Month: June 2022

Want to see kingdom diversity? Look no further than Amarillo

Paramount partnership

For Danial Habte, pastor of Kingdom Gospel Church and All Nation Worship Church—two congregations connected to Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo—international evangelism begins with relationship and can occur in the unlikeliest of places. 

For Yusuf Hussein, All Nation and Habte have been lifesaving. 

Habte, a native of Eritrea, planted churches for 13 years in
Sudan, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey before arriving in Amarillo at the end of 2012, when the Turkish government refused to renew his work permit. 

From Turkey to Texas

When persecution prevented his return to Eritrea—a small African country bordering the Red Sea—Habte, his wife, Weini, and their children applied for and were granted asylum in the U.S.

Embassy officials asked the Habtes where they would like to relocate in America. They prayed that God would choose the city and state for them, assuming they would be sent to a large city.

“Do you know anyone in Texas?” an embassy official asked.

“We don’t have anybody. We don’t know where to go,” Habte replied, assuming they would be sent to Dallas or Houston.

Instead, their destination became Amarillo, a city they had never heard of before.

The family arrived in Amarillo in December 2012. Missionary friends from Turkey introduced them to Paramount Baptist, where Danial shared his desire with church leadership to evangelize internationals. Before long, a significant multiethnic, multicultural ministry began right in the heart of the Texas Panhandle.

Kingdom Gospel Church started as a
Bible study for followers of Christ who met in Paramount facilities. Danial, eventually on staff as missionary-in-residence at the church, led the study and became the group’s pastor. Today, services continue every Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. In 2014, Kingdom Gospel Church affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Kingdom Gospel members are primarily Eritreans and Ethiopians, Habte said.

Recently, a second Bible study, geared partly but not exclusively for Arabic-speaking peoples, launched at Paramount and has become a separate congregation: All Nation Worship Church. The group meets later in the afternoon on Sundays than Kingdom Gospel. Migrants from seven to eight countries attend, including South Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, and the Congo.

Paramount also offers English as a Second Language classes on Wednesdays and during the traditional Sunday school hour.

Sundays are busy days for Habte, who is building the two congregations by befriending Panhandle area migrants.

“We build friendships with all communities: Muslims from the Middle East, Somalis, and Sudanese. They know I am a pastor and work in the church. We help them with things like rides, Walmart trips, applications,” Habte said.

Somali and Sudanese migrants tend to cluster in two areas of Amarillo, he said, adding that he and his family live close to Paramount. He has found that if you build friendships with migrants, they will come.

Yusuf’s story

Yusuf Hussein understands living in constant danger. In 2014, the Somali native came to the U.S. from the Awbare refugee camp in Ethiopia.

“I had to leave my country for fear of genocide, killing. [It was] generally unsafe for life. Every day people kill each other for no reason,” Hussein said.

His path to the U.S. first took him to San Diego, Calif., where he heard of work available in a meatpacking plant in Amarillo. To Texas he went.

A Christian friend gave him a Somali-language Bible in 2016. Hussein hadn’t encountered Christians in Somalia but remembered contacts with believers in Ethiopia, where he “started to see good things from Christians.”

Christian behavior contradicted his preconceptions about the faith gleaned from his Muslim background in Somalia. “I found out it was misconception and contradiction; what I had heard before about Christianity was wrong,” he recalled.

Hussein decided to read through the Bible, and he said he “believed and accepted Jesus in the same year I finished reading the Bible.”

It hasn’t been easy since.

Once they learned of his conversion, family members forbade Hussein from associating with them. He was barred from the Amarillo Somalian community and businesses. Once he was harassed and physically beaten by local Somalians. He has experienced “cultural discomfort” not only learning to live in the U.S., but also adjusting to Christian community itself.

“Living among people with whom I had never lived before was hard for me,” he said.

But through Habte and All Nation, Hussein has found a home.

"I feel relieved and comforted. Pastor Danial helped me connect with other followers of Christ who have the same background and culture."

Hussein said he thanks God that he found Pastor Habte: “I feel relieved and comforted. Pastor Danial helped me connect with other followers of Christ who have the same background and culture.” 

Hussein serves as treasurer of All Nation and, though forbidden from formally socializing with other Islamic migrants, has learned to share the gospel with them nonetheless through YouTube presentations, thanks to training provided by Habte and others at Paramount.

Hussein’s experience illustrates the power of relationship and the methods by which All Nation is growing God’s kingdom. “We use relational evangelism skills. Evangelism is all about relationship,” Habte noted in a description of his ministry, Kingdom Gospel Mission.

Were it not for Paramount’s ongoing partnership, Habte’s work would be far more difficult. “Paramount is always missional and continually supportive,” he said.

With the nations migrating to the U.S., sharing the gospel internationally can take place on one’s own doorstep, even in the Texan Panhandle.

Mastering one of the hardest words

People learning English as a second language often say it is one of the hardest to grasp, with its vast assortment of idioms, punctuation rules, and pronunciations that can change literally depending on what zip code you’re standing in.

Yet there’s one word I’ve found that’s hard to pronounce whether you’re from Dubai, Des Moines, or Dallas: No.

We just don’t like telling people no. And that’s a problem.

A few weeks back, I had the privilege of having a conversation with Lance Witt, who will serve as the keynote speaker at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Equip Conference in August. Witt is among a growing number of voices trying to convince followers of Christ—including pastors and church leaders—to pay at least as much attention to nurturing their own lives and souls as they do members, budgets, and strategic plans.

On our way to that healthier version of ourselves, at some point we’re going to have to learn to say no. I love how Witt put it during our conversation: “We need to realize that every no is rooted in a higher yes.”

That statement is profound, but it’s not rocket science, is it? We all know that saying yes to some things will naturally mean saying no to others. So why is saying “no” so difficult, especially in ministry contexts? Because if we say no, we will feel like we’re somehow not meeting someone else’s needs. We might feel like we’re not being nice if we say “no.” In some instances, we might feel like saying no will shatter the tenuous peace we’ve been able to keep with the person pressing hard for a yes. 

"You can’t be all things to all people. Let’s let God take care of that role. His shoulders are big enough to handle that kind of load."

I’ve been there. As a lead pastor with a penchant for people-pleasing, I admit I had a hard time saying no. One particularly busy week, I was behind on sermon prep and knew Saturday was going to have to be a catch-up day for me, so I said no to a family who invited me to their teenager’s birthday party. In another instance, we had a truck driver in the church who would often call my cell because he got bored on his long drives—usually as early as 5 a.m. or after midnight. For my own sanity (and sleep!), I had to set a firm no boundary there, as well. Neither instance was easy, but the higher yes came in being prepared to deliver God’s Word on Sunday morning and protecting rare times of rest. 

What about you? Are you getting ready to deliver a yes because it seems too hard to say no? Your yes may keep the church activity wheel turning, but will that come at the expense of a season God might intend for you to be still as He opens another door in His timing? Your yes may keep that grumpy church member happy, but will it come at the expense of an activity your child is participating in that will never happen again?

Don’t get me wrong—if we find ourselves saying no all the time, we’re going to miss golden opportunities to minister to others and share the hope of Jesus with those who desperately need to hear it.

But you can’t be all things to all people. Let’s let God take care of that role. His shoulders are big enough to handle that kind of load. 

Chances are, yours are not. 

Equip Conference keynote speaker Witt says ‘doing’ is necessary for leaders, but ‘being’ comes first

Strong leaders are built from the inside out

Lance Witt will be the keynote speaker at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s annual Equip Conference set for August 13 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. Witt is the founder of REPLENISH ministries and author of “Replenish,” “High Impact Teams,” and, most recently, “Your ONE Life: Own it, Live it, Love it.” He recently spoke with the Texan about the importance of soul care, self-awareness, and understanding identity as it pertains to pastors and church leaders. 

When it comes to leadership, so much has been written and taught about how to lead in an external sense (structures and strategies, processes and procedures). Yet the heart of your ministry has focused much more on the internal parts of leadership like “being” and spiritual health. What were you seeing in the Christian landscape that led you to make that the focus of your ministry?

Lance Witt: The first thing I was seeing was a lack of health in my own soul. I was coming out of seven years as an executive and teaching pastor at Saddleback Church. I was there when Rick [Warren, Saddleback’s pastor] wrote “Purpose Driven Life,” so that was a huge game-changer for him, for our church, and for our staff. It was a season of amazing ministry influence, but also a season with a lot of challenges because the church was exploding in growth, everybody was contacting the church, Rick sort of became this global celebrity. And so the bottom line is, I just really wasn’t leading myself very well. I just began to see, as hard as I was working and trying to do good things and serve the Lord on the inside, I was pretty empty.

I think my story is not unusual, especially for a lot of people who are either pastors or who serve as volunteers in leadership. We’re sort of taught like—we’re very Word-centered, we’re very evangelistic, let’s go win the world for Jesus—but in the process, we haven’t really been taught much about caring for our own souls. What I began to discover is that even though theologically I would’ve known I had a soul and that my soul was headed for heaven and had been redeemed by the cross, what I didn’t really live with was the experiential reality that my soul needed attention on a daily basis and that I had to care for and nurture my soul and the being side of my life.

That doesn’t minimize the importance of doing, but I think being comes first. And by the way, I think this is really consistent with what Jesus taught, that the Christian life is inside to outside. He says it starts with the root and then it moves toward fruit, it goes from the invisible to the visible. I think that’s why Solomon said in Proverbs 4 that, above everything else, guard your heart, your inner life, because everything you do flows from that.

Equip is an event designed specifically to train leaders in the local church. Many of those leaders are lay leaders who have full-time jobs, busy families, and they’re working through the stresses and struggles of everyday life. What are some practical ways lay leaders in 2022 can find a balance between being present with their families and active in their churches without running themselves into the ground?

LW: I think part of this is just embracing that there is a dual component to this thing. There is paying attention to my inner life, my soul, my relationships, but then also realizing that the reason God left me on earth … was that He has an assignment for me and He has given me gifts and called me into the body. He’s wired us in such a way that at the end of the day, we can never be fulfilled when we’re just consumers taking care of ourselves. Now, I really do believe that self care is not selfish—it’s good stewardship. But we can become self-absorbed, and it just becomes all about us and our comfort and meeting our needs and taking care of what we want. God just didn’t wire us that way. He wired us so that our great fulfillment comes in part when we’re actually serving.

One of the things I’m going to talk about in my main session comes out of the book I just released last year called “Your ONE Life.” I think if people are going to live meaningful lives in 2022 as lay people who have full-time jobs, families to take care of, and serve in the local church, it starts with first getting really clear about your purpose in life, what is your true north, and what is it that, at the end of the day, you truly value? The whole book is based on the idea of how do we really steward well the one and only life we’ve ever been given? A key verse I use is Psalm 90:12, which says, “Teach us to number our days that we may grow a heart of wisdom.” We need to live with this sense of [understanding] that we get one shot at this life. We need to be really clear about our purpose. We need to be crystal clear about our values. And then I think this is where it gets really practical, but I need to align my priorities and align my week around the things that I say are most important to me, because what I’ve discovered is that my life and my calendar sort of become like my garage. If I just leave it alone, it ends up really cluttered. 

I think getting clear about what’s really important and then aligning my life around that is what really leads to the beauty of a life that is paying attention to my personal life, but also is engaged in serving. I will talk in my main session about grabbing your life by the throat—like, you really have to take responsibility for your life and where you’re going to commit to.

You plan on addressing a couple of other important topics at Equip: rhythms and relationships. Can you just share a glimpse about what God has put on your heart about those two topics?

LW: We live in a world where everybody is on 24/7, where we can stay plugged in all the time and have our smartphones attached to our hip. I think for me to really live a great life and be an effective servant, I need to have a rhythm of life that works hard and produces, but one that also has built into it a time for rest and replenishment. Go back to the very beginning of creation, where God’s model for us is this rhythm of produce, create, work, and then pause and rest. I need that rhythm because God made everything in the universe with this sense of rhythm. Nothing was made to give out all of the time. I love in Leviticus when God is talking about sabbath and He says, “Every seven years, I want you to give the physical dirt a Sabbath because nothing was made to give out all the time.”

So I just think we need a more developed theology of rest. We need to learn how to work hard, and then also unplug hard. I think that if we could learn to have healthy rhythms, we could actually do ministry from a place where we are filled up, in love with Jesus and in love with people. When it comes to relationships—and this will be more in my breakout session—I think the key to really effective leadership is that we need to be relational leaders. God has called us to shepherd sheep, to love on them. We can never forget that God called us to love people. I just want to challenge people to really shepherd and love the people that they are with in a very profound way. I think sometimes we are very transactional in our approach [with volunteers in the church] and it ends up feeling very utilitarian. I want my volunteers to feel that what I care about is what I want for them, not just what I want from them.

Let’s say someone pulls you aside at Equip and says, “Hey, I’m a follower of Christ, but I know my internal life is a mess. What should I do?” There’s no quick and easy answer to that question, but what are a few practical, immediate steps that people can take to get their life headed in a better direction?

LW: I think one would be just acknowledging that you actually have an inner life and that maybe it’s not in the healthiest place right now. I always say that whatever is going on inside of me internally is always going to leak out externally. So just the fact that you are acknowledging that is a huge gift, but I would also say, make yourself begin to go on journey—and it’s going to take a while—to raise your level of self-awareness. I love this quote: “Self-awareness is your best defense against self-defeat.” I think if you can become a more self-aware leader and understand how your family of origin has impacted you, how people’s voices over you in the past have created a narrative in your head that you tend to believe … you will begin to better understand your identity in Christ.

Two ways the local church may prevent attrition in global missions

Life on the mission field is commendable work and, for many, a calling worth giving their lives to. The life and work of a missionary, though, is challenging for untold reasons, a fact the apostle Paul knew all too well.

In describing his work, he wrote, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8). From families whose missionary zeal wanes because of sickness to marital difficulties brought on by a seemingly unending workload to the discouragement experienced after years of no visible gospel fruit, not to mention exposure to deep depression, anxiety, and persecution, the challenges and potential afflictions for missionaries are many. And, too often, the result is a mission field vacated, left to lie fallow.

These are some of the real examples being highlighted by studies indicating an alarming pattern of attrition in global missions. For example, a recent three-year study conducted by Missio Nexus showed that upward of two-thirds of missionaries left the field for potentially preventable reasons, equating financially to around 40 million dollars lost every three years. From a stewardship perspective, this is problematic. But, equally important, the stories behind these numbers are tragic. Years of potential gospel ministry are being squandered, oftentimes for reasons which better pre-field assessment, equipping, and care may have prevented.

So, how can our churches better prepare their missionaries to avoid these pitfalls, so many of which could be preventable? Below I discuss two biblical principles for minimizing missionary attrition.

Two missionary principles

After Jesus commissioned his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18), a pattern began to develop as the message of the gospel advanced, a pattern that continues to this day. The Lord saves people from their sin and, upon being baptized into the Triune name of God, these new believers are joined to a local assembly—a church. It’s at the emergence of this pattern, after the establishment of the local church first encountered in the book of Acts, that we see in the church at Antioch the first Christian missionaries identified and sent:

“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:2).

We may ask: was this a random, purely reactive response by the church to send out missionaries simply because Barnabas and Saul felt “called” to go? Furthermore, beyond being prompted by the Holy Spirit, how did they know Barnabas and Saul were qualified and ready for this difficult work? These questions lead to the first principle.

Take the time to have missionary candidates tested within the church

In Acts 11:26, we read that Barnabas, who had been sent by the church in Jerusalem to Antioch, sought out Saul, bringing him to Antioch where they labored together among the churches for at least a year before being sent out. If we fast-forward to Acts 16, where Scripture details Paul’s recruitment of Timothy, describing him as a man spoken highly of by “the brothers and sisters at Lystra and Iconium” (v. 2), we encounter a similar idea. In both stories, we are introduced to characters who had been vetted by the churches where they belonged and identified as men qualified for the work of missions.

In other words, these were not quick assessments by the churches in Antioch, Lystra, or Iconium. These men were not qualified based on some sort of subjective whim, but were men from among the church who had proven themselves as qualified because of their time-tested faithfulness to the gospel. Thus, it is here, where we learn our most foundational missionary principle: the local church is the proving ground by which potential missionaries are assessed and equipped over time for the work of ministry abroad. Therefore, churches should take ample time to know their missionary candidates.

Take the time and resources to care for those you send and partner with in missions

As Paul labored in his mission of proclaiming the gospel, establishing churches and elders, and encouraging the churches he helped plant, he himself was cared for by the church. In Philippians 4, Paul seems to view the financial partnership of the church as more than simply bankrolling the mission, but as a kindness to share (to have fellowship) in his trouble (Phil. 4:14). He highlights his need for the local church’s prayers, and he outlines the encouragement he draws from them (Phil. 1:19; Col. 4:3; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1). And he writes of the importance of the church to remember his difficulties (Col. 4:18).

Furthermore, we see the encouragement he receives in Timothy’s report that the church in Thessalonica remembers and longs for them, causing them to be comforted even in the difficulties of field life (1 Thess. 3:6-9). And after being stoned in Lystra, where does Paul go for a time of reprieve and encouragement, but to the church in Antioch (Acts 14:24-28)?

In reading the book of Acts and Paul’s letters in the New Testament, the principle of resourcing, caring for, and partnering with missionaries on the field is undeniable. And it is a principle rooted in the supernatural love found only in the people united to Christ in a local church, a love which transcends surface-level pleasantries and affects the soul. The local church, therefore, is the primary means by which biblical soul care and tangible care are given to its missionaries.

How we can get better at sending

So, how are we doing at sending? In our heart for missions, are we so eager to flood the fields with workers that we neglect our responsibility to prepare those we’re sending? Are we unknowingly sacrificing the sustainability of brothers and sisters in the field at the altar of convenience and speed?

There are untold churches laboring well to assess, equip, and care for those in their congregations who desire to go to difficult places for the gospel. Yet there are many churches who desire this but who may not be well-equipped to provide adequate attention, time, and resources to faithfully steward this responsibility. Either way, our ultimate hope and assurance is founded in the fact that God will be glorified whether we do it well or not; it is his mission to complete.

Yet, this is exactly the reason and fuel for why we must continue to press in and wisely steward the roles he has given us as members and participants within his flock. Our love and desire for God’s glory among the nations must not drive us to neglect the means by which he accomplishes this, which is the local church. The clear pattern in Scripture is that the local church assesses, equips, and cares for his flock, even as it sends its members to ends of the Earth.

So, what are some practical ways the church can more fully embrace this responsibility of assessment, equipping, and care of those desiring to go and those sent?

Slow down the assessment process to ensure that missionary candidates are qualified to go. Prayerfully consider ways you can encourage and care for those that you send. Some ideas include pastoral trips, offering biblical soul care, sending teams to serve the staff in tangible ways, and equipping members of your church to care for those you send.Grow a zeal for missions as you teach your congregation about missions and their role in caring for missionaries as it comes up in Scripture, and by praying corporately for brothers and sisters around the world.

Though we do have an enemy, and much opposition and difficulty in this world (Acts 14:22), let us not grow weary in our pursuit of sending spiritually mature missionaries and caring biblically for them on and off the field. And let us do this so that these precious missionaries and the nations whom they serve might more clearly see the glory of the one true and living God.

The post Two ways the local church may prevent attrition in global missions appeared first on ERLC.

SATF recommends ‘Ministry Check’ database, Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force

NASHVILLE (BP)—A report issued Wednesday from the Sexual Abuse Task Force (SATF) includes “challenges” for Southern Baptist groups toward better abuse prevention policies as well as two recommendations, including the formation of a website to maintain a record of those credibly accused or convicted of sexual abuse.

Those challenges included the request for a $3 million allocation to fund the implementation of sexual abuse reforms over the next year. That allocation will come from Cooperative Program overages as well as a portion of the Vision 2025 budget and through an Executive Committee recommendation to messengers in Anaheim.

The SATF is scheduled to deliver its report at 1:45 during the Tuesday (June 14) afternoon session of the SBC annual meeting in Anaheim.

A recommendation requiring approval by messengers concerns the creation of a “Ministry Check” website for the purpose of “maintaining a record of pastors, denominational workers, ministry employees, and volunteers who have at any time been credibly accused of sexual abuse.”

Inquiries into the database would focus on individuals, not a church.

“Statistics show that sexual offenders have an 80 percent recidivism rate,” the report said. “One of the problems in our churches is the ability of abusers to move from one church to another to perpetuate their abuse. This often happens because churches don’t have the means to communicate with one another.”

Names in the database would consist of those with a conviction or civil judgment against them for sexual abuse as well as those that an independent firm determines have been credibly accused of abuse. The sexual abuse allocation is available to cover the cost of an independent firm if a church or other Baptist group is unable or unwilling to do so.

Another recommendation proposes the creation of an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF), which would operate on a three-year term and provide reports at the 2023, 2024 and 2025 annual meetings. ARITF members and leadership would be appointed by the SBC president and, though funded by the aforementioned allocation, “shall operate with full independence.”

The ARITF would study the feasibility of Guidepost’s recommendations, including establishing a survivor care fund and memorial, and report on those findings at next year’s annual meeting in New Orleans. The group would also study the possible creation of a permanent committee and assist SBC entities in implementing the recommendations within the context of their ministry assignment. State conventions and other “Baptist bodies” could request the ARITF provide the names of independent firms for training.

An independent firm selected by the Credentials Committee and ARITF would establish and maintain the database website, which will be funded by the sexual abuse allocation requested by the Executive Committee.

The SATF’s recommendations further addressed the development of the Credentials Committee, which was repurposed in 2019 to address claims of churches being out of fellowship with the SBC due to areas such as sexual abuse but has struggled to find its footing in that role.

A request came from the SATF for the Executive Committee to assist and “evaluate staffing needs” for the Credentials Committee in addition to hiring staff or an independent contractor “to receive reports of abuse for the purpose of determining the appropriate church, entity, or association to respond to those allegations.”

The ARITF would work alongside the Credentials Committee in revising the evaluation and submission process for churches appearing to be out of friendly cooperation with the SBC. It would further assist the EC and Credentials Committee to select an independent firm or firms in those investigations.

The series of challenges for entities and other Baptist bodies also recommended training in sexual abuse prevention and survivor care for entity boards and standing committees, denominational workers, volunteers and students.

In addition, the SATF requested that the Committee on Nominations complete background checks for trustees appointed to entity boards and standing committees. Churches and other groups are encouraged to participate in the SBC sexual abuse assessment.

Wednesday’s (June 1) report requested state conventions consider designating a trained staff person or independent contractor to address sexual abuse allegations. A series of abuse-related questions to the Annual Church Profile may also be added through consultation with Lifeway Christian Resources and the Executive Committee.

Other best practices for state conventions include maintaining a list of trauma-informed Christian counselors, establishing a self-certification program for churches in abuse prevention and survivor care as well as adjusting staff orientation to include abuse prevention training and background checks.

Baptist Press reached out to SATF Chairman Bruce Frank and Executive Committee Chairman Rolland Slade for comment, with both declining to do so at this time. The SATF’s full list of recommendations can be found here.

Man who grew up in Nepalese refugee camp being used by God to pastor DFW-area church

Demas Kharel knows what it feels like to be a refugee, culturally rejected and far from home.

Born in Bhutan of Nepalese descent, he spent the first two decades of his life living in squalor inside a refugee camp in Nepal before coming to the U.S. Now, through God’s leading, he is serving the Lord as pastor of New Life Family Church in Watauga.

Like many Texans, transplanted and otherwise, Kharel can look around his community and see a rising number of men and women from around the globe. According to the latest numbers released from the people groups department of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Texas is home to 420 people groups who speak more than 300 languages. SBTC missions strategy associate Dan Acharya, who leads the convention’s people groups department, says there are 59 language groups in the five-square-mile 75231 North Dallas zip code alone.

With increasing international diversity comes higher numbers of those who are lost and unchurched. In the “Reach Cities” of Austin, Houston, and El Paso—where the SBTC has heightened its church-planting efforts to respond to growing numbers of lostness—the percentage of lost and unchurched is 41 percent, 68 percent, and 98 percent, respectively.

“I want to come closer to them and tell them what I have in me,” Kharel said, “and that Jesus can change their lives.”

Jesus changed Kharel’s life in 2008, near the end of his time living in the Nepalese refugee camp. Two years later, in December 2010, he and his family were relocated to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex by the International Organization for Migration. Though they had envisioned a change in their fortunes after coming to the U.S., they were resettled in a high-crime apartment complex.

Even so, God was at work.

At that time, Acharya was New Life’s pastor, and he and his wife, Narola, would often visit apartment complexes to connect with people groups. That’s how they met Kharel, who, in turn, was excited to meet a Christian pastor. The Acharyas continued to minister to Kharel and his family, and he eventually joined the church and began to do ministry there.

The Acharyas spent many hours investing in the lives of Kharel and others, knowing that God might use one of them to one day lead the church. In Kharel, Acharya said he saw someone with a “kingdom-sized mentality.”

“Don’t call yourself a refugee,” Kharel remembers Acharya telling him on one occasion. “You are a new creation in Christ.”

So when Acharya was ready to hand over the reigns of the church in 2021, the congregation called Kharel to lead them into the future.

“He knows the mission,” Acharya said of Kharel. “He knows the DNA of the church.”

In 2015, New Life Family Church—which had been meeting in a Methodist church—began praying for a building of its own. Those plans were slowed in 2020 with the arrival of COVID, which hindered in-person attendance and eventually resulted in more than half the members of the church being laid off from their jobs. Despite those setbacks, one thing didn’t stop.

“We had been praying for five years,” Acharya said. “We were not going to stop now.”

Eventually, one of the church’s newest converts alerted church leaders to a building for sale in Watauga. Though its original price tag was far out of range, the church continued to pray for God to provide. Through negotiations, the owner of the building decided to sell to New Life for several hundred thousand dollars less than the asking price.

Today, New Life is meeting in the facility, which sits on three acres of land, has 220 seats in the sanctuary, and includes five to six rooms that can be used for education space. Nearly 50 families—most of whom are Bhutanese, Nepalese, and Burmese—are either members or are regularly attending.

“I thank God that He brought us here,” Kharel said. “I became a citizen of the U.S. and people here listen to our voice. We had been fighting for our rights [in Bhutan and Nepal], but we didn’t get it. But here, they hear us. They listen to our voices. That gives me great joy.”


Religious faith, church attendance aligns with more pro-life views

NASHVILLE—Not all pro-life Americans are religious, but religious Americans are more likely to be pro-life.

Americans’ views on the morality of abortion remain mixed in the days leading up to a Supreme Court decision that could overturn Roe v. Wade, but a majority favor restrictions that go beyond those currently allowed, according to a new study from the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary conducted by Lifeway Research. In addition, those who self-identify with a religion, engage in religious practices like church attendance and hold evangelical beliefs are more likely to favor restrictions on abortion.

“This survey clearly demonstrates evangelical beliefs and practices, especially church attendance, translate into pro-life views,” said Adam W. Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “This underscores the truth that the ultimate solution to this moral problem, like all moral problems, is spiritual transformation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ among individuals that will eventually translate into societal changes.”

“Critical research is one part of the Land Center mission, and because of the long-standing commitment of Southern Baptists to the sanctity of human life, we focused on Americans’ abortion views as our first in-depth research project,” said Dan Darling, director of the Land Center. “This research provides information vital to equipping pastors and church leaders to understand this cultural moment and to shaping the moral consciences of God’s people. We expect to provide additional serious research on a variety of topics to help Christians engage our culture with Gospel truth.”

Conducted days prior to the leak of a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito that indicated the Supreme Court planned to overturn the landmark decision that essentially legalized abortion throughout the United States, the study records Americans’ views on abortion, the beginning of life and what people want to happen in a potential post-Roe environment.

While increased church attendance correlates with pro-life perspectives, those who attend church say they don’t often hear about abortion on Sunday mornings. Two in 3 Americans who say they attend religious worship services a few times a year or more (66 percent) say they hear a teacher or clergy person mention the topic of abortion no more than once or twice a year, including 36 percent who say they never hear it spoken about. Few churchgoers, regardless of their perspective on abortion, want the church to talk about the issue less often. Overall, 46 percent say the topic is addressed the right amount, 38 percent want to hear about it more and 16 percent want less.

Americans’ abortion views

Around 3 in 10 Americans hold generally pro-life views on abortion: 12 percent say abortion shouldn’t be legal in any situation, and 17 percent say it shouldn’t be legal in most situations. Another 21 percent say there are a variety of situations where it should be legal and illegal. More than 2 in 5 are generally pro-abortion rights, with 22 percent saying abortion should be legal in most situations and 24 percent saying it should be legal in any situation.

Pro-life views are more common than pro-abortion rights views among Protestants (41 percent vs. 31 percent). Catholics (32 percent vs. 43 percent) and people from other faiths (31 percent to 47 percent) lean pro-abortion rights. The non-religious are overwhelmingly pro-abortion rights (11 percent pro-life vs. 70 percent pro-abortion rights).

Those with evangelical beliefs are more pro-life than pro-abortion rights (64 percent vs. 15 percent), while those without evangelical beliefs are the opposite (22 percent vs. 53 percent).

American Christians who attend church weekly are more than twice as likely to be generally pro-life (53 percent vs. 19 percent). Those who attend two to four times a month (28 percent vs. 36 percent) and those who attend less frequently (30 percent vs. 46 percent) are more likely to be pro-abortion rights.

For half of Americans (51 percent), one of the strongest factors in the development of their views on abortion is their views on women’s rights and freedoms. For more than 2 in 5 (43 percent), their views on morality and right and wrong play a strong role. More than a third point to views on health and medical issues (37 percent) or views on children’s rights and quality of life (34 percent). Three in 10 say their religious faith is a leading factor in the development of their abortion views (29 percent). Fewer point to their views on social issues (25 percent), views on economic issues or poverty (23 percent), views and experiences as a parent (20 percent), personal experience with the issue (18 percent) or the views of political leaders and party they support (5 percent).

Specifically among the generally pro-life, personal religious faith (58 percent), views on morality (56 percent) and views on children’s rights and quality of life (46 percent) are dominant factors contributing to their perspectives on abortion. Around 1 in 6 pro-life Americans say their views on women’s rights (16 percent) is one of the strongest factors in how their views on abortion were developed.

For those who are pro-abortion rights, views on women’s rights and freedoms (74 percent) dominate the other factors, which include views on health and medical issues (46 percent), views on social issues (36 percent), views on morality (35 percent) and views on economic issues (32 percent). Close to 1 in 10 (9 percent) point to their religious faith.

Among those who have a more mixed perspective or who are unsure about the issue, half point to women’s rights (51 percent) and a third (32 percent) mention their religious faith.

“Americans’ own descriptions of how their views on abortion developed have strikingly different origins,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “While the issue has been heavily politicized, almost all Americans claim they had these views without the influence of political leaders. One group says they’re heavily influenced by their views on women’s freedoms and the other by their views on religious faith and morality.”

While abortion generates much debate and discussion, other issues are personally important to more people. Americans are more likely to say inflation (85 percent), voting rights and security (76 percent), national debt (71 percent), foreign policy (67 percent), climate change (66 percent), immigration (66 percent) and race relations (65 percent) are important or extremely important to them than abortion (64 percent). Fewer Americans say the same about prison reform (49 percent).

Those who are either generally pro-life and pro-abortion rights are more likely than those who have a mixed opinion to see abortion as extremely important and view it as a key when determining their vote. Among the two opposing perspectives, pro-life individuals place more political importance on the issue. Pro-life Americans are more likely to say abortion is extremely important (52 percent) than those who are pro-abortion rights (40 percent). When choosing a candidate, 40 percent of pro-life Americans say the candidate’s view on this issue has an extremely strong impact on their willingness to vote for that person, compared to 34 percent of pro-abortion rights Americans and 14 percent of those who are in the middle or unsure.

Mixed opinions on life and specifics

Americans have varying opinions on when human life actually begins and have complicated views on specific cases of abortion. Most say life begins at least by the first heartbeat detected, however, most also believe abortion should be legal if the child would be born with severe disabilities.

More than a third of Americans (35 percent) say life begins at conception, while 28 percent say at the first detected heartbeat. Almost 1 in 8 say life begins when the fetus is viable outside the womb (13 percent) or upon birth (13 percent). Few (2 percent) say at another point, and 10 percent say they honestly don’t know.

Protestants are most likely to say life begins at conception (49 percent), as are Americans of other faiths (39 percent). Catholics are most likely to say at the first detected heartbeat (40 percent). Religiously unaffiliated Americans are the most likely to say at birth (28 percent) and viability (20 percent). Americans with evangelical beliefs (66 percent) are more than twice as likely as non-evangelicals (29 percent) to say life begins at conception.

Most Christians who attend church weekly (56 percent) say life begins at conception, while those who attend less frequently are more evenly split between conception and the first heartbeat.

“Since the Roe v. Wade decision, it has been legal to end what the majority of Americans consider a human life,” McConnell said. “People’s perspectives on the start of life varies greatly by religious faith. Those with no religious affiliation are less likely than any other demographic group to say life begins by the time of the first heartbeat. This contrasts sharply with the almost 9 in 10 with evangelical beliefs who say it does.”

When asked specifically what time period they believe abortion should be a legal option assuming there are no health issues for the woman or the fetus, half of Americans say no later than 12 weeks (about 3 months), including 26 percent who say it shouldn’t be legal at any point, 15 percent who say up to six weeks and 11 percent who say up to 12 weeks. Fewer set the time frame at later dates, such as 15 weeks (7 percent), 20 weeks (6 percent), 24 weeks (4 percent), 28 weeks (4 percent) or up to birth (10 percent). Almost 1 in 6 (17 percent) say they aren’t sure.

Even among those who are not generally pro-life, there is broad consensus for abortion restrictions. Almost 3 in 5 Americans (59 percent) who are unsure or somewhere between pro-life and pro-abortion rights, favor limiting legal abortion to no later than 12 weeks. Among the pro-abortion rights, 50 percent place the limit somewhere prior to 20 weeks (about four and a half months).

Protestants (40 percent) are the most likely to never allow abortion assuming there are no health issues related to the pregnancy, followed by Catholics (26 percent), those of other faiths (25 percent) and the religiously unaffiliated (10 percent). Few Protestants (4 percent) or Catholics (3 percent) say they would allow abortion up to birth compared to 9 percent of those of other faiths and 22 percent of those with no religious affiliation.

Weekly churchgoers (52 percent) are more likely than those who attend less frequently (31 percent) or not at all (23 percent) to say abortion should not be legal at any point assuming there are no health issues.

When asked about specific circumstances related to the pregnancy, most Americans say abortion should be legal when the mother’s life is in danger (78 percent), the pregnancy involves the rape of someone under 18 years of age (75 percent), the pregnancy involves rape of someone over 18 (73 percent), the pregnancy is the result of incest (72 percent), the child will not survive long after birth (64 percent) or the child would be born with severe mental or physical defects (58 percent).

Americans are less supportive of abortions when a mother younger than 18 decides they just don’t want the child (46 percent), the mother or parents believe they aren’t capable of giving the child a good life (38 percent), raising the child would be a financial hardship to the mother or parents (37 percent), when a mother 18 or older decides they just don’t want the child (37 percent) or the mother wants a different gender (15 percent).

In each circumstance, those with a religious faith and those with evangelical beliefs are more likely than their counterparts to oppose abortion being legal. Those who attend church weekly are more likely than those who attend less frequently to oppose legal abortions in all but one situation.

Regardless of their personal opinions on abortion laws, 7 in 10 Americans (69 percent) say it is at least somewhat important to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S. in ways other than through the courts and legal system. Even among pro-abortion rights Americans, 54 percent believe reducing abortions is at least somewhat important.

“There are a lot of gradations in what abortion scenarios people think should be legal, but America is far from a majority supporting a legal right for an adult woman to have an abortion who just doesn’t want to have the child,” said McConnell. “The truth is Americans want fewer abortions taking place.”

When asked about potentially effective ways to reduce abortions, Americans are most likely to point to sex education, birth control and adoption. More than 2 in 5 say more birth control for minors (46 percent) and more and better sex education (44 percent) would be effective ways to reduce the number of abortions performed. Slightly fewer say promoting birth control to men (40 percent) or birth control for lower income individuals (39 percent). Close to a third point to promoting adoption as an option (36 percent), making adoption easier (36 percent), local organizations assisting mothers and children (34 percent) or more pregnancy counseling (33 percent).

Other ways Americans say are effective means to reduce the number of abortions include encouraging abstinence (27 percent), childcare for lower income families (27 percent), government help for low-income parents (22 percent), stronger legal limits on abortion (18 percent) and making it harder to find abortion providers (12 percent).

Opinions on Roe v. Wade

As Americans await a Supreme Court decision that could overturn Roe v. Wade, most say they’d prefer to keep the decision in place.

Two in 5 Americans (40 percent) say they completely support the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Another 1 in 5 (19 percent) mostly support it. One in 5 Americans (19 percent) completely oppose it, and 11 percent mostly oppose it. More than 1 in 10 (12 percent) say they aren’t sure or have no opinion.

Americans with no religious preference (76 percent), those without evangelical beliefs (66 percent), and Christians who don’t attend church (62 percent) or attend less regularly (60 percent) are all more likely to support Roe vs. Wade than not.

For those who oppose the Supreme Court decision, a quarter (26 percent) say a main reason is because children have rights, and 22 percent mention abortion is immoral. Around 1 in 5 (21 percent) say they oppose Roe vs. Wade because they believe abortion should be legal only in specific situations. Americans who support the decision overwhelmingly explain their reasoning goes back to a woman’s right to choose (71 percent).

Most Americans prefer a federal law on abortion for all states as opposed to leaving the issue up to the states. Those in the middle or unsure are more divided. Among the pro-life, 54 percent prefer a national law and 33 percent would rather leave it to each state. For the pro-abortion rights, 66 percent prefer a federal law for all states and 22 percent want each state to determine their own laws. Less than half of other Americans (48 percent) want a federal law, while 32 percent prefer individual state laws.

“Despite the many differences in Americans’ beliefs on abortion, there appears to be an innate desire for an unchanging legal standard,” McConnell said. “As the Supreme Court deliberates yet another change to the legal standard, evangelicals are among those who most want Roe v. Wade overturned. They are guided by a more static standard: the belief that the Bible is the highest authority for what they believe.”

A potential post-Roe future

When asked what they want to happen to Roe v. Wade, 40 percent completely support the decision and want it to remain, and 12 percent say it’s now the law of the land and should not be overturned. One in 5 Americans (20 percent) want it overturned and abortion made illegal nationwide, while 12 percent want it overturned and the laws left up to the states. Another 17 percent say they’re unsure or don’t have an opinion.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, Americans are split on what should happen in individual states. More than a third (36 percent) want more restrictions on abortion, while the same percentage (36 percent) want to keep things like current federal law. More than 1 in 4 (28 percent) prefer easier access to abortion than currently exists.

In a post-Roe nation, 8 in 10 Americans (81 percent) say if a state government restricts abortion, it has a responsibility to increase support and options for women who have unwanted pregnancies. Almost 2 in 3 pro-life individuals (62 percent) agree.

Similarly, 3 in 4 Americans (74 percent), including 63 percent of pro-life Americans, say churches and religious organizations in states where abortion access is restricted after Roe v. Wade is overturned also have a responsibility to do more for women with unwanted pregnancies.

“The majority of Americans did not ask for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, but if it is, there is no national majority for any legislative path whether more or less restrictions or something similar to what has been in place,” McConnell said. “However, if more restrictions are put in place a large majority agrees the church and the state have a moral responsibility to help women with unwanted pregnancies.”

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