Month: October 2017

REVIEW: “Same Kind of Different As Me” is Romans 8:28 on the big screen

Ron Hall is an international art dealer who seemingly has everything a man could want: a high-paying job, a nice house and a wonderful wife.

But just like the fake paintings he occasionally gives as gifts, looks can be deceiving. Hidden behind the façade is a marriage on the rocks – a marriage seemingly headed for divorce after his wife discovers he’s involved with another woman.

She doesn’t divorce him, though. Instead, she works to save the marriage and change his heart. This overhaul involves them volunteering their time at a homeless mission, where they fill plates in a food line and get to know the people of the street.

Although Hall initially despises the work, his tune changes when he unexpectedly befriends the mission’s most infamous homeless person – an angry man nicknamed “Suicide.”  His real name is Denver, and soon he and Hall discover that despite their differences – different races, different socioeconomic backgrounds – they greatly benefit from one another.

It’s all part of Same Kind of Different As Me (PG-13), which opens this weekend and tells the true story of a wealthy man whose life is turned around thanks to a relationship with a homeless man. It is based on a New York Times bestseller by the real-life Hall and stars Greg Kinnear as Hall; Renée Zellweger as his wife, Debbie; Djimon Hounsou as Denver; and Jon Voight as Hall’s father. O.S. Hawkins, the president of GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, also has a small role as a funeral minister.

It is a faith-based film with an all-star cast: Zellweger and Voight have won Academy Awards, while Kinnear and Hounsou have been nominees. Pureflix and Paramount are partnering in its release.  

Same Kind of Different As Me is an inspiring and entertaining film that spotlights grace, forgiveness and empathy – with Romans 8:28 (“… all things work together for good …”) as the backdrop. Like many who will see it this weekend, I cried. Let’s examine the details.

Warning: moderate spoilers!


Minimal. An out-of-control Denver breaks the homeless mission’s windows and then a car’s windows with a baseball bat. Later, he tells about his background and (in a flashback) we see KKK members drag him down the road with a rope around his neck. We also learn that Denver committed a violent crime that landed him in prison.


Minimal. We learn that Ron and Debbie haven’t “slept together” in several years. It is implied that he had an affair, although we don’t see the woman. Later, Ron and Debbie kiss. 

Coarse Language

Minimal. I counted only a handful: misuse of h–l (1); n-word (4). We also hear the word “negroes” twice and the word “sexy” once. There’s a moderately crude joke.

Other Positive Elements

Debbie’s ability to forgive is remarkable. She even calls the other woman and says calmly: “Hopefully you can find someone who loves you the way Ron and I used to love one another.” Then, she gives Ron the option to stay. When Denver tells her about his violent past – which included prison time – she says, “You’re not a bad man. … And I’m glad we’re friends.”

We see Denver being baptized, as a preacher talks about Christ’s burial and resurrection.

Other Negative Elements

Ron’s father is a grumpy man who doesn’t have a filter for his words. That leads to some uncomfortable moments at the dinner table – and to Ron kicking his dad out of their house. “I don’t want you to ever come back here,” Ron says.  

Life Lessons

Same Kind of Different As Me includes life lessons on forgiveness, empathy, racism, reconciliation, and even caring for the homeless.  


It’s easy to talk about forgiveness. It’s harder to do it. Yet, it’s what Christ commanded: “Forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25). We forgive precisely because God forgave us. Debbie does that to Ron: “I don’t blame you. … I forgive you.” She even forgives his mistress – and calls her! It’s a remarkable example of the gospel’s power.

The film also puts Romans 8:28 on display, as Debbie believes the affair ended up being a good thing for their lives.


Same Kind of Different As Me is a family-friendly film, although it contains a few moments that young children probably shouldn’t see. Those include a scene with KKK members and a scene with frank discussion of an affair.

What I Liked

The message and the story. It’s a genuinely funny movie with some surprises – particularly for moviegoers (like me) who hadn’t read the book. The lead cast has solid chemistry. The acting is stellar. Denver’s Louisiana accent is top-notch.   

What I Didn’t Like

Nothing major. I would be nitpicking if I listed anything. 

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

Without a doubt, thumbs up.

Discussion Questions

  1. Place yourself in Debbie’s shoes. Could you have forgiven – and could you have done what she did?
  2. Why is forgiveness so important in the Christian life?
  3. Read Romans 8:28 and apply it to this movie. Was the affair, in hindsight, used for good?
  4. What is the key to reconciliation in a broken marriage? Be specific.
  5. What does the Bible say about racism?

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

‘Same Kind of Different As Me’ is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some violence and language.

Jacksonville College Students Minister Following Hurricane

From removing sheetrock to demolishing cabinets to handing out food, four teams of Jacksonville College students, faculty and staff volunteered to serve residents of southeast Texas who were overwhelmed by Hurricane Harvey’s wind and rain. A week after the storm made landfall, over 100 students and employees trained to serve with the Disaster Relief ministry of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Randy Decker, director of the JC music program, took members of the choir to Conroe where they removed sheetrock and appliances, cleared walls of wet insulation, managed cabinet demolition and applied mildewcide.

“Things get real in a hurry,” Decker said. “There are no barriers when you are meeting people in desperate need. These homeowners look you in the eye. They want to thank you, they want to hug you, they want to cry with you and they want to pray with you. It is intense and it is tremendously satisfying,” he said, calling it a life-changing ministry experience.

A second team of choir students headed for Spring Baptist Church to serve two locations in Houston where they removed wet carpet, pads and furniture amidst hot and humid conditions. Other students helped sort food being distributed from the church. The students sang in the streets in the residential areas where they were working, as well as before each meal at the church and for church services.

A group of men’s basketball students led by assistant coach Louis Truscott and JC president Mike Smith were the next to volunteer in Houston. Originally from Houston, Truscott said, “Seeing the damage as we were driving into the disaster area was unbelievable. It was like seeing a war zone.”

A fourth team headed to Port Arthur led by Academic Dean Marolyn Welch and her husband, Lee who serves as executive director of missions for Dogwood Trails Baptist Association.

“God has transformed the lives of those receiving aid,” said Smith, “and he has most certainly transformed every life that has taken part in the recovery effort. Sometimes it is during the most difficult times that we can see God’s goodness and grace most clearly. This is one of those times.”

Jacksonville College is owned and operated by the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas and is affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

SBTC DR receives help from SEND Relief, Texas Relief in Golden Triangle

VIDOR—Traditionally trained Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) teams are receiving an influx of new workers in the form of newly minted volunteers signing on with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Texas Relief program, and college students recruited from across the U.S. to participate in the North American Mission Board’s SEND Relief outreach.

Over the weekend of Oct 7, the first college crews from SEND Relief descended upon churches in the Golden Triangle where teams of college kids were assigned to work alongside seasoned SBTC DR volunteers.

Calling SEND Relief “an excellent idea” when addressing the leadership of the Golden Triangle Baptist Network assembled at his church on Oct. 5,  FBC Vidor pastor Terry Wright praised the enthusiastic crew from the University of Alabama at Huntsville and the University of Mobile who had already arrived to volunteer.

“Next week our numbers will climb to over 100 SEND Relief people,” Wright said, explaining that where once six or eight traditional DR workers might tackle a job, the additional college students will provide “young shoulders and backs” to help.

“Instead of doing a house every two or three days, we now hope to be doing a house every day,” Wright added, noting that the SEND Relief students would be sent out from FBC Vidor throughout the region as part of an agreement with NAMB.

Wright explained that FBC Vidor’s DR units would be combined with SBTC DR units and those from Illinois Baptist DR and other sources and “put in the field.” The effort would use shared supplies out of a central warehouse.

When the TEXAN asked how the first day of sheetrock removal went, the Alabama college group replied, “Awesome!” as an Illinois Baptist DR volunteer manning a shower/laundry unit stationed at FBC Vidor explained the protocol for getting clean clothes.

“We guarantee you’ll get your clothes back in a bag with your name on it, and they will be wrinkled,” he said with a laugh.

White praised out of state teams from Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee and church groups from around Texas, for their help.

“Church teams, local teams, college teams, whoever can come in is welcome,” White said.

FBC Kountze expected 20-25 college students from Louisiana over the weekend, part of the SBTC’s Texas Relief program that streamlines sign-ups for new volunteers (

 Experienced SBTC DR unit director Paul Ester was coming to supervise the work of the college students, White said, adding that Friendship Baptist in Groves also expected to receive Texas Relief teams to work with SBTC DR veterans.

Texas Relief volunteers had already served in Houston.

“There is still significant work to be done in Southeast Texas. I don’t know if we are even halfway there,” Wright said, noting the number of citizens “doing their own stuff” in terms of recovery and adding, “we focus on folks who can’t do the work.” 

Churches adopt churches in Harvey”s wake

After seeing the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention knew they needed to generate more help for those affected by the storm. In the aftermath, the convention launched an Adopt-A-Church program that allows SBTC churches beyond Harvey’s path to “adopt” churches within the affected areas.

The type of help a participating church provides depends on the adopted church’s needs. Some have sent mud-out teams to help clean up the physical mess the storm left. Many churches are financially burdened; others might need supplies or materials for rebuilding.

“God is proving His faithfulness in new ways, as the Body of Christ mobilizes to meet immediate and long-term needs,” Tony Wolfe, SBTC director of pastor and church relations, said. “He is doing this through the work of his church, turning tragedy into gospel opportunity.”


Rising water did not take a toll at¯Forest¯Oaks¯Baptist Church of Houston. Instead, rain water¯seeped into the building, down its walls and onto the floor below¯through¯wind-damaged¯roofs. All in all, Pastor Kevin Barefield thought¯the church¯had¯fared well compared to its¯flooded¯neighbors.

But then talks with the insurance company revealed the¯most significant¯damage would¯be to their modest bank account. The deductible for roof and¯water damage¯could be as high as $36,000—more than the church could afford to pay.

Before the storm hit, the congregation was trying to find $30,000 to replace a failing air conditioner in the sanctuary.

As Barefield wondered how God would provide for the repairs, Stan Britton, pastor of The Church at Buffalo Creek¯in Rockwall,¯heard about the Adopt-A-Church program while attending an unrelated meeting at the SBTC offices. He immediately¯registered his¯congregation.

“We wanted to lighten the burden for them so they don’t miss out on ministry,”¯Britton said.

As Barefield awaits word from the insurance company, he has already heard the best news—Forest Oaks Baptist¯Church is¯not alone.

“There was a peace in my heart once I knew people were praying for us, coming alongside us,” Barefield said.


Although floodwaters did not affect the church building of LaBelle Baptist Church in Beaumont, rising water did wreak havoc on many church members and their neighbors. During the storm, LaBelle Pastor Sonny Hathaway and a few others went around the community to rescue families trapped in their homes, bringing them to the church building for a safe place to stay.

After the waters receded, it became evident that many homes were damaged and the need for help was great. Hathaway spoke with elders from Normandale Baptist Church in Fort Worth about the church adoption ministry. Soon, a team was traveling from Fort Worth to Beaumont to assist.

“I was looking for a way to physically help people,” Sarah Guenther, Grace Baptist Church member and a mud-out volunteer, said. “I’m a go-getter and I like to go do things with my hands, so this was a really great opportunity to actually help people first-hand, talk with them and give them a few words of encouragement too.”

Normandale partnered with Grace Baptist Church and Solid Rock Church of Fort Worth to send a team of 28 volunteers to help clean out homes in LaBelle. During their time there, they were able to work in 16 homes.

“We have been very blessed through the work of God’s servants who have come out here to help rebuild our community,” Hathaway said.


The Korean Baptist Church of Corpus Christi, situated among modest houses a quarter mile off South Padre Island Drive, suffered numerous storm-related damages. San Antonio’s University Baptist Church was ready to assist. So Pastor Randy Bales and the church administrator, Frank Corte, traveled to Corpus the week of Sept. 4 to assess the Korean church’s needs, meeting with Pastor Wyun Ra and a church deacon.

“We went to see if what they need is what we can do,” Corte said.

Bales called the visit with the Korean pastor “great,” adding, “the damage they sustained from Hurricane Harvey was minimal, but they have very few resources to do the work needed. They took care of the needs of their congregation first.”

At press time, University Baptist had plans to repair a downed fence and a damaged storage building, help identify sources of water leakage and help with plumbing issues, pastors Bale and Wyun Ra said.


The flooding from Harvey left Ridgewood Baptist Church of Port Arthur with water three feet high in their sanctuary, gymnasium and in three of four parsonages. The water inside Ridgewood stood for five days after water pumps in Beaumont stopped working.

Dustin Guidry, Ridgewood’s pastor, said church members entered the property four days after the storm via canoe, but it was a week later before a vehicle could drive up. On Sunday, Sept. 3, Guidry and several members were able to access the property and start the cleanup. 

Michael Criner, pastor of First Baptist Church Bellville, heard of Ridgewood’s plight and his church decided to adopt Ridgewood, sending teams to help in the cleanup.

“On Labor Day, FBC Bellville sent a team of 35 people who took off at 4 a.m., got over here at 7 a.m. and stayed here all day to help us with cleanup and recovery,” Guidry said. “We are very grateful for their help, and we joked with them often because they were actually laboring on Labor Day.”

First Baptist Bellville not only sent work teams to Port Arthur but also to Rockport and other storm-damaged towns .

“The Lord keeps providing workers and servants to come in, and with our volunteers that were able to come work for 10 to 12 hours a day, we were able to fully clean out the sanctuary within the week,” Guidry said. “We were actually able to meet in our building the following Sunday with an abbreviated service.”

In Port Arthur, “this has definitely brought the local churches together as a whole, working together to get the community up and running as fast as possible,” Guidry added.

—Additional reporting by Jane Rogers and Bonnie Pritchett 

Panhandle pastor-journalist delivers good news

PLAINVIEW Veteran newspaperman and bivocational pastor Phillip Hamilton experienced an all-time low when he and a handful of members shut the doors of Halfway Baptist Church—located halfway between Olton and Plainview—for the last time two years ago.

“One of the saddest things you will ever do is to close a church,” Hamilton admitted.

Without a place to preach, Hamilton wondered what the Lord had in store.

He didn’t have to wonder long.

The Olton postmaster was also chairman of the deacons at Plainview’s Bethel Baptist Church, then seeking a pastor. Within two weeks, he invited Hamilton to preach for a month.

That month grew into another. In December 2015, Bethel called Hamilton to become its bivocational pastor.

Hamilton stepped into a church featuring “wonderful facilities” built 12 years earlier, with a prime location off Interstate 27 and a membership of only about 60 left from a split years before.

“At the first prayer meeting, we all sat around a conference table. That’s how few we had at first,” Hamilton said, calling the experience “eye opening.”

Despite the small membership, Hamilton saw potential in the location “perfectly situated for ministry” near a large residential development.

Hamilton also saw potential in the members, a “core of faithful people” with a “hands on” willingness to help with physical and administrative work as the church grew. 

“Everyone has their own gifts and abilities, and they use them,” Hamilton said. He lays out the church bulletin, a natural task for a long-time news editor. 

When Hamilton isn’t preaching, he is publishing the two weekly community newspapers he owns: the Olton Enterprise and the Hale Center American. 

With his wife, Ursula, Hamilton works on the papers Monday through Wednesday, driving 23 miles for Wednesday night prayer meeting at Bethel.

“I do a lot of staying up late [Mondays and Tuesdays]. We finish by 5 p.m. Wednesday. The minute we finish the paper, we get in the car and drive to Plainview and do prayer meeting,” Hamilton said. 

Hamilton’s road to ministry started 30 years ago, when the Lord called him during a church revival in Plainview. 

With a degree in mass communications from Hardin Simmons University, he contacted the International Mission Board, but health issues precluded overseas work so he focused on journalism and part-time preaching. 

His journalism career flourished with stints at newspapers in Plainview and Lubbock and at Dallas weeklies when he returned to his hometown to assist his ailing father.

Hamilton served as PR director at Wayland Baptist University before returning to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and later becoming managing editor of the newspaper in Paris, Texas. The stress of daily journalism and a longing for West Texas returned him to the Panhandle.

“We prayed and felt the Lord was leading us to get our own [newspaper],” Hamilton said. “We could determine the way things were covered, doing it with ethics.”

The struggling Olton weekly, which Hamilton had once considered purchasing, was again available at a fraction of its earlier cost. 

“We packed up and moved back,” Hamilton said. “The Lord blessed, and we were able to turn the paper around.” They purchased the Hale Center paper a few years later.

Hamilton enjoys owning the two weeklies. He and Ursula produce the content; his three children, ages 13-22, occasionally supply photographs.

While he doesn’t get a day off, especially during football season when he covers Friday night games, he said his two careers mesh well. Though he’s usually unable to attend conferences, he praised the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s apps, field ministry strategists and other resources that strengthen his ministry. 

Hamilton likened producing a sermon to writing a newspaper column, calling it a “joy” to go to church Thursdays and Fridays to prepare for Sunday after the newspapers are distributed to 1,500 homes and stores.

Hamilton credited his upbringing at First Baptist Dallas under pastor W.A. Criswell with preparing him to preach and to evangelize, evidenced by Bethel’s Reach Plainview program.

“The Lord laid it on our hearts to get out of church and into the neighborhood,” Hamilton said, explaining that small teams walk nearby neighborhoods on Thursday nights, knocking on doors, identifying themselves and asking for prayer requests.

“It’s amazing how many will share their prayer requests and tell you what’s going on in their hearts. We pray with them right there,” Hamilton said, adding, “If God opens the door to share the gospel, we do.”

Teams convey prayer requests to a designated “war room” off the church sanctuary where members pray for them.

Sometimes people recognize Hamilton from his days as a Plainview newspaper columnist. He smiles, says yes, and asks if he can pray for them. 

Whether he’s delivering the weekly news or the good news, Hamilton is always joyfully up to the task.  

REVIEW: “Marshall” an inspiring film, but it”s not kid-friendly

Joseph Spell is a black chauffer accused of raping and trying to murder a white woman who just happens to be his wealthy employer. He maintains he’s innocent, but in 1940s Connecticut – which is still tainted by racism – no one believes him.

Enter Thurgood Marshall, a young attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He travels the country defending people who were falsely accused of a crime because of their race, and he believes he can help Joseph Spell.  

But there’s a problem. The segregationist-friendly judge won’t allow Marshall to speak in court, which means that a reluctant Jewish attorney named Sam Friedman — who initially has no interest in the high-profile case — must defend Spell before the jury.

Together, this unlikely duo must work together in a Moses-and-Aaron type of arrangement that seems destined to fail. Or perhaps it just might work.

The biopic Marshall (PG-13) opens in theaters this weekend, following the true story and early career of Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993), who appeared in front of the U.S. Supreme Court some 30 times as an attorney prior to being nominated by President Lyndon Johnson as the court’s first African American justice.

The film spotlights a significant case in Marshall’s early life known as The State of Connecticut v Joseph Spell (1941).

It stars Chadwick Boseman (42, Captain America: Civil War) as Marshall; Josh Gad (Frozen, Beauty and the Beast) as Friedman; Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us) as Spell; and Kate Hudson (How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days) as Eleanor Strubing, the woman who allegedly was raped.

Marshall is an entertaining and inspiring historical drama that nonetheless has some disappointing and unnecessary content problems. Let’s examine the details.


Moderate. We see the attempted murder recreated in the mind of Spell’s accuser. (A body is tossed into a river. The scene remains bloodless.) Friedman is beaten on the street at night by some thugs, and Marshall gets in a fistfight at a bar.


Moderate. The movie, of course, revolves around an alleged rape, and we see it recreated twice. The first time, she is dressed and then gagged with a cloth before the scene changes. Later, we see it recreated again, with kissing and more flesh but no nudity. Marshall is married in the film; we see his wife in a bra as they discuss her pregnancy.  

Coarse Language

Moderate. Marshall has about 29 coarse words – an average amount for a PG-13 film – but some of them are big ones: h-ll (6), GD (5), N-word (4), a—(4), F-word (3), ba—-d (2), s—t (2), d—n (1) SOB (1). Even worse: They’re paired with some of the film’s more inspiring (and even spiritual) lines. (See below.)  

Other Positive Elements

Marshall’s bold stance against racism and for righteousness is admirable. So is his work ethic. He travels from city to city to defend the innocent and is well-known among the black community and the legal profession for his sharp mind. But his workload has a price; he’s rarely home. Several times, we see him regret his absence from his wife.

One of the film’s highlights takes place as Marshall and Friedman discuss their strategy. Using the Bible for inspiration, Marshall says: “The Lord commanded Moses to enlist his brother’s help. ‘He shall speak for you to the people’” The duo then finishes the thought together: “You shall be his mouth and you shall be as God.” The point: Friedman will speak for Marshall. Yet this moment is spoiled with Marshall’s profanity immediately before it (GD) and Friedman’s profanity right after it (f-word). Marshall says “GD” several times in the film – a fact that will repel some Christian moviegoers.

Other Negative Elements

Lots of people smoked cigarettes during the 1940s. Lots of people smoke during Marshall, too. Marshall himself also tells the true story of how he lost a testicle in an accident.  

Life Lessons

Marshall includes lessons about determination, resolve, standing for righteousness, never giving up, and defending the innocent. It also teaches us that people can – and do – change for the better. At first, Friedman wanted nothing to do with the case. He especially didn’t want the paper tying his name to a black man accused of raping a white woman. But by movie’s end, he is Spell’s chief advocate.    


Segregation was any ugly moment in America history, but there were heroes who put their careers and lives on the line to stand up for what was right. The Bible commands us to “rescue the weak and the needy” (Psalm 82:4) and to “open your mouth for the mute” (Psalm 31:8). That is what Thurgood Marshall did on the issue of race, even if – it should be noted – he landed on the wrong side of abortion later in life. (He voted with the majority in Roe v. Wade.)


The language and the recreated rape scenes make this one not family-friendly for little ones.

What I Liked

Marshall and Friedman have great chemistry, and it’s fun to watch. Marshall’s commitment to his wife is also exemplary.

What I Didn’t Like

The language – and specifically, hearing God’s name often abused.

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

Thumbs up, with caveats about content.

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you have reacted if you were called names, as were Marshall and Friedman?
  2. Why was Friedman initially reluctant to help Marshall?
  3. What causes racism? What is the cure for racism?
  4. Marshall says, “The Constitution was not written for us.” Do you agree with that?
  5. We see Marshall drink from a whites-only fountain. Would you have done that if you were in his position?  

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Marshall is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, sexuality, violence and some strong language.

Young volunteers deploy to help their church and neighbors

MAURICEVILLE, TX – Younger generations are often considered lazy, self-centered and consumed by technology. However, in the midst of devastation, a group of students “showed up” for a south Texas church.

Due to Hurricane Harvey, First Baptist Church Mauriceville had anywhere from 18 inches to three feet of water in their auditorium and five surrounding buildings. With a community that fell victim to the flood waters, the number of adult volunteers were low, so junior high and high school students joined together to work in the weeks after Harvey.

“From a practical stand point, we needed the help and a lot of people were tied up with their own homes, or their family and friend’s homes,” Kevin Brown, pastor of FBC Mauriceville said. “The youth were able to fill a gap and help with a great need.”

As a testament to God’s calling, Brown brings up 1 Timothy 4:12 as the apostle Paul say to Timothy, “let no one despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”¬

“The idea that there has to be a generation gap is us sometimes accepting a societal construct, but it shouldn’t be treated as a biblical construct.”

Kevin Brown, pastor of FBC Mauriceville

“We know that there has always been that gap, but there shouldn’t be one in the body of Christ,” Brown said. “The idea that there has to be a generation gap is us sometimes accepting a societal construct, but it shouldn’t be treated as a biblical construct.”

Through the help of 12 dedicated young adults, the church was able to have their first service the following Sunday after the storm.

“I decided to help out because my house was not affected by the rain,” Luke Hanson, Little Cypress Mauriceville senior told the TEXAN. “Being a member of this church, I felt called to contribute to the body of believers and to Christ by my service through working at the church building.”

Working from eight in the morning to five in the afternoon, groups of students helped pull sheetrock and carpet out of the buildings, along with handing out water and supplies to the members of the community.

“I believe that through our service, it is showing others that we truly love the people around us,” LCM junior Caleb Weaver said.

Brown said the church has worked to grow their students by involving them in helping with other community events and projects in the past.

“There is an intentionality to this,” he said. “Sometimes we think of youth as another group of citizens in the kingdom, but we want them integrated in the whole body of Christ and the church. I believe that when you see youth working and serving alongside adults, something transformational happens, in which they grow spiritually.”

Hanson said he believes that God is moving throughout Orange County in a big way.

“I believe we, as in the churches, have started to grow stagnant in our outreach and this has jump started our presence in the communities,” he said. “I believe God handed us all an entire county here and said, ‘go minister and fulfill the Great Commission’ and now it is our turn to listen and do the work in His name.”

For Mauriceville Middle School eighth grader Kaitlyn Ewing, this is an experience unlike anything she has encountered before.

“This has taught me to stop thinking only of myself, but to think about all of the others that need our assistance and have lost everything,” she said. “It’s a humbling experience to be able to help not only the church, but also being able to hand out supplies, meals and water to people who come by.”

Weaver said that as a role-model, he hopes that this service inspires other students to find ways to volunteer and assist the affected communities.

“Society has this view of teenagers as not being able to do anything without their cellphone or technology today and while technology is a nice aspect of my life, I didn’t use any of it as I worked to clean out my church,” Hanson said.

Brown said he hopes the youth grow from this experience and in future opportunities to come.

“I believe that people grow through service and I think that our youth enjoy it,” he said. “They enjoy not just being together having fun, but they enjoy the work and when it is all said and done they look back and say, ‘I had a part in that.’”

College student uses “wish” for eternal impact

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. Madeline Ray and her family were supposed to take a trip to Australia in 2011. That’s when the Make-A-Wish Foundation initially granted her wish, more than three years after Ray first suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in the fifth grade.

Another stroke just months before the vacation postponed it for the next year. Still, four more strokes caused by an arteriovenous malformation, a tangled mass of blood vessels and arteries in her brain, put off granting Ray’s wish until her health became stable.

 Last December, Ray finally received her wish, but instead of a check for Australia, Make-A-Wish Eastern North Carolina mailed a $5,000 check on her behalf to the International Mission Board (IMB) in Richmond, Va.

Ray, now a 21-year-old student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, lost complete use of her left arm and hand after the second stroke in 2011. The stroke caused permanent side effects of fatigue and neuropathic, or synthetic, pain.

 It also led her to clearly grasp the gospel.

 “I had to rely on everybody to do everything for me,” she said. “God made the analogy of how my sin has paralyzed my life and separated me from him, and no matter how hard I try to cover it up or make it better, I can’t.”

 Ray recalled being so weak she couldn’t take baths by herself and needed her mother to bathe her.

“Once I really saw how holy God was and how unrighteous I was, and my need for that holy God, I started to see my need for Jesus and that I needed to have a relationship with him,” Ray said, “like I had to have a relationship with my mom in order to allow her to bathe me. 

“Another aspect of it was having to be vulnerable and to allow my mom to see me. I was a teenager and didn’t want my mom bathing me. But in the same way, I had to be vulnerable in front of God to tell him these areas I was weak in.” 

In the summer of 2014, Ray developed a passion for taking the gospel to unreached people groups after attending a Student Life camp, where IMB president David Platt spoke. It was around the same time she had the opportunity to reassess her wish after having it on hold for a few years. 

She knew then God had changed her desire for her wish and wanted to use it to make an eternal impact. Ray first heard about the IMB through her home church, Bethlehem Baptist Church in Youngsville, N.C., and became familiar with the organization when her brother went on a mission trip to Africa through the IMB. She hoped to go on her own mission trip, but Make-A-Wish’s restrictions and her health conditions did not allow for it. 

Over the next year, Ray brainstormed creative ways to use her wish for missions, like holding a concert to raise awareness about unreached people groups. She wanted to see the result of whatever her wish would accomplish. However, she didn’t hear back from one artist, and another’s schedule didn’t work out.

Ray’s 21st birthday neared, and her wish would soon expire. 

During the school year, Ray attends the Chapel Hill campus of The Summit Church

She remembered hearing J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church, say something one Sunday about “how we won’t always see the outcome of what we plant here.” 

“Immediately I thought, ‘I need to make a donation to IMB,’” she said. “I may not see whatever happens, what they do with the money, or the people that are reached with it, but in heaven I will.”

A Wish Granted

The Make-A-Wish Foundation sent Ray’s donation and a letter she wrote to Platt in December 2016. This March, Ray and her parents met Platt and other IMB employees during a visit to the offices in Virginia.

After sharing Ray’s letter during a chapel service, Platt prayed for “a Madeline-like perspective, even in the midst of challenges in front of us, help us to keep our eyes fixed on that which matters most eternally.”

 During the visit, Ray was asked if she wanted to direct her gift to any particular area. She had Asia on her heart.

 “They started telling me about this one particular unreached people group [in East Asia]. … Some of the funds had just recently run out for that group around the same time my donation came in.”

God also granted Ray’s old desire to see the outcome of her wish.

“They also got me in contact with the two missionaries that are living over there, so I’ve actually FaceTimed with them,” she said. “That was really cool to hear about how they’re working over there. … I never really thought I would talk to the missionaries that are doing the work.”

Ray currently studies human development and family studies and is working toward a minor in Spanish for the Health Professions, with the goal of becoming a child life specialist. She hopes to work with children and their families in hospital settings, normalizing the environment as much as possible. Ray volunteers at a hospital on weekends, on the same floors where she learned how to walk again.

Ray continues to live with side effects from the strokes. Sometimes she struggles with determining whether a headache is just another headache requiring rest, or if it could turn into a stroke. She had to give up playing the violin when her left arm failed to fully recover, but she said God has revealed to her new passions.

“It was a process of learning that I will be fully restored one day. It may not be on earth, but it will be in heaven. Having that hope for the future is what doesn’t drag me down.” 

-This story was used with permission from The Biblical Recorder

Odessa church stays on mission in Peru

ODESSA The Amazon rain forest boasts two seasons—rainy and dry—and one temperature: hot. Villagers barter plantains, dried fish and tapioca or sell them to brokers docked along lush riverbanks.

Despite this commonality of economy and climate, the people of Nuevo Jardin, Peru, are different from many living along the giant river flowing into Brazil.

They have been changed forever through a work begun by two Odessa churches and continued by Sherwood Baptist Church.

In 2012, a sermon at the SBTC annual meeting challenged then Sherwood pastor Ivy Shelton to encourage his church to adopt an unengaged people group.  

On a vision trip in January 2013, men from Sherwood and Odessa Bible Church traveled up the Amazon with IMB missionary Jake Glover.

A joint effort was born from that journey when the village of Nuevo Jardin welcomed the Texans, who led two men to Christ.

For the next two years, groups from Odessa Bible and Sherwood traveled to Nuevo Jardin on alternating months. Following two years of the combined venture, Odessa Bible’s commitment period ended, but Sherwood continued going to Peru, initially six times a year.

Three trips have been planned for 2017—one occurred in March; a second departed Sept. 17, and a final trip is anticipated before year’s end, said Sherwood’s Pat Wenger, who has gone 15 times and coordinates the trips.

Groups fly into Lima and then Iquitos before boarding chartered speedboats piloted by hired men who know the river. Ketty, a Christian who worked for Glover, has accompanied and cooked for groups on every trip. 

Part of Wenger’s job is to ensure funds reach Peru to cover food, bottled water, translators and transportation costs. Participants pay their own way although the church covers some expenses.

Wenger’s first trip was in March 2013. She heard of a nearby village that “worshiped the cross,” and was later stunned to discover the religion had been started by a man named Cross who had come to the area earlier, evidence of the area’s prevailing superstition.

Trips transitioned to a pattern of holding church services, Bible studies, youth and children’s programs.

“We live life with them,” said Sherwood’s Andrew Mailey, who has gone twice to Peru, including an August 2016 trip with Wenger, Jo Ann Bell, and seven teenagers, including his two sons.

Wenger estimated village population at 110, and to date, half the villagers have trusted Christ, she said.

When villagers decided they wanted a church building, Sherwood supplied saws, nails and roofing tin. Village men cut and hand-milled the lumber and erected the chapel.

Today, villagers hold church services several times a week, including twice on Sundays, Wenger said. Most preaching is done by a villager named Mier. Wenger and Bell, an 11-trip veteran, went once by themselves and were the first Texans to worship in the new church.

Mailey preached multiple times on his two visits, admitting he likes being “part of the village”: enjoying fellowship, quiet times, prayer and Bible studies with the families.

Sherwood has also contributed to the education of villagers. The church would like to help Mier gain biblical training, thus far impossible because of his family commitments. Meanwhile, they are helping three youngsters obtain secondary education, since free public education is only provided through grade six.

This started with Jorge, a young man whose zeal for the Lord was unmistakable after he trusted Christ. 

Calling Jorge “a man after God’s own heart,” Wenger said Sherwood pays for school fees, uniforms and books, and contributes to his room and board in a village closer to Iquitos with a secondary school. Sherwood is similarly financing the education of another boy and girl.

Recently, after a mission trip to Panama where she observed the benefits of water filtration, Wenger arranged for filters to be distributed to every home in Nuevo Jardin. The villagers refused to drink from the government-drilled well, preferring the Amazon with its questionable purity. The filters have made the village healthier, Wenger said.

Despite potable water, conditions are primitive but have improved for the visitors. The church purchased a two-story open-air house vacated by a departing family. When the house started sinking, the village men rebuilt it on higher ground, using supplies provided by the church and rain forest lumber. The church paid for the labor, Bell said. 

Wenger said she has a special plan for September: to encourage the people of Nuevo Jardin to pray about which nearby village they want to evangelize. 

Bell, who like Wenger is in her 70s, said she hopes others will be encouraged to go on mission. “Just go where God wants you to go. You are never too old or too young.” 

US Small Business Administration disaster loans and FEMA assistance extended to faith-based entities

While Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) money is not generally accessible to churches, disaster recovery help from the federal government is available in the form of low interest loans, Susheel Kumar, public information officer for the US Small Business Administration Office of Disaster Assistance told representatives of the Golden Triangle Baptist Network (GTBN) assembled Oct. 5 at First Baptist Church, Vidor.

Introducing Kumar, GTBN acting director Mark Adams of Beaumont’s First Baptist Church called Kumar’s information both “critical” and “time sensitive.”

“The Small Business Administration really is the only source of [federal government] funds for churches,” Kumar told the assembled crowd of nearly 30 church pastors and staff.

Calling his presentation “church specific,” Kumar reminded his audience that they were “in the church business.”

Two types of SBA disaster recovery loans available to churches are Business Physical Disaster Loans to assist in recovering from physical damage (such as loss of pews, carpets, facilities) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans to assist in recovery from economic losses related to the disaster (such as the loss of income caused by church closures or disruptions in services such as a church day care).

The deadline to apply for SBA Business Physical Disaster Loans related to Hurricane Harvey is Oct. 24, 2017, 60 days after President Trump declared Harvey a disaster, Kumar said.

SBA applications for Economic Injury Disaster Loans have a May 25, 2018, deadline.

The maximum loan amount any qualified church or business may receive for physical damages is two million dollars at a 2.5 fixed percent interest rate amortized over a maximum of 30 years, Kumar said, noting that the first loan payment would not be due for a year.

Economic disaster loans are similarly structured.

“No fees, no points, no closing costs,” he added, advising all affected who were present to visit the SBA’s customized center for businesses and non-profits at Lamar University and meet with Dave Mulcahy, director of the Small Business Development Center there.

Mulcahy and staff can assist with the loan application, including helping churches with necessary documentation, Kumar said, providing Mulcahy’s phone and address to the group.

Dave Mulcahy

Director- Lamar University- Small Business Development Center

5091 Rolfe Christopher Dr. – Room 130 (CICE Building)

Beaumont, TX 77705

(409) 880-2367 – Phone


The technical assistance to churches and businesses offered by the Small Business Development Centers, “resource partners” of the Small Business Adminstration, is “second to none,” Kumar told the TEXAN, adding that the centers are located throughout the nation, with many in Texas in counties affected by Harvey.

A complete listing of SBDCs may be found at

SBA disaster loan applications may be also submitted online at The website contains information including lists of counties in Texas and Louisiana eligible for SBA loans related to Harvey.

Emailed inquiries may be directed to

“My heart goes out to you folks,” Kumar said. “Words escape me. It’s horrific. The best I can do is to facilitate the road to recovery.”

While SBA loans are the main source of government assistance to churches, some FEMA assistance is possible for churches providing social services like adult day care or food programs, Lanie Brown of the office of Congressman Brian Babin informed the Golden Triangle group, saying that her office had received the information only days before.

“Historically, FEMA has not helped with any faith-based outreaches, but this time they are offering public assistance to those groups,” Brown said, urging churches with programs like food pantries, homeless shelters, schools, day cares, mother’s day outs, to file for FEMA public assistance grants before the Oct. 31 deadline.

“It’s worth a shot,” Brown said.

A Sept. 28, 2017, FEMA news release (NR-032) confirms Brown’s statements that FEMA assistance is extended to faith-based organizations and features a list of types of eligible private institutions.

FEMA may also reimburse the costs of “emergency protective services” like “sheltering and feeding survivors on behalf of state, local, tribal, or territorial governments.”

Such reimbursement requires an “agreement” between the government and the organization, but such an agreement could be “post-event.”

Eligible organizations must have state or IRS tax-exempt status and must first apply for a low-interest disaster loan from the SBA before being considered for a FEMA public assistance grant for the costs of repair or replacement not covered by SBA loans.

The idea is to help service providers, faith-based and otherwise, “get back to the business of helping others.”

For additional information on FEMA assistance and its Oct. 31 deadline, see

Brown added that church and school libraries that lost books during the disaster may be eligible for help from the Library of Congress.

“I don’t know how the communities would survive without the churches and the shelters,” Brown said, expressing appreciation for the work of local churches in the wake of disaster. “You are offering not just prayers and comfort but also help on a practical level.”