Month: January 2024

What I learned while waiting on the Lord

“Snap out of it!”

My wife’s loving rebuke hit me like a ton of bricks. For six months, I had nursed a sense of self-pity over my inability to land a role as a lead pastor. In my mind, I was completely prepared to transition from a support role to a lead role on a church staff, but after sending out 25 resumes, I was a mess.

My wife’s tough love brought me back to reality and began a learning process that helped me land my dream job. Here’s what I learned while I waited on the Lord to open that door:

Get clarity

It’s tempting to jump at the first ministry opportunity that comes your way and apply for every opening that pops up on the ministry job boards, but before you submit your resume, you should clarify your calling. Write out your ministry philosophy, identify your spiritual gifts, and settle key theological convictions. As much as possible, clarify what kind of ministry God is calling you to do. Is He calling you to plant or revitalize? Has He gifted you to preach or serve in other areas of ministry? Is He calling you to an urban, suburban, or rural context? One of my mentors put it like this: “If you could do anything that would maximize your joy and God’s glory, what would it be?”

Pursue character

As you wait for your next ministry assignment, relentlessly pursue godly character. After all, the New Testament teaches us character is the most important qualification for church leaders (1 Timothy 3:1–7, Titus 1:6–9). Recent history warns us of the peril of church leaders allowing their giftedness to take them further than their character can keep them. Only God knows what kind of conflict or obstacles you will face when you begin your new work. It could be that, in His kindness, He is preventing you from taking on a new role before you’re ready. Get honest with yourself and God about your character deficiencies and seek the spiritual transformation you hope to bring to others.

Find a coach

Don’t seek out a coach for their network or the opportunities you think they might bring your way. Instead, look for someone who can help clarify how God has gifted you and identify blind spots in your life. You may already have a trusted pastor in your life who would be more than willing to meet with you for lunch at least once a month. Show up with questions and take notes. Tell your mentor how you believe God works in your life and ask him to pray with you about your next steps. If you don’t have someone you feel comfortable asking to lunch, consider joining the Young Pastors Network cohort.

Make connections

Since many churches call pastors based on recommendations from people they trust, landing a new ministry role can often come down to who you know. You must develop connections with pastors and ministry leaders in your area and across the state. You can do this by attending local association meetings or the Empower and Equip conferences and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Annual Meeting. Introduce yourself to guys you don’t know and ask them questions about their ministries. You may meet someone who knows of a ministry opportunity that would be a good fit for you or that God will use to bring further clarity to your life.

Learn contentment

It’s easy to fantasize about a new role that fits your gifts, but that kind of discontentment undermines our ministries by keeping us from the good work God has called us to do where we are. If we believe God is sovereign over our ministry calling, we should strive to be faithful wherever He plants us. Jesus sees the faithful ministry of men who are content to serve where He calls them and promises to reward those who prove faithful. He put it like this: “One who is faithful in a very little will also be entrusted with much” (Luke 16:10). Before you start to look ahead to what may come next, give yourself completely to serving the Lord right where you are.

After my wife confronted me about my selfishness, the Lord taught me these lessons the hard way. Brothers, if God can help a guy like me, I know he can do it for you, too.

A day of work, an eternity of impact

Arlington International Church leads the way at one-day outreach resulting in profession of faith

Debbie Figueroa felt uncertain but ready. So the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary student, trained in evangelism methodology that morning, set off with two friends for a nearby park. 

Figueroa, a member of the International Baptist Church of Arlington and a native of El Salvador, saw people walking, running, and working out at the park: preoccupied and busy. “We thought they might not be willing to stop to talk to us,” she said.

But some paused to chat, including an Argentinian woman.

“She told us she was Catholic and agreed with everything we were sharing,” Figueroa recalled. When asked if she was 100 percent sure she was going to spend eternity with Jesus, the lady said yes, because she tried to be a “good person.”

“We shared the gospel again and explained that the Bible is clear in saying that we are all sinners and that even our righteous acts are ‘filthy rags,’” Figueroa said. When asked if the gospel made sense to her, the lady replied that it did. 

“We invited her to trust only in Jesus for salvation and follow Him as her only Lord and Savior, and she said she wanted to make that decision at that moment. So that day, in the middle of the trail, she repented of her sins and asked Jesus to save her. Then we welcomed her to God’s family, shared some Bible verses, and asked again if she was 100% sure about spending eternity with Jesus,” Figueroa said.

The lady’s answer was a resounding yes. “She said she was sure [of eternity] because she believed in Jesus as her Savior,” Figueroa said.

Figueroa and her friends led the woman to Christ just prior to the opening of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Annual Meeting last November, when IBCA, a 55-member church, participated in an outreach event called Crossover SBTC.

Southwestern’s Carl Bradford (far right) trained the Crossover team in the 3 Circles method of evangelism before they set out to knock on doors and tell people about Jesus. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

Twenty-two IBCA members participated in the event, with two more providing prayer support. Ten other people assisted IBCA, including members from Blueprint Community Church, an African culture church that rents meeting space from IBCA, and from an evangelistic organization called For the Kingdom. The group conducted face-to-face evangelism in central Arlington neighborhoods,
at Vandergriff Park, and on a college campus.

IBCA, an 11-year-old church, focuses on ministry to the community and to international students at nearby colleges and Southwestern Seminary, said Glenn Melvin, IBCA executive director. For the Kingdom has been partnering with IBCA in evangelism efforts this year, he added.

Before setting out in the morning, participants attended a training at IBCA presented by Carl Bradford, SBTC evangelism consultant and a professor at SWBTS. Bradford taught the group how to use the 3 Circles method of sharing the gospel. 

Figueroa praised the Crossover evangelism training as “very practical,” noting participants learned to share their testimonies as part of presenting the gospel. By the end of the day, when participants reassembled at the church to report all that God had done, there was much to celebrate.

Throughout the day, participants made 184 contacts and had 67 spiritual conversations with people, Melvin said, adding that such talks were defined as “any discussion on spiritual matters.” Of these, 41 turned into gospel conversations, with full presentations of the plan of salvation.

Melvin, who took part in SBC Crossover 2018 in Dallas, said IBCA has weekly evangelism every Saturday, “but Crossover SBTC was an opportunity to energize the entire church to reach the community. People need to know how to share the gospel because, for someone they know, they may be the only people who can share Jesus with that person,” he said.

“Reaching out to the community allows us to know our neighbors, lets them know us, tells them about Jesus, and lets our people practice sharing the gospel in situations less pressured than those with already established relationships,” he added. “Bottom line, as for SBTC Crossover 2023, someone came to Christ. We have a new sister in the Lord!”

Tony Mathews, SBTC senior strategist for Missional Ministries, said of IBCA and the inaugural Crossover SBTC event: “If one church can have that kind of impact, imagine what 1,000 could do.”

Looking for ways to better equip your church to carry the gospel into your community? The SBTC’s next Who’s Your One? Advancing the Movement training is coming to Houston this spring. 

Four solutions for battling an angry heart

Dear pastor, 

You might have an anger problem that, very often, can lead you to becoming a problem. Finishing the following sentence will help you know whether this post addresses you:

You might be an angry pastor if …

• You always shake your fist when you preach.

• You blame everything on actors and politicians.

• You rant on social media about, well, everything.

• You assume I’m writing this to someone else.

Your anger is not unique, but it is annoying and distracting. I’m sure you’re tired of it, too, so my motive is to help you destroy anger before it destroys you, your family, and your ministry.

Although anger is a normal emotion, there’s an invisible line we cross when our healthy anger becomes harmful to others. Here are four solutions I’ve found helpful.

1. Guard your heart.

Jesus is the only cardiologist who can solve this heart issue. Since patience is a fruit of the Spirit, God can extinguish the anger we can’t manage.

So, when my blood begins to boil, I release control of the situation—and myself—by simply praying for patience.

“Be angry and do not sin; on your bed, reflect in your heart and be still … and trust in the Lord” (Psalm 4:4).

2. Control your tongue.

Even as I write this in an airport terminal, I’m waiting on my second delayed flight of the day. My last trip included so many delays and cancellations that I arrived home a day and a half late! The temptation to transfer my frustration onto innocent airline workers is real, but it’s never helpful.

“The intelligent person restrains his words, and one who keeps a cool head is a man of understanding” (Proverbs 17:27). 

3. Protect your pulpit.

All Christians need to guard our hearts, tongues, and posts carefully—but pastors even more so. What we say on stage is heavily measured not only on earth, but in heaven (James 3:1). 

A pastor once told me his church was having “multiple dumpster fires.” As a noun, Webster defines dumpster fire as “an utterly calamitous or mismanaged situation or occurrence: disaster.”

All churches have dumpster fires … just make sure you’re not the arsonist.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person” (Colossians 4:6). 

4. Dress for success.

More than a decade ago, I was well on my way to becoming the angry preacher I’m warning about here. I committed the following passage to memory by meditating on it every day for almost a year.

“Put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth … since you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self … Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Colossians 3:8-10,12-14).

I’m embarrassed to admit it took so long to get my heart right. If you’re an angry pastor, I strongly encourage you to get serious about asking God to root out that anger before bitterness takes root in your heart, home, and ministry. 

5 minutes with Moises Gomez

Moises Gomez has pastored First Irving en Español since its founding in August 2019. The church, a ministry of First Baptist Irving (where Gomez serves on staff), has grown from a core group of 14 to 225. Gomez, 46, was born and raised in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He and his wife, Betsey, have four children ranging from in age from 2 to 14.

What is something you’ve been able to celebrate at First Irving en Español recently?

We are celebrating how the church has embraced God’s Word and the gospel. Also, we rejoice in seeing how our church members are living in community as one body. There is something special happening in many organic ways: people serving each other, taking care of the body’s needs, praying, and reading the Bible in community. They are loving and living the truths of the gospel, internally within the church and externally in the community. 

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your ministry lately?

The cultural differences we face can be challenging. As a Hispanic pastor on staff at an American/English-speaking congregation, I am always learning and serving as a bridge with the Spanish-speaking members. There is more to translate and interpret than just language. Even within Hispanic cultures, there is a lot of diversity and we want all to understand that our identity is not primarily in our national background or social status but in Christ.

What’s a lesson you’ve learned to this point of your ministry that you know you’ll never forget?

That God is the one who builds His church. He is the one. We have so many testimonies of God’s mighty hand growing us as we stand under the authority of His Word. We don’t want to take the credit. God is the one who promised to build His church. We must never forget it.

What’s one thing you’d like to see God do specifically at First Irving en Español this year?

I would like to see the Lord move in our people so that they may continue to grow in their understanding of the gospel, so that they may display its beauty and power in their homes and communities.

How can the other SBTC churches be praying for you?

Please pray for laborers within the church, for servants who understand the sacrificial call of ministry, and that God will continue to give us love for one another and the community. 

Iglesia de El Paso comprometida a plantar y alcanzar con el evangelio a la creciente población en su ciudad

Sembrando Semillas del Evangelio

Es común oír hablar de iglesias de habla inglesa que plantan iglesias de habla hispana. Pero lo que la Iglesia Jezreel Dios Siembra está haciendo en esta floreciente ciudad fronteriza en los confines del oeste de Texas no es tan común.

Daniel Moreno, pastor de Jezreel, cree que su iglesia hispana es la primera de El Paso, y posiblemente de los alrededores, que planta una iglesia de habla inglesa. Aunque se calcula que casi el 82% de los 550,000 residentes de la ciudad son hispanos, Jezreel comenzó a descubrir lo que otras iglesias hispanas están encontrando: hogares con miembros de la familia que hablan predominantemente inglés o español viviendo bajo el mismo techo. 

Así que, después de 17 años compartiendo el evangelio en su ciudad, Jezreel se puso en contacto con Send Network SBTC, la asociación para la plantación de iglesias entre la Convención de los Bautistas del Sur de Texas y la Junta de Misiones Norteamericanas, para pedir consejo y ayuda en la formación de un pastor que dirigiera el campus en inglés.

Moreno dijo que Jezreel fue motivado por un fuerte deseo de unir a las familias de habla mixta que querían adorar juntos.

“Había personas que preferían el inglés como lengua materna, pero que estaban casadas con personas [hispanohablantes] de nuestra congregación”, dijo Moreno. “Para llenar la necesidad de [esas familias] reunirse, decidimos comenzar una obra en inglés”.

Moreno ha llevado a Jezreel a plantar seis iglesias hasta ahora, con planes de comenzar pronto a preparar a más plantadores. Recientemente comenzó a servir como catalizador de plantación para la SBTC, compartiendo con otros plantadores el conocimiento sobre plantación y evangelización que Dios le ha dado durante 30 años de ministerio. No hace falta decir que la plantación está arraigada en su corazón. 

Iglesia Jezreel Dios Siembra y su pastor Daniel Moreno (arriba junto a su familia) está liderando la creciente iglesia para ministrar a la necesidad en El Paso, algo que les está abriendo las puertas para compartir el evangelio. FOTOS COMPARTIDAS

Comenzando desde joven

Moreno creció en un hogar cristiano muy activo en las misiones y evangelismo. Nació en El Paso pero creció en Chihuahua, México, en donde su familia regresó para continuar su ministerio. Su padre, Fernando, fue uno de los líderes fundadores de una iglesia en Chihuahua, también llamada Jezreel, la cual dirigió por 12 años como diácono ordenado, mientras encontraban un pastor. De esta iglesia nacieron 9 misiones entre el 1978 – 1980, algunas de ellas bajo el liderazgo de Fernando. 

Moreno dice que su padre siempre animó a dar oportunidades a los niños y jóvenes de la iglesia. Eso incluía dar a Moreno –desde los 11 años–la oportunidad de predicar en la iglesia y dar clases de Biblia a los niños. A los 16 años, ya ayudaba a dirigir iniciativas misioneras y se familiarizaba con la plantación de iglesias.

Sin embargo, la vida de Moreno dio un giro inesperado cuando cumplió 17 años. Fernando—creyendo erróneamente que cualquiera nacido en Estados Unidos estaba obligado a servir en el ejército– envió a su hijo de vuelta a El Paso para que se enlistara. Moreno regresó a Estados Unidos y se enteró de que no estaba obligado a enlistarse, lo que le dejó sin un lugar donde vivir. Buscó refugio en una iglesia local, sin saber aún cómo Dios utilizaría la experiencia para abrirle una puerta de regreso al ministerio.

La iglesia no sólo acogió a Moreno, sino que le ofreció la oportunidad de servir después de que los líderes conocieran su amplia experiencia en el ministerio. Fue una buena combinación que permitió a Moreno ayudar al pastor de la iglesia, quien era un nuevo creyente sin experiencia en el ministerio. Moreno empezó a trabajar con los jóvenes de la iglesia y allí conoció a su esposa, Margarita.

Más tarde aceptó una oferta para ser pastor de jóvenes a tiempo completo en otra iglesia de El Paso, y durante ese tiempo obtuvo una licenciatura y una maestría en trabajo social en la Universidad Estatal de Nuevo México. Cuando terminó sus estudios, la iglesia lo ordenó como pastor e inmediatamente lo invitó a plantar una iglesia hispana en El Paso. Aceptando el reto, Moreno comenzó esta labor en casa de una familia. Con el tiempo, la iglesia en casa se quedó pequeña y los miembros consiguieron recaudar fondos suficientes para trasladarse a un edificio abandonado que les donaron.

“En todos estos años, hemos visto que Dios no nos abandona sino que pelea nuestras batallas y cuida de su iglesia.”

‘Dios cuida de su iglesia’

Jezreel—llamada así en honor a la iglesia de su padre en México—sigue siendo una congregación sana y en crecimiento que, a pesar de los desafíos, continúa creyendo que Dios es quien sostiene la obra. 

Uno de esos retos: La población transeúnte de El Paso. Según Moreno, su iglesia—al igual que muchas otras de la ciudad—pierde alrededor del 20% de sus miembros cada año, ya que las familias van y vienen en busca de trabajo o de oportunidades para mejorar sus vidas.  

“Las iglesias de esta ciudad tienen que crecer constantemente para sobrevivir”, dice Moreno, “porque si no, [se] quedarán vacías en unos años”.

Por eso, compartir el Evangelio es mucho más urgente. Una vez al mes, los miembros de Jezreel visitan un callejón donde viven muchos sin techo y adictos. Lo más hermoso, dice Moreno, es que algunos de los miembros de la iglesia que hacen las visitas vivieron ellos mismos en ese callejón antes de que Cristo los transformara. En otras ocasiones, también los miembros de la iglesia llevan comida y ropa a los más de 200 inmigrantes que se han instalado en el centro de la ciudad.

Al igual que su padre, Moreno siente pasión por la evangelización y cree que hay que dar oportunidades de crecimiento a niños y jóvenes. La iglesia tiene dos grupos de alabanza formados en su mayoría por adultos jóvenes y, cada domingo, el servicio incluye un breve tiempo en el que los niños comparten un mensaje bíblico con la iglesia. Es parte de la razón, dijo Moreno, de que la iglesia prospere.

Lo que plantea otro reto: el espacio. Con una asistencia dominical de unas 220 personas, en ocasiones Jezreel tiene que celebrar los servicios en su estacionamiento para que nadie se quede fuera. Los líderes de la iglesia buscan ahora la forma de recaudar los fondos para construir un nuevo edificio.

“En todos estos años, hemos visto que Dios no nos abandona”, dijo Moreno, “sino que pelea nuestras batallas y cuida de su iglesia”.

El Paso church has a heart to plant, reach city’s exploding population with the gospel

Sowing Gospel Seeds

It’s common to hear about English-speaking churches planting Spanish-speaking churches. But what Jezreel Dios Siembra Church is doing in this burgeoning West Texas border city is not so common.

Daniel Moreno, Jezreel’s pastor, believes his Hispanic church is the first in El Paso—and possibly in the surrounding area—to plant an English-speaking church. Though it is estimated that nearly 82% of the city’s 550,000 residents are Hispanic, Jezreel began to discover what other Hispanic churches are finding: households with family members who speak predominantly English or predominantly Spanish living under the same roof. 

So after 17 years of sharing the gospel in their city, Jezreel reached out to Send Network SBTC—the church planting partnership between the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the North American Mission Board—for counsel and to help train a pastor to lead the English-speaking campus.

Moreno said Jezreel was motivated by a strong desire to unite mixed-language families that want to worship together.

“There were people who preferred English as their primary language but who were married to [Spanish-speaking] people from our congregation,” Moreno said. “To fill that need for [those families] to come together, we decided to start an English work.”

Moreno has led Jezreel to plant six churches so far, with plans to begin training more planters soon. He recently began serving as a planting catalyst for the SBTC, sharing the planting and evangelism knowledge God has given him during 30 years of ministry with other planters. Planting is hard-wired into this heart. 

Jezreel Dios Siembra Church Pastor Daniel Moreno (pictured with his family) is leading the growing church to minister to the needs of people in El Paso, which is opening doors to share the gospel. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

Starting young

Moreno grew up in a Christian home that was very active in missions and evangelism. He was born in El Paso but grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico, where his family returned to minister. His father, Fernando, was one of the planting leaders of a church in Chihuahua, also called Jezreel, which he led for 12 years as an ordained deacon while it searched for a pastor. From this church, nine missions were born between 1978 to 1980, some of them under Fernando’s leadership.

Moreno said his father encouraged giving the church’s children and youth opportunities to serve. That included providing Moreno—beginning at age 11—with opportunities to preach in the church and teach Bible classes to children. By age 16, he was helping lead missions initiatives and becoming more familiar with church planting.

However, Moreno’s life took an unexpected turn when he turned 17. Fernando—mistakenly believing anyone born in the U.S. was required to serve in the military—sent his son back to El Paso to enlist. Moreno arrived in the U.S. to learn he was not required to enlist, leaving him without a place to live. He sought refuge from a local church—not yet knowing how God would use the experience to open a door back into ministry.

The church not only sheltered Moreno, but offered him a chance to serve after leaders there learned about his extensive ministry background. It was a good fit, allowing Moreno to assist the church’s pastor—a new believer with no ministry experience. Moreno began working with the church’s youth and, while there, met his wife, Margarita.

He later accepted an offer to be the full-time youth pastor at another church in El Paso, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work at New Mexico State University during that time. When he finished his studies, the church ordained him as a pastor and immediately invited him to start a Hispanic church in El Paso. Accepting the challenge, Moreno began this work in a family’s home. Eventually, the church outgrew the house, and members were able to move into an abandoned building that was donated to them.

“In all these years, we have seen that God does not abandon us but fights our battles and takes care of His church.”

‘God takes care of His church’

Jezreel—named in honor of his father’s church in Mexico—is a healthy and growing congregation that, desite challenges, continues to believe God is the one sustaining its work. 

One of those challenges is El Paso’s transient population. According to Moreno, his church—along with many others in the city—loses about 20% of its membership each year as families come and go looking for work or opportunities to better their lives.  

“The churches in this city have to grow constantly to survive,” Moreno said, “because if they do not, [they] will be empty in a few years.”

Sharing the gospel, then, becomes that much more urgent. Once a month, Jezreel members visit an alley where many homeless people and addicts live. The most beautiful thing, Moreno said, is that some of the church members making the visits once lived in that alley themselves before Christ transformed them. On other occasions, church members bring food and clothing to the more than 200 migrants who have settled in the downtown area.

Like his father, Moreno has a passion for evangelism and believes in providing opportunities for children and youth to grow. The church has two worship groups made up mostly of young adults, and every Sunday the service includes a brief time when children share a biblical message with the church. It’s part of the reason, Moreno said, the church is thriving.

Which brings another challenge: space. With a Sunday attendance around 220, Jezreel sometimes has to hold services in its parking lot so nobody is left out. Church leaders are now looking for ways to fund construction for a new building.

“In all these years, we have seen that God does not abandon us,” Moreno said, “but fights our battles and takes care of His church.”

A message of hope

Mental health and wholeness are important topics to me. God has helped me so much and used people in my life to lift me from anxiety and depression, and I love to help others come out of their doldrums. So many in our world are depressed and in desperate need of hope.

Some of the hopelessness in our world has its origins in macro issues like the wars in Ukraine and Israel and in other tragic stories we read about in places like Haiti and Sudan. There is a more existential, personal hopelessness that pervades the lives of so many even in our great state of Texas. Many have turned away from the God of the Bible and His foundational teachings regarding how to live as people of faith. 

But I have good news: there is hope! One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Romans 15:13. God has used this verse powerfully in my life and I believe He will bless you as you meditate on it as well: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” 

“Here is my definition of hope: the confident assurance that all will be well because God is with us.”

The Greek word translated “hope” is “elpis,” and interestingly, the Lexham Bible Dictionary says, “The word appears in the New Testament only as a verb or noun, never as an adverb or adjective. That is likely because the emphasis is not on the subjective states of mind we have when we say ‘hopefully’ or ‘hopeful.’ Rather, hope in the New Testament has an objective focus.”

Here is my definition of hope: the confident assurance that all will be well because God is with us. The key to living in hope is we must believe. Ephesians 1:19 states, “And what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power.” When we believe, God causes us to abound in hope. It is the match that ignites the fire of the Holy Spirit. Belief or trust is the key that unlocks the treasuries of God’s multitude of blessings upon our lives. 

I want to encourage you to live out the Christian life the way you began, and that is by faith.  Three times the Bible says those who know the Lord will live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, and Galatians 3:11.)

Believe God for great days. He has a wonderful plan for your life filled with hope, peace, and joy. Trust God and enjoy a life of wonderful hope, the assurance that God is in control and all will be well. 

Hope has a name: Jesus!

What’s your story? I’m not a mystery, I’m a miracle

In the fall of 2022, I went to the hospital for something I thought was minor. I had no major symptoms or anything like that, but my husband, Rafael, insisted I go to the emergency room. They told me that I’d had two heart attacks and needed open heart surgery.

Apparently, I was born with a defect in my heart. Like I said, I never thought it was anything major, but they told me that I was not able to go home until I could have surgery. It was a miracle that a very experienced heart surgeon ordered a series of tests until he understood what was going on with my heart. 

I was in the heart hospital a week after having open heart surgery—that was on Nov. 21. After that,
everything went wrong. Everything. According to the doctors, my heart and all my organs, everything, stopped for over an hour. 

All the organs—kidneys, lungs, liver—just stopped. They declared me dead. They told Rafael there was nothing else they could do and that he needed to be prepared. He went to the funeral home and made arrangements because once they disconnected the machines, it was over.

But the Lord said no and my heart started working. When my heart started working, they gave me this medication to help my brain and all my organs get oxygen. That medication burned my hands and my feet. I ended up getting my right hand amputated. Some of my left-hand fingers, the tips of my fingers, were amputated, and a third of my right foot. I also lost all the toes on my left foot, but I’m alive.

Then they told my husband that if he did not disconnect me from the machines, I was going to be brain dead or brain damaged for the rest of my life because I was without oxygen for so long. I was in a coma for over three weeks. When I woke up the middle of December, I thought it was the next day after the surgery. I was alert and they started asking me questions.

"Just the joy to have the Lord, and for the Lord to bless me and to use me, that’s more than enough for me."

The doctor who did my heart surgery has been a doctor for over 50 years. When I asked him, “Doctor, how long was my heart and everything stopped?” He just looked at me and said, “For over an hour.” He said, “You are a mystery to us.”

I told him, “No, I’m not a mystery—I’m a miracle.” They don’t understand. Medically speaking, it is almost impossible. My family doctor told me that I should be grateful that I’m not hooked to an oxygen machine in a nursing home for the rest of my life.

But my brain is perfectly fine, and I am OK except where my hands and feet were burned. Other than that, I’m fine. My brain is better than ever because now I have to be more creative. I crochet, I cook, I clean, I do laundry.
I still serve in my church, working on the computer. I mean, it is a little more difficult than before. It takes me a little more time, but I am walking without a cane, without a walker, and I’m doing OK.

I’m enjoying life and I’m serving the Lord. I’m telling other people what happened to me, whether they believe it or not. That’s my story.

Since I became a Christian 35 years ago, it’s been my desire and my passion to serve God. I have served in missions, I was one of the assistants in the office [at our previous church]. I mean, you name it, I’ve done it all. Right now, I’m serving in the benevolence ministry distributing food. I make the bulletin in my church [First Sunnyvale Español]. I’m also currently working with our missions committee. I’m working with the cell group leaders. I’m working with the greeters committee. I’m involved in everything I can be.

There’s not one day that I have asked the Lord, “Why?” Now, I’m looking for other ways to encourage people who have gone through something similar, through amputations, people who are giving up. This is just physical. That’s what I always tell them. From the spiritual point of view, your body is just physical—it’s going to pass. Just the joy to have the Lord, and for the Lord to bless me and to use me, that’s more than enough for me.

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U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Southern Baptist, addresses March for Life rally

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Addressing a crowd he called “a beautiful picture of America,” U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson laid out his philosophy for the American pro-life movement in a speech at a rally just prior to the 51st annual March for Life Jan. 19.

The event, which marks the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s now-overturned Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, drew thousands of people from around the country, who braved cold temperatures and falling snow to march under the theme “With Every Woman, For Every Child.”

Johnson was the first sitting speaker of the House to attend the event since Paul Ryan addressed marchers in 2018. Johnson was one of several Southern Baptists featured at this year’s rally, including Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford and Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Southern California, who also addressed the crowd.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission also had several representatives among the marchers.

The sanctity of human life is an idea that is embedded in the nation’s founding documents, Johnson told rallygoers.

“It was the great British statesman, G.K. Chesterton, who famously observed that America is the only nation in the world that was founded upon a creed,” Johnson said. “And he said it was listed with theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence.”

Calling the Declaration of Independence the nation’s “birth certificate,” Johnson recounted its assurances of people’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as “endowed by their Creator.”

“From the very beginning …, our founders boldly proclaim those self-evident truths that our rights do not come from government. Our rights come from God, our Creator.”

“Every single person has inestimable dignity and value,” he said. “And your value is not related in any way to the color of your skin or what zip code you live in, how good you are in sports, where you went to high school. It’s irrelevant. Your value is inherent because it is given to you by your Creator.

“Our national creed is the essence of who we are in this country. It is the foundational principle that made us the freest, most successful, most powerful, most benevolent nation in the history of the world.”

Johnson then told the crowd that he himself is the result of an unplanned pregnancy.

“In January of 1972, exactly one year before Roe v. Wade, my parents, who were just teenagers at the time, chose life,” he said. “And I’m very profoundly grateful that they did.”

Johnson urged attendees to help build a culture that encourages mothers to choose life the way his mother did.

“This is a critical time to help all moms who are facing unplanned pregnancies,” he said, “to work with foster children and to help families who are adopting, to volunteer and assist our vital pregnancy resource centers and our maternity homes.

“And to reach out a renewed hand of compassion and to speak the truth in love. That’s what we do.”

Government also has a role to play, and Johnson mentioned two pro-life acts passed in Congress this week – the Pregnancy Student’s Rights Act and the Supporting Pregnancy and Parenting Women and Families Act.

He then warned the crowd that the Biden Administration is proposing a regulation that would restrict funds for pregnancy resource centers.

“We know those are the centers that states rely on to as assist expecting moms and dads,” he said. “And that action would undercut that important work.” Johnson said a proposed bill would prevent the new regulation from taking effect.

“We’re passing these bills and we’re marching today because it takes a lot of work to convince people that every single human child, every unborn child, has a value that is too profound and precious to ignore,” he said. “And we have every reason to be optimistic, my friends, that we can change public opinion.

“We find encouragement from the leaders of previous generations. We can learn from the great Americans who changed public opinion throughout our history. Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas and Susan B. Anthony, they challenged the prevailing narratives of their day and they succeeded.

“And you know how they did that? … Their success was grounded in our nation’s creed that we just spoke about. And they reminded their fellow Americans about our founding principles. … Let’s be encouraged. Let’s press on in hope and that we can join together and make this great difference. I believe that we can, we can stand with every woman for every child, and we can truly build a culture that cherishes and protects life.”

Not just business as usual

Entrepreneurial couple’s new beginning in East Texas paves way for massive evangelistic event

The pandemic propelled Anthony and Missy McElroy to change states—and focus—as they found ways to use their business skills to win teens to Christ with the help of New Beginnings Baptist Church.

Anthony, formerly an account manager in recruiting, and his wife, Missy, owner of an events company involved in the Nashville music industry, found an unexpected opportunity during COVID. With Anthony working remotely and the performances upon which Missy’s business depended shut down, the couple decided to relocate from Tennessee to East Texas, where they would be closer to Missy’s family.

The McElroys, with their two young sons, settled in Missy’s hometown of Hallsville, near Longview, in July 2020. 

“It’s good to have roots back home,” Missy said. Even so, it wasn’t fun “church hopping” with young children. Eventually they began to hear about a nearby church, New Beginnings.

“We heard about miraculous things the Lord was doing at New Beginnings and visited,” Anthony said. “The sermon was fantastic.” 

People they barely knew invited them to lunch. “If people are reaching out to the community like they are to us, this is the place we want to be,” Anthony recalled thinking.

They soon joined New Beginnings. Other changes followed. Anthony accepted a job with a national insurance company, while Missy began exploring ways to resume creating events.

“With my music industry background, I was itching to do something. But we couldn’t do a lot. It was the middle of COVID,” she said.

After talking to city and county officials in their area, Missy approached the Rhett Walker Band to do an outdoor Christmas concert in Hallsville produced by Stories and Songs, the limited liability corporation the McElroys founded after arriving in East Texas. With some corporate assistance, the event was a success, encouraging the community in a time of uncertainty.

Stories and Songs continued to produce regional concerts and benefits, but the McElroys longed to do more by creating events geared toward helping kids in the community. They wanted to make an impact, and in 2023 the IMPACT event—an evangelistic outreach to teens—was born.

At IMPACT, New Beginnings Lead Pastor Todd Kaunitz interviewed Dan Orlovsky, the ESPN NFL analyst who prayed live on national television for the recovery of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin last year.

Dreaming big

The McElroys found the featured speaker for the first IMPACT event when ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky prayed live on national television, interceding for Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, on Jan. 3, 2023. The previous evening, during a Monday Night Football NFL game, Hamlin suffered a major on-field cardiac event and collapsed.

“He could have lost his job,” Anthony said of Orlovsky. “The circumstances gave Orlovsky an opportunity he took. What a lesson to be learned.”

Anthony attempted to contact Orlovsky, finally sending a general email to the sportscaster’s agency. Within a week, the agent responded and Orlovsky agreed to come to Longview.

“The evidence where God showed Himself through this process is undeniable,” Anthony said.

“I dream big. Anthony keeps me realistic,” Missy said, “In this instance, the roles felt reversed. I wondered how we were going to get this guy [Orlovsky], but if you feel like the Lord is calling you, who are we not to try?”

Not only did Orlovsky agree immediately to come, but sponsors fell into place as 14 of 15 approached said yes, easing the financial burden Stories and Songs had assumed from the start. New Beginnings offered use of its staff, volunteers, and worship center.

Anthony followed the advice of his dad, who suggested contacting local football coaches to help determine the date of the free event, settling on July 26, 2023. With publicity help from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and coaches, area teams committed to come. Soon, all spots were filled. 

“It was yes after yes,” Anthony recalled. Thirteen schools agreed to bring football teams—around 750-800 kids and coaches.

Teams from Longview, Lindale, Carthage, Marshall, and other towns arrived in buses and received boxed meals and drinks provided by local restaurants. One coach called the return trip the “best bus ride” his team had ever had, noting that some players became believers that evening.

“He could have lost his job. The circumstances gave Orlovsky an opportunity he took. What a lesson to be learned.”

The main event began with regional sportscasters Harlen the Sports Guy and Pigskin Bob from KKYX’s Friday Night Scoreboard doing a routine and emceeing a game of “Football Jeopardy,” pitting three coaches against one another. These coaches were then honored with an IMPACT award for their contributions.

New Beginnings Lead Pastor Todd Kaunitz conducted an onstage interview with Orlovsky, who gave his testimony.

“Making Jesus the center of my life made me so much less aware of worrying about what other people thought about me and so much more aware of what Jesus thought of me,” the NFL analyst said.

Kaunitz followed with a presentation of the gospel. Ten percent of the athletes stood to indicate they had responded in faith.

“Seats hitting the seatbacks [as the athletes stood] … sounded like a helicopter over us. It was a sound I will never forget,” Anthony said.

Encouragers from the church were available to counsel kids and a 50-person team prayed throughout the evening in a separate area. Follow-up has occurred with the coaches and local churches, including New Beginnings.

Members of the 2023 4A Division 2 state champion Gilmer Buckeyes football team pose with coach Alan Metzel and Orlovsky at IMPACT.

“It was amazing to see this family leverage their influence, gifts, and resources to bring students to Jesus.”

“Without New Beginnings, this doesn’t happen,” Anthony said. “The sponsors, the volunteers, the Lord. The infrastructure of the event is relatively simple. I felt even in January that it was already going to happen, and we just needed to be part of it. I felt like God asked for my attendance.”

The McElroys hope to expand the outreach, with Orlovsky speaking at future IMPACT events across the state and even nationwide. 

“The McElroys’ vision for IMPACT was a huge blessing to New Beginnings and Northeast Texas,” Kaunitz said. “It was amazing to see this family leverage their influence, gifts, and resources to bring students to Jesus. … I am convinced that the next big movement of God in our country is going to be through people like the McElroys, who recognize their calling and use their skill sets in practical ways for evangelism.”

For more information, email the McElroys at