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 Monday, July 13, 2020 - 5:15pm
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP) -- Parents of a teenage girl who was sexually abused by a former part-time employee of Bellevue Baptist Church are suing the church. The suit alleges negligence in allowing James Hook "complete discretion and freedom to have personal and private encounters with volunteers and minors."

Hook, who was employed on Sunday mornings as the church's preschool wing coordinator from January 2017-March 2019, pleaded guilty in January to sexual assault by an authority figure. He had been arrested in May 2019 after police found him and the girl, 16, underneath a blanket in the back of his car in a local park. He was sentenced to six months in jail and 4 ½ years probation.

The teenager's parents allege "Hook groomed Janet Doe and fomented his incredibly inappropriate relationship with her at Bellevue Baptist Church," and also allege some of the "extended horrific acts of sexual abuse" took place on the Bellevue campus.

Bellevue, which has denied all of the allegations and filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, confirmed in a statement to Baptist Press that Hook resigned his position at the church two months before the arrest. "Moreover, during his tenure, no allegations of illegal conduct were brought to our attention," the church said in the statement, which was released Monday (July 13).

The church said it has conducted mandatory annual training for childcare employees since 2007, and conducts multiple strategic trainings throughout the year for all childcare employees. Bellevue volunteers also attend annual child abuse prevention training.

"It pains us greatly that anyone anywhere is the victim of abuse," the church said in a statement. "it is our desire to put an end to abuse and to care for the victims in any manner they need. We are greatly concerned by the abuse that occurs in churches throughout the world and are working here at home to provide education/training and to ensure all immoral and/or illegal behavior is brought forward."

In the statement, the church also acknowledged, "training and procedures alone are not enough to deal with this issue. We endeavor to support the victims first and encourage people with any knowledge of abuse to come forward. … We desire to build a culture that deals with abuse directly and honestly."

The victim's parents base their lawsuit on actions they say occurred before Hook's arrest. Hook has not been charged for any other alleged actions.

Filing as John and Jane Doe on behalf of their daughter, who is referred to as Janet Doe, the parents accuse Bellevue of improperly putting Hook in a position that allowed contact with minors, of ignoring a warning by the parents about Hook, of not having policies in place to prevent Hook from being alone with minors on church property, and not training staff to recognize and report suspicious behavior.

In a court response June 3, Bellevue denied all of the allegations. The church filed a motion to dismiss June 5.

Hook had a previous relationship with the Does. In 2011, he was involved in an extramarital affair with Jane Doe. The complaint alleges that both couples participated in counseling with a Bellevue staff member.

John and Jane Doe both joined Bellevue in 2017, where Hook was already a member. The Does filed for divorce in 2018, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that John Doe warned Bellevue staff that Hook should not be trusted around children, and that he specifically didn't want his children around Hook.

In the fall of 2018, Hook initiated what he described to law enforcement as a "father-daughter relationship" with Janet Doe, who was then 15. He gave her a ring to wear until she wed and began initiating intimate contact that both the victim and Hook told police never progressed to intercourse.

The plaintiffs allege that while employed by Bellevue, Hook began "grooming" Janet Doe to have a relationship with him, showering her with gifts, and placing himself in close proximity to her while she volunteered in children's classes on Sundays and Wednesdays.

The lawsuit further alleges "Bellevue Baptist Church allowed James Hook unsupervised and unrestricted access to the volunteers and specifically Janet Doe," and that "Bellevue Baptist Church further allowed Hook to leave the church with Janet Doe."

In its response to the lawsuit, Bellevue denied knowledge of Hook's alleged behavior.

"Bellevue cannot be liable for Mr. Hook's independent, unauthorized criminal behavior," the church said in its response, adding: "It is simply not enough to allege that childhood sexual abuse was a reasonably foreseeable risk based on ambiguous, vague allegations."

In a statement released Friday (July 10), Bellevue said it would provide additional information to the church family as the case advances.

"The wellbeing of our church family is of the utmost importance to us," Bellevue said in the initial statement. "We pray for and will continue to support anyone who has been a victim of abuse."

In its subsequent statement to Baptist Press, the church said: "We are praying for all involved in the pending lawsuit and the family affected by this situation."

The plaintiffs are seeking an unspecified amount of monetary damages, according to court documents.

Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention 2019 Annual Meeting addressed the issue of sex abuse, approving two constitutional amendments and bylaw changes, establishing sex abuse as grounds to disfellowship a church from the convention, and repurposing the SBC Credentials Committee to make inquiries and recommendations for possible disfellowship of churches if sex abuse is mishandled.

The constitutional amendments require a second vote of messengers to become effective, but the vote has been delayed until 2021 due to the cancellation of the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting.

Following a church investigation in 2007 related to assistant pastor Paul Williams' abuse of his adolescent son 17 years earlier, an internal investigative committee concluded the church was "ill-prepared on several fronts for handling the Paul Williams matter," and that the church's procedures and protocols "were and are inadequate."

The committee recommended a complete review and overhaul of the church's policies and procedures and additional staff training, and provided counseling for those who felt harmed by Williams' behavior.

Steve Gaines, who served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 2016-2018, has been Bellevue's senior pastor since 2005. Read more...

BP News Monday, July 13, 2020 - 4:08pm
WASHINGTON (BP) -- Churches should partner with government officials to fight the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) while receiving First Amendment protections as they cooperate, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said in a new statement.

The ERLC issued a document July 10 that provides guidance to church and civic leaders regarding the effort to protect public health, particularly through the process known as contact tracing. In the procedure, trained workers contact people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 so those potentially infected individuals can isolate from others and thereby prevent the spread of the virus.

The ERLC's "Statement of Principles of Church-Civic Partnership on Contact Tracing" was released as COVID-19 cases are increasing in many states after periods of decline. As of Monday (July 13), 135,400 deaths from COVID-19 and more than 3.33 million confirmed cases have been reported in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Most churches and other religious bodies have returned to in-person, corporate worship after abiding by government restrictions that prevented such gatherings during the first several weeks of the pandemic. The return to in-person meetings offers the potential for exposure to people with the virus even when churches implement such measures as social distancing and the wearing of masks.

"Contact tracing could be the next tension point between church leaders and civic leaders, but it doesn't have to be so," said Brent Leatherwood, a statement co-author and ERLC chief of staff. "We thought it was important to provide a framework for leaders in both spheres to consider how it could be done in a way that respects the roles and duties that church and state play in serving their communities during this crisis."

Travis Wussow, a co-author and ERLC vice president for public policy, said, "We have consistently called for pastors and governors, church leaders and civic leaders, to view themselves as co-equal partners in confronting this pandemic. This statement of principles lays out a pathway that adheres to the First Amendment, encourages churches to play a helpful role in contact tracing and demonstrates that meeting this moment is a shared responsibility between church and state."

The ERLC delivered the statement July 10 to the chief of staff for each state governor and to every Baptist state convention executive.

Acting as partners with government to fight the virus is a means for churches to follow the biblical directives to pursue the welfare of their cities and to practice love for neighbors, according to the ERLC statement. Church and civic leaders have "unique, complementary roles" in combating COVID-19, and pastors should initiate relationships with local officials to foster communication and the sharing of information, the ERLC said.

In the statement, Leatherwood and Wussow included these recommendations for consideration as churches and municipal governments seek to work together:

-- Civic leaders should see churches as "essential institutions and helpful partners." They should provide recommendations based on the most recent medical information, "not as directives that could run afoul of First Amendment freedoms or that could create the impression that the church is an extension of or subordinate to the state."

-- Government officials should respect religious liberty and the freedom to associate and assemble at all times. They "should not create personal records that individually identify the church or religious affiliation of individuals."

-- Open communication between churches and civil government is vital. Authorities should seek to communicate with church leaders if contact tracing shows virus transmission took place during a worship gathering. Public health officials need to act in a manner that respects the religious freedom of worshipers.

-- Churches should fulfill their responsibility in halting the expansion of COVID-19 by following public health guidelines for church meetings. They also should institute effective communication practices in case of possible exposure during church meetings.

-- Civic leaders should treat worship gatherings equitably with other meetings of "similar size and activity." Contact tracing that gives exceptions to some businesses or activities but not churches would be an example "of treating houses of worship unequally from other similarly-situated entities."

-- Government authorities should be careful in releasing information about exposure to the virus, protecting the religious liberty and health information privacy rights of everyone in the process.

The document is the latest in a series of ERLC efforts to help churches continue to minister during the pandemic while guarding their religious freedom.

The statement is available at Leatherwood and Wussow will discuss the statement on the next Capitol Conversations podcast, which will be posted at

BP News Monday, July 13, 2020 - 3:12pm
SBTS adds three online doctoral concentrations
By Forrest Strickland

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- Beginning January 2021, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary will add three fully online concentrations to its Doctor of Ministry and Doctor of Educational Ministry programs. These online concentrations are some of the first of their kind, as the Association of Theological Schools, the academic body that oversees the Seminary's accreditation, published its standards for online D.Min. and D.Ed.Min. programs only in the last few months.

Matthew J. Hall, provost and senior vice president for academic administration, noted the seminary's legacy of innovation in educational delivery while maintaining a rigorous curriculum for the spiritual growth of Christian leaders.

"Southern Seminary has long been among the leaders of pioneering new doctoral programs in theological education," Hall said, "and the expanded accessibility of our Doctor of Ministry program is yet another instance of this stewardship. I am so grateful that more pastors, ministers, and leaders will have access to this level of training with this extraordinary faculty. Southern Seminary's commitment to the quality of these programs has always been evident. Now they are more accessible than ever, both in cost and delivery."

Read the full report here.

Click here for more information.


Southeastern partners with Fruitland to offer degree in pastoral ministry
By SEBTS Staff

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) -- Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Fruitland Baptist Bible College are partnering in an effort to more effectively train the next generation of leaders.

Beginning in the fall of 2020, Fruitland, a college in Hendersonville, N.C., affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, graduates can also earn 46 hours toward a Bachelor of Arts in pastoral ministry from The College at Southeastern. Nearly half of western North Carolina's pastors have graduated with an associate's from Fruitland. making this partnership invaluable by providing more extensive theological training to those called to pastoral ministry.

"Southeastern Seminary has enjoyed a long and blessed relationship with Fruitland Bible Institute," SEBTS President Danny Akin said. "Almost all of their administration are graduates of SEBTS, as are a number of faculty. Further, we share common commitments to the inerrancy of the Bible, expository preaching, personal evangelism and the Great Commission. We each love our Baptist heritage and are excited about what God is doing now and will do in the future. This partnership is the natural outcome of all these common commitments and convictions. Great days, I believe, are ahead of us."

Read the full report here.

Apply for the program here.

BP News Monday, July 13, 2020 - 2:07pm
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- My mother tells a funny story. Her dad was going blind, so every morning she or her sister would stop by and read the Bible to him.

One particular day, Mom was in a hurry and on a tight schedule. She rushed in with no time to spare, out of breath and talking fast. "So, Daddy, which chapter do you want me to read today?"

In his slow southern drawl, Granddaddy said: "Well, how about Psalm 119?"

We've laughed about that story and my grandfather's sense of humor when his daughter had places to go and people to see.

The truth is, we often live life that way -- in a rush, not making room for the Word of God, much less the longest chapter in the Bible.

We live forgetful of its priority, reluctant to take the time when we've got so much else to do. We miss its strategic importance and find that we need that long prayerful read in the Word more than ever.

To be honest, when I was younger I found it odd that the psalmist in Psalm 119 waxed eloquent about laws. And ordinances. And statutes. I went back and checked to be sure. Indeed, there they were -- laws, ordinances and statutes.

But it wasn't odd once I began following the psalmist's example. He asks. He Pleads. He pursues and seeks after God, spending time in prayer and meditation on His Word.

The more I truly seek God -- in prayer, asking the hard questions, listening, reading and dwelling on His Word -- the more I desire Him. The more I hunger and thirst for His truth.

Over the years since that journey began, I've followed the thread of His purpose and plan. It's woven throughout the law and prophets and poetry and leads to the power of the Gospel and the beginnings of the Church.

It culminates in the future vision of that glorious Day, when those from every nation, tribe, people and language will gather around the throne, knowing and worshiping our Lord Jesus Christ. I understand why the psalmist waxes eloquent.

Travel through the stanzas of Psalm 119. Listen and learn. The psalmist proclaims His Word is better than gold or silver and sweeter than honey. It is perfection without limit, a vast treasure.

His truth helps us see as a lamp to our feet, a light on the path, full of insight and wisdom. His Word gives life and hope, comfort and joy. It is our delight, our counselor.

The psalmist declares that the entirety of His Word is truth. It is altogether trustworthy and righteous forever.

So when you find yourself in a hurry, rushing past what is true and needed, Stop. Take the time for a slow, meditative walk through Psalm 119. Ask Him to make you hungry for His Word. For Himself. He will do it.

BP News Monday, July 13, 2020 - 2:02pm
NEW YORK (AP) -- Crowded bars and house parties have been identified as culprits in spreading the coronavirus. Meat packing plants, prisons and nursing homes are known hot spots. Then there's the complicated case of America's churches.

The vast majority of these churches have cooperated with health authorities and successfully protected their congregations. Yet from the earliest phases of the pandemic, and continuing to this day, some worship services and other religious activities have been identified as sources of local outbreaks.

They are by no means at the top of the list of problematic activities across the U.S., but they have posed challenges for government leaders and public health officials whose guidelines and orders are sometimes challenged as encroachments on religious liberty.

"If we wanted to have zero risks, the safest thing would be to never open our doors," said Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. "The question is how can you balance risk with the very real need to worship."

In the past two weeks alone, there have been two notable church-government confrontations in California.

San Francisco's city attorney sent a cease-and-desist order in late June to the Roman Catholic archdiocese, alleging that some of its churches had violated a local ban on large indoor gatherings. The archdiocese promised to comply.

A few days later, state officials temporarily banned "indoor singing and chanting activities" at all places of worship, prompting some pastors to defy the rule.

Pastor Samuel Rodriguez said worshipers at his Sacramento megachurch, New Season Church, joined in singing hymns on July 5, even as most of them wore face masks and obeyed social-distancing guidelines.

"To forbid singing in a church is morally reprehensible," Rodriguez said. "That is how we petition heaven."

The extent to which religious gatherings have contributed to the pandemic's toll may never be known with any precision. But there's no question they have played a role throughout, internationally as well as in the United States, even as myriad houses of worship halted in-person services for safety reasons.

Of the first wave of cases in South Korea in February, several thousand were members of the secretive Shincheonji Church of Jesus. Hundreds of other cases were linked to a Muslim missionary movement event in late February in Malaysia that was attended by about 16,000 people from numerous East Asian countries.

In the second week of March, before warnings and lockdown orders proliferated in the U.S., 35 of the 92 people who attended events at a rural Arkansas church developed COVID-19, and three of them died, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report issued in May.

More recently, in mid-June, a small-town church in northeastern Oregon became the epicenter of the state's largest coronavirus outbreak when 236 people linked to the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church tested positive.

According to the Observer newspaper in nearby La Grande, the church in Island City had held religious services, a wedding and a graduation ceremony in the weeks preceding the outbreak, sometimes with more than 100 people in attendance in defiance of state restrictions on gatherings.

Union County, with a population of 25,000, had recorded fewer than 25 cases during the pandemic prior to the church outbreak. Within two weeks, it had Oregon's highest per capita rate of coronavirus infections.

Also in June, West Virginia's health department announced outbreaks linked to five churches in different parts of the state. The biggest was at Graystone Baptist Church, an independent Baptist church in Lewisburg, with 51 cases, including three deaths.

In several cases, churches that resumed in-person services opted to close again after outbreaks. Among them:

-- A church and an administrative office affiliated with the Church of God in Cleveland, Tenn., which is the home base for the Pentecostal denomination. No official case count has been released, but a senior leader of the denomination, General Overseer Tim Hill, confirmed that the number of verified cases is growing, and that several church leaders were among those seriously ill. One pastor, Ernie Varner of Lenoir City, Tenn., died Friday, six days after posting on Facebook, "I'm in the ICU with COVID. Please pray for me."

-- Calvary Chapel, an evangelical church in Universal City, Texas. It reopened in early May only to close anew in late June after dozens of staff and churchgoers tested positive, including Pastor Ron Arbaugh and his wife. Arbaugh says he regrets telling worshipers last month they could resume the tradition of hugging each other during an interlude of mid-service socializing.

— Holy Family Catholic Church in Las Vegas. The diocese announced Thursday that the church would be closed indefinitely after a priest who celebrated Mass this week tested positive.

— First Baptist Church of Tillmans Corner in Mobile, Ala. It resumed in-person services May 17 after the governor gave a statewide green light, but recently canceled them at through least July 31 after more than 20 of the congregation's 1,500 members tested positive. Pastor Derek Allen wrote an article describing the outbreak as a "harrowing and demoralizing journey," and offering advice to other pastors: "Assume every sniffle is COVID-19, and act quickly. We've learned that the tests take too long, and false positives are possible along with false negatives."

First Baptist Dallas was in the spotlight June 28 when it hosted Vice President Mike Pence at its annual Freedom Sunday celebrations. Most of the 2,400 attendees wore face masks, but some criticism surfaced after the choir sang without masks.

Jeffress, the church's pastor and a prominent evangelical conservative with close ties to President Donald Trump, said the choir and orchestra had been tested for COVID-19 beforehand. The church said a few who tested positive did not take part in the event.

Jeffress bristled at the idea that choirs should be temporarily banned.

"Choirs will always be a part of worship for us," he said. "We think it's possible to still have them but do it in a safe way."

A few days after the Freedom Sunday event, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order requiring people wear face masks in most public settings — with several exceptions, including participants in religious services.

BP News Friday, July 10, 2020 - 4:43pm
WASHINGTON (BP) -- Christians fleeing religious persecution abroad are increasingly denied access to safety in the U.S., according to a new report urging the Trump administration to reverse the trend.

The U.S. is on track to accept 90 percent fewer Christian refugees in 2020 than five years earlier from countries where Christians are most persecuted, and is considering changes to eligibility requirements for asylum seekers that would drastically reduce their entry here, Open Doors USA and World Relief said in its joint report released today (July 10).

"Since the Refugee Act of 1980, more than 3 million refugees have come to the United States," World Relief CEO Tim Breene said in a webinar releasing the report. "But in recent years the U.S. government has dramatically reduced its commitment to refugee resettlement."

Open Doors CEO David Curry, describing Open Doors as a non-political group, said the Trump administration's protection of religious freedoms should also extend to refugees.

"I have no problem applauding the way this State Department has addressed religious liberty," Curry said in response to a question from the press. "This is a shortcoming. The secretary of state and others within the State Department need to recognize now, three years into this administration, that they have fallen down on this issue.

"This is an opportunity for them to really, I think, speak to ... people of faith around the world whose lives are in danger, who have been unsettled from their homes, targeted by governments, targeted by extremist groups," Curry said. "This is an opportunity for them and they need to step up."

The report, "Closed Doors: Persecuted Christians and the U.S. Refugee Resettlement and Asylum Processes," relies on data from several sources including the U.S. State Department's Refugee Processing Center and focuses on refugees from the 50 countries on the Open Doors 2020 World Watch List of Christian persecution.

The U.S. has lowered the cap on the number of refugees, of all faiths, who can be accepted here. Under the 1980 Refugee Act, the president has the right to determine the cap, which averaged 95,000 annually from 1980–2016, but now stands at 18,000, the report said.

Midway through the 2020 calendar year, the U.S. has accepted fewer than 950 Christians from the 50 World Watch List countries, and if the current rate continues, 1,900 Christians would be granted refugee resettlement here. In 2015, the U.S. accepted 18,000 Christian refugees, the report stated.

Refugees are defined as those who have left their country of origin, have a credible fear of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion, national origin or membership in a particular social group, and are unable to secure protection from their local governments. Asylum seekers are those who profess to meet the definition of a refugee, but whose claims have not been verified by governmental authority.

While nearly 39,000 asylum seekers were accepted into the U.S. in 2018, either by the Department of Homeland Security or by an immigration judge, changes in U.S. law have made it increasingly difficult for asylum seekers to gain access to due process. The report cites the Migrant Protection Protocols that require asylum seekers from Mexico to remain in dangerous conditions there, awaiting their asylum hearings. In 2020, 18 of the top 30 countries of nationality for those granted asylum by an immigration judge were on the 2020 World Watch List.

Open Doors will follow up its report by meeting with the U.S. State Department, will ask International Ambassador for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback to include Open Doors in a July 14 roundtable, and will send the report to pertinent Senate and House committees.

Open Doors and World Relief are asking the U.S. government to constantly prioritize the advancement of international religious freedom, to leverage diplomatic pressure in urging all countries to reduce religious persecution, to restore the U.S. Refugee Resettlement program to at least a historically normal ceiling such as 95,000, to ensure that those persecuted for their faith continue to have access to the resettlement program alongside those persecuted for other reasons, and to reject changes in asylum processing.

Open Doors and World Relief also encouraged U.S. Christians to pray for persecuted Christians throughout the world, and for displaced people of all faiths.

The report is available here.

BP News Friday, July 10, 2020 - 4:36pm
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Leaders of 12 Christian organizations on Friday urged the Trump administration to rescind a policy requiring international students to leave the U.S. or transfer if their colleges hold classes entirely online this fall, saying it "falls short of American ideals."

In a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, shared with The Associated Press, the leaders wrote that the policy "robs our country of the significant contribution" international students make to their colleges on both a personal and economic level. It "lacks compassion" and "violates tenets of our faith," the letter continued, citing specific Biblical passages.

"International students who have already arrived in the United States and who are enrolled in degree programs should be allowed to complete their courses of study in this country without further disruption," the leaders said. "This is reasonable, compassionate, and consistent with our national interests."

Among the signatories are National Association of Evangelicals president Walter Kim; Council for Christian Colleges & Universities president Shirley Hoogstra; and Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that the more than 1 million international students in the country would not be allowed to take all their classes online this fall. The agency notified colleges that no new visas would be issued to foreign students at schools operating entirely online that term, and those already in the United States would be required to transfer or leave the country.

Foreign students will be barred from taking all their classes online even if an outbreak prompts their schools to shift classes online, according to the policy.

The decision has drawn backlash from universities and education groups who say the rules needlessly put students' safety at risk. Many colleges have come to rely on revenue from foreign students, who are typically charged higher tuition rates.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have sued to block the policy, and California became the first state to seek an injunction against it.

Kim and Moore previously signed onto a letter in April that asked the Trump administration to consider releasing low-safety-risk immigration detainees, particularly those with a higher risk for the coronavirus, to facilitate social distancing during the pandemic. They, along with several others joining Friday's letter, are part of the Evangelical Immigration Table, a group of Christian leaders advocating for immigration reform.

Other signatories of Friday's letter include the president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a campus ministry; the executive director of the international student ministry at Cru, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ; and the president of World Relief, a Christian humanitarian group.

BP News Friday, July 10, 2020 - 3:27pm
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- Joseph Melton Ragan III, an International Mission Board missionary who shared the Gospel among European Affinity peoples, died July 4, 2020. He was 57.

Ragan's love for Jesus and the desire to make Him known prompted him to leave Texas and move to Ukraine on February 21, 1994. He spent three years ministering mostly in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine; living off his savings, support from his home church and friends, before he was appointed with the IMB. In his blog Ragan said, "It was a journey that took almost 1 ½ years for me to get to the point of moving to Lugansk, but once I arrived, it didn't take me long to know this is where God wanted me. I absolutely love living in this part of the world."

"Joe Ragan stands in a long line of IMB missionaries, numbering in the tens of thousands, who have served faithfully as the voice of Southern Baptists proclaiming the good news to the nations," IMB President Paul Chitwood said.

"His commitment to missions was undaunted by war or even his own personal battle with cancer. While he now enjoys the free gift of everlasting life and the eternal rewards of his gospel labors, we celebrate the many souls who, due in part to his witness, will join him among that vast multitude standing before the throne and before the Lamb. Might God call out many more Southern Baptist missionaries like him!"

Ragan was born in Wichita Falls, Texas. He was reared in Jacksboro and Lone Star and graduated from Daingerfield High School in 1980. His university studies were at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls. From 1998 to 2001 Ragan studied at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in preparation for long-term service with the IMB.

In a post, Ragan said, "I have lived in three countries outside of the US ... It's amazing to think a guy from Lone Star, Texas, has been this blessed to live this life!"

Ragan began IMB service in June 2003. Upon arrival in Kyiv, Ukraine, his full-time study of the Russian language provided him the foundation to not only make friends but share the Gospel and train others to do the same. As a church planter, Ragan served as part of the Kyiv 25 Team seeking to launch 25 new churches in the city. This experience served him well when he moved to Central Asia with hopes to replicate the same effort. Ever a church planter, after a few years Ragan responded to the need to strengthen the team in yet another location.

"No one loved Ukrainians more than Joe," said Mick Stockwell, a long-time friend of Ragan's. "He literally gave his life for the Lord and his ministry. Joe provided the first missionaries for Globalization in the European affinity. He recruited and sent college/seminary students from Ukraine on short-term mission trips to Kazakhstan starting around 2003. He also recruited a Ukrainian family to go to there in a partnership with Mississippi Baptists."

In 2010, Ragan returned home -- Ukraine. Ministering in local churches through the use of volunteer teams and outreach camps came to end in Donetsk for Ragan when conflict between Separatists and Ukraine escalated into war. After much prayer, discussion and finally reluctance, Ragan went to Kyiv. He posted, "My world changed on April 14, 2014. I left my apartment early in the morning, just after daylight. I was headed northwest to Dnipropetrovsk and was sure that I would be gone for maybe a couple of weeks when things would settle down."

But the move opened up a new love for him. Dnipro (Dnipropetrovsk), Ukraine, became Ragan's base for leading the Eastern Ukraine team for IMB and allowed him to build on years of church planter training and medical missions.

"Joe was my colleague, team leader, friend and brother," said Linda Gray, Joe's teammate in Ukraine. "I never tired of watching Joe in action because he never met a stranger. If at all possible, whether in ministry, at a cafe or restaurant, or anywhere there were people, his first words were always 'What's your name,' and then he would engage in a conversation of few or many words, however the Spirit led. There will never be a place I may work or travel to in Eastern Ukraine that I will not picture Joe alongside me."

His current term of service was interrupted when Ragan returned to the U.S. for surgery in November 2016. The surgeon removed a cancerous tumor from his pancreas, and after months of chemotherapy and radiation, God allowed Ragan to return to Ukraine in September 2017.

Upon the discovery of new cancer, Ragan left Ukraine in March 2020. His desire was to return and continue serving. When it was apparent his return would not be possible, he expressed a desire for medical teams to continue serving in Ukraine. He belived it was one of the best tools for gathering people to receive both physical and spiritual care.

"When I consider what changes have been made in my life due to living abroad, I realize how blessed I am," Ragan said. "God uprooted a boy from a small town and moved me across the Atlantic Ocean to a country named Ukraine."

Funeral services were held July 9 at Faith Baptist Church in Wichita Falls, Texas.


BP News Friday, July 10, 2020 - 2:46pm
MIAMI (BP) -- In the middle of one of the highest COVID-19 surges worldwide, pastors serving Florida's hard-hit Hispanic community are suffering illnesses among their respective congregations while continuing their ministry.

Emanuel Roque, Hispanic church catalyst with the Florida Baptist Convention (FBC), said in several Hispanic churches, pastors and some members have tested positive and are recovering. Included is El-Faro Baptist Church (Lighthouse Baptist Church) in Marathon, where many members were among a group of more than 20 who contracted the illness while attending a non-church related camp in Tennessee in June.

On July 2 Tony Salmeron, who pastored Iglesia Bautista Central (Central Baptist Church) in Ocala, died of complications from the coronavirus. He was 60. In April, Pastor Moises Abella Diaz of Iglesia Bautista Rescate (Rescue) in the Miami suburb of Hialeah also died of the virus, the FBC reported.

"All pastors that I know have been very careful with their churches to follow protocol for reopening and ministering," Roque said. "But because they are frontline spiritual workers and ministers relating to many people, some have been somehow infected in contact with others who may have been asymptomatic.

"Their pastoral calling to serve and help those in need in Jesus' name has been shown as they have been among COVID-19 with care and concern, but with the real world dangers just like Jesus did when He came to a pain-filled and hurting planet. Yet love prevailed and still does."

The New York Times on Wednesday (July 8) ranked Florida second to only Arizona in new cases worldwide in the past week, with nearly 3,000 new infections per million residents.

In its Thursday (July 9) COVID-19 update, the Florida Department of Health reported that Hispanics account for 22,881 of the current 55,352 cases of the virus in Miami-Dade County. Statewide, Hispanics account for 62,159 cases of COVID-19 among 229,367 cases.

Julio Arriola, executive director of Hispanic relations and mobilization with the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, said COVID-19 has "created a sense of urgency in the hearts of many believers to share the Good News of Jesus to many."

"It reminds me," Arriola said, "of the scene of that movie where the young Christian soldier keeps going back to the heat of the battle to rescue wounded soldiers as he prays, 'Lord, help me get one more.' We need to remember we are in a spiritual battle. We need to pray for the Lord to help us get one more person to rescue with the Gospel of Jesus."

He expressed grief for the loss of Diaz and Salmeron, who he said "literally gave their lives in the battle field to save others."

Pastoring has become more difficult as the pandemic surges in the state.

"Just talking to pastors, in their world day to day, they are confronting more and more issues that are COVID-related, with members being sick, with people around them in their communities having COVID," Roque said. "Beyond just the theme of reopening and doing it in a correct way ... they are having to quickly, daily navigate how to minister to the church and community. COVID, yes it's been real for three months, but it's that much stronger and in their face every day."

In Hialeah, Iglesia Bautista Northside (Northside Baptist Church) has four positive cases, including an associate pastor, his wife, their daughter, and another member. Senior pastor Alberto Ocana and his wife were awaiting test results Wednesday (July 8), according to Carlos Finale, Northside's English pastor.

The church is considering returning to online-only worship.

"The last week, it's started to hit home a little bit closer," Finale said. ""So we're a little worried. We're obviously abiding by CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines. ... Our main message so far to the church has been, 'We're still doing everything to protect ourselves and the community, and we're hoping that it doesn't spread even further in our church."

The church moved to online worship early in the pandemic, but followed governmental timelines in resuming onsite worship, Finale said. It's been difficult for Northside, which averaged about 550 worshipers in three Sunday services before the pandemic, to decide the best way to continue meeting the congregation's needs.

"We had some individuals that were excited to return, probably, that really wanted to return to that congregational, family atmosphere that the church offers," Finale said. "But you also had a dynamic, that separate group of individuals that were fearful, that if we were going to meet, and that there are some people who are asymptomatic, then ... it's difficult. I would say it's been a juggling act of the church trying to figure out that middle ground."

Arriola surmised that churches would persevere in ministry during the pandemic.

"Our churches may or may not go back to online services, but we will not retreat," he said. "The church has always thrived in the middle of trials and tribulations. We are grateful for leaders like Emanuel Roque that are constantly encouraging and preparing pastors to face situations like this to harvest souls for the glory of God."

The FBC has encouraged Hispanic congregations during the pandemic, holding ZOOM prayer meetings, providing financial help and pertinent educational resources including webinars with various experts.

The churches continue to minister beyond their doors. Roque said in central Florida, Hispanic churches are conducting a food drive to help communities in need. Statewide, Hispanic pastors are seeking ways to respond to church communities in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua where the virus is also spreading. In Nicaragua alone, Roque said, at least 60 evangelical pastors have died, seven of them Baptist.

"We ask the extended SBC family for prayers for these and all pastors as they stand in the gap to minister in these times," Roque said. "Love, support and bless all pastors as they truly try their best to minister in uncharted conditions."

Roque named several additional Hispanic pastors and church members who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are in various stages of recovery.

-- Ángel Bermudez and his wife Yadira, in the pre-launch stage of planting a church in Daytona Beach.

-- Jorge Lugo, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Sion in Miami Springs, who was hospitalized but is recovering.

-- Eligio Julio Varela, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Rey de Paz in Hialeah.

-- Miguel Aguilar, his wife Dayri and their three children. Aguilar pastors Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Delray Beach in Delray Beach.

-- Reniel Castillo, his wife Janet, their in-laws and 1-year-old son. Castillo is an associate pastor at Iglesia Bautista Getsemaní in Miami.

-- The elder sister of Salvador Negrin, a layperson who serves churches as a mental health counselor, died of the virus.

-- Carlos Miguel Gonzalez, an associate pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana in Coral Park.

At El-Faro Baptist Church in Marathon, Fla., where several members contracted the virus during a camping trip, Pastor Adrian Ramos told Roque he plans to hold worship in an online-only format for the next two weeks. All families who had COVID-19 have fully recovered, said Ramos, who thanked Southern Baptists for their prayers and commended all churches for ministering during the pandemic.

Hispanics comprise 26.4 percent of Florida's population of 21.48 million people, and 69.4 percent of the 2.7 million people in Miami-Dade County, according to U.S. Census 2019 statistics.

BP News Friday, July 10, 2020 - 2:07pm
NOBTS reimagines programs for women, introduces 'Prepare Her' website
By Marilyn Stewart

NEW ORLEANS -- Affirming that women are an asset to the church and influencers in God's Kingdom work, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College have introduced a series of new academic and campus life initiatives to better serve women.

Tara Dew, adjunct professor of ministry to women and wife of NOBTS and Leavell College President Jamie Dew, pointed to NOBTS' long legacy of training women for service. NOBTS women graduates serve on the mission field, in Baptist convention offices, writing and speaking for the Gospel, as ministers' wives and as ministers to women, and in key roles in strategic compassion and evangelistic outreach ministries around the world.

"Women who prepare here are doing amazing things," Dew said. "If you come here, we are going to train you to glorify God with all your mind and equip you to use your gifts in whatever way God has called you."

Under the new name "Prepare Her" and dedicated branding, the multi-faceted initiatives serve students, student wives, women staff and faculty members, and wives of staff and faculty members and provide fellowship and support for every woman in her God-given calling. Dew and the other leaders have produced a video explaining their approach to women's ministry.

Read the full report here.

For more information, visit


LifeWay wins 8 Spanish publishing awards Including 'Book of the Year'
By Aaron Wilson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- LifeWay Christian Resources and its B&H Publishing Español division received eight awards and recognitions from the Spanish Evangelical Publishers Association (SEPA).

Each year, SEPA recognizes the highest quality and excellence in the publication, sale and marketing of Christian literature in Spanish.

In addition to collecting more SEPA awards this year than any other publisher during the online presentation on June 18, LifeWay received the top honor of "Original Book of the Year" for "De Pastores y Predicadores" [From Pastors and Preachers] by Miguel Núñez.

It was the second year in a row LifeWay and B&H Español received this recognition and the third time in the past five years.

"We are grateful to God for receiving these awards and are aware of the responsibility we have as a ministry," said César Custodio, Spanish sales and marketing director. "We live in a world that must know God's truths, and our resources help believers grow in faith and be truthful witnesses of the message of the Gospel. This reaffirms our commitment to creating reliable resources for Christians."

Read the full report here.

BP News Friday, July 10, 2020 - 1:47pm
ORANGE, Calif. (BP) -- For Ricardo Vides, young adults pastor at Ministerios Betesda Church in Orange, Calif., approaching ministry from an ethnically diverse perspective is just reality. A more pressing reality all the time.

According to recent U.S. census data, for the first time ever, the majority of people age 16 and under are non-white, as reported by the Associated Press.

The statistic does not surprise Vides, whose southern California ministry has always included people who have migrated from Latin America. But he said it is critical for ministry leaders across America to recognize the shift in demographics and to make adjustments.

"We have to understand the reality that we live in a country that is so diverse and unique with all the people that come to live in this country from all over the world," Vides said.

Ministerios Betesda is a Hispanic Church, but Vides said he chose to conduct his ministry in English, because most of the people he's trying to reach are bilingual.

The decision was not easy for the church to accept initially, he said. But the church has seen that the children of first-generation immigrants in Vides' ministry are growing up speaking both English and Spanish.

"[Ministry] will have to continue to evolve," Vides said. "[We have] to understand the cultural impact each of these teens are going to be going through with having to live in two distinct cultures -- one from their home country and how their parents have been raised, to the second one where they came to live in and be raised in now."

Richard Ross, professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, says the shift is just beginning.

"The shift in racial balance was expected," Ross said. "What is newsworthy right now is the fact that nonwhites and Hispanics became the majority for the first time. That shift will continue for decades."

Ben Trueblood, director of student ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources, said pastors are going to have to do a better job of understanding the differing perspectives of people in their communities.

"Each person has a story, and in a broader sense, each race has a story," Trueblood said. "Those stories, or histories if you will, impact how people see and interact with the world. We have a tendency to see and understand things through the perspective of our own narrow story, and youth pastors will need to break out of that pattern."

Trueblood said this statistic is already showing up in schools and communities around the U.S., and ministry leaders need to evaluate how they are shifting to represent the areas they are seeking to serve.

"As a white leader in the SBC, my love for people needs to move beyond just saying, 'I love people of color,' but actually into deed and showing that love through personal friendships, ministry partnerships and through personal initiative to research, learn and understand other perspectives," Trueblood said. "For us to see revival among this generation of teenagers, I think the church, broadly, has to adopt a posture of loving in word and deed when it comes to issues of race."

Shane Pruitt, National Next Gen Evangelism Director with the North American Mission Board, agreed. He said the question to be asked in the current environment is no longer, "Why are you a diverse church?" but instead, "Why are you not a diverse church?"

"If we're going to be serious about reaching our diverse communities, diverse schools and a diverse generation, we will naturally become diverse ministry," Pruitt said. "We'll have to be intentional by putting our ministries through hard evaluations. Do our stages represent who we are trying to reach? Do our leadership and volunteer teams look like who we are trying to reach?"

Pruitt said the generation of those 16 and under in U.S. are exposed to brokenness at an earlier age and are looking for a solution. He believes this searching is an opening for an awakening.

"This is an extreme generation," Pruitt said. "Everything they do is extreme, so when they surrender to Jesus, they are doing it with extreme, all-in surrender. I believe we could see a great spiritual awakening in this generation."

Ross noted that hot topic issues for the 16-and-under generation include science and the Bible, gender issues and racial attitudes.

"If teenagers have friends at school who would not be welcome at their church, that can be a deal-breaker," Ross said. "We need strong, biblical preaching and teaching to precipitate a change in adult attitudes. If attitudes in the adult church change, then student ministry can be effective in reaching all students in the community."

Ross said as student pastors adapt their ministries to relate to a more ethnically diverse population, they need to make the right moves for the right reasons – and that will entail listening.

"When the student pastor has the right motives, has the support of the adult church, and community teenagers still won't come -- it may be time for him to listen," Ross explained. "With a humble attitude, [pastors] might need to ask minority teenagers, or their parents, what keeps them away. He also may need to ask a minority youth leader to teach him about dynamics he knows little about."

Even as student ministry evolves to become and remain effective in a new context, Vides said the backbone must remain the Holy Spirit, as revealed through God's Word.

"If this age range is willing to be moved by the Holy Spirit and open their hearts to God like no other age has done in recent times, then I believe there can be a revival," Vides said. "But we need men and women with a true desire and passion to do what is needed to be used by God to initiate this revival."

Biblical unity calls for action, Ross emphasized.

"If our teenagers see their churches creating biblical unity among all God's people," Ross said, "then they can turn their attention to King Jesus and all He may in store for a young generation."

Pruitt said understanding must come before action.

"We have to figure out bridges we can build and what barriers we can remove," Pruitt said. "If we're going to have a future as evangelical churches, it must be a diverse future."

BP News Thursday, July 9, 2020 - 3:50pm
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 Bible Studies For Life curriculum.

Bible Passage: 1 Peter 5:5-11

Discussion Question: When has a destination been well worth the journey?

Food for Thought by Michael Catt:

C. S. Lewis lived through two world wars and understood all too well the grief of that season. Many were suffering greatly across his homeland of Great Britain. Additionally, Lewis mourned the death of his wife Joy, who passed away after an illness during their brief marriage. Yet the sufferings and setbacks that dotted Lewis' life only seemed to fuel his writings.

For example, in one of his greatest accomplishments, "Mere Christianity," Lewis wrote: "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. ... I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death."

Because Christians have been given eternal life in the coming kingdom of God, we have hope. The trials of this life will one day give way to a life of eternal joy and peace.

It's interesting that Peter brought attention to the similar suffering of believers around the world, even as he sought to bolster the resolve of his readers. How could they resist the devil and stand firm? They could fight in the understanding that they're not alone and that fellow believers were experiencing -- and resisting -- the same temptation and suffering.

The same is true for us today. When faced with persecution or trials or difficult days, we need to be reminded that we are not alone; other members of the body of Christ are experiencing even more severe sufferings around the world. Do a quick internet search on the persecuted church, and you will quickly be brought to a sobering realization of what believers in other parts of the world face on a daily basis.

Every month, on average:
-- 345 Christians are killed for faith-related reasons.
-- 105 churches and Christian buildings are burned or attacked.
-- 219 Christians are detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned.

As we become aware of the persecuted church around the world, let's turn that knowledge into prayer. Let's pray for the persecuted church around the world. Don't allow their stories to merely stir our emotions, but let them push us to action through our intercession.

We may not all see the kind of tragedy and pain that Lewis experienced in his life, but different types of suffering will certainly come. If we'll keep our eyes focused on our future hope, we'll glorify God in the here and now.

Bible Studies for Life

Bible Studies for Life connects the Bible to life for adults, students and kids. Bible Studies for Life helps individuals and groups know God's Word through trustworthy content, creates biblical community through engaging and conversational group studies, and helps people engage the culture missionally by unpacking what the Bible says about real-life issues. More information can be found on the internet at

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

BP News Thursday, July 9, 2020 - 3:38pm
WASHINGTON (BP) -- Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore and other evangelical Christian leaders have asked President Trump to hold off on another effort to rescind a program for certain undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

In a letter Wednesday (July 8), leaders of the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) urged the president to maintain Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) until Congress provides a permanent solution. They encouraged Trump to sign such a bill into law.

The EIT letter followed by three weeks a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found the Trump administration acted in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner in revoking DACA, an Obama-era policy to protect from deportation undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country before their 16th birthday. The high court said June 18 the administration may revoke DACA but the manner it did so in 2017 failed the procedural requirements of federal law.

The day after the justices' decision, Trump said on Twitter the administration "will be submitting enhanced papers shortly in order to properly fulfill" the high court's ruling. The administration is expected to file new paperwork to revoke DACA this week, The Hill reported Monday (July 6).

In their letter, Moore and the other EIT members asked Trump to urge leaders in Congress "publicly and consistently" to adopt a measure that establishes a pathway for Dreamers to gain legal status and ultimately citizenship if they satisfy "other necessary and appropriate qualifications." The label Dreamers is based on the name of a bill introduced in the past to protect undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children.

Dreamers' "entire lives are at stake right now," Moore said in an EIT release regarding the letter. "There is no sending these people 'back' -- in many cases they have no memory at all of the land of their parents' origin. Those who have lived as good neighbors, contributed so greatly to our country, should be protected from the constant threat of having their lives upended."

Also signing onto the EIT letter to Trump were these organizational presidents: Walter Kim, National Association of Evangelicals; Chris Palusky, Bethany Christian Services; Gabriel Salguero, National Latino Evangelical Coalition; Scott Arbeiter, World Relief; Shirley Hoogstra; Council for Christian Colleges and Universities; and Hyepin Im, Faith and Community Empowerment.

The EIT called for a legislative fix in a letter sent to Congress on the same day the Supreme Court issued its opinion. In it, Moore and others asked congressional members "to act quickly and on a bipartisan basis" to approve a bill to solve the problem permanently.

Members of Congress proposed the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act for the first time in 2001. The measure gained reintroduction several times thereafter without gaining approval.

After more than a decade of congressional failures, President Obama issued an executive order establishing DACA in 2012. The program provided a two-year window of protection from deportation and made participants eligible for permission to work and other benefits. About 700,000 people participated in the program.

In September 2017, Elaine Duke, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), issued a memorandum rescinding DACA. The order provided a window of opportunity, however, for Congress to pass a legislative solution. Congress failed to do so.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court said DHS violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which governs the manner in which federal agencies establish and issue rules.

In 2011, messengers to the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and hold businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials establish after securing the borders "a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country." It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.

At the 2018 annual meeting, messengers again requested reform that secures the borders and provides a pathway to legal status "with appropriate restitutionary measures." The resolution also called for "maintaining the priority of family unity."

BP News Thursday, July 9, 2020 - 2:56pm
EDITOR'S NOTE: Paul Chitwood is president of the International Mission Board.

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- IMB's vision: A multitude from every language, people, tribe and nation knowing and worshiping our Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 7:9).

The Revelation 7:9-10 vision that we steward at the IMB is literally the culmination of human history. But it's not our vision. This is the vision the Lord has given for His Church. This vision is what drives the ministry and mission of the Church to this very day and will continue to drive the ministry and mission of the Church until the Lord Jesus comes to claim His Church. That vision is what we must look toward to, what we give our lives to, and -- if called upon -- what we give our lives for.

What could be more exciting than investing two years of your life in the role God has for you in His vision? At the IMB, we are looking for team members who are recent college graduates under the age of 30, sent by their church as missionaries for a two-year term on the international mission field. We call these team members "journeymen," and they are a vital part of IMB missionary teams all over the world. Serving as a journeyman allows young adults to be on mission and explore the possibility of lifelong service as a missionary.

What an incredible privilege you and I have to be a part of the most important work in the universe! The omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent God of the universe, who is merciful, loving and kind, is deserving of praise in every language He has placed on the tongues of men and women. He is worthy to be worshiped by all peoples, tribes and nations.

When we look closer at Revelation 7:9, we see that the multitude worshiping God will not be composed of a crowd from some nations, many tribes, most peoples and several languages. Rather, God promises in His Word that the multitude worshiping Him will include representatives from every nation, all tribes, all peoples and all languages.

That's a big difference, and that's where you and I come in.

For you see, the great, innumerable multitude could already be comprised of representatives from some nations, many tribes, most peoples and several languages. If that's the vision, we can all stay home and wait for heaven.

But the Lord's vision is all-inclusive of every nation. All tribes. All peoples. All languages. His vision -- the vision of heaven where all the tears have been wiped away, and there is no more death or sorrow or pain --is one where the Father is being praised in every language He has placed on the tongues of men, and His beloved Son is being worshiped by those who owe Him everything.

Praise the Lord we will be there, alongside those, in far reaches of the world, who have heard His Good News. But not everyone has heard -- yet.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" (Romans 10:14-15, ESV).

Consider this:

-- We have around 200 journeyman job requests on the books at the IMB. These are significant, strategic requests made by full-time missionary teams around the world who are eager and excited to receive journeymen to join with them in reaching the lost.

-- The journeyman program is fully supported! This is unique to the IMB and involves not only financial support, but also the prayer and community support of Southern Baptist churches.

-- The journeyman program offers an excellent opportunity for international service and work experience directly after college or graduate school. Not only are journeymen serving as members of missionary teams, but they also are gaining unique and valuable international work experience along the way.

Are you willing to ask the Lord how He might use two years of your life in fulfilling the Revelation 7:9 vision? You and I know that the vision will be fulfilled. The great privilege we have is to be part of it.

Students and leaders, I ask that you join Pastors J.D. Greear and Dhati Lewis, the IMB and NAMB on July 23rd at 7:30 pm for "Beyond this Moment," a special virtual event where you will hear how you can join with those who are committing to GO 2 Years after graduation to share the Gospel, help plant churches and meet human needs around the world.

Register yourself or your student group watch party for free at

To learn more about the IMB journeyman program visit

BP News Thursday, July 9, 2020 - 12:34pm
ARUA DISTRICT, Uganda (BP) -- The South Sudanese people who live in the Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement in Uganda know Deborah* is an outsider. They can see it on her skin. She's Liberian, with lighter skin than theirs -- a fact that wasn't erased by the years she lived in South Sudan married to a South Sudanese man.

But the scars on her heart are the same as theirs -- they can see that too.

"She really is like one of them," said Rebecca Shapley, who along with her husband Tyson serves as an International Mission Board missionary near the camp.

Deborah fled there, same as the other refugees did. In the Rhino camp, more than 120,000 people live together with the scars they brought with them. The camp was opened in 1980 but expanded when the Second Sudanese Civil War started a few years later and raged on for more than two decades.

As Tyson worked with ministry partners to provide housing and wells and meet other physical needs there, a singular need kept rising to the top again and again: trauma care.

The Shapleys -- whose sending church is Harmony Baptist in Weatherford, Texas -- have heard stories of mass casualties. Some of the refugees are from places where rebel groups came in and opened fire.

"We've also heard stories of specific people being targeted for their beliefs," Tyson said. "Their houses are set on fire. Their things are set on fire. They'll have siblings who are killed or kidnapped, women are raped, children are kidnapped to become child soldiers. If you can name it, it's probably happened to this group of people."

And everywhere the Shapleys went, they heard and saw the need for someone to come alongside the refugees and help them walk through it. So when the couple came across a resource called New Hope, they saw it as a game changer.

The New Hope model is a seven-week small group curriculum that teaches one story to the group each week in a way that it can be passed on orally. Each story focuses on someone from the Bible who faced trauma and explores how God interacted with them through that tragedy.

For example, the story set starts with Joseph, a man who had the favor of God and his father, but was then sold into slavery by his brothers.

"Through each step in the life of Joseph you see hardship after hardship, but the Bible tells us how God had favor on Joseph and He was with him the whole time," Rebecca said. "Just as with Joseph, we see how God is using their suffering for the salvation of many."

She said it gives them hope to hear that the Bible talks a lot about suffering and that no one is immune to it. In the group, they memorize a key truth right away from the story of Joseph in Genesis 50: "What you meant for harm, God meant for good, not just for me but for the salvation of many."

"New Hope slowly uses the seven stories to walk them through how God is good, how He is redemptive and how He allows things to happen, but in the end He gets the glory," Rebecca said.

When a trauma-healing group first begins to meet, the people who come have a tough exterior, Rebecca said. They've needed it for day-to-day survival. But as they move through the Bible stories and the healing activities, the walls begin to come down and they share their stories and open up about their grief.

"They're just such strong, stoic people," she said. "But eventually Scripture softens your heart and the Holy Spirit speaks to you and allows you to tell your story, and that's when the emotions come."

Rebecca said her heart is for their national partners living out in the camps to be equipped so they can share the stories in their own language and culture in a way the Shapleys aren't able.

That's where Deborah comes in.

The 61-year-old widow is a "mighty woman of God," and she feels like God has her in the camp for a reason, Rebecca said. Deborah is now taking the New Hope oral curriculum and reproducing it across the camp.

"She lives as a refugee out in the camps, and she is one of the most evangelistic people I have had the honor of being around," Rebecca said. "They love her and respect her because of her age, so she is able to go and minister in a lot of ways with women."

That matters especially right now while the Shapleys aren't able to go into the camp. For the past couple of months, the use of public transportation and personal vehicles has been restricted because of COVID-19.

"We have used the time away from our friends and ministry partners to pray more specifically for their walks with the Lord, for their obedience to love and share the Gospel with those around them and for continued joy in the midst of suffering," Rebecca said. "We are trusting that just as the Lord has spoken to our hearts during this time of uncertainty and isolation, that He is also speaking to the hearts of the refugees. We are excited for the day that we are allowed to fellowship once again with our friends and hear all that the Lord has been doing."

They also have a new set of Bible stories from New Hope tailored to the uncertainty of the pandemic that they will be able to use once they're allowed to travel again.

Meanwhile, the Shapleys are trusting that the Gospel is continuing to go out in the way they saw it going out before -- with people walking hours through the camps sharing the Bible stories they'd heard, stories that had brought them healing and new hope through the Gospel.

"It's nothing we do; we're not trained professional counselors," Rebecca said. "It's basically just a love for the Lord and a love for the lost. You take Scripture and serve as the voice for God's Word, and the Holy Spirit does the rest."

* Name changed