Month: July 2011

The obligation to know stuff

Probably 10-15 times per year I receive a critical call or e-mail regarding something a prominent Baptist has said or done. In nearly every case, not all, the query comes from someone who has an uninformed opinion. He’s simply not read the comments or an authoritative account of the action he disagrees with. More often, someone has e-mailed him or called to inform him of the perceived offense.

No complaint here. It’s a simple part of my work when I can respond to easy questions, but I always wonder how far down the call list I might have been. Does the caller go back down his list to share his more complete knowledge with everyone who heard his less informed opinion? I’m often further amazed at how easy it is, even while on the phone, to search the Internet for the original source of the information. I think all of us who like to tell others what we think (who doesn’t?) have a duty to know what we’re talking about, at least a little bit. I’ve fallen into this mistake and more than once, by the way. What makes it worse is that I do so in print before mailing it to 40,000 people. The embarrassment of such mistakes reminds me of how much I hate being wrong in loud and inexcusable ways. 

Let’s extend this duty to editors of news outlets then. Many of us have noted with amusement the hoax that someone played on the SBC last month. A homosexual advocacy group went to some trouble to trick various reporters into reporting that we’d changed our corporate mind (corporate mind is not a Baptist distinctive) about same-sex marriage. I’m surprised that most news outlets didn’t fall for it. Maybe they knew something about what we’re for or what we’re against, depending on whether you’re a glass half full or half empty person. Most passed the test and did not run with the story. One important newspaper did run with it on its “faith” page. The paper is embarrassed and apologetic, of course. Imagine though, a religion reporter who didn’t know much of anything about our enormous denomination. Imagine that news apparatus failing to even do a Google search on the SBC view of marriage. The search would have easily returned a hundred results that describe our views and a thousand more from those who despise our stand. The results would not leave room for the idea that we’re of two minds on the definition of marriage. They should have checked.

Most of the time it’s easy to find information but it’s really not so easy to sort it out from the innumerable factoids that assault us during the search. That doesn’t excuse carelessness but it is a downside to the information age. The danger is the delusion that understanding accompanies the skin-deep knowledge we have about nearly every inconsequential thing that happens in the world. We talk like experts at the drop of a hat. Perhaps we should talk less, especially about things we barely know. That’s a goal of mine.

And yet we have a privilege, along with an obligation, to know what we can know about what matters most. We can listen to the people in our lives, call them, sit across the table and let them talk. Although I confess to stalking my kids on Facebook (they live in other cities), this tool is at best a conversation starter for more personal contact. I should know how they’re doing, in their own words. We see brothers and sisters each day. If we’re to be priests to them we need to know how they fare, what they need. Committing to encourage one another often seems a completely separate matter from knowing enough to actually be of use. The challenge of knowing is part of the duty family members owe one another. Our fellowship is a bit insincere if our involvement with others is not active.

And aren’t we obligated by the opportunity we have to know God? Just about anyone you ask will admit that there are big questions he’d like to ask God. In nearly every instance, God has addressed those questions in some detail. We want to understand God, his nature, his actions, his purpose, and so on. There’s really no need or excuse to depend on hearsay regarding the Lord of us all. Few of us have scratched the surface of his revelation of himself—we haven’t pursued with much enthusiasm any base of knowledge that would allow us to understand. That’s laziness.

Truly, we can listen to the Bible in several decent versions on CD, tape, video, and probably 8-track if you’re that high tech. Reading plans, chronological or traditional, that will take you through the Bible in one year or less, that are targeted to your own niche or need—all these and more are available free to anyone who asks or seeks. Bible classes and study helps are everywhere you look. I have Bible dictionaries and handbooks at work, in five rooms of my house, on my phone and often in my car or briefcase. We can know more than we do. This is the starting point of the understanding we often desire.

God’s revelation of himself is a breathtaking gift and blessing; he gave it to us because we need it and because he expects us to use it. I think it’s the ultimate expression of our obligation to know.

Maybe knowledge is like most other things we must prioritize. We can’t know everything and shouldn’t, I think. Knowing people is more important than knowing the trivia we’re force fed on the Internet. And I think knowing the portion of the world nearest to us is most pertinent to what we’re called to do.

Nothing is nearer to us than God, or more readily accessible to those who seek him. So our first priorities here seem to be as small as our homes and as broad as the maker of everything. That’s a lifetime of exploration that might not leave room for waxing eloquent about things we’ve only overheard.

Founding board member Ted Tedder dies

SAN ANTONIO—Therion (Ted) Dexter Tedder, 82, a founding SBTC Executive Board member, died July 3 in San Antonio.

A Perry, Fla., native and Florida State University alumnus, he earned an MBA from the Air Force Institute of Technology during a 21-year Air Force career, retiring in 1969 as a lieutenant colonel. Tedder pioneered the building of the first mobile computer field operation used by the Air Force and employed in the Vietnam War.

An entrepreneur after retiring as vice president of computer services for USAA in 1979, he owned and operated numerous businesses.

Tedder was a member of Eisenhauer Road Baptist in San Antonio and later was instrumental in launching Thousand Oaks Baptist Church in San Antonio. Most recently he was a member of Castle Hills First Baptist Church.

In 1988, Tedder helped establish the layman’s group Baptists With a Mission, aiming to guide the Baptist General Convention of Texas back into harmony with the Southern Baptist Convention’s more conservative direction. Later, Tedder was involved with the Southern Baptists of Texas fellowship group that eventually led to a new convention.

Tedder was preceded in death by his parents, Edgar James Tedder and Sella Grubbs Tedder; sister Eleanor Tedder Bowman and husband David, and brother Oliver Thomas Tedder, who died only hours before Ted.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Billie; daughters, Terrie Butrum and her husband, Phil; Debbie Freeman and her husband, Ken; Marti Underwood and her husband, Ron, all of San Antonio. In addition, he is survived by six grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren, as well as several nieces and nephews. A funeral and burial with full military honors was held July 11 at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

Donations may be made to New Life Baptist Seminary, 2141 Block Road, Gunter 75058. Please mark for the purpose of missions and church planting.

Brownsville team aids with Japan disaster relief

Most nights, we slept on straw mats, Japanese style, laid out on hardwood floors. We took off our shoes and put on slippers when entering homes. We learned how to eat raw fish, raw shellfish, and raw whale meat with chopsticks. Japan, riveted by earthquakes and tsunami floods last March and then nuclear threats from damaged reactors, was a different world for our six-person team (four men, two women) from First Baptist Church of Brownsville.

From our landing in Japan onward, our companions included Gerald and Brenda Burch and Tony and Marsha Woods, two International Mission Board missionary couples who have served in Japan and Asia for decades. They knew the language, culture, and how to drive on the left side of the road.

We quickly became friends with the church members of the Tokyo, Yoshioka, and the Tatomei Baptist Churches. They were already doing their own disaster relief work, and we were able to join them on some projects and be in their church services that Sunday. Our missionaries and one member of our team who spoke Japanese translated for the rest of us.

For each family devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, the recovery work begins one shovel at a time, sifting through debris that once was a home. Many are trying to figure out how to rebuild without a job and without tsunami insurance. In their grief, we shoveled beside them. We handed them things they might desire to salvage—pictures, dishes, anything remaining of personal value to them. Without saying a word, we saw what still had value in their eyes. Then, in the homes that could be saved, we removed what was damaged and unusable, cleaned out and disinfected what was left, and began replacing floors and walls where possible. We wanted the people to know that they are not alone, that there is help and hope, and that Jesus cares about them.

In Japan, there are constant reminders that the people do not have Jesus as their savior.

Ancestor worship, Buddhism, and Shintoism dominate the Japanese religious culture. In sifting through rubble, we found most homes had their own “god shelves” filled with miniature replicas of the gods they worshiped. We were constantly praying God would overcome these false religious concepts and replace them with his truth. And, we also prayed that God could use the help we were able to give in the name of Jesus to begin that process.

Also, our team also helped clear out rubble from a landslide, cleaned out a nursing home submerged during the tsunami, assisted a Japanese Baptist Convention feeding unit by taking food to displaced persons, sang for a gathering of residents at an emergency housing area, and even toured a crematorium being used as an emergency shelter. We prayed with people who had lost everything—jobs, homes, and family members, and made positive contacts with people who, for the first time, were open to hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One young lady who was open to hearing the gospel was named Emi, a young mother about 25 years old. As the tsunami approached, her husband and father-in-law raced to the waterfront to rescue some of their co-workers. The co-workers survived; the husband and father-in-law did not. With her home destroyed and husband and father-in-law dead, Emi made her way, with her young daughter, to a neighboring village where her mother lived on a hillside.

It was there that we met Emi. We were assigned to remove the rubble around her mother’s home. Emi wanted to know why we cared enough to come and help her. We told her, her mother, and her daughter about Jesus. A few days later, we heard that Emi had called Marsha Woods, the IMB missionary we were working with there, and had promised to continue reading the Bible Marsha had given her when we left.

One night, a town leader came to where we had been staying and said he wanted to learn from us everything we could teach him, because he was amazed that we would come so far to help. He heard the gospel that night.

Another women burst into tears when she heard us singing “Amazing Grace” at a temporary housing center. We were able to pray with her and share the gospel. She agreed to visit the local Japanese Baptist church, if for nothing else, to hear “Amazing Grace” again.

One homeowner, on whose home we were working, refused to pray with us when we invited him. Surprised and saddened, we wondered if our time there would have any spiritual results. Later that day, a pastor from the area shared with us that the homeowner was a friend of his, and though the man was not yet a Christian, he believed he soon would be because of the influence of God’s love shown him by Christians.

That is why we do disaster relief work—that through what people see us doing, they will want to know why we do it. And we will tell them about Jesus.

—Steve Dorman is pastor of First Baptist Church of Brownsville and author of this article.

Tokyo church laid groundwork for Texas volunteers

TOKYO—By the time disaster relief volunteers from Southern Baptists of Texas Convention churches arrived in Japan in June, Tokyo Baptist Church had already laid the groundwork with nearly three months of ministry to the northeast Japan towns of Ishinomaki and Kamaishi.

The Southern Baptist church, with a membership that is about half native Japanese and half transplants to Japan, was planning for ministry in hard-hit areas only hours after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent nuclear disaster that has tested the resolve of the Japanese people.

All told, Tokyo Baptist volunteers, along with SBTC disaster relief volunteers and Baptist Global Relief, have delivered tons of supplies and spent thousands of man-hours preparing and implementing clean up in the devastated areas. More important, at least three people have prayed to receive Christ as savior.

After the tragedy, the church rallied to develop a system through which it would channel its ministry efforts to the Tohoku Region of northeast Japan, said Joel Cuellar, the church’s pastor of evangelism and missions. But because of rescue and recovery efforts, it would be about two weeks before the government allowed volunteers into the affected areas. Japanese Defense Forces had to first search for the missing and dead and clear roadways before allowing civilians to assist in the recovery.

That delay allowed Tokyo Baptist to create its Northeast Japan Team to “share their God-given abilities and experiences” in developing short- and long-term recovery plans, Pastor Dennis Folds wrote.

Cuellar, the team’s project leader, said the church wanted to ensure their efforts were feasible before sending crews, especially international ones. He said the people of northeast Japan, heavily influenced by Buddhist tradition, can be standoffish with foreigners.

With such a large area in which to provide support, Cuellar said it was by God’s direction that the cities of Ishinomaki and Kamaishi and their surrounding communities were selected as the church’s focus.

Tokyo Baptist member Yoko Dorsey, who is Japanese, was on the first church team to enter the area. The extent of the damage—physical and emotional—was unbearable, she said. There were still unrecovered bodies in some areas. Dorsey drove the SBTC team through one neighborhood of Ishinomaki and recounted seeing bodies and body parts lying amid rubble.

When Tokyo Baptist decided a representative from the church was needed to live in the area of Ishinomaki, Dorsey accepted the call. Her own testimony, which included personal loss and her salvation experience, gave her understanding and empathy for the survivors.

Cuellar said the team was moved to place a field coordinator in the area because of John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

In a missions update to the church, Cuellar wrote, “Our desire, just as the Son of God and our Lord and Savior did, is to make our dwelling among the people … to be with them … to come alongside them. We do this in a Christ-like attitude, by being servants.”

When the second SBTC team arrived June 20, Tokyo Baptist had already made 13 trips to Ishinomaki and two to Kamaishi and Dorsey had at least 100 ministry contacts. Each contact, Cuellar explained, represents an individual or family with whom a Tokyo Baptist ministry team member has met. They have developed relationships in an effort to meet their needs and, Cuellar said, “earn the privilege of sharing the gospel.”

Residents in need of manual labor have taken advantage of the crews sent by Tokyo Baptist. SBTC volunteers were the first internationals to work with Tokyo Baptist. Cuellar said he put out the call for a team through Baptist Global Response as a test run for future work. The SBTC volunteers, who came from across Texas, proved effective and Cuellar said the church would most likely continue using international teams in their ministry efforts.

Cuellar likened the work in Tohoku Region to that of the first-century church: Christian practices, including acts of mercy and kindness, were antithetical to those of Greek and Roman society. Centuries later in Japan, Cuellar said their work “opens the opportunities to share the gospel. In Ishinomaki we are following the model to serve. As the Lord opens opportunities we can meet spiritual needs.

“One thing I do know,” Cuellar said. “Right now, we have this window of opportunity for evangelism. Let us not miss this chance of making an eternal impact on the people of Tohoku. And it is very possible, as we allow the Holy Spirit of God to move, that thousands and thousands will believe in Christ.”

Financial support for the ongoing Baptist work in northeast Japan can be made through: Baptist Global Response at Click on the projects tab and select “Japan God-sized impact” to donate.

Iran tells Christian pastor: recant or face execution

WASHINGTON (BP)–Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani faces execution unless he renounces his faith in Christ, a written verdict from the country’s supreme court has confirmed.

Baptist Press reported July 8 that Christians in Iran were challenging news reports that Nadarkhani’s death penalty had been annulled. The Christian Solidarity Worldwide human rights organization reported July 14 that the court’s written verdict had been released, confirming that Nadarkhani faces execution unless he renounces his faith.

The original verdict on charges of apostasy was based on “fatwas” by Iran’s most powerful religious leaders — Ayatollahs Khomeini, Khamenei and Makarem Shirazi — meaning the Supreme Court may have been reluctant to overturn the verdict for fear of inviting controversy, CSW advocacy director Andrew Johnston said in a press statement.

Following reports of the verdict, the U.S. State Department issued a statement expressing “dismay” over the situation, according to Fox News. Human rights advocates, however, say apostasy isn’t even identified as a crime under Iranian law.

“From a human rights perspective, you can’t criminalize someone’s choice of religion, much less execute them for that,” Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, told Fox News.

Other religious groups also face persecution for their beliefs in Iran, the State Department pointed out. Seven Baha’i leaders have been sentenced to 20 years in prison for practicing their faith, and hundreds of members of Islam’s Sufi sect have been flogged in public because of their beliefs. Iran has been fairly tolerant of the country’s Armenian and Assyrian Christian groups, which date from the early days of Christianity, but Muslims who profess faith in Christ have been pressured.

Nadarkhani was arrested in October 2009 while attempting to register his church. His arrest is believed to have been due to his questioning of the Muslim monopoly on the religious instruction of children in Iran, according to news reports. He initially was charged with protesting; however, the charges against him were later changed to apostasy and evangelizing Muslims.

Johnston said Christian Solidarity Worldwide is urging “the Iranian regime to respect the stipulations of international treaties to which it is party, including the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees freedom of religion and freedom to change one’s religion or belief…. The international community must act urgently to press Iran to ensure … that Pastor Nadarkhani in particular is acquitted of a charge that is not in fact recognized under Iranian civil law.”
Compiled by Baptist Press senior writer Mark Kelly.

Perry invites governors to Aug. 6 prayer event

HOUSTON—Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a potential presidential candidate, has invited the nation’s governors to a prayer and fasting event on Aug. 6 at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Sponsored by the American Family Association, “The Response” is meant to be a non-denominational and non-partisan Christian prayer service, according to the AFA.

In a letter to the other 49 governors, Perry urged them to declare Aug. 6 a day to pray for “unity and righteousness.”

In a message on the event website——Perry said: “Some problems are beyond our power to solve, and according to the Book of Joel, Chapter 2, this historic hour demands a historic response. Therefore, on August 6, thousands will gather to pray for a historic breakthrough for our country and a renewed sense of moral purpose.”

From ashes to new building, Tyler church looking up

TYLER—When Tyland Baptist Church burned nearly to the ground 18 months ago at the hands of arsonists, the church was about to begin an evangelism training effort.

“We were to begin that Sunday. We said, ‘OK, we are going to do this.’ The enemy wants to keep you down when you are growing in the Lord,” Pastor David Mahfood said in a phone interview with the TEXAN on July 13, three days after dedicating the church’s 11,000-square-foot rebuilt structure.

“It still has that new church smell,” said Mahfood, his voice betraying abundant enthusiasm.

He said after news coverage of the arsons were national, the church received donations from individuals across the nation.  The church was underinsured by about $100,000, Mahfood said, but church giving and outside contributions covered the costs.

Meanwhile, others pastors donated theology books and study materials that burned.  Baptist Builders built the cabinetry.

“We are going without a few things, and some things we decided we probably didn’t need,” the pastor noted.

Thanks to a wide collaboration of church groups and the work of Colleyville-based All-Star Restoration, the 11,000-square-foot facility is the same size as what was destroyed. Everything had to be rebuilt from the foundation up.

All-Star Restoration specializes in working with volunteer groups in constructing churches, Mahfood said.

During their homelessness from January 2010 until a few weeks ago, Tyland shared the facilities of the nearby independent Willowbrook Baptist Church. Tyland was running about 120 people on Sunday, and Willowbrook about 35.

“Our normal service time bumped back to 9:30 a.m. and they moved theirs up to 11 a.m.,” Mahfood noted. “They had Sunday School while we had church, and then we traded places at 11. They did not have Sunday evening services and we did, so there was no conflict there.”

Mahfood said the two church staffs became close during their 18 months of shared space, with their pastor, Lloyd McCaskill, a 45-year veteran preacher, mentoring and sometimes spurring on the younger Mahfood during an uncertain time.

“Talk about the Lord blessing me with a mentor in an older pastor. It was a tremendous blessing,” Mahfood said. “It was just good, really sweet. We miss them.”

Tyland Baptist was the fourth in a string of 10 church structures arsonists hit across East Texas in January 2010. On Jan. 10 of this year, Jason Robert Bourque, 20, of Lindale, and Daniel George McAllister, 22, of Ben Wheeler, were each sentenced to life plus 20 years after pleading guilty to the crimes.

Four of the burned churches were Southern Baptist: Lake Athens Baptist Church in Athens, Little Hope Baptist Church in Canton, Tyland Baptist, and Dover Baptist Church in rural Smith County.

Mahfood said church members are “just completely pumped. They have been so supportive and unified during the process. In the last year we have buried 12 of our members, but the Lord has also sent 12 new members to us. We are a stronger congregation because of the difficulty.”

Also, Mahfood said his priorities have been reordered by the arson.

“A lot of things that were important before the fire don’t even make it on the radar now. It’s easy to say ‘The Lord will provide,’ but when you are actually in that situation, you realize how concrete his promises are. We had nothing. We had to turn to the Lord, and he brought us through. You always believe it, but now we know it.”

Land, Wallis, 1-on-1, discuss nat’l debt

Posted on Jul 13, 2011 | by Whitney Jones

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Richard Land and Jim Wallis discuss the national debt and possible solutions in a new online video tackling military spending, taxes, welfare programs and entitlements.

Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, agreed in the video on that the national debt, which has reached more than $14 trillion, is a moral issue. But they differed on how to solve it. is a website filled with split-screen video entries of two people from remote locations dialoguing about the issues of the day — also known as “diavlogs.”

Wallis, who is part of an effort called the Circle of Protection that aims to preserve government programs for the poor, called for cuts in military spending and higher taxes for the rich.

“Half the deficit is because of tax cuts for the wealthy and two wars financed off the books,” Wallis said.

Land said entitlements are one of the major reasons for the deficit, stating that $700 billion was spent in 2010 on welfare and aid programs. Absent fathers and single parenthood, he said, are the main cause of poverty. Getting rid of no-fault divorce laws, he said, “would help.”

“Single parenthood is the largest cause of poverty in the United States,” Land said. “Children who grow up with two parents have enormous advantages in our culture and unfortunately they are now a minority.”

Wallis interrupted to remind Land, “You and I are both for marriage.”

Land continued to speak on the importance of parenthood: “It’s a moral and an economic issue, Jim — $700 billion dollars a year in means-tested welfare services mainly to replace absent fathers and what they would provide for their families.”

Land said entitlements “are at an unsustainable level” and are another large part of the reason for the deficit.

“We have one-size fits all entitlements and we can no longer afford those,” Land said. “We’re going to have to find a way to — I don’t know whether you want to call it means test or whether you want to call it taxing the benefits of those who are wealthier — but people who have other retirement that they’ve gotten through their companies or through IRAs, people who have other retirement income are going to have to get less from Social Security.”

Both men agreed waste must be cut from spending. Wallis called out the Pentagon as “the biggest waste” when it comes to spending, while Land challenged all government departments to examine and reduce their budgets.

“There’s no budget that’s ever been conceived that can’t take a five percent across-the-board cut,” Land said. “I guarantee you there’s five percent waste in every program that the government is using, and we can start by a five percent cut … and I believe they could do so without any serious problem in delivery.”

Wallis agreed that entitlements needed to be addressed and proposed raising Social Security taxes on the wealthy. He also pointed to mortgage tax deductions for the wealthy as a potential source of revenue.

“$8.5 billion in low-income housing is on the cutting block,” Wallis said. “$8.4 billion — same amount of money — is being kept for mortgage deductions on second vacation homes for the wealthy. That’s a choice. What choice should we make there?”

Land said he “certainly would be against” mortgage tax deductions for second vacation homes.

While Congress continues to debate over how to solve the national debt crisis, Land and Wallis agree that something must be done soon to stop the government’s borrowing trend.

“We’re borrowing 42 cents of every dollar that our federal government spends,” Land said. “We’re stealing our children and our grandchildren’s future by that level of borrowing…. They’ll spend most of their productive lives paying off our debts unless we get this debt monster under control and get federal spending under control and do so quickly.”
Whitney Jones is a student at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and an intern with Baptist Press. The video of Richard Land and Jim Wallis can be found at

World’s 196th country gives thanks to God for freedom

JUBA, South Sudan (BP)–After enduring two decades of warfare and the deaths of 2 million people, the Republic of South Sudan saw its day of independence on Saturday, July 9.

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Juba, the new nation’s capital, as they heard their president, Salva Kiir, declare the southern region of Sudan free and independent of the north.

South Sudan’s official declaration of independence was read out at 1:25 p.m., followed by Kiir being sworn in as the new nation’s president.

“Never again shall South Sudanese be oppressed for their political beliefs,” Kiir said. “Never again shall our people be discriminated [against] on account of race or religion. Never again shall we roam the world as sojourners and refugees.”

The division between the north and the south is sharp. The north is arid, Arab and Muslim, while the south has many varieties of vegetation, is black African and is predominantly Christian and animistic.

“We have reclaimed our permanent home given to us by God as our birthright,” Kiir said. “As we bask in the glory of nationhood, I call upon all South Sudanese to put the long and sad history of war, hardship and loss behind them and open a new chapter of peace and reconciliation in our lives.”

With elaborate ceremony, the flag of Sudan was lowered and the new flag of South Sudan was raised. South Sudan is now the world’s newest nation, raising the global number to 196, and the African continent’s 54th nation-state.

Among the many dignitaries on hand Saturday were former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who played a key role in the 2005 peace agreement to end Sudan’s civil war, and Susan Rice, the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations.

“Independence is not a gift that you were given,” Rice said. “Independence is a prize that you have won.”

The official ceremonies began with the singing of the country’s new national anthem. “Oh God, we praise and glorify you for your grace on South Sudan,” the opening lines say.

In preparation for South Sudan’s independence, government officials urged citizens to attend churches and other houses of worship to pray for peace and thank God for their newfound freedom. Many churches held special services Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Nuru Baptist Church, the only Baptist church in Juba, held community services on Saturday to celebrate independence day, taking opportunity to share the Gospel with visitors.

The congregation played drums, sang and danced in traditional African worship. Many waved flags as they danced and sang. A feeling of jubilation filled the air.

One community leader, specially invited to the event, not only thanked God for the country’s independence, guaranteeing religious freedom, but also for establishment of the church in the community. “Your presence here is a benefit and a blessing to our area,” he said.

“Let us praise God that He has given us our freedom,” said Sworo Elikana, a pastor of the church. “We must rejoice!”

The service focused on the theme “Heal the Brokenhearted and Set the Captives Free,” from Isaiah 61.

“The passage says we must bring good news to the poor,” Elikana said. “We have been poor.”

The U.N. Security Council continues working to stabilize several areas in Sudan and South Sudan; however, U.N. troops assigned to Sudan since 2005 are being removed by Sudan President Omar Al-Bashir, despite disapproval from the U.S. The troops are expected to remain in the Darfur region and to occupy South Sudan during the early years of independence.

Rice said in a speech Thursday the U.S. was “extremely concerned by the government’s decision to compel the departure of the U.N. mission in Sudan from Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states and elsewhere in the north.”

President Bashir, who spoke favorably of the new country’s efforts during the ceremonies, must now work with President Kiir to divide oil revenue, set borders, apportion responsibility for Sudan’s $38 billion foreign debt and decide which country the oil-rich border states belong to.

One controversial state is Abyei, located just north of the proposed border. Abyei has long been hotly disputed because of oil in the region, but recent media reports say oil reserves are low and conflicts have become ethnic.

In May northern troops violently annexed Abyei in overwhelming numbers, forcing nearly 100,000 southern Sudanese to flee; however, a recent deal was made to pull out northern troops and allow Ethiopian soldiers to serve as U.N. peacekeepers for six months in the region.

During the Saturday gathering, Simon Gatluaklim, another pastor at Nuru Baptist Church, asked for special prayers for Abyei, for believers there and for the state to be joined with the south.

Fighting also broke out in Kadugli, the capital of Southern Kordofan, a key oil state bordering South Sudan and Abyei that has a large population of southern sympathizers. Thousands have fled the state to escape killings and air strikes by the northern army.

Despite ongoing reports of conflict initiated from the north, President Bashir may soon realize the secession’s benefits for Sudan. U.S. President Barack Obama has offered to remove Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, enabling it to use the World Bank and restore diplomatic ties.
Charles Braddix and Zoe Allen are members of the International Mission Board’s global communication team.
For a July 8 Baptist Press story on South Sudan independence, click here.

New Christian finding way amid tsunami recovery

SENDAI, Japan—Akifumi Narita understands there is a reason God saved him from the ravages of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that decimated a large portion of his home town of Kamaishi and took the lives of his grandmother and uncle. The young believer is simply trying to figure out what that reason might be.

Narita traveled back to Kamaishi from Tokyo with a disaster relief team from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to help with the ongoing recovery efforts coordinated by Tokyo Baptist Church. Two weeks earlier the 19-year-old had been sent by his parents to the home of his older sister in the capital city in order to get away from the physical and emotional stress of post-tsunami life.

The SBTC DR team came to Japan on the heels of another SBTC team from First Baptist Church of Brownsville that was just wrapping up work in the same region.

The latter team, made up of nine volunteers, arrived in Japan June 20 and deployed from Tokyo Baptist Church on June 21.

Part of the team was sent to Ishinomaki while the rest traveled farther northeast to the coastal city of Kamaishi where Narita continues to seek God’s will in helping with recovery.

Via translator Ruth Harimoto of Tokyo Baptist Church, Narita recounted the experiences of March 11 and how, in the aftermath, he realized that he had family beyond the city limits of Kamaishi.

Only a year earlier, Narita had come to know the Lord as his Savior through what he described as a somewhat deceptive act by his sister, Keiko. She was a Christian, much to her parents’ disapproval, and was attending Tokyo Baptist. In the summer of 2010 Keiko registered her brother to attend a camp in Taiwan. He agreed to go, believing the venture might be a good way to spend part of his summer. But there was a caveat—Keiko had conveniently failed to inform him that it was a Christian camp sponsored by her church. When he discovered her lack of full disclosure he was mad and “had a big fight” with her that evening.

A day later Narita was at the airport with a bunch of strangers, he recalled.

“I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I stayed in my own shell,” he said. But that did not keep the other students from reaching out to him. Their acts put a crack in his shell. The worship music broadened the fissure.

“I like songs and singing,” he said. “Through the songs I was able to open my heart.”

By the third or fourth day of camp Narita admitted he was having fun. But in a small group session he was confronted with a serious question.

“Why are you here?” he was asked.

He had no answer but someone else in the group did.

“You were called here by God.”

Narita said that was the point where life changed for him. Forced to confront the reality of God in his life, Narita was born again. He said he felt cleansed.

Before that time, he admitted, he had been “trouble” for his parents. But his “clean” life produced a change so significant that his parents could not disapprove of his conversion because of the positive influence it had on his life. And the Christian response to the tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami helped Narita realize his family was bigger than the bonds of flesh and blood.

When the ground shook March 11—seemingly forever—Narita and his mother were home watching TV. They tried to leave the home but the outside walls began to crumble so they stayed in between the door posts. Once the earth stopped moving the tsunami sirens began to wale.

The public address system warned Kamaishi residents to prepare for four-meter waves and to head for high ground. Narita said his family’s home is about two miles inland and at an elevation that would keep them safe from such waves. He said they could not see the shore from his house but they did see the river “rising and rising.”

What was coming ashore was higher than four meters.

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake spawned a tsunami with a 10-meter wall of water (32.5 feet) that tore through communities on the northeast coast of Japan, ripping homes and lives from their very foundations.

Narita said it was two days before his family knew the extent of the damage and an entire week before he could go into the region to inspect his grandmother’s home. But there was no home to inspect.

They did not give up hope that she and Narita’s uncle who had been with her were somewhere among the living. They clung to unsubstantiated reports of sightings and searched all the refuge centers in the area. After a month of searching and hoping, the family reconciled themselves to the fact that their loved ones were gone, he said.

But for what purpose did God spare him?

Just like at camp, the young man had no immediate answer but one of his “family members” from Tokyo Baptist did. Narita is to help others beginning with those in his hometown who have lost everything. He shrugged at the suggestion.

For the present Narita said he wants people to understand one of the most significant lessons he had learned from the experience: no day is guaranteed. He asked that people watch the tsunami videos posted online and understand that life can be lost in a moment.