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

Advertisements

Church being Church

You may have heard the saying, “hard times don’t build character—they reveal it.”   That saying was much on my mind this week as you, the body of Christ at Ball Camp, walked with the Lethgo family during their time of grief and loss.  There are few times in our lives more difficult than when we face the loss of a loved one.  Watching you be the presence of Christ to a family facing just such a loss was truly a blessing.

Your ministry to them to them was a wonderful answer to the question of what the church is and what the purpose of Ball Camp Baptist Church is.  The news came to us Sunday morning and we started to pray for this family.  Someone was already talking with the family helping to answer questions and make arrangements.  The sanctuary was made available for the funeral service as it always is when a member or friend goes to be with the Lord.  The choir loft was full for the service and there was room there for friends and family who wanted to join in the singing.  Every time I hear our choir sing How Great thou Art at a funeral service, I grow more confident in the promise of heaven.   More than that, I long for it more when I hear them sing.  Somehow it just seems closer when they proclaim it with such power and beauty.   Dr. Leonard Markham’s willingness to return to Ball Camp to preach Gibby Lethgo’s funeral is testimony to the reality that once you have been a part of Ball Camp, experienced the working of God in this place and with our people, it stays with you even when life moves you to other places.  Many of you were here during the receiving of friends and for the service, and by your presence you reminded this family of the promise and presence of Christ.  Of course, on the day of his burial you continued to speak love and support to this grieving family by graciously and wonderfully feeding them when they were hungry.  So like Christ to meet such an everyday, ordinary need in the midst of difficult times.

For many different reasons, we do not always have the opportunity to minister in so many ways to a family suffering the loss of a loved one.  This week, you did and it was a beautiful sight to behold.  No definitions, no explanations, and no words could provide a better understanding of what the church is supposed to be than seeing you and what you have offered to, and been for, this family as they have walked through the cold, dark valley of the shadow of death.  You have been rod and staff to them.

As people of God, saved by God’s grace and made a part of the family of God by God’s unconditional love, we are able to be in constant conversation with that loving and gracious God.  That love and grace shapes our living so that we proclaim with word and deed the truth of it.  Today as we pray, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” we are reminded that we do not face our trials alone.  God has brought us together: “Lead us not,” “deliver us.”  By God’s grace, what we face, we face together and as we do that we see clearly the substance and depth of Christian community.

More than that, we bear witness to the truth of the Gospel.   Jesus told his disciples that he would never leave them nor forsake them, but that he would be with them until the end of the age.  When followers of Christ act and minister in the ways that you have this past week these words of scripture come to life before our very eyes.  They take on flesh and bone as you seek to be the presence of Christ to one another.

Thank you for your faithfulness to the teachings of scriptures and to the commands of Christ.

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.

Leaving a Legacy

“The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.” — Billy Graham, who turned 93 on November 7,2011.

Billy Graham has been an internationally recognized religious leader for as long as I can remember.  My earliest memories of him come from sitting in my grandparents’ living room watching one of his crusades on the television.  To be honest, as a young boy, I was not particularly thrilled with the idea of watching a televised sermon.  However, there was only one television and only two channels, so the options were limited.  Even if there had been other options, I am not sure that they would have been utilized.  My grandparents made it pretty clear that watching Billy Graham preach was important.

Through the years, they made other values clear as well.  The way they shared their values was just as important, maybe more so, as the values themselves.  They did so with a steadfast consistency that made their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren feel wanted and loved.

Of course, while they were leaving this legacy of love and faith they were not mindful of it.  At least, I don’t think they were.  They seemed to just be living their lives and doing the work that each day brought with it.  Mind you, each day, each task and each interaction was sprinkled with their values so that day by day their legacy was being left.

Legacies are not something that can be put off until the last minute.  Nor are they something that we can borrow from someone else.  All the while we are living we are leaving one.  The question then is not are we leaving a legacy, but what sort of legacy are we leaving?

Billy Graham rightly points out that leaving a legacy of character and faith is to be desired above one of money or material things.  I imagine that most of us would agree with him. Yet, most of us spend a good part of each day working to earn money so that we can buy the material things that we need.  Given that reality, it is not surprising that those matters become the focus of life for so many people. The problem does not lie in laboring daily for the necessities of life, but doing so in a way that conveys the idea that such activity, and the acquisition of its fruits, is what matters most in life.  Esther de Waal writes, “Christ was a carpenter for most of his life, and those years were not wasted ones.  Then I reflect that for me too it would be really very extraordinary if my own Christian life did not grow out of the most ordinary daily round of family life and earning a living.  Christianity does not isolate the sacred from the secular.  Not only are material things good in themselves, they are also signs of God’s loving attention, and they can, if we let them, open up a way to him.  God, in fact, reaches us where we are, at home, in the prosaic reality of our daily lives.”

The notion of leaving a legacy for those who come after us is a bit daunting.  It can easily become one large spiritual challenge that weighs us down rather than setting us free to live as God calls us.  Truth is, the legacy will take care of itself if we simply endeavor to live our lives day by day as near to God as we are able, recognizing God in the ordinary tasks of day- to-day living. and doing those tasks with care and love, even reverently, so life becomes a prayer.

How will we live the next 40 or so days?  Will we live them anticipating the advent of our savior’s birth?  Will they be for us days filled with mystery, wonder, joy and faith?  Or will they be for us hectic days filled with the stress that seems to have become an expected characteristic of the holiday season?  You may feel like you have no choice. You may feel like you have to do all the traditional things that are expected of you to make this season what it is supposed to be.  Many people do feel that certain holiday activities are necessary, even if those activities leave them worn out, frazzled and worried about how it is all going to get paid for when the bills start arriving in January.  Even church people spend a good deal of time during the holiday season upholding traditions that do little to draw them into a deeper experience the grace and love born so long ago at Bethlehem.

Doing something different can be hard, especially when accepted customs and practices have been established for so long.  Nonetheless, at Ball Camp Baptist Church we are going to try something new this year.  In a small way, it is an attempt to leave behind a new legacy, a legacy that gives life, hope and freedom. That’s right we are going to try to make the birth of Christ the focus of this Advent and Christmas season.  We are going to do that by asking a simple question:  What if the birth of Christ changed the world again?  What do followers of Christ need to do in order for Christ’s birth to once again be a world changing event?  How do we need to live these next 40 or so days in order to leave a legacy of hope and love, rather than one of frenzy and frustration?

This Advent season we are going to conspire together (literally: breathe together) around four ideas:

Worship Fully – because Christmas begins and ends with Jesus.

Spend Less – and free resources for things that truly matter.

Give More – of our presence, our hands, our words, our time, our hearts.

Love All – the poor, the forgotten, the marginalized, the sick, in ways that make a difference.

I believe that in our heart of hearts we believe that the birth of Christ is an event that can still change the world, and that is a legacy worth leaving to our children and grandchildren.

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.

Invited to Life

I am having a real love/hate relationship with all of the snow we have been getting this winter.  I hate that it has caused us to miss a Sunday morning of worship, and that it has interfered with our scheduled activities on two Wednesday evenings.  On the love side, even though I want all of the children to get all of the education that they can, I do not begrudge them their days out of school due to snow.  Is there anything better than a snow day?  Yet, even lovelier than a day off from school, is the way that snow covers the landscape. Blanketing the ground, clinging to the limbs of trees, and balancing on wires, it creates art in such a way that no matter where you are, you are standing in the middle of a picture.

The beauty of snow-covered landscapes almost always reminds me of God’s creative activity in the world.  Standing outside in the night, as the snow is falling and covering everything that it touches, is an awe-inducing experience.  The glory of God’s creation cannot be contained as it beautifies the darkness.

At the same time, I am mindful that what I am experiencing as beautiful is creating an altogether different experience for some. They are cold without warm shelter to shield them from the night.  The snow does not prompt them to think of God’s presence.  Left alone in the cold, at best they ponder the absence of God — at worst, they rail against a cruel deity that would allow it to snow on people who have no protection from the harsh night.

It is easy to get stuck in the snow, especially for those of us who do not get much practice driving in such conditions.  As believers, it is also easy for us to get stuck in the creation, or least in the questions of creation.  How did we get here?  Does the Genesis account of creation say all that there is to say about the origin of life?  Can Christians be faithful in their relationships to God without ignoring what science would teach us about the human experience?  These questions would be much more important than they are if creating us was the last thing that God did for us.

However, God did not just create us and leave us.  God created us and came to us.  In coming to us in Christ, God invites us to live the life God intended for us.  In Christ, we see that life modeled.  The early church recognized Jesus in the words of Isaiah, “…a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.”   In a time and place marked by its share of suffering and wrongdoing, Jesus lived with a gentleness that would not break an already bruised reed nor extinguish a weakly burning flame; yet with his life, he brought light to the nations, sight to the blind, and justice to the oppressed.  He invites us to such a life. God did not create us just so that we could wile away our days admiring the artistry of God’s handiwork. God made us, redeemed us, and invited us to live lives that shine light, open eyes, and do justice.  God invites us to live in such a way that those who find themselves without shelter on a cold winter’s night will know that they are not alone and that they have not been created only to be abandoned by God.  They will know because they will see the love of God being shared by the people of God.

A Word of Thanks

Ron Crawford, president of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, and former pastor of College Park Baptist Church in Orlando, Florida, wrote last week at EthicsDaily.com about “Catch-up Sundays.”  Catch-up Sundays are those special days set aside by a church’s finance or stewardship committee to get the church’s giving caught up with where the church’s budget says it ought to be, or where the church’s spending says that it needs to be. Crawford’s contention is that such special giving days rarely work and can even be detrimental to the financial health of the church. To be certain, such special days can result in especially large offerings.  He suggests that many times those offerings are made with dollars that would have been given to the church without the special emphasis.  The special emphasis just caused them to be given earlier in the year.  Therefore, the church finds itself in a similar pinch a few months later. The detrimental impact of catch-up Sundays is that it can take the focus off of regular, faithful giving on the part of church members. Giving to God’s work through the local church is not something that we wait to do in times of crisis or emergency. It is something we do on a regular basis as we live out our faith day by day.

As I was reading Crawford’s article, the question came to me as to why we were not having a special catch-up Sunday at Ball Camp. Given the state of the economy and all the transition going on in our church, one might think that the conditions would have been right for some disruption of giving at some point this year.  Whether they work or not, there have been years when we have done catch-up Sundays in an effort to get our income to be ahead of our expenses.  However, there has been no talk of doing one this year.  My curiosity got the best of me and I opened our treasurer’s report for November of this year to check our year-to-date general fund income. Janet pulled last year’s file so that I could compare our November of this year with last year’s numbers.  Amazingly, this year’s income is ahead of where it was this time last year.  I thought we might be close, but I did not expect that we would be ahead of where we were last year at this time.

With gratitude for the way that God has provided, let me commend you for your faithfulness to our church and the work that God is doing in and through it. Your understanding of and commitment to regular giving has resulted in a financially healthy faith community that is impacting the world for Jesus Christ.  This year, your gifts to our general fund budget have not only provided for our ministry here in our community, but have enabled us to partner with others in sharing Christ’s love.  We have supported the work of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Missionaries in the uttermost parts of the world, and especially in North Africa. We have partnered with Carson-Newman College, the Gideons, the Baptist World Alliance, Family Promise of Knoxville, and Western Heights Baptist Center to do ministry at home and abroad. Your faithful giving is touching lives and making a difference for Christ.

However, you have not just shared Christ’s love through your giving to the general fund budget. You have also done it through special offerings over and above your regular gifts to the church. This year you gave generously to those whose lives were turned upside down by the earthquake in Haiti. You gave an offering to Faith Comes by Hearing to help record the Bible in the heart language of an unreached people group. Can you imagine what it will be like for those people to hear God’s word in their own language for the first time? You helped make that happen this year. You have given faithfully to Global Missions at Easter and are giving again here at Christmas time. You have supported the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Tennessee Partners in Mission Offering. You supported our young people so that they could go on their mission trip to Ohio. Some of you have designated gifts to the work of the Southern Baptist Convention. Of course, you have given other gifts as well. Some of them I am aware of and some of them I am not.  Yet, each of those gifts has been a sharing of Christ’s love and tangible reminder to someone or to a group that Christ is present with him, her or them. Your willingness to regularly give above and beyond has made every Sunday a special offering Sunday at Ball Camp this year.

There is a bit of red in our treasurer’s report. Our Benevolence fund is just over $200.00 to the negative. This is the fund we use to minister those in our church and community who find themselves in need of help with rent, utilities or fuel. We have spent more than we had to spend in order to help those in need.  Money for this fund is traditionally given at the conclusion of worship services in which we have celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Please be mindful of the poor and needy as we celebrate at the Lord’s Table on Christmas Eve and on the first Sunday in January.  I know you will. You always are. Thank you for your faithfulness this year to God’s work in and through Ball Camp Baptist Church.