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

Enter the Story

This Sunday is the third Sunday of our Advent Conspiracy at Ball Camp Baptist Church. This is the Sunday for us to more fully enter the story of Christmas, the story of God coming into the World. This Sunday, as we worship, we will seek to enter this amazing story by giving more; giving more of our time, our gifts and our resources. By more fully entering the story of Christmas, we become participants. More than listening to the story, we want to live it. In living it, we want to join with other followers of Christ sharing the story so that others can hear it and experience the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.

Chaouki & Maha Boulos share and live the story of Christ’s birth in the country of Lebanon. As we give more this Sunday, we enter the story of Christmas alongside the Bouloses as they tell the story of  grace and mercy in the region of the world where Jesus was born.

Your Christmas Story

Rhode Island Governor, Lincoln Chaffee, was met by vocal opposition this week at the tree lighting ceremony for his state’s official holiday tree.  That is right; he called it a holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree.   After he lit the tree, a few dozen protesters started singing “O Christmas Tree.”  Their contention was, of course, that calling the tree a holiday tree rather than a Christmas tree diminished the religious significance of the season.  Yet, I wonder if it is possible for anyone to do anything that will diminish the religious significance of the season any more than it has already been diminished.

Governor Chaffee defended his actions by noting that his predecessor had referred to the tree as a holiday tree, and in that sense, he was just following precedent.  He referred to his state’s founder, Roger Williams, who fled religious persecution in nearby Massachusetts, and founded the Rhode Island colony as a place where individuals could exercise freedom of conscience.  At the unveiling of the statue of Roger Williams at the US Capitol in 1872, Rhode Island Senator William Sprague observed that Roger Williams, “successfully vindicated the right of private judgment in matters of conscience, and affected a moral and political revolution in all governments of the civilized world.” Williams was no antagonist toward religion.  In fact, just the opposite was true. Shortly after founding the new colony, Williams organized what would become the First Baptist Church in the new World.

Ironically, Williams likely would have been at a loss for words regarding what to call a tree used to celebrate or commemorate the Christmas season.  Why?  Well there simply were no trees, Christmas or otherwise during William’s day.  They are later additions to the way we observe Christmas, and likely did not appear in this country until the 1700s or early 1800s.

Therein, lies a deeper irony.  Christmas, what it is and what it means, has become a muddled dispute about what to call a tree.  Trees, wreaths, lights and lawn ornaments are, for some people, a helpful way to enter into the story of Christ’s birth.  For others, they add no particular inspiration beyond the festive brightness they add to an otherwise barren winter landscape.  To the extent that they are helpful, they ought to be encouraged. To the extent that they become a distraction, they ought to be set aside figuratively, if not literally.

God is coming.  We as Christians have a hard time getting our minds around that reality.  The very idea of God taking on flesh and dwelling among us is something we know as wonder and mystery.  Our capacity to embrace it and celebrate it is a part of God’s gift of faith to us.  How, then, can we expect an unrepentant world to celebrate what we ourselves only know of because of God’s gracious gift to us? Such expectations seem unreasonable, even as such disputes diminish our testimony and lessen the impact of that first Christmas on the world today.

There really is nothing about which to argue.  Christmas has happened, is happening, and will happen. God is coming.  There is nothing anyone can do or say that will change that reality.  What is essential for us is to enter the story of God’s coming more fully, leaving behind whatever keeps that divine child from being born anew in our lives, and taking hold of whatever causes his presence to be more real in our lives and be more evident in our living.

The story of Christmas is a story of good news. It is a story to which we are not merely meant to listen to, but to enter.  If all we ever do is listen to the story, the carols, and the sounds of the season, we have missed God’s intention for us.  We are invited to join the story and to let our lives be shaped by it so we become a part of the good news God so wonderfully and miraculously proclaimed that night long ago in Bethlehem.

Less is More

As I am speaking to a small group gathered for midweek worship and a meal at an inner-city Baptist center, I can not help but notice the coughing of the woman sitting over to my left.  I immediately recognize her from the last time that I had gathered with this group.  She has pancreatic cancer.   Her coughing, like “groans that could not be expressed in words”, do not disturb the service, rather it is a part of the service.  It is a litany of sorts that speaks her deepest longing.

At the end of the service, she comes to me asking for prayer.  The weight of her burden is great.  Who knows what the cancer has done to her body?   She does not know, as she lacks the means for medical treatment and the feedback a doctor would give her.  Her only hope is prayer.  While she may not know exactly what the cancer is doing to her, she knows that it is surely taking life from her.   In a very real way, life now for her consists of that space between her and God.   If she lives, it will be because of God. If she does not, she will be with God.

After we pray, I cannot help but wonder what the days ahead will hold for her.  Will she suffer?  How much will she suffer?  Will a miracle happen?  How will it be between her and God?

Disease has a way of focusing our attention.  It causes us to see things that we had not seen, or had overlooked.  We think differently; our perspective changes when confronted by an invasion of our bodies that is likely to be our undoing.  Sometimes, it causes us to turn toward God and to move closer to God.  For some people, the effect is the opposite.  For them, there is anger and resentment toward God.  Still others respond with a mixture of emotions and thoughts in such trying times.

Yet, with or without disease, our lives share a common condition.  We all live in the time and the space that God gives to us.   A life threatening illness may cause us to be more aware of God and our dependence on and accountability to God.   However, good health does not mean that we are any less dependent on God for our lives, and we are certainly no less accountable for them.

Last week, we heard the prophet Isaiah plead for God to “…tear open the heavens and come down…” to us, to fill the time and the space of our living.  In essence, we asked God to be with us.  That is the heart of Christmas, Immanuel, “God with us.”   We know that God has been born, that God abides with us each day, and that God will come again.

Advent prepares us for all the ways that God has, does, and will come to us.  As we prepare, is there room in our lives for more of God?  Is there room for God to do with us what God wants to do with us?  When we put up the Christmas tree at our house, it almost always means something has to be moved to make room for the tree.  What do we need to rearrange in our lives in order to make more room for God, to make ourselves more available to God?  The radical commitment that God makes to us in taking on flesh and being born among us, calls us beyond rearranging.  God’s purpose for our lives is not that they be busier, heavier and more burdensome.  In being born, God makes a way for us to be liberated from all that would separate us from God.

What is it that keeps us from experiencing the presence and peace of God?  Whatever that is, that is what we need less of.  If we are too busy, then we need fewer commitments.  If we are too burdened by debt, then we need less spending.

This Advent season we are conspiring together because we believe that Christmas can still change the world.  The proposal is quite simple.  Start small by spending less.  Eliminate one gift– one fruitcake, one sweater, one gift that will probably not be missed, and use that money to do something that will make the birth of Christ a reality for someone who desperately needs to know Jesus.  It is a small step, but a good beginning as we seek to empty our lives of that which keeps us from experiencing the fullness and wonder of what God has done in Jesus Christ.

What if Christmas was about Christ?

That night when Jesus was born, how many people new what was happening?  Think about it for a minute — how many people new that God was being born?  Did anyone know that incarnation was happening?  Who knew that God was taking on flesh in order to dwell among us?  Who knew that God was so in love with us that God was coming to be with us?  Was anyone thinking that God was so radically intent on being reconciled with God’s creation?

Mary and Joseph had an idea that something special was happening.  Elizabeth and Zechariah might have known, along with a few other family members, perhaps.  The shepherds, of course, get clued in by a heavenly visitation.  Eventually, there will be visitors from the east.  Herod will be briefed on what they believe has happened.  Beyond a handful of people, most of the world’s population had no idea that anything significant, much less world changing, happened on that first Christmas.

All these years later, some might argue that the birth of Christ has been changed by the world more than it has changed the world.  Christmas seems to be about many things that have little or nothing to do with God coming into the world in order redeem and reconcile human hearts.  Granted there are many opportunities to do good for the less fortunate during the holiday season, but for most people these are sandwiched into a hectic schedule that reduces them to obligation or afterthought, rather than focal point.  The truth of the matter is that Christmas has become an industry, an economic engine, that springs to life earlier and earlier each year, so that it can better serve the purpose to which it has devolved.  The air around Christmas is so polluted by the smog and debris of consumerism run amok that the Christ is hardly visible.

Some have seen a threat to Christmas in the practice of referring to the season as the holiday season, rather than Christmas.  Their aim is to keep Christ in Christmas.  It is a laudable goal insofar as it goes.  One would think that a birthday celebration would, at a minimum, include the one for whom the celebration is being given.  But what purpose does it serve if the end result is still the same old hustle and bustle, the same cluttered and obstructed view of God entering our world in order to embrace us with an everlasting love.

We still live in a world that needs to experience the love God expressed so emphatically on that first Christmas.  How can the world ever hope to experience that love unless the body of Christ, the church, intentionally and practically shares that love?  We have been loved with that love and we know that it is not ours to enjoy just for ourselves.  It is ours to share.

Keeping Christ in Christmas is not enough.  What if we did more than just keep Christ in Christmas?  What if we made Christmas about Christ?  What if Christmas was an event that could once again change the world?  This Christmas, at Ball Camp Baptist Church, we are conspiring together (literally, breathing together) to do just that.  By worshipping fully, spending less, giving more, and loving all, we are going to be a part of a Christmas that will change lives.  We are not alone in this conspiracy.  Others are breathing with us. Cooperative Baptist Fellowship missionaries in the United States and around the world are daily striving to be the presence of Christ to those who have yet to fully realize the meaning of that first Christmas in their own lives.  As we seek to make Christmas more about Christ this year, their world and their lives may never be the same.

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.

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.”