Month: January 2018

Chaplains reflect on Sutherland Springs tragedy

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS Trained in critical incident stress management, Debby Tiller Nichols heard about the church shooting in Sutherland Springs and knew she had to go.

Nichols, of Texarkana, was packing her house to move when 27 people were killed at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church in November, but she and four other Southern Baptists of Texas chaplains ministered to the Sutherland Springs community alongside a half-dozen Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chaplains from Oklahoma.

“I knew there [also] would be needs among the police officers, paramedics and all the first responders. I knew I needed to be there,” Nichols told the TEXAN.

Months later, Nichols is among those still processing the tragedy and its aftermath.

“It seems like much longer. On the other hand, it seems like last week,” she said. 

Nichols and chaplain Linda Mitter of Rockwall ministered to first responders and civilians during the week they served in Sutherland Springs, huddling in prayer with state troopers guarding the cordoned-off crime scene in front of the church and talking and praying with community members.

“We shared and prayed with the troopers,” Mitter said, explaining that the officers had lost one of their own only the day before when Dallas police trooper Thomas Nipper was killed during a traffic stop.

Nichols remembered a conversation with a sergeant from the Dallas Police Department who was in San Antonio for her daughter’s band competition following the shootings and drove out to Sutherland Springs.

Some of the sergeant’s men had died in the 2016 Dallas police shootings. “My people were killed,” the Dallas officer told Nichols, adding that she felt compelled to stop and look at the white crosses and flowers along Highway 183.

“It was very emotional for her, with her situation,” Nichols said. “Most of what we did is listen to their stories and pray for them. That’s what we do. We listen and pray.”

Gordon Knight, SBTC director of chaplains, said chaplains “try to get people to talk so they can tell their story so they can start the healing process. When they open up to us, we invite them to pray.” 

Knight said disaster relief chaplains made hundreds of spiritual contacts in Sutherland Springs.

“Mostly we walked through the community,” Mitter said. “We’d go to the community center and visit with anybody.”

Anybody included the clerk in the convenience store next to the church who had been in the store when the shots sounded.

“They heard the gunshots and knew it was not good,” Nichols said. “The person [Johnnie Langendorff] who drove the truck to pursue the shooter was her last customer that morning.” 

Mitter said though she had served as a chaplain before, it was “nothing that dealt with this magnitude of death.” She described the experience as “overwhelming” and “tough,” her voice cracking as she praised the community and local pastors—including Paul Buford of River Oaks Baptist Church—who showed love, support and peace in the midst of tragedy.

Sutherland Springs was a “different kind of disaster, unimaginable,” Henry Van de Putte, executive director of the San Antonio Red Cross, told the TEXAN. Van de Putte praised Southern Baptist chaplains.

“It is an inspiration to me to walk in and see the sea of yellow shirts and know [things] are taken care of spiritually,” Van de Putte said. 

Sometimes spiritual connections were made using stuffed animals. 

Before the community-wide prayer service at a local football field, SBDR chaplains distributed wristbands, 300 plush animals and toys, and 200 Bibles donated by LifeWay Christian Resources to the crowd entering the gates.

“Thank you,” 10-year-old Sammy Rodriguez exclaimed as Oklahoma DR chaplain Dave Karr handed him a children’s Bible. 

The toys and Bibles were for “anyone who wants them, to help them feel at ease” said SBTC chaplain Aaron Treanor, pastor of San Antonio’s Brookhill Baptist Church. 

Following the prayer event, which included Vice President Mike Pence and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, chaplains offered counseling in the adjacent school gym to any who needed to talk, reporting that two people prayed to receive Christ that night.

Nichols summed up her Sutherland Springs experience by applauding the community’s resilience.

“What I went there for was to provide some kind of comfort to the people affected,” she said. “What I took away from there was comfort from the people affected. They blessed my socks off.” 

Info on chaplaincy training:

Reach Austin luncheons set for March 1

AUSTIN—The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention will host two luncheons March 1 to present the newest “Reach City” strategy, Reach Austin. 

One luncheon will be at Calvary Baptist Church in San Marcos from 10 a.m. to noon and the other will be at Northside Church in Austin from noon to 2 p.m. The SBTC’s new Reach Austin strategist will be introduced at each luncheon.

Austin is the 11th largest city in the nation, the 3rd largest state capital and last year was named the second “Best City for Millennials” by Forbes magazine. Forty-one percent of the 2.1 million residents are unchurched and 33 percent are de-churched. While largely made up of Anglos and Hispanics, Austin is also home to many African Americans and Asians.

Communities under the Reach Austin umbrella include those between Georgetown and New Braunfels (from north to south), and between Cedar Park and Bastrop (east to west). Inside the boundaries are Buda (the fastest growing city in the Austin area), Round Rock, Pflugerville and San Marcos. The SBTC currently has six church plants in the Austin metro area.

Through “Reach” the SBTC seeks to equip and support churches in fulfilling the Acts 1:8 commission of spreading the gospel at home and around the world.

Barry Calhoun, SBTC mobilization director and church planting associate, said Reach facilitates “opportunities to engage in and/or learn to do foreign missions within the state and reach some of those same people groups here in Texas that they engage in other countries.” He added, “The methodology is church planting and revitalization through evangelism.” 

The “Reach” program name was first used with “Reach Houston,” but the strategy was used in other cities and regions prior to Houston—Laredo, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley.  

Through the program, small member churches can more effectively mobilize for missions in the state.  For example, Calhoun said, “The Bi-Stone Association, which is a small association with small member churches, has decided to adopt Reach Houston as a focus for 2018. We hope to see similar things happen in Austin.” 

Needs for Reach Austin include the sponsorship of more church planters and assistance with revitalizing existing churches.

Church leaders who want to learn more about Reach Austin should register by Feb. 19 for one of the March 1 luncheons. To register, go to and click on the “Register Now” link under the Reach Austin partnership.

Disaster relief task force evaluates Harvey response

LUFKIN—“God did it,” Scottie Stice, SBTC disaster relief director, told about 20 disaster relief task force members and spouses at the Unity Baptist Association building in Lufkin Jan. 19.

 “We cut our teeth on the toughest one we’ll ever have,” Stice said of the Hurricane Harvey response, which demanded the unprecedented involvement of trained and untrained volunteers. It also featured the birth of Texas Relief with several hundred participants who added to the ranks of credentialed SBTC DR volunteers.

“Harvey posed challenges, causing us to request outside help, then Irma hit, drawing away much out-of-state help, so the convention responded with Texas Relief,” Stice said.

“Harvey posed challenges, causing us to request outside help, then Irma hit, drawing away much out-of-state help, so the convention responded with Texas Relief.”

Scottie Stice, SBTC disaster relief director

Former SBTC disaster relief director Jim Richardson previously said Hurricanes Katrina and Rita had permanently changed the face of disaster relief. “Harvey just changed it again,” Stice said, adding, “Texas Relief volunteers are part of our future.”

Stice and the task force discussed the challenges of using untrained volunteers, noting issues of safety, supervision and communication. Even in the rush to aid Harvey victims, Texas Relief volunteers underwent basic disaster relief instruction and safety training before going out on the field.

The Texas Relief model reflects SBTC DR’s past policies regarding temporary workers and Oklahoma Disaster Relief’s methods of engaging spontaneous unsolicited volunteers.

Texas Relief emerged alongside the North American Mission Board’s expanded deployment of Send Relief volunteers to disaster relief. While Send Relief encompasses many ministry areas, NAMB specifically recruited individuals 16 and over, including hundreds of college students, for help responding to Harvey.

“If a church calls the SBTC and says they have a group that wants to help [in a major disaster], our answer is yes, through Texas Relief,” Stice said, adding that Texas Relief does not use minors but will redirect volunteer groups with underage helpers to other churches or organizations. Groups with minors ages 16-17 are directed to Send Relief. The same rules apply for Texas Rebuild, the SBTC’s initiative for helping churches rebuild.

Stice praised Texas Relief and Send Relief and said he expected many Texas Relief workers to obtain further training and join the ranks of SBTC DR. 

“Texas Relief is going to grow our DR volunteer ranks,” Stice said. “Already this has happened. It is a huge recruiting tool.”

When asked about the differences between a Texas Relief volunteer and a traditionally trained SBTC DR yellow shirt volunteer, Stice replied, “Credentials. Level of training. Security clearance to enter disaster zones. Insurance. Reimbursements for some expenses.”

Experienced SBTC DR volunteers provide guidance to Texas Relief teams, Stice said.

While Harvey’s massive scale caused logistical challenges in communications, accurate deployment of equipment and workers, housing and feeding, the overwhelming event saw thousands assisted and around 180 salvations, many from Champion Forest in Houston.

Gordon Knight, SBTC director of chaplains, credited the chaplain teams deployed to Hurricane Harvey and also the involvement of churches in helping others during the crisis for adding to the number of salvations.

On the heels of Harvey came the Nov. 5 shootings in Sutherland Springs, which also involved the deployment of SBTC DR chaplains. Knight commended the assistance of Oklahoma DR in providing its command center and a half-dozen DR chaplains to join five SBTC DR chaplains in ministering to the families of the victims, distributing toys and Bibles at the community prayer service and providing counseling after the service.

The future of disaster relief will involve the increased use of technology to coordinate work orders with teams of volunteers, streamline communications, back up data and deploy mass feeding units, Stice and the task force said.

It will also involve Texas Rebuild, initially focusing on churches, pastors’ homes and staff members’ homes. 

“Texas Relief and Texas Rebuild are with us to stay,” SBTC DR associate Wally Leyerle told the TEXAN. Leyerle serves as the SBTC point person for Texas Relief and Texas Rebuild, helping coordinate volunteer groups.

In his expanded role, Leyerle works with SBTC consultants Kyle Sadler and Brandon Reed, who continue to scout sites affected by Harvey and coordinate volunteer efforts.

Leyerle said a massive influx of student volunteers is expected during the first three weeks of March as student volunteers on spring break will work on Harvey rebuilding.

Texas Relief and Rebuild and the SBTC’s Adopt-a-Church program make for an “organic” and “effective” process of assisting those in need, Leyerle said.

For more information on Texas Relief, Texas Rebuild, Adopt-a-Church or SBTC DR related to Hurricane Harvey, click here.

Global Hunger Relief funds available

GRAPEVINE Churches sharing the gospel through hunger relief ministries may qualify for grant funds provided through Global Hunger Relief, a partner of the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board.

GHR (formerly the World Hunger Fund) is a Southern Baptist initiative to combat hunger in North America and around the world by addressing a variety of needs.  

“Currently we have multiple grants available for distribution to SBTC churches/ministries that meet requirements set forth by GHR,” SBTC Missions Director Doug Hixson said.  

To qualify for funds, churches must show how they are sharing the gospel through a hunger relief ministry by providing data on the number of evangelistic encounters, professions of faith and baptisms that have occurred through the ministry. Other data needed includes the total number of volunteers supporting the hunger relief ministry as well as the number of volunteers trained in evangelism.

According to the GHR website,, “GHR-funded projects meet crisis hunger needs in famine or disaster relief situations, but also catalyze long-term change in conditions of human suffering and extreme poverty that cause chronic hunger. Such projects may involve job training and vocational education, livestock and seeds, farm improvement, clean water, home reconstruction, medical care and hygiene education,” among other needs.

Since administrative costs are covered through the Cooperative Program, 100 percent of gifts given to GHR are devoted directly to meeting hunger needs.

For more information, or to apply for grant funds, contact Anna Whitson, SBTC missions ministry assistant, at 817-552-2500. 

REVIEW: “Maze Runner: The Death Cure” provides a warning on medical ethics

Thomas is a brave young man living in a dystopian world full of desolate cities, rusted cars and blowing tumbleweed. He’s also one of the few healthy people left on the planet, which makes he and his friends – who also are healthy – curiosities to society.

That’s because something called the “flare virus” has ravaged the population, turning anyone who catches it into flesh-eating, zombie-like creatures called “Cranks.” And with healthy people now outnumbered 3-1, everyone’s getting desperate for a cure.

Enter the scientific group WCKD, which is searching for – make that hunting for – people like Thomas who are immune to the sickness. WCKD’s researchers are developing an anti-virus serum through a process that often requires killing the subjects. Thus, for the world to be cured of the flare virus, Thomas and all his healthy buddies first must die. Any volunteers?

It’s all part of Maze Runner: The Death Cure (PG-13), which opens in theaters this weekend and finds Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his friends working to free the dozens of healthy people captured by WCKD. At the heart of the film is Thomas’ search for his good friend Minho (Ki Hong Lee), who is being held in the last remaining city on Earth – a city surrounded by a large wall.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure is the final installment in a trilogy that began with The Maze Runner (2014) and was followed by Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015). They’re based on the young adult novels by author James Dashner.

This one is more entertaining than The Scorch Trials but still not as fun as the first one in the series. (My view: When they escaped the maze, the story lost some of its luster.) The Death Cure has more story and plot than The Scorch Trials, but is still too action-heavy.

Still, the entire series has relevance to our modern-day approach to medical and scientific research, in which the end often justifies the (unethical) means.

Warning: minor spoilers!


Excessive. You can’t make a zombie movie without scary-looking zombies, and Death Cure has lots of them. It also has quite a bit of violence. The movie opens with a gun battle, and is quickly followed with Minho chased by a monster in a dark tunnel. Later, our heroes are surrounded by zombies underground, and some of the zombies are shot or run over by a vehicle. We see a grotesque-looking man with half a nose and a scarred face (who, incidentally, is a good guy). People who catch the flare virus undergo a frightening transformation that involves their veins coming to the surface of their skin. We see a woman shot and killed, and a man stabbed. We also see someone choked (but not to death). The movie ends with a war-like battle in the city involving bombs, missiles and plenty of bullets.  


Minimal. A man and woman share a brief kiss.

Coarse Language

Moderate, with 33 total: s—t (15); h—l (8); GD (2); d—n (2); misuse of “Jesus” (1); a—(1); d—k (1); SOB (1); pi—ed (1); ba—rd (1).

Other Positive Elements

Even though he has rescued dozens of people, Thomas refuses to forget about Minho – and he’s willing to die to find him. Many others share Thomas’ outlook. Thomas and his friends, led by a character named Vince (Barry Pepper), stick together in opposing the evil acts of WCKD.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

We watch a minor surgery procedure and see a bloody incision.

Life Lessons

Maze Runner: The Death Cure gives us lessons in self-sacrifice (Thomas, the others), selflessness (Thomas, the others), forgiveness (as seen in a romance angle involving Thomas) and standing up for what is right (Thomas, the others).  


The world of Maze Runner is science fiction – yes – but it’s a cautionary tale we should not ignore.

During one experiment on Minho, a researcher tells another one: “You realize this may kill him, right?” Yet the other researcher responds: “I have my orders.”

Thomas’ love interest, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), seems to share this approach. When Thomas asks her when the experiments will end, she retorts, “When there is a cure.”

If WCKD had a mission statement, it would be “a cure at all costs.”

American won’t ever follow WCKD’s unethical path … right? Or perhaps we’re already there, with experiments on fetal body parts, embryos and human-animal chimeras (read: half human, half animal). And if you want to read stories of Maze Runner-type experiments from yesteryear, simply Google “unethical medical research” – and prepare to be shocked.

Questions about ethics often are drowned out by shouts of “but it will cure so many people!”

The same utilitarian arguments we hear in Maze Runner are used by researchers today. And that’s scary.    

Perhaps it’s time we go back to Genesis and re-discover how each person was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), worthy of protection and respect.

What I Liked

The opening action scene, which involved a train, a helicopter and a couple of vehicles.

What I Didn’t Like

The movie’s length. At two hours and 23 minutes, it’s about half an hour too long.

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

Thumbs up, but barely.

Discussion Questions

  1. 1.     If unethical research produces a medical cure, should we take advantage of it?
  2. 2.     What are the ethical boundaries of medical research? Are there any legal procedures that you oppose? Would you ban them?
  3. 3.     Why are we as a society so fascinated by zombies?
  4. 4.     Did you like the ending? Why or why not?

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

Maze Runner: The Death Cure is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, and some thematic elements.

What is Fake News?

“Fake News!” has been the shrill accusation of both political wings for a couple of years now. The term has come to mean too many things, but consider what might be fake about the headlines you see every day. 

Some version of the “fake” accusation has been around for a long time—usually referring to a news story a person finds unwelcome, without regard for its truth or falsity. A newspaper I edited was accused of publishing fake news for writing of an event in 1990 that happened in the presence of two writers, 20 or so seminary students and maybe 20 other people standing around. We were so accused by two SBC entities and several state Baptist papers whose personnel were not in the room. They didn’t like the facts. This is most commonly what someone means when he hollers, “Fake!”

But in our day there are a couple of other challenges as we see snippets of a hundred news items a day. First is the pressure on online marketers of magazines or blogs or even men’s clothing to get people to click on their ads. That’s why I see, every day, on my Yahoo “news” page, a headline about Joel Osteen’s church closing. I haven’t clicked on it, but I did Google “Osteen church closing” and got nothing. This headline is the equivalent of a rotten chicken liver on a fish hook—we called it “stink bait” when I fished for catfish. 

The second, and related, challenge to sorting nonsense from truth is lurid, misleading headlines once-legitimate news organizations will use to get clicks. Newsweek recently posted a headline about Melania Trump destroying a 200-year-old tree on the White House lawn. The actual story was that the ancient magnolia was rotten and threatening to fall. Groundskeepers recommended taking it down. The headline, all that most people read, implied Mrs. Trump (only because she was Mrs. Trump) was on a campaign against stately old trees. I suspect this was a two-fer, a magazine that hates the president and all his family and one that will sacrifice its integrity to get clicks. 

There are other examples of this very thing, but let this one suffice. My warning to you is to not let politics overwhelm everything. There are trained, earnest, hardworking journalists trying to get important stories right, and with whom I disagree about worldview. That disagreement is not pertinent to everything they do. Some news outlets are little more than agenda-driven. But your local weekly or daily paper, famous national newspapers (the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal come to mind) and some well-known reporters are usually trying to tell the truth. If our culture indiscriminately drags down every news outlet and reporter because of political disagreements, we will be much poorer as a society. We’ll be crippled and prey to corruption on the part of our leaders. 

Like a free nation with a crippled news trade, the SBC will work just fine without reporters independent of its institutions … until it doesn’t.

Now, what about our own Southern Baptist Convention? It is observable that trends in our broader culture are reflected in our fellowship and our churches. Suspicion of those who nose into the business of elected leaders will transfer to those who nose into the business of your SBC seminary or mission board. “It’s a profession of troublemakers, whether they are Baptist or atheist,” you might think. I’ve seen that attitude arise in the years since I edited my first Baptist paper. The papers had more readers, more influence and thus more respect from our leaders in that day. There are a lot of reasons for this decline, some of them morally neutral, but the results have been far-reaching. The smaller and fewer papers publishing today have fewer reporters and almost no journalists who investigate anything. Coincidentally perhaps, even Baptist reporters are less welcome and accommodated by our entities than they once were (when the largest had 400,000 subscribers). 

Should it be like this? Our world hunger offering goes up if pop musicians have a telethon; our behavior toward women we work alongside is amended because #metoo is in the news; reporters are respected, or not, according to the same business and political trends that govern the broader culture. 

Like a free nation with a crippled news trade, the SBC will work just fine without reporters independent of its institutions … until it doesn’t. Respect those to whom respect is due. Subscribe to a Baptist newspaper; subscribe your whole Sunday School class while you’re at it. Listen to honest reporters with a discerning ear and open mind. Think of the reporters as kindly as you might of a firefighter or school teacher. If it’s a little work to figure out who’s respectable, call it the price of citizenship in the United States, and stewardship within a fellowship of autonomous churches that own an amazing missionary apparatus.  

Entrusted: A Gospel Legacy for the Coming Generations Part 2

My personal journey with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention began in September 1998. At that time the SBTC did not even officially exist. I had pastored in Louisiana for over 20 years prior to going to the Northwest Baptist Association in Bentonville, Arkansas, as a director of missions. Although I had heard scattered reports of what was happening in Texas, I had no direct connection with any of the people involved.

In the early 1990s, conservative Southern Baptists in Texas were becoming concerned about the leftward drift of their state convention. For several years, candidates were nominated for president with hopes of being able influence the direction of the state convention. Each year the loss was greater than the year before. It became apparent that the conservatives would not be able to bring the necessary change. In February 1998, five conservative leaders met with five leaders of the state convention. They came away from the dialogue convinced that they had irreconcilable differences with the convention. Biblical inerrancy was the main issue. What we believe about the nature of Scripture impacts other beliefs such as women serving as pastors, abortion and the nature of a family. 

An organization known as the Southern Baptists of Texas, Inc. had been formed by a merger of two groups, Baptists With A Mission (laypersons) and the Conservative Baptist Fellowship (pastors). A decision was made to start a new convention. The board of directors assigned various committees to prepare for a fall constituting meeting of the new convention. A search committee was formed to call an executive director. 

While in my office in Bentonville, I received a call from John Yeats, then a pastor in Texas. He asked me to consider placing my name in consideration. I told him I had no interest and went to lunch. When I returned from lunch, another Texas pastor, Danny Souder, asked if he could put my name before the committee. I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I was living the dream. I had a house on the side of a mountain in the Ozarks. I had a great group of pastors of churches with whom to work. I had no desire to get into a squabble in Texas. However, God began to work on me that day.

Within a week, the chair of the search committee,  E.L. Pennington, asked if I would come for an interview. I told him I had to fast and pray. He said it was just an interview but I could not go without a clear word from God. After a weekend of struggle, God gave me the green light. I met with the committee at MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church. We started at 9:00am and broke for lunch at noon. I did not know it at the time but several people on the board  or their friends had a strong desire for the ministry position. One of the potential candidates was standing at the door as the committee broke for lunch. He followed us to the restaurant and at the meal told me he would do everything he could do to stop me from coming to Texas. 

After we reconvened that afternoon, I shared with them the core values the SBTC has today. I told them I was not angry with anyone in the existing convention. I would not be a part of a reactionary group. We had to be visionary and missionary or I would not come. The committee dismissed me and began their deliberations. As I waited to get my ride back to the airport, the committee asked if I could come back in the room. They were unanimous in saying that they believed it was God’s will for me to come as executive director. They had not interviewed anyone else but were positive I was their man. This really upset my world.

After returning to Arkansas, I received several communications from Texas. A person sent a mass mailing warning that I should not be allowed to come as executive director. Another person who had applied for the positions said he would do everything he could to see I did not get called. All of this was a relief to me. I was happy where I was. 

The search committee remained stalwart in their conviction that I should be presented to the board of directors. God gave me direction to ask for all of the officers who would be leading the new convention to affirm by letter their support for me should I be elected. The chair of the board assured me this would happen. A board meeting was scheduled for late October. When I arrived in Texas I found one of the officers had refused to give the affirmation. He had applied for the position. I refused to go into the meeting. At the end of the day I flew back to Arkansas. I had lost twenty pounds through fasting and struggle. Finally I could get back to my ministry in Northwest Arkansas. 

Stan Coffey was the proposed president for the new convention. The week before the convention he, along with another pastor, arranged for the resistant officer to talk with me  by phone. When we concluded our hours long conversation, the convention officer agreed to a statement of affirmation. It was heavily nuanced, satisfying the letter of law, if not the spirit. I agreed to come on November 9, 1998, for a vote of the board of directors. 

There were a handful who voted against me in the board meeting, but they made it unanimous on a second vote. On November 10, 1998, the convention concurred with the board vote by a standing ovation. Within 48 hours I went from not coming to the formation of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to being the executive director. 

Many godly men and women prayed and worked to bring this convention into being. Anything involving fallen humanity will have flaws, but God raised up an organization to give Texas churches a place of partnership in ministry and fellowship. The convention went from a desire in the hearts of many to a reality for the glory of God! 

My next column will be the last in a three-part series about the early days of the SBTC. As you read the history, I ask that you be a part of history by participating in convention life. One of the best places to be in Texas February 26 and 27 is at the Empower Conference in Irving. Pray and be present. God is moving!  

Evangelicals for Life addresses ‘pro-life ethic’

WASHINGTON—Evangelical Christians defend not only unborn children in the pro-life cause but all other human beings in need as well, speakers said on the second day of the Evangelicals for Life conference in the country’s capital.

Christian advocacy for and ministry to refugees, orphans, immigrants and the poor gained attention Jan. 19 at the third annual event co-hosted by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and Focus on the Family. The three-day conference—which concluded Jan. 20 with breakout sessions—broke mid-day Jan. 19 for attendees to join tens of thousands of others for the annual March for Life from the National Mall to Capitol Hill.

At the conclusion of the Jan. 19 sessions, ERLC President Russell Moore announced more than $336,000 had been raised at a leaders dinner the same evening to fund ultrasound machines for pregnancy resource centers across the country.

In her keynote speech, popular author Ann Voskamp said, “We are a people of a robust, pro-life ethic. We are for both humans in utero and humans in crisis.”

Moore said during a panel discussion on developing a whole-life, pro-life perspective, “The primary reason that we care about all of these people is because Jesus does  …   [T]he reason that we care about unborn children is because they’re human beings made in the image of God. If that’s the case, then we care for all people who are made in the image of God and who are threatened.”

Rich Stearns, president of World Vision U.S., said it is “true that when the church demonstrates true compassion for all people and particularly for the poor and the vulnerable, that there’s no more powerful witness to the truth of the Gospel than this kind of sacrificial love for those Matthew calls ‘the least of these.'”

“You see, a Christian faith that is consistently and passionately pro-life is almost universally admired and irresistibly attractive to outsiders, and that’s because it’s so unexpected,” he said in a keynote address. 

The Jan. 18-20 conference took place just prior to Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (Jan. 21), which the Southern Baptist Convention and many evangelical churches observed, and the 45th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision (Jan. 22), which legalized abortion nationwide.

While Evangelicals for Life’s (EFL) yearly proximity to the Roe anniversary and the March for Life — as well as the topics and speakers — makes clear its commitment to protecting the unborn, the issues addressed Jan. 19 affirmed the evangelical pro-life cause is an expansive one.

Speaking about care for refugees, Voskamp told the audience, “If you are passionate for Christ, then you are compassionate for those in crisis.

“A whole world of people will decide who Jesus is by who we are,” she said. “A whole world of hurting people will decide what they think about Jesus by how we decide to respond to the hurting. If we turn our backs on the fleeing, we turn our backs on Christ.”

Voskamp’s family of nine sponsored a six-person refugee family from war-torn Syria that had undergone a two-year process of “stringent vetting,” she said. “[I]t’s relatively easy to pontificate on how to live the Gospel, and it’s infinitely harder to incarnate the Gospel in your life, but it’s worth it.”

“Now is the time for the church to be the church  …,” Voskmap said of the current period marked by the massive uprooting of people from their homes and countries that has been described as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

The Bible “is a book from beginning to end about exiles and refugees,” she said. “We are not a people who believe in parts of the Holy Bible. We are a people who believe in the whole Bible.

“This is us, the people who do not take out parts of the Bible to fit our agenda but [take]; our lives and make them a living offering to serve all people.”

Stearns suggested American evangelicals should examine themselves about what the world sees when it looks at the church. 


“Do our actions speak to our identity? Are we consistently pro-life?,” he asked.

Some of their historic positions and current opinions reflect poorly on American evangelicals, Stearns said. A recent Barna Group survey showed evangelicals were the least likely group to say they would welcome refugees, he said. Less than one-third of U.S. churches have taken steps to help refugees, he said.

“Our history suggests that we need to be more self-critical and we need to demonstrate some humility and a spirit of repentance,” Stearns said.

Jenny Yang — vice president of policy and advocacy at World Relief and the daughter of immigrants — said immigration is not just a political and economic issue.

“I firmly believe the issue of migration is a spiritual issue,” she said in a panel discussion. “It’s about whether or not Jesus wants to see people of all nations coming to know Himself. And lots of times when you’re in a place like the United States where there is freedom — religious freedom especially — they are able to choose” religious faith.

She told about a Nashville, Tenn., church that welcomed Bhutanese refugees, showed them the “Jesus” film and saw many of them come to Christ for salvation. Those refugees welcomed others from their home country, showed them “Jesus” and saw others converted. There

has been “a proliferation of people who are traditionally Buddhists becoming followers of Jesus,” Yang told attendees.

Citing the ministry of churches in Kenya and Jordan, Yang said in a later address, “These churches around the world are demonstrating to us that we don’t value others because of their ability or capacity to contribute to our own well-being.  …  But when we as a church align ourselves with those abroad who are suffering, what we’re doing ultimately is aligning ourselves with the heart and the mission of God.”

Benjamin Watson, tight end for the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League, said pro-lifers can also be pro-justice.

“Being pro-life does not mean you’re not pro-justice,” said Watson, who was named Jan. 21 as one of three finalists for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for excellence on and off the field. “We can be both. There’s a little word called ‘and,’ and never let the world determine what we can be and what we can stand for.”

The idea of justice appears 200 times in the Old Testament, Watson said. The idea of justice is individual but also about correcting structural issues, he said. Justice comes from God’s character, he said, adding, “We want to identify and love the things that He loves.”

The challenge, he said, is “to be people who humbly come before God and say, ‘God, what would you have me be a champion for?'”

D.J. Jordan, communications director for Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., encouraged attendees during a panel discussion, “Don’t be afraid to work with the social justice movement. Oftentimes we’re scared away from movements like that, but many of them [are]; using language that’s consistent with life.”

Kelly Rosati, Focus on the Family’s vice president of advocacy for children, said about 100,000 children in foster care in the country are waiting for adoption. If only one family in every third church “would welcome home a waiting child, we would have no more waiting kids in the United States,” she said.

The mother of four children adopted through foster care, Rosati asked participants, “Would you simply be willing to pray and ask God, ‘Do you want to use the blessing of our family on behalf of a child without one?'” 

Trillia Newbell, the ERLC’s director of community outreach, spoke about her conversion to Christ and the pro-life cause.

“There was a time when I thought that children didn’t matter, and all that mattered were those of us who are adults,” she said. “I was pro-choice, but I wasn’t just pro-choice. I was pro-choice to the extreme.”

Saved at the age of 22, she said, “[God]; took a dead, dead girl and gave her resurrection life. God radically transformed everything about me. He transformed my world view.”

When she understood human beings bear the image of God, she learned, “From the womb to the day we face Jesus, it matters to God. And therefore it matters to me. And therefore it matters to us. Ultimately what the Lord was doing was helping me truly love people, truly love people, an imperfect love nonetheless, but a love.”

A group of about 30 — primarily high school students — from a Southern Baptist church in Texas attended the conference and the march.

Church at the Cross in Grapevine is active in the cause for the unborn, orphans, children in foster care, and Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, student pastor James Sercey told Baptist Press. The trip to D.C. for the conference and march is an effort to expose the church’s young people to and educate them about the pro-life argument, he said.

His prayer on the way to Washington, Sercey said, was that when the students walk away from the experience “what’s driving them to be pro-life is really an understanding of the glory of God and the image stamped on every person.”

The duo Shane and Shane led in worship during the conference.

—with reporting by TEXAN correspondent Bonnie Pritchett

Texan teens and parents march for life; hear from President Trump

WASHINGTON, D.C. – People from across the nation and around world rallied Friday (Jan. 19) at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the annual March for Life just three days prior to the 45th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that legalized abortion on demand across the nation. And while pro-life advocates marched these past four and a half decades their children and grandchildren paid attention and have joined them in the call to end abortion.

A majority of the estimated 100,00-plus participants (No official counts are registered) were overwhelmingly teenagers and young adults who recognize the impact the 1973 Roe v Wade decision has had on their generation. They carried hand-made placards stating “One-third of my generation is missing” referencing the more than 1 million babies, on average, aborted each year since 1973. And they donned t-shirts declaring “I survived Roe v Wade. Roe v Wade won’t survive me.” Often called “the Pro-life generation” by people their parents’ age or older, the TEXAN asked the high school and college students if the title is one they claim for themselves.

“Its not something we decided to become,” Grady Moyer, a high school senior and member of Church at the Cross in Grapevine, Texas said. “But God worked in us.”

Moyer was among 32 students and young adults who travelled to D.C. for the march eager to add their voices to the call to end abortion. James Sercey, Church at the Cross Student pastor, said he recognizes the March for Life is a significant event founded and organized by the Catholic Church but he would like to see more protestant churches add their voices to the nation’s largest pro-life demonstration.

To help facilitate that effort the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Focus on the Family hosted the third Evangelicals for Life Conference in an effort to draw more Protestant churches to the march and broaden their members’ perspective on what it means to be pro-life.

Only Leanne Jamison, among the 28 women from Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, had attended the national march in the past. Hoisting teal-colored placards promoting the church’s pregnancy center and the admonition to “Love Life” the band of women joined the flow of demonstrators leaving their hotel for the five-block walk to the mall and the sea of life-affirming compatriots.

Compelled by their belief that life is sacred they marched. But, as they passed the U.S. Capital, some paused to consider their constitutional right to march Jamison said.

“As Americans we can do this – all walk together,” Melanie Leach, one of the Prestonwood marchers, told the TEXAN. “I am marching for our inalienable right to life.”

The event marked the first time a sitting president spoke to the rally live via satellite. In his address from the White House Rose Garden President Donald Trump thanked the marchers for their commitment to life while acknowledging America’s place among human rights abusing nations when it comes to abortion policies.

“We are one of the only nations that still allows for late term abortions. This is wrong and needs to change.”

President Donald Trump

“We are one of the only nations that still allows for late term abortions,” Trump said. “This is wrong and needs to change.”

Ironically, attendees from nations with more restrictive abortion laws than the U.S. joined the national march in order to learn from the “good example” of America’s pro-life movement said Joseph Ureta of France’s Droit De Naître (Right to be Born). In France, abortion is unrestricted up to 12 weeks and requires the approval of two physicians after that.

While American pro-lifers are mostly motivated by their faith, Ureta, who is Catholic, lamented that in order to draw as many French supporters to the movement, Right to be Born must minimalize the religious arguments. And that, he acknowledged, minimalizes what should be the primary pro-life message.

“The greatest motivation is the love of God,” he said.

In Australia, people simply do not want to discuss abortion, said Mary Lennon, 22, of Sydney. She and pro-life workers from Australia travelled to Washington D.C. to discover how they can more effectively promote the pro-life message back home. Australians are “nonconfrontational” and avoid the abortion debate forcing pro-life activists to discover new means for engaging their countrymen, Lennon said.

As in America, Australia’s abortion laws vary from state to state with Victoria’s laws being the most egregious allowing abortion up to birth said Rebecca Gosper, 21, LifeChoice Australia director, a pro-life organization. Australian laws also place 150-meter buffer zones around abortion facilities and allow no conscience protections for medical personnel she said.

Gosper believes more Australians than polls indicate are pro-life but are hesitant to speak up for fear of backlash. But America’s national March for Life has inspired Gosper to motivate the students on Australia’s university campuses to speak up for life.

Isaac Spencer, Campaigns Manager for Right to Life New South Wales said he looks forward to taking America’s pro-life examples back to Australia to fight the “human rights outrage” of abortion.

And hours after the demonstration had concluded a trio of marchers, far from the event’s epicenter and carrying a Polish flag and life-affirming signs, told the TEXAN they had travelled from Poland to take part in the march. Poland has some of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws allowing the procedure only when the life of the mother is at risk, if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, or if the unborn baby has a grave health diagnosis. The Polish parliament is even considering legislation that would revoke the latter provision.

Although drawing people from different Christian backgrounds the message that all people are image bearers of God bound the March for Life participants. Chatter and laughter among them as they walked the two-hour-long one-mile trek to the Supreme Court was broken by spontaneous singing, corporate prayers, and raucous chants of “We love babies, yes we do. We love babies, how ‘bout your?” And, for good measure, a New Orleans Catholic high school marching band stood on the sidewalk and performed for grateful marchers passing by.

In stark contrast participants in the Women’s March gathered the following day on the same National Mall proclaiming a very different and paradoxical message. Donning knitted pink hats with a name that denigrates women’s bodies, their message of equal treatment and respect for women was contradicted by calls for unrestricted abortion, expletive-laced denunciations of Trump, and support for gender dysphoric men who believe they are women.

But is marching enough?

Being part of such a large, unified declaration about the dignity and sanctity of human life was exhilarating for the Texas SBC church members. But the March for Life and, for the Church at the Cross students, the Evangelicals for Life Conference, caused them to consider how they will live out a pro-life ethic for the remaining 364 days of the year.

Leach knows she cannot march and then walk away. Her commitment to supporting Lifesavers Foundation, a Dallas-Fort Worth area faith-based ministry providing health services to women and their young children has been reinvigorated.

The students and young adults from Church at the Cross understand they have the “power and influence” of social media for reaching their peers with the pro-life message said Nathaniel Ortiz, a senior homeschool student.

Ortiz, Grady and Hannah Webber, a college freshman, agreed that they will earn an audience with their ideological opponents when their pro-choice peers see their compassion for humanity extends beyond the womb.

“If we care about life we’re going to care about the person who cuts us off in traffic – the ones I haven’t valued as image bearers of God,” Webber said.

 “People will ask what I think about things when they see that I care,” said Moyer.