Archives For Heartland

Pastor Curtis Gilbert

Ministry can be chaotic, said Belleville pastor Curtis Gilbert. In fact, it definitely will be. What pastors are called to is not a calling of ease or of superficial comfort, Gilbert told leaders at the 2017 IBSA Pastors’ Conference, but one that will call everything out of you.

The pastor of The Journey’s Metro East campus opened the conference with an encouragement to pastors to acknowledge the chaos, and to assess their lives and ministries in four key ways described by the apostle Paul in Titus 1:5-9. The Scripture passage was the foundation for the conference and its theme, “Time for a Check-Up.”

Gilbert urged pastors to evaluate their own love for Jesus, for the gospel, for their family, and for God’s people.

“Even the sheep that bite you are precious souls,” Gilbert said, adding that pastors can become arrogant and impatient when they stop viewing church members as God’s children, and when they forget that they themselves are every bit as much a sinner as their people. Don’t delegate all the shepherding to other people, Gilbert told pastors.

“Be with the sheep; it gives your preaching credibility,” he said, emphasizing that a pastor needs his people as much as they need him.

Joe Valenti spoke after Gilbert and smilingly accused him of stealing his message. “What he preached to you is what I’m going to preach,” said the student and missions pastor from Cuyahoga Valley Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio. “Namely, that if you would fall in love with the God of the gospel, if he would be your everything, then everything else comes out of that.”

Valenti, whose church is engaged in reaching unreached people groups with the gospel, quoted pastor and author John Piper, who has said, “You cannot commend what you do not cherish.” When pastors treasure the God of the gospel, Valenti said, relying on him for everything and never forgetting the first day they experienced his grace, “missions comes out.”

There are more than 11,000 people groups in the world, Valenti said, and more than 7,000 are still unreached with the gospel. That’s not a problem for the International Mission Board or for missionaries or for the Cooperative Program, he said. Rather, “We need to see the completion of the Great Commission as a personal problem.”

Pastor Brad Pittman

In light of eternity
The mass shooting at First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas, just two days before the conference began lent a heightened urgency to the meeting and the messages. Randy Johnson, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur, preached on how to share the gospel as if it’s going to be your last opportunity, while Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, told pastors the world they minister in is only getting darker.

The Christian worldview decreases a few percentage points every year, said Stetzer, former executive director of LifeWay Research and a long-time analyst of church and religion trends. And it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better, he added.

“I’m convinced that one of the reasons Southern Baptists are declining is that we have hidden our light under a bushel,” Stetzer said. But as aliens and strangers in the culture—as exiles—can we love people in the midst of cultural change, he asked. “If we can’t, we have a lot of explaining to do to Christians who have—for 2,000 years—done that.”

The 2018 IBSA Pastors’ Conference is Nov. 6-7 at First Baptist Church, Maryville. Officers are Bob Stilwell, president; Ben Towell, vice president; and Rayden Hollis, treasurer.

The vital few

ib2newseditor —  December 4, 2017 — Leave a comment

Pioneering Spirit logo

I don’t specifically remember the first time I heard about the “80/20 principle,” but I do recall finding it fascinating. Simply put, the principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes, or that 80% of sales come from 20% of clients, or that 80% of the wealth is owned by 20% of the population, and so on.

When management consultant Joseph Juran began popularizing the 80/20 principle in 1941, he more formally named it the Pareto principle, after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who published his own 80/20 observations in a paper at the University of Lausanne in 1896. Pareto showed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population, a principle that he first observed while noting that about 20% of the peapods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.

The 80/20 principle often resonates with pastors and church leaders, too. Not always, but many times, 80% of the work in a church seems to come from 20% of the volunteers, or 80% of the giving comes from 20% of the givers, or 20% of the congregation seems to require 80% of the pastor’s time.

We’re praying for at least 200 churches to make fresh commitments in four key areas.

Likewise in associational life, 80% of an association’s support can come from 20% of its churches. In fact, here in Illinois, 20% of IBSA churches currently provide about 80% of Cooperative Program giving. I suspect that further study would reveal many more 80/20 dynamics, both within and among churches.

The reality that the 80/20 principle underscores is that many, many things—from responsibility to productivity to generosity—are not evenly distributed within a group. Many groups have what Joseph Juran began referring to as “the vital few,” who carry the heaviest load in the group.

It’s the urgent need for more of those “vital few” churches here in Illinois that has led us to challenge IBSA churches to four “Pioneering Spirit” commitments during our state’s bicentennial next year. Between now and next November, we are praying for at least 200 churches who will register fresh commitments to church planting, evangelism, missions giving, and leadership development.

We call this going new places, engaging new people, making new sacrifices, and developing new leaders. Details, as well as registration information, can be found at the new pioneeringspirit.org website. Two hundred churches would not only match our state’s bicentennial, it would represent just over 20% of our churches.

These Pioneering Spirit challenges are simple, but they’re not easy. They challenge us to pray for, or partner with, or plant one of the 200 new churches that are needed in Illinois today. They challenge at least 200 churches to set a baptism goal that exceeds their previous 3-year average, and then focus intently on sharing the gospel. They challenge at least 200 churches to percentage missions giving through the Cooperative Program that increases each year toward 10%. And they challenge 200 churches to intentional processes that develop tomorrow’s pastors, church planters, and missionaries.

Apparently, at times, Joseph Juran referred to the 80/20- or Pareto-principle as “the vital few and the trivial many.” But later in life, he was said to prefer “the vital few and the useful many,” indicating a newfound appreciation for the necessity of the whole and not just the few.

I really appreciate that distinction, because I see value and uniqueness in every IBSA church, and understand there are many factors that influence what a church chooses or is able to do in a given area. Still, I think we have yet to see the impact we could have on our 200-year-old mission field, if at least 200 churches would step up and join the vital few.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Churches urged to take lessons from Illinois’ early settlers

You know the pioneer in the video you made, Stephen Stilley?” the woman said. “I’m his great niece. Seven greats.”

Stilley was a veteran of the War of 1812 who returned home to Illinois to continue the church planting work he started before joining the army at age 47. Stilley’s name is on a plaque outside First Baptist Church of Elizabethtown, founded in 1806. It’s IBSA’s oldest continually operating congregation, and one of four IBSA churches that predate Illinois’ statehood in 1818.

FBC Elizabethtown

“When I heard his name, my ears perked up,” said Sheila Jessen, assistant for the Baptist Foundation of Illinois. “My maiden name is Stilley.

“I went home and looked it up in our genealogy,” she continued. “My great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather John was Stephen Stilley’s brother. I’m the niece of a Baptist pioneer,” she said, her eyes welling up a little. “It’s beginning to make sense why I’m at IBSA.”

The descendant of one of the pioneering forebears was having a moment that could be common to all Illinois Baptists: realizing that we are descendants of hearty stock, both spiritual and literal, and in their pioneering DNA we find the fortitude to inhabit the land and build the Kingdom.

With the observation of Illinois’ 200th anniversary set to begin in 2018, IBSA offered a new call to spread the gospel across the state.

“What are we going to do to get off of the flat line we are on as Illinois Baptists?” Executive Director Nate Adams asked at the Annual Meeting. Adams outlined a four-fold plan to engage churches in new commitments to church planting, evangelism, missions-giving, and leader development. “We think these are at the very core of what it means to have a pioneering spirit.”

As with the pioneers in the early 19th century, the need of the 21st century is brave souls willing to do whatever it takes to stake new territory, taking the gospel where it has never been before. The goal is to have 200 or more churches committed to each of the four challenges.

Roles and role models
Throughout the meeting, the theme was interpreted with a series of interviews. First up, a couple who found in her family tree inspiration to go to a new place to plant a new church.

Bryan and Marci Coble moved their family from Texas, where he was in seminary, to Chicago. After briefly considering planting a church in Portland, Oregon, the Cobles felt led to explore Marci’s home state. Her grandmother sent them a clipping from the Illinois Baptist saying more churches are needed in Chicago.

But there was another influence. Marci, who grew up in Chatham, is the granddaughter of former IBSA executive director Maurice Swinford (1988-1993). “He was like a second father to me,” she said at the meeting in Decatur. “He encouraged me and invested in my life. He planted those seeds of leadership in my life.”

New places

Answering the call to church planting led the couple to the Irving Park neighborhood of Chicago, a diverse community of Anglo, Hispanic, African American, and Asian people on the city’s north side. The location explains why Bryan wore a Chicago Cubs cap for 30 days during their exploration process. Could this diehard Cards fan from Missouri minister successfully in the heart of Cubs territory? During that month, Bryan felt a growing love for the city and its lost people.

Across Illinois, there are more than 200 places and people groups in need of an evangelical church. There are many places similar to the Cobles’ neighborhood. Many are in highly populated urban areas. Many are in small towns and rural crossroads. In all of them, gospel-teaching Baptist churches are needed.

The church planting challenge is for churches to pray for new congregations, partner with a church planter to assist his work, or to lead in the planting of a new congregation.
Talking about Jesus

Pat Pajak shares Christ everywhere—even in the hospital where he had open-heart surgery. Pat told his story to show the pioneering need to engage people with the gospel. “We need to believe that God can do a marvelous thing in our church,” Pajak said. “There are lost people all around us.”

Pajak described two emphases that will be part of his work as IBSA’s Associate Executive Director for evangelism in 2018. One of them is part of a larger project led by the North American Mission Board: Gospel Conversations. Talking about Jesus is the simple calling of every believer, but many are shy to speak up. NAMB’s goal is to register one-million gospel conversations prior to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in June. NAMB has created a website where church members can report their personal conversations with lost people. There are also short videos from people sharing their “conversation” experiences. (GCChallenge.com)

new people

Pajak announced an IBSA project to baptize 1,000 people on April 8, 2018. “One GRAND Sunday” follows Easter, with the intent that witness training and gospel conversations will lead to baptisms. “We have 8 million-plus people in the state of Illinois who don’t know Jesus,” Pajak said.

This is an evangelism challenge. “We’re praying that 200 of our IBSA churches will baptize 12 people next year,” or more than the church’s previous three-year average. The hope is that churches will turn the decline in baptisms by setting evangelism goals and equipping members to share their faith, and by engaging lost people through evangelistic events and mission trips.

The commitment is for IBSA churches to become “frequently baptizing churches.”

Walking the walk
Lindsey Yoder charmed the crowd with her account of walking from Arthur, Illinois to Nashville, Tennessee: 300 miles in 27 days. The teenager first learned about human trafficking at an AWSOM weekend for teen girls, led by Illinois Baptist Women. Then, a movie on the subject convinced Lindsey that she must do something to help free young women, girls, and boys caught in the sex trade worldwide. Even in Illinois people are forced into sexual subservience. The most common route for bringing them into the state is along I-55 from St. Louis to Chicago.

Lindsey’s story is one of sacrifice.

A 14-year-old girl from central Illinois doesn’t often take on such a massive and awful cause. But this one did, one step at a time.

“It felt like I wanted to quit a lot. I refused to quit. I don’t like to quit. Sometimes putting one foot in front of the other is a lot harder than it sounds,” Lindsey said. And yet, she kept walking. On the journey she raised enough money to sponsor two “rescues” in a South Asian country.

Such sacrifice is what it takes to save people enslaved by sin.

Lindsay’s mother, Regina, who handled logistics for the trip and followed her all the way, said the support of their church was crucial. The people of Arthur Southern Baptist Church encouraged the teen and contributed to her cause, and by their example showed how Southern Baptists everywhere give for missions.

The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ best channel for supporting life-saving missions. With regular, systematic, percentage giving from its offerings, each church makes the sacrifice each week. The need calls us to greater sacrifice.

New sacrifices

Here’s how Nate Adams described this missions-giving challenge. “We’re asking churches to make missions-giving a higher priority in your budget. We’re asking would your church be willing to make CP a greater percentage of your budget—if the Lord would lead you to make new sacrifices to give through CP.”

The Pioneering Spirit commitment is for 200 or more churches to increase CP giving (for example, 1% per year) with a goal of reaching at least 10% of undesignated offerings.

Follow the leader
Roger Marshall said in his first 10 years as pastor of FBC Effingham, he conducted 150 funerals. Raising up new leaders was not an option, it was imperative. So he began to pray. “God really does identify new leaders,” he said. “It’s not just about finding new slots. It’s really about finding God’s person.”

New leaders

Roger was on the platform with his brother, David, who recently retired as associate pastor at Mt. Zion, and their father, Frank, a 63-year veteran of ministry who is 94.
“Be the kind of leader someone ought to follow,” David said. “That’s what my father was.”
The senior Marshall’s advice for leader development: help people identify their spiritual gifts and put them to use. And “don’t blame someone else for what you are…. Live your responsibility.”

This is a leadership challenge. IBSA’s Mark Emerson urged pastors to commit to leadership development for current members and potential young leaders. The goal is for 200 or more churches to have intentional development processes in place.

During the Annual Meeting, 53 IBSA churches made one or more of these commitments.
As Illinois itself turns 200, it’s clear the work of Baptist pioneers, begun by Stilley and others, is as much needed today as when the state was founded.

WATCH IT
See the video about four early Baptist pioneers in Illinois. Two current pastors tell the stories of the first church planters, starting with New Design near the Mississippi River in 1796.

Plus, watch the videos about the ministry of the Cobles (“Heart for the City”) and Pat Pajak (“Sharing Christ Everywhere”).

TAKE THE CHALLENGE
Read more about the four Pioneering Spirit challenges and how IBSA can help your church with training, goal-setting, and ministry partnership. Register your church’s commitment online.

Cabin churn side

Step into 1818: Log cabin houses early Baptist history

The urgent need to get the gospel to more people was a driving theme of the 111th Annual Meeting of the Illinois Baptist State Association (IBSA). Churches were challenged to make four “Pioneering Spirit” commitments in the areas of church planting, evangelism, giving, and leadership development.

The Pioneering Spirit theme also coincides with 200th anniversary to be celebrated in 1818. In keeping with the state’s bicentennial, IBSA is asking 200 or more churches to make each of the four commitments.

Moving from our current “flatland” to new heights in those areas will require a steep uphill climb, IBSA leaders said, but it’s the only option.

“We can’t be satisfied with the status quo, because the status quo is decline,” said Kevin Carrothers during his president’s message. Preaching from the book of Numbers, Carrothers, director of missions for Salem South Baptist Association, said no one remembers the names of the nay-saying Israelites who didn’t want to go into the Promised Land. Instead, the real legacy of pioneering spirit was left by Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who trusted God to provide.

Kevin Carrothers

Kevin Carrothers

“They recognized the will of God was more important to obey than the whims and the desires of men, even if the majority won,” Carrothers said.

In the meeting’s final session Thursday morning, Pastor Sammy Simmons offered an annual sermon full of encouragement for those weary from a difficult season of life and ministry. Rely on the Lord, said the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Benton, Ill. And keep taking bold steps for the sake of the gospel.

“The conditions are too rough, the lostness is too great for us to continue to do business as normal,” Simmons preached. “The cause of the gospel causes us to make bold sacrifices for King Jesus.

“I’m all in for this pioneering spirit. Oh, how much our church needs it. Oh, how much I need it. Oh, how much our state needs it.”

New challenges
During his report, IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams gave messengers a progress report on IBSA’s four key goals:

  • Develop leaders: So far in 2017 more than 500 pastors and leaders have participated in IBSA-sponsored leadership development events, Adams said. About half that number are engaged in more in-depth leadership cohorts.
  • Inspire cooperation: Adams reported that giving through the Cooperative Program and the Mission Illinois Offering is up slightly from last year, and through October, IBSA staff has had direct connection or consultation with 70% of all IBSA churches.
  • Stimulating church health and growth: So far in 2017, IBSA staff has trained over 5,800 participants from 527 churches. Children’s camp offerings have grown from three weeks to seven, Adams said, and IBSA has made major capital investments in both IBSA camps. The 75th anniversary of Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp was celebrated with a special video presentation during the Thursday morning session.
  • Catalyzing evangelistic church planting and missions: It’s been a busy year for Disaster Relief, Adams said, with volunteers responding to in-state disasters and hurricanes elsewhere in the country. IBSA anticipates long-term involvement in the Houston area hard hit by Hurricane Harvey.

Fourteen new churches were planted in the state in 2017, Adams reported, and IBSA welcomed 17 new churches for affiliation during the Annual Meeting.

Adams also pointed to other measurements, including membership, Sunday school attendance, baptisms, missions volunteerism, and missions giving, that have remained relatively flat over the past several years. He ended his report by encouraging churches to embrace one or more of the four “Pioneering Spirit” commitments designed to challenge IBSA to courageously depart from the status quo.

Throughout the meeting, the “Pioneering Spirit” commitments were detailed through interviews with Illinois Baptists who exemplify faithful service in four key areas:

  1. Go new places is a church planting challenge, asking at least 200 churches to commit to pray for new congregations, partner with a church planter to assist his work, or to lead in the planting of a new congregation.
  2. Engage new people is an evangelism challenge, which IBSA Associate Executive Director Pat Pajak described at the meeting. “We’re praying that 200 of our IBSA churches will baptize 12 people next year,” or more than the church’s previous three-year average. The hope is that churches will turn the decline in baptisms by setting evangelism goals and equipping members to share their faith, and by engaging lost people through evangelistic events and mission trips.
  3. Make new sacrifices. “We’re asking churches to make missions-giving a higher priority in your budget,” said Adams. “We’re asking would your church be willing to make CP a greater percentage of your budget—if the Lord would lead you to make new sacrifices to give through CP.” The Pioneering Spirit commitment is for 200 or more churches to increase CP giving (for example, 1% per year) with a goal of reaching at least 10% of undesignated offerings.
  4. Develop new leaders. Mark Emerson, associate executive director of IBSA’s Church Resources Team,urged pastors to commit to leadership development for current members and potential young leaders. The goal is for 200 or more churches to have intentional development processes in place.

Other business
– Messengers approved the 2018 IBSA budget of $8.7 million, with projected Cooperative Program giving of $6.3 million. IBSA forwards 43.5% of Cooperative Program gifts on to national SBC causes, the eleventh-highest among 42 state conventions.

– Messengers approved a motion brought by the IBSA Board of Directors that all property currently held by IBSA for Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services be conveyed by deed to BCHFS in its entirety. This includes 17 tracts of property (744.9 acres) that were acquired for use and are used by BCHFS, but are currently titled to IBSA.

– IBSA’s ministry partners gave video reports throughout the business meeting, including Illinois Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) and President Jill McNicol. God has advanced the work of WMU and given them new opportunities to reach new people, McNicol said, noting three places—Southeast Asia, the Bronx, and Cairo, Ill.—where Illinois women have served on mission in the past year.

“To the women of WMU, missions is not just a thing. It’s people. It’s lost people needing a savior. And it’s teaching Christians how to live on mission for God, to reach those lost people.”

Officers

NEW OFFICERS – Each of IBSA’s four officers were elected by
acclamation: (Left to right) Sharon Carty, assistant recording
secretary; Adron Robinson, president; Adam Cruse, vice|
president; and Robin Mayberry, recording secretary.

– IBSA’s four officers for 2018 were elected by acclamation: Adron Robinson, president, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills; Adam Cruse, vice president, pastor of Living Faith Baptist Church in Sherman; Robin Mayberry, recording secretary, member of Bluford Baptist Church; and Sharon Carty, assistant recording secretary, member of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville.

The next IBSA Annual Meeting is Nov. 7-8, 2018, at First Baptist Church, Maryville. Tom Hufty, pastor of FBC Maryville, will bring the annual sermon, and Michael Nave, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Marion, will serve as the alternate speaker.

Illinois Baptist Team Report

Can it happen here?

ib2newseditor —  November 18, 2017

church pews

The 26 lives taken in an act of evil at a Sunday morning church service on Nov. 5 at Sutherland Springs, Texas shocked the nation. It was the largest mass shooting at a church in the history of the United States, but sadly, not the first. And it happened at a Southern Baptist Church, one named First Baptist, like so many around the country.

Still, many believe it won’t happen “here.”

It could and it already has. In March 2009 Pastor Fred Winters was shot and killed while preaching from the pulpit at First Baptist Church Maryville.

The Illinois Baptist interviewed Rich Cochran, director of leadership development at IBSA, who was minister of education and children at FBC Maryville that tragic Sunday morning.

“We ignore reality because we don’t want to face it and don’t know what to do,” he said. “We’d rather keep our heads in the sand.”

Cochran was just getting ready to enter the sanctuary when the shots rang out. The church had a security plan, but the gunman who was also armed with a knife and stabbed two church members who tried to restrain him, still managed to fire four shots before he could be subdued. The killer, who had no known connection to Winters or the church, was later found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Remembering that morning, Cochran said, “I don’t think there was a whole lot of second guessing. We had a plan and [after] we created a more detailed plan. There was a tornado threat that day and that was the plan that had been reviewed that morning.”

The repercussions are lasting, taking an emotional toll on the staff and congregation. “There are still dreams about and emotions from what happened,” he shared.

Cochran referenced Tom Hufty’s message at the IBSA Annual Meeting on Nov. 8., when Hufty said he “still runs into people with strong hurts that don’t go away.” Hufty took Winters place as pastor of FBC Maryville.

Hufty noted the different emotional responses that occurred within the congregation. According to Hufty, some said, “I can’t come back to that place. Others closed ranks — we’ve got to stick together we can’t let Satan win. And others needed a new start.”

When asked what advice he would give to pastors and staff thinking about putting a church safety plan together, Cochran said it’s important that pastors and staff process and walk through mentally and verbally would what they do were such a thing to happen.

“Review your risk, take an assessment, know where your vulnerabilities are, minimize those vulnerabilities, live out your mission,” those are the key things they can do.

He also noted, “It’s important congregations be extremely friendly, engaging everyone. Then, you can notice when something isn’t right. Then, it doesn’t seem like you have the National Guard in your lobby. The best way, is to train people to be nice and to welcome everyone.”

There is a danger in letting fear take hold he cautioned. “If we pat our heads and build mega-forts around ourselves we do a disservice to missionaries. If we protect ourselves so much it disrupts our mission we’re out of whack. There is a constant tension.”

Prayer does play a role. “We need to pray, yes, we need to prepare,” he nodded. “Yes, we need to live by faith. We live in a world where evil is present. Even Jesus said there would be troubles.”

In the simplest of terms Cochran urged, “Prepare, prepare, prepare. Then you have to walk by faith. We’re called to illuminate the darkness.”

– Lisa Misner Sergent

Thnaksgiving Blessing Celebrating Grateful Meal Concept

(Editor’s note: For thirty years, Chicago Tribune columnist Joan Beck annually penned a wonderful essay of thanks. It was part song, part poetry, and a lovely grocery list of God’s blessings in the year nearly passed. Beck died in 1998. Here we offer our own humble version, with thanks for her example of gratitude.)

As we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessings,
396 years after the first Thanksgiving Day,
we are grateful, dear God
For pilgrim fathers and mothers
who survived privation and dismay,
only to see your rich blessings
on the other side of suffering.
Their spiritual journey reached fulfillment on these shores;
Brave Pilgrims in a fearful new world,
Found welcome and home.

Now thank we all our God—
For that signal year 1517,
When an agitated priest sounded a protest,
Nailing his complaints to the church house door.
The echo of his hammer rings today.
We are grateful inheritors of the Reformation,
Expiation, Propitiation
Justification, Sanctification;
that the just shall live by faith alone;
For grace that grants to us salvation
offered freely but in Christ alone
my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song.

Here we are, five centuries past, and the Protest lives.
The freedoms won by our spiritual ancestors are still protected;
We are grateful for the Constitution that lets us worship freely—
even though our theology differs,
And to speak freely—even when others object.

O God, our help in ages past, our help for years to come…
For responders first on scene in crisis and storm,
That in their service we see the Ultimate Rescuer.
For those who come in the second wave;
“Yellow Shirts” and the Relief they bring,
the love they extend for the One who gave
his very life the dying to save,
and for standing for us all, we sing,
You’re a good, good father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are,
it’s who you are.

Give thanks with a grateful heart…
For text and Skype and e-mail too—
(I may never have said that before)—
because it keeps our loved ones close
though they live on distant shore.
For faithful companions for life’s journey
and a church that proves they’re truly family
in our time of need,
and for man’s best friend
who loves us steadily to the end
(not only because we feed them)
thank you.

For summer tomatoes and cornbread dressing,
Folded hands and children’s blessing,
The Spirit’s whisper in times distressing;
For “miracle drugs” and miracles real,
For doctors, nurses, and the God who heals,
for the will to get up and the desire to soldier on,
for endurance and insurance and the blessed assurance
that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Amen.

Eric Reed is editor of Illinois Baptist media

Andreson-Ponce

Chicago pastor Dave Andreson (left) met Puerto Rican church planters while serving on the island in October, including Jose Ponce, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Resurrección in Isabela.

Arecibo, Puerto Rico | In October, Southern Baptist volunteers began relief efforts in Puerto Rico after the U.S. territory sustained devastating damage from the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The volunteers are working through Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send Relief initiative, but their work is unlike other Disaster Relief projects.

“The circumstance is so unusual that we have to take the full responsibility of this response on our own,” said David Melber, president of Send Relief. “That means buying and shipping the food, renting warehouse space, sending the kitchen equipment, and then providing the volunteers to do the cooking. We are forging our entire response by ourselves.”

Chicago church planter Dave Andreson spent a week in Puerto Rico as a trained Disaster Relief chaplain. Andreson, a U.S. Army veteran, couldn’t shake the growing burden he felt for the island. “I had to get there,” said the pastor of Resurrection City Church in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood.

While plans to send volunteers to Puerto Rico were on hold immediately after the storms, Andreson attended a two-day Disaster Relief training at Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp in southern Illinois. One week later, with Baptist volunteers able to get into Puerto Rico, Andreson boarded a flight from Chicago to San Juan.

McKnight

Pastor George McKnight and his wife, Debbie, pause for a photo at Green Island Baptist Church in Puerto Rico, which lost its roof and was flooded during Hurricane Maria’s sweeping destruction.

He served with a Disaster Relief team from Virginia in Arecibo, a city 50 miles west of San Juan in northern Puerto Rico. The team stayed at First Baptist Church there and spent their days cleaning out homes and removing downed trees. Andreson said the teams are working under the leadership of local pastors who understand the people and needs in their communities.

Since the hurricanes, Andreson said, many people are leaving Puerto Rico. Their workplaces are still without power, most schools are still closed, and if you have running water, it’s not safe to drink. FBC Aricebo has already lost about 40 people. One church planter Andreson talked to is worried his young congregation won’t survive.

But the Chicago pastor said he believes Puerto Rico is primed for the gospel. “Physical suffering makes us aware of physical need, and those physical needs always open the door by which the word of God, the gospel proclaimed, makes us aware of our spiritual need,” Andreson said.

“This is a horrible thing that happened, but it’s a good gift from God by which the gospel will go forward. Now more than ever, the church in Puerto Rico, the church of Jesus Christ, has an opportunity to shine the light of Christ.”

The punishing hurricane season has left its mark in other parts of the U.S., including Florida and in Texas, where Illinois teams have served in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. For more information about Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief opportunities and training, go to IBSA.org/dr. To learn more about opportunities in Puerto Rico through Send Relief, go to sendrelief.net.

– Meredith Flynn, with reporting from NAMB