Month: December 2019

“Little Women” is fun, family-friendly and full of life lessons

Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth Marsh are just like any quartet of sisters you’ve ever met.

They play. They laugh. They fight. They forgive.

Most of all, they love one another despite their differences — differences that include their views on singleness. And on this subject, Jo is the loudest voice.

When Meg wants to get married, Jo tries to talk her out of it. When a long-time suitor proposes to Jo, she rebuffs his advances. When a second man pursues her, she pushes him away, too.

Jo wants to be a published novelist — and she has no desire to spend the rest of her life with another man.

“I love my liberty too well to be in a hurry to give it up,” she tells one of the men.

Will she stay single forever?

The latest rendition of Little Women (PG) opened in theaters this week, starring Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) as Jo, Emma Watson (Beauty and the Beast) as Meg, Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth) as Amy, and Eliza Scanlen as Beth. Laura Dern (Jurassic Park) plays the mother known as Marmee, and Meryl Streep (Out of Africa, The Iron Lady) plays Aunt March.

The film is based on the famous Louisa May Alcott novel which has been made into several films, including a 1994 one that was nominated for three Oscars and a 2018 one set in modern times. This version is set during the 1860s, just like Alcott’s book was.

The movie mostly stays true to the story and spirit of the book and, thankfully, remains family-friendly, too. It’s thought-provoking, funny, and just plain fun.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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


Minimal. Two of the sisters get into a heated argument. (“I will hate her forever.”) Later, a sister falls through a frozen pond and nearly drowns.


Minimal. We see two or three kisses. Aunt March briefly references a “cat house.” At a ball, a few of the dresses display cleavage.

Coarse Language

None/minimal. Perhaps one OMG, but if so, it’s muffled.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

A main character dies. We see characters drink alcohol.

Life Lessons

Life is like a vapor: The girls looks forward to adulthood. But once they’re older, they look back fondly at their younger years. (“I can’t believe childhood is over,” Jo says.) 

It’s better to give than to receive: The girls, prompted by Marmee, donate much of their Christmas food to an impoverished neighbor.

Families have a special bond: The sisters have major disagreements but always forgive and support one another. (“Life is too short to be angry,” Jo says.)


Little Womenis a story about life’s great blessings: family, sisterhood and friendship, among them. It celebrates the little moments in life and the big ones, too.

Its primary theme, though, spotlights the choices we make and the paths we follow. It is here that the women travel in different directions.

“Just because my dreams are different than yours doesn’t mean they’re unimportant,” Meg tells Jo when the latter belittles the concept of marriage.

The film gives us two endings — the traditional one that we expect and a new alternative ending. (Jo — apparently representing Alcott — discusses a new book titled Little Women with a publisher, who asks why the main character isn’t married. When she gives an explanation, he demands that she have the main character wed.)

Fans of Little Women often debate Jo’s attitude about life. Is she tooindependent? Or is she simply a woman of the future?

The Christian, though, must ask a different question when facing life’s forks in the road: What does God want? That’s the only opinion that matters.

Final Verdict

The target audience might be female, but Little Women is a fun film with universal themes. It’s one I enjoyed — and can endorse.

Discussion Questions

1. What does Little Women teach us about anger, forgiveness and friendship? Could you have forgiven Amy?

2. Should Jo have married Laurie? Which ending do you prefer?

4. Which character do you most identify with?

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

Little Women is rated PG for thematic elements and brief smoking.

“Spies in Disguise” is “Mission Impossible” ¦ for kids

Lance Sterling is the world’s coolest spy. He also happens to be the world’s bestspy.

He fights crime in a tuxedo without sweating a drop. He escapes from a room of bad guys with a flip of the wrist. And his exploits are often accompanied by funky background music.

He’s a spy who (seemingly) can do no wrong. That is, until a villain named Killian gets involved.

Killian frames Sterling for a major crime. Even worse, he uses a cloning device so that Sterling’s face is seen on video at the scene.

Suddenly, Lance Sterling goes from the world’s best spy to a criminal on the run.

Sterling needs someone to help him. But who?

The animated children’s movie Spies in Disguise (PG) opened in theaters this week, telling the story of a debonair spy who befriends a quirky-but-brilliant young scientist named Walter Beckett, who was recently fired from his job and is looking for work. Unfortunately, though, Sterling accidentally drinks the wrong potion in Beckett’s home lab and is turned into a talking pigeon. While that might help him get away from law enforcement until he finds Killian, it also hampers his spying skills — not to mention his suave style.

It stars Will Smith (Men In Black series) as Sterling, Tom Holland (Spider-Man series) as Beckett, Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy series) as Eyes, and Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One) as Killian.

Spies In Disguiseis a funny and entertaining Mission Impossible-type film that has positive messages about being different and not fitting in, although it also has a couple of elements (including partial male nudity and violence) that might trouble some parents.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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


Moderate. The movie, like most films in this genre, includes tons of punching, kicking and fighting, although much of it is just off-camera. Still, a few scenes may trouble children, including one in which Killian dangles a man over a cliff and drops him, presumably to his death. A character is tased. Killian is mostly a normal-looking guy, although at one point he changes his faces to reveal a past injury (half his face was burned).

The film also contains lines normally not heard in a film aimed at children. (“I’m going to show you pain”; “over my dead body.”)

We learn Walter’s mother, a police officer, previously was killed.


Minimal/moderate. One of the film’s bad guys is a muscular, overweight man named Kimura. In one scene, we see him fully naked from behind. (Tattoos cover his body, including his buttocks.) We see partial views of his posterior once or twice more.

We see a woman in a bikini near a beach.

The opening scene includes a song, Freak of Nature (by Mark Ronson), with suggestive lyrics. 

We hear jokes about a bird’s posterior.

Coarse Language

None/minimal. No coarse language, although we hear “suck,” “shut up”and an unfinished“I’m gonna kick some ….”

Life Lessons

Different can be good: Beckett’s mother tells him in the opening scene that the “world needs weird” — and that, someday, his ideas will make an impact.

Parenting is worth it: As a child, Beckett often makes messes and tests his mom’s patience. Yet he grows up to be a brilliant scientist. 

Don’t live life ‘solo’: Sterling tells everything he doesn’t need help. He flies solo. Eventually, though, he realizes he needs help. 


Is different and weird always good? No. But can it be good? Of course. Often, it’s the kids who are different that change the world for the better.

Beckett tells his mother that “school is boring and the kids think I’m weird,” but she encourages him and says his unique mind will make an impact on society.

Christian parents can apply this theme to the spiritual realm, too. The Bible says God’s people are to be set apart and holy. They are to be different. Sometimes, children (and adults) face enormous pressure to “fit in” to a sinful world. But God is the only audience that matters.   

Final Verdict

I watched Spies in Disguise with my 11-year-old son, who loved it. It contains elements that might trouble younger viewers — and one or two elements that should have been left out — but as an animated espionage film, it’s fun.

Discussion Questions

1. What should Sterling have done when he was faced with arrest?

2. Have you ever felt different from others, like Walter felt?

3. What does the Bible say about being different?

4. When is “weird” and “different” not OK? 

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

Rated PG for action, violence, and rude humor.

REVIEW: A spoiler-free parent’s guide to “Rise of Skywalker”

I didn’t make it to the first Star Wars film in 1977—I was too young to go—but I was there in 1980 for The Empire Strikes Backand in 1983 for Return of the Jedi.

I still remember the shock in Empire when Luke Skywalker learned he was the son of the evil Dark Vader and, in the next movie, a similar shock when Darth saved Luke from an imminent death.

Back then, I didn’t have to worry about blogs and tweets and text messages spoiling the plot. As long as I didn’t pick up the newspaper or read a copy of Time magazine I was in the clear.

Today, though it’s a near-miracle if you don’t know the plot of a major film before you see it. And that, of course, spoils the fun.

Still, it can be helpful for a parent to know the general direction of a film. A movie for a tween might not be appropriate for a kindergartner.

That’s where this review can be beneficial. I’ll warn you about the major content problems of the latest Star Warsfilm, The Rise of Skywalker (PG-13)—the violence, the language and that same-sex kiss—without spoiling the plot or revealing names of characters.   

And if you stick around to the end, I’ll also tell you if I liked it and where it ranks in my list of Star Warsfilms.

Ready? Let’s go.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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


Moderate. Rise of Skywalker includes nearly (if not as much) violent and disturbing content as Revenge of the Sith. Two or three scenes are not only visually dark (read: spooky) but dark in tone, as well. The final scene is far darker than the final scene in Return of the Jedi.

One or two characters are particularly wicked-looking (and we see details in their faces during scary scenes). If you’re wanting context: I watched the film with my 11-year-old son but would not want my 4-year-old child to see it.     

Of course, it contains typical Star Wars violence: multiple light saber battles, laser gun fights and space explosions. We see lifeless bodies on the ground. We see light sabers puncture abdomens. We also see a bloodless alien head’s sitting on a table. Further, we see a flashback to a child being taken from his/her parents. 


Minimal. Rise of Skywalker breaks new ground by showing us a same-sex kiss, although it occurs between two nameless characters and is quick. Here are the details: The final third of the film includes a battle scene won by the Resistance. Pilots climb out of their fighter planes to celebrate (much like in A New Hope), and we see multiple scenes in quick succession. One of those scenes includes two women smiling and kissing. It lasts perhaps a full second and is in the middle of the screen, with other characters surrounding them. I noticed it easily, but I was looking for it. If you’re looking down at your popcorn or checking your text messages, you might miss it. Moments later, we see the two women holding hands on the edge of the screen. That, too, could be easily missed.

The film also contains a kiss between a man and a woman.

It’s also worth noting that Rey’s costumes throughout this latest trilogy stay in the family-friendly realm—and for that, Disney should be commended. (In the previous two trilogies, Princess Leia and then Padme wore costumes that showed too much skin.)

Coarse Language

Minimal. Here is what I counted: h– (3), d–n (2) and a– (1). Most of it is spoken by Poe.


The Star Wars universe, of course, includes elements of pantheism, the unbiblical belief that holds that everything and everyone is “god.” (Hinduism and some strands of Buddhism are pantheistic.) In Rise of Skywalker, we hear of “life” transferring from one character to another. We also, for the first time, see someone healed using the force.

There is no personal God in the Star Wars universe – something that might be worth discussing on the ride home.


McDonald’s, General Mills, Samsung Mobile, Dannon, Bose, GE appliances, Porsche and United Airlines.

Final Verdict

Rise of Skywalker is a great ending to a trilogy that has received plenty of criticism. But it’s a trilogy I enjoyed. I will tentatively place it at No. 4 on my list of favorite Star Wars films:

1a. The Empire Strikes Back, 1b. A New Hope, 3. The Force Awakens, 4. The Rise of Skywalker, 5. The Last Jedi, 6. Return of the Jedi, 7a. Rogue One, 7b. Solo, 9. Revenge of the Sith, 10. The Phantom Menace, 11. Attack of the Clones.

Entertainment rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action.

2020 Vision

I am often asked, “What is your vision for the future of the SBTC?” Or,Where do you see yourself in five years?” My answer is usually disappointing because I don’t have something new. I do have goals. I do have expectations. There are milestones I want to reach. There are mountains I want to climb. It is not important that I have a “vision” for the future. It is the revelation of God’s Word that sets the priorities for the future.

Proverbs 29:18 in the King James Version says, “Where there is no vision the people perish…” This mistranslation has caused many misapplications. All the newer translations render the phrase much differently. Even the New King James Version gets it right, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” What the wise writer of Proverbs was conveying is that when there is no clear word from God people will live rebelliously. It is not someone’s imaginative ideas that should drive us in the New Year. The Word of God will guide us.

Personally, you can never get away from Christianity 101. Private devotional time, witnessing, tithing and the basics of a believer areto be repeated year after year after year. Professionally, there are principles that guide an organization or church. The SBTC’s core values of being biblicallybased, kingdomfocused and missionallydriven (by the Cooperative Program) cannot change. If they do, the SBTC will no longer be the SBTC but something else. Can the SBTC improve in serving the churches? Yes! Are there methods that have to change in order to adjust to culture and demographics? Yes! Whatever is done to address the future has to be based on the unchanging Word of God. 

Twenty-twenty vision is a term used to express normal visual acuity (the clarity or sharpness of vision) measured at a distance of 20 feet. If you have 20/20 vision, you can see clearly at 20 feet what should normally be seen at that distance. If you have 20/100 vision, it means that you must be as close as 20 feet to see what a person with normal vision can see at 100 feet. Having 20/20 vision does not necessarily mean you have perfect vision.  Having great goals or inpiring ideas will not necessarily give you a “Happy New Year”. Only the Word of God can give you a perfect path for the future. As we start a new year in 2020, get perfect vision for your path by staying with the Word of God.  

Volunteers needed to supervise college students rebuilding homes and churches over spring break

VIDOR—Volunteers are needed for spring break projects to help rebuild homes and churches in the Tropical Storm Imelda disaster area. SBTC Disaster Relief is partnering with the North American Mission Board, Nehemiah’s Vision and Texas Relief to place volunteer teams throughout the region covering the four weeks of Feb. 29 – March 6, March 7-13, March 14-20 and March 21-27.

Each volunteer will supervise a team of college students as they work to rebuild a specific project in Jefferson County and Orange County. Nehemiah’s Vision, a local ministry, will select the projects, determine specifications for the work with homeowners, prepare permits and deliver all materials to the site.

Types of work for which students will be trained include hanging dry wall, installing insulation, painting, general cleanup, lawn care and landscaping, furniture installation and flooring.

Supervisors need to have completed DR training and hold valid ID credentials, be familiar with and skilled in the type of work assigned, able to supervise college students and seek to make the entire experience fun while satisfying homeowners. Supervisors are primarily responsible for making sure the students are working safely and that the work is accomplished in an adequate fashion.

Housing of volunteer supervisors will be provided at First Baptist Church of Vidor in the SBTC DR bunkhouse units. Meals, as well as showers and laundry facilities will be provided on site. Personal RVs may be brought with prior permission. 

Teams will arrive on Saturday, attend church on Sunday morning and begin work Sunday afternoon. Work continues Tuesday through Thursday with teams leaving after breakfast on Friday.

For more information contact SBTC DR at 817-552-2500 and Wally Leyerle will respond to answer any questions.

Houston pastor Gregg Matte”s newest book calls Christians to be “difference makers”

When Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston in August 2017, Gregg Matte and his congregation at Houston’s First Baptist Church were faced with a question: “Can we make a difference?”

As the church members sought to serve and provide relief to their neighbors, many who lost nearly everything in the storm, Matte guided his church to understand that they were called for such an occasion. If everyone could make at least a little difference, it would multiply into significant results throughout Houston.

In his new book, Difference Makers: How to Live a Life of Influence and Purpose, Matte shows readers through various Bible stories that there are all kinds of difference makers who, if led by the Holy Spirit, can bring gospel change to their world.

“Deep in every heart is a desire to make a difference. We want to live a life of impact and purpose, not just pass the time,” Matte said. “My desire is that Difference Makers would inspire and equip each reader to make a true difference in the lives of those they intersect with every day at home, school or the office.”

LifeWay is also releasing a six-session Bible study, as well as an album of songs written and performed by the music ministry at Houston’s First Baptist Church, both titled Difference Makers and available at 

“Jumanji: The Next Level” is an adventure (but it’s not kid-friendly)

Eddie is an aging grandfather who dislikes everything about growing old.

He hates retirement. He hates his lack of mobility. He hates the fact that he’s now living with his daughter — even if it’s temporary following his hip surgery.

He also hates the fact that his college-aged grandson, Spencer, isn’t living life with joy during his younger years. The latter dislikes his direction in life, too.

“This is the best time of your life,” the grandfather tells the grandson. “Pull it together… It’s all downhill from here.”

Both men could use an attitude adjustment. Better yet, they could use a few days living life in a more demanding part of the world — just so they can appreciate what they have.

Would life inside a video game do the trick? Spencer plays the magical Jumanji cartridge game in his basement and gets sucked into an imaginary world of bad guys and dangerous animals. He also gets lost. Eddie, too, gets pulled into the game, and he soon realizes his life back in the real world wasn’t so bad after all.

But will they ever get out?

The film Jumanji: The Next Level (PG-13) opens this weekend, continuing the story from 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, in which four high schoolers — Spencer, Fridge, Martha and Bethany — accidentally get pulled into a video game world and must fight for survival in order to make it back to reality. Each character also is transported into the body of their avatar.

In The Next Level, they’re still friends but are now in college. The plot takes a turn when an insecure Spencer decides he wants to be the tall, muscular hero he was during his previous visit into the video game. Unfortunately for him, his new avatar is a short woman.

Wanting to find their friend, Fridge and Martha then intentionally enter the video game world but accidentally take Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his estranged business partner Milo (Danny Glover) with them. The foursome’s goal is to find Spencer — and also to find a jewel that will allow them to “win” the game and get back to the real world.

The film stars Dwayne Johnson (Moana), Kevin Hart (The Secret Life of Pets series), Karen Gillan (Avengers: Endgame, The Guardians of the Galaxy series) and Jack Black (Nacho Libre) as the four avatars.

Jumanji: The Next Level delivers fun action and several positive messages, but is marred with strong language (including multiple uses of GD) and jokes about the male and female anatomy. Then there’s the not-so-small issue of Gillan’s skimpy clothes. (Welcome to the Junglehad the same problems.)

The new Jumanji franchise may be aimed at tweens and kids, but sadly is not family-friendly.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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


Moderate. The film is filled with video game-like scenes that are intended for laughs, but nevertheless might frighten little ones. A herd of ostriches chases the foursome in the desert and nearly eats them. (Our heroes escape in a jeep.) Eddie’s avatar, the muscular Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), punches dozens of people, sending them flying through the air. Characters often “die” but quickly come back to life. (Each character has three “lives” — just like in a video game.) A bad man named Jurgen the Brutal threatens to cut off peoples’ heads. Mandrills attack our heroes as they try and cross a series of suspension bridges. 


Moderate. Like in Welcome to the Jungle, Gillan wears a skimpy midriff-baring outfit — although this time, she gets a new set of clothes for the latter third of the movie. We see two (somewhat passionate) kisses. We hear an uncomfortable joke about eunuchs and the male anatomy, and another joke about bosoms. Trust me: If you bring kids, you’ll be uncomfortable.

Coarse Language

Moderate/extreme. H-ll (24), OMG (12), GD (7), d–n (3), a– (2), s–t (2), misuse of “Christ” (1), SOB (1).

Other Positive Elements

It’s obvious that Spencer’s mother loves him — and that she loves her father (Eddie), too. The film continues its predecessor’s critique of cliques. (The four young adults are very different but remain friends.)  

The movie’s closing message about reconciliation and family is a good one.

Life Lessons

Growing old is a gift: Eddie learns this the hard way, and at the end of the film repents of his bad attitude.  

Contentment is the answer: Eddie and Spencer are anything but content when the film opens. By the time the credits role, they correct their errors.

The grass is always greener: Spencer has low self-esteem and wants to be someone else. Eventually, he learns to appreciate who he already was. 

Forgiveness brings joy: Eddie and his former partnership Milo are mad at one another for a past misdeed, but eventually are reconciled. 


For all its problems,The Next Level tackles a significant issue — self-worth — and it does so by giving everyone new bodies. What if it were literally possible to walk in someone else’s shoes — to feel their emotions and think their thoughts? Just like the movie, we could gain a greater appreciation for who we are.

We are sinful creatures who often crave what we don’t have. Spencer desired a different job, a new body and a new life.

The faith-based film Overcomer covered the same theme earlier this year, and it did so in a family-friendly way. Our self-worth and self-identity are found in Christ (Ephesians 1-2) — and not in our jobs, our families or our hobbies. No matter what happens in life, we are loved by God.  


Walmart, Zaxby’s, Uber, Pop-Secret.

Final Verdict

The Next Level has plenty of fun moments. Sadly, it contains too much language and edgy jokes to win my endorsement.

Discussion Questions

1. What is the key to self-worth? What does the Bible say about who you are?

2. Why wasn’t Spencer content?

3. What can the Jumanji series teach us about cliques and friendship?

4. What did Eddie learn about growing old?

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some language.

Rural ministry more rewarding than expected, pastor says

MAYHILL, N.M. —Rural ministry was not what pastor Matt Henslee envisioned for himself when he was growing up in the DFW Metroplex, but it’s where God led him, and now he loves it. He’s urging other pastors to consider that God does some of his best work in rural settings.

As pastor of Mayhill Baptist Church in Mayhill, N.M., Henslee wrote Replanting Rural Churches: God’s Plan and Call for the Middle of Nowhere with another rural southern New Mexico pastor, Kyle Bueermann of First Baptist Church in Alamogordo.

Henslee was on the front row of his church in Grand Prairie from the age of 2, he said, and was saved at age 7. He was discipled by an associate pastor, visiting hospitals and nursing homes weekly until he was a teenager. In high school, he interned in the worship ministry at a church in Fort Worth and then served a church in Irving that met in a funeral home.

“Later I returned to Grand Prairie to be the student pastor and after school director at Westridge Baptist Church, which is where I’d also meet Rebecca, who later became my wife the day before I went in view of a call as the pastor of worship and children at a church quite literally in the middle of nowhere, Josephine, Texas,” Henslee told the TEXAN.

“I fell in love with rural life and would later become the associate pastor at First Baptist Church Blue Ridge, which didn’t have much more than a gas station, grocery store and a Mexican food restaurant that was rarely open.”

He ended up back in Grand Prairie as the pastor of students and education at Inglewood Baptist Church, and he and Rebecca adopted four girls through foster care.

“It was then that I sensed God calling me to the pastorate and we moved to Pipe Creek, Texas, about 35 to 40 miles outside of San Antonio,” Henslee said. “A little over two years later, I found myself choking back tears as I left to serve in Mayhill.” He has been in New Mexico for more than two years.

Along the way, Henslee earned a master of divinity at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Now he’s working on a doctorate in expository preaching at Southwestern, and along with pastoring serves as managing editor of LifeWay Pastors, a division of Facts & Trends.

“Pastoring in small, rural towns requires creativity to reach people with the good news,” Henslee said. “In Pipe Creek, I did all of my studying at a mom and pop coffee shop in town, which allowed me to meet folks passing through, tell them about Jesus and invite them to church. We grew from about 40 to just over 100 in worship during my time there.

“In Mayhill, I do something similar. I often read outside the local café, where I’ll evangelize and invite people to church. We’ve grown from about the same to as many as 170 in worship in a town of not much more than 60 to 70.”

A welcome difference Henslee noticed right away when he moved to Josephine years ago was how quiet rural life was compared to the city. The slower pace helps him slow down spiritually, he said, and the hour-long trips to make hospital visits give him time to pray, unwind or make phone calls.

Certainly there are downsides to living so far out, he said, such as when his family runs out of sugar and must either travel an hour each way to the store or go to the nearest neighbor to ask for sugar. In rural America, neighbors rely on each other more, Henslee said.

Also, in Josephine, he noticed a farmer might invite him out to toss hay or some other task, which provided several hours of quality time talking with the farmer about life, marriage and spiritual matters while working together. “You can’t really do that in the city with a banker,” he said.

Henslee’s daughters “absolutely love” living in Mayhill and often spend their family days hiking in the mountains. “They have more fun doing that than when we would spend a day baking in the sun at Six Flags,” he said.

Bueermann, Henslee’s coauthor, grew up in tiny Tahoka, Texas, and didn’t think he wanted to pastor a small town church once he finished school, Henslee said, but it turns out he is passionate about ministering in Alamogordo after following God and falling in love with the New Mexico culture.

“Never in a million years would I have thought that this is where I would like to be for the duration of my ministry,” Henslee said.

SBTC DR feeding teams assist at Austin homeless encampment

AUSTIN   Residents at Austin’s new 5-acre homeless encampment at Hwy. 183 and Montopolis Drive near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport may have been uprooted from familiar surroundings under the city’s 17 overpasses, but they are not going hungry, thanks to volunteers from various charities and faith-based groups, including Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief.

Acting on orders from Gov. Greg Abbott, TxDOT crews began clearing Austin homeless camps in early November, a response to the city’s relaxation of ordinances prohibiting sleeping and camping in public spaces.

The state encampment, which includes hand-washing stations and portable restrooms, is temporary, until Austin leaders develop a permanent solution to the city’s homelessnessproblem.

SBTC DR involvement came following a mid-November phone call to Scottie Stice, SBTC DR director, from Mario Chapa who is the state mass care coordinator at the Texas Department of Emergency Management.

Chapa was looking for Austin-area ministries to prepare meals, Stice told the TEXAN. After supplying the names of Baptist churches and associations, Stice mentioned SBTC DR’s quick response kitchen.

“The QR can help you out in a pinch,” Stice told Chapa, who requested assistance for the first week of December.

QR veterans Connie and Ronnie Roark of Salem-Sayers Baptist Church near San Antonio, joined by Delpha and Doug Cates of Pampa’s Top O’ Texas Baptist Association, deployed the weekend following Thanksgiving and are expected to stay through Monday, Dec. 9.

“Our unit relieved the Salvation Army’s kitchen. The Salvation Army will relieve us Monday and TBM will come after that,” Stice said, calling the ministry a “shared opportunity until things come online in a more permanent way,” adding that SBTC DR is pleased to support Texas emergency management and will return if requested.

The QR volunteers are being housed at First Baptist Pflugerville.

Currently, only about 40 residents have set up housekeeping at the state site, claiming space inside covered former vehicle bays forming a horseshoe inside the paved, fenced grounds. Some set up tents outside the bays. Many arrived via public transportation, while others drove cars to the encampment and sleep in their vehicles.

Many seem distressed at being displaced, the Roarks said.

“This [camp] is an option that’s been opened up for them to come. … They are allowed to come and go if they don’t like it,” Ronnie Roark said. “There’s a mixture of feelings. The underpass—that was their life. They were told you can no longer stay here. You have to go someplace else. Even though we may not think of that as a disaster, it’s a disaster to them.”

The residents are forming their own governments and social rules, Connie added. Last Sunday, some Austin residents brought furniture, pictures and home décor items to the camp, which residents took to brighten up their spaces.

Despite misgivings about their new circumstances, no one is complaining about the food.

All seem grateful for the three meals a day the DR crews are providing: a hot breakfast of biscuits, gravy and sausage, or breakfast tacos, a sack lunch and a hot dinner, along with plenty of coffee.

Pot roast, rice and vegetables comprised the supper menu Dec. 5.

Spiritual connections fill casual conversations.

“We pray before serving meals. This was unusual for some of them,” Ronnie said, adding that one resident asked if he could ask the blessing one night and “did a beautiful job.”

Many residents brought pet dogs to the encampment. Lori, who had seemed unapproachable, asked Connie to pray for her dog with a hurt foot. Connie did and Lori’s countenance softened. She became open and friendly.

It’s a hard life: for some, a life they have chosen; for others, one that has been thrust upon them.

“We try to share forgiveness with them,” Connie said, explaining that the team places Christian tracts in the sack lunches. Many residents read these, approaching the crew to talk.

“I couldn’t make it if I wasn’t a Christian,” one man said. Released from prison, he said he was still too ashamed to go home.

His was a story oft repeated to the volunteers.

“They know God has forgiven them, but they don’t know how to get forgiveness from their families,” Connie said.

Initially, some of the residents seemed wary or suspicious of the SBTC DR feeding crew.

“Once they found out what we were, their attitudes changed,” Connie said. “They became very welcoming and appreciative.”

Doug Cates added, chuckling, “On the lighter side, I can tell that all these people here are Baptist because they respond to food.”

Cates added that the deployment, though small, is providing opportunities for him and his wife to learn best practices regarding the use of the QR kitchen, since Top O’ Texas has recently acquired one.

“Not only are we doing missionary work with the feeding, but hopefully we also are building relationships [with state agencies] that will be great on down the road,” Ronnie said.

Meanwhile, the city of Austin continues to search for solutions to the problems of homelessness. The Austin city council recently approved the purchase of the South Austin Rodeway Inn for use as a homeless shelter and released a memo concerning plans to purchase other available Austin hotels for that purpose.

A Baptist Woman in Ministry

The most influential Southern Baptist woman in ministry gave her life in service to Christ. Lottie Moon was an affluent, highly-educated linguist from Virginia whose testimony reads like something from a novel. But in her case, the facts were far greater than fiction.

While Lottie Moon demonstrated little to no interest in Christianity during her early years, a revival sermon on her college campus, preached by Southern Baptist legend John Broadus (one of the founders of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), changed her life.

When she was still a college student, Moon met Crawford Toy, a brilliant young Baptist Hebrew teacher, and the two eventually planned to get married. Toy, however, had been influenced by Darwinism, and his theology grew more heavily informed by German liberalism, embroiling him in controversy while he taught at Southern Seminary. Eventually Professor Toy left Southern Baptist life, became a Unitarian, and taught at Harvard. Lottie Moon’s convictions about the trustworthiness of the Bible and her commitment to Christ wouldn’t allow her to go through with the wedding plans. She never married. Her heart, instead, was set on missions.

In spite of her marital status, in an unusual move, especially for the late 19th century, the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board commissioned Moon to go to China as a missionary. She would spend the rest of her life in ministry there.

Eventually, missionary funding and personnel support became slow in coming. Lottie Moon gave her last dollars and most of her food to the hungry Chinese people in her care, all the while pleading with the mission board and stateside churches for more missionaries and more support.

Lottie Moon was exhausted and starving, but she refused to go home. Finally, unable to care for herself, others put her aboard a ship headed for the States. She weighed fifty pounds. Two weeks after leaving China, while docked in a port in Japan, Lottie Moon died. It was Christmas Eve 1912. She had been in China for nearly four decades.

During her selfless life, Lottie Moon’s tireless efforts on the field and persistent letter-writing to the States appealing for more missionaries and more funding stirred greater interest in missions. The circumstances and timing of her death only fueled the missionary zeal of Baptist women eager to get the gospel to the world. As a result, for more than a century the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has funneled $4.5 billion to world missions. Half of the International Mission Board’s budget for missions comes from the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and every penny given goes directly to missions.

I urge our Southern Baptists of Texas churches to tell her story and give generously this year. In addition, we preachers should call out the next generation of missionaries to answer the call to missions. The men and women with the call to go will come from our churches. Some of them are now teenage boys and girls or younger, sitting in our services every Sunday. Is there another Lottie Moon in your youth group?

The sacrificial life of Lottie Moon is a biography worth repeating and a ministry worth emulating. As Southern Baptists of Texas, our churches can and should lead by example in giving generously and sacrificially to international missions. This year let’s send a strong signal of support that the SBTC wants to be a big part of sending the gospel, and more missionaries, to the nations.