Churches minister together after grand jury’s decision sparks new violence

By Lisa Sergent

Pray for St. LouisFerguson, Missouri | First Baptist Church of Ferguson stands in the middle of the chaos. “It was a rough, volatile night,” said Ron Beckner, the associate pastor. “The Little Caesar’s [Pizza] that burned down to the ground was across from our building, [but] there was no damage or anything on our property.

“It’s very quiet and business as usual this morning,” he noted.

Violence erupted in the St. Louis suburb Monday night, after a St. Louis county grand jury refused to indict a Ferguson police officer on any criminal charges in the shooting death of young black man. The streets were filled with protestors, some looting and setting cars and buildings on fire. Twelve businesses were burned and 61 people were arrested.

But, as of now, First Baptist Church is unharmed and still reaching out to a shaken community.

Two groups – one from FBC and another from a sister church – used FBC’s parking lot as a staging area Tuesday morning to go out into the community and pick-up trash and other debris left behind by the protestors. Beckner said the church “wants people to see that God’s people are on mission.”

The local school district cancelled classes the day following the grand jury’s decision, but requested the church be a pick-up point for student lunches prepared by the district. The church also allowed the district to have staff present for what he described as “students who wished to have an opportunity for education.”

Beckner described the situation as particularly frightening for people who live close by. “I was watching the Little Caesar’s burn down on TV and couldn’t help but think of the house that sits about 150 feet behind it. What must have been going through those people’s minds?” He walked by the house this morning and found no visible damage.

“We’re praying cooler heads prevail and that city leaders can shut the violence off. We need our leaders to take an active role.”

Referring to the protesters, he said, “It only takes a few to subvert the message…One of the saddest parts of the whole thing is the very businesses that were burned serve this community and provide jobs to the people who live in it.”

Local news is reporting that unlike the riots in August, the perpetrators of the damage to the community on November 24 where from the St. Louis area. Beckner said authorities had warned that outsiders could begin to arrive in 48 hours. “We were told it takes that long for instigators outside the community to arrive. When more and more people arrive from outside the area, it doesn’t bode well for the police or our citizens.”

First Baptist Church averages just over 200 Sunday morning worshippers. The congregation is diverse: oh one third of its members are African American and that number continues to grow. “We want to look like our community,” Beckner said.

Beckner also lamented how the national media are portraying the community as racist and segregated. Most of Ferguson is “fifty-fifty white and black,” Beckner said. “There’s not a lot of tension here especially among the older, more mature individuals. This picture being presented is not we lived before this incident took place.”

Throughout the tension that has existed since the August shooting, First Baptist has stood as a beacon of peace in the community. Beckner said, “We’re praying that God will get the glory and that His people will stand tall.”

“Sometimes we pray God will keep evil away from us,” he said. “That’s very noble, but we need to be God’s advocate in the midst of that evil. We need to be looking for doors of opportunity to be His hands and feet.”

Two weeks ago, First Baptist Church hosted a prayer meeting for spiritual awakening in the heartland, an event that was planned months before the August riots. Southern Baptist leaders joined local church leaders and members to pray for the salvation of Ferguson. That story appears in the December 1 issue of the Illinois Baptist newspaper and online at IBSA.org.

The_Briefing22% of Americans have received assistance from church-based food pantries, according to a new study by LifeWay Research. The survey of 1,158 people found 26% of churchgoers have turned to church-run programs for help, along with 18% of people who never attend services.

As temperatures climb in upstate New York, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are on hand to deal with snowmelt that could result in a food of floodwater in the Buffalo area, Baptist Press reports.

The American Center for Law and Justice continues to campaign for the release of imprisoned pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran, as that country negotiates a nuclear deal with the U.S. and other nations. “The American people were heard and Iran was not rewarded with a nuclear deal while it continues to imprison and torment a U.S. citizen. Yet Pastor Saeed is not free,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ, according to The Christian Post.

“Second, the reports indicate that there will be no lull in the negotiations; they will continue as soon as next month. That means now continues to be a critical time to pressure Iran to release Pastor Saeed.” Abedini, an American citizen, was arrested in 2012.

Two pastors arrested for “hurting religious sentiments” in Bangladesh could face sentences of two years in prison if convicted, Baptist Press reports. Police in the largely Muslim country also arrested 41 people who were listening to the pastors’ preaching, but they were released the next day.

“A distinctively Christian urgency” drives Christians to proclaim marriage as a life-long union of a man and a woman, Russell Moore said during the Vatican’s Human Colloquium last month. The president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was part of the gathering of 300 religious leaders, including Pope Francis.

From The Christian Post: Dueling pro- and anti-Duggar petitions circulated in the wake of reality TV matriarch Michelle Duggar’s public objections to a Fayetteville, Ark., civil rights ordinance that opponents said would allow transgendered men to use women’s restrooms.

HEARTLAND | Eric Reed

The world has gotten scarier in recent months. If the ongoing threat from Al Qaida, government-sponsored terror in Syria, escalating conflict in Israel, and the persecution of Christians across the Middle East were not enough, now there’s the march of ISIS, a vast, mobile, and unpredictable kind of terror that produces beheadings on our TV screens and a surge in troop deployment.

We might soothe ourselves by saying, “That’s far away—over there,” if not for Ferguson, Missouri. The scenes of protests following the shooting death of a teenager by a city policeman are still fresh, and the threat of deadly riots pending the outcome of a grand jury investigation of the policeman’s actions is even scarier. Our Illinois friends who live in metro St. Louis television market have been subjected to four months of daily news coverage predicting trouble. Teachers, pastors, and church leaders have all been advised what to do if protests again turn violent.

Eric_Reed_Nov24And don’t forget Ebola. For people all over the world, these are scary days. But into such frightening times, God often sends a message: fear not.

The Lord assures Joshua as he assumes command after Moses, “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Gideon, ordered to save Israel from the Midianites, is fearful until he hears from God himself: “But the Lord said to him, ‘Peace to you. Don’t be afraid, for you will not die’ (Judges 6:23).

From Lamentations, the prayer of all Israel: “You come near when I call on You;
You say: ‘Do not be afraid.’” (Lam. 3:57).

And most famously, the head of a night-sky army tells a little band of shepherds outside Bethlehem, “Fear not, for behold…” In their declaration there’s a reason for steely nerve: A savior, a rescuer has been born.

When God sends the message to be brave and courageous, he often couples it with an assurance of his own presence. “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

In Isaiah’s question, “Who has believed what we have heard?
And who has the arm of the Lord been revealed to?” (53:1), the prophet is referring to the coming Messiah. God’s strong right arm is Jesus himself. That’s who will defend us. That’s who will protect us.

“Fear not” is not an idle command; God backs up what he says. “For behold” is an invitation to look and see that His promise is ready to be tested and fully verified.

Jesus, walking on water, tells the disciples: “‘Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’

‘Lord, if it’s You,’ Peter answered Him, ‘command me to come to You on the water.’

‘Come!’ He said” (Matt 14:27-29).

Fear not, Peter, the Lord’s strong arm will hold you up, even on the roiling sea. With such an all-powerful guard alongside, there is no reason to be afraid.

Kizzie Davis, owner of the Ferguson Burger Bar, told KMOX radio last week she refused to board up her new business, as other owners were doing ahead of the grand jury’s report. The mom-and-pop hamburger shop opened one day before the death of Michael Brown and survived the first protests. “We had no issues at that time,” Davis told the reporter. “Prayerfully, we won’t have any issues if unrest occurs this time.”

Customers commended her brave stance. “Cool management. They fear no one, but God,” one posted at the restaurant’s website. (And the turkey burger topped with a fried egg got five stars.)

Davis reminds us all that we can’t live in fear, even in fearful times. And if we follow her example, we too will stay open, keep cooking, and pray.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist and associate executive director for IBSA’s Church Communications Team.

COMMENTARY | Josh Monda

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the EF-4 tornado that devastated parts of Washington, Ill. Brookport, New Minden, Diamond, Coal City and Pekin were among the other Illinois communities affected by powerful storms on Nov. 17, 2013.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the EF-4 tornado that devastated parts of Washington, Ill. Brookport, New Minden, Diamond, Coal City and Pekin were among the other Illinois communities affected by powerful storms on Nov. 17, 2013.

Humanitarian effort void of the gospel of Jesus Christ does nothing to change one’s eternal destiny. Moments after making this statement during a sermon, a tornado would rip through our town, passing a quarter mile from our church.

The day of the tornado was not without trouble, even before the storm came through Washington. A month before, my father-in-law had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. The day before the tornado, my 14-year-old daughter laid on my living room floor near death, and that evening was in the hospital.

Taking a full load in seminary, and trying to balance all that was going on in my life, I gathered our two young sons that Sunday morning and got them ready for church. The rest, as they say, is history. An EF-4 tornado hit our town as my congregation took shelter in the church basement.

It would have been easy then (and now) to focus on all that changed that day, or how everything after November 17 would be different than before. Indeed, a lot is different, even a year after the storm. Members of my church, deacons in my church, lost their homes. One of our deacons moved away, and for a small church, this is difficult.

Change has touched my family too. My daughter eventually recovered from the infection that put her in the hospital, but my father-in-law passed away before the tornado.

Not every change has been negative: After the storm, people seem more in tune to the needs of others, and thoughts about possessions have changed.

But my focus, and our church’s focus, is on something that will never change: the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was not by mistake that I would make the statement about humanitarian effort and the gospel moments before the tornado hit. Our focus has to be on the gospel.

When people are hurting, our focus must be the gospel.

When people are suffering, our focus must be the gospel.

When people know not where to turn, our focus is the gospel.

A tornado can change our circumstances, it can even change where we live. But a tornado will not transfer someone from the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of Light; only the gospel does this.

As a people, as a church, we can allow a tornado to either drive us to what truly makes a difference, or distract us from it. May our focus be on what makes a difference; may our focus be on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Josh Monda is pastor of First Baptist Church in Washington.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

At the Vatican’s Humanum Colloquium on the complementarity of man and woman in marriage—happening this week—Pope Francis affirmed marriage as providing “unique, natural, and fundamental good for families, humanity, and societies,” according to a report by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

“Pope Francis made clear that male/female complementarity is essential to marriage, and that this cannot be redefined by ideology or by the state,” said ERLC Executive Director Russell Moore, who is in Vatican City for the gathering of 300 religious leaders.

The_Briefing“I am glad to hear such a strong statement on this, and on how an eclipse of marriage hurts the poor and the vulnerable.”


Construction on the Washington D.C. Museum of the Bible is set to start by Dec. 1, reports Baptist Press. The museum will house the world’s largest private collection of biblical artifacts, owned by the Green family, who also own Hobby Lobby stores.

“We want to invite all people to engage with this book,” said museum board chairman Steve Green. “We think education is the first goal, for people to realize how this book has impacted their lives, and then consider the principles and apply them to their own lives because of the benefits that it brings.”

The eight-story museum, three blocks from the U.S. Capitol, is set to open in 2017.


Memphis pastor Michael Ellis was unanimously elected the first African American president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention during the convention’s annual meeting last week. “I just happen to be an African American,” said the pastor of Impact Baptist Church, who ran unopposed. “Race doesn’t matter,” Ellis told The Baptist & Reflector. “That’s what I love about our convention.”


With a sermon clocking in at 53 hours and 18 minutes, Pastor Zach Zehnder of Florida broke the Guinness world record for Longest Speech Marathon, The Christian Post reports. Zehnder’s message, preached from Friday to Sunday, raised money for a non-profit dedicated to drug and alcohol-addiction recovery.

The goal of the marathon message, he said, “was to talk about God’s ridiculous commitment to his people.”


One in every 30 U.S. children experienced homelessness last year, according to a report by the National Center on Family Homelessness. “America’s Youngest Outcasts” outlines the prevalence of the problem in every state and ranks them from best to worst. Illinois is in the middle at #25.


Baptists in Illinois joined in a “Concert of Prayer” at their Annual Meeting Nov. 5-6 in Springfield. Read a full report here.

HEARTLAND | Meredith Flynn

Women worship at the Ministers’ Wives’ Conference, held each year during the IBSA Pastors’ Conference.

Women worship at the Ministers’ Wives’ Conference, held each year during the IBSA Pastors’ Conference.

Ministers’ wives face a lot of expectations—from themselves and from other people. Often, those expectations are too high, said Sue Jones during IBSA’s annual Ministers’ Wives’ Conference and luncheon.

“As we confront expectation, as we confront worry, what we need to do is to remember the truth that God has for us,” said Jones, who has been married to her husband, Clif, for 34 years—30 of those in ministry. “That He will never leave us or forsake us, that He who has called us will complete the work in us.

“Am I there yet? Oh my goodness, no.”

God’s sovereignty was the theme of this year’s conference, held during the IBSA Pastors’ Conference Nov. 5. Jones, a native Southerner, entertained her audience with stories about her family and frank life advice, which she said may some day make it into a book about common sense living. She talked about her worries, and asked women to call out their own: money, children, church, husbands, not saying the right thing.

Jones urged minister’s wives to believe rightly by “taking every thought captive,” as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:5. How do we live transformed lives, she asked. God led her to try to memorize John 1. She didn’t want to, Jones admitted; in fact, once she got to verse 11, she felt like that was probably enough. But the words have helped her ward against worry.

Sue Jones from Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur shared about living a life transformed by a reliance on God’s Word.

Sue Jones from Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur shared about living a life transformed by a reliance on God’s Word.

“When I lay down at night and those thoughts come to my mind, I say, ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God…” said Jones, quoting the passage.

“And as I begin to pray John 1:1-11, I find peace. He is God. All things were made by him. He is light and life. I am dearly loved. I am the apple of his eye. There is nothing in my life, there is no hurt, there is no person, and there is no worry that is beyond the scope of the God of the universe. And I begin to discover rest.”

Libby Morecraft from First Baptist Church, Harrisburg, led in worship during the conference, and current officers Judy Taylor and Lindsay McDonald shared encouraging words about missions and marriage. IBSA’s Carmen Halsey spoke about upcoming women’s ministry opportunities, and encouraged the audience about the position they have.

“Yes, it’s different,” Halsey said. “Yes, there are some hardships that come with it. But it’s really a glory moment, too, that God trusted you to do something unique and put you out in front.” She encouraged women to “be the vessel” through which God works.

Ministers’ Wives’ Conference officers for 2015 are: president, Judy Taylor, Dorrisville Baptist Church, Harrisburg; vice president, Lindsay McDonald, First Baptist Church, Casey; and secretary-treasurer, Sue Jones, Tabernacle Baptist Church, Decatur.

The 2015 Ministers’ Wives’ Conference and Luncheon will be held Nov. 11 in Marion.

COMMENTARY | Meredith Flynn

As the crowd thinned and the reception neared an end, one voice could be heard from a table near the chocolate fountain: “Come over here and take my picture so I can go home.”

Thurman Stewart was kidding; he wasn’t looking for press, just laughs. Surrounded by other volunteers in yellow hats and shirts, he and his wife, Carol, marked the end of another day watching kids while their parents attended the IBSA Annual Meeting.

The Stewarts are part of a group of Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers who provide free childcare every year. Several of them also travel in the summer to the national Southern Baptist Convention to serve families there. And they have a mobile Disaster Relief childcare unit, so they can help kids and parents in crisis across the country.

At the Crowne Plaza in Springfield, their classrooms were stationed on the third floor, one level above the ballroom where the business meeting took place. Downstairs, messengers to the 2014 Annual Meeting adopted several resolutions, including one on including younger leaders in church and denominational life. Among several “resolved” statements, the document encouraged IBSA churches to pray for, identify and train young leaders, “and to release joyfully
young leaders into ministry.”

Callout_1113_edited-1But when they’re released, what kinds of ministries will these young leaders be looking for? Certainly, some will be pastors. Some will serve on committees and trustee boards. Some will lead mission teams to the other side of the world. And some, hopefully, will join the Stewarts’ ranks on the third floor. Or look for similarly vital roles that happen behind the scenes.

George Jones sang, “Who’s gonna fill their shoes,” about country music legends who are hard to replace. No one’s ever going to be like Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash, Jones sings. But who’s next? “Who’s gonna give their heart and soul to get to me and you?” he asks in the chorus.

The Stewarts and their fellow volunteers are the Illinois Baptist version of those country music superstars. Giving their hearts to work that isn’t front and center, ministering to kids and families and underserved communities. Perhaps young leaders can make the greatest contribution to church and denominational life by emulating the example set by the Stewarts and so many others.

Theirs are big shoes to fill.