Month: January 2018

REVIEW: “The Post” gets so much right ¦ and so much wrong

Katharine Graham is a 1970s female newspaper publisher working in a man’s world. Her board at The Washington Post is all male. Her newsroom is nearly all male. And when she chats on the phone with a politician or big wig, it is almost always – you guessed it – with a man.

Few people believe she’s qualified, but perhaps that’s to be expected. She was handed the position only after her father and then her husband, Phil – both publishers of the newspaper – passed away. With the newspaper being family-owned, she was next in line.

“The only reason she’s running the paper is because Phil died,” a board member says.

But despite her inexperience, she has a big decision to make. The Post’s reporters have dug up a secret copy of the so-called Pentagon Papers – a lengthy government-commissioned study that showed (among other things) the U.S. intensified its involvement in the Vietnam War despite major doubts it would succeed.

Even before The Washington Post uncovered the documents, a federal judge had issued an injunction stopping The New York Times from reporting on the Pentagon Papers for fear it would harm national defense interests.   

Will Graham allow Post editor Ben Bradlee to publish his reporters’ stories about the Pentagon Papers in defiance of a judge’s order – an action that could land her and Bradlee in jail?

It’s all part of the new movie The Post (PG-13), which is in theaters and stars Meryl Streep as Kay Graham and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee. It was directed by Steven Spielberg and recounts the story of The Washington Post’s decision to publish stories about the Pentagon Papers – stories that sparked a Supreme Court hearing and victory over the Nixon White House.

Viewed without a political lens, the movie can be riveting: A financially struggling newspaper takes on the U.S. government in a classic First Amendment-vs.-national security showdown – with newspaper deadlines and Nixon-style tactics as a backdrop.

Of course, this film cannot be viewed without a political lens, and Spielberg and The Post take a firm stance. Their position is clear: The Vietnam War was a mistake, the government lied about it, Nixon was a bad guy, the Pentagon Paper leakers were heroes, and Graham and Bradlee were champions of the First Amendment. If those aren’t your positions, then you may want to skip this movie. (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson also are blamed for everything, but only in passing.)

Still, The Post raises several questions about freedom and the press that are worth a 21st-century discussion – in the classroom and around the dinner table.  

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal/moderate. The film’s only violence takes place in the opening minutes, when we watch U.S. soldiers fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. We see soldiers carrying rifles, and several of them are shot. Moments later, some are carried off on stretchers.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

None.

Coarse Language

Excessive, with 50 coarse words: s—t (13), GD (6), a—(6), JC (5), misuse of “God” (4), h-ll (3), d—n (3), SOB (2), misuse of “Jesus” (2), misuse of “Christ” (2), OMG (1), f-word (1), pi-s (1), b—tard (1).   

Other Positive Elements

The Post’s stances on freedom of the press are commendable. Bradlee says during one poignant moment: “We have to be the check on their power. If we don’t hold them accountable, who will?” The media is an easy target in today’s culture, but imagine a modern society without local newspapers on any level – even small towns — and then apply Bradlee’s words. Who will cover (boring) town council meetings? Who will uncover corruption? Who will hold the mayor accountable? Sure, we can rely on citizen journalists, but not every community has someone with such commitment and skills. The more people who are covering it, the better.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

We see a character steal the Pentagon Papers. Someone says about its conclusion: “They knew we couldn’t win and still sent boys to die.”  

Worldview

Some scholars argue that our American model of checks and balances was based on a firm belief in human depravity – that it was unwise to give one person or one branch too much power. Otherwise, they would abuse it. Thus, the Founders designed three branches of government within the U.S. Constitution. Those same Founders and that same Constitution also guaranteed the freedom of the press. Conflicts were unavoidable.

The Post raises a host of questions.

What are the limits of a free press? Could it legally have published battle plans ahead of D-Day? (As one judge asks.) Does it have the right to publish military secrets that might endanger soldiers’ lives? Can it legally publish transcripts of conversations between world leaders – an action that could weaken national security and relations between nations?  

The questions about the government’s power are just as tricky. When, if ever, can the government step in and tell the press it cannot publish military or government secrets? And if it gets away with that, won’t it try to push the envelope even further the next time – as the government always does? Who decides what should and should not be published? Isn’t this our government, after all?

There are no easy answers, but it’s a lot simpler if both sides are responsible.

I’ve been in journalism more than 25 years – as an editor and writer. I’ve held stories back because I didn’t think it was responsible to publish them. And I’ve seen stories held that I thought should be published. To the credit of The Post, Graham and Bradlee have similar discussions about the need of responsibility. 

What I Liked

Watching old-school journalism at work: the typewriters, the 70s-era newsrooms, the typesetting, the presses. And watching reporters digging days and weeks for the story.  

What I Didn’t Like

The excessive language. And the movie’s comical portrayal of Nixon. Spielberg might as well have cued Darth Vader’s theme (The Imperial March).    

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

Thumbs up for its entertainment value. Thumbs down for its placing all the blame on Nixon.

Discussion Questions

  1. Should The Post have published the Pentagon Papers?
  2. Should there be limits on what the press can publish? If so, who decides?
  3. Should the government be able to stop the media from publishing certain stories? If so, what should the punishment be?
  4. What did you think of the movie’s portrayal of Graham, Bradlee and Nixon?

Entertainment rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

The Post is rated PG-13 for language and brief war violence

REVIEW: “Forever My Girl” is the type of romance we need in the age of “Fifty Shades”

Liam Page is a world-famous country singer who has everything the world can offer: big houses, beautiful women and fans who idolize his every move.

Yet despite his wealth, he often thinks about Josie, the fiancée he abandoned on their wedding day eight years earlier in their hometown of St. Augustine, La., when he was young and immature.  

It seems they’ll never meet again – until providence intervenes.

A childhood friend dies, sending him back to that small Louisiana town for a funeral that is sure to put he and his ex in the same room.

Josie, though, isn’t amused by his presence, and neither are the townspeople, who view him as a spoiled superstar who turned his back on them. In fact, they despise him. Even his father – a pastor – is mad at him.

But time has a way of healing wounds, and when he learns that Josie is the single mom of a 7-year-old girl – his daughter – he decides he wants back in Josie’s life. What will she do?

The PG-rated Forever My Girl opens in theaters this weekend, starring Alex Roe (The 5th Wave) as Liam, Jessica Rothe (La La Land) as Josie, and Abby Ryder Fortson (Ant-Man) as their daughter. It’s based on a novel by Heidi McLaughlin.

Forever My Girl is a charming and entertaining movie that gives us something rarely seen on the big screen: a mostly squeaky-clean romance with no bedroom scenes, no rough language and no distracting bad acting. It’s the type of film that I’d likely take my daughter to watch – if she were a teenager. It’s also the kind of family-friendly romance we need in the age of one-night hookups and Fifty Shades.

Warning: moderate spoilers ahead!

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal. Upon seeing Liam, Josie punches him.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity/Romance

Minimal. Early in the movie we see Liam in bed, shirtless. A woman is out of bed and dressed, and although nothing is discussed, it is implied they slept together. Later, we see him alone in bed with only shorts on. Josie wears a somewhat low-cut dress with no back. They kiss twice. We also see them slow dance.

Coarse Language

Minimal.

Other Positive Elements

Because Liam’s father is a pastor, we hear samples of sermons during several church scenes (including the funeral). We hear the pastor speak about the “grace of God” and forgiveness. We also hear about someone possessing “God-given talent.”

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Josie drinks beer in a casual setting but doesn’t get drunk. Liam goes to a bar and apparently does get drunk–he drinks several times in the film.

Josie had learned she was pregnant with Liam’s daughter two weeks before the wedding. She chose to keep the baby, although Liam never knew about the girl.

Life Lessons

The movie gives us lessons on taking responsibility for your actions (Liam), repenting (Liam), forgiveness (Josie, others), and riches not bringing happiness (Liam). There’s also an implicit pro-life message, although we never hear any discussion of whether Josie considered anything other than keeping the baby.

Worldview

I’m a sucker for movies about redemption. Perhaps that’s because the Bible is full of stories about men who committed awful acts – Moses, David and Paul, just to name three – but who found forgiveness. Forever My Girl gives us that element, even if it isn’t strictly faith-based.

But there’s another reason I like Forever My Girl. That’s because it’s a film about taking responsibility. Sociologists tells us that many if not most of society’s ills can be blamed on the “unattached male” who doesn’t take responsibility. In this movie, we see just the opposite.

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

Thumbs up.

Discussion Questions

  1. Would you have forgiven Liam?
  2. How does age and maturity impact our decision-making?
  3. What do you think led Liam to abandon Josie?
  4. Why do you think it took so long for Liam to return?
  5. What can we learn about fame, riches and happiness from the movie?

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Forever My Girl is rated PG for thematic elements including drinking, and for language.

Heartbeat International a source for Pregnancy Resource Centers in Texas

According to the Worldwide Directory of Pregnancy Help (a service of Heartbeat International), pregnancy resource centers operate in 144 Texas cities. The site lists 315 total pregnancy help agencies in the state. 

To access a list of PRC’s by city and state, visit www.heartbeatinternational.org.  Select Worldwide Directory at the top of the web page.  In the search fields, enter the country, state, and optional zip code (directory code), then submit the search request.  To view contact and location information for a specific center, click on the “view” button located at the right side of the agency’s listing.

Heartbeat International’s mission is “to Reach and Rescue as many lives as possible, around the world, through an effective network of life-affirming pregnancy help, to Renew communities for LIFE.”  The organization operates a 24-7 help line: 1-800-712-HELP.  To learn about opportunities for churches to be involved in saving lives, visit https://www.heartbeatinternational.org/involved/churches.

Barbed Wire

This past summer, I was traveling through southern Pennsylvania toward the East Coast, and no officials sought to shoot or hang me. But this was not always so for travelers along that route. For during both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, those heading this direction could find themselves standing on the gallows or before a firing squad to be executed as deserters. Tough measures for tough times, with matters of great consequence in the balance – the establishment and preservation of our nation with its admirable Constitution.

Similarly, a great many Americans today are engaging in illicit sex and abusing the institution of marriage without paying any civil penalties, but there was a time and place when you couldn’t get away with this, a wartime, if you will – both revolutionary and civil – when the most fundamental and life-giving institution on earth – Judeo-Christian marriage and the family – was being introduced to mankind. This key to human flourishing was established by God in the opening chapters of Genesis. It predated civil government, academia, the military, business, industry, the arts, international alliances, and voluntary associations . . . including the church.

God knew that it you ignored or damaged this foundation – and encouraged others to join you in this mad enterprise – whatever society you might build would be doomed to collapse. So he established severe sanctions to make the point and to shock the populace into respecting sound sexual, marital and familial relations. If his people, the ancient Jews, didn’t get it right and pass along his standards through word and example, then what hope was there for the rest of us?

We might say he strung “barbed wire” around this institution, discouraging both deserters and marauders, and though the penalties were peculiar to those “revolutionary” days, the underlying value system stands, despite the contempt in which it’s held today. That being said, let’s take a quick look at the Lord’s fencing designed to address a range of threats:

  1. Adultery.  Leviticus 20:10 says that both parties “must be put to death.”
  2. Pre-marital promiscuity.  Deuteronomy 22:20-21 says that a newlywed should be stoned to death upon evidence of premarital promiscuity.
  3. Homosexuality. Leviticus calls this “detestable” (18:22) and worthy of death (20:13).
  4. Bestiality. Leviticus 18:23 calls this “a perversion.” Leviticus 20:15-16 says that both the human and the animal involved must be put to death.
  5. Incest. Leviticus 18:6 prohibits sex with close relatives. The participants are “cursed” (Deut. 27:22). Leviticus 20:17 says the parties “must be cut off before the eyes of their people.”
  6. Abuse of parents. The Fifth Commandment requires children to honor their parents, upon pain of early death. Leviticus 20:9 demands execution of sons and daughters who curse their parents. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 extends the penalty to disobedient, rebellious sons.
  7. Abuse of children. In Leviticus 18:21, God condemns child sacrifice. In Leviticus 19:29, He forbids the degradation of one’s daughter through prostitution.
  8. Divorce. Malachi 2:16 teaches that “God hates divorce.”  Leviticus 21:14 teaches that the High Priest must not marry a divorced woman.
  9. Abuse of newlyweds. A newlywed man must not be sent to war. “For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married” (Deut. 24:5).

10.  Willful childlessness. Deuteronomy 25:5-10 prescribes Levirate marriage to ensure that the family line continues. Onan ignored this duty, so God killed him (Gen. 38:8-10).

Again, these aren’t meant as surefire templates for framing civil law today, and some of them can strike the ear with a terrifying strangeness. But today, we find ourselves with another kind of terrifying strangeness, as one unfolding case after another reveals the degradation of a society increasingly indifferent to the standards that God gave and imposed upon the ancient Hebrews. A good many kings and princes of the news media/entertainment industry and government have espoused and practiced immorality, and they’ve both enabled and celebrated the fools who’ve torn down God’s fencing.

It’s reported that a lady asked Ben Franklin, as he left the concluding session of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” to which Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

And what have we had? A society with a measure of soundness, because it was grounded in a Judeo-Christian view of sexuality, marriage, and the family. But it’s arguably doubtful that we can keep it.

Mark T. Coppenger is Professor of Christian Philosophy and Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is a contributor to the New King James Version Unapologetic Study Bible, just released from Thomas Nelson/HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

Churches affirm life through pregnancy resource centers

GRAND PRAIRIE Pregnancy resource centers are a good way for Southern Baptist churches to affirm life by providing a pro-life answer for women who think ending a pregnancy is the way to solve their problems, Joe Rivera, a board member of the Pregnancy Resource Center of Grand Prairie, told the TEXAN. 

Such centers provide answers that—while contrary to worldly logic—are the best choice for all involved, including the unborn child, Rivera, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista in Grand Prairie, said.

“Pregnancy resource centers not only provide pregnancy testing and sonograms to verify a pregnancy but also options that the young lady or couple may have not known to be available,” Rivera said. “A Christian pregnancy resource center provides a group of people that are ready to lend support and prayer when a pregnant mother seems the most helpless. 

“When the client agrees, the center will also share the good news of forgiveness, hope and salvation through Jesus Christ in order to begin or renew a lifelong relationship with their Savior,” he said.

Rivera began serving as a volunteer at Pregnancy Resource Center of Grand Prairie in 2011, working with young men who would accompany their girlfriends or wives. 

It became evident there was a need “not only for the young ladies but also for these young men because they needed to also open up in conversation and find someone that would listen to their situation, answer their questions and pray with them,” he said.

The most important way a church can get involved with their local pregnancy resource center is to pray for them, Rivera said.  

“Pray for the volunteers, that they may always show Christ’s compassion from the first welcome all the way to celebrating the birth of a beautiful child.  After praying for the current volunteers, pray that the Lord would provide more volunteers with a heart for service,” he said.

Churches also can get involved by supporting the centers financially. PRCGP has several opportunities for churches to help, including the annual Baby Bottle Campaign and the Applauding Life Banquet, which saw 370 people attend in October and raised more than $70,000 in donations and pledges toward the 2018 budget. 

Another way churches can help their local pregnancy resource center is by having baby showers to collect needed supplies, clothing or food items, Rivera said, adding, “I would encourage churches to reach out to their local centers for specific needs.”

It’s always a blessing to see the report of activity for the center, Rivera said, noting the report lists the number of clients who enter the door of the center, the number of tests performed, the number of positive tests, the number of abortion-minded clients and the number of those who changed their minds and decided to carry their children to full term.  

“But the most exciting is the number of clients that make a decision for Christ,” he said.

“Many of the young ladies and women enter the resource center with their minds made up to abort the pregnancy. Whether it is to avoid embarrassment due to an unplanned pregnancy, financial issues or just because it interferes with plans laid out for their lives, they feel that to be the best course of action,” Rivera said. “However, because of the prayers and support for the resource center, volunteers step in to intervene with compassion and love for that child’s life.  

“When that mother is convinced that the child she carries is a living being and changes her mind, that makes a success story to me.”

—Joe Rivera, a board member of the Pregnancy Resource Center of Grand Prairie

“When that mother is convinced that the child she carries is a living being and changes her mind, that makes a success story to me.”

An example of such a story is a young woman who was new to Grand Prairie, felt alone and did not want to be pregnant. She was reluctant to share anything except that she wanted to have an abortion, until a volunteer carefully reached out to her, the center said in a newsletter. 

“Our volunteer actively and compassionately listened and began to understand why this young woman was so fearful of being pregnant,” the newsletter said. “We were then able to discuss with her the life-affirming options available and the resources and support we can provide her.”

The woman knew of God, but she had never accepted Christ as her Savior. She was willing to hear about God’s love for her and for her unborn child, and by the end of her time at the center—on her lunch break—she was opening her mind to carrying her child, the newsletter said. 

Grand Prairie churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention that support the Pregnancy Resource Center are Bowles Baptist, Fairview Baptist, First Baptist, Indian Hills Baptist, Inglewood Baptist, Lakeview Baptist, Primera Iglesia Bautista, The Oaks Baptist and South Park Baptist. In 1993, South Park Baptist was instrumental in launching plans for the center when John Yeats was pastor.

REVIEW: “Paddington 2” might be the perfect family-friendly film

Paddington is a lovable Peruvian bear with a small ego and big heart. But he’s also short on money, and with his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday just around the corner, he needs some cash for a gift – and fast.

So, Paddington does what any intelligent, talking bear in his situation would do: He works a few odds jobs with the goal of buying a one-of-a-kind, London-themed popup book from the local antique shop. It seems that Aunt Lucy – who lives far, far away — had always wanted to visit the historic city.

“If she saw this, it would be like she were finally here,” he says.

Paddington cleans windows. He washes pets. He even cuts hair at a salon.  

But then the unthinkable happens. With his financial goal within reach, someone steals the popup book in the dead of night. Even worse: Police believe Paddington did it, and he is sentenced to 10 years in prison for grand theft.

Will the real thief ever be caught? And can Paddington’s contagious charm melt the hearts of London’s worst criminals, as it did his British family, the Browns?

It’s all part of Paddington 2 (PG), which opens this weekend and shows Paddington facing real-world challenges he didn’t see in the first film (2015). It stars Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington; Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) as Henry Brown; Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) as Mary Brown; and Hugh Grant (Four Weddings and a Funeral) as Phoenix Buchanan, a man who has little regard for Paddington.

The character is based on a series of children’s book by author Michael Bond, who died last year at the age of 91.  

Like its predecessor, Paddington 2 is a fun film that delivers innocent humor and positive characters rarely seen on the big screen. I laughed – a lot. It’s close to being the perfect family-friendly movie.   

Warning: mild spoilers!

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal. We learn of a trapeze artist who dies, and we see her bloodless body lying on the ground in a circus-like setting. A character threatens another character with a sword. A character nearly dies underwater due to drowning.

Sexuality/Sensuality

Minimal. We hear a comment, twice, about “nice buns.” It initially is referencing sweet treats, but it is taken as a reference to the human body.  

Coarse Language

Minimal. OMG (1).

Other Positive Elements

We learn of Paddington’s origins; he was adopted as a cub by a bear couple who made great sacrifices to raise him. “If we look after this bear, I have a feeling he’ll go far,” the female bear says.

We see inmates change for the better because of Paddington’s kindness.

The Browns work diligently to catch the real thief and to have Paddington’s name cleared.

During a scene within St. Paul’s Cathedral, a security guard says in reference to a possible crime: “Only the good Lord knows.”

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Paddington cleans a window with soap and his bottom. We see a fortune teller at a local fair (but we don’t hear her predict the future). A security guard in St. Paul’s Cathedral describes a nun as the “most beautiful woman” he has seen; the woman actually was a man dressed as a nun. We hear someone describe actors as evil people who “lie for a living.” Mr. Brown briefly practices an exercise that looks like yoga.

Life Lessons

Paddington delivers several significant life lessons for children and adults, including being kind to everyone you meet, having a positive outlook on life, and looking for the good in others. The movie also gives us an example of characters who change from bad to good.    

Worldview

We live in a cynical society, where sarcasm dominates, selfishness reigns, and everyone is striving to get the last word.

Perhaps that’s why Paddington (2015) and Paddington 2 are so refreshing. The hero is a lovable little bear who was taught at an early age, “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” Sure, he’s clumsy and crazy, but he’s also considerate and caring. Paddington 2 certainly is not a faith-based film, but it nevertheless gives us a character who exhibits more fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) than do most other big-screen protagonists. He’s always looking “for the good in people,” and he’s a character we want our children to emulate.

Of course, we know that the heart of man is wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). We also know that only the gospel – and not kindness – can save the world. But I’m guessing that if more Christians exhibited Paddington’s kindness – a quality that Scripture commands (Ephesians 4:32) – there would be more people in the pews.

What I Liked

The comedy. It’s not easy finding films with appropriate humor for children, but Paddington 2 has plenty of it. Who wouldn’t enjoy watching our beloved bear give someone a bad haircut – and then try and fix it with marmalade? Also, moviegoers shouldn’t miss the humor in the most unlikely of places – like the random newspaper headlines.

What I Didn’t Like

The finale includes an underwater scene that seemed over the top and unnecessary. But I’m nitpicking.

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

Thumbs up.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do people like Paddington, even though he’s clumsy?
  2. Can kindness change the world? How? How not?
  3. Should we look for the good in people? Is there a downside?
  4. List all of Paddington’s positive traits. Which ones do you need to practice more?

Entertainment rating: 5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Texas couple in London reaches millennials and internationals

LONDON Shane Mikeska’s original calling and plane ticket didn’t land him in London. A tropical illness did. “It definitely wasn’t part of our plan,” he said. “My wife, Lindsay, and I started out in Southeast Asia on an agricultural farm. We loved the people, and we loved the language. But long story short, I got sick.”

He needed to be in a place with a colder climate, and after much deliberation, it looked like England was the place. So the couple moved, and the difference was stark. It wasn’t just the climate that was cold. Shane said the people seemed cold toward faith, and the pace of life in England’s cities felt chaotic and hard to engage.

“I grabbed every book I could find on the people of England, and I started going to pubs, campuses, everywhere to try to get to know our neighbors,” he said. “God began to stir in us a love for the people here.” And he began to open their eyes more and more to the tremendous missions field they had been placed in.

“We have the world at our fingertips,” Shane said. “We have an amazing capacity to be senders to the world.” London, the city the Mikeskas call home, holds 48 universities, with a quarter of the student population coming from other countries.

“We come in contact here all the time with people who haven’t heard of Jesus,” Shane said. Because of the vast opportunity and size of the task, the Mikeskas have teamed up with other IMB missionaries to divide the city up into strategic groups.

“Our group is the millennials,” Shane said. “London is a young people’s haven.”

The Mikeskas—with Texas roots—are supported through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. They meet people for coffee, feed them meals and try to create a sense of community for young internationals. On a regular basis, they experience divine appointments, Lindsay said.

“We met this guy from Singapore one night and got to talking, and we told him the name of the town we had lived in in Southeast Asia,” she said. “He told us he had a friend from the same town.” One night he brought his friend to meet the Mikeskas, and it turns out they had lived on the same street. The woman even knew the house they had lived in.

“She recalled, ‘I remember when new people moved in and painted it brown,’ and we said, ‘That was us,’” Lindsay said.

It was confirmation for the Mikeskas that God is bigger than borders and tropical illnesses. He’s bringing the world to London from everywhere, Shane said, including the city that captured their heart in Southeast Asia. “And He is doing great and amazing things here.”

Shane is from Irving, Texas, and grew up going to MacArthur Blvd Baptist Church and Plymouth Park Baptist Church. He wears boots in London at least three or four days a week, “and the British love it,” he said, adding, “One thing I really miss is my Texas steaks.”

Lindsay is from Houston and grew up going to Mangum Oaks Baptist Church and then Jersey Village Baptist Church. The couple met at Texas A&M in College Station, where they were members of Central Baptist Church. 

Lindsay worked in oil and gas for five years in Houston and attended Houston’s First Baptist Church, where her parents still are members and her dad is a deacon. For the first year of their marriage the Mikeskas attended Houston’s First Baptist. 

At the Mikeskas’ house in London, Christmas tradition is anything but traditional as holiday after holiday the world converges in their kitchen.

“Last year, we had an Iranian student and Indian student baking Christmas cookies with a girl from Lebanon and another from Hong Kong,” Shane said. And as they all sat down to eat dinner, a traditional Mexican meal that the Mikeskas prepare every year on Christmas Day, more kept coming.

“One girl who came was Iranian, and she realized that another Iranian girl sitting at our table was a Christian, so she asked her to tell her story,” Shane said. “For 45 minutes, this girl boldly shared the gospel.” 

Across London, 300 languages are spoken.

“It’s fascinating and unusual,” Shane said. “We have the world at our fingertips, and we have an amazing capacity to be senders to the world.”

Pray for the Mikeskas to continue to make strategic friendships with internationals in order to impact unreached people groups in their city and for God to put a desire in the hearts of new believers to take the gospel back to their countries.  

The Mikeskas were featured in promotional material for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Erin Roach updated the content as it applies to Texas.

“Paddington 2” director Paul King reflects on clean humor and family films

Filmmaker Paul King didn’t have to be persuaded to direct the 2015 film Paddington. He essentially campaigned for it.

A child of the 70s, King remembers lying on the living room rug as a child and watching the stop-action Paddington TV series, laughing at the lovable bear’s clumsy antics.

So, when he learned several years ago that a Paddington film was in the works, he launched what he now describes as a “one-person campaign” to become director.

“I just had a feeling of how it could work,” said King, whose sequel, Paddington 2, opens this weekend. “I started writing letters, and I managed to get a meeting with one person, and then their boss, and finally I got a meeting with [producer] David Heyman. … I tried to explain why this young director that he really didn’t know was the only person who should be making Paddington.”

At the time King was a 30-something filmmaker with only a handful of lesser-known projects to his credit, but Heyman nevertheless gave him the role. It’s safe to say it turned out well. It was one of the Top 40 grossing movies of 2015 with $76 million and was widely praised, receiving a score of 98 percent fresh at RottenTomatoes.com, where 80 percent of moviegoers said they liked it.

The Paddington movies are based on a series of children’s book by Michael Bond, who passed away last year at age 91.

King served as a co-writer on both films.

In Paddington 2, our heroic bear is searching for the perfect present for Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday when he sees a pop-up book in a store and embarks upon a series of odd jobs to buy it. But when the book is stolen, it’s up to Paddington and his family, the Browns, to find the thief.

Making a sequel can be “tricky,” said King.

“[Paddington] hadn’t done much in the wider world [in the first film], and so we really wanted to send him out into the community, and see how his goodness stands up against the big, cynical city,” King said. “And [we’d] see whether he could change the world with his kindness, or whether his kindness would be sort of crushed by this reality and cynicism.”

King calls himself a fan of Charlie Chaplin films, Pixar movies and the Wallace and Gromit clay animation series – all projects that feature innocent humor that can make the whole family laugh.

One of his goals was to make a film featuring a similar type of clean humor, he said.

“There’s a great tradition of these sort of quality movies where the jokes are for everyone,” King said, adding that he wanted Paddington 2 to be the type of film “that can bind the whole family together.”

Although Paddington the bear is funny, he also has positive traits that children can model.

“Paddington is brought up by his Aunty Lucy, and she has these kind of really phenomenal values, of looking for the good in other people,” King said. “He always has a very kind and polite attitude. One of the things he does that is very special is he doesn’t judge a book by its cover.”

Visit Paddington.com for more information.

Paddington 2 is rated PG for some action and mild rude humor.  

Tremendous help and tough decisions in Sutherland Springs months after tragedy

Sutherland Springs, TEXAS—Six-year-old Ryland Ward, the last victim hospitalized from the Sutherland Springs massacre, returned home in style Jan. 11, riding in a crimson Wilson County fire truck driven by volunteer firefighter Rusty Duncan, who had rescued the boy from the Nov. 5 carnage.  

Ryland returns home to a world markedly different than the one he left—a new normal without his stepmother, Joann Ward, who died shielding her children from the shooter. Ryland’s sisters Emily and Brooke were also slain.

Today, healing continues at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church months after the shooting which claimed the lives of 26, including Pastor Frank Pomeroy’s daughter. The empty sanctuary—painted stark white with slatted chairs bearing red roses and victims’ names—remains a solemn and much-visited memorial as decisions regarding rebuilding proceed.

“There’s a lot of pain, a lot of hurt,” said Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Pastor/Church Relations associate Ted Elmore, who represents the SBTC in meetings with the church and community stakeholders.

As of mid-January, the church had not finalized plans to rebuild, Elmore told the TEXAN, noting that the congregation has received offers of reconstruction assistance from local builders, charitable entities and the North American Mission Board.

Elmore praised the local community for meeting many of the needs of Sutherland Springs, specifically lauding the HEB grocery company whose initial gift to the victims of $150,000, an amount reported by San Antonio news outlets, has been supplemented by donations from customers online and in stores.

“The people of Sutherland Springs are very grateful to the state and the nation for their generosity,” Elmore said. “The outpouring of love and care has been a beauty to behold in the saddest of situations.”

Elmore also praised the Floresville, Stockdale and La Vernia school districts and nearby River Oaks church, which served as a staging area immediately after the tragedy and continues to host counseling services staffed by members of a San Antonio ministerial alliance and others.

The SBTC continues to support recovery efforts, supplying chaplains in the days following the tragedy and now making counselors available as needed. Elmore also helps organize volunteers to man the memorial—the former sanctuary—open Thursdays through Sundays.

Visits to the memorial have resulted in salvations. “People feel somehow drawn there and many are overwhelmed. They talk to a chaplain or lay person, hear the gospel, and give their lives to Christ,” Elmore explained.

The church has continued to hold services on the grounds since the shootings, first in a large tent and now in a modular building, where SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards preached on Jan. 7.

Sunday congregations of 250, often standing room only, are now common at Sutherland Springs.

The SBTC has assisted with operating funds to keep the church going, a commitment begun immediately after the tragedy. The convention has committed to support the pastor’s salary and is providing $5,000 to help with administrative work.

“This was our policy since day one,” Elmore said, adding that, to further assist the church, the SBTC is sending Mike Landry to Sutherland Springs at the end of January to serve as a temporary associate pastor.

“Mike and his wife, Connie, are trained grief counselors and will be a tremendous asset to Pastor Pomeroy and the church,” Elmore said, noting that he was currently working with church members on the restoration committee to “craft a job description” for Landry, who is expected to serve six to eight weeks.

SBTC Foundation president Bart McDonald confirmed that the Foundation has offered to help Sutherland Springs with financial matters and accounting services.

“Church leadership has expressed some interest in the Foundation providing accounting services, but again they have been focused on bigger issues,” McDonald told the TEXAN.

“State and county agencies have responded,” Elmore said, maintaining that the SBTC is meeting needs without being invasive.

“We are responding to requests. They know they can ask us anything and we have yet to say no. We are there for love and support. They feel free to ask us. It’s a partnership,” Elmore said.

FEMA disaster funds expanded to eligible churches

WASHINGTON—Churches are potentially eligible for disaster assistance, according to a recent declaration by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but a Feb. 4 deadline must be heeded.

FEMA had allowed affected churches providing social services to apply for federal assistance as of Sept. 28, 2017, but the latest changes, announced Jan. 2, expand potential eligibility and occurred after lawsuits brought by three Texas churches.

The changes apply to disasters declared on or after Aug. 23, 2017. Organizations with applications pending with FEMA as of that date which had not been resolved as of Jan. 2 also are eligible.

Houses of worship must be owned or operated by private, nonprofit organizations to be eligible for aid.

FEMA assistance for the repair or replacement of a church facility is limited to costs that a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration will not cover. Houses of worship must apply to the SBA for a loan before receiving FEMA aid.

The SBA has long made physical disaster business loans to churches while FEMA has had a policy of denying aid to religious entities. The original deadline to apply for an SBA physical disaster loan for business for damages related to Hurricane Harvey was Oct. 24, 2017 — the statutory deadline set by Congress at 60 days following a presidential disaster declaration.

Susheel Kumar, an SBA public information officer, told the TEXAN that the deadline, first reset to Nov. 30, has been extended again.

“Due to the extraordinary disaster losses resulting from Hurricane Harvey, the SBA is in a grace period for accepting home and business disaster loan applications in all declared areas,” Kumar said, encouraging churches to apply.

“The SBA will accept applications through the grace period till further notified by the coordinating agency [FEMA],” Kumar added.

Since application for an SBA disaster loan is a prerequisite for receiving FEMA assistance, time is crucial.

“FEMA is allowing a 30-day application period beginning Jan. 5, 2018, and applications will be accepted no later than Feb. 4,” FEMA disaster recovery manager Kevin Hannes said regarding houses of worship.

Churches must not wait for an SBA loan decision, which could take 30 to 45 days, to apply to FEMA or they will miss the Feb. 4 deadline.

“Apply first to the SBA, then to FEMA. It is a parallel track process,” Kumar urged, emphasizing the need to submit applications to both agencies.

FEMA deputy federal coordinator Scott Thomas added, “A church won’t get any funding from FEMA until a decision is rendered by the SBA.” A church that has not applied for an SBA business disaster loan will not be considered for FEMA funds at all.

Kumar also clarified that churches are not eligible for SBA economic disaster relief loans, per the provisions of the Stafford Act.

“Congress would have to change the law,” he said.

As of Jan. 5, the SBA had issued more than $3 billion in loans for physical and economic injury related to Hurricane Harvey, Kumar said.

In announcing its policy change, FEMA cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, which said the state of Missouri could not prevent a Lutheran church from participating in a government-funded playground resurfacing program solely because it was a church.

For applications and information on SBA physical disaster loans for businesses, visit https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/Information/BusinessPhysicalLoans.

Houses of worship desiring to apply for public assistance from FEMA must submit a request for public assistance downloadable at https://grants.dps.texas.gov/site/PA.cfm (click on forms). Applicants must return the form to TDEMrecovery.rpa@dps.texas.gov.

This article includes reporting by David Roach of Baptist Press.