide the name of the Baptist church of his membership along with information for a story. He did not provide the material. The third candidate’s story follows. – The Editor
 

Albert Lee Wiley Jr. (10th District)

Dr. Albert Wiley was born in Forest City, N.C. He graduated from N.C. State University (BS) and worked as a nuclear engineer. He later graduated from the University of Rochester Medical School (MD), with further medical training at the University of Virginia, Stanford University and the University of Wisconsin (PhD). He specialized as a cancer physician and practiced oncology for more than 40 years in the U.S. Navy, as a professor at the University of Wisconsin and as professor and interim director of the East Carolina University Jenkins Cancer Center.
 
For the past 11 years he was director of a special nuclear emergency, medical response group (a Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration asset) and was the head of the WHO Radiation Emergency Assistance Collaborating Center, where he responded to many U.S. and international radiation incidents – including Chernobyl, Fukushima, U.S. Embassies – and trained first-responder physicians and nurses in 25 countries including Israel, Iraq, China, Russia, Ukraine and Africa.
 
Wiley said, “I am not a professional politician, but from my youth I have always felt that politics was important.” His grandfather read the Congressional Record to him every week when he was a child. He agrees with President Dwight Eisenhower’s statement, “Politics should be every U.S. citizen’s avocation.”
 
This will be Wiley’s seventh run for Congress. The first was in 1984 when President Ronald Reagan endorsed him. “I thought I could help bring bio and medical technology jobs to a depressed mid-west area [at the time],” he said. “In 2002 I ran for U.S. Senate because I had served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and saw that mistake. I became concerned about the national neoconservative rhetoric of encouraging the U.S. Congress and President Bush to go to war in Iraq.”
 
When asked why he is making another attempt for office, Wiley said, “Now I want to try again because this election may be the most important in my lifetime. Our country can – and for future generations must – do better in so many ways. As in all my previous primary election attempts, I am again self-funding the campaign. No money is requested or accepted for the primary.

Albert Wiley Jr.

 
“Congress now needs to be very concerned with the preservation of our national security and the preservation of our Holy Bible-inspired constitution, and our Judeo-Christian heritage, and values of traditional marriage and family, and the sanctity of life – from conception until death.
 
“I consider the loss of a job by the family breadwinner to be a public health issue. It scares, depresses and demoralizes the entire family. I have seen this tragedy so often in my medical care of cancer patients and their families. So being a strong and informed advocate for attracting good jobs to the 10th district would be my high priority. I think my knowledge of the medical and biotechnology industries would help to do this. I speak their language and understand their infrastructure needs.
 
“I also believe my broad, life work experience in medicine, biotechnology and nuclear engineering prepares me to work on issues such as the tragic Obamacare legislation; to work on nuclear non-proliferation issues; and on preventing ISIS terrorism by stopping weapons of mass destruction from entering our open borders and enforcing our immigration laws.
 
“Congress must address our deficit and our dangerous 20 trillion dollar debt – which has doubled under the Obama administration – because this debt will severely compromise the freedom and quality of life of our children and grandchildren.”
 
Although he is retired Dr. Wiley continues to work part time as a cancer specialist, primarily in the eastern part of the state where he has a second home in Salter Path.
 
He said, “But I have deep, life-long ties to the 10th district and have a home in Forest City,” which was also the home of his grandfather, Forest Davis, for whom Forest City was named. His mother and father also lived there all of their lives. His father was the city manager.
 
Wiley is a Republican candidate who faces Jeff Gregory, Jeffrey Baker and incumbent Patrick McHenry in the June 7 10th District primary. He and his wife, Janet, have been married for 55 years. They have four children, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
 
He was baptized at the First Baptist Church of Forest City and has maintained a life-long membership there.

Related stories:
N.C. Baptists run for Congress
Mark Harris runs for U.S. Congress seat
 

5/30/2016 10:22:46 AM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments



NCBAM team kicks off Rampin’ Up 2016!

May 30 2016 by Carol Layton, NCBAM

Through six years of ministry and two Rampin’ Ups (2012, 2014), North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM) has asked anybody and everybody to build a wheelchair ramp. Baptists on Mission are their first call, but they’ve also found many ramp-building friends among Rotary, Ruritan and Civitan groups; Boy Scouts; Methodists; Presbyterians; banks; and biker clubs. The one group they had never asked to build a wheelchair ramp was themselves. Until now.
 
On April 23, NCBAM team members came from all over the state to focus on ramp needs in Iredell County. Embracing the intergenerational aspect of Rampin’ Up! 2016, they brought along spouses, kids and friends in order to build three ramps in one day.
 
Jock Smith, husband of East Regional Director Yvetta Smith and frequent ramp-designer and builder in the Durham area, served as crew chief. He prebuilt parts of each ramp and then guided the motley collection of neophytes in the use of power drills, crow bars and post-hole diggers.
 

Submitted photo
 
The youngest members of the ramp-building team were Peyton (11) and Nicolette (12), children of NCBAM Director Sandy Gregory and his wife Renee. Peyton’s favorite part of the day was the process; he liked “using the tools.”
 
Nicolette received her joy at the finish line. “I loved seeing how happy the elders were when the ramp was all done. Just seeing their faces made me happy. I would do this again any day!”
 
According to Call Center Director Melanie Beeson, Iredell County was chosen because it is an area of great need and NCBAM has difficulty recruiting enough builders there.
 
“By building ramps in Iredell County, we hope to bring awareness to the need and the increased freedom and safety that ramps bring. We hope more volunteers will step up to meet the ramp needs and to share in the joy that comes from serving others.”
 
Emma Feimster’s home on a country road outside of Statesville was the site of the first ramp build. The 89-year-old had a toe amputated in October and has since been unsteady on her feet. Navigating just one step outside her kitchen door was dangerous. Before the team left, Feimster used her walker to easily exit her home and sat in a lawn chair while the NCBAM Team prayed.
 
After the last “amen,” Feimster looked around at each face, young and old, and stated, “I’m saying this from my heart. Thank you for this ramp. I love you.”
 
Rob Kauffman’s home near I-40 in Statesville was the site of the second ramp. Rob’s mother, Mary, has been in and out of hospitals and rehab centers for two years and is now living with her son and receiving care from Hospice.
 
Asked how he had been managing the steps before the ramp was built, Kauffman replied, “Very carefully! This ramp will make it so much easier for both of us. Now that the weather is nice, she likes to sit outside and watch the dogs play.”
 
After the prayer, Mary Kauffman thanked the team and said, “The good Lord has taken care of me. I think it’s wonderful that the kids are involved today.”
 
The third ramp of the day was built for Aquilla Freeman in southern Statesville. Just the day before the ramp was built, Freeman had toppled from her wheelchair while her daughter was doing her best to lower the chair down the deck steps.
 
Freeman’s daughter, Tabitha and her brother Darrell are taking turns staying with their mother during her recent health issues. “I tried with all my might to keep her from going down. I’m so glad she wasn’t hurt. This ramp is a blessing!”
 
NCBAM Team members now have an expanded appreciation for the thousands of ramp-builders they have worked with over the past six years. Sarah Faircloth, Call Center specialist for the west region remarked, “It was great to take a day to go out as a team and do ourselves what we ask others to do. Ramp builders often downplay their contributions and say to me, ‘Oh, this is just what we do.’ But their work is huge. It changes lives.”
 
Sandy Gregory focuses his leadership style on team-building and similarly focuses the larger work of the ministry on partnership-building. “The NCBAM team itself is a microcosm of the ways in which the ministry functions. No one person, no one organization can do it all. But together, whether working among ourselves or with other state groups, we make a huge difference in the lives of aging adults.
 
“What do you call a group with different backgrounds, different families, different gifts, and different talents who come together to serve? You call them the church.”
5/30/2016 10:16:14 AM by Carol Layton, NCBAM | with 0 comments



11 states sue White House over transgender directive

May 27 2016 by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN

Eleven states and two school districts filed a lawsuit May 25 challenging President Barack Obama’s directive demanding all federally funded schools apply a controversial interpretation of Title IX requiring schools to define a student’s gender identity based not on biological sex, but self-identification.
 
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia; Governor of Maine Paul Lepage; the Arizona Department of Education; Harrold Independent School District (HISD) in Texas and Heber-Overgaard Unified School District in Arizona.
 
On May 13 the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice issued a “Dear Colleague” letter giving guidance to all federally funded K-12 schools and universities in their application of Title IX. The one-sentence regulation passed in 1972 as part of the Higher Education Act prohibits discrimination in public education based on sex. The Obama administration interprets “sex” to include “gender identity” – a student’s perceived gender regardless of biological characteristics.
 
Declaring the federal demands are “unlawful” and “capricious and arbitrary,” the lawsuit calls for a permanent injunction preventing the Obama administration from implementing and enforcing its rules.
 

Photo courtesy of Texas Atty. General's office
Texas Atty. General Ken Paxton explains the lawsuit filed May 25 by representatives in 11 states against the Obama administration's transgender directive.

In announcing the lawsuit, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “This represents just the latest example of the current administration’s attempts to accomplish by executive fiat what they couldn’t accomplish through the democratic process in Congress. By forcing through his policies by executive action, President Obama excluded the voice of the people. We stand today to ensure those voices are heard.”
 
Although the Dear Colleague letter does not explicitly mention any repercussions for failing to follow the guidelines, previous action by the Obama administration demonstrates that failure to comply comes with a high price tag.
 
Earlier this year a school district outside of Chicago created its own standards for balancing the needs of a transgender female student – a teenage boy presenting himself as a girl – with those of the student’s female teammates. Demanding full inclusion and affirmation of his gender identity as a female, the transgender student balked at the school’s offer of a private changing area and sued the school district demanding he be allowed to use the same locker room facilities as the girls. Citing Title IX, the Departments of Education and Justice threatened to withhold some of the school’s $6 million in federal funds if they did not submit to the student’s demands.
 
The ongoing battle over recently enacted transgender student guidelines by the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) demonstrates the dissolution of gender norms that Obama’s interpretation of Title IX require. The guidelines permit students to identify as either gender without medical or parental validation and requires district employees and students to affirm the student’s preferred gender identity. The guidelines also require school personnel expunge gender normative language, such as “boys” and “girls,” from the classroom.
 
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who demanded the FWISD rescind the guidelines and fire Superintendent Kent Scribner earlier this month, said Obama’s edict “ignores both common sense and common decency.”
 
“[It] creates a problem where none existed,” Patrick said in a statement supporting the lawsuit. “It will disrupt schools across Texas, creating potentially embarrassing and unsafe situations for girls who would be forced, under his order, to share bathrooms, locker rooms and showers with boys.”
 
Patrick said he will continue to push back against the local and federal regulations.
 
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called Obama’s directive “rule by executive fiat.”
 
“The President continues to violate the Constitution by trying to re-write laws as if he were a king. The states serve as the last line of defense against an unlawfully expansive federal government,” he said.
 
HISD issued new guidelines May 23 in defiance of the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX, stating a student’s birth certificate will determine a student’s gender identity on campus and all multiple-occupancy bathrooms or changing facilities “shall be designated for and used only by individuals based on their biological sex.”
 
In an effort to accommodate students with special needs, the HISD guidelines state, “The Superintendent or campus principal may make reasonable accommodations upon a person’s request due to special circumstances.”
 
Defendants in the case include the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice and their leadership, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Department of Labor and their respective directors.
 
To view the lawsuit, visit: https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/files/epress/files/2016/complaint_FM.pdf.

5/27/2016 2:31:05 PM by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments



South Carolina joins 13 states banning abortion at 20 weeks

May 27 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has signed into law a bill banning most abortions in the state at 20 weeks of pregnancy, joining 13 other states where such limitations currently stand.
 
Haley signed the South Carolina Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act May 25 after the Legislature sent it to her desk a week earlier.
 
Effective immediately, the law bans abortions after the 19th week, including pregnancies resulting from rape and incest, and allows for exceptions only to save the mother’s life or in cases of “fetal anomaly,” according to the South Carolina Legislature.
 
The law defines fetal anomaly as “in reasonable medical judgment, the unborn child has a profound and irremediable congenital or chromosomal anomaly that, with or without the provision of life-preserving treatment, would be incompatible with sustaining life after birth.”
 
Mark Hendrick, associate director of the Office of Public Policy at the South Carolina Baptist Convention, praised the state for adopting the measure.
 
“Unborn babies are victims of excruciating painful abortions after the 20-week mark right here in our very state. This bill will give these children a chance at life, and that is something to celebrate,” Hendrick told Baptist Press. “No one knows what the Supreme Court will do, but it’s not their job to make laws to protect South Carolinians. That job falls on the General Assembly of South Carolina, with our Governor left to enforce them. The people spoke, and those in authority listened.”
 
The law affirms the ability of unborn children to feel pain at about 20 weeks of gestation.
 
“There is substantial medical evidence that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by twenty weeks after fertilization,” the bill partly reads. “It is the purpose of the State to assert a compelling state interest in protecting the lives of unborn children from the stage at which substantial medical evidence indicates that they are capable of feeling pain.”
 
Doctors breaking the new law would be charged with a misdemeanor, subject to fines ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to three years. At the third offense, prison terms must be at least 60 days, but still no more than three years, the law stipulates.
 
The law would only currently apply to hospitals, as none of the three abortion clinics in the state provide abortions beyond 15 weeks of pregnancy, the Associated Press reported.
 
According to the Guttmeicher Institute, such bans are also in effect in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
 
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a 20-week abortion ban in 2015, and the Senate Judiciary Committee reopened debate March 15 on a similar bill. President Obama had threatened to veto such a measure.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor.)

5/27/2016 2:16:57 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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