Author: Baptist Press

Puerto Rico Baptists ready for ‘great movement of God’

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—Puerto Rico Baptists learned about church revitalization efforts, were encouraged in their cooperation, and heard from several SBC leaders at their annual meeting Feb. 10.

“The unity and transformation of lives through the gospel will be an important emphasis in our continued work,” said Luís Soto, director of the Convención de Iglesias Bautistas del Sur de Puerto Rico (Convention of Southern Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico). “I firmly believe that in Puerto Rico there is a great movement of God through our churches and our convention.”

Soto, who is also the pastor of Iglesia Bautista Sin Paredes in Guayama, Puerto Rico, emphasized the great opportunity that pastors will have to receive revitalization. “We eagerly anticipate the launch of our new revitalization process and are confident that these tools will be a great help to our churches,” he said.

Growing spiritually and numerically

As part of this revitalization, Nathan Lorick, executive director of the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (SBTC), brought greetings via video from the 2,749 SBTC churches that are praying for Puerto Rico. The two conventions are ministry partners.

Lorick also extended an invitation to “Pillars of a Healthy Church,” a conference scheduled for March 23 at the Iglesia Bautista Sin Paredes, in Guayama, Puerto Rico.

“At this conference we want to help you identify and overcome the barriers that prevent churches from growing,” Lorick said, adding that SBC President Bart Barber will attend the conference. The SBTC and Puerto Rico partnership is under the supervision of Colin Rayburn, mobilization and missions associate for the SBTC.

“We have loved being your ministry partners for the past year,” Lorick said. “We look forward for the coming years of fellowship and partnership.”

The meeting was held at the Send Puerto Rico and Iglesia Bautista Ciudad de Dios. Xavier Torrado, director of Send Network Puerto Rico, leads a church planting residency.

There are currently 56 Southern Baptist churches on the island trying to reach a population of more than 3.4 million people. Puerto Rico has 78 municipalities, and roughly 40 of those do not yet have a Southern Baptist church. In the capital city, San Juan, there is a great need for more churches to serve its population.

Bruno Molina (left) of the SBTC and Luis Soto, director of the director of the Convention of Southern Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

Hearing from leaders

Attendees also received video greetings from Barber, who thanked the leadership of Puerto Rico for their faithfulness and love for Christ; North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell; and International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood.

Bruno Molina, language and interfaith evangelism associate at the SBTC and director of the National Hispanic Baptist Network, addressed the meeting.

“I want to encourage you as Hispanic pastors and leaders to connect in mission, share resources, celebrate what God is doing among Hispanics and collaborate together,” Molina said.

Brad Russell, pastor of Old Powhatan Baptist Church in the city of Powhatan, Va., brought a message from 1 Corinthians 15:58. Russell’s church has collaborated with Send Relief for more than five years. He encouraged pastors to “stand firm and unmovable,” united in ministry, as people bought by the blood of Christ, focused on the Bible, and not to crumble under the pressure of being a pastor.

“God knows the results and our work is not in vain,” Russell said. “None of us deserve the ministry we have; it is an act of God’s grace. God does not depend on us because no one can do what God has done on this island.”

Convention President Camilo Méndez said 2023 was “a period of significant progress for the Convention of Southern Baptist Churches in Puerto Rico.”

“We are excited by the opportunities that this new year presents to us,” he said. “We are confident that, with the continued support of our members and collaborators, we will be able to achieve new goals and continue to serve our local churches well and effectively.”

Conducting business

Representatives and leaders of convention presented annual reports, and Soto pointed out one of the last year’s most notable achievements—the completion of the convention’s first two modules of biblical counseling training, which included more than 250 people representing 35 churches and 39 pastors.

Attendees also approved a budget of $143,000, $20,000 of which will go to SBC Cooperative Program causes. Both of those numbers are increased from last year.

Jonathan Santiago, director of Send Relief Puerto Rico, thanked pastors and leaders for their help with Send Relief, specifically a new adoption office in San Juan.

“We thank all the churches and ministries that have been part of this cause,” he said. “As an integral part of the Adopting Ministry, we continue committed to the service of caring for orphans.”

He added that more than 2,500 volunteers served with Send Relief in Puerto Rico in the past year.

Soto thanked pastors’ wives, saying: “Their dedication and service in the ministry are invaluable, and we are grateful for their commitment and sacrifice.”

The women’s ministry of the Puerto Rico convention is under the direction of Kirzy Colón under the umbrella of the local Woman’s Missionary Union. Kirzy presented the annual report for the WMU (Union Femenil Misionera). “There is no doubt that God is at work in the Southern Baptist churches in Puerto Rico,” she said.

 

Retired missionary mobilizes Black churches to the nations

Keith Jefferson stood at an all-too-familiar pulpit in Cachoeira, Bahia, in Brazil. With gratitude, he looked out at the church he’d partnered closely with during his time on the field over a decade ago. The retired International Mission Board missionary finished his sermon, and a young Quilombola walked the aisle, tears in his eyes.

Broken over his sin, he came forward and buried his head in the preacher’s chest. “I surrender. I just give up. I want Jesus in my life,” he said. That night, he was one of three to decide to follow Christ.

Anytime someone puts their faith in Christ, Jefferson knows it’s an act of God. But when a Quilombola comes to faith, it’s extra special to Jefferson. The entire trip proved to be notable. Later that week, the Jeffersons were honored at another church through song and speeches.

This church was one Keith helped build with his hands 15-plus years ago. He’d returned with a team of volunteers from a church in the United States. He wanted them to see this – the fruit of missions – a thriving church among a previously unengaged people group. He wanted them, and wants all Southern Baptist churches, to catch this vision.

He and his wife Deborah marveled at all God had done in the church since they left the field in 2011. As a plant of the church he preached in earlier that week, he was thankful the Quilombola church was being constantly mentored and encouraged by the local Brazilian congregation about 30 minutes away.

Jefferson returned to a different world than the one he arrived in the late ‘90s.

‘This was beyond my understanding’

While living as a missionary in Brazil, he learned of the Quilombola tribes, an unreached people group. Before 1997, they were largely unengaged. There was one known believer in the entire Quilombo village where Jefferson first visited. They trace their ancestry back to escaped or freed slaves during and after the time of the slave trade in Brazil.

Jefferson first heard of the people through an Afro-Brazilian pastor he worked with during his more than 15 years on the field. At that time, he and Deborah traveled 200 miles from the city where they lived, trekked an hour down a dirt path with the national pastor and found the front door of the small hut where the only known Christian in the village lived.

“How long has it been since a minister has visited this village?” Jefferson asked the believing Quilombola woman.

She replied, teary eyed, “Pastor Jefferson, we have not had a minister in over four and a half years.”

Decades later, while recounting the story, the emotion is apparent in his voice. “As an American Christian this was beyond my understanding,” he said, his voice choking back tears. “I thought to myself ‘So you mean there has been no one to preach, to marry, bury or baptize any individuals?’”

After this initial contact, “I felt God leading me to help take the Gospel to as many Quilombola villages as possible,” he explained.

For the next 10 years, he mapped out and visited villages and surveyed more than 130 Quilombolas. He’d navigate muddy roads, entering regions much different than the Brazilian cities. Single bedroom homes were crafted from mud. Women still carried water from ponds to care for their families and after sunset, everything went dark. With the help of the Brazilian officials and national pastors, he and his team were able to strategically locate clusters of villages, plant churches, host Vacation Bible Schools and share the gospel with those who hadn’t heard the good news.

Staying connected

Each time Jefferson returns to one of his villages, he’s amazed that water and electricity run through modernized homes – often made of brick now.

When Jefferson left his position as an IMB missionary, he wanted to be a part of sending so that more missionaries would take his place, perhaps working among the Quilombolas. He served for five years as the African American missional strategist in the IMB’s Richmond office, where he focused on mobilizing Black churches to the nations.

He’s retired now, but he hasn’t slowed down in his love for Brazilians or his passion to see Black churches on the move. Since retirement in 2016, he’s been on nearly 10 mission trips. At least once or twice a year, he visits his beloved Brazil – like the last trip he took. But he doesn’t go alone because he’s a mobilizer at heart.

When he takes these trips, he brings along leadership from churches he connected with during his time as a missional strategist. There, he introduces the pastors and church leaders to national pastors. In turn, they can form their own relationships – sometimes lasting.

On his last trip, Ken Tilley, pastor of Crosslink Baptist Church in Mebane, N.C., brought with him several church members after experiencing a vision trip with the Jeffersons earlier in 2023. On these trips, they did ministry in the cities, sharing the light of Jesus in a drug-saturated culture, while also visiting Quilombos.

They went into schools and spoke on abstinence, suicide prevention and the dangers of drug abuse. They also hosted sports camps for youth. Because of the culture of respect for elders, both Deborah and Keith agreed that the messages the team shared with the Brazilian teenagers were well-received. In November 2024, Jefferson is planning to accompany another group on a trip, hoping they catch the vision too.

Jefferson believes that retired missionaries are valuable to the ongoing mobilization of churches because they not only have experience, but they also have contacts – if they’ll keep up with them.

“We’re at our peak number of contacts and places we’ve been and pastors we’ve worked with. So, keep up with them,” he encouraged retired missionaries. “It’s important. Don’t let your contacts go. Call up your old friends and pastors and let them know you’re praying for them.”

IMB trustees appoint 62 missionaries; highlight growth in globalization

PHOENIX, Ariz.—International Mission Board trustees approved the appointment of 62 new full-time, fully funded missionaries during their Feb. 14-15 meeting in Phoenix. Trustees met in conjunction with a Sending Celebration for new appointees hosted by North Phoenix Baptist Church on Feb. 14.

Keith Evans, trustee chairman from Washington state, presided over the meetings. Trudy Crittendon, trustee recording secretary from South Carolina, called Thursday’s plenary session to order and opened the meeting in prayer.

The meeting included reports from standing committees: administration, mobilization, global engagement, human resources, LFTT (logistics, finance, travel, technology), marketing and communications and training.

President’s remarks

IMB President Paul Chitwood thanked trustees for their ongoing service and commented on the significant partnerships among Southern Baptists. Chitwood spent time earlier Thursday morning with state convention executive directors.

“All of IMB’s Cooperative Program dollars and the overwhelming majority of our Lottie [Moon offering] gifts come from churches through their state conventions,” Chitwood said. “As such, those state conventions are not only essential partners, they are among IMB’s strongest advocates.”

Celebrating the appointment of 62 new missionaries by the board on Feb. 14, Chitwood told trustees that the missionary candidate pipeline is currently 1,355. He emphasized the importance of encouraging those who have served with the IMB before to return to career service. The missionaries appointed on Wednesday participated in a Sending Celebration at North Phoenix Baptist Church that evening.

Chitwood shared a report from Daren Davis, the leader of IMB’s Sub-Saharan African Affinity. Davis shared earlier in the week about the launch of the Africans on Mission sending body, a partnership of 14 African Baptist entities that will now work together to send cross-cultural missionaries to all of Africa and from Africa to all nations.

“IMB’s role in the formation of Africans on Mission could not be overstated,” Chitwood remarked, “but that is only one example among many of how our investment in the globalization of the missionary task is inspiring sending among our Baptist brothers and sisters the world over. An important part of this investment is our objective to add 500 global missionary partners to IMB teams. Since the pandemic released its grip on the world, we have added 134 global missionary partners to IMB overseas teams and have 136 more GMP candidates currently in the pipeline.”

Global missionary partners are overseas partners, called to cross-cultural missions, sent by their local church or sending entity and affirmed by IMB field personnel. They receive training and ministry resources through their cooperative work with IMB missionary teams.

Chitwood reported that the IMB audited financials for 2023 have been reviewed by the LFTT (logistics, finance, travel, technology) and the audit committees of the board of trustees. “We are happy to report that we’ve received an unmodified opinion by the auditors, which is the highest level of assurance available,” Chitwood said.

“No property sales were used for operations,” he continued. “Reserves were funded at appropriate levels, including commitments to retiring missionaries being fully funded. And as always, 100 percent of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering proceeds were spent on the field. We’re thankful for the generosity of Southern Baptists and their faithful giving through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Simply put, the IMB would not exist without them.

“We are also thankful for the IMB Finance Team, both abroad and in Richmond. We are blessed to work with many men and women of integrity who love the Lord and desire to see the Gospel proclaimed to the ends of the earth. The auditor’s opinion confirms, yet again, what we already knew, and indeed we are grateful.”

Chitwood closed his remarks reflecting on his six years as president. He told trustees that though there is much work to do, “I retire every evening confident of this — the work of the IMB is the Lord’s work. We give ourselves to it as a privilege and a calling but never under the illusion that the Revelation 7:9 vision we long to see fulfilled will in any way be accomplished in our power or according to our plans.

“But the vision will come to pass. Every nation, all tribes, peoples and languages will someday be a part of that great multitude standing before the throne and before the Lamb. Might God find us faithful striving to do our part. But might God also find us full of faith that He will do what He has said in His Word, with us or without us. As much as it depends on you and me, let it be with us, not without us.”

George Liele: A gospel trailblazer who helped thousands come to Christ

One of the most significant figures in the history of Christian missions is a freed Georgia slave named George Liele. Even though William Carey may be called the father of the modern missionary movement, George Liele left America and planted the gospel in Jamaica a full 10 years before Carey left England.

Conversion and early ministry

George Liele came to Christ in 1773, at the age of 23, and was baptized by his White pastor, Matthew Moore. Sometime after Liele’s conversion, his owner, Henry Sharp, who was a Baptist deacon, gave Liele his freedom so he could pursue God’s call. After his conversion, Liele preached for two years in the slave quarters of plantations surrounding Savannah and into South Carolina.

Because of his faithfulness and powerful preaching of the Word, many surrendered their lives to Christ. George Liele was ordained on May 20, 1775, becoming the first ordained Black Baptist preacher in America. After his ordination, he planted the first Black Baptist Church in North America, a church still in existence today.

An open door to preach in Jamaica

In 1778, Henry Sharp was killed in the Revolutionary War. After his death, Sharp’s heirs took steps to re-enslave Liele. As result of their actions, Liele was thrown in jail. Eventually, he was able to produce proper documentation concerning his freedom and was set free.

Soon after his release, Moses Kirkland, a colonel of the British army, befriended Liele and helped him leave the country. Kirkland helped pay for Liele’s trip to Jamaica, and after two years Liele paid this debt and obtained a certificate of freedom for himself and his family. George and his wife, Hannah, and their four children left Savannah and landed in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1782.

When Liele landed in Jamaica it was a British colony. There, Liele found land and a people who needed a missionary. Slaves were brought from Africa to Jamaica to work on the sugar plantations. These men and women had no real knowledge of Jesus Christ and the gospel. Liele planted a church and held a baptism service every three months. These baptisms were public events in which professing converts were baptized in a nearby ocean or river.

The growth of an integrated ministry

The work of the church and the public baptisms caused persecution. Eventually, Liele was charged with preaching sedition and was thrown into prison. He was later acquitted of these charges. Despite facing these hostilities, during the eight years of preaching, he was able to baptize 500 people and establish a strong church.

Not only did Liele’s ministry lead to a spiritual impact on the island, but his work also made a social difference for the Jamaican slaves. By July 31, 1838, slavery was eradicated in Jamaica.

In 1814, there were only about 8,000 Baptists in Jamaica. This number included slaves, freedmen, and some Whites. However, as a result of Liele’s ministry, by 1832 there were over 20,000 believers.

Author David Shannon summed up Liele’s life of ministry this way: “The Christianity practiced by Liele was not limited to one nation, colony, or ethnic group but was a faith found and spread through interaction with colonists and national leaders in the Americas and England. In turn, this broad vision of Christianity shaped and spread a variety of Christian experience that became widespread and influential in Black, White, and integrated congregations in Georgia, South Carolina, Jamaica, Nova Scotia, Sierra Leone, and beyond.”

Training and sending out missionaries beyond Jamaica

Not only was Liele an effective missionary and evangelist, he was known for encouraging his converts to go preach the gospel to the lost. As a result of his leadership, they went to Savannah, Georgia, Nova Scotia, and Sierra Leone.

Adoniram Judson is often cited as the first Baptist missionary from the United States. But, in fact, this designation belongs to George Liele. His story is an important part of missionary history and is worthy of emulation.

George Liele died in 1828. He may have begun life as a slave, but he lived as a free man in Christ. He left a rich legacy of thousands who were transformed by the good news of Jesus.

This article first appeared on IMB.

Faith—not just football—is propelling Super Bowl quarterback to center stage

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.—For all the San Francisco 49ers’ historical success, Joshua Pizarro is among those adult fans who have experienced more frustration than anything.

It’s a case of not-quite the right place in not-quite the right time. Joe Montana had led the 49ers to two Super Bowl wins in 1982 and ’85 before Pizarro was born. As a toddler, he wouldn’t remember The Drive that secured a third Super Bowl win in 1989.

As a six-year-old in January 1994, though, he was in front of the TV with his dad the night Steve Young and the Niners polished off the San Diego Chargers for San Francisco’s fifth championship.

“I remember it pretty vividly,” said Pizarro, now executive pastor at Calvary Baptist Church. “But we haven’t won one since (The 49ers made it but lost in 2013 and 2020.).

“Maybe this upcoming Super Bowl will be the chance for us to reset the timeline.”

Key to that chance is 24-year-old quarterback Brock Purdy, whose Christian testimony is getting as much attention as his tendency to win games.

Purdy was a four-year starter out of Iowa State in 2022 when San Francisco took him with the 262nd (and final) pick of the draft, a distinction that comes with the label Mr. Irrelevant because little is expected. Making the practice squad would be impressive. Making the team even more so.

A pre-draft scouting report from an NFL coach published by The Athletic called Purdy less-than-ideal in terms of size with unimpressive athleticism. He was very mature and experienced but was a “limited athlete” with “a maxed-out body.”

Pizarro remembers reading an article on Purdy prior to the 2022 season.

“He was going up to veteran players and saying that if he got his shot on the field, they were going to do something together. He’d make sure they got the ball,” said Pizarro.

It would be difficult to blame those players for thinking this was nothing more than an overconfident, but not cocky, rookie trying to earn his place at the table. Purdy’s shot would come, though.

A season-ending injury to starter Trey Lance in Week 2 placed backup Jimmy Garoppolo under center. Purdy came in for a few snaps in subsequent games but was thrust into full-time action in Week 13 against the Dolphins when Garoppolo injured his foot in the first quarter.

Purdy became the first Mr. Irrelevant to throw a touchdown pass in a regular season game in the 33-17 win. The next week he became the first quarterback in his first career start to beat a Tom Brady-led team as the 49ers throttled the Buccaneers 35-7.

“The way he closed out the Miami game after Jimmy G got hurt, his teammates started taking him seriously,” said Pizarro. “Everything you heard about him as a leader was true.

“People gravitate to him. He commands respect, but does it with a sense of humility.”

Purdy’s Christian faith received a lot of attention leading up to last year’s NFC Championship game against the Eagles.

“My identity is in Jesus,” he told Sports Spectrum’s Jason Romano in an August 2021 interview while at Iowa State. “It’s not, ‘I’m better than you.’ … I’m called to share the Word. I have this knowledge of the Spirit and I want to give it to as many people as I can.”

During last season, Purdy became the first 49ers rookie quarterback to start and win a playoff game. The following week’s win over Dallas made him the first rookie in the league to win his first two playoff games in 53 years.

Against the Eagles, though, Purdy tore his ulnar collateral ligament in the first quarter. He reentered in the third quarter when his backup left due to a concussion, but couldn’t throw any further than 10 yards and with no passing game, San Francisco lost 31-7.

During the offseason head coach Kyle Shanahan told Purdy he would be the 2023 starter … unless the team could talk Brady into playing his final season in San Francisco.

Brady grew up in San Mateo, just south of San Francisco. The prospect was too good for 49ers brass to not pursue. And while Purdy is humble, he’s also a competitor.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, he’s the GOAT. I get it,” Purdy told ESPN’s Nick Wagoner. “But something deep down inside me was sort of like, ‘Dude, I just showed you that I can play well in this system. And we were one game away from the Super Bowl.’ … More than anything I was like, ‘OK, now let’s go.”

That confidence to trust God’s gifts and timing show in comments he made shortly into the current season.

“This is who God’s called me to be and I’ve believed that from Day 1,” he said. “I believe that Jesus Christ did come down and die for my sins and rose again. He’s living and sitting beside God on the throne, so I believe that. It’s not just some story, fairy-tale thing, it’s real.

“It allows me to stay level-headed and real with life and know what my purpose is, so that has allowed me to play my game, allowed me to play football at this level.”

Given the chance to reassess Purdy, the scout told The Athletic, “We undervalued his agility and probably the mental side,” adding that he felt Purdy would be worth a second- or third-round pick.

“I really believe that the gravitas he has shown as a leader reflects his character,” said Pizarro. He’s prepared for whatever God has in store for him, the way he kept believing during those low points like the injuries and being drafted last. He had to experience those for God to be magnified.

“It reflects his walk with Jesus, that he’s going to use this platform to magnify the One who has given him this opportunity.”

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

Brothers row across Atlantic for 37 days to raise money for Send Relief

ALPHARETTA, Ga.—When Timothy Hamilton texted his brothers a link to the World’s Toughest Row endurance race with the suggestion that they should participate together, not all his brothers were easily convinced. But three years later, on Jan. 19, 2024, Hamilton, his brothers Trent and Thomas, and their nephew Ben Clark were the third team to cross the finish line after 37 days of rowing in a 30-foot-long boat across the Atlantic, raising thousands of dollars for Send Relief’s work among Afghan refugees.

After some initial back-and-forth, the four Hamilton brothers—Troy, Trent, Tim and Thomas—committed to undertaking the 3,000-mile journey primarily to strengthen their brotherly bond. Because both Troy and Trent had spent time in Afghanistan, a cause near to the family’s hearts is providing help and hope to Afghan refugees. It did not take them long to identify Send Relief as the nonprofit they wanted to support in this work.

“We believe in the mission of Send Relief, and we love the way that Send Relief empowers local communities to help minister to Afghan refugees in their midst and help do it in an enduring way where they can really become part of the community,” said Troy, the oldest of the brothers.

Knowing that Send Relief operates with a gospel focus was another reason the four Christian brothers wanted to raise awareness and support for Send Relief’s partners working with Afghans.

Since the fall of Afghanistan’s capital to the Taliban in September of 2021, Send Relief partners have met the urgent physical and emotional needs of Afghan families all along the refugee highway. Send Relief continues to provide care and support to Afghan refugees through trauma healing groups; parenting, health, and language classes; children’s programs; food assistance and more.

In one recent Send Relief project, partners organized concerts and events around the holidays to provide community, encouragement and food baskets for refugees.

Troy, who planned on taking the role of team chaplain on board, realized months into training that he could not participate in the trans-Atlantic row due to a back injury, but his nephew, Ben Clark, took his spot on the Foar Brothers rowing team. The two worked together to prepare weekly Scripture passages for the team to meditate on, verse packs for the small cabins where the men rested between rowing shifts and liturgical prayers for the team to read and lift up.

Tim, who is seen by his brothers as “a man of the sea,” led the team as the skipper and chief navigator. Trent functioned as the team’s process manager and onboard engineer, going so far as visiting the factory in England that built the team’s water desalinator to learn how to fix this lifeline item if needed.

Thomas, the youngest of the brothers, was tasked with the responsibility of gathering the team’s extensive food supply and also served as the onboard medic. “I wish I had brought some more variety of candy,” he said, “but other than that I would say we were pretty well prepared.”

Prior to their journey, the brothers drafted a covenant among themselves to commit to seeing the best in each other, writing, “We will purpose to follow our Hero Jesus by each serving one another as greater than ourselves.”

“I knew that the statistics were good in terms of safety,” said Troy, “but it was still more unnerving than I thought it would be watching my brothers roll out in a little rowboat into the Atlantic.”

During their row, the Foar Brothers faced intense weather, 20-foot waves, seasickness and strong winds that threatened to blow them off-course.

“It’s very tough, the hardest thing any of us have ever done in our lives.” said Thomas during his final day at sea. “The first two nights were a challenge. They just seemed endless.”

In between harrowing moments, however, the brothers and their nephew had time for meaningful conversations and moments of worship.

“I would say that we’ve been blessed by God and that’s been encouraging,” Thomas said, “I’ve grown closer with my brothers. I understand them a lot better than I did in the past.”

The Foar Brothers rowing team crossed the finish line in Antigua at 19:12 UTC and were welcomed by their families on shore. Despite entering the World Toughest Row in the “expedition” category, denoting their desire to view the row as an adventure rather than a race, the team finished third among 38 total teams.

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

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.”

Texas Rangers standout rookie Carter proclaims ‘Jesus Won’

ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (BP)—Jason Holly, the youth minister at First Baptist Church in Elizabethton, remembers when Texas Rangers rookie outfielder Evan Carter was a boy playing in the local Grasscutter football league for 6-8-year-olds. Holly had a tiny Superman logo printed specifically for Carter.

“I stuck it on the back of his helmet, and only his,” Holly said. “And I said, ‘You’re Superman.’ He was just that good.”

Rangers fans are starting to agree with that assessment. Carter, who started the 2023 season in the minor leagues with Texas’ Double-A squad, is finishing it in the World Series. The 21-year-old became the youngest player since Mickey Mantle to bat third in a World Series lineup in Friday’s opening game.

He made an immediate impact for Texas, doubling off the wall in the first inning to drive in the game’s first run. Texas went on to win 6-5 on an 11th inning homer by Adolis Garcia. Carter has reached base safely in all 14 games he’s played in this year’s postseason.

“It’s a dream come true,” Carter told Derek Jeter in a postgame interview about playing in the World Series. “You always want to be ready to go in the minor leagues. To think that I’d have been in the World Series this time, this is unreal.”

Holly coached Carter in youth football and baseball until Carter’s middle school years. He remembers joking with Carter’s dad that the kid would be going a long way in baseball.

“He was just that talented, at a very young age,” Holly recalled. “When he was in little league, I remember throwing the ball to him as hard as I could, and he was about 9, and he just would hit it right back at you. He was a phenomenal athlete.”

Carter’s family is part of Central Community Christian Church, a nondenominational congregation outside of Elizabethton. But he regularly attended programs and events at First Baptist Church during his childhood and teenage years.

“Evan and his family are very grounded people,” Holly said. “They’re very humble. They’re very gracious. Evan has always been this even-keeled kid. With his faith, he’s always stayed steady.”

That’s why Holly wasn’t surprised when, after Carter was called up to the Rangers in September, he took his first batting practice wearing a blue T-shirt with the message “Jesus Won” prominently displayed across his chest.

“I always felt like Evan was grounded on the Lord, and he had his eyes, his ears and his heart the right way,” Holly said.

In an interview in the dugout prior to his Major League debut, Carter wore that “Jesus Won” shirt while speaking to the media about being a part of the Rangers team.

“It’s unbelievable,” Carter said to start the interview. “I’m grateful, and I thank God for the opportunity.”

That shirt has become practically ubiquitous in Elizabethton, as Carter’s performance and profile have continued to skyrocket since his arrival with the Rangers. Fellowship of Christian Athletes sells a Carter edition of the shirt, with “EC” and Carter’s number 32 on the sleeve. Carter and his wife Kaylen shared on social media that they want to use their platform in baseball to give back to their community in Carter County, Tenn.

Proceeds from sales of the shirt benefit Central Cares, a program from their home church that helps provide for children in impoverished situations, and to help provide an environment for young baseball players in their community to succeed.

Holly said that Carter and Kaylen have been together since sixth grade.

“You can just tell how they treat each other that the Lord is front and center for both of them,” he said.

Holly, who also teaches at Elizabethton High School, said the “Jesus Won” shirt has given him the opportunity to engage a lot of students who wear it with the message. That’s just one way he says that Carter has made an impact on his community and how he is a role model to others.

“Evan’s a very humble, quiet person,” Holly said. “The thing he tells a lot of people is, ‘You can be great without being loud, and you can be great without causing problems, and you can be great without being flamboyant.’”

In that sense, Holly said Carter is similar to Elizabethton’s other star athlete, former Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.

“Both of those guys kind of have the same character,” Holly said. “They’re quiet, family people. They just show kids that you can be the right person and be awesome.”

Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

Dockery gives trustees hopeful ‘indicators’ of God’s work in SWBTS enrollment, finances

FORT WORTH—President David S. Dockery gave a positive report of hopeful “indicators of what the Lord has been doing,” including in the areas of enrollment and finances, during the Oct. 18 regularly scheduled fall meeting of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary board of trustees.

Chairman Jonathan Richard told trustees he was “thankful for the unity that has existed in this place the last few days,” and he believed “we are moving forward in a unified way and in a unified direction.”

Richard, pastor of First Baptist Church of Estancia, N.M., said the dinner between the board and faculty showed that morale seemed “higher than this time last year.” He also observed the “hopefulness” that “is resting within our trustee body” for which he offered God praise.

All votes of the board were unanimous.

At the beginning of his report, Dockery noted the 30th anniversary of the inauguration of R. Albert Mohler Jr. as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Southwestern Seminary sends heartiest congratulations to President and Mrs. Mohler, and the Southern Seminary community,” he said. “We are grateful for Dr. Mohler’s leadership at Southern Seminary, in the world of theological education and across the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Dockery told trustees that student headcount for the 2022-2023 academic year was 3,574, which reflected an increase of 171 students over the previous year. He also noted that full-time enrollment (FTE) was 2,317 students, which also showed an increase of 94 students.

“FTE is formed and shaped by the number of credit hours that are taught,” Dockery said, noting that credit hours taught in 2022-2023 were 34,835, an increase of 1,582 hours over the previous academic year. He cautioned that while the numbers would have a “positive impact on the SBC FTE” the impact would be “small because the SBC FTE is not a one-year snapshot,” but rather is “built on a three-year rolling average.”

Commending the “wonderful” work of Jack D. Terry, interim vice president for institutional advancement, and O.S. Hawkins, chancellor, Dockery reported that unrestricted giving was “outstanding” as more than $3 million was contributed to Southwestern Seminary during 2022-2023.

Dockery also highlighted the “improved morale across the campus” and the “evidence of collaboration,” which he said has been a “great source of encouragement.” He noted in particular the work and service of the seminary’s leadership team, including W. Madison Grace II, provost and vice president for academic administration and dean of the School of Theology; Travis Trawick, vice president for institutional effectiveness and strategy; Chandler Snyder, vice president for enrollment and student services and dean of students; Adam Dodd, vice president for campus technology; Dale Ford, interim vice president for financial services; and Terry.

Dockery said Southwestern’s leadership has been “encouraged by the fact that our credit hours are again up 488 over last fall” to 15,824 credit hours taught in the fall 2023 semester. He added “even after last year’s improvement that means we continue to take steps forward.”

“We are grateful to God for at least small markers, indicators of positive steps in terms of both enrollment and giving,” Dockery said, adding FTE numbers for the current fall semester increased by 23 students over last fall while total giving in the first two months of the fiscal year was more than $1.6 million, which “is a bit ahead of last year.”

Dockery also observed the “hopeful spirit across the campus,” which has been “manifest in so many ways throughout the fall semester, particularly in prayer gatherings.” He highlighted the weekly times of prayer, the Oct. 14 Day of Prayer, and the Oct. 17 time of prayer during the seminary’s chapel service when students, faculty and staff gathered to pray for the board’s decisions and unity. He added that God has “certainly answered those prayers yesterday and for that we give thanks to Him.”

He asked the trustees to join him in “trusting the Lord to help us be a joyful, prayerful, and thankful community,” reflecting the 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 theme verse for the 2023-2024 academic year.

Dockery also shared facts from the unaudited financial report for the 2022-2023 fiscal year, noting “the cash position has increased from $1.7 million to $2.8,” and total assets increased while total liabilities decreased which has resulted in “a difference of about $2.9 million increase in total net assets.”

“That’s a hallelujah and a wonderful thing for which we say thanks be to God for His kindness to us,” Dockery added. He noted that the Business Administration Committee has been encouraged by financial controls that are “being put in place and that expenses are being monitored carefully as we move into the year.”

Dockery highlighted that during the 2022-2023 academic year, revenue increased while operating expenses measurably decreased, resulting in a significant step forward. While the year-to-year improvement is quite significant, he cautioned that “it does not mean that we have reached what we desire for it to be. We still have a long way to go.”

Dockery said the seminary’s leadership was “looking forward and trusting the Lord” for the impending sale of the Carroll Park property, which he said they hope “will happen in the next 45 days.” He said the first phase of the sale has been completed, with five acres sold to the Presbyterian Night Shelter, and the second phase includes the remaining 15 acres of the property sold to the City of Fort Worth.

Addressing the warning given to the seminary in June by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), Dockery announced the enlistment of two consultants, Ralph Enlow, past president of the Association for Higher Biblical Education, and Carla Sanderson, provost of Chamberlain University in Addison, Ill., to assist in the areas of board governance and accreditation, respectively.

About the warnings, Dockery said “it is important that we seek to address those” adding that “this is not probation, but it is a serious sanction.”

Despite the seminary’s challenges, Dockery said, “I want you to know that the main thing that happens on this campus is still being done well,” noting the “commitment to teaching” and “what takes place in the classroom in terms of student learning.”

He commended the work of the Southwestern faculty as “their efforts toward scholarship are all taking steps forward.” He said he believes “what we’re doing in the classroom,” including on campus, online, and in hybrid situations “continues to get better.”

Dockery highlighted the spring 2023 chapels which were a “unifying factor for the campus as the faculty preached through the book of Philippians.” He added the fall 2023 chapels have been “excellent” with a focus on missions and evangelism, with plans for faculty to preach through 1 and 2 Thessalonians during the spring 2024 chapels.

Dockery announced the appointment of two task teams.

A board task team, chaired by trustee Joshua Allen, lead pastor of Parkway Hills Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, will work on the board policy manual, while the institutional task team for campus utilization, co-chaired by Trawick and trustee Mike Bussey, executive pastor of WALK Church in Las Vegas, will “think about how we use the assets we have for the good of the future of this institution,” Dockery said.

He explained the board task team would report to the board of trustees and will “bring recommendations with the authority of the board” while the institutional task team is comprised of board members and seminary employees and will “bring the recommendation to the administration to bring back to you.”

The board approved three recommendations from its executive committee, including a change in bylaws regarding two committees. The board voted to change the name of the Academic Administration Committee to become the Academic and Technology Committee and to create the Enrollment, Retention, and Student Services Committee.

Additionally, the board approved an executive committee recommendation to amend the seminary’s bylaws to clarify that the seminary’s president cannot be elected as a board member and to remove the president as an ex-officio member of the board. Vice-Chairman Robert Brown noted these changes were made at Dockery’s request.

The board also approved a corporate resolution that the president and officers of the seminary, including Dockery, Ford, Grace and Trawick, are authorized with appropriate signature authority on behalf of the institution.

Additionally, the board approved a $34.5 million revised budget for the academic year and that 50 percent of the remaining proceeds of the Carroll Park sale would go to a board-designated endowment while the remaining 50 percent would go to cash reserves. The board also authorized the administration to make revisions to the 2023-2024 capital needs budget with approval of the Business Administration Committee.

The board approved the appointment of Dean Sieberhagen, interim dean of the Roy J. Fish School of Evangelism and Missions, to the Charles F. Stanley Chair for the Advancement of Global Christianity; Andy Jennings to the rank of assistant professor of philosophy of religion and apologetics; and renewed the presidential appointment of Dietmar Schulze as associate professor of missions.

The recipients of the B.H. Carroll and L.R. Scarborough awards were also approved by the board, as were the candidates for fall 2023 graduation.

The next board meeting is scheduled for April 8-9, 2024.

State of the Bible: Online worshipers lead in Bible reading frequency

PHILADELPHIA (BP)—Bible users who worship God online are most likely to read the Bible at least weekly apart from church service, the American Bible Society (ABS) said in its latest 2023 State of the Bible release.

Among online worshipers, 74% read the Bible at least weekly, whether they worship solely online or online and in person. Of in-person-only worshippers, 32% read the Bible at least weekly, the ABS said.

“This might seem surprising to those who see online church as a lesser experience, used by people who are less committed spiritually,” the ABS said in the report’s seventh chapter, focused on Bible use and technology. “We suspect that these numbers speak to the personal nature of online attendance.”

Online attendance, often done alone or with immediate family, “can be more about hearing about God and from God,” the ABS speculated. “It’s personal, as Bible reading often is.”

The findings are among the results of an 18-minute survey conducted in January among a representative sample of adults 18 and older within the 50 states and D.C. Percentages are based on 2,761 responses.

The release delved into how many people read the Bible at least weekly outside of normal church services and certain descriptive characteristics concerning them.

Among top findings:

  • 25% of American adults use the Bible at least weekly, amounting to about 65 million people.
  • More than half of Evangelicals, 53%, report reading the Bible weekly, compared to 21% of Catholics who do so.
  • Black Americans far surpass others in reading the Bible at least weekly, with 38% reporting so, compared to 23% among all other ethnic groups combined. Nearly one in five Blacks (19%) read the Bible daily, outpacing all other groups combined, which numbered 8 percent.
  • Curiosity about Scripture doesn’t necessarily drive Scripture reading, the ABS found. About 39 million U.S. adults say they are extremely curious about Scripture, but don’t read it at least weekly. More than half of Americans, 52%, wish they read Scripture more, but only 14% increased their Bible reading in the past year.
  • Among the top impediments to reading Scripture more frequently were a lack of time (26%), a lack of excitement (15%), not knowing where to start (17%), and difficulty in relating to the language (15%).

Among other findings:

  • The popularity of digital Scripture sources is about the same as in 2022. Just under 70% of Bible users read a printed Bible at least monthly, 50% read a digital Bible app at least monthly, and 48% read Scripture through internet searches at the same frequency.
  • Elders continue to favor printed Bibles at 87%; while 46% of Boomers are most likely to watch a Bible program on video.
  • Bible apps and podcasts are most popular among Millennials, 42%, and Gen X, 39%; with digital Bibles and online Bible reading plans also most popular among those generations.
  • Gen Z is most likely to access Scripture through internet searches.

The State of the Bible annually looks at the Bible, faith and the church in America. The ABS collaborated with the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center (NORC) in designing the study conducted online and via telephone to NORC’s AmeriSpeak Panel.