Wednesday, August 16, 2017

EPIC: Germany (Days 2-3)

The EPIC trip to Germany continues. Yesterday we toured Wittenberg (where Luther lived, taught, preached, and, of course, nailed those 95 Theses to the door) and today we spent time in Eisleben (where Luther was born and died). As before, click any image to see it larger.



SBC evangelism task force holds first meeting

new - 22 minutes ago

SBC evangelism task force holds first meeting

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- How to increase Southern Baptists' passion for personal evangelism and encourage preachers to include evangelistic invitations in every sermon were among the topics discussed Aug. 14-15 at the first meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention's task force on soul winning and evangelistic preaching.

The first meeting of the SBC's task force on soul winning and personal evangelism was "wide-ranging" and "passionate," according to reports by attendees.

Photo by Neil Williams

"I cannot remember a meeting that encouraged my heart as much as this one," task force chairman Paige Patterson said in a statement released to Baptist Press. "We had a large portion of the task force who were able to attend and they seriously and humbly pursued the convention-assigned task.

"Fully one-fourth of our time was spent on our faces before God asking for His guidance and for an outpouring of His blessings upon our churches and institutions," said Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. "This task force is under no illusion that we have the ability to speak wisely to our convention. We know well that any contribution we make will have to be the wisdom of God."

Appointed by SBC President Steve Gaines, the task force stems from a motion made and approved by messengers at the 2017 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix that a committee be established to suggest how Southern Baptists might be more effective in personal soul winning and evangelistic preaching.

Jimmy Scroggins makes a presentation to the SBC's task force on soul winning and evangelistic preaching during the group's Aug. 14-15 meeting in Fort Worth, Texas.

Photo by Barry McCarty

While the group was not given a name by the convention's official action, Patterson has referred to it as the "SBC Task Force on Evangelism."

The inaugural meeting -- hosted by Southwestern Seminary -- featured a variety of presentations by task force members and initial discussion of the group's report to be presented at the 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas.

Gaines told BP the task force "had a great two days together."

"We talked about the decline in baptisms in our Southern Baptist Convention," said Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn. "We discussed various possible reasons for that. We talked about the need for increasing people's passion for personal evangelism, and we discussed various ways to do that.

"We also discussed the fact that we believe every sermon should present the Gospel message and also appeal to people to respond -- whether that's a come-forward invitation or encouraging someone to pray and invite Christ in their hearts then and there ... or inviting them to go to a room after the service where they can counsel with someone," Gaines said.

Task force member Jimmy Scroggins told BP discussions were "informative," "wide-ranging," at times "intense" and always "saturated with a spirit of camaraderie and friendly cooperation."

"People were passionate," Scroggins, pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., said in written comments. "At times it was emotional. And we don't all see everything the same way -- there is a diversity of opinion, experience and practice on that committee. Fortunately Dr. Patterson created an environment where every person had freedom and opportunity to speak their mind. I definitely appreciate the deep commitment to prayer that was evidenced in our time together. We spent significant time on our knees crying out to God on behalf of our pastors, churches and agencies.

"Our committee has a lot of work to do going forward," Scroggins said, "but I think the contours of next summer's report are already emerging. There is a powerful sense of unity, purpose and prayerfulness in our group, and we are all hoping and praying that God is going to use this report to help propel the churches of our convention forward in our evangelistic strategy and efforts."

Noe Garcia, pastor of North Phoenix (Ariz.) Baptist Church, expressed appreciation for "the strong and passionate leadership of Steve Gaines and Paige Patterson" during the meetings.

"We had rich discussion about evangelistic strategies and methods that are effective, while also processing the areas in which we have been ineffective. We all have a clear and united understanding that there cannot be an effective evangelism strategy without the Spirit of God moving and directing us," Garcia told BP in written comments.

"While the first meeting brought much hope and fruit for the future, we recognize that there is much work to be done," Garcia said. "Pray for us as we continue to meet."

Patterson noted he has "seldom been more proud to be a Southern Baptist" than at the task force's meeting. The younger members in particular "provided many of the lasting insights and demonstrated the most mature and spiritual thinking that I have heard."

According to a Southwestern Seminary news release, meeting attendees included Patterson; Gaines; Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention; Jeff Iorg, president of Gateway Seminary; pastors Jordan Easley, Nick Floyd, James Merritt, Doug Munton, Garcia and Scroggins; Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Robert Matz; Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Jim Shaddix; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Adam Greenway; and Southwestern Seminary professors David Allen and Matt Queen.

SBC chief parliamentarian Barry McCarty also attended at Gaines' request to assist and advise on presentation of the task force's report.

The task force on soul winning and evangelistic preaching is distinct from the disciple-making task force appointed in 2016 by North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell and LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer. Like the task force appointed by Gaines, the disciple-making task force will report to the convention at the Dallas annual meeting.



Amid Charlottesville turmoil, Baptists active in outreach

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Amid Charlottesville turmoil, Baptists active in outreach

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (BP) -- As alternative-right white supremacists and others flooded Charlottesville, Va., to protest the removal of a Confederate statue, Southern Baptists were already actively promoting racial harmony in the small community where former mayor Alvin Edwards has pastored 36 years.

Alvin Edwards, pastor of Mount Zion First African Baptist in Charlottesville, Va., delivered the eulogy for Heather Heyer, a victim of white supremacist violence stemming from an Aug. 12 protest.

Screen capture from YouTube

Edwards, pastor of Mount Zion First African Baptist Church and a member of the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV), had already organized the multidenominational Charlottesville Clergy Collective to build unity among faith leaders in the city and Albermarle County region.

A day after the Aug. 12 protest that left three dead and 19 others injured, Mount Zion co-hosted a worship service with First Baptist Church in Charlottesville, attended by Va. Gov. Terry McAuliffe, other political leaders, clergy and lay members. First Baptist, at 632 W. Main St., was the first black congregation in the area to begin cooperating with the SBC, beginning in 1979.

McAuliffe addressed a multiethnic crowd during the Aug. 13 morning worship service and led those gathered in a moment of silence for those killed: 32-year-old counter-protestor Heather Heyer and two Virginia state troopers who died in the line of duty during the protest, their helicopter crashing during a video surveillance. Dead are 48-year-old Lt. H. Jay Cullen and 40-year-old Berke M.M. Bates.

"As tough as yesterday was, and it was, this is an opportunity for all of us to show the world who we are," McAuliffe said during the service. "We did have white supremacists, neo-Nazis, come into our beautiful city, carry weapons -- semi-automatic weapons -- walking up and down our streets. They came here to hurt, no question about it.... I not only say go home, get out of the city of Charlottesville, get out of the state of Virginia, I would tell you to get out of the United States of America."

Today, Edwards delivered the eulogy at Heyer's 11 a.m. (Eastern Time) memorial service at Charlotteville's Paramount Theater. Reading Psalm 90:12, Edwards thanked God for Heyer's legacy of social justice and encouraged attendees to make each day count while living on the earth.

"It's not how long (you live), it's what you do while you live," Edwards said. "You need to learn from her ... [to] make each day count, because she lived her life supporting and believing and having a value that enabled her to fight for justice and righteousness."

Edwards urged the gathered mourners to behave differently than those whose protests over the removal of the statue erupted into deadly violence.

"Yes, haters were here, and yes, we don't want them here," he said, "but we need to take a higher road, and we need to let them know that the three lives that were lost this weekend will not be in vain."

Edwards, who served as Charlottesville mayor from 1990-92, witnessed the weekend protest from his car as he was leaving the University of Virginia, where he had been scheduled to speak before the state of emergency was declared. Those protesting the removal of the statue carried a variety of weapons, Edwards told WUSA9-TV in an interview posted on YouTube Aug. 14.

"As I drove around down Water Street, I just saw the neo-Nazis and the white supremacists with their automatic weapons and their poles, and I saw that at the beginning," Edwards said. "They didn't come to have a peaceful demonstration. They came ready to fight and to provoke folks to fight."

Among their weapons, Edwards said, were "cans filled with concrete, bottles filled with urine, they had pepper spray," he said. "I wasn't near them, I could just see them."

A multiethnic crowd had filled First Baptist for a 6 a.m. community sunrise service on the day of the protest, with Harvard University philosopher historian Cornell West as the guest speaker. Afterward, West locked arms with faith leaders and worshipers marching toward Emancipation Park, where the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee stands and is slated for removal. The group sang hymns and prayed.

While First Baptist is in the middle of a pastoral search, church office worker Betty Brooks today told BP about 100 or more attended both the Aug. 12 sunrise service and the Aug. 13 worship.

"We're letting God lead us one day at a time," she told BP. "God, lead us one day at a time."

The protest ended in violence. A motorist police identified as James Alex Fields plowed through a crowd of counter-protesters opposing the white supremacists, killing Heyer and injuring 19 others -- some critically -- who marched against the white supremacist crowd. Fields, 20, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

Heyer, a native of Ruckerville, Va., had worked as a paralegal and a server at a café, according to news reports.

Services for the state law enforcement officers are upcoming.



Tillerson's religious liberty stand draws praise

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Tillerson's religious liberty stand draws praise

WASHINGTON (BP) -- Southern Baptist and other religious freedom advocates praised Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's defense of religious freedom -- especially his unequivocal labeling of the crimes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as genocide -- upon the release of an annual report Tuesday (Aug. 15).

Religious freedom advocates praised Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's defense of religious freedom upon the release of an annual report Tuesday (Aug. 15).

Screen capture from Twitter

In introducing the International Religious Freedom Report for 2016, Tillerson said he was removing "any ambiguity from previous statements or reports by the State Department."

ISIS "is clearly responsible for genocide against Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims in areas it controls or has controlled," Tillerson said. "ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other minorities."

Tillerson described protection of such groups as "a human rights priority for the Trump administration" and promised continued work with others in the Middle East not only to guard the religious minorities but "to preserve their cultural heritage."

In addressing the universal state of religious liberty, Tillerson said, "Almost 80 percent of the global population live with restrictions on or hostilities to limit their freedom of religion. Where religious freedom is not protected, we know that instability, human rights abuses and violent extremism have a greater opportunity to take root."

The administration is committed "to addressing these conditions in part by advancing international religious freedom around the world," he said. "The State Department will continue to advocate on behalf of those seeking to live their lives according to their faith."

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission expressed appreciation for Tillerson's statement.

"We're grateful for Secretary Tillerson's leadership this week on international religious freedom by explicitly emphasizing the United States has both the moral imperative and strategic interest to include the issue in our diplomacy," said Matt Hawkins, a policy director for the ERLC. "The trends in global persecution and extremism underscore the need for the International Religious Freedom office to rise in prominence within the State Department."

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) -- a bipartisan panel that reports to the federal government on global conditions for religious adherents -- said it strongly endorsed Tillerson's remarks on genocide.

"He expressed unequivocally that ISIS is responsible for genocide against Y[a]zidis, Christians, and Shi'a Muslims," USCIRF Chairman Daniel Mark said in a written release. "Such a strong and clear statement is both needed and appropriate."

Congressional champions of international religious liberty applauded the secretary's statement.

"It is vitally important that our top diplomat clearly and unequivocally proclaim that religious freedom is a core American value and a universal human right," said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., and a Southern Baptist, in written comments. "It is important for America to be clear about the human rights abuses happening around the world, as well as the genocide being committed by ISIS against Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims."

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J. commended Tillerson "for focusing on those who have been victims of genocide. These groups are looking for help and leadership, and I am proud that after eight years of denial and foot dragging, this report positions the United States to become a world leader in helping those who need it most."

Previous Secretary of State John Kerry had used "genocide" in March 2016 to describe ISIS' campaign against Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims, but religious freedom advocate Nina Shea said he presented it as his own belief. Tillerson, meanwhile, made it clear the designation of genocide was a State Department determination.

Tillerson "went further than previous administrations -- committing to protect targeted minorities from violent extremism even after ISIS is defeated and to preserving their culture heritage," said Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom. "He pressed for a more religiously tolerant culture, specifically in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan and other Muslim countries."

In his comments, Tillerson cited seven countries among many that "use discriminatory laws to deny their citizens freedom of religion or belief" -- Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China, Pakistan, Sudan and Bahrain.

According to the report, Iran designates in its constitution that Ja'afari Shia Islam is the official state religion. Iran's law calls for the death penalty for efforts by non-Muslims to convert Muslims. In the last year, the government executed people, including 20 Sunni Muslim Kurds, for "enmity against God." The regime also maintained its harassment and arrest of Bahais, Christians, Sunni Muslims and other religious minorities and "regulated Christian religious practices closely to enforce the prohibition on proselytizing," the report says.

Saudi Arabia's legal system is based on sharia law and criminalizes non-Muslim public worship, proselytizing by non-Muslims and conversion to another faith by Muslims, the report says. During the year, the government convicted and imprisoned people on such charges as apostasy, blasphemy, insulting Islam and violating Islamic values and moral standards, according to the report.

China's communist government continued to assert control over religious practice in the world's most populous country, the report says. Among those who were abused, harassed, arrested, imprisoned or tortured were members of unregistered Christian churches and the Falun Gong sect, as well as Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims, according to the report.

The report on 199 countries and territories did not include a new list of "countries of particular concern" (CPCs). The State Department has 90 days after the release of its report to designate CPCs.

The current CPCs -- which the State Department considers the world's most severe violators of religious freedom -- are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

In its April report, USCIRF recommended CPC redesignation for the same 10 countries plus new CPC designations for the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Syria and Vietnam. The commission also urged the designation of three Muslim terrorist groups -- ISIS, the Taliban in Afghanistan and al-Shabaab in Somalia -- as "entities of particular concern" (EPCs), a new category for non-state organizations that use violence against people of faith.

"The report is an important tool in identifying problems worldwide -- but it is just a start," Smith said. "We must take action on what is found in the report."

Tillerson, Hawkins and Lankford all expressed hope for a swift confirmation of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to fill the vacant position of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.



Market volatility: GuideStone offers tips, new fund

new - 4 hours ago

Market volatility: GuideStone offers tips, new fund

DALLAS (BP) -- As the U.S. stock market continues to eclipse all-time highs -- the S&P 500 Index has recorded 43 new all-time highs between November 8 and August 11 -- analysts with GuideStone Financial Resources caution that the markets may be set for a period of extended volatility.

Image: iStock/license purchase required.

GuideStone also announced Tuesday (Aug. 15) they have launched a new fund that offers diversification aiming to address increased market volatility.

John R. Jones and David S. Spika, both with the financial services arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, discussed the market and investor responses to potential volatility in a new Conversations with GuideStone video released last week.

"We believe the market is not pricing in the true risks in the environment," Spika, GuideStone's chief strategic investment officer, said in the video. "There's this perception that we're in some sort of Goldilocks environment, but we disagree.

"When you consider the fact that the Fed is raising interest rates, they're talking about reducing the balance sheet, the economy is struggling to grow at a reasonable pace, and we've got so much political acrimony in Washington that we're not going to get any sort of policy approval in the near-term, we think there is tremendous risk out there, and we don't feel like the market is appropriately pricing that in at this point," he noted.

Jones, GuideStone's chief operating officer, emphasized that one of the entity's "core principles and beliefs is the value of broad diversification on the part of investors," which Spika echoed is vitally important during periods of potential volatility.

"The one thing we encourage investors to do is not overreact to short-term moves in the market," Spika said, adding that there is going to be a correction at some point, but investors should not let short-term moves affect their long-term investment strategy. Spika noted that ultimately the Lord is in control.

The Conversations with GuideStone videos are available for free by visiting http://ift.tt/2wRit7I.

GuideStone launches new fund

GuideStone Funds launched its new Strategic Alternatives Fund last month that offers diversification aiming to address increased market volatility.

The fund is available to retirement plan participants in GuideStone's employer-sponsored retirement plans as well as other eligible GuideStone investors and financial advisors.

The fund seeks to provide absolute returns with both lower volatility than, and low correlation with, traditional equity and fixed-income markets. The term "absolute returns" means that an investment aims to generate a consistently positive single digit total return in most market environments. When speaking of the fund having a low correlation to equity (stock) and fixed-income (bond) markets, it is expected to have much lower price variability than those asset classes.

Investors interested in alternatives investing are generally looking for choices beyond fixed income or equity investments for additional diversification.

"Diversification in an environment of rising volatility is absolutely critical, but the one thing we don't want investors to do is overreact to short-term moves in the market," Spika reiterated in a related news release. "There is going to be a correction at some point, but we don't want investors to let short-term moves affect their long-term investment strategy.

"Traditional diversification is not always effective, as we saw in 2008. And diversification is not a guarantee against loss. Alternative investments, however, are a way to provide additional types of exposure to hedge risk more effectively. That is the impetus for the GuideStone Strategic Alternatives Fund, which addresses the desire many investors have to potentially lower their risk, with the possibility for more consistently positive returns."

Like all GuideStone Funds, the Strategic Alternatives Fund is subject to GuideStone's socially responsible investing policy, which states that GuideStone Funds do not invest in any company that is publicly recognized as being in the alcohol, tobacco, gambling, pornography or abortion industries or any company whose products, services or activities are publicly recognized as being incompatible with the moral and ethical posture of GuideStone.

Additionally, as with the other GuideStone Funds, the Strategic Alternatives Fund is actively managed. The entity believes the risk-managed and diversifying exposures in the fund cannot be replicated by passive investment approaches.

"We designed the Strategic Alternatives Fund to leverage the skill sets of multiple sub-advisers who focus in different areas of the capital markets where we think there are meaningful opportunities for gain," Spika said.

Retirement plan and other retail investors who are interested in learning how to incorporate the Strategic Alternatives Fund into their portfolios can email or call GuideStone Customer Solutions at info@GuideStone.org or (888)-98-GUIDE (888-984-8433). Investors in the MyDestination Funds will have the Strategic Alternatives Fund included in the investment mix as investors approach the target date.



FIRST-PERSON: Preaching under pressure

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FIRST-PERSON: Preaching under pressure

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP) -- As a young pastor embroiled in congregational conflict, I once told my pastoral mentor I was going to resign my church. As our conversation progressed, he identified the motivation behind my planned resignation: I just wanted to preach one Sunday in peace. He warned me, however, that trouble would find me wherever I preached the Bible and lifted the name of Jesus. He encouraged me to stay put, keep preaching and not grow weary in well doing.

I heeded his counsel. And I am glad I did not quit, even though the conflict in my church continued for several more years. I wouldn't trade anything for what God taught me as I preached under pressure.

On the other side of leadership challenges over the years, I believe you have not really learned to preach until you preach through a storm. Unending sunshine creates shallow pulpits. Preaching through a storm anchors the pulpit to the tried and proven Word of God.

So how do you preach faithfully under the pressure that arises against your leadership, ministry or pulpit?

Preach the Word. During the darkest days of my ministry, I struggled to see my way to the pulpit. I did not feel like studying, praying or preaching. I believe this was the Enemy's primary strategy. Waves rise from the pews to eject the preacher from the pulpit. The faithful preacher must hold the stern and preach through the storm. But avoid preaching to or about the storm, unless it is necessary. Preach the Word to lead the congregation forward. Preaching through a storm introduced me to consecutive exposition. Series preaching helped me respond to the Holy Spirit's leadership, rather than reacting to my opponents' shenanigans.

Pray without ceasing. The Lord does not teach us to pray in a classroom. He teaches us to pray on a battlefield. In the classroom, you may learn the truth about prayer. But it is on the battlefield that you learn the power of prayer. Ministerial battles drive the pastor-soldier to the spiritual dependence needed for effective prayer. So pray when you feel like it. Pray when you don't feel like. And pray until you feel like it.

Guard your heart against bitterness. As I preached through a storm at my first church, a friend pleaded with me to leave, lest the experience make me bitter. I did not feel free to leave my assignment. But my friend's concern burdened me to pray unceasingly that God would keep me from becoming bitter. I am grateful that God answered my prayers. Stubborn sheep tend to make cranky shepherds. If you do not guard your heart, church conflict can make the preacher angry, bitter and cynical.

Be a shepherd. I went to hear a pastor who was going through conflict in his church. I knew he was in conflict because that's what he preached about, giving his side of the story and berating his opposition. After the service, several older women stopped me and said, "Rev. Charles, please know that he was not talking about us. We are not fighting him. We love him." Be careful not to harm the sheep in the name of fighting the wolves. Be a shepherd. Lead and feed the flock. Those whom you call wolves in sheep's clothing may be sheep who have gone astray.

Believe what you preach. When I complain about my life or ministry, my wife accuses me of not listening to the sermons in church. She levels this charge knowing I am the one who preaches the sermons at our church. It is a stinging but needed rebuke. Preachers regularly stand in the pulpit and challenge the congregation to trust God no matter what. But pressure-filled seasons of ministry require you to put your faith where your pulpit is and trust God no matter what. It is much easier to preach what you believe than it is to believe what you preach.

Know when not to preach. One Sunday morning, my father -- who also was a pastor -- was blindsided by news his minister of music had resigned. It was not the resignation that bothered him so much. It was the fact that a key church leader withheld the news from him. My father felt betrayed. And with his sermon manuscript sitting in front of him, he asked one of the associates to preach. "I am too angry," he said. "The Lord cannot use me this morning." Watching this taught me more than any sermon he would have preached that day. Sometimes the best way to preach under pressure is to not preach.

Love your enemies. A business executive hires loyal employees. A coach recruits team players. A gang leader runs with ride-or-die partners. But the pastor must shepherd the flock the Lord redeems and places under his care. It is the Lord's flock. We are under-shepherds who will give account to the chief Shepherd. We must watch over the stubborn sheep, as well as the loyal ones. We must love our enemies, not just our friends. This is not only our pastoral calling, it is our Christian duty.



Adoptee's first act of love: aiding his homeland

NEW - 4 hours ago

Adoptee's first act of love: aiding his homeland

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (BP) -- People huddled in blankets near Ha Tsolosa, Lesotho. The January rain drizzled around them, a sign the recent drought was ending. The lack of rain had lasted two years and had devastated crops so badly many villagers had run out of food.

Soon, aid workers -- both foreign and local -- started unloading relief items including bags of mealie (corn meal), oil and beans from trucks.

But one worker looked a little different to the crowd.

Villagers in Lesotho's drought-stricken Matsoku Valley patiently wait for aid workers to distribute food in January. Among the volunteers: Haddon Fries, 9, who had just been adopted in the African country and was heading to a new life in the United States.

Photo by Micah Fries

"They weren't used to us showing up with [a young boy from Lesotho] decked out in a baseball cap," an observing missionary recalled.

Haddon Fries, 9, had just been adopted and was heading to a new life in the United States. But first, he spread Christ's love in the country of his birth. His new family joined a volunteer team and helped distribute food with Global Hunger Relief (GHR), funded by Southern Baptists, and Baptist Global Response (BGR), a Southern Baptist humanitarian aid organization.

"He was very aware that he was helping his own people, and many of them would speak to him in his language," Micah Fries, Haddon's father, remembered. "But on the other hand, at that point in time in his life, he didn't know anything other than his own people."

Fries, senior pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a former missionary to Burkina Faso and a former vice president of LifeWay Research in Nashville. According to the family's blog, he and his wife Tracy had been slogging through paperwork, home studies and more for years to bring Haddon to their home.

Micah Fries, senior pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., and his wife Tracy, with their children (from left) Sarah Grace, Haddon and Kessed Noel, had just finalized Haddon's adoption in Lesotho and were volunteering in a drought relief food distribution by Baptist Global Response and Global Hunger Relief.

Photo by Brett Barnhill

Finally, the couple flew thousands of miles with their two daughters -- Sarah Grace, 13, and Kessed Noel, 11 -- to complete the adoption. And, to be a Fries meant you served others.

"We've just made it a policy since our kids were little to take them on mission with us just in our normal life, whether it's here in our own town or, you know, around the country, or even overseas," Fries explained.

The government of Lesotho had required a two-week stay in the country as part of the adoption process, so the Fries family filled the time with what it did best -- going "on mission."

Before the trip, Fries contacted International Mission Board (IMB) personnel for information on current ministry projects in Lesotho. That brought the five Fries to that mountain, where they started unloading mealie, oil and beans.

The food items, distributed monthly, would help meet villagers' needs until May, just before the harvest. GHR funds paid for them and BGR facilitated the project. GHR uses a unique "dollar in, dollar out" model, with every cent that Southern Baptists donate helping to feed the hungry in North America and around the world. The Southern Baptist Cooperative Program makes this possible by covering GHR administrative costs.

The partnership of GHR, BGR, IMB and the Cooperative Program made it possible for Haddon to enjoy handing food to his countrymen. Although he had never before visited the mountains, his new dad said Haddon loved the experience.

"He jumped right in and helped us load the truck and unload the truck and set up all of the distribution sites," Micah Fries said, adding, "Sometimes, they would sing some songs. It turned out, he knew a lot of the songs."

The entire Fries family made unforgettable memories during their first couple weeks as a new unit. Brainerd Baptist had donated to drought relief efforts -- and the Fries had the chance to see results of that generosity firsthand. They also helped deliver BGR Hospice Kits to terminally ill people, and the girls ministered to orphans.

But their acts of service affected more than just the Fries family by impacting villages full of devastated people, said Stan Burleson, who with his wife Angie have been sent by First Baptist Church in Perryton, Texas, to work in Lesotho and partner with IMB missionaries.

Burleson, who helped coordinate the food distributions, said the aid was crucial with various sources reporting that the Lesotho drought had been the worst in decades. "They [villagers] said people could have died," he noted. "There are people who would not have had enough food. I mean, that's the reality of it."

So before he left Lesotho, Haddon Fries had the chance to say goodbye with an enormous act of love. He helped his people survive a disaster.

Now, the little boy has been part of the Fries family for several months and is getting used to American life. He has turned 10 years old and has started school. But his parents make sure he remembers Lesotho.

"We want Haddon to love his country, and we've worked really hard to help him understand just how wonderful Lesotho is and we want him to remember his heritage," his dad said. "His room is decorated like an American boy's room is decorated in a lot of ways. But we've also decorated it with some of the major icons from his culture -- the Basotho hat, the shepherd's staff and the Basotho blanket."

And, of course, they also want him to understand the importance of serving others. Micah and Tracy have encouraged Haddon to share food, money, clothes and necessities that God has given him with those who have little -- generosity that began on week one when he helped distribute life-saving food in his native Lesotho.

For more information about Southern Baptists' Global Hunger Relief fund, divided 80/20 between overseas and domestic hunger needs, visit Global Hunger Relief.

To learn how you or your church can participate in overseas human needs ministries, visit Baptist Global Response.