Month: September 2008

Power restored, classes resume at HBU

HOUSTON–Classes resumed Sept. 22 at Houston Baptist University, eight days after Hurricane Ike caused an estimated $8 million to $10 million damage to the campus.

The university’s student center and administrative complex suffered significant wind, water and structural damage during the storm but student residences were undamaged and classroom buildings were largely unaffected as well, university President Robert B. Sloan Jr. said in a statement posted on HBU’s website.

Although the campus was without power for a week, emergency generators provided crucial support for staff and students who weathered the storm on campus, Sloan said. Cool, clear weather allowed cleanup crews to make good progress on recovery efforts.

The university’s computer network returned to service the morning of Sept. 21 after servers were moved to an off-site location where electrical power was available, according to a statement from Charles Fix, interim director of HBU’s information technology services. By that evening, electrical power had been fully restored to the campus and Sloan announced that classes would resume at 10 a.m. the next day.

In the statement posted Sept. 19, Sloan praised students and staff for the patience and good spirit they demonstrated during the chaotic week after the storm struck.

“As we see more images from the storm’s destruction, we realize more and more how many are suffering in our area,” Sloan said. “We know that nothing happens outside the love of Christ, and it is that belief that keeps us strong. We pray for God’s peace for those who have lost loved ones, homes, pets and that sense of normalcy that we all take for granted.

“One of our challenges this week has been that our administrative team is working without access to their offices and files. Today’s wireless technology — cell phones, air cards, laptops — has been invaluable,” Sloan continued. “Our remote access to our website has allowed us to keep our HBU homepage updated with information. Our emergency alert system has served us well and has given us the capability to send phone and text message campus updates to our faculty, staff and students on a daily basis.

“Our students who remain on campus and have been here since the storm are in good spirits. There is a definite bond among these young people, built on prayer, friendship and youthful optimism,” Sloan added. “I met yesterday with our faculty and staff who were able to get to campus. We prayed together, hugged familiar faces, and shared our stories. There was a peace to that gathering, and a strength that comes from knowing God’s grace and goodness.”

Students who remained on campus helped other storm victims by volunteering for Houston’s End Hunger Network and Neighborhood Centers. The university has established a “Student Success Fund” for donations to help students and their families who suffered losses because of the hurricane.

Submerged by Ike, churches prove resilient

Taking a break from scraping out mud and stacking flooded furniture, mementos and drywall in their front yards, hundreds of resilient Southern Baptists gathered for Sunday morning worship services across Southeast Texas only a week after Hurricane Ike devastated the area and caused massive flooding.

During his assessment of the region, Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, visited several churches in Orange County to offer encouragement and a promise of support.

“Words fail me. There is nothing that I can say that can comfort, encourage or strengthen you,” Richards said to the churches. “That is something that only the Holy Spirit can do in your life, but he does it through the Word of God.”

Richards read Romans 8:31-39, reminding the congregations of the constant presence of the Lord during trials, and prayed for each congregation.

Richards told the churches that they are not alone or forgotten in their time of need.

“I just wanted to let you know that across this state 2,100 SBTC churches are praying for you and supporting you and thinking of you this morning,” he said. “I want to thank you for your faithfulness.
How awesome it is for you to be here this morning and to see you in attendance and worshipping the Lord through the difficulties you personally face.”

Due to flooded sanctuaries, churches improvised and met in cleaned-out gymnasiums, stripped-down sanctuaries, and even in church parking lots. Richards visited three of these displaced churches: Liberty Baptist in Bridge City, First Baptist in Bridge City and Cove Baptist in Orange.

Bill Collier, pastor of Liberty Baptist, said meeting so soon after the hurricane was important because “people had physical, personal contact with one another.” The small church, whose sanctuary was flooded with nearly three feet of water, used e-mail and cell phones to inform members about the Sunday morning worship service in the church parking lot. Similar to an old-fashioned family reunion, more than 40 members arrived with lawn chairs and embraced one another in genuine fellowship.

“I think Jim Richards coming down was encouraging for our people,” Collier said. “We are Southern Baptists, and we are part of the Cooperative Program, and they’re actually seeing part of the Cooperative Program firsthand. They now have a better idea of what cooperation is about.”

Collier, whose house was flooded by more than five feet of water, expressed optimism about the circumstances and how his church can minister in the midst of their own recovery.

“We’ve had a pretty hard blow to our community, to our own homes and to our church, but we’re going to make it,” Collier said. “As our church gets more organized and gets more resources coming in, we can become a distribution center for material needs. We’re going to be hands-on people, helping people clean out their homes. We’re going to be part of meeting spiritual and emotional needs of people.

“In every case, it will be an opportunity for evangelism, not so much in programs but on a daily basis as we go about helping people out, praying for them and letting them know our hope is in Christ. I think this will be the church’s finest hour because it is an opportunity for us, as we go through tragedy, to demonstrate the character of Christ to our community.”

Richards also visited First Baptist Church of Vidor. The church is coordinating the disaster relief efforts in the region for the North American Mission Board and the Golden Triangle Baptist Association (GTBA), which it also performed in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita.

Richards commended the church for their sacrificial giving and service, noting, “There are those who speak of donor fatigue; I don’t believe First Baptist Church of Vidor has donor fatigue.”

The GTBA is looking for groups and churches to adopt congregations that were damaged by the hurricane, many of which do not have full-time pastors to guide them through the rebuilding. First Baptist Vidor has taken the lead on this, adopting Liberty Baptist in Bridge City and offering them physical, financial and spiritual support during the restoration process.

FIRST PERSON: Persevering post-Ike






A homeowner in Seabrook, Texas, near Galveston, walks across his yard filled with wet drywall and ruined furnishings. The home took in two feet of water. Other areas took in water as high as six feet. Photo by Bonnie Pritchett

LEAGUE CITY?It had been a difficult week. That made gathering for church Sunday morning with my brothers and sisters from Nassau Bay Baptist Church all the more comforting. Church had been canceled the previous Sunday. And on this Sunday, Sept. 21, we weren’t even meeting in our own facilities.

A gracious neighboring church welcomed us in and made us feel right at home; no small feat considering some of us could not return to our homes following services for Sunday dinner and a little “Baptist hour” of fellowship.

The dining table for most folks, if salvageable, was still drying out and all bedding had been pitched to the curb onto an ever-growing mound of sodden belongings. For some of my church family Hurricane Ike had done its worst. But still we gathered to worship. Although I wouldn’t be disturbed to learn that some of my friends found going to church more of a distraction than a time of worship. They are godly people, but they are godly people in shock and in need of a respite from the heartache of lost possessions and the frustration that seems to be a part of dealing with insurance companies and FEMA.

My church family is scattered among the communities that stretch from Galveston Bay to the east, and Pearland and Friendswood to the west?all areas susceptible to the ravages of a hurricane. My church building is situated in a neighborhood notorious for flooding. It is a lovely bedroom community across the street from NASA, but it is also situated on Clear Creek and a small man-made lake. The creek empties into Clear Lake which then becomes part of Galveston Bay. Therefore the creek, which meanders through many communities in this region south and southeast of Houston, is susceptible to the tide and tidal surge when a storm approaches.

Although the storm surge did not spare many homes in Nassau Bay, it did spare the church. Winds damaged the roof and blew rain in through the doors in the newer part of the facility. The original building leaks like so many other 40-year-old structures but the damp and dank smelling carpets will be cleaned and ceiling tiles replaced. Power was finally restored Sept. 21.

But it will take more than a ShopVac to repair the damage to our sister churches in the Galveston Baptist Association. Not all churches have been accounted for, but as of Sept. 21, of the 60 GBA churches, one quarter of them sustained significant damage. Of those, eight had major damage and two are completely gone. Two pastors also lost their homes.

And before anyone starts quoting Matthew 6 and admonishing people here about “worldly possessions,” try this: Take everything in your home that can absorb moisture and is situated four feet from the floor on down, including major appliances, and throw it out in your yard. And watch all your neighbors do the same.

And watch as an oversized garbage truck with an attached crane and claw lumbers down your street and carelessly, thoughtlessly snares the mounds a mangled portion at a time, and dumps them in the truck. Sobering, isn’t it?

I had half joked, as my family evacuated to my in-laws home in Austin, that I hoped for just a little bit of flood water in our house. I really need new carpet and a new kitchen floor. And the possibility of flooding was very real. The people who know how to calculate such things have drawn official diagrams showing that my neighborhood, if hit by a Category 3 hurricane, would take on water. Ike was predicted to do just that. But a slight jog to the east and sustained winds just below 111 mph kept him at bay.

At least for my home.

My home in League City remained intact. Downed fences and trees littered our small neighborhood. We only lost branches. And power. We returned Sept. 16 and by that afternoon we had electricity. The weather following the storm was blessedly cool, truly a Godsend for those laboring to clean up during the day and seeking some semblance of comfort at night.

After cleaning our yard and helping our neighbor do the same, my family wasn’t going to be able to sit at home and enjoy the air conditioning. We were finding out, via word of mouth (home phone and Internet accessibility were spotty), that our friends and fellow church members had been flooded out of their homes in Seabrook. Compassion mixed with a healthy dose of guilt spurred us to help.

Like most people, I’ve only seen pictures of the destruction a hurricane can cause. I watched local and national news broadcasts during our evacuation and saw familiar places and roadways submerged or strewn with debris. Driving to our friend’s house my boys, Robert and Sam, and I were astounded at what we saw. My heart ached for the losses these people were suffering and the realization of the work that lay ahead was daunting.

But many hands make light work. I’ve said that to Robert and Sam all their lives. We caught up with my husband, Steven, at the Seabrook home of our friends Damon and Trisha. Two days of volunteer work had almost completed the requisite disposal of flooring (Trisha’s wood flooring was only six weeks old), drywall (up to about two feet), and just about anything else that had once been submerged under the tidal flood. Steven helped finish drywall removal while Trisha scouted out an apartment they would call home for the next few months.

For the next two days our family helped two other families?Jim and Cheryl live next to their daughter and son-in-law, Jill and Cary, and their four children. Two to three feet of water surged into their homes from Galveston Bay that usually laps placidly at the end of their street.

Church members and other friends, co-workers, and family members scurried about removing and sanitizing what was salvageable and disposing of what was not. Time was of the essence. The longer the water-logged walls, floors, carpeting, and furniture remained in the homes, the harder it would be to combat the noxious mold that wastes no time setting in and taking over.

Cary worked hard to get his home ready for reconstruction as Jill cared for the kids at a home provided by another church family who are temporarily out of the country (Cary, along with the volunteers, took orders from our mutual friend David who stepped up and took charge as impromptu foreman.).

September 19 was Jill’s birthday and she, for the first time, came to see what had become of her home. We all teared up as we hugged and tried to give an encouraging word. Jill’s oldest son, Kirby, 13, looked concerned for his mom but she assured him the tears weren’t for the loss but for the overwhelming sense of love and concern shown by all who had come to help.

All I had done was rip out nasty smelling drywall and sanitize their few remaining possessions. But together we had accomplished a lot. Ann, our church secretary, acted as command central. From her home she posted e-mails announcing who and what was needed and where. And those who couldn’t work in the homes ministered in important ways as well.

Sharlene and her grade-school aged kids, Bethany and Jonathan, made up what I called “The Cookie Brigade.”

Can’t do your job? Change the rules!

The Sept. 22 TEXAN noted the Amethyst Initiative, an effort by 100 college and university presidents to lower the legal drinking age to 18. Saying the current law leads to a “culture of dangerous, clandestine ‘binge-drinking,'” the educators suggest that lowering the drinking age to a point where most kids have even less wisdom will result in more responsible drinking habits.

These guys never went to high school, I guess. They don’t remember the culture of dangerous, clandestine (because it was illegal) binge-drinking that I remember. I didn’t hang out in risky places or with wild kids and my parents didn’t keep booze in the house, but I was offered alcohol regularly by the time I was 17?a few times at college parties. I didn’t inhale but I didn’t lack opportunities. Lower the age to 18, and 16-year-olds will be clandestine when they drink, except at college parties where there’ll be little need. And nothing about the change will make anything less dangerous.

Here’s another interpretation of the Amethyst Initiative. As it is, most undergraduates are not legal drinkers. Colleges and universities have a real problem with student alcohol abuse. Some of those problems would go away if nearly all students came to college legal to drink. Sure, some kids would still drink too much but it wouldn’t be illegal. The crime rate on campus would go down and campus security wouldn’t have to card anyone on campus. The proposal is to do away with an unpleasant, difficult task because it’s unpleasant and difficult. Any actual benefit to the students or society is strictly blue sky thinking. If nothing changes except for the end of the campus’ responsibility to enforce the drinking age, it’s a winner to the administration.

The college presidents also trot out the old, “old enough to fight, vote, serve on a jury, etc.” argument. It still doesn’t fly. Just because an 18-year-old can serve on a jury, for example, doesn’t mean he should. It seems unlikely that recent high school grads are often appointed to criminal juries. Officers of the court would not trust their judgment in the way they might trust that of a 21-year-old.

Perhaps the presidents are making a better argument for raising the age of majority in general. Is their intent to argue for fairness, legal practicality, an easier time for the administration, or for the good of the students? The last reason seems the least likely.

Of course, there’s an educational aspect to the Amethyst Initiative. One idea has students who want to drink while enrolled in the university taking an alcohol education course before they could get their “beer card.” So I guess campus security is back to carding people. Certainly the wise young people only drink too much because they haven’t been given the facts. The education course just might solve all the problems, right? Another idea offered at the initiative’s website is that students between 18 and 20 would be allowed to drink only 3 percent alcohol beer and no stronger drinks.

OK, just so we understand?students might have to take a course, get a license, and can only drink lower alcohol beer. This isn’t treating the younger students as though they are less responsible than other adults, it’s not prohibition, and it’s not going to be an absurd enforcement problem? Our academic brain trust is undermining their own argument by trying to make it more palatable to those of us who see nothing but bad news in lowering the legal drinking age. I also think they’re trying to push their problems off on those who try to educate younger students.

It’s a bad idea from every direction at the same time. I don’t believe the best interests of the students enter into it at all.

First Baptist Church Gilchrist swept away

GILCHRIST?Arlis and Wanda Russell made a list of the folks who were present for the last service of their home church, knowing it might be the only membership roll they had.

On a Wednesday night, Sept. 10, the Russells were among the several dozen folks who gathered at First Baptist Church of Gilchrist to hear a visiting evangelist preach on dealing with the storms of life during the last evening of a three-day revival.

The Bolivar Peninsula took the brunt of the hurricane’s force three days later, wiping out the community of Gilchrist right where the stretch of land narrows to only a few hundred yards, making it all the more vulnerable. Reporters touring from the air described the scene as apocalyptic and rescuers spoke of the town’s total destruction. According to National Geodetic Survey images, the 1,000 or so structures that stood have been reduced to just five.

“It’s rare to see a town so completely destroyed by a hurricane, to the point where you can’t even see the wreckage,” said meteorologist Jeff Masters.

While the neighboring towns of Crystal Beach and High Island were also mostly destroyed, they were not swept clean of all the structures and wreckage, he said. Masters noted, “Not only did Gilchrist suffer a head-on assault by Ike’s direct storm surge of 14-plus feet, topped by 20-foot-high battering waves, the town also suffered a reverse surge once the hurricane passed.”

Whatever was left after the first waves was likely finished off by the second surge, he said. One way or the other, First Baptist Gilchrist was completely removed from the scene, reducing the likelihood of rebuilding in a town left decimated.

“It’s not just whether the church is going to have a mission, but whether there’s going to be a church,” SBTC Minister/Church Relations Director Mike Smith said.

Pastor L.C. Roots lost his home and the church he served, but stays in contact with folks like the Russells as he moves from one temporary home to the next.

“We’ve gotten in touch with a few folks but it’s been really difficult trying to locate everybody,” Russell told the TEXAN. “The membership records are all gone.”

He and his wife looked over the list they made, believing most evacuated before the storm hit.

Brumbelow kept his pledge to preach a revival every year for the seacoast congregation. With most of those meetings held in September, he was used to competing with tropical storms.

“We were monitoring the storm during the course of the week and until Wednesday evening it appeared to be going south.”

The fact that he delivered the last sermon in the church before the water and wind swept it away remains on Brumbelow’s mind.

“They lost everything they had,” he said. “Every member of that church who lived on the peninsula lost a house.”

Although First Baptist remained a small congregation in a heavily traveled tourist area, Brumbelow said Roots was a faithful witness well beyond the doors of the church building.

“They’re just sweet people and I love and appreciate them. They were never going to be a big church, but they had a tremendous ministry to tourists,” Brumbelow said.

Members from the pastorless First Baptist Church, Crystal Beach, were among those present for the final service.

Russell recalled seeing Crystal Beach resident Dee Ann Sherman at the revival Wednesday night. CNN aired her account of weathering the storm in the attic of her beachfront home.

“I held onto the rafters up in the attic and prayed and prayed and prayed that if God would just save our lives we would get off this peninsula,” Sherman related. “God’s the only thing that saved us,” she added, describing the terror they experienced looking down through a hole in the ceiling and watching the ocean’s force knock the walls out.

The Russells recalled how Brumbelow turned to a different text each night to illustrate that God offers hope in the midst of various storms?addressing failure, unhappiness, depression, brokenness, and finally, fear. From Philippians 3:13-14, he urged those listening to forget those things that are behind and press on.

“We have churches that have to decide whether they even want to rebuild or not,” Smith commented.
“It’s not just a few trees down or simply repair work. This is a matter of reassessing our purpose and mission in being there.”

San Leon Community Church sits right at the edge of the coast where the storm waters rushed into the building. Pastor Bob Gibson led the church to distribute food to residents who remained and began cleaning up the church in order to house displaced residents, aided by First Baptist Church of Hempstead’s mud-out crew.

At Island Community Church, the structure is still standing but water gutted the interior. Pastor Jim Booth anticipates rebuilding, Smith said. Great Hills Baptist of Austin plans to partner in recovery efforts with storm-damaged University Baptist Church in Galveston where Billy Ray Graff pastors.

First Baptist Church of Crystal Beach became the temporary home of an 11-year-old African lioness named Shackle when its owner was unable to get off the island before Ike made landfall.

Smith met with 11 pastors during his trip to the region and expects to have a broader picture of the impact on Southern Baptist congregations following a Sept. 25 emergency meeting of Galveston Baptist Association (gbachurches.org). With church leaders relocating from Katy to Corsicana, Smith continues to reach as many as he can find.

Reviewing the reports of the churches surveyed thus far, Smith said, “The first need is always prayer. It’s draining physically, emotionally and spiritually and the greatest need is to be lifted up in prayer.”
Smith said disaster relief teams deployed quickly after the storm offering hope to those affected.

“They’re already there with the feeding units, chainsaws and shower facilities. It’s such an encouragement to those people to know that they have brothers and sisters in Christ who care enough to come.”

With so many residents displaced, local churches expect difficulty maintaining ministries that require funding. Even the basic needs of paying staff salaries will be strained.

Smith recalled a sign posted at the crossroads upon entering San Leon that declared, “Let’s pull together, neighbors. We can beat this.”

As SBTC churches join in that effort, Smith said he looked forward to helping many more churches anticipate future ministry to the Gulf region.

In evangelism, it’s ‘both/and’ not ‘either/or’

FORNEY?In an effort to meet the evangelism needs of today’sshifting social demographic, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has created a newinitiative that combinestraditional andmodern methods for more effective outreach to maximize the number of new believers won and baptized.

After years of churches trying to navigate through new social norms that discouraged door-to-door contact from institutions such as churches, SBTC evangelism leaders say pastors are now thinking in terms of an evangelistic approach that combines traditional methods with a more modern, relational tone.

The new evangelism endeavor utilizes one-day events called the “One Day School of Evangelism” and ishosted by strategically placed churches throughout the state.

The first events took place this fall in the cities of Lubbock, Forney, and Austin and have attracted pastors and church leaders with a distinguished roster of guest speakers and teachers. Attendees come to be equipped and trained in order to have a greater evangelical impact on their surrounding communities.

First Baptist Church of Forney hosted the second event this fall as 109 pastors, church leaders and lay people attended on Sept. 18.

“We believe in the crucial nature of evangelism,” stated Senior Pastor Jimmy Pritchard said. “We’re losing the souls of America and the only way we’re going to get back in the fight is if we begin to emphasize evangelism again.”

He went on to discuss how the methods of evangelism have shifted with the times.

“It’s different in that there’s too many who are over-emphasizing relational evangelism and getting away from confrontational evangelism, doing the friendships but never sharing the core of the message,” Pritchard said. “Both strategies are good, but we should never be afraid to confront somebody with the reality of the gospel. As we’ve tried to get a little bit too cultural, we’ve moved away from the basic elements of the gospel.”

Don Cass, SBTC director of evangelism, said:”We want to equip as many people in evangelism as we can. And we have the opportunity at an event like this, a regional event, to bring in top speakers and address the subjects that would really communicate to the churches and deal with the needs of pastors and staff people.”

Commenting on the locations of the One Day events, Cass said, “It’s a regional thing, and everyone is welcome. Specific regions means we’re carrying the training out to where the churches are rather than asking them to come miles and miles to a meeting. We hope to have five events next year in various parts of the state.”

Pritchard encouraged other churches to consider hosting a One Day event .

“Anything that can help in the gospel and ministry is worthwhile,” he said. “If there’s a facility or geographic location that can help church leaders get some training and exposure that they wouldn’t otherwise get, that’s an investment in kingdom work which brings its ultimate reward from the Lord.”

The One Day School of Evangelism enables attendees to receive maximum training in one location and in a concise amount of time. The events run from 9 a.m.until 4 p.m., and session topics focus on multiple angles of effective evangelism for today’s pastors and congregation members.

Subjects include reaching the lost through Sunday School, reaching post-modern women, contemporary approaches to giving an invitation, building evangelism into student ministry, balancing evangelism and biblical discipleship in the church, how to be relational and intentional while sharing faith, winning Catholic friends and family, sports evangelism events, how to use the home for evangelistic events and how to witness effectively to Muslims.

The 2008 launch of the One Day featured ministry leaders such as Ken Hemphill, Jaye Martin, Darrell Robinson, Stan Coffey, Norman Flowers, Malcolm McDow, John Meador, Jerry Pipes, Rudy Gonzales, Toby Frost, Tracy Jones and Cky Carrigan.

Ken Hemphill serves as the National Strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth as part of the Southern Baptist Convention. He spoke to the attendees in a message based on Luke 15. He touched on three parables from that chapter and illustrated how the stories translate as an inspiration to witness and see the full value of winning a soul for Jesus Christ. He referred to his message as “a motivation to witness.”

“You get the three stories of the lost there,” he said about his message from Luke 15. “There’s a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. In the first story, there’s a lost sheep. And the key element to that story is thatthe shepherdwas literally willing to risk his life for the sheep. It was because he knew and understood the condition of the lost sheep.”

“So, what motivates us to go to our neighbor, even if we’re afraid to do so?” he asked.”It’s because ifour neighborsdon’t know Christ as their Savior, they are eternally lost.”

Hemphill went on to say, “The key phrase of the first two parables is that he searches until he finds. How long do you search and witness to that neighbor? Until you find.”

Hemphill said that the second parable about the lost coin is to illustrate the value of the lost.

“That lost coin was probably all the widow had,” he said. “Why does she spend so much time looking for that one coin? It was all she had between her and death. The point of the story was the value of the lost coin.”

The message of Hemphill and the other teachers at the One Day School is a simple one: be intentional. It is a call to action for pastors and their congregations to go and seek the lost, to find and rescue them.
Cass acknowledged the lower number of baptisms in recent years and pinpointed a solution.

“I think we’re understanding today that it’s a ‘both and,’ not ‘either or’ approach to evangelism,” he said. “We went from knocking on every door in every neighborhood to saying that we couldn’t knock on doors and needed to build relationships instead. It ceased to be intentional, and baptisms plummeted.”

“Now we’re coming back to the place of realizing that it’s both,” he said. “You’ve got to have events that are intentional, and you’ve got to have relational evangelism. All of that working together to put as many hooks in the water as possible so we can catch souls for Jesus. Whatever you do, be intentional.”

In addressing attendees, Jerry Pipes encouraged them to “find your Jerusalem ” and “think strategically.” He shared a national initiative of “every person sharing, every person believing by 2020.”

“You’ve got to take responsibility for your street,” Pipes said. “Invest and initiate events.”

Darrell Robinson encouraged attendees when he stated, “God already has the army in place that can take Texas for Christ.”

IMB missionary appointment service Nov. 11 in Houston

On Tuesday evening, Nov. 11, they’ll enter an auditorium spectacularly filled with flags of many nations, prepared to share a testimony of God’s call on their lives to travel to other lands to spread the gospel message. Friends and family of candidates will join Southern Baptists from across the state for an evening they’ll long remember as the International Mission Board appointment service comes to Texas.

SBTC President Bob Pearle encourages Texas Southern Baptists to participate in the service, calling it an inspiring event. “Hearing the testimonies of God’s call by the appointees is a perennial highlight and worth the effort to attend. The stories of God’s work in this world and the challenge to reach the lost with the gospel will greatly impact your life,” he told the TEXAN.

The annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention embraces the missional focus in the theme of “StillStanding on the Word/Sending to the World.” Houston’s First Baptist Church hosts the convention at 7401 Katy Freeway.

While serving as a Journeyman to Japan with the International Mission Board, Tiffany Smith found a commissioning service she attended life-changing. “The service symbolized a turning point in my life as I surrendered my life to be a missionary wherever I go?whether it be overseas or right here in Texas.”

Now serving as a missions mobilization associate for the SBTC, Smith said, “IMB appointment services are extremely special events because the missionaries represent the cooperative effort of Southern Baptists in engaging the nations for the sake of the gospel.” She described the opportunity to celebrate “the vision and passion to reach the nations for Christ” as both humbling and awe-inspiring.

Possibly the most family-friendly event of the two day convention, children will enjoy the stories of adventures around the world, finding an opportunity to meet missionaries in person following the service. Parents can use the experience to encourage faithfulness to pray for the newly commissioned missionaries.

With the Tuesday night session set to begin at 6:20 p.m., the commissioning service will hold the attention of youngsters.

After a decade of receiving Cooperative Program gifts from hundreds of local churches, then passing along over half of the funds collected to distribute to SBC causes, international missions has been the largest recipient of the generosity of Texas Southern Baptists. Since the formation of the convention in 1998, affiliated churches have given over $41.4 million to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions through the SBTC.

“This is a service you will not want to miss,” encouraged Pearle, a recent trustee of the IMB. He urged churches to plan to bring busloads of members to witness the service.

FINANCIAL STEWARDSHIP: Debt-free living biblical, less painful, longtime pastor says

The LORD shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow (Deuteronomy 28:12).

HOUSTON?Common sense says that when a church corporately and as individuals operates and lives debt-free, weathering hard economic times is less burdensome. Money is also made available for building up the kingdom of God instead of the financial institutions to whom debtors are obligated.

In a season when corporate giants are falling because of financial problems and the economy is reeling from a national mortgage crisis, such common sense is especially timely.

Someone who can testify on this subject, Pastor John Morgan of Sagemont Church in Houston, has preached debt-free living more than 30 years and can tell of the blessings associated with such a commitment. As of August, Morgan said Sagemont has not been burdened by the economic downtown, has money in the bank, and is in the middle of a building program.

According to polling conducted by LifeWay Research in April and May, 65 percent of 778 Southern Baptist pastors polled said the economy is having a somewhat negative impact on their churches’ budgets. Even so, 52 percent said they expected to meet budget goals. The remaining pastors were evenly split with regard to budget projections, with 23 percent believing they would exceed budgeted plans and 24 percent anticipating a shortfall by year’s end.

Therein lies the problem, Morgan contends. In spite of all the work done by stewardship committees and all of the discussions and questions laid out during church business meetings, ultimately budgets are created based on two things. What did the church spend last year and what does the church anticipate spending in the next year? And, where is the money going to come from?

Such planning, he said, has nothing to do with an awesome God who promised to meet every need.
But such confidence did not come readily to Morgan, who 47 years ago began pastoring with the commonly held budget mentality that declared, “The way you keep a church together is to keep it in debt.”

The premise, he explained, was that when 10 members of a church co-sign a loan, those 10 members and the households they represent are not going to leave the church until the note is paid. Otherwise, they could face personal financial ruin if the loan goes into default.

When Morgan became pastor of Sagemont Church 43 years ago, it was a small church plant started by FBC Pasadena where his father pastored. The church was new, growing, and $660,000 in debt. Of the church’s $2,700 monthly budget, $1,370 went to debt retirement. Nothing out of the ordinary, he said.

When Morgan was elected moderator of the Union Baptist Association, he noted that churches in the Houston-area association gave $2.2 million dollars in charitable offerings, but paid $3.5 million alone on the interest for their debts.

“My simple mind said something’s wrong,” Morgan recalled.

Then he began reading the Bible. Of course it was not the first time the pastor read Scripture but it was the first time he recalled reading one specific verse and feeling the nudging of the Holy Spirit to rethink the way his church dealt with money.

Sagemont had committed, as a church, to read through the Bible in one year. It was early on in his reading that Morgan was struck by a verse in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 28:12, which explicitly stated?”thou shalt not borrow.” Morgan couldn’t get passed that verse.

“It just hit me. God was saying something to me specifically,” he recalled.

Still pondering the significance of the verse he had just read, Morgan turned to the front of his Bible.
Inscribed on the back of the cover was a word of encouragement from his dad who had given him the book. Also printed on the page was Philippians 4:19, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

During the course of his reading, Morgan said God kept pointing out specific passages of Scripture. Believers were called to action, called to build, and called to act. God, Morgan noted, always provided the means.

“I noticed that every time there was a building program in the Bible, God always paid for it in cash,” Morgan said, referencing how God prospered his people and through their means provided the material and manpower for building.

The debt within his association correlated with the fact that the debt of SBC churches, Morgan said, had exceeded the $1 billion mark in 1977, and other signs (literal and spiritual) impressed upon him that the people of God were trusting in lending institutions instead of God’s provision. With trust placed in bank notes, Morgan said the words of Proverbs 22:7 echoed in so many ways: “The borrower is servant to the lender.”

Knowing God wanted his church to get out of debt and stay out, Morgan called together three trusted, godly men and told them his plan. Essentially, the men agreed with their pastor’s interpretation of Scripture and agreed with the premise of operating debt free. But, two responded, it wasn’t practical or reasonable. The third wanted to know what the back-up plan would be.

“God is going to supply our need. I don’t know how to back that up,” Morgan recalled saying.
Ultimately the church was on board. Within 14 months the $660,000 debt was paid and just 40 days later, the congregation gave an additional $1 million to start the construction of a new auditorium.

Morgan said the church members were able to give so generously because as individuals they had also committed to living by the standard set by the church as a whole?living debt-free. Morgan created a financial planning program called “Financial Freedom Seminar” and walked his church through the process. Since it was first published in 1978 the seminar has been widely used as a tool for encouraging believers to have a biblical approach to dealing with personal finances.

Sagemont has since built a multimillion-dollar education facility; bought adjoining acreage for further building needs, and leased property?all without debt. There have been fits and starts in the land acquisition process, years when budget was not met, and inexplicable building and purchasing delays.
But in retrospect, Morgan said he has seen God at work through it all as his church has remained faithful to their commitment to live debt free.

Morgan cautioned that his preaching is by no means a “seed planting” gimmick as promoted by some television evangelists. He does not promise that for every dollar given to the church or a specific project, God will reward the giver with even more money. On the contrary, Morgan said his conviction is to remind believers that all they have belongs to God and they should develop a heart’s desire to give back.

By remaining debt free, Morgan said the members of his church have been a part of numerous ministries that would not have been possible were the church burdened by debt. A partial list of activities include: last year 2,018 people went on missions trips; the church poured people and resources into a dying church in San Leon, helping to give it a second life; the church provides scholarships for member students who are pursuing Christian educations; and a retreat, Danbury Lodge, was built with a variety of expectation for its use from providing a place where families could enjoy an inexpensive vacation to a respite for pastors and their wives seeking solace from burdens sometimes associated with life in the ministry.

“Once the church gets out of debt, it controls what they will do and not the bank,” Morgan said.

Aside from the interest

Crossover Houston’ set for SBTC meeting

HOUSTON?Houston-area churches and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention will host “Crossover Houston” Nov. 8 preceding the SBTC Bible Conference and annual meeting.

The annual evangelism outreach occurs in the host city as churches serve as launch points for training and neighborhood outreach. Ten Houston churches are involved this year, with six offering neighborhood block parties and two hosting harvest festivals in addition to neighborhood surveys.

Participating churches include: Antioch Community Church, 200 Almeda-Genoa Rd.; Asian American Church of Houston, 7887 Beechnut; Clay Road Baptist Church, 9151 Clay; Rose of Sharon, 1106 Valentine; Farrington Mission Center, 3625 Gager; FBC Galena Park, 206 Woolfe St., Galena Park; FBC Katy, 600 Pin Oak, Katy; Needham Road Baptist Church, 9268 SH 242, Conroe; FBC Rose Hill, 18214 FM 2920, Tomball; Northridge Baptist Church, 10681 FM 1484, Conroe.

Events will be held at or nearby participating churches. Block party activities will vary from event to event. Contact individual churches for more details.

Members of Southern Baptist churches who are interested in participating may register online at sbtexas.com, by e-mailing jdean@sbtexas.com, or by calling the SBTC evangelism office toll-free at 877-953-7282 (SBTC).

Ike recovery continues with cleanup, long-term involvement for SBTC

More than a week after Hurricane Ike devastated parts of the Texas upper Gulf Coast and snapped trees 100 miles inland, people in the hundreds of thousands remained without electricity as Southern Baptists worked to remove limbs and debris, feed hungry people and offer the hope of the gospel.

A day after the storm, disaster relief (DR) response from Southern Baptists began as teams from multiple states, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and Texas Baptist Men fed evacuees and cleared debris around homes.

That response will be long term for the SBTC as the focus turns from immediate needs to rebuilding homes and churches along the coast, said SBTC DR Director Jim Richardson.

Utility officials told the Houston Chronicle that some residents would inevitably see higher utility rates as large sections of the Texas power grid are rebuilt.

The SBTC’s partnership with Nehemiah’s Vision, a ministry begun by First Baptist Church, Vidor, after Rita, will expand to meet even more rebuilding needs in Southeast Texas, Richardson said.

Initially, SBTC volunteers were serving evacuees in Tyler, Livingston, Lufkin, Port Arthur and Huntsville through feeding, chaplaincy, and chainsaw work.

By Sept. 23, SBTC teams were serving in coastal areas as out-of-state DR teams returned home and evacuees began returning in some areas near the coast.

Richardson was en route to Galveston on Sept. 22 to set up a large SBTC feeding operation there.

The week after the storm, 18 counties, mostly rural counties east and north of Houston, reported 75-100 percent of residents without power, according to the website of the Public Utility Commission of Texas. Much of Houston went without power for most of the week following Ike as well.

By Sept. 22, much of Houston had regained power, with a handful of utility companies reporting a range between 14 and 34 percent of customers still without power, mostly in outlying areas.

Numerous churches were damaged, and several were devastated.

For example, the buildings at First Baptist Church of Gilchrist, a community on Galveston Island, were reportedly destroyed.

West End Baptist Church and University Baptist Church, both in Galveston, sustained some damage.
West End Pastor Noel Vargas evacuated before the storm, but received word that his street was flooded “so I think our home got flooded as well. My family is doing good.? Please keep us in your prayers,” he told the TEXAN.

Billy Graff, pastor of University Baptist Church in Galveston, told the TEXAN in an e-mail the week after Ike: “The best report I have to date is that the church has very minimal damage. The church is surrounded by tall buildings, which apparently provided protection. If we had power we could have services. The most challenging problem is that we are not allowed back on the island. This could be a great opportunity to connect with the community for Christ.”

David R. Brumbelow, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Highlands, just east of Houston near the Houston Ship Channel, chose to stay home rather than evacuate, chronicling his experience in several pages of notes.

Brumbelow said his church and home sustained some damage, but his decision not to stock up on more food nor to retrieve his generator that was 75 miles from his home was a mistake; he spent Sunday night following the storm at the church because his home was still without power.

“You are now in a world of ”haves’ and ‘have nots.’ The ‘haves’ have a generator,” he wrote. “The only news from the outside world was a battery-powered radio.”

David Fannin, pastor of Nassau Bay Baptist Church, was in Kenya during Ike and said church members reported his church and home sustained no major damage. He was helping with a men’s conference in Kenya and decided to keep his travel plans despite his living near the coast south of Houston.

“I wasn’t going to let this stop us from doing God’s work,” he said.

Marcos Ramos, pastor of First Baptist Church, Galena Park, about 20 miles north of the coast between Houston and Galveston, said the church hosted 28 people as Ike hit.

“We didn’t have services [the Sunday after Ike],” Ramos said. “Most of our people evacuated. We were at the parsonage, and we’re OK except no electricity.”

The J. Dalton Havard School of Theological Studies, an extension of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Houston, sustained no major damage. But Houston Baptist University suffered an estimated $8 million to $10 million in damages, HBU President Robert Sloan reported on the university’s website Sept. 15.

Insurance industry experts estimated physical losses as high as $25 billion, according to Deloitte & Touche L.L.P., a New York-based consulting firm, which would make it the third-costliest storm in United States history.

Perhaps the oddest scene in the storm’s aftermath was captured by an Associated Press photographer: An 11-year-old pet lioness and her owner failed to evacuate Crystal Beach before the hurricane and ended up taking shelter in the First Baptist Church of Crystal Beach. The AP photo, taken from an elevated position, showed the beast lying near the pulpit of the church auditorium.