Month: March 2011

A swing and a miss!

How could I resist a highly rated movie featuring award-winning players, a serious director, and themes such as God, man, angels, sovereignty, and free will? I went to see “The Adjustment Bureau” on its opening weekend. I knew this was Hollywood but sometimes I’m surprised in a good way. This was not that time.

The Bureau is a collection of men in hats who have the ability to be just about anywhere in a flash. Their job is to keep everyone on the path, according to the Book, as lined out by the Chairman. When someone goes off the path, the men in hats manipulate small events to set things right. The people affected normally never know the difference. They think they are making autonomous decisions but they are actually being subtly guided along the only acceptable path by the Bureau. Pretty direct, huh?

Well, here’s the thing that creates plot tension. Our main characters go off the path, find out about the Bureau and end up on the run because they choose each other over the path set out in the Book. Nobody but the Chairman knows why people have to follow the book, by the way. His ways are inscrutable and unrevealed to men and angels. The audience sympathizes with the young lovers as the men in hats bumble along in an effort to force them apart. One of the Bureau men even lies to manipulate our hero.

About two-thirds into the movie, I could see the plot’s vanishing point. It could only end one of two ways. Audiences would have hated one resolution and the other was sweet and satisfying, in a way. I tracked the final reveal with growing dread. The sweet ending was so unremarkable and facile. The worst outcome of all would be if folks who see The Adjustment Bureau find it thought-provoking. No productive thoughts will be provoked by those who enter the movie without already knowing that God is nothing like the Director; his Bible is nothing like the Book with its cryptic guidelines; and that the rebellion against God is nothing sweet or romantic at all.

The movie was based on a short story by legendary sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, a mystic and self-described “fictionalizing philosopher.” The writer’s intent was serious, to question not only our own assumptions about truth but about reality itself. I don’t know if The Adjustment Bureau is true to the short story, but the movie dumbs down the most serious discussions that philosophers and theologians have had over the span of centuries. That’s regrettable. I recognized a small bit of open theism, the belief that God is neither all-knowing nor all-powerful. There was a caricature of the discussion within Christianity regarding the sovereignty of God and the free will of men. I recognized little bits of garden variety universalism. The ending reverted to existentialism. It was a half-baked theological casserole.

I applaud any effort to engage serious ideas within entertainment. It happens so rarely that each example is noteworthy. The last 30 minutes of this movie abandons the effort in favor of a multi-faith theological greeting card.

Our good news is that the true God has revealed himself in more detail than we’ll ever comprehend in this life. His book is not a pathway to keep men and women from joy and freedom, it’s the story of how we can have those things. Neither is God surprised by anything that happens. He is not powerless in the face of our rebellion. The most imaginative of men can never escape the fact that any God or system created by men will be inadequate to provide what all men truly need. Mankind set free from God is not heroic, he is merely lost.

Celebrate CP Day: Sunday, April 10

April 10 is Cooperative Program Day in the Southern Baptist Convention. This is an excellent time to share with your congregation about how we work together through combining our financial resources. Let me share some of the personal involvement you have through the Cooperative Program.

Chuy Avila is in Laredo as a church planting coordinator. He is committed to starting new congregations in one of the most unreached cities in Texas. Chuy and his wife left an established ministry and loved ones to take one of the most difficult assignments imaginable. Your prayers and participation are important. Your gifts through the Cooperative Program are vital.

Texas is a multi-cultural mosaic. Vietnamese is the third most spoken language. One hundred thousand East Indians live in Dallas-Fort Worth. Refugees from various parts of Asia resettle here. The SBTC has people group ministers like the Sorrels and Loreys sharing the love of Christ. You are having a part in their work through the Cooperative Program.
Churches like Faith Baptist in Chandler have struggled. They are beginning to see God’s blessings again because of the assistance they are receiving through the SBTC staff. The Ezekiel Project helps scores of churches come back strong to reach their communities with the gospel. The Cooperative Program makes this possible.

Students at Criswell College like Garrett get a portion of their education paid through the SBTC. Garrett is getting on-the-job training through an internship with the convention. Young men and women are ready to contribute in ministry. Your church has a part in every life through the Cooperative Program.

The churches of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention send their Cooperative Program gifts with a desire to see the Kingdom of God advance. Forty-five percent of the SBTC Cooperative Program is invested in Texas. Your SBTC is doing more with less in Texas so others in North America and around the world may hear the name of Jesus.

Fifty-five percent of Cooperative Program dollars go to the Southern Baptist Convention. Five thousand-plus International missionaries are penetrating lostness around the world. Southern Baptist missions have been the envy of other denominations and parachurch organizations for decades. Our funding system of the Cooperative Program has enabled us to place unprecedented numbers of missionaries around the world. They have a safety net most independent missionaries do not have.

The North American Mission Board is going through a complete overhaul. Following the mandate of SBC messengers, the missionary service is being refocused in a different way so Jesus may be made known in our nation and Canada.
Fifteen thousand seminary students receive a quality biblical education at a significantly reduced cost because of the CP. Every church that gives to the Cooperative Program is investing in the lives of God-called servants.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission speaks to Southern Baptists and for Southern Baptists on social, moral and first amendment issues. We desperately need this voice for the life of the unborn and for marriage between a man and woman. Defending freedom to practice our beliefs in the public square is a major assignment funded through the Cooperative Program.

The Executive Committee is the administrative arm of the SBC. It operates on a minimal part of CP contributions.
All of these SBC ministries are a part of the Cooperative Program story. Real people make up those stories.

Recently, some factors have negatively affected cooperative missions and ministry causes. Percentage giving in the local church budget through the Cooperative Program has been in a steady decline for a number of years. The local church decides how much should be forwarded to Southern Baptist causes. Some Texas churches decided to designate their funds either through or around the state convention about 20 years ago. Churches have the right to designate, but it will ultimately damage our ability to accomplish the most for the Kingdom. I ask you to consider the original genius of the Cooperative Program, which is undesignated giving.

Another popular practice is to cut cooperative giving in order to do “hands-on” missions. It is commendable to involve church staff and members in direct missions. Funds should be directed to underwrite these efforts but reducing gifts through the Cooperative Program will have unintended consequences on SBTC-SBC missionaries and ministries. “Hands-on” missions and “hands-on” giving through the CP are complementary, not in competition.

Sadly, history could repeat itself. We could return to the days of the offering du jour. Gifts will go to the most emotionally appealing, the one that appears most in need or the one that has some personal connection with the church. This is a failed system of societal giving. Other Christian groups envy the unified budget plan Southern Baptists have in the CP. Those who don’t have it want it. Some who have it don’t use it.

You have heard how the Cooperative Program can be personalized by the stories at the beginning of my column. These are real, live people who minister because of your gifts through the CP. There are literally thousands of stories that could be told about how the Cooperative Program is a tool that advances the Kingdom of God. No church is so large that it can reach Texas or touch the world by itself. No church is too small to have a part in a great work for God impacting millions of lives.

Soon your church should receive a packet of information about Cooperative Program Day, April 10. I ask you to share with your church how we can Reach Texas and Touch the World together. It is important that the people in the pew understand the Cooperative Program. Years ago someone said that denominational leaders made a “sacred cow” out of the Cooperative Program. It is not a sacred cow but it a “sacred how.” God has used the CP to build a platform like no other for the furtherance of the gospel. Please share with your congregation the most unique networking tool available for carrying out the Great Commission. Tell them the stories of the Cooperative Program. Join with others through the CP in Reaching Texas and Touching the World.

Austin pastor tells preachers: Get unction

FRISCO?”Ladies and gentleman, there is a direct relationship between preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit and people coming to Christ,” Austin pastor Kie Bowman reminded those attending the 2011 Empower Evangelism Conference, held Feb. 28-March 2 at the Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco.

Bowman’s sermon, “The Anointing of God,” was from Luke 4:18, which records the words of Jesus as he read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed.”

Citing examples from the lives of evangelists such as Charles Finney, D.L. Moody, Billy Graham and Evan Roberts, a Welsh pastor, Bowman said God seemed to move in times past when godly people begged fervently for God to fill them.

“Brothers and sisters, there is such a thing as an anointing. The old-timers used to call it unction,” Bowman said.
Under Finney and later Moody, hundreds of thousands came to Christ. Bowman recounted that Moody’s ministry was unremarkable until one day, while visiting New York City, he felt so anxious for God to move in his life that he pled for the Holy Spirit’s filling?an experience so powerful that he went to a friend’s house and fell down on his knees in the bathroom.

“‘I asked him to stay his hand lest I die from the glory of it,'” Bowman said in reading a quote from Moody.

Similarly, Evan Roberts attended a weekly prayer meeting for 13 years, asking God to move. Then in 1904, Bowman said, the Holy Spirit moved in Roberts in what he said “felt like a living force.” Subsequently, 100,000 people came to Christ under his preaching.

Bowman said Billy Graham had a similar testimony of God’s anointing at a point early in his ministry, after hearing the late Stephen Olford preach the imperative command to be filled with the Spirit from Ephesians 5:18.

“I can take you back to the moment of October when I was praying to God about this night,” said Bowman, explaining that God clearly placed the message on his heart. “I didn’t want to say something I’ve said 100 times before. This text and this message started flooding into my life.”

The text of Luke 4:18 tells the preacher, “I need an anointing to preach a sovereign God,” said Bowman, noting Jesus’ words from his first recorded sermon that “The Spirit of the Lord is on me?”

Preaching was so weighty to the Puritan Richard Baxter that he wrote, “‘I preach as if never to preach again, a dying man to dying men,'” Bowman relayed.

“Brothers, preaching is God’s business. Preaching is not just a business of the church.”

Noting that the Holy Spirit is the breath of God and the power of God, Bowman told of drawing lawn-mowing duties while working part-time at a church during seminary. Flustered by high grass and a mower that seemed to be unusually difficult to push, Bowman said he was humiliated to learn the mower was self-propelled and he hadn’t engaged the propelling mechanism.

Likewise is a ministry propelled by self-effort, he said.

“Let’s do this thing in the power of the Holy Spirit of God,” Bowman pleaded. “He has been promised to you.

“When you pray, expect people to be saved because this gospel is the power of God to salvation for those who believe, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”

Born of necessity, CP still fueling gospel advance, Land says

FRISCO  Calling his service to Southern Baptists as head of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) “the honor and privilege of a lifetime,” Richard Land said the denomination’s Cooperative Program (CP) allows every SBC church to participate in the Great Commission call of Matthew 28.

Addressing the SBTC’s annual Cooperative Program Luncheon on March 1, Land quoted M.E. Dodd, one of the architects of the CP, who said money given through it “will go farther, rise higher, spread wider, work deeper and last longer than when given to any other place or cause.”

In 1925, the CP missions funding channel was devised amid denominational debt and mission agencies competing with each other in fund-raising, Land explained to a packed auditorium between sessions of the Empower Evangelism Conference.

Today Southern Baptists have 10,000 domestic and overseas missionaries, started 1,578 churches last year in the United States and Canada, subsidize about 50 percent of tuition for seminary students, and fund the small agency Land leads. The ERLC represents Southern Baptists on cultural and political issues, with the lowest portion of the SBC’s allocation budget?1.65 percent.

By contrast, the International Mission Board receives 50 percent of the CP budget (half of $199.8 million) in support of more than 5,000 full-time, salaried missionaries and their families worldwide. The IMB also counts on the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions to supplement its funding, as does the North American Mission Board with the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions.

But with the ERLC, “It’s just us and the Cooperative Program,” Land explained. “It enables us to do what we do with our staff in Nashville and our staff in Washington.”

“Southern Baptists tend to take the Cooperative Program for granted because it’s always been a part of the furniture in the room. As part of my responsibility in Southern Baptist life, I spend a good deal of time with people from other denominations and I can assure you they regularly violate the 10th commandment about ‘Thou shalt not covet,’ Land said.

“They understand what the Cooperative Program has meant for Southern Baptists and they understand what not having it has meant to them. The Cooperative Program has enabled us to be used as few others have been used to fulfill the worldwide commission the Lord gave us in the Great Commission.”

Last year, through Southern Baptist student mission endeavors, 1,491 teenagers shared the gospel more than 12,000 times and recorded 1,121 professions of faith in those encounters. Also, Land told how Southern Baptist young people have restored more than 12,000 inner city homes in the last decade through NAMB ministries.

Additionally, through the work of the North American Mission Board and state conventions, the SBC’s Disaster Relief network is the nation’s third-largest disaster relief provider, Land said to applause.

“Every time I go to Louisiana people tell me about the guys in the yellow shirts who showed up even before the police did after the hurricane,” Land said, “and are still there helping to rebuild those stricken communities.

“When I’m in New York and people find out that I’m a Southern Baptist, they tell me about the Southern Baptist volunteers that came in and cleaned out the apartments in Manhattan. They said, ‘We want as many Southern Baptists as we can get because they don’t steal stuff.’ That’s a pretty good witness: ‘They don’t steal stuff.'”

Recalling the year the ERLC was defunded by the Baptist General Convention of Texas for its conservative direction, Land said a reporter from the Dallas Morning News quizzed him about losing 15 percent of his budget. Land replied that he hadn’t lost 15 percent of his budget, he’d only been given an opinion by some “denominational functionaries.”
“Now we’re going to find out what the headquarters of Southern Baptists, the local church, thinks,” he said.

That year, Texas churches and the SBTC sent a record number of dollars that more than made up for the ERLC’s loss, Land recounted.

“So we know where the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention is?it’s in the local church. And that’s where it must always be.”

Being interviewed by a Presbyterian recently about the SBC’s conservative theological resurgence in the 1970s and ’80s, Land said the interviewer lamented the liberalism in some Presbyterian seminaries.

“We were saved by our polity,” Land recounted telling him. “In Methodism and Presbyterianism, once the institutions and the leadership went left, there was no way to get it back. They owned the churches; they controlled who got ordained. They controlled who got put into the presbyteries and who got put into the faculty.

“But our forefathers, understanding the New Testament, always made every institution and agency accountable to the local church and the messengers elected by the local church and left the ordination of ministers in the hands of the local church and left it to each local church to decide how much of the Lord’s money to share with the national and international ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

“We’re a Bible-believing, Christ-honoring, generous people. And I thank God for the Cooperative Program,” Land said. Because of the Cooperative Program and the mission endeavors of Texas Baptists, Parker Memorial Baptist Church in Houston, then pastored by Jimmy Draper Sr., planted a mission church a half-block from his home in 1949.

As a boy, “I came to know the Lord in that church,” said Land, adding that he was nurtured in the faith and called to preach there under the ministry of faithful Southern Baptists.

He said he remembers his mother carrying his younger brother the half block home from church as he, about 4 years old, held his mother’s hand. His dad would wait for them on the front porch, drinking a Lone Star beer after mowing the lawn.

Later, his father was converted at the 1952 Billy Graham Crusade at Rice Stadium, invited there by members of the church. His dad became a deacon and Sunday School superintendent, Land a Sunbeam and a Royal Ambassador.
“All because of Southern Baptists fulfilling the Great Commission,” he said.

Robinson appeals for synergistic evangelism

FRISCO  Although the Bible clearly declares the importance of evangelism, Darrell Robinson believes American churches are ignoring the practice. Southern Baptists who claim to believe the Bible need to follow Jesus’ example, Robinson said, to “evangelize for the kingdom of God in other cities,” a reference to Luke 4:43.

The SBTC personal evangelism consultant lamented that the words preach and evangelize are frequently used interchangeably, giving the impression that evangelism only involves what the preacher declares from the pulpit.

“Evangelists are on hard times because the church is ignoring evangelizing,” said Robinson, recalling that he averaged using one “full-time, God-called vocational evangelist every year” during his pastoral ministry.

He described Philip’s intentional and urgent witness to the Ethiopian eunuch. “He ran and caught him. I know my life must be a witness, but my life will never lead anybody to Christ. It is the gospel of Christ that is the power of God to salvation,” he said, quoting Romans 1:16.

“Pastor, your ministry is not fulfilled if you don’t have a passion, not only to challenge people to witness, but to equip them to do it,” Robinson said. He challenged them to enlighten, enlist, equip, engage and encourage believers to evangelize. “Just telling them from the pulpit doesn’t do it. We’ve got to build the systems for it to happen through the life of the church.”

He warned of substitutes that churches utilize in place of evangelism, including entertainment to draw people in, marketing to give them what they want, and pop psychology instead of preaching the power of the gospel that changes lives.

Responding to the often stated belief that “methods change though the message stays the same,” Robinson said, “There are some methods that change the message. In order not to offend the precious seeker who wants to come to church if the church would just do it like they want, we leave out sin, blood, judgment, and Hell?those threatening words so that the seeker can feel comfortable.”

He recalled his own discomfort when first attending church, stating, “You’re asking the wrong person when you ask a lost person what it would take to reach him for Christ. He doesn’t know. He needs somebody to tell him the gospel.”

From the book of Acts, Robinson said he discovered five biblical techniques to reach lost people that he used to move First Baptist Church of Pasadena toward the multiplication of disciples, principles featured in his book “Synergistic Evangelism.”

“Public proclamation, caring ministry, event attraction, geographic saturation and personal presentation of the gospel–each one enhances the other so the result is maximum evangelistic outreach and ingathering of lost people.”

SBTC offers summer ministries to college, seminary students

The SBTC has several evangelism and missions opportunities for college and seminary students looking for more than a usual summer vacation. Working in teams, students may contribute directly in church planting strategies, lead churches in evangelism and outreach efforts, or cross cultures to engage an Eastern religion people group.

Laredo Teams
Chuy Avila is SBTC’s church planting missionary in Laredo. Partnering with the North American Mission Board, he has developed a comprehensive church planting strategy for the city, including the GPS (God’s Plan for Sharing) gospel saturation project for the Spring Break weeks. Teams are needed this summer to assist in the intense follow up to that effort. Opportunities are available for:

  • College and seminary students who will serve as NAMB summer missionaries in Laredo.
  • Working alongside a local church planter, three church planting teams of 4-5 students on each team will assist in planting a new church.
  • The teams will help throw block parties in key Laredo neighborhoods, conduct prayer walks, and door-to-door visitation. They will also coordinate vision and mission trips to Laredo with partner churches.

For more information on the Laredo Teams, contact Chad Vandiver in the SBTC Missions office at 817-552-2500 or at

Engage Teams
Over the past four years, SBTC Engage Teams have led 58 local churches in an intentional evangelism process. Churches where these teams have ministered have reported spiritual revival, a revitalization of vision and purpose, and evangelistic growth. Opportunities are available for:

  • College and seminary students, called to ministry and working 3-4 in a team, who will travel to churches during the summer.
  • Teams to have a preacher, a music leader, and a children/youth leader.
  • Conducting five worship gatherings Sunday through Wednesday and a block party-style outreach event on Thursday evening.
  • During the day, lead out in children’s sports camps and offer evangelism training.

For more information on the Engage Teams, contact Garrett Wagoner in the SBTC Evangelism office at 817-552-2500 or at

Xtreme Teams
These new teams are for college or seminary students, called to ministry, who are interested in serving as missionaries to an ethnolinguistic people group in Texas. These teams will have the opportunity to:

  • Be on the forefront of a new missions strategy to engage unreached peoples in key areas of Texas.
  • Cross cultural boundaries and work in extremes of climate, geography, quality of life, religious customs, and more.
  • Explore the many types of people living in urban settings and equip local churches with vital information for engaging these peoples.
  • Conduct multiple interviews with members of Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist people groups living around Southern Baptist churches in key cities.
  • Teach the People Group Champions Project to churches interested in engaging these people groups who live in their communities.

For more information on the Xtreme Teams, contact Chad Vandiver in the SBTC Missions office at 817-552-2500 or at

Women encouraged to proclaim gospel with every act

FRISCO  Using five words from Mark 14:3-9 that she said she intends to be engraved on her own tombstone, Dorothy Patterson encouraged women to recognize they are proclaiming the gospel through every act of devotion to the Savior.

In her message to the women’s session of the Empower Evangelism Conference in Frisco on Feb. 28, Patterson related the example of the woman who anointed Jesus with oil and received his commendation: “She has done what she could.” Patterson observed that the action took on more meaning as “the only anointing our Savior had before his death.”

An author, theology professor and the wife of the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Patterson cited the order in which the phrase is offered in the Greek text?”what she could she has done”?in order to describe the intended emphasis.

“It hits home the idea that anything you do as unto the Lord Jesus is received by him in just that way. It takes on a new importance. It is your sacrifice, your gift to him,” she said.

Recalling Jesus’ correction of those who tried to dismiss the woman’s offering, she quoted his response, “‘Wherever this gospel is preached, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.'”

She spoke of the mistaken tendency to think the only way the gospel is proclaimed is through singing, preaching or reading Scripture. “No, ladies, you are proclaiming the gospel with every act of devotion to the Savior when you do what he has told you to do.”

Women at the session also heard testimonies from Angela Thomas of Greensboro, N.C., and Pam Tebow of Jacksonville, Fla. Thomas encouraged women to let go of their bitterness over past circumstances in order to fully embrace God’s forgiveness.

Tebow, a former missionary to the Philippines and mother to Denver Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow, challenged women to make positive, life-impacting spiritual influence one of their greatest priorities.

“The more you trust your Master the more you realize that he loves us so much that he gave his Son and that tremendous, miraculous, motivating love overflows from you to everybody around you over whom you have great influence. That is the cornerstone of an influential life,” Tebow declared.

Drugs, murder loom on couple’s mission field

EDITOR’S NOTE: The annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions in Southern Baptist churches will be March 6-13 in conjunction with the 2011 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, with a goal of $70 million to help pay the salaries and ministry support of 5,000-plus missionaries serving in North America under the SBC’s North American Mission Board. For more information, go to, Texas (BP)–Among the hundreds of places North American Mission Board church planting missionaries work and minister across the United States and Canada, none is more dangerous than Laredo in south Texas, where Chuy and Maria Avila live and serve.Laredo — with a population of 300,000 in the city proper — sits on the north bank of the Rio Grande, right across the river from Nuevo Laredo in Mexico. The Laredo-Nuevo Laredo metro area has a combined population of more than 700,000 American and Mexican citizens. It’s a center for cold-blooded murder, drugs and chaos.Nuevo Laredo to Laredo is a thoroughfare for an estimated $20 billion drug market operated by drug cartels between Mexico and the United States. With the drugs come unchecked violence and bloodshed. A recent local shootout between Mexican Federal Police officers and drug cartel members left a dozen dead and more than 20 wounded. It’s routine for Laredo citizens to hear gunfire echoing across the Rio Grande from the Nuevo Laredo side of the border.Chuy, 48, and Maria — jointly sponsored by NAMB and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention — are two of 5,000-plus missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.”Laredo is a dangerous place to minister,” Avila said. “I need prayers and support from my Christian brothers and sisters.”Born into a Catholic family in Juarez, Mexico, Avila was only 5 years old when a missionary came to town to hold a tent revival.”This is the way the Gospel came to our family. My mom got saved, my father was saved and I got saved when I was 21 years old. The next year, I was called into the ministry,” Avila said.Only 18 months ago, the Avilas were working and living in Tennessee, where he spent 11 years as a Hispanic church start strategist. “I knew nothing about Laredo at the time,” he said. “I was praying for a new challenge and a new vision, and the Lord put Laredo in my mind and in my heart.” After visiting, the Avilas fell in love with the south Texas border town.In Laredo, Avila’s strategy has been to go into neighborhoods — he calls them “colonias” — where there is no existing evangelistic work in place and where he feels a need to start something new, such as a Baptist church. He begins with block parties and Vacation Bible Schools, and every Laredo family that shows up at a block party receives a free Bible.Avila has formed partnerships with local pastors and laypeople and established a missionary house — a house fully equipped to hold up to 30 people. As people spend a week there, they are hosted, taught and discipled by Avila. The missionary house doubles as a church on Sunday.”There are only 53 evangelical churches in Laredo,” Avila said. “To reach just 25 percent of the population of 300,000, Laredo needs 278 new churches. We now have only 14 Baptist churches, averaging 50 people each. We need to start an additional 50 churches during the next five years just to keep up with Laredo’s population growth.”Aside from the danger, Avila said, Laredo is a challenging place to minister.”The average age of the population is only 30 to 35 years old,” he said. “And not only are the people young, 80 to 90 percent speak Spanish and 70 percent are bilingual. So Laredo is a city offering different kinds of situations than other U.S. cities.”Avila’s vision is to impact Laredo with the Gospel one family at a time, so he focuses on reaching entire families for Christ.According to Avila, Baptists have been in Laredo for 135 years, but those efforts have only produced 14 Baptist churches. With his goal of 10 new churches a year — for a total of 50 new churches in five years — Avila will have started more churches in five years than past Baptists started in Laredo in the last 135.”We want to start house churches, contemporary churches, traditional churches, cowboy churches, truck driver churches and more Spanish- and English-speaking churches,” he said. Avila sees his role as a catalyst who maps out the city, tries to find where a new church is needed and determines what kind of church to plant.”Because of the average young age of the population, we may need a contemporary church. In an area of empty nesters, we might need a traditional church. For the Texas cowboys, we would need a cowboy church. My role is to discover the needs of the city and then try to find the right person

DR volunteers respond to Panhandle wildfires

AMARILLO?Wildfires swept across the Texas Panhandle Feb. 27, charring 25,534 acres that eventually destroyed 70 homes. In less than a week disaster relief volunteers from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention were sifting through what remained of the material possessions of displaced homeowners, attempting to recover prized possessions as diverse as rings, diamonds, silver, ceramic tile and lava rock before cleaning down to the slabs.

Amid offering a first response to the immediate needs, the 11-member team also shared a gospel message of eternal significance. At least one person professed faith in Christ after asking one of the volunteers why they had come to Amarillo.

“The first thing you do obviously is to develop a relationship,” explained Doug Scott from Westside Baptist Church in Atlanta, Texas. “You don’t go in and start preaching. You put your arm around them. You don’t tell them you know you they feel because you don’t.”

Nonetheless, the opportunities to plant seeds of the gospel always occur. Just talking about past deployments invigorates the tired volunteers as they tell of lives that were changed, even churches that were started out of disastrous situations.

Prolonged dry conditions mixed with unusually high winds in Amarillo have set off a rash of fires springing up and devouring fields and homes.

The city of Amarillo experienced the worst of the damage as two fires raged through different parts of the city. Firefighters scrambled to battle flames in the north and the south, while residents fled for their lives.

An SBTC assessment crew coordinated with a local emergency management team to determine where their skills were most needed. Scott told the TEXAN consideration is given to those lacking the insurance that would have allowed them to hire help in removing debris and cleaning.

As soon as the fires abated, SBTC’s DR team rolled in with heavy machinery and enthusiasm to begin the clean-up process in the village of Palisades, the area hardest hit by the flames. A second team deployed by Texas Baptist Men attended needs north of town. Coulter Street Baptist Church hosted the SBTC team while River Road Baptist Church on the north side assisted TBM and opened their doors to displaced residents.

Initially, SBTC volunteers helped residents sift through the ashes to locate missing articles that they hoped to recover. Stan Hooker, a 52-year-old Palisades homeowner, wept when the team located pieces of red ceramic tile once laid by his father who had died years earlier. That alone provided a memory of the place he had called home.

The man had moved in with his brother’s family across the street after fire engulfed his house. Both men already were dealing with back problems when the DR crew came to the rescue.

According to the Office of Emergency Management, an estimated $12.9 million in damage occurred in Potter and Randall counties.

Hardest hit was Palisades where 25 of the 155 houses were destroyed. Lake Tanglewood and Timbercreek Canyon also reported damage to eight houses. Nestled in a canyon, funneling wind sped the flames south of Amarillo, giving residents little to no advanced warning of the danger. Most of the people in that area escaped with nothing but their lives, prompting the focus of DR ministry.

“Fire is a strange critter,” Scott said. “It will burn a house, then jump a house. Things you don’t think will burn do and things you think will, don’t.”

“We’ve heard story after story of how families had to drive through a ring of fire to get out,” said DR volunteer chaplain Traci Rogers. “It burned their cars as they were trying to leave. It’s not an easy area to get out of,” she explained. Rogers is the children’s minister at Coulter Street Baptist, and has been on the scene working in her capacity as chaplain since the fires began.

“I’ve been here to give them someone to talk to, hug them if they need a hug and remind them that this isn’t the end of their lives. It can be a new beginning.”

“Having our ladies with us makes a big difference,” Scott said, expressing appreciation for the three women who were part of this deployment, as well as Rogers, whose familiarity with the local surroundings paved the way for ministry.
John Harden of Friendly Baptist Church in Tyler said DR work is interrupted when there’s an opportunity to share their faith.

“What we all do is stop work when we have an opportunity. Then once we make that bond we start witnessing. We don’t just work, we’re here to share the love of Christ.”

When four local prisoners were assigned to help clean up the area, the DR volunteers made sure they also received a gospel witness, added Keith Riggs of Henderson.

Local pastors and directors of missions are given the names of folks with whom they build relationships, providing ongoing spiritual help when it’s most needed, according to Riggs, a DR assessment volunteer from Trinity Baptist Church in Henderson.

Also deployed on this trip were volunteers from First Baptist Church of Atlanta, Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview and First Baptist Church of Cason.

The fire that caused damage began when winds gusting at 69 miles an hour knocked over a power line that sparked and set the ground ablaze.

Due to the strong gusts, the fires did not stick to a straight path. Instead, they were buffeted around, jumping from place to place.

“It looks like a tornado came through,” Rogers said. “The massive amount of wind carried that fire all around. Just like a tornado, it might take out one house and leave the next one. It was just very sporadic.”

Despite the lack of warning and the difficulty of escape, no deaths occurred. The devastating losses were limited to homes and possessions.

Pat Riggs of Henderson recalled one house where all of the rubble had fallen into the basement. “They’re going to have to dig that out,” she explained. In some areas the lack of dumpsters made it impossible to remove debris immediately. Items were sorted for recycling in order to recover income from some of the loss.

While some of the escapes were narrow, survivors often expressed gratitude to God for their delivery. The DR team related the story of one woman who was trapped in her home as the fire and winds knocked out electricity, making her unable to open her garage and get her car out. Her husband was one of the many volunteer firefighters who had been called away to the other side of town.

Though firefighters don’t usually have their phones with them, he happened to be in his truck at the very moment his wife frantically called and he headed back along roads completely obscured by smoke. He was able to make it in time to get his wife out just as the back side of the house went up in flames. Both husband and wife gave thanks to God for how things turned out, volunteers recalled.

The Amarillo Globe-News quoted Palisades volunteer firefighters and resident Randy Hooker as saying, “Among the lasting impressions?the outpouring of love, prayer and thanksgiving offered by the Amarillo community. Everywhere and everyone I talked to in essence said the very same thing, ‘Praise the Lord.'”

God of Wonders Fellowship, an SBTC-affiliated congregation, held prayer meetings March 2 for families affected by wildfires, according to pastor Randy Srader.

Rogers, the DR chaplain, described the conditions for many victims as “total devastation.” These families have lost everything. At least 8 to 10 people I’ve talked to don’t have any insurance or were seriously underinsured.”

At the onset, the SBTC teams had work orders for 12 houses, but learned of more opportunities as people returned to check out the damage.

The team has done a great job of getting in there and getting after it,” Rogers said. “They are on the heavy equipment, clearing of