Here you will find the very latest news from the Baptist Press (BP), NAMB (North American Mission Board) and IMB (International Mission Board). Each entry includes the title, source and date of the article and a brief summary.

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BP News Friday, March 5, 2021 - 5:06pm

NASHVILLE (BP) – The year is 2041. What do we want the Southern Baptist Convention to look like? More importantly, what steps can we take today to get us there?

That scenario serves as the motivation for the SBC Young Leader Pipeline initiative, an effort geared toward Southern Baptists under the age of 40 to insure they are “more than a vote, but a voice.”

Jordan Easley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Cleveland, Tenn., was approached by SBC Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd last fall about providing a platform through which younger SBC leaders could hold conversations relevant to the Convention. In particular, Floyd asked for a way to engage, equip and mobilize those leaders. The result, Leadership Pipeline, led to online gatherings held Feb. 1 and March 1, with a third coming up April 1.

The meetings are by invitation, but dispersed by attendees. The Feb. 1 event included about 200 in attendance. They were encouraged to send invitations to 10 friends – and nearly 600 tuned in online for the March gathering.  

Calling it “more of a conversation than a conference,” Easley welcomed participants to the initial gathering. As members of Pipeline’s leadership team presented a series of discussions on various topics associated with the SBC, those watching online were encouraged to text in questions.

Joining Easley on the leadership team are:

  • Chip Luter, campus pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church at The Springs, Tampa, Fla.
  • Vance Pitman, senior pastor, Hope Church, Las Vegas
  • Robby Gallaty, senior pastor, Long Hollow Baptist Church, Hendersonville, Tenn.
  • Brian Mills, senior pastor, Trinity Baptist Church, Yukon, Okla.
  • Jarrett Stephens, senior pastor, Champion Forest Baptist Church, Houston
  • Noe Garcia, head pastor, North Phoenix Baptist Church
  • Shane Pruitt, National Next Gen Evangelism director, NAMB
  • Marcus Hayes, lead pastor, Crossroads Church, The Woodlands, Texas
  • Jeremy Morton, lead pastor, First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga.
  • Nick Floyd, senior pastor, Cross Church, Springdale, Ark.
  • Brent Crowe, vice president, Student Leadership University, Orlando.

“There are many people in our Convention today – thousands of people – that nobody knows,” Easley stated March 1. “These people can help us become a Convention that all of us want to be a part of. That’s why Pipeline is so important.”

In order for the SBC to be maximized tomorrow, those preparations must be made today, he said.

On March 1 Easley outlined key questions and points raised from previous conversations:

  • The SBC must be willing to honestly address issues in its past, moving beyond resolutions toward exhibiting true repentance.
  • Address the negative narrative that has become prevalent within the SBC and find new ways to communicate the message of hope in the gospel.
  • Find new ways to engage, equip and mobilize the next generation of leaders and create a platform for them to have a voice and a vote.
  • Become a convention of churches committed to helping other churches as well as a convention of disciples committed to making other disciples.

Ronnie Floyd and SBC President JD Greear joined the March 1 panel as guests. Ashley Clayton, executive director for church affiliation of the SBC EC, has also led in developing the effort.

In addition to the April 1 event, an in-person gathering is being planned in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting in June. For more information, go to

BP News Friday, March 5, 2021 - 1:39pm

Last week, I introduced Vision 2025 and our opportunity to cooperate as Baptists on five strategic actions to stand tall with a passionate vision of reaching every person for Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state, and every nation.

Being all in on Vision 2025 begins now. I believe our five Strategic Actions are things in which every church of every size, every ethnicity, and every language can participate. These five Strategic Actions involve increasing our missionaries around the world, adding new churches in America, calling out the called, reaching and baptizing more teenagers, and funding this vision. You can read more detail on these actions here.

I’d like to go deeper on Strategic Action #5 today.

Strategic Action #5:

Increase our annual giving in successive years to establish a new pattern of growth that will lead us to reach and surpass $500 million through the Cooperative Program to achieve these Great Commission goals.

While this may be listed last, it is the one that allows all the others to take place. The Cooperative Program is the catalyst for our Great Commission vision. Without our work together through the Cooperative Program, none of this happens.

Please understand, we know we find ourselves in a different world than last year or any other time in our generation. Never before in most of our lifetimes have we walked through a global pandemic. Therefore, our goal of increasing annual giving in successive years to establish a new path of growth is imperative and may cause us to see a turnaround in Total Cooperative Program Giving.

When speaking of Total Cooperative Program giving, I am referring to the financial resources our churches give through the Cooperative Program. Those monies contribute to Great Commission work regionally, across your own state, our nation, and all the nations around the world. Let me show you what has been happening with our Cooperative Program giving over the past twenty years.

The image below shows something I believe is very important. The box in red shows the years of the Great Recession of 2008-2009. Do you see the decline after this and its lagging effect?

Since this decline began, Total Cooperative Program giving has not recovered to its pre-recession levels. In fact, it has not recovered as fast as other areas of philanthropy in the secular world. We typically trail the growth of the GDP, philanthropic giving, individual giving, and religious giving. While we are grateful God has provided, we are not at the level of the others since 2008-2009.

Since this is true, we have a glimpse of good news. If we can begin to realize the capacity we have to grow and catch up with the overall gains in giving already occurring, we have a future with great possibilities.

We must discipline ourselves in sharpening our focus on our eternal mission of sharing Good News with the whole world and stay consistent with our message of reaching every person for Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state, and every nation. This is our greater cause.

In the fiscal year ending in September 2020, we were impacted by the pandemic for the six months of April through September. This present fiscal year of 2020-2021, we project a revised budget with a three percent decrease in comparison to last year. After the first four months, it appears we have budgeted correctly.

We can see in the next graphic that our 2020 fiscal year ended ahead of the year before; but with 2021, we may reach all the way down to $452.5 million due to the full effects of the pandemic. Yet, as we move forward, we project our fiscal year of 2022 will begin moving us up in Total Cooperative Program Giving.

Please note 2023. In order to recover from the pandemic and move forward in funding all of our Great Commission work along with the needs of Vision 2025, we must work diligently to start growing the Cooperative Program at a level of 2.65% beginning in 2023.

Based off these projections, we have the potential to begin seeing significant upward growth in 2023, 2024, and 2025. Yes, the pandemic has set us back. However, I believe when our churches hear the vision before us, we will begin to see progress and an upsurge in giving.

We need to show you when we may have the capacity to see this breakthrough. It is an important goal to see reached by the end of Vision 2025. We believe we have the potential, if recovery occurs and an increase returns, that in the fiscal year 2023-2024, we have the capacity to see a breakthrough and growth in our Total Cooperative Program Giving.

Please look at the red line across the graphic below. It marks where that breakthrough occurs. If we can see this glimmer of hope and the vision is moving forward, then perhaps it will lead us to greater giving in the years ahead. We are hopeful as we cast a vision for our greater cause.

Let’s take a look at individual church giving. People give to the church. Then, the church gives through the Cooperative Program to further our mission together. The amount given is determined by each individual church.

The chart below breaks things down. We can compare 2008, the beginning of the Great Recession, and 2019. We now have fewer churches who are giving through the Cooperative Program and the ones who are, are giving a smaller percentage than in 2008.

What problems does this reveal?

  1. We are not engaging our churches effectively.
  2. We are not communicating with our churches effectively.
  3. We are not sharing and living a consistent message of who we are with the churches because we keep walking on our own message.
  4. We are not providing the churches with a concise and compelling Great Commission vision that will move them to support it.

However, to pastors and churches, help is on the way. For the greater cause, we need to learn from this data and listen to every church—from the smallest membership churches to the largest membership churches.

The growth of the Cooperative Program is the certain way each of our churches can participate in funding these strategic actions of Vision 2025.

I extend to all of you the invitation to not only adopt Vision 2025, but to commit to promote, advance, and pursue this unified Great Commission vision together. Southern Baptists cooperate together for the greater cause—the propagation of the gospel to every person in the world.

We must begin to take this vision everywhere and listen to pastors, churches, associational mission strategists, state convention leaders, and national entities about how each one of us can own this vision personally and in ministry collectively. We must do this because this is our greater cause.

Together, we can do this to the glory of God.

BP News Friday, March 5, 2021 - 11:26am

NORFOLK, Va. (BP) — Southern Baptist preacher, influencer and Gospel hip-hop artist Nigel “Legin” Anderson was just entering counseling to deal with the decades-long pain of having lived without a father’s love when his grandmother died, COVID-19 hit and the nation began reeling over racial division.

“I actually started going to counseling … just to deal with some issues of fatherless and some trauma that I had. And I found it immensely helpful in seeing the barriers I had to believing just how much God actually loves me,” the 36-year-old husband and father of two children said. “And it just removed a lot of those (barriers) by going back to 12 years old and dealing with trauma that I thought I’d outgrown, but was really impacting my adult life.”

Legin — his name in reverse to showcase God’s redemptive work — transparently shares his ongoing healing with whosoever will tune into his Good Enuf virtual concert series, which kicks off March 16. He says the concert’s theme was born from a desire to address the increased stress felt by many people during the last year.

Legin’s counselor joins him onstage during the concert for unscripted mini-sessions on topics including fatherhood and racial reconciliation, surrounded by Legin’s performances of his original hip-hop selections with Gospel resonance and truth. His new single “Feelin Blessed” is scheduled to release March 12.

“I think one thing I’ve learned is that transparency is the best connector,” he said, “and when you’re open and transparent, people have a tendency to trust you, and then if they trust you, they can listen to what you have to say.”

With depression rising, and with suicide rates predicted to climb under the stress of the global pandemic, Legin encourages counseling from a biblical worldview. He hopes to raise money through Good Enuf concert tickets and direct appeals to help offset the costs for anyone who desires individual counseling sessions but lacks resources to cover costs. He hopes to fund the project for at least a year.

“This is Gospel-centered encouragement to trust Jesus and get counseling if you need it, because we need to save lives,” he said. “We can’t preach the Gospel to people who aren’t here.”

The artist preaches monthly at Crossroads Church in Norfolk, Va., where he serves as creative visionary and collaborates with senior pastor and friend Kevin Tremper.

Tremper has witnessed the personal benefits of counseling in Legin’s life.

“In our church as we’ve talked about these issues openly and the need for people to be transparent and honest about their struggles and where they are … we’ve seen how taking the stigma away from counseling and mental health is something that is really needed,” Tremper said. “There’s kind of this idea that counseling is something for people who are really desperately in need or weak and damaged. There were just a lot of stigmas that were attached to counseling.

“I think what I’m excited about for this project that he is doing is that it is helping in a healthy way to normalize our need and desire to pursue our own mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.”

The two also collaborate on racial reconciliation through the Hampton Roads City Collective, which they cofounded in 2016 following the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and five Dallas police officers. Legin’s 2020 EP “In This Moment” is his response to racial injustice, political divisiveness, and national disunity. It followed a Norfolk prayer march Legin and Tremper helped organize that the two said drew 100 churches and 5,000 participants.

Legin has released 10 recordings and has shared the stage with numerous artists including Lecrae, KB, Da’ T.R.U.T.H, Tedashii, Social Club, Canon, Deraj and Aaron Cole. Legin has performed throughout the U.S. and in London; Nairobi, Kenya, and Pretoria and Cape Town, South Africa.

He often shares his personal struggles on his ministry platforms, including his sermonsmusic and podcast. An example is his transparency about a difficult relationship with his father, who died 15 years ago, just one day after their last talk.

“My last conversation with my father in his life was, ‘I forgive you for not being there.’ And he died,” Legin said. “That was our last talk. … When I share that story, people meet me and are lined up to say, ‘Man you won’t believe what my mom did to me and how can I forgive her?’ And I just encourage them. ‘She’s never going to deserve your forgiveness, but go give it to her anyway.’

“I’ve learned that transparency connects you to people in a way that art and sermons don’t, alone.”

He describes such transparency as “scary” and emphasizes that the counseling segments on the concert series are not rehearsed.

“It’s scary that somebody on the other end of the stage gets to see that I’m embarrassed about the fact that I’m in my thirties and I still have daddy issues,” he said. “I didn’t want to let my daughter see that. But I felt like I could either tuck this away — which I know doesn’t work — I can avoid discomfort, or I can be uncomfortable for a little while, and maybe see a lot of fruit for the Gospel in people’s lives. And maybe I’m being selfish if I choose comfort.”

BP News Friday, March 5, 2021 - 11:00am

Editor’s Note: This year’s Week of Prayer for North American Missions is March 7-14 and is focused on the theme: The Mission Moves Forward (“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” )1 Corinthians 15:58). The emphasis spotlights the spiritual needs and ministry taking place on the North American mission field leading up to the annual Annie Armstrong Easter Offering (AAEO) for North American Missions. All gifts given to the offering go to support and resource missionaries on the field. The AAEO provides half of the annual funding for the North American Mission Board. Gifts to the Annie offering can be given through local Southern Baptist churches or online at This year’s goal is $70 million.

VANCOUVER (BP) – It was almost more than Cindy* could handle. Her husband was in the hospital, and her daughter was sick too.

So, she shared her burden with a couple at her workplace — Simon and Asiya. And it just so happened that Simon and Asiya are Christians.

Shahid and Maroofa Kamal

“Asiya shared Cindy’s prayer need during our Wednesday Zoom Bible study and prayer time, and we all started praying for Cindy and her family,” said Shahid Kamal, who planted South Asian Community Church in metro Vancouver in 2016.

Not long after, Cindy’s daughter got better, and so did her husband, and Cindy decided to give church a try. She was afraid her husband would be angry since he came from a different religious background.

“But she was amazed that he didn’t say anything,” North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planting missionary Shahid Kamal said.

And when Shahid talked and prayed with her after the service, she told him that she felt drawn to the church.

“She felt peace in her heart while she was in church and did not feel judged,” he said. “She felt accepted and loved. On that Wednesday she joined in our video conference Bible study and prayer time, and she was praising God saying her husband also wanted to come to church.”

Connecting through intercession

It’s a story Shahid and his family see happen time and again – people being brought to faith in Christ by seeing the power of prayer. It’s not easy to convince South Asians that God is the only deity they need. Hindus have many visible gods, and Sikhs have many gurus, Shahid said. But the church’s prayer ministry has been a successful connecting point.

“Many came to our church for the very first time for prayer. They have their certain prayer requests. And, praise God, God answered them and showed them that He’s a living God,” said Shahid.

That fact stands out against the religious system they’ve been living in, he said, and word is getting around. A church member brought one woman for prayer who told Shahid “that her guru told her to go to church because he isn’t able to help her in her struggles.”

That was a touching moment for Shahid, and he prays that kind of experience keeps on spreading.

“In the midst of this complex situation (of people believing in multiple deities), we are trying to help them to know, believe and receive Jesus Christ,” Shahid said.

South Asia in North America

More than 300,000 South Asians call the Greater Vancouver area home, and Surrey, a city that’s part of the metro area, has “become the West Coast hub of all things South Asia,” Shahid said. The community is full of South Asian grocery stores, restaurants, signboards and even street names.

The people there speak a mix of languages, mostly Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu. South Asian Community Church held services in Punjabi at the beginning, but as they began to draw in different people groups, they began incorporating other languages as well.

“We try to connect with people and help them with things,” Shahid said. “Some people need help adjusting in the new culture, like navigating work, housing and government services.”

He definitely understands their struggles. He and his wife Maroofa moved to Canada from Pakistan several years ago with their four children. Together, they are trying to make their church a place where South Asians can find love and support. Maroofa is actively involved in ministry, leading women’s Bible studies and counseling sessions.

And of course, they’re constantly offering prayer as a way to connect. In past years, they’ve set up a place along the route of a massive Punjabi-Sikh celebration called the Vaisakhi Festival. They give out free food and set up a bouncy castle for the kids. Then while the parents wait, they ask if they could pray with and for them.

“They are always ready,” Shahid said. “They will not refuse that. If you ask them, ‘OK, do you want us to pray for you?’ they say, ‘Oh, yes, please pray for me.’ God is showing them that He is a living God.”

The church has had to make adjustments in light of the pandemic, but God is still at work, Shahid said. He sees that in Cindy’s involvement in their video conference prayer time. He also sees it in another way Simon and Asiya have reached out to others. They started a daily online prayer time with their extended family in South Asia. Now, other church members have invited friends and family living in other parts of the world to visit the church virtually.

And South Asian Community Church is doing in-person ministry in new ways too. They’ve offered drive-through prayer in the church parking lot, drawing people like Aadesh* and Aashi*, who live in a basement near the church. Maroofa encouraged Aashi to start reading the Bible, and she did. Then her husband did, too.

“Now Aadesh and Aashi have started reading, and we are following up with them,” Shahid said. “Praise the Lord. God is at work.”

The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering provides half of NAMB’s annual budget, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to serve missionaries in the field. The offering is used for training, support and care for missionaries like the Kamals as well as for evangelism resources.

*Names have been changed.

BP News Friday, March 5, 2021 - 10:30am

DALLAS (BP) – GuideStone trustees gathered March 1 for their Winter 2021 meeting, their second Zoom meeting of the full trustee board in the last year. Trustees joined from around the United States to hear GuideStone’s management team reports about results, strategic endeavors and other priorities.

Trustees reelected Renée A. Trewick (N.Y.) chair and John Hoychick Jr. (La.) vice chair for another one-year term.

GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins, who has set a theme and verse before employees each year of his tenure, said 2021 would be the Year of Beginning Again and chose Acts 13:36 as his focal passage.

“Our text is found in really a parenthetical statement Paul makes in his first recorded sermon there at Pisidian Antioch,” Hawkins said, “when he uses King David as an example and says in verse 36, ‘David had served God’s purpose in his own generation and fell asleep.’”

In Beginning Again, Hawkins noted four points: “Our Privilege,” (David had served), “Our Purpose” (David had served God’s purpose), “Our Potential” (David had served God’s purpose in his own generation), “Our Passion” (David had served God’s purpose in his own generation and fell asleep).

Serving pastors and other ministry workers is the privilege of all who work at GuideStone, Hawkins told trustees. Hawkins emphasized Mission:Dignity – which provides financial assistance to retired Southern Baptist pastors and, in most cases, their widows in financial need – remains the heart of GuideStone, as it has since the entity’s founding more than 100 years ago. 2020 was a record year in fundraising for the ministry, with a record of $10.4 million being provided to retired pastors and their widows. Almost $200 million has been raised from churches, Sunday school classes and individuals since 1997 for Mission:Dignity, which receives no Cooperative Program gifts.

In addition to the monthly support, Mission:Dignity provides expense grants for one-time needs. Hawkins cited a pastor’s widow who needs new dentures or a retired pastor who needs new tires as examples of expenses covered by the grants. Already, a multimillion-dollar donation has been pledged in 2022 to help endow and underwrite those expense grants.

Hawkins noted that while Mission:Dignity focuses on the financial needs, recipients’ emotional needs are also met: GuideStone employees reached out to every Mission:Dignity recipient during 2020 to check on them and pray for them during the pandemic.

Moving to “Our Purpose,” Hawkins reminded trustees that GuideStone is not like other financial organizations.

“We have a higher purpose,” Hawkins said. “We’re serving God-called men and women, and we do so with a sense of our own calling.”

That purpose leads the ministry to excellence, he said.

Chief Operating Officer John R. Jones cited that GuideStone has undertaken new initiatives, despite the pandemic, including a new website launched last week.

“What we did during this disruptive year of 2020 was to continue to serve our participants better and to live out our Vision and Mission,” Jones said. For example, Customer Satisfaction surveys, the “Net Promoter Score,” and the percentage of participants saying it was “very easy” to work with GuideStone, all improved from already high numbers between 2019 and 2020. In the property and casualty and health plan arenas, GuideStone has found a 98-percent retention rate. Jones said this means that churches are shopping and finding GuideStone offers competitive pricing and service.

Under “Our Potential,” Hawkins cited the continued opportunities to serve additional pastors in Retirement and Insurance and especially through Mission:Dignity. The number of people receiving benefits from Mission:Dignity grew in 2020 thanks to a concerted effort to identify the neediest ZIP codes and to reach out to participants in those areas.

Additionally, Retirement and Insurance teams continued to work with new participants to enroll them in plans to help enhance their financial security, Jones said.

In serving in our own generation, Hawkins said he is readying to pass the baton to a successor that trustees are prayerfully seeking to identify.

“Everything is rapidly changing around us,” he said. “GuideStone is going to need some new wineskins in this new generation,” citing Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 9.

“Our potential is to never change the message but always be changing the methods. We’ve been changing wineskins here for 24 years,” whether it was changing GuideStone’s name from the Annuity Board, expanding eligibility of those GuideStone serves, new investment opportunities or adding products and services. Additionally, Hawkins and Jones noted the increased purposeful emphasis on inclusion and diversity in both employee and trustee ranks.

Finally, turning to “Our Passion,” Hawkins noted Paul said that David “fell asleep,” meaning David died. Getting pastors and other workers through their vocational ministry careers, to and through retirement is the goal of GuideStone, dating back to its founding and its founder, William Lunsford.

“Everyone is going to reach that time where we step over into eternity,” Hawkins said. “What’s going to happen to that pastor’s wife, his widow? GuideStone and Mission:Dignity will be there for them.

“This is our passion – caring for those we serve, to be a lifelong partner with our participants in enhancing their financial security. It is the passion of our ministry.”

In other reports, trustees heard from the GuideStone Insurance and Retirement areas on various initiatives and results.

The Presidential search committee, announced last September, provided a brief update to trustees. The goal is to have identified the future leader of GuideStone by the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, scheduled for June 15–16 in Nashville.

BP News Thursday, March 4, 2021 - 4:47pm

EDITOR’S NOTE: Leading up to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting, Baptist Press is interviewing candidates who have agreed to accept a nomination to serve as SBC president.

SARALAND, Ala. (BP) – His first time back in the pulpit after the death of his wife Tammy in a car crash, Ed Litton had a message for the congregation.

“The guy that was here before is gone,” he said that Sunday in 2007, “And he’s not coming back.”

Reflecting now, more than 13 years later, Litton knows far better the truth of that statement. Litton, who is in his 27th year as pastor of Redemption Church (formerly First Baptist North Mobile), says his ministry has grown in directions he never would have predicted. His life has, too.

“I don’t know how exactly they all took that,” said Litton of the congregation’s response that first Sunday. “I’m sure it raised a lot of questions in their minds. But they’ve watched God change me.”

Kathy Litton – who lost her husband, fellow SBC pastor Rick Ferguson, in a car accident in 2002 – says the same. Since Ed and Kathy were married in 2009his friends tell him “lightning struck twice for you.”

“We see each other as God’s grace in our lives, because He has put us on a different trajectory than we would have ever thought,” Ed Litton says. “And we’re on a trip we didn’t want to go on, but it has become the joy of the Lord together, and serving Him. I can’t imagine life without her.”

Litton has agreed to accept a nomination to serve as SBC president at the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting in June. New Orleans pastor Fred Luter plans to nominate Litton, who also served as SBC first vice president in 2001-02. He was nominated for that position by Luter, as well.

Through the years, Ed and Kathy (who is director of planter spouse development for the North American Mission Board) have ministered to many who have lost spouses. And in recent years, Litton’s ministry has included a renewed focus on racial reconciliation.

Litton is a member of “The Pledge Group,” which formed after the riots in Ferguson, Mo. It includes Black and white pastors and civic leaders who hope to help bridge the racial divide in the Mobile area. Last fall, Litton helped write the “Deep South Joint Statement on the Gospel, Racial Reconciliation, and Justice.”

Saying his desire is to help bridge the divide he sees in the SBC, as well, with “unity … in the Gospel,” he sat down recently with Baptist Press.

Baptist Press: What’s the biggest issue facing the SBC?

Litton: I think the biggest issue is unity. Obviously for a convention of churches that has so much variety, our unity is in the Gospel. It’s in the Great Commission. I think one of the things that really has moved me in this direction, to let my name be nominated, is because I see there’s a part of the Great Commission that we seem to have forgotten about. And the way I put it is, the Gospel is the heart of our unity – and the love of Jesus is the heart of the Gospel. The Great Commandment has been, I think, lost to some, or seemingly lost to some. We’ve lost sight of what Jesus told us would drive the Great Commission, and that’s to love one another. Love God first, love each other. By this will they know you’re my disciples.

Baptist Press: How do you achieve that unity? Obviously, the office of SBC president is limited; it’s kind of a bully pulpit.

Litton: I think you have to focus direction, vision for it. I think Southern Baptists at our best are there, at least in principle. One of my favorite statements ever made at a Southern Baptist Convention [annual meeting] that I’ve attended was from Dr. E.V. Hill. He said, ‘I love Southern Baptists for who they think they are.’ And I think aspirationally, we know that that’s what our unity is centered around. Practically, the spirit of the age kind of invades the way we talk to each other, the way we belittle, attack, criticize, rumor, innuendo. That’s a political model and it doesn’t serve the kingdom.

So you’re right, the president is limited in that sense. I think, though, Southern Baptists tend to choose presidents that have those leadership goals and so I would use whatever influence I would have to keep us focused on the authority of Scripture. It’s inerrant, sufficient, and the message of that Scripture has got to get to the nations.

I would have to keep us focused on the authority of Scripture. It’s inerrant, sufficient, and the message of that Scripture has got to get to the nations.

—Ed Litton

Baptist Press: Do you feel like the spirit of the age has been intensified within SBC culture in recent years?

Litton: Oh, yeah. It’s festering. You can’t deny we live in a culture that’s highly politicized, and it just looks like some of the things that are politically acceptable have become acceptable [within SBC culture], and God has called us to rise above that.

Baptist Press: How have you seen that impact the SBC?

Litton: It’s a host of things. Kathy and I are very in tune with church planters. Our church supports nine, soon to be 10 churches in the Send Network and we are heavily involved in Las Vegas. We support five plants there. And so we know that the leadership of the SBC impacts what they’re trying to do, and we need to be very mindful of that. Just like we impact people who are in Gospel-restricted countries around the world. We impact – things that we say, things that we emphasize can either can either advance or harm the Gospel moving forward in those places. I think at our best, we have to keep focused, keep them in our hearts and then on our mind in the things that we do and how we disagree with one another.

Baptist Press: Why Las Vegas?

Litton: We were praying over what city to focus on, instead of just having a focus that just goes everywhere. And it was at a Send conference that Vance [Pitman, senior pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas] preached. And he and I spent some time together. I just stayed with him. The more I got to know his heart, he sold me. I’d never seen that kind of vision. And I love the West; we both love the West. And so I told him: ‘You had me at come.’ … The ground out West is hard. You have to pound it to get anything to grow in it. But the soil is good for growth. And they’ve been there for 20 years, pounding away at that soil. And Hope is an exciting place. It’s a great church.

We were with Heiden [Ratner, pastor of Walk Church in Las Vegas] last weekend, and to see the church that we’ve been investing into, to see what God’s doing out there is pretty encouraging for us. The whole thing for church planting for us is, I tell guys my age, ‘You need to be involved in mentoring the next generation, because the reverse-mentoring is worth it.’

I tell guys my age, ‘You need to be involved in mentoring the next generation, because the reverse-mentoring is worth it.’

—Ed Litton

Baptist Press: What’s something the SBC is doing that you’re enthused about?

Litton: Our disaster relief is something we should all be proud of. Our international missions, we all are excited or need to be excited and focused on that, reaching the nations. And none of these are without struggles, but I think our church planting efforts are focused in the right direction as far as reaching unreached cities. So I would say those things I’m very excited about. I think investing in the next generation. We need – I know the numbers of young men going into the role of pastor is declining, and we need to address that. I don’t think the seminaries can change that. I think the local church has to address that issue. And we need to invest in young people, call our people out to ministry, call our people out to service for the Lord. And I think out of that, we’ll see more guys wanting to be pastors, answering the call to pastor the local church.

Baptist Press: How do you do that at Redemption Church? What’s that look like?

Litton: That’s a great question. We intentionally, several years ago, acknowledged to our church that we were aging out. And that time I think our average age was 38, so we were younger than most. But we said, ‘We need to intentionally reach the next generation,’ and I asked the older, 50-and-above crowd, to go with me, that we reach them intentionally. That’s been over 10 years ago, 11 years ago now. Our numbers have dropped to 28, I think.

Baptist Press: So in 10 years, you’ve dropped the average age of the church by 10 years?

Litton: They did. They agreed. We had some that said, ‘You don’t want old people.’ That’s not what I said. They found other places. But we intentionally said, ‘You’re the more spiritually mature, let’s do this.’ And they bought it, and they said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I’m very thankful for that. Even when I presented that vision, they said, ‘What’s that mean?’ I said, ‘I don’t know – but you probably aren’t going to like all the music.’ But our music has always been contemporary, so that wasn’t a hill too far for them. We’ve never allowed that to be an issue.

But I think the intentionality of reaching them is what ultimately led to a lot of changes, which led to a name change, a multi-site strategy, a discipleship shift and change in our church. … One of the things is we intentionally hired younger. The University of Mobile provides us a lot of musical talent. It provides us a lot of potential ministerial talent, and so we have several young men who are going through seminary online. The other side is that I have a preaching team of guys that I teach and mentor in preaching. We work on sermons together. We study together. And then they are rotated into preaching with us. And so on both campuses, we have live preaching and we all preach the exact same text.

Baptist Press: How do you address issues within the culture?

Litton: I think I’ve learned that when you see a cultural problem – and we are to speak to cultural problems, but we tend to, we see them at a 35,000-foot level. Which means you don’t see the people on the ground, you just see these big ideas, and you bomb them. But it’s best for a pastor to stay a crop-duster and stay close enough that you can see the faces of people when you address cultural problems. You still speak the truth in love – but it’s the ‘love’ part that’s sometimes missing in our prophetic nature. And pastors have to be prophetic.

Baptist Press: When you talk about seeing not just the problem, but the people – with racial tension now in the SBC, are we seeing things as a problem instead of as people?

Litton: So you’re sitting in your living room watching Fox News – you’re watching whatever, but it’s probably Fox News – and you’re seeing all kinds of burning and strife and police engagement with African Americans, and so it forms an attitude and an opinion. And I’ll be honest with you, I think the biggest obstacle is fear. People are afraid to engage the other, because we are afraid of what we see at a 35,000-foot level. But whenever you engage the other, you begin to realize not just humanity, you begin to realize what we have in common and you begin to love one another.

Whenever you engage the other, you begin to realize not just humanity, you begin to realize what we have in common and you begin to love one another.

—Ed Litton

Part of what we’ve experienced here [is], after Ferguson, a group of pastors, Black and white, and some civic leaders – a retired federal judge, a couple of sitting judges and lawyers and doctors – we just started meeting together every two weeks for lunch. And we hammered out what we’re going to do. At first we were all going to solve the problem, but we got some great counsel from Mission Mississippi, which is a racial reconciliation group in Mississippi. It’s been there for 25 years and it’s a great unsung story. They said, ‘Guys, you’re not going to solve this problem, but you’re going to learn to love one another.’

And so we sat and talked about the most gut-wrenching realities. And there was anger, there was frustration, there was accusation, there were questions. And we’ve stayed at the table and have formed a group [The Pledge Group] that are closer than brothers and sisters. And it has changed my whole perspective on dealing with race. And I’ll be honest with you, I went in very timid. I stayed quiet as long as I could – which is a miracle – because I was afraid of saying the wrong thing. I was afraid of being identified with people who may not have my theology. And so in spite of those fears, I sat at that table. But I’ve learned that you don’t have to see eye to eye – I’m not talking about within our convention, I’m talking about outside – well no, I’m talking about both – you don’t have to see eye to eye. You have to love one another.

And when that becomes the centerpiece – for months we discussed, what’s the core of this problem? And I kept saying, ‘Well it’s a sin problem, and it’s a Gospel solution.’ And that was hotly debated. But by the time this process led us to do other things, we all agreed it was a sin problem and a Gospel solution. No theory ever came up. None of us even knew what that was. All we knew was that it was a sin problem and a Gospel solution. It’s not been perfect and we haven’t changed the world. But we’re making a dent in this city that just wasn’t there.

This city is a great city but the last slave ship to offload in North America was here. The last lynching was here in the 1980s. This city is two parallel universes together that never cross, or seldom cross. And so God is doing something and we’re grateful to be a part of that.

But I think Southern Baptists have untold resources to address this issue. And the resource we have is people and their willingness to love, their willingness to sit down and listen, and not walk to the table saying, ‘I know what you’re about, I can tell what you’re about, and I’m against this and this and this about you.’

The other thing, too, that was stunning to me in its simplicity, was how every human, I don’t care what the skin color is, wants and longs for respect. And we don’t intend to disrespect people but we do, by not listening and not hearing and acknowledging their suffering.

We sponsor an annual event called ‘Shrink the Divide,’ and it’s pretty self-explanatory. We’ve had John Perkins, Russell Moore speak. We’ve had the bishop of Rwanda speak. This year we had three men from the Charleston shooting. Marshall Blalock was one of them, a pastor who lost his wife and a young man, Chris Singleton, who lost his mother in the shooting. It was a powerful, powerful message on forgiveness and the grace of God.

Again, I’m so grateful for everybody in our group because it is Gospel-centered, and it has reminded me that that is the solution. And again, for what ails us as Southern Baptists, that is the solution. Listen, our theology is precious to us. But when it becomes a bat that we beat each other up with, that’s wrong.

Baptist Press: Tell us a little about your path to ministry and how you were called.

Litton: I ran from the call of God in my life at 17. Ran hard. And realized that God had put his hand on me and that I could run but I couldn’t hide. And so I surrendered under the leadership of a cowboy pastor out in Arizona named Ron Hart. Ron mentored be, taught me and after seminary his church sponsored our church plant [Mountain View Baptist] in Tucson.

I tell people – I laugh – NAMB provides so many resources for helping guys, not only vetting those guys but equipping those guys. I got nothing. The guy that enlisted me, I looked at him – I won’t tell you his name; he’s a great guy – but I said, ‘So what do I need to know?’ He said, ‘What do you mean, what do you need to know?’ I said, ‘Well, how do you start a church?’ He goes, ‘You preach Jesus and you lead people to Jesus!’ And I tell people, I say, ‘You know what, I’d like to choke him’ – but I couldn’t. I’d have to kiss him because he was right.

And so it was a lot of trial and error. But man, I’m telling you, God blessed it. It exploded in growth. By the time I left, almost 7 ½ years, almost half the people were brand new believers. They’d never heard the Gospel before. That’s Tucson, that’s Vegas, that’s a lot of places in the West.

So that’s where we started and the Lord brought us here [to Alabama]. You talk about culture shock. I went from a Gospel-starved place to where people were – [Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary evangelism professor] Roy Fish told me, ‘Everyone in Mobile thinks they’re saved,’ and he said, ‘I wouldn’t leave Tucson for that.’ And Roy Fish was such a huge mentor in so many lives at Southwestern in those days. I called him one time and left a message on his answering machine; when I finished the message I said, ‘amen’ – just to tell you how much I revered Dr. Fish. And so when he told me not to do it I had to really go back to my prayer closet and finally clarified that this is what God wanted me to do.

Baptist Press: It is a different context than Arizona, and many of our – most Southern Baptists, by the numbers, are in the Bible Belt. Coming at ‘cultural Christianity’ from a different place, do you attack it differently?

Litton: Yeah, and guys like Dean Inserra [author of The Unsaved Christian] help us. His work on that and his observations about cultural Christianity. In Tucson, the cultural religion was Catholicism, and it was easy: Share the Gospel with those guys and they’d never heard it. And here, the cultural monster is Baptist. And so it takes a totally different approach to how you share with them. Yes, it’s very different. I think the tone of our ministry has been focused on evangelism, missions and discipleship, and it’s grown through the years.

The tone of our ministry has been focused on evangelism, missions and discipleship…

—Ed Litton

I’m glad we don’t do what we did at the beginning, but the culture has changed. When I came here our church was very aggressive on Monday night outreach. We became aggressive, I should say, on Monday night outreach to the point that people laugh today and say they knew on Monday night to go shopping or do something because North Mobile [Baptist Church] was coming.

And so there are days you’re tempted to think, we’ve got to go back to that – but the culture here has changed. And God is bringing the nations here. And so helping our people see the need for the person behind the burka at Sam’s, to understand that there are Muslims in their neighborhood, to understand that they’re people that we could reach with the Gospel.

Baptist Press: You grew up in Tucson, right?

Litton: I’m originally from east Tennessee. In 1971, we moved to Tucson for my mother’s health. The only job my dad could get was running a motel that had been house of prostitution. This guy got it in a land deal and didn’t know what to do with it and it was a mess. Drug deals going on constantly. So he hired my dad to clean it up. And my dad is a character in and of himself: a 30-year veteran of the Navy, started in World War II, went through Vietnam, was a drunk. A Baptist pastor in Virginia Beach, Va., shared the Gospel with my dad in a grocery store and months later when my dad cratered, we took him to this guy. He’d been drunk for two weeks. And we took him to this guy and this guy led him to Christ, and he stood up sober.

I have a memory. I’m 7 years old. I’m sitting in the back seat on the passenger’s side. I can see my dad clearly in the driver’s seat. He looked at my mom when he got back in the car. Now he’d been drunk for two weeks. He was sober. He looks at her and he said, ‘Sue, something just happened.’ And that burned in my mind.

So as a kid – I tell people, I was just like any other kid, and we’d never gone to church. But I knew there was something to God because of what I saw change in my dad.

My dad died about seven years ago. And the last thing he ever said to me, I was leaving on a trip to go to Idaho and I knew he was going to die soon. He died when I was on the plane. But it was a Sunday and he said, ‘Did anyone get saved today at church?’ He was an amazing soul-winner.

So I grew up in an interesting environment and saw the power of God change people’s lives. He changed mine. And for Kathy and I, the most dramatic, traumatic things, both of us losing our spouses. That really is a life-altering experience.

Baptist Press: How did that change your ministry? You told the congregation you wouldn’t be the same.

Litton: Listen, God doesn’t lead you through anything that doesn’t have purpose. There is no meaninglessness to our suffering. With Job, we have to say, the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh, blessed be the Lord, and if you slay me I will praise you.

I knew I wouldn’t be the same. I don’t know how exactly they all took that. I’m sure it raised a lot of questions in their minds. But they’ve watched God change me. I honestly don’t know.

God doesn’t lead you through anything that doesn’t have purpose.

—Ed Litton

When I first came here, just as a contrast and an illustration, the racial issue in this city was very obvious to me because I was from the outside coming in. And I immediately started speaking to it, because I was young, impetuous, stupid. I thought my preaching could change things. So I thought, ‘Let’s just deal with this, we’re going to deal with this.’ I had no idea what Southern passive aggression was like. And they charmed me, they loved me, but they ignored me on that issue. And I came to a conclusion, and I confessed it to my brothers and my sisters in [The Pledge Group]: I made up my mind I wasn’t going to win on this issue. And I made up my mind that it wasn’t my problem: I didn’t start this problem, I’m not going to solve this problem.

So I’ve lived happily ignorant – meaning I’ve intentionally ignored the problem. But through suffering, I began to see things differently. And the story, the parable Jesus told us about the Good Samaritan is so profound. I think for all of us it’s easy to walk around and look the other way. And whoever that guy is in the ditch – it may be us – but it was clear that Jesus commended the guy that got off his donkey and helped. I don’t know what we can do, but we can do something.

And the church has been supportive of that, and I’m grateful. And it’s been interesting to watch how they’ve changed. One of the men who was on the original pulpit committee called me up one day. He said, ‘Pastor, I’ve been going to Walmart looking for Black people.’ I’m going, ‘OK, what does that mean?’ He said, ‘I just go talk to ‘em.’ And he said, ‘I’m going fishing with one of ‘em this weekend. We’re going fishing out on the causeway together.’

And you’re sitting there thinking, you know what? Nobody is pretending that we’re cool or hip, or nobody’s trying to win anything, a Nobel Peace Prize. They just want to obey God. And they’re hearing the Word and it’s affecting some of them. That to me is encouraging. That’s advancement.

Baptist Press: What uniquely positions you to be SBC president?

Litton: I wasn’t looking for this. I’m old school when it comes to this. Adrian Rogers said, ‘The man doesn’t seek the office, the office seeks the man.’ And some people came to us and said, ‘We want you to pray about this.’ And we took it seriously and prayed about it, and God birthed a vision, both myself and Kathy, that there’s a time and a place for everything.

I don’t have infinite wisdom. I have access to His (wisdom) but not mine. I’m a pastor. I think this role is a unique role for a pastor to lead pastors and churches. I think God has given me gifts of leadership, but I don’t possess everything necessary. But I do believe that God has enabled me to pull people together and to focus on a vision that glorifies the Lord and will make us a better ‘E pluribus unum’ for the Gospel.

I am deeply grieved that people are having to consider leaving our fellowship. Kathy and I both were in Southern Baptist life during the Conservative Resurgence. We believe that the Scripture was worth the battle, and we believe that God, in his grace, gave our convention victory in that. This doesn’t seem like that same battle. I don’t think we’re fighting over whether Scripture is inspired, Scripture is inerrant and sufficient.

Baptist Press: What are we fighting over?

Litton: That’s a good question. I would have no way of knowing what other people’s motives are. In that sense, I can’t answer. But we seem to be off-target. I think we’ve got to come back to the Great Commandment. The heart of our unity is the Gospel, and the love of Jesus is the heart of the Gospel. So we have to ask ourselves: Do we love him? Do we love each other? Because Jesus said that’s our credentials.

Even in Mobile, we came to the decision that how can we communicate the Gospel to this city if there’s such a division between Black and white churches? Or divisions between Hispanic and white, or Asian and white churches? Why do we have these divisions when we all share the same Savior, the same blood? We have to address that issue in the process.

Baptist Press: What’s the makeup of Redemption Church?

Litton: It’s predominantly white. I really don’t have a percentage of how many African American members we have. It’s growing. I don’t know the exact percentage, but some things take longer. We’re moving in that direction. We have more African Americans in leadership than we’d ever had, in lay leadership. It takes time. And we were kind of slow to it.

Baptist Press: If you could sit down with Southern Baptists, what would you want them to know about Ed Litton?

Litton: Well, first of all, that I love them. They came to get me. It was a Southern Baptist pastor who led my whole family to Christ. So whenever I’m asked, ‘Why are you Southern Baptist?’ Well, first of all, they’re the ones who brought the Gospel to us. And so I kind of felt connected at that point. I love Southern Baptists because of the way they loved us. It felt – in our suffering, we felt tremendous love.

I love Southern Baptists because of the way they loved us.

—Ed Litton

I love Southern Baptists for the Cooperative Program, helping me get through seminary. And I mean, there’s a deep debt of gratitude in my heart. And I think we have potential that’s out of this world to actually take the Gospel to the nations. So that’s what I would say: First of all, thank you, because in spite of my quoting of E.V. Hill, I agree with him about who we want to be, aspirationally. We still have time, until the Lord comes, to live up to that. But we’re a family, and as a family, you’re going to have disagreements. You’re going to have struggles and fights and quarrels. But we can’t stop going to the family reunion and we can’t dismiss each other over politics, we can’t dismiss each other over, stop loving each other, even over things that may be doctrinally precious to us, that may be different from somebody else.

In the essentials we have to see eye to eye and walk hand in hand. But some of us think there are more essentials than there are.

BP News Thursday, March 4, 2021 - 2:03pm

LYNN, Mass. (BP) – As Above the Hills Church in Lynn, Mass., makes plans to launch Easter Sunday, North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planting missionary Simon Sim and his core team want the church be a beacon of Gospel hope for their community.

For Sim, that passion grew when he was 14 after the tragic death of his best friend.

“I went into a deep depression after,” Sim said. “I remembered something he said to me one week before he passed away. He said he was jealous of the fact that I was given the opportunity to (consider Christianity).”

Sim, now 37, grew up in a Christian home in Connecticut while his friend had been raised in a strict, Buddhist faith where he was not allowed to explore religion on his own. After his friend passed away, Sim became depressed, but also, in reflecting about his own spiritual journey, he realized that he needed to make his own profession of faith in Christ.

“Faith and Christianity was something that was in my family,” he said, “but it wasn’t in my heart. I made a decision on my own to cry out, prayed and gave my life to the Lord.”

Over the course of the next five or six years, Sim wrestled with the calling he sensed God had placed on his life. He knew that he needed to do more than simply “be a Christian.” He was to be a part of others’ spiritual journeys. The idea that he could have been more intentional in sharing the Gospel with his friend still spurs his sense of urgency to this day.

In college, he began studying international business before he became really sick and had to pull out of school for a semester. Rather than struggle with his faith, however, Sim felt a heightened sense of God’s presence in his life.

“I thought, ‘If I am going to go through this battle with sickness, I need to make sure that every minute of my life counts,’” Sim said. “The only way I can know that my life counts is by making sure I’m dedicated to spreading the Gospel.”

Above the Hills Church, led by North American Mission Board church planting missionary Simon Sim, hosted a vision night that included a preview service for their church planting team. Photo submitted by Simon Sim

Sim transitioned from majoring in business to studying theology and eventually became a co-pastor of a Cambodian church in Connecticut. His primary role was to create a plan to help the church better connect with second-generation Cambodians, most of whom primarily spoke English and had adapted to American culture.

As he started to find success in that ministry, Sim began networking with other Cambodian churches in New England and on the East Coast. He trained and equipped pastors in second-generation ministry, helping them create longevity plans for their churches.

Sim’s wife Popia is from Boston, and as Sim’s work took him into the city where there is a significant Cambodian population, she helped plant the seed about eventually planting a church in Boston.

Around that same time, Sim began connecting with NAMB’s Send City Missionary in Boston at the time, David Butler, who now serves as a regional Send Network director. As he heard more about Sim’s work with Cambodian churches, Butler asked if he had ever considered planting a church.

Sim, along with his wife, entered into NAMB’s assessment process, spent time as a church planting resident at Genesis Community Church and has focused in recent months on building and training a core team ahead of the anticipated Easter Sunday launch of Above the Hills Church.

BP News Thursday, March 4, 2021 - 12:41pm

NASHVILLE (BP) – Church closures related to COVID-19 and winter weather in the Deep South slowed giving through the Cooperative Program in early 2021, but Southern Baptists remained faithful in their commitment to fueling global missions and ministry. Through the first five months of the budget year, giving is still above the national CP budget by more than 3 percent.

“This Cooperative Program report reminds us of the challenging season we are in across America and the world,” SBC Executive Committee president and CEO Ronnie Floyd said in a statement. “This past month, our churches, associations, and state conventions not only faced the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, but also many of these Baptist bodies faced very difficult challenges with the weather this winter.

“However, we are rejoicing that we are still above our projected national SBC CP Allocation Budget. Therefore, let’s go forward and resolve together to do all we can to reach every person for Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state and every nation. This is our greater cause.”

The total amount given through the Cooperative Program in February 2021 totaled $15,475,264.92, which was $4,053,976.81 (20.76 percent) less than the $19,529,241.73 received in February 2020 but just $97,651.75 (0.63 percent) less than the monthly budgeted amount of $15,572,916.67.

As of Feb. 28, gifts received by the EC for distribution through the CP Allocation Budget total $80,279,353.14. This is $5,709,673.28 or 6.64 percent less than last year’s budget contribution of $85,989,026.42. However, the amount given is ahead of the $77,864,583.35 year-to-date budgeted projection to support Southern Baptist ministries globally and across North America by $2,414,769.79 or 3.10 percent.

Designated gifts received in February amounted to $48,382,024.27. This total was $7,795,651.46, or 13.88 percent, below gifts of $56,177,675.73 received last February. Also, this year’s designated gifts through the first five months of the fiscal year amount to $85,100,409.03, which is $5,627,753.07 or 6.20 percent less than the $90,728,162.10 given through same period in the previous fiscal year.

The Cooperative Program is the financial fuel to fund the SBC mission and vision of reaching every person for Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state and every nation. Begun in 1925, local churches contribute to the ministries of its state convention and the missions and ministries of the SBC through a unified giving plan to support both sets of ministries. Monies include receipts from individuals, churches and state conventions for distribution according to the 2020-2021 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.

State and regional conventions retain a portion of church contributions to Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program to support work in their respective areas and forward a percentage to SBC national and international causes. The percentage of distribution is at the discretion of each state or regional convention.

The convention-adopted budget for 2020-2021 is $186.875 million and includes an initial $200,000 special priority allocation for the SBC Vision 2025 initiative. Cooperative Program funds are then disbursed as follows: 50.41 percent to international missions through the International Mission Board, 22.79 percent to North American missions through the North American Mission Board, 22.16 percent to theological education through the six SBC seminaries and the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, 2.99 percent to the SBC operating budget and 1.65 percent to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. If national CP gifts exceed the $186.875 million budget projection at the end of the fiscal year, 10 percent of the overage is to be used to support the SBC Vision 2025 initiative with the balance of the overage distributed according to the percentages approved for budgetary distribution. The SBC Executive Committee distributes all CP and designated gifts it receives on a weekly basis to the SBC ministry entities.

Month-to-month swings reflect a number of factors, including the timing of when the cooperating state Baptist conventions forward the national portion of Cooperative Program contributions to the Executive Committee, the day of the month churches forward their CP contributions to their state conventions, the number of Sundays in a given month, and the percentage of CP contributions forwarded to the SBC by the state conventions after shared ministry expenses are deducted.

Designated contributions include the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, Southern Baptist Global Hunger Relief, Disaster Relief and other special gifts. This total includes only those gifts received and distributed by the Executive Committee and does not reflect designated gifts contributed directly to SBC entities.

CP allocation budget gifts received by the Executive Committee are reported monthly to the executives of the entities of the convention, to the state convention offices, to the state Baptist papers and are posted online at

BP News Thursday, March 4, 2021 - 12:39pm

MARION, Ala. (BP) – Judson College officials launched an aggressive effort to save the school Wednesday (March 3).

Following a discussion of the college’s proposed budget during a special-called board of trustees meeting, Judson President W. Mark Tew proposed a 30-day commitment campaign to raise $5 million in unrestricted funds by April 2. The motion to proceed with the campaign passed unanimously by the 24 board members – eight in person and 16 joining via Zoom.

“Today, the board demonstrated their commitment to sustaining a future for Judson,” said Joan Newman, chair of the trustees and Class of ’73 alumna. “The financial goal is lofty, but the future of Judson College is worthy,” Newman said.

Tew told students, faculty and staff immediately following the meeting, “The board was unanimous in seeking to identify donors to support the college in the coming academic year. While this is a monumental challenge, I would like to remind all of you that we serve a great God.

“Prudent financial responsibility dictates that we have firm commitments from our donors before we can proceed into the next academic year. Accordingly, the trustees will meet on April 2 to review the college’s progress and make a determination about its future.”

Current status

Tew has been working to obtain a clear picture of the college’s financial situation and opportunity to avoid a crisis since coming to the role in March 2019, but it wasn’t until early December 2020 that he had to deliver an urgent appeal for help.

On Dec. 15, Tew explained that in order to open in January 2021, Judson would need $500,000 in unrestricted cash donations and another $1 million in unrestricted commitments of gifts to complete the spring semester.

Just 13 days after the announcement and five days before the Dec. 31 deadline, the Judson community, alumnae and friends mobilized quickly to provide the needed funds.

The school had secured $500,000 in cash donations and was halfway to the commitment goal of an additional $1 million. The board convened Dec. 31, 2020, and approved moving forward with the spring 2021 semester.

Of the total $1.5 million given or pledged, almost half was provided by alumnae.

Research report

Also approved by the board in December was the engagement of the services of Fuller Higher Ed Solutions to research the college’s changing markets and to explore potential avenues. The group conducted a review of the college’s financial situation and met with focus groups of students, faculty, staff, alumnae and board members during the first few weeks of 2021.

Fuller’s findings, outlined in a report posted on the school’s website, indicated two choices for Judson – to close “with dignity” or to “invest in turnaround.” The board received the report Feb. 19 and then held meetings Feb. 22, Feb. 26 and March 3 to deliberate over the findings.

With the decision to see what is possible in the next 30 days, a review of the 2021-2022 budget was put on hold by the board. The school’s fiscal year ends May 31.

Judson’s financial journey

In recent years, Judson has operated on a roughly $9 million annual budget with 76 employees. Most expenses go to academics followed closely by care of the campus of the 183-year-old institution.

Current enrollment stands at 145 students (designated as traditional full- or part-time), down from 253 in 2019 and 161 in 2020. School officials anticipated continued decline going into 2021 because of restrictions on recruiting activities with the COVID-19 pandemic as well as concern over the future of the school.

While Judson does have a board-operated endowment of $9.8 million, and another more than $6 million in perpetual trusts held by others, including The Baptist Foundation of Alabama, almost all of these funds are donor-restricted for scholarships. Judson does use earnings from the endowments as part of its annual income, along with students’ tuition and fees, about $1 million provided from gifts through the Cooperative Program, and $500,000 to $800,000 from donations.

Judson also received more than $2.4 million through the pandemic-related federal and state relief.

Without those funds, the school would have had to close in the fall of 2020, Tew said.

According to the Fuller report, tuition brings in a little more than $14,000 per student per year, but the cost to the college per student per year is roughly $40,000 with current enrollment. That means the school has to make up a difference of more than $25,000 per student per year.

These numbers don’t include how room and board factors in, which brings in $10,000 per student per year. Currently, 127 students live on campus.

Judson also is out of options regarding credit because it already owes more than $15 million in unpaid debt.

Expenses were trimmed going into the spring semester by eliminating the associate’s in nursing program, restructuring the summer term, reducing personnel and holding off on campus repairs/upgrades, but the $8.5 million budget remains out of balance.

According to Fuller’s estimates, Judson would need a windfall of $40 million to truly turn things around, even if that amount came in at $8 million a year for the next five years. The breakdown of the money needed, as outlined by Fuller, would be:

  • $5 million to close the operating deficit

  • $2 million to revive the buildings and infrastructure

  • $1 million for seed money for revamping and rebranding the school

‘All-in’ support needed

“While the alumnae base and other supporters have responded generously to the financial challenges with their giving, and the focus group feedback reflected a deep level of ‘all in’ support, the path to a turnaround is daunting and full of difficult decisions,” the report reads.

“During this project, many voices of faithful, godly women were heard in support of the college. These voices must continue to lift prayers for wisdom, courage and for the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills to sell a few of them on Judson’s behalf so the turnaround can begin and succeed.

“We believe there is something unique and valuable at Judson, worth the investment, especially after nearly two centuries of educating Christian women as leaders and key contributors to their professions, physical and faith communities, and family situations. Overcoming [the challenges outlined in the report] will require focus, discipline, and an ongoing infusion of cash through donor support and other means to do the turnaround necessary for Judson to move from surviving to thriving.”

Judson remains accredited at the present time. School officials self-reported the situation to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in December and a full report is due back to SACS by March 15. From there, decisions will be made regarding the school’s accreditation status.

Story by TAB Media’s Jennifer Davis Rash and Judson College’s Mary Amelia Taylor

BP News Thursday, March 4, 2021 - 12:34pm

LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz. – Calvary Baptist Church in Lake Havasu City and its campus in nearby Parker, Ariz., baptized 236 people in 2020, more than any other church in the state. It does so by making the Gospel relatable and relevant, Pastor Chad Garrison said.

Since 1981, Calvary has allocated 10 percent of its budget to missions through the Cooperative Program, the way Southern Baptists work together to support state, national and international ministries and missions. With its generosity in 2020, Calvary was named the largest CP contributor in the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention.

Chad Garrison

“We’re a strong believer in accountability,” Garrison said. “There are a lot of ministries out there that are not fruitful. We love the accountability the SBC provides.

“If we didn’t believe in what the Cooperative Program is doing, we wouldn’t give anything to it. The main reason I’m Southern Baptist is what we do with international missions and theological education. We’re the gold standard for missionary care and support. CP is simply the best way to pool our resources nationally to make a difference in God’s kingdom.”

Through service in the community, a welcoming worship service with Bible truths presented without equivocation and exemplifying generosity, Calvary Havasu/Parker had grown to about 2,200 in worship pre-COVID.

Despite last year’s 20-week-long government-mandated limit of no more than 10 people at a gathering, average attendance for the year only dipped to 1,200, and another 1,500 became regular attenders of services streamed online. The total includes people locally as well as those in 32 other states, often winter visitors who join the services online from their northern home.

Campus pastor Ruben Magdaleno baptizes a new believer at Calvary Baptist’s Parker, Ariz., campus. The campus, founded in 2019, baptized 22 people in 2020.

“God’s truth is for everybody, and it’s our job to make it relatable to people,” Garrison said. “We teach Scripture bluntly and applicably. We also serve our community as a strategy for earning the right to be heard. We’ve been doing that intentionally for 15, 16 years. That’s been our strategy for reaching the unchurched.

“When you start to be the church that does good things for the community, it makes it really easy for people to say yes to an invitation. Our members are going to invite others. We want to make it easy for their friends to say yes.

“The last piece of that: We have a culture at our church that is very welcoming, joyful for people who come. We basically target young families in a heavily senior adult community. The music is loud, the attitude is joyful, everybody is comfortable and real. We really want to be a culture that welcomes the unchurched and helps them on their journey to find Jesus.”

Generosity is one of the themes of Calvary, the pastor said.

“We believe we’ve been blessed for a reason,” Garrison said. “It causes them to be more generous outside the church. People get excited about making a difference in people’s lives when they see us do it.”

Calvary Havasu/Parker invested about $200,000 last year in local benevolence, in addition to its CP giving and other missions giving. This includes partnering with local agencies like a food bank and a crisis pregnancy center; paying for rent, utilities, car repair; passing out grocery store gift cards three times a year; pouring $15,000 a year into local school repair and maintenance and more.

Serving local schools is one way Calvary Baptist ministers “outside the walls.”

“We know how to do ministry outside the walls of the church because the building is not our primary identity. Serving the community is our primary identity,” Garrison said.

Calvary’s 70 life groups each take on a mission project, and sometimes several combine, such as the 200 stuffed backpacks for children and senior adults taken to the Hualapai tribe of American Indians last year. The church allocates 20 percent of undesignated offerings for missions, half of which is for the Cooperative Program. Still more is given by individuals toward specific causes.

The church’s biggest partnerships outside of the Cooperative Program are with Compassion International in Honduras and with International Mission Board missionaries in Mozambique to provide 60 freshwater wells, which Garrison said provide drinking water to 45,000 people daily.

“They use the wells as a preaching point too.” Garrison said. “The need captured the imagination and generosity of our church. Most of the wells were private-designated. The church as a whole paid for six wells. One of the neat things about generosity: the more generous you are, the more people around you are. We want to unleash people’s passions for serving Christ in whatever way He’s called them to.”

Calvary Havasu was started in 1972. Garrison has been pastor since 1992. He led the church five years ago to move from its original location to a more visible location on Arizona Hwy. 95. The church’s former location houses Calvary Christian Academy and its 300 students in kindergarten through the eighth grade.

Garrison led the church in 2019 to start a new church in Parker, a desert town on the Colorado River, where four Native American tribes share a reservation. Despite the pandemic, Calvary Parker baptized 22 people in 2020. Ruben Magdaleno is campus pastor.

“Calvary’s never been about control,” Garrison said. “We want to become more effective in reaching the unchurched. We just want to have an impact in our community. We want to expand our ‘serve’ locally and expand the online campus. We’ve just begun to figure that out. That’s going to develop in a way that’s hard to predict.”

Until the pandemic Calvary Havasu posted its sermons to its website, When onsite worship was curtailed, additional equipment was purchased so services could be streamed online. The church recently hired an online campus director to manage that ministry.

The church’s goals include baptizing 4,000 new believers by 2028, out of the 40,000 unchurched in Havasu. “Year one was this last year,” Garrison said. “We set the goal at 200 for this year. Each year the goal increases. We know it can happen. If God did it in the early church, He can do it here.

“Yes, 2020 was a tough year for us like it was for everybody, but God showed up in that. We’ll praise God for a pandemic if that’s what it takes to reach people.”

BP News Thursday, March 4, 2021 - 12:00pm

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) – What are we really doing when we gather for corporate worship each week?

For some today, the main purpose for which we gather is evangelism; every service is designed to bring in seekers and move them toward conversion. For others, the purpose of our gatherings is revival or fellowship. Others see the goal of our gatherings to express praise to the Lord, others want an emotional experience, and for some, the gathering is simply a duty to perform. So what does the Word of God identify as the central goal of our corporate gatherings as a church?

The Gospel builds a temple

The end of Ephesians 2 presents a beautiful picture of who we are as the church and what we do when we gather. Verse 18 says, “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” This is the central message of the Gospel – we sinners who were far off now have access to the presence of God in one Spirit by grace through faith in the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ.

This is the Gospel, but don’t miss the essential connection in this passage between this Gospel message and the church’s worship. We sinners were far off, but now, in the Spirit, through Christ, we have access – that’s a term that specifically connotes entrance into the sanctuary of God’s presence. “So then,” verse 19, “you are no longer strangers and aliens [those prohibited from entering the sanctuary], but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”

There’s a phrase that also describes the temple of God, and notice how Paul continues to build this imagery of the New Testament temple, the church: “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Do you see the essential connection between the Gospel and worship? Yes, the Gospel forgives us from the penalty of sin, but the emphasis in Ephesians 2 is on having access to the presence of God. The goal of the Gospel is to enable us to draw near to the presence of God, in His house, in His temple, where we are then able to fellowship with Him. That’s the nature of what we’re doing when we gather as the church for corporate worship.

In corporate worship, believers renew their vows to Christ

Now, this understanding of the purpose of corporate worship being communion with God in His temple, or better yet as His temple, the church, which is made possible only through Christ by the Spirit has important implications for what we do when we gather for corporate worship.

First, corporate worship is for believers. Only those who have access to God, those brought near through Christ, are members of the household of God and part of the temple. Only believers can commune with God. Therefore, the primary purpose of the corporate worship gathering is for believers to meet with God. This does not mean that we forbid unbelievers from being here; as Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14:24–25, believers gathering to meet with God is profoundly evangelistic. But when unbelievers come, they come as observers, not as participants, and never do we design what takes place in the corporate church gatherings based on what unbelievers want any more than what took place in Israel’s temple was based on what uncircumcised pagans wanted. Corporate worship is for believers to meet with God.

Second, corporate worship is relational. We don’t simply go through a series of rituals as a duty. What we do when we gather is for the purpose of fostering our relationship with God. This is the emphasis of Ephesians 2; this whole passage that leads up to a description of God building a temple by His Spirit expresses those realities in relational terms. The Gospel that results in this temple is not simply a legal transaction or ticket to heaven, it is a reconciliation of our relationship with God. We have access to God through Christ, we are welcome in His presence, and so we gather to develop that relationship.

This leads to a third point: corporate worship is formational. Even as believers who have access to God through Christ, our relationship with God is not perfect; it is still growing and deepening. We must continually work to nurture a right relationship with God, allow His Word to correct us, and work toward sanctifying our responses toward Him. We certainly do this through personal Bible study and prayer, but one significant and necessary purpose of corporate worship is to help mature our relationship with God.

And more specifically, corporate worship renews us in the Gospel. Each week, we are renewing our covenant vows to the Lord, and in so doing, we are rekindling our relationship with Him and our commitment to Him, and He with us.

And then finally, this leads us to explicitly identify the goal of corporate worship: the goal of corporate worship is communion with God. Through the Gospel, we are God’s temple, His house, where we are enabled to meet with Him for fellowship. Our primary goal is not evangelism, though a Gospel-shaped service will be evangelistic. Our primary goal is not expression, though we certainly express toward God in worship. Our primary goal is not an emotional experience, though we will certainly feel things. Our primary goal is to nurture and cultivate a life of communion with God.

Scott Aniol, PhD, is associate professor and director of Doctoral Worship Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He founded Religious Affections Ministries and has written several books, most recently Draw Near: The Heart of Communion with God.

BP News Thursday, March 4, 2021 - 11:36am

NASHVILLE (BP) – This weekly Bible study appears in Baptist Press in a partnership with Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Through its Leadership and Adult Publishing team, Lifeway publishes Sunday School curricula and additional resources for all age groups.

This week’s Bible study is adapted from The Gospel Project curriculum.

Bible Passage: Acts 11:1–18

Discussion Questions:

  • What are some ways God might be preparing you to share the Gospel today?
  • What are some ways God might prepare unbelievers to hear the Gospel today?
  • How does knowing that the Gospel must be shared affect the way you perceive your current practice of evangelism?

Food for Thought:

Read Acts 11:1–18. In Acts 10, we read about a unique event in the history of salvation, as the Lord prepared both Cornelius and Peter with visions: Cornelius to hear the Gospel and Peter to share the Gospel. God wanted to bring salvation to the Gentiles, but the Jews needed to witness that salvation come to the Gentiles, lest there be a divided church. And then, in Acts 11:1-18, Luke retells the same account of Peter at Cornelius’ house from the previous chapter. Why did this happen? Because this pivotal moment in salvation history needed more than one telling for the church to grasp God’s will in this matter.

When Jesus called His disciples to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth, they naturally assumed they were spreading the message of the Gospel to the Jews scattered throughout the world (Acts 1:6-8). But when news came of Peter having eaten with Gentiles, the circumcision party accused him of violating the Law of Moses (ex. Leviticus 20:24-26). Their ethnic and religious pride led them to discriminate against the Gentiles. God had prepared Peter for Gentile inclusion into the new covenant people of God; the Jews in Jerusalem had to be prepared as well, so they needed to see how God accomplished this feat in Peter’s heart.

Just as the Lord prepared Peter to share the Gospel with Cornelius and his household by a vision, so also the Lord prepared Cornelius to hear the Gospel with a vision (Acts 10:1-8). While the Lord does not always send unbelievers to us in this manner, God is always sending us out in the power of the Spirit and convicting sinners by the same Spirit as we present the Gospel. The God you see operating in the Book of Acts is the same God operating today, still in the business of saving people. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, beginning with those unbelievers who might live under your roof (perhaps your children or spouse) or across the street, or those you might know from your workplace, or at the gym.

The Gospel Project

The Gospel Project is a chronological, Christ-centered study for kids, students and adults. The Bible is not a collection of stories. It is one story of God’s plan to rescue His people from sin and death. It is the story of redemption, the gospel message of Jesus Christ. More information can be found at

Other ongoing Bible study options for all ages offered by LifeWay can be found at or ordered at Lifeway Christian Resources.

BP News Wednesday, March 3, 2021 - 5:44pm

NASHVILLE (BP) – Christians will not act unethically if they receive a COVID-19 vaccine produced from a cell line originally derived from an abortion, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said Wednesday (March 3).

The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) addressed the morality of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in a column after the single-dose medication gained approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Feb. 27. Unlike the previous vaccines authorized by the FDA for use in the United States, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine uses decades-old, abortion-derived cells in its design, development and production, as well as its testing.

The two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines authorized in December do not use abortion-derived cells for design, development or production, while some of the laboratory tests on their vaccines use abortion-derived cells and some do not.

In his column, Moore said even if a vaccine “might involve unethical aspects of research,” it “does not mean that a Christian inoculated from disease by such a vaccine would be sinning to do so. Taking the COVID vaccine is morally right.”

Moore’s column was published a day after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a statement on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“[I]f one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen,” according to the Catholic bishops’ statement. “Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.”

R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, addressed the issues involved for Christians regarding the COVID-19 vaccines Wednesday during his podcast, “The Briefing.”

Receiving Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine “does not invoke the highest levels of complicity in evil,” Mohler said. “That’s for two reasons – it doesn’t directly involve the abortion of any infant nor does it directly risk any future evil. You’re not taking this vaccine and thus increasing the risk that some future baby will be aborted.

“Those two issues are important,” he said. “But still the issue of abortion’s in the background, and there is a very good reason why biblically minded Christians committed to the sanctity and dignity of every human life have to take such issues into consideration.”

In addressing whether receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine involves “moral cooperation with abortion,” most of those asking the question “aren’t asking me if they should violate their conscientious objection to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Moore wrote. “To them, I would turn to Romans 14:23 and say, with the [Catholic] bishops, seek out one of the other vaccines. But most people asking me this question don’t have conscience objections to taking the Johnson & Johnson [vaccine], but wonder if they should have such objections. Short answer: no.”

Moore wrote, “Opposing unethical means of research does not mean that people must shun medical treatments that are discovered through these means.”

Romans 14:23 says, “But whoever doubts stands condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith, and everything that is not from faith is sin.”

In his column, Moore provided a series of analogies to explain why he believes a person need not reject a therapy derived through an unethical method.

“Torture is wrong, no matter how many lives are saved by the information yielded from such torture,” he wrote. “We should work to end it. That does not mean, though, that a security guard who receives a call that his building is about to be attacked by terrorists needs to investigate whether that information came from torture before he evacuates the building.”

Moore said, “We should – as people committed to the dignity and sanctity of human life – continue to work to make sure that unjust means are never used, even for good purposes. That does not mean, though, that whenever knowledge is found by such means that we should pretend that we do not know it or that we should refuse to safeguard future lives with such knowledge.”

He said Christians “should always work to prevent authorization or funding of embryonic research derived from abortions.”

The ERLC has worked for decades with other pro-life organizations to eliminate government support of such destructive research.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine uses in its development and production the PER.C6 cell line, according to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, a pro-life research organization. That line was developed from retinal cells in an 18-week-old child aborted in 1985.

Pfizer and Moderna use in some of their testing the HEK293T cell line, which was procured from fetal tissue in the early 1970s in the Netherlands.

These cell lines are described as “immortalized” because they continue to grow and multiply. These cells, which are cloned, no longer contain fetal tissue.

David Prentice, vice president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, has compiled an analysis of all COVID-19 vaccine candidates regarding their connection to cell lines derived from aborted babies. His analysis may be read at

BP News Wednesday, March 3, 2021 - 5:30pm

‘Ground-Breaking’ child safety standards offered for public review by Evangelical Council for Abuse Prevention

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP) – The Evangelical Council for Abuse Prevention (ECAP) has released “ground-breaking” standards for child safety and opened them for public review Monday (March 1). The standards are offered to assist ministries of all kinds as they work to protect children in their care.

The ECAP standards were developed by a team of experts and ministry practitioners, reviewed by a team of attorneys and approved for public review by the ECAP board of directors. A full list of persons who helped develop the standards is available on the ECAP website. ECAP seeks to bring support, resources and sustainability to the realm of child safety, especially within the evangelical world, which has witnessed abuse within its ranks and the surrounding culture.

“Our aim is to honor the name of Christ by equipping and educating ministry leaders to protect the vulnerable in their care,” said Jeff Dalrymple, executive director of ECAP. “This is a matter of biblical stewardship, and we want to see Christian schools, churches and ministries become safe places for our little ones to hear the Gospel, grow as disciples of Christ and be protected from harm.”

The ECAP standards address issues of organizational governance, volunteer and employee screening and training, how to respond to a variety of circumstances and more, with numerous suggestions for best practices. ECAP has made these standards available for public review from March 1-April 30, seeking feedback that is either specific or general, as well feedback that identifies areas that need clarification or are missing information.

Read the full press release here.

Review the standards here.

Windermere closes for March, April as camp looks to future

ROACH, Mo. (BP) – Straightway Holdings Inc., a subsidiary of the Missouri Baptist Foundation (MBF) and owner of the Windermere Baptist Conference Center since 2019, announced Monday (March 1) that Windermere will be closed during March and April as it looks to the campground’s future – a future that may include the eventual sale of the property.

The announcement came after Straightway Holdings received notice from the lessee/camp operator, Arukah Cove, Inc. (ACI), that it would cease operations at the campground as of Feb. 28.

In a written statement, the ACI board said, “Due to the financial hardships caused by COVID-19 during 2020, and continued uncertainty concerning future operations due to COVID-19 in 2021, along with the unpredictability regarding future government restrictions, ACI regretfully informs SHI it has exhausted all options, declared itself financially insolvent, and is ceasing operations effective February 28, 2021.”

Neil Franks, president of Straightway Holdings, said, “ACI started their ministry and were hit with COVID-19 within 60 days of starting. No one could have predicted the length or impact of COVID-19 on the restaurant, lodging and camping industries. After 12 months into the pandemic, there is still no clear end in sight. We are grateful to the staff and the board of ACI who worked tirelessly to keep ministry running during this unprecedented time. We grieve with the ACI staff and board in this unfortunate end.”

Straightway Holdings Inc. assumed operations of Windermere March 1.

The camp will be closed for the months of March and April to make dining hall repairs from a fire in December and an ice storm in February. Plans are now underway to determine what limited camp and retreat offerings will be open for this summer. More information will be published on the campground’s new website in the next few weeks (

Read the full story here.

BP News Wednesday, March 3, 2021 - 4:05pm

ZAMFARA, Nigeria (BP) – A surge in school kidnappings in northwestern Nigeria is blamed loosely on bandits rather than clearly defined Islamic terrorist groups, according to news reports, but puts Christians at greater risk of harm than Muslims.

At least one Christian student was killed in a recent spate of kidnappings blamed on bandits, Morning Star News reported. Morning Star identified Benjamin Habila, whom bandits shot dead as he tried to escape, as one of at least eight Christians among 43 people abducted Feb. 17 from the Government Science College in Rafi county, Niger state.

“A Christian student, Benjamin Habila, was shot dead by the bandits as he tried to escape from them, while seven other Christian students and staffs were captured alongside other non-Christian students, staff and their family members,” Morning Star quoted resident Justina Aliyu Feb. 22. “They were taken away at gunpoint into forests.” The remaining 42 captives were released Feb. 27.

Bandits, some of whom falsely claimed in videos to be members of Boko Haram, are blamed for at least four kidnappings in Kamfara, Katsina and Niger states – predominantly Muslim areas – since late December 2020. About 600 students and others have been released in these kidnappings. Most recently, unidentified abductors released 279 schoolgirls Tuesday (Mar. 2), who were kidnapped Feb. 26 from their boarding school in Jangebe, Zamfara state, BBC News reported.

“Most of us got injured,” BBC quoted one of the schoolgirls, who were forced to walk on foot into forestland after the nighttime kidnapping. Such kidnappings are becoming common by bandits who seek ransoms, according to many news reports.

“Kidnapping for ransom is a widespread criminal enterprise across the country – people are seized by gunmen on almost a daily basis – with both the rich and the poor falling victims,” BBC said in an analysis. “Security personnel have been held too. People often speak of how they have managed to secure someone’s release by raising funds from friends and relatives – or even selling their assets.”

After the kidnapping of nearly 350 schoolboys Dec. 11 from the Government Science Secondary School in Katsina, International Christian Concern said such kidnappings put Christians at greater risk of harm. Local government officials negotiated with the bandits for the schoolboys, who were released Dec. 17.

“It is also unclear if any of the children taken were Christians. If any of them are, it is likely that they will be treated differently than those who are already Muslims,” ICC said in a press release. ICC referenced the 2018 kidnapping of 110 schoolgirls in Dapchi, when all were released except the lone Christian student Leah Sharibu, who is still being held captive nearly three years later because she refused to convert to Islam. The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), a splinter of Boko Haram, kidnapped the Dapchi girls.

Boko Haram and ISWAP are more active in northeast Nigeria than northwest, where the latest kidnappings have occurred.

Among the most publicized kidnappings, Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 girls from a secondary school in the mostly Christian community of Chibok. Many were released, but more than 100 are still missing.