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December 1997 Issue

Taking the Gospel to a City of a Half Million People

Dusty streets trail off into narrow paths winding between tightly packed houses. Children scamper after a dog that has stolen their ball. A young woman stirs a pot over an open fire while a baby sleeps peacefully in a sling on her back. In a nearby mechanic's shop, a hammer rings out an unsteady beat on a piece of iron.

This is Zongo, one of eighty-nine "cartiers," or districts, in Cotonou, Benin, a city of a half-million and governmental capital of this small West African country. For twenty-five years, Southern Baptist missionaries had labored patiently here, sharing the good news of freedom in Christ with people long enslaved by the dark powers of voodoo and traditional religions. Progress had been slow but steady.

When Alejandro and Bertha Ortiz arrived as first-term International Mission Board missionaries in 1994, they had one question on their minds: "Where do we start?"

"Pray and wait," came God's answer. He was gett...

Simple Plan to Touch a World

Tucked in a mountain valley in northeast Tennessee is the town of Erwin.

There's a certain romance about living in Erwin, near the edge of Cherokee National Forest's pristine grandeur. There are certain restrictions, too. Like being landlocked by federal property and the town next door.

When Mike Womack arrived in Erwin in 1982 as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, he was underwhelmed by the University of Tennessee's flat-to-negative growth projections for that corner of the world.

His own surveys revealed seventy-five churches for Erwin's 16,000 people, and a high concentration of Baptists living within a 100-mile radius of Erwin, almost all with traditional church ties.

Even so, Mike and Calvary's 225-plus active members achieved an astounding growth statistic: In 1982, the church gave about $3,500 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

In 1996, $39,000.

But that's not all. They've "adopted" mis...

I was in Calcutta during the funeral of Mother Teresa. The Church of St. Thomas, where she was lying in state, was the site of an endless procession of her admirers and devotees. Along with throngs of American reporters and visitors, I filed past the body of this wonderful and selfless woman. It was moving to see the poor of Calcutta wound around the serpentine kilometers of filthy sidewalks waiting their turn to pay their last respects. Each paused a moment before the bier, dropped a rose, and filed silently by.

As I watched the hordes of the adoring poor, I found myself wishing that Mother Teresa might have passed away at some other time when she might have had the world's undivided attention. Unfortunately, she had to share the world's attention with Diana of Kensington. A thousand tabloids, forced to choose between focusing on a "show-biz" saint and a nun with four decades of street ministry to commend her, abandoned the expatriated Albanian and her beloved, din...

The principle of local church autonomy is one of the most cherished distinctives of ecclesiology among Southern Baptists today.

A first-ever Pastor Appreciation Day held Sept. 16 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary proved to be just what many pastors needed.

"We're in the battlefield and it's tough. We need this type of thing," one participating pastor told President R. Albert Mohler, Jr. during a dialogue session.

About 220 pastors from Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio traveled to the Louisville, Ky., campus at the invitation of Mohler for the day-long event which included a chapel message and dialogue session with Southern Baptist Convention President Tom Elliff, four seminars, and a luncheon. Featuring an address by Mohler, the luncheon was the first event held in the seminary's newly constructed Chiles Conference Center.

Reminding pastors of their open invitation to the campus throughout the year, Mohler said the seminary plans to make Pastor Appreciation Day an annual event. "If we are not, as a seminary, a place where pastors come for edification and encouragement and fellowship with other like-minded, like-convicted pastors who are out serving in the churches, then we ... have failed," Mohler...

In recent controversies over so-called "gender-neutral" Bibles, Christians have begun to wonder which Bibles they can trust to translate gender-related language accurately.

Here are some guidelines recently endorsed by Christian leaders who agreed that "it is inappropriate to use gender-neutral language when it diminishes accuracy in the translation of the Bible." These guidelines were written at a meeting convened by Dr. James Dobson in Colorado Springs on May 27, 1997.

If you want to know what Bible translations you can trust, one place to start is to ask your Christian book dealer or your pastor if your translation meets these guidelines. Several widely used translations already meet these guidelines, including the NIV, NASB, KJV, and NKJV.

Colorado Springs Guidelines for Translation of Gender-Related Language in Scripture

A. Gender-related renderings of biblical language which we affirm:


Marlin and Patsy Hawkins spent "the hardest twelve years of their lives" holding in a deep, dark secret. They've spent the last six years encouraging others not to do that.

The Hawkinses said it was hard knowing their son, Mike, was living a homosexual lifestyle from age sixteen to twenty-two. But when he turned from that lifestyle, yet was diagnosed HIV positive less than a year later, that's when the pain became almost unbearable.

And until Mike was hospitalized with full-blown AIDS about four years after the HIV diagnosis, the Hawkinses kept silent about the illness.

"The fear of isolation is a real motivator for silence," said Marlin Hawkins, controller for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. "But when you have a loved one with AIDS, you need support from others. We found when we went public with it, the more people knew, the more they cared about us.

"We especially encourage people to tell their churc...

Neighborhood Cleanup Opens Way for the Gospel

It was a trashy idea. And, ultimately, a redemptive one.

A church youth group made their way to inner-city Memphis, Tenn., to help Brinkley Heights Baptist Church conduct a week-long Vacation Bible School for children.

They'd prepared for weeks to perfect their ministry. Each person had an assigned job and was eager to serve.

Upon arriving in Memphis, however, they discovered that Tim Cox, Brinkley Heights' pastor, had an additional assignment in mind.

The church — which has hosted thousands of volunteers the past six years to assist its members, most of whom live and work in the community, in a range of ministries to their inner-city neighbors — was interested in beginning an outreach in another neighborhood.

In order to gain credibility with the people in the community, Cox said he wanted the residents to witness an act of selfless love.

"Would this group be willing to pick up garbage during the afternoons ...

A Visit with Mormon Missionaries

I recently did what I tell people never to do — I let the Mormon missionaries in. (My reason for telling others not to let them in is the fact that 320,000 people who let them in last year joined the Mormon church. Unless you have dealt successfully with many Mormons, you are unprepared to deal with the missionaries.)

These two young fellows came to my house recently because someone had ordered a Bible for me after hearing one of their television offers.

I invited them in and asked what we should talk about — modern-day revelation, prophets, marriage for eternity, or perhaps the doctrine of God?

They agreed that the doctrine of God was no doubt the most important subject we could discuss. If one is wrong about God, his position on other related subjects is somewhat irrelevant.

I immediately committed them to what they believed about God. I enumerated quite a list of LDS teachings. Did they believe He had a physical body, that He had a fath...

An Allegory of Adolescent Despair

The children found themselves in the Haunted Wood. No one knows how they got there. They just were (some say all children go to the Haunted Wood at some time).

The Wood was a very frightening place. The trees were tall and thick and overgrown with vines, so much so that sunlight could barely filter down at all, leaving the wood shadowy and gloomy. And at night! At night, the Wood was pitch black. No reflections were visible. No outlines of figures or faces or fingers could be seen. Nothing. Just darkness.

The children always had plenty to eat and it was always warm. But the terror was endless. The fear of the dark and of becoming separated from one another and of losing their way in the Wood was bad enough. But then they had to contend with the MOLECHS.

The MOLECHS were big, hairy monsters who constantly attacked the children. They were multi-colored with fiery eyes and hot, putrid breath. Their mouths were small but had sharp teeth that looked like saw blades,...

When Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Calif., was found guilty this summer of city code violations with respect to the church's homeless ministry, newspapers from California to New York featured the story.

The dramatic aftermath, however, has not received as much attention.

Following the trial, four of the jurors who convicted him attended services at Drake's church. The Orange County Register reported that two were visibly moved by Drake's message and said they planned to return to the church the following Sunday. They reported they were "inspired" by his message and "honored" to be at the service. The two also pledged to financially support the church's ministry which feeds and houses about forty homeless people.

Attendance that morning was twice the average, but the paper failed to report the most important news. According to Drake, twenty-four people invited Jesus into their hear...

President Clinton's most recent veto of the bill that would outlaw partial-birth abortions has set the stage for a mammoth congressional attempt to override his veto. Some have suggested the vote will probably take place sometime next year.

Southern Baptists around the nation will recognize Sunday, January 18, as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Pastors are encouraged each year to use this opportunity to inform their congregations of the national travesty taking place under the guise of "choice," and to urge their congregations to take biblically consistent steps to reverse this scourge. If the vote to override the veto indeed takes place next year, the emphasis will serve as a prime opportunity to motivate Christians to voice their convictions.

Proclaiming the Pro-Life Message can serve as a valuable resource in preparing for Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Compiled and edited by Larry Lewis, past president of the Home Mission Board, it c...

No Assembly Required

Perhaps because it comes at the end of the year, Christmas is a time when I tend to put so much of life together. It's not just the things that go under the tree. At Christmas I am prone to repair old relationships and broken promises. I am more pensive about ill-fitting moods and careless remembrances. So I always get a bit mystical at Christmas. And at this beautiful season of the year, I emphasize within myself the real and enduring values I have frequently hurried past during earlier times of the year.

For some, the season of the Incarnation is a time when revelry turns to drunkenness and suicide is more frequent than at any other time of the year. But perhaps this is so because most of the human race is trying to assemble its own ill-fitting priorities on Christmas Eve.

The anticipation of earlier Christmas Eves has always been complicated by my "fatherly" need to put ...

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria for the event everyone has been waiting for: the presentation banquet for 'Greatest Person of the Twentieth Century.' Tonight we'll know the winner of this coveted award."

"For the past twelve months every publication in the country has speculated on the winner of this award. After all, this century has produced so many great persons. How can just one be chosen? And who should it be?"

"They're all here. The greats of the Twentieth Century. Franklin D. Roosevelt is here, along with his cousin and fellow president, Theodore Roosevelt. There's Mother Teresa chatting with Billy Graham and Frank Sinatra."

"I see Albert Einstein. And across the table from him, Thomas Alva Edison.

"Babe Ruth is over there, flanked by Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan."

"On opposite sides of the hall, we see Genera...

Jesus in Their Own Language

The Mapuche Indians of Chile wept as they heard Jesus speak their language for the first time. Seven times the usual number of Mapuche gathered at a missions preaching point in Rulo, Chile, to watch the Jesus film in their language.

"I don't understand the language, but you should have seen their faces," said missionary Richard Hawkins. "You could see they were understanding and were believing in Jesus. I was later told they were asking how Jesus could speak their language and why they had never before heard the gospel spoken in their language."

The COMMISSION, September, 1997

A Healthy Balance

"We forget that love and truth can be like sodium and chloride. Love without truth is mush, and truth without love...

A group of leading scientists has concluded that sincerely held religious or spiritual beliefs and practices can have a positive impact on physical and mental health.

The scientists said faith has the power to help ward off serious physical or mental illness, provides better coping skills once illness sets in, and enhances recovery. They also said religious faith is an advantage in overcoming alcohol or drug abuse.

The scientists urged academic researchers and health care providers to pay greater attention to faith's health benefits, saying that's what Americans want.

Dr. David Larson, president of the National Institute for Human Research (NIHR), said studies show 80 percent of Americans want religious or spiritual concepts included in the care they receive from doctors and other health care providers.

"Yet only one of ten doctors addresses spiritual or religious issues," Larson said at a Washington news conference.

Larson ...

It's Baaaacckk! It seems as if Christmas was last week and yet it is just around the corner. What most people want for Christmas is two more weeks to prepare. If we planned Christmas, we could not have planned it any worse.

We take a couple of weeks out of the year and have a musical at the church that involves everyone who can sing. We put the rest in bathrobes and act out the first Christmas. We add sheep and camels — no problem — just let them sleep in the church gym. Or better yet, let them roam the neighborhood. Last year we had a sheep reported roaming on a fairway of the country club at 3 a.m.

Totally redecorate the house with garland, mistletoe, trees, candles, lights, and even nativity scenes. Make the entire family go pick out the perfect tree. Then let the kids goof off while Dad tries to get it in the stand straight enough to please Mom. Mom decorates the whole thing while she yells at the kids to help. Let's also put Dad up on the roof and ...