News from the Baptist Press

Formed in 1946 by the Southern Baptist Convention, and supported with Cooperative Program funds, Baptist Press (BP) is a daily (M-F) international news wire service. Operating from a central bureau in Nashville, Tenn., BP works with four partnering bureaus (Richmond, Va.; Atlanta, Ga.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Washington, D.C.), as well as with a large network of contributing writers, photographers and editorial providers, to produce BP News.

Click on the title to view the full article at the Baptist Press website.

 

Monday, May 16, 2022 - 4:58pm

Videos showcase the impact of partnership


By IMB Staff


Southern Baptists’ generosity to the International Mission Board and Send Relief has reached tens of thousands of refugees and partnering churches in Eastern Europe.


To date, Southern Baptist have given more than $10 million to Ukraine relief through Send Relief.


Because the IMB was there before the war broke out, and will be there after it ends, funds and volunteer teams have been and are being intentionally used to meet physical and spiritual needs.


https://vimeo.com/697140743


Through partnerships with Texas Baptists, refugees fleeing Ukraine have been offered hope and help. IMB President Paul Chitwood shared some of the ways Texas Baptists served in Poland.


https://vimeo.com/697140292


Because of longstanding partnerships with Romanian Baptists, the IMB has been able to partner to support the churches there as they minister to Ukrainian refugees and those still inside the country. Partnerships like these, that sustain their efforts, weren’t built overnight. They are the product of IMB missionary presence for years.


https://vimeo.com/696571164


In Poland, the longstanding partnership with Chelm Baptist has opened the door for Send Relief and the IMB to aid them as they get food across the border into Ukraine. Pastor Henryk Skrzypkowski shared his gratitude for this partnership that equips their ministry.


https://vimeo.com/697140406


For more information on the IMB’s Ukraine response, visit imb.org/Ukraine.



White Oak Conference Center sold


The South Carolina Baptist Convention has announced the sale of its White Oak Conference Center located in Winnsboro, S.C. During the convention’s annual meeting in 2016, the executive board was tasked by the Vision Committee to “recommend a plan of action in regard to the White Oak Conference Center that would reduce the need for Cooperative Program funding.” The Executive Board in 2017 voted to pursue seeking buyers for WOCC.


The facility was sold on a “lease/purchase” agreement to a private school out of Winnsboro. That agreement was canceled on the part of the buyer in June 2019. The property was then marketed for sale, with a hope for a faith-based buyer, through several different avenues including a closed bid process.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the facilities were shut down to the public in July 2020. A skeleton crew of staff kept the facilities viable, though the buildings were showing age and lack of use. The largest users of White Oak, SummerSalt and KidSalt, were relocated to Charleston Southern University, a ministry partner of the SCBC, in the summer of 2021.


At the end of the closed bid period, a viable buyer surfaced. The first quarter of 2022 has been spent in negotiation and due diligence. The convention has now confirmed that White Oak Conference Center has been sold to the Seventh District of the A.M.E. Church. Its new owners will refer to it as the Vision Center and plan to continue using it for ministry purposes. The property, including timberland north of the facility, and buildings sold for a little more than $2,000,000.



Monday, May 16, 2022 - 4:56pm

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) – At any given moment, an estimated 400,000 U.S. children and teens are in foster care. There also happens to be roughly that many churches across the United States.


“Foster care impacts every community in the U.S., which means that every local church has an opportunity to fulfill the biblical call to care for the fatherless and the vulnerable,” said Josh Benton, vice president of North American ministries at Send Relief. “Through Family Advocacy Ministry, Send Relief is committed to helping churches serve at-risk families and children with quality, Gospel-centered ministry.”


Hayley Catt, a NAMB staff person and foster mom, has been a single foster mom for five years. Her passion to serve at-risk children and families grew out of her time serving as a missionary overseas. Hundreds of thousands of children in the U.S. go through the foster care system each year. Photo provided by Hayley Catt

May is National Foster Care Month, and Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm for Southern Baptists, has been raising awareness for how churches can become involved. Send Relief equips churches to develop Family Advocacy Ministries (FAM) in their congregations that support at-risk children and families in their communities.


“Our good friends were fostering, and we wanted to do something to help them,” Shari King, an advocate of FAM at First Baptist Church Watkinsville, Ga., said in written comments. “We found out that our FAM was providing practical support to foster families. Initially, we helped by providing one meal for the family each month.”


King and her family, over time, became more involved in volunteering with their FAM before going on to become foster parents themselves.


Through a FAM, local churches develop volunteers who provide imminently practical service for foster families by babysitting, tutoring, providing diapers, clothes and other resources or giving Christmas and birthday presents.


“We want churches to know that the greatest thing that they can offer is not the food that they may bring or other resources, but it’s the relationships,” said Logan Mabe, Send Network planter and lead pastor of Ocean View Church in Chula Vista, Calif. “It’s praying for that family intentionally on a regular basis. It is a phone call checking on a family. It’s all grounded in relationships. That is really, ultimately, what we want to see churches do in San Diego. It’s evangelism and discipleship. It’s long obedience in the same direction.”


When a FAM meets tangible needs and invests in relationships, it helps relieve burdens for foster care families in what is often a fast-paced, busy lifestyle as those families meet the needs of their children.


“Logistics are incredibly challenging in the foster care world. It’s not something I was prepared for, honestly,” said Hayley Catt, a NAMB staff member and single foster mom, in an interview with Send Relief. “Two to three times a week, we are opening our home to therapists, social workers, family consultants, volunteers and more. We have to rush from one appointment to another, and we don’t get a lot of down time. Having help with transportation, house cleaning, meals, etc., helps to ease that burden.”


A FAM can also help meet spiritual needs when opportunities for Gospel conversations arise within foster families as they come and participate in the local church.


“We have also seen kids come into care with families in our church who have accepted Christ,” said Marlaina Harper, an advocate of FAM at Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville, Ga. “We’ve watched them take steps of faith to participate in baptism, as well. Watching both foster and birth families join together in their support of a child’s decision of faith was really meaningful for our whole church.”


In recent years, churches have become increasingly engaged in meeting the needs of foster children and families, but much work remains to be done.


“The work of Family Advocacy Ministries will not be done until there are more families waiting for kids than kids waiting for families. Intentional engagement from the whole Church could drastically alter the child welfare crisis as we know it,” said Connor McCauley, who works for Promise686, an orphan advocacy ministry. “I dream to see a world where every church in every community is dedicated to bringing hope, redemption and care for the kids and families living in the shadows. They need the hope of the Gospel. They need the Church.”


To learn more about how churches can engage in Foster Advocacy Ministry, visit SendRelief.org.



Monday, May 16, 2022 - 4:52pm

Since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, Moldova, a small and impoverished nation bordering Ukraine, has received an estimated one refugee for every 25 Moldovans. Most refugees are being housed and cared for by churches in the Moldovan Baptist Union.


Ion Burlacu, left, and Ion Miron, right, pray for a Ukrainian-Korean woman staying in Bozieni Children’s Home. Burlacu is a pastor and director of the children’s home, and Miron is the Baptist General Secretary of the Moldovan Baptist Union. The woman and her family fled the violence in Ukraine and found refuge in the children’s home. IMB Photo

The Moldovan Baptist Union has more than 400 churches. When the invasion started, Moldovan Baptists worked quickly to create a safe space for refugees – constructing a chapel hall in a day, building an attic to accommodate more refugees, using a children’s summer camp as a refuge and summoning volunteers to cook three meals a day.


Already known for their hospitality, Moldovans’ generosity only increased after refugees began making hazardous journeys across the border. Elderly men and women stripped the sheets off their beds to give to refugees. Gas prices emptied wallets, but that didn’t stop Moldovan churches from sending vans to the border to pick up refugees.


Moldova was once an agricultural mecca, viewed as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, with farmland with rich soil and grapevines that stretch for miles. When the Soviet occupation ended, Russia took all the farm equipment and infrastructure that once made Moldova so prosperous. The economic consequences were devastating – Moldova has Europe’s lowest GDP per capita.


For Moldovan Baptists, it was never a question of whether they would give whatever it took to help Ukrainians. Jesus told them to love their neighbor, and so they are.


Ion Burlacu, left, pastor and director of Bozieni Children’s Home left, listens to Ion Miron, Baptist General Secretary of the Moldovan Baptist Union, share about the overall refugee outreach in Moldova. Burlacu and church members at their church were in the process of converting the attic into a room to house refugees. IMB Photo

Slavic Duman is the pastor of Dancu Baptist Church in Dancu, Moldova. The congregation converted the church into a sanctuary for refugees. The building was recently remodeled, and just in time. They are now equipped to house refugees staying a short time or even long term.


In addition to housing refugees, the church also provides counseling. Duman said Moldovans’ generosity moved many Ukrainians to tears.


“We came to these people. They are poor. How will they take care of us?” Duman said he heard from some refugees. “They know that Moldova is a poor country, and they don’t want to be a burden for us.”


“We have so many brothers and sisters in Christ from America and other countries that pray for you. They are helping us so that we can help you,” Duman tells them.


After realizing the immense need for housing, Ion Burlacu, a pastor and the director of Bozieni Children’s Home in Bozieni, Moldova, converted the second floor of the building to house refugees. Realizing the opportunity they had to minister spiritually to refugees, he and others built a chapel in one day. With the new-paint smell lingering, the space was immediately put to use. The children’s home can house 117 people. By the end of March, the church had housed 214 refugees.


A Moldovan believer paints a newly built bed that will be used by Ukrainian refugees in Bozieni Children’s Home in Bozieni, Moldova. IMB Photo

Outside the church, men were quick to work. The metallic whir of metal grinders reverberated as workers built metal bed frames to hold donated mattresses. Workers were also in the eaves moving plywood to build an attic to place more mattresses.


Over a feast of freshly prepared traditional Moldovan food, and with the presentation of a fine-dining restaurant, Burlacu said the refugees asked why they were going to such great lengths.


“This question is how we start our discussion with them and present Christ to them,” Burlacu said.


Every refugee who passes through the children’s home hears the Gospel and many want to know more.


“If they come today, and we know that tomorrow they will go, we will do our best, everything we can, to share the Gospel, because we don’t know if they will have another chance to hear the Gospel,” Burlacu said.


He said refugees ask difficult questions like, “Why is this happening,” and “Why would God let this happen?”


He said they don’t have the answers, but they tell them they know God is in control.


A Ukrainian-Korean woman staying in the home said she and her daughters and grandchildren walked nine miles to the border in the cold and found a van from Bozieni Children’s Home.


The matriarch broke down and covered her face to hide her pain and tears.


“We walked so far, so, so far,” her voice broke, the journey weighing heavily on her.


During Stalin’s reign, Koreans living on the Russian side of the border of Russia and North and South Korea were scattered and dispersed across the Soviet empire to prevent any uprisings and dissent. Many Koreans were relocated to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and some, like this family, moved to Ukraine.


Faced with another generational forced migration, the Korean-Ukrainian family found solace in a Moldovan children’s home.


Burlacu said they take to heart Matthew 7:1, treating neighbors as they want to be treated.


“The whole church understood this is our calling,” Burlacu said.


Their calling to serve does not have a time limit. Refugees in both Bozieni Children’s Home and Dancu Baptist Church can stay as long as they want.


“We want to acknowledge that we are a bit tired, but at the same time, we also feel encouraged,” Burlacu said. “We have gratitude, their thanks and their hugs. It shows us how grateful they are and how encouraged they are. The church also understands how God works through us during this time.


“We are more encouraged than tired. Tiredness is for a short time, but the joy we experience is for eternity.”




Monday, May 16, 2022 - 4:46pm

SALADO, Texas (BP) – Tornadoes can hit with an unheralded ferocity.


On April 12, weather reports indicated a “slight chance” of severe weather in this Central Texas town of about 3,000 residents located down Interstate 35 between Waco and Austin. Donnie Jackson, pastor of First Cedar Valley Baptist Church, heard the reports. After radar indicated a strong and building storm was heading their way, he and his son, Donnie Van, watched from the porch as his wife, Linda, took the grandchildren inside to huddle inside a closet.


The two men would soon join the rest of the family.


“All of the sudden it just exploded,” the pastor said. “We couldn’t see the tornado, there were too many trees – but we sure could hear it.”


The EF-3 tornado that swept over them made a deafening noise, mixing in with the sound of baseball-sized hailstones pelting their metal roof, crying children and prayer.


Then it was over.


They emerged after about five minutes to see the property intact – the first sign of destruction some 300 yards away. “All I could hear were sirens from every direction,” Jackson said.


The five-acre church property about a mile-and-a-half from the pastor’s home told a different story.


Historic church continues ministry


“The tornado wiped out everything,” Jackson said. Large oaks and 200-year-old cedars were uprooted and tossed into piles. All that remained of First Cedar Valley Baptist’s 13-year-old modern structure was its slab foundation and its cross, anchored to the foundation. Thankfully, the storm did not cause any fatalities, but many lifelong friends lost property.


The “new” church was gone. The historic church building – dating from 1942 when it was little more than a brush arbor enclosed over a dirt floor – still stood, though it had suffered structural damage and proved unsalvageable. Jackson and congregation finished tearing it down a few weeks ago, he said, choking up a bit.


“It’s a difficult time for us,” he said. “A lifetime of memories. What held those memories is now gone.”


Jackson had known the historic building since boyhood. By age 15, he was leading the music there, the first of many stints as a lifelong worship leader in the various cities and churches he served while working as a businessman full time. Jackson recalled his uncle lighting kerosene lanterns and hanging them on cedar support posts in the old church before it had electricity.


Now it’s time for the church to rebuild, and they have started. And services have continued.


On Easter Sunday, less than a week after the disaster, First Cedar Valley held worship on its bare slab, the service covered by area news outlets.


“Nothing’s going to stop church from happening. It’s always gonna happen,” 11-year-old churchgoer Asa Gooden told news crews.


“That building means nothing compared to the cross and what He did for us,” Jackson proclaimed from his Easter pulpit, gesturing to the surviving cross in the background.


A tent has since been erected, and a church member who is a builder has arranged for a temporary building. They intend to build back on the same foundation, using the same plans but with a few modifications, such as reconfiguring interior walls to allow for more meeting areas and less office space.


A lifetime of ministry


Jackson has only been pastor of FCVB for just over two years. Following a career as a national operations manager for a retail chain, he returned with his wife and family to the Salado area when their kids were school-aged. The Jacksons purchased a convenience store off I-35, which they owned and operated for 21 years, from 1976-1997. The pastor wanted his children to share the same small-town youth experiences he had known.


It was natural that a return to Salado meant Jackson again began to serve his childhood church as a worship leader.


“I’ve always been involved in gospel music,” he said. In fact, from 2000-2008, the Cedar Valley Singers, consisting of Donnie, Linda, and three other church members, performed as a popular statewide gospel attraction until the demands became too great.


The last three or four years, the Lord called him to preach, Jackson said. He began to fill pulpits and, when the FCVB pastor stepped down because of health concerns, he was asked to become the full-time pastor. COVID-19 hit and in-person attendance waned, but livestreamed services kept the congregation worshiping.


“During COVID, our small country church was down to 10 or 12 people attending. We now run 45-60,” Jackson said.


The tornado may have destroyed its building but that hasn’t pushed pause on the church’s recovery. A family of five joined after the storm.


At 77, Jackson has seen his share of ups and downs, replete with God’s provision. He hopes to leave First Cedar Valley to an eventual successor on a firm foundation in more ways than one, following the tornado.


“You’ve got to accept what is. Don’t look at what was. Look at what is to come,” Jackson said. “It’s been hard in the flesh, but I believe Romans 8:28. I don’t know what God’s purpose is, but we’ll be stronger. We’ll reach more people than we would have been able to reach.”



Monday, May 16, 2022 - 3:26pm

BUFFALO, N.Y. (BP) – Four miles from the Tops Friendly Markets mass shooting May 14, North Buffalo Community Church Pastor William Smith is comforting a crying community.


Church member Cashell Durham lost her baby brother Aaron Salter in the massacre – a 55-year-old retired Buffalo police officer and Tops security guard, who was among four employees killed. Smith’s daughter Lauren Smith is employed in Tops administration, but wasn’t at the 1275 Jefferson St. location.


“She said, ‘Daddy I cried all day yesterday (May 14),’” Smith told Baptist Press. “The impact rippled through all the city. … The church itself, we spent good time yesterday talking about violence and talking about pain.”


Durham is the widow of North Buffalo Baptist associate pastor Arriet J. Durham, who died in 2018.


“Cashell has been grieving now for quite a while. She’s had some help, but she’s still grieving from the loss of her husband,” Smith said. “And right now, she’s been bombarded with requests from different press agencies. … But she’s not really in any position to be able to speak with people. She’s just hurting so bad.”


The alleged shooter arrested at the scene of the crime, 18-year-old Payton S. Gendron, is accused of having driven 200 miles strategically to find a public location full of African Americans in what police are calling a racially motivated hate crime. Eleven victims were Black; two were white.


“We’re just trying to deal with the pain. So many of us Saturday were just crying. The pain was so hard,” Smith said. “And the Lord is the One who’s going to be near the brokenhearted. And when He’s near the brokenhearted, I really believe that that’s going to be what we need.


“We need the Lord’s guidance and we need prayer. Which was very encouraging, we got prayer from all over the country from people.” Many offered to help in any way needed.


Beverly Flannery, wife of Frontier Baptist Association Associational Missionary Mike Flannery, emailed 900 contacts predominantly in northeast New York asking for prayer for Buffalo. Hundreds responded. The Frontier association is mobilizing ministry to those impacted by the shooting.


“I am currently trying to organize churches to deliver food in this geographical area that is a food desert,” Mike Flannery said May 16. “The Tops store will be shut down probably several weeks because of federal investigations. I’m working with another organization, Saving Grace Ministries, that wants us to work with them to deliver food.”


Smith appreciates Southern Baptists’ compassionate response. He wants Southern Baptists to understand the pain.


“This shooting has added to the negative mental health of African Americans wondering who’s going to shoot next,” he said. “We have our own crime in the city. We have our own shooters in the city. And then to add this to that, it’s a painful thing for us, for little kids, because you never know when this is going to happen again. That’s why we need the Body of Christ.”


He mentioned widespread support from Southern Baptists across New York, including the Frontier association and the Baptist Convention of New York.


“It was an outpouring of support,” Smith said. “Those people in our circle have reached out to provide any kind of resources that we might need. I would … say thank you (to Southern Baptists), from North Buffalo, for our partnership, because it’s made a major difference, in a few days, just a short period of time, to know that we’ve got people behind us, supporting us.


“I’m glad to be a Southern Baptist.”


In addition to Salter, Buffalo police identified the murder victims as 86-year-old Ruth Whitfield, 77-year-old Pearly Young, 72-year-old Katherine Massey, 67-year-old Heyward Patterson, 65-year-old Celestine Chaney, 32-year-old Roberta Drury, 52-year-old Margus Morrison, 53-year-old Andre Mackneil and 62-year-old Geraldine Talley.


Three others were injured, Buffalo Police said, namely 20-year-old Zaire Goodman of Buffalo, a 50-year-old from Tonawanda, N.Y., and a 55-year-old from Lackawanna, N.Y. Goodman and the Tonawanda resident were treated and released from a local hospital. The Lackawanna resident remained hospitalized May 15, a local NBC news affiliated reported.


Through a 180-page manifesto the shooting suspect posted online, police have connected Gendron to a fringe “replacement theory” conspiracy that says whites are being slowly and intentionally replaced by minorities and immigrants, CNN and other news outlets reported.


“We don’t have any answers for these kinds of things. Biblically, I don’t see how this is going to get any better,” Smith said. “When I read the Bible, I see that as the last days – which I believe we’re in – the kind of violence, this is just going to get worse. I’m not plotting out these things on a graph, but I see, all across our world, things are just getting worse and worse.”


Public prayer meetings are scheduled to help the community grieve and heal.



Monday, May 16, 2022 - 3:10pm

LAGUNA WOODS, Calif. (AP) – A man opened fire during a lunch reception at a Southern California church, killing one person and wounding five others before a pastor hit the gunman on the head with a chair and parishioners hog-tied him with electrical cords.


Jerry Chen had just stepped into the kitchen of the church’s fellowship hall around 1:30 p.m. Sunday when he heard the gunshots.


Chen, 72, a longtime member of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, which worships at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, peeked around the corner and saw others screaming, running and ducking under tables.


“I knew someone was shooting,” he said. “I was very, very scared. I ran out the kitchen door to call 911. ”


Four of the five people wounded suffered critical gunshot injuries; their conditions were not immediately available Monday morning.


David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas has been booked on one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department tweeted. Jail records show Chou is being held on $1 million bail. It’s not immediately known whether he has a lawyer who can speak on his behalf.


The church was cordoned off Monday with yellow police tape and several bouquets of flowers were left outside the church grounds.


But on Sunday afternoon, Chen said he was in such a state of shock that he was unable to tell the operator his location when he called 911 from the church’s parking lot.


“I had to ask someone else for the address,” he said.


Chen said a group of about 40 congregants had gathered in the fellowship hall for a luncheon after a morning service to welcome their former Pastor Billy Chang, a beloved and respected community member who had served the church for 20 years. Chang moved back to Taiwan two years ago. This was his first time back stateside, Chen said.


“Everyone had just finished lunch,” he said. “They were taking photos with Pastor Chang. I had just finished my lunch and went into the kitchen.”


That was when he heard the gunshots and ran out.


Soon afterward, Chen said he heard the details of what happened inside from others who came out. Fellow congregants told Chen that when the gunman stopped to reload, Chang hit him on the head with a chair while others moved quickly to grab his gun. They then subdued him and tied him up, Chen said.


“It was amazing how brave (Chang) and the others were,” he said. “This is just so sad. I never, ever thought something like this would happen in my church, in my community.”


Most of the church’s members are older, highly educated Taiwanese immigrants, Chen said.


“We’re mostly retirees and the average age of our church is 80,” he said.


Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock praised the parishioners’ quick work to detain the gunman.


“That group of churchgoers displayed what we believe is exceptional heroism and bravery in intervening to stop the suspect. They undoubtedly prevented additional injuries and fatalities,” Hallock said. “I think it’s safe to say that had people not intervened, it could have been much worse.”


The shooting came a day after an 18-year-old man shot and killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.


As news of the shooting broke on the heels of the racist rampage in Buffalo — where the white gunman allegedly targeted a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood — fear spread that the Taiwanese congregation had also been targets of a hate crime.


But when the shooter was identified as an Asian man, other questions arose as the investigation into the violence and the gunman’s motive continues.


The case is in its early stages, Hallock said. He said the many unanswered questions include whether the assailant attended the church service, if he was known to church members and how many shots were fired.


Laguna Woods was built as a senior living community and later became a city. More than 80 percent of residents in the city of 18,000 people about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles are at least 65. The shooting was in an area with a cluster of houses of worship, including Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches and a Jewish synagogue.


Those wounded by gunshots included four Asian men, ages 66, 75, 82 and 92, and an 86-year-old Asian woman, the sheriff’s department said.


It was not immediately clear whether all of the victims were of Taiwanese descent, or if the gunman also has ties to Taiwan.


Taiwan’s democratically elected government has long taken a hands-off approach to religion on the island, where most follow Buddhism and traditional Chinese beliefs, but where Christianity and other religions also thrive.


Taiwan’s chief representative in the U.S., Bi-khim Hsiao, offered condolences to the families on Twitter.


“I join the families of the victims and Taiwanese American communities in grief and pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded survivors,” Hsiao wrote on Sunday.


The deadliest shooting inside a U.S. church was in 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A gunman opened fire during a Sunday service at First Baptist Church and killed more than two dozen people.


In 2015, Dylann Roof fired dozens of bullets during the closing prayer of a 2015 Bible study session at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina. Nine members of the Black congregation were killed in the racist violence and Roof became the first person in the U.S. sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. His appeal remains before the Supreme Court.



Bharath reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press journalists Stefanie Dazio and John Antczak in Los Angeles also contributed to this story. News Researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed from New York.



From The Associated Press. May not be republished. AP religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.



Monday, May 16, 2022 - 3:05pm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Seminary graduates must give themselves unreservedly to preaching God’s Word because Scripture is the chosen hammer God puts in the hands of called ministers, one He uses to shatter savingly the hard hearts of sinners, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler told graduates Friday (May 13) at the school’s spring commencement.


Preaching on the call of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah from Jeremiah 23:23-29, Mohler said faithful proclamation of God’s Word is both a hammer and a fire that breaks and burns and transforms the hearts of sinners.


“Just imagine the heat of a million million suns put in your mouth,” Mohler said. “For what is the infinite power of the Word of God? The exhortation of this faculty and my exhortation to you today is give yourselves unreservedly to the ministry of the Word in such a way that the fire the Lord puts in your mouth will come out as fire.


“God’s Word will come forth from your mouths and through your ministries like a hammer that shatters a rock. … God puts words in our mouth and those words are like fire that burn in us. Here is the mandate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: Go set fires. Open your mouth and let fire come out.”


In the seminary’s 229th commencement, 347 students received degrees for the spring semester with 262 walking across the stage on a warm, picture-perfect spring day. Boyce College held its graduation Friday morning, while the seminary’s commencement was held in the afternoon, one Mohler called the warmest ceremony during his presidential tenure. In total, Southern Seminary and Boyce College – the seminary’s undergraduate school – conferred 526 degrees.


Southern’s faculty has faithfully poured the Word into the graduates so they must now go and pour out the Word for years to come in local churches, Mohler said. Because Christ is faithful to His people, the Lord will enable graduates to be faithful to the ministries God gives them. God empowers fragile, fallible humans to proclaim his gospel and works through them to build His church.


“Graduates, we’re about to find out what you’re made of,” he said. “We’re about to find out about your calling. I don’t say that as rebuke, I say that as exhortation in the purest meaning of the word. I know how this story is going to end. By the faithfulness of Christ, He makes His people faithful. And those who will be His faithful servants are led into faithfulness.


“I believe the Lord led you faithfully here as you faithfully answered the call, and I believe what you have received from this faculty is faithfulness channeled into yourselves and your lives and your hearts,” Mohler said. “And I believe He is going to use you as he is already using you to channel faithfulness into the lives of believers, faithfulness into the church, faithfulness onto the mission field, faithfulness into everything you do.”


Ministers who would be true to their calling must preach the Word because only a sovereign work of grace through that Word can do helpless sinners good.


“Our task is to overcome the hardness of the sinful human heart,” he said. “Here’s the bad news: None of us is up to that nor are all of us together up to that. There is nothing we can do to break or to shatter the hardness of an unbelieving heart.


“That which we can’t do, God does. He does it by His Word and that’s our testimony: the hardness of our own hearts had to be shattered by the Word in order that we’d be called to Christ and to salvation, much less have the opportunity to call others as well.”


Mohler pointed out that graduates will never be together again in the same way as they were on Friday afternoon. He exhorted them one final time to go and set loose the fire of God’s Word.


“Sitting here on this warm day on this lawn, you’re never going to sit together like this again,” he said. “Servants of Christ, graduates of Southern Seminary, open your mouth and let the fire come out until you have no breath to breathe. With everything you have, set loose the Word of God to shatter rocks until Jesus comes.”


Read the full report, including news from Boyce College’s commencement, here



Monday, May 16, 2022 - 3:00pm

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) – On May 13, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) and The College at Southeastern celebrated the graduation of 319 college and seminary students in Binkley Chapel. Graduates represented more than 30 states and 20 countries.


Danny Akin, President of SEBTS and The College, delivered his commencement address on Matthew 28:16-20, charging graduates to submit their lives and ministries to Christ’s mission.


Southeastern believes that because these are the final marching orders of the Lord Jesus Christ, they must drive us, define us, and determine who we are,” Akin said.


Highlighting the need to train Great Commission students, Akin shared a recent Barna study in which only 17 percent of respondents were able to define and locate the Great Commission in Scripture. Of those who regularly attended church services, 51 percent said they had never heard of the Great Commission. Calling graduates to change these statistics, Akin charged them to prioritize fulfilling the Great Commission in its entirety — including teaching disciples the content and priority of the Great Commission.


Based on the Great Commission account in the Gospel of Matthew, Akin called attendees to rest in Jesus’ authority, be obedient to His commission, and trust in His promise.


“Every square inch of the universe belongs to King Jesus,” he said. “As you go in His name to make disciples of the nations, He promises that you go in His authority, in His backing, in His support.”


“Words are not adequate to express my appreciation and pride in these men and women who are graduating today,” Akin said before conferring degrees on 37 advanced-level and 247 graduate-level graduates as well as 35 undergraduates. Many of them will be going to serve among the more than 7,000 unreached people groups and over 3 billion people who have no access or limited access to the Gospel.


Akin concluded his address by presenting a Gospel invitation to all in attendance, calling them to respond to the testimony concerning Christ in Scripture and be born again through faith in Christ.



Friday, May 13, 2022 - 5:49pm

WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal prosecutors in the U.S. have charged the leader of a notoriously violent Haitian gang in connection with the kidnapping of 16 Americans last year, the Justice Department said Tuesday.


Germine Joly, 29, who is also known as “Yonyon,” is accused of leading the 400 Mawozo gang and is the first person charged by Justice Department prosecutors with having any involvement in the kidnapping of the Christian missionaries. He was extradited to the U.S. last week and faces separate firearm trafficking charges, prosecutors said.


The indictment says Joly was in a Haitian prison during the kidnapping but was nonetheless able to direct his group’s operations, including ransom negotiations for the captives’ release. One of the stated goals of the hostage-taking was to get the Haitian government to release Joly from prison, prosecutors said.


A total of 17 people from the missionary group — 12 adults and five minors — were abducted Oct. 16 shortly after visiting an orphanage in Ganthier, in the Croix-des-Bouquets area, the group has said. The group included 16 Americans and one Canadian.


Twelve of the captive missionaries escaped during a daring overnight caper, eluding their kidnappers and walking for miles over difficult, moonlit terrain with an infant and other children in tow. The group navigated by stars to reach safety after a two-month kidnapping ordeal, according to officials with the Christian Aid Ministries, the Ohio-based agency that the missionaries work for.


Their captors from the 400 Mawozo gang initially demanded millions of dollars in ransom. Five other captives had earlier reached freedom. It is still unclear if any ransom was paid. The 12 hostages who escaped were flown to Florida on a U.S. Coast Guard flight, and later reunited with the five hostages who had been released earlier.


Joly is due to make his first court appearance Wednesday. A lawyer who has represented Joly in the firearms trafficking case declined to comment Tuesday night.


“This case shows that the Justice Department will be relentless in our efforts to track down anyone who kidnaps a U.S. citizen abroad,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “We will utilize the full reach of our law enforcement authorities to hold accountable anyone responsible for undermining the safety of Americans anywhere in the world.”



Friday, May 13, 2022 - 4:52pm

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit 12 women brought last summer against Liberty University accusing the Christian institution of fostering an unsafe environment on its Virginia campus and mishandling cases of sexual assault and harassment.


A notice of dismissal filed Wednesday by the plaintiffs’ attorney, Jack Larkin, said the case had been settled but provided no details about the terms.


In a statement Thursday, Liberty said a settlement had been reached with all the plaintiffs and all but two additional women Larkin represented. The university did not disclose the terms of the agreement but outlined a number of other changes it has undertaken in recent months to improve campus security and review how it responds to incidents of sexual harassment or violence.


“Liberty University president Jerry Prevo made it clear when the Jane Does filed their lawsuit that, despite certain claims being potentially outside of the statute of limitations, the university was committed to doing what it could to ‘make things right’ with the plaintiffs,” the statement said.


Larkin did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press. But he told TV station WDBJ the settlement terms were confidential.


The development comes as the prominent evangelical school in Lynchburg faces continued scrutiny over its handling of sex assault cases. It is facing other lawsuits that raise similar allegations and recently acknowledged to news outlets that the U.S. Department of Education is reviewing its compliance with the federal Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to maintain and disclose crime statistics and security information.


In a statement, the department acknowledged the oversight work was ongoing but said no further comment would be provided until “the outcome officially has been communicated to the institution.”


The recently settled lawsuit was filed in federal court in New York and made various claims under Title IX, the federal law that protects against sex discrimination in education.


It alleged that Liberty’s strict honor code makes it “difficult or impossible” for students to report sexual violence. It said the university had a “tacit policy” of weighting investigations in favor of accused male students, and it said the university retaliated against women who did make such reports.


The women, former students and employees, all filed suit anonymously and were identified as Jane Doe 1-12. Their allegations spanned more than two decades.


Some plaintiffs in the lawsuit described being raped or sexually harassed and having their cases mishandled or effectively ignored. One woman alleged pregnancy discrimination.


A status report filed in the case in February said that if it was not resolved “amicably” an amended complaint would be filed adding new plaintiffs, including a current student.


In its statement, Liberty said it has spent more than $8.5 million on campus security upgrades, including the installation of security cameras, blue light emergency call boxes and enhanced lighting, along with a new cellphone app for emergency reporting.


Liberty said it has made donations to community sexual assault response programs and is reviewing its counseling services to ensure there are more services available from licensed mental health providers, “including in rapid response scenarios resulting from sexual assault.”


The university is also revising its amnesty policy to “better communicate” that it will not discipline parties who engage in behaviors, in connection with a case of sexual harassment or assault, “that would have otherwise violated its student honor code.”



From The Associated Press. May not be republished.a



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