Author: Jonathan Howe

Lifeline remains rooted to the Bible as adoption, pregnancy care culture shifts

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) – Churches are called to uphold justice for the marginalized and vulnerable, but must include the motivation for such actions. It begins with a relationship with Christ.

Herbie Newell

That focus, says Herbie Newell of Lifeline Children’s Services, is the difference in doing good for its own sake and doing good that addresses the root issues. “The Church needs to see that God has called us to do justice. But, doing justice is only part of our Gospel proclamation. Lifeline goes into the hard places for ministry while staying rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Lifeline grew out of Sav-a-Life crisis pregnancy center to address the needs of vulnerable children and families through adoption, family restoration, orphan care, education and counseling. Co-founders Wales Goebel and John Carr wanted to show the Gospel to those clients, Newell said. In addition to educating pregnant women about their options and sharing the Gospel, Christian families were also available to adopt the child should the birth mother make the choice to carry the baby to term.

“The secret sauce of what we do is found in the discipleship aspect of our ministry,” added Newell, Lifeline’s president and executive director. “It creates a generational ripple effect. When you work with one young person and provide Christian families for a child, then you provide healing for the future.

“It’s never been just about the child, but discipleship. If we took that out of our statement of faith, then we change everything about our ministry.”

Like other Christian adoption agencies, Lifeline has felt the pressure as culture has shifted on sexuality and marriage. When Bethany Christian Services, one of the nation’s largest evangelical adoption providers, declared earlier this year it would now serve gay parents, the announcement sparked phone calls to Lifeline’s offices.

“A lot of people wanted to know where we stood,” Newell said. “People who knew us already knew the answer, but I was asked if Lifeline was going to stay biblically-minded as opposed to adapting to the culture.”

Lifeline will remain rooted to its biblical convictions regarding the family, he said. And adopting such a change would be difficult to say the least. For any change in Lifeline’s statement of faith to take place, it was first need to be unanimously approved and submitted by its executive team. It would then be put before its national board, which also requires a unanimous vote for approval.

“If one person objects, it doesn’t change,” Newell stated.

In 2015, Lifeline also made the decision to never accept government funding on any level – local, state or federal. Last year the organization’s board did vote to accept funding from the Payroll Protection Program, Newell said, after a lengthy discussion that included legal and pastoral advice. The final decision came after establishing that the funds went toward the organization’s staff, not its mission, and also be for one time rather than ongoing funding. It was paid back by the end of the summer, Newell said, and in the end the funds were not really necessary to continue operating as normal.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Lifeline’s ministry in other ways. An online tutoring ministry for foster children that Lifeline established in 2018 came into high demand last year after practically all schooling went digital. Although most schools have gone back to meeting in person, the online tutoring program remains popular and the need for tutors has increased.

Just as the ministry’s roots go back to discipleship and the Gospel, they also go back to educating clients on the sanctity of life. According to Lifeline, the first child placed for adoption through the agency went on to be a Journeyman missionary through the International Mission Board and eventually became a business owner in Birmingham. In another case, a young woman suffering through domestic violence made the decision for her baby to be adopted by an IMB family serving in India. That young woman became a believer and, after marrying a Christian man, would choose to adopt a child as well.

That generational impact of the Gospel drives Lifeline and likeminded ministries, Newell maintained.

“We follow the Great Commandment and Great Commission. As we serve others, we make the Gospel known and if we ever took that out, it would change our whole ministry model,” he said.

Evangelical organizations partner to host 1 million hours of prayer during Tokyo Olympics

Several evangelical organizations, both internationally and in the U.S., are partnering together in an effort to cover Japan with 1 million hours of prayer during the 30 days of the 2021 Olympic and Paralympic games.

“Japan1Million,” a movement started by a partnership between the Japan International Sports Partnership and the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association, encourages Christians around the world to sign up for one-hour prayer slots during the Tokyo games.

Those who sign up for time slots will be invited to receive email updates with specific ways to pray, daily updates from the organizations and invitations to Zoom prayer meetings throughout the games. A variety of resources are available on the website, including a prayer plan for Japan on the YouVersion Bible app, available in both Japanese and English.

The opening ceremony for the Olympics is Friday (July 23).

Japan International Sports Partnership Director Keishi Ikeda said in a press release that the Olympics represent a unique opportunity to reach the organization’s ministry goals.

“Our sports partnership is driven by a vision to see the Church in Japan grow to 10 million people by 2024,” Ikeda said.

“Working towards that vision, we had hoped to reach a million Japanese people during our Olympic outreach year. COVID closed those doors, but one door remained open; the door to prayer. Committed prayer is needed for a significant spiritual breakthrough in Japan. We believe Alfred Tennyson words, ‘more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.’”

Both Japanese organizations have partnered with other evangelical organizations, including other sports-related ministries.

Will Thompson is the director of Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Japan.

He told Baptist Press that the organizations have been planning to minister during the games in Japan since the country’s announcement as the host nation in 2013.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced a change in their plans, but Thompson said they realized God had a plan all along.

“Our initial disappointment about ministry during the Olympics has turned back to excitement over the last several weeks with the forming of this prayer initiative,” Thompson said.

“Myself and many others were thinking, ‘God you knew this plan all the way from the beginning, was the whole purpose of having the Olympics in Japan to really mobilize the global church through this prayer initiative? We have been resonating with the story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho because they only had one option to defeat the enemy, and this could be similar with what is happening in Japan.”

Thompson was raised in Japan and normally resides there, but is currently stateside due to the pandemic. He attends Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., and said he was worked closely with the International Mission Board as one of the domestic organizations involved with the prayer initiative.

He said the original plan was for FCA to partner with IMB missionaries serving in Japan to send outreach teams to minister during the games, but pandemic-related restrictions did not allow for that. Now with prayer being the only option for ministry in many cases, Thompson said this season could serve as a back-to-basics approach and as a way for the global church to unite.

“We’re living in just a crazy time with so much division in our world,” he said, “and unfortunately we see that a lot in the church. In Scripture, Jesus prays for unity and for us to be one and sends us out to make disciples. One of the ways we can come together is through prayer because we all believe in that. Based on Scripture and history, when we pray that’s how God moves and revivals happen, and we believe this time is Japan’s time to be prayed for by the global church.”

Litton releases video update after task force’s first meeting

NASHVILLE (BP) – SBC President Ed Litton released a video Tuesday (July 20) following the first meeting of a task force he named to oversee an independent review of the SBC Executive Committee.

In a motion adopted at the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting, messengers overwhelmingly approved the naming of a task force to administrate a third-party investigation into allegations the EC mishandled claims of sexual abuse.

In the video, Litton said he believes messengers desired a task force to “ensure a transparent and thorough review so that we may know the truth and receive recommendations on how to improve the way sex abuse cases have been handled.”

Litton said the group is “composed of pastors who are widely respected as well as individuals with professional expertise for this assignment. …

“This group is committed to pursuing God’s guidance and wisdom throughout the task, to seek the truth, to ensure that voices of survivors are heard and to bring the findings of this review to the Southern Baptist Convention, including recommendations that will lead to strong reforms.

“I am grateful for the willingness of these people to serve our convention in this important role.”

Litton said the team, which plans to meet again this week, will issue a press release once the firm that will handle the review has been hired and a contract signed.

He added that the task force will provide at least one update shortly after the New Year and will issue its report one month prior to the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting next June in Anaheim, Calif.

Litton urged Southern Baptists to pray for the task force, for the yet-to-be-named review firm and for “our own hearts, that we’ll be prepared to receive the truth. …”

“The time and the care that will be spent on this review are worth it,” Litton said in the video, “because the protection and the care and the healing of the most vulnerable are worth it.”

Watch the full video below.

Missionaries get extended time with refugees as resettlement is delayed

Many Central Asian refugees found themselves grounded in one country on the refugee highway, routes often traveled by refugees crossing country borders, in 2015 and 2016 and the grounding continues due to the pandemic. This is the longest missionaries William and Darlene King*, who serve with the International Mission Board, have had with refugees whose journey on the refugee highway is somewhat of a modern-day telling of Homer’s Odyssey.

Up until 2015, refugees would stop for indeterminate periods – some cycling through as if on a turnstile, others for the length of a pregnancy, still others long enough to sink roots into the rich soil.

The recent extended time with refugees has led to increased opportunities for the Kings to share the Gospel and more time for discipleship and leadership training.

The Kings work primarily with two Central Asian people groups. People from one of the groups are not as devout in the faith of their culture and are becoming Christians in greater numbers.

William and Darlene build relationships with refugees through teaching English, and the lessons provide an entry point for sharing the Gospel. Over a series of weeks, they will form “seeker” classes that are a mixture of apologetics and pre-discipleship for people who are interested in learning more.

Finding work is difficult for refugees, so people have free time to study the Bible and are excited about studying, Darlene said.

The believers teaching the seeker classes are a part of a core group of Christians the Kings are investing in through a leadership development program they developed in connection with their church plant.

The leadership development class rotates between teaching theology, systematically teaching books of the Bible and an apologetics-based class. In the apologetics class, they answer questions and objections that arise from students in the seeker classes. They also address questions they receive when they share the Gospel in public parks, where many refugees spend time and sometimes sleep at night.

Questions refugees often ask Christians include, “If God is a loving God, why do we live in these camp conditions? How does a loving God allow these things? If God loves me, why do I suffer?”

William, the elders from the church and members of the leadership class discuss biblical responses to these questions.

Church membership is another tricky issue in refugee communities. Leaders wrestle with how to implement church membership in communities that are in flux. How to handle accountability and the authority of leaders is another consideration.

Conversations in the leadership development program trickle down to the seeker, discipleship and language classes and influence the evangelism efforts of the refugee believers, William said.

Empowering women

Darlene dreamed of and prayed for a believing woman from the more receptive people group who would want to reach women from the more devout Muslim people group.

This dream came true in 2020. A Christian woman invited several women to study the Bible at her house.

Darlene is involved in a mentoring program for refugee women who show leadership potential. The program involves other Christian organizations, and last year they hosted a camp where attendees learned about women in the New Testament and their leadership roles.

The women meet monthly for ministry training. One month they focused on chronological Bible storying, another month spiritual warfare.

“The kind of questions that they’re asking is so amazing,” Darlene said. “One woman said at our first meeting, ‘How do I know who the Holy Spirit is leading me to share the Gospel with, because I’m telling people about Jesus and they’re saying no.’”

The woman wanted to know how to share more effectively and how to listen to the Holy Spirit.

Fifty women usually come to the meetings, but their numbers were restricted due to the pandemic, so they decided to invite only the leaders. This turned out to be a blessing, because the leaders were then empowered to lead groups of women and children, thus encouraging local ownership instead of Western-led groups.

“There are two women who are out leading discipleship groups of other women, and the pastor is empowering them to do that,” Darlene said.

One of the women who attended the training became a Christian six years ago and is the wife of a pastor.

“She stood in front of us, crying and shaking, and said, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever taught a lesson in front of people,’” Darlene said. “It’s definitely a new thing, and I just think it’s not culturally what they’ve ever done before.”

Women from this culture are often not engaged in teaching groups and are often not out in society pursing teaching opportunities.

One woman began teaching other women who are living in temporary housing after COVID-19 closed their refugee camp.

“She was literally just teaching them everything that she knew, and then she would call her pastor out, and he would teach her something, and she would turn around and teach the group,” Darlene said.

Some women go out into public places and use the Gospel-sharing method they learned in a training and invite people to English classes and Bible studies. Darlene said one of the women often has 20 conversations in an evening and comes away with phone numbers to follow up. She adapts the way she shares the Gospel with each person.

“She’s engaging with them in a way that is so beautiful,” Darlene said.

Continuing the odyssey 

Ministering in the Kings’ context isn’t easy, and goodbyes are guaranteed.

“You might meet someone one time and never see them again. Or you might pour your soul into spending every second you can with someone, and then they just disappear, and you hear from them two months later, and they’re in Switzerland or another country in Europe,” Darlene said.

The Kings’ church holds commissioning services for refugees approved for resettlement in other countries.

“The church is constantly sending people out to other countries, and they’re going to these little villages in the middle of Germany, where there’s not another believer,” Darlene said. “They are prepared to study the Bible and hopefully prepared to share with others and start their own churches.”

That’s what the Kings hope to see happen because of their investment. This type of church planting is already happening in other countries in Europe.

“It’s a reverse model of the apostle Paul’s ministry. Paul went to these little places,” William said. “It’s ironic because we’re here, and we’re investing, trying to invest, in the health and knowledge and ability to read Scripture, and we’re watching them go to all of these little places, so it’s kind of a reverse Paulinian model.”

The Kings’ ministry is thriving now, but Darlene encourages others by sharing that the current success took seven years of hard, slow work.

FIRST-PERSON: 5 ways I witnessed God at work at camp

Adult leader and student at camp

Last week I spent five days serving as a chaperone with my church at Lifeway’s CentriKid camp. It was my 10-year-old twins’ first experience at camp and one of my first times back since I proposed to my wife at a Lifeway camp around 16 years ago.

Leading up to this year’s camp, I was praying for God to move in the lives of our kids. But I must admit, I was also hesitant about the trip. Spending 100-plus straight hours with a bunch of loud, smelly, energetic boys is a bit much for my introvert-driven personality, and upon stepping foot in our cabin, I found myself initially counting down the hours until it was time to depart.

But by the end of the week, it was a different story. By that point, my nose had become so acclimatized to cabin life that I hardly noticed the mingled smells of sunscreen, bug repellant and dirty laundry. What I did notice, however, was the way God had been moving in the lives of everyone on campus. It left me incredibly appreciative for the kingdom work Lifeway accomplishes through its camps ministry.

Here are five ways I saw God at work last week.

Camp connects generations of believers.

A couple days before leaving for camp, I received a text from a grandmother at our church. She asked how she and a senior-citizen church member could be praying for my kids during their week at CentriKid. I later learned that several older members of our congregation had been paired with the names of kids to individually pray for them while they were away from home.

Later at camp, I was encouraged to witness the tag-team efforts of college-aged CentriKid staffers and 30- and 40-something-year-old parents and chaperones leading children in spiritual conversations. From elementary-aged children to senior citizens, Lifeway’s camp ministry fueled the bonds of at least four generations in the church last week. It was a joy to observe this unified investment in the next generation.

Camp establishes Christian role models for young people.

Before shuttling to camp, I introduced myself to one of the kids who would be in my group that week. He had seen me around church before but didn’t know me well; he smiled sheepishly as he shook my hand.

The day before returning home, however, this same kid told me, “I wish you could ride back with us on the bus (I was driving separately with the luggage.). Upon telling him we’d see each other at church on Sunday, his face lit up as he said, “So I’ll only have to go one more day before seeing you again!”

Camp experiences give room for older Christians to become role models for the younger generation. This enables kids and youth to know there is an entire group of people in addition to their parents who are rooting for their spiritual growth and who are available to help them navigate the challenges of life.

Camp fosters healthy relationships between children.

The quarantine conditions of the last 12 months have made it difficult for kids and students to build and maintain relationships. That said, camp provided a literal and figurative breath of fresh air for our kids.

Driving home from camp, my daughter (who’s been shy of late) told me, “Dad, I think I’ve upgraded my social skills.” And after church this past Sunday, I saw several kids from camp huddled up – laughing and chatting together. The five days these kids spent together at camp served to jumpstart friendships that had struggled to grow during the pandemic.

Camp connects adults and churches and encourages them to be on mission together.

It’s easy for individual churches to become siloed from other neighboring churches in their communities and within their state. And even within churches, individuals can get locked within their own areas of service so that they lose perspective on how God is moving through the entire local church.

I personally witnessed camp opening the doors of these silos so multiple church groups could share in the joy of each other’s harvests. On one occasion, I was part of a conversation that involved two children’s ministers from different churches. They shared ideas, resource suggestions, and exchanged numbers with one another to partner together on mission after camp was over.

Likewise, by sharing a cabin for a week with another male chaperone, I was able to learn about different areas of ministry he leads and how I might be praying for them. I even learned of a new area in which I could serve my church. These conversations weren’t forced and didn’t feel like desperate volunteer recruiting done from the pulpit. They were the natural fruit of doing life together on mission for the week.

Camp stretches adults to take on a childlike faith and to demonstrate it before others.

One thing not a lot of people know about me is that I struggle with social anxiety. It may not be obvious to others, but large groups and the need to make small talk or perform before others cause a lot of internal angst I must press through. Because of this, the first night of kickoff for camp – an event that involved lots of shouting, hand clapping and silly song motions – caused me to freeze up. I was out of my comfort zone, and it showed.

But five days later, it was evident God had been at work in my heart. Maybe it was my daughter’s conversation with our children’s minister in which she said she wanted to get baptized or the sight of my son in tears saying he desired to follow Christ but wanted to be sure about Christianity’s claims, which led us to talk about apologetics. Throughout the week, as I watched children ponder and wrestle with Christ’s lordship, I found that God was also gradually lowering my guard, allowing me to embrace a childlike expression of faith – one that enabled this almost 40-year-old to do kids’ silly song motions to the glory of God.

Camp has a way of pushing kids and adults out of their comfort zones, giving the Lord room to mold softened hearts.

Tasting the harvest

At Lifeway, our mission statement is “designing trustworthy experiences that fuel ministry.” Sometimes, those experiences look like academic tools to aid pastors as they engage in sermon preparation. At other times, these experiences involve kids running around with shaving cream and pool noodles.

It was a blessing to step away from my day job for a week to taste some of the harvest of the varied spiritual experiences we create. Seeing God ignite the spiritual tinder we send out into the world caused me to return with new vigor for the work He calls us to at Lifeway.

Refugee refuses to pause for pandemic 

Despite a number of setbacks, Christian refugees continue to share the gospel.

COVID-19 has not deterred Navid’s* bold gospel witness. Despite restrictions, he shares his faith and frequently stays up until two and three in the morning, sharing the gospel via social media messaging applications with people in his home country. Though distance and political turmoil separate Navid from his family who still live in his home country, he maintains a strong witness there. During his father’s funeral, Navid shared the gospel over speakerphone while talking with his mother, despite not being there in person.

“He shared the gospel with the entire village through the phone and the loudspeaker,” IMB missionary Darlene King* said.

Navid is one of the leaders in the leadership development program Darlene and her husband, William*, lead. The Kings serve among refugee communities in Europe and work closely with leaders like Navid to train and equip them to lead groups.

During the pandemic, Navid found creative ways to teach the gospel and disciple new Christians. He frequently visits public places to share the good news with other refugees who’ve made their way to Europe.

When pandemic restrictions lifted, Navid and the Kings held baptisms for new believers. During the summer months, baptisms take place in the ocean. In the winter months, William explained they perform baptisms in large green buckets farmers once used to soak olives.

“Navid was a strong believer and leader, but something in him just blossomed during COVID,” Darlene continued.

A divine encounter

Music from Navid’s home country drew him to a man named Parviz* during one of his visits to a public venue.

Navid struck up a conversation with Parviz and learned his refugee journey had already lasted 15 to 18 months. He left behind a wife and children in his home country.

On his journey to Europe, Parviz spent time in a Central Asian country. A Muslim friend he met there told him, “The things that I hope to find along this route, along this trip, are love, wisdom and help to fight, struggle in a better way.”

“Navid began sharing with him about how the brokenness that we have in our lives is not the way God intended our lives to be, and that God has made a way,” William said.

From what William understands, Parviz and his wife did not part on good terms.

Navid asked Parviz, “If your wife called you and said that she wanted to make things right, where would you place the thanks? Would you thank God for giving you another opportunity with your family?”

William said the question led to a discussion about God’s wisdom and how He is the source of knowledge.

Parviz told Navid, “I feel that God is close because I feel at this moment that my burden is less.”

“The conversation really just bridged for him to the fact that our knowledge, our wisdom and those things that come from God are from a kingdom perspective,” William said.

Navid continues to share the gospel with Parviz.

The Kings continue to train and equip leaders among the refugee community. You can support their work by giving toward a fund for refugee discipleship and education.

Read more about the King’s ministry among refugees here.

Caroline Anderson writes for the IMB from Southeast Asia.

The post Refugee refuses to pause for pandemic  appeared first on IMB.

Explainer: Texas authorizes citizens to enforce new abortion law

Fetus Getty Images

Texas recently passed a new law that would allow citizens, rather than government officials, to enforce a new law that prohibits abortion as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.

“The Texas Heartbeat Act is novel in approach, allowing for citizens to hold abortionists accountable through private lawsuits,” says Rebecca Parma, a senior legislative associate with Texas Right to Life. “No heartbeat law passed by another state has taken this strategy. Additionally, the bill does not punish women who obtain abortions.”

Here is what you should know about this new pro-life legislation.

What is the Texas Heartbeat Act?

The Texas Hearbeat Act is the latest in state fetal heartbeat bills, legislation that bans abortion after the point where a heartbeat can be detected. By use of an ultrasound, the heartbeat of a child in the womb can routinely be detected as early as 6-7 weeks after conception.

The Texas law requires physicians to test for a heartbeat and prevents them from knowingly performing or inducing an abortion on a pregnant woman if they detect a fetal heartbeat for the unborn child or if the doctor failed to perform a test to detect a fetal heartbeat. A physician does not violate this law if they performed a test for a fetal heartbeat and did not detect a fetal heartbeat.

What is unique about the Texas law?

The Texas Heartbeat Act prohibits enforcement of the law by government officials. Instead, the law allows any private citizen — even those who do not live in Texas — to bring a civil lawsuit against any person who performs or induces an abortion in violation of this law or who knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion, including paying for or reimbursing the costs of an abortion through insurance or otherwise, regardless of whether the person knew or should have known that the abortion would be performed or induced in violation of this law.

If the plaintiffs win their case, the court is directed to force the defendant to pay costs and attorney’s fees, pay statutory damages in an amount of not less than $10,000 for each abortion that the defendant performed or induced, and award injunctive relief sufficient to prevent the defendant from violating this law or engaging in acts that aid or abet violations of this law.

Which states have passed fetal heartbeat legislation?

Fetal heartbeat bills have passed in five states: Arkansas, North Dakota, Iowa, Kentucky, and Texas.

They have failed to pass in 12 states: Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming.

They have been proposed or re-proposed after failing to pass in 13 states: Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

A federal Heartbeat Protection Act was also proposed in 2017.

What is the status of the legislation in the other states that passed fetal heartbeat laws?

Currently, all four fetal heartbeat laws have been blocked by the courts. A lawsuit has also been filed to block the Texas law before it takes effect on Sep. 1, 2021.

However, the the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case involving a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Pro-life activists are hopeful the ruling in that case could limit or oveturn Roe v. Wade.

Generosity amidst adversity

The La Soufrière volcano erupted in February 2021. (Kingstown Baptist Church photo)

When Bronx Baptist Church in New York heard about the La Soufrière volcano that erupted and devastated the Caribbean island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, members generously sprang into action. But that’s just in the church’s nature, Frank Williams, pastor of Bronx Baptist shared. The church collected around $3,000 for Send Relief’s 2021 St. Vincent Volcano Response project.

Williams is the newly elected president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention and also pastors Wake Eden Community Baptist Church, also in New York.

Bronx Baptist chose to give through Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board, because the organization shares the church’s heart to “help the community and share the gospel,” Williams said.

“I know that our network [through Send Relief] and infrastructure is so solid and so kingdom-oriented, I felt that since we were going to be raising money, that sending it through Send Relief will come alongside all the other churches in our denomination,” Williams said.

He continued, “We knew that this would be the best place to pool our resources together. We are fully comfortable that it’s going to go to what it’s intended for which is to help those folks that are in [St. Vincent and the Grenadines].”

This gift is just another way Bronx Baptist has been reaching out to help those in need, even as they’ve been hit hard by COVID-19 this past year.

Each member of Williams’ immediate family – his wife and two children – battled COVID, with his wife’s case being particularly difficult. He conducted his first COVID-related funeral in April 2020 – the funeral of a dear friend and deacon. Since then, the church has lost two others to the pandemic.

But adversity hasn’t stopped their desire to give and to serve.

Frank Williams, pastor of Bronx Baptist Church and Wake Eden Community Baptist Church, is the newly elected president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention. (Baptist Press photo)

“Members remained faithful — faithful in their giving, faithful in their virtual attendance. Our volunteer core was just relentless in their responsibilities,” Williams shared.  During the height of COVID shutdowns, the church served over 4,000 meals to the community.

“There was always that sense of giving that happened throughout the pandemic. So, when St. Vincent and the Grenadines were hit hard by this volcanic eruption, I think that same spirit just spilled over into this,” Williams said.

Some members of the congregation have family and connections on the island, since Bronx Baptist’s congregation consists largely of immigrants from countries such as Jamacia, Saint Kitts, Antiqua, St. Vincent, other parts of the Caribbean and West Indies, Africa, and the Dominican Republic.

The idea originated within the congregation. The only direction Williams gave was to increase the amount to be collected and to send the donation to Send Relief.

“As a pastor, you know people are strapped, and you know things are happening that you may not even know about on their end. You know that the members are still giving faithfully, and your finance team is working hard. You’re reluctant to ask for anything more,” he said. “But I didn’t have to. They spoke what was in my heart. That was the spirit that was being cultivated throughout the pandemic.”

D. Ray Davis, church strategists team leader for the International Mission Board who pointed Williams to Send Relief, commended Bronx Baptist’s sacrificial giving.

“Bronx Baptist Church was reeling from the impact of COVID last year; less than a year later they gave sacrificially through Send Relief to St. Lucians’ impacted by the recent volcanic eruption,” he said.

Davis continued, “I’m reminded of the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 when they gave themselves first to the Lord, and then they gave generously out of their poverty to Paul’s work. Williams and his members were in need and yet they gave to others.”

The funds are going to Send Relief’s 2021 St. Vincent Volcano Response project.

Members of Bronx Baptist Church serve meals to their community during the height of COVID-19.

La Soufrière started emitting gas, ash and steam in February 2021. By April 8, an evacuation was ordered for those in the “red zone,” the volcano’s immediate area. Eruptions lasted until April 20, but heavy rains in May caused further volcanic complications in the area.

Send Relief has been providing food to the victims who have been displaced in shelters. Part 2 of this project includes food baskets for families returning to their homes in the red zone. Send Relief has been partnering with Kingstown Baptist Church in St. Vincent for relief projects. Bronx Baptist has connections to Kingstown Baptist as well.

“Gifts like this one from Bronx Baptist enable Send Relief to come alongside partners like Kingstown Baptist Church in St. Vincent as they lead out in responding to crisis and meeting needs in the name of Jesus,” Jason Cox, Send Relief vice president of international ministry, said.

“It’s been inspiring to see the local church at the center of disaster response in St. Vincent, gaining favor with authorities and the local community that is opening many doors for gospel witness.”

Pray for families displaced by the La Soufrière volcano.

Pray for Kingstown Baptist Church and other likeminded churches as they minister to their reeling community.

Give to Send Relief Crisis Response.

Myriah Snyder is senior writer/editor for the IMB.

The post Generosity amidst adversity appeared first on IMB.

Back to normal post-COVID? Not everywhere

Back to normal post-COVID? Not everywhere

IMB workers share descriptions of current conditions around the world

 

Melanie Clinton*, IMB worker in Sub-Saharan Africa

We are now in the third wave, and it is the highly contagious Delta variant. So many people are getting sick. In fact, my husband tested positive this week, and my daughter and I are experiencing symptoms, so we are all in quarantine for two weeks. Our kids’ school has been in upheaval because so many children, parents and teachers are either sick or have been exposed to someone who is sick and had to isolate. That’s something distinctive about this third wave – lots of children are getting sick. In many cases the symptoms are not severe, but it’s alarming how rapidly the virus is spreading. We are currently in a two-week lockdown that includes the closing of churches, schools, gyms, movie theatres and restaurants (except for deliveries and take out).

Veronica Stone*, IMB worker in Southeast Asia

Current conditions in our country are pretty bleak, to be honest. It’s really disheartening watching the western world open up while people around us are suffering. Since mid-March of last year, we’ve been in some kind of lockdown or restrictions – with only short time periods when we’ve been allowed to go out as a family. The current lockdown restrictions are such that almost all businesses are closed, all parks are closed and there is a limit on the amount of people that can be in a car, which I think is two. Prayers are greatly needed for our country. Many of my friends have talked about feeling dread just because we’re walking through this dark tunnel with no end in sight. Many of our co-workers have expressed exhaustion, especially as parents work on keeping morale up in homes as kids face this fourth lockdown.

Kevin Peacock, IMB worker in Canada

We are close to getting back to normal. If you’re fully vaccinated, you can cross the border now between Canada and the U.S. with negative COVID tests. When re-entering Canada, we no longer have to quarantine as long as we test negative. This is encouraging because Canada was pretty far behind in getting vaccines. When the third wave of COVID hit, not many had been vaccinated. But now, more and more vaccines are available and most restrictions have been lifted. Our region is in stage three of what they are calling the “Open for Summer” plan. Masks are only required in a few places and gathering restrictions have been lifted. Churches are meeting regularly and holding events, like Vacation Bible School. And the seminary where I teach will be open for full, in-person classes this fall.

Travis Burkhalter, IMB worker in South America

COVID where we are right now could be described as confusing. New cases are at or near all-time highs which indicates it is spreading throughout the population. At the same time, people are getting vaccinated. They are now offering free vaccinations for those over 40. We no longer have restrictions other than the masks which are required everywhere ­– no days of quarantines or lockdowns and no travel restrictions. The country also stopped negative COVID test requirements to enter the country. We had the longest lockdown when COVID first hit, and then went through a long time of periodic quarantines. I assume the economic devastation has led to the stoppage, along with a time of protests and marches which we are still in. This has made it a weird time for all. From what I know, each country in South America is doing different things. And even in different parts of one country, things can be different.

Kelvin Joseph*, IMB worker in Europe

Where I live in Europe, we’re returning to normal life after COVID. It was a rough winter in lockdown. All of our ministries were online, which made moving to a new city difficult. But since April the sunshine has melted that away to where our country feels mostly normal again. Restaurants are open. My wife and I were looking at cinema tickets yesterday. I even saw a local newspaper headline that people are losing interest in getting COVID vaccines. We are comfortable using public transportation. There are still restrictions, like I still wear a mask indoors to follow Polish law, but we haven’t had an outdoor mask mandate for more than a month. After living in a city that was a shadow of itself, without even people out on the streets, we love seeing crowds again. What a relief!

How will you pray today for missionaries around the world? Will you give now to support the work to reach the nations with gospel – no matter the circumstances?

*Names changed for security

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Survey: Proportion of Christians in the U.S. has stopped shrinking

A new survey on American religion finds that the percentage of Christians has stabilized, after falling for two decades.

The survey, called the 2020 Census of American Religion, finds that 7 in 10 Americans (70%) identify as Christian, including more than 4 in 10 who identify as white Christian and more than one-quarter who identify as Christians of color. Christians of color include Hispanic Catholics (8%), Black Protestants (7%), Hispanic Protestants (4%), other Protestants of color (4%), and other Catholics of color (2%). Nearly 1 in 4 Americans (23%) are religiously unaffiliated, and 5% identify with non-Christian religions.

The largest religious demographic are those who identify as white and Christian. More than 4 in 10 Americans (44%) identify as white Christian, including white evangelical Protestants (14%), white mainline Protestants (16%), and white Catholics (12%). Black Americans are also mostly Christian (72%). More than 6 in 10 (63%) are Protestant, including 35% who identify as evangelical and 28% who identify as non-evangelical Protestants.  Three in 4 Hispanic Americans (76%) also identify as Christian, and half (50%) are Catholic. About 1 in 4 (24%) identify as Protestant, including 14% who say they are evangelical and 10% who identify as non-evangelical Protestant.

Six in 10 Native Americans (60%) identify as Christian, with most (47%) identifying as Protestant (28% evangelical, 19% non-evangelical) and an additional 11% who are Catholic. Asian American and Pacific Islander Americans are as likely to be religiously unaffiliated (34%) as they are to be Christian (34%). The Christian subset includes 1 in 5 (20%) who are Protestant (10% evangelical, 10% non-evangelical) and 10% who are Catholic.

(All respondents who identified as Christian were asked: “Would you describe yourself as a ‘born again’ or ‘evangelical Christian,’ or not?” Respondents who self-identified as white, non-Hispanic, or Protestant and affirmatively identified as born-again or evangelical were categorized as white evangelical Protestants.)

A much smaller percentage of Americans identify as Latter-day Saint (Mormon), Jehovah’s Witness, or Orthodox Christian. The rest of religiously affiliated Americans belong to non-Christian groups, including 1% who are Jewish, 1% Muslim, 1% Buddhist, 0.5% Hindu, and 1% who identify with other religions. Religiously unaffiliated Americans comprise those who do not claim any particular religious affiliation (17%) and those who identify as atheist (3%) or agnostic (3%).

Until 2020, the percentage of white Americans who identify as Christian had been on the decline for more than 20 years, losing roughly 11% per decade. In 1996, almost two-thirds of Americans (65%) identified as white and Christian. But a decade later that had declined to 54%, and by 2017 it was down to 43%. The proportion of white Christians hit a low point in 2018, at 42%, but rebounded in 2020 to 44%.

The recent increase is primarily due to an uptick in the proportion of white mainline Protestants, as well as a stabilization in the proportion of white Catholics. The report notes that since 2007, white mainline Protestants have declined from 19% of the population to a low of 13% in 2016. But over the last three years, the mainline has seen small but steady increases, up to 16% in 2020. White Catholics have also declined from a high point of 16% of the population in 2008 to 12% in 2020.

Since 2006, the most radical decrease in affiliation has occurred among white evangelical Protestants, a group that shrank from 23% of Americans in 2006 to 14% in 2020. That proportion has generally held steady since 2017 (15% in 2017, 2018, and 2019).

The proportion of white Christians decreases for the younger generations. A majority of white Americans 65 and older (59%) identify as Christian, as do those ages 50-64. But that drops to 41% for those ages 30-49. Only 28% of Americans ages 18-29 are white Christians (including 12% who are white mainline Protestants, 8% who are white Catholics, and 7% who are white evangelical Protestants).

Roughly one-in-four Americans ( 26%) are Christians of color (including 9% who are Hispanic Catholics, 5% who are Hispanic Protestants, 5% who are Black Protestants, 2% who are multiracial Christians, 2% who are AAPI Christians, and 1% who are Native American Christians). More than one-third of young Americans (36%) are religiously unaffiliated, and the remainder are Jewish (2%), Muslim (2%), Buddhist (1%), Hindu (1%), or another religion (1%).

The shift among Christians of color is more modest. While the numbers are small, African American Protestants make up 8% of Americans ages 65 and older but only 5% of Americans under the age of 30. Among those aged 18-29, 26% are Chrisitans of color (including 9% who are Hispanic Catholics, 5% who are Hispanic Protestants, 5% who are Black Protestants, 2% who are multiracial Christians, 2% who are AAPI Christians, and 1% who are Native American Christians). By contrast, the proportions of Hispanic Protestants are significantly higher among younger Americans than among people over 65.

White evangelical Protestants are also the oldest religious group in the U.S., with a median age of 56, compared to the median age in the country of 47. Black Protestants and white mainline Protestants have a median age of 50.