Month: August 2011

Accreditation affects distance-learning options

Why do some schools offer more distance learning programs than others? And why can’t you earn a master of divinity degree fully online at SBC seminaries?
Accreditation is a large part of the answer to these and other questions related to higher education.

The term “accreditation” refers to a school receiving an official stamp of approval from an agency certified by the U.S. Department of Education, state governments or the non-governmental Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The practice serves as a form of quality control for graduate and undergraduate education.

All six Southern Baptist seminaries are accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), a national accrediting agency for graduate-level theological education, and by regional accrediting agencies that monitor both graduate and undergraduate education in different sections of the country.

“ATS accreditation is the most broadly affirmed across religious communities in the United States and Canada and in fact has some recognition outside of North America by other schools and agencies,” Daniel Aleshire, ATS executive director, told the TEXAN. “So there is a certain value in having a degree from an ATS accredited school.”

Currently ATS standards permit accredited schools to offer up to two-thirds of a master of divinity through extension centers and online. Half of a master of arts may be earned through extension centers and online. No ATS-approved degree can be earned entirely online.

However, ATS does permit member schools to offer entire degrees at sites away from the main campus if those sites are determined to have adequate library facilities, administrative services and faculty.

For example, ATS granted approval for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to offer entire degrees at its Houston campus. And Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary has five campuses throughout the western U.S. where students may earn entire degrees—Mill Valley, Calif.; Brea, Calif.; Vancouver, Wash.; Phoenix, Ariz.; and Denver, Colo.

“The main difference” between Southwestern’s Houston campus and its extension centers is that Houston “has the requirements that a degree-offering institution should have such as full-time faculty that are on site, a library of sufficient size that’s on site,” Jim Wicker, director of web-based education at Southwestern, told the TEXAN. “We provide all the services that a student needs … They’re able to do everything at that campus.”

In contrast, Wicker said that “at the extensions, there are faculty that commute in either from Fort Worth or … local adjuncts that drive in. They come in and teach the course, but they don’t have office hours.”

Rick Durst, director of online education at Golden Gate, said his seminary uses five campuses in order to provide contextualized education and encourage ministers to stay on the field rather than moving away to attend seminary. Too often those who move to a seminary campus never return to the remote areas from which they were called to minister, he said.

“If someone feels called to the northwest, the southwest, Colorado or Arizona, it’s so much more effective for them to be trained on site—where they’re engaged in ministry, making relationships, seeing how ministry works in that context—than it is to train them somewhere else and then try to apply that in a context that’s different,” Durst told the TEXAN.

Because ATS does not permit theological degrees to be earned fully online, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s online master of arts in theological studies is not ATS accredited. Instead, it is offered through the seminary’s undergraduate college and accredited only by the regional Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Undergraduate colleges of SBC seminaries are not limited by ATS restrictions regarding distance education and may offer online degrees. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Boyce College, for example, offers a bachelor of arts entirely online.

Midwestern President R. Philip Roberts told the TEXAN that the online master’s degree is a way of ministering to those who need theological education but cannot access an extension center or the Kansas City, Mo., campus.

“This is a good way to provide and facilitate online education for people in remote areas especially that don’t have the advantage of seminary education,” Roberts said in an interview. “We obviously cannot provide enough extension centers across the United States and certainly around the world to service everyone who would like to have access to theological education. It’s a way of ministering to and helping those who would like to have the advantages of a good quality seminary and/or college theological education and yet have no ability to get to it physically.”

Rodney Harrison, Midwestern’s vice president for institutional effectiveness, emphasized that the online master’s degree is accredited by the same agency that accredits major colleges and universities in the Midwest. To earn accreditation, he said the seminary had to demonstrate that the quality of its online degree was comparable to the quality of a degree earned on campus.

Midwestern is working with ATS to develop pilot projects in online education, Harrison said.

According to Aleshire, who taught at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1978 to 1990, ATS is in the process of reviewing its standards for online education and will have a first draft of new policies in the fall that likely will permit member schools to offer online master’s degrees. Schools will respond to it in subsequent drafts before voting on a final proposal in 2012.

However, he speculated that the new policies would maintain an on-campus requirement for the master of divinity.

“The requirement for residency has emerged from the assumption that an M.Div. or a professional M.A., a degree that’s equipping people for ministry with others, involves issues related to personhood, to character, to Christian spirituality and that those are issues that are discerned and learned more effectively in community kinds of contexts,” Aleshire said.

No changes in ATS standards will be adopted until 2012, though, and must be approved by two-thirds of ATS member schools.

Currently, no graduate degree at any school that is entirely online is accredited by ATS. Still, other accrediting bodies allow online degrees at all levels of higher education.

Patterson: Preparation for ministry requires sacrifice

FORT WORTH—Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson isn’t particularly interested in making theological education more comfortable for the student. While many institutions are marketing their degrees as convenient for study in the context of the student’s home turf, Patterson would rather cause disruption in the lives of prospective ministers.

“The thing I want to do is take the man out of where he is, where he’s grown up and put him as quickly as I can in a situation where he has no hope unless God intervenes.” That initial decision to make the move to campus opens the door to transformation, he believes.

Patterson’s definition of theological education is to expose students “to great men and women of God, to their lives, their homes, their habits and their commitments,” a process that requires sacrificing the comforts of home. If it were nothing more than acquiring factual information, then online education might suffice, he said.

“Pastoral ministry, evangelism, missions, counseling and music are all, by the nature of the disciplines, incarnational, not mechanical,” Patterson added. To think otherwise is as ludicrous as believing the Navy SEALS who took down Osama bin Laden had received all of their training online, he observed.

“There’s never going to be a day when we train special ops or the common soldier without taking him to a base, out of his comfort zone, and instilling certain disciplines that can never be instilled online.”

When asked to remember something they learned in college or seminary, alumni are hard pressed to separate the knowledge they acquired from the influence of particular professors, he insisted. “If you ask, ‘Was there someone in college or seminary who impacted your life,’ then the information rolls out. What happens to that dynamic when a total education is online?”

That personal dynamic translates into pastoral ministry, Patterson said. “There’s no substitute for soul care in the ministry and that can’t be taught online.”

Telling good news

In the last 22 years, I have probably heard more often than any other the exhortation/criticism that a Christian newspaper should focus more on good news than we do. I suspect these well-intentioned critiques would just as easily apply to any city daily paper. It is a puzzling opinion. Most editors think their papers should report the most significant news of the day. Do we really have to choose between stories of effective ministry and reports on the African famine? Our readers do rightly expect to hear of ministry needs as well as ministry accomplishments. In reality, I think readers who do not like the news are actually anxious because bad things happen.

Looking at the last two issues of the TEXAN, I was struck by how much good news was there. Admittedly, the stories of relief efforts in Japan were occasioned by a tragic earthquake in that country, but it is still glorious to see the grace of God shining more brightly in the midst of sorrow. In addition to three Japan relief stories, we published the stories of local churches with effective ministries, a Navy chaplain, a good youth camp, and two reports of persecuted Christians in other countries. It was not all good news, but which of those reports would you not want to receive? Still, we publish a lot of good news, mostly because there is good news in the midst of Texas Southern Baptist churches that is not reported elsewhere. And these reports are not “slow news day” items. We laugh when we see stories about cats that speak five languages or a scorched hamburger bun that bears the image of Saint Alfonso, especially in broadcast news. Good news is not like that. It is happy but sober, the result of God’s people doing day-by-day good.

The less uplifting news, denominational challenges, natural disasters, the financial challenges of local ministry and such, are not pointless either. They tempt us to respond in prayer and in action. Perhaps they will warn us of mistakes some are making in ministry. Sometimes they remind us of the constant pull of our culture toward compromise in our biblical convictions. These stories are not in every issue of the paper but they can serve a positive purpose. Consider stories in the lives of Balaam the prophet, King David, Jonah, Peter, and Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5). Each of these lives contains cautionary tales suitable “for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.” Sometimes bad news can have that purpose.

We on the TEXAN staff enjoy telling the stories that urge us onward more than those that goad us back to the difficult path. We are readers too and enjoy being uplifted more than we enjoy being rebuked. Maybe it is similar to the way that many pastors enjoy preaching the story of Christmas or Easter than they might enjoy preaching the harsh warnings of Matthew 24-25. The truth is a whole, though, and not just selected sweets removed from context. We strive to tell the whole thing.

Maybe the place where people tend to judge the mix of positive and negative in a publication is more focused on the opinion content than on the news. I, like most of you, tend to read the opinion pages of a publication more thoroughly than I read news content. And we judge a publication, online, print, newspaper or magazine, based on the opinion columns—even though those pages are compiled by completely different people than is the news content. If the columnists tend to be more Lamentations than Psalms, then the newspaper is a downer. The same could be said for denominational spokesmen of all sorts. They may have one urgent message that they hope churches and leaders will hear above all others, and it usually involves a response to dire need or an answer to critical issues. Thus, the denomination can be more often seen as negative than positive, regardless of the overwhelming ratio of good news to bad news SBC agencies, conventions and associations could tell.

This evaluation is almost inevitably unfair, by the way. For example, it has been said enough that Southern Baptists are known more for what we are against than for what we favor. That may be more true than important. We are not necessarily known for what is true about us or for what we say of ourselves. Many people like bad news, snarky comments, any confirmation that validates their suspicions that others are despicable. When Baptists fight, literally hundreds of reporters show up at the SBC annual meeting. When we get along and commission missionaries and such, only a handful of reporters, all Baptist, (and a remarkably small number of messengers), make the trip. Some of our critics are ignorant, some are insincere—few will ever learn more or amend their opinions. Southern Baptists owe it to the kingdom of God to be more fair minded than those who do not care to know the whole story. A morbid preference for bad news leads one to believe that true story is far worse than it is.

Your TEXAN staff seeks to tell as fair and thorough a story as we can. I think most editorial types strive to accomplish something similar within the confines of their own constituencies. We will continue to tell more good news than bad because there will always be abundant evidence that God is working among his people. And regrettably, we will always have occasion to tell bad news, not just because it happens, but because it is important. Bad news often demonstrates that our work has been cut out for us and we have just received our marching orders.

As always, we are grateful and humbled to hear from our readers. We read the letters and e-mails we get from you and are happy to know how we can better serve.

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.

More choosing ‘virtual’ seminary over on-campus experience

SEAGOVILLE—James Pritchard was more than halfway through his master of divinity degree when an Oklahoma church called him to serve as their pastor. Determined to finish his education, Pritchard commuted each Monday to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth while getting started in his ministry field. His last semester, he took online courses to finish remaining requirements.

Now that he’s back in Texas pastoring First Baptist Church of Seagoville, Pritchard is again utilizing online education to complete four semesters of German as he prepares for an on-campus Ph.D. at Southwestern.

He is part of a growing number using online education in all disciplines of higher education, a 2009 study cited in the Chronicle of Higher Education showed.

“When you’re in ministry you need flexibility, so it definitely helps out,” he said of the distance-education option.

When Nathan Lorick began as pastor of his first church in Martin’s Mill he weighed his options of driving two hours to take classes one day a week, versus completing the entire degree online at a faster pace.

“Education is very important, but to me there’s no better education than experience,” Lorick said. “I didn’t want to forfeit the opportunity to have ministerial experience to sit in a classroom.”

Through Liberty University, Lorick began taking eight-week classes by spending late nights watching lectures on DVDs after his wife and child had gone to bed. “Online was the way to go because I could focus on what I was trying to learn without distraction.”

Jay McFadden was pastoring an international church in Germany when he began looking for an online option for theological education. He saw that Rockbridge Seminary, an entirely online institution begun in 2004 by two men with administrative experience in Southern Baptist seminaries, was attracting some of the internationals he knew.

After returning to the U.S. where he now serves on staff at the Church on Rush Creek in Arlington, McFadden enrolled at Rockbridge.

“They have students from all around the world with almost instant access to the professors,” McFadden said. He appreciated the practical application of the eight-week courses, which required a local mentor supervising his progress and work ethic. “I grew up with a traditional style of classroom, but since the most we’ve ever had in one class are 10 to 12 people, I feel we were given a lot of personal attention.”

Rockbridge is in the process of seeking accreditation with an agency recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Jamin Roller is in his second semester of classes offered by Criswell College through their distance education classes, making it possible for him to continue serving as student pastor at Glen Meadows Baptist Church in San Angelo.

Unlike the delivery systems Pritchard, Lorick and McFadden utilized, which allowed them to complete all of their work online, Roller’s classes are delivered via the Internet in real time to the host classroom at Glen Meadows Baptist where he and other students gather weekly. Through live interaction with professors and students, Roller can ask questions, participate in class discussion and even deliver course presentations from the San Angelo site.

“Last semester I took a critical thinking course which taught basic principles of logic and sound argumentation,” Roller recalled. “The course has been immensely helpful in increasing clarity in my teaching and has proved to be useful in counseling.”

After experiencing education on campus as well as the online format, Pritchard still prefers taking classes in person. “Regardless of how you simulate that online experience, face to face can’t be replaced,” he said.

“For me personally, I benefit from that personal interaction,” he added. Reading requirements and other assignments typically remain the same, he said, “but you can’t replace being in the classroom. It’s not just the professors, but the students around you. It is a good option, but from my perspective it’s not the main entrée. It should be a side dish. And yet, for some that’s the only way they’re going to get it so it still needs to be provided,” Pritchard recognized.

Online education continues to grow. The Sloan Survey of Online Learning, last published in 2009, reveals online enrollment for all of higher education rose by almost 17 percent from a year prior. The survey is a collaboration of the Babson Survey Research Group, the College Board, and the Sloan Consortium. The results came from more than 2,500 colleges and universities. The survey showed 4.6 million online students—one-third of all higher education enrollment in the United States.

For some students, a non-traditional approach allows them to progress more swiftly.

For example, Lorick was determined to work as fast as he could and moved through the series of Liberty’s requirements, taking 18 to 21 hours of credit at a time. Watching videotaped lectures of professors teaching the same class at the Lynchburg, Va., campus, Lorick had the option of interacting by e-mail and phone calls with a course supervisor.

“The classes went so fast that by the time I got the syllabus and got to work on it, I didn’t have a lot of questions,” Lorick commented.

According to advice offered on Southwestern’s website, “Online courses require more self-discipline from students than traditional courses do. Most online assignments have a window of one week in which to complete them. The online student must be self-disciplined enough to spend the right amount of time daily or every couple of days to get the job done.”

Computer literacy is an obvious requirement as students navigate web pages, attach files via e-mail and utilize word processing, PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat software.
For Paul Easter Jr., who began his seminary studies at the age of 50, a year’s worth of online study gave him the confidence to pursue studies on campus.

Easter hopes to pastor a small, rural church after completing Southwestern’s master of arts in Christian education. Before giving up his full-time job supervising construction work in southeast Texas, he took online classes from Liberty to see if he could handle the academic environment.

He found the coursework fairly easy to complete, scoring 95 or higher in the first two classes of systematic theology.

“Without having some online classes first, I think I would have been in over my head at Southwestern, especially since I’ve been out of school for 31 years,” Easter said. Taking similar courses on campus at Southwestern has been harder, he acknowledged, describing the challenge of maintaining high B’s.

“With online courses you read for yourself, but here we read and talk about what we read, hear from other students and then the professor,” he explained. “I think I missed a lot of that online.”

Physically moving to a campus environment helped him make a commitment to ministry, Easter said. “I said, ‘OK, I’m leaving home, I left my job, I’m going to campus and I’m going to stay.’ Coming here specifically for that purpose let me know where I was in my walk with God and I was able to turn loose of those things.”

Aggie takes pro-life message to Nepal

COLLEGE STATION—Kristen Ackerman is not your typical college sophomore-to-be. In fact, her former pastor calls her unique.

When most of her peers were breaking out their swimsuits or planning some R&R if only for a few days before beginning summer jobs or summer terms, Ackerman was preparing for a sobering mission to Nepal.

The Texas A&M University chemistry and pre-med major lived in Nepal from age 6 to age 12 as a missionary kid and has maintained friendships there. But the impoverished Asian country she left has changed in at least one unsettling way: abortion, legalized in 2002, has become a burgeoning problem, especially in the capital city of Kathmandu.
According to AsiaNews, the Nepalese Health Service Department reported abortions have risen 42 percent since 2007 in a country of 29 million people dominated by Hindus and Buddhists, causing some government leaders to endorse a movement to repeal the abortion laws.

Ackerman, who spent her high school years as a member at Rock Prairie Baptist Church in College Station, has long been a trailblazer. She and a friend began a pro-life student club at A&M Consolidated High School that is still thriving. At Texas A&M, she is one of about 25 students who make up a club called Pro-Life Aggies, a group that once a semester holds a memorial service on campus for the unborn victims of abortion. They use the occasion to educate other students about life in the womb.

So when a friend from Nepal learned of her work on behalf of the unborn and their mothers, she challenged Ackerman to bring her knowledge of the abortion issue back to Nepal, where many Christians, misled or unaware that abortion stops a beating heart, are falling for abortion propaganda being pushed by governmental and global health organizations.

With help from several sources, including a large offering from Rock Prairie Baptist that covered most of her trip, Ackerman traveled to Nepal through a Christian development ministry founded by her parents, spending May 28 through July 1 spreading a sanctity of life message to rural villagers, literacy workers, Christian churches, and English-speaking secondary and college students from Hindu and Buddhist backgrounds.

“They really need to know why abortion is wrong,” Ackerman recalled her friend saying. “A lot of the Christian churches don’t know how to communicate the sanctity of human life to their people. Many of them don’t understand what abortion is. Some of the married women don’t understand the difference between abortion and birth control.”

Ackerman said because women in traditional Nepalese culture are treated poorly, especially if they become pregnant out of wedlock, the Christian believers, if equipped, are singularly suited for building trust and dignity in these women as they also seek to save lives and share the gospel.

In speaking with the churches, “I focused on Bible verses about how children are special, how God hates the killing of innocent human beings and why abortion is the killing of an innocent human being,” Ackerman explained.

She spoke to 10 churches, including two youth groups.

“One of the women [in the churches] said her friend had considered an abortion, but she had encouraged her to keep the baby,” Ackerman wrote in a newsletter to supporters. “Now, after studying the Bible and seeing the models and pictures, she could explain to her friend why abortion was wrong.”

The Nepalese churches’ pro-life message competes against wealthy international foundations and abortion-rights groups, such as the Center for Reproductive Rights, and governmental agencies with a vested interest in expanding abortion. In 2009, the Nepal Supreme Court ordered the government to provide abortion funding for poor and rural women to close a perceived gap between abortion legality and abortion access.

Wrote Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in an opinion piece at that praised Nepal as an exemplar in abortion access, “In seven short years, Nepal went from locking up women for violating a criminal abortion ban to providing public funding of abortion services.” (Stateside, the Center for Reproductive Rights launched the “Law School Initiative” in 2008 to promote “an emerging body of transnational law not yet widely taught in U.S. law schools,” according to its website at

Ackerman said that among the rural poor, she used some simple scientific props and information on fetal development to build her case that abortion takes a human life created in God’s image. The scientific information was especially helpful for the younger people, who are becoming increasingly westernized, she said.

“We showed them that a baby’s heart starts beating at three weeks, brainwaves are detected at six weeks, vital organs at 10 weeks. I had some in utero models at various stages that were donated by a friend from A&M that showed why this life is precious and why abortion is killing that baby.”

Ackerman was also able to use an animated video that explains what takes place in an abortion.

Perhaps the highlight of her trip, Ackerman said, was speaking to a packed auditorium of male and female students at a social work college in Kathmandu where most of the students were not Christians. Ackerman began by apologizing for the exportation of abortion from the West into Asian countries such as Nepal.

“I want you to know so it doesn’t hurt your country the way it’s hurt mine,” she told the students.

“There was an amazing response at the college,” Ackerman said. “I was speaking to educated young people who were mostly Hindus and Buddhists. They really understood it and how it was going to hurt their nation. These are going to end up being the leaders in Nepal.”

Lani Ackerman, Kristen’s mother, said her daughter was able to speak to these young people before they were indoctrinated with abortion rhetoric, “and they were flabbergasted. They said, ‘We cannot allow abortion to take over Nepal.’ These were Hindus and Buddhists and yet they were flabbergasted.”

She added, “Kristen had so much more of an impact than what I could have as a middle-aged doctor. Sure, they’d listen to me. But for a young person to speak to her peers is so much more powerful.”

Two Nepalese Christians who served as translators for her in rural Nepal are carrying on Ackerman’s sanctity of life message. These indigenous missionaries work with a ministry called HELP, founded by her parents, Tim and Lani Ackerman, which teaches literacy, health, and agriculture, and animal husbandry to rural Nepalese as a platform for gospel proclamation and church planting. Lani Ackerman is a family practice medical doctor; Tim Ackerman is an ecologist and a lay preacher.

Though the Ackerman’s are no longer members at Rock Prairie, the church has continued supporting the HELP ministry, said Johnny Sloan, Rock Prairie’s pastor.

Sloan said of Kristen Ackerman: “Unique is how I would describe her. She is a unique young lady. Really, she is still considered a teenager. You just don’t find many her age that would go into something of that caliber. She is a darling kid and we just love her family.

“She was a blessing to our church when she was here. I really believe the Lord is going to use her to do great things for the kingdom.”

After returning from Nepal, Ackerman was able to share her story with students attending a camp sponsored by Texas Right to Life, Lani Ackerman said.

For information on how to begin a student pro-life club at a high school or college, e-mail

Calif. voters may get say on gay history law

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BP)–California's first-in-the-nation public school gay history law could be reversed by voters next year if a coalition of conservative groups collects enough signatures.

The coalition, known as StopSB48, must collect 500,000 valid signatures by Oct. 7 in order to place the issue on the ballot for the next statewide election, likely in 2012. Signatures already are being gathered. The referendum often is called a “people's veto.”

The new law, signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, could impact other states because it forces social science textbooks to include the “role and contributions” of “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.” California is one of the nation's largest buyers of textbooks, and its textbooks often make their way to other states.

“There are two or three states which, because of their population, drive the textbook industry for the other 47 states — California being the first among equals,” Kevin Snider, chief counsel for the California-based Pacific Justice Institute, told Baptist Press. “If these textbook companies are required to adopt these new standards, then that could be in essence the standard by default on a number of other states that purchase California textbooks.”

The Pacific Justice Institute is part of the StopSB48 coalition, along with the Traditional Values Coalition and Capitol Resource Institute. The coalition gets its name from the bill's number.

The new law prohibits instructional materials from “reflecting adversely” upon homosexuals — language some conservative leaders say would impact what is taught about marriage.

The law, which has yet to take effect, also requires the contributions of Pacific Islanders and persons with disabilities to be included in the textbooks, but the language about homosexuals has been at the heart of the controversy.

Parental rights and religious liberty are under assault, critics say. The coalition's website says the law “forces children to study materials that tell them their families' values are wrong.”

“This law doesn't provide for any opt-outs for parents,” Snider said, “and so the way the law would work would be that parents would have no more recourse to opt their kids out of this than they could out of a section on, say, the Napoleonic Wars.”

The law also has no age or grade limit, leading opponents to charge that gay history could be taught in elementary school.    

The law passed the Assembly, 49-25, and the Senate, 23-14, each controlled by Democrats.

Brown said the law is needed.

“History should be honest,” he said in a statement. “This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books. It represents an important step forward for our state…”

Others, though, disagreed.

“I think it's one thing to say that we should be tolerant,” Republican state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly said during floor debate, according to the Associated Press. “It is something else altogether to say that my children are going to be taught that this lifestyle is good.”

He added, “As a Christian I am deeply offended.”

Chris Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church in San Diego, said the goal for supporters of the law is “to put homosexuality on the same level as a minority status based on race or color or religion.”

For more information or to download petitions, visit
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.