Month: July 2013

Student camps see 152, including one Muslim teen, profess Christ

For students, summer may seem like simply the time between semesters when productivity takes a backseat to leisure. But this summer busloads of Texas teenagers “redeemed the time.”

During the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s three student camps, 152 teenagers registered professions of faith, 81 accepted calls to the ministry and 67 made other life-defining decisions. Nearly 1,500 students attended one of the three weeks offered during two weeks of M3 Camp and one week at Palacios.

M3 Camps—the three M’s represent moment, mission and ministry—are organized by the SBTC’s student evangelism area, with one week at Highland Lakes Camp in Spicewood and one week at Camp Zephyr in Sandia. Youth Week at Palacios, a camp organized by the language ministries department, aims to provide a quality camp experience to Hispanic churches, though it draws a few non-Hispanic church groups as well.

M3 Camps
The larger of the two camps, M3 saw 127 salvation decisions. Garrett Wagoner, student collegiate associate with the SBTC, said M3 intentionally and clearly presents the gospel to unconverted students and challenges those who have already trusted Christ to live lives of gospel mission and ministry.

Some credited an ongoing prayer effort during both weeks of M3 with the results that followed.

Students and adults took turns offering continuous prayer for all those at the camp, including the camp staff, by name. Wagoner said students who struggled with issues such as suicidal thoughts and depression sought intercessory prayer in the tent as well. During week one and week two, students also read the entire New Testament aloud, ending in what Wagoner described as a moving moment as students read the final verses in Revelation.

Jeremy McNair, youth pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Fort Worth, agreed that the prayer room played an important role for the 30 students from Cornerstone. He said through the week, his students had been praying for one student in their group who had been raised in Africa as a Muslim. He had recently come to the United States to live with family but had not shown interest in knowing or following Christ.

“When he came to our church, he was very respectful of our beliefs but firm in the fact that he wasn’t necessarily interested in receiving Christ,” McNair said.

But during one of the camp worship services, the young man got up and ran out from the gathering. McNair quickly caught up with him and listened to what he had to say.

“He said, ‘I know that Jesus is real.’ I said, ‘He is real.’ He said, ‘I know that Jesus is here.’ I said, ‘Absolutely,’” McNair recounted.

When the student still had reservations about abandoning his Muslim beliefs, McNair explained that Jesus said he is the “only way” to salvation and told him that one cannot serve both Christ and Allah.

“He renounced Allah and gave up his Muslim background in favor of serving Christ,” McNair said. “It was amazing to see the youth group who had been praying for him and modeling the Christian lifestyle rally around him. It was a fantastic end to the camp.”

Wagoner said on the last night of the second week of camp, camp pastor Ryan Fontenot challenged the students to go share the gospel with students who had not yet come to faith.

“I saw 13-year-olds who were broken over their friends who did not know Jesus, which is only something the Spirit of God can do,” Wagoner said. “Seventeen students gave their lives to Christ [that night].”

“What makes these camps different is it’s not just fun and games where we stick a message in there,” Wagoner added, explaining that the focus of the camp is challenging students in their walk with Christ.

M3, which drew groups from 25 churches this year, has grown in popularity among Texas student ministries, and organizers already plan to add a third camp week for next summer.

Youth Week at Palacios
More than 300 students attended Youth Week, held at the Palacios by the Sea Baptist Encampment in Palacios. The new location—a change from the camp’s home of six years at Alto Frio Baptist Encampment in Leakey—allowed for many Houston-area churches to attend and helped double the camp’s attendance from last year. During Youth Week, students heard a clear gospel message and the call to live a life that honors the Lord, said Jesse Contreras, SBTC language ministries associate.

Contreras said many of the students who came to this year’s camp struggled with weighty burdens and strongholds and found a respite in being at the camp, away from their everyday environments.

“Some of the students came to our camp struggling with suicidal tendencies, broken homes, violence, divorce, pornography, peer pressure and lack of purpose,” Contreras said. “Some of these students were able to receive prayer, encouragement and face-to-face time, but, overall, instruction from God’s Word concerning the issues they were struggling with.”

This year 25 students accepted Christ as savior, 15 rededicated their lives to Christ, one accepted a call to ministry, seven spoke with counselors about assurance of salvation and five made other decisions.

Contreras said Youth Week plays a vital role in the spiritual lives of the teenagers who attend, providing them a distraction-free environment in which they can seriously contemplate what it looks like to follow Christ wholly.

“I think that camps are a milestone to many of our students’ lives,” Contreras said. “Decisions to follow Christ for the rest of their lives are made at these camps, and many have sensed a calling of God on their lives to serve him in various ministries. We hope that the students will realize that they are not invincible but that they are fearfully and wonderfully made by our Creator.”

To find more information about attending an M3 camp or Youth Week camp in 2014, contact Wagoner or Contreras at the SBTC office, 817-552-2500, or watch for camp registration announcements at sbtexas.com later this year.

Jack Graham: “Make history “ live fully for Christ”

PLANO—In the opening session of the North American Mission Board’s 2013 Send North American Conference, Prestonwood Baptist Church pastor Jack Graham said he has never been more enthusiastic about the future of the church in North America.

“I have never been more encouraged with ‘right now’ than right now,” Graham said. “We are not interested in living history, we want to make history—to live fully for Christ and then exit the stage. I have no interest in leaving a legacy. I want to live a legacy—living for something and someone beyond myself. It is not about me. It is about him.”

Graham, now 63, said he is encouraged by the coming generation. He said God raises up men in every generation to proclaim the gospel. “We must send them out into a generation that we will not know,” he told the audience.

“Church planters, you are on the front lines in cities across this continent and you are taking the gospel into the cities to penetrate lostness here and around the world,” said Graham. He said the church needs a “fresh anointing and a fresh awakening … because all this effort will be in vain unless the spirit of the Holy One comes down. We need the power of God.”

Graham said he is grateful for the work of the North American Mission Board in focusing its efforts and strategy through Send North America.

“Thank God that NAMB is saying, ‘plant churches, make disciples.’ NAMB does a lot of good things, but it is important that they now say, ‘plant churches, make disciples.’ And we support them in it,” said Graham.

Prestonwood hosted more than 4,000 Send North American Conference participants. Graham addressed the gathering’s opening session.

“We have one big idea at Prestonwood,” said Graham. “If you want to see your church grow I can guarantee you that this works. Get Jesus in the house. It works. I tell our people, it doesn’t matter if Jack Graham is in the house. It only matters that Jesus is in the house.”

Marketing over conviction?

The Public Religion Research Institute has released a survey which indicates that younger religious folks are more “progressive” (liberal) than their elders. This appears to be more than the normal differences between old and young; the trend is going against Christian conservatives.

That trend is important but maybe less significant than it sounds. That doesn’t mean that liberal denominations are flourishing or will in the future. Believing nearly nothing (or almost everything) is no more appealing to younger church attenders than to their parents, although I suspect that churchless people who call themselves both progressive and religious will say nice things about liberal mainline denominations they know nothing of. It probably does mean that fewer people will gravitate toward Bible-believing churches without having been born again. To the degree that we can trust surveys like this we can observe that people who self-identify as “religious” aren’t necessarily bought in to the practice of any religion. They are the undecideds, the “nones,” who are spiritual but not in fellowship with any religious body.

Fun as such data is (and it is to me), the rub comes at the point of meaning. What should we do as a result of these facts? Those who disdain conservatives are quick to suggest that we should become less conservative if we want to attract a future support base. It’s hard to describe how condescending that suggestion sounds. Are the positions taken by more liberal people simply marketing postures? I don’t think they are but they seem to think that our beliefs are very adaptable to the needs of the moment. What would a person who is biblically convicted that abortion ends a precious human life do to attract someone who does not into his biblical fellowship? Attracting numbers or even maintaining a critical mass for the survival of your organization cannot be held more precious than the principles that justify its existence. One columnist has suggested that conservatives will need to learn to “sing harmony.” Another says that conservatives will need to “dampen” their identification with conservative causes. That’s silly. Conservatives will not prevail by becoming liberals.

Conservative Christians, as well those less so, must be careful to avoid pointless and divisive diversions. But don’t mistake the advice of counselors who don’t wish us well, or even pundits more focused on winning than on being right; they are not agreeing with us about what is pointless and divisive. The issues that separate us from more liberal Americans flow from the nature of Scripture. Sure, some of those are political social issues as well but nothing in Scripture and nothing we say is more offensive than the message that Jesus lives and he is lord. Until we’re willing to compromise that word, we’ll not really win the affection of this generation or any to come. 

Abortion bill signing undaunted by ongoing protests

AUSTIN—After weeks of loud and sometimes disruptive protests and counter protests, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 2 into law on July 18, banning nearly all abortions after 20 weeks and requiring abortion providers upgrade their facilities and standards of practice.

In a ceremony that included pro-life legislators and advocates, Perry called the bill “appropriate” and said it set a “reasonable standard” of care for women while sparing the lives and suffering of unborn babies.

As the governor signed the bill, abortion-rights activists continued their month-long protests with demonstrations in the Capitol rotunda. Some chanted or held signs declaring “shame on you” while others lay on the marble floor dressed in black and feigning death. Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and daughter of a former Texas governor, the late Ann Richards, said in a tweet, “We believe parts of this bill are unconstitutional & are working to stop it.”

Undaunted, pro-life legislators gathered around Perry as he signed HB 2 into law.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presided over the final Senate vote July 12, called it a victory for Texas women despite characterizations to the contrary by the bill’s opponents. Sen. Wendy Davis, D.-Fort Worth, who attempted to defeat similar legislation in the first special session with a filibuster, claimed the bill would severely limit Texas women’s access to medical care.

“By signing #HB2 today, @GovernorPerry proved he doesn’t care about Texas families. Let’s show him we do,” Davis tweeted. A link following the post took the reader to a campaign ad promoting Davis’ run for the Texas Senate.

“Don’t let anyone tell you anything different. We care about women’s health,” Dewhurst said.

Throughout the debate, pro-choice activists charged the legislation would force the closure of all but a handful of the state’s 42 abortion clinics. Under HB 2, abortion facilities must meet the same standards as ambulatory clinics and abortion doctors must acquire admitting privileges to hospitals within a 30-mile radius of the abortion clinic. Dewhurst emphasized failure to meet those standards would not force the closure of health care centers, only abortion facilities. The clinics have until Sept. 1, 2014, to meet ambulatory standards. The rest of the legislation goes into effect 91 days after the close of the session, about mid-October.

The 20-week ban on abortions was championed in the regular session as the “Pre-born Pain Bill.” Noting that some research indicates a pre-born at five months might feel the pain of an abortion motivated the drafting of the legislation.

Perry, in his remarks July 18, said neonatal care saves the lives of babies born “not far past that point.”

“That should give pause to all of us as we argue the definition of ‘viability’ and consider the human impact on abortion,” he told the audience of pro-life leaders.

Authors of the omnibus bills in the House and Senate, Rep. Jodi Laubenberg, R.-Murphy, and Sen. Glenn Hegar, R.-Katy, said they needed and appreciated the prayers and visible support of pro-life activists in the days leading up the bill’s passage. Laubenberg called them “the new blue” for the colored-coded delineation of the demonstrators—pro-life wore blue; pro-choice wore orange.

She thanked them for showing up to “counter the chaos that was going on,” referring to the well-organized and sustained demonstrations against the bill that started June 23 during the first special session. Activists managed to shout down passage of an identical bill in the closing minutes of that session, forcing Perry to call a second session.

“It really was the hand of God that held us up,” she said.

Hegar concurred.

“The power of prayer that day was immense,” he said.

The entire process weighed heavy on his heart, mind and soul. For several hours he stood on the Senate floor July 12 defending HB 2 against questions from Democrat lawmakers opposed to the measure. Hegar authored Senate Bill 1, the identical companion bill to HB 2. The bill passed the Senate on party lines, 19-11, with one pro-life Democrat, Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, voting for it.

“This has changed my life for the better,” Hegar said. “Texas is better after signing this legislation today.”

Perry called a second special legislative session to deal with the matter after opponents successfully stalled it as time expired in the first special session on June 25.

 

The legislation is a compilation of bills proposed in the regular session of the 83rd Legislature that ended in May. The 20-week ban is based on an approximate “post-fertilization” age.

HB 2 will also require abortion doctors to be present when any abortion-inducing drug, including RU-486, is administered.

Texas is the latest state to enact strict abortion regulations, despite efforts by abortion-rights activists to shut down or slow the legislative process. Their large and loud demonstrations at the State Capitol in recent weeks punctuated the debate but their efforts were countered by an influx of pro-life supporters days before the final vote.

“I am proud of our lawmakers and citizens who tirelessly defended our smallest and most vulnerable,” Perry said following the Senate passage.

Pro-choice senators proposed 20 amendments without success and stated their strong disagreement with the bill in closing arguments. During debate, occasional outbursts from pro-choice activists in the Senate gallery could be heard.

As promised by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, the rules of decorum were strictly enforced and violators were quickly escorted from the chamber.

Lucio, a Roman Catholic and the lone Democrat senator to vote for HB 2, called the legislation a victory for the fight against “the war on children.” He admonished his peers on both sides of the aisle for not giving their support to legislation that champions life at all stages.

Both sides invoked God as a source for their guiding principles during debate. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said she was pro-life and supported Planned Parenthood for the health care services it provides. She said she supported the 20-week ban on abortion but not the other requirements. The other provisions, she and other Democrats argued, restrict access to health care for poor women.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, rebuked Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, for implying that anyone opposed to HB 2 lacked faith in God. Whitmire noted the day in 1956 when he was baptized after proclaiming “Jesus as my Lord and savior” at a Baptist Church in Pasadena. He then went on to recount how he helped pay for a co-worker’s trip to New York for an abortion in 1972 when they were still illegal in Texas.

But Lucio called out his peers.

 “If you are a person of faith there is no way to justify abortion by pointing to God,” he said.

Other pro-life senators said science supports their arguments for the 20-week ban and their faith compelled them to treat all life with dignity.

Pro-life and conservative organizations, whose absence from the Capitol had grown increasingly conspicuous in contrast to the pro-choice demonstrations, rallied to the Capitol on July 8 in a show of support for the legislation. Many stayed through the final passage on July 12.

According to the bill, the ban will not apply to abortions deemed “necessary to avert the death or substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman or abortions that are performed on unborn children with severe fetal abnormalities.”

—Additional reporting by TEXAN editor Jerry Pierce

A Pastor”s Excellent Adventure

Shawn Peebles of San Angelo has always meant to attend the annual meeting of Southern Baptists. Between the reports he had read in newsmagazines and historical accounts recounted in seminary classrooms, he could see the value. And yet there was always something that made the trip out of reach for the Texas pastor.

But this year he made the 400-mile trek.

In fact, he had nothing but praise for the program and leaders who put it together. With children’s activities available throughout the four days he spent in Houston, he and his wife signed the kids up early. Each child was greeted by name and met new friends they will remember.

Peebles said he was impressed by SBC employees and elected leaders who shared their hearts for local church ministry and sending missionaries throughout North America and the world. “It makes me smile to be part of such a wonderful convention of churches,” he remarked.

This year SBC President Fred Luter bucked a trend to compress the agenda by scheduling what he called a revival service on Tuesday night. Several years earlier Bryant Wright led program planners to eliminate evening sessions in favor of giving participants more time for fellowship with family and friends. Mission reports were shifted to daytime sessions and time allotted for business was curtailed.

The attentive crowd at the Tuesday revival service often responded with handclaps, amens and other affirmations, praising God and encouraging Luter during the 40-minute sermon, according to Baptist Press reporter Diana Chandler. Peebles called that service “amazing” and pledged to do everything possible in his church and town to seize the moments for effective ministry.

How Southern Baptists spent their discretionary time may say more about the priorities of this year’s annual meeting in Houston than the business conducted on the floor. Attendance at side meetings before and during the annual meetings drew robust crowds.

For example, the two-day pre-convention Pastors’ Conference drew crowds ranging from 2,000 to 4,500, incorporating discussions on leadership, preaching and balancing ministry with family life. Ministers’ wives found encouragement in a separate morning session attracting 650 women and an annual luncheon with more than 1,300 in attendance.

And over 3,500 people listened to a SEND North America presentation challenging Southern Baptists to help plant churches while the International Mission Board hosted two meals relating to overseas mission strategies that attracted 1,400 participants.

Heavy-hitting theological discussions and practical application of biblical truth drew crowds to events like the Baptist 21 panel discussion on engaging the culture and the Ethics & Religious Liberty focus on family issues. The crowd standing throughout a Q&A with the Calvinism Advisory Group grew over the course of an hour from 200 to nearly 500 in the exhibit area.

Dozens of other side meetings brought together affinity groups based on shared ministry interests, ethnic and racial identity and reunions of college and seminary alumni.

The annual meeting serves as a personal reminder of our doctrinal convictions and missionary priorities.

“This was my first convention but it certainly will not be my last,” Peebles shared. “My kids told me on the trip home that this was the best week ever. We are establishing this as a trip for our entire family every year from this point on. I challenge each pastor with children at home to do the same.”

So as budgets are drawn up for 2014, earmark funds now to send your pastor to the annual meeting in Baltimore June 10-12 next year. As more pastors gain a first-hand view of the SBC’s priorities, appreciation for the denomination rises and vision for what could be gains focus. The end result should be more missionaries overseas, more church planters reaching the unreached areas of North America, more focus on how Southern Baptists can optimize resources toward reaching the world with the Good News.

The old adage, “We can do more together than we can separately” still holds true amid a changing landscape. Denominational missions and ministries are no longer the only parachurch groups to which churches connect—there are multiple ministries vying for local church attention—but the SBC remains the only mission organization that can send 5,000 international missionaries to focus on the task in far-off places without raising their own funds. It still works and the Great Commission still matters.

So does your voice, as does Pastor Peebles’. He found that out firsthand. You can do the same.

Sheepdog’ sessions prep churches for violence

FORT WORTH—Churches have long been considered safe havens for worship but, with 433 people killed on church property since 1999, they have become more dangerous than schools.

Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, knows such violence firsthand. A shooter entered a youth service in 1999, killed seven and wounded seven others.

Wedgewood hosted a “Sheepdog Seminar” this spring, providing training for 350 church representatives to prevent and respond to violent attacks. Seminar leaders referred to attendees as “sheepdogs” or protectors of their churches.

“I think there’s something that God’s people can do that we’re not doing,” Jimmy Meeks, seminar leader and a police veteran of more than 30 years, said of the need for church preparedness.

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (retired), another speaker whose book “On Killing” was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, said denial of the occurrence of violence is a major enemy of the church.

“The church has sat and done nothing while our kids are desensitized,” Grossman said, proffering that violent video games and movies are encouraging a generation of youth to use force against society’s most vulnerable.

“They’re gonna seek victims that can’t fight back in places that guns aren’t allowed,” often at churches and schools, Grossman said.

Meeks encouraged churches to mobilize safety teams, training and licensing them to carry and use guns to the extent of the law. No church members should join solely for the purpose of hurting those who might seem to be “bad guys,” Meeks said.

“It’s not about how to hurt the shooter but to protect the sheep,” he noted.

The seminar was not limited to gun violence. Attorney Greg Love of MinistrySafe said churches need to be on their guard against sexual predators.

“It starts with understanding it’s even possible,” Love said. He advised churches to conduct thorough background checks, educate their members and encourage them to report problems, even if reputations are at stake.

“We expect and desire that kids be safer at our program than any other,” Love said of the church.

Churches also must rely on the power of God to fight against violence, Meeks said, encouraging prayer, fasting, wisdom, courage and love.

“It will take more than a good man with a gun to stop a bad man with a gun,” Meeks said. “We need more than guns — we’re gonna need the power of God.”

Seminar attendees heard from families who have lost members in church shootings and viewed the film “Faith Under Fire,” based on the 1980 shooting at First Baptist Church in Dangerfield, Texas.

Each of the 13 speakers during the May 6-7 seminar noted the importance of churches preparing for violence physically, mentally or spiritually.

Host pastor Al Meredith said churches must tailor ministry to the times in which we live.

“I don’t know if it’s the best of times or the worst of times,” Meredith said, “but it’s the only times we’ve got.”

DR childcare lays spiritual foundations, retiring director says

HOUSTON—Don’t let the combat-style boots fool you. Carma Hackett is no drill sergeant.

She helped establish and directed the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Disaster Relief childcare unit with the efficiency of a longtime business owner but the heart of a servant. And at the close of the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention June 12 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, she handed over her baby to new leadership so she could devote more time to something more near and dear to her heart.

The 75-year-old retired construction company owner is newly married to Dennis Maywald. And after being single for 45 years she’d like to spend more time nurturing this newfound relationship without the interruption of disaster relief duty. That’s not to say she won’t again volunteer. She is open to God’s leading, she said, just as she was seven years ago when she moved from Arizona to Texas and stepped up to lead a program she had never heard of.

“For the last seven years I have not had to worry about childcare because I knew if Carma was there it would be done right,” SBTC Disaster Relief Director Jim Richardson said of Hackett.

Asked if Hackett was a trooper, Richardson answered no. “She’s a Ranger!”

“Jim gets the concept of childcare. He tells [DR volunteers], ‘I trust my grandchildren with yellow shirts,’” Hackett said of the SBTC DR volunteers and their ubiquitous yellow shirts and hats worn on duty. One duty unrelated to disaster relief is the presence of DR childcare volunteers at Baptist annual meetings, where they care for the young children of messengers.

On the last day of the SBC meeting she retired again and turned over responsibilities to Joe and Betty Dufner. Hackett recounted God’s leading in her life, telling how the work impacted her, the volunteers and the children and parents they served.

Just to make it abundantly clear, Hackett said at the outset, “This is not babysitting.”

For seven years Hackett has nurtured, coddled and directed the operation of the SBTC DR childcare unit. She said the ministry encompasses so much more than merely changing diapers and wiping noses and to describe it as “babysitting” is to miss the divine nature of what is accomplished with each deployment.

In 2005 the Arizona transplant had never even heard of disaster relief until her pastor, Larry Shine of Pine Forest Baptist Church in Onalaska, asked the congregation to pray that God would raise up a leader to lead the fledgling childcare unit.

Hackett committed to pray.

“One night I had a dream of a long line of people,” she recalled.

In that line was a woman. In her arms was a child. Clinging to her leg was another. A third youngster ran amongst the crowd.

“I thought, ‘Oh my goodness. There’s got to be someone who can take care of that mom.’”

After a few days of praying Hackett said she confessed to her pastor she was the one God was calling.

God told her, “I’ve already trained you to do that.”

She was sent to Georgia for Phase I training. The 18-hour drive home was spent creating a checklist of all that would be needed to establish and effectively operate a disaster relief childcare center. Today the ministry boasts a mobile state-of-the-art childcare center that can be operational in two hours, caring for 80 children 5-years-old and younger.

The childcare units serve in the field following disasters and during the state and national conventions. At the recent SBC annual meeting, 115 volunteers from Texas, Louisiana, Florida, New Mexico, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Ohio and Missouri cared for 136 children—many of them repeat attendees.

Hackett said, “When the children see the yellow shirts their faces light up. The Lord has so much more for us to do than change diapers.”

The childcare centers at the SBC and SBTC annual meetings allow both parents to participate in the events. Hackett said some of her workers are compelled to volunteer because, as pastors’ wives, they rarely had that opportunity when their children were young so they happily provide it to a new generation of parents.

In the field following a disaster, shell-shocked communities grieve for lives and homes lost, sift through rubble and file insurance or fill out government forms. All the while, children, with needs of their own, require care.

At every deployment and each convention there are “divine appointments.” The work of DR childcare volunteers influences the children and their parents and opens opportunities to share the gospel.

One example: Leticia, age 5, was displaced with her family after a tree fell on their Livingston home during Hurricane Ike in 2008. A local church opened its doors to those left homeless by the storm. Hackett recalled Leticia’s grandmother telling the girl how wonderful it was that God let them stay in one of his houses.

While grandma spent hours filling out forms and meeting with FEMA representatives, Leticia stayed with Hackett in the childcare unit.

Leticia knew enough about Jesus to ask Hackett some very profound questions. She asked Hackett if she knew Jesus. When Hackett said she did, the child asked, “Why did they hate him? Why did he have to die?”

As the girl colored pictures Hackett told her about the Lord. An occasional nod indicated she was still listening though focused on her artwork. When asked if she wanted Jesus to be her Lord, Leticia responded, “I’ll think about it.”

That afternoon the grandmother retrieved Leticia from the childcare center. The pair had only gone a short distance when the child broke free from her grandmother’s hand and ran back to Hackett. She knelt down to receive the child’s hug. The girl leaned in close and whispered in Hackett’s ear, “I’m still thinking about it.”

That, Hackett said, is why DR childcare is important.

“Do I think that girl will be saved? Absolutely!”

At the SBTC meeting last year in San Antonio, Hackett recalled one child crying as his younger siblings were checked in to the childcare center that he had outgrown. 

“But they like me here,” he cried as his parents tried to console him.

Another child wailed when her parents arrived to take her home because she didn’t want to leave.

“What do you do back there?” one of the parents asked Hackett.

“We love on them,” she replied.

“What more could a kid want?” Hackett asked, pointing to the rooms where children played. “Back there is Toys-R-Us and Grandma and Grandpa are in charge.”

Not even cancer kept these DR volunteers from caring for kids

HOUSTON—Joe Dufner and Doyle Bosley leave little room for excuses.

Among the 115 disaster relief volunteers from across the country who entertained, fed, walked, cradled, changed and loved on 136 preschool children during the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention June 9-12 in Houston, Dufner and Bosley had the best reasons not to be there.

Like their peers, their days began before convention staff and messengers arrived and ended after everyone had left for the night. But nothing would deter Texans Dufner and Bosley from their commitments.

Not long hours, demanding schedules or stinky diapers. Not even cancer.

The men and their fellow DR yellow shirts, many of them long past child-rearing years, worked at the convention as a facet of their childcare ministry, usually done in the field following disasters. Crying toddlers are no strangers to these folks.

“As long as I can and as long as they’ll have me I’ll be here,” said Bosley, 69, a leukemia patient who’s fought his disease since 2006.

When Dufner, 72, wasn’t working security at the convention’s childcare unit, he was driving to meet with doctors at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (MDA) in preparation for surgery at the end of that week. He was diagnosed last year with Merkle cell carcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer. Surgery in October treated the initial outbreak but a recent follow-up exam found the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes.

The news was disconcerting, he said, not because the cancer had returned but the upcoming pre-operative appointments conflicted with the commitments he and his wife Betty had made for the convention.

“My priority was that I made a commitment to take care of children and I’m going to take care of the children,” he said.

The bi-vocational pastor from Forest Branch Baptist Church in Livingston said the setback would not keep him from fulfilling his obligation. With the SBC annual meeting and the world-renowned cancer treatment center both in downtown Houston, Dufner figured he would simply split his time between the two facilities.

After a long appointment at MDA the Tuesday of the convention, Dufner returned to the George R. Brown (GRB) Convention Center to finish his shift with the children. The next morning he shared his story with the TEXAN before leaving for another appointment. At the close of his shift at the GRB that evening, Dufner and his wife became the new directors of the STBC DR childcare unit following the retirement of Carma Hackett.

Two days later, Dufner had surgery to remove cancerous lymph nodes.

Bosley’s ongoing battle with cancer has taken its toll on his kidneys and a severe case of plantar fasciitis keeps him off his feet and on a motorized scooter. He can’t chase the older children (childcare at the convention and during disaster responses is for children up to 5 years old) but he can sit at a table and play with a toddler.

It was one such encounter that made a significant impression on an 18-month-old child and his foster parents.

“I was supposed to pull the trailer and be free. I didn’t retire to work childcare,” Bosley said of his trip to Lubbock in 2009 for the SBTC annual meeting.

But finding little else to do with his free time, Bosley sat through the childcare training session (He was already certified in other areas of DR ministry). Dufner was also in attendance that day—just another observer passing the time and hoping to be useful.

When it came time to get to work both men reported to Hackett, donning aprons and a willing spirit.

When Hackett stopped by Bosley’s room to check on the children she spotted an 18-month-old boy standing at a table playing with a car. Looking past the toddler she saw Bosley, on the floor, rolling a second car, keeping the boy happily engaged.

It was an unremarkable situation except for the fact that the child had been severely abused as a baby and men terrified him. In the short time they had been together the toddler developed a trust in Bosley alone. He would not leave when called to eat supper, instead demanding Bosley help him with his meal.

The child’s foster parents (who later adopted him) tearfully recalled to Hackett that each day of the convention their son could not wait to get to the meeting to see “Papa Do.”

Dufner became “Papa Joe” to his charges and the name stuck.

The men have served at disaster sites, SBTC conventions, and SBC conventions. At the annual meetings they delight in seeing children they cared for the previous year.

Dufner said, “When you go somewhere and a child runs up to you and calls you by name, you know you’ve succeeded.”

Dufner and Bosley are not the only volunteers facing difficult health issues. Most volunteers sport a “crown of glory” (Proverbs 16:31) and endure health troubles that come with age. Bosley’s wife Patricia can no longer work directly with the children so she switched to registration, allowing her to continue volunteering and being nearby.

Dufner said he would like to see younger adults volunteer with SBTC DR childcare. Participation from a younger generation would only strengthen the ranks of the ministry. On average, about 10 percent of the DR volunteers respond when called, necessitating a pool of at least 200 trained workers to staff a convention or disaster.

SBTC DR childcare only has a pool of 56 trained volunteers from which to draw when needs arise.

“We have people say ‘I’m too old. I can’t walk. I can’t witness,’” Dufner said.

But speaking as the soon-to-be childcare director, he added, “In disaster relief there is a job for anybody. There’s always a place for anyone who wants to serve.”

Former Texans plant church in Mass., laying foundation through Bible study and outreach

STONEHAM, Mass.—“Over the past year I have observed that many people here have never met someone that genuinely follows Jesus. People need to see what it looks like to love Jesus while at work, raising children and navigating life’s challenges,” said Steve Brown, a church planter in Stoneham, Mass.

Since July 2012, Steve Brown and his wife Merri have been quietly laboring to plant Wellspring Church and share the gospel in the town 10 miles north of downtown Boston.

The work is challenging as the Browns face the prevailing culture of New England. “It is standing for the truth among the very religious and the very liberal and sharing the truth in a loving way and not getting discouraged when people disagree.”

The culture shifted slightly following the Boston Marathon bombing in April, opening new opportunities to engage people. 

“When a tragedy like this occurs it causes everyone to ask those hard questions about good and evil in our world,” Brown said. “This has resulted in many people being open to talk and discuss their viewpoints. It has provided us a great opportunity to share a Christian worldview and what it looks like to have hope in Jesus.”

But even though the bombings have opened some doors to witness, it has also stirred up an intense focus on human strength, unity and perseverance instead of a reliance on God. “You have likely heard the phrase, ‘Boston Strong.’ Our prayer is for people to realize that true healing and strength can only be found in Jesus.”

Sharing the hope of Jesus motivated the Browns to uproot their lives, leaving Grand Prairie to plant Wellspring Church. Through NAMB and the Baptist Convention of New England, Brown serves as a bi-vocational church planter in the traditionally Catholic area. He works a 30-hour job each week and then spends the remainder of his time making connections in the community and developing evangelistic outreach efforts as he works to build a foundation for the church with the hope of beginning services in the spring of 2014.

The foundation is being laid with two Bible studies. One Bible study meets in Brown’s home.

“These are the people immediately around us,” Brown said. “One couple lives on the third floor of our building; another my wife met at the library’s kids’ craft day and another was a contact from one of our first community outreach events.”

A second Bible study includes Brown’s co-workers and meets at a coffee shop down the street from his place of employment.

“As I got to know people at work, I asked God to help me guide our conversations into spiritual matters. After four to five months, I began asking if anyone was interested in meeting for Bible study,” Brown recalled. “The first time we made arrangements to meet, nobody came. In praying about it, I felt the burden to persevere and the second time, two guys showed up.”

In addition to Bible studies, the Browns are busy looking for outreach opportunities in the community. “God blessed us with an opportunity through a relationship with a local pizza shop owner. I met him on one of my trips to Stoneham about four months before we moved. Our family became regulars at his shop and got to know him fairly well.” 

The Browns shared their calling with the shop owner and he offered his business for anything related to the ministry. Out of this, a periodic “Family Night” outreach was born. “All of the families in our home Bible study have participated in at least one of our Family Night events.”

As the foundation building for Wellspring church continues, the Browns welcome help from churches and individuals to further their ministry. As part of the NAMB Send North America initiative, the Browns benefit from giving through the Cooperative Program.

“The CP funds a portion of our family budget, covered ministry expenses for our first Family Night, provides evangelism resources and sponsors family support fellowships within the church planting network,” Brown explained.

Another way to be involved in Brown’s ministry is to sign up to follow his blog at john414journey.com.  “The blog is a great tool to make our ministry a part of your Sunday School, small group or family prayer time.”

Volunteers can also move to Stoneham and join the work, Brown said. “I’m not talking about leading a church plant but moving to live, work and worship in a community as part of a church plant.
Consider this, if you have attended a Bible-teaching church and have been committed to a Sunday School class or small group for several years, you have been exposed to more discipleship than most people in areas where church planting is taking place,” Brown said.

Although the work is hard, Brown seems focused and confident.

“It is having the faith to know that out of this culture that is so far removed from God, he will raise up his church. He alone has the power to take people from it, transform their lives and equip them to carry out the work of his kingdom.”