Author: Jayson Larson

TERLC on textbook decision: ‘Still work to be done’

TERLC textbooks SBOE

Representatives with the Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee say they are “proceeding cautiously” after a state education board rejected four of five proposed health curricula earlier this month in Austin.

Of the five proposed curricula, only Illinois-based publisher Goodheart-Willcox’s middle school health curriculum received approval from the Texas State Board of Education on Nov. 19. A detailed analysis of the approved curriculum and written rubrics for the material likely will not be available until after the Thanksgiving holiday, said TERLC advisor Cindy Asmussen.

“There is still a lot of work to be done of which parents need to be made aware,” Asmussen said. “There are still many concerns (about the Goodheart-Willcox materials).”

Among those concerns are the potential inclusion in the finalized materials of intrusive surveys, inappropriate mental health topics and objectionable wording.

TERLC, which represents the nearly 2,700 churches that comprise the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, had urged rejection of all the proposed materials on the basis that they “contain content unsuitable for the ages and grade levels proposed” in an open letter issued prior to the SBOE hearings. Included in the other four curricula that were rejected are graphic descriptions of a sexual encounter between students and specific information on how pregnant students can obtain information about getting an abortion.

As the public waits on the final edits of the Goodheart-Willcox materials, TERLC says parents, guardians and other concerned citizens can get involved on the local level in the following ways:

  • Find out when their local school district will form textbook review committees and ask how they can participate;
  • Find out when their local school district will adopt instructional materials so they can testify, if necessary;
  • Ask when their district’s School Health Advisory Committee will meet to discuss materials to recommend to the school board; and
  • Determine whether the school district has adopted a policy regarding the new state law requiring parental opt-in for human sexuality, dating, family violence, child abuse and human trafficking, and how the district will provide for parental opt-out for any objectionable materials.

More information on the TERLC can be found here.

Churches of all sizes use Thanksgiving as a doorway to the gospel

FBC Swan Thanksgiving meal

Although supply chain shortages have affected some ministries this Thanksgiving season, many churches are finding creative ways to serve their communities amid lingering COVID restrictions.

From sit-down meals to deliveries and drive-thru giveaways, congregations are using the holiday to share both Christ’s love and all the Thanksgiving fixings in cities and towns across Texas.

Rush Creek Church in Arlington continued its traditional Great Turkey Take Away by serving 400 families on Saturday, Nov. 20.

The church once distributed turkeys to clients but in recent years switched to grocery gift cards and boxes of seasonal non-perishable goods, said Eunice Cruz, director of compassion resources at the church.

“We gave them everything for the meal except a ham or turkey, which they can use the gift card to buy,” Cruz said. People started signing up in September to receive the boxes, telling the church how many people they expected for Thanksgiving. On giveaway day, church members and volunteers convey the boxes of food and gift cards to homes throughout the community.

“Purpose number one is to share the gospel with our community,” Cruz said, adding that the ministry allows recipients to host Thanksgiving in their homes without worrying about the financial burden. “We want to encourage a sense of belonging, that no one needs to be alone.”

In addition to sharing the gospel, volunteers also prayed with recipients. Each boxed meal contained a list of talking points that recipients could use to spur conversations about gratitude and spiritual things, also.

First Baptist Church of Swan, which has experienced revitalization through starting a food pantry, welcomed residents of its small community just north of Tyler to a sit-down meal in the church fellowship hall on Tuesday, November. 23.

Last summer, the congregation of 40 fed 40-50 families from the community each week. Numbers have increased in recent months, Pastor Jeremiah Dollgener said. On November 16, 83 families picked up food.

Clients register by filling out a simple form. “There’s no proof of residency or income required to get help,” Dollgener said. “People can get food when they need it.”

The church’s food pantry started almost two years ago, when Dollgener had a vision to do a food ministry and a benefactor who wished to remain anonymous eager to support it. The benefactor had grown up in Swan and wanted to give back to the community. He has remained a faithful, silent giving partner ever since.

In addition to the main donor, the FBC Swan food bank receives contributions from local grocery stores, church members, current and former Swan citizens. Tyler Pipe, just across Hwy. 69, is a major partner, Dollgener said. Members who volunteer are joined by members of other area churches who “love the vision and jump on board,” the pastor added.

On November 23, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the church did more than distribute food. As it did last year, the church invited clients and community members to sit down for a Thanksgiving meal.

“It’s amazing, when you look through the New Testament, how many meals Jesus shared with others,” Dollgener said. “We want to get to know the folks we serve, pray with them, encourage them, get them to know Jesus. The clients are already on our property. The next step is to get them to come inside the fellowship hall and enjoy a meal.”

To prepare for the event, a church member smoked seven turkeys, as he did last year. Other members prepared green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, rolls, dressing, and gravy. Pies purchased from Sam’s Club in Tyler rounded out the otherwise homemade meal.

Fifty-four guests attended the community Thanksgiving meal, which was advertised on social media and through flyers. Seventeen volunteers representing five area churches assisted in putting on the event. Recipients took home about 70 boxes of food for the holidays, too.

COVID protocols remained in place, with hand washing areas and masks available and plenty of room to spread out in the 2,000-square-foot fellowship hall, Dollgener said.

Lifeway Women’s Leadership Forum: ‘Jesus is still in control’

Lifeway Womens Forum

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Ministry leadership always has its rewards and its challenges. But leading through the COVID-19 pandemic brought new meaning to leading through crisis.

“A lot of our confidence has been shaken over the past couple of years in the midst of the pandemic,” said Kelly King, women’s ministry specialist at Lifeway Christian Resources. “The pandemic has forced leaders to trust in the Lord for their confidence and not in their own abilities.”

The Lifeway Women’s Leadership Forum brought together more than 800 women from 30 states at Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., to learn from one another and sought-after ministry leaders, including Kelly Minter, Elizabeth Woodson, Carey Nieuwhof, Kristi McLelland, Tara-Leigh Cobble and Whitney Capps, who emceed the event. Worship leader and author Lauren Chandler led worship at the three-day event, Nov. 11-13. Nearly 200 women from 37 states and Canada joined online.

The theme was “Confident,” with Jeremiah 17:7 serving as the foundational Scripture: “The person who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence indeed is the Lord, is blessed.”

“We wanted the women who attended this event to have a renewed sense of moving forward because God’s character is unchanging and He is faithful,” said King.

Author and Bible teacher Kelly Minter kicked off the event by reminding the audience of the apostle Paul’s prayer for the Colossian church that they would grow spiritually, especially in the “knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding,” (Colossians 1:9). “As we walk this life in the will of God, with various life experience, our knowledge of the living God grows,” Minter said.

Teaching from Colossians 1:9-14, Minter asked, “What’s your end game? Is it that your life would be ‘worthy and pleasing to God?” Minter said we often do things to please others, but Paul’s prayer was that our lives would be pleasing to God.

“A right heart comes before a productive ministry,” she said. “I feel like we get this backwards. The tendency is to skip over what is pleasing to the Lord and go straight to having a productive ministry. We have to walk worthy of the Lord and fully pleasing to Him before we have a fruit-producing ministry.”

Minter admitted that while ministry is a wonderful calling, it can also be tiring. She noted that part of Paul’s prayer is that we would be “strengthened according to his glorious might.” She ended her session by praying Paul’s prayer over the women and encouraging them to pray the same prayer for themselves and the women in their ministries.

During his general session presentation, pastor and leadership expert Carey Nieuwhof talked about the dangers of burnout and how to address this very real issue.

“When I’m in a busy season, I get in the stress spiral because I’m mismanaging the three assets I get every day: time, energy, priorities,” he said. He then went on to offer some practical ways to block off time so leaders can complete priorities and “do what you’re best at when you’re at your best.” He encouraged them not to let their priorities get hijacked by other things.

Reflecting on Proverbs 4:23, Nieuwhof reminded his listeners to “guard your hearts, for everything you do flows from it.”

Teaching from 1 Samuel 17 on Friday (Nov. 12), King reminded the audience that David could confidently battle the giant Goliath in public because he confidently walked with God in private. “David knew he could trust God because of how God had provided for him in the past,” King said. She encouraged them to recount the times God had been faithful in the past.

“David was confident because he knew the victory belonged to the Lord,” she said. “Not only does our confidence come from God; our confidence gives credit to God. We can live and lead in confidence because of Christ’s victory on the cross. ”

During the three-day event, women attended breakout sessions on topics such as leading through change, developing disciples, multicultural ministry and preparing for ministry in a post-pandemic world.

During her session Friday night, Bible teacher Elizabeth Woodson reminded the audience of God’s sovereignty.

“If last year taught us anything, it’s that we’re not in control and unexpected things happen,” Woodson said. “Jesus is still in control. Nothing will thwart His plans. God has a plan He has set forth in motion, and He is going to accomplish His plan.”

Bible teacher Kristi McLelland wrapped up the event reminding women what it means to follow Jesus, encouraging them to set God’s Word upon their hearts and to live on mission with Him.

“Practicing the way of Jesus is partnering with Him to repair the world,” she said. “Being a follower requires moving with God because Jesus is always on the move.”

McLelland ended the conference by praying over the audience and commissioning them back into the world and their ministries. Reminding them, “your confidence can fully rest in Jesus.”

The next Lifeway Women’s Leadership Forum will be held Nov. 10-12, 2022. Learn more at lifeway.com/womensevents.

This year, gather with gratefulness

All of us missed something about the weird winter holidays of 2020. Tammi and I did a four-state road trip so that we saw everyone last Christmas, but we saw them in small dabs rather than in our normal house full. We spent Christmas day alone, though the chaotic six-room Zoom call on Christmas day was wonderful in its own way.

This year, we gather.

I also remember without affection the hesitant way that our churches started meeting again last fall and winter. Our normal Christmas traditions were apologetic and pale in 2020, reflecting the grief and confusion of our diverse experiences of a worldwide crisis.

But this year, we greet one another as dear kin long-separated.

A long and solitary year seems to have made our interaction with people awkward. I guess we’re like hermits that go a little crazy after too much talking to ourselves on social media or listening to strangers on television. I expect any day to hear the annual complaint from those who prefer their selected and homogenous group of friends to their diverse relatives. I think the term someone coined is “Friendsgiving” in order to avoid Crazy Uncle Morty and his primitive political viewpoints.

There is a similar tendency in our churches whereby we cluster with those most like us to stare blankly at those who are least like us – we’ll talk more about that another time. But if we are going to gather this year, after a hopefully unique 18 months or so, how do we make it live up to our highest aspirations?

Leave it at the door

Hundreds of years ago, it was the custom in some places to leave weapons outside the feasting hall. That’s something like what I mean. We should check our grievances against our loved ones before we sit down to celebrate. I’m not saying that our differences are all petty. The point of our gathering, at home and at church, is to say that blood is more important than nearly all of them. If you look at your brothers and sisters and see only a Trump voter or a Millennial or someone less enlightened than you, you’re missing the point of family. See instead someone who has a very basic thing in common with you, perhaps someone with whom you’ll spend eternity. Politics, race, tribe – these things do matter in some contexts. You can pick them back up when you leave the gathering. But hopefully you’ll think of your blood relations differently after seeing them again.

Listen a bit

Uncle Morty may sound loony when he talks about the 2020 election, but is that all he’s about? Listen to his stories about being a scared kid in Vietnam. Hear his heart when he talks about his late wife and the beauty she was from the first day he met her. Have you ever heard his conversion testimony, or maybe told him yours? I think those are the conversations you’ll treasure in coming years. You may also wish you’d asked more questions of the relatives, or fellow church members, with whom you thought you had least in common.

Seek God’s purpose for your relations

The people around us may need something you have. It’s God who puts families and churches together. Although I Corinthians 12 is about mutual edification in a church, I think the parallel between a family and a church can go both ways a bit. On our worst days we complain about those dumped in our lap by an accident of geography or birth. On our better days we understand that the one who did the dumping knows best. If we are here to edify those whom God has placed in our paths, that includes the annoying cousin we dread seeing at family gatherings. Ask God “why” and then genuinely look for the answer. At the very least, look for the ways in which your irksome kin need you to be kind to them.

Please don’t hear in this an admonition against prudent caution in large gatherings. Prudence in this day can mean different things to different people and still be valid. But I am acknowledging that this year will be more like 2019 than like 2020, from what I can see from here. I also notice that our public dialogue is more toxic than it was a couple of years ago. It may not be the Coronavirus that caused this, but the virus did keep us in relative isolation for a while; for my part, that isolation did not help.

My hope and prayer for you is that this Thanksgiving, and this Christmas, your physical and spiritual family gatherings will be filled with gratitude and joy. I hope they will better for you than your fondest memories of the years pre-Covid.

Planning continues for 2022 SBC Pastors’ Conference

SBC Pastors Conference

Matt Henslee is associational missionary for the Collin Baptist Association in the Dallas area and president of the 2022 SBC Pastors’ Conference in Anaheim, Calif. This article originally appeared on his blog at matthenslee.com.

FAIRVIEW, Texas – Here are four things to watch leading up to the 2022 SBC Pastors’ Conference:

Fundraising

We need YOUR help. We have a primary sponsor and are in talks with a few others, but we want to avoid a running, two-day infomercial. You will come to Anaheim to be encouraged, not sold, so we are trying to limit it to a handful of crucial, practical partners. To do so, we rely on people like YOU and churches like YOURS.

Every gift, no matter how big or small, will help – and we mean that. We are exceedingly grateful for state conventions like Kentucky and Hawaii who gave and others who intend to give anywhere from $500 to a few thousand. We are exceedingly grateful for churches like FBC Orlando, Summer Grove, Greater Hills, North Jax, and others who have given anything from $500 to $30,000. We are exceedingly grateful for folks like Trevor, Warren, Colby, and many others who have donated anything from $50 to $500.

Like the Cooperative Program, little gifts en masse combined with a few large gifts go a long way to make a vision or mission a reality. As of today, we are about halfway there! So if you can spare a few bucks or a few thousand, it will be used – and used well.

Personalities

We will have music from Matt Boswell and the Cowden Hall Band. Joining them will be Adam Greenway and Daniel Ritchie, who will preach standalone sermons. Greenway, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, will preach on the need never to stop learning – not just in a school or seminary setting, but on the go, steady sharpening of our tools in preaching and pastoral ministry. Ritchie, an evangelist, will preach on overcoming obstacles in advancing the kingdom.

These two men will speak into our lives, practically, from God’s Word. Joining them will be 12 men who affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and reflect the vast diversity of the Southern Baptist Convention. You may know some of them, but not all. However, you can count on no agendas beyond glorifying God and encouraging you through biblical exposition.

Christmas

Mark your calendars because we will announce the preachers in the days leading up to Christmas! In fact, 12 days – let’s call it the 12 Days of Pastors, if you will. We intend to have a little fun with it, and we hope you will stay tuned as we introduce you to new pastors, old pastors, church planters, church revitalizers, megachurch pastors, small church pastors, and everything in between.Our heartbeat is for the guys standing behind the pulpit to reflect the people in the seats.

Socials

If you have not, make sure you follow us on Twitter and Facebook for steady encouragement and equipping. We also have an online presence that will soon handle announcements and details for the Pastors’ Conference.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SBCPastorsConf
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SBCPastorsConference
Website: http://sbcpc.net

Pastor, while we are several months away and there is still work to do, we are hard at work for YOU. Please continue to pray for us, give if possible, and make plans to join us in Anaheim! Until then, lead on for the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom.

Mission:Dignity gifts to be doubled on Giving Tuesday

Guidestone Mission:Dignity

Gifts to Mission:Dignity made on November 30, #GivingTuesday, will be doubled up to $500,000 because of matching funds in that amount given by generous donors.

Following the typical Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping days, #GivingTuesday is a refreshing change of pace at the start of the Christmas shopping season. Around the world, like-minded individuals join together on this special day to give to causes important to them. With this year’s complications of supply chain shortages and shipping delays, #GivingTuesday is an opportunity to give toward something that matters immediately.

As always, 100 percent of those gifts will go directly to retired Southern Baptist workers, ministers and widows near the poverty line — as an established endowment covers administrative and overhead costs for the ministry.

“Each year, thousands of donors join with GuideStone to provide dignity through Mission:Dignity,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. “So many of these dear servants served in out-of-the-way places where their churches were unable to pay well, let alone set aside money for retirement. Through Mission:Dignity, Southern Baptists are able to support these retired pastors, their wives, and in most cases, their widows, in their retirement years.”

Annually more than 2,500 individuals receive a monthly measure of comfort, security and dignity in their retirement years thanks to generous financial giving.

“Mission:Dignity is part of the very DNA of GuideStone,” said Hance Dilbeck, president-elect of GuideStone. “For more than a century, we’ve been on a mission to ensure no retirement-age pastor and his wife or widow must live in poverty. We cannot do it without the faithful support of Southern Baptist churches, Sunday school classes and individuals.”

Mission:Dignity receives no Cooperative Program gifts; 100 percent of the funding for the ministry is provided through gifts directly through the ministry. Additionally, all author royalties and proceeds from Hawkins’s Code series of books benefit Mission:Dignity.

Mission:Dignity’s support can mean being able to stay in the familiar surroundings of their own home. For others, it covers the cost of groceries, utilities, prescriptions and other necessities. But for all of them, it’s an expression of the love and care of their Southern Baptist family.

“The gifts from Mission:Dignity to these retired servants is really an honorarium to those who served so well,” Hawkins said. “Paul told Timothy, ‘Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.’ It is our sincere privilege to serve as the Lord’s hand extended to these retired Southern Baptist soldiers of the cross.

“We would encourage anyone interested in giving this year to consider multiplying the effectiveness of their gift by giving it on Tuesday, November 30.”

To share a gift or for more information, visit GuideStone.org/GivingTuesday.

‘Small’ church having huge kingdom impact through afterschool program

Hanmaum International Baptist Church

FORT WORTH—When Pastor Jongsu Heo indicated his intentions to start a Korean Baptist Church in South Fort Worth, it seemed incredibly difficult to build up a strong and healthy missional church due to the small Korean population in that area.

From the inception of the church, Pastor Heo had a vision to reach out not only to Koreans, but to other ethnic people in his community. For that purpose, he named his church Hanmaum International Baptist Church instead of Hanmaum Korean Baptist Church. With the support of Willow Creek Baptist Church in Fort Worth, and of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Tarrant Baptist Association, the first worship service was given at the education building of Willow Creek Baptist Church on Feb. 22, 2004.

After three to four years, the church reached around 150 members and the congregation began to pray and seek its own facilities. In 2010, God responded to their prayer through Willow Creek Baptist Church, which provided Hanmaum an education building and land.

The following year, Hanmaum was able to start Ethnic Groups Academy – an afterschool program that aims to reach out to the refugee children in Fort Worth. Every year, about 1,000 to 1,500 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Bhutan, and other nations settle in the Fort Worth area. In partnership with World Relief, more than 120 refugee children come to EGA on Saturdays to learn musical instruments, arts, sports, and English. Every week, prior to their classes, they hear the Gospel message.

The result? Almost every semester, around 14 children accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Some Muslim parents who were initially reluctant to send their children to the school began to open their hearts as time passed due to the genuine love of the EGA teachers.

The primary purpose of EGA is the salvation of the precious refugee children. Additionally, EGA wants to see those children discover their God-given talents and develop their potential abilities to fulfill their God-given purpose in life. Harsh environments and circumstances may hinder the children to pursue their dreams, but EGA teachers encourage them to pursue them. The Hanmaum congregation, as well as EGA staff and volunteers, have a vision to see those refugee children, after 12 years of an intimate relationship with the Lord and the EGA teachers, become leaders among their people to impact their community with the Gospel and the love of Jesus.

It is praiseworthy that Hanmaum International Baptist Church has set an example and proved that a church does not have to be large to lead refugee ministries, but it can be done by any church that has a heart can do so. Pastor Jongsu Heo testifies that from the beginning of EGA, it was God who started, guided, provided, and accomplished the vision of making disciples of all nations in his community through the faithful people of God.

Study: Most churches find financial stability in 2021

Lifeway Research church giving

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Emerging from the pandemic, most churches don’t seem to be underwater financially, but many are treading water.

Around half of U.S. Protestant pastors say the current economy isn’t really having an impact on their congregation, according to a Lifeway Research study. The 49% who say the economy is having no impact on their church marks the highest percentage since Lifeway Research began surveying pastors on this issue in 2009.

Almost 2 in 5 pastors (37%) say the economy is negatively impacting their congregation, while 12% say the economy is having a positive impact. Both positive and negative numbers are down from September 2020, when 48% said the economy was hurting their congregation and 15% said it was helping. The last time fewer pastors than this year said the economy is playing a positive role for their church was May 2012.

The two years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2018 and 2019, mark the only two times in the survey’s more than 12-year history that more pastors said the economy was having a positive impact than a negative one.

“Most churches are taking a deep breath financially following the uncertainty of the height of the pandemic,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “While the official recession ended quickly in April 2020, economic growth has been uneven, and few churches are feeling actual positive impacts from the economy at this point.”

Giving rebound

After many churches faced budget shortfalls and decreased giving in 2020, 2021 saw most churches meet their budget and stop the decline in giving.

Seven in 10 pastors say offering levels at least met the budget this year. Almost half of churches (48%) say the giving at their church has been about what they budgeted, while 22% say it is higher than budgeted. Around a quarter of pastors (27%) say they didn’t make budget with their giving levels.

Similarly, most churches say their 2021 offering so far matched or exceeded what they received during 2020. More than 2 in 5 pastors (42%) say it’s the same as last year. Three in 10 (31%) say the offering in 2021 is above 2020’s. Fewer than 1 in 4 (22%) say they’re behind last year’s giving levels.

“We see great improvement in the number of churches with a downward trend in giving,” said McConnell. “A year ago, more than a third of churches had seen giving decline, and 13 percentage points fewer say so today. Some of those churches may still be working to get back to 2019 levels, but the number with declining income is back around the historic norm.”

When asked about the specific percentage change from last year to this, 3 in 4 pastors (74%) say it is at or above 2020’s offering, including 47% who say it is the same, 9% who say it is up from 1% to 9%, 15% who say giving is up from 10% to 24%, and 3% who say the offering at their church has gone up by 25% or more.

Still, other pastors note a further decline in giving since 2020. For 3%, offering dropped by less than 10%. Another 11% say it fell 10% to 24%. Around 1 in 14 churches (7%) say giving decreased by 25% or more since 2020.

“Churches where the financial news is bad, it tends to be really bad,” said McConnell. “Among churches with offerings below 2020, the declines are typically steep, double-digit declines in year-over-year giving. These churches are having to radically rethink their ministry.”

Trouble areas

While most pastors saw giving bounce back after 2020, others in some demographics continued to struggle with the economic fallout of the pandemic.

In recent years, African American pastors have been more likely to say the economy was having a negative impact on their congregation. In 2021, they were less likely than their white counterparts to say the economy was a neutral force for their church (39% to 51%).

African American pastors are also more likely than white pastors to say their giving in 2021 was lower than budgeted (43% to 25%). Specifically, they are 3.5 times more likely than white pastors to say their offering was down by 25% or more (21% to 6%).

Mainline Protestant churches are faring worse financially than evangelical ones. Mainline pastors are more likely than evangelical pastors to say their 2021 giving has been lower than budgeted (32% to 24%). Pastors at mainline churches are also more likely than those at evangelical congregations to say their giving is below 2020’s levels (26% to 20%).

“Mainline and African American churches were slower to resume in-person worship services amid the pandemic,” said McConnell. “This reduced face-to-face contact appears to have impacted giving in these churches.”

Thousands coming to Christ through church’s migrant ministry

West Brownsville migrant ministry

BROWNSVILLE—Pastor Carlos Navarro and Golan Ministries of West Brownsville Baptist Church have long engaged in ministry to migrants seeking entry into the United States from Matamoros, just across the Texas/Mexico border. By April 2019, the church eagerly opened its renovated respite center, a stopover for migrants entering the U.S. legally, cleared by ICE and border patrol and awaiting transport to destinations within the country.

When Navarro and volunteers weren’t handing out water, hygiene items and gospel tracts across the border, they were feeding migrants and distributing clothes, Bibles and travel necessities to the temporary migrant guests at the church. At least until COVID struck.

Although the influx of asylum seekers ebbed during the Trump administration, Navarro said, the church continued to share the gospel with those who did come.

Since April 2019, Navarro estimates that the church has ministered to nearly 17,000 migrants, given out 7,255 Bibles and served 28,000 meals. Those numbers reflect times before and during COVID.

Navarro admits that the pandemic pushed pause to the ministry somewhat in 2020, but he and his wife were able to be vaccinated as essential workers in the fall of that year.

With the coming of the Biden administration, Navarro said the gates to entry in the U.S. opened wider. Navarro, with fewer volunteers than in pre-pandemic days, again stepped up the church’s outreach to migrants.

“A big landslide [of migrants] started to arrive,” Navarro told the TEXAN.

When county authorities closed the church’s respite center to migrants because of COVID restrictions, ministry shifted to the local bus terminal. (See Border ministry.)

Navarro described the way things work in Brownsville currently.

Migrants are tested for COVID by ICE and border authorities, Navarro said. Those testing negative and with sponsors in the United States are then sent to the local bus station to await transportation. When ICE is about to release a group of 75-100, Navarro receives a phone call. He and Golan volunteers head to the bus station with water and sundries. He preaches the gospel and church members distribute backpacks full of Bibles, tracts and helpful items.

Migrants testing positive for COVID are quarantined in an area hotel, Navarro added.

Lately, the migrants have come mostly from Haiti, Navarro said. Also coming, in descending order of frequency, are Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans. Others are arriving from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.

Navarro stresses that those the church is serving have been admitted to the country legally. The city of Brownsville and Cameron Country are not allowing them to stay overnight, so they depart for other areas of the U.S., mainly Florida.

Navarro estimates some 5,792 decisions for Christ have been made by migrants under the church’s ministry since April 2019. As hundreds of new believers head to Florida, he not only gives them his business card, but tells them to contact him when they are settled. He recommends churches they might attend to continue their new walk with Jesus in the Sunshine State.

Florida pastors have noticed the increase in numbers. On the recommendation of 38 Florida Baptist pastors, Navarro was invited to Lakeland, near Orlando, to address groups at the Florida Baptist State Convention at its annual meeting Nov. 7-9. He spoke Sun., Nov. 7 on Proverbs 14:25 to the convention’s Spanish session and gave a short presentation to Tommy Green, Florida Baptist executive director.

“We appreciate Brother Carlos,” said Scottie Stice, SBTC Disaster Relief director, of Navarro and his church. “A faithful witness. A faithful evangelist. It’s unbelievable what he and Golan and West Brownsville Baptist have done to minister to migrants.”

Immigration is a controversial topic nowadays. Navarro understands that. A U.S. citizen who has received numerous civic awards, served on local, state and national councils, and even been invited to the White House during the Bush administration, Navarro was once an illegal immigrant himself who fled his native Guatemala to escape political imprisonment…or worse. (See Migrant crisis a way of life.)

During a recent layover at Dulles International in D.C., Navarro was stopped by a woman doing janitorial work.

“Excuse me, sir. Are you from Texas? Are you a pastor?” she asked. Then she went on to thank him. “I am working here legally. You helped me, you and your church,” she added.

Navarro said the church could use hygiene kits and t-shirts, sizes S, M, L and XL, for its ongoing ministry.

The migrants are here. Telling them about Jesus is the thing to do, Navarro believes.

Creech retires after 3 decades of service to Jacksonville College

Creech Jacksonville College

JACKSONVILLE—Jacksonville College Director of Distance Education Michael Paul Creech was honored at a retirement reception held at the Central Baptist Church Youth Building in October.
The whole college community – including administration, faculty, staff, and alumni – attended the event to honor Creech’s 29 years of dedicated service to the college mission of “Challenging Minds and Transforming Lives.”

“We are so grateful for the tremendous contribution that Mike has made to Jacksonville College,” Jacksonville College President Joe Lightner said. “Mike’s choosing to invest his life into reaching students for Christ is an inspiration to our Jacksonville College family.”

“Mike truly left his mark on Jacksonville College,” said Mike Smith, the college’s former president. “He was more than just an employee; he was a friend and servant of our Lord. No one was more knowledgeable and possessed a servant spirit than him, working many hours behind the scenes and on weekends and late at night so that the college could have the best in technology.”

Creech joins a long line of Jacksonville College employees whose lives have left a legacy of sacrifice while fulfilling the mission of the college. He began teaching at the college in August 1992 and subsequently served as Business and Computer Science Department Chair, Chief Information Officer, and the first Director of Distance Education. In the latter position, he laid the foundation for the distance education program.

His significant contributions to the advancement of technology at the college include leading his students to create the first website of any college in the East Texas area. He guided the college in choosing and implementing the Empower student information system, which allows online registration and tuition payment. He also implemented the college’s first Learning Management System, paving the way for course materials to be made available online – an invaluable benefit when Covid-19 forced colleges to go online.

Creech served numerous other leadership roles during his nearly 30-year career at the college. He was on the leadership teams for the 1999, 2009, and 2019 Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on College (SACSCOC), the regional association for the accreditation of degree-granting for higher education. Serving as the Quality Enhancement Plan advisor, he provided the QEP Leadership Team assistance for “Going the Distance with Distance Education,” a plan to guide the college’s educational focus over the next 10 years.

Colleagues expressed deep admiration for Creech, commenting on his patient instructions as he assisted faculty and staff with technological needs. “Mike never let me know that he was frustrated because of my technology deficiencies. I require much assistance and patience and Mike always seems glad to give both,” religion instructor Mark Rogers said.

Added Smith: “(Mike) wanted our students and faculty to have the resources they needed. He provided excellent training opportunities, so we were equipped to meet our responsibilities.”