Month: November 2015

Sharing God”s love is “water on dry ground” for Central Asians

CENTRAL ASIA Several years ago, Christian aid worker Gary Warrior* was sitting on the floor in a Central Asian village with a congregation of about 20 people, getting ready to share about “the cost of discipleship.”

Someone made the suggestion to go around the room and share their testimonies. One woman simply said, “Oh, I’m just very blessed, and I’m so thankful to be here.”

Her friend elbowed her: “Explain to him your testimony, tell him what’s happening in your life with God.” But the woman again said she was “blessed” and just thankful to sing songs and read the Bible together.

Her friend retorted, “You tell him the truth. You tell him that every night after you go to these meetings, your husband beats you, and last week he beat you with a hammer!”

Tears jumped to Warrior’s eyes as he thought, “How can I tell these people to go out there and suffer for Christ’s sake?

“God just grabbed me by the collar, and he said, ‘You’re not asking them, I am.’”

 

PEOPLE OF GRIEF 

Gary and his family—wife, Ann,* and four children, two of whom are now adults—first arrived in this Central Asian country in 1997. The former Soviet republic was suffering, broken and poor after the end of a five-year civil war.

Though the Soviets tried to stamp out religion, the country did not lose its strong Muslim identity. But many of these Central Asians feel hopeless and overlooked by the world.

“There’s a poem that says, ‘Oh people of grief, tears in their eyes like orphans, anger on their lips like captives. In a forgotten land they wept alone,’” Warrior says, fighting back tears. “So for us to be able to show up here now, in this point in history, and begin to tell them that God loves them—this is water on dry ground.”

Despite people’s thirst for truth and love, Christians are persecuted, not necessarily from the communist government—Warrior estimates about 30 government-registered churches and 1,000 believers in the country—but from society. Leaving Islam brings great shame on a person’s family.

“Persecution comes every time the gospel is proclaimed here, but if we’re able to do it in the context of families and in communities, we can minimize the effects of that persecution so that people can stand together for the cause of Christ and not be chased out,” Warrior says.

 

PHYSICAL AND SPIRITUAL NEEDS 

As a pastor with a music degree and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Warrior wasn’t planning on focusing on human needs work. But after seeing that even numerous aid agencies couldn’t respond to the great number of disasters and people suffering in Central Asia, Warrior started a disaster response team of Christian workers and national believers in 1998.

Being there for people on the day of disaster “gave us real access to share the gospel.” The next year in that village, Warrior’s team planted their first church and baptized 13 people.

A decade later, well-digging provided “the opportunity to make the connection between clean drinking water and the Water of Life,” Warrior says. 

He is also grateful the faithful givers to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Cooperative Program have “stuck with him” during his 17 years overseas. Although Warrior’s team has made about 2,000 gospel presentations every year for the past three years, it takes a long time for someone to become a Christian.

But these are exciting times, he says: “I’m seeing people who are coming to faith in Christ. Not every day, but it’s happening.”

Warrior and his team have planted five house churches that still meet today. In the past two years, they distributed more than 6,000 gospel DVDs. Last year, with the assistance of the Lottie Moon offering and Cooperative Program funding, the well-digging team installed 19 wells and provided clean drinking water for about 10,000 people.

“God has done that because we’ve been faithful, and the people in the pews back in America have been faithful to keep giving and to keep sending … and the result is there’s a church here, and there wasn’t when I came,” Warrior says. 

*Names changed

Great Christmas Gifts

This year, I asked our SBTC staff to tell about a memorable Christmas gift they’ve given or received. Here’s what they said. God give you joy as you celebrate Christmas this year. GL 

Laura Adkison, pastor/church relations—My Grandma Kester grew up an orphan and as each one of her older seven brothers got married she moved in with the young couple. Along the way she learned to sew and she became a very good seamstress. My favorite gift as a child was from her. Each Christmas I would get a hatbox filled with handmade Barbie doll clothes. I had the best-dressed Barbie on the block with all types of fancy ball gowns and such. I regret not keeping a box of the clothes.

Denae Albin, church ministries—The first Christmas after I started my first full-time job, my parents’ job situations weren’t great, and my dad’s work printer had died. He couldn’t really afford a new one, so I bought him a four-in-one printer so he could even fax things to his office. It was humbling to be able to provide this simple thing my parents needed after they’d provided most of my wants and needs for 25 years.

Barry Calhoun, mobilization—The best gift I have ever given was an engagement ring to my wife, Seneca, in December 1981, when I asked her to marry me. I remember the smile on her face.

Keith Collier, communications—On the first Christmas of dating my future wife, I was told her father would love the five-dollar “Pub Songs From Ireland” CD off the Target discount rack because he liked the Irish jig music in the movie “Titanic.” He laughed hysterically when he opened it and plays it loudly every Christmas to make fun of my decision. Not the best gift ever, but it is a gift that keeps on giving.

Sharayah Colter, communications—One year after my younger brother took his first post-college career job, I designed him a custom stamp he could use in signing cards and letters. It coordinated with his new industry and gave him a “personal brand” of sorts. It seemed to be really special to him since it was personalized and tailored just for him in his new endeavor. He still sends me text message pictures of how he is using the stamp, and it thrills my heart to have given him something special that he can still use and that went beyond the typical Home Depot gift card or nine-way knife-screwdriver combo.

Easter Cooley, operations—A canoe pocketknife to replace the peanut pocketknife my husband lost that was his father’s. Yes, he still carries it. 

Ted Elmore, pastor/church relations—Around 1984, I was an itinerant evangelist and money was tight. Cheryl and I had determined how much each of our four kids could spend on gifts for one another. I was shopping with my son and, being 8 years old, he felt he was man enough to carry his cash. While shopping, he lost his Christmas cash somewhere from car to car. He was in tears. We talked as a family, and our daughter suggested that they share their money with her brother. They did. I will never forget that Christmas. To an 8 year-old it was huge; therefore it was huge to us. My best gift given and received was a gift of sharing that helped shape our hearts as a family.

Gayla Harris, missions—Christmas 2011 our daughter got her boys for the first time as foster children. They had not ever had much of anything and never even had celebrations for their birthdays. On Christmas that year we got them so nice new Nike socks; you would have thought we had given them a million dollars. They literally fell on the floor hugging them. It was quite humbling. 

Heath Peloquin, pastor/church relations—I received a used baseball glove from my granddad on my 10th birthday. I did not think it was a good gift at the time, but years later after his death it became a valuable treasure. One day I pulled out of my closet to show my son when I realized that in the glove pocket it was signed by Reggie Jackson. I smiled and thought that when I first received this gift I was not grateful, but many years later I realize it is indeed a gift of love.

Shane Pruitt, missions—The best Christmas gift I ever gave was the first Christmas that Kasi and I were married. I gave her some lame country CD of a band that she’d never heard of. Her face let me know that I had made a HUGE rookie mistake as a husband. The reason it was the best is because afterwards the lame gift caused me to repent, and now my gift-giving skills have gone through a healthy sanctification process.

Emily Smith, church ministries—A grandmother brought her two grandchildren to a service at our church and the children asked if they could keep attending because they loved it so much. She not only cared for her grandkids but also her step-grandkids. She didn’t have much but never asked for anything. It was difficult for me to really fuss over my frivolous ‘Christmas list’ when this family was just trying to make it from day to day. Our small group, staff and a local mission of our church adopted this family during the holiday season and provided gifts and food for the children and for the grandmother. It was true picture of what Christmas is all about. I had the pleasure to see the grandmother and one of her grandchildren make a profession of faith—truly the greatest gift.

Gayla Sullivan, communications—There was a family of five in our church who had recently undergone many challenges, physically and financially. Our family of five snuck up quietly to their porch and began singing “Silent Night.” I’ll never forget their faces as they opened the door and began singing along with us, tears streaming down the parents’ faces. Blessing their family with groceries and gifts was much better than anything I could have received.

Mitch Tidwell, strategic initiatives—My parents’ dog become a pro at opening the trash can with his nose and enjoying its contents, which led to some weird digestive problems for him. So, in 2012 I bought my mom a high quality locking trash can. Mom was thrilled!

Lauren Turner, evangelism—I had some friends move from Colorado Springs to Houston for a church position right before Christmas, and the house they planned to move into ended up having black mold. Their son has weak lungs, and that house would have been a terror for him with his breathing. They had to get out of that house, but they had a contract that would cost as much to break as the down-payment. I paid to break the contract on their house, so they could rent another house. It was a blessing to gift them that way!

Judy Van Hooser, church ministries—I guess the best gift I ever gave was once I did a cross stitch picture for my mom of the house she grew up in and one my grandmother still had when I was growing up. It took about six months to complete and has 132 colors in it.    

Tangible Ways to Support Missionaries During the Christmas Season

The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention represents what is best about our work together. Thousands of missionaries are sharing the gospel around the world. We can’t be everywhere at the same time, but our witness can through the faithfulness of those who are called to minister outside the United States. While we are sitting down to a turkey dinner, they are far from family and friends. They are in a different culture; perhaps they are in a dangerous place. What can we do to support them?

So many possibilities are available for our involvement with SBC missionaries. The first and most impacting is to pray for them. Pray for a missionary family or two on a daily basis. Interceding for them in the spiritual warfare they face is the most significant contribution you can make.

What about actually being with the missionary family where they are? Next year plan a mission trip to be with them in the field. An incredible gift would be to invest your time to be where they are serving. This might be a personal trip or a church trip, but it would be an incomparable encouragement.

Call, Skype or use some other contact to actually converse with a missionary at this time of the year. One year I called my missionary friend on Christmas. He was so thankful for the contact, he wept. A note of appreciation would be a welcomed gesture. Let them know you are praying for them. 

There is also another tangible way to express your care for SBC missionaries. The Cooperative Program is the lifeline for placing and keeping missionaries on the field. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention sends 55 percent of all CP funds to the SBC. Over 50 percent of that money goes to the International Mission Board. Encourage your church to give 1 percent more in 2016 through the Cooperative Program. It may seem like a small amount, but if everyone would participate, we would see more missionaries. This is the most consistent and proven method of financially undergirding Southern Baptists’ work together.

At this time of the year the International Mission Board receives a special offering—the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Lottie Moon was a SBC missionary to China a little over 100 years ago. She gave her life in service to our Lord Jesus as she reached many with the gospel. All of the Lottie Moon Offering goes to the missionaries. My wife and I have consistently given to the Lottie Moon Offering. This year we will be putting an extra zero behind our usual dollar amount on the check. This will be the largest gift we have ever given to LMCO. I encourage you to prayerfully consider giving more than you ever have before so the nations may hear the gospel. If you have never given to LMCO, this is the year to start. 

I pray God’s blessings upon you and yours during this time of the year. While we are enjoying our Christmas season, let’s rally around the cross to lift it high to the nations. We do that by tangibly supporting our missionaries.  

SBTC DR volunteers assist flood victims in Central, Southeast and South Texas

AUSTIN and KOUNTZE—In recent weeks, Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief volunteers have been on constant deployment in response to needs in flood-ravaged Central, Southeast and South Texas. Volunteers have traveled to the Rio Grande Valley, Austin, Bastrop, San Marcos and Kountze, which is 25 miles northwest of Beaumont.

“We’ve been busy since Oct. 31,” SBTC Director of Disaster Relief Scottie Stice said. “We are gearing up to return to the Rio Grande Valley soon.”

Daniel White became senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Kountze on Nov. 1, only to spend the first three weeks of his new job as an SBTC DR white hat, responding to flooding in Kountze, Silsbee, Lumberton and surrounding areas.

“We have been extremely busy,” White commented. “We are worn out.” White and his family are also still “stepping over boxes at home,” since they had barely moved into their Kountze residence when the floods hit.

FBC Kountze housed DR volunteer teams, including a mud out team from Kentucky that arrived Nov. 15. Work in the area was finished Nov. 20. More than 100 homes were assessed, with work done on most of these. Eight people prayed to receive Christ, White said.

SBTC shower and laundry units ministered to 40 flood evacuees in Bastrop and worked with AmeriCorps in San Marcos, said Mike Jansen, who served as SBTC white hat in Austin the week of Nov. 7-14. Austin-area DR volunteers were housed at Onion Creek Baptist Church, Jansen said.

Carol Yarber of Athens, on her first DR deployment, drew upon her Catholic upbringing as she ministered in Hispanic areas of South Austin.

“I was going to be a nun,” Yarber said of her childhood. “I can speak with Catholics about where they are. My aunt was even paying a dowry for me to go into the convent, up till I was [a teenager].”

Yarber said she speaks with Catholic victims about original sin, christening and the need to believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord, according to Romans 10:9-10.

Yarber told of accompanying assessors into the field in South Austin as a chaplain. “I can love on [victims], pray for them, find out about their relationship with the Lord.”

On the first day of Yarber’s deployment, she went with assessors to a house condemned by authorities. There Yarber met Lisa, a young woman to whom she explained the plan of salvation, asking the question, “From what I have shown you, where do you believe you would go if you died tonight?”

“I know I’d go to hell,” Lisa replied.

Yarber continued to explain the gospel, and Lisa trusted Christ as her savior.

A few days into the deployment, Yarber met Rosa, a young woman six months pregnant who had survived a horrifying flood experience when she returned home after dropping her children off at school.

“Rosa’s husband helped her escape,” Yarber said. “The creek in front and behind her house was swelling. They could not drive out. Her husband told her, ‘Get your boots on.  We’ve got to run for it.’ Yarber tearfully recalled, “Here she was, six months pregnant, climbing a hill with the water pulling her back.

“Rosa, do you know God saved you when you got to the top of that hill?” Yarber asked. “He saved you so he could save you today.” Rosa, too, prayed to receive Christ.

In one severely damaged home, Yarber encountered a man named Juan working inside. He had been cross with other DR volunteers. When Yarber informed him she was there to tell him that Jesus loved him and that she would like to pray with him, Juan broke down and cried.

“He had found Jesus in prison and had been baptized,” Yarber said.

Broken, Juan exclaimed, “I have been so disobedient to God. God told me to go and tell others. I knew he wanted me to preach, and I haven’t. I just needed this today.” 

“It was not a matter of his salvation, but it was a great moment,” Yarber said.

For rookie DR chaplain Carol Yarber, DR ministry is a calling she plans to continue. Her story is merely one of many from the field, where DR volunteers bring hope to the hopeless and minister in tangible and eternal ways.

“We tried to do the best for the people of Onion Creek. A lot had suffered in the floods two years ago. We greatly appreciate the teams from Missouri that came to help do the mud outs,” said Jansen, praising the volunteers who came alongside SBTC personnel.

Between Nov. 1-14, the following SBTC DR volunteer hours and work were logged:

  • 758 total volunteer days
  • 7,580 total volunteer hours
  • 21,623 meals prepared
  • 142 flooded homes cleaned
  • 211 damaged homes assessed
  • 16 professions of faith

Gospel-revealing Community should be more than potlucks & small groups

WASHINGTON, D.C. How would you define community in your church? Possible answers include such words as “potluck,” “accountability groups,” and “small groups.” 

In Compelling Community, Mark Dever and Jaime Dunlop define local church community as “a togetherness and commitment we experience that transcends all natural bonds—because of our commonality in Jesus Christ.” Their book not only offers a biblical paradigm for community but also practical methods for cultivating and protecting this community, as they share from 20 years of experience at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

While churches often assimilate community around demographic similarities such as age, life experiences, personal interests, etc., these natural bonds can be healthy but should not be the sum total of the gospel relationships in the church. In this sense, Dever and Dunlop challenge churches to seek supernatural community that could only be explained by the gospel.

“Many relationships that naturally form in our churches would exist even if the gospel weren’t true,” they say. “That’s good, right, and helpful. But in addition, we should aspire for many relationships that exist only because the gospel.”

Dever and Dunlop describe these two types of relationships as gospel-plus and gospel-revealing. Gospel-plus community adds the gospel to already naturally formed relationships in the church. However, they say, “In gospel-revealing community, many relationships would never exist but for the truth and power of the gospel—either because of the depth of care for each other or because two people in relationship have little in common but Christ.” In this type of community, it’s not unnatural to see 20-somethings and retirees regularly caring for and discipling one another.

For Dever and Dunlop, it’s not an either/or but a both/and strategy for churches to be compelling communities that display the gospel to the world. In the first part of the book, they further explain the differences between gospel-plus and gospel-revealing relationships and challenge Christians to pursue community that is deep and wide.

In the second part of the book, Dever and Dunlop discuss how preaching and corporate prayer facilitate supernatural, gospel-centered community. They also speak of local church community as a network of “spiritually intentional relationships,” where simple, informal relationships grow among church members. Here, conversations revolving around spiritual things are common rather than odd. They give practical ways to foster such relationships and emphasize the value of church membership.

Part 3 recognizes the presence of sin that often derails gospel community and offers helpful insights on how to protect church unity and how to address sin in the church. They say, “When we are careful to follow [Jesus’] instructions, we create a culture of honesty and grace that can be experienced and seen—and that testifies to the transformative work of the gospel.”

The final part of the book explains how this compelling community serves as an evangelistic witness in the world, as non-Christians see these gospel-revealing relationships and are drawn to Christ because of them. Additionally, church planting and church revitalization are natural byproducts of such supernatural community.

This book is excellent for pastors and church members alike, challenging our preconceived concepts of Christian community and stretching us to be intentional in pursuing deeper, wider relationships in the church. Such community paints a beautiful picture of the power of the gospel, which glorifies God, builds up his people, and attracts the lost. 

Boring, anemic prayer life can be cured by praying the Bible, Whitney says

SHEPHERDSVILLE, Ky. Don Whitney wants you to stop seeing yourself as a second-rate Christian. 

Having been in the same place most every believer at some point finds himself—repeating the same methodical prayers to a point of boredom—Whitney knows how easy it is to yield to the temptation of thinking, “Something must be wrong with me if I get bored in something as important as prayer.” 

The author of five other books on spiritual disciplines maintains that “truly born-again, genuinely Christian people” often do not pray simply because they do not feel like it. “And the reason they don’t feel like praying is that when they do, they tend to say the same old things about the same old things,” he reasoned. 

A professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary since 2005, the native Arkansawyer credits his former teacher at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, T. W. Hunt, with teaching him much about prayer by example. A few years later while serving his first pastorate, Whitney learned a profound yet simple lesson from R.F. Gates who held up the Bible and said, “When you pray, use the prayer book.”

Whitney isn’t one to fault the believer’s spirituality, but rather the method of prayer, when trying to counsel anyone struggling with an effective prayer life. “It has to be fundamentally simple,” he explained, applicable to the 9-year-old Christian with an eagerness to grow as well as the 39-year-old saint “with a heart encrusted by the traditions and experiences of the years.”

He is convinced that when the Holy Spirit enters any person, he brings his holy nature with him, resulting in a new hunger for the Word of God, fellowship with the people of God, and a longing to live in a holy body without sin. “The ever-fresh, ever-green work of the Holy Spirit” is manifested in every person in whom he dwells, Whitney reminded.

Christians tend to repeat prayers they have recorded in their minds or heard others recite when interceding for the same half-dozen things, Whitney explained, referring to typical pleas for family, future, finances, work, Christian concerns and the current crisis in their lives.

“These are the areas where you devote almost all your time,” he explained. “Moreover, these are the great loves of your life, the places where your heart is.” The problem does not come from praying about the same old things, he said, but rather, “it’s that we say the same old things about the same old things,” leading to a boring prayer life, and ultimately not even feeling like praying.

After setting that stage, Whitney devotes his book Praying the Bible to what he calls a fundamentally simple solution applicable to Christians of any age, intelligence or resources. He introduces the psalms as “the best place in Scripture from which to pray Scripture.” In praying the Psalms, Whitney explained, “We are returning to God words that he expressly inspired for us to speak and sing to him.”

Furthermore, he added, “You will never go through anything in life in which you cannot find the root emotions reflected in the Psalms. Exhilaration, frustration, discouragement, guilt, forgiveness, joy, gratitude, dealing with enemies, contentment, discontentment—you name it: they are all found in the book of Psalms.

From the feedback he has received in teaching this method of prayer, Whitney has heard folks say it was easier to stay focused, “pray more about God and less about me,” pray for longer periods of time, approach God conversationally and meditate on his Word. The content of their prayers was applicable to life, centered on God’s will, broader in scope, heartfelt and fresh.

Turning to Psalm 23, Whitney suggested a woman might pray for God to “shepherd” her children or grandchildren in various ways. On another day she could find in 1 Corinthians 13 an appeal for God to develop in her family members the kind of love taught in that chapter. From Galatians 5 she could plead with the Lord to develop the fruit of the Spirit in her children. 

“The heart of her prayer—‘Bless my children’—remains unchanged, even though her words change,” Whitney wrote. “By filtering that prayer through a different passage of Scripture each time, her prayer changes from a mind-numbing repetition of the same old things to a request that ascends from her heart to heaven in unique ways every day.”

To put it more simply, Whitney encouraged readers to take the words that originated in the heart and mind of God, “circulating them through your heart and mind back to God.” That exercise allows God’s words to “become the wings of your prayers.”  

Missionary family recognizes “time is short”

LESOTHO  When Jim and Teresa Flora, IMB missionaries from Springfield, Mo., think about their life and ministry in the mountains of Lesotho, two needs come to mind: the support of their children and support from Southern Baptists.

They rely on the prayers and encouragement of their three grown sons and their families in the United States, but daughters Gracie, Anna and Rebekah are a part of each day’s work in Africa. Whether they are preparing meals for volunteer teams, playing with children, or telling Bible stories, the girls consider themselves fully committed to the task of sharing the gospel with unreached Basotho people. They know every believer has a part in God’s mission.

The Floras’ work is an extension of Southern Baptists’ dedication to reach the nations. They are grateful for several long-term partnering churches in Texas and Virginia and especially thank God for faithful giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the continued prayers of hundreds of churches.

A registered nurse, Teresa has held babies as they took their last breaths, and the whole family has grieved the loss of friends. Starving children continue to break their hearts. Violence against women is a constant concern. Teresa confesses that a few moments have led her to say, “Lord, can we keep doing this?”

“We understand that time is short; we understand that in a nation that has the second highest HIV and AIDS rate in the world that there are people that we share the gospel with from day to day that will not be here next year,” Jim says. “So we do work hard to be good stewards of the Lord’s time that he has given us on this earth because we do believe that it’s unacceptable that there are people who have not heard the story of Jesus.”

They are careful in their daily life and work but do not live in fear. They say their faith that they are exactly where God intends for them to be is strong, and they know their daughters are part of God’s plan.

“God gave them to us for a purpose, and we believe that part of that purpose is reaching the nations,” Jim says. For their family, going was the only option.

“Our prayer is this, that we could teach them more by going than we could ever teach them by staying,” he adds.

“We’re praying in 2015 and the years to come as we serve God in the mountains that there will be more Southern Baptists who come to put their boots on the ground so that we can get the message to every village and to every person so that they would have the opportunity to accept Christ as their own.”  

Texan meets physical needs, brings spiritual hope to Syrian refugees

MIDDLE EAST  Texan Peter Matheson* works tirelessly to bring refugees God’s shining hope. But the heart-wrenching situation takes a great toll on the many he serves and to him personally as he ministers in the midst of tremendous suffering.

It’s hard to imagine anything but a continued descending darkness closing in on Syrian and Iraqi refugees, victims of a rebellion being fought against the Syrian regime and brutality caused by ISIS and other Islamic extremists.

“The hardest thing in this ministry is just sitting down and listening to their hurts,” Matheson says about spending time with the refugees. “They come, they arrive with little children just with the clothes on their back, because back in Syria their homes are destroyed, their businesses are destroyed … women have been raped … real torture goes on among men and young men in Syria.”

While images and reports of beheadings, cruelty and pure evil continue to shadow refugees—numbering in the millions—from any light of hope, Matheson is there to tell them about a loving God who cares deeply for all who are fleeing violence and that only he can push back the descending darkness.

Through the support of Southern Baptists, Matheson and other workers are able to distribute boxes of food and other critical necessities provided through gifts to Global Hunger Relief along the Syrian border.

“We are able, through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, to focus 100 percent on the ministry that God has given us as workers … as laborers in the field,” Matheson says. “We’re able to give all of our attention to people who are hurting by ministering to their physical, emotional and, most importantly, their spiritual needs.”

U.S. churches also are playing a direct role in ministering to refugee needs alongside Matheson. A medical team from Mandarin Baptist Church of Los Angeles came to see the work firsthand and to help.

Nurse Katherine Lee* recognized that their physical presence to provide medical assistance is important, but the ongoing presence that Matheson provides is key to lasting hope. Matheson’s physical presence to listen and give comfort to the refugees, as well as to offer help and hope makes a real difference in their lives, she says.

“Giving to IMB is just one of the ways we can help,” Lee says. “It is very important to support … the local workers here. Without funding, they … cannot stay here and build relationships…, and they cannot provide for their physical needs. They cannot provide for food or medicine or diapers or milk.”

As more and more Syrians flee the violence, Matheson hopes he can help the refugees out of at least one aspect of the darkness in which they’ve been living.

“My aim is to move them from one level of understanding to another, building into their lives one brick of truth after one brick of truth until by God’s grace, the spirit of God (begins) working in their lives,” Matheson says.

With overwhelming challenges in the midst of constant need, it would be easy for Matheson to feel alone. But he is sustained emotionally and spiritually as well as financially by knowing that believers back home in the U.S. haven’t forgotten him and share the resolve to bring light where there is darkness.

“From the bottom of my heart, I thank Southern Baptists for giving to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas [Offering] to keep us as workers … on the field,” Matheson says.

He adds, “Yes, it’s hard, (but) we’re able to minister to their physical needs, showing the love of Christ in a practical way to these people and thus opening an opportunity for them to listen.”

Matheson is providing tangible hope in what appears to be a hopeless place.

“My friend here asked me why we are doing all of this,” Matheson says after he had explained to a refugee father and his family why the group from California had come.

Matheson told him there are 46,000 Southern Baptist churches with approximately 16 million people to lift “your group, all the refugees and the people back in Syria, before the Father.”

Matheson says the man responded that if this many are going to lift them before the Father, it gives him hope.  

*Names changed

Church signage required to ban handgun open carry after Jan. 1

GRAPEVINE—When Texas’ new open carry handgun law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2016, churches wishing to ban the practice should be prepared with proper signage, according to attorney Jim Guenther, who serves as legal counsel for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

The new law “allows persons who hold a license to openly carry a handgun in a belt or shoulder holster,” Guenther said. “A church may, if it chooses, prohibit persons from bringing openly carried handguns onto its property. To do so, the church must post a sign that gives notice of the church’s prohibition.”

The new law is in addition to the current concealed handgun law. In both cases, a church may prohibit the carrying of handguns on church property. However, two separate signs are required, Guenther said.

“If a church wishes only to prohibit openly carried handguns, it would post one sign to that effect. If a church wishes to prohibit only concealed handguns, it would post one sign to that effect. If a church wishes to prohibit both concealed and openly carried handguns, it would post two separate signs to make those prohibitions effective,” Guenther said.

“The signs may not be combined into one sign. These are two different sections in the law, involving two different licenses.”

Guenther offered the following guidelines and wording for the signs:

Signs must be displayed in a place clearly visible to the public and posted at each entrance to the property. Both signs must be in English and Spanish, and “appear in contrasting colors with block letters at least one inch in height.”

The wording of a sign prohibiting concealed handguns must read as follows:

Pursuant to Section 30.06, Penal Code (trespass by license holder with a concealed handgun), a person licensed under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code (handgun licensing law), may not enter this property with a concealed handgun.

The wording of a sign prohibiting openly carried handguns must read as follows:

Pursuant to Section 30.07, Penal Code (trespass by license holder with an openly carried handgun), a person licensed under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code (handgun licensing law), may not enter this property with a handgun that is carried openly.

GO TELL Crusade in Pampa sees 800 commitments to Christ

PAMPA—More than 800 commitments were made to Christ during the Rick Gage GO TELL Crusade in Pampa, Texas.

In a town of 18,000 people located about 75 miles east of Amarillo, there were greater than 10,000 attending the four-night crusade Sept. 13-16 at Pampa High School Football Stadium, which was sponsored by community churches.

GO TELL youth evangelist Steve Paysen spoke at a pre-crusade youth rally, where more than 60 young people came forward for salvation or rededicating their lives to Christ. According to the crusade’s Facebook page administrator, Ed Sattesahn, an additional 150 asked to be prayed for that God would use them to reach their friends for Christ.

On the first night of the crusade, Sattesahn recalled, “The home field stands were almost filled. The message by Rick Gage was great, and over 200 people came forward and made a decision for Christ.”

Crusade attendee Jan Cory said, “I am 63 and have been involved in church my entire life. The Rick Gage Crusade was the most meaningful event in which I have been involved. The crusade was bathed in prayer months before the crusade began. God showed up in a big way in Pampa, Texas. The Holy Spirit touched lives, and over 800 decisions were made for Christ. 

“As the crusade began, I felt a nudge to invite a friend who is a believer. She came and brought five young ladies with her. All of them made decisions for Jesus. What a joy to see these—as well as many, many others—say yes to the One who loves us completely,” she said.

Following the crusade, Byron Williamson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Pampa, said, “Between last Sunday and this Sunday, we will baptize 25 with more still being followed up plus four new families are joining the church that had no church home.”

Williamson noted that the Rick Gage GO TELL Crusade team’s emphasis on follow-up “was better than I’ve ever seen at similar mass evangelism efforts.”

Dallas Stringer, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Pampa, said they baptized 14 after the crusade and have six more planned.