Month: August 2011

Criswell Spanish track offers biblical education for pastors

DALLAS—A Spanish-language Christian education track at Criswell College is available through a partnership between the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the college.

“It is time for Hispanics to have an accredited program that teaches the Bible in our language and that emphasizes the use of hermeneutical tools for proper biblical education,” said Dr. René A. López, director of the Spanish Biblical Studies program at Criswell.

Course tracks offered include a basic certificate (24 credit hours), a distinguished certificate with tracks in English-language distinctives or theological distinctives (30-33 credit hours), and a biblical studies diploma (36 credit hours).

For additional information, contact Dr. Lopez at 972-693-3232 or e-mail him at rlopez@criswell.edu. Additionally, Dr. Lopez will be discussing the Criswell program on his radio program (“Escrituras Abiertas”), heard from 4:30 – 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on radio station 540 AM in Dallas.

Giving to Reach Texas Offering strong

Despite economic pressures, churches have been faithful in giving through the Reach Texas State Missions Offering during the 2010-11 giving year.

As the giving year closed, the SBTC looked like it would fall just shy of the $1.1 million Reach Texas goal. But SBTC Missions Director Terry Coy sees that as a success considering tighter home and church budgets, he said.

“People and churches have been incredibly generous,” Coy said. “Your missions team thanks you, your church planters thank you, disaster relief thanks you. … Every ministry that benefits from this is thankful for the giving hearts of Texas Southern Baptists.”

September begins a new giving year, with the week of Sept. 18-25 designated as a “Week of Prayer and Emphasis” for the Reach Texas Offering. The 2011-12 goal is again $1.1 million. The theme is “Life in the Big City,” emphasizing the unreached urban populations of Texas. Coy noted the offering is used in urban and rural settings and across multiple Texas subcultures.

Like most Southern Baptist-related state conventions, the SBTC uses its state missions offering to supplement the Cooperative Program (CP), the unified missions funding mechanism of Southern Baptists. Every dollar received through Reach Texas goes to the field because CP underwrites administrative costs.

Of every dollar given through Reach Texas, 75 cents goes to missions endeavors, including church planting and related training, and 25 cents to evangelism endeavors, to help reach an increasingly diverse state where more non-Christians are living.

The missions category includes church planter support, Texas people group missionaries, disaster relief, collegiate missions, and missions mobilization. Evangelism entails publication of new resources, evangelism training and events, student evangelism initiatives, and the annual Empower Evangelism Conference.

“The Reach Texas Offering is vitally important because undergirds the core ministries of the SBTC—the planting of churches, missions mobilization, evangelism,” Coy said.

Promotional material for churches may be downloaded at sbtexas.com/reachtexas. Video testimonies, posters in English and Spanish, a weeklong Reach Texas devotional, Sunday School lessons for preschool through adult ages, and the Reach Texas brochure, may be found there.

Homer Hawthorne, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Travis in Fort Worth, is featured in one of four video testimonies, and also in the Reach Texas brochure. Hawthorne, who along with his wife Sharon retired from the International Mission Board after serving in Brazil, Belize and Mexico, is not your typical church planter.

In retirement, he was called to plant a church through Travis Avenue Baptist Church that would reach the urban, Hispanic population that has grown up around Travis Avenue Baptist. Travis Avenue has begun Hispanic ministries in the past, but its vision for Primera Iglesia Bautista de Travis is to become a multiplying church, training Spanish-speaking pastors to plant other churches.

One of the things Hawthorne asks of new believers is to begin praying by name for 10 or 15 family members or friends who need Jesus.

“One of the most important things in church planting is equipping them and giving them a vision that it’s not the pastor who is supposed to do evangelism and discipleship; it’s the members,” Hawthorne said. “And it’s our job as the pastors and church planters to equip the membership, because it’s then that they begin to grow and reach others for Christ.”

Also featured in video testimonies is David Smith, director of missions in Austin Baptist Association, talking about the explosive and diverse growth in metropolitan Austin, which now has a population of about 1.7 million. Other videos feature the mosaic of ethnicities now in Texas, the ministry of Keystone Community Outreach in urban Fort Worth, and the challenges of ministry in the burgeoning Houston area.

Churches may also order promotional materials by calling Carmella Mechling in the SBTC missions office toll-free at 877-953-7282 (SBTC) or by e-mailing her: cmechling@sbtexas.com.

Engage Team revivals bear fruit for Christ

Seven teams of Texas college and seminary students fanned out across the Lone Star state this summer to conduct revivals at 50 churches.

Known as Engage Teams and sponsored by the SBTC, they disproved the notion that God no longer uses revivals to advance his kingdom.

The revivals were “successful in helping the churches renew a passion for evangelism and outreach in their communities and for spiritual revival and awakening,” Engage ministry coordinator Garrett Wagoner told the TEXAN. “But they’ve also been successful in the lives of college and seminary students. They understand what revival is—a thing of God.”

Each team included a preacher who doubled as the team leader, a worship leader and one or two youth and children’s workers. Teams traveled the state June 5-July 29, conducting services nightly Sunday through Wednesday at each church. During the days, they held sports camps for children along with various activities for youths and participated in evangelistic visitation. In addition, teams threw evangelistic block parties.

Most Engage Team members attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth or Criswell College in Dallas, though students from other schools were involved too. The 50 churches visited represented a 100 percent increase from last year’s total.

Adam Robinson, a master of divinity student at Southwestern, served as a preacher and team leader and said a highlight of the summer occurred when three members of a family all committed their lives to Christ at Trinity Baptist Church in Vidor.

On Sunday afternoon Robinson led a 24-year-old woman to faith in Jesus during an evangelistic visit. Then on Wednesday morning he led her oldest son to Christ during a sports camp. That afternoon mother and son both expressed a desire to be baptized, and baptism was scheduled for the evening worship service.

Providentially, her boyfriend and three other children attended the service. At the invitation, however, no one responded to Robinson’s call to salvation or a subsequent call issued by the pastor. But when the pastor began talking about the offering and making other announcements, something extraordinary occurred.

The boyfriend “gets up, walks into the middle of the aisle,” said Robinson, who is from Australia. “I see it, so I touch the pastor on the shoulder, I point and every single head looks at this guy as he walks from the very back of the church all the way up to the front and says, ‘I want to be saved.’”

Because the baptistry was still full, he was baptized at the end of the service. Three weeks later, Robinson learned from the pastor that the couple was still attending and planned to marry.

Another summer highlight for Robinson occurred at East Lake Baptist Church in Bullard, when the Engage Team offered to help the congregation’s teenagers witness to their unsaved friends. One friend did not respond to the gospel initially but joined the team as it witnessed to others the following day.

As he heard the gospel time and again, the unsaved teen asked questions and responded positively when another member of the team asked if he wanted to be saved.

“It’s the middle of the day,” Robinson said. “It’s about 3 p.m. It’s 105 degrees outside, so they sat down underneath a tree in a ditch, and this guy, Andrew, repented of his sins.”
Seven others also professed faith in Jesus that week, Robinson said.

Jeff Janca, pastor of First Baptist Church in Brackettville, hosted an Engage Team at his church and said the experience helped energize the congregation.

“They blessed us a lot,” Janca said. “The preaching was just excellent. The worship was really good. The two young men that worked with the children and the youth did a really good job.”

As a result of the week’s activities, people renewed their commitments to Christ, he said, adding that there was warm fellowship between the team and church members.
“There were people coming and praying at the altar and rededicating that way and God ministering to hearts there, and that was really neat to see,” the pastor said.
Janca encouraged other churches to consider inviting an Engage Team next summer.

“Sometimes churches get in a rut, and I think this was something really good for our people to experience and to be blessed by,” he said.

According to Robinson, the blessing extends both to churches and team members.

“When you can go minister with people who will do anything for the Lord, it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s fun and effective,” he said.

Tom Campbell new MCR director

Tom Campbell is the new SBTC director of minister-church relations. Campbell replaces Mike Smith, who recently began as president of Jacksonville College in Jacksonville, Texas.

Campbell joined the SBTC staff in 2006 as the minister-church relations associate and most recently was director of facilitating ministries.

As part of the transition, the SBTC’s field ministry strategists will now be working through the minister-church relations office, moving from facilitating ministries. Also, Olin Boles joined the MCR team on Aug. 1 as associational strategist.  

“We feel that this is a natural merge of their ministry to work more closely with the objectives of the MCR department,” Campbell said in a letter to associational directors of missions announcing the transition of field ministry strategists.

Meanwhile, institutional relations will be handled temporarily through the executive director’s office.

Texans partner to plant gospel in Czech city

PLZEN, Czech Republic—Larry and Melissa Lewis were three steps ahead of most International Mission Board missionaries when they set foot in Plzen, Czech Republic, embarking on a new ministry.

The couple already had a deep love for the people thanks to Larry’s Czech ancestors, Texas immigrants who kept many traditions and the language from their homeland after moving to America in the 1850s. The Lewises also had experience planting churches in Pennsylvania with the North American Mission Board.

Larry’s mom, Shirley, attempted to teach her son the Czech language as a child. She and her husband Harry provided a mission-minded foundation that encouraged Larry’s openness to further ministry. After graduating from Texas A&M, Larry pursued theological training at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

When First Baptist Church of Forney handed the Texas missionaries a list of contacts they had developed through repeated visits to Plzen, the couple naturally jumped feet first into planting the gospel. Within a month of their arrival in their new city, they held an English camp and started a Bible study—something unheard of in this country made up mostly of atheists.

“Through the relationships Forney already had, we were able to have an English camp about a month after we moved to Plzen,” Larry said. “There was not an IMB missionary in the western Czech Republic at that time. Forney made repeat visits to this city. Through this, they built many relationships with teachers, students, administration and others in the city.”

“They literally gave us a jump start to ministry,” Larry added.

First Baptist has served as something the IMB has called a virtual strategy coordinator in this city of 160,000 for the past four years. Many Southern Baptist churches across the United States have embraced this volunteer role that accepts the responsibility of reaching a people group or city for Jesus Christ where the IMB has no personnel.

“It’s the second most atheistic country in the world,” stated Jimmy Pritchard, pastor of the Forney congregation, who made 10 trips to Plzen in three years. “It’s a rough, hard place, but we’re going to launch a church there.”

The Forney church worked to make inroads in a community where it knew no one, sending numerous members several times. Scott Lyle, leadership and missions pastor, said the church quickly found that one of the best ways to get involved was to host English camps.

“Many students were interested in learning more about Americans and have the experience of conversational English,” Lyle said. “I believe one of the keys of our relationships in Plzen was consistency. We continue to go back so they know that we care about them and did not just come for one trip.”

Some students keep in touch with him and other church members via e-mail and Facebook throughout the year.

As conversations slowly opened to God and the gospel, the Texas church realized they needed to take this ministry one step further by starting a Bible study that met each week, not just a few times a year.

“One of our challenges being a virtual team was with follow-up,” Lyle said. “What would we do with people who were seeking when we could not be there to meet with them regularly? Our prayer was for God to provide someone we could work with full-time who would be there in Plzen to continue the work.”

As members of First Baptist Church of Forney prayed about a partner, the Lewises were finishing language school in Prague and seeking a strategic city in which to live.
“Our partnership with FBC Forney was completely a God thing,” Larry explained. “We were not seeking each other, but God brought us to the same place at the same time. They have come here with their hearts open to where God is leading. Czechs love them and often ask when they are coming back.”

Lyle said the church knew the Lewises were a perfect match for a ministry partnership the first time they met. First Baptist immediately adopted the missionary family. Now, they work side-by-side to meet the needs of the people of Plzen.

“I knew right away that we were going to be in this for the long haul with the Lewises,” Lyle said. “It was as if our church played a small role in helping them get started and perhaps shaved a couple of years off the time it would take for them to get to the same point.”

To Larry, this approach with First Baptist of Forney has been irreplaceable. Because of the church’s professional-level English camps and years of previous work, doors have opened for the Lewises to work in the schools and interact with other professionals in their community. Larry explained that these relationships helped build trust in a country where trust means everything.

The Texas missionary said a lack of trust among Czechs in general stems from their communist background, as well as their 400-year history under someone else’s rule.

“The importance of taking the time to build relationships cannot be overstated when talking about the Czech people,” Larry emphasized. He and Melissa teach English clubs and archery, host an English coffee house, and help with an American football club in an effort to build these relationships.

“Because of their skepticism, it is necessary to build relationships before they will trust you,” Larry added. “The majority of Czechs do not see value in organized religion and do not trust the church as an organization.”

Sharing the gospel is a slow process in this city. Most people think of Jesus as the person who brings presents at Christmas. Few believe that God exists and loves them. While it takes time to establish this concept, when the Czechs take hold of the idea they latch on to it and hold it dear to their hearts—just like the friendships they’ve forged with FBC and the Lewises.

The overseas effort in Plzen is just one element of an Acts 1:8 model for ministry, according to Pritchard. With numerous local ministries, additional international and stateside mission trips, the church eventually hopes to connect with all major affinity groups.

Giving regularly through the Cooperative Program remains a central part of the church’s missions strategy.

“I think you can do both,” Pritchard said, describing the advantages of using the traditional Southern Baptist missions funding mechanism as well as being involved directly.

“I don’t think it’s either-or. For us it’s not. We’re going to continue our support because we believe in the ministry of the Cooperative Program and want to stay strong with that and try not to spend as much on ourselves.”

The Lewises encourage other churches to be virtual strategy coordinators and partner with missionaries to reach cities throughout the world. Lyle couldn’t agree more.

“When we started, all we had was a hotel reservation,” Lyle said. “Three years later, we are seeing groups meeting regularly to study the Bible and talk about God. The plans are to reach more and grow disciples that will then go out and reach even more. We are able to be a part of this thanks to our partnership. This to me is the perfect model to build a strong bond between church and the field.”

Remembering 9/11

September 11 is the 10th anniversary of the worst attack on American soil by foreign combatants. Most everyone reading this article can remember exactly what you were doing at that moment. I was about to preach in chapel at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. We prayed and Dr. Mohler felt that I should preach. The attacks continued during our chapel service. It was one of the most surreal days of my life.

All air traffic was grounded. There was one car at the airport available for rental. I got it and began my trek back to Texas. Along the way I saw lines at gas stations and price gouging. Fear and uncertainty gripped the entire nation.

The next Sunday I preached at First Baptist Church of Madisonville. There was standing room only. People literally lined the walls. The altars were full. Many thought this could be a spiritual awakening for America. Sadly, within a few short weeks the crowds in almost all churches returned to pre-9/11 attendance. Most people went on with their lives in a new normal.

Ten years later, how do we commemorate such an event like 9/11? There are some obvious answers.

  • Pray for the families who lost loved ones. Estimates place the total losses at 2,753 innocents who were killed. Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, friends, neighbors, all from many walks of life were represented in the number. Christian, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, other religions, and no religion died that day. People are still grieving. Pray for God to fill the hole in lives that remain with His grace.
  • Honor the memory of the brave who ran to danger. Public service personnel who died trying to combat evil and alleviate suffering totaled 479. My dad and his brother were firefighters. Growing up in a firefighter’s home being surrounded by firefighters most of my early life causes me to have a lump in my throat for EMS, police and firefighters who give their lives to save the lives of others. They were the heroes that day.
  • Be careful about blaming a people group for the atrocity. Mark Stroman, 41, of Texas, was executed July 20 for killing two men he mistook for Arabs. Stroman said he wanted to kill Arabs to avenge the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Only extremists like Stroman take violent action, but many Christians harbor ill feelings toward Middle-Easterners and Muslims. Our hearts must go out to all people, especially those bound and blinded in a way of life that keeps them from knowing God’s love and forgiveness.
  • Respect the government’s role in defending our nation. I salute our military. I pray virtually every day that our armed service personnel would come home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Whatever our stance on government foreign policy, it is important for us to realize the role of the brave service personnel defending our country. Without them we will lose our freedom. It is trendy among a small but vocal minority of preachers to eliminate patriotism from a Christian context. Paul said he was a citizen of heaven. He unapologetically declared he was a citizen of Rome too. We have the liberty to preach the gospel and reach the nations because we live in the land of the free and home of the brave.
  • Do all we can to win all we can to Jesus Christ. “Do-gooders” and “One-worlders” think we can usher in a tranquil global society. Their theory is given enough money, time and education, all of the problems of inequity will be solved. This is simplistic humanism. If all we needed for world peace was a perfect environment, then we would still be in the Garden of Eden. The only hope for individuals and nations is Jesus Christ.  

It is difficult to commemorate a horrific day like 9/11. I want to make September 11, 2011 meaningful. Here is my pledge:

  • I will show love to my family.
  • I will cherish the memory of those who are gone that set an example for me.
  • I seek to harbor no ill will toward any person, especially of another race or religion.
  • I will participate in my government and support those who defend our freedom.
  • I will tell someone about Jesus, who is the only hope for all humankind.

How to have a riot

The search by pundits and politicians for the cause of deadly riots in London this month has produced a series of revealing statements. According to the Associated Press, over 900 people have been charged with crimes connected to the four days of rioting that left five people dead and unknown millions of dollars in damages. Police are still investigating and intend to arrest more suspects.

Prime Minister David Cameron blames a lax society of unearned rewards, unpunished crime and even incentivizing the “worst aspects of human nature.” Those on the left propose that more entitlement programs could prevent such violence—the rioters, we may then infer, had a just cause but got carried away. The mayor of London has suggested that convicted rioters may lose the right to ride public transportation without cost. Oh, dear.

The memorable riots in our own nation were more deadly than the London riots. The Los Angeles Rodney King and Watts riots were sparked by a perceived offense—police misconduct. The demonstrations turned into arson, murder, rape and looting against victims far beyond the LAPD. In one case, firefighters trying to protect buildings in poor neighborhoods were fired on by snipers who apparently wanted their own neighborhood to burn. They did, leaving thousands homeless and destitute. A large crowd in the street overwhelms anyone’s ability to keep order and then lawless people join the crowd to do what they want to do. The camp followers of the riot come for free laptops and TV sets, totally mindless of the spark that first brought people to the streets. People behave differently when they believe they will face no consequences. The demonstration’s organizers rarely foresee what comes next and have no ability to restore any focus to the mob. It may be simplistic but it is accurate to say that people commit murder, arson, and theft because they are thieves, arsonists, and murderers, not because “the man” has let them down.

So Mr. Cameron is right in a way. Character, the character of individuals that make up the character of a nation, is revealed when people feel free to let their passions run wild. Politicians can build more jails. A wise politician can unwind the various hindrances that prevent the rebuilding of the most basic institutions of human community, marriages and families; but no policy, law, or entitlement can effectively address the issue of character.

Some say the answer is a sincerely held religion, but that any religion will do so long as the person believes that his god will hold him accountable for even hidden deeds. Man-made religion is not much more compelling than man-made law, though. The merely human does not change a man’s heart, it can only sporadically impact his behavior. A changed heart does not search for some way to justify evil behavior. Only Christianity has the power to conform an evil heart so that it desires the righteousness of God. A culture, in this case Western culture, that only honors the one true God and his worship as a cultural oddity or historical note, has no answer to the problem of declining character among its citizens. They are plastering over a termite-eaten frame.

How do you ensure a riot-prone culture?

  • Ridicule the righteous: For how long have you heard the term “church ladies” or imagined Sunday School and tithing and sobriety and kindness in the realm of grandmothers? It’s a common stereotype fostered with a kind of “bless your irrelevant heart” way. Those who stay married, get married, don’t cheat, keep close track of their kids, and consider “right” to be an objective thing beyond their own opinions are novel, rarely honored among our culture’s nobility. The relentless message leaves a mark, lowers our nation’s esteem of morality.
  • Treat the nuclear family with contempt: One observer claimed that 50 percent of children in England are born to single mothers—that fatherlessness contributes to lawlessness. The U.S. is close behind; our number is only 41 percent. Is it really the failure of a government to create jobs that forces young men to murder, burn, and rape? If we position government institutions to free parents from responsibility, if we make divorce simple and no-fault, if we disdain fathers in nearly every expression of culture and entertainment, what in the wide world of sports do we expect will happen? 
  • Blame others: One young man who heard the British PM speak blamed Cameron for not doing his job. His view is apparently that those who feel put upon are justified in burning the city and beating their neighbors to death. Other rioters blamed the police for being too harsh with criminals and too few to keep order. Newspapers and leaders who claim that bad behavior is caused by poverty (not starvation, mind you) and unemployment are nurturing the belief that others are to blame for an individual’s behavior.
  • Twist religious liberty into religious equivalence: The constant drumbeat of “all moderate religions are good; all fundamentalist religions are evil” greatly discourages anything uniquely Christian about what Christian churches do. Part of the current discussion of Rick Perry’s presidential campaign is focused on his faith (George W. Bush on steroids, one pundit says). The fact that Gov. Perry speaks of Jesus as though he really is the Savior is portrayed as threatening, at least zany. Fairness and liberty do not require ridiculing the religion of the many in order even to affirm the religion of the few. I think many Western countries, including our own, have done a lot of that since 9/11. Moderately held Christian faith is no threat precisely because it has no transforming power; it is merely another vaguely good humanitarian opinion. Not all religion is the same in its intent or effect. Neither is religion simply a neutral commodity that can used when convenient and put away when it’s not.     
  • Encourage preachers to abandon timeless truth: Churches that trade that “irrelevant” old-time religion for something more user friendly, be it environmentalism or social justice, are praised in our culture. Churches that preach that God still hates divorce and that Jesus is still the only way, truth and life are lumped in with fundamentalist groups that blow stuff up. In England, the PM and even newspaper columnists have responded to the riots by preaching against broken families, absentee parents and a culture that coddles bad behavior while church leaders moan about how the rioters were compelled to crime by inadequately funded entitlement programs. This is a sad role reversal. Churches should be conversant with long-term spiritual solutions to community problems rather than just the talking points of the liberal agenda du jour. Maybe it’s not Mr. Cameron who’s asleep at his desk.

I’m frustrated by this whole discussion. We’re headed toward the rocks, full speed ahead, but we’re debating what will certainly amount to tiny course corrections. Our nation sees the example of our European neighbors and thinks we can walk the same path with impunity. We will not likely rue the decisions of this decade or the last, relating to the character of the children we disciple, until we’ve hit the rocks. That’s the way people are in nearly every case.

Until we corporately cry out to the Lord, in the aftermath of some societal tragedy, we’ll decry crime, we’ll lament the loss of strong families, and we’ll pass laws that are essentially more of the same-old, same-old. Our nation may regret the outcomes of some decisions, though we can agree neither on what’s happening nor on who did what wrong, but are not nearly desperate enough to seek help.

SBTC grants $1 million to IMB’s Lottie Offering

GRAPEVINE�The Executive Board of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention granted $1 million from reserve funds to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and encouraged churches in Texas to “embrace” 1,000 of the 3,800 unengaged people groups identified by Southern Baptist�s International Mission Board.

“We are a lean machine unencumbered by debt,” declared SBTC President Byron McWilliams, pastor of First Baptist Church of Odessa, as he addressed the board gathered in Grapevine for its summer meeting on Aug. 9. “That makes a huge difference in our ability to do what we’re going to do.”

Calling the SBTC a convention “built by faith by men and women who refuse to accept little vision and well-worn paths,” McWilliams said, “We are unafraid to attempt the impossible.”

With over half of the world’s 7 billion people having little or no access to the gospel and the 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups having no one telling them about Jesus, the IMB encourages local churches to begin with church-wide focused prayer.

The unanimous actions of the SBTC board came in response to the challenge of IMB President Tom Elliff at the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix to “Embrace the Ends of the Earth.” Concern over the reduction in missionary deployments due to funding shortages led SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards to suggest sharing a portion of reserve funds.

Designating the $1 million gift to the Lottie Moon Offering will help put more missionaries on the field and support those already deployed. The SBTC’s board agreed to reduce operating reserves from six months to just under five months in order to provide the grant.

This is a big decision,” acknowledged Administrative Committee Chairman Gregg Simmons, pastor of Church at the Cross in Grapevine. “At the current rate of growth and level of giving it’s going to take several years to rebuild those reserves, but I don’t share that with any sense of hesitation. We want to be part of a fresh vision from IMB, have considered this and feel it is a good decision.”

Board members will be updated on further discussion with Elliff regarding participation of Texas churches. While the Nov. 14-15 state annual meeting will feature a session on the needs in India, Richards said the convention wants to facilitate Southern Baptist churches in Texas to go anywhere in the world that God calls them to embrace one of these groups.

At call2embrace.org the IMB offers guidance on studying a group’s location and culture and the development of a strategy to reach them with the gospel. An interactive map identifies those people groups with no active church-planting strategy among them and less than a 2 percent evangelical presence.

One of four Embrace Equipping Conferences will be held in Cedar Hill on Oct. 27 at Hillcrest Baptist Church, southwest of Dallas. To register contact IMB at 800-999-3113 or visit the website listed above.

In his report to the board, Criswell College President Jerry Johnson told of the school’s commitment to embrace one of these unengaged people groups with plans for repeat visits by students to the region where a missions strategy will be developed.

OTHER BUSINESS
Also, the board recommended SBTC staff continue to evaluate “praying and listening” sessions held in 25 locations across the state earlier this year to formulate a response to the executive committee that will be reviewed in the spring board meeting.

The board unanimously approved a proposed convention budget of $26,274,704 for 2012, up 3.16 percent over the current year. Messengers to the SBTC annual meeting in Irving must approve the budget, which continues to split 55 percent of Cooperative Program receipts for Southern Baptist Convention ministry with the remaining 45 percent allocated for in-state ministry. Missions remains the largest SBTC budget line item at 23.28 percent of the in-state allocations.

Chief Financial Officer Joe Davis reported that year-to-date CP receipts through July were $51,000 less than last year while noting that early August income appears strong. Actual expenses remain under budget with a net operating income through July of $265,633, including interest income and designated giving receipts.

Through June, giving through the Reach Texas Offering for state missions was within $49 of the amount given over the same period last year; the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions were both up from a year ago, by $437,180 and $177,131, respectively.

Changes approved to the business plan include setting a reserve funds goal of six months instead of 12 months and specifying that the Executive Committee be tasked with approving full-time personnel terminations instead of the Administrative Committee in keeping with its assignment of approving hiring of personnel.

Changes to the SBTC Foundation Certificate of Formation and Bylaws recommended for approval by messengers to the annual meeting involve increasing the number of board members from five to seven.

Surplus funds designated for Outdoor Expo Events and One Day Schools of Evangelism were reallocated for general evangelism use.

The board also approved the affiliation of 59 churches while also clearing its roll of 19 congregations that disbanded. The total number of SBTC-affiliated churches as of Aug. 9 was 2,342.

A resolution of appreciation to Jacksonville College President Edwin Crank was approved in recognition of his retirement following 25 years of ministry at the school.

The board renewed its affiliation agreement with Criswell College through 2014 and announced T.C. Melton of Abilene and Casey Perry of Malakoff as recipients of the 2011 Paul Pressler Distinguished Service Award, to be presented at the annual meeting.

Violence in Juarez faces foe in prayers of El Paso churches

EL PASO—After El Paso churches united in a 40-day prayer effort for the neighboring city of Juarez, Mexico, remarkable news broke: God answered their prayers by decreasing the murder rate in what has been dubbed one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

The prayer effort, coordinated by the non-denominational Christian ministry El Paso for Jesus, involved approximately 20 congregations of various denominations and spanned the 40 days leading up to Easter. Each day a different church was responsible for meeting on a hill overlooking Juarez and praying from noon to 1 p.m. and again from 7 to 8 p.m. that God would decrease the violence, protect commuters and change the hearts of drug cartel members perpetuating the violence.

Following the prayer effort, Fox News reported June 24 that murders were down by nearly 200 in the first half of 2011. While there had already been 1,200 homicides after six months in 2010, this year’s six-month total stood at 1,037.

Over the past several years, warring drug cartels have turned Juarez into a war zone and the city has seen its murder rate increase tenfold, topping 3,000 homicides last year and 8,600 since 2008. In contrast, El Paso had five murders in 2010.

“The violence that is happening over there [in Juarez] and has been happening for several years now had gotten to such a point where we knew that only the prayer of God’s people could intercede,” Rod Smith, lead pastor of Cielo Vista Church, a congregation that participated in the 40-day prayer campaign, told the TEXAN. “It’s gotten to a point where you don’t even go across the border to witness anymore. It’s not safe. The violence is terrible.”

On Cielo Vista’s day to pray at the Juarez overlook, participants prayed silently using printed guides and then took turns praying aloud. In addition to praying on their assigned day, the church also made a point to pray for Juarez during all its worship services during the 40 days. Those prayers included interceding for members who have relatives in Juarez and for those who risk their lives to share Jesus in Mexico.

Rhonda Cariker, a Cielo Vista member who participated in the prayer overlooking Juarez, told the TEXAN the effort was an opportunity to engage in spiritual warfare.

“We were able to look down from the mountain and see the lights of the city of Juarez across the river,” she said. “You can see right down into it. So we could imagine the people and the needs that were down there as we stood and we prayed from the overlook.”

As she looked into Juarez, Cariker prayed for “the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the people” and for “God to do something amazing spiritually to break the bondage that was going on there,” she said.

For Cariker, the prayer time was very personal. She said she is grieved that Christians in El Paso can no longer go across the border safely to minister in Juarez and regrets that she used to take such ministry opportunities for granted.

“We used to just take for granted that anytime we wanted to we would be able to go over and do an outreach there, do a mission emphasis with a missionary that might be over there doing something, actually go and work on buildings that the church was constructing, even building houses for areas where people live in cardboard houses or where they take packaging material and make temporary houses,” she said. “And that’s all come to a screeching halt. I felt ashamed of taking the opportunities for granted.”

In addition to the decrease in murders, El Paso believers have seen answers to specific prayers for individuals and churches. For example, one Mexican pastor’s kidnapped daughter was returned unharmed, and several churches have continued to minister without falling victim to violence.

“God is showing favor to some of the churches that are in Juarez, and there’s not a tremendous amount of violence that’s happening in those locations,” Smith said. “So that is a great thing.”

Still, there are many reasons for continued prayer, according to Smith and Cariker. They include rampant gang activity, corruption in the Mexican government and the need for Mexican criminals to be saved.

The situation in Juarez is “outright spiritual warfare,” Cariker said, “because it’s the gateway into the rest of Mexico. And we have a lot of missionaries that would have very effective ministries there. We have a lot of nationals that were having very effective ministry going on there. I think Satan is trying to put it to a stop because if you can put it to a stop right there as you enter Mexico, you can stop a lot of what was going on from Juarez down into the interior.”

Cariker also sounded a warning for American believers in other cities: “God has opened doors in front of whatever church that you’re a part of, wherever you’re attending and serving. Don’t take them for granted that they’re always going to be open. Like the Apostle Paul said, be wise and redeem the time because the days are evil. … We could have probably done a lot more when the door was open and didn’t because we just assumed the door would stay open.”

UPDATE: As the TEXAN went to press, the El Paso Times reported that murders in July in Juarez were the highest number since February, with 218 dead. The TEXAN editorial staff urges readers to join the churches of El Paso in prayer for the El Paso-Juarez area.

Distance ed. options abound at Baptist schools

In the past, earning a theological degree automatically meant packing up and moving to the campus of a college or seminary.

But that’s not the case anymore.

Through online courses and extension centers, students can earn credit toward degrees at all six SBC seminaries and at least two Texas colleges.

One Southern Baptist seminary offers a master’s degree entirely online while two others have multiple accredited campuses where students can earn degrees.

The following represents distance-learning options at several schools.

CRISWELL COLLEGE
Criswell College in Dallas offers an undergraduate-level certification program for pastors entirely online with the option of transferring the course work.

Called the Criswell Certificate in Great Doctrines of the Bible, the program involves eight three-hour courses and is for ministers who have not completed an undergraduate degree. Each course costs $783 to receive transferable college credit and less if no transferable credit is desired.

“This program of study is completed 100 percent online from the convenience of the student’s Internet connection,” Barry Creamer, dean of distance education, told the TEXAN. “It includes access to required reading, listening [to] and viewing materials at wacriswell.com, weekly online interaction with the professor and other students, online exams and papers submitted online.”

GOLDEN GATE BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
Students at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., can earn graduate degrees at any of five fully accredited campuses. Online classes can also make up a portion of a student’s coursework.

Among the learning elements of online classes are live video and audio chats with professors, DVD lectures, online quizzes and exams and contact with professors through phone and e-mail.

“Often courses have one of Golden Gate’s librarians sitting in to make sure that students are aware and make wise use of the online resources and databases available,” Rick Durst, Golden Gate’s director of online education, told the TEXAN. “This [past] semester our president, Jeff Iorg, premiered his online Introduction to Preaching using video lectures linked through Vimeo, a weekly video chat with students and student submission of their sermons via uploads to Vimeo.”

Starting this fall, online SBC students will pay the same tuition rate as on campus SBC students: $205 per credit hour. Online students pay an additional technology fee of $230 per course.

JACKSONVILLE COLLEGE
Jacksonville College, a two-year Christian liberal arts school in Jacksonville, Texas, offers 30 hours of courses taught either entirely online or with a mix of online learning and personal contact with an instructor.

Online and on-campus courses cost $210 per credit hour. All students pay a $10 per semester technology fee and if enrolled for six hours or more, a student service fee of $200.

“While all learning outcomes for a distance learning course match those taught in a comparable face-to-face course, the method of accomplishing those outcomes will typically be different in the online classroom,” Jacksonville College’s academic dean Tampa Clark said. “All courses require significant reading, but some courses may require online group projects in addition to individual assignments. Discussion boards are prevalent, as are links to videos and other resource materials.”

LIBERTY UNIVERSITY
Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., offers an extensive selection of graduate and undergraduate degrees entirely online.

The online courses incorporate video and audio teaching along with presentations given through electronic slides. Prices vary according to the degree a student is working on and are posted at Liberty’s website.

Liberty’s selection of online degrees is larger than that of SBC seminaries because it is accredited by a different national accrediting agency that is more lenient regarding on-campus study requirements.

MIDWESTERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City is the only SBC seminary that offers a master’s degree entirely online—the 45-hour master of arts in theological studies.

Students in other programs may take courses online and at extension centers, but no other degree may be earned fully without studying on the main campus. The cost for online classes is $250 per credit hour.

“Online classes are eight weeks in length,” Midwestern’s director of admissions and student recruitment Rusty Marriot said. “They are reading intensive, but students are required to access their student portal on Blackboard [an online learning management system] to respond to different assignments from professors and interact with others in the class.”

The online master’s degree is offered through Midwestern’s undergraduate college rather than the seminary and is not accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, the national agency that accredits all six SBC seminaries. Current ATS standards do not allow any degrees to be offered fully online. However, the degree is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

NEW ORLEANS BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, students can earn credit toward graduate and undergraduate degrees at extension centers and through online classes. They can also earn multiple undergraduate-level certificates entirely online.

For SBC students, the tuition is $250 per credit hour.

Craig Price, associate dean of online learning, said online classes allow students to adapt coursework to their own schedules.

“We use video links, iTunes U, audio links, YouTube links, reading, online tests, blogs, some synchronous learning using chat rooms and Webex,” Price told the TEXAN. “We employ online testing, paper assignments and weekly discussion boards.”

New “hybrid” format courses include three weeks of online study and a class meeting on campus during the fourth week, and count as on-campus credit toward a degree.

SOUTHEASTERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
Though students at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary are required to spend some time on the Wake Forest campus for all degree programs, online classes and extension centers can be significant components of many degree programs.

For online classes, a professor’s instruction is recorded on campus then distributed to students through iTunes U or DVDs. Reading assignments, tests and other work are all administered through the Internet.

Tuition for master’s-level SBC students is $714 per class at extension centers and $877 per class online.

SOUTHERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
Through Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s undergraduate school, Boyce College, students can earn entirely online both an associate of arts in biblical and theological studies and a bachelor of arts in biblical and theological studies. But all seminary degrees require study on the main campus in Louisville, Ky.

Up to two-thirds of the master of divinity and up to one-half of any master of arts may be earned online and at extension centers. Internet courses consist of a combination of recorded video lectures, required reading, discussion forums, quizzes, exams, written assignments and web-based research projects.

Seminary tuition for SBC students is $219 per credit hour plus a $250 per course Internet fee for online classes.

“The entire core curriculum for the M.Div. and the core curriculums for most M.A. degrees are available online, giving students great flexibility in planning for their online and on-campus needs,” Hayward Armstrong, associate vice president for online learning and intercultural programs at Southern, said.

SOUTHWESTERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, students may complete full degrees at either the Fort Worth or Houston campuses. They may also earn up to 49 percent of their degree online and up to 66 percent of their degree at extension centers. At least 30 hours though, must be taken at the Fort Worth or Houston campuses.

Most online classes use a multi-media format, including PowerPoint slide shows, audio lectures, short videos, online chats, blogging, journaling and wiki assignments. Others employ a live video chat feature, and a few lecture-format classes use streamed classroom video recordings or DVDs.

For SBC students, a normal three-hour online class costs $813 and a normal three-hour extension center class costs $651.