Mission Team Report from LaPlace, Louisiana

On August 29, 2012, the home of Valerie and her husband, Wilson, sustained a lot of wind and flood damage as a result of Hurricane Isaac.  In their Saint John the Baptist parish, hundreds of other homes also received flood damage.  Valerie and Wilson moved into their northern LaPlace, LA home about 12 years ago.  During that 12-year period, they never experienced any flooding.

The Mississippi River lies about 2 miles south of Valerie’s home.  Lake Pontchartrain lies about 2 miles to the east, and The Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area lies less than 2 miles north.  Valerie’s home did not flood during Hurricane Katrina 7 years ago, but when Hurricane Isaac churned inland on August 29, it rained for several days over southern Louisiana.  Mass flooding occurred across several river parishes including Saint John the Baptist Parish where LaPlace is located.  In Saint John’s parish more than 3,500 residents were rescued or evacuated, and unprecedented flooding occurred in more than a dozen subdivisions.  Shifting winds whipped up 8-10-foot tidal surges from Lake Pontchartrain.  This surge sent rushing waters into the streets and homes of thousands of residents, many of whom had never experienced flooding before.

New Wine Christian Fellowship Church in LaPlace turned into a staging area where many responders brought residents who were being taken out of Saint John’s parish.  Valerie’s home took on a lot of water which damaged most of her furniture and flooring.  She also needed a new roof.  Water stood for days, and damage was assessed to be in the thousands.

During the week of November 5-9, working under the umbrella of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Ball Camp Baptist Church, Knoxville, TN, worked in LaPlace to help with disaster relief.  Americorps in partnership with New Wine Christian Fellowship, sent our team to Valerie’s home.  Much work was done while we were there, but much remains to be done.  Valerie and her family have been under a lot of stress in past months as she has not been in good health.  She has survived two brain surgeries, and another is soon needed according to her neurosurgeon.  Please don’t forget Valerie and others like her.  In each flood-damaged  home in these river parishes a family resides.  A family undergoing their own unique stresses.  Some have received help.  Some have not.  Volunteers are still needed to work in these areas.  To receive a real blessing, please pray about becoming Christ’s hands and feet in southern Louisiana.

In Christ’s Love,

Ken and Connie Miller

Disaster Relief Coordinators

Ball Camp Baptist Church

Knoxville, Tennessee

CBF’s New Budget: “. . .no missionaries are called home. . .”

CBF Coordinating Council adopts budget

ATLANTA (ABP) – The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Coordinating Council voted by e-mail May 26 to recommend a 2011-2012 budget of $12.3 million at the group’s June 22-25 General Assembly in Tampa, Fla.

The amount is $2.2 million less than this year’s budget, which at last report was running at 84 percent of projected revenues. The council was prepared to vote on a $12.9 million budget prepared by staff in February, but based on shortfalls in contributions decided that projection was overly optimistic and sent it back for more trimming.

A cover letter from CBF moderator Christy McMillin-Goodwin explained the $662,491 trimmed from the budget since February. More than half of the reductions — $350,000 – were in global missions, although no missionaries will have to be called off the field. Non-global missions cuts totaled $312,491 and included reduced funding for four seminaries labeled “identity partners” to the CBF.

A copy of the budget summary obtained by Associated Baptist Press showed reductions of about 17 percent for two partners: ABP and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Funding for ABP is reduced from $77,000 to $64,000 and the BJC from $126,000 to $104,000. Funding levels are unchanged for the Baptist World Alliance ($45,000), Christian Churches Together ($2,000), Church Benefits Board ($50,000) and North American Baptist Fellowship ($1,000).

McMillin-Goodwin, minister of education and missions at Oakland Baptist Church in Rock Hill, S.C., said in the cover letter that staff sought to implement suggestions from roundtable discussions held by council members in the February meeting.

“For example, no missionaries are called home because of these reductions,” she said. “There was real effort to continue to focus on investing in younger Baptists. Although we did reduce funding for the four partner seminaries, we only cut four CBF Leadership scholarships. We were also fortunate to have a designated gift ($100,000) that could fund some budgeted ministries in Missional Congregations.”

McMillin-Goodwin said significant cuts were achieved in global missions by shifting categories of service for some field personnel. That included changing a policy that now allows one spouse in a unit to move to self-funded status while the other spouse remains fully funded. While no one is losing a job, she said, jobs currently vacant in global missions will remain unfilled.

The Fellowship, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, reduced staff in Atlanta and satellite offices by 16 positions in January, saving – with program cuts – about $1.1 million in the current budget year.

Ball Camp’s Response

Our first response ought to be to keep doing what we have been doing.  Since CBF is our primary partner as we seek to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission, we support CBF in our budget.  That means that a portion of every undesignated gift that you place in the offering plate goes to share the love of Christ through the ministries of CBF field personnel in the United States, and in the uttermost parts of the world.  Your giving to the Lord’s work this year has been commendable.  In these difficult economic times, your faithful support of what God is doing in and through our church is a testimony to your commitment and desire to see others experience the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

Our operating budget is not the only way that we support CBF.  Two times each year, at Christmas and at Easter, we receive an offering for Global Missions.  These offerings go to support our CBF missionaries as they tell the story of God’s love, and as they demonstrate that love in meaningful ways among some of the most neglected and least evangelized people in the world.  Our second response ought to be to start planning now, well before Christmas gets here, to do something special when it is time for the Christmas Offering for Global Missions. What better gift can we give at Christmas time than to give Christ to someone who has never known him?

Our third response is our most important one — prayer.  Use the phrase from the above report, “jobs currently vacant in global missions will remain unfilled,” as a prompt.  Pray that current vacancies can be filled.  This is a vitally important prayer concern when we consider the way that CBF prioritizes needs on the mission field.  CBF always tries to go where there are no or few missionaries already at work.  They target people groups that have had little or no contact with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, if a position is vacant, it is a position among people that have limited or no opportunities to hear the message of God’s love for them.  Some of those people may have to wait for those unfilled positions to get filled before they can be introduced to God’s saving grace.  It is truly a vitally important prayer.  Please pray it with me and be thinking of what you can do to make your Christmas Offering for Global Missions extra special this year.

It is Time to set the Chariots on Fire!

Can you remember the last time you heard me tell a story about something that happened at the gym? To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I told a story about something that happened at the gym. That is probably because I can’t remember the last time I went to the gym.

Two weeks ago, I packed a bag with the intention of going to the gym. I knew that I needed to get back to exercising regularly. Well, the bag was packed and it stayed packed for the whole week. That bag, packed with t-shirt, shorts and running shoes, rested comfortably behind the driver’s seat of my pickup truck with little or no chance of being used. It stayed there for a whole week with its contents unused until I carried it back into the house in order to repack it for my time at the Academy for Spiritual Formation this past week. Sad, I know, but true.

What is to be done? (I am glad that you asked.) Training starts tomorrow for the 2011 Wells Fargo Wheels and Heels Duathlon, which will be held April 9th on the campus of Johnson Bible College. This event is being sponsored by the Knoxville Leadership Foundation and Johnson Bible College. It will benefit 11 non-profit organizations in our community that provide services to those in need. One of those organizations is Family Promise of Knoxville. The event is set up so that participants get to choose the organization that benefits from their participation.

So here is the plan: I am going to run 5 kilometers, bike 18 kilometers, and then run 3 more kilometers. That may seem like a bit too much for someone as out of shape as I am, but when you convert those kilometers to miles it is only 3.1 miles, 11.1 miles, and 1.8 miles. Things are looking better already.

Nevertheless, I need help. There are a number of ways that you can join in the fun. Some of you already run, bike, or exercise in some way. You can be a part of the 2011 Ball Camp Baptist Church Duathlon Team by planning to run and bike the event, or you could plan to just run the 5k portion of the event. There will also be a 1-mile fun run/walk that you might want to participate in that day. There is something for almost everyone to do at this event regardless of your level of fitness.

You can also be a part of the 2011 Ball Camp Baptist Church Duathlon Team by helping Catherine Carter with the pledges.  That’s right — our team’s purpose is not just to get your out-of-shape pastor back in a regular exercise routine, but to raise needed operating funds for Family Promise of Knoxville. Catherine will need folks to help her solicit pledges, and folks to make them.

I would hope that we would all be a part of the team by praying for the important work that Family Promise does in our community.  Sheltering families who are experiencing a housing crisis is an amazing gift to give.  Receiving such a gift is a great blessing. It is a gift that touches both the giver and the receiver. Therein resides the power of Christ’s love. Whether we are giving it or receiving it, we are touched and transformed by it when it is shared among us.

Going Global with the Presence of Christ

Do you remember when you were lost, alone and separated from God? Do you remember when the guilt and shame of sin kept even a ray of hope from shining on your life? Do you remember when you were saved, forgiven? Do you remember the joy and the peace, the relief and the release that came from knowing how much God loved you? Do you remember discovering for the first time in your own life that God made a way for you to be accepted and whole, liberated and redeemed?

This week, at the annual General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, 16 people were commissioned to go to some remote places on this earth for the sole purpose of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, so that they who have never heard might experience the same joy and the same grace that you experienced when you first learned of God’s great love for you. These 16 will go to China, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, the Czech Republic, Spain, Eastern North Carolina, Chile, Georgia, Haiti and South Africa. They will join with others who have already gone. They go to plant churches, practice medicine, do poverty relief, train local church leaders, teach in universities and seminaries, minister to women and children, and facilitate the transformation of communities. All in all, they go to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, to be the presence of Jesus Christ, and to announce the Kingdom of God.

These people, along with those who have been sent before them, go where they are going on your behalf.  They go to more places to encounter more people than any of us ever could on our own. They go to tell and to live the story of God’s amazing grace for us.

They do a great service for us and for God’s Kingdom.  We ought to be eager to pray for them and to remember them when we are in the presence of the Lord. There names are:

Anna Anderson

Anjani and James Cole

Rachel Brunclikova

Lindsay, Cindy, and Ryan Clark

Mickael Eyraud

Kamille Krahwinkel

Blake and Rebecca Hart

Carole Jean and Jack Wehmiller

Jennifer Jenkins

Mark and Sarah Williams

Our prayers are vital for all those who serve and who are sent; but our prayers are not the only way that we need to support and stand behind them. We also need to share our resources.

At the conclusion of worship services next Sunday morning, we will be receiving an offering. That is our custom on Sundays when we have celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Normally our offering on Lord’s Supper Sundays is used to meet benevolent needs in our community. Right now, our benevolence fund is adequate for the needs we anticipate until we gather again at the Lord’s Table. Therefore, since the CBF Offering for Global Missions is running about 30% behind where it should be for this time of year, we are going to send our July offering for benevolence to the uttermost parts of the world.

We are accustomed to promoting the Offering for Global Missions and giving to it at Christmas and Easter. Giving to it on the Fourth of July may seem a little odd. Yet, it is altogether appropriate in one sense, because in giving to it, we are extending to those who are still held captive by the power of sin and death the opportunity to be set free. What better way to celebrate the earthly freedom, that has been bought for us by the sacrifice of so many, than to give the gift of eternal freedom paid for by the sacrifice of the One who said, “. . . you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

How do Women Preachers Dress?

“I am going to be a preacher,” she told me.  “Wonderful,” I said.  Of course, I knew that she was talking about her role in the upcoming youth Easter drama, but I was excited for her nonetheless.  Then she asked, “Should I dress as a woman or a man?”  I told her that she should dress as a woman and that she was going to be a great preacher.  Yet, I was troubled by her question.

I was troubled because the question on her part represented an uncertainty as to whether or not a woman could be a preacher, so much so that she considered dressing as a man necessary to more accurately portray the role she had been given in the play.  Her church ordains women as Deacons.  There is no leadership position in her church from which women are excluded.  From time to time, women fill the pulpit as guest preachers, though obviously not enough to give her a clear impression that she did not need to dress as a man in order to play a preacher in the Easter drama.

The uncertainty about women in pastoral roles, not just of a teen-aged girl but of the rest of us as well, demonstrates just how effective the cultural in which we live is undermining the teachings of a local church.  The Bible we read gives us countless examples of women working for the Lord and leading young churches.  Our scriptures are bold to say that “. . .in Christ, there is neither male nor female. . .,” and that in the last days God will pour out God’s spirit on all flesh so that our “. . .sons and (y)our daughters shall prophesy.”

How then do we find ourselves, at times, uncertain and ambivalent about who God can call to do God’s work?  Consider for a moment that women have been allowed to vote in our country for less than a hundred years.  Generally speaking, the arguments against women voting sounded high-minded and moral.  The Holy Scriptures were often invoked to undergird arguments against women voting.  Of course, voting was not the only thing that women were not allowed to do.  There were any number of professions and careers that were off limits to women simply because they were women.  Preaching was high on the list of occupations unsuitable for women.  Today, the list of careers that women cannot pursue is whittled down to one – preaching — and then only in certain pockets of the Christian faith.  Of all the activities that society once deemed off limits to women, preaching remains.

Those opposed to women preaching unfailingly state their position with passages from the Bible that would seem to suggest that women should not have leadership roles in the church.  I would grant that there are such passages of scripture, but there are also passages of scripture that would suggest just the opposite.  So then, the question becomes not so much what the Bible says, but how do we read what the Bible says.  Will we read it as people who long for the days when women were denied freedom and opportunity, or will we read it as a people who believe that the God who said God’s spirit would be poured out on all flesh is, in fact, doing that very thing even as we speak?

Today the pastor of Pingdu Christian Church in Pingdu, China is a woman.  This church was started in 1885, when a tiny woman from Virginia ventured, on her own, 120 miles inland to share the Gospel in a city that had no Christian witness.  That woman’s name was Lottie Moon.  She was appointed as a missionary to China by the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.  No, she would not have been allowed to pastor a church in the United States at that time, but it was fine for her to go where no man was willing to and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Today, pastor Wang Xia, leads multiple congregations and meeting points, along with her pastoral associates, telling the same story that was told the residents of her city long ago by Miss Lottie Moon.

Baptists have had women preachers throughout our history.  We have just not always appreciated them as such.  Even today, as Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary prepares to reconstruct Miss Moon’s Pingdu house into an on-campus historical display, the living legacy of Miss Moon’s devotion to the cause of Christ is ignored and rejected by Southern Baptists.  They have trademarked her name, but they have shackled her spirit.  They are happy to use their fundamentalized version of Lottie Moon to raise money for their enterprise, even while they ignore and demean the gifts and callings of her spiritual descendants.

We honor the legacy of Lottie Moon, and others like her, when we help our children, our sons and our daughters, listen to whatever God is saying in their lives.  We keep that legacy alive when in faith we, along with our children, say yes to God’s call in our lives.

No doubt Catherine B. Allen says it best in this months Baptists Today, “The stones in Fort Worth will cry out a message the seminary has officially rejected. Ye who have ears, listen to what the Spirit says!”

A Hungry Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  The memories of long ago gatherings of family, food, and football at my grandparents’ house are some of my fondest.  These days we go to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving, trying to give to our children their own memories. This year, we are breaking our tradition of frying the turkey.  My brother-in-law wants to try to smoke it.  I feel a new memory in the making.

Recalling fond memories and making new ones is not all that makes Thanksgiving my favorite holiday.  In fact, memories take second place to the reminder that Thanksgiving gives to us to be, well, thankful.  While every day is filled with opportunities to give thanks, this holiday gives us a chance to slow down and take a whole day to reflect and be grateful.  Nurturing gratitude in our lives moves us toward a more mature walk with the Lord.  Gratitude in the face of adversity often indicates a life that is resting in God’s grace.

Some of you may remember me telling the story that my Uncle John told of my grandmother making biscuits and gravy with water and flour for supper when he was a boy.  She did that because that was all that she had to put on the table.  He will always remember that time, and I will always remember his telling of it.  For me, it is a story, not a memory.  I have no memory of times being that hard.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I recall that story.  Rather, it comes to me, not as if I have to exert any effort to think of it.  When I think of things I am thankful for, I cannot help but be grateful that the biscuits I ate at grandmother’s table were always made with milk — buttermilk if she had it — and she often did.   Even more so, I am grateful that my children do not have such memories.

Not all children are so fortunate.  A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study showed that a record number of families had difficulty obtaining sufficient food at some time last year.  The number of people living in U.S. households that lacked consistent access to adequate nutrition rose to 49 million people in 2008.  That is 13 million more than in 2007.

On a global scale, the number of hungry people is staggering. The United Nations reports that more than a billion people face starvation.  That number represents an increase of about 100 million people over last year.

In the face of such need, I am grateful not just for the basic blessing of food and shelter, but also for the many people and organizations who work every day to alleviate the suffering caused by hunger and hunger-related illnesses.  Many of those people and organizations are motivated by their commitment to Jesus Christ and His teachings.  Some of those people are missionaries that we support in this country and around the world.  They do what they do as an expression of their faith in and dedication to the life and teachings of the One who said, “When you have done it unto the least of these my brothers and sisters you have done it unto to me.”

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to remember and to be grateful.  It is also a perfect time for followers of Christ to recommit themselves to living, giving, and following so that the least of these might also have reason to be thankful.

Riding in the Rain

It is Tuesday and I am driving in the rain. Driving in the rain is not one of my favorite things to do. In fact, it is one of my least favorite, especially when I have a good distance to drive. Three and half hours to go and I am already tired and sick and medicated. Sounds like a perfect storm, in a not-so-good way.  Rain drops and the rhythmic slap of the windshield wipers play a lullaby that I can hardly resist. Listening to Faulkner’s Hamlet is not doing anything to keep me awake.

 

Just south of Chattanooga, I pull off at the Lookout Valley exit and find a place to park the truck. I am having to work way too hard to keep my eyes open. The rain keeps falling as I relinquish the need to keep my eyes open.

 

There are worse things to do than sit in a dry, warm truck on a wet and cold autumn day. Not that it is that cold, but I imagine if you were out in the weather and getting wet you would soon be miserable.  After ten or so minutes, with my eyes closed, I fill up the truck, purchase a cold drink and I am on the road again. Shelter in a storm is a good thing.

 

You have been that shelter this week for the families who are our guests while we hosted the Family Promise Interfaith Hospitality Network. Each of those families have their own unique story.  Yet, they share one thing in common — they each reached a point where they could no longer keep their eyes open. Life had gotten to the point where they could not manage all that needed to be managed. The disappointments and the defeats were piling up, and the successes and the victories were scarce.

 

Sitting in my truck, I thought of those families. I wondered where they would be if there were no churches networked together to provide shelter for them.  Perhaps they would have found some other place to stay, some other way to get back on their feet. But I don’t know that for sure. Perhaps they would have been alone with their children in this autumn rain, wet to the bone and worried about supper.

 

How many times have you read Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble?” How many times has this verse come to your mind when you were dealing with a difficult situation in your life or in the lives of those you love?

 

This week you lifted these words out of scripture and brought them to life. With the love of God in your heart and the call of Christ on your lives, you put flesh and bones to these holy words. Just as God has been refuge and strength for you in times of trouble, you were used by God this week to be refuge and strength to these families in their time of trouble.  Scripture is never more real, more alive, or more true than when it is seen and demonstrated, rather than merely heard or read.

 

I have heard many teachers and preachers through the years say that our lives are the only Bible that some people will ever read. Those words are still true.  You were a great read this week. Yet, every week, even every day, we have opportunities to let ourselves be read by those who otherwise would not open a Bible. We even have occasions to let ourselves be read by those who do read the Bible. When we realize what God is asking us to do, to so live our lives that others will see Christ in them, it can be rather frightening. What an awesome task. At the same time, realizing that God has invited us to be partners in touching others with the love of Christ can also be rather exhilarating. Together, we are a part of the greatest story ever written; and the greatest story ever written is still being written. It gets written and read all over again when we make room in our lives for the ancient words of scripture to take on flesh and bones and come to life in our daily living.

 

You may not pay much attention to who is reading you, but someone is. May they read hope, justice and mercy when they read your life.