Month: March 2019

REVIEW: “Dumbo” soars with its animation, positive messages

Holt Farrier is a dispirited father who lost his left arm in battle and his wife to influenza.

Yes, he still has his two young children and his job in the traveling Medici Brothers Circus, but things have changed since he returned from World War I. His relationship with his daughter has suffered. His job — as a horse-riding stuntman — has suffered, too. Circus owner Max Medici sold the horses.

This means Farrier has a new task: taking care of the pregnant elephant.  

“It’s a big job,” Medici tells him.

That’s because the elephant’s calf will become the center of the show. Newspapers will cover it. Most importantly, Medici will sell more tickets.

Yet something strange happens when Medici’s pregnant elephant gives birth. This new calf has most of the features of an elephant — a trunk, a large head and a body the size of a boulder — but it has larger-than-normal ears, too. They’re so big, in fact, that they cover its face.

Medici is incensed.

“I already got fake freaks in the freak show. I don’t need a real one in the center ring,” he says.

This new baby elephant, labeled “Dumbo,” gets insulted wherever it goes. Soon, though, it displays a unique talent that transforms it from “freak” into an attention-grabbing phenom.

Disney’s film Dumbo opens this weekend, giving us a live-action remake of the 1941 animated classic that was nominated for two Oscars and won one. It stars Colin Farrell (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as Farrier, Danny DeVito (Throw Momma from the Train) as Medici, and Michael Keaton (Spider-Man: Homecoming) as V. A. Vandevere, a theme park owner who purchases Medici’s circus.

The movie stays true to the core story of the original while giving it a third act beyond Dumbo’s discovering that he can fly. Like the original, it also includes plenty of positive life lessons for children.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal. The film opens with the two children, Milly and Joe, meeting their father at the train station and discovering he lost an arm in World War I. We then learn their mother died from influenza. Holt later punches a man who is mistreating Dumbo’s mother. A circus tent pole falls on a man, who dies. (It’s not graphic; we then see the coroner.) One of the sections of Vandevere’s theme park Dreamland is “Nightmare Island,” where the “most dangerous beasts in the world” are kept. (It houses wolves and an elephant named Kali the Destroyer, but will trouble only sensitive children.) Several times in the film, Dumbo and other circus artists perform high-wire acts that place them in peril. Later in the film, a tent catches fire, endangering a family.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

None.

Coarse Language

Minimal. H-ll (3), misuse of “God,” and an unfinished “bull—-.”

Other Positive Elements

Dumbo’s mother protects her son, and he loves her in return. It’s touching. Milly and Joe love and encourage Dumbo in the midst of the taunts.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Medici encourages Milly to learn telepathy (she doesn’t). A Hindu man, seeing Dumbo fly, say his people believe “gods can take animal form.”

Life Lessons

Our social media-crazed, hyper-critical society needs Dumbo, simply to help children understand and respond to bullying. It’s painful to watch him get insulted. Yet it’s wonderful to watch him overcome the taunts and to discover his unique ability. It’s also uplifting to watch Milly and Joe encourage him. Like Wonder, Dumbo helps us empathize with the character being bullied. It also gives us a positive example of responding to it.

The film provides not one but two characters with disabilities (Dumbo and Farrier). It also presents multiple characters who are battling a loss (Dumbo and Milly and Joe).  

Of course, the movie teaches us to have courage. After all, the feather Dumbo trusted had no magical power.

Worldview/Application

Dumbo isn’t a Christian movie, but its core message — all of us are unique and loved — is founded in Christian principles. We are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and we are all valuable to Him — disabled and non-disabled. That’s a message all children need to learn from Dumbo.  

Sponsors

Spirit Airlines and The Giving Keys are the primary sponsors.

What Works

The interaction between animation and real-life characters. Yes, it’s a normal part of movie magic, but it never grows old. The film’s animal-human parallel — Dumbo and Farrier — is a nice touch, too.

What Doesn’t

Farrell’s Southern accent.

Discussion Questions

  1. What did you learn about bullying from watching Dumbo?
  2. What did Dumbo teach you about disabilities?
  3. What can you do to encourage others who are different?

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

Rated PG for peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief mild language.

REVIEW: “Unplanned” is a rated R film you should see

Abby is an outgoing and friendly college student who is still uncertain what she believes about life — literally and figuratively.

Thus, when a Planned Parenthood worker at a university event asks if she’s interested in volunteering at the clinic, Abby barely hesitates. Yes, her parents won’t approve, but Abby wants to help women.

Her task: escort the patients from the parking lot to the front doors, shielding them from the pro-life protesters.

Abby — it turns out — enjoys it. She’s making a difference. She’s protecting women. At least, that’s what she tells herself.

Pretty soon, Abby’s role transitions from volunteer to paid employee. And eventually, she becomes clinic director.

Her pro-life Christian parents hate her job, but she doesn’t care. Besides, there are religious people in the pro-choice community, too.    

“I don’t care what anyone says,” a co-worker says. “I am doing God’s work here.”

But then Abby is asked to help with an abortion. And then she witnesses, first-hand, the moral horrors it entails. And then she begins having doubts about her beliefs on abortion.

The film Unplanned (R) opens in theaters March 29, telling the unlikely true story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood director who quit her job to become a pro-life advocate.

It stars Ashley Bratcher (90 Minutes In Heaven) as Abby; Jared Lotz as Shawn, a pro-life worker with 40 Days for Life; and Emma Elle Roberts (I’m Not Ashamed) as Marilisa, another worker with 40 Days for Life.

The film begins with the pivotal abortion scene but then jumps back eight years to her college days, showing how she climbed the ranks to become clinic director.

Its filmmakers were aiming for a PG-13 rating but got stuck with an R — an undeserved rating that can only be described as one of the worst decisions in the history of the ratings board. The R is for “some disturbing/bloody images.” Yet broadcast television regularly exceeds the disturbing and bloody content of Unplanned — as does every PG-13 superhero film in the last decade. (More on that in a moment.)

Despite the rating, Unplanned is appropriate for teens and mature tweens.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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

Violence/Disturbing

Moderate. The film deals with the subject of abortion, but it never shows an abortion from the perspective of the doctor, even though we are in the room. We see an abortion take place on a computer screen (a sonogram), as the small baby is in the picture one instance and gone the next. We see a clothed woman sitting on a toilet, blood dripping off the seat. She steps in the shower (still clothed) with blood dripping down her leg. She picks up a bloody blob off the floor and puts in in the toilet (presumably it was the small baby). In another scene, a father pressures a teen girl to have an abortion; there are complications in the room but she survives. Still another scene shows pieces of an aborted baby on a table. All total, these scenes last perhaps five to 10 minutes. Most of the movie focuses on Abby’s journey.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Minimal. Two people kiss.

Coarse Language

Minimal. H-ll (2), d–nit (2), a– (1).

Other Positive Elements

The film contrasts the peaceful, prayer-filled protests of 40 Days for Purpose (Shawn and Marilisa) with that of protesters who are screaming unkind words toward the women. It’s obvious which strategy works best.

Abby’s pro-life parents accept and love her unconditionally, even if they strongly disagree with her job.  

Life Lessons

Unplanned gives us lessons on patience and prayer (Shawn and Marilisa, Abby’s parents), blindness to sin (Abby), and unconditional love (Abby’s parents and husband).

Worldview/Application

There have been more than 60 million abortions since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalized the procedure nationwide. And despite the best efforts of pro-lifers, roughly half the country still considers itself pro-life. Why?

Perhaps Americans are just like Abby Johnson once was. Maybe they are pro-choice because they never have to think about abortion. They never have to watch an abortion. They never have to consider the ramifications of their stance. It takes place in a private clinic, in a private room, behind closed doors.

This doesn’t mean it’s necessary to watch an abortion to transition from pro-choice to pro-life. But it does mean that when we consider what abortion is and what it involves, we are faced with a moral choice that many people would rather avoid.

What Works

The interaction between Abby and the pro-lifers. The screenplay and the film’s structure. It makes for a gripping story. The movie’s final 30 minutes is emotion-laden and well done. It ends on a high note.

What Doesn’t

One or two scenes are over the top and could be viewed as propaganda by the pro-choice community.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does the Bible say about the unborn? (See Psalm 139, Jeremiah 1:5.)
  2. What did the first Christians think about abortion? (Google the “Didache and abortion.”)
  3. What led Abby to change her mind about abortion? Do you think there are other people like Abby in our society?
  4. Did the film change how you view abortion and Planned Parenthood? Explain.

Entertainment rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated R for some disturbing/bloody images.

Christ, the firstfruits of our resurrection

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

God has put eternity in the human heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11). It’s no wonder, then, that we all have questions about life after death. But what do people believe about the afterlife? Atheists believe this life is all there is. If that’s the case, then we should eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Yet most people in the world believe in an afterlife. While the religions of the world hold to some kind of heaven or paradise or ultimate reality, those who hold to Eastern views likely believe in reincarnation: a seemingly endless cycle of incarnations until one is finally united with ultimate (spiritual) reality. 

Because God has put eternity in our hearts, we know that this life is not all there is. Christianity teaches that every person is born a sinner and deserves God’s judgment, which is death. But Christ lived a life pleasing to the Father and died on the cross in order to take the penalty for sin that we all owe. On the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead, showing that he accepted Jesus’ life and death as a substitute life and death for all who believe in Jesus. Through Christ, and only through Christ, all who believe have the hope of eternal life with God.

This month our churches will gather to celebrate the living hope that we have in Jesus. Our hope is that all who believe in him will also experience a resurrection from the dead, a physical resurrection to eternal life with the triune God. This is what the Old Testament taught (Daniel 12:1-3); this is what Jesus taught (John 5:25-29); and this is what the Jews believed (John 11:23-26). Apparently, some Corinthians denied the reality of the resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12). They did not deny the afterlife altogether; they simply denied a physical afterlife. They had no place for a resurrected body. It is this denial that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 15. As we prepare for Easter this month, let’s remind ourselves of the hope we have in Christ, and let’s prepare ourselves to answer skeptics’ questions about resurrection, both Jesus’ and ours.

If you deny the resurrection of the dead, then by consequence, you deny Jesus’ resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-19). Paul’s basic argument: If Christ is being preached as raised from the dead, and if you (Corinthians) embraced this gospel, then how can you deny the resurrection of the dead (15:12)? Paul preached the resurrection of Christ as essential to the gospel (15:1-11). To deny the resurrection of the dead is to deny the resurrection of Christ because Christ’s resurrection is the basis for ours. If Christ has not been raised, then there is no hope for the living. We are still in our sins; there is no forgiveness; the gospel and our faith are without basis (15:14-17). Further, if Christ has not been raised, there is no hope for the dead; their bodies are in the ground decaying and nothing more (15:18). If Christ has not been raised, then Christians are the most pitiful people on earth (15:19).

But in fact Christ has been raised, and his resurrection guarantees ours (15:20-28). By faith in Christ we are united with him in his death, burial and resurrection (15:20-22; cf. Romans 6:1-11). Just as our union with the first Adam brings death, so our union with the last Adam brings life. But everything happens in its own order: Christ, the firstfruits of the harvest, then at his coming, the full harvest to come—the resurrection of the dead (15:20, 23). Jesus’ first coming inaugurated the kingdom, the beginning of his reign (15:25-27). At that time Jesus crushed Satan (Genesis 3:15), accomplishing forgiveness of sin for those who believe (Colossians 2:15). Now, Jesus is ruling Lord, crushing his enemies under his feet (Hebrews 2:5-9). When Jesus returns, then comes the end, the final resurrection when death will be defeated (1 Corinthians 15:24, 26, 28, 54-57).

Since Christ has been raised, we have hope! Therefore, until Christ returns we must live consistently with the knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection (15:29). As we await the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23), our lives must declare this hope!  

  • With the hope of the resurrection, we know that to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). Consequently, we will not fear death, for Christ has defeated sin and death and Satan (Hebrews 2:14-18).
  • With the hope of the resurrection, we know that to live is Christ (Philippians 1:21). Our lives have meaning and purpose in Christ. We will not sit idly by and await the return of Christ. We will be willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:30-32; Philippians 3:7-11). We will press on in pursuing holiness so as not to be ashamed on that day (1 Corinthians 15:33-34; Philippians 3:12-21). And we will call all people to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus that they too may share in our hope. What does your life say about what you believe concerning the resurrection of the dead? As you celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ this Easter, know that we can look forward with hope to our own resurrection and eternal life with God. Lord Jesus, come quickly! 

Traveling the world

People love to travel. Part of the allure of doing something adventurous like joining the Navy, becoming a flight attendant or working as a crew member on a cruise ship is that you get to see the world. 

A half-century ago I was a high school student in Korea when I first traveled by air from my hometown of Daegu to the capital city of Seoul. Until then I had never been to the airport. I was amazed to see so many airplanes lined up next to one another!

Since that initial experience, I have traveled to more than 70 countries by air or sea. In a number of trips as a trustee of the International Mission Board from 1996-2006, I had the wonderful privilege of meeting with missionaries across the globe—to pray, to listen, to encourage and to have fellowship with them. I am grateful to God that they were being used to spread the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

All those international trips opened my eyes to see how God has been working through Southern Baptists and through the faithful giving of our churches to the Cooperative Program. The fruit of all that travel was not limited to meeting new people and expanding my perspective of the world; it allowed me to come back with a renewed perspective of myself and my home mission field.

God’s plan of redemption is for his children to travel throughout the world in obedience to the Great Commission. God called Abraham to be a missionary when he was 75 years-old. He had to travel on foot from his hometown to an unknown destination (Genesis 12:1-9; Hebrews 11:8-10). Through his obedience, he became the father of many nations. Abraham was a pioneer missionary and the unknown land became the Promised Land for his descendants (Psalm 122:6-9, 147:2; Isaiah 65:17-25; Zechariah 14:11). 

In his heart for the world, God sent his only son Jesus as a missionary to this sinful world (John 3:16, 20:21). Sin entered this world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command (Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 5:12-17). The only way to save mankind from the bondage of sin is God’s plan of salvation, in which Jesus died on the cross (Romans 3:23-26, 6:23; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, 2:1-5; Ephesians 2:1-10; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Hebrews 9:27-28).

When we repent and believe in Christ’s saving work on the cross, we automatically become his missionaries with a commission to be his witnesses to ends of the earth (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).

God has a gift for the world—the free gift of salvation through the planting of the seeds of faith and the labor of reaping the harvest by the church. He called Saul, the persecutor of the church, to become a missionary for the purpose of planting churches (Acts 9:4-9, 9:15-18, 13:1-5). As the apostle Paul, he traveled all over Asia Minor and even to Europe to preach Christ and the message of the resurrected Jesus to the Gentiles. He planted many churches along the way so that through the church, all mankind will come to a saving knowledge of the Lord.

May we catch the missionary vision of our Lord for this world by expanding our hearts in both the act of going and giving (Acts 28:30-31; 2 Timothy 4:6-8). Not only will you benefit the mission field abroad, but you will gain a deeper understanding of yourself, your home mission and the heart of God.  

—Paul Kim is the Asian-American relations consultant with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee and pastor emeritus of Antioch Baptist Church in Cambridge, Mass.

Calm in the storm

Most of you are familiar with the account of Jesus asleep in the boat when a storm arose (Mark 4:35-41). The disciples were fearful for their lives. To them, the situation was hopeless.  

Tragedy seems to be sweeping across us like a tidal wave of evil. In the 24-hour news cycle there are constant reports of murders, injustice and hate. No halting of the march of heartbreak appears at hand.

Sexual abuse is one of the most horrific sins being revealed in our day. Too many victims have suffered in silence. A culture of cover-up was enforced with a wrong-headed thought that public disclosure would hurt the cause of Christ. Trying to save the reputation of the church often caused the church to lose its testimony. Worse, predators were turned loose on more unsuspecting victims. 

MinistrySafe is a Texas company that provides child safety training for churches across the nation. Through the SBTC’s relationship with MinistrySafe over the last 10 years, hundreds of SBTC churches have received vital child sexual abuse prevention training. Our intent in this effort was to provide the basic assistance for a local church. The SBTC Executive Board has now set aside $250,000 of Cooperative Program gifts to provide training for five members from each of the first 1,000 SBTC churches requesting help at sbtexas.com/sexualabuseawareness. Five training events are being scheduled across Texas during 2019 as well. The first of these will be May 13 at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano and May 23 at High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin. 

The executive committee of the executive board will take further steps to strengthen practices and policies of the convention. The SBTC will work with any affiliated church to improve its protection of the innocents. It is a local church’s responsibility to safeguard its congregation, but the SBTC will continue to be a prophetic voice and strongly encourage churches to take advantage of these resources. One other initiative is the legislation initiated by two SBTC pastors and endorsed by the Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee that would enable information about alleged-but-not-convicted abusers to be shared without civil liability.

On the other side of the world in New Zealand, the mass murder of Muslims at worship renders us speechless. No one should ever fear for their lives when they gather in a religious setting. Religious liberty is a hallmark of Baptists. While we may disagree with the teachings of other faiths, we as Baptists should always stand for their right to hold those beliefs. Finger pointing and blame shifting does not heal the hurt of the families that lost loved ones. Our voice should sound a clear call for religious liberty. This is also true in addressing the issue in nation-states that prohibit public expressions of Christianity. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are under harsh persecution in many places. While believers suffer, we mourn also with those who do not share our faith when they suffer violence. 

In the United States, though to a lesser degree, we are seeing creeping evidence of the persecution of Christians. Acerbic rhetoric by politicians, the media and even some religious leaders creates a toxic environment. We grieve about the slaughter at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, and our own First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs suffered at the hands of a hate-filled man. An anti-Christian culture may one day cause believers to pay a higher price for standing up for Jesus.

Remember Jesus and the disciples in the boat during the storm. The disciples thought that because Jesus was asleep in the boat he didn’t have control of the situation. All it takes is one word from our Lord and all is calm. The storm may rage around us but he is still Master of the sea. Let’s remain calm in the storm because our faith is in the sovereign Lord Jesus. 

West Texas pastor had an unlikely path to ministry in Sweetwater

SWEETWATER  While many pastors experience reduced incomes after assuming the pulpit, few pay for the privilege of preaching. Yet that is what Richard Acuna did for almost a year, as the firefighter routinely shelled out $200 to hire a substitute to work for him at the firehouse on the Sundays he was scheduled for a shift. Acuna’s role as an interim pastor at Avondale Baptist Church in Sweetwater paid less than $200 a week.

That changed last October, when Avondale called Acuna, 41, to become its permanent pastor. It was validation of a most unlikely journey to pastoral ministry.

“Now I am getting paid enough to cover this expense,” Acuna told the TEXAN. “But I am not doing this for the money. I feel I am doing what God has called me to do: kingdom work, for the church.”

Acuna admitted he “hates” to see churches close, a situation that concerned Avondale leaders before he arrived.

“When I see church doors close, that is a slap against the kingdom, a victory for the devil,” Acuna said. 

The firefighters’ schedule of 24-hour shifts followed by 48 hours off provides time for Acuna to prepare sermons and handle church duties. As if two jobs weren’t enough, Acuna also serves as a trainer for the Sweetwater-Nolan County Health Department, teaching classes in emergency preparedness.

Each job reflects Acuna’s desire to minister to Nolan County, a passion shared by his wife, Becky, who is not only on staff at another local Baptist church, but is also director of The S.H.O.P—Sweetwater House of Peace—a community outreach center to youth.

Few people in Sweetwater imagined that hometown boy Acuna would grow up to serve his community as a pastor and firefighter, both unexpected career choices for the onetime juvenile offender who occasionally broke into houses and vehicles, experimented with illegal drugs and found himself locked up in juvie hall.

“Praise God that all that happened before I was 15 years old,” Acuna said of his youthful indiscretions. “Part of my story concerns where God brought us,” he added, admitting that his transformation to community leader has surprised some locals.

“Everybody in Sweetwater knows about my business,” Acuna said with a chuckle.

Acuna credits his relationship with Becky, his high school sweetheart, with starting him on the right road, even though their relationship has had rough patches. The two entered a common-law marriage after high school. Acuna worked for National Railcar as a welder.

Children quickly followed. So did problems.

Becky had been raised in a Christian home, although her father, who had been a pastor, abandoned the family, leaving all with unresolved issues. 

She struggled with guilt regarding her common-law marriage. Becky’s upbringing, despite its challenges, had given her an enduring faith. Her family had attended church and studied the Bible together. But their common-law arrangement “brought shame,” she said. “I knew right from wrong. It was blatant disobedience.”

Becky finally returned to church at the invitation of a friend.

“That made me mad,” Acuna said. “I went to church to make sure that guy knew she had a husband.”

After a few visits to the church, Acuna trusted Christ as Savior. “That day was great,” he recalled. “I told Becky things were going to be different. Later that night, she told me she was leaving me.”

The couple went through the process of a legal divorce and were apart for almost four years, until God restored their relationship in 2005.

“I knew she was the woman I would be with the rest of my life. Even when we were divorced, I knew we would get back together, that God could restore this marriage and redeem us,” Acuna said. Slowly God did just that, even though both of them dated others during their years apart.

They began attending church with their children and decided to remarry.

“We wanted to do things right, to teach our kids it is never too late to do the right thing. The day we got married is the day we moved in together,” Acuna said.

They became active at a Baptist church, volunteering extensively as Acuna changed careers from working in a chemical plant to joining the Sweetwater Fire Department in 2007. The department sent him to earn certification as an EMT and firefighter. 

He later received an associate’s degree in biblical studies from Liberty University and said he plans to continue his education someday.

Acuna called his appointment to Avondale “definitely a God thing,” which began when he felt God calling him to preach nearly three years ago. Preaching invitations started coming and he began filling local pulpits often, frequently at Avondale. He agreed to become the church’s interim pastor in January 2018, and within a few months was asked to apply for the full-time position.

With Becky’s support, and the church’s understanding that she would remain on staff at the family’s prior church, Acuna accepted the call to Avondale.

Acuna said the time as interim gave him the confidence to agree to a permanent position. He said he felt God telling him to love the people and that God would take care of the rest.

Avondale has responded. Average weekly attendance has almost doubled from 25 to 40, and a recent Sunday night special event put on by Teen Challenge drew 110.

“The church members are so caring. They have showed me grace, love, mercy,” Acuna said.

Paul Anderson, an SBTC field ministry strategist who attended Acuna’s installation at Avondale, said of the couple: “They are both entrenched in ministry and love the Lord.”

“We never thought we would be where are now,” Becky said. “I tell kids at The S.H.O.P that God uses all kinds of people. In our weakness he is made strong.”

Acuna said 1 John 4:19 motivates him to serve: “We love because he first loved us.”

“I have so much to be thankful for.” 

SBTC DR aids windstorm victims in Panhandle and East Texas, deploys to Mississippi and Tennessee

BORGER and KILGORE—Two Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief chainsaw units deployed to assist victims of severe windstorms that swept through East Texas and the Texas Panhandle in mid-March. Work wrapped up Mon., Mar. 18, in Borger and was expected to continue at least through Mar. 22 in Kilgore.

Phil Williams led a team of seven from First Baptist Borger who responded to requests for help with downed trees from Borger residents, two of whom were widows.

Deploying near home was a new experience for Borger volunteers, who have ventured to assist victims of disasters in Houston, Hawaii, Fort Worth and Tennessee since the unit’s founding in 2016.

“You get even a more blessed feeling to be able to help your neighbors, to be able to share the gospel and show the love of God,” Williams told the TEXAN.

Williams said winds of up to 85 miles per hour were reported in the Borger area Mar. 13. “We were real fortunate. The damage was minimal compared to what it could have been,” he said.

Mrs. Micca Pyrtle returned home from visiting relatives in the Midland-Odessa area only to find a 30-foot tree in her backyard blown down. The tree took out the power lines and pulled the electric box off Pyrtle’s house.

“It was stressful enough for her just traveling with 18-wheelers blowing over on I-27 from Lubbock, but to come home to no electricity was frightening,” said Angie Mitchell, SBTC DR volunteer from Borger. Power company representatives told Pyrtle the tree would have to be removed before the power could be restored. The tree trimming service she called proved too costly and offered no guarantees regarding when the work could be performed.

The widow was desperate.

“Someone told her about us,” Mitchell said. “I went by to assess the damage and told her we would do it for no charge as soon as we finished cutting down three trees for another widow.”

SBTC DR volunteers reported to Pyrtle’s house as soon as they finished removing three 40-foot trees that wind had pushed to the front of the home of Mrs. Adelaid Kelly.

Considering Borger doesn’t have that many trees, most of the wind damage involved the loss of shingles and metal roofs, but the damage from downed trees still proved surprising, Williams said. Of Kelly’s home, Williams said the team prevented a “domino effect” of three large trees falling upon her roof.

Pyrtle approached Mitchell in tears as the team completed work on her home and prepared to leave.

“There are no words to express my thanks,” Pyrtle told Mitchell. “It doesn’t look like there was a tree there.”

“I her that we pursue excellence,” Mitchell replied. “One of the definitions of the glory of God is ‘his Excellence’ and that is why we do that.”

Seven SBTC DR volunteers from East New Hope Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant also assisted widows and other residents in Kilgore after 60-70 mile per hour straight line winds cut a swath of destruction on Mar. 14.

“We have cut a lot of trees,” said DR team leader Paul Easter.

Of the victims helped thus far, three were widows, all of whom attend church in Kilgore.

“We took a tree off one’s garage. It had crushed her pickup inside. Another house had at least four big trees down,” Easter said.

The veteran volunteer has been doing DR work for nearly 14 years, including making several trips overseas to Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Chile, Haiti, Nicaragua and Hawaii.

“We pray with everyone we help, before we start and when we leave,” Easter said of his team’s spiritual emphasis during times of disaster.

While Easter’s crew is due to leave the Kilgore area at the end of the week, SBTC DR is prepared to send a replacement team if jobs remain, Daniel White, DR task force member confirmed.

Meanwhile, a team from First Baptist Bellville led by Mike Phillips has returned from Mississippi and another from First Baptist Pflugerville led by David Dean has deployed to Powell, Tenn., in Knox County. Both teams deployed to assist flood victims in the Southeast, White said.

Ronnie Yarber on the SBTC”s formation: “We were without a place”

Editor’s note: As the SBTC continues in its 21st year, we are sharing reflections from those who laid the groundwork for a new state convention. The TEXAN interviewed Ronnie Yarber for this article, the fourth of a series.

ATHENS  Ronnie Yarber knows what it is to be a man without a theological “country.”

For Yarber, the first official employee of the fledgling Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, the issues of the inerrancy of Scripture and definition of the Cooperative Program were among the most pressing differences propelling the new group to break off from the Baptist General Convention of Texas in 1998.

“When changes began to happen in Texas because of the Conservative Resurgence, we [Texas Baptist conservatives] were like a people without a country. We were without a place,” Yarber told the TEXAN.

Yarber became the administrative director of what he called “a little protest group” that tried to persuade BGCT leaders to move to a more conservative doctrinal stance.

“The little band of protesters grew,” Yarber said, as the BGCT redefined the Cooperative Program—Southern Baptists’ shared missions funding mechanism—in 1994, diverging from the national Southern Baptist Convention.

Yarber was among five conservative leaders asked to meet with five from the BGCT at Love Field in February 1998 to see if the differences could be resolved without a split.

“All 10 men agreed by the end of the second day of meetings that we were not on the same page. We probably would not be able to work together,” Yarber said, explaining that in addition to biblical inerrancy and the nature of CP giving, the groups had different perspectives on abortion, homosexuality and the ordination of women as senior pastors.

“Regarding inerrancy, [conservatives] had the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy to go by,” Yarber said, referring to the landmark document issued 40 years ago by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. 

Conservatives objected to the ordination of a practicing homosexual deacon at Austin’s University Baptist, a church then affiliated with the BGCT. They also disagreed with the BGCT’s adoption of its Christian Life Commission’s statement on abortion, which noted five “regrettable” exceptions where abortion could be morally acceptable. Finally, the BGCT’s stance on female senior pastors was at odds with conservative views, Yarber said.

Another divisive issue was the BGCT’s continued financial support of the increasingly liberal Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs after its funding was discontinued by the national SBC. 

Yarber recalled a pamphlet distributed by the Baptist Joint Committee to Southern Baptist pastors, the topic of which was “how to overthrow the religious right in your community.” The publication alarmed Yarber, who perceived an attack against theological conservatives who saw key moral issues as having political implications. 

“It was pretty intense,” Yarber recalled of the Love Field meetings, adding that all participants prayed together and shook hands at the end of the two days.

On Nov. 19, 1998, the SBTC was constituted in Houston.

“I’ve never been angry. I was disappointed in what could have happened in Texas,” Yarber mused of the separation from the BGCT.

Yarber called the selection of Jim Richards as the new convention’s first executive director “the most major and wise decision” the SBTC made.

Yarber, then also pastor of Mesquite’s Meadow Creek Community Church (formerly Gross Road Baptist), served in multiple roles in the SBTC’s early days and maintains involvement today.

“I was Jim Richards’ assistant, then interim director of the evangelism department, interim director of the pastor-church relations department, interim editor of the newspaper [The Plumbline, forerunner to the TEXAN] and chief financial officer,” Yarber said.

He liked it all except for the CFO designation, explaining that he would take deposits to the bank at the end of each day. “I don’t crunch numbers. Numbers crunch me,” Yarber said with a laugh. 

Of the SBTC’s initial budget of $903,000 approved by messengers of 120 churches in 1998, Yarber said he and Richards both thought the number “absurd.”

“Where is this going to come from?” Yarber remembered Richards asking.

“Who knows?” Yarber answered.

But the funds did come, and the new convention maintained its resolve to give at least half to the Cooperative Program of the SBC. The SBTC’s current practice of sending 55 percent of undesignated CP receipts on to the national convention makes it the highest CP-giving state convention by percentage.

“We stay near the top of all state conventions in total giving, too,” Yarber said. “Did the national CP lose money when the SBTC formed? I think not.”

Today, Yarber and his wife of 59 years, Carol, live on farmland 10 miles from Athens. Yarber continues his work with the SBTC, visiting with churches that express interest in affiliating with the convention.

He estimates that he has conducted just shy of 1,000 informational meetings for churches and groups of churches since 1998, including three in late February and early March.

Yarber said he does not try to persuade a church to leave one convention for another, or even to opt for dual affiliation.

“Do not split your church over the question,” he advises pastors. 

As for Carol, “she has been a jewel” and a “prayer warrior,” Yarber said, adding, “I listen to her when she speaks. I know she walks with the Lord. I’d be a fool not to listen to her. She’s been my blessed help.”

REVIEW “Apollo 11” is a splendid celebration of achievement and God”s creation

Apollo 11’s mission to the moon was among the greatest achievements in world history, but — sadly — it wasn’t captured with today’s high-definition video cameras.

Instead, we’re left only with grainy footage showing Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon and Walter Cronkite describing the action.

Then again … maybe not.

A new documentary, appropriately named Apollo 11 (G), brings that 50-year-old mission to life thanks to a newly discovered batch of 65mm film and more than 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio recordings — most of which we’ve never seen or heard.

The result is a 90-minute movie that nearly has the appearance of being filmed yesterday and makes you feel like you’re living in 1969.

It’s among the best documentaries I’ve seen and — minus two moments of coarse language — is squeaky-clean for the entire family.

It was directed and edited by Todd Douglas Miller, who is best known for his work on another documentary, Dinosaur 13. He said he wanted to avoid using the footage the public already had seen.

“I’m such a fan of space films, and when we started this project, I was seeing everything again ad nauseum, so I knew what was out there,” he told the entertainment site MoveableFest.com.

Miller succeeded in his quest. For example, the iconic black-and-white film of Armstrong stepping down the ladder isn’t even in the movie. Instead, we watch a color film that was recorded inside the lunar lander by his crewmate, Buzz Aldrin.

The rest of Apollo 11 follows a similar pattern, as we enjoy never-before-broadcast footage of event after event. Instead of grainy television footage of the launch, we’re treated to an up-close 65mm footage of the rocket lifting from the pad and piercing the clouds. That alone is worth the price of admission.  

The movie also succeeds because it has no narrator. We only hear the astronauts, the Mission Control workers, and, of course, Cronkite. His booming, nostalgic voice sets the tone.

“It’s three hours and 32 minutes until man begins the greatest adventure in his history,” Cronkite says at the beginning “If all goes well, Apollo 11 astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins are to lift off from pad 39A out there, on the voyage man has always dreamed about.”

At the beginning of the movie, we watch the mammoth Saturn V rocket make its way to the launchpad on the crawler-transporter. Later, we see the astronauts donning their suits and climbing into the capsule. The movie ends with the world celebrating their return.

Yet it’s the miniscule details, recorded on once-forgotten footage the day of the launch, that makes the documentary entertaining: Americans drinking coffee on the beach, lining up at concession stands, waking up in a Florida campground, and cramming together on a hotel balcony — all ready to see history being made. It happened when coffee was 5 cents, beehive hairstyles were in, and everyone wore crazy-looking glasses. (Yes, those details are in the film, too.)

Apollo 11 is a must-see film for those who lived through it and those who are just learning about it in school. It’s inspiring and educational, and it contains a few edge-of-your-seat moments you likely didn’t expect. It’s a celebration of achievement, teamwork and our shared humanity.

It also raises a few worldview questions, led by Buzz Aldrin’s pronouncement that the mission was a symbol of the “insatiable curiosity of all mankind to explore the unknown.” But why do we have this insatiable desire to explore? Perhaps it’s because God planted within us a hunger to discover what’s out there. Perhaps it’s because God’s universe is so incredible it’s worth exploring. Or perhaps it’s because we have the imago dei — the image of God — that gives us the ability to build rockets and learn more about what God’s creation.

Whatever the reason, Apollo 11 is worth watching.

Discussion questions

  1. Why do you think mankind has the desire to explore the unknown?
  2. Was the Apollo 11 mission worth the cost?
  3. What do you remember about Apollo 11? Where were you? (For children: Ask a parent or grandparent what they remember about the mission.)

Content warnings: The film contains no violence or sexuality and two coarse words (h-ll heard in the John Stewart song Mother Country, and a muffled “d–n” by Collins from space when he says he feel “d–n good.”

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Apollo 11 is rated G.