Month: August 2021

Ennis church engages Southeast Asian people group

ENNIS—Tabernacle Baptist Church in Ennis took the International Mission Board’s challenge to embrace an unengaged, unreached people group by establishing an active church planting strategy among them. 

“None of this would happen without Cooperative Program dollars and our church’s heart for missions,” pastor Todd Gray told the TEXAN.

Todd Gray, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Ennis, said the church seeks to help people overcome life’s emptiness through a deeper relationship with Christ. Photos submitted

About 10 years ago, IMB helped Tabernacle identify an unengaged people group—one with no access to the gospel—in Southeast Asia. 

“We not only went there and found the people group and interacted with them, we found out real quick that we couldn’t do it on our own—just a bunch of White Americans going to that part of the world,” Gray said. 

“It’s one of the hardest places to get to. There’s a reason they’re unengaged. These last people groups that are unengaged, it’s not that way on accident,” the pastor said. “Either they don’t want you there, or it’s very hard to get to. All that proved true with these people, and we realized a local Southeast Asian would do much better than we would, so we started looking for a local missionary that we could partner with.”

After meeting with God-centered connections for a year and a half, Tabernacle found Danny, “a young man who already had a passion for that people group.” 

“He said, ‘If you don’t support me, I’m going on my own,’” Gray recounted. “He had a bold vision.”

Tabernacle Baptist Church works to reach the nations for Christ, and they’re motivated to reach people in their local community at the same time.

Tabernacle didn’t want to diminish its strong Cooperative Program giving in order to support a local believer, so they developed Project 138 based on Mark 1:38 where Jesus said, “Let’s go somewhere else and preach the gospel there also, for that’s what I came to do.”

God used the endeavor to change the DNA of the church, Gray said. Tabernacle challenged 100 people to give $38 per month to support the Southeast Asian missionary.

“That has supported us going over there many times, finding Danny, paying Danny,” Gray said. “Danny now has a wife and two children and a coffee plantation and a ginger farm, and he uses all of that as a platform to reach that people group,” Gray said.

The people group, Gray said, has been moved by IMB from the unengaged list to the unreached list, meaning it still has less than 2 percent of the population identifying as Christian, but the situation is improving.

“It’s miraculous that a little church in Ennis, Texas, got to be a part of penetrating the darkness,” Gray said.

Tabernacle Baptist Church is a multigenerational congregation reaching people with the hope of Jesus.

“They’re no longer unengaged. We are engaging them, and there is a church planting strategy, and we have a missionary that we support with the assistance of the International Mission Board, but really the dollars of those at Tabernacle Baptist Church have supported him and our missions movement 100 percent from the beginning.”

As the church dove into the missions task instead of just giving to missions, people started getting excited about doing ministry, the pastor said.

“You start going to other countries and sharing the gospel, and all of a sudden there’s boldness to come back home and start sharing the gospel,” Gray said. “I think they work together. That’s why it’s not just a global vision, it’s a glocal vision—a global and local vision working together that helps on the other side of the world and here. That’s why Acts 1:8 is one verse and not four different verses.”

Tabernacle now reaches the lost “not just in Ennis or Texas or America but to the ends of the earth” simultaneously, Gray said. “We’ve literally gone to the ends of the earth together.”

Gray has been pastor of Tabernacle nearly 10 years, and the church partners with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention in part because they believe it’s important to affirm the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, he said.

For Gray, a highlight of being involved in the SBTC is the Young Pastors Network that meets several times each year, including at annual meetings. Not long ago, the group traveled to the IMB in Richmond, Va., to meet with leaders and see how work is done there.

The group was especially supportive during the early months of COVID-19, Gray said, when pastors didn’t know how best to handle protocols and were able to share a text thread about decisions they were making.

“All those basic questions, it was just nice to have other people that you trusted theologically to give you practical advice and know that their motivation was right,” Gray said.

Tabernacle’s vision is to be a biblically-rooted church that wants to help people overcome life’s emptiness through a deeper relationship with Christ and a connection to a family that cares, Gray said.

Still amid the pandemic, “there are new challenges, but we’re laser-focused on what God wants us to be about.”

Forward together

I love the fall. It has always been my favorite time of the year. Life seems to slow down from traveling and people get back to normal rhythms and routines. The weather begins to change, ushering in cool mornings and evenings. The kids are back in school and the conversations around the dinner table are full of energy. Yes, there are many things I love about the fall. My favorite thing, however, is what the fall brings with it: football. 

There are few things in my life that bring me joy like watching my kids play football. Honestly, I have dreamed of it from the time I held my firstborn in my arms. I love the anticipation each week brings. I love the gameday environment and the spectators gathered with passion to watch their teams play. Simply put, there is nothing quite like watching a team come together and unify under one mission and purpose: to move the ball forward and cross the goal line. Yes, the overall mission is to win the game, go the playoffs, and perhaps win the championship. That’s what is on the line every time the team takes the field. However, you really can’t win the game if you don’t move the ball forward. You really can’t move the ball forward unless everyone on the team plays his part. 

We are living in interesting days. Culture seems to be shifting rapidly before our eyes. Social media has made it possible to watch the world change in real time. Every day challenges arise that threaten the world to which we are accustomed. This is true in the Southern Baptist Convention as well. A network of 50,000 churches will always have challenges. However, like football, we must stay focused on the mission before us and be resolved to do our part and move forward together.

The SBTC is a network of almost 2,700 churches. We have a rich history of moving the ball forward together. We stay focused and resolved to reach Texas and impact the world. The SBTC stays true to our values of being biblically based, kingdom focused, and missionally driven. That is who we are and who we will continue to be. 

I am often asked questions like these: What are the priorities of the SBTC as we seek to serve churches? What really helps us to stay focused and unified on the mission? What drives us to reach Texas and impact the world? The answer is quite simple—our desire to move forward together. There are essentially three pillars for our network as we serve churches. The Lord put these pillars into my heart as he called me to serve the SBTC. These pillars serve as the foundation for all we do as a network of churches. These pillars keep us unified and help us to move the ball forward together. Let me share these with you. 

1) Our theological agreement. We are a network of churches committed to the inerrancy of Scripture. We believe the word of God to be absolutely true with no mixture of error. We have not and will not back up from this conviction. We are also a network that affirms the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 as our statement of faith. The churches of the SBTC affirm this statement of faith and agree to operate within its parameters. This allows us to be a confessional fellowship of churches, unified in theological agreement. 

2) Our missiological strategies. The SBTC believes the greatest way to reach Texas and impact the world is to partner together with churches, associations, conventions and entities to see the advancement of the gospel. The way in which we do this is through the Cooperative Program. Our desire is not only to see the gospel shared across Texas, but across the globe. The Cooperative Program allows us together to send missionaries, plant churches, strengthen churches and train the next generation of students in seminaries. This is an incredible opportunity the Lord gives to all of us through our partnership. 

3) Our methodological approach. The SBTC believes that the headquarters of all missions is the local church. Therefore, the local church is our priority. While we cooperate with and serve alongside other institutions, our focus is on assisting the local church in carrying out the Great Commission in their communities. We love the local church and consider it a joy to serve in every way. This has been and will continue to be our approach. 

As with any football game, to advance the score, you must move the ball forward. Amid an ever-shifting culture, it is my prayer that the churches of the SBTC be resolved to unify around the mission God has given us, stand firm on these three pillars, and see the gospel advance like never before. Let’s go forward together to reach Texas and impact the world! I love you and am grateful for you!  

Why we fast today

The most literal translation of the Greek New Testament word for fasting could be, “no eat.” The Hebrew Old Testament root word is even more direct: “shut mouth.” Clearly, fasting is a discipline of self-denial at the most basic level of refusing to eat for the sake of deepening our relationship with God. Does that sound like the kind of sacrifice the average person will be likely to embrace? Perhaps the answer is no, but not just anyone is called to fast: Christians are called to fast.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expressed the expectation that his followers are to fast, so he gave some basic instructions on how we should practice the discipline (Matthew 6:16-18). In his most famous sermon, Jesus didn’t say “if you fast” but said, “when you fast.” He clearly expects us to incorporate fasting into our walk with him. He even modeled the necessity of fasting in his intense 40-day fast in the desert of Judea.

Later, someone confronted Jesus about why his disciples were not fasting, even though John the Baptist’s disciples did fast. Jesus reminded them that he would soon go away and “then they will fast” (Matthew 9:14-15). When he predicted that a day would come when “then they will fast,” he was referring to times like now. He is in heaven, seated on his throne awaiting his return, and we are here—behind enemy lines—needing every spiritual advantage we can get.

[Jesus] is in heaven, seated on his throne awaiting his return, and we are here—behind enemy lines—needing every spiritual advantage we can get.

The early church practiced fasting as a part of their worship, too. In Antioch, for instance, Paul and other leaders fasted and prayed and the Spirit appeared in their midst to give them direction about world evangelization (Acts 13:1-4).

It is clear that fasting was part of the New Testament experience, and it can be traced through Christian history starting as early as the writings of the North African Christian apologist Tertullian, more than 100 years after the New Testament was completed and the last apostle died.

The question remains, should we fast today, and if so, why? The answer of course is yes, and the main reason should be obvious: Jesus expects it. Fasting is a spiritual discipline like prayer or Bible study given to us by the Father to strengthen our discipleship and develop our fellowship with Jesus.

In Scripture, fasting is closely related to prayer. The word prayer, for instance, or a derivative of it, occurs about 500 times in the Bible. The word fasting occurs about 50 times. Ninety percent of the biblical references to prayer do not include fasting but most references to fasting are related to prayer. Put another way, we can pray without fasting but we really can’t fast without praying. Prayer connects us to heaven while fasting disconnects us from Earth. The joining of prayer and fasting, therefore, is the equivalent of spiritual spontaneous combustion. Something powerful always happens.

One noticeable benefit of fasting becomes obvious when we study the well-known fasts in Scripture. Fasting, we learn, precedes breakthrough. New works of God are often the result when God’s people fast. For example, after Moses fasted, he received the Ten Commandments. After Nehemiah fasted, he led the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. After Ezra fasted, he safely led men, women, and children on a multi-month journey along a dangerous route from Babylon to Jerusalem. After Daniel fasted, he received a vision of the end of time. After Elijah fasted, he anointed kings and received a personal successor. After Jesus fasted, he began his public ministry. After Paul and Barnabas fasted, they began the first mission to take the gospel to the Gentiles and thus changed the world.

What if we fasted and prayed for a breakthrough of fresh works of God? Could prodigals be prayed back to the Lord? Could marriages be saved? Could churches baptize more new believers? Could local churches experience revival? Could we live to see the next great awakening in America? Why not?

Is God waiting for a passive, self-indulgent church to rediscover the ancient disciplines of prayer and fasting in order to grow strong in Christ and increase its ministry effectiveness? Perhaps the answer is embedded in an observation from the late A.W. Tozer: “Anything God has ever done He can do again. Anything He’s ever done anywhere He can do here. Anything He’s ever done with anyone He can do with you.”

Explainer: Texas law banning abortion procedure upheld by court of appeals

Last week, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court in New Orleans, Louisiana, upheld a Texas law prohibiting certain uses of an abortion method known as dilation and evacuation (D&E), a procedure “commonly used to end second-trimester pregnancies.” The law, officially known as Senate Bill 8 as it was being considered by the Legislature, was initially blocked by a “three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals” just last year but was granted a re-hearing by the full court at the request of the state of Texas. As a result, the law was officially upheld by the court.

The ERLC affirms the court’s decision to uphold Texas law and its prohibition of this inhumane procedure.

What exactly does SB 8 outlaw?

As recorded by Kevin McGill of the Associated Press, SB 8, first passed in 2017, is a law that “seeks to prohibit the use of forceps to remove a fetus from the womb without first using an injected drug or a suction procedure to ensure the fetus is dead.”

Stated differently, the intent of SB 8 is to outlaw what many in the pro-life community refer to as a “dismemberment abortion” from occurring in the second trimester of a mother’s pregnancy. In such dilation and evacuation procedures, children are forcefully removed from their mother’s womb with the use of forceps, resulting in the dismemberment and death of the child. The law, passed in Texas and upheld by the court of appeals on Wednesday, prevents these procedures from taking place.

It bears mentioning that this law is not a sweeping ban on abortion but a prohibition of a specific abortive procedure from occurring at a specific point during a pregnancy. And while more work is yet to be done to strengthen and expand pro-life legislation, this ruling is a common sense step to disallow a grisly method of abortion.

Can an abortion be performed safely?

Of the 14 appellate judges who heard arguments, nine ruled in favor of the Texas law. In the opinion, judges Jennifer Walker Elrod and Don Willett said “the record shows that doctors can safely perform D&E’s and comply with SB8 using methods that are already in widespread use (emphasis added),” an opinion that, despite the majority’s favorable ruling, makes a confounding assertion.

Furthermore, Judge James Dennis, in his dissent, said that SB 8 “makes it a felony to perform the most common and safe abortion procedure employed during the second trimester (emphasis added).” 

These statements beg the question, can an abortion be performed safely? According to these opinions and others, the safety of an abortive procedure depends solely on the resulting health of the mother. While we always want to be concerned about a mother’s health, it is important to recognize that when an abortion is performed precisely the way it is intended, it necessarily results in the death of a person — the preborn baby.

By definition, then, a successful abortion is never safe; it is always fatal.

Reaction outside the court

Outside the court, Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights and a critic of the decision, stated that her group “is analyzing the decision and considering all its legal options.” Northup went on to say, “At a time when the health care needs of Texans are greater than ever, the state should be making abortion more accessible, not less.”

On the other hand, Kimberlyn Schwartz, Texas Right to Life director of Media and Communication, praised the decision, saying, “Texans celebrate today’s long-awaited victory” and expressed gratitude at the court’s ruling. 

Obviously, the issue of abortion is a divisive topic within American culture, and the reaction to this ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is further evidence of that. The ERLC, in concert with Texas Right to Life and other pro-life organizations across the country, stands unwaveringly on the side of life.

What’s next?

Though this ruling is favorable to the cause of life, we can be sure that the ongoing work of protecting and preserving the lives of unborn children remains squarely in front of us. Texas’ SB 8 is a common sense measure that, to the extent that this law outlines, ensures the humane treatment of preborn children. The decision could be appealed and go all the way up to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, more robust protections are needed for these most vulnerable  children; protections that seek not only to disallow certain abortive procedures, but that further aid the cause of making abortion unthinkable. 

While we should continue the effort to strengthen and expand current legislation, the cause of life is an issue that will advance only as far as the collective conscience of our culture allows. The ERLC remains resolutely committed to working toward both the strengthening of legislation and the softening of hearts, for the cause of life and the glory of God. 

EQUIP 2021 attendees challenged to focus on Great Commission

HOUSTONThe Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s 2021 EQUIP conference Saturday, Aug. 14, at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston, drew 1,400 registered attendees plus 110 speakers and panelists, and staff. The day featured 275 breakout sessions on a variety of topics pertinent to all ages and types of church ministries. The event was geared for pastors, teachers and leaders.

Ronnie Floyd, president of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, delivered a powerful keynote message based upon the Great Commission in Matthew 28. 

“When I come to churches like yours in Texas, we are a people who believe in the authority of the Holy Scripture. We get our marching orders from this book called the Word of God,” Floyd told the crowd.

Reminding listeners that we “live in a bad news climate,” Floyd observed, “If there’s ever been a relevant moment where we ought to be able to really give good news, it’s right now in America,” reminding all of the ultimate good news of salvation: that Jesus died for our sins and “the sins of the entire world.”

Drawing from a variety of biblical passages, including Acts 1:8, Mark 16:15 and John 21:21 in addition to Matthew 28, Floyd urged “You can’t really have a true Great Commission Sunday School class and a true Great Commission church if you’re not going, and you’re not baptizing, and you are not teaching people how to live like Jesus lives.”

He also described the six strategic actions of the SBC’s Great Commission initiative, Vision 2025, adopted in June at the SBC annual meeting in Nashville: sending 500 more missionaries abroad, adding 5,000 congregations across the U.S., “calling out the called,” reversing the decline in baptisms of children and teenagers, increasing Cooperative Program giving and prayerfully endeavoring to eliminate all incidents of sexual abuse and racial discrimination in SBC churches.

In closing, Floyd challenged attendees to refocus their vision, reset their mindset and renew their commitment to the Great Commission.

Attendees were excited to attend the 2021 Equip Conference which featured 275 breakout sessions.

EQUIP’s breakouts and panel discussions engaged participants and energized presenters.

“People left inspired, motivated and equipped to go back to their local church to reach people for Jesus and make disciples,” Mark Yoakum, SBTC EQUIP consultant, told the TEXAN.

Scottie Stice, director of SBTC Disaster Relief, and his team of volunteers prepared and served breakfast tacos as guests arrived at EQUIP.

Jeff Lynn, SBTC senior strategist for Church Health and Leadership, expressed the attitude of presenters: “How encouraging and exciting it was to be part of ‘equipping’ saints for the work of the ministry,” adding that he was “praying for all of these churches to excel in Great Commission advance.”

Coleman Philley, a speaker in the men’s ministry sessions and pastor of First Baptist Katy, summed up the excitement of all who were glad to return to an in-person event: “Considering the past 18 months, it was extra encouraging to be in the same room with ministry leaders.”

Last year’s EQUIP was held online, via Zoom. 

Joy Brutas, who has been involved in children’s ministry at River Life Church in Austin for the past three years, said she was excited to be part of this year’s EQUIP for the first time.

“It was a great refresher course. It was so good to hear people with their ideas and be able to share input,” Brutas said. Brutas, who worked in children’s ministry for 22 years in Pennsylvania before coming to Texas, said she plans to attend EQUIP next year and encourage others to join her.

EQUIP 2022 is scheduled for Aug. 13, 2022, in the DFW area.

U.S. regulators give full approval to Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine


WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. gave full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, a milestone that may help lift public confidence in the shots as the nation battles the most contagious coronavirus mutant yet.

The vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech now carries the strongest endorsement from the Food and Drug Administration, which has never before had so much evidence to judge a shot’s safety. More than 200 million Pfizer doses already have been administered in the U.S. — and hundreds of millions more worldwide — since emergency use began in December.

President Joe Biden said that for those who hesitated to get the vaccine until it received what he dubbed the “gold standard” of FDA approval, “the moment you’ve been waiting for is here.”

“Please get vaccinated today,” he said.

“The public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” said acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock. “Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S.”

The U.S. becomes the first country to fully approve the shot, according to Pfizer, and CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement he hoped the decision “will help increase confidence in our vaccine, as vaccination remains the best tool we have to help protect lives.”

U.S. vaccinations bottomed out in July. As delta fills hospital beds, shots are on the rise again — with a million a day given Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Just over half of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated with one of the country’s three options, from Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.

The FDA’s action also may spur more vaccine mandates by companies, universities and local governments. This month New York City, New Orleans and San Francisco all imposed proof-of-vaccination requirements at restaurants, bars and other indoor venues. At the federal level, President Joe Biden is requiring government workers to sign forms attesting that they’ve been vaccinated or else submit to regular testing and other requirements.

The FDA, like regulators in Europe and much of the world, initially allowed emergency use of Pfizer’s vaccine based on a study that tracked 44,000 people 16 and older for at least two months — the time period when serious side effects typically arise.

That’s shorter than the six months of safety data normally required for full approval. So Pfizer kept that study going, and the FDA also examined real-world safety evidence in deciding to fully license the vaccine for people 16 and older, those studied the longest. Pfizer’s shot still has emergency authorization for 12- to 15-year-olds.

Even after hundreds of millions of shots, serious side effects — such as chest pain and heart inflammation in teens and young adults — remain exceedingly rare, the FDA said.

As for effectiveness, six-month tracking of Pfizer’s original study showed the vaccine remained 97 percent protective against severe COVID-19. Protection against milder infection waned slightly, from a peak of 96 percent two months after the second dose to 84 percent by six months.

Those data came before the extra-contagious delta variant began spreading, but other data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the vaccine is still doing a good job preventing severe disease caused by that mutant.

As for all the talk about booster doses, the FDA’s licensure doesn’t cover those. The agency will decide that separately.

The FDA already is allowing emergency use of a third dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine for people with severely weakened immune systems, such as organ transplant recipients who don’t respond as strongly to the usual two shots. For everyone else who got those vaccinations, the Biden administration is planning ahead for booster starting in the fall — if the FDA and CDC agree.

Also still to be decided is vaccination of children under 12. Both Pfizer and Moderna are studying youngsters, with data expected in the fall.

From The Associated Press. May not be republished.

Zealous for good works

[He] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).

I plan to complete my 2021 columns by highlighting four distinctives, denominational virtues really, that I’ve observed in the SBTC. Some of these are a tribute to the convention’s founding generation and some are advantages of being the newest of the Southern Baptist state conventions. The first I’d highlight is zeal. 

As I said, there are some advantages relative to energy that convey to new organizations. A new restaurant or a new church can gain momentum just by not being that “same old thing.” The SBTC has benefited from that, but we’ve also seen that being new is an entrée, not the foundation of a long-term mission. There’s a church near us called “Brand New Church.” I don’t know how old they are, but they’ve painted themselves into a corner if being new is their thing. People have to see something more than sparkle when they stick their heads in the door. After more than two decades, the SBTC has developed some deep and stable traits related to zeal and energy. 

One sign of long-term momentum is a commitment to the future rather than the past. You can see it in the staff members the convention has consistently raised up. The SBTC’s leadership team has trended younger than those of other state conventions for most of its life. Trusting younger people with the apparatus of the convention is an act of faith but also signals an openness to innovation that inevitably follows when a new generation leads. It has been a good example to our churches as they also work through significant generational transitions. 

The convention’s zeal is also seen by the posture of reform maintained by its leaders throughout its life. After developing a ministry structure for the first 10 years—those years of growth were an ongoing reformation—the SBTC has been through two major restructures during the second 10 years. These were done in a denominational context that saw other state conventions driven to grudgingly downsize by declining Cooperative Program giving. Such crises in other conventions have often occurred as some pastors doubted their state leadership was forward-thinking and efficient. That has not driven the organization of the SBTC’s staff. True, the COVID-19 year took a bite out of the convention’s giving, but the concerns of that year provided the occasion rather than the cause of restructuring. The SBTC has been a work in progress but has not yet been driven by desperation. Convention leadership committed to timely responses to the needs of the churches has spared the SBTC those moments of panic we’ve seen in some larger and older state conventions. 

But the purpose of this forward striving has not been for the sake of winning some contest or even the survival of the institution. The SBTC has been “zealous for good works,” as detailed in its core values adopted in 1998. Always and ever, the convention leadership is thinking about how to serve the churches as they pursue their Great Commission ministry. That is our good work. The convention does not baptize people or start churches; churches do that. Neither does the convention disciple new believers or build up stronger churches. It’s our privilege to help with those things, to provide resources and expertise that churches can call on as they grow the kingdom. The convention’s mission statement refers to “facilitating” the work of the churches. I’ve never been in an SBTC meeting where that mission took a backseat to denomination for its own sake.  

Call it “energy” or “zeal,” the SBTC must maintain this drive into the future. This trait must remain a virtue of our leaders and part of our church culture.  

Two of the greatest natural disasters in recent American history occurred in a Texas context. The first was Hurricane Katrina over in Louisiana. Texans spread out from Houston to Baton Rouge to not only restore our eastern neighbors but also to house, feed and comfort evacuees who came to Texas. I watched in an auditorium of Second Baptist Houston as thousands sat through a quick version of disaster relief training. Our fellowship of churches demonstrated a genuine commitment to good works that affected people in dire need. 

The second event was Hurricane Harvey. This time, the Texas Gulf Coast was devastated by a hurricane that wandered leisurely up the coast, doing wind damage is some spots and bringing a record deluge in others. While we were heartened at the quick response of our neighboring states, volunteers slogged through flooded roads into Southeast Texas to find churches and church members already at work. The drive of our people was such that an organic disaster relief response was underway even while the water was still rising. Apply it in as many ways as you will, but that is the spirit I mean. Our fellowship of churches doesn’t nearly have a lock on that, but this fervent desire for gospel ministry has been a characteristic of our convention from the beginning. I believe it comes from devotion to the Lord and a love for our neighbors.    

The attributes of our state convention are not a “special sauce” that ensures an organization will succeed. Think of them as gospel virtues that follow from seeking the Lord in all things. Whether he finds us successful in all that we attempt, may he certainly find us faithful, earnestly pursuing good works to the glory of our God.  

Disaster Relief Appreciation Sunday recognizes volunteer efforts

ALPHARETTA, Ga.—Every year, thousands of volunteers with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) bring tangible help and spiritual hope during the trying days that follow disaster. This Sunday, August 22, Southern Baptists will celebrate them by recognizing Disaster Relief Appreciation Sunday.

Most people rightfully think of the legions of yellow shirts that travel from across the nation to respond to the devastation wrought by major hurricanes or tornadoes, but SBDR routinely respond to a great diversity of events that do not make national headlines.

“I continue to believe the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is one of the best volunteer disaster response groups in the world,” said Coy Webb, who recently joined Send Relief as crisis response director after leading SBDR with Kentucky Baptists for 13 years. “It is filled with volunteers who sacrificially serve to bring compassion to those reeling from disasters.”

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) is one of the top three organizations in the United States that provides disaster relief. Any time disaster strikes, SBDR volunteers are among the first to arrive and the last to leave. NAMB photo

In 2020, a year marked by COVID-19 and the historic Atlantic storm season, volunteers invested 673,000 hours, prepared 754,000 meals, presented the gospel 7,000 times and witness more than 875 people profess faith in Christ.

A record 30 named storm systems formed in the Atlantic in 2020, including Hurricanes Laura, Sally and Delta. Laura and Delta hit Lake Charles, La., merely six weeks apart while Sally directly hit the Gulf Coast. There were 28 state SBDR teams that responded to those hurricanes, serving approximately 15,000 people in 7,200 homes, according to Sam Porter, national director for disaster relief for Send Relief who served more than 19 years as SBDR director for Oklahoma Baptists.

“The pandemic forced us to do things that we’d never done before,” said Porter. “I think it was the best year for SBDR because we had to think outside the box and do whatever it took to get it done, encouraging SBDR teams to connect to communities in need through the local church. We had thousands upon thousands of churches jump in to serve, responding to their own local communities.”

There has not been a nationwide disaster response so far in 2021, but volunteers have been hard at work throughout the year responding to local events such as ice storms, floods, fires, tornadoes, the pandemic and other crises.

“Now we are in early hurricane season, and we know that if something hits, we will be there to serve,” said Porter. “We have a nationwide network of SBDR leaders and volunteers who are ready to go. We’d rather not have to go, of course, but if we need to, we will be there.”

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief provides a number of services in the aftermath of natural disasters and other crises. They prepare meals, remove trees and pray with survivors. These efforts give them the opportunity to share the gospel and see people respond. NAMB photo

Volunteers with SBDR have served 123,000 hours served and prepared nearly 75,000 meals. presented the gospel nearly 5,000 times this year with more than 300 making professions of faith in Christ. Nearly 200 of those professions have occurred as Southern Baptists have worked together to minister during the migrant crisis at the United States’ southern border.

“We do what we do to earn the right to share the gospel,” Porter said. “When people ask our volunteers, ‘Why do you do what you do,’ they have a chance to share their faith and invite people to believe the gospel.”

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is one of the top three volunteer disaster relief providers in the United States and has one of the largest trained, volunteer forces. This includes teams capable of conducting mass feedings for storm survivors and crews capable of helping to remove downed trees, storm debris and repair roofs following natural disasters.

Send Relief is a collaborative effort between the International Mission Board (IMB) and North American Mission Board (NAMB) that provides an opportunity to serve through compassion ministry around the world. The primary partner for conducting disaster relief is Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.

“Southern Baptist Disaster Relief brings practical help, a healing touch, and the hope of Christ to countless people when disasters strike,” Webb said. “Send Relief counts it a privilege to serve beside our partners with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, and with them to fulfill both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.”

In a recent video, NAMB president Kevin Ezell thanked SBDR leaders and volunteers for their efforts in bringing help and hope to disaster survivors.

Send Relief, World Relief working together to resettle Afghan refugees

ALPHARETTA, Ga.—In the aftermath of the sudden, tragic fall of Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban, thousands of refugees have been fleeing the landlocked nation to escape persecution and retaliation from the extremist group. Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of Southern Baptists, has begun the process of helping Afghan refugees as they resettle around the world by working with World Relief and other ministry partners.

Tensions heightened in July and August 2021 as the United States withdrew troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban overtook the nation, leaving thousands of Afghans scrambling to flee for fear of persecution by the extremist group. Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of Southern Baptists, has been finding ways to serve these refugees in the United States and other nations to which they are fleeing. International Mission Board photo.

Photos of packed aircraft and video of desperate Afghan people surrounding planes as they take off have captured the world’s attention in recent days. Those who served alongside the United States military in some capacity are among the groups in the direst situation, but there are thousands of others whose lives and livelihoods are now at risk because of the Taliban.

“We need to pray for the Afghan people as many are fleeing with nothing but the clothes they have on,” said Bryant Wright, president of Send Relief. “Any remaining Christians will be targeted. The women and girls who are left behind will lose the freedoms they’ve gained over the last 20 years. May the church minister to any refugees our government allows in who have supported American efforts or faced persecution there.”

Thousands of Afghan refugees are expected to arrive in the United States in the coming days and weeks, and World Relief—a global Christian humanitarian organization that partners with local churches to serve vulnerable populations—has 17 offices across the United States where they aid refugees who will settle there.

As churches seek to respond, Send Relief will provide training and materials to equip churches that want to serve refugees in their communities and connect churches with organizations, like World Relief, that will help make direct connections with refugee families.

Most refugees arrive in the United States and need to find places to live, figure out how to enroll their kids in school and purchase basic household and hygiene items. Many also need assistance with learning English. Organizations like World Relief often work with local churches to help meet some of these needs.

“We don’t view this through the lens of politics or even the through the lens of the images coming out of Afghanistan right now,” said James Misner, senior vice president of strategic engagement for World Relief. “We view this through, and we respond through the lens of the commands of God in scripture—which tell us over and over again to welcome the stranger in need.”

Matthew Soerens, World Relief’s U.S. director of church mobilization and advocacy, also addressed concerns about the vetting process for refugees entering the United States with Baptist Press.

The U.S. government has, in recent decades, taken steps to ensure that those applying for refugee status receive background checks against several databases, according to The Heritage Foundation.

Afghans who provided assistance to the U.S., and are seeking to flee Afghanistan apply through a process called the Special Immigrant Visa program, a long vetting procedure that often takes more than two years to complete. Christians, women and other religious minorities are likely to flee the nation and seek refugee status in the U.S. or elsewhere.

Along with assisting in the refugee resettlement process in the United States, Send Relief also coordinates with international partners in resettling refugees in other nations around the world, helping those forced to leave their homes adjust to life in what is oftentimes a strange, new land.

To learn more about how you can give or serve refugees in this current crisis, visit

Netflix animated musical ‘Vivo’ is toe-tapping, family-friendly fun  

Editor’s note: This series, “5 Family-Friendly Things,” spotlights five family-friendly entertainment choices on film, DVDs, streaming or television.

His name is “Vivo,” and he’s the most talented kinkajou this side of South America. 

He can dance. He can play musical instruments. Most of all, he can perform on cue when his owner—a talented elderly man named Andres—takes him to the lively streets of Havana, Cuba, their home. There, they sing for coins. 

Who wouldn’t pay money to watch a kinkajou tap dance? Fortunately for Andres, plenty of Havana’s citizens do just that.

As Vivo sees it, he and Andres have a “perfect life.” They eat mangoes together. They relax along the beach together.  

And then everything changes. 

Andres receives a letter from a former love interest, Marta, asking him to attend her final concert in Miami. Andres is thrilled—not only because he wants to see Marta again but also because he wants to deliver a love song he wrote for her. 

But then Andres dies. 

Vivo is grieved, yes, but he is determined to fulfill Andres’ wishes. Vivo decides he will find a way to get to Miami—and that Marta will hear the romantic song Andres penned. 

It’s all part of the new Netflix movie Vivo (PG), a family-friendly animated musical that features one of the top names in musicals—Lin-Manuel Miranda—in the lead role. Miranda, who has starred in such films as Hamilton and Mary Poppins Returns, co-wrote the music and served as executive director. 

The story follows Vivo as he befriends a quirky girl named Gabi, who also is grieving a loss (her father died) and who agrees to help Vivo find Marta. Together, Vivo and Gabi fill a void in each other’s lives at the exact moment they need a companion.  

It’s one of the best family movies of the year, thanks to positive messages (about friendship, fatherhood and parenting) and a handful of toe-tapping songs that will stick in your head. Thankfully, it includes no language or sexuality and only a bit of Looney Tunes-type violence. It has one hiccup—Gabi disobeys her mom—but if you can avoid that, it’s a fun ride. 

Also worth watching:   

Expedition Unknown (Discovery Plus)

Host Josh Gates takes viewers on a worldwide journey to explore some of history’s most interesting subjects, such as the disappearance of Amelia Earhart’s plane and the D-Day battle on Normandy’s shores. The first nine seasons are now on Discovery Plus. Rated TV-PG for minor language.  

Serengeti II (Discovery Plus)

The Emmy-nominated series returns for a second season with jaw-dropping drone footage of animals on the plains of Tanzania. Imagine walking alongside a lion or jogging within a herd of elephants—only a few feet away from danger. That’s what Serengeti II delivers. Job 12:10 says of the animals, “In [God’s] hand is the life of every living thing.” No doubt, Serengeti II can spark reflection and even worship among viewers. TV-PG. 

Chip ‘n’ Dale: Park Life (Disney Plus)

America’s favorite squirrels spark mayhem and solve problems in this hilarious new Disney Plus series. Each episode is comprised of three seven-minute segments. TV-Y7.

Ruth (Sight & Sound TV)

If you’ve never had an opportunity to watch one of Sight & Sound’s Broadway-like productions in person, then this is the next-best thing. The uplifting story of Ruth is the latest musical to enter the Sight & Sound TV platform (Sight-Sound.TV). It was filmed in front of a live audience. 

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and entertainment for more than 15 years. He is the husband to Julie and the father of four young children.