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By Meredith Flynn

Quilters_small

“Each one of us has got some adopted grandchildren.” In a Sunday school classroom at Marshall Missionary Baptist Church, Alberta Siverly explains why she and her sisters meet here every week. Along with their friend Karen Wallace, the sisters are assembled to work on quilts for an annual auction held by Illinois’ Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services (BCHFS).

Today’s work isn’t focused on quilts for this year’s auction—the 20 bed-sized blankets the small group creates every year are finished, ready for pick-up and transport to BCHFS’s Carmi campus. Alberta says they like to work ahead. The sewing they do these Wednesday mornings at the church and on their own time at home is for next year’s quilts, and for the baby blankets and prayer shawls they create when they hear of a need.

Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, adopted or not, are the subject of much conversation around the table as the sisters and Wallace share stories and back-to-school photos. Dona Sanders, the youngest sister, has a granddaughter who was adopted through the Children’s Home as an infant. She’s now a junior in high school.

The Marshall quilts have raised tens of thousands of dollars for BCHFS since 2005, when the group created their first one for the auction held during the agency’s annual fall festival. Now in its twentieth year, the festival is BCHFS’s single-largest fundraiser, said Executive Director Denny Hydrick.
This year’s fall festival is Sept. 21 in Carmi.

The Marshall quilters and other partners across the state enable the ministry of BCHFS, Hydrick said. The agency, which celebrated its centennial anniversary last year, receives no state or federal funding and is supported by donor individuals and churches.

“Each church probably has its own story,” Hydrick said, “but from my perspective, partnerships are so intertwined with the ministry, you just can’t exist without them.”

All in the family
Organizers estimate this year’s auction will have between 60 and 80 quilts, with at least a quarter of those created by Loving Hands, the ministry that started 25 years ago out of Marshall’s “old lady class,” as Siverly calls it.

“Wait a minute, don’t put that in there,” Wallace says. “Just put ‘mature class.’”

“This is the last class you go to before you get promoted,” says Shirley Shumaker, another sister. Promoted, as in heaven. As they work, the quilters speak often of Carolyn Siverly, Alberta’s sister-in-law who passed away in May. And Martha Garner, their oldest sister, who will turn 90 in October. After a recent fall, she’s currently in a nursing facility.

Draped over a chair next to their work table is the last quilt Carolyn worked on. “I had to finish it for her,” Alberta says. The sisters say Carolyn was born with a talent for colors and fabrics. “She could throw in an odd block that you wouldn’t think would even belong in that quilt, but it looked right,” Wallace said. She’s the group’s newest recruit, but she lived down the street from the sisters when they were young.

As Wallace sews and the sisters look over patterns and swatches, they teach a crash course in quilting. The quilt patterned with interlocking circles is “Double Wedding.” Another with little girls in profile is “Holly Hobby,” also known as “Sunbonnet Sue.”

Sunshine on the front porch.

Blocks, batting, backing.

“We love to talk quilts,” Siverly says. “My husband, before he passed away, he said, ‘Alberta, you’re going to turn into a quilt.’”

The sisters and Wallace hold several different conversations across the table, often finishing each other’s sentences. “Eat, sleep, and drink quilts,” one says. Across the room: “And then repeat.”

Loving Hands started when a woman at the Marshall church wanted to be more involved in missions. She had a garage built at her home so the group could meet there; they rotated from one member’s home to another before eventually moving their weekly meeting to the church. They gather Wednesday mornings to get ideas and to plan future projects, but the majority of the sewing they do at home.

Pastor Paul Cooper steps into the classroom to greet the quilters, recalling a lunch he shared with the group early in his tenure as pastor. He had driven them to Carmi to drop off their auction quilts and suggested a Mexican restaurant on the way back. Not accustomed to the cuisine, every one of the quilters ordered the same entrée—a chicken chimichanga.

“We got him young,” Siverly says affectionately of their pastor. “We trained him the way we wanted him to go, with God’s help.”

“He’s doing really well too,” adds another quilter.

The Loving Hands ladies talk about the need to recruit new blood for the group. A fellow church member built them a large quilt stand positioned just outside the sanctuary. They swap out the featured quilt every few weeks—the one currently on display has a woodland theme, with animals hidden throughout.

As they stand in the foyer examining the quilt, the Loving Hands greet the few people here on Wednesday morning with hugs and conversation. Some are actual family, others just feel like they are.

“Everybody down here’s related to everybody else.”

Cultural crossroads
Two hours south of Marshall, Susan Shilling works on a quilt with a group of brand-new sewers. Shilling, who has helped lead the quilt auction for BCHFS for 10 years or more, is teaching the ins and outs of quilting to junior highers at her church, First Baptist in Grayville.

“They’re real beginners,” Shilling said. “Two of the girls had never touched a sewing machine.” She plans to do the actual quilting for their creation, but she’s been careful to let them sew together the pieces of the quilt top. “If they have a boo-boo, they have to pick it out themselves and fix it. I want to be able to say the girls made the quilt.”

Shilling marvels at what the Marshall group accomplishes each year. “I just can’t imagine how they get all those quilts made.” When she drove to Marshall to pick up this year’s quilts, she saw the file cabinet in the Sunday school classroom, already full of projects for next year’s auction.

The quilts sold this year will benefit the four main ministries of BCHFS: residential care at the Children’s Home in Carmi; care for new and expecting mothers at Angels’ Cove Maternity Center in Mt. Vernon; adoption services; and counseling offered at Pathways centers around the state.

In addition to those initiatives, Hydrick says BCHFS is also pursuing a new avenue of ministry: a crisis pregnancy clinic. The new opportunity is in response to Illinois’ new abortion laws, which repealed several longstanding restrictions on the practice. The clinic would provide pregnancy testing and ultrasounds, as well as counseling for women as they make decisions.

“In our one hundred years of history, the ministry has always adapted to meet more contemporary needs,” Hydrick says. It’s been 100 years since the first sibling group of four came to live at the Carmi campus. A century of ministry has been made possible by the benevolence of donors and giving churches, he says.

In Marshall, the Loving Hands quilters are considering a future trip to Illinois Amish country to look at material and get ideas for upcoming projects. Youngest sister Dona will likely drive, because she has a van. They’ll continue to meet on Wednesdays, working on quilts for people in need, now and in the future.

“Eat, sleep, and drink quilts.”

“And then repeat.”

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist.

Tithing

Today churches will collect the Mission Illinois Offering. From Cairo to Chicago, East St. Louis to Westville, the mission work of IBSA is made possible by gifts from partner churches. Discipling kids at camp, training next-gen church leaders, reaching people who don’t know Jesus — it’s all because you give.

Pray that Illinois Baptists who support our shared mission work may give generously today.

Thank you for supporting and praying for state missions in Illinois. Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering at MissionIllinois.org.

Day 2 Grand Calling

More than 700 people were baptized in IBSA churches in the month of April. “One GRAND Month” focused on baptism, which increased 7% last year. But we have a long way to go.

Pray for new believers. And pray for IBSA churches to reach unbelieving people with the gospel throughout the year.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.

By Eric Reed

Wide Shot of CrowdShawn and Paige Ruffino live in Sesser, a small town of about 2,000 people in far south Franklin County. Sesser is Paige’s hometown, and Shawn says he has come to love it as his own. That’s why he’s concerned for the spiritual future of the people who live there.

Likewise, the leaders of the church where the Ruffinos are members, Immanuel Baptist Church in nearby Benton, are continually growing in their concern for lost people in Benton and Sesser, and throughout their county. “We’ve been praying at Immanuel for many years for the 26,000 who are lost in our county,” Pastor Sammy Simmons said. “I desperately want everyone the hear the gospel.”

Simmons has led Immanuel Church to join a new IBSA initiative called Everyone Hears. In our state of nearly 13-million people, at least 8-million don’t know Jesus as their personal savior. In many places lostness seems especially great. And there are pockets of hope, where churches are focused on sharing the gospel with everyone who will listen. Everyone Hears aims to organize those efforts, with an evangelism cycle that begins with prayer, and moves through specific activities to demonstrate caring, sharing the gospel, baptizing new believers, and where there is an emerging core group, starting new churches.

Day 3 Church Planting“The purpose of Everyone Hears is that every man, woman, boy, and girl in a certain region can hear the gospel multiple times in ways they can understand,” said Eddie Pullen, IBSA’s church planting strategist who is leading the initiative. So far, 25 IBSA churches across the state are participating in Everyone Hears, targeting their own communities, or areas nearby.

Immanuel Baptist is seeking to reach their county, and Benton and Sesser in particular. At Easter, the church cancelled events at their campus and took worship services outdoors in both communities. About 200 people attended in Sesser, and at least 60 of them had no church affiliation.

The church has engaged in other activities, including praying for lost individuals by name on many occasions, giving away groceries, working to improve the park, hosting opening ceremonies for local ball teams. Bible distribution and a social media campaign are next steps on their outreach list.

“The idea of gospel saturation really hit my heart,” Simmons said. “It’s not just the idea that we want somebody to hear the gospel once and think that’s good enough. Surveys say sometimes it takes seven times where somebody hears the gospel before they make a decision for Christ. And so we want to saturate our area with the gospel such that you can’t miss it.”

Immanuel Church is engaged in international missions, spreading the gospel in Uganda through 12 trips in eight years. But, the pastor said, “we can’t ignore the reality that there are people who have never heard in our own backyard.”

Shawn Rufina

Shawn Rufina

Shawn Ruffino agrees. “We believe it can happen right here; gospel saturation can start right here.” That’s why Ruffino is leading outreach in Sesser. He chokes up as he says, “Jesus changes us, and he can save us, and he can use us no matter what we’ve been through.”

Or where we live.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering and Week of Prayer.

By Jack Lucas

Pupils and teacher smiling at camera in library at the elementary school

Back-to-school season is upon us, offering your church a great opportunity to serve families, teachers, and administrators in your community. Much of our back-to-school outreach often centers around meeting physical needs. School supplies, free haircuts, new tennis shoes—all of those giveaways and donations are wonderful ways to help families in this busy, often expensive season.

But churches can also look beyond August and September for effective ministry to families and education leaders in their communities. In addition to your back-to-school outreach this year, consider adding one or more of these longer-term strategies:

Try to meet unique needs. One school in our community required each student to stock the office by bringing a ream of copy paper at the beginning of the school year. We asked the school what they needed most. Paper, the staff said, so our church provided enough paper for the year, so that families didn’t have to. Throughout the year, check in periodically with schools in your area to ask what unique needs your church can help meet.

Share your space. Another of our local schools had space issues in their gym. We opened our church gym so their teams could practice there, and also hosted school sports banquets in our fellowship hall. Families visited our church who first heard about us after their child met us through school sports.

Work with administrators. You may be surprised at how willing your local principal is to partner with your church. Even with the caution required to keep church and state separate, school administrators often understand churches want to help, with no other agenda in mind. Our church was blessed to build relationships with principals who sent people our way when they had a specific need. Seek out these relationships with school administrators in your community, asking how your church can help.

Don’t forget older kids. Teens in our community responded well to a back-to-school bash at the church. They came to the high-energy outreach to reconnect with their friends, and left with a calendar of events we’d planned for the year ahead. Your church can also do this around holidays, or at the end of the school year as you look ahead to summer activities. Let them know they’re welcome at your church, and that there are specific opportunities for them.

Expect a cumulative effect. The best way to sum up back-to-school outreach is that it often moves the needle little by little as your church builds relationships with teachers, administrators, and families. The impact you make will likely share a close correlation with how consistent and sacrificial your ministry is, and how prepared you are to interact with the families that do show up at church.

As you brainstorm ministry opportunities this fall and beyond, ask your leaders and volunteers these questions:

  • What can we offer teachers and school administrators in the way of resources and encouragement?
  • How can we position our church as a go-to resource for families in need of support?

Our church had the opportunity to minister to couples and families that we never would have had if we hadn’t provided school supplies for their children, or hosted basketball practice for their student’s team. This year, gear up for long-term ministry that really helps families.

Jack Lucas is IBSA’s director of next generation ministries.

Rsource Fall 2019This article is adapted from the Fall issue of Resource magazine, which is available at Resource.IBSA.org.

By J.D. Greear

Editor’s note: Churches in Illinois baptized more than 700 people during One GRAND Month last April. September 8 is Baptism Sunday across the Southern Baptist Convention.

JD GreearFor several years now, I have been greatly burdened by the declining number of baptisms across the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe the baptism numbers serve as one of the best indicators of evangelism in our churches. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, and that means that proclaiming the gospel is the core of who we are—not only as Southern Baptists, but most importantly, as disciples of Jesus Christ.

That’s why I’m challenging every Southern Baptist church to call for baptisms in services on Sept. 8, the date our SBC Executive Committee has designated as “Baptism Day” on the SBC Calendar.

Baptism Sunday will be an opportunity for thousands of people in our churches to take their step of obedience and faith. Many of them already know they should be baptized, and you can schedule baptism celebrations in advance. Other people in your churches may decide on Sept. 8 that God is calling them to those same baptismal waters.

I know conversations about immediate-response baptism services tend to draw some objections, many of which are grounded in healthy concern about encouraging insincere professions of faith. Trust me, I understand the concerns: I have seen dangerous and irresponsible calls for spontaneous baptisms. God forbid that we ever declare someone “saved” when they aren’t. Not only does this give them false assurance, but it also makes them that much more immune to future calls to repent and believe.

On Baptism Sunday, call people to respond to Jesus.

Our fear of extending these invitations wrongly, though, should never make us shy away from making the invitations at all. After all, every single baptism recorded in the New Testament, without exception, is spontaneous and immediate. For New Testament believers, the pattern was alarmingly simple: believe, confess, get baptized. There was never a gap between when a person trusted Christ and when that person was baptized. Not one.

This follows the example of Jesus’ Great Commission: “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is a believer’s first act of discipleship, a step of obedience that stands as a witness that we belong to Christ.

Baptism is like the wedding ring of salvation. I put on my wedding ring at the moment I decided to publicly declare my commitment to my wife. Putting on the ring did not make me married. But the demonstration of my commitment to my wife that the ring represents was a crucial first step in marriage. Had I refused to do it, my wife would have had reason to question my intentions.

In the same way, baptism is an outward symbol of an inward covenant we’ve made in response to Jesus’ offer of salvation.

Every one of our churches ought to do everything in its power to ensure that everyone who comes forward to be baptized understands the gospel and the significance of what they are doing. During baptism services at our church, for instance, we individually counsel every person who comes forward. Those conversations take time—often extending into the next service—and we always end up turning some people away. But that moment is important, because it starts a conversation about what it means to follow Jesus.

Baptism is of tremendous importance, but we need to keep the biblical order in mind: Baptism is the catalyst to spiritual maturity, not the sign of having attained it.

When we invite people to be baptized, we are calling them to make a decision. That’s exactly what so many of our people need. They come to our churches as consumers, going along with Jesus but never deciding for him.

Several years ago, our church chose to hold our first baptism service after we noticed the biblical pattern of spontaneous baptisms while preaching through a series in the book of Acts. Starting with that service, we saw three times more people choose to be baptized that year than we’d ever seen! I believe that’s because our church had been faithful in sharing the gospel, and we chose to be faithful in calling for a response to that good news.

I believe God is preparing a harvest of souls. Let’s faithfully call them to respond by publicly declaring faith through baptism!

J.D. Greear is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. For Baptism Sunday resources, go to namb.net/baptism-sunday-resources.

Parents weigh options ahead of 2020 school year

By Meredith Flynn, with additional reporting by Lisa Misner

School

Photo composite

Beginning next year, students at public schools in Illinois will study the role of LGBT people in U.S. and state history, after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a controversial measure into law Aug. 9. The new policy, which goes into effect July 1, 2020, affects students of all ages, although the state’s School Code stipulates that the curriculum be taught before the end of 8th grade.

House Bill 246 passed through the Illinois Senate last spring and was quietly approved May 23 by the House amid a flurry of other legislation, including legalization of recreational marijuana and the repeal of several restrictions on abortion. Pritzker’s signature on the curriculum bill dismayed many Christians and conservatives, with talk online quickly turning to education alternatives.

“Reason 157 to home or private school,” one poster wrote on IBSA’s Facebook page. Others expressed resolve to keep their kids in the public school system to shine the light of the gospel there.

“We are very aware that times are changing and more liberal views are entering the classroom,” said Caitlin Konieczka, a Springfield mother of three girls.

“We feel that the changes that are happening in the classroom and throughout the world right now are opportunities to share Christ and his message.”

Competing values
Illinois is one of a handful of states to consider curriculum legislation this year, but California lawmakers approved the FAIR Education Act in 2011. According to a Reuters article from May of this year, that state is still struggling to implement the law, and some parents are still protesting it. The article recounts recent fights over textbooks at school board meetings, where one mother expressed concern that her children would read books about transgender people before she’s ready to discuss gender and sexuality with them. “I should be the first one to educate about those things,” she said.

Candi Campbell and her husband, Charles, sent three daughters through the public school system in Illinois, recognizing their decision at the time as a natural way to be “a witness in the world.” The recent legislation would make the decision more difficult, Campbell said.

“As a parent, I believe it is my job to feed, lead, and protect my children. The law signed in Illinois represents a damaging social agenda to our little ones. And, until they can stand on a personal faith in Christ for truth, it is up to me to stand for them.”

A homeschooling mom in Springfield agreed, while acknowledging that homeschooling isn’t for every family. “No matter how we as Christians choose to educate our children, we must help them develop a biblical worldview,” she said. “Our children need our help in discerning truth and goodness through the lens of Scripture.”

Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), one of the bill’s chief sponsors, has said the new curriculum will help LGBT students feel more accepted and supported in school. Her comments also may sound alarm bells for Christian parents who fear the normalization of sexual values they believe run counter to God’s Word.

“One of the best ways to overcome intolerance is through education and exposure to different people and viewpoints,” Steans said in a news release posted on her website. “An inclusive curriculum will not only teach an accurate version of history but also promote acceptance of the LGBTQ community.”

What now?
Laurie Higgins said the curriculum changes ought to spur Christians to action—and their churches with them. Churches should have been creating affordable Christian schools “yesterday,” said Higgins, a cultural affairs writer for the conservative Illinois Family Institute. While that will indeed take time, she acknowledged, “it doesn’t take time to make funds available.” Higgins urged churches to partner together to create scholarships to Christian schools.

“Parents need to understand if we lose our kids on this [issue], they will think the Bible is wrong on other things,” Higgins said. “We have to start creating affordable alternatives.”

She also encouraged parents to contact school administrators and teachers to ask that their children not be taught about homosexuality or cross-sex identification. Ask them to acknowledge receipt of the e-mail, Higgins added.

While the Konieczka family has made a different decision about school, they’re also planning for future action, Caitlin said. “We are working now to lay a solid foundation before the girls enter school on basic biblical principles and God’s design for creation and life.” Once school starts, she said, they’ll communicate and reinforce biblical truths and establish an environment that welcomes questions.

She acknowledged there could be topics they don’t want presented to their daughters. The couple, both educators, plans to preview textbooks and content and work with teachers and administrators to accommodate their preferences.

“We view this as an opportunity to be a light in the school, and an opening to conversations about our beliefs.”

– Meredith Flynn, with additional reporting by Lisa Misner