Month: April 2012

SBTC president: Pray for Obama, “take high road”

IRVING—Southern Baptists of Texas Convention President Terry Turner rallied Executive Board members meeting April 24 to faithfully pray for President Barack Obama and members of Congress, seeking a change in the spiritual climate of the nation.

“I've asked that our country and our convention begin to support our president in prayer,” stated Turner, pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church. “I don't believe in the political views he holds, but I do know he's our president and as Christians we are required to pray for him, ask God to direct him, guide him, and straighten him out if he's wrong.”

“We are in the midst of one of the most heated political climates I've ever experienced,” Turner told the board. “A lot of innuendos are coming down that are untrue about our Southern Baptist Convention in regard to our positions. We know that we hold a biblical position and whatever the Bible says is what we support and believe in,” he added.

“If we are not careful we will find ourselves on the outside looking in when it comes to biblical beliefs we hold being eroded in society.”

Turner said a movement of prayer for the president and Congress could “shed a whole different light on our convention” and could change the climate “that is really hurting our Christian spirituality in our country.”

He appealed to Southern Baptists to “take the high road” when expressing disagreement with President Obama. “It's hard to be a black pastor in a convention that is predominantly white,” he acknowledged. “Because Barack Obama is our first African-American president, we don't want him to fail as a president.”

Refusing to be labeled as a Republican or a Democrat, Turner said, “I'm a Christian. I want what God wants.”

In his closing prayer, Turner asked God to help those present make a difference in the world and the country.

“Help our prayers to influence the spiritual climate of our Congress as well as our president.”

Turner prayed specifically for President Obama and his family, “that you would lead him in the right direction, show him the error of his ways, put him on good standing and allow him to be the man you would have him to be.”

For Congress, Turner prayed, “Help them to work together that we won't have mandates handed down to us like Obamacare,” referring to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.

“Help them to understand the importance of both parties being involved, that they'll give us the best governing system that we could possibly have,” he added.

Noting that “so many are hurting because of the spiritual and political climate of our society,” Turner asked God to “lift us above it and let us be a people called by your name” who reflect the humility described in 2 Chronicles 7:14.

He asked board members to carry back to their churches the challenge to pray for the president and other elected leaders. “I'd love to see it run through our convention and run through our country so whenever anything is negatively said about the Southern Baptist Convention, everybody will know that we are praying for the spiritual climate of our country.”

Later, Turner told the TEXAN he wished to clarify that he believes there are “some good things in Obamacare that will help many people” and that “we should not hinder those who will be blessed with some much-needed health care.”

Former Corpus pastor to serve ministers, churches

IRVING—Heath Peloquin of Corpus Christi was elected to serve as associate in the minister-church relations (MCR) department at the April 24 meeting of the Executive Board of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Peloquin formerly was pastor of Brighton Park Baptist Church in Corpus Christi. He began there in 2006 and saw membership double and 102 baptisms performed during his tenure. He administered the expansion of staff, transition to multiple worship services, and emphasized a strong outreach ministry.

Previously he served as assistant pastor at First Baptist Church of Belton, minister of students and recreation at Dogwood Baptist Church in Athens, and minister of music and youth at First Baptist Church of Thorndale.

Born in Jacksonville, Peloquin was called to ministry at the age of 13 and ordained by Dogwood Baptist in Athens. A two-time graduate of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, he received a bachelor of music degree in 1996 and a master of arts in Christian Studies with an emphasis in theology in 2004. He and his wife, Jennifer, have four children.

Peloquin serves as a trustee of the North American Mission Board and on the Executive Committee of the Corpus Christi Baptist Association. In 2010 he served as president of the SBTC’s pre-convention Bible Conference.

In a reference letter, board member Nathan Lorick of Malakoff praised Peloquin as “one of the greatest leaders of the next generation,” describing him “as passionate about Jesus as anyone I have ever known.” Board member Denny Gorena of Leonard also praised Peloquin’s giftedness as a preacher.

The MCR department helps ministers find positions of service, and churches find ministers through its Next Step Ministries. MCR also partners with GuideStone Financial Resources regarding retirement benefits and convention matching funds, provides associations with help in training and conflict management, and other ministries. The department also promotes the Cooperative Program, provides pastoral supplements, funds educational scholarships, and conducts informational meetings about the SBTC when invited by churches.

Siguiendo y Obedeciendo a Nuestro Dios


El ser salvos significa que Dios espera algo de nosotros al vivir en este mundo. Dios espera que le sigamos y que le obedezcamos toda nuestra vida. El problema que vemos hoy en día es que algunos de los seguidores y obreros de Cristo no están haciendo esto. La verdad es que muchos están viviendo vidas derrotadas, vida raquíticas y sin el poder de Dios. Muchos seguidores del Señor están viviendo vidas sin ningunas convicciones bíblicas. En muchas iglesias no se nota mucha espiritualidad en la vida de los miembros. No se está compartiendo abiertamente el evangelio de Cristo en la comunidad y lo peor es que muchas iglesias están viviendo sin el Poder de Dios porque no se predica la Palabra de Dios en los púlpitos. ¡Es urgente poner nuestra mirada en Dios! 

Dios ha equipado la iglesia de hoy con el poder que viene de lo alto. Jesucristo lo hizo posible cuando él murió en la cruz y resucitó al tercer día. La iglesia es una iglesia de resurrección y no una iglesia derrotada y muerta. Cada congregación debe tener éxito en todo lo que hace porque Dios está control.  I de Corintios 15:57 y 58 nos dice:

“Mas gracias sean dadas a Dios, que nos da la victoria por medio de nuestro Señor Jesucristo. Así que, hermanos míos amados, estar firmes y constantes, creciendo en la obra del Señor siempre, sabiendo que vuestro trabajo no es en vano.”

Dios espera que la iglesia de nuestro siglo sea fuerte, firme, madura y victoriosa. La iglesia debe saber que la victoria no viene de este mundo pero sólo viene de Dios. Para vivir una vida victoriosa en Cristo se requiere dos cosas de nosotros: que le sigamos y que le obedezcamos. 

Cuando Pablo se dirigía a la iglesia en Corinto, esa iglesia no era una iglesia modelo, al contrario, era una iglesia llena de pecado, de enojo y de mucha carnalidad aunque la fachada era muy religiosa, y por eso Pablo amonesta a esta iglesia con una mano muy severa porque era una iglesia pecadora. I Corintios 4:14 nos dice:

“No escribo esto para avergonzaros, sino para amonestaros como a hijos míos amados. “

Dios nos ama pero también nos amonesta. Él cubre nuestras vidas con Su amor. Dios disciplina a sus hijos cuando lo necesitan. Y disciplinar significa que Dios nos ama. Pero a la vez Dios nos avisa de los peligros que nos rodea. Debemos tener nuestra mirada siempre en Cristo Jesús y seguirle y obedecerle hasta que Él vuelva. 

Recuerdo de niño cantar un himno muy a menudo en la Primera Iglesia Bautista de Baytown, TX  que se llama “Para Andar Con Jesús”.  Vale la pena recordar la primera estrofa y el coro de este himno escrito por John H. Sammis en 1887:

“Para andar con Jesús no hay 

senda mejor

Que guardar sus mandatos de amor;

Obedientes a Él siempre 

habremos de ser

Y tendremos de Cristo el poder.


Obedecer, y confiar en Jesús 

Es la regla marcada

Para andar en la luz.” 

A war on women? Which women?


War has often been harder on women and children than on combatants. When the tides of battle wash over a populated area, women herding children will always be overrepresented in the crowd of refugees. Matthew 24:19 even singles out pregnant and nursing mothers as particularly unfortunate during bad times. Misfortune is multiplied for the fairer sex when they are also considered a prize to one army or the other. This is also a reasonable way to describe the political rhetoric of our day. Women are disproportionately affected (because they are often the primary caretakers of dependent children) by drastic changes in a nation’s social policies. This year women are also a prized voting bloc—one that tempts politicians to overstate their own good intentions, and the dark motives of their opponents. 

Perhaps we can rescue a bit of clarity from the clumsy fingers of political bluster. First, it’s wrong to suggest that women are a unified bloc up for bid to the best panderer. Second, those policies that benefit women and their little dependents are not mere matters of funding or withholding of funds. The present kerfuffle over the mandate to fund contraceptives illustrates how unclear the issue can be. Pro-life women are as horrified as men that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would require otherwise pro-life religious institutions to fund “preventive services” that they consider murderous. The overturning of this mandate will not make the country sufficiently pro-life, but neither should such an overturn be described as a disaster for (or war on) women in general. 

But women and families do have destructive adversaries, in effect if not intent. The work of groups that demean motherhood and marriage has been insidiously effective. Easy divorce has resulted in increased poverty for single mothers. A shockingly high percentage of children are now born without the benefit of marriage, or any actual long-term commitment by their parents. Blasted apart from its traditional context, sexual behavior has become the focus of nearly every aspect of modern culture. At the same time sexual relationships are seen by many as without significance beyond the merely biological. One observer has described human sexuality in our day “simultaneously as no big deal and Life’s Ultimate Expression that no one should be denied.” It is evident that a trend toward desire without boundaries has not been advantageous for women. Victimization through sex trafficking, pornography, and misogyny in popular culture has flourished since our nation’s sexual revolution.    

The most ardent advocates for marriage and family are women but the official spokesmen for women behave as though there is only one true voice for the cause of women in the U.S., and that voice is radical. They’ve said it pretty plainly. A relatively tame example from 1993 is when feminist icon Gloria Steinem attacked then-senatorial candidate Kay Bailey Hutchinson, calling her a “female impersonator” because Hutchinson, who describes herself as pro-choice, was not liberal enough to be considered female by her feminist sisters. Examples of the things said of more conservative female politicians in the last five years alone are not printable here. Women who hold conservative convictions are called enemies of their sex by other women, slandered by male pundits, and crudely lampooned in entertainment venues. No ethnic minority, and evidently not the more liberal women, could ever be treated this way by those who remain employed.

It is convenient to the leftist narrative to suggest that there are no bright women who agree with Rick Perry or James Dobson on social issues. Men, after all, are not qualified to speak on issues that affect women. It is also convenient, by the way, to magnify not the delightful differences between men and women but certainly the political divide. Anyway, the keepers of the leftist narrative must shout down or demean women like Sarah Palin, Phyllis Schlafly, and Ann Romney in order to prosper. I can only imagine the contempt they reserve for thousands of feminine pro-life workers in pregnancy resource centers. The flame these women tend is not the strange fire of feminism but that which has warmed and lit a billion homes for thousands of years.   

I am not naïve enough to think that we’ll undo the sexual revolution society-wide, but progressive efforts to tinker with traditional mores have made the plight of women worse and devastated families. We’ve tried it in the old-fashioned way and we’ve tried it in the modern way; one way has observably worked better than the other. This does not mean that we can roll back the clock but it does mean that we can argue credibly that our women choose a respectable path when they become mothers—even stay-at-home mothers. Perhaps too much was made of Democrat strategist Hillary Rosen’s comment that Ann Romney had “never worked a day in her life” and thus did not understand the way “real” Americans live. What she meant was that Mrs. Romney had not worked outside her home and thus did not understand the way “real” Americans live. That’s better, I guess. But is Mrs. Rosen correct in assuming that most Americans will be contemptuous of a woman who stays at home? That was clearly the mind of feminist matriarchs who described homemakers as “parasites” doing work “not worthy” of intelligent people.       

I do think some women have been provoked to righteous bellicosity. But I don’t think it’s leftist women who have been attacked. 

I believe our nation is at war with itself. It’s a war of worldviews. It is not a new divide but it is a nastier fight than any we’ve seen in 150 years. Men and women are on both sides of it, as you’d expect. And yet endless talk of one side or another’s war on women is not very useful. It is a too-tightly focused, oversimplified way of looking at the matters truly at issue. A distracting magnification of a political divide between men and women implies several things that are not true—chief among them might be the suggestion that things women need from a community are largely different from what their husbands and sons and fathers need. 

ERLC investigating Land comments

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Comments by Richard Land about the Trayvon Martin killing “have angered many and opened wounds from the past,” the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s executive committee said in a statement released April 18.

The executive committee also noted concern that Land, the ERLC’s president, had used sources from other media without proper attribution during his weekly radio call-in show. 

An ad hoc committee will “investigate the allegations of plagiarism and recommend appropriate action,” the ERLC executive committee said.

“The [ERLC] Executive Committee is very saddened that this controversy has erupted, and is very concerned about how these events may damage the work of the ERLC in support of Southern Baptists and in furtherance of the Kingdom of our Lord,” the six-member committee said.

Land, in a statement after the executive committee released its concerns, said: “I serve at the will of the trustees. I believe fervently in the trustee system of oversight. I am under their authority. That is why I initiated the conference call that led to this statement. I look forward to continuing to work with and under the oversight of my trustees, who have been elected by the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Land issued an open letter of apology the evening of April 16 for comments he voiced on his “Richard Land Live!” radio broadcast March 31 about the infusion of politics into the Trayvon Martin case. Earlier on April 16, Land issued an apology for material he failed to attribute on the radio show to a Washington Times columnist.

The ERLC trustee statement included expressions of regret alongside reminders of the race relations work of Land and the Southern Baptist entity he has led since 1988.

The executive committee stated its regret for “any harm that may have been done to race relations within the Southern Baptist Convention. The ERLC has worked very hard over many years to heal the wounds and scars of racism in our country and to realize the dream of complete equality among all races in the Southern Baptist Convention and in our nation.”

“It should be noted that Dr. Land himself has contributed materially to progress in the area of racial equality,” the ERLC executive committee continued. The statement said the trustees “repudiate any suggestion that Dr. Land, the ERLC, or the Southern Baptist Convention harbors racism in any form. We recognize that there is more work to do before the members of Southern Baptist congregations are as diverse as the citizens of our great nation. We and Dr. Land remain dedicated to that cause.”

Regarding the charge of plagiarism that circulated through the media in mid-April, the ERLC executive committee stated, “We expect Dr. Land and the ERLC to embody the highest moral and ethical standards, as befitting a group of people devoted to following Jesus Christ. Though the source citation standards prevailing among talk radio shows are different from those applicable to journalistic work or to scholarly work in the academic setting, we nevertheless agree with Dr. Land that he could, and should, do a better job in this area.”

In addition to trustee chairman Stephen Faith of Indiana, other members of the ERLC executive committee are Richard D. Piles, an Arkansas pastor; Donald L. Mason, a Georgia layman; Stephen W. Long, a director of missions in Ohio; Christopher L. Slaughter, a West Virginia layman; and Stephen G. Veteto, a Colorado seminary educator.

During his call-in show on March 31, Land said President Obama and black leaders such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson should not have been so quick to jump into the shooting death case of Martin, a 17-year-old African American, killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, a Hispanic, in Florida in February.

Land called Sharpton and Jackson “racial ambulance chasers” and accused Obama capitalizing on the case for political gain.

If Zimmerman is guilty, he should be held fully accountable, Land said, but “this mob mentality rush to judgment from the president on down is disgraceful, and the way in which the media has been largely silent about it and has aided and abetted it is also disgraceful.”

Land said Sharpton, Jackson and Louis Farrakhan have made careers from fomenting racial divides. 

“They need the Trayvon Martins to continue their central myth: America is a racist and an evil nation. For them, it’s always Selma, Ala., circa 1965. They haven’t noticed that the nation has changed.”

The nation needs leaders “who calm us rather than inflame volatile situations,” Land added.

Maxie Miller, team strategist for the Florida Baptist Convention’s African American church planting team, told Baptist Press April 5 he was disappointed by Land’s comments “and what they imply to non-Christians and to non-Southern Baptists.”

“They imply that we [the SBC] have leaders that represent us that may not have turned the corner when dealing with people of other ethnic groups. And I use the word ‘may not have.’ I have no knowledge of Land other than his position,” Miller said.

Still, Miller said he was “not disappointed and embarrassed about the convention. I’m disappointed and embarrassed about the comments one man made.”

New Orleans pastor Fred Luter, an African American who will be nominated for SBC president when the convention meets in June, responded to the Associated Press regarding Land’s comments, “It doesn’t help. That’s for sure.”

Several days later, following Land’s apology, Luter commended him.

“Our convention has made a lot of progress in the area of racial reconciliation and we want to continue this effort,” Luter told Baptist Press. “Dr. Land’s letter of apology will hopefully keep us on track. I accept his apology and will look forward to working with him and others within this convention to tear down the walls of racism in our great country.”

Land’s comments follow years of his advocating for racial progress within and without the denomination, Craig Mitchell, ethics professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press.

Mitchell, who is black, said the Trayvon Martin case is “a tragedy because of the loss of life, but it’s just made worse by people rushing to judgment….”

“Our ultimate goal,” Land said in 1995, “should be … a convention that reflects the multiethnic and multiracial makeup of our society.”

“If we are able to wrestle this cancer of racism to the ground and throttle it, then … we will see a Southern Baptist Convention that ethnically reflects our society,” Land said at the time.




The full text of Land’s April 16 apology for his Trayvon Martin comments follows:


Dr. Bryant Wright


Southern Baptist Convention

955 Johnson Ferry Road

Marietta, GA 30068


Dear Bryant,


I am writing to express my deep regret for any hurt or misunderstanding my comments about the Trayvon Martin case have generated. It grieves me to hear that any comments of mine have to any degree set back the cause of racial reconciliation in Southern Baptist or American life. I have been committed to the cause of racial reconciliation my entire ministry. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister has been a personal hero of mine since I surrendered to the ministry in 1962.

When I was elected president of the then Christian Life Commission in 1988, I made it clear to the search committee and board of trustees that I was going to make racial reconciliation a top priority. I assumed office in October of 1988 and the first conference held under my administration was a racial reconciliation conference in January of 1989. As you know I was one of the progenitors of the racial reconciliation resolution our convention passed at our sesquicentennial in 1995.

I have rejoiced in the tremendous progress that has been made in racial reconciliation both in our convention and in American life. I rejoice in the prospect that one of our most admired leaders and pastors, Dr. Fred Luter, will in all likelihood be elected president of our convention in June.

I look forward to the day when our convention membership reflects the ethnic and demographic diversity of the general population, with no difference between Southern Baptists and the nation.

Clearly, I overestimated the progress that has been made in slaying the ugly racist ghosts of the past in our history. I also clearly underestimated the extent to which we must go out of our way not to be misunderstood when we speak to issues where race is a factor.

Please know that I apologize to any and all who were hurt or offended by my comments. I will certainly recommit myself to seeking to address controversial issues with even more sensitivity in the future.


Yours in his service,

Richard Land

Unlikely prison missionary “all in” for inmates


HENDERSON—Providence is ironic sometimes. He had a hard heart. His attitude, in his own words, “was about as bad as it could be.” 

And just as God told Jonah to preach to the object of his disdain, the Lord told Ken Hale, “You need to change your attitude because I’ve got a job for you.”

That job was to take the gospel to those he considered “trash”—the inmates of the James Bradshaw State Jail in Henderson.

Some 15 years later, unlike Jonah, his heart aches for the thousands who cycle through that facility without hearing the good news of salvation. For the lack of a chapel at the Bradshaw Unit, few men can gather each Sunday for Bible study lessons prepared by Hale and a growing band of faithful teachers.

The unit sits on 100 acres just north of Henderson where Hale lives, works and worships. He once figured the 2,000 or so men who occupy the facility had reason to be there and deserved no pity. They broke the rules and had to pay the price. That was before he was taken on a tour of the facility.

“As we walked through there Christ began to deal with my heart,” he recalled. Softened by the experience and nudged to action by the Holy Spirit, Hale inquired of the prison warden about starting a Sunday School class in the unit. As providence would have it, the warden, Michael Bell, had once been one of Hale’s Sunday School students and he heartily agreed to allow the class at Bradshaw.

The first Sunday in October 1997, Hale entered the prison and began his effort at freeing those held spiritually captive. All of four men came to that first class. Hale faithfully returned each week, teaching the inmates and leaving in time to return to Trinity Baptist Church in Henderson to lead a Sunday School class there.

For a few years Hale was frustrated at the consistent attendance of 20-30 men each week. Then inexplicably, the attendance boomed, only to be curtailed by prison officials for lack of space. 

In addition to class size, language became a barrier. Hale noticed a large number of Hispanic men in the class and discerned that English was not their first language. So he broke up the class and garnered the support of a much needed Spanish-speaking teacher Catalano Manon.

That solved the overcrowding problem for a time.

In 2004 another prison unit, the East Texas Treatment Facility (ETTF), opened in Henderson. The facility housed approximately 2,200 men and women mostly for drug, alcohol and probation violations. Hale determined to open a Sunday School ministry there too.

One of the volunteers from the Bradshaw Unit, Darrel Owens, took the job and had the class up to 50 people within a year before he moved to begin a Bible study at the Billy Moore Correctional Facility in Overton.

Hale took over Owens’ post at ETTF and within a year the class “broke into a full-fledged church” with 300 people attending, he recounted. 

The inmates formed a praise band and choir. Hale said, “It’s amazing to see the talent of those inmates in there.”

Seeing the Sunday School program grow at the ETTF and Moore units opened Hale’s eyes to the problem of growth at Bradshaw. They needed more room. ETTF was built with two large gyms that could accommodate 300 people at a time. The Moore unit only houses 500 inmates, negating the need for a large multi-purpose room for its class.

But at the Bradshaw unit—where 2,000 men cycle in and out of the facility every two years or so—only 120 can meet on Sundays.

The man who once had a less-than-gracious attitude toward inmates grieves for those who do not have the opportunity to hear the gospel each week.

“While they are [in prison] they are empty,” Hale explained. “They have to be filled with something.” And if not the gospel, he shudders to think of the consequences.

Those who are discipled in prison tend not to return to prison upon release. Hale said Texas boasts of a 25 percent recidivism rate compared to the national rate of about 60 percent. He credits Christ-center programs like the Sunday School classes for those statistics.

There are approximately 4,500 inmates in Rusk County. But, Hale noted, they are not all from that region. When prisoners are released, they return to their homes across the state. If they are not prepared spiritually to re-enter society, recidivism becomes the problem of every community the former inmates call home.

But Hale does not want to scare people into giving toward the chapel project, he said. The motivation should be lives changed by the gospel. The combined ministry of the three units sees 800-900 decisions every year, Hale said. Of those, 200-250 are first-time decisions for Christ.

He is confident the Sunday School attendance would quickly double with the completion of the proposed 500-seat Bradshaw chapel. The facility has the blessing of state officials, plans have been proposed and a non-profit committee formed to solicit donations for the $1 million building. But funds have been slow in coming. The committee must have all of the money in escrow before construction can begin.

Hale said the chapel would be raised in God’s timing. Chapels have been built at other state jails (The chapels become the property of the state upon completion.). So he knows it can be done. But what has been raised to date, he said, “is just a drop in the bucket.”

“What we’ve been doing is going to any and every church who would allow us to tell the story.” 

Hale said he understands that people give faithfully to other ministries that reach worldwide. But what they don’t realize, he added, is the similar impact of the Bradshaw Sunday School ministry on Texas and the world.

On a monthly basis Hale allows one of the inmates to teach the lesson. That routine once put him in a difficult situation. A heavily accented inmate from Africa was scheduled for deportation to his home country. He asked Hale if he could lead a class before he “caught the chain” (prison vernacular for leaving the prison upon release or transfer). Hale wanted to oblige but feared the man’s poor English would make the lesson ineffective. Hale relented and was overwhelmed with the results.

“I don’t know what he did but it was so good. And within two weeks he was gone,” Hale said.

What happens each Sunday in the prison units of Rusk County should not blur the big picture of what is at stake. Hale saw poetic justice in the deportation of the African inmate.

Hale said, “We think we’re in control. The United States government paid to send him to his mission field. That’s exactly how it was.”

How many other “missionaries” could be sent out from the prison at Bradshaw if more men are given the opportunity each Sunday morning to hear the gospel and be discipled?

Hale said he can’t help but wonder.

Razorwire & bedtime stories

HENDERSON—“‘Jungle Book’ rocks!”

Such was the declaration of a Texas prison inmate to Jo Freeman, a volunteer with the Storybook Project, as she prepared to guide the man through the nuances of prose reading for children. She wanted to make sure he knew how to pronounce the peculiar names in the fabled Rudyard Kipling children’s tale before she recorded his reading of the adventure story for his children.

No need, the heavily tattooed man replied.

“I know every one of them. That was my favorite book as a kid!”

To bring home the point, he punched the air with his fist and declared his praise for the unforgotten tale. As he did, Freeman recalled, “In his eyes, for that brief moment, I saw that kid who loved ‘Jungle Book.’”

Part literacy program, part family intervention, all gospel outreach, the Storybook Project at the Bradshaw Unit in Henderson brings together, if only through a recorded message, incarcerated fathers with their children outside the prison walls.

In a letter of thanks, one inmate wrote, “I’m forever greatful [sic]. You all have given me the oh so priceless gift of reading to my children and bridging the gap between these dismal walls and my children’s warm living room.”

For five years the Storybook Project has brought Bradshaw Unit inmates a little closer to their children. It takes three to four weeks to complete the recordings as Freeman and fellow volunteer Judy Turner guide inmates in selecting age-appropriate books and coach them to read with expression and flare.

Once the men are prepared, their reading is recorded. Freeman downloads the recording to her computer, burns a CD and ships the CD and book to the inmate’s children.

For the retired English teacher and member of First Baptist Church Henderson, the project is a blessing.

“It’s so awesome that God allowed me to continue in what was dear to my heart,” said Freeman, who also coached high school students competing in poetry and prose reading contests.

Turner, the director of Restorative Justice Ministries at Green Acres Baptist Church, founded the project at the Bradshaw Unit after learning of the program from the Texas Inmate Family Association. The two women make weekly visits to the prison where they meet with inmates who have requested to be a part of the program.

Although the Storybook Project is administered through the education department of the prison, the ultimate goal of the ministry is to reconcile the inmates and their families to God. Studies suggest that as many as 70 percent of inmates’ children will continue the cycle of crime and follow in their fathers’ footsteps to the penitentiary. Breaking that cycle is the goal of restorative justice and the Storybook Project is just one means to that end.

Three cabinets of children’s books have been donated to the project. Freeman and Turner supplement the secular books with Christian-themed stories. When prisoners choose to read a Christian story, Freeman said the impact of the gospel is multiplied as it is read by the father and heard by his children and anyone else who may listen to the recording.

The inmate’s thank you letter continued, “Bringing me closer to my children is only one of the gifts you’ve given me. More importantly together we have brought God’s message into their home. For that alone I’m forever greatful [sic].”

Ever the English teacher and prose coach, Freeman encourages the men and, indirectly, their children to be readers. Making reading and listening engaging and fun is her objective but getting hardened inmates—men who must maintain a steeled exterior—to read Dr. Seuss with pizzazz is daunting.

“It’s all about the children,” she tells them. That admonition, she said, tends to liven up the reading sessions.

But, at times, the readings are interrupted, choked off by the inmates’ sobs.

“The ones who break up and cry are the ones who are going to be gone for a long time,” Turner said. “I’ve seen big, big guys, covered in tattoos—as they read these children’s books—start weeping. They know this may be the only time they connect with their kids.”

The Bradshaw Unit is a transfer facility. Some inmates will be out of prison within two years while others are routinely transferred to other facilities, sometimes far away from family. 

One inmate wrote in a letter of thanks: “We want to let you know that everyone of y’all that do this ‘Story Book Program’ that blessed us, really melted our hearts. I’ve seen some of the biggest men break down and cry over this blessing that we have received. Each of you deserve a big thanks. Y’all have done something so special for us in a place where no one matters and nobody cares.”

That inmate’s daughter wrote to her dad.

“We got our books and you reading them. Now when I miss you really bad I can turn on the CD and let you read to me.”

Strict prison guidelines dictate how the women and inmates are to interact and what can be recorded. But Freeman and Turner said the men can add special messages to the recording. Freeman recalled one man introduced the story by saying how it had blessed him and hoped it would bless his son. One father rapped a Christ-centered poem while another sang from a hymnal.

They are encouraged to share special childhood memories.

“We try to go back and touch that innocence,” Freeman said.

Fathers wanting to read to their children will have to wait 3-6 months as the popularity of the Storybook Project grows. But it is worth the wait as one inmate wrote: “Thank you again for volunteering your time to this work. You are a blessing to me, my family and every other offender and their children who is fortunate enough to be able to participate in this program.” 

Dead Sea Scrolls: Exhibit to unveil texts


Those words, hammered out in 80-point type, dominate a full page, back-cover ad in the spring 2012 issue of Southwestern News, flagship magazine of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The ad—with a goat peering onto the page and eyeballing the reader—is meant to punctuate the content inside: 45 pages of text and rich graphics devoted to an unprecedented event at the Fort Worth school.

“Dead Sea Scrolls & the Bible: Ancient Artifacts, Timeless Treasures,” begins its run on campus July 2 and runs through January 2013, displaying artifacts from what is considered the greatest biblical archaeology discovery of the modern era.  

Sixteen Dead Sea Scroll fragments, including seven owned by Southwestern, will be available for viewing, some of which will be public for the first time. The featured scrolls contain portions of the Old Testament books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Daniel, Ecclesiastes, and the Psalms.

One of the school’s acquisitions, called Paleo-Leviticus, written on goat skin, is among the oldest known Scripture fragments.

The term paleo, explained Steven Ortiz, associate professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds and director of the school’s Charles D. Tandy Archaeology Museum, means “oldest of the old.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls, uncovered in desert caves near the Dead Sea and the Qumran settlement beginning in 1947 when a Bedouin shepherd went looking for a wayward goat, revolutionized biblical studies and gave crucial evidence of the Scripture’s accuracy from texts mostly dated from 150 B.C. to about 50 A.D., Ortiz said. 

Prior to 1947, the oldest complete Old Testament copy was dated to around 900 A.D. But the Dead Sea Scrolls—retrieved over nearly 10 years from 11 desert caves—revealed portions of every Old Testament book except Esther, and a complete manuscript of Isaiah, explained Southwestern President Paige Patterson.

“And so it was very common for scholars to say that we really didn’t know what the Old Testament said—‘With 1,000 years of copying, who knows what mistakes were made?’ The Bible was not even fully reliable,” Patterson said in characterizing the arguments of biblical skeptics. 

“But when we found the Dead Sea Scrolls, what we discovered is there are hardly any mistakes at all in copying. So we now know that what we have in our English Old Testament is very accurate.”

Also significant, Patterson said, is that the discovery of the prophetic books showed “copies of copies of copies,” indicating dates of authorship in keeping with the biblical timeline and giving evidence of their prophetic nature.

Also helpful, Ortiz added, is that “we have the Bible at the time of Jesus. That’s phenomenal. So we know that this is how Isaiah (the biblical text) looked, this is what Jesus would have read.” 

The seven scroll fragments owned by the seminary are being unveiled for the public and for scholars to see for the first time, Ortiz said.

“Scholars knew about them but they hadn’t been seen,” he added. Also, a Genesis fragment on loan to the school will also be made public.

The scrolls exhibit will be staged in the newly opened McGorman Chapel, 4616 Stanley Avenue, on the Fort Worth campus. 

With climate-controlled cases for the artifacts, the chapel corridors will be transformed into a museum. Visitors will view a brief film about the scrolls, experience a replica of Dead Sea cave number 4, and view ancient coins and pottery, early Bibles and texts.

Also planned are interactive “iScroll” kiosks where visitors can utilize cutting-edge digital imaging to view the scrolls as scholars do. A fully functioning simulated Qumran dig site will be set up where children can unearth shards from 2,000-year-old pottery. 

There will also be a Dead Sea Scrolls bookstore and a genuine goathair tent just like those used by modern-day Bedoiun shepherds. The tent was unveiled on April 11 at a press conference to introduce the upcoming exhibit. 

The exhibit is being presented by the seminary partly through a $1 million donation from Gary and Stephanie Loveless of Houston, who were also instrumental in Southwestern acquiring Dead Sea Scroll fragments beginning in 2009. Southwestern owns more Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts than any other higher education institution in North America.

Information on admission and hours of operation is available at Group discounts are available for 10 people or more. Weekend admission (Friday or Saturday) will be $28 for adults, $24 for seniors 62 and older, $18 for students and $12 for children. Monday through Thursday, admission will be $25 for adults, $18 for seniors, $15 for students and $12 for children. Tickets may also be reserved by phone at 877-789-0876.

Criswell College offering “Great Doctrines” class

DALLAS—Criswell College is offering the first session of the Great Doctrines of the Bible beginning May 14 at a discounted price of $99. 

Students research the doctrine of Scripture—known as bibliology—for eight weeks, participating in online forums and interacting with students and professors after accessing for materials, sermons, writings and videos of W.A. Criswell, the long-time pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas.

Both the Great Doctrines of the Bible Certificate and the Advanced Certificate are designed to provide students with a firm foundation in the major points of theology as well as prepare them for further study.

“Dr. Criswell’s extensive preparation, memorable illustrations, and rich insights make the Great Doctrines of the Bible series an invaluable resource for pastors, Bible teachers, seminary students and lay people,” said senior professor James Bryant, professor of record for the course.

For more information call 214-818-1392 or email Students who enroll now and take the courses in sequence as they are offered will secure the introductory rate for each of the eight courses. 

Criswell College taps enrollment VP, long-range planning committee


DALLAS—Trustees of Criswell College, meeting April 5, gave increased attention to enrollment with the election of Russell Marriott as associate vice president for enrollment services, and named a long-range planning and development committee to consider future needs.

Since 2008 Marriott has directed admission and recruiting at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, during which time the school grew 10-12 percent per year, said Criswell College President Jerry Johnson, who praised the recommendation from the student services committee.

In his new assignment, Marriott will supervise recruitment, assimilation and retention of students, coordinating tours and visits to churches, conferences and schools to recruit students. Admissions will be separated from the Student Life Department, which continues to be led by Joe Thomas.

Board chairman Jimmy Pritchard of Forney tapped Tom Hatley, Keet Lewis, Susie Hawkins, Ed Rawls and Calvin Whittman to serve on the long-range planning committee, in addition to ex-officio members Jack Pogue and Jim Richards representing the Criswell Foundation. Consideration will be given to expanding the curriculum beyond the focus of a Bible school, and weighing the merits of relocating the campus.

Trustees approved a slightly larger budget of $6,078,000 for 2012-2013 and promoted two professors—Alan Streett to senior research professor of biblical exegesis and Betty Smith to professor of English and composition. An honorary doctor of divinity degree was approved for commencement speaker Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.

As part of his report to the board, Johnson pointed to the lives changed through the ministry of Criswell students, including a man that one student met at the Dallas Life homeless shelter. “He came to Dallas to become a wrestler, got saved, went back home and came back to Criswell College years later,” Johnson said.

Forty-seven people are now attending a Hispanic congregation meeting in the school’s chapel, he added. The church was planted as an outgrowth of ministry to the surrounding neighborhood last November. The annual outreach day and an upcoming job fair in May provide additional opportunities to witness to the community, Johnson said.

On the international level, the school has accepted the challenge of the International Mission Board to embrace an unengaged, unreached people group, with plans to develop a strategy for ministry among the Arabic-speaking population in Turkey. Students will also be involved in sharing the gospel with the Basque people group in northern Spain.

IMB President Tom Elliff, North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell, and Criswell College missions professor Scott Bridger kept the priority of the Great Commission before students during a two-week chapel emphasis in mid-April that brought representatives of 14 mission organizations to campus.