Month: July 2021

Missions education pays off for fifth and sixth graders with IMB tour

Paul Chitwood, IMB president, greets a group of fifth and sixth graders touring the IMB headquarters in Richmond, Virginia.

Paul Chitwood, IMB president, greets a group of fifth and sixth graders touring the IMB headquarters in Richmond, Virginia.

Staff of the International Mission Board showed their enthusiasm while hosting a group of fifth and sixth graders from Southern Hills Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The children visited the IMB headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, as a reward for completing eight mission projects during the 2020-2021 school year. The eight projects included interviewing a missionary, writing a report on a country, writing a book report on a missionary biography and learning key phrases in another language. Southern Hills paid for each child’s travel, which also included a trip to the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C., once the children completed all eight projects.

During their tour of the IMB headquarters, a group of fifth and sixth graders from Southern Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma pause to look through Every Nation, Tribe, People and Language, IMB’s commemorative coffee table book.

A group of fifth and sixth graders from Oklahoma stop by the studio on their tour of the IMB headquarters.

While on a tour of the IMB headquarters, Kaleb Reyes, a student from Southern Hills Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, looks at a photo in the IMB archives.

Kaleb Reyes, one of the children who toured the building, shared why he thinks the IMB is important.

“I think the IMB is important because it can help a lot of people who want to do missions but they do not have the resources to.”

Addilyn Wright added, “There’s a lot of people out there [who don’t know Jesus] and you don’t want to keep Jesus all to yourself. You want to share Jesus with everyone so they can know him.”

Ann Lovell, former IMB missionary and current internal communications director for IMB, poses with a group of kids from Southern Hills Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Lovell wrote a missionary biography on Dr. Bill Wallace.

As the children toured the IMB building with their parents, the missions’ pastor and the children’s pastor from Southern Hills, they learned about the different departments at the IMB and the roles they play in supporting missionaries and continuing gospel advancement. The fifth and sixth graders were able to meet Paul Chitwood, IMB president, and other IMB staff who answered their questions about missions.

During a tour of the IMB headquarters, Allison Wiles, a student from Southern Hills Baptist Church, stops to look at IMB photos.

Jacob Steward, children’s pastor of Southern Hills, explained why Southern Hills emphasizes missions at an early age.

“It’s really important for kids to learn about missions because a lot of their decisions are made when they’re kids,” he said. “We want to prepare them from the time they are young to go out into the world and share Jesus with people.”



Want to visit the IMB headquarters? Email to learn more! 

Catherine Finch is a writer for IMB.

The post Missions education pays off for fifth and sixth graders with IMB tour appeared first on IMB.

Southern Baptists persist in the fight against human trafficking

NASHVILLE (BP) – Southern Baptists continue to fight against human trafficking worldwide as the issue is acknowledged by the United Nations on World Day Against Trafficking in Persons today, July 30.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. Recently, the United Nations Global Report on Trafficking in Persons indicated there were nearly 50,000 detected victims of human trafficking in 2018. The U.S. Department of State estimates there are actually 24.9 million victims of human trafficking worldwide at any given time, whether reported or not.

Human Trafficking is defined by the United Nations Trafficking in Persons Protocol as “the recruitment, transport, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.”

Traffickers have various purposes for their victims, including commercial sexual activity (sex trafficking) or forced labor. Many of the cases of trafficking in the Western part of the world are related to sex trafficking.

Sex trafficking remains a large problem in the United States. The National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that of the 11,500 cases of human trafficking in 2019, more than 8,000 involving sex trafficking. Trafficking experts say the COVID-19 pandemic increased the number of people who could be vulnerable to sex trafficking.

Southern Baptists are actively fighting against this worldwide evil year-round, not just on World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.

Kay Bennett is one of the North American Mission Board’s foremost experts on the issue of human trafficking. Bennett, a Send Relief missionary and the executive director of the Baptist Friendship House in New Orleans, La., told Baptist Press that Southern Baptists have a huge role to play in the prevention of trafficking in their local area.

“If we as Southern Baptists could become educated about human trafficking so that we can take preventative measures, such as reaching out to people that are vulnerable, may be living in poverty, folks that are experiencing homelessness, or folks that are just vulnerable because of abuse or things like they may have experienced,” Bennett said, “if we can be preventative in those ways then we can help to stop human trafficking.”

One of the main ways Bennett and the Baptist Friendship House (which has served New Orleans for more than 75 years) fight against trafficking in their community is by practically helping trafficking survivors who contact them.

The Friendship House will provide out-of-state transportation to survivors who are in danger, and also houses survivors who need immediate shelter and safety.

Bennett said they have served 30 human trafficking survivors already this year, including four in July alone. When survivors stay at the house, they receive backpacks with various hygiene supplies as well as a blanket and clothing.

“That backpack says I care about you, but it also builds trust with them,” Bennett said. “And then it builds a relationship with them to be able to hear their story and share Jesus with them.”

Send Relief, which also has a Send Relief Center in New Orleans, partners with the Friendship House in a variety of ways, including by helping prepare and distribute the backpacks to survivors.

The Friendship House will also be participating in Send Relief’s national backpack day on Sept. 18-19, in which Southern Baptists are encouraged to pack a relief backpack as well as donate $10 for every backpack prepared. The backpacks will then be distributed among Send Relief ministries.

Bennett said Send Relief also partners with the Friendship House to host visiting teams from other churches, ministries and state conventions. The visiting teams learn about the issue of human trafficking and how to prevent it so they can apply the information in their local context.

Recently a group of 12 representatives from the Ohio Woman’s Missionary Union visited the Friendship House.

Jean DiFilippo, president of the Ohio WMU, explained that Ohio ranks in the top ten for the number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The group plans to travel two by two (two representatives together) throughout their convention educating others on the awareness of Human Trafficking.

“We have no desire to reinvent the wheel. There are many agencies [both Christian and non-Christian] that do a great job of rescuing victims and helping prosecute the abusers,” DiFilippo said in a statement to Baptist Press.

“Our goal is to help people recognize the warning signs and to contact authorities. Our motto is ‘If you see something, say something.’ First and foremost, we need to bathe it in prayer. We personally prayed for a young woman and her child who were rescued while we were in New Orleans.

“While we continue to pray for that young family, we also need to pray for the abusers. They need Jesus. We need to pray they will find Him and turn from their wicked ways.”

The Woman’s Missionary Union is also very involved in fighting human trafficking on the national level.

Human exploitation, which includes human trafficking, was a focus area for WMU from 2010-2014. There are several resources regarding human trafficking on WMU’s website including links to an online minicourse about trafficking and a simulation showing the realities of trafficking.

Another ongoing ministry involving trafficking involves “WorldCrafts,” a WMU fair-trade ministry that supports artisan groups who help women at risk or involved with trafficking.

The Jubilee Necklace made by Proverbs 31 Women, an artisan group in Uganda, is one of many products available through WorldCrafts, a compassion ministry of WMU. Sales of this necklace and other items that are part of WorldCrafts’ Support Freedom Campaign enable artisans to escape human trafficking and earn an income to support themselves and their families by making handmade items.

“It is our privilege to partner with talented artisans in the WorldCrafts Support Freedom Campaign as they make beautiful items and rebuild their lives after being rescued from trafficking,” said Sandy Wisdom-Martin, executive director for the WMU. “When you purchase an item from these artisans and pray for them, you are a part of their transformation story.”

Bennett concluded by stating it’s important for Southern Baptists to get involved with trafficking prevention through prayer and support, because no matter how many people are ministered to, every person is valuable to God.

“I think we should pray for trafficking victims to be able to find the help that they need to get out of the situation,” Bennett said. “Pray for people like us at the Baptist Friendship House and in other ministry centers that are helping them and pray for wisdom and knowledge.

“One of the greatest things also is for people just to pray for the needs that are around them. Most all of us live around people in need. It’s amazing when we start praying for the needs around us. God opens our eyes and opens the door for us to minister to people.”

“It (fighting human trafficking) matters to every person that you reach … and it’s important to never give up on anyone, because Jesus never gives up on us.”

‘Vindication’ season 2 to premiere in September on Pure Flix

Good news is here for fans of “Vindication”—the police procedural drama with a Christian twist produced by Retta Vision, the media ministry of Retta Baptist Church of Burleson.

BURLESON—The series will return to television for a second season on Sept. 1 as Pure Flix releases the first two episodes on its subscription streaming service, series creator and producer Jarod O’Flaherty told the TEXAN.

Following the Sept. 1 premiere, Pure Flix will release installments of the 10-episode season week-by-week.

The full second season should also be available for purchase around Labor Day on Amazon and other platforms, O’Flaherty said. Redeem TV will stream the series for its donating subscribers around that time as well.

The show’s season 2 trailer was scheduled to hit both “Vindication” and Pure Flix social and other media platforms on July 30.

“It’s very rare that a faith-based series gets multiple seasons,” O’Flaherty said, noting the success of “The Chosen,” which premiered its second season in April 2021. The popularity of the two dramas may indicate that faith-based series are “picking up steam,” he suggested. “It’s a very unique time, and also special that ‘Vindication,’ the product of a small Baptist church, has such a long reach.”

Actors reprising their season 1 roles in the police drama include lead Todd Terry as Det. Gary Travis; Peggy Schott as his wife, Becky; Emma Elle Roberts as the couple’s daughter, Katie; and Venus Monique as Travis’ police colleague, Kris Tanner. New to the series for season 2 is T.C. Stallings, whose film credits include “War Room” and “Courageous.” Stallings portrays Det. Tre Millwood.

Actors Peggy Schott and Todd Terry, who play Becky and Gary Travis, are excited about reprising their season 1 roles in the faith-based police procedural drama.

Q & A with Peggy Schott and Todd Terry of “Vindication”

During filming earlier this year, the TEXAN caught up with Texas residents Terry and Schott, who offered their perspectives on the series and insights into what it means to be a Christian working in an industry which can challenge believers.

Q: How do you feel about reprising your role in “Vindication”?

Schott: Booking the role of Becky Travis was an answered prayer. Being able to return for season 2 with our wonderful crew and cast is truly a blessing.

I recently heard statistics of the percentage of practicing Christians in the U.S. and the world. The numbers are disheartening. There are many Christians who have a spouse, siblings, children or friends who have strayed from actively practicing their faith; it can be uncertain what we can do to bring them back. Jarod [series showrunner O’Flaherty] created Becky as prayerfully and patiently encouraging her husband toward faith without being pushy or judgmental. I have personally seen this work. I believe we all must carefully and continually plant God’s seeds and have faith that he will help those seeds to grow.  I hope that Becky, who has her flaws, but has a heart for Christ, can be a good example to viewers.

Terry: Travis’ arc as a character is kind of a slow burn as far as coming to Christ. You see changes happening [during season 1] but not until the end does he become a believer. You see him changing as he comes to grips with some family issues. In season 2, he is a guy who still comes with his own set of problems and challenges. He works those out on an episodic basis. Other family members are introduced in the series, and it makes for some interesting drama. As you go along, developing a character is interesting, especially in a series like this [where] you learn more about your character with every episode. Going into a second season, I have a better handle on who Det. Travis is.

Q: What was it like to shoot during a pandemic?

Schott: Our first day back on set felt surreal. Emma Elle Roberts (Katie Travis) and I stood across the room from each other, smiling broadly behind our masks and wishing to give each other a huge hug. Since many of the cast and most of the crew worked together often in season 1, there was a close-knit atmosphere on set. Although we were now limited to air hugs and elbow bumps, that closeness still permeated.

Terry: Honestly, it made no difference to me. People wearing masks. It’s just becoming commonplace. I’m on a production in Oklahoma right now. Everybody just wears masks till you shoot. Then you take them off and you put them back on. The thing, not necessarily on “Vindication” but in general, is that we have to get tested constantly [for COVID-19], sometimes daily or every other day.

Q: What are your hopes for the series?

Schott: Audience! We want many, many people to see “Vindication.” I hope it will spark conversations on challenging, real world problems, and that people will find the “God moments” within the show and in our lives.

Terry: Our production values have been increased this season…I am hoping this will [enhance] people’s viewing pleasure. The story lines are great. I’m really loving what we have done … in the episodes. It’s a pleasure to work on a show where you do get time to develop a character.

"Vindication" will return to television for a second season on Sept. 1 as Pure Flix releases the first two episodes on its subscription streaming service.

Q: What does it mean to you, as a believer in Christ and an actor, to be involved in a project like “Vindication”?

Schott: I started film acting later in life. Being based in Austin and of my demographic, there are few opportunities, which can be very frustrating. About three years ago, in another bout of questioning my “career,” I prayed, asking God what else can I do? The answer was clear: “Quit.”

I immediately stopped listening. Why would God give me some talent and a drive and tell me to quit?

Then in Bible study, we were discussing what we ask for in our prayer—we know what we want, but God knows what we need.  So I changed my prayer and listened—and the answer was “Quit … obsessing.”

"I was spending so much move my career forward instead of trusting in the Lord to be my 'manager.' Other than being prepared, I simply needed to be patient and wait for the Lord to guide me."

I was spending so much time trying to figure out what I needed to do to move my career forward instead of trusting in the Lord to be my “manager.” Other than being prepared, I simply needed to be patient and wait for the Lord to guide me.

Shortly after that, I got a call from Jarod O’Flaherty about the series “Vindication.”

Terry:  These kinds of quality opportunities don’t always come along. It’s a pleasure to work on something like this that’s edifying. It’s a procedural crime drama, but … you don’t have to worry about your kids seeing something inappropriate…. Sometimes in faith-based drama, [difficult subjects] are glossed over [but not in “Vindication.”]

—For information on subscribing to Pure Flix, visit online.

NAMB joins with state conventions to bring Timothy + Barnabas to pastors

Matt Carter, pastor of Sagemont Church in Houston, delivers a sermon to attendees at a Timothy + Barnabas Getaway hosted by the North American Mission Board. The event took place on May 17-18, 2021 in San Antonio. NAMB photo by Lacey Helfferich.

SAN ANTONIO (BP) – With reports of increasing numbers of pastors leaving the ministry in recent months following increased pressures from the pandemic, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) has joined with state Baptist conventions to host Timothy + Barnabas Getaways for pastors and their wives.

“We are, in a very real sense, on the frontlines of a very real battle,” Sagemont Church pastor Matt Carter said when addressing pastors at the Timothy + Barnabas event in San Antonio earlier this summer.

“I’m convinced that Satan knows the name of every pastor,” Carter said as he explained that faithful pastors who share the gospel, preach the Word and make a difference can expect spiritual pushback in their calling.

NAMB hosted the San Antonio in cooperation with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC). It was the first in a series hosted across the South. NAMB invited pastors for a two-day getaway for encouragement and equipping in Mississippi with events planned for the fall in Virginia and Louisiana.

“It is part of our desire that no pastor or wife would ever be alone in the state of Texas,” said Tony Wolfe, associate executive director of the SBTC. “We want to be more than just a network of churches pooling their resources together for the advancement of the Great Commission. We want to actually pull our relationships together to serve and encourage one another.”

That heartbeat to serve pastors has been the impetus for Johnny Hunt, NAMB’s senior vice president of evangelism and leadership, since he launched Timothy + Barnabas 27 years ago.

“Timothy + Barnabas started out a deep conviction and desire to come alongside pastors to provide them with encouragement and instruction to help them flourish in their ministries,” Hunt said. “What started as a personal ministry now belongs to NAMB so that it will outlast me and serve pastors for many, many years.”

To better serve pastors across North America, NAMB began working with state convention partners to host these events to provide a time for pastors to be encouraged in their ministries. These getaways are shorter than a typical Timothy + Barnabas Retreat and hosted in a location that is accessible for pastors who are served by the state convention.

Texas pastors who attended the Getaway in San Antonio shared that one of their greatest challenges has been a sense of aloneness. So, the chance to come together with other pastors and hear from other leaders encouraged them.

“I think the nature of the pastorate inclines all of us toward isolation. When things get hard, we tend to withdraw more rather than gather with others,” said David Norman, pastor of University Baptist Church in San Antonio. “Hearing stories and rubbing shoulders with guys who are facing the same difficulties, running into the same struggles and just realizing you’re not alone—that’s encouraging.”

Russell Smiley, pastor of Pleasant Run Baptist Church in Colleyville, Texas, shared the same sentiment about how easy it can be for pastors to feel detached.

“It’s been very encouraging to sit amongst other leaders of other churches and not only commiserate but also encourage one another about how God is moving through all of these things,” said Smiley.

Preaching from Matthew 13:15, Carter cautioned attendees about the dangers of a dull heart, deaf ears and dim eyes that might lead a pastor to go through the motions of ministry.

To combat complacency and feelings of weariness, Carter encouraged pastors to remember the beginning of their calling, learn to be content in their calling and to maintain focus on the end of their calling, which will yield an eternal reward in Heaven.

In reflecting on his years of pastoral ministry at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., during a session with the pastors, Hunt described the urgency and impact of living a life centered on the Kingdom of God.

“I’ve really attempted to, in leadership as a pastor, to build a church that is a Kingdom church,” Hunt said. “I’ve got one life. One day, I’m going to appear before the King who changed my life. I’m going to have to give an account of what I did with what He gave me.”

Kathy Litton led sessions for the pastors’ wives. Litton, who serves as NAMB’s director of planter spouse development, has helped with Timothy + Barnabas events for six years.

“The Timothy + Barnabas Getaways are such powerful, life-giving opportunities for wives,” Litton said. “The chance to disconnect with their husbands from the demands of ministry and connect with other wives can encourage them deeply. These women pour into their churches and people, and these gatherings allow us to generously pour into them.”

The Timothy + Barnabas Getaway in San Antonio took place May 17 – 18. The following week (May 24 – 25), NAMB hosted a second Timothy + Barnabas Getaway for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board (MBCB).

“After this difficult year of ministry during the pandemic, the Timothy + Barnabas Getaway was such a blessed time of encouragement, refreshing, and instruction for our pastors and wives,” said John Pace, director of pastor and leadership development for the MBCB.

Timothy + Barnabas Getaways with the Louisiana Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia will take place in the Fall of 2021. For more information, contact There is also limited availability for the Timothy + Barnabas Retreat in Branson, Mo. NAMB will announce the 2022 Timothy + Barnabas Retreat dates in September.

The SBC resolution on abolishing abortion

Editor’s note: Our July TEXAN reported that SBC messengers in Nashville took the unusual action of bringing a resolution from the floor and then passing an edited version. An SBTC church minister has asked for the opportunity to speak in support of the resolution. 

I am blessed to have been a co-author of the resolution “On Abortion Abolition” which was affirmed at the annual meeting in Nashville on June 16. It is a good resolution. It is the most biblically accurate and ethically consistent statement on the issue of abortion made by any denomination since 1973, or before.

Gospel-Centered-As Great Commission Baptists, our primary concern is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The pro-life movement always says that we must “change hearts to change minds.” I agree. However, classes on sidewalk ministry at abortion mills usually ignore the gospel altogether. Their reasoning on the front lines of battle is too often humanistic and secular. We are told we cannot call abortion “murder,” we should avoid the word “sin,” and our arguments should be devoid of biblical content and the gospel. They reason that our culture does not respond to a biblical argument; therefore, we should reason like secularists in this fight.

A question for my pro-life friends: What do you have that works better than the gospel of Jesus Christ to change hearts and minds? My Bible says that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Is there anything more powerful?

It was pro-lifers’ inability to answer these questions that made me an abolitionist, not just at the murder mills, but also at the legislatures.

Bible-Centered-Secular humanism has also influenced the writing of pro-life legislation.

The government has the role and responsibility of bearing the sword against those who do evil (Romans 13:3-4). If Southern Baptist pastors support pro-life legislation that does not call upon the civil magistrates to provide equal justice, and therefore equal protection, for life in the womb, they commit a category error. The argument against legislation that would criminalize everyone involved in aborting a precious baby is based on pseudo-compassion. The error is seeking to use the government to do what only the church can do: minister grace. The church must call on the government to impartially enforce the existing laws in our state on murder. 

An Example-In 2019, an abortion abolition bill (TX HB 896) came to a Texas House committee hearing in Austin chaired by pro-life Republican and Southern Baptist, Rep. Jeff Leach (Plano). The hearing lasted until after 3:00 AM the next day with more than 300 Texans and expert witnesses testifying in FAVOR of the bill. No other bill had as many supporters in that legislative session. Rep. Leach, a few hours later, killed the bill in the name of compassion. This is all documented in our film, Babies Are Still Murdered Here.  

In 2019, more than 56,000 babies were murdered in Texas (that we know about, not counting online pill abortions or emergency pregnancy pills sold at nearly every pharmacy and big box retailer in Texas). 

At the 2020 March for Life in Austin, on the steps of the Capitol, the Texas Alliance for Life presented Rep. Leach with a pro-life hero award for protecting lives of the unborn because he sponsored a bill protecting babies who are born alive during an abortion, an exceedingly rare occurrence in a state where abortions are supposed to be prohibited after 20 weeks. In effect, Rep. Leach said to the preborn babies of Texas, “Good luck, kid.” 

Can you see why we say that pro-life strategy is not just?  If HB 896 had been passed into law in 2019, the children sacrificed since then would be alive today. In Texas alone, that’s around 140,000 slaughtered, innocent, preborn children. 

As the resolution states, “We reject any position that allows for any exceptions to the legal protection of our preborn neighbors, compromises God’s holy standard of justice, or promotes any God-hating partiality.”  We are sinfully partial when we offer protections for some babies but not all.

Some SBC academics who have critiqued the resolution have cringed because the document calls into question pro-life efforts. Here are my questions for them: “Is the life in the womb human?” “Does that life deserve equal protection under the law?”

After almost 49 years of child sacrifice under the color of law, isn’t it time that we call on our legislators to END it rather than regulate when, where, and how it may be done in Texas? We must demand pro-life groups, lobbyists, and politicians stop opposing bills that treat abortion as murder and begin supporting equal justice for the human life inside of the womb as well as outside. The church must arise with a unified, prophetic voice and demand the immediate and complete end of child sacrifice, without compromise.

This resolution is a tool to equip your congregation. Please use it.

Jon Speed is pastor of missions and evangelism at FBC Briar, in Azle. You can see the resolution approved by messengers at

TRUSTEES: GuideStone authorizes Mission:Dignity benefit increase; Hawkins affirms Dilbeck, promises to be ‘greatest supporter’

NASHVILLE (BP) — At their meeting earlier this week, GuideStone trustees approved benefit increases across the board for Mission:Dignity recipients, marked the 20th anniversary of GuideStone Funds and laid out a transition framework as President-elect Hance Dilbeck prepares to assume the leadership helm in 2022.

The increase for Mission:Dignity recipients was made possible by the generous support of churches, Sunday school classes and individuals who give to the GuideStone ministry. Last year, Mission:Dignity raised more than $10 million for the first time in its history; current trends in giving indicate the ministry may eclipse that in 2021. Almost 1,000 new donors have begun contributing for the very first time this year.

The neediest couples with at least 25 years of paid Southern Baptist service will see their benefits grow by $150 each month — from $600 to $750 — beginning in January 2022. Other couples will see their benefits increase by $75 each month. Widowed and single recipients will see their benefits increase either $50 or $100 each month, depending on their years of service and need.

In the report of the Relief Committee, Chairman Dennis Adams (Arizona) said that the committee also approved higher asset limits for eligibility (from $30,000 to $45,000), an increased funeral benefit, and an increased grace period after the death of a spouse before having to reapply for benefits. Those enhancements take effect immediately.

In other reports, Chief Operating Officer John R. Jones told trustees about the GuideStone team’s efforts to live out the vision that reminds employees that GuideStone exists to honor the Lord by being lifelong partners with our participants in enhancing their financial security.

Across all the ministry areas of GuideStone — insurance, investments, retirement and Mission:Dignity — staff are working diligently to ensure that vision is carried out, Jones said, citing the insurance area as one of several examples.

“I can tell you that (Chief Insurance Officer) Chu Soh and his entire insurance team have brought an incredible focus to how we can build the base in our healthcare plans,” Jones said. “It’s not just our Group Plans, but also inclusive of our Personal Security Plan. He’s putting together more specific metrics to accelerate this number of participants in the healthcare area.”

Soh and the insurance team are also reviewing new opportunities and initiatives that will address the affordability challenges affecting the entire healthcare industry nationwide, Jones said. Ensuring a continued strong GuideStone healthcare program for pastors, church and ministry staff, while making it more affordable for more churches is a major emphasis for Soh’s team.

Additionally, the property & casualty area has continued to exceed expectations, Jones said. While turnover in property & casualty is a common theme in the industry as a whole, as clients look for lower rates, GuideStone, through its alliance with Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, has attained a 97% retention rate.

“Brotherhood Mutual has been a superb partner; they understand the local church,” Jones said.

In the investments division, Jones noted that August marks the 20th anniversary of GuideStone Funds, the registered mutual fund family that provides the investment options in GuideStone’s retirement plans. Over the past two decades, GuideStone staff have worked diligently to ensure retirement plan participants understand their choices in the investment space and that they make wise decisions on how to allocate their long-term retirement savings.

“It’s interesting to note that at the end of June, 70% of our participant investor assets were invested in equity-type of funds and 30% in fixed income,” Jones said. “When we launched GuideStone Funds 20 years ago, we were completely reversed. Our participant base was more conservatively invested then than they are today.”

The addition of the MyDestination Funds — launched in 2006 — where investors choose the funds that most closely correspond to their retirement date has also helped. The funds provide a one-fund, diversified portfolio that grows more conservative as they move to and through retirement, which has also helped.

Within Mission:Dignity, the Lord continues to bless the ministry, Jones said. This past June was the largest in terms of fundraising on record and closed out the largest second quarter on record. More than 2,300 retirement-aged Southern Baptist ministers, workers and widows have received assistance so far this year, and giving is up 16% over the same time last year.

Jones concluded his report by providing an update on the Forward Foundations strategic plan, which serves as a roadmap to guide the transition between GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins and President-elect Hance Dilbeck. GuideStone’s strategic plans — GuideStone 100, which guid­ed the ministry to its centennial in 2018, Vision 20/20 and now Forward Foundations — provide a framework to guide the ministry’s day-to-day efforts on behalf of their participants. In Forward Foundations, emphasis is placed on four key areas: Ministry (Maximize Ministry Effectiveness), People (Attract, Develop and Retain Talent), Technology (Leverage Innovative Technology) and Financial (Enhance Revenues and Margins).

Hawkins spoke to trustees about the transition of Dilbeck to the role of president. In May, trustees unanimously named Dilbeck, then executive director of Oklahoma Baptists, as President-elect of GuideStone. By the end of the first quarter of 2022, Hawkins will assume the honorary role of President Emeritus, and Dilbeck will become President and Chief Executive Officer.

Hawkins noted he has been through transitions himself — most notably when he became pastor at the First Baptist Church of Dallas in 1993.

“W.A. Criswell was my biggest asset and my biggest supporter,” Hawkins told trustees. “I had the greatest predecessor anybody ever had in that position.”

Hawkins said he would strive to provide Dilbeck with the support Criswell offered him.

“He’s not going to have anybody who is a more encouraging person and [I’ll be his] greatest supporter as he assumes the stewardship,” Hawkins said.

In the unpaid role of President Emeritus, Hawkins said he would continue to write his Code book series and raise money for Mission:Dignity.

“I thank God for the trustees that we’ve had over the last 25 years,” Hawkins said. “We’ve never had one antagonistic question, one antagonistic effort, nothing but total love and unity that has allowed us to serve with the integrity of our hearts and skillfulness of our hands.”

Dilbeck said the first month of his tenure as President-elect has been affirming.

“One of the great blessings is watching Dr. Hawkins and John Jones and the way they work together, their friendship and collaboration. It’s a joy,” Dilbeck said. “My gratitude is deeper, and my sense of calling is clearer than it’s ever been.”

Dilbeck echoed Hawkins’ thoughts on the role of the president being a steward.

“This is a stewardship,” Dilbeck said. “Right across my notes here is the word stewardship. That’s our work. Stewardship gives us the proper perspective on our work and the proper posture before our Lord. We are the steward of His possessions, and He is our Master. This is a great stewardship that you and I bear together.”

Dilbeck also shared with the trustees a significant goal of his ministry – the wellness of the pastors GuideStone serves.

“One of the things that COVID-19 has done is make our people more aware of and more honest about the challenges they face,” Dilbeck said. “It’s an opportunity to speak of the wellness of their relationships to their mental health. It opens the door to advocate that if they are to serve well, they must be well.”

Dilbeck said advocacy is a key calling for GuideStone’s team.

“Our job is to keep focused on the mission.” After hearing the report of how God blessed Mission:Dignity through the generosity of donors across the Southern Baptist Convention, trustees ended the meeting Monday afternoon by giving thanks to the Lord by singing Doxology.

Covering the streets of Japan with prayer and thanksgiving

IMB missionaries Rick and Hiromi Price, Scott and Julie Bradford, Tom and Machiko, pastor and his wife of Shinagawa Baptist Church, and Mable Justis, a member of Tokyo Baptist Church, prayer walk in across from city hall. The group prayer walked in the neighborhood surrounding Shinagawa Baptist Church.

Carrying umbrellas to protect from Tokyo’s hot summer sun, International Mission Board missionaries and Japanese partners prayer walked through the streets around Shinagawa Baptist Church. The group walked through parks, residential areas and past local businesses as they handed out packets of gospel materials for adults and children.

IMB missionaries Scott and Julie Bradford and Rick and Hiromi Price, accompanied by Mable Justis, a member of Tokyo Baptist Church, joined Tom and Machiko, the pastor and his wife of Shinagawa Baptist Church, during their prayerwalk.

Shinagawa Baptist Church is situated in an area with a growing population and is known for its good schools and businesses. One of the oldest shopping districts is also located in the district.

The church is in a prime location to engage people with the gospel. During the prayerwalk, Julie prayed for curiosity for Japanese people who live in the neighborhood and that curiosity would lead them through the church’s doors. She prayed members of the church wouldn’t let fear of COVID-19 keep them from welcoming visitors.

Julie prayed for wisdom and discernment for Tom and Machiko as they serve the members of the church and the community virtually.

When the church can meet in person, they have a regular attendance of 50.

Join them in praying the Lord would draw people to the church. Pray for Tom and Machiko’s ministry to flourish despite COVID restrictions.

Caroline Anderson writes for the IMB from Southeast Asia.

The post Covering the streets of Japan with prayer and thanksgiving appeared first on IMB.

Vietnamese Baptists elect first executive director, vote to expand missions footprint

PLANO, Texas (BP) – Although limited in attendance due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, attendees at the Vietnamese Baptist Union of North America’s 36th annual conference held July 1-4 voted to expand its mission efforts, elect an executive director and adopt the Vision 2025 platform.

An online audience joined the crowd of more than 1,200, said Peter Yanes, executive director of Asian American Relations and Mobilization for the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. It came close to the 1,500 attendees seen in recent years, Yanes added, but showed the impact of crowd size mandates in place by the venue as well as travel restrictions affecting leaders and pastors from Canada, Vietnam and Europe who normally attend.

Speakers focused on the meeting’s theme, “Pressing On Toward the Goal,” and central verse of Phil. 3:12-14. Ronnie Floyd also became the first sitting president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee to address the gathering.

Attendees elected Christian Phan as the group’s first executive director and Phuc Le, pastor of Vietnamese Faith Baptist Church in Dallas, as president. Phan will serve in the executive director role on a part-time basis while keeping his pastorate at Agape Baptist Church in Renton, Wash., for the next two years. At that point he will become the Vietnamese Baptist Union’s full-time executive director.

The group is currently searching for a director to head up its efforts for evangelism among children and also voted to increase its budget for student ministry, Phan told Baptist Press.

“This meeting attracted about 300 young people and 200 children,” he said. “We are very interested in spreading the Gospel and planting new churches to Vietnamese people in the United States and around the world. And since the percentage of Vietnamese people who accept Jesus as their Savior is still very low, we are focused on the Great Commission.”

The new organizational structure, Phan explained, will help focus the ongoing work of the Union. To that end, the group divided the United States into eight regions and Canada into two in order “to easily serve and support local churches.” Each region will have a pastor representing the Union and be encouraged to take special offerings on Tet (Lunar New Year’s Day) to further missions efforts.

“We dream of equipping and sending many volunteer missionaries to share the Gospel of Jesus to Vietnamese and other people groups around the world,” added Phan.

Yanes said the Vietnamese Baptist Union consists of some 146 churches to reach an estimated 2.2 million Vietnamese living in the U.S. Most recently, the group started its first Vietnamese church in Massachusetts, the 31st state to have an SBC Vietnamese congregation.

Floyd’s presentation of Vision 2025 encouraged the group, said Yanes, a Filipino who was introduced as the first Asian American to serve at his level with the Executive Committee. Phan and other Vietnamese Baptist Union leaders voted to adopt the Vision 2025 emphasis and participate through setting up goals to match its platform.

The Vietnamese Baptist Union of North America is one of the nine organized Asian fellowships in partnership with the Asian American Collective – a missional strategic network among 2,107 Asian Churches – of the Great Commission Relations and Mobilization Team at the Executive Committee led by Willie McLaurin.

The Vietnamese Baptist Union will hold its next gathering June 30-July 3, 2022, at the LAX Marriott Hotel in Los Angeles, Calif. A record attendance is expected due to the large Vietnamese population in Southern California, Phan noted.

Attendees at the 36th annual meeting of the Vietnamese Baptist Union of North America worship at its recent gathering in Plano, Texas. Due to COVID-19, attendance was slightly lower than years’ past though the number of on-site participants was still approximately 1,200. Photo courtesy of Peter Yanes

SBTC DR launches new SBDR devotional resource

A new resource geared for all Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers and published by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention was unveiled at the SBC’s National DR Roundtable at Mount Juliet, east of Nashville, on June 17, following the SBC annual meeting.

Withstanding the Storm was written by SBDR volunteers and staff from across the country, representing nearly all of the 42 state Baptist conventions, plus the North American Mission Board and Canadian Global Response. Each of the 52 entries features a Scripture verse, an apt illustration from the DR field and a prayer. Major themes include evangelism, team care, family needs, leadership and survivors’ issues.

“The vision is for those on the field, tired from a day’s work mudding out houses, tarping roofs or cutting down damaged trees, to use the book for encouragement,” SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice, the book’s general editor, told the TEXAN.

“Team leaders are often looking for something to use during morning or evening devotional times. Withstanding the Storm fits that bill,” Stice added, expressing gratitude to the book’s many contributors.

The sturdy softcover volume will fit easily in a DR volunteer’s gear. Free downloads of the book are available, and the resource is also being offered in paperback, with a bulk pricing option. Visit 

4 important SCOTUS cases for life and religious liberty

US Supreme Court

The ERLC engages our culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ in the public square to protect religious liberty and promote human flourishing.

One of the ways we do this is by advocating for these things before the Supreme Court. The most recent term of the court contained some important cases that advanced the cause of religious liberty in the United States. Additionally, the court has granted cert (agreed to hear the case) for some important cases pertaining to the issue of life and religious liberty next term.

SCOTUS: Looking back to last term

Below are a few cases of importance from the previous term that were wins for religious liberty.

Fulton v. City of Philadelphia

In June, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia that faith-based foster care and adoption providers such as Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia can continue serving children and families according to their convictions. The ERLC called the decision a “decisive win for religious liberty” when it was announced.

In 2018, a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer informed the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services that two of its private foster care agencies, including CSS, would not work with same-sex couples as foster parents. The city investigated the allegation, which it considered a violation of the City’s anti-discrimination laws. When the agencies confirmed their religious views on marriage as essential for placement — although no same-sex couple had ever attempted to partner with CSS — the department ceased referring foster children to them and demanded they change their religious practices or close down their ministries.

The plaintiffs in this case were Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, foster moms who wanted to continue caring for children in need. Fulton and Simms-Busch filed a lawsuit on behalf of CSS claiming the Philadelphia government had violated their rights under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise, Establishment, and Free Speech Clauses, as well as under Pennsylvania’s Religious Freedom Protection Act. The lawsuit asked the courts for an order requiring the city government to renew their contractual relationship while permitting CSS to maintain their religious convictions. In July 2018, the district court denied the request, and the case was immediately appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the court ruled against CSS and refused to protect the agency while its litigation proceeded to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court held that the City of Philadelphia infringed Catholic Social Services’ free exercise rights by refusing to renew its contract with CSS on the basis of the City’s agency contract and citywide Fair Practices Ordinance. These ordinances were in conflict with CSS’s core beliefs related to marriage and sexuality, and Philadelphia provided no religious exemption for CSS or groups like CSS.

For further reading:

Explainer: What you need to know about Fulton v. Philadelphia​​Explainer: What the Fulton case means for religious libertyTop quotes from Fulton v. Philadelphia opinionLori Windham on Fulton v. Philadelphia, the Supreme Court foster-care case

Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski

In March, the Supreme Court ruled that governments can be held accountable for past violations of First Amendment freedoms. The 8-1 ruling in a case entitled Uzuegbunam et al. v. Preczewski et al. held that a “request for nominal damages” may be used to establish legal standing to address a previous violation of a constitutional right. The ERLC argued “it is a fundamental harm for the state to infringe upon a person’s right to religion or free expression” in its brief submitted to the Court for the case and applauded this decision for affirming that view.

In 2016, Chike Uzuegbunam, then a student at Georgia Gwinnett College, talked with interested students about his Christian faith and distributed literature on campus grounds. A campus police officer approached Uzuegbunam and informed him that the college had a policy in place that prohibited the distribution of religious materials unless they were within two designated free speech areas.

After acquiring the necessary permit to speak in one of these zones, Uzuegbunam was again asked to stop by the campus police because another policy limited speech within those zones that “disturbs the peace and/or comfort of person(s).” The officer told Uzuegbunam that his speech violated these policies and threatened him with disciplinary action should he continue. Due to these events, both Uzuegbunam and another student who shared Uzuegbunam’s faith, Joseph Bradford, stopped speaking about their faith in these so-called “free speech” areas.

Both Uzuegbunam and Bradford sued college officials for enforcing these policies, arguing that the restrictions constituted a violation of their rights under the First Amendment. The students sought both injunctive relief and nominal damages. The request for injunctive relief — a legal order that would suspend the policy — was dismissed as college officials chose to discontinue their policies rather than defend them. However, the students continued to press their claim for nominal damages — a small sum of money sought in order to secure a legal judgement in a case — which was heard before the Supreme Court in January of this year.

This case is an important case in the areas of free speech and the free exercise of religion in an area with little case law on this topic — college campuses. As a public university, Georgia Gwinnett College should have allowed Uzuegbunam to express his views freely. Instead, they sought to deny his First Amendment right to free speech until he graduated, at which point they changed their policies and argued that the case should be dismissed as moot (i.e., dismissed by the court because the policy has been rescinded and there was therefore no longer a live controversy between the parties). In requesting “nominal damages,” Uzuegbunam argued the university should not escape accountability and retain the ability to restore the problematic policies after his graduation.

Students like Uzuegbunam do not give up their civil liberties when they decide to attend public colleges and universities. Until now, these schools were able to infringe the rights of students through these controversial policies, only to change the policy at the eleventh hour or wait for the student’s graduation. Uzuegbunam’s case will allow the federal courts to provide relief for students for the first time.

For further reading:

Explainer: The Supreme Court sides with former student on religious free speechTop quotes from Uzuegbunam et al. v. Preczewski et al.Casey Mattox on the Supreme Court’s decision about free speech on college campuses

SCOTUS: Looking ahead

Below are a few cases that the Supreme Court has granted cert on and will hear oral arguments on this autumn. These cases could have major implications on the issue of life and religious liberty.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

In mid-May, the Supreme Court granted cert on a case reviewing a Mississippi law that would replace the ‘viability standard’ with a limit on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The issue the court will be deciding is whether pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitional.

Mississippi passed a law in 2018 titled the “Gestational Age Act,” prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks except in a medical emergency and in cases of severe fetal abnormality. According to the findings in the legislation, “an unborn human being’s vital organs begin to function at ten weeks’ gestation. Hair, fingernails, and toenails also begin to form.” And “at twelve weeks’ gestation, an unborn human being can open and close his or her fingers, starts to make sucking motions, and senses stimulation from the world outside the womb.”

A doctor with Jackson Women’s Health Organization filed a lawsuit in federal district court challenging the law and requesting an emergency temporary restraining order (TRO). A district court enjoined Mississippi from enforcing the law, finding that the state had not provided evidence that a fetus would be viable at 15 weeks. Additionally, the district court believed that the Supreme Court precedent prohibits states from banning abortions prior to viability. The decision in this case could have implications for the protections of the unborn.

Oral arguments for the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case will be scheduled for later this term.

For further reading:

Explainer: Supreme Court takes up Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health OrganizationERLC and other pro-life organizations file brief requesting the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade

Carson v. Makin

According to the facts of this case, “The State of Maine relies on local school administrative units (SAUs) to ensure that every school-age child in the state has access to a free education. To be an “approved” school, a private school must meet the state’s compulsory attendance requirements, and it must be “nonsectarian in accordance with the First Amendment.”

Three families sent their children to private schools that are accredited but do not meet the nonsectarian requirement because they are religiously affiliated. The schools aren’t approved by the State of Maine, and the families did not qualify for tuition assistance. They filed a lawsuit stating that nonsectarian” requirement violates the Constitution on its face and as applied.

The question this case will be deciding is whether the state violates Religion Clauses or the Equal Protection Clause by prohibiting students participating in an otherwise generally available student-aid program from choosing to use their aid to attend schools that provide religious instruction.

Oral arguments for the Carson v. Makin case will be this October.

For further reading:

ERLC and coalition of religious liberty organizations file brief before the U.S. Supreme Court requesting protection against unconsitutional discrimination against religious entities

Arlene’s Flowers

Lastly, it’s important to note that the Supreme Court refused to grant cert to Arlene’s Flowers.

In 2013, Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, made news for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex marriage. While she never refused to provide flowers for her LGBT customers, Stutzman’s conscience would not allow her to use her artistic gifts in a way that would celebrate something that she believed was wrong.

Forcing Stutzman to make flowers for the celebration of a same-sex marriage is, in essence, a form of compelled speech, which violates her freedom of speech and religion. Her case has been circulating in the courts for years. Here is a helpful timeline from Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization representing Barronelle,

“In July 2017, ADF petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to take up Barronelle’s case. In June 2018, the Court sent the case back to the Washington Supreme Court, after vacating that court’s decision and instructing it to reconsider her lawsuit in light of the decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

In June 2019, the Washington Supreme Court ruled against Barronelle a second time. ADF attorneys have once again asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take her case.”

It is extremely disheartening that the Supreme Court declined to grant cert to this important case.

For further reading:

What just happened with the Arlene’s Flowers court case?

While we’ve worked diligently and pray earnestly that the Supreme Court will make decisions that uphold life, religious liberty, and the freedom of conscience, we ultimately place our trust in God to fulfil his plans and use the work of the ERLC along the way. As the psalmist declares, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psa. 20:7 NIV).