Month: February 2010

Seminarian sees Haitian devastation firsthand

FORT WORTH?Precois Norcilus came to America to help his fellow Haitians. Last month, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary student left the country to do the same thing.

Meeting one friend in Puerto Rico, Norcilus traveled back to his home country just weeks after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated much of the nation and killed thousands.

“I tried to find some of my friends, my family, people I went to school with. It was really heartbreaking,” Norcilus said. “When you look at the place you went to school and went to church, it’s memories.”

While in Haiti Jan. 26-29, the seminary student tried to do what he could to help. He said several Texas churches and some of his Southwestern classmates helped raise support for the people of Haiti and their most basic and pressing needs.

“Before we came back, the money was almost raised to dig a well,” Norcilus said. “Usually a well costs $4,000, but the guy said because of the situation he would do it for half. By April, hopefully they will dig it.”

Water is not the only concern for Haitians now, though, Norcilus said.

With aftershocks still shaking Haiti a month after the largest quake, any buildings not forced to the ground in January are becoming less secure and structurally sound.

“Basically 97 percent of the people are living outside,” Norcilus said. “They’re scared to go inside. What they do is they stay outside in a little tent. If they don’t have a tent, they get a bed sheet and make their own tent.”

He said everyone?women, men and children?is living together in those makeshift rooms, fighting just to stay alive. They have not come close to dealing with the psychological and emotional trauma the quake brought, he said.

“It will take really numbers of years to overcome that. They are just trying to survive,” Norcilus said. “Everyone we spoke with, they are traumatized by the earthquake. Some of them tell you they have a lot of sleepless nights. It’s really hard for them to still comprehend that and deal with it. But they’re trying to do their best to overcome that.”

Resources are still meager though, and fighting just to stay alive is everyone’s priority?even if it means enduring unimaginable pain.

“I met a couple of doctors,” Norcilus said. “It’s hard for them to do. They’re giving people Advil to do amputations. It’s either that, or not live.”

Those who don’t live, he said, and whose bodies are beginning to decay, have yet to be removed from the streets of Port-au-Prince.

“When you walk down the street, you can smell the dead bodies all over the place. I don’t know if they’re trying to clean up right now,” the seminarian said.

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Top Baptism Churches

The following churches were recognized at the Empower Evangelism Conference for their baptisms by total number and per capita.

Per capita baptisms

2500+: Second Baptist Church Houston, 2,364 baptisms; 1,501-2,500: First Baptist Church, Euless, 285 baptisms; 1,001-1,500: The Church on Quail Creek, Amarillo, 161; 751-1,000: Willow Park Baptist Church, Willow Park, 140 baptisms; 501-750: Eagle Heights Fellowship, Mont Belvieu, 111 baptisms; 251-500: The Church at Azle, 215 baptisms; 101-250: Town East Baptist Church, Mesquite, 52 baptisms; 0-100: Grace Baptist Church, Red Rock, 28 baptisms.

Total baptisms

Second Baptist, Houston, 2,364; Fellowship Church, Grapevine, 2,104; Prestonwood Baptist, Plano, 996; First Baptist, Dallas, 452; Sagemont Church, Houston, 452; Champion Forest, Houston, 387; First Baptist, Euless, 285; First Baptist, Houston, 236; The Church at Azle, 215; Seoul Baptist, Houston, 211.

God’s glory penetrates the darkness, women told

ARLINGTON?”When you glorify God, that penetrates the darkness all across this world,” proclaimed Carrie McDonnall, sharing her testimony of returning to the Middle East in Iraq with her husband, David.

She and two other women with Texas roots shared testimonies of God’s work around the world during the women’s session of the annual SBTC evangelism conference.

“We desired for the Iraqi people to know and experience the faithfulness of God, then turn to glorify him,” she said, relating Psalm 108. “Both of us had a good grasp on the language and culture and immediately began to do development and relief work,” she said, describing their focus on water projects.

McDonnnall recalled, “We weren’t just excited about God providing their basic, vital need of water, but going back to build on that relationship, to be able to invest our lives in theirs and live out and be Jesus to them, then share with them who he is so that hopefully, one day, we could offer them the true and living water as Jesus described.”

That part of the story would never happen for the missionary couple, she said. As they traveled a familiar road through Mosul, Iraq in March 2004, men surrounded the team and began shooting with automatic weapons, she said, killing three of their co-workers. Several Iraqi men risked their lives to help the McDonnalls get to safety after being fired upon. She sat injured beside the road as her husband arranged for her to be transferred to another vehicle. Meanwhile, another man reached out to pull the hem of her skirt over her ankles to maintain her modesty, she recalled.

“Over years of hearing of violence after 9/11, we have forgotten they are people exactly like you and me,” she said, noting the common concerns of both cultures. “They send children off to school and hope for their safety. They want them to have a better life than they’ve had, just like many of us. I share so that you can see the sovereignty of God in my absolute worst nightmare.”

Not only was God not surprised by the events of that day, McDonnall said, “He made sure there were men who were brave enough and who had compassion to go above and beyond what anyone would have expected. That did not happen by chance.”

With 22 bullet wounds and shrapnel from head to toe, she endured a 10-hour surgery to stabilize her body, before being transported back to Texas in a medically-induced coma. “They were considering amputating my left leg, but the Lord healed it. One bullet went through my chest and didn’t hit any vital organs. Two bullets went through my face so I’ve got a bigger dimple now.

When McDonnall woke up in Parkland Hospital in Dallas eight days later, she was surrounded by her family, and then told that her husband had died a week earlier from his injuries.

“Sitting in that hospital bed I was thinking this is what the Valley of the Shadow of Death is like.” Quoting from Scripture, she shared, “‘I do not fear evil, for you are with me.’ Ladies, that is exactly where I found my God. He was with me, comforting me and even protecting me.”

McDonnall admitted, “I had some dark days and some really awesome days. God was faithful in all of it.” For whatever reason, believers will face trials and sufferings, she reminded. “He’s the God of all grace and compassion and will comfort us in our afflictions. He’s close to the broken-hearted. He will bind up our wounds. I had one or two of those and my heart was shattered.”

Citing Hebrews 10:23, McDonnall encouraged women to hold fast to their confession without wavering despite their circumstances. “Stay in his Word. He is faithful.”

After a month-long hospital stay, 10 surgeries and countless hours of physical and occupational therapy, McDonnall said she never imagined being where she is now. “I didn’t see this one coming.” And yet, she insisted, “It is a privilege to go and tell about Jesus and all that he’s done in our lives.”

Reminding women that God calls them to carry light into the dark places of the world, McDonnall encouraged them to share their faith. “He has you in that neighborhood where he has you because of someone who needs Jesus. Christ’s love compels.”

Career missionary Rebekah Naylor shared accounts of how God reveals his glory, directing attention to the scriptural account of the transfiguration of Christ.

“Across our world today many people are being awakened by his glory,” she said, sharing that 3,000 people a

Cooperative Program Top Givers

The following churches were recognized at the annual SBTC CP Luncheon for their gifts to Southern Baptist missions through the Cooperative Program:

Top 10 CP Givers

First Baptist, Euless, John Meador, pastor, $790,952.93; Houston’s First Baptist Church, Gregg Matte, pastor, $482,467.56; First Baptist Church, Rockwall , Stephen Swofford, pastor, $451,047.30; Prestonwood Baptist Church, Jack Graham, pastor, $399,986; First Baptist, Dallas, Robert Jeffress, pastor, $345,399.75; Sagemont Church, John Morgan, pastor, $345,349.56; Great Hills Baptist Church (without pastor), $335,107.37; Humble Area’s First Baptist (without pastor) $306,981.90; Spring Baptist Church, Mark Estep, pastor, $293,221.56; West Conroe Baptist Church, James Gross, pastor, $269,676.83.

Top Per Capita Givers

1-100: First Baptist, Clayton, Kenneth Stone, pastor, $468.32; 101-250: First Baptist, Snyder (without pastor) $402.11; 251-500: Hillcrest Baptist Church, Jasper, John Nugent, pastor, $299.33; 501-750: First Baptist, Pampa, Johnny Funderburg, $299.83; 751-1000: First Baptist, Katy, Randy White, pastor, $250.98; 1001-1500: Friendly Baptist, Tyler, Dale Perry, pastor, $237.84; 1501-2500: First Baptist, Euless, John Meador, pastor, $335.72; 2501-Up: First Baptist, Dallas, Robert Jeffress, pastor, $135.13.

Evangelism Conf. aims at Great Commission impact

ARLINGTON?The 2010 Empower Evangelism Conference Feb. 15-17 drew healthy crowds each day to hear preaching from pastors and evangelists like Ted Traylor of Florida and Roy Fish, the dean of evangelism professors.

The several thousand who came also heard acclaimed vocalists such as David Phelps, Charles Billingsley and Allison Durham Speer.

“The Empower Evangelism Conference exists to assist the churches to do an effective job in evangelism,” said Don Cass, SBTC director of evangelism.

“I thank God for the conference this year,” Cass said. “We had great preaching, singing, testimonies. I think it all was strong and I praise the Lord for the churches that were represented. I ask them to go back and speak about it in their churches and with their friends so that we’ll have more churches represented every year and larger crowds each year, and God would use that to help us do the Great Commission.”

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS

During the conference, Cass presented two lifetime achievement awards.

Longtime Texas pastor and retired LifeWay president James T. Draper Jr. was honored with the W.A. Criswell Lifetime Achievement Award for Pastoral Evangelism.

Draper began preaching revivals in high school with a friend named Charles Swindoll, Cass noted.

Everywhere he served, from a small mission church in Kansas City to First Baptist Church of Euless, the churches he led evangelized and baptized many people, from hundreds in Kansas City to nearly 5,000 in his 15 years at Euless.

Draper said among the lessons learned from years of ministry, the most important is to remember the primary calling to “preach the Word.”

“God never promised to honor your creativity, but he promised to honor his Word.”

Cass presented the Roy Fish Lifetime Achievement Award for Vocational Evangelism to Jim Bob and Louverl Griffin. The Griffins served churches in Oklahoma and Texas, serving alongside each other in 53 years of marriage.

“All I could do is weep because I felt so unworthy and still feel unworthy and there are so many evangelists out here who are more worthy than we are,” Jim Bob Griffin remarked about hearing he would be honored at the conference.

ROY FISH

Roy Fish, emeritus professor of evangelism at Southwestern Seminary, preached from Romans 1:14-15, noting that Paul’s confession that he was eager to preach the gospel to those in Rome was translated into English from two Greek words that mean “fire” and “good news.”

Fish said evangelism is born from an inward fire to share the good news. And Paul’s fire to preach the gospel, Fish said, was driven by at least five things identified in the New Testament:

?The call from above;

?The crowd of sinners around him;

?The crown of rewards before him;

?The catastrophe below

GCR Task Force fields questions

NASHVILLE, Tenn.?Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) Chairman Ronnie Floyd took questions in stride as reporters wondered how GCRTF recommendations would impact and possibly upset state conventions and their working relationship with the North American Mission Board.

After delivering a passionate half-hour appeal before the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee on Feb. 22 for Southern Baptists “to return to God in deep repentance and experience a fresh wave of his spirit upon our lives, ministries and work of our denomination,” Floyd and a tag team of task force members gave an hour to outlining their vision of returning “to the primacy and centrality of the local church.”

Questions in the subsequent news conference primarily focused on how the “restart” of the North American Mission Board would eliminate cooperative agreements with state conventions that provide shared responsibility for most of the current SBC mission force.

“It will give an opportunity for state conventions to re-look and reassess their priorities just like we have done,” Floyd said, adding his hope that the interim report recommendations will “unleash and release NAMB to fulfill what Southern Baptists really think that they’re there to do.”

As every church assumes its responsibility as “an effective missional organization” by directly planting new churches, Floyd said NAMB will become a catalyst in reaching the United States and Canada.

“We want them to be successful,” Floyd said, referring to state conventions and local Baptist associations. “Most of all we want the gospel to win and for every church to be an effective missional organization that makes a difference. We believe the freeing of that will really help everyone do gospel work more effectively.”

Asked by Georgia Christian Index managing editor Joe Westbury whether the seven regional NAMB offices proposed for distribution throughout the country would become “mini-NAMBs,” Floyd explained their desire to see the mission board go where the churches are located.

“We have to paint big, but go deep now and then,” Floyd said in portraying their vision for change. “We have to make sure we don’t go too deep,” he said. “That really is going to be determined by trustees of the convention?not by us as an appointed group.”

IMB CHANGES

The report also calls for adding one percentage point of Cooperative Program allocation to the International Mission Board using funds gained from shifting stewardship and CP promotion back to state conventions.

Alabama Baptist editor Bob Terry asked Floyd if those new dollars would be spent stateside to accomplish the recommendation that the International Mission Board reach unreached and under-served people groups without regard to any geographic limitations.

That new IMB assignment would not necessarily shift overseas missionaries to stateside settings, task force members responded, leaving both mission boards with responsibility for determining how to work together in reaching such people groups in the U.S. that are often directly tied to those engaged overseas. By using IMB missionaries with “extremely rare language and cultural skills,” NAMB and local churches can engage unreached people groups that settle in large metropolitan areas, explained GCRTF member R. Albert Mohler of Louisville.

“Given the way their ministry assignment is written, the IMB said they did not feel free to be directly engaged even though it may be the very same people that they’re seeing in the home location who also show up in Washington, Portland and New York City.”

By closing this gap in outreach efforts by

Floyd presents GCR task force ‘progress report’ to SBC Executive Committee

NASHVILLE (FBW) — When Southern Baptists meet in Orlando in June they will be faced with the choice of retreating to the past, preserving the present, or rising to a future of advancing the Gospel to the nations, Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Chairman Ronnie Floyd told the SBC Executive Committee meeting Feb. 22 in Nashville.

In describing the SBC meeting as a “moment that will define the future for generations to come,” Floyd said it could “show that Southern Baptist are a unified people, Bible-based, Gospel centered, and set on fire by the Holy Spirit, believing we must join together like never before in presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.”

Underscoring the interest in the GCR report, Floyd spoke to a packed 400-seat auditorium in the SBC building, which included in the audience Executive Committee trustees, various denominational leaders from national and state convention entities, pastors, and laypersons.

During the 90-minute presentation, Floyd said the GCRTF is offering six “components” of a “new and compelling vision for the future”:

> a “missional vision” with eight “core values,”

> a “reinvented” North American Mission Board,

> the authorization of the International Mission Board to work in North America,

> movement of the ministry assignment for Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship from the Executive Committee to state conventions,

> affirmation of the current Cooperative Program definition while creating a new category of “Great Commission Giving,” and

> increase of the IMB’s CP budget share by one percent by cutting the Executive Committee’s budget by the same percentage.

Floyd was joined by five other members of the task force in assisting with the presentation, billed as a “progress report.”

During its deliberations, Floyd noted the task force has received 137 specific recommendations, receiving “vast correspondence” from Southern Baptists. The task force website has 6,128 prayer partners from 1,574 cities, 49 states and 30 countries.

STAGGERING LOSTNESS

Before outlining the specific recommendations, for 30 minutes Floyd elaborated on Joel 2:12-17 and passionately described the need of Southern Baptists to grasp the “staggering” lostness of North America and the rest of the world, as well as to face their ineffectiveness in impacting that lostness.

“I believe with all my heart that God is calling us to return to Him now in deep repentance of our sin, in brokenness over our sin, denying our pride and selfishness and returning to God with complete humility,” Floyd said.

He decried the “boasting, ego and pride” that too often characterizes Southern Baptists and said the “disunity in our churches and in our denomination is so wrong and sinful.”

Although the task force is recommending changes, Floyd said that’s not enough.

“We realize our number one need is to return to God in deep repentance and experience a fresh wave of His Spirit upon our lives, ministries and work of our denomination,” Floyd said. “We need a fresh and compelling vision that will only come when we are right with Him.”

Citing examples of Christian conversions in the Muslim world and other advances of the Gospel around the world, Floyd said, “I believe we are on the brink of the mightiest outpouring of the Holy Spirit to have ever occurred in the world.”

Answering the question of why a GCR is needed, Floyd said, “The lostness of North America and the entire world is staggering.”

Of the 340 million people in North America, he said 258 million are estimated to be non-Christians. In seven western states, 92 million live, 82 percent are lost and only 3,983 Southern Baptist churches exist, and 2,276 in California. In nine northeastern states, nearly 55 million people live, with 83 percent non-Christian and only 1,068 Southern Baptist churches.

Globally, Floyd said, 5,845 people groups have no access to the Gospel — 4 billion of the world’s 6.8 billion are unreached. An estimated 90 percent of the world’s population is non-Christian.

“Please understand: To the degree we grasp lostness will be the degree we are willing to do whatever is necessary to penetrate it,” he asserted, noting many Southern Baptists are practical Universalists, acting as if “lostness does not exist.”

In the midst of such lostness in North America and the rest of the world, Floyd cited various statistics demonstrating Southern Baptists are less effective today than in the past.

Although the U.S.’s population has doubled since 1950 and the SBC has more than 17,000 more churches since then, Southern Baptists baptized 33,887 less people in 2008 than in 1950.

Floyd said he and his task force have been “gripped by the reality of the lost condition of our world and about our condition as a denomination.”

The task force has been given a vision by God, which the SBC will be asked to “accept,” “endorse” and “champion,” he said.

Floyd then outlined the six components of the GCRTF’s vision.

MISSIONAL VISION
Southern Baptists will be asked to endorse a “missional vision and to begin to conduct ourselves with core values that will create a new and healthy culture” in the SBC, Floyd said.

The vision: “As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.”

Asserting, “we need to learn how to get along with each other,” Floyd said the task force is recommending eight “core values” of Christ-likeness, Truth, Unity, Relationships, Trust, Future, Local Church and Kingdom that will “articulate what we stand for, how we should work together, how we govern our personal relationships, and how we should be guided in making decisions.”

NAMB ‘REINVENTED AND RELEASED’
Floyd spoke at length about a “reinvented and released” North American Mission Board, arguing for a prioritization of church planting and clarification of NAMB’s leadership in North American missions, including the “appointment of direct missionaries.”

The task force desires that “at least 50 percent” of NAMB’s work be focused on church planting, he said, with priorities given to the cities because 200 million Americans live in the nation’s top 100 metropolitan regions and 80 percent of Canada’s 33.7 million live in metropolitan regions.

Floyd said “stark realities” need to be addressed, including the fact that two-thirds of Southern Baptists’ CP money is spent on the one-third of the U.S. population, mostly in the South, with 36,605 SBC churches, while one-third of CP is spent in the region of America where two-thirds of the population lives, mostly the Northeast, Midwest, West, and Northwest, with only 8,243 SBC churches.

“We need to see this change dramatically if we are going to penetrate the lost and dark areas of America with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Floyd said. “Somehow, someway, more churches have to be planted, more missionaries allocated, and more dollars directed to reaching the two-thirds of the American population, of which most is lost and perishing.”

Among “needed specifications” for NAMB, the GCRTF believes NAMB should be “streamlined” and “decentralized” with seven regional offices, and “must be released to budget for a national strategy.”

Floyd said cooperative agreements with the state conventions over the years “have become complex and at times cumbersome, resulting in a lack of accountability.”

He noted that state conventions on average retain 63.45 percent of CP funds and NAMB supplies $50.6 million to state conventions.

The GCRTF will urge the SBC to grant NAMB the “freedom to budget for a national strategy,” with the state convention cooperative agreements phased out over a four-year period at 25 percent per year, and the “state conventions will manage their budgets accordingly.”

In the future, NAMB would only fund those projects in keeping with its national strategy and fulfilling its “direct mission and priorities,” Floyd said, adding that another “major specification” for the reinvented NAMB is to “commission missionaries focused on fulfilling the tasks of the board.”

The task force also recommends NAMB create a Leadership Center of North America, as well as work with LifeWay Christian Resources in developing discipleship and pastoral leadership development.

IMB WORK IN NORTH AMERICA
Because “globalization has flattened the world,” Floyd said the task force recommends a “bold and needed change” of allowing the International Mission Board to “reach the unreached and under-served people groups without regard to any geographic limitations,” permitting the IMB to operatie in North America for the first time.

“Most of the 586 people groups that do not speak English in the United States have strategy coordinators working overseas with the same groups,” Floyd said. “With geographical limitations removed, a new synergy can be created in international missions.”

Floyd expressed confidence that IMB and NAMB can coordinate work in North America without duplication.

GCRTF members Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola and chairman of the NAMB presidential search committee, and J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., were called upon by Floyd to speak to this change.

Traylor said the GCR report is hopeful and would “free” NAMB and its new president “to partner with SBC churches to engage in a might church planting movement that could change our land and revive our denomination.”

He added: “We dare not fool ourselves. North America is vastly lost. NAMB must be laser-focused on touching the homeland and the GCR challenge calls for a streamlining of NAMB that would allow us to do that exact thing.”

Greear, a former IMB missionary for two years, said non-Christian internationals are “living in our back yards. So it just seems right that we call on the International Mission Board for help.”

Rather than a merger of IMB and NAMB, the GCRFT seeks to “align” the boards “in such a way that our local churches can be more effective in reaching our nation and taking the gospel to the nations,” Greear said.

CP PROMO, STEWARDSHIP BACK TO STATES
Calling state Baptist conventions “Great Commission partners,” Floyd said the GCRTF believes the ministry assignment for Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship should be returned to the states, since they are “closer to our churches” and historically the states had this assignment.

Since 1997, the SBC Executive Committee has held the CP promotion assignment, and later was given the stewardship assignment.

Floyd bemoaned a recent study that found the average church member gives only 2.56 percent of his income to charitable causes.

“Christians need to repent of the sin of not honoring God with at least the first-tenth of their income,” Floyd said, noting it’s the responsibility of churches to educate their members on stewardship.

GCRTF member David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and a historical theologian, retraced the history of the beginning of the Cooperative Program in 1925 and the roles of the state conventions and Executive Committee in CP promotion and stewardship education.

REAFFIRMATION OF CP DEFINITION, CREATION OF NEW CATEGORY
Floyd said the GCRTF will ask Southern Baptist to “reaffirm” CP without redefinition as “our central means of supporting Great Commission ministries,” while aslo celebrating Southern Baptist churches” gifts to “Great Commission Giving” beyond the CP.

“We believe and call upon every church to work diligently at giving more through the Cooperative Program,” Floyd said, while adding that denominational leaders should “Celebrate whatever amount a church gives through the cooperative Program” rather than lecturing churches.

Churches will give more through CP, he said, “when they are presented a compelling gospel vision that will result in global advance.”

The creation of the new category of giving, “Great Commission Giving,” will not compete with CP, but will complement it, he said.

Great Commission Giving will include CP giving and designated gifts to the SBC, states or associations.

GCRTF member Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, said, “Your Great Commission Resurgence Task Force affirms—I want you to hear this very clearly—we affirm the Cooperative Program as Southern Baptists’ preferred means of supporting missions and ministries across the world.”

“At the same time, we believe that we should both acknowledge and appreciate what our churches are doing for missions and for ministries by giving designated gifts to the causes of the Southern Baptist Convention and state conventions and local associations,” he said.

Rather than a “change in definition,” the task force is calling for an “adjustment in nomenclature,” White said.

INCREASE IMB CP PERCENTAGE SHARE TO 51, REDUCE EC BUDGET
Calling it “both symbolic and substantial,” Floyd said the GCRTF recommends the SBC increase the IMB’s share of the CP budget from 50 to 51 percent in the 2011-2012 budget, with the additional percentage point to be funded by reducing “facilitating ministries” of the Executive Committee budget by 1 percent.

The funds of the EC budget’s facilitating ministries will be made available by the re-assignment to the state conventions of the cooperative Program promotion and stewardship, he said.

“This means for the first time in our history, more than one-half of all monies that come from our churches through the SBC Cooperative Program will go to the reaching of the nations,” Floyd said.

GCRTF member Roger Spradlin, pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, Calif., and vice chairman of the Executive Committee, told his fellow EC members he endorses the change and urged their support of it.

“I really hope that this next year that we will look at the budget with fresh eyes and that we will find a way, somehow … to allocate at least 51 percent to the IMB for the very first time,” Spradlin said.

Acknowledging such a change will be “difficult,” he said, “I think that if we can succeed in this that Southern Baptists everywhere will rejoice with us in renewed focus on taking the gospel to the nations.”

SBC President Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., strongly endorsed the report from the task force, on which he serves as a member.

“What Dr. Floyd’s presented tonight, I believe with all of my heart to be of God. I really do. My heart is in it,” he said.

“God help us to believe Jesus for our greatest days. As for this man, me and my house, we’re going to serve this vision and this Lord,” Hunt said.

Randall James, Executive Committee chairman and associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, ended the meeting noting the words used at the changing of the guard of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C.

“Did you know there are only three words spoken each time they change the guard? Those three words are, ‘Orders remain unchanged,’” he said, “And as Christian soldiers, our orders remain unchanged. And we have a recommitment to go, to baptize, to make disciples, to teach them to obey. I encourage you to do that.”

With no action requested or needed, the Executive committee meeting was the stage for the report. Floyd noted the final report of the body will be posted to the GCRTF website (pray4gcr.com) on May 3.

The GCRTF was created by action of the Southern Baptist Convention last June, empowering President Johnny Hunt to appoint the group to recommend how “Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.”

Hunt appointed himself and 22 other persons to serve on the task force, representing various constituencies in Southern Baptist life, including pastors, seminary presidents, state convention executive directors, a director of missions and laypersons. Hunt named Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., chairman.

Walking the streets of Laredo

LAREDO?The rapidly growing border city of Laredo has a population of nearly 300,000. Despite the growing numbers of people, the number and effectiveness of evangelical churches pale in comparison. Chuy Avila, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s first full-time missionary/church planter in Laredo, endeavors to change that with help from mission-minded Baptists.

This summer, Avila will host mission “vision trips” for churches interested in partnering in his goal to plant 50 churches in the city by 2015.

Vision trips introduce potential mission partners to the city through tours and prayer-walks. Participants will receive statistics and information about the city. They will walk the streets of Laredo to see God’s heart for its neighborhoods firsthand.

Last year, such a vision trip forged a successful partnership between a Texas church and a neighborhood Avila designated high priority.

“We have already picked a place where we are going to start a Spanish-speaking church,” Avila said. “We already discovered a person of peace?a non-Christian family who is very open to hearing the gospel. We found them through prayer-walking around an area.”

During the prayer-walk, a woman from the neighborhood approached the team and asked them to pray for a family member in the hospital. Avila took the opportunity not only to pray for the sick family member but also to visit him in the hospital. Through these visits, he has built a valuable relationship as the partner church reaches out to this area.

SBTC Missions Director Terry Coy said vision trips benefit people in three vital ways.

“First, it connects people with Chuy Avila, our point person in Laredo. Vision trips allow people to meet him, hear his passion, and hear from him his strategies and priorities,” Coy said. “Second, they need to see Laredo from a missionary’s eyes. He can take people into the nooks and crannies of the city. He knows where there is effective work and where there are gaps. Third, it gives people an opportunity for the Lord to speak to them directly and tell them ‘this is the community to adopt.'”

A vision trip differs from a mission trip. For a day and a half, one can see the potential for future mission trips to the area. It allows a person to determine where and how God would have them minister in Laredo, for example, or any other mission area.

“You go and you see,” Coy said. “You see Chuy’s vision, capture the Lord’s vision, and develop your own vision. Doing comes later.”

Thus summer, Avila plans to introduce vision trip participants to neighborhoods ripe for church planting, especially the areas surrounding the university, where hundreds of college students live without a single church ministering to them. Other priority areas range from affluent and middle-class to low-income neighborhoods that have little if any evangelical influence, and city parks where Avila envisions block parties and sports evangelism.

“One of the best ways to discern God’s will is to actually walk upon the soil of an area,” Avila explained. “He may use a person you see or meet to

Arrests made in East Texas church arsons

TYLER?Authorities announced on Feb. 21 the arrest of two men in connection with a string of church arsons that began on Jan. 1.

Members of the East Texas Church Arson Task Force arrested Jason Robert Bourque, 19, of Lindale, Texas and Daniel George McAllister, 21, of Ben Wheeler, Texas, in connection with the 10 church arsons. The fires occurred in Henderson, Smith and Van Zandt counties.

The arrests were made following a tip made to an ATF hotline, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) said in a news release on Feb. 21.

“This investigation is not complete. No investigation is finished until guilt is proven in court. But today marks a significant milestone.” said Robert Champion, special agent in charge of the ATF in Dallas. “The arsons in these communities have been devastating but the citizens have been resilient and aided each other and the investigation.”

“Cooperation is the cornerstone to successful investigations and here in East Texas it is no different. ATF has been a proud partner in this case. We had over 70 agents, both local and members of two National Response Teams working on this investigation since the beginning. All agencies involved will continue to work together towards our goal of a successful prosecution of those involved in these crimes,” Champion said.

Since the New Year, there have been 11 Texas church fires and 10 confirmed as arson. Five of those churches have been Baptist churches and four of them are Southern Baptist congregations: Lake Athens Baptist Church in Athens, Little Hope Baptist Church in Canton, Tyland Baptist Church in Tyler and Dover Baptist Church in Smith County.

Earlier, federal investigators upped the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the arsonists to $25,000 from earlier figures of $10,000 and $5,000. Authorities released composite sketches of three suspects on Feb. 11.

Amarillo man held in Haiti back home


AMARILLO?Southern Baptist layman Jim Allen was welcomed home a free man Thursday afternoon at the Amarillo Civic Center during a community celebration of his release from prison in Haiti. His freedom, and that of seven others on a short-term humanitarian venture, came almost three weeks to the day after the group was arrested in Haiti on charges of kidnapping and criminal association.

Allen was scheduled to appear Friday on Oprah Winfrey’s daily television show to recount his captivity.

“My faith means everything to me, and I knew this moment would come when the truth would set me free,” Allen said in a statement just after being freed from prison. In a press release issued by Texas-based Liberty Legal Institute, the non-profit organization providing Allen’s legal defense, he added, “I thank Judge Bernard Saint-Vil for listening to my story, and I thank the Haitian people for keeping me safe and seeing that justice was served. I also thank the many people around the world who prayed for me.”

Allen also thanked Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) for speaking out on his behalf, for his Haitian attorney Louis Gary Lissade, and stateside attorneys.

Eight of the 10 Americans who traveled to Haiti on the mission following the deadly January earthquake in Haiti were released from prison on Wednesday after a week of speculation that some or all of the charges would be dropped. Two members of the team remained in Haitian custody pending further investigation. Those released were flown to Miami.

Pastor Gil Lain of Paramount Baptist Church, Allen’s home congregation in Amarillo, Texas, said he met word of Allen’s release with guarded optimism. Once he received word from Liberty Legal attorney Hiram Sasser that Allen was out of the Haitian prison and being taken to a secure location, Lain said he was “elated, excited and thankful.”

Lance Herrington, an associate pastor at Paramount, said the reaction was similar in the Wednesday evening prayer meeting. There were several prayers of thanksgiving for Allen’s release and that of seven others. He said they also prayed for the two women still imprisoned. The church has devoted time during its Sunday and Wednesday services to pray for the situation in Haiti.

Despite assurances of God’s providence, questions about the ordeal have risen during the three trying weeks, Herrington admitted. Why would people with good intentions be made to endure such an experience? What happened to the children they were trying to help?

Herrington said not all questions dealt with human suffering. Some, he said, wondered what God was going to do in the midst of the despair or whether or not they were able to witness to the gospel while held.

“What was God going to do through them? God’s going to take this and use it for his glory,” Herrington said. He said he anticipated hearing such stories.

To expedite Allen’s return to Amarillo, Lain said the church made arrangements with a local company to have a private jet bring him to Amarillo.

Before he left for Haiti, Lain said the congregation prayed for Allen, who was a last-minute addition to the humanitarian effort. He got word of the trip from his cousin Paul Thompson, pastor of East Side Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho and a member of the ministry team. Within 48 hours Allen had all the necessary shots and documentation and joined the group just before they flew out of Miami. Others in the group included members of Central Baptist Church, Meridian, Idaho, Bethel Baptist, Topeka, Kan., and East Side Baptist Church. According to news reports, Laura Silsby and Charisa Courter, both of Meridian, Idaho, remained in custody.

The group, under the leadership of Silsby, planned to transport children left orphaned by the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake to a facility in the Dominican Republic. An old hotel was going to be refurbished and used as an orphanage and Allen was willing to lend his construction and welding skills to the task. Lain and Allen’s wife, Lisa, were adamant in their defense of Allen following the arrest of the 10 Americans Jan. 29. The pastor said Allen would never intentionally involve himself in illegal act