Month: June 2015

HBU trains students to be apologists in workplace, public sector, and home

HOUSTON The university campus has long been the intellectual caldron in which students stew over the “big” questions, roil in their doubts and bubble over with newfound convictions—or at least it should be. Political correctness, trigger warnings and flagrant attempts to stifle ideological foes threaten to douse the fires of inquiry that lead to the truth, particularly the truth of the gospel. But an upstart Christian apologetics program at Houston Baptist University has kindled an enthusiastic response from students and scholars alike.

Launched part-time in the spring semester of 2013, HBU’s Master of Arts in Apologetics boasts a robust (and growing) academic program on campus and launched a full-time online presence in 2014. Students can take the philosophical or cultural track of the interdisciplinary program taught by a coterie of the top Christian apologists in the nation. Sharp minds instruct students not to win arguments but to engage in civil, confident dialogue for the sake of the gospel.

“Apologetics lays the groundwork that makes a serious consideration of the Christian claim possible,” Holly Ordway, professor and director of the MAA program, stated in an email interview. 

Ordway speaks from experience. Formerly an atheist, she could not seriously consider the notion of God much less the precepts of the Christian faith. But “rational apologetics,” along with the writings of C.S. Lewis, put a crack in the wall of her secularist defenses.

“Rational apologetics is very important because it helps remove obstacles to belief—if someone genuinely believes that what we call God is a big man in the sky, then of course the Christian faith will seem ridiculous,” she said. “Rational apologetics also helps to show that our faith is reasonable, that we don’t ‘check our brains at the door.’” 

Ordway’s colleague and fellow former atheist Mary Jo Sharp explained that philosophical and cultural apologetics provide an inroad for sharing the gospel within a society that is increasingly offended by the truth of Christianity.

Quoting from Augustine’s Confessions, Sharp said, “’They love truth for the light it sheds but hate it when it shows them up as being wrong.’”

Part of the problem lies in society’s separation of the secular and the sacred, as people compartmentalize their lives and relegate religion to the “no facts to be found here” category. This separation is evident even in the church, where believers all too readily accept secular notions of what is true.

“The truth of Jesus Christ relates to all of life,” Sharp said. “It doesn’t matter where you are. You can’t separate the sacred and the secular.”

HBU president Robert Sloan agrees. A polarized society where people dig their heels into the ground they claim as truth and refuse to hear another perspective, Sloan said, creates a problem for the Christian witness.

Some Christians are not open to apologetics, often associating it with arguing. Not long ago a woman asked to pray with Sharp following a speaking engagement and went on to beseech God to undermine her ministry because “it teaches people to argue.”

Sloan contends that every Christian must give an answer for his faith. That is the basic tenet of apologetics, which is derived from the Greek apologia, which means “to defend.”

“If apologetics is approached as simply argument to score points—and unfortunately it often is—then frankly it’s not very useful for communicating the gospel,” Ordway said. “That’s one of the premises behind our program: that it’s not enough to know things about God; we want our students to know God and to be able to draw others to him through personal witness, rational argument and imaginative engagement.”

The interdisciplinary nature of HBU’s cultural apologetics program teaches students to recognize and then communicate God’s truths that can be found in philosophy, the arts and literature. Speaking God’s word is always effective, but the manner in which it is conveyed is key to gaining the opportunity to speak in the first place.

Enrollment in the program has swelled from 10 to 50 in just a year and a half. These students represent recent college graduates, pastors, lay leaders and one surprising subset: mothers.

Both Sloan and Sharp said that mothers are concerned about the ideas their children bring home. Many moms feel ill-equipped to prepare their children to hold their own in matters of faith.

“It has been thrust upon us,” Sloan said. “There is more vocal challenge to the Christian faith.”

The students and faculty represent the breadth of Christendom, with roots in Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and non-denominational evangelical churches. All of them, Ordway said, share “a commitment to Christ, a passion for sharing the gospel, and a desire to love God with their minds as well as their hearts.”

In addition to full-time faculty—an amalgamation of authors, bloggers, philosophers, ministry directors, male and female—visiting scholars include names like William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, Nancy Pearcey and HBU Provost John Mark Reynolds.

Still in its fledgling stages, the HBU apologetics program is just beginning to teach and train its students to use cultural apologetics as a means to an end—the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the interim, Sharp recognizes the work to be done.

“I’m not seeing bold Christian witness—people who are naturally living their faith in public,” she said.

But Ordway is seeing students gain confidence in her classes. 

“The more frequent ‘aha!’ moment has actually been as students realize how they can use what they’re learning to transform the culture rather than fleeing from it—that they are becoming equipped to use literature and the arts to convey the truths of the faith; that they can articulate why science and faith are not at odds; that they can engage in constructive dialogue and creative work.”

The professors and Sloan see the program only growing and being duplicated on other campuses. The reason, Sloan said, is obvious.

“I believe [apologetics] is increasingly effective because it is increasingly necessary.”  

New book challenges misperceptions of apologetics

When most people hear the term apologetics they conjure up images of red-faced scholars squaring off in heated debate or intellectuals studying in the ivory tower of academia, preparing to vigorously defend their faith to doubters and skeptics. However according to Travis Dickinson, assistant professor of philosophy and Christian apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, these caricatures fall short of capturing the heart of apologetics.

“Apologetics should be a very normal part of Christian discipleship,” Dickinson says. “On my approach, apologetics is a matter of loving God with our minds, as we are commanded to do in Matthew 22:37.”

This summer marks the release of Dickinson’s newest book, Everyday Apologetics. In the book, Dickinson paints a picture of apologetics not as an academic exercise void of emotion but rather as a holistic enterprise that encapsulates the entirety of the human person. Some have an aversion to apologetics because of the misconception that it focuses too much on reason and too little on faith. According to Dickinson, however, it is intellectualism and reasonable defense that tend to be lacking in modern churches.

“The idea is that we are all called love and pursue God intellectually, and part of this pursuit will be asking deep and difficult questions about the faith,” he says. “This resource casts the vision for what this looks like.”

Everyday Evangelism: A book by Travis DickinsonEveryday Apologetics serves as a broad overview of Christian apologetics. Dickinson deals in one chapter with common objections to Christianity, including supposed contradictions in Scripture, the problem of evil and the hiddenness of God. The book introduces the reader not just to common arguments made against the Christian faith but also to an entirely new way to think about apologetics. 

“One of the primary misconceptions about apologetics in today’s church is that it is principally about debating atheists,” Dickinson says. “However, most atheists don’t change their minds as a result of arguments, especially in the context of a debate. So if this were all that apologetics is about, then it is probably not worth our time and effort.”

If apologetics is more than debate, then what is it? One of Dickinson’s primary contentions is that apologetics should be approached devotionally as a component of viewing apologetics holistically.

“What it looks like to practice apologetics as devotional is to ask those deep and difficult questions about the faith for ourselves as a way to simply to know and love God more fully,” Dickinson says. “We, as Christians, should be curious about the problem of evil, or the reliability of Scripture, or reasons for belief in God, and other typical apologetics topics. Gaining insights on these matters has made my own faith and love for God grow tremendously through the years.”

In addition to discussions on these topics the book includes specific resources for pastors seeking to make apologetics a more central part of their church culture. Dickinson makes a compelling case for apologetics as a necessary component of pastoral ministry, as the role of the pastor should not be relegated merely to preaching on Sunday mornings but also to shepherding believers through the inevitable valleys of doubt that accompany the journey of faith.

Everyday Apologetics provides its reader with just that—a practical guide to making apologetics accessible to believers in their day-to-day lives. 

Now is the time to lead

President’s Address To The Southern Baptist Convention
Columbus, Ohio • June 16, 2015

On June 13, 1979, Dr. Billy Graham spoke to 48,000 Southern Baptists in Houston, Texas, and said, God is not calling us tonight to a playground or a sports arena—He is calling us to a battleground.” This was the public launching of Bold Mission Thrust, the vision to share the gospel with every person in the world by the year 2000. What Graham called a “magnificent obsession”, the retiring President of the Foreign Mission Board, Dr. Baker James Cauthen stated, “No matter what the costs, this worldwide mission thrust must be our priority.”

At this same convention, the 15,760 messengers elected Dr. Adrian Rogers as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. His election became the catalytic moment that launched us into the Conservative Resurgence. Only six years later in 1985 in Dallas, Texas, over 45,000 registered messengers gathered in the midst of the most intense battle for the Bible. Thirty years ago this summer, one of the highest moments in our history occurred on Monday night at the Pastors’ Conference when Dr. W. A. Criswell preached the epic message, “Whether We Live Or Die.” He proclaimed, as only he could, “Whether we continue to live, or ultimately die, lies in our dedication to the infallible Word of God.” He went on to say in his concluding remarks, “No battle was ever won by retreat, or submission, or surrender.” 

Historically, Southern Baptists have been willing to go to battle for two major things:  The propagation of the gospel to the world and a perpetual commitment to the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible. Even in 1922, when Southern Baptist President, E. Y. Mullins addressed our convention, his opening sentence was, “Southern Baptists have come to one of our supreme hours in their history.  

I believe if the fifty-nine Presidents who have preceded me could speak to us in this hour on June 16, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio, they would declare to us that we are living right now in our most defining hour as Southern Baptists. As Romans 13:11 tells us, this is a “kairos” moment, truly a decisive moment, an undeniable moment and season fixed by a Sovereign God as a true moment of destiny. We are not entering into a playground, but a battleground. We are in spiritual warfare.

This is not a time as Southern Baptists to shrink back in timidity and fearfulness or be paralyzed with uncertainty. This is not the time to retreat.

The alarm clock is going off in our nation and across the world. This is not the time to push the snooze button. Crises abound. The need is great. The hour is late. Now is the time to lead. With deep conviction and a great sense of urgency, I humbly come to you today and declare these words, appealing to you that…


Leadership is missing in action today. Leaders are born in the midst of a crisis. Crises abound everywhere. 

In the New York Times, Op-Ed Columnist Roger Cohen called the crisis we face the “Great Unraveling.” When the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, spoke to the United Nations about the threat of ISIS, The Guardian quoted him as saying, “We must not be so frozen with fear that we don’t do anything at all.”

Sadly, we are seeing the savagery of ISIS advance, resulting in thousands of men, women, and children being beheaded, crucified, raped, or sold into the ever-growing human trafficking industry, while millions of others are being displaced from their homes. Simultaneously, we see American pastor, Saeed Abedini still imprisoned in Iran, which is absolutely wrong and unacceptable in every way. As well, the evil of Boko Haram and the ruthless persecution against Christians by some governments of the world are occurring. Open Doors USA says that the “Persecution of Christians Reaches Historic Levels.” Approximately 100 million Christians are being persecuted globally. Perhaps Wall Street Journal’s columnist Peggy Noonan is correct when she writes we are, “adrift on denial.” Now is the time to lead.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right when he said: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Now is the time to lead. If this is not enough, across the world, 153 million orphans remain, one-seventh of the world lives in extreme poverty, 750 million people lack access to clean water, and natural disasters continue to occur. All of this while the global economy hangs in the balance. The world is not only dangerous, but also living without hope. Now is the time to lead.

Back at home in America, we are over $18 trillion in debt and living on the edge financially. It is also reported that over 43 million Americans live in poverty. The decay of the family continues. Only 46% of the children in our nation are living in a home with two married heterosexual parents who are still in their first marriage.

Additionally, our hearts break at the sad state of racism and prejudice in our own nation. The New York Times reported “Sixty-one percent of Americans now say race relations in this country are generally bad.” Tensions and conflict abound. I call upon all Christian leaders, Christ-followers, and churches, regardless of the color of their skin, to decry all racism and prejudice, denouncing it as sin against God and one another. Now is the time to lead.

Due to a 1973 ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States, in the last 42 years, our nation has aborted an estimated 57 million babies. Can you imagine, 57 million children losing their lives due to one Supreme Court decision? Even though reports state that abortion rates are down some, we do not need to become content in or calloused to this deplorable issue. How many is 57 million babies? 57 million babies is like destroying and taking the lives of the entire populations of California and New York. Now is the time to lead.

Now, we await the outcome of the next possible Supreme Court ruling that could alter not only our nation’s belief and practice on traditional and biblical marriage, but also our historic commitment to religious liberty for all people. This could be a watershed moment in our history, possibly changing the trajectory of our nation unlike anything we have seen since 1973, in the Roe vs. Wade decision. This decision could add more fuel to the already sweeping wildfire of the sexual revolution, and move it beyond anyone’s control locally, statewide, nationally, and globally. I say to you again: Now is the time to lead.

While all of these things are occurring nationally and globally, back at the church, many of our churches sleep. Most of our churches fight.

At times, the fellowship within our own Southern Baptist family is challenged due to a mindset that believes combat against one another is some valiant, spiritualized effort. We need to be careful not to chase after secondary matters that end up in the weeds of suspicion, skepticism, criticism, and cynicism about one another. We need to refuse these carnal actions.

This is not leadership. In fact, it forfeits leadership. Pastors, Christian leaders, and all Christ-followers are not exempt from loving one another unconditionally and operating relationally by the biblical principles in Matthew 18. We need to love one another and all people just as Jesus loved all people. Now is the time to lead.  

In short, anywhere you look there are crises. We live in a broken, fragmented, fragile, world. Our churches must rise to this moment, ministering in love and compassion to all people unconditionally. But with every crisis, there is an opportunity; there is an open door.

The final book of Holy Scripture is the Revelation of Jesus Christ. In chapters two and three, we read Jesus’ words to seven different churches. Only two of these seven churches received commendation without any rebuke at all: One was Smyrna and the other was Philadelphia.  

Philadelphia was a city known for two things: It was the Gateway to the East because it had the pass that would serve as the open path to cross the mountains of modern day Turkey. It was also subject to major earthquakes and repeated aftershocks.

The city was also filled with Jews, but once any Jew became a follower of Christ, they were ostracized and condemned by the synagogue. Followers of Jesus became opposed fiercely. Yet, in the midst of it all, God was Sovereign, Jesus was Lord, and doors were opened for the gospel.

Revelation 3:7-8 says, “Write to the angel of the church in Philadelphia; ‘The Holy One, the True One, the One who has the key of David, who opens and no one will close, and closes and no one opens says: I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close.’”

The church at Philadelphia was marked by obedience to Christ. Even though they were small and seemingly insignificant, Jesus commended the church because their leadership and people were obedient to the commands of Christ and they endured steadfastly.

Pastor, it is not about the size of your church or your town, it is about your leadership and faithfulness to the commands of Christ.

Much like Philadelphia, our churches today are in increasingly hostile environments. We need to learn from the church at Philadelphia. We can do what God is calling us to do, even in the face of cultural opposition and in the midst of spiritual warfare.  

Now is the time to lead. From our text today, we learn . . .


Jesus declares to the church in verse seven, “I have the Keys!” Keys are symbols of authority. As the true, holy, resurrected, Sovereign Lord, only Jesus has all-authority. Jesus reminds everyone that only He is the one true Savior who is the only door to salvation for the world. This is possible because of His declaration in Revelation 1:18, “I hold the keys of death and Hades.” The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus gave Him complete authority over death itself, the grave, and even hell. We stand on the deep belief that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and raised on the third day. This is our hope for eternal life and is our message to the world.

This gospel serves as the keys to the Kingdom and they have been given to the church. This gospel, the keys, is Jesus’ authority that opens doors for evangelism, ministry, and opportunities for gospel advancement.

In a world becoming darker by the moment, now is the time to lead believing and standing. The church at Philadelphia believed and stood. They were perceived by their culture as we are perceived by our culture: Weak and limited in strength.

Jesus told them in verse eight, “you have kept My word.” This means they were holding fast to the Word of God. This church was faithful to believe in and stand on the commands of the Lord. Even through fierce opposition and spiritual warfare, they were faithful to keep God’s Word. On this Word they stood.

Jesus also commends them for not denying His name. They did not retreat due to the intimidation from the Jewish synagogue, but they held fast to the name of Jesus. Because of this, they would be protected in future days and the doors of opportunity would be opened to them endlessly.  

Will we be faithful in this day of many adversaries and opponents to believe and stand on His Word and for Jesus’ name? When other denominations and leaders are beginning to relax their message to be more politically correct, will we rise up in faithfulness to believe and stand on His Word and for Jesus’ name? You cannot caress or cuddle with our culture and simultaneously believe and stand on God’s Word and for Jesus’ name.

From this passage in Revelation, we know that when they were weak in their strength, they believed and stood faithfully for His Word and for His name. And when they did, Jesus said to them, “Look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close.” When Jesus opens doors, no one and no power can shut the doors, including Satan and hell itself. The gates of hell cannot and will not prevail against the church.

Southern Baptists, when we realize our strength is limited without the power of God upon us and we believe and stand faithfully for His Word and for Jesus’ name, doors will open for us like we have never seen before. Due to Jesus’ sovereignty and power, there is not:

  • One government
  • One Supreme Court
  • One court case
  • One editorial
  • One commentator
  • One liberal
  • One conservative
  • One world leader
  • One politician
  • One radical group
  • One demon
  • One of anything

 that can shut the doors Jesus Himself has opened for us. Jesus is not only the door to salvation, but He is the overseer of all doors. Stop seeing all the trends and events as obstacles for us and for the gospel; these are things that God will turn into open doors for the gospel.

In the New Testament, the open door represents great opportunities that God gives His people.  

Southern Baptists, now is the time to lead. We need to believe and stand on His Word and for His name unashamedly and boldly, but always compassionately. We need to hold the Word of God in one hand and the love of God in the other hand. When we do this, the Lord will produce open doors, even when or if the opposition is fierce.

Therefore, I want to remind and state clearly to our churches, to our pastors and church leaders, to all evangelicals, to all believers globally, to everyone here in America, and to the entire world these things:

Southern Baptists: We stand believing that the Bible is God’s infallible, inerrant, authoritative and final Word in all things.

In our churches, we need to keep His Word, holding fast to His name. To all evangelicals, you can count on us. We will contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints, once and for all.

Southern Baptists: We stand believing that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation; only coming through repentance from sin and faith in Christ alone. 

While much of the world declares there are many paths to God; there is only one path to God, Christ alone. We are all sinners and only Jesus can forgive sin.

Southern Baptists: We stand believing that we are called to reach the world for Christ, making disciples of all the nations.

When we began 170 years ago in 1845, we united around this common cause and it will be the only thing that keeps us together.

Southern Baptists: We stand believing that our greatest need in America is to see the next Great Spiritual Awakening.

Last October in New York City, President Barack Obama stated,“[T]here’s a sense possibly that the world is spinning so fast and nobody is able to control it.” There is a growing desperation and admission from across America that we cannot fix ourselves! Our greatest hope for America is to see the church revived and the country experience a genuine spiritual awakening that will result in an outbreak of millions coming to faith in Christ. We need a Jesus revolution! It is time for Southern Baptists to lead by coming together in clear agreement, visible union, and in extraordinary prayer for the next Great Awakening and to reach the World for Christ.  

Tonight, our entire evening session will be dedicated to the purpose of thousands of us praying together for the next Great Awakening and for the world to be reached for Christ. Please be on time and stay with us all the way to the end on this historic night. Please do not assume it will be a normal session. While pre-worship begins at 6:30 PM, our formal beginning time is 6:45 PM.

I state the following to remind us all, we believe God has created all people for the Glory of God and in His image.

America: We stand believing that humanity’s bearing of God’s image is not contingent upon one’s skin color.

We believe that all racism and injustice must end, letting grace begin to unite us in the bond of peace. We must learn to love one another as Christ loves us. Since all people are made in God’s image and created for His glory, our hearts break because of what I am about to state to you. .

America: We stand believing that abortion is a glaring desecration of the unborn child’s purpose and value.

We must be vigilant to always stand for the unborn child, all human life, and human dignity from the womb to the tomb. Any decline in America’s commitment to the unborn child will lead toward an accelerating desecration of human life, resulting in more abuse, more violence, and more chaotic disruption. God has created us to bring Him glory. When we devalue human life in any way from the womb to the tomb, we are robbing God of His intended glory for each of us. 

Regardless of what someone has done or is involved in today, our churches must rise up right where the people are, from the abortion issue to the same-sex issue, and many others, extending God’s love, ministering to them, and sharing the power of God’s healing and forgiveness.

With this desire, my heart breaks to even have to state the following thing. Before I do, I want to be more than clear. We love all people and even if they are struggling with same sex attraction or adultery or anything else, we want to help them. We are all sinners and in need of the Lord’s help and grace.  

Even though this is my heart, I must also lift up what God says in His Word. Therefore, I humbly declare this in love to all people and to the leaders of our nation, our Supreme Court, and to all of America and the world . . .

America: We stand believing that marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.

We have believed this and do believe this and I believe will continue to believe this as a convention of churches. We stand for biblical and traditional marriage. As Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “This definition (of traditional marriage) has been with us for millennia. And it’s very difficult for the court to say, ‘Oh well, we know better.”

We could not agree more with those words. We do not need to redefine what God has defined already. This is a Bonhoeffer moment for every pastor in America.

While some evangelicals may be bowing down to the deception of the inclusiveness of same sex union or marriage in their churches, we will not bow down, nor will we be silent. We believe the Scripture is authoritative in all things and to say it permits such activity is a denial of its authenticity, infallibility, and authority regarding marriage and everything else. Therefore, we will hold up and lift up the Bible as God’s authoritative truth on marriage. This afternoon, you will be asked to approve a resolution that affirms what we believe about marriage and calls us to stand for truth; but it also reminds us to love our neighbors and extend respect to all people, even those who disagree with us on this pivotal issue.

While we affirm our love for all people, including those struggling with same-sex attraction, we cannot and will not affirm any behavior that deviates from God’s design for marriage. Our first commitment is to God and His Word, nothing else, and no one else.

The Supreme Court is NOT the final authority nor is the culture itself; but the Bible is God’s Final Authority about marriage and on this we stand!

As for me, and I also believe for thousands of pastors in this nation who will have to speak for themselves: As a minister of the gospel, I will not officiate any same-sex unions or same-sex marriage ceremonies. 

America: We stand believing that freedom of religion for all people promotes the common good of our nation and the world.

Freedom of religion belongs to our God-given human conscience; not to the Supreme Court, the Congress, any President, or the leaders of the world, business, any radical group, or anyone else that tries to restrain it. 

Not only is now the time now to lead believing and standing, but …


In the midst of the fire of opposition, the church at Philadelphia held fast to His Word and did not deny Jesus’ name. Because of this Jesus told them, “Look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close.” God was opening the doors for them so they could take the gospel to their world from Philadelphia. While their city was a gateway to the mountains, it also became a gateway for taking the gospel to their world.

As they lived, we need to live out the gospel and ensure that it will go to the ends of the earth. It is not enough to just believe and stand, we must also live and go.  

Living must follow believing and going must follow standing.

We need to emulate the church at Philadelphia. They not only understood the need to believe and stand, but to live and go. We need to go through the open doors and advance the gospel.

Even though the culture is darkening and religious liberty is eroding in our nation, God is opening up doors for each one of our churches. We need to find a way to penetrate the growing lostness in North America and across the globe. It is urgent we penetrate lostness.   

When you look at the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and our history, it was in the reported year of 1972 when we experienced our largest number of baptisms: 445,725 baptisms. In that same year, we saw 137,667 12-17 year-olds baptized, almost double what we reach today. In fact, I was one of those teenagers baptized and counted in that very number.

Why was this our highest year of baptisms? Historically, it is referred to as, The Jesus Movement. God was at work in and through the teenagers, college students, young adults and beyond in America.

This is our greatest hope today. Yes, we need to pray for a 3rd Great Spiritual Awakening in America. A mighty move of God can wake up the fearful preacher, the dead church, the lifeless state convention, and even the complex Southern Baptist Convention. A move of God can even turn America’s heart back to God.   

Southern Baptists, we need to turn our hearts back to God. When the summary report of the Annual Church Profile from our churches was released last week, I was so burdened when I saw that our average attendance, baptisms, and giving declined in 2014. Our continual slow-grade decline in some areas is highly concerning to me. It is time for us as a convention to get honest with ourselves about where we are spiritually and practically. I do rejoice that we are gaining in the number of our churches. But reports show that our now 51,094 churches and congregations documented their evangelism so low in the 2013-2014 associational year, that it took us back to the level of our baptisms which existed 67 years ago, in the year of 1947 when we had only 144 million people in America, while today we have 321 million Americans.   

We are adrift on denial if we do not recognize the dire need of where our churches are evangelistically. Most of our churches may have the doctrine right, but we are in an intensive care unit on a spiritual respirator regarding the lack of evangelism. We may have a reputation for being alive, but we are dead if our evangelism is dead.

We need a mighty move of God now. Yes, we need a 3rd Great Spiritual Awakening now. We need to call out to God now in repentance and seek His supernatural intervention now.

Simultaneously, we need take urgent action now. The doors are wide open and we must go. Pastors, we need to return to prioritizing evangelism in the church and having an aggressive strategy to reach our community with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whatever it takes, we must risk it all to penetrate the lostness of our communities. It has to begin with those of us here today.

Our churches need to rise up and pray like never before, give like never before, believe like never before, stand like never before, live like never before, go like never before. The doors are wide open now and we must go, church-by-church, but also go together. We need each other.

We are family. To our Southern Baptists who are not with us, it is time to come home. Why? Because there are also churches right now

SWBTS teams reach thousands of homes to aid Ohio church plant

BEXLEY, Ohio—Matt Skiles of St. Augustine had been praying that at least one person would come to faith in Christ during a week of door-to-door visitation on behalf of Paramount Church in Bexley, a town near Columbus. A young mother with whom he shared the gospel “finally understood” after he presented truth from Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 6:23, putting into practice the training he’d received at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Fifty students from the Fort Worth-based seminary and the College at Southwestern assisted the relatively new church plant launched as a part of the North American Mission Board’s SEND cities initiative. Skiles began by inviting Nancy to a block party then asked where she went to church.

A professing Catholic, the young woman believed she would get to heaven by going to church and doing the right things, Skiles said, recalling how he used Scripture to help her see that salvation is found through faith in Christ alone. The M.Div. student is a member of Cana Baptist Church in Burleson and prepared for Crossover Columbus through classes in which students from all six Southern Baptist seminaries participated.

“We went from my asking, ‘Who is Jesus?’ to going through the gospel and how we are messed up and need God to save us,” Skiles recalled. “After she finally understood, she prayed to receive Christ.”

Paramount Church Pastor Rush Witt has already begun sending out teams to follow up on the 309 homes where Southwestern students had gospel-related conversations, particularly with the 46 people who professed faith in Christ.

“They were clearly trained to be wise and strategic, yet really bold,” Witt said of the college and seminary students. “It’s important to have people who are mature and aware of where they are because this is not Texas and this is not Georgia.”

The Kentucky native lived in Cleveland for five years before moving to Florida and later South Carolina. Witt, who earned his M.Div. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, had maintained a friendship with his counseling professor Frank Catanzaro, who later joined the faculty of Southwestern and encouraged the school to help Paramount during Crossover Columbus.

“This location is unique in that there is a great need for another healthy, gospel-centered church. Our community is thirty-five percent Jewish—most of whom are Orthodox. We have great respect for our neighbors and much of what they believe,” Witt said, “but obviously we want to share the gospel with them—to do what we read about in the New Testament—reach both Jews and Gentiles. That is a great part of what this community is all about.”

Two other students, Reynier Carballosa of Havana, Cuba, and Arelie Urbina, a Kansan by birth who later moved to Houston, joined a van-load of nine other students they dubbed “Team Worldwide,” carrying students from Nigeria, Germany and other countries. They spread out to visit 200 to 300 homes each day with the entire group distributing gospel materials to 7,643 homes.

One self-identified atheist invited Carballosa and Urbina to sit with him under a tree to share their convictions. “We got to have a conversation with him for over an hour,” Urbina said. “He was the most hospitable person I’ve ever met, pulling out lawn chairs for us and offering us water. I was thinking, ‘We’re sharing the living water and you don’t even know it.’”

While that man did not accept Christ during their visit, two teenagers in the same neighborhood listened attentively as Carballosa and Urbina turned the conversation to share their own testimonies.

Carballosa, a MACE student whose parents were communists, came to faith in Christ as a 14-year old attending Catholic school. A friend shared the gospel and helped him apply the Bible to his daily life. Urbina, a humanities major at the College at Southwestern, learned of Jesus from an eighth grade math teacher who was sensitive to her Catholic upbringing.

Those experiences helped them relate to the young Catholic kids they met in Bexley.

“When you relate your story about how you came to faith it definitely takes the conversation to a more personal level rather than just trying to sell them on church,” Urbina said. “When I first told the good news, it finally hit them that they could have purpose in this life.”

A member of Wedgwood Baptist in Fort Worth, she credits the interest of people who had been praying for months for Crossover Columbus to set the stage for such divine encounters. Carballosa is a member of Travis Avenue Baptist, also in Fort Worth, and hopes to return to Cuba to minister there after graduating with a music concentration.

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention partnered with Southwestern to supply funding for students to travel to Columbus. Witt is grateful for the partnerships across the convention.

“The Cooperative Program has made everything we do every day more possible. We have been the recipients of a great inheritance,” he said. “It’s not just the finances—though that’s important,” he added, referring to local church support, the North American Mission Board and partners like Southwestern and SBTC who support the students.

“Churches can be encouraging in other ways that are not financial if they can’t do that—coaching, sharing wisdom, caution—you can’t put a price on that.”

Because churches plant churches, Witt encourages every local Southern Baptist church to discover a way to be involved with church planting through prayer, financial support, encouraging letters or face-to-face contact.

Paramount Church drew encouragement from the pocketful of cards students presented each day after the visits to neighborhoods, Witt said. “They haven’t been going door to door carelessly. They come back with cards telling what happened and who is interested in knowing more. That really is a test of faithfulness of the group.”

Leaving the work of salvation in the hands of God, Witt said, “We can’t control whether people at the door come to Christ, but these students have definitely been in control of how they share the gospel and give us the opportunity to have a long-range relationship with these people.”

He prays the students will learn from the experience of serving somewhere they’ve not been before and see the gospel as the answer no matter where God calls them to minister in the future.

“We don’t have to change the gospel,” Witt said. “We need to make sure we protect the gospel as it is and make it understandable to people wherever we go.”

More information on the evangelism strategy and booklets utilized by Southwestern students is available from Matt Queen by emailing

Floyd calls for Southern Baptists to lead the way “whatever the cost, whatever the risk”

COLUMBUS, Ohio—“Whatever the cost, whatever the risk,” Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd called for pastoral leadership in the largest Protestant denomination to seize a “Bonhoeffer moment” by refusing to be silent in the face of persecution, hold onto the Word of God, take heart and be encouraged.

“The lostness has never been greater in our dangerous and hopeless world,” said Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas. “Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs to rise up and lead.”

Punctuated by frequent applause from an enthusiastic audience of more than 6,000 messengers and guests, Floyd’s message, entitled “Now Is the Time to Lead,” began with broadcast clips depicting his point that “the alarm clock is going off in our nation and across the world.”

“I believe if the 59 presidents who have preceded me could speak to us in this hour on June 16, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio, they would declare to us that we are living right now in our most defining hour as Southern Baptists.” Citing Rom. 13:11 to declare it a “kairos” moment, Floyd described a season “fixed by a sovereign God as a true moment of destiny.”

From the savagery of an ISIS advance that perpetuates an ever-growing human trafficking industry and threats to religious liberty that wrongly imprison believers like Saeed Abedini, Floyd appealed for Christians to heed the warning of the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Quoting from The Cost of Discipleship, Floyd said the opponent of Nazis was right in saying, “’Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

With 153 million orphans remaining worldwide, a seventh of the world living in extreme poverty, 750 million lacking clean water, continuing natural disasters and the global economy hanging in the balance, Floyd said the world is not only dangerous but living without hope.

He called upon Christ-followers to decry all racism and prejudice and any contentment or callousness over the estimated 57 million babies killed since the 1973 Supreme Court ruling on abortion.

Later in his message he reminded Southern Baptists of their belief that God created all people for his glory, adding, “We stand believing that humanity’s bearing of God’s image is not contingent upon one’s skin color.” Furthermore, “Abortion is a glaring desecration of the unborn child’s purpose and value,” he insisted, urging continued vigilance on behalf of all human life and dignity from the womb to the tomb.

“Now we await the outcome of the next possible Supreme Court ruling that could alter not only our nation’s belief and practice on traditional and biblical marriage, but also our historic commitment to religious liberty for all people,” calling it a watershed moment potentially adding more fuel to “the already sweeping wildfire of the sexual revolution and move it beyond anyone’s control locally, statewide, nationally and globally.”

Floyd appealed for Southern Baptists to love all people “even if they are struggling with same-sex attraction or adultery or anything else,” aware that “we are all sinners in need of the Lord’s help and grace.”

Because of the belief that “marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime,” Floyd said Southern Baptists could not agree more with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s remark that the definition of traditional marriage had endured for millennia and thus it is difficult for the court to say, “’Oh, well, we know better.’”

Since neither the Supreme Court nor the culture is the final authority, Floyd insisted that he and thousands of pastors in the nation refuse to officiate any same-sex unions or same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Advocating freedom of religion, Floyd said Christians in America must stand for that priority, knowing it promotes the common good of the nation and the world.

Instead of advancing as leaders, Floyd said many in local churches are sleeping or fighting, challenged by indifference or internal debate.

The fellowship of the Southern Baptist family is challenged by a mindset that believes “combat against one another is some valiant, spiritualized effort,” he said. “We need to be careful not to chase after secondary matters that end up in the weeds of suspicion, skepticism, criticism and cynicism about one another,” calling on leaders to refuse such carnal actions by operating relationally from Matthew 18.

Instead of shrinking back in timidity and fearfulness, paralyzed by uncertainty, Floyd appealed for leadership that “believes and stands” on the promises of God’s Word. He relied on Revelation 3:7-8 for his text, quoting: “Write to the angel of the church in Philadelphia, ‘the Holy One, the True One, the One who has the key of David, who opens and no one will close, and closes and no one opens says: I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close.”

Floyd applied comparisons from the Philadelphia church to the state of Southern Baptist churches today—“perceived by the culture as weak and limited,” yet unwilling to deny the name of Christ. “Marked by obedience,” he said those early believers endured steadfastly just as pastors must today despite the size of their church or town and increasingly hostile environments.

“When other denominations and leaders are beginning to relax their message to be more politically correct,” Floyd said, “will we rise up in faithfulness to believe and stand on his Word and for Jesus’ name?” Southern Baptists must avoid the temptation to “caress or cuddle with our culture and simultaneously believe and stand on God’s Word and for Jesus’ name,” he said.

The biblically based insight that “our strength is limited without the power of God,” translates to an appreciation for the open doors that even Hell cannot close, Floyd stated.

“There is not one government, one Supreme Court, one court case, one editorial, one commentator, one liberal, one conservative, one world leader, one politician, one radical group, one demon or one of anything that can shut the doors Jesus himself has opened for us.”

Not only is Jesus the door to salvation, Floyd reminded, but he is the overseer of all doors.

“Stop seeing all the trends and events as obstacles for us and the gospel,” he insisted. “These are things that God will turn into open doors for the gospel.”

Throughout his message Floyd drew from the legacy of Southern Baptist heroes Adrian Rogers, Billy Graham, W.A. Criswell, James Baker Cauthen and E.Y. Mullins to make his case for leadership to take a stand based on “God’s infallible, inerrant, authoritative and final Word in all things,” believing Jesus Christ to be the only way to salvation—only coming through repentance from sin and faith in Christ alone.

Thirty years to the week since Criswell delivered his epic message “Whether We Live or Die,” Floyd referenced the Dallas pastor’s conviction based on a dedication to the infallible Word of God, quoting, “’No battle was ever won by retreat or submission or surrender.”

Historically, two motivations have prompted Southern Baptists to go to battle, Floyd recounted—the propagation of the gospel to the world and a perpetual commitment to the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. He recalled that in 1922 when dealing with encroaching modernity, SBC President E.Y. Mullins opened his address to the convention by saying, “’Southern Baptists have come to one of our supreme hours in history.’”

Quoting Billy Graham’s 1979 message to Southern Baptists gathered in Houston that “God is not calling us tonight to a playground or a sports arena—he is calling us to a battleground,” Floyd used the early morning presidential message to offer a strategy for leadership that refuses to hit the snooze button.

He remembered the missionary mandate to reach the world for Christ and make disciples of all the nations as the “common cause” from the birth of the denomination 170 years ago, adding, “It will be the only thing that keeps us together.”

Responding to President Barack Obama’s concern that there is “a sense possibly that the world is spinning so fast and nobody is able to control it,” Floyd said he senses a desperation and admission that Americans cannot fix themselves. 

Floyd praised the focus on prayer for spiritual awakening at the first evening session, calling a revived church and genuine spiritual awakening the only hope for America.

His appeal for a third spiritual awakening reiterated a theme that Floyd has been declaring most of his adult life—since his own conversion as a teenager in Texas in 1972—when baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention peaked at 445,725.

“In that same year, we saw 137,667 12- to 17-year-olds baptized, almost double what we reach today,” Floyd reported. Recalling the Jesus Movement era that mobilized teenagers, college students and young adults in America, he described the awakening by God of “the fearful preacher, the dead church, the lifeless state convention and even the complex Southern Baptist Convention” as “our greatest hope today.”

While rejoicing that the SBC is gaining ground in the number of churches, Floyd lamented that the 51,094 churches and congregations reported evangelistic outreach so low that they returned collectively to the level of baptisms 67 years ago when the U.S. population was 144 million in contrast to the 321 million Americans today.

“Most of our churches may have the doctrine right, but we are in an intensive care unit on a spiritual respirator regarding the lack of evangelism,” Floyd hollered. “We may have a reputation for being alive, but we are dead if our evangelism is dead.”

The call for a simultaneous prioritization of evangelism and spiritual awakening requires great risk, Floyd conceded, calling on Southern Baptists to rise up and pray, give, believe, live and go like never before.

“The doors are wide open now and we must go, church-by-church, but also together,” he said, reiterating, “We need each other.”

Extending an olive branch to Southern Baptists “who are not with us,” Floyd asked them to come home. “There are [non-SBC] churches right now in America that already align with us doctrinally, missiologically and cooperatively that are considering joining us in advancing the gospel. We need them. They need us, and we need you to join us in advancing the gospel.”

A year of traveling on behalf of Southern Baptists to visit with established pastors, church planters, state convention leaders and students who are among the 18,000 future pastors, missionaries and scholars, Floyd said he had heard their stories, prayed with them and sought to offer encouragement.

“I saw the resolve on their faces to finish the task from those living in the Middle East all the way to Cuba,” Floyd said. “I saw their burden so great, they would weep. Many of them are serving in countries where they would lose their lives if they were ever discovered sharing the gospel.”

Raising his voice, Floyd concluded, “Southern Baptists, this is not a fairy tale. The need is great, the hour is late and we must advance the gospel together to every ethnicity in the world. Whatever the cost, whatever the risk, this worldwide mission thrust must be our priority,” he demanded, returning to his earlier quotation of Cauthen, Foreign Mission Board president from 1953 to 1979.

“I appeal to you, that if anything in our churches, Southern Baptist convention entities, state conventions and associations is not accelerating the Great Commission locally, nationally and internationally, we need to rid ourselves of it now. The urgency is upon us.”

Religious liberty concerns raised after only one bill makes it to Texas House, Senate floors

Texas capitol building image

AUSTIN—Religious liberty advocates had high hopes going into the 84th Texas Legislative session for passage of bills protecting pastors, businesses, individuals and the state’s marriage laws. But at the session’s final gavel June 1 only one bill had passed muster while other religious liberty legislation never made it out of committees.

Passage of Senate Bill 2065, the Pastor Protection bill, gives clergy some legal protection against litigation should they refuse to preside over a same sex marriage. But critics claim the bill was passed as a token to pastors and their allies while other legislation that would have provided similar protection for other Texans and shore up the existing marriage law were left to die in committees or the bottom of a calendar without a public debate.

“It is clear that LGBT activists and corporate business pressure are to blame for the death of our religious liberty bills,” said Cindy Asmussen, SBTC ethics and religious liberty advisor. “The Pastor Protection bill was supported only after pastors from around the state faithfully came on four separate occasions to the Capitol to rally their support for this bill.”

The bill ensures clergy and churches cannot be compelled by the government to solemnize or facilitate a wedding that is in conflict with their deeply held religious convictions. The law also provides legal standing for them if sued for refusing to perform a wedding.

The pastors’ testimonies held little sway over lawmakers as their voices competed with those of LGBT proponents and their advocates in the Texas Association of Businesses (TAB). Adding to bills’ demise were hyperbolic protests in Indiana following passage of that states’ Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) in April. Pastors and their allies fear lawmakers have left Texans with little defense for advocating a view of traditional marriage if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that states must recognize same-sex marriage.

“I definitely think what happened in Indiana and Arkansas tainted the issues that we were pushing in Texas,” said Rep. Matt Krause, R-Ft. Worth, told the TEXAN. “Regardless, I think it’s unfortunate that Texas did not take the opportunity to debate the issue more thoroughly. If we had done so, I think Texas could have been a leader and at the forefront of the discussion instead of a bystander.”

Krause, who hails from a family of Southern Baptist pastors, sponsored legislation that would have established a Texas RFRA amendment. Texas has a RFRA statute that can be repealed by the legislature. Amendments must be voted into and out of the Texas Constitution by the voters. Krause’s bill never made it out of committee.

Dave Welch, president of the Texas Pastors Council, and Jonathan Saenz, an attorney and president of conservative Texas Values and its political action wing Texas Values Action, did not hesitate to blame Republican leadership and TAB’s partnership with pro-LGBT organizations like Texas Impact and Texas Freedom Network for the demise of significant legislation.

Welch said the Pastor Protection bill passed only after repeated lobbying by pastors urging Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to step up pressure on committee chair Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, to move the bill out of committee. Only then did the bill get a hearing and ultimately a vote in the legislature.

“Senator [Huffman] could have given this a hearing any time up until the deadline but rather pushed through a useless bill protecting pastors’ sermons from being subpoenaed. … I studied her bill and found it completely unnecessary. It was a token attempt to placate us,” said Welch.

The unanimous vote for the Pastor Protection bill vindicated its supporters’ assertion that the measure was common sense law and that similar measures would have had the same result had they been given a hearing.

Regarding bills addressing the state’s sovereignty over marriage law and protections for faith-based child welfare providers, Saenz said, “Had these bills been scheduled for votes by the leadership of the Texas House in a timely manner, we are certain they would have passed despite overwhelming opposition from Democrats and LGBT advocacy groups.”

House Bill 4105 by Rep. Cecil Bell, Jr., R-Magnolia, was an attempt to maintain state sovereignty over marriage law should the Supreme Court rule in favor of same-sex marriage. Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney offered, HB 3864 that would have protected the rights of conscience for faith-based adoption and foster agencies if they refused service to same-sex couples. Both bills were offered, unsuccessfully, as amendments in the waning days of the session.

 Although pleased with the passage of SB 2065, Asmussen said the lone bill does not provide legal cover for the multitude of scenarios legislators were trying to account for. The state’s RFRA statute gives a broad foundation upon which Texans can stand when defending their religious convictions, but it does not provide the specific defense needed for a variety of situations, Asmussen and others argued. A statute, unlike an amendment, can be repealed by any subsequent legislature.

Disaster relief volunteers work together to serve Houstonians affected by historic floods

HOUSTON—Lifting a corner of foil aside to peer at a pan piled high with neat stacks of mouth-watering burgers, pausing briefly to insert a meat thermometer inside a perfect patty, Geraldine Bishop and Mildred Fuller consult briefly about raising the temperature to comply with safety standards.

Cooking for disasters is serious business.

Just a week following devastating and historic Memorial Day weekend floods in Houston, disaster relief ministries for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention turned on their stoves to serve 5,000 meals a day for those hardest hit.

Bishop and Fuller, members of Harmony Hill Baptist Church in Lufkin, led the kitchen team that began cooking in a large outdoor kitchen area June 2 in the parking lot of Braeburn Valley Baptist Church in Houston.

Fuller said about 20-25 volunteers cook and clean for about 12-14 hours a day.

The warm meals are taken to shelters, personal residences, neighborhoods and nursing homes— anywhere murky floodwaters invade homes and businesses, creating chaos.

Southern Baptists work in partnership with the American Red Cross to prepare meals that are placed inside about 20 official emergency response vehicles (ERVs) dispatched to locations throughout Houston.

“It’s amazing what these volunteers do,” Fuller said.

Fuller knows how much a hot meal can mean to a person who has gone for days without one. She served alongside her husband as he pastored in Montana for 39 years before they returned to Texas to set up a disaster relief ministry at the Lufkin church. She and her husband have spent countless hours serving during many major weather events in the last eight years. This was her first time to volunteer since he died in October.

A 77-year-old grandmother of 11 and great-grandmother of 16, Fuller said she is impressed by the work of volunteers spread “all over” the state of Texas.

“We see God’s in control. We work awfully hard, literally fall into bed, and then the next day go out with a smile,” Fuller said. “It’s a God thing. When we go out, God gives us the strength. It’s absolutely amazing.”

It is all part of what Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers see as their mission— to “become the Lord’s hands and feet during a disaster,” said Vaundina Green of Cedar Bayou Baptist Church in Baytown.

Green and Sheryl Adams were operating a laundry and shower trailer provided by their church at the site where the machines were busy all hours of the day.

When the relative of a local resident stopped by to ask about cleaning supplies to assist in a mud-out, the women gently steered him toward a local community center that could meet his specific need.

“Thank you,” he beamed. “I appreciate the help.”

Gordon Knight, an incident commander for SBTC disaster relief, said the volunteers, most of whom are staying in a dormitory at nearby Houston Baptist University, pray daily for each other and for the people they help.

“Our single motivation is to serve other people with the love of Christ,” Knight said.

In Houston—the nation’s fourth largest city with more than 6 million diverse people—Knight said it would be easy to become overwhelmed with the needs but teams know God has a purpose for them there at this particular time.

“It’s sad that it takes a tragedy like this to focus on the needs of Houston, but the needs are great,” he said, speculating it is “probably the most unchurched city in Texas” despite church buildings of almost every kind scattered throughout most of its neighborhoods.

 “We hope as people watch us they understand what we do and why we do it,” Knight said. “People are coming here looking for security and jobs, and they don’t stop to think there is more to life than that. And that’s what we’re here for—the opportunity to share Christ.”

For more information about SBTC disaster relief or how to contribute to their efforts, visit

SBTC helps Cleburne cowboy church plant acquire new tent for services

CLEBURNE—Five weeks after Pastor Wade Yarbro and Chisholm Trail Church, a church plant located between Cleburne and Rio Vista, held their first services, the tent in which they worshiped blew away.

Tornadoes sweeping through North Texas and Johnson County on April 26 carried off the 30’ by 40’ commercial tent a local business had loaned Chisholm Trail when the cowboy church congregation outgrew the small barn it had used for worship.

 Now eleven weeks old, Chisholm Trail is enjoying a new tent partly purchased with funds contributed by the SBTC.

“The SBTC called the day after the storms and asked if the church had sustained any damages,” Yarbro said, recalling his reply: “We are a brand new church. We had a tent. We don’t have a tent anymore.”

SBTC DR director Scottie Stice and his wife, Judy, “went to work and found us a tent,” Yarbro said, noting that Chisholm Trail paid $500 toward the purchase. “It’s really great. We are so proud of that tent!”

The new tent, measuring 58’ x 36’, will provide more room for the growing congregation, now numbering more than 60.

Yarbro and his wife, Pamela, had their own harrowing encounter with one of the 19 reported North Texas tornadoes on April 26. The Yarbros thought they had moved their four younger children to safety that evening when they drove south to Hillsboro rather than returning to their home near Woodbury.

Believing they had waited out the storm in Hillsboro, the Yarbros headed home. Within 30 minutes, disaster struck.

“We had put the youngest children to bed when we were alerted that the storm had turned in our direction,” Yarbro said.

The family “grabbed the babies” and sought shelter in Yarbro’s study, a pier and beam addition attached to the family’s mobile home. They pushed mattresses against the room’s window and prayed for the Lord’s protection.

“The tornado lifted our home off the blocks on one end. It is anchored so the entire home did not move, but the storm shook it around. It sounded like a train,” Yarbro recalled.

Yarbro said his neighbor saw the tornado. The Yarbros lost part of their roof and their home suffered siding and water damage.

A bivocational pastor who shoes horses and performs ranch work, Yarbro said his shop suffered damage as well, its 12’ by 12’ metal door blown off and found mangled in a cow pasture 150 yards away. The family also lost trees, a barn and a chicken house.

“All the chickens made it, though,” Yarbro added, good-naturedly.

Yarbro expressed gratitude to the SBTC for the recent help. “I love our state convention. We are proud to be a part of it.”

Juice box, broken fence, lost cap lead to salvations in disaster areas

VAN—For Wayne and Ann Barber, anniversaries—even golden ones—mean Southern Baptists of Texas Convention disaster relief deployments. The Jasper, Texas, couple celebrated their 50th anniversary on May 28 in Wimberley with a group of SBTC DR volunteers initially responding to flooding along the Blanco River.

“Two years ago we were in Moore, Okla., for our anniversary; last year we were helping in Brownsville,” Wayne Barber said.

The Barbers were routed to Wimberley fresh from assisting victims of the EF-3 tornado which swept through Van, Texas, on the evening of May 10.

DR teams offer not only physical assistance but also spiritual help in times of crisis.

“In Van, we had 14 spiritual salvations and one physical one,” said Barber, who serves as a DR chaplain and assessor.

Sometimes conversations of eternal significance begin with something as simple as an offer of juice.

Barber spotted a little girl standing near her parents in the yard of their Van home, which had been destroyed. “I took her a children’s Bible and a little juice drink,” Barber said. “Then we talked to her parents.”

The couple, in shock, listened as Barber asked, “If you had lost your life in this terrible disaster, do you know for sure where you would be spending eternity?” The wife spoke no English, but the husband shook his head no.

Another woman on site, helping the family clear debris, walked over, and Barber asked if she would translate for the mother. “I sure will!” the bilingual woman exclaimed.

“We have never been in a situation that God didn’t provide an interpreter,” Barber said. The couple tearfully prayed to receive Christ.

“I looked at their little girl,” Barber recalled. “Her face had the sweetest expression. I asked, ‘Sweetheart, did you just ask Jesus to come into your heart, too?’” The little girl said yes and smiled.

It started with a juice box. Another time it began with a fence and a lost cap.

The Van deployment sent Wayne, Ann, and fellow DR volunteer Gary Hunt on an unusual errand to a rural area north of town. Trees uprooted in the yard of the home of Christian missionaries had fallen upon a fence belonging to their neighbor, a disabled man in his late 50s who was frustrated.

“He had the tools, equipment and materials, but he did not know how he would be able to repair the fence,” Barber said.

“I know how to fix a fence,” Hunt said, and he and Barber did so. When they returned the man’s tools, they shared the gospel with him, and he trusted Christ. Barber accidentally left his cap at the property.

Returning later that afternoon to retrieve the cap, Wayne and Ann met his wife as she drove up. They had hoped to talk to her and explained that her husband had accepted Christ. She burst into tears. She had prayed for his salvation for years.

In this case, a fence led DR volunteers to be good neighbors, resulting in changed lives and even a saved life as the Barbers stopped on their way back to Van to assess a property with a work order for tree removal.

As they pulled into the home’s driveway, they spotted the homeowner, a man in his late 40s, leaning shakily against his lawnmower. He seemed disoriented. The Barbers rushed over.

“He was unresponsive, but we knew what to do from our SBTC first aid training,” Barber explained. “I got cold Gatorade and a chair from the back of my truck. We eased the man into the chair and cooled his body with ice and water while his wife called 911. He could not even drink.”

Following instructions from the 911 operator, the Barbers removed the man’s shirt, eased him to a prone position and iced him down further.

“His heart was racing, but his breathing stopped entirely,” Barber said. “As soon as the EMTs got there, they hooked him up to oxygen and IVs. We heard later that he made it.”

Had it not been for a juice box, a broken fence, a lost cap and volunteers ready to serve, the story might have turned out differently.