Archives For April 2015

Haiti, at last

Meredith Flynn —  April 24, 2015

Texas youngster visits the school she —and Illinois mission teams—helped build

After four years of prayer and giving, it was all hugs and smiles as Mackenzie (right) visited a community school in Bigarade that her missions giving helped build.

After four years of prayer and giving, it was all hugs and smiles as Mackenzie (right) visited a community school in Bigarade that her missions giving helped build. Photo by Bob Elmore

Bigarade, Haiti | Several years ago, this community in Port-au-Prince was just a flood plain. Now, more than a hundred
homes dot the landscape, and children run down the dirt roads to their very own school.

Recently, there was a new face at the school, though one who’s very familiar with its story. At nine years old, Mackenzie Howell has been working to renew hope in Haiti since 2011, when she saw a documentary about the devastating earthquake that rocked the country the previous year.

Four years after she started raising money to help kids and families there, Mackenzie visited Bigarade and the school she helped build. “Seeing the kids” was what she looked forward to most before the trip, and was also her favorite part of being in Haiti, she told the Illinois Baptist.

“She really does care about this,” said Mackenzie’s mom, Alison, who also went along on the trip led by IBSA’s Bob Elmore. The Howells, who are from Nederland, Texas, met Elmore through International Mission Board missionaries working in Haiti
after the earthquake. Mackenzie sent her first donation—$1,400 raised through a coin drive at her preschool and a bake sale at church—to the missionaries to help with construction projects. They connected her with Elmore, who facilitates IBSA’s short-term mission teams in Haiti.

First she had a bake sale. Then, in 2013, the Texas girl wrote a book to help children in Haiti. File photo

In 2013, Mackenzie wrote a book to help children in Haiti. File photo

Since her first project, Mackenzie has raised more money with several other initiatives, including sales of “Leila’s Big Difference,” the book she wrote and published in 2013. Elmore, several teams of volunteers, and Haitian workers have turned Mackenzie’s gifts, along with other donations and resources, into a school for more than 100 children in Bigarade.

Instant community
The school property was vacant in November of 2011, when Elmore first saw it. “It was a goat field then…we just kind of wrote it off,” he said.

When he returned the next spring, a local Christian man named Thomas had gotten permission to put up a tarp and bamboo school on the site. People on Elmore’s mission team were asking, “What can we do?”

That fall, after receiving an anonymous donation to purchase the land, Elmore took a team to Bigarade to start construction on the school. At least eight Illinois churches and associations helped with the project. The facility now doubles as Gosen Church.

Bigarade is an “instant community,” Elmore said, a product of the earthquake that drove people from where they were and forced them into new living situations. Before the school was built, kids were either walking to another community or not going to school at all.

Mackenzie's mission team prepared lunch for kids at the school in Bigarade.

Mackenzie’s mission team prepared lunch for kids at the school in Bigarade.

Working in the school was one of the main objectives for Mackenzie and her team. They came prepared to do a two-hour
lesson each day with crafts, and to provide lunch for the kids on three days.

“Our ultimate goal is to start a feeding program where the kids can have lunch every day,” Alison said a few days before her
team left for Haiti. It just seems like something God would want them to do, she said, to feed his children. The team took with them enough money to start construction on a kitchen for the school, and also a classroom for the youngest students.

Thomas, who put the early school on the property, is now headmaster, and students arrive every morning in blue and white uniforms. Once a goat pasture, the school now employs seven teachers, and has 114 students. The feeding program will employ two or three cooks and purchase food from local sources, Elmore said.

On a recent mission trip to Haiti, Mackenzie Howell, 9, worshiped in the church she helped build after a massive earthquake.

On a recent mission trip to Haiti, Mackenzie Howell, 9, worshiped in the church she helped build after a massive earthquake. Photo by Mary Russell

Complete God
“Why don’t we dance at church, Mom?” That was Mackenzie’s question after her first Haitian church service, where lively singing and dancing was a big part of the worship experience. (Alison’s response: “I don’t know; why don’t you talk to the pastor about that one?”)

“…It was such a blessing to watch her,” Alison said of her daughter during the trip. “She really grew throughout the week.” And Mackenzie’s not finished with Haiti, not by a long shot. She wants to go back—soon. And she’s planning a second book.

“It’s going to be about Leila [meeting] a white girl that came from the U.S. to visit her school and help out with the school and do crafts and stuff, kind of like how I did.”

Recently, she shared about Haiti with kids in her church’s Awana program. Mackenzie’s grandmother, who also was part of the March trip, came out of the room crying, Alison remembered.

“Whatever you do, don’t practice with her,” was the grandmother’s advice for Mackenzie’s future speaking engagements. “…She had them laughing and crying,” Alison said. “It’s because it really does come from her heart.”

In Haiti, Mackenzie taught her new friends a dance she had choreographed in honor of their country to a song with special meaning there, “I Am Not Forgotten.” Watching, Alison said, “It was just such a beautiful picture of how complete God is.”

“So many times, we give to missions or do this and that…but we don’t always get to see the fruits. I just continuously thank God that’s he’s allowed us to see so much of the fruit of his work.”

Reported by Meredith Flynn for the Illinois Baptist newspaper, online at

Click through the slideshow below for more photos from Mackenzie’s trip to Haiti. Photos are by Bob Elmore and Mary Russell, Mackenzie’s grandmother.

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Illinois_map_AprilCOMMENTARY | Lisa Sergent

Just outside my office door, there is a large map of Illinois with each county outlined and labeled. Every county has been shaded in to represent the percentage of the population who are Southern Baptist.

When I heard about the April 9 tornado outbreak and where it occurred, my thoughts immediately went to the map. The northern part—the region most affected by the storms—has counties in white (no IBSA churches), dark green (one IBSA church), and a particular shade of orange denoting that just 0.5 to 0.99% of the population belongs to an IBSA church.

Disaster Relief spring callouts like the one in northern Illinois after the tornadoes are nothing unusual. In April 2013, chaplains and mudout teams responded to the Peoria area after widespread flooding. March 2012 saw a tornado strike Harrisburg, destroying homes and businesses. Chaplains and chainsaw teams were called in to comfort and to clear debris.

But this ministry opportunity is different. The previous spring callouts in our state have served areas with a much higher ratio of IBSA churches. These most recent tornadoes touched the northern part of Illinois, the part with little Southern Baptist or other evangelical presence.

In Ogle County, where the town of Rochelle is located, there is just one IBSA church to serve the county’s 52,000 people. In DeKalb County, home to the Fairdale community that was devastated April 9, there are just three IBSA churches with fewer than 300 resident members. DeKalb’s total population is 105,000.

Illinois Baptists now have an opportunity to reach out to the unreached in new ways. Chainsaw teams from four associations of churches—Fox Valley, Quad Cities, Sinnissippi, and Three Rivers—worked in Rochelle the weekend after the storms. Disaster Relief coordinators monitored the situation in Fairdale, but found it was completely destroyed, leaving nothing large enough for chainsaw crews to remove.

Not only were IBSA Disaster Relief teams at work, but teams from other evangelical denominations also were on the scene. Their presence is something new for an area that consists mainly of Catholic and mainline Protestant churches.

Illinois Baptists have a unique opportunity to share Christ’s love in a unique time of need. My prayer is that we take this opportunity to minister to the peoples in these and surrounding communities, sharing Christ—perhaps, as never before—in this region of our state.

Lisa Sergent is director of communications for the Illinois Baptist State Association and contributing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

People with gay or lesbian friends are almost twice as likely to say same-sex marriage should be legal, according to a survey by LifeWay Research. Half of all Americans overall believe gay marriage should be legalized, but the percentage jumps to 60% for people who have gay or lesbian friends (and decreases to 33% for those who don’t).



An additional LifeWay survey found 30% of Americans believe homosexual behavior is a sin, down from 44% in 2011.

On April 28, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in several same-sex marriage cases.

Thirty Ethiopian Christians were killed in two attacks by ISIS in Libya, according to a video released by the terrorist group April 19. “That these terrorists killed these men solely because of their faith lays bare the terrorists’ vicious, senseless brutality,” said U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan.

Back in February, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore asked in a blog post, “Should we pray for the defeat of ISIS, of their conversion?”

Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd has designated the Tuesday evening session of this summer’s SBC Annual Meeting as a “National Call for Prayer.” Floyd has recruited 11 pastors to help lead the prayer meeting, including Paul Kim, pastor emeritus of Antioch Baptist in Cambridge, Mass., K. Marshall Williams, president of the National African American Fellowship, and Timmy Chavis, chairman of the SBC Multi-Ethnic Advisory Council.

“One of the unique moments of the evening will be when we embrace and celebrate our ethnic diversity, which may also involve moments of repentance and reconciliation,” Floyd said in a blog post about the service.

Baptist pastors and leaders will share the stage with a potential presidential candidate at the 2015 SBC Pastors’ Conference in Columbus, Ohio, June 14-15. Dr. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and author, will speak during the Sunday evening session. Earlier this month, he said on his Facebook page that on May 4, he will announce whether or not he will run for President.

Which missions job is right for you? Take this interactive quiz from the International Mission Board.

Raymond and Betty Kramer hug each other after being interviewed by the media about their experience in a Rochelle, IL restaurant's storm cellar while a tornado was on the ground above them. This photo was taken during and interview  in the town of Fairdale, IL, which was completely destroyed by tornado April 9.

Raymond and Betty Kramer hug each other after being interviewed by the media about their experience in a Rochelle, IL restaurant’s storm cellar while a tornado was on the ground above them. This photo was taken n the town of Fairdale, IL, which was completely destroyed by tornado April 9.

HEARTLAND | Lisa Sergent

Raymond Kramer and his wife, Betty, were driving home from Rockford, Ill.,

when it started to hail. As the icy stones got larger and came down harder, they started to look for shelter. Then, to his west, Kramer saw a funnel cloud on the ground.

The funnel cloud was part of a tornado outbreak that hit northern Illinois April 9. It caused destruction in town of Rochelle and completely destroyed the small community of Fairdale, where two people died.

The Kramers, members of Grace Fellowship in Ashton, took shelter in Grubsteakers Restaurant, where “the owner herded us through the kitchen, out the door, and we made a u-turn down into a good old-fashioned storm cellar,” Kramer told the Illinois Baptist.

When the tornado had passed, they tried to open the cellar doors, but found them blocked by debris. The back dining room and pantry walls had fallen on top of the doors. And the restaurant owner’s SUV had been lifted up by the tornado and was sitting on top of the walls.

Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief workers survey damage after a tornado outbreak in northern Illinois April 9.

Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief chainsaw teams were on the scene two days after a tornado outbreak in northern Illinois April 9.

The Kramers prayed with 10 fellow survivors as they waited for first responders to arrive, which they did in 30 minutes. However, it took two hours for responders to free them. Sitting in the dark with only cellphone flash lights and, later, a light passed down by the responders, the Kramers prayed with the group.

One woman was crying, and as his wife comforted her, Kramer prayed. “I pray aloud in situations like this,” he said.

To help everyone relax, Kramer said he started singing, “’I’ll be there to pick you up in the wheel barrow honey, after about a quarter past eight….’ Then, I sang, ‘Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be will be…’”

Since the tornado, Kramer has been interviewed by local and national media who have called the 81-year-old and his wife heroes. “We’re not heroes,” he said. “We’re just servants of the Lord Jesus Christ…I had the joy of the Lord down there. I prayed to my God and I knew He would protect us.”

IBSA Disaster Relief participated in clean-up efforts after the tornado outbreak. Chainsaw teams from four associations of churches—Fox Valley, Quad Cities, Sinnissippi, and Three Rivers—worked at three homes in Rochelle.

Rex Alexander, Disaster Relief Coordinator said the callout “was a good opportunity for northern teams to work in their own backyard.”

To learn more about Disaster Relief ministry, go to or call (217) 391-3142.

Starting July 1, the IRS will implement a $100-per-day per employ excise tax on some churches, depending on the number of full-time employees they have, and how they cover health care premiums (IRS Notice 2015-17).

Churches with one full-time employee, and churches with two or more full-time employees in a qualifying group plan will still be allowed to provide pre-tax reimbursement for health care benefits. But churches with two or more full-time employees who have individual policies (or where one or more employees are on their spouse’s insurance plan), will not be allowed to provide pre-tax reimbursement. Those churches may be penalized.

Most pastors who have health insurance through GuideStone will not be penalized, because GuideStone coverage is considered a group plan.

For those who have individual policies and serve churches with two or more full-time employees that would be penalized, IBSA is exploring the option of providing an IBSA Group Associational Plan through GuideStone, which would meet the group policy requirement and protect the church from the excise tax. Pastors interested in this plan should contact IBSA by April 30, as IBSA will only pursue this option is there is sufficient interest.

Additional information is available at

Contact or call (217) 391-3133.

Editor’s note: The following Trevin Wax column from first appeared on his Kingdom People blog, hosted at


Summer is for vacations and, for many pastors, denominational gatherings. The Southern Baptist Convention is no exception. This year, we’re meeting in Columbus, Ohio, the 15th largest city in the U.S., one that is well outside of the Southeast where most of our churches are based.

Trevin_WaxIn the past decade, though the attendance at the annual meeting has risen and fallen in conjunction with the location and the major topic of conversation (or controversy), the overall trend has been a dwindling of messengers. This isn’t surprising, considering the loosening of denominational loyalty and the variety of good conferences a pastor can attend.

But Columbus might buck the decline. Here are three reasons I’m particularly excited about this year’s annual meeting.

1. The annual meeting is trending younger.

In Baltimore last year, we saw a 10-year high of younger messengers involved in the convention proceedings. Baptist Press has reported that “nearly one-fourth (24.68 percent) of attendees were younger than age 40. That surpassed by more than 4 percentage points the previous best for the age group, recorded in 2013.”

My first visit to a Southern Baptist Convention was in San Antonio in 2007 as a 25-year-old associate pastor. I remember my initial shock at the small number of young people present. Recent years have seen an upswing in younger Southern Baptist engagement, a reality that is especially surprising when considered alongside the millennial generation’s diminishing enthusiasm for institutions in general. What this tells me is that the annual meeting is beginning to show signs of becoming a vibrant network, not just a report on denominational infrastructure.

2. The schedule of the annual meeting has been reworked in order to highlight the things we are most passionate about.

Few people get excited about a business meeting. Most messengers admit they come to network and see friends, not sit through every session of the SBC. But this year will be different, thanks to a reworking of the schedule under the leadership of the SBC’s president, Ronnie Floyd. For example, all the missions entities will present on Wednesday morning, and it won’t just be a time of reports, but also commissioning of missionaries.

The Send North America conference, slated by the North American Mission Board for this summer in Nashville, already has drawn more than 7,000 registrants, a staggering figure when you consider the fact that only one Convention since 2010 has come close to that number.

What does this tell us? Southern Baptists are hungry for a meeting that casts vision and rallies our people around a great cause. They’re not necessarily there, first and foremost, to vote on resolutions.

But resolutions matter. And so does our business. As Southern Baptists, we should care about the annual meeting, and we should care about this meeting because we care about the Kingdom of God. Business meetings come and go, with their moments of boredom and hilarity, awkwardness and quiet power, and yet in these moments, decisions are made, courses are set that define our cooperative work the rest of the year. It’s not glamorous, but the work of the Kingdom rarely is. This year, however, features a streamlined schedule that emphasizes what we’re there for.

3. We will pray for God to awaken His church to the opportunities before us.

The Tuesday evening meeting will be time of prayer and worship, a pleading with God to revive His people and empower our witness. It is easy to bemoan the moral decay of our culture, the encroaching limits to religious liberties and the difficulty of evangelism in a relativistic society.

But we shouldn’t miss the opportunity here. By cherishing once-common things, such as marriage between a man and woman for life, and core Christian doctrines, such as the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, we have the opportunity for our ordinary obedience to shine even brighter in a pluralistic world that bows to Aphrodite. The annual meeting gives us the opportunity to lay aside our differences, unite around our common confession and lock arms for the cause of Christ and His Kingdom.

Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project, a Gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages published by LifeWay Christian Resources.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

After an unarmed man was shot and killed by a South Carolina police officer, urban ministry strategist D.A. Horton advocated “radical righteousness” instead of retaliation.

The_Briefing“Radical righteousness is lived out when we work to see a criminal receive proper punishment, instead of private revenge; public order instead of personal retaliation; and respond with practical righteousness in place of our personal rights,” said Horton during a chapel service at Charleston Southern University April 8. The North American Mission Board’s national coordinator for urban student missions said the church must pursue the “radical righteousness” Jesus prescribed in Matthew 5:38-42, according to Diana Chandler’s report for Baptist Press.

“I was not present for Mike Brown [in Ferguson, Mo.], for Tamir Rice [in Cleveland, Ohio], for Eric Garner [in New York City], for Ezell Ford [in Los Angeles] and for the multitude of names that have been going down. I wasn’t there when the officers got gunned down in Brooklyn,” Horton said.

“… But what I do know as a believer, there was a real world with real hurt. There [are] real issues going on out there. And if believers cannot look to the words of Christ, and be words of comfort and clarity to our culture, then we don’t need to be claiming to be the church.”

The American Humanist Association has dropped its lawsuit against a New Jersey school district, allowing students to continue saying “under God” during the Pledge of Allegiance. Read the full story at

A prayer written by Southern Baptist pastor Jack Graham will be read around the country on May 7, the National Day of Prayer. Graham is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and current pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in the Dallas metro area.

“We repent of our sins and ask for Your grace and power to save us,” says Graham’s prayer, which will be read at Day of Prayer celebrations. “Hear our cry, oh God, and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we may walk in obedience to Your Word. We are desperate for Your tender mercies. We are broken and humbled before You.”

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is urging Christians to promote an April prayer emphasis with the hashtag #PrayforMarriage. Last week, the Southern Baptist ethics entity issued a challenge to pray at 10 a.m. (Eastern time) on April 28, the morning the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in several same-sex marriage cases. The web page includes a sample prayer guide.

A majority of Americans believe politics would be more civil and effective if politicians read the Bible more. Read more in Christianity Today’s report on the 2015 State of the Bible study from the American BIble Society.

More news from the State of Bible report: Of the nearly 7,000 languages used as first languages, more than half lack a completed Bible translation. At the same time, 72% of Americans believe the Bible is available in all the world’s languages. Read more at

By the year 2050, Pew Research has forecasted, 38% of the world’s Christians will live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, Europe’s share of the global Christian population will continue to decline, from 66% in 1910, to 26% in 2010, to 16% projected for 2050.