Five Ways You Can Get Involved with the CBF Latino Network: FAMILIA!

Ruben Ortiz, CBF Latino Network Coordinator 

1. Pray. A large part of the Latino community consists of first-generation immigrants. In the midst of the country's current situation, data shows that violence against minorities has increased by 48% in the first six months of 2017 compared to the same period last year. The Latino community needs your prayers. 

2. Consider creating a small group Spanish-only Bible study and/or introducing the Spanish language in worship at your church. Studying the Bible in one's primary language (i.e. the language of the heart) makes such a difference in the understanding of God's Word. Including some phrases in Spanish within the hymns and choruses you sing in worship can also be a meaningful way to connect to the Latino community. You might be surprised by the reaction of church members when they realize they just sang in the same language that more than 30 million Latinos worship in each Sunday! 

3. Find out more about DREAM ACT, DACA, DAPA and SNAP. By supporting just laws on legal immigration and paying attention to poverty in the Latino community, you contribute to the Latino Network of CBF, encourage your congregation to get involved in this type of advocacy.

4. Encourage your missions committee/team to consider engaging in missions in a Spanish-speaking country. CBF Florida can help you with this! Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Central America - the list is long of more than 20 Spanish-speaking countries where you can engage in missions.

5. Discern the voice of God. You may receive the call to visit a Spanish-speaking country or get involved with Latinos right in your own community. You might even discern a calling to be a missionary in the Latin countryside. CBF has alliances with Baptist groups throughout Latin America and there are plenty of service opportunities!

For more information on the CBF Latino Network of CBF, contact Ruben Oritz at rortiz@cbf.net. To learn more about mission engagement opportunitues in Cuba, Puerto Rico etc., contact Rachel Shapard at rshapard12@floridacbf.org.

Karen has moved!

As an update for those who may not have heard: I am working in SW Uganda now as a programs advisor with an organization called Medical Teams International (MTI). My job has many facets and involves working with many programs. As I get to know and work with each one, I’ll be sharing stories and experiences about them all, but the first one I want to highlight is the obstetric fistula program.

The World Health Organization estimates up to 2 million women in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia suffer from obstetric fistulas. Humanitarian groups who work with these women estimate that number to be far higher. Uganda is ranked third in the world for the highest number of fistula cases, with an estimated 140,000 to 200,000 women affected, and 1,900 new cases occurring annually. Obstetric fistulas are usually caused by difficult births. Many women in sub-Saharan Africa give birth in the bush or in their banana plantations – without a midwife or any other medical assistance. If there is prolonged pushing or if the baby is in the wrong position, tearing can occur and no one is present to stitch it up afterwards. Girls who get pregnant in their teens (either because of early marriage, rape or lack of birth control) are at high risk for this as often their bodies are not yet ready to allow passage of a baby through the birth canal. And finally, gender based violence at any age can also cause tearing and tissue damage leading to fistula formation. Either way the damage goes far beyond mere physical as the girls or women are then ostracized from their families and communities. The fistula can affect any or all parts of the genitourinary tract from vagina to anus. The resulting tears cause the women to leak urine and/or feces uncontrollably. The smell becomes a source of shame and embarrassment, and their inability to properly function as wives and mothers further devalues them in the eyes of their communities. Forced to fend for themselves and live in isolation in the bush, many die of starvation or infection, others live as half animals in the jungle, hiding during the day and coming out to forage and steal food or supplies at night.

Thankfully, surgery to repair these fistulas is fairly simple and can restore these women to full physical health, even allowing them to give birth again. Finding these ostracized women and then convincing them to have the surgery, however, is not as simple.

Medical Teams International, partnering with the Ugandan government to provide health service to refugees, began a fistula clinic at the end of 2015, and performed its first successful surgery in April of 2016. Since then, 59 women have had the surgery with only 3 not successfully healing. Their goal is to expand services and efforts to reach more women as awareness of the enormity of the problem continues to grow.

One challenge is the long recovery period. Women must stay at the clinic for up to 3 weeks following the surgery and then cannot resume normal activities of daily living for another 3 months. Families, and particularly husbands, overjoyed at getting their wives back are often not content to wait the 3 months. One of the first women to have the surgery was ruptured almost immediately upon returning home by her overeager husband who was not willing to be patient. Fortunately he has become one of the program’s champions and voluntarily talks to groups of men educating them to not make his mistake, and to wait the allotted time.

Convincing the women to come to the clinic can take weeks and even months of visits by MTI staff to gain their trust after years of being reviled and humiliated. One woman living in a lean-to she built with banana leaves resorted to alcohol to numb her isolation and loneliness. She hid from the MTI team who came to visit her for 3 weeks before finally agreeing to talk from behind the tree where she was hiding as long as no one came any closer. They brought her sugar, salt and flour, luxury items she hadn’t had access to in years. Finally she accepted the gifts and agreed to meet with the doctor who would perform the surgery. But when they came to get her on the appointed date, they found her too drunk to travel. They had to come 3 more times before she finally agreed again and only when they promised that she could sit by herself in the back of the Land Cruiser. Most of these women have been forced off public transportation and publicly humiliated because of their smell, so she could only feel safe if she knew she would be alone and sitting far from the rest of the team. Her surgery was successful and afterwards she moved in with her mother. When the MTI vehicle drove to her new location she saw the vehicle coming while it was still far away. As they drove up, the staff saw a woman they didn’t recognize dancing beneath an avocado tree. It took them a few minutes to realize it was her. She was clean, her hair was no longer in tangled dreads, and she had gained enough weight that her bones no longer protruded. She was dancing with joy and tears streamed down her face as she welcomed them by showing off what she could now do. After talking to her for a while one of the team noticed there were no alcohol bottles or wrappers lying in the yard. She asked the woman if she still drank. The woman snorted in disdain and then shrugged, “I don’t need it anymore.”

The women all receive individual counseling but are also required to take part in monthly group meetings with other women who have received the surgery. For many, finding out they are not alone is the first real step in healing. The group sessions are an opportunity for them to share experiences openly with others who understand perfectly. One of their favorite topics is talking about their husbands. One woman confides she didn’t tell her husband he had to wait 3 months: “I told him he had to wait at least a year.” The others roar in laughter. One woman who hasn’t said a word suddenly stands up and says, “You know what I can do now? Watch.” And she takes off running. Her 8-year son, who has only recently been reunited with her, catches up to her, grabs her hand, and they run together laughing in circles around the group sitting under a tree. Other women jump up and start running too and suddenly everyone is up either running or dancing, laughing and crying.

Sometimes they share more personal stories. One woman recalls growing up in the Congo where war was part of her earliest memories. Different tribes or political parties have always fought over land rights, and violence, to ensure terror, is part of the warfare. When she was 10 her village was attacked. She was outside hanging laundry when people started screaming. She watched as her 6-year old brother was struck down by a machete. Then she was surrounded by men and brought before her parents who were being held down by others. Boys can grow up to be soldiers so are instantly killed. Girls aren’t so lucky. At least a dozen men took turns raping her in front of her parents. Others ransacked their home. Her 4-year old sister was found hiding in their house and tortured. She died from internal bleeding and injuries later that night after the marauders left. When they fled across the border into Uganda their family of 6 was down to 3: her parents and herself. Another brother was never seen again and to this day she has hopes he escaped. After fleeing to Uganda, her father left one day and never came home. Her mother who was also raped that day contracted HIV and died a year later. With no family to take her in, this woman had been living alone since age 11. Because she smelled and always had dirty clothes, no one wanted her living with them. Now for the first time, roughly in her 20s, not only is she healthy, she finally has friends. Now MTI is struggling to come up with the space needed to expand the program. Because the women require such a long convalescent time, they can only do a few surgeries at a time because there aren’t enough beds to accommodate the women for 3 weeks. The surgeon who has been trained to do the surgeries also needs better training. He learned at a 3-day seminar with a larger group of surgeons from other parts of the country and had no hands-on time with the instructors. Finding funding to get better training for him, train new surgeons, and build a 10-bed ward just for fistula patients are some of the challenges with which we are faced. But the local staff who work with this program remain committed and passionate as they admit their lives have all been touched and forever changed by the amazing women so far this program has been able to help.

Pray for these women, the doctors and the Medical Teams International organization and me. You may donate to this cause as this site - https://www.classy.org/campaign/karen-alford/c113452

Peace,

Karen

Coming to Terms with a New Place of Ministry

Karen Alford, CBF medical field person, learned last October that when her current work visa expired in July 2016, she would no longer be able to continue legally working in the Mentawai Islands of Indonesia. The Indonesian government changed the rules allowing work permits for foreigners as well as the criteria non-profits had to meet in order to sponsor them.

After months if trying to find a solution, Karen began the long process of coming to terms with leaving a place of ministry she dearly loved. Though the process was devastating, Karen is convinced that God is preparing her to serve in a new location. As she says, "In the sneaky way God works, some doors are closed just so new doors can open."

In January, Karen will be moving to Uganda in East Africa. Uganda is one of the few countries that has completely opened its borders to refugees from six surrounding countries. Last year 450,000 refugees entered Uganda with more expected this year.

In Uganda, Karen will be partnering with Medical Teams International (MTI). MTI has partnered with Ugandan government to help meet the healthcare needs of the incoming refuges. The arrangement requires that all services offered to the refugees are also offered to the local people, allowing the establishment of new roads, schools and medical clinics to benefit all.

Karen will be working in several clinics in or near refugees settlements, delivering health education through care groups which she will help manage. In addition to training and teaching, Karen will be treating patients at some of the clinics that are currently seeing 500 patients a day. In one newly built clinic, she will be working with women and girls who have been traumatized or ostracized from their families.

Karen's work in Uganda will be similar to what she did in Mentawai. The people of Uganda will be in excellent hands. Thanks be to God for giving her this new opportunity!

Alan Sherouse's Keynote Address at CBF Florida's 2016 Spring Celebration Banquet on Friday, April 22

First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg

First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg

This is actually the second time I’ve spoken at a CBF of Florida gathering. The first was 15 years ago, when as a college student I drove from Palm Beach Atlantic College, up 95, to a meeting in Vero Beach or Stuart, I think. That day I had no manuscript, just notes scribbled on the back of an offering envelope, I confess, but I thanked you for a scholarship I received to support my education as one who felt called to ministry. I told you what it had meant as a young person, passionate about learning and cultivating theological curiosity, to have a network of support that encouraged that. I shared what it meant to me to have a sense of home and connection, and I remember the embrace I experienced afterward. I remember feeling guilty I hadn’t done more than scratch some notes on an offering envelope, and I remember driving back, feeling an even deeper appreciation and understanding of what that place of belonging could mean.

Sometimes peers and others will ask me why I still invest in a denomination, or a “denominetwork” as Suzii Paynter describes CBF, and I point to experiences like that, and people like you. I think of growing up in church with Pat and Carolyn Anderson and having T and Kathy Thomas move in just down the street from us when they came stateside after service abroad. I think of a Saturday spent on the roof of CBF Florida’s ministry site in Homestead, laying the plywood base, while a volunteer foreman in yellow measuring tape suspenders urged me to stop choking up on the hammer. I think of when my grandfather passed away, noticing that my grandmother wanted memorial gifts made to CBF Florida, and I know that sense of home, connection, heritage is part of me today.

Of course, you and I realize that it’s not always that way. Not for everyone . . . Especially among those early 20’s college students that I used to be. I heard recently the story of Andrew Forsthoefel - a 23 year old with that combo of college degree and no real job prospects that is all too familiar these days. Andrew decided to try walking across the Continental United States, from his home in Philadelphia all the way to the Pacific Coast. No rides. No smart phone. He carried a backpack containing camping equipment, a camera, a food bag stocked with jerky, tuna fish and PB&J, and a sign hanging off his pack that said “walking to listen.”

He also carried a voice recorder that he used to collect the stories of those he met along the way, asking them the question: “If you could go back, what would you tell yourself at 23?” The question yielded some remarkable answers, which Andrew curated into an hour-long radio show, a shortened version of which appeared on This American Life in 2013.

Andrew admits that he traveled with an acute sense of vulnerability. At times he was “fear-walking” he said, and this fear was heightened by those he met along the way. Not one person said they would tell their 23 year old self to be more cautious or more fearful. To the contrary, their messages were full of boldness and daring. Nonetheless Andrew described how when people would take him in they were constantly warning him – telling him to watch out for the others down the road. “Don’t trust them,” they would say. “They’re not like us.”

“What I wish” Andrew said, “is that these people could have experienced what I did and seen that the people they had warned me about were the very ones who took me in later on, and fed me, and told me their stories.” Of course most people never have the chance to learn that if they just stay put behind their own doors.

That’s where the disciples go after the death of Jesus. If not for his relentless pursuit of them – of us – they might have stayed right there. John writes that the disciples were in a house, and the doors were locked . . . for fear. Fear of the Jews in this case. Fear of “the others” more broadly. Fear of what could come next.

As the Spirit comes in John, it enters a scene with latched doors and crouching disciples. We’ve been there – that setting where what we want to believe about ourselves and all the courage and faith that has been inspired in us clashes with the reality of our suspicion, and caution and self-limit.

Staring out the peephole from inside that locked room the whole world must have looked fearsome and dark, having seen what they had seen. The cross still perches outside the City with its message that Rome is running things, rolling stones in front of tombs and locking others indoors with trembling. Written at the top of that cross was the message “King of the Jews,” but the sign just as easily could have read “this is the way things are and always will be.” Beneath a cross like that any who had been holding onto their idealistic notions that things could change are best advised to hunker down and get used to reality.

We have seen and heard plenty of reasons to fear. “I awake in the night at the least sound for fear” Wendell Berry writes, “at what my life and my children’s lives might be.” 

None of us want to believe we’re not as brave as we once thought we would be, but we see and hear enough and we start installing deadbolts. Or maybe we install one of those doorbell security cameras – have you heard of these? If anyone gets within range of your doorbell – they don’t have to ring it – it will automatically buzz your IPhone and a video of the person will appear… there’s an app for that now. And it can all leave us latched inside or, if we venture out at all, locked in place.

 But sometimes the things we end up closing ourselves off from are the things that, though they may disrupt us, can also renew us and redeem us . . . the things that flow from the very Spirit of our God.

The coming of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus after his death and resurrection is so big and compelling a tale that it’s found in two versions – not only in John, but also in the book of Acts, on the day of Pentecost. Both episodes settle on the reality that after the death of Jesus the Spirit comes to comfort, empower and enliven those who had followed Jesus, but the two accounts diverge on the details.

In John, the Spirit is received as a gentle breath from the risen Jesus. In Acts, the spirit arrives as a forceful wind that seems to rush down the streets and alleyways of Jerusalem.

In John, the disciples are in mourning and dejection. In Acts, the spirit arrives during the Feast of Weeks, amidst festival crowds in the streets.

No tongues of fire in John. No “peace be with you” in Acts.

But most striking is the portrayal of those who wait. John describes them with the cowering concern for well-being – the double-bolted doors – while in Acts, the doors are wide open. At least that’s what I imagine. The disciples have stayed in Jerusalem, as Jesus had instructed. They’ve gathered in one place, hopeful and anticipating Jesus’ earlier promise, when he’d told them: “You will receive power when the Spirit comes upon you.” There’s expectation in the scene. There’s celebration. Some look out the doors and windows. Others have started to feel too confined by the walls of the house and have walked outside to join the crowds of people from all different backgrounds gathered there in the city center.

Two different perspectives. Two different writers. And two different historical settings, don’t forget. Some estimate that as much as 2 decades separate Luke/Acts and the gospel of John. In the book of Acts, Luke tells the story with that 23-year-old idealism – the kind of youthful abandon that would set out with a backpack and give all to the cause holding onto the vision of Jesus that constantly calls us forward.

But John writes as much as 2 decades later. There’s more established, which means that more is at stake. There’s more to preserve and insulate, more to fear.

We learn to fear, don’t we? Over time as more is established and more is at stake . . . as there’s more to protect. And we forget that vision in Acts that even those who have seen it all – “your old ones” – will dream dreams.

I wonder where you find yourself in these passages. I wonder where CBF Florida finds itself. In the house? Out in the street? Crouched in the corner? Or peering out a wide open window? The songwriter Deb Talan – in a song called Forgiven – asks the question: “So my dear, will it be faith or fear?” That’s the question. How will we greet the Spirit that visits us? What will our posture be toward that Spirit that comes with force, and the power to disrupt and shake us from our established ways and patterns to new visions and dreams.

I think our future – and our response to the Spirit of God –  has a lot to do with our doors in the end.

As mentioned, my first pastorate was at Metro Baptist Church, where I served with Tiffany Triplett Henkel – where Scott Stearman serves now – where we were able to host Ray and others from Florida at different times. The church is known, in part, for the bright red doors, through which so many different communities would enter. The buzzer of that door was pressed constantly. To the congregation on Sunday, yes, but just as soon as the service was over – and sometimes right in the middle – the door would buzz with mission teams who had traveled there, or people coming to work on the roof farm, or others coming to seek direct services of food or clothing that Metro distributed through its nonprofit – Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries; maybe it was kids coming for after school or dancers that used the sanctuary for rehearsal and performance. At first it all felt overwhelming to me. How was I supposed to sit quietly and prepare sermons, and think my deep theological thoughts, amidst so many interruptions? How was I supposed to pray and think and write with that buzzer in my ear? Then I realized, oh, all of this is church, and all of this is the work of the church. We are not only meant to care for a congregation, but for the parents picking up their kids at the after school program, or the people in line for the coat closet, or the volunteers who travel, or the artists who expanded the understanding of sanctuary.

It was written there on the front of Metro’s bulletin:

To all who are weary and need rest,

To all who mourn and need comfort,

To all who are lonely and need friendship,

To all who are complacent and need disturbing,

To all who sin and need a savior,

To all who are glad and would serve their

fellow human beings,

This church opens wide its doors

 There’s a wideness in the mercy of God. And we reflect that in our posture, our architecture, our policies, our entryways.

Doors so wide – a symbol that we don’t crouch or cower, don’t lock or restrain, but opens itself. Opens itself to the Spirit of God, to a Spirit that comes with force and the power to disrupt and shake us from our settled ways and patterns to new visions and dreams.

An opening church - that’s more than a welcoming church. Welcome is so passive, so neutral. It waits. It assumes the posture of a city on a hill. Sometimes when we welcome, we’re entering a kind of transactional relationship that says “welcome, right this way, we have what you need in aisle 6.” I can find that kind of welcome any number of places.

Rather than a welcoming church, let’s be an opening church; opening our doors, opening our lives to one another and to Christ in our midst who visits us in new ways all the time. Let’s open ourselves to new ways of knowing Christ, advocating for others, experiencing the love of God, and embodying the vision of the kingdom on earth – this earth – as it is in heaven. Recognizing in this opening that these doors swing inward and outward, that church is not so much a place to which we come, but a place from which we go.

Theodore Wardlaw , President of Austin Seminary , once shared about an old urban Presbyterian church in Dallas with a worn out building and enough money to build a new one. The new building was all modern and airy and built out of limestone, but they found a way to incorporate the stunning Tiffany stained-glass windows from the original structure. There was one window that was particularly captivating because of its size and its message. In the original building, it had taken up most of the chancel wall – a larger-than-life image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, with his arms outstretched and beneath him the words, “Come to me, all you who labor.” Generations of people were greeted by that invitation as they came into that old sanctuary. But when they built the new building, they did some serious theological thinking about that window and they put it not in the front but in the back, so that now, when worship is over, it soars over the narthex of that church, through which people go back out. The outstretched arms of Christ and the call: “Come to me, all you who labor.” 

Come out here into this world I love. Come see it as I see it. For this is where my Spirit is rushing through streets and rounding corners to bring people together across the boundaries of background, and status, and language. It’s out here that the young are seeing visions and the old are dreaming dreams

It’s the invitation of the one who was always finding his way out ahead of us, stretching out arms and calling us forward in faith through open, unlocked doors. It’s what we hear and see throughout the gospel. We hear it when he opens his mouth and says, “Sell what you have and give to the poor.” When he speaks out, “Whoever gives her life, will gain it in the end.” When he opens his lips and says, “Fear not. I am with you always.” We see it as he heals and touches, crossing boundaries in his work. One time, in Mark 7, he extends his hand to heal a man, looks up to heaven and says not “be healed” or “be well” or “be restored,” but instead utters this Aramaic word ephphatha. “Be opened.”

You know that here in Florida. I’ve seen it. For a number of years, I served as a youth minister in churches in North Carolina and Tennessee, and during those years it was a joy to bring groups of youth and adults to my home state to work with some of our south Florida ministries, in Overtown and Homestead. That’s where I met Steven Porter, now head of global missions, whom I’ve worked closely with this year. That’s where I met Wanda Ashworth, and later Jason and Angel Pittman.

And always, these experiences became more than mission; they became pilgrimage. They became times for mutual transformation, as our groups experienced themselves, their world, their God in new ways that shaped them for years to come.

Like one teenager, who had always assumed he would graduate from his prep school and take a conventional trek, make people proud. He had it all charted out, but this experience in Homestead disrupted that plan. He had always wanted to be a lawyer, but now he was aware of the world around him in a much wider way. We sat there outside the house where we were staying on a muggy Florida night, and he told me, “You know I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer, but now I’m wondering if I should be a minister.” And I said, “the world needs lawyers, too, and what if your practice of law was a ministry, what if you always sought to keep a wide view of the world, and thought about how your passion for justice could be the vocation to which God is calling you?”

Just this month, that teenager finished his last semester of law school at Georgetown University. He’s worked on campaigns, he’s become an advocate, and as he graduates he’ll pursue a career serving this world that God so loves with the legal skills God has given him, and a sense of justice and compassion that has some of its roots right here. As I planned to tell you about him tonight, it had not even occurred to me that the ministry he served that week in Homestead – at that time went by the name, “Open House.”

That’s who you’ve been. And that’s who you must continue to be. “Will it be faith or fear?” Well, it’s a little of both, isn’t it. But we decide which will govern our lives, and we know which one the Spirit calls forth in us.

I don’t know if it was the Spirit of God, or the Spirit of disenfranchised young adulthood – or if it was both – that sent 23 year old Andrew Forsthoefel out his door that day. Whatever it was it carried him coast to coast, some 4,000 miles. 11 months. 85 hours of recorded conversations, five pairs of shoes, and plenty of fear-walking.

The last night he spent on the road he was camped out in the forest 20 miles from the ocean. He set up his tent for the last time. He ate his last dinner from his food bag. There were cars passing him on the road and he had a thought: “If I was in one of those cars right now looking into this dark forest, I would think the dark forest was a scary place. But I’m in the forest. And I know that I don’t have to be afraid.”

And if we were in that house, locked inside or cowering in the corner, well then we’d think the world was a frightful, fearsome place . . . a dark place full of those who threaten us. But if the house is open – then through the miracle of Christ’s Spirit, we’ve come to know that we don’t have to be afraid, and the risen Christ himself might just stand among us and breathe his Spirit on us all.

February is Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching

Xiomara Reboyras Ortiz and Rachel Gunter Shapard were the Martha Stearns Marshall preachers at Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Deltona in 2015.

Xiomara Reboyras Ortiz and Rachel Gunter Shapard were the Martha Stearns Marshall preachers at Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Deltona in 2015.

Baptist Women in Ministry's Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching is fast approaching! 

Baptist Women in Ministry has sponsored the annual Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching emphasis since 2007. As a result of the advocacy and support of Baptist pastors and leaders, we are seeing a shift in our Baptist culture! In the past eight years, greater numbers of women are finding ministry positions and living out their calling, and more churches are opening their pulpits to women and calling women to serve as pastors. 

Martha Stearns Marshall Month has contributed to this shift, and the participation of CBF Florida churches matters a great deal. By participating, your church can stand as an advocate for Baptist women called by God.

Please consider participating in BWIM's Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching next month so your church can be counted with other Baptist churches in celebrating the calling and gifts of women. If you already have made plans to participate, send in your church's name and preacher's name to Ashley Robinson at ashleyrobinson@bwim.info

For more information on Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching, visit the BWIM website. And to read Pam Durso's invitation to "Dream Bigger for Martha," visit the BWIM blog.

 

Baptist Women in Ministry P. O. Box 941294, Atlanta, GA 31141- 1294

www.bwim.info   404-513-6022

Why this Cooperative Baptist Cares about Creation

Left to right: Mark Kutolowski, Manohar (Manny) Singh Grewal, Ray Johnson,  Howard Cohen, JoRee LaFrance

Left to right: Mark Kutolowski, Manohar (Manny) Singh Grewal, Ray Johnson,  Howard Cohen, JoRee LaFrance

On August 9, 2015, I was privileged to be part of a panel of five speakers during the third annual “Our Children, Climate and Faith” Symposium, held in the village of Strafford, a wonderful small community in southeastern Vermont. The panel, whose task was to offer reflections from their own faith traditions on creation and climate change, was composed of a Benedictine Oblate, a Sikh elder, a Reconstructionist Jewish Rabbi, a Native American Crow woman, and a Cooperative Baptist (me). Following is a portion of what I said to the assembly. I’ve omitted the first few paragraphs that went into a little depth about who Cooperative Baptists are.

To be Cooperative Baptist simply means that, while affirming historic Baptist principles, we partner in renewing God’s world. That’s our tagline. It’s our brand statement. Go to our website, cbf.net, and you’ll read about us that, “We partner in renewing God’s world.” So with that said, I’d like to spend the next few minutes thinking out loud with you about my relationship with God’s world, and, since I’m a Baptist, you’ll get an idea about how one Baptist is thinking and what one Baptist is doing about creation. And, as a Baptist, I suppose that’s really all I can do anyway: speak for myself.

In January of 1987, my wife, our nearly two-year old son, and I left Florida on our way to the Philippines, where I would teach Old Testament studies and Hebrew at the Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary. We decided to stop roughly midway through our journey and spend a week on the island of Oahu, a sort of second honeymoon. We arrived late at night, flying first over the big island of Hawaii where we could see below us the glowing orange trails of the lava flow from Mt. Kilauea.

A couple of days into our stay, we set out from Waikiki Beach toward Diamond Head, that impressive, picturesque volcanic mountain that juts out into the ocean. From Diamond Head, we got onto Highway 72, headed east toward Hanauma Bay, another volcanic crater; this one though blew its southern wall out and allowed the Pacific Ocean to fill the crater with deep and sparkling amethyst blue waters. Across the outer rim of the crater, a coral reef has formed over the millennia and now it runs rife with teaming teams of reef fish. We snorkeled those amazingly lively reefs.

We continued our drive eastward to Sandy Point, another magnificent vista, and we looked out at the ocean’s waves across which windsurfers skittered and leapt. Then, we rounded Makapu’u Point and before us the ocean loomed in this unspeakably beautiful deeper shade of royal blue. Two small islands burst forth from the water, like two emeralds on a king’s robe. The sky melted seamlessly into the horizon, and I looked over at my wife. The beauty, the grandeur, the magnificence of all that was before us and behind us and around us overwhelmed her and tears rolled down her cheeks. That is where my understanding of creation begins. Not with words – not even the words of Scripture – but with my wife’s tears at Makapu’u Point.

Abraham Joshua Heschel (not a Baptist) wrote, “Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”

My own thinking about creation, my posture before creation and in creation begins in wonder. Unlike Heschel, I didn’t ask for wonder, but it found me nevertheless . . .

  •         In the yellow glacier lily fields of Logan Pass in Glacier National Park
  •         In the eastern bluebird couple that nests outside our dining room window
  •         In the first crying breath of my son and daughter
  •         In the first and second and every time since that I have seen the Great Nebula in Orion’s Belt.

I could go on, and I’m sure that you could, as well.

To me, this starting point, wonder, is critical, for wonder does not objectify the world. Wonder orients me to the world. I’m not just a spectator or an observer, but I’m a participant, a partner, a guest in the divine house.

Yes, the divine house. This world, with all of its beauties and terrors, elicits an “ah,” a sigh, a groan from my breath, a primal, yet profound, act of worship. Wonder draws forth from my being a cry of worship and so confirms for me the testimony of Scripture that, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

All of creation is sacred because, as the gospel of John says of the Word, “who was God” that “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” Since God made all things, all things are sacred. But, since all things are not God, all things are also profane. So, for me as a Christian, the created cosmos inspires my soul to worship, but to worship the Creator.

I said earlier that I’m a guest in the divine house. That’s not a metaphor for creation anywhere in the Christian scriptures to which I can quickly put my mind, but it is a metaphor that I’d like to tease in the time that remains.

First, the first creation narrative in Genesis concludes the sixth day with the proclamation that all that God had created was very good, not in any moral or ethical sense, but more in the sense of life-affirming and life-giving. As a guest in this very good house, I have a responsibility to, well, be polite to my host, to respect the hospitality, to say “thank you” for the meals and the accommodations. I owe those who are guests with me and to those who will be guests after me to leave my room as neat, or neater, than I found it. I should make my bed and flush the toilet.

When I live in this house with that kind of respect and gratitude, I partner with God to leave the house in good order for the next generation. I’m interested in global climate change because I received something from the divine host that was very good, and I want to do all that I can to hand off a very good house to the next guest.

Second, I gather from Genesis 1, particularly in verses 22 and 28 that God loves a full house. I discover that again in the gospel of John where Jesus says that he came not just so that we could have life, but so that we could have that life in abundance. This divine house is hardwired for abundance. The oceans should team with fish; the prairies should be filled with bison and butterflies; the forests should be filled with deer and songbirds; the deserts should be filled with flowering cacti and lizards rushing from drop of water to small oases. God loves God’s house to be full, but we human occupants have been raiding the refrigerator. As a guest in the house, I should be partnering with God to increase the life and the beauty with which God seeded this planet and to make sure that the refrigerator is restocked when I leave.

Finally, as a Baptist guest in God’s house, I recognize that it’s my choice to reside here with respect and awe or with selfishness and carelessness. It’s my choice. So, why do I have an interest in living and working to leave this house in better shape for those guests who will come after me? Well, because I choose to do so, and choice is very Baptist.

Where are they now?

LEANN GUNTER JOHNS: A FORMER CBF FLORIDA SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENT

LeAnn Gunter Johns grew up in Panama City, FL, and graduated from the University of West Florida. In 2001, she moved to Atlanta to attend McAfee School of Theology. It was during her time in seminary that LeAnn learned about the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida. She fondly remembers traveling to one of CBF Florida’s Spring Celebrations to represent McAfee and to enjoy fellowship with the Cooperative Baptists of her home state.

Upon graduation from seminary in 2004, LeAnn transitioned into a full-time Associate Pastor position with Peachtree Baptist Church, a place where she had been serving as a seminary student. This position was possible through a ministerial residency grant with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. While serving as Associate Pastor, she also served in a number of volunteer leadership roles, including Baptist Women in Ministry and McAfee School of Theology’s Alumni Board. LeAnn also completed a chaplain internship program with the Metro Atlanta Women's Prison. 

In 2007 she married Dr. Barry Johns, and a year later they moved to Mountain View, CA. LeAnn completed Clinical Pastoral Education through the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Palo Alto, CA. Following CPE completion, she served she served as interim pastor for New Community of Faith (UCC/ABC affiliated church) in San Jose. 

LeAnn and Barry moved to Macon, GA in 2010 and plated roots there. Their two children, Parker (4) and Patrick (1) were born in Macon.

While LeAnn works from home to care for her two young boys, she has continued in ministry service. For a year and a half, she worked with a community on a new church, St. Claire Baptist Church. She has continued in volunteer ministry roles, such as serving on the search committee for the CBF Executive Coordinator and the steering committee for Baptist Women in Ministry of Georgia. She co-edited a book with Pam Durso entitled The World in Waiting For You, that was released last summer. She enjoys pulpit supply for churches in the area and teaching ESL at her church, First Baptist Church of Christ.

LeAnn is extremely grateful to be among those who have received a CBF Florida Ministerial Scholarship. 

 

 

Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler: A Eulogy

By Laurie Weatherford
Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler

Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler

About 75 years ago when Aunt Carolyn was a little girl digging in the dirt in her backyard, my grandfather Rufus Weatherford would say, “Carolee, if you keep digging, you will get all the way to Chinee.” Aunt Carolyn kept digging, and she did get all the way to China. Not only China, but also Africa, Europe, South America, all of the states, and more than a hundred countries.

At 17 years of age, Aunt Carolyn received her calling to the mission field. Her church provided a scholarship for her to go to Ridgecrest, NC, and while there she was told that she could accomplish whatever God had purposed for her life.

The encouragement Aunt Carolyn received as a child and young adult is what she in turn provided to Bill, Anne and I throughout our lives. As we grew up, she always had time for us, and she encouraged us to be everything God had called us to be.

I remember all three of us staying with Aunt Carolyn when she lived in Jacksonville, Florida. During our visit, Aunt Carolyn took us to work with her. We had the opportunity to see the Women's Missionary Union (WMU) up close and personal, to see all of the different ways God used people to reach the world. While there, I remember Aunt Carolyn asking us to walk around the table to help collate a WMU mailing. Even as children, she helped us understand we could play an important part in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.

One spring break while I was a student at the University of Florida, my roommates and I went to Birmingham, Alabama, to visit Aunt Carolyn. During our visit, one of my roommates commented on the fact that Aunt Carolyn had a large collection of silver and china for an unmarried woman. Aunt Carolyn’s response: "So far, I have not met a man that would allow me to put God’s work completely first in my life."

I had the opportunity to live with Aunt Carolyn for three years while I attended law school. I traveled with her to the Baptist World Alliance meeting in 1983, where the message was sent: “Miss Weatherford will be traveling with her adult daughter.” Afterward, my name was “changed” to “My Niece Laurie” and people would call me “My Niece”.

While Aunt Carolyn felt God had called her into international missions, it became apparent due to health concerns that her purpose was to equip others to go, since she was physically unable to go. What she perceived at the time to be a closed door for herself, turned out to be a highway of preparation, education and financial support to enable others to go.

Because Aunt Carolyn was single until she was almost 60 years old, she showed me by example that her gender did not have to be a barrier to fully living out her God-given calling. She also taught me how to be an effective leader, and more importantly, an effective encourager.  

In every area of her life, Aunt Carolyn strived to do everything “as unto the Lord”. Throughout her career, she had the opportunity to encourage Christians to keep digging to their own "Chinee." Although Aunt Carolyn and my father came from a humble background, their parents equipped them with the gift of confidence and encouragement. Nothing is impossible with God.

 

 

Laurie Weatherford, niece of Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler, lives in Winter Park and is a member of Church on the Drive: A Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Orlando. She is married to Aubrey Ducker and they have two children, Carolyn and James.

 

First Five-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation in Cuba

Villa Clara Province, Cuba—In November, thirty pastors and church lay leaders found needed rest and renewal at the first Five-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation held in Cuba.

“There are two kinds of pastors in Cuba, those who are burned out and those who are burning out,” says Carlos Peralta, the director of Encuentro Ministries in Florida and a planning team member for the Cuban Five-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation, a ministry of The Upper Room.

The thirty participants came from several denominations and traditions including Methodist, Baptist, Disciples of Christ, and Lutheran (ELCA), but they shared a common desire to find personal spiritual nourishment and renewal.

“When we first arrived,” says Academy director Johnny Sears, “many of the participants were skeptical about our worship and our silent prayer practices, but by the end of the week, we were embraced with open arms and with enthusiastic requests for us to come back.”

A labor of love, The Academy in Cuba took over two years of planning and fundraising to become a reality. The planning team members, as well as the faculty, donated their time and provided their own travel expenses to ensure that burned and burning out Cuban church leaders would receive the study, prayer, and opportunities for transformation they needed. The Academy in Cuba was sponsored by multiple organizations, including the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, The Upper Room, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida, as well as The Academy Scholarship Program.

While no specific dates have been set for the next Five-Day Academy, conversations have already begun about a regularly scheduled Academy in Cuba with hope that more Cuban pastors and church leaders will experience the power and presence of God through The Academy model.

For more information about The Academy for Spiritual Formation, visit: http://academy.upperroom.org.

Legacy Matters

I've been preparing for and doing Christian ministry going on forty years. (I entered Stetson University as a religion major in the fall of 1976.) Forty years . . . that's a biblical number, a long time to be in the wilderness, a long time to be in ministry. Believe me, there have been days, and weeks, and, yes, even a few years when there didn't seem to be too much distance between the wilderness and the ministry, when they even seemed like opposite sides of the same coin.

In those hard times, which I imagine you too have encountered -- at least if you've been following the way of Christ for any length of time -- you may have asked yourself the question, "What difference has it made after all?" Hang around the world long enough, give your life to following Jesus long enough; you just might wonder what good it has done.

Well, it's 7:30 p.m. and I'm writing this column on the Megabus making my way across Alligator Alley into the sunset on the way to Tampa. My friend Ruben Ortiz, our CBF Florida moderator, is seated across from me. We're on our way back home from the Parrot Jungle, where Touching Miami with Love celebrated its "Big Dreamers" with a luncheon that honored and thanked those who saw the possibilities that were planted in the hearts and minds of the children, youth, and families in Overtown. And because followers of Jesus saw those possibilities through the eyes of their faith, they invested their time, their money, their sweat, their prayers, and their faith into those lives.

Today, one of the speakers was a young man named Isaac. He was on the program, but he arrived late. Maybe he got lost like Ruben and me. Anyway, Angel Pittman rearranged the program when he arrived so that we could hear what he had to say. I'm so glad that she did. Here's what I want you to know about what Isaac said.

He said that he started at TML when he was just a child. He was there, he said, before Jason and Angel. He was there before Trina and Amanda and the rest of the staff. He was one of the children that sat in a chair in the afterschool program ten years ago, twelve years ago. Maybe some of you who are reading this column taught him. I don't know, but TML's people, its staff and the volunteers and the church groups helped Isaac see that his life is a work of God. So today he works at TML as a fitness coach, helping the next generation of kids discover the dream for their lives that I believe is planted in their souls by the divine gardener.

Isaac ministers at TML because you were a part of his life. He ministers at TML because CBF Florida gave generously to purchase a building and bless it and together transform it into a space for grace. He ministers at TML because Cooperative Baptists across the US have given so that Jason and Angel (as well as their predecessors) can live and serve in Overtown. He ministers at TML because Trina Harris, TML's program director, saw his potential and dared to ask him to serve, to lead, to coach the kids of TML.

So today I was invited to the podium to receive a "Big Dreamer" award on behalf of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida. As I held it, though, I knew that a lot of hands should have been holding it with me. I wish all of you -- everyone who prayed, everyone who gave, everyone who served, everyone who dreamed -- I wish you all could have stood on the platform with me. I especially wish that Pat and Carolyn Anderson could have heard and seen what became of their dream. I'm glad I was there. I'm glad Ruben was with me. And I'm glad that once more God allowed me to hear an answer to the question, "what difference have I (we) made? Today God answered the question as he has done before: with laughter, with Isaac.

Ray Johnson









A Web of Connection

Claire Kermitz serving at Touching Miami with Love

Claire Kermitz serving at Touching Miami with Love

A word from one of CBF Florida's ministerial scholarship students

By Claire Kermitz

As a seminary student I often get asked the question, “Where’s home for you?” What is your home church? In what city? After two years of being asked these questions I have perfected my elevator speech: “I was raised in Jacksonville, Florida, and grew up at Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church under the leadership of Dr. Jack Snell. It is a great church and I am incredibly lucky to have grown up there.” The dialogue typically flows on from there with realizing the people that we both know, and in the span of a few minutes, a web of connections and a network of individuals and churches becomes visible. I think Suzii Paynter describes CBF perfectly as a denominetwork.

As I was looking at Seminaries I was drawn to CBF partner schools because of this denominetwork. I felt at home when I toured and visited with people from McAfee School of Theology. There is a comfort in stepping into a new place and recognizing that the same network of churches, non-profits, and individuals that provided support through prayer and encouragement, still exists in a new environment.

I experienced this type of comfort when I worked at Touching Miami with Love (TML) and The Well at Springfield, through CBF’s Student.Go initiative. While working long days in the summer heat of Miami, CBF partner churches would come and love on the TML children and youth, while also encouraging those of us serving on the summer staff. Each week I was rejuvenated by the grace, love and compassion of those church members. While working at The Well at Springfield, a missional church start in downtown Jacksonville, I saw how a single idea for a church plant could develop support and energy from all over the United States.

My experience in CBF life gives me great hope for the future as I prepare to graduate from seminary this May and step into full-time ministry at a CBF church. I am excited to carry the denominetwork with me and create more webs of support and encouragement with those I encounter along my journey.

A Chance to Grow

Thomas Propest's Student.Go Experience at Micah Center

“You're telling me no one here knows who Dolly Parton is?” I was in St. Petersburg, Florida, asking this to a group of African-American children who live in a largely underemployed community. I guess I had underestimated the cultural differences I would experience being that I was only a few states away, however if you're from St. Pete and you've been to Asheville, you'll understand that there are many changes beyond 90 degree weather and stucco houses.

That said, it wasn't the differences that made my experience what it was, but rather the similarities. (Forgive me for sounding like a B-rate movie.) Even though the kids didn't drench their grits with sugar, they still loved to eat, and some days you were lucky to swallow something yourself between those scooping out seconds and thirds. The kids love to dance, even if it's not clogging, and you can never go wrong with going to the park.

No matter where I was or whom I was with, there was always something in common, something that I could relate to, and a chance to grow closer to the people, the city and the community. It wasn't a perfect ride, and unlike Florida's terrain, there were plenty of bumps along the way, but as long as I could find that similarity and reconnect to the situation I could make it. And made it I did, and I have really grown because of it.

Partnership Really Matters!

David Burroughs speaks about Jacoby Thomas

Coby (far right) with some of the PASSPORTkids! campers

Coby (far right) with some of the PASSPORTkids! campers

I was privileged to be invited to the CBF of the Bahamas meeting last October. The meeting might be best described as a revival! CBF’s Executive Coordinator, Suzii Paynter, as well as all the CBF state and regional coordinators were invited to the meeting. We all gathered each evening for inspiring worship and spent the days touring some of the churches and discussing possible future partnership opportunities.

Each evening, I kept noticing the piano player, Jacoby Thomas. I noticed him because the music leader for the evening would start singing a song unaccompanied, and Jacoby would listen and find whatever key she happened to be singing in and then would pick right up like they had planned it that way! That led us to a conversation about his schooling and life direction, and that led to him filling out an application to work for Passport this summer. 

Our Summer Staff Interns are important servant leaders on the teams. They enable the ministry of our Bible study leaders by managing much of the background work for each camp activity. Jacoby was a quick learner, and jumped in with both feet in ministry to the children who attended PassportKids! this summer. But he couldn’t have joined us without the financial assistance of the CBF Florida Lucy Smith Endowment fund. My hope is that this was a win/win. I know it was a “win” for Passport. But my prayer is that Jacoby will take some things he learned while on staff with Passport back to his ministry among the CBF of the Bahamas churches.

Mark McClintock shares about Jacoby Thomas' summer

Jacoby served as a Summer Staff Intern with PASSPORTkids! from June to early August, 2014. The role enabled him to work closely with each member of the Program Staff as they implemented various camp activities, including camp check-in, daily recreation, afternoon missions learning experiences, operation of the camp store, and evening parties. Coby was especially instrumental in celebrations and worship as assistant to the Worship Coordinator. He had a significant amount of stage time, and helped lead games and movement activities.  Each night during worship, Coby offered campers his musical talent, playing percussion and keyboard. His musical skills enriched worship.

Naturally, Coby also broadened the camp experience as an international staffer. He reminded the staff and adult chaperones of the wonder and awe with which children experience the world as he discovered so many new aspects of USA cultures. At the same time, he expanded everyone’s worldview when he shared life stories from his home in the Bahamas. We were grateful to have Coby serving with us this summer and appreciate the support of CBF Florida that enabled him to do so.

Jacoby Thomas: My PASSPORTkids! experience

First of all let me say how thankful and humbled I am for the opportunity that Passport gave me to minister and fellowship with various CBF churches . It was an awesome experience and I gained a lot of knowledge in observing how things are done elsewhere.

I was blown away by how everyone accepted me! My cultural background didn't affect my presence at camp. Everyone was so open and excited to learn more about the Bahamas, and I was anxious to tell them about my home and my church affiliation with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

At passport camp I had the awesome opportunity to work on the kids team. I was blown away by how genuine kids can be and how passionate they are about Christ. Just the opportunity to see this was breathtaking! I interacted with the kids on a one-on-one level and participated in worship every night by playing the drum or the piano. I met many musicians from various CBF churches around the United States. Many were amused by my abilities to play music not just by paper, but through emotion and feeling.

It was a great experience living in America and traveling to different states such as Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. When I first carrived I got home sick a lot, but that didn't last long because the CBF family quickly captivated me with love and I felt at home.

Over the past two months, I feel that I have grown in my attachment with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. CBF people are so helpful and willing to go beyond their calling to help one another. It is a privilege to be a part of something so genuine! 

Partnership Matters!

Because of the partnerships that CBF Florida shares with eight churches in the Bahamas and with Passport Inc., Jacoby Thomas had a rewarding and educational summer and the staff and attendees of the Passport kids camp were blessed by his presence. I am so thankful for Passport's belief in and support of Coby and thrilled that CBF Florida was able to help financially support Coby through a gift from the Lucy Smith Scholarship Endowment fund. Partnership really does matter!