Month: July 2008

DR teams operating after Dolly

ALL WORTHWHILE: SBTC disaster relief volunteers served more than 500 meals from First Baptist Church, Rio Grande City, on July 26, while another 500 meals went out on emergency response vehicleswith the American Red Cross. Serving are (L-R): Chuck Gifford, Judy Ryder, Tommy Hardin, Shirley Carter, and John Hardin. Photo by Lee Garcia

BROWNSVILLE?Disaster relief volunteers from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention are providing meals and assisting in cleanup in the Rio Grande Valley after Hurricane Dolly hit the far South Texas coast July 23. Also, Baptist volunteers are working in the Mexican border town of Matamoros, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville.

SBTC feeding units have been serving in Rio Grande City and McAllen, about 70 miles inland, while assessment and cleanup teams are working in the coastal town of Port Isabel. First Baptist Church of Brownsville is housing the cleanup and assessment teams, with assistance from First Baptist Church of Port Isabel, said Jim Richardson, SBTC Disaster Relief director.

Meanwhile, the SBTC’s Operation GO Mexico ministry, First Baptist Church of Brownsville, and Baptist Global Response are working together in Matamoros.

“Hurricane Dolly brought torrential rains and devastating winds to the area,” Richardson wrote in an e-mail. “Many of the families in Matamoros have been affected. First Baptist Church, Brownsville, and Operation GO are distributing rice and beans to those affected by Hurricane Dolly and sharing the hope of our Lord Jesus in the process.”

SBTC volunteers are cooking 10,000 meals a day for the Salvation Army canteens in McAllen, Richardson said. At First Baptist Church, Rio Grande City, volunteers prepared meals for the American Red Cross through the weekend.

Churches from the Gulf Coast westward toward McAllen assessed damage from the storm to their buildings and communities the day after the storm. The 200,000 people without electricity July 24 had lessened to about 125,000 by the weekend, according to news reports.

The cleanup and recovery work in Port Isabel, across the bridge from the South Padre Island resort community, yielded professions of faith from a husband and wife, said Julian Moreno, who is leading the assessment work there.

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Known for its praying, church uses technology to maximize ministry

SULPHUR SPRINGS?Time was running out for the members of Peerless Baptist Church as they waited on the wind to die down so they could put a roof on their new 12,000-square-foot metal building. Two months earlier the slab had been poured, and then the steel girders were set in place. Only a week remained before 70 volunteers would arrive to complete the framing.

The congregation knew exactly what to do, Pastor Doyle Hayes said. The word went out to gather for prayer to ask God to calm the wind.

“For four and a half days there wasn’t any wind,” Hayes recalled.

When the Volunteer Christian Builders arrived, all of the preparations had been made for them to frame out the building to provide a gym, fellowship hall, kitchen, and Sunday School classrooms.

“I went fishing the next day and couldn’t get my boat to move on the lake,” explained member Tony Harry. “That’s how calm it was. I count that as an answer to prayer.”

It’s not the only time Harry has seen God work through the prayers of the members of the Sulphur Springs church. After his father suffered a stroke, Harry’s brother asked the church to make that a matter of prayer. At the time, Harry had nothing to do with the church, he said.

“It’s hard to understand this when you’re going through the trial, but after the fact, you realize all of the things that happened in that year,” Harry added. “My dad came to know Jesus as his savior and then he witnessed to me. All of that came about because people at the church prayed for healing for my dad.” Despite his father’s death, Harry said, “Now I understand the healing that he got.”

He responded to an invitation to visit again after the funeral was held at Peerless Baptist Church.

“The pastor knew we didn’t go to church, but after hearing the Word and hearing the truth, it just changed our lives. It took me a year until I finally surrendered and asked Jesus to be my savior,” Harry said. “My family saw the changes and it’s just amazing as I look back on it, remembering where I was at one time and the way I did things. It’s just kind of amazing.”

Hayes’ wife, Brenda, praised God for the reputation Peerless Baptist has as a praying church. She’s seen new families become a part of the church as a result of how prayer influenced their lives.

“Everybody knows this church will pray because that reputation has spread. The hospital folks are always amazed how quickly everyone knows of a need and within 10 minutes the whole church is down there,” she added.

Using an automated phone messaging system, member Jack Schwen can distribute prayer requests to 82 homes in less than an hour. Several years ago a friend from another church recommended one of numerous companies that charge a monthly subscription fee to distribute messages to a block of phone numbers.

Peerless Baptist pays One Call Now about $40 a month to access the 1-800 number and record a message of up to 45 seconds in length that is passed along to church members.

Schwen acts as the administrator, verifying prayer requests with family members and deciding whether to send the information to a smaller group such as the deacons, a women’s Bible study group or the church at large.

Though Schwen travels frequently in his sales job, he can make the recording from any phone in the United States.

“Doyle called with a request when I was at a trade show in Atlanta and I place one call to the toll-free number to our entire church family from my cell phone.”

The church has also used the system to relate when services are cancelled due to weather, provide details of funeral arrangements and remind members of upcoming events.

“I think it causes our attendance to go up for our monthly fellowship meal because a reminder goes out the day before,” Schwen said. “Sometimes you forget about a once-a-month activity and this helps them get started cooking.”

Schwen said the system may also be used to poll members to learn their preferences for holding a meeting on a particular day or some other query. He also specifies that calls be delivered after 8 a.m. and before 8 p.m. unless a critical need necessitates a late-night advisory.

“In the last two years it’s saved me from making over 10,000 phone calls,” Schwen said, preferring the automated system over old-fashioned phone banks. “If one person falls down on the job, the message doesn’t get out, or you’d have to sit down and make 82 calls. This way you can put out one message and usually all 82 numbers are dialed in less than an hour.”

No equipment is needed, he added, describing the initial entering of names and numbers as the biggest part of the work. While there is no limit to the number of times calls can go out, when possible, Schwen combines several requests and typically sends two to three per week. With no additional charge for long-distance calls, members who live in different area codes receive the calls as well as those who are located near the church.

Prior to implementing the phone system, Schwen heard of people feeling left out when they didn’t receive information that others were told.

“I’ve had some people who don’t get to come very often say they really appreciate being kept informed. It alerts people to pray for requests in the church family and allows them to know when and
where to minister,” he said.

“We have seen God literally do miracles,” Schwen said, recalling the restoration of health to a young girl who spent 53 days in an intensive care unit and to a man diagnosed with cancer. “It’s all in God’s hands?whatever he deems best. While we’ve prayed for healing, whether we receive it here or in Heaven, that’s God’s choice,” he added.

“I’ve always believed prayer is number one. That’s where it all begins.”

Prayer ultimately led Hayes and his wife to accept the call to Sulphur Springs. After 14 years pastoring East Hope Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant, Hayes said, “We really were not looking to move.” Then the search committee called for a third time and he thought there might be a reason for their persistence.

In a community of about 16,000 residents, Hayes described the church’s determination to expand their facilities “a vision for growth.” With new homes being built along nearby Cooper Lake, members of Peerless Baptist plan to reach new families for Christ.

Recalling their own decision to relocate in 2006, Hayes added, “Both of us knew this was the place God wanted us.”

SBTC DR volunteers exhibit God’s love to flooded Iowans

DES MOINES, Iowa?Disaster relief (DR) volunteers from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention have made water-damaged homes ready for repair and led 13 people to faith in Christ through DR work in the flood-damaged cities of Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Wapello, Iowa.

Veteran disaster relief volunteer Billie Sue of Forest Home Baptist Church in Kilgore said the Texas team of 13 volunteers assessed damage on several dozen houses in a section of Des Moines that was flooded on June 14 after heavy Midwest rains forced a levee to break.

Of those homes, about a dozen were dried out, cleaned and sanitized for mold and bacteria?what the DR teams call “mud-out” work?by June 25. Once cleaned and often stripped down to stud walls, builders can begin refurbishing the inside of the homes, Sue explained.

Other Iowa towns, including Iowa City, were hit hard as well, with Baptists from other states helping recovery there.

“I’ve been doing assessments, going into homes, getting the job orders ready for the teams to do mud-out work. I love doing the mud-out work myself,” Sue said. Some of the homes absorbed five to six feet of water. Another challenge is most of the houses have finished basements with furniture, which requires moving water-logged items up the stairs, Sue said.

“[The homeowners] are pretty distressed because their homes are just ruined,” but seeing the yellow-shirt clad Southern Baptists hard at work “helps their spirits a lot. We do a lot of praying with them if we see them getting distressed,” Sue said. “When we finish up a home, we all sign a Bible and give them the Bible before we leave.”

Sue said this trip was her 10th or 11th as a DR volunteer. She helped last fall after flooding devastated parts of Wisconsin.

A Des Moines city employee worked alongside the team for several days, insisting he stay assigned to the Texas group. On June 24, Sue said the young man named Darrell prayed to receive Christ. The next night he came to the church where the team was staying in inner-city Des Moines, True Bible Baptist Church, where he had dinner with the team and learned more about his newfound faith.

The team led two other people to Christ as well, Sue said.

On the trip to Iowa, “I don’t think we stopped one time that we didn’t have someone who recognized our yellow shirts and thanked us for what we are doing. That makes us feel so good. There are seeds being dropped along the way and hopefully people will understand why we would come up here from Texas to help them.”

On July 1, a second team of SBTC volunteers arrived in Iowa.

For more information on SBTC disaster relief ministry, visit or call the SBTC office at 877-953-7282.

Opportunity awaits in Myanmar, but window won’t be open long

From the cyclone-ravaged country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, Baptists have an unprecedented opportunity to reach the eight major ethnic groups and 135 subcultures found nearby with the gospel, a Myanmar citizen who is helping with relief efforts told the Southern Baptist TEXAN.

Consequently, the SBTC is working diligently to rally its churches to send monetary aid to the country where on May 2-3 Cyclone Nargis killed more than 130,000 people in the country’s coastal and delta regions, displaced hundreds of thousands, and devastated agriculture and infrastructure.

The relief worker, who requested anonymity, said about 300 Baptist churches need rebuilding from the cyclone, and most churches lack seed and equipment to begin again raising rice and other necessities on their land.

But the most pressing need is clean water because of storm-polluted water sources.

“We are troubled by the disaster, yet it brings an opportunity to reach Burma and the surrounding countries of China, India and Bangladesh,” the worker said.

The region hardest hit by the storm is where most of the Christian minority lives in the predominantly Buddhist country. Western relief groups, including Southern Baptists, have
relied on those with access to the country to carry out the relief effort.

Churches have only six months to rebuild or they will lose their government permits, the worker said.

“We have Christians in Burma, and they are soul winning,” he said. “We have an awesome, awesome opportunity, but we can’t do it alone. We need all God’s people.”

SBTC DR Director Jim Richardson said SBTC churches can send money to help in six ways: church rebuilding, clean water access, temporary shelter supplies, food and basic staples, agricultural recovery, and rebuilding of homes.

Most of these tasks can be completed relatively inexpensively, Richardson said.

For example, $20 can provide enough cooking oil and rice for a family of five to eat for 10 days. A thousand dollars will purchase materials to rebuild one church, and $100 will rebuild a home.

Also, $1,000 will buy a church a push tractor, fertilizer, diesel fuel where needed, and enough seed to begin raising crops for food.

Richardson said the goal is to rebuild 100 churches in six months before their government permits expire.

A group of Myanmar Baptists have conducted outreach amid the crisis and are winning some to faith in Christ as Christian charity has opened doors for talking about Jesus, the relief worker told the TEXAN.

“At one church there were five people who came to faith. They were ready to be baptized,” he said.

The worker asked Baptists in the United States to pray for God’s favor on the relief workers.

Baptist Global Response is also working with Southern Baptists to get aid to affected areas.

For more information on the SBTC effort, call Jim Richardson in the SBTC DR office toll free at 877-953-7282, or e-mail him at

To aid inDisaster Relief efforts in Myanmar, please make donations payable to SBTC Disaster Relief and mail to SBTC, PO Box 1988, Grapevine, TX 76099

Criswell begins one-day M.Div. program

DALLAS?In an effort to accommodate busy students requiring convenient scheduling options, Criswell College will launch this fall a master of divinity degree program featuring classes on Mondays only, and evening classes for a master of arts in counseling degree.

“We expect more programs like this in the future as Criswell College combines both efficiency and effectiveness in training laborers for the harvest,” said Mark Overstreet, vice president for enrollment services.

Executive Vice President and Provost at the college, Lamar Cooper, said, “Our discussions of how to meet needs of pastors and students who work full time led us to consider the possibility of being able to complete a degree program coming to classes on Monday only.”

The new schedule option for the college’s long-standing master of divinity program will “minister to those who would like to attend classes and earn a degree but who have limited time,” Cooper said.
“Monday would be the best time for our schedule, and that especially works well for those already are serving as a pastor.”

“Now that gas prices are out of sight, this schedule becomes even more attractive.A student can come on Monday and earn his M.Div. in three years,” Cooper continued.

The degree may be earned even sooner if students also attend week-long classes that convene in January and attend summer school sessions, he said.

With the addition of evening classes for the master of arts in counseling degree, the two new schedule options draw from a variety of demographical segments, school officials said. These include middle-aged “empty-nesters” preparing for a new career, and parents, spouses and professionals desiring a career change.

“So far, students are enthusiastic about the Monday-only M.Div. classes,” Cooper said.

One such student is Ray Brantley, who said, “M.Div. Mondays is an amazing opportunity, particularly with the challenges that face modern students. This is a tremendous blessing. Everything is set up to accommodate and facilitate the pursuit of the degree, especially for those who commute two and three hours to the campus.”

“This one-day-a-week schedule will enable me to focus better on the different segments of my life, like school, ministry and work,” he added.

“The new schedule is wonderful,” said George Cardozo Jr. “I can take all of my classes on one day. That keeps me from neglecting my family and my studies, and helps me financially by reducing the number of trips I have to make.”

Brantley notes that the scheduling options are reflective of what he discovered at Criswell College.
“This is an amazing school, and I am blessed to have such a place where everyone, from the staff to the professors care for you as a person. They treat students as people, not numbers,” he said. “I don’t know of many schools where professors will not only pray for you, they will pray with you. You really sense the love and care and concern they have for you.”

School officials said enrollment for the upcoming fall semester continues apace. Persons interested in enrolling at Criswell College should contact the school’s Admissions Office at 800-899-0012 or 214-821-5433, or e-mail

Disaster relief work yields more than dry houses

WAPELLO, Iowa?During a June deployment to Iowa, disaster relief volunteer and unit leader Herman Johnson of Onalaska had a chance to help clean more than a flooded home.

Having received an assignment from Pastor Dan Doolin of the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Wapello, Johnson and fellow team members Jack Wilkins from the Pine Forest Baptist Church in Onalaska and Bill James of the Harmony Hills Baptist Church in Lufkin were eager to serve and help with the mud-out efforts in the region ravaged by June floods.

Johnson met with the homeowner, Dale Thompson, about the cleaning needs of the house but soon discovered Thompson had a greater need than his house being cleaned. As Johnson questioned Thompson about his relationship with Christ he discovered Thompson was unsaved.

Johnson told Thompson that everybody in his family was saved and were members of a Baptist church, to which Thompson readily declared, “I just don’t want to be a Baptist.”

Undaunted, Johnson took several occasions to share the “Hope In Crisis” tract with Thompson.
The tract, published by the North American Mission Board specifically for disaster victims, eventually turned Thompson’s bearded face into a stream of heart-born tears.

Johnson later told his pastor, “I used the Roman Road verses you just showed us how to use. I had them marked and knew how to explain each verse. When I asked Dale if he was ready to let Jesus clean his life and save his soul, his answer was immediate. I used the DR tract and we prayed the sinner’s prayer.”

Reflecting with his pastor, Johnson continued, “I guess Jesus sent us to a flooded Iowa to help Dale for the rest of eternity.”

SBTC staff take church positions

Three SBTC ministry staff members have answered calls to serve churches in Texas, Louisiana and Georgia.

  • Troy Brooks, who served as director of minister-church relations, left in June to become pastor of First Baptist Church, Madisonville.
  • Brad Bunting, who served as youth evangelism associate, left in May to become pastor of Midway Baptist Church, Jena, La.
  • Craig Beall, church ministries associate, left in June to become executive pastor at First Baptist Church, Conyers, Ga.

A personal reflection on a ‘faith healer’

Todd Bentley’s healing ministry has gained national attention. His daily meetings for the past three months in Lakeland, Fla., have attracted hundreds of thousands from all over the world. The press has begun to question Bentley’s legitimacy?Is his financial accounting above board? Are miracles really happening? I want here to raise some more personal concerns.

On July 3, my wife, three children, and I attended Bentley’s “impartation service” in Denton, north of Dallas. Why? We have twin boys aged 7, one of whom is autistic (largely nonverbal, still not fully toilet trained, serious developmental delays). Friends urged that we attend the meeting for his miraculous healing.

Call us stubborn, but my wife and I are unimpressed with doctors who see our son’s condition as hopeless. We believe that God still heals and that his means of healing include conventional medicine, alternative medicine, prayer, fasting, love, and, yes, miracles. In any case, we haven’t given up on our son’s recovery (we still remember the day when he was developmentally on track). So if God wanted to use Todd Bentley, we were open to it.

As faith healers go, Bentley is unconventional. Exhibiting black shirt, baggy jeans, tattoos, and piercings, he prefers grunge to Gucci. But his appearance wasn’t a problem for my wife or me. God in the Bible used many unconventional people. The problem for us was the manipulation, hype, and agenda that seemed to pervade the meeting.

It was a 130-mile drive for my family to get to the meeting. When we called the organizers, they urged us to get there by 3 p.m. even though the meeting didn’t start till 7 p.m. The venue (a basketball arena) seated 8,500 people, yet the organizers told us to expect 14,000 people to show up. So the only way to be sure of getting a seat was to get there early.

We therefore piled the kids into the minivan early afternoon, arriving around 4:30 p.m. At 6:30 p.m., after sitting for two hours, the arena was about three-quarters full. One of the organizers then announced that traffic was backed up for miles around Denton and that several thousand were trying to get into the meeting, most of whom would have to be turned away. This was sheer hype. A significant block of seats (at least 20 percent) was cordoned off and never used throughout the whole night. We could have arrived anytime and still gotten seats.

At 7 p.m., Keith Miller (the chief organizer, started things off. After prompting the audience to perform ritualistic acts of worship (stand up, raise your hands, say after me …), he passed the baton to a young woman singer and her backup band. The sound system was terrible?sounds were loud and distorted. The music was repetitive in the extreme. In almost two hours of this “music ministry,” only a handful of songs were sung, and many of them seemed to consist of only one or two phrases.

Finally, around 9 p.m., Bentley began to speak. He devoted much of his message to the visions he has received and the miracles he claims have happened in his ministry. Then, almost as an afterthought, he spent a few minutes preaching from the Bible (John 5). In fact, he admitted that he was having us open the Bible simply so that it couldn’t be said that he didn’t preach from the Bible. So much for reverencing the Scriptures.

Nowhere in Bentley’s message did I see an emphasis on the love and compassion of God?that healing is an expression of God’s goodness and care for humanity. Rather, the emphasis throughout was on power?the power to heal and be healed.

Bentley told stories of remarkable healings. In fact, he claims that in his ministry 30 people have now been raised from the dead. Are these stories credible?

A common pattern in his accounts of healing was an absence of specificity. Bentley claims that one man, unembalmed, had been dead for 48 hours and was in a coffin. When the family gathered around at a funeral home, the man knocked from inside the coffin to be let out.

But what are the specifics? Who was this man? What’s his name? Where’s the death certificate? And why not parade the man at Bentley’s meetings? If I am ever raised from the dead through anyone’s ministry, you can be sure I’ll put in a guest appearance. Bentley claims that he is having a team investigate healings performed under his ministry and will soon go public with the evidence. I look forward to seeing it.

After preaching, Bentley took the offering. During the offering he asked, “How much anointing do you want to receive?” Thus he linked the blessing we should receive with the amount of money we gave.

After the offering, Bentley said a general prayer for mass healing. People who thought they were healed then came forward. But I saw no obvious or dramatic evidence of healing. After the general prayer for mass healing, Bentley indicated that he would pray for the severest cases.

At this point, a friend who was with us urged that she and my wife take our son with autism down for prayer (I stayed with our other son and daughter).

Over an hour later my son with autism was still not able to get to the main floor for prayer. Ushers twice prevented that from happening. They noted that he was not in a wheelchair. Wheelchair cases clearly had priority?presumably they provided better opportunities for the cameras, which filmed everything. They also invoked the fire marshals, who, they claimed, prohibited too many people on the floor of the arena. But earlier in the service, during the worship time, they had packed the floor with people singing and whooping it up.

After midnight we were told that it would be an hour and a half before our son could get prayer. At that point, we got up and left. Yet the story doesn’t end there. When we got to the minivan, our other son remembered that he had left his Bible in the arena. When my wife went back to retrieve it, everybody, including Bentley, had suddenly cleared out. Staying an hour and a half would not have mattered.

Our son was refused prayer twice because he didn’t look the part, and he was told to wait still longer for a prayer that would never have been offered. And even those who looked the part seemed to look no better after Bentley’s prayer?the exodus from the arena of people bound in wheelchairs was poignant.

My son’s situation was not unique?a man with bone cancer and his wife traveled a long distance, were likewise refused prayer, and left in tears. People with needs were shortchanged. It seemed that power, prestige, and money (in that order) were dominating motives behind the meeting. Minimal time was given to healing, though plenty was devoted to assaulting our senses with blaring insipid music and even to Bentley promoting and selling his own products (books and CDs).

Neither my wife nor I regret going. It was an education. Our kids are resilient. But the ride home raised a question. We found ourselves avoiding talking about the event until the children fell asleep. Then, as they drifted off in the early morning, we talked in hushed tones about how easily religion can be abused, in this case to exploit our family. What do we tell our children? I’m still working on that one.

?William A. Dembski is research professor in philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, where he teaches apologetics. His newest book, coauthored with Sean McDowell, is “Understanding Intelligent Design” (released July 1), a user-friendly guide to the evolution-ID controversy.

Effective evangelism requires leadership

This has been a busy summer. Both of our daughters had a baby. The babies were born four days apart last month. “Nana” was on the move from one baby to another and “Popa” wasn’t far behind. Nathan and I did make it to the Southern Baptist Convention. It was special for me to serve out my term as first vice-president. This is Nathan’s last full summer at home. We are making football camps on a regular basis. He received a scholarship offer from one school and several others have expressed an interest in him. God has provided for us in a tremendous way. We praise him for healthy babies, a paid college education and the opportunity to serve the Lord.

Perhaps one of the busiest items for me this summer is my preaching schedule. It is a thrill to be invited to preach in SBTC churches and outside of Texas too. I enjoyed a revival meeting with my longtime friend Mike Smith, who pastors the Valley Baptist Church in Sedro Woolly, Wash. God allowed us to see a couple of people make commitments to Christ during the week. The Northwest is a difficult area but Mike has been faithful. He has served in Washington state for over 10 years. Mike is an inspiration to me as he sacrificially serves the Lord Jesus in a true mission field.

Mike is like so many of my friends who lead by example. I could name dozens who never get mentioned in the denominational press or at convention meetings. They simply do what God has called them to do. These pastors are willing to serve for little pay, often in obscurity, to reach people for Christ who would not otherwise have the opportunity to be saved.

These heroes of the faith set the standard. However, I am convinced that the greatest need in the Southern Baptist Convention is passionate, convictional leadership. For almost a generation our culture has held tolerance as the highest value. When a preacher forcefully and lovingly presents truth, he runs contrary to acceptable behavior. The norm is for mild-mannered men to mildly exhort mild-mannered people to be more mild-mannered. I pray that God will give us Elijahs who will stand up to the prophets of political correctness.

Leadership must be exercised in the area of soul-winning. The apostle Paul told Timothy that a pastor was to do the work of an evangelist. Obviously, training people to be a witness is important. However, pastors must show the way by personally witnessing to the lost. Thousands of Southern Baptist churches reported no baptisms last year. Personal soul-winning by church leadership would immediately begin a reversal in the decline in baptisms.

I have another revival to preach this summer. Almost every Sunday I am privileged to be in God’s pulpit. It is a busy time, but a blessed time. It is special because I will be with godly pastors who love Jesus and want to see people saved. May God increase their number.

In keeping with my challenge to church leadership to share the gospel, I am asking your Southern Baptists of Texas Convention ministry staff to share the gospel with at least one lost person per month. After evangelistic training we will begin an accountability report time in our chapel. We can’t make people get saved but we can present Christ to those who are without him. Pray that God will use our witness to lead some to know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.

Pastor: Murdered record producer wanted to know how he could serve

DALLAS: One of the last souls Matthew Butler spoke with was his pastor at the First Baptist Church of Dallas.

Robert Jeffress could not have dreamed that hours later he would hear of Butler’s murder, or that days later he’d be preaching the funeral of Butler, 28, and his friend Stephen Swan, 26.

In killings that drew national attention, the bullet-ridden bodies of Butler and Swan were discovered in the early morning hours of June 19 outside Butler’s business, Zion Gate Records in downtown Garland, after robbers netted $2 and Swan’s 1995 Crown Victoria.

In a phone interview July 8, Jeffress said the pastoral care ministry at First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, where he is pastor and where Butler and his wife, Jamie, were members, is seeking to help the family the best it can with its loss of a husband and father of a 2-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter.

On the afternoon before his death, Butler, drove from suburban Garland to the First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas to meet with Jeffress.

“He had made an appointment to come and see me,” Jeffress said. “He talked about how happy he and his wife were at our church. They had just joined in April, and they wanted to find a place to serve and
to use their spiritual gifts. He was absolutely sold out to Jesus Christ.”

Jeffress said Butler wanted to be able to eventually give all of his money to the church, and the two men talked about the responsibility a father has in providing for his family in addition to tithing and giving. They prayed God would open doors for Butler to bless his family and others, Jeffress said.

“When he went downstairs [after the meeting], he purchased a card in our gift shop and left it with my secretary. The card read, ‘Thanks for taking the time to visit with me today.’ He then went back to work at his recording studio and later that evening his life was taken.”

Jeffress said Butler’s mother told him that her son had called “out of the blue” earlier that day to tell her how much he loved her and his father and appreciated all they had done for him.

Garland police, alerted by a passerby, discovered the bodies of Butler and Swan shortly after midnight on June 19 outside Butler’s recording studio where the two men had worked until late that evening.

The day after the killings, police in Texarkana, Ark., pulled Swan’s stolen sedan over for a traffic violation, leading to the arrest of James Broadnax, 19, of Texarkana, and his cousin, Damarius Cummings, 19, of Dallas.

In an obscenity-laced jailhouse interview with the Dallas Morning News, Broadnax told reporter Jason Trahan, “I murdered both of them. No hesitation or nothing.”

Cummings, asked if he feared the death penalty on capital murder charges, said: “If that’s what it is, justice has to be served. It wasn’t the plan to kill them; it was just to rob them.

“I feel regretful. I feel for the family, or whatever.”

The men said they went to Garland by train from Dallas with the intent to rob someone and were disappointed with only netting $2.

The newspaper said the two men struck up a conversation with Butler and Swan as they were leaving the recording studio. Over half an hour, Butler and Swan told Broadnax and Cummings about their work and that they were Christians before things turned violent.

After Broadnax asked Butler for a cigarette, Broadnax unveiled a pistol and began firing, shooting both men multiple times to “make sure they were dead,” the newspaper reported.

“Do I look like I got remorse?” Broadnax replied when asked if he was sorry.

Cummings’ aunt called police and reported the license plate of the car they were driving after overhearing them talk about the robbery, news reports said.

Meanwhile, the responses from the widowed Jamie Butler were filled with references to her faith and hope that the two robbers would find forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

Butler told Greta Van Susteren of the Fox News Channel: “That’s what my husband would want everyone out there to know, that God loves them.? And so for these men out there that have done this, I would want them to know Christ and to know that no matter what, God died on the cross for them and that he will forgive them. And my husband, I know, is waiting at the gates of Heaven, wanting to meet these men and saying, ‘I forgive you, as well.'”

Louis Moore, a veteran journalist and owner of the publishing company Hannibal Books in Garland, told the TEXAN in an e-mail: “I met Matt about six weeks before he died when he and his wife and two precious children visited a duplex I own and inquired about renting it. They stayed and talked about 30 minutes. Matt wanted to rent the place, but his wife thought (correctly?I agreed) that the second bedroom was too small for two growing children. I really liked them and looked forward to possibly working with them on a project some day.”

Moore wrote on his Internet blog that missionaries abroad are taught the dangers of sharing their faith in what are often unsafe places, but American believers are not accustomed to such threats.

He raised the question on his blog of whether America has gotten so unsafe that Christians should be taught to avoid danger in sharing their faith.

“I pray not,” Moore wrote.

Noting that he had to dig deep into the newspaper story to learn that the two men were witnessing when they were killed, Moore wrote: “The banner headline on this story easily could have been about Christians slain while following Christ’s commands to share their faith with others. I’m sure this buried fact wasn’t lost on many other believers. Now we must decide what Jesus wants us to do in the aftermath.”

A memorial fund has been established for Butler’s family at Wells Fargo Bank and may be contributed to at any location. To mail a check, make it payable to “Matthew Butler Memorial Fund” and send to Wells Fargo Bank, 2628 Long Prairie Road, Suite 110, Flower Mound, TX 75022.