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A Higher Way: American Baptists and Our Neighbors

A Higher Way: American Baptists and Our Neighbors

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength

and with all your mind” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

 

Dear ABCUSA sisters and brothers, greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord! As I write to you today, we all would acknowledge that recently our country has experienced a great deal of turmoil, pain and stress.

What are we witnessing? A lack of civility in both discourse and behavior cuts across all strata of our society, and extends even to the Presidency itself. Prejudice and xenophobia threaten to become policy, in ways that are not only unjust, but destructive of basic American core values. Immigrants are seen as a threat and not a blessing. Racism, rightly considered “America’s original sin,” has reared its ugly head in too many disturbing ways. The January 2018 shut-down of our federal government symbolizes the polarization and dysfunction of our political institutions. Schools suffer violence, and innocent children are murdered. Politicians, celebrities, newscasters, sports stars, doctors, and yes, even clergy, have been guilty of sexual harassment and abuse. Months after hurricanes devastated Puerto Rico, much of the island has no electrical power, while traffic lights, thousands of homes and many church buildings still require repair.

As representatives of the Kingdom of God envisioned by Jesus (see Matthew 5-7), we must not remain silent as our American society falters in upholding cherished principles, and this is why I am writing to our ABCUSA family. Although my remarks are my own, I have asked our Regional Executive Ministers and the Board of General Ministries’ Executive Committee to speak into this letter. Many have shared advice and counsel, and have also expressed support for the letter. I would like to thank them all for their insights and encouragement.

Each one of the issues raised above deserves thoughtful consideration and prophetic response, but in this letter, I wish to address an underlying theme that may provide our leaders and churches with a perspective by which to faithfully address all of them.

In brief, our culture suffers from a form of spiritual amnesia. Having forgotten or ignored the Baptist and biblical core conviction of the infinite worth of every human being because we are all made in God’s image, many movements and individuals no longer act as if loving one’s neighbor is a fundamental and necessary manifestation of a just and healthy society. We are so quick to judge, denigrate, criticize, attack, and assume to be superior to those with whom we differ. There is precious little grace, courtesy and mutual respect remaining in American discourse and life. We must recapture these virtues which can resupply society with much needed social capital. This failing applies to both the President and Congress, to political and social conservatives and liberals alike, to Republicans and to Democrats, as well as to those of us who are part of religious communities.

If we believe that all people are precious to God and equal to one another, we must reject prejudice, hatred, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bigotry. If we believe that political democracy best expresses the civic equality that is demanded by our Baptist belief in soul freedom, then we must abandon “the politics of personal destruction” which in contemporary culture demonizes all who disagree with us, preventing healthy discourse, problem-solving and thoughtful compromise.

If we believe in the equality of all human beings, we can celebrate religious, ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity as a gift that enriches us all. We can defend the right of others to be safe and free, even if we do not see eye to eye on political matters (Baptists have held this position since colonial times). We will befriend the stranger and immigrant and protect the powerless. We will treat others with caring, respect and generosity. We will re-discover the art of speaking the “truth in love” and not in anger (Ephesians 4:15). In other words, we will embrace Jesus’ call to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”  

In the Bible, loving one’s neighbor is a manifestation of godly wisdom. Imagine what kind of a society we could experience if we applied this wisdom to our political discourse: “A person who lacks judgment derides one’s neighbor, but a person of understanding holds their tongue” (Proverbs 11:12; my paraphrase). Consider what policymaking would look like if we applied this admonition: “Do not plot harm against your neighbor, who lives trustfully near you” (Proverbs 3:29; see also Zechariah 8:16-17). Immigrants, for example, are our neighbors, not our enemies.

How might we as a Christian movement, made up of local churches and individual disciples of Christ, live out Jesus’ command to love our neighbors?

In regard to our witness concerning racism, I encourage all American Baptists to travel to Washington DC for a potentially historic religious service and demonstration on April 4, 2018, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Denominations and organizations from across the theological spectrum are coming together to affirm that we believe in an America that exemplifies racial justice and harmony. I will be there, and I hope American Baptists will support this ecumenical affirmation that all Americans are our neighbors. For more information, see rally2endracism.org.

In response to the status of undocumented immigrants, I would remind us that many are members of American Baptist churches all across the country. They are our sisters and brothers. Seek them out, love them, express solidarity with them, demonstrate compassion and care. Although legitimate differences of opinion exist amongst us regarding immigration policy, I would encourage us to support the continuation of the legal visa status of Haitian, Central American and other temporary legal immigrants. We can encourage Congress and the President to extend a pathway to legal status and eventual citizenship to children who came to the United States with their parents, and who may now face either deportation or separation from their parents. If our neighbors are loved by God, we must embrace them regardless of their legal status, remembering that Abraham’s offspring were immigrants in Egypt, and that Jesus himself was an immigrant whose family had to flee persecution.[i]

Surely, we all agree that all forms of violence,[ii] including sexual harassment and human trafficking, are anathema to our understanding of the Kingdom of God. If we believe that men and women are equal in God’s eyes, we cannot excuse sexual abuse and harassment. In the near future, the Office of the General Secretary, in cooperation with other ABCUSA ministries, hopes to launch a creative new initiative as a resource for churches who are already addressing these concerns, or may wish to start doing so.

American Baptists are committed to journeying alongside our 114 Puerto Rican Baptist churches, and we are well on our way to raising one million dollars in One Great Hour of Sharing Disaster Relief funds for the island. Working with the Iglesias Bautistas de Puerto Rico region, American Baptist Home Mission Societies is doing a great job in coordinating our rebuilding efforts. Send a work team! Furthermore, we invite your church to enter into a three year sister church relationship with one of our Puerto Rican congregations, culminating in face to face visits to celebrate the faith of our Puerto Rican friends at the 2021 Biennial Mission Summit in San Juan. You will soon receive details on how to become a Sister Church. As a matter of justice and compassion, let us share with our elected representatives that we believe our government must do more to restore the island’s economy and infrastructure.

I welcome feedback from you. Would you please share with me what nationalities and cultures are represented in your congregation? I believe we are a far more diverse spiritual family than we realize. Is your church reaching out to immigrants, both documented and undocumented, in loving and creative ways? Send me your stories! Are you willing to stand up against racism? Come to Washington DC on April 4! Is your church willing to befriend a sister church in Puerto Rico? We are all blessed by spiritual companionship and support.[iii]

In closing, I would encourage us all to ponder James’ admonition: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right!” (James 2:8).

Yours in Christ,

Kyle & Katrina Williams Headed to Kikongo

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Kyle & Katrina Williams Headed to Kikongo

The Latest from Kyle & Katrina Williams, New IM Missionaries Headed to Kikongo (from the Northwest!)

Here’s a bit of the latest news from the Williams: 
“In March an anonymous individual set up a matching fund of $20,000 and we were hoping that we could get this matched in 6 weeks. Because of our wonderful partners this gift was matched in just 4 weeks. Then to top this when the new Spring Matching campaign rolled out we received $20,000 on the first day. Your excitement for us to finally get off the ground has been such a great encouragment. In just March and April 75% of our start up cost has come in….Now to make our August departure we just need about 20 sustaining partners and the last 10% or so of our start up cost.” More news from the Williams’ IM website may be found here.

Plan to attend the Williams’ Commissioning Service, August 9, 2015 at First Baptist Church, Everett

“Because of the goodness and sacrificial giving of so many we are in a place to plan our Commissioning Service. This will be facilitated by the Board of IM, our home church, First Baptist Church and us. We would like to open this as an invitation to any one who would like to be there to participate in commissioning us for service in the DR Congo.   The service will be held at FBC, 1616 Pacific Ave, Everett, WA 98201. There are plenty of hotels in the area and the possibility of other housing if interested.” 

Kyle and Katrina Williams, from Everett, Washington, have been appointed to serve in partnership with the Baptist Community of Congo at the Pastoral Institute of Kikongo. They will assist with the training of pastors and their spouses in theology, literacy and church and rural development. Kyle has recently finished a Master's of Science at Central Washington University where he focused on racism and its driving mechanism and techniques to overcome it. Katrina is a photographer and graphic artist. Together they have worked summers at a family commercial fishing site in Alaska and are homeschooling their four children.

Congo remains one of the most tribally diverse nations on the planet, and this tribalism can effect people's desire to love their neighboring tribe. Kyle hopes to implement his thesis topic, implicit bias toward the other (treating people differently but thinking you don't), into the pastoral training in order to allow future pastors more tools and information about carrying out the second greatest commandment.  

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Haiti Mission Trip 2013

Dear Family, Friends and others interested in Haiti Mission:

I am sending this letter to people and churches who have expressed an interest in previous mission trips, the current trip to Haiti, have gone on a trip, or in some way have supported the previous trips either financially, through prayers or in some other way.

Haiti Missions Trip 2011 Report

by Gene Gentry

 

August 2-10 six people from various churches in the Northwest went to Haiti to build desks, tables and chalk boards for the school at Grand Goave, Haiti. The January 2011 earthquake completely destroyed the Siloe School. Since that time with the help of Haitian crews and many volunteers from across the United States 13 rooms have been nearly finished. There remains only the addition of the doors and windows made of rebar for the last seven rooms to be finished. Our team was asked to make 30 desks, 30 tables and 14 chalk boards for the last seven classrooms. That was the amount of money available to get students into the class rooms for fall start-up of classes. In reality that was all that we had time to complete during the time we were in Haiti. A team from Colorado and Haitian volunteers joined us to accomplish that task.
 
As we left Spokane we were concerned about the weather. There was a possibility that Tropical Storm Emily would cause a problem.  We decided to press on as planes continued to fly into Haiti.  Emily slowed and eventually dissipated near the Dominican Republic. She provided us with two or three cooler days. What a blessing that was.
 
When we went into Haiti we carried enough nuts, bolts and screws to build 100 desks along with our tools. Our task was not only to build desks, but to work along side of Haitian volunteers to help them understand the power tools they were not familiar with. One of the most significant jobs as far as I was concerned was to teach the two volunteers who were chosen to use the paint sprayer. An important task in maintaining a sprayer is to clean it thoroughly after each use. EJ (Elisabeth Jane) has worked as a professional sprayer. Her primary task was to teach proper use and cleaning of the sprayer. The first day that we sprayed chalk boards I told the two volunteers that the sprayer had to be cleaned before we broke for our noon meal and break. The next day near the end of the day the older volunteer, Precois, who is also a carpenter said, “We have to clean the sprayer before we go home.” He had grasped the importance of cleaning so that this piece of equipment can be used time and time again.
 
Some of the most significant times for the team were the spontaneous interactions we had with our Haitian brothers and sisters. On Saturday afternoon we had the opportunity to assist in conversations at the Christian English School. I had the first year students and did some very basic stuff. The other volunteers were in higher-level classes and the conversations took very interesting twists. Several of the volunteers were asked why they were Christians. Adam who had numerous tattoos was asked if he was a Christian.  The volunteers had to address questions that they had not anticipated which made them think about their relationship to Jesus.
 
Much interaction took place as we worked together with the Haitian people. We also developed some good relationships with the team from Colorado that had come to build rubble houses. I was blessed to see friends that I had made during my previous trips to Grand Goave. This is my fourth trip in two years. Many of our experiences came during unplanned times.
 
One day my grandson, Brolin, was not feeling very well. We were working on table legs. He took a break. After a while I wondered what was going on. I asked someone where Brolin was. He was teaching German to someone. He had studied German the past year and was using that skill. One night I went up on the roof of the volunteer house to see what part of the team was doing. Most of the team was sitting there while my son-in-law, Ben, taught Jean Pierre Hebrew. Ben grew up in Israel and they spoke Hebrew in the home. As I reflected on this Hebrew class I recalled seeing some Hebrew on a chalk board while I was in Haiti last year. Jean Pierre is very interested in languages and took advantage of every opportunity to use and learn them.
 
I want to thank those churches and individuals who made this trip possible. Several churches and individuals enabled volunteers to make the trip. Others made significant contributions to desks, chalk boards and tables. Park Heights did yeoman service in getting hardware together for 100 desks. Deer Park Open Door and Immanuel Baptist in Spokane enabled us to take tools that had been requested for the tasks to be done.  hanks too, to Charles Revis, the Spokane LLC and others in the Region of the Northwest for getting the word out. 
 
God is good. He blessed all who went on the trip. We were also a blessing to those we encountered in Haiti. Some couldn’t go this year who wanted to go. Some want to go again. I’m expecting more opportunities in the future.
 
P.S. If interested I will volunteer to visit and share with your church about this trip. I have already shared our experience with my Deer Park church.  Perhaps this way interest may be built for the next trip. You can reach me through the ABCNW Region Office.
 

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Haiti Mission Trip - Gene Gentry

Dear Friends who are interested in the Haiti Mission Trip:

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I returned from Haiti almost two weeks ago.  I want to share the experience of the Northwest team, myself and the situation with my back.  Normally teams go for about a week to Gran Goave, Haiti.  The team from the Northwest departed July 23rd and returned on July 31.  We had only three of us from the northwest so we were joined by three people from New York.  We had a great team.  We were the second team to use the new volunteer house instead of sleeping in tents.  There was much needed to make the house a home but we were out of the storms which was a blessing.   We decided to make the house more comfortable and that was partially done while we were there.

Midway through our time at Gran Goave we were joined by a team of six from Ohio.  This was the third team lead by Harry Rittenhouse since the first big earthquake on January 12.  I have worked with Harry off and on over a 20 year period.  It was a pleasure to work with him and his team once again.  I stayed on until August 5 and came out with that team.

Our primary task in Haiti was to work with the school which is being built for 350 students.  Those among us who were physically able worked with the Haitians pouring cement for the bond beams.  That included mixing, transporting in a wheel barrow, putting it in a bucket and passing the bucket up a ladder to people on a platform who were pouring it into the forms.  We did this for the last three rooms that are currently under construction.  Since I left in May the first two rooms have been completed up through the pouring of the ceiling which will be the floor of the second story.  Floors still need to be poured and windows installed on the front side of the classrooms.  After that additional classrooms need to be constructed.

Those of us who were not up to the physical exertion of the cement process plus Andy, our volunteer carpenter, worked at a variety of tasks including building a structure to prevent rains from entering the staff house from the second floor.  The second floor had collapsed during the earthquakes.  We also painted the staff house and got water to all of the faucets and fixtures.  In the volunteer house we got electricity to all of the rooms.  When we arrived, electricity was in three out of six rooms.  We have electricity when the generator runs.  When we left we still needed to get the water fixed so the water tank didn't  run dry when no one was using water.

Medical people had the opportunity to do some clinics with Tori, the nurse.  Some of the team helped to reorganize the pharmacy.

Everyone had a good time and felt we had accomplished much.  We had some people who had to slow down because of working too hard and not drinking enough water.  Fortunately no IV's were necessary.

When I left for Haiti, several of you were concerned about my back. I purchased a flexible ticket so it could be changed if I couldn't go or if it was necessary to change the return flight.  I received a shot prior to going to help control the pain.  It worked marvelously.  It lasted for about a week after my return from Haiti.  I actually changed my ticket prior to departure so that I stayed longer than the team from the northwest and came out with Harry's team on the 5th.  I was able to facilitate several things for both teams.

The New York team leader is trying to get a medical team organized for January.  I think we will try to get a team together again sometime in the next year.  I saw my back surgeon today and we are scheduling surgery for the end of September.  I had hoped to go back in October but that is not to be, as he said I would have to take it easy for a couple of months.  He asked if I had planned another trip and said "not until I saw you."  So those of you who worry about me, rest assured, I will get the back taken care of first.

Andy Moll from Lynnwood and Jan Simpson from Spokane were excited about the trip and Andy thinks he can get some others to go another time, probably summer.  Several people who couldn't go this time want to be kept in the loop so there is a better chance that we can pull a few more people together from the northwest for another mission trip.  Several people are already considering that possibility.

I hope this answers questions that you might have.  If you do not want to be kept in the loop let me know otherwise I will give you occasional updates, especially as plans develop for future mission trips.

Blessings,

Gene Gentry.

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Romania Music and Missions – Summit Church, Boise

Romania Mission Team
Romania Mission Team

On Thursday, July 1st nine musicians and artists from the Summit Church Boise boarded a plane, packing instruments and art supplies, and headed off to Romania. They were John Futrell, Sharla Futrell, Naomi Futrell, Joanne Kimey, Diana Patrick, Phil Bennett, Katy Knight, my wife Jen and me. Their mission: to work alongside churches in three communities aiding them in reaching outside their walls through service projects and concerts. We went there to love the people, give ourselves away and gain access into lives where there might be opportunity to share Jesus; and Thank you Lord, that is exactly what happened!!

Râşnov Soccer Tournament:

On Saturday, July 3rd (while people in Boise were beginning to turn in on their Friday evening), the Summit Church Romania Music and Missions Team was already up and headed to a sports hall in the city ofRâşnov, (central Romania). There we hosted “The 2010 Romanian American Summit Football Tournament”.One hundred and twenty youth and college age Romanians gathered to form twelve soccer teams competing in a double elimination tournament throughout the day. At lunch we served hot dogs and soda, did a short concert for the teams and shared some testimonies. At the close of the day we passed out trophies and medals to the top three teams and gave all one hundred and twenty competitors a tournament certificate. More than half of the kids there were not Christians and God gave us tremendous opportunity to witness, encourage them and connect them with the body of Christ. Phil Bennett, one of our team members, met a young man who was a worship leader at one time. Over a decade ago he walked away from the church and away from God feeling betrayed, hurt and beat up. Because Phil was there to encourage him, this young man has decided to return to the church and to God and is now pursuing his calling as a worship leader. Others were prayed over who would have never invited anyone to pray over them before and several kids are now attending the church we were working with. Wow!! What a day we had!! Thank you God!!

Dorohoi Flood Relief:

Dorohoi is the northern most city in Romania, located in the east, just a few miles from Ukraine. One week and a half before we left on our mission, Dorohoi was struck with terrible floods. In the middle of the night, in the span of two and a half hours, water from the foothills and rivers caused by torrential rains, rose to 5 and half feet above the ground. Places of business were gutted, whole homes were just washed away and eleven people died. It was no less than a hurricane Katrina type disaster and ten days after it happened, no one had moved an inch. The people there were devastated, terrified and paralyzed. We saw men and women in their falling down houses just sitting, some crying, and some just staring into space not knowing what to do next. One woman told me, “We make great sacrifices here in Romania. Because we have very little, we work for years to buy one appliance and decades to make a home”. She held her arms out to the molded walls and rotted floors covered in mud. Clothing, papers and personal belongings scattered throughout the width and breadth of the house “Now look; twenty years gone in two hours”. She had no tears. She was empty. How we came to decide on going to Dorohoi as one of our destinations was…well, it wasn’t our decision. God called us there. Ask me sometime. But now that we were there, the question was, what could nine people from the States really do in the midst of such a crisis? We would stick with our mission; to love the people and give ourselves away. So, we put our boots and work gloves on, picked up shovels and scrub brushes and began digging in. Really, we didn’t even make a dent in this disaster. But God didn’t send us there to make a dent. God sent us there to make an impact.

On the second day in Dorohoi, Dana Murza, our host, and Joanne Kimey, one of the nine from our team, were asked to accompany some police officers downtown to see “The General”. The Generalwas an officer who had been called in to lay plans for groups coming in from all over Romania and surrounding countries bringing aid to Dorohoi. Those groups hadn’t arrived yet. So, “The General” just wanted to meet someone from our team, to say thank you for helping and then, more importantly, try to wrap his brain around how nine volunteers from the States made it to the northern most city in Romania before anyone in Romania or its surrounding countries had gotten there. Dana Murza and Joanne Kimey didn’t waste a second. They told him that we had already planned on coming and that God brought us here which, of course, was an open door to talk about the gospel and to give an invitation to our concert that night. Word has since been sent back to me that “The General” along with some other officers began attending the church we worked with in Dorohoi and some have given their lives to Christ. Yes!!!

Bistriţa Playground Restoration and Tent Meetings:

Bistrita Tent Meetings
Bistrita Tent Meetings

On Thursday, July 8th we arrived in Bistriţa and went to the church we would be working with. Katy Knight, the artist on our team, began working on a mural for the inside of the church. Some others were assigned to work at a children’s program and the rest were assigned to cleaning up playgrounds. We did this for three days. During the late afternoons we set up church smack dab in the middle of the projects and invited the neighborhood in to hear the worship band and the gospel. At night, we showed the movie “Facing The Giants” (in English with Romanian Subtitles). There were many who attended these events who were not Christians but they wanted to hear. Many heard the gospel and are now attending the church we worked with. What God allowed us to accomplish there was not small in nature because no one had ever set up shop in the middle of the projects and the Mayor had to sign off on our coming to do that. So by the time we got the go ahead, the entire city was alerted to our presence. Ever heard the saying “No publicity is bad publicity”?  You can be sure that for weeks leading up to our arrival, “The Repenters” and God were talked about…a lot. Our team made the Bistriţa paper twice and the love of Jesus was shared during a television interview that made the evening news. Filip, the Pastor we worked with, tells me he needs a bigger building now. We’re working on that.

Bistrita Mural
Bistrita Mural

All in all, it was a fantastic journey and we can see that God is using our trip in big, big ways. If you’d like more details about our trip, visit www.facebook.com/romania2010 There you’ll find blogs and pictures from our team members and some videos too which were posted throughout our mission. Thank you, Summit Church, for sending us and for supporting us. The Romania Music and Mission Team would also like to thank you, in advance, for your prayers over our hosts Otniel and Dana Murza. They’re both on fire for Jesus and they’re making such a difference in the lives of so many. Pray that their daily needs are met as it’s difficult to raise support in Romania. Also, please pray for protection over them as they travel throughout the country with Campus Crusade.

With His Music,

Pastor Chad