Today's BP Ledger contains items from:
Baptist College of Florida
World News Service
Church ministers to special needs families
By Shawn Hendricks
THOMASVILLE, N.C. (Biblical Recorder) -- Misty Brown once wondered if she'd ever be able to go to church with her husband and two children, as a family, again.
Brown and her husband Daniel have an 8-year-old son, Colby, who has autism. The couple struggled to find a church where their son was able to adjust. For a while they rotated Sundays. One of them would stay home with Colby. The other parent attended church with their daughter Zoe, who is 10.
" was very frustrating not being able to worship together," said Brown of the church they used to attend.
"They would tell us ... 'Just bring him. He can sit in the pew. It's no big deal if he claps his hands and screams.' But ... that was kind of a burden placed on us because ... not everyone understands that. We didn't want that to impact visitors coming to the church. We felt like it was best to just ... keep him away."
The Browns aren't alone in their struggle. The Center for Disease Control reports that 1 in 88 children has autism.
Some parents with special needs children are turned away from churches that contend they aren't equipped to handle this issue. And other families, like the Browns, just go when they can.
But then the Browns heard about Rich Fork Baptist Church in Thomasville.
Rich Fork's reputation for ministering to families who have children with autism and other disabilities had spread throughout the area. And the Browns decided to visit the church.
"It was such a blessing to just be able to drop our son off, know that he was safe, well taken care of," said Brown, whose family joined the church last December. "We were able to go together … as a family; where as before that was kind of unheard of."
With this month being National Autism Awareness month, pastor Michael Bowers said he's excited about the ministry. He also added that he can't take much credit for its success.
"It's been something that I've been able to stand back and watch," Bowers said. "As a pastor I'm very proud of … the number of volunteers and the resources that have gone into . … It's really blossomed beautifully."
The special needs ministry at Rich Fork started about five years ago. A family with an autistic child joined the church, and Rich Fork's children's ministry leader Gaylin Stewart looked for a way to help that family. The church asked volunteers to "shadow" (accompany or escort) the child and help him acclimate into a typical class with other kids his age.
"That worked well for that particular child," said Stewart, who added that the church's initial effort soon attracted other families. " started coming to us … and , 'Would you provide for our child, as well?'"
Since then the ministry has promoted itself more in the community and grown to about 17 children - in addition to the church's adult program.
Parents meet regularly with Stewart to discuss the needs of their children. The church has equipped some of their doors with alarms - that the community helped purchase - in case a child tries to open one of them. And parents occasionally lead training workshops.
"Now we have more of an individual plan for each child," said Stewart, who explained some children might need more one-on-one time than others.
The church also uses a method called "reverse integration," where typical students participate and build relationships with developmentally disabled children.
"Some of our older students are now spending time with students close to their age," said Pastor Bowers, who said the approach helps train young volunteers for future ministry.
"I think it makes them a more well-equipped believer," Bowers said.
"I hope … our students graduate and leave Rich Fork and go to other parts of the state, and other parts of the world, and they go 'Ya know, I can do this here.'"
In addition to the classroom, the church plans special activities for the children, such as swimming parties or a trip this month to an Alpaca farm.
"Valentine's Day, had a couple's dinner and they were ... providing special needs child care," said parent Misty Brown. "My husband and I were able to go to church ... eat dinner and have both of our kids taken care of."
"It's a ministry to their whole family," added Stewart.
Churches like Rich Fork are a rarity, said Donnie Wiltshire, senior consultant with special ministries for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
"Sometimes out of necessity ... churches will minister to family or that child that has special needs in their church," Wiltshire said. "But it rarely becomes an outreach ministry ... to their community and draws people to their church. Rich Fork is an exception to that.
"Rich Fork embraced these people, these families, these children with special needs and ministered to them in a really good way."
In North Carolina, Wiltshire said, there are about 180 to 190 Baptist congregations that have some type of special needs ministry. Wiltshire added that most of those ministries, however, are geared toward adults.
"That's a great and wonderful thing, but there are a lot of children around our state have special needs," he said. "There's tremendous need across our state for churches that would open up to families ... and would aggressively, enthusiastically, with love and energy, embrace them and bring them into their church."
"There are very few churches that aren't touched with a child or youth that has autism in one degree or another," he said.
The church's ministry has particularly been a blessing to Karen and Mac McGee and their 17-year-old son, Kevin, who has Down Syndrome.
Each Sunday Kevin participates during worship time in the auditorium and always presents his offering before the service.
"For Kevin, for him not to worship would be a crisis," McGee said. "That's a part of him. That's like telling him, 'You can't go on the playground anymore.'"
When the opening time of music concludes, a volunteer escorts Kevin to his class.
"He feels a connection with the Lord, there," McGee said. "The third time we visited … his feet hit the pavement he said 'Kevin's church.'"
While Rich Fork is a larger congregation of about 1,000 people who attend weekly, churches of all sizes can minister to special needs families, said Stewart.
Any church, she said, can have a volunteer adult or teenager "shadow" a child. Occasionally a church can ask a few of the developmentally disabled adults in the church to take up the offering.
"It is just beautiful to see that," Stewart said. " simple thing, but they take it very seriously. I hope someday some of these children can do that too. ... They're not just at our church. They're a part of our church."
Stewart said she believes the ministry is drawing children closer to God. She recalled a time when she was ill and in the hospital. A father and his two autistic twin girls visited her and shared how the girls had asked to pray for her.
"When they came and told me that in the hospital ... that was worth everything to me," said Stewart, her voice cracking with emotion. "I knew that what we were doing was taking root in them."
"Just precious people, all of them," she said. "They carry a heavy load. To think that a church would turn them away ... I just can't do it. Whatever they need I'm going to try my best to provide it for them."
For more information about Rich Fork's ministry go to http://www.richfork.com or, contact Donnie Wiltshire, senior consultant with the special needs team for the Baptist State Convention of N.C., at (800) 395-5102 ext. 5630, or go to http://www.ncbaptist.org.
Ruth Graham Brings Message of Hope, Grace and Renewal to Bluefield College
BLUEFIELD, Va. (Bluefield College) -- Broken hearts and challenging times and a God that is ready to help us through it all were the topics of discussion offered by author and speaker Ruth Graham, daughter of the legendary evangelist Billy Graham, when she visited the campus of Bluefield College in Bluefield, Virginia, April 10-11, as part of the school's "Celebration of Appalachia."
Founder and president of Ruth Graham and Friends, Graham is the author of several books -- including the award-winning "Step into the Bible," the book most pertinent to her ministry "In Every Pew Sits A Broken Heart," and her most recent "Fear Not Tomorrow, God is Already There" -- that seek to minister God's grace and restoration to those who are hurting or who feel marginalized
No stranger to heartache herself, in her warm and articulate way, Graham talked opened during her Bluefield College visit about her own personal struggles with anunfaithful husband, divorce, her teenage daughter's two unplanned pregnancies, another daughter's bulimia, a son's battle with drugs, and her own battle with depression. A true believer that difficulties are often used to help otherswith similar trials, Graham told the BC listeners that she's not afraid to share her weaknesses with others.
"I believe in transparency," said Graham, who made her first profession of faith at age seven. "We go through difficulties to help others with theirs."
That transparency, she's confident, has made a difference for people who've heard her testimony, like a woman who once shared with her that she had been dealing with guilt from an abortion until Graham's encouragement freed her from her shame. In addition to being transparent, Graham encouraged her listeners to be bold in their faith and to live and share without fear of being judged by others.
"If God Almighty loves you, how can we not love ourselves?" Graham asked. "There's nothing you can do that can make God love you less or love you more than He does right now. God's love is constant."
Graham spoke on four separate occasions during her visit to Bluefield College, twice during events open to the public and two additional times for gatherings exclusive to the BC family. During the exclusive sessions, Graham spent intimate time with BC students, asking them what they wanted to do with their lives and encouraging them to make a positive difference in the world.
Graham was the keynote speaker in a series of lectures hosted by the college in April as part of its month-long "Celebration of Appalachia." Designed to honor the history, culture, people and traditions of the Appalachian region, the lecture series also included a presentation from Dr. Terry W. Mullins, a local historian, and a tribute to the late Dr. Marsha Mead, a former BC professor of psychology.
As the author of a variety of books on the people of this region -- including "A Tazewell County Coal Community and Its School," "Images of America: Tazewell County," "Images of America: Burke's Garden," "Hidden Histories of Tazewell County," "The Cove at Maiden Spring," "Tannersville in Freestone Valley," and "Thompson Valley Traditions" -- Dr. Mullins offered a lecture on "Southwest Virginia Historical and Genealogical Research."
He also spoke about the misguided stereotypes of the region and shared how the migration habits of native southwest Virginians have created an American population with many roots to this area. In addition, Dr. Mullins shared the reasons why he enjoys writing.
"If you're going to write about something, write about something you love and are passionate about," he said. "I want to save history, so I write about it before it's lost."
In a tribute session to Dr. Mead, a longtime licensed professional counselor andfamily therapist who taught psychology at Bluefield College from 2009 to 2012 before succumbing to cancer in December 2012, BC students and professors shared personal memories of Dr. Mead and testimonies of how she impacted their lives.
Students also performed music and danced in honor of Dr. Mead. A native and lover of the Appalachian region, she envisioned the idea of a "Celebration of Appalachia" symposium at Bluefield College. While she did not live to see the fruition of that vision, the college paid tribute to her foresight by dedicating the month-long series of lectures, music, drama, festivals and more to her memory.
"She gave to her students. She gave to this college, and she gave to everyone on a level that you can't even imagine," said Dr. Bob Boozer, professor of psychology. "Marsha loved to dance, and today she dances in the presence of her Lord."
In addition to the lectures, BC's "Celebration of Appalachia" included a Wayne Henderson bluegrass concert; an Appalachian Festival with additional bluegrass music,book sales and signings, craft sales and demonstrations, storytelling, and art shows and sales; an oral history and tour of the Baldwin-Felts Detectives Agency, well known for its role in the mining labor disputes of the early 1900s; and a BC Theatre presentation of "Hatfield and McCoy."
BCF Restoring Hope on Staten Island
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. (Baptist College of Florida) -- Restoring hope is not always easy but that does not mean it is impossible! Students from The Baptist College of Florida (BCF) found this to be true when they used their spring break to journey to Staten Island, NY and work with the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief in the collegiate response. This is the second time that a group of BCF students have used their break from classes to respond to the needs of those who were hit by Hurricane Sandy on Staten Island. A group of students used part of their Christmas break in December and this group traveled to Staten Island and worked March 23-30 - spring break.
In December, BCF students were busy doing mud out work on homes that had been flooded in the hurricane. Many residents had waited months for the assistance that seemed as if it would never come. Help did come when almost 500 college students responded and spent part of their Christmas break doing mud out and flood recovery work. But that was just the first step in getting families restored in their homes. Unfortunately, for many of those students, they only got an opportunity to see that first step. For many families, that first step of recovery is still a long way from being realized. But it is not only their homes that are in need of being restored; it is their hope and their faith that is in need of restoration. This is one of the many stories that the students from BCF, many of them veterans on their second tour of duty, got an opportunity to hear firsthand.
"I had lost all faith and any hope of getting my home repaired and rebuilt," were some of the first words one group of students heard from Patricia (pictured with students). Patricia is a high school librarian who has lived all of her life on Staten Island. Her son is a New York City police officer who was new on the job when Hurricane Sandy struck. Patricia's basement apartment is where her son was living when the storm hit. From the moment the team arrived at her home to work, they made it very clear why they were there. When asked, the team gave testimony that they were there to help her get her home back, but more importantly, they were there because they are followers of Jesus Christ who loves her and they loved her and wanted to show that love to her. The team spent four days insulating and hanging sheetrock to get Patricia's basement one step closer to being restored. The most important thing is that Patricia's hope was restored. She said, "Even though I had lost hope and faith, that has been restored and I know that I will be able to have my home back very soon. I cannot thank you enough for what you have done for me." Patricia was at home each day while the students worked, so they had plenty of opportunities to spend time talking with her about her life and faith. Patricia is a Catholic, very involved in her church. The students shared their testimony, had spiritual conversations with Patricia and continued to show her the love of Christ during the week. An open door was found and help and hope were given.
The students were divided into two teams, giving them the opportunity to serve many families. A second team worked with a family whose home had been flooded. The couple had lived in their home for 52 years and lost everything that they had, "At first we were devastated, but we are grateful that we have our family and our lives. Things we can replace. We are more fortunate than many people were." The team worked on insulating and hanging sheetrock in this home. They were also able to work with a resident on a third home. Frank is battling stage 3 cancer and his elderly mother lives with him. The team was able to insulate the crawlspace under his home and insulate and hang sheetrock in the remainder of the house. One of the crew leaders from Southern Baptist Disaster Relief that was working with the BCF team led Frank to faith in Christ after spending the week with the students sharing Christ's love with him.
BCF Professor David Coggins was the leader for both of the student groups working with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief on Staten Island. "I could not have been any more pleased in the experiences with these two groups of students and the work and service they provided. Each group was unique. It was very obvious that God brought the groups together for such a time as this. There was such a diversity and uniqueness in each group, but they learned how to work together doing something they had never done before. I was also very pleased that this second group of our students was able to be involved in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and what we are trying to do in getting college students involved in disaster relief in a more substantial, long term commitment."
One of the BCF students, Justin Sikes, had the opportunity to be part of both teams. "I went in December and March to Staten Island NY to help with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts. The two weeks that I spent in NY was a blessing. In December, we helped with tearing out floors and sheetrock. The damage from the storm was still there. The home owner we helped was in need of hope. In March, it was a little different. There was a lot more joy and hope in the people. I saw a lot more smiles this time. I could see that God had started working in people's lives. People went from hopelessness to having hope. God is really at work in New York."
The trip was the first experience for BCF student Teri Lott, "I had such a wonderful time with disaster relief. I knew that we were doing what God wanted us to do because the enemy seemed to be attacking everyone. I praise God that He gave us the strength to push through sickness, discomfort, and lack of sleep to help the wonderful people on Staten Island. The people that we met truly have a special place in my heart. It was a great thrill to see hope on their faces when they didn't feel like there was any left."
"The opportunities that these students have had to be part of disaster relief efforts reinforces the fact that being involved in ministry and bringing hope to people's lives can happen in many different ways," stated Coggins. "This is one very tangible way, when students give their spring break; that gets the attention of those being helped. Conversations and relationships are begun, and when that happens, we have the opportunity to share the true hope of Jesus Christ. That is what these students and others we will get involved in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief have learned and will learn."
According to Coggins, BCF students had the opportunity to work and learn from veteran Disaster Relief volunteers and leaders who continue to say, "Send us more. Send the next generation of servant leaders to work alongside us so the ministry of disaster relief can continue to grow and have the impact for the kingdom that it has had and will continue to have." Coggins stated, "I am grateful as a professor at BCF to have the chance in my own life to work with these students and help to equip them for this kind of kingdom service. We helped to bring hope to Staten Island."
Robert Edgar, former NCC Leader, Dies
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (World News Service) -- Robert Edgar, the former leader of the National Council of Churches, died suddenly of a heart attack Tuesday. He was 69.
As a congressman, chaplain and organizational leader, Edgar was known for his commitment to political transparency, his skills in financial management, and his willingness to advocate for society's marginalized.
After college and divinity school, Edgar served as a chaplain at Drexel University and as pastor of a Methodist church in Lansdowne, Pa. While there, he helped open Philadelphia's first shelter for homeless women.
He left the pastorate to pursue politics, ultimately serving 12 years in Congress from 1974-86. During his time in Washington, he focused on increasing governmental transparency and fighting what he perceived to be wasteful public work campaigns.
After an unsuccessful senatorial campaign in 1986, he served as president of Claremont School of Theology in Los Angeles, Calif. According to The New York Times, he helped the school increase its ethnic diversity and also revitalized it financially, increasing its endowment from $5.5 million to $22 million.
He brought that financial prowess to the National Council of Churches (NCC) in 2000, just as the organization faced bankruptcy. Through tough budget cuts and restructuring, he rescued the organization from a $6.4 million deficit.
His time at NCC was also marked by denominational tension, given his push towards social programs, interfaith understanding, and his support for same-sex marriage. According to Religions News Service, he also came under criticism from conservative groups for allegedly accepting funding from liberal philanthropists.
He left the NCC in 2007 to begin work as the president and CEO of Common Cause, a liberal, non-partisan non-profit that advocates for political transparency.
"We are deeply saddened and shaken today by the passing of Bob Edgar," said Common Cause Board Chair Robert Reichin in a statement. "Bob will be remembered for his decency, kindness, compassion and humor."
Edgar died in his home while walking on a treadmill. He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Merle Deaver, three sons and eight grandchildren.
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