Month: August 2018

REVIEW: “Operation Finale” is a nail-biting historical tale of justice

Ricardo Klement is a common man in 1960 Argentina who wakes up early each morning so he can take the bus to the automobile factory and support his family.

Or so everyone thinks.

His real name is Adolf Eichmann – the Nazi German official who rose to lieutenant colonel and was considered the “mastermind” of the Holocaust that left an estimated 6 million Jews dead during World War II. After the war, he fled Europe to hide out in Argentina.

Few people in Argentina know his real identity, but that is about to change. Israeli government officials have learned his location and given a small group of covert operatives a monumental task: kidnap Eichmann – without killing him – and bring him back to Israel where he will stand trial for war crimes.

Before they leave, Israel’s prime minister pleads: “For the sake of our people, I beg you, do not fail.”

The historical drama Operation Finale (PG-13) opened in theaters this week, recounting the true story of how a band of Israelis plotted and then successfully captured Eichmann without requesting permission from the Argentina government, which had a history of not extraditing former Nazis.

It stars Oscar Isaac (The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi) as Israeli operative Peter Malkin, Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, Schindler’s List) as Eichmann, and Mélanie Laurent (Now You See Me) as Hanna Elian, the Israeli doctor in charge of sedating Eichmann.

Operation Finale is the best historical drama yet of 2018 and perhaps even better than 2017’s Darkest Hour and Dunkirk, two other World War II films. In Operation Finale, we experience not only a nail-biting escape but also the emotions of Malkin and the other Israelis, who lost family members in the Holocaust and are tempted to kill Eichmann before he is flown back to Israel.

Still, it’s not a kid-friendly movie.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)


Moderate. We see frequent flashbacks to World War II and the Holocaust. We see a dead woman hanging from a tree, with Nazi soldiers laughing. Later, we see a truckload of bodies, and soldiers shooting a group of Jews. We also hear Eichmann describing, in detail, the killing of a mother and her baby. We hear Israelis discussing the family members who were killed.  


Minimal. A couple share a kiss. A man tries kissing a woman in a car, but she refuses.

Coarse Language

Moderate. About 19 coarse words: s—t (10), a—(3), misuse of “God” (1), d—n (1), h—l (1), f-word (1), SOB (1), n-word (1).

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Teenagers watch a theatrical movie that includes the n-word. The Israelis celebrate by drinking alcohol. We see someone sitting on a toilet.

Life Lessons

Not surprisingly, Operation Finale is full of life lessons and positive messages. We see racism confronted, head-on, via words and deeds. We see what happens when the church fails to oppose evil, as in the case of priests in Operation Finale who hide and side with the Nazis. We see the famous verse in the Old Testament – “your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23) – put on display as Eichmann is hunted and finally found.

Operation Finale also delivers lessons on truth vs. relativism (see below) and justice vs. revenge (see below).


Truth vs. relativism: The world knows Adolf Eichmann as the man responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews. That’s not how he sees it. “We tried to save Jewish lives,” he claims, saying no country would accept the Jews. As for his role in the Holocaust? He was just following orders. “I was merely a cog in a machine.” When Eichmann is confronted by the truth of the Holocaust and what happened in the war, he retorts, “What is truth? Whose truth?” Eichmann believes there are two sides to the story of the Holocaust – and that the Nazi side needs to be told.

The Christian faith, though, is built on absolute truth. Scripture even says that “lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 12:22). God is a God of truth. Either millions of Jews were killed during World War II … or they were not. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, upon entering the concentration camps after the war, said he encountered one room where 20-30 naked bodies were piled. His companion, George Marshall, refused to enter out of fear he would get sick. But Eisenhower made himself enter “in order to be in position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to propaganda.” For the Holocaust – and for everything else – there aren’t “two truths.”

Justice vs. revenge. Revenge is a powerful emotion. No doubt, we can empathize with the Israelis who wanted to kill Eichmann, on the spot. They complained that he didn’t deserve a trial. But the Israeli prime minister wanted something else. He wanted justice: “If you fail,” he told the group, “he escapes justice, possibly forever.” Yes, Eichmann would have faced justice when he stood before God, but God has ordained governments to administer earthly justice (Romans 13). It is not for the individual to employ.   

What Works

Operation Finale has few weaknesses, but the staking out of Eichmann’s home and the capture of him in the middle of the night is a highlight. Also, Kingsley is stellar as Eichmann.

What Doesn’t

Not applicable.

Discussion Questions

1. Would you have been tempted to kill Eichmann? Would that have been morally permissible? Why or why not?

2. Eichmann says he was merely following orders? Even if true, is he still morally guilty of the Jews’ deaths?

3. How would you answer someone who asked, “What is truth?”?

4. Why is racism wrong? Use Scripture in your answer.

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

Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and related violent images, and for some language. 

SBTC DR assists Hawaii and Pennsylvania

HONOLULU  Dodging hurricanes and wildfires, a team of eight Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief (SBTC DR) workers spent Aug. 4-12 on Oahu transforming an empty cargo trailer into a laundry and shower DR unit for the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention. The project, funded partly through the Cooperative Program, was a joint collaboration among several state Baptist conventions and the North American Mission Board.

“NAMB provided a SEND Relief trailer and channeled a grant from Home Depot to the effort,” Scottie Stice, SBTC DR director, told the TEXAN.

“Arizona DR towed the trailer from Atlanta to Los Angeles. Hawaii DR paid for the trailer to be shipped to Oahu. SBTC DR sent the team to build it,” added Mike Jansen, director of the SBTC crew which included four couples: Jansen and his wife, Brenda; Stice and his wife, Judy; Paul and Linda Easter and John and Arlene Harden.

Hawaii DR hosted the couples at the Pu’u Kahea Conference Center as they worked on the installation of four shower stalls and three stacking washer/dryer units following a layout designed by Jansen.

Stice said the trailer will “meet a real need of the Hawaii DR team” and called the cooperative venture a “great example of the partnership between the SBTC and the Hawaii Pacific Convention.”

SBTC involvement grew from conversations between Stice and Darrell McCain, Hawaii Pacific DR director, when McCain served in Houston with Hawaii Pacific volunteers following Hurricane Harvey.

“We are so pleased to return a favor to Hawaii Pacific Disaster Relief after their service in Texas during Hurricane Harvey,” Stice said.

While happy to assist in the Hawaiian project, team members encountered challenges.

Travel took longer than expected with slower speed limits and abundant traffic: navigating 20 miles might take an hour or more, as Stice discovered when making supply runs.

Even getting to Pu’u Kahea proved problematic.

The team landed in Honolulu on Sat., Aug. 4, only to find roads to the conference center at Waianae impassable because of raging wildfires. After attending services at nearby Waikiki Baptist Church on Sunday, they arrived at the conference center that afternoon to begin work.

The crew felt they experienced the “real Hawaii,” not the tourist version, Brenda Jansen told the TEXAN. This included seeing far more homeless people than she expected.

“I was not aware of how many homeless there are in Hawaii” said Brenda, who described a homeless village with its own “self-proclaimed mayor,” rules and laws located less than a mile from the Pu’u Kahea center. Homeless people in Hawaii prefer to be called “houseless,” she said, noting that some have jobs but still live on the beaches, their tents and tarps visible each evening after the public leaves.

While the team mainly worked on the trailer, spiritual conversations did occur.

“I am of the Buddha faith,” a kindly female store clerk replied to Brenda’s query. “I must respect your faith and you must respect mine,” the lady continued.

The landscape also surprised Brenda, who said that while the conference center was lush and green, the surrounding land was desert-like, with burnt grasslands and mountains. Smoke from wildfires and the noise of firetrucks were constant.

Hurricane Hector threatened landfall south of the islands while the group worked. They finished the job just as Hurricane Lane approached.

Jansen commended the assistance of McCain and the volunteers and staff at Pu’u Kahea. The new unit will prove invaluable on the islands, where it will be shipped from island to island to serve volunteers during disasters, he added.

The unit may well experience its maiden deployment in the wake of Hurricane Lane. Stice confirmed that a mud-out team of SBTC DR volunteers from the Panhandle is preparing to deploy to Hawaii over Labor Day weekend to assist victims of the most recent storm.

Meanwhile, a 10-person team of SBTC DR volunteers in mud-out, feeding and chaplaincy led by Monte Furrh of Bonham arrived in Bloomsburg, Pa., Aug. 26. Furrh’s team is expected to work 10 days helping victims of flooding caused by torrential rains, Stice said.

Many basements are flooded, said Furrh, adding that the crew is scheduled to mud-out the basement of the police station in nearby Benton, Pa., on Aug. 30. David Dean will lead a team of Austin-area volunteers to Pennsylvania also.

Remembering Harvey one year later, crowds gather for prayer and praise

SOUTHEAST TEXAS—One year ago, Hurricane Harvey swept disaster across the Texas Gulf Coast, first pummeling Rockport and Port Aransas with destructive winds, then stalling over Houston for three days before moving to the Golden Triangle with rainfall of up to 60 inches, displacing thousands.

Separate gatherings marking the anniversary of the disaster were held at Southern Baptists of Texas Convention churches the final weekend in August, the order of the three commemorations tracking Harvey’s path through Rockport, Humble and Beaumont. 

Each event featured hot dogs, outdoor games, snow cones, music and speakers, explained SBTC Disaster Relief (DR) associate Wally Leyerle in describing the block parties.

Kevin Muilenburg, Coastal Oaks Church pastor, welcomed the crowd of around 100 assembled outside the Rockport church’s gym on Sat., Aug. 25.

It was a little different standing in this parking lot a year ago, but we are still in the process of making recovery from Harvey. I just want to give thanks to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, their disaster relief team, all that they have done to help us,” Muilenburg said, referring not only to general DR assistance, but also the help given him and his family personally after their home was damaged.

Gesturing to the gym, he reminded the crowd that Coastal Oaks’ role was to “be available” following Harvey and that the gym served as a distribution center for relief supplies while the church housed volunteers and sent out work crews.

“We are here,” Muilenburg said, quoting from Matthew 5 and stating, “Our desire is just to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to be whatever he wants us to be and to be available in the community.”

Muilenburg thanked God for the opportunity and thanked DR volunteers attending the celebration before introducing Jim Richards, SBTC executive director, who gave the first of three evangelistic messages he would deliver at the events.

Richards spoke from Luke 8:23-27. Jesus had his ministry on the Sea of Galilee, he noted, calling the disciples “men of courage” who braved the dangers of the sea but were fearful in the face of storms.

“And so it is in our lives that storms come our way as well. Hurricane Harvey met landfall one year ago today,” Richards reminded the crowd, enumerating the cost of the storm: 125 billion dollars of damage across the southern part of Texas, 190,000 homes damaged, 88 lives lost.

“When Jesus is in the boat, we are not to be fearful of the storm,” he proclaimed.

Explaining the gospel, Richards told the crowd, “We must give him our lives. It’s what the Bible calls repentance. And we must believe. We must trust him, take him at his word that he will forgive us our sins and live in our lives.”

Afterwards, Muilenburg led in a time of prayer.

The next day, Aug. 26, 200-225 people gathered at First Baptist Church of Humble where Rick Whitaker, executive pastor, thanked the SBTC and welcomed the crowd for coming together for the unusual: “celebrating a disaster.”

Whitaker recalled spending the night in the church when the disaster hit, and wading through the water-filled parking lot hoping to avoid electrocution.

“We saw people come together like we had never seen before,” he said, emphasizing the role of churches in responding to the crisis. “This area did not receive the full force of the government’s support. The story will be told that it was the churches that stepped up. Not just one church but many churches stepped up.”

Whitaker introduced Cameron Whitley, pastor of West Lake Church of Houston, who called the occasion “a great opportunity for us as the church to come together and remember how God united not just people, but how God united his church around the mission of his kingdom.”

Not only did the floodwaters rise, but the “church rose up in a mighty collaborative effort that displayed the heart of God,” Whitley said, recognizing those who were part of the relief effort.

Richards spoke next, thanking FBC Humble and all who came out to “enjoy the nice, cool Houston humidity,” before explaining the work of SBTC DR and encouraging involvement.

 “Harvey was an unwelcome and unwanted visitor,” said Richards, introducing his text of Luke 19:1- 10, where Jesus, a “welcomed visitor” in Jericho, met Zacchaeus.

Just as Jesus saw Zacchaeus, so he sees us, Richards said, explaining the gospel and issuing an invitation: “He offers to anyone and everyone who would receive him, eternal life. Yes, Jesus knows us.”

An Aug. 27 event at Calvary Baptist Church in Beaumont marked the final Harvey commemoration.

Nathan Cothen, pastor of Calvary Baptist, kicked off the celebration by speaking to a crowd of 250 from atop a trailer the church used to haul heavy equipment after the storm.

“I am grateful tonight to be using the same trailer here in a little bit of a celebration of what the Lord has done,” Cothen said. “If I were to ask anyone here if they wished that Harvey never happened, we would all say yes, but let me tell you a little secret: there were people who came to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and their Savior in Harvey that never would have otherwise.”

Richards delivered a gospel presentation from Luke 8:22-25, relating how God used a storm to cause others to know Jesus.

Although the disaster was cataclysmic, Cothen said, it taught people who were affected that life isn’t about the stuff you have, it’s about the relationships you have with others.

“We have lived by the saying, ‘life will go on, but it will never be the same,’ during this whole process,” he said.

Cothen described how God had enabled his church to help others, offering an example:  “After Harvey, we met a couple who never knew Jesus. We brought them food and helped during their time of need and they ended up receiving Christ and are now a part of the church.”

Some 250 SBTC churches reported damages from Hurricane Harvey, Richards noted. “Some had roofs blow off, others had flood damage, but all that were affected [experienced] an immediate impact on the way they did ministry,” he said.

Many homes damaged belonged to pastors and church staff who needed to care for their congregations. The SBTC launched a strategy to restore pastors and churches so that they could focus on ministry.

“Our strategy was to go and get the pastors back in his home first, then we would assist the church to get back to functioning so that they could help their community,” Richards explained.

The SBTC was able to give around three million dollars through donations to relieve the suffering and difficulty that these pastors and churches went through, he added.

Youth Week draws multi-ethnic participation

PALACIOS Organized by SBTC Hispanic Ministries, the 13th annual Youth Week Summer Camp, July 16-20, on the Gulf Coast near Palacios at Texas Baptist Encampment, drew 350 students and leaders and resulted in 19 salvations, two calls to ministry and one baptism. 

The theme, based on James 4:7, was “Submit & Resist.”

Each year, the camp draws a multi-ethnic crowd of students in grades 6-12. This year, Daniel Sanabria, a Brooklyn native with more than 15 years of experience in youth ministry, served as the camp pastor. As the founder of a youth-led prayer initiative called “God Belongs in My City,” he also leads youth ministry networks across New York’s five boroughs. 

Houston-based Robin Wymer Band led the music for the week.

Jesse Contreras, SBTC Hispanic Ministries associate, told the TEXAN: “The purpose of the camp is for students to worship our Creator with other believers and seek his face. Our mission is to encourage those students to understand their purpose in life and challenge them to live out their faith for the glory of God.”

The camp schedule was jam packed with worship services, group devotionals, Bible studies and after-hours fun. Each evening, after the main worship service, a “What’s Next” special event was featured, which included an improvisational comedy troupe; a camp-wide scavenger hunt; talent show for campers; and an inflatable challenge course.

Jose Maldonado, pastor of Navasota Baptist Church in Navasota, joined his church with other area churches to bring 25 students to Youth Week, of which 17 were first-timers; two accepted Christ. Their association, Agape Fellowship Baptist Association, raised funds to sponsor the students who attended.

For Maldonado, this year’s camp was meaningful. 

“Every night, after the message, we’d have our church team time, and we’d ask if anyone would like to share something that really impacted them,” Maldonado said. “At the end of the week, my daughter went up and shared that she had accepted the Lord.”

An important part of their group time together was memorizing Scripture, he added. In past years, students have read a short book of the Bible together over the course of five days. This year, they studied Proverbs 16-19 and he challenged them to memorize at least one verse a day to share with the group.

“The students were encouraged by it. They got together during their free time, unprompted by leaders, and memorized,” Maldonado said. “At first, only two people participated, but by the end of the week, 12 of them shared what they memorized. Camp each year is just another great way to help our churches and boost our discipleship of these students.” 

Bayou City Relief a village of recovery

HOUSTON When Hurricane Harvey hit, Bayou City Fellowship (BCF), with campuses in Cypress and Spring Branch, mobilized quickly.

“When the disaster came upon us, very quickly our church [started] getting people out of imminent danger,” said Colleen Henneke, director of Bayou City Relief (BCR), the church’s DR ministry established to respond to Harvey. Then came months of what Henneke called “mucking and gutting,” followed by rebuild.

Bayou City Relief’s efforts are targeting Kashmere Gardens and Houston’s upper Fifth Ward.

“At this point, we still have 100,000 people displaced in Houston. In Kashmere Gardens, 7,400 homes were impacted. Kashmere does not have the resources that other parts of the city do,” Henneke said, noting issues such as deferred maintenance and poverty which have complicated recovery in the distressed area.

“We try to walk out faithfully with the money donated to our church,” Henneke added. “It is a team effort,” she said, expressing gratitude for interns like the SBTC’s Davey Arrowood and the involvement of NAMB in providing long-term volunteers like Gerald and Peggy Colbert from Georgia.

Henneke, in her fifties, walked away from the corporate world in December 2016, convinced she wasn’t serving God where she was. With her background in finance, her church asked her to help with the allocation of funds to Harvey families. 

The job was expected to last till January 2018. Instead, it transitioned into the directorship of what became called Bayou City Relief. 

“It doesn’t look like it’s slowing down,” Henneke told the TEXAN of the Kashmere Gardens rebuild, confirming that around 2,000 volunteers have assisted in BCR recovery and rebuild efforts thus far. “It has taken a village. God has restored relationships, hearts, home and community.”

More help is needed. For additional information or to volunteer, visit

Cooperative Program luncheons draw Rio Grande Valley and Southeast Texas pastors and church planters

BROWNSVILLE and VIDOR—Conversations in Spanish and English filled the youth meeting room at First Baptist Church of Brownsville at noon, Aug. 13, as 25 area pastors, church planters and Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) representatives assembled for lunch, fellowship and information about the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program (CP). Two weeks later, more than 40 pastors gathered Aug. 27 at First Baptist of Vidor for a similar event.

“Our primary ministry goal is to inform other pastors about the CP, what it does, how it can be beneficial to them, how they can participate in it,” Steve Dorman, First Baptist Brownsville pastor, said of the Valley event, adding that another aim was to encourage relationships among local pastors.

David Ortega, SBTC church planting strategist, brought several church planters. Ortega affirmed the need for networking among Valley Baptist leaders, noting the importance of building fellowship, member care and community.

Hugo Tovar of West Brownsville Baptist represented his pastor, Carlos Navarro. Tovar will soon lead a new congregation in San Benito, West Brownsville’s eighth church plant.

As guests enjoyed a meal served by church volunteers, Dorman welcomed all, introducing Ortega; David Loyola, SBTC field ministry strategist for the Rio Grande Valley; Jim Richards, SBTC executive director, and his wife, June.

“The meal is free. The plates are 25 dollars apiece,” Dorman joked. He described the Cooperative Program as an opportunity for churches of any size to partner with “thousands and thousands of missionaries as supporting churches,” calling CP giving “a tool in our tool belt to accomplish the Great Commission.”

Dorman stressed the voluntary nature of CP giving, telling the audience, “No one is compelling you” to give a certain amount, and reminding the group of the autonomy of each local church. “We decide whom we will voluntarily choose to cooperate with.”

Rather than compulsory, CP giving is simply “a good thing to do,” Dorman explained, stating that his church gives 10 percent of its undesignated receipts to the CP through the SBTC.

CP allocations are approved by the messengers of the SBC’s 46,000 churches who attend the convention’s annual meeting. “We do have a voice in what happens to the CP funds sent by the churches,” Dorman reminded the group.

Additionally, SBC churches are assured that CP dollars are spent on doctrinally sound entities and projects “aligned with the Baptist Faith and Message,” he said.

Using handouts and slides, Dorman explained that the SBTC retains 45 percent of CP funds in Texas for such regional ministries as disaster relief (DR), missions, evangelism and Hispanic ministries, while sending 55 percent to the SBC to support the International Mission Board (IMB), the North American Mission Board (NAMB), SBC seminaries, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee (ERLC) and the convention’s operating budget.

Armando Vera, pastor of Pharr’s Iglesia Poder de Dios, called the information on the allocation of funds “very helpful.”

Referencing the 3,357 IMB and 5,097 NAMB missionaries supported through CP giving, Dorman added, “Every church, it doesn’t matter if you have three members or five members or 5,000 members…has a part in the support of those missionaries,” whose work is strategically targeted to avoid overlaps and duplication.

An added benefit to receiving funding through the CP is that missionaries do not have to raise their own support and are free to focus on their work in the field.

“The apostle Paul was a tentmaker, but he also received funding,” Dorman said.

Dorman also mentioned the tuition discounts at Southern Baptist seminaries available to students from SBC churches and the role and importance of the ERLC as a resource and public voice on what the Bible says regarding moral and social matters.

He also outlined the local benefits of the CP, giving examples of the SBTC providing consultants, leadership training and disaster relief services. Thanks in part to CP funds, FBC Brownsville now has a disaster response team and houses two SBTC DR feeding units that deployed to the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Through Baptist Global Response, FBC Brownsville connected with pastors and missionaries in Nepal following the 2015 earthquake, sending four teams to rebuild houses on sides of mountains in a country where it is illegal to try to convert people to Christianity, Dorman said, adding, “We couldn’t have done that by ourselves.”

Richards commended Dorman’s presentation and FBC Brownville’s commitment to CP giving.

“Jesus said, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. He didn’t say, where your heart is, your treasure will follow,” Richards told the TEXAN, noting that Dorman and his church had, through CP giving, “invested in God’s work in Texas, North America and around the world.”

Richards similarly praised the CP commitment of churches represented at the Vidor luncheon, where Terry Wright, pastor of First Baptist Vidor, welcomed area pastors and church planters.

Wright expressed enthusiasm for the “great spirit in the room” during the CP luncheon as pastors came together for fellowship and a common purpose. In a later interview, he told the TEXAN he saw “an excitement about moving forward in missions.”

A firm believer in the value of the Cooperative Program, Wright explained he had been saved as a child in an independent Baptist church and had witnessed the difficulty experienced by missionaries not supported by the structure of CP when economic downturns meant dips in funding.

Wright also said that the churches and communities of Southeast Texas, devastated by three major hurricanes in 12 years, have seen the benefits of the CP “through disaster relief and other agencies and the generosity of the SBTC coming in and supporting the churches.”

Jay Gross, pastor of West Conroe Baptist Church, spoke at the luncheon, sharing his testimony and discussing the many benefits of CP to his church and himself.

Gross described his presentation to the TEXAN as the story of “how the CP has affected me, our church and our family,” noting that the Cooperative Program provided scholarships for him to earn graduate degrees from Southwestern Seminary.

While West Conroe has its own disaster relief feeding trailer, the SBTC helped the church buy groceries to cook meals for first responders and Harvey victims, Gross said.

“We have planted churches with support from the convention. The SBTC puts a little deposit in our retirement accounts each month,” he added.

SBTC CP luncheons were also held in Fort Worth, Canadian, Austin, Lufkin and Kerrville this year. For more information about the Cooperative Program go to

Mesquite church enters into covenant revitalization

MESQUITE A lightning-sparked fire in 2005 sapped the strength of Galloway Avenue Baptist Church, which was already declining from its high of 500 weekly worshipers in the mid to late 1990s. 

By March of this year, the remaining attenders, about 60 who are fiercely loyal to God, longtime member Lenny Howell told the TEXAN, were willing to do whatever it took to save the church. The best option, they believed, was a revitalization program.

 “A complete restructure of the church, that’s what appealed to most people,” said Howell, chairman of the personnel committee, who was left leading the congregation after the associate pastor and deacons all resigned about nine months after the pastor resigned. “We were talking about starting from scratch, constitution and bylaws rewritten, new leadership and someone to lead us in the process of doing all that.

“When you get to a low point, there’s not much you can do but look up,” Howell continued. “I really think the people are willing to do whatever it takes for the church to get back on its feet.” 

On March 18, at the church’s request, Kenneth Priest, director of convention strategies for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, brought a message in the morning service. At the end of the service he presented the covenant revitalization model he believed would work best for Galloway Avenue. 

The following week the church voted to commit to the program and directed the pastor search committee to seek a pastor to lead them.

In early June, Galloway Avenue called Gary Wagoner for a three-year term as revitalization pastor. Wagoner had been pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church in Jonesville, La., for 14 years when he and his wife, Nina, moved last November to the Dallas area, where their two sons and one grandson live. Once there, they waited for God’s call to their next ministry.

“I just really want to see God move and revive this church,” Wagoner told the TEXAN. “To be able to participate in the church growing and blossoming again, I want to be part of that, and to see God move in the church. I believe Jesus’ church should be alive and vibrant.”

Galloway Avenue paused for a covenant revitalization ceremony with Priest at the close of the June 17 worship service, Wagoner’s first Sunday as revitalization pastor. After he preached from Isaiah 64, the prayer of the hungry heart, Wagoner, church trustee Larry Buchanan and Priest signed the covenant.

“The covenant is a spiritual undertaking, not a legal document,” according to the document’s first line. “The pastor and the church commit themselves to a cooperative partnership for the fulfillment of this covenant as part of the church’s ministry of worship, education, fellowship, and service to others, as it seeks to proclaim the good news of God’s love in Christ.”

Galloway Avenue members met together for prayer Sunday afternoons for several weeks before Wagoner arrived, and individually they had gone through a resource, 40 Days of Prayer for Church Revitalization, which the SBTC provided.

“They’re very committed people,” Wagoner said. “They love their church; they love the Lord. That’s very evident talking with them, their passion for the church and their passion for the Lord.”

The covenant revitalization process starts with a 13-week preaching series that covers the letters to the seven churches mentioned in Revelation, with Scripture verses suggested by SBTC to address pertinent aspects of church life.

“They don’t give us the message,” Wagoner said. “We take the passages designed to teach the church particular truths, and pray the Lord will use that to open eyes and teach hearts.

“Then [after the 13 weeks] we will sit down and have a dream session,” Wagoner continued. “We’ll talk about things that are and aren’t working, things we’d like to try, and a ‘dream list’ of things we could do that people are eager to see happen. Then we’ll set in motion the wheels to accomplish the things the church needs to have done.”

Wagoner said his job isn’t to tell the congregation what to do, but rather to help facilitate thinking and discussion as the church together decides what it wants to do.

“My role,” Wagoner said, “is to lead the church in examining everything from bylaws, constitution, Sunday School, every program, and to look for ways the church can improve, ministries that can be started, and just in general to pray and seek revival in the life of the church.”

Galloway Avenue, begun in 1990 as the merger of two churches, continues in its commitment to missions and ministry. It gives 5 percent of undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program. 

This is the fifth year for Galloway Avenue to host a weeklong summer soccer camp for more than 60 young people, with the help of several volunteer leaders from First Baptist Church of Mauriceville. 

Community outreach programs for children through the sixth grade also include Vacation Bible School in the summer and a Back to School Bash for the neighborhood before school starts, providing an interactive Bible story and school supplies.

Another Galloway Avenue ministry, Hand of Hope, is a distribution site for Sharing Life Community Outreach and the North Texas Food Bank. In years past, the church offered support groups for people dealing with divorce, abortion recovery and chemical dependency.

Galloway en Español is a ministry started by a previous pastor that meets at the church with Juan Manuel Garza as pastor.

“I have found the people of Galloway Avenue to be a very loving, caring congregation,” Howell told the TEXAN. “They’re very compassionate people who love the Lord.” 

New church plants deep roots via Reach Texas Missions Offering

KELLER  Kason Branch knew God had led him to plant a church, but how? Where?

With ministry plan in hand—plus resources and encouragement—provided by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s church planting team, Keystone Fellowship of Fort Worth pastored by Damon Halliday as a sponsoring church and Concord Church of Dallas as a sending church, Branch started Creekstone Baptist Church in Keller in April of 2016.

Joining with SBTC “seemed to be a fit; we shared the same values,” Branch told the TEXAN. “Richard Taylor [SBTC associate for personal evangelism and fellowships] did a great job of shepherding and encouraging me through the process during the initial stages.”

“It feels like a warm family as we’re about 80 people,” Branch continued. “We’re in a great facility and have baptized 19 new believers since last August.  God is moving!”

The Reach Texas State Missions Offering helps churches like Creekstone Keller get started. 

Branch left the corporate world in 2010 to be chief operating officer at Concord Baptist Church, a sizable independent Baptist church in south Dallas, where he’d been discipled and mentored since 2005 by the senior pastor, Bryan Carter.

Being part of the leadership of an established church that grew to 9,000 members while he served there would be vastly different from planting a church, especially one in Keller, a north Tarrant County suburb of Fort Worth, where he felt led. Branch sought advice and was referred to the SBTC by trusted mentors and peers.

“The SBTC helped further my understanding of church planting, and also the encouragement I’ve received has given me great hope and has strengthened me,” Branch said. “I feel like there’s a team of people who are rooting for our kingdom success.”

The Branch family, including his wife Shanea, son Owen and daughter Kayden Grace, sold their home in DeSoto, south of I-20 in suburban Dallas, and moved into an apartment in the Keller area, north of I-30, where they’ve been living for three years as they plant the church.

Shanea Branch found a teaching job at the school their children attend. The youngsters are involved in baseball, soccer and dance, and the family has adapted well to its new culture, Branch said.

“The Lord really did bless us in the transition,” he noted. “We changed our whole life for this, but it’s been worth it because we’ve seen God move in an amazing way in the lives of other people.”

Finding a meeting place for the church was difficult. “I was told ‘No’ 22 times as to a [church] location,” Branch said. Finally a discount movie theater in nearby North Richland Hills said ‘Yes.’ Six months later the church moved to its current location in the Keller Pointe indoor/outdoor community recreation center.

While Creekstone does do some door-to-door ministry, the church’s main outreach has been through partnering with the City of Keller, and with the recreation center. 

“All the training I went to talked about ‘blessing the city,’” Branch said. “Nic Burleson [pastor] of Timber Ridge Church in Stephenville was one who talked about it, and it got me to thinking about how we could bless the city with the events they already have.”

For Keller’s Daddy-Daughter Dance in February, Creekstone Church sets up and cleans up before and after the event, with time in between to build relationships and share their faith with participants. There’s an Easter Egg Scramble, September “Rec the Park” and, in December, Holly Days, plus a “Trash Bash” twice a year to pick up along city roadways. Four partnership events with the community center last year included a carnival-type Pumpkin Splash, with dozens of pumpkins floating in the pool. 

Creekstone Church has received funds from the Reach Texas State Missions Offering in hopes that it will help establish another strong, evangelistic church, and the support is greatly appreciated.  

“The money we’ve received from Reach Texas has helped us advance the ministry,” Branch said. “There are a lot of people in the SBTC with a heart for God and his people, who want to see the kingdom of God expanded among all people.

“Creekstone Church has the same desire,” Branch said. “That’s what I see in the SBTC’s initiatives. We have the same heart.” Creekstone Church gives 5 percent of undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program, the SBC’s method of supporting missions and ministries in Texas and throughout the world.

Branch said he was drawn to Keller, with its 45,000 residents—up from 27,000 residents in 2000—because “this area is growing rapidly and all the numbers point to it continuing to grow.” In 2009 the town was listed by Money magazine as 7th of the nation’s 10 best places to live. 

“We wanted to establish a presence in the community so we can reach people here. There are a lot of people who have come to the area who haven’t connected with a church. We have an opportunity to help them come to know Jesus Christ and to grow, and to give people a great big glimpse of God.”

That being said, “We live in a culture increasingly neglectful of God and preoccupied with other things: rodeo, baseball, kids’ sports,” Branch said. “We’re battling the culture in regards to getting people to church, but those we’ve been able to reach are becoming family.

“People aren’t rushing out after services,” Branch said. “As a pastor I see us growing deep in relationship with God and with one another, and that warms my heart. You want to grow deep before you grow wide and we’re doing just that. It just confirms we’re headed in the right direction, doing it God’s way.” 

Three Texans recommended to committee tasked with finding next SWBTS president

FORT WORTH—A nine-member presidential search committee announced Aug. 23 by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee chairman Kevin Ueckert includes three Texans—Jamie Green of Katy, Philip Levant of Hurst and Danny Roberts of North Richland Hills.

Roberts, executive pastor of North Richland Hills Baptist Church, was named to serve as chairman. A 1979 SWBTS alumnus, he received a master of church music degree, and began serving as a trustee in 2016, sitting on the communications, policies, and strategic initiatives committee.

Green, a layperson who began serving in 2013, is a retired speech-language pathologist and member of Houston’s First Baptist Church, and was named to serve as secretary of the search committee. Levant began serving on the trustee board in 2015 and is pastor of Iglesia Bautista LaVid in Hurst. He received the master of church music degree in 2002 and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in theological studies.

Remaining members are Denise Ewing of Illinois, Guy Grimes of California, Todd Houston of North Carolina, Tom James of Kentucky, Andre Palmer of New York and Calvin Wittman of Colorado.  Trustee chair Kevin Ueckert and vice chairman Connie Hancock will serve as ex officio members of the committee.

The seminary’s release indicated that the committee’s composition includes two women, one African-American, and one Hispanic. The committee also is mixed geographically and in terms of trustee tenure (with five being in their first five-year term and the other four in their second five-year term). Levant and Green also serve on the executive committee, as do ex-officio members Ueckert and Hancock.

In naming the committee, Ueckert stated, “Between now and the October Board meeting, the presidential search committee will be focused on developing the candidate profile and the application process, as well as entering a time of focused prayer.” In the meantime, nominations and expressions of interest should be submitted to

The full board will have an opportunity to approve Ueckert’s selections in accordance with the bylaws at their regular meeting Oct. 16-17.

More often than not, the search committee is named and approved at the same meeting that a transition is announced, however time was not allotted for that on May 14 when the board closed out their 13-hour executive session at 3 a.m. after dismissing Paige Patterson as president.

When SWBTS President Kenneth Hemphill announced his retirement April 8, 2003, to accept a position as the national strategist of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Empowering Kingdom Growth initiative, a search committee was named the same day and took two and one-half months before recommending Patterson who was elected unanimously by the board.

Hemphill had been approved unanimously by the board, four months after a search committee was announced on March 9, 1994, shortly after Russell Dilday was dismissed as president.

In contrast, the committee that ultimately recommended Dilday was announced several months after SWBTS President Robert Naylor gave trustees two and one-half years’ notice of his retirement plan. The presidential search committee took 20 months before announcing Dilday as their choice to become president-elect in at the beginning of 1978 and assume presidential duties Aug. 1, 1978 when Naylor completed a 20-year tenure.

REVIEW: “Crazy Rich Asians” is funny & uplifting, but ¦.

Nick Young is a charming bachelor living in the United States who happens to come from one of the most well-known and wealthy families in China.

His girlfriend, though, knows nothing of his fame. Her name is Rachel Chu, a Chinese American who teaches economics and is the youngest professor at New York University. Her background is middle class, having come from a self-made single mother who put her daughter ahead of her happiness. Rachel’s future in academia seems bright.  

Nick believes he’s discovered the woman of his dreams – the woman he will marry – but first, he must win the blessing of his family back in Asia. And he hopes that will take place during a trip to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding.

Thus, Nick and Rachel board an airplane to cross the Pacific for one of the most extravagant weddings ever held. Unfortunately, though, few of Nick’s family members or friends like Rachel. First off, she comes from a common background. She’s not rich. Second, she has American values – not Asians ones. But their biggest problem? She’s a Chinese American, and not native-born Chinese.

What will Nick choose if he must pick between his family and Rachel?

The romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians (PG-13) is now in theaters, telling the story of a young man who is the successor to his family’s business and wealth but must decide if he will throw it all away when his mother rejects Rachel. The film is drawing attention in part because it is being billed as the first Hollywood film in 25 years to feature an all-Asian cast in a modern setting.

It stars Henry Golding as Nick Young; Constance Wu as Rachel Chu; Michelle Yeoh (Kung Fu Panda 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 2) as Nick’s mother, Eleanor; and Awkwafina (Ocean’s 8, Storks) as Rachel’s quirky friend, Peik Lin Goh.

Rachel is the film’s primary character, as we watch her emotions evolve from shock (at Nick’s wealth) to depression (at the family’s reaction) to resolve (to see Nick’s family change).   

Crazy Rich Asians is one of the funniest and most touching romantic comedies of the year, and it also carries with it several positive lessons normally not seen in Hollywood comedies (partially because Nick’s family are Christian). Unfortunately, it has enough sexual innuendo and language to prevent me from fully endorsing it for families.   

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)


Minimal. We see two men fighting on a movie set.


Moderate. The film doesn’t contain the wall-to-fall low-brow humor found in other comedies – or any nudity, either — but it has just enough sexual content to frustrate the traditional moviegoer. Nick and Rachel sleep in the same bed; we don’t see them do anything except briefly kiss, sex is implied. We see two people make out (standing up, in public) on a movie set. We hear a joke about a female visitor to a party being a porn star. We learn that someone (not Nick or Rachel) is having an affair. Someone makes fun of Rachel’s anatomy. For parents, two of the biggest problems in the movie involve immodest dress throughout the film and a bachelor party on a boat that contains women in bikinis. Thankfully, Nick has enough sense to leave the out-of-control party. The film contains frequent kissing.    

Coarse Language

Moderate. About 26 coarse words: a– (5), OMG (5), b–ch (4), h-ll (3), GD (2), s–t (2), d–n (2), f-word (1), misuse of “Jesus” (1), b—ard (1). Much of the language is said by two characters: Peik Lin Goh and another male character (not Nick).

Other Positive Elements

Nick’s mother leads a Bible study, and we hear her and her friends quoting verses. (“Set your minds on things that are above,” she says). Someone says of Rachel, “I do hope she’s a good Christian girl.” Later, we learn they are Methodist. Nick’s family is close; his grandmother still lives with the family. The family-centric nature of the Asian culture of one of the major themes. Indeed, the film celebrates not only families but large family structures.    

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

We see people drinking and gambling.

Life Lessons

Crazy Rich Asians includes positive messages against racism and on forgiveness, humility, putting family first (see below) and wealth. Despite growing up in a filthy-rich environment, Nick doesn’t boast about his money. In fact, he goes so far as to shield Rachel from the truth. She doesn’t discover his family is rich until they’re on the airplane, in the first-class section. Why? He wanted a wife who loved him for who he was – and not for what he had. Contrast that with his family, who only hang out with those who are rich.


Nick’s mom has her problems, but she raises a few valid questions, too. Among them: What should we do when we’re choosing between family and career? “We know to put family first instead of chasing one’s passion,” she says, affirming what she sees as the Asian ideal. She’s critical of Rachel and other Americans for casting aside their family to pursue their dreams. In her mind, you can’t have both. And in Crazy Rich Asians, she has a point. If Nick and Rachel marry, then they might move to America and leave the family’s business in ruins. Is it possible to have both? Scripture commands us to care for our family (1 Timothy 5:8). It also tells husbands and wives to leave and cleave (Genesis 2:24). The topic is too complex to provide a full treatment here, but Crazy Rich Asians raises a few topics that are worthy of discussion over a hot cup of coffee.   

What Works

The comedy. (A father tells the kids to eat their food because there are “a lot of children starving in America.”) The film also does a nice job introducing an American audience to Asian traditions.

What Doesn’t

Some of the content. Take out about four minutes of the film and a few coarse words, and this film is flirting with a PG rating. Too bad Hollywood falsely believes moviegoers won’t support PG movies.  

Discussion Questions

1. Does a person’s wealth change how you view him or her? Why or why not?

2. What is God’s purpose for wealth?

3. If Nick’s family were Christians, then why did they mistreat Rachel?

4. Who was right in the debate about family and happiness – Nick’s mom, or Nick and Rachel?

5. What is the movie’s message about racism and diversity?

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

Crazy Rich Asians is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and language.