Month: May 2003

SBTC volunteer receives humanitarian award

GALVESTON, Texas ?Imagine coming to America alone with only $8 in your pocket and no knowledge of the English language or American culture. Raju Samuel, director of Mission Galveston/Texas City and Associate Pastor of West End Baptist Church, went through this experience in 1972. Today, Samuel has reaped the rewards for being a faithful servant of Christ. On April 10, he received the 24th Annual Rabbi Henry Cohen Humanitarian Award. The award, presented by the Temple B’Nai Israel, is given each year to a noted humanitarian.

Rabbi Henry Cohen, who led the temple from 1888 to 1952, was said by President Woodrow Wilson to have been “the nation’s greatest humanitarian.” Cohen was born in London, England on April 7, 1863. He came to Galveston in 1888 and served the Temple B’nai Israel and the citizens of Galveston until his death in 1952. He was known for his dedication to humanity and is considered Galveston’s most beloved citizen of all time. The award was designed to honor the memory of Rabbi Cohen’s life and career as well as honor those who have taken on the same humanitarian role.

At the age of 22, Samuel immigrated to the U.S. from a small village called Kerala State in India. Samuel says, “I was brought up in a very disciplined Christian family. My dad was a deacon in our local church and also an evangelist in our community. At the age of ten, at one of my dad’s revivals, I accepted Christ as my personal Savior.”

After high school, Samuel got the opportunity to come to the United States. On Dec. 4, 1972, he arrived in Houston, Texas. “When I arrived in the United States, I didn’t know how to speak English, nor did I know any of the American customs,” said Samuel. “The second week after I arrived in Galveston, I started school at Galveston Community College. It was a dramatic experience. I realized that I was in the land of freedom.”

Samuel finished his education in respiratory therapy and started a job at the University of Texas Medical branch. And in 1980, he started at Amoco Oil Company as a supervisor, but God had bigger plans for him. “On the evening of August 16, 1982, God called my dad home. By his deathbed I repented of all my sins and rededicated my life to Christ and for his ministry,” said Samuel.

Samuel was ordained as a minister of the gospel in July 2000. In 1998 he was commissioned as a Mission Corps Volunteer and works with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Now retired, Samuel continues working in ministry as a chaplain for the Galveston County Juvenile Center and is involved in his role as director of Mission Galveston.

Samuel founded Mission Galveston after retirement. The mission supplies food, clothing and spiritual guidance to homeless and needy families. He later expanded the effort with Mission Texas City. Among his other humanitarian accomplishments, Samuel recently returned from India where he started an orphanage that will open on May 1, 2003. Samuel also travels to the Ukraine each summer to help more than 300 orphans.

Along with a ministry dedicated to the homeless, orphaned and needy families, Samuel dedicates his time to hanging out on the beach at the annual Kappa Beach Party where he ministers to African-American students who come to Galveston Beach for week-long partying. Samuel said, “During this time, we dedicate ourselves to beach ministry. We pass out cold bottled water and tracts to these partygoers. We passed out 900 bottles of water within 45 minutes this year. We call this ‘Living Water Ministry.'”

Joe Brooks, personal friend of Samuel says, “I have known and worked with Raju for several years. His dedication to the less fortunate and to orphan children is a true calling by God. He is a dedicated servant of the Lord and represents the best of Mission Service Corps missionaries. I am appreciative of the Galveston Rotary Club for nominating him and the Temple B’nai Israel for recognizing my friend and fellow servant by giving him the Rabbi Henry Cohen Humanitarian Award. This award only partially recognizes Raju for his earthly efforts to others. His eternal reward will be beyond explanation.”

Raju Samuel attributes all of his accomplishments and this particular honor to the Lord who blessed him. He has been married to his wife, Jain, for 25 years and has two children, Lisa and Jacob. Just this year, Jain took an early retirement to join her husband in ministry. Samuel says, “We don’t make any decisions without consulting with our Father in heaven. He has been so good to my family and me. The blessings are indescribable. Like Joshua said, ‘Me and my family?we will serve the Lord.'”

Prestonwood hosts community sunrise service

FRISCO, Texas – By all visible signs it was game night. The lights were shining bright, the parking lot was full of cars and popcorn buckets were being passed around. Of course the popcorn buckets were used to collect the offering and the crowds were there not to see their favorite baseball team, but to worship the Lord.

Over 8,000 people filled the Dr. Pepper/7-Up Baseball Park (home of the Frisco Roughriders, the new Double-A Texas Ranger affiliate) on Easter morning for a sunrise service sponsored by Prestonwood Baptist Church.

The worshippers braved 50- degree temperatures by huddling under blankets and donning jackets to celebrate Easter together. The crowd was also warmed by a mini concert by the Christian band Newsong and the resurrection account by Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood and president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Why did the church decide on a ballpark to hold this type of service? According to Julie Pierce, director of media and communications at Prestonwood, there were “three primary reasons: (1) unique, (2) casual, (3) outreach.

“Those three aspects combined to present the perfect opportunity for people to invite unchurched friends or neighbors who would never come to a service at a church, but who would go to a ballpark for a baseball game or event. The ballpark provided a setting where people were comfortable – it was a very non-threatening environment. It also presented a unique experience – to enjoy the beauty of God’s sunrise as the truth and beauty of his love for us was proclaimed,” she said. Frisco, located in Collin County about 30 miles north of downtown Dallas, is one of the fastest growing communities in Texas. Many people might wonder, ‘Why have an Easter service at a baseball stadium?’ David McKinley, teaching pastor at Prestonwood said, “Frisco is right in Prestonwood’s backyard…[W]e wanted to offer a unique Easter worship experience for those in Frisco and our surroundingcommunities. Taking our sunrise service to the new Roughriders stadium allows us to share worship, fellowship and the Prestonwood family with others in our community.”

Even though the atmosphere was relaxed, the service was very much like a contemporary worship service in a church building. After the congregation sang Easter celebration worship songs, Newsong took the stage. The group opened with “Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” that spoke of the grave not being able to hold Christ. As the group began singing the chorus to “Arise My Love,” the sun began to rise and peek over the scoreboard in right center field. A “coincidence” that wasn’t missed by many, including Graham.

“Thank you, Lord, for the sun at just the right time,” Graham said as he took the pulpit. Graham opened his message by talking about the “greatest comebacks in history,” as compiled by a men’s sports magazine.

Some of the comebacks cracking the top 10 were: Elvis’ comeback to television in 1968, Muhammad Ali’s comeback after a seven-year layoff from professional boxing, Truman’s eleventh-hour triumph over Dewey for president, and Michael Jordan’s return to basketball (the first time).

“The greatest comeback of all time was in A.D. 33 when Jesus Christ came back from the dead,” he said. “I’ve got some more good news: He’s coming back again.”

Graham used the letters of HOPE to illustrate his point to the crowd. The letter ‘h’ stands for the help that Jesus gives to cope with the reality of disappointment. Graham told the story of Jesus appearing to Mary at the tomb on the day of his resurrection. Mary was disappointed and in despair due to the Lord’s death. His appearance, on the other hand, brought her hope.

“Easter is the reality of a relationship with Jesus Christ,” Graham said. “He’s calling your name just as he called to Mary [at the tomb].”

He said the world looks to Christians to see how they cope with disappointments in the world. “The world wants to know how you’ll respond. The world wants to know if Jesus is real to you.”

The letter ‘o’ stands for open. Graham utilized the illustration of Peter, who denied the Lord three times on the night of Jesus’ crucifixion to demonstrate that Jesus restored the disciple. In the same way Jesus opens to us the opportunity for a comeback after defeat.

Graham once again reiterated his point with a baseball analogy. In baseball, Graham said a good hitter only gets a hit 30 percent of the time. Like a baseball all-star, we are going to fail. The good news is that in Jesus Christ “you can be forgiven and begin again,” Graham said.

“We are restored because of his grace and his great love.”

For the letter ‘p,’ Graham said Jesus provides for us an answer to our doubts.

Thomas might be known as one of the biggest doubters in the entire Bible. A week after the resurrection, Thomas was still in doubt about Jesus still being alive.

When Jesus allowed Thomas to touch His side, Thomas fell to the ground and made one of the greatest confessions of all time, Grahamsaid: “My Lord and my God.”

A tale of two Texas churches

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Or was it, really?

When Tigua Baptist Church in El Paso closed its doors for the last time in January, God was able to use the church’s sacrifice more mightily than the church had been used in years.

After years of work and effort, the members of the 66-year-old church decided that all good things, including churches, must come to an end. It very well may have seemed the worst of times. Tigua’s pastor, Mark Rawles, had been at the church for nearly eight years and had tried virtually everything he knew to do to help the church turn around and reach its community.

Meanwhile, La Verdad Community Baptist Church, a bilingual church located just over a mile away, was busting at the seams with growth. But even better times were literally just around the corner on the North Loop.

A sacrificial exchange

“The decision to close the church took about a year and a half in the making,” Rawles said. “We came to a stalemate in our endeavors. I knew closing the church would put me out of a job. I had been there for seven-and-a-half years and it was a struggle (to grow the church) from day one.”

Like the protagonists Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton in Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, a sacrificial exchange was made and Tigua Baptist Church voted to swap its church property valued at $800,000 with La Verdad’s building, valued at one-tenth of the cost of Tigua’s facility.

“La Verdad is growing and was having a larger church attendance than we were. They’re doing things we wished we could have done,” Rawles said. “They were running about 80 and we were having about 18 in our services. Our building was on three or four city lots, including the sanctuary, the lobby, three church offices, a library, and a kitchen.”

“When we told Frank [Quintana, pastor of La Verdad], he was thrilled to say the least. He just started crying, and I felt the peace of God.”

Quintana said the trade could not have come at a better time. “We were growing and are still growing, and we had been planning on building onto our old church. In a way, it was one of the greatest things Tigua Baptist Church has ever done because it’s all for the Kingdom of God. I’ve seen other churches just let their property go to waste until it’s no longer useful to anyone.”

In its efforts to improve the facility, Tigua had in recent years remodeled the sanctuary, put a rock fence around the property and made other improvements to its property to attract new members. But its two-story education building and 23 classrooms had not been used for years. Pastor Quintana says the members of La Verdad are working to renovate those rooms for its accelerated growth. “We have offices for everybody. It’s really exciting!” Quintana said.

“In all my years in the ministry, this is the most growth I’ve seen, and these are very exciting times. We’ve seen our church double in the last four months. We are getting visitors to our church ever Sunday.”

Giving to missions

But the exchange of the two churches was not the end of Tigua’s giving story. Rather than continue to meet in the smaller church, Tigua Baptist decided to continue with plans made before the exchange to dissolve Tigua and sell La Verdad’s former building. The proceeds went to mission projects, including the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings. It also gave to a local rescue mission and a severance pay for the pastor.

A check dated April 10, 2003, was sent to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention in the amount of $63,973 of which: $18,278 was designated to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering; $18,278 was designated to Annie Armstrong Missions Offering; and $18,278 was designated to the Cooperative Program. State Missions received $9,139.00.

Aubrey Warren, the finance chairman and a trustee of the Tigua Baptist Church, said the decision to give to missions was only natural for the church. “We’ve always supported missions and the Cooperative Program. Our Woman’s Missionary Union sponsored it strongly and made charts for our goal.”

Transition at Southwestern

When the president of the world’s largest seminary takes early retirement, it is natural for us to ask what really happened. The trustees were gracious and generous with severance and Ken Hemphill seems genuinely excited to lead the Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis for Southern Baptists. Still, we are conditioned to view cynically claims of God’s will and best wishes. Were there really other factors at work in Dr. Hemphill’s decision to leave Southwestern? Of course there were.

When a religious leader or pastor claims to sense God’s leading to make a change, we speak of it as though he must have had a dramatic and unexpected vision unless he’s glossing over more mundane unhappiness or ambition. After resigning from my first full-time church, a deacon who had been a bit of a pill came to me privately and told me he hoped I was not leaving because of him. Surprised, I told him that although we had bruised each other on occasion, I was sincere in saying that God was leading me to another ministry. Having said that, God has used people and events as messengers in my life and the lives of all his other servants, Ken Hemphill included. There is always “another story” behind leadership transition. In hindsight, successes and failures can be applied to an outcome with some dexterity. It’s never as easy to project these into the future. God may use successes, failures, and surprises to get our attention or lead us in another direction. It’s still his leading.

Dr. Hemphill’s testimony is familiar as he speaks of God leading him through a process of release from his current ministry followed by a welcome vision for a new venture. It is a testimony most of us could give. Maybe that is the “real truth.” Unhappy people are always around to claim that they told us so. They will gladly apply every rumored and real conflict to institutional transition as though it makes liars of those who claim to see God at work in the change. It is not necessarily so. Reporters looking for the “real story” will flock to these grumps and portray them as the only honest spokesmen, even though they usually have only second hand knowledge of the event in question.

If the trustees and Ken Hemphill were saying contradictory things about his leaving, we’d look for the real story. That’s not happening. The president was not fired and no one who had a part in the process, himself included, is portraying this as a forced retirement. As much fun as it may be for some to sow discord, we’re left with the choice of questioning the integrity and motives of all parties or taking them at their word. There is no good reason to do that. The more interesting question has to do with what’s next.PAN class=body>

In 1978, Russell Dilday inherited the largest seminary in the world from Robert Naylor. Fifteen years later, Dr. Dilday turned over a marvelous physical plant and much smaller student population to Ken Hemphill. During his nine years as president, Dr. Hemphill has also expanded Southwestern’s facilities and endowment, and has regained about 400 of the 2,000 students lost during the previous administration. In the meantime, some of the other SBC seminaries have experienced explosive growth. Something important needs to change if Southern Baptists’ largest seminary is to retain that title. While big is not a worthy end in itself, a well-funded, conservative seminary in the largest state for Southern Baptists should be leading the six SBC schools in growth, ministry, and vision.

This is the challenge faced by Southwestern’s presidential search team. No doubt they are already getting lots of advice. It happened with the last search committee. Alumni, donors, students, faculty members, newspapers, and outsiders all had an opinion about what the next president had better not be. It affected the outcome. That has probably already begun for the current search process. I strongly urge them to take a different attitude this time. While Southern Baptists do and should have a right to make suggestions, this advice should not all bear the same weight. Consider the source. Disgruntled alums who would turn the clock back to the Dilday years will never support Southwestern again. Donors and prospective donors who make threats are less concerned with giving than with tying strings to the gift. The seminary also has implacable critics who will only make suggestions about what or who the seminary should avoid. These folks will not hear any honest answer to their criticism. As politely and firmly as possible, disregard these voices.

Southwestern does not face a transition comparable to the one faced by Southern or Southeastern and these schools have flourished under conservative leadership. New donors have replaced those who abandoned the seminaries and new students have more than replaced those who rejected the new direction of the faculties and administrations. If these examples were not out there, Southwestern’s trustees should still seek a man who has the charisma and vision to lead the seminary beyond its current status. It will require courage and prayer. And it will require a proactive, not reactive decision.

Although not desperate, this change of administration is crucial for SWBTS. Pray for the search committee as you ignore those who still want to chase rumors and nourish discontent. The seminary’s students have impacted Texas</st1