Congregations engage in global missions through sacrificial giving to Lottie Moon Offering

Larry Pepper

Larry Pepper was a NASA flight surgeon before God put him on a different trajectory — working with the International Mission Board at hospitals in Africa.

Editor’s note: This year’s Week of Prayer for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions is Dec. 2-9.

Larry Pepper was on a trajectory. He was a NASA flight surgeon who was good at his job, active in his church, involved as a dad—and possibly headed for space. It wouldn’t be long before he ended up as a candidate finalist for a space mission. But God interrupted his plans. As Pepper (left in photo above) thought more and more about his life and its eternal significance, he felt God saying, “You’ve committed everything to me except your job.” It soon became evident God was drawing him to walk away.

“I was beginning to see the world through God’s eyes in terms of lostness,” said Pepper, an International Mission Board doctor in Africa. “For me, that meant seeing if I could use my medical skills in a way that had more kingdom impact.”

So more than two decades ago, he, his wife, Sally, and their three children packed up and moved to Africa—first to Uganda, then Lesotho and Tanzania. Over the years, the Peppers have spent countless hours at the bedside of the hurting, leading them to lasting hope in Christ.

Pepper’s hospital is at the end of a beaten-up road in Tanzania. The facility occasionally gets as full as it can get, and then runs on empty. In the past, it’s had moments where sick children slept two or three to a bed. It’s had moments where anesthetic drugs for C-sections and suture materials for surgery have run out.

Waiting room.jpg

WAITING ROOM – Because of the volume of need at Kigoma Baptist Hospital in Tanzania, the hospital may occasionally run out of room or resources. But IMB medical missionary Larry Pepper says churches always step up to fill in the gaps.

But the situation has never stayed that way for long, the doctor said. Over and over, churches have stepped up to cover the hospital’s needs, all the way from wheelchairs to building a new pediatric wing.

“Churches of all sizes have helped,” he said. “And because they have, we have seen God work to spread the gospel in amazing ways.”

Over the past 22 years, churches have supported the Peppers’ work through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering®, the funding source that keeps them on the field. They have provided equipment, and they have met the hospital’s daily needs.

“We’re just two people,” Larry said. “But we find that when other people get a passion to come alongside us, God uses it to further his kingdom.”

The church connection
Every week, worshipers at a church in Shelbyville, Ky., pray for Pastor Fabio in Brazil. Chris Platt, pastor of Highland Baptist Church, says that’s because they’ve met Fabio—and that in turn has made missions personal.

Ever since Chris’s church partnered with the work of IMB missionaries Scott and Joyce Pittman in São Paulo, Brazil, several years ago, the needs there have had faces and names. As the people of Highland Baptist have traveled annually to carry out outreach in the city of 22 million, it’s made them see their part in the “whole ball of wax” that is the Great Commission, Chris said.

“You’ve got missionaries doing what they can and the church doing what we can,” he said. “When you go out into their city and meet the people, your love for missions just comes alive. You give more, you pray more, and you think more about missions.”

Highland Baptist is “no superstar missions church,” Platt said, but the annual trips have bolstered the Pittmans’ work and made the church see that it is “one piece of the puzzle.”

The same is true at First Baptist Church of Andersonville, Tenn., where members give $90,000 annually—the amount needed to fund one IMB missionary couple for a year. The commitment to give has caused a cultural shift in the church, said Pastor Steve Lakin—people are more involved in giving and going too. “We’re just a small church, but through our giving to the IMB, we see how God is using us.”

To learn more about the offering, visit www.IMB.org/lmco.

– Stories and photos from the International Mission Board

Our family photo

Lisa Misner —  November 29, 2018

By Meredith Flynn

New churches

We call it the most chaotic three minutes of the year. It’s the part of the IBSA Annual Meeting when churches that are affiliating with IBSA come down front to receive their certificates and take a photo together. We documented it in this space a couple of years ago, celebrating the warmth of the moment and the fun of meeting new IBSA family members, and bemoaning the fact that it is never a very good photo.

This year was no different. But we had heard it might be. Of the 11 churches joining IBSA at this year’s Annual Meeting, only about half were able to send representatives to Maryville. This will be a small group, we thought. We’ll fit on a single row.

But when the first church was called, the back few rows of the left side of the sanctuary emptied and Collinsville Community Church made their way down the aisle. Usually, only a pastor or a couple of church leaders come down front. But church planter David Seaton brought many members of his young congregation with him to Maryville.

As they kept coming, and were joined by representatives from other churches, I could almost hear the wheels turning as those of us on IBSA’s Church Communication Team considered how to get dozens of people into an artful arrangement across the front of the sanctuary. The photo you see here is the result of our stewing.

Like that picture from two years ago, it’s a bit chaotic. It will win no awards. But the subject matter is perfect. The churches in this photo represent different brands of the “pioneering spirit” that was focus of the Annual Meeting. Some, like Collinsville Community Church, are relatively new churches driving hard at the work of transforming their towns and cities with the gospel. They’re reaching people that didn’t have any interest in church before.

And some, like First Baptist in Orion, have established a longstanding, faithful presence in their communities. FBC Orion just celebrated its 175th anniversary. The congregation and others like it show their pioneering spirit when they seek out new ways to partner with other churches, so that the gospel might advance across Illinois.

What unites the churches is this shared testimony: Partnership for the sake of the gospel is valuable, and worth scooting over to make room for each other. Facing the challenge of Illinois’ challenging mission field is easier when we do it together.

Briefing

Study: Americans rank family (over faith) as top priority
A Pew Research Center survey released Nov. 20 discovered twice as many Americans say family is the most meaningful aspect of their lives (40%) compared to the second most popular choice: faith (20%). Among Christians, more than half say their faith provides a “great deal” of meaning, and 29 percent identified it as the most important source of meaning. Only two religious traditions ranked religion as their top source of meaning: evangelical Protestants and historically black Protestants.

Third of Brits uncertain about theology questions
According to a Ligonier Ministries’ survey, a third of people in the United Kingdom say they don’t know whether the Resurrection actually occurred, whether God counts a person righteous based on faith alone, or whether trust in Jesus alone leads to salvation. In Ligonier Ministries’ first-ever theology survey conducted in the UK, “I don’t know” was the top response to numerous questions about Jesus, sin, the Bible, and other rudimentary theological concepts.

Survey highlights Lifeway customer service
LifeWay Christian Resources is ranked as one of the top companies in the nation for customer service by Newsweek magazine. LifeWay also landed at No. 1 for brick and mortar bookstores on Newsweek’s list of America’s Best Customer Service 2019. Statista surveyed more than 20,000 U.S. customers who have either made purchases, used services or gathered information about products or services in the past three years.

‘World’s most isolated’ tribe kills US missionary
A 26-year-old American missionary was killed Nov. 17 on a remote island off the coast of India, where he attempted to share the gospel with the most isolated tribe in the world. The All Nations missionary traveled to North Sentinel Island to evangelize its small indigenous population, who remain almost entirely untouched by modern civilization. Indian police have not yet been able to retrieve the young missionary’s body.

China sentences US pastor to prison
Chinese authorities have convicted and sentenced Christian pastor and US permanent resident John Sanqiang Cao to seven years in prison as part of China’s aggressive crackdown on Christian pastors. Cao was reportedly transporting Bibles and other materials from China into Myanmar when security agents arrested him.

Sources: Christianity Today (3), CBN News, Christian Headlines

Living history

Lisa Misner —  November 26, 2018

‘Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.’

– Wisdom from the 16th President, delivered at the Annual Meeting

By Illinois Baptist Team coverage

Lincoln on platform

Fritz Klein, Abraham Lincoln interpreter

Jesse Webster’s church has a big dream. Webster, the young, bivocational pastor of Sugar Camp Baptist Church near Mt. Vernon, wants to purchase a large church facility in a different part of town and relocate his congregation to the new neighborhood. His church is on board and ready for the massive shift in direction. They sense God leading them this way.

“God began to burden our hearts for a people he wanted us to reach,” Webster said at the IBSA Annual Meeting Nov. 8. He once thought their historic building was the one thing his church wouldn’t be willing to give up. But, Webster said, “Where we were was hindering us from following God.”

The pioneering spirit of Sugar Camp and more than 200 other IBSA churches was on display at the Annual Meeting, held this year at First Baptist Church in Maryville. Webster joined IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams for a Wednesday evening service dedicated to the steps churches must take in order to reach our Illinois mission field with the gospel.

The vast spiritual need in Illinois, where at least 8 million people do not know Christ, was communicated most poignantly by the words of the state’s most famous pioneer. Delivered by renowned interpreter Fritz Klein, the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln echoed with new resonance in 2018, the year of Illinois’ bicentennial celebration.

“We are now surrounded by critical circumstances, well fitted to test our national faith. Indeed, to test our own individual virtue,” Klein said as Lincoln. In a presentation drawn almost entirely from Lincoln’s writing and speeches,

Klein brought to life the words of a President who cited Scripture and talked about faith more often than he is credited for today.

A century and a half after they were first spoken, Lincoln’s words imbued the meeting with a sense of urgency. “We’re going through a trial, and this fiery trial through which we pass will light us down, either in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation,” he said. “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, this last best hope on earth.

“We cannot escape history.”

It’s that urgency that has compelled churches in Illinois to embrace a pioneering spirit, which doesn’t always guarantee success, but meets critical circumstances with determination, creativity, and faithfulness to the task.

“I don’t know if it will work,” Adams said of Sugar Camp’s plans. “But that’s what makes it pioneering spirit.”

Adjustments worth making
At the center of the Annual Meeting were four “Pioneering Spirit” challenges churches have embraced over the past year. At the 2017 gathering of Illinois Baptists, IBSA set a goal for at least 200 churches to embrace one or more of the challenges. At the final tally, 220 churches committed to go new places, engage new people, make new sacrifices, or develop new leaders.

When a church pursues that kind of spirit, they often have to make adjustments, said Tom Hufty, pastor of FBC Maryville. Preaching the annual sermon to close the meeting Nov. 8, Hufty used an acrostic to highlight the steps needed to make those adjustments:

A: Check your attitude
D: Make wise decisions
J: Jesus is at the center of our adjustments
U: Understand your enemy is a spiritual one, not flesh and blood
S: Submit to God regardless of your preferences
T: Trust the Lord

Hufty used Philippians 2:5-11 as a backdrop for his message, calling his listeners to the attitude Christ showed when he humbled himself for the sake of his mission. Some adjustments we look forward to, Hufty said. Others, not so much. But when the prize is valuable, the adjustments required are worth making.

“We have someone to value,” he said. “His name is Jesus. He’s in the middle of all our adjustments.”

As churches seek to advance the gospel, there will be growing pains, Adron Robinson preached in his president’s message Wednesday afternoon. The IBSA president and pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills described the early church’s struggle with division—“growing pains,” he called them.

Acts 15 finds the early church in the middle of a major dispute. Some leaders were teaching that the Old Testament law of circumcision was required for salvation. The line they drew separated Jews from Gentiles, and diluted the new covenant established by Christ’s death the cross. The leaders were feeling superior because they had been chosen by God. They were the gatekeepers.

These “growing pains” in the early church had to be resolved because of the urgent need to get the gospel to more people, Robinson preached. Growing pains in churches today often result in racism, in division, in one group believing they’re superior over another. Our modern-day growing pains need resolution too, for the sake of the gospel.

“Salvation has never been about race, but it’s always been about grace,” he said. All believers in Jesus Christ have received the same grace—that’s why we should receive one another.

“It is amazing grace that saved wretches like us. It is amazing grace that God allows each of us to participate in the Great Commission to reach the world with the gospel,” Robinson said. “Let us grow in grace, so that we can endure the growing pains and preach his great gospel.”

Celebrating together
In his report to messengers at the meeting, Adams shared six highlights of the past year, beginning with a new enthusiasm for baptisms. Through the One GRAND Sunday emphasis last April, IBSA churches baptized 671 people. Youth Encounter, IBSA’s annual evangelism conference for students, saw a 32% increase in attendance over last year, Adams said, and 62 people received Christ at the event’s first four locations.

Through leadership development processes, IBSA has trained almost 7,000 leaders representing 500-plus churches. And in the area of Cooperative Program giving, Adams reported, Illinois has been sending more than 40% of CP gifts to the national SBC for decades. The current ratio is 56.5% for missions and ministry in Illinois, and 43.5% to the national SBC, ranking Illinois the 12th highest among 42 state conventions.

Adams and IBSA also recognized several individuals who have achieved ministry milestones:
• Becky Gardner, who, as chairperson of Southeastern Seminary’s trustees, is the first female chair of a seminary board;
• Phil Miglioratti, recently retired after 18 years as IBSA’s prayer ministries consultant;
• Dale Burzynski, who is celebrating 50 years as pastor of Ina Missionary Baptist Church; and
• Sandy Barnard, who will retire in January after more than 33 years at IBSA, most recently as executive administrative assistant.

Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year. To mark the milestone, Adams presented BCHFS Executive Director Denny Hydrick with a $10,000 check during the BCHFS report.

In other business, messengers to the Annual Meeting:
• Re-elected Robinson as president, along with his three fellow officers who served IBSA last year. Adam Cruse, pastor of Living Faith Baptist Church in Sherman, was elected to a second term as vice president. Robin Mayberry of First Baptist Church, Bluford, was re-elected to serve as recording secretary, and Sharon Carty of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville was re-elected as assistant recording secretary.
• Adopted a budget with a Cooperative Program goal of $6.2 million.
• Approved changes to the IBSA Constitution presented for a second reading at this year’s meeting, and heard a first reading of proposed changes that include adding a nepotism clause to the BCHFS and BFI bylaws, mirroring wording currently in the IBSA Constitution.
• Welcomed 11 new churches affiliating with IBSA: Collinsville Community Church; First Baptist Church, Orion; First New Bethlehem Baptist Church, Chicago; Garden of Peace, Chicago; Grace Church, Metropolis; Harvest Bible Chapel, DeKalb; Iglesia Bautista el Calvario, Elgin; Manito Baptist Church; New Zion Baptist Church, Rockford; Real Church, Chicago; and Redemption Hour Ministries, Romeoville.

The 2019 IBSA Annual Meeting is Nov. 6-7 at Cornerstone Church in Marion.

– Illinois Baptist Team coverage

Our annual thank you note

Lisa Misner —  November 22, 2018

A prayer of thanksgiving for 2018

cornucopia

By Eric Reed

(Editor’s note: For more than three decades, Chicago Tribune columnist Joan Beck annually penned a Thanksgiving essay recalling the year’s blessings. Her offering in free verse was a fan favorite and serves as our template, with input from the Illinois Baptist team.)

As we gather together
to ask the Lord’s blessings,
397 years after the first
Thanksgiving Day,
we are grateful, dear God,
for this year of lows and highs,
praise and sighs,
all which showed your mercy.

We give thanks with a grateful heart–
For our Savior who proves
time after time
He’s a friend who sticks closer
than a brother,
Who by his life and death
and life again
gives us a peaceful rest and a
perfect end.
My chains are gone,
  I’ve been set free,
And grace is still Amazing.

Now thank we all our God–
For the survival of democracy,
freedom of religion, press,
and speech;
For hope that civility will be
restored
And the nation will return
to her Founder.
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
  Confirm thy soul
  in self-control,
    Thy liberty in law!

What the Pilgrims struggled to
secure we have in abundance:
food on our table
and family around it;
those here now and
those who once were.
Thanks for texts, technology,
and prayer that keep us
in contact;
for the communion of saints
and so great a cloud of
witnesses who cheer us on to
the faithful completion
of our race.
And cousins.

Our blessings are a grocery list
of wonder drugs and Eliquis,
caring nurses and specialists.
Thank you, God, for gainful
employment
and Kingdom work.

Did we mention Fancy Nancy
and giggling Peppa Pig?
making toddlers laugh
and dance little a jig,
pre-schoolers’ discoveries too
quickly turning to senior year,
the pleasure of watching kids
grow tall,
trusting God who’s over all
will keep them safe.
For Crock-pot weather
and chili time,
Autumn in colorful riot,
the joy of snowfall’s first blanket,
relief at its last,
and Spring’s eternal hope.
The uplift from worship
when we don’t feel like going,
encouragement from church
family and knowing
God will meet us there.

When upon life’s billows
  we are tempest tossed
By trials undreamed and
searing loss,
You invite our cry, we boldly say,
Lord, I need you, Oh, I need you;
  Every hour I need you.

Eternal Father, strong to save
Daily I am grateful that
You walk with me
and talk with me
and tell me I am your own,
even when I feel distant or alone
your rod and staff,
  they comfort me.

No matter what next year may
bring, we attest with confidence
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.

Resolution calls for eradication of racism
At their annual meeting this month, the churches of the Missouri Baptist Convention approved a resolution denouncing the 1857 Supreme Court ruling that Dred Scott, a slave living in a free state, was not an American citizen and therefore couldn’t file suit in a court of law. (Scott was appealing to the court for his freedom.)

The resolution at the Missouri Baptist Convention meeting called on the state’s legislature to denounce the ruling and urged “our churches to continue to reach out to all persons regardless of ethnicity showing mercy to all for whom Christ died, and look forward to the day that we will gather as a diverse assembly in heaven.”

Related: At the Annual Meeting of the Illinois Baptist State Association, IBSA President Adron Robinson called for an end to divisions in the church. Watch his message here.

Chitwood unanimously elected to lead IMB
New International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood said Southern Baptists’ global missions force can grow in number again, but it will require “greater generosity and a greater willingness to sacrifice.”

ERLC, other religious agencies oppose tax law
Opponents to a provision in federal tax laws say it “will hopelessly entangle the [Internal Revenue Service] with houses of worship.” Plus, churches will face a 21% tax on employee benefits like parking and transportation.

Offerings up in 2018, pastors say
A new LifeWay Research survey found 42% of Protestant pastors say their church’s offerings are up over the previous year, and 45% say the current economy is positively impacting their church.

‘An opportunity to be human’: Seminary training transforms life in prison
Religion News Service reports on Christian education programs inside prisons, and how they’re training students to be “field ministers” to fellow inmates.

Sources: The Pathway, Baptist Press (2), LifeWay Research, Religion News Service

Rest and peace

Lisa Misner —  November 19, 2018

Effective ministry

By Nate Adams

The weeks leading up to and including our IBSA Annual Meeting are probably the busiest and most demanding of the year for me. I’m always relieved when it’s all over, and very ready to head home for some rest and peace. This year, however, I drove directly from that fun and challenging meeting to the funeral visitation for a relatively young pastor.

Driving home afterward, both the stress of the day and sorrow of the evening collided in my thoughts and emotions. I had just challenged hundreds of pastors and church leaders to a “pioneering spirit” that would go new places, engage new people, make new sacrifices, and develop new leaders. This wonderful pastor had been engaged in all those—church planting, evangelism, missions giving, and preparing tomorrow’s missionaries and pastors.

Yet I had just looked into the eyes of his grieving family and friends. And I knew him and his situation well enough to know that health and stress factors played a role in the timing of his life’s end. I found myself wondering if I shouldn’t personally invest as much time encouraging pastors and leaders to guard their health and prioritize their family as I invest challenging them to do more in ministry.

Effective ministry over the long haul requires that we take care of ourselves.

So, as the holidays approach again this year, a time when pastors and leaders are especially vulnerable to stress, exhaustion, and even depression, let me remind us that effective ministry over the long haul requires that we take care of ourselves, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Here are four ways pastors and leaders can do that.

First, we can believe God’s Word and ask him, directly in prayer, to guard our hearts and minds with his peace. The Bible says quite plainly in Philippians 4, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Second, we can take care of ourselves physically. No matter how much we feel has to be done, no matter how many demanding people are in our lives, there is always time for rest, for exercise, and for recreation.

Third, we can watch out for one another. Sensitive leaders in congregations can watch for signs of stress or poor health or depression in their pastor and come alongside to help. Pastors can check in on other pastors. Regular accountability meetings with another trusted leader are a great way to keep your health from spiraling downward.

And finally, many pastors could benefit from meeting with a trained counselor. Our friends at Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services now offer six free counseling sessions for both pastors and pastors’ wives, through their Pathway Counseling ministry.

These licensed, Christian professionals will listen and help you work through personal concerns and a plan for the future, all from a place of grace and confidentiality. Counseling is available at a dozen different locations across Illinois, and can begin with a simple phone call to (618) 382-3907.

Some of the most comforting words Jesus ever uttered are recorded at the end of Matthew 11 when he said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Ministry is challenging, and being a pastor or church leader can be stressful, even depressing, if you make the mistake of trying to carry its burdens alone. As you enter this busy holiday season, may you also find the rest and the peace you need to pioneer for the long haul.

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