Month: June 2011

Church van tragedy stirs upcoming revival

OAK GROVE, La. (BP)–Five people killed in a church van crash June 22 all had made professions of faith within the last 18 months, said Greg Dunn, a pastor in Oak Grove, La.

Providentially, Dunn added, the 50 or more churches of several denominations in West Carroll Parish began planning for an area-wide crusade a year ago.

The 3,000 people in and around Oak Grove are broken with grief, said Dunn, pastor of New Zion Baptist Church. Even so: “We believe what Satan meant for harm, God will use for good. We are going to honor their lives by many souls coming to the Lord.”

Investigation continues into the cause of the crash, which took place in daylight about five miles from New Zion as the 15-passenger church van took folks home from Wednesday night services.

Killed were Portia Thornton and her two daughters, Katelyn, 19, and Brittany, 12, as well as Emma Adams, 4, who was visiting the church, and driver Joey W. McKan. Six others were injured, some critically.

“I will never forget that night, standing in the hallway while surrounded by church members, still talking about the service and laughing and fellowshipping like we always do, and then came the call that would forever change our lives,” Dunn said.

A frantic yet prayer-filled dash to the accident site followed.

“We could have never been prepared for what we saw and heard when we arrived,” Dunn said. “I have never felt so helpless, wishing that this was not happening, and yet it was.”

The next few days were filled with hospital visits, funerals and road trips between Shreveport, La., and Jackson, Miss., “to pick up the broken pieces and try to do all we could to minister to these precious families,” Dunn said.

As Sunday quickly approached, Dunn recounted, “I lay in my bed Saturday night, knowing that my church family was expecting a word from the Lord.

“Jesus reminded me of the storm the disciples faced in Matthew 8, when they were all in the boat and the wind and the waves began to shake their faith.

“We can't choose the storms,” Dunn said. “We are guaranteed to have storms. … I cried out, 'Lord, where are You in our storm? Where are You in the midst of this tragedy?'”

Dunn said God told him that He was in all the people who have united because of the crash: EMT personnel, hospital staff, volunteers, families, churches and communities “from all over who have come together for one purpose: to help the hurting. … He's the one holding the hand of the dying. … He's a piano player, a deacon, a body of Christ who rallies around a scared, young preacher who wants to quit and run the other way.”

Dunn wrote down 21 places where God was amid the tragedy and read his “Where is God?” list at Mt. Zion at the Sunday, June 26, service. The pastor said he could see comfort settling atop the congregation's raw wounds.

“The Lord is doing His work here,” Dunn said, turning from the tragedy to view the big picture of God's activity. New Zion, planted in 1934 during the Great Depression, reported 60 professions of faith and 31 baptisms in 2010 and probably that many already in 2011.

“We're a very mission-minded church and serious about being real,” Dunn said.

“We know God has given evangelists as a gift to the local church, so we use them,” he added in reference to revival meetings held at Mt. Zion twice a year.

“Everybody on this van were folks saved and discipled in the last 18 months,” Dunn continued, “every last one of them,” including a 16-year-old girl who made a profession of faith six months ago as a result of the van ministry.

“We send 20 to 25 missionaries out of our church each year to do missions, and we believe missions starts at home,” Dunn said. “We seek through our Brotherhood and the women's group to minister any way we can — cutting down trees, providing school supplies, groceries — any avenue we can to get the Gospel to people not just in word but in action.

“Our director of missions [Jay Morgan] was out of town when this happened,” Dunn said, returning to the loss his congregation is enduring. “He was doing ministry with Kingdom Builders and drove all night to be at the hospital with the families and me.

“It was overwhelming, the first few hours,” Dunn said. “The people have moved from 'overwhelmed' to very evidently trusting God in it. They're still hurting, still in need, but trusting God.”

Dunn said his immediate goal is “to be there and try to be strong for them and with them”

“The one thing we know is we can cling to God's Word and God's presence,” the pastor said. “The message God gave us Sunday morning was about the storms of life and how we can't choose whether or not we go through them, but we can choose how we handle it.”

The July 10-15 community crusade is scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. each night in the Thomas Jason Lingo Center in Oak Grove, with evangelist Bill Britt as guest speaker and the Mackey Willis Family leading in worship.

Depending on what God does with hearts already broken, the crusade could be extended, said Dunn, chairman of the crusade steering committee.

“One thing God has given us is that this [crusade] is going to be big,” Dunn said. “[Britt] has a gift to challenge Christians to be real and not lukewarm. … We felt like this is who God wanted to be part of this crusade.

“This is something no one is going to want to miss. … You're going to want to see for yourself what God does.”
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Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

Laredo: 727 new Christians, 4 new churches

LAREDO, Texas (BP)–Many times in the darkest and most dangerous places the light of the Gospel shines even brighter. Such is the case in Laredo, Texas, stemming from the “GPS 2020” evangelism and church planting initiative of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

The darkness and danger are readily apparent in Laredo. The Mexican drug cartel and the violence attached to the $20 billion illegal enterprise cast an ominous shadow on the border town. Additionally, the satanic influence of “La Santa Muerte,” the Saint of Death, and its cult following continues to grow rapidly among the people of Laredo and beyond.

In this darkness, SBTC churches lifted high the torch of the Gospel. Jack Harris, associate for personal and event evangelism with the convention, led the charge. Working with churches from various regions of the state, Harris organized volunteers to prepare “Gospel Bags” to touch 50,000 homes with the hope of planting four churches from the effort.

“Biblically, you evangelize an area and then you start a church,” said Don Cass, SBTC evangelism director. “The way we do it, and I'm convinced it's the proper way, is to go door-to-door with the Gospel, invite people to a big event, give a clear presentation of the Gospel with an invitation, and through the follow-up with all decisions, create a core group that will start a congregation.”

The strategy is built around the four biblical markers of GPS 2020: 1) praying, 2) equipping, 3) sowing and 4) harvesting.

First, teams of trained volunteers covered the Laredo area through organized prayerwalks, praying over the venues and the neighborhoods where the Gospel would be sown.

Second, volunteers were equipped to share the Gospel through hanging Gospel Bags on doors in the community while others were equipped to share the Gospel at a community event featuring Team Impact, a team of evangelists who use feats of strength as a bridge to share the Gospel. Third, volunteers sowed the Gospel in the neighborhoods with the Gospel Bags. The bags contained a Gospel witness in English and Spanish along with an invitation for 10 people to come to the Laredo Energy Arena to see Team Impact perform such feats as crushing bricks and breaking stacks of boards. At the Energy Arena, Team Impact presented the Gospel to 5,000 people at the community-wide harvest event. During the invitation, 727 people surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ.

Now, the churches are working to establish the new congregations. The 727 people who made decisions were immediately introduced to four church planters at the harvest event. The church planters and volunteers from participating Laredo churches are in the process of following up on every decision made.

Chuy Avila, a jointly funded missionary with the SBTC and the North American Mission Board, is assisting the church planters. Avila noted that three established congregations that helped with the event also are experiencing higher attendances in their worship services because of the initiative.

One of the new church plants, Impacto Juvenil, led by church planter Hervin Antonio, held their first service May 27. The aim of the ministry is to connect with the younger adults in their community, thus the name Youth Impact. The first meeting was attended by 40 people. The new plant continues to meet every Friday as a core group is developed.

“We are focused on reaching the lost generation of young adults that are not going to church,” Antonio said. “We are going to connect with them and make the church a place where they can come and encounter Christ in a contemporary way while hearing the Word preached.”

The next step for the church plant is to bring in strategic partners to help with the work, such as First Baptist Church in Mandeville, La. Cory Veuleman, First Baptist's student family pastor, led his team in door-to-door evangelism, Vacation Bible School, prayerwalks and a block party to share the Gospel to help Impacto Juvenil develop relationships with their neighbors.

Laredo may have a dark and dangerous edge, but the light of Jesus is shining bright through the cooperative work of Southern Baptists.
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Keith Manuel is an evangelism associate with the Louisiana Baptist Convention's evangelism and church growth team.

Messengers offer 17 motions at SBC

PHOENIX—Messengers offered 17 motions during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix, June 14-15. All but one of the motions, however, were referred to SBC entities or ruled out of order during the subsequent business sessions of the convention. The remaining motion was referred by messengers for a vote at the 2012 annual meeting in New Orleans.

REFERRED MOTIONS
A motion by Keith Rogers from Santan Baptist Church on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Chandler, Ariz., called for the Committee on the Order of Business to reinstitute at least one evening session, preferably on Tuesday evening, for the annual meeting. According to Rogers, “many of our lay leaders, including some from the church that I pastor, and bivocational pastors who could only attend an evening session, were not offered that opportunity this year.”

Rogers, in the same motion, said a missionary appointment service should be a part of that evening session. The Committee on the Order of Business moved that the motion be referred for consideration in connection with the 2012 SBC annual meeting. Messengers approved the motion to refer.

Eleven motions were automatically referred because they dealt with the internal operations or ministries of SBC entities. Several were referred to LifeWay Christian Resources. Those included:

  • A motion from Tim Overton of Halteman Village Baptist Church in Muncie, Ind., requesting that LifeWay Christian Resources be asked to consider creating materials to equip fathers to lead families in regular home devotionals.
  • A motion from Craig Thomas from Whitwell (Tenn.) First Baptist Church asking LifeWay Christian Resources to reinstate disclaimers when they sell “The Shack” because the book undermines or opposes articles two and four of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Those articles pertain to the Trinity and salvation. In 2009, LifeWay posted in stores a discernment notice for readers of The Shack, primarily because of the fictional book’s depictions of different modes of God’s existence—namely the representation of God as a woman. The notice about the book later was removed.
  • A motion from Channing Kilgore of South Whitwell Baptist Church in Whitwell, Tenn., to recommend LifeWay Christian Resources publish the criteria the entity uses in the selection and sale of “biblically-related materials.”
  • A motion from George Kelly of Memorial Baptist Church in Killeen, calling for the SBC to address the ministry and teaching needs of senior adults, “the fastest growing segment of our society.”
  • A motion from Stephen Haffly of Grace Baptist Church in Wake Forest, N.C., requesting messengers to encourage publishers, including LifeWay Christian Resources, to make electronic editions of academic works available for electronic devices such as Kindle, Nook and iPad. Haffly noted this would benefit students by making the literature more easily accessible and reduce production costs.
  • A motion from Young McCann of Journey Christian Fellowship in San Luis Obispo, Calif., requesting the SBC to study issues related to human sexuality—namely pornography and homosexuality—in the culture and in churches and provide guidelines for church members, church leaders and convention leaders to promote gospel-centered sexuality to educate, train and restore God’s people to bring maximum glory to God. McCann’s motion also was referred to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
  • A motion from Mickey Porter of Mountain View Baptist Church in Layton, Utah, to move the primary responsibility for ministry to university and college students from LifeWay Christian Resources to the North American Mission Board was referred to both entities.
  • A second motion from George Kelly, asking the North American Mission Board to develop a strategy and resources to assist small and struggling churches “to come alive by providing funds to call full-time pastors,” also was referred to the North American Mission Board.

Referred to the SBC
Executive Committee were:

  • A motion from James Goforth of New Life Baptist Church in Florissant, Mo., that the Executive Committee investigate and develop a plan and system for online participation and voting of messengers across the country who cannot participate in the annual meeting in person. Goforth said this would broaden the involvement of small churches, bivocational and ethnic pastors, and international churches of the SBC.
  • A motion from Wiley Drake, pastor of Buena Park (Calif.) Baptist Church, to recommend to the local arrangements committee that the prayer room remain open 24 hours a day during the remainder of the convention and future conventions.

RULED OUT OF ORDER
Three motions were ruled out of order by the Committee on the Order of Business because they were in the nature of resolutions, calling for the convention to express an opinion without taking substantive action. The time for submitting resolutions also had passed. Ruled out of order for this reason were:

  • A motion in support of Israel offered by Adam Sanders, pastor of Denton Baptist Church in Cosby, Tenn.
  • A motion from Wiley Drake to direct the newly elected president of the convention to send a letter of “thanksgiving and praise to God” for Texas Gov. Rick Perry for his leadership in calling America to a day of prayer and fasting Aug. 6.
  • A motion, also from Drake, to direct the newly elected president of the convention to send a letter to President Barack Obama “requesting, that as a professing Christian, he as president call the United States of America to a special day of solemn assembly and prayer for our nation,” as Perry had done.
  • Drake also made a motion directing the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission to investigate and report back to the convention the use of Social Security money under Title D (Child Support) and Title 4E (Child Protective Services), originally intended “for the welfare of children and now which has become child abuse, according to the Ninth Circuit Court of Federal Appeals.” This motion was ruled out of order because the work of an SBC entity is directed only by its board of trustees.
  • According to SBC bylaws, “Any motion which seeks to have the Convention exercise authority of an entity’s board is not in order. Messengers may offer motions which request, but not direct, that an entity take an action.” Drake later returned to the microphone and offered the same motion, but striking the word “direct” and replacing it with the word “request.” That motion was referred to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
  • Kent Cochran, messenger from Calvary Baptist Church in Republic, Mo., called for the SBC to create a special “Unity Committee” to review, evaluate and make recommendations about the perception and realities of the impact and implementation of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s recommendations during the past year by SBC entities, state conventions and related organizations and networks. Cochran, in the same motion, called for the proposed committee, comprised of 21 presidential appointees, to make their findings public for all Southern Baptists no later than 12 months after the committee provides its findings to the SBC.

That motion, however, was ruled out of order because a motion is not in order when it requests a new committee to fulfill the assignments of a standing committee. The 2010 convention assigned portions of the GCR report to the SBC Executive Committee.

Another theological crisis?

Are we who affirm biblical orthodoxy on the brink of a theological crisis that will change everything, similar to the Copernican revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries? Some scholars think so.

Here’s some minimal background. Copernicus was a physicist of the 16th century who  developed a theory that the earth orbited the sun. Orthodoxy of that time, religious and scientific, insisted that the earth was the center of creation. This was considered true because casual observation seemed to indicate that other heavenly bodies moved around the earth, the theories of Aristotle and because God’s own son came to Earth and not to some other planet. To affirm the theory of Copernicus was declared heresy.

Galileo was a disciple of Copernicus and a good Italian Catholic. With his telescope, he confirmed, to his mind, Copernicus’ theory and his writing soon had him before an inquisition which insisted that he recant his teaching or face terrible consequences in this life and the next. Galileo did recant, though insincerely, and lived in house arrest for the remainder of his life. However, pre-Copernican understandings of astronomy were mortally wounded. The Church was forced to re-fashion its theology to fit scientific evidence—no minor thing.

Our “crisis” has to do with the origins of mankind. A recent cover story in Christianity Today boiled down a broad debate among evangelicals regarding efforts to make scientific theories compatible with traditional biblical interpretation, or maybe the other way around.

Studies in geology, anthropology, statistics, genetics and other sciences have supposedly made the belief that our species began with just one man and one woman, uniquely created by God, nearly impossible to maintain. Theologians rightly see that a drastic re-write of our doctrine of man will affect interpretation of every other doctrine in the Bible. Now, something true is never incompatible with the Bible as it is rightly understood. The fact that our theology might need to be reconsidered is not in itself an argument against competing theories. Neither should the claims of one religion, Materialism, send us scurrying just because its priesthood calls us stupid.

When it comes to reconstructing the ancient past or speculating on even the near future’s climate, the science is definitely not settled. The blunders of the past 100 years make most of these claims of certainty laughable. If the science was settled, we’d be in an ice age at this moment, but it wouldn’t matter because the world population would have overwhelmed the planet years ago—only forest creatures would be here to see the snow drifts in south Texas. If evolutionary science was settled, one of our ancestors would be the tooth of a pig (Nebraska Man), another, the star of the Scopes trial, would be a poorly accomplished fraud that stood up to scientific inquiry for over 40 years (Piltdown Man). Scientists are mortal, fallen men who begin with a worldview and tend to interpret to that view, just like you and I do. From this layman’s seat, it seems that professionals in the “hard sciences” are hesitant to admit these mortal weaknesses, just like you and I are.  

Naming the current discussion of origins “Copernican” is a tactic only one voice in the debate uses. It is meant to scare up images of religious censors running scared when the river of truth bursts through the dam of superstition they have fabricated. Those who do not believe all of what science currently affirms are foolish and even wicked in this scenario. But this revolution is not Copernican, it might not even be revolutionary. The cosmology of the 17th century church was not drawn much from the Bible, neither did the Roman Church of that day even pretend that biblical authority was the standard by which their teachings were judged. Catholic theology of this era was a mix of human authority (councils and popes), tradition, and political pragmatism. For a scientific theory to modify this was a big deal but the clear teachings of the Bible were not challenged in this revolution.

Our current debate supposes something more basically contrary to the gospel. If 10,000 or more human-like creatures walked out of the forests at around the same time millions of years ago, rather than just one man and just one woman, our current understanding of sin and redemption is changed. The tribe of humans is supposed to have gradually become  rebellious to God as they evolved the curiosity, avarice, and pride described in Genesis 3—just like I heard in seminary 30 years ago. The “one man” or “first Adam” of Romans 5 becomes figurative and contrasted with the literal “second Adam” who redeems us. The plainly spoken “through one man sin entered the world and all died” becomes puzzling, less impactful. Some suggest, unhelpfully, that Paul clearly believed what he wrote and merely spoke according to the understanding of the ancients. No problem, right? I guess not, if you have a theory of inspiration that leaves room for either a God who deceives us or a book that is not all that God breathed.

Again, I’m not saying that the Materialist theories of origins are wrong because they make hash of biblical theology. I am saying that facile reinterpretations of the gospel will not make peace between Materialism and Christianity. Overwhelmingly, the scientific elite is non-theistic. Most of the self-described Christians within this fellowship belong to traditions that stopped believing the Bible decades ago. They couldn’t care less about any reconciliation between evangelical theology and scientific theories. Those who care the most are evangelicals who fear that we’ll become even more irrelevant than we are.

This is nothing new. Some Christian scholars have been enamored with Naturalism or Materialism from more than a century past. Nineteenth century liberalism began with a bias against any actual intervention of God in the human timeline and fudged the exegetical data to get the outcome they desire. That’s where we get nonsense about a burning bush that was merely brightly colored or millions of the Hebrew children wading across the ankle deep Red Sea or Jesus only appearing to walk on the water when he was merely near the water, or a Jesus who is only resurrected in our hearts but not necessarily in the flesh. Smart guys are always trying to help us out by explaining the illusions of Scripture that only appear to be miracles.

There is a philosophy and theology behind everything we study. One does not need a PhD. in anthropology to judge whether or not an anthropologist has proven his case. In fact, it’s not necessary that one be literate to be rightly skeptical when his fellow, more educated man claims to have no predetermined view regarding the ultimate issues of life. Did you need an advanced degree in theology to know that Harold Camping was wrong to predict the end of the world on May 21? His arguments were silly and his track record poor at these predictions. To most of us, nothing about the man passed the smell test. But he was certain and he called nearly all of us nasty names. Apparently that is not a compelling argument.

So I won’t apologize for my amateur status regarding physics and biology. A man who assumes that God is not there will not see him in the cosmos. A researcher who begins with the certainty that life is made up of only chemicals and electricity will see things that fill him with wonder but no understanding. His theories will stand or fall, edify or enrage his fellows, and maybe earn a government grant, but they will not convince his neighbors that we came from nowhere, are here for no purpose, and will return to nothing.

There are other scientists and thinkers who see purpose when they look through a microscope or telescope. They see a variety and complexity in creation that cannot imaginably be explained by random actions of impersonal forces that were set in motion by nothing. Their studies are orthodox in method (look at evoinfo.org and biologicinstitute.org for examples). Their research is laid open for review. And they are deemed ridiculous because their conclusions are different than the majority of their colleagues. It is very strange to see some in the evangelical community give scant respect to the Intelligent Design movement, by the way. What could be more basic to the concept of evangelical theology than the notion that purpose and reason are evident in creation? I don’t expect respect for this view from the priesthood of Materialism, but scorn from those who claim a high view of Scripture implies that “evangelical” is fast becoming a useless term.

For those who believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead (scientifically impossible, right?) and that this history is recorded in a book inspired by God himself, we’ve already swallowed the camel. How strange to now strain at the gnat of basic biblical teachings on the origins of man. It’s not a new thing that we struggle to make what’s apparent to our eyes compatible with what God has revealed. And yet I read orthodox theology written hundreds, even more than a thousand years ago. Try that with science. Those were the days when physicians bled sick people. Since that day, credible scientific theories have supported dalliances with eugenics and genocide. Usually appropriate but nearly endless revolutions in science rarely correspond with new and true understandings of God and his revelation.  

We stand at the brink of the same crisis we’ve always faced: Do we worship the creator or do we worship his creation? More to the point, should we worship a God whose revelation of himself is as changeable as our theories regarding his creative and redemptive work?

Partnership brings seminary education to Texas prisoners

DARRINGTON MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON UNIT, NEAR ROSHARON, Texas—Through an unusual partnership, 40 long-term inmates at the Darrington maximum-security prison unit are now receiving pastoral seminary training behind bars. 

The new program, open to any inmate meeting the academic standards to enter college and given clearance by the state, is being funded partly by a $116,200 grant from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. The SBTC, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Heart of Texas Foundation are collaborating on the program.

The grant will provide library books, classroom furniture, technology and half of the ongoing costs for professors’ salaries and travel expenses for the first two years. For its part, SWBTS is providing from money outside its Cooperative Program allocation to fund the remaining half of the ongoing costs as well as scholarships for each student. And while the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has allowed SWBTS to use classroom space at Darrington, no state funds support the program.

HOW IT STARTED
Houston native Grove Norwood toured the 5,000-inmate Angola maximum-security prison in Louisiana after an Angola prisoner viewed the movie “Heart of Texas,” which documents Norwood’s radical forgiveness following the tragic hit-and-run death of his daughter. While at Angola, Norwood learned of the Bible college program offered by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary within the facility. 

Since its inception in 1995, that program has been credited with a 70 percent reduction in inmate violence, with murders dropping from 20-30 per year to no murders committed during each of the past three years and assaults dropping from 400-500 per year to only 40 last year. In addition, graduates of the program have been sent out in pairs to other prisons throughout the state.

“The key to what God has done in our programs is application. Every student must be involved in ministry in the prison,” Chuck Kelley, the New Orleans Seminary president, told the TEXAN. “They learn to do, not to merely know. Raising up godly, trained inmate leaders is what sets prison transformation in motion. As our students became ministers, light began pushing back the darkness.

“All that we are doing was set in motion when a Baptist layman took his faith to work. His work happened to be serving as warden in the largest and toughest maximum security prison in the nation. He saw the need and came to us to see if we would be a partner in training leadership. We said yes, and the rest is history.”

A documentary of the NOBTS program at Angola can be viewed at the North American Mission Board website: onmission.com/A-New-Hope/.

Impressed with what he saw, Norwood came back to Houston in May 2010 and asked two Texas state senators, John Whitmire, D-Houston and Dan Patrick, R-Houston, along with representatives from the SBTC and SWBTS, to visit Angola with him. As members of Texas’ Senate Criminal Justice Committee, the senators were convinced to establish a similar program in Texas, which has 13 maximum-security prisons to Louisiana’s one. Joe Davis, the SBTC’s chief financial officer, was also at Angola during that visit and was equally impressed.

“We were just amazed at the things that had happened at Angola because of the Bible college program New Orleans seminary had here,” Davis said. “And we were amazed and excited to think something like this could happen in Texas. We saw what it did in the system in Angola. It completely changed the prison. The men there have turned their hearts to Christ.”

Since their visit last spring to Angola Prison, Denny Autrey, dean and professor of pastoral ministries at Southwestern’s Houston-based J. Dalton Havard School for Theological Studies, has been working with the SBTC and TDCJ to work out the details of the Texas program. As a result, 40 students began their coursework this past spring semester. After completing the 125 credit-hour program over four years, graduates will receive the bachelor of science degree in biblical studies. A similar degree program is also planned for Southwestern’s Fort Worth and Houston campuses. 

Autrey said he is most encouraged by the influence the program at the prison could have on the seminary.

“This is a God-given thing that Southwestern has been asked to do this,” Autrey said. “It will bring strong doctrine and biblical inerrancy into the prisons. Anyone can apply for the program, but we are going to teach the exclusivity of Christ and the inerrancy of Scripture.”

In contrast to other moral rehabilitation programs that bring in outsiders to work with prisoners prior to their parole or release, Southwestern’s program focuses on long-term prisoners. To be eligible, inmates must to be at least 10 years from parole, with preference given to inmates with even longer sentence terms remaining. The stated purpose is to give graduates five or more years to be an influence on other inmates within the prison system.

“These guys are in prison 24-7, not like ministries that come and go or just focus on evangelism,” explained Ben Phillips, Southwestern professor of systematic theology and preaching at Havard who serves as director of the program at Darrington. He noted that participants would live among the general prison population, not in one of the faith-based dorms that are available to Darrington inmates.

“These inmates will not just evangelize in the prison, but minister and pastor with street credit.”

Phillips said that roughly 600 inmates applied for the program, and of those the department of criminal justice passed along 155 applicants to Southwestern for consideration. 
From that number, 40 inmates were chosen for the first cohort, along with 20 alternates—any student who creates a discipline issue in the prison will lose his seat in the program, something they are not eager to do. 

“The students are ecstatic and abundantly grateful for our presence there,” said Brandon Warren, administrative assistant at Havard who taught at Darrington this spring. “I served a total of six-and-a-half years in prison myself, and I’ve been out almost seven years now. So the students and I relate to each other well in a number of areas, and they’re very passionate about serving and succeeding in the program.”

In choosing participants, Southwestern looked for inmates with a desire to serve their fellow prisoners.

“Criminals by nature are incredibly selfish,” Phillips explained. “They will lie, steal, and even murder to get what they want. So when someone like that shows desire to serve others, we take it as pre-conversion work of the Holy Spirit. And we believe if you give them four-and-half-years of solid Bible teaching, they will either come out Christians or be strengthened in their walk, and they will know how to use the Bible to serve their fellow offenders.”

Phillips emphasizes the changes that happen when inmates with life sentences embrace Christ and minister in his name.

“What we’ve seen in Angola is that if you change lifers, you actually see the guards’ attitudes change, and eventually you change the whole culture in the prison. That reduces violence in the prisons and cost to the justice system. And when you minister to guys who will get out, now those changes begin to happen on the streets, in the lives of their children and families and in the reduction in the number of new victims.”

According to Autrey, the program has already made changes, as four of the 40 men have made professions of faith within the first semester. He hopes to see that continue as Southwestern works to move the program out into the remaining 12 maximum-security prisons, as well as the 100 other prisons in the state.

“TDCJ has asked us to move the program out as soon as possible,” Autrey said. “We hope to be in two or three more units, and into a woman’s prison unit as well.” He said in order to accomplish this Southwestern and the Heart of Texas Foundation are reaching out to the many churches in Texas that already have prison ministries. “We feel the next step is connecting with our churches,” Autrey said. 

For Phillips, the excitement comes in imagining how the inmates’ lives will be a testimony to Christ in the coming years as the program adds 40 participants each of the next three years until it reaches 160 students enrolled at once. 

Citing the first chapter of 1 Timothy, Phillips noted in verses 13 through 16 that Paul emphasizes how violent and wicked he had been before he met Christ. Yet, Paul says, Christ saved him so that his life would be living evidence to the power of the gospel.

“If these guys can have their lives transformed,” Phillips said, referring to inmates in the program, “if God can transform murderers into the image of Christ, then that shows that the gospel has real power.”

Wright calls for unity in SBC’s ‘new era’

PHOENIX—Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright broke with tradition following his re-election to a second term June 14 as he asked SBC entity leaders Frank Page, Kevin Ezell and Tom Elliff to join him in the customary president’s news conference.

Wright thanked “the people of the convention who felt led for me to serve in this role another year” and noted that Page as Executive Committee president, Elliff as International Mission Board president and Ezell as North American Mission Board president all took office within the past year, marking a historic change of leadership in the SBC.

Wright called for unified support of the three colleagues: “As your president, I am asking Southern Baptists to join me in covering these men in prayer and support as we enter a new era of leadership.”

The annual meeting in Phoenix marked an opportunity for renewed focus on unity rooted in “love for the Lord and in carrying out his Great Commission together,” Wright said. “Unity is a byproduct of being in the will of God and on mission together.”

Noting two crucial challenges before the convention—planting churches in unreached North American areas and engaging unreached people groups internationally—Wright called on Baptist Press and state papers to keep those two issues in front of Southern Baptists.

Wright also asked churches to keep their state conventions informed of new church plants and people groups they engage with the gospel, “so we can publish reports about what God has accomplished through our churches as we work together.”

Wright said, “The Spirit of the Lord is moving in a unique way in these days, and we hope Southern Baptists will lead the way in building up the kingdom of God to fulfill our Great Commission.”

Rebekah Kim, who, with her husband Paul, ministers on the Harvard University campus in Boston, asked Elliff about the increased cooperation between the International and North American mission boards approved by messengers June 14. Elliff said he and Ezell would have initiated a greater cooperation between the two boards anyway because they are friends.

“Those of us at the International Mission Board cannot wait to receive the benefit of the expertise the North American Mission Board will bring to our table in terms of church planting,” Elliff said. “And I’m glad that when people give their Cooperative Program dollars, they know they don’t have to separate them up or worry about giving more to the one than to the other. They know they can trust that these agencies are working together.”

In turn, Ezell said he was reading Elliff’s book on prayer last year as he was finishing his tenure as Pastors’ Conference president. He walked off the stage after the Orlando meeting, and checked the voice messages on his phone. The first one was from Elliff.

“I consider him a mentor …,” Ezell said. “We would do this anyway.”

Asked how the four men’s peacemaking personalities would influence Southern Baptists generally, Page replied: “We’re pastors. We’ve learned in church what it takes to get along and what it takes to not get along. And we’re committed to dialoging in the way Christ wants us to. We had enough of church members not doing that, and we’ve seen what happens when disagreements or even differences of opinion or differences of emphasis are dealt with in a Christlike way versus a non-Christlike way. So I hope we are setting examples.”

Page also fielded two questions about the emphasis on ethnic diversity in the SBC, noting that two decades ago Time magazine identified Southern Baptists as the most ethnically diverse denomination. Even so, “we’ve got a long way to go,” Page said.

Some ethnic Southern Baptists have been “reluctant to step up to the plate” in leadership roles, Page added, while others have not participated heavily in the Cooperative Program, and yet others have not felt like “full partners” in a Anglo-dominant convention.

Calling the 2011 meeting a watershed time, Page said, “I think Southern Baptists have taken a bold step to say we do care about every ethnicity, every group, and we want to move past just saying nice things, to full involvement.”

Texans prominent at SBC Pastors’ Conference

PHOENIX—Texans were prominent on the platform of the 2011 SBC Pastors’ Conference, with Houston’s Greg Matte, Frisco’s Afshin Ziafat and Keller’s Bob Roberts among the preachers addressing the conference under the theme “Aspire: Yearning to Join God’s Kingdom Activity.”


Grant Ethridge, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton, Va., was elected conference president for 2011-12. Archie Mason, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ark., was elected vice president, and Philip Burdin, pastor of Cropwell Baptist Church in Pell City, Ala., was elected treasurer. The Pastors’ Conference always immediately precedes the SBC annual meeting.

GREG MATTE
Preaching on Jesus’ miracle of water made to wine from John 2, Matte, pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church, urged pastors to be servants drawing on God’s power to turn proverbial water in their ministries to wine. 

Matte addressed the Monday morning session of the SBC Pastors’ Conference, which preceded the annual meeting.

Noting the crisis at the Cana wedding celebration when the wine ran out, Matte emphasized that servants, already tired from their duties, were tasked with the burden of filling six stone jars—each holding 20 to 30 gallons.

Following Mary’s command to “Do whatever he tells you,” the servants filled the water to the brim.

“When God asks you to do something, when Jesus asks you to do something, do you do 51 percent, or do you fill it to the brim?” Matte asked. He warned pastors against a 75-percent effort in their ministry when such effort can often carry them on their talent or giftedness.

In filling it to the brim, “your heart for God will shrink” if the pastor in his weariness doesn’t rely on God to do the filling. Rely on God, Matte said, and he will enlarge the pastor’s heart.

Matte also noted the importance of “facing the facts” as the wedding servants did. All they had was water in large containers, but they needed wine. They understood their lack.

“When did the water change into wine? The water in my opinion changed to wine in the walk,” he said.

“Church planter, you’ll never have enough money. It will always feel like water. You walk with God. Missionary, it will always feel like water. You walk with God. Pastor, the sermon should always feel like you don’t have enough. You walk with God. Walk with God, and Jesus Christ will change water into wine and you’ll look back and go ‘Wow, look at what God’s done. He’s done something I could not have done. He’s brought the change.’”

AFSHIN ZIAFAT
Ziafat, lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, told pastors that a “proper understanding of the gospel will be the greatest fuel for missions.” In contrast, he said, “When our appreciation and understanding of the gospel—the grace that we’ve received—wanes, then our heart for missions suffers.”

The Iranian-American pastor preached from Jonah 4, warning pastors to heed God’s words to the prophet and to see people as God sees them. Ziafat said the gospel reminds Christians that prior to Christ saving them, they were once enemies of God, spiritually blind and separated from God. This recognition, he said, should fuel compassion for those who do not know Christ.

“Do you understand that it’s by mercy and grace that you even know the truth of Jesus?” Ziafat asked. “If you understand that, I say to you that entitlement goes out the door, your rights will go out the door, and you will lay your life down so that others who don’t know will know.”

Ziafat, who came to Christ as a teenager after he read a Bible given to him by an English tutor, understands what clinging to the gospel costs. His father disowned him for his faith. Additionally, he now trains Iranian pastors who have experienced imprisonment and persecution daily for their faith.

Still, Ziafat challenged pastors to recognize the sending nature of the gospel: “The gospel didn’t come into our hearts to terminate with us. If you have really grabbed hold of the gospel, it will send you out to others who do not know.”

BOB ROBERTS
Roberts, pastor of Northwood Church in Keller, said that with the decline of Christianity in the West while the developing world “is exploding” with a spiritual awakening, our challenge is “figuring out how to be a part of that.”

“I don’t want to just hear what [God] is doing in China and hear what he’s doing in India and hear what he’s doing in the Congo and hear what he’s doing with college students in Iran—I want to be a part of seeing God doing something massive here. I don’t want to miss out on that.”

Reading from Colossians 4:2-6, in which Paul pleads for prayer so the gospel may be preached and calls on his readers to walk in wisdom, making the best use of time and speaking “with grace, seasoned with salt,” Roberts said with global technology the Great Commission would be fulfilled in 10 years. He then listed six things he said are essential for that occur.

First, “We would seize an open world,” he said, noting that “there is no such thing as a private conversation” in the electronic age.
“If Muslims want to know what Southern Baptists think about them,” they can watch live streaming of his sermon. “We live at a time like no other in history.” He encouraged the audience to not vilify people or their religious beliefs. Instead, exalt Jesus, he said.

Second, Roberts said, “We going to have to connect with the global church,” even receiving missionaries to American if needed.

Third, “We’re going to have to release the body of Christ” to do missions. “We are talking about a different kind of believer,” Roberts said. “We are talking about a disciple” who hears and obeys.

Fourth, the church in the West must grapple with global theology and realize that our formulations must be uncompromised, “but it’s got to be clear and simple.” He added that the Trinity is the most important doctrinal position to be defended in the 21st century because of interaction with Muslims and other religions.

Also, “start with the hand, not with the head” in evangelism. For example, he told of his budding friendship with the imam of the largest mosque in Dallas-Fort Worth.

“I love that man. I want him to know Jesus and I’m not going to give up.” Roberts has visited his mosque, and the imam has visited Northwood, Roberts said.

Finally, “American evangelicals need to become close friends even with Muslims,” Roberts urged. There is no greater prejudice right now, therefore “evangelicals need to be at the front of the line saying ‘We love you in Jesus’ name,’ amen? Listen, there are Muslims watching this thing on the Internet. Let me say it again—We love Muslims.”

Others to address the conference included best-selling author and California pastor Rick Warren, Minnesota pastor John Piper, and Passion Conferences founder Louie Giglio, formerly of Texas and now a pastor in Georgia.

Piper told pastors that believers must be radically God-centered for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of God’s name and for the sake of the nations, Giglio praised the Trinitarian work of God the father through Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, and Warren called on churches to reproduce by planting a church or sponsoring a church planter in America and among the 3,800 unreached people groups worldwide.

“For the last 30 years, we have rewarded attendance,” Warren said. “If you have big attendance, you get invited to speak. Friends, I have more respect for a church of 100 that’s planting churches than a church of 1,000 that hasn’t planted any. What we need to reward is not attendance but reproduction … not size, but sending capacity.”

Warren said it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people, and all kinds of people to plant all kinds of churches. The defining mark of a mature church, he said, is whether it reproduces.

—Baptist Press contributed to this report.

New CP Resource debuted at SBC meeting

Attendees of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix quickly realized there were many things new this year. New executive leadership represented the SBC Executive Committee, North American Mission Board, and the International Mission Board. Along with new leadership, the NAMB shared an overview of their new strategy to reach North America for Christ. Even the order of business carried an element of newness by omitting evening sessions. Amid all of these new things, some may have missed that the Cooperative Program presented a new emphasis and complementing resources.  

For the last several years the CP emphasis used by the SBC Executive Committee has been “Love in Action.” But in an effort to highlight the great work Southern Baptists do together, a new emphasis has arisen from a partnership between the Executive Committee and SBC Stewardship Development Association, a network primarily consisting of state convention stewardship and cooperative program consultants.  

The new emphasis is “Together We Are.” Reflecting on the new emphasis, I was drawn to Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth in the first part of 1 Corinthians 3:9: “For we are laborers together with God.” The more modern translations often use the phrase “God’s fellow workers.”  The Greek word that is translated into two words in English as “fellow worker” is actually one word, “synergos.” We derive the word synergy from this word.

Synergy is defined as the potential ability of individual organizations or groups to be more successful or productive as a result of a merger. Over the last several weeks many watched the Dallas Mavericks overcome the Miami Heat to win the NBA championship. Some commentators have suggested that the Heat’s depth of skill and ability was greater than the Mavericks’. However, the Mavericks overcame this inadequacy through perseverance and teamwork, creating an unbeatable synergy. As a team the Mavericks were able to accomplish what they could never do as individual players.  

The new Cooperative Program emphasis, when understood in light of 1 Corinthians 3:9, is a marvelous depiction of who we are as Southern Baptists and should continue to be in the days to come. Every believer of every local church is a separate part of the body of Christ. When each part works in unison together, God can and does great things through them.

Together we are the feet that carry the gospel of Christ to a lost and dying world.  Together we are the hands of Christ that reach out and minister to those hurting and in need.  Together we are the body of Christ, set apart for the work of Christ, all for the glory of Christ.  When we work together we create a synergistic momentum that carries the love of God farther, deeper, and wider than we as individuals or our churches could ever do on our own.

That is the message of the new emphasis so beautifully expressed in the video that premiered at the convention entitled “Empty Hands.” It is a wonderful expression of how the gifts of each individual church member become the elements for the ministry we do together as Southern Baptists. Though one individual church cannot do it all, together as a collection of believers functioning as the body of Christ, we can. If you missed seeing the video at the annual meeting, you can view it at sbtexas.com/CP.

I am sure your heart will be moved as you watch like mine was.  Once you have viewed the video, would you download a copy and show it to your church family so that their hearts may be challenged and they might commit to serving the Lord together through the Cooperative Program? If you cannot download the video, contact the SBTC office at toll free at 1-877-953-7282 (SBTC) for the DVD version.

My prayer is that the Lord would lay upon our hearts as Southern Baptists a new hunger for righteousness, a new passion for the lost, and a new spirit of unity that joins us together around a supernatural synergistic mission that will advance God’s name farther than we could ever do alone.

—Johnathan W. Gray is executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Foundation.

Texans, by way of Vietnam, proclaim gospel to villagers on Cambodian lake

ON THE TONLE SAP LAKE, Cambodia—For a moment, Josh Nguyen thought he was back in Vietnam. Rubbing the wooden floor of a floating home in this remote village on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake, the 44-year-old physician from Houston remembered the country he left as a refugee in 1975.

Nguyen joined a team of nine other medical and dental volunteers working with the Vietnamese living in floating villages on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. He and three nurses divided into two groups and visited from boat to boat, assessing medical needs and sharing the gospel. Nguyen, who speaks Vietnamese, also translated for the nurse who assisted him.

The trip was revealing to Nguyen, who saw himself not only in the floorboards but also in the faces and experiences of those he met on the lake.

“I thought we were back,” Nguyen, a member of Second Baptist Church, Houston, said. “I thought we were boat people again.”

While the trip spawned memories for the doctor, it was a wake-up call for Gina Nguyen, 30, a pharmacist from Plano, who is no relation to Josh.

“Could have been us”
Gina left Vietnam in 1991 under less difficult circumstances. Although she returned to Southeast Asia two years ago on a trip with her father, this was her first volunteer trip.

The member of Plano Vietnamese Baptist Church, Plano, admitted she reluctantly signed up for the trip, which included medical and dental personnel from seven Baptist churches, four states and four different ethnic groups. She struggled initially with how best to contribute to the team.

“I can’t diagnose. I’m not trained. I didn’t think I knew the Bible well enough. I’ve never been a translator,” Gina said. “Until this trip, I thought my apartment in Texas was the center of the universe.”

Once on the lake, Gina also experienced the full force of the difficulty villagers experience everyday. There was no air conditioning or electric fans.

The toilet and shower facilities were rudimentary and sleeping arrangements were uncomfortable, cramped and hot. Python was the main course for dinner. The nearby karaoke bar ran until all hours of the night.

“We look at these people and ask, ‘Why would they swim in this water? Why would they eat and drink in this water?” Gina said.

When Gina shared these complaints with Josh, he said simply, “Gina, this could have been us.”

“God chose us”
Once the team began its work, however, Gina, who speaks Vietnamese, realized she could serve not only as translator for the two nurses on her team, but she could also share the gospel with villagers in their heart language.

“I was afraid,” Gina said. “What do I do? What do I say? But I knew God was speaking through me. So I kept praying inside, ‘God, just tell me what to say.’”

By visiting in their homes and sharing the gospel, Gina came to understand that the physical challenges facing the villagers are nothing compared to the spiritual ones.
“They’re lost,” Gina said. “They worship different kinds of gods. They don’t know anything else.”

She also realized God was giving her a chance to “give back”—using the material blessings she gained in America to share the spiritual blessings of her faith in Christ with the people on the lake.

“God chose us,” Gina said, referring to the salvation she and other Vietnamese-Americans found in Jesus Christ while living in America. “He brought us to America and gave us the opportunity to live in nice conditions. This is our chance to spread the gospel to the Vietnamese.”

In fact, Gina hopes to come back to the lake, noting, “I know that the weather and the living conditions have been tough on me, but I see what we’re doing here. I know it goes beyond medical needs.”

In spite of the difficulties, she encourages other Vietnamese-Americans to come as well because of their ethnic credibility with villagers and the Vietnamese language skills they provide to volunteer teams.

“We (Vietnamese-Americans) have a great opportunity to reach the Vietnamese in Cambodia,” Gina said. “We can speak the language. We can approach them better than non-Vietnamese speakers.”

“You don’t have to be a doctor or a nurse,” Gina concluded. “You can be the voice.”

Southern Baptists vote historic ethnic measure

PHOENIX—Sensitive to the need for greater diversity in leadership and increased participation of ethnics, the Southern Baptist Convention voted overwhelmingly June 14 to ask for greater accountability regarding their involvement in SBC life.

During a news conference after the vote, Paul Kim, pastor emeritus of Antioch Baptist Church in Cambridge, Mass., said: “I want ethnic pastors and leaders to also have the opportunity to express their love for Southern Baptists in Christ. We have to work together.”

It was Kim who asked messengers at the 2009 SBC annual meeting to study how ethnic churches and leaders could better partner with others to serve the SBC. After a two-year workgroup study of the motion, the SBC Executive Committee approved a 10-part recommendation for the Phoenix meeting, citing the “need to be proactive and intentional in the inclusion of individuals from all ethnical and racial identities within Southern Baptist life.”

For the first time in history, the convention will ask its entities to provide “a descriptive report of participation of ethnic churches and church leaders in the life and ministry of the respective SBC entity;” the SBC president to “give special attention to appointing individuals who represent the diversity within the Convention” to committees under his purview; and a subcommittee of the EC to provide a report each year in February with an update on how each of the recommendations has been addressed.

Members of the Executive Committee’s communications workgroup joined Kim for a news conference after the vote. They were Darrell Orman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Stuart, Fla.; Robert Anderson, pastor of Colonial Baptist Church in Randallstown, Md.; and workgroup chairman Scott Kilgore, senior pastor of Crossland Community Church in Bowling Green, Ky.

For decades, Southern Baptists have passed resolutions and motions on the inclusion of minorities and ethnics—and elected a few to various positions at the state and national level, Orman said. The action at the annual meeting, however, took things a step further.

“The real power of this report is actually that it is now inculcated into the machinery of the Southern Baptist Convention, a [new] level of accountability,” Orman said.

The recommendation does not establish a practice of affirmative action, Orman said. Instead, it gives something tangible to those who say, “We have been patient.”

Now people can say there is “machinery in effect,” along with accountability and a “metric” for measurement, Orman said.

Kim said the 16-million-member convention historically has had many ethnic fellowships that convene throughout the year—some assembling in the same city as the SBC annual meeting. He believes Southern Baptists would be stronger if they would work more closely with all groups in the denomination.